By John Andrews.
‘To plead fashion, is like following a multitude to do evil’, so said the words on the pages of Winnie Black’s new ideal for living, The Female Emigrants Guide – Hints on Canadian Housekeeping by Catharine Parr Traill, the famous authoress of Backwoods of Canada. Winnie lived by every page and had done so since arriving as a settler’s wife in this the new world of the Canadian colony in the year 1860.
Donaldson’s Tailoring Shop stood on the main street of the town so young it was yet to be named and it was here that she was bound to collect the suit for her Ernest so that he might look smart in church. The money in her pocket, just over a dollar, was all they had left and rather than spend some of it on seeds that seemed bound to fail she had taken the decision to put it all on a suit so that her husband would look good before God. He could take care of the rest, ‘unless the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it, unless the Lord keep the city the watchmen maketh but in vain…’
Donaldson himself handed over the parcel, ‘It’s an old suit Mrs. Black but I’ve adjusted the trowsers and the jacket will fit a thin man. Mr. Black is thin is he not?’ Winnie let go of her last dollar and waited for change. Ernest was thin alright. He’d gone from an ox to a goat in less than a year. Grape jelly did no good. Whiskey did worse. Donaldson pushed the dollar back over the counter. ‘There’s no charge Mrs. Black. The suit came from the man found drowned last month up in One Fish Pool’. Winnie swallowed. Then she remembered that as a settler’s wife she was of ‘good temper’ and was not ‘peevish’ and would not be ‘discontented’. No, she would not let Mrs. Traill down. She would accept Donaldson’s charity. She thanked him as he held her smile for longer than he might, grasped the parcel in both hands, and left the shop.
It was not until she had walked home, a walk out of town of so many miles she lost count, and had hung the suit ready to air that Winnie noticed a peculiarity in the jacket. When the sun shone through the dirty window it spelt something out across the inside of the lining. She stared at it, not for the first time since her arrival here thinking she had lost her mind, and then started tearing at the seams. On the inside back there was a double lining into which were some words cross-stitched in the colour black,
‘The Last Will and Testament of Edward Cooper’
‘Under one of the trees you passed on the way to find me you will discover a small box, within which is a ‘Canadian’, a nugget of gold I once stole in desperation. Good luck to you, I hope I was not too heavy to lift from the water. I will be God’s now and a murderous thief no more. One Fish Pool seems as good a place as any to start again.’