Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Labrador’s Permanent Population
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, March 1912.
I was a Hydrographer and Cartographer for over 20 years. I have travelled in
few of those years. I think that the town may be Aillik—on the first chart I
ever compiled! I also remember well picking bakeapples which were later made
ALMOST a thousand miles south of us St. John’s awaited with anxiety the report of the Labrador fisheries we would carry back a week later; but half that distance north Cape Chidley threw its farthest peak into the Arctic waters. Inland from us for the last five hundred miles the barren rocks of
had offered nothing of life but its people; from outside in the open ocean had
come in at sunset for a week the fishing boats that alone are reason for
anything of life down there.
We lay at anchor at last in one of the thousands of indentations that wrinkle the coast, in a harbour called Ailik, an Eskimo word, which in English means “a coat with a sleeve.” A whole day’s wait was ahead of us, for we had to load a store of provisions and coal into the Stelle Maris, the old gunboat that ran still farther northward.
Ailik consists of nothing more than a harbour, and two or three mud huts and ragged fishing-stages, but in that it is just as important as most of the ports of call along the coast of Labrador.
A heavy, weather-marked, old boat came around one of the many islands and swung lazily down towards us. As it came nearer, the three passengers developed into two women and a man, the former rowing and the latter standing upright in the stern sculling, as is the custom of the skipper or stronger of the Labrador crew. The women pulled slowly and heavily, looking over their shoulders now and then at the passengers on the steamer watching their progress; and the man’s dark face was turned in the same direction as he mechanically worked into his rolling motion the proper direction. Close under the stern they came and into the stairs that led down from the side of the steamer close to the water. The girl was first to leap to the steps, where she grasped the painter and held to the rope guards of the stairs until the woman had collected something from the bottom of the boat and followed. Then they both mounted a few steps and stopped in evident embarrassment, under the gaze of the few passengers, until the man had made the boat fast.
I had watched from the bridge and now came down to see what had brought them from a shore where not a motion of life had been visible. The woman came quickly up the stairs, a bundle under her arms, and made direct for me, evidently because it required less courage to exhibit her wares to one passenger than to the interested crowd that almost blocked her way. She was tall and raw-boned, swarthy and stooped. A rough peaked cap secured hair that had been but indifferently fastened up and assuredly not much combed. The dress was her best—that was visible at a glance, with its tight neck, unshaped front and uneven tucks unspotted with careless use; it certainly had been donned but seldom in the last twenty years during which it must have done service. Behind her a tall, awkward girl in a tam and old dress that had once been white shambled shyly along, crowding the older woman in her bashfulness. The man was more openly interested and less embarrassed, although his dark chin and high cheek bones declared him an Eskimo removed by all the customs of centuries from the passengers with whom he mingled.
The woman’s discomfort was so evident, and yet it was so clear that she wanted to talk, that I opened the conversation by pointing to the bundle under her arm and asking her if she had anything to sell. It broke the ice, and to the surrounding passengers she displayed her wares, a half-dozen wall-pockets of a most peculiar bird skin, soft as velvet, and of the same rich brown, a pair of bright yellow mocassins and a pair of sealskin boots.
I reached for the boots.
“How much?” I asked.
She looked at the man and then at the girl and smiled weakly.
“I dunno,” she said in embarrassment. “I dunno what they’re worth. My man made ’em for himself. He’s dead now.”
She looked around frightened, as if she expected us to ridicule her “I think they’re worth a dollar-forty, aren’t they?”
A passenger handed her three fifty, cent pieces. “Ten cents change,” he commented as if fearing her ability to subtract.
The woman looked helplessly around, with the money in her hand.
“I haven’t a cent,” she muttered piteously, as if it meant the loss of the sale. She held out the money to him.
“That’s all right,” he said and took the boots from my hand.
Someone asked the price of the wall-pockets before the woman could make up her mind what to do.
“Thirty-five cents,” she said with the hesitation of one who fears she asks too much. Immediately several hands were outstretched. One wanted two and gave her four twenty-cent pieces, the common
piece of money. The woman did not count the money, but handed it at once to the
Eskimo, and the purchaser walked away with his goods without waiting for the
change. A look of alarm passed over the face of the girl and she pulled the
woman’s sleeves, but the latter was too busy taking the money and handing out
the things, one by one, to notice her.
In a minute she had sold everything and had broken away from the crowd with more relief at that than at the successful sale. The girl pulled her to one side immediately, and the money in the man’s pocket was counted over several times. Then the woman took something from it and came back to me.
“Do you know who it was bought the two things from me?” she asked anxiously.
“I think I do,” I answered.
“My girl says he paid me eighty cents, and the things were only seventy. I owe him ten cents. You see, I didn’t count the money,” she explained, as if her reputation depended on it. ‘‘I just handed it over to my boy. I want to give the ten cents back. And then I owe ten cents to the man who bought the boots.”
Later I got her to talk more freely, and in what she told me was the representative life of the Liveyere of the
Labrador coast. Neither the
girl nor the man were her children, although there is a disturbing mixture of
white and Eskimo blood in Labrador. She and
“her man” had adopted both of them—the girl an orphan by the death of a
neighbour and the other picked up when a mere lad to supply their craving for
children. Her husband and she were Newfoundlanders who had come down the Labrador coast twenty years before and had settled there
to eke out the cruel existence that greets the Liveyere. In the summer they
fished for cod, and in the spring for salmon up the rivers; in the winter they
retreated before the terrors of coast life up a river into the interior, where
they trapped and cut wood. Marten was almost the only animal they caught, with
a few fox and now and then a bear. Everything they could catch was given in
exchange for the necessaries of life.
“I never have a cent in my hand in ten years,” the woman explained, “except what I get from selling things like to-day. We’ve got to make some money this way to buy thread and needles to make more and to get things we have to have through the year.”
There was a drawn look about the girl’s eyes that was scarcely dispelled by her attempts to smile when she was noticed. The woman explained it as “something wrong inside. She can’t eat anything hardly. She don’t eat enough to keep a bird.”
It was then three in the afternoon and they had had nothing to eat since the night before, because they had been forced to leave home too early that morning to take time to eat. They were weak from hunger, but it was only after many questions that she volunteered this information, and she was very loth to accept what the passengers managed to find for her. A silver ring adorned the hand of the girl; it had been pounded from a twenty-cent piece by the Eskimo. The woman proudly exhibited a rough gold ring which “her man” had worked from a gold piece; and as she showed it to us and told how he had died of consumption, the ever-present
Labrador scourge, she forgot even her hunger.
The Liveyere receives his name from his answer of “I lives yere” to the ever-popular question of the interested traveller. He has not many fellows; on the whole thousand-mile coast of Labrador there are only about two thousand of them, hardy, gnarled, almost contented men and women, blackened by the winds and the cold to the colour of Indians. To them there is no place more desirable, although to the tourist not one minute of pleasure and few even of comfort seem possible. It is so long since they left
that they know nothing of modern improvements in conditions there since they
left, and they lack the ambition to try other life than that to which they have
The Liveyeres and the fishermen who come down the coast from
Newfoundland for the summer fishing mingle
little. The locations of the fishing stations are owned by Newfoundlanders, and
so long as the fishing grounds adjacent are profitable the harbours thus
claimed are valuable as the only home life they know in summer. The Liveyeres
have their own settlements as a rule, crude, rickety, uncertain joinings of
rough board and scantling, mostly buried out of sight in mud and grass. Advantage
is taken of the rocks to form one end or the back of the hut, and the only
break in the surface of the landscape that attracts the eye is the stovepipe
that protrudes through the mud and emits a white smoke that is the only “homey”
thing in all Labrador.
There are a few settlements of Liveyeres that have come to be prominent points in
Labrador. There they have congregated for many years in
sufficient numbers to make a small village, and where the location happens to
be a good fishing point there is a commercial importance that shows in the
added energy of the inhabitant and the cluster of fishing boats that gather in
the harbour. Spotted Islands and Batteau are
but two of these points. Not many boats work from the former now, but the
Liveyeres have clung to it and have erected a few buildings that look as
permanent as any on the coast—which may be misleading to the uninitiated.
At Cartwright, one of the main ports of call, a number of Liveyeres reside, attracted perhaps by the
Hudson’s Bay store and the bustle of the Hudson’s Bay wharf.
Although the half-breed and Eskimo are not regarded as Liveyeres, they are so
mixed with them that it is often impossible to make a distinction. Frequently a
Liveyere looks as dark and foreign as the half-breeds, and in many cases it
might not be wise to seek the truth.
With all this foreign look and unusual conditions, it sounds strange to hear English spoken as well as among any uneducated classes. One of the peculiarities of the Labrador English is that “s” is always added to the verb. I asked a Liveyere where he spent the winters.
“We goes up the river,” he said, taking one hand from his pocket to point indefinitely over his shoulder. “We just cuts wood, and does a little trapping now and then. Yes, we takes the huskies with us.”
An interesting little half-breed boy at Cartwright promised possibilities for a photograph. Instinctively supposing that he would not understand my English, I waved my arms to denote where I wanted him to stand. He stepped back into position instantly. I motioned for him to move away from a white building.
“Yes, sir,” he said as plainly as and more civilly than, most Canadian boys. And when I placed a coin in his hand at the end he said “Thank you, sir,” in a way that made me feel a trifle silly after my gesticulations to reach his understanding.
Hudson’s Bay factor
walked past. “That little fellow makes a lot of money that way,” he explained
with a laugh. “He always comes down here when the boat comes in He’s a
pretty-well photographed boy.”
Out on the wharf a number of dark-skinned men were lifting barrels from small boats and piling them in rows. A straggly-whiskered fellow explained that these were the salmon caught up the river and now being sold to the
Hudson’s Bay Company for shipment. His own
home was thirty miles inland and his sole work catching salmon, the season for
which had then passed. For the remainder of the short summer he and his fellows
would be busy preparing for the winter, endeavouring to ensure what little
comfort they could and to add a little to their year’s earnings by trapping a
few fur-bearing animals. Sand Hill Bay
It was almost impossible to see the Liveyere in his natural state. The men change themselves little for the arrival of the steamer every two weeks, but one knew well that the aprons and half-buttoned dresses that adorned the women were donned only for the half-hour that the boat was in. A woman not prepared did not appear until she was, and as the boat was drawing away two or three who had probably been struggling with a recalcitrant but necessary button would burst from a hut and look after us to show that their intentions were good. The men never wear coats, and it is unnecessary to mention collars with the Liveyere. To dress up, a Liveyere ties a dirty handkerchief around his neck and gives his cap a new tilt. Sometimes he wears huge leather boots, but more often sealskin boots. The latter are made by the Eskimos and are watertight so long as they are not allowed to dry too hard. Therefore, whenever a Liveyere passes water he shoves his foot into it to keep his feet dry.
The only delicacy apart from fish that is obtainable to the Liveyere is the bake-apple. This is a berry indigenous to Labrador and
Newfoundland, a mushy, yellow berry when
ripe, with something of the appearance of a faded raspberry and the taste of a
cranberry and raspberry mixed. It is delicious when served with sugar, but to a
novice its appearance of advanced ripeness is against it. It is very much
sought after in Newfoundland,
but is growing scarcer year by year. Blueberries, too, grow in Labrador in some quantities, but are not favoured like
It leaves a better memory in the mind of the visitor to
to talk to the Liveyere and realise how satisfied he is with his lot. Although
living a life infinitely more severe than the fisherman, he complains so much
less that conditions might be reversed. In fact, I never heard one Liveyere
express himself harshly about the conditions in which he is forced to live. In
summer his home is on the coast, where all the best, or the least worst, of Labrador is found. But in winter his life must be
terrible; and since winter occupies about eight months of the year, it is no
wonder that his skin becomes as if it were tanned, like leather. Probably the
Liveyere of Labrador lives the cruellest life of all men with white blood in
To the April number Mr. Amy will contribute an article entitled "The Floatinig Menace" a description of the icebergs of
The Impossible Possible
By W. Lacey Amy (photos by the author)
From The Canadian Magazine, 1912 February.
Digitized November 2015 by Doug Frizzle
This article appeared 37 years before Newfoundland joined Canada./drf
THE man who planted the seeds of St. John’s, Newfoundland, lost sight of the fact that a harbour scarcely meets the total requirements of a city. Perhaps he found it such a task to get out of the harbour once he had found his way in that a city in embryo sprang up while he waited for the pilot. He should go down in history as the original Thoughtless Man. He died without a worry at the struggle of his descendents to make the city possible. Until the visitor gets into training he usually wishes he had died sooner—or lived to climb the hill between his back door and the corner of the house.
St. John’s is one of the most upright cities in the world, every other city to the contrary. Vertically it is a mile deep; horizontally it is about sixteen feet. On the map, if things were drawn to scale, the “oldest place in the oldest colony” would be so thin a line that no portable geography could notice it. Newfoundland will always fight for globes, with the physical features closely followed, to supplant maps on paper. Aviation will never be popular in St. John’s. There is no bird’s eye view of it. But then the air is so rare around this quaint, old city that an aviator would probably drop far enough to get a side view. Then he’d stop at the first station.
If the children of the original Thoughtless Man had their work cut out for them, or rather had to cut out their own work, they have fallen into the humour with a facility that alters every custom known to commerce, transportation and physiology. There are no pavements, except on Water Street; cement would never lie long enough to harden. To utilise cement it would have to be taken down on the harbour where the water is comparatively level, hardened there, placed in position with extension ladders and glue; and then the city council would be forced to provide the people with air brakes, and parachutes in case of accident to the valves. On Water Street, so called because it is the only street in the city on which water would even hesitate, there is a sidewalk. You see it was necessary there because the stores ran down to that line from all parts of the original town site and stopped long enough to be fastened. Elsewhere the sidewalks are that literally and nothing else—distinguished from the roadway by a ditch, cobble-bottomed to prevent the trickling away of the foundations of the houses.
The roadways and sidewalks are made up of the finest gravel known to science; they are gravity-picked, which beats hand-picked roads by several series of the finest screens. They proceed downwards with an impetuosity that would satisfy a temperance audience, but even then they do not meet conditions, having frequently to be terminated by stone walls to get to a lower level that affords fingerhold. Although many of the roads are so steep that they cannot be used, they are never grass-grown. The water rushes down so fast that it discourages into suicide any blade of grass that has discovered sufficient of the horizontal to lie still.
The carts are built like a ladder, and the freight is piled as closely as possible to the front space in going up hill, so that there will be several rungs to act as obstacles before the goods finally drop out at the back. This is true; I’ve seen it. Barrels, which form one of the foremost features of commerce in the city, are built to fit these spaces in the ladder, so that nothing short of a back flip on the part of the horse can dislodge them. Sometimes a lazy driver will turn his horse down hill for a moment, rather than replace the load at the front.
Foolishly I took a carriage from the station to the hotel. Most of the trip I lay across the two seats with my head braced into the suitcase on the seat in front to keep it out of the harbour below. Once we went down a small hill, and I stood on the side of the suitcase while I watched the back springs of the carriage over the back of the seat.
Automobiles are built especially for St. John’s and King George. What the latter demands is not in the encyclopædia, but the other item in the list requires long, low cars, of sufficient power to carry four people up the side of a steeple and down the other without spilling the gasoline and children. If a green chauffeur chances to stop one without a post behind, the occupants either jump out or are fished out of the harbour with salmon nets. To climb a hill the chauffeur throws on the low gear and trusts to Providence. Perhaps it is due to the uprightness of the city that several people have ridden in automobiles and live to tell of it.
The horses are built on a fore-and-aft plan, to speak untechnically. They develop a special set of muscles for pulling up hill and another for holding back while going down. Beyond that no strength is required, and a St. John’s horse becomes “a creature of environment,” as someone has said before about something. The people must develop the same lopsidedness, although it is skilfully covered by prevailing styles. It is reasonable to suppose this, since some of them are able to walk down street and back twice in one day. I couldn’t.
One of the principal dangers of living in St. John’s, if you are more interested in your own family than the one on the block above, is the temporary loss of small children. A little boy falls out of the front door on Bond Street and may be able to stop himself at Gower; if not his mother feels reasonably certain he will pull up at Water. When a mother wants her child she always looks down street instead of into the jam pantry or the cherry tree. It has been suggested that the children of the different streets be branded with a number so that the police will not need to climb any higher than is necessary to return them.
The favourite occupation of the stranger is finding himself. Streets that seem to start all right change their mind and end to the hopeless tangle of one who knows not the short cuts and points of the compass. It is well to have rooms near some landmark that can be seen from the hills. Then one can get one’s bearings every now and then and arrive home in time for the next meal. There should be a bicycle or a trip to Europe for every stranger who finds himself.
Water Street is so crooked that a compass gets dizzy; and Water Street is the soberest thing in town. I tried cutting off the corners of this street to get to the station without covering the whole city. After I had crossed the street thirteen times I had to let myself go down hill to the water-front to see which side I was on. It pays to know St. John’s well before getting too familiar with it.
These are the principal physical features of this fine, old city, in so far as they can be portrayed by one who has for many years considered necessary a certain amount of horizontalness to sustain life. Another characteristic which St. John’s might do without more to its advantage than its steepness, is the accommodation the visitor is forced to endure. In asking for a place to stay at in that city it is sanest to inquire for the least worst, rather than for the best. “Good,” or any of its parts, does not fit in. It is unfortunate that this interesting city can afford no inducement to the visitor in the way of fare, other than to get out as quickly as he can. There are many hotels in St. John’s, as there are many methods of reducing flesh, but they are all equally uncomfortable.
The Reid people, who, by the way, represent progress in Newfoundland in something of a monopolistic manner, attempted to remedy this condition so that St. John’s might appear on the list for tourists other than the callous. The foundations of this attempt remain, the remainder having been put a stop to, it is said, by a government that has always feared the useful ambitions of the Reids. Now the visitor goes out of his way to look at the ruins, and to dream of what might have been. Coffee, in Newfoundland, as in most other places, is a miscalculation somewhere in the process of making; toast, as St. John’s makes it, is indigenous—for which make us truly thankful! All the fruit, the poultry, the fresh vegetables, and most things worth eating come from New York once a week by boat. The day after that boat arrives the newspaper advertisements announce nothing but the arrival of eatables, and for a day or two the visitor may exist. It is a constant struggle to subsist until the next boat arrives. St. John’s people never speak in public of the winter, when the boats do not run.
Had St. John’s a hotel such as any other city of its size is able to maintain, there is no place in America more worth visiting. Fortunately Newfoundland, outside of St. John’s, is endurable in the way of fare, and the railway takes you from one point to another with the maximum of comfort in the way of meals. But St. John’s, so far as genuine interest is concerned, is good for a fortnight of the most blase traveller. As the accommodation stands, he usually cuts it down to three days and passes on, with the result that there are about five points of interest visited by everyone. And the spots really worth while pass unnoticed.
Signal Hill comes first in the formal list. That is reasonable. One cannot look out without seeing the tower on its peak. Everyone goes there. I went. Everyone sees the drydock. I did the same. Everyone must run out to Quidi Vidi, the show fishing village. I followed the crowd. The list is as peremptory as the payment of the Newfoundland fishing license of ten dollars, with an additional fifty cents tacked on at the last to ensure you a tiny bit of paper to show that you paid your ten dollars. But there are other points of interest which are seldom mentioned, such as the Battery, quaint, out-of-the-way streets with odd houses, the wharves with the fishermen, the sealing boats, the walks along the brink of the harbour on both sides, and so on through a list that should make St. John’s proud.
The churches were near the top of the list, especially English and Catholic. Any guide-book will describe them, but one thing I noticed on almost every pillar of the Catholic Church aroused my interest without any explanation yet obtainable. It read: “Notice: All persons intending to leave the country for America or Canada are advised, before going, to secure certificates of baptism and marriage, as without these papers they will find it difficult to obtain employment in those countries. Signed, M. F. Howley.” Canada stands little chance of gaining population from Newfoundland.
It is well for the stranger to understand the ways of St. John’s early in his visit. Like most Canadian villages it observes a Wednesday half-holiday throughout the city. Noon is dinner-time, and the St. John’s woman does not believe in setting the table twice for one meal. Consequently everyone, from the merchant magnate to the sweeper, must be at the table from twelve to one, which means that most of the stores are closed during that hour, and possibly another afterwards. The Club members lunch at the club, saunter down to the Board of Trade Building, and some time afterwards unlock their places of business for the afternoon. A commercial traveller unpacks for at least a fortnight’s stay. There is no such thing as haste; perhaps the hills make it too strenuous for the heart. The traveller who intends to do business in St. John’s leaves his church membership ticket at his last stop and takes it up again after he leaves the city. He simply has to let loose occasionally when he is calmly told by his best customers to come around next week some time.
Also I discovered another feature of some of the stores—prices go up to the tourist. Twice I was asked to pay a higher price for articles than those which were marked on them in plain figures.
“You see, we have to pay forty per cent, duty on these things,” is the sentence that comes most convenient to the clerk. Considering the apparent resentment at this condition, it is surprising that it continues to exist. But then there is no taxation on Newfoundland fishermen, and they make up the majority of the population; and the money has to be obtained somehow.
St. John’s is running over with history. The inhabitants can rave about every landmark in sight from a universal knowledge of historical associations, the equal of which I never before met—the cabby who cannot tell you all about the reason for Signal Hill, the names and fame of all the outlying points, the historical incidents that made St. John’s possible, and a number of other bits of information that vary with his imagination and his estimate of your credulity, is only a substitute for the day. After one had regaled me with enough incident to make me wonder if anything had ever happened elsewhere since the strata cooled, I disentangled myself long enough to ask him where it was Ninevah fell, which was an assumption of a familiarity with certain history I do not possess. He looked around a moment as we climbed Signal Hill, as if to see whether there was any evidence of the dent it made. Then he scratched his head doubtfully and closed his eyes to give his brain a chance to get out of its groove of historical facts.
“Ninny Yah! Ninny Vah!” he muttered reflectively. “Did he fall around here, are ye shure? I’ll ask when I get back to the city.” And thereafter he was gloomily silent as having revealed a lack of information about the city’s important events.
When St. John’s settles down to an understanding of the value of good accommodation for the traveller it will be a sorry day for many places that now have a waiting list.
As it is the visitor to that city leaves after his shortened stay, with the belief that something has robbed him of a great pleasure; for all around him he sees in general what he longs to observe more intimately. Only a small part of what this old-fashioned, absorbing city has to offer him has been possible during the limit of his endurance. And he holds before him the determination that some day he will return to revel in a world of which as yet he has only dreamed.
Good fortune has favoured the search for snappy, unconventional travel sketches. W. Lacey Amy has written "St. John's: the Impossible Possible," "Quidi Vidi: Newfoundland's Show Fishing Village," "The Livoyeres: Labrador's Permanent People". These stories to appear later in our blog/drf
The Icebergs of Labrador
By W. Lacey Amy photos by the author/drf
From The Canadian Magazine, 1912, April.
This blog post is dedicated to Richard Brown, author of The Voyage of the Iceberg and a scientist at Bedford Institute of Oceanography, who died in 2010.
This story appeared the same month that the Titanic sank!/drf
Naturally we, the ten travellers on the Solway, starting on its thousand-mile run down the coast of Labrador, were watching eagerly for the first sign of icebergs. And when, after rounding Cape St. Francis, one of us caught a gleam of white on the far coast of gigantic Conception Bay he made no delay in informing the remaining nine of his find.
The captain was sitting with us in the stern, trying to answer a few of the questions hurled at him by ten passengers who had heard only of Labrador as a place for exploration or Dr. Grenfell’s administrations; and when the white spot in the distance was pointed out to him his face suddenly became serious.
“Huh!” was all he said at the moment, and that made it all the more serious.
Most of us knew that an iceberg was not a picnic ground, but we had no idea it was so serious as that.
“We’ll have to keep a good way outside of that fellow,” he added, when the silence had become hysterical among the women.
It certainly was disappointing that a tiny spot of white ice six or seven miles distant should be considered such a terrible thing. Personally, I had expected to see towering pinnacles of gleaming white, and this non-scenic thing was not worth mentioning. In fact, I remembered having seen a picture or two of icebergs off St. John’s, Newfoundland, and this did not seem to fit in with them. I looked again at the captain—I had known him merely long enough to be suspicious—but his eyes were as serious as his tone. Fortunately, the mail-clerk was within sight, and around his mouth I recognised the flickerings of an embryo smile. And just then the smile passed broadly into the captain’s face.
“Yes, that’s an iceberg, all right,” he laughed, “a cupful. It’s what we call a growler. About two days from now I’ll be able to show you a real iceberg.”
And he did. We were content to wait, since there was scenery enough along the east coast of Newfoundland to make winter decoration unnecessary. But all the way down to the Straits of Belle Isle growlers showed up here and there, and occasionally farther out at the sea the sun would flash from a real iceberg that had lost much of its size on its travels southward.
In the straits themselves, where the trans-Atlantic passenger on the St. Lawrence route frequently comes within sight of small bergs, there was no trace of ice, except close in on the shore, where stranded chunks were slowly melting in the sun. But once we had passed the Isle, that for which we had been eagerly looking forward began to till the ocean spaces with a persistence that was almost unnecessary for the gratification of our expectations. Stranded off the north side of the island were no fewer than seven of varying sizes, all of them giants to us at that time, but mere refrigerator pieces to our later experiences. All that afternoon, a Sunday, our course was governed to some extent by the icebergs around us, the captain running the steamer as near as he dared, or swerving a little to keep a respectful distance.
Just before sundown, as we were looking forward to our first stop on the coast of Labrador, a long, low, peculiarly straight-topped iceberg that had been within sight for hours was approached closely enough to give us some idea of the size to which these floating menaces attain north of the track of navigation. It was remarkably like in shape to the chunk the iceman leaves at the door for you or the sun, but instead of twenty pounds in size this piece was something like three-quarters of a mile long, a third of that in width, and it towered straight up sixty feet. So far as we could see it was level on top, and the only reliefs to the upright sides were the grooves and grottoes of light shadow where a piece had broken off and left a dent in the surface. All season this berg had remained stranded in the same spot, rapidly diminishing in size by pieces that covered the water for a mile around. In June it had been more than two miles long by a halfmile wide—ice enough in sight in one cake to supply Canada for a few summers.
What its real size must have been could be judged roughly from the accepted theory that but one-eighth of an iceberg appears above the water, and from the fact that it was stranded in the ocean a couple of miles from the shore, where the depth had never been fathomed. In its regular course the steamer ran more than a mile inside, but for the benefit of my camera the captain veered towards it as far as he considered safe. On our return trip, more than a week later, we could see through the moonlight that it had broken into three huge bergs, all still stranded.
Frequently the harbour near which it lay—Battle Harbour—has been closed for weeks at a time by icebergs which come up from the north and run aground on the ocean bottom. And the dozens of little bights and tickles along the Labrador coast are constantly menaced by a similar disregard for the rules of navigation. At one calling place we found that a growler had wandered in during the night and the fishermen were then working to release a fishing schooner that was within when the chilly visitor arrived. By good luck it had stranded to one side of the channel, and they had hopes of being able to work their way out. The one relief in an event of this kind is that the iceberg that can approach a harbour so closely before stranding is of such comparatively small size that the sun will complete its destruction before many weeks.
There is nothing in man’s world so imposing or so grand as an iceberg, and the Almighty has yet to create that which gives a more overpowering sense of relentless power, of greatness, and of brilliance and grandeur. I saw icebergs—hundreds of them—under all conditions—in the bright sun and under the dark clouds of a threatening storm, in the moon’s cold rays and dimly through the shadow of night—but every one of them, from the small growler of mimic shape to the flashing towers of the huge berg floating undisturbedly to its southern death, roused first of all an awe that did not lessen one degree with the growing appreciation of the beauty of the thing. Always before one is the thought that seven or eight times as much as that which is in sight lies beneath the blue-green water, extending down and down to unknown depths and out and out until the captains of the steamers breath freely only when they are miles away. Miles inside of where some of them strike the bottom the largest vessels afloat could pass at full speed without a thought of shoals. In the wildest seas and strongest winds they sail undisturbed on their course; there could be no sea-sickness on an iceberg for its roots are fathoms below the wave disturbance.
The largest steamship would smash itself to pieces in a collision as surely as if it struck the rocky shore, and the iceberg might sail on and on without a tremor. But, again, that huge cliff of seemingly solid ice might be as delicately balanced to unusual disturbance as a watch spring. The whistle of a steamer sometimes breaks off chunks of ice that would bury the vessel without a falter. Sometimes a boat is forced to take the chance of a passage between a berg and an island. At such times the captain may be aware of the condition of the ice and rush through at full speed. And the motion of the propellor through the water will tear apart pieces that may rattle down on the boat as it passes, but the large breaks will come more slowly, and by that time the passage is made. It is dangerous work and seldom demanded.
In the bright sunlight there is a colour-play about an iceberg that defies description and the camera. The chunk of ice to which we are accustomed is lifeless, or at best a blue-white; but around an iceberg gleaming in the sun is an aureola of green and blue and white, gold and silver, light and shadow. Streaks of all these run up and down and across, according to the slant of the sun and the hardness of the layer in view. In the direct sunlight the glare is unbearable, but down below may be a depth of shadow that makes it hard to believe in its natural colour. And every tone and colour is as cold as steel. Under the brilliant moon that lights Labrador the iceberg gleams and glitters, magnificent, but fearsome. A dark night is the terror of navigation, and the captain who would move in the open ocean off the coast of Labrador at such a time is inviting destruction.
The shapes assumed by the icebergs form as interesting a study as the colours. Very seldom do they take on the regular form of the one near Battle Harbour; that was something of a freak in icebergdom. Sometimes they project from the water in one broad angle, and occasionally their tops are quite rounded; but for the most part they rise in peaks and corners, irregular and jagged. Many resemble nothing more than steepled churches, while the whole animal kingdom can be made out of others. One big fellow we passed was like a lion. Its rounded head rose eighty or ninety feet from the water. Underneath a part of it a channel had been worn through large enough for a steamer; it appeared to be standing on the water. At one point another had stranded close against the shore cliffs, throwing up a peak that towered far above the lofty rocks of the coast. It looked like some animal looking over into the interior.
The rivers that rush down from many of them make a very pretty sight. Up there, it is thought the sun melts the ice into a lake, and as this eats its way to the edge it falls over into the ocean in a cascade that varies from a rainbow spray to a small river, breaking in abruptly on the green and blue of the coloured sides.
But the grandest sight of all is the iceberg breaking and turning as the balance is disturbed. Sometimes a mighty piece will break away, and the berg will lose its balance. As it sinks to the opposite side a piece there will become detached, and the berg will swing back. This may continue until there are a half-dozen bergs where there had been but one. Frequently the falling away of a pieee will turn the entire berg over. With its balance gone, that which was above water will sink and be replaced by that which was scores of feet below. At such times there is danger to the boat that is within sight, for apart from the rising of the ice that has been beneath the water perhaps hundreds of feet distant, there is a wave sent up that would swamp a liner if it were too close.
It is told that on a steamer running down the coast of Newfoundland a party of American tourists importuned so hard of the captain to run close to an iceberg that he consented. against his better judgment. When not far away the revolving of the propellors, or fate, broke the berg into several pieces. Instantly the part below the water commenced to rise, and from unseen depths it gradually raised the steamer. One of the tourists turned to the captain with the query:
“What will we do now, captain?”
But the wave that had been raised by the falling pieces swept down on the boat and slid it into the water, thereby saving the vessel and all aboard.
I was fortunate enough to witness the falling to pieces of one of the largest of the bergs we had seen on our trip. On the way down the coast we had passed a monster in the night, but returning the captain warned me to be on deck in a few minutes as we were approaching a part of the coast where a great iceberg had been stranded all summer. With camera prepared, I was standing on the bridge anxious to see this berg, which even the captain considered worth special attention. Far in front it towered, white against the dark cliffs, tall and stately, poking up a pinnacle higher than the tallest cliff. We had approached to within a mile of it when suddenly the top appeared to shift. I thought it was something wrong with my eyes, until a new peak came into view, and then I held my breath while the captain and I looked on in silence. With apparent slowness the entire top slid down and disappeared into the water in a mighty commotion. A wave splashed above the highest peak, sixty feet or more, and with its fall the berg split into many pieces. For a few seconds there was nothing above the water but the tumbling waves. Then gradually a new shape rose and poked its head out for thirty feet, and seconds afterwards the parts that had broken off reappeared on the surface, after a downward flight into unfathomed waters. When we reached the remnants there were four or five bergs, and all around the water was white with broken fragments that rubbed and grated against the steamer’s side as we passed slowly through. I had seen that which few travellers, even to Labrador, are favoured with.
The mail steamer of the Reid-Newfoundland Company has never met with an accident from an iceberg; one learns to trust Captain Parsons with the utmost faith. There is no fear that he will take chances. For forty-five years he has sailed the coast of Labrador, thirty of them in charge of the mail boat. But in his sailor days he had his experiences. At one time the boat on which he served crashed into an iceberg and crushed in its bows above water. At another time he was thrown from his bunk by the boat glancing from one of the dangers on a moonlight night. Fishing schooners, during the spring trip to Labrador, not infrequently are lost, and sorrowing friends know that somewhere at the bottom of the ocean lies a crushed boat that had no chance with the relentless iceberg.
In the spring these bergs sometimes reach as far south as St. John’s, Newfoundland, in enormous size, and at times the narrow entrance to that harbour has been blocked for weeks. Not long ago two small boys had rowed out in a boat to see a berg at close range. The berg selected that time to break in two. The wave sent up by the splash and the rolling over of the berg rushed into the harbour and broke many boats from their moorings. After the commotion had subsided a search was made for the boys, but without result. Next day a fisherman outside the Narrows heard voices calling and located them far up the side of Signal Point, the cliff guarding the entrance to the harbour. It was necessary to lower a man from the top of the cliff by a rope, and there he found boys and boat resting on a ledge far above the water, having been miraculously thrown there by the tremendous wave. It is part of the story that their mothers did not thrash them for running away.
The icebergs make up, perhaps, the most interesting sight of the Labrador trip. They are unfriendly, to be sure, but their magnificence of colour and size and shape, their stately, unyielding journey southward, gradually breaking up in the sun’s rays and strewing the sea for miles around with growlers and fragments, are much too worthy of sight to allow one to yield to whatever dangers they may threaten. A field of icebergs in the daylight brings little peril to the Labrador tourist in midsummer, and the play of sun and shadow on pinnacle and hollow is something unimitated and unequalled by any other sight in the world.
Monday, 23 November 2015
The Sentimental Half-Breed
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, January 1911.
This short story is the precursor and a great introduction, to the Blue Pete series by ‘Luke Allan’ a pseudonym that Lacey Amy chose. The series is 24 or 25 novels published in
between the years 1921 and 1954./drf England
NOT a rancher in the Cypress Hills district, but would have thought himself lucky could he have induced Blue Pete, the ugly, cross-eyed half-breed, to join any of his outfits permanently. All kinds of offers had been made to persuade him to settle down, for his dexterity with the rope and branding iron was unrivalled; but the tramp cow-boy preferred to move from outfit to outfit, giving everyone his services for a week or two at a time and picking up by this means a fund of information and knowledge of the country and the ways of the ranchers.
For two years every ranch house in the district was open to him. True it was suspected that the half-breed was doing a little rustling on the side, but this earned him no ill-will from the ranchers, as few of them had a scrupulous regard for the parentage of unbranded colt or calf.
Then, one day Blue Pete and his little yellow-blotched, scrubby-tailed pinto, “Whiskers,” that had carried him to victory in all the roping contests, found themselves unwelcome visitors. The word had gone around that the half-breed was in the pay of the Northwest Mounted Police, and it did not take long to confirm the suspicion.
From the first day he had appeared in the country, whence no one knew, the excitement and danger of the detective’s life had turned him from the cow-puncher’s life, with which he seemed most familiar.
For two years he had been able to keep secret his connection with the police, but when the suspicion was aroused, the information he had acquired in his wandering life hung over the head of every rancher with whom he had worked. They did not know that in all his dealings with the police Blue Pete’s information had been only to prevent rustling or lead to the return of the stolen cattle or horses, and never to apprehend the rustler.
But when the half-breed was driven from his cow-boy life, and complaints of stolen horses kept multiplying, Inspector Parker issued instructions from his quarters in Medicine Hat that the rustlers as well as the stolen bunches were to be taken.
One clear morning in June the loss of eighteen horses from the Seven Bar Y ranch was reported, and Blue Pete was dispatched with Corporal Mahon, a new member of the local force, to round up rustlers and horses.
The half-breed soon picked up the trail, and after a close examination of the tracks of the outriders started in pursuit, the wrinkles on his forehead showing that something he had discovered disturbed him.
The trail led straight towards the Cypress Hills, an odd tract of wildly-wooded hills and valleys, one hundred miles long by ten wide, rising abruptly from the prairie. Lying a dozen miles to the south of where the trail started, the Hills run parallel to the Montana border and are separated from it by a strip of rolling prairie eight or ten miles wide.
Half-way to the Hills Blue Pete left the trail and entered a coulee, following the depression for the remainder of the distance. As the trees of the Hills loomed up in front, the riders dismounted to snatch a hurried lunch before the harder tracking ahead of them.
drew a letter from his pocket, and propping it against a stone, read while he
The half-breed watched curiously.
“What’s that?” he asked bluntly.
“Letter from my mother,” answered the corporal without moving his eyes.
The half-breed stopped his hand half-way to his mouth. “Got a mother?” he demanded almost fiercely.
“Shouldn’t be in the p’lice,” growled the half-breed. “Men with mothers ain’t got no right to risk it.”
The half-breed reached across and touched the bit of white paper reverently.
“Mind—mind readin’ me somethin’ of it?” he stammered. “Never got a letter myself. Like to hear what it’s like. Never had a mother either, ’t I know of.”
“ ‘My dear Boy,’ ” he began.
“Huh! Called yuh ‘Boy,’ too, did she?” interrupted his listener. “Boy—Boy!” he repeated, as if the name had acquired a new significance.
“My dear Boy: I was so glad to get your letter only two days late. I always worry so when they are delayed. Of course, I know you cannot write on the same day of every week; but I live so for your letters that if they are a day late I am fretting. If they should cease to come, if anything should happen to you away out there”—
“Guess—guess that’ll do,” broke in the half-breed, rising suddenly and tightening the cinches on his saddle. “Got to move on now. Mustn’t let ’em get out o’ the Hills ’head of us.”
For hours they led their horses through the wildest country
Mahon had ever seen—almost impassable forest
and hill, winding through brush, down steep ravines, around miniature lakes,
over piles of rock and fallen trees. Blue Pete silently led the way, a frown
across his face.
As they were mounting a ridge, the half-breed suddenly stopped and listened a moment. Then, beckoning
to follow he turned on his tracks and hastily led his horse through the trees
for a few minutes, until in a dense clump he left the policeman and glided
Minutes passed, a half-hour, an hour. A distant rifle shot brought
Mahon to a consciousness of the growing
darkness. A darker shadow moved into the clump and the “s-s-s” of the
half-breed warned him not to shoot.
Quietly Blue Pete led along a ridge, and beside a small
prepared to spend the night.
Not a word had been said in explanation of the sudden flight or the rifle shot. At last the half-breed spoke.
“Nearly hed yuh,” he said. “Hed to lead ’em away, or yer mother wouldn’t have got her nex’ letter. Can’t fight ’em in the woods.”
Blue Pete spoke again. “Can’t get lost in these hills; jest keep on north or south ’n yuh’ll reach prairie.” Straight back is the nearest way out.”
“Guess there’s not much danger of getting lost with you, Pete.”
“Mebbe, mebbe. Can’t tell what might happen me, though. Keep yer head ’n you’ll be all right. Mother mustn’t miss her letter.”
The policeman awoke the next morning with a feeling of loneliness. Broad daylight glared over the lake and softened into the woods beyond. Close at hand his horse was greedily cropping the long grass, and across the lake two deer were nibbling at the young trees and glancing inquiringly over at his horse between mouthfuls.
But Blue Pete and Whiskers had disappeared; and the half-breed’s lunch parcel tied to the saddle told him that he would not return. Why he had left him he could not determine, but he knew that if he found the horses he would find the halfbreed. In the meantime he would trust him.
It was no use to attempt tracking—his experience in the woods was too limited for that. But Blue Pete had said that straight back was the nearest way out. It was one of the dull days in the Western rainy season, and there was no sun to guide.
About four in the afternoon the prairie opened before him after the hardest travelling he had ever experienced. Fortunately he could see Windy Coulee about four miles to the west, which Blue Pete had pointed out as the probable entrance point of the rustlers to the Hills, and in a short time he had turned in on the trail. For a few yards he could see the tracks of the horses, but hard ground covered all traces as he advanced. Following a clearer space among the trees, he was drifting helplessly along when he was brought up with a jerk by the sound of two rifle shots in rapid succession.
Twilight was settling down in the forest. He urged his horse forward. A volley of revolver shots showed that the battle was at close quarters and just over the ridge.
Slipping from his saddle he hastily climbed upward. On the ridge his heart stood still. There lay Whiskers, the half-breed’s friend, the yellow-blotched pinto, dead. Then he noticed what was of more serious import; beside the pinto was the half-breed’s rifle, and peeping from the holster was the butt of his big revolver.
Blue Pete was surrounded by enemies, and without a gun. Was he still alive?
A welcome voice came from the other side of the ridge.
“Come out, come out! Gol dang yuh! Come into the open, just onct.” Then in an entreating voice: “Won’t please, someone jest show me the tip of yer ear.”
A shot flashed from the darkness of the ravine, and
lying flat on the ground and peering down, noted whence it came. Sliding his
rifle forward he fired towards the flash.
There was a moment’s silence. Then five spots of light leaped at him from the darkness. He ducked, but two holes in his Stetson showed how close his escape had been. A scurry in the ravine, and Blue Pete shouted to him to “scoot.”
Leaping on his horse he ploughed up the bank, passing the half-breed, who had already uncoiled his rope from the saddle of the dead pinto and was shouting something at him. His horse gave a few bounds forward, then stopped suddenly, almost throwing the policeman over his head. A small, gray rope had settled over his shoulders, and it knew the lassoo too well to rush to a fall.
“What ’n hell are you doing, Pete?” yelled the angry policeman, reaching for his knife.
“Cut it ’n I’ll drop yer horse,” answered the half-breed quietly. “Yuh dang fool! Yuh ain’t got no show with them five coyotes. Want yer mother to get her nex’ letter?”
Blue Pete was standing looking down at the dead pinto. He had forgotten everything else.
“Poor Whiskers!” he said in a voice new to the corporal. “Dan got yuh for keeps that time. . . Yer ragged little tail won’t whistle behind me in the wind any more. . . . Won’t be together any more at all, will we, ol’ gal?”
He straightened up. “Dan, yuh low-down cuss!” he said in a voice of restrained passion. “Yuh won’t outlive her long, or my eye ain’t straight.”
He knelt and stroked the bony nose. “Yuh fell bad, ol’ gal, ’n I couldn’t get my rifle clear. But yuh threw me clear o’ the second shot, even if yuh had a bullet in yer heart. . . . Guess yuh won’t feel the wolves to-night . . . Like to give you a decent burial, but yuh’ll know I’m after Slippery Dan. . . . S’ long, ol’ gal. . . . s’ long.”
He rose and, without looking at his companion, struck off into the woods. After a short walk he suddenly disappeared from view, and
rounding a rock, saw him push his way through some dense foliage and a moment
later a light spattered through. Mahon
followed with his horse and found himself in a large cave. The half-breed had
lit a candle from a hidden store and was sitting on a box, his head in his
“How did they get you, Pete?” he asked.
Blue Pete looked vacantly at him a moment. Then intelligence came into his eyes. “Ambushed me, damn ’em! Goin’ to look fer you. Might a got lost, ’thout the sun. Wasn’t think- in’ o’ them at all, but of you—of something else. Guess yuh fitted in there all right, Boy.”
“But why did you leave me last night, Pete?”
The half-breed frowned, looked confused, and, with a shrug of his huge shoulders, answered: “Yer mother, Boy, yer mother. Durn it! This ain’t no game for boys with mothers. Kind o’ reckoned yer mother’d want that nex’ letter. . . ’n the next. . . . ’n the next.”
“Would you like to hear the rest now,” he asked gently.
Blue Pete stopped his hand, while his eyes sought the letter longingly. “No, no,” he answered. “Reckon I got to get yuh through this first. . . . I’m goin’ to get another horse. Goin’ over to the Post. Back ’fore morning.”
He glided into the darkness. A wolf howled, and the foliage parted again.
“Don’t be feared,” the half-breed said, “’f yuh hear shootin’ over there. They’ve found the ol’ gal.”
In the early dawn the half-breed returned with two horses, and after a bite, the chase was resumed, Blue Pete leading the extra horse. He seemed to know where to pick up the trail of the stolen horses, for in a short time they were almost clear of the trees and hot on the track.
Faster they rode, and, as they topped a roll on the prairie, a big white horse plunged up a slope far ahead, and behind it followed a bunch of horses and seven riders. The pursuers were seen at the same time. One of the rustlers detached himself from the rest and waited, rifle ready. With cool deliberation, he fired. The bullet fell short.
“Must be losin’ his nerve. Got to get that ’un, though, or he’ll get us,” said Blue Pete, looking to
for instructions. The latter considered a moment. Another shot struck the
ground close beside his horse.
“All right, Pete,” he assented, “wing him.”
Blue Pete wheeled to the left where the rustler had disappeared in a coulee. His rifle spoke, and in a few minutes he was back at
Mahon’s side, and took the extra horse.
“Scare him off?” asked the policeman.
The half-breed nodded. “Slippery Dan,” he said laconically; and
Mahon knew the rest.
Ahead of them the rustlers were urging the bunch of horses towards a line of wooded hills that marked the border of
and safety. All the horsemen veered off and left two men alone, whose superb
horsemanship seemed to bespeak successful escape.
Blue Pete raised his rifle and a bullet hissed through the gloom. The white leader leaped into the air and fell. The remainder of the bunch broke wildly away.
“Now I want those men—but alive.” The corporal added the last words hastily.
“Can’t get ’em,” answered the half-breed, swerving to head off the scattering horses.
“I will get them,”
“Two good men gone,” muttered the half-breed as he drew away.
Taking careful aim the policeman fired. The leading horse fell. The other, following closely, attempted to turn aside too quickly, stumbled and fell, picked itself up riderless, limped a few steps and stood still, one leg hanging limp. The unseated rustler sent a bullet into its head, and from behind the two horses the rustlers covered the oncoming policeman. A puff from the nearest horse and
Mahon had to throw himself
free of his falling horse.
Only a hundred yards lay between him and the rustlers. Without a moment’s hesitation he advanced—not hastily, but deliberately. Two rifles covered him.
“You’ll save a lot of trouble if you surrender quietly,” he shouted advancing with his rifle in the hollow of his arm.
“You’ll save more trouble if you stop where you are,” a voice answered.
“You fool!” continued the voice excitedly. “You can’t take us. We’ll fill you full of lead if you come five yards further.”
“Can you shoot him, Jim?” came to the astonished ears of the corporal.
“Can’t do it, Joe,” answered another voice. “I guess it’s all up with us this time. Sorry, Joe. This was my fault. Too big a coup to pull off. I’m not going to be taken. Good-bye, Joe!”
“What! Wait a minute, Jim!”
A figure darted from the nearest horse and sank behind the other. Two revolver shots rang out almost as one.
stopped, dazed that he had escaped. Then he rushed forward.
The sun struggled through a rift in the low west and shone upon the upturned faces of the two rustlers—dead.
There they lay, their left hands clasped, revolvers still smoking, a small hole in each forehead. Only one looked up and smiled feebly.
Mahon covered his face with his hands and sat
down limply on the dead horse. The rustlers were brothers, big ranchers whom he
had often met at their ranch north of the Hills—well educated, kindly, proud,
humane, so humane that they had spared his life and taken their own, so proud
that they preferred death to disgrace.
Something touched him. He looked up to see Blue Pete standing beside him, cap in hand. The stolen horses were loping back towards the Hills, led by the extra horse Pete had brought.
“Knew—knew yuh wouldn’t get ’em.” The half-breed’s voice was low and tender. “Poor Jim! Poor Joe! Knew it was you. Didn’t want to be in at the death.
As they were riding back towards the Hills, the half-breed broke a long silence.
“Guess—guess I can have the rest o’ yer mother’s letter now, can’t I, Boy? Yuh left off where she said ‘if anythin ’ should happen yuh away out there ’—start there.”
“Read it again.”
“’Spose yuh’ll be writin’ home again soon, won’t yuh, Boy? Well, tell yer mother Blue Pete’s lookin’ after yuh.”
ARCTICTO DEATH By Lacey Amy
IT came to me only yesterday—the hardest blow of the war. A “returned postal packet,” and inside a letter of my own sent him several weeks ago. On its face was the soulless stamp "Deceased." Six years ago we met, John Shiwak and I, in the most detached part of the Empire— the hyperborean places where icebergs are born, where seal grunt along the shore, where cod run blindly into the nets of adventurous fishermen gone north in a midsummer eight weeks of perilous, comfortless, uncertain industry. Far "down" the desolate coast of Labrador, a thousand miles north of my Newfoundland starting point, I came on him in a trifling settlement that hugged, shivering and unsteady, about a long white building, a trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company—the merest collection of windowless boards that housed human beings only in the less harrowing summertime. For John Shiwak was an Eskimo. Just one week I knew him, and then we separated never to meet again. But in that week I came to know him better than from a year's acquaintance with less simple souls, and his record to his glorious end proves how well I did know him. There, where the bitterness of ten months of the year drives the two thousand straggling human beings of half as many miles of coast line to the less grim, less bleak interior, John Shiwak had awakened to the bigness of life. He had taught himself to read and write. Every winter he trailed the hunter's lonely round back within sound of the
Grand Falls, which only a score have seen—often alone for months in weather that never emerged from zero. And every summer, when the ice broke in June, there came out to me in his winter's diary, written wearily by the light of a candle, hemmed in by a hundred miles of fathomless, manless snow. And no fiction or fact of skilled writer spoke so from the heart. He was a natural poet, a natural artist, a natural narrator. In a thumb-nail dash of words he carried one straight into the clutch of the soundless Canada Arctic. * * * And then came war. And even to that newsless, comfortless coast it carried its message of Empire. John wrote me that he would be a "soljer." I dismissed it as one of his many vain ambitions against which his race would raise an impassable barrier. And months later came his note from , where he was in training. I followed him to Scotland England, but before we could meet he was in . When, last summer, he obtained sudden leave, I was in France Devon. His simple note of regret rests now like a tear on my heart. But I have heard from him every week. He was never at home in his new career; something about it he did not quite understand. Latterly the loneliness of the life breathed from his lines. For he made no friends, in his silent, waiting way. His hunting companion was killed, and the great bereavement of it was like a strong man's sob. He was cold out there, even he, the Labradorhunter. But the heavy cardigan and gloves I sent did not reach him in time. In his last letter was a great longing for home—his Eskimo father whom he had left at ten years to carve his own fortune, his two dusky sisters who were to him like creatures from an angel world, the doctor for whom he worked in Labradorin the summer time, his old hunter friends. "There will be no more letters from them until the ice breaks again," he moaned. But the ice of a new world has broken for John. He had earned his long rest. Out there in lonesome Snipers' Land he lay, day after day; and the cunning that made him a hunter of fox and marten, and otter, and bear, and wolf brought to him better game. And all he ever asked was, "When will the war be over?" Only then would he return to his huskies and traps where few men dare a life of ice for a living almost as cold. John Shiwak—Eskimo—patriot. From the Daily Mail. [Note.—The above Eskimo is referred to in Dr. Paddon's letter on p. 59.—Editor.] London
Thursday, 19 November 2015
|The Canadian Magazine cover 3/1910|
The Picture Puzzle
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, March 1910.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, November 2015
IT occupied but a small space in the morning paper, but it was set off by a picture of a group of children intent on something lying on a table. Hovering near was a homey father and a happy mother with a baby in her arms. The faces of all were lit up with the joy a family-man loves to see on the faces of his family.
There was very little reading in the advertisement: “The popular Picture Puzzle has taken the place of bridge in polite society. Everybody plays it. It brightens the wits and is an education to young and old.’’
Now I am not one of those men who affect an English drawl or support the Suffragette movement simply because “polite society’’ leans that way. I pride myself that I am intensely practical and unimpressionable. But as I dropped my paper and read the morning dunners it did not take me long to decide that whatever took “the place of bridge” would please the butcher and me; and as the father of a rising family I attached due importance to the game that would also be an “education.” Their mother has ambitions for each of the children—ambitions that will require some education in their fulfilment.
Ever since my picture puzzle experience I know I was right in feeling the need of “education” for my children, seeing that they inherited so little from one side of the house. I have also learned that the illustrator of an advertisement requires no photograph to work from.
With canny care that I should not be taken in by untried experiments I, first of all, purchased a small twenty-five piece puzzle and presented it to my second youngest boy. The process of education for the youngest is yet in the spanking stage. Harry was delighted—even though I had already pieced together fourteen of the twenty-five before I handed them over. During the matching of the fourteen Harry was being educated by proxy.
Anyone could see the great mindtraining of picture puzzles. After even my short experience with it I was undoubtedly brilliant at dinner—even my wife noticed that, and she rarely shows an eagerness to acknowledge that characteristic in me. I frankly imputed my brightness to the “keening up of intellectual games,” and used several other phrases of that kind that would qualify for an advertisement. I announced that in the face of such evidence I would purchase a picture puzzle of proportions for my two eldest boys, Harry, aged ten, and Simpson, aged fourteen. Even William, a year old, would profit by the “elevated atmosphere that would pervade the house,” and could use the pieces for playthings when the boys had completed their education.
My wife did not look convinced. I am not yet able to claim that my wife thinks through my brains. In strictest honesty, I sometimes think she cannot be made to believe what she does not actually see—in this case I mean the gray matter, not the out-ward form of brains. I had, I confess, used similar arguments before I bought the boys the roller skates with which we found them one day learning to fall safely on the oak border around the drawing-room rug. It was I, too, who had presented them with a set of tools after reading a treatise on manual training. When a newel post, was sawed off and a face carved on a mahogany pedestal I raised no objection to the impounding of the tools.
I ought to know my boys don’t educate according to advertisement. But the picture puzzle panic was over me.
With the idea of getting the most education for the least money, and incidentally to procure something befitting the father of a family, I devoted an hour of a busy day to discovering the biggest puzzle on sale.
I have come to the conclusion that a man can be judged by the size of his picture puzzle—in inverse ratio. When I found one with five hundred and four pieces I was satisfied.
“Please tear the picture off the box,” I demanded of the patent-pale girl who waited on me. I did not purpose to allow the boys to build with the picture in front of them. Even I was not to see it.
The girl did as she was told. A shop girl meets all kinds of—me.
“After dinner,” I announced to the family when I reached home, ‘‘we’ll spend an hour in educative pleasure.”
The introduction of the five hundred and four pieces into our house was a distinct success. After a few words of wisdom left over from my brilliancy of the night before, I emptied the box on the table which had been cleared for the purpose. The baby, whose education was important enough to break his bed routine, gurgled all over when the brightly coloured, irregular shapes tumbled on the table. Harry jumped around in glee. My wife looked happily at the happy faces, and even Simpson showed interest. As for myself, I experienced a keen elation at having discovered a game with all the virtues of a course in Ruskin. Under the inspiration of the moment I remarked to my wife that it pays to read advertisements.
William and Harry made a dive for the pieces, but I calmly, though firmly, restrained an excitement that presented no direct relation to education.
“You had better let me start it for you,” I explained, as I pushed them all back and looked interestedly at the jumble. Then the chaos began to get into my system. I felt as if a few hundred pieces less would not have been an insurmountable obstacle to the acceptance of a cheaper, smaller puzzle, nor any impairment of its instructive value. Even the picture would not have been amiss to start on.
All eyes were on me: I must be cool. I must show them the earmarks of education in embryo. Carefully I studied the pieces.
“Ah, a nose!” I exclaimed at last, picking up a piece about the size of a man’s reputation just before his wife returns from a month’s visit out of town. “Now we have a nose. That will be the foundation of our building. Now what would naturally go with that?”
“A handkerchief,” answered Harry, and received a fitting rebuke, which extended to my wife when she laughed.
“With a nose, an eye would go.” I continued in the tone of a Sunday School superintendent who desires to make the answer appear to the distinguished visitor to come from the scholars.
“Now, who can find an eye? Simpson, spread out those pieces. Clear off that other table and lay out some other pieces on it. Things are too crowded here.”
But the eye was watching for us. It is surprising how many things look like an eye, and how many eyes resemble something else, when you are looking for one in a picture puzzle. I saw an eye in everything and Simpson saw it in nothing.
“Now that,” I said, as I tried to make an angle fit a curve, “is an eye of anger. You see the low threatening brow? This”—I picked up another piece and ran it all around the nose to find a fit—“is an eye of fear—dilated pupil, fixed expression. To the ordinary observer they may not be distinct but the highest art—ahem!—is that which does not stoop to details—a stroke of the pen or brush and you have the expressive eye. In this case—”
“Aw, this ain’t no nose,” broke in Harry, who had been viewing my first find from all possible angles.
It will be noted that my second son’s education has so far been more along the line of mental and visual development than in English. That can come later.
“This ain’t no nose,” he repeated, throwing it back on my table. “It’s the corner of a box—or a bit of cloud—or any old thing.”
Harry was feeling the chaos too.
“Hadn’t you better start with an outside piece?” hastily interposed my wife, observing the cool eye of speculation with which I measured Harry’s punishable parts. She had picked up a piece with one straight edge and a white streak along it where the paper of the picture had not quite reached the edge. “That would make it easier; you could work inwards, then.”
One thing about my wife, when she goes to clean a room she starts at the floor, sweeps, wipes the borders and dusts the chairs in the same routine every time. It is simply work to her. Her idea is merely to get it finished. There are no elevating thoughts on cleanliness and example to the boys while she draws the duster through the rungs of the chair.
“This, my dear,” I answered, and I hope I showed the dignity I felt—“this is an intellectual game. The profit from it is in the game, not in the finish. Anybody could solve the puzzle by starting from the outside, after which it would merely be a process of fitting. The boys and myself”—the implication was plain—“are doing this not alone for the sport that is in it.”
Simpson took the piece from his mother, while I continued my search for any two pieces that would match. Finally, in desperation I settled on one piece, and, one by one, ran the others around it. At the three hundredth piece, or thereabouts, I was rewarded.
“There,” I gloated, placing the two pieces tenderly on the table, and step ping back to view my success. “That shows what I mean, dear. Application, application! That’s the reward, you see, of patience and concentration.”
“Have you only got two, dad?” asked Harry from the other table “Why, Simpson and me have twenty pieces matched here.”
The pang—was it jealousy?—was drowned in the knowledge that the boys were receiving their education. Their table looked very interesting.
“Now, boys, you two come to this table and match while I build up from yours. This work will be better for you.”
Fortunately nobody asked me to explain my reasoning. After all, who had paid for that game, anyway?
The matching progressed wonder fully. I was successful in placing a dozen more pieces and a nice little square met my admiring gaze. I must share my joy.
“Bring Willie here, my dear,” I said to my wife. “Let him see the picture budding forth. It may be the evolution of things will enter his tiny brain. Let him receive all the education he can from this.”
My wife urged that it was William’s bed-time, but I insisted on allowing nothing to interfere with education. So William was brought, and the first thing he did was to make a playful sweep at my structure of pieces, one of those innocent movements that break your eyeglasses or upset the coffee in your lap. The corner piece fell loudly to the floor.
“If you don’t take that boy to bed right away,” I thundered, “his education will proceed with the more direct application of hands.” And William a education was very near to starting.
In the meantime the boys had formed a section and another table was necessary. Simpson came to look at my work.
“Why, father,” he said, after a moment’s scrutiny, “a girl’s boot doesn’t run out of her ear.”
Simpson was called after a maiden aunt of mine whose money might otherwise have gone towards a home for Indigent Italian Gray Hounds, and he felt the weight of those prospective riches. He is only fourteen, but his attendance at the
for Boys gives him a right to
the name of “Student,” and a desire for combing his hair before a mirror. As a
boy of culture his remarks are supposed to carry weight. Accordingly, he accompanies
them with an inflection of the upper lip that makes me wish him back in his
baby days for about four minutes. Fletcher College
I felt at that moment I could not have done Simpson justice in that short period.
I ordered him and Harry to bed. It was their bed-time anyway. It would nettle any father to see a son of fourteen with an education in fuller bud than his own. I never attended the
for Boys, to be
sure—but—but—I have a son who does, and besides I foot the bills. I have always
believed that concentration is necessary to perfect accomplishment—and
concentration is scarcely possible with two boys aged ten and fourteen, one of
whom is not overburdened with reverence and the other of whom has difficulty in
concealing his contempt. Fletcher
With concentration, four tables and two chairs I felt in a position to do myself justice. I began to work on a system—that is, I matched every unplaced piece to the built section until I found the one that fitted. I was not conscious of any great mental development, but concentration and system must develop something, and as there was no appearance of development in the picture puzzle, why, of course, it must have been taking effect in my brain.
The sound of my wife’s voice down the stairs roused me to an abrupt appreciation of the clocks striking two. Leaving a large note on the table ordering the maid to touch nothing I tip-toed to bed. Another notice on the boys’ door gave similar instructions, but before I got into bed I turned the key in their door to forestall disobedience. I am adopting different methods with William to enforce obedience since my success with the other two boys would scarcely provide copy for a woman’s journal.
Concentration seemed to have got into my system. It remained with me the next morning, and now that I can think of it calmly it was my long suit to the end of the puzzle. It hustled my shaving and induced me to omit all breakfast but porridge Porridge is an institution in our house. I want my boys to incorporate the desirable traits of the Scotch, and have no other available means of assisting than by supplying plenty of porridge.
Concentration kept me at the game until a message from my stenographer broke in. At luncheon time I took another hasty dip into the maze, and at 4.30 was back in the sitting-room trying to find that girl’s arm. Dinner was an interruption, and Eliza, the maid, came in for a rebuke for her slowness in serving. We broke an engagement for the evening, as I really had no desire to go out. I always was a great home-man—but I didn’t mind giving the boys fifty cents to take in a “show” that night. Boys must have their fling.
I have a misty recollection of pulling myself upstairs sometime in the morning, with my wife watching me anxiously from the landing.
From that point my adventures with the picture puzzle have been collected from my wife. The thing had got on my nerves. I dreamt and ate pieces, and thought in comers, points and curves. To be sure, I remembered the more important events of the next day, such as the finding of that arm, but apart from that the story is my wife’s.
I made straight for the sitting-room the next morning, and fruit and porridge were served there. I stopped long enough to thresh Harry for asking fool questions about where his education was to come in, but I even interrupted the threshing to fit in a piece. I signed the cheque for the butcher’s bill without asking for a bill. To the office I would not go, and I have a faint recollection of hearing my wife tell someone over the ’phone that I was ill; and then she came and looked at me with mournful eyes. I also remember the family physician looking me over from the door.
At six-thirty my wife did succeed in drawing me away to dinner at which we were entertaining a couple of friends. During the meal I was absorbed in cutting my meat into fantastic shapes, and then piecing them together. I slid my knife between the fork tines and examined it critically to see if it was a match. Between courses I spent the time fitting the salt cellar, the olive dish, the knife handle, the water glass into the scallops in the edge of the centre-piece, and in matching the entree shells I had to reach for my neighbour’s before I found a satisfactory fit. When I helped the desert I first glanced at the mouths of my guests and served to match.
Just as soon as possible I bolted from the table for the puzzle. Nothing else mattered now.
Everything seemed to be at sixes and sevens in the picture puzzle when I resumed the “game.” It looked almost as if the pieces had been moved, but I knew this could not be, as the entire family had been with me at dinner. The guests left very early. I was so busy trying to finish a corner on some square thing that the world seemed made for nothing else. Not a piece could I match. Every piece remaining was tried from all sides.
My hair was wandering wildly over my eyes, my coat was off, a deep frown puckered my brow. I wandered excitedly from table to table. The pieces shook so in my fingers that even if they had matched they would never have reached their places.
I had proceeded far enough with the “game” to feel that there was a woman in it. I felt I might have known that, and I was wild at any woman balking me. My wife had never done so.
A woman! a woman!
With shut teeth I shoved a point viciously up into a corner. It did not fit. I sat down and seized the evening paper, trying to read it upside down. I leaped up again and jammed in another piece. I examined that woman from all sides but the back. She showed no consciousness that her belt buckle wasn’t straight or that her waist was not pulled down properly. Drat that woman! I thought fully as bad as that. I took a long breath and slowly ran my eye over the pieces. Ah, there it was! I seized it and lowered it carefully over the opening Something was wrong. I pressed it down. I slammed it down—and the corner broke off.
My wife fled from the room, leaving me pounding the pieces of that puzzle with a footstool. Harry came to the door, and with a whoop bolted for the kitchen, returning in a moment with a hatchet. He was going to help dad. While I was transforming those five hundred and four pieces into several thousands, Harry was attacking two of the tables with the hatchet, at the same time handing out encouragement to me.
“Go it, dad.” And I “go-ed” it with supreme delight.
“Give her an upper-cut, dad.”
I used all the blows I know.
“Wallop her. Knock her block off. Perforate her think-tank.”
I guess I did it all.
Blasphemy—such blasphemy as “Thunderin’ Jehosophat,” “Jiminy Crickets,” “Jumpin’ Judas”—flowed from my lips. And Harry elaborated with a proficiency that made me envious. Simpson happened to look in—and Simpson got his.
I was having more real satisfaction than I had had for many a day.
When my wife returned with the family physician, I was in bed sound asleep with my boots on. Harry was doing a picture puzzle with the pieces of the tables and making them fit with a hatchet.
After a day’s rest they broke the news to me. While I had been at dinner the doctor, fearing for my reason, had crept in and substituted parts of another puzzle for the unmatched pieces of mine.
So that it was no sign of failing power that I had been unable to handle that woman. I could have finished her all right—if she hadn’t first finished me.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.