Further Chronicles of Avonlea
XV. Tannis Of The Flats
Few people in Avonlea could understand why Elinor Blair had never married. She had
been one of the most beautiful girls in our part of the Island and, as a woman of fifty,
she was still very attractive. In her youth she had had ever so many beaux, as we of our
generation well remembered; but, after her return from visiting her brother Tom in the
Canadian Northwest, more than twenty-five years ago, she had seemed to withdraw
within herself, keeping all men at a safe, though friendly, distance. She had been a gay,
laughing girl when she went West; she came back quiet and serious, with a shadowed
look in her eyes which time could not quite succeed in blotting out.
Elinor had never talked much about her visit, except to describe the scenery and the
life, which in that day was rough indeed. Not even to me, who had grown up next door
to her and who had always seemed more a sister than a friend, did she speak of other
than the merest commonplaces. But when Tom Blair made a flying trip back home,
some ten years later, there were one or two of us to whom he related the story of
Jerome Carey,--a story revealing only too well the reason for Elinor's sad eyes and utter
indifference to masculine attentions. I can recall almost his exact words and the
inflections of his voice, and I remember, too, that it seemed to me a far cry from the
tranquil, pleasant scene before us, on that lovely summer day, to the elemental life of
The Flats was a forlorn little trading station fifteen miles up the river from Prince Albert,
with a scanty population of half-breeds and three white men. When Jerome Carey was
sent to take charge of the telegraph office there, he cursed his fate in the picturesque
language permissible in the far Northwest.
Not that Carey was a profane man, even as men go in the West. He was an English
gentleman, and he kept both his life and his vocabulary pretty clean. But--the Flats!
Outside of the ragged cluster of log shacks, which comprised the settlement, there was
always a shifting fringe of teepees where the Indians, who drifted down from the
Reservation, camped with their dogs and squaws and papooses. There are standpoints
from which Indians are interesting, but they cannot be said to offer congenial social
attractions. For three weeks after Carey went to the Flats he was lonelier than he had
ever imagined it possible to be, even in the Great Lone Land. If it had not been for
teaching Paul Dumont the telegraphic code, Carey believed he would have been driven
to suicide in self-defense.
The telegraphic importance of the Flats consisted in the fact that it was the starting point
of three telegraph lines to remote trading posts up North. Not many messages came
therefrom, but the few that did come generally amounted to something worth while.
Days and even weeks would pass without a single one being clicked to the Flats. Carey