April 7, 1917
It was wet with cold rain today and I didn’t leave the lodge. The furthest I ventured was into the storehouse, the second part of Mowat Lodge. Shannon, when he took it over, made some guest rooms, but during the winter it is mostly empty and unheated. The canoes including mine are stored here. At the far end, there’s a set of drafty double-doors and the stable is next door. Shannon’s eventual goal is to fashion more guest rooms in the storehouse for the busy part of the season, but I don’t think he has to worry about that this year.
The storehouse is a good place to sketch from because I can get a good view of the lake from the window. If I need a better view I can look through the door or sit on the front verandah which extends between both structures. Mowat Lodge is a fair ways back from the shore so if you ignore the intervening tree stumps, dead trees and scrap lumber strewn about, it’s a good view of the lake. From where I was I could see Little Wapomeo Island and to the south I could see the big hill that leads up to Bonita Lake.
I got to know the new guests a bit better today. Lt. ‘Robin’ Crombie is a veteran. His newlywed wife, Miss Crombie (‘Daphne’ as she’s asked me to call her) is in her early twenties. I chatted with Daphne at breakfast and discovered that Robin was a broker in Toronto, signed up in 1914, went overseas in the spring of 1915 and was back by the fall with tuberculosis. He never saw any action before they sent him back. This past winter, his condition didn’t improve so they decided to come up to Mowat Lodge for the fresh, cold, northern air.
After the coughing fit, heard throughout the lodge last night, I am surprised that he survived to see the next morning. I am relieved that he did make it, because if he didn’t I’d have to contend with a newly available widow. I could tell that Daphne was intrigued by my pursuits.
The doctor’s orders for Robin are to spend as much time as possible in the outdoor cold air. He is in no condition to comply with the orders in a rocking chair, so Shannon retrieved one the unused beds from the store house and set it up on the veranda. I helped him set the bed up so that Robin could have a good view of the lake over the railing. Shannon propped up the head end of the bed on two apple crates. Because they are used year over year, apple crates are stronger than orange crates, which are only meant to make the trip once, up from Florida. It’s the orange crates I use to make my boards when I run out of birch panels.
So, the final configuration of the bed had a healthy inclination facing toward Canoe Lake. Robin looked helpless on the incline, bundled up in his feather-filled officer’s quilt, but he had no reserve to protest the arrangement. Doctor’s orders are to be followed.
With Robin securely ensconced in his recuperative position, I returned to the store house to work on my sketch. Shortly after, Daphne came to visit me. With her doe-eyes looking at me first and then turned to the view outside, I thought she’d keep the silence, sensing the concentration I need in making my board. I tried to subtly signal that I wasn’t in the mood for talking, but she insisted on chatting and, worse, started to ask me questions. I normally despise small talk, but her demeanour was pleasant and in the end I didn’t mind the conversation. It was like talking to my sisters. Ask a question. Give an answer. Ask another question. Give another answer. Over up and over again.
Daphne told me that she and Robin would be here until later spring, perhaps until summer. The doctor’s prescription for Robin was to sit out on the porch in the cold air and to sleep with the window open. I could tell by her demeanour that she was adjusting to being married, unsure whether to approach me alone, painting. Married women are not supposed do that. I didn’t ask, but I am sure that they got married just before he left, or as soon as he came back. Marriages like that happened a lot in the early part of the war. But when the soldiers start to not return, women start to reserve their marrying prospects for the returning soldiers, not for the departing ones.
Daphne and I talked for about an hour. I finished my sketch just before noon and I helped her bring Robin in to the dinner table. He looked relieved to be back in the lodge. But, promptly after the dinner, he was back out on the verandah for his afternoon regimen.
It’s a full moon tonight. Yesterday looked like a full moon, but it wasn’t. The evening sky is bright and the still snow-covered lake looks a pristine white silk cloth laid at the foot of the hills. After evening supper, the guests gathered in the dining room to play parlour games. Chess, crokinole, cribbage and euchre. No poker or Ouija board. Annie has forbade its use in the lodge. If we do use a Ouija board, we’ll have to do it where Shannon hides his whisky – in the horse barn.
We all try to put on an air of normalcy. But the shock of the war declaration weighed heavily on everyone. I know that calls for conscription are sure to become louder and more vociferous. I thought I could escape and gain some refuge here, but I’m beginning to doubt that now.