He beckoned my father near the cliff, and there, in the most private whisper, begged for brandy. My father looked at him with scorn: 'You remind me,' he said, 'of a neglected duty. Here is my flask; it contains enough, I trust, to revive the women of your party; and I will begin with her whom I saw you robbing of her blankets.' And with that, not heeding his appeals, my father turned his back upon the egoist.
The girl still lay reclined against the rock; she lay too far sunk in the first stage of death to have observed the bustle round her couch; but when my father had raised her head, put the flask to her lips, and forced or aided her to swallow some drops of the restorative, she opened her languid eyes and smiled upon him faintly. Never was there a smile of a more touching sweetness; never were eyes more deeply violet, more honestly eloquent of the soul! I speak with knowledge, for these were the same eyes that smiled upon me in the cradle. From her who was to be his wife, my father, still jealously watched and followed by the man with the grey beard, carried his attentions to all the women of the party, and gave the last drainings of his flask to those among the men who seemed in the most need.
'Is there none left? not a drop for me?' said the man with the beard.
'Not one drop,' replied my father; 'and if you find yourself in want, let me counsel you to put your hand into the pocket of your coat.'
'Ah!' cried the other, 'you misjudge me. You think me one who clings to life for selfish and commonplace considerations. But let me tell you, that were all this caravan to perish, the world would but be lightened of a weight. These are but human insects, pullulating, thick as May-flies, in the slums of European cities, whom I myself have plucked from degradation and misery, from the dung-heap and gin-palace door. And you compare their lives with mine!'
'You are then a Mormon missionary?' asked my father.
'Oh!' cried the man, with a strange smile, 'a Mormon missionary if you will! I value not the title. Were I no more than that, I could have died without a murmur. But with my life as a physician is bound up the knowledge of great secrets and the future of man. This it was, when we missed the caravan, tried for a short cut and wandered to this desolate ravine, that ate into my soul, and, in five days, has changed my beard from ebony to silver.'
'And you are a physician,' mused my father, looking on his face, 'bound by oath to succour man in his distresses.'
'Sir,' returned the Mormon, 'my name is Grierson: you will hear that name again; and you will then understand that my duty was not to this caravan of paupers, but to mankind at large.'
My father turned to the remainder of the party, who were now sufficiently revived to hear; told them that he would set off at once to bring help from his own party; 'and,' he added, 'if you be again reduced to such extremities, look round you, and you will see the earth strewn with assistance. Here, for instance, growing on the under side of fissures in this cliff, you will perceive a yellow moss. Trust me, it is both edible and excellent.'
'Ha!' said Doctor Grierson, 'you know botany!'
'Not I alone,' returned my father, lowering his voice; 'for see where these have been scraped away. Am I right? Was that your secret store?'
My father's comrades, he found, when he returned to the signal- fire, had made a good day's hunting. They were thus the more easily persuaded to extend assistance to the Mormon caravan; and the next day beheld both parties on the march for the frontiers of Utah. The distance to be traversed was not great; but the nature of the country, and the difficulty of procuring food, extended the time to nearly three weeks; and my father had thus ample leisure to know and appreciate the girl whom he had succoured. I will call my mother Lucy. Her family name I am not at liberty to mention; it is one you would know well. By what series of undeserved calamities this innocent flower of maidenhood, lovely, refined by education, ennobled by the finest taste, was thus cast among the horrors of a Mormon caravan, I must not stay to tell you.