25 October, 2016 by katelaity
‘Ten years!’ I could hardly believe it. ‘How could you stay in such a wilderness for so long?’
Rae laughed. ‘A doctor is always in need, especially in the wilds. After the ice made my stay through the winter inevitable I decided to make the best of it. And the best was far better than I expected.’
‘The Moose Factory,’ Tansy repeated with a dreamy sort of air. ‘I am assuming that factory means something very different from the heaving black monsters I usually associate with that word.’
Rae nodded. ‘You are quite correct. The Hudson Bay Company divided regions into factors. Just as the rector is head of a rectory, the factor is head of the factory. You may think of it as a wild place but it was quite the buzzing hub of activity in James Bay, both for trading and for the more dull administrative side of the Company. As a doctor I saw all kinds of people for everything from indigestion to grievous bodily harm.’
‘Did it not draw a wild sort of people there?’ I asked. His words puzzled me as it all sounded so civilised which was not at all how I pictured the legendary Hudson Bay. Perhaps the exciting accounts in my newspapers had exaggerated those adventures.
‘Well, certainly there is a usual type of character who is drawn to the rugged wilderness, those who long for a respite from the hurly burly of the city.’
‘Ah, but I think what my friend means is not those adventurers but the peoples of those wild lands.’ Tansy looked at me for confirmation and I nodded. It may be very boyish of me but I do adore a wild tale of adventure—as long as I have cakes and tea to consume whilst I listen.
Which reminded me, there was still some cake! ‘I suppose they were rather savage people so far from this fine land.’
Rae chuckled. At first I was not sure whether it was over my avid desire for refreshment or my keenness for armchair adventures. His face grew more serious as he spoke though. ‘There are always adventures in such wild and untamed lands, that is true. And the result of much wild and often cruel behaviour showed up at my door, demanding a sling or a bandage or even a bed.
‘By far the cruelest of the “savages” were the men from civilised lands. There is something secret buried in the hearts of those who wear a stylish suit like a mask. Far from kith and kin they open the suit and that heart to howl like wolves at the moon and unleash something monstrous that polite society keeps hidden.’
I shuddered. ‘What kind of monstrousness?’
‘Everything: murder, raptus, unutterable cruelty that a tyrant might tremble to do.’
‘And these were Christian men?’ Tansy seemed quite awed by the thought of it. ‘How could they go so bad?’
Rae shrugged his shoulders with an air of surrender. ‘To some the niceties of civilisation provide but the flimsiest excuse for civilised behaviour. The lack of traditional restraints—family, church, law and queen—quickly render them eager to display a most bestial nature. It is rare they walk abroad here, but when we do their names live on as nightmares.’
‘Burke and Hare,’ Tansy said, nodding sagely. He sipped a little more whisky looking thoughtful.
‘Wainewright, or the cannibal of Van Diemen’s Land,’ Rae agreed. ‘We think of our cities being free of monsters, that it is savages in other lands who haunt our imagination. I can tell you from ten years among such ‘savages’ that they are far more trustworthy than most of the civilised men I met.’
‘The people of such lands must be hardy. I cannot imagine coping with such cold. The winds here in Orkney seem harsh enough. What must they be like with frozen air and snow!’ Tansy shivered involuntarily at the thought of it.
‘Indeed they are. I came to know them well—and learned much from them about how best to live in that land. Their wisdom guided me through many a troubling time, but in a way it also proved my downfall.’