XXI. FROM OUT THE WILD
Donald and Allen returned at once to the log house on Grand Lake,
leaving with the boys and me their tent and tent-stove. Donald also
gave me a pair of high sealskin boots with large, soft moccasin
bottoms. It was their expectation that we should remain in camp until
they got back with other things to aid my journey out; but, although I
was still very ill, and the heated tent was comfortable, I found
waiting irksome, and at daylight the next morning (Sunday, November
1st) the boys and I pulled up stakes. To protect my hands during the
journey I made a pair of mittens from a piece of blanket duffel that
had been brought back from the tent where Hubbard was.
A pretty good path had been trodden in the snow by the trips of my
rescuers up and down the valley, and following along it, with Duncan
and Gilbert on their snowshoes ahead of me packing it down still
further, I did not sink very deeply; nevertheless, such was the
condition of my feet that every step I took was painful. As the boys
carried all that was to be carried, I managed, however, to walk about
ten miles during the day. We camped at a place where the four trappers
on their journey in had cached a fat porcupine. For supper I ate a bit
of the meat and drank some of the broth, and found it very nourishing.
On the following day we met Donald and Allen as they were returning to
aid us. Allen brought with him a pair of trousers to cover my
half-naked legs. At sunset we reached the rowboat, which had been left
near the mouth of the Susan, and as we approached Donald's log-house
something more than an hour later a rifle was fired as a signal that we
were coming. When we landed, George was there on the starlit shore to
welcome us. I hardly knew him. His hair had been cut, he had shaved
off his ragged beard, and he was dressed in clean clothing that Donald
had lent him. He, of course, had heard of Hubbard's death from Donald
and Allen, and when he clasped my hand in a firm grip to help me from
the boat, he said:
"Well, Wallace, Hubbard's gone."
"Yes," I said, "Hubbard's gone."
He was good enough to say he was glad I had escaped, and then in
silence we followed the trail up to the house the first human
habitation I had seen for months. There was only one room in the
house, and there all of us, men and women alike, slept as well as ate;
but it was scrupulously clean—the floor, table, chests and benches had
been scoured until they shone and to me it seemed luxurious. The
family did everything for me that was within their power. Donald gave
me fresh underclothes, and his wife made me drink some tea and eat some
rice and grouse soup before I lay down on the bed of skins and blankets
they had prepared for me on the floor by the stove.
My two-days' walk had completely exhausted me, and I had a severe
attack of colic and nausea. George then told me of his sufferings.
Mrs. Blake, it appeared, had baked a batch of appetising buns, and
George, not profiting by his experience after his indiscretion on the
night of his arrival, had partaken thereof with great liberality, the
result being such as to induce the reflection, "Have I escaped drownin'
and starvin' only to die of over-feedin'?"
The women of the household slept in bunks fastened to the wall, and
while they prepared themselves for their night's rest the lamps were
turned low and we men discreetly turned our backs. Just before this
incident we had family worship, which consisted of readings from the
Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in accordance with the
usual custom of the household. Donald, our host, professed not to be a
religious man, but never a day passed that he did not offer thanks to
his Maker, he regularly subscribed one-tenth of his income to the
support of the Methodist Mission, he would not kill a deer or any other
animal on Sunday if it came right up to his door, his whole life and
his thoughts were decent and clean, and he was ever ready to abandon
his work and go to the rescue of those who needed help. It may be
thought strange that he should observe the forms of the Anglican Church
in his family worship and subscribe to the Methodist Mission. The
explanation is, that denominations cut absolutely no figure in
Labrador; to those simple-hearted people, whose blood, for the most
part, is such a queer mixture of Scotch, Eskimo, and Indian, there is
only one church—the Church of Jesus Christ,—and whenever a Christian
missionary comes along they will flock from miles with the same
readiness to hear him whatever division of the Church may claim his
So accustomed had I become to living in the open that I soon found the
atmosphere of the closed room unendurable, and several times during the
night I had to go out to breathe. I was down on the shore of Grand
Lake for a breath of the crisp winter air when the sun rose. It was
glorious. Not a cloud was there in all the deep blue vault of the
heavens, and, as the sunbeams peeked over Cape Corbeau, the lake was
set a-shimmering and the snow on the surrounding hills radiated tiny
shafts of fire. It was to me as if the sun were rising on a new world
and a new life. Our hardships and their culminating tragedy seemed to
belong to a dim and distant past. What a beautiful world it was after
all! and how I thanked God that I lived!
Allen Goudie had offered George and me the use of his sailboat in
returning to Northwest River Post, and it was agreed that he and Duncan
should row us over to his tilt on the Nascaupee. So after breakfast
George and I said good-bye to Donald and the rest of his household, and
three hours later were welcomed by Allen's wife. Again we received
every attention that kindly hearts could suggest. We remained at
Allen's two days while he and Duncan made a pair of oars and fitted up
the sailboat for our trip to the post. With the soap and warm water
and bandages provided by Mrs. Goudie I was able to dress my feet. One
foot especially had been affected, and from it I cut with a jack knife
much gangrenescent flesh.
It was on Thursday morning, November 5th, that George and I, warmly
dressed in Donald's and Allen's clothes, set sail in a snowstorm for
the post through the thin ice that was forming in the river. Upon
reaching Grand Lake we found the wind adverse and the snow so thick we
could not see our course, but after we had hovered about a fire on the
shore until well into the afternoon, the wind shifted to the west and
the storm abated, enabling us to proceed a little farther on our
journey, or until signs of approaching night compelled us to take
refuge in a trapper's tilt near Cape Blanc on the southern shore. This
was the tilt that George, in his struggle out, had supposed he would
have to reach to get help. It was about six by seven feet, and as it
contained a tent-stove we were able to make ourselves comfortable for
the night after our supper of tea and bread and butter and molasses
thoughtfully provided by Mrs. Goudie.
The next morning was clear and beautiful, and although there was
scarcely wind enough to fill the single sail of our little craft, we
made an early start. Towards noon the wind freshened and soon was
blowing furiously. The seas ran high, but George and I had become so
used to rough weather and had faced danger so often that we ran right
on in front of the gale, I at the tiller, and he handling the sail rope
and bailing the water out when occasionally we shipped a sea. The rate
at which we travelled quickly brought us to the rapid at the eastern
end of the lake, and through this we shot down into the Little Lake,
and thence through the strait known as the Northwest River out into
Groswater Bay. It was about 3.30 o'clock in the afternoon when,
turning sharply in below the post wharf, we surprised Mackenzie, the
agent, and Mark Blake, the company's servant, in the act of sawing wood
close down by the shore.
That they were astonished by the sudden appearance of the boat with its
strange-looking occupants, was evident. They dropped their crosscut
saw, and stood staring. In a moment, however, Mackenzie recognised
George, who, having had a hair cut and a shave, looked something like
his old self, and came to the conclusion that the other occupant of the
boat must be I. He came quickly forward, and, grasping my hand as I
stepped from the boat, asked abruptly:
"Dead," I said. "Dead of starvation eighty miles from here."
Mark Blake, a breed but not related to Donald, took charge of George,
and as Mackenzie and I walked to the post house, I gave him a brief
account of Hubbard's death and my rescue. He had been warmly attracted
to Hubbard, and his big heart was touched. I saw him hastily brush
away a tear. Taking me into the kitchen, he instructed his little
housekeeper, Lillie Blake, Mark's niece, to give me a cup of cocoa and
some soda biscuit and butter, while he made a fire in the dining-room
stove. Lillie cried all the time she was preparing my lunch.
"I feels so sorry for you, sir," she said. "An' 'tis dreadful th' poor
man's starvin', an' he were such a pretty man. In th' summer I says,
before you went t' th' bush, sir, he's sure a pretty man. 'Tis
wonderful sad, 'tis wonderful sad t' have he die so."
Oh, that pleasant kitchen, with the floor and all the woodwork scrubbed
white and the rows of shining utensils on the shelves! And the comfort
of the great wood-burning stove roaring out a tune to us on that frosty
winter evening! As I sat there sipping the deliciously rich cocoa,
Mackenzie joined me, and while Lillie cooked the dinner I must tell him
over and over again my story. And in spite of herself the
tender-hearted little housekeeper would cry and cry.
The dinner, which consisted of grouse, potatoes, marmalade, bread, and
tea, was served in the dining room, which was also the living room.
Mackenzie sat at the head of the table, I at the foot, and on a lounge
to one side sat Atikamish, a small Mountaineer Indian hunting dog,
gravely alert for the bones his master would occasionally toss to him.
Atikamish had very good table manners. He caught the bones neatly and
deftly, and he invariably chewed them up without leaving his seat or
changing his position. My appetite was returning, and I ate well; but
it was fully two weeks before I could eat without experiencing distress
later. When that blessed time arrived, I never could get enough;
Lillie was always pressing me to eat, and for a time I had at least six
meals a day.
After dinner Mackenzie got Mark Blake to cut my hair and shave off my
beard. Then he took me to my room upstairs, where a stove was
crackling out a welcome and a big tub of warm water had been prepared
for me. After my bath, he again came up to rub my legs, which were
much swollen from frostbite, and to dress my foot with salve. In a
suit of Mackenzie's flannel pajamas I then went to my soft bed, and lay
snug and warm under the blankets. It was the first real bed I had lain
in for nearly four months, and oh, the luxury of it!
It is impossible for me to express the gratitude I feel towards those
good friends. They nursed me with the tenderest care. Mackenzie's big
Scotch heart and the woman's sympathetic instinct of the little
housekeeper anticipated my every want, and he and she never could seem
to satisfy themselves with doing things for my comfort. When I left
the post with Hubbard I weighed 170 pounds; a week after my return I
weighed ninety-five. But with the care they took of me my general
health was soon restored, and I rapidly put on flesh.
My difficulties, however, were not yet ended. Hubbard's body was still
to be recovered from the wild and repatriated, and during the long
months that ensued before it could be reached I lived in constant dread
lest it should be destroyed by animals, until at length the dread
amounted almost to an obsession. Moreover, the gangrene in my foot
became worse, and if it had not been for the opportune arrival in that
dreary land of an unfortunate young medical student, it in all
likelihood would have killed me.