Warner cursed under his breath. He never expected this sort of thing when he lightheartedly accepted from the hospital orderly the box of medicines with a conjuring trick thrown in. The thought of that conjuring trick was nauseating in the presence of this pain.
Save for the rapid heaving of her bony chest to laboured breathing, the woman had made no move since he entered the hut. Now, however, Warner saw the drooping eyelids flicker. A fear seized him that the poor creature would look up. He couldn't stand that. He couldn't meet her eyes. He hurried away, saying he would bring some medicine.
He reached his resting place and opened his box. Right on the top lay the bottle of chlorodyne. He repeated to himself: "Chlorodyne, good for pains in the stomach! Chlorodyne, good for pains in the stomach!"
Warner returned to the hut but wouldn't go in. He pushed the bottle into the old man's hand saying, parrot-like: "Good for pains in the stomach, give her some water with it."
Then he went back to his halt again, called to his boys to pack up and follow him, anxious only to put distance between himself and all that pain and suffering.
Ten days later Warner pa.s.sed by that village again on his return journey. He could have followed another route, but a strong desire to ask about the woman drew him to the village. He must know about the woman. He had casually asked the trader with whom he had transacted his business how much chlorodyne one usually takes at a dose. The reply: "Oh, about fifteen drops or from ten to twenty, according to your size,"
nearly made his heart stand still. And he, the Great Doctor, had given the old native a full bottle of the stuff! True, he had not told him how much to take, but Warner found scant consolation in this thought.
As he and his carriers neared the village, he heard a great commotion, men shouting to each other and women making that shrill quavering noise familiar to all travellers in Africa. He thought he could distinguish the word "doctor." He was certain of it now. "The Great Doctor is coming. He who saves the people! The white man with the medicines! The Doctor! The Doctor!"
The natives broke through from the bush on every hand. They surrounded the little party. The carriers were quickly relieved of their loads.
There was no mistaking the nature of the demonstration; it was one of goodwill, not of hate.
The old Headman hobbled up, praising Warner l.u.s.tily.
What could it all mean?
At length Warner asked the question point blank: "How is your wife?"
"Oh, she is dead," replied the old man. "She died with a smile upon her face. I gave her half a cup full of your medicine filled up with water.
She was silent for a long while. Then she said: 'I have now no pain.'
And then: 'Give me more.' She smiled when I gave her another cup of your good medicine. And then she slept. And I knew she had no pain because she smiled. And as she slept she died. And when we buried her the smile was on her face. You are a Great Doctor and your medicine is very good. Good Fortune has come to the people that you are here. Can a man smile who is in pain? Does not a smile mean pleasure? Ah, but that is a good medicine."
"Give me back that bottle," said Warner, and his voice sounded strangely weak.
"Yes, Great Doctor, it is indeed a precious medicine."
NITRATE OF POTASH.
The memory of that old woman haunted Warner. He argued continuously with himself. Yes, he had certainly killed her. There was no doubt about it.
On the other hand, she would have died in any case. If he had not come upon the scene, she might have lingered on for a few more weary weeks, never free from pain. Still, if he had overdosed her intentionally to end her pain, it would surely have been murder. At best it was a criminal blunder. But then he meant well. So, too, do other fools.
Common sense told him he had no cause to worry, nothing to regret, it was merely a fortunate accident. Conscience viewed the matter seriously and with harshness.
Warner was still engaged in this mental struggle when a stranger, a white man, walked briskly up to his tent.
"Is anyone at home?"
"Yes, come in."
"Have you any nitrate of potash, doctor?"
Warner had become so used to the term "doctor" that he did not at once notice the significance of the word when spoken by a white man. So he merely answered: "Yes, I think so. What do you want it for?"
"I, too, am a doctor."
"Yes, a medical missionary, your new neighbour on the other side of the hill."
"Sit down a minute, I'll get the stuff."
Warner went to his box and, opening it, surveyed his wretched stock of stale drugs. So here was a real doctor! Thank Providence for that! He pa.s.sed in review his many cases, only a few of which are set down here.
He knew he had done his best, but he blamed himself for ever having aped the doctor.
"Is there anything you want besides nitrate of potash?"
"No, thanks. I've got everything else I'm likely to require."
Warner brought the bottle. "Here you are."
"Thanks. I only want a little."
"Take the lot."
"But you'll want it sooner or later."
"Of course you will."
"Then you have some more?"
"Then of course you'll want it."
"No, I'm not a doctor and I don't know how to use it. I don't really know the use of any drug. I've probably killed off dozens of people in my efforts to a.s.sist. I'm so glad you've come to live here."
When Warner sent applicants for medical relief to his new friend on the other side of the hill, they went, of course, but not too willingly. The newcomer did much good, but it was Warner who got the credit for it all.
The natives invariably consulted Warner before going to the Missionary, and returned again to thank him after they had been treated. They persisted in the belief that the Missionary doctor was their Doctor's man.
Warner is still spoken of as "The Doctor"; all others who came later are referred to as "Medical Men."
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