EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 8
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Jim and Eddie’s Folly
An Excerpt from Chapter 8 of The Innocent
Read by its author Lynne Golding
Author’s note: this chapter is about a fictional flood that that occurred on Sunday April 17, 1910 the day before the eighteenth birthday of Jessie’s brother, Jim. As the Etobicoke Creek waters rise, Jessie, her older Sister Ina, her cousins Hannah and John Darling, and her friend Frances Hudson are confined to the Wellington Street verandah of her cousins’ home, a set of binoculars among them, taking in what little view could be obtained of the big bridge at the foot of Wellington Street. Only Ina is able to leave the Verandah. The budding scientist in the company of her father or her uncle is able to monitor the rising water levels as she has done all week. It is early afternoon. After taking another inspection of the fire station and the downtown area, Jessie’s uncle returns and provides a report.
As Ina had predicted, the water level was just at the street level. There were no horses or people on Main Street; only an old green carriage sat on the street next to the Dominion Bank. Children were no longer playing near the water. Nearly everyone had moved to higher ground. He guessed that there were a hundred people on the upper lawns of Gage Park, thirty on the higher ground in front of the courthouse, and an equal number on the steps of St. Paul’s and in front of the Baptist Church. We could see that there were easily another ten people on the Wellington Street Bridge…….
Just then a wild roar erupted from Main Street. Minutes later, Father and Ina confirmed that the creek had broken street level. …The ice dam north of the town had been breached. Water was pouring into Brampton. The road, the caverns under it, the parks, and likely a good many of the shops along Main Street were being flooded with cold water. The water level, which had risen slowly by inches over the last day and a half, began to rise quickly by feet. Within another hour, the creek was a full foot above street level; within two hours the street was three feet under water.
[The next time that Father and Uncle James brought Ina back from her monitoring they announced that there] was something appropriate for us all to see. Father led us to the front of the Baptist Church on the hill above the gushing creek. Approaching the bridge in front of us, bobbing down the water-filled road, was the big green carriage abandoned earlier in the day …. The water was deep enough for the carriage to roll one way and then another without settling on the street below. Father was certain it would get caught on the bridge rather than proceed under it, but Ina expected the force of the water to push it under the bridge and through to the other side. The crowd burst into applause when the carriage…progressed through to the Southern Flats quicker than if it had travelled behind a team of horses….
To [my] delight… following the disappearance of the green carriage in the Southern Flats no suggestion was made that we return to our positions on the Darling verandah. Main Street was by then a two-lane river lapping the steps of St. Paul’s on the east side and spilling into the vacant park land across from the church on the other. In the business section, it ran from the merchants’ stores on one side of the street to the merchants’ stores on the other. …
As the water continued to rise, its velocity also increased. Soon, roaring water was all that could be seen from the Grand Trunk Railway tracks that rose above the street north of the business section—all that could be seen, that is, except for one thing. I peered through the binoculars still looped around my neck to make it out. It was something one wouldn’t ordinarily see on a street. I was not the only one who noticed it. Soon everyone was looking north. We assumed the pose we took as we viewed our summer-time parades, which always started from the north and progressed south down Main Street. This was no exception—but for the fact that this parade’s float was truly buoyant.
“They’d better not be my students!” Mr. Hudson, the principal of the local high school, repeated over and over….
Mother had the same premonition and nudged Father…
Father began, fully understanding her meaning, but then, not wanting to be wrong, he yanked the binoculars from my neck and lifted them to his face. His look through the device was too long to constitute an absolute denial of the possibility. As the boat came closer, he groaned.
“Is that my sheet serving as a mast?” Mother asked.
“I believe it may be,” replied Father with some agitation as he muttered that his eldest child, about to turn eighteen, was not too old for a walloping.
As the vessel approached, its true nature could be discerned. It was not an actual sailboat with a keel but an old rowboat. The mast was more a banner, tied at the top and the bottom of each side to two posts rising from a horizontal bar at the stern. Embossed with the words “Jim and Eddie’s Folly,” it was clearly for decorative purposes only. There was no wind, and the velocity of the water was all that was required to propel the boat downstream. The two sailors in white shirts and dark pants stood gloriously side-by-side in front of the banner, each with a foot on the gunnel of the boat. They waved to the crowds, which reciprocated with cries urging them on. “Go Eddie! Go Jim!” they called.
Aunt Rose turned innocently to Mother. “I thought they were minding the church?”
“Perhaps the church should have been minding them,” Mother offered.
“We did say it was a birthday he would remember,” Aunt Rose replied.
“Let’s just hope he lives to remember it,” Uncle James added seemingly in jest, but shortly I feared it might have been otherwise.