June 8, 1917
I came down in the morning to the back kitchen for breakfast. Shannon had left, but his mother was still there with Annie. They were cleaning up the breakfast dishes and were already starting on the other meals for the day. The kitchen had the smell of braised meat. It smelled of venison, not beef. There wasn’t supposed to be any deer hunting in the Park, but since the food shortages started in the City, slaughtered deer would magically appear once in awhile. The Park Rangers had the authority to take kill from Poachers and sell it. They would sell to the lodge but it seemed more and more that the line between Poacher and Ranger was being crossed in various parts of the Park and venison was becoming rather plentiful. There was talk of a big deer kill in the fall to supply meat to the cities so the regulations were not being heeded as seriously. Bartlett knew the Rangers wanted to supplement their income and he didn’t want any labour strife on his hands. The informal trade in venison was the ideal solution. Besides, the Rangers were poisoning the wolves over the winter, and the end result was an over-population of deer. It was good to get rid of them. Plus, the deer all seemed to hang out at the Hotels where the guests would feed them, pet them and give them names like “Buck”. I’m sure it was ‘Buck’ that was being braised on the stove this very morning.
Annie knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. I could tell by the way she fussed around the kitchen. Old Mrs. Fraser knew I wanted to talk too, so she was determined to stay.
“Mom, could you bring the linens out back and hang them?” Annie called her “Mom” because Shannon did.
Old Mrs. Fraser, or “Mom,” left with the bag of linens. Estimating the time to hang them, we had about 10 minutes of private time to talk.
I looked at Annie, right into her eyes, “Annie, you know what I’m going to ask you?”
“I can understand the temptation of the already open ones, but this one was closed. I could tell it was opened.”
I took a breath, “It’s an offence. Only the War Ministry can do that. Does Shannon know?”
She swallowed hard. She knew she had crossed a line. It’s one thing to be a poaching Ranger. It’s another thing to be Poacher.
“Okay, let’s keep it at that. Just remember the Government takes a very dim view of profiteering and corruption. We all have to do our bit. You don’t want to lose the post office. It would be the end of the lodge.”
“I’m sorry.” Annie continued to look me in the eye. I could see the tears welling up.
Ordinarily, when men and women talked, they never looked each other in the eye directly. “Save that for the wedding vows,” I was told. But I always looked women in the eyes did because I always did it with my sisters. Because of my older sisters, I was always comfortable talking to women and striking up good friendships. The boys back at the Studio could never figure this out about me. They were always proud that they could drink and carouse and have their way with women (never looking them in the eyes), but it never occurred to them they could be friends with women too. Red-blooded artists need not always be woman-conquerors too. When Florence visited me she made sure to avoid the “louts in the Studio” as she called them. Once, a chap who happened be in the Studio couldn’t stop harassing me about Florence, so I dropped him with my fists.
I have good friendships with women. It’s the same way with Annie. With Winnie too, but things got further with her. No fault on my part, but Annie was always a bit smitten by the way I treated her. I talked to her, I helped her, and mostly important, I listened to her. Unlike Shannon, I never felt the need to hear my voice continually. Indeed, I always prefered to let others talk. It was the same with Daphne Crombie. I enjoyed her company, but her husband took notice, and decided that they better convalesce elsewhere.
I looked back at Annie. She knew by the expression on my face and the tone of my voice, this was serious business.
“Promise me, Annie. This is between me and Winnie. Promise.”
By then, the door flew open and Old Mrs. Fraser rushed in hollering. Turns out she stepped on a newly settled hornets’ nest out back. Hornets’ nests appear in the darnedest places. This one happened to be in a hole by the bottom of the clothesline pole. A good soaking with kerosene and a match should fix that nest in short order. I’ll leave the glory of administering hellfire to hornets to Shannon. Thankfully, “Mom” only had a couple of stings. Nothing serious. I remember once hearing about the Rangers coming across a dead camper beside a nest. He had hundreds of stings and died from them. He was dead about a week and they could no longer recognize him when they found him.
I left the commotion in the kitchen and went out front to the lobby and then to the front verandah. I could barely see the lake. A fog and mist had descended from over the hills and it was turning into a persistent rain. This spring has been cold and terrible so far. And there were no signs that anything was getting better.
I need to write a letter back to Winnie. This isn’t a letter I can dash off in a moment. I have to consider my words and what my words mean. I also have to think about the letter getting into the wrong hands. I have to write it like the boys’ letters from the front. To get through the censors, they can’t write where they are or what they are doing. So it had to be words that, if fallen into enemy hands, meant nothing. But these letters from the boys, despite having all of the concrete facts stripped out of them, still communicated everything important to their their loved ones.
I need they day to think about it. I need to write the letter in time to catch the mail train tomorrow. It has been over a week since the date of Winnie’s letter and I know she will be getting more frantic as each day passes. There’s no telling what might happen or what she might do. If I don’t write by tomorrow, I could even expect a posse arriving from Huntsville to force me to make good on the situation.
Like the fog and mist that descended from over the hills, the afternoon has passed in a blur. So did dinner and the evening. There was talk at the table, but I can’t remember any of it. I just kept thinking about the deer formerly known as ‘Buck’ landing on my plate.