NEIGHBOURS

When Mac came home from work, one summer evening, he asked if I would like a motor ride out to Mud River next day.  "Of course I would," I answered.  There were not many automobiles in our part of the country even then, and I was always hearing something fresh and interesting about Mud River.

On our first drive out that way, we had passed what was to me, a very peculiar building.  It was very long, two stories high, windows with curtains on the lower part of the nearer end, and a chimney, so I asked what it was.  The farm belonged to new settlers, from north-eastern Europe; the building was a combination.  It was occupied by the farm family and their animals, which latter helped to keep the former warm, during hard winter weather.  Very practical, I would say, but most unusual in Canada.

We owed the surprise trip to our friend, Fred Shearer, who had some business in the Mud River Valley next day.  He offered to take Mac and me with him, and drop us off at the Cunningham Ranch, where our three American friends were farming.  We were to meet at the post office, at nine o'clock sharp, and you may be sure we were not tardy.  Our boys were glad to take their lunch to school that morning, it meant more time for play at noon.

It was also a real surprise to Wallace Cunningham, Charley Stone and Ralph Johnston, when we arrived in good time for dinner.  They were glad to have company and the news from town.

Mud River is a misnomer.  The proper name of the lovely, winding river is Chilako,  Indian name for the white clay covering the bottom of the clear-flowing water.  The salmon come to from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the warm head-waters,  The river runs between very high cliffs, and the soil in the Valley is so rich that the growth is phenomenal, for the sun's heat is caught, as well as the rains that wash the substance from the slopes on either sides.

The ranchers showed us a snapshot of one of their old pigs, with her litter of eighteen, all eating around one huge cabbage. These bachelors did all their own housework, including cooking. Ralph was the star cook.  He had told me that his Grandmother raised  him, and that she encouraged him to learn many useful chores in housekeeping.  Now he was glad that he could make bread, and the butter to eat on it.

Fortunately, I had baked bread the day before, so I was able to bring some of it with me.  Mac was a bread and cheese man, and at the Ranch they had to watch the flour barrel, as the nearest source of supplies was twenty five miles away.  That could be serious if the roads were in bad condition.  The World War soon taught us that it pays to ponder. 

Wallace Cunningham was the senior of the Ranch, and as he was not needed in the kitchen that day, I asked him to show me the root-house, which was built into the side of a hill, with a  T-type ventilator protected by a fine wire mesh.  There were double doors on the building with good space between, and I had been told that in winter, every night, the bush rats used to move a ton or more of the mangle and other vegetables, just to show humans that they were not so smart.  It looked that way to the ranchers, when they went out on cold, winter mornings to get the food for the cows and found the inner door blocked.   

We sat down to a grand dinner.  The roast was young, beaver with potatoes baked in the pan, young turnip-tops for greens, well buttered, and tender little new onions.  For dessert Ralph cut both the loaves I brought, a raisin and a brown, but Mac asked for gravy on white.  The  men all took coffee, but I had a treat, a glass of fresh milk. I had never tasted such tender, sweet meat.  Apparently, settlers felt they were entitled to wild meat for their own use, the same as Indians, but we did not discuss it. 

The beautiful Valley had one draw back, the road through it was always damp, and many the times when the driver had to get out and fill a depression with branches, to enable the vehicle to proceed.  The splendid soil was a temptation to farming settlers and they soon asked from the Government, a road appropriation to which they were entitled.

After the dinner was over and the dishes washed, we had time to admire the Manitoba Maple trees, grown from seed that Mac's Aunt Mary had sent to us from Portage la Prairie in 1913.  Five of those trees formed a row in front of our home, and were higher than the verandah, when we finally left Fort George.  The ranchers showed us the spot across the river where, on a misty morning, they had often watched several deer using a salt-lick, before they were frightened away.

When we heard our chauffeur's horn echoing farther up the Valley, we parted with our hosts with many thanks, and an open house invitation, for any time they could tear themselves from the charms of the Valley. The return ride was uneventful, and Fred dropped us off at the post office, with grateful thanks for the pleasure we had enjoyed. It was too early for the mail, so Mac whistled the boys from the ball field, and we went home together.  It had been a good day for all.

The same year, I was asked to forward to the Department of  Education, Victoria, B.C., an application for a school to serve Mud River Valley,  It required six pupils to obtain a school, and Andy Miller had four old enough, his nearest neighbour had two. The school was opened that Fall and the teacher boarded in the Andy Miller home. There was a noticeable increase in the settlers to the Valley, after the school opened.

In Fort George we enjoyed a long twilight, and I had become so used to  working in the garden almost every night until ten o'clock, that Mac surprised me at supper by saying that we ought to call on the Hendersons that evening, as little Georgie, six, had been quite ill.  We had not heard about it. Unlike Jess, in Barrie's "A Window in Thrums", I was too far away from the town and neighbours to keep abreast of the daily doings especially since Mac was now employed in Prince George, and the boys, on school vacation, very busy with their own affairs.  True, I had peace and quiet but missed the news and gossip.

First I picked a big bunch of sweetpeas and other gay things, and put them in water up to their necks.  By the time supper and dishes were done, the boys and dogs were gone to the playground and Mac had finished his first after supper pipe.  I changed my dress and shoes and was soon ready for the road. 

We found the small patient well on the way to recovery, and he  was quite proud to have flowers brought just to his own self. The pale, bored, wee laddie would soon be up and around again, but we did not stay long as the child was tired, and I knew that his mother was tired too. 

It was a clear, balmy evening, folks sitting out on Verandah or doorsteps chatting and enjoying the soft coolness after a hot day.  The streaming rose and gold banners of the sun were still beautiful as we started for home, and we called at the post office but there was no mail, a frequent disappointment. 

We followed the trail past the old the Manse, and noticing company on the verandah, intended to give the usual passing greeting, but Mrs. Wright called us over and I met again Mr. Wright's attractive, gracious mother.  She had just arrived on the evening train from Toronto, for a visit with her family, and told me that in her bag was a small parcel for me from one of my friends.  I thanked her for making room for it, and later received a half dozen beautifully embroidered linen Bridge serviettes from Emily, my ever-remembered friend.

Mrs. Wright Jr. told us that shortly before we came along, Mr. Moore had passed and told them that he had been to our place to talk over school business with me, but found no one at home.  The same Mr. Moore who had met us at the boat landing the morning the boys and I arrived at South Fort George two years before.

As he turned to leave our gate, two strangers arrived to see us and said they would await our return.  We hastened to make out adieux, but Mrs. Wright smilingly advised me not to hurry, as she was sure our friends would still be there when we reached home. 

None the less, I did walk a little faster, and as we neared our back gate, we met our two boys, eyes popping and shouting wildly, "Mother!  Dad!  Granny and Jack are sitting on the verandah!"  Mac reached out a hand and caught me from running and a good thing it was.  I took a few deep breaths!  There was work to be done!  I thank God for a sense of humour and an understanding of the Irish.