Drumlin Fever

by Graham Cotter

Chapter Fifteen

Picnickers



Illustration by Audrey Caryi

Illustration by Audrey Caryi

The mountain had disappeared, and the sky as Debbie had been seeing it was also quite changed. It was blue, but now the blue of the ice caves, which, unknown to her, her brother Kevin had seen. It was wholly still and calm: there was blue icy remote ceiling as far as she could see. Indeed there was no ground. She was aware of her sister beside her, just as, when we look straight ahead, we know our nose is a bit below the middle of our sight, and our eye brows and cheekbones somewhere there, but scarcely seen. So Linda was part of what she knew was there, but there were no bodies she could see, nor the grass and its strange trees, beasts, nor the mountain. Nor in that sky was there sun or stars or cloud.

Debbie was not frightened, though she was just a little cold. She was not afraid, because this new world she was in was so full of peace. The revolving night and day, and the shaking of her whole vision which she recognized as preliminary to sleep, had been exciting. Now she was completely at rest, floating on something beneath her which she thought must be just like what she saw above. She did, in fact, very little thinking, she was just aware of the light, and the blue, and the peace and the slight chill.

******************

Meanwhile, her parents were standing outside their porch, looking at the full moon which had risen just before sunset. It looked so remote and cool, and yet was so reassuring: it had been there long before their time and troubles, and would be there again.

Thelma had got over her earlier fit of weeping, and had struggled through a late supper and fed Kevin even later when he came in. None but Brian had had any appetite: Brian did not seem unduly worried by his sisters’ disappearance, but he had retreated behind his thick lenses and said little. Kevin was still tearful and jumpy after his search with George Wiseman, and gave a short and confused account of where they had gone. His mother succeeded in keeping him from a tantrum, and was now left with her husband to face the grim possibilities together.

At last Albert spoke.

“I’m as certain as that I have two eyes in my head, whatever happened to them is connected with Bondworthy and his lot.”

Thelma knew that Albert did not give in to feelings of being persecuted.

“Maybe you’re right; but it’s hard to believe those men would do anything

to deliberately hurt little girls.”

“Perhaps not; but they bring all sorts of people up here we know nothing about, maybe the scum of the city, and turn them loose: you can’t tell what may happen if some pervert gets loose.”

Thelma trembled at the thought: she had visions of her girls’ little bodies bloody and hidden under leaves, and their bones discovered after a year or two. Then she controlled herself: picturing them as dead was no good, and would certainly do them no good, whether they were dead or alive.

“It’s not just the people they bring around; they’re disturbing nature, digging holes, setting explosives, leaving machinery around. They make just so many more possibilities for an accident. Linda and Debbie have wandered safely over most of the land around here, and know it well. Going off like this and not coming back must be connected with this invasion of the countryside.”

Listening to Thelma, Albert reflected how good a politician she would make, how much more tactful she was than he, and how effectively blunt she could be in the face of insolent people. No wonder women didn’t have equal opportunities:

most of the politicians, civil servants, and business men were at heart dead scared of them. They liked to see them as silly and emotional when the men themselves most of the time were that way, but liked to think of women in that role. They would be left speechless and often had been, by Thelma.

He put his arm around her, reflecting what a treasure he had and how lucky he was to be backed by someone so much better than himself.

“Let’s go to bed; we’ll need all the energy we can use tomorrow, no matter what happens.”

********************

The search went on, sporadically. Timothy Scace had taken charge of it, and had insisted that his brother stay home once the evening’s combing of the neighborhood had been finished. He said his place was with his wife and the boys and he would just have to trust him and the good friends there were in the village. The police were concentrating on the waterways, especially the Trent, and plans were made to drag portions of the river and canal the next day. A party of trusted inmates from the Institution, led by a young farmer and by one of the local real estate men, covered most of the ground of the prison south through Morganston and across to the edge of the Northumberland Forest. A high school teacher and a carpenter led neighbours from Maiden’s Mill across to Dartford. All this had been a hasty search before dark. After dark would be difficult, so half the members of the country fire brigade – the half not on call that night – drove the roads, stopping their cars and listening for unusual sounds.

Albert knew all this as the hours passed by and sleep would not come. He got up about 2 a.m. and looked out the window. The lights of Morganston and the prison showed on the one side. Crossing to the girls’ room he could see the fire-watchers’ tower light over by Highway 45 – or was it the radio beacon at Vernonville? The moon was on the other side of the sky now, and a great peace lay over the whole darkened land. All-night farm lights showed here and there. One however was moving, slowly back and forth. He realized that George Wiseman was still out, ploughing the fields, making up for the time he had lost in the search with Kevin.

“That you, Albert?”

“Yes, Thelma.”

“Have you slept?”

“No.”

“Neither have I. Do you see anything?”

“Nothing helpful.”

After a long silence, Thelma said quietly,

“Come back to bed.”

They talked for a while until tears came to them both, and then they made love. Nature’s age-old comfort and relief rescued them in their sorrow and they slept.

********************

So Thelma and Albert Scace, for their reasons, and Kevin, for his, slept into Saturday morning. Only Brian was up, making himself some breakfast and then going outside. About 9 o’clock he walked out the little triangle of land made by the original right angled turn of the road by the bypass. This half acre the owner had tried to sell for three thousand dollars just a year before, after hastily removing poison ivy and scrub; threatening the neighbours that a service station or a peanut brittle stand might go up to spoil the landscape. There were some lovely old pines here, and Brian dawdled amongst them, torn between a need to search for his sisters and a bumblebee nest he knew was in the ground there.

He heard the rumble along the road from Burnley before he saw anything. Then up the hill, near the tobacco farm, he could just make out buses, kicking up the dust as they roared along at about sixty miles an hour. Two, three, four of them, and they were not the familiar Yukon gold of the country school bus. They were sleek affairs with darkened windows, and, if Brian had known it, fascinating toilets built in. Soon they came down the last hill before Scace’s flat (the hardly flat top of the escarpment where so much of the farm lay). It was a beautiful hill, with a V-shaped cultivated field rising up its brow, and a century old farm house settled beneath it.

Down they came, no pause made for the little black and white dog which always accosted the traffic; down and along, accelerating faster for the light to rise in the pines. Brian stepped back, although he was already fifteen feet away from the road, so menacing was their approach. The county had put in these by-passes all along the road to eliminate imaginary accidents at right-angled turns. There had, of course, hardly ever been an accident at these turns, because everyone had to slow down or land in the ditch. But now cars sped along unimpeded, and country mothers began to know why mothers in Don Mills and Burnhamthorpe were glad to see raised bumps in residential roads to slow the traffic down. Brian had heard all about it, because his father had been storming over at the county office; but conservation seldom won out against roads.

The buses roared by, and Brian was aware of young faces like his own, and parents too, looking out of the windows which air conditioning did not permit them to open. Past they went, leaving him in clouds of dust, and for the first time in two days, choking. He noticed that each bus had three large “O”s on its side, specially painted on for the occasion, and could just make out the smaller letters “Own Your Own Ontario.” He spat out the dust from his mouth, and looked around. He should go and tell Kevin and Mom and Dad. Then as the din of the buses died down as they made their final assault on the down grade into Warkworth, he heard another more human commotion. Children were screaming, back up the road down which the buses had come, by the farmhouse. He looked and his heavy lenses came to his aid: there were the neighborhood children and one grown-up, in a huddle in the middle of the road. He squinted and made an O with his thumb and forefinger to cut out the glare as he look harder to see what it was all about. Then he saw.

The little dog was dead, twisted into a blob amongst the wailing children.

His ownership of Ontario had expired.

********************

So also Goose, in spite of her name, a pet hen belonging to Georgie Ruebottom. Georgie and his mother lived just by the crossroads in Warkworth, just after you come to the nursing home. Georgie, having failed dismally to make friends with the swans, had been given a pet hen, who had the run of the house and everything else for two hundred yards around. Goose seldom ran from one side of the road to the other, as is the age old custom of hens, invented just to provide curious humans with unanswerable questions, but usually walked sedately down the middle, leaving the traffic to move around her. This morning however, she had found something grittily succulent at the side of the road when WHAM! Great buses had come along not in the middle, but on the shoulder, and mushed her into her own grit.

Out of the buses poured a great collection of people. One bus came from Don Mills, another from Etobicoke, one from the Borough of York and the fourth had collected odds-bodds at the road construction work near Pickering on the King’s Highway, 401, and had raced mercilessly to Highway 45; neither fuel shortage nor speed limits deterred them, and the little cars they passed were tossed a foot in the air, though none, fortunately, had overturned. Little car drivers learn to steer into the airstream, like mice sleeping with elephants.

The buses stopped at the town park above the conservation pool, where there are a few swings, non-integrated privies and a well-kept lawn, a metal historical plaque commemorating John Kelly, a local son who in turn had been an historical illustrator, and whose name bought further glory to the ‘Hub of Northumberland County.” Into this peaceful scene there spilled two hundred people, members of about sixty families in all. They were mostly parents in their thirty or forties with their children: there were one or two young couples without children, and one or two older couples. The younger children ran riot in the playground, fighting over the swings and see-saws; a party of boys raided the sides of the river for flat stones to skim on the surface, sending a family of wild ducks swimming upstream as fast as they could.

Another party of boys discovered the Women’s privy and used it as a target for more stones, to the consternation of its occupants, girls and women who had been at the head of a line of anxious joyriders waiting for their turn. A clutch of teenage girls, in varying stages of fashion-authorized nakedness, were giggling about ten feet away from some teenage boys who were showily lighting cigarettes and staring at the girls. Most parents were standing in clumps of two, not having decided to make a common cause with other parents. Three couples and two middle aged men made a bee line for the Liquor store, so conveniently located in the park. The bus drivers went into the service station to jaw with the owner, and were taken aback when he made them stub their cigarettes near the gas pumps.

The village reacted for the most part, slowly. There had been a few youngsters gathered at the pond beneath the bridges, some already in bathing trunks and ready to plunge when the sun warmed up the water a little more. Several trucks were parked outside the Co-op, and one or two at the Co-op Feed Store (the original mill of over a hundred years before). A few heads appeared to look at the invasion, nobody wanted to appear very interested. One or two people as far away as the new bridge turned, and stopped to see what was happening, and figures would appear at the end of Main Street, take a look, and disappear. Then they would appear again, with more figures gathered from the usually busy Saturday morning Main Street.

The old coaching inn across from the Co-op, which some intelligent new resident had fixed up as a real country inn, suddenly sprouted its occupants, from both upstairs and downstairs railed verandahs. Back up the road, the Free Methodist minister had been cutting his lawn, and had been paralysed for fully five minutes after the arrival. Then almost at the same distance he saw figures heading for the Liquor Store, and noticed the clump of girls, with more bare skin in one place or all over than even God-saved mortal flesh can bear. He hastily removed his glasses and went back to moving being careful not to look at the spectacle when he moved in that direction.

Across from him, a rumpus had developed at Ruebottom’s house. Georgie had discovered the flattened remains of Goose under a bus, and had gone bawling to his mother. She had tried to comfort him, rushed out and seen the feathery mess, and burst into tears too. She rushed to telephone the O.P.P.

“It’s Georgie’s Goose!” she said breathlessly, “She’s dead at the side of the road, all in the grit. You’d scarcely know she was a hen, the poor thing.” Georgie was still wailing in the background and the constable heard

“.. dead at the side of the road alright…Scace knows when, poor thing.”

“Who is speaking please?”

“Mrs. Ruebottom, Warkworth, by the nursing home!”

“Bottom of which road, Ma’am?”

“By the nursing home right at the side of the road.”

“Are they both there?”

The constable thought it was a report about the Scace girls.

“They’re all there the lot of them, running over the place, and someone’s going to get killed next.”

“We’ll send both cars there at once, Mrs. Georgina.”

The constable put down the phone. Georgina Scoose, that was a new name to him. Maybe he’d got it wrong. He sent out an urgent call that the Scace children seemed to have been found dead at the side of the road near the nursing home and trouble was brewing.

Constable Malarkey received the report as he investigated a false report down near Grafton, where an elaborate field stone castle marks the spot where the Massey family once lived, and some American oil people use the twenty-one room house for an occasional honeymoon cottage.

The caretaker thought she had seen a child running, then another, two little girls, down into the valley. The children turned out to be a boy and a girl in their twenties, both with long hair, and with not a stick of clothing on, romping in the river. They were playing patty-cake when surprised by the constable, but he in turn had heard a blare from his patrol car as it sat in the midst of the field, and ran back to get the report.

They stared at him, at each other, and concluded

“and serve it up ho-o-ot for baby and me!”

Constable Nieminski, on the other hand, was driving a borrowed jeep through some fields well to the south of Percy Boom, after a report that cries had been heard in the night, when the jeep owner, who had been posted by the patrol car, came running to report a message. He turned the jeep around, making a note to ask a friend who was a botanist what that funny weed was that was growing all over the place, with fine divided leaves and a rather attractive smell. He hastened back to Warkworth up Highway 30 as soon as he could emerge from the back concessions.

********************

Timothy Scace drove furiously over to Garth Katting’s house, and banged on the door.

“Ah, come in Mr. Mayor, Mr. Bondworthy and I were just enjoying a cup of coffee.”

Bondworthy had slept over at Katting’s in preparation for the great festival of Ontario Ownership he planned to have for Saturday.

“Well, he can cool his coffee and answer a few questions,” stormed the mayor, brushing past Katting and into the living room. He stood over the astonished Bondworthy.

“Do you realize there are four busloads of hundreds of people cluttering up our park and pond site? What are you going to do with them? Have you life guards if they go swimming? How are you going to feed them? In half an hour they will disrupt the life and trade of the whole village!”

“Why Mr. Mayor, I thought you would welcome the visitors hospitably.”

“Yes … of course, but they’re making a heck of a row and we don’t know what is planned for them.”

“First of all, they are not at the village park. We hired the cow pasture where the river flows on the other side of town. Picnic tables are being set up and everything will be in order. We had to do it at the last minute, because we could not get our own Lodge site ready in time because of the water failure.”

“Oh, so they’re not at the village park. Is that so?”

Scace strode over to the window backing on the village stream.

“Just look out this window.”

Bondworthy went over to the window doubtfully.

“Now, that’s our park, that’s no cow pasture. And you look at all those people. Who are they? The residents of the nursing home come to worship at the Kelly’s plaque?”

“Oh….oh.. There’s been some terrible mistake, I must do something at once, this is terribly serious, Mr. Mayor. You know I had a little surprise for you and the village which I thought you’d welcome. The Minister of Municipal Affairs is due here at noon to address our party and members of the local community and to make an important announcement. We must get things in order!”

“What! You dare to invite a minister from Queen’s Park without notifying us? Who do you think you are?”

“I thought you’d be pleased. I arranged it through Mr. Huggeson of the Nautilus Corporation, who have an interest in our undertaking.”

“Undertaking is right! You’re trying to bury the Ontario
countryside in cans, bottles, and wrappings! What do you think you’re doing to farming and the whole rural way of life?”

Katting intervened.

“Now Timothy, you can’t speak for the whole council nor the whole community on the matter. There’s other views.”

But Scace was not to be brushed aside.

“Do you know what is happening today: you’ve got that mob of hoodlums up here from the city. – ”

Bondworthy winced at the word ‘hoodlums.’ –

“A minister of the Crown is coming without invitation from the Mayor and the Council, the Donnybrook is planned for this evening, and in the middle of it all, we’re scouring the countryside for my two nieces…”

“Run off with their boyfriends?” Bondworthy attempted a joke.

“Boyfriends!” Scace seized him by the collar “They’re eight and ten years old! My brother Albert’s children! They’re lost, probably dead, drowned in some hole you’ve dug or buried by your monstrous machines! And if it is your fault if harm’s come to them, you fat… woodchuck…”

The Mayor was never known to swear, and inserted a suitable word at the last minute.

“I’ll have your skin – only you wouldn’t be worth feeding … feeding .. to the swans!”

Giving Bondworthy a final shake, he rushed out, his blood pressure soaring. Then he flung over his shoulder –

“Katting, I’m calling a special meeting of the Council for eleven o’clock to deal with the emergency. You’d better be there!”

The two men looked at each other speechless. Then Bondworthy rushed to the telephone to call Toronto. Katting, confused, went to his room cupboard for his jacket, and found himself, at the front hall mirror, two minutes later clad in the embroidered tailcoat, cocked hat and sword of a Grand Master of the Thirty-fifth Degree of the International Order of Plasterers.

All Rights Reserved: Text copyright © Graham Cotter, 2013. Illustrations copyright © Audrey Caryi, 2013. Please feel free to forward this work to friends, but any other type of reprint or use of this material in any media is prohibited without permission of the author, Graham Cotter and the illustrator, Audrey Caryi. Address correspondence to Graham Cotter 136 County Road 29 RR 2 Warkworth ON K0K 3K0. E-mail info@grahamcotter.ca
Notice: The personalities portrayed in these two books are fictitious, irrespective of any perceived similarities. The stories are fictitious, except for certain natural elements of geography and certain historical struggles, such as that recorded in the excerpt from the Peterborough Examiner, as reprinted in the last pages of The Topher which is used by permission.