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Faith And Duty

( Originally Published 1905 )



WHEN Dr. Grenfell first appeared on the coast, I am told, the folk thought him a madman of some benign description. He knew nothing of the reefs, the tides, the currents, cared nothing, apparently, for the winds ; he sailed with the confidence and reckless courage of a Labrador skipper. Fearing at times to trust his schooner in unknown waters, he went about in a whale-boat, and so hard did he drive her that he wore her out in a single season. She was capsized with all hands, once driven out to sea, many times nearly swamped, once blown on the rocks ; never before was a boat put to such tasks on that coast, and at the end of it she was wrecked beyond repair. Next season he appeared with a little steam-launch, the Princess May --her beam was eight feet !—in which he not only journeyed from St. Johns to Labrador, to the astonishment of the whole colony, but sailed the length of that bitter coast, passing into the gulf and safely out again, and pushing to the very farthest settlements in the north. Late in the fall, upon the return journey to St. Johns in stormy weather, she was reported lost, and many a skipper, I suppose, wondered that she had lived so long; but she weathered a gale that bothered the mail-boat, and triumphantly made St. Johns, after as adventurous a voyage, no doubt, as ever a boat of her measure survived.

" Sure," said a skipper, " I don't know how she done it. The Lord," he added, piously, "must kape an eye on that man."

There is a new proverb on the coast. The folk say, when a great wind blows, " This'll bring Grenfell ! " Often it does. He is impatient of delay, fretted by inaction ; a gale is the wind for him—a wind to take him swiftly towards the place ahead. Had he been a weakling, he would long ago have died on the coast ; had he been a coward, a multitude of terrors would long 'ago have driven him to a life ashore; had he been anything but a true man and tender, indeed, he would long ago have retreated under the suspicion and laughter of the folk. But he has outsailed the Labrador skippers—outdared them—done deeds of courage under their very eyes that they would shiver to contemplate,—never in a foolhardy spirit ; always with the object of kindly service. So he has the heart and willing hand of every honest man on the Labrador—and of none more than of the men of his crew, who take the chances with him ; they are wholly devoted.

One of his engineers, for example, once developed the unhappy habit of knocking the cook down.

" You must keep your temper," said the doctor. " This won't do, you know." But there came an unfortunate day when, being out of temper, the engineer again knocked the cook down.

" This is positively disgraceful ! " said the doctor. " I can't keep a quarrelsome fellow aboard the mission-ship. Remember that, if you will, when next you feel tempted to strike the cook."

The engineer protested that he would never again lay hands on the cook, whatever the provocation. But again he lost his temper, and down went the poor cook, flat on his back.

" I'll discharge you," said the doctor, angrily, " at the end of the cruise ! "

The engineer pleaded for another chance. He was denied. From day to day he renewed his plea, but to no purpose, and at last the crew came to the conclusion that something really ought to be done for the engineer, who was visibly fretting himself thin.

"Very well," said the doctor to the engineer ; " I'll make this agreement with you. If ever again you knock down the cook, I'll put you ashore at the first land we come to, and you may get back to St. Johns as best you can."

It was a hard alternative. The doctor is not a man to give or take when the bargain has been struck; the engineer knew that he would surely go ashore somewhere on that desolate coast, whether the land was a barren island or a frequented harbour, if ever again the cook tempted him beyond endurance.

" I'll stand by it, sir," he said, nevertheless; "for I don't want to leave you."

In the course of time the Princess May was wrecked or worn out. Then came the Julia Sheridan, thirty-five feet long, which the mission doctor bought while she yet lay under water from her last wreck ; he raised her, refitted her with what money he had, and pursued his venturesome and beneficent career, until she, too, got beyond so hard a service. Many a gale she weathered, off "the worst coast in the world "—often, in- deed, in thick, wild weather, the doctor himself thought the little craft would go down ; but she is now happily superannuated, carrying the mail in the quieter waters of Hamilton Inlet. Next came the SirDonald—a stout ship, which in turn disappeared, crushed in the ice. The Strathcona, with a hospital amidships, is now doing duty ; and she will continue to go up and down the coast, in and out of the inlets, until she in her turn finds the ice and the wind and the rocks too much for her.

'Tis bound t' come, soon or late," said a cautious friend of the mission. " He drives her too hard. He've a right t' do what he likes with his own life, I s'pose, but he've a call t' remember that the crew has folks t' home."

But the mission doctor is not inconsiderate ; he is in a hurry—the coast is long, the season short, the need such as to wring a man's heart. Every new day holds an opportunity for doing a good deed—not if he dawdles in the harbours when a gale is abroad, bat only if he passes swiftly from place to place, with a brave heart meeting the dangers as they come. He is the only doctor to visit the Labrador shore of the Gulf, the Strait shore of Newfoundland, the populous east coast of the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, the only doctor known to the Esquimaux and poor " liveyeres " of the northern coast of Labrador, the only doctor most of the " liveyeres " and green-fish catchers of the middle coast can reach, save the hospital physician at Indian Harbour. He has a round of three thousand miles to make. It is no wonder that he "drives " the little steamer —even at full steam, with all sail spread (as I have known him to do), when the fog is thick and the sea is spread with great bergs.

"I'm in a hurry," he said, with an impatient sigh. " The season's late. We must get along."

We fell in with him at Red Ray in the Strait, in the thick of a heavy gale from the northeast. The wind had blown for two days ; the sea was running high, and still fast rising ; the schooners were huddled in the harbours, with all anchors out, many of them hanging on for dear life, though they lay in shelter. The sturdy little coastal boat, with four times the strength of the Strathcona, had made hard work of it that day—there was a time when she but held her own off a lee shore in the teeth of the big wind.

It was drawing on towards night when the doctor came aboard for a surgeon from Boston, a specialist, for whom he had been waiting.

" I see you've steam up," said the captain of the coastal boat. " I hope you're not going out in this, doctor ! "

" I have some patients at the Battle Harbour Hospital, waiting for our good friend from Boston," said the doctor, briskly. "I'm in a hurry. Oh, yes, I'm going out!"

"For God's sake, don't ! "said the captain earnestly.

The doctor's eye chanced to fall on the gentleman from Boston, who was bending over his bag-a fine, fearless fellow, whom the prospect of putting out in that chip of a steamer would not have perturbed, though the doctor may then not have known it. At any rate, as though bethinking himself of something half forgotten, he changed his mind of a sudden.

" Oh, very well," he said. " I'll wait until the gale blows out."

He managed to wait a day—no longer; and the wind was still wild, the sea higher than ever; there was ice in the road, and the fog was dense. Then out he went into the thick of it. He bumped an iceberg, scraped a rock, fairly smothered the steamer with broken water; and at midnight—the most marvellous feat of all—he crept into Battle Harbour through a narrow, difficult passage, and dropped anchor off the mission wharf.

Doubtless he enjoyed the experience while it lasted—and promptly forgot it, as being commonplace. I have heard of him, caught in the night in a winter's gale of wind and snow, threading a tumultuous, reef-strewn sea, his skipper at the wheel, himself on the bowsprit, guiding the ship by the flash and roar of breakers, while the sea tumbled over him. If the chance passenger who told me the story is to be believed, upon that trying occasion the doctor had the "time of his life."

"All that man wanted," I told the doctor subsequently, "was, as he says, ' to bore a hole in the bottom of the ship and crawl out.' "

"Why!" exclaimed the doctor, with a laugh of surprise. "He wasn't frightened, was he ?"

Fear of the sea is quite incomprehensible to this man. The passenger was very much frightened; he vowed never to sail with "that devil" again. But the doctor is very far from being a dare-devil ; though he is, to be sure, a man altogether unafraid ; it seems to me that his heart can never have known the throb of fear. Perhaps that is in part because he has a blessed lack of imagination, in part, perhaps, be-cause he has a body as sound as ever God gave to a man, and has used it as a man should; but it is chiefly because of his simple and splendid faith that he is an instrument in God's hands—God's to do with as He will, as he would say. His faith is exceptional, I am sure—childlike, steady, overmastering, and withal, if I may so characterize it, healthy. It takes some-thing such as the faith he has to move a man to run a little steamer at full speed in the fog when there is ice on every hand. It is hardly credible, but quite true, and short of the truth : neither wind nor ice nor fog, nor all combined, can keep the Strathcona in harbour when there comes a call for help from beyond. The doctor clambers cheerfully out on the bowsprit and keeps both eyes open. "As the Lord wills," says he, "whether for wreck or service. I am about His business."

It is a sublime expression of the old faith.



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