the old days, when the Virginia Lake was the only link connecting
eastern Labrador with civilization, the service was uncertain, and one
never knew how long one would have to wait in St. John’s for her return
from the north. She was invariably “down north” when the New
York steamer docked, and her schedule was a moving one, governed by the
amount of ice she encountered, and the conditions of fog and
weather. But the Virginia Lake was pinched too tightly between
the floes one day, as she was sure to sooner or later, and that was the
end of her. These ships of the north rarely die a natural
death, on the junk heap.
Now there are two mail boats in the
service, with the regular weekly sailings. One—the
Kyle—is as stanch and well-appointed a
little ship as ever ploughed the seas. She was built to
contend with ice, and can charge her way through floes—when they are
not too solid. The other is the Invermore, which once plied the English
Channel as the Dromedary. She is a good old ship, but was
never intended to battle with ice, and is supposed to retreat upon the
first appearance of the pack.
Judge Malone and I were destined to
Northwest River, where our canoe journey was to begin. Rigolet, the
Hudson’s Bay Company’s post at “the narrows”, in Hamilton Inlet, was
our nearest port of call, for neither of the small steamers enters the
narrows. The Kyle was scheduled to stop at Rigolet
going north, the Invermore going south only. We
intended, therefore, taking our passage on the Kyle.
When we arrived in St. John’s,
however, we learned that the
Invermore was at her wharf, preparing to
sail the following day, Friday, June 27. Upon inquiry, the
Postmaster General of Newfoundland informed us that a small auxiliary
schooner, the Yale, owned by the Mission to Deep Sea
Fishermen, had been chartered for the summer by the government, to
connect with the
at Indian Harbor and carry her mails directly to Northwest River, and
that we could certainly secure a passage on her.
Harbor is a small fisherman’s settlement lying fifty miles outside of
Rigolet, and at the northern side of the entrance to Hamilton
Inlet. Here is situated the most northerly hospital and
mission station of the Deep Sea Mission. It is only during
the summer, when the Newfoundland fishermen, for whose benefit it is
chiefly maintained, are on the coast.
Kyle was not scheduled to sail until a
week later than the Invermore, and with the prospect of a prompt
connection at Indian Harbor, we booked our passage on the
Invermore in the hope that we would thus be
enabled to enter the wilderness a week earlier that by awaiting the Kyle. We could not estimate
the time that would be required to accomplish our mission, and should
later delays or disappointments arise, a week would provide a decided
advantage, for the Labrador summer is all too short.
The Invermore had not yet been north of the
Straits of Belle Isle, for the ice pack, still hanging on the coast,
had blocked her passage. Captain Jacob Kean, her master, was
first officer of the Virginia
Lake when Hubbard and I went north in
1903. He recalled the fact, and also that we left the
Lake at Indian Harbor, and he was much
interested in the new undertaking of Judge Malone and myself.
“Is the ice likely to turn us back
before we reach Indian Harbor?” I asked.
“ I don’t know,” he cautiously
answered. “There’s been plenty of ice down north all spring,
and plenty reported on the coast yet.”
“It is necessary for us to get into
the country as soon as possible,” said I, “and I hope there’ll be no
ice to interfere.”
“Well, if it is at all possible to
get through I’ll put you in at Indian Harbor,” promised the
Captain. “Nothing will turn us back, unless the safety of the
ship compels it.”
And I felt confident Captain Kean
would do it, for I knew him and his reputation for putting his ship
through in the face of obstacles.
The bronze plate was not crated,
and we were constantly apprehensive of injury befalling it.
Though it was unwieldy and heavy, we carried it to our room in the
hotel in St. John’s to avoid risk of its being marred if we left our
general outfit on the wharf. On the ship, however, we feared
that it would have to go with the general baggage in the hold, for it
was too wide to stow beneath the stateroom berth.
Fortunately upon going aboard the
chief steward met me, reminded me that he was the former steward of the
me with the cordiality of an old ship mate, and asked me if there was
any courtesy he could offer. I asked that we be permitted to
keep the package containing the bronze tablet in our room. He
not only consented to this, but transferred Judge Malone and me from
the room to which we had been assigned, to a double room on deck, which
was of ample size to accommodate the tablet as well as our usual hand
baggage, but also several other packages of outfit, which we wished to
Next: Chapter VII: Stormy