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Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 12584

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The morning was clear and crisp. Breakfast was eaten by candle-light, and before sunrise Doctor Joe and the boys, with the tide to help them, worked the big boat down through The Jug and past the Point into Eskimo Bay. In the shelter of The Jug, which lay in the lee of the hills, the sails flapped idly and it was necessary to bring the long oars into service. But beyond the sheltered harbour a light north-west breeze caught and filled the sails, the oars were stowed, the rudder shipped, and with David at the tiller Doctor Joe lighted his pipe and settled himself for a quiet smoke while Andy and Jamie turned their attention to their scout handbooks.

It was an inspiring morning. The sky was cloudless. The air was charged with scent of spruce and balsam fir, wafted down by the breeze from the forest, lying in dark and solemn silence and spreading away from the near-by shore until it melted into the blue haze of rolling hills far to the northward. The huge black back of a grampus rose a hundred feet from the boat and with a noise like the loud exhaust of steam sank again beneath the surface of the Bay. Now and again a seal raised its head and looked curiously at the travellers and then hastily dived. Gulls and terns soared and circled overhead, occasionally dipping to the water to capture a choice morsel of food. A flock of wild geese, honking in flight, turned into a bight and alighted where a brook coursed down through a marsh to join the sea.

"There's some geese," remarked David, breaking the silence. "They're comin' up south now. We'll have a hunt when we gets home. They always feeds in that mesh when they're bidin' about the Bay."

Presently Andy exclaimed:

"I can tie un all! I can tie every knot in the book!"

"I can tie un too!" said Jamie.

"Yes! Yes! There are the scout tests!" broke in Doctor Joe. "Suppose we all tie the knots and pass the tests."

Andy and Jamie tied them easily enough, and then Doctor Joe tied them himself to keep pace with the boys, and Andy relieved David at the tiller that he might try his hand at them; David not only tied all the knots illustrated in the handbook, but for good measure added a bowline on a bight, a double carrick bend, a marlin hitch and a halliard hitch.

"That's wonderful easy to do," David declared as he laid the rope down. "'Tis strange they calls that a test, 'tis so easy done."

"Easy for us," admitted Doctor Joe, "but for boys who have never had much to do with boats or ropes it's a hard test, and an important one. You chaps knew how to tie them, so in doing it you haven't learned anything new. Let us make up our minds as scouts to learn something new every day-something we never knew before, no matter how small or unimportant it may seem. Think what a lot we'll know next year that we do not know now; everything we learn, too, is sure to be of use to us sometime in our lives.

"As we go along we'll find there is a great deal to learn in this handbook, and all of it is worth knowing. We don't look far ahead. Suppose we begin with the scout law. With your good memories you'll learn it before we go ashore to-night. I want you to learn the twelve points of the law in order as they appear in the book, so that you can repeat them and tell me in your own words what each point means."

Doctor Joe turned to the scout law and explained each point in detail. When he told them that "A Scout is kind" meant that they must not only be kind to people, but that they must protect and not kill harmless birds and animals, David protested:

"If we promises that, sir, 'twould stop us huntin' seals and deer and pa'tridges and plenty o' things."

"Oh, no!" explained Doctor Joe. "It does not mean that. It means that you must kill nothing needlessly. Here in Labrador we must kill seals and deer and partridges and other game for food and for their skins. That is the way we make our living. In the same way they have to kill cows and sheep and goats and pigs for food in the country I came from and to get skins for boots and gloves. In the same way we are permitted to kill game when necessary. But we're not to kill anything that's harmless unless we need it for some purpose. The Indians and other people about here shoot at loons for sport. I've seen them chase the loons in canoes and keep shooting at them every time they came up after a dive, until the loons were too tired to dive quickly enough to get out of the way of the shot, and then the poor things were killed. The flesh isn't fit to eat and they're always thrown away. That is cruel."

"I never thought of un that way. I've killed loons too," David confessed, "but I'll never shoot at a loon again. 'Tis the same with gulls and other things we never uses when we kills, and just shoot at for fun."

"That's the idea," said Doctor Joe enthusiastically. "Now what do you think about killing hen partridges in summer?"

"We can kill pa'tridges, can't we?" asked David. "We always eats un, and you said we could kill un."

"But we've got to use our heads about it," Doctor Joe explained. "I'm talking now about hen partridges in summer. They always have broods of little partridges then. If you kill the mother all the little ones die, for they're too small to take care of themselves. Do you think that's right?"

"I never thought of un before," said David. "'Tis wicked to kill un! I'll never kill a hen pa'tridge in summer again! Not me!"

"We'll have to be tellin' everybody in the Bay about that!" declared Andy. "Nobody has ever thought about the poor little uns starvin' and dyin'!"

"That'll be doing good scout work," Doctor Joe commended. "That's one way you'll be useful as scouts here in Labrador. Not only will you be showing kindness to the mother and little partridges, but if the mother is permitted to live and raise her brood, all the little birds will be full grown by winter, and it will make that many more partridges that can be used for food when food is needed."

When presently Jamie announced that it was "'most noon" and he was "fair starvin'," and the others suddenly discovered that they were hungry too, a fire was lighted in the stove and a cosy lunch of fried pork and bread, and hot tea sweetened with molasses, was eaten with an appetite and relish such a

s only those can enjoy who live in the open. Then, with growing interest the lads returned to their scout books, and camping time came almost before they were aware.

The sun was drooping low in the west when David, indicating a low, wooded point, said:

"That's Flat P'int. There's good water there and 'tis a fine camping place."

"Then we'll camp there," Doctor Joe agreed.

"Look! Look!" exclaimed Andy, as the boat approached the shore. "There's a porcupine!"

Following the direction in which Andy pointed, a fat porcupine was discovered high up in a spruce tree feeding upon the tender branches and bark.

"Shall we have un for supper?" Andy asked excitedly.

"Aye," said David, "let's have un for supper. Fresh meat'll go fine."

A shot from the rifle, when they had landed, brought the unfortunate porcupine tumbling to the ground, and Andy proceeded at once to skin and dress his game for supper.

"I'll be cook and Andy cookee," Doctor Joe announced. "We'll get wood for the fire, David, and you and Jamie pitch the tent and get it ready."

Flat Point was well wooded, and the floor of the forest thickly carpeted with grey caribou moss. David selected a level spot between two trees on a little rise near the shore. The ridge rope was quickly stretched between the trees and the tent securely pegged down. Then David and Jamie broke a quantity of low-hanging spruce boughs, which they snapped from the trees with a dexterous upward bend of the wrist. When a liberal pile of these had been accumulated at the entrance of the tent, David proceeded to lay the bed.

The rear of the tent was to be the head. Here he laid a row of the boughs, three deep, with the convex side uppermost, then he began "shingling" the boughs in rows toward the foot. This was done by placing the butt end of the bough firmly against the ground with half the bough, the convex side uppermost, overlapping the bough above it, as shingles are lapped on a roof. Thus continuing until the floor of the tent was covered he had a soft, fragrant springy bed, quite as soft and comfortable as a mattress, and upon this he and Jamie spread the sleeping-bags.

In the meantime Doctor Joe and Andy had collected an ample supply of dry wood for the evening, and when, presently, David and Jamie joined them, a cheerful fire was blazing and already an appetizing odour was rising from the stew kettle.

When the stew and some tender dumplings were done Doctor Joe lifted the kettle from the fire, and while he filled each plate with a liberal portion, and Andy poured tea, David put fresh wood upon the fire, for the evening had grown cold and frosty with the setting sun. The blazing fire was cheerful indeed as they settled themselves upon the seat of boughs and proceeded to enjoy their supper.

"Um-m-m!" exclaimed Andy. "You knows how to cook wonderful fine, Doctor!"

"'Tis wonderful fine stew!" seconded David.

"Not half bad," admitted Doctor Joe, "but Andy had as much to do with it as I, and the porcupine had a good deal to do with it. It was young and fat, and it's tender."

There is no pleasanter hour for the camper or voyageur than the evening hour by a blazing camp fire. There is no sweeter odour than that of the damp forest mingled with the smell of burning wood. Beyond the narrow circle of light a black wall rises, and behind the wall lies the wilderness with its unfathomed mysteries. Out in the darkness wild creatures move, silent, stealthy and unseen, behind a veil that human eyes cannot penetrate. But we know they are there going about the strange business of their life, and our imagination is awakened and our sensibilities quickened.

The camp fire is a shrine of comradeship and friendship. Here it was that the primordial ancestors of every living man and woman and child gathered at night with their families, in those far-off dark ages before history was written. The fire was their home. Here they found rest and comfort and protection from the savage wild beasts that roamed the forests. It was a place of veneration. The primitive instinct, perchance inherited from those far-off ancestors of ours, slumbering in our souls, is sometimes awakened, and then we are called to the woods and the wild places that God made beautiful for us, and at night we gather around our camp fire as our ancient ancestors gathered around theirs, and we love it just as they loved it.

And so it was with the little camp fire on Flat Point and with Doctor Joe and the boys. With darkness the uncanny light of the Aurora Borealis flashed up in the north, its long, weird fingers of changing colours moving restlessly across the heavens. The forest and the wide, dark waters of Eskimo Bay sank behind a black wall.

There was absolute silence, save for the ripple of waves upon the shore, each busy with his own thoughts, until presently Jamie asked:

"Did you ever see a ghost, Doctor?"

"A ghost? No, lad, and I fancy no one else ever saw one except in imagination. What made you think of ghosts?"

"'Tis so-still-and dark out there," said Jamie, pointing toward the darkness beyond the fire-glow. "And-I were thinkin' I heard something."

"But there is ghosts, sir, plenty of un," broke in Andy. "Pop's seen ghosts and so has Zeke Hodge and Uncle Billy and plenty of folks. They says the ghost of Long John, the old Injun that used to be at the Post and was drowned, goes paddlin' and paddlin' about in a canoe o' nights."

"Yes," said David, "I'm thinkin' I saw Long John's ghost myself one evenin'. I weren't certain of un, but it must have been he."

"Nonsense!" Doctor Joe had no patience with the belief popular among Labradormen that ghosts of men who have been drowned or killed return to haunt the scene of their death. "There's no such thing as a ghost."

"What's that now?" Jamie held up his hand for silence, and spoke in a subdued voice.

Out of the darkness came the rhythmic dipping of a paddle. They all heard it now. Doctor Joe arose, and closely followed by the boys, stepped down beyond the fire glow. In dim outline they could see the silhouette of a canoe containing the lone figure of a man paddling with the short, quick stroke of the Indian.

"'Tis the ghost of Long John!" breathed Jamie. "'Tis sure he!"

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