About five o'clock next morning, Saturday October 25th, I was wakened by Mac's groaning and he said that he had been in pain for hours. In my mind I ran back over the food he had been eating, but he'd had nothing which might account for his condition, so---- it must be what I dreaded---- appendicitis, though I did not suggest that to him.
I stirred up the fire in the small stove, soon had a hot-water bottle on the painful area, and got the kitchen fire going before I was washed and dressed. Then I wakened Murray quietly and, while he was dressing, I wrote a note to the young Dr. E. mentioned at Jessie's dinner party, asking that he come quickly and explained my suspicion of the trouble. Murray had a drink of hot milk before he left, all bundled up in his winter outfit and I watched him from the outer door at the back as he ran like a hare towards town. It was a raw, nippy morning,the dead weeds, brush and young green tree growth all wore a misty rime which would have flashed like dazzling silver had the sun been up.
Before the doctor arrived I helped Mac to get washed and brush his hair and teeth. Sick or well he just had to feel tidy. Then I straightened the bed-clothes and refilled the hot-water bottle. It was just after seven when the doctor arrived. Murray was back home and both boys were having breakfast. I had not met Dr. E. before. He was on the short side, sturdily built, round faced, and I liked his eyes and mouth. He was gentle in examining my husband, and cautious in his diagnosis, did not admit that it was as serious as I had suggested, but would return at 2 p.m.; I was to continue the warm treatment.
The boys and I brought a lot of split wood into the shed, in case it might snow while Dad was not well. I had plenty of food in the house, did my usual weekend cleaning and some extra baking. Mac was only having a little liquid. He had been quite vocal and uncomfortable since the doctor left, so, when he stopped groaning as soon as he heard the knock on the door again, I told him to let himself go to if it helped the pain, and that it might help the doctor too, he wasn't a mind reader. Since there was no inflammation indicated in the abdomen and no temperature, I was advised to fill the bag with icewater and try what that might do, the doctor would be back at 7 p.m. I filled the bag from the rain-barrel outside which had ice on the top, put it against Mac's side and covered him up hoping that he might be able to sleep, though doubtful, I refilled the bag twice.
It was not until after I had reached Fort George that I had learned of the illness he had during the winter of 1912-1913, was a sharp attack of what I feared now and Jessie had nursed him through it successfully. It was small wonder that I feared the worse from this attack, and hastened to " get my fences mended" as fast and as well as I could.
The boys were uptown to sell their papers and I had warned them to come home early. I knew without telling that there was a busy, anxious night ahead of me. Supper and the baths were over and the boys asleep when the doctor came back at seven o'clock. After examining my husband, the doctor came out to the kitchen where I was putting away the clean supper dishes. "Come and see," he said quietly, "the ice treatment had disclosed the condition, it is appendicitis and must be attended to to-night."
In the bedroom he turned back the sheet, and on Mac's white belly there was a flaming, red patch, as large as my outspread hand. It was no shock to me; I had been preparing for it for fourteen hours. I was not surprised either, that Mac wanted to wait for Jessie to be brought back from the pre-emption where she and Alex had gone to spend the weekend, but Dr.E. said, "No! No waiting," and I promptly agreed with him. I understood my husband's hesitancy. He had faith and trust in Jessie, and would have felt better if she were in town, not only for his own peace of mind but for my sake too. I asked Mac if he knew of any person whom we might get to go after her, and the doctor said that he had seen in town that day, Ivan, the son of the family where I had been at the picnic. A plan was made quickly, the doctor offering to see the livery man, Mr. Corbett, and have a light vehicle with driver and Ivan as guide, sent across the river ferry as soon as possible for Jessie. Then a team and wagon with two men, several mattresses and blankets, sent down to our place to convey Mac to the hospital. It meant some work for the doctor but he didn't mind; there was a job to be done. We asked Dr. E. to operate and to choose his assistant. He wanted the older man with which we agreed.
After he left I sat down beside Mac's bed, told him that he was lucky in having a doctor in whom I had every confidence, and that the nurse at the hospital was well recommended and dependable. "Try to relax," said I, "you are in perfect health apart from this flare-up, and you will never have another attack. That will be a consolation to me as well as you," but it was just like whistling in the dark for both of us. I didn't tell him that my worry was the condition of the road he would have to travel. Ruts, six inches deep, frozen iron-hard, a half mile and more of jolting in a freight wagon, might well mean a ruptured appendix by the time he reached the operating table. Then I remembered something else I wanted to do. I told Mac that I was going over to ask Shorty and Steve to help me organize things at home for the night, as I intended going with him to the hospital, and would stay until Jessie got there. A pathetic smile of relief passed over his face.
Pulling on a sweater, I threw a coat over my head and ran down the road to the cottage, I knocked, then opened the unlocked door and called. Steve answered and I told him my trouble. There were no light; they had been asleep. He said to go back home, and that he and Shorty would be with us in five minutes. It did not seem even that long until they arrived at the front door, carrying three gleaming lanterns and asking for orders. Such good neighbours!
They went in to speak to Mac for a moment, just a word of regret for his bad turn, and they begged him not to worry about me and the boys, they would keep an eye on us. Then I told these kind-hearted men our plan to get my husband's brother and his wife back to town, to ease his mind. He was no to be disturbed until the wagon arrived, I had his underwear and outer clothing warming near the stove. He was to be dressed warmly but loosely before being placed in the wagon and Steve helped with that. Shorty said that he would stay with the children and keep the fires going. I brought out a big brown Hudson Bay blanket and a pillow, put them on the couch and advised Shorty to lie down and sleep when we were gone, as the boys would not awaken before morning.
It was quite late when we heard the frosty squeaking of the wagon wheels. Steve asked the men to turn the wagon, cover the horses and come inside. Fifteen minutes later my husband was lifted carefully on to the blanket-covered mattresses and wrapped closely with extra covers. One of the men lay down beside him and held him steady to control the jolting as much as possible. I sat with the driver and Steve walked ahead with a bright lantern in each mittened hand, to give the driver a chance to pick the lesser hazards in the road as we slowly followed the river to town. I looked up at the heavens, a canopy of sapphire velvet, powdered with glittering, vari-coloured stars and, behind the black, spruce silhouette topping the cut-bank, the white mystery candles of the aurora, kept bobbing up and down like puppets on a string. It made me feel humble and insignificant.
When we reach the hospital on Central Avenue. it was just twelve o'clock. To our consternation we found a deep ditch between the road and the building, apparently a water-main was being extended. Two thick planks were across the opening, so the men laid down another plank and managed to get my husband across to the open doorway, where three doctors and Nurse Charles were waiting to help him. I turned to thank Steve and say goodnight, but he announced his intention to remain until I wanted to go home, so we took possession of the hospital sitting room, I removed my coat but Steve just unbuttoned his plaid mackinaw, and settled down in a big comfortable chair, mate to the one I occupied. He turned out the light in his lanterns but I left mine burning.
The hospital had no electricity and no operating room. There was a large oil lamp on a table beside me, and a small one in a wall-bracket near Steve. We stopped talking and settled down to wait, Steve dozing. The Nurse came and took away the large lamp; later she took the small one also and I offered her my lantern but she smiled and said they didn't need it.
I heard a soft footfall in the passage and saw Dr. E. in the doorway. "He's all right, hes said, "no pus outside, some inside." "Thank you, Doctor," I whispered, as he turned back to finish the job. How good and understanding of him to relieve my anxiety so promptly! Steve was quietly jubilant, sharing my relief, then said he would have a nap for the rest of the waiting. After the patient was settled in bed, the doctor told me that Mac had gone out of the anaesthetic (chloroform) into a sound sleep, and had to be wakened to get the stretcher up the narrow stairway to the ward. I told him that a Mackenzie could go to sleep anywhere, anytime. It seemed to be a family characteristic.
Later I slipped upstairs with the nurse and saw Mac sleeping quietly. She was professionally enthusiastic about his appendix, and said it was the most perfect she had ever seen, and would I like to see it, in a bottle. I thanked her and said "NO". It had caused me too much worry and I would take her word for its beauty, but I had a cup of tea with her. Then I went back to listen to Steve snoring gently, until Jessie arrived at three o'clock Sunday morning.
Mac was awake then and restless, so she asked the nurse to give him a sedative. As Alex had a telephone in his house and in his office, Jessie suggested that they keep in touch with the hospital, and let me have a rest for a day or so. If I were needed they could get a message to me quickly, but she did not anticipate any drawback to Mac's recovery. I was glad of the respite. I thanked her for coming to town, regretting the necessity and explaining that it was only done to satisfy Mac's belief that nothing could go wrong if she were available, and she smiled. I saw that she was tired too.
When Steve and I got back to my house, we found that Ivan's sister and her young man had taken over from Shorty. They had thought that the children were alone in the house; more kindness from more people! I had no doubt that Shorty was glad to be back under his own rooftree. The kettle was singing so I made a pot of tea and brought in some cookies but Steve only wanted to get back to his bed, and he wouldn't stay for tea. The others, too, realized how weary I must be and soon took their leave with my grateful thanks for their thinking of my children.
The boys wakened me in the morning, and were terribly surprised to learn that Dad was in hospital, minus his appendix. "Did they hurt him, Mother?" they asked tearfully, and I explained that Dr. E. gave him some medicine which put him to sleep, and when he woke up, the part which had caused all the pain was gone. It was a big relief to both of them for they like Dr. E,, but they would not feel the same, if they thought he had hurt their Dad. We had a big,late breakfast and I made it clear that they were not to visit the hospital to-day; Aunt Jessie was going to do that for us. I sent them to Sunday School, and agreed that they might watch the foot-ball game afterwards. How could they do otherwise with the playing field right in front of the church? They came home all excited. Walter Playfair, the strong man of one side, had suffered a broken leg, and now he was in hospital too. Dad would have someone he knew to talk to and wouldn't be so lonesome.
When the boys came home on the following Saturday after selling their papers, they wore broad, secretive smiles. In Alan's bag was a black, curly puppy, fat and lovesome, with four white shoes at the end of her short legs and a white bib under her chin. She was two months old and had been given to Alan by one of the men at the railway camp up the river. I knew and sympathised with their hunger for a dog, but I definitely didn't want a mongrel female around. There were too many in the town already, Indian dogs which remained behind when their owners had moved up the Fraser to Willow River. Further, this was the first I knew of Alan's going so far afield with his papers, and I told him that it had to stop now. The camp would soon be moving farther west, but it was already too far for my smaller son to be tramping in winter weather and early darkness. As to the dusky young lady, I could smell a compromise all the way to the hospital--this for that, no camp or no pup.
Next day, Sunday, after church, I took them to see their Dad for a minute and then to scurry back to Sunday School which followed after the morning service. Of course, they told him about the pup and I let them present their arguments. After they left I presented mine, and it turned out as I knew it would. "Let them have the pup for this winter," Mac pleaded, "and if she is a nuisance, I'll give her away to someone in the country." With three to one against me, what could I do but yield gracefully, and warn the boys that they must train their dog themselves. They named her Niggie and nearly loved her to death but they did train her.
Early in 1913, a battle had loomed up in Fort George between the forces of rectitude and those who favoured a live and let live type of morals. Already one large house had been built and occupied, and two more were in course of construction. The adherents of the churches and other citizens, went into action and carried a demand to the Attorney General, at Victoria, insisting that accommodation for "The Ladies of Leisure" be found outside the town limits, and this was done. The large house was vacated and sold to a religious Mission, and the other two houses were moved to what had been an old Indian cross-trail, outside the south limits of Fort George and South Fort George.
Before I left Toronto the Battle had already been published through an exaggerated report by a young newspaperman, and the following story was told to me after I arrived in Fort George.
One afternoon one of the clerics who had been especially active in the banishing of the offenders, had hired a horse and buggy to take him over to South Fort George to a meeting. Naturally he was concerned in his mind as to what he wanted to say when he got there, and, probably, he allowed the reins to slack a bit, but the little mare knew the road. When the horse stopped, the Reverend was electrified by the shock of derisive laughter, as he raised his head and faced two rows of windows filled with girls in red kimonos. The little mare, Dolly, had brought him to call on the Ladies.
Before the boys and I came West, Mac used to send us snaps of various group and outings in which he sometimes had a part, and I was thrilled to see one of a load of women on an old-fashioned, farm box-sleigh, behind a team of horses. When I asked him who was the man, so kind as to take the women for a ride, he wrote to say it was Red Killoran, whose proper name was Dominic. I met Red when he brought the wood which Mac had ordered for our first winter, and, I might add, for every winter afterwards, Red was a big, Irish stalwart from Renfrew County, Ontario, and he had a heart to match. His sea-blue eyes were the twinkling kind, but when he was in anger, they flashed like blue icicles under frosty, red thatches, for Red was no youngling.
At a W.A. Meeting in November, one of the women brought a message from her neighbour, Red Killoran. He would like to give some of the Fort George ladies a sleigh ride around the loop to South Fort George, before he got too busy with his regular winter work of filling wood contracts. His new sleigh-box would accommodate fifteen to twenty. Before our leaving the church, the outing was settled pending Red's approval, for the following Saturday afternoon. We would meet at the post office at two o'clock, sharp, go down Central Avenue, stop for tea at the Tea Shop, by the Fraser River, and return through Prince George. It was suggested that Mrs. C. let the Tea Shop know how many to expect, so that no time would be wasted.
On the way over, the different roads and places were pointed out to me, the stranger in their midst, and I saw amongst the dark green spruces and naked birches and cottonwoods, the two special houses which had been moved from Fort George earlier in the year, and caught a glimpse of red kimonos. For our thirty-five cents each, we had all the tea we could drink, hot buttered muffins with jam, and pumpkin pie, it was well worth the money. I had thought that Red should have been asked in for tea, but was told that he, no doubt, would prefer to spin a yarn with some of his friends further up the street. Red was well known and respected in the district. Jingling bells announced our transportation at ten to four so we were soon bundled up for the return trip, and I reached home before the boys, who had been selling papers as usual. The outing had been a treat for me, and reminded me of my school days when I used to hop on the runners of a passing farm sleigh, for a lift on my two mile walk.
On the tenth day after his operation, Mac was home in his own bed where, on Jessie's advice he spent the better part of two weeks. There was lots of snow now and the roads and trails to town meant icy, treacherous waking. It behoved him to take no chances of a fall when he went out. He had lost some weight, which he could spare and he was getting stronger every day. Our neighbour, Harry, had finished the banking of the house and had gone to the bush for the winter, He had no time to split the wood for the range so I hired a Chinaman.
Shorty was building a poolroom and bunkhouse down on the main street of Prince George. He and Steve were very busy but they still hauled water from the river, and every time they filled our barrel at the back door, Steve would pick up the axe and split a few of the larger logs for the small stove. Their bear was already holed up for the winter, under the wall of baled hay in the stable. Occasionally they dropped in of an evening for a yarn session and spoiled the boys with candy, gum and pop.
Murray and Alan had taken naturally to school routine here, and were doing very well according to their Scottish teacher, Mr. William Bell, who had been down to visit Mac. He was tall, slim, nice looking and an interesting talker, liked cards and dancing and was an ardent socialist. I suspected him of political ambitions, and would not be surprised now to hear that he had realized them. He enlisted in the First War and went overseas but did not return to Canada.
While Mac was in hospital I had commenced work on my contributions to the forthcoming W.A. Bazaar. In my order from Winnipeg were several pieces of plain, glazed chintz in different colours, and a pinking iron to make scallops on edges. I planned to make twenty picture books for children. The books were made and the edges pinked out before Mac came home from hospital. Then the real work began, to find, cut out and paste suitable pictures in those sixteen pages each. I managed to complete seventeen books and left the other three blank.
If Mac had not been the most patient man in town, he would have tossed me and the books, paste, magazines and pictures into the nearest snow-bank, for the house was a total mess while I was working at them. They meant $18.50 for the church, but enough was enough! No one had asked me to do that particular job, but I didn't make another such book for twenty eight years.
The bazaar was held in the new cement building on Central Avenue, which had been erected, hopefully, to accommodate another business, but had never been used for that purpose. There were two large stoves in the one story building and good fires had been going since early morning. It was a dry, cold day, but the community spirit was abroad in strength. The brave delegation arrived from South Fort George, Prince George and The Cache, and they were welcomed warmly, both neighbourly and physically, plenty of good hot tea and appetising food helped. At bazaar Teas, friends and acquaintances often catch up on news of mutual interests, and carry away a feeling of "I'm glad I care." Today it was a very friendly get-together. There were no left-overs, and the W.A. members were very appreciative of the kindly response from the outer communities and well pleased with the results of their own efforts. The Home Cooking, jams, jellies, pickles and sauces went quickly, and Santa's helpers soon picked up all the sewing and fancy work.
"The Cache" was the name given to a triangle of flat land belonging to the Railway Company. It lay parallel to the Nechaco after the river passed Fraser Avenue, and extended eastward to the junction of the Nechaco and Fraser Rivers. A number of contractors, sub-contractors and other personnel of the Railway Builders, had brought their families with them, and lived in The Cache in houses built for them by the Company. Living quarters and mess hall for the unmarried staff were there too and all the Company offices and warehouses. Since they had their own store or commissary, they were quite independent of the "Georges" in the matter of the ordinary necessities of life and most of the luxuries.
The Cache was really a very complete and happy community in itself, but the residents did not hold themselves aloof as to social amenities, and we Fort Georgians especially counted on their young men to make our dances the success they invariably were. We provided good music, served plenty of good food and coffee and kept them coming. Most of our dances were for charity.
One of the drawbacks of The Cache was the backing up of the Fraser when logs or ice in the Fort George Canyon, lower down the river, blocked the flow and caused flooding on the flats. That made some isolation among the residents, causing islands where they were not wanted. In the winter of 1913-1914, however, a natural slough at The Cache provided a perfect skating rink for the residents, and the skaters of the Georges were invited to make use of it also.
The Company arranged for a hockey cushion to be built, and the dressing-rooms with lights, stoves and benches. Then a string of acetylene lights around the area, made it perfect for hockey practice or an evening of fun. There were enough young men among the staff to make two of more teams for hockey, most of the players coming from the east, but others from the Pacific Coast, soon had skates on, and were mixing with the professionals to wield a vicious stick.
When Fort Georgians went skating, we women would bring along something for a snack when we came off the ice, anything left over from supper, sandwiches, buttered biscuits, cake, cookies or doughnuts. We brought our own cups, and coffee in a cotton bag to pop into the big can, which one of The Cache boys had already filled with water and put on the stove. The lads of The Cache supplied canned milk and sugar and they borrowed their cups from the mess.
Skating stopped at ten o'clock when one of our non-skating ladies banged the "Come and get it" on a tin pan, and everybody headed for the coffee AND, as one of the boys called it, they never knew what they might get to eat. It was amazing what fun we had from so little effort or expense, and although it meant a two-mile walk each way for most of us, no one complained of being tired the next day. On advice, Mac did not skate that winter for fear of trouble from his operation, but he always accompanied me and the boys. If he and I went out at night, our sons went with us, we never left them alone in the house.
On the way up the hill at Fraser Avenue one night after skating, one of the townswomen caught up to us with her party, and the lady asked if I read the local paper. "Of course I do," I puffed, "with two news-boys in my family, I am a steady customer turn about, but why did you ask?" "Because, " she preened, importantly, "there will be something in tomorrow's edition which might interest you, but I can't tell you any more about it, I promised." "Sounds mysterious," I laughed, " I do read the Tribune rather thoroughly but, thanks for your reminder, I shall give it a special scrutiny tomorrow." Since the wood sleigh had been using the hill, it had become very slippery, so that we had to walk carefully and save our breath for the rest of the climb. When we reached the top we said our Good Nights and went our ways, the other group following the river road to the town.
Sure enough! I found in the Tribune a curiosity-provoking invitation to the women of the community and district, to attend a meeting in the Fort George Theatre, the following Saturday afternoon at three o'clock. I had an idea that Mrs. Wilfred Playfair, the clever wife of the Editor, had something to do with it, and was not surprised when she walked out on the stage to receive a round of clapping as chairman. Apparently, some of the women who had belonged to various clubs before coming to the wilds of Fort George, had been talking things over, and were ready to ask how many others herabouts might have the same idea, to take up the slack of time on hands, and keep the bright minds polished.
Naturally, there are some women who are not steeped in Church work, but would welcome other efforts in which to do their share of helping with any scheme, for the betterment and happiness of the town and people. The aims and objects of such an organization were discussed first, then a name for it, preferably one typifying the country in which we lived. It was going to mean a closer citizenship, as it were, for a number of persons from many parts of the world.
When asked for a show of hands, a majority indicated that the women were strongly in favour of a club. Then a Canadian Oldtimer suggested that Mrs. Playfair an American, be given an acclamation as first President, and the entire audience rose in assent. Other officers were named, and a modest membership fee was agreed on. When the question arose as to where the next meeting would be held, Mrs. J.H. Johnson, with quiet graciousness, offered the use of her own living room in the Fort George Hotel.
That is how The Cariboo Women's Club, Fort George, B.C. was born on the afternoon of November 29th, 1913 and the newly appointed secretary was requested to have the name registered forthwith at Victoria, the seat of Government. I had never belonged to a club in my life, not even a card club, and I was surprised to hear myself nominated to a committee and promptly seconded. I accepted, fully conscious that I was wetting my feet in unknown waters, and that I was going to like it.
The Railway was coming nearer and nearer from the east, at the rate of a mile a day, and approaching from the Pacific at a corresponding pace. Steel and concrete pylons in the Fraser River, supported a temporary bridge, linking Prince George with the eastern shore of the mile-wide river, and it was expected that the tracklayers would arrive soon after the New Year. Like many others, we had burned our bridges behind us, to come to this part of the Country, and we still hoped that it would not have been in vain. Already, there had been one celebration in Fort George, supposedly to honour a definite agreement, by the Railway Company, to build the station one thousand feet from the end of Fraser Avenue nearest to the Nechaco River, but hopes were wilting. The lucky investors were those who had the means to buy selected property in both townsites; they couldn't lose both ways. It made no difference to us as we were on the borderline. Our house was built on Jessie's property, and we paid ground-rent. That arrangement had been made before I arrived, We did buy two lots later, but could not hold them.
Mac and I did not go out to meet trouble. We liked the country and people, and so long as we had our health and work, we refused to worry, although even now, there were discouraged families planning to leave on the first train which would take them to Edmonton. Because I happened to live closest to The Cache, I was asked to sell dance tickets there, to provide funds for an especially satisfying Christmas Tree, which would take care of all the children in our community. The same committee handled it every year, and they did not want any child to be overlooked. I know that Mrs. Claxton and Mrs. Oliver worked together on it.
I started out right after lunch, went down the Fraser Avenue hill, and along the grade, all ready and waiting for the track-layer later on. The first man I met was Mr. Jimmy O'Reilly, a popular and much respected little gentleman,who took the place of "leaven in the bread and oil in the machinery", in filling jobs. It is called "Public Relations" now, and his technique was smooth and happy. He raised both hands high, "How much and how many?", he asked, and as usual he bought two tickets, which he always gave to the boys in the staff office.
After asking him where I might find some men, without disrupting the work, he asked if I were able to walk across the trestle bridge. "Well," I answered, "I have always been sure-footed. Is there a good, wide cat walk?' and he said it was three feet all the way to the island, where the office was, and I should find several prospects there, so away I went. My long skirts kept whipping around my ankles, but I finally arrived at the island, near the eastern shore of the Fraser, and approached the wooden office building.
I knocked, then opened the door to meet the far-from-welcome gaze of one man, who just started. There was a chair, and that walk had been a bit tiring, so I said, "May I sit down?' and sat. I gave him my name and told him my errand, but he told me bluntly that he didn't want any tickets, and he'd just treat me the same as he did any other who walked in off the road. Said I, "If you will withdraw the word "other", I will be glad to leave, for I am no tramp, and I resent your tagging me as one." "I stand by what I said," he sneered," and I mean it." "I would not be here," I explained, "but Mr. O'Reilly advised me to come," and his face reddened. Then he muttered that he didn't carry money with him, but if I wanted to go to his home in The Cache, his wife might buy a ticket. "I never bother women to buy tickets," said I, now on my feet, "but it was worth my taking the risk of crossing the trestle in a breeze, to meet the first boor I have encountered since entering the country." I bowed, opened the door, closed it quietly behind me and never looked back.
Our children were living the life they loved, and were getting ready for Christmas. I knew that they were planning to buy a gift each for me and their Dad, but had no idea what they would be. There was much whispering after they went to bed at night, and I knew that this Christmas was going to be the biggest thing in their lives to date. The possibility of earning money and the freedom to spend it, was very important. It was all like something beautiful come to bloom.
On the Saturday morning before the DAY, they asked Dad to go with them to get their tree, and he took them down to Carney's slough at the foot of Fraser Avenue, south; we lived at the north end. Dad carried his axe and each of the boys had his own sleigh which Jack had sent out from Toronto with their toboggan.
I watched for the home-coming, The two sleighs were tied in tandem, the butt of the tree on the lead one, both boys hauling, the beautiful, feathery tip trailing behind the second sleigh. In the new-fallen snow little black Niggie was panting and floundering to keep up with the joyous parade, while Dad followed slowly, the axe on his shoulder. It was the fulfilment of a dream which had been nestling in the minds of two, small, city-bred boys, for all the days and night since their father had left Toronto, and the realization was almost too wonderful. I congratulated the boys on the perfect shape of their tree, and they blushed happily when Dad said it was their own choice. He winked at me as he sent them inside to look at the height of the ceiling, saying that they might have to cut a piece off the bottom of the tree, and we both knew how that would hurt. Yes, a three-foot piece was sawed off, but it was still too tall.
They stood fingering the soft green tip, such a beautiful spire, looked at each other questioningly while Dad waited, then with a sigh, Murray pointed out that the lower branches were stronger and fuller to hold up the decorations,so off came two feet from the top. I turned away to hide the tears in my eyes. I knew how they felt. Dad made and attached a stand for it with two crossed pieces of new board and stood the tree beside the woodpile until Christmas Eve, when the boys would bring it in and trim it themselves. I overheard them telling Dad that this would be the realest Christmas they ever had. That the being in reach of trees and ice and hill made it perfect.
When I was discussing with Mac the main dish for Christmas dinner, he said that he preferred goose to turkey and I told him that was lucky, because I did not think turkey was within our budget this year, they seemed to be hanging higher than the not-so-aristocratic goose. It was fairly early in the month, so I suggested that he put an order in at the butcher's and ask Billy Golder to choose a nice young goose of ten to twelve pounds from the next shipment of poultry, and the bird was now hanging from the rafter in the shed.
Before the snow got too deep, I had done some scouting and now had on hand enough kinnikinnik and Oregon grape leaves and berries, to mix with the spruce feathers as a centre-piece for the table. We needed apple sauce for the goose, and since fresh apples were lacking in the district in those days, I had asked Mother to send me some dried apples two months before and now had them waiting. She had also sent some dried celery leaves for soups and a bouquet of sage, savoury and thyme for flavouring, and told me that our gifts might be late as they missed the mailing deadline. We had to explain to the boys, Mother's message about the gifts.
In the days gone by, I had always made three boiled fruit puddings several weeks before Christmas, but after having tried what is called a carrot pudding, though carrot is only one ingredient with half a dozen others of the same measure, I gave up the old variety. This time it would be carrot with a hot sweet sauce, well flavoured.
We wanted to share our Christmas with someone who had no real home here with wife and children, and the boys were the first to suggest that we ask Shorty and Steve. I knew that Shorty was arranging as evening party for some friends who had followed the grade with him and Steve, from Edmonton to Tete Jaune Cache, and I planned our dinner for 2 p.m. in order to leave them free early. They were spending most of their time now at the new building in Prince George. A young couple in their employ occupied the cottage near us, and looked after the horses in the tent stable.
The School was closed for both Christmas and New Years weeks, and from then on, we scarcely saw the boys except at meal time. On Christmas Eve when they came home for lunch, I told them that they must set up their tree and trim it as soon as they finished eating, as I wanted the living room to be clean and tidy before supper time.
There was only one place for the tree to go, the north east corner of the living room, and Dad had already moved the couch out of the way. The boys carried the tree in the back way, set it upright and Alan held it steady while Murray studied which was the most attractive side to face the room. Then Alan examined it and agreed with Murray's judgment, They eased it into the corner and both stood off to admire it again, their eyes shining with pride and possession. Dad suggested tying a strong cord to the tree about half way up the trunk and fastening the other end to a screw-eye he had put in a log at the back, to keep the tree firm while they were working on it. That was a capital idea they said. Anything to protect their precious tree from damage by falling!
In a box of decorations which Aunt Jessie had sent them for their Christmas gift, was a large silver star and, as the tree tip was gone, I offered to let them use one of my long silver hat pins to fasten the star to the new top of the tree, it would help to conceal the loss. I showed Dad how it could be arranged and they asked him to put it on. It looked so beautiful that I hoped they would forget about the sacrifice of the lovely tip and I think they did. After giving them another box of fancy decorations, I left them alone. They asked Dad if he would help them with the high branches and he said of course, but to take off the moccs, stand on the chairs and see what they could do by Is first. Then Mac lay down on the boys' bed to try and read the last papers from home, and I resumed my preparations for the morrow's feast I could have given the boys a picture of a decorated Christmas Tree, but preferred to let them use their own imaginations, and the result was a masterpiece, to them which was all that mattered. Mac and I praised it as a fine job and agreed that they might bring their playmates in to see it later. The long, crimson streamers of the sunset behind the Foothills were marching on the white snow, and by 3 p.m. we had to light the lamps. Christmas should be a very fine day, if the old adage held: "Red sun at night, sailor's delight."
To my surprise the boys were up first on Christmas morning, although they went to bed very tired. They shouted a "Merry Christmas" to me and Dad, and ran to look under the tree where they found Robinson Crusoe with coloured pictures and The Swiss Family Robinson, also in colours. Those were the first book I had read and I could read them again today. There were games that they could play together, and puzzles which they could sweat over by themselves.
The two lads hung around in their slipper and pyjamas, and I suddenly realised they were waiting for Mac and me to discover their presents to us. We found them under the greenery heaped around the foot of the tree, and we were surprised and proud of the gifts they had chosen for us with the help of Mr. Ben Baird, to whom they went for advice because they liked him. "Out of the mouths of babes.." Mac received a fine, pure wool khaki flannel shirt which he put on at once to show his appreciation, and I got a grand, heavy white wool sweater coat for skating, and wore it later in the day. In thanking our children we assured them that nothing else would have pleased us as much, nor did we dream of receiving such generous gifts. Looking at their beaming faces, we realised how deeply important to them was our honest approval of the choice of gifts. It meant much more than money to them.
They had paid $9.50 for the coat and $2.50 for the shirt, all from their own earnings. When I asked them why they had spent so much more on me than on Dad, they explained that Dad was earning money, but I only worked and did not get any pay. They were learning and today they were also happy and satisfied. Mac and I agreed not to spend any money on each other, but I received a big box of candy which he said he had won at a slot-machine, and it could be the truth, since he had a weakness for those devices, and was very lucky. Under the tree he found a pair of socks which I had managed to knit when he was not around, He never used garters so I always knit his socks the 2-2 purl and plain down the instep, and they stayed up in place. Like other wives of much harder pioneering days, I had also learned to knit new feet on good legs.
Our visitors arrived on the stroke of two o'clock, their pockets bulging with cigars for Mac, candy, gum, soft drinks and oranges for the boys, and a large, be-ribboned box of chocolates for me. They were both dressed up for the party and we were glad to have them with us. They had been friends in our need and we would never forget them. Everything was ready and soon on the table, which looked like old times, with a cheery centre decoration on my best, white damask cloth. The green of the canned peas, gold of mashed turnips, fluffy whipped potatoes and the rich, brown of the thick giblet gravy, made an appetising array with the golden goose to the head of the table. Apple sauce and cranberry jelly were there too.
This was the first time that Shorty and Steve had been guests in our home for a meal. They had always made excuses before, when we asked them, and this time we felt they accepted only because the two children really wanted them to be part of what they called their "realest" Christmas, and begged them to come. I did not want our friends to be shy with us and tried to have them tell us a little about the days they spent in the Klondike, but it was like a job of extracting. They did tell us something of the hazards they encountered in coming down the Fraser from Tete Jaune Cache, and that I could appreciated since I had covered the same water myself, but I came on a steamer. It must have taken the patience of Job and the strength of a Hercules to steer a clumsy, waterlogged brute of a scow down the zig-zagging waterway. With several horses aboard, it could be plain hell for those responsible for a safe landing. It was Shorty whom I wanted to talk, Steve required no priming, he was a natural raconteur.
Mac helped me to clear up the table for the pudding and coffee. I knew that the men all liked coffee and neither Mac or I used liquor. The pudding was all I had hoped it would be and was praised profusely, but the guests refused second helpings since they had to eat another Christmas dinner later in the day. Mac and the boys were not so reluctant.
While at table, Shorty mentioned that he would like to give a free dance before he divided the upper floor of his building into bunk-house sleeping quarters. The street floor was already occupied by his poolroom, and a stock of soft drinks, tobaccos, candy etc., took up one corned of it. He would like to have the dance on the night the track-layer arrived, and asked what we thought of the idea, adding that there would be no liquor around. We told him that it was a fine, generous gesture which would be appreciated by all the "Georges." Shorty had been in strange places and he knew that music had charms. He was establishing himself definitely as a citizen of Prince George, he had made his choice.
After Shorty and Steve left, about 3.30 p.m., Mac said that if I would put the food away and then go skating with the boys, he would wash the dishes and join us before time to come home. That seemed to be a good idea and we were soon on the way to The Cache ice, where we found lots of company. There even was an audience watching the skaters, folks who had come out for a breather, so that they might play better bridge later on. I knew them all and knew that for some of them, bridge satisfied many an otherwise boring hour.
Mac rested for half an hour after he arrived with Niggie, then rounded us up for home, and I was glad to have his hand under my elbow when we reached the hill. I made a variety of sandwiches for supper, produced what Alan called a red wobbledy jelly, which they loved, cocoa for the boys and a pot of tea . Mac, of course, had to have cheese but without celery, which his missed. By nine o'clock three of us were snoring. It had been a good Christmas.
Unknown to Mac, I really was looking forward to the New Year's Eve Dance to be held in the new ballroom, Virginia Hall, named for the small daughter of Mr. J.H. Johnson, owner of the Fort George Hotel. The ballroom was an extension to the hotel. I had given up dancing before I was married, because I refused to make myself conspicuous by dancing only with my fiance. Up to the time I left school at seventeen, I had no opportunity to enjoy a bit of fun, like other girls of my age, but when I joined my family in Toronto, I learned to dance and skate the first winter. In those days, a girl's popularity was attested by the number of her partners at a dance. A couple of years later, when Mac began to hang around noticeably, and we went dancing, I hoped he would be impressed when I didn't lack partners, He was, but he suffered and sulked, made us both unhappy, and I finally quit dancing altogether.
I knew that he had attended all the dances in Fort George, after he arrived in 1912, but I thought nothing of it. He enjoys dancing as much as I did. Now he was leading up to an old routine in The Georges. "There is a shortage of women. We must go to the dance of New Year's Eve," but I pretended that I was not interested and said, "If any person asks me why I am not going, I shall tell them the truth. There will be no argument. I either am free to dance with whom I choose, or I stay home, and you can be conspicuous."
"It may be news to you, Mac," I continued quietly, "but it is time you realised that I value my opinion of myself, more than that of any other person, because I know me. My own self-respect is the most precious thing in the world to me. You could call it my religion, and I am not handing over my freedom as a person to you or any other." Mac looked at me as though I were twins, but he got his breath back and muttered the equivalent of "You win."
Jealousy is a horrible disease! Unlike some girls I had known, I never considered it a compliment. I felt it humiliating, as though I were a chattel, and my husband belittling his own good qualities. Before I left Toronto, Jessie had suggested that I bring a pretty dress for The New Year's Eve Dance, so I had one made by a smart dressmaker, and it was ready and waiting. We took the boys with us, intending to leave early, but were having such a good time, that it was after one before we got away.
The boys had been given supper early, and they slept until wakened by the din of welcoming the New Year, with Auld Lang Syne and other lusty favourites. Believe it or not, after so many years' drought of dancing, my moccasined feet were tripping in rhythm, as we followed the snowy River Road home. The sweet, singing notes from the old Italian's harp, still ringing in my ears, as I pictured him in his little black skull cap, bending over caressing the strings, with Bobby Kerr giving fine support with the violin.
Before I went to sleep, I was already planning two more dresses for less formal occasions. I had been starved too long for a bit of innocent pleasure, and I had one or two new dances to perfect before Shorty's big party. We were invited to dinner with Alex and Jessie for New Year's Day, but the Sunday before, Jessie had fallen on an icy sidewalk and sprained her left wrist. I sent a message to her by Mac, asking if she would allow us to cancel our dinner date or consent to my helping her to prepare the dinner, but she refused both suggestions, as I felt she would, knowing Jessie. She and Alex were both at the dance on New Year's Eve, and though the wrist was still strapped, Jessie was having a good time, and reminded me that they would expect us at 2 p.m. on the morrow.
It was the sort of dinner to perk one up after Christmas gorging, a perfectly baked ham. with escalloped potatoes, mustard pickles, canned green beans and a mould of high-bush cranberry. For dessert we had fruit salad with shortbread, Christmas cake, coffee and klim. The Mackenzie brothers, George and Alex cleared the table, helped put away the food and then washed the dishes. A guest enjoys a dinner physically, and the hostess also enjoys it mentally, before and after. Jessie and I were both content. The boys were allowed to play the victrola softly while the dishes were rattling, and then found some fresh comics to look over, while the oldsters exchanged news in the Christmas letters from the various relatives in the east. Alex and Jessie were entertaining some of the bachelor boys later in the day, also I knew that ours sons were fidgeting to go skating, so we did not prolong our visit. We took our leave with thanks for the good dinner, exchange of best wishes for the New Year of 1914, and hurried home to get our skates.
I had a birthday on January 10th, but did not have a party, just made a cake for Mac and the boys to enjoy. I had told them that I didn't need any gifts just a happy wish and I received a load of them. The boys. of course, asked me how old I was and I took the occasion to point out that no gentleman asks a lady to tell her age, it isn't done.