XIII. HUBBARD'S GRIT
Two things soon became plain after our struggle back to the post was
resumed. One was that winter was fast closing in upon us; the other
was that Hubbard's condition was such as might well cause the gravest
concern. The morning that we broke camp on Lake Mary (Tuesday,
September 29th), was ushered in by a gale from the west and driving
snow. The mercury had dropped to 24, and all of us were a-shiver when
we issued from the tent. While George and I were preparing the outfit
for travel Hubbard caught twelve trout in the pool. On the lake we
encountered as heavy a sea as our little canoe could weather, and we
had to struggle hard for an hour to reach the farther shore. Upon
landing, Hubbard was again attacked with diarrhoea. George and I
carried the packs up the high bank to a sheltered spot in the woods,
but when I returned to Hubbard he insisted on helping me to carry the
canoe. Up the steep ascent we laboured, and then, as we put the canoe
down, Hubbard said:
"I'm dead tired and weak, boys; I think I'll have to take a little
After building him a roaring log fire, George and I carried the canoe a
mile and a half ahead through the driving snow, which was of the wet
kind that clings to every bush and tree, robing the woods in a pure and
spotless white that inevitably suggests fairyland. But I was not in a
mood to admire the beauty of it all. Upon our return to Hubbard he
announced that we should have to camp where we were for the day, that
he might have time to recuperate. The delay affected him keenly. We
should eat nearly as much food in our idleness as we should in moving
onward, and the thought of drawing on our thirty-five pounds of dried
fish without making progress was anything but pleasant.
The wintry weather did not worry us; for we knew the snow then falling
would disappear before the ground became covered for good, and we felt
sure we should reach the Susan Valley before freezing-up time, in which
event ice would assist rather than retard our progress, as even with
the Susan River open it would be impossible to use the canoe in its
shoal, rapid waters. As for Hubbard's condition, I suppose it worried
me more than anyone else. George had failed to note the signs of
increasing weakness in our leader that I had, and Hubbard himself was
so under the influence of his indomitable spirit that for a long time
he apparently did not realise the possibility of an utter collapse.
By the campfire that night he was confident we should be able to make
up the next day for the delay caused by his weakness. For a long time
he sat silently gazing into the fire, but as he had just been
expressing a longing to see his wife, if only for a moment, I knew he
did not see the blaze before him. He was looking into another fire—a
big, wood fire in an old-fashioned fireplace in the cheerful
sitting-room of a far-away Congers home, and his wife was by his side.
He put out his arm to draw her closer to him. I could see it all and
understand—understand the look of perfect happiness that his fancy's
picture brought to his face. But when George arose to throw some more
logs on the fire, the shower of sparks that flew heavenward brought him
suddenly back to reality—to the snow-covered woods of Labrador.
"I hope we shall be able to find another house in Congers with a
fireplace such as our old one had," he said, turning to me as if he
knew I had been reading his thoughts. "In the evening we sit long
before the fire without lighting a lamp. Sometimes we make believe
we're camping, and make our tea and broil some bacon or melt some
cheese for our crackers over the coals, and have a jolly time. I want
you, b'y, to visit us often and join us in those teas, and see if you
don't find them as delightful as we do."
The next morning (September 30th) Hubbard said he was much better, and
gave the order to advance. We made a short march, camping just beyond
the long swamp on the edge of the boulder-strewn country we had found
so hard to traverse on the upward trail. On the way we stopped for a
pot of tea at a place in the swamp where we had previously camped, and
there discovered a treasure; namely, the bones of a caribou hoof we had
used in making soup. We seized upon the bones eagerly, put them in the
fire and licked the grease off them as it was drawn out by the heat.
Then we cracked them and devoured the bit of grease we found inside.
It was agreed that from this point George and I should carry the canoe
about two miles ahead, while Hubbard carried the packs to a convenient
place beyond the swamps and there pitched camp. It was about dusk when
George and I, after a laborious struggle among the boulders and brush,
put the canoe down and turned back. As we approached the place that
had been selected for a camp, we looked expectantly for the glow of the
fire, but none was to be seen. At length we heard axe strokes, and
came upon Hubbard cutting wood. He greeted us with rather a wan smile.
"I've been slow, boys," he said. "I haven't got the firewood cut yet,
nor the boughs for the bed. I've only just pitched the tent."
"I'll get the other axe," I said quickly, "and help you while George
builds the fire."
"No, no," he protested; "you get the boughs while I'm getting the wood."
"I can get the boughs after we have the wood chopped; it won't take me
long and you must let me help you."
At that Hubbard said, "Thank you, b'y," in a tone of great relief. Then
he added slowly, "I'm still a bit weak, and it's hard to work fast
It was the first time since we left the post that he consented to
anyone doing any part of his share of the work. It is true that since
we had turned back I had been relieving him of his share of carrying
the canoe, but I was able to do so only by telling him I much preferred
toting the boat to juggling with the packs. From this time on,
however, he consented, with less resistance, to George or myself doing
this or that while he rested by the fire. The fact was he had reached
the stage where he was kept going only by his grit.
October began with tremendous gales and a driving rain mixed with
sleet, that removed all traces of the snow. The sleet stung our faces,
and we frequently had to take refuge from the blasts in the lee of
bushes and trees so as to recover our breath; but we managed to advance
our camp three miles on the first, pitching the tent on the shore of
one of the limpid ponds among the boulders. For supper we ate the last
of the dried fish, which again left us with only the diminishing stock
of pea meal, and none of us did much talking when we crouched about the
On Friday (October 2d), with high hopes of getting fish, we hurried
ahead with our packs to the pool where Hubbard had caught the big trout
with his emergency kit and the tamarack pole, and near which we had
camped for a day while he rested and George made a trip to the
mountains from which he discovered Lake Mary and Windbound Lake. The
sight of the old camping place brought back to me the remembrance of
how sick Hubbard had been there a month before, and how the thought had
come to me to try to make him give up the struggle.
The weather was very unfavourable for trouting—a cold west wind was
blowing accompanied by snow squalls—but Hubbard caught two within a
few minutes, and George boiled them with a bit of pea meal for
luncheon. Then, leaving Hubbard to try for more fish, George and I
went back to the canoe. While we were returning to camp, George shot a
duck with my rifle. It was a very fat black duck, and we gloated long
over its fine condition. Only three more trout rewarded Hubbard's
afternoon's work. However, we had duck for supper, and were nearer
home, and that comforted us.
I remember that while we sat by the fire that evening George produced
from somewhere in the recesses of his pockets a New York Central
Railroad timetable on which was printed a buffet lunch menu, and handed
it to us with the suggestion that we give our orders for breakfast.
Hubbard examined it and quickly said:
"Give me a glass of cream, some graham gems, marmalade, oatmeal and
cream, a jelly omelette, a sirloin steak, lyonnaise potatoes, rolls,
and a pot of chocolate. And you might bring me also," he added, "a
plate of griddle cakes and maple syrup."
Every dish on that menu card from end to end we thoroughly discussed,
our ultimate conclusion being that each of us would take a full portion
of everything on the list and might repeat the order.
It was on this evening also that, while calculating the length of time
it would take us to travel from point to point on our back trail, we
began the discussion as to whether it would be better to stick to the
canoe on the "big river" (the Beaver) and follow it down to its mouth,
wherever that might be, or abandon the canoe at the place where we had
portaged into the river from Lake Elson, and make a dash overland with
light packs to the Susan Valley and down that valley to the hunters'
cabins we had seen at the head of Grand Lake, where we hoped we might
find a cache of provisions. Hubbard was strongly in favour of the
latter plan, while George and I favoured the former. As the reader
knows, I had a great dread of the Susan Valley, and expressed my
feelings freely. But we all had the idea that the "big river" emptied
into Goose Bay (the extreme western end of Hamilton Inlet), and Hubbard
reasoned that we might reach the broad waters of the bay far from a
house, be windbound indefinitely and die of starvation on the shore.
On the other hand, we were sure of the route through the Susan Valley,
and, in his opinion, it would be better to bear the ills we had borne
before than fly to others we know not of. I cannot deny that his
argument had weight, but we decided that for the present we should hold
the matter in abeyance. One thing we felt reasonably sure of, and that
was we should get fish in the big river, and we eagerly counted the
days it would take us to reach it.
Bright and cold and crisp was Saturday morning (October 3d), with black
wind-driven clouds and occasional snow squalls later in the day. About
noon, when Hubbard had gone ahead with a pack, George and I sighted two
small black ducks while we were canoeing across a pond. They were
quietly swimming about fifty yards in front of us. I passed my rifle
ahead to George. He carefully knelt in the canoe, and took a
deliberate aim while I held my breath. Then, Crack! went the rifle,
and but one duck rose on the wing. Quick as a flash, without removing
the rifle from his shoulder, George threw the lever forward and back.
Instantly the rifle again spoke, and the bird in the air tumbled over
and over into the water. The first duck had been decapitated; the
other received a bullet through its body.
The moment was intense; for we had only a little fish for breakfast,
and the outlook for other meals had seemed dismal indeed; but George
was stoicism itself; not a word did he utter, nor did a feature of his
face change. When, after picking up the ducks, we touched the shore, I
jumped out, took his hand and said "George, you're a wonder." But he
only grinned in his good-natured way and remarked: "We needed 'em."
Tying the birds' legs together, he slung them over his shoulder, and
proudly we marched to the place where Hubbard was awaiting us, to make
his heart glad with our good fortune. One of the ducks we ate on the
spot, and the other we had for supper at our camp by a little pond
among the moonlit hills.
The thermometer registered only 10 degrees above zero on Sunday morning
(October 4th), but there was not a cloud in the sky, and we should have
enjoyed the crisp, clear air had it not been for the ever-present
spectre of starvation. All the food we had besides the pea meal was
two of the fish Hubbard had caught two days before. One of these we
ate for breakfast, boiled with a little pea meal. Our old trail led us
up during the forenoon to the shore of one of the larger of the small
lakes with which the country abounded. This lake we crossed with
difficulty, being compelled to break the ice ahead of the canoe with
On the opposite shore we stopped to make a fire for tea—that was all
we thought we should have for luncheon; just tea. George stepped into
the timber to get wood, and in a moment returned and asked me for my
"I saw a partridge in there," he said quietly.
Presently Hubbard and I heard the pistol crack, and we counted, at
short intervals, four shots.
"There's something up," said Hubbard, and we started to our feet just
as George came in view with a grin on his face and four spruce-grouse
in his hand. He always did those things in that quiet, matter-of-fact
Two of the birds George cooked immediately, and as he served to each an
equal share, Hubbard said:
"Boys, we should thank the Lord for this food. It has seemed
sometimes, I know, as if He had forgotten us; but He has not. Just now
when we needed food so much He gave us these partridges. Let us thank
So we bowed our heads for a moment, we three gaunt, ragged men, sitting
there by our fire in the open, with the icy lake at our backs and the
dark wilderness of fir trees before us.
During the afternoon we bagged two more grouse. Hubbard shot them as
they fluttered up before him on the trail, and a meal on the morrow was
assured. The day's work practically completed our forty-mile portage;
for we camped at night on the first little lake north of Lake
Disappointment. It was well that we had about reached fairly
continuous water. None of us would have been able to stand much longer
the strain of those rough portages day after day. Fortunate as we had
been in getting game at critical moments since leaving Windbound Lake,
the quantity of food we had eaten was far below that which was
necessary to sustain the strength of men who had to do hard physical
It had become so that when we tried to sit down our legs would give way
and we would tumble down. Hubbard was failing daily. He habitually
staggered when he walked, and on this last day of our long portage he
came near going all to pieces nervously. When he started to tell me
something about his wife's sister, he could not recall her name,
although it had been perfectly familiar, and this and other lapses of
memory appeared to frighten him. For a long time he sat very still
with his face buried in his hands, doubtless striving to rally his
forces. And the most pitiable part of it was his fear that George and
I should notice his weakness and lose courage.
But he rallied—rallied so as again to become the inspirer of George
and me, he who was the weakest physically of the three.