Gordon Fraser’s book, “Song of the Spirit River,” was published in September 2016. The short stories in the book flow along like the Rouge River, meandering through stories of the people who first settled in the region — into the world today. The quiet of the bush and the roar of the river are reflected in Mr. Fraser’s stories, as the people of the community experienced joys and sorrows. Mr. Fraser wanted to share his book with people during this uncertain time, we will be bringing you chapters of his book for free, here on The Review’s website.
Copies of this book are available from The Review. Email: [email protected] to pre-pay for your copy and arrange for safe pick-up at The Review.
And now: here is the first chapter of “Song of the Spirit River.”
Louis and the Teacher
Louis MacCaskill was twelve years old when his father went away for the last time. His dad had been going to work in the shanties and harvesting for as long as he could remember, but this going away was different.
His father, Duncan MacCaskill, had come back from a trip to Grenville all excited. There was a war starting and soldiers were wanted. Word was it was just going to be a short affair; something to do with fighting the Germans and punishing the Hun.
Duncan told his son how he had fought the Boers when he was just a lad and here was a chance for quick trip and a little bit of pay. He should be back before Christmas. Duncan MacCaskill never did return.
Louis’s mother had died when he was just ten. Their family owned little as could be counted as wealth. Duncan MacCaskill worked and tried hard, but bad luck had ridden along with him throughout his life. All the land grants from Grenville to beyond Harrington Township had long since been given out, and Duncan had no funds to buy; so he rented a log cabin off the Cedar Road beside Lake McGillivray.
That was where Louis grew up, living much of the time alone with his mother while his father went to whatever work might be had. When his mother died, he became the keeper of the house at ten; taking care of the cabin and the chickens and pigs, sometimes for weeks while Duncan laboured.
But the last time his father left, early summer 1914, he did not return. At the age of 12, Louis had to take care of himself. When the snow set in and he had not the hay or bedding for the two cows and young horse his father had left him, he went to a neighbour and traded board for the animals in change for splitting firewood. That way he kept himself and the stock alive over the first lonely winter.
He had gone to school when his mother was alive, and sometimes when his father was in the house, but now all school lessons stopped and he became a man.
Louis MacCaskill grew in stature and respect among the local community. By the time he turned 16, he was tall and strongly-built with black hair and dark, level eyes. He listened more than talked and when he gave his word a task would be done, it was. From his first job of splitting wood he went on to all forms of labour than might be needed from an honest hardworking lad. From ploughing to pulling weeds in crop fields, to running errands for the lumbermen and cutting and storing ice; Louis did it and did it well.
When coyotes scattered young stock, Louis was the hunter of choice. He knew every nook and cranny of the mountains and could locate a young heifer after she gave birth in the fields and get her home; his soft manner almost always avoiding a scrap.
The summer of 1918, Louis was 16 years, nine months old and he was nearly certain that his father would never return. There had been not so much as a letter since Duncan MacCaskill left the cabin door more than four years past. Louis saw newspapers with descriptions of great fights but he could make little sense of the names of the places: France, Holland, Germany seemed so distant and he could not relate.
That summer was when he was asked to split shakes for a new school that was being built on the Boyd Road. Not really more than two miles from his cabin and an easy daily ride on his horse – the only thing he owned. When the foreman arrived the first morning just as the sun was coming over the horizon and found Louis waiting with all tools in hand, he decided to hire him full-time.
It was not a big structure they were building: 32 feet long by 24 feet wide. Stone foundation, plank floor, planed wood walls and ceiling. There were two windows on each opposing side and a door and two smaller windows on the front. The back wall was solid.
As with all projects, this was made up of a thousand details to be worked out one at a time and they all came together smoothly. Louis laboured with Mr. Morrison, the foreman, and his two steady men; Hubert Bruneau and Mike Crooks. Every day they kept moving forward so that by late June, Louis was on the roof hammering down the shakes he had split and piled.
When the carpenter arrived to install trim and make the benches and desks, Louis helped him with the bull work of planing and sanding. Early August, he was back outside with Hubert and Mike, nailing up clapboard, working in the summer sun.
Louis was up at the top of the front gable one afternoon, finishing some detail and preparing to hang the Boyd Road School sign at the peak, when he heard harness bells. A carriage pulled by two fine blacks turned onto the site and a primly-dressed man stepped out, then went to the other side and helped a young woman step lightly to the ground.
Mr. Morrison called out. “Hubert, Mike, Louis; come on over here.”
As they dropped their tools and brushed themselves off, the gentleman wandered around inspecting the desks and the smoothness of the walls. “Boys, this is Mr. Clark, school superintendent. Mr. Clark, these are my men; Mike Crooks, Hubert Bruneau and young Louis MacCaskill.”
There were handshakes all around and words of praise from Mr. Clark as those men walked around. Mr. Morrison pointed out the quality work he figured his gang had accomplished and gave credit to them. Mr. Clark agreed.
The young woman stood outside on the stoop, looking over the rough yard and along the road to both directions, slim and straight. As Mr. Clark came up from behind her, he spoke and she turned.
“Dorothy, I’d like you to meet the men who built your school. Mr. Malcolm Morrison, Hubert Bruneau, Mike Crooks, and Louis. Men, meet Miss Dorothy Roberts. She is the Teacher.”
For Dorothy Anne Roberts, just about to turn 20 years old and born near Ste. Anne’s just west of Montreal, this was her first teaching contract. She was well-educated and trained in teaching methods, and had read the contract carefully.
She graduated from school knowing that she wished for more than a husband and a permanent home; if only for a time. She held a wonder for knowledge and enjoyed going over ideas with her friends; sit and talk. Not gossip but opinion. Through her teen years she learned to play piano and sports and graduated high in her class.
When she had noticed the open contract for a teacher at a new school in the outback, she thought “yes,” then “no,” then “maybe,” and went to enquire.
The officials looked at her and her qualifications then sent her home while they spoke to her teachers. They received assurances that Miss Roberts had indeed passed all requirements with honour and shown herself to be a young woman above repute.
After a lengthy interview to be certain she understood the terms of the contract, she was given a train ticket to Grenville and the name of Mr. Clark who would arrange transportation and her room and board.
Now here she stood in the doorway of a brand new school in an old district. Her’s was the task of making a place of learning out of a building and as she shook hands with the men, her confidence increased. “If they could create this place, I can take it from here,” she thought, and thanked them.
As she bowed slightly, taking Louis’s hand and thanking him in turn, their eyes met and a slight ripple passed between. Dorothy had a flash from a novel she read recently; something about ‘kindred spirits’, but that slid right away as the business of organizing began.
Louis went on with his work but he also had a flash. As he went back up the ladder, for a moment he was six years old and his mother was there; telling him of school and how he must listen to and respect the Teacher. He had been very careful to follow instructions; but that was long ago. He had not taken a school lesson since the spring his father went away.
So with the building complete, Mr. Morrison, Hubert and Mike left for another job. Louis was invited to join the gang but he apologized and said he could not leave the settlement this year; too many tasks to be completed. The boss told him if he ever wanted work or a reference, let him know. He gave Louis a bonus and a handshake, and an open invitation. “If you ever, Louis. You come see me.”
Louis had only been off the construction for a week or so when a neighbour said that Mr. Clark had been around asking if perhaps Louis would be available to clean snow at the new school. Get firewood ready and make sure the well did not freeze over; that kind of work. Just part-time. Yes or no, Mr. Clark would appreciate a response and Louis could speak with Miss Roberts for details.
The next day Louis stopped at the school he had helped build just as the students were leaving for the day. Dorothy saw him swing down from his horse and noticed the homemade saddle for she had never seen such before.
She handed him the written details of what he would be obliged to do and the pay involved. Louis read it carefully, taking note of how much wood might be needed, and the labour involved, and decided it worked for him. He signed his name then handed it back to the Teacher.
After a bit of explaining details and small talk, Dorothy walked with him to his horse. “You have a good hand with a pen, Mr. MacCaskill. Did you attend school up here?”
Louis looked at her for a moment before mounting then said. “I had to give up lessons when I was 12.” He glanced around and then met eyes with Dorothy.
“I am ashamed to say, Teacher, that I have almost no schooling.”
He was about to ride off when Dorothy called.
“Wait please, just one moment if you could, Mr. MacCaskill.” Louis turned his horse around.
“If you do not mind me asking, how old are you?”
“I’ll turn 17 in six weeks, Teacher.” he responded, then rode off east to the lake.
Dorothy was boarding in the Brown household. Only about one mile west of her school, it was an easy walk. The early morning air and the trees changing colour inspired her. With the sun rising over the hills to the east and mist lifting off the fence rails and fields, she was filled with a passion to set the school on a proper path.
She could do it, she was certain. Already, the blackboards were installed; a stack of textbooks had arrived, along with slates, pencils and a dozen items needed for her record keeping. Then Mr. Clark appeared in his buggy one afternoon and hauled in a big wooden crate
As students watched, he unpacked a large painted globe and set it on Dorothy’s desk. Then he took from the box several other parts which he carefully assembled and added to the globe stand, gave the globe a gentle spin and said. “Well, boys and girls. What do you think?”
Ingeniously designed and geared, the globe spun on its axis while around the world moved both sun and moon in their proper relative place and order. Mr. Clark was very pleased to be able to present it and the children were fascinated.
Dorothy thanked him for the wonderful learning tool, but Mr. Clark said it was his pleasure. Just one slight problem: it took up about a third of Dorothy’s teacher’s desk. He would have to find another stand for it.
His mood bounced back when he said to Dorothy. “Ask young Louis when you see him. I am certain that lad can fix you something up.” So the globe stayed where it sat, while Mr. Clark turned to other subjects of school contract organization.
On her own at the end of her working day, Dorothy pondered on Mr. Clark. A highly-respected educated businessman with many resources at hand, had so easily and trustingly passed a task to Louis MacCaskill; not yet seventeen. Plus: he seemed to do so with confidence as if certain when a job needed doing, “Ask young Louis.”
Dorothy held no place in her life for gossip. To her, people were as they presented themselves unless proven otherwise; under the light of her judgement. But honest information exchanged from one who knows to one who does not, is not gossip. And Dorothy never passed any judgement on information she received. She simply stored those bits in her own mind like a coloured-pencil box still missing some shades. Mr. Clark’s faith in Louis MacCaskill was the first shade off the sharp blacks and whites she already had. She picked up more as the weeks went on.
The Brown household where she lived was that of a prosperous farmer and to that farm came local folk from all around the mountains. Dorothy met many at dinner tables and in the yard. She listened as banter passed between men while they exchanged news, and in those words Louis’ name was sometimes to be heard.
“Damn, but he’s good at finding them young stock. Why, my new young heifer, she bolted down into that rough stuff and I’d thought her lost for good…”
“Heard Louis was looking after Mabel’s chores for a week or two. She took a bad slip so Louis is helping out. Mabel’s foot hasn’t been right since…” These overheard shades were carefully stored and never shared.
Monday evening at the end of the school day, Louis arrived carrying a large three-legged stool. He had made the top round out of a single piece of thick smooth wood and when he set it in the corner and placed the globe on top, it fit perfectly. Plus, it was solid on its legs, no shake.
Dorothy was admiring its steadiness when Louis spoke.
“It’s a milk stool, Teacher. Longer on the legs and a prettier top, but a milk stool. Figured it would fit nice in this corner and the three legs make it solid on the plank floor.”
Dorothy watched Louis admire the globe and its mechanisms. It was a fine piece of work all around with the sun moving with the seasons and the moon patterns passing through their phases. The globe was embossed and painted to show countries and mountain ranges and all the seas and major lakes.
Without being obtrusive, Dorothy showed Louis the Time Line, from where time zones are calculated as well as the degrees of latitude and longitude.
“Feel free to study it whenever you wish, Louis. Is there anything on the globe I might be able to point out for you?”
Louis looked at Dorothy, then the globe, then back to Dorothy.
“My Pa went off in the spring of ’14. Only said he was off to fight Germans, I think. Never saw him again.
“Maybe, Teacher, if you could point out Germany on the globe?”
Dorothy did, and she showed him Holland and Austria and France; and the mountain ranges there.
Louis headed back out towards his horse then stopped on the stoop. Dorothy came to stand in front of him. “I understand that you missed your years for school, Mr. MacCaskill. Louis. And I see that you know a great deal without having sat on a bench.
“But Louis . . . Mr. MacCaskill, if there is anything I can help you with in the form of learning, please let me know. Books to read, grammar, numbers; if I can help, please ask.”
Louis held his eyes straight on with hers.
“Teacher, I can cipher well. I read well enough for newspapers and items like Mr. Clark’s contract, but I am very poor at writing words on paper.”
He smiled. “Don’t think I fit in one of those desks anymore, Teacher. Guess my time for learning is probably gone.”
Louis MacCaskill rode off towards the lake while Dorothy Ann Roberts went to her teacher’s desk and hung on tight.
As autumn set in and the nights became chilly, Dorothy found that her schoolhouse woodstove was always well-warmed up with a supply of split wood stacked behind. She saw horse tracks in the frost but sometimes, a week or more would go by without their even crossing paths.
In late October, she arrived at the school one morning to find he was installing the double-pane windows, so after assigning some work to her students Dorothy went out to speak with Louis.
She started with just small talk and the weather then went right to her question.
“Is there something I can teach you while I am here? There is plenty of room in the school, and I am certain we can find a desk for you.”
She smiled from her eyes and he nodded back to her. “Teacher, just yesterday I had need to write out a page and I am very poor at that. What I know, I learned on my own and I think I learned more errors than rights. I would like to write a proper document.”
By noon all the double windows were on and puttied. Louis packed up his few tools and Dorothy came over to speak. “When you can, Louis, when you have time, and if you wish, come to this school. You can sit and follow; learn how to write better.”
When Louis did show up right at bell time on a Monday morning, Dorothy was very enthused. The children, though one was only a year younger than Louis, took his presence very well.
In that day’s lessons, Dorothy taught as she always did: giving the youngest rote work to start, then the middle grades lessons to write properly. There was only one child in school near the top and that was Jenny McCarty who was 15.
Next year, there would be more students, and more ordered grades. But this year, Dorothy Roberts had 12 students aged from six to 15; grades one to seven, she figured, with a couple of slots missing. She hoped Louis could gather a little bit from some of that.
Louis would arrive at the school very early now that winter was setting in hard. The building was always warm and the steps were cleaned long before Dorothy arrived, and she was early. When Louis would come to class, he was always there before the bell; never late. But he did not always come.
Christmas season arrived and with it, Mr. Clark to carry Dorothy down to Grenville and the trip to Ste. Anne’s. There she had a good reunion and all were positive about her capabilities. She shopped for some items in the city and by the time New Year’s came around, she found herself anxious to get back to the solitudes of her backwoods job.
Her schoolhouse was warm and dusted when she arrived the first morning of the New Year and Louis MacCaskill arrived well before bell time. He came to tell her that he would not be in her classroom again before the snow-melt, but not to worry; her stove would always be lit, water in and the steps cleared. He had work to do among the shanties, he said, just until the ice breaks.
So she went on with her job of making a uniform base on which to grade her students and keep all interested and enthused. There was also paperwork to be completed and reports to the board, and the mile walk twice a day.
It went smoothly for Dorothy for her students and parents all liked her and her relationship with the Brown household was fine. She saw horse tracks in the snow at the school and the place lacked no care, but she did not see Louis.
Louis saw her from a distance now and then, but mostly he and his horse were on trails packing in the parts and pieces needed to make the logging camps work. Sometimes 30 miles to deliver a saw blade and some plug tobacco.
February passed and March blew over. As April was about halfway through, Louis MacCaskill came to the school at bell time and took a place. When Dorothy went to his desk he said, “I can be here now and then, if it is still alright. On through to planting season which is when the school stops anyway; right?”
Every day that Louis showed, Dorothy had a lesson made special for him. Some of the hands at the camps had helped Louis to read smoothly, for many of the men were lovers of poetry. Confidence made his writing better and by copying out paragraphs from books he learned how to form smooth sentences.
Louis had a very good grasp of basic mathematics, but had never seen geometry. He would have thought it beyond him until Dorothy showed him the combination of numbers which prove a square; such as used by a builder. Then she demonstrated how angles from 90 degrees down to 22 and one-half represented stair lines. Then how tread length is calculated depending on angle.
“Rise and run,” she told him. “This is what makes a good walking set of stairs.”
In late April, there was no more need for heat and Louis had removed the double panes. By mid-May, the students were finished all assignments and spent the last of the month learning some outdoor games and completing exams. Just wrapping up; waiting for that last bell.
Louis MacCaskill had learned a lot of items which filled in gaps between talents he already owned. He was getting ready for hay harvesting time which would be in a few weeks. Then there was berry- and weed-picking to be done. Chores galore; Louis MacCaskill had never known otherwise and probably would never ask for more.
As he watched Dorothy begin the closing-up of the school house, he recognized the efforts and the abilities she had used to get him to sit and learn from her. He knew he was much better off in his world now because of her.
The writing helped him form clearer thoughts when dealing with people. He pictured buildings in ideas of level and square and when he saw a fine staircase he now recognized the relation between rise and run.
He held a wishful thought that he could give his Teacher something in return but he had nothing a woman in a city could use; and she was leaving for the summer in three days. One more night here at the Brown’s on the Boyd Road, then two nights at a boarding house in Grenville, before taking a coach to Cushing then steamer to the town of Ste. Anne’s.
Louis was adjusting his saddle when Dorothy Roberts came to say her farewells. There was a bit of small talk which came around to Louis’ horse and saddle.
“Do you ride at all, Teacher?” he asked. “Ever own a horse?”
She explained that her mother and father were both good riders and they had given her lessons until just before she came to teach here. She shook her head slightly.
“Father insisted I only ride side saddle. Mother never rode with any other than side saddle but I wished I could have used an English style.
“Father would have nothing to do with those, but he did show me that using a side saddle does not mean a slow boring ride. We raced our horses against each other and he took me on trails alongside the river. I enjoyed those trails.
“Before you leave, Louis, I have something for you, if you could wait a moment, please.” She jogged back to the school and returned with a leather satchel then opened it for him to see.
“I would like to give you some books, Louis, if you would take them – just four. This one: Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. And this is a selection of four Shakespeare plays. And Sam Clemens’ Huckleberry Finn for when you might want to laugh.”
Dorothy took the fourth book out and sort of fluffed it in her hands.
“I’m not sure why I am giving this one to you. Just a feeling I have, and it has some lines I enjoy: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Hope they give you some pleasure.”
Louis carefully opened each volume and saw they were signed: From Dorothy Ann Roberts (Teacher) to Louis MacCaskill, June, 1919.
They parted at that school house with a light handshake and a smile. But Louis’s heart was heavy for now more than ever he wished to give her something in return. As he turned up towards Mabel Trineer’s place, an idea started to form.
Mabel had a side saddle. It had not been used in years but was in good shape; just need a soaping. And Walter Bennett on Bennett’s Flats has a horse he would lend; a pretty paint horse, friendly and gentle as a lamb. He gave his horse a touch in the ribs to get it moving.
Two mornings later at about ten he was at the boarding house door. Dorothy stepped out and saw the paint with the polished side saddle standing by Louis’ rugged black.
“Would you enjoy a ride Teacher? I can show you some trails.”
The landlady watched them ride away down Grenville Main Street with nothing but a bit of envy.
Louis took her north and then up the Whinfield Mountain. High up, they took a swing to the right then came out at a crystal clear lake set in low hills. A log cabin sat there and at Louis’s call the door opened and an old man stepped out.
“Henry. I’m here a little early this week. How you doing? And Henry, meet the Teacher.
“Teacher, meet Henry,” leaving Dorothy to stare into blue diamond eyes.
“Good to see you lad, and welcome, Teacher. Not often I have visitors.”
Henry eyed the two horses for a few moments. “I forked one much like that black for many a mile.’’
He turned to Louis.
“Sorry, lad, but I got no food ready for you and the Teacher.”
“Henry,” Louis said, “You tell the Teacher about Calamity Jane and I’ll make us bacon and beans.”
While Louis worked, Henry told of how he and Jane once had to leave Colorado in a hurry, long time back. “Light a shuck” as he called it. They rode together to Seattle and boarded a steamer to Dawson.
He chuckled about Louiseville, just across the tracks from Whitehorse, and how Calamity ran the house and he worked the faro games.
“Had to hit out of there in a hurry too, after a game went wrong and half the town burnt.” Henry said. “Decided that’s enough. Told myself, ‘Henry, get out while you can’, and come to live here. Colder than Colorado but no need to look over my shoulder.”
Early afternoon they left Henry’s cabin and went west. They skirted between the hills and rocks until they came to Calumet River. They let the horses rest and drink while Louis fashioned up two fishing lines. She caught one trout out of the ripples then Louis quickly caught two more.
Louis cleaned the fish and collected some watercress and cattail heads. Then they crossed the stream on horseback and turned to the north. At a fork in the trails they went west once more.
Louis was a bit concerned about how far he should go before they turned back. “Do you need to get back early Teacher? Things to be done before tomorrow?’
She looked him straight in the eyes and shook her head negative.
So they spent two hours waiting for a fox to call out her kits, then more time watching those play. They slipped back to the horses and rode for a couple of miles until Louis led the way upwards through a pine forest towards the southwest.
The sun was low in the west when they reached a place where the trees stopped and the mountain topped out in smooth red rock. Jim picketed the horses before they walked up and out onto a massive solid rock mountain top facing straight south; polished flat to where it sloped off quickly.
The Ottawa River looked like a blue ribbon stretching across the landscape far below. She could see the Two Mountains to the east and almost make out the cross high above Rigaud.
Louis ferried up his saddlebags and some dead wood then went back down to the horses. He made certain they had grass and water with nothing to get tangled in.
As he did that, Dorothy took a seat right near the edge and watched the colours deepen in the sky. While she sat there, an eagle floated past, lower than she, and she saw the wind ruffle the small feathers on the great bird’s back. Then it just arched its wings and soared away.
Over a small fire they roasted the trout with flour from the cattail and ate that with watercress and fire baked potato then set a small pot on for mint tea. By the last rays of sunset, Louis made up two camp beds, well separated, on the smoothest places. Over pine needles he spread on each a saddle blanket and a canvas slicker. He placed his saddle bags as a pillow for Dorothy.
Just before he crawled under his slicker to lie, Louis asked Dorothy if the mosquitoes were a bother. If so, he could add a bit of smudge and keep the fire going.
They were around but not really a nuisance, so she declined the smoke and pulled her slicker a little closer to her chin.
“If you can ignore them, sometimes they go away.” Louis said.
Those were the last words spoken that night. The Milky Way came alive and the constellations turned against pitch black space. Louis and Dorothy lay watching the night sky and in each emotions rose, thoughts flew, and fantasies formed, and these flickered across the rock like the night breezes.
When the sun cleared the horizon in the morning, Dorothy stared in amazement. She could see past Cornwall to the St. Lawrence River and far beyond that, to the Adirondack Mountains; more than one hundred miles away.
They rode back down through the pines right to the village of Calumet. At the hotel there, they spruced up and ate a hearty breakfast. Then a pleasant gallop along the road to Grenville and back to Dorothy’s boarding house. It was just past ten and her coach to the steamer departed at one sharp.
The landlady saw Dorothy and the solid young man swing down from their horses. She watched with more than a pang of envy as Dorothy smoothed her hair and patted down her dress. Her eyes held no judgement when Dorothy handed Louis the reins and spoke her last farewell.
Other eyes across the street in the butcher’s shop did hold judgement.
They saw smiles and misty looks and saw how the teacher paused at the door to see Louis ride away. They passed the word.
Louis rode slowly up to Walter Bennett’s place to return the paint horse. Something had changed in him. As he topped the hill and started down into Bennett’s Flats it was as if his life had moved up one full level and a door had closed behind.
He bought a farm that summer with money earned from years of chores. The next spring, he built his own house and barns, bought stock and planted crops. When that was finished, he asked Jenny McCarty if she would marry him and she said yes.
He read journals and went to the fairs to find the best breeding stock and seed. Along the way his opinions became highly valued. Much later in life, he went with a carpenter to help reckon a difficult set of stairs. After Louis had laid out the rises and the runs and was getting ready to leave, the carpenter asked a question.
“With all you know, Louis, how did you learn all that?”
Louis told him.
“I really only ever had one Teacher.”
Dorothy’s stay at her parents’ home in Ste. Anne’s grew cool quickly. Her father was aloof and her mother distant. One afternoon after she had been home about three weeks, her mother took her into the den and closed the door; then pulled a chair up to sit knee to knee with Dorothy.
“If there is anything I should know about, Dorothy, don’t wait. Your father and I have been speaking. He has a cousin in Sherbrooke and if you need to leave for a while, that is where…” she droned on. Her father entered the room later and put his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m hoping you have done nothing we will have to be ashamed of, Dorothy Ann.”
Dorothy saw no reason to mention that her periods were come and gone and as she walked out of that den she thought of Louis’s advice.
“If you can ignore them, sometimes they go away.”
Somewhere in the depths of that night, a thought formed in her mind: if she had been carnal with Louis, then the eagle was carnal with the wind; as was the trout with water. She slept peacefully after and had a dream where she saw Henry as a young cowboy forking his horse, riding fast, lighting a shuck across an open plain.
She put together her more valuable books and jewellery and sold them downtown. She turned everything she had in savings into cashier’s cheques with a bit of cash. In the bottom of her steamer trunk, she put paper and pencils, a case of film and the camera her father gave her for graduation. She stuffed the rest of the space full of all her clothing and three days later, took a coach seat on a train to Calgary.
She got off the train at Brooks instead and from her hotel window the first morning there, she saw the rising sun reflect off the glaciers of the Rockies from over one hundred and twenty miles away.
The general store owner was more than happy to trade a chest full of Montreal fashion for two complete sets of good riding gear tailored for her, boots and slicker tossed in. The saddle maker showed her a real nice roper’s saddle he made to handle the rough stuff. She took the advice of a cow puncher and bought a tall dun horse; prairie-bred and born to run. During her days in the town, or out on the ranches looking at horses, not one soul questioned her motives or her past.
She rode that dun horse. She took pictures and made notes of the beasts and wild places and faces and Indians she met while roaming from Idaho to Athabasca. From whistle stops or post offices, she mailed envelopes to New York, London and Montreal. Her articles and photographs were published in newspapers and journals with credits given to D. Roberts.
She did instruct again later in life, but as a lecturer to academics and to halls full of young people who admired her knowledge and independence. She was pressed by a journalist one evening after a presentation and rousing applause, about how she did it.
“Is there any one person you would give credit to, Miss Roberts? Any individual perhaps, who might have inspired you to all that you have accomplished?”
Dorothy though for only a moment before replying, “I believe I really only ever had one teacher.”
She never gave a name.