By Gord Fleming (84-87)
“Another year, another championship”, said HSRCL Alumni squad leader Gordon Fleming as the clouds rolled in. “And another Thunderbird post-game wrap-up” added his insistent editor from the sidelines. “And stop recycling the same damn story year after year! We call it ‘news’ for a reason!”
The captain thought about this briefly and then turned his attention back to the task at hand – defeating an HSR Staff that was surely hungry for victory after forfeiture of last year’s match (recycling! – ed.).
To the Alumni , victory was nearly assured as was foretold to them. He looked at his watch as the thunderclaps drew nearer. “The rain and thunder are going to end this one”, silly-mid-off and alternate short-leg Dr. Kissick mused. “All we have to do is score one or more runs than the Staff team has and we’ll win” (dammit, recycling! – ed.).
An excellent strategy, to be sure. But beyond the simple math of “high score wins”, forces beyond the comprehension of most of the participants were at work.
That morning, four of the Alumni players awoke to a shared vision. Warner, Ian, Gord and Ken (names cunningly encrypted…or are they?) saw a tall man with an axe over his shoulder, the head resting gently against a heavy woolen cap that matched the colour of his leather boots. His greatcoat was wet, pulling his shoulders down, emphasizing his long beard and bushy moustache (now we’re talking… – ed.).
“Je m’appelle Chartrand Richelieu”. Continuing in heavily accented English, he recounted a tale of how he arrived on the shores of the new world and worked his way inland until he found a home not far from where this afternoon’s match would be played. “I ‘ave come to ensure dat justice always be done at the old Mill – ‘eed my words. I will ‘elp you make sure that the championnat stays out of the ‘ands of H.S.R. Staff….”.
All four men awoke abruptly at that moment, each in turn dismissing the apparition as a strange dream. As Ken spread peanut butter and hazelnut compote on a chocolate muffin, Ian laughed and said, “hey, that peanut butter looks just like a moustache and the knife looks like the axe that…” He looked up at that moment to see only the wide eyes of the three other men that shared his dream.
“Chartrand Richelieu” they all pronounced in unison.
They hadn’t heard the name before this morning’s vision, and only sketchy details were available on the online historical record for the area, but what did exist confirmed the strange story of a French immigrant accused of sorcery in his home village, ostracized to the point of having to flee the country. Arriving in Halifax in 1811, he traversed Lower Canada, never staying in one place for very long, as its connection to his home country caused him considerable discomfort. He finally settled in a cabin near present–day Harcourt, mastered the woodland skills of the day, and became a very popular fellow among the townsfolk, who just called him “Chat”.
Some of this popularity was due to his introduction of a game he called “quilles”, a precursor to what is now known as “bowling”. The townsfolk took to this immediately, as it helped them while away hours that they would otherwise have been wasting on drink and wenches. Soon, every man, woman and child in the town would be participating in organized tournaments.
Several successive victories by a team of former wenches inspired Chat to craft a challenge award, which would symbolize local supremacy in the game that he had brought to the town. “Let all who come ‘ere be knowing, dat le championnat of “bowling” be represent by the trophee dat is in my ‘ands.”
As the four men learned the true history of the man who came to them in an apparition, they began to wonder what it all meant. Why was this spirit of a long passed era speaking to them of justice on a “mill site” and promising them a championship? What was the connection between the approaching storm near the end of the match and this shared vision that the Alumni skipper knew to mean certain victory? Since when does bowling have anything to do with cricket? How will this story escape the complicated narrative corner that it has written itself into?
And so it was that the Shat Richly Memorial Bowling Trophy was hoisted by a foursome of HSR staff, a symbol of a victory sealed months before in an inner-suburban bowling alley west of Toronto. What they did not know was that it was also a symbol of a humiliating defeat suffered centuries earlier, not far from the place that brought them together.
One grey afternoon in 1815, a group of Englishmen, all dressed in white arrived in Harcourt, and found Chartrand Richelieu in the tavern, enjoying a hot tea made from the vegetation available in the surrounding forest.
“We’re looking for a man named Shat Richly”, said the tallest among them.
“Richelieu. Chat Richelieu”, he corrected the man. “You are speaking to ‘im”
“We are given to understand that you are a skilled bowler. We have come to challenge you for your trophy”.
“I’m retired”, replied Chat. “Besides, the Former Wenches are reigning champions, not me”.
The Men in White looked puzzled as the tall one continued. “We have been sent here by men of considerable means to challenge the legendary Shat Richly to a match. The reward to the winner is, we assure you, substantial”.
“Chat Richelieu”, he corrected them once more and with considerably less patience. “’How substantial?” he asked, after a pause.
“Certainly enough to afford proper tea from now on” answered the tall one, turning his nose away from the steaming cup that sat on the table between them. “What do I ‘ave to do?” asked Richelieu, before taking a long sip of the brew that the Men in White were quietly ridiculing.
“Put your best team together and meet us here tomorrow at 1”, replied the tall one as he handed over a map that showed a clearing in the woods some nine miles west. “We’ll take the trophy with us, clean it up and prepare it for a proper presentation, along with the cash reward”. He then leaned in and continued, “of course, we’ll need you to give us something as a show of good faith”.
Richelieu stared at the table for a few seconds, took another sip of his tea, and reached into the inside pocket of his greatcoat. “It’s all I ‘ave of any worth”, he said as he handed over a folded set of papers. “They’re deeds to several plots of land that I own around the nearby lakes”. He slid the papers across the table and said, “you ‘ave yourself a match, Mr…..?”
“Stafford. My name in Herbert Stanley Robert Stafford” he said, clasping Richelieu’s outstretched palm.
Richelieu spent the rest of the day rounding up the Former Wenches and a handful of other skilled bowlers, recounted what had just transpired in the tavern, and set up the bowling green to crack off the rust from so many months of idleness. After a few practice rounds, no one in the group believed that any outsider could pose serious threat to their domination of a game that was the calling card of their community.
They played until nightfall, ate heartily, slept and then set out for the clearing early the next morning. When they arrived, they saw a large group of Men in White, running around a field that had two arrays of wooden stakes in the middle.
“Que Diable?” exclaimed Richelieu as he dropped his bowling ball and bag of pins. “What en nom d’enfer is this ‘ere?”
As Stafford approached him, he held his arms out to indicate the entire field behind him and yelled out “this, my good fellow, is Cricket!”
“But I’m a bowler!”
“And you accepted our challenge as such. Now take the field, if you please”.
The rest of the Men in White began to laugh as Chartrand and his mates began to realize that they had been cheated. Knowing that playing was their only option, they gamely walked onto the field without having the foggiest notion of what they were supposed to do as the Men in White ran up the score.
The final humiliation came when Richelieu cast a glance at the table on the sidelines. He saw that the trophy he had sent with the Englishmen was not there. In its place was a cheap molded man affixed to a small silver leaf tossing a bowling ball. “We call it the Shat Richly Memorial Bowling Trophy!” cried one of the Englishmen, barely containing his laughter.
As he realized that these Englishmen had taken his land, humiliated him and probably knew damn well how to pronounce his name, the rage built in him like a ground fire looking for its next hollow stump. “You will pay for this dearly for this, Monsieur H.S.R. Stafford (OH COME ON! – ed.)!
As he raised his clenched fist to the skies, they suddenly darkened and a hard rain began to fall. Thunder could be heard approaching from the Northwest as sheets of lightning flashed insistently overhead. The Men in White scrambled to find shelter under the tallest trees in the wood.
Chartrand Richelieu stood alone in the middle of the field and thought about the day that he was exiled from his village in the French countryside. He began to laugh quietly to himself as the cries of men were once again silenced one by one by the lightning strikes, and the familiar smell of braised flesh filled the air.
He walked to the edge of the field to gather his things. He picked up his axe, placing the handle on his shoulder, the head resting gently against a heavy woolen cap that matched the colour of his leather boots. His greatcoat was wet, pulling his shoulders down, emphasizing his long beard and bushy moustache. He closed his eyes, using his powers to see a day that was centuries away. Four strangely dressed men appeared before him.
“Je m’appelle Chartrand Richelieu. I ‘ave come to ensure dat justice always be done hon le site of the old Mill – ‘eed my words . I will ‘elp you make sure that the championnat stays out of the ‘ands of H.S.R. Staff….”.
How’s that? (WTF. – ed.)
Cup of Pine needle tea with a side of plantain weed.