The Rakings by D. L. Greene

Chapter 23

     In the course of his daily strolls Harry spent many afternoons at our home. He loved to bask in the sunshine on our verandah over looking the river. Our four small children accepted him as a necessary appendage to our Rectory menage. They were quite accustomed to seeing lame dogs helped over stiles. They were fascinated by his mutilated hands and they begged him to "show us again how you can roll a cigarette."

     Harry's interest in cooking often took him to the kitchen where he showed my wife a few wrinkles in the culinary art. He demonstrated how to make a snow or floating egg - a cackleberry swimming in a bath of hot milk. He had a way of paying left handed compliments to her own cooking. One day at dinner he said regarding an apple pie she had made "I have eaten worse - but not much".

     When he was finally discharge from the hospital Harry arranged to board with a widow woman, an efficient, managing type of housekeeper, who was also given to caustic speech. We wondered how long flint and steel could abide together under the same roof before striking sparks. However, Harry visited us occasionally and reported on his domestic status which appeared to be approaching felicity.

     As a slight return for our hospitality Harry persuaded Martha to invite us for an evening dinner. Our hostess brought out all her silver, fine linens and cut glass. She treated us to a repast that was worthy of a visit from the Padre and the lady. The roast pork crackled and the meringue on the lemon pie scintillated. The coffee perked appetizingly. Harry was proud of his landlady's quisine. Altogether it was a happy dinner party.

     Christmas drew near. It was our custom to invite the lonesome souls to share our festivities - a tradition which I fear lingers in one's children's childhood memories as having somewhat marred our otherwise joyous celebrations. It was not objections to having guests at our board. They loved entertaining visitors. It was rather personalities of certain unfortunates which offended. They often recalled a staid old bachelor who would not drink tea, coffee, or even milk, much less a glass of Christmas cheer.

     But this Yuletide dinner which outChristmassed all Christmas dinners was the one at which Harry and Martha graced our table. Our guests arrived separately and at different times, Harry by the front door and Martha by the kitchen portal. This manner of their arrival was ominous. The lady whispered an explanation to my wife. They had quarreled! We took seats around our long dining room table, our guests at opposite sides of the board. Harry leered at Martha. Martha glared at Harry. Our children stared at them both in complete mystification. What funny visitors.

     We exhausted every artifice to make conversation consistent with the Holy Season. We addressed remarks to Harry and Martha respectively and they beamed replies in the same manner. Both guests discussed Santa's largesse with the children but they treated each other with silence. The children sensed the tense atmosphere and gave up trying to understand it. The meal in spite of its gastronomical appeal and its trappings of gaiety dragged morosely to a sombre end.

     We adjourned to the living room and sought to lift the melancholy cloud by caroling in praise of peace on earth among men of good will. The dove of amity fluttered around the ceiling but refused to land. Our guests took their departure as they arrived - separately and by alternate doors. We concurred with our children's verdict that it had been a queer Christmas.

     As we expected Harry moved out of Martha's house. Shortly afterwards he was forced to return to the hospital. An incipient lung affection dating back to years in a South African mine became a case of silicosis. Service during the First Great War was also taking its toll of his constitution. He continued to pay
us visits on his better days. He claimed that he still owned a house in Johannesburg and he badgered me into writing authorities there in an effort to obtain his equity in it. He prevailed upon his doctor to sign a certificate that the advanced stage of his disease rendered him unable to work. Correspondence produced no beneficial results, in either matter.

     Harry felt that the world was against a fellow - even a war veteran - when he was down. He was fighting a losing battle against an inimical society and a treacherous disease. He fought with ever gasping breath. One night Mr. Gilbert and I were visiting at the hospital and "Happy" expressed what was at once apparent to both of us. He was past recognizing or speaking to us. It was all over that night. Members of the Canadian Legion attended to funeral arrangements. They shouldered his coffin through hip deep snowdrifts and we buried him in the soldiers' plot.

     Harry was one of those many solitary souls who find their final resting place in some frontier country, taking with them some poignant secret of their aloof lives. Perhaps the company of the dead is preferable with them to that of some of the living men they have known.

     We often wondered about the real circumstances which helped to mould Harry's character, to embitter his spirit and to determine his peregrinations over land and sea‚Ķ Outward bound from England he had traversed South Africa, fought on the battlefields of France, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, traveled over half of Canada and ended his working days in a Northern Manitoba mining camp.      Had he been pursued by some real or imagined relentless foe? Was there perhaps an uncongenial wife deserted in that Johannesburg house? Could he have been on some country's list of wanted men... Harry never said. But one facet of his character lighted up his otherwise hostile attitude toward life generally. He revealed an unsuspecting feeling of kindness toward our children. At times his countenance even assumed a benign radiance while enjoying their childish prattle. Such a man is not wholly devoid of right human instincts.

     Farming at The Pas in 1930 was confined to Mackay Indian School and theirs was the only farm wagon ever seen on the streets. But years of drought in the south caused many farmers to abandon their lands and seek locations further north where rains were more plentiful. Thus a number of settlers reached The Pas and squatted on wild areas adjacent to The Pas river. The Manitoba Government refused these newcomers homestead rights on account of the danger of flooding. However many settlers were given long term leases. There soon followed roads and schools. Eventually an elevator was built at The Pas from which many carloads of wheat were shipped via Churchill to England.

Up And Down The Saskatchewan River

     During the summer of 1930 Mr. Brailsford who was then acting as Superintendent of Indian Missions invited me to take a week's holiday with him on a canoe trip down to Moose Lake and Cedar Lake.

     At night-fall of the first day we stopped at Red Rock, a camp ground well known to river travelers. I asked my friend if there were any bears around there and he assured me that there were not. "Because" I added to my enquiry, "I was wondering what had been mauling those raspberry bushes behind our tent." Mr. Brailsford investigated and pronounced "bears".

     In a few minutes we heard a motor boat chugging down stream. The night traveler was Tom Lamb returning home from The Pas. He saw our camp fire and stopped to hail us. We broke camp and climbed aboard Tom's launch. Towing our canoe we settled down for a few hours sleep. Tom turned from the Saskatchewan into the Summerby River and we halted at the ice house, where we took
on a cargo of ice for packing the next morning's catch at Tom's fish camp at Pickerel Narrows.

     The sun slowly rose above the horizon marking a golden pathway across the Lake - calm at that early morning hour. A couple of hour's run took us to the camp. Here the Moose Lake band of Indians were engaged in fishing for Tom's Commercial Interests. The camp quickly came awake and the fisherman's canoes began arriving with their catch, shouting from craft to craft reporting results of their night's work and exchanging banter about their skill or lack of it as fishermen.

     Canoes were drawn up on the beach and soon dozens of little fires burned as men began to cook breakfast, and the air became heavy with the tang of willow and poplar smoke.

     We passengers from "The Premier" were given a warm welcome to partake of the meal. After our night's journey we thoroughly enjoyed that Indian feast as any one who has eaten a freshly caught fish broiled over a fire of willow coals at a lakeside does.

     The sun grew brighter and warmer and the fishermen stretched out on the grass to rest and bask in its warmth. It was a scene of peace and comradeship. It made me think of the incident when Jesus walked by the sea of Galilee and saw Andrew and his brother Peter and their fishermen companions. It was Andrew who first went and called his brother telling him we have found the Messiah. I think of Jesus talking with those men and saying to them, "Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men."

     I looked at those rugged fishermen and in fancy began giving them names as I knew some of them personally. There were Jonas and Elijah and of course Peter the "big fisherman". It was a memorable scene as natural as if it were being enacted of the Galilean Lake - with the central figure being Jesus of Nazareth conversing quietly with his good friends who lived by fishing.

     Then breakfast being finished, fish were packed on the launch and at the summons of Alfred Sinclair who wore a special cap to indicate he was Captain, the small crew of able seamen assembled and we sailed through eight foot waves to the Post where the fish would be repacked and loaded for market in The Pas. Mr. Brailsford and I had dinner in the Lamb's hospitable home. After dinner we attempted to set out for Cedar Lake but our engine refused to work. We hired two Indian youths to help us paddle the forty miles through devious channels of the lower Saskatchewan to Cedar Lake. We slept under the stars at night amongst some driftwood logs. We reached Cedar Lake about noon next day. Here we met another disappointment. The H. B. Post Manager and his mechanic were away from home so we were unable to have our engine serviced or to replenish our dwindling supplies from the store. We held a service next day in the church and an outdoor meeting with the Indian congregation.

     There was an important matter to be discussed at that meeting. It seemed that there was rivalry over the selection of an official organist and after much discussion the matter was amicably settled. It was agreed that the first organist to arrive at church on any given Sunday was to be the organist for that day. The student Missionary at Cedar Lake was afterwards to be known as Dr. Cyril Richardson. He is a good poet. See Hymn 808 in the Hymn Book.

     We engaged some Indian women to bake us a supply of bannock for our return trip home. The Indians shot some ducks which they boiled - including the heads - and they caught fish, so we had food provided. It took us three full days to paddle the 125 miles home against the current. The irony of the adventure was that shortly before it began I had written an article printed in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix entitled "Nobody paddles now." They were using "kickers", otherwise outboard motors.


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