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Authors: Tim Bowling

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The Tinsmith (44 page)

BOOK: The Tinsmith
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But could America be less repellent to him, now that the past, the very best of it, had sold itself just as cheaply and vanished into the common, present corruption? A weight pressed on his shoulders. Anson resisted, but the natal impulse in him—the love for the country whose ideals he still believed he would die for, even if the country had dishonoured them—was too much.

When he turned at last to the south, it was as if all the hands of the wounded men he'd tended were directing him, laid one upon the other in gory ranks from his shoulder into the still, blue air. And then only one hand was touching him. A strange music vibrated at the touch, music of no regiment or nation or acknowledged genius, the music of what it meant to accept certain truths as given and to live in their service. Anson could almost hear it; it seemed to ring out from the bright air and rise in a shimmering reflection off the summer-drugged waters.

So when Louisa herself ran up, shouting, “Dr. Baird! Dr. Baird! You have a telegram!” he wasn't so much surprised as confirmed in his appreciation for the music that the ancient Greeks and Romans must have absorbed in order to capture it in their poetry. Even so, when Anson took the cable from the smiling child, when he saw who it was from and what it meant, his hand trembled a little.

“Louisa,” he said and knelt to look closely at her. “Will you promise me something? Will you promise to meet me backstage after your first concert in New York?”

Her laughter flowed high and rippling, as if she played it with her fingers. “Oh, Dr. Baird, you're so funny.”

But Anson had already looked over the girl's shoulder, upriver, toward Crescent Slough.

“Yes,” he said. “But will you promise?”

When she realized that he was serious, Louisa paused a few seconds, her brow furrowing. She was, after all, a highly intelligent child, old beyond her years. Finally, she nodded. “I promise.”

“Then let's shake on it.” Anson extended his hand and took the girl's warmth into his palm. But already he was making his plans for Victoria; the cable had become a knife that he could wield with his old confidence and every expectation of success.

From Crescent Slough to the Gulf

He knew even better than his enemies did what they expected of a nigger. If a nigger somehow managed to survive a murder attempt, he'd never stop running. So Dare, when he regained consciousness, lay on his back under the bunched stars and the flitting of bats, waiting for enough strength to return to his body. At last, very slowly, he pulled himself up, pain flashing in his shoulder. It took a long while, but he managed to remove his shirt and use the arm of it to stanch his wound. All the patience and care of his youth on the battlefields returned to him. He could almost see the ghost of his young face, calm, steady, looking down at him from just above and whispering, “Go slow, easy, there's time enough.”

He knew it was true. He knew that he would not lie to himself, not now, so close to the end that was coming. The poisons sloshed in his lungs as he forced himself up, gasping and coughing raggedly. Then he whistled. No sound came back across the churned ground, but he did not worry. He whistled again. A rippling neigh broke to the south, in the direction of the marsh. It would take a while, but he would recover the horse. And when he had done so, he would not return to Crescent Slough until enough time had passed for the other canners to believe him dead. Five days or a week should do it. Long enough for him to make his private arrangements. One thing you could count on with the canners: their loyalty was to profit first, and to each other not even second. Five days to recover with the Indians in their camp at the ocean's edge, where Chilukthan Slough spills into the Gulf.

•  •  •

And he waited just that long to return to his cannery. As he suspected, the other canners hadn't even bothered to steal his pack; no doubt they believed him dead and saw no reason to take time away from their own operations to visit Crescent Slough. Perhaps they had sent someone out to investigate the settlement shortly after the attack. It didn't matter. Dare was so confident in his timing, and in the reports of the Indians he'd sent ahead as scouts, that he did not even feel the need for a weapon as he set to work.

It took hours of sweat and labour, but whenever his shoulder throbbed the pain was almost pleasing because it was not on his cheek. At last the long scows were ready, securely roped together. The tins, stacked ten feet high and twelve wide on each scow, made an impressive sight, glistening a little in the moon glow. The red salmon on the labels were crowded close, as in a huge school, waiting only for the mysterious rush of instinct that would drive them forward. But it was the owner of the name on each tin who controlled this mystery.

He had paid off the few Indians he'd hired and sent them away the night before. By now the doctor would be in Victoria, making the necessary arrangements at the harbour. All except one. Dare would handle the shipping of old Kim's body back to China himself.

He boarded the front scow and stared downriver. Moonlight slid and rippled on the great, fast-flowing dark. A strong breeze blew into his face, carrying the pungent decays of the season and scouring the stars high over the Gulf. Behind him, the three broad mountains of tins, the whole pack for the last run, shivered and whistled as he pushed the scows into the current.

Within minutes, he was drifting rapidly toward the sea, past the Englishmen's landing, the whistling in the tins louder with every minute. Only once did he look over his torn shoulder at the gleaming pack, tens of thousands of tins, all the fortune he would need. A few empties shook loose and plunged into the roiling current, but that didn't matter; he'd only stacked them at the last moment, not wanting to leave them to Craig or Owen.

He smiled. It was too bad that the river wouldn't carry him past the canneries of the two Scotsmen. But they'd find out soon enough that their control of the industry wasn't complete. And by then it would be too late; his pack would already be on Wadhams' wharf at the very edge of the Gulf, sold and ready for shipment to Victoria, and from there to England. After that, he could leave the fighting and man­oeuvring to the others. After that, he would be home.

The stars were as many as the tins. They seemed to whistle and shake too as the shimmering scows slid under them. Just as the salmon below, as multiple as the stars, whistled and shook as they plunged out of the salt into the fresh waters. The whole night was alive and yet still, fixed, unchanging in its purpose to become dawn. In the marsh grasses, the sloughs, the black folds where the bats hunted, everywhere drifted the same old desire. And part of it was his; he was a part of it, the river, the marshes, the salmon's faithful return. He had stayed and fought longer here than anywhere else, long enough to justify the seeding of all that remained from his childhood into this wet ground. And what would grow from that seed would be superior to what the Scots and the English grew, because it was more than money to him, it was the victory of his own death.

The tins whistled as the scows drifted past the last silt island before the sea.

Dare stood listening at the front of what his skill had wrought, his legs braced, his eyes open, and did not look back.


I wish to thank the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Edmonton Arts Council, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for their financial support. My late agent, Frances Hanna, contributed greatly to
The Tinsmith
(I miss her intelligence and good humour). I doubt very much that there is a finer and more generous editor of fiction in this country than Jack Hodgins. It was a pleasure and a great gift to have the help of such an esteemed author, and a fellow native of the West Coast, on this novel.

is the author of ten poetry collections, two works of non-fiction, and four novels. Tim's most recent books are the poetry collections
The Annotated Bee & Me
, and the non-fiction titles
In the Suicide's Library: A Book Lover's Journey
The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture
. A native of the West Coast who now lives in Edmonton, he has received many honours for his writing, including a Canadian Authors Association Award, two Governor General's Award nominations, a fellowship for his entire body of work in prose and poetry from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and four Alberta Book Awards.

Copyright © 2012 Tim Bowling

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written consent of the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (
Copyright). For a copyright licence, visit

Bowling, Tim, 1964–
The tinsmith [electronic resource] / Tim Bowling.

Originally published by Brindle & Glass in 2012 in paperback with ISBN 978-1-926972-43-5.
ISBN 978-1-926972-44-2 (HTML)—ISBN 978-1-926972-45-9 (PDF)

I. Title.

PS8553.O9044T55 2012 C813'.54 C2011-907280-7

Editor: Jack Hodgins
Copy Editor/Proofreader: Heather Sangster, Strong Finish
Design: Pete Kohut
Cover image: Confederate soldier: John Cairns,
Texture: George Bosela, stck.xchng
Author photo: Theresa Shea

Brindle & Glass is pleased to acknowledge the financial support for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Brindle & Glass Publishing Ltd.

BOOK: The Tinsmith
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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