“When I gets un,” said he, his voice choked by emotion, “I’ll send five dollars for the hospital.”
Five dollars, to Ambrose’s father, was a lot of money.
Winter storms, as we have seen, never hold Doctor Grenfell back when he is called to the sick and injured. Many times he has broken through the sea ice, and many times he has narrowly escaped death. The story of a few of these experiences would fill a volume of rattling fine adventure. I am tempted to go on with them. One of these big adventures at least we must not pass by. As we shall see in the next chapter, it came dangerously near being his last one.
LOST ON THE ICE FLOE
One day in April several years ago, Dr. Grenfell, who was at the time at St. Anthony Hospital, received an urgent call to visit a sick man two days’ journey with dogs to the southward. The patient was dangerously ill. No time was to be lost, for delay might cost the man’s life.
It is still winter in northern Newfoundland in April, though the days are growing long and at midday the sun, climbing high now in the heavens, sends forth a genial warmth that softens the snow. At this season winds spring up suddenly and unexpectedly, and blow with tremendous velocity. Sometimes the winds are accompanied by squalls of rain or snow, with a sudden fall in temperature, and an off-shore wind is quite certain to break up the ice that has covered the bays all winter, and to send it abroad in pans upon the wide Atlantic, to melt presently and disappear.
This breaking up of the ice sometimes comes so suddenly that traveling with dogs upon the frozen bays at this season is a hazardous undertaking. Scarcely a year passes that some one is not lost. Sometimes men are carried far to sea on ice pans and are never heard from again.
A man must know the trails to travel with dogs along this rough coast. Much better progress is made traveling upon sea ice than on land trails, for the latter are usually up and down over rocky hills and through entangling brush and forest, while the former is a smooth straight-away course. When the ice is rotted by the sun’s heat, however, and is covered by deep slush, and is broken by dangerous holes and open leads that cannot safely be crossed, the driver keeps close to shore, and is sometimes forced to turn to the land and leave the ice altogether. When the ice is good and sound the dog traveler only leaves it to cross necks of land separating bays and inlets, where distance may be shortened, and makes as straight a course across the frozen bays as possible.
There is a great temptation always, even when the ice is in poor condition, to cross it and “take a chance,” which usually means a considerable risk, rather than travel the long course around shore. Long experience at dog travel, instead of breeding greater caution in the men of the coast, leads them to take risks from which the less experienced man would shrink.