Caribou Post

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Leina is waiting for her sisters to arrive from England. Same story as 'Murdock sisters arrive in Hudson Bay' but from a different perspective

Submitted: February 05, 2012

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Submitted: February 05, 2012




Caribou Post

By Zane Norvill

By the time dawn had broken at Caribou Post, at 9am, Leina had already been up and busy for about 2 hours. It was entering winter now, and the days were getting shorter. Already Leina had prepared the breakfast, a hearty mix of oats and maize, and the family had consumed the meal a half hour ago with their usual voracious appetites. Now three of her four children were heading off to the local school. Heather, being only two years of age, was the only child still at home.

Lachlan, her husband, should be returning with the band of trappers sometime either this week or the next. She offered up a prayer for his safety as she went to feed the chickens in the barn behind the house. It was always uncertain how many of the men would return—so many dangers, especially as winter was fast approaching. Like all men who had weathered many expeditions, Lachlan had rugged features: tough skin that had been roughened by continual exposure to the fierce winds. He was taller than many of his fellow trappers—a trait that was an advantage fording rivers and searching horizons, but a disadvantage when attempting to hide from the aboriginal inhabitants or shielding oneself against the cold.

His dark hair he had passed on to many of his children. Only Fiona had her mother’s rich auburn locks. Fiona’s twin, Angus, had his father’s uniformly black hair, as did Heather. Carden, the eldest son, also had black hair but his was highlighted with lighter patches that gleamed with a hint of red in the sun.

Emily, the English schoolteacher, was soon to be married to her fiancé who would be taking her back to the Newfoundland colonies. ‘It would be nice if my sisters could arrive before Emily left,’ Leina thought as she collected the eggs the hens had laid the night before, ‘but the early freeze is worrisome I do hope they are not caught unexpectedly by the ice.’ Leina was best friends with Emily, and her departure would leave many evenings that would remind Leina of their pleasant dinners together. Emily’s company was especially appreciated during the long weeks when Lachlan was travelling.

The letter inviting her sisters had been sent three months earlier. No ships had arrived from her homeland since then, but she knew that Patrick, captain of the Bonnie Lass, would usually make a late voyage to Hudson Bay in order to ensure the trading post was supplied for the winter. It was on his ship she had recommended they come if they so decided. She had received no reply from her sisters due to this lack of vessels travelling to this port, but she expected that at least one to be willing to teach. Both sisters had expressed excitement at what they referred to as the ‘romance’ of the pioneering lifestyle. Usually this would be worrisome, but practical Kyla had written enough in her letters to indicate she understood enough of the dangers and hardships that came with the environment. Leina was sure her younger sister would temper Alisa’s otherwise unbridled enthusiasm.

The only possibility that might prevent their embarking on the Bonnie Lass would be the marriage of one or both of them. Nothing had been mentioned until now that indicated that this might be on the horizon, but one could never be sure. Alisa was 20 now, and though she was quite flirtatious, at her age she would be receiving pressure from her friends and relatives to decide which suitor to accept regular attentions from. Kyla was now eighteen, and if she was anything like Leina had been at that age—especially with the gentler environment—men would be flocking to her door to request her company at dances and other events. Kyla did enjoy dancing, but she had expressed some disdain at the superficial nature of the couple of gentlemen she had allowed to dance with her thus far, in her previous letter received five months ago.

The day continued soothly along the usual routines of chores, until a rumour reached her of a group of people trudging across the ice from the direction of Fort Churchill. To traverse the pack ice only hours after it had solidified into a single sheet was foolhardy at best and practically suicide at the worst. She was surprised at the news—to get here from Fort Churchill by this time of day the men would have had to have left well before dawn—maybe even before midnight, and the pack ice had still been fragmented last night before sundown.

Leina hurried down to the shore after stoking up the fire and filling up the kettle so that hot water would be boiling by the time the men arrived. Whoever they were, they would be cold and tired and in need of a hot mug of tea at the very least. By the time she arrived near the wharf the whole village was in a commotion. Donald, the village blacksmith, was on the end of the wharf, and appeared to be exchanging pleasantries with the approaching men.

“Any news?” Leina asked Emile, whom she had spied as she arrived.

“No,” Emile replied, “Bare glimpses of the men have been seen through this mist that has been hanging around. Only just now has it cleared that we might perceive them.”

“Donald is out there now, asking them where they are coming from,” continued the miller. “Let me get my spyglass out of my coat, and I will see what I can behold.”

Leina waited impatiently while Emile scrutinised the men on the ice. A suspicion was forming in her active mind. Maybe, just maybe, this was not in fact a party of men from the fort—no one in his right mind would risk a journey like this when the journey overland took only an extra day. No business could be so urgent as to start a suicide mission such as this. The only other explanation would be a ship that could not find her way through the freeze, and the captain was unwilling or unable to wait for the ice to either break up or become firmer. Was it possible that this was the crew of the Bonnie Lass?

“Looks like a large group,” revealed Emile finally. “They are strung out in a line with us, so I cannot quite discern their number, but there be at least 15 and no more than 30 men there.”

“Why the head of the line—‘tis Patrick!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I’d know his figure anywhere!”

A loud crack punctuated his sentence sharply and made the whole crowd jump. The sound had boomed toward them from the direction of the men on the ice. A collective gasp issued forth from the crowd gathered on the shore. They all knew the dangers of being in the sea water for more than a few minutes.

“Hold this.” Emile barked as he handed Leina the spyglass. “And fetch blankets,” he called back as he stepped forward onto the slippery sea. He strode forth quickly, dragging his sled behind him, his buffalo leather boots gripping the ice firmly by means of two short nails hammered through the heels of each boot, nails carefully forged by Donald.

Leina did not need to be told. She had barely waited to receive the spyglass before she had whirled about and hurried off in the direction of her home to collect all the rugs that she could carry. ‘Oh who could it be that had fallen in?’ she wondered. ‘May God grant that not many have been immersed in the inhospitable seas.’ She knew that once the ice had cracked it weakened the surrounding ice so that more men might fall through. Hopefully the men that did not initially fall would manage to spread their weight and prevent the ice from cracking further. What she had seen of the men before she had left gave her the impression that those that fell through the ice had been toward the rear of the group. But what of her sisters? As the only women of the travelling party, they would be positioned near the rear. They were lighter than most men, so it would be unlikely for them to break the ice, but if the break had happened near them, they could easily have been dragged in, or the cracked ice could have caused a fracture that weaken their footing and allowed their lesser weight to break through. Once in the sea, they would succumb more readily to the cold than the hardened male sailors.

Leina hurried back to the wharf, her eyes searching the distant scene before her to discern further developments.

Glancing back toward the village, she observed a child of six hurrying toward her, on his way to the ice. He was dragging his sled behind him, hoping to be of some assistance—or at least see the action up close. “Carden,” she called out to him, for she had recognised her eldest son. “Be quick, and take these blankets out to the men on your sled. Do be careful not to approach anyone closely, however, and your extra weight may cause the ice to crack. Keep your distance, and when you are close enough, thrust the sled towards the men that require the blankets.” Carden hurried out, eager to help. As he did, Leina remembered the spyglass in her pocket. Bringing this out, she held it firmly to her eye.

The scene now able to be observed with the glass brought a sigh of relief to her lips. The ice had not broken more than the initial fractures. There were some men still in the water, but one bedraggled man had now been dragged out of the frigid sea. Three figures could be observed on the opposite side of the fissure in the ice, working their way south to firmer ice. The majority of the group were this side of the hole, now joined by Emile, Donald, and a couple of others with their sleds and blankets.

Her focus shifted to the group of three farthest from her. Now they had travelled a short distance from the main group, they were more clearly visible, not obscured as often by men on the near side of the hole.

There appeared something slightly different about two of the figures in the group. Was it their attire? Was it the way they moved? She would have to wait until they arrived closer. With her mind she durst not confirm the hope that was springing in her heart—the hope that these two were the sisters she had not laid eyes upon for almost seven long years.

One-quarter hour later, the trio turned towards the rocky coastline. Walking in a line, now only the silhouette of the first in line could be seen, the others now obscured by that silhouette. The sun, though approaching its peak, was low in the south sky. The beaver hats worn by sailors typically were obscuring the features of the approaching faces: features marred by ic since coming through the mist.

Another five minutes, and they were only a couple hundred yards away. The first turned toward the light for but a moment. Leina’s heart leaped in her chest as the never forgotten features were clearly outlined and illumined for the first time. It was seven years since she had beheld that face, and it had lengthened and matured, but Leina had never forgotten a face yet. It was Kyla.

The next few minutes seemed interminable. Finally the trio arrived ashore, relieved to set their feet firmly on solid ground. No sooner had they done so, Leina embraced both her dear sisters with arms strong from working in the garden, and covered them with blankets that Carden had brought back on his sled, unused by the other men.

“Pleasant weather you have greeted us with,” Alisa admonished when she could talk. “It is so good to see you again.”

“Follow me,” said Leina, “You are all in need of some hot tea, which is ready back at the cabin.”

“Thank you, but I shall not accept your offer,” Thomas replied. “I must rejoin Captain, and see to a few things.”

“Thank you kindly for your assistance Thomas,” returned Kyla quietly. “Your assistance to us all during the voyage, but especially today, has been invaluable.”

At that, they departed and went back to the cabin. There would be a lot of girl talk there, discussing things over steaming cups of tea. Carden had now headed back to class, and Leina would introduce him to her sisters properly when he returned in the afternoon with the rest of her progeny. For now, though, it was just the three of them and little Heather.

To Be Continued…


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