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Two Christmases
by [?]

It was Christmas Eve, and Malcolm McCrea, just back from the woods, was throwing down some frozen seal meat from the scaffold for his hungry dogs after their long day’s hauling. Malcolm was only eighteen, and in winter still lived with his father in their home below the falls of Pike’s River. However, now that he had been away for two summers in his uncle’s schooner fishing “down North,” his eyes were already turned to some long-untenanted fjords in the mouths of which the craft had anchored.

Pike’s Falls was a lonely place, and the sound of a human voice calling to a dog team kept Malcolm standing with a fine forkful of meat in his hands long enough so greatly to tantalize the team below as to start a serious fight. This woke him from his reverie. “Ah, Ah!” he shouted, and, jumping down right into the middle of the fracas, soon had his dogs busy again with the frozen blocks which constituted their food for the day.

“Is that you, Mr. Norman?” he exclaimed heartily. “Why, who would ever have thought of seeing you here, and alone, this evening of all days in t’ year?”–as a middle-aged man jumped from an empty sledge and began unharnessing a half-starved-looking team. “Shall I give you a hand? They seem spun out.”

“Better not touch ’em, I reckon,” was the gruff answer. “They’re a bit surly with strangers.” And indeed already the animals were snarling and showing their teeth at the other dogs finishing their meal near by.

Malcolm, who at once proceeded to throw down a liberal allowance of seal meat for the newcomers’ suppers, attributed the savage way in which their master whipped off his host’s team from trying to get a second helping, to the weariness of a long journey. For to beat another man’s dogs, especially with the long and heavy lash of our Northern whips, is a breach of the unwritten law of the Labrador.

It was not until he had shared the steaming supper prepared for Malcolm that the strings of the visitor’s tongue began to be unloosed. For it is not etiquette to ask a stranger’s reasons for visiting a well-stocked house, in a country where the komatik trail is the only resource for the destitute.

“It’s to t’ post I’m bound. We be short of grub south. T’ fishery have been bad this three years, and there’s six of us now,” he began. “There wasn’t more than a couple of bakings of flour in t’ barrel when I left. I couldn’t get no credit south at Deep-Water Creek; and so I just had to try north or starve.”

“‘T is a long bit yet to t’ post,” replied Malcolm. “There is t’ Monkey to cross if you goes inside; and us allows it a good hundred miles to go round t’ cape. It’ll take you a week to haul a barrel of flour from there here.”

Roderick, sitting back in his chair, was dejectedly surveying the comfortable-looking room. Malcolm caught his gaze, and realized what was passing in the poor fellow’s mind.

“Draw up, draw up, and light your pipe, Mr. Norman,” he interposed. “‘Tis only Home Rule tobacco, but it serves us down here.”

Eagerly enough Norman accepted the proffered plug, and then relapsed into a silence which Malcolm found it hard to break. So, excusing himself for a minute, he beckoned the old folk to come into their bedroom that they might talk over the situation in private.

“He has four youngsters, and I knows they be hard up,” he began. “They hasn’t a chance where they are. T’ neighbours blames Roderick for several little troubles which happened to t’ southard, and t’ traders won’t advance more’n he can pay for. If it was any one else, and to-morrow wasn’t Christmas, it would be just good fun to go down North with him and help haul back a barrel or so–that is, if they lets him have it.”