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Lure of the Labrador Wild, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap11"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> XI. WE GIVE IT UP </H3> <P> For a moment I was dazed at the thought&mdash;the thought of turning back without ever seeing the Indians or caribou hunt, and I could not speak. George, however, soon found his tongue. He was still willing to go on, if need be, and risk his life with us. </P> <P> "I came to go with you fellus," he said, "and I want to do what you fellus do." </P> <P> "But," I said to Hubbard, "don't you think it will be easier to reach the Indians on the George, or even the George River Post, than Northwest River Post? We must surely be near the Indians; we shall probably see the smoke of their wigwams when we reach Michikamau. It is likely we shall find them camping on the big lake&mdash;either Mountaineers or Nascaupee&mdash;and if we get to them they'll surely help us." </P> <P> "Yes," answered Hubbard, "if we get to them they'll help us; but these miserable westerly and northwesterly gales may keep us on these waters indefinitely, or even on the shore of Michikamau at a spot where we may not be able to launch our canoe or reach the Indians for days, and that would be fatal. The caribou migration is surely begun, and perhaps is over already, and there's no use in going ahead." </P> <P> I saw his point and acquiesced. "I suppose it's best to turn back as soon as the wind will let us," I said; "for it's likely to subside only for a few hours at a time at this season, and perhaps if we don't get out when we can, we may never get out at all. But what does George say?" I asked, turning to our plucky companion. </P> <P> "Oh," said he, "I'd like to turn back, and I think it's safest; but I'm goin' to stick to you fellus, and I'm goin' where you go." </P> <P> "Well," said Hubbard, "what's the vote?&mdash;shall we turn back or go on?" </P> <P> "Turn back," said I. </P> <P> "Very well, then" he replied quietly; "that's settled." </P> <P> The decision reached, George's face brightened perceptibly, and I must confess we all felt better; a great burden seemed to have been lifted from our shoulders. It had required courage for Hubbard to acknowledge himself defeated in his purpose, but the acknowledgment once made, we thought of only one thing&mdash;how to reach home most quickly. Hubbard was now satisfied that the record of our adventures would make a "bully story," even without the material he had hoped to gather on the George, and his mind being easy on that point, he discussed with animation plans for the homeward trip. </P> <P> "We'll have to catch some fish here," he said, "to take us over the long portage to Lake Disappointment. We ought to be able to dry a good bit of namaycush, and on the way we'll probably have a good catch of trout at the long lake [Lake Mary], and another good catch where I used the tamarack pole. And then when we get to Lake Disappointment we ought to get more namaycush." </P> <P> "Yes," said I; "and the berries should help us some." </P> <P> "What do you think the chances of getting caribou are?" Hubbard asked George. </P> <P> "We saw some comin' up," replied George, "and there ought to be more now; I guess we'll find 'em." </P> <P> "If we kill some caribou," continued Hubbard, "I think we'd better turn to and build a log shack, cure the meat, make toboggans and snowshoes, wait for things to freeze up, and then push on to the post over the snow and ice. We can get some dogs at the post, and we'll be in good shape to push right on without delay to the St. Lawrence. It'll make a bully trip, and we'll have lots of grub. What would we need to get at the post, George?" </P> <P> "Well," said George, "we'd need plenty of flour, pork, lard, beans, sugar, tea, and bakin' powder; and we might take some condensed milk, raisins, currants, rice, and molasses, and I'd make somethin' good sometimes." </P> <P> "That's a good idea," said Hubbard, whose mouth was evidently watering even as mine was. "And we might take some butter, too. And how would oatmeal go for porridge?&mdash;don't you think that would be bully on a cold morning?" </P> <P> "Yes," assented George; "we could eat molasses on it, or thin up the condensed milk." </P> <P> "We shall probably have caribou meat that we can take along frozen," Hubbard went on. "Frozen caribou meat is bully; it's better than when it's fresh killed. Did you ever eat any, Wallace?" </P> <P> "No," said I; "the only caribou meat I've ever eaten was what we've had here." </P> <P> "Then," said Hubbard, "there's a rare treat in store for you. The first I ever ate was on my Lake St. John trip. The Indian I had with me used to chop off pieces of frozen caribou with an axe, and fry it with lard, and we'd just drink down the grease. It was fine." </P> <P> "It's great," said George. </P> <P> "Well," said Hubbard, coming back to the present, "I'm dead glad we've decided to strike for the post. If this wind will ever let up, we must get at it and catch some fish. I lay awake most of last night thinking it all over and planning it all." </P> <P> "I was awake most of the time, too," said George; "my feet were mighty cold." </P> <P> There was no fishing on the day we decided to turn back, as the wind confined us to camp, and all we had to eat was rice and bacon soup; but our anticipations of home to some extent overcame the clamour of our stomachs, and we passed the time chatting about the things we intended to do when we regained "God's country." </P> <P> "I'm going to take a vacation," said Hubbard. "I'll visit father and mother, if they're in the east, and sister Daisy, and maybe go to Canada with my wife and stay a little while with her people. What will you do, boys?" </P> <P> I told of my plans to visit various relatives, and then George described a trip he was going to make to visit a sister whom he had not seen since he was a little boy, closing the description with a vivid account of the good things he would have to eat, and what he would cook himself. It was always so&mdash;no matter what our conversation was about, it sooner or later developed into a discussion of gastronomy. </P> <P> In the evening Hubbard had me make out a list of the restaurants we intended to visit when we got back to New York and take George to. I have the list yet, but since my return I have never had the heart to go near any of the places it mentions. From the talk about restaurants Hubbard suddenly turned to lumber camps, asking George and me if we had ever visited one. We replied that we had not, and wondered what had brought lumber camps into his mind. We soon learned. </P> <P> "You've missed something," he said. "We'll make it a point to call at Sandy Calder's camp when we go back, and make him give us a feed of pork and beans and molasses to sop our bread in. They're sure to have them." </P> <P> "Do they have cake and pie?" asked George. </P> <P> "Yes, in unlimited quantities; and doughnuts, too&mdash;at least they used to in the Michigan lumber camps I've visited." </P> <P> "That sounds good," I remarked&mdash;"the pork and beans and molasses, best of all. When I was a boy I was fond of bread and molasses&mdash;good, black molasses&mdash;but I haven't eaten any since. I'd like to have a chance at some now." </P> <P> "So should I," said Hubbard; "I'd just roll my bread in it lumberjack fashion." </P> <P> "Do they have gingerbread in the camps?" asked George. </P> <P> "Yes," said Hubbard; "gingerbread is always on the table." </P> <P> "How do they make it? </P> <P> "Well, I don't just know; but I'll tell you what, George&mdash;if you want to know, I'll ask Mrs. Hubbard to show you when we get home, and I know she'll be delighted to do it. She's the best cook I ever knew." </P> <P> "Do you think she would mind?" </P> <P> "Oh, no; she'd be very glad to do it. You must stop at our house for a while before you go back to Missanabie, and she will teach you to cook a good many things." </P> <P> And so our conversation continued until we turned to our blankets and sought the luxury of sleep, I to dream I was revelling in a stack of gingerbread as high as a house that my sisters had baked to welcome me home. </P> <P> To our ever-increasing dismay, the northwest gale continued to blow almost unceasingly during the next few days. Sometimes towards evening the wind would moderate sufficiently to permit us to troll with difficulty along the lee shore of an island, but seldom were we rewarded with more than a single namaycush, and so far from our getting enough fish to carry us over our long portage to Lake Disappointment, we did not catch enough for our daily needs, and were compelled to draw on our little store of emergency provisions. On Wednesday (September 16th) we ate the last bit of bacon and the last handful of rice we had so carefully hoarded. We succeeded that day in reaching the rapid where we caught the few trout that some animal stole from us, and there we camped. From this point we believed we could more readily gain the bay where we had entered the lake, and begin our retreat when the wind subsided. </P> <P> The Canada jay, a carrion bird about the size Of a robin that is generally known through the north as the "whiskey jack," had always hovered about our camps and been very tame when, in the earlier days of our trip, we had refuse to throw away; but now these birds called at us from a greater distance, seeming to know we were looking at them with greedy eyes. George told us that their flesh had saved many an Indian from starvation, and that the Indians looked upon them with a certain veneration and would kill them only in case of the direst need. Our compunctions against eating carrion birds had entirely disappeared, and the course of the whiskey jacks in holding aloof from camp when they were most needed used to make George furious. </P> <P> "See the blamed beggars!" he would ejaculate. "Just look at 'em! We've been feedin' 'em right long, and now when it's their turn to feed us, look at 'em go!" </P> <P> On Thursday (September 17th) George got his revenge. Stealthily he crept upon a whiskey jack in the bush and shot it with a pistol. "They're pretty tough," he said, upon returning with his prize to camp, "and will take a long time to cook." We did not care for that; we ate that bird, bones and all, stewed in a big pot of water with two or three spoonfuls of flour and an equal amount of pea meal. </P> <P> That was our breakfast. We had no luncheon; for although we spent the entire day trolling up and down the lee shore, it was not until evening that we caught any fish. The wind was icy and set us all a-shiver, our hands were benumbed by the cold water, and we were just beginning to despair when we landed a two-pound namaycush, and a little later a five-pounder. Then, wet to the skin and chilled to the bone, we paddled back to camp, to cheer ourselves up with a good fire and a supper of one-third of the larger fish, a dish of stewed sour cranberries and plenty of hot tea. </P> <P> "I feel more satisfied every time I think of our decision to turn back," said Hubbard, as, with supper eaten, we reclined comfortably before the fire. "I had a pretty hard night of it though, on Monday; for I hated to turn back without seeing the Indians." </P> <P> "I was awake thinkin' about it, too," said George. "I told you about havin' cold feet, and that they kept me awake." He paused, and we felt that something was coming. At length out it came: "Well, they did, but that wind out in the lake kept me awake more than the cold feet. I knew that wind was makin' the huntin' good down the bay, the game was comin' down there now, and the young fellus I used to hunt with had been wishin' for this very wind that was keepin' us here, and they were glad to see it, and were out shootin' waveys [a species of wild goose]; and here we boys was, up against it for sure." </P> <P> Hubbard and I had to laugh at George's confession, and we joked him a little about being homesick. </P> <P> "Well," said Hubbard, "we'll soon get away now; this wind must let up some time. Talking about the bay reminds me that I want to arrange for a trip to Hudson's Bay next summer. I want a nice, easy trip that I can take Mrs. Hubbard on. I'd like to go up early and return in the fall, and maybe get some wavey shooting. Could you get one or two good men besides yourself to go with us, George?" </P> <P> George said he thought he could, and after Hubbard had invited me to make one of the party, they went into minute details as to the food they would take with them, planning an elaborate culinary outfit. </P> <P> Just before George went to bed, Hubbard and I, using the trees that stood close to the fire for a support, stretched a tarpaulin over our heads, to shelter us from the rain and sleet. Beyond the circle of our bright-blazing fire the darkness was profound. As the wind in great blasts swept over the tops of the trees, its voice was raised to piercing shrieks that gradually died away into low moans. We thought of the vast wilderness lying all about us under the pall of a moonless and starless night. Where had all the people in the world gone to, anyway? </P> <P> But, sitting there on our couch of boughs beneath the tarpaulin, in the grateful warmth of the high-leaping flames, we found it very cosey. And we talked of the places and persons that were somewhere beyond the solitudes. </P> <P> "You don't mind sitting here for a while and chatting, do you, b'y?" said Hubbard. "It's very cold and shivery in the tent." "B'y" was a word we had picked up from the Newfoundland fishermen, who habitually use it in addressing one another, be the person addressed old or young. At first Hubbard and I called each other "b'y" in jest, but gradually it became with us a term almost of endearment. </P> <P> "No, b'y," I answered; "I would much rather be out here with you than in the tent." </P> <P> "I was thinking," said Hubbard, "of how I loved, in the evening after dinner last winter, to sit before the wood fire in our grate at Congers, and watch the blaze with Mina [Mrs. Hubbard] near me. What a feeling of quiet, and peace, and contentment, would come to me then!&mdash;I'd forget all about the grind at the office and the worries of the day. That's real happiness, Wallace&mdash;a good wife and a cheerful fireside. What does glory and all that amount to, after all? I've let my work and my ambition bother me too much. I've hardly taken time for my meals. In the morning I'd hurry through breakfast and run for my train. I haven't given my wife and my home the attention they deserve. That wife of mine, Wallace, deserves a great deal of attention. She's always thinking of my comfort, and doing things to please me, and cooking things I like. But I must be boring you with all this talk about my own affairs." </P> <P> "No, b'y," I said; "I like to hear about them. I've always been interested in witnessing how happy you and your wife have been together." </P> <P> "She's been a good wife to me, Wallace; and as time has gone on since our marriage we've grown closer and closer together." </P> <P> "I see you're like every other man that gets a good wife&mdash;you've found the real key to the house of a man's happiness." </P> <P> "That's so. A single man, or a man with an uncongenial wife whom he doesn't love and who doesn't love him, may be as rich as Croesus, and gain all the honours in the world, and he won't possess an atom of the happiness of a poor man congenially married. Did I ever tell you about the day I was married?&mdash;the trouble I had?" </P> <P> "I don't remember that you did. Although I suspected something unusual on foot, I didn't hear of your marriage until after the deed was done. You didn't take me into your confidence, you know." </P> <P> "That was because we had never camped together then, b'y. If we had camped together, I'd have told you all about it. Mina and I had not intended to get married so soon. We were to have been married in the spring, but that January I received an assignment for a trip through the South, and I knew it would keep me away until after our wedding date. I didn't want to postpone the wedding, so I decided, if I could get Mina's consent, to make my trip our honeymoon. She was at her parents' home in Canada, and there was no time to lose, and I telegraphed asking her to come on at once and get married. She was a brick and consented, and then I was in such a nervous state of anticipation I was afraid the folks where I was stopping would discover something was up, so the day before I expected Mina to arrive I ran over to Jersey to spend the night with my old friend Dr. Shepard, the minister. </P> <P> "Well, Mina's train was due at the Grand Central Station early in the morning, and I had to catch a train from Jersey a little after five o'clock to meet her. I was afraid I'd oversleep, and I kept awake nearly all night. Long before the train was due I was down at the station and took a seat in the waiting room. And what do you suppose I did?" </P> <P> "What?" said I. </P> <P> "Why," said Hubbard, with a cheerful grin, "I fell to thinking so hard about what was going to happen that I sat there in the station and let the train I was so afraid to lose come and go without ever hearing it." </P> <P> Under the sleet-covered tarpaulin, there in the interior of Labrador, Hubbard and I laughed heartily. </P> <P> "And was the bride-elect kept waiting?" I asked. </P> <P> "No," said Hubbard; "I hustled over a couple of miles to another line and got a train there, and as Mina fortunately didn't arrive as early as expected, I was in time." </P> <P> The fire had died down and the darkness was beginning to close in upon us. I arose to renew the fire, and when the logs had begun to blaze again, and I had resumed my seat, I saw that the drawn and haggard look had returned to Hubbard's face, and that he was staring wistfully out over the fire into the impenetrable gloom. </P> <P> "What is it, b'y?" I said. </P> <P> "That was a great trip, Wallace&mdash;that southern trip. I want to visit some of the places again with Mina and live over our honeymoon. And," he went on&mdash;"yes, I want some more of the good southern cooking. You ought to eat their cornbread, Wallace!&mdash;there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world. They cook corn meal in a dozen ways, from corn pone to really delicate dishes. And they know how to cook chickens, too. Their chickens and yams and cornbread are great. It makes my mouth water to think of even the meals I've eaten in the mountaineers' cabins&mdash;wild hog, good and greasy; wild honey, hoecake, and strong black coffee. When I get home I'm going to experiment in camp with cooking corn meal, and I've got an idea that a young sucking pig roasted before the fire like George roasted the goose would be great." </P> <P> There we were, plunged once more into a discussion about food, and it was after midnight when the talk about roasting pigs, and stuffing pigs, and baking this, and baking that, came to an end. Even then Hubbard was loath to seek the tent, it was so "cold and shivery"; but he expressed himself as being fairly comfortable when he had followed my example and toasted himself thoroughly before the fire immediately before turning in with a pair of socks on his feet that had been hung up to warm. </P> <P> On Friday (September 18th) a fierce northwest gale again kept us on the lee shore, and all we got on the troll was a three-quarter-pound namaycush. Hubbard and I also fished conscientiously at the rapid near which we were still camping, and our combined efforts yielded us only two eight-inch trout and a twenty-inch trout. Trying as we were to get fish ahead for our long portage, it was most depressing. </P> <P> Despite the steady gnaw, gnaw at the pit of our stomachs, we had cut down our meals to the minimum amount of food that would keep us alive; we were so weak we no longer were sure where our feet were going to when we put them down. But all the fish we had to smoke was two or three. And on Friday night we ate the last bit of our flour; it was used to thicken the water in which we boiled for supper some entrails, a namaycush head and the two little trout we had caught during the day. </P> <P> All that night the northwest gale was accompanied by gusts of rain and snow. On Saturday (September 19th) the mercury dropped to 32 degrees, and the air was raw. Not a single fish were we able to catch. George and I smoked a pipe for breakfast, while Hubbard imbibed the atmosphere. A bit of the smoked fish we had hoped to keep, boiled with a dash of pea meal in the water, did us for luncheon and supper. </P> <P> Heretofore we had slept each rolled in his own blanket, but it was so cold in the tent that night we had to make a common bed by spreading one blanket beneath us on a tarpaulin and lying spoon-fashion with the other two blankets drawn over us. The blankets were decidedly narrow for three men to get under, and it was necessary for us to lie very close together indeed; but our new method enabled us to keep fairly warm and we continued its use. </P> <P> On Sunday (September 20th) the temperature dropped to 29 and the squalls continued. In desperation we broke camp in the morning and tried to cross the lake with our outfit, but the wind soon drove us back to shelter. While we were out on the lake we caught a namaycush on the troll, and this fish we had for luncheon, together with some cranberries we found on a ridge near where we had taken refuge on the shore. A little later I was attacked with vomiting and faintness. When I tried to swing an axe, I reeled and all but lost consciousness. </P> <P> Late in the afternoon the squalls subsided, and we made another attempt to escape from the prison in which we were slowly starving. Fortunately the wind continued fair and there were no cross-seas; and on and on we paddled in the direction of&mdash;home! Oh, the great relief of it! For nearly two weeks we had been held on that dreadful lake. Day after day the relentless storm had raged, while hunger leered at us and tormented us with its insistent clamour as we, with soaked rags and shivering bodies, strove vainly to prevent the little stock of food from diminishing that we felt was our only hold on life. And now we were going home! </P> <P> Darkness had long since fallen when we reached an island near the point where we had entered the lake. In a driving rain we pitched our camp. For supper we had the last of the little stock of fish that we had been able to dry. This meant that, in addition to our stock of tea, the only food we had left on hand was sixteen pounds of pea meal. But we did not worry. We were going home. And on Monday morning, September 21st, though the wind was again blowing a gale, and the passage among the spray-covered rocks was filled with risk, we paddled over to the mainland, ready to begin our race for life down the trail we had fought so hard to ascend. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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