Quebec - At the Mekinac
( Originally Published 1907 )
THE "Ancient and Honorable," the Commodore and, I were guests of that well known veteran of the American War. Capt. G. W. Batchelder of Boston, at his beautiful camp on Lake Chateau some eighteen miles from Grande Piles on the St. Maurice River. We had reached there after a day of journeying from Quebec with all the attending episodes of a varied day's adventures on cars, boat and trail to the camp. We had had the early evening's fishing on the lake and our verdict was "immense." Our genial host had superintended a dinner that left nothing to be desired either in service or menu. A big crackling fire in the open hearth of odorous green birch wood, and the fragrant cigars with the pousse café, put us all in the humor to reminisce. I started the ball rolling with some little anecdote, and then I called upon the Commodore to give us from out of his experience, and his response was as follows :
"Visitors to the Coast of Labrador often hear strange stories concerning some of the people settled there, and on one of my official trips I found a case which may interest you. I will make the story as short as possible.
In the month of September, 1870, I left on board one of the Government light-house supply steamers under my control, calling at some of the principal stations. At Egg Island the steamer required to remain over for a couple of days, while the workmen attended to some necessary repairs required there. Taking advantage of this delay, I left, with the Captain as my companion, for a day's salmon fishing in a river not far off; we went up in the steamer's boat, with four sailors to row her; when we reached the mouth of the river we saw a small house nearby and a man came down to the shore where we landed, who helped us haul up our boat. I questioned him about my chance of getting a salmon ; he answered me that there were some up the river at a pool at the foot of the falls. I engaged him to guide us, and after a walk of about three miles or so we came to the pool he spoke about, but notwithstanding all my efforts, changing one good fly for another, not a salmon would rise. I succeeded, however, in catching a number of fine sea trout. Well contented with my luck, we decided to leave and returned to our boat, but when we reached the shore the wind had become so strong that the heavy waves breaking upon the beach compelled us to seek shelter in the house for the night. The Captain and I went into the house and found seated in a corner a woman smoking a pipe ; she told me she was our guide's wife, he being with the men who were in a small shed nearby. I asked her a few questions, when I noticed by her answers that she was evidently more or less educated. I asked her whether she was born on the Coast ; she answered, "Oh! no, Sir, I was born in Quebec and educated in a Con-vent ; my parents were well-to-do people, but I was a sickly girl, and our doctor advised sea air for me; having an uncle, who owned a trading schooner, he offered to take me for a trip as far as the Straits of Belle Isle, on his last trip of that season. I went with him and notwithstanding the rough weather we encountered it did me much good, but, unfortunately, on our return, we were wrecked near Esquimaux Point and were obliged to winter there, and there I married. My husband soon showed signs of a very jealous nature, and decided we should go away from that place; he built a large fishing boat, called a barge, fitted it with sails and procured a number of traps and pro-visions and we sailed away for the Island of Anticosti. We coasted along the shores until we came to the most isolated place near the South Point of the Island of Anticosti, where we landed, built a log hut, and settled down to make it our home. Then began some of the hardest trials of my life; my husband would go way back to some lakes, set his traps and remain away for many days at a time. On one occasion, while he was absent, three large black bears came prowling near by, seeking for food among the sea-weed washed up on the shore, and I shot the three of them at different times from out of the window. My husband, when he returned," was quite proud of my good luck in adding such fine skins to his lot, all of which we would trade for provisions with masters of schooners, who came yearly to deal on the Coast. One winter, while my husband was away, our hut burned down, and I was left to do the best I could; fortunately we had a small shack near by, and I made it as comfortable as possible, and when he returned we set to work, and built another log-house.
Later we packed up again, and sailed away for Labrador and landed at this place, built the house we now occupy, and have been here about four years." I asked her why they did not come up to Quebec, she answered ; " knowing no one there and I would probably not be able to find wages to earn a living there and besides he prefers this isolated kind of life."
The next year however, they came up to Quebec and I procured him work with a good cooper, and they spent some time in the City. You will hardly believe it when I tell you that she begged him to go back to that same Labrador home ; and back they went. A couple of years after this I was sitting in my office when my messenger informed me that a lady wanted to see me; he ushered in a woman, dressed in deep mourning, who stood before me, and when she lifted her crape veil I found that my visitor was none other than my Labrador hostess. I asked her whether her husband had come back with her; she answered, No! do you not see that I am in mourning, he is dead. I asked her to sit down and tell me all about her life after they returned to Labrador, which she did. Her story is as follows :
When they returned to their home, where I visited them, they settled down to their former style of life, engaged in fishing during the summer and trapping in the winter, and as soon as the ice became strong enough to bear them over swamps streams and lakes and the ground was well covered with snow, they would pack up their provisions, frying pan, tea pots, blankets, tent and traps on a sled, or kometic, hauled by three dogs, and travel way back generally on snowshoes, nearly a hundred miles, to a large lake where they would camp for the whole winter attending to their traps and bringing back with them the skins of the fur bearing animals they would capture, and sometimes do pretty well with the sale of the furs. On the last winter, after being encamped for some time, her husband went down to the borders of the lake to bring up a pail of water which he would fill from a hole cut in the ice for the purpose; the last time he went down to the lake for that purpose, not returning within a reasonable time, she became anxious about him and went down to see what kept him, and she found him evidently stricken by a severe attack of paralysis, and quite insensible ; she managed to haul him up to the tent and did all she could to revive him, but during the night he died,and she was left alone with the corpse of her husband, nearly one hundred miles away from any habitation. "You may well imagine, Sir, the horrors of my position, no assistance to be had anywhere; I remained two or three days hardly knowing what to do, when I decided to attach my husband's body to the kometic and leave with it to find my way back to the house; it took me several days before I could reach home with my load. I went off and got the assistance of a fisherman and his sons some several miles away, to come with me and help me bury my husband's body, I expressed my deepest sympathy for her, and hopes for the future bettering of her condition. You will be surprised• to learn that, after a year's stay in Quebec, I was informed that she had again returned to her old Labrador home, giving for reasons that she was really hap-pier there than she could be in Quebec, and I understood she married a fisherman down there ; he dying, she became a widow again, and came up to Quebec for some time. I met her once when she told me she was trying to get to the Island of Anticosti where she hoped she might find some-thing to do among the people engaged by the present owner of that Island, Mr. Henri Menier, the well known Chocolate King, of Paris. She never had any children, and appeared to have no one to look after her, but was nevertheless cheerful. I have completely lost sight of her since.
This is one of several true stories I know of concerning Labrador life. With all the hardships encountered, there are people living on that shore you could not induce to leave ; some have tried to do so, but in most cases after a sojourn of a couple of years they would return to their old mode of living on that bleak coast, many or them claiming that their health was better, and that they enjoyed greater freedom, and that they loved the sea-shore life.
The "Ancient and Honorable," whose turn it now was to spin a yarn, delivered himself as follows :
Some years ago I was cruising along the Labrador Coast in the good steam yacht Snipe as a guest of her owner James W of Montreal. We had permits for pretty nearly every salmon river and in several of them we had had fair sport.
When we arrived off the Marin River and had anchored, we received a call from the Hudson Bay Factor, a splendid specimen of a Scotchman of about thirty-five years of age. After drinking our healths and wishing us good sport on the river, he ended by saying ; "Gentlemen, it will give me a great deal of pleasure to see you at the post this evening. I cannot offer you champagne, but I can give you a good rum punch and some of as fine old brandy as ever you tasted."
The invitation was accepted and Mr. Factor departed in his boat. After dinner we were rowed ashore and were heartily welcomed at the Post by the Factor. We were ushered into the big living room, which showed evidences of the good taste of the Factor in all its appointments.
"Gentlemen," said he, "pray be seated," and touching a bell, a moment later there appeared a very handsome young Montagnais Squaw. He gave her some orders in her own tongue,and a little later she reappeared with some five or six bottles of brandy, and then a bowl of punch. Our party, though not temperance, were a temperate lot, and we exchanged glances at these profuse preparations.
"Now gentlemen," said the Factor, "we'll make a night of if and going to the door he locked it, and put the big key in his pocket. "Fill your glasses and we'll begin," said he, "for I'm going to keep you here until every drop of punch and all these bottles are emptied. I had a party of American' yachtsmen here last month, and I kept them locked up here for two days."
It now dawned upon us that the man was either crazy or was in D-Ts, and in undertones we began to devise how we were to get out of the infernal scrape we were in.
S____,whose wits were ever alive, got us all interested in the various things about the room, and while the Factor's attention was thus diverted, was emptying the bottles into a big open knot-hole in the floor.
When at last there was no more to drink the factor said: " Gentlemen you have done me proud. Tomorrow we will repeat this," and then he unlocked the door for our escape.
Next morning early, with the flood tide, we started in the small boats up the river to fish for salmon. Scarcely had we got under weigh than a figure appeared from out the post clad only in a night shirt. It carried a rifle, however, as we soon discovered when bullets began to splash all about us. It was a trying moment until the figure again disappeared into the house.
For two days we fished the river with no further news of our eccentric host. We caught many salmon.
Upon our return, and just before we hoisted anchor, a boat put off from shore, and our late host came aboard. He showed no sign of his late debauch, nor did he allude to it. He wished us bon voyage, and there apparently ended the incident.
A year later, however, I was in Montreal and had occasion to visit the Cote des Neiges Cemetery. I saw some men putting up a slab, and I stopped to see whose it was. To my astonishment, it commemorated the death of the Factor of River Marin, our friend and entertainer of the preceding year.
And now, Batchelder, what have you to tell, or otherwise we must pass judgement upon and penalize you for contumacy.
Our host laughed one of his quiet little laughs, and turning in the direction of the "Ancient and Hororable" said :
"I am going to tell you an amusing little story of where pure luck, stupid luck, made the fortune of a man I once knew. His name was Jackman, and he lived on a rough hillside farm in Vermont, just outside the little town of Wessel. He was'nt particularly noted for energy, or any other of the New England virtues. Much of his time was spent about the Village tavern, and he was always ready for a long chat, and a long drink with anyone who would stand treat. His farm was mortgaged ,and as the years went on his affairs grew worse and worse. He was an angler, as all idle fellows are, and when he was'nt loafing at the tavern, he was pretty certain to be a-fishing One morning while he was sitting on the verandah of the hotel, his chair tilted back and his feet on the railing, a stranger stepped out of the house, drew up a chair alongside of Jackman, and at once entered into conversation.
"Resident of this town, I suppose?" said the stranger.
"Yes," replied Jackman, "but gettin' sick of it, no money in farmin' these days."
"Don't say," said the stranger, "well I'm just about sick of my job, and would like to try farmin' for a change."
"What particular line is yours ?" asked Jack-man.
"Selling patent rights in a water-wheel for the different states," said the stranger.
"Good wheel ?" asked Jackman, who had a strong leaning to anything in the way of a patent.
"None better," answered the stranger, "I've sold Vermont, and have only got Western Pennsylvania left, but I'm tired of travelling and I've taken a fancy to this country up here."
Jackman saw his opportunity. He invited the stranger to "licker up," and the stranger invited Jackman to "licker up," and the end of it was that Jackman closed for his mortgaged farm to the stranger for the patent rights of the water-wheel for Western Pennsylvania.
A few days later Jackman started for Pennsylvania. For days and weeks he wandered about that State trying to sell water-wheels, which no one appeared to want. One morning, while siting discouraged and almost penniless at the door of a little roadside house, an even more disconsolate looking individual sat down beside him on the bench.
"Kinder dull 'round these parts," said the stranger.
"Well I should smile if it aint," answered Jack-man.
"What are you tryin' to sell?" asked the stranger.
"Patent water-wheel," replied Jackman, "and you, stranger.'
"Up to yesterday I was selling patent churns, but in this blame country they don't keep cows, so yesterday I swopped my rights in the churn with a fellow for two lots of land," and the stranger smiled
"Good land?" enquired Jackman.
"Could'nt say," answered the stranger, "never saw it."
"Like to trade 'em," said Jackman.
"Don't know but what I would," replied the other.
Well, not to make a long story, Jackman traded his water-wheel for the lots of land, and the deeds were transferred, and then Jackman walked home to Vermont. This tired him so much that for another year he mostly sat around the bar-room of the hotel in Wessel trying to get rested out.
Then came another stranger to the hotel and after registering he asked the proprietor if he knew a man by the name of Jackson.
"That's him," said the landlord at the same time pointing to Jackman.
The stranger and Jackman "shook," and then they adjourned to the bar.
"Now, Mr. Jackman, I've come a long way to see you on a matter of business, and when I've any of that on hand, I believe in going right to head-quarters. Me and some friends of mine in Pennsylvania are going to start a game club, and I see that two lots of land stood in your name, and these lots are in the locality we've staked. Now Mr. Jackman, they are not worth a cent except to breed partridges on, but I'm disposed to deal handsomely by you, and offer you $1,000 cash down if the transfer is made at once."
Jackman could have embraced the stranger, but not wishing to appear too eager, he said he must first consult Mrs. Jackman, who would also have to sign the deed if they decided to sell, and off he went promising to return within an hour.
He was so full of his good luck that he stopped in to tell Squire Ream of it.
"Hold on a moment, Jackman," said the Squire "where did you say this land was ?"
"In Acme, Pennsylvania, Squire."
"Well," replied the Squire, "they've struck oil in those parts, and I guess your friend is'nt going to set up no game club. You go back to the hotel, Jackman, say you have consulted your lawyer, and that you refuse to sell under $75,000."
The stranger met Jackman at the hotel door, and at once said, "I`m afraid, Mr. Jackman, I offered too much for those lots."
"Oh ! did you ?" replied Jackman," and I've decided not to sell at your offer. My price now is $75,000, oil or no oil. Do you catch on ?"
"I do," said the stranger, "and I guess, friend Jackman, you have also caught on—so let's get right down to business." And down to business they got, and when it was finished Jackman had $65,000 cash paid, and the stranger had the deed.
Jackman is now one of the Nabobs of Wessels, and considered a leading financial light.