Bobby of the Labrador

Produced by Wallace McLean, Edna Badalian and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team.


It was plain that retreat was hopelessly cut off
It was plain that retreat was hopelessly cut off

Bobby of the Labrador



If I may call you friend, I wish you this—
No gentle destiny throughout the years;
No soft content, or ease, or unearned bliss
Bereft of heart-ache where no sorrow nears,
But rather rugged trouble for a mate
To mold your soul against the coming blight,
To train you for the ruthless whip of fate
And build your heart up for the bitter fight.
If I may call you friend, I wish you more—
A rare philosophy no man may fake,
To put the game itself beyond the score
And take the tide of life as it may break;
To know the struggle that a man should know
Before he comes through with the winning hit,
And, though you slip before the charging foe,
To love the game too well to ever quit.



Bobby of the Labrador



Abel Zachariah was jigging cod. Cod were plentiful, and Abel Zachariah was happy. It still lacked two hours of mid-day, and already he had caught a skiffload of fish and had landed them on Itigailit Island, where his tent was pitched.

Now, as he jigged a little off shore, he could see Mrs. Abel Zachariah, the yellow sunshine spread all about her, splitting his morning catch on a rude table at the foot of the sloping rocks. Above her stood the little tent that was their summer home, and here and there the big sledge dogs, now idle and lazy and fat, sprawled blissfully upon the rocks enjoying the August morning, for this was their season of rest and plenty.

With a feeling of deep content Abel drew in his line, unhooked a flapping cod, returned the jigger to the water, and, as he resumed the monotonous tightening and slackening of line, turned his eyes again to the peaceful scene ashore.

Mrs. Abel in this brief interval had left the splitting table and had ascended the sloping rock a little way, where she now stood, shading her eyes with her right hand and gazing intently seaward. Suddenly she began gesticulating wildly, and shouting, and over the water to Abel came the words:

Umiak! Umiak!” (A boat! A boat!)

Abel arose deliberately in his skiff, and looking in the direction in which Mrs. Abel pointed discovered, coming out of the horizon, a boat, rising and falling upon the swell. It carried no sail, and after careful scrutiny Abel’s sharp eyes could discern no man at the oars. This, then, was the cause of Mrs. Abel’s excitement. The boat was unmanned—a derelict upon the broad Atlantic.

A drifting boat is fair booty on the Labrador coast. It is the recognized property of the man who sees it and boards it first. And should it be a trap boat he is indeed a fortunate man, for the value of a trap boat is often greater than a whole season’s catch of fish.

So Abel lost no time in hauling in and coiling his jigger line, in adjusting his oars, and in pulling away toward the derelict with all the strength his strong arms and sinewy body could muster.

Abel had wished for a good sea boat all his life. When the fishing schooners now and again of a foggy night anchored behind Itigailit Island he never failed to examine the fine big trap boats which they carried. Sometimes he had ventured to inquire how much salt fish they would accept in exchange for one. But he had never had enough fish, and his desire to possess a boat seemed little less likely of fulfilment than that of a boy with a dime in his pocket, covetously contemplating a gold watch in the shop window.

But here, at last, drifting directly toward him, as though Old Ocean meant it as a gift, propelled by a gentle breeze and an incoming tide, came a boat that would cost him nothing but the getting. Fortune was smiling upon Abel Zachariah this fine August morning.

Now and again as he approached the derelict, Abel rested upon his oars, that he might turn about for a moment and feast his eyes upon his prospective prize, and revel in the pleasure of anticipation about to be realized.

And so, presently, he discovered that the boat was not a trap boat after all, but a much finer craft than any trap boat he had ever seen. Its lines were much more graceful, it had recently been painted, and, as it rose and fell with the swell, a varnished gunwale glistened in the sunlight. It was fully four fathoms and a half in length, and was undoubtedly a ship’s boat; and, being a ship’s boat, was probably built of hard wood, and therefore vastly superior to the spruce boats of the fishermen.

Abel had fully satisfied himself upon these points before, keenly expectant, he at length rowed alongside the derelict. Grasping its gunwale to steady himself, he was about to step aboard when, with an exclamation of astonishment and horror, he released his hold upon the gunwale and resumed his seat in the skiff.

Stretched in the boat lay the body of a man. In the man’s side was a great gaping wound, and his clothing and the boat were spattered and smeared with blood. The man was dead. In the fixed, cold stare of his wide-open eyes was a look of hopeless appeal, and the ghastly terror of one who had beheld some awful vision.



Abel had often seen death before. He had seen men drowned, men who had frozen to death, men accidentally shot to death, and men who had died naturally and comfortably in their beds. It was, therefore, not the sight of death that startled him, but the horror and tragic appeal in the dead man’s staring eyes. It was uncanny and supernatural.

This, at least, was Abel’s first intuitive impression. Though he could not have defined this impression or put his thoughts into words, he felt much as one would feel who had heard a dead man speak.

He pushed his skiff a few yards away and, resting upon his oars, viewed the derelict from a respectful distance. His impulse was to row back to Itigailit Island at once and leave the boat and its ghastly, silent skipper to the mercies of the sea. But the mystery fascinated him. The beseeching gaze that had met his had roused his imagination. And so for a long time he sat in silent contemplation of the boat, wondering from whence it and the thing it contained had come, and how the man had met his death.

Abel Zachariah was a Christian, but he was also an Eskimo, and he had inherited the superstitions of untold generations of heathen ancestors—superstitions that to him were truths above contradiction. He held it as a fact beyond dispute that all unnatural or accidental deaths were brought about by the evil spirits with which his forefathers had peopled the sea and the desolate land in which he lived. It was his firm belief that evil spirits remained to haunt the place where a victim had been lured to violent death, as in the present instance had plainly been the case. He had no doubt that the boat was haunted, and therefore he kept his distance, for unless by some subtle and certain charm the spirits could be driven off, none but a foolhardy man would ever venture to board the derelict, and Abel was not a foolhardy man.

These superstitions seem very foolish to us, no doubt; but, after all, were they one whit more foolish or groundless than the countless superstitions to which many educated and seemingly intelligent Christian people of civilization are bound? As, for instance, the superstition that where thirteen sit together at table one will die within the year.

And so Abel Zachariah, being a man of caution, held aloof from the boat which he had so eagerly set out to salvage; and sitting engrossed in contemplation, he in his skiff and the dead man in the derelict drifted for a while side by side toward Itigailit Island. And thus he was sitting silent and inactive when suddenly he was startled by the cry of a child in distress.

Abel for a moment was not at all certain that this was not some wicked plot of the spirits, intended to lure him within their reach, and he seized his oars, determined to increase the distance between himself and possible danger. But when the cry was repeated, and presently became a frightened wail, Abel hesitated. If it was a spirit that emitted the succeeding wails it was surely a very corporeal spirit, with well developed lungs and also a very much frightened spirit; and a frightened spirit could not be dangerous.

Abel had never heard of a spirit that cried like this one, or of a spirit that was frightened, and he rose to his feet that he might look over the gunwale and into the derelict. From this vantage he beheld the head of a little child, and he could see, also, that this very real child, and not the much feared spirits, was the source of the loud and piteous wails.

The spirit of evil, then, had not tarried after striking down the man. Doubtless God had interposed to save the child, else it, too, would have been destroyed, and no spirit of evil could remain where God exerted His power. Here was a subtle and potent charm in which Abel Zachariah had unwavering faith, for, after all, his faith in God was greater than his faith in the religion of his fathers. And so, vastly relieved and no longer afraid, he rowed his skiff alongside the boat, made his painter fast and stepped aboard.

Standing in the forward part of the boat was a little boy, perhaps three years of age. He was fair haired and fair skinned and handsome, but as a result of privations he had suffered he was evidently ill and his cheeks were flushed with fever.

Abel’s great, generous heart went out to the child in boundless sympathy. He forgot the dead man aft. He forgot even the boat. The coveted prize of his ambition an hour before, had small importance to Abel now. His one thought was for this distressed little one that God had so unexpectedly sent down to him upon the bosom of the sea.

The child ceased crying, and with big blue tear-wet eyes looked with wonder upon his dusky faced deliverer.

Pages: First | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | ... | Next → | Last | Single Page