River 33 -- Wayne's Mission

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By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 33 – Wayne’s Mission

So far: Night taught a science class, the Credit Union is started, and already expansion plans are made, and a massive moose chooses an honorable way to die.

Wayne arrived at the dorm in London with his roommate Jeremy just after noon on Monday. They spent the next few hours unloading the car and setting up their rooms. The dorm had two separate bedrooms with a shared bathroom and kitchenette, not the shared bedroom only type with a washroom down the hall like they had been in as freshmen.

Once the car was empty, Wayne drove it to the garage. He had worried about storage, since parking on campus was unavailable unless you held a doctorate. One of the frats had offered to take it, and park it in their yard, but they wanted the keys ‘in case it needed to be moved’. Wayne saw through that immediately, knowing that the car would be out every night with a different frat member trying to impress a different co-ed. Instead he got Nick’s permission to pay a local service station $100 a week to store it. There was a fenced in area behind the lot where the station kept his loaner cars, and Nick’s fine car nestled nicely in it.

The first three weeks of term were chaotic. The first week was full of events, mostly aimed at freshmen, but classes were generally a bit slack for second years as well, since many students would be changing sections, or not have the right texts. Week two was when the crunch would start. Half the campus was either drunk or hungover that first week, including Jeremy. Wayne had been the same way the year before, but now, thinking of River and her message about alcohol, he stayed sober.

He showed the car twice the first week, and three times the second week, and actually sold it for $3000 more than Nick had expected. When he phoned the lawyer back at the reserve, he was hoping Nick would offer him part of the extra. Nick instead told him to keep it all, which meant he had earned $6,000 commission for selling the car. His year at the school was pretty much paid for, between that and the money he had earned over the summer leading the Junior Rangers.

It was late September by the time he decided to undertake the mission River and Manitou had given him: to go to the burial place of Tecumseh on the banks of the Thames River. He initially wanted to go by canoe, but Jeremy squelched that idea, noting that in the fall the Thames was so low in places that Wayne would have to carry the canoe as much as he could paddle it. The Thames in Canada is nowhere as large as the one in England.

“Well, I guess I will walk it then,” Wayne said.

“Are you crazy?” Jeremy said, looking at the route on Google Maps. “You had a car until a week ago. You could have driven it in a half hour, and been there and back in an afternoon. It will take a week to walk.”

“It’s only 30 kilometers by car,” Wayne said looking at the map. “But it will be nearly 30 miles if I walk along the river. I can walk 25 miles a day if I push it, so it will be a nice two-day walk.”

“If you can stay on the river,” Jeremy pointed out. “Look, right here is Storybook Gardens, the kids park. They will have admission to get in there. And here and here are golf courses. Do you think they will let you walk along them?”

“I guess I will just ask,” Wayne said. “Do you want to come along? I will have to leave at noon on Friday and be back before 1 on Monday, if I don’t want to miss any classes.”

“No, I’m staying here on the weekend. There is a mixer at one of the sororities that I’ve been invited to. Tramp along the river for four days or date with a hot co-ed? I wonder which one I should do?”

Nick phoned the park and the golf courses, and found out that as Jeremy said, walking along the river was not allowed at the park. But it was on the wrong side of the river anyway. The golf courses were not, and one allowed walking on the course, as long as you stayed on the bank, while the other banned it completely. Wayne plotted a course through the subdivisions around that course. It would add an hour to his route, but he had promised Manitou that he would do this mission.

On Friday he went to his Psych course in his walking gear. He had his full pack, including his bow, stored in his locker, and after class ended he grabbed them and left campus, although not without several students making ‘Tonto’ jokes at him in his gear.

He walked all afternoon, and came to the golf course he had to avoid at about 6 p.m. He left the Thames, and started through the subdivisions, noticing that they were all large, expensive homes. About half way through his detour he saw an older man with a German shepherd dog nearly as old walking, and the man started yelling.

“Who are you? You shouldn’t be here. Damned Indians. You think you own the place,” he yelled. “Get him Rex.”

“We did, once,” Wayne said softly, more as a joke, but the man seemed to take it as a threat. Wayne had continued to walk, and was getting closer. The dog growled, and Wayne reached out, thinking of how he had spoken to the bear with River. I mean no harm to you or your master, he said, and the dog stopped growling and started to wag its tail.

“You’ve witched my dog,” the man shouted, getting more and more agitated. “Don’t come any closer. I’m calling the police.” Wayne sighed, and started to cross the street to avoid upsetting the man further. It was a little more delay, but he didn’t want to scare an old man. He had just stepped off the curb when he saw the man fall.

Help him, he heard a frantic voice, and realized that it was the dog. Wayne hurried over and found the man unconscious, half on the sidewalk, and half on the grass. Luckily his head had hit grass, not concrete.

“9-1-1, how can I help you,” Wayne heard. The man had been holding a cellphone, and apparently had dialed for help before collapsing. Wayne picked up the phone.

“Wayne Stormcloud here,” he said. “I didn’t start this call, but the man who did has collapsed, and may have had a heart attack. Can you send an ambulance?” Wayne gave the address of the nearest house and then looked over the man.

“Please stay on the line,” the 9-1-1 operator said.

“I have you on speaker,” Wayne said. “But the man seems to not be breathing. I’m going to give him mouth-to-mouth. I have a Red Cross CPR certificate.”

Wayne then started doing mouth-to-mouth for what seemed like a long time, until he heard sirens. The first EMT looked at how he was doing it, and said: “Keep it up sir, while we set up.” A minute later the EMTs took over and Wayne slumped on the grass, exhausted. Before he got his breath back entirely, a police officer was standing over him.

“Can you tell me who he is?” the officer said.

“No I can’t,” Wayne answered. “I was just walking along the river, but the golf course doesn’t allow walking, so I was skirting it. This man saw me, and I guess assumed I was a problem, and got pretty agitated. I was crossing the road to avoid him when he collapsed.”

“Here is a wallet,” an EMT said, handing it to the officer. “The man is breathing, weakly, and has a weak heartbeat. I don’t know if he will make it, but this man clearly kept him alive until we got here.”

“Thanks,” the officer told the EMT, who then helped his partner load the man in the ambulance, and they sped away. The officer opened the wallet, reading aloud. “Gordon Millet. He lives in 243, three houses down.” He pointed and Wayne noted the fancy house, nearly a mansion. “You say you never saw him before?”

The officer grilled Wayne for another half hour, and they walked up to his house, finding no one at home. Finally the officer said that he believed Wayne was not a problem, and thanked him for his help. He looked at the dog. “I should have called animal control sooner. We will have to take this fellow to the kennel, I guess. Can you help me get him into the back seat of my squad car? He seems to like you.”

“Yes I can,” Wayne said, then he had a thought. “Officer, would I be allowed to take the dog with me? He will be good company on my hike, and he will certainly enjoy it more than a weekend in the kennel. I can’t keep him permanently, not living in a dorm, but if the man can’t care for him I will drop him at the kennel when we get back.”

The officer thought for a moment. “Sure, I guess so, if you are willing to take responsibility for him. I’m only required to make sure someone is looking after him. Have a nice trip.”

The officer got into the car, and Wayne and Rex headed off on their hike, arriving back at the Thames an hour later than Wayne had planned. They continued to walk until dusk, and then until full darkness fell. Wayne set up camp, using a small khaki pup tent that couldn’t be seen from the streets. He planned to be up and on the road again before dawn, to avoid anti-camping ordinances.

Rex and Wayne ate a cold meal, with the dog happily sharing a tin of tuna from Wayne’s pack. There wasn’t going to be enough food for him now but Wayne knew he would be able to pick up more in Oneida. He certainly wasn’t going to try and hunt so close to the city.

The next morning they were up early as the sun struggled to rise, and the small tent was packed up quickly. It had been warmer than Wayne had expected with the dog lying next to him. Soon they were on their way.

They reached Oneida just before noon, and Wayne first went to a local variety store, where he bought some more supplies, including two cans of dog food. He asked the native woman at the counter about Tecumseh’s grave, but got nothing but a blank stare in return. The Ojibwe of the Oneida apparently didn’t know that the grave was on their land, or weren’t talking about it.

Luckily, Manitou had shown Wayne exactly where the grave was, nestled under three oak trees. He had actually walked past the trees on his way to the store. He headed back there now.

Wayne searched around under the huge old oak. It was over 100 years old, but that still wasn’t old enough to have been the original, over 200 years ago. Wayne scouted around under the tree and found acorns. As he picked each up he got a good vibration in his soul, or not. The two without the good vibration, he discarded, and picked up a replacement until he had three that he was sure were good and fertile.

With that done, he knelt down in front of the tree and prayed to Manitou, thanking Tecumseh for all that he had done for the people, and letting the warrior know that he was still loved, and admired, and sacred to the people. He lit a plug of sweetgrass, and blessed the area. Wayne was still too young to be a regular official at ceremonies, but Harold Redbear had shown him the steps, and given him a braid of sweetgrass for this trip.

Wayne finally stood up and saw that he had an audience. An ancient-looking man and a young boy stood and watched him.

“What’re you doing,” the man asked roughly.

“Honoring the grave of Tecumseh,” Wayne said calmly.

“Tecumseh fell at Moravian,” the man said. “You should go there to honor him.”

“He fell there, but is buried here, beneath this oak,” Wayne said, and the man’s eyes widened. “Manitou himself showed me this place, and sent me on a quest to find it. I have taken three acorns from this place to take back to our reserve on the shore of Lake Superior. We would plant trees there to honor the Great Warrior.”

“I am the keeper of the trees. None but I and the boy know who lies here. It is so that the Great Warrior can rest in peace. My entire life I have gathered acorns from this tree, and the other two, so that if the tree dies I can plant a new one. I planted that tree,” he pointed to one that was about 50 years old, “but these others will have to be replaced by my great-grandson.” The boy nodded.

Wayne bowed, first to the old elder, and then to the young boy, whose eyes widened in surprise. Apparently he had never been honored before, as his task in life was a secret.

Wayne and Rex spent the night with the old man, the boy having been sent to his parents’ home. The next morning they were up at dawn, and found the old man up already, preparing Wayne a full breakfast. Rex got one of the cans of dog food and was happily full as they headed back up the Thames towards the university.

They made better time on the way back, and continued working their way back until dusk. It was fully dark when they got to the golf course, and were able to use streetlights to see as they walked around it.

When they came to the old man’s house, Wayne noted that there was now a car in the drive that had not been there before. He went up to the door and rang.

“Who is it?” The voice inside was frail, female, and elderly, and Wayne understood her not opening the door even a little.

“Mrs. Millet?” he asked. “I think I have your dog here.” At that Rex barked.

“Rex?” Wayne heard chains unclasped and locks opened and then the door opened a bit. Rex bounded in.

“It is you,” the voice said to the dog, and the door opened wider. “Please come in. You must be the man who saved my Gordon,” an old woman said. She was nearly as old as the man had been, naturally. “Please come in. I owe you so much. And you have looked after Rex too.”

“You owe me nothing,” Wayne told her. “And Rex has looked after me as much as the other way around the past few days. I’m just glad to get him home.”

“I did miss him last night,” the woman admitted. “Coming home from the hospital to this old house, and then realizing that it could have really been empty permanently, if not for you.”

“Gordon is all right then?”

“Yes, bless you. They say he should be able to get out of the hospital in two days. They don’t keep people there very long anymore, do they? And he won’t be entirely his old self. He may need a walker, or oxygen. They aren’t sure yet.”

“I feel bad,” Wayne said. “I think I might have sparked his heart attack.”

“Don’t dear,” the old lady said. “It was too much fatty foods that caused the heart attack. But you are right, Gordon always did have a thing against Indians, and you certainly are dressed up like one. Are you really Indian?”

“We prefer First Nations,” Wayne said softly.

“Well Gordon, for one, has changed his mind. Possibly for the first time in his life. The policeman said you gave him mouth-to-mouth for nearly 10 minutes, and it saved his life. He wants to meet you now, you know. You can come back after he is out?”

“Yes, I will try. But now I am tired and wonder if I might camp in your back yard for the night. I will be up early in the morning and gone, so as not to bother you.”

“You will do no such thing,” the lady said. “You will spend the night in my guest room, and I will fix you something to eat first, if you want.”

“A snack would be nice,” Wayne agreed, and soon had a hearty can of stew and several slices of bread to make a satisfying meal as Donna Millet kept up her non-stop chatter. When he was finished, he was shown to the guest room, and invited to shower in the adjacent bathroom in the morning. That night Rex again slept on the floor next to him.

When morning came Wayne did shower, and came downstairs to find another full breakfast waiting for him. I’m eating better on this trip than I would in the dorm, he thought to himself as Mrs. Millet chattered on. Finally he took his leave.

There was a touching scene at the door. Mrs. Millet waved goodbye, and Rex ran down the walk to catch up to Wayne. He apparently had fun on the trip, and wanted more. Wayne had to speak to him, verbally telling him to stay, but also mentally explaining that he was needed to protect Donna and give her company. The dog still hesitated until Wayne promised to come back and visit soon. Donna had made him promise to come back in two weeks to allow Gordon to thank him.

Wayne left, arriving back in time to go to the dorm and change out of his hiking clothes. There were no taunts of ‘Tonto’ at him as he went to his Logistics class.

Two weeks later Wayne was with the Millets again, although this time coming by bus. He spent a long Sunday afternoon with the family, and a fabulous roast beef dinner prepared by Donna. Gordon greeted him warmly, and by the end of the afternoon they had bonded well. Rex spent most of the time at Wayne’s feet, and Gordon joked that he had ‘stolen my dog.’

Gordon was frail, and Wayne worried that he might not have long to live. He wondered if River might be able to help him. He seemed like a good person. He suggested that the couple might want to head up to the river for the Thanksgiving weekend (the second Monday of October in Canada). The couple hummed and hawed about it for a while, and then agreed to make the trip, if Wayne would drive. Wayne, of course, jumped at a chance to get back home even if it would only be a day there.

The following Friday Wayne took a taxi to the Millet house, on Mr. Millet’s insistence and with him paying the fare. The family car was already loaded, with Rex and Donna already in the back seat so Wayne slid out of the taxi and into the car, and headed north.

As they went north, Wayne told them about the reserve. He got to the point about explaining about how Beloved became his niece, and Donna was in tears by the end of it.

“Son,” Gordon said as they drove on with Donna sobbing into Rex’s fur, “the two of us have talked about this a lot over the past week, and we have decided to give you a scholarship to finish your education. We will pay your tuition, dorm, meals, books, and $50 a week in spending money for the rest of your course, and also for an MBA if you qualify for it.”

“Sir,” Wayne protested. “That is too much. It would be, I don’t know, probably over $100,000. I couldn’t.”

“You certainly can,” Gordon insisted. “All I am going to ask is that you come over for Sunday dinner at least once a month. Donna loves company, and the three brats we raised haven’t come to visit since Christmas. And they probably wouldn’t come to that if I didn’t give them each a gift of $1000 each. And $100 to each of their kids and grandkids. But the rest of the year, not a word.”

“But it is so much.”

“Not enough. I haven’t spoken to Donna about this, but I also want to give $250,000 to your band to build a Ginny’s Place on the reserve, in honor of your little niece’s birthmother.”

“Sir,” Wayne gasped. “Can you afford that?”

“Have you never heard of Millet Motors, boy?”

“No sir.”

“Of course you haven’t. You are not from around here, and I sold out over 20 years ago. I had the largest Ford dealer in London. Largest dealership in southwestern Ontario for most of that time. It is Riverside Ford now.”

“I have heard of that,” Wayne admitted. “Although my truck this summer was a Dodge.”

“Bite your tongue, boy,” Gordon joked. “It is good thing you are driving, or I’d kick you out of the car.”

They spent the night in a small hotel on Georgian Bay, with the Millets in one room and Rex and Wayne in the other. Gordon insisted on paying, saying it was Rex’s room and Wayne was just crashing with him.

They arrived in the reserve Saturday just after noon, after a hard morning of driving. There was a full welcoming committee at the Stormcloud house. Luv was there, and immediately Donna fell in love with the tiny baby as she held her. River was waiting, and flung herself at Wayne for a hearty hug before they broke off more sedately. Wayne whispered in her ear, asking if she thought the river could do anything for them. She suggested they try, so an hour later, while Helen Stormcloud and her daughters were preparing a feast Wayne drove them all to the river.

River coaxed the elderly couple into the water, and kept them there for nearly two hours. While they were there, Rex stood on the bank next to Wayne at first, and then leapt into the water, staying near the bank. When they came out, they each looked 10 years younger. Not much when you are 70 and 72, but the big benefit was that their health was completely improved. Gordon’s heart was made whole again, and River said that had been six or seven nascent cancers in their bodies just waiting to attack. All gone now.

“Look, even Rex looks younger now,” Wayne said. And the dog now looked 10 years younger too, putting him at four instead of 14.

Gordon insisted in driving his car back from the river, amazed at how well he felt. They got back to the house in time for the feast, which both visitors and Wayne enjoyed. During the dessert, a pie made by Liesl that was a hit with everyone, Wayne announced the Millets’ offer of the Ginny’s House grant. Silence fell, then near pandemonium as everyone started to speak at once. Gordon stood, and said.

“I have changed my mind. I will not be giving $250,000 to this fine project. I will give $400,000, and if that isn’t enough, I insist on being told so I can help more. First, your son,” he looked at Wayne, “the finest young man I have ever met, saved my life a few weeks ago, and now this beautiful young girl,” he looked at River, “has given us the gift of good health.”

“Not me,” River insisted. “Manitou, the river has gifted you. It knows good people, and it has recognized you as such. I just stood by you in the water. But your generous gift will mean much to the young people of the reserve, and hopefully of the town as well.”

The Millets spent the night in Wayne’s room, while he spent the night in the JR leader cabin, which wasn’t heated, but he had Rex and several blankets keeping him warm during the chilly night.

The next morning everyone attended River’s service, including the Millets, with Donna getting the honor of holding Luv while her mother sang. River announced to the crowd that a grant had been made to allow work to start on Ginny’s House II. The group walked over to the site that Marilyn had already picked out for the complex and tried to imagine it.

Dale took over. “With that kind of money we will be able to do more than just a house. We can afford steelwork, and that means we can build a full gymnasium, big enough for basketball and other sports. A stage, perhaps, so we can do shows, and maybe a kitchen, so we can do feasts and celebrations there when the weather keeps us indoors. There will be meeting rooms and clubrooms. Studios so that the artists in the community can share their talents with the young. Places for the Young Warriors to stow their gear. In all it will be a place focused on the youth of the people and their needs.”

River was amazed. Her father was not normally so eloquent. But she proudly applauded with all the others. She sidled up to Wayne.

“When do you have to leave?” she asked.

“Soon,” he said. “It’s a two-day drive to London, and I need to be in school at 8 on Tuesday, I wish I could stay here and celebrate Thanksgiving with you tomorrow.”

“Me too,” she said. “But school is important. And we need to keep things cool, as hard as it seems.”

“For you, not so much,” Wayne said. “For the next two years, you are underage and I could go to jail doing the things I want to do.”

“I want to do them too,” River said. “But for me the result would be worse than jail. I would lose the river. I don’t think I could live without it.”

“I have a present for you,” Wayne said.

“I like presents,” River said. Wayne placed something in her hands.

“Acorns,” she exclaimed. “You did your mission! You should have given them to me sooner. We could have planted them after services yesterday.”

“No,” Wayne said. “Manitou said they are to be planted at Winter Solstice.”

“You are right. I forgot. Oh! I can feel the life in them!”

“Yes, I could feel it too. Keep them dry and cool, outdoors if you can find a place where the squirrels won’t find them.”

“Don’t worry. I will tell the squirrels to leave them be.”

“That’s right. You can do that, can’t you?”

“Yes. And I see that you have bonded with the Millets’ dog.”

“Yes, I found I could talk to him when I was on my mission.”

“I realized that. I had to have a long talk with Night about it. I didn’t want a fight starting.”

“Night would kill him. Easily before he went into the river, but still. Is Night near? Call him.” The wolf came bounding by and Wayne kneeled down and hugged him.

“Sorry old chum. You haven’t been replaced, but the other dog has done some good things for the people, so we have to be nice to him. But he will never replace you. Ever. Are you looking after River for me?”

Night yipped playfully, and wagged his tail, then bounded off. River and Wayne walked towards the others, hand-in-hand. Donna noticed, and nudged Gordon. “They make a lovely couple, don’t they?”

Soon after the London travellers piled into Gordon’s car and headed south again, leaving the people at the reserve to celebrate Thanksgiving without them, although not without thinking of them.

On the road back Donna and Gordon had a long conversation about moving north and taking another of the houses that were being built. Their house in London would sell for more than all five of the luxury homes in the subdivision, and several of the smaller homes as well. In the end they decided to stay in London, at least as long as Wayne was in school there, to give him a base for his visits. They did, however, plan to buy a small home or cottage up north, and spend their summers there when Wayne was out of college.

And Wayne more than honored his commitment to visit each month, and spent most Sundays at the Millet house, to Rex’s great delight.

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