I had a hell of a hangover this morning. The whisky we had yesterday hit me hard but at least I didn’t go blind. That happened numerous times after the Temperance Act went into effect and people started making their own alcohol Sometimes the alcohol wasn’t right and people would go blind drinking it.
Officially, Camp Nominigan wasn’t supposed to provide alcohol to guests. That was the Bartlett’s law in the Park but the lodge manager always kept a few bottles on hand when the opportunity arose. Especially, the Americans. They would pay handsomely for a bottle and leave a big tip afterwards.
John and Etienne left in the morning and took the coach to Algonquin Station. They were gone long before I was up. They had brought all their gear with them in their rooms last night so they didn’t have to bother me when they left. I had the camping gear and the extra canoe by the lake. A camp fire pit was close by, so I made breakfast and after packed all I could into my canoe covering with a rubber sheet. The rain was little more than a mist, but by the time I finished it was a steady rain.
Lowrie was still sleeping like a little rabbit in a hutch. I wanted to get on my way. I roused him.
“Lowrie, I’m leaving now. Take the tent back with you. We’ll get the other canoe in the next day or so.”
“Okay, Tom. My head hurts…”
“Sleep it off, Lowrie. No rush to check out.”
I had to leave Shannon’s canoe. It wasn’t unusual to leave the canoes at the different lodges and this wasn’t the exception. The canoe would eventually make it back to its home. If a Nominigan or Highland canoe shows up at Mowat Lodge, I’ll canoe down to make the switch.
I wanted to leave Nominigan fast, but I didn’t want to go back to Mowat Lodge right away. I was dreading what was in the letter. I felt like today was the last day of my own possibilities so I spent the whole day on Tea Lake fishing. They call it Tea Lake because the water is brown. Mostly from the fast running water coming in from Canoe and Smoke Lake churning up the junk from the bottom. There were logs littered along the shore, decaying and bobbing about. This probably makes the water brown too.
It was after 5pm. when I finally returned back to Mowat Lodge. The clouds were so thick that despite the sunlight coming through, it felt like the light of a late October evening. I pulled the canoe up onto the dock and out of nowhere Shannon appeared.
“Tom, I was waiting for you”
“Why?” I kept working on pulling up my gear. I had to pull everything out of the wrapped rubber sheet. Everything was pretty much soaked.
“Mark Robinson came by. Said Bartlett heard you were drinking at Nominigan. The guides aren’t supposed to drink.”
I lied, “It wasn’t me. It was Lowrie.”
“I figured as much,” Shannon came closer. “Mark told me to say not to worry this time. Next time Bartlett might want to teach you a lesson.”
“Thanks for the message, Shann. Can you help me with my canoe?”
“Where’s the other one?”
“Still at Nominigan. I’ll get it in the next day or so.”
“Tom, they’re expensive things. If I lose one, it’ll have to come off your account.”
I was annoyed by his tone. I didn’t really care that much about money or accounts. I trusted that people would return things. But a lecturing by a profligate penny-pincher was almost too much to bear.
“Can you just help me with the canoe?”
With that interjection he grabbed the other end of the canoe and yanked it with his big arms. It caught me off balance, and I tripped over the fire grate that was between the dock and shed.
“You’ll have to move that damn fire grate. I’ll be the death of someone.”
“Yessir.” That was Shannon’s way of saying, “You don’t tell me want to do, I’ll do it in my own damn time.”
We walked up to the Lodge. The path was muddy and slippery. It was miserable for this time of year. It was supposed to be full summer but the wood stoves were still on at night to drive the moisture and cold out. I had heard about ice-ages. Maybe we were entering another ice-age.
I first had to go to privy out back and then I went up to my room. There it was – Winnie’s letter. And there the words jumped out at me:
” It is a certainty.”
It’s a certainty now. The variable is now a constant. A milestone. A milestone around my neck. I wasn’t really thinking about the situation during the day, but in reality I was thinking about it beneath the surface. Out of nowhere the plan started to emerge: I had to leave, but I had to do it in a way that nobody knew. It had to be a secret. I could elope with Winnie but I wasn’t sure that was the best thing either. Maybe I should go myself. I had to decide which way. Then I realized the plan for now. Say to Winnie that we’re going to elope. She’ll keep that a secret and if that is what happens, we can go West. But if for some reason, something doesn’t work out, I can go West or more likely, South, on my own. Keep options open, they say.
I had a closer look at the envelope. It had been opened. I could see the smeared glue that could only happen by steaming it open. The paper was mottled too. A sure sign of what was transpiring between me and Winnie was no longer a secret. The only true secret I had was what I was finally planning to do in the end.
I need to settle this with Annie.