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Title: Labrador Days - Tales of the Sea Toilers
Author: Grenfell, Wilfred Thomason, Sir, 1865-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    | Transcriber's Note:                                       |
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    | This e-text is full of Newfoundland and Labrador dialect, |
    | unusual spelling has been preserved.                      |
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    [Illustration: NORTHWARD HO!]

Labrador Days



Wilfred Thomason Grenfell
M.D. (OXON.), C.M.G.


The Riverside Press Cambridge



THERE'S TROUBLE ON THE SEA                                 1

NANCY                                                     19

SALLY'S "TURNS"                                           38

THE DOCTOR'S BIG FEE                                      61

TWO CAT'S-PAWS                                            73

THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE                                       92

PORTLAND BILL                                            113

KAIACHOUOUK                                              130

TWO CHRISTMASES                                          148

THE LEADING LIGHT                                        181

THE RED ISLAND SHOALS                                    203

Labrador Days


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

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

"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

"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

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

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

"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

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.


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

"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

"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

"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

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

"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

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

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[1]--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' Gaspé
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

"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

"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

"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."


[1] Seals.


"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 début
on the field. The firm of Karlek and Moreau, Eskimo and Frenchman, had
come to stay.

So time went on, cheerfully and even rapidly for all concerned--the
Mission developing its labour-saving devices as the work increased,
and the help of its friends made it possible. A water-supply system
soon partially obviated the need for hauling barrels in the summer
from our spring and puncheons on the dog sledges in the winter. A
roadway and narrow-gauge railway track relieved us of the necessity of
so much portage on men's backs; and a circular saw, run by a small
gasoline engine, cut up our firewood with less waste and with more
satisfactory results.

As with the basket market, so with the chore market, the ground was
once more falling away from beneath our poor friends' feet. Only the
indefatigable Jeanie held the household together, for in the heyday of
the dual alliance's prosperity, the little daughter had been permitted
to return to her parents from the Children's Home.

With the lapse of years, however, even if Emile could see no better
with his eyes, his other faculties had developed so largely as to
surrender to him again the joy of independence of outside help, and
with characteristic self-reliance and optimism he once more tackled
his own difficulties.

I was recently visiting a small cottage, built on a tiny ledge under
the shadow of gloomy, high cliffs. It was far from any pathway and
only approachable by stumbling over huge rocks--the débris of the
crags behind. The hut had been built by a lonely old fellow who
resorted to it in summer because it was right on the fishing-grounds,
and he was getting unable any longer to face the long row to and from
his house in the harbour. Nowhere in the world is the old adage
concerning the birds of a feather truer than on this coast. The poorer
and lonelier a man is, the greater is the certainty that some other
poor and lonely person will seek the shelter of their poverty. Thus it
had been with old man Martin.

One day there had appeared at the cottage door from twenty miles
farther down the coast one-legged Ike, an irregular, angular youth,
who, stumbling over the hillside, and magnified into portentous
proportions by one of our Promethean fogs, had nearly scared the wits
out of even my trusty dog team. Quite without invitation from old man
Martin, one-legged Ike had come to stay. The proximity to the
fishing-grounds suited this seafarer, who shared in every particular
the limpet-like characteristics of Sinbad's Old Man of the Sea.

Anyhow, old Martin had never shaken him off, and had been heard to
excuse himself by saying, "After all, he can sit in a boat as well as
any of them with two legs." "Where there's room for one, there's room
for two," is almost an axiom of life on these shores. In the lapse of
time the old man had taken his last voyage, and Ike had come into full
possession of the estate, living almost like Robinson Crusoe, cut off
from his fellows by to him impassable barriers.

It was a reported lapse in some other portion of Ike's anatomy that
had led me to scramble along the landwash to the cottage. The ice
having broken up and gone out of the harbour, I should have considered
longer the advisability of the trip,--for the morning frosts left the
jagged rock masses at the foot of the cliff harbingers of ill omen to
the traveller,--had it not been that his isolation might possibly
make even trivial trouble serious. For he had come safely through so
many scrapes, not a few being of his own making, that I had nicknamed
him in my mind "indestructible Ike."

At last, congratulating myself that I had arrived without any untoward
happenings, I rapped loudly on his door, expecting to hear his
squeaky, perpetually broken voice bid me enter. Much to my surprise,
therefore, the door opened itself, and smiling in the doorway stood
our blind friend.

"Good Heavens! Emile, how on earth did you get here? And why did you
ever want to come, anyhow?"

"Why, I thought it was a good plan for me to go fishing," he replied,
addressing apparently a huge rock, so accurately poised over the hut
that it suggested any moment an annihilating assault upon it. "Ike's
going to be pilot and I'm to do t' rowing. We're to be partners for t'
summer, and Karlek's going to look after t' family and help out when
he can. It feels like being young again to be on t' water with a
fishing-line. And, mind you, Ike knows a few tricks with a line that's
worth more'n another leg to we, once we be on t' grounds. They all
'lows he be as good as t' next man for hauling in fish, so be as
there's any around."

Ike's indisposition, as I had surmised, was not of a serious nature,
and I learned subsequently that it was the proper ratification of the
terms of the new triple alliance that had more to do with the sick
call than any undue foreboding of impending dissolution on Ike's part.
There had been some hitch in coming to terms, and Emile had put the
only one point in them to his credit, when he saw through the trick,
and "plumped for a magistrate," feeling also that he could trust me
for more than mere legal technicalities.

It was obviously an offensive campaign on which I found them bent. Ike
had himself carefully repaired the boat's structure, having always a
keen eye to comfort and safety; while from Emile's hands I could see
that the task of tarring their warship, owing to Ike's temporary
indisposition and the need for immediate preparedness, had fallen to
him. His only method for finding out where he had applied that hot and
adhesive liquid had left very apparent evidences of both his energy
and his zeal. To Emile also had fallen the rearrangement of the big
rocks, so as to form as level a surface as possible on which to dry
the fish. It was a Sisyphean task, and poor Emile had spent much sweat
and not a little blood in his efforts. But, as Ike told him, "lifting
rocks weren't no work for a man with one leg." So he had offset
against it getting the meals ready, and what he called "tidying things
up." But as Karlek was, unrewarded, to bring the bread, Ike's
household labours did not promise to be onerous.

In one sense the entente campaign proved victorious, for they had a
goodly catch; but in the division of the spoils it apparently turned
out that it had been so arranged that Emile's share was to catch the
fish, Karlek's to dry it, and Ike's to exchange it piecemeal for
tobacco or "things for t' house," as he called them.

Ever since Stevenson wrote of the one-legged rascal Silver, one
associates with that handicap a tendency to try to outwit others;
while the dependence of blind men presupposes simplicity and

Emile worked like a tiger, with the single-mindedness of the Verdun
spirit of France, blissfully supposing that Ike did the same in his
end of the boat. Fishing in sixty fathoms of icy water, Emile would
haul his lines up and down, re-bait and tend them, till his hands were
blue with cold, and the skin "fair wore off t' bones." One day,
however, a harbour trap boat happened to pass close by their rodney
while they were anchored on the fishing-grounds, and the owner called
out, "Wake up, Ike! Price of dream fish is down." Ike had somewhat
loudly and not too politely responded to the salutation, but all the
same it awoke a first suspicion in Emile's mind. While not slacking
himself, he "kept an eye" on his partner as best he could.

He knew that a one-legged man must sit down for work, while for his
part he stood, but he had not realized that Ike considered any more
restful posture essential. "A blind man sees more'n most folk" is a
common claim of Emile's. It is tedious pegging away when fish are
scarce, yet fishing is a trade where "'tis dogged as does it." He
suspected that Ike took it easy in the stern while he worked in the
bow; and his doubts were confirmed when one day, from a passing boat,
some one called out: "'Tain't safe for you to be out alone, Emile.
You'll be running some one down one of these days." It was obvious
that Ike was not visible over the gunwale.

From that day on, Emile began to count his catch and to put a
cross-thwait in the middle of the boat to keep them separate--"Something
to push my feet against when I rows, I called 'un," he told me. Still
Ike was almost too much for him, for Karlek remembered seeing him
sorting out the fish as he landed them, and the big ones, somehow or
other, all found their way into Ike's yaffles. Ike also discovered that
it was good economy constantly to change the location of such things as
the tobacco box, butter tub, and molasses jar, for it often meant that
the good-natured Emile went without.

The cold weather set in early, and though the contract was not up,
Ike's hereditary instinct that hardship was bad for his constitution
made him decide to stop if he could. But Emile went steadily on,
having learned from Karlek that there were occasional leakages from
the fish pile. He ventured to remonstrate with his partner, but as
fish were plentiful, he refused to cancel the contract before the
proper date.

It was Ike who finally forced the issue. Emile being bowman, it was
their custom always to come in to the ladder leading to the stage
platform head on, when Emile, grabbing the cross-bars with one hand
and holding the painter in the other, climbed up and "made her fast."
Projecting from the stage head is a long pole used for preventing
boats that are made fast from bumping against the stage. Coming in a
day or so later, Ike drove the punt in parallel with the stage head,
and the pole coming into Emile's hands deceived him into thinking that
the stage was above him as usual. He promptly stepped off the boat,
and naturally fell into the water. Naturally also, it shook Emile up a
good deal, for he was in the water quite a while. After the incident
Ike's tender heart had made him absolutely refuse the responsibility
of a blind man in a small boat in fall weather. As we walked up the
wharf together Emile told me many more such details of the
transactions of our only "triple alliance." All he wanted me to do was
to add up his own tally of the fish he had caught, multiplying it by a
reasonable average fish, and for the sake of the family help him to
get from his ally a return for his labour which would enable him to
buy food for the winter for Jeanie and the little girl.

Fortunately it proved to be not too late. You cannot "get the breeks
off a Highlander," and after a week or two not a cod tail or a cent
would have been available from Ike. As it was, my coming to the
assistance of my poor friend happened to save the "entente" from being
a tragedy, and enabled us to relegate the whole incident to our comedy

A peremptory order to Ike to wait for me at midday at the room we call
the court-house would, I knew, impress him with the necessity of
obedience, far more than a second visit to his cabin. The effort which
the journey would cost him and the time allowed for reflection would,
moreover, punctuate the importance of the occasion.

Emile's calculation of the amount of fish caught, corrected by Karlek
by the simple process of multiplying the sum by two, and with a bit
more added by myself to be sure not to underestimate it, formed all
the legal data I needed. The lean, scrawny figure of Ike, twisting and
squirming with evident uneasiness, awaited my arrival at the appointed
time. Ike's fear of "t' Law" was the superstition of a child. It was
to him a great big man waiting to pounce upon you and "lug youse
away." Indeed, I learned afterwards that he had stayed in bed for fear
of being carried off surreptitiously. "'T is a lonesome spot I lives
in," he had explained.

"To steal from a blind man, Ike," I began, "is bad. Moreover, it
doesn't bring any one any luck ever. Where have you put those sixty
quintals of fish which belong to Emile?"

"It took more'n half t' voyage, believe me, Doctor, to meet t'
summer's expenses. There wasn't more'n thirty quintals all told, and
half of that was mine. Samuels only allowed we four dollars a quintal,
and his flour was eight, and molasses seventy cents. He said he'd land
Emile's share when he comes in on his home trip."

"The Law will have to send down and search your house and all around
it, and carry off things while you wait here, and you won't get any
credit for it either. I told you there was no luck for those who rob a
blind man, unless they confess in time. I'll come back in half an hour
for your decision." And, having an unfair advantage of a one-legged
man, I locked the door and was well down the road before Ike had made
a move.

Our little rickety court-house, in order to be in the centre of the
village, stands on a rocky hill-crest away by itself. When the wind
blows high, awesome noises with much creaking and groaning help to
suggest to the guilty conscience that supernatural agencies are at
work. The half-hour was purposely a long one, and had the desired
effect. Ike made a full confession of his delinquencies and promised
reparation. An immediate search while he was in this frame of mind
revealed that Emile's winter food could only be obtained by leaving
Ike to a diet of hope and charity. The lesson being necessary,
however, the whole of his supplies were loaded into the boat, and Ike
condemned to row it to Emile's house and land it at once. It was late
and dark, but the fear of what might happen to him alone on his point,
now that it was known that he had robbed a blind man, held more
terrors even than hunger for Ike. So the judgment of the court was
carried out that very night.

Partly moved by curiosity, Christmas found me once again visiting the
mansion under the cliff. A shortage in the commissariat was, I knew,
no new experience to the poor fellow, and even the wiles of a
"one-legger" cannot convert stones into bread. Ike, radiant with
smiles and fat as a spring seal, was out to meet me on my
arrival--which circumstance was a little difficult at first to
understand. Then he explained:

"You'm right, Doctor. It drives away t' bad luck when you pays up a
blind man. I hasn't wanted ne'er a t'ing since."

It had been a good voyage that year, and, as a matter of fact, every
one had a warm spot somewhere in his heart for "that rascal Ike." For
though he was admittedly a rogue, he was always such an amusing,
hail-fellow-well-met rogue, and not the really mean type which every
one dislikes. All the shore had heard of his dilemma, and, isolation
not allowing one man to know what another is doing, indiscriminate
charity had poured in upon poor Ike, without possibly doing him much
harm, for he attributed it absolutely to that oftentimes useful mentor
of the feeble-minded, the great god of good luck.

To my surprise it was Emile who really suffered most, though he would
not admit it, but by actual computation of the supplies in his very
give-away storeroom, I learned that he had secretly carried back to
Ike's beach in the dark just one half of those goods which "t' Law"
had recovered for him; and which Ike to this day believes were
deposited for his benefit by the good-luck fairy.


"It must be nigh sixty years ago, but I remembers it as if it was
yesterday, when a new settler come to live in our harbour," said
Skipper Life Flynn, at whose house I was spending the night with my
driver and dogs.

"Life" was short for Eliphoreth--the "given" names being mostly out of
the Bible down North. "It were a wonderful thing them days, for Father
were the only Liveyer then--that is, as stayed all the year round. He
didn't mind being alone, and t' moving in t' schooner every spring and
fall were bad for Mother. Fish were plenty every season one side or
t'other of Deadman's Cape, and there was lots of fur and swiles t'
winter. So he built a house in Sleepy Cove, and there us grew up!

"No, Doctor, I'm not able now to read and write. None of us is, for us
had no teachers. But we was all big, strong men, and handy at that,
and there wasn't a thing to be done wi' axe or saw about boats and
timber us couldn't do. We made a good deal at furring, too, and
many's and many's t' night in winter I've laid down under t' trees and
slept--with ne'er a greatcoat neither. An' if us wasn't brought up
scholars, Father taught us to be honest, and to fear God and nothing
and nobody else.

"It were our way them days to greet every stranger as a friend, and so
when Bill started his cabin,--for that was all it ever were,--us lads
all went in and helped him chop and saw t' logs for studding.

"In winter Father minded t' big French Room; but he were away hunting
most of t' time, there being no need to watch much, being as there was
no one besides ourselves anywhere near. But early spring and late fall
when t' fleets were passing, it were day and night watch, and not
without a gun neither.

"But it would have paid us better to have watched that winter; for
when t' Frenchmen come in t' spring there was a number of little
things missing that Father had to stand to--and, somehow, us never
suspected t' newcomer.

"It was only long afterwards us learned how t' new settler come by his
name--which was 'Skipper Bill Portland.' Seems that's where the big
English convict prison is. So after Bill escaped, he not being good at
letters, and not wanting exactly to use his own name, he just twisted
her round, and to this day no one's ever found out really who he was

"Hundreds of schooners anchored in the Bight in our harbour that
spring, t' whitecoats having come right in on t' floe, just t' other
side of t' Deadman's Cape. One day a schooner captain read we a piece
in t' papers about a man what had been a pirate, what had escaped to
Newfoundland; and a hundred dollars was being offered for his head.
Reading about that man made us all think of Skipper Portland. It were
his build and his kind, too. But us folk never mixed with that kind of
work; and all us did was to keep a good lookout for t' future. But a
poor neighbour he proved to be, for he were as cute as a fox, and he
had no fear o' nothing.

"He weren't no idle man, though, Skipper Bill weren't. That second
winter he set to and built a ten-tonner all by hisself--that is, t'
hull. He had galvanized fastenings for her, such as he never bought
fair in Newfoundland. But o' course he had no gear to fit her out, and
he couldn't get any more than he'd got already off our room. We lads
saw to that, and he knew it, too--and that it weren't safe playing no
games, neither.

"He were away t' following winter, 'furring,' so he told we, but no
fox could ever get fooled by a trap Skipper Bill set. It weren't in
his line, getting round animals. Beyond which he had ne'er a trap. He
'lowed he just set deadfalls--a good name for his work, I'm thinking
now. Anyhow, he came back with enough gear, stolen off French Rooms to
t' south, I reckon, to get his boat afloat by t' time t' owners got

"She were an odd craft, built for a crew of one man only. For Skipper
Bill hadn't much trust in any man 'cept hisself. Once when he were
full o' French brandy he told me that when he were working on t'
cliffs in England, he found out that his mate were going to 'squeal,'
as he called it, about his leaving, so he'd given him such a kick
behind when he weren't expecting it that no one had ever heard from
him since. He meant, we reckoned, that t' poor fellow had fell off t'
bill into t' sea.

"When he built that boat he were thinking already that he might have
to leave sudden, and perhaps a crew wouldn't be willing to, even if he
got one. So he trimmed his teller lanyards to run forrard, so as he
could steer before t' foremast, and handle t' headsheets hisself going
to windward, and at t' same time keep a lookout for ice and slob.

"Many's t' time I've seen him sailing along with ne'er a watch on deck
at all, he being below aft steering by compass from t' locker, with t'
tiller lines leading down the companion hatch.

"I minds one fall that he brought in a big cask o' rum and a lot o'
brandy, which he were going to sell to us folk. But Father wouldn't
stand for that. He said that he'd seen too much of it when he were
young to want any more lying round. We lads found it only fun to go
over and knock t' heads in, and hear what old Portland had to say
about we.

"One day, however, a fellow all dressed in blue came down from St.
John's to take he along, and before Bill knew it t' boat were
alongside his craft and t' man calling he to come ashore. Bill knowed
what he were at once. He'd had experience. 'All right, Officer,' he
said, 'I'll just get my coat and come along,' But when he come up on
deck he had a barrel of gunpowder all open and a box of matches in his
hand. 'Come on, now,' he shouted with an oath, 'let's all go to hell
together.' But just as soon as ever t' small boat backed off, he runs
forrard and slips his cable, and was off before t' wind before youse
could say 'Jack Robinson.'

"He always left his mainsail up, Skipper Bill did. 'Better be sure
than sorry' was a rule he always told us were his religion.

"T' policeman seemed in two minds about following t' boat, but when
she rounded Deadman's Cape, he rows back ashore. I minds running up t'
hill to watch where Skipper Bill would go, but he stood right on
across for t' Larbadore. T' policeman said that that weren't his beat;
and he looked glad enough that it weren't neither. Old Portland never
came back to Sleepy Cove to live. He just left everything
standing--which were mostly only what he couldn't take away with him

"That fall one of t' Frenchmen stowed away in t' woods when their ship
was getting ready for home. His name was Louis Marteau; and his vessel
had no sooner gone than in he goes and lives in Bill's house across t'
cove. Things got missing again that winter, and though Father had to
feed him, seeing that he hadn't been able to steal a diet, we lads
give him notice to quit in t' spring. As he didn't show no signs of
moving, us just put a couple of big trees for shoes under t' house,
and ran it and Louis, too, out onto t' ice as far as t' cape--a matter
of two miles or more.

"So us thought us had done with both of them, and a good riddance too;
but when t' spring opened t' Frenchman wrote up to t' English
man-o'-war captain to come in and find out about t' things what
they'd lost. So one day in comes t' big ship and anchors right
alongside in our bay. T' very first man to come rowing across and go
aboard to see what he could get, I reckon, was Louis Marteau. When t'
captain asked him what he wanted, he said that he had come over to ask
him to send a boat to t' cape to search his rooms, as t' neighbours
blamed he for having taken their things.

"Well, it were a long way to go and there were no motor boats them
days; and t' captain must have thought if Louis had taken anything he
had it hid away where no one would find it. So they just didn't take
t' trouble to send out a crew and look. At the same time Louis had
stolen fish drying on his flakes, and stolen twine right in his open
fish stage to go and catch more with.

"Another steamer came in t' fall, and Louis, thinking that t' trouble
had blown over, went aboard as usual. One of t' officers, thinking
that the man was just a fisherman, and as simple as most o' we, asked
him if he didn't know where a man called Louis Marteau was. 'Yes,"
said Louis, 'I knows he well. He be here to-day, and gone
to-morrow'--and with that he slips away, and was far enough in the
woods for safety long before the searching party landed.

"Louis, like old Bill, was as fond o' liquor as a cat is o' milk; and
when he got French brandy in him, he didn't care what he did. There be
only one law here which every one keeps, as you knows, Doctor, on this
coast. Whatever else you does, you must never touch t' property of
another settler, whether he be good or bad, or whether he be away
fishing, or whether he be in America. Because any time he may need to
come back, and that many are away summers fishing, if they can't leave
their homes locked and feel 'em safe, they can't live at all. So
everybody minds that law, whether it be written in St. John's or not.
There are new stages, yes, and houses, too, and plenty of 'em, and
boats hauled up, that men has left and gone to Canada years ago.
They're tumbling down right alongside folk as needs 'em as bad as gold
just for firewood, but ne'er a stick is touched come year, go
year--not till they rots or t' sea comes and carries 'em away.

"Well, Louis and a man called Tom Marling got some liquor aboard that
day, and started scrapping, Marling saying that Louis must be a crook
or he wouldn't steal another man's house. T' end of that was that
Louis shot Marling through the shoulder and nearly blew his arm off.

"Next spring a large bully sailed across t' Straits and four men
landed in my cove. It chanced that old Skipper Sam Brewer caught sight
of 'em, and he recognized Bill Portland from t' old days. T' other
three was Tom Marling's brothers. All t' men had guns, and old Skipper
Sam guessed they was after Louis. So he sent off his lad Mose to run
out to t' cape and give he warning. Though why he should I can't say.
Louis just said, 'All right, I'll be ready for 'em, boy,' and started
right in loading his two big guns and his rifle. Then he fixed up t'
windows and barred t' door, and when Mose come away he could see Louis
moving round inside and swearing enough to frighten t' fish off t'
coast for t' whole summer. Mose waited round out of sight all day to
see what would happen. But nothing did, only before dark he saw the
four men making their campfire on the edge of the woods near Louis's
house. I reckon they knew he'd be ready and wanted to keep him
waiting. Anyway, they was there all next day.

"T' third morning I caught sight of some men loading a boat at Louis's
stage, so, being only a hobbledehoy then, I guessed they'd not take
much notice of me, and no more they did. They told me Louis had tried
to break away t' second night in t' dark, but they caught him and
carried his pack back for him, and what else they did to he I don't
rightly know. Anyhow, they loaded up their own boat and then Louis's
two boats with fish and twine, and everything else that were worth
taking and they could stow, not forgetting t' barrel of flour and t'
keg of molasses.

"Skipper Bill told me that t' Governor offered to make him t' captain
of a man-o'-war, just to stop t' law-breaking on the coast. But he
were a policeman instead because he felt ashamed to see t' laws broken
and villains like Louis go free. 'It's to teach you people on t' coast
to be good boys what brings us away from our homes so far in t'
fishing season.'

"They never stopped loading a minute all t' time, and as soon as ever
they were ready, and that wasn't long after it were light, away they
goes towing t' two boats behind, and giving it to her straight for t'
Labrador. 'Skipper Life,' Bill shouted, just after the anchor was up,
'if you sees Louis be sure and tell him to be good and say his
prayers, and when he is ready, not to forget his uncles in Labrador
and come over and settle down peaceful like.'

"No, Doctor, Louis never got so much as a match back, though he wrote
and wrote about it--and Louis were a good scholar, being well learnt
in France. All t' Government did was to offer Captain Fordland, who
fished t' big Jersey rooms across near Isle au Loup on Labrador,
another hundred dollars to bring back Skipper Bill with him in t'
fall. T' captain told his men that they could divide t' money if they
liked to catch old Portland out of hours.

"I 'lows it was more t' fun of hunting than anything else that started
'em, though two hundred dollars cash meant a nice bit in them times.
Soon there were half a dozen small crowds keeping an eye out for Bill.
There were no wires or mail steamers to carry news them days, and it
so happened that Bill fell right into t' trap. For Captain Fordland
did a bit o' trade, and Bill, being out of flour, come along to buy a
barrel. Half a dozen men soon had him and his boat as well. T' trouble
was where to keep him till they went home in t' fall, which was a full
two months anyhow.

"The crowd what took him got leave from Skipper Fordland to lock Bill
up in t' top storey of t' old Jersey brick store on the Island; and
'em fixed it like sailors so that not even Bill should get away. They
had to share t' expense of feeding and looking after he between 'em,
and though they didn't give he none too much it took quite a bit of
their wages--only a hundred dollars for the whole summer.

"Bill had been there nearly six weeks and all hands were thinking of
going home, when one day he told t' cook who brought up his food that
he was fair dying of doing nothing, and couldn't he give him some
work. Being an old sailor, he set Bill to making bread bags, and for a
few days he made a whole lot, and t' cook took it easy. All he gave
Bill was some canvas, a pocket-knife, and some needles and thread.
Bill, however, saved a lot of canvas out of them bags and made himself
a long rope of it. Then he just worked on, waiting for a real dark
night and an offshore wind, when he let hisself down through t'
window, swam off to t' best fishing bully Captain Fordland had, and
was out of sight before daylight.

"You may bet they was all mad, more especially t' captain, who swore
that t' crowd would have to pay for his good boat. What they said and
did to t' cook be scarcely fit for ears to hear. Anyhow, no one knowed
where Bill had gone, and none of that crowd ever saw him again. He
weren't very dear to memory either.

"T' next place us heard of him was on the West Coast. He brought with
him an Eskimo wife he called Nancy, who was very good at doctoring.
She could make poultices out of herbs and medicines out of t' woods,
and she would charm toothache and warts and such like, and could stop
bleeding by just tying green worsted round your left arm. She had a
haddock's fin-bone that never touched any boat that she used to lend
out for rheumatism. She did a lot o' good, they says, Doctor, and she
made a nice bit of money, too, so that old Bill had an easy time. But
he spent most of t' cash in liquor, and at last she wouldn't work any
more for he and he got beating her. One, day he come rowing down right
into Port Warfield, with she tied up in t' bottom of t' boat, and a
stone tied round her neck as well! It so happened that big Skipper
Weymouth came alongside and seed her.

"'What be you going to do wi' she?' he asked, he not being afraid as
most were. 'Why drown her, to be sure,' said Bill. 'I towed her behind
t' boat for a mile a week ago come Sunday to drive t' devil out of
her. But she ain't no good to me now, and so I reckon I'll get

"The skipper saw that Bill had liquor in him and was quarrelsome, and
feared that he'd just as likely as not upset t' boat--and drowned t'
woman would be sure enough with that stone round her neck. So he says,
'Drown her! Not on this coast and lobsters just setting in. She'd
spoil the catch all summer just to spite you.' Bill looked puzzled.
'You're right, sure enough, Skipper Alf. I'll have to do for she some
other way'--and round he goes and rows her home again.

"The people, howsomever, was real afraid, and letters went up to the
Government. No doubt Bill heard about it. But there were no place left
now for him to go safely, so he just drank and drank where he was, all
he could lay hands on; and when he couldn't get no more I guess he
must have gone mad. For he were found dead on t' floor of his house,
with a great big knife he had for hunting deer in his hand.

"Yes, his wife's alive to this day so far as us knows. Her son Bill
found a box of old silver dollars, Spanish and French, buried under t'
house Bill had on Labrador, the time he were trapped by Captain
Fordland's men. They were mostly about a hundred years old. I saw many
of them, but where they come from, or how he come by 'em, no one ever
knew. We heard, however, that they helped poor Nancy to get back to
her people again all right."


The brief summer of Northern Labrador had passed, and the Eskimos
around the Hudson's Bay Post at Katatallik were busy preparing for the
approaching winter. The season previous, according to the accurate
notes of the Moravians, kept for over a hundred years, had been the
worst on record; and now again, as the long, cold, icy grip of winter
drew near, the prospect of supplies was menacingly poor. So the
Innuits, that cheerful and resourceful little race of the North who
wrest their living from so reluctant an environment, were putting
forth all their energies in a "preparedness" from whose example many a
civilized community might well have profited.

Their chief Kaiachououk, of upright character, and the courage born of
simplicity, was a familiar figure at the Hudson's Bay Post where my
friend Barlow was _facteur_ for so many years. His acquaintance with
the chieftain dated from an afternoon many years before, when he had
first seen him, steering his large oomiavik, or flat-bottomed boat, up
to the station, while his four lusty wives cheerily worked at the
sweeps with his eldest son--an almost regal procession. It was on that
same evening that he had told the _facteur_, after watching Mrs.
Barlow prepare the evening meal, "Ananaudlualakuk" ("She is much too
good for you"), and the frankness of his speech, far from seeming to
disparage his host, endeared the speaker all the more to that
hospitable and discerning person.

Kaiachououk possessed qualities which evoked the respect and
admiration of all with whom he came in contact. Very noticeable among
these was his affection for his family. To this day on the coast there
is a story told of him and his youngest wife. He had been camping on
their outside walrus-hunting station, and as was customary, he was
sometimes away two or three days at a time, having to take refuge on
one of the off-lying islands, if bad weather or the fickleness of
fortune involved longer distances to travel than he was able to
accomplish in a short winter's day. It was on his return from one of
these temporary absences that he was greeted with the news that his
youngest wife, Kajue, was very ill. One might have supposed that
having so generous a complement of that nature, the news would not
have afflicted him in the same degree as one less gifted. But exactly
the reverse proved to be the case. Kaiachououk was completely
prostrated; and when the girl died two days later, having failed to
make any rally in spite of all her husband's generous presents to
Angelok, he literally went out of his mind.

The Eskimo custom, still observed in the North, is to lay out the dead
in all their clothing, but with no other covering, on the rocky summit
of some projecting headland. The body thus placed on the surface of
the rocks is walled in with tall, flat stones standing on end, long,
narrow slits being left between them, so that air and light may freely
circulate, and the spirit of the departed may come and go at will and
keep watch on passing animals, whose spirits must serve the person in
the spirit land just as, when embodied, they paid tribute to the
needs and prowess of the dead. The top of the grave is also covered
with large, flat slabs; and in a small separate cache of similar
construction are stored all the personal belongings likely to be of
use. The spirits of these latter are set free, either by having holes
bored in them or some part of them broken or removed, so that thus
being rendered useless to the living, they suffer what in the Eskimo
mind corresponds to the death of inanimate objects.

Kaiachououk was so convinced of the reality of the spirit world, and
so heart-broken at his utter inability to bring back to life the one
he had loved so well, that now nothing would satisfy his mind but that
in order to continue the communion which had been so sweet to him on
earth, he should be treated exactly as his lost wife, and be
immediately buried alongside her on some point of vantage.

At first his followers were inclined to treat his injunctions as mere
vapourings, but they finally realized that the man was in deadly
earnest, and were eventually compelled to comply with his wishes. The
day being set, he was accordingly dressed in his finest garments, and,
his dead wife being duly caparisoned and walled in in the customary
manner, Kaiachououk, laid out on the rock beside her, was treated in
an exactly similar fashion. There was no apparent alteration of the
chief's attitude of mind as they proceeded with the walling up, and
the heavy slabs were already being laid over him when two of the
largest happened to become lodged on his chest. For a short time he
made no sign and offered no kind of resistance; but it was gradually
forced upon him that this method of translation into other worlds was
far from being as easy as he had been inclined to suppose.
Consequently, before the cortège had broken up and his last friends
departed, he was loudly appealing to them to return and release him.

He was never known afterwards to refer to the incident; but on the
whole it had an excellent effect on the Innuits; and they realized, so
far as their unimpressionable natures are capable of doing, the strong
domestic affection for his wife which was one of their chief's
pre-eminent sources of greatness.

On this particular fall, when the last drama in Kaiachououk's life was
played, when the northern lights sent their many-coloured banners
floating over the heavens, and the stars looked so large and shining
that it seemed one must surely touch them from the tops of the high
hills, he was camping with his family and two or three others on a
small ledge at the foot of the mighty Kiglapeit (shining top)
Mountains, hunting walrus. This year the hunt was doubly important to
them, and they delayed longer than was their wont. Here the great cape
with which the spur ends marks the division of the whole trend of the
land north from that which runs more directly south toward Katatallik.
There the whole force of the south-going polar streams, focused on the
ice, keeps open water long after all the rest of the coast is locked
in the grim grip of winter. The walrus herds seem, in the evolution of
ages, to have got an appreciation of this fact through their
adamantine skulls. Therefore, from time immemorial, it has been
chosen as a rendezvous of the Innuits in spring and fall. The chaos of
ancient walrus bones which strews the stony beach reminds one of
nothing so forcibly as the stacks of bleaching buffalo bones which
disgrace the prairies.

On several occasions during the year previous, Kalleligak (the
Capelin) had been guilty of the worst crime in the Eskimo calendar--on
several occasions he had failed to extend that hospitality to
strangers without which life on the coast is scarcely possible. It had
been brought to Kaiachououk's notice, and he had lost no time in
seeking out the man and taxing him with his remissness. A mixture of
traits like the colours in a variegated skein of worsted formed the
spectrum of Kalleligak's character; and selfishness, which fortunately
is rarer among the Eskimos than among those in keener competition with
civilization, was too often the prevailing colour. After the
interview, at which he had promised to mend his ways, he apparently
always lived in fear that sooner or later Kaiachououk would have him
punished, and even deprive him of some of his possessions. The
obsession haunted him as the thought of the crime does the murderer,
and at last impelled him to the act which, though it went unpunished
by men, blasted the remainder of his days.

Among the others who camped around Kaiachououk's igloo this year was
as usual the sub-chief Kalleligak. He had been more than usually
successful in his hunt, and was able to face the prospect of the
oncoming winter with optimism. On the other hand, his supposed enemy,
Kaiachououk, had been singularly unfortunate, largely owing to the
fact that his kayak had been left farther to the north. He showed no
signs of either impatience or jealousy, however, and never by word or
act gave evidence that he so much as remembered the rebuke he had been
forced to administer to the sub-chief. Finally he dispatched his
eldest sons, Bakshuak and Kommak, with a big team of dogs, to hurry
down north and bring the belated and forgotten boat back with all

Kalleligak, obsessed by his jealousy and chagrin, was able from his
camp to watch every movement of the chief's. He positively brooded so
much over the incident that he came to believe that his life was in
danger at Kaiachououk's hands. The next steps were easy, for he was
favoured both by the innocence of his superior and the weather. Days
are short in the late fall in the North, and darkness falls before
work is finished.

In the late afternoon, two days after Bakshuak and Kommak's departure,
while Kaiachououk was still out of his igloo and the darkness was
rapidly coming on, Kalleligak stole inside and took the chief's gun.
This he unloaded and then reloaded with two balls. Early next morning,
before the dawn, he crept out, carrying his own and the stolen weapon,
to watch his chance. Kaiachououk, emerging soon after from his snow
house, turned his back on Kalleligak's igloo while he stooped to make
a trifling repair on his own. Without a second's hesitation,
Kalleligak seized Kaiachououk's own gun, and crawling and crouching up
behind the five-foot snow ramparts which the Eskimos invariably build
around their winter houses, he fired two bullets through the
unsuspecting man's back and body. The chief fell head foremost, having
received two fatal wounds; but Kalleligak, throwing down one gun had
instantly grabbed the other, in order if necessary to finish the deed
before the mortally wounded man could tell who was responsible. But
Kaiachououk never moved, and his enemy slunk inside, believing that he
had been unobserved.

As fate would have it, Anatalik, another of the hunters, appeared at
the entrance of his igloo just in time to see the smoking gun-barrel
over the edge of the snow wall. Running to his fallen chief, he begged
him to tell him what had occurred. The dying man had only strength
left to whisper "Kiapevunga?" ("Who has killed me?"), and Anatalik
could barely discern from his eye that he understood the answer,
"Kalleligamut" ("It was Kalleligak who did it").

It was probably this, to us, unimportant item which caused a
confession ever to be made. Kalleligak, now convinced that the spirit
of his dead chief knew he was the murderer, believed it would haunt
him without mercy, and that his own life might be immediately forfeit
unless he could appease it. He therefore at once set about
preparations for a funeral befitting the dignity of the deceased;
which, in the absence of Kaiachououk's eldest son, he himself
personally supervised. When all was over he went to the igloo carrying
gifts, and offered to support the entire family till the sons should
be of an age to assume it. His overtures were as unwelcome as they
were importunate; but the poor women were forced to listen in silence.
Helpless as they were, with their young men away, they dared not anger
the man, whose character was only too well known. Kalleligak, in order
further to allay the anger of the spirit, with all speed set out on
the trail to meet the dead man's returning sons, and apprize them
personally of his version of the story.

Bakshuak, the eldest, listened in silence while Kalleligak first
recounted the long list of imaginary wrongs which he had suffered at
the hands of his father, then made his plea of self-defence, and
lastly recited the hateful overtures which he had made to the helpless
family, who were now, in spite of themselves, under very definite
obligations to the murderer.

Angrily the lad repudiated any parleying. The family would far rather
starve than be beholden to such infamy as was suggested. He was only a
boy now, he declared, but he said fearlessly that if no one else
killed him, he would do the deed himself as soon as he was big enough;
and he raced on with his dogs, to reach home and comfort his poor
mother. Had he but known it, he was really indebted for his life to
the supposed wrath of his father's spirit and the restraining effect
which it had on Kalleligak.

Eskimos never refer to painful events if they can help it. They go
even farther than certain modern "scientists," for if a person who
dies happens to have had the same name as one still living in the
vicinity, the latter incontinently changes his. As a result, confusion
not infrequently arises, for a man whom you have known all his life
as "John" is "William" the next time you meet him. Thus they avoid the
mention of the word the memory of which might bring pain to the
relatives. Much less would they bring bad news to a white man.

They took good care, however, that the local Innuits should know that
Kaiachououk was dead, hoping that they might give the great white man
at the post the sad news of the loss of his friend. Barlow, as soon as
he was certain of the main facts, at once dispatched messengers to
summon to him Kalleligak, and Anatalik, who had seen the deed. The
murderer had already expressed his willingness to surrender to the
white man, and he at once packed up and accompanied the couriers back
to Katatallik.

Meanwhile the news had also reached Ekkoulak, the sister of
Kaiachououk, and her husband, Semijak, immediately summoned his
council to discuss matters. All were agreed that the tribal custom
must be observed. "A life for a life" was the only law they
recognized, and the two elder sons of Semijak were selected to carry
the sentence into effect. Well armed and equipped, they started the
very next morning for the North. The following day they walked into
the Hudson's Bay Post to apprize the white man of their errand, so
that there might be no suspicion of their blood-guiltiness, not
knowing that by a strange whim of fortune Kalleligak and Anatalik were
already there and were seated in one room while they were being
received in another.

In the room with Kalleligak and Anatalik was Mr. Barlow's daughter, a
little child of six, who was amusing herself with a picture book of
the life of Christ. The little girl began to show the pictures to the
two men, telling them the story in their own tongue as she went along.
She at last came to the picture of Christ upon the Cross between the
two thieves. Mr. Barlow in the adjoining room heard Kalleligak ask the
child if she thought Jesus would forgive any one who had killed
another man, to which the little one replied, "Why, yes, if he were
really sorry and tried to be better."

The house of friends is neutral ground, and to start a quarrel in the
great white man's house would be about as likely as that we should
begin one on the steps of the altar. Thus, when Kalleligak and
Anatalik were summoned to dinner, both parties proceeded as if nothing
unusual were in the air and all refreshed themselves at the same

Bidding them to keep the peace, Mr. Barlow made an effort to get to
the bottom of the affair; but he found it very hard to know what to
advise. The sister of Kaiachououk had begged and prayed her sons, now
chosen as avengers, to have nothing to do with the slaying, saying,
"It will only make more trouble. It will be Kalleligak's family who
will suffer. They will surely starve to death." She had even sent a
special messenger to the agent with an earnest plea that he would use
all his influence to save her lads from the shedding of blood.

Having decided that the matter should be settled in open court and to
abide by the decision of the great white man, all concerned now
adjourned to the kitchen, and not for the first time that humble room
was transformed into a court of justice. Kalleligak first gave his
version of the story without the slightest attempt to conceal
anything. He said he had lived in constant terror of what Kaiachououk
might inflict upon him; and then, turning to the two men, who were
fully armed with loaded guns, he said:--

"I know you have come to kill me. I shall never know good fortune
again, anyhow. I have many skins and goods. With those I will pay for
Kaiachououk. I can say no more."

As he ceased speaking, Semijak's eldest son burst out angrily:--

"Yes, we have come to kill you. Our law is a life for a life. We will
not take any bribe."

But Oggak, the second avenger, thought differently:--

"We will hurt those who are not guilty. It would be different if he
had no family. What offer does he make?"

"You know that Kalleligak is the second best hunter in the North," the
agent spoke up. "And your mother, the wife of Semijak, has also sent
me a letter. She says nothing but evil will come from killing the head
of another family. Cannot the spirit be satisfied in some other way?"

Mr. Barlow said he would go out and return when they had talked over
the matter among themselves. He always felt great pity for these
far-off outcasts of humanity. To kill another could only make matters
worse. It was quite probable that even a blood feud would be started
and more valuable lives be sacrificed. The struggle for existence was
hard enough in any case, and if he suggested their taking the law into
their own hands, there was no telling where it would end.

So it turned out that the matter was settled by simple word of mouth.
That was absolutely sufficient for Kalleligak. If the avengers
appointed by the tribe were satisfied, not only would the spirit of
the murdered chief rest quietly, but the guilty one's life would be

The agreement, duly drawn up by the agent, read as follows:--

    "We will not kill you.
     You are to pay--
     Two white bears.
     Twelve white foxes.
     Three live dogs."

That was the value set on a really great man's life. It makes one
wonder at what rate ours would be appraised in Eskimo land.


It was Christmas Eve, and Malcolm McCrea, just back from the woods,
was throwing down some frozen seal meat from the scaffold for his
hungry dogs after their long day's hauling. Malcolm was only eighteen,
and in winter still lived with his father in their home below the
falls of Pike's River. However, now that he had been away for two
summers in his uncle's schooner fishing "down North," his eyes were
already turned to some long-untenanted fjords in the mouths of which
the craft had anchored.

Pike's Falls was a lonely place, and the sound of a human voice
calling to a dog team kept Malcolm standing with a fine forkful of
meat in his hands long enough so greatly to tantalize the team below
as to start a serious fight. This woke him from his reverie. "Ah, Ah!"
he shouted, and, jumping down right into the middle of the fracas,
soon had his dogs busy again with the frozen blocks which constituted
their food for the day.

"Is that you, Mr. Norman?" he exclaimed heartily. "Why, who would ever
have thought of seeing you here, and alone, this evening of all days
in t' year?"--as a middle-aged man jumped from an empty sledge and
began unharnessing a half-starved-looking team. "Shall I give you a
hand? They seem spun out."

"Better not touch 'em, I reckon," was the gruff answer. "They're a bit
surly with strangers." And indeed already the animals were snarling
and showing their teeth at the other dogs finishing their meal near

Malcolm, who at once proceeded to throw down a liberal allowance of
seal meat for the newcomers' suppers, attributed the savage way in
which their master whipped off his host's team from trying to get a
second helping, to the weariness of a long journey. For to beat
another man's dogs, especially with the long and heavy lash of our
Northern whips, is a breach of the unwritten law of the Labrador.

It was not until he had shared the steaming supper prepared for
Malcolm that the strings of the visitor's tongue began to be unloosed.
For it is not etiquette to ask a stranger's reasons for visiting a
well-stocked house, in a country where the komatik trail is the only
resource for the destitute.

"It's to t' post I'm bound. We be short of grub south. T' fishery have
been bad this three years, and there's six of us now," he began.
"There wasn't more than a couple of bakings of flour in t' barrel when
I left. I couldn't get no credit south at Deep-Water Creek; and so I
just had to try north or starve."

"'T is a long bit yet to t' post," replied Malcolm. "There is t'
Monkey to cross if you goes inside; and us allows it a good hundred
miles to go round t' cape. It'll take you a week to haul a barrel of
flour from there here."

Roderick, sitting back in his chair, was dejectedly surveying the
comfortable-looking room. Malcolm caught his gaze, and realized what
was passing in the poor fellow's mind.

"Draw up, draw up, and light your pipe, Mr. Norman," he interposed.
"'Tis only Home Rule tobacco, but it serves us down here."

Eagerly enough Norman accepted the proffered plug, and then relapsed
into a silence which Malcolm found it hard to break. So, excusing
himself for a minute, he beckoned the old folk to come into their
bedroom that they might talk over the situation in private.

"He has four youngsters, and I knows they be hard up," he began. "They
hasn't a chance where they are. T' neighbours blames Roderick for
several little troubles which happened to t' southard, and t' traders
won't advance more'n he can pay for. If it was any one else, and
to-morrow wasn't Christmas, it would be just good fun to go down North
with him and help haul back a barrel or so--that is, if they lets him
have it."

"That's not like you, Malcolm. You can't make a man good that way, any
more'n you can a dog by beatin' him," chimed in his old mother. "I
guess you'll go along with him, even to-morrow, if so be he wishes

"S'pose I will, Mother, but--"

"Course you would," said his father proudly. "They've never known a
McCrea yet on this coast that would let even a dog starve. But
there's a barrel of flour in our cellar which we can live without.
Maybe it's t' kind of Christmas greeting t' poor fellow needs."

"If you says so, it's all right, Father," said Malcolm, "and, seeing
it's a good hundred miles to Mr. Norman's house, I guess I'll go
along, anyhow, in t' morning and let my beauties help them half-fed
pups of his, or it'll be Old Christmas Day before his kids get a bite
out of it."

Only the joy of the first tobacco for weeks was keeping the worn-out
man from being fast asleep when Malcolm again took a chair beside him.

"I've got to make a round south to-morrow, Mr. Norman," he began, "and
it would be a pity if you had to be going t' other way. Father says he
has a barrel of flour in t' cellar you can have and pay for it when
youse can. So if that'll suit, I'd like to give you a hand some part
of t' way, especially as there'll be a few gallons of molasses to
carry also if you'll take 'em."

Gratitude is a rare grace. The lack of it was one of the costly
defects in Roderick's character. No longer hungry, sitting before a
good fire with a well-filled pipe, even the cunning which usually
supplies the vacancy failed him; and Malcolm had to force himself to
put down to exhaustion the ungracious way in which his real sacrifice
was accepted.

In spite of hard work, they had only made thirty miles by sunset the
next day, and, there being no shelter, they were obliged to camp early
as light snow was falling. Yet it was a good Christmas night around
the blazing fire with the special cheer the old mother had packed into
the bread-boxes on their komatik. The following morning they did
better, reaching the landwash of a big inlet forty miles farther south
by noon. Here Malcolm had decided to turn back, for the remainder of
the trail to Long Point lay practically over level ice. Just as they
were saying good-bye, however, his quick eye detected something black
moving out on the bay.

"A fox, Mr. Norman. Look! A fox! And a black one too. You may be able
to pay for that barrel of flour before t' day's out."

They were both good furriers, and their plans were soon laid. The dogs
were quickly hitched up to stumps, and, glad of a rest, were easily
made to lie down. Alas, the men had only Malcolm's gun; but it was
arranged that he should go out and turn the fox, and Norman, hiding at
the third corner of the triangle, should try and shoot it passing or
lure it in range down wind.

Things went admirably. Malcolm by a long détour was able to turn the
fox from far out without frightening it. Roderick, well hidden, and
squeaking like a mouse, tolled it into easy range; and within an hour
the two men held in their hands a skin worth at least four hundred
dollars. It was agreed, at Roderick's suggestion, that he should carry
it home, as he was nearer the fur-buyers, take the first offer over
that sum, and then send the half due by the law of the woods to
Malcolm north by the earliest mail-carrier.

Malcolm added as he said good-bye, "I reckon maybe Father will want
to let t' barrel go as good luck on t' bargain."

Summer came, and open water with it, but the half value of that skin
never arrived. Later, in reply to Malcolm's enquiry by letter, a note
came to say that it was being held for a better price in the fall; and
with that he had to be content.

Winter followed summer, and when once again the "going was good,"
Malcolm, "running light" with his dogs, made the journey to Long Point
easily in two days. Yes, the skin was sold, but the agent had not yet
sent the cash. It had brought $430 and the half would come along as
soon as ever Monsieur Baillot forwarded the notes. But the winter
again went by and no notes, no letters, or other news ever reached
Malcolm McCrea. Six years passed, and still they never came, and the
McCreas supposed the debt was time-barred. Indeed, they had almost
forgotten the whole incident.

Malcolm was still nominally at his father's house, but for three
winters he had trapped on the Grand River, which flowed out into one
of the bays he had discovered "down North." Here with the help of a
hired man he had built up quite a fine little house, and made every
preparation for that momentous life experience which usually comes
early in life to every Labrador man. With characteristic caution he
had waited for a good winter hunt to buy furnishings and traps. This
had also given Nancy Grahame, who lived close to his home, time to get
ready the needed linen and other requisites. "Clewing up" his salmon
fishery in good time, Malcolm had cruised North in his own small
sailboat, and till the first ice made had been very busy cutting wood,
hauling food into the country for the winter tilts along his fur-path
on the Grand River, completing his cellar, and safely storing his
winter house supplies.

His first hunt being mostly for foxes along the landwash of the bay,
he had waited until the snow came to tail his traps, judging that
although it would take a week with his dogs to fetch his wife to their
new home, he might safely chance that length of time away without
losing anything which might be snared in the meanwhile. This was the
third winter he had furred this path without interruption, and by all
the custom of the coast no one would now interfere with his claim. So
Malcolm started south at a stretch gallop with a light heart.

The two hundred and odd miles to the rendezvous at his father-in-law's
winter home in the woods were covered with only two nights out, and
that when the trails were as yet hardly broken and the young ice on
the rivers would surely have delayed any man with less determination.

The wedding was in real Labrador style. Every one from far and near
was present, quite without the formality of an invitation. It would,
indeed, be an ill omen for the future if any one were omitted through
the miscarriage of an invitation. So the danger is averted by the
grapevine telegraph, which simply signals the event in sufficient time
to make it a man's own fault if he is not present. Malcolm had many
friends and there had been great preparations in Capelin Bay. Every
scrap of room was needed to accommodate the guests, and at night
hardly an inch of floor space but lodged some sleeping form wrapped in
a four-point blanket, while the hardier ones with sleeping-bags
contentedly crawled into them out in the snow, as their fashion is
when nothing better offers.

The cooking had to be done in two large net-barking cauldrons over
open fires under the trees; and as the fall deer hunt had been
successful, and pork had not in those days assumed the present
impossible prices, there were all kinds of joints, and no limit to
proteids and carbohydrates. The great plum puddings which served for
wedding cakes were pulled out of the same boiling froth, tightly
wrapped in their cloth jackets, with long fish "pews" or forks.
Unlimited spruce beer, brewed with molasses and fortified with "Old
Jamaica," flowed from a large barrel during the two days that the
celebration lasted.

At twenty below zero a slight increase in the calories consumed or
even in the excess of alcohol over the normal two per cent of spruce
beer leaves little trace on hardy folk; and when on the third morning,
McCrea and his bride fared forth behind their splendid dog-team, every
guest was gathered at the starting-point to "whoop up" the departing

"'T is early I'll be starting in t' morning, Nancy, for it's nigh a
fortnight since I tailed my traps, and there were good signs, too, by
t' boiling brooks," said Malcolm the first evening they arrived home.
"A fox following t' landwash from t' rattle must surely take t' path
there, for t' cliff fair shoulders him off t' land, and t' ice isn't
fast more'n a foot or so from t' bluff. 'T would be a pity to lose a
good skin, and us just starting in housekeeping."

"What's right's right, Malcolm," answered his wife, pouting just
perceptibly. "Us must end our honeymoon with the journey down. I'll
not be lonely, I reckon, getting t' house to rights." And she laughed
gayly as she noticed the results of Malcolm's sincere but unique
attempts at furnishing.

"It'll be a ration of pork I'll be needing boiled, and a bun or two
for my nonny-bag. I can cover t' path in two days so be t' going's
good; but there's nothing like being prepared."

"Get a few more splits, then, boy," she replied, "and I'll be cutting
t' pork t' while." For she knew that Malcolm's estimate of the supply
necessary for a possible delay was not the preparedness which would
satisfy her ideas.

Days are short in November in the North, and the moon was still up to
see Malcolm picking his way along the unmade trail which led to the
spot where the sea ice joined the "ballicaters" or heaped-up shore
ice. In the late fall this is the happy hunting-ground of foxes, for a
much-needed dinner is often to be picked up in the shape of some
enfeebled auk or other sea-bird, while even a dead shark or smaller
fish may be discovered.

This was only a brief fall hunt. Malcolm had some fifty traps over ten
miles of country, all of which he would take up the following month
when the sea ice froze on permanently to the shore, re-tailing them
along his real fur-path up the Grand River along the bank of which he
had no less than three small shacks some thirty miles apart. Here he
made his long winter hunt for sables, otters, and lynxes, using nearly
three hundred traps.

It was with keen expectation and brisk step that he now strode along
over the open; only the unwritten law of silence for a trapper on his
path prevented his whistling as he went. When passing through the long
belt of woods which marks the edge of the river delta, he found
numerous windfalls blocking his narrow trail; but, keyed up as he was,
he managed to get by them without so much as rustling a twig. "I'm
fending for two now," he said to himself, and the very thought was
sweet, lending zest to the matching of his capacities against those of
the wild.

There was nothing in his first two traps. He hadn't expected anything.
They were only a sort of outliers in case something went wrong with
those in the sure places. But now he was nearing the Narrows, and
already his fence running from the steep bluff to the river edge was
visible. But there was no fox in number three. The trap had not been
sprung. The bait was as he had left it. "Maybe there'll be more to t'
eastward," he thought, "though there were signs on this side of t'
river." And, resetting the trap, he plodded along farther on his

Midday came. He had passed no less than fifteen of his best traps, and
not only had no fox been found, but not one trap was sprung or one
bait taken.

Malcolm stood meditatively scratching his head by trap twenty.
"Something's wrong," he said to himself,--"but what? Better boil t'
kettle and think it over. Perhaps better luck after lunch."

Unstringing his tomahawk, he started to find some dry wood with which
to kindle a fire. None being close to the beach, he walked a few yards
into the forest, and had just commenced on a tree when he noticed by
the white scar that a branch had been broken quite recently from the
very same trunk. "Wind and t' weight of t' silver thaw," he supposed,
for there was no one living within fifty miles, and no other fur-path
at that time, anyhow, in the bay. The northern komatik trail crossed
twenty miles seaward, where the calm, wide expanse made the ice much
safer in the early winter than near the swift current at the river
mouth. But as he stooped to clear the trunk for his own axe, he
noticed that, though disguised as a break, a cut had been first made
to weaken the bough. "Some one's been here, that's sure," he said to
himself. "Who can it be?" So much snow had fallen since Malcolm had
gone after his wife that it was no easy matter to guess an
answer--much less to read it from the trails around.

His frugal meal finished, he sat meditatively smoking his pipe by the
glowing embers of his generous fire. But no light came to him.
Practically no one lived near. The few who did were as honest as
daylight. He had not an enemy on earth so far as he knew; and yet he
realized now that the good condition of his traps, and especially his
baits, after a fortnight of the blusterous Labrador fall weather
needed accounting for. Well, anyhow, there was only one thing to
do--go and finish his round, and when he got back he could talk the
trouble over with his wife.

Slipping on his snow racquets and once more shouldering his nonny-bag,
he strode off toward his next trap. It was new to him to suspect men.
It was his business as a trapper to suspect Nature. It was, however,
from this new viewpoint that he must approach his next task. For
therein lies the intense interest of the trapper's life--every moment
affords a keen problem. The gambler has the excitement of a possible
big return, a sudden acquisition of gain. The trapper has all that,
and the added satisfaction of knowing that it is his ability and not
merely his luck which has won out.

At first sight there seemed nothing amiss with trap twenty-one. It had
been tailed on the top of a specially felled tree. There it was
still--a little mound of snow above the great expanse of whiteness,
only recognizable because a trapper knows every inch of his path as a
priest does his breviary. True, as the surface snow was only two days
old, many marks could not be expected upon it. All the same, it struck
Malcolm as odd that not a single fox-footing had he sighted since
leaving home. "Something must have been cleaning 'em up," he reasoned.
"There were two broods on Whale Island and one at least on t' Isle of
Hope. That's some twenty all told--and ne'er a wolf or lynx track out
to t' landward t' year." Musing to himself, he knelt down by the trap
to examine it more closely. Lifting it up, he blew off the loose snow
and inspected the stump carefully. No, nothing to indicate that it had
been moved. If it had been, it must have been replaced with consummate
care; for the rain had fallen once since Malcolm had tailed it, and
the trap lay exactly in the icy trough, its handle and chain lying in
the same groove. But the very fact suggested an idea. Possibly, if he
cleared the snow there might be a frozen footmark in the hard surface
beneath. Carefully, handful by handful, he removed over a foot of snow
from around the bottom of the old tree, till he felt with his fingers
the frozen crust. It took him over an hour's cold, tedious work, for
he feared to use a mitten to protect his hand lest he should destroy
the very traces of which he was in search. Though it froze his fingers
and meant a long delay, it was well worth while, for he had undeniable
evidence of a man's footmark, without any racquet, made since the rain
previous to the last snowfall. It was probably at least a week old.

Again he examined the trap carefully. Not a hair, not a blood mark,
not a sign to show that any fox had been in it. If it had been robbed,
an expert had done it. There was another chance, however. Using his
racquet as a spade, Malcolm was soon at work clearing the snow away
right around the roots. The chain was a long one, and driven into one
of the leaders was a steel fastener. It was as he expected. Not only
had the chain been obviously gnawed, but there was considerable
chafing of the bark as well. "He's been in it, sure enough, but the
question is, Who's got t' skin?" Dark was coming on. There was no use
going back; so, cutting down a few boughs and making a small lean-to
under a big spruce, Malcolm kindled a blazing fire, "cooked the
kettle," and turned in for the night.

Nancy had seen her husband as soon as he crossed the shoulder of the
hill on his home-coming the third morning. To tell the truth, it was
her first experience of being quite alone in the forest, and she had
been doing but little "furnishing" after the first night. Now she was
sure he had made a fine haul, and hurried out to meet him and hear the
news. Malcolm, with the canniness of his kind, at once told her he had
had no luck.

Now the actual amount of money lost may not have been great, but it
had the irritating feature of being an unknown quantity and the
additional vague risk of making all his winter work fruitless. It is
useless to set traps if some one else is to follow around and rob
them. So that night he told his wife the whole story. Discuss it as
they would, there was no clue of any kind to follow; so like wise folk
they decided to go on their way as if nothing had happened, keeping
their mouths shut and their eyes and ears open.

No one visited their bay before Malcolm went on his first long fur
round, which he did earlier than was his wont in order to be back in
time for the first of the two winter mails. This trip he made a much
better hunt, setting his traps as he went into the country. He took
good care to make long marches, and even one day to double back on his
tracks, making a long détour to see if he might not possibly pick up
some unexpected signs of another man on _his_ path. His, because,
although there is no law on the subject, custom is law on Labrador,
and the man who first finds a new trail for trapping has a conceded
right of at least a mile in width for just as far as he cares to go.

The whole round was made in ten days, and, coming back with six
sables, two otter, and a few mink and ermine, he was fortunate enough
to reach home some hours before the southern mail team.

"What's t' news, Pat?" he asked, when at last supper was over, and
the final pipe was being discussed by the fire.

"Nothing to boast of," was the answer. "T' same old story, with some a
feast and with some a famine. They do say Roderick Norman's luck seems
to have turned at last. T' Company gave he over four hundred dollars
for a dark silver he got, and as much more, some say, for a batch o'
reds and patches. 'T is more than good luck that half-breed must have
had, for he hasn't had a dozen traps to his name this five years."

Before he had finished speaking, Malcolm was watching him narrowly,
wondering if some sprite had whispered abroad the robbing of his
traps. But Pat was evidently unconscious of any possible connection
between his news and his audience. As absolute silence was the only
possible road ever to learning the truth, Pat left the next day on his
journey north, not a whit the wiser for his night at the new

"It do sound strange, Nancy, don't it?" said her husband, after their
guest had gone. "Roderick Norman can't have any grudge against me.
Why, sure, it should be all t' other way." And he got up, stretched
his splendid muscular limbs, and, picking up his axe, took out any
excess of feeling there might be in his heart by a good two hours'
work at the woodpile.

Meanwhile his mind had not been idle. Whoever it was that robbed his
traps could not have come along the usual trail. The ice outside had
not been safe for travelling. He certainly must have come out from the
country. It had never occurred to Malcolm to spend time exploring the
land which lay south of his fur-path. But now it seemed to him that he
must at all costs set out the following morning and verify his
suspicions if he were to retain his hope of a livelihood in that

"I'm minded to try it right away, Nancy," said Malcolm. "If I could
only get a good view from one of t' hilltops, I'd have no trouble, for
there is still plenty of food in my tilts."

"But, Malcolm, 't is only two days till Christmas and this is our
first together. Surely no one ever goes on the fur-path

"That's just it, lass. No one is on t' path as ought to be, and I
reckon for that very reason there be more chance of seeing those as
ought not."

There was no escaping the logic of the Scotchman, and his wife
acquiesced without further argument. He was well into the country
before daylight next day.

It was a glorious morning, as away there in utter solitude the
evergreen trees, the red-faced cliffs, the startling whiteness of the
snow, and exquisite blue overhead fading into the purple distance of
the winding valley met his keen view from a mountain-top. It was
Labrador at its best--clear, dry, cold, and not a sound to break the
absolute silence, even the trickling of the rapids and the splashing
of distant falls being muffled by then-heavy cloaks of ice.

Suddenly Malcolm's face grew rigid and his eyes unconsciously fixed
themselves on a moving object--a tiny whiff of blue smoke was curling
up from the woods on the other side of the valley. Gentle though he
was, his big muscles set and his jaw tightened as the idea of revenge
flashed across his mind.

A man does not learn to outwit successfully the keen senses of the
denizens of the woods without finding it easy to solve a problem such
as the one which Malcolm now faced. For all that, he decided not to
approach too close till dark what he was now sure was a hut, for the
way the smoke rose was quite unlike that from an open fire. Having,
therefore, plenty of time, he made a long and cautious détour till he
had at last completely encircled the spot. There were the marks of one
pair of snow racquets only on the snow. The trail was possibly three
days old. No snow had fallen for several days. "Reckon he is taking a
good spell with that catch of his."

This much he knew. He knew the stranger was in or close to the tilt.
He was not trapping, though he had been inside the circle for several
days, and he had no dogs.

As it fell dark, Malcolm fully expected to see a light in the hut,
but not a twinkle showed through the single-pane window light, which
he had located from his hiding-place.

Now he was crawling nearer. There was no chance of his being seen, as
the moon had not yet risen and it was very dark among the trees. A
light wind had risen, rustling the firs and spruces above his head.
The fire worried him. Why had it almost died out? Heaven knows it was
cold enough to need one, for with all his warm blood Malcolm himself
was shivering. What could it mean?

Suddenly he heard some one move inside. Then came the noise of sticks
hitting a tin camp-stove and a sudden blaze flared up, burnt for a
minute or two, and apparently went out again. Whoever it was must be
ill, or hurt. He had no big billets or he wouldn't be firing with

It could not do any harm now to enter, and Malcolm strode noisily to
the door and peered inside.

A man's weak voice greeted him. "Who's there? For God's sake, come

"My name's Malcolm McCrea. Where's your light?"

"Haven't got one. I've no candle either," came the answer. "Had an
accident three days ago with my gun, and nearly blew my foot off. My
leg's swelled up something wonderful."

The voice, feeble almost to a whisper, conveyed no information as to
the man's identity, except that the Scotchman's quick ear detected
that there was resentment somehow mixed with satisfaction that a
rescuer had come.

"I've a drop of kerosene in my nonny-bag," was all Malcolm said, "but
it's scarce, and I 'low I'll cut up some wood and get t' fire going
before lighting up. You lie quiet for a minute or two and I'll get you
a drop of tea."

"Lie quiet!" snarled the other. "I've lain quiet for three days, and
expected to stay till doomsday. It's no virtue keeps me lying quiet. I
had no business to be here, anyhow, seeing there was no need of it."

"Well, do as you please," answered McCrea. And without much delay he
soon had a roaring fire in the camp-stove which turned the chimney
red-hot and made it possible to see dimly stretched out on a bed of
fir boughs the long, thin form of a man whose drawn, unshaven face
showed that he was suffering much pain. His right foot was swaddled in
an ominously stained bundle of rags--evidently some torn-up garment.

Methodically lighting the bit of wick which he had placed in the
kerosene bottle, Malcolm knelt down by the side of the injured man
and, peering into the semi-darkness of the gloomy corner, found
himself looking right into the eyes of Roderick Norman.

Having made some hot tea and shared it with the sick man, he offered
him part of the pork and hard biscuit, all that he had with him for
his own supper. But Roderick was too feeble to touch more than a bit
of it soaked in hot tea, and that seemed a small strength-giver for
such a time of need.

"If you'd a bit o' wire or line, I'd tail a snare for a rabbit when
the moon rises and try if we couldn't get a drop o' hot stew to help
out. But I haven't a bit in my bag."

"There's a couple o' traps," growled the sick man, and then stopped
suddenly, shutting his jaws with a snap.

Malcolm looked around, but was unable to see any signs of them. "Where
did you say they were?" he enquired; but no response came from the

McCrea finished his supper, lit his pipe, and suggested trying to wash
the wounded foot. But fearing to start the bleeding again, they
decided to leave it till morning.

"Where are those traps you spoke of, sir? The moon is beginning to
show and I'll be needing to get 'em put out, if we're to have any
chance." But still the other man made no answer. Malcolm went up close
to the bed and knelt down by him again. "Mr. Norman," he said, "we're
in a bad hole here. We're fifty miles from help, anyhow. We've no dogs
and only one of us can walk. Moreover, there's almost no food. If
you've got any traps, why not tell me where they are. I'm not going to
steal 'em."

Roderick Norman opened his eyes and looked at him. The dim rays of
the little wick in the kerosene bottle gave scarcely enough light to
show the ordinary eye where the lamp itself was. But when their
glances met, it was enough to show Roderick that it was no longer a
child with whom he was dealing. For a second neither spoke, then
Malcolm, putting his hand on the man's shoulder, gripped it perhaps
more roughly than he intended. "The traps," he repeated.

Roderick winced. He saw that his secret was out. He was at the
Scotchman's mercy, and he knew it. "They're stowed in t' hollow of t'
old trunk, fifty yards back of t' tilt, damn you," he snarled, and
tried to roll over, groaning bitterly with pain of both body and soul.

The pity of it appealed straight to Malcolm's generous heart, and his
grip relaxed instantly. He strove to make the other more comfortable,
moving him gently in his great arms.

"Forget it, Mr. Norman," he said. "No one shall ever know unless you
tell 'em. I'll give you my word for that." The sick man said nothing.
His deep breathing, painfully drawn, was, however, enough in that
dead silence to warn Malcolm of the struggle going on so close to
him--a struggle so much more momentous than one of tooth and claw. He
slipped his hand into that of the other and held it gently.

"You're very hot, sir," he remarked, just for something to say. "Shall
I get you some cold water?"

But still there was no answer. Evidently the man's mind was engrossed
with other thoughts. A long pause followed.

"Mr. Norman, for God's sake, forget it. No one's been hurt but
yourself. If there's been any wrong, it's all forgiven and forgotten
long ago. Let's just begin again. Remember 't is Christmas Eve night."

Still there was no reply, but McCrea's intuition saved him from the
mistake of saying more. The stillness became uncanny. Then an almost
imperceptible pressure of the sick man's hand sent a thrill vibrating
through the Scotchman's soul. Yes, and he had himself returned the
pressure before he knew it. A shiver passed over the sick man's frame
and the silence was broken by a sob.

With an innate sense of fellow-feeling, Malcolm laid down the other's
hand, rose, and went out without a word. The night was perfect with
the glorious light of the waning moon. His mind was at once made up.
He would be home by daylight and back again with his dogs by midday,
with stimulants and blankets, and could have Roderick in Nancy's
skilled hands before night.

Noiselessly opening the door, he filled the stove once more, piled up
spare billets close to the bedside, laid out what food was left,
placed his kettle full of water on the ground within reach of the sick
man, and, just whispering, "I'll be back soon, sir," disappeared into
the night.

How fast he sped only the stars and moon shall say. But joy lent him
wings which brought him home before daylight. His faithful dogs,
keeping their watch and ward out in the snow around his house, first
brought the news to Nancy that her man was back so soon.

A few minutes served to explain how matters stood, and in a few more
everything was ready. The coach-box was strapped on the komatik. The
bearskin rug and a feather bed were lashed inside it, with all the
restoratives loving care could think of, and with the music of the
wild barking of the dogs echoing from the mountain and valley, the
sledge went whirling back over the crisp snow--the team no less
excited than Malcolm himself at this unexpected call for their

Everything was silent as once more they approached the scene of
trouble. The dogs, panting and tired, having had no spell since they
started, no longer broke the stillness with their barking. Malcolm
hitched them up a hundred yards or so from the tilt, preferring to
approach it on foot. He had long ago noticed that no smoke was coming
from the funnel and it made his heart sink, for even in the woods the
cold was intense.

Malcolm always says that he knew the meaning of it before he opened
the door. Roderick Norman had gone to spend his first Christmas in
happier hunting-grounds.


It was getting late in the year. The steep cliffs that everywhere
flank the sides of the great bay were already hoary with snow. The big
ponds were all "fast," and the fall deer hunt which follows the
fishery was over. Most of the boats were hauled up, well out of reach
of the "ballicater" ice. The stage fronts had been taken down till the
next spring, to save them from being torn to pieces by the rising and
falling floe. Everywhere "young slob," as we call the endless round
pans growing from the centre and covering the sea like the scales of a
salmon, was making. But the people at the head of the bay were still
waiting for those necessities of life, such as flour, molasses, and
pork, which have to be imported as they are unable to provide them for
themselves, and for which they must wait till the summer's voyage has
been sent to market and sold to pay for them.

The responsibility of getting these supplies to them rested heavily on
the shoulders of my good friend John Bourne, the only trader in the
district. Women, children, whole families, were looking to him for
those "things" which if he failed to furnish would mean such woeful
consequences that he could not face the winter without at least a
serious attempt to provide them.

In the harbour lay his schooner, a saucy little craft which he had
purchased only a short while before. He knew her sea qualities; and as
the ship tugged at her chains, moving to and fro on the swell, she
kept a fine "swatch" of open water round her. Like some tethered
animal, she seemed to be begging him to give her another run before
Jack Frost gripped her in his chilly arms for months to come. The fact
that he was a married man with hostages to fortune round his knees
might have justified his conscience in not tempting the open sea at a
time when frozen sheets and blocks choked with ice made it an open
question if even a youngster ought to take the chances. But it
happened that his "better half," like himself, had that "right stuff"
in her which thinks of itself last, and her permission for the venture
was never in question.

So Trader Bourne, being, like all our men, a sailor first and a
landsman after, with his crew of the mate and a boy, and the handicap
of a passenger, put to sea one fine afternoon in late November, his
vessel loaded with good things for his necessitous friends "up along."
He was encouraged by a light breeze which, though blowing out of the
bay and there ahead for him, gave smooth water and a clear sky.

To those who would have persuaded him to linger for a fair wind he had
cheerfully countered that the schooner had "two sides," meaning that
she could hold her own in adversity, and could claw well to windward;
besides, "'t will help to hold the Northern slob back"--that
threatening spectre of our winters.

When darkness fell, however, very little progress had been made. The
wind kept shifting against the schooner, and all hands could still
make out the distant lights of home twinkling like tiny stars,
apparently not more than a couple of miles under their lee.

"Shall us 'hard up,' and try it again at day light?" suggested the
mate. "If anything happens 't is a poor time of year to be out all
night in a small craft."

But the skipper only shrugged his shoulders, aware that the mate was
never a "snapper" seaman, being too much interested in gardens for his

"It's only a mile or two to Beach Rock Cove. We'll make it on the next
tack if the wind holds. 'T is a long leg and a short one, and we'll
have a good chance then to make the Boiling Brooks to-morrow."

"Lee oh!" and, putting the helm up, the Leading Light was soon racing
off into the increasing darkness towards the cliffs away on the
opposite side of the bay.

The wind freshened as the evening advanced--the usual experience of
our late fall nights. An hour went by, and as the wind was still
rising, the flying jib was taken in. After this the captain sent the
crew below for a "mug o' tea" while he took the first trick at the

Still the wind rose. The sea too was beginning to make, and the little
craft started to fall to leeward too much to please the skipper. The
men were again called, and together they reset all the head canvas.
The Leading Light now answered better to her helm, and, heading up a
point, reached well into the bay.

"Smooth water again before dawn," said the skipper in his endeavour to
cheer the despondent mate, when once more they had gone aft. "Looks
like clearing overhead. I reckon she'll be well along by daylight."

But the mate seemed "stun," and only grunted in return.

"You go down and finish supper, and then you can give me a spell at
the wheel while I get my pipe lighted," continued the captain.
Thereupon the other, nothing loath to have something to keep his mind
diverted, was soon below, searching for consolation in a steaming mug,
but failing to find it, in spite of the welcome contrast between the
cosy warm cabin, and the darkness and driving spume on deck, lacking
as he did, alas, the sea genius of our race.

"Watch on deck!" at length called Bourne; and a few minutes later,
having entrusted the helm to the mate, he was lighting his pipe at the
cabin fire. All of a sudden down, down, down went the lee floor of the
cabin, and up, up, up went the weather, till it felt as if the little
ship were really going over.

"What's up?" the skipper fairly yelled through the companion, as
clinging and struggling his utmost he forced his way on deck, as soon
as the vessel righted herself enough to make it possible. "Hard down!
Hard down! Let her come up! Ease her! Ease her!"--and whether the puff
of wind slackened or the mate lost hold of the wheel, he never has
been able to tell, but she righted enough for a moment to let him get
on the deck and rush forward to slack up the fore-sheet, bawling
meanwhile through the darkness to the mate to keep her head up, as he
himself tore and tugged at the rope.

The schooner, evidently well off the wind, yet with all her sheets
hauled tight and clewed down, was literally flying ahead, but trying
to dive right through the ponderous seas, instead of skimming over and
laughing at them, as the captain well knew she ought to do. There
wasn't a second to lose pondering the problem as to why she would not
come up and save herself. Difficult and dangerous as it was in the
pitch dark with the deck slippery with ice, and the dizzy angle at
which it stood, the only certain way to save the situation was to let
go that sheet. Frantically he struggled with the rope, firmly clinched
though it was round its cleats with the ice that had made upon it.
Knowing how sensitive the vessel was and that she would answer to a
half-spoke turn of the wheel, and utterly at a loss to understand her
present stubbornness, he still kept calling to the helmsman, "Hard
down! Hard down!"--only to receive again the growling answer, "Hard
down it is. She's been hard down this long time."

It was all no good. Up, up came the weather rail under the terrific
pressure of the wind. The fore-sheet was now already well under water,
cleat and all, and the captain had just time to dash for the bulwark
and hold on for dear life, when over went the stout little craft,
sails, masts, and rigging, all disappearing beneath the waves. It
seemed as if a minute more and she must surely vanish altogether, and
all hands be lost almost within sight of their own homes.

Tumultuous thoughts flooded the captain's mind as for one second he
clung to the rail. Vain regrets were followed like lightning by a
momentary resignation to fate. In the minds of most men hope would
undoubtedly have perished right there. But Captain Bourne was made of
better stuff. "Nil desperandum" is the Englishman's soul; and soon he
found himself crawling carefully hand over hand towards the after end
of the vessel. Suddenly in the darkness he bumped into something soft
and warm lying out on the quarter. It proved to be his passenger,
resigned and mute, with no suggestion to offer and no spirit to do
more than lie and perish miserably.

Still climbing along he could not help marking the absence of the mate
and the boy from the rail, which standing out alone against the
sky-line was occasionally visible. Doubtless they must have been
washed overboard when the vessel turned turtle. There was some heavy
ballast in the schooner besides the barrels of flour and other
supplies in her hold. Her deck also was loaded with freight, and alas,
the ship's boat was lashed down to the deck with strong gripes beneath
a lot of it. Moreover, it was on the starboard side, and away down
under water anyhow. Though every moment he was expecting the Leading
Light to make her last long dive, his courage never for a second
deserted him.

He remembered that there was a new boat on the counter aft which he
was carrying with him for one of his dealers. She was not lashed
either, except that her painter was fast to a stanchion. It was just
possible that she might still be afloat, riding to the schooner as a
sea anchor. Still clinging to the rail he peered and peered through
the darkness, only to see the great white mainsail now and again
gleam ghostlike in the dim light when the super-incumbent water foamed
over it, as the Leading Light wallowed in the sullen seas. Then
something dark rose against the sky away out beyond the peak end of
the gaff--something black looming up on the crest of a mighty comber.
An uncanny feeling crept over him. Yet what else could it be but the
boat? But what could that boat be doing out there? Fascinated, he kept
glaring out in that direction. Yes, surely, there it flashed again
across the sky-line. This time he was satisfied that it was the boat,
and that she was afloat and partly protected by the breakwater formed
by the schooner's hull. She was riding splendidly. In an instant he
recalled that he had given her a new long painter; and that somehow
she must have been thrown clear when the ship turned over. Anyhow, she
was his only chance for life. Get her he must, and get her at once.
Every second spelt less chance of success. Any moment she might break
adrift or be dragged down by the sinking schooner. And then came the
horrible memory that she too had been stowed on the lee side, and her
painter also was under the mainsail and fastened now several feet
below the surface. Even the sail itself was under water, and the sea
breaking in big rushes over it with every comber that came along.

To get the boat was surely impossible. It only added to the horror of
the plight to perish there miserably of cold, thinking of home and of
the loved ones peacefully asleep so near, while the way to them and
safety lay only a few fathoms distant--torturing him by its very
nearness. For every now and then driving hard to the end of her tether
she would rush forward on a sea and appear to be coming within his
reach, only to mock him by drifting away once more, like some
relentless lady-love playing with his very heartstrings. The rope
under the sunken mainsail prevented her from quite reaching him, and
each time that she seemed coming to his arms, she again darted beyond
his grasp.

Whatever could be done must be done at once. Even now he realized
that the cold and wet were robbing him of his store of strength. Could
he possibly get out to where the boat was? There might be one way, but
there could be only one, and even that appeared a desperate and
utterly futile venture. It was to find a footing somehow, to let go
his vise-like grip of the rail, and leap out into the darkness across
the black and fathomless gulf of water surging up between the hull and
the vessel's main boom in the hope of landing in the belly of the
sail; to be able to keep his balance and walk out breast high through
the rushing water into the blackness beyond till he should reach the
gaff; and so, clinging there, perchance catch the boat's painter as
she ran in on a rebounding sea. There would be nothing to hold on to.
The ever swirling water would upset a man walking in daylight on a
level quayside. He would have nothing but a sunken, bellying piece of
canvas to support him--a piece only, for the little leach rope leading
from the clew to the peak marked a sharp edge which would spell the
dividing line between life and death.

He had known men of courage; he had read of what Englishmen had done.
But he had never suspected that in his own English blood could lie
dormant that which makes heroes at all times. A hastily breathed
prayer--his mind made up, letting go of the weather rail he commenced
to lower himself to the wheel, hoping to get a footing there for the
momentous spring that would in all probability land him in eternity.
But even as he climbed a little farther aft to reach down to it, he
found himself actually straddling the bodies of the missing mate and
boy, who were cowering under the rail, supported by their feet against
the steering-gear boxing.

Like a thunderclap the whole cause of the disaster burst upon his
mind. The mate's feet planked against the spokes of the wheel
suggested it. The helm was not hard down at all, and never had been.
It was hard up all the time. He remembered, now that it was too late,
that the mate had always steered hitherto with a tiller; that a wheel
turns exactly the opposite way to the tiller; and that with every
sail hauled tight, and the helm held hard over, the loyal little craft
had been as literally murdered as if she had been torpedoed, and also
their lives jeopardized through this man's folly. What was the good of
him even now? There he lay like a log, as dumb as the man whom he had
left clinging to the taffrail.

"What's to be done now?" he shouted, trying in vain to rouse the
prostrate figure with his foot. "Rouse up! Rouse up, you fool!" he
roared. "Are you going to die like a coward?" And letting himself
down, he put his face close to that of the man who by his stupidity
had brought them all to this terrible plight. But both the mate and
boy seemed paralyzed. Not a word, not a moan could he get out of them.
The help which they would have been was denied him. Once more he
realized that if any one was to be saved, he and he alone must
accomplish it. A momentary rest between two waves decided him. There
was one half-second of trying to get his balance as he stood up, then
came the plunge into the wild abyss, and he found himself floundering
in the belly of the sail, struggling to keep his footing, but up to
his waist in water. With a fierce sense of triumph that he was safely
past the first danger, the yawning gulf between the rail and boom, he
threw every grain of his remaining strength into the desperate task
before him, and pushed out for the gaff that was lying on the surface
of the sea, thirty feet away in the darkness. Even as he started a
surging wave washed him off his feet, and again he found himself
hopelessly wallowing in the water, but still in the great cauldron
formed by the canvas.

How any human being could walk even the length of the sail under such
circumstances he does not know any more than I do. But the impossible
was accomplished, and somehow he was clinging at last like a limpet to
the very end of the gaff, his legs already dangling over the fatal
edge, and with nothing to keep him from the clutch of death beyond it
but his grip of the floating spar. To this he must cling until the
mocking boat should again come taut on the line and possibly run
within his reach. The next second out of the darkness what seemed to
the man in the sail a mountain of blackness rushed hissing at him from
the chaos beyond, actually swept across him into the belly of the
sail, and tore him from his rapidly weakening hold of the spar. With
the energy of despair his hands went up and caught something, probably
a bight in the now slackened painter. In a trice he was gripping the
rail, and a second later he was safely inside the boat, and standing
shaking himself like some great Newfoundland dog.

Even now a seemingly insuperable difficulty loomed ahead. He had no
knife and was unable to let go the rope. Would he be able to take his
comrades aboard, and would the schooner keep afloat and form a
breastwork against the sea, or would it sink and, after all his
battle, drag the boat and him down with it to perdition?

Philosophizing is no help at such a time. He would try for the other
men. To leave them was unthinkable. Once more fortune was on his side.
The oars were still in the boat, lashed firmly to the thwarts--a plan
upon which he had always insisted. Watching his chance, and skilfully
manoeuvring, he succeeded in approaching the schooner stern first,
when the cable just allowed him to touch the perpendicular deck. His
shouts to the others had now quite a different ring. His words were
commands, leaving no initiative to them. They realized also that their
one and only chance for life lay in that boat; and returning hope lent
them the courage which they had hitherto lacked. After a delay which
seemed hours to the anxious captain at such a time, with skilful
handling he had got all three aboard.

Once more he was face to face with the problem of the relentless rope,
but again fortune proved to be on his side. It was the passenger, the
useless, burdensome passenger, who now held the key to the situation.
He had sensed the danger in a moment, and instantly handed the skipper
a large clasp-knife. With it to free the boat from the wreck was but
the work of a moment.

True, their position in a small open "rodney" in the middle of a dark,
rough night in the North Atlantic was not exactly enviable, especially
as the biting winter wind was freezing their clothing solid, and
steadily sapping their small stock of remaining vitality.

Yet these men felt that they had crossed a gulf almost as wide as that
between Dives and Lazarus. If they could live, they knew that the boat
could, for the ice would not clog her enough to sink her before
daylight, and as for the sea--well, as with the schooner, it was only
a matter of handling their craft till the light came.

Meanwhile, though they did not then know it, they had drifted a very
considerable way towards their own homes, so that, rowing in turn and
constantly bailing out their boat they at length made the shore at the
little village of Wild Bight, only a few miles away from their own.
The good folk at once kindled fires, and bathed and chafed the
half-frozen limbs and chilled bodies of the exhausted crew.

Now the one anxiety of all hands was to get home as quickly as
possible for fear that some rumor of the disaster in the form of
wreckage from the schooner might carry to their loved ones news of the
accident, and lead them to be terrified over their apparent deaths. As
soon as possible after dawn of day, the skipper started for home,
having borrowed a small rodney, and the wind still keeping in the same
quarter. To his intense surprise a large trap-boat manned by several
men, seeing his little boat, hailed him loudly, and when on drawing
near it was discovered who they were, proceeded to congratulate him
heartily on his escape. Already the very thing that he had dreaded
might happen must surely have occurred.

"How on earth did you know so soon?" he enquired, annoyed.

"As we came along before t' wind we saw what us took to be a dead
whale. But her turned out to be a schooner upside down. We made out
she were t' Leading Light, and feared you must all have been drowned,
as there was no sign of any one on her upturned keel. So we were
hurrying to your house to find out t' truth."

"Don't say a word about it, boys," said the skipper. "One of you take
this skiff and row her back to Wild Bight, while I go with the others
and try and tow in the wreck before the wind shifts. But be sure not
to say anything about the business at home."

The wind still held fair, and by the aid of a stout line they were
able, after again finding the vessel, to tow her into their own
harbour and away to the very bottom of the Bight, where they stranded
her at high water on the tiny beach under the high crags which
shoulder out the ocean. By a clever system of pulleys and blocks from
the trunks of trees in the clefts of the cliff she was hauled upright,
and held while the water fell. Then the Leading Light was pumped out
and refloated on the following tide. On examination, she was
pronounced uninjured by her untimely adventure.

I owe it to John Bourne to say that the messenger forbidden to tell of
the terrible experience told it to his own wife, and she told
it--well, anyhow, the skipper's wife had heard of it before the
Leading Light once more lay at anchor at her owner's wharf. Courage in
a moment of danger, or to preserve life, is one thing. The courage
that faces odds when the circumstances are prosaic and the decision
deferred is a rarer quality. It was a real piece of courage which gave
the little schooner another chance that fall to retrieve her
reputation. She was permitted to deliver the goods against all odds,
and what is more the captain's wife kissed him good-bye with a brave
face when once again he let the foresail draw, and the Leading Light
stood out to sea on her second and successful venture.

There is no doubt that when she went to bed in the ice that winter,
she carried with her the good wishes and grateful thanks of many poor
and lonely souls; and some have said that when they were walking round
the head of the cove in which it was the habit of the little craft to
hibernate, strange sounds like that of a purring cat were ofttimes
wafted shoreward. "It is only the wind in her rigging," the skeptical
explained; but a suspicion still lurks in some of our minds that the
Eskimo are not so far from the truth in conceding souls to inanimate


The house was fairly shaking in the gale, and any one but Uncle Rube,
who had lived in it since he put it there forty years before, would
have been expecting things to happen. But the old man sat dozing in
his chair beside the crackling stove, and the circling rings of smoke
rising over his snow-white head were the only signs of life about him.
The only other occupant of the house was a little girl whom Uncle Rube
had taken for "company," the year that his wife left him. The coast
knew that his only lad had been lost aboard some sealer many years
ago. The little girl was lying stretched out on the wooden settle
close beside him. Twice already in the dim light of the tiny window,
now well covered with snow outside and frost within, I had mistaken
her towsly golden curls for a hearth-brush, she lay so still.

At length, as the cottage gave a more violent lurch than usual, even
my book failed to keep my mind at rest.

"Aren't you afraid the house is going to blow away, Uncle Rube? You
remember that our church blew into the harbor, pews and floor as well
as walls and roof. You could see the pews at low water till the ice
took them away."

Crack! Crack! Crack!

"No fear of she, Doctor. She's held on this forty years, and I reckon
she won't bring her anchors home till I does myself."

"Never to go again till the old man died," I hummed.

Something, however, seemed to have roused up Uncle Rube. For,
carefully laying his pipe in its place on the shelf, he went to the
door, opening it enough to allow him to peer out through the crack.
Unfortunately another eddying gust struck the house at that very
moment, tore the door from his grasp, and by sweeping in and taking
the fortress from within, very nearly gave it its _coup de grace_. In
the momentary lull that followed we managed to shut the door, and to
barricade it from inside.

The child was astir before we got back to the genial warmth of the
stove. Crack! Crack! Crack! went the little dwelling again, as a more
than usually fierce blast of the hurricane, strengthened by the
furiously driving snow, hit it like another hammer of Thor. Crack!
Crack! The house seemed to swing like a pendulum before it came to
rest again. I could see that the old man was uneasy.

"What is it, Uncle Rube? What is it?" the little girl cried out

"Why, nothing, little one, nothing. Only 'tis as well to take a peek
out on times. There's no knowing when there might be some one astray
through this kind of weather. 'Tis no hurt to make sure, is it?"

She was a pale-faced little thing, with the lustrous eyes and delicate
skin that often so pathetically array the prospective victims of the
White Man's Curse. She had been a tiny, unwanted item in a large
family of twelve with which "Providence had blessed" a struggling
friend and neighbor. The arrival of the last had robbed him of his
only help. "Daddy gived me to Uncle Rube," was her only explanation of
her being there.

"'T is cold, though," she answered. "It made me dream that you were on
the old island again, and I was with you, and then the house shook so
that it woke me up."

For answer he went to an old and well-worn seaman's chest which served
ordinarily for an additional seat. The reverent care with which he
turned over the contents would have honored a priest before the
sanctuary. But eventually he returned with a really beautiful shawl
which he tenderly wrapped around the child, and sitting down laid her
head upon his shoulder. In this position she was almost immediately
asleep again, and, fearing to wake her, I had forborne to break the
silence. Indeed, I was far enough away from ice and snow and blizzards
for the moment--the Indian shawl having carried me home to England,
and the old camphor trunk which my own mother, herself born in India,
had taught us boys to reverence as the old man did his, filled as
ours was with specimens of weird patterns and exquisite workmanship.

Uncle Rube had been watching my eyes fixed on the rich mantle that
contrasted so strangely with every other surrounding.

"I brought it from India when I used to go overseas. I keeps it
because my Mary loved it so, though she 'lowed it was too rich for t'
likes o' her to wear it much. But I guess it'll last now. 'T is t'
last bit o' finery left," he smiled, "and 't is most time to be
hauling that down. For I reckons Nellie won't last out to need it
long. Eh, Doctor?" And for a moment a tear sparkled in his merry old
eyes, as he peered from under his heavy white eyebrows.

"You can always trust me to find a good home for Nellie, Uncle Rube,"
I answered. "I've forty like her now, and one more won't sink the
ship. But you know that better than I can tell you." And suddenly it
flashed over me that Uncle Rube's unexpected visit to our Children's
Home must had have some relation to the curly head on his shoulder.
The tear fell on his tanned cheek, and he looked away and coughed. But
he said nothing.

"What was the old island that Nellie was talking about?" I broke in to
relieve the situation. "It sounded as if you had been playing Robinson
Crusoe some time," I added, "and have spun her yarns that you won't
tell me." For the hope that here might be something which would fill
in the time during which it was plain that Jack Frost intended to keep
me prisoner in this bookless cabin, suddenly dawned upon me.

"Island?" he smiled, after a brief pause. "Island? Oh! that was forty
years ago, when us lost t' old Manxman on t' Red Island Shoals." And
the _wanderlust_ of Uncle Rube's British blood, stirred by this leap
back over the passing years, made him once more a bouncing,
devil-may-care sailor lad. The sign of tears had vanished from his
cheeks as he rose, and, gently laying the little figure in her old
corner on the settle, leisurely lit his pipe. Like that of Nathaniel
Hawthorne's Feather-top it seemed to send renewed youth through his
veins with every puff he drew. Knowing that he was trying to think,
and fearing to distract his mind, I again kept a discreet silence. At
last, just as if he saw the scene again, his eyes closed and his
splendid shock of long white hair was once more thrown back into its
accustomed place in the rocking-chair.

"It wasn't a fair deal, Doctor. Not a fair deal. We was sailors in
those days, just as much as them is in they old tin kettles that
rattles up and down t' Straits now, for all they big size and they
gold braid. T' Manxman wouldn't have come by her end as she did if
stout arms and good seamen could 'a' saved her. Murdered she was,
Doctor, murdered by this same Jack Frost what's trying to blow us out
o' house and home right now. But don't you have no uneasiness, Doctor,
I've got him beat this time, and she'll not drag. No, sir, not till I
do"--and a fierce spirit gleamed out through his eyes.

We had often wondered why Uncle Rube, the genial, gentle, hospitable
old man that the coast knew him to be, had come to put down his
anchors in this wild and almost desolate gorge. Here was a possible
explanation. The loss of his only lad must have been from this very
Manxman, and by some strange twist of mentality the father had
determined to plant himself just as near the scene and circumstance as
human strength permitted, end there, single-handed if need be, fight
out the battle of life, with the daily sense of flaunting the enemy
that had robbed him of his joy in life--his one and only child. For
with Chestertonian paradox this lonely man's passion was children.

"No. No, he can't move her, Doctor," he repeated, as if he were
reading my thoughts, as I truly believe that he was. For our minds in
the North are not crusted like tender feet with horny coverings from
the chafe of boots, or as are minds beset with telephones, special
deliveries, and editions of the yellow press.

"No, Uncle Rube, you don't think I'd sit here if I wasn't certain of
it. You've got him beaten to a frazzle this time."

I was right then, for Uncle Rube "slacked away" as he put it, and took
up the thread of his story again without further comment, but not
before apologizing for any undue familiarity into which the
excitement, of which he was well aware, might have betrayed him.

"Us found t' seals early that year, and panned a voyage of as fine
young fat as ever a 'swiler' wished for, but t' weather was dirty from
t' day us struck t' patch, as if Jack Frost was determined us
shouldn't have 'em. Anyhow, afore we could pick up more'n half what
us'd killed, a dozen o' our lads got adrift on t' floe, and though
they got aboard another vessel, us thought 'em was lost. While us
sailed about looking for 'em, us lost most o' t' pans. So round t'
beginning of April t' skipper, in company with a score of other
schooners, put her for the Norrard, in hopes of cutting off some of t'
old seals in t' swatches. T' slob being very heavy outside, us lay for
inside Belle Isle, and carried open water most across t' Straits.
Well, sir, t' wind veered round all of a sudden, just as us was abeam
of t' Devil's Table, and t' Gulf ice came out of t' Straits fair
roaring"--and Uncle Rube took another contemplative puff at his pipe.

"It would have been all right if only t' big field had gone off t'
same time before t' wind. But somehow there were a big block held up
by t' Islands, and t' western ice just came and hit it clip! It must
have been all up with us right there but for t' northeast current, and
that took our vessel like a nutshell and whisked her away in t' heavy
slob as if to carry her along the Labrador coast. But it proved us was
not far enough off t' land, for just about midday t' Red Islands come
up like dark specks out o' t' ice--right ahead t' way we was being
driven. T' other schooners was caught in t' jam too and drifting with
us, little black dots scattered over t' surface of t' ice field like
t' currants in slices of sweet white loaf.

"I believe our skipper knowed it were no good, just as soon as t'
watch called him to see for hisself. But he made out as if there was
nothing to it, and ordered all hands to be ready to take t' ice, as
though 't was a patch o' swiles instead of rocks ahead. But when he
started getting up grub, and canvas, and all sorts of things, and had
us put 'em in t' boats, us knew it were no old harps he was thinking

"Well, sir, it seemed as if it had to be. The old Manxman went as fair
for them reefs as if she was being hauled there with a capstan. It was
fair uncanny, and I believes there be more in some one driving her
there than most people 'lows. Anyhow, tied up as us was in t' heavy
jam, right fair towards 'em she had to go, and then on to 'em, and up
over t' reef as if us 'd laid t' course express for 'em, while every
other vessel round us went clear. T' reef's about five feet out o'
water at high springs, and about ten feet over surface on t' neaps.
Springs it was that day, t' moon being nearly full, and t' first crack
ripped t' bottom clean out o' t' old ship. Us all hustled out on to t'
ice, taking with us all us could carry, working as quick as ever us
could, for t' pressure o' wind was rafting t' pans on to t' rocks, and
almost before us knew it, what remained of her above t' ice had gone
right on over t' shoals; and long before dusk, I reckons, had gone
down through it. At any rate, us saw no more of her. Us tried to make
a bit of shelter for t' night out o' some of t' canvas, but t' wind
never slacked a peck, and t' rafting ice soon carried away even t' few
things us had saved.

"Had us known in time us had better have stuck to t' boats, for they
might have given us a chance. But t' wind being offshore, and t' ice
running out to sea, made it seem safer to keep to t' rocks. For t' Red
Island Shoal is only three or four miles from t' land, and there be
liveyers, as us knew, almost opposite. If t' wind had held in t' same
direction even then us might have escaped, but it dropped suddenly
about day dawn, and there were huge swatches o' water between us and
t' mainland before it came light enough to try and get across. Then
just as suddenly t' wind clipped round, and t' sea began to make, and
t' water started breaking right over them rocks.

"Us had managed to build a fire out o' some of t' wreckage saved, and
had thrown in bits o' canvas and some tarry oakum to make smoke. They
had seen it too on t' land, and had lit three smoke fires in a line to
let us know that they would send help if they could. But the veering
of the wind had made that impossible, for they could only launch small
skiffs, and they would not have lived more'n a few minutes for t' ice
making on 'em.

"T' breaking seas and driving spray soon wet all our men through.
There were forty of us all told. But by night several were either dead
or beyond help. T' ice had taken our boats, and now t' seas took all
that was left. T' fire went out just before midday, and our bit o'
grub got wet and frozen. Next morning t' sea was higher than ever, and
t' bodies of t' men mostly washed away as they died. All that day t'
rest of us just held on, some twenty or so; but it was a bare six of
us that were living t' second night. There was no sleep, and not even
any lying down if you wanted to live. None of them that slept ever
woke again. I might have nodded standing up. Guess I must have. But
t' third morning I was t' only man moving; and though it was as fine a
shining morning as ever broke, and t' hot sun from t' ice soon put a
little life in me, I never expected to see another night. Then I must
have forgotten everything, even t' people on t' shore. For I never saw
any boat coming, or any one land. Everything had been washed away but
myself. I had been alone, I reckon, many hours. It seemed ages since I
'd heard a human voice; but I still remembers some one putting his
hand on my shoulder. They had been calling, so they told me, but
somehow I heard nothing. They kept me a good many days before I knowed
anything--doing for me like a mother would for her boy. But more'n a
week had gone by before I could tell 'em who I was.

"And then it all came back to me--t' cruel suffering of my shipmates,
and most of all of Willy, t' only chick or child I ever had. He had my
coat over his oil frock, and he were so brave, so young, and so
strong. And he lived till morning--long after great strong men had
perished--and me able to do nothing. Then his poor frozen body was
washed to and fro in that terrible surf, as if my boy wouldn't leave
me even if he was dead. Why I lived on, and why it pleased God to
spare my poor life I never knowed, or shall know, Doctor, till he
tells me himself."

He was sitting bolt upright now, looking me straight in the face. But
the fire died suddenly from Uncle Rube's eyes, and, exhausted by the
effort and the memories the story brought back to him, he fell back in
the chair as if he had been struck by some knock-out blow. The thud of
the fall once more woke the child, and, seeing me jump to the old
man's help, she began to sob piteously. It was only for a moment,
however. The splendid vitality of the man, toughened by his hard life
and simple fare, soon made him master of himself again, and,
apologizing for giving me trouble, he took up the child, crooning over
her to get her quiet.

"Forty years I've been living here, Doctor," he went on. "Forty
years--and t' last ten I've been all alone. Not a living soul have I
had t' chance to save all these long years, though God knows I've kept
as good a lookout as one watch could. Then Neighbor Blake lost his
helpmate like I had mine, and he let me share up with him, and have
Nellie. He wanted his boys to help him get food and things for t'
rest, so a girl was what he gave me. And I couldn't have had a boy,
Doctor, anyhow. Willy's place will never be filled for me, till he
comes himself and fills it, and that won't be long now either." He
looked at his pipe, which had gone out, and then continued: "No, I'm
not one o' them as can take a new wife almost as soon as t' first
one's gone"--and then suddenly: "But it's time to boil t' kettle.
You'se getting hungry, I 'lows, and me chattering like a fool, and not
thinking of anything beyond my own troubles. I'm forgetting you must
be worriting over being kept so long in this bit of a tilt, but you'll
not get away till morning, so just make yourself as miserable as you

As he bustled around filling the kettle with ice for water, and
struggling to heat up a small molasses barrel in order to let out
some "sweetness" for our tea, I had made a bird, a boat, and a couple
of darts out of paper, as overtures to the lady of the house. Before
the humble meal was spread she had the room ringing with her laughter,
as she darted now here, now there, and at last succeeded in hitting
the old man himself almost in the eye. Many times that meal has come
back to my memory. The rough bare boards of the walls, naked but for
one old picture of a horse cut from a magazine, carefully pasted
upside down, and probably designed chiefly to cover some defective
spot that was admitting too much coldness; the crazy table shaking
with every gust and causing a tiny kerosene lamp to flare up and
menace the dim religious darkness by depositing even more lamp-black
than was its wont on its already negrine globe; the meagre board of
dark bread, "oleo," and molasses; the weird minstrelsy of the
hurricane--the whole a harmony of poverty and war. Yet the memory
brings deeper pleasure to my mind than that of many costly
banquets--and even I have eaten from plates of silver with implements
of gold. For in the flickering light of the crackling logs I can still
see the joy of the old man's kindly face over the boisterous happiness
of his quaint ward, the dance in the eyes of the merry child as some
colored candies placed in my nonny-bag by my wife fell somehow from
the sky right on to the table before her. The telling of his story,
never before mentioned to any one but his wife and foster child, but
kept like some vendetta wrong waiting for revenge in his rebellious
heart these many years, seemed to have renewed his youth. A merrier,
happier party it has never been my lot to share in; and now that I
know the pathos of the last chapter written in this strange life, I
rejoice more than ever that for that night, anyhow, the enemy that
haunted him overreached, and the very blizzard proved the key for one
evening at least of freedom from his obsession.

We were away before daylight, and I never saw Uncle Rube again. Life,
it seems, went along tranquilly with him the following winter. As
usual he kept his watch and ward on the cliffs by the Red Island
Shoals. Then the fatal 10th of April came round. Once again it broke
upon the solitary figure of the old man straining his eyes from his
coign of vantage on the dread shoals of the Red Islands.
Unquestionably he saw again reënacted there the weird tragedy that
nearly half a century before had broken his life, bringing home with a
strange fascination the moving picture to his very heart. But with it
this spring he witnessed also a scene that for many years every man on
the coast had prayed for, but no man had been privileged to take part
in. The wind had come out of the Straits and the Gulf ice was driving
swiftly towards the great Atlantic, exactly as it had done on the
memorable day now forty years before. Once again there was ice in huge
sheets jammed against the great cliffs of Belle Isle, and clear water
between. Suddenly the straining eyes of the old sailor shone with a
totally new light. He jumped to his feet, and with hands shading his
starting eyes, stood motionless like a statue on the pedestal of his
lookout, now white as the purest marble in its winter mantle.

Was it age? Or the final break-up of his mind? No, neither--he was
certain of it. There were black things moving on the white ice, and
driving with it once more, just as the Manxman had, straight for the
shoals of the Red Islands. Nearer and nearer they came. There could be
no doubt now. They moved. They could be no land débris, no shadows
from the rafted ice sheets. So quickly was the floe running that just
as he remembered it, before anything could be done, clip! and the
advancing edge had again struck the standing ice, and woe betide
anything that was in or on it, anywhere near the line of contact. As a
dazed mouse watches the cat that is toying with it, the rigid figure
on the hilltop gazed at the impending tragedy--too far off for his
material brain correctly to interpret the image on his actual retina.
He was seeing, though he failed to realize it, the same impress that
emotion had recorded on the tablets of his very soul.

The realism of it was too much for human nature, and Uncle Rube, his
hands covering his face, started running homewards over the familiar
pathway he had trodden so often. Even as he reached the cottage in the
gulch he was aware of loud shouting, and of a team of huskies
literally tearing over the snow. They were making as if to pass his
house without stopping, as no man ever did that lonely spot, if only
for the cup of tea and the moment's "spell," and the kindly stimulus
of the old man's company. Yes, the driver was shouting, shouting to
him. "Ships, Uncle Rube!"--"What is it?"--"Ships on the ice!" the old
man heard. Didn't he know it only too well?

Another moment and the modern Paul Revere, with dogs for horses and
ice and snow for a highway, was flying on his self-imposed journey,
carrying his slogan from house to house and village to village along
the sparsely inhabited coast-line. As Uncle Rube opened his door and
peered into the little room, to his infinite joy he saw the golden
curls in their proper place on the old settle by the stove, while the
regular quiet breathing assured him that the child had not yet waked
from sleep. As he softly tiptoed around, seeking the outfit he needed
for his great adventure, the barrenness of the house, the poverty of
it, struck him for the first time. God knows he had never thought of
"things," except as he had needed them for himself or others; and now
he wished suddenly that he had more of them for the child's sake.
Suppose, now that his "day" had at last arrived, he should not return
from the long-looked-for quest. He became strangely conscious that he
had nothing laid up for his darling, the child who now filled the
whole horizon of his cramped life. Her very clothes were in tatters.
The Indian shawl, that I had seen pressed into the service against his
enemy the Frost King, was now only a thing of rags and patches. Were
it not for his own big coat, even at this moment his Princess would be
shivering with cold. Furtively he glanced round for his rope and gaff,
relics of the last time he had gone on the ice. All these years he had
kept them ready for "the day," never able to break the spell woven
around them on the ill-fated Manxman. There was his nonny-bag, in it
already the sugar and oatmeal, the ration of pork, and the small
bottle of brandy, that each year he kept ready when the 10th of March
came round--the day on which the sealers leave for the ice fields. The
new idea that his life was of value for the child's sake sent a
half-guilty feeling through him, lest he be caught looking at these
implements, where they lay with his old converted flintlock gun on the
rack above the still glowing stove. Sh! The child on the settle
muttered something in her sleep, and the old man, rigid as an ice
block, stood listening to her breathing, as if he were a burglar
robbing a rich man's bedroom, in which the owner himself lay sleeping.
But she quieted down again, and once more he breathed freely.

At last he was ready, all but the big coat. Well, he could do without
that. If he were not back before dark the difference it would make
would anyhow be negligible. There was no time to delay. He must go now
or never; and the indomitable old warrior stooped over to kiss the
child good-bye, though he dare only touch with his lips the golden
hair, for fear of waking her. Then in his simple way he breathed a
wordless prayer, committing her to God's keeping, and, stealthily
letting himself out, made straight for the likeliest part of the
headland from which to take the ice.

As one thinks now of that old man setting out alone over that endless
ocean of ice, one wonders if one has one's self ever attempted
anything heroic. But Uncle Rube thought only of one thing that
morning--of foiling his arch enemy on the Red Island Shoals; and
though nearly fourscore years had passed over him, he felt like a lad
of twenty as he strode rapidly along towards the landwash.

Of course he must haul his boat, but that he could easily do. Had he
not built her himself expressly, small, and of half-inch planking over
the lightest of frames, with two bilge streaks to act as runners, and
flat-bottomed that she should drag well over snow? When at length he
had launched her over the "ballicater" ice, and had pulled her clear
of the cracks by the landwash, he stopped and spent a grudgingly
spared moment in lighting his pipe. Then, heigho, and away for the
open sea--out on to which he marched with his head erect and his old
heart dauntless, like the peaceful Minute-Men of 1776.

Meanwhile an ever-increasing crowd of men, women, and even children
were pouring from apparently nowhere out on to the floe. The young men
were "copying," as we say, over the ice, that is, jumping from pan to
pan as they ventured far out from the land seeking the seals which the
running ice, driving out before the wind, had brought down from the
Gulf, and then killing them, and hauling them back into safety.

It was from them that I subsequently learned the story of the day.
Before night fell the wind had risen, and blew directly from the land.
Snow began to fall soon after midday, and by sundown a living blizzard
howled over the frozen ocean. None of the distant neighbors had seen
Uncle Rube set out; none of them even knew that he had left his
house; no one before ever heard of his doing such a thing as start
out on the ice alone. Nor was it till the next day that a half-frozen
little girl, who was heard crying in the snow in front of a neighbor's
house, disclosed the secret that Uncle Rube was missing.

How had they known at all that there were seals on the ice that day?
Known? Why, Mark Seaforth had gone all along the coast telling them
early in the morning. He had got the news from the lighthouse, and it
was the oldest of customs to give all hands a chance whenever the
seals were sighted driving alongshore.

It had not been the material ear drum to which the old man had
listened for his sailing orders. On that day especially he had heard
with other ears, and all the coast freed Mark from any blame for the
old sailor's having understood "ships" instead of "seals."

Late in the sealing season of that same year the good ship Artemis, a
stout, steel-sheathed ice hunter, a unit of the modern fleet that have
long ago displaced the wooden schooners that once in hundreds followed
the seal herds, was steaming north to finish up shooting old harps in
the swatches, having lost a number of her pans in bad weather farther
south. Seals were scarce on the west side, and the wireless had warned
the skipper that a patch of old seals was passing eastward through the
Straits. Cape Bauld Light had been sighted, and so also had the new
light on Belle Isle. The barrelmen were eagerly scanning the ice for
any signs of the expected herd.

"Something black on the ice on the port bow!" shouted the man from the

"Where away?" answered the master of the bridge.

"About four points to the northwest."

"Hard astarboard!" from the bridge.

"Starboard hard!" from the wheel, and the big ship wheeled a course
direct for the Red Island Shoals.

"Steady!" from the bridge.

"Steady it is!" And the Artemis wheeled a little more, and leaving the
shoals on her right, steamed towards the object that had attracted the
attention of the watch. The bridge master, viewing it through his
glasses, suddenly stopped short, fixing his gaze on the spot with far
more than his wonted intensity.

"What is it, John?" he said to the watchman. "Seems queer to me. It's
no seal, I'll swear."

John took the glasses, and, putting them to his eyes, made out at once
what the object was.

"'T is a small boat upside down--and yes, there's a man's body for
certain, stretched out beside it," he announced in a subdued voice.

"Go slow!" to the engine man.

"Slow!" rang back the watchful engineer.

"Stop her!" and over the side went half a dozen men.

"Take that hatch over, and bring in the man off the ice."

All the crew, some three hundred blackened figures, were now leaning
over the rail to see the evidence of this latest tragedy. No one knew
him, or could even guess where he and his boat had come from, or on
what strange quest he had been bound. Those ice pans might have come
from anywhere along the hundreds of miles between Anticosti and Cape
Chidley. To these men, it was just the body of an old man, a stranger.
Not much loss. He could not have lived many more years, anyhow.
Probably no one would miss him. No need to trouble over it. A prompt
burial at sea, thought the captain, would be as good as on the land,
where a grave was an impossibility now, anyhow. Besides, he was
obviously an old seaman, and what could be more appropriate? Moreover,
the crew would rather have it so than to carry the corpse around while
they were seal-hunting.

There was no parson aboard, but the skipper was a God-fearing man. So
the flags were hauled to half-mast, the ship hove to the wind, the
crew called on deck just as they were, and when the skipper had read a
brief prayer, "in sure and certain hope" the body of Uncle Reuben
Marston, vanquished by his enemy at last, was committed to the deep
within a biscuit toss of the Red Island Shoals.


The Riverside Press

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