The Princess and the Wild Ones
Jake and the Kid helped pull the strings to get the royal train to take on water at Crocus. But it was Moses Lefthand and Miss Henchbaw who worked out the finer points of protocol
W. O. MITCHELL
WHEN Miss Henchbaw got up and stood there with her hands folded across her stomach, she had her mouth sort of turned up at the corners, like when she’s got something to tell us and it’s good. I was looking clear across the room at Lazarus Lefthand. He’s in the Grade Ones. We only got four of them. Lazarus’ hair is very black and it puts you in mind of those chrysanthemums. He is the only Indian kid we got in Rabbit Hill School.
Miss Henchbaw she looked down at us; her grey hair, that’s piled up like those round loaves of bread, was under the writing on the board:
THE GIRL PLAYS WITH THE DOG.
IT IS FUN TO PLAY.
“Children!” Her voice all the time goes up at the end. “There will be a half holiday. Mr.
MacTaggart has spoken to the school board and we’ve decided—they think it would be nice if the girls could wear white dresses with red and blue sashes. The school board are supplying the flags. They’d like the Grade Five choir to open with O Canada.” She stared at Stevie Kisiw twirling his ruler on his compass. “Steve!”
Steve’s ruler clattered on the desk.
“Now just the first verse. And Mr. MacTaggart says that whether or not the Princess Elizabeth gets off the train if she only steps out onto the —”
“Caboose,” Stevie said.
“Observation car— he would like a presentation of flowers by one of the school children.”
The kids didn’t make much noise; you could just hear them sort of draw in their breath. Mariel Abercrombie stuck up her hand. She has chops.
“Mother still has dahlias and asters and marigolds and golden glow, Miss Henchbaw.”
“That’s nice, Mariel . . .”
“They’re t he last but they’re nice still and there’s enough of them for a bouquet and nobody else in town have their flowers last as long as ours—or come out so soon.”
“Then we can depend on Mariel’s mother for flowers to hand to the Princess . . .”
“Who’s going to hand them up to her?” That was LaPrelle MacLeod.
“Oh Mother if they were our flowers I think Mother would expect me to hand them to the Princess . . .” faltered Mariel.
“It’s quite an honor to have your flowers given, Mariel. I think for the next few weeks we’ll keep a close record -attendance—standing in arithmetic and writing and reading. The one who has
the highest average— I think as a reward that child would he the proper one to hand the bouquet to the Princess Elizabeth on the station platform.”
When I got home after four, Jake was pumping water into the stock trough. Jake’s our hired man that helps Ma and me farm our farm. Moses Left-hand was with him. That’s Lazarus’ father. Moses is Blackfoot but he doesn’t live on a reserve. He quit being an Indian and he took out his citizenship papers so he could vote and go in the beer parlor if he felt like it. He can read and write like a white man.
First thing he said, he asked me how Lazarus was doing in school and I said fine.
“First day he didn’t do good.” Moses doesn’t wear braids; his hair is cut short so it’s kind of spiky.
“First day none of the Grade Ones do so good, Mr. Left-hand.”
“Yeah,” Moses said. “But they don’t climb under the desk and stay there.”
“Well—a lot of ’em bawl,” I said. “Lazarus didn’t bawl.”
“Damn rights he didn’t,” Moses said. I was wondering if all Indians are built long and lean like Moses. He has a real deep voice. It is so deep it kind of buzzes against your chest. “All these kids gonna be at the depot, for the royal train?”
I said they were and Jake let go the pump handle. Jake is built kind of like an Indian too when you think of it. He says that’s from backbreaking work all his life from the time he kicked off the dew till the bedsprings twanged at night. “Sure gonna be some reception,” he said. “Crocus folks ain’t had a hell of a lot to do with royalty,
but they’re sure goin’ after her in high gear.” Moses had hold of a twig and he was sort of drawing in the ground with the end of it. Without looking up he said a funny thing. He said, “My folks—they was kings.”
“Well, now,” Jake said.
“Chiefs same thing. Signed the Blackfoot Crossin’ Treaty. My uncle—him an’ the Queen. She was Queen Victoria.”
“That’s nice,” Jake said. “You oughta be down there when the royal train rolls through.”
“They asked us. Reception committee. Wanted us to wear feathers—Mrs. Lefthand to carry Lazarus in a yo-kay-bo.”
“Ain’t, what?” Jake said.
“We’ll dress proper— like Canadian citizens. Kid’s too big to go in a yo-kay-bo on his Ma’s
W. O. Mitchell first introduced his famous prairie characters Jake and the Kill in a series of short stories in this magazine. Two years ago he switched them to radio in the popular Sunday CBC series. The story which starts
on these pages, especially rewritten from a recetit script which has thousands of Canadians still talking, marks a happy reunion between ail the shrewd and lovahle folks of Crocus and the pages in which they first delighted the Canadian audience.
back anyways. I’m not paintin’ myself. I’m not a spectacle. We don’t wear moccasins no more. So they better get some Indians for that kinda stuff. Beads. Feathers. Porcupine quills. Green naint. That kinda stuff.”
“M-hhmmm,” Jake said.
“The Left hands are Canadians just like other people. One hundred percent altogether Canadian. We quit. They better get. real Indians.”
When Moses had left and Jake was sitting on a stool stripping Mary, in the barn, I asked him whether he figured the Prince and Princess would be going CP or CN. He said both.
“I wonder what their train will be like, Jake?” “They ain’t goin’ day coach. Kid.”
“Bring it over on the boat with ’em?”
“Oh no. Probably take the Superintendent the railroad’s special coach right now they probably got her in the shops paintin’ her purple . . .” he quit.
Jake looked up at me with his head against Mary’s flank. “Royal color. Purple. Superintendent the railroad his coach’d already be purple likely. They’ll line her with red velvet gold-plate the hotan’ cold-water taps.”
“Paint a coat of arms on the caboose.”
“Yeah.” The milk started singing in the pail again. “They’ll be eatin’ oysters an’ lobster an’ Winnipeg gold-eye. Her an’ alia their ladies-inwaitin’.”
“Gee, Jake—I can hardly wait!”
1 guess everybody was excited. In town it was all folks talked about—in the post office waiting
for their mail—over
Continued on page 25
Continued from page 13
at Malleable Brown’s—MacTaggart’s Tracing Company—Repeat Golightly’s Barber Shop. When Jake and me dropped in at Repeat’s and Jake was stretched out in the chair, Repeat said: “Talk—hearin’ lots of talk about the royal visit.” He left off stropping the razor. “Ought to do somethin’ about those blackheads there, Jake.”
“Blow dirt—just blow dirt, Repeat.” “Enlarges the pores. Raises aitch with the pores. Lot of talk about this visit.” He kind of lowered his voice the way he does and leaned over Jake. “Some folks not showin’ the proper spiri:.”
“No!” Jake started to sit up.
“Hold still there. Can’t shave a movin’ object.” Repeat pushed him sack. “Not our own, mind you—not rocus folks. Foreign element. Coneptkm. Conception district. Few been n the shop.”
“But what did they . .
“Not making a single preparation. Wonderful thing—royalty. I say royty’s a wond—”
“Generation to generation.” Repeat pulled up the skin under Jake’s ear. “Aristocracy.”
“Figurehead the shipa state. Empire. Shade to the left. I like to look at the Empire like a crown. Struck me that way, crown. An’ Crocus has her place there. Every single part the Empire’s a jool.”
“Saskatchewan’s one the jools.” Repeat wiped off a fluff of lather onto the paper on Jake’s chest. “You could say she was one the jools.
“Gettin’ her down real fine when you come to towns like Crocus an’ Conception, aren’t you, Repeat?”
“Facet. One the facets one the jools.” “Huh?”
“Way a jool is cut. Facets. Faces, thousands faces. Facets.” Repeat pumped Jake up straight. “Crocus is one of the facets in one the jools—set in the crown the Empire. Fifty cents. That’ll be fifty cents, Jake.”
Jake and me dropped in at Malleable Brown’s and the bellows going hawgh —hawgh. Malleable said he was all set for the royal visit. He said he thought it was real nice and gracious and charming of the royal couple to save their visit till after harvest was over. While we walked over to MacTaggart’s Trading Company we passed the Credit Union hall and heard the Crocus Band practicin’ Rule Britannia under Mr. Tucker. I said to Jake it sounded fine and he said it sounded more like guerrilla warfare. When we got into MacTaggart’s store, Mayor MacTaggart said:
“Wheels are rollin’. Set the machin’ry in motion. IODE has been alerted. Women’s Auxiliaries all the churches. Rot’ry—Activarians—Junior C. of C. Real burden the reception’s being carried by the Crocus Disaster and Emergency Relief Committee.” “Disaster an’ . . .”
“Just the official title,” Mr. MacTaggart explained to Jake. “Already set up. For the occasion we’ve changed the purpose. Hig Wheeler’s group has switched from Shelter and First Aid to decoration. Erecting an arch over at the depot covered with wheat and oats and flax and barley bundles. Sign in colored lights— Not like some communities.”
“You mean Conception,” Jake said. “Aren’t lifting a finger. No civic pride. We live up to our responsibili-
ties. Homer Toovey — MacDougall Implement—supplying DDT.”
“What the aitch for!”
“Stockyards and loading platforms. C’rrals—swamping them out—spraying them so’s there won’t be flies ner smells.”
“That’s nice,” Jake said.
“Got a couple mounties from Brokenshell,” Mr. MacTaggart said, “that can ride. Dress uniform. United Church choir’s rolling. Flags—bunting—”.
“Looks like one the facets one the jools is gonna twinkle.”
“Manner of speakin’, Mac. What time of day does this royal train roll through?”
“Yeh—I know—what time?”
“Why—say—come to think of it —I’m in the dark about that, Jake. Jus’ went along thinking of the regular trains—this one’s special. We’ll slip over to the depot. Way-freight Brown’ll know.”
Over at the depot when Mr. Brown came to the wicket, Mr. MacTaggart asked him what time the royal train was stopping in Crocus.
“They are flyin’ high over the grey Atlantic,” Mr. Brown started off the way he talks like those CPR travel folders. “In a luxuriously appointed strato-cruiser—high above the storms an’ tempests—”
“Yeh—I know,” Mr. MacTaggart cut in, “but what we were interested in—”
“Down the broad St. Lawrence, past quaint habitant Quebec to the hist’ried city of Montreal—•”
“Way-freight,” Jake said.
“Through the garden the Dominion — Niagara peninsula — North shore mighty Superior where green-clad pines stand their sentinel watch . . .”
“How — long — are —-they —stopping — off — here?” Mr. MacTaggart said each word clear and slow.
Way-Freight Brown looked kind of startled. “They aren’t.”
“Take the Saskatchewan prairies faster’n a greased gopher through a thirty - six - inch thrashin’ machine. Eager to catch their first glimpse of the soft swellin’ beauty the Alberta foothills.”
“They aren’t even stoppin’!” “Regina — Moose Jaw — not here,” said Mr. Brown. “Orders.”
“Then all this preparation, all this work—it’s been useless.”
Jake said, “Couldn’t you—«h—drop a line to the Superintendent the railroad, Way-Freight?”
“Jake,” Mr. Brown sighed, “the Superintendent this railroad doesn’t even know I’m breathing in Crocus. When they tell me that train’s takin’ on water down the line at Conception—”
“Seven minutes—at Conception—got to take on water.”
“You’ll have to get it changed,” Mr. MacTaggart said.
“Mac—nothing’s going to get changed. Nobody tampers with this railroad.”
“But they could change—.”
“If you’re looking for your true royalty in North America,” Mr. Brown said, “you look at the railroad. There is aristocracy. If you wanta see a royal edict.” He waved a sheaf of paper at Jake and Mr. MacTaggart. “Just you take a look at a railway time schedule.”
Mr. MacTaggart took it pretty hard. Me and Jake went right along with him whilst he called the town council together. He explained to them how the royal train wasn’t even stopping at Crocus—how she was stopping seven
imnuies io take on water at Conception that hadn’t even lifted a finger to a royal welcome. y\ll aitch broke loose and Mr. MacTaggart rapped the table with his gavel. Mr. Tucker that leads the band said they’d have to bring pressure to bear; he said it wasn’t any use getting up a pedit ion — have to write our pressure groups. Malleable Brown asked what were pressure groups.
“When you want something, Malleable,” Mr. MacTaggart said, “you work on pressure groups.”
“How do you start it rollin’ then?” Malleable asked. “We got any pressure groups here in Crocus?”
Mr. MacTaggart said they weren’t pressure groups exactly but they’d do: Rotary, Activarians, South Crocus Homemakers, IODE. Whole meeting kind of blew up with councilors shouting where to send letters to— asking for the royal train to take on water at Crocus instead of Conception: provincial and federal members—Minister Education Minister Agriculture Minister Lands and Mines.
“Don’t stop at Ottawa!” Mr. Tucker yelled. “Send ’em to England!”
“Wouldn’t even hurt to send one to Prime Minister England,” Malleable shouted.
“Sure,” Merton Abercrombie jumped up. “To the Queen let the IODE do that one. Tell ’em to remind her about that quilt!”
“What quilt?” said Malleable Brown. Over Mr. MacTaggart’s gavel banging, Mr. Abercrombie shouted, “One she sold to the IODE!”
“She didn’t sell any quilt to the IODE.”
“Sure she did!”
“It was a rug she hooked. Couple million dollars!”
“All right—remind her that rug when they write!”
When Jake and me were riding back to the farm, I asked Jake if he thought she’d work or not. Jake said he didn’t know, but they’d sure have to pay attention to those letters to railroad officials, cabinet ministers, Prime Minister. Couldn’t ignore the South Crocus Homemakers, Activarians, Young CCF Club, Crocus Caledonian Society of Knock-Out Curlers. Jake he figured they might have a fifty-fifty chance.
But Mr. MacTaggart wasn’t the only one having trouble. Out at Rabbit Hill School Mariel Abercrombie and Cora Swengle tied for being the kid that would hand the flowers to the
Princess. Miss neuen Daw said all rig bk then we’ll have a vote to see who it’ll be. Cora Swengle won. Mariel bust out crying. She said her mother wouldn’t come across with the flowers. Miss Hcnchbaw said she thought she would and Mariel cried worse so Miss Henchbaw got mad and she said she didn’t like Mariel’s attitude and Mariel said she didn’t care and she ran out into the cloakroom. I told Jake and Moses Lefthand about it when I got home.
“Don’t matter aitch of a lot now,” Jake said. “Don’t even know if the train’s steppin’.”
“Why didn’t they pick my kid Lazarus?” Moses said.
“S‘posed to be the one with the high av’rage,” 1 told him. “Grade Ones weren’t in on it.”
“Why not?” Moses said.
“My kid ain’t little. He could hand flowers to somebody. He could do it.”
“I guess she figgered it should be a older kid, Moses,” Jake said.
“My kid’s a Canadian kid,” Moses said kind of stubborn. “My kid’s a good size for his age.”
“For his age . . . yeah . . . but . . .”
“She think he’s little?” Moses t urned to me.
“Search me, Moses. She wants one of the older kids.”
“What’s the difference?” Jake said. “The whole thing’s all tangled up in the britchin’ now.”
“All the same,” Moses said stubborn, “I’m gonna see this teacher. I got to find out about them Grade Ones where Lazarus is.” He hitched up his Boss Of the Range pants. “Just in case.”
IT WAS a week later and folks still . e ! id n’t know whether the Princess would even stop at Crocus, that Moses came to Rabbit Hill School. It was after four and I was cleaning off the blackboards.
He walked right up to her desk. She said hello and Moses said:
“He doin’ what you say?”
“Oh yes Mr. Lefthand. Lazarus is doing very well.”
“Like the other kids?”
“He was a little shy at first . . .” “Now about these flowers.” “Flowers? ! don’t . . .”
“These Princess flowers. What you gonna do for the Grade Ones without flowers?”
“Oh—that. We had a little mis-
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Continued from page 26 understanding and . . .” “I’d like my kid to do this.” “Oh,” Miss Henchbaw said. “Oh.” “You forgot all about the Grade Ones when you picked your kid,” Moses said and he stared down at her. “And my kid.”
“Well, no. We have to be fair about it. All the children would love to do it. Their parents would . . .”
“He ain’t small.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Six years old. He’s the right size for that. You better use a Grade One kid. It would be nice if you used Lazarus.”
“Oh.” Miss Henchbaw cleared her throat. “We—we can’t change our plans now, Mr. Lefthand. It wouldn’t be—uh—fair. Just—we try to run the classrooms in a democratic way.” “You do this democratic?”
“I think I did.”
“Those Grade Ones—did they vote?” “Why—well—they’re so small . . .”
“Miss Henchbaw—I’m sorry you forgot all about those little tirade Ones.”
“I suppose I—.”
“Poor little Grade One,” Moses said. “There are only four of them.”
“You know what that is?” Moses leaned over her desk. “They got no rights your little Grade Ones. Minors. Just little minor group in your school, huh?” Miss Henchbaw didn’t say anything. “Poor little Grade Ones,” Moses said sad. “Can’t give flowers. Can’t take a crack at it. Poor little minor Grade Ones group.”
“There are no minority groups in my school, Mr. Lefthand!” She just cracked it out.
“I may have seemed-—to overlook —what would you suggest, Mr. Lefthand?”
“This way. Give ’em each a nickel. Then they flip this nickel. Odd Grade One he gives the flowers.”
“And what about the twos and threes and fours and the rest of the school?” “Oh—I didn’t think of that.”
“Then your oversight”— Miss Henchbaw got up—“is much worse than mine, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Moses said. “Yeah.”
I didn’t hear what else they said because Miss Henchbaw noticed me and she said I better be going home.
“Sure a mess,” Jake said. “Wranglin’ about who’s gonna give her flowers when they don’t even know she’s gonna stop off long enough to take ’em.” “Wonder how the council made out with those letters, Jake?”
“We’ll find out, Kid. Cream can’s full. You an’ me’ll see Mac when we go into town this afternoon.”
Mr. MacTaggart didn’t look so cheerful. “Just going over to Way-
freight’s now,” he told us. “See if I there’s any developments.”
Jake and me went with him. Wayfreight Brown looked up when we came | in. He had that green eyeshade on whilst he sat at the telegraph key.
“We just took a dangle over,” Mr. MacTaggart said. “See if there was any—.”
Way-freight cleared his throat. He looked kind of dazed. “First time in forty-two years’ experience with this j railroad — gentlemen — seen everyj thing.”
“That royal train,” Mr. MacTaggart began.
“Just before you stepped through j that door.” Mr. Brown kind of brushed at his forehead, like he had a cobweb tickling it or something. “Came through. Been a change.” “Yeah?”
“Orders—slight change in orders.” “Concernin’ takin’ on water at Conception,” Mr. MacTaggart prodded him.
“The royal train,” Way - freight’s voice took a kind of a skip and a jump, : “trailin’ her snowy plume of steam an’ ; smoke across the wavin’ fields of golden i grain—takes on her water—uh at Crocus.” He quit and you could hear the telegraph key going to beat anything. “For this she will require—not the usual seven minutes—but eleven.” Everything got rolling; the band started practicing again in the Credit : Union Hall; they finished up the arch at the depot. The day the royal visit folks came streaming into town from all over Crocus district—from Brokenshell and Macoun and Ogema and Tiger Lilv and Wrist Hills. We drove into town with Baldy and Queen and the democrat and the Lefthands rode with us. Folks came in their cars and wagons, jamming the whole downtown, j Mrs. Left hand and Lazarus they just i sat in the democrat not saying anything. “We got to get near the front,” j Moses said and he looked down at the newspaper-wrapped parcel Lazarus had on his knee.
“Sure,” Jake said.
And he did. We were right down there next the platform. I could see Mayor MacTaggart’s hand trembling so the paper speech in his hand was shaking as he walked up and down, j his lips moving. Then somebody at the east end of the crowd let out a yell. We heard her whistle.
She wasn’t purple like Jake said. She stood there biasing and tinging whilst she took on water. Mr. Tucker and the hand started up Rule Britannia. Then I noticed Lazarus Lefthand had taken the paper off his bundle.
They weren’t big floppy asters or golden glow or dahlias that won in the flower show. They were buffalo beans he’d picked off of the prairie and Indian paintbrush and brown - eyed Susans. He had them tight in his fist. They were wildflowers.
“All right,” Moses said real husky. “Me an’ Miss Henchbaw flipped. She lost. You go up there and give her them, Lazarus. When Miss Henchbaw ; says. Just walk up and hand ’em. You’re citizen too. Hers. One hunderd percent. You got kings in you.” He sort of gave Lazarus a push. “If you got to do your nose,” he warned him, “don’t snuff it loud. Use the sleeve. When nobody’s lookin’.”
Little Lazarus he didn’t curtsey like Cora Swengle when she gave her flowers. When the Princess took Lazarus’ she smiled at him. She smiled | at him and smelled his flowers and she said something to the Prince beside ! her.
She didn’t smell Cora’s but she smelled Lazarus’ bouquet. The wild • ones, if I