My third trip on the Keenora, which started on September 10th, 1945, might well be entitled, “The Saga of Miss Chicago”.
The day was not a pleasant one—not too warm, and drizzly. When I got to the office, I asked who was to share my cabin, but the name on the register meant nothing. They thought she was from the States. I went on board, and up to the top deck. The awnings, an innovation, were still up. After looking things over, for the entire top section of the boat had been rebuilt that year, I went down again, and wandered around the promenade deck. Suddenly I heard a voice: “Of course, I wouldn’t know about that, I’m from Chicago.” I looked down. There was a female of uncertain years, a very stiff straw hat on her head, with a very stiff ribbon bow, and over it all an ineffectual bit of newspaper. One of the boys, her suitcase in his hand, was endeavoring to usher her on the boat. A presentiment came over me—this, oh this, was to be my cabin mate! I hastened down, and sure enough there she was. I had already exerted my privilege as first arrival and to pre-empt the lower berth, but she had dumped her belongings on it too. We introduced ourselves, and within five minutes I was in possession of the essential facts. She was, indeed, from Chicago. She was not well, in face; she was here under doctor’s orders. She had ordered a private cabin with bath, but had been told that was not available. She was, again, not well—in fact, her fiancé had died just three weeks before, and she had been crying ever since. And then, being used to ocean liners, this was such a comedown. No bath, and this tiny cabin, and of course, me. Graciously, I observed that if she were not well, perhaps she should have the lower berth. Of course she would have the lower berth—her ticket called for it, even without the bath. She and Henry had planned to take this trip together—now she was taking it alone, in memorial, more or less. The stream flowed, over and around me, and I was merged in it. How I finally left her, I have forgotten, but as soon as the boat was in motion, I retreated to the wheelhouse, to pour out my tale in Roy’s sympathetic ears. I found the idea of a cabin mate who planned to cry incessantly depressing, but Roy greeted the tale with jubilation, especially the items of the private cabin, with bath—emphasis. Soon the captain appeared, and the tale was told over again, and again the “with bath” received due recognition.
We reached Selkirk about 4:30, and I volunteered to show Miss Chicago the post office. We made a triumphal progress up in Manitoba, entering each little shop in an effort to locate a pair of snuggles for her. Apparently she had come well provided with negligees, but no cozies. Eventually we found some, but still she must try out even more ships, and stop for coffee in a most untempting resort. At this point, I left her with two other passengers, and returned to the boat. Cliff, who was working in the office of the Selkirk Transportation Company, had told me that his sister, Audrey, was going on this trip as a waitress, and ha told me to look out for them in Selkirk. I found them, and Audrey, whom I had met briefly in Gull Harbour a couple of years before, and I renewed muracquaintance. At that time, Audrey was just about to commence her third year Arts, had been on the boat all summer, but had stopped for a week to get things ready for the coming term. Eleanor was on again, as head waitress, and there were two other college girls, Elsie, who was in pre-med, and Winona, about to start second year Arts.
That evening, as I stood out on the front deck, a young girl joined me. In the course of conversation, I learned that she was called Chickie, that she was travelling with a young doctor, his wife, and their daughters, aged two and five months. She was in a cabin with two elderly ladies, very nice, but a bit overwhelming. I told her about my prize, and we did some mutual sympathizing. Meanwhile, a group had gathered in the wheelhouse, and was singing lustily. The wheelhouse had been rebuilt to accommodate a lot more people, and the engine room telegraph had been moved inside. Chickie and I huddled under my rug, but presently it became too cold, and we moved inside. Meanwhile the crowd in the wheelhouse drifted downstairs, and presently I was left alone, with of course the captain and his wheelsman (Swannie) for company. Earlier, there had been a little excitement. An unexpected toot on the whistle had engaged our attention, and we discovered a skiff adrift. We changed course, and picked it app—apparently it had somehow got loose, and drifted away from its mooring. The captain was feeling rather pleased with his trophy, and we talked of boats, and of politics, and people, and many other things, and at last I decided I had better go down, and dare the terrors of my cabin. Just then a light was pointed out, and I was told that that was Hecla, and we would be there in half an hour. It was after midnight, but I decided to wait for Hecla, and did so. While we were there, I saw Anna and Isobel, better known as “Piney,” my young friends from Pine Dock. They said we would get there some time after four, and they would waken me. That sounded like an idea, and I agreed. When I finally got to my cabin, Miss Chicago was in bed, and apparently asleep, so I didn’t turn on the light, but threw off my clothes, and climbed, with due grunting, into my berth. Although I spread my quilt and my rug, I could not get warm. (I found afterward that there was a reason, in the dark I had not unfolded them properly, and they were precariously poised on top of me, letting in drafts all around.) Anyway, after what seemed hours, I got to sleep, when “Whooooooo” I woke with a start, and sleepily realized that we had reached Pine Dock. I was so warm and cozy! I didn’t want to get up, but I had visions of Anna banging on my door, and waking the whole neighborhood, so I slid down, threw on some clothes, and made my way down to the main deck. There Anna and Piney were waiting to get off, and I think they were a little surprised to see me. I had brought along some old clothes for their mother, and they were laden with bundles. As soon as we were tied up, the three of us slipped through a hatch, and felt our way along the dock and up the hill. It was pitch dark, and if I hadn’t had them to guide me, I’d have fallen down for sure. Through the entry we went, and into the kitchen, where the big stove was comfortably warm, after the chill of very early morning. The family was still in bed, but Anna announced she would make coffee, sat me down, and proceeded to shake up the fire. Meanwhile the family roused themselves, and a procession of youngsters of all sizes, and in all states of dress and undress, paraded through the kitchen, and back again. The boat was loading wood, which meant a fairly long stay. By the time the coffee was ready, the youngsters had dragged out an old gramophone, and were trying out some records Piney had brought. There I sat, at five o’clock in the morning, in this neat, bare little kitchen, on this remote and desolate shore, drinking coffee out of a glass mug and listening to polite conversation, while the gramophone blared that “It wished it had someone to love it” and the youngsters, slight dark forms, drifted in and out, reporting on the progress of the loading. The heat, the warm coffee, and the fact that I had had about two hours sleep combined to put me in a state where I felt quite detached and remote, and I found myself wondering if it could be really I, and whether this gramophone, which did so wish to be loved, was some strange psychological manifestation. However, presently the children arrived en masse, to tell us that the loading was almost finished, and we had better get aboard. When we got outside, light was beginning to come. It was grey, and hesitant, but there was no mistaking, it was daylight. I stood on the ton deck as we pulled out, and the sun came over the horizon as I watched. It was just six o’clock. It was also very cold, and I could smell bacon—after all, breakfast was at six. I decided to have breakfast and turn in, to make up some of the sleep I had missed. This I did, except that when I went to my cabin to tidy up for breakfast, Miss Chicago was in the process of dressing, and it was three quarters of an hour before I could get in. When I did get back to bed, sleep seemed impossible. All the passengers seemed to be congregated outside my door, and after an hour or so, I gave up. We reached Berens River after dinner (at noon), and by this time the day had become beautiful, sunny and warm. However, I was sour with lack of sleep, and felt a cold imminent. I lay down on a chesterfield beside the steam pipe, and as warmth penetrated my marrow, I drowsed. It was at this time that I had a long conversation with a very pleasant girl named Mrs. Peters. We left Berens River about eight, and once more Chickie and I foregathered on the top deck, but this time I was resolved, and did really get to bed in decent time.
What time it was when I awoke, I do not know, but I think it was about four. The boat was behaving badly. I hoped I would go to sleep again, but was wide awake. The boat bounced and my various cosmetics, lying on a shelf at the foot of the bunk, landed on my chest. I figured we should reach Warren’s Landing about seven, and hoped I could hold out that long. I didn’t. Soon there was a wild scramble, and I gave my all. A small voice from the lower berth asked if I would like to lie there, but I shook my head, and as soon as I was safe, climbed back to my perch. Upper berths are a nuisance, and it seems to be my fate to be seasick every time I have one. I lay as still as possible, and hoped we would soon reach the Landing. Meanwhile, breakfast time arrived, and Miss Chicago, full of vim and vigor, got up. She had previously done something to the window, so that it would not budge, either up or down. Now, having a little difficulty in opening the door, she simply yanked, and pulled the lock right off the jamb. It was such fun. There was I, feeling and looking green. There was the door, on the chain only, and every time the boat jiggled it flapped open and shut, and open again. Roy looked in, sympathetically, and Tom, the purser, came along to tell me that I had better get ready if I were going to Norway House. I told him he could have Norway House, anything, only leave me alone—and please, get me a healthy cabin mate for the way home, for I was sick of the top berth. (Miss Chicago, praise be, was staying over.) After we got to the Landing, I got up, and discovered that Chickie had also had a bad night and was not going to Norway House. The doctor’s wife, Mrs. Patterson, was also staying behind, as she felt two children would be too much on such a jaunt. I don’t know just when it struck me, but Chickie was telling me about her old ladies, who had been very kind to her when she was sick, but who would obviously be much happier without her, and I suddenly proposed that we should find the purser, and get him to move her in with me. Chickie didn’t mind a top berth, she had one already, and she would not be afraid of annoying me. To think was to act, and after due deliberation, Tom gave his consent. We lost no time, and soon Chickie and I were settled together in my old residence, #11. We had lunch together, wandered around a bit, slept a bit, and when we finally saw the Chicaima coming back, hastily stuffed small Anne into her snowsuit, to go to greet her daddy. Could it be? It couldn’t—but it was. Miss Chicago. I could hear her voice, above everything. She soon found me, in the back parlour. She was incensed. She had arrived at the inn, and there was no one to welcome her. In fact, they had given her to understand that she was not at all welcome, as the proprietress was about to go to Winnipeg herself. She had consulted the captain, who had advised her to come back. Here she was, and of course she would move in with me—she would even concede me the top berth. Here was my waterloo. As soon as I could find a crack, I told her I had already found a cabin mate, and there was no room for her. She was incredulous and indignant. I stood firm. I could see Chickie wiggling in her shoes, but shushed her up, and stood by my guns. Just then the captain came in, and she cornered him. Usually he is quite smooth, but it didn’t work with this lady. She told him the whole story, bringing him up to date on the crowning insult, my unfaithfulness. He kept asking for the purser, who had gone off on some affair of his own. He tried to move off, but Miss Chicago kept pace with him. I was in desperate fear that somehow she would get back in my cabin. Chickie, for no known reason, had an attack of conscience, and wanted to back out, but again I held on to her, and begged her, for my sake, not to weaken. I don’t know just when they got Miss Chicago settled, but eventually things calmed down, and Chickie and I were left to enjoy our victory. It was at this point that the captain came along, and one of the passengers congratulated him on the conduct of the trip, the excellent service, and so on. “We try to keep people happy,” he replied modestly, and during the interchange of compliments that followed, I could not help murmuring, “But just now he’s not so sure.” I got a cold stare, but it was worth it.
That night we stayed at the landing. Somehow, I think the doctor, who was a live wire, promoted a bonfire down the beach, and most of the passengers gathered there. I had somehow picked up a Character, one of those colourless little men you meet everywhere and never recognize again. Anyway, he escorted me to the bonfire. Community singing was the order of the day, and four Belgium girls from St. Paul lead off. They had done a lot of singing together, and really harmonized beautifully. Tiring of the affair, I started back to the boat, with my solicitous escort. We had not gone far before we met a couple of locals, one very drunk. He attached himself to us, carrying on about how he had been in the army, but the white people thought they were better than he was, and so on. I knew there was truth in what he said, but he was obviously drunk and quarrelsome, and I was relieved when his friends managed to drag him off. Back on the boat, I hoped to shake my friend, but he followed me to the top deck, and settled beside me.
We sat for some time, watching the bonfire up on the beach, and listening to the singing, more charming from a distance. Presently our peace was rudely disturbed. Our drunken friend, this time escorted by a solicitous woman, reeled up the stairs. He promptly accosted my little man. He ranted on and on—how the white people thought they were so good, but he would show them. He was lame, because he had been in the army—what had mu friend done? He had been in the old war—prove it—and so on. My little man acquitted himself with considerable dignity, the girl tried to remove her drunken man, and kept murmuring, “they’re just sitting there, they’re just sitting there.” My little man, a protective arm about me, was restrained, and heroic. I smothered an almost overwhelming desire to laugh, and presently the girl managed to manoeuvre her drunken hero to another part of the deck. About this time, people began to drift back from the bonfire. It was very still, and voices carried clearly. Words from the shore drifted out, and broke, “–and I had reservations, and they didn’t seem to want me at all, and I’m from Chicago and not used to being treated like that—“. “Miss Chicago” said my little man, and I heard for the first time the designation which was to linger in my mind for so long, and for quite a number of people besides myself was to mean, not a luscious beauty, but a rather pathetic pain in the neck.
It got colder, and we went below. When the boat had been rebuilt the previous winter, the back parlour had been considerably enlarged, and now contained four chesterfields, besides a piano, a gramophone, and a radio. At this point, a dance had been organized. Dancing, on the boat, is not apt to mean any of the modern dances. It means a square dance, usually with a fiddler providing the music, and some talented musician “chording” on the piano. I have never ceased to wonder at the energy expended in these dances, and when a “break” comes, and all the performers go outside to cool off, I always expect at least a couple of cases of pneumonia. There was just room for four couples, but presently six got going, bot and fast, and the thing became dangerous for the bystanders. An enthusiastic swing more than once landed a dancer in somebody’s lap. I stood by the stairs and watched, and soon discovered, standing near me, the drunken hero. He was still muttering about the inequity of the whites, but when the captain came along, stood aside very deferentially. Anna and Piney were in there pitching, but the honours went to the cook, Emily, and to Eleanor, who in spite of her size was light on her feet, and got around with amazing swiftness. When Chickie and I finally crawled into our berths, and I don’t know what time it was, but it was late, we talked and giggled for some time, I giving an account of my little man and the drunk, she telling me about a young sailor who had come from the inn, and who was of an age and disposition to be interesting.
Next morning, I was quite prepared to find us starting out bright and early, and to be seasick, but neither happened. We just stayed. I got in conversation with a chap on the dock, who remembered meeting me at Victoria Beach, and although I didn’t remember him. I remembered the incident. He had, at the time, been on the “Purvis”, which had been forced by stormy seas to take refuge there. He proved to be Norm Thomas, brother of the cook Emily. He worked for the Purvis boys, and was going to investigate the commercial fishing possibilities of several small lakes. It was a sunny day, and as I sat on the dock, Audrey came out, and our acquaintance ripened. She told me about her University Course, and was rather disturbed because she had failed in third year French and yet she considered that her best subject. They had dragged the rowboat which we had salvaged out on the dock; I sat on the edge of the dock, sheltered by the rowboat. Audrey sat inside it, hugging her knees. The sun shone, the wind blew, with a cold edge to it. Water and shore and sky—already it was familiar and beloved. I felt that I would be content to stay here for a very long time. I’ve never quite been able to account for the attraction that Warren’s Landing has for me. It’s a desolate spot—a few old fish houses, a few shacks, scrubby woods, nothing grand or impressive or even pretty.
There was a little cruiser at the dock, which belonged to Roxy Hamilton, the Federal member for the district, and some of the crew seemed to be taking a considerable interest in this craft. I had expected that, as we had not left in the morning, we would not get away until evening, so that we would arrive at Berens River at dawn. Much to my surprise, about 3 o’clock the whistle blew, and we pulled out I settled, in company with a number of other people, in a deck chair on the top deck. It was very sunny, but windier than I liked. Presently I learned that we had left early, because the little boat wanted our company through the big part of the lake, and at night we would be unable to see if it was in difficulty. The waves were breaking high over the reef, and as we got out, the boat began a lively movement. I dozed, and hoped for the best. Meanwhile, the four Belgium girls, and Grace and Doreen dashed about, looking disgustingly healthy. The captain was keeping a close watch on the little boat following behind us. Sometimes it would disappear from sight. Then it would come up on top of a wave, and be quite visible again. As we went along, the wind got stronger and colder, and one by one my companions went below. Finally, I decided to move, went below, was mildly seasick, and then went to sleep. When I awoke it was dark, and I went out on deck to see what was going on, settling in the shelter of the bulwarks in the bow of the promenade deck. Presently the captain came along, and explained that as we could not enter Berens River until dawn, we would lie here, in the shelter of Big George’s, for several hours. It was not very rough, but the boat was heaving enough to be uncomfortable. After a while, I went back to bed, to be awakened by Chickie’s entrance. I had put the chain on the door, and forgotten to take it off! Poor Chickie had been almost reconciled to sleeping on a couch in the hall, when she had managed to get her hand in and undo the chain. I felt very remorseful—she was far too considerate simply to bang on the door until I awakened. She was triumphant, because she had not been seasick. She and the young sailor had foregathered on the main deck, near a hatch, and the fresh air, the interest of the company, or the acquisition of sea legs, had kept her hearty. She had been dreading the return trip, and here she was enjoying it. Presently we both went to sleep. Next morning, we arrived at Berens River, and here Grace and Doreen got off. They intended staying at the Inn until the boat returned on the next trip.
I do not remember much about that day. I think I spent the afternoon in the wheelhouse, gossiping with Roy. At any rate, it was not rough, so I enjoyed it. At Snake Island the fishermen had come in, and the men were busy at counters on the dock, cutting off the heads of the fish, and gutting them. A few quick motions did the job, and the offal went down a diamond-shaped hold in the table. They were deft workmen. We took on wood at the sawmill on Black Island, a place I had not visited for years. It was dark, and the dock was very rotten and full of holes, so we did not walk around much. Here again the men were busy with the fish, and their quick movements, and weird shadows, with the flickering light of lanterns, made a weird picture. The doctor and some of the other passengers found a little truck that ran on a track, and hauled it up and rode down to the dock on it. The whole contrivance was very rickety, and I was afraid they would go right through the dock, or tip over into the lake. However, there were no accidents, but much hilarity. We also touched briefly at Hecla. I had coffee with one of the passengers, a fireman, and we sat talking for some time. His companion, also a fireman and a veteran, had been drunk during the entire trip, and was just beginning to regain consciousness at this point, due to having exhausted his stock of liquor. During the rough weather the day before, he had tripped over a fire bucket on the top deck, and nearly fallen overboard. His friend had had a good deal of worry trying to keep track of him. I began to bethink me that it was late, and I must not keep Chickie awake, but on returning to our cabin found she was not there, so decided to stay up a while longer. Eleanor came along, and we gossiped for a while. I learned then that Miss Chicago had succeeded in irritating the entire staff. On the morning of the storm, she had landed down for breakfast, and in spite of the confusion, she had insisted on a full breakfast and lemon with her tea. Winona, goaded beyond endurance, had cut up three lemons, and stacking them in a big mound, had born them in. She had fussed because she was not on the first sitting. Transferred to it, she had fussed because she only liked the white meat of chicken, and the serving brought her had some dark meat. She had worn everybody out with her tale of woe about the Inn, and had exhausted the purser with fussings about reservations in town. She had bored everyone with tales of her ocean liner experience, and much talk of her plane reservations, which were for the following Saturday afternoon. In fact, she had become something of a byword. At this point the fireman reappeared, and announced that he knew what we were talking about—Miss Chicago. Then he got in there with a few contributions. As it was about 2 a.m. I decided to go to bed, Chickie or no, and had just switched out the light when she appeared. Once more we had much to talk about, and as Chickie was to get off at Selkirk early next morning, (they had left their car there) she had to do her packing. She decided to leave her suitcase open on the floor, to speed matters in the morning. No sooner had we got the lights out, when I had to make a trip down the hall, and of course the door would not open with the suitcase spread out, and in short between giggles and struggles it was another half hour before we got to sleep. Moments later, there was a bang on the door, and it opened to the limit of the chain. A hand shot in, grabbed Chickie, and urged her to get up, as we were almost at Selkirk. She moaned and turned over. However, the doctor persisted, and returned at five-minute intervals until she was out of bed, and dressed. At that point I decided I might as well get up too, and was in time to wave good-bye to them. After breakfast, several of us were gathered around the hot box. I had been playing with the idea of going back on the next trip—I had two weeks of holidays still to go, and the idea of spending them at home had no appeal. I asked Tom if I could have a cabin to myself the next week. He said that I could have them all. Audrey, Winona, and Elsie were all due back at school the next week, and Eleanor was to be the sole survivor. They were trying to get her an assistant, but had had little success. Audrey kept urging me to take on the job, but I had visions of being seasick, and refused. However, I did decide to return. During the trip from Selkirk to Winnipeg, Audrey and I had quite a chat, and became further acquainted. I arranged to lend her some French reference books, which she would pick up at the boat on Monday. I spent part of the morning in the wheelhouse too, and the Belgium girls were busy taking pictures, with the usual excitement. There is something about the last few hours on board that makes everyone particularly friendly. It is as though they were faced with a parting from old familiar faces, perhaps never to meet again, and there is a tendency to try to make up for lost time, and do the things that have been missed. Even Miss Chicago urged me to visit her if I ever got to Chicago, and I promised to do so. Perhaps I did have my fingers crossed, but I really felt a sort of affection for her. After all, she had had troubles, and had not been treated well. As I was leaving the boat, the captain came along. “We’ll be seeing you again,” he said. “Next week,” I answered, and he laughed. I wandered up to the office, and made a reservation, then went home.