London: SPCK, 1929.
Chapter V. Fort Norman
EXTRACTS FROM MRS. BOMPAS'S JOURNAL. FORT NORMAN, JUNE-JULY, 1881
IT is not often that I am permitted to accompany my husband on any of his more lengthened missionary journeys, for he deems the necessary privations, exposure and hardships far beyond my powers of endurance, although these have been very sufficiently taxed. This summer, however, circumstances combined to induce us to a temporary change of residence at a very northern station, and thus far I went with the Bishop on his way to a more remote part of the diocese.
Much is involved in the way of preparation for such an expedition. Every possible want which may occur in the way of provisions, clothing, furniture, etc., from chairs and tables to pins and needles, must be carefully anticipated. My library and medicine chest must be well stocked, chiefly for the benefit of the Indians among whom we may be thrown. Every department must be duly supplied, and this with much care and consideration, for the boat which will take us to Fort Norman is but a small Hudson Bay craft, manned by eight or ten Red Indians, with a possible sail (should the wind be favourable), and this vessel must not be overloaded, nor must we make too great an inroad upon the Mission stores, from which seven other stations may have to obtain their supplies. However, we were quite ready to start when the day came. My dear many-sided husband had forestalled every want that could possibly occur during the next six months, and by his lawyer-like power detected at once every flaw in any arrangement which had seemed to me faultless. And now we are off, our willing, good-tempered boatmen pulling vigorously at their oars, at small credit, though, to themselves, for we are going down stream, and the current is running at the rate of five miles an hour.
We have with us two Indian children—little "Owinda," called May since her baptism, the youngest child of Nicktell, who shot his wife some twelve months since and left this poor little one on the river bank for seventeen hours, crying her life away, until she was rescued by some kind-hearted Indians who were passing in their canoe, and brought eventually to the Mission House, looking so pitiful in her starving and well nigh frozen condition that the Indian who saved her said, "She seemed to take hold of my heart." May is now a bonny two-year-old, bright and thriving, and as full of fun and mischief as a child can be.
Caroline le Noir, the other maiden, is a bright-eyed, merry-faced girl of ten, who has never been so far from her ''own country'' (as she calls Fort Simpson) before, and who looks rather grave at the thought of the two or three hundred miles before us. She is sister to Allan Hardisty, our native catechist, the cause of difference in their surnames being that old Baptiste le Noir, an Indian hunter, on the occasion of his second marriage "threw away," as they term it, his two oldest boys, one of whom was received by Mr. Hardisty, the Hudson Bay Officer at Fort Simpson, and named after him; the other came under my husband's care and was baptized by his name, William. Both have turned out good, steady youths. Allan has been working very well for some years as a catechist and schoolmaster among the Red Indians at Fort Norman, and William is now in the Company's service and sets an example to his fellows in more ways than one; amongst others he is noted as the boy who never says a bad word, not even to his dogs!
The windings of the Mackenzie River from Fort Simpson northwards are somewhat monotonous until the Horny Mountains come in sight; these are a small branch or spur of the great Rocky Mountains. Their rugged outlines and deep, dark hollows form such fine shadowy contrasts to the mass of snowy surface, lighted up as they were with the gleams of the setting sun.
On the morning of the second day after leaving Fort Simpson, we came to the "Little Rapid," a small post of the Hudson Bay Company, where the Indians congregate every spring to bring their furs for the Company, taking in payment blankets, ammunition, gay ribbons, beads, or cloth.
The Bishop went at once to the Indian camps, where he soon gathered a goodly number for prayers, after which he baptized some of the children, and then we assembled at "La Violette's" house for breakfast, for which we were quite ready, having made but a very hasty meal that morning before five o'clock.
In the afternoon we left Little Rapids and started anew for Fort Norman. A number of wild ducks were flying past us and a few geese, some of which the boatmen shot, and gave us a share of their spoils.
As we approached Fort Norman, the ice became more and more formidable, and on Monday morning we sighted the Fort. Now, indeed, we had a good view of these Rocky Mountains I had so longed to look upon, and very grand they were, not so much from their great height, as from their bold, rugged peaks, on whose snowy surface the morning sun gleamed and shimmered with exquisite effects. A great barrier of ice was revealing itself between us and Fort Norman.
"I thought as much," remarked the Bishop; "the ice was later in breaking up at Fort Simpson than has been known for many years, and it is natural that it should be still more so further north. And now, what is to be done?"
What indeed? For it was evident that some days would be required to thaw those huge mountains of ice which formed our barrier. Should we draw near to the shore and wait? This was out of the question, for every few moments large blocks of ice were sliding down the banks, where they had been deposited but a day or two since, while the turmoil they made in the water and loud sounds as of thunder warned us from any approach to the fallen masses. At last, after some discussion, it was decided to put the boat back for a mile or two and try to find some small creek or bay where she might be safely moored, while two of the men were sent ashore and, after great difficulty, succeeded in scrambling up the bank of ice, and so made their way to the Fort in order to ask the advice of the officer-in-charge as to what could be done.
We shall not soon forget that day and night in the boat. It is true we were comparatively out of danger, for we found a sheltered little creek into which the boat was run, and then fastened by a strong rope to the top of the bank. Mr. F., the officer at the Fort, summoned all the Indians to our rescue, and they were soon at work, some of them with axes endeavouring to cut a track for us through the great blocks of ice, and all volunteering to carry up our boxes, bedding, and articles of furniture, on condition of payment in tea—to which we were only too thankful to accede. Still, as we sat in the boat through that day, the huge blocks of ice came falling around us with a crash and a noise of thunder; in some parts large portions of the bank itself seemed to give way and roll down with the ice.
The night of much peril was passed through in safety, and early next morning my husband left us, as he was anxious to see as much as possible of the Indians at Fort Norman before proceeding on his journey. He effected the dangerous ascent pretty well, but the walk through the tangled, thorny, trackless wood, by which he had to reach the Fort and mission station, must have been even more difficult, to judge by his tattered and unpresentable appearance when he returned that evening.
I was much interested in watching the columns of smoke issuing from the banks for some miles round Fort Norman. It appears that this is a coal district and these banks have been emitting smoke for hundreds of years! Of course, the Indians account for it by their favourite "Nahkami" (bad Indian), who, being the enemy of every tribe, has settled himself somewhere in the bowels of the earth where he sits smoking his pipe!
It is singular the combination of winter and summer which one meets with in this country. At the time I write, with ice all around us, and some nights still frosty, the heat by day is almost insufferable.
The little mission station at Fort Norman, although one of the smallest, is not the least promising of our northern missions. The Red Indians assemble here in large numbers in spring and autumn, bringing their furs for trading, and after some weeks return to the shores of the numerous lakes or to the mountains, where they must lead very hard lives, as there are not enough trees to serve them for fuel, and the mountain sides are so steep and slippery that no man, woman or child among them ventures to move without a staff in hand.
The Bishop always manages to use these opportunities of meeting them for mission work; they bring their children to be baptized, and the church is well filled on Sundays and at Evensong. They are all friendly and well-intentioned, and quite of average intelligence. Their great desire is to have a clergyman resident among them, and they offer willingly to support him—that is, to feed him entirely in return for his ministrations and teachings. We have, alas! only a catechist and schoolmaster here at present, but the Bishop visits the station as often as possible, and would most thankfully place a clergyman here, were men and means forthcoming. As it is, Allan (Hardisty), our native catechist, has done his best. He has had them all under religious instruction: the children daily in school and the men at other times. He has, single-handed, built a small church and mission house, and in the former he gathers the Indians daily for Evensong. They evince a touching interest in their church and services. The church, built entirely of wood, with bark roofing, is a very nice little building. I have many ideas of improving it within and without. I have been making an altar cloth and cushions, and am now very busy and interested in manufacturing a font out of some white clay which we found. It is very malleable when steeped in water and becomes quite hard when baked, and I lie awake at night tracing designs which I work out by day. Hitherto the only font here has been a small silver basin which I have.
Allan walks down the church at times during the service to find their places (for the Indians) in the syllabic book, or at times he will make a pause at "Etthi Yenithum" (I believe), etc., which, after a great deal of page turning, they succeed in finding for themselves. Their singing is more hearty and vigorous than melodious; ''Abide with me'' and ''Lead kindly Light" are great favourites among them, and have been well translated into Slave, the former by the Bishop, the latter by Archdeacon Kirkby.
We have been very busy settling into our little halting-place and it begins to look homelike already; a few chairs and a table, some sacred prints and dear home pictures do very much to make it look civilized. Our home here has certainly no large dimensions—just a "But-and-a-ben," as the Scotch have it, and, as the same Northern Singers observe, "three sparrows might dance on the floor'' of my largest apartment, yet, when I see the number of Indians who can assemble in it, I begin to think my eyes must deceive me as to its diminutive size, or that it is capable of expansion at will.
I have been tracing a resemblance between the grand old Cuchullins in my water-colour sketch of Loch Scavaig, in Skye, and these Rocky Mountains which I see from my window. One fine old cluster of rocks forms the northern boundary of Fort Norman; the appearance is but of bare rock, but I hear that there are abundance of the sweet blueberries on the top. Allan suggests that we might make an expedition there in the summer and bring back a supply for winter preserves, taking our blankets with us and encamping out for the night. Truly, a Red Indian's idea of home and all its comforts is comprised in the one word "blanket."
I have been stationary here since June, while the Bishop has been visiting the northern tribes. He brings back a most satisfactory account of their progress and steadfastness in the Faith, which cheers us greatly. How much I wish that more could be done for these dear Indians. They value Church privileges greatly and yet it is possible to do but so little for them. Oh, for more men out here, good earnest soldiers of the great Army, who will not shrink from the hardships which must be endured, or faint if they do not see immediate results from their labours.
Our need of workers is ever on the increase—brave-hearted men who will really give themselves to the work. One of the greatest trials of the Bishop is to be quite unable to respond to an appeal from some tribe of our people for a clergyman to dwell among them and minister spiritually to them. They undertake in such a case to secure his safety and provide for his maintenance. But our cry homewards for men to ''come over and help'' meets with very faint response.
Allan Hardisty visited these Indians last winter in their hunting grounds. He went by special invitation and spent a very happy time among them, teaching, and reading with them, and holding services daily as far as he was able to do, and they entertained him most hospitably. Those who come here are almost all friendly to the Mission. I show them pictures, in which they are greatly interested. They like the Illustrated News, giving out so many ''Eh—Eh—E—he's" over the white man's doings.
We had a sad but very hopeful death a few weeks since. Albert, son of the old Chief Lambert and formerly hunter to the Mission, met with a serious accident while hunting some years ago, and soon afterwards bone disease set in, the whole leg and thigh becoming affected. He and his wife were baptized by the Bishop some years since and have remained faithful, he himself being one of our best churchmen among the Indians, and his patience and cheerfulness during this long trial were very touching.
When, after much suffering, the end came, the Indian wail, which is full of deep pathos and yet so hard to describe, awoke from young and old—men and women. It is conducted by the wives, who wax more and more vociferous, the men joining in at the very top of their voices as loud as they can possibly contrive to make it. These are the exact notes:
A number of the women keep it up on the same notes (from A to A) for a long time until one wife thinks increased vehemence is required, and so she strikes up in another key (B to B), and this continues for a while, until a further change of key is thought desirable.
The whole scene was one not to be soon forgotten: the manly form and, in truth, noble features of the dead man in the homely wigwam, with only green brushwood for his couch and boughs entwined for his shelter, while all around him were the kneeling and crouched forms of his relatives and friends uttering loudly their cries of woe and lamentation, with hair dishevelled and falling over the face, down which the tears streamed unchecked.
The body was moved to a sledge, drawn into the church, and reverently placed there. Allan then dispersed the people, bidding them reassemble in the church when he rang the bell, and this they did unanimously, stopping their howls, poor dears, for the time, and all joining earnestly in the service, even singing the hymns quite nicely and listening with great attention to a short address which Allan gave them. The body remained in the church throughout the night, and on the following day we laid it to rest.
[Mrs. Bompas's kindness of heart and thoughtfulness for others, and the indomitable and ever-youthful spirit which had enabled her, in the face of all difficulties, to provide a Christmas tea and tree during her first winter in the North-West, and later prompted her to organise a Sunday school treat under almost Arctic conditions, were shown again in the planning of a week-end expedition during the summer of 1881, at a time when the Bishop was absent upon a northern tour, and when, as later extracts in her Journal tell, she and her little band of Indians at Fort Norman were suffering much hardship from shortness of food.]
EXTRACT FROM MRS. BOMPAS'S JOURNAL. FORT NORMAN, AUGUST, 1881
I have been taking charge of the school here daily for the last month, that Allan, the schoolmaster, might get on more rapidly with the Mission buildings. Last week, the work seemed languishing, and I thought he needed some change and rest, so I proposed a visit to a camp a short distance off to see a hunter, and a group of Indians, thinking we might do some mission work among them, and spend a Sunday there.
My proposal was gladly accepted, and having only thought of the plan on Thursday evening we were en route on Friday morning in a fine large canoe, in which, however, there was no room to spare, as we were a party of nine, including the schoolmaster's wife and children, besides my three Indian girls, and Donald, our Indian boy. We took our blankets and kettles, some tea and flour, and, for myself, little beyond a Bible and Prayer-Book, a volume of Mrs. B. B.'s Poems, and two Guardians of November and December, 1880. Whatever else I needed for my comfort I could but look at with a longing sigh, and the only addition was some medicines for the Indians. We had a lovely day for our start, and the paddle down the river was quite enjoyable. The scenery around Fort Norman is much finer than at Fort Simpson, and the mountains, which, as Mrs. B. B. says, "seem to live in Holy Families," are so grand and beautiful.
Donald sat foremost in the canoe and paddled, then came Lizzie, my Louchou child, and Carrie, my Slave girl. Then Mary, Allan's wife, and her two little ones, myself and "Baby Mary," and, lastly, Allan as steersman. It took about nine hours to get down the river, putting ashore for dinner and supper. We were delayed by a beaver, which rose just ahead of the canoe, and to whom we gave chase, but he would put his head under the water just as Donald fired, so we had to forgo a beaver-tail for supper.
When, at length, we reached the Indian camp, silence reigned supreme, and we found them all asleep—that is, all were wrapped in their blankets in the moose-skin lodges, with their feet towards the central fire, still most acceptable on August 12.
Would you imagine that they showed any excitement at this nocturnal visit of a Bishop's wife, who with her companions had travelled some forty or fifty miles to see and talk to them? No, indeed, they would not be true to their Indian nature if they did so. The Chief and a few of the men just unrolled themselves out of their blankets and sat up, holding out their hands for a friendly shake, so far denoting pleasure. After a time they bestirred themselves rather more and got up. Allan said prayers, and we sang one of the Mission hymns before settling ourselves for the night. I wrapped my blanket round myself and Baby Mary, and the two girls lay down next to me upon the turf, rolled up in theirs. I preferred being quite outside the camp for many reasons, but of sleep I had hardly any. Mosquitoes were swarming round me all night, so I had to get up and renew the fire, getting as much smoke as possible in our faces, which was preferable to the wretched tormentors.
We found next morning that the Indians were about to change their camping ground, and were all on the move, so as we had come for their benefit there was nothing for it but to move with them. They soon took down wigwams and lodges, collected all their belongings, such as dried moose meat, beaver claws, moose noses, etc., put a little extra touch of pitch to their canoes where needed, and then we were retracing our steps of the day before for about twenty miles. We encamped in a pleasant spot with lovely mountain views, and a small river near at hand for ablutionary purposes. The Chief was courteous enough to assign his tent to me, and this added greatly to my comfort. When they were settled, the Indians came to me and were very friendly. Some brought me pieces of moose meat, and I gave them tea and flour. Allan read the service on Sunday, both morning and evening, and all the Indians came to it. We sang two hymns in which they all joined very heartily. In the afternoon I had Sunday school for my girls, and one Indian boy, and Allan took all the Indian children for teaching.
On Monday we started again for home; the Indians, meanwhile, had become very cordial and much wished me to remain until they had hunted and killed something for me, but I was too much occupied at home to allow of this. We returned to Fort Norman very leisurely, halting in a charming nook abounding with wild berries. I sat on the bank with my little May, while Mary and the girls made for the woods to pick a supply. I found a number of fossils and some wild flowers. Allan resumed his building with renewed vigour, and I took up the school again to set him quite free.
We have been going through the painful experience during these summer months of great scarcity of provisions—not an unusual case in these remote northern regions, but where, unfortunately, at the same time, one has a greater capacity for food than elsewhere.
There has been an unusual prevalence of stormy weather of late, with much strong wind, and this entirely keeps off the fish, on which at this season of the year we depend wholly for subsistence. Allan has three large nets spread in different parts of the river and goes off in his canoe each morning and evening to visit them, but returns either quite empty-handed, or with only two or three small fish for the support of a household of six or seven people. The supply of dried meat which I brought with me from Fort Simpson diminished rapidly as soon as I began to distribute it amongst the many hungry ones. I have still a small quantity of oatmeal and flour left, but this is coming to an end, and unless the fish come in I know not what we shall do, as we have nothing to fail back upon. Potatoes have not as yet reached Fort Norman, but we have planted some this year, and the crop looks promising.
I have undertaken the school myself daily, to set Allan free, and am glad to have been enabled to go on with it, though really often suffering from inanition. One's heart aches most for the children—their pale, pinched faces seem to haunt me. They are very patient and enduring, and work away at the berries, which at present are only half ripe, and dig up a root of which the Indians are very fond, and which I myself find not unpalatable. I have sent Allan off on an expedition to some of the neighbouring lakes, and with him my Indian boy Donald, as they may possibly shoot some wild ducks or a few white partridges, and, what would be better still, they might find some beavers, which are excellent food, and which ought to be abundant, seeing that from this small part of Fort Norman alone 2,500 beaver skins were sent off to Europe this summer. I have had the women and children up at the Mission House every evening, and we prayed earnestly for help in our urgent need. On some days our wants have been supplied in a remarkable manner; once, when we were almost at the last gasp, some Indians suddenly appeared, having just killed a moose deer, and they had never been at this Fort before. The weather all the time continued most gloomy and tended to the general depression, fierce thunderstorms prevailing, and dark, grey, lowering days with scarcely one gleam of sunshine, and the wind at night was fearful, howling around our small wooden dwelling, while my husband was far away. In my loneliness and isolation I talk a great deal to these grand old mountains, and they say much to me. There is one particular group, which I see from my window, which is to me quite a family of friends. I think they never appear twice over alike—such a constant variety of light and shade.
I have been asked to make a flag for this mission station. One is always hoisted when the Bishop comes, and Allan has set up a fine flagstaff with a small cross at the top. After some planning and concocting from memory the right lines, I have succeeded in turning out a very respectable Union Jack, barring, of course, the right material, although my crimson twill and dark blue cotton really look very well.
Winter is coming on with us, and when this reaches England your summer will be at hand. An English summer! I think of it sometimes with a kind of yearning to smell a sweet violet, or a cabbage rose, to look again upon geraniums, fuchsias, myrtles, and the rich wealth of colouring in an English flower garden; to see some lovely oaks and elms, some limes and beeches, to smell the lilacs enriched in their colour with the golden laburnum! I know not how I should bear the rapture of all this, any more than I could bear to hear a symphony of Mozart or Haydn, or a song of Beethoven or Schubert; these all seem to belong to another state of existence to which I can hardly fancy that I ever belonged!
We have had hardly any summer this year after our long winter, and yet the wild flowers have been abundant amongst the mountains.
I believe the mineral properties here to be very great, though they have hardly as yet been explored. There is certainly an extensive deposit of coal beneath the banks of the river; we pick up stones, small, but so very heavy that surely they must contain iron; some gold is also to be found here with exquisite crystals, and innumerable fossils.
I had to part with my last tea yesterday for two beaver tails, and our soap is quite exhausted. Still, we are hoping for the boats ere long, and I am expecting the Bishop's return from Slave Lake, and who knows what stores he may bring!
LETTER WRITTEN TO "THE NET"
The Bishop's return to us was greatly delayed. We counted on his arrival for relief in our most pressing necessities, and I was weary of acting on my own responsibility and judgment, for daily there is very much in which the said judgment is called for. But we looked and longed for him in vain, and the river became more firmly locked with ice. Towards the middle of November I was roused one night from sleep, and startled to the uttermost by the loud knocking at the door of two Indians, who shouted out to me:
"We bring you tidings of Bishop; he is starving!''
It did not take me long to spring up and examine the men as to the truth of their report, and perilous indeed was the adventure which I gathered from them. The Bishop had reached Fort Simpson some days later than was expected. Finding that ice was rapidly forming on the river, so that to proceed northwards by canoe was utterly impossible, he started on a small raft (which was hastily and badly constructed) with one Indian. On this they were beating about for days in great peril amid the gathering ice. They reached at last La Violette's house at Little Rapid, and there had to remain for ten days until the river was fast bound. Then the Bishop started anew to walk with four Indians, one of whom went after a bear in the woods and wholly lost sight of the others. Their supply of provisions was most insufficient, and from losing the right track the journey occupied twelve days instead of, as is usual, six. At length, when within a day's reach of this place, the Bishop was so overcome with exhaustion as to be quite unable to proceed, their only meal, sometime previous, having been a fish and small barley cake between four men. The Indians left him in the woods and hurried on to tell me of his condition ... I felt there was no time to lose, and my first effort was to induce one of the young Indians to set off immediately to discover the Bishop in the woods, with Indian sagacity, and take him the relief I would send.
"'Whu-tale, Bishop is starving in the woods. I send him meat—chiddi, chiddi (quick, quick), eh?'
"Whu-tale, with true Indian passiveness, 'Maybe to-morrow.'
"'No, Whu-tale, to-morrow Bishop must be here; he cannot stand until he has eaten meat. I want you to take it now, and go to him like the wind. If you go directly and bring Bishop safe, I will give you a fine flannel shirt.'
"Whu-tale, a little more briskly: 'Then it would not be hard for me to go, and perhaps like the wind.'
''The next moment saw me emerging from my house, wrapped in my deer-skin robe, up the hill to the Fort, where I had to rouse the Hudson Bay Company's officer from a sound sleep to obtain from him a supply of moose meat. The thermometer was nearly 30° below zero, and wolves in a starving condition had been seen lurking near the Fort; but I thought of neither the one nor the other, and only rejoiced to get Whutale off, and waited with enough anxiety through the succeeding hours. After darkness had set in on the following day, the travellers appeared, trudging along on snow-shoes, weary and footsore, my husband looking hardly able to stand, and with his beard all fringed with icicles. It is wonderful how he had been preserved amid such perils, and brought to me at last in answer to my prayers."
St. Stephen's Day, December 26, 1881.
The cold has been pretty severe for some time even before Christmas, ranging from twenty to forty below zero, and the little house not very warm either, for it is but a roughly built affair. Then our supplies have been rather below the average this year—i.e., no potatoes since September, and the needful provision of meat and fish, etc., rather uncertain; yet for all this, by God's mercy we have never really wanted a meal, and just now we are having a sledge-load of beautiful fish come in, which we enjoy greatly for breakfast and dinner, and we have musk ox or moose meat for supper, with a dish of dumplings of flour and fish roe, which are delicious! Now, do not think because I tell you the state of things that you must wring your hands over them, and pity and make yourself unhappy about me, for indeed you need not do so—all these things are trifles when one gets used to them, and when one's need is real I find God's merciful hand always supplies it in some way or other. William has fretted himself almost ill for having brought me here this winter, and he has worked so hard to make the house warmer and has improved it all greatly, mending the outside of the house and padding the inside with moss and paper, making shutters and window curtains himself, breaking old cases to turn into shutters, fixing deer-skins round my bed and old sails overhead to keep out draughts, and after all, and in spite of all, I am very thankful to be here.
EXTRACTS FROM MRS. BOMPAS'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS, FORT NORMAN, JANUARY—FEBRUARY, 1882.
Epiphany, January 6, 1882.
A long interval in my Journal, but Christmastide and the New Year brought their usual press of occupations, and, in addition to these, the short days and scanty daylight made it very difficult to write. For some weeks we have had barely three hours of daylight—the sun makes his tardy appearance about 10.45 a-m- and sets soon after one o'clock, the remainder of the day until four o'clock being twilight, and after that, total darkness. No, not that though, for we have the moon in her northern beauty to shine for sixteen hours—her brilliancy at times is past description—and then the aurora, which is at its best between eleven and twelve at night, and which has, on some nights lately, been most glorious, heaving and waving, flickering and shimmering across the sky with everchanging shades and tints. One night it assumed the most perfect sea-green, another, it was crimson, fading down at the edges, and sometimes it is like a fringe swaying with the wind. Oh, if Mendelssohn had but seen an aurora! None could describe it in music as he would do, and I know no other means of portraying it!
February 13, 1882.
I wrote this much of my letter last December, but Allan never turned up. I suppose there was some difficulty about "prey," as, you see, in a winter trip dogs have to be fed as well as men, and so there was no means of sending our letters. It was a great blank and disappointment, neither sending nor receiving letters, and has made the winter double its usual length. Poor Miss Morris is rather low at getting no letters since she left in May last! [A companion to Mrs. Bompas.] She is such a nice girl and I am so thankful to have her; I wish you had seen her; she makes me in love with Wales and the Welsh. She has not very much to do here, as William only lets her take school three times a week, and she has a knitting class twice a week; but she reads to me nicely and writes letters for me, and as we have three Indian girls now, who must never be out of sight, it is a comfort to be able to hand them over to her sometimes, and in the evening she and I play and sing together, only my harmonium is almost on its last legs! I admire her Welsh songs so much and the Welsh hymns are exquisite. Her father has written a number of hymns and published them. ... I think I told you that Miss M. had several "offers" on her journey out, the officers of the H.B. Company distinguishing themselves as usual with their urgent eagerness to obtain a wife. One of these individuals took the unprecedented device of offering a lady of the party 300 dollars if she would persuade Miss Morris to marry him. I do not think she was struck with any of the gentlemen.
It has been rather a trying winter in some respects; the wee house is rather a cram for six of us to live in. The inner room, which is all open roof, is Miss M.'s bedroom. I have hung some nice curtains round her bed; there are some neat bookshelves with all my choice books. There are two windows here, one at the end looking up the hill towards the master's house, and the other towards the river and the dear, dear mountains.
We have been mercifully helped on with respect to food, but times have been pretty hard, and Mr. Irvine, the H.B. Company officer-in-charge, and dear William himself, have been somewhat anxious. Last week they announced that we must be put on half rations—i.e., 30 lbs. dried meat per week for our party of seven, instead of 60 lbs., and this without a single vegetable to help out. Well, it seemed a rather bad lookout, but wonderful, is it not, yet simply true—the 30 lbs. has held out and supplied us all, as well, even better than the 60 lbs. We have never come short of a meal, and one day this week we did get a small piece of fresh meat from an Indian, and another day three sledges appeared with a little more, so we are all cheering up, though the "half-rations" still continue. All this I tell you, my dearest, to incite you to pray on for us, not to make you anxious.
About my plans, my darling, you must not be disappointed at my run home being deferred for another year. I could not make up my mind to take such a journey again without my husband; besides, I do want William to get away a little out of the diocese and to see something of the outer world, and he finds it impossible to do this this year, but thinks it possible he might in the year 1883, and so, if life be spared and courage fail not, I think many more improbable things may occur than that I should find myself once more in dear old England and who knows, perhaps . . .
[In the autumn of this year, 1882, the Bishop took Mrs. Bompas from Fort Norman to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake, "where," wrote the Bishop, "I have left her, I hope, a little more comfortable than last winter."
In March of the following year, 1883, after travelling about for many months, visiting various missions, the Bishop heard that Mrs. Bompas was ill, so he proceeded as soon as possible to Fort Resolution, where he found her in better health than he had expected, although she had suffered severe hardships in the winter because of the cold.
Although he had been away nine months, he only remained at Fort Resolution two weeks, and then pushed north to the Tukudh mission, visiting various stations on the way. Here he remained one year, but before leaving he made arrangements for Mrs. Bompas to revisit England.]