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Labrador Days Tales of the Sea Toilers

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The ice in the big bay had broken up suddenly that year in the latter part of March before a tremendous ocean swell heaving in beneath it. The piles of firewood and the loads of timber for the summer fishing-rooms on all the outer islands were left standing on the landwash. The dog-teams usually haul all this out at a stretch gallop over the glare ice which overlies in April the snow-covered surface of winter. For weeks, heavy pack ice, driven to and fro with the tides, but ever held in the bay with the onshore winds, had prevented the small boats' freighting more than their families and the merest necessities to the summer stations.

So it came to pass that long after the usual time, indeed after the incoming shoals of fish were surely expected, John Mitchell's firewood still lay on the bank, some twenty miles up the bay. When at last a spell of warm and offshore winds had driven the ice mostly clear, John announced to his eager lads that "come Monday, if the wind held westerly," he would go up the bay for a load. What a clamour ensued, for every one wanted to be one of the crew to go to the winter home. The lads, like ducklings, "fair loved the water"; and though John needed Jim, and was quite glad to have Tom, now of the important age of fourteen years, he did his best, well seconded by the wise old grandmother, to persuade Neddie, aged twelve, and Willie, aged ten, to stay behind.

"You be too small, Ned, yet awhile. Next year perhaps father will take you," was the old lady's first argument. '"Twill be cold in t' boat, boy, and you'll perish altogether."

"Father'll look after me, Grannie, and I'll wrap up ever so warm. Do let me go. There's a dear grannie."

The curly-haired, rosy-cheeked lads were so insistent and so winsome that the old lady confessed to me afterwards, "They somehow got round my heart as they mostly does, and I let 'em go, though sore against my mind, Doctor."

Of course, Willie had to go if Neddie went, for "they'd be company while t' men worked, and he could carry small things as well as t' rest. He did so want to go."

When at length Monday came, and a bright sun shone over a placid sea, the grandmother's last excuse to keep them at home was lost. Her consent was finally secured, and, before a light, fair wind the women watched, not without anxiety, so many of those whom they held dearer than life itself sail "out into the deep."

Progress was slow, for the wind fell away almost altogether as the morning passed, but the glorious warmth and exuberance of life made the time seem as nothing. The picnic in the big trap boat was as good as a prince's banquet. For the fun of "boiling t' kettle yourself," and an appetite bred of a day on the water, made the art of French cooks and the stimulus of patent relishes pale into insignificance. During the afternoon they "had a spurt singing," and as the words of hymns were the only ones they knew, the old favourites were sung and resung. The little lads especially led the programme; and the others remembered Willie singing for them, as a solo, a childish favourite called "Bring Them In."

It was just about seven o'clock in the evening....