Come What May Excerpt

 

To be published on 19 September 2014 will be Book 2 of The Iceberg Trilogy.

After Samuel and Rebecca’s 25 years together, Come What May moves to the next generation and focuses on their beautiful and enigmatic daughter, Evangeline – Gene.

Read on for an extract from Come What May and or buy the book today.

 

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1

In the emotion of her farewell, Gene could not remember the name of the co-pilot. All she could think of was sunshine. When Jonathan introduced them, the young man had taken off his aviator sunglasses and smiled at her with soft brown eyes while his short, fair hair glinted and flattened in the downwind of twirling propeller blades. To her right sat Joan, dark-haired and dimpled-cheeks, a nursing sister whom Gene put in her mid-thirties, the excitement in her eyes so palpable it was as if she were going on a Hemingway safari rather than a medical expedition to the edge of the Arctic wilderness.

‘Looking forward to it?’ Gene asked, practically yelling above the drone of the engine.

‘My dear, I love everything about the north except for the insects.’

‘How many times have you been before?’

‘This will be my fourth trip. Second time with your brother.’

It was pointless to talk any more. They would have days and nights to fill with conversation. Ten weeks in fact – they weren’t due back till mid-August, just before Gene’s eighteenth birthday.

Three weeks ago when her thirty-three year old brother, Jonathan, had asked her to be his assistant, her heart had leapt at the chance. Months earlier, Morton, her twenty-year old brother, had abandoned her – that’s what it felt like – moving west to Lumsden, to start a new and very different life. Gene had been inordinately upset over his leaving. Now she was about to have her own adventure and she couldn’t be more grateful. It had been six years since she had been on holidays with Jonathan, six years since they had been airborne together. That was back in 1945, before he married Annabelle and became a father.

‘What I wouldn’t have given to be flying off on a three-month journey when I was seventeen,’ enthused her mother, Rebecca, when she hugged her goodbye at the Montréal Boucherville Water Aerodrome.

‘Jealous?’ Gene teased.

‘I am,’ said her mother, ‘and proud. Not proud to be jealous,’ she laughed. ‘Proud of you!’ She squeezed her tightly as she kissed her cheek.

‘Thanks, Mom.’

Gene was like her mother in many ways: the same height, the same teal blue eyes, her hair also blonde but more golden than her fifty-one year old mother’s. Today, like most days, Gene wore it in a single plait at her back. She was like her mom in other ways too. Once, when she was younger, after she’d done something she’d long forgotten but which had clearly delighted her father, he picked her up, kissed her on the cheek and said, ‘I love you Genie. You remind me of your mother when she was young: eager for life yet hesitant about it at the same time.’ And on that day Gene had thought, ‘That must be a good way to be.’

Now, on the first summer Saturday of 1951, she was more eager than hesitant. They were flying in a six-seater floatplane – a first for Gene and the experience a little off-putting. The plane, or rather the pilot, leant the craft to one side before lifting one float out of the water first and then the other. She hadn’t been expecting that, and her sense of surprise and unease only grew as the plane motored towards the bend in the river. To her untrained eye it looked as if the plane wasn’t going to clear it. But although it was much slower taking off than the other flights she’d been on, the plane did eventually rise. Once airborne it flew slower because of the drag resistance on the floats, which Jonathan had already warned her about. As a result, they would stop more frequently than had they been in a plane with flat tundra tyres. That suited Gene fine. Flying was tremendously exciting, but being cooped up for hours had its limits.

Their first destination: Amos, four hours northwest. Below her, the landscape of the Canadian shield drifted by: irregular-shaped lakes, brown bogs, slabs of quartzite, the occasional hut amidst the taiga forests of evergreen spruce, fir and pine, along with the unmistakable light green of the deciduous tamarack. Wispy cirrus clouds brushed the sky high above on their own journey northward. Good flying weather for today but a sign of a front coming from the south.

Around twelve they landed in Amos. From a distance Gene could see it had a small lake next to its runway. Earlier they had taken off on a river. Surely they weren’t going to land on that small lake? The co-pilot, not Jonathan, was managing all the controls and the steering. They descended and flew low over the ground – only about two feet above the grassy surface – and then across the water, with the nose tilted up as if they could take off again at any minute. Then, when she least expected it, the floats kissed the water in a shishing noise and the plane turned around in a tight loop. Throughout the whole descent Gene felt as if she had been holding her breath. Now she exhaled. She knew what to expect of landings and takeoffs in a floatplane.

At a table outside the aerodrome office, Gene unpacked the picnic lunch her sister-in-law had made for the four of them: minced corn beef sandwiches with ketchup and onion.

‘Like the selection?’ asked Jonathan as he slid his legs under the table.

‘Hmm.’ She smiled, her mouth already full. Corn beef was possibly Gene’s all-time-favourite filler.

‘Annabelle made them specially. It might be the last time you have beef for two months so enjoy it.’

Swallowing, Gene asked, ‘What will we be eating?’

‘In my experience, Gene, it’s best to eat first and ask later,’ Joan told her.

‘Is it that bad?’ She was suddenly aware she hadn’t given much thought to this trip.

‘No,’ Joan replied. ‘But sometimes I don’t like to think I’m eating Rudolph for supper.’

‘Oh,’ Gene muttered.

As their pilot walked towards them Jonathan called out, ‘Tea, Sonny?’

‘Please,’ he said as he walked past. ‘I’ll be with you in a minute.’

Gene watched his retreating back. ‘He looks young to be a pilot,’ she whispered.

‘He is,’ said Jonathan, ‘but that young man has over eight thousand flying hours to his credit. He’s flown over fifteen different type of aircraft including Skymasters and practically been shot down by crazy-assed communists in the middle of the cold war.’

Gene paused before she bit into her sandwich. ‘That guy?’ she asked in a tone that said, are you sure we are talking about one and the same person?

‘Yes!’ exclaimed Jonathan.

‘Where?’

‘In Berlin. Ask him sometime.’

Gene chewed slowly, contemplating that fact. ‘How do you know him?’ she asked.

‘Do you remember that first time we flew west on holiday and we stopped at Port Arthur?’

‘That place at the end of Lake Superior? The lake that went on forever.’ Gene rolled her eyes. There had been very little to break up the monotony of that endless grey water.

‘That’s right. Well, on the second day, when we were in Winnipeg, while all of you were having lunch and I was filling up our tank and doing our paper work, Sonny was doing likewise. He was in the air force back then but had a weekend off and was going barnstorming for the hell of it. We got chatting about the trip I did with Grandad Dalton the year before. He told me he’d been to the Arctic when he was sixteen and would like to go again one day, and next time I went, maybe he could be my pilot. And so we exchanged addresses and teed things up. He accrued his holidays and together we spent two months flying around up here. Joan came too.’

‘What year was that again?’ Gene asked.

‘1948,’ said Joan, with a beaming smile. ‘Annabelle came too. We had a ball.’

‘He flew you around?’

‘That’s right,’ said Jonathan.

‘How old was he then?’

‘Around twenty,’ said Jonathan. He glanced at Joan who shrugged.

‘Maybe twenty-one. Something like that,’ she said.

Gene couldn’t stop her mouth from gaping open. ‘You felt safe putting your life in the hands of a twenty-year old?’

‘Absolutely!’ said Jonathan, smiling at her scepticism. ‘He wasn’t your average twenty-year old. It had nothing to do with age, Gene, but flying hours. He made his first flight when he was twelve years old. His father was one of the original bush pilots. Started back in 1919 searching for bush fires. Flying’s in his blood.’

‘You talking about me again?’ Sonny asked, as he sat down. Gene lowered her eyes. She knew if she looked at him right now she would blush but, if she averted her gaze till the moment had passed, she could carry off a certain nonchalance that had come with years of practice.

‘Of course,’ said Joan. ‘You were always our favourite topic of conversation. You forgotten that?’ She elbowed him gently in the side.

‘Just reassuring Gene that you’re one hell of an experienced pilot.’ Gene looked up to catch her brother smiling at Sonny.

‘Did you tell her I was planning to use this trip to practise my aerial acrobatics?’

‘Can I have parachute lessons first?’ teased Gene.

‘Hell, you don’t need any lessons for those.’ His eyes were full of merriment. ‘You just clasp it on, jump out the plane, count one Saskatchewan, two Saskatchewan, three Saskatchewan and then pull the darn cord. There you go, there’s your lesson.’ He winked at her.

‘Have you ever had to use a parachute?’ Gene ventured.

Sonny swallowed his mouthful. ‘Once or twice.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘See, that’s proof that it works.’

Gene gazed at Sonny while she kept her dubious thoughts to herself. At least she thought she had, because till that point in her life, the only person who had ever managed to read her thoughts was Jonathan, but in the next moment, Sonny burst into song, belting out: ‘I’m gonna live till I die.
Before she knew it, Jonathan had pulled her out of her seat and was throwing her around in a twist, singing along with Sonny, who was twirling with Joan and singing about dancing and chancing, flying and riding high.

The last time she had danced with her brother was two years ago at her sister’s wedding and here she was in the middle of nowhere doing the jitterbug to a Frankie Laine impersonator, living a bit and laughing a lot. When they finished she was breathless and flushed as Jonathan pulled her in close with one arm and planted a kiss on her temple. For the faintest instant Gene felt like she was on a homeward journey to herself.

2

After lunch they flew north towards winter, towards lengthening days and dwindling temperatures. Three hours later they crossed Moose River and Moose Factory Island. Gene gazed down at the roof of a building painted white and in the shape of the Cross of Lorraine – the symbol for tuberculosis prevention. That had to be the new hospital Jonathan told her about, built by The Indian Health Service, part of the Department of National Health and Welfare. Dotted here and there on the island was the odd tepee, plus several sturdy buildings, no doubt one of them the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) Trading Post. Gene knew from school history lessons that Moose Factory was the oldest settlement in Ontario. Established in the mid 1600s, it was also one of the first HBC posts in the entire North American continent.

They flew on tracing the wide river. Below, on the northwestern-side, was another settlement, Moosonee. Train tracks that ran southwest beside the river went all the way to Cochrane – she’d noticed that earlier on the map. This time they landed on the flowing water between the two settlements and taxied up to a small floating dock, the only sign of a water aerodrome.

After seven hours of flying, Gene stepped off the plane positively vibrating. She took a few unsteady steps along the dock then up the stairs cut into the riverbank onto terra firma, following her brother and Joan. Sonny stayed behind to do his checks. They headed towards the hospital that had only opened the year before: a 200-bed tuberculosis sanatorium for the Indian and Eskimo populations of Hudson Bay. Previously, those infected with tuberculosis had to be sent south. The Crees would end up in Timmins. The Eskimos further south in Hamilton Ontario, almost as far away as Montreal.

Moose Factory, eleven miles from the mouth of the Moose River on the shore of James Bay, wasn’t their final destination by any stretch, merely their starting point. Tomorrow at eight o’clock Jonathan would meet with hospital staff to put faces to the names he had been liaising with over the preceding months while he planned what supplies he needed for their medical expedition.

That night the three of them stayed in accommodation provided by the hospital – she had no idea where Sonny slept. The next morning after Jonathan and Joan had had their meetings Gene accompanied them on a tour of the newly opened hospital, which, to her surprise, was mostly full.
After they finished they adjourned to the hospital mess where they met an Indian man wearing dark trousers and a brown lumberjack style jacket, his hair short, neatly styled like her brothers. His name was Walter. Gene put him in his mid to late twenties. Sonny appeared as well carrying his maps, one of which they quickly unfolded on the table.

On the left hand side Gene could see two red crosses: Moose Factory where they were and another at what looked like about one hundred miles north, at Fort Albany, on the Albany River. With a red pen Walter put a cross almost another 100 miles north again. ‘Last month,’ he said, ‘a Catholic hospital opened just here at Attawapiskat, for centuries a gathering place for Mushkego James Bay Cree and for the last couple of hundred years a HBC Trading post as well. Mostly a settlement of tents and tepees.’

‘How many beds?’ asked Jonathan.

‘Fifteen,’ Walter replied. ‘North of there at the start of Hudson Bay is Winisk. Another Cree community.’

‘Could get themselves to Attawapiskat if they were desperate.’ Jonathan looked at Walter for confirmation.

He nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, but there’s no doctor there, only at Fort Albany.’

On the right hand side of James Bay and Hudson Bay there were no red symbols. Gene pointed to the area. ‘Are there any hospitals here?’

‘No,’ said Jonathan. ‘That’s where we’re headed.’

‘And who lives there?’ she asked.

‘Cree. Like me.’ Walter smiled, his smooth, serious face suddenly transforming into a wide captivating grin. He really was quite a handsome man, thought Gene smiling back.

‘Do they speak English or French?” she asked.

‘Less than five percent speak either English or French,’ said Jonathan.

‘Then how will we communicate with them?’

‘You see that’s where I come in. Ain’t that right Walter? Tanisi.’ Sonny nodded at Gene. ‘Iskwew.’ He touched Gene’s cheek, ‘Nanaway,’ and then her nose, ‘Nikot.’

Everyone bar Gene thought Sonny was hilarious. Okay, maybe she thought he was a little bit funny.

‘What did he just say?’ she asked.

‘Not much,’ laughed Walter.

Gene looked from Sonny to Walter, perplexed, and then to her brother. ‘Walter’s coming with us,’ Jonathan said. ‘He works for the Department of Northern Affairs and will be our interpreter and trader.

He’ll also give us access to the fuel caches we’ll need.’

Swapping smiles with Walter, Gene asked, ‘Do you speak the Eskimo language?’

‘A little, but I don’t often need to use it.’

‘Oh, why is that?’

‘Because most of the Eskimos live north of here,’ said Sonny. He drew a finger across the peninsula on the Eastern side of Hudson Bay, what was officially the most northern part of Quebec, along the 60th parallel, halting near a place called Great Whale River. ‘We’ll be hard pressed to get beyond what’s the end of the tree line.’

‘Oh,’ Gene sighed, a hint of disappointment in her voice. ‘I was hoping to see a polar bear.’

‘You’ll see some polar bears. Don’t you worry about that.’

She glanced at Sonny, who was clearly amused with her. She gazed back at the lines of latitude on the map. ‘Who looks after the Eskimo people north of there? Are they just forgotten?’

‘Ah, Gene,’ said her brother, ‘you’ll be pleased to hear that the neglected are no longer neglected. It’s amazing how it coincided with the Canadian government finally deciding to give Eskimos the vote. Just last year a coastguard ship called the C.D. Howe made its first voyage to the Arctic. It’s an icebreaker design that cruises through pans of ice during the northern summer and will be back again this year.’

‘Yet another thing named after that bloody chest-beater,’ mumbled Sonny.

Joan laughed. ‘You got me there – Minister of Everything – no one else gets a chance to make a contribution or take any credit. But seriously, by all reports, it’s a great ship, completely outfitted as a small hospital. It’s got an operating room, a sick bay, a dental office, X-ray machines and a darkroom. I hear it pulls in at all the Eskimo settlements across the eastern Arctic, takes X-ray surveys and then transports any TB patients who require hospital treatment to Churchill or to Montreal when it docks.’

‘Do they have interpreters too?’ asked Gene.

‘Yes, they will,’ said Walter.

‘Any other questions, Gene?’ asked Jonathan, looking at her.

‘Just one. Do you think we’ll see any icebergs?’ She glanced from Jonathan to Sonny.

‘No,’ said Sonny, His sunglasses were perched on his head and his eyes, now that she could see them, were more a hazel brown. Right at that moment they were warm and very sincere. ‘Just lots of ice floes.’

Gene chewed her bottom lip and nodded slowly by way of response.

Sonny dipped his head to look more directly into her eyes. ‘Does that disappoint you?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘An iceberg is the very last thing I want to see.’

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