Wednesday, January 29, 2014

from "A Labrador Doctor"

By Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell
from Chapter XX “Marriage”

The journey from Lake Forest to Labrador would have been a tedious one, but by good fortune a friend from New York had arranged to come and visit the coast in his steam yacht, the Enchantress, and was good enough to pick me up at Bras d’Or. Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, who had previously shown me much kindness, permitted us to rendezvous at his house, and for a second time I enjoyed seeing some of the experiments of his most versatile brain. His aeroplanes, telephones, and other inventions were all intensely interesting, but among his other lines of work the effort to develop a race of sheep, which had litters just as pigs do, interested me most.

Francis Sayre, whom I had heard win the prize at Williams with his valedictory speech, was again to be my summer secretary. On our arrival at St. Anthony we found a great deal going on. The fame as a surgeon of my colleague, Dr. John Mason Little, had spread so widely that St. Anthony Hospital would no longer hold the patients who sought assistance at it. Fifty would arrive on a single mail boat. They were dumped down on the little wharf, having been landed in small punts from the steamer, as in those days we had no proper dock to which the boats could come. The little waiting-room in the hospital at night resembled nothing so much as a newly opened sardine tin; and to cater for the waiting patients was a Sisyphean task without the Hercules. Through the instrumentality of Dr. Little’s sister a fund of ten thousand dollars was raised to double the size of the hospital, and the work of building was begun on my return. Although the capacity was greatly increased thereby we have really been unable ever to make our building what it ought to be to meet the problem. The first part, constructed of green lumber hauled from the woods, and other wings added at different periods of growth, the endeavor to blast out suitable heating-plant accommodations—all this has left the hospital building more or less a thing of rags and patches, and most uneconomical to run. We are urgently in need of having it rebuilt entirely of either brick or stone, in order to resist the winter cold, to give more efficiency and comfort to patients and staff and to conserve our fuel, which is the most serious item of expense we have to meet.

But at that time with all its capacity for service the new addition was rising, sounding yet one more note of praise in better ability to meet the demands upon us.

And pari passu came the beautiful offer of my friend, Mr. Sayre, to double the size of our orphanage, putting up the new wing in memory of his father. This meant that instead of twenty we might now accommodate forty children at a pinch. Life is so short that it is the depths of pathos to be hampered in doing one’s work for the lack of a few dollars. Of great interest to my fiancée and myself was the selection of a piece of ground adjoining the Mission land, and the erection for ourselves of the home which we had planned and designed together before I had left Lake Forest. We chose some land up on the hillside and overlooking the sea and the harbour, where the view should be as comprehensive as possible. But we feared that even though our new house was very literally “founded upon a rock,” the winds might some day remove it bodily from its abiding-place, and therefore we riveted the structure with heavy iron bolts to the sold bedrock.

One excitement of that season was Admiral Peary’s return from the North Pole. We were cruising near Indian Harbour when some visitors came aboard to make use of our wireless telegraph, which at that time we had installed on board. It proved to be Mr. Harry Whitney. It was the first intimation that we had had that Peary was returning that year. Whitney had met Cook coming back from the polar sea on the west side of the Gulf, where he had disappeared about eighteen months previously. I had met Dr. Cook several times myself, and indeed I had slept at his house in Brooklyn. He had visited Battle Harbour Hospital in 1893 when he was wrecked in the steamer in which he was conducting a party to visit Greenland. We had again seen him as he went North with Mr. Bradley in the yacht, and he had sent us back some Greenland dogs to mix their blood with our dogs, and so perhaps improve their breed and endurance. These, however, I had later felt it necessary to kill, for the Greenland dogs carry the dangerous tapeworm which is such a menace to man, and of which our Labrador dogs are entirely free so far.

The picture of this meeting on the ice between Cook and Whitney gave us the impression of another Nansen and Jackson at Spitzbergen. Whitney had welcomed Cook warmly, had witnessed his troubles at Etah, and his departure by komatick, and had taken charge of his instruments and records to carry South with him when he came home. But his ship was delayed and delayed, and when Peary in the Roosevelt passed on his way South, fearing to be left another winter Whitney had accepted a passage on her at the cost of leaving Cook’s material behind. He had met his own boat farther south and had transferred to her. He left the impression very firmly on all our minds that both he and Dr. Cook really believed that the latter had found the long-sought Pole.

A little later, while cruising in thick weather in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, my wireless operator came in and said: “There can be no harm in telling you, Doctor, that Peary is at Battle Harbour. He is wiring to Washington that he has found the Pole, and also he is asking his committee if he may present the Mission with his superfluous supplies, or whether he is to sell them to you” Seeing that it is not easy to know whence wireless messages come if the sender does not own up to his whereabouts, I at once ordered him to wireless to Peary at Battle the simple words: “Give it to them, of course,” and sign it “Washington.” I knew that the Commander would see the joke and if the decision turned out later to be incorrect, it could easily be rectified by purchasing the goods. A tin of his brown bread now lies among my curios and one of his sledges is in my barn.

On our arrival at Battle Harbour we found the Roosevelt lying at the wharf repainting and refitting. A whole host of newspaper men and other friends had come North to welcome the explorer home. Battle was quite a gay place; but it was living up to its name, for Peary not only claimed that he had found the Pole, but also that Cook had not; and he was realizing what a hard thing it is to prove a negative. We had a very delightful time with the party, and greatly enjoyed meeting all the members of the expedition. Among them was the ill-fated Borup, destined shortly to be drowned on a simple canoe trip, and the indomitable and athletic Macmillan who subsequently led the Crocker Land expedition, our own schooner George B. Cluett carrying them to Etah.

My secretary, Mr. Sayre, was just about to leave for American, and at Peary’s request he transferred to the Roosevelt with his typewriter, to help the Commander with a few of his many notes and records. I dare say that he got an inside view of the question then agitating the world from Washington to Copenhagen; but if so, he has remained forever silent about it. For our part, we were glad that some one had found the Pole, for it has been a costly quest in both fine men and valuable time, energy, and money. It has caused lots of trouble and sorrow, and so far at least its practical issues have been few.

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