CHAPTER XVIII. THE RECKONING
There are times when that which constitutes one's inner self seems to cease. So it was with me at the moment Mr. Ford uttered those last words. My heart should have swelled with emotion, but it did not. I cannot remember any time in my life when I had less feeling.
Mr. Ford was asking me to come with him to the post house, and looking at my feet. Then George was seen to rummage in one of the bags and out came my seal-skin boots which I had worn but once, mainly because the woman at Northwest River post who made them had paid me the undeserved compliment of making them too small. My "larigans," which had long ago ceased to have any waterproof qualities, were now exchanged for the seal-skins, and thus fortified I stepped out into the slippery mud. So with a paddle as staff in one hand and Mr. Ford supporting me by the other, I completed my journey to the post.
At the foot of the hill below the house, Mrs. Ford stood waiting. Her eyes shone like stars as she took my hand and said, "You are very welcome, Mrs. Hubbard. Yours is the first white woman's face I have seen for two years." We went on up the hill to the house. I do not remember what we talked about, I only remember Mrs. Ford's eyes, which were very blue and very beautiful now in her excitement. And when we reached the little piazza and I turned to look back, there were the men sitting quietly in the canoes. The Eskimo had drawn canoes, men and outfit across the mud to where a little stream slipped down over a gravelly bed, which offered firmer footing, and were now coming in single file towards the post each with a bag over his shoulder.
Why were the men sitting there? Why did they not come too?
Suddenly I realised that with our arrival at the post our positions were reversed. They were my charges now. They had completed their task and what a great thing they had done for me. They had brought me safely, triumphantly on my long journey, and not a hair of my head had been harmed. They had done it too with an innate courtesy and gentleness that was beautiful, and I had left them without a word. With a dull feeling of helplessness and limitation I thought of how differently another would have done. No matter how I tried, I could never be so generous and self-forgetful as he. In the hour of disappointment and loneliness, even in the hour of death, he had taken thought so generously for his companions. I, in the hour of my triumph, had forgotten mine. We were like Light and Darkness and with the light gone how deep was the darkness. Once I had thought I stood up beside him, but in what a school had I learned that I only reached to his feet. And now all my effort, though it might achieve that which he would be glad and proud of, could never bring him back.
I must go back to the men at once; and leaving Mr. and Mrs. Ford I slipped down the hill again, and out along the little stream across the cove. They came to meet me when they saw me coming and Heaven alone knows how inadequate were the words with which I tried to thank them. We came up the hill together now, and soon the tents were pitched out among the willows. As I watched them from the post window busy about their new camping ground, it was with a feeling of genuine loneliness that I realised that I should not again be one of the little party.
Later came the reckoning, which may be summed up as follows: -
_Length of Journey_: - 576 miles from post to post (with 30 miles additional to Ungava Bay covered later in the post yacht Lily).
_Time_: - June 27th to August 27th. Forty-three days of actual travelling, eighteen days in camp.
_Provisions_: - 750 lbs. to begin with, 392 lbs. of which was flour. Surplus, including gifts to Nascaupee Indians, 150 lbs., 105 lbs. of which was flour, making the average amount consumed by each member of the party, 57 1/2 lbs.
_Results_: - The pioneer maps of the Nascaupee and George Rivers, that of the Nascaupee showing Seal Lake and Lake Michikamau to be in the same drainage basin and which geographers had supposed were two distinct rivers, the Northwest and the Nascaupee, to be one and the same, the outlet of Lake Michikamau carrying its waters through Seal Lake and thence to Lake Melville; with some notes by the way on the topography, geology, flora and fauna of the country traversed.
It is not generally borne in mind by those who have been interested in Mr. Hubbard and his last venture, that he did not plan his outfit for the trip which they made. The failure to find the open waterway to Lake Michikamau, which has already been discussed, made the journey almost one long portage to the great lake. But even so, if the season of unprecedented severity in which my husband made his journey, could have been exchanged for the more normal one in which I made mine, he would still have returned safe and triumphant, when there would have been only praises for his courage, fortitude and skill in overcoming the difficulties which lie across the way of those who would search out the hidden and untrod ways.
Nevertheless rising far above either praise or blame stands the beauty of that message which came out from the lonely tent in the wilderness. In utter physical weakness, utter loneliness, in the face of defeat and death, my husband wrote that last record of his life, so triumphantly characteristic, which turned his defeat to a victory immeasurably higher and more beautiful than the success of his exploring venture could ever have been accounted, and thus was compassed the higher purpose of his life.
For that it had been given to me to fulfill one of those lesser purposes by which he planned to build up a whole, that would give him the right to stand among those who had done great things worthily, I was deeply grateful. The work was but imperfectly done, yet I did what I could.