Lure of the Labrador Wild, The


Donald and Allen returned at once to the log house on Grand Lake, leaving with the boys and me their tent and tent-stove. Donald also gave me a pair of high sealskin boots with large, soft moccasin bottoms. It was their expectation that we should remain in camp until they got back with other things to aid my journey out; but, although I was still very ill, and the heated tent was comfortable, I found waiting irksome, and at daylight the next morning (Sunday, November 1st) the boys and I pulled up stakes. To protect my hands during the journey I made a pair of mittens from a piece of blanket duffel that had been brought back from the tent where Hubbard was.

A pretty good path had been trodden in the snow by the trips of my rescuers up and down the valley, and following along it, with Duncan and Gilbert on their snowshoes ahead of me packing it down still further, I did not sink very deeply; nevertheless, such was the condition of my feet that every step I took was painful. As the boys carried all that was to be carried, I managed, however, to walk about ten miles during the day. We camped at a place where the four trappers on their journey in had cached a fat porcupine. For supper I ate a bit of the meat and drank some of the broth, and found it very nourishing.

On the following day we met Donald and Allen as they were returning to aid us. Allen brought with him a pair of trousers to cover my half-naked legs. At sunset we reached the rowboat, which had been left near the mouth of the Susan, and as we approached Donald's log-house something more than an hour later a rifle was fired as a signal that we were coming. When we landed, George was there on the starlit shore to welcome us. I hardly knew him. His hair had been cut, he had shaved off his ragged beard, and he was dressed in clean clothing that Donald had lent him. He, of course, had heard of Hubbard's death from Donald and Allen, and when he clasped my hand in a firm grip to help me from the boat, he said:

"Well, Wallace, Hubbard's gone."

"Yes," I said, "Hubbard's gone."

He was good enough to say he was glad I had escaped, and then in silence we followed the trail up to the house the first human habitation I had seen for months. There was only one room in the house, and there all of us, men and women alike, slept as well as ate; but it was scrupulously clean—the floor, table, chests and benches had been scoured until they shone and to me it seemed luxurious. The family did everything for me that was within their power. Donald gave me fresh underclothes, and his wife made me drink some tea and eat some rice and grouse soup before I lay down on the bed of skins and blankets they had prepared for me on the floor by the stove.

My two-days' walk had completely exhausted me, and I had a severe attack of colic and nausea. George then told me of his sufferings. Mrs. Blake, it appeared, had baked a batch of appetising buns, and George, not profiting by his experience after his indiscretion on the night of his arrival, had partaken thereof with great liberality, the result being such as to induce the reflection, "Have I escaped drownin' and starvin' only to die of over-feedin'?"

The women of the household slept in bunks fastened to the wall, and while they prepared themselves for their night's rest the lamps were turned low and we men discreetly turned our backs. Just before this incident we had family worship, which consisted of readings from the Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in accordance with the usual custom of the household. Donald, our host, professed not to be a religious man, but never a day passed that he did not offer thanks to his Maker, he regularly subscribed one-tenth of his income to the support of the Methodist Mission, he would not kill a deer or any other animal on Sunday if it came right up to his door, his whole life and his thoughts were decent and clean, and he was ever ready to abandon his work and go to the rescue of those who needed help. It may be thought strange that he should observe the forms of the Anglican Church in his family worship and subscribe to the Methodist Mission. The explanation is, that denominations cut absolutely no figure in Labrador; to those simple-hearted people, whose blood, for the most part, is such a queer mixture of Scotch, Eskimo, and Indian, there is only one church—the Church of Jesus Christ,—and whenever a Christian missionary comes along they will flock from miles with the same readiness to hear him whatever division of the Church may claim his allegiance.

So accustomed had I become to living in the open that I soon found the atmosphere of the closed room unendurable, and several times during the night I had to go out to breathe. I was down on the shore of Grand Lake for a breath of the crisp winter air when the sun rose. It was glorious. Not a cloud was there in all the deep blue vault of the heavens, and, as the sunbeams peeked over Cape Corbeau, the lake was set a-shimmering and the snow on the surrounding hills radiated tiny shafts of fire. It was to me as if the sun were rising on a new world and a new life. Our hardships and their culminating tragedy seemed to belong to a dim and distant past. What a beautiful world it was after all! and how I thanked God that I lived!

Allen Goudie had offered George and me the use of his sailboat in returning to Northwest River Post, and it was agreed that he and Duncan should row us over to his tilt on the Nascaupee. So after breakfast George and I said good-bye to Donald and the rest of his household, and three hours later were welcomed by Allen's wife. Again we received every attention that kindly hearts could suggest. We remained at Allen's two days while he and Duncan made a pair of oars and fitted up the sailboat for our trip to the post. With the soap and warm water and bandages provided by Mrs. Goudie I was able to dress my feet. One foot especially had been affected, and from it I cut with a jack knife much gangrenescent flesh.

It was on Thursday morning, November 5th, that George and I, warmly dressed in Donald's and Allen's clothes, set sail in a snowstorm for the post through the thin ice that was forming in the river. Upon reaching Grand Lake we found the wind adverse and the snow so thick we could not see our course, but after we had hovered about a fire on the shore until well into the afternoon, the wind shifted to the west and the storm abated, enabling us to proceed a little farther on our journey, or until signs of approaching night compelled us to take refuge in a trapper's tilt near Cape Blanc on the southern shore. This was the tilt that George, in his struggle out, had supposed he would have to reach to get help. It was about six by seven feet, and as it contained a tent-stove we were able to make ourselves comfortable for the night after our supper of tea and bread and butter and molasses thoughtfully provided by Mrs. Goudie.

The next morning was clear and beautiful, and although there was scarcely wind enough to fill the single sail of our little craft, we made an early start. Towards noon the wind freshened and soon was blowing furiously. The seas ran high, but George and I had become so used to rough weather and had faced danger so often that we ran right on in front of the gale, I at the tiller, and he handling the sail rope and bailing the water out when occasionally we shipped a sea. The rate at which we travelled quickly brought us to the rapid at the eastern end of the lake, and through this we shot down into the Little Lake, and thence through the strait known as the Northwest River out into Groswater Bay. It was about 3.30 o'clock in the afternoon when, turning sharply in below the post wharf, we surprised Mackenzie, the agent, and Mark Blake, the company's servant, in the act of sawing wood close down by the shore.

That they were astonished by the sudden appearance of the boat with its strange-looking occupants, was evident. They dropped their crosscut saw, and stood staring. In a moment, however, Mackenzie recognised George, who, having had a hair cut and a shave, looked something like his old self, and came to the conclusion that the other occupant of the boat must be I. He came quickly forward, and, grasping my hand as I stepped from the boat, asked abruptly:

"Where's Hubbard?"

"Dead," I said. "Dead of starvation eighty miles from here."

Mark Blake, a breed but not related to Donald, took charge of George, and as Mackenzie and I walked to the post house, I gave him a brief account of Hubbard's death and my rescue. He had been warmly attracted to Hubbard, and his big heart was touched. I saw him hastily brush away a tear. Taking me into the kitchen, he instructed his little housekeeper, Lillie Blake, Mark's niece, to give me a cup of cocoa and some soda biscuit and butter, while he made a fire in the dining-room stove. Lillie cried all the time she was preparing my lunch.

"I feels so sorry for you, sir," she said. "An' 'tis dreadful th' poor man's starvin', an' he were such a pretty man. In th' summer I says, before you went t' th' bush, sir, he's sure a pretty man. 'Tis wonderful sad, 'tis wonderful sad t' have he die so."

Oh, that pleasant kitchen, with the floor and all the woodwork scrubbed white and the rows of shining utensils on the shelves! And the comfort of the great wood-burning stove roaring out a tune to us on that frosty winter evening! As I sat there sipping the deliciously rich cocoa, Mackenzie joined me, and while Lillie cooked the dinner I must tell him over and over again my story. And in spite of herself the tender-hearted little housekeeper would cry and cry.

The dinner, which consisted of grouse, potatoes, marmalade, bread, and tea, was served in the dining room, which was also the living room. Mackenzie sat at the head of the table, I at the foot, and on a lounge to one side sat Atikamish, a small Mountaineer Indian hunting dog, gravely alert for the bones his master would occasionally toss to him. Atikamish had very good table manners. He caught the bones neatly and deftly, and he invariably chewed them up without leaving his seat or changing his position. My appetite was returning, and I ate well; but it was fully two weeks before I could eat without experiencing distress later. When that blessed time arrived, I never could get enough; Lillie was always pressing me to eat, and for a time I had at least six meals a day.

After dinner Mackenzie got Mark Blake to cut my hair and shave off my beard. Then he took me to my room upstairs, where a stove was crackling out a welcome and a big tub of warm water had been prepared for me. After my bath, he again came up to rub my legs, which were much swollen from frostbite, and to dress my foot with salve. In a suit of Mackenzie's flannel pajamas I then went to my soft bed, and lay snug and warm under the blankets. It was the first real bed I had lain in for nearly four months, and oh, the luxury of it!

It is impossible for me to express the gratitude I feel towards those good friends. They nursed me with the tenderest care. Mackenzie's big Scotch heart and the woman's sympathetic instinct of the little housekeeper anticipated my every want, and he and she never could seem to satisfy themselves with doing things for my comfort. When I left the post with Hubbard I weighed 170 pounds; a week after my return I weighed ninety-five. But with the care they took of me my general health was soon restored, and I rapidly put on flesh.

My difficulties, however, were not yet ended. Hubbard's body was still to be recovered from the wild and repatriated, and during the long months that ensued before it could be reached I lived in constant dread lest it should be destroyed by animals, until at length the dread amounted almost to an obsession. Moreover, the gangrene in my foot became worse, and if it had not been for the opportune arrival in that dreary land of an unfortunate young medical student, it in all likelihood would have killed me.

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