THE SECRET AT THE CROSSROADS
got to lookin’ to me as—well, you might say, a friend. I had to read medicine, I had to do the best for ’em I could.”
I rather disliked his drift. “But,” I broke in, “do you mean to say that the doctors——”
He caught the implication instantly. “Oh, far be it from me,” he hurried, “to say anything against the regular medical profession. It’s the highest calling on God’s earth. I’m just a quack, but I’d give ten years of my life for a proper training. I don’t say for a minute that these doctors around here wouldn’t treat a black case as straight as they would a white one. But I do know that the niggers have got so they are doubtful and suspicious of everything a white man does— think that the only interest he has in ’em is what little money he can get out of ’em.”
“Not my kind of white man,” I objected.
“Nor mine, either. Well, they got to comin’? my way— afoot, a-horseback, an’ on stretchers—mostly at night. You wouldn’t believe it; fifty miles around.” A groan escaped him. “The sights I have seen, the tales I have heard! My friend, I had to build those measly sheds out there.”
“You will have your Reward.”
“I hope to obtain Mercy. Anyhow, this nigger business has nearly got the best of me—strength, property, self-respect, and all. I feel like an outcast—not a soul left to stand by and help me but—a black wench.”
I rose to the challenge. “Give me your hand, Doctor Agard,” I said. “You are my kind of man—my father’s kind. Your allies are the right-thinking classes here and everywhere, and they will stand up for you, too, whenever they understand about you. As long as I am in this county, people are going to hear you well spoken of; and if I lived here, I would go partners with you, provided you would take me on. Just write me down as one friend.”
His hard eyes melted as he silently returned my grasp, there across the counterpane.
A sound of decrepit wheels in sand.
“Doctor! Oh, Doctor!” The call came stifled out of the dark—searching, vehement—a monstrous whisper.
Agard and I rose and looked at each other.