Tag Archives: Bloodlines

Shock Wave

By Ed Staskus

   “When Britain is at war, Canada is at war,” Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier said in 1910. “There is no distinction.” Four years later when Britain entered World War One, Canada signed on, too.  In August 1914 the Governor-General of Canada vowed that “if unhappily war should ensue, the Canadian people will be united in a common resolve to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honor of our Empire”

   Empires are made by plundering and slaughtering. They are always sure of the rightness of their cause. They never go down without a fight. It doesn’t matter if there’s any honor in the fighting, or not. They plow straight ahead.

   The country had no air force, a navy fit for a bathtub, and an army of 3,000-some men.  By the end of the war more than 600,000 Canadians had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight for King and Country and more than 400,000 of them served in Europe, out of a population of fewer than 8 million nationwide.

   “The Empire Needs Men” is what the posters said. “All answer the CALL! Helped by the YOUNG LIONS the OLD LION defies his foes. ENLIST NOW!”

   Everybody wanted in on the fight because everybody thought it would be over by Christmas. Canadians lined up to support the British Empire and collect steady pay of $1.10 a day. The harvest that year was bad, and unemployment was soaring. But machine guns fired ten times as many bullets a minute as they were paid pennies a day. Hundreds of thousands on all sides were slaughtered week by month by year by the rapid-firing weapons on the Western Front.

   At the beginning of the war, it was better to be killed than wounded. The wounded were taken off battlefields in horse-drawn wagons or on mules with baskets on their sides, the baskets soaked and dripping with men bleeding to death. There wasn’t any such thing as a dressing. If they made it to a train station, they were transported to hospitals. “One of those trains dumped about 500 badly wounded men and left them lying between the tracks in the rain, with no cover whatsoever,” said Harvey Cushing, the head of the Harvard Unit of volunteer doctors at the American Ambulance Hospital of Paris.

   Nearly 60,000 Canadians were killed, most of them the result of enemy action, and more than 170,000 of them were wounded. Almost 3.500 men and one woman had at least one arm or leg amputated. Private Curley Christian lost all four limbs but survived.

   During the Battle of Vimy Ridge he was unloading cargo from trucks when an artillery shell hit next to where he was, trapping him under debris for several days. When stretcher bearers tried to reach him, they were killed by more artillery. When he was finally rescued, he was transported to a military hospital and from there to London. His arms and legs had gone gangrenous and all four were sawed off.

   When he got back to Canada he was fitted with prosthetic limbs and married Cleopatra McPherson. He deigned his own prosthesis for writing. Cleo and he had a son who twenty years later served in World War Two.

   More than 7,000 Prince Edward Islander’s enlisted. Five hundred of them were killed and more than a 1,000 wounded. Tommy Murphy went overseas with a siege battery in 1915. Before he went, he got married to Freya O’Sullivan and got her pregnant. He got word of his son Danny’s birth by telegram while taking a break in an ankle-deep puddle of water sheltering in a trench during the Third Battle of Artois. 

   He had spent eight days at the front and was due for four days in a reserve trench and then four more days at a rest camp. When the bloodletting went on and on and the ranks thinned out, he never made it to the reserve trench much less the rest camp. It was that kind of a war. The Allied and Central Powers fought the same battles over and over.

   The British French and Canadians assembled seventeen infantry and two cavalry divisions for the offensive at Artois, backed by 630 field guns and 420 heavy artillery guns. During the fighting the field artillery fired 1.5 million rounds and the heavy artillery 250,000 rounds at the Germans defenses. Tommy Murphy barely slept for days. Whenever he took a break, he felt like his arms were going to fall off after loading shells until there weren’t any more to load. He knew he had sent his share of Germans to Hell even though he never saw one of them die.

   When the Allies tried to advance, they suffered 40% casualties. The battle went on from late September to mid-October when it ground to a halt in the middle of a never-ending autumn rainstorm and mutual exhaustion. By that time both sides were conserving ammunition because they were running out of it. They spent the rest of the month burying their dead, tending to their wounded, and withdrawing.

   Tommy was a cannon man because he was taller than five feet seven inches and burly enough to do the heavy work of feeding artillery. He didn’t have flat feet or bad eyesight, He didn’t have the greatest teeth, but explained he was enlisting to fight Germans, not bite them. He could have begged off the war because he was married, but he was patriotic and wanted to do his fair share. Money from the Canadian Patriotic Fund helped his wife keep the home fire burning.

   His battery had a lance corporal scout sniper attached to it. Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow was an Aboriginal who could split a bullseye nobody else could even see. He had more than 300 kills to his name. He roamed No Man’s Land at night for them, seeking out enemy snipers and forward spotters. He always came back in the morning. The other side never made it back to their side.

   He wore moccasins instead of army boots, chewed dead twigs whenever he sensed danger, and always carried a medicine bag. “When I was at training camp on Lake Superior in 1914, some of us landed from our vessel to gather blueberries near an Ojibwa settlement,” he said. “An old Indian recognized me and gave me a tiny medicine bag to protect me, saying I would shortly go into great danger. The bag was of skin tightly bound with a leather throng. Sometimes it seemed to be hard as a rock, at other times it appeared to contain nothing. What was inside of the bag I do not know.”

   Tommy had signed up for short service and when 1915 was over and done and it was April 1916, he was done with his one year on the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His commanding officer tried to convince him to re-enlist, but he had a wife, a child, and a farm that needed him. He didn’t need to kill anymore Germans. He was sick of the butchery. Three men from North Rustico were already dead. He didn’t want to be next. He knew if he re-enlisted it was only a matter of time before he went home in a box to be buried on Church Hill Rd.

   He got out when the going was good. The next year enlistments dried up as men near and far began to realize the toll the new style combat on the Western Front was taking. Machine gun fire and shell fire was murderous. On top of that there was poison gas. The dead were left where they fell. They were left for the rats. In May 1917 the government announced conscription through the Military Service Act. The rats stood up and cheered.

   It was easier getting into the army than it was getting out. He finally found a ride on a troop transport from Calais to Dover, took a train to London, and spent the night at a whore house with a razzle dazzle girl. He took a steam bath the next morning and had lunch at a corner fish and chip shop eating cod with a splash of vinegar and a full pint at his elbow. He followed the first pint with a second pint and was happy for it. He had a ticket for passage to Halifax in his wallet, but it was a week away. His grandfather had come from Ireland, or so the family story went, and done something big for the Crown, who rewarded him with 400 acres of PEI shoreline. He unfolded a map and located Dublin. It was directly across the Irish Sea from Liverpool.

   He bought a train ticket to Liverpool and the next morning landed in Dublin. It was Easter Monday. The Easter Rising had happened yesterday. The Easter Rising was happening today. 

   After landing at the Dublin Port, he followed the River Liffey, making for Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His plan was to find a room for a few days and have dinner. He would explore the rest of the city after a good night’s sleep. He was wearing his Canadian Army uniform over a pair of Spring Needle underwear and carrying a rucksack. He had his toiletries, four pairs of clean socks, his rolled up military wool overcoat, and a paper bag full of Huntley & Palmer biscuits in it. The biscuits were so hard they would crack a man’s teeth at the first bite if not soaked in tea beforehand.

   His papers and money were in a travel wallet attached to his belt. He had his Colt New Service revolver on his belt, too, for what it was worth now that his war was over. An hour later he was glad he had it, after he got it back, although he wasn’t sure if he was going to need it to protect himself from the Irish or the British.

   Dublin Castle was in the middle of the old part of the city. The city got its name from the Black Pool, the ‘Dubh Linn,’ where the rivers Liffey and Poddle met. It was where the castle was. It had been a Gaelic ring fort in the beginning, a long time ago. Later, after the Vikings showed up, it was a Viking fort. For the past 700 years it had been a British fort, the seat of their rule in Ireland. 

   Tommy didn’t have anything against the British, but after a year of serving in their army, he thought the Irish might be better served ruling themselves. They couldn’t do worse. During the year he served on the Western Front three quarters of a million Jacks and John Bulls were killed. It made him sick to think of the men he had seen obeying orders to attack barbed wire and machines guns across open fields. Another few million men went wounded and missing. The broken might survive, but he didn’t think the missing were coming back anytime soon.

   He was glad to be out of it. It hadn’t ended by Christmas of 1914. It still wasn’t over by Christmas of 1915. The next Christmas was in eight months and the talk was it would take a half-dozen more holidays to either win or lose the war. He meant to say a prayer in St. Patrick’s Cathedral before dinner. 

   He didn’t get a chance to say a prayer, find a room, or have dinner. He lost his chance when he came across the bridge leading to Trinity College, turned the corner towards Dublin Castle, and found himself face to face with a Mauser semi-automatic pistol. He knew exactly what it was. He stood stock still exactly where he was. The hand on the firearm was a woman’s hand. She was wearing an old military hat and a yellow armband.

   “Hand’s up and on the wall, boyo,” she said, a second woman coming up behind him. The second woman was wearing a bandolier laden with a half dozen hand grenades. She had a revolver. It looked like it came from the Middle Ages. He did what she said. She patted him down and took his Colt.

   “Who are you and what are you doing here?” she asked.

   “Tommy Murphy, Canadian Army, from Prince Edward Island by way of a year in France,” he said. “I’m here to take in the sights before going home. Now that we’re talking, I thought Ireland was sitting the war out.”

   “We ask the questions,” the woman wearing the bandolier spit out.

   “Come on,” the woman with the Mauser said, poking him in the small of the back with the barrel of the gun.

   The streets leading to the city center were barricaded. When they got to the General Post Office, he saw there were two green flags flying in place of the Union Jack. They said “Irish Republic” in gold letters. He knew there was no such thing as an Irish Republic. 

   “What’s going on?”  

   “We’re rocking the casbah,” the grenade girl said.

   There was a man outside the post office reading from a broadsheet. It was the “Proclamation of the Irish Republic.” There were copies of it pasted on walls. Newsboys were handing them out to anybody who wanted one. Not everybody wanted one. Most of them didn’t understand what was happening. The grenade girl handed him a copy. “Read this,” she said. There were men with rifles and shotguns on the roofs of buildings overlooking bridges.

   “Who’s this?” said a man wearing a scrap of paper pinned to his breast. It said “Citizen Army.”

   “We found him down the street, Sean.”

   Sean was Sean Mac Duiarmada, one of Commander-in-Chief Patrick Pearce’s right-hand men.

   “He’s Canadian,” Sean said pointing to Tommy’s regimental badge and the “CANADA” title at the end of his shoulder straps.

   “We thought he was a Brit.”

   “They’ll be here soon enough,” Sean said.

   There were 1,200 rebels waiting for 20,000 British troops to arrive.

   A shot rang out in the distance and Margaret Keogh fell down dead. She was a 19-year-old nurse tending to a wounded Citizen Army man. She was the first person to die during the Rising of Easter Week.

   A team of Volunteers trotted past on their way to the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park. They took all the weapons and ammunition they could carry and blew up the rest. When the son of the fort’s commander tried to raise the alarm, he was shot dead. He was the second person to die.

   “You’re free to go,” Sean said to Tommy. “Best you leave Dublin all together.”

   “What about my sidearm?”

   Sean nodded to the grenade girl, and she handed Tommy’s Colt back to him.

   When a contingent of the Citizen’s Army approached Dublin Castle, the police sentry James O’Brien ordered them to halt. He was shot dead even though he was unarmed. He was the third person to die. When British troops showed up the rebels retreated to City Hall, stormed up to the roof, and fired down on the troops in the street. The man commanding the rebel contingent, Sean Connolly, was shot dead by a sniper, the first rebel and fourth person killed.

   Tommy carefully made his way back to the docklands and the port. He boarded the same boat he had come on. An hour later the boat was steaming into Dublin Bay on its way back to Liverpool. Eight hours later he was asleep in a room of a boarding house on the waterfront, not far from the Three Graces.

   The next morning was cold and damp. Women were out in the streets with their long-handled push brooms. They were called Sweepers. Others were in homes cleaning and scrubbing. They were called Dailies. Many more were at work in munitions factories. They were called Munitionettes. Liverpool’s men were on the Royal Navy’s battleships and in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. They were called Cannon Fodder.

   Tommy found a greasy spoon near the port and ordered breakfast, eggs back bacon sausage baked beans a fried tomato fried mushrooms fried bread and black pudding. The Liverpool Daily Post headline screamed “REBELLION!” There was no need for him to read about it. He thought he might have this same breakfast at midday and tonight. Somebody once said, “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”

   He put the newspaper aside. Pushing himself away from the table, he checked his ticket for Canada. He tucked it securely away with his service revolver. Tommy Murphy was going to keep himself safe and sound until his boat sailed for home. Once he was out of the frying pan that was burning and smoking on another man’s stove, he was going to stay out of it.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Guardian Angel

By Ed Staskus

   The night Siobhan Murphy died in 1901 was the same night Queen Victoria died almost five thousand kilometers away. Siobhan was hit on the head when Father Georges Belcourt’s one-seater fell on her. The horseless carriage killed her just as fast as the horse who kicked her husband in the head many years before killed him. 

   Her last thought was of the day she first met William Murphy in Cavendish, of her first look at him. She knew in a flash what he was about when he looked at her and knew what her answer would be. After her last lightning-fast thought she went down into the darkness, taking her last breath.

   Siobhan lay dead under the steam-powered car in her barn all day before anybody noticed. She didn’t feel sorry for herself. She knew she wouldn’t be forgotten. Flies buzzed around her. Her cat wandered in and lay down beside her. There was nothing he could do except keep her company. The sun went from one end of the sky to the other. Queen Victoria died in Osborne House of a stroke in her sleep, in a palatial bed surrounded by her family, under a full moon.

   Father Belcourt bought the car that killed Siobhan from a man in New Jersey in 1866. It was unloaded at Charlottetown and pulled to the Farmer’s Bank in Rustico by a team of horses. Nobody except the priest knew how to work the self-propelled wagon. He had a letter explaining its operation. He was keeping it close to the vest in the meantime.

   “Be careful father,” one of his parishioners said pulling him aside. “The devil could be in that tank.”

   If he was, he was hunched over and hot as hell. The steam chamber was four feet high, and the motor was connected to the wheels by a chain. The car had no suspension, no windshield, and no roof. Father Belcourt kept it in a shed beside the bank. The Farmer’s Bank was organized soon after the priest arrived there in 1859. One of the first things that jumped out at him was the economic hardship of his flock. What he did was establish a Catholic Institute to bring parishioners together. Everybody had to agree to be teetotalers. The second thing he did was create the credit union to provide loans to farmers at Christian rates of interest. The third thing he did was buy the car to be able to get out to see the sick and homebound.

   The priest was from Quebec and had been in the business of saving souls for more than thirty years before arriving in Rustico. He led missions in Manitoba and North Dakota and fought it out with the Hudson’s Bay Company over their compensation to the natives who delivered furs to the trading company. But when he demanded the savages swear off liquor as he demanded for conversion, they were unwilling to give up their Hudson’s Bay Company-supplied booze.

   He didn’t give up working for them, working up a petition for redress of wrongs. When he got a thousand of the savages to sign the petition about the company’s selfishness and discrimination, a petition he meant to send to Queen Victoria, Earl Gray the Colonial Secretary threw it away and had Father Belcourt arrested for inciting discontent. The Archbishop of Quebec had to step into the fray. He got the charges retracted but sent the priest far away to Prince Edward Island. 

   Father Belcourt retired as the pastor of Rustico in 1869 and moved to Shediac, New Brunswick, but couldn’t get islands off his mind. He pled to pastor a parish on the Magdelen Islands. It wasn’t long before he was on a boat out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the Archbishop of Quebec’s expeditious blessing. Before he sailed, he asked Siobhan Murphy if he could store his steam-powered car on her farm. 

   “Of course,” she said.

   The horseless carriage had forgotten how to get up and go and had to be towed there by a team of horses.

   Siobhan had gotten into the habit of burying her money in a hole at the backside of the barn. When the bank got going, she dug it up and put it in the bank. She didn’t know it, but she was one of the biggest holders of the credit union. In 1893, a year before the bank closed, after her son Bill told her the bank would be closing soon, she withdrew all her money and buried it in the ground again. 

   She had raised six children on her farm outside North Rustico. She raised them by herself. Siobhan knew the value of a dollar better than most. She wasn’t a miser, but she was frugal. When the shipbuilding business in Atlantic Canada collapsed in the 1880s and her son Sean was thrown out of work, she paid for his passage to the United States, where he joined Michael, her youngest. 

   Half of the island’s economy disappeared when shipbuilding disappeared. Thousands of islanders migrated to the Boston States looking for work in factories and domestic service. By the time Siobhan died more than a third of everybody on the island was gone. She never saw Sean and Michael again. Her three daughters all married, one of them going to Summerside, one to Acadian land, while Biddy stayed nearby in Stanley Bridge. She married a fisherman who was good at getting eels. They had seven children by the turn of the century.

   In the mid-1880s, unhappy that their winter mail and passenger service was still relying on iceboats, islanders started demanding a fixed link to the mainland by way of a railway tunnel.

Siobhan rarely got mail and never left the island and didn’t care if there were iceboats tunnels or bridges. The tunnel never got built, no matter how many folks demanded it.

   In 1895 Robert Oulton and Charles Dalton become the first men on Prince Edward Island to successfully breed silver foxes in captivity. They brought a litter of foxes with a vein of silver in their fur to maturity near Tignish, on the far west end of the island. They did it by mating red and black foxes. After that the gold rush was on. They shared the secret of their success and breeding stock with a small circle and before long the small circle was getting rich. When word started to get out, the fox boom was on. When Bill Murphy heard about it, his ears pricked up. It was early fall 1900. When he told his mother about it, she dug up the family money buried behind the barn and laid it out on the kitchen table.

   She knew there was a livelihood and even a fortune to be made from fur. The explorer Samuel de Champlain was in the fur trade three hundred years earlier. Alexander Mackenzie, the first European to go cross-country and reach the Pacific Ocean, was in the fur trade. John McLaughlin, who built forts in Vancouver and established the Oregon territory, was in the fur trade.

   The Hudson’s Bay Company and North-West Company were in the business of hunting and killing bears, beaver, fox, deer, buffalo, mink, otter, and seal for their skins. Every Victorian woman in the Americas and Europe coveted a fur coat, but as the century raced to a close there weren’t enough wild animals left to answer the demand. Fur farms became the answer.

   “Charlie Dalton and another man have got a fur farm out on Cherry Island,” Bill said. “They’ve been raising foxes in pens and have somehow got it so that the females stay quiet. They sold two breeding pairs to Silas Rayner up in Kildare and he’s making it work, too. Bob Tuplin bought a breeding pair for $340.00 and has gone into a partnership with Jimmy Gordon at Black Banks.”

   “That is a bushel full of money,” Siohhan said.

   Farm hands on Prince Edward Island made about $25.00 a month. After a year they might have been able to buy one breeding fox, but it takes two to tango.

   Bill leaned across the table. “Charlie sold one of his pelts in London for almost two thousand dollars.”

   Siobhan was amazed and said so.

   “Charlie and the Raynor’s and some others are setting up what they call the Big Six Combine. They plan on keeping their secret a secret, not produce too many pelts, and keep the price sky high.”

   “What’s their secret?” Siobhan asked.

   “One of their secrets is the wire they use, which they import from England. The foxes don’t seem to mind it. Charlie builds his pens with it. The wire stays free of rust and shiny. They keep one breeding pair in one wire pen with a wooden kennel.”

   “How do they keep the foxes from climbing or digging their way out?”

  “They build sidewalls slanting in and add overhangs. To keep them from burrowing, they dig trenches and bury wire in the ground. They put catch boxes in corners and along the guard fences to trap any of them trying to escape.”

   “I would build a watchtower, valuable as the animals are.”

   “Charlie’s got watchtowers.”

   “It must be hard on him if a fox does escape.” 

   “He pays schoolboys to hunt them down on weekends. There might be a boy or two who ends up going to Saint Dunstan’s with that money.”

   “What does he feed the foxes?”

   “He mixes fowl livers, junk fish, raw horsemeat, tripe, and offal with water. They eat about the same as a cat does, about a half pound a day. If a vixen can’t make milk for her pups, he brings in a nursing cat. He keeps the pups in good health, making sure they don’t have mites or worms.”

   “How do they go about getting the pelts without damaging them?”

   “Charlie pokes poison into their chest cavities. I hear he might get a stunner from Norway, which kills the foxes on the spot. He’s got a fleshing machine that cuts the flesh from the pelt and sucks the fat into a tank. He cleans the pelt by putting it into a spinning drum filled with corn grit. Then he dries it on a wood board cut through with ventilation holes.”

   “Do you think you can make it work like Charlie’s done?”

   “Yes.”

   “How do you know all this about farming fox furs?” Siobhan asked.

   “It’s a secret,” Bill said.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Bird On the Wing

By Ed Staskus

   Some men are good at farming. Other men are good at fishing. Storekeepers keep them in gear and goods. A few men are good for nothing. William Murphy wasn’t a man practiced at doing nothing. He didn’t know fishing or farming but was experienced at raising horses. He was going to have a horse farm and make his way that way.

   He stayed on the cove where he had landed, building a rude shelter. He cut limbed sawed trees by hand and split blocks with an axe. The wood would be ready for a stove and fireplace next year. In the meantime, he bought a load of coal from a passing schooner. He found dampness nearby and looked for an underground spring. When he found it, he dug it out, saving himself the work and expense of digging a well. Whenever he could he cleared land. Sometimes it seemed like it was all he did.

   “The islander making a new farm cut down the trees as fast as possible until a few square yards of the blue sky could be seen above. Roots and branches lying on the ground were set on fire and sometimes the forest caught fire and hundreds of acres of timber were burned,” is how Walter Johnson, a Scotsman who came to Prince Edward Island to start Sunday schools, described it.

   Bill Murphy put enough salted cod away to feed a family of Acadians. When the weather changed for the worse, he smoked read ate slept through the season, living in his union suit. The dead of winter arrived near the end of January and kept at it through February. The daytime high temperatures were below zero, and the overnight low temperatures were negative double digits. After spring arrived and the Prince Consort proved true to his word and his land grant was signed sealed and delivered, he continued clearing land and building a house.

   He wasn’t a farm hand, but he had to eat. His first task was putting in a root garden of beets turnips carrots and potatoes. They would store well the next winter. He made sure there were onions. They added flavor to food and were a remedy to fight off colds. Whenever he started coughing or sneezing, he stripped and rubbed himself all over with goose grease and stuffed a handful of onions into his underwear. He always felt better afterwards. Corn peas beans could be dried and stored for soup. A bachelor might even live on it. 

   Rhubarb was a perennial and one of the earliest to come up in the spring. After a long winter it was the first fresh produce. He planted plenty of rhubarb. The island had a short although rapid growing season. He woke up before sunrise and worked until dusk. He kept at it every day. The Sabbath meant nothing to him.

   The Prince of Wales visited Prince Edward Island that summer during his tour of British North America, arriving in a squadron consisting of the Nile, Flying Fish, and three more men-of-war. The Nile grounded trying to enter Charlottetown’s harbor. Once the tide lifted it, the unhappy boat sailed away towards Quebec. Spectators cheered Bertie’s progress to Government House on streets decorated with spruce arches. 

   “The town is a long straggling place, built almost entirely of wood, and presents few objects of interest.”

   It was a cloudy afternoon, but when it cleared, he went horseback riding. That evening there was a dress dinner and ball at the Province Buildings. The Prince of Wales took a moment to step out onto a balcony.

   “Some Micmac Indians grouped themselves on the lawn, dressed in their gay attire, the headgear of the women recalling the tall caps of Normandy.”

   When the squadron embarked towards the mainland it was in a heavy rain. No one who didn’t need to be on deck wasn’t on deck. There were no spectators in the harbor waving hats and kerchiefs. Even the Indians stayed away.

   “Our visit it is to be hoped has done much good in drawing forth decided evidence of the loyalty of the colonists to the Queen.”

   Their loyalty and the Queen’s confidence were soon to be tested.

   Bill Murphy didn’t bother making the long trip into town, having already gotten what he wanted from the royal family. The Prince of Wales was a playboy. There wasn’t anything he could do for him. When he was able to at last inhabit the house against the elements, he started on a horse barn. It would be large, large enough for stabling animals, milking cattle, and storing tools. The haymow would hold more than forty tons to feed his animals during the winter.

   At the same time, he started looking for a wife. He needed help indoors so he could work the outdoors. He needed help planting crops to feed himself and a family. He needed help clothing the body. Life without a woman on Prince Edward Island was a hard life. He found her the same time his work bee was finishing the barn.

   He met her in the cash provision store in Cavendish. Siobhan Regan was 19 years-old, a few years older than half his age. She wasn’t pretty or well off but looked sturdy and round bottomed. He was sure she could bear children without killing herself or the child. She could read, although she seldom did, except for the Good Book. She was ruddy cheeked with big teeth and was a quiet woman, suiting him, who used the spoken word only for what it was worth.

   They were married and snug in their new house, home from the wedding in a buggy retrofitted with sleigh runners, the night before the last big snowfall in April. She got pregnant on Easter Sunday and stayed more-or-less pregnant for the next ten years, bearing six children, all of whom survived. Her husband refused the services of the village’s midwives, refused the services of the doctor, and delivered the children himself. He threw quacksalvers out the door with a curse and a kick. They peddled tonics saturated with moonshine and opium. He had had enough of a taste of both to know they were no good for the sick or healthy, more likely to kill than not. He never drank port, punch, or whiskey, rather drinking his own homemade beer. He liked to wrap up the day with a pint.

   He knew cholera and typhus had something to do with uncleanliness, although he didn’t know what. He had seen enough of it on ships, where straw mattresses weren’t even destroyed after somebody died from dysentery while laying on them. He ran a tight ship, keeping his house and grounds in working order. He didn’t let his livestock near the spring at the house, instead taking them downstream. He had seen the toll in towns where garbage was thrown into the street and left there for years. He and his wife had both been inoculated against smallpox, and as the children got on their feet, so were they.

   The Irishman wasn’t going to throw the dice with the lives of his children. Six out of his ten brothers and sisters died before they reached adulthood in the Land of Saints and Scholars. Their overlords had something to do with it, famine had something to do with it, and their rude lives the rest of it, putting them in early graves. One of them died on the kitchen table where a barber was bleeding him. He bled to death.

   Siobhan Murphy took a breather towards the end of the decade. Her husband and she went to Charlottetown twice that summer to see shows at St. Andrew’s Hall. They saw “Box and Cox” and “Fortune’s Frolic,” both directed by the lively and eccentric Mrs. Wentworth Stevenson, an actress and music teacher trained in London who had formed the Charlottetown Amateur Dramatic Club. 

   They stayed at Mrs. Rankin’s Hotel, having breakfast and dinner there, walking about the city, stopping for tea when the occasion arose, and spent their otherwise not engaged hours making a new baby. When they were done, they went home. The children weren’t surprised that another one of them was on the way.   

   Every farm on Prince Edward had a stable of horses for work and transport. Most farmers used draft horses for hard labor, the nearly one-ton animals two in hand plowing fields, bringing in hay, and hauling manure. It was his good fortune to know horses inside and out, big and small. The carrying capacity of his land was well more than a hundred horses. He wasn’t planning on that many, but a hundred would suit him well if it came to that. He was going to grow most of his own food and sell horses for the rest of life’s essentials and pleasures.   

   By 1867 when Prince Edward Island rejected the idea of Confederation, even though it hosted the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 where it was first proposed, he was well on his way to making his horse farm a going concern. Confederation didn’t concern him, one way of the other. Many islanders wanted to stay part of Great Britain. Others wanted to be annexed by the United States. Some thought becoming a distinct dominion on their own was best. He kept his eye on the prize, his family and farm.

   John Macdonald, the country’s first Prime Minister, always worried about American expansionism, tried to coax the island into the union with incentives, but it wasn’t until they were faced with a major financial crisis that its leaders reconsidered Macdonald’s various offers. It was when they put themselves into a hole that his efforts paid off.

   A coastline-to-coastline railway-building plan gone bad put Prince Edward Island into debt. It spawned a banking crisis. Parliament Hill agreed to take over the debt and prop up the financing needed to resume railway construction. There was a demand for year-round steamer service between the island and mainland. Parliament Hill agreed to the demand. The province wanted money to buy back land owned by absentee landlords, and Parliament Hill agreed to that, too.

   The horse trader was better off than many people on the island. He had a small amount of hard cash while most islanders had no amount of cash to speak of and bartered almost everything. When the chance arose to make a killing during the horse disease of 1872, he took it. The pandemic started in a pasture near Toronto. Inside the year it spread across Canada. Mules, donkeys, and horses got too sick to work. They coughed, ran a fever, and keeled over exhausted getting out of their barns and stables. Delivering lumber from sawmills or beer to saloons killed them outright.

   “There are not fifty horses in the city free from the disease,” a newspaper editor in Ottawa wrote. Another editor in Montreal wrote, “We have very few horses unaffected.” The only place the pandemic didn’t reach was Prince Edward Island.

   “When the disease was raging in the other provinces, our navigation was closed, and our island entirely cut off, in the way of export or import from the mainland, which in fact must have been the reason it did not cross to our shores,” wrote the editor of The Patriot newspaper.

   Bill Murphy drove sixty horses to Summerside where they were loaded on two ships for crossing the Northumberland Straight. Once on shore they were walked to the railhead in New Brunswick and shipped by railcar to Montreal, whose money for the horses was better than all others. When he was paid, he secreted the money inside his shirt with his jacket buttoned up to the collar until he got back home.

   In 1873 the island’s voters were given the option of accepting Confederation or going it alone and having their taxes raised substantially. Most voters chose Confederation, voting their pocketbooks, the same as he did. Prince Edward Island officially joined Canada on July 1, 1873. 

   The weather that day was foul and then a storm rolled in. Thunderbolts lit up the low clouds followed a split second later by sonic booms. The fox in the fields lay low in their foxholes. It wasn’t fit for man or beast.

   It was two years later, as lightning slashed the sky, that the prize horse on Murphy land spooked and kicked him in the head, breaking his jaw, knocking an eye out, and fracturing his skull. Everything he knew about the animals, as well as the money from the sale of them the year before, which he had squirreled away behind the barn, flew out the window with his soul. The gates of the Underworld and Heaven both opened wide to admit him to eternity. He tossed the Devil’s invitation away.

   Flags flew on the island that August when George Coles died in Charlottetown. He had been the first premier of PEI and one of the Fathers of Confederation, which didn’t keep him from dueling with Edward Palmer, another Father of Confederation. He was a feisty man. “I have not met anyone not irascible who is worth a damn,” he said. He was convicted of assault. While still in the provincial government, he spent a month in custody. His twelve children visited him and brought him beer. He had been a distiller and brewer earlier in life.

   Siobhan Murphy folded her flag and buried it with her husband in the village’s cemetery. Alone after the burial, her children gathered around her, she gazed out on the sparkling Atlantic Ocean from the top of Church Hill Road. Her husband had crossed the briny deep at peril to himself to make his fortune, no matter what it might be. He was gone now but the land was still theirs. She would never give it up. It would always be theirs.

   Siobhan had no intention of going anywhere, no matter whether it was Canada or the United States or anywhere else on Prince Edward Island. She couldn’t raise the dead but could raise her children on the farm her husband made. She was determined none of them would ever forget their father. Murphy’s Cove would stay what it was, Murphy’s Cove.

   She started the slow walk with her sick at heart brood back down the red road to the cove and their farm. The smallest of them, a girl her pigtails flapping, pulled at her mother’s dress.

   “Mommy, I have a secret to tell you.”

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Nowhere to Hide

By Ed Staskus

   Corporal JT Markunas was stationed in Charlottetown with the Queens RCMP detachment. He was a grade above constable, but still pulled service in a police pursuit vehicle. He didn’t mind the car he had drawn today, although he could have done without the blue velour interior. It was plenty fast enough, though.

   He lived in a small rented two-bedroom farmhouse in Milton, where he had planted a root garden. His parents were pleased when they saw the photograph of beets, turnips, and carrots that he mailed them. JT was from Sudbury, Ontario and Prince Edward Island was his third assignment since joining the force. His first assignment had been at Fort Resolution in the Northwest Territories. He missed Sudbury, but he didn’t miss Fort Resolution.

   When he was a child, the Canadian Pacific hauled ore on tracks behind their house. When the train wailed, he wailed right back. When he was a boy American astronauts practiced out in the city’s hinterland, where the landscape resembled the moon. When he grew up, he trained for the RCMP at a boot camp in Regina. He was surprised to see women at the camp, the first ones allowed into the force. They kissed the Bible and signed their names, like all the recruits, and wore the traditional red serge when on parade, but they also wore skirts and high heels and carried a hand clutch. 

   JT was sitting in his blue and white Mustang Interceptor. Even though Ford had built more than 10,000 of them since 1982, the RCMP had only gotten 32 of the cars. He had one of the two on the island. There were lights on the roof, front grille, and rear parcel shelf. He was in Cavendish, across the street from the Rainbow Valley amusement park. He was watching for speeders, of whom he hadn’t seen any that morning. He was thinking of stopping somebody for whatever reason to justify the pursuit car. He was also thinking about his second cup of coffee but waiting until he started yawning. He thought it was going to happen soon. When it did, he would 10-99 the control room and take a break from doing nothing.

   Cavendish was Anne’s Land. It was where “Anne of Green Gables” was set. He hadn’t read the book, but doubted it had anything to do with what he could see in all directions. The amusement park was named after Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1919 book “Rainbow Valley.” It was waterslides, swan boats, a sea monster, monorail, roller coasters, animatronics, castles and suspension bridges, and a flying saucer gift shop. The paratrooper might have been everyone’s favorite ride.

   Earl Davison was looking for a roller coaster when he found it.  He was in Pennsylvania hunting for a bargain at a park turning its lights off.  The coaster seemed to fit the bill at first sight.

   “It’s a terrific ride, but you’ll need to have a good maintenance team to keep ’er running,” the Pennsylvania man said.

   When Earl hemmed and hawed, the man suggested his paratrooper ride instead. “It’s the best piece of equipment I have. I will sell you that paratrooper ride for $25,000 and we’ll load it for you.” By the end of the next day Earl had written a check and the ride was loaded ready to go for the long drive back to PEI.

   Earl Davison thought up Rainbow Valley in 1965, buying and clearing an abandoned apple orchard and filling in a swamp, turning it into ponds. “We borrowed $7,500.00,” he said. “It seemed like an awful lot of money at the time.” When they opened in 1969 admission was 50 cents. Children under 5 got in free. Ten years later, he bought his partners out and expanded the park. Most of the attractions were designed and fabricated by him and his crew.

   “We add something new every year,” said Earl. “That’s a rule.” The other rule-of-thumb was moms and dads with smiles plastered all over the faces of their children. “Some of the memories you hear twenty years later are from people whose parents aren’t with them anymore. But they remember their visits to Rainbow Valley and those experiences last a lifetime.”

   When his two-way radio came to life, instructing him to go to Murphy’s Cove to check on a report of a suspicious death, JT hesitated, thinking he should get a coffee first, but quickly decided against it. Suspicious deaths were far and few between. Homicides happened on Prince Edward Island about once every ten years. This might be his only chance to work on one. When he drove off it was fast with flashing lights but no siren. He reported that the cove was less than ten minutes away. 

   Conor Murphy saw the patrol car pull off the road onto the shoulder and tramped down the slope to it. Some people called the RCMP Scarlet Guardians. Most people in Conor’s neck of the woods called them Gravel Road Cops, after the GRC on their car doors, the French acronym for Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Conor didn’t call them anything. He had been on the force once and didn’t mess with what they might or might not be.

  JT put his cap on and joining Conor walked up to where Bernie Doiron was waiting beside the tractor. When he saw the arm handcuffed to the briefcase, he told Conor and Bernie to not touch anything and walked back to his patrol car. He wasn’t sure what code to call in so called in a 10-64, requesting an ambulance, and asked for the commander on duty. He described what he had found and was told to sit tight.

   “Yes sir,” he said.

   It wouldn’t be long before an ambulance and many more cars showed up. They couldn’t miss his car, but he turned the lights on top of it back on just in case and backtracked to the tractor.

   “Who found this?” he asked, pointing at the arm. 

   “I did,” said Bernie.

   “Is it the same as you found it?” JT asked. “Did you or move or disturb anything?”

   “No, we left it alone,” Bernie said. 

   “And you are?” JT asked Conor.

   “I’m across the street in the green house,” Conor said. “These are my fields. Bernie came down and got me when he found this. A fox has been at the arm.”

   “I see that,” JT said, even though he didn’t know what had happened to the arm. He didn’t jump to conclusions. It was flayed and gruesome, whatever it was. He wasn’t repulsed by it. He was being objective. The final quality that made him a good policeman was that he was patient. He waited patiently with Conor and Bernie for the rest of the team to show up. None of the three men said a word.

   JT looked at the land all around him getting ready for the growing season. There was no growing season where he grew up. His father worked the nickel mines in Sudbury his working life, never missing a day. He had been an explosives man and made it through his last year last week last shift unscathed. He had always known there was no one to tap him on the shoulder if he made a mistake.

   His mother raised four children. She dealt with powder burns every day. They were among the few post-war Lithuanians still left in Sudbury. The rest of them had worked like dogs and scrimped and saved, leaving the first chance they got. His parents put their scrimping and saving into a house on the shores of Lake Ramsey and stayed to see Sudbury transition from open pits and wood fire roasting to business as usual less ruinous to the land they lived on.

   An ambulance from a funeral home in Kensington was the first to arrive, followed within minutes by two more RCMP cars. A pumper from the North Rustico Fire Department rolled to a stop, but there wasn’t anything for the volunteer firemen to do. They thought about helping direct traffic, but there was hardly any traffic to speak of. The summer season was still a month-and-a-half away. They waited, suspecting they were going to be the ones asked to unearth the remains. They brought shovels up from their truck.

   The coroner showed up, but bided his time, waiting for a commissioned officer to show up. When he did there were two of them, one an inspector and the other one a superintendent. They talked to JT briefly, and then the fire department. The firemen measured out a ten-foot by ten-foot perimeter with the arm in the center, pounded stakes into the ground, demarcated the space with yellow police tape, and slowly began to dig. 

   They had not gotten far when the arm fell over. It had been chopped off above the elbow. One of the firemen carried the arm and briefcase to a gray tarp and covered it with a sheet of thick translucent plastic.

   “Has anybody got a dog nearby?” the inspector asked.

   Most of the firemen farmed in one way or another. Most of them had dogs. One of them who lived less than two miles away on Route 6 had a Bassett Hound. When he came back with his dog, he led him to the grave. The Bassett sniffed the perimeter of the grave and jumped into it, digging at the dirt with his short legs, barking, and looking up at his master. The fireman clapped his hands and the dog jumped out of the grave.

   “There’s something there” he said. “Probably the rest of him.”

   They started digging again carefully and methodically. When they found the rest of him three feet deep and twenty minutes later it was a woman. She was wearing acid wash jeans and an oversized tangerine sweatshirt. She was covered in dirt and blood. One of her shoes had come off. What they could see of her face was ruined by burrowing insects. She was still decomposing inside her clothes.

   The coroner stepped up to the edge of the grave with the two men who had come in the ambulance.

   “Be careful, she’s going to want to fall apart as soon as you start shifting her weight,” he said. 

   The two men were joined by two of the firemen. When all four were in the shallow grave they slowly moved the corpse into a mortuary bag, zipped it up, and using the handles on the bag lifted it up to two RCMP constables and two more of the firemen. They carried the bag slowly down the hill, the dog following them, placing it on a gurney and inside the ambulance.

   The constables went back up the hill to join the rest of the RCMP team, who were getting ready to sift through the grave looking for evidence. They would scour the ground in all directions, to the tree line and the road. JT Markunas had gotten his Minolta out of the trunk and was taking photographs. When he was done, he joined them. They spread out and with heads bowed started looking for anything and everything.

   The ambulance was ready to go when Conor came down to the side of the park road, stopped beside it and tapped on the driver’s side window. When it rolled down, he pointed up the slope.

   “Don’t forget the arm,” he said.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Lost and Found

By Ed Staskus

   When the Chevy Silverado pick-up truck in front of him swerved suddenly to the left, JT Markunas put his foot on the brake of his police car, slowing down. The pick-up stopped on the shoulder on the left side of the road just as JT saw what it was that had made the driver swerve. It was a woman in a house dress slowly crossing the road, looking steadily ahead but not for approaching traffic. He pulled off and turned on his flashers.

   The pick-up driver was leading the woman by the elbow off the road.

   “She almost walked right into my truck,” he said.

   “Do you know who she is?” 

   “No, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m making a delivery to French River, coming up from Stratford. I thought I would go along the coast. Christ, I almost hit a dog down by Oyster Bed and now this. Next time I’m taking the highway.”

   JT put the woman in the front seat of his car and called in that he was going to try to find out where she lived and get her back there.

   “How are you feeling?” he asked.

   “Good, but I’m cold,” the woman said.

   He turned the car’s heating on, directing the vents at her.

   “Where do you live? Here in South Rustico?” 

   She pointed up Route 243 in the direction of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. He swung his police car around turning in a tight circle and drove slowly up the road. 

   “Along here?” he asked.   

   “No,” she said. “Up that way.”

   When they got to the church he stopped and asked again.

   “I don’t know,” she said. “Somewhere that way,” pointing to their left.

   “What color is your house?”

   The woman looked at the church. “Everybody went to church back then. Especially here in a small community like this. My goodness, we all went. I just walked up the road from home to the church and the school. It was the same way we walked to the beach and went swimming. My teachers were Mother Saint Alphonse, Mother Saint Theodore, and Mother Saint Cyril, who was sort of icky. Kids came to our school from all over, from Hope River and Oyster Bed Bridge.”

   “You have a good memory,” JT said.

   “Oh, yes,” she said. “My school was run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Most of them came from the islands.” The Magdalen Islands are an archipelago not far away in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “There were four classrooms and eleven grades. The nuns were one hundred percent French. My French is fluid to this day.”

   South Rustico is on the north-central shore of PEI, where Route 6 and Church Road cross. There is a beach on Luke’s Creek, which is a bay on the far shoreline, near the National Park. The Rustico lands are home to one of the oldest communities established in La Nouvelle Acadie after the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

   “I once went to mass at St. Augustine’s twice in twelve hours,” said a man from the grave. Archie was the woman’s dead husband. “We were dating, I was on the island, and her mother insisted we go to church Saturday night before stepping out. So, OK, that’s it, we go. Sunday morning, they wake me up and say it’s time to go to church again. I say, what, did I die? Then I thought, I must be desperate for a girlfriend.”

   “You must have really liked me,” said Ida.

   Built in 1838, the oldest Catholic Church on PEI, St. Augustine’s in South Rustico was already an old church when Ida Arsenault and Archie Thomson got married there in 1941. “Her foster mother hosted our dinner at the Charlottetown Hotel and the party afterwards was at their house,” said Archie. “The barn was behind the house, and they brewed homemade beer. Ida and I didn’t have five cents to rub together, but we were young and ready to go.”

   Ida Arsenault was born at home in 1917. She grew up in what became the Barachois Inn on the Church Road. A barachois is like a bayou, a coastal lagoon separated from the ocean by a sandbar. But the home she grew up in wasn’t where she was born, nor were her parents the parents she was born to.

   “When my twin sister and I were born, our mother died the next day,” she said.

   Her father, Jovite Arsenault, a farmer with nine children, owned a house behind the church and croplands between Anglo Rustico and the red sand shore. “Where the new school was built,” said Ida, “that was once part of his fields.” Suddenly a widower, he was unable to care for the newborns.

   Ida and her sister, Elsy, were placed with foster families. Her sister went to Mt. Carmel, on the southwest end of the island, while she became a ward of the Boucher’s, a husband and wife in their 50s, who lived down the street, on the front side of the church. “It was just a few minutes away,” said Ida. “I saw my brothers and sisters, and my father, all the time, and my new parents made sure I saw my twin sister now and then.”

   The Boucher’s were islanders who had long worked in Boston as domestics, saved their money, and returned to Prince Edward Island, buying a house and farm. They kept cows and some horses. They were childless. “I was spoiled since I was their only child,” said Ida. “They were older and well-to-do. We had a car, a black Ford. I didn’t do too much, although I might have milked a cow once-in-a-while.”

   Before mid-century most of the roads on Prince Edward Island were dirt or clay, muddy when it rained, dusty when it was dry. The first paved road, two miles of it, was University Avenue in Charlottetown in 1930. “They eventually paved the road up to the church,” said Ida. “We used to say, ‘Meet me at the pave,’ which was where the pavement ended.”

   Her aunt lived a few miles away outside Cymbria on Route 242. She washed clothes by hand in a washtub and dried them on the line. There were thirteen children in the family. They didn’t have running water or electricity. “When I went out to the well and pulled the bucket up, there was meat and butter in the bucket. That was their refrigeration.”

   “When did they get power and plumbing?” JT asked.

   “In the 1950s when they moved across the street into an old schoolhouse,” Ida said.

   “Where were you going when you were on the road?”

   “I don’t know,” Ida said. “Maybe I was going to visit my auntie, but I’m not sure.”

   Archie was born in Thorold, Ontario a year after Ida. “My father worked on the boats all the time, Montreal to Thorold, where the locks are, and that’s where we moved,” he said. From Montreal the passage is down the St. Lawrence River and across the length of Lake Ontario to Niagara. The Welland Canal at Thorold, sitting on top of the Niagara Escarpment, is ‘Where the Ships Climb the Mountain.’ Standing on viewing platforms, anybody can watch cargo ships pass slowly by at eye-level a whisker away.

   He enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy on his twenty-first birthday. It was 1939. During the Second World War Canada commanded the fifth largest navy in the world. Archie met Ida when she was in nursing school in Halifax, where he was stationed with the fleet. “I was working a little job at the Charlottetown Hospital,” said Ida. “A friend of mine told me about the nursing course in Halifax. Right away I got the bug.” It was 1939. She and her friend enrolled, and her friend’s father drove them to Nova Scotia.

   After graduating, as part of her scholarship agreement, she worked at the Christie Street Veterans Hospital in Toronto. It was a Collegiate Gothic building originally built as the National Cash Register Company factory in 1913. “They gave us $45.00 a month to live on.” She and Archie dated long-distance by mail and phone. They got together when they could. When they did, they jumped into each other’s arms.

   “Whenever I got leave, I would pick her up in Toronto and take her to visit my parents in Thorold. That’s how I introduced her to my family.” At the same time, Ida was introducing Archie to Prince Edward Island.

   “I took the ferry S. S. Charlottetown across the straight when we were dating,” said Archie. “You had to sleep in your car if you missed the last one. We would be lined up single file down the road. There would be a hundred cars full of frozen men inching along in the morning trying to get on the first boat.”

   In the dead gray of winter, crossing the Northumberland Straight from Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick, to Port Borden, Archie stood bundled up against the cold wind hands stuck in mittens leaning over the bow watching as the heavy boat broke through foot-thick ice.

   “It would crunch gigantic pieces of ice and turn them over like ice cubes as it went across,” he said.

   One afternoon, making his way from Halifax to South Rustico, coming off the ferry in December and driving up Route 13 from Crapaud, he was stopped by a snowdrift in the road. “The road went down a valley and there was five feet of snow piled up,” Archie said. He reversed his 1935 Chrysler Airflow back to where the rear tires could get a grip on a stretch of clear road. “I hit the gas as hard as I could, went as fast as I could, hit the snow, everything disappeared, and I came out the other side. By the time I did the car was barely moving. I shut it off and caught my breath.”

   Archie gave Ida a ring. She gave him a stack of books for his next sea voyage. They hardly saw each other after that as her man sailed back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. In June the S. S. Charlottetown sank on her way to a dry dock in Saint John for an overhaul. The boat was four miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. The crew rowed to safety in their lifeboats. Two wrecking tugs tried to get to the vessel but turned around in the heavy fog. When she was finally refloated the flow of water into her couldn’t be stemmed.

   “We were in Lisbon when I got a message from Ida that she and my mother had decided on December 8th for our marriage,” said Archie. The executive order from PEI said to be ready. “I went to the radio communications on board and sent a telegraph confirming my agreement.” They were married the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.

   “Stay in the car, Ida,” JT said. “I’m going to the church for a minute.” He was hoping to run into somebody who would know where she lived. But there was nobody to ask. All the doors were locked, and he didn’t see any parked cars anywhere. He went back to his police car.

   “That’s where I live,” Ida said pointing through the windshield at the Barachois Inn up the street from the church.

   “That’s a hotel,” JT said.

   “That’s where I live,” Ida repeated.

   When JT knocked on the door with Ida standing behind him, a woman answered.

   “Can I help you? she asked until she saw Ida. “Where did you find her?”

   “Trying to cross Route 6,” he said.

   “Oh dear.”

   “She said she lives here.”

   “She did when she was a child.”

   “Do you know where lives now.”

   “Yes,” the woman said, and gave him directions, describing the house. “She has a neighbor by the name of Bernie Doiron. He tries to keep an eye on her, but he’s a farmhand and works most days.”

   “Thanks for your help. If you don’t mind my asking, how old is this house?”

   “It was 102 years old when we bought it in 1982,” the woman said. “It was built by a merchant back then, a man by the name of Joseph Gallant, so we call it the Gallant House. My husband and I had planned on living here, restoring it, which we still do, but we converted it into a bed and breakfast two years later.”

   In the car Ida said she was hungry.

   “We ate fish, mussels, potatoes, carrots, and turnips when I was a girl. That was about it. Whenever we went to Charlottetown we ate at a Chinese restaurant, but that was as much as I ever knew. Before I got married, I never had Italian food. After I got married, my cousin and a friend of hers said, we’re coming over to make dinner. We’re going to make spaghetti. I thought, yippee, what’s that?”

   JT found her house easily enough, escorted Ida inside, and boiled water for tea. He waited until she was resting easy in her easy chair before leaving. He flipped her a two-finger salute off the brim of his cap.

   “Thank you, Mr. Policeman,” she said. “Can you come back soon and take me for another walk?”

Excerpted from the crime thriller “Red Road” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Dead in the Water

By Ed Staskus

   Jimmy LaPlante’s neighbors either didn’t know a thing about him or thought he was a miserly recluse with a nice dog. The dog was a Labrador Retriever, young and friendly, willing to chase any stick thrown by anybody into the bay. He didn’t especially like dogs, but he had gotten the animal last fall to keep him company and be an early warning alarm. He wasn’t worried about his neighbors, although he was worried about Montreal. Jimmy was from Montreal but had lived on St Peter’s Bay the past eleven years. He kept himself to himself and his only friend on Prince Edward Island was the Lab.

   Nobody except his dog and his neighbors and his niece knew where he lived. Now it was only the Lab and the neighbors. He had made sure Montreal didn’t know where he was. He was sure they still didn’t know. He was careful talking to them on the pay phone outside the fish and chip shop, never talking long. He knew they knew how to trace calls.

   His niece hadn’t been his friend, but he didn’t like it when he read in the newspaper that she was dead. Now at least he knew something. She had been found buried in a potato field up around Rustico. What the hell was she doing there? The cops weren’t saying much so the newshounds weren’t saying much.

   What the hell had happened? She had delivered the hundred grand of good cash from Montreal and long since was supposed to have delivered the two million dollars of bad cash to them, although he had known all winter she hadn’t. He wasn’t returning his hundred grand, though. He told Montreal that and told them to find the girl. When they found her, they would find their money, he said. They didn’t like it and told him so. He told them to drop dead and hung up. He knew it was the wrong thing to say, but what could he say? 

   He knew somebody would be showing up soon nosing around. The newspaper said she had been found with a briefcase but no identification. It didn’t say anything about what was in the briefcase. He knew without thinking about it that it had been empty just like he knew from now on he was going to have to be careful. That’s the way the Quebecois boys were. He didn’t think they would find him but started sleeping with his dog at the foot of the bed and a Colt .38 Super under his pillow.

   Jimmy was 16 years old when he made his first counterfeit bill. By his late teens he was making fake $100.00 Canadian notes that his friends spent everywhere without a single one of them bouncing. By his mid-20s he was flooding the market with so many of the fake c-notes that many businesses stopped accepting them. The Bank of Canada was forced to change their design to improve security.

   He got skilled at reproducing security holograms on banknotes and earned the nickname of “Hologram Tom.” His middle name was Tom. When he took a break from forgery, he took up impersonation. He masqueraded as a pilot for Air Canada so he could fly on courtesy passes. Over the next five years he pretended to be a doctor and a lawyer, among other things. One man died and another man was disbarred, but he left his mistakes behind him when he moved on to bank checks. In the end he went back to hard cash. It was what he knew best.

   What had happened to his niece? It had to be that goddamned biker, who he distrusted and disliked the minute he saw him and whose name he never got. He thought he had to be an islander, although he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know where he lived, but he guessed it had to be Summerside or Charlottetown. He didn’t even know what kind of motorcycle he rode, although he knew it was red.

   If push came to shove, he would tell the men from Montreal what he knew but would make sure he told them from the back end of his handgun. He wouldn’t let them get their hands on him. If they did, he stood no chance. He knew that as well as he knew anything. He wasn’t planning on moving. There was no point to it. It would just make them testy and not believe anything he might tell them. He would sit tight until if how when they showed up. He had moved to Prince Edward Island to get away from the life of crime, although crime was how he made his living. He knew the everyday risks, which was why he left Quebec for Atlantic Canada. The past eleven years had been quiet, the occasional phony bag of money keeping him in plenty of spending money.

   It had blown up in his face, but he put a brave face on and took his dog for a walk. He wore a pair of knee-high rubber boots. His house was just past Bay Shore Rd. where it turned toward Greenwich Rd. The dog and he walked on the narrow strip of beach on the bay past some cottages until there weren’t any more cottages.

   St. Peter’s went back to 1720 when the village of Saint Pierre was established. It was one of the most important settlements on the island because it had a good harbor and good fishing grounds full of clams oysters quahogs lobsters trout and salmon. Many of the French considered it to be the commercial capital of Isle St. Jean. When the Fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton surrendered to the British it was the end of Isle St. Jean. The French were deported in 1758 and the English poured in. The land became Prince Edward Island. St. Pierre became St. Peter’s.

   The British weren’t interested in fish. They were interested in boats. They turned St. Peter’s into a booming shipbuilding community, building 27 big boats between 1841 and 1850. There were three shipyards, all controlled by Martin MacInnis and William Coffin. Whatever others there were, were at the mouth of the Midgell River. They couldn’t build their ships fast enough because the north shore was a graveyard for big ships.

   Passenger steamers between the mainland and Prince Edward Island sank all the time. In 1859 the Fairie Queene from Nova Scotia didn’t make it. Everybody said the bells of Saint James Church in Charlottetown tolled eight times on their own the morning of the disaster, foretelling the deaths of the eight passengers on board the steamer.

   “Keen blows the bitter spirit of the north,” is what everybody said.

   Jimmy lit a Players and blew smoke out through his nose.

   The Turret Bell was driven ashore by a big storm in 1906 at Cable Head. It stayed beached for more than three years and became a tourist attraction. Picnickers sat in the dunes staring at the rotting hulk, eating apples drinking cold tea and chatting. Their dogs ran up and down the beach barking up a storm.

   The first sawmill was Leslie’s Mill near Schooner Pond. There were lobster factories on the northside. A starch factory opened in 1880 and stayed open until 1945. A racetrack opened in 1929. It was still there. Jimmy wasn’t a betting man and never went there. He liked horses but disliked trotters. If God had meant horses to pull two-wheel carts for sport, he would have created two-wheel carts. If Jimmy had gone to the track, he wouldn’t have bet real money, anyway. 

   Jimmy and the Lab went as far as Sunrise Ave. and took a break. Sitting on the sand leaning back against a mound he watched his dog run into the water after a stick. Whenever a stick went flying into the ocean the dog became a creature of habit. He watched a man and a woman both in summer shorts coming his way. The man had a camera slung around his neck. It bounced on his chest with every step he took. He looked fair and sunburned. The woman was slightly taller than the man. She didn’t look fair. She carried a kind of messenger bag over her shoulder. 

   Tourists, Jimmy thought.

   They stopped a few yards away and watched the wet dog lunge out of the water and run up to Jimmy. He shook himself dry, the water spraying all three of them. The woman reached into her bag. She pulled a Colt .38 Super out of the bag and shot the dog twice. He cried yelped groaned staggered backwards and fell over, shaking uncontrollably until he stopped.

   The dog’s last thought before giving up the ghost was, “What did I ever do to you?”

   Jimmy jumped trying to get up.

   “Stay where you are. Don’t be the dog.”

   “Jesus Christ, why did you do that?”

   “Dogs are a man’s best friend,” the woman said. “I’m not a man. He wasn’t my best friend.”

   She threw the gun down at his feet. “That’s yours.”

   In that instant Jimmy instantly understood they were from Montreal. He understood they had found him. He understood his life was in mortal danger. He didn’t reach for the Colt. 38. There was no point in trying. If he tried, he would be as dead as the dog in no time flat.

   “What you need to do, Jimmy, is print another batch of bills for us,” the man said, taking a picture of the counterfeiter. “If you don’t, what happened to your dog will happen to you. The sooner you print them, the better. We are going to find whoever stole our first batch and take care of that business. When we do, we will be back to get what is ours before we leave this shitty island. Do you understand?”

   “I understand,” Jimmy said.

   “If anybody asks about the dog, just say he dropped dead,” the woman said. “And put that gun away somewhere safe, so nobody gets hurt.” They walked away, going up the bay the way they had been going. When they were specks in the distance Jimmy stood up and looked down at the dead dog.

   “Goddamn it,” he muttered, and turned around to go back the way he had come. When he was gone gulls and crows started nosing around the still warm lifeless Lab. A fox crept out of his burrow to investigate. Maggots and flies put the word out and were soon gathering. Jimmy came back and waved them away. He kicked pushed the dead dog into the bay. By that night the carcass floated past Morell, Greenwich, and the lighthouse. When the moon came out, he was far out to sea.

   The next day Jimmy drove to a farm outside Saint Catherine’s and got a new dog. It was a Pit Bull almost full grown and trained to bite on command. It took a week, but he taught the dog to hate guns. When he was done, the Pit Bull knew full well to bite off any hand not Jimmy’s that had a handgun in it.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Road Kill

By Ed Staskus

   Malcolm Ferguson walked into the Queen Elizabeth Hospital mortuary room like he was seeing it for the first time, even though he had been PEI’s pathologist for 11 years. He waited for the sharp stab in his left hip to relent. He felt woozy. He steadied himself with one arm on the doorjamb. He was steady after a moment, even though his left heel wouldn’t flatten down to the floor. He put his arms at his sides and breathed evenly.

   The hospital was practically new. It was in its infancy. He was getting older by the minute, which bothered him, even though the older he got the older he wanted to be. “Getting old is no problem,” is what Groucho Marx said. “You just have to live long enough.” But sometimes he didn’t feel like he was just getting old, he felt like he was getting old and crippled.

   His hip hurt like hell. He knew exactly what the matter was. It had finally gotten to be bone on bone. The day had always been coming. Posture yoga and walking and strong drink had forestalled the inevitable. But he walked too much the past few days. When the weather had gotten better, he drove to Brackley Beach, and walked two miles back and forth three days in a row. That was a mistake. It wasn’t the same as his treadmill, which had arm rails he could steady and even support himself on. He had three months left before his resignation became official. When he was done, he was getting a hip replacement the next day, going back to Tracadie, and staying there. He would heal up and fish and carve up fillets rather than folks stiff as boards.

   He blinked in the bright light, wondering why there were two tables set up for him. When he remembered the arm, he remembered he was going to have to do two post-mortems, one on the arm and one on the young woman who the arm belonged to.

   Her death was being treated as the result of criminal activity. If it was some place bigger than Charlottetown the post-mortem would have been performed by a forensic pathologist. They investigate deaths where there are legal implications, like a suspected murder. But it wasn’t any other place. It was Charlottetown. It was the smallest capital city of the smallest province in Canada. It would have to do, and he would have to do it.

   When he was suited up, Malcom stood over the dead woman and blinked his fly-belly blue eyes. She was on her back on a stainless-steel cadaver table. It was essentially a slanted tray with raised edges to keep fluids from flowing onto the floor. There was running water to wash away the blood that is released during the procedure. 

   She hadn’t been shot or stabbed. Her face was a mess, though. It took him a minute to see what it was that had killed her. Her skull was fractured. Parts of the broken skull had pressed into the brain. It swelled and cut off access to blood by squeezing shut the arteries and blood vessels that supply it. As the brain swelled it grew larger than the skull that held it and begin to press outside of it into the nasal cavity, out of the ears, and through the fracture.

   After a minute her brain began to die. After five minutes, if she hadn’t died, she would have suffered irreversible brain damage. One way or the other it was the end of her.

   He got down to the rest of his work, making a long incision down the front of her body to remove the internal organs and examine them. A single incision across the back of the head allowed the top of her skull to be removed so the brain could be examined. He saw what he expected to see. He examined everything carefully with the naked eye. If dissection had been necessary to look for any abnormalities, such as blood clots or tumors, he would have done it, but what was the point?

   After his examination he returned the organs and brain to the body. He sewed her up. When he turned his attention to the arm, he saw clearly enough it had been chopped off with one clean blow. The axe, or whatever it was, must have been new or even newer. In any case, it was as sharp as could be. Her hand was clenched in a fist. He had to break her fingers to loosen it. When he did, he found a loonie in her palm. It was Canada’s one-dollar gold-colored coin introduced two years earlier to replace paper dollar bills, which had become too expensive to print. Everybody called them loonies after the solitary loon gracing the reverse side.

   Malcolm looked at the brand-new looking coin smeared with dried blood and dirt.

   “What the hell?” he muttered to himself.

   He put the coin in a plastic bag and labelled it. He recorded everything on a body diagram and verbally on a cassette tape. He put the loonie, diagram, and tape in a pouch and labelled it. When he was done, he washed up and decided to go eat. After that he would call it a day. The work had warmed him up and he wasn’t limping as much as he had earlier. He tested his hip, lifting his leg at the knee and rotating. He would drive to Chubby’s Roadhouse for lunch, he decided. They had the best burgers on the island.

   The phone rang. It was Pete Lambert, the Commanding Officer of the RCMP Queens detachment.

   “What have you found out, Malcolm.”

   “I’m on my way to lunch right now. Meet me at Chubby’s. As long as the force pays, I’ll tell you everything I know.”

   “I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.”

   Chubby’s was 15 minutes from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and 20 minutes from the RCMP station. 

   While he was driving Malcolm thanked God it was 1989 and metallic hip replacements were as good as they had ever been. The first hip replacements dated back a hundred years to when ivory implants were used to replace the femoral head. Elephant tusks were cheap at the time and were thought to possess good biomechanical properties.  

   Fifty years later an American surgeon performed the first metallic hip replacement. He designed a prosthesis with a large head made of something he called Vitallium. The implant was around 12 inches in length and attached with bolts to the end of the femoral shaft. It worked like a charm. That same prosthesis is what he would be getting, except it was better and the implant would be inserted within the canal of the femur, where bone growth would lead to more permanent attachment. As long as he could wake up and walk first thing in the morning, instead of staggering and grabbing for support, he would be a happy fisherman.

   Chubby’s Roadhouse and Bud’s Diner were next to each other in a pink and baby blue building on St. Peters Road in Dunstaffnage. They did a brisk business. It was a popular pit stop for bikers on poker runs. It was why Pete Lambert had lunch or dinner there two and three times a week, getting to know the riders.

   “We serve burgers and fries and shakes, and fish and chips and clams and all that stuff,” Clarence Foster said. “But I think as far as the burger goes, the best, the one that everybody seems to like is called the Bud Burger.”

   Dances were held in the back of the building with local bands like Haywire. Teenagers with ice cream cones gathered around the pinball machines at the front. Drinkers stayed at the bar, drinking. The bikers ate their Bud Burgers outside during the day and drank inside during the night.

   “We have wedding receptions and things like that,” Clarence said. He told the bikers about them in advance, so that nobody ended up stepping on anybody else’s toes.

   The Spoke Wheel Car Museum was next door. Clarence and his father, Ray, shared an appreciation for old cars. They both liked to smoke but loved cars more. They gave up cigarettes. Instead of up in smoke their savings went toward buying heaps nobody else wanted and restoring them. By 1969, they had 13 cars, including a 1930 Ford Model A Coach that Clarence drove. It was how the roadhouse and diner came into being. 

   “People were coming to the museum and looking for a place to eat,” he said. “Since my dad was a cook in the army, we decided to build a little canteen and it just kept on growing.” 

   It wasn’t the warmest day, although it was sunny.  Malcolm and Pete ate inside at a back table. They had Bud Burgers and pints.

   “How’s the hip?” Pete asked.

   “Hellzapoppin’,” Malcom said.

   “Is that the official word?”

   “It’s how I feel. I’ve got two months and 29 days from now circled on my calendar.”

   They ate and small talked.

   “Find anything out?” Pete asked, finishing his burger and hand-cut fries. The food was good because the beef and potatoes came from the island. It would be a trifecta once islanders started up their breweries.

   “It will be in my report tomorrow, but since you’re interested, I’ll summarize it. She died of a fractured skull. There was tissue not hers on her face and in her hair. I want to say she was hit by a hard human fist that got scuffed up doing it. She had alfalfa on and in her clothes. More than a brush of silage, enough to make me think she was on a dairy farm long enough to roll around in it. The last cut was in late August, so she was put in the ground sometime between then and no later than the end of October.”

   Thousands of acres of potatoes on the island the last fall were left in the ground. Heavy rain and cold temperatures put a damper on the harvest. There was too much rain and cold weather, freezing and thawing, that led to a deep frost.

   “Her arm was probably cut off by an axe, sharp, clean as a whistle. Whoever did it, like the fist, is a strong man or woman. Why it was cut off, since I think she was already dead, is for you to find out. She had a loonie clenched in her missing hand. It was a 1988 issue. No prints other than hers on it.”

   “Are her prints in the report?”

   “Yes, what we could get, which wasn’t much of anything.”

   It was shop talk. Pete knew everything and a batch of photographs would be part of the report.     

   “She wasn’t molested or abused. I don’t think she had eaten for several days. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her teeth, none missing, one filling. She was in her early twenties, five foot five, 118 pounds, green eyes, light brown hair, no moles, birthmarks, or tattoos. She was healthy as a horse.”

   “Anything else?”

   “One more thing. I think she might have poked somebody in the eye. There was retinal fluid and blood under the fingernails of the first two fingers on the cut-off arm. Her nails were 7 mm long and almond shaped, perfect for poking. It wasn’t her blood, either.”

   Blunt trauma to the eye can cause the retina to tear. It can lead to retinal detachment. It usually requires urgent surgery. The alternative is blindness.

   “If that happened, where would the eye be treated?” Pete asked.

   “At a hospital or a large eye clinic.”

   “What happens if it’s not treated?”

   “Kiss goodbye to that eye.”

   “I see,” the RCMP officer said, paying the bill when the waitress stopped at their table. What crowd there had been had cleared out. It was the middle of the afternoon. When the two men went out to their cars, they were the only two cars in the front lot. Pete Lambert was driving an unmarked police car, although it was clearly an official car. Malcom Ferguson was driving a 1985 Buick Electra station wagon. They shook hands and went their separate ways.

   Five hours later a lone biker approached the roadhouse, swerving to avoid a battered fox. There was always more roadkill in the spring and fall. Skunks and raccoons were the most common, although foxes weren’t always as quick and slippery as their reputation. He pulled up, parked, and went inside. He left the key in the ignition. His red Kawasaki Ninja had an inline four cylinder, 16 valve, liquid cooled engine with a top speed above 240 KPH. He had already made that speed and more. He knew nobody was going to mess with his bike because everybody knew whose it was. At the bar he ordered a Bud Burger and a pint.

   “How’s the eye?” the bartender asked. “It looks good. No more pirate’s patch.”

   “Yeah, but I waited too long to get it fixed,” the biker said. “The doc says I’ll probably be mostly blind in that eye from here on. It doesn’t matter, I can still see enough out of the other one to take care of my business.”

   When he left, he paid cash with a new one-hundred-dollar bill.

   “Where do you keep finding these?” the bartender asked.

   “Pennies from heaven, my man,” the biker said, leaving him a tip of a half dozen loonies.

   Getting on his glam motorcycle in the darkness he thought, I’ve got to be more careful about that.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Treasure Island

By Ed Staskus

   “Mommy you know how those men dug a hole and buried daddy in it because he wasn’t alive anymore?”

   “Yes, Maggie.”

    “I saw daddy dig a hole behind the barn and bury something in it.”

   “When did you see that?”

   “I saw it when he came back.”

   “Came back from where?”

   “When he left with all the horses that time and then came back.”

   Siobhan dried her hands on her apron. “Show me where that is,” she said. The widow and her daughter walked out of the kitchen, across the yard, and behind the barn. It was early in the morning, the bottom half of the sun still in the ocean.

   “Look mommy, there’s a fox digging near where daddy buried his treasure.”

   A black-coated red fox was digging, stopping, listening, and digging again. He had long, thin legs, a lean lithe frame, pointed nose and bushy tail. They eat everything, rats, mice, voles, lizards, rabbits and hares, birds, fruits, and bugs. The foxes on their shoreline ate fish and crabs.

   “What is he doing?”

   “When he stops to listen, he’s listening for a rat or a mouse digging underground,” Siobhan said.

   The fox cocked his head. “I know you’re down there,” he said to himself. “You can’t get away.” He dug deeper, not trying to be quiet. He knew he could dig faster than whatever rodent was soon going to be breakfast.

   He was the size of a medium-sized dog. It was a tod, a man fox. The vixen was probably in the nesting chamber with their pups. They lived in the dunes, in burrows they dug for the family. There were three four five ways of getting into and out of the den in case predators snuck in trying to eat the pups. The fox husband and wife stored groceries there, pushing it under piles of leaves, spending most of the day in the safe and sound, searching for food at night.

   The fox looked up at Maggie and Siobhan. She knew they could see as well as cats, their vertically slit pupils glinting. If he yipped and turned to go, he would be gone in a flash. They were by far the fastest animals on the island. Many people thought they were cunning. Some people thought they had magical powers. Whatever spells they could cast never helped when a coyote was tracking them.

   When the fox got his Norway rat, he trotted off with it. Siobhan went into the barn and brought back a shovel. Maggie pointed at the spot to dig. Ten minutes later her mother had a dirty leather tobacco pouch in her hands. She knocked the loose dirt off it and walked to the house, Maggie trailing behind. They sat on the porch facing Murphy’s Cove. When she opened the pouch and reached inside, her hand brought out money in bundles held together by elastic bands. She had never seen elastic bands before and never seen that much money, either. When she finished counting it there was $10,500.00 in her lap.

   It was all in fifty-dollar Dominion of Canada bills. Mercury was on the front holding a map of British North America, along with a harbor, ships, and a train in the background. “50 Dollars Payable at Montreal” was printed on the back. Montreal was where her husband had sold his horses.

   “Look mommy,” Maggie said. “Somebody is coming.”

   A two-man horse and buggy were coming down the road, except there were three people in the buggy, a man and a woman and a one-year-old girl.

   “It’s Clara and Hugh come down from Clifton with their new-born,” Siobhan said as the buggy got closer. Her children were on the porch watching. She stuffed the cash money back into the leather pouch and handed it to Billy, her oldest son. “Go to my bedroom and wait for me there. Keep this on your lap until I come for it.”

   “Good day,” Siobhan said as the buggy came to a stop. Clara handed the child to her. Hugh walked around and helped his wife down to the ground. Lucy Maud Montgomery looked up at Siobhan and smiled. Siobhan smiled back. The baby girl cut cheese, and Siobhan gave her back to her mother.

   “Lucy is a lovely name, but she looks like an Annie to me,” Siobhan said.

   “That’s odd, because you’re the second person who has said the same thing,” Clara said.

   “We wanted to stop and pay our condolences,” Hugh said.

   “Thank you,” Siobhan said.

   “William was a good man.”

   “Yes, he was.”

   Hugh fed and watered the horse. The grown-ups sat and talked on the porch. The children played with the child. When the sun started to set Hugh and Clara started to set off for North Rustico where they planned to spend the night with relatives.

   “Come and have dinner with us,” Clara said.

   “I would love that,” Siobhan said and that is what she did, but not before walking upstairs with Sean, her second-oldest son. “I won’t be back tonight,” she said to him and Billy. “Put the children to bed once it gets dark. Don’t light anything and keep this bag in bed with you tight between the two of you until we decide what to do with it tomorrow.” She kissed her sons, and the others downstairs, and once outside walked alongside the buggy towards town. She carried the baby, cooing at the girl as they walked past the graveyard.

   The next morning, she made breakfast for her children and when they were done, she and the girls cleaned up while the boys tended to their chores. Michael was too small to do much, but Billy and Sean were strong boys who knew their way around animals and farmland. Next summer she might add on to the house, adding two bedrooms so when the boys and girls grew up, they could have separate bedrooms. She would improve the fields and fences. She would hire a farmhand, but not increase the size of her herd overmuch. Her husband had wanted to keep a hundred horses, but she didn’t think the land would keep that many healthy. She would devote three hundred acres to the horses and thought fifty-or-so of them would be best. 

   She didn’t believe in continuous grazing. Horses had a bad habit of grazing their favorite grass close to the ground, then returning to eat the regrowth as soon as it came back. As the year went on there wasn’t enough of it left to capture sunlight and regrow. It had to use stored energy to regrow, and if horses kept eating in the same place, the energy stores ran out and the grass died.

   Horses liked orchard grass, smooth brome, and timothy the best. They could eat it all day long down to the bare ground, which was when weeds started to grow in their place. Siobhan had heard of rotational grazing and that was what she was going to do. She would move the horses to one pasture and let the other pastures rest to recover. Each of the pastures would be left empty for at least several weeks at a time. That was how long it took for forage regrowth to begin after grazing.

   She had four paddocks connected to a sacrifice lot. The lot had a shelter, a feeder, and a water source so that the paddocks didn’t need to have their own. The horses could get to the sacrifice lot anytime they wanted. They liked it that way. Siobhan was determined to keep draft horses. Prince Edward Island was a farming island and farmers needed draft horses more than anything else

   When Friday came and before it went, she told the children they would be going to Charlottetown the next day, and staying overnight, so they could buy clothes shoes boots tools small barrels utensils dishes a new table and chairs and as many household necessities as they could carry back before the long winter set in.

   Her team could trot at 15 KPH and get them to Charlottetown in two hours or die trying. The road wasn’t especially rough or hilly, but it wasn’t smooth and flat, either. If the team walked, they could get to the city and live to tell the tale, although it might take them five hours-or-more. She would take the four youngest children with her and leave the two oldest behind. She made Billy and Sean stand on brown paper and traced their bare feet. She rolled the paper up and tied it with a string. She measured their arms and legs and height.

   The five of them going all together would weigh less than 400 pounds. They would be heavier coming back, but the horses could pull ten times and more that weight with no trouble and do it all day if the distance was slow and steady. She hitched the horses to their farm wagon and started before dawn. Maggie and Michael, the two youngest, sat up front with her. Biddy and Kate knelt in the back on the floor of the wagon leaning on the tailgate, looking back from the way they were coming. 

   When coming into Charlottetown she asked the children if they wanted to see Fanningbank. “Yes, please!” They were unanimous that they did. “Our teacher told us it is the Government House,” Biddy said when she saw it. “Why do they call it Fanningbank?”

   “It’s because a hundred years ago Edmund Fanning, who was going to become the governor, set this land on the riverbank aside for the building of a residence for the governor,” Siobhan said. “The land was his and known as Fanning Bank then, and that is what it has stayed.”

   Fanningbank was a large Georgian style house. It was the kind of architecture popular in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Georgian style valued classical balance. John Harvey was the second governor to live there. After the start of the new year of 1837, in the dead of winter, he held the first big dress-up party in the elegant house. 

   “An entertainment, upon a grand and splendid scale, was given by His Excellency Sir John and Lady Harvey at Government House on Thursday evening last. As this was the first occasion upon which the rooms at Government House were thrown open to a large evening party, no pains were spared to give full effect to the enlivening scene. His Excellency and Lady Harvey received their guests in the centre drawing room, and at ten o’clock dancing commenced, which was continued with great spirit and animation until after one o’clock. The rooms were brilliantly lighted, and this, added to the crown of beauty and fashion with which they were thronged, exhibited their handsome proportions and striking appearance to peculiar advantage,” the Royal Gazette reported.

   The dancing mingling gossiping back-slapping took place in the Grand Ballroom, a high-ceilinged large room surrounded by eight columns. When the party was over His Excellency and Lady went upstairs and rooted around under the covers in the Sovereign’s Bedroom.

   In 1864 the delegates to the Charlottetown Conference came to the house in the evening for an official dinner and dance given by Governor George Dundas. They had a grand time excited by their grand ideas, although none of them had any illusions about what it would take to make their ideas come true.

   “Mommy, why do they call them excellencies?” Maggie asked.

   “I will tell you when you are a little bit older,” Siobhan said.

   They continued to the south side of Queen Square, one of Charlottetown’s main commercial streets. It was where Siobhan knew there was tailoring, the selling of dry goods, and the manufacture and sale of rubber boots and furniture. What she didn’t know was that a fire had swept through the section destroying all but one building on the corner of Richmond and Queen. Where wood had stood brick was being laid, but nothing there was ready yet to provide her what she wanted and needed.

   Charlottetown was a small city but with big enough business, and she had no great difficulty finding the clothes and goods she was looking for. One merchant’s loss was another merchant’s gain. The first merchant she visited was the shoemaker Thomas Strangman and Sons. A shoe stitching machine had been invented by an American in 1856. It was known as the McKay Stitching Machine and Thomas Strangman was the first on PEI to have one. Sole cuts specifically tailored to fit the right or left foot were still on the way.

   When she was ready to pay for the shoes and boots for her children and herself, she showed one of the fifty-dollar bills to Thomas Strangman.

   “Is my money good here?”

   He looked at the front and back of the bill.

   “Yes, ma’am, your money is good here.”

   He would take it next door to the dry goods store which was also an exchange bank.

   She bought rice, sugar, and coffee. She bought cotton socks wool socks undershirts under garments shirts denim pants and blankets. She bought rolls of calico, brown shirting, domestic gingham, and bleached cotton. She bought a heavy plaid shawl for $3.00.  She bought a dining room table and eight chairs for $45.00.

   On the way back to Murphy’s Cove on Sunday morning the children sat in the chairs at the table in the back of the farm wagon all the way home, waving to everybody they saw, pointing out a cross-eyed cow, and singing songs. They took turns sitting at the head of the table. They sang parlor songs and minstrel songs. They sang “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “The Red River Valley.”

   “From this valley they say you are going, I shall miss your bright eyes and sweet smile, for alas you take with the sunshine, that has brightened my pathway awhile.”

   Siobhan kept her eyes fixed on the long road ahead of her.

Photograph: Charlottetown, PEI, 1870s.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Batten the Hatches

By Ed Staskus

William Murphy, Jr. was 21 years old the day the Marco Polo was deliberately run aground at Cavendish. She was a three-masted three-deck clipper ship built at Marsh Creek in Saint John, New Brunswick 32 years earlier. During its construction the frame was disheveled and blown all over the shipyard by a storm and the skeleton had to be reassembled. When the shipbuilding was done the launch didn’t go well. The boat grazed the bank of the creek while sliding down the slipway, got stuck in a mudflat, and went over on her side. A week later a high tide lifted her up, but she got stuck in the mud again. Two weeks later she finally floated free and was fitted with rigging.

   The big boat carried emigrant men and women from England to Australia for many years. She set the world’s record for the fastest voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne, doing it in 76 days. More than fifty children died of measles on her maiden voyage and were buried at sea. Coming back, she carried a king’s ransom in gold dust and a 340-ounce gold nugget. It was a gift to Queen Victoria from the colonial government. Pulling into its home port, the ship unfurled a banner claiming it was the “Fastest Ship in the World.”

   During the gold rush it carried loads of standing room only men to Australia. Nobody died of measles, although some of them died of bad moonshine and fights. Fire is the test of gold. Many of the men died of typhus, what they called ship fever, burning up in their hammocks in the South Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Tasman Sea. Many of the original whites laying claim to aboriginal land, the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent with the least fertile soil anywhere, got there on the Marco Polo. 

   When she was retired from the passenger trade, she was refitted for the coal, timber, and bat shit trade. The hull was rotting wasting away. Chains were wrapped around it and drawn tight trying to keep it together. A windmill-driven pump was installed to send leaks back to where they came from.

   It was a late July morning, clear sunny warm after the storm that had driven the ship to Cavendish. Bill Murphy was in the dunes watching the crew wade ashore. They had been on the way from Montreal to England loaded with pine planks when they got caught in a gale. They plowed ahead but started to take on water. Two days later wind and waves were still pommeling them, and they were still taking on water. The ship was flooding from stem to stern and the hands couldn’t plug the leaks fast enough or well enough. The windmill blew away and the pumps gave a last gasp. Captain Bull decided to try saving the crew and cargo. He put the clipper into full sail and wheeled it straight at Cavendish’s sandy beaches.

   The closer they got the better their chances looked until, three hundred feet from shore, he ordered the rigging cut. The masts groaned wanting to snap and the bottom of the boat scraped the bottom. Everybody stayed where they were, staying awake all night, until dawn when the storm finally wore itself out and they rowed ashore. There were 25 of them, Norwegians Swedes Germans. They were tough men. There was a Tahitian, too. He was half-tough, it being the beginning of only his second sea voyage but looked tougher. He was speckled with tattoos and wore his hair in long braids tied up at their ends with small shiny fishhooks.

   Lucy Maud Montgomery was a pale slim 8-year-old girl, her long crimson hair in braids with choppy bangs, when she and everybody else in Cavendish watched the crew abandon the boat. She wore a white flower hairpiece on one side of her head and took notes on scraps of paper. Nine years later her short story “The Wreck of the Marco Polo” was published.

   Bill Murphy was hired by the salvage company stripping the boat. It was welcome work before harvest time. As soon as they started on the grounded vessel, another storm rolled in. Bill was on the boat and had to stay where he was. Trying for the shore was too dangerous. They battened whatever hatches were still left and spent the night being battered. Captain Macleod from French River showed up the next morning. The wind beat him back the first time he tried to reach the Marco Polo, but he made it the second time, saving all the men except one. He and his shipmates got gold watches for their courage. Bill went home wet as a wet dog.

   He didn’t go home empty handed, though. There were twin figureheads of Marco Polo, depicting the boat’s namesake, spearheading the boat. A man from Long River hauled one of them away and hung it in his barn. Bill hauled the other one away and hung it in the Murphy barn. It was the end of the road for the far-ranging Polo

   Bill was back on the boat two days later as the salvage work went apace. He was taking a break on the poop deck leaning against a gunwale above the captain’s cabin when a young dark-skinned man joined him.

   “I am Teva the Tahitian,” he said.

   “I am Bill the Murphy,” Bill said.

   Teva was the only one of the crew who signed on to help salvage the ship. The rest stayed in Cavendish drinking and chasing farmgirls. The Tahitian and the Irishman worked together for the rest of the week and into August. Teva told Bill he was putting his purse together to get to Maine and sign on to a whaler.

   “My grandfather Queequeg was a harpooner,” he said. “He was the best in the world. You could spit on the water, and he would split your floating spit from the deck with one throw. He shaved with his harpoon and smoked from a tomahawk. He was a cannibal, but his favorite food was clam chowder.”

   “He was a cannibal?” Bill asked, taken aback. 

   “Him, not me,” Teva said. “I never met him, but my father told me about him before he went whaling and never came back, either.”

   “They both went to sea and never came back?”

   “Both, never. A friend of my grandfather’s stopped on our island when I was a boy and told us about what happened to him. He and grandfather sailed and slept together.”

   “In the morning his arm was thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner,” Ishmael said. “You had almost thought I had been his wife. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

   “When I asked what my grandfather was like he told me ‘There was no hair on his head, nothing but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead, large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had a creditor. His bald purplish head looked for all the world like a mildewed skull. His body was checkered with tattoo squares. He seemed to have been in a war, and just escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt. Still more, his legs were marked, as if dark green frogs were running up the trunks of young palms.’”

   Teva lapped up water with his hands from a barrel and spat on the deck.

   “Grandfather saved Ishmael’s life when their ship was head-butted by a white whale they were hunting. The coffin they had built for him when he was dying during the hunt was thrown overboard and Ishmael hung on to it like a buoy. He was the only sailor who survived when Captain Ahab the crew my grandfather and the Pequod all sank to the bottom.”

   “Since your father and grandfather both went whaling and never came back, why are you going to the States to take up whaling?” Bill asked

   “It’s in my blood,” Teva said.

   Every day when the day was fair and the sun shining families picnicked on the beach at Cavendish, watching launches with two-masted ketch rigs go back and forth, taking what they could to Alexander MacNeill’s for auction.

   It was a Sunday when Sinbad the Sailor walked up to Bill Murphy, looked him up and down, and meowed. “They say our boat had no rats the whole last year,” Teva said. “He drove them off and those who thought they could stand up to him, they disappeared.” Teva tossed a piece of salt pork at Sinbad, who snagged it midair and gulped it down.

   Sinbad was a two-tone black and white Norwegian Forest cat.

   “One of the Vikings brought him aboard,” Teva said.

   Sinbad was a twenty-pound bruiser with long legs and a bushy tail. His coat was a thick, glossy, water-repellent top layer with a woolly undercoat. It was thickest at the legs, chest, and head. His ears were large, tufted, wide at the base, and high set.

   “He’s a good climber, very strong,” Teva said. “He can climb rocks and cliffs.” 

   When he leaned on Bill and reached up stretching flexing his front legs, his claws extended slightly. They were sharp as razors. Bill rubbed Sinbad’s head. 

   “He’s big enough to be a man-eater,” Bill said. “What’s going to happen to him when our work is finished?”

   “I don’t know,” Teva said. “The Viking left him behind.”

   That evening, when Bill was walking back to the rude shelter he had thrown up for himself behind the dunes, Sinbad the ex-sailor-to-be followed him. Bill put a bowl of fresh water out for the cat but left breakfast lunch dinner up to him. He was sure Sinbad was not going to starve. He was a vole shrew deer mouse snowshoe hare red-bellied snake widow maker. Even racoons coyotes and foxes gave him a wide berth.

   Sinbad went back and forth to the boat with Bill the rest of the month and into August while it decayed and fell apart piece by piece until a wild thunderstorm barreled up from the United States and the vessel broke up along the coast, going down to the bottom of the sea, to Davy Jones’ Locker. It was the end of the Marco Polo. It sank to a moldering standstill.

   When Bill packed up his bedroll and shelter and walked home, Sinbad walked beside him the five miles back to Murphy’s Cove and North Rustico. Biddy and Kate were shucking oysters on the porch, a pot at their feet. The oysters were from Malpeque Bay. Hundreds of boats were in the fishery there and at St. Peter’s Bay. Until the 1830s oysters were so plentiful and so few people ate them that they were spread over land as fertilizer. The shells were burned, too, for the lime they produced.

   After the Intercolonial Railway got rolling in 1876 new markets for Prince Edward Island oysters opened in Quebec and Ontario. But oyster stocks started to fall and kept falling as more boats joined the harvesting. Oysters fled for their lives. They didn’t like being eaten alive. Biddy and Kate didn’t know anything about overfishing or the deep-seated fears of shellfish, and didn’t much care, either, so long as they got their fair share.

   “Oh my gosh, what a beauty!” Kate exclaimed when Bill walked up to the porch with Sinbad beside him. 

   “He landed here on the Marco Polo,” Bill explained. “The ship broke up yesterday in the storm and he needed a new home, so here he is.”

   Sinbad walked straight past the girls to the pot and started pulling oysters out, gulping them down without a single word of hello glad to meet you happy to be here.

   “Hey, stop that,” Biddy scolded, covering the pot. “You’ll ruin your appetite, silly goose.”

   Sinbad’s ears pricked up. He had goose for dinner last Christmas, and it was delicious. He shot a look in all directions. He didn’t see any birds, but had no doubt there had to be one or two somewhere nearby. He was by nature a nomad, but as there was a pot full of oysters and silly slow geese to eat, he thought, I’ll stay for the time being.

   He was a back door man, but when the front door was wide open, that was the way he always went.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”