VISITORS

I knew exactly how we would find Mother and Jack; hurt and indignant to arrive at an empty house after travelling three thousand miles.  IT WAS TERRIBLE!  But the two dogs had given them a tail-wagging welcome, and when I reached them, there was a dog's head on a knee of each.  This was unbelievable!

After greeting them warmly, with copious tears, I ignored their stiffness and soon had hot tea and a meal on the table, though they told us they had something to eat on the train, which arrived too early for them to take dinner.  We persuaded Mother to lie down on the couch, Jack in the big chair and the rest of us anywhere, while Jack took up the tale of news from home and soon brought us up to date.  She was the only Mother he had known since his own had died when he was about Alan's age, and we knew that she had no finer son.  Jack had had a father and step-mother, but had left home early.

They told us that when they arrived in a taxi, Mr. Moore was standing outside the gate, and the two dogs were keeping him there.  The boys had not yet arrived.  The dogs allowed Mother and Jack into the garden and made a big fuss over them.  Mr. Moore had known both of our dogs since they were puppies, and he was a lover of dogs.  How to explain then that those two animals, who had never seen Jack or Mother before, accepted them at once and allowed them inside the premises?  That was an imponderable!

The boys quiet as mice were all ready to sit up until daylight if we allowed it, but I soon chased them out to the back-kitchen to washup for bed, which I asked Mac to fix for them in the attic.  There was an extra mattress there with bedding and pillows.  The two screened gable windows were never closed in summer unless there was a bad storm, so the boys should have a comfortable night undisturbed by flies or mosquitoes.

Mac and Jack would use the boys' bed, and Mother and I had shared a bed before many times.  I knew that she was very tired and upset, so I gave her an aspirin before I turned out the light.  It was a family joke that, in regard to snoring, Mac and Mother belonged to the same orchestra, and the first birds had joined them long before I fell asleep.

Shortly after midnight in the summer months, I would heard a soft rustle in the pines and birches around the house, then a single fragile note, a timorous peep, so low that sometimes I wondered if I had imagined it, but from here and there other inquiring chirps emanated and strengthened to become a joyous chorus.  Then, I realized that the birds were readying to take the air for the morning food hunt, and away they went.  Silence reigned and I was able to go to sleep again.  Night after night when I was alone in the house, except for the dog, I have listened to the early morning routine of the birds, and it seemed to be a regularly organized concert before work, like a mass grace before meat, or the bird neighbours calling each other to "Wake up! Wake up!  It's Time!"

Mac was up early and got breakfast for himself and Jack, who liked bacon, toast and fruit but not eggs.  Mother always had porridge for him but we seldom bothered with it in summer.  I had my usual cup of tea from Mac, and managed to get dressed before Mother wakened, when I brought a cup of tea to her and coaxed her to stay in bed until I got rid of the men.  I knew that Mac had to go to work, and that the boys would not let Jack out of their sight this first day.  I heard him speaking to Mac about fishing, so there was something afoot in that direction.  Fishing was Jack's best-loved holiday hobby, but he knew that there was none close to us, they  would need to go farther afield.     

Jack was interested in our flower garden, he loved flowers, and was amazed at the sweetpeas which he had tried so hard to raise in Mother's little garden, without success.  That annoyed him, for he spent a lot of money on seeds and soil but had not understood that sweetpeas need free air and light.  Mother's garden was bound on three side by high board fences, against which the sweetpeas were trained.

I knew that he would not leave the property until Mother was up and about, lest she feel herself an encumbrance.  They were very like in their sensitivities.  Fortunately, I had baked bread and other things the day they arrived, and the laundry was already out of the way for the week, so I could visit with them with care-free happiness.  Pooh for work!

When the boys came down, we late ones all had breakfast together, and Mother said that she felt better for the good sleep.  She hadn't heard the birds.  The children asked Jack if he would like to see the Old Town and Aunt Jessie's house, so he agreed to the walk and they went towards the river road.

The plan to come west was a hurried one for Mother, and she had brought with her material for a cool dress which she had intended to have made to take to Muskoka, where she usually spent part of each summer.  Jack's trip was a surprise to her too.  I told her that I would make the dress so that she could enjoy it during the hot days while she was with us.  She had brought a simple pattern with her, and I was able to get the dress cut out before dinner, leaving Mother to baste up the parts I had pinned together, and I warned her not to make the  stitches too small.  We girls used to say that Mother's basting was finer than our sewing, especially when we were in hurry to get away somewhere, and time was precious.

She was sitting on the Verandah and I heard her call, "Here's Mac for his dinner, Nell, and he'll be hungry! "  My Mother, like other women, always looked after the needs of the men of the family first, and catered to their special tastes, rather than to those of the womenfolk who belonged.  It is an inclination which has its points, no doubt, such as "Feed the brutes."

As Mac came in the front gate, Jack and the boys arrived at the rear, so I took up the dinner and, while we were eating, I learned that something in the nature of a miracle had happened for the fisherman.  At Third Avenue and Fraser that morning Mac was given a lift by a Mr. Davidson with a team and transport wagon, on his way to buy supplies at Prince George.  He live out at Lake Bednesti and would be going back early next morning.  Mac asked if he could take him and Jack with him, and what were the chances of his being able to bring them back on the third day.  Mr. Davidson said he could do that.

The trout of Lake Bednesti had the reputation of being so fierce and fast, that fishermen had to hide behind the trees until they were ready to drop the lure into the pool.  Jack scoffed at that old yarn, but when he came back from the trip, he had a story of his own to tell.    

After dinner, Jack accompanied Mac down to Prince George where they found Mr. Davidson, and made all arrangements for the trip and to be picked up at the house at six o'clock next morning.  We set the alarm to avoid oversleeping.  Their gear was all ready and I soon had their breakfast on the table.  While they were eating I made some sandwiches, in case they might be hungry before they reached the half-way.

Mac had leave of absence from the office.  In the "Georges", a chance to go fishing was as incumbent as a family funeral.  I told them to bring back lots of fish as I was going to invite some men for a fish dinner.  We all waved as the wagon turned the corner, and I had a nostalgic feeling for other days when we three, Jack, Mac and I, had happily fished the Moon and Musquash Rivers in Muskoka, more than one Season, and as happily, had enjoyed the catch afterwards at the Cottage near the Moon Chute.  That was before the authorities had blown out most of the big rocks which had made a perfect pool for bass and pickerel, just below the Chute.  

Today, once our men reached the fishing grounds, Johnny The Jew would take over.  He it was who housed, fed, and provided boats or canoes, also tackle if needed, and he had an enviable reputation for honesty and fair dealing.

After the men left, I fitted Mother's dress, and she suggested that I go on with the sewing, while she did the beds and other little chores, and I agreed, knowing that she would not be happy otherwise.  Thanks to an early start, the dress was finished and pressed by noon, so I insisted that Mother try it on.  She was pleased, and she felt at home in it, and I knew just what she meant.  Mother was neat.   

From the time our boys were babies, Jack had always been like a kind, patient big brother, very understanding but firm.  Before he left with Dad, Jack comforted them by promising that when he got back, he would take them, across the Nechaco on the ferry, and they would all fish for brook trout in MacMillan Creek, which flowed between Li Kow's house and the Cutbank to join the river.  That made them happier and they went off to the ball field.

While dinner was cooking, I sat down by the telephone and invited a few of my women friends to join Mother and me for tea on the verandah the next afternoon, and they all accepted.  I wanted them to meet my Mother and I knew that she wanted to spend her time with me and the children; she would not be going places.  She and Jack were going to Prince Rupert and down to spend a few days at Vancouver.  It was many years since Mother had seen the Sea.

There was a lovely baby girl among the tea guests and Mother immediately appropriated her.  On a boat or train or even on a street watching a parade, she was always one to relieve the arms of a young mother holding a child.  My Mother knew how achingly tired those arms could be.

The ladies were interested in her trip.  Mother was seventy-one that year, and she told them that she and Jack had come the same route that I had taken with the boys, that was by boat from Sarnia to Fort William, and train to Winnipeg, where they stopped over night to allow Mother to have a good rest in bed at the Fort Garry Hotel, where they were able to have next-door rooms.  After breakfast Mother decided that she would like to rest until lunch, and Jack subsidised one of the maids to keep an eye on her, and to see that she lacked for nothing, even the latest Toronto paper.  In the meantime he went for a walk, did some questioning, and was ready at noon to tell Mother that after lunch she was going for a drive to see the Windy City and outskirts.      

The second day after, they crossed the prairies.  They were awed with the expanse of the wheat fields, later , thrilled with the mountains, but almost sceptical of the Fraser River, down which we had come by boat.  From the glimpses they caught here and there from the train, they could not believe that it could float a steamer safely, but it could and did, as was all know.  Its channels were deep.  It is not the rain in the mountains that raises the water level, though rain helps a little I was told.  It is the strength of the sun on the snow, and it is the melting snow , that lifts a keel or carries off your property. 

When one lady asked Mother how I liked her surprise visit, the poor darling hesitated, then said gravely, "That was a mistake,  Jack and I both realise it now.  It was a real shock to my daughter, and might have been serious;  I'll never do such a thing again." "Thank you, Mother," I said, as I stepped out of the door, "and I will give the same promise to you.  Now, let's have some hot biscuits."

Later I asked two of the girls to look after the others while I borrowed the baby for a little walk around the house and garden, and Paddy escorted us until he heard the ever-present enemy, a tormenting squirrel in a jackpine at the foot of the garden, and he was off.  My small guest picked a bouquet of her own choosing for her Mummy and we went back to the company. 

Five men friends were invited for seven o'clock and they were not tardy.  As Mother still had a hang-over headache from the long journey, she asked to be excused, so when our guests were assembled, I delivered her regrets, which they understood; they each had a mother and sympathised with mine.

I centred the table with a man's bouquet, a bowl of variety of marigolds and cosmos.  As fish cools, I had heated both platter and plates and ten of us sat down to the heaped up platter of wood-brown trout, prettied with dabs of bright green parsley and accompanied by hot-buttered little new potatoes, slim young carrots creamed, a bowl of nippy sauce, green sweet pickles and ten six-inch cobs of sqaw corn, the first we had raised in the country and our entire output.  The Old Timers purred when they saw the corn, but Jack laughed at the fuss they were making.  He had never known what it was to be short of vegetables and fruit which he preferred.  Most of his life had been spent in Toronto, where every grocery store carried daily-fresh supplies of the finest fruit and vegetables.  

Mac had always told me that men preferred pie to any other dessert, so, as the new apples from the south were not on sale yet, I gave them blueberry pie and coffee, the trade mark of the district. 

During dessert, Jack apologised for having doubted the yarns about the hungry, fighting fish of Bednesti Lake, and here is the story he told:

Jack was thirsty.  He had been sitting in the sun hauling in sizeable fish for seeming hours, and after taking one off the hook, reeled in his line to a foot length, laid the rod athwart, the hooks dangling overside on the left.  He steadied the rod with his left hand, and with the right dipped his tin cup over the right side of the boat, when the butt of the rod bounced, smote his nose and spilled the water.  There was a two pound fish on the line which had been hanging more than a foot above the water on the left side.  It didn't help or harm for me to say, "What a pity Bednesti is so far from Toronto!"  It just started a train of thought in Jack's mind as to where, within a reasonable distance from home, there might be another such paradise.  If there were, he would find it.  Jack was persistent.

Before dinner I had persuaded Mother to take some tea and dry toast, and later she admitted that she felt a bit better, but did not want any more food, so I made some fresh tea and had a cup with her, while Mac cleared the table.  I put out cards and score pads, left the men to talk or whatever, and assured them, that smoking did not bother Mother or me.  They talked!  So did we!  I had two long years of woman's news to catch up with Mother, and neither of us had any idea when we might meet again, once she started for home, so, we talked!

About 9.30 p.m. the jangle of the telephone broke up the party.  It was a call for Dr. E., and as the boys all lived up in Fort George, Fred Shearer offered to drive them up Third Avenue and drop them off as he went along.  I was glad that Jack had been able to get the fishing trip while here, and had an opportunity to meet some of the young men who had lived in the west for several years.  With a war going on, he knew that development of this country would have to wait.  We were all full of hope, but, fortunately, none of us had any idea of just how long we would have to wait.

N.B.  To date,I had never heard the correct name of "Johnny The Jew", although, during my ten years' residence in Fort George, I had asked it many  times.

A couple of evenings later, Mother and I were sitting on the verandah.  I was knitting but Jack would not let Mother bring her knitting.  This was her holiday.  If she cared to read, he would see that she had anything she wanted in that line.  Jack and Mac, with the boys, went down the hill for a walk, to allow Jack to get some idea of The Cache railway property, and Alan showed them where he had fallen into the river, on the day the track-layer had arrived.  I had not told my family about that nightmare episode, for fear Mother might worry more than ever about our being so far away, so Mac asked Jack not to mention it.

It was almost dark when they got back, and Jack noticed the lights in the Foothills, from Mr. Yeats' run-away fire of early May, still burning!  He wanted to know who lived up there, or if it were a part of Fort George.  We had quite a time convincing him that there were no dwellings up on the hills, though the lights seemed to be so steady.  When we showed them to Mother, she was even more sceptical.   

The following afternoon Jack hired a taxi, and took us for a drive all around the three "Georges".  We started with Alex's house, for Mother's view, then the Andrews Boys' fine farm with neat log dwelling and barns.  They were nephews of Mr. Moore, already mentioned herein.  Both of the boys had volunteered early for service, but only one was accepted, and is was a great disappointment to both.  They had wanted to go together, and I am deeply sorry to relate, that the soldier did not come back.  We moved on through the blueberry patch to let my folk see Mr. Yeats' house, about which we had already told them.

When going down Central Avenue, as we neared the cross-road to South Fort George, I noticed what looked like a big, gray dog, slinking across the old trail, and before I could open my mouth to speak, the driver shouted,"Look!  There goes a coyote!"  Mother didn't see it but Jack did, and he remarked  that he thought the animal resembled a dog as much as it did a wolf.  This aroused the driver to tell the story of the young Fort George man, whose litter of fox terrier pups, turned out to be half coyote.   

They were said to be the most intelligent dogs in the community, and the driver was sure that the owner could have made a fortune, if he'd had enough puppies to supply all who wanted to buy.  I had seen one of those dogs myself, and asked what breed it was, so I could confirm the story and settle the doubt I sensed in Jack's mind.  He suspected us westerners. 

Leaning forward, I explained to Jack that South Fort George, which we were approaching, was the original Fort George of the early 1800's, and the site of the Indian Village of that time.  The old Indian Cemetery was just a bit farther east of the present town.  He remarked on the height of the opposite bank, and the width of the slow-moving river at this point.  "There's a powerful volume of water in the Fraser here, I'd like to know how deep it is," said Jack thoughtfully, "It's not much like what Mother and I was of it, when coming through the Mountains on the train."  Then, turning around to me he asked, "Can we get a cup of tea here, Nell?  I think Mother would like one."

So we stopped at the Tea Shop, and had tea and brown muffins with strawberry jam, and ice cream on the side.  The boys' eyes shone.  Jack had insisted on the driver joining us.  No matter where he went, Jack was never dull.  He was always interested in everything he found, and he appreciated people who were ready and willing to talk. 

Looking at his watch, he asked whether we might pick Mac up on our way home, and I suggested we call his office, which we did.  Mac said that he would be able to leave anytime now.  I asked the driver to let us see the old dock where the Steamer B.X. used to tie up, and Mother thought it a real frontier landing place.  She should have seen it the day the boys and I arrived, in the deluge we encountered, with no Daddy to meet us!

The driver pointed out various points of interest to Jack as we neared Prince George, and Mother, too, took note of them.  Mac was waiting for us at the City Hall and he crowded into the front seat, sending Alan back to us.  This  rather ordinary day, would give my people a number of little incidents to remember after the got back home to Toronto, just because the children and I had been with them at the time. 

An Open-Air Concert at The Manse, was planned to take place the following Tuesday evening, and we wanted Mother and Jack to be there with us, for they both like music and good singing.  Poor Mother's knees creaked a bit, like many old folk, and we didn't suggest church for her on Sunday morning.  Getting to church from our place, was not like walking on a pavement, and there was the "bench" to climb as well, but Jack and Mac went to church, taking the boys with them.  I wanted to save Mother's stamina for the Concert evening.

Sunday was very warm, but it was cool in the house, and after dinner the grownups tried to have a nap, while the boys were quiet with some fresh adventures from the Sunday School Library.  In the evening, we and the dogs, all strolled towards the river where we usually found a bit of breeze, and we sat down among the shining-leafed kinnikinnik, full of green berries turning red,  I told my folks how the Indians had camped right there, close to the edge of the bank high above the railway line, when they came to town at the end of June to collect their Treaty money, and of the handsome horses they brought with them to compete in the races, and win every event, at the First of July Sports, down in Prince George.  

That was the day that Alan went off bright and early, scrubbed and spotless in white cotton sweater, blue drill knickers and running shoes.  He was going to enter some of the games competitions.  Poor Murray had to be contented with watching from the side-lines, due to his still-weak right knee. 

I was picking some greens (lamb's quarters) for dinner that night, none of the men had been home at noon, when I noticed a boy in a dark blue sweater, smiling at me from the road, and he looked a bit like Alan, except that his face was terribly dirty.  As he turned into our gate, I realises it was my younger Son, and before I could speak he headed me off.  "Well. he boasted, "I won $7.50, and I can buy another sweater. I still have $5.50 left."  All the pies in the "Pie Eating Contest" were blueberry, and Alan had entered twice: morning and afternoon.  He had also won a foot-race and had lots of fun besides.  Dad and Murray were able to get a ride home that evening. The new City of Prince George was determined to celebrate its First Dominion Day fittingly, and the fun was still going on, but my folk had enough. 

On the day that Jack took the boys across on the ferry, to fish in MacMillan Creek, he had met Li Kow who had a beautiful vegetable garden on an acreage of rich river-bottom, across from where we were sitting, and Jack had quite a chat with the old man.  I told him that the most interesting time to see Li and his helpers, was when they were working in the garden as the river mist began to rise about nine o'clock at night.  The little, black figures crouching among the neat rows of green vegetables, gradually disappeared and the mist filled the space from bank to bank.  And if we went to the same spot where we were then at nine the next morning, we should see the same figures in the same place we had left them the night before, as the mist dissolved bit by bit until it disappeared as the sun rose higher.  In the interval, of course, they had slept their quota indoors, before beginning the fresh day's work.

There was a goodly company assembled at The Manse when we arrived on Tuesday evening, and our escorts soon found chairs for us on the verandah; the younger folk seemed to prefer the lawns, which had more stones than grass.  We met again most  of the friends of my tea party, including the pretty baby and her pretty mother who, later, sang beautifully for us.  She had been trained abroad, had a lovely voice, and had been a lead in light opera on Broadway, New York.   

There was another splendid singer, a brief visitor to Prince George, who had generously offered her talent to help out Church fund.  She was a handsome robust type, and her voice had great beauty and volume.  The singing of my friend and the stranger offered a bizarre contrast to our raw, new country, with its stones and stumps and shacks.  By closing the eyes one could easily envision crowded Concert Halls applauding the lovely notes.

Instrumental music, violin and piano, took up part of the programme very acceptably, and there were several entertaining readings.  The audience was appreciative and, as usual, clamoured for more.  It was a first venture for outdoor entertainment and would bear repeating.  Jack and Mother enjoyed it, as did my family.  It was a change and another pleasant memory for my people to carry home with them. 

The following afternoon, I was on the verandah sewing buttons on a khaki flannel shirt for Alan, who, with Murray, was going camping for a week with Mr. Ted Flowers, a quiet, gentle, English bachelor, just below middle age.  He liked the boys, and was taking a half dozen to a place where they could fish and learn to use a 22 rifle.  Mr. Flower supplied all but their blankets and personal needs.  He had been all over the world, and had been engaged in pearl fishing in the South Pacific.  He had plenty of true stories with which to regale imaginative youngsters, but he felt that six were as many as he could cope with at a time, when twenty miles from home.  Murray and Alan had been away with him the year before, so they must have played the game correctly, with their host and playmates, or they would not had been invited again.

I heard Mother muttering softly to herself, as she came around the corner of the house, and, sure enough, she had another few sprays of mauve sweetpeas, this time.  "Just pin them on your dress, Mother," I said with mock severity, "you already have three of our scant supply of cups and a couple of glasses in the house now, each with a few flowers in it, and those necessities are scarce in this town."  Poor Mother!  She looked so sheepish, then laughed.  "I just can't resist them, Nell.  When I remember how hard Jack and I have tried to raise them at home, it makes me want to pick and pick here, they are so beautiful and so sweet."  "Go ahead and pick them,Dear," I said, "they couldn't be put to a better use.  Here's a knife, cut some for the supper table, those stems are too tough for the fingers," and she went away happy.  

I was trying not to think of tomorrow.  Mother and Jack were leaving on the evening train to Prince Rupert and Vancouver, then home all the way on the Canadian Pacific Railway.  I was glad that they were going to see the best view of the lower Mountains, they were more interesting than the western part of the northern route.

After supper tonight, the four menfolk were going uptown to leave Jack's suit to be sponged and pressed for going away.  It was a good chance to let Mother get the bath I knew she wanted to take.  After having lived so long in the City, she was rather shocked at our limited provision for bathing, I carried the large tub into my room, brought hot and cold water, dropped the curtain, and told her to take her time, that I would stand guard.   

Mother and Jack travelled light, just two bags which Jack could manage with one hand, and look after Mother with the other.  He brought his own umbrella, rather than allow Mother to bring hers and be worrying about losing it.  He thought of everything, but his thinking and planning was all done before the first step was taken.  Those of us who knew him best, would never associate him with a fusser, he just did not depend on what he called "hind sight".  He likes to enjoy his playtime, and, by the same token, he wanted to enjoy his work too.  Those who worked under him, looked up to him as to a prophet. 

They knew him to be truthful, honest, and fair in judgment, and he expected the same qualities from them in their work; he despised a malingerer, but he spent both time and money helping many a week-kneed "brother" to stand on his own feet.  No inkling of this practical encouragement reach our ears, however, until Jack's death, many years later.  Then it came from the men who had received it or their families. 

The following day, Jack spent most of the time with the boys on the back lot, leaving Mother and me together.  He was thoughtful in ways like that.  Soon after dinner, Alan ran in to say they were going uptown. When Jack and the boys came back from the tailors, Mac had arrived earlier than usual, and I turned the boys over to him, to see that they were washed and brushed.  Said I, "At least let Mother and Jack leave here, remembering that they were  clean and tidy.  They have been running around like young colts, since the folks came."

It was clouding up, and the wind was rising,  We all hoped that the rain would hold off until they were in the train.  Then we heard the thunder.  Supper was a quiet meal, despite Jack's effort to be a bit gay.  I could understand.  The visit was over, let's get on with the next move.  It was natural but I was afraid to look at the two boys.  Jack had always been their pal.  Their Dad had too much of the Scotch repression and not enough patience; all the rain clouds were not in the sky.  It was a relief when we heard the taxi honk early;  the driver had to pick up other passengers for the same train.  I slipped down into the cellar for the flowers which had been standing in water since the morning, wrapped the stems in wax paper, and made sure that nothing was being forgotten by Mother and Jack.

When the train arrived, we all went aboard. Mother was lucky.  She and Jack had opposite lower berths, at the ladies' end of the coach.  Jack took the flowers to the dining car and asked the steward to look after them for Mother; she would claim them at Prince Rupert and enjoy them in her cabin on the way south.  Mother urged us to "get away home" before the storm broke, so we made our adieux, but stood below her window until the train moved off.  The taxi driver rushed us home, by which time the wind was hurricane strength.  As I entered my room, there was a splintering crash and the house shook.  The pine in front had fallen, scraping the verandah as it dropped, and with it went control of the nerves I had been holding in check, since the night I was surprise-shocked, by the unheralded arrival of my people.  My screams brought Mac and the children, and Mac began to scold and shake me; how he hated a scene!  When the tears came, I knew that I would be all right after a few good sleeps.  I really had not slept normally for the entire two weeks.