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Encounter in King`s Town

For weeks, I had been having the same dream. I could never quite make out her face, but I knew her well. She was standing by the waterfront calling my name, a tear gently rolling down her cheek. I tried to get close to comfort her but my feet wouldn’t move. I called out but she couldn’t hear. An older man (her father?) grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her away. Looking back a final time as I yelled her name, she turned and slowly walked back into the hotel as a puff of smoke escaped from an upstairs window.

It was 5.00AM as I struggled awake. Using the remote to turn on the TV I stumbled into the kitchen and made some coffee. Sipping the hot liquid, a feeling of loss overtook me. Why did I keep having this same dream? Who was the girl? Why was she crying? Who was the man who pulled her away? And where did the dream take place? I was sure I had never seen the place before, but it felt familiar somehow. The television droned on in the background. The early morning news, thousands of people dieing in a war, but it was alright because God was on our side. A corrupt politician, “when the truth comes out you’ll see it’s just a smear campaign by the opposition, my family is standing by me.” “Last night Paris Hilton…” I switched the channel… and there on the screen was the waterfront! “Buskers from around the world will be performing at the annual four day festival…”

Four hours later, I am standing outside the King George Hotel, a three-storey limestone building on Ontario Street in Kingston. The main floor has been converted into a bar, closed at this time of the day; the upper floors appear to be unused.

I felt a movement beside me and almost crashed into her as I turned around. “I’m sorry, I didn’t…”
“Hello”
“Hi”
“I was just going to get some breakfast. Would you like to join me?” She smiled.
“Well er sure. Do you know somewhere good? I just arrived in town.”
“Sure, I’ve lived here for years. I know all the best places.” She strode off down the street and I rushed to follow her. Turning up Princess Street, we came to Pan Chancho. I followed her as she took a seat at a corner table. The waitress arrived imme d i a t e l y said “Hi Lilly, the regular?”
“Of course” and turning to me said, “The regular is good. Try it.”
“Sure, why not?
Two regulars.”
The waitress smiled and left.
“Hi Lilly my name’s Keith.”
“That’s nice. So you just arrived in town?”
“Yes I thought I might stay for a few days. D’you know a good place to stay?”
“I know all the good places. I’ll show you later.”
Finishing a breakfast of orange juice, fresh pastries and café au lait we got up to leave. The waitress said goodbye to Lilly, then turning to me said, “Nice to see you again.”
Before I had a chance to reply, she disappeared. “I’ve never seen her before”
“You’ve just forgotten. It’s been a long time!” “But…”

We turned back towards the waterfront and found ourselves at the harbour. The Island Queen was sitting at the dock, waiting to depart on a 3-hour cruise.
“You want to go don’t you?” She said taking my arm.
“I don’t know, I…”
“Don’t lie. I can see it in your eye. It’s that same look whenever you’re by the water. Your eyes get a deeper blue, just like the ocean. You never could stay on land when there was a chance to be sailing.”
“How can you say that? You’ve only just met…”
“Oh pleeasse! Buy a couple of tickets; I’ll come with you this time.”
“But…” I was already at the ticket window. “…Two tickets please.”

Boarding the triple deck paddle wheeler, we climbed to the top deck, finding two seats at the front just as the lines were released and she slowly edged away from the dock. Heading out into Lake Ontario, past Fort Henry and the Royal Military College, past Wolfe Island and then into the St. Lawrence River. A live band played on the lower deck, the music harmonizing with the sounds of the lapping water rushing past the hull, then shimmering over us before disappearing in the breeze. Sailing past big islands with spectacular homes, and little islands with no more than a tree, a bush and a few rocks, the languid sun rose in the sky. We wandered the boat, talking like old friends. The 3-hours went past in a moment and we soon found ourselves passing Fort Henry once more as we headed towards the dock. The band played “What a Wonderful World” as Lilly laced her arm through mine, her head on my shoulder, a soft breeze ruffling her hair.

“I always wondered what you saw when you returned from your journeys.” She murmured. And just for a moment, as I saw the hotel where I had met her this morning my heart leapt, a feeling of loss and longing, as my mind went back to that puff of smoke I had seen drifting from the window in my dream.

But then we were disembarking, Lilly said she was hungry. I felt the same, so asked her to recommend a good restaurant. We walked up Brock Street to Le Chien Noir, a French Bistro. Where we were served the best steak frites I have ever had anywhere. A couple of glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, Crème Brulee, and espresso for dessert, a strange but beautiful woman by my side, all combined to create an almost perfect experience.

Leaving Le Chien Noir we went south on Brock, left on King, and smack dab into the middle of the buskers festival on Princess Street. The Buskers Rendezvous is cited as one of the top three street performer festivals in North America, and judging by the reaction of the hundreds of excited chil dren and their parents gathered on the street it would be difficult to disagree. The street, full of clowns, jugglers, jesters, face painters, musicians and performers, was like a living kaleidoscope filled with colour, music and laughter.

Making our way South and then West on Ontario Street we were treated to the sound of music from South America and the world as musicians and performers provided a living soundtrack to our walk. Arriving at the tourist office in a converted railway station opposite City Hall, we purchased tickets for the Trolley Bus Tour. The tour visits the Royal Military College, Fort Henry, Fort Frontenac, The Penitentiaries, Queen’s University, and Bellevue House (one of the many homes of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister) along with many other points of interest. Leaving the tour an hour later, I had a pretty good overview of Kingston and its history, but no place to stay the night!

The tourist office had flyers advertising the wide range of hotels and B&Bs available in Kingston and the surrounding area. Lilly suggested the Hochelaga Inn, a B&B at 24 Sydenham Street. A phone call confirmed a room was available and we took the short trip to the beautiful tree lined Sydenham Street where I checked in. Built in 1880, the 23- room inn has been restored to its original splendour. Each uniquely decorated room features high ceilings, private bath, television, and telephone. Anne Boyd, who owns the inn, with her husband Ron showed me to a spacious room, on the ground floor, which also featured a queen size bed and a fireplace.

Dropping off my overnight bag, we left the Hochelaga behind us and headed out to the Sunset Ceremony. This spectacular ceremony takes place at Fort Henry every Wednesday night in July and August. Marking the pomp and pageantry of the British Military in 1867, it features the Drums of Fort Henry, along with the drill squad and artillery units. Recreating marching and fighting drills, close formation exercises and musical performances, the spectacle is heightened as the sun breaks through the cloud before lazily setting in the west. The grand finale takes place to a backdrop of fireworks and cannon fire. As the Union Jack is ceremonially lowered, I turn toward her and gently kiss her mouth. Feeling her tremble as her lips part, I take her in my arms and hold her close, like a long forgotten lover.

Returning to the Hochelaga we sit on the porch, holding each other and laughing as we recount the day’s events. A clock in the distance strikes twelve and she tells me she has to leave. I offer to walk her home but she refuses, brushes my lips with hers and agrees to meet me in the morning. I watch as she makes her way to the street, appearing to almost float in the darkness. A door closing behind me distracts me and when I turn back, she has disappeared.

I laid down on the bed in my room… Waking with a start from the dream, the clock on my bedside table reads 5.00AM. I take a shower then wander along the tree lined streets as the birds wake and the sun languidly rises. Back at the Hochelaga as I eat a breakfast of coffee and pastries, I realize we hadn’t set a time or meeting place. I sit, reading the paper for a while cursing my stupidity. When she hasn’t arrived by 10.00, I decide to take a walk back down to the King George Hotel and see if she’s there. She isn’t! Cursing again, I see a sign offering free tours of City Hall. Having nothing else to do I venture in. A guide approaches and offers to take me on the tour. Between 1841 and 1844 Kingston, originally named King’s Town, was the capital of the province of Canada. Construction of the City Hall and market began in 1842 all civic offices - the town hall, municipal offices, post office, custom house, police station, market hall and mechanics’ institute - were to be housed there. Completed in 1844, it dwarfed all the surrounding buildings.

From inside City Hall I see the farmers market, originally a two storey covered structure taking up one wing of the building. Unfortunately it burnt down, but an outdoor market continues on the same spot, making it the longest continually operating market in Canada. Finishing the tour I walk around to the market and wander through the stalls, overflowing with flowers, vegetables, honey, preserves and crafts created by local artisans. The market space has recently been renovated with underground pipes installed so the whole area can be turned into an outdoor skating rink in the winter.

The morning is almost over and there is still no sign of Lilly. How could I have been so stupid as to not arrange a time and place? Deciding to return to the Hochelaga to see if she has called, I turn… and there she is! Pointing to a bunch of Sunflowers, “You know they always were my favourite”. I offer to buy the whole bucket, but she says one will be just fine. I pay the flower seller, who gives me an odd look as I pass the sunflower to Lilly, hands me the change then wishes me a good day before turning away to help another customer.

The Buskers are back out in full force, delighting the kids and charming their parents. An organ grinder with a fake monkey smiles and wishes us a pleasant day as we pass. Everyone is so nice in this city, the buildings magnificent, the setting so lovely, and then, of course, there’s Lilly, I seriously consider moving here permanently. Lilly laughs when I tell her but makes no comment.

We decide to have an early lunch. The River Mill Inn had been suggested by Anne, the innkeeper at the Hochelaga. It is about a 15- minute walk, located in the historic Woollen Mill building, the restaurant sits on the Cataraqui River. We are shown to a table with spectacular waterfront view. I order a warm wild mushroom salad with a walnut vinaigrette to start, grilled Atlantic salmon with maple and cedar jelly for the entrée, and a glass of Luis Righetti Pinot Grigio. Lilly has warm spinach salad with red onion, mushroom, bacon and red wine vinaigrette, avocado and grilled chicken with curried mayonnaise, and a glass of Angels Gate Chardonnay.

Relaxing over a fine meal, the river gently flowing by, soft music drifting over us, we spent long dreamlike hours together. She seemed to know so much about me, yet we had only met the day before. When I asked how she knew, she just smiled that mysterious smile and changed the subject. The restaurant had long emptied of its final customers when we paid the check and returned to the downtown waterfront.

I had read somewhere about the penitentiary museum, and being both repulsed and fascinated by the idea of being incarcerated, decided to pay a visit. Lilly thought it was a bit morbid, but agreed to come along for the ride. Set in the former residence of the Warden of Canada’s first penitentiary, The Kingston Pen, and erected using inmate labour, the museum is a grisly reminder of early life in Canada’s prison system. Among the facts I discovered, the youngest female inmate was Sarah Jane Pierce, a 9 year old from Brockville, Ontario. Found guilty of stealing a quilt, a hat, a towel, a pitcher, some beef, raisins, biscuits, tea and sugar, she was charged with house breaking and larceny, and sentenced, on March 4, 1878 to 7-years!

Then just as we were about to leave, a name caught my eye… Eunice Whiting! As far as I knew, I was the first Whiting to come to Canada, and yet here was someone with the same name, apparently getting into all sorts of trouble in the 19th Century. Eunice spent six years in the Kingston Pen back in the 1830s. She was a rebel who ran messages for the insurgents during the 1837 uprising against the upper–class members of the Family Compact! Jailed for stealing horses, she escaped, was recaptured then, finally released she stole some more horses and was jailed again.

Lilly laughed at my shock, “You Whitings always were a wild bunch!”
“Hey, I never arrived here till late in the 20th century!”“Maybe the last time.”
“What d’you mean, the last time?”
“You really don’t remember do you?”
“Remember what?”
But she had already left the room and was heading down the stairs. I ran after her catching her as she reached the car.
“What do you…?”

She kissed me, “You ask too many questions. Take me back to town I need something cold to drink.” And she refused to say another word. Parking the car we grabbed some drinks and stopped to listen to a busker playing flamenco. Strolling along the waterfront as the sun slowly began its descent, we soon found ourselves back in front of the King George Hotel. Two women dressed in black, carrying lanterns were preparing to take a group of people on a ghost walk.

“Let’s go!” I said
“No it’s just silly nonsense for kids.”
“It’ll be fun.” I insisted, but she would have nothing to do with it.
“If you have to go, go by yourself. I think it’s a waste of time. I’ll meet you back here later.”

I bought a ticket, and was introduced to Kari, our guide for the night. Heading off into the back alleys and haunted houses, Kari told us tales of death and disaster, hidden burial grounds, hangings unexplained sightings, inexplicable noises, restless ghosts, and unsolved mysteries, before finally bringing us back to the King George Hotel and telling us the final shocking saga. A young girl fell in love with a sailor. Her parents disapproved and forbade the couple to meet. But every night, when the coast was clear the young girl hung a lantern in her window. When the sailor saw the light from his ship he would come ashore and the young lovers would secretly meet. Then one night, no one is sure what happened, maybe a sudden gust of wind, maybe her parents figured out what was going on and a fight ensued, but the somehow the lantern set the curtains on fire, pretty soon the whole room was engulfed in flames, and the young girl died in the fire… Her name was Lilly Herkimer! The dream came back to me, hitting my brain like a freight train, this time the girl’s face was clear.

I rushed around the town looking for her, stopping to ask strangers if they’d seen her. I went back to the places we visited, no one remembered her. Finally, I returned to the Hochelaga, asked if she’d been there. No one had seen her; no one remembered ever seeing her. I went back to my room, exhausted I fell asleep, waking to the sounds of a car backfiring. Momentarily disoriented, I grabbed for my watch, it was 9.30. Sitting up and blinking away the sleep, a single sunflower lay on the bed beside me.





 

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