Shantymen of Cache Lake
The year is 1873. Fourteen year old John Bains learns that his father has been killed in a logging camp in the Upper Ottawa River. The family is destitute and John decides he will have to get work to support his mother and the younger children. When he gets a job at the Percy lumber camp, the same camp where his father worked, Meg, his younger sister insists on going to the camp as well.
Their adventures that winter in the logging camp describe the hardships of the shantymen and lead to the discovery of what really happened to their father.
Shantymen of Cache Lake is an adventure story in the acclaimed Bains series for young readers 10 to 14, written by Bill Freeman. The book is illustrated with 19th century photos of logging in the Ottawa Valley.
Shantymen of Cache Lake won the Canada Council Award for Juvenile Fiction, 1975. The Bains series has won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work.
ISBN 0-88862-090-X Cloth; 0-88862-091-8, Paper
Shantymen of Cache Lake is available from Chapters Indigo online for $9.45
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Bill Freeman recorded reading, with illustrations available from National Film Board: Telephone: 1-800-267-7710 ID No. 153C9182182
(includes First Spring Spring on the Grand Banks)
An excerpt from Chapter 4 of the Shantymen of Cache Lake.
When they got to the other side of the lake, John, Meg and the teamster got out, put on their snowshoes and went in front to break trail. O’Riley led his horses with the reins in his hands, while John and Meg walked in front, carrying axes, ready to clear away any fallen trees or branches. The shanty clerk (MacInnes) sat up in the sleigh, watching the three of them without lifting a hand to help. He was a company man, and in his view only the shantymen did the manual work.
The trail was worse than any they had been on. Over and over again the horses got bogged down, but with prodding they would struggle and pull at their traces until once again the sleigh moved. Coming off the lake they had to climb a steep hill that drained the animals’ energy, but finally they got to the top, and the teamster let them rest for a few minutes.
The snow was coming down so hard by now that they could see no more than thirty yards ahead of them. There was little more than an hour’s daylight left. When they began again the tote road led them along the crest of a series of ridges generally in a northwest direction. With the twilight lengthening the shadows and the heavy snow drifting through the trees it was increasingly difficult to see the trail.
O’Riley was concentrated on his team, trying to draw every last ounce of strength out of them, and he was not watching closely enough. Suddenly, before he could do anything, the horses waded neck-deep into a hole and the sleigh skidded in behind them.
“Hey teamster, what are you doing?” Shouted MacInnis from on top of the sleigh.
O’Riley became furious. “You’ll be silent MacInnis or I’ll make you silent!” His fist waved threateningly at the shanty clerk.
For an instant tempers were close to the boiling point, but then both men realized that the situation was far too serious to take time to argue. O’Riley could not resist getting in the last word; “Let this show you MacInnis. In this country the risks are too great. When men and horses are tired they should rest, or something like this happens almost every time.” The shanty clerk said nothing in reply.
It took thirty precious minutes to get the horses and sleigh out. O’Riley, John and Meg had to climb into the hole and unshackle the animals from their traces. Once they had led them away, the three of them had to turn the front runners by hand until they pointed uphill. Then the horses had to be backed into the traces again and with a massive lift they lurched the sleigh out of the hole and back onto level ground.
When they were finished it was dark in the bush and the snowstorm cut the visibility to virtually nothing. O’Riley found a lantern in the back of the sleigh, and finally on the third match he got the coal oil lit. John and Meg went ahead with the light, looking for the blazes on the trees marking the trail. O’Riley led his horses and MacInnes climbed back up onto the sleigh.
John held the lantern high above his head, and Meg walked beside him searching for the blazes. Both were exhausted, but John was at the point where he could do little more than place one snowshoe in front of the other, knowing they had to keep to the trail or become hopelessly lost for the rest of the night. Suddenly, he stumbled and fell headlong into the snow. He struggled to his feet with Meg’s help.
“Are you all right, John?” she asked anxiously.
“Yes, yes, fine,” But it was as if he was in a trance.
They started again, plodding step after weary step. John’s feet felt as if they were disconnected from his body. He tried to remember to look for the axe slashes on the trees, but he was more and more in a dream. The next he knew, he had tripped over his snowshoes and was lying face down in the snow.
Meg was crying. “John, John, get up please, John!” She pulled him out of the snow, the tears streaming down her face.
O’Riley was beside them. In the light of the lantern their faces showed concern. “MacInnes! MacInnes!” the teamster shouted. “Get off that sleigh. These children are exhausted!”
“Why!” said the shanty clerk, indignant that he might be forced to walk.
Meg screamed at him, “I hate you, Mr. MacInnes, I hate you. If anything happens to my brother I’ll blame you for it.” Her tears were mixed with her anger.
MacInnes scrambled down in the face of the opposition. O’Riley lifted the boy onto the seat of the sleigh and then Meg climbed up beside him.
“You must stay awake, John,” O’Riley said. “And Meg, you must see to it that he stays awake. Otherwise he will freeze. The two of you are to stamp your feet and clap your hands to keep the circulation going. Do you understand?”
Meg nodded, but John still seemed groggy. O’Riley grabbed him by the front of his coat and shook him. “Listen to me! You must stay awake and keep moving. Do you understand?”
“Yes, yes, O’Riley. I’m awake now.”
The teamster left and went to the front of his team. “Damn you MacInnes. If anything happens to either of those children I’ll have your hide.” The shanty clerk said nothing to defend himself.
They started again. MacInnes was in front with the lantern, searching for the slashes. O’Riley led the team and Meg cradled her brother on the sleigh.
“Stay awake, John. Please stay awake,” she pleaded with him. “Move your hands and your feet.” She repeated over and over again.
They travelled on at a snail’s pace through the pitch black bush for what seemed like hours. The lantern bobbed up ahead. O’Riley struggled with his exhausted team, forcing them on with an iron will, and the children struggled to stay awake.
Suddenly, there was a bone-chilling howl. The horses’ ears stood up, and one neighed in a frightened way. Everyone froze where they were. Then there was another howl, and several yips. O’Riley struggled with his spooked team until he finally brought them under control. “Wolves,” he shouted. “We have to press on!”
They continued their procession. They were going down a steep hill now, and the sleigh slid forward, pressing its full weight onto the horses’ haunches. O’Riley had to turn and twist the sleigh back and forth to keep to the grade. He walked between his two huge animals, trying to talk them out of their fear of wolves, and calming them enough to carry the immense weight down the steep incline in spite of their exhaustion. At one point the sleigh tilted dangerously over. There was a fear that the load might shift and crash over the side, but O’Riley forced his animals on until gradually it righted itself.
There was another howl close by. One of the horses tossed it head with such violence that it pulled O’Riley off balance. There was a tense moment as he struggled to bring them under control, then a long pause while he coaxed the frightened team once more. Grandually be began moving them one foot at a time down the treacherous tote road. They proceeded slowly, twisting back and forth, guiding the sleight with every step. Finally, the hill seemed to level out. A few steps more and they were on the ice of Cache Lake.
They paused for a moment to let the tension ease away. The snow had stopped, the heavy dark clouds had disappeared, and in the east a sliver of a moon had just risen above the hill that rose hundreds of feet from the lake’s surface. Around them the wind stirred the pine trees restlessly. Somewhere, far off in the distance, they could still hear the yips and howls of the wolf pack on the hunt.
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