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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: 8

wits about him, he'd never try the Hanging Marshes a night like this." So when at last the team actually divided round the leading mark-pole, Surefoot having rubbed his side on it, so straight had he travelled even in that inferno, Sally leaped off immediately, and, following the line of poles, was cheered to see sparks issuing from the snug tilt among the trees. But alas, there was only one man, old Uncle John, resting there safely when Sally came tumbling in. The cheerful wood fire, the contrast of the warmth and quiet with the howling and darkness of the storm outside, called loudly to every physical faculty to stay for the night.

"Where be them gone?" queried Sally as soon as the old man had roused himself enough to understand the sudden interruption. "Where's Ky and Patsy? I thought you was all together by t' tracks."

"So we was, so we was, boy. But them's gone on, while I thought I'd bide till daylight."

The loud wail of the dogs in chorus, as they chafed at being left out of sight or knowledge of their master's whereabouts, was plainly audible to both men, and suggested the cruel bleakness of the night outside.

"Youse isn't going on to look for 'em, is you? There be no chance of doing nothing a night like this," added the old man.

But Sally was in another world. He could see the two men adrift and trying to keep life in themselves on the White Hills just as plainly as the cry made him see his beloved dogs calling to him from the exposed trail outside.

"There'll be nothing left anyhow to do by morning, Uncle John," he answered. "Look after yourself well and keep t' fire in; maybe I'll be back sooner than us expects. Goodnight to you." And Sally disappeared once more into the night.

They were still alive when Surefoot found them, though far more played out than one would suppose strong men could be in so short a time. The extra wraps were at once requisitioned, a ration from the spirit flask was rapidly given to each, and then, forcing them to sit down on the sledge, Sally again encouraged Surefoot to take the trail. Downhill, they managed to move along, but the heavy thatch of snow made progress difficult on the level and almost impossible uphill, just when exhaustion made marching impracticable even with a line from the sledge lashed to their arms. Sally found his last device unavailable. The men must get off for the uphill work, and that is what it became increasingly impossible for them to do.

Apparently Ky was the worse off. He didn't seem to know what was going on. Sally noticed that his hat had gone and thought his head was freezing, so without hesitation he covered it with his own warm nor'wester. Ky lay mostly on the komatik now, and it took all Sally's strength and such little aid as Patsy could give to enable the dogs to haul up the Frenchman's Leap, usually nearly perpendicular, but now fortunately sloped off by the heavy drift. Each man had to take a trace ahead and haul exactly like two big dogs, thus strengthening the team. At last the komatik topped the brow and was once more coming along after them. But Patsy was so played out that Sally drove him back to the sledge, hoping that the dogs could now haul the two men again. To his horror on reaching the komatik he found the real cause of its running so much more easily. Ky was gone. Probably he had only just slipped off. He would go back and look for him. But then he would lose the dogs. Patsy was too lost to the world to understand anything or to help. If he went back alone the dogs might follow and he would lose Patsy as well. Still he must try it. Halting the dogs he turned the komatik over, driving the upturned nose of the runners deep into the snow; then he laid Patsy on the top, and, lashing him on, finally began groping back down the steep rise for the missing man.

Not a sign was to be found; any traces he had left were not only invisible, but impossible to feel, though he took off his mittens to try. The pitiless, driving snow instantly levelled off every mark. How long dare he delay? He remembered at last that even if he found him he could do no good. He could never carry him up the hill. But he had tried—had done his best and his conscience felt easier. And then there was Patsy. He might save Patsy yet. It was right he should go on. Fortunately the dogs were giving tongue when he crawled and stumbled once more up the Leap. They knew their master had left them and had come back to the komatik to wait. Some of them were huddled up against the motionless body of the man. Surefoot, bolt upright on the topmost bend, was leading the chorus. The komatik had to be extricated and righted. Patsy was still breathing. His body must be re-lashed on the right side; and then once more the weary march began—the march that was a battle for every inch.

Of the remainder of the journey Sally never had much remembrance. It was like a moving dream—he knew it was crowded with adventures, but the details had vanished completely from his ken. It was his old father who told the remainder of the story. He had turned into bed as usual, never dreaming any man was astir on such a night as that. He was sleeping the sleep of the righteous when he suddenly became conscious of dogs howling. Even dogs would not be out unless they were in harness on such a night. His own dogs he knew were safely barred into their kennels after being fed at sundown. For a few minutes he lay awake and listened. The sounds came no nearer, but they were quite distinct. There was something astir in the darkness—something uncanny. Sally would have called it a "sign." Uneasily he arose and lit the lamp. He could not hear a soul stirring. Even the howling of the dogs had ceased. Nothing but the noise of the house creaking and groaning under the wind pressure was discernible. And then, just as the bitter cold, dark, and loneliness made him long to get into his warm bed again, the wail of a lone dog was distinctly audible. Uncle Eben, pulling the lamp safely out of the draught, opened a crack of the porch door only to be saluted by a rush of cold wind and snow which nearly swept him off his feet. But again clearer than before came the wail of the dog.

"He must be hitched up by mistake or in harness," he thought. "I 'low I'll fire a powder gun."

Going back into the bedroom, the old man warned his wife that he was going to shoot and not to be frightened. Then taking his old muzzle-loader, which was always kept ready, from among the lesser weapons which stood in the gun-rack, he poked the muzzle through the crack and fired it into the air. True he had thought there might be some one adrift. But even a prophet could not have imagined that what did happen could have done so. For the sound of the explosion had not done echoing through the empty rooms before the door was burst suddenly in by some heavy body falling against it. The thud of some weighty mass falling on the floor was all that Uncle Eben could make out, for the gust through the wide-open door at once extinguished the light. It seemed as if some huge bird must have been hovering overhead and have fallen to the charge of the big gun. The door must be shut at all costs, and shut at once; so Uncle Eben, stooping to feel his way over the fallen object, put his hands out to find where it lay in the darkness. Instantly he recognized the body of a man—a man alive too, but apparently unable to speak or move. Like lightning he had the door closed. The vigour of youth seemed to leap into his old veins. The light was soon burning again, to reveal to him the prostrate body of his own son, ice-covered from head to foot, his hatless head like a great snow cannon-ball, his face so iced up