1900, Chapter 26. A Prince For Elise
Continued from Part 1
Pages 397-98. Late one evening a distraught Harry came in to talk to his mother, “I’m disgusted. We didn’t do enough last summer to get rid of the grasshoppers. Now they’re hatching . . . hordes of the beastly things. I’m going to fight them. I don’t care what Mr. C says.” He wrote to the Department of Agriculture asking for a supply of Paris green.
(Paris green, an arsenic-based chemical identified by its colour, adopted because of its low price and high toxicity.
“Poisoned bait was first used against grasshoppers in Manitoba during the outbreak of 1900- and this is probably the first occasion in which bait was used on a large scale for the protection of grain crops. The mixture then used was very similar to the one mentioned above employed in California except the sugar was omitted and the bait was broadcast instead of being placed in heaps. The initial credit for this improved poison bait application belongs to Mr. Harry Vane who was then working in close cooperation with the writer on the farm of Percy Criddle six miles south [sic] of Treesbank.” Collected works of Norman, Volume VI Manuscripts on Orthoptera) Department of Entomology, University of Manitoba.
Before it arrived he talked to the neighbours. “The grasshoppers are hatching in the millions, destroying our crops. If we start right away, burn the grass, we’ll get rid of the eggs and young hoppers.” They set about burning the road allowances and then he and Cecil ploughed under the edges of their fields where the young hoppers were thickest.
While the Vanes fought the grasshoppers, Mr. Criddle and sons, (Norman, Evelyn, Stuart) sorted out a large batch of postage stamps. (From their Aunt in England)
Stuart told Elise, “We got 155 different stamps this time, and that’s not counting duplicates.”
Mr. Criddle was celebrating the British capture of Willow Grange when he read the next headline: VICTORY PREMATURE. As the Boers retaliated with guerrilla-style attacks, the colonials on horseback were proving their worth. He stormed, “The Boers will never make loyal subjects of the British Empire. Wipe out the whole race and be done with it.”
. . .
Edwy and Cecil, checking for grasshoppers as they travelled, drove to Brandon May 11 with a load of hay to sell. Their mother overheard their report to Harry.
“The beastly things are everywhere! Looks bad.”
Harry muttered, “I wanted to build a ‘hopper dozer’ last spring to destroy the eggs. I read about it way back in ’98. They were used south of the border.”
Edwy said, “We’d better try something, or we won’t have a crop to harvest.”
“I’ve tried! McKellar from the Department of Agriculture sent me the information last year. I think Mr. C is beginning to see that grasshoppers are as big a problem as the drought
. . .
Page 398. Harry dug out his picture of the grasshopper dozer. He could make everything but the steel for the scoop and kerosene for the burner. With the diagram behind his back, he knocked on Mr. Criddle’s door, “The fellows say the hoppers are eating our wheat on ‘One’. I’ve an idea to save it. It’s been used in Dakota and other places.” He held out the picture and added quickly, “Won’t cost much. I’ll build it. Two horses can pull it.”
With some haggling, Mr. Criddle mumbled, “Well, go ahead – if that’s what you want.”
The ‘rig’ was to slide along the ground and burn the eggs and newly-hatched hoppers in the grass. Harry made a model and then constructed the rig—sheet iron, 2’ by 10’ with 8” sides, and a 12” back. The following week he improved it by adding bars for a grate to burn the grasshoppers below, as well as those that jumped into the fire. It definitely cut down the numbers of eggs and the newly-hatched, but larger ones were already feasting on the crops. Harry received the Paris green and wanted to get started. But the recipe called for sawdust, salt, and sugar. He was short on sawdust and had no money to purchase salt or sugar.
Stumped, he talked the problem over with his mother.
“Well, Harry,” she said, “when I don’t have what I need, I try to substitute something I do have. You want something damp and fibrous? Do you have anything like that? Look around, maybe you’ll come up with something.”
He found his ‘something’ in the stable—the horses’ fresh warm droppings. He scooped them up, added what he estimated to be the right amount of poison, mixed it with water, and spread it along the edges of the fields. Even without sugar, the grasshoppers swarmed to the bait like bees to syrup. Harry talked the neighbours into following his example. “Do what I did. Write the department and ask for Paris green.” Harry wrote to Mr. McKellar describing his experiment and asked them to send more poison for the farmers willing to use it. Mr. McKellar replied, “I will come to the district to meet with the farmers. Keep records of your experiments and especially the proportions you use for the poison bait. If you determine that it’s effective, we’ll publicize your innovation.”
Mr. McKellar came to Aweme to meet with the farmers on Thursday, May 18. Mr. Criddle put in an appearance and boasted, “My boys are already fighting the pestilence – burning, chasing, ploughing and trapping. You’ll do no good among the stupid dolts of neighbouring farmers who just sit down and suck their thumbs.”
Page 399. Having had his say, he left the meeting and went home to preside over a lawn party he’d planned for the afternoon with the teacher, Miss Cain, the Sutcliffes, the Dennys, and Ellis. The two latter neighbours, seeing no need to learn about grasshopper control, had skipped the meeting.
On the 24th of May the young folks took a break from the doom and gloom. Others joined them and their cavalcade drove north to picnic at their favourite little lake.
“Be back by six o’clock,” Mr. Criddle told them, “We’ll have tea and entertainment.”
The weather was fine as only May can be on the prairie; the happy hours sped by. Suddenly someone noticed the slant of the afternoon sun and raised the alarm, “We’d better get back.” The girls grabbed their picnic baskets and raced for the wagons; the fellows untied their teams and headed home as fast as their heavy workhorses could trot. Unfortunately it was seven o’clock when they arrived at St. Albans. Mr. Criddle stood angrily on his doorstep, “You’re late! Mrs. Criddle and I have eaten. You’re out of luck.” Chastised, the Criddles climbed down and disappeared inside. Everyone else, including Miss Cain (the teacher), continued down the hill to The Palace (Edwy and Emily’s home) where the friends agreed, “It’s been a good day. We’d better get home. See you soon.”
Next day the Vane boys were back fighting grasshoppers and scanning the sky for signs of rain. It appeared to Mr. Criddle that the insects were not gaining on his crops and he kept his spirits up during some dreadful dust storms by taking account of the neighbours’ losses. He calculated for the boys: “Martins have lost at least 80 acres. Denny 30 acres – Fortune no end – and Lonsbury is one of the greatest sufferers.”
It shouldn’t have surprised them when that long time neighbour, dropped in to say, “I’ve had enough of this country’s wind, dust, drought, and hoppers. I’m selling out.”
Mr. Criddle didn’t mind. No thought was given to the fact that Lonsbury’s children were the only students in Miss Cain’s class (Aweme School). Perhaps he was distracted: “Got my papers for reappointment as J.P. This is my third commission – under three different governments.”
The prospect of that income was offset by a severe frost which took everything except the potatoes which, because of the drought, hadn’t come up. Elise, captive in the kitchen, was inundated with melancholic speeches; “We’ve had four successive bad seasons – two hails, two droughts – but this one bids fair to beat ’em all – drought – gales – grasshoppers – frost – and – what’s to be done I don’t know. . . . No sign of rain – no taters – no turnips – no hay – no wheat – no oats – no straw – will be quite a record.”
Page 400. It was depressing for Elise to think about another year of hunger. Unpaid taxes, she learned, were another reason why neighbours had given up. If we can’t pay ours again this year, we too might be moving. Although Mr. Criddle grumbled about the poor prospects, his enthusiasm for entertaining never wavered. He sang excerpts from the Messiah one Saturday night with Miss Cain and the Dennys until midnight.
. . .
Norman, who didn’t enjoy socializing, escaped one guest-busy Sunday to the Tamarack and came home late in the day with bunches of lovely flowers. As new neighbour Ellis was leaving, he spoke to Mr. Criddle, “It’s been great sport. But thinking of next week, I have a fortnight’s ploughing for one of your boys.”
So Harry, in spite of his ongoing work with the grasshoppers, got his orders, “Ellis wants you tomorrow – two weeks’ worth of ploughing.”
Harry wanted to say, “Send one of your boys. I’m fighting grasshoppers.”
That evening he sought out his mother. “I have to leave my hopper business and slave for Ellis. Norman says he will superintend my work here. The worst is that Mr. McKellar wrote that he’d be back to meet with me. I was to explain what I’m doing and show him my experiments.”
Elise sympathized with her son, but Harry went ploughing.
Sure enough, two days later Mr. McKellar arrived with Dr. Fletcher, the Dominion Entomologist, and asked, “Where can we find Harry Vane?”
Mr. Criddle invited them in, “Harry’s not here. Norman can tell you all you need to know.”
Elise served them tea and noticed how carefully they listened as Norman showed them the diagram and explained the mixture of Paris green poison, horse droppings, and salt. She wanted to tell them it was Harry’s innovation and grieved for her boy. Harry will be so disappointed. Why don’t they send for him? He’s only a few miles away. Please, Percy, give the gentlemen directions to the Ellis farm.
. . .
Page 401. The disastrous spring of 1900 ended in an equally dry, dusty summer. Sundays were more demanding of Elise’s energy than weekdays, with so many visitors adding their appetites to those of the already large household. No longer able to endure the endless hours on her feet, she was grateful that Beatrice and Maida (Criddle) began to leave the games early to assist her with tea. She tried to get away as soon as the dishes were done.
News from the Boer War hadn’t improved and new trouble made the headlines: the Boxer Rebellion in China—Britain’s ambassadors murdered. Unfazed, Mr. Criddle turned his telescope on the night sky—Saturn, Jupiter, and nebulae—for the benefit of Miss Thirza and Roland Denny.
Harry returned from his stint of ploughing, handed over $15 to Mr. Criddle, and asked, “Did McKellar come?”
“Yes, he has been and gone – Norman looked after the business.”
Elise could tell from Harry’s face and the set of his shoulders that he was terribly frustrated. “What’s the use of trying?” he said. “I just can’t get anywhere here.”
Her heart went out to him. My dear Harry . . . . He does all he’s asked and more. Planted all those trees, and if we have a crop at all this year, it’s because he knew what to do.
. . .
It rained ‘Old Billy’ during harvest time. Elise mopped up the puddles from the leaking roof and baked a birthday cake for Miss Cain. During the meal, Lonsbury showed up. “Came to say goodbye. Young Cullen’s bought my place. He’s welcome to take what he can of my crop.”
Lonsbury was taking Miss Cain’s last two students. If Aweme School were to stay open it needed the Criddle children. Mr. Criddle gave his teacher a week’s holiday.
Page 402. Elise felt she was in a war zone. Can he change his wife’s mind in a week? He’s desperate to keep Miss Cain. I’m sure our children would enjoy her classes. She could teach them music and art, ever so much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. On the other hand, I can’t blame Mrs. C for not wanting her here . . . It’s been a difficult few months. I’m quite sure his wife will win this one. Miss Cain will go.
. . .
(Mrs. Criddle kept her children home; Miss Cain had to find another school.)
Note: September 30 Edwy and Emily had a son, Harry Rupert.
. . .
Page 408. The Criddle household was also in for some tough times. The lack of funds in the district was so severe Mr. Criddle couldn’t collect the money people owed for his Vane boys’ work. The crop was worse than ’96 after the great hailstorm. And the price was disgustingly low. Because of drought and grasshoppers, they had very few potatoes, cabbages, and turnips. The boys slaughtered two animals hoping to sell the beef in town to get enough cash for the usual winter stores plus treats for Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, their strategy came up short. Brandon was inundated with meat from other farmers hoping to do the same.
1901, Chapter 27. More Cracks in the Empire
Page 416. Harry appeared suddenly one morning, “I’m going to Hamiota to see Minnie. She has a friend who will lend me the money to go to England. Will Denny says I can help on their big farm. Where’s Mr. Criddle?”
. . .
Elise couldn’t hide her tears. Will I ever see my boy again? She wanted to hang on to him, but he gently eased her arms away and sprang up to the seat beside Edwy. Her teary gaze followed the wagon until it disappeared.
Harry, on the other hand, was in such a state of excitement he noted the newly hatching grasshoppers and told Edwy, “I’m done with the whole pesky business. Norman can take charge. Come harvest, remember my scheme to keep the beggars from chewing the twine to pieces. Soak the balls in a solution of two pounds of bluestone to 12 gallons of water for half an hour. Make sure it’s dry before you use it.”
While Edwy was seeing his brother off, Dr. Fletcher and Mr. McKellar came to check on the grasshopper infestation and noted that in the fields where Harry had worked the previous year, the grasshoppers weren’t going to be a problem. Convinced the method worked, they hired Norman at two dollars a day to instruct farmers in the use of the Paris green mixture. Edwy drove him in style from farm to farm with the exception of a two-week period when he, with his team, worked on the railway bridge at Millford for $2.25 a day.
. . .
Note: The drought continued through the spring to summer.
Page 418. Wind without mercy swept up the topsoil and blotted out the sun. Sand filtering into their house was miserable enough, but it was nothing compared to the havoc that followed. A gale, combined with heavy rain, found so many ways through St. Albans’ roof that its dripping into pails and pots made about as much racket as the wind and thunder outside. Surveying the scene next day Mr. Criddle downplayed the damage: “Three panes of glass blown out – perhaps 150 shingles from roof and a shed door blown away – nothing else.”
The boys didn’t let the storm keep them from a championship cricket match. The final between Millford and Ninette was at Cooper’s, just along the road from Sutcliffe’s, close enough for Bobby and Maida to attend with their Papa. Millford captured the Challenge Cup and, to Elise’s joy and Emily’s pride, Edwy attained the highest batting score in the league.
. . .
Norman was giving out poison in the neighbourhood. They read the label, “Paris green treatment for grasshopper eradication, Norman Criddle.”
“You didn’t invent the treatment! Harry told us about people in Ontario using Paris green years ago. He wanted to use it then, but your father wouldn’t let him.” And they kept on, “We know Harry changed the recipe to make it cheaper. It should be Harry’s name on the bag.”
“Harry’s gone to England. Do you want the poison?”
That night Norman made an unusually long entry in his diary.
It seems marvellous [sic] to relate that at least 2 people or families in this settlement are jealous because I in company with Harry Vane developed a simple remedy for killing locusts—Paris Green, salt and horse manure which has been used by themselves and lots of other people with lots of success. They are jealous because I sent down a recipe to the Dept. of Agriculture of how to mix it, which the Dept., has copied and sent with each package of Paris green, with my name attached . . . . But why they should be so bitter against me I cannot find out.
Note: The winter of 1902 had very little snow, followed by a late spring blizzard. The rivers flooded and lives were lost. Norman expected the government to pay him again to travel to farmers to distribute the grasshopper poison and teach them how to use it. The position evaporated, however, so the need must have lessened.
That year the Criddles had the best crop ever, 2300 hundred bushels of wheat and 220 bushels of oats. Mr. Criddle had money in his pocket and enjoyed four days in Brandon drinking.