R. Lewis Evans was an English Teacher who loved to write. Although his books are quite well-known, his short stories and articles belong mostly to the more distant past. It was during the 1940s and 1950s that magazine short stories were popular and sought after and Dad wrote over 20 of them. Most were published, and many are of interest especially to those of us who know and love the Lower St. Lawrence and Saguenay areas of Quebec, so I decided to get them out of the file and onto the web-site where they can be read once again.
I've divided the stories into categories. While he wrote mostly river stories about the Tadoussac area, including some historical fiction, he also wrote 6 stories about World War II (4 of which overlap with our beloved river), and a number of odd inspirations, one biblical, several inspired by newspaper items, and even one (gasp!) Science Fiction. There are also some non-fiction articles which will be coming along later in the year. I love them all partly because he wrote about what he loved and I love it too, but partly because his characters are thoughtful, compassionate and real.
I've included a few notes that he kept in the file. Some are news articles he drew his ideas from; others are comments he received from editors either printed in the magazine or sent along to him separately. I've also tried to reproduce the illustrations, duly credited, as all the stories that published were supported by visual art. Only one, Casual Enemy, has no illustrator mentioned. My guess is he drew that one himself.
I've read all these stories several times in my efforts to get them up onto the web-site correctly and I've never tired of them. I hope you enjoy them.
A fair warning: some readers might recognize a few people!
R Lewis Evans River Stories
You Can't “Go Home China” Tonight
(Published December 28th, 1946 in “The Standard” Newspaper)
A Short Story By Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY MIKE MITCHELL
He'd been thinking of it ever since
he felt himself getting old
The Eternity Bay would sign him on again and take him home to die
AT A TABLE near the swinging kitchen doors of the small town café, old Charlie Sing stared at a page of the evening paper. The supper rush was over and the after-movie rush had not yet begun, and this was the time Charlie usually managed to consume a bowl of his chow-mein himself.
Tonight the food lay untouched beside him, and a column of newsprint and a photograph held him under a spell.
The photograph showed a smallish white river steamer, her single funnel belching black coal smoke, and the caption ran: “China Buys St. Lawrence Steamer: S.S. Eternity Bay for the Yangtse River.” The column below told how she had come out from Scotland under her own steam in 1910, how she had been laid up for the last sixteen years, how she was to be readied for sea at Sorel, and would make her way across the Pacific manned by a Chinese crew.
The paper blurred before Charlie Sing's eyes, and he saw himself back in 1910, a man of thirty landing at Vancouver from an immigrant ship. Ten labouring years – ten lean years of toil it had taken to save that passage money to Canada, and for him at thirty Canada's West Coast had been a land of adventure. He had cooked in mining towns and lumber camps, and he had been chef in private houses in Victoria. He had had his ups and downs, and, he frankly admitted, his passion for fan-tan was responsible for most of the downs. After a few years he drifted east, seeking new worlds to be conquered by. One summer in Montreal he shipped as chef aboard the Eternity Bay, and from then till 1930 when she was replaced on the river by newer, faster, bigger ships he served in her throughout every navigation season.
Those were the days — his smooth round face and his little round belly were well known all up and down the river then. He remembered it all well — the night run to Quebec, the gas-buoys in the narrow channels sweeping past to dance in the swells astern, the cat-calls and whistles as they passed the up boat near Three Rivers, the loom of Quebec in the summer dawns, and then the lower river . . . the tang of salt in the cool wind, the blue horizons and the great rolling mountains of the North Shore, the siren salute of the Prince Shoal Lightship as they rounded her to leave the St. Lawrence for the Saguenay, and that great river’s mountain-guarded canyon luring them up the path of the sunset . . .
Charlie remembered that from a port-side scuttle in the galley he used to wave his tall white hat to the men on the red lightship as they rounded her, and they would wave back and yell, “Salut, Charlie! — Hi, Charlie!”
“HEY, Charlie!” A hand came down on his shoulder. It was the boss. ‘‘Get cracking, Charlie — here comes the crowd.”
Charlie stood up slowly. His round face was lined now, and the roundness of his paunch had begun to sag. He was getting old.
‘‘Sorry, boss,” he said, pocketing the newspaper. “I quit now.”
‘‘You’re quitting!” cried the boss. “You can’t do that! Not at this time of night, anyway. What’s the idea?”
“Quit now,” repeated Charlie. “Go home China.”
“You’re nuts!” exploded the boss. “You can’t ‘go home China' tonight!”
“Yes, boss,” said Charlie evenly. “Goodbye, boss.” He went through the swing door and up to his room. His white cap and apron went into the fibre suitcase that held all his worldly goods except his cash, and that, wrapped in a clean white handkerchief, came out of a seam in the mattress. Charlie put on a coat and hat, picked up the suitcase, and stepped out into the night.
Till dawn he sat in the station waiting-room with the still patience of his race, his one-way coach fare to the city sticking in his hatband.
He had been thinking of going home to China for years now, ever since he had felt himself getting old. He liked Canada, but he didn’t want to die here; something called him to a bare terraced hillside in Hu-peh. It was clear in his mind now as it had been in reality forty years ago. He had tried to go a couple of times, but in the consul’s office they had explained that the wars made it all very difficult, and besides, he had never quite been able to save the price - or to hang on to what he had saved. But here was the old
Eternity Bay, his old friend, bound for the Yangtse, manned by a Chinese crew, and a crew must eat. The Eternity Bay would sign him on again and take him home to die.
THE Eternity Bay as she eased out of Sorel was not much as Charlie Sing remembered her. Her tricolour funnel was now a dull black, her once white upperworks were streaked with red and patched with grey paint, and the windows and scuttles of her freight deck were boarded over solidly against the high seas she would meet. But the same old Scottish engines, installed on Clydeside forty years ago, drove her smoothly down Lake St. Peter, and once more Charlie saw the gas-buoys, like little red and black men with arms akimbo, go swaying past from bow to stern.
In the silver and blue morning they slipped through the narrows at Quebec, and as they approached the lower end of the Island of Orleans Charlie was pleased to see that the ship was taking the North Channel, the old familiar cruise route to the Saguenay.
Late that afternoon Charlie leaned on the rail of a deck that had once been forbidden territory to him and his dark eyes probed the rolling contours of the capes for the entrance to the Saguenay. Slowly it opened out, that great chasm cutting through the mountains to the northwest, the fjord that the early explorers had hoped would prove to be a short cut to China - so someone had once told Charlie. Charlie Sing knew there was no short cut to China, but he half wished that when the steamer reached the Prince Shoal Lightship she would double her and head up the familiar channel to the Saguenay. He knew she’d just steam on straight past, though; he knew that for him the longest way round was the only way home, and he knew that he’d miss the whistle salute, the three long blasts and a short one of the old days.
ABOARD the Prince Shoal Lightship, Number 7, Old Alfred Tremblay watched the Eternity Bay develop out of a smudge of smoke off Cape Basque. It was the first time he had seen her for sixteen years, and he had missed her on the river. On she came, her familiar lines becoming more and more sharp to his eyes. He wished he could give her the old three blasts as a farewell, but those Chinks he’d heard had bought her - they might think it was some navigational signal or something . . . he’d let her pass in silence.
As she drew abeam something white caught his eye, like a ghost from the olden days, and he raised his binoculars. A little round Chinaman leaned over her rail, waving a chef’s tall white hat.
“Le Vieux Charlie, b’gosh!” cried Alfred, and he jumped on the whistle cord. With the echoes of the lightship’s foghorn drifting round her the old Eternity Bay ploughed beyond the waters on which she had spent the best years of her life, carrying towards the Gorges of the Yangtse-kiang a little round old Chinaman already homesick for the canyon of the Saguenay.
(Published in New Liberty Magazine, Vol. 30, No. 7, September, 1953)
By LEWIS EVANS
ILLUSTRATED BY AILEEN RICHARDSON
ONE of the ways in which Professor Keith Anson differed from the average bear was in the fact that bears habitually hole up in the Winter, but Keith went into solitary seclusion in the Summer. The observant might have added that there were other differences. Keith, for instance, nearly always walked on his hind legs, bears only seldom; Keith was writing a book on the life and customs of the Montagnais Indians, on which he was regarded as an authority, but while the bears or their forebears may have had an unpleasant, intimate knowledge of the Montagnais, it was unlikely that they would beat Keith into print.
Seeking quiet and wanting to be on the spot for any further field work that might be required, Keith holed up in a tiny cottage overlooking the spot where the Saguenay River flowed into the St. Lawrence as it widened toward the sea. The village had once been a trading post, but was now a small Summer resort where single men were much in demand as partners in golf and tennis tournaments, fourths in bridge, and bundlers at bonfires on the beach. Keith, however, bearishly resisted all attempts to draw him into these social studies, and wrote furiously for the further luster of the university that employed him and the profit of the publishers who sold everything he turned out.
But even professors sometimes tire of describing the Montagnais papoose’s substitute for diapers, and one evening Keith rummaged for his gear under boxes of bone arrowheads and went fishing.
He left his car where the road ended and set off across the rocks to the point from which he intended to cast into the Saguenay current. To get there he had to pass in front of the McLeod cottage, and, watching his footing as he was, it was only as he came almost abreast of its verandah that a chatter of voices brought him to a sudden, self-conscious halt. A cocktail party was going on, and, worse than that, it had overflowed from the house to the verandah and even to the rocks between the house and the river. Worse still, it was a party to which he had been invited a few days ago. He had refused the invitation, for his chapter on skinning knives and the curing of pelts had been going well at the time and he begrudged the hours he would waste. Besides, Mr. McLeod, a retired lumber magnate, was an old bore, or said as much. Furthermore, he, Professor Keith Anson, was scared to death of Janet McLeod. Too often her strong, tanned face, her level gaze, her lithe figure in its expensive resort clothes came between him and a pageful of Montagnais squaws. She fascinated him and he wanted to know her better or forget her completely, but she was always arriving or leaving in her big convertible, and he remembered hearing that she was doing some work somewhere. He assumed that she was probably involved in some social welfare activity, more social than welfare. Certainly on the few occasions that he had met her, last Summer and this, he had felt that she was regarding him as a slum that needed to be cleared. And there he was, with his fly-rod and landing-net, obviously going to fish, and in the Saguenay River where nowadays few sea-trout were taken.
TACT and self-consciousness had half turned him back towards his car when he heard his name.
“Hello, there. Dr. Anson. Going fishing?”
Arthur McLeod was advancing on him, glass in hand, and being obvious as usual.
“No; I’m collecting butterflies that nest in tall trees,” was the retort that jumped into Anson’s mind with the speed that had insured his lecture-room discipline, but at McLeod’s shoulder was Janet, in what Keith surmised was a cocktail dress, half pleats and half suntan, and smiling. Keith admitted politely that he was going fishing.
“Doubt they'll take a fly in tidal water this late in the season,” said McLeod. “Come, have a drink.”
“Thanks, but I haven’t very long before dark,” said Keith, and as he spoke he resented McLeod’s assumption that he was going to use flies. He was, for it was the only kind of fishing that interested him, but had he been going to use a spinner or bait or a worm he would have felt that McLeod had prohibited him.
“Well, I think you’re wasting your time,” said McLeod.
“The only way to find out for sure is to fish,” returned Keith as pleasantly as he could manage, and he started to move on.
“Hi, professor,” came another voice, and a new figure joined the group, carrying an empty glass in his hand and its contents not very well. “What do you expect to catch?”
Keith recognized the man as Jimmy Woods, an athletic type whose car was constantly pulling dust clouds through the village as he shuttled from links to courts to pool and back.
“I’ll be grateful for anything,” he said mildly, and added, “Even the exercise.”
“Come and play a few sets with me at the club, if you want exercise,” said Woods. “No fish in the Saguenay anyway. Haven’t been for years. You’re wasting your time.”
“Well, it’s my time,” said Keith. “Do you mind if I get on with it?” He nodded to the McLeods and moved on.
“Good luck,” came Janet’s cool, amused voice, and Keith half turned and raised his rod in acknowledgement, and cursed himself for refusing that invitation to cocktails.
THE sun was almost down to the purple hills in the northwest, and Keith's long shadow swam over the bare rocks ahead of him.
He was heading for the rocky spit round which the Saguenay ebb rushed to fuse with the St. Lawrence, but to get there he had to skirt a little cove. Its waters were black and still, sheltered by the steep rocks that bracketed it, and in Keith it inspired fisherman’s fancies. “If I were a trout,” he thought, “would I buck the Saguenay ebb at this hour of the day? No—I would find some nice quiet eddy in a calm, dark cove like this, and I’d laze around and blow bubbles at some nice-looking trout in pleats and a sun-tan.”
With that he clambered down towards the shore-line, slithering over the green and sea-weedy half-tide rocks. To save time he bent a cast to his line before he had left home, and he saw no reason to change the two flies on it, a Parmachene Belle as dropper and a Dark Montreal on the tail.
He stripped line off his reel and cast, and cast again, gradually working out till he could reach a boulder awash offshore.
Suddenly there was a swirl on the surface that had nothing to do with the tide or his line. With his heart in his mouth he resisted the urge for speed and cast again slowly, carefully. The Dark Montreal landed gently, there was a flurry of foam and the electric thrill that leaped from line to rod to wrist to heart, and the reel sang shrilly. Even as the trout took his line Keith thought, “If I can only play this right—if I can only land him and walk right back past McLeod and Woods, and when they ask me in their obvious way if I’m going home already, I can say casually, ‘Yes—I’ve got what I came for,’ and hold up a three pounder, for he's that if he's an ounce.”
The trout tired and slowed and Keith got some line back. Gradually he worked the fish back into the cove, back close to the rock where he had hooked it. Suddenly the trout made another rush, perhaps with the instinct to foul the line in the rock's seaweed, and then there was another flurry on the surface.
Keith just had time to think, “His girl-friend's hit the Parmachene Belle. Play them easy and you can give one to Janet and one to the old man—or better still, make Woods eat it raw..." and then the curve went out of his rod and his line swung lifelessly towards his feet, a futile foot of broken cast dangling from its end. The nylon had snapped above the upper fly.
Professor Anson made several comments in Montagnais that would have impressed the aboriginals of the region, and reached to his hip-pocket for his fly-book. It was not there. He tried all his pockets, and even as he tried them, he remembered that he had put it in the glove compartment of his car lest a protruding hook should jig him behind the dorsal fin as he drove, as had happened once before.
The sun's disc was halved by a black summit up the Saguenay. Ten minutes had already passed since he had left the McLeods. He could not go back so soon empty handed, as if he had given up. He could never admit that he had come without his fly-hook, and his parked car was within sight of their cottage.
He climbed above the tide-line on the rocks, and sat down on the gray-white granite. So steep was the slope and so smooth the rock he was afraid his rod would slip into the river if he laid it down, but there was a strange little hole in the granite beside him, and he shoved the butt of his rod into it like a whip in a whip-socket.
The sun was behind the hills now, and dusk swept down the river with the tide. A stray pulp log drifted past, and Keith thought of his beloved Montagnais swinging down in their canoes to trade their furs with the French in the bay around the point. It would be just about this time of year that the first ships arrived from France. What chapters of history had this rock he was sitting on known?—the French explorers and traders, the Indians, the Basque fishermen, perhaps even the Vikings before them.
Something clicked in his brain almost with the thrill of the striking fish. He leaned over and lifted his rod butt from the little hole. What was the article he had read somewhere? Something by a fellow archaeologist about identifying the Vikings’ settlement by the holes they had driven in the rocks for the spike to which they moored their long ships . . . three-cornered holes they always were, the article had said.
Keith Anson peered into the hole in the waning light. A three-cornered eye of rain water winked up at him.
HE scrambled to his feet and measured the cove with his eye. A Viking long-ship would lie in it comfortably, even at low-water, and be well-sheltered from the northwest squalls that funneled down the Saguenay from time to time. And why not the Vikings? The fjord-like Saguenay would seem like home to them, even more than the inlets of the Atlantic coast . . .
But if this hole at his feet was where the spike for the bow line, say had been driven, there would be another hole on the other side of the cove for the stern lines’ mooring, for they always moored bow and stern. Rod in hand, he started down the rocks to cross the little pebbly beach that formed the head of the cove. Seaweed crackled under his feet and suddenly he was falling, rod instinctively held high.
His feet hit the beach, a stone rolled under his right foot and he lurched sideways against a boulder. His upheld rod arm took none of the shock and his shoulder and the side of his head thudded solidly on the rock. He sank to a sitting position, shocked into sickness.
“A piece of pig rind,” said a rough voice. “None of your fancy furs and feathers for me. We always carried a few pigs between the thwarts. A bad trouble they were to our feet when we were at the sweeps, and a shifty ballast in a seaway, but we'd brine ’em on this side and they'd see us half-way home.”
Keith Anson closed his eyes tighter still and pressed his hand to his ringing ears.
A tall, bearded man stood looking down at him. He seemed to be wearing a kind of a skirt, and he had horns on his head. His hand was extended towards Keith, and a little strip of pork rind dangled from his fingers and swung to and fro as he spoke.
“It’s the devil himself,” thought Keith, “and He’s come to tempt me from flyfishing. What will Mr. McLeod say?”
“A little piece of pig rind,” repeated the voice through the beard. “They think it’s a small fish and they go for its head. You have to hook them on the first strike, though, for they won’t be fooled by it twice.”
Keith rubbed his knuckles into his eyes and saw that they really were horns —horns on the side of a helmet.
“Oh, there you are,” came a clear voice with laughter behind it, and Keith struggled dizzily to his feet. “I hope I didn’t disturb you,” went on Janet. “If I hadn’t, though, the tide would have in another hour or so. Did you have any luck?”
“No,” said Keith. “That is, I hooked two beauties at once, and they took my flies.”
“Oh?” Her tone reserved judgement on that one. Then, “And you stopped fishing after that?”
“Well, I’d forgotten my fly-book.”
“Then hadn’t you better go home—or come back to the house? There’s still a drink or two left.”
“Oh no,” said Keith. “I haven’t caught your trout yet. You don’t have a small piece of pork rind, I suppose?”
Janet took a step nearer and peered at him in the dusk.
“Sorry; I came without my pig,” she said. “Are you sure you’re all right?” She got no answer. It took brains and perseverance to be a professor, and Keith Anson was using them.
HIS shoulder muscles shot sparks as he unslung his landing-net, and his head nearly came away with his hat as he took it off to find an old fly with a broken snell in the band. With intense concentration and more luck than he may have deserved he got the end of his broken cast through the ring of the hook and tied a knot of no known design. He groped for his knife and cut a three inch strip from the leather sling of his landing-net, and ran the point and the barb of the hook through the end of the strip.
“Watch,” he said, and moved carefully over the rocks to the spot from which he had hooked the trout.
With already stiffening shoulder he cast, and cast again. Dimly he saw the swirl where the rising tide washed over the rock, and he cast over it.
Suddenly his rod bent and his reel gave line with a screech. Reckless of the rod-tip he gave it the butt and shortened line. Foam flashed white on the black water. His shoulders stabbed at him.
“Janet!” he cried. “Take the net. Can you land him?”
She didn’t bother to reply but grabbed the net, sat down, and glissaded to the water’s edge.
It was too dark for Keith to see the line, and he played the fish by the feel of the rod and the gleam and the sound and the swirls as they neared, disappeared, broke further out, and then so close to the rocks that he could not see them from where he stood.
The strain on the line became less alive, more constant. “Now Janet,” he called, and even as he spoke the strain was lessened. She had netted the fish. Then came an exclamation, and more splashing.
“You didn’t lose it?” he cried.
“Keep a taut line,” called Janet. “What kind of a fisherman are you, anyway?”
The splashing ceased. Then, “Give me some slack.”
Keith lowered his rod-tip. His head was still throbbing, and dizziness came in waves.
“Your line’s free,” came Janet’s voice from the darkness, and Keith reeled in. There was a pause...
“Anything wrong!” Keith demanded.
“Yes—no—it’s all right. I’m coming up. Reach me a hand.”
She scrambled up beside him and held up the net. Its mesh bulged downward with the weight of two silvery bodies. “Two at once,” she breathed. “Do you always fish like this?”
Keith gave the trout a passing glance and stared at Janet. Her skirt was wet and green-stained from her slide down the rocks. He hoped her sun-tan was undamaged, and noted there was much less of it in sight than there had been at the party.
“I don’t like your sweater,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” said Janet.
“Oh, it’s a nice sweater,” said Keith, “but I like you better.”
“Do you often talk in rhyme?” asked Janet.
“Now and then; from time to time.”
“We’d better go back to the cottage,” suggested Janet. “A drink might sober you up.”
“Well,” began Keith, “I think I'd better get home . . .”
“What’s the matter with our house?” demanded Janet. “You refuse our invitation to cocktails, then you come anyway, and go fishing, and now you won’t come in and let me show you off. The party’s over, except for Dad and Jim Woods, who’s probably draining the empty glasses. Come on.”
BLINKING over a drink in the brightly-lit McLeod living room, Keith stared at Janet. It seemed to help his head.
Arthur McLeod stared at the two trout lying on a piece of newspaper in the middle of the floor.
Jim Woods stared at the lure on the end of Keith’s line and refused another drink.
Janet stared at her hands which were clasped in her lap, and a little smile softened her mouth and half closed her eyes.
“You must come up to our salmon river, my boy,” said Arthur McLeod. “I’d like to see you at work there. Have you ever tried that . . . that thing on salmon?”
Keith shook his head and winced. “It only works on trout at certain stages of the tide,” he said, “and—er—under certain conditions.”
“But two on a hook!” exclaimed Woods. “I’ve taken two on a cast myself, but two on a hook I can’t believe.”
“Smarten up, Jimmy,” laughed Janet. “There’s the hook and there are the fish. Maybe he’s a better fisherman than you are.”
Arthur McLeod settled himself back in his chair. “Did you ever read that tale of Napoleon Comeau’s in his book called 'Life and Sport on the North Shore'? It’s a rarity of Canadiana now—I have an autographed copy somewhere—but he tells of an angler on the Godbout River who lost a salmon one day because his line broke at the leader. . .’’
Keith closed his eyes. It sounded as if McLeod was set for the rest of the night.
“And the next day,” continued his host, “fishing in another pool on the river, this fellow hooked a fish. He played it and brought it to the gaff, and what do you think? His hook was through the eye of the cast he had lost the day before!”
"But one hook . . .’’ murmured Jim Woods, now staring at the trout, who stared right back. “Good night, Mr. McLeod,” he said abruptly. “Good night, Janet. Good night..." and his footsteps faded over the uneven rocks.
“Why don’t you come up to our river, Keith?” asked Janet.
He shook his head regretfully.
“I'd love to,” he said, “but I’m finishing a book against a publisher’s dead line—”
“On the Montagnais,” she said.
“That’s right. How did you know?”
“You told me — me and about two hundred other students, in one of your lectures last Winter.”
“But you are not taking my course,” began Keith.
“No, I was just curious. But you could bring your work up to our camp.”
Keith hesitated. “There’s some field work I should do here. Nothing to do with the Montagnais. I have a theory that the Vikings visited the Saguenay."
“You’re not basing it on the spike holes in the rocks, I hope,” said Janet.
“Well, yes. Why not?”
“I worked that one out a couple of years ago. The Saguenay shores are dotted with those holes. Some of them still have spikes and rings in them. They're moorings, all right, but they were put there for the lumber ships that sailed to the head of the river in the last century. When the wind dropped and the tide turned they held on the steep rocks of the nearest point so they wouldn't drift downstream.”
Keith's eyes popped, and Mr. McLeod broke in.
“Janet's doing some postgraduate work in archaeology,” he said. “She's doing some research for her degree right now. She spends most of the week messing about over at Basque Cove on the other side of the Saguenay. Claims she has found the site of the Basque fish curing station.”
Keith turned to Janet. “I’d like to argue my Viking theory with you,” he said with a smile.
Janet's level gaze met his and she paid him the compliment of believing that he knew she was smiling when she was not.
“That might be interesting,” she said.
“Good night, Mr. McLeod,” said Keith picking up his rod. “Thanks for the drink. Please have those trout for breakfast. Good night, Janet.”
“Just a minute,” said Janet, and she followed him onto the verandah. “Here's something of yours,” she said, and held out her hand. Coiled in it were two trout flies, a Parmachene Belle and a Dark Montreal, joined by a length of nylon cast. “Your hook fouled your first cast,” she said.
“But why did you—” began Keith.
“I didn't like the way Jim ribbed you on your way to fish,” she explained. “I thought a build-up of your skill might be good for him—and you too.”
Keith reached impulsively for her hands.
“Thanks, Janet,” he said. “Ouch!”
He held a hand towards the light from the window. The Dark Montreal was barb-deep in his palm.
“I’m hooked,” he said.
“I think you are,” murmured Janet.
The End -
A note from the editor!!
® Lewis Evans, who makes his Maclean’s debut with “Deserter’s Tide” (page 20), is a housemaster and English teacher at Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, Que. In publishing his story we may be striking a historic blow for the prestige of Mr. Evans’ profession. Recently, Mr. Evans recalls, he and one of his pupils sent stories simultaneously to the same paper; the pupil’s story was accepted and the teacher’s was rejected.
(Published in Maclean's Magazine, March 15, 1947)
by Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY DUDLEY GLOYNE SUMMERS
The northeast extremity of Prince Shoal is marked by a light vessel moored on the alignment of the Saguenay River leading lights, 4.4 miles distant from the front light. The vessel is painted red with the letters Prince Shoal No. 7 in white on each side. The vessel has two masts and carries a red ball at the maintop masthead.—St. Lawrence River Pilot, 1943 edition.
CAPTAIN ALFRED TOMLINSON leaned over the counter of the lightship and his gaze followed the path of the Saguenay River as it reached between purple capes toward the sunset. It was nearly the end of his last season as master of the vessel, for he was old. He would retire to his little house in Tadoussac—he could just make out the lights of the village there, four and a half miles away at the mouth of the Saguenay, as they rivalled and gradually overcame the last of the daylight. He would be content there.
Well, except in the northeasters he would be content. When the northeast winds drove fog and rain and heavy seas up the gulf he would be able to hear the minute-spaced moans of the Prince Shoal lightship’s foghorn, and often the deeper roar of some ocean freighter feeling her way between the St. Lawrence reefs toward the deep waters of the Saguenay, and he would not rest well in his little house ashore.
But in the long summer days old age would be pleasant. There would be gossip on the steps of the general store, and there would be the summer visitors, always curious and asking questions in schoolbook French. They were always so surprised at his English name, when he and his family were as French Canadian as any Savard or Lapointe in the village. Some of them had run into the French
Canadians with Scotch names around Murray Bay, McLarens and McLeods and Blackburns, and knew them for descendants of the soldiers disbanded by Murray and Naim after the fall of Quebec, but he always tried to explain that his story went back a little farther still.
Strange name for a Canadien, you say? Yes . . . but Tomlinson of Tadoussac was a most unusual man!
Slowly the lightship swung her stern away from the afterglow of the sunset and toward the darkness of the Gulf. A few pulp logs, tumbled from some schooner’s overloaded deck, drifted past. The ebb current was beginning.
“An hour and twenty-nine minutes after high water,” old Alfred thought automatically. He did not marvel at the clocklike accuracy of the tides any more than a landsman is surprised at the punctuality of the sun, but he did have a feeling that he would miss these familiar swings of position when he was sitting out his old age on his cottage veranda. Perhaps he would keep a tide table by him and figure out from time to time just how the lightship would be pointing. It was so easy now – you could learn all about the river from the tide tables and pilot books. He'd never even heard of a pilot book when as a boy he'd learned his pilotage from his father – the Tomlinsons had been seamen for generations – but things were changing these days.
Maybe he'd apply for a license next season, and run a salmon weir off the beach. If he felt he had the energy, he would. He'd always liked the idea of being a fisherman.
The navigable waters of the St. Lawrence between White Island and Points aux Orignaux are divided into two channels, known as North and South Channels. These are separated, abreast of Riviere du Loup and Cape Dogs, by a bank which runs for a distance of about 24 miles, in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction, from White Island Reef to Hare Island Bank. On this bank are White Island with Hare Island North Reef, Hare Island with the adjacent Brandypot Islands, and Hare Island Reef with the islets which surmount it.
THE night of June 22, 1759, was moonless and still. John Tomlinson, on anchor watch aboard the Goodwill transport, leaned over the bulwark near the bows and listened to the current plucking at the anchor chain. The ship had just swung around with the tide, and now her upflung bowsprit pointed like a challenging spear up the river toward Quebec, the French stronghold which was General Wolfe's objective.
Quebec, however, was said to be over 40 leagues away and all John Tomlinson could see ahead in the gathering dusk were the masts of the Richmond frigate stabbing the sky, and beyond her again the low humps of the strangely named Brandypot Islets. To his right and ahead the long low curve of Hare Island looked like a great whale basking on the surface of the waters.
From the Richmond the click-clock sound of caulking mallets, which had been going on since the vessel had come to anchor, now ceased with the descent of darkness. She had opened a seam above her waterline in the stormy weather encountered in the Gulf.
Astern, John knew, were the Vanguard and Centurion, men-of-war; and somewhere farther down the river the flagship Sutherland with the General himself aboard her. The whole fleet was waiting out the darkness at anchor, for the French pilots tricked aboard down the river were not to be trusted. Old Alfred Killick, master of the Goodwill transport, would not let the pilot assigned to him have any say in handling the ship. He trusted no Frenchman, he claimed, and with a leadsman in the chains and himself on the foc's'le speaking trumpet in hand, he navigated the Goodwill into and out of the Shoal Island anchorages himself, judging the course by the set of the currents and the color of the water.
A great navigator, old Killick, thought John, and a fine seaman. “If I must sail in this fleet, there's no one I’d rather sail under —but I should never have sailed at all.”
He hunched his shoulders over the high bulwark. Three hours of his watch lay ahead of him, three hours for bitter thoughts of the happier past.
John Tomlinson had been a fisherman, owner of his own boat sailing out of Plymouth; and in a heavy storm last winter he had struck the sands and lost her. Another craft had picked him up and put him ashore and he had sought revenge on fortune in the gin shops. There he had been picked up by a press gang and had awakened in the foc's'le of the Goodwill bound for Louisburg, which had been an English fortress for nearly a year now, thanks to this same General Wolfe.
John was a seaman through and through, but he had been master of his own vessel, and now to be a mere unit in a watch galled him beyond bearing. He wanted his freedom, to make his own living by his own skill—by fishing. At several places on the journey up the estuary he had been filled with longing, for afar off along the shore he had seen boats tending nets. Fishermen were fishermen, whether French or English—when they weren't smugglers. John had been both in the English Channel, and he had met both. If these Frenchmen of the New World had anything in common with their brethren of Normandy and Brittany, John Tomlinson had no fears about getting along with them, and the idea of deserting this stinking, overcrowded transport had bedevilled his mind both day and night.
But Admiral Saunders was no fool; he had suffered from deserters before. The fleet made no anchorages close to the mainland, but sought shelter only in the lee of barren islands. “Four nights ago it was Bic Island,” recounted John miserably to himself; “then two days off Green Island because of wind and a strong ebb tide, and now these godforsaken reefs and rocks and clumps of trees.”
Only this afternoon, during the flood tide, six soldiers had leaped overboard from the Richmond and swum to the Brandypot Islet which was nearest Hare Island, thinking no doubt that it was joined to the larger island and that they could lose themselves in the bush there until the fleet had moved on. John and others aboard the Goodwill had learned from the poor frightened French pilot that the islands were joined only at low water; and sick at heart they had watched a boat pull away from the Richmond to the shore, and the Marines spread out across the islets like hunters beating for hares. The evening had been full of shouts and shots, and at last the boatload of Marines had rowed slowly back to the frigate – just the Marines.
Vessels shelter northeastward of the Brandypots. The holding ground is good … In Brandypot Channel the ebb stream begins one hour after high water . . . the rate of the tidal streams is from 2 to 31/2 knots.
BITS of driftwood, floated off the islands and reefs by the high tide, swept past the bows of the Goodwill in the ebb stream. John Tomlinson watched them idly at first, and then with attention.
“That's a powerful stream,” he thought. “Being the ebb tide, it must run for six hours anyway. With a boat a man could be clear of the whole fleet long before the stream turned . . .”
He continued to watch the flotsam as it whirled past, imagining himself keeping pace with it along the length of the transport's deck, and trying to figure its speed.
Suddenly there was a rasping, a bump, and a swirl of water below him. He peered down. Something had fouled the cable and become wedged between it and the bluff bows of the transport; and the current fought with this new obstruction. John was about to call his watchmates to help him clear it, when curiosity prompted him to have a closer look, alone. He threw a glance over his shoulder. The bulk of his watchmates were below the break of the foc's'le huddled together and talking. They could have heard nothing.
In a flash he was over the cathead climbing down among the complicated stays that secured the bowsprit to the stem of the ship. Hanging a few feet above the swirling water he could make out the object more clearly. It was a rough raft of planks that the Richmond’s men had floated alongside to stand on while they caulked that seam. They had left it moored alongside, and it had come adrift.
John lowered himself till he was hanging by his hands from a stay, and his feet reached the raft. He kicked gently and the corner wedged against the ship's stem came free. He dropped onto the raft and fended it off from the bows with his hands. The high sheer of the Goodwill transport slid past him, and then he was alone in the darkness.
To John's relief the raft's course paralleled the reef, edging in toward it and giving the rest of the fleet a wide berth. He had no desire to be a target for musketry. Soon those ships too were lost in the darkness.
It was an uncanny feeling, for once the anchored vessels were out of sight he did not seem to be moving—the raft and the water in which it floated were as one, and there was no way of telling how fast they were moving over the bottom. “At least,” thought John Tomlinson wryly, “I am master of my own vessel once more.”
He fell to examining his craft, more by touch than by vision. It appeared to be made of three great pine planks stoutly lashed together, designed to support two men provided their weight was evenly distributed along its length. John's groping hands searched along its edges and found what he had hoped for, the trailing length of rope that had been used to moor the raft to the Richmond’s side. He hauled it in and coiled it on the raft. It was, perhaps, 20 feet in length.
John settled down to consider his position. He was adrift in the middle of a great tidal estuary 20 miles wide, and he had no means of controlling his craft. He did not regret his impulse to desert. He felt he had nothing to lose. With his fishing boat destroyed he had no stake in England, and as for Quebec—well, rumor had it that the French fortress was impregnable, and that the expedition in general and James Wolfe in particular were mad. John Tomlinson wanted no part in the fire ships and shot and shell that would no doubt greet the fleet as it laid siege to the capital of New France.
No, he was glad he had left the Goodwill, but he wished that he had had the same chance when the fleet was nearer one shore or the other. Well, it was his job to navigate his vessel, and he must put his mind to it. What would old Alf Killick have done? The set of the currents and the color of the water . . . The water around him was black and mysterious, now silent and smooth, now breaking into ripples and swirls that he knew must be crosscurrents; but in the darkness he could tell no more. He could do nothing till dawn but swing his arms and rub his hands and legs to ward off the chill of this northern night.
The first grey light filtering into the sky over the Gulf found the raft revolving aimlessly in confused and choppy waters. Malevolent little waves broke along its sides and kept John wet and chilled to the bone. As the light increased he stood up and tried to mark his position and progress.
The raft had drifted downriver a mile or so beyond the end of the long spine of reefs of which Hare Island and the Brandypots formed the highest points. The ships were still plainly visible; and even as he watched, sails began to drop from the yards, and he could imagine the clacking of capstans and the tramp of feet on the deck as the fleet weighed in haste to make use of the favorable northeast wind and tide. Downriver, one lone spit of yellow sand appeared to be the only land between him and the Gulf—Red Islet, he had heard Killick call it as they had sailed past.
The flood stream, on coming with strength from the South Channel, flows westward through the whole breadth of the passage between White Island Reef and Red Islet. At its strength it predominates and crowds the flood in the North Channel over against Lark Reef.
THE northeasterly breeze increased in strength, but the low sun offset its chill, and John Tomlinson's clothing began to dry. He thought of Killick conning the Goodwill from the foc's'le and he studied the surrounding waters with attention. Those about the raft, off the tail of the reefs, were greenish, suggesting shallow water, and confused with current swirls. Between the raft and Red Islet, however, the waters were blue with ripples in the sunlight. There, thought John, the water must be moving against or across the wind. He stripped off his clothing and slid over the side. Kicking his feet strongly he propelled the raft before him. After two intervals when he had to climb back on the planks for rest and warmth he was in the rippled blue water. He climbed aboard and as he dressed himself he took careful bearings on several points on the distant shores. Then he crouched on the wet boards, trying to keep dry and trying not to think about the hunger that was becoming more and more demanding.
When he judged half an hour had elapsed he again stood up and checked his bearings. The raft, he found, was now traveling westward, toward the mountainous left bank of the river which looked much less friendly than the lower levels of the right side. At any rate, he was moving shoreward, and he called down a blessing on old Killick.
The northeast breeze was stiffening as the sun rose higher, and soon waves kept the planks continually awash. John gave up the struggle to keep dry, and later, when the raft was swept well into the north channel and he sighted a branch drifting on a parallel course some 30 yards away, he did not bother to remove his soaking shirt and breeches when he lowered himself into the water. He struck out for the branch, found it, and started back, pushing it before him. For a desperate moment of panic he thought he had lost his raft, but the waves breaking over it betrayed its position, and he regained it.
The branch was a sorry substitute for a paddle, but John snapped off its smaller twigs and fell to work trying to help the raft along in its chosen direction. His exertion kept him warm, but after two hours’ steady paddling he was exhausted, and the mounting waves forced him to crouch and hold on with his hands if he was not to be washed away.
A new sound gradually intruded upon his attention, he swayed to his feet and made out a low ridge of sand and boulders on which the waves were smashing. The raft was drifting toward this reef, but too slowly for his liking. Solid ground, even a reef, would be a welcome rest from the bucking raft. John plunged into the water and started kicking his raft in toward shore. At last it grounded in the surf and he staggered onto the sands, clutching the end of his length of rope. When he had rested he hauled the heavy planks beyond the breakers, collapsed on the sun-warmed stone, and slept.
Lark Reef, a large extent of drying ground, is composed of sand and boulders . . . Along the eastern edge of the reef are stony ridges which are the last to cover on the rising tide.
SPRAY dashing over his face woke John Tomlinson from his brief sleep. He struggled to his feet and his first glance was for his raft. One end floated, lifting to the waves, but the other was still grounded on the reef. He took stock of his position. The ridge on which he stood had dwindled to a width of a few yards and a length of some 30 paces. Confused seas all round showed where other ridges had covered and were being pounded by the waves. The northeaster had settled down to blow, and grey scud blotted out the sun.
Sea birds wheeled and shrieked, and a flock of plovers, forced by the tide from lower banks, swooped to land on the extremity of the spit. John stooped for a stone. A shrewd throw into the midst of the flock left one bird flapping in a circle, a wing trailing, as the rest soared off with startled whistling. John pounced on the creature, dashed its life out and tore at its flesh.
By the time he had got all the sustenance he could from the bird the waves were washing over his ridge, and he prepared to take once more to his raft. He poled out of the breakers with his branch, and finding the waves far greater than those earlier in the morning, he lashed himself to his planks with his length of rope.
The ebb from the Saguenay River sets strongly over Lark Reef, and on meeting the ebb stream from the St. Lawrence sets up very heavy tide rips.
For several hours the raft drifted aimlessly, incessantly buffeted by the short steep waves of shallow waters. Sometimes John, sounding with his branch, touched bottom, and prayed for the tide to fall and uncover enough land to give him shelter from the seas. In his heart he knew, however, that there was no prolonged safety on the reef – it would cover again at the next high tide, and that would be at night. The idea of repeating his present situation in the darkness appalled him.
Finally a groping with the pole on the bottom showed him that he was moving rapidly – caught in a strong tidal stream. Soon his branch lost all contact with the bottom, and he knew he was being carried into deeper waters.
For the first time real fear crowded into his mind. If the ebb carried him into mid-river he was lost. He knew that he could not survive the exposure of another night on the raft in such a wicked sea.
Desperately he scrambled to his feet, swaying, falling, trying to keep his balance for a few seconds.
On the North Shore a great canyon in the hills had opened to view – the gorge of some important tributary river, he realized. To its right he could just make out some dwellings circling a bay. If only he could get to the mainland somewhere near them!
Again he gave his attention to the waters surrounding him. To his left they seemed smoother, and he realized with a surge of hope that there must be an eddy there caused by the reefs, its waters calmer because they were moving with the wind, not against it.
He grabbed up his branch and paddled furiously. Slowly the unwieldy raft approached the line of foam that marked the edge of the eddy. Then his branch snapped. John lunged for the lower and longer piece, but the tide swept it out of reach. The raft revolved, half in one current, half in the other; then the powerful ebb stream took hold and swept it seaward.
John crouched in the welter of waters, sick at heart. Waves seemed to rush at him from all directions, and all his strength was concentrated on staying aboard the raft.
A great roaring came into his head and he thought his sanity was leaving him, but looking up he saw that he was being swept toward a wall of whiteness, where waves walled up and broke in confusion, and the next moment the raft was in the tide rip.
John remembered the Goodwill sailing through one off Green Island, and how the whole ship had shuddered as it hit the battlefield of currents. He prayed that the lashing of the planks would hold. He fought for breath. The raft bucked like a horse, and tipping sharply, rolled him off. Clutching the rope, the end of which was made fast about his waist, he hauled himself back. A whirlpool caught the raft, which whirled around its outer circumference for moment and then slid in toward the vortex, gyrating madly. One end of the raft was sucked down, the other canted into the air for a second, and John again struggled to keep his head above the surface. The whirlpool faded, overcome by other current forces, and John hauled himself in on the rope once more, to find himself attached to but one of the three planks. The lashings had parted, and the other two had whirled away in the current.
He got his arms over the plank and hung on. He doubted if he could have hauled himself onto the raft even if it had remained intact.
Water temperatures in the St. Lawrence... Freezing temperatures were found at six fathoms, in midsummer, between Prince Shoal and Red Islet, where the cold temperatures are brought to the surface by the shoaling of the channel.
Gradually the buffeting of the seas diminished, they became more regular, and the roaring of the tide rip receded.
Suddenly it came into his mind that the water was less cold, that he felt it less. He reached a hand down and pinched a thigh. He felt nothing. He was getting numb. It would creep upward he knew, until it reached his shoulders and arms, till he no longer could hang on.
A little block of wood bobbed in the waves before him – and another, and another. Little blocks of wood all in a neat line. Tie them together and make a raft. There's a length of rope with them already – all very convenient. Mustn't let the plank foul them, though – fishermen never foul nets. Nets take a lot of repairing.
John Tomlinson came back to consciousness with a sense of familiarity, for every labored breath he drew was redolent of fish. He struggled to sit up, and slithered back among shining cod. A bearded man, steering with a great oar as the boat drove before the northeaster, smiled briefly at him and went on steering.
“Would you have something to eat aboard?” croaked John in the coastal French he knew. The bearded man motioned to a basket under a thwart. Between munches of an enormous crust, John explained his position. The helmsman smiled.
“The more of you to desert, the better for New France,” he said. “We welcome emigrés.”
Tadoussac village is situated on a semicircular terrace of sand and clay at the head of the bay, which is backed by high rugged hills of granite. The village contains three churches, one of which is the oldest in Canada, having been erected in 1747.
OLD Alfred Tomlinson, captain, retired, set the tiny ship model on the shelf in the Chapel of Saint Anne and stepped back to regard his handiwork. It was complete in all detail, down to the neat white lettering “Prince Shoal No. 7” on the red topsides, and up to the red ball at the maintop masthead.
The model was a thank offering for a long life preserved from the dangers of the river. Old Alfred's glance shifted along the shelf to a ship model placed in the chapel in 1763. It was a heavy three-masted square-rigger, bluff in the bows, and her bowsprit raking upward at a sharp angle. On its stand was carved, “Goodwill—A. Killick, Master.”
“Wonder why he wanted to remember the name of the captain of the ship he deserted from?” mused old Alfred. “And I wonder what the initial ‘A’ stood for?”
He knelt a moment and thanked Saint Anne for all the John Tomlinsons and Alfred Tomlinsons that had been mariners on the St. Lawrence out of Tadoussac for nearly two centuries. Then he left the chapel and trudged with his old man's slow gait down toward the beach to inspect his salmon net.
Home is the Sailor
(Published by THE MONTREAL STANDARD, Date unknown)
By Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE RAE
Marie had her choice between
two sailors and did what many
other women have done before.
OLD Alphonse Savard pushed back his chair from the Sunday dinner table and started ramming home-grown leaf into his pipe.
The room, kitchen and living-room combined, was hot from the stove and noisy with chatter. The windows, opaque with condensation, shut out the rawness of November weather. Alphonse liked to see the room that way, warm, comfortable, and alive, but his eyes as they drifted over the table littered with the confused remnants of the meal, showed anxiety rather than pleasure.
There was his daughter, Marie-Laure, laughing at something dapper little Raymond Dubec, sitting beside her, had just said. Across from them sat Donat Brisson, shifting his long legs uncomfortably under the table, and saying nothing as usual; and as usual his eyes never left Marie-Laure.
Donat Brisson was speaking for once.
“No, Raymond,” he was saying. “My ship may be slower than yours, but she carries more cargo, and it’s cargo that pays.”
“But it takes you half the season to go the hundred and fifteen miles from here to Quebec,” returned Dubec. “Where’s the money in that?”
Brisson said nothing, and Marie-Laure laughed—unnecessarily, thought her father. Dubec’s exaggeration was not very funny. Alphonse shifted in his chair impatiently. He could not understand that girl. When Donat Brisson visited her she was natural and friendly, but as soon as Dubec appeared she became silly and laughed at nothing. She was not like his two older daughters, both married now, to farmers like himself. Sensible and steady they were, and always had been, and when good men had come courting them they had known what to do about it. But then they hadn’t been as pretty as Marie-Laure — nothing like.
RAYMOND DUBEC was talking now, boasting of the new diesel engine in his schooner, and the speed it gave. Alphonse regarded him unfavorably. He was from higher up the river, a Baie St. Paul man, and his Sunday clothes were town clothes and unusual in St. Simeon, a blue suit with a light stripe, a gaudy tie, light brown shoes, and when he arrived he had been wearing a dove-grey fedora hat. Alphonse did not quibble about Raymond’s color scheme, but he felt strongly that town clothes were for townsmen, and here in St. Simeon—well, they might take a young girl’s eye, or even that of a woman like Selina, who ought to know better, but as for him . . . He turned to look at Donat as Raymond’s voice droned on about how he had cut down the time of this trip and that. Donat wore a pair of high leather boots, nail-studded, stout work trousers, a blue turtle-necked sweater, and a jacket that showed signs of rough wear. “He looks like a schooner man,” thought Alphonse with satisfaction, “and by gosh, there is no better captain on the North Shore. He knows the river.”
“Dubec,” Brisson said suddenly, “we both have to make a trip to Riviere du Loup tomorrow, to load cement and bring it here for the new dam on the Riviere Noire. I bet you that my ship is the first back at the St. Simeon wharf, and with more cement aboard.”
Raymond Dubec paused before replying. “Your ship can carry more than mine anyway,” he said reluctantly.
“C’est entendu,” returned Donat. “What I mean is that I will not cut down the size of my load for the sake of speed. Each schooner will carry her full load.”
“And you bet you’ll get back before me?” Raymond’s voice was mocking again. "What do you bet?”
“I bet you the profits on the trip," said Donat, “and—” he turned to Marie-Laure and lifted his shoulders, “and perhaps Marie-Laure can add something ...” His voice trailed away, embarrassed.
NO ONE in the room could mistake his meaning, least of all Marie-Laure. She looked from him to Raymond and back again to Donat, and knew that his challenge to the man was also a challenge to her — to make up her mind.
She was about to speak when her mother said, “Marie-Laure!” It was a warning, she knew. It meant, “Take your time. Make no rash promises.” But the two men were waiting. She had to say something. She compromised.
“What I will add the winner will find out,” she said, and threw each a man a smile that he could interpret for himself.
Raymond Dubec got up, found his dove-grey hat, and said good-bye to Madame Savard. She smiled warmly, shook his hand, and told him that he was always welcome. Her whole expression implied that she hoped he would win the race — and Marie-Laure. He then shook hands with old Alphonse, and the girl went with him to the door and outside.
As she came in again, Donat Brisson spoke hesitantly and shyly.
“Marie-Laure, would you like to go for a walk with me, up the hill a little way, perhaps?”
She looked at him curiously. "Raymond has gone to his schooner,” she said. “Are you not going to get yours ready?”
“My schooner is ready. We’ll sail this evening.”
“But he'll get the start of you” broke in Alphonse. “You’ll never beat him if you don’t start now.”
“The cement will not be delivered to the Riviere du Loup wharf until tomorrow morning,” said Donat. “If I get there before then I will just have to wait. I can sail at midnight and still be there in time, and — I’d like to walk with Marie-Laure.”
Without a word the girl picked up a coat and the two went out.
WHEN Marie-Laure and Donat returned from their walk Alphonse met them at the gate. “If you’re going down to the village, Donat,” he said, “I’ll give you a ride in the rig.”
“Don’t bother, Monsieur Savard. I will walk—” but Alphonse was already half way to the stable.
Suddenly Marie-Laure pointed down towards the village and its wharf. A schooner had backed out into the river and was swinging round. “There goes Raymond,” she said.
Donat smiled at her. “It’s not who leaves first, but who comes home first,” he said. “And that was a nice walk.”
Marie-Laure’s face was thoughtful. Her eyes never left the schooner far below, and the patch of foam churned up by the screw gradually lengthened into a long fading ribbon before she spoke.
“Donat,” she said, “I have known you a long time, and I think you are a good man. I am very fond of you, and of Raymond too. But I do not know that I want to spend all my life in this village...”
Donat Brisson too watched the little ship fading into the
greyness. He sensed the importance of saying the right thing now, and his honesty fought with his desire to please the girl with an easy promise. The sound of the horse’s hooves on the stable flooring warned him that he must hurry with what he had to say. He straightened up from the gate on which he had been leaning and grasped the girl’s arms above the elbows, swinging her to face him.
“Marie-Laure,” he said slowly, “you will not marry the one you are fond of; you will marry the one with whom you are in love. My work is on the river, and this village is my home, and I love you. None of those things will change.” He kissed her quickly and hard and let her go as Alphonse led the horse out of the stable. Marie-Laure stood still for a moment, looking at him, and then turned towards the house.
The two men drove in silence until they were almost down to sea level and half way to the village. Then Alphonse turned to the young captain.
“How can you hope to win against Raymond Dubec?” he demanded. “He has the faster ship.”
Donat Brisson looked up at the sky, and then out over the river.
“Wind's northeast,” he stated. “By tomorrow there will be fog. Unless I miss my guess the river will be blocked solid, and the navigation season is over. The government steamer went up a few days ago picking up the buoys as she went.”
“And Dubec's a Baie St. Paul man,” mused Alphonse, as they approached the wooden covered bridge over the mouth of the Riviere Noire.
“Yes, Monsieur Savard,” said Donat. “It won’t be a . . .”
He stopped, for the horse's hooves and the wheels made such a hollow thunder on the rough flooring of the bridge that he could not be heard. Then they were out on the road again and climbing up into the village.
“It won’t be a case, of speed,” he resumed. “It will be a case of local knowledge.”
It was too dark when Donat Brisson's schooner left the wharf for Marie-Laure, watching from a window of the farmhouse, to see more than the white stern light. Far out in the river another stern light, shrunk to a pin-point, winked and vanished, and she knew that Raymond-Dubec had rounded Hare Island.
ONE HAND behind him on the wheel, Donat Brisson leaned his head and shoulders out of the wheelhouse window and watched the two men on the deck near the bow.
One was using the sounding line, and after each cast of the lead the other would make a signal with one arm or the other, and Brisson would swing his wheel. Sealed in a cold, wet fog, his schooner, La Belle du Nord, was paralleling the south shore of Hare Island, and her captain was using the old trick of running on the five fathom line. Whenever a sounding gave less than thirty feet he would alter course to port, away from the land; whenever the line showed more than the five fathoms he would close the land a little.
For well over an hour Brisson had been skirting the nine mile length of Hare Island at half speed, sounding as he went, and never once seeing the land. He had decided to gamble on his skill and the sounding lead and try a short cut, Hare Pass, a narrow channel between the end of the island and Hare Island Reef. This would save him the five mile detour round the reef and was, he felt, his only chance to keep ahead of Dubec's faster ship, which must be overhauling him even now as he searched for the entrance to the channel.
La Belle du Nord had completed her loading and left the Riviere du Loup wharf first. This was due mainly to the teamwork of Brisson, and his crew in loading, and the power and efficiency of the donkey-engine at the foot of the mast.
“Dubec could not have left more than half an hour after we did,” reckoned Donat. “If he has kept wide of the island and used his speed he should be up with us.” His hand reached behind him to the engine-room telegraph, and he swung the lever to “Stop.” The vibration died away as the answering signal rang in the wheelhouse, and the schooner drifted slowly forward. The two men up forward were listening too, and one waved and pointed astern. Donat could hear it too — Dubec was using his speed all right, going full out by the sound of it, but he was not wide of the island — he would pass close to La Belle du Nord.
Fleetingly Donat wondered if it were skill or ignorance that steered Dubec so close to Hare Island, but his thoughts were mainly concerned with the figures that came back to him from the leadsman — four-and-a-half and four fathom depths, and he had not turned shore wards. Donat knew what that meant — he was off the mouth of the Pass, and here was Dubec almost on top of him. If Raymond saw him heading through the Pass he might follow his lead, and then could easily beat him across the remaining half of the river to St. Simeon.
“But,” thought Donat, “I can’t keep on or turn seaward till he's out of sight, or I'll never find the Pass again. I must stay here ...” He shouted an order to the men up forward and waited, listening to Dubec's approach. Then he leaned out of the window and jangled the brass bell that hung in front of the wheelhouse. A toot came from the siren of Dubec's schooner, now close astern, and her motors slowed as she cautiously approached La Belle du Nord.
Dubec appeared at his wheelhouse door, and his voice came plainly over the water. “What's wrong? Waiting for a tow?”
Donat Brisson stuck his head out of the window. “Engine trouble," he shouted curtly.
“You can't win a race with your hook down,” jeered Dubec, and added something that Donat drowned with another jangle from the bell—the signal of a vessel at anchor.
DUBEC’S SHIP drove on into the mist and was obliterated, and Donat rang for slow speed ahead. Two minutes later the leadsman called “Two fathoms!” and with only four feet of water under her keel La Belle du Nord cautiously entered Hare Pass. The odd length of chain Donat had ordered lowered through the hawse-pipe to fool Dubec into believing her to be anchored still dangled under her forefoot.
“No bottom!” came the next shout and Donat rang for full speed. Hare Pass behind him and his mind already wrestling with the next problem.
Out of the shelter afforded by the island the schooner rolled heavily in the gray seas, and the northeast wind drove the fog across her in clammy drifts. The rising tide would be pushing his ship upstream. Donat knew. He must allow for that on his compass, but how much? In the navigation season he would have been able to judge by the strength of the sounds of the two foghorns, one to the west of St. Simeon on Cap Saumon, the other to the east on Tête au Chien, but these were silenced for the winter. He must drive on, guessing at an allowance for drift, and hope for a lucky break in making his landfall.
La Belle du Nord plunged on and Donat watched the compass and the clock. In a dense fog it was not a comfortable feeling to know you were headed at full speed towards the land, and as the forty minutes he judged it would take from Hare Island to the mainland dragged more and more slowly towards their end Donat was sorely tempted to slow down. Slowing down now might well lose him the race, but keeping on might lose him the schooner. The lead was no use to him here, for the North Shore was steep to, as they say – it dropped steeply into deep water, and the lead would give no warning until too late. Well, he had calculated forty minutes; he would stick to that. He would be a poor sort of captain if he could not trust his own judgement.
Then the forty minutes were up, and the nervous void in his stomach turned back to normal as Donat stopped the engines. There was nothing ahead but the fog and the grey seas, but he sensed that the land was near – the smell of the wet earth mingled with the salt tang of the river. As the sound of his engines died from his ears another sound, like an echo, took its place. Raymond Dubec's schooner, downriver and a little farther out, was approaching the land at full speed.
“The wharf,” thought Donat desperately, “it may be ahead of me, or upstream, or downstream to starboard. How can I tell? And Dubec is catching up everything I made by taking the Pass.” The sound of Dubec's engines drew abreast of the now stationary Belle du Nord, but downstream from her, and then ceased. He too was listening . . . and drifting closer to the shore than Donat.
“Blind man's buff!” muttered Brisson “He may stumble on the wharf as soon as I. It's a matter of luck ...”
FROM somewhere ashore, over the schooner's starboard bow, there drifted a faint rumbling sound. Donat listened tensely, racking his brain to identify it. It ceased for half a minute, and there came again. With a great leap of his heart Donat laughed aloud, swung the telegraph to full speed, and turned the ship downstream.
Dubec's schooner was between her and the wharf, and La Belle du Nord passed within twenty yards of her rival. Dubec could see the chain still dangling through the hawse-pipe and into the water, and even Madame Savard would not have approved of his comments.
A minute later Donat saw the black bulk of the wharf loom out of the fog. Word of the race must have gone round the village, for a small knot of people in the lee of a shed raised a faint cheer as La Belle du Nord drew alongside — all but one, a girl, who raised a hand in a single wave, and kept silence, waiting.
Donat rang “Finished with Engines” and leapt ashore. On the wharf he paused a moment, looking at Marie-Laure before going to her, and as he paused he heard the exhaust of Raymond Dubec’s engines. The cheer had placed the wharf for him, and he was coming alongside. Then Marie- Laure smiled, and Donat felt as though the sun had broken through the fog.
SUPPER was over in Alphonse Savard’s kitchen. Much of importance had been said during the meal, but it had all related to the future. Now Marie-Laure, sitting beside Donat with her hand in his, chose to bring up the past.
“Donat,” she said, “we on the wharf could hear the schooners coming close, and then stopping to listen. Then you came straight to the wharf. How did you know where it was? You could see nothing.”
Donat Brisson smiled at her, his old shyness still lingering in his eyes and voice.
“I happened to hear a sound I recognized,” he explained. “A horse and cart crossing the covered bridge over the Riviere Noire. That bridge is down the shore to the east of the wharf, and it sounded pretty faint, so I figured the wharf must be between my ship and the sound.”
“Local knowledge,” murmured old Alphonse at the head of the table. Through the customary haze of smoke he glanced at Selina. Now that Marie-Laure’s mind was made up her mother was accepting the match with a good grace, and busying herself cheerfully as ever about the stove.
Alphonse ordered the younger children to bed, and looked back at the couple at the table. He liked the look of his future son-in-law. A good man, Donat Brisson. He knew the river. The old man's mouth creased into a wrinkled smile around his pipe-stem. That afternoon, driving homeward after taking Marie-Laure to the village, he had heard the sound of the schooners off-shore. It was not for nothing, then, that he, Alphonse Savard, had trotted his horse and wagon three times back and forth through the covered bridge.
(Published in The Montreal Standard, Date unknown)
by Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY MENENDEZ
THE NORTHEAST wind was beginning to pile up a sea along the North Shore of the lower St. Lawrence as we swung the Dancing Lady broadside to the waves and reached into Basque Cove.
George was up forward ready to drop the jib and lower the anchor. From somewhere in the twilit woods ashore I could hear someone using an axe or perhaps a heavy hammer – slow, measured blows. Half way up the cove, where the chart gave five fathoms, I shoved the tiller down and the tiny schooner came up into the wind, all sails slatting. Down came the jib, and George let the kedge go on the run, the chain rattling over the bow chock. As he paid out the slack I went forward to lower the foresail. George made fast and silence fell over the cove, only broken by the water sounds and the flapping of the mainsail. The hammering on shore had ceased, I noted.
There was an indescribably swift whip through the air, something nicked one of the main shrouds, ripped through the sail and buzzed angrily off into the sea.
“Don’t look now,” said George, “but someone is shooting at us.” He was flat on deck as he spoke, and as he had served in British M-L’s against E-Boats in the North Sea I figured he knew what he was talking about. I crouched beside him, wide-eyed, and felt very large.
“Could be an accident,” I whispered, though I could almost have shouted without being heard ashore. “A hunter, maybe . . .”
The rifle ashore put a full stop to my words and another slug droned over the boat.
“Let’s get out of here,” said George urgently. “We’re not welcome.” Crouching on his knees he started heaving in the chain hand over hand. I crawled aft to the cockpit and backed the mainsail. As George yanked the hook off the bottom he let it hang and got the jib up. The Dancing Lady spun on her heel and reached for the mouth of the bay, felt the lift of the open water and the full force of the breeze, turned down wind and ran.
George got the anchor stowed, set the foresail, and came aft.
“I came cruising with you for a rest from the stress and strain of war,” he said. “What goes?”
“Take over,” I said. “I’ve got to set the running lights.” I crouched in the shelter of the cabin doorway to light them, and told George about the hammering I'd heard as we entered the bay.
“That lets out the idea of a careless hunter,” he said, “even if the second shot wasn’t enough. No one chops trees and shoots seals or what have you at the same time.”
“Might be bootleggers,” I suggested. “They wouldn’t want us round, but I didn’t think there was much in that racket on the river since the war.”
There was a pause, and then George said quietly, “Let’s find out.”
“I’m not sailing back into that bay,” I stated. “One air vent in my mainsail is plenty.”
“We passed another bay just before we came to Basque Cove. If we beat back offshore and anchor there we could investigate along the shore, and be gone by morning. No lights, though.”
I squatted in the doorway and thought of dark and hostile woods and shivered. I looked at George bulking against the darkening sky. His very shape inspired confidence - he is short and wide and reminds you of a good-natured bear. He seems a slow mover till you see him on a football field or in a boxing ring, and then your mind is changed for you - and quickly. A good guy to have on your side, you feel, and if he turned up on the other you would be inclined to be very polite to him.
I realized that if I didn't go back I’d regret it in all the bravery of safety later on, and I doused the red and green lanterns I had just lighted.
THE DANCING LADY turned and, heeled well down, started smashing into the waves on an offshore tack. It was cold - or so I persuaded myself to account for my shivering.
“Can we find that bay?” asked George. “What's it called, anyway?”
I turned a flashlight on the chart. “Anse à la Puante - Skunk Cove,” I replied.
“How sweet,” commented George.
“We'll have to come in close when we're off Basque Cove, and parallel the shore. It'll be hard picking it out, but I’d hate to go into the wrong one.”
“So would I,” said George emphatically. “What's inland from Basque Cove?’’
“The coast road runs along the top of the ridge. It's fairly well travelled. The chart marks a farmhouse or two on it above the cove - they must be visible from the river, or it wouldn't bother.”
“We can't count on lights from them if there's dirty work going on,” said George.
An hour later, with the foresail furled to kill our speed, we were heading towards shore somewhere, we thought, near Skunk Cove. It was black night, and we hoped that we would be able to pick up the line of waves breaking on the rocky coast before our keel took the ground. At the bow George was hanging onto the jib stay and being drenched to the knees by each wave we smashed. Suddenly he was beside me in the cockpit, slamming the tiller down.
“ ‘Bout ship,” he snapped. The Dancing Lady came up into the wind, pitching hard, and fell off on the other tack. George pointed.
Across our previous course, perhaps fifty yards away, moved a steady tumble of white water - the bow wave of a fairly large craft. We could hear the beat of her diesel above the wind and sea.
“No lights,” said George. “No - look!”
A shaft of light sprang out from the vessel - an ordinary coaster, she seemed to be - and searched the shoreline. It hovered on a rocky point, and we recognized it as the one to the east of Basque Cove.
“That's a break,” I said. “If we come about again we can probably make our bay on the next tack.”
The coaster's light went out, but as we were beating for Skunk Cove it blinked on again and we could see that she was entering Anse au Basque.
WE CREPT into the strange bay, spilling wind from the mainsail. George had the lead going up forward, and at a whistle from him we came up into the wind and he let the anchor chain run through his hands. It went in silence that way, except for George's muttered comments as some of the skin of his palms went with it.
We crawled about in the dark, furling the sails loosely and leaving everything ready for a quick exit. Then we dumped the plywood pram over the side.
“What about the shotgun?” I suggested. “Think we ought to take it?”
George considered. “No – we'll be bushwhacking - it’ll be a nuisance, and we'd probably not have the nerve to use it anyway. A flashlight each, and a dark sweater for me instead of this sweatshirt.”
We rowed ashore and found a pebbly beach, stepped out and carried the pram a few yards up it, leaving it bow to the water and the oars ready to hand.
We crept over the shale, cursing the shifting, uneven stones, and reached the rising rock of the main shoreline. We climbed, groping forward and bumping our knees. Soon we were into the bush that crowned the point, and there the noise of the wind in the trees covered our confusion. We broke out on the Basque Cove side, and my face dripped blood where branches had raked it.
Below us, at the head of the cove, a light glimmered dimly. Faintly up the wind to us there came an irregular, hollow tumbling sound.
“What's that?” I whispered.
“My heart beating,” said George. “Come on.”
We shinnied down the rocky slope and reached the beach, which was sandy and silent to walk on. George led the way to the cover of bushes on the inland side, and we crept forward
towards the noise. He stopped suddenly and I bumped into him.
“Logs,” he whispered. “That coaster's loading pulpwood.”
“Well, so what?” I returned. “Let’s go home.”
“People don’t ship logs in pitch darkness by choice,” he objected. “There’s something screwy.”
“It wouldn’t be you?” I suggested, stumbling after him as he cut inland through the brush of the steep slope. Just as a new noise became audible he brought me up short again in time to prevent me walking slap into a wooden structure.
“A log chute,” he whispered. “Slides them down the hill and drops them right into the coaster's hold.”
I ran my hand over slippery, peeled poles, and nearly lost it as another four foot pulp log slithered down the trough. “Maybe the hammering was someone working on this. What now?”
“We find out where they come from.”
We climbed the hill, guiding ourselves by the chute, the scraping of the logs covering our groping footsteps. Perpendicular streaks of light showed ahead and we dropped to all fours. We could hear the bumping of logs landing on the head of the chute. Then a gasoline motor started up, the streaks wavered and faded, and the logs stopped coming.
“Truck going for another load,” I whispered, but George was already on the move.
Above us there was the black loom of a barn, between the loose planks of which the light had been visible. We crept round its side and saw its sliding doors gaping wide. We could still hear the truck motor - it seemed to be on the coast road, off to our right, and there was the bump of logs being loaded.
“The chute goes right into the barn,” George whispered. “They drive the logs in and start them sliding.”
“Nice set-up,” I murmured. "Convenient and private.”
GEORGE grunted and moved across a cleared space of coarse grass towards another black shape - a small farmhouse. We rounded its corner and stopped dead. A blade of light stabbed out over a sagging shutter, seven feet above the ground. George went down on hands and knees and I stepped onto his shoulders and peered through the chink.
It was an ordinary farm kitchen - big black and silver stove, cheap deal table, a mess of left-overs from a meal, a couple of chairs. In a wooden rocker by the stove sat a girl. Polo coat, blue slacks, saddle-shoes - you didn’t need the lipstick and page-boy hair-do to tell you she was no farmer’s daughter. She sat utterly still, her eyes wide and her face drawn with fear.
I dropped down, drew George to the angle of the house, and told him, my mouth to his ear.
“No one else in the room?” he breathed.
“Not that I could see.”
“Let me look.”
Down I went and winced under George’s hundred and eighty pounds. Ten seconds later we were back at the corner of the house.
“You missed something,” he whispered. “Corner by the window—man’s foot and the butt of a rifle he has across his knees. Don’t blame you for concentrating on the girl, though,” he added. “She’s a wow. Let’s get her out.”
“Here comes the truck,” I said, and we ducked back to the wooded slope behind the barn.
As the truck unloaded and the logs slid down the chute we made a plan. It was so simple I doubted it.
“It’ll work,’’ said George. “He’ll be coming out of light into darkness.”
The truck backed and turned and bumped off for another load. We went back to the house. George stepped to the window and knocked on the shutter. “Cheer up,” he said loudly in English. “We’ll get you out of this!”
THE MAN in the room was no fool – he wouldn’t open the shutter with the light behind him, he couldn’t douse the light and still watch the girl. He jumped out of the room and bolted the door on her, opened the house door and ran out. I threw myself at his knees in a football “clip” and he grunted once as he sailed over me and hit the ground, once again as George landed on him and a third time as he got George's left jab under the jaw. I picked up the dropped rifle, George unbolted the door, and the girl was with us in a flash. The three of us hit for the woods behind the barn, and tumbled panting to the ground on the slope.
“What goes on,” demanded George.
“Who are you?” returned the girl. She spoke English with a trace of French accent. George told her why we were there, short and to the point.
“They're highjacking pulp that belongs to the company my father manages,” she said.
“I was driving home by myself from a visit in Tadoussac, and I saw the truck loading from the piles along the road. Our trucks, which take it to our mill down the coast, don’t work at night. I stopped and asked them what they thought they were doing and the first thing I know I had a gun pointed at me and they ordered me into that house. That seems like hours ago.”
“Sure it's your pulp?” I asked.
“I know it is,” she stated emphatically. “They sled it out of the woods north of here in winter. Ours are the only cutting limits for miles.”
“Where's your car?” asked George.
“Barn, maybe,” I suggested. “There's plenty of room. I’ll find out.” I started up the slope.
“Watch out for that truck coming back.” warned George. “Gosh! I forgot Joe - they'll see him lying out in front. I'll get him while you see about the car.”
We were both back inside a minute, George dragging an inert and heavily breathing Joe.
“Car’s there,” I said. “No keys, though.”
“Here comes the truck,” said the girl. We slithered down the slope, dragging the unconscious man. The rifle kept getting in my way, and I chucked it into the undergrowth. The logs started coming down the chute again, and half way to the shore Joe grunted and started to struggle. I heard George hit him again and he went back to sleep.
“Let's fix this chute,” said George, and from his voice you could tell he was enjoying himself. He started heaving at a pair of the log supports. I put my shoulder to the trough and the whole thing suddenly gave, sagged sideways, and came apart at a join. Pulp logs tumbled into the bush and started to pile up.
A shout drifted up from the beach.
“I’m a moron!” muttered George. “We should have done it between truck-loads and they wouldn't have noticed for a while. Come on!”
A flashlight - two - probed the woods below us, and we froze. They were climbing to check the chute.
I CROUCHED under the trough well below the break and as the first man came abreast I grabbed his ankles and pulled. He crashed with a curse and I jumped on him. Only then it flashed on me that I'd been a fool - I should have let the first go on uphill to meet George and tackled the second, who was lunging at me.
George grabbed a stick of pulp four or five inches thick and slung it end first through the air at the second man. It took him fair in the chest and you could hear ribs crack and the breath drive out of him.
My friend and I rolled over and over down the slope till brought up by a leg of the chute. With the heel of my hand I slammed his head up against it and he lost interest.
George grabbed a log of pulp four or five inches thick and slung it end first through the air.
The three of us cut diagonally through the bush for the corner of the bay. The girl was game, but the climb over the point seemed interminable. As we struggled through the spur of bush the branches stabbed and tangled and clung, and she sobbed from sheer exhaustion and exasperation. On the far side I chanced using my flashlight to pick out a path and without a word George picked the girl up like a child and followed me down to the beach.
“You two in the pram,” said George. “I'll swim,” and he plunged into the water.
He got to the schooner as soon as we did and squelched forward to manhandle the anchor. I sweated up the main and in a matter of minutes we were sailing out of the bay.
“We'll beat down the coast till we’re out of hearing,” I suggested, “and then start the auxiliary and head for the mill. O.K.?”
“Yes, let them clean up the Basque Cove boys - I’ve had plenty,” said George through chattering teeth, and he scrambled into the little cabin in search of dry clothes. He tossed out a blanket and the girl wrapped herself up in it. My silence worried her.
“What’s on your mind?” she asked.
“That poor guy George mowed down with the log,” I said. “He may be dead.”
“He may,” she agreed. There was a pause, and she spoke again, very quietly. “You realize, don’t you, that he was swinging at you with a ‘croche’ when George hit him?”
Now a ‘croche’ is a sharp steel hook and is used for handling pulp logs. I felt suddenly sick, and it wasn’t the motion of the boat.
THE DANCING LADY was curtseying to the dawn when George came out of the cabin and we all saw each other properly for the first time, scratched faces, bloody and dirty, torn clothes, battered hands. The girl laughed.
“I’m not sure I wasn’t in more respectable company ashore,” she said. Her lipstick was smeared across her cheek, her hair tangled with pine-needles and twigs, and somewhere she had picked up the makings of a black eye - and still she was attractive.
Seeing the look on George’s face I handed him the tiller, kicked the auxiliary into life, dived into the cabin, and with a hefty swig of the ship’s rum as breakfast I crawled into a bunk and left them to introduce themselves.
Short Story 5500 words
And Never Brought to Mind
No Date and Unpublished - (Dad, or the publisher, or both, thought this story needed "back-dating to put it before the time of air and truck transport on the north shore.")
by Lewis Evans
The newspapers had great fun with the story at the time, for it is not often that a big river steamer piles up on a Lower St.Lawrence reef and still less often that she is saved from total destruction by a craft almost small enough to be picked up on her lifeboat davits.
The headlines ran the gamut from the factual "Grounded Steamer Saved by Tiny Yawl" to the figurative "Mouse Saves Lion", but every account printed during the nine days' wonder missed the heart of the story. The reporters concentrated on the two vessels when they should have been interested in the two captains.
They are both dead now. I see by the papers that Captain Boucher of the Orleans died a few weeks ago; Marjorique Gagnon, owner, captain - and often crew - of the yawl Marsouin, which means 'porpoise', has lain for some years under a wooden cross in his home churchyard. His funeral expenses were a charge upon the village.
Marjorique was a scrawny little French-Canadian, bleary of eye, with a thin, hawk nose, a straggling moustache, an almost toothless mouth, and very little chin. He was illiterate, very poor, and my great friend.
Long before I knew him he had somehow come into possession of the forty foot yawl Marsouin - heaven knows by what strange and possibly shady circumstance, for he never had the cold cash to purchase even her mainsail. In the summer season he used her to take tourists and fishermen from her home port, Tadoussac, up the Saguenay River or up and down the St.Lawrence. Sometimes he was chartered for a day's picnic, sometimes for a two weeks’ fishing trip, and that was how I had come to know him. My family had a summer cottage in the village and used to charter the Marsouin sometimes. I was crazy about boats and hung around the yawl all the time until I became a fixture; Marjorique got a willing and unpaid deckhand, my family felt that I was learning French, and I was in a ’teen-age heaven.
One Sunday afternoon early in the season, just when the river boats were starting their summer schedule, Marjorique and I were aboard the yawl at her buoy in Tadoussac Bay. He was tinkering with the old truck engine that was the Marsouin’s auxiliary, and I was pumping out the old boat’s none too sweet bilge, when I saw, over the distant line of the reef which guards the mouth of the Saguenay, the white blur of the steamer coming down from Quebec.
"There's the boat," I told Marjorique. "She’ll be in in an hour."
Marjorique climbed out of the cockpit for a look. "It’s the Orleans," he said; "and we're going over to the wharf to meet her."
Most people in Tadoussac who have nothing better to do go down to meet the boat in the afternoon, but Marjorique and I usually had some job aboard the yawl, if we were not out with a trip. We were not much in the habit of meeting the steamers, and I was surprised.
"What are we going to meet her for?" I asked. "I've got to go over these mooring lines."
"Because she has a new captain this trip," said Marjorique. "Get your mooring lines and work on them in the cockpit while I tell you about him."
I got a line that needed an eye-splice in the end and sat down near Marjorique as he went on with his work on the engine. His stories were usually worth listening to - tales of the old schooner days, or lumbering or hunting, told with the simple vividness that seems to be the gift of uneducated people.
"It was last December," he said, "and there was far more ice in the river than is usual for that time of year. We had a very cold autumn, you remember. Well, Captain Samson of the Hare Island, the ship that makes the last trip with supplies to the villages on the North Shore before the river is closed for the winter, put out from Quebec on his usual run. Down past here, somewhere off the Seven Islands, he ran into fog and plenty of ice. He wasn't too sure where he was, and the ice was getting heavier all the time, so he turned back."
"All the way back to Quebec?" I asked.
"Yes," said Marjorique. "He was English."
Marjorique never bothered to conceal his low opinion of any river man who was not a French-Canadian. A man not born and brought up on the St.Lawrence could never know it like a French-Canadian, he contended. I once reminded him that one English captain. Cook by name, had led a fleet of sixty sail right up to Quebec so that General Wolfe could take it from the French, and that although the said captain had had no charts he had not even scraped a keel. Majorique had simply replied that that might be so - he could not say, for he had never met this Captain Cook. So this time I let the implied slur on my countrymen go by.
"When Samson got back to Quebec," he went on, "there was great excitement. Without those supplies in the Hare Island the North Shore settlements might starve before the river broke up in the spring. The directors of the steamship company tried to make Captain Samson sail back, but he refused. No one could make it, he said. The ice was already too thick; the ship might be lost, and he had a wife and family. The directors were frantic. The villagers could not be left to starve. Someone mentioned Adelard Boucher - he was captain of one of the smaller boats of the line, and he lives in Quebec in the winter. They sent for him. Could he take the Hare Island down the North Shore? Boucher said that he could, but he would not. They asked him why. 'Because Christmas is coming,' he said, 'and I wish to spend it at home.' The directors offered him five hundred dollars for the trip, and still he wouldn't go. They made it six hundred, and he agreed to take the ship on one condition. What was that? That if he got through they would give him command of the Orleans this summer, their newest and biggest passenger steamer. Well, the company's prestige was at stake, and maybe their government subsidy too - I don't know. Anyway, they promised him the Orleans. I hear they have given her former captain a port job. He was getting old."
Marjorique paused to relight his pipe. He always smoked while working on the engine. I suppose I was too young or too ignorant to be frightened at the possibility of explosion.
"Boucher took the Hare Island," he continued, and left Quebec on the seventeenth of December. He got inside the ice below Seven Islands - "
"How?" I interrupted. "Why did he make it when Samson couldn’t?"
"He knew before he left Quebec the fog couldn’t last. The northwest wind prevails at that time of year, and it was bound to come soon. He knew too that there was a spring tide on the twentieth, and when there is a strong ebb the discharge from the Moisie and other rivers helps move the ice offshore - he counted on that and the offshore wind. You don’t learn that stuff from the Pilot Book.
"Anyway, he got inside the ice and landed his cargo at all the villages. On Christmas Day he smashed his way out to the open water of the Gulf, and then sailed all the way down to Halifax and left the ship there for the winter. He came back to Quebec by train. He was home by New Year's Day. The directors were very happy and they have kept their promise and given him the Orleans. We are going to the wharf to pay our respects to Captain Boucher."
"Smart fellow, eh?" I said. "Ever met him?"
"Ever met him?" echoed Marjorique with scorn. "Listen to me - Adelard Boucher and I worked on the same coasting schooner as boys. He is my friend. That’s where we learned about the river - as deckhands on a schooner, and under sail."
"And he rose from that to be captain - " I stopped short – to contrast Captain Boucher's and Captain Gagnon's current commands would not be tactful, but Marjorique was too proud of his old friend’s achievement to be embarrassed at his own failure to equal it,
"He went to school in the winters," he explained. "I didn't. When the navigation closed my father used to get a job as cook in a lumber camp up by Lake St. John, and he took me along to help. I never went to school at all. Boucher learned to write and figure, got a job on the river steamers, sat for his examinations, got his papers, and - voila. Now, get the dinghy alongside while I clean myself up, and we will go to the wharf. We must be in good time."
"Just a minute," I said. "What happened to Captain Samson?"
Marjorique turned in the cabin doorway and shrugged. "I heard the company moved him up to the Great Lakes," he answered vaguely. "Gave him a freighter up there, I believe."
When Marjorique reappeared he had on the newer of his two blue caps, and its shiny black peak gleamed in the afternoon sun. As I rowed away from the Marsouin I found, myself looking back at her and thinking how old and dingy she looked. From her old-fashioned perpendicular stem a new coat of white paint extended aft to a little beyond amidships. Then the paint and the ready cash had run out together and last year's weathered coat extended to the stern. Out beyond the mouth of the bay I could see the Orleans looming up, glistening white, her tiers of decks making her look like a great sea-going wedding-cake. I stole a glance at Marjorique. He was puffing at his pipe, and there was a look of happy anticipation on his face. Captain Boucher was a great man, and Captain Boucher was his friend. This was his great day.
We left the dinghy tied to the rung of a ladder and climbed onto the wharf. There was quite a crowd, mostly French-Canadian villagers, it being too early in the season for many summer residents to have arrived. There were a few cars, quite a number of horse-drawn carriages for the tourists, and the hotel bus.
The Orleans gave three blasts on her deep siren as she neared the wharf. In the port wing of her bridge I could see the head and shoulders of her captain as he prepared to dock his ship. The currents round the Tadoussac wharf run strongly, and I wondered what sort of a job he would make of it. Marjorique must have guessed my thoughts.
“Just you watch this,” he said, and moved to the head of the gangway slip, where he could see everything.
The Orleans came in fast - too fast, I thought, for ahead of the wharf the water shoaled suddenly. I looked up to see the stern, bronzed face of her captain peering down over the canvas dodger at the bridge end. His arm moved behind him and I could hear the engine-room telegraph jangle deep within the ship. She shuddered as her screws reversed; she slowed and stopped. She was so close to the wharf that her deckhands did not have to throw their lines - they just handed them to the men waiting to put them on the bollards. Captain Boucher gave her a kick forward on her spring line to bring her gangway port opposite the slip, and, still not deigning to look down at his telegraph, he rang "Finished with Engines". It was more like a train coming into a platform than a three hundred foot ship docking.
Marjorique said nothing. He just looked at me, and the hand pulling at his straggly, iron-grey moustache failed to hide his smile.
I looked up again at the bridge. Captain Boucher was still there, looking down at the crowds on the wharf. The gold leaves on his cap brim and the four gold rings on his sleeves caught the sun. He wore a stiff wing collar which added immeasurably to the dignity of that stern, handsome face above it. Then he turned and went into the wheelhouse. Soon he would come ashore to have a word with the wharf agent.
Suddenly I realized that Marjorique was no longer happy. Now that the meeting was imminent he was nervous. Perhaps he had suddenly realized the great gulf between that starched and braided figure and the captain of the old yawl Marsouin. Nervous or not, he stood his ground at the head of the gangway slip, and I could understand how recognition from the great Captain Boucher would add to his importance in the village.
The passengers had already come ashore, and now, between the hand-trucks unloading freight. Captain Boucher stalked across the gangway and up the slip towards us, his eyes ranging over the crowd. As he came close his cold, impersonal glance swept from Marjorique's blue cap over the frayed blue sweater, stained overall trousers, and down to the broken shoes, but the expression of his eyes did not change. I felt rather than saw Marjorique make an almost imperceptible move towards the captain - then his nerve failed him, he froze, and Boucher had gone.
I tried to look as if the upperworks of the Orleans had been holding my undivided attention for some time, and my heart felt sick. At length Marjorique spoke.
"Let's get back to work," he said, and walked away towards the dinghy.
About three weeks later, in thick fog, the Marsouin put out from the wharf at Riviere du Loup on the South Shore to cross to Tadoussac. A party bound for the Maritimes and anxious to catch the Ocean Limited had chartered the yawl the day before to take them across the St.Lawrence and so save them a roundabout trip via the ferry higher up the river. We had spent the night alongside the wharf, and in the morning set out, fog or no fog, for there was a fishing party waiting for us in Tadoussac.
Ahead, midway across the twenty-one mile breadth of the river, the White Island Lightship’s foghorn wailed - two short blasts separated by three seconds and then what seemed to me, as I steered towards the distant sound, an interminable interval of eighty-two seconds. To the eastwards Green Island’s explosive fog signal put a full stop to my thoughts every fifteen minutes with its thudding report. There was a freighter apparently feeling her way down the South Channel between us and the long spine of White Island Reef, and the note of her minute-spaced blasts was rather similar to that of the lightship.
After a while I called Marjorique, who was cleaning up the cabin and getting it ready for his next guests, and told him about the freighter. He listened carefully for a few minutes.
"She will pass well ahead of us," he said at length. "Can you sail any closer to the wind?"
“Not without luffing,” I answered, for the light northeaster that had brought the fog seemed to be coming to us almost from the lightship.
"Hold her as she is, then," said Marjorique. "Tide's still falling and should carry us far enough down to pass below the lightship." He was just going back through the cabin hatch when another whistle, deeper and more distant, held him. "River boat coming up the North Channel," he interpreted. "She's fast - she'll pass ahead of us too." Then he went below.
I sailed on, listening to the doleful concert of the three ships ahead of us, and shivering as the cold clamminess of the fog worked through my heavy sweater. Our lung-operated horn lay within reach but I knew that blowing it was a waste of breath until a ship got really close.
Marjorique was right, as usual. The river boat cut across our bows first, about two miles ahead of us, and seemed to be maintaining a good speed in spite of the fog. A few minutes later the freighter crossed our bows, perhaps a thousand yards ahead. I was trying to gauge the nearness of the lightship's blasts when suddenly I realized that there had been no sound from the river boat for several minutes. Then she blew - once, twice, and on and on. Marjorique popped up from the cabin like a ground-hog from its burrow and tensed, listening. In my excitement I let the Marsouin's head come up into the wind and her mainsail flapped loudly. Without a word the captain took the tiller and got her sailing again. Then he spoke.
"She’s aground. She must have confused that freighter's blast upstream from her with the lightship's. Get up forward and watch for the lightship."
I ran forward over the wet deck, climbed right out on the bowsprit and hung on by the jib-stay. The lightship’s signal was close ahead now, and suddenly I heard a man's voice shout something. A grey blur in the fog changed to the red hull of the vessel and I shouted to Marjorique and pointed. I could read the big white letters on her sides - "White Island Reef, No. 5" - as we passed downstream from her. A man appeared at her stern.
"She’s piled up on the reef," he shouted.
"Which boat?" demanded Marjorique.
"The Orleans, I guess," came the reply. "It’s her day to go up."
I looked back at Marjorique. He was gazing at the luff of the main, and his face was unreadable. Neither of us had mentioned the Orleans since that meeting on the Tadoussac wharf, and I had no idea what his feelings were. Then he put the helm up and started the sheets. The Marsouin’s head swung upstream and with the wind on her quarter she bucked the falling tide.
The distress signal ahead had ceased, but occasionally some indefinable noise came through the
fog, a hollow rumbling, a metallic clang. Later, I heard a faint shout and a fainter reply, and then I suddenly realized that I had been hearing for some time a sound of rushing water - the outlet from pumps, perhaps - and now this was loud and close.
"There she is," I cried, and her great tiered stern, listing a little, loomed out of the fog on our port bow.
"Get the mainsail in," shouted Marjorique, turning the Marsouin up into the wind, and as I ran to let go the halliards I saw in black letters on the white stern: Orleans of Montreal.
The heavy gaff of the main swayed down, the old blocks squealing their pain, and I hastily secured the folds of grey canvas. Marjorique let the yawl come about under jib and jigger and we ghosted alongside the Orleans, lowering the two small sails as we went. I fended off with a boathook and we brought up gently alongside a gangway port. Passengers, portly in lifebelts, stared down at us from their boat stations on A and B decks, and were strangely quiet. The Third Officer appeared above us and Marjorique Gagnon hailed him. "Anything you want us to do?"
The officer shrugged. "We’ve wirelessed to Quebec. They're sending salvage tugs, and the St. Simeon ferry is on her way to take off the passengers. She ought to be here in an hour, the tugs not for six. You got an engine in that yawl?"
Marjorique told him we had.
"You might take the passengers to the ferry," suggested the officer. "Tide’ll be dead low when she gets here and she won’t be able to come alongside. We could use our boats, but they have no power. I'll speak to the captain."
By the time the ferry felt her way up to us through the fog with many questioning toots of her whistle and guided by jangles from the Orleans' bell, the tide was out and the river boat was higher and drier than when we had found her. She had a pronounced list to port, away from us, and her bow, fast on the reef, was much higher than her stern.
We loaded passengers from the lowest deck at the stern of the river boat and ferried them over to the tubby little steamer that drifted outside the five fathom line. Some of the passengers were frightened and quiet, others excited and noisy. Many of them tried their school-book French on me and I amused myself by replying in good French-Canadian and finally bidding them good-bye in perfect English. We made nine trips before the job was done, and the ferryboat steamed off for shore and safety.
We tied up to the Orleans’ stern again and Marjorique went aboard while I found myself something to eat. Then I dug out a chart and "The St.Lawrence River Pilot" from under a bunk. Marjorique had never been known to look at either of them, but regulations forced him to carry them whether he could read or not. I looked up our position and learned that the reef was a narrow ridge of slate three and a half miles long and three cables wide at its widest part....that the tidal streams set very strongly onto and over the reef, and should be carefully guarded against. I was trying to figure out what this would mean to the Orleans, when Marjorique returned and put the whole situation in a nutshell.
"She’s in a spot," he said, shaking his head. "Her engine-room’s flooded - or was after she struck, and they had to draw her fires. It will be flooded again when the tide rises a bit more. She went on the reef at about three-quarter ebb, and when the tide gets above that again the currents are liable to slide her astern into deep water. Then she’ll sink, as her forward bulkhead is smashed."
"How about the salvage tugs?" I asked.
"They can’t get here much before high water. Unless he can hold her on the reef there may be nothing to salvage by then."
"Wouldn’t his anchors hold him?"
"Not unless they were away out ahead of him, on the far slope of the reef." I noted that our change from feminine to masculine pronouns showed that we were both thinking of Captain Boucher rather than of his ship.
"Couldn't we carry them out for him?" I asked.
Marjorique shook his head. "Those anchors weigh two or more tons each," he said. "You going to lift 'em aboard and then throw them in?" He paused, thinking. Then he suddenly took his pipe from his mouth and stared at me. "By gosh - it could be done though. Lower an anchor into one of his lifeboats, we tow it across the reef, and sink the lifeboat. He takes up the strain on his cable...."
"How much water over the reef?" I asked.
"About four feet now. Deep enough for us to cross in another hour."
"Well, let's go and suggest it," I said. Marjorique looked at me hard.
"Let the great Adelard Boucher think it out for himself," he said harshly. "He's the captain who never goes wrong, isn't he?"
"Well, he went wrong this morning."
Marjorique muttered something to the effect that I ought to know by now that pilots steered those ships, not the captain. "I'm going below to get some food," he added, and went.
It seemed to me that whatever Boucher did it was at someone else's expense - there was Captain Samson, and the former master of the Orleans, and now, perhaps, the pilot. I sat in the cockpit and wondered whether, if Marjorique did get the Orleans' anchors out, he would net any salvage money. Then the expression of Marjorique’s face as Boucher passed him by on the wharf came into my mind and made it up for me, and I clambered aboard the listing Orleans. Making my way forward I passed through her deserted lobby and up her carpeted stairs, coming out on deck at the bow, below the wheel-house. Captain Boucher, as impeccably dressed as ever and even more stern, was standing in front of the wheel-house in conference with his First Officer, who looked at me in surprise.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"I’m from the yawl that took your passengers to the ferry," I explained in English. "I want to speak to the captain."
"Well?" said Boucher.
My heart was in my mouth, but I plunged into speech.
"Marjorique - my captain - says your ship may be in trouble when the tide comes up. She may slide into deep water and sink. You know that, of course, sir. Well - we could get your anchors out ahead, sir - " and I stumblingly suggested our idea. Boucher said nothing when I finished but looked at the mate. Then he spoke.
"Would our boats carry that weight?"
The mate made a swift calculation aloud. "Thirty persons, average a hundred and fifty - that’s forty-five hundred pounds, two and a half tons - yes, sir, I think they would. But we have no steam for the winches."
"We can pay out, though," said the captain.
"If she slides astern she will take up the strain herself. They may hold her."
He turned to me. "Good idea. Take your yawl round to the port bow."
"There’s one thing, sir," I stalled. "My captain is Marjorique Gagnon. He sailed with you on a schooner as a boy. A few weeks ago he met you on the Tadoussac wharf and you didn't recognize him. If you yourself would go aboard the yawl and ask him to do this job, and show that you remember him, he - well, he'd do it."
Captain Boucher stared at me hard for several moments and then turned to the mate and spoke quickly in French. "You know anything about this man and his boat?"
"I've often seen it in Tadoussac and up the Saguenay. One of those old-fashioned yawls. He takes parties out for fishing and such. Been on the river for years."
Boucher seemed lost in thought for a moment, murmuring "Marjorique Gagnon" half under his breath. When he swung back to me he was almost smiling. "Come along, young man. I remember your captain." As he swung down the ladder he gave an order to the mate. "Launch two boats from the port side."
When we boarded the Marsouin Marjorique was still below. I called him up.
"Salut, Marjorique!" greeted Boucher and held out his hand towards the surprised little man. "It’s a long time, a long time. We've both got old, eh, my friend?"
Marjorique's toothless grin and the light in his bleary eyes made a lump come into my throat. He wiped his right hand on his thigh, shook hands, and could not speak.
“I wonder if you'd do a job for me. Captain Gagnon - tow my anchors out over the reef?" went on the captain.
"Well, of course!" cried Marjorique, and he threw me a look of triumph. "So you remember those days in the old St. Pierre du Nord, Adelard?"
"She was a good schooner," said Boucher.
"They don't build 'em like that any more."
"By gosh, no!" said Marjorique. "In those days we had to sail, and we had no diesel engines to help us when the tide turned or the wind fell. That's what made sailors of us,..." His mind returned reluctantly to the present, and he swung to me. "Cast off the lines."
"Round to the port side," said Boucher, boarding his own ship. "There should be water for your draught over the reef by now."
The old truck engine coughed into life and we went round the Orleans' stern. The wind had backed to the north and the fog was blowing away, but there was as yet little sea. One lifeboat was already under the port anchor and a man at the brakes of the anchor winch slacked off slowly. By the time the anchor came to rest on the floorboards only half the lifeboat’s freeboard showed above water. We lashed the Marsouin fast alongside the boat and then eased forward. The heavy cable clanked from the hawsepipe link by link and trailed us in an increasing sag. I swung the sounding lead and we crossed the ridge of the reef with two feet under our keel. As the water deepened Marjorique held the yawl in position against the drag of the chain with her engine running slowly. The lifeboat was a steel one, but fitted with drainage plugs. I jumped aboard and knocked them out, and she started to fill. As her weight gradually pulled the yawl over towards her I cut the lashings with an axe and the lifeboat went down with a rush, the drag of chain over her gunwale turning her over as she went. We heard the clash of the anchor on the stones below, and then the buoyancy tanks of the capsized lifeboat brought her wallowing to the surface, bottom up. We took her in tow and returned to the Orleans.
The starboard anchor was harder - the Orleans' list to port made it impossible to lower it straight into the boat, but Boucher's men did the best they could. We angled our way out off the starboard bow with the lopsided lifeboat, but before we had crossed the reef the drag of the chain and the off-centre weight in the lifeboat burst the lashings and dumped the anchor on the height of the reef.
The salvage tugs were visible, ten miles up the river, black smoke streaming southwards from their fat funnels. Before they came up an eddy from the strengthened flood tide in the North Channel swung the Orlean's stern downstream. We could hear her port anchor drag and then dig in solidly on the upward slope across the reef. As the bow swung grindingly towards deep water the massive chain tautened - and held. Marjorique swore beautifully in his enthusiasm, and Captain Boucher shouted a cheer down from the bridge. Then the tugs came up, crowded with reporters, and took over.
Marjorique thought of the fishing party that would be cursing our absence, and went below to start the motor up again. As we turned away from the Orleans he waved to the figure on her bridge, but Captain Boucher was already in conference with the tug captains, and did not notice the salute.
I went and stood beside Marjorique at the tiller. "You might get some of the salvage for that job," I suggested. "You should put in a claim."
He looked at me in scorn as he rammed tobacco into his black pipe.
"I did not do that job for the steamship company," he said emphatically. “I did it for my old friend, Adelard Boucher."
"But the salvage claims will be paid by the insurance company," I urged. "It will not hurt Captain Boucher or his company, and you could get some of the stuff you need for the Marsouin - paint, and new canvas, and perhaps even a new engine...."
Marjorique said nothing for a moment, and his eyes moved here and there over the shabby gear of the old yawl, perhaps envisioning her as she might look if he could give her the extensive overhaul she had needed for years. Then he spoke.
"Listen: Adelard Boucher is a great captain and an important man. I am - well, you know what I am. But he remembered me after all these years - he is still my friend. I cannot make money from his misfortune - that is not the part of friendship." His tone of voice invited no argument.
That autumn, in a Quebec paper, I came across an account of the enquiry into the grounding of the Orleans. Captain Boucher, I noted, had been absolved of all blame and commended for his seamanship in the crisis. His pilot had lost his certificate. One part of the account sticks in my memory. Salvage claims were being considered and Boucher, under oath, was being questioned by the steamship company’s representative.
"Captain Boucher, the company felt that the captain of the small yawl which rendered some assistance at the time of the accident to your ship should receive some of the salvage money, although he had entered no claim. We got in touch with him, and he refused to put forward any claim on the grounds that anything he had done was a matter of friendship between him and you. You knew this Captain Gagnon?"
"It seems he once worked in the same ship with me," Boucher was reported as replying. "To tell the truth, I had completely forgotten him. At the time of the accident I pretended to remember him - you know how one does - to avoid embarrassment, but I still find myself quite unable to recall him."
I was glad that Marjorique Gagnon never looked at a paper. Perhaps, I thought, it was a good thing after all that he had never learned to read.
(Short Story 4400 words - unpublished)
by Lewis Evans
ARM in arm, Lawrence and Jane Stewart were circling the promenade deck trying to walk off the effects of overeating at dinner, when the preliminary crackle of the public address system brought them to a halt.
“Passengers are informed -” began the Deck Steward's voice, lacking something of its usual casual confidence, “passengers are informed that owing to the heavy fog the ship is coming to anchor in the shelter of Egg island.”
There was a pause during which the loudspeaker crackled drily and the engine-room telegraph jangled in the distance.
“The double flash you see every few seconds off our starboard bow is the Egg Island lighthouse. Seven Islands, our next port of call, is forty-five miles farther along the North Shore, and the ship is expected to arrive there tomorrow morning.”
There was a final crackle and the speaker went dead.
“Well, that won’t put us much off schedule,” commented Lawrence. “If it hadn't been for the fog we would have been there now, and we'd have stayed tied up to the wharf till tomorrow morning anyway. There's the light he mentioned - see it?”
“I thought they didn't have to bother about fog nowadays,” said his wife. “Haven't they got radar and all that sort of thing?”
“Yes, they have. But as it is the Tenth Province's maiden trip I guess they’re being especially careful. Look - you can just see the outline of the island - below the lighthouse. See the spray driving across it? These northeasters always bring thick weather in the Gulf. Golly, what a bleak hunk of rock! Come on - let's walk or we'll catch cold.”
He swung Jane away from the rail and they stamped on around the deck. Suddenly she chuckled.
“What are you laughing at?” he demanded.
“Do you realize,” said Jane, “that this is the first stop since we left Quebec that the Deck Steward hasn't given us a lecture on the history of the place?”
Lawrence grinned. As an employee of a Newfoundland pulp and paper company he had to make the St. Lawrence trip frequently, and derived a sort of amusement from the historical sketches given over the P.A. system of the Line's ships - part of a policy to popularize these cruises down the St. Lawrence to Canada's newest province.
“I guess this stop caught him with his guidebook down,” he said. “Egg Island - I seem to remember something about it -” He broke off as the loudspeakers crackled again. “Oh-oh - he's looked it up, and here it comes.”
“Passengers are reminded,” the Deck Steward announced smoothly, “that there will be 'horse-racing' in the Lounge at 8.30, and later in the evening there will be dancing.”
“You can hardly call that an historical sketch,” said Jane. “I guess the island's too small to have any history.”
“Egg Island - Ile aux Oeufs -” muttered her husband. “I can't help feeling there is something about it, something tragic or sinister. Maybe they aren't mentioning it on purpose, in case they frighten the passengers.”
“Nonsense,” said Jane. “Let's go in and lose some money on the horses. I'm getting cold.”
* * * * *
DAWN in the Gulf meant danger in 1711, and Capitaine Joseph Paradis had two lookouts posted aloft before the first grey light appeared over the horizon beyond which lay the vast wastes of Newfoundland.
Thus it was that as soon as visibility had extended to a range of three leagues a hail from the main truck warned him that a ship had been sighted at that distance to the south and east.
Instantly he ordered the helmsman to put the patache Ste. Croix about, and to run to the north before the dawn breeze, but even as she squared away the lookout called down to the deck that the ship was wearing round and setting studding sails in pursuit.
As the light increased Capitaine Paradis climbed the shrouds and took a long look at his pursuer, and as he looked his heart sank. She was English - he could tell by the lines of her hull - and she was a ship of war, for no English merchantman would have business that far inside the Gulf. She would overhaul his little vessel in a matter of hours, if the breeze held, and there was no sign of the only thing that would make escape possible – fog.
Two hours later a puff of white smoke, like a new sail suddenly set with astonishing speed, appeared at the bows of the ship astern, and the thud of the cannon reached him just as a great splash erupted in the Ste. Croix's wake.
Capitaine Paradis shrugged, gave a final glance around the horizon in a last hope for a miracle of fog, and ordered the patache hove to.
The man-of-war came up into the wind a cable’s length away, with a great slatting of topsails and creaking of yards, and even as Capitaine Paradis spelt out the name Chester amid the gilt scrollwork of her stern, her gig was got away and pulled for the French vessel.
Paradis met the English lieutenant at the break of the poop.
“Lieutenant Parker, at your service, of Her Britannic Majesty’s ship Chester,” announced the officer in tolerable French. “The compliments of Captain Popham, and will you come aboard.”
This was hardly what Paradis expected. Usually, he had heard, the first to board a ship that offered no resistance was a prize crew, and the best that he and his men could look forward to was being battened below the hatches to make the voyage to England's Atlantic seaboard colonies on the wet coldness of the ballast. Perhaps, he thought, as he went over the side and dropped into the sternsheets of the gig, perhaps they did not consider his little vessel worth manning as a prize. In that case he would have expected a curt order to take to his boats, and the Ste. Croix to be set afire, or scuttled by a charge set in her bilges to blow the bottom out of her.
The gig leapt over the water separating the two vessels, and Paradis was still wondering as she rounded to smartly under the Chester's main chains. He followed the lieutenant as he scrambled over the bulwark.
As he made his way aft through the ship’s waist he saw the gun crews standing to their pieces, and, noting the weight of the guns he passed, he calculated that the Chester could reduce the Ste. Croix to splinters with one broadside.
Lieutenant Parker waited at the top of the poop ladder for him to come abreast, and presented him to the captain of the Chester.
“I congratulate you on your good sense, monsieur,” said Captain Popham in French so precise and carefully accented that Paradis suspected that he had been rehearsing the speech aloud as the gig approached. “By rounding to when you did you no doubt saved a number of lives. By showing further good sense you may save your vessel. We English have need of a pilot who is thoroughly familiar with the St.Lawrence, both river and gulf. If you are competent and willing to act in that capacity your vessel may proceed unharmed, and you will be paid five hundred pistoles for your services.”
There was a pause.
“And otherwise?” asked Paradis.
Popham's eyes flickered to the gun crews in the waist.
“Otherwise your ship will be destroyed forthwith,” he stated, “without opportunity to get her boats away.”
“You will he hanging from the main royal yard when we intercept the next vessel that may supply us with the pilot we need.”
Paradis shrugged. “You make it difficult to refuse,” he said. He was thinking furiously. They would not dare the river with one ship. Somewhere below the horizon there must be a fleet. As a young man Joseph Paradis had manned the barricades of Quebec and watched Admiral Phips' expedition attack and ingloriously retire. Lately there had been rumours of another attempt on the part of the Colonies, aided by Old England, to oust the French from the St. Lawrence and so squeeze out their Indian allies whose scalping parties raided northern Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
A fleet against Quebec! Well, he could not do anything to stop it if he were hanging at the Chester's yard arm, but if he agreed - the Ste. Croix, perhaps, would carry warning up the river, and as pilot - well, the St. Lawrence was full of reefs and cross-currents.... he wondered if the five hundred pistoles were to be paid in advance.
“I will pilot you,” he said.
Even as he spoke his mind told him that there was something in the arrangement that did not make sense, and even before Popham replied he knew what it was - the English in letting the Ste. Croix go must realize that she could give warning of their presence, and yet they had offered to let her proceed. Either they intended to break their agreement, or they were not afraid of a forewarned enemy, which argued an attack in great force.
“Very good,” said the captain. “Lieutenant Parker will arrange quarters for you. I hope you will be comfortable.”
“There are charts aboard my ship that are vital,” said Paradis. “I request permission to return for them.” It would be a chance to tell his crew what he had guessed of the situation.
“Lieutenant Parker will have them brought aboard, if you will tell him where they are,” said Captain Popham coldly, and he turned away.
So he was not to have an opportunity to speak to his crew again, but he realized that he must carry his bluff through.
“My chest contains the things I need; it is in the cabin aft,” said Paradis. “If you will be so good as to have it brought -”
He hoped that Parker would not force it for inspection, for it contained nothing but a change of clothes and other personal gear. There were no charts in it, nor would he have needed them if there were. After thirty years of fishing for cod in the Gulf and trading for furs along the North Shore, Joseph Paradis' grizzled, bearded head was full of knowledge of the river, of depths and shoals, of harbours and channels, of cross-currents and reefs. If any man could pilot a fleet safely to Quebec, he was that man. But, he wondered, was he man enough to prevent a fleet from reaching that heart of New France?
The gig was returning with his chest, and the Ste. Croix sheeted home her jibs and fell away towards the north. Paradis glanced along the gun crews below him in the Chester's waist, but there was no sign that they intended to open fire. He looked again after his little vessel and wondered when he would see her again. Her helmsman raised an arm in farewell, and Paradis waved his cap. Then Lieutenant Parker was at his side, and ready to show him to his quarters.
Two mornings later, on the 18th day of August, the Chester, surging along before a brisk northwestery raised the topsails of an English fleet beating laboriously
northward toward the tip of Gaspé. Signal flags broke out, stiff in the breeze, as she made her report to the flagship, and almost immediately coloured bunting at the flagship’s trucks ordered the fleet to anchor in the shelter of Gaspé Bay.
Joseph Paradis climbed a few yards up the mizzen shrouds of the Chester to survey the anchorage, and his heart sank. He could identify eight or nine ships of war, two vessels which he easily recognized by their rig as bomb ketches, for they had the appearance of a ship with her foremast missing, and no less than fifty craft of all rigs and sizes which he took to be transports for the military - and stragglers were still beating into the bay. No wonder, he thought, that the Chester had not prevented the Ste. Croix from carrying a warning to Quebec - there must be half as many fighting men in the expedition as there were souls all told in New France.
He took off his woolen cap and ran fingers through a mop of iron grey hair. What could one man do against so great a fleet? Even if he succeeded in wrecking one or two ships, the rest would sheer off and save themselves. The best he could hope for was a chance to weaken the expedition.
When he was ordered to accompany Captain Popham on a visit to the flagship Paradis was still without any semblance of a plan, and he sat in the sternsheets with his head bowed and such a preoccupied expression that Popham, resplendent in his number one uniform, mistook his attitude for one of despair.
“Come, sir,” he said, stumbling over the French. “Things are not so bad. The admiral will not eat you.”
“They say he has little stomach for eating anything, while he's at sea,” remarked Lieutenant Parker, at the steering oar, eyeing his captain alertly to see how he would take this impertinence.
Popham grinned. “What a pair! The admiral was chosen by the general, and the general was chosen by Her Majesty because his sister, Mrs. Masham, is the current favourite at court. I hope Brigadier Hill knows more about leading the army than Walker knows about manoeuvering a fleet.” Suddenly he seemed to realize that he was being too frank with his junior. “Take that grin off your face and attend to your steering,” he snapped. “D'ye want to ram the flagship?”
Joseph Paradis, who had traded now and then with peaceful English ships on the cod fisheries, caught enough to gather that Popham, whom he had seen to be a most competent seaman, had a low opinion of the admiral. Perhaps, then, the latter was not a competent seaman. It was up to him, thought Paradis, to establish that fact first - then perhaps he could see better what to do. The question was how he could find out.
Sideboys manned the bulwark as Captain Popham went up the ladder, and bosuns’ pipes squealed. Paradis was told to wait in the draughty darkness of the half-deck while Popham was ushered into the great cabin aft.
Other officers went in and out, and once there was great ceremony of bringing lanterns to light the half-deck and saluting of sentries and bowing of officers as a tall man in white knee breeches and wide skirted red coat and a full curling periwig came stooping under the deck beams.
“Brigadier Hill,” Paradis heard an officer announce to those in the cabin, and there was a scraping of chairs as they rose to greet him. Paradis guessed that this dandy was the commander of the military side of the expedition.
An hour passed, and the captains began to take their leave. Finally Paradis was called for. The great cabin was filled with tobacco smoke and the fumes of wine. At the head of the table sat a thin man in a splendid coat of blue brocade and a profusion of white lace at wrists and throat. He addressed himself to Paradis in adequate French, but his voice has like himself, reedy and thin, and the French pilot could hardly imagine him as an impressive figure on a quarterdeck in half a gale - or even in a flat calm, if it came to that.
“I am Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker,” announced the little man. “I understand from the Captain of the Chester that you are willing and able to pilot this fleet to Quebec.”
“Yes, monsieur,” said Paradis.
“We will proceed as soon as this cursed northerly shifts,” went on the admiral. “Now tell me, are we likely to encounter much ice?”
“None at all, sir,” said Paradis, taken aback. Ice in August! The odd berg off the Newfoundland coast, perhaps .... he wondered if he might not have misled the admiral on this point, but it was too late now. If they thought that they must have very little first hand knowledge of the river. His mind kept harking back to this as the admiral instructed him to transfer aboard the flagship, the Edgar, and traced on a chart the route he proposed to follow into the Gulf, a course closely parallelling the line of the South Shore.
“It would be better to sail more in mid-river,” suggested Paradis. “There is a current flowing seaward along the Gaspé coast.”
“A current? A strong current?”
“It sometimes runs as much as three knots,” said Paradis.
The admiral stared at his chart, and then at the pilot. Finally he turned to Hill, but that gentleman merely shrugged and poured himself another glass. “Preposterous!” exploded Walker, as though the pilot had invented the current just to annoy him. “We will follow this course, I tell you, until the river narrows and both shores may be seen.” Evidently he was a seaman who preferred to stay in sight of land, or else he did not wish to entrust the fleet to the Frenchman's navigation.
The interview was ended, but Paradis felt he must make trial of the admiral's mettle. The subject of ice still seemed a possibility.
“You have made provision, sir, to secure your ships against the ice in the winter, after you have taken Quebec?” asked Paradis.
“What do the French do?” asked the admiral.
“The large ships return to France,” said Paradis, “and the small ones we haul out.”
“Can we not leave them moored in some sheltered spot?”
“The water freezes clear to the bottom of the river,” stated Paradis boldly. “One hundred fathoms of solid ice. Your ships will be crushed.”
Walker stared at Hill aghast. The latter shrugged. “Your problem,” he stated. “I hope to be comfortably on dry land at that time.”
There was no doubt that the admiral believed the pilot's fantasy of the ice, and no doubt, thought Paradis, that he would believe almost anything.
Paradis left the cabin deep in thought. If the admiral insisted on hugging the Gaspé coast and bucking the Gaspé Current there was little scope for him - that coast was clear of reefs and hidden dangers as far as Bic Island. The North Shore, however, was foul with small islands and reefs and shoals, and had he been given a free hand he would have led the fleet along that coast where an opportunity of damaging it might have presented itself. As it was, he could only pray for thick weather, and make what advantage he could of that.
He was roused from his thoughts by Lieutenant Parker's voice.
“I have brought your charts over, monsieur,” said the young man. “The captain says you are to remain aboard the Edgar.”
“My charts? Ah, my sea-chest. Thank you,” said Paradis, and went to find his new quarters.
Two mornings later the wind hauled into the east, and after weighing anchor and doubling Cape Gaspé the fleet had it on the port beam. This made the coast, which here trended northward, a lee shore, and Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker did not like the look of his proposed course.
“Haul to the windward and give us an offing,” he demanded of his captain, Paddon, and the Edgar was swung a few points to eastward, followed by the rest of the fleet.
The admiral turned to Paradis.
“Now start earning your money,” he said. “You are to follow the south shore of the river at a distance of three leagues offshore,” and he went below.
As the Gaspé coast faded out of sight in the wads of fog with which the easterly was plugging the great river mouth, Paradis' mind's eye ranged over the chart in his head. If he kept the fleet on this course he would soon be in mid-river, for the Gaspé shore trended away to the west, and if then he sailed westward, because of the sudden narrowing of the river at Pointe des Monts, he would meet the North Shore, where anything might happen. The question was whether the admiral of the Edgar's captain knew enough to doubt his course.
That night and the following, the 21st, Admiral Walker insisted that the fleet be hove to, bows to the southward, and lookouts posted forward and aloft to warn the fleet at the first glimpse of the South Shore, which Paradis maintained was just beyond the range of visibility.
Through the day of the 22nd the fleet surged on to the westward, and the wind strengthened and the fog thickened. At eight in the evening the signal was again made to heave to, bows to the southward, and Paradis, knowing full well that they must be within a couple of leagues of the North Shore, smiled in his beard as he suggested to the admiral that lookouts be doubled, so afraid was he of forereaching onto the dangerous South Shore, which was in reality seventy miles away.
It was 10.30 that night, with the easterly still howling through the shrouds and driving scuds of broken wrack, through which the moon from time to time broke to gleam on the crests of heavy seas, that a lookout in the Edgar's main top screamed the one word – “Land!”
Captain Paddon, on the quarterdeck, cursed as he made out breaking seas to leeward of the ship, and sent for the admiral.
Paradis clung to the lee rail and waited for another gleam of moonlight to verify his suspicions and hopes. It came, brief and uncertain, but it showed him a low, treeless hump in the sea - Ile aux Oeufs - and already the Edgar must be in the shoal waters northeast of the island. There was nothing he could do. He had brought the fleet into danger, and the rest was up to the admiral. If, he thought, the admiral is a seaman he will size up the situation and bring the fleet off to windward. If he is the man I think he is, he will assume that this is the South Shore, and he will order the fleet northward - seaward, as he thinks.
The officer returned alone.
“The admiral is turning in,” he reported. “He says to make signal to the fleet to wear and bring to, bows to the northward, so that their forereaching will give them an offing off the South Shore.”
The signal was made, and the Edgar herself rolled around.
A great sea burst into an acre of foam a cable’s length ahead of the ship, and Paradis found his arm clutched by Goddard, a captain in Seymour’s Regiment, part of which was aboard the Edgar.
“There are breakers all round us!” he cried.
“You had better call the admiral again,” suggested the pilot. “There seems to be some error in our course.” He felt that if anyone could get the fleet into worse trouble Sir Hovenden Walker was the man.
Goddard was off below on the run, and Paradis heard Captain Paddon issuing orders to let go the anchors in an attempt to keep the Edgar off the shoals.
A gun boomed to northward, and Paradis guessed that other ships of the fleet were beginning to find the reefs.
The admiral, shivering in a flapping boat-cloak, appeared on the quarterdeck just as the roar of chain from forward told of the first anchor being let go. He took one look at the breaking seas to leeward and gave his first sensible order.
“Cut that cable,” he shrieked. “Cut and beat to windward.”
Paddon shrugged and thundered the command, and the Edgar worked slowly round.
Other guns boomed their helplessness and lights waved and flashed. Shouts and screams rode on the wind, and dimly in the intervals of moonlight could be seen ships, their masts at crazy angles, and the seas sweeping their decks from end to end.
It began to look as if the Edgar might make her offing, as she had worked beyond the breakers, and to leeward now was the narrow channel between Egg Island and the North Shore. Joseph Paradis felt that his job was done, and low as was his opinion of the admiral, he did not relish another interview. He quietly slipped down the ladder to the waist. He groped about between the gun carriages but could not find anything to his purpose. He ran to his quarters and came back with his chest. It was a good, stout, watertight box, and should support him nobly in his bid for the mainland. He dumped its contents under the poop ladder, and, heaving the chest over the lee rail, slid over after it.
* * * * *
The Tenth Province's chain clanked slowly through the hawsepipe, and her screws turned slowly to hold her position in the sheltered channel between Egg Island and the North Shore.
A misty sun shone over the rocky island, the white lighthouse with its vertical red stripe, and the breaking seas which were the only evidence of last night’s storm.
The public address system hummed, crackled, and spoke.
“First sitting for breakfast is now being served. The ship is expected to arrive at Seven Islands at 11 a.m. Egg Island, which we are now leaving to starboard - “
"He has looked it up,” chuckled Lawrence Stewart to his wife on their way from their cabin to the saloon.
“Shush - listen,” she said.
“....where Admiral Walker's expedition against Quebec was wrecked in 1711. The Admiral lost some nine ships and over seven hundred men, and the expedition turned back. Seven Islands, situated on Seven Islands Bay...”
“I knew there was some history to Egg Island,” said Lawrence. “I remember now - Walker was about seventy miles off his course. He is supposed to have mistaken the North Shore for the South.”
“How could anyone make such a stupid mistake?” said Jane. “Come on – I'm starving.”
I found and copied this from Wikipedia about this expedition. (I guess with this work of fiction now we know what really happened!)
This article is about the 1711 Quebec expedition.
Henry St. John (later Lord Bolingbroke) organized the expedition
Date: 22 August 1711
Summary: navigation accident
Site: St. Lawrence River
Fatalities: about 890 (705 soldiers, 150 sailors, 35 women)
Operator: Royal Navy
Destination: Quebec, New France
The Quebec Expedition, or the Walker Expedition to Quebec, was a British attempt to attack Quebec in 1711 in Queen Anne's War, the North American theatre of the War of Spanish Succession. It failed because of a shipping disaster on the Saint Lawrence River on 22 August 1711, when seven transports and one storeship were wrecked and some 850 soldiers drowned; the disaster was at the time one of the worst naval disasters in British history.
The expedition was planned by the administration of Robert Harley, and was based on plans originally proposed in 1708. Harley decided to mount the expedition as part of a major shift in British military policy, emphasizing strength at sea. The expedition's leaders, Admiral Hovenden Walker and Brigadier-General John Hill, were chosen for their politics and connections to the crown, and its plans were kept secret even from the Admiralty. Despite the secrecy, French agents were able to discover British intentions and warn authorities in Quebec.
The expedition expected to be fully provisioned in Boston, the capital of colonial Massachusetts, but the city was unprepared when it arrived, and Massachusetts authorities had to scramble to provide even three months' supplies. Admiral Walker also had difficulty acquiring experienced pilots and accurate charts for navigating the waters of the lower Saint Lawrence. The expedition reached the Gulf of Saint Lawrence without incident, but foggy conditions, tricky currents, and strong winds combined to drive the fleet toward the northern shore of the Saint Lawrence near a place now called Pointe-aux-Anglais, where the ships were wrecked. Following the disaster, Walker abandoned the expedition's objectives and returned to England. Although the expedition was a failure, Harley continued to implement his "blue water" policy.