ALAN

One morning a couple of weeks later, we wakened to find that a deep fall of feathery snow had filled all the roads and trails, so I gave each of the boys a good lunch to save them coming home from school at noon and I also suggested that they  brush each other off well before going inside. About twelve o'clock Murray came racing home as fast as the drifts would allow him, full of excitement, with a hand bill announcing that the track-layer would cross the Fraser River at 4 p.m.  Everybody was requested to meet it at The Cache.  A brass band was to be posted and play it to a standstill opposite the spot where the Prince George station would, presumably, be erected later. The notices had been sent to the school, and the teacher had given them to the children to distribute, and to be sure not to miss anyone.  I was annoyed and very worried to learn that Alan had been sent across the river.  I knew that there was a safe wood-road where the ferry used to cross, but would the child stick to that trail going and coming back?  An older boy should have been sent. 

Mac came home from Prince George with a message from Shorty, asking if I could help two women at his cottage, to prepare sandwiches for the dance that  night. I had asked Shorty to be sure to let me know if he needed any help on short notice.  Steve would have the sleigh at The Cache to fetch us home after the track-layer arrived, and would take us all to the party later, and bring us back whenever we wanted to come. First, I went to the cottage and saw the girls there, Mrs, Rauch, whose husband worked for Shorty, and a pretty, young Indian girl whom I had never seen before.  The only refreshments for the Dance were to be sandwiches and coffee.  I showed the girls how to soften the butter for the bread and the thickness to cut it.  The cooked ham and spice-flavoured cold boiled beef, were to be put through the mincer, also to be minced, a quart of sweet pickles.  Then to mix some pure mustard with beer, if they had any, even 2%, the cheese was to be sliced, not too thin and then I left them.

We three, Mac, Murray and I went down the hill to The Cache, but found no sign of AlanMac was not worried about him, sure he was around somewhere with other children,  There was quite a crowd of pinch-faced, teeth-chattering people moving about, for it had turned very cold, well below zero. Community loyalty had forced them to put in an appearance at the epoch-making ceremony. The band was on hand with five brass instruments and a big drum, in a circle pointing towards a large, crackling fire, the mouths of the breath-freezing brass almost touching the blaze, and the weird, unlovely sounds would scarcely be heard, beyond the length of the big brass horn.  Only the musicians could identify the melody, but they meant well, and I for one, was willing to call them heros.

But I was becoming more frantic every minute, watching and waiting for my small son.  Where could he be all this time since he left school?  Something! Something I was afraid to name must have happened to him, and a cold stone weighed where my heartbeat seemed to pause!  Then, at last I saw him coming up the grade from the west, a questioning look in his dark gray eyes, as though he expected a scolding.  I breathed and the effort hurt. Alan said that he had stopped at Harry Ewing's tent and had some pie and doughnuts; he had eaten his own lunch before he left the school.  I was almost sick with relief.

Then the track-layer arrived and thin cheers arose, the volume snatched away by a bitter breeze sweeping from the east, as we watched how it worked.  It was a sort of locomotive, pushing the rails out in front at each side, to be spiked and clamped to the ties, a rail-length move each time, until it reached the Band and stopped.  The railway had arrived, January 27th, 1914.  Everybody  was happy, and there was cause for rejoicing, but the half-frozen crowd dispersed rapidly.Steve found us all in one group, and we went home with him in the sleigh. I stopped off at the cottage with the girls.  We lined a large, clean metal tub and a small one with fresh tea towels, and packed the sandwiches in as quickly as we made them up.  When they were all done, they were covered with dry tea towels and damp ones over them.  At the supper they were perfect and popular.

We all drove down about 9 p.m., and dancing had started.  There was going to be a big crowd, and I knew that would please Shorty.  He was here, there and everywhere, looking after his guests, but he excused himself from asking me to dance.  He intended to dance only once, and that would be with Mrs. Rauch; he had promised her a dance if she would come to the party.  Mrs.R.. must have been a lovely, cuddley baby.  Now she was about twenty, five foot ten at least, and could weigh over two hundred pounds.  Her height and weight made her self-conscious, but when the orchestra commenced playing a lovely dreamy waltz and little Shorty's small hand clutched her ample waist, the big girl just floated away with him, a beautiful smile on her rosy lips and Heaven in her blue eyes.  She could waltz and so could Shorty, but I overheard one wag comparing them to a baby tug convoying an Ocean-Liner.  Later, after the encore, I thanked them both for demonstrating the poetry of motion.  It was superb!  Steve took us all home right after supper.  We did not wait for the guests to sing "He's a jolly good fellow," but we knew that they would. It was a year and a half later, that I learned the sequel of Alan's delay in joining us down in The Cache.  The boys had gone to play baseball up near the school one evening in June, and I had persuaded Mac to go down with me to the river, hoping we might get a fish.  It had been a great disappointment to me to be told there was no fishing thereabouts, and I couldn't believe it, the water was so ripply, clear and clean, but I never got a nibble.

Coming back we saw Harry Ewing just behind his tent-house.  I had never met him so Mac introduced us.  He smiled as he took my hand and said,"This is a much nicer time of the year, than the day I fished Alan out of the river."  I forced my lips to say, "When?'" "The day the track-layer arrived, didn't his father tell you?" asked the puzzled man. I whirled on Mac and asked if he had known of it.  He stepped backwards, as if he thought I might strike him, and nodded, then defensively managed to say, "What was the use of worrying you when the trouble was all over?"  Washing his hands of it, as it were. "It would not occur to you," I said coldly, "that had I known at the time I would not have taken the child out that bitter night.  If he had developed pneumonia, I would blame myself to the day I died, thinking it caused by taking him out with us to the dance  Did you remember to thank Mr. Ewing for saving our son's life?" I asked, and Mac snorted, "Of course I did!"

I felt baffled and furious as I turned tearfully to Harry Ewing.  "I am terribly sorry to be so late in saying, Thank you, Mr. Ewing,"  I stammered, "But I thank God that you were there on the spot to save Alan.  You had every right to think me a peculiar, indifferent mother, through no fault of mine.  Please tell me just what happened and how."  Tears were streaming down my face as horror and anger were swallowed up in thankfulness.

Alan had taken a hand-bill to the house of Li Kow, the Chinese gardener, who lived on a ridge directly across the river from Mr. Ewing,  Instead of going back to the ferry-landing, he had trusted the deep snow, as covering solid ice and, in coming across, his feet had gone through an opening where the current was too fast to freeze.  Fortunately, he had thrown out his arms to hold on, and shouted.  If Harry Ewing had not been delayed in getting away to the meeting of the track-layer, there would have been no one near to save the child. Mr. Ewing risked his own life in going on the river, but he got our son out, already covered with ice like a log, rushed him into his house and managed to get his clothes off, then rubbed him with snow and rolled him in blankets.  It took quite a long time to dry his clothes, and he even mended some holes torn by the knife-like ice Alan fell through. I remembered then having noticed those mended places.  They had been sewn with black linen thread, in a man's uncertain stitching, in breeches and underwear.  When I had questioned Alan, he told me that her had fallen over a splintered stump and Harry Ewing had sewed him up.

After I had heard the true story, I decided that there had been a  careful conspiracy on the part of my husband, to prevent me from learning of the accident.  I hade no doubt that Mac thought he was doing the right thing in sparing me a picture, which has haunted me ever since I learned the truth.  The seeing with my mind's eye, my small son alone in that white world, falling into that treacherous river, on that bitterly cold day, to be sucked under the ice into one of the rocky passages, like the demon of the Fraser, below the Canyon. At a much later date, we had lamentable proof that there was indeed, a strong underwater suction where Alan fell in, and it claimed two lives.  The bodies were never found!