Lure of the Labrador Wild, The


A pot of hot tea soon was ready, and I drank some of it.

"I hopes you feels better, sir," then spoke young Duncan MacLean. "A smoke'll taste good now. Got a pipe, sir?"

I produced my pipe, and he held out to me a plug of tobacco.

"Take he an' fill th' pipe, sir."

With the plug in my possession, I drew my sheath-knife to cut it. But Gilbert Blake objected.

"He's a big un, sir, to cut tobacca with. Let me fill he, sir."

Obediently I handed him my pipe to be filled, and when it had been returned to me one of the boys struck a match and held it to the bowl while I puffed. Then Duncan took the plug from the log where Gilbert had left it, and, holding it out to me, said:

"He's yours, sir; I brought he for you. An'," added Duncan impressively, "there's more when he's gone, sir."

The tea and the great leaping blaze warmed me, the tobacco stimulated me, and my tongue was loosed. I talked and I talked. It was good to have human society and human sympathy again. The boys told me how George had finally reached them after his struggles, and what news of the world they had heard. After a little they gave me a bit more bread, and told me I had better sleep while they built a break to keep the wind, which had shifted to the west, from my couch. And, while watching them fell trees for the wind-break and vaguely wondering whether I should ever be strong and able to move about like that again, I did go to sleep.

When, after an hour had passed, I awoke, the boys made me drink more tea and eat another piece of bread. Then Duncan took his rifle, and remarking, "The 's deer signs right handy, an' a bit o' deer's meat might do you good, sir," strode off into the bush. Late in the afternoon he returned without having been rewarded in his hunt, and took a seat with Gilbert near my feet as I reclined on the boughs. Twilight came and then darkness, and I, lying before the crackling flames, wondered, as they burned ever brighter, whether Donald and Allen had yet found Hubbard, and hoped against hope that they had found him alive. Instinctively I felt that I should prepare for the worst, but I cudgelled my brain for specious arguments to make myself believe he had survived, and went on hoping.

My feet had been paining me all day. I tried to take off my socks, but blood clots held them fast to the raw flesh. The fact was, they had been frozen. It was hardly to be wondered at—the wonder was, how I, wandering for ten days in a bitter snowstorm almost naked as to my lower extremities, escaped with my life. Under ordinary circumstances, a physician has told me, the exposure would have killed me in short order; but, having been living in the open for months, I had become gradually inured to the cold, and the effect of the exposure was thus greatly mitigated. There were only two or three nights on the entire trip when any of us went to bed with dry feet, and that none of us ever had the slightest symptom of a cold certainly speaks volumes for an out-of-door life.

Although I ate very sparingly on the day the trappers found me, I soon began to suffer greatly from bloating and nausea. In the night I was very ill. The boys did everything they could for me. They were excellent nurses, those rough, brown fellows of the forest, anticipating my every wish. When once or twice in the night I tried to walk a few steps from the fire to relieve my nausea, their faces and actions showed plainly their concern. That I might not stagger into the fire, they would rise to stand between it and me. One of them remained awake all night, to keep the fire going and to help me should I need anything.

The sun was again showing itself above the horizon, setting the expanse of fir trees and snow aglow, and the boys, having placed the kettle over the fire for breakfast, were cutting more wood, when Donald and Allen suddenly came over the bank, as they had done on the morning before. Their packs were as large as ever, and they had Hubbard's rifle. I knew at once that the worst had happened. "His wife and mother!"—like lightning the thought flashed through my mind. A dizziness came over me, and for a moment I could not breathe. Donald spoke:

"Yesterday evenin' we found th' tent, sir. He were fastened up tight with pins on th' inside, an' hadn't been opened since th' snow began. Says I to Allen, sir, 'Th' poor man's dead, 'tis sure he's dead.' An' Allen he opened th' tent; for I had no heart to do it, sir, and there th' poor man was, wrapped all up in th' blankets as if sleepin', sir. But he were dead, sir, dead; and he were dead for a long time. So there was nothin' to do but to wrap th' poor man safe in th' things that were there, an' bring back th' papers an' other things, sir."

We kept silent, we five men, until Donald added:

"We saw a place when right handy to th' tent where you'd had a fire by a brook, sir."

"Yes," I said; "I built that fire—so that really was the brook near our tent!"

"'Twere th' mercy of God, sir," said Allen, "that you didn't know th' poor man were there dead; you would ha' given up yourself, sir."

Having a superstitious horror of the dead, Donald would not touch the body, and without assistance Allen had been unable to place it on a stage as I wished. However, he arranged it carefully on the ground, where, he assured me, it would be perfectly safe. He suggested that I permit them to bury the body where it was, as it would be quite impossible to transport it over the rough country for weeks to come, or until Grand Lake had frozen solid and the ice on the Susan River rapids become hard enough to bear the weight of men with a sled. Both Donald and Allen were willing to go back to the log-house on Grand Lake, and get the tools necessary for digging the grave.

But it would be bad enough for me to return home without Hubbard alive, and I felt that I simply must get the body out and take it with me. And, although the trappers could not understand my reasons, I refused to consent to its burial in the wilderness. In spite of their superior knowledge of the country and the weather conditions, I felt that the body could be taken down to the post later, but recognised the impracticability, if not impossibility, of undertaking the task immediately.

When Donald and Allen turned over to me the papers they had found in the tent, I took up Hubbard's diary wondering if he had left a last message. In the back part of the book was a letter to his mother, a note to his wife, the evident attempt again to write to his wife, and the letter to the agent at Missanabie written on George's behalf. From these I turned hastily to the diary proper. Yes, there was an entry written on the day George and I had left him, and this is what I read:

"Sunday, October 18th, 1903.

"Alone in camp, junction Nascaupee and some other stream—estimated (overestimated, I hope) distance above head of Grand Lake 33 miles.

"For two days past we have travelled down our old trail with light packs. We left a bit of flour—wet—about 11 miles below here—12 miles (approx.) below that about a pound of milk powder—4 miles below that about 4 pounds of lard. We counted on all these to help us out in our effort to reach the head of Grand Lake where we hoped to find Skipper Tom Blake's trapping camp and cache. On Thursday, as stated, I busted. Friday and Saturday it was the same. I saw it was probably hopeless for me to try to go farther with the boys, so we counselled last night and decided they should take merely half a blanket each, socks, etc., some tea, tea pail, cups and the pistols, and go on. They will try to reach the flour to-morrow. Then Wallace will try to bring a little and come back to me. George will go on to the milk and lard and to Skipper Blake's, if he can, and send or lead help to us. I want to say here that they are two of the very best, bravest and grandest men I ever knew, and if I die it will not be because they did not put forth their best efforts. Our past two days have been trying ones. I have not written my diary because so very weak. Day before yesterday we caught sight of a caribou, but it was on our lee, and winding us got away before a shot could be fired. Yesterday at our old camp we found the end we had cut from a flour bag. It had a bit of flour sticking to it. We boiled it with our old caribou bones, and it strengthened the broth a little. We also found a can of mustard we had thrown away. Mina gave it to me as we were coming away, saying she had no use for it and it might be good for plasters here. I sat and held it in my hand a long time thinking how it came from Congers and our home, and what a happy home it was, and what a dear, dear girl presided. Then I took a bite of it and it was very good. We mixed some in our bone soup and it seemed to stimulate us. We had a bit of caribou skin in that same pot. It swelled up thick and was very good. Last night I fell asleep while the boys were reading to me. This morning I was very, very sleepy. After the boys left—they left me tea, the caribou bones and another end of a flour sack found here, a rawhide caribou moccasin and some yeast cakes—I drank a cup of strong tea and some bone broth. I also ate some of the really delicious rawhide (boiled with bones) and it made me stronger—strong to write this. The boys have only tea and 1-2 pound of pea meal. Our parting was most affecting. I did not feel so bad. George said: 'The Lord help us, Hubbard. With His help I'll save you if I can get out.' Then he cried. So did Wallace. Wallace stooped and kissed my cheek with his poor, sunken bearded lips—several times—and I kissed his. George did the same, and I kissed his cheek. Then they went away. God bless and help them.

"I am not so greatly in doubt as to the outcome. I believe they will reach the flour and be strengthened, that Wallace will reach me, that George will find Blake's cache and camp and send help. So I believe we will all get out. My tent is pitched in open-tent style in front of a big rock. The rock reflects the fire, but now it is going out because of the rain. I think I shall let it go and close the tent till rain is over, thus keeping out wind and saving wood. To-night or to-morrow perhaps the weather will improve, so I can build fire, eat the rest of my moccasins and have some more bone broth. Then I can boil my belt and oil-tanned moccasins and a pair of cowhide mittens. They ought to help some.

"I am not suffering. The acute pangs of hunger have given way to indifference. I'm sleepy. I think death from starvation is not so bad. But let no one suppose I expect it. I am prepared—that is all. I think the boys will be able, with the Lord's help, to save me."

Bravo, Hubbard! nothing could down your spirit for long, could there? So high was your spirit that you could not know it was impossible for your poor old body to hold it any longer. Your hand was firm when you wrote, b'y, speaking eloquently of that which most of all was you. "It is a man's game," you said one day, in referring to our desperate struggle to reach those we loved. Well, you played it to the limit, b'y, and it was a man's death. My friend, I am proud of you.

Putting down the coverless book in which Hubbard's brave last words had been written, I sat and thought. The tea, the bones and the other things we had left with him had been found in the tent with the body. The tent was closed as he said he was going to close it, and the snow, which began to fall that Sunday night, had not been disturbed. He had been found well wrapped in the blankets, as if sleeping. Yes, it was quite evident that after making that last entry in his diary on the day we left him, he had lain down, and there all alone amid the solitudes of desolate Labrador, there in the wild that had called to him with a voice to which he must needs harken, had gone to sleep, and sleeping had not awakened.

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