A week or so later I fell in with half a dozen boisterous lads driving their sledges home laden with new wood. It proclaimed to the harbour that the rumour of Joe's big bulk of timber being ready so early had not been exaggerated. It was only then that I learned that he had in addition quickly got his floors down before the ground froze, so that he might finish building before the winter set in.
Many hands make light work and every one was Joe's friend, so by the end of December the new house had not only been sheathed in, but roofed and floored, ready for occupation.
In our scattered communities, isolated not only from one another, but also largely from the world outside, the simple incidents of everyday life afford just as much interest as the more artificial attractions of civilization. Every one on our coast in winter has to have a dog team, no matter how poor he is, in order to haul home his firewood. In summer there is no time and there are no roads, while in winter the snow makes the whole land one broad highway. There is no better fun than a "randy" over the snow on a light komatik. At this time even our older people go on "joy rides," visiting along the coast. Many a moonlight night, after the day's work is over, when the reflection from the snow makes it almost as light as day, an unexpected but welcome visitor comes knocking at one's door, asking for a shake-down just for the night.
Thus Joe's secret was soon common property. His own enthusiasm, however, engendered a reflection of itself in other people, and almost before he had the cottage sheathed inside, and really "ready for launching," from here and there every one had come in, bringing at any rate the necessities to make it possible to put out to sea on the new voyage. Accordingly I was not surprised one evening a little later when a low knock at my door, followed by a summons to come in, revealed Joe standing somewhat sheepishly, cap in hand, in the entrance. Once the subject was broached, however, the matter was soon arranged, Joe having a direct way about him which ignored difficulties, and I, being a Justice of the Peace, was soon pledged to act as parson at the function.
Everything went well. We struck glorious weather for the day of the wedding. Little deputations streamed in from other villages; gay flags and banners, though some of fearsome home-devised patterns, made a brave contrast to the white mantle of snow; while we supplemented the usual salvo of guns from portentous and historic fowling-pieces with a halo of distress rockets, which we burned from our hospital boat, which was lying frozen in our harbour.
The excitement of the affair, like all other things human, soon passed away, and the ordinary routine of the wood-path, the fur-path, and seal-hunting, the saw-pit, the net-loft, and boat-building, turned our attention to our own affairs once more. The new venture was soon an old one, only we were glad to see, as we passed along the road, a fresh column of blue smoke rising, and speaking of another centre of life and activity in our village.
Once more, as the sun crept north of the line, the ice bonds of our harbour began to melt. Once more the mighty ocean outside, freed from the restraint of the Arctic floe, generously sent surging into the landwash the very power we needed, and on which we depend, to break up and carry out the heavy ice accumulation of the winter, which must otherwise bar us altogether from the prosecution of our calling.
My own vessel had been scraped and repainted. Her spars bright with new varnish, her funnel gay with our blue bunting flag contrasting with the yellow, she had come to the wharf for the last time before leaving for the long summer cruise among the Labrador fishing fleet. Indeed, I was just working over the ship's course in my chart-room, when once more Joe, cap in hand, stood in the doorway—evidently with something very much on his mind.
"What is it, Joe? Come in and shut the door and sit down. You are only just in time, for I was going to ring for steam as you came along."
"Well, Doctor," he said, "'tis this way. I's only got hook and line to fish with as you knows; and that don't give a fellow a chance of putting anything by, no matter how well he does. There's no knowing now but what I may need more still. It isn't like when a man was alone in the world. I was aboard Captain Jackson of the Water Lily, what come in last night, and he says that he'd take me to the Labrador fishing, and give me a share in his cod trap, being as he is short of a hand. Well, 'tis a fine chance, Doctor. But Nancy won't hear of my going without her going too. She says that she is well able to do it, and well acquainted with schooners—and that's true, as you knows; but I'm afraid to take her as she is. Still, 'tis a good chance, and I didn't like to let it go, so I just come to ask what your mind is about it."
I had seen Nancy on my farewell round of the cottages, and although I should have preferred almost any other occupation for her, yet, taking into consideration the habits and customs of the people, and that to her the venture was in no way a new one, I advised him to accept the skipper's offer, and take Nancy along with him, if they could get decent accommodation. I received his assurance that he would keep a lookout for the hospital boat. With most sincere protestations of gratitude he bade me farewell, and when a few minutes later we steamed past his little house on our way out to sea, he was all ready with his long gun to fire us good-bye salutes, which we answered and re-answered with our steam whistle.
All summer long we were cruising off the northern Labrador coast, now running into the fjords to visit the scattered settlers, now on the outside among the many fishing craft which were plying their calling on the banks that fringe the islands and outermost points of land. Fishermen from hundreds of vessels visited us for sickness, for books, for a thousand different reasons; but never a sight of the Water Lily did we see, and never a word did we hear of either Joe or Nancy the whole season through. True, in the number of other claims on our attention, it was not often that their fortunes came to one's mind. But now and again we asked about the schooner, and always got the same negative reply, "Reckon she 've got a load and gone south." This was a view which we were only too glad to adopt, as it meant the best possible luck for our friends.
Now November had come round once more. The main fleet of vessels had long ago passed south. It was so long since we had seen even one of the belated craft which "bring up the heel of the Labrador" that we had closed up the summer stations, and were paying our last visits to our colleagues at the southern hospital, who were to remain through the winter.
It was therefore no small surprise when Jake Low, from the village, who had been up spying from the lookout on the hill, came into the hospital and announced that a large schooner with a flag flying in her rigging was beating up to the harbour mouth from sea. "She's making good ground and is well fished," he added. "What's more, I guess from t' course she's shaping they know the way in all right. So it must be a doctor they wants, and not a pilot at this time of year."
The news proved interesting enough to lure us up to the hilltop with the telescope, where in a short while we were enjoying the wonderful spectacle of watching a crew of the vikings of our day force their way through a winding narrow passage in a large vessel against a heavy winter head wind.
The tide, too, was running out against her, and now and then a flaw of