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Lure of the Labrador Wild, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap22"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> XII. A STRANGE FUNERAL PROCESSION </H3> <P> The young medical student was George Albert Hardy, of Prince Edward Island. Everybody called him "Doctor," and for all practical purposes he was a regular physician and surgeon; for if he had been able to do two or three months' more hospital work he would have received his degree. The reason he had hastily abandoned his studies and sought professional service with the lumber company that maintains camps at the western end of the Hamilton Inlet was that he had fallen a victim to consumption. He arrived at Northwest River Post on November 8th on a small schooner that brought supplies from Rigolet for Mackenzie and the Muddy Lake lumber camp at the mouth of the Grand River. </P> <P> The schooner remained only an hour at Northwest River, and Dr. Hardy had to continue on to Muddy Lake with her, but he found time to operate on my left foot, which was badly affected, and advise me how to continue its treatment myself. The doctor said that the mail boat, the Virginia Lake, which had carried him to Rigolet, would return there within three weeks for her last trip to Newfoundland of the season, and he urged me to take advantage of that opportunity to go home, and get proper treatment for my feet. The temptation was great, but I felt it was my duty not to leave Labrador without Hubbard's body. </P> <P> It was my plan to engage dog teams and start with the body for the coast so soon as it could be brought to the post. Everybody agreed that it could not be recovered before January, and Mackenzie argued strongly against the practicability of transporting it with dogs, suggesting that we place it in the old post mission chapel until navigation opened in the spring, when it could be sent home on the mail steamer. But I knew I must get home as soon as possible, and my mind was made up to take the body with me, if I had to haul it all the way to Quebec. </P> <P> The great toe on my left foot growing steadily worse, it became necessary for me again to see the doctor. Groswater Bay and Goose Bay by this time were frozen solid, and on December 4th I travelled to Muddy Lake, where Dr. Hardy was stationed, by dog team and komatik, Willie Ikey, an Eskimo employed by Monsieur Duclos, the manager of the French trading post across the Northwest River, acting as my driver. Upon my arrival I was cordially welcomed by Mr. Sidney Cruikshanks, the lumber "boss"; Mr. James McLean, the storekeeper, and Dr. Hardy. It was arranged that I should stop and sleep with the doctor at McLean's house. The doctor did some more cutting, and under his careful treatment my foot so improved that it was thought I could with safety return to the post on December 15th, to prepare letters and telegrams for the winter mail, which was scheduled to leave there by dog team for Quebec on the 18th. It was the 20th before the mail got away, and with it went the first news of Hubbard's death to reach his relatives and friends. </P> <P> My dispatches, forwarded from Chateau Bay, the outpost of the Canadian coast telegraph service, were received in New York on January 22d, the letters two months later. </P> <P> Immediately upon my return to Northwest River, my feet began to trouble me again. Word was sent to Dr. Hardy, who, regarding it as a call of duty, arrived on December 31st. I very much regret to say, that in responding to the call, Dr. Hardy received a chill that hastened, if it did not cause, his death. After examining my feet upon his arrival, he advised me to return with him to Muddy Lake. So it was arranged that George, with Mackenzie's dogs and komatik, should drive Dr. Hardy and me to the Kenemish lumber camp, twelve miles across Groswater Bay, where there was a patient that required attention, and that from there Hardy and I should go on to Muddy Lake with other dogs. Alas! the doctor never saw Muddy Lake again. </P> <P> Before starting, I learned from Allen Goudie and Duncan MacLean, who came from the interior to spend New Year's Day, that Grand Lake was frozen hard and an attempt might be made to bring out Hubbard's body. Accordingly, I engaged Duncan MacLean and Tom Blake, also a breed, to undertake the task with George, and to recover, so far as possible, the photographic films and other articles we had abandoned at Goose Camp and Lake Elson. Blake was the father of Mackenzie's housekeeper, and lived at the rapid at the eastern end of Grand Lake. As he had, at the request of friends, frequently prepared bodies for burial, it was arranged that he should head the expedition, while George acted as guide, and the agreement was that, weather permitting, the party should start inland on January 6th. A coffin, made by the carpenter at Kenemish was all ready to receive the body when it should arrive at the post. </P> <P> George was to have driven Dr. Hardy and me to Kenemish on January 3d, but as there was a stiff wind blowing and the thermometer registered 40 degrees below zero, we postponed our departure until the following day. The morning was clear, and the temperature was 34 below. The dogs, with a great howling and jumping, had hardly settled down to the slow trot which with only fair travelling is their habitual gait, when we observed that the sky was clouding, and in an incredibly short time the first snowflakes of the gathering storm began to fall. Soon the snow was so thick that it shut us in as with a curtain, and eventually even old Aillik, our leader, was lost to view. </P> <P> "Bear well t' th' east'ard, an' keep free o' th' bad ice; the's sure t' be bad ice handy t' th' Kenemish," had been Mark Blake's parting injunction. So George kept well to the eastward as, hour after hour, we forged our way on through the bending, drifting snow. At length we came upon land, but what land we did not know. The storm had abated by this time, and a fresh komatik track was visible, which we proceeded to follow. On all sides of us ice was piled in heaps as high as a house. We had been travelling altogether about six hours, and the storm had ceased, when we came upon a tilt on the shore of a deep bay, and, close by it, a man making passes with a stick at a large wolf, which, apparently emboldened by hunger, was jumping and snarling about waiting for a chance to spring in upon him. </P> <P> The noise of our approaching komatik caused the wolf to slink off, and then the man hurried to the tilt, reappeared with a rifle and shot the beast as it still prowled among the ice hills. He proved to be Uriah White, a trapper. Not at all excited by his adventure, he welcomed us to his tilt. In throwing off his mittens to fire his rifle at the wolf, he had exposed his naked hands to the bitter cold, and they had been frost-bitten. While thawing out his hands at a safe distance from the stove, he informed us that he had been "handy 'nuf to he [meaning the wolf] to see that he were a she." </P> <P> The condition of my feet had not permitted me to leave the komatik during our long journey, and I suffered severely from the cold. George and, alas! Hardy, were also thoroughly chilled, though they had occasionally exercised themselves by running behind. Uriah prepared for us some hot tea and hardtack, and gave us our bearings. We were about four miles east of Kenemish, and an hour later we arrived there. </P> <P> The lumber camp at the mouth of the Kenemish River is composed of a saw mill, a storehouse in which also live the native helpers, a cookhouse, a part of which is given over to lodgings for the Nova Scotian lumbermen, and a log stable for the horses that do the general work about the camp and in the woods. Hugh Dunbar, the engineer, extended a warm welcome to the doctor and me, and his wife, who did the camp cooking, made us comfortable in the cookhouse. I was destined to remain at the camp for many weeks, and I cannot help testifying to the gratitude I feel to those lumber folk, especially Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar, Wells Bently, the storekeeper; Tom Fig, the machinist, and Archie McKennan, Leigh Stanton and James Greenan. </P> <P> The chill he had received during the trip from Northwest River so affected Dr. Hardy that he was unable to proceed to Muddy Lake. Two days after our arrival he had a severe hemorrhage, and the following day another. They forced him to take to his bed, and thereafter he rose only occasionally for half an hour's rest in a chair. He was a deeply religious nature, and, realising that he was doomed, he awaited the slow approach of death with calm resignation. </P> <P> And my feet steadily grew worse. Three days after our arrival at Kenemish I could not touch them to the floor. The doctor and I lay on couches side by side. I could not even bear the weight of the bed-clothes on my feet, and Dunbar built a rack from the hoops of an old flour barrel to protect them. Under the doctor's direction, Mrs. Dunbar every day removed the bandages from my feet, cleansed them with carbolic acid water and rebandaged them. Dunbar and the other men carried me in their arms when it was necessary for me to be taken from my couch. My temperature ran up until it reached 103 1/2. The doctor then said there was only one way to save my life&mdash;to cut off my legs. </P> <P> "And," he added, "I'm the only one here that knows how to do it, and I'm too weak to undertake it. So were both going to die, Wallace. There's nothing to fear in that, though, if you trust in God." </P> <P> The doctor was an accomplished player of the violin, but he had left his own instrument at Muddy Lake, and the only one he could obtain at Kenemish was a miserable affair that gave him little satisfaction. So while he lay dying by the side of his patient who he thought was also dying, he, for the most part, gratified his love of music and sought to comfort us both by softly singing in his sympathetic tenor voice the grand old hymns of the church. "Lead Kindly Light" and "Nearer My God to Thee" were his favourites, and every syllable was enunciated clearly and distinctly. </P> <P> But he was mistaken in thinking that I, too, was to die. Soon there was an improvement noticeable in the condition of both of my feet, and gradually they grew better. </P> <P> "It's truly a miracle that the Lord is working," said the doctor. "You were beyond human aid. I've prayed from the bottom of my heart that you'd get well. I've prayed a dozen times a day, and now the prayer is answered. It's the only one of my prayers," he added sadly, "that has been answered since I have been in Labrador." </P> <P> During January and February the cold was terrific. The spirit thermometer at the camp was scaled down to 64 degrees below zero, and on several days the spirit disappeared below the scale mark before 8 o'clock in the evening. For a week the temperature never, even at midday, rose above 40 below. The old natives of the bay said there never had been such a winter before. Not a man in the camp escaped without a frozen nose and the cheeks and chins of all of them were black from being nipped by the frost. Bently declared that he froze his nose in bed, and Mrs. Bently bore witness to the truth of the statement. But Bently's nose was frosted on an average of once a day. </P> <P> Nearly all of this time I lay at the lumber camp worrying about Hubbard's body. One day late in January, when I had been hoping that the body had been safely brought out, Mackenzie and George arrived from Northwest River with the news that the storms had been so continuous it had not been deemed wise to attempt the journey inland. I wished to be removed at once to the post, thinking that my presence there might hasten matters, but Dr. Hardy said there would be no use of having two dead men, and I was forced to be content with promises that the expedition would get under way as soon as possible. </P> <P> Early in February the doctor said I might try my feet on the floor. The result was the discovery that my knees would not bear me, and that I should have to learn to walk all over again. Recovering the use of my legs was a tedious job, and it was not until February 29th that I was able to return to Northwest River. After leaving Kenemish I never saw the unfortunate young doctor again; for he died on March 22d. </P> <P> Back at Northwest River, I was able to stir things up a bit, and bright and early on Tuesday morning, March 8th, George, Tom Blake, and Duncan MacLean, composing the expedition that was to recover Hubbard's body, at last left the post, prepared for their difficult journey into the interior. I regretted much that my physical condition made it impossible for me to accompany them. Their provisions were packed on an Indian flat sled or toboggan, and their tent and other camp equipment on a sled with broad flat runners that I had obtained especially for the transportation of the body from some Indians that visited the post. At the rapid they were to get Tom Blake's dogs to haul their loads to Donald Blake's at the other end of Grand Lake. After that, the hauling was all to be done by hand, as it is quite impossible to use dogs in cross-country travelling in Labrador. </P> <P> In the course of the afternoon snow squalls developed, and all day Wednesday and Thursday the snow fell heavily. I knew the storm would interfere with the progress of the men, but I hoped they had succeeded in reaching Donald's, and were at that point holding themselves in readiness to proceed. What was my disappointment, then, when towards noon on Sunday Douglas and Henry Blake, Tom's two young sons, came to the post to announce that their father was at home! He had made a start up Grand Lake, they said, but the storms had not permitted the party to advance any farther than the Cape Corbeau tilt. </P> <P> Douglas had accompanied the men to Cape Corbeau, which point it had taken an entire day to reach, as the dogs, even with the men on their snowshoes tramping a path ahead, sank so deeply in the snow that they could hardly flounder along, to say nothing of hauling a load. It was evident, therefore, that the dogs would retard rather than accelerate the progress of the party on Grand Lake, and when the Cape Corbeau tilt was reached on Tuesday night it was decided that Douglas should take them back to the rapid. On Wednesday morning the storm was raging so fiercely that it was considered unsafe to go ahead for the present. George, moreover, complained of a lame ankle, and said he required a rest. So Tom came to the conclusion that if he remained at the tilt he would be eating the "stock of grub" to no purpose, and when Douglas turned homeward with the dogs he went with him. George and Duncan were to stay at the tilt until the travelling became better, Douglas said, and then push on to Donald's and wait for Tom there. </P> <P> Douglas's story made it plain that the weather conditions on Grand Lake had been fierce enough to appal any man, but as there had been no snow since Friday night I could not understand what Tom was doing at the rapid on Sunday, and with Mackenzie's consent I had Mark immediately harness the post dogs and drive me up to his house. I arrived there considerably incensed by his inactivity, but I must say that his explanation was adequate. He asked me if I had been able to see anything of Grand Lake, and made me realise what it meant to be out there with a high west wind of Arctic bitterness drifting the snow in great clouds down its thirty-seven miles of unbroken expanse. There was no doubt that the men had done the best they could, and after instructing Tom that, if more provisions were needed, to obtain them at Donald's at my expense, and receiving from him an assurance that he would again start for Hubbard's body as soon as the weather would permit, I returned, mollified, to the post. </P> <P> It was on this day (Sunday, March 13th) that I received my first news from home and the outside world, Monsieur Duclos, who had been on a trip north, bringing me two telegrams from New York. They conveyed to me the comforting assurance that all was well at home, being replies to the dispatches I had sent in December. Received at Chateau Bay, they had been forwarded to me three hundred and fifty miles by dog teams and snowshoe travellers. </P> <P> Tom Blake started on Monday morning, the 14th, and Tuesday at noon joined George and Duncan at Donald's. On Wednesday the three men began their march up the Susan. The weather continuing fair, they made good progress and had no difficulty in finding the site of our last camp. Hubbard's body, with the tent lying flat on top of it, was under eight feet of snow. Near the spot a wolverine had been prowling, but the body was too deeply buried for any animal to scent it, and in its quiet resting place it lay undisturbed. It was fortunate that it had not been placed on a stage, as I had suggested; for in that event it would undoubtedly have been destroyed. </P> <P> Continuing on inland, the men recovered the photographic films, the sextant, my fishing rod, and other odds and ends we had dropped on the trail as far back as Lake Elson. Tom and Duncan praised George unstintingly for the unvarying accuracy with which he located the things. With the country and smaller trees buried under a great depth of snow, and no landmarks to guide him, George would lead the other men on, and, with no searching about or hesitancy, stop and say, "We'll dig here." And not once did his remarkable instinct play him false. </P> <P> "'Tis sure wonderful," said Tom, in telling me about it. "I ne'er could ha' done it, an' no man on Th' Labrador could ha' done it, sir. Not even th' Mountaineers could ha' done it." And Duncan seconded Tom's opinion. </P> <P> On Sunday, March 27th, I was sitting in the cosey post house wondering where George and the others were, when suddenly George appeared from out the snow that the howling gale was whirling about. My long suspense was ended. The body had been recovered in good condition, George said. Wrapped in the blankets that Hubbard had round him when died&mdash;the blankets he had so gaily presented me with that June morning on the Silvia&mdash;and our old tarpaulin, which George had recovered farther back on the trail, it had been dragged on the Indian sled forty miles down over the sleeping Susan River, and thence out over Grand Lake to the Cape Corbeau tilt, where the men had been compelled to leave it the day before owing to the heavy snowstorm that then prevailed. From the tilt the men had gone on to Tom's house at the rapid to spend the night, and George had now come down to the post to relieve my mind with the news that the body was safe. </P> <P> It was arranged that the next morning George and Duncan should take the post dogs and komatik, drive up to Cape Corbeau and bring the body down. The morning was calm and fine, and they started early. It was a strange funeral procession that returned. The sun was setting when, on their way back, with the body lashed to the komatik, they passed over the rapid where Hubbard that beautiful July morning had sprung vigorously into the water to track the canoe into Grand Lake. How full of hope and pleasurable anticipation he had been when we paddled through the Little Lake! Over the snow and ice that now hid the lake the seven dogs that were hauling his corpse strained and tugged, ever and anon breaking into a trot as George and Duncan, running on their snowshoes on either side of the komatik, urged them forward with Eskimo exclamations or cracked their long whip over a laggard. No need to urge any one of them on, however, when they came in sight of the post. Darkness was falling. Knowing that their daily meal was near at hand, the dogs broke into a run, and with much howling and jumping swung around the point and up to the buildings. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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