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قراءة كتاب Labrador Days Tales of the Sea Toilers

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‏اللغة: English
Labrador Days
Tales of the Sea Toilers

Labrador Days Tales of the Sea Toilers

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 7

whom nothing would dissuade from pushing ahead. After all, they knew every turn of the trail, every rock and landmark on the hillside; and one need not wonder if the modern spirit of "hustle" finds an echo even in these far-off wilds. Throwing precaution to the winds, the two young men pushed on regardless of signs and omens.

Sally just knew it. Nothing would ever convince him that they did not deserve to get into trouble for not respecting "signs." Even Uncle John had often talked about "t' foolishness o' signs," and many a time Ky, once a humble member of Chief's followers, had laughed at what he called "old women's stuff." But what Sally thought of signs would not have been of any interest in itself. The interesting thing was that though he was in the country hunting, having moved long ago to his winter trapping-grounds, he saw signs enough to make him anxious about the three fathers of families tramping over the bleak hills that day. When snow began to fall with a westerly wind, that was sign number one. Something uncanny was about to happen. Then there was sign number two of bad weather coming, namely, the tingling in his fingers and sometimes "a scattered pain in t' joints." So Sally left his fur-path for the day, hurried back to his tiny home among the trees, and, calling his dogs together, harnessed them quickly and started at once for the winter houses at the bottom of Grey Wolf Bay.

A tenderfoot could have told now that they were "in for weather." The snow by midday was not falling, it was being shovelled down in loads. The temperature had dropped so rapidly that the flakes, as large as goose feathers, were dry and light, a fact that with the increasing wind made the going like travelling through a seething cauldron. Unfortunately the men were already over the crest of the White Hills when they realized that the storm which had swept down on them had come to stay. There was no stemming the gale on the wind-swept ice of those hillsides, even could they have faced the fiercely driving snow. All they could do was to hurry along before it, knowing there would be no shelter for them till they reached Frying-Pan Tickle. For the forest had retired there beyond the hills before the onslaught of man and the carelessness that had caused forest fires.

No one who has not been through it has any conception of the innumerable little accidents which in circumstances like these eat up the stock of chances for coming through. It did seem foolish that Patsy got his mittens wet in salt water coming through the broken ballicater ice as they tried to make the short cut across the Maiden's Arm; and that they froze while he was trying to warm his hands, so that he could not get them on again. It sounds like madness on Ky's part to have let his nor'wester cap get blown away, but it really only fell from his numbed hands while he was knocking the snow off, and was instantly swept away in a flurry of snow in the darkness. When the beam broke in his snow racquet, one of a pair he had absolutely counted on as beyond accident, he could scarcely get ahead at all.

To stop and try to "boil the kettle" would not only have occupied too much time, but under the circumstances making a fire was practically impossible. Neither of the men carried a watch, and the unusual darkness caused by the thick snow made it impossible for them to tell what progress they were making. They supposed that surely between the worst snow "dweys" they would catch sight of some familiar leading mark, but that proved only another of their small but fatal miscalculations. The storm never did let up. More than once they discovered they were out of the track, and, knowing well their danger, had grudgingly to sacrifice time and strength in groping their way back to a spot where they could recognize the trail again.

December days are short, anyhow, "down north" and every moment warned them that the chances of getting out before dark were rapidly diminishing. All the strength and endurance of which they were capable were unstintingly utilized to get ahead; but when night finally overtook them, they knew well that there were several miles to go, while to move ahead meant almost certainly losing the trail, which inevitably spelt death. It was only the winter before that Jake Newman, of Rogers Cove, left his own home after dinner, "just to fetch in a load of wood," and he wasn't found till three days later, buried in snow not two hundred yards from his front door, frozen to death. But if to advance meant death, to stop moving was equally dangerous. So there was nothing to do but keep moving round and round a big rock in hopes of living out the long, terrible night.

Meanwhile Sally was under way. Though he knew that the men were crazy to get back, it was only his surmise that they had started, so he had to call round at the winter cottages in the bay to make sure. He realized full well it was a man's job he was about to undertake, and had no wish to attempt it unnecessarily. As he expected, however, he found that the houses were all shut up, and such tracks as there were on the snow about the trail end showed quite clearly three men's footmarks. "Uncle John's gone with t' others," he muttered to himself. "I 'low 't is t' last journey some of 'em 'll make, unless they minded the signs before too late. 'Tis lucky that I hadn't left old Surefoot at t' tilt; more'n likely I shall be needing he before t' night's out." And he called his one earthly chum and constant companion to him, rubbed his head, and made him nose the men's tracks which he was about to follow.

In spite of his nickname, Sally was no greenhorn on occasions like this. Every harness was carefully gone over, every trace tested; the runners and cross-bars of his komatik all came in for a critical overhauling. The contents of the nonny-bag were amply replenished; the matches in the water-tight bottle were tested for dampness; his small compass was securely lashed to the chain of his belt. His one bottle of spirits, "kept against sickness," was carefully stowed with the tea and hardtack. A bundle of warm wraps, with his axe, and even a few dry splits, completed his equipment. Then once more Surefoot was shown the tracks on the threshold, the trailing loops of the traces were hitched on their respective toggles, the stern line was slipped, and away went his sturdy team into the darkness.

That animals have a sense of direction that man has lost is clearly proven by the seals, birds, polar bears, and our northern migratory animals generally, who every year follow in their season the right trails to their destinations, even though thousands of miles distant and over pathless seas or trackless snows and barrens. That instinct is nowhere more keenly developed than in our draught dogs; and amongst these there are always now and again, as in human relationships, those that are peerless among their fellows. Surefoot's name, like Sally's own, was not strictly his baptismal cognomen, the original name of "Whitefoot" having been relegated to oblivion early in life owing to some clever trail-following the pup had achieved.

Many men would face an aeroplane flight with a sinking sensation. Many would have to acknowledge some qualms on a start with "mere dogs" in a blizzard like this one. But Sally, unemotional as a statue and serene as a judge, knew his pilot too well to worry, and, stretched out full length on the sledge, occupied himself with combating the snow in between "spells" of hauling the komatik out of hopeless snowbanks. "It won't do to pass the Featherbed without making sure them's not there," thought Sally. "If Ky had any