Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lure of the Labrador Wild, excerpt #8

The following excerpt is from Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace. Wallace's account of the failed canoe expedition through the Labrador wilderness that resulted in the death of journalist Leonidas Hubbard was first published in 1905 by Fleming H. Revell, New York. The unabridged audio edition is narrated by Jody Richardson and is available from Rattling Books.

We were up betimes the next morning after a fair night's sleep on the floor. We again served hardtack and coffee to all, and at five o'clock were once more on our way. A thick mantle of mist obscured the shore, and Hubbard offered Steve a chart and compass. "Ain't got no learnin', sir; I can't read, sir," said the young livyere. So Hubbard directed the course in the mist while Steve steered. Later in the day the wind freshened and blew the mist away, and at length developed into a gale. Finally the sea rose so high that Steve thought it well to seek the protection of a harbour, and we landed in a sheltered cove on one of the numerous islands that strew Hamilton Inlet, where we then were--Big Black Island, it is called.

George had arisen that morning with a lame back, and when we reached the island he could scarcely move. The place was so barren of timber we could not find a stick long enough to act as a centre pole for our tent, and it was useless to try to pitch it. However, the moss, being thick and soft, made a comfortable bed, and after we had put a mustard plaster on George's back to relieve his lumbago, we rolled him in two of our blankets under the lee of a bush and let him sleep. Then, as evening came on, Hubbard and I started for a stroll along the shore. The sun was still high in the heavens, and the temperature mildly cool.

A walk of a mile or so brought us to the cabin of one Joe Lloyd, a livyere. Lloyd proved to be an intelligent old Englishman who had gone to Labrador as a sailor lad on a fishing schooner to serve a three-years' apprenticeship. He did not go home with his ship, and year after year postponed his return, until at last he married an Eskimo and bound himself fast to the cold rocks of Labrador, where he will spend the remainder of his life, eking out a miserable existence, a lonely exile from his native England.

After he had greeted us, Lloyd asked: "Is all the world at peace, sir?" He had heard of the Boer war, and was pleased when we told him that it had ended in a victory for the British arms. His
hunger for news touched us deeply, and we told him all that we could recall of recent affairs of public interest. I have said that his hunger for news touched us. As a matter of fact, few things have impressed me as being more pathetic than that old man's life up there on that isolated and desolate island, where he spends most of his time wistfully longing to hear something of the great world, and painfully recalling the pleasant memories of his childhood's home and friends, and the green fields and spring blossoms he never will know again. And Lloyd's story is the story of perhaps the majority of the settlers on The Labrador.

The old man had a fresh-caught salmon, and we bought it from him. We then sat for a few minutes in his cabin. This was a miserable affair, not exceeding eight by ten feet, and, like Steve's home, so low we could not stand erect in it. The floor was paved with large, flat stones, and the only vent for the smoke from the wretched fireplace was a hole in the roof. Midway between the fire and the hole hung a trout drying. In this room Lloyd and his Eskimo wife live out their life. During our visit the wife sat there without uttering a word. Her silence was characteristic; for, somewhat unlike our women, the women of Labrador talk but little.

When we had bidden Lloyd farewell, we carried the salmon we had obtained from him back to camp, where Hubbard tried to plank it on a bit of wreckage picked up on the shore. It fell into the fire, and there was great excitement until, by our united efforts, we had rescued it, and had seen part of it safely reposing in the frying pan, while Steve set to work boiling the remainder in our kettle with slices of bacon. As the gale continued to blow, it was decided that we should remain in camp until early morning. Hubbard directed Steve to pull the boat around to a place where it would be near the water at low tide. He and I then threw down the tent, lay on it, pulled a blanket over us and prepared for sleep. It was about eleven o'clock, and darkness was just beginning to fall. Out in the bay a whale was blowing, and in the distance big gulls were
screaming. It was our first night out in the open in Labrador, and all was new and entrancing; and as slumber gradually enwrapped us, it seemed to us that we had fallen upon pleasant times.

At one o'clock (Friday morning) we awoke. By the light of the brilliant moon we made coffee, called George and Steve and ate our breakfast of cold salmon and hardtack. George's lumbago was very bad, and he was unable to do any work. The rest of us portaged the outfit two hundred yards to the boat, which, owing to Steve's miscalculations as to the tide, we found high and dry on the rocks. Working in the shallow water, with a cloud of mosquitoes around our heads, it took us until 4.30 o'clock to launch her, by which time daylight long since had returned.

Once more afloat, we found that the wind had entirely died away, and Steve's sculling pushed the boat along but slowly. Grampuses raised their big backs everywhere, and seals, upon which they prey, were numerous. The water was alive with schools of caplin. At eleven o'clock we made Pompey Island, a mossy island of Laurentian rock about thirty-five miles from Indian Harbour. Here we stopped for luncheon, and after much looking around, succeeded in finding enough sticks to build a little fire. I made flapjacks, and Hubbard melted sugar for syrup.

While we were eating, I discovered in the far distance the smoke of a steamer. We supposed it to be the Julia Sheridan. Rushing our things into the boat, we put off as quickly as possible to intercept her. We fired three or four shots from our rifle, but got only a salute in recognition. Then Hubbard and I scramble into the canoe, which we had in tow, and began to paddle with might and main to head her off. As we neared her, we fired again. At that she came about--it was the Virginia Lake. They took us on board, bag, baggage, and canoe, and Steve was dismissed.

To be continued.