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- Transcriber's Note: This e-text is full of Newfoundland and Labrador dialect, unusual spelling has been preserved. -
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TALES OF THE SEA TOILERS
Wilfred Thomason Grenfell M.D. (OXON.), C.M.G.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY The Riverside Press Cambridge 1919
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY WILFRED THOMASON GRENFELL ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
THERE'S TROUBLE ON THE SEA 1
SALLY'S "TURNS" 38
THE DOCTOR'S BIG FEE 61
TWO CAT'S-PAWS 73
THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE 92
PORTLAND BILL 113
TWO CHRISTMASES 148
THE LEADING LIGHT 181
THE RED ISLAND SHOALS 203
THERE'S TROUBLE ON THE SEA
The ice in the big bay had broken up suddenly that year in the latter part of March before a tremendous ocean swell heaving in beneath it. The piles of firewood and the loads of timber for the summer fishing-rooms on all the outer islands were left standing on the landwash. The dog-teams usually haul all this out at a stretch gallop over the glare ice which overlies in April the snow-covered surface of winter. For weeks, heavy pack ice, driven to and fro with the tides, but ever held in the bay with the onshore winds, had prevented the small boats' freighting more than their families and the merest necessities to the summer stations.
So it came to pass that long after the usual time, indeed after the incoming shoals of fish were surely expected, John Mitchell's firewood still lay on the bank, some twenty miles up the bay. When at last a spell of warm and offshore winds had driven the ice mostly clear, John announced to his eager lads that "come Monday, if the wind held westerly," he would go up the bay for a load. What a clamour ensued, for every one wanted to be one of the crew to go to the winter home. The lads, like ducklings, "fair loved the water"; and though John needed Jim, and was quite glad to have Tom, now of the important age of fourteen years, he did his best, well seconded by the wise old grandmother, to persuade Neddie, aged twelve, and Willie, aged ten, to stay behind.
"You be too small, Ned, yet awhile. Next year perhaps father will take you," was the old lady's first argument. '"Twill be cold in t' boat, boy, and you'll perish altogether."
"Father'll look after me, Grannie, and I'll wrap up ever so warm. Do let me go. There's a dear grannie."
The curly-haired, rosy-cheeked lads were so insistent and so winsome that the old lady confessed to me afterwards, "They somehow got round my heart as they mostly does, and I let 'em go, though sore against my mind, Doctor."
Of course, Willie had to go if Neddie went, for "they'd be company while t' men worked, and he could carry small things as well as t' rest. He did so want to go."
When at length Monday came, and a bright sun shone over a placid sea, the grandmother's last excuse to keep them at home was lost. Her consent was finally secured, and, before a light, fair wind the women watched, not without anxiety, so many of those whom they held dearer than life itself sail "out into the deep."
Progress was slow, for the wind fell away almost altogether as the morning passed, but the glorious warmth and exuberance of life made the time seem as nothing. The picnic in the big trap boat was as good as a prince's banquet. For the fun of "boiling t' kettle yourself," and an appetite bred of a day on the water, made the art of French cooks and the stimulus of patent relishes pale into insignificance. During the afternoon they "had a spurt singing," and as the words of hymns were the only ones they knew, the old favourites were sung and resung. The little lads especially led the programme; and the others remembered Willie singing for them, as a solo, a childish favourite called "Bring Them In."
It was just about seven o'clock in the evening. The boat was well out in the bay, between three and four miles from land, when John noticed a fresh "cat's-paw" of wind, just touching the water here and there. There was scarcely a cloud in the sky, and nothing whatever to suggest a squall. But as he looked again, a suspicious wisp of white water lifted suddenly from the surface a few yards to windward. Like a flash he remembered that the boat had no ballast in her, and was running with her sheets made fast. Instinctively he leaned forward to let go the foresail, but at the same moment the squall struck the boat like the hammer of Thor. Relieved of the fore canvas, the trap should have come to the wind in an instant. Instead, leaning over heavily with the immense pressure, she staggered and reeled as if some unseen enemy had gripped her. Scarcely perceptibly she gave ground, and a lifetime seemed to elapse to John's horror-stricken mind as she fell slowly over, as if fighting for every inch, and conscious of her terrible responsibilities for the issues at stake.
At last, in spite of her stout resistance, and before John could climb aft and get at the main sheet, or do anything to relieve the boat, her stern was driven right under water by the sheer pressure of the storm. Slowly she turned over, leaving all of her occupants struggling in the icy water, for there were many pieces of ice still "knocking around."
The slow rate at which the boat had gone over was one point in their favour, however, for it enabled even the little lads to get clear of the gunwale; and by the help of John and Jim all five were soon huddled on the upturned keel of the boat. The boys being all safe for the moment, John rubbed his eyes, and, raising himself as high as he could, viewed the situation. Alas! the squall had come to stay. Everywhere now the placid surface of the sea was ruffled and angry. The rising, flaky clouds convinced him even in that instantaneous glance that the brewing storm offered them little chance for their lives.
Far away to leeward, not less than four miles distant, the loom of the land was only just visible. Well he realized that it would be many long hours before the boat, with her masts and sails still fast in, could drive near enough to enable them to make a landing. For, like most fishermen in these icy waters, none of them knew how to swim. Moreover, he soon found that the anchor, fast to the warp, had fallen out, and would certainly sooner or later touch bottom—thus robbing them of their one and only chance of escape by preventing the boat from drifting into shallow water.
So cold was it already that it appeared as if a few moments at most must chill the life out of at least the younger children.
"Hold Willie on, Ned, and ask God to bring us all safe home," said John. He told me that he felt somehow as if their prayers were more likely to be heard than his own. He then crawled forward, having made up his mind to try and cut the anchor free, and to get the rope to tie round the boat and hold on the children. His determination was fortified by his anxiety; but it was a forlorn hope, for it meant lowering himself right into the water, and he knew well enough that he could not swim a yard. Then it was done, and he was once more clinging to the keel with the rope in his hand. It was not difficult to get a bight round the boat, and soon he had the children firmly lashed on and the boat was again making fair progress before the wind to the opposite shore.
Hours seemed to go by. The children were sleepy. Apparently they no longer felt the cold, and the average man might have thought that it was a miracle on their behalf, for God knows they had prayed hard enough for one. But John recognized only too well that it was that merciful harbinger of the last long sleep, which had overtaken more than one of his best friends, when adrift in the storms of winter. And still the age-long journey dragged hopelessly on.
At last the awful suspense, a thousand times more cruel for their being unable to do anything, was broken by even the welcome incident of a new danger. Breakers were visible in the direct course of their drift. "Maybe she'll turn over, Jim," whispered the skipper. "I reckon we must loose t' children for fear she does." This being effected as promptly as their condition allowed, Tom was told off to do nothing but watch them and keep them safe. For already the men had planned, if the slightest chance offered, to try and get the masts out while she lay on her beam-ends.
The breakers? Well, they knew they were only of small extent. There was a pinnacle of rock and a single sea might possibly carry them over it; but the peril of being washed off was none the less. Now they could see the huge rise of the combing sea with its frowning black top rushing at the shoal, and smashing into an avalanche of snowy foam. They could hear the dull roar of the sea, and its mighty thunder, as it curled over and fell furiously upon itself, for want of other prey.
"Good-bye, Jim," whispered the skipper. "The children is all right either way, but one of us may come through. Tell 'em home it was all right if I goes."
Almost as he stopped speaking, the rising swell caught the craft, and threw her once more on her beam-ends. As for a moment she lay on her side, the men attempted to free the masts, but could do nothing, for the boat almost immediately again fell over, bottom up. But a second comber, lifting her with redoubled violence, threw them all clear of the boat, turned her momentarily right way up, and then breaking into the masts and sails, tipped her for the third time upside down, flinging her at the same instant in mad fury clear of the angry water. So violent had been the blow which had thrown them clear, that they must inevitably all have perished, had not the last effort of the breakers actually hurled the boat again almost on the top of them. Clutching as at a straw, the two men caught the loops of the rope which they had wound round their craft, but they could see nothing of the other three. Suddenly, from almost directly under the boat, Tom's head appeared within reach. Grabbing him, they tried to drag him up on to the keel. Rolling in the wake of the breakers which still followed them with vicious pertinacity, they twice lost their hold of the boy, their now numbed limbs scarcely giving them strength to grasp anything. It seemed of little account at the time either way. But their third attempt was successful, and they got the lad once more on to the bottom of the boat.
Of the children they saw no more. Only when Tom had revived somewhat could he explain that the capsizing boat had caught them all three under it as in a trap, that he had succeeded, still clinging to Willie, to get him from under it, and that he was still holding his brother when he first came to the surface. After that he did not remember anything till they were calling to him on the boat's bottom. The men were sure that it was so—that because he had been true to the last to his trust, he had been such a deadweight the first two times he came to the surface.
And now began again the cruel, wearisome, endless drift of the water-logged boat toward the still distant shore, lightened but little by the loss of the loved children. There was no longer any doubt left in their minds; unless something could be done, none of them would possibly live to tell the tale. It was the still active mind and indomitable courage of the skipper which found the solution. Crawling close to Jim, he said: "There's only one chance. We must turn her over, and get in her, or perish. I'm going to try and loose t' masts."
Swinging himself once more into the bitter-cold water, he succeeded in finding the slight ropes which formed the stays, and though it is almost incredible, he actually managed to cut and free them all, before Jim hauled him back, more dead than alive, on to the boat's bottom. At all hazards they must right the boat and climb into her. Their plans were soon made. Tom, placed between the two men, was to do exactly as they did. Stretching themselves out, and holding the keel rope in their hands, they all threw themselves over on one side, lying as nearly as possible at full length. The boat responded instantly, and their only fear was that, as she had done before, she might again go right over on them. But there were no masts now to hold the wind, so she stood up on her beam-ends. As the water took the weights of the men, it was all they could do to get her over. Moreover, the task was rendered doubly difficult and perilous by their exhaustion and inability to swim when the keel to which they were holding went under water. But their agility and self-reliance, evolved from a life next to Nature, stood them in good stead, and soon all three were actually standing inside the water-logged boat. The oars, lashed under the seats, were still in her, and, though almost up to their waists in water, they began sculling and rowing as hard as their strength and the dangerous roll of the sunken boat would permit.
Slowly the surf on the sandy beach drew near, and now, keeping her head before the breeze, they rolled along shorewards. Again, however, it became apparent that a new departure must be made. For a heavy surf was breaking on the shore which they were approaching, that ran off shallow for half a mile. There was not water enough to let the boat approach the land, and they realized that they had not sufficient strength left to walk through the breakers. Yet struggle as they would, the best they could do was to keep the boat very slightly across the wind.
John maintains now that it was the direct intervention of Providence which spared them just when once more all hope seemed over. They suddenly noticed that while still forging shorewards they were also drifting rapidly into the bay. It was the first uprush of the strong rising tide, and they might yet be carried to a deep-water landing. The play of hope and fear made the remaining hours an agony of suspense. What would be the end of it all seemed a mere gamble. Every mark on the approaching shore was now familiar to them. It had become, they knew well enough, a question of life or death where the drifting boat would touch the strand. Now it seemed impossible that she should clear the shallow surf, whose hungry roar sounded a death-knell to any one handed to its tender mercies. Now it seemed certain that she would be carried up the bay without touching land at all. Hope rose as a little later it became obvious that she would clear the sands.
Now the rocky headland, round which their winter house stood, was coming rapidly into view. As the mouth of the bay narrowed, the pace of the current increased, and for a time they seemed to be hopelessly rushing past their one hope of landing. The excitement and the exertion of putting might and main into the oars had made them almost forget the wet and cold and darkness, now only relieved by the last afterglow of the setting sun. But it all appeared of no avail; they were still some hundred yards off as they passed the point. It might as well have been some hundred miles, for they drifted helplessly into the bay, which was widening out again.
Despair, however, still failed to grip them, and apparently hopelessly they kept toiling on at the sweeps. Once more a miracle happened, and they were really apparently approaching the point a second time. The very violence of the tide had actually saved them, creating as it did a strong eddy, which with the little aid from the oars, bore them now steadily toward the land. Nearer and nearer they came. They were half a mile inside the head. Only a few boat-lengths now separated them from the beach. Would they be able to get ashore!
Strange as it sounds, any and all speculations they might have with regard to where the boat would strike bottom were to be disappointed. Her keel never touched bottom at all. It was her gunwale which first bumped into the steep rocks—and that at a point only a few yards from their winter house.
Even now their troubles were not over. Only the skipper could stand erect. Tom, dragged out by the others, lay an inert mass on the soft bed of crisp creeping plants which cover the bank. Jim was able to totter a few yards, fell, and finally crawled part of the way to the house door. But the skipper, in spite of swollen and blackened legs, held out not only to get a fire lit, but to bring in the other two, and finally wean back their frozen limbs to life.
It took two days to regain strength enough to haul up the boat and refit her; and then the sorrowful little company proceeded on their homeward journey. It was a sad home-coming after the brave start they had made. It was a terrible message which they had to carry to the anxious hearts awaiting them. For nothing in heaven or earth can replace the loss of loved ones suddenly taken from us.
"I've been cruising in boats five and forty years," said John. "I were out two days and a night with t' Bonnie Lass when she were lost on t' Bristle Rocks, and us brought in only two of her crew alive. And I was out on t' ice in t' blizzard when Jim Warren drove off, and us brought he back dead to his wife next day. But this was the worst of all. As us passed t' rocky shoal, it seemed only a few minutes since us capsized on it; and I knowed Ned and Willie must be right alongside. As us passed Snarly Bight, out of which t' puff came, us thought of t' boys singing their little songs, and know'd that they should be with us now; and when t' Lone Point loomed up, round which youse turn to make our harbour, us all sort of wished one more puff would come along and finish t' job properly. For it wouldn't have been hard to join t' children again, but to face t' women without 'em seemed more'n us could do.
"How to break the news us had talked a dozen times, but never got no nearer what to say. As us ran in at last for t' stage, us could see that Mother had hoisted t' flag t' Company gived we t' year us bought furs for they, and that Grannie was out waiting for us on t' landwash.
"All I remembers was that scarce a word was spoke. They know'd it. I believe they know'd it before they seed t' boat. If only them had cried I'd have been able to say something. But ne'er a word was spoke. So I says, 'Jim, go up and pull t' flag down quick. Us has no right to having t' flags flying for we.'
"Then Grannie, she gets her voice, and she says, 'No, Jimmie, don't you do it. It be just right as it is. For 't is for Neddie's and Willie's home-coming it be flying.'"
We had just reached hospital from a long trip "on dogs." My driver was slipping the harnesses off the animals and giving them the customary friendly cuff and words of praise. Among the crowd which always gathered to greet us, one friend, after giving us the usual welcome of "What cheer, Doctor?" noticed apparently that I had a new winter compagnon de voyage.
"Joe's not with you, Doctor? Gone sawing t' winter, I hear. T' boys say he's got a fine bulk of timber cut already."
"Working for the lumber camp, I suppose, Uncle Abe," I replied.
"Not a bit of it," he chuckled. "'T is sawing for hisself he's gone."
"Eh? Wants lumber, does he? Going to build a larger fishing boat?"
"Youse can call it that if you likes, Doctor, for 't will be a fine fish he lands into it. But I reckon 't is more of a dock he'll need." And the rest joined in hearty laughter at the sally.
"'T is a full-rigged schooner he be going to moor there, with bunting enough to burn, and as saucy as a cyclone," chimed in another, while a third 'lowed, "'T is a great girl he's after, if he gets her, anyhow."
"Nancy's the pluckiest little girl for many a mile along this coast or she wouldn't be what she is, and her family so poor."
A week or so later I fell in with half a dozen boisterous lads driving their sledges home laden with new wood. It proclaimed to the harbour that the rumour of Joe's big bulk of timber being ready so early had not been exaggerated. It was only then that I learned that he had in addition quickly got his floors down before the ground froze, so that he might finish building before the winter set in.
Many hands make light work and every one was Joe's friend, so by the end of December the new house had not only been sheathed in, but roofed and floored, ready for occupation.
In our scattered communities, isolated not only from one another, but also largely from the world outside, the simple incidents of everyday life afford just as much interest as the more artificial attractions of civilization. Every one on our coast in winter has to have a dog team, no matter how poor he is, in order to haul home his firewood. In summer there is no time and there are no roads, while in winter the snow makes the whole land one broad highway. There is no better fun than a "randy" over the snow on a light komatik. At this time even our older people go on "joy rides," visiting along the coast. Many a moonlight night, after the day's work is over, when the reflection from the snow makes it almost as light as day, an unexpected but welcome visitor comes knocking at one's door, asking for a shake-down just for the night.
Thus Joe's secret was soon common property. His own enthusiasm, however, engendered a reflection of itself in other people, and almost before he had the cottage sheathed inside, and really "ready for launching," from here and there every one had come in, bringing at any rate the necessities to make it possible to put out to sea on the new voyage. Accordingly I was not surprised one evening a little later when a low knock at my door, followed by a summons to come in, revealed Joe standing somewhat sheepishly, cap in hand, in the entrance. Once the subject was broached, however, the matter was soon arranged, Joe having a direct way about him which ignored difficulties, and I, being a Justice of the Peace, was soon pledged to act as parson at the function.
Everything went well. We struck glorious weather for the day of the wedding. Little deputations streamed in from other villages; gay flags and banners, though some of fearsome home-devised patterns, made a brave contrast to the white mantle of snow; while we supplemented the usual salvo of guns from portentous and historic fowling-pieces with a halo of distress rockets, which we burned from our hospital boat, which was lying frozen in our harbour.
The excitement of the affair, like all other things human, soon passed away, and the ordinary routine of the wood-path, the fur-path, and seal-hunting, the saw-pit, the net-loft, and boat-building, turned our attention to our own affairs once more. The new venture was soon an old one, only we were glad to see, as we passed along the road, a fresh column of blue smoke rising, and speaking of another centre of life and activity in our village.
Once more, as the sun crept north of the line, the ice bonds of our harbour began to melt. Once more the mighty ocean outside, freed from the restraint of the Arctic floe, generously sent surging into the landwash the very power we needed, and on which we depend, to break up and carry out the heavy ice accumulation of the winter, which must otherwise bar us altogether from the prosecution of our calling.
My own vessel had been scraped and repainted. Her spars bright with new varnish, her funnel gay with our blue bunting flag contrasting with the yellow, she had come to the wharf for the last time before leaving for the long summer cruise among the Labrador fishing fleet. Indeed, I was just working over the ship's course in my chart-room, when once more Joe, cap in hand, stood in the doorway—evidently with something very much on his mind.
"What is it, Joe? Come in and shut the door and sit down. You are only just in time, for I was going to ring for steam as you came along."
"Well, Doctor," he said, "'tis this way. I's only got hook and line to fish with as you knows; and that don't give a fellow a chance of putting anything by, no matter how well he does. There's no knowing now but what I may need more still. It isn't like when a man was alone in the world. I was aboard Captain Jackson of the Water Lily, what come in last night, and he says that he'd take me to the Labrador fishing, and give me a share in his cod trap, being as he is short of a hand. Well, 'tis a fine chance, Doctor. But Nancy won't hear of my going without her going too. She says that she is well able to do it, and well acquainted with schooners—and that's true, as you knows; but I'm afraid to take her as she is. Still, 'tis a good chance, and I didn't like to let it go, so I just come to ask what your mind is about it."
I had seen Nancy on my farewell round of the cottages, and although I should have preferred almost any other occupation for her, yet, taking into consideration the habits and customs of the people, and that to her the venture was in no way a new one, I advised him to accept the skipper's offer, and take Nancy along with him, if they could get decent accommodation. I received his assurance that he would keep a lookout for the hospital boat. With most sincere protestations of gratitude he bade me farewell, and when a few minutes later we steamed past his little house on our way out to sea, he was all ready with his long gun to fire us good-bye salutes, which we answered and re-answered with our steam whistle.
All summer long we were cruising off the northern Labrador coast, now running into the fjords to visit the scattered settlers, now on the outside among the many fishing craft which were plying their calling on the banks that fringe the islands and outermost points of land. Fishermen from hundreds of vessels visited us for sickness, for books, for a thousand different reasons; but never a sight of the Water Lily did we see, and never a word did we hear of either Joe or Nancy the whole season through. True, in the number of other claims on our attention, it was not often that their fortunes came to one's mind. But now and again we asked about the schooner, and always got the same negative reply, "Reckon she 've got a load and gone south." This was a view which we were only too glad to adopt, as it meant the best possible luck for our friends.
Now November had come round once more. The main fleet of vessels had long ago passed south. It was so long since we had seen even one of the belated craft which "bring up the heel of the Labrador" that we had closed up the summer stations, and were paying our last visits to our colleagues at the southern hospital, who were to remain through the winter.
It was therefore no small surprise when Jake Low, from the village, who had been up spying from the lookout on the hill, came into the hospital and announced that a large schooner with a flag flying in her rigging was beating up to the harbour mouth from sea. "She's making good ground and is well fished," he added. "What's more, I guess from t' course she's shaping they know the way in all right. So it must be a doctor they wants, and not a pilot at this time of year."
The news proved interesting enough to lure us up to the hilltop with the telescope, where in a short while we were enjoying the wonderful spectacle of watching a crew of the vikings of our day force their way through a winding narrow passage in a large vessel against a heavy winter head wind.
The tide, too, was running out against her, and now and then a flaw of wind or a back eddy, caused by the cliffs on either side, would upset the helmsman's calculations. Yet with superb coolness he would drive her, till to us watchers, lying stretched out on the ground overhead, it seemed that her forefoot must surely be over the submerged cliff-side. Certainly the white surf from the rocks washed her cutwater before the skipper who was "scunning" or directing, perched on the fore cross-tree, would sing out the "Ready about. Lee, oh!" for which the men at the sheets and bowlines were keenly waiting.
A single slip, and she would have cracked like a nutshell against those adamantine walls. But to get into the harbour it was the only way, and as the skipper said afterwards, when I remonstrated on his apparent foolhardiness, "Needs must, when the devil drives."
"There's a big crowd of men on deck, Doctor," said my companion. "Reckon she's been delayed with her freighters, and that there's a load of women and children in t' hold on t' fish."
I had been so absorbed in watching his seamanship, that I had not been thinking about the stranger. Jake's remark changed the current of my thoughts; and soon the vessel's lines seemed to assume a familiar shape, and I began to realize that I must have seen her before. Then suddenly it flashed upon me—the Water Lily, of course.
Yes, it was the Water Lily. Then Joe was on board, and the flag was because Nancy was in trouble. The reasoning was intuitive rather than didactic; but the conviction was so forcible that I instinctively rose to return to the hospital for the black bag that is my fidus Achates on every emergency call.
"You isn't going till she rounds t' point of t' Chain Rocks, is you, Doctor? It's all she'll do with the wind and tide against her—if she does it. I minds more than one good vessel that's left her bones on them reefs."
"As well stay, I suppose, Jake, for I'll be in time if I do. My! look at that!" I could not help shouting, as a flaw of wind struck the schooner right ahead as she was actually in stays, and it seemed she must either fall in sideways or drive stern foremost on the cliffs. But almost as quick as the eddy, the staysail and jib were let run and off her, and her main boom was pushed by a whole gang of men away out over the rail, so that by altering the points of pressure the good ship went safely round on her heel, and before we had time to discuss it, her head sails were up again, and she was racing on her last tack to enable her to claw through the narrow channel between the Chain Rocks and the Cannons, which form the last breakwater for the harbour.
"I think she'll do it, Jake!"
"If she once gets in t' narrows and can't fetch t' point, it's all up with her. I 'lows 'tis time to get them women out of t' hold, anyhow," he replied laconically, his eyes riveted all the while on the scene below. "There's a crowd standing by t' boat, I sees, and them's putting a line in her," he added a minute or two later, during which time excitement had prevented either of us from speaking. "Us'll know in a second one way or t'other."
The crisis had soon arrived. The schooner had once more reached across the harbour channel, and was for the last time "in stays." A decision had to be arrived at instantly, and on it, and on the handling of the vessel, depended her fate.
"He's game, sure enough, whoever he is. He's going for it hit or miss." And there was a touch of excitement evidenced even in Jake's undemonstrative exterior.
We could now plainly see the master. He was standing on the cross-tree, whence he could tell, by looking into the water, almost to an inch how far it was possible to go before turning.
"She'll do it, Jake, she'll do it. See, she's heading for the middle of the run."
"She will if she does, and that's all, Doctor. She's falling off all t' while."
It was only too true. The vessel could no longer head for the point. Her sails were aback, shaking in the wind, and she now heading straight for the rock itself. Surely she must at once try to come up in the wind, stop her way, drop her sails, if possible throw out the boat, and head for the open before she should strike on one side or the other of the run.
But no, we could hear the stentorian tones of the skipper on the cross-trees shouting that which to any but an experienced sailor must have seemed certain suicide. "Keep her away! Keep her—full! Don't starve her! Give her way! Up topsail!"—the latter having been let down to allow the vessel to lie closer hauled to the wind. "Stand by to douse the head sails! Stand by the topsail!" we heard him shout. "Stand by to shoot her into the wind!"—and then at last, just as the crash seemed inevitable, "Hard down! Shoot her up! Down sails!"
We up above, with our hearts in our mouths, saw the plucky little vessel shoot true as a die up for the point. It was her only chance. I am sure that I could have heard my own heart beating as I saw her rise on the swell that ran up on the point, and it seemed to me she stopped and hung there. But before I could be certain whether she was ashore or not, another flood of the swell had rushed over the point, and she was fairly swirled around and dropped down into the safety of the harbour.
"It's time to be going, Doctor," Jake remarked as he rose from the ground. "But I 'low t' point won't want painting t' winter," he added, with a twinkle in his eye. "Howsomever, he's a good one, he is, wherever he be from, and I don't care who says 'tain't so"—high praise from the laconic Jake.
The Water Lily was at anchor when we reached the wharf, and a boat already rowing in to the landing. A minute later, just as I had expected, Joe was wringing me by the hand, as if he had a design on the continuity of my bones.
"Nancy's bad," he blurted out. "Won't you come and see her to oncet?"
I smiled in spite of my anxiety as I looked down at my trusty bag. "I'm all ready," I replied.
The deck of the schooner was crowded with people as we came alongside. The main hatch had been taken off, and the women and children had come up for an airing. They, like our friends, were taking their passages home from their fishing stations. They are known as "freighters."
"The skipper's been awful good, Doctor. When he heard Nancy were sick, he brought her out of t' hold, and give her his own bunk. But for that she'd have been dead long ago. She had t' fits that bad; and no one knowed what to do. She were ill when t' vessel comed into t' harbour, and t' skipper waited nigh three days till she seemed able to come along. Then her got worse again. Not a thing have passed her lips this two days now."
In the little, dark after-cabin I found the sick girl, scarcely recognizable as the bonny lass whose wedding we had celebrated the previous winter with such rejoicings. There were two young women in the cabin, told off to "see to her," the kindly skipper and his officers having vacated their quarters and gone forward for poor Nancy's benefit.
The case was a plain one. It was a matter of life and death. Before morning a baby boy had been brought into the world in that strange environment only to live a few hours. The following day we ventured to move the mother, still hanging between life and death, to the hospital.
And now came the dilemma of our lives. It was impossible to delay the schooner, as already the crowd on board had lost several days; and it was not safe or right so late in the year to be keeping these other families from their homes. The Water Lily, so the kindly captain informed us, must absolutely sail south the following morning. My own vessel was in the same plight. We had more work outlined that we must do than the already forming ice promised to give us time to accomplish. To send poor Nancy untended to sea in a schooner was simply to sign her death-warrant. Indeed, I had small hope for her life anyhow.
Our hospital was on the coast of Labrador, and the remorseless Straits of Belle Isle yawned forty miles wide between it and the nearest point of the island home of most of our friends. One belated vessel, still waiting to finish loading, lay in the harbour. She expected to be a week yet, and possibly ten days if the weather held bad. An interview with the skipper resulted in a promise to carry the sick woman to her harbour if she were still alive on the day of sailing, or news of her death if she passed away.
Joe had no alternative. He certainly must go on, for he had nothing for the winter with him, no gear, and no way of procuring any. So it was agreed that Nancy should be left in our care, and, if alive, should follow by the schooner. Only poor Nancy was undisturbed next morning by the creaking of the mast hoops and the squealing of the blocks—the familiar warning to our ears that a vessel is leaving for sea. For she lay utterly unconscious of the happenings of the outside world, hovering between life and death in the ward upstairs.
To whatever cause we ought to ascribe it does not much matter. But for the time, anyhow, our arrangements "panned out right." The weather delayed the fish vessel till our patient was well enough to be moved. Ten days later, sewed up in a blanket sleeping-bag, Nancy was painfully carried aboard and deposited in a captain's berth—again most generously put at her disposal.
And so once more she put out to sea.
It was not until the next spring that I heard the final outcome of all the troubles. Nancy had arrived home in safety, with only one hitch—her kit-bag and clothing had been forgotten in sailing, and when at length she reached her harbour, she had had to be carried up to her home swathed only in a bag of blankets.
Such are but incidents like head winds in the lives of the Labrador fisher-folk; but those who, like our people, are taught to meet troubles halfway look at the silver lining instead of the dark cloud. As for Joe himself, he is still unable to get into his head why these events should be of even passing interest to any one else.
"Spin me a yarn, Uncle Eph. I'm fairly played out. We've been on the go from daylight and I'm too tired to write up the day's work."
"A yarn, Doctor. I'm no hand at yarns," said the master of the spick-and-span little cottage at which I and my dogs had brought up for the night. But the generously served supper, with the tin of milk and the pot of berry jam, kept in case some one might come along, and the genial features of my hospitable host, slowly puffing at his pipe on the other side of the fireplace, made me boldly insistent.
"Oh, not anything special, Uncle Eph, just some yarn of an adventure with your dogs in the old days."
Uncle Eph ruminated for quite a while, but I saw by the solid puffs he was taking at his pipe that his mind was working. Then a big smile, broader than ever, lit up his face, and he said slowly:
"Well, if you're so minded, I'll tell you a yarn about a fellow called 'Sally' who lived down our way in my early days."
At this I just settled down comfortably to listen.
Of course Sally was only a nickname, but on our coast nicknames last a man all his life. Thus my last patient, a woman of forty-odd years, trying to-day to identify herself, explained, "Why, you must know my father, Doctor. He be called 'Powder'—'Mr. Powder,' because of his red hair and whiskers."
Sally's proper nickname was apparently "Chief," which the boys had given him because he had been a regular "Huck Finn" among the others. But in young manhood—some said it was because "Marjorie Sweetapple went and took Johnnie Barton instead o' he"—somehow or other "Chief" took a sudden "turn." This expression on our coast usually means a religious "turn," or a turn such as people take when "they sees something and be going to die"; it may be a ghost or sign. But this turn was neither. It was just a plain common "turn."
It had manifested itself in "Chief" by his no longer going about with the other boys, by his habits becoming solitary, and by his neglecting his personal appearance, especially in letting his very abundant hair grow longer than fashion dictates for the young manhood of the coast. That was the reason some wag one day dubbed him "Absalom," which the rest caught up and soon shortened to "Sally." In the proper order of things it should have been "Abe." Wasn't Absalom Sims always called "Abe"? There was obviously an intentional tinge of satire in this unusual abbreviation.
Whether it was due to the "turn" or not, the fact remained that at the advanced age of four and twenty Sally was still unmarried. He lived and fished and hunted mostly alone. No one, therefore, had much to say of him, good or bad. In its kindly way the coast just left him alone, seeing that was what he wished.
As the years went by it happened that hard tunes with a scarcity of food struck "Frying-Pan Tickle," the hospitable name of the cove where Sally was reared. Fish were scarce, capelin never struck in, fur could not be got. This particular season every kind of fur had been scarce. A forest fire had driven the deer into the country out of reach. The young bachelor seals, called "bedlamers," that precede the breeding herd on their annual southern whelping excursion, and normally afford us a much-needed proteid supply, had evidently skipped their visit to the bay; while continuous onshore winds made it impossible in small boats to intercept the mighty rafts, or flocks, of ducks which pass south every fall. As a rule the ducks "take a spell" feeding off the shoals and islands as they go on their way, but the northeaster had robbed our larders of this other supply of meat, which we are in the habit of freezing up for spring use.
In spite of the ice jam, packed by the unfriendly winds, the men had ventured to set their big seal nets as usual, not expecting the long persistence of "weather" that now seriously endangered their recovery.
The time to move to the winter houses up the bay had already passed, and so the men at last thought best to go on and get them ready and then come out once more to haul and stow the nets and carry the women back with them. The long-delayed break came suddenly at last, with a blue sky and a bright, calm morning, but alas! no wind to move the packed-in slob ice. So there was no help for it but to get away early on shanks' pony, if they decided to go on; and that would mean they would not "reach down" before dark. There were only three of them, but they were all family men: Hezekiah Black, called "Ky"; Joseph Stedman, known as "Patsy," and old Uncle John Sanborne. They got under way bright and early, but the weather clouded up soon after they left, and a puff or two of wind should have warned them all under ordinary circumstances to abandon the attempt, or at least to branch off and take shelter in the "Featherbed Tilt" before trying to cross the White Hills.
As it was, Uncle John decided to adopt that plan, leaving the younger men, whom nothing would dissuade from pushing ahead. After all, they knew every turn of the trail, every rock and landmark on the hillside; and one need not wonder if the modern spirit of "hustle" finds an echo even in these far-off wilds. Throwing precaution to the winds, the two young men pushed on regardless of signs and omens.
Sally just knew it. Nothing would ever convince him that they did not deserve to get into trouble for not respecting "signs." Even Uncle John had often talked about "t' foolishness o' signs," and many a time Ky, once a humble member of Chief's followers, had laughed at what he called "old women's stuff." But what Sally thought of signs would not have been of any interest in itself. The interesting thing was that though he was in the country hunting, having moved long ago to his winter trapping-grounds, he saw signs enough to make him anxious about the three fathers of families tramping over the bleak hills that day. When snow began to fall with a westerly wind, that was sign number one. Something uncanny was about to happen. Then there was sign number two of bad weather coming, namely, the tingling in his fingers and sometimes "a scattered pain in t' joints." So Sally left his fur-path for the day, hurried back to his tiny home among the trees, and, calling his dogs together, harnessed them quickly and started at once for the winter houses at the bottom of Grey Wolf Bay.
A tenderfoot could have told now that they were "in for weather." The snow by midday was not falling, it was being shovelled down in loads. The temperature had dropped so rapidly that the flakes, as large as goose feathers, were dry and light, a fact that with the increasing wind made the going like travelling through a seething cauldron. Unfortunately the men were already over the crest of the White Hills when they realized that the storm which had swept down on them had come to stay. There was no stemming the gale on the wind-swept ice of those hillsides, even could they have faced the fiercely driving snow. All they could do was to hurry along before it, knowing there would be no shelter for them till they reached Frying-Pan Tickle. For the forest had retired there beyond the hills before the onslaught of man and the carelessness that had caused forest fires.
No one who has not been through it has any conception of the innumerable little accidents which in circumstances like these eat up the stock of chances for coming through. It did seem foolish that Patsy got his mittens wet in salt water coming through the broken ballicater ice as they tried to make the short cut across the Maiden's Arm; and that they froze while he was trying to warm his hands, so that he could not get them on again. It sounds like madness on Ky's part to have let his nor'wester cap get blown away, but it really only fell from his numbed hands while he was knocking the snow off, and was instantly swept away in a flurry of snow in the darkness. When the beam broke in his snow racquet, one of a pair he had absolutely counted on as beyond accident, he could scarcely get ahead at all.
To stop and try to "boil the kettle" would not only have occupied too much time, but under the circumstances making a fire was practically impossible. Neither of the men carried a watch, and the unusual darkness caused by the thick snow made it impossible for them to tell what progress they were making. They supposed that surely between the worst snow "dweys" they would catch sight of some familiar leading mark, but that proved only another of their small but fatal miscalculations. The storm never did let up. More than once they discovered they were out of the track, and, knowing well their danger, had grudgingly to sacrifice time and strength in groping their way back to a spot where they could recognize the trail again.
December days are short, anyhow, "down north" and every moment warned them that the chances of getting out before dark were rapidly diminishing. All the strength and endurance of which they were capable were unstintingly utilized to get ahead; but when night finally overtook them, they knew well that there were several miles to go, while to move ahead meant almost certainly losing the trail, which inevitably spelt death. It was only the winter before that Jake Newman, of Rogers Cove, left his own home after dinner, "just to fetch in a load of wood," and he wasn't found till three days later, buried in snow not two hundred yards from his front door, frozen to death. But if to advance meant death, to stop moving was equally dangerous. So there was nothing to do but keep moving round and round a big rock in hopes of living out the long, terrible night.
Meanwhile Sally was under way. Though he knew that the men were crazy to get back, it was only his surmise that they had started, so he had to call round at the winter cottages in the bay to make sure. He realized full well it was a man's job he was about to undertake, and had no wish to attempt it unnecessarily. As he expected, however, he found that the houses were all shut up, and such tracks as there were on the snow about the trail end showed quite clearly three men's footmarks. "Uncle John's gone with t' others," he muttered to himself. "I 'low 't is t' last journey some of 'em 'll make, unless they minded the signs before too late. 'Tis lucky that I hadn't left old Surefoot at t' tilt; more'n likely I shall be needing he before t' night's out." And he called his one earthly chum and constant companion to him, rubbed his head, and made him nose the men's tracks which he was about to follow.
In spite of his nickname, Sally was no greenhorn on occasions like this. Every harness was carefully gone over, every trace tested; the runners and cross-bars of his komatik all came in for a critical overhauling. The contents of the nonny-bag were amply replenished; the matches in the water-tight bottle were tested for dampness; his small compass was securely lashed to the chain of his belt. His one bottle of spirits, "kept against sickness," was carefully stowed with the tea and hardtack. A bundle of warm wraps, with his axe, and even a few dry splits, completed his equipment. Then once more Surefoot was shown the tracks on the threshold, the trailing loops of the traces were hitched on their respective toggles, the stern line was slipped, and away went his sturdy team into the darkness.
That animals have a sense of direction that man has lost is clearly proven by the seals, birds, polar bears, and our northern migratory animals generally, who every year follow in their season the right trails to their destinations, even though thousands of miles distant and over pathless seas or trackless snows and barrens. That instinct is nowhere more keenly developed than in our draught dogs; and amongst these there are always now and again, as in human relationships, those that are peerless among their fellows. Surefoot's name, like Sally's own, was not strictly his baptismal cognomen, the original name of "Whitefoot" having been relegated to oblivion early in life owing to some clever trail-following the pup had achieved.
Many men would face an aeroplane flight with a sinking sensation. Many would have to acknowledge some qualms on a start with "mere dogs" in a blizzard like this one. But Sally, unemotional as a statue and serene as a judge, knew his pilot too well to worry, and, stretched out full length on the sledge, occupied himself with combating the snow in between "spells" of hauling the komatik out of hopeless snowbanks. "It won't do to pass the Featherbed without making sure them's not there," thought Sally. "If Ky had any wits about him, he'd never try the Hanging Marshes a night like this." So when at last the team actually divided round the leading mark-pole, Surefoot having rubbed his side on it, so straight had he travelled even in that inferno, Sally leaped off immediately, and, following the line of poles, was cheered to see sparks issuing from the snug tilt among the trees. But alas, there was only one man, old Uncle John, resting there safely when Sally came tumbling in. The cheerful wood fire, the contrast of the warmth and quiet with the howling and darkness of the storm outside, called loudly to every physical faculty to stay for the night.
"Where be them gone?" queried Sally as soon as the old man had roused himself enough to understand the sudden interruption. "Where's Ky and Patsy? I thought you was all together by t' tracks."
"So we was, so we was, boy. But them's gone on, while I thought I'd bide till daylight."
The loud wail of the dogs in chorus, as they chafed at being left out of sight or knowledge of their master's whereabouts, was plainly audible to both men, and suggested the cruel bleakness of the night outside.
"Youse isn't going on to look for 'em, is you? There be no chance of doing nothing a night like this," added the old man.
But Sally was in another world. He could see the two men adrift and trying to keep life in themselves on the White Hills just as plainly as the cry made him see his beloved dogs calling to him from the exposed trail outside.
"There'll be nothing left anyhow to do by morning, Uncle John," he answered. "Look after yourself well and keep t' fire in; maybe I'll be back sooner than us expects. Goodnight to you." And Sally disappeared once more into the night.
They were still alive when Surefoot found them, though far more played out than one would suppose strong men could be in so short a time. The extra wraps were at once requisitioned, a ration from the spirit flask was rapidly given to each, and then, forcing them to sit down on the sledge, Sally again encouraged Surefoot to take the trail. Downhill, they managed to move along, but the heavy thatch of snow made progress difficult on the level and almost impossible uphill, just when exhaustion made marching impracticable even with a line from the sledge lashed to their arms. Sally found his last device unavailable. The men must get off for the uphill work, and that is what it became increasingly impossible for them to do.
Apparently Ky was the worse off. He didn't seem to know what was going on. Sally noticed that his hat had gone and thought his head was freezing, so without hesitation he covered it with his own warm nor'wester. Ky lay mostly on the komatik now, and it took all Sally's strength and such little aid as Patsy could give to enable the dogs to haul up the Frenchman's Leap, usually nearly perpendicular, but now fortunately sloped off by the heavy drift. Each man had to take a trace ahead and haul exactly like two big dogs, thus strengthening the team. At last the komatik topped the brow and was once more coming along after them. But Patsy was so played out that Sally drove him back to the sledge, hoping that the dogs could now haul the two men again. To his horror on reaching the komatik he found the real cause of its running so much more easily. Ky was gone. Probably he had only just slipped off. He would go back and look for him. But then he would lose the dogs. Patsy was too lost to the world to understand anything or to help. If he went back alone the dogs might follow and he would lose Patsy as well. Still he must try it. Halting the dogs he turned the komatik over, driving the upturned nose of the runners deep into the snow; then he laid Patsy on the top, and, lashing him on, finally began groping back down the steep rise for the missing man.
Not a sign was to be found; any traces he had left were not only invisible, but impossible to feel, though he took off his mittens to try. The pitiless, driving snow instantly levelled off every mark. How long dare he delay? He remembered at last that even if he found him he could do no good. He could never carry him up the hill. But he had tried—had done his best and his conscience felt easier. And then there was Patsy. He might save Patsy yet. It was right he should go on. Fortunately the dogs were giving tongue when he crawled and stumbled once more up the Leap. They knew their master had left them and had come back to the komatik to wait. Some of them were huddled up against the motionless body of the man. Surefoot, bolt upright on the topmost bend, was leading the chorus. The komatik had to be extricated and righted. Patsy was still breathing. His body must be re-lashed on the right side; and then once more the weary march began—the march that was a battle for every inch.
Of the remainder of the journey Sally never had much remembrance. It was like a moving dream—he knew it was crowded with adventures, but the details had vanished completely from his ken. It was his old father who told the remainder of the story. He had turned into bed as usual, never dreaming any man was astir on such a night as that. He was sleeping the sleep of the righteous when he suddenly became conscious of dogs howling. Even dogs would not be out unless they were in harness on such a night. His own dogs he knew were safely barred into their kennels after being fed at sundown. For a few minutes he lay awake and listened. The sounds came no nearer, but they were quite distinct. There was something astir in the darkness—something uncanny. Sally would have called it a "sign." Uneasily he arose and lit the lamp. He could not hear a soul stirring. Even the howling of the dogs had ceased. Nothing but the noise of the house creaking and groaning under the wind pressure was discernible. And then, just as the bitter cold, dark, and loneliness made him long to get into his warm bed again, the wail of a lone dog was distinctly audible. Uncle Eben, pulling the lamp safely out of the draught, opened a crack of the porch door only to be saluted by a rush of cold wind and snow which nearly swept him off his feet. But again clearer than before came the wail of the dog.
"He must be hitched up by mistake or in harness," he thought. "I 'low I'll fire a powder gun."
Going back into the bedroom, the old man warned his wife that he was going to shoot and not to be frightened. Then taking his old muzzle-loader, which was always kept ready, from among the lesser weapons which stood in the gun-rack, he poked the muzzle through the crack and fired it into the air. True he had thought there might be some one adrift. But even a prophet could not have imagined that what did happen could have done so. For the sound of the explosion had not done echoing through the empty rooms before the door was burst suddenly in by some heavy body falling against it. The thud of some weighty mass falling on the floor was all that Uncle Eben could make out, for the gust through the wide-open door at once extinguished the light. It seemed as if some huge bird must have been hovering overhead and have fallen to the charge of the big gun. The door must be shut at all costs, and shut at once; so Uncle Eben, stooping to feel his way over the fallen object, put his hands out to find where it lay in the darkness. Instantly he recognized the body of a man—a man alive too, but apparently unable to speak or move. Like lightning he had the door closed. The vigour of youth seemed to leap into his old veins. The light was soon burning again, to reveal to him the prostrate body of his own son, ice-covered from head to foot, his hatless head like a great snow cannon-ball, his face so iced up that it was scarcely recognizable. No—he was unwounded and there was life in him. "I had just to thaw his head out first," Uncle Eben said, "and then us rubbed him and got something down his throat. He roused himself, got up, and told us his dogs must be snarled up in t' woodpile on the hillside, only a few minutes away, and he kept signing that there were a man, possibly still alive, lashed on t' komatik." It was no night for the old man to go out. "He'd be dead, bless you," before he got anywhere; and it seemed impossible to let Sally go out again. The stranger must surely be dead long ago. But, weak as he was, Sally would go. He could stand now and was once more blundering toward the door. To live and think he had let a man perish alongside was as impossible to one man as to the other.
It was Uncle Eben who solved the problem. There were a dozen balls of stout seal twine lying in the locker. The old man, unable longer to haul wood or drive dogs himself, spent much of his time knitting up gear for the boys. He put on Sally his own cap, coat, and mits, tied the twine round his wrist, and then let him out to find the komatik again if he could; while if he fell exhausted Uncle Eben could at least follow the line and perhaps get him back again.
As events turned out they were justified in making the attempt. The cold wind served only as a lash to Sally's reserve strength and his grit. That night he certainly found himself again. He reached the sledge, cut the traces he could not disentangle, and, keeping Surefoot by him, he cleared the komatik of the woodpile. Once more he hitched in the dogs, which he knew would make straight for the house, while he piloted down that last hillside.
* * * * *
Patsy got well again, though his toes and fingers alike were badly burned. Ky was not found till a few days later. He had evidently wandered to the edge of the cliffs, which near the Jump fall perpendicularly a hundred feet on to the rocky beach below, and had slipped over in the darkness.
Uncle Eben's shot had passed almost immediately over Sally's head. He remembers being unable to free the dogs, realizing he was close home, and stumbling on for only a minute or two before something exploded just above him; then he recalls nothing till Uncle Eben had thawed out the touselly head and rubbed back the circulation into the frozen limbs.
The slur so obviously intentional in the old nickname made it impossible for any one to use it longer. It was unanimously agreed that he had established most surely his right to his old name of "Chief," and by this for many years he was known. With the lapse of years and the advent of grey hairs, even that was gradually recognized as too familiar, and he received the cognomen of "Uncle," the title of endearment of the coast, attached to his own name of Ephraim. Moreover, this proved to be the last of Sally's "turns," for the long hair and the lonely habits disappeared. The barrier that had grown up between him and his fellows vanished, as they always do before the warmth of unselfish deeds—and the next time "Chief" asked a girl the fateful question, there proved to be no Johnnie Barton in his way.
"Is Sally living still?" I asked, my keenness of interpretation obscured by weariness or by interest in the details.
"Oh, yes, he's alive all right," replied my host—and my mind at once apologized, as I realized he had been telling me the story of his own early life.
THE DOCTOR'S BIG FEE
A crowd of visitors had landed from the fortnightly mail boat, and had come up to see the sights of our little harbour while our mails and freight were being landed and the usual two hours were allowed to collect and put aboard any return packages or letters. The island on which the station stands is a very small one, attractions are naturally few, and custom has reconciled us to the experience, strange enough at first, of being included in the list of "sights."
A nice, cheerful group had just "done the hospital" and its appendages, and were resting on the rocky hilltop, after seeing the winter dog-team and examining the hospital reservoir. The ever-recurrent questions had been asked, and patiently answered—yes, the ice was cold, but not always wet; the glare of the snow was hard on the eyes; dogs do delight to bite; and so on. Conversation flagged a little till some one enquired the names of the headlands and bays stretching away in succession beneath our view.
"It all looks so grim and cold, and the people seem so scattered and so poor. Surely they can't pay a doctor's fees?" some one asked.
"That depends on what you mean by a fee. We don't expect to get blood out of a stone."
"Is all your work done for nothing, then?"
"No, not exactly for nothing. There is no produce of the coast which has not been used to express gratitude, and 'to help the hospital along.' Codfish is a common fee. Sealskins, venison, wild ducks, beadwork, embroidered skinwork, feathers, firewood—nothing is too bizarre to offer."
"Do they never pay money?"
"Yes, sometimes. Of late years, a little more each year. But when we began work, they practically never got any with which to pay. The fur-trading companies settled in kind, values were often measured, not by so many dollars, but by so many pelts. The traders gave out supplies on credit, took the fish or fur from their planters in return, and made up the balance, when there was any, in goods. Even barter was quite unusual, though some traders had a 'cash price' for produce paid down at once, besides the credit price."
"Do you think it a sound policy to be providing services, drugs, and nursing free?" chimed in a grey-bearded old fellow, evidently the philosopher of the party.
"Sometimes, sir, policies must be adopted which are rendered necessary for the time by conditions. Besides, as I have said, the people pay what they can, and, after all, it is they who catch the fish and fur, reaping harvests for the world's benefit—for not much return."
"Well, I'm glad that you don't do it for nothing, anyhow. That would be an imposition on the workers as well as on the subscribers."
The old gentleman seemed a bit disgruntled, so I ventured to put my viewpoint in a different way.
"Do you see that steep, rocky cape over there?" I asked. "It is the most northerly you can distinguish."
"A great landmark, and worth the journey up here only to look at it," he answered with an enthusiasm which showed that he had a tender spot for Nature's beauties, and that even if the shell was hard, the kernel was soft.
"There is a little village just behind that head. It is hidden away in a rift in the mountain which forms a tiny cove for a safe anchorage. I had as big a fee there only two days ago as ever I received when I was practising in London."
The company looked up in astonishment, but like Brer Rabbit, I lay low to see if they cared for an explanation. I thought I saw a twinkle in my critic's eye as it caught mine.
"Go ahead," was all that he said, however.
* * * * *
Deep-Water "Crik," we call it. About half a dozen fishermen's families live there. Well, three days ago a boat came over at daylight to see if they could get a doctor, and I was debating as to the advisability of leaving the hospital, when an old skipper from a schooner in the harbour came ashore to tell me: "It's t' old Englishman; Uncle Solomon they calls him. He's had a bad place this twelvemonth."
"How's the wind outside?"
"Soldier's wind. Abeam both ways."
"Think I could get back to-night?"
"Yes, by after dark."
"Let's get right away, then."
But other calls delayed us, and it was nearly midday before we started for the cape. Unfortunately, the wind veered as the sun sank, and "headed" us continually. The northern current was running strong, and it was just "duckish" when at last we entered the creek.
The former glories of Deep-Water Creek have passed away. Fortune has decreed that seals and mackerel and even salmon to a large extent should not "strike in" along that shore. Bad seasons and the wretched trading system have impoverished the fishermen, while the opening of the southern mines has taken away some of the most able-bodied. Here and there a braver cottage still boasts a coat of whitewash and a mixture of cod oil and red dust on the roof. But for the most part there is a sombre, dejected look about the human part of the harbour that suggests nothing but sordid poverty.
It had commenced to rain, and we were wet, cold, and feeling generally blue as we landed at a small fish stage, whose very cleanliness helped further to depress us, telling as it did the tale of a bad "voyage." For now it ought to have reeked of fish and oil; and piles of cod heads, instead of the cleanest of cold water, should have covered the rocks beneath. So many of our troubles are due to deficient dietary, winter was already on our heels, and there seemed to be the shadow of hunger in the very air.
As soon, however, as we landed, a black-bearded, bright-faced man of about fifty gave us a hearty greeting, and such evident happiness lit up his peculiarly piercing eyes that it made us feel a little more cheerful, even before he had taken us into his house. There we found a cup of steaming hot tea prepared. That tea did not seem a whit less sweet, because "there be ne'er a drop o' milk in t' harbour, Doctor, and molasses be scarce, too, till t' fish be dry."
Everything was so clean that you could have eaten off the floor. The pots and pans and tin cooking-utensils shone so brightly from the walls that the flame of the tiny kerosene lamp, reflected from so many sides at once, suggested ten hundredfold the candle-power it possessed. A museumful of treasures could not have added to the charm of the simplicity of the room, which, though small, was ever so cosy compared with the surroundings outside. Three children were playing on the hearth with a younger man, evidently their father.
"No, Doctor, they aren't ours exactly," replied our host, in answer to my question, "but us took Sam as our own when he was born, and his mother lay dead, and he've been with us ever since. Those be his little ones. You remember Kate, his wife, what died in the hospital?"
Yes, I remembered her very well, and the struggle we had had in trying to save her.
"Skipper John," I said as soon as tea was over, "let's get out and see the old Englishman. He'll be tired waiting."
"Youse needn't go out, Doctor. He be upstairs in bed."
So upstairs, or rather up the ladder, we went, to find the oddest arrangement, and yet far the most sensible under the peculiar circumstances. "Upstairs" was the triangular space between the roof and the ceiling of the ground floor. At each end was a tiny window, and the whole, windows included, had been divided longitudinally by a single thickness of hand-sawn lumber, up to the tiny cross-beams. There was no lofting, and both windows were open, so that a cool breeze was blowing right through. Cheerfulness was given by a bright white paper which had been pasted on over everything. Home-made rag mats covered the planed boards. At one end a screen of cheesecloth veiled off the corner. Sitting bolt upright on a low bench, and leaning against the partition, was a very aged-looking woman, staring fixedly in front of her, and swaying forwards and backwards like some whirling Dervish. She ceaselessly monotoned what was intended for a hymn.
"The old gentleman sleeps over there," said the skipper with his head just above the floor level. He indicated the screened corner, and then bobbed down and disappeared, being far too courteous a man to intrude.
The old lady took no notice whatever as I approached. No head was visible among the rude collection of bedclothes which, with a mattress on the boards, served for the bed.
"Uncle Solomon, it's the Doctor," I called.
The mass of clothes moved, and a trembling old hand came out to meet mine.
"Not so well, Uncle Solomon? No pain, I hope?"
"No pain, Doctor, thank t' good Lord—and Skipper John," he added. "He took us in, Doctor, when t' old lady and I were starving."
The terrible cancer in spite of which his iron constitution still kept him alive had so extended its fearful ravages that the reason for the veiled corner was at once apparent, and also the effective measures for ventilation.
The old lady had now caught the meaning of my presence. "He suffers a lot, Doctor, though he won't say it. If it wasn't for me singing to him, I don't know how he would bear up." And, strangely enough, even I had noticed the apparent descent from an odd, dreamy state to crude realities, as the old lady abandoned her droning, and talked of symptoms.
"But, Aunt Anne," I said, "you can't keep it up all night as well as all day?"
"No, not exactly, Doctor, but I mostly sleeps very little." And to my no small astonishment she now shut up like an umbrella, and at once recommenced her mesmeric monotone.
When the interview was over, and all my notes made and lines of action decided, I still did not feel like moving. I was standing in a brown study when I heard the skipper's voice calling me.
"Be you through, Doctor? There be two or three as wants to see you," it said; but it meant, "Is there anything wrong?" The long silence might mean that the sight had been too much for me.
"There's no hurry, Doctor," it hastened to add, for his quick ear had caught the noise of my start as I came to earth again.
"What can be the meaning of it all?" I was pondering. Is there any more explanation to the riddle of life than to Alice in Wonderland? Are we not all a lot of "slithy toves, that gyre and gimble in the wabe"—or worse? Must we who love living only regard it as one long tragedy?
The clinic of Skipper John's lower room included one or two pathetic tales, and evidently my face showed discouragement, but I confess I was surprised when the last poor creature had left, to find my host's hand on my shoulder.
"You'll be wanting a good hot cup o' tea, I knows, Doctor. And t' wife's made you a bit o' toast, and a taste o' hot berry jam. We are so grateful you comed, Doctor. T' poor old creatures won't last long. But thanks aren't dollars."
At that minute his happy, optimistic eyes chanced to meet mine. They seemed like good, deep water, and just for a second the thought crossed my mind that perhaps he knew more of the real troubles of life than his intellectual opportunities might suggest.
"No, Skipper," was all I said. "We doctors, anyhow, find them quite as scarce."
"Well, Doctor," he added, "please God if I gets a skin t' winter I'll try and pay you for your visit, anyhow. But I hasn't a cent in the world just now. The old couple has taken the little us had put by."
"Skipper John, what relation are those people to you?"
"Well, Doctor, no relation 'zactly."
"Do they pay nothing at all?"
"Them has nothing," he replied.
"Why did you take them in?"
"They was homeless, Doctor, and the old lady was already blind."
"How long have they been with you?"
"Just twelve months come Saturday."
"Thanks, Skipper," was all I could say, but I found myself standing with my hat off in the presence of this man. I thought then, and still think, I had received one of my largest fees.
Jean Marquette had nothing French about him but his name. Indeed "ne'er a word of French" could the old man remember, for he had lived for many years on the bleak, northeast side of Labrador; and few folk knew why, for all his forbears from sunny France had studiously avoided the Atlantic seaboard.
Over his evening pipe, when the sparkling forks of fire bursting from the crackling logs seemed to materialize before his eyes again the scenes of his venturous life in the wild, as if they had been imperishably imprinted in the old trunks which had witnessed them, the old coureur de bois spirit, and even accent, flashed out as he carried his listeners back into the gallant days of the men who founded the great seigneuries which still stretch along the thousand miles of coast from the barren Atlantic seaboard to the bold heights of Quebec.
In this country, only separated from the land of Evangeline by a few miles of salt water, one might reasonably suppose that the good folk would look to the soil and the peaceful pursuits of Arcady for at least some part of their daily bread. But, with the exception of a few watery potatoes, Uncle Johnnie had never "growed e'er a thing in his life." His rifle and axe, his traps and his lines, had exacted sufficient tribute from wild nature around him, not only to keep the wolf from the door, but to lay up in the stocking in his ancient French trunk dollars enough to give his only child, Marie-Joseph, quite a little dowry for that coast.
It had often been a puzzle to us why this lonely old man, with no one belonging to him but one unusually pretty daughter, should have migrated to the lonely North. He had been asked more than once what the reason was, but he had always put the curious off by saying, "Hunting must be a lonesome trade. You wants a lot of room to catch foxes."
But one night, when he was in a more communicative mood than usual, we got the whole story out of him.
Late one fall, when the southern fishing craft had gone south, and the ground was crisp with the first frost of winter, the lovely calm and sunny October morning had induced him to suggest to his wife that she should go over to the neighbouring island with their two elder children, a girl and a boy, and have a picnic, while they gathered some of the beautiful red cranberries to "stow away" for the winter. The baby girl, Marie, was left at home with the little servant maid. The children had jumped for joy at the idea, and early after breakfast he had rowed them across to the island, returning himself to finish loading his small schooner with the household goods and chattels which they must take up the bay to their winter home in the woods. So busy had he been with work that only as it came time to go off for the family did he notice how suddenly the weather had chopped around. A sinister northerly flaw was already rippling the surface of the hitherto placid sea; and Uncle Johnnie, accustomed to read the sky like a book, hurried as he seldom did to get the small boat under way. No one could have driven her faster than he drove her, and the pace satisfied even his uneasy mind. The "cat's-paw" had stiffened to a bitter blast behind him, and long before the boat reached the beach, it was difficult enough to look to windward. Hauling up the boat, he gave the familiar call which his wife knew so well; but no answer came to greet him. Following along the shore, and still finding no traces, he suddenly remembered that there was an old deserted house nearly a mile farther along, and incontinently he started to run as fast as he could in its direction. As he drew near, to his infinite joy he caught sight of smoke issuing from holes in the leaky roof. Calling as he went, he soon reached the cabin, to find the little party trying to dry themselves before a wood fire in the crazy stove, which had no funnelling, and was filling the hut with eye-torturing smoke.
"Come along, Mother," he cried. "There's no time to be lost. If we hurry, we may get over before dark."
A little delay was caused by the children, who were unwilling to leave even that pretence of a shelter; and more time was lost crossing the island, the children having to be carried most of the way. At last, having placed them all safely in the boat, Uncle Johnnie proceeded to launch her, and by wading into the water himself, succeeded in keeping them dry for the start. But the increasing sea soon made even that sacrifice of little avail, for broken water and driving spray, with the now heavily falling snow, soon soaked them through and through, at last half filling the boat itself with water.
Uncle Johnnie knew by instinct that it was now neck or nothing. He must get across that strip of water if human endurance could do it. So he kept on and on, long after he might have gone back, and put the boat before it once more to run for the island only after it was well dark, and he was being blown astern anyhow in spite of his best efforts. Nearing the shore, he had every reason to expect disaster, for the boat was now half filled, and he could see no place to make a landing. So as soon as his oars struck bottom he once more jumped into the water, and, holding the boat in his iron grip, he dragged it and its precious freight once more out of the furious violence of the sea.
The children by this time were quite unable to "travel"; so, sending his wife ahead, Uncle Johnnie struggled along with the little ones as best he could.
Alas, all of them were thoroughly beaten out. As he passed a big boulder halfway across the island which served as a landmark for the pathway, Uncle Johnnie found his poor wife lying in the snow, and already beyond any help he could give. Hurrying on to the cottage as best he could, he deposited the children, and once more fled out into the darkness for his wife, only to be, as he feared, too late, and to be obliged to leave her where she had fallen. Distracted as he was, he could only once more hurry to the hut, where again nothing but disaster awaited him. The place was flooded, the fire was out, no dry matches were left, and the little boy was already following his mother into the great beyond. Tearing off his coat and shirt, and pressing the little girl to his naked skin, he covered himself up again as best he could, and was actually able by moving about the whole night long, not only to keep himself alive, but to preserve the vital spark in his little daughter. Help came in the morning from the nearest neighbour some miles away, who had been given the alarm by the servant maid from his home. But there was still one more loss for him to meet, his little daughter failing to react to all their tenderest efforts to bring her back to life.
Before Marie was out of her teens, half the young bloods of the neighbourhood were courting around Uncle Johnnie's house. But none of them ever made any headway, for Uncle Johnnie clung to his one ewe lamb with almost childish dependence, and guarded her with all the wiles of his lifelong woodcraft.
"'T is natural enough," thought young Ned Waring, "that t' old man don't want to part with she. For there be nothing else for he round here now. Every stone on t' beach reminds he of his terrible misfortune." He had said this often enough before, but one day it struck him— "When you wants to outwit a beaver, youse got to bank on dem t'ings that are real part of his make-up, and which he can no more help than a bear can help licking molasses. Fishing isn't as good as it used to be round here, and swiles—well, there be'ant one year in a dozen when they comes in any quantity. I reckon I'll rig t' Saucy Lass for a longer trip t' year, and see what luck'll bring lower down t' Labrador."
So it came to pass that year that on a day in June, with his two brothers and a shipped "hand," Ned landed north of fifty-three in a lovely cove in some islands off the mouth of a long bay. Even as he passed in he had seen fish schooling so thick "you could catch 'em by the tails." His vessel safely anchored, he went ashore, much as did the old navigators in the brave days of the French explorers. No sign of human beings existed anywhere. Thick groves of evergreen trees covered all the slopes of the valleys which held the river in whose mouth they had anchored. But though signs of rabbits, foxes, and other game greeted their trained eyes, not a living animal was to be seen moving anywhere.
It so happened, however, that as they stretched themselves out on the brow of the hill before returning to their schooner, Ned chanced to disturb a large bee, which resented painfully the intrusion of these idlers on his labours. It was an insect rare enough on Labrador; so, taking the overture as a touch of personal interest rather than hostility, they christened their cove "Bumble-Bee Bight," and the home which they partly built before the winter drove them south again, "the Hive"; while for purposes of his own Ned left the island unnamed.
The trip proved a bumper one. They carried a full fare home; and big were the rumours which got around of the fisherman's paradise which Ned Waring had discovered. When the voyage was turned in, Ned was able to purchase every essential and many comforts for the new home in the North, and yet have a balance coming to him large enough to furnish him with the bravest winter outfit a young suitor could wish.
Uncle Johnnie was, however, all the time "one too many" for him as well as all the rest; and never was he able to catch Marie alone. Things went on uneventfully through Christmas and the New Year. The old man no longer drove dogs. He spent almost all his time pottering around his own house, now and again cleaving a few billets of wood; but to all intents and purposes he was hibernating like one of our Labrador bears.
When March month once more came around, the magic word "swiles" was whispered from mouth to mouth, and Uncle Johnnie woke up like a weasel when a rabbit is about. Every day he sallied up to his lookout on the hill, telescope in hand, at stated hours. But the hours were so timed that Marie could always go with him.
"Swiles" are second nature to most Labrador men. As for Uncle Johnnie, he would leave his Christmas dinner any time if any one came and called, "Swiles!" He would rather haul a two-dollar pelt over "t' ballicaters" than make two hundred in any other way.
"So I reckoned," said Ned cannily, "one chance to make t' old man friendly was to put him in t' way o' doing again what he was really scarcely able to do any longer; and that was, to have as many notches on his gaff-stick for dead seals as any other man.
"It were, however, longer than I cares to remember now, before much of a chance come my way, but it come at last. T' spring had been that hard and that quiet that I 'lows us could have walked over to t' Gaspe shore if us had been so minded. T' standing ice never broke up from Christmas to April month; and there'd been ne'er a bit of whelping ice near enough to see with a spyglass, or a swatch big enough for an old harp to put his whiskers through. So when us woke one morning and found that t' sea had heaved in overnight unbeknownst to us, and that there was lakes of blue water everywhere, every man was out with his rope and gaff, as natural as a young duck takes to water.
"That evening t' ice packed in again, and by nightfall it all seemed fast as ever. There was always a big tide made round Cape Blowmedown, and as t' land fell sharp away on each side of it, it were never too safe to go off very far on t' ice. But, that being a bad year, every man was on his mettle, and us all took more chances than was real right.
"From t' bluff of t' head Uncle Johnnie had spied old and young seals on t' ice before most of t' boys was out o' bed; and us had a dozen or so on t' rocks before t'others was out t' ice at all. As those near t' land got cleaned up, us went a bit farther out each time; and more'n one seal I didn't exactly see so's to give Uncle Johnnie a better chance, and to let me keep all t' time outside o' he.
"Just before it came dark and we was two or three miles out, t' wind shifted all of a sudden and came off t' land. Uncle Johnnie had a tow of three big pelts, and, believe me, heaven and earth wouldn't have made he leave them swiles behind. I'd left mine just as quick as I felt t' shift, and never let on I had any, so's I could rope up Uncle Johnnie's load and hustle him toward t' land. But t' ice was that hummicky it was an hour before us got near, and there we were, almost dark, t' ice broken off, driving along about twenty yards from t' standing ice almost as fast as a man could walk, and t' wind freshening every minute. There was about a mile to t' bill of t' Cape, and after that there'd be no hope whatever.
"Four years before Jim Willis and his brother Joe had been caught just t' same way. Joe had perished in his brother's arms next day after he'd carried him for some hours, and Jim had drifted ashore on t' second day with only a spark of life left in him.
"Every other man had been ashore and gone home for long ago, not knowing we was working outside, and only one chance were left for we. For t' gap of water was getting wider every minute, and there wasn't a loose pan to ferry over on big enough to float a dog. So I shouted to Uncle Johnnie to run along t' ice edge back up the bay just as hard as he could go, and I'd jump into t' water and swim for t' standing ice edge. I never expected to get out again, but t' good Lord arranged it, I suppose, that I should strike a low shelf running off level with t' water, and by kicking like a swile, I was able to climb up and on to the ballicaters.
"There was always a boat hauled up on t' cape for men gunning to get birds or swiles, and t' only chance was to get there and launch her before t' ice passed out. T' rise and fall of t' tide had piled up t' ballicaters at t' foot of t' cliffs like young mountains, and it was already dark, too, while my wet clothes froze on me like a box. I reckon that saved my legs from being broken more'n once, for I fell into holes and slid down precipices, and, anyhow, next day I was black and blue from head to toe—though for that matter I'd have been green and pink glad enough to have t' chance it gave me.
"Anyhow, I got t' boat in t' water at last, and pulled out toward t' floe, but ne'er a sign could I make out of Uncle Johnnie. There weren't a moment for waste, for spray was drifting over t' punt, and she was icing up that fast that if we lost much time I knew that it was good-bye to home for both of us. So I had to risk hauling her up on t' ice, while I ran along t' edge, shouting for all I knew. I hadn't gone many yards before I stumbled right over t' old man. In t' dark he had slipped into a lake of water that had gathered on t' ice, and was about half-dead already. For I had been moving and hadn't noticed t' time, and Uncle Johnnie had given out quickly, thinking I were lost, anyhow. Well, in t' dark it was not an easy job to half-carry t' old man back to where I'd left t' boat. But when you must 'tis wonderful what you can do; and even dragging him weren't as hard as rowing ashore against t' wind.
"T' men thought us would never reach land, for t' ice made so fast on t' punt and oars, and us were carried well outside t' bill while I was getting Uncle Johnnie. When we did at last make t' standing ice edge, it would have been t' end again if Marie hadn't been clever enough to go and rouse out t' boys, and come with them right to t' very edge of t' ice looking for us. And she hadn't forgotten some hot stuff nor a blanket neither. She told us afterwards that she saw Uncle Johnnie perishing of cold away out off t' cape before she left t' cottage, just as clear as she did when t' boys hauled us out of t' punt.
"Uncle Johnnie pulled round in a day or so, but I pulled round early next morning, and those two days gave me t' first chance I'd had to get to windward of t' old man, and have Marie for an hour or two by herself.
"T' business soon blew over, as I knew it would, and what's more, Uncle Johnnie were no more for letting any one get Marie away from him than he'd been afore. Indeed, it seemed to me that it made him cling closer to she than ever; and I got real down-hearted when it come time to fit out t' Saucy Lass for North Labrador once more.
"Lucky for me, I'd made t' most of my time when Uncle Johnnie were ill, and talked many times to Marie about how her father might get young again if he could go where he could forget the old scenes. So when we had had t' schooner painted up and launched, and t' sails bent and began getting firewood and things aboard, I got her to talk to he about coming along with we.
"I've often noticed how t' very things you thought t' last on earth to happen come about just as easy as falling off a log. When I went over next morning to pretend to say good-bye, Marie whispered in my ear, 'He really wants to go. He only wants asking'—and before night we had it all arranged. We was to fix up t' hold for him and Marie, and they'd come along and make a new home alongside us at Bumble-Bee Bight.
"I won't trouble you with t' story of t' voyage down, only to say that we found that two could play better than one at hide-and-seek. When at last we anchored off t' river mouth, Uncle Johnnie was fair delighted. Nothing would satisfy him but he must choose a spot for his new house right away. But meanwhile t' cargo had to be stored in t' 'Hive' out o' t' weather. Uncle Johnnie was always extra careful about his things and wouldn't allow no one but he to handle 'em. So Marie went up to get a fire and tidy up, while t' old man handed t' things up to we. For my part I found that I had to stay up at t' 'Hive' and help arrange t' goods as they came along; and, 'lowing it might be t' last chance, for we'd be into t' fishery straight away, I up and asked Marie if it wouldn't be as well not to build another house after all. All I wanted was her to share t' house we'd built already; and Uncle Johnnie would be less lonesome than he'd ever been since his accident, because instead of losing one, he'd be getting two. I'm not telling you all what was said; as I'd told t' boys not to hurry with t' unloading, and Uncle Johnnie didn't get ashore till real late. By that time it was all fixed up, but nothing was to be said till the house was ready next night.
"When us come in together hand in hand that evening, Uncle Johnnie had started his pipe after tea. He guessed right away something was up, but maybe he had guessed something before. All he said was, 'Well, Ned, all my bridges is burnt behind me, as you know, anyhow, and if it hadn't been for you, there'd be no need of asking any one for Marie, for I'd have been gone. So I can't well say no; and she might go farther and fare worse for sure. So I'll just leave it to Marie herself, and if she says so, so it shall be.'
"And that's all there is to tell about it. Sure people often wonders how others came to live 'way down on these lonesome shores. But Marquette Islands have given me fish and fur and good life, with ne'er a cent owing to any man, and there's four fine youngsters to help out when we can no longer fend for ourselves."
THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE
"They brought in a blind man last night," said the house surgeon. "It only seemed a case of starvation, so I didn't call you."
"Where is he from?"
"About thirty miles in the country down north somewhere. Apparently he has been living at the bottom of a bay 'way out of the line of the komatik trail. Formerly he could get firewood easily, and a few bay seals and game to live on. He seems too proud to let people know how badly off he was."
"What's the history?"
"He has a wife and two girls, who appear to be in almost as poor shape as he is himself. He has been gradually growing blind for some time, and was up here two years ago to see the eye specialist. His name is Emile Moreau."
"A Frenchman! Why, I remember the man perfectly. A slow-growing cerebral tumor."
He had been under observation for some weeks, and we had had to decide that he would not be benefited by an operation. So he went away, promising to return soon. But this is the way he had kept his promise.
A few minutes later I stood by the bedside of the blind Frenchman. The poor fellow was a skeleton, with the characteristic sunken face and fallen skin with which we are familiar in those living on what we know as "dry diet." He had nothing to say for himself except, "Times has been none too good, Doctor. It is a bad country when a fellow can't see where he is going. 'T is many an odd tumble I've had, too, knocking around." Emile had been away from France for many a long day, and the only English he had ever heard was the vernacular of our Northern Coast.
"How's your wife and the kiddies you told us about when you were here last time? It strikes me that they may have had a tumble too."
"Well, I 'lows, Doctor, them has been clemmed up on times. But, Jeanie, she never says nothing; she's that busy with t' things I can't do. She 'lowed she'd stay and mind t' children till I get better a bit. No, that's right. She hasn't much grub. But us uses very little, and she never complains."
Two days later our good dogs brought in the rest of the family—the babes to the warm welcome and plenty at the Children's Home, while one of the pluckiest little women I have ever known, even in a country of brave and self-reliant women, was carried into the hospital partially paralyzed with beri-beri. She was so close to the gate from which there is no returning that it took our nurses six months to wean her back to another spell of usefulness.
It was no ordinary conundrum which vexed my mind when the house surgeon at last announced, "These Moreau patients are well enough to leave hospital," though I had realized that for good or evil the day was near.
Neither had said a word about the future. The worst feature of sending them out was the personal affection which their lessons in contentment had kindled in us. How could this helpless family ever hope to keep the wolf from the door. A council of war was called the same evening, and some neighbours who well knew the dilemma in which we found ourselves asked to be allowed to attend. There was an old shack in the compound in which some workmen had once been housed, and which had subsequently been used as a small store-house. It was proposed, in the absence of funds, for all hands to assault this stronghold, and convert it as far as possible into a habitable home.
Thus came into existence what developed later into the general headquarters of the "triple entente."
To relieve the situation, one child was adopted by a childless, well-to-do neighbour, and the other was left for education and care with our little wards in the Home. Emile learned basket-work; Jeanie took in washing. The Moreau exchequer once more was in funds. But two difficulties soon presented themselves. There was a glut in our basket market, and Emile found life without being able to move out of the house almost more than a man born to the sea and the trail could bear. Small dogs in civilization are wont to fill this gap. But alas, "down North" small dogs are taboo—their imperious Eskimo congeners having decided against them.
There happened to be at this time also under our care an Eskimo lad from the Far North, whom we had picked up suffering with a form of lung trouble which only the radical operation of collapsing one side of his chest wall could relieve. The ribs had been removed. The boy had recovered slowly; but, having only a very limited breathing capacity, he had been allowed to remain for the chores he could do. Without kith, kin, or even fellow countrymen, he was a veritable pelican in the wilderness without any home attachments—and a very serious problem to ourselves.
Emile could cut wood, being strong as a horse and an excellent axeman; but he could not find it alone. He could carry heavy packages, but he could not find his way. He could haul water, but could not economically direct his energies. Karlek's eyes were the best part of him. So it came about that one morning on the way to the hospital I met Emile whistling like a newly arrived robin in spring, his hand on Karlek's shoulder, and on his back a heavy sack of potatoes which he was bringing up to the hospital kitchen from the frost-proof cellar in the cove.
It brought a smile to one's lips to see the nonchalance and almost braggadocio of his gait as he stepped out boldly, covering the ground at a speed which was itself a luxury to one so long cut off from that joie de vivre of a strong man. And more, it brought a smile to one's soul to see the joy of victory flashing in the features of the upturned face—the triumph of the man over the pitifulness of his sightless eyes. The international dual alliance was making its debut on the field. The firm of Karlek and Moreau, Eskimo and Frenchman, had come to stay.