A WOMAN'S WAY THROUGH UNKNOWN LABRADOR
An Account of the Exploration of the Nascaupee and George Rivers
By Mrs. Leonidas Hubbard, Junior
Published October 1908
TO ELLEN VAN DER VOORT HUBBARD HIS MOTHER, WHOM HE LOVED AND LEONIDAS HUBBARD HIS FATHER, WHO WAS ONE OF HIS HEROES
This book is the result of a determination on my part to complete Mr. Hubbard's unfinished work, and having done this to set before the public a plain statement, not only of my own journey, but of his as well. For this reason I have included the greater part of Mr. Hubbard's diary, which he kept during the trip, and which it will be seen is published exactly as he wrote it, and also George Elson's account of the last few days together, and his own subsequent efforts.
I hope that this may go some way towards correcting misleading accounts of Mr. Hubbard's expedition, which have appeared elsewhere. It is due also to the memory of my husband that I should here put on record the fact that my journey with its results—geographical and otherwise—is the only one over this region recognised by the geographical authorities of America and Europe.
The map which is found accompanying this account of the two journeys sets forth the work I was able to accomplish. It does not claim to be other than purely pioneer work. I took no observations for longitude, but obtained a few for latitude, which served as guiding points in making my map. The controlling points of my journey [Northwest River post, Lake Michikamau and its outlet, and the mouth of the George River] were already astronomically fixed.
The route map of the first Hubbard Expedition is from one drawn for me by George Elson, with the few observations for latitude recorded by Mr. Hubbard in his diary as guiding points. My husband's maps, together with other field notes and records, I have not had access to, as these have never been handed over to me.
Grateful acknowledgment is here made of my indebtedness to Mr. Herbert L. Bridgman and Mr. Harold T. Ellis for their help and counsel in my work.
Here, too, I would express my sincere appreciation of the contribution to the book from Mr. Cabot, who, descendent of the ancient explorers, is peculiarly well fitted to speak of Labrador. The great peninsula has been, as he terms it, his "playground," and by canoe in summer or on snowshoes in winter he has travelled thousands of miles in the interior, thus placing himself in closest touch with it.
To Dr. Cluny Macpherson for his generous service I am deeply grateful.
To George Elson for his loyal devotion to Mr. Hubbard and myself my debt of gratitude must ever remain unpaid.
To Dr. James E. C. Sawyer, my beloved pastor, I am indebted for the title of my book.
MINA BENSON HUBBARD
I. LEONIDAS HUBBARD, JR. II. SLIPPING AWAY INTO THE WILDERNESS III. CLIMBING THE RAPIDS IV. DISASTER WHICH THREATENED DEFEAT V. TO THE BEND OF THE RIVER VI. CROSS COUNTRY TO SEAL LAKE WATERS VII. OFF FOR MICHIRAMAU VIII. SCARING THE GUIDES IX. MOUNT HUBBARD AND WINDBOUND LAKE X. MICHIKAMAU XI. STORM-BOUND ON MICHIKAMATS XII. THE MIGRATING CARIBOU XII. ACROSS THE DIVIDE XIV. THROUGH THE LAKES OF THE UPPER GEORGE XV. THE MONTAGNAIS INDIANS XVI. THE BARREN GROUND PEOPLE XVII. THE RACE FOR UNGAVA XVIII. THE RECKONING DIARY OF LEONIDAS HUBBARD, JR. NARRATIVE BY GEORGE ELSON
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Author Leonidas Hubbard, Jr. Where Romance Lingers Deep Ancient Valleys George Elson Job Gilbert On Into the Wilderness The Fierce Nascaupee The White Man's Burden Making Canoe Poles Job Was in His Element Coming Down the Trail with Packs Washing-Day On the Trail In the Heart of the Wilderness Solitude (Seal Lake) Joe Skinning the Caribou The Fall Wild Maid Marion Gertrude Falls Breakfast on Michikamau Stormbound From an Indian Grave A Bit of the Caribou Country The Indians' Cache Bridgman Mountains The Camp on the Hill A Montagnais Type The Montagnais Boy Nascaupees in Skin Dress Indian Women and Their Rome With the Nascaupee Women The Nascaupee Chief and Men Nascaupee Little Folk A North Country Mother and Her Little Ones Shooting the Rapids, The Arrival at Ungava A Bit of the Coast A Rainy Camp Working Up Shallow Water Drying Caribou Meat and Mixing Bannocks Great Michikamau Carrying the Canoe Up the Hill on the Portage Launching In the Nascaupee Valley A Rough Country The French Post at Northwest River Hudson's Bay Company Post as Northwest River Night-Gloom Gathers Map of Eastern Labrador showing Route
A WOMAN'S WAY THROUGH UNKOWN LABRADOR
LEONIDAS HUBBARD, JR.
There was an unusual excitement and interest in Mr. Hubbard's face when he came home one evening in January of 1903.
We had just seated ourselves at the dinner-table, when leaning forward he handed me a letter to read. It contained the very pleasing information that we were shortly to receive a, for us, rather large sum of money. It was good news, but it did not quite account for Mr. Hubbard's present state of mind, and I looked up enquiringly.
"You see, Wife, it means that I can take my Labrador trip whether anyone sends me or not," he said triumphantly.
His eyes glowed and darkened and in his voice was the ring of a great enthusiasm, for he had seen a Vision, and this trip was a vital part of his dream.
The dream had begun years ago, when a boy lay out under the apple trees of a quiet farm in Southern Michigan with elbows resting on the pages of an old school geography, chin in palms and feet in air. The book was open at the map of Canada, and there on the other page were pictures of Indians dressed in skins with war bonnets on their heads; pictures of white hunters also dressed in skins, paddling bark canoes; winter pictures of dog-teams and sledges, the driver on his snow-shoes, his long whip in hand. The boy would have given all the arrow-heads he had for just one look at what he saw pictured there.
He was born, this boy, of generations of pioneer ancestors, the line of his mother's side running back to Flanders of three hundred years ago, through Michael Paulus Van Der Voort, who came to America from Dendermonde, East Flanders, and whose marriage on 18th November, 1640, to Marie Rappelyea, was the fifth recorded marriage in New Amsterdam, now New York. A branch runs back in England to John Rogers the martyr. It is the boast of this family that none of the blood has ever been known to "show the white feather." Among those ancestors of recent date of whose deeds he was specially proud, were the great-grandfather, Samuel Rogers, a pioneer preacher of the Church of Christ among the early settlers of Kentucky and Missouri, and the Grandfather Hubbard who took his part in the Indian fights of Ohio's early history. On both mother's and father's side is a record of brave, high-hearted, clean-living men and women, strong in Christian faith, lovers of nature, all of them, and thus partakers in rich measure of that which ennobles life.
The father, Leonidas Hubbard, had come "'cross country" from Deerfield, Ohio, with gun on shoulder, when Michigan was still a wilderness, and had chosen this site for his future home. He had taught in a school for a time in his young manhood; but the call of the out-of-doors was too strong, and forth he went again. When the responsibilities of life made it necessary for him to limit his wanderings he had halted here; and here on July 12th, 1872, the son Leonidas Hubbard, Jr., was born.
He began by taking things very much to heart, joys and sorrows alike. In his play he was always setting himself some unaccomplishable task, and then flying into a rage because he could not do it. The first great trouble came with the advent of a baby sister who, some foolish one told him, would steal from him his mother's heart. Passionately he implored a big cousin to "take that little baby out and chop its head off."
Later he found it all a mistake, that his mother's heart was still his own, and so he was reconciled.
From earliest recollection he had listened with wide eyes through winter evenings, while over a pan of baldwin apples his father talked with some neighbour who had dropped in, of the early days when they had hunted deer and wolves and wild turkeys over this country where were now the thrifty Michigan farms. There were, too, his father's stories of his own adventures as hunter and miner in the mountains of the West.
It seemed to him the time would never come when he would be big enough to hunt and trap and travel through the forests as his father had done. He grew so slowly; but the years did pass, and at last one day the boy almost died of gladness when his father told him he was big enough now to learn to trap, and that he should have a lesson tomorrow. It was the first great overwhelming joy.
There was also a first great crime.
While waiting for this happy time to come he had learned to do other things, among them to throw stones. It was necessary, however, to be careful what was aimed at. The birds made tempting marks; but song-birds were sacred things, and temptation had to be resisted.
One day while he played in the yard with his little sister, resentment having turned to devotion, a wren flew down to the wood pile and began its song. It happened at that very moment he had a stone in his hand. He didn't quite have time to think before the stone was gone and the bird dropped dead. Dumb with horror the two gazed at each other. Beyond doubt all he could now expect was to go straight to torment. After one long look they turned and walked silently away in opposite directions. Never afterwards did they mention the incident to each other.
A new life began for him with his trapping. He learned to fish as well, for besides being a hunter, his father was an angler of State-wide reputation. The days on which his father accompanied him along the banks of the St. Joe, or to some more distant stream, were very specially happy ones. His cup was quite filled full when, on the day he was twelve years old, a rifle all his own was placed in his hands. Father and son then hunted together.
While thus growing intimate with the living things of the woods and streams, his question was not so much "What?" as "Why?" As reading came to take a larger part in life and interest to reach out to human beings, again his question was "Why?" So when other heroes took their places beside his father for their share of homage, they were loved and honoured for that which prompted their achievements more than for the deeds themselves.
Passionately fond of history, with its natural accompaniment geography, he revelled, as does every normal boy, in stories of the wars, Indian stories and tales of travel and adventure. His imagination kindled by what he had read, and the oft-repeated tales of frontier life in which the courage, endurance, and high honour of his own pioneer forefathers stood out strong and clear, it was but natural that the boy under the apple trees should feel romance in every bit of forest, every stream; that his thoughts should be reaching towards the out-of-the-way places of the earth where life was still that of the pioneer with the untamed wilderness lying across his path, and on into the wilderness itself.
Though born with all the instincts of the hunter, he was born also with an exquisitely tender and sympathetic nature, which made him do strange things for a boy.
One day a toad hopped into the beeyard and his father was about to kill it. The boy petitioned for its life and carried it away. It came back. Again it was carried away. Again it returned and this time was taken clear to the river.
Once a much loved aunt came to visit at his home bringing the little sister a beautiful, new doll. That night she trotted off to bed hugging the new treasure close. The boy did not love dolls; but when he saw the old, rag baby left lonely and forsaken be quietly picked it up and carried it to bed with him.
Years afterwards, when on a canoe trip on the Moose River, a disconsolate looking little Indian dog came and sat shyly watching us while we broke camp. We learned that the Indian owners had gone to the bush leaving him to fare as he might through the coming winter. When our canoe pushed out into the river there was an extra passenger. We brought him home to Congers, where he immediately carried consternation into the neighbouring chicken yards, convinced that he had found the finest partridge country on earth.
When sixteen the boy went to attend the Angola (Indiana) Normal School. Here his decision for Christ was made. He was baptized and united with the Church of Christ. Three years later his teaching took him to Northern Michigan where be found a wider range than he had yet known, and in the great pine forests of that country he did his first real exploring. Here were clear, cold streams with their trout and grayling, and here, when his work admitted, he hunted and fished and dreamed out his plans, his thoughts turning ever more insistently to the big, outside world where his heroes did their work.
He entered the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1893. High strung and sensitive, with a driving energy and ambition to have part in the larger work of the world, be suffered during the early part of his course all the agonies that come to those of such a nature while they grope in the dark for that which they are fitted to do. He reached out in many directions in his effort to provide the needful money to enable him to take his course, but without a sense of special fitness in any. It came however with his earliest attempts in journalistic work. The discovery with its measure of self-recognition brought a thrill that compensated for all the dark hours. He now felt assured of success.
His life in the University was one of varied and unceasing activity. In his studies history, literature, psychology claimed his special interest. He was an enthusiast in athletics, and found his field in running and boxing. The contest was as the wine of life to him. He was active in the literary and debating societies, and prominent in the Student's Christian Association, attending and taking part in the work of the local branch of the Church of Christ. His first newspaper work was done as an amateur on the college press. Then came assignments from the local dailies and correspondence for the Detroit papers.
He possessed the "news sense" to an unusual degree, delighting to take "beats" from under the very feet of his brother reporters.
In 1897 while he was still in Ann Arbor, just before Dr. James B. Angell, President of the University, left on his mission to Turkey, a telegram came from a Detroit evening paper directing him to see Dr. Angell and ask why he had changed his date of sailing.
Dr. Angell was not in the habit of telling reporters what he did not wish them to know, and when asked the question replied: "Haven't a word to say. I really don't know anything new at all." Then with a smile which he fondly believed to be inscrutable, he remarked: "Why, I don't even know whether I'll go to Turkey or not."
A few minutes later those last words of the President were reported over the wires, without the sarcasm and without the smile. That very evening, in big headlines on the first page, it was announced that there was some hitch, and that President Angell might not go as Minister to the Court of the Sultan.
The correspondents of the morning papers hastened to see President Angell, who insisted that if he had made such a remark it was in fun. But it was unavailing. The despatch had stirred up the officials in Washington, and the morning papers that printed the President's explanation printed over it the official statement, that the Porte was objecting to Dr. Angell, on account of his close relationship with the Congregational Missionary Board.
After his graduation in 1897, he took a position on the staff of a Detroit evening paper. Much of the two years of his newspaper work there was spent in Lansing covering State politics. In this line of work lay his chief interest, though he by no means confined himself to it.
His work made it possible for him to indulge his bent for dipping into the by-ways of human life. Utterly fearless, resolute, persistent, there was yet in his manner a beautiful simplicity, a gentleness and interest that rarely failed to disarm and win admission where he desired to enter. Added to this equipment were a fine sense of humour, a subtle sympathy, and a passionate tenderness for anyone or anything lonely or neglected or in trouble. So, as only the few do, he learned "Why."
Here amidst the struggles and temptations, the joys and disappointments, the successes and mistakes of his busy life, one hero rose surely to a place above all others, a place that was never usurped—"the man, Christ Jesus," worshipped in the years that were left, not only as the Redeemer of the world, but as his ideal hero.
This was his manliest man, so grandly strong and brave, yet so inexpressibly sweet-spirited and gentle, with a great human heart that, understanding so wholly, was yet so little understood; that in the midst of overwhelming work and care and loneliness hungered for human love and sympathy, giving so generously of its own great store, receiving so little in return. Here he found the strong purpose, the indomitable will, the courage that, accepting the hard things of life, could yet go unfalteringly forward, to the accomplishment of a great work, even though there was ever before Him the consciousness that at the end must come the great sacrifice.
In 1899 he decided to launch out into the wider field, which journalistic work in the East offered, and in the summer of that year he came to New York. Many were the predictions of brother reporters and friends that he would starve in the great city. It was a struggle. He knew no one, had letters to no one, but that was rather as he wished it than otherwise. He liked to test his own fitness. It meant risk, but he knew his own capabilities and believed in his own resourcefulness. He had thoroughly convinced himself that the men who achieve are those who do what other men are afraid to do. The difficulty would be to get an opening. That done, he had no fear of what would follow.
He began his quest with a capital of less than five dollars. There were many disappointments, much weariness, and a long fast which came near to persuading him that his friends' predictions were perhaps about to be fulfilled. But he got his opening.
Staggering with weakness, he had lived for two days in momentary dread of arrest for drunkenness. Then just when it seemed that he could go no farther, a former acquaintance from the West, of whose presence in the city he was aware, met him. Among the first questions was: "Do you need money?" and forthwith a generous fifteen dollars was placed in his hand. That day one of his special stories was accepted, and only a few days later he was taken on the staff of the Daily News, where soon the best assignments of the paper were given him.
Do you know why you are getting the best work to do here?" asked one of the new friends.
"It's because you're white."
This position he retained until May of the following year, meantime contributing to the editorial page of The Saturday Evening Post. Then an attack of typhoid lost him his position; but he had made loyal friends, who delighted to come to his aid. Something of the quality of his own loyalty is expressed in an entry in his diary shortly after leaving the hospital. "Many good lessons in human nature. Learned much about who are the real friends, who may be trusted to a finish, who are not quitters, but it shall not be written." During the period of his convalescence which he spent among the Shawangunk Mountains of Sullivan County, New York, he decided that if it were possible he would not go back to newspaper work. A friend had sent him a letter of introduction to the editor of Outing, which in August he presented, and was asked to bring in an article on the preservation of the Adirondack Park as a national playground. The article proved acceptable, and thenceforth most of his work was done for that magazine.
In September he wrote his friend, Mr. James A. Leroy.
"MY DEAR JIM,—I think that regardless of your frightful neglect I shall be obliged to write you another note expressing sense of under-obligationness to you for that letter. It is the best thing I've run up against so to speak. As a result of it I am to have the pleasure of hastening Detroitward. There I shall register at the House. I shall sit in the window with my feet higher than my head, and wear a one-hundred-and-fifty-dollar-a-week air of nonchalance. When the festive Detroit reporter shys past looking hungrily at the cafe, I'll look at my watch with a wonder-if-it's- time-to-dress-for-dinner air and fill his soul with envy. This has been the dream that has haunted me ever since those childhood days when you and I ate at Spaghetti's and then went to the House to talk it over. I shall carry out the dire scheme and then—well, then, if Fate says for me to hustle across the Great Divide, I'll go with the feeling that life has not been in vain."
Later, January 14th of the following year, to the same friend who was then in Manila as secretary to Dean Worcester.
"You may think it wondrous strange that I should be here in Canada in mid-winter when I could as well be south. There is a mystery, and since you are on the other side of the world I don't mind telling. I am here on a filibustering expedition. I made a firm resolution some months ago that a certain portion of Canada should be annexed to the United States. I am here fostering annexation sentiment, and have succeeded so well that the consent is unanimous, and the annexation will occur just as soon as L. H., junior, is able to pay board for two, which will probably be a matter of a few weeks. So don't be surprised if you receive a square envelope containing an announcement which reads something like this:
Mr. and Mrs. of Bewdley, Ontario, announce the of their daughter to MR. LEONIDAS HUBBARD, JR.
On his return to New York, a short time later, he was assigned a trip through the Southern States. Hence a telegram, on January 29th, to a quiet Canadian town. On January 31st a quiet wedding in a little church in New York, and then five months in the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and among the forests and cotton plantations of Mississippi.
Besides the work done for the magazine on this trip, he gave the Atlantic Monthly two articles, "The Moonshiner at Home," and "Barataria: The Ruins of a Pirate Kingdom."
During the fall, winter and early spring, our home was in Wurtsboro, Sullivan County, New York, a quaint old village in the beautiful Mamakating valley. Here he hunted and fished and worked, February found him on a snowshoe trip in Northern Quebec with the Montagnais Indian trappers, the outcome of which was his "Children of the Bush."
On April 1st, 1902, he entered the office as assistant editor of Outing. Here was a new field and another opportunity for testing his fitness. He threw himself into the work with characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and his influence on the magazine was marked from the first. He soon succeeded in projecting into it something of his own passionately human personality. In the fall of that year a noted angler commented to him on the change in it and his responsibility.
"When a big salmon comes to the top, there is a great swirl on the water. You don't see the salmon, but you know he is there," he said.
Office work left little time for writing; but in the early autumn of that year a vacation trip to the north shore of Lake Superior gave him two articles, "Where Romance Lingers," and "Off Days on Superior's North Shore."
In January 1903 the trip to Labrador was decided on, and his preparation for it begun. Before the winter was over his plans were made. On May 13th it was arranged with the magazine that it should go as an Outing expedition. The preparation held for him the many difficulties and trials common to such undertakings, but also, perhaps, more than the usual pleasures.
The big map of Labrador looked back from the wall of the little study in Congers. We stood before it a long time discussing plans and possibilities. Then an eager, happy face was turned to me as he told how he would write the story and how he would have grown when he came home again.
On June 20th he sailed from New York with his little party.
In January following came that short message, "Mr. Hubbard died October 18th in the interior of Labrador."
In March were received the letters containing that final record of his life, which took from the hearts of those who loved him best the intolerable bitterness, because it told that he had not only dreamed his dream—he had attained his Vision.
It was a short, full life journey, and a joyous, undaunted heart that traversed it. Almost the most beautiful of its attributes was the joyousness.
He was "glad of Life because it gave him a chance to love and to work and to play."
He never failed to "look up at the stars."
He thought "every day of Christ."
Sometimes towards evening in dreary November, when the clouds hang heavy and low, covering all the sky, and the hills are solemn and sombre, and the wind is cold, and the lake black and sullen, a break in the dark veil lets through a splash of glorious sunshine. It is so very beautiful as it falls into the gloom that your breath draws in quick and you watch it with a thrill. Then you see that it moves towards you. All at once you are in the midst of it, it is falling round you and seems to have paused as if it meant to stay with you and go no farther.
While you revel in this wonderful light that has stopped to enfold you, suddenly it is not falling round you any more, and you see it moving steadily on again, out over the marsh with its bordering evergreens, touching with beauty every place it falls upon, forward up the valley, unwavering, without pause, till you are holding your breath as it begins to climb the hills away yonder.
It is gone.
The smoke blue clouds hang lower and heavier, the hills stand more grimly solemn and sombre, the wind is cold, the lake darker and more sullen, and the beauty has gone out of the marsh.
Then—then it is night.
But you do not forget the Light.
You know it still shines—somewhere.
SLIPPING AWAY INTO THE WILDERNESS
It was on the 15th of July, 1903, that Leonidas Hubbard, Jr., my husband, with two companions, set out from Northwest River Post, near the head of Lake Melville, for a canoe trip into the interior of Labrador, which be hoped would not only afford him an interesting wilderness experience but also an opportunity to explore and map one, and perhaps both, of these rivers, the Northwest River draining Lake Michikamau to Lake Melville, and the George River draining the northern slope of the plateau to Ungava Bay.
Misled by information obtained at the post, which corresponded with the indications of the map he carried, that of the Geological Survey of Canada, Mr. Hubbard took the Susan River, which enters Grand Lake at the head of a bay five miles from its western end. The Susan River led them, not by an open waterway to Lake Michikamau, but up to the edge of the plateau, where they became lost in the maze of its lakes. When within sight of the great lake the party was forced to begin a retreat, which Mr. Hubbard did not survive to complete. He died in the far interior, and the object of his expedition was not achieved.
It seemed to me fit that my husband's name should reap the fruits of service which had cost him so much, and in the summer of 1905 I myself undertook the conduct of the second Hubbard Expedition, and, with the advantage of the information and experience obtained by the first, a larger crew and a three weeks' earlier start, successfully completed the work undertaken two years before.
My decision to undertake the completion of my husband's work was taken one day in January of 1905. That evening I began making my plans and preparations for the journey. Towards the end of May they were completed, and on the evening of the 16th of June I sailed from Halifax for Labrador, arriving at Northwest River Post, the real starting-point of my journey, on Sunday morning, June 25th.
It was with characteristic courtesy and hospitality that M. Duclos, who was in charge of the French trading post, placed himself and his house at my service, and our coming was celebrated by a dinner of wild goose, plum pudding, and coffee. After the voyage from Halifax it seemed good to rest a little with the firm earth under foot, and where the walls of one's habitation were still. Through the open windows came the fragrance of the spruce woods, and from the little piazza in front of the house you could look down and across Lake Melville, and away to the blue mountains beyond, where the snow was still lying in white masses.
The settlement at Northwest River consists mainly of the two trading posts, the French post with its three buildings—the house, store and oil house—on the right bank of the river, close to its discharge into Lake Melville, and higher up on the opposite shore the line of low, white buildings of the Hudson's Bay Company post. A few tiny planters' homes complete the sum total of its greatness.
Monday morning the work of preparation for departure into the wilderness began. My crew numbered four, chief among whom was George Elson, who had loyally served Mr. Hubbard in 1903, and who, with rare skill and rarer devotion, had recovered Mr. Hubbard's body and his photographic material from the interior in the depths of the following winter. The other two men were Joseph Iserhoff, a Russian half-breed, and Job Chapies, a pure blood Cree Indian. These three men were expert hunters and canoemen, having been born and brought up in the James Bay country, and they came to me from Missanabie, some 700 miles west of Montreal. The fourth was Gilbert Blake, a half-breed Eskimo boy trapper, one of the two young lads of the rescue party George Elson had sent back two years before, when his heroic, but unsuccessful, efforts to save Mr. Hubbard's life had brought him to Donald Blake's house. Through the courtesy of M. Duclos, in whose service he was employed at the time of my arrival, he was released that he might go with me. The men were splendid, capable-looking fellows, with an air of quiet dignity and self-possession about them, which comes from conscious ability and character. Gilbert was a bright-faced, merry-hearted boy, with a reputation for being a willing worker, which he fully lived up to on the journey. All seemed thoroughly to enjoy the prospect of the trip, and their assurance greatly added to my ease of mind.
A deeper touch of anxiety was added for me by information obtained at Rigolette to the effect that the Hudson's Bay Company's steamer, Pelican, my only means of return to civilisation before the closing in of winter, would be at the post at Ungava, my destination, the last week in August. That left us two months to make the journey, which, at the shortest, would carry us across 550 miles of Labrador wilderness. It seemed a great deal to expect, but the men were confident and only eager to be started.
The task of unpacking, rearranging, and completing my outfit was not accomplished when night came. A number of the things I had counted on procuring at the posts were not to be had—the stores being almost empty of supplies. However, M. Duclos and Mr. Cotter of the Hudson's Bay Company cheerfully raided their own domiciles to supply my lack; substitutes were improvised, and shortly after noon on Tuesday the outfit was completed and loaded into the canoes. To my great satisfaction they were found to carry the load easily, riding well out of the water.
There were two canoes, canvas covered and 19 feet long, 13 inches deep, 34 inches wide, and with each of them three paddles and a sponge. The remainder of the outfit consisted of 2 balloon-silk tents, 1 stove, 7 waterproof canvas bags, one dozen 10 lbs. waterproof balloon-silk bags, 3 tarpaulins, 392 lbs. of flour, 4 lbs. baking powder, 15 lbs. rice, 20 cans standard emergency rations, 12 lbs. tea, 12 lbs. chocolate, 60 lbs. sugar, 20 lbs. erbswurst, 1 oz. crystalose, 4 cans condensed milk, 4 cans condensed soup, 5 lbs. hard tack, 200 lbs. bacon, 14 lbs. salt. There were kitchen utensils—3 small axes, 1 crooked knife, and 2 nets. The outfit of firearms consisted of two rifles, a 45-70 with 60 rounds of ammunition, and a 38-55 with 100 rounds. Each of the men had a 22 cal. 10-inch barrel, single-shot pistol for partridges and other small game. Each also carried a hunting knife, a pair of light wool camp blankets, and an extra pair of "shoe-packs."
For myself, I had a revolver, a hunting knife, and some fishing tackle; one three and a quarter by four and a quarter folding pocket kodak, one panorama kodak, a sextant and artificial horizon, a barometer, a thermometer. I wore a short skirt over knickerbockers, a short sweater, and a belt to which were attached my cartridge pouch, revolver, and hunting knife. My hat was a rather narrow brimmed soft felt. I had one pair of heavy leather moccasins reaching almost to my knees, one pair of high seal-skin boots, one pair low ones, which M. Duclos had given me, and three pairs of duffel. Of underwear I had four suits and five pairs of stockings, all wool. I took also a rubber automobile shirt, a long, Swedish dog-skin coat, one pair leather gloves, one pair woollen gloves, and a blouse—for Sundays. For my tent I had an air mattress, crib size, one pair light grey camp blankets, one light wool comfortable, weighing 3 1/2 lbs., one little feather pillow, and a hotwater bottle.
It was 3.15 P.M., July 27th, when the last details of preparation were completed, and we were ready to start, with all Northwest River to see us off.
"You will be all right, Mrs. Hubbard," said Mr. Cotter. "At first I did not think you could do it, but I have changed my mind. You can do it, and without any trouble too. Good-bye, and the best of success to you."
The farewell wishes of M. Duclos and M. Fournier, his assistant, were not less enthusiastic. M. Duclos ran forward a little, kodak in hand, and as the canoe glided past up the river, he said: "I have ze las' picture, Madame."
A few minutes' paddling carried the canoes round the point, and the two posts were lost to sight.
It did not seem strange or unnatural to be setting out as I was on such an errand. Rather there came a sense of unspeakable relief in thus slipping away into the wilderness, with the privilege of attempting the completion of the work my husband had undertaken to do. Everything looked hopeful for my plans, and I was only glad to be really started on my way at last. Behind me in my canoe sat the trusty hero whose courage and honour and fidelity made my venture possible, and who took from my shoulders so much of the responsibility. Through George Elson I engaged and paid the other men of my party, and on him I relied to communicate to them my plans and my directions and desires.
It was a perfect day. The air was clear as crystal, and the water, the greenwoods, the hills and mountains with lines and patches of white upon them, the sky with its big, soft clouds made such a combination of green and blue and silver as I had never seen except in Labrador. Before five o'clock we had passed the rapid at the head of the three-mile stretch of river draining Grand Lake to Lake Melville, to which alone the natives give the name Northwest River, and turned into Grand Lake.
The thought of Grand Lake had troubled me a little. It is forty miles long and four miles wide, and only a little wind is needed to make such a body of water impassable for loaded canoes. M. Duclos had offered his yacht to take us to the mouth of the Nascaupee River, but when we were ready to start there was not enough wind to carry her past the rapid, and we decided not to wait. On entering the lake we turned to the right and landed to put up our first sails. Soon they were caught by the light breeze and, together with the quick paddle strokes, carried the canoes at a rapid pace towards Cape Corbeau, which rose high and commanding twelve miles away.
At 6 P.M. we landed for supper, hard tack and bacon and tea, and then as quickly as might be were on our way again. There was need to make the most of such perfect conditions for passing Grand Lake. Sunset, and we were nearing Cape Corbeau. Then came twilight which was almost more beautiful, and I sat sometimes thinking my own thoughts, sometimes listening to George and Job as they chatted with each other in Indian. Ten o'clock came, and still the dip, dip, of the paddles went on. Now and again they were laid across the canoe, and the pipes came out, or the tired arms rested a little. It was not till eleven that we finally turned in to camp at Silver Pine Lodge, having made twenty-two miles of our journey. The sky was still light in the north-west.
The men soon had a roaring camp fire, for it had grown cold after sunset. We had a second supper, and at 12.45 A.M. I made the last entry in my diary and went to my tent. Meanwhile, the light slowly shifted from west to east along the northern sky, but did not fade away. The men did not put up their tent, but lay beside the fire, for we meant to be up betimes and try to make the mouth of the Nascaupee River before the lake, which was already roughening a little, became impassable.
At 3 A.M. George called, "All aboard." A quick breakfast, and we were started. Paddling straight towards Berry Head we passed it about six o'clock, and by 8 A.M. were safe on the Nascaupee River, where the winds could not greatly trouble us.
The sand-hills stand about the wide-mouthed bay into which the river flows, and many little wooded islands lie at its head, and in the river's mouth, which is entirely obscured by them, so that it is not until you are close upon them that the river can be seen. For a mile we threaded our way among these islands and found ourselves at the mouth of the Crooked River where it enters the Nascaupee on the north. The two river courses lie near together for some distance, separated only by a sandy plateau, in places little more than a mile wide.
At 10 A.M. we halted for lunch, and after the meal the men lay down in the willows to sleep. I tried to sleep too, but could not. The Susan River had been so rough and hard to travel, and this river was so big, and deep, and fine. The thought of what missing it two years before had cost would not be shut out.
After a bite, at 3 P.M. we were off again, and had gone only a little way when George exclaimed, "Who's that? Why, it's a bear."
On the farther side of the river walking along the hill was a huge black bear. I had never before seen one anywhere but in the Zoo, and the sight of this big fellow enjoying the freedom of his native country gave me quite a new sensation. At first we decided not to molest him. A full supply of provisions made it unnecessary to secure game now, and at this time of the year the skin would be of no value. The men sent a few rifle shots in his direction, though not with any thought of their hitting him. They had the effect of making him quicken his pace, however, and the trail took him up to the top of the hill where, as he went leisurely along, his big form clearly outlined against the sky, he proved too great a temptation. Suddenly the canoe shot out across the river, and on the other shore ran into the mouth of a little stream at the foot of a big sand-hill.
Job hurried off with the rifle, and George and I followed as I was able. We had to cross a broad belt of tangled willows, and to know what that means, one must do it; but the prospect of at least getting on the edge of a bear chase is great inducement when once you become a little excited, and I scrambled through. The hill was steep and thickly strewn with windfalls about which the new growth had sprung up. Its top was like the thin edge of a wedge, and the farther side dropped, a steep sand-bank, to the stream which flowed at its foot. When we were hardly more than half-way up, there was the sound of a shot and a funny, little shrill cry from Job. Bruin had been climbing the sand-bank, and was nearly at the top when Job fired. The bullet evidently struck him for, doubling up, his head between his legs, he rolled over and over to the foot of the bank. When I reached the top of the hill he was on his legs again and running down along the edge of the stream. There had been only one cartridge in the rifle, and Job rushed down the hill to the canoe for more.
Joe and Gilbert had crossed the river meantime and were landing near our canoe. The stream turned abruptly round the foot of the hill close to them, and I wondered what would happen when Bruin appeared suddenly round the bend. Evidently Bruin had the best eyes—or nose—for, on coming to the bend, he turned suddenly and started back up-stream; but again changing his mind he made up over the hill where we had first seen him. I was still panting and trembling with the exertion of my climb, but I took out my revolver and sent a few shots after him. It is hardly needful to say they did not hurt the bear. When Job and Gilbert came up with the rifles to where we were standing he was just disappearing over the top of the hill, having apparently been little injured, and so the chase was not followed up.
Our camp that night was on a high sand-bank on the north shore of the river. The place chosen looked rough and unpromising to me, for the ground was thickly strewn with windfalls. All this part of the country had been burned over many years ago, and was very desolate looking. The men, however, pronounced the place "Ma-losh- an! Ma-losh-an!" (fine! fine!) and in less than an hour the tents were pitched and made comfortable. New experiences seemed to be coming thick and fast, for we had supper of porcupine down on the rocks at the shore. I did not like it.
I used my air mattress that night, building it up at the head with my dunnage bag, and at the foot with boughs. My hot-water bottle was also called into requisition, for it was cold. They were both better than I had hoped, and I slept as comfortably as if in the most luxurious apartment.
CLIMBING THE RAPIDS
The call "All aboard," came at about six o'clock on Thursday morning. We had breakfast, and started at 8 A.M. A cold northwest wind was blowing, and an occasional light shower fell. The sand- hills on either side of the river grew higher as we went up, with always the willows along the water edge. Miles ahead we could see Mounts Sawyer and Elizabeth rising blue and fine above the other hills, and thus standing up from the desolation of the burnt lands all about; they came as a foreword of what was awaiting us further on.
Not far from camp we took another porcupine. There were beaver signs too, willows cut off and floating downstream along the shore. Leaning over, Job picked one up and handed it back to me to show me how cleverly they do their work. A rabbit ran up from the water edge. Now it was a muskrat lying in among the willows. He was evidently trying to decide which way to go, and in a moment or two began swimming straight towards the pistols that were being loaded for him. I was a little startled and exclaimed "Why, what's the matter with him? Is he hurt?" Whereupon the men laughed so heartily that the rat almost escaped. I did not understand that it was the swift current which was carrying him against his will directly towards us, and could only think that he must have been sick, or hurt perhaps, to make him do so strange a thing. From that time forward, "What's the matter with him? Is he hurt?" became a byword in camp.
Thirteen miles above Grand Lake we reached the portage route by which the Indians avoid the roughest part of the river. It leads out on the north bank opposite the mouth of the Red Wine River, passing up to the higher country, through a chain of lakes, and entering the river again at Seal Lake. By this route the Indians reach Seal Lake from Northwest River in less than two weeks, taking just twenty-one days to make the journey through to Lake Michikamau.
The trappers told us that, going by the river, it would take a month to reach Seal Lake. I wished very much to keep to the river route, because Mr. Hubbard would have had to do so had he not missed the way, there being no Indians within reach, at the time he made his journey, from whom we could obtain information. Yet our time was short. From an Indian, whom we found at Northwest River, I had a map of the portage; but it was crude, and we should not be able to make the trip as quickly as the Indians even at best. It was quite possible that a good deal of time might have to be spent looking for the trail, for it was old and would not be easily found. It was hard to decide what was best to do.
Going ashore the men hastily examined the trail. The council which followed resulted in a decision to keep to the river. The work would be harder, but we should probably make as good progress and reach Seal Lake as soon as by going through the lakes.
Above this point the river swings more to the north, and the current grows swifter as you ascend. A little before noon we landed at Point Lucie, a high, sandy point, which stands out into the river at the foot of the first rapid. Here the trappers leave their boats and make no attempt to take canoes farther up, but portage their provisions and traps the remaining 40 miles to Seal Lake. It seemed quite thrilling to have arrived at the wonderful rapids I had heard so much about. It made me tremble a little to think of sometimes being on them in a canoe, for there was so much water, and the river looked so big.
Below Point Lucie a broad bed of loose rocks reached high up at its foot, and in the curve of the point were great sand and gravel- covered hummocks of ice. For some distance below us the farther and right bank of the river was lined with huge ice-banks, still 10 and 12 feet thick, which extended up almost to where the river came pouring out from the foot of Mount Sawyer, in a leaping, foaming torrent. At this point the river spread out over a bed of loose rocks about half a mile wide, which broke the water into channels, the widest, deepest, and swiftest of which flowed along the farther shore. The smaller and shallower ones curved into the bay above Point Lucie. A short distance above us several of these united, and from there the water was deep and swift and poured round Point Lucie with tremendous force. Around the curve of the bay and stranded in the river-bed were more ice-banks.
While George, Joe, and Gilbert were busy preparing lunch Job disappeared into the woods. Some time later he came back with four stout dry poles. They were about nine feet long and two and a half inches in diameter at the lower end. After lunch the work of shaving and shoeing them began, and the crooked knife came into use. It was fine to watch Job's quick, deft strokes as he made them ready. The "shods" George had brought from Missanabie. These were made at Moose Factory, and were the kind used throughout the James Bay country. They were hollow cone-shaped pieces of iron a quarter of an inch thick and open down one side, so that they might not break with the strain. They were 4 inches long, rounded and solid at the small end, and on either side, about an inch from the top, was a hole to admit the nail which fastened the pole in place. When finished they looked as if meant for heavy work.
All being now ready to proceed George said: "We will get in around the point, Mrs. Hubbard."
I wondered why, and concluded it must be because the water was so swift at the point. I still wondered why George did not stay to help Job; for as all their conversations were carried on in Indian, I was in darkness as to what was to happen. In silence I waited for developments. A little distance above the point, near where the water was deeper and not so swift, I looked back, and to my astonishment I saw Job poling the canoe through the swift water alone. But this was mild surprise compared with what was awaiting me.
We were soon in the canoe, and for nearly half a mile they poled up the swift current. The water was deep, and sometimes they bent over the poles till their hands dipped into the water. It seemed as if they must certainly fall overboard. I expected every minute to find myself perforce taking a header into the deep water. Sometimes we brushed the edge of a big ice-bank. The moment the poles were lifted the canoe stopped its forward movement, and if they were not quickly set again it began to slip back with the current. At last the water became too shallow and rough and we went ashore. Here the portaging began, and I climbed up over the ice-banks and walked along the shore. Even while ice and snow lingered, the flowers were beginning to bloom, and I found two tiny blue violets. On reaching the deepest part of the bay I turned to look back. Job was bringing one of the canoes up the rapid with two full portage loads in it. I could scarcely believe what I saw, and ran eagerly down to secure a photograph of this wonderful feat. But my powers of astonishment reached their limit when later I saw him calmly bringing the canoe round the bend at the foot of Mount Sawyer and up into the narrower part of the river. Now I was not alone in my wonder. Both George and Joe watched with interest equal to mine, for even they had never seen a canoeman pole in water so rough.
Job looked as if in his element. The wilder the rapid the more he seemed to enjoy it. He would stand in the stern of the canoe, right foot back, left forward with leg against the thwart, with set pole holding it steady in the rushing, roaring water while he looked the way over, choosing out his course. Then he would move the canoe forward again, twisting its nose now this way, now that, in the most marvellous fashion, and when he drove it into the rush of water pouring round a big rock the pole would bend and tremble with the weight and strain he put upon it. Sometimes I could hardly breathe while watching him. After taking one canoe some distance above the bend he went back for the second, and all the remainder of the afternoon Job climbed hills of water in the canoes.
That evening our camp was again on top of a high bank thirty feet or more above the river. Joe and Gilbert put up the tents, while down at our camp fire at the shore George made the bannocks and Job skinned, dressed, and cooked the porcupine. When it grew so dark that I could not see to write I went to help cook bannocks. It seemed good to be near the fire too, for it was growing cold. George and Job chatted merrily in Indian, Job evidently, as fond of fun as George. The fun suddenly came to an end, however, when Gilbert came down to say that the tube of my bed-pump was missing. It was too true. The thing was not to be found anywhere. It had been dropped when the stuff was handed down the bank in the morning.
It seemed a quite serious matter to me, knowing as I did from past experience that I cannot sleep on the ground long without growing very tired, when I lose my nerve and am afraid to do anything. I did not like to think of the possibility of either growing desperate and wanting to turn back or breaking down under the strain of going on. Some one would have to go back for the tube, and time was precious now. It would be trying to lose a day. While I sat rather disconsolate considering the situation, George conceived the brilliant idea of having Gilbert turn himself into an air-pump, which he did quite cheerfully, and very soon my bed was as tight and firm as need be, and peace reigned again.
When at last we assembled for supper it was nearly 10 P.M., and the stars were coming out over Mount Sawyer. The meal was a quiet one, for all were tired, and well content to listen in silence to the music of the river, as softly the night-gloom gathered unto itself the wilderness.
DISASTER WHICH THREATENED DEFEAT
Friday morning was warm and bright. It seemed wonderful to be having so much fine weather in Labrador, and not a fly or mosquito as yet. The one nuisance we had met was mice or lemmings. They had been busy with my hat in the night, and when I came to put it on that morning I found there was a hole eaten in the crown and a meal or two taken out of the brim. There seemed to be thousands of them, and they ran squealing about everywhere, great fat fellows, some of them as big as grey squirrels. The ground was so perforated with their holes that it reminded one of a porous plaster.
While the outfit was being brought up I walked along the shore watching the rapids. The men did not like to see me go near the river at all except when in the canoe, and warned me against going to the rapids. I promised to be careful, but not to keep away altogether, for they grew more and more fascinating. I wanted to be near them and watch them all the time. They were so strong, so irresistible. They rushed on so fast, and nothing could stop them. They would find a way over or around every obstacle that might be placed before them. It made one wish that it were possible to join them and share in their strength. About a mile above camp I stepped out on a great boulder close to where they were very heavy. The rock seemed large enough so that I could scarcely fall off if I tried; but when the men came up George said: Mrs. Hubbard, you must not do that."
"You will get dizzy and fall in."
"But I do not get dizzy."
"Maybe you think you will not. It is all right when you are looking at the rapid, but it is when you turn that you will fall. It is very dangerous. If you are going to do that we will just turn round and go back to Northwest River."
That settled the matter.
The river here became impracticable, and Job went forward to hunt out the trail. The sandhills at this point stood back a little from the river. The low-lying land between was thickly wooded, but up on the hills the walking was good. So the trail was cut straight up the bank which was eighty feet high and very steep.
If any one supposes that cutting a trail means making a nice, smooth little path through the woods, let him revise his ideas. The hill-side was a network of new growth and windfalls. Now and again I made the mistake of calling them deadfalls. Certainly all women, and perhaps a few men, would think the mistake pardonable could they see the trail which led straight over the tangled heaps of fallen tree-trunks. I watched the men carrying the canoes and their heavy loads over these with wonder almost equal to that with which I had looked at Job's work in the rapids.
The outfit made about four loads each for them, and when it was all safe on top of the hill, Joe sat down trembling like a leaf. George looked a bit shaky, and Gilbert very hot and tired.
Joe said: "In a week George and I will be hardened up so that there won't be any trembling."
Job said: "Always hard."
By noon it had grown very hot. There was scarcely a stir in the air, and the sun beat down on the sand-hills in no gentle manner. The perspiration ran down the men's faces as they carried, and the flies were beginning to come. After lunch Job set up two impromptu wigwams, stringing a tarpaulin over each, and under these shelters the men rested till 4 P.M. By camping time the outfit had been moved up over the portage about a mile, and I had learned something more about what packing means.
All day it had been slow, hot work, and the men were tired. I thought I would take a hand in making camp and getting supper. We had a beautiful camping-place, its only drawback being the distance from the water supply, for we were now 200 feet above the river, and some distance back from it. The ground was dry and moss covered, and the scattered spruce supplied the carpets for the tents which were soon ready for the night.
There were bannocks to be made again, and I helped to cook them. It was no small surprise to find how much art there is in doing it. At first I thought I could teach the men a lot of things about cooking bannocks, but it was not long before I began to suspect that I had something to learn. They were made simply with the flour, salt, baking-powder and water, but without any shortening. This made them tough, but they carried better so. As George said: "You can throw them round, or sit on them, or jump on them, and they are just as good after you have done it as before."
In cooking them a piece of the dough is taken and worked into a round lump, which is pressed flat into a frying-pan. It is then placed before the fire till the upper side of the bannock is slightly browned, when it is turned and replaced till the other side is browned. As soon as the bannock is stiff enough to stand on its edge it is taken out of the pan to make room for more, and placed before a rock near the fire, or on a pair of forked sticks until it has had time, as nearly as can be calculated, to cook halfway through. Then it is turned again and allowed to cook from the other side. In this process the possibilities in the way of burning hands and face, and of dropping the bannocks into the fire and ashes are great. I seemed to take advantage of them all, but if my efforts were not much help they certainly furnished amusement for the men. The task is a long one too, and it was nine o'clock when supper was ready.
Job, who had been absent for some time, returned now with a report that three-quarters of a mile further on we could again take the river. Despite the day's work he looked all alive with interest and energy. He loved to pole up a rapid or hunt out a trail just as an artist loves to paint.
Supper over, we sat at the camp fire for a little while. The sunset light still tinged the sky back of Mount Sawyer, and from its foot came up the roar of the rapid. Now and again a bird's evening song came down to us from the woods on the hill above, and in the tent Joe was playing softly on the mouth organ, "Annie Laurie" and "Comin' through the Rye." After I had gone to my tent the men sang, very softly, an Indian "Paddling Song."
A stream of bright sunlight on the roof of my tent roused me on Saturday morning, and mingling with the sound of the river came again that of the "Paddling Song." At breakfast all were exclaiming over the wonderful weather, George insisting that he did not believe this could be Labrador at all.
That morning I was to make my maiden attempt at following a new trail, and when the last load was ready I went first to try my fortunes. The trail meant just a little snip off the bark of a young tree here, the top of a bush freshly broken there, again a little branch cut showing that the axe had been used. There was not a sign of any path. The way was not always the easiest, and sometimes not the shortest, but it was always the quickest. My heart quite swelled with pride when I reached the river at 8.30 A.M. having missed the trail but once, and having found it again with little delay. Already it had grown hot on the hills, and the mosquitoes were beginning to come, so that it was good to be back at the river again; but before the men went away for more loads I had to promise very solemnly that I would not go on the rocks by the rapids.
By noon the whole outfit was at the river, we had lunch, and the men rested an hour and then we were off again. A mile of paddling and two short portages brought us to the head of what the trappers call "Three Mile Rapid." The river was very picturesque here, and in midstream were great swells which curled back like ocean breakers as the torrent of water poured over the boulders of the riverbed. I smile now remembering how I asked George if be thought I should see anything so fine as this rapid on, the rest of my journey.
Splendid as the rapids were, it was a great relief to reach smooth water again, though the current was still swift. Passing a bend half a mile above we came in sight of a beautiful wooded island, and saw that we had reached the edge of the burned-over country. It would scarcely be possible to convey any adequate idea of the contrast. The country had been grand with a desolate sort of grandeur softened by the sunshine and water and the beautiful skies, but now the river with its darkly-wooded hills was not only grand but was weirdly beautiful as well.
When we had passed Mabelle Island the hills seemed to close round us and were covered with tall, pointed evergreens, so dark in colour as sometimes to seem almost black. Always these have been beautiful to me, with a mysterious kind of beauty which sends through me feelings akin to those I had when as a child I dreamed over the wonderful pictures the Frost King left in the night on the window panes. The river ahead was too rough to proceed along the south shore, and the men decided to cross. It was very fearsome looking. Through a narrow opening in the hills farther up, the river came pouring from between dark, perpendicular walls of the evergreen in a white, tossing rapid, widening again to one only less turbulent. A heavy cloud hung over us, throwing a deeper shade on the hills and turning the water black save for the white foam of the rapids, while down the narrow valley came a gale of hot wind like a blast from a furnace. We turned out into the river, and all paddled as if for life. The canoe danced among the swells, but in spite of our best efforts the rapid carried us swiftly down. It was a wild ride, though we reached the other shore in safety, and looking up the river I wondered what might be in store for us beyond that narrow gateway. When we passed it would the beyond prove as much like Hades as this was suggestive of it? It seemed as if there we must find ourselves within the mysteries.
After we landed, George turned, and in mildly approving tone said: "I have seen lots of men who would jump out of the canoe if we tried to take them where you have been just now."
Job's quick eye had seen that the canoes could be taken through the narrows on the north shore. And when this part of the river was passed all suggestion of Hades vanished. There stretched before us Mountain Cat Lake, for beauty, a gem in its setting of hills. It was half a mile wide and two miles long. In the lower part were two small wooded islands, but the upper part was clear. Long spruce covered points reached out into its waters, which still flowed so swiftly that instead of paddling we poled along the shore. It was camping time when we reached the head of the lake, where the river comes down round a fine gravel point in a decided rapid.
George remarked: "That would be a fine place for Sunday camp."
"Then why not camp there?" I asked.
"Oh, no," he replied emphatically; "that would not do at all. There would be no Sunday rest for me. I'd have to be watching you all the time to keep you away from that rapid."
A little way up the river we came to another point which seemed even finer than the one at the head of the lake, and on this we made our Sunday camp. There was no noisy rapid here. On the opposite shore a long wooded hill sloped down to a point a mile above camp, round which the river came from the west. The sun was almost touching the hill-top, and below were low, gravel flats covered with fresh spring green and cut by little waterways, still as glass, and reflecting the sunset colours. In the river above us were small wooded islands, and away beyond them the blue ridges. It would have been beautiful at any time, but now in the calm evening, with the sunset light upon it, it was peculiarly so, and seemed in a special way to accord with the thought of the Sabbath rest. There was not a word spoken in reference to it, but about the men and in the way they did their work was something which made you feel how glad they were a resting time had come.
When the outfit had been landed, and the canoes drawn up on shore, George walked up the bank a little way, and there, with folded arms, stood quite still for some time looking up the river.
Presently I asked: "What are you thinking, George?"
"I was just thinking how proud I am of this river," he replied.
It seemed luxurious on Sunday morning to be able to loiter over washing and dressing, to get into clean clothes, to read a little, and to look at the day itself. I had strained both feet the day before, and they were quite swollen, but did not hurt very much. My hands and face, too, were swollen and sore from the bites of the flies and mosquitoes. Having a rooted dislike to wearing a veil, I had deferred putting one on; but it was plain now that Labrador flies were soon to overrule all objections. When breakfast was announced at 10.30 A.M. the men had been for a swim, and appeared shaved and in clean clothes—Joe and Gilbert in white moleskin trousers. Everything was done in lazy fashion. Everyone loitered. It was washing day for all, and by noon the bushes along the shore were decorated in spots in most unwonted fashion. Later, walking up the shore a little way I came upon Gilbert cutting Joe's hair.
In the afternoon the men lay in the tent or on the bank under the trees reading their Bibles and singing very softly, almost as if afraid of disturbing the stillness of "the silent places," some of the fine old church hymns. A thunderstorm passed later, but it lasted only a short time, and the evening was fine. Job took a canoe and went up the river scouting. As we sat on the shore by the camp fire, after 9 P.M., and supper just ready, he came floating down again. The river carried him swiftly past us and he called "Good-bye, Good-bye." Then all at once the canoe turned and slipped in below the point. He reported the river rapid as far as he went or could see.
Monday we started at 8.30 A.M., crossing to the other shore, where I walked along a bear trail on the flats, while the men brought the canoes up by poling and tracking. The morning was wonderfully clear, and millions of dewdrops glistened on the low growth. The "country," or "Indian," tea which grew in abundance was in blossom, and the air was filled with fragrance. It seemed to me the most beautiful morning we had yet had.
As the river grew more and more difficult part of the outfit had to be portaged. Two miles above camp about half a load was put into one of the canoes, and slipping the noose of a tracking line round the bow George and Gilbert went forward with it, while Job and Joe got into the canoe to pole. Had it not been for my confidence in them I should have been anxious here, for the river was very rough, and close to shore, where they would have to go, was a big rock round which the water poured in a way that to me looked impassable. But I only thought, "They will know how to manage that," and picking up my kodaks I climbed up the bank to avoid the willows. I had just reached the top when looking round I saw the canoe turn bottom up like a flash, and both men disappeared.
I stood unable to move. Almost immediately Joe came up. He had caught the tracking line and held to it. Then I saw Job appear. He had not been able to hold to the canoe. The current had swept him off, and was now carrying him down the river. My heart sickened at the sight, and still I could not move. Then an eddy caught him, and he went down out of sight again. Again he appeared, and this time closer to us, for the eddy had somehow thrown him in shore where the water was not so deep. He was on his back now and swimming a little, but could neither get up nor turn over. I wondered why the men stood motionless watching him. Then it dawned on me that George was holding the canoe, and I found my voice to shout: "Run, Joe." Joe's own experience had for the moment dazed him, but now he suddenly came to life. Springing forward, he waded out and caught Job's hand before he was carried into deep water again. As he felt himself safe in Joe's strong grasp, Job asked: "Where is Mrs. Hubbard? Is she all right?"
At first he did not seem able to get up, but when George, on reaching the canoe, turned it right side up, and to the utter astonishment of every one, it appeared that nearly the whole load was still in it—the sight revived Job. He got up and came ashore to the canoe, which was found still to contain the two tents, one rifle, my fishing-rod, the sextant, and artificial horizon, a box of baking-powder, a box of chocolate, my sweater, three of the men's coats, and one tarpaulin. It seemed nothing less than miraculous, for the little craft had been bottom up for several minutes. During the reckoning Job heartened rapidly, and was soon making a joke of the experience, though this did not hide the fact that he had been well shaken up.
For a time thankfulness at the escape of the men, and that so much of the outfit had been saved, made me oblivious of everything else. Then gradually it came to the minds of the men what was missing, but it was some time before the list was complete, and I knew that we had lost all the axes, all the frying-pans, all the extra pole- shods, one pole, one paddle, the crooked knife, two pack-straps, one sponge, one tarpaulin, my stove, and Job's hat and pipe. The loss of the axes and the pole-shods was the most serious result of the accident, and I wondered how much that would mean, but had not the courage to ask the question. I feared the men would think they could not go on without the axes.
Soon they began to upbraid themselves for putting both tents and all the axes into the same canoe; but there was no mention made of turning back. All seemed only thankful that no lives were lost. While Job and Joe were changing their wet clothing, George and Gilbert, as quickly as possible, prepared lunch. Job, however, was very quiet during the meal, and ate almost nothing. Later, however, I could bear George and Joe in fits of laughter. Job was entertaining them with an account of his visit to the fishes. According to his story, he had a most wonderful time down there.
TO THE BEND OF THE RRVER
Beyond this point our progress was slow and difficult. There were days when we made less than two miles, and these were the discouraging days for me, because there was ever hanging over me the thought of the necessity of reaching Ungava by the last week in August—if I meant to catch the ship there. However, by poling and tracking, by lifting and dragging the canoe through the shallow waters near the shore, or again by carrying the entire outfit over the sand-hills or across boulder-strewn valleys, we won gradually forward.
It frightened me often to see the men take their packs where they did. Sometimes it was over a great bed of boulders, where the reindeer moss was growing. This moss is a delicate grey-green colour, exquisitely beautiful in form as well, and as a background for the dark spruces is wonderfully effective. We found it growing luxuriantly almost everywhere, except in the burned districts, and in places it is six inches in height. When dry, it is brittle, and may be crumbled to powder in the hands, but when wet is very much the consistency of jelly, and just as slippery. Through the wooded land the soil appeared to be simply a tangle of fallen and decayed tree-trunks grown over with thick moss of another variety, in which you sank ankle deep, while dark perilous looking holes yawned on every side, making you feel that if once you went in you might never appear again. Sometimes our way led along a fine bear trail on a sandy terrace where the wood growth was small and scattered, and where the walking was smooth, and even as that of a city street, but much softer and pleasanter. There were many bear trails through this lower Nascaupee country, though we did not again see any bears, and one might actually think the trails had been chosen with an eye to beauty. The woods were very fine, the spruces towering far above us straight as arrows. They were, many of them, splendid specimens of their kind, and one I measured was nine feet in circumference. Here and there some balsam was found among the spruces. These were true virgin forests, but their extent was limited to the narrow river valleys. Out beyond, the hill-tops rose treeless and barren.
On the portages the outfit was taken forward by short stages, and I had a good deal of waiting to do. The men did not like to leave me alone lest I might possibly encounter a bear, and I had many warnings to keep my rifle ready, and not to leave my waiting-place. Secretly I rather hoped a bear would come along for I thought I could manage him if he did not take me unawares.
Besides the interest of watching for the bear I hoped to meet, I had, while we travelled in the more open parts, the hills both up and down the river to look at, and they were very beautiful with their ever-changing colour. Mount Sawyer and Mount Elizabeth were behind us now, and away ahead were the blue ridges of hills with one high and barren, standing out above the rest, which I named Bald Mountain. I wondered much what we should find there. What we did find was a very riotous rapid and a very beautiful Sunday camp.
Waiting in the lower wooded parts was not as pleasant. Once I announced my intention of setting up my fishing-rod and going down to the river to fish, while the rest of the outfit was being brought up. Sudden consternation overspread the faces of the men. In a tone of mingled alarm, disapproval, suspicion, George exclaimed: "Yes; that is just what I was afraid you would be doing. I think you had better sit right down there by the rifles. There are fresh bear tracks about here, and Job says they run down there by the river."
I could not help laughing at the alarm I had created, but obediently sat down on the pile of outfit by the rifles, strongly suspecting, however, that the bear tracks were invented, and that the real fear was on account of the river. It began to be somewhat irksome to be so well taken care of.
The mosquitoes and flies were now coming thick and fast. I thought them very bad, but George insisted that you could not even call this a beginning. I wore a veil of black silk net, but the mesh was hardly fine enough, and the flies managed to crawl through. They would get their heads in and then kick and struggle and twist till they were all through, when they immediately proceeded to work. The men did not seem to care to put their veils on even when not at work, and I wondered how they could take the little torments so calmly.
On the morning of July 6th we reached the Seal Islands expansion. Around these islands the river flows with such force and swiftness that the water can be seen to pile up in ridges in the channel. Here we found Donald Blake's tilt. Donald is Gilbert's brother, and in winter they trap together up the Nascaupee valley as far as Seal Lake, which lies 100 miles from Northwest River post. Often in imagination I had pictured these little havens so far in the wilderness and lonely, and now I had come to a real one. It was a tiny log building set near the edge of the river bank among the spruce trees. Around it lay a thick bed of chips, and scattered about were the skeletons of martens of last winter's catch. One had to stoop a good deal to get in at the narrow doorway. It was dark, and not now an attractive-looking place, yet as thought flew back to the white wilderness of a few months before, the trapper and his long, solitary journeys in the relentless cold, with at last the wolfish night closing round him, it made all different, and one realised a little how welcome must have seemed the thought and the sight of the tiny shelter.
In the tilt there was no window and no floor. All the light came in through the doorway and a small hole in the roof, meant to admit the stove pipe. Hanging on the cross beams were several covered pails containing rice, beans, flour, lard, and near them a little cotton bag with a few candles in it. Thrown across a beam was a piece of deerskin dressed for making or mending snow-shoes; and on a nail at the farther end was a little seal-skin pouch in which were found needle, thread, and a few buttons. A bunk was built into the side of the room a few feet above the ground, and lying in it an old tent. Beside a medley heap of other things piled there, we found a little Testament and a book of Gospel Songs. The latter the men seemed greatly pleased to find, and carried it away with them. We took the candles also, and filled one pail with lard, leaving one of the pieces of bacon in its place. Already we were regretting that we had no lard or candles with us. They had been cut out of the list when we feared the canoes would not hold all the outfit, and later I had forgotten to add them. The men were hungry for fried cakes, and the lard meant a few of these as a treat now and then.
Gilbert had hoped to find an axe here, but although be hunted everywhere there was none to be found. He did, however, get his little frying-pan and a small pail which made a welcome addition to our depleted outfit.
That day we portaged nearly all the afternoon. It was rough, hard walking, and occasional showers fell which made it worse. There was many a wistful glance cast across to the other shore where we could see a fine sand terrace. There the walking must be smooth and easy; but we could not cross, the rapids were too heavy.
During the afternoon we found the first and only fresh caribou tracks seen in the lower Nascaupee valley. A pair of fish eagles, circling high above us, screamed their disapproval of our presence there. We saw their nest at the very top of a dead spruce stub, some sixty feet or more above the ground. This was one of the very many things on the trip which made me wish I were a man. I could have had a closer look at the nest; I think I could have taken a photograph of it too. Now and then came the sweet, plaintive song of the white-throated sparrow.
Towards evening it began to rain fast, and as if with the intention of keeping at it; so George called a halt. As I sat down on a pile of outfit he opened up the men's tent, and, spreading it over me, directed me to wait there till my own was ready. George's tone of authority was sometimes amusing. Sometimes I did as I was told, and then again I did not. This time I did, and with my rifle on one side and my fishing-rod on the other, to hold the tent up, I sat and watched them making camp and building the fire.
All day the mosquitoes and flies had been bad, but now the rain had coaxed them out in redoubled force, and they were dreadful. I could feel how swollen my neck and ears were, and wondered how I looked; but I was rather glad that I had no mirror with me, and so could not see. Now and then I had spoken of my suspicions as to what a remarkable spectacle I must present. George, manlike, always insisted that I looked "just right"; but that night, in an unguarded moment, he agreed with me that it was a good thing I had not brought a mirror. For the first time we went into a wet camp.
It poured steadily all day Friday, and we did not attempt to go forward. I slept again after breakfast, and then did some mending, made veils, and studied a little. It was very cold and dismal; but the cold was always welcome, for it kept the flies and mosquitoes quiet. Our camp was on high ground, and from the open front of my tent I could look down over a steep bank thirty feet to the river, racing past with its ceaseless roar. Sometimes I wished I could reach out and stop it just for a minute, and then let it go again. I wished rainy days might not come often, though I fully expected that they would. About 3 P.M. I heard a stir outside and going out found George and Gilbert making a fire. It was not so simple a matter now without an axe. The small stuff had to be broken, and then whole trees were dragged bodily to the spot and laid on to be burned off a piece at a time. When fallen stuff was scarce, standing dead trees were by hard labour pushed over and brought in. The big fire felt very good that day.
It was not raining quite so fast now, and after dinner I sat watching George while he mended my moccasin where the mice had eaten it, and sewed the moleskin cartridge pouch to my leather belt. He finished putting the pouch on, and handed the belt back to me with a satisfied smile. Instead of taking it I only laughed at him, when he discovered he had put the pistol-holster and knife- sheath on wrong side first. There was no help for it; it had to come off again, for the sheaths would not slip over either buckle or pouch. I comforted him with the assurance that it was good he should have something to do to keep him out of mischief. When the mistake had been remedied he showed me how to make a rabbit-snare. Then the rain drove me to my tent again, and I had supper there while the men made bannocks. It was horrid to eat in the tent alone.
The barometer was now rising steadily, and I went to sleep with high hopes of better weather in the morning. When I awoke the sun was shining on the hills across the river. How welcome the sight was! Everything was still wet though, and we did not break camp till after dinner. I did some washing and a little mending. The mice had eaten a hole in a small waterproof bag in which I carried my dishes, dish-towel, and bannock, and I mended it with some tent stuff. An electrician's tape scheme, which I had invented for mending a big rent in my rubber shirt, did not work, and so I mended that too with tent stuff. How I did hate these times of inactivity.
It was one o'clock when we started forward again, and all afternoon the portaging was exceedingly rough, making it slow, hard work getting the big pile of stuff forward. To add to the difficulties, a very boisterous little river had to be bridged, and when evening came we had gone forward only a short distance. We had come to a rather open space, and here the men proposed making camp. Great smooth-worn boulders lay strewn about as if flung at random from some giant hand. A dry, black, leaflike substance patched their surfaces, and this George told me is the _wakwanapsk_ which the Indians in their extremity of hunger use for broth. Though black and leaflike when mature, it is, in its beginning, like a disk of tiny round green spots, and from this it gets its name. _Wakwuk— fish-roe; _wanapisk_—a rock.
It was a very rough place, very desolate looking, and far from the river. It made me shudder to think of spending Sunday there. So the men were persuaded to try to reach the head of the rapid, which was three-quarters of a mile farther on, taking forward only the camp stuff. We were now travelling along the foot of Bald Mountain seen from the hill on Monday, and passing what is known by the trappers as North Pole Rapid, which was the wildest of the rapids so far. The travelling was still rough, and the men were in a hurry. I could not keep up at all. George wanted to carry my rifle for me, but I would not let him. I was not pleased with him just then.
We reached the head of the rapid, and it was beautiful there. A long terrace stretched away for miles ahead. It was thinly wooded, as they all were, with spruce and a few poplars, smooth, dry, and mossy, and thirty feet below us was the river with North Pole Brook coming in on the other side. It was an ideal place for Sunday camp.
Though it rained hard through the night the morning was beautiful, and again I breathed a little sigh of thankfulness that we were not in the other desolate place farther back. The day would have been a very restful one had it not been for the flies which steadily increased in numbers, coaxed back to life and activity by the warm sunshine. I wanted very much to climb the mountain behind our camp in the afternoon, but I could not go alone, and the men were taking a much needed rest. So I wandered about watching the hills and the river for a while, took a few photographs, and lay in the tent. Towards evening the flies swarmed over its fly front, getting in in numbers one could not tell where or how. Still they were nothing inside to what they were outside. At supper I hated to put up my veil. They were so thick I could hardly eat. Finally George came to the rescue, and waving a bag round my head kept them off till I finished my meal.
While we were at supper Job walked silently into camp with a rifle under his arm. He had a way of quietly disappearing. You did not know anything about it till you found he was not there. Then suddenly be would appear again, his eyes shining. He had wonderfuly fine eyes, so bright that they startled me sometimes. Full of energy, quick, clever, he went straight to the point in his work always without the slightest hesitation. When you saw these men in the bush you needed no further explanation of their air of quiet self-confidence.
Job had been up as far as the bend of the river where we were to leave the Nascaupee for the trappers' cross country route to Seal Lake. A little above this bend the Nascaupee becomes impassable. It was three miles away, but Job reported, "Fine portage all the way to brook."
It was just four next morning when I heard voices at the other tent. Then all was quiet again. At six the men went past with loads. They had brought up the outfit that was left behind on Saturday. The day was fine, and we made good progress. George said: "Oh, it's just fun with this kind of portaging." It was nevertheless hot, hard work. I felt resentful when I looked at the river. It was smooth, and appeared altogether innocent of any extraordinary behaviour; yet for the whole three miles above North Pole Rapid it flowed without a bend so swift and deep that nothing could be done on it in the canoes.
All day the flies were fearful. For the first time George admitted that so far as flies were concerned it began to seem like Labrador. We ate lunch with smudges burning on every side, and the fire in the middle. I was willing that day almost to choke with smoke to escape flies; but there was no escape. In spite of the smudges there were twenty dead flies on my plate when I had finished lunch, to say nothing of those lying dead on my dress of the large number I had killed. I had to stop caring about seeing them in the food; I took out what could be seen, but did not let my mind dwell on the probability of there being some I did not see. When drinking, even while the cup was held to my lips, they flew into it as if determined to die. Their energy was unbounded, and compelled admiration even while they tortured me. How the men endured them without veils and without words I could not understand.