Kingly Moments #3 – Spooky, eh??

 

He lived alone. No one else lived with him; no wife, no sons, no daughters, no brothers, no sisters, no friends, no partners – nobody! There was no one else in the community that shared his name so he probably didn’t have any cousins, aunts or uncles either: he was alone. Everyone in the community knew him as Huoma. It wasn’t Mr. Huoma or Huoma Schmidt or Nick Huoma: he was simply Huoma. The boys didn’t know if Huoma was even his real name; it could have been a nickname for all they knew. Since everyone they knew had at least two names, it seemed strange to them that this man should only have one but they accepted it, didn’t ask any questions and weren’t offered any explanation either.
Not only was Huoma alone, he was also poor (judging by Eddy and Harry’s definition). He did not have a lot of material possessions but maybe that was the way he wanted it and was happy with what he had thus excluding him from the definition of “being poor”. He somehow had acquired the quarter section of land on which he lived and built his home. Only a small portion of the one hundred and sixty acres was cleared and put into cultivated crops; the rest remained in its natural state. He had only cleared about fifty acres of his property ; enough to grow some winter feed for his animals and a few acres more for a cash crop. The soil was poor so yields were small therefore his income was probably quite meager. Eddy and Harry did not know if he had machinery with which to plant crops and till the soil or if his neighbors would come to his assistance come planting time. They knew that Otto would move his threshing equipment to Huoma’s place during harvest time and thresh whatever crop he had. Only Otto and either Eugene, Arnold or Rudy would go along to haul the sheaves to the threshing machine as there was not enough crop to warrant a whole crew. Otto would only be gone for one day and Otto would usually return with a sack full of alfalfa seeds – probably Otto’s payment for work done.
Although Huoma was lacking in material wealth the boys had in vague terms heard that Huoma was a learned man; he spoke several languages and spoke them very well. (How many languages certainly Eddy and Harry didn’t know because they only knew two plus a host of Ukrainian swear words.) They were however, fully aware that Huoma was fluent in German. Eddy and Harry were bemused by this because if he was so learned why wasn’t he rich? What was he doing living in the bush by himself?
Eddy and Harry had many opportunities to visit Huoma at his farm. The opportunities were made possible because Huoma’s place was located only about one half mile south of the school yard and out of curiosity some of the students would wander over to Huoma’s place to pay him a visit and every once in a while Eddy and Harry would tag along.
Upon approaching the yard it was obvious that Huoma had built himself a comfortable place. At first sight it was clear that all the buildings on his yard were hand built. His house, which was located nearest to the public road, his barn which housed his larger animals, his chicken coop as well as his pig sty were all built from trees that came from his property. Externally all were plastered with the usual mixture of clay and straw but none had seen whitewash or paint. All shared the clay colour which blended very nicely with the grass and the scrubby aspens that surrounded his entire yard. His yard looked cozy. A wooden fence constructed of willow stakes surrounded his garden plot and a pole fence surrounded his hay storage plot. His well was situated near the cow barn and a foot path lead from his house to the garden as well as to his barns and well. He would tell his visitors that he had built all his buildings by himself using only hand saws and axes. He said that he cut the trees down with a buck saw, limbed them, debarked them, cut them to length and then laid them one on top of the other to create the walls. The foundation consisted of some large stones gathered from his property. After building the walls and placing a roof on the buildings, he applied a thick mixture of clay and straw to both sides of the logs as well as pouring a thick layer of the mixture on top of the cross pieces which formed the ceiling. His house measured only about twelve feet in width by eighteen feet in length. There was no wood floor in his house – instead he used the same mixture of clay and straw and poured a thick layer of it on the ground. The out building were built using the same technique.
Huoma was always happy to have visitors. Upon entering the house the visitors’ eyes would need some time to adjust to the dim interior and after the eyes could focus clearly it was obvious that Huoma, although not fancy, kept his place quite tidy. The furnishings were sparse consisting of a small cook stove, a side board, a small table, two chairs and a single bed whose feet had sunk into the clay floor causing the mattress to lie on the dirt floor.
Although these student visits occurred several times over the course of several years, Harry only went a couple of times. There was no point in going, he thought, because Huoma did not offer a cookie, a candy, a bun or anything to the visitors. Huoma would only talk rapidly in a language that Harry could not understand so what was the point? Besides Harry was somewhat upset with Huoma.
Huoma had no apparent means of transportation. He had no car, no truck, no tractor and as far as Harry knew he didn’t even have a horse. Harry had never seen Huoma go past the farm yard driving a team or even a single horse. Huoma relied mainly on hitching rides with his neighbors and this was the reason Harry was a little upset with Huoma.
Every second week or so, Huoma would be seen standing patiently by the school yard gate. Eddy and Harry knew exactly what they were in for! It happened the same way every time. Just as King would leave the school yard and enter the road, Huoma would jump in front of King, grab him by the reins and prevent King from going any further.
“Wohin, wohin?” (Where to, where to), Huoma would call out.
“Wohin, wohin?” Every time it was the same.
What did he expect? Why did he have to ask that stupid question all the time. He knew very well “wohin”. Did he think perhaps they were going to Prince Albert?
“Wir gehen nach Hause,” (We are going home.) would come the reply.
The boys complained to Clara and Otto about Huoma infringing on their space on the cart or the cutter but they were told by both their mom and their dad in no uncertain terms that if Huoma asked for a lift they had better give him one. Furthermore, Otto told them that if they didn’t and he found out they would each get a “lickin”. Both Eddy and Harry had experienced Otto’s “lickens” and they were no fun. They didn’t happen often but when they did they would be remembered. Secretly though they actually found it amusing to give Huoma a lift.
After it was established that “wohin” was the Flath farm yard, Huoma would walk up to Harry’s side, grab him by the arm and tell Harry to get off. Huoma would clamour aboard and plunk himself right in the middle of the seat. None of the seats were meant for three people – only two could fit comfortably on them. After making himself comfortable he would pat the vacant portion of the seat, smile and say,
“Kom zitzen sie hier.” (Come sit here.)
Obligingly Harry would climb up beside Huoma knowing full well that only one cheek would fit on the space that was left. Eddy would suffer the same fate on the other side.
It was not only the fact that they had to cuddle up close to Huoma that annoyed them; Huoma was a bachelor, a bachelor with no running water. Huoma smelled. He didn’t really stink but it took a long time to get used to his unique odour. Furthermore, Huoma would talk steady. He would tell them things they knew absolutely nothing about using words and terms that were way beyond their comprehension. So rather than try to make sense of what Huoma was telling them, they would sit silently nodding their heads, sneaking peeks at one another, winking at each other, making stupid faces and occasionally giggle. Every once in a while a giggle would be loud enough for Huoma to notice to which Huoma would respond with “Warum lachen sie?” (Why are you laughing?) Embarrassed by being caught making fun of Huoma’s antics they would always respond, “Wir lachin nicht” (We are not laughing.) and the one-sided conversation would continue until King with his load came within sight of the grave yard. As soon as the grave yard came into view Huoma’s one sided German conversation would come to a sudden stop and Huoma would switch to a different language and begin reciting. He would recite a few sentences then cross himself, recite some more and cross himself and the closer they got to the grave yard the faster the reciting and the more frequent the crossing until it reached a frenzied pace. Once past the grave yard Huoma’s reciting and crossings would cease and he would continue his lecture in German and upon reaching the farm yard gate Huoma would dismount and carry on, on foot, towards Hafford.
Eddy and Harry had not had the pleasure of Huoma’s company for a couple of weeks so were not surprised to see Huoma standing in wait for a lift. It was also no surprise when they heard the familiar “Wohin” and the subsequent ritual of getting Huoma seated comfortably in the middle of the seat with Eddy and Harry finding barely enough room on the seat for themselves.
The trip began as usual with the usual rolling of eyes, snickering and Huoma doing all the talking. It also came as no surprise then Huoma switched languages and began crossing himself as they approached the grave yard.
Huoma was deeply involved in his praying (or whatever it was) and his crossing when suddenly and for no apparent reason the left shaft of the cart slipped out of its holder and began to wave from side to side. After a few swings the loose shaft struck King’s hind leg. (Poor King! It seems like he was constantly getting run into or struck from behind.) King reacted as would any other horse that was unexpectedly struck in the leg. Without even a backward glance King sprang into action. He leaped forward paying no attention to Eddy’s efforts to stop him, lumbered down the road with the loose shaft striking him repeatedly. It did not take long however for the right shaft to also come loose so that now the points of both shafts fell to the ground. As King zoomed along the points of the shafts dug furrows in the dirt, spraying pebbles and dirt into the air along with a cloud of dust thrown up by Kings mighty hooves.
Harry hung on. Eddy hung on. Huoma interrupted crossing himself and grabbed the reins from Eddy and began to yell, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, schlegtrof, whoa.” All combined efforts to get King to stop failed. King was fed up; he wasn’t listening to anyone. He kept on charging down the road as fast as his legs could move. Harry thought that the ride was quite exciting and he was enjoying the thrill of it but that changed when the points of the shafts dug deep into the ground completely halting their forward motion. King was a draft horse; he was powerful so the lodging of the shaft points had no effect in making him stop. He kept charging ahead causing the rest of the cart and its passengers to begin arching high into the air just like a pole vaulter vaulting over the high bar. Up up went the cart, up up went Eddy, up up went Huoma, up up went Harry, up up went the book bags and lunch boxes. Everything remained intact until the cart along with its contents reached its zenith. Once the cart passed the pivot point everything spilled from the cart. Eddy flew to King’s right, Harry flew to King’s left and Huoma being in the centre flew straight ahead.
After completing a couple of summersaults Harry struck the ground with a dull thud. In a split second his book bag and his lunch box came crashing down within a few feet of him. Covered in dust and somewhat dazed from his flight and hard landing Harry pulled himself up on to his feet and through dust covered eyes he could hardly believe what he saw before him. There stood King not fifty feet in front of him with his head hanging close to the ground, his legs splayed, his body shaking and quivering, a portion of what was left of the cart was leaning against him and Huoma was seen propped up on his hands and knees directly under King’s belly. Looking back from King and his cart, Harry saw Eddy gathering himself together and start to attend to King and Huoma but Huoma did not need any help. After a few expletives Huoma emerged from under King unhurt as well.
After completing the task of gathering loose items and assessing the damage Huoma and the boys decided that the cart was in no condition to continue the trip. The cart was pushed off to the side of the road. Eddy removed King’s bit and bridle and hooked a lead rope on to King’s halter. The four of them walked the rest of the way leaving the mangled cart behind to be picked up later.

To this day Eddy and Harry have puzzled over the whole event without coming to a logical explanation. Why did the shaft come loose? Why did King suddenly stop? Why was no one hurt – not even a scratch?
Those darn spooks!!

 

Kingly Moments #2

Oops – Slipped

 

The distance from the Flath farm to Slawa School was three miles – starting five miles south of Hafford, one and one half miles further south, then one mile west and one half mile south again.
The one and one half mile stretch followed the main road that connected the town of Radisson and the village of Hafford. This stretch of road was fairly well traveled and warranted some maintenance. It would be graded approximately three times per summer by a horse drawn road grader. The first grading would take place once the winter accumulation of snow had completely melted and the resulting puddles of water had dried up and the ruts caused by early spring traffic could successfully be filled and smoothed out. The second grading would take place later in the summer in order to smooth out the washboard that would build up. The third grading, if required, would take place in fall. The mile stretch going west from the Radisson/Hafford road did not carry much traffic and was not ever maintained. This stretch of road consisted of two parallel indentations created by the wheels of wagons, carts and buggies which had over the years traversed this section of road. Knee high grass grew in the space between the tracks as well as on the outer edges of the tracks. The regular users of this section of the road were the children of the Roth family, the Semchych family and the Flath family. In addition to the Roths, the Semchychs and the Flaths, several more students would join the parade to Slawa School for the last one half mile section.
No portion of any of these roads were plowed free of snow in winter. Wheeled vehicles were used as long into fall as possible before the fallen snow and drifting snow rendered wheeled traffic all but impossible at which time sleds and sleighs of various kinds became the mode of transportation.
Eddy and Harry had choices – they could take the cutter or the toboggan, ride double on King or they could walk to school. Since the distance was three miles , walking was their last choice and riding double bareback on King was nearly impossible so their preferred mode of transportation was the toboggan during mild spells and the cutter during the cold spells.
The cutter that King pulled was similar to the thousands of others that provided winter transportation on the prairies. The body of the cutter sat on two iron clad wooden runners. There was room for two or three people on the seat which boasted a back support. The cutter was fitted with a pair of shafts which were offset to the left side of the cutter thus allowing the horse to walk on the hardened surface of the trail. A solid barrier was placed at the front of the cutter which provided some protection for the passengers in the cutter. Since the seat as well as the rest of the Flath cutter was constructed of bare wood, Otto would place a bed of straw on the seat and on the floor of the cutter. The boys were also provided with a cowhide robe along with a woolen blanket; both of which they used to cover themselves. On the coldest days they would pull the blanket and the covering robe over their heads, tie the reins onto the cutter and yell at King to get going. King knew the routine and did not require any further instruction until he reached Slawa School.
Unlike the cutter the toboggan was unique. Eugene, the second son of Clara and Otto, served in the Canadian Armed Forces and upon his return to civilian life after the war was over came to live on the family farm. Eugene, probably because of boredom and because of his creative restless mind decided to fabricate a horse drawn toboggan after he stumbled upon a few long boards. He scavenged the best four twelve foot long boards from the pile lying behind a grain bin. He set them side by side and then held them together by nailing several cross pieces. He then took two ten inch wide by four foot long boards, curved the ends, nailed some strips across and then covered the curved portion with a sheet of tin. He created a storage cubby by nailing boards along the whole upper portion of the four feet by ten inch boards. Lastly he attached a single tree on to the front using a long length of heavy wire.
The toboggan was long enough and wide enough to accommodate several people as well as leave some room in the cubby to stuff some feed for the horse, lunch buckets and book bags. It had no seat, no side rails and no brakes.
Eddy and Harry liked the toboggan as it was fun to ride on. It would swerve out of the hardened track and speed up going around corners. It had a tendency to run into the horse’s back feet unless someone dragged their foot in the snow to slow it down. The boys could mount and dismount it easily when falling off or being pushed off the toboggan.
Following the first heavy snow fall the first team of horses would break and establish the trail and succeeding travelers would follow in the tracks left by the first team. After several teams had passed along the same track the snow became hard packed. However, the ruts made by the teams would drift over and fill up after each new storm or snow fall so that after three or four months the hard packed trails were, in some places, more than three feet above the frozen ground.
During the winter months the horses had no trouble walking or even trotting on these roads but once the weather turned milder the soft snow would melt faster than the hard packed snow. This situation often resulted in sleigh runners sliding off the hard track creating an icy slippery slope which created a hazard for the horses.
The day of this incident began as most days in spring and as far as Otto and the boys were concerned the road to school was still in good condition. However, the day turned out to be exceptionally warm and sunny. By 4:00 pm the warmth of the sun’s rays had changed the condition of the road significantly since the morning trip. After dismissal and as usual Eddy and Harry were the first to hitch up, leave the school yard and get on their way home.
The road posed no problem for King on the way to school but it did for the trip home. During the day one or more sleighs had traveled over the road and the usual hard level flat portion of the track had broken down in many places but Eddy and Harry trusted King to step carefully and stay on the flat portion.
It was common for Eddy and Harry to stand up on the toboggan and emulate log rolling competitions by trying to push each other off the toboggan and into the deep snow. On this day it was even more fun because the toboggan itself would often slip off the level part of the track and slide at a forty-five degree angle spilling both boys. King was accustomed to the shenanigans that went on behind him and even if the reins slipped out the driver’s hands he would continue on at his usual pace. The competition continued without any major incident until they reached the crest of the hill that lay about a quarter of a mile from the school. Just as the rig began to go downhill, Eddy body checked Harry off the toboggan and into the snow. Harry picking himself up quickly made a snowball and ran to catch up to the toboggan. When he came to about twenty feet from the toboggan he threw the snowball as hard as he could with Eddy being the intended target but he missed. Instead of hitting Eddy the snowball hit King square on his behind. Well, that woke up King! Reacting to the blow he lurched forward giving the toboggan a yank and in doing so the toboggan began increasing in speed as it continued on the down slope.
“Quick Harry, get on and drag your feet, we are going to run into King’s feet”, yelled Eddy.
Harry responded. He sat down on the toboggan and began to try to slow the toboggan down by dragging his hands and feet in the snow. This did not work. The toboggan ran right into King’s feet. Reacting now to the blow to his feet King jumped forward, with his his right back shoeless dinner plate sized foot landing on the slippery cut of the trail. His foot slipped out from under him and began to pull his hind quarters down and in trying to regain his balance his left leg joined his right leg in pointing to the sky. As his massive hind quarters twisted they pulled his front feet out from under him as well. In an instant all four of King’s dinner plate sized hooves were in the air and his seventeen hundred pound body came plunging down into the soft bank of melting snow.
As he was going down his twisting body jerked the toboggan forward. The force of the jerking sent the toboggan crashing into King’s behind catapulting both Eddy and Harry through the air landing them chest deep in the snow. Sitting unhurt in the snowbank they watched helplessly as King thrashed his hooves aimlessly about.
In a state of panic King tried with all his power and might to get his feet under his body so that he could get back up. As much as King was in a panic so were Eddy and Harry. Instinctively Harry struggled to make his way through the mushy snow towards King.
“Don’t go near him! Stay where you are! If you get hit by one of his hooves it will kill you! Stay where you are!” Ordered Eddy.
Obediently Harry settled into a sitting position and watched. There was nothing they could do as King thrashed about with his mighty feet flailing uselessly in the air. His vain attempt to right himself was further encumbered by his tangled harness and the fact that his body was half buried in snow. As each minute passed his efforts became weaker and weaker until he could no longer lift his head or continue thrashing about. Finally after about twenty minutes of struggling, King lay cast in the snow. His huge legs resting on the hardened part of the trail and his head resting on the soft snow lower than his chest. The boys knew that a cast horse of King’s size could not survive very long in that position so when they felt it was safe the boys plowed their way to the track wondering what to do next.
King looked pleadingly up at them with his one visible big brown eye as much as to say, “I give up. It’s up to you to save me. I will not kick you.”
Instinctively the boys began to untangle his harness, unhitch the traces, pull the toboggan back from his body and remove the bridle and bit from his head.
“What are we going to do? He’s going to die.”
But just as these words spewed from Harry’s mouth, Mr. Kotelko’s team of horses appeared from over the crest of the hill. Mr. Kotelko always drove his three daughters to and from school in winter and fortunately for Eddy and Harry he left the school yard after they did.
Upon seeing the situation before him, Mr. Kotelko immediately took charge.
“We have to roll him over,” stated Mr. Kotelko matter of factly. Easily said but how does a group of school kids plus one adult turn over a one thousand seven hundred pound beast that is half buried in soft melting snow.
“We have to dig the snow away from the back of him and down to the ground. With his legs and feet the way they are makes lifting him up on to the track impossible. We have to roll him over so start taking snow away,” ordered Mr. Kotelko.
Obediently the five students and Mr. Kotelko began the task of removing the snow with their mittened hands. Hand full by hand full, arm full by arm full they carried snow. The task seemed impossible but fortunately several of the students who had walked to school were also on their way home. Mr. Kotelko soon had more than a dozen kids throwing the snow away from King. It did not take long for the students to scrape the snow down to the ground with King’s back resting about two feet above the bare ground.
All the while the rescuers were tossing snow away from King, he remained quiet and seemingly resigned to the fact that his rescue and survival rested in the hands of a bunch of kids. He did not move or struggle; his struggles had long ended.
As more and more snow was removed from under him, King’s body began to slowly slide down into the hollow. Mr. Kotelko’s hope was that King would flip completely over. That did not happen. Instead of flipping over, his body came to rest on the hard ground with now his four feet towering nearly straight up in the air.
“Now we have to pull him over the rest of the way; he still can’t help himself stand up,” stated Mr. Kotelko, “But we don’t dare push on his body or legs – he might start kicking. I know what we will do. We will pull him over.”
With no ropes available, the reins from Mr. Kotelko’s team and those from King were quickly removed and became the means by which to complete the task. Mr. Kotelko fastened one rein to each of King’s feet and with Mr. Kotelko at King’s head he ordered several kids to take hold of the reins and on his command the students began to pull as hard as they could. Slowly, slowly King’s body began to move. With each tug and with each twist on King’s neck, King’s body began to complete the rotation.
After several minutes of tugging, Kind’s legs reached the pivot point and slowly his body rolled into a position where he could manage to get his clumsy feet under him and get up by himself.

The next morning Eddy and Harry walked the three miles of slippery road. They were not too happy with King.
“Clumsy old fool!”

King

It was early evening when the horse trader opened the gate to the lane that led to the Otto Flath farm and leading a long string of horses made his way slowly onto the yard.
The evening chores were nearing completion. The cows had been milked, the milk had been separated, the cream had been placed into the cream cans, the skim milk had been apportioned among the calves, the pigs, the cats and the farm dogs; all that was left to do was to wash the cream separator components.
The horse trader’s appearance did not come as a surprise. Otto had anticipated the trader’s visit for some time. Each year the trader would appear on the yard and as often as not the Flaths would see a horse or two exchange hands. Otto, like the trader, was willing to engage in the sport of horse trading and the rest of the family was eager to see the results.
The trader would travel throughout the countryside on one of his horses behind which he led a dozen or so others. His old well worn saddle, along with a couple of saddle bags adorned his lead horse. Behind the lead horse another one of his string would carry the rest of his travel essentials (a tent, some food and other things). The farmers that he would call upon would usually offer him a place to sleep, water for his animals and perhaps a meal or two. If he was forced to sleep on the roadside, he would place hobbles on his horses, pitch his tent, start a small fire and sleep in the open air.
He was an old man (at least Eddy and Harry thought so). The many days of traveling from farm to farm in the open air had left their mark on the man. He stunk from the smell of stale perspiration combined with the odor of sweaty horses. The length of his beard was as varied as its color. His brown leathery face displayed deep set grey eyes and his unkempt hair protruded in tatters from under his sweat stained felt hat. His body was lean and when he dismounted his hunched frame was at least a foot shorter than Otto’s.
Upon dismounting Otto and the trader quickly renewed their acquaintance and began to engage in the art of horse trading. The conversation continued in a language that neither Eddy nor Harry understood so rather than listen to the negotiations, they circled the herd and commented to each other as to which horse they would like to see their dad purchase. The trader had a variety of horses most of which were draft horses but among them was a small pony that caught their eye. Otto boasted of owning more than a dozen horses but there was not one small pony among his herd. Eagerly they followed their dad as he casually examined each one. Otto not wanting to display any favoritism among the choices checked each one. Expertly he lifted every leg and checked each hoof. He slapped each horse on the rump. He ran his hands over the flanks and he tugged at the manes and tails. He untethered each one, led it around, made it back up and he even leapt on each of the horse’s back. He checked their teeth as well as their eyes and ears. All was done to determine the age of the horse, to see how approachable it was, if it was harness broke, riding broke and most of all if it was healthy.
Finally after Otto did his due diligence he began to haggle with the horse trader. Eddy and Harry observed the procedure from the side lines not saying a word but secretly hoping that their father would buy the pony. Their excitement grew when Otto stood next to the pony but hope turned to disappointment when Otto walked over to the Clydesdale and talked for a long time with the trader. Judging by the tone of the conversation the boys realized that their father was set on buying the biggest, most clumsy looking horse of the whole bunch.
After the cash was exchanged for the horse, Otto offered the trader a pen for his horses and a bed for the trader. The sun was nearly below the horizon by the time the deal was completed and usually the trader would not turn down an invitation like this but instead of accepting, the trader climbed aboard his saddled horse and left the yard without further adieu.
It was a daily ritual in the Flath family to gather around the eating table each evening to share in a cup of cocoa or a cup of tea, to pray together, to share in the daily events and to make plans for the forthcoming day. After Clara led the prayers and completed her bible reading she turned to Otto and said,
“Why did you buy that horse? We now have a tractor and you have more horses now than you can use. I think it was a waste of money.”
“Clara,” Otto replied, “I know that you are right but I think that this horse will be a good match for Prince. He is bigger and heavier than Prince but their colours match perfectly. I will sell one of the other ones.”
“Oh,” Rudy interjected, “I know what we should name him; he is bigger than Prince so we should name him King.”
And so it came to pass that the big, bulky Clydesdale became King and unknown to anyone present how prophetically Rudy had named the new acquisition.
Prince had been a member of Otto’s herd for over a year and ever since he came into the fold, Otto was in search of a mate for Prince. Prince was aptly named. He was not a pure bred Clydesdale. He was a little smaller and more compact than a pure bred Clydesdale. His colouring was classic Clydesdale sporting a fall blaze ace, intelligent curious eyes, long thick wavy jet black mane and tail, white socks that slowly blended into the beautiful bay colouring of the rest of his body. He carried his head high above his arched neck and pranced rather than walked. He was of very even temperament and was always eager to pull more than his share of the load. Even though he was a plow horse he was very pleasant to ride.
The morning following the acquisition, Otto in his excitement to team King up with Prince, brought Prince in from the pasture, harnessed them and hitched them to a wagon. King cooperated very nicely through the process and he accepted Prince as a team mate without any objection. Of course the rest of the family gathered round to see the result of Otto’s acquisition; there were even several comments approving the look of the team. All went well until Otto climbed into the wagon box and urged the team forward. Upon command and a gently slap of the reins, Prince promptly leaned forward eager to get going but King just stayed in one spot and did not make any attempt to start in unison with Prince. Bewildered Otto tried again but this time he slapped King’s rump harder with his rein and raised his voice considerably in an effort to get King to equal Prince’s enthusiasm. Once again the outcome was disappointing. Otto just hung his head devastated at what he was witnessing. After much urging yelling and whipping Otto managed to drive the team to the end of the lane with Prince prancing three feet ahead of King and pulling King along as he went. Otto in disgust slowly made his way back into the barn yard, unhitched the team and then released Prince into the pasture.
Otto knew immediately that King was bone lazy! He knew there and then that King would be useless as a member of a four horse work team and it would be unfair to the other three horses to be saddled with King.
“Perhaps,” thought Otto, “King might perform more valiantly singly and live up to his name.”
So Otto hitched King up to the buggy. Yes, King was quite willing to be hitched up as a single. He made no fuss when he was backed up between the cart shafts. He stood quietly as his traces were attached to the single tree and he waited patiently while Otto climbed aboard the cart.   However, when Otto urged King forward, King took his own sweet time to break into a slow, slow walk and even when the buggy whip was laid on him he only agreed to break into a slow trot.
“Well, that was a mistake!” Otto reflected to himself. “Now I know why that sheister of a trader left in such a hurry. I guess I will have to sell him and in the mean time I will put him in the horse pasture with the rest of the horses.”
Otto stripped the harness off King, removed the bridle, replaced the bridle with a halter, led King to the pasture gate, opened it and released him. Immediately several horses gathered around King eager to check out the intruder. Again it did not take King long to reveal his true nature. Most horses by nature are communal and generally are open to welcoming a new member and being eager to get acquainted they gathered around King. As they surrounded King, there was the usual snorting, whinnying, head bobbing by the established herd but King did not respond. He stood stoically alone, head held higher than usual with ears bent back. Barney was the first to come near King and just as he came to within a few feet, King struck. Without any warning, King charged Barney biting ferociously at Barney’s neck. With that assault Barney hastily retreated with a bewildered look on his face. After a few more minutes of grandstanding, big old Mac decided that he would approach King in an effort to get to know him. With head and tail held high, ears turned forward and with flared nostrils Mac slowly approached King. Not moving King followed every move and every gesture that Mac made. Mac, leery of King’s reaction to his approach, bobbed his head and making some snorting noises slowly closed the gap between them. After a few minutes of this ritual Mac stood parallel to King and extended his nose in to get a good sniff of King. King did not appreciate Mac’s advances one bit and just as Mac’s body came within reach of King’s hind hooves, King turned his hind quarters in Mac’s direction and let fly with both of his huge and powerful legs. His aim was true, striking Mac in the belly with such force that Mac was nearly lifted off the ground.
“I have seen enough,” Otto gasped, “not only is King lazy but he is also a bully. Boys get a pail of oats and get the others away from King. I have to take him back to the barn yard and I will try again tomorrow and see what happens. Maybe they will get along.”
The result of the second attempt the next day was no different from the first. Discouraged, Otto led King back to the barn yard and penned him up in the corral.
A discussion among the family followed during which ideas were explored to solve the King problem and King’s tenure on the Flath farm.
“Get your money back,” implored Clara.
“Sell him for fox meat,” suggested Rudy.
“Yes, yes,” chimed in Eddy and Harry.
“Trade him for anything, shoot him, send him to the glue factory.”
Everyone had an idea.
“Okay, I will try to get my money back but if I can’t the only thing I can do with him is to put him in the cow pasture with the milk cows. He cannot be together with the other horses,” exclaimed Otto.
After tracking down the horse trader and after trying to trade King for anything of value, King was exiled to the cow pasture. Curiously though, he did not mind living among the cows. He could be seen grazing along side them and even lying down among the cows as they dozed in the summer sunlight.
It was Eddy’s and Harry’s duty to bring the milk cows in from the pasture for the evening milking. The cow pasture was quite large and sometimes the milk cows would be found at the far end of the pasture and sometimes King would be found grazing among them. Even though King was a bully among other horses he liked humans and would walk up to anyone who happened to be near him. He always liked to have his forehead scratched and his neck patted. He especially liked to have the silky portion between his nostrils scratched gently and when Eddy or Harry appeared he would approach them looking for a treat of oats and a pet. He did not mind at all if anyone wanted to climb aboard his back and go for a slow walk. Since King was a large animal standing seventeen hands high, climbing aboard his back was very difficult for the boys especially for seven year old Harry. In order to climb aboard Harry would leap as high as possible, grasp a fist full of King’s mane, wrap his legs around King’s bulky front leg, then shinny up until he was able to grasp enough mane with both hands to be able to eventually clamour aboard. Riding single or double made no difference to King. Throughout the whole procedure King would stand motionless with his huge head turned towards the boys and with his big brown eyes patiently waiting until they were comfortably on his back. No amount of tugging or clamouring upset him at all. When the boys were ready they would urge him forward and King without a bridle or rope on his halter would follow the cows to the barn yard.
Summer passed and try as he might Otto could not find anyone who wanted King: he was stuck with a lazy bully who liked people and cattle more than he did his own kind.
“Clara, I have tried to sell or trade King for two months now and no one wants him but I am not going to give him away or sell him for fox meat” declared Otto.
“I have been thinking about King too,” said Clara, “Maybe he would make a good school horse. I know that he is really too big for the boys to harness and hitch up by themselves but he is so gentle, so slow and so patient that he won’t kick at them nor will he try to run away. You know as well as I do that they like to race the other children’s horses and they can easily get hurt doing so. I don’t want you to let them have any of the smaller more eager to run horses because they will want to race with the other children. If you make them take King they won’t ever try to get into a race and be the first to get to the half mile corner from the school yard.”
“They will not be happy, Clara,” mused Otto.
“Don’t worry about it Otto, they will just have to put up with King.”
And so it came to pass that King became the school pony.

The decision was made and it was final: King became the horse designated to transport Otto and Clara’s children the three miles from their home to Slawa school. It was not a situation that was enthusiastically embraced by the children.
“Why do we have to use King? He is so big and ugly. He is so slow. Everyone at school will laugh at us.”

These and other objections were voiced in chorus when Otto relayed the news to Eddy and Harry but no amount of pleading would change Otto’s mind.

 

 

Kingly Moments

Kingly Moments

 

The following events are depicted as they occurred; there is no exaggeration, no hyperbole, no creative reconstruction of the facts or embellished description of these events. The only inaccuracies may occur in the exact dates as no diary was kept.

Kingly Moment #1

“SPLAT”

This day began like numerous others with no forewarning of what was to come.
It was a warm sunny day in May which began as usual with Eddy armed with a pail of oats calling out to King who had spent the night in the pasture. Accustomed to the routine King responded to the call and presented himself at the pasture gate where he knew he would get a treat.
Willingly he allowed himself to be lead to the barn where he would be harnessed and made ready to haul the homemade cart with Eddy and Harry aboard, the three miles to school.
Earlier that morning Clara had roused her boys out of bed, cooked a pot of rolled oats, made and packed their lunches, made sure that their faces had been washed and their hair combed. Following breakfast it was Harry’s duty to retrieve a sheaf of oats from the oat stack, place it on the cart, then wait in the barn for Eddy to appear with King and help Eddy harness the brute.

Even at the age of twelve Eddy was not tall enough to harness King by himself. Just placing the harness collar and the rest of the harness on King required the efforts of two boys. In order to complete the task, Eddy would clamour on to the stall divider, reach over to the hook on which the harness hung, then lug it from the hook on to King’s back. Not ever did King object to the tugging, the pushing, the shoving that he was subjected to in order to successfully secure the harness on his back. Only occasionally would he be uncooperative and that was when the boys would try to put the bridle bit in his mouth. Usually he allowed his head to be pulled low enough to put the bit in his mouth, then slip the bridle over his ears but sometimes he would get stubborn and no amount of tugging would convince him to lower his head nor would he willingly open his mouth to accept the bit. On these occasions it was necessary to climb on top of the manger, take the bit in hand and manually separate his lips, then bang the bit against his teeth hard enough to hurt him. That procedure would convince him to cooperate.

After the harness had been set in place King was backed out of his stall and lead outside to be hitched to the two wheeled card.

The cart that was relegated to transport the Flath kids to school was put together from the remnants of a four wheeled buggy that had been destroyed by former events. The original shafts were replaced by two relatively straight aspen saplings. These saplings were bolted directly on to the axle eliminating the need for springs. Several boards had been nailed on to the saplings which constituted the platform. A box made out of boards was nailed on to the platform on top of which two other boards spanned the open box which then became the seat.
The distance between the horse’s rump and the passengers sitting on the box was no more than four feet. The space behind the seat was large enough to accommodate the lunch boxes, the book bags as well as feed for King.

Starting out that morning King showed no signs that there was something amiss with him. The ride to school was uneventful and even at noon when given his noon lunch he ate appreciatively and even offered a small snort in appreciation of receiving the usual sheaf of oats.
The after school hitching routine was completed successfully and the ride back home began as expected. All was well until the trio came to within a couple of hundred yards of the grave yard.
King as usual had kept up a little faster pace on the way home than his pace going to school and even on this day, after a few slaps of the reins on his rump, King broke into a lumbering trot so there was no warning as to the reason for King’s sudden halt.
Normally when King needed to relieve himself he would simply raise his tail a little, move it to one side and let go. The turds as they were expelled would harmlessly drop to the ground through the space between his back side and the cart. No big deal; the boys were fully accustomed to having a close up view and thought nothing of it. Horses have the ability to relieve themselves while walking and King was no exception so Eddy and Harry were confused as to why King suddenly stopped and raised his tail. They could see what was about to happen and within a few seconds came to a full understanding of why King stopped.
King lowered his head, expanded his chest and as his chest expanded his belly contracted, his tail went up. There was no escape; it all happened too fast. Viewing from close quarters, the boys realized a catastrophe was about to occur and they would be the victims. Nothing happened with the first snort but stunned into a momentary frozen state, a second snort set the action in motion. King erupted. From a distance of four feet King could not miss; the voluminous mess found it’s target and King hit his mark.
Getting hit by a mess delivered by a clydsedale was like getting struck in the face by a pail of pudding followed by a two inch stream of green liquid shot from a fire hose. There was shit everywhere. On first contact, the sticky stuff stuck to their heads. It was in their hair, covered their eyes, blocked their nasal passages, filled their ears and even flew past them on to the cart itself. The pudding stuck only momentarily as the green gush that followed quickly diluted the goo as gravity took over and pulled the whole mess down to the lower portions of their torsos. The warm soft goo slipped silently under the collars of their shirts, down their chests, past their belly buttons and rested in puddles on their laps from where it crept slowly down their naked legs.
It was over in less than ten seconds. There was only one volley after which King calmly lowered his tail, remained stationary and waited calmly as though nothing had happened.
Dazed and bewildered the boys sat in stunned silence clueless as to what to do about the mess that covered them. Realizing that they had to do something, they slowly began the task of ridding themselves of the mess that they were in. With green sticky fingers they wiped their faces and squeezed the warm goo out of their hair and away from their eyes flinging gobs of it into the air. Once their vision returned and they realized the extent of the mess, they leaped off the cart and with slimy hands they danced around ripping and tearing at their clothes. They had no towels, no jackets, no blankets, no paper………………….. they had nothing with which to clean themselves. The only thing available to them was the grass that grew along side the road. Naked except for their shoes they ripped up clumps of brome grass and began wiping themselves. Now it was May and grass in May is fresh and green – full of green juice. That fact did not enter their heads as they ripped, wiped, ripped and wiped.
The grass treatment was somewhat successful in ridding their bodies of the scum that King had deposited but in removing the scum, the fresh green grass covered the boys in green juice that soon dried leaving them in one sorry state.
With tears making little paths through the green caked face Harry cried, “What are we going to do with King? I am not getting back on the cart!”
“Well, I am walking home and leaving that son of a ………… right here,” retorted Eddy.
After some consultation between them, the boys picked up their clothes, threw them on to the cart, tied the reins to the cart, and yelled at King.
“Go home!”
Slowly walking on either side of the cart, they trudged the rest of the way home. They did not risk walking directly behind King………… just in case!

 

Harry Meets Santa

There was nothing unusual with the weather during the winter of 1944.  The arctic air as expected had crept slowly southward so that by November it had established its dominion over the prairies of Saskatchewan and as expected the accompanying snow plunged the land into a long lasting deep freeze.  With each successive snowfall the rural roads began to clog up the driving lanes making automobile travel impossible.  There were no snow plows that could have cleared the roads so travel by car came to a halt and forced the farm families to turn to horse drawn sleighs.

Even though most of the European settlers had only arrived and settled central Saskatchewan thirty-five years earlier, they were aware of the weather conditions that they would face and had made preparations for the long winter.  It seemed that spring, summer and fall activities focused on securing enough fuel to heat their homes, food to feed their livestock and food for their families to carry them through the time of climatic purgatory.

By the time November rolled around the winged summer migrants had abandoned the harsh land and returned to more hospitable climes further south.  Those birds that remained were naturally equipped to withstand the cold frost, the snow and the wind.  The four legged animals either had built a cache of food far underground or had exchanged their sleek summer coats for thicker warmer ones.  As a result the countryside which during the spring and summer months were alive with song and calls of birds and animals, now only on rare occasions would the howling of coyotes and the hooting of owls break the otherwise complete silence of the countryside.

The Otto and Clara Flath family whose farm lay five miles south of the  village of Hafford, three miles north of Slawa school and eight miles north of Zion Lutheran Church, were limited to a distance of travel that a team of horses pulling a sleigh could  reasonably go in one day.  So it was that in 1944, five year old Harry (the youngest of eight children)  found himself locked in a very closed environment.  Since freeze-up he had been to Hafford perhaps once and to Zion Lutheran Church perhaps twice.  During the week days while his older siblings Eddy, Vonda and Rudy (Arnold was working in a bush camp in Ontario, Eugene was in the army, Oscar was working in Vancouver and Lydia was living at home) were at school he occupied himself by playing board games with Lydia, following his dad around the farm yard, bothering his mother, playing with homemade toys or pouring over newspaper comic strips and school readers.  He was lonely and a little bitter because at the beginning of the school year he had been sent to begin school in Grade one.  Even though he was small for his age he knew in his own mind that he was ready for school.  After all he thought, he knew the alphabet, he could count, he could add and subtract and he could even recognize the words in the first grade reader.  However, for some reason or reasons never explained to his satisfaction, he was told that he would have to wait another year before he would be permitted to go to school.  Initially he was devastated by the rejection but he determined that this was not going to happen to him again. At every opportunity he practiced printing the alphabet, printing the numbers, pouring over newspapers pronouncing words that he could not even understand and, much to Lydia’s chagrin, he demanded that she teach him to read and write.

It was during the last Christmas week of November that Eddy, Vonda and Rudy began to practice for the annual Slawa Christmas Concert.  The teacher, Mr. D. A. Humchuk, like hundreds of other country school teachers, was expected to organize and present a concert to which all people from the surrounding community were invited to witness the talent of not only the students but also the talents of the teacher.  Since Slawa (meaning “knowledge” or “glory” in the English translation) was located in the heart of a recently settled Ukrainian community a large portion of the program would be in the Ukrainian language.  As well, the primary musical instrument would be the mandolin as there was no piano or pump organ in Slawa school.  So it was that Eddy, Vonda and Rudy, in addition to practicing their parts had to learn many of them in the Ukrainian language.  During the daily process of learning and practicing their parts, little Harry could only sit idly by and observe with envy in his heart and fantasize what his part would have been had he been allowed to go to school that fall.

Harry had not ever seen Santa in the five years of his life so when he was told that Santa would make an appearance at Slawa on the night of the Christmas concert and that Santa would be bringing along with him a big bag of candies and nuts for each youngster in attendance, he was excited!

At five years of age Harry was confused about the reality of Santa Claus.  He did not know whether to believe in Santa Claus or not.  His mother and father never told him that Santa was real and that Santa drove a team of reindeer from the North Pole and delivered presents to all the children in the world.  The newspapers and magazines showed pictures of Santa in his bright red suit trimmed with snow white fur and his knee high shiney black leather boots.  The pictures clearly showed Santa having rosy red cheeks and frost covering his long curly white beard.  There was never any mention made of Santa in church:  only the story of Jesus being born and laid in a manger.  Harry could not trust the explanation of his siblings because in the past they had told him many untruths and he was not about to accept their views on this topic.  He decided that he would get a good look at Santa at the concert and then make up his mind.  He would for sure find out whether Santa was real or not at the Slawa School  Christmas concert.

The concert was scheduled to be held on Wednesday, December 20th starting at 7:30 p.m.  Classes were to be suspended on that day in order to give Mr. Humchuk time to rearrange desks, set up his cardboard flats which served as stage curtains, and decorate the entrance to the school.

Twenty-seven students ranging from Grades one through nine attended Slawa and when the parents, grandparents and other generally interested folk were added, upwards of sixty people would be crammed into the small one room school house.  Only a few desks would be made available for seating for the elderly;  most would have to stand for the duration of the concert or perhaps sit on the floor.

The Flath’s also were faced with a multitude of tasks prior to leaving for the concert.  Cows had to be milked, watered and fed, water had to be hauled by Dicky pulling a stone boat on which the forty-five gallon barrel was placed.  The pigs and chickens  required attention as well as the dogs and the cats.  Inside the house the double boiler, which was placed on the kitchen stove had to be filled with water for the afternoon baths, beds had to be made, meals prepared and suitable concert going clothes had to be laid out.  With all possible hands pitching in, the work and preparations were completed well before Clara called everyone to the table for an early supper.

While sitting ar the table, Otto announced, “I don’t know if we should go to Slawa tonight.  It has been getting colder as the day has worn on and the wind has now begun to pick up so that the snow is drifting covering up the travelled path along the road.  It has also begun to snow.  There is no moonlight tonight so I don’t think I will be able to keep the team on the beaten path.  We could get stuck and walking in these conditions could cause all of us to perish.”

With that being, said all of the Flath children in unison voiced their disappointment and pleaded mercilessly for their dad to change his mind.

After consulting with Clara, Otto declared, “We will try it but we will have to take the caboose instead of the sleigh.  Rudy,  go and start a fire in the stove.  Eddy, you go and put some straw on the floor and the seats.”

“Yes, Papa,” retorted Rudy, ” but I need to eat an apple first.”

“Why do you need to eat an apple?” Quizzed nosey little Harry.

“Harry, I need the core for my part in the play,” replied Rudy.

At 6:00 p.m. Otto gave the call for everyone to load up the caboose.  The family walked single file, heads turned away from the biting wind and plodded their way through the thick layer of snow that covered the path to the barn.  Otto who had lit the coal oil hurricane lantern, held it high as he led the way with the rest following close behind.

Usually the teamster steered the team of horses from the inside of the caboose but after all were on board Otto saw that because there was no moon to provide some light and that it was so blustery he would not be able to see the road ahead. Besides the only two single paned windows were already frosted up so badly that he could not see out of them anyways.  Otto pulled his ushanka hat further down his head, wrapped a scarf around his face so that only his eyes could be seen and making sure that all the buttons of his ankle long fur coat were done up, he stepped up onto the doubletree directly behind the horses with the reins in his gloved hands.  To keep his balance he leaned against the front of the caboose and urged Dicky and George forward.

Inside, Harry had perched himself between Rudy and Eddy and began to bombard them with questions.

“How many people will be there?  Are you nervous?  When does Vonda say her recitation?  Will Santa be there?  Will Santa be bringing any toys?”

And the one question that Harry really wanted an answer for, “Is Santa Claus real?”

“Of course he is real.  You  have seen pictures of him and his reindeer,” replied Eddy.

“Mama, is there a real Santa Claus?  Does he come into houses through the chimney?  Will Santa come to our house?” Asked Harry.  “Eddy always lies to me;  I want to know.”

Clara responded by telling Harry that he would get the chance to see for himself at the concert and that he should not ask so many questions.

Slogging through the drifting snow slowed the team down but Otto knew that for the horses sake, as well as their own, it was prudent to calmly continue on until they reached the school.

The trip took nearly an hour and as soon as the steaming horses stopped, the family quickly got out of the caboose and headed for the warmth of the school house.  Otto totally covered by frost and with icicles hanging loosely from his scarf, tied up the team, took two blankets from the caboose, covered Dicky and George with them, divided a bundle of oats and placed the oats on the snow.  The horses being hot and thirsty from the difficult haul would eat the oats with the snow helping to satisfy their thirst and the blankets would allow their bodies to cool off slowly.

Upon entering the school and after quickly removing his cap, mittens and mackinaw, Harry eagerly began searching for the one person he knew quite well but had not seen for a number of months.  The school was already packed with people standing, milling around or sitting in desks waiting for the program to begin.  Harry had slipped away from his mother’s side and made his way slowly to the front of the school room where he thought he might find Wally.  Sure enough he spotted Wally sitting on the floor next to the line which marked the stage.  Quickly Harry squeezed betweeen Wally and someone he did not know and began to chat with Wally.

After a few minutes the chatter in the school began to die down as Mr. Humchuk made his way to the front of the school.  Upon reaching the front of the school, Mr. Humchuk turned to face the audience and waited for the audience to quiet right down.  While waiting ,Mr. Humchuk glanced down and recognizing Harry gave Harry a faint smile.  Harry did not return the smile because Mr. Humchuk was not his favourite person at the moment.  Harry held Mr. Humchuk solely responsible for him having to be a spectator at the concert rather than a participant.

Following a few words of welcome ( in the Ukrainian language) the program began.  Students sang Christmas songs, recited poetry, acted in plays and played musical instruments.  There was even an instrumental combo comprised of several mandolins, violins and harmonicas.  Harry was proud to see his brothers play the instruments.  Mr. Humchuk had taken much time and effort into ensuring that the concert was a success.  After all the concert was the only significant cultural event of the year for the school.

Harry watched with great interest at the beginning of the program but eventually his mind began to wander and he wished that Santa would hurry up and make his entrance.  He was almost asleep when the clanging of a bell brought him back to reality.  Immediately upon hearing the bell the children jumped up and scurried to meet Santa Claus.  Harry being shorter than most of those surrounding Santa, did not immediately get a good look at him so he quietly wiggled and edged his way through the crowd until he came face to face with Santa.

What he saw both shocked and puzzled him.  Harry’s eyes first focussed on Santa’s boots.  Now in the pictures that Harry had seen, Santa’s boots were shiney and black, reaching nearly to his knees.  Well, these boots met the length criteria but his boots were felt socks – the kind that most men and boys wore during the winter meetings months.  Slowly Harry raised his eyes and began to focus higher up on Santa’s leg.

“Surely Mrs. Santa would have ironed Santa’s suit before he went out,” thought Harry to himself.  “The belt – it is way too narrow and the buckle is so small.”

Harry could not believe what he saw next!  The front buttons on Santa’s suit did not hide Santa’s big belly as there were two buttons missing.  Gazing upward Harry was able to discern that Santa did not have a real belly but instead there was only a pillow tied to Santa’s body.  The pillow was certainly not the end of the evidence exposing the imposter.  Santa’s beard which in the pictures showed a pure white well groomed beard did not measure up to those standards.  This one seemed to be attached to something that hung on Santa’s head.  When Santa talked the beard did not keep in time with the chin and his lips did not even move.  His nose, his NOSE!  His nose was dented in as if Santa had run into a wall.  Oh my goodness!  His eyes were just deep black holes.  Even the bell that Santa rang gave away the imposter.  Harry recognized it as the one that Mr.Humchuk would ring to call the children in to the school.  The final straw though came when Santa began to speak.  Puzzled, Harry thought that he recognized the voice.  After listening more closely Harry realized that the Ukrainian speaking Santa was in fact his neighbor.

Well!  That settled it for Harry.  Now he knew!   But that was fine  ……………. as long as he would get his bag of candy and nuts, he would be happy.  And he did.

My Review of Point of No Return by Diana J. Febry

Point of No Return by Diana J. Febry

Digby Pearce, the only child of William Pearce, was acquitted for murder causing death by dangerous driving. Instead of picking up the pieces and rebuilding a life, Digby commits suicide. According to Digby, James Palmer had lied on the witness stand. James Palmer gets off ‘scot free’ or does he? Two years later and in another location, about a two hour drive from where things had happened two years ago, the happily married ‘scot free’ philandering hair stylist turned farmer begins to have things happen around his home. Who is responsible? Are they connected? Are they more than teenage pranks done by neighborhood kids?

The author, Diana J. Febry in her novel Point of No Return, has created a fast paced, page-turning mystery masterpiece. This quality piece of work is a captivating, intriguing novel which leaps into immediate action and catches the reader in the opening scenes. It is a strong narrative with a cleverly woven plot line, great wit and believable dialogue.

The investigative team for the incidents at the Palmer farm, is strong and consistent in character, comprised of Chief Inspector Peter Hatherall and Inspector Fiona Williams who are in an interesting situation where they are having to deal with personal issues while in a professional role. Other very strong characters such as James and Linda Palmer are vivid and well developed. I read this novel not realizing that it is a part of a series. I found all characters to be real and well crafted and the past history of the story line is clear and understandable. It is definitely a stand alone mystery.

The vividly painted picture of the setting for the story is of the English countryside with its thread of connected but secluded villages along the roadside. The farmers, horses, farmsteads, closely knit local population and the neighborhood pubs denote the beauty and serenity of the countryside. Very well done Diana!

One concern I have of this novel has to do with the title. Point of No Return has been used by many authors and even though it may be felt by the author as the right title for this particular piece of work, I think a more creative choice would be an improvement. I received a copy of this novel from the author through a Goodreads connection in return for an objective review. Many thanks to both the author and to Goodreads for enabling that to happen. It is truly an appealing read and mystery lovers will undoubtedly enjoy it’s flavor.

My Review of Grace and Disgrace by Kayne Milhomme

Grace and Disgrace by Kayne Milhomme – A Review by HM Flath

 

After 20 years the three trusted friends and partners from their college Sleuthound Club days, come together in Boston to untangle a mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Templar Diamond which occurred approximately six years ago. The invitation to partake in the search received by Jack Tuohay leads to untangling mysterious murders, lies and deceptions, secrets of the past and personal vendettas.

The primary character Jack Tuohay, super sleuth of the Royal Irish Constabulary and liaison with Scotland Yard, is the sole member of the trio who continued with ‘sleuthing’ work as a career. He is indeed the Sherlock Holmes or the Inspector Clouseau complete with his trench coat, an undetermined lung ailment, a limp and a silver tipped walking cane who provides leadership and the insights in solving the mystery. John Eldredge a true statistician and a master of numbers, moved into government work generating population and agriculture statistics, writing telegram and pocket codexes. His role became one of searching out information, studying and deciphering codes and helping Tuohay wherever and whenever he could. Eliza Wilding’s career became colorful, tied to the arts and stage. She brightened up the trio with her quick wit, her impeccable observation skills and her catching appearance along with her ability to take on any task required, including the tough physical ones. All three of the super sleuth characters are strong and likeable, carefully crafted and consistent throughout the story.

The reader is plunged immediately into the story in the very beginning chapter with the initial mysterious meeting. I was caught and from there was motivated to read on! I travelled with and walked beside the sleuths in the story. There are many mysterious secret meetings, interesting well-developed characters, unexpected twists and turns filled with intrigue and suspicions. Never any disappointments – only further questions. It is a master of mystery.

My one criticism aside from the few typos and word errors, is the interruptions created by the telegraphs which in my opinion really did not advance the story.

I received a copy of Grace and Disgrace from the author through a Goodreads connection. Many thanks to both Kayne Milhomme and Goodreads for enabling that to happen. I highly recommend this story for the mystery readers. It is a great read!!