Thursday, May 22, 2008

"A Busy Half-Century" #8

Part Eight: Proclamation Day


St. Athanasius Hospital

April 24, 1935:

The deputation gathered in the hospital’s spacious lobby, three men and two women. One of the men was the Chief Syndic, an elkhound carpenter named Anders Engstrom, and one of the women was Georgina Springs, a lynx who was the Clarion’s star reporter. The other woman was the patient’s granddaughter, and one of the other men, an antelope, was an interviewer for radio station ZYPR in Seathl.

Sally Hall looked up at the lobby’s mosaic of the hospital’s patron saint and shivered. “I never liked this place, and I know Gramp doesn’t like it either. But the doctor thinks it’s necessary, so we agreed to it.” She smiled graciously at the Chief Syndic. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Engstrom. I know you’re very busy so soon after being sworn in.”

The elkhound smiled. “Even if I had something to do, Mrs. Hall, there’s no way I’d miss this. Shall we go on upstairs, then?”

“This way,” and the woman led the group up the stairs to the second floor.

The room they sought was on the south end of the building, a private room with a view of the mountains that buttressed Seathl’s southern end. A nurse sat in a chair just inside the door idly doing a crossword puzzle while her charge, wrapped in a blanket, dozed in a chair by the window. The rodent looked up as Hall and the others walked in, and she smiled. “He’s been waiting for you,” she whispered.

“Damn right I have,” the elderly canine by the window rasped. “You’re late, Sally.”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with your hearing, at any rate,” Sally said as she walked over to her grandfather and kissed his cheek. “Happy Birthday.”

Greg Montgomery smiled and patted his granddaughter’s paw. “Thank you, Sally. Tell me, are Sid and the children dropping by later?”

“Try to keep them away!” she laughed. “Marie and Jack sent you a card, I see – and some lovely flowers too.”

“Yeah, she apologized and told me she couldn’t make it,” the former President said with a wistful smile. “But Jack brought their kids around yesterday just the same.” He seemed to notice the others and asked, “Who are these people?”

Sally pointed to each one. Georgina Springs from the Clarion – “

“The Clarion? Is Gus Biber still running it?”

Springs shook her head. “His son Hank’s running the shop now.”

“And this is Elan Flint. He’s with the radio station.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” the antelope said as he shook paws gently with the old man. “If you have the time for an interview later this week – “

Montgomery laughed softly. “Son, I’m ninety today. There’s not much time left, you know.”

“And this, Gramp, is Chief Syndic Engstrom.”

At the mention of Rain Island’s newly elected leader the canine started to struggle out of his chair, causing his granddaughter to gently restrain him. “A pleasure to meet you, sir,” Montgomery gasped as he settled back in the chair, breathing hard.

“The pleasure’s all mine, sir,” Engstrom said. “And call me Anders, please. Happy Birthday, Mr. Montgomery. Many happy returns.”

Montgomery chuckled. “Anders it is, then – so long as you call me Greg. We’ve both been in the same seat. Now, what can I do for all of you?”

Georgina Springs said, “Elan and I were sent to get an interview from you, sir – you know, how things here look from your point of view.”

A grin. “Kind of blurry, but that’s the cataracts.”

The lynx femme laughed. “I meant, well, you were our first President, and you were the one who made the Proclamation from the Assembly steps that day.”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you something,” and he beckoned her close before saying, “I was this close to wetting myself – hadn’t done that since I was a pup,” and he laughed as she blushed. “So, you want some wisdom from a dying old man.”

“Gramp – “

“Sally, you know perfectly well what Dr. Carson said after my heart attack last year. Good thing I haven’t passed away yet, but that’s marked out for me by the Lord – I can still watch my great-grandchildren growing up.” He smiled fondly, then looked at the lynx and the antelope. “Well.

“You want to know what I’ve seen, and what I see now,” he said as Springs whipped a notepad from her back pocket and started taking notes. Flint just watched intently. “Well, we were scared to death, every damned one of us although we tried not to show it. I was so sure I was going to be executed that I told Arlene and our kids to leave. She didn’t want to; ‘Where would we go?’ she asked.

“But it worked out for the best. Look here, though,” and he blinked and looked at them, his eyes a bit milky from the cataracts, “me an’ the others weren’t starry-eyed dreamers. We saw that things were wrong, and did the best we knew how to set them right.”

Elan Flint spoke up. “Don’t you think that took courage, though?”

“I suppose it did.” The old man ran a paw through the thinning gray fur under his chin. “When you reorganized everything in ’20 – that took courage too. No way of telling which way the country was going to jump. I haven’t been paying much attention to the radio or papers lately – no offense – so how are things going, Anders?”

The Syndic grinned slowly. “Since ’20, there’ve been only two strikes, and those were just to draw attention to local issues like roads and such. We’ve done okay, even with the Depression.”

Montgomery nodded. “Solidarity.”

“Seems that way, yes. We did have one flap in the GS a few months ago when the member for Williamton married his lover.”

“Why would that cause a flap?”

“They’re both men.”

Montgomery chuckled and shook his head. “Times sure have changed, but remember this, Anders – we wrote total equality into the Constitution, and it’s still in the Contract. Equality is equality.”

Engstrom smiled. “I’ll remember that.”

“I was sad to hear about New Haven, though, back in ’31,” Montgomery said as he leaned forward and Sally plumped up his pillow for him. “Thanks, hun. They were good friends. What became of their Embassy?” With the advent of the People’s Republic, the Red Fist (formerly the Party of the People’s Will) had shunned Rain Island, calling them ‘revisionists.’ The Embassy building was abandoned and soon fell into disrepair.

The elkhound sighed. “They still refuse to talk to us,” he admitted, “so we seized their building against back taxes last year. We took it over and it’s being turned it into a school.” He smiled suddenly. “We can always use another school.”

“Good, good. Glad to see it’s getting some use. Well, let me see, where was I? Oh, yes. From where I sit, young lady, the future of Rain Island looks quite bright, and you can quote me on that if you like.”

The lynx grinned. “I will, count on it.”

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll ask all you youngsters to leave for a moment. I want to talk to the Chief Syndic for a bit – in private,” and he gave Sally a glare.

She stuck her tongue out at him as she left, closing the door behind her as the others filed out.

“Yes, Greg?” the elkhound asked.

“Man to man, tell me the truth – things are going well?”

Anders laughed softly. “I make it a rule to tell the truth as far as I know it, Greg. Things could be better, but that’s the Depression. It’s hit everyone equally, but we’re looking after each other, just as we should.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

“Things could be better with Vostok, though, but we have our eyes on them.”

“Hmm. They never did like us much, I’m afraid. And probably less now,” and both men chuckled.

“There is one thing now, personal, a favor,” Montgomery said.

“I’m listening.”

“The doctors say I don’t have too much longer, and I have to admit I’m tired. Promise me something,” and he took the younger man’s paw in a strong grip. “Promise me that if I go near June you won’t cancel or change anything.”

Anders Engstrom searched the elderly canine’s face, his expression solemn. After a long moment he returned his predecessor’s grip and said, “I promise.”


June 11, 1935:

Another night, another round . . .

The nurse, a badger femme who fitted her spotless white uniform a little too tightly to be seemly (she was getting a new, slightly larger one next week) walked along the silent corridors. At every room she would step in, the cork soles of her shoes making little to no sound as she looked in on each patient and made sure that they weren’t in any distress.

She stepped into ex-President Montgomery’s room and smiled. The canine was curled up, sleeping soundly. She watched him until she was certain that he was breathing regularly before slipping out of the room.

The clock at the end of the hall chimed twelve times.

The canine was the last person on her floor, so she retraced her steps and headed back to the nurse’s station for a cup of tea. Over a steaming cup she passed the time talking to one of the other nurses on the floor, who told her with several giggling pauses about the young skunk in her care who was recovering from mange.

“Honestly, Marge?” the badger asked.

“God’s truth, Jessie. Here he is only seventeen and he makes a grab at me,” the weasel giggled again. “And his fur’s only half grown in!”

“I’m sure he’ll be quite handsome once he gets over it completely,” Jessie said. She eyed the clock and said, “I’m going to start my rounds again. Let me know if he gets grabby again.”

“I will.” The weasel sat and smoked while Jessie walked away.

A loud buzz and a small flashing light appeared on the room tally. Room 28 needed assistance.

Marge saw the name beside the room number and immediately reached for the phone to call the on-duty doctor on the first floor.


The phone started ringing, and as the big clock over the mantelpiece struck two Sidney Hall slouched out of the bedroom he shared with his wife. He snatched up the pawset and said, “Yeah, Hall residence. Huh? What?”

He shook his head to clear the last of the sleep from his brain and said, “We’ll be right down.” He hung up and stood for a moment, drumming his fingers on the phone as he chose the words he would use to break the news to his wife and children.



June 12, 1935:

A squadron of Naval Syndicate fighters flew over Haywood Square as the cruiser Orca’s guns boomed in salute to the country’s fiftieth birthday. A makeshift stage had been set up along with stands and bleachers for the crowds who could make it into the capital for the Proclamation Day celebrations. Red and black flags and bunting were hung everywhere, and a band had been playing throughout the day.

In front of the Governing Syndicate’s building the Anarchcracy’s flag flew proudly from the top of its staff, the slightly smaller blue and silver of the Rain Coast Republic flying beneath it to symbolize the new overlaying the old.

At the moment, fifty years ago, that the Republic was proclaimed the band played a brief fanfare as Anders Engstrom stepped up to a bank of microphones. His voice would go out over the radio to reach every island in the archipelago, while a loudspeaker broadcast his words to the crowd.

Beside him was a shaman, a few dignitaries, and a tall femme canine in the maroon and green of the Naval Syndicate. The elkhound pulled a sheet of paper from a pocket, unfolded it, and began to speak.

“My friends. Fifty years ago, at this very moment and not far from where I’m standing, a group of courageous furs took the fateful step of separating these islands from the Dominion of Canada. Our country has seen a lot of history in this very busy half-century, but the person who had seen all of it was the man who stood on those steps over there and despite his fear made the proclamation that every schoolchild knows.

“I speak of Gregory Montgomery, the first leader of our nation. I am sorry that he cannot be with us here today, and that he is no longer among us. Former President Montgomery passed away very early this morning while in the hospital.” He paused as the crowd reacted to this news, then said, “I have asked Strong Enemy, the shaman of the Tlingit, to offer a prayer for him, and I ask now that you offer your own prayers.”

The shaman moved to the microphone and sang in his native language, calling upon the gods to give the family peace and the departed soul rest. Several in the crowd wept, while others remained silent out of respect.

“Thank you, Strong Enemy,” Engstrom said after the prayers were over. “I spoke with Mr. Montgomery back in April when he had his ninetieth birthday, and among his last words to me were his view that Rain Island’s future looked quite bright. If it does, ladies and gentlemen, it’s because he and his compatriots set it on a path to a bright future all those years ago.

“He also asked me, as a favor, to see to it that his passing – if it came near this anniversary – should not detract from the day or its celebrations. Let Gregory Montgomery pass, a simple man, a man of the people, a man of Rain Island.” Engstrom stepped back from the microphones as the crowd started to applaud, then cheer, and cheered louder as the band struck up a march.

A parade composed of military and civilian syndicates wound its way around the square, and the sky that night was lit by fireworks.


June 16:

In unconscious imitation of the Proclamation Day parade, a funeral cortege made its way slowly through the streets of Seathl from the Anglican church on Maple Street to Haywood Square, a horse-drawn hearse bearing the coffin draped in the blue Republic flag heading the procession. Behind walked the Montgomery family, the Governing Syndicate and the ambassadors of Canada and the United States. An escort made up of soldiers from the Army Union and sailors from the Naval Syndicate flanked the hearse.

To the sound of a muffled drum the cortege passed the sacred grove at the south end of the square while passers-by stopped to watch. Men removed the hats out of respect as the coffin moved past them and some women touched pawkerchiefs to their eyes.

The procession circled the grove and past the square again, returning to the church and stopping at cemetery. There was a pause as the participants moved to the gravesite, and the military escort removed the coffin from the hearse.

Borne on brawny shoulders the remains were brought to their final resting place.


Station ZYPR broadcast

June 16, 1935


“With the passing of Gregory Montgomery the curtain falls on the revolutionary era of Rain Coast, and of Rain Island. We can only guess as to the bright future he saw for us, but we can rest assured that he saw it. So, with confidence in our people and heads held high, we walk together into that unguessable future knowing only that whatever it may be, it will be faced by brave men and women who believe in the vision that people like Montgomery gave us the power to see.

“This is Elan Flint, reporting. Good night.”



Post a Comment

<< Home