Lord’s Day today.
This morning I heard three eastbound freights going through the Park. I also heard an engine doubling back. Judging by its high pitch, it was racing to get to a siding before the next freight came. For the ascents with heavy grain cars, they need a double-header, one big engine and a small engine. This must have been a small engine, alone, after having done its duty.
Sundays on the rails used to be silent. The Lord’s Day Alliance made sure no freights ran on Sunday. But come 12:01 am on a Monday in Depot Harbour, the freights would be let loose like horses, and they’d roar through the Park before sunrise. But that all changed with the War. Freights ran on Sundays. Sunday was no longer a day of rest and worship.
I went with Annie and Mildred up to Hotel Algonquin to attend the lay service. Shannon didn’t go. Said he had better things to do. Old Mrs. Fraser was in no condition to present herself publicly so she stayed behind. Said she would read the Bible and do the Rosary.
We walked. Annie, Mildred and me. It was cool and pleasant. No bugs, but the road was a bit mucky. It was just after 10 in the morning and the dew hadn’t yet cleared up. Annie got the hems of her skirt wet and she had to hitch her dress up stepping over puddles. As we approached the bridge, the road looked like it was covered with snowflakes. But they weren’t snowflakes. I looked closer to discover it was clumps of fallen dandelion seeds with their fluff. They must have been afloat in the night-time air, caught the night-time dew and fell to earth. I had never seen such a thing. It was like a battalion of angels fallen in the muck.
“Mildred, I think those came from angels’ wings.” I pointed to the dandelion fluffs, “I can see the headline now: Archangel Michael has Wing Trouble: Forced to stay at Mowat Lodge. Enjoys Heavenly Cooking.” Mildred smiled. She enjoyed my wry sense of humour, especially when it bordered on irreverence.
Annie made a stop to the conversation, “Tom, you shouldn’t make fun of these things!” Then in earnest she said,”Those who mock the Lord will be sent on the straight and narrow.” I don’t think that was a Bible verse. Where did that come from? It sounded like something an Evangelical would say. Maybe she was referring to the Canoe Lake spur lines ripped up well in advance of the Second Coming. After the surprise wore off, I took the cue and I didn’t say anything more. The rest of the walk we were quiet. The lay service was uninspiring (Ed Colson had a cold), and the walk back was solemn. Today’s Sunday would play out like most Sundays – quiet reading, some pipe-smoking and nothing much more.
It was turning out to be an ordinary Sunday until I saw the Manse – the Trainor cottage – someone was there.
There was smoke coming out the chimney. It couldn’t be Winnie because she had to stay in Huntsville for work. Odds it was her father. I was a bit perplexed, I didn’t expect anyone to be there until nearer to Dominion Day. I had promised to take care of their garden while they were away. Maybe it was the Archangel Michael, getting ready to look for fallen angels in the garden.
“Annie, I’m going down there. See you in a while.” The look I gave Annie, reminded her of her the promise of a few days earlier. Mildred, I hoped, was oblivious to this arrangement.
I turned off the road and down to the shore. I went out front by the lake. On the porch was Hugh Trainor, or “Mr. Trainor” as I always call him.
“Down at the Lake?” The tone of my voice made my question double as a greeting.
“Hello, Tom. Here for work. I have to check the stacks from the cutting lines. The drive’s soon.” Hugh was referring to the winter cuts that were stacked up over the winter for the log drives in the spring.
“Came in on the 586 last night. Rode with the pigs.” Hugh meant real pigs. It was a livestock train he was on. “Care to observe the Lord’s Day with me?” He produced a bottle of whisky, “Let’s go inside this house of worship.”
I followed him inside the Manse. We sat at the large table in the kitchen. The cottage was the former headquarters for the Park. Rangers lived here, and it was used as a Presbyter missionaries. That’s how it got the name, the Manse. I could see the stove. It had a kettle and a pot of stew of sorts. The pokers and shovel were on a stand beside. A trail of mud led from the front door to the stove. A pile of firewood was dumped by the fire brick behind the stove. If Margaret was around and saw the mud, there’d be hell to pay. If Winnie was around, she would already be on her knees scrubbing it out.
Without further ado, Hugh poured me a glass. In many ways I was already part of the family. I visited the Trainors often in Huntsville. When they were at Canoe Lake, I would come by for dinner and spend the evening. Hugh and Margaret knew I was the best chance for their daughter. Hugh was dubious of my chosen pursuit, but I gained his respect a few years ago, when I could name every species of tree we came across. He knew his pines and spruces, but beyond maples, his grasp of hardwood species was light. I taught him the hardwoods.
Hugh began, “Truth be told, Huntsville is dry as a bone and Margaret just got elected to the Temperance Union. I have to go to Park and drink.”
I smiled, “Remind me not to bring a bottle, the next time I visit Huntsville.”
A figure appeared through window. There was a knock and the creak of the screen door revealed Shannon.
I greeted Shannon, “Glad you could make good for the afternoon service. When hooch is involved the service is non-denominational. Today’s sermon is on pugilism. Pastor Hugh’s got the 80 proof.”
We all laughed. Pugilism was a fancy word for boxer. ‘Pugilist’ to me sounded religious, like ‘Apologist’. Once someone asked what denomination I was (the real motive of the question was whether I was a Catholic or not) and I answered, “Christian Pugilist”. When asked what that was, I said it was a form of Methodism, only with fists.
The topic turned to boxing. A popular topic in the Park. The newspaper covered the boxers in the City. Shannon was particularly proud of “Patsy” Drouillard, “Fights like a Catholic should.” Boxing was popular because the men of authority in the Park would rely on their fists to settle disputes. Hugh, in his earlier days, had to straighten out a few bush camp uprisings. Park Superintendent George Bartlett looked favourably on fisted approach. His father in England was a professional boxer, a pugilist. Bartlett was destined for the same fate until he decided to come to Canada. Like Hugh, more than a few times, Bartlett had to exercise authority with his fists, and it was known throughout the Park, that if George Bartlett came to deal with a matter, it meant a few knocked-out teeth or bloody noses before things got settled.
We stayed there for the good part of the afternoon. Hugh said that I should come up and visit Winnie. Said she hasn’t been well for the past few days and isn’t sure she can make it down to the Lake. Judging by his demeanour, I was pretty sure Hugh didn’t know anything more about me and Winnie, other than our ‘boy-girl’ relationship.
My sureness evaporated when he suddenly changed his tone, “Tom, you should start thinkin’ about what you’re doin’. Winnie won’t be waitin’ for you forever.”
The whisky talking now. I felt like I was on the front of an engine ready for a double-back. I didn’t need the whisky talk for me any further so I bid my leave and went back to Mowat Lodge.
Shannon stayed with Hugh. Said he was going to wait for the doxology. I’m sure the whisky would compel Hugh to deliver an appropriate one.
I started to get the feeling that others had more knowledge and say in my own fate. What were once harmless jokes and banter began to feel like craftily-set traps ready to spring on the slightest misstep. I began to feel like a poacher’s quarry to be taken from the Park.