Read CHAPTER IV - THE DOCTOR OF AFTERNOON ARM of Harbor Tales Down North, free online book, by Norman Duncan, on

It was March weather.  There was sunshine and thaw.  Anxious Bight was caught over with rotten ice from Ragged Run Harbor to the heads of Afternoon Arm.  A rumor of seals on the Arctic drift ice off shore had come in from the Spotted Horses.  It inspired instant haste in all the cottages of Ragged Run-an eager, stumbling haste.  In Bad-Weather Tom West’s kitchen, somewhat after ten o’clock in the morning, in the midst of this hilarious scramble to be off to the floe, there was a flash and spit of fire, and the clap of an explosion, and the clatter of a sealing-gun on the bare floor; and in the breathless, dead little interval between the appalling detonation and a man’s groan of dismay followed by a woman’s choke and scream of terror, Dolly West, Bad-Weather Tom’s small maid, stood swaying, wreathed in gray smoke, her little hands pressed tight to her eyes.

She was-or rather had been-a pretty little creature.  There had been yellow curls-in the Newfoundland way-and rosy cheeks and grave blue eyes; but now of all this shy, fair loveliness -

“You’ve killed her!”


Dolly dropped her hands.  She reached out, then, for something to grasp.  And she plainted:  “I ithn’t dead, mother.  I juth-I juth can’t thee.”  She extended her hands.  They were discolored, and there was a slow, red drip.  “They’re all wet!” she complained.

By this time the mother had the little girl gathered close in her arms.  She moaned:  “The doctor!”

Terry West caught up his cap and mittens and sprang to the door.

“Not by the Bight!” Bad-Weather shouted.

“No, sir.”

Dolly West whimpered:  “It thmart-th, mother!”

“By Mad Harry an’ Thank-the-Lord!”

“Ay, sir.”

Dolly screamed-now:  “It hurt-th!  Oh, oh, it hurt-th!”

“An’ haste, lad!”

“Ay, sir.”

There was no doctor in Ragged Run Harbor; there was a doctor at Afternoon Arm, however-across Anxious Bight.  Terry West avoided the rotten ice of the Bight and took the ’longshore trail by way of Mad Harry and Thank-the-Lord.  At noon he was past Mad Harry, his little legs wearing well and his breath coming easily through his expanded nostrils.  He had not paused; and at four o’clock-still on a dogtrot-he had hauled down the chimney smoke of Thank-the-Lord and was bearing up for Afternoon Arm.

Early dusk caught him shortcutting the doubtful ice of Thank-the-Lord Cove; and half an hour later, midway of the passage to Afternoon Arm, with two miles left to accomplish-dusk falling thick and cold, then, a frosty wind blowing-Creep Head of the Arm looming black and solid-he dropped through the ice and vanished.

Returning from a professional call at Tumble Tickle in clean, sunlit weather, with nothing more tedious than eighteen miles of wilderness trail and rough floe ice behind him, Doctor Rolfe was chagrined to discover himself fagged out.  He had come heartily down the trail from Tumble Tickle, but on the ice in the shank of the day-there had been eleven miles of the floe-he had lagged and complained under what was indubitably the weight of his sixty-three years.  He was slightly perturbed.  He had been fagged out before, to be sure.  A man cannot practice medicine out of a Newfoundland outport harbor for thirty-seven years and not know what it means to stomach a physical exhaustion.  It was not that.  What perturbed Doctor Rolfe was the singular coincidence of a touch of melancholy with the ominous complaint of his lean old legs.

And presently there was a more disquieting revelation.  In the drear, frosty dusk, when he rounded Creep Head, opened the lights of Afternoon Arm, and caught the warm, yellow gleam of the lamp in the surgery window, his expectation ran all at once to his supper and his bed.  He was hungry-that was true.  Sleepy?  No; he was not sleepy.  Yet he wanted to go to bed.  Why?  He wanted to go to bed in the way that old men want to go to bed-less to sleep than just to sigh and stretch out and rest.  And this anxious wish for bed-just to stretch out and rest-held its definite implication.  It was more than symptomatic-it was shocking.

“That’s age!”

It was.

“Hereafter, as an old man should,” Doctor Rolfe resolved, “I go with caution and I take my ease.”

And it was in this determination that Doctor Rolfe opened the surgery door and came gratefully into the warmth and light and familiar odors of the little room.  Caution was the wisdom and privilege of age, wasn’t it? he reflected after supper in the glow of the surgery fire.  There was no shame in it, was there?  Did duty require of a man that he should practice medicine out of Afternoon Arm for thirty-seven years-in all sorts of weather and along a hundred and thirty miles of the worst coast in the world-and go recklessly into a future of increasing inadequacy?  It did not!  He had stood his watch.  What did he owe life?  Nothing-nothing!  He had paid in full.  Well, then, what did life owe him?  It owed him something, didn’t it?  Didn’t life owe him at least an old age of reasonable ease and self-respecting independence?  It did!

By this time the more he reflected, warming his lean, aching shanks the while, the more he dwelt upon the bitter incidents of that one hundred and thirty miles of harsh coast, through the thirty-seven years he had managed to survive the winds and seas and frosts of it; and the more he dwelt upon his straitened circumstances and increasing age the more petulant he grew.

It was in such moods as this that Doctor Rolfe was accustomed to recall the professional services he had rendered and to dispatch bills therefor; and now he fumbled through the litter of his old desk for pen and ink, drew a dusty, yellowing sheaf of statements of accounts from a dusty pigeonhole, and set himself to work, fuming and grumbling all the while.  “I’ll tilt the fee!” he determined.  This was to be the new policy-to “tilt the fee,” to demand payment, to go with caution; in this way to provide for an old age of reasonable ease and self-respecting independence.  And Doctor Rolfe began to make out statements of accounts due for services rendered.

From this labor and petulant reflection Doctor Rolfe was withdrawn by a tap on the surgery door.  He called “Come in!” with no heart for the event.  It was no night to be abroad on the ice.  Yet the tap could mean but one thing-somebody was in trouble; and as he called “Come in!” and looked up from the statement of account, and while he waited for the door to open, his pen poised and his face in a pucker of trouble, he considered the night and wondered what strength was left in his lean old legs.

A youngster-he had been dripping wet and was now sparkling all over with frost and ice-intruded.

“Thank-the-Lord Cove?”

“No, sir.”

“Mad Harry?”

“Ragged Run, sir.”

“Bad-Weather West’s lad?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Been in the water?”

The boy grinned.  He was ashamed of himself.  “Yes, sir.  I falled through the ice, sir.”

“Come across the Bight?”

The boy stared.  “No, sir.  A cat couldn’t cross the Bight the night, sir.  ‘Tis all rotten.  I come alongshore by Mad Harry an’ Thank-the-Lord.  I dropped through all of a sudden, sir, in Thank-the-Lord Cove.”

“Who’s sick?”

“Pop’s gun went off, sir.”

Doctor Rolfe rose. “‘Pop’s gun went off!’ Who was in the way?”

“Dolly, sir.”

“And Dolly in the way!  And Dolly -”

“She’ve gone blind, sir.  An’ her cheek, sir-an’ one ear, sir -”

“What’s the night?”

“Blowin’ up, sir.  There’s a scud.  An’ the moon -”

“You didn’t cross the Bight?  Why not?”

“‘Tis rotten from shore t’ shore.  I’d not try the Bight, sir, the night.”


“No, sir.”  The boy was very grave.


All this while Doctor Rolfe had been moving about the surgery in sure haste-packing a waterproof case with little instruments and vials and what not.  And now he got quickly into his boots and jacket, pulled down his coonskin cap, pulled up his sealskin gloves, handed Bad-Weather West’s boy over to his housekeeper for supper and bed (he was a bachelor man), and closed the surgery door upon himself.

Doctor Rolfe took to the harbor ice and drove head down into the gale.  There were ten miles to go.  It was to be a night’s work.  He settled himself doggedly.  It was heroic.  In the circumstances, however, this aspect of the night’s work was not stimulating to a tired old man.  It was a mile and a half to Creek Head, where Afternoon Tickle led a narrow way from the shelter of Afternoon Arm to Anxious Bight and the open sea; and from the lee of Creep Head-a straightaway across Anxious Bight-it was nine miles to Blow-me-Down Dick of Ragged Run Harbor.  And Doctor Rolfe had rested but three hours.  And he was old.

Impatient to revive the accustomed comfort and glow of strength he began to run.  When he came to Creep Head and there paused to survey Anxious Bight in a flash of the moon, he was tingling and warm and limber and eager.  Yet he was dismayed by the prospect.  No man could cross from Creep Head to Blow-me-Down Dick of Ragged Run Harbor in the dark.  Doctor Rolfe considered the light.  Communicating masses of ragged cloud were driving low across Anxious Bight.  Offshore there was a sluggish bank of black cloud.  The moon was risen and full.  It was obscured.  The intervals of light were less than the intervals of shadow.  Sometimes a wide, impenetrable cloud, its edges alight, darkened the moon altogether.  Still, there was light enough.  All that was definitely ominous was the bank of black cloud lying sluggishly offshore.  The longer Doctor Rolfe contemplated its potentiality for catastrophe the more he feared it.

“If I were to be overtaken by snow!”

It was blowing high.  There was the bite and shiver of frost in the wind.  Half a gale ran in from the open sea.  Midway of Anxious Bight it would be a saucy, hampering, stinging head wind.  And beyond Creep Head the ice was in doubtful condition.  A man might conjecture; that was all.  It was mid-spring.  Freezing weather had of late alternated with periods of thaw and rain.  There had been windy days.  Anxious Bight had even once been clear of ice.  A westerly wind had broken the ice and swept it out beyond the heads.  In a gale from the northeast, however, these fragments had returned with accumulations of Arctic pans and hummocks from the Labrador current; and a frosty night had caught them together and sealed them to the cliffs of the coast.  It was a most delicate attachment-one pan to the other and the whole to the rocks.  It had yielded somewhat-it must have gone rotten-in the weather of that day.  What the frost had accomplished since dusk could be determined only upon trial.

“Soft as cheese!” Doctor Rolfe concluded.  “Rubber ice and air holes!”

There was another way to Ragged Run-the way by which Terry West had come.  It skirted the shore of Anxious Bight-Mad Harry and Thank-the-Lord and Little Harbor Deep-and something more than multiplied the distance by one and a half.  Doctor Rolfe was completely aware of the difficulties of Anxious Bight-the way from Afternoon Arm to Ragged Run; the treacherous reaches of young ice, bending under the weight of a man; the veiled black water; the labor, the crevices, the snow crust of the Arctic pans and hummocks; and the broken field and wash of the sea beyond the lesser island of the Spotted Horses.  And he knew, too, the issue of the disappearance of the moon, the desperate plight into which the sluggish bank of black cloud might plunge a man.  As a matter of unromantic fact he desired greatly to decline a passage of Anxious Bight that night.

Instead he moved out and shaped a course for the black bulk of the Spotted Horses.  This was in the direction of Blow-me-Down Dick of Ragged Run, and the open sea.

He sighed.  “If I had a son -” he reflected.

Well, now, Doctor Rolfe was a Newfoundlander.  He was used to traveling all sorts of ice in all sorts of weather.  The returning fragments of the ice of Anxious Bight had been close packed for two miles beyond the narrows of Afternoon Arm by the northeast gale which had driven them back from the open.  This was rough ice.  In the press of the wind the drifting floe had buckled.  It had been a big gale.  Under the whip of it the ice had come down with a rush.  And when it encountered the coast the first great pans had been thrust out of the sea by the weight of the floe behind.  A slow pressure had even driven them up the cliffs of Creep Head and heaped them in a tumble below.  It was thus a folded, crumpled floe, a vast field of broken bergs and pans at angles.

No Newfoundlander would adventure on the ice without a gaff.  A gaff is a lithe, ironshod pole, eight or ten feet in length.  Doctor Rolfe was as cunning and sure with a gaff as any old hand of the sealing fleet.  He employed it now to advantage.  It was a vaulting pole.  He walked less than he leaped.  This was no work for the half light of an obscured moon.  Sometimes he halted for light; but delay annoyed him.  A pause of ten minutes-he squatted for rest meantime-threw him into a state of incautious irritability.  At this rate it would be past dawn before he made the cottages of Ragged Run Harbor.

Impatient of precaution, he presently chanced a leap.  It was error.  As the meager light disclosed the path a chasm of fifteen feet intervened between the edge of the upturned pan upon which he stood and a flat-topped hummock of Arctic ice to which he was bound.  There was footing for the tip of his gaff midway below.  He felt for this footing to entertain himself while the moon delayed.  It was there.  He was tempted.  The chasm was critically deep for the length of the gaff.  Worse than that, the hummock was higher than the pan.  Doctor Rolfe peered across.  It was not much higher.  It would merely be necessary to lift stoutly at the climax of the leap.  And there was need of haste-a little maid in hard case at Ragged Run and a rising cloud threatening black weather.

A slow cloud covered the moon.  It was aggravating.  There would be no light for a long time.  A man must take a chance .  And all at once the old man gave way to impatience; he gripped his gaff with angry determination and projected himself toward the hummock of Arctic ice.  A flash later he had regretted the hazard.  He perceived that he had misjudged the height of the hummock.  Had the gaff been a foot longer he would have cleared the chasm.  It occurred to him that he would break his back and merit the fate of his callow mistake.  Then his toes caught the edge of the flat-topped hummock.  His boots were of soft seal leather.  He gripped the ice.  And now he hung suspended and inert.  The slender gaff bent under the prolonged strain of his weight and shook in response to a shiver of his arms.  Courage failed a little.  Doctor Rolfe was an old man.  And he was tired.  And he felt unequal -

Dolly West’s mother-with Dolly in her arms, resting against her soft, ample bosom-sat by the kitchen fire.  It was long after dark.  The wind was up; the cottage shook in the squalls.  She had long ago washed Dolly’s eyes and temporarily stanched the terrifying flow of blood; and now she waited, rocking gently and sometimes crooning a plaintive song of the coast to the restless child.

Tom West came in.


“Is she sleepin’ still?”

“Off an’ on.  She’s in a deal o’ pain.  She cries out, poor lamb!” Dolly stirred and whimpered.  “Any sign of un, Tom?”

“Tis not time.”

“He might -”

“‘Twill be hours afore he comes.  I’m jus’ wonderin’ -”

“Hush!” Dolly moaned.  “Ay, Tom?”

“Terry’s but a wee feller.  I’m wonderin’ if he -”

The woman was confident.  “He’ll make it,” she whispered.

“Ay; but if he’s delayed -”

“He was there afore dusk.  An’ the doctor got underway across the Bight -”

“He’ll not come by the Bight!”

“He’ll come by the Bight.  I knows that man.  He’ll come by the Bight-an’ he’ll -”

“If he comes by the Bight he’ll never get here at all.  The Bight’s breakin’ up.  There’s rotten ice beyond the Spotted Horses.  An’ Tickle-my-Ribs is -”

“He’ll come.  He’ll be here afore -”

“There’s a gale o’ snow comin’ down.  ’Twill cloud the moon.  A man would lose hisself -”

“He’ll come.”

Bad-Weather Tom West went out again-to plod once more down the narrows to the base of Blow-me-Down Dick and search the vague light of the coast for the first sight of Doctor Rolfe.  It was not time; he knew that.  There would be hours of waiting.  It would be dawn before a man could come by Thank-the-Lord and Mad Harry, if he left Afternoon Arm even so early as dusk.  And as for crossing the Bight-no man could cross the Bight.  It was blowing up too-clouds rising and a threat of snow abroad.  Bad-weather Tom glanced apprehensively toward the northeast.  It would snow before dawn.  The moon was doomed.  A dark night would fall.  And the Bight-Doctor Rolfe would never attempt to cross the Bight -

Hanging between the hummock and the pan, the gaff shivering under his weight, Doctor Rolfe slowly subsided toward the hummock.  A toe slipped.  He paused.  It was a grim business.  The other foot held.  The leg, too, was equal to the strain.  He wriggled his toe back to its grip on the edge of the ice.  It was an improved foothold.  He turned then and began to lift and thrust himself backward.  A last thrust on the gaff set him on his haunches on the Arctic hummock, and he thanked Providence and went on.  And on-and on!  There was a deal of slippery crawling to do, of slow, ticklish climbing.  Doctor Rolfe rounded bergs, scaled perilous inclines, leaped crevices.

It was cold as death now.  Was it ten below?  The gale bit like twenty below.

When the big northeast wind drove the ice back into Anxious Bight and heaped it inshore, the pressure had decreased as the mass of the floe diminished in the direction of the sea.  The outermost areas had not felt the impact.  They had not folded-had not “raftered.”  When the wind failed they had subsided toward the open.  As they say on the coast, the ice had “gone abroad.”  It was distributed.  And after that the sea had fallen flat; and a vicious frost had caught the floe-widespread now-and frozen it fast.  It was six miles from the edge of the raftered ice to the first island of the Spotted Horses.  The flat pans were solid enough, safe and easy going; but this new, connecting ice-the lanes and reaches of it -

Doctor Rolfe’s succinct characterization of the condition of Anxious Bight was also keen:  “Soft as cheese!”

All that day the sun had fallen hot on the young ice in which the scattered pans of the floe were frozen.  Some of the wider patches of green ice had been weakened to the breaking point.  Here and there they must have been eaten clear through.  Doctor Rolfe contemplated an advance with distaste.  And by and by the first brief barrier of new ice confronted him.  He must cross it.  A black film-the color of water in that light-bridged the way from one pan to another.  He would not touch it.  He leaped it easily.  A few fathoms forward a second space halted him.  Must he put foot on it?  With a running start he could -Well, he chose not to touch the second space, but to leap it.

Soon a third interval stopped him.  No man could leap it.  He cast about for another way.  There was none.  He must run across.  He scowled.  Disinclination increased.  He snarled:  “Green ice!” He crossed then like a cat-on tiptoe and swiftly; and he came to the other side with his heart in a flutter.  “Whew!”

The ice had yielded without breaking.  It had creaked, perhaps; nothing worse.  It was what is called “rubber ice.”  There was more of it; there were miles of it.  The nearer the open sea the more widespread was the floe.  Beyond-hauling down the Spotted Horses, which lay in the open-the proportion of new ice would be vastly greater.  At a trot for the time over the pans, which were flat, and in delicate, mincing little spurts across the bending ice, Doctor Rolfe proceeded.  In a confidence that was somewhat flushed-he had rested-he went forward.

And presently, midway of a lane of green ice, he heard a gurgle as the ice bent under his weight.  Water washed his boots.  He had been on the lookout for holes.  This hole he heard-the spurt and gurgle of it.  He had not seen it.  Safe across, Doctor Rolfe grinned.  It was a reaction of relief.  “Whew! Whew!” he whistled.

By and by he caught ear of the sea breaking under the wind beyond the Little Spotted Horse.  He was nearing the limits of the ice.  In full moonlight the whitecaps flashed news of a tumultuous open.  A rumble and splash of breakers came down with the gale from the point of the island.  It indicated that the sea was working in the passage between the Spotted Horses and Blow-me-down Dick of the Ragged Run coast.  The waves would run under the ice, would lift it and break it.  In this way the sea would eat its way through the passage.  It would destroy the young ice.  It would break the pans to pieces and rub them to slush.

Doctor Rolfe must make the Little Spotted Horse and cross the passage between the island and the Ragged Run coast.  Whatever the issue of haste, he must carry on and make the best of a bad job.  Otherwise he would come to Tickle-my-Ribs, between the Little Spotted Horse and Blow-me-Down Dick of Ragged Run, and be marooned from the main shore.  And there was another reason:  it was immediate and desperately urgent.  As the sea was biting off the ice in Tickle-my-Ribs, so, too, it was encroaching upon the body of the ice in Anxious Bight.  Anxious Bight was breaking up.  Acres of ice were wrenched from the field at a time and then broken up by the sea.  What was the direction of this swift melting?  It might take any direction.  And a survey of the sky troubled Doctor Rolfe.  All this while the light had diminished.  It was failing still.  It was failing faster.  There was less of the moon.  By and by it would be wholly obscured.

A man would surely lose his life on the ice in thick weather-on one or other of the reaches of new ice.  And thereabouts the areas of young ice were wider.  To tiptoe across the yielding film of these dimly visible stretches was instantly and dreadfully dangerous.  It was horrifying.  A man took his life in his hand every time he left a pan.  Doctor Rolfe was not insensitive.  He began to sweat-not with labor but with fear.  When the ice bent under him he gasped and held his breath; and he came each time to the solid refuge of a pan with his teeth set, his face contorted, his hands clenched-a shiver in the small of his back.

To achieve safety once, however, was not to win a final relief; it was merely to confront, in the same circumstances, a precisely similar peril.  Doctor Rolfe was not physically exhausted; every muscle that he had was warm and alert.  Yet he was weak; a repetition of suspense had unnerved him.  A full hour of this, and sometimes he chattered and shook in a nervous chill.  In the meantime he had approached the rocks of the Little Spotted Horse.

In the lee of the Little Spotted Horse the ice had gathered as in a back current.  It was close packed alongshore to the point of the island.  Between this solidly frozen press of pans and the dissolving field in Anxious Bight there had been a lane of ruffled open water before the frost fell.  It measured perhaps fifty yards.  It was now black and still, sheeted with new ice which had been delayed in forming by the ripple of that exposed situation.  Doctor Rolfe had encountered nothing as doubtful.  He paused on the brink.  A long, thin line of solid pan ice, ghostly white in the dusk beyond, was attached to the rocks of the Little Spotted Horse.  It led all the way to Tickle-my-Ribs.  Doctor Rolfe must make that line of solid ice.  He must cross the wide lane of black, delicately frozen new ice that lay between and barred his way.

He waited for the moon.  When the light broke-a thin, transient gleam-he started.  A few fathoms forth the ice began to yield.  A moment later he stopped short and recoiled.  There was a hole-gaping wide and almost under his feet.  He stopped.  The water overflowed and the ice cracked.  He must not stand still.  To avoid a second hole he twisted violently to the right and almost plunged into a third opening.  It seemed the ice was rotten from shore to shore.  And it was a long way across.  Doctor Rolfe danced a zigzag toward the pan ice under the cliffs, spurting forward and retreating and swerving.  He did not pause; had he paused he would have dropped through.  When he was within two fathoms of the pan ice a foot broke through and tripped him flat on his face.  With his weight thus distributed he was momentarily held up.  Water squirted and gurgled out of the break-an inch of water, forming a pool.  Doctor Rolfe lay still and expectant in this pool.

Dolly West’s mother still sat by the kitchen fire.  It was long past midnight now.

Once more Bad-Weather Tom tiptoed in from the frosty night.  “Is she sleepin’ still?” he whispered.

“Hush!  She’ve jus’ toppled off again.  She’s havin’ a deal o’ pain, Tom.  An’ she’ve been bleedin’ again.”

“Put her down on the bed, dear.”

The woman shook her head.  “I’m afeared ’twould start the wounds, Tom.  Any sign of un yet, Tom?”

“Not yet.”

“He’ll come soon.”

“No; ’tis not near time.  ’Twill be dawn afore he -”

“Soon, Tom.”

“He’ll be delayed by snow.  The moon’s near gone.  ’Twill be black dark in half an hour.  I felt a flake o’ snow as I come in.  An’ he’ll maybe wait at Mad Harry -”

“He’s comin’ by the Bight, Tom.”

Dolly stirred, cried out, awakened with a start, and lifted her bandaged head a little.  She did not open her eyes.  “Is that you, doctor, sir?”

“Hush!” the mother whispered. “’Tis not the doctor yet.”

“When -”

“He’s comin’.”

“I’ll take a look,” said Tom.  He went out again and stumbled down the path to Blow-me-Down Dick by Tickle-my-Ribs.

Doctor Rolfe lay still and expectant in the pool of water near the pan ice and rocks of the Little Spotted Horse.  He waited.  Nothing happened.  Presently he ventured delicately to take off a mitten, to extend his hand, to sink his fingernails in the ice and try to draw himself forward.  It was a failure.  His fingernails were too short.  He could merely scratch the ice.  He reflected that if he did not concentrate his weight-that if he kept it distributed-he would not break through.  And once more he tried to make use of his fingernails.  It turned out that the nails of the other hand were longer.  Doctor Rolfe managed to gain half an inch before they slipped.  They slipped again-and again and again.  It was hopeless.  Doctor Rolfe lay still, pondering.

Presently he shot his gaff toward the pan ice, to be rid of the incumbrance of it, and lifted himself on his palms and toes.  By this the distribution of his weight was not greatly disturbed.  It was not concentrated upon one point.  It was divided by four and laid upon four points.  And there were no fearsome consequences.  It was a hopeful experiment.

Doctor Rolfe stepped by inches on his hands toward the pan ice-dragging his toes.  In this way he came to the line of solid ice under the cliffs of the Little Spotted Horse and had a clear path forward.  Whereupon he picked up his gaff, and set out for the point of the Little Spotted Horse and the passage of Tickle-my-Ribs.  He was heartened.

Tickle-my-Ribs was heaving.  The sea had by this time eaten its way clear through the passage from the open to the first reaches of Anxious Bight and far and wide beyond.  The channel was half a mile long; in width a quarter of a mile at the narrowest.  Doctor Rolfe’s path was determined.  It must lead from the point of the island to the base of Blow-me-Down Dick and the adjoining fixed and solid ice of the narrows to Ragged Run Harbor.  Ice choked the channel.  It was continuously running in from the open.  It was a thin sheet of fragments.  There was only an occasional considerable pan.  A high sea ran outside.  Waves from the open slipped under this field of little pieces and lifted it in running swells.  No single block of ice was at rest.

Precisely as a country doctor might petulantly regard a stretch of hub-deep crossroad, Doctor Rolfe, the outport physician, complained of the passage of Tickle-my-Ribs.  Not many of the little pans would bear his weight.  They would sustain it momentarily.  Then they would tip or sink.  There would be foothold through the instant required to choose another foothold and leap toward it.  Always the leap would have to be taken from sinking ground.  When he came, by good chance, to a pan that would bear him up for a moment, Doctor Rolfe would have instantly to discover another heavy block to which to shape his agitated course.  There would be no rest, no certainty beyond the impending moment.  But, leaping thus, alert and agile and daring, a man might -

Might?  Mm-m, a man might!  And he might not!  There were contingencies:  A man might leap short and find black water where he had depended upon a footing of ice; a man might land on the edge of a pan and fall slowly back for sheer lack of power to obtain a balance; a man might misjudge the strength of a pan to bear him up; a man might find no ice near enough for the next immediately imperative leap; a man might be unable either to go forward or retreat.  And there was the light to consider.  A man might be caught in the dark.  He would be in hopeless case if caught in the dark.

Light was imperative.  Doctor Rolfe glanced aloft.  “Whew!” he whistled.

The moon and the ominous bank of black cloud were very close.  There was snow in the air.  A thickening flurry ran past.

Bad-Weather Tom West was not on the lookout when Doctor Rolfe opened the kitchen door at Ragged Run Harbor and strode in with the air of a man who had survived difficulties and was proud of it.  Bad-weather Tom West was sitting by the fire, his face in his hands; and the mother of Dolly West-with Dolly still restlessly asleep in her arms-was rocking, rocking, as before.

And Doctor Rolfe set to work-in a way so gentle, with a voice so persuasive, with a hand so tender and sure, with a skill and wisdom so keen, that little Dolly West, who was brave enough in any case, as you know, yielded the additional patience and courage which the simple means at hand for her relief required; and Doctor Rolfe laved Dolly West’s blue eyes until she could see again, and sewed up her wounds that night so that no scar remained; and in the broad light of the next day picked out grains of powder until not a single grain was left to disfigure the child.

Three months after that it again occurred to Doctor Rolfe, of Afternoon Arm, that the practice of medicine was amply provided with hardship and shockingly empty of pecuniary reward.  Since the night of the passage of Anxious Bight he had not found time to send out any statements of accounts.  It occurred to him that he had then determined, after a reasonable and sufficient consideration of the whole matter, to “tilt the fee.”  Very well; he would “tilt the fee.”  He would provide for himself an old age of reasonable ease and self-respecting independence.

Thereupon Doctor Rolfe prepared a statement of account for Bad-Weather West, of Ragged Run Harbor, and after he had written the amount of the bill-“$4”-he thoughtfully crossed it out and wrote “$1.75.”