Quebec - The Drawing of the Yarn
( Originally Published 1907 )
THE old angler picked up the fire stick, pried the half burned logs together, added a four feet cut from a dry chicot, and as the fire blazed tip fiercely, he dropped into his own seat with the remark, "Well, you fellows will soon find out the old man hasn't lost all his bush cunning even though he is going to celebrate his eighty-second birthday in about two hours from now by firing a salute of one shot from old 'catch'em quick,' then a nip from the `baby,' and after that I'll show you how to sleep without snoring so loud as to lead a straggling bull moose to think he'd run up against a grunting rival."
"Why you antique," said the artist, "you've got the hall mark of a hundred on your bald pate, and trying to impose eighty-two on your betters ; I'd blush for you if any one could catch it through the last week's coat of dirt and tan. Ancient and Honorable! we're going to celebrate with you, that is, provided the `baby' will go round the circle, and that each man will tell a story so as to pass the next two hours. The Ancient will lead and give us from out of his own experience."
The well beloved of his friends sat smiling but silent for a few moments, evidently running through the store house of memory in the search for some-thing amusing. Then turning so as to face us, he said: "Here is the story of Shan and the hot ginger : Once upon a time Jack Sands 'met me in Peter street one hot afternoon, and said he: "Ancient and Honorable I want you to go a-fishing with me to the St. Colome -tomorrow, and my brother Harry will be of the party. Harry as you know is kind of rabid on teetotalism, and if you take the `baby' with you it must be on the sly. Oh no ! I wouldn't leave it at home, it might grow lone-some if you were separated, only keep it out of sight and sound of Harry."
To this I agreed but I never felt so mean in all my life as I did on that trip. Before we left Chenille's to drive to Shan's I slipped into the stable with the "baby" wrapped in my blouse Jack followed me and while he kept an eye at the door crack I sampled the "infant." Jack then took his turn while I watched, but I had forgot-ten. "Jack", said I, "that baby has Scotch blood in it, my son, and the odor of the latter is penetrating ; have you got a peppermint about your person" ?
"Good Lord," replied Jack, "I never thought of peppermints. I say, Ancient and Honorable, you'll have to sit along side of Harry driving up, and if he notices anything say you've got a creosote plug in a bad tooth."
Well every time Harry spoke to me I was so scared he'd find me out that I'd turn half way around and pretend to be looking at some scenery before I answered. When we came to where the road got rough the blessed "baby" began to gurgle and cough and choke and I nearly had a coniption fit when Harry asked me if I did'nt think some-thing had got loose in my creel, and would'nt it be well to see?
I begged him not to worry, that there was nothing breakable in the creel--some reels got loose may-be. I never was so glad of anything as our arrival at Shan's.
Shan, I must tell you, was the product of an Irish father and mother, but the bush had adopted him very early in life and when I knew him he was seven eights' Indian except for his speech which was as fine a brogue as ever you listened to. As a hunter or guide, Shan hadn't an equal in the province. He professed to be temperate, but as I never saw him refuse a nip I've had my doubts. His acceptance of a nip, however, was always prefaced by: "Shure now, Misther Bozlan, it's rarely or niver I takes anything strong, but whin I does it's just about this toime of day." And this might be ten times a day for all I know.
Shan for the first time in our many visits didn't get his nip, as we were afraid of being caught. We hid the "baby" in the hollow of an old stump, and night and dewy morn Jack and I stealthily stole away to look after the "infant's" health while bracing ourselves against cholera and the extreme temperance views of Mr. Harry, which he was never tired of ventilating.
The "baby" was getting low in spirits, and Jack and I made a calculation that it would not last out another day. The case was serious. We decided to wind up our excursion the following morning.
I deputed Shan that afternoon to take charge of Harry on the lake. It so happened that a great thunderstorm blew up, and while Shan and Harry were trying to get ashore at the camp, Shan broke his pole as he was making a vicious shove and took a header into the lake. He waded ashore dripping and cold.
"Don't you worry Shan," said Harry, "I'll soon fix you up with a good hot drink. Get a fire started at once and heat some water."
Shan in the expectation of the long deferred drink, did as he was told, and when the water was boiling he brought a cup of it to Harry.
It was about this time that Jack and I arrived on the scene, and we at once became interested spectators.
Harry took the cup of water into the tent, returning a moment later and handing the cup to Shan with the remark--"there Shan is one of the finest drinks in the world when you're wet or cold."
Shan with, "thin it's to your honors hilth and long life, so it is," tossed off the contents of the cup. He gave a convulsive gasp, tears filled his eyes, and he was speechless for a few moments and seemed dazed like. When he recovered somewhat he turned to Harry and said : "For the love of God, Mr. Sands, may I be axin wid your lave what kind of devil's drink is that I've got in my belly the while?
"Why, Shan," replied Harry, "that's ginger."
"Ginger, is it Mr. Sands? well your honor, the nixt toime you mixes a drink for me I'll ax your honor to put in more gin, but lave the "ger" out."
"Not too bad, Ancient and Hororable," said the artist, "and now we'll hear from the poet who has been scribbling away this half-hour past.'
The poet thus called upon modestly disclaimed any serious effort, but was willing to read his effusion in place of telling a story, which he said he had entitled :
THE TRUTHFUL ANGLER
Why is it thus? we sadly ask ;
The reason why we cannot tell ;
And yet, forsooth, it is our luck,
Suppose from hence we change our base.
The world will doubt or even jeer,
When the laughter over this skit of the poet had subsided the artist was called upon for his contribution.
"I am as you know," he said, "an admirer of Dr. Drummond and his poems, although I regret the fact that he has lent the impression abroad that the common tongue of the French Canadian is a patois English. I don't wonder that the latter have r esented this in no unmistakeable manner. The great majority of the French people speak no English, the educated classes speak very good English, but upon the dividing line between the nationalities there is a class of the common people which does talk the patois such as Dr. Drummond writes of, but if these people speak bad English I would like to know what kind of French these English speak. It is almost a pity that a French Dr. Drummond doesn't arise to give us some examples. This, however, is all by way of apology for my own violation of what I am now condemning, for I am going to give you some stray bits from the philosophy of old Jean Beaulin in the latter's choicest English. Jean, as you know, has been for years my "guide," shall I say "counsellor," in all my bush wanderings in search of material for pictures. I must, however, tell my stories in paragraphs, otherwise I should consume too much time.
"American peep she come h'on Quebec last sum. Dey hire habitant girl for cook. Poor ting, she make mistook, she tombey de fly paper h'in de soup. Dat poison. Toute de famille, de fader, de mudder h'an des enfants go for die. Poor ting, she was not respons for dat, it was a mistook. When de docteur open dat poor woman de gravy of dat fly paper was de first ting he receive."
"Wan tam I went for l'engage wid a h'Englishman h'an I say h'on dat feller; You give me seventy-five cents a day h'an you h'eat me, you give me one dollar a day h'an I h'eat myself. Dat feller he sit hon de grass h'an he roll his-self wid laugh, but I not see noding funny for laugh. I got break me dat tam so bad dat I not 'ave nuf money for pay wan h'install h'on a clay pipe; no bagosh! I not even 'ave a button h'in my pocket for rattle."
"You rememb dat feller wat go h'on the bush for guide h'an stole de provish for h'eat. Wal we fix dat feller de nex tam. We mix wat you call h'axle grease wid de preserve. He stole dat pot pretty quick h'an he go for h'eat it h'on de bush. Bimby he come h'on de camp h'an he look pretty white h'on de gills. We axe him how he look so bad h'an he say he tink he got Canadian cholera. We say we tink so too, h'an he better go for see de priest mighty queek because he go for die. Wal, he not die, but he 'av a big scare h'an he not stole de provish encore. But wan day he tombe h'on de trail h'an he broke hee's brain h'and den he 'av a perception h'an de died. I tole you it take damn smart man dat know wat good for hisself, h'an I'm de first."
Here the artist knocked the ashes out of his pipe, accompanying the action with the remark, that he could "reminis" all night about Jean and his queer sayings, but as it now neared the hour for the natal ceremony, and as the scribe had not been heard from, he begged to give place to that eminent authority.
The eminent authority said he would make his contribution an exceedingly short one as he was at that moment suffering from "dry throat" no doubt brought on by the late hour and the low state of the "baby."
"You all know, "said he, "bachelor Con and his peculiarities, and his clever sayings. One May day a friend saw him coming down Ursule St. carrying a two gallon demijohn. 'Hello!' said his friend, `where are you going with that thing?' `Going,' said Con, `why you onery fool, don't you see I'm moving."
Now gentlemen, added the scribe, it is midnight, wake up the "baby" to give longer and merrier life to the Ancient and Honorable. Pile on more wood to the fire, and then say good night and pleasant dreams.
Early autumn had daintily tinged the maples along the river bank, and the soft languor of a sunny day with its acompaniment of cricket chirp and locust drone had inspired both the artist and the scribe to put forth their best efforts. While the artist painted, the scribe lay on the broad of his back within view of the former's coming picture, and at times he wrote, and at others he scathingly criticized the artist's work; and the latter just as unsparingly characterized the scribe's growing poems as "rot". Then in great amity they dropped their work betimes and smoked long pipes of great contentment, and speculated upon the day's success of the old angler up stream. They neither of them voiced it, but they both understood that they were longing for the "Ancient's" return as the stimulant to renewed efforts under the spur of his kindly encouragement and well balanced judgment.
When at last his canoe rounded the point the scribe shouted out: "Well, Ancient and Honorable what luck?"
"Luck is it," exclaimed the Ancient "well, I have had about the same luck that befell Mulcahey's calf that escaped from the butcher to the mountains, and was devoured by a bear. I've gone further and fared worse than if I had stayed at home. No matter though, I can put up enough trout for lunch, so you fellows hustle up a fire."
"Ancient and Honorable," said the artist, "you're a darling, the only misfortune that has overtaken you is in having been born before your time. We'll have to forgive you for this as you were probably not responsible for it, but don't repeat the offence."
"You dauber of paint," answered the Ancient, "I'm going to tell you the story this afternoon how nearly you came to having been deprived of my care and the closing down of your artistic career as a consequence thereof, but now to dine with bushman's appetite, but I fear the scribe has done poor justice to the good raw material furnished him as food for the gods if properly prepared. Artists and literary men as a rule are bad cooks except as to the stuff they get up for the public in their professional capacity, which isn't too bad as a rule when served hot and well spiced."
When the heat of the early afternoon invited to smoke and rest the Artist and Scribe called upon the "Ancient and Honorable" for his promised story.
A long time ago, began the Ancient, a leading merchant of the lower town called upon me, and, said he "B---I have just received advices that the schooner Arabella partly owned by me, and which I loaded with a mixed cargo for port St. Unknown, is ashore at the mouth of that harbor and is likely to prove a complete wreck unless something is at once done, for already the ice is beginning to run. It is now Friday. What I want you to do is to leave Quebec this afternoon, take a cariole and driver at Levis, and by pushing ahead all night and to-morrow, you can reach port St. Unknown late Saturday night. If the schooner is not broken up, you will sell her at the church door after mass on Sunday to the highest bidder.
Here are your credentials and money for expenses, and now good-bye and good luck to you."
I first induced a friend to accompany me, and then hurriedly completed my preparations for the journey, not forgetting the "Scotch baby." We drove all night, catching what sleep we could sitting upright in the cariole. We breakfasted at St. Thomas and again pushed on. The weather and roads were fine, but it was bitterly cold for the season. It was late Saturday night when we neared our destination, and it then occurred to me to make some enquiry concerning what kind of a hotel mine host might keep. Our jehu admitted that it was not first class for les messieurs like us, yet there was no other, but continued he, there is a Scotchman, a big contractor on the Intercolonial who has a fine house in the village, and he would, perhaps, be glad to have the messieurs stop with him, and his name was Maclnloch.
We finally decided to crave the hospitality of Mr. Maclnloch, and drove at once to his house. It was in darkness, but in answer to our repeated knocks, a woman's head appeared at a tire/ and a voice demanded our business.
We briefly stated who we were and what had brought us to the door at such unseemly hours.
"I am Mrs. Maclnloch," said the voice, "my husband is not at home just now and I cannot receive you, but you can find accommodation at the hotel, where my husband will see you later".
We drove to the hotel, ordered such supper as was obtainable at so late an hour, and were gradually thawing out under the genial influence of a big three decker 'supplemented by a nip from the "baby" when a very giant of a man stalked into the room. There could be no doubt as to his nationality for Scotchman was written large all over him, but his speech quite settled it.
"Are you the gentlemen who came to Maclnloch's a while back?" he asked.
I answered that we were, whereupon he said he was Maclnloch, and expressed his regret that he was absent from home when we called, but added he, "I see it is not too late to make amends. Gentlemen, you are my guests, and I have already sent your baggage to the house and if you will put on your overcoats, I will drive you there with my horse. Mrs. Maclnloch has supper prepared."
It ended in what proved to be an all night affair, for hot Scotch and pipes followed supper, and the talk was of hunting and fishing from Scotland to the Rockies. Maclnloch was a rare raconteur, and a great and mighty hunter and angler.
As we rose at last to go to our bedrooms, Mac-Inloch said to me : "I do not wish to appear intrusive, Mr. B.____ but may I ask what manner of business brought you here at this unusual season?"
"Certainly," I replied, "I've come down to sell the schooner Arabella and her cargo at the church door tomorrow morning on behalf of Mr. Wendt of Quebec."
When I had finished, Maclnloch brought his brawny fist down on the table with a mighty bang. "Mr. B." roared he, "it's all a damned conspiracy to ruin as fine a captain as ever lived and there is not a better navigator on the St. Lawrence. He only ran his boat ashore to save her from becoming a total wreck. I've a mind to buy her in my-self if you'll be willing to take an uncertified check in payment."
I replied that although it was contrary to all rule in such cases, yet I would myself in this instance become personally responsible.
At the sale Maclnloch became the purchaser, and handed me his check for the amount, and my work being finished I thanked my kind hosts and started back to Quebec.
Months went by and I heard no more of Maclnloch or the schooner, when one early morning in June, Maclnloch himself walked into my office. After our greetings he said: "B—, I saved that schooner, and during the winter I had her fitted up as a private yacht. I've put her old captain in command with his three sons for crew, and now, I and my wife and my only child are off for a three months' cruise along the Labrador coast and for some fishing. I feel that I want you as a companion, and I'm going to make it worth your while financially to join us. Name your terms and I draw a check in advance to your order, for come you must."
It was a great temptation, for, as you fellows know, I am angling and shooting crazy, and here was the opportunity of a lifetime. I asked for a few hours to wrestle with the proposition, and Maclnloch said he would return at noon. When he did come back somehow or other I mustered up courage to say, no. He urged and urged me to change my mind, but having gotten out the "No" I stuck to it with heartfelt regrets : however, I lunched on board the yacht and then wished all hands bon voyage As I rowed ashore I saw the sails hoisted and shortly the schooner was lost to sight behind Indian Point.
A few days later she was seen off the mouth of the Saguenay, but from that day nothing was ever heard of schooner, passengers or crew—not even a piece of wreckage was ever found.
So you see how strangely things are ordered in this world. I was the unconscious cause of sending seven people to their death, and saved my own life by a mere chance.