SHE SAID, HE SAID
Anahareo and Archie Belaney, styling himself as Grey Owl, both included descriptions of their visit to Metis in their respective autobiographical books. The descriptions have similarities, but also some fun differences. Read for yourself!
Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl (1972)
[After misunderstanding a job posting for a maid, that rather was for a person who could speak with a lonely Scandinavian maid,] I rose to go, and noting my discouragement she [Mrs. Madeleine Peck] added, ‘Do sit down, please. I’ve seen you and your husband passing by and wondered – what does he do?’
‘He’s a guide. We came here hoping that he would find a job.’ ‘But this is not that kind of resort. There is no fishing or hunting here.’ Then impatiently, she asked, ‘Can’t he support you? Have you any money?’
‘Yes,’ I replied indignantly, ‘he has always supported me. He doesn’t know that I’m here. No, we have no money at all. The last we had was from an article he wrote for a magazine and that’s all gone now.’
‘Who published the article,’ asked Mrs. Peck with great interest.
‘An English magazine called Country Life.’
‘How interesting,’ she exclaimed.
Warming to the subject, I went on, ‘He has a roll of paper with things written in it over at the camp.’
‘ I wonder if you could bring it to me?’ she asked.
‘Why do you want it?’
‘I’d like to see how and what he writes. I might be able to … Yes. Bring it as soon as you can, will you?’
‘I’d have to get it without his knowing.’
‘Just get it – no matter how – but get it.’
I did. Mrs. Peck read it with mounting interest. She reached for the phone and called her mother[-in-law]. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked. ‘Whatever it is, drop it and come right over. Yes. Right away.’
The two women read excerpts from Archie’s notes, exclaiming, ‘Marvellous, extraordinary – unique!’
‘Your husband has talent,’ Mrs. Peck told me, ‘there’s no doubt about it. My mother[-in-law] and I think the material would be ideal for a lecture. A talk on the wilderness. The people here would love it.’
Wondering what Archie would have to say about this, I asked in a very small voice, ‘A lecture’?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘exactly’. Do you think he would do it’?’
‘I don’t know. He’s never done it before. He doesn’t even know yet that I took that.’ I pointed at the manuscript. ‘And I dread the thought of telling him.’
‘Well, we must,’ Mrs. Peck said firmly, ‘That’s all there is to it. I’ll get him even if I have to drag him out.’
‘Yes! You do that!’ I said with relief.
‘I’ll be there this evening,’ said Mrs. Peck.
Walking back to camp I didn’t much relish the ordeal of informing Archie of my clandestine activities. Putting up a brave front, I walked straight into his arms, kissed him, and sat down beside him.
His first words were ‘Well, I’ve got a job. At least we’ll eat.’
I sat upright, somewhat deflated. ‘What doing? Guiding?’ ‘In a place like this?’ he jeered. ‘Of course not.’ He pointed to himself. ‘Meet the distinguished helper of a gardener.’ ‘Hmrnm,’ I murmured, ‘I almost got a job today too.’ ‘What!’ he exclaimed. ‘So that’s what you were up to. Why didn’t you tell me you were looking for a job?’ ‘Because you wouldn’t have let me if I had.’
‘What kind of logic is that?’ he laughed. ‘What sort of a job?’
‘As a maid.’
‘You – a maid?’ He glared in disbelief.
His expression unnerved me, and I said almost guiltily, ‘Yes,’ and then sputtered on about how she had specified a Scandinavian maid.
‘This is awful – it gets worse all the time.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘she was very kind, very concerned. She even asked why you couldn’t support me and what kind of work you did.’
‘And what did you say to that?’ Archie began sarcastically.
‘I said you were a writer.’
He jumped up. ‘A writer! Oh, no!’
‘She thinks you can really write,’ I said earnestly. Archie’s anger mounted.. ‘How would she know?’
‘Becausc,’ said I hesitantly, ‘I took the notes you had in your box and gave them to her to read.’
‘What! You did that?’
‘Yes. And she’s coming to see you tonight.’
‘Why’!’ Archie asked, guardedly.
‘She wants you to lecture in some hall.’
He exploded. ‘A lecture. Mel What in hell have you got me into now?’ He whirled about and left the tent.
Since Mrs. Peck would be arriving in a few hours, I tidied up the tent and grounds about the outdoor fire. The tea-pail was boiling when Archie returned. He embraced me. ‘Sorry, kid. I lost my temper. Poor thing, you’re having it rough, and I shouldn’t have, especially when I know you just wanted to help.’
When Mrs. Peck and her mother[-in-law] arrived, I cast a worried look at Archie. I needn’t have, because their smiles and genuine friendliness disarmed him, and his face shone with a brightness I hadn’t seen in a long time.
‘Has your wife told you?’ Mrs. Peck smiled at Archie,
‘Yes – but …’
‘No buts. You just must give us this talk on wildlife. It’s beautiful.’
Archie backed away. ‘l’m sorry, lady, but you’ll never catch me at that. I wouldn’t know where to begin, let alone following through. I’d make a fool of myself – a bigger fool than I am.’
‘Now you stop this nonsense, Mr. Belaney.’ Mrs. Peck advanced upon him purposefully, fishing the manuscript from her purse. ‘A person who can write this has a duty to the public. I’ve always been against the slaughter of animals.’
‘But Mrs. Peck,’ protested Archie, ‘l couldn’t even if I wanted to.’
‘You have all the material in here.’ She held up his manuscript. ‘All you have to do is stand up and read it.’
‘That sounds easy. Why don’t you let someone else read it then. You’re welcome to do so.’
‘That won’t do at all,’ Mrs. Peck said earnestly. ‘You wrote it – you have the feeling for it. You believe in this, don’t you’?’
‘I certainly do,’ Archie replied emphatically.
‘You’ll be a knock-out in your buckskins.’ Mrs. Peck winked at me and then turned and rushed to her car, her mother[-in-law] right behind her.
Archie shook his fists in the air, shouting, ‘l can’t – l won’t, I won’t.’
Smiling sweetly at him they waved and drove away. Archie sighed, ‘That’s the end of that, I hope!.’
The next day Archie arrived home from work carrying much- needed groceries. I went to him, and we stood holding each other until Jelly Roll came tramping over our feet, pushing and pulling at our legs, crying loudly, demanding attention. We stopped to pet and make a big fuss over her. ‘Hey, give her an apple.’ Archie pulled one from the bag.
‘Poor Jelly Roll.’ I smiled at her eager face. ‘She’s had no apples for days and days.’ We laughed as she clutched it to her. ‘What did you do today?’ I asked Archie.
‘Pushed a wheelbarrow and the lawn-mower all day. Exciting, eh? I got an advance. Three dollars for the day’s work. Here is some news, only don’t get excited. The fellow I was working with said that there is a fresh-water pond somewhere near here.’
‘Oh Archie, wouldn’t it be wonderful.’
‘It’s on the property of a man [Mr. Astle] who owns half the town,’ he continued. ‘After supper I’m going to go and ask him if we can take Jelly down for a swim. No, I think I’ll do it right now.’
‘What about supper?’
‘It can wait,’ he said good-humouredly, preparing to leave.
Just then Mrs. Peck drove up. She approached us, all aflutter and beaming. She carried a huge basket, and before Archie could say a word, she called out, ‘Hello, hello. I’ve brought us a lunch so we can talk while we munch! Isn’t that clever?’ she added.
I invited her inside the tent, but Archie said, ‘Why not sit out here, it’s much nicer and less cramped.’ I brought her a blanket to sit on. She removed the cloth from the lunch basket and smoothed it out on the blanket. I couldn’t think of a thing to say in a situation like this, so I stammered ‘How good of you to do this. It’s lovely, but you shouldn’t have troubled…’
Archie broke in, ‘Sh, sh, Gertie, don’t say another word. I see some man-size sandwiches, and I’m ready for them. I’m a workingman, you know.’
‘Really? I’m so glad. Well, aren’t you going to join me?’
‘That we will,’ Archie agreed.
We sat down to roast beef and ham sandwiches, cookies, cake and fruit. Jelly Roll held the floor. We had to give her cookies and other bits to keep her out of our food. The conversation was mostly about beaver.
‘You know, if it weren’t for Mac and Mac [two baby beavers Anahareo and Archie had taken into their home], I’d still be a trapper, killing everything that crossed my trail,’ Archie told Mrs. Peck after she had listened to our story.
‘But how could you know what you were doing before you learned, from them, that animals have feelings much the same as ours?’ she asked with sympathy. ‘And that is what you should tell them tomorrow night.’
Archie stopped eating. ‘Tell who tomorrow night?’
‘The people who are coming to hear you lecture tomorrow night, remember?’ she enquired calmly.
‘Yes, I remember, and 1 also remember saying that I wouldn’t do it. I’m not going to – and that’s final.’
‘When you said that you believed in the things you wrote,’ Mrs. Peck rushed on, ‘I took it for granted you would do it. This puts me in an uncomfortable fix. I’ve rented the ball-room at the best hotel in town. Announcements are up, the invitations mailed. There will be a lot of people there. What am I going to do?’
‘Archie,’ I reproached him, ‘if there’s going to be a lot of people there, you should go and tell them what we want to do. Remember what we said when we had Mac and Mac?’
He stared at me, but said nothing for a long time. Finally he spoke to Mrs. Peck. ‘Did you say that I could read that stuff of mine?’
‘Yes, that’s all you have to do.’
‘O.K., I’ll go. I’ll touch it up and we’ll be there.’
Archie’s talk of his beloved wilderness was a success, but at its conclusion he got an attack of nerves. I too was in a state.
I don’t suppose we’d have been nervous had we not been so undernourished at the time. We were also worried about Jelly Roll, alone at camp. We couldn’t get away fast enough, but were held back by Archie’s enthusiastic audience.
After several attempts to leave we bolted for the door, determined that nothing would prevent us this time, only to be stopped by Mrs. Peck, carrying what looked like a hat-box and blocking our way. ‘I know how you must feel,’ she said. ‘I think that we are all a bit tense tonight, but it was well worth the effort. You were marvellous.’
‘Thank you, Mrs. Peck,’ Archie began, ‘but we must be going. The beaver … ‘
‘Yes, I know that. But what do you want me to do? Would you like me to open a bank account for you?’
Archie looked questioningly at her, then tiredly asked, ‘On what, Mrs. Peck? A dime?’
‘Oh, how wrong you are, Mr. Belaney, there’s more than a dime in here. Look!’ She pulled the lid off the box and inside was a huge stack of money.
‘What’s this?’ asked Archie, puzzled.
Her eyes twinkling mischievously, she answered, ‘This is what you brought in tonight.’
‘Mrs. Peck! You didn’t … ‘Archie spoke out harshly.
‘But Mr. Belaney, I thought you’ld be pleased,’ she said with disappointment.
‘My God. What if I’d been a flop?’ Archie gasped.
Mrs. Peck had sold over $700 worth of tickets to Archie’s lecture. It was fortunate that Archie hadn’t known about this beforehand, or he would have been twice as nervous – if that were possible. As we had awaited zero hour backstage, he’d said, ‘Do you know, I’d give anything to get the hell out of this.’
Silently, I had agreed with him. I was feeling guilty for getting him into such a jam.
‘l feel like a snake that has swallowed an icicle – chilled from one end to the other,’ he’d added dolefully.
I had burst into laughter, and hysteria took over. I couldn’t stop until Archie moaned ‘It’s time to go on!’
Following the initial lecture, Archie was invited to speak at parties, in other halls, and in other hotels. One day a scout-master asked Archie if he would give his troop a few pointers on woodcraft. Archie agreed, and they came to our camp for a pow-wow.
Archie began by showing the boys how and where to find dry wood in wet weather and how to make a quick outdoor fire without an axe. He made them load their arms with twigs, lichen, dead limbs, etc. and said, as he arranged this fodder for for the fire, ‘When you travel in the bush, remember you must always pay attention to details. You take care of the little things, and the big things will look out for themselves. Here’s an example.’ He took out his match-safe [a watertight, tin cylinder to keep matches dry] from his pocket and held it out impressively for them to see. ‘It’s only a little thing, isn’t it? Well, many a man would be alive today if he’d carried one of these little do-hickies.’
He lit the fire. ‘To carry a rifle with a cartridge in the barrel is a very dangerous thing to do,’ he went on. ‘It takes but a second to pump one in; you’ll lose a second, but you might save your life. And another thing, in running a swift rapids in a canoe, in white water, with rocks and pools ahead – just make one little mistake there and you’ll be lucky if you get out of it alive. Maybe you won’t be as lucky as you think, because, after all, being in the bush without a canoe is like being up in the air without a plane, Take it from me, it’s the little things that count,’ he concluded, shaking his finger solemnly at their intent faces. At that moment the fire went ‘splut, splut’, and ashes and sparks shot up into his face in a cloud. Everyone jumped about, looking to see what had happened. There, on the ground, lay Archie’s match-safe, split wide open, right beside the fire.
‘Hey, Mr. Belaney,’ laughed one of the urchins, ‘is that one of the “little things” you were talking about? Ha, ha.’
Of all the times for Archie to pull a greenhorn trick!
We returned to Cabana with over a thousand dollars lining our pockets. The news of how we had got it travelled through the town like wildfire, and those kind and friendly people came to congratulate Archie, as happy for us as if we were their own kin.
There was another letter from Country Life, asking Archie to write a book. Although he was rather unnerved concerning this, he replied that he would try to do it.
Dave came to see us as soon as he heard we were back, and was as delighted with our good fortune as our Cabana friends, ‘What will you do now?’ he asked us.
‘I have two tickets to Doucet, … ‘ Archie began.
‘What!’ cried Dave. ‘You goin’ back dere? Why? Dere’s nuttin’ dere.’
Archie said, ‘You see, we were so damned broke and starving at Metis Beach, all I wanted was to get the hell out of this country before we died of starvation. I was belly-aching about my tough luck to a colonel [possibly Wilfred Bovey] who was in my outfit [Black Watch] during the war. He told me that he would arrange for our fare back north.’
I was ashamed, but I was more scared than ashamed, so took the tickets.’ He ended with a wry grin….
Pilgrims of the Wild (1934)
The proceeds of my second article had arrived and with all bills paid and a well-filled cache beside the tent, we had no immediate worries. We pooled our resources, and while I supplied the groceries David procured the meat and fish of which there were plenty in the adjoining woods and lakes. As an interdependent and self-sustaining community, we could have existed here indefinitely, but I think we all began to pine for our North country, and most of our conversations drifted around to reminiscences of it and the making of plans to get back there. I could see no possibility of undertaking my own project in this region, and Dave began to be restless, and was getting anxious about his gold mine. This mine was apparently the only hope there was for any of us to carry out our ambitions – Dave’s to retire, Anahareo’s to prospect, and mine to create a beaver sanctuary. But there were no resources available that would finance such a trip as Dave contemplated. It was now July, and winter supplies and all expenses for three had to be taken care of before Fall, with time allowed to make a heavily loaded trip, with many portages, over a distance of more than two hundred miles. We were all to be partners, and as the mine was Dave’s and I had nothing to offer, it seemed to me to be up to Jelly and I to supply the sinews of war. So I watched closely her activities and wrote stories about her, and penned long articles on Wild Life from the new angle of my changed attitude towards it.
I read these to a couple of English-speaking acquaintances, who were much amused by them, so they said, and one of them who had become something of a public speaker, persuaded me that they were good lecturing material. But I could not yet speak French sufficiently well to use them in that way. The only place of any account where English was universally spoken, was a resort on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, known as Metis Beach, and it was far away. But I resolved to try my luck, and we wanted badly for other people to know how we felt about things, in general, so Anahareo being willing to take a chance with me, we turned over everything to Dave, packed up Jelly Roll, some provisions and a camping outfit, and took the train for Metis.
We arrived there with the usual dollar sixty-nine in pocket, and soon found that a lecturinkg tour that was lackng in a few accessories such as advertising expenses, a manager and so forth, and for which the only stock in trade was a writing pad full of notes, was not likely to be a paying proposition.
In the first place we had difficulty in getting permission to camp, as people of our kind were apparently not common here. A Frenchman allowed us to make camp on his property, and I then made a personal canvass of the possibilities, at great injury to my pride, and was told that we would have to publicize ourselves. At this we shrunk up like two worms that had fallen into a dish of salt. To give a lecture was one thing: to vulgarly advertise was another. Meanwhile we were getting nowhere. Jelly, always used to plenty of water, was frantic in her box and cried continuously.
Two weeks passed, and so sensitive had we become at the bare thought of the whole idea, that we cringed in our tent alongside the unfriendly Atlantic Ocean, while Jelly clamoured and grew thin for this salt water that we dare not let her into. We had a letter from Dave in which he hoped we were getting along well. And so we were, getting along well towards the end of our provisions. I considered wiring our storekeeper, for our tickets back to Cabano, which he had guaranteed in case of failure. But this seemed like rank cowardice, and besides, too much was at stake. I decided at·last to make a move of some kind, so retired into a remnant of bushland and wrote out a lecture of about five thousand words.
Meanwhile word had gone around the resort concerning our aims, and a member of the family who originally settled there [Astle], and who owned most of the place, appointed us a camping ground on their property, where there was a small pond. Here Jelly Roll was in clover again. One of’ the leaders of the summer colony became interested in our project, read the lecture, and approved the sentiments expressed in it. She gave the idea the stamp of her approval, and graciously constituting herself secretary, advertising manager, and treasurer, went to work to launch the enterprise. Her young sons and their friends sold tickets, while she herself, an artist of no small ability, made and issued a number of beautifully illustrated placards. She informed me of the date and place of the lecture, which was to be in a ball room, and gave me some sound advice on elocution.
I touched up my material, and on the evening set for the encounter, we slipped unobtrusively into the building by a rear entrance. In a back room we sat awaiting our call, paralysed with fright and wondering
Jelly had upset the milk back at camp, or had got run over by one of the numerous automobiles that infested the country. In either event, it would, at this moment, have cheerfully traded places with her. We received our summons, and the march to the chamber of execution was one of the bravest acts of my life. Anahareo trailed along with me as moral support, but it was a case of the blind leading the blind, and when I faced all those people, hundreds of them, gathered in a compact mass in the auditorium, I felt a good deal like a snake that has swallowed an icicle, chilled from one end to the other.
But rescue was at hand. The lady who sponsored us now came forward and spoke a few well-chosen words of introduction. The audience applauded her. Silence fell. Zero hour had arrived. I fixed my eyes on a kind-looking face in the front row, and suddenly found myself speaking. I heard murmurs; people looked at one another and nodded, seemed interested; gaining confidence I warmed to my subject, and pursued my theme to the end. A moment of pause and then came applause loud, steady, long. My head swam momentarily; all this noise- and for us! A British army colonel arose and spoke words of appreciation; he – I could hardly believe my ears –said that it was not a lecture, but a poem; more applause. Then these people crowded around us, shook our hands, congratulated us.
Other lectures followed. I was called on to speak at parties in other halls, in the hotels. Always Anahareo stood by. I often think she had the hardest part, to sit there, in an agony of shyness, trying to look composed and at ease, and valiantly succeeding. Some parents brought their children to us, commissioning us to instruct them in a few of the simpler devices used by the Indians in the woods. Some of the small grains of knowledge that we dispensed no doubt found lodgment in enquiring young minds, but much of it, I fear, fell on stony soil. Anahareo, with her shrewder woman’s instinct, told them tales of the likable but somewhat villainous Ninne-bojo, as well as other folk-yarns of her people, I I ·11 Iroquois. But for my part, I forgot that children of a certain age are sometimes inclined to be a little blood-thirsty in their choice of stories and harped perhaps a little too insistently on kindness to the weaker brethren of the forest. That some of these lectures were not producing the desired effect on all present, I was very well aware, but I was a little startled when, in answer to my request for questions, a sturdy young fellow of about thirteen summers rose in his place and demanded:
“Did you ever kill anybody?”
“No:’ I confessed to the omission a trifle guiltily.
“Didn’t you ever scalp anyone?” continued this embryo prosecuting attorney. I admitted that I had not, hoping at the same time that my forbearance would gain his juvenile respect. He gave me a long, level look.
“Well, I think you’re a dumb guy:’ said he, and sat down with an air of great decision.
Jelly, at one of these talks, provided the illustrations, and her lively expressions of disapproval of the lecturing business contributed as much to the interest of this particular audience as anything that I had to say.
We opened a bank account. Our campground was crowded with children, and Jelly became the most popular person at Metis Beach, and was badly spoiled. I have good reason to believe that she never rightly got over it. On our last night, a missionary of the Canadian Bible Society, an old acquaintance whom I had not known was present, rose at the close of my farewell speech, and told how he had known us in the far North, and established without doubt our identity.
To these people, each and every one of them, who so accepted us without endorsement of any kind, mountebanks as we must at first have seemed to them, I owe a debt of gratitude that no words written or spoken, could convey. I had not known that people could be so kind. And when one courtly, gracious lady, high in the society of a large city, said to us in parting that we had taught the people something, I remembered the words of an Eastern prophet of whom I once had read and replied, tritely perhaps, but none the less sincerely, “Have I taught? then have I also learned.’ And there was more meaning in my answer than perhaps she ever guessed.
And to our patron, to whom we owed it all, we gave a name; we called her Sha-san-oquet which means Opens-the-Clouds. For that is what she did for us.
Dave met us with open arms on our return, and would hardly credit our story. But he had to credit·that·bank roll and the two tickets to Abitibi provided by our good friend, the English colonel.