Father de Smet never forgot those prayers.
These were wild times, mind you. No use to keep your skirts coldly clean if you wished to be of help. These men were sub- duing a continent. Their primitive qualities came out. Courage, endurance, sacrifice, suffering without complaint, friendship to the death, indomitable hatred, unfaltering hope, deep-seated greed, splendid gayety -- it takes these things to subdue a conti- nent. Vice is also an incidental, -- that is to say, what one calls vice. This is because it is the custom to measure these men as if they were governed by the laws of civili- zation, where there is neither law nor civilization.
This much is certain: gentlemen cannot conquer a country. They tried gentlemen back in Virginia, and they died, partly from lack of intellect, but mostly from lack of energy. After the yeomen have fought the conquering fight, it is well enough to bring in gentlemen, who are sometimes clever lawmakers, and who look well on thrones or in presidential chairs.
But to return to the winter of the small- pox. It was then that the priest and Ninon grew to know each other well. They be- came acquainted first in the cabin where four of the trappers lay tossing in delirium. The horrible smell of disease weighted the air. Outside wet snow fell continuously and the clouds seemed to rest only a few feet above the sullen bluffs. The room was bare of comforts, and very dirty. Ninon looked about with disgust.
"You pray," said she to the priest, "and I will clean the room."
"Not so," returned the broad-shouldered father, smilingly, "we will both clean the room." Thus it came that they scrubbed the floor together, and made the chimney so that it would not smoke, and washed the blankets on the beds, and kept the wood- pile high. They also devised ventilators, and let in fresh air without exposing the patients. They had no medicine, but they continually rubbed the suffering men with bear's grease.
"It's better than medicine," said Ninon, after the tenth day, as, wan with watching, she held the cool hand of one of the recovering men in her own. "If we had had medicines we should have killed these men."
"You are a woman of remarkable sense," said the holy father, who was eating a dish of corn-meal and milk that Ninon had just prepared, "and a woman also of Christian courage."