The Vagabond Players’ world premiere production of Body and Soul was a great hit with New Westminster audiences. This lively romantic comedy with spirited ghosts is now available for other theatre groups!
“…riveting mysteries…once they’ve experienced the entertaining and engrossing stories in The Agatha Principle, satisfied readers are very likely to seek out the other books in the series as well.” ***** —ForeWord Clarion Reviews
There we were, forced to spend Christmas apart from family and friends, our bubble consisting of me, Hugh and Thomasina Bug. As we toasted each other over the dinner table, elegantly set with the good china for our turkey dinner for two, alongside a third placemat on the floor set with the good china for a Fancy Feast turkey and giblets dinner for one, we observed the fact that Christmas Present had been notably more serene than many Christmases Past. Our zoom meetings with our daughters and their families had been enjoyable; our present opening had been considerably less messy than usual; our turkey-breast dinner had been far less arduous than cooking for a crowd and had allowed us ample time to put our feet up, relax by the fire, and read our books.
Over dinner, Hugh and I gleefully reminisced about some of the more memorable Christmases of previous years. There was the year that Max, our not-so-ho-hum husky bit Katie’s godfather and caused the evening to end with a hospital visit. Another year, my father flew into a rage because dinner was held up when my brother and his wife spent the day visiting friends and didn’t dawdle in until late-afternoon. That was a particularly memorable occasion for me as it was the Christmas I’d brought my future husband home to meet my family. Amazingly enough, Hugh still married me, and very sweetly confided that he was used to these sort of ding-dongs. I thought he was just being kind, but a few years later, I learned the truth of his words when his mother announced that she would not be attending Christmas dinner if we invited Hugh’s Aunt Doris. Thus Christmas Day was spent in a drama of negotiations as Hugh’s sister tried to make her mother stay for dinner, after discovering that we had ignored her edict and that Auntie was enjoying a glass of sherry in the living room. No, Christmas was not always a time of peace and goodwill. Our daughters’ godmother, a charming, highly educated woman of First Nations heritage always enjoyed political sparring with my charming, highly educated father of British heritage, but after the third drink, the atmosphere deteriorated. The moment I heard the word, Colonialism, it was time to escape to the kitchen and lie low.
I had my gripes too. The thing that rankled me the most about hosting Christmas dinner was the fact that the guests inevitably arrived early in the afternoon; drank and socialized all day while I slogged through the cooking; ate heartily once dinner was served; and continued to drink and socialize while I slogged through clean-up. Then, the moment I took off my apron, prettied myself up and returned to the living room, ready to party, they generally all stood up and said it was time to leave.
Yes, COVID, for all its horrors, has definitely changed the format for Christmas Present. No carol services, no family gatherings, no parties, but we’ve also avoided the months of debate over whose turn it is to host and which set of parents are to visit which set of kids. We’ve avoided the battle of who goes where, because no one is going anywhere. And instead of seeing our girls, their mates and our grandchildren on separate days and travelling miles to do it, we saw them all and chattered with them, courtesy of technology, as we cooked dinner on Christmas Day. And after dinner, we put our feet up, tucked Thomasina Bug in our laps, and watched a fabulous production of Holiday Inn taped from PBS. Christmas Present was really not so bad after all.
Max’s original owner was most apologetic when she found out that my father’s name also happened to be Max. I assured her, truthfully, that my father would be delighted to have a four-legged namesake. Maxwell Henry French was renowned for his love of dogs—and for the way he kept acquiring them and sending them home during the years he was working in the USA, much to the irritation of my mother. My father was one of the citizens who spearheaded the community movement to oppose the introduction of leash laws in Lighthouse Park, and after he died, columnist, Trevor Lautens, expressed regret at the disappearance of the “erudite old gentleman in the pith helmet” from the local scene.
At one time, the French household had four dogs. The first of these was Maverick, the hell-raiser, who was all-DOG in the days when all-DOG behavior was tolerated. He chased vehicles, terrorized the mailman, dug holes for his bones halfway to China, fought the male dogs and went AWOL to court the females. Back then, the neighbours accepted his roving nature, referring to him as “The dog with the flirtatious tail” and chortling at his adventures. We lived next door to a racing driver who used to beam admiration at the way Maverick, even in his arthritic old age, could accelerate up the driveway when a motorbike went by.
Maverick’s old age was enlivened by Circe, the tiny German shepherd pup, who charmed every cargo worker at Vancouver airport when my father had her shipped up from San Francisco the day before my mother was due to leave for England. Needless to say, my mother was not impressed. However, I assured her that I could manage in her absence, even though I was serving as house manager for Theatre in the Park that summer, and finally, with a skeptical look in her eye, she left me to it and got on the plane.
Circe and Maverick enjoyed their time in Stanley Park. Circe sat in her puppy cage by the stage door and received adulation from the cast members of My Fair Lady and Oliver as they reported for duty. Maverick, I simply handed to the usher who was distributing programs, and other than the occasional lunge at a police horse, he managed to behave appropriately. For a feisty dog, he was remarkably tolerant of Circe. We put it down to their first meeting. Circe was only five weeks old and had been taken from her mother too soon. The moment we got her home from the airport, she walked underneath Maverick, mistook his private parts for the food source her mother had provided, and chowed down with misguided optimism. They were firm friends ever after.
Maverick and Circe were augmented two years later by Cerberus and Diana, shepherd pups also shipped up from San Francisco. By then we also had Lighthouse, the cat named after the park where we had found him. By now, the neighbours’ standard joke repertoire included anecdotes of how my absent father kept my mother in bondage through pet care and his burgeoning zucchini patch. My mother, bless her, smiled serenely and carried on. Therefore, it was typical that it was my mother who stepped up to the mark when, the day after I acquired Max, I needed him to be puppy-sat while I attended a dentist’s appointment. This, of course, was many years later, by which time, all four dogs in the French household had passed on, so I suspect she was quite happy to have a dog in the family that could be enjoyed and returned, rather like the grandchildren.
As I was still going to the same dentist I had attended since teenage, my appointment was in Ambleside, so my mother bussed in to meet me, took charge of Max, and walked him along the waterfront while I had my teeth cleaned. Max, affably, let my mother take the leash and trotted off with her, obviously knowing another pushover when he met one. Dr. Mielke, watching their retreating backs through his window, informed me that everything was under control. He added, “He’s a real little box, isn’t he? Sturdy little guy.”
Mum gave Max a very good report when they returned. Then we drove him out to Kensington Crescent to meet his namesake. He and Dad took to each other right away. Dad proceeded to walk him around the crescent and show him to the neighbours. When we returned to the house for lunch, Dad sat Max at his elbow and snuck him tidbits. Max accepted the treats and adulation with equanimity, and thus began a blissful relationship—a shared name and mutual admiration. The shared name was actually very appropriate, since the two also shared Max-like personality traits. They were both alpha males with a temper, both very clever, and both extremely possessive of what was theirs. Max, the dog, guarded his food ferociously, and Max, the man, was renowned for his thrift and the tight grip he held on his assets. Both were also subject to delusions of grandeur. Max, the dog, would take on opponents twice his size; my father thought nothing of challenging big corporations and government bodies. When asked what the M.H. in M.H. French stood for, he would reply, “Maximilian Hannibal.” Fittingly, my father’s gravestone carries a quote from my play, Renovations, which refers to his peripatetic nature, along with a dog and a dollar sign.
My husband loved the fact that his father-in-law shared a name with our dog. Hugh took great delight in calling, “Max, come! or Max, sit!” when my father came to visit. Dad took all this cheerfully. Anything to do with Max, the dog, was borne with good humour. My father’s birthday’s always included a card from Max with appropriate wording such as:
Unlike his namesake, Little Max does not pay any income tax,
But still we doubt if Herr Mulroney, wants chew toys laced with baloney.
Max was forgiven a multitude of sins, such as the time he chewed up the rose bush we had bought for Mother’s Day. He was always a welcome visitor in Nana and Gamma’s house, and his tail wagged ferociously whenever they came to visit us. Every trip to West Van would begin with my father and I meeting in Lighthouse Park and walking Max around the ten-minute trail. The two Maxes had a bond that was really special. I still get choked up when I remember our first visit to the house on Kensington after my father had died. Max spent the entire time looking in all the rooms, searching for his namesake. But that was at the end of the relationship. That first trip to West Vancouver was the beginning, and there were wonderful years of walks and congenial visits ahead. Max and his namesake were off to a great start.
An excerpt from Strings Attached: The Story of Max, the Ho Hum Husky
I can’t decide whether Tennyson or Orwell best reflects my mood at the moment, but both writers certainly resonate, now that living through a screen is the safest way to connect with the outside world. Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, of course, wasn’t even able to look out of her window without sacrificing her life, but when she said, “I am half sick of shadows,” she certainly reflected the way so many of us feel, given that we’re unable to visit, hug and engage with the people we love. In my case, it’s not Sir Lancelot that tempts me to defy the curse, it’s our adorable seventeen-month-old granddaughter who is growing and developing apace, but the feeling is definitely the same.
However, when our television set daily brings Big Brother and a parade of solemn faces from government and health officialdom, telling us how the War on the Virus is going and what we have to do in order to comply and assist in the battle, George Orwell comes to mind. The sad reality is that, whether reminiscent of a Victorian poem or a twentieth century novel, the curse, threat, or whatever we call it is out there and our behaviour is bound by external forces over which we have little, if any, control.
My husband and I never really felt that we were old until this terrible pandemic hit and we were informed that people over sixty-five had to stay at home. Hugh and I always tended to be ‘get out there and join in’ sort of people, so being side-lined is a novel (pardon the pun) experience. Watching from our isolation, it’s sad to see so many hopes and dreams dashed, and sad to realize the danger the brave people in the front lines are having to face on a daily basis. I’m sure many, like us, feel angry at times at the disruption to so many lives and the realization that things will not simply bounce back to where they were in pre-pandemic days. There’s also a natural desire to point fingers and lay blame—this should have been done faster; that should have been obvious much sooner—but at some point, we need to figure out how we became so vulnerable and what changes should be made for a safer future.
Lots of questions come to mind. Have we been negligent in critical areas? Has the terrible impact on senior homes been the result of hiring part-time caregivers (with no benefits) who have to work in more than one place to make a living wage? Have we made international travel too easily accessible and should we be prepared to accept more rigorous quarantine requirements to ensure that people do not carry communicable diseases between countries? Should some products and services be manufactured within our own country to ensure we never face the alarming shortfall of critical supplies that has occurred with the current pandemic? Are we going to continue buying products from countries where human rights are ignored and working conditions are such that we would consider them unacceptable? If so, are we prepared to continue looking the other way so we can continue to get cheap goods, or will we be prepared to pay more for the same items made by our own citizens working for a decent wage?
There are a lot more questions that need to be asked. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I am sure we can’t wait for this to pass and assume that things will be the same afterwards. I try not to dwell too much on the fact that the world has become a darker and more frightening place, or that the road to recovery will be long. Now, I simply hope that there are no other catastrophes waiting in the wings, for there is always the danger that one crisis triggers other problems. However, Hugh and I try to be optimistic, since that is the best way to cope and move forward. We are so grateful for those who are out there in the front lines, helping those who are ill and keeping the supply chains moving. They truly are the heroes of the hour, and if nothing else, this crisis has underlined who the truly essential people are in our society. Here’s hoping that when we make it through to better and safer times, they will continue to be valued as much then as they are now.
The Morton family suffered a tragedy when their daughter was the victim of a serial killer. Two decades later members of the family gather at the Marshlands Hunting Lodge, where unbeknown to them, two people are present who are connected to the earlier crime. A storm causes landslides that render the access road impassable, and before long, another murder takes place.
Vancouver Island’s Portal Players will be presenting Elizabeth Elwood’s Shadow of Murder, Friday and Saturday evenings at Port Alberni’s Capitol Theatre from February 21 to March 14. Directed by Jacqollyne Keath, this will be the second production of the murder mystery play, which is set in an isolated hunting lodge in a mountainous area of British Columbia. An entertaining thriller with lots of twists and turns, Shadow of Murder received high praise at its New Westminster premiere in 2011 and promises to provide another exciting evening of theatre with this fine new production.
On Remembrance Day, I have many people to remember, not only family members who served in the armed forces, but also a number of wonderful friends, long since passed on, that I knew during my years as a volunteer at the George Derby War Veterans’ hospital. However, the one that always comes first to mind is Charles Field, the grandfather I never met, and with him, Emma Field, the grandmother he left behind.
Charles Field was the batman to Captain Hanbury, a member of the family who had started the Allen & Hanbury pharmaceutical company. The story, as my mother told it, was that the two became good friends, and that the captain always told Charlie that if they both came through, he would see him right after the war. The two men survived together throughout the four years of the War. However, during the final Allied offensive in November 1918, both were fatally shot by a sniper towards the end of the battle.
My grandmother, Emma Field, or Pem, as the family called her, was deeply grieved over the loss of her Charlie, who was reputed to be a real sweetheart, but like most war widows, she had to struggle on alone. She got a job in a factory, and my mother and uncle became latchkey children. She was also the oldest of five children herself, and in spite of her widowhood, ended up assuming responsibility for helping her siblings and caring for elderly parents.
Many years and another World War later, my Nan continued to support the family. My father, who was in the Merchant Navy, married my mother in 1943, so they lived with Nan throughout the war. When my mother was expecting my brother, she complained that she had not known what was more dangerous: Hitler’s bombs or Nan hurling her under the table whenever the sirens went off. My mother also used to relish the tale of how Nan had kept an ‘emergency’ bottle of brandy all through the war, refusing all requests from those who wanted to sample it, only to have it stolen by a burglar who broke in after it was all over.
Our family continued to live with Nan after the war, a situation she had not invited, but had simply put up with in order to help my parents. I remember her as a rather formidable lady who liked her Guinness, had strict rules about not annoying her in her rooms, but who also took my brother and myself on lots of interesting outings. Then, in 1957, my father whisked us away to Canada, and she lost the company of her only grandchildren, though she continued to send us our British comics and write to us during the remainder of her life.
It was only after I’d grown up that I started to appreciate how much heartache she had endured, and how tough she was to maintain her resilient get-on-with-it spirit, no matter what was happening around her. Needless to say, I was delighted when a few years ago, an aunt passed on to me copies of a batch of letters that had been written by ‘Pem’ to her cousin in Australia. I was especially fascinated to see that one of these was dated 1941. Some of this is printed below: It’s a picture of Wartime England from the middle-aged widow’s perspective. Sorry I never got to meet you, Charlie Field, but you’d have been proud of the lady you left behind.
March 22, 1941
Received your letter today……. I thought perhaps the mail had gone down. As you know, Mum passed away the 12th of June. She had been very ill all winter. In fact every winter for the last six years she had to stay in her room because of her chest, but the September war was declared, on that same night we had an air raid warning. We thought we were going to be deluged with bombs, and she never really got over the shock. . . . . On Oct. 25th she had a stroke.
I nursed her for six months, and she seemed to be getting on nicely. Then the posters started about the possible invasion, and the doctor advised me to try and get her away. If it happened, she would not stand the strain. Her friend Mrs. Coburn had moved from Highbury to Ealing, so I took her there while I looked for a house; I had just got this house and was going up to see her when I had the wire asking me to come. But she did not know me. She is buried with Dad at Sutton. Perhaps it is as well she was taken before things got as bad as they are. You say the Londoners can take it. You ought to see what they have taken. Do you remember where Rose lived? It is dreadful round there. Windsor Street’s small houses, not one is standing. The turning is like a waste land. Dean Street . . . not a soul is living there. The homes just smashed up. In one turning, there are five pianos or parts of them in the debris of the different homes. Hitler’s military objective, Highbury, got it dreadful this week. It is appalling the women and children that have been killed. Also the city has been badly bombed, in some parts just ruins. . . . . Do you remember the London Hotel at the corner of Tylers Avenue. That was hit the other week and a lot of civilians killed.
My daughter does nursing all night once a week in a shelter in the city. I do fire watching once a week. I have a tin hat and a whistle to blow should an incendiary bomb drop in our turning. We do different turns all through the night starting at 10 pm until 6 am. . . . . . . . One thing we have to be thankful for is that we have not been really short of food. We don’t get a lot of meat, but the fat ration is very generous really. We have plenty of veg, bread and flour and if people spend a bit more time at their stoves, they can make some real good meals. It means a little more trouble but it is worth it and all helps to win the war, besides helping to keep the nation fit. . . . .
Rents went up very high after the last war, but food and clothes got very reasonable the last ten years. Now we are at war again and everything is sky high again, but why worry? Just live from day to day, get what pleasure you can, and try to be just to all. I hope this reaches you. Wishing you and yours all the best.
Watch for “The Chess Room” by Elizabeth Elwood, a new locked-room mystery coming out in the November/December issue of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. A stormy day, a diabolical plot and a room filled with eerily silent chessmen who may provide the key to the mystery. EQMM is available online or at any Chapters stores in Canada.
Also, coming up next year, Elwood’s “The Homicidal Understudy” will appear in Malice Domestic’s Mystery Most Theatrical Anthology.
We first met Thomasina Bug six years ago. We were staying at our Pender Harbour cottage and I was out for an evening walk with my husband, Hugh, and our daughter Katie, who had driven up from Vancouver to stay with us for a few days. It was a lovely September evening but the light was fading quickly, and, as we walked by the Sundowner Inn, we noticed a little striped kitten sitting on the steps.
Katie, who had no pets at that time, wanted to take it home, but as her father pointed out, the kitten very likely belonged to someone in the area. However, we did nip back to the cottage, filled a small dish with our own cat’s Fancy Feast and ran it back to the little tabby. She was still sitting on the steps and she gratefully polished off the dish of food, after which she allowed herself to be stroked and petted. Katie was returning to town the next day and she was loath to leave the kitten there, but we headed home, assuring her that we would keep a look out for it and try to find out whether or not it was a stray. However, for the remainder of our stay, there was no sign of the kitten so we assumed she had returned to her home, wherever it was.
We were in town throughout the winter and did not return to the cottage until the spring. Still, a few days after we came back, we were delighted to see a full-grown version of our kitten peering at us from the bushes when we were out for a walk. I took a photograph and sent it to Katie, letting her know that her kitten had survived the winter and was still going strong. We only occasionally saw the cat throughout the summer, but once in a while, we observed her staring at us from a tree or skittering about in the bushes when we walked on the road that led to the pub.
The following year, the cat started to show up closer to our own property, even sometimes streaking across our garden during her morning foray for wildlife. She was a particularly pretty tabby and, in the absence of knowing her origins, I christened her Thomasina. We were staying for the whole summer, and after a while, we realized that she was living in the derelict and uninhabited cottage next door to us. Once we knew where she was based, we began taking treats with us on our morning walk and stopping to give her a snack as we passed by. We were sad that year as our own cat, Minx the Manx, had died the previous September, so we particularly enjoyed our visits with Thomasina.
One day, we saw a car pull up in front of the derelict cottage and our neighbour who lived a little way up the hill got out. Hugh went down to talk to him and saw that he was giving Thomasina a tin of Friskies. Thomasina, it turned out, was his cat. Hugh had been right that the kitten had a home. She had been well looked after for those early years and had given birth to two sets of kittens during that time. However, when her owner had her spayed and kept the second set of kittens, Thomasina left home.
Who knows what decided her to go semi-feral and free-wheel it in an uninhabited wreck of a house? Fed up with motherhood? Bullied by her kittens? An adventurous and independent spirit? It was a mystery. She was certainly affectionate. She loved her visits from her owner, and when Hugh picked her up for the first time, she purred for him too. But only for a moment. Then she wriggled free as if to say, “That’s enough.”
At this point, we also found out that her name was Bug, so that is how she became Thomasina Bug. We continued to give her treats, and our neighbour was happy to know someone else was looking out for his vagabond kitty. He was worried about her living rough and had tried to bring her home, even attempting to keep her in and make her stay, but she simply threw tantrums and demanded to go out, whereupon, she headed back to her chosen spot. Over the course of the summer, Thomasina Bug, when not out on her rounds, would watch us from the roof of her shack, and gradually, she began to venture into our garden.
The treats morphed into bowls of Meow Mix and by the end of the summer, she would come right to our back steps to eat. We would sit out with her and keep her company, and she would sometimes hop onto our laps and purr, although she raced away the moment we opened the cottage door. No way was she going to be corralled again.
However, she became a regular visitor in the garden. She liked Hugh’s vegetable patch. All those bean poles made great cover when she was hunting. She also liked the boot-brush at the foot of our steps and luxuriated in scratching her chin on it. We were very sad leaving her at the end of the summer, although we knew that her owner was still looking after her and she always had the option of going home.
As soon as we returned to the cottage the following spring, we hurried next door and called her name. In a trice, Thomasina Bug hopped out from under her shack and greeted us enthusiastically. She seemed very happy to see us, and she chowed down her treats greedily, though we noticed that she hadn’t lost weight over the winter. If anything, she looked chubbier. The same pattern immediately kicked in: morning-walk treats, afternoon garden visits. We’d often talk with our neighbour when he came to feed her. Thomasina Bug had him well trained.
As he said, she had the best of both worlds. Total freedom, but loving humans looking out for her and providing for her needs. It appeared that her morning rounds had increased in area and she had a variety of doting humans on her circuit. But perhaps because we were so close to her base, she became particularly attached to us. Instead of watching us cautiously from her roof, she would bound over the moment she caught sight of us, whether we were in our garden, walking on the street, or out chatting with the neighbours. This time, it was even more of a wrench to say goodbye to her at summer’s end, and it almost seemed as if she understood.
That winter passed quickly. My new play was being produced by Vagabond Players and I was both director and producer, Hugh was building the set, my friend Jacqollyne Keath and I were creating a particularly complicated sound design together, and the time simply whipped by. Before we knew it, it was spring again, and we returned to the cottage even earlier than usual, very eager to see how our semi-feral friend was doing. Once again, she greeted us rapturously, and this time, a little reproachfully.
Before long, we noticed that she was starting to take her midday nap on our back steps, so one day, Hugh opened the screen door and invited her in. She skittered away and kept her distance, but Hugh left the door open. I was on the couch working on my laptop that afternoon, and suddenly I sensed movement on the deck. I looked up to see Thomasina Bug standing at the French doors and staring into our living room.
The moment she saw that I’d noticed her, she scurried away, but within the half hour, she was back again. This time, she made a cautious foray into the room. Then another retreat. Gradually, over the course of the afternoon, she increased her incursions, finally making it all the way round the couch, although she ducked and ran when I bent down to pat her. Still determined not to be imprisoned.
The next day, she was back again. This time, she found one of Minx’s old cat toys. Before I knew it, she was rolling and romping all around the room, tossing and batting the toy with a hilarious mix of ferocity and playfulness. Then, all played out, the hopped onto Hugh’s armchair and settled herself there for the next hour.
Come evening, she was off again for her night manoeuvres, but the next morning, she was back the moment we were up. That afternoon, we found her tucked up on the bed, and that night, she looked at me reproachfully when I shooed her out for the night and reminded her that she wasn’t our cat. The next morning, as we had our tea in bed, we glanced at the bedroom window and saw a little striped face peering through. Hugh got up to open the door and she marched in, jumped on the bed and settled down as if she owned the place.
That night, as I was putting her out, I was talking with Katie on the phone. On hearing what was happening at our end, Katie wailed, “Oh, I can’t stand it! How can you?” My response: “We can’t keep her in. She isn’t our cat and we can’t make her dependent on us.” But of course, two nights later, we broke down and Thomasina Bug spent the night with us—that is, until the early hours of the morning when she decided to chase her tail all over the bed. At this point, she was evicted. But during our morning tea, she was meowing at the window again.
Thomasina Bug soon became a regular presence in the cottage. She discovered Minx’s kitty condo where we set daily treats for her to find. No more need to dispense Temptations during our walks. She became a constant lap cat, always hopping onto whichever one of us was sitting down, and looking quite put out if we were on our feet and no laps were available.
She kept me company when I fired up my laptop, perching on my legs with determination as well as indignation because my lap was taken up with something other than her. The summer went by remarkably smoothly. When Katie came to visit with her dog, Puck, and her cat, Bernice, Tommy Bug would sulkily retire to her old haunt for the day, sometimes glaring from the fence between our properties, but come night, when the grand-pets were tucked up in Arvy, she would hurry back and reclaim our bed for the night.
To our surprise, Thomasina Bug turned out to be a music-loving cat. She was intrigued whenever I vocalized, and would sit at my feet and listen to me sing, unlike Minx, who had always departed in a huff at the first notes. She cracked us up one evening when we were watching a fifties musical on TCM, for the moment Kathryn Grayson burst into song,Tommy Bug turned to look at my end of the couch as if to say, “Is that you?” I found that all I had to do if she lingered outside too late on long summer evenings was stick my head through the double doors and trill a verse or two, and she would immediately race up the stairs, shoot through her cat door and roar inside for bedtime.
We also discovered that she was a great hunter, but not a serial killer. While she delighted in bringing us mice, birds, and even, on one occasion, a bat, all were presented alive. Her habit was to bring her trophy in, open her mouth with a “Tada, look what I’ve got” gesture, and set the terrified critter loose. Hugh became adept at cornering and freeing the assorted prey, and Thomasina Bug would spend the rest of the day searching the cottage and trying to figure out what had happened to her catch. She certainly loved to play outdoors, but more and more, she was becoming dependent upon the shelter our cottage provided, and we noticed that on inclement days, she would luxuriate in tucking up inside where it was warm and dry. Our enjoyment of our lovable visitor became mixed with feelings of guilt over what would happen to her when we returned to town.
It was ridiculous to be so worried about a cat who had coped independently for three years, living rough and clearly thriving on it, but more and more, we worried about her hanging out in the wreck of a house next door for yet another winter. We’d seen rocks and debris appear on the site, and were concerned that someone might have thrown them at her. There was also the worry of fire or instability in the building. Our neighbour was worried about her, too, and expressed the hope that we would adopt Thomasina. He was sure she would stay with us if we kept encouraging her. He also suggested that we take her to town with us when we returned, but we felt she could never adjust to being an indoor cat.
Finally, we compromised. Hugh installed cat doors at each end of our screened-in deck and put a cozy bed for her under the deck table, thus creating a safer space for her than the shack next door. Then we arranged that our neighbour would feed her there in our absence. However, when we returned to the cottage after a week in town, we were told that Thomasina Bug had simply hung around our property and moped in our absence. The following month, we repeated the experiment. This time, when we returned, Thomasina Bug was lying on the deck chair, her head drooping between her front paws and her entire body language dripping misery. When I picked her up, she burrowed into my chest and glued her head to my neck. Our neighbour was right. It was time to adopt her.
He made the registration over to us and nervously, we bit the bullet and did a test run, taking her to the vet to get her shots. Tommy Bug behaved impeccably, making everyone in the Sechelt Animal Hospital fall in love with her. She also survived the forty-five-minute drive each way without much ado. The next step was to see if she’d use kitty litter, which was an essential if we were going to take her to town. We started out by putting a kitty-litter box in the cottage. Tommy Bug ignored the litter box for several days, but one morning, having been outside for hours, she marched in, did her business in the litter box, and then roared back outside to play some more. Okay, so she did know what to do with the box.
We began to keep her in at night and, sure enough, she used her litter box when necessary. Then came the big day and the test run to town. Her former owner saw us as we drove by his house, so we stopped to say hello. He grinned to see his little Bug sitting sedately in her cat cage, all set for her trip to the Lower Mainland. When we arrived at our town home, we rushed her cage upstairs to our bedroom and set down her food and litter box, along with a pile of toys. The moment we let her out, she hid under the bed and remained there for half the day. However, by evening, she had ventured out, and that night, she tucked up on our bed and slept soundly. By the next day, she was exploring everywhere and treating the three floors of our house as her ‘circuit’, skittering by us with a look on her face that said, “Can’t stop, places to check out and bugs to eliminate.” In no time, our house became a no-fly zone.
It’s been amazing to us how this independent little cat has adapted to all the changes and the running back and forth. She’s a trouper now, going between house and cottage, and happily reclaiming her territory at both ends. However, her former owner was right about her strong will and determined nature. It’s obvious that she prefers being at the cottage where she can enjoy the great outdoors as well as the comforts of home.
And that is why I’m having a year that is short on writing time. Thomasina Bug is going to get her way, for we are now in the process of selling up in town and building a new home on our cottage site. It took her six years, but she’s getting that ‘best of both worlds’ in every sense now. Of course, there are other reasons why we’ve decided to move to the Sunshine Coast, one of which is that it is a far better location for me to get on with my writing projects once we survive the challenging year of upheaval, but our daughters take great delight in telling their friends, “Mum and Dad are moving because of a cat!” I wonder if Thomasina Bug was planning this all those times she watched us from the roof of her shack.
I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca when I was fourteen and was so enthralled by the book that I continued reading long into the night. I would never have thought of basing a story on the novel’s theme, but there is a stretch of road on the Sunshine Coast that evokes the description of the approach to Manderley and the power of suggestion has been at work every time we have driven that route. Since the Coast is the place where I do most of my writing, it was inevitable that a story on the Rebecca theme would ensue one day.
That story became “After Rebecca”, where Philippa Beary, travelling through a storm on her way back from Montana, is unnerved when she comes upon an eerie lakeside estate that bears a remarkable resemblance to the setting of the book. She is even more disturbed when she learns that the eerie mansion holds the secret to a murder. Between the thoughts of the troubled wife whose husband is suspected of murder and the narrative that follows Philippa’s adventures as she tries to unravel the truth of what really happened at the estate, “After Rebecca” provides an intriguing puzzle for mystery lovers and nostalgia for those who remember the book that inspired the story.
“After Rebecca” is followed by seven mystery stories, many of which have roots in settings that are familiar to me. I spent several years as a Pets and Friends visitor at the George Derby War Veterans’ Hospital and have many happy memories of the people I met there. From those experiences came “Remembrance Day”, a story that tells how the search for a missing veteran ultimately provides the solution to a local murder.
“Mimi’s Farewell” stems from my years in the chorus of the Vancouver Opera, and “The Camera Lies” was prompted by the periodic visits of movie crews to Robert Burnaby Park. A trip to PEI and the Charlottetown Festival inspired “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting” and “The Boat Chain” was suggested by the sight of boats rafted together off the Marine Park in a sun-drenched Pender Harbour.
As a reader, I always gravitate towards cold-case scenarios or historical mysteries, so I enjoy writing these types of tales as well. Therefore, two stories in the book deal with incidents from the past. “The Feast of Stephen” is set in a late-Victorian mansion during a snowy Christmas and it tells how a child’s kindness to a vagrant brings closure to a mystery that dates back to World War II. “Two Late the Verdict” harks back to the Swinging Sixties and is set during the trial of two teachers who are facing charges of sexual assault forty years after the fact.
In spite of the variety of subjects and settings, all eight stories continue the ongoing story of the Beary Family, and particularly provide a satisfying conclusion to Philippa’s story. Will the series end here, or will there be a seventh Beary book? Maybe. After all, Richard is still at loose ends. Or will I leave the Bearys here and move onto other projects. Right now I have sets to design and theatrical challenges to meet, so who knows. The time to decide may be when those jobs are done. In the meantime, a big thank you to those who have supported and encouraged me and my quirky Beary family along the way.