We broke camp not that early in the morning. I made breakfast: bacon, biscuits with marmalade and oatmeal. I made coffee for the guests and tea for myself. We packed up wet. We were supposed to be staying for another night but judging by their demeanour I wasn’t sure if they wanted to return as soon as possible.
We made it back into Smoke Lake later in the morning and then they saw Nominigan Camp on the lake shore. The camp is a nice looking outfit. It looked especially inviting to my two bedraggled guests who suggested that we stop there for lunch and dry off a bit more. We canoed near to the main lodge, disembarked and went to the dining room.
“We’ll have lunch here,” John said.
“That’ll be fine,” I said, “I’ll tend to the gear and canoes. Take your time. I’ll see you outside when you’re done.”
“Come with us for lunch.” Etienne said with his French-Canadian accent. But I could tell he was trained in an English school.
“No. The guides generally don’t eat with the guests.” It was a white lie. I could if I wanted to, but I didn’t want them to pay for my lunch which would have been two days of guide’s wages. I was friendly with the guests when guiding but I preferred to maintain a separation. I saw it too often where a guide started to think he was part of the vacation party and a brouhaha would erupt. With guests, guides were always on the losing end if something went wrong or an untoward word was spoken.
“Jolly, then. See you outside.” John began to navigate between the tables and sat down. Etienne followed suit.
I went outside when I saw Lowrie Dickson, madly paddling in the distance. Judging by his trajectory he was heading straight for me. He must have asked at Mowat Lodge where I was. He only needed the name of a lake or two, after which I was pretty easy to find by the colour of my canoe.
When he was to shore, I pulled him up. He was out of breath, but he asked, “Where are your guests? I have an urgent telegram.”
“Inside. Want me to give it to them?”
“Sure, Tom.”, Lawrie looked grateful. He never really liked dealing with Visitors, as he called them.
I brought in the telegram and handed it to John. He looked surprised.
“Pony express from Mowat Lodge,” I said.
He smiled and tore open the envelope. Shannon made sure to seal all telegrams in an envelope after Annie had a chance to read them.
“Well it looks like its over. Laurier rejected Borden outright last night. Etienne, it looks like all we have to do now is drink whisky.” John threw the telegram of the table. “Tom, join us for a bottle of whisky. And tell your Pony Express gentleman to come join us, too. We have nothing better to do.”
With the prospect of whisky, my rules went out the window. I got Lowrie to join us. He was reluctant, but so too, the prospect of whisky paid by Park visitors was incentive enough.
So all this mysterious activity had to do with conscription. I had heard Borden was trying to form a new government with Laurier to see out the War. But never in my wildest dreams did I expect any of that activity to touch us in the Park. We learned that John and Etienne decided to get away from the hubbub of Ottawa to discuss what the Coalition Government might look like. They wanted to do this without distraction, so John suggested a canoe trip.
By evening’s end we went through two and a half bottles of whisky. The hotel price of whisky, at my guide’s wage was a month’s worth. “No problem,” John said, “We have a special government fund for secret projects and whisky.”
“Speaking of secret projects, what’s the interest in Sims Pit?” I asked.
“Oh, that.” John replied. The whisky loosened up his tongue. “We caught wind that Sam Hughes started up another hare-brained weaponry project. He’s working on a high capacity flame-thrower apparatus that fits on a train engine. He had heard the Brits tried to do something at Somme.”
“Be as successful as the Ross Rifle.” I replied wryly.
“Even more successful! Once you build the train tracks across no-man’s land.” We had a good laugh on that one.
In the end, we never made it out of Camp Nominigan. When John and Etienne discovered they could take a stage to Algonquin Station in the morning and catch the first class to Ottawa they decided to stay the night. Lowrie and I set up camp just off the main lodge.
As we were getting ready for the night, Larry said suddenly, “Tom I should’ve brought it too!”
“What?” I said.
“Your letter from Winnie. Shannon said it came in yesterday”
I didn’t know whether it was the whisky, but I suddenly got numb all over. My future is in that letter.