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Coal Dusters – Chapter Liii
Lillian was working in the herb patch in the O’Dowell’s back garden when Aileen called to her from the back porch.
“A gentleman to see you Miss Lillian.”
Lillian stood and brushed the dirt off her hands onto her apron. “Gentleman.”
“Father Patrick, ma’am.”
Aileen held the door open for her as she continued to wipe her hands clean.
“He’s in the small study.”
Lillian had been in the small study once. It was a room off the front foyer that Steven’s father had used to store his hunting equipment which Steven had converted into an office when he ran in the election.
When she went into the room her uncle was standing with his back to her facing the desk. There were two armchairs in front of it and a bookcase on one wall. There was only one small window near the ceiling, more to allow ventilation in the room than light. The room smelled of cigar and pipe smoke.
“Father Patrick?” she said.
He turned. “Lillian how good to see you looking so well.” He sat in one of the arm chairs. She sat in the other. “I have been in Boston.”
“Ah. Steven was wondering why you hadn’t shown up during his campaign.”
“Sometimes politics and religion don’t need to mix. He did well enough with any show of support from me.”
“Yes.” She wondered what he wanted.
“I also understand you and he are to be wed.”
“You know I can’t allow that. That union will not happen in any Catholic church in this parish or any other I can contact.”
“Perhaps you should take that up with the Bishop. He’s already agreed to perform the ceremony.”
“That will be changed. Have you told Mr O’Dowell about James Dunham? I’m sure …”
“He has, in fact, met James Dunham in Halifax.”
“And that didn’t dissuade him?”
“Not in the least,” Lillian wanted to laugh.
There was a knock at the door.
“Yes?” Lillian said.
The door opened. Aileen entered with a tea tray.
“Miss Clara said you may want the tea served.” She put the tea service on the desk.
“Thank Miss Clara for me.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Clara stepped into the room. “I didn’t want to barge in on what could be private conversation.”
“For the moment it is.” Father Patrick said. “If you don’t mind.” He stood and attempted to show her out of the room.
“If we are discussing the wedding I feel I should in included in the conversation.” Clara said.
“My uncle feels it’s an unwise decision on my part.” Lillian said.
“Not exactly unwise, my dear.” Her uncle said. “I think it’s a very calculated decision on your apart. Devious. Eve would have been in awe. I have no objection to Miss O’Dowell hearing our conversation. Do you?”
“If it entails sordid rumours you have about Lillian past rest assured I have heard them.”
“They are not mere rumours, are they Lillian.”
“Don’t bother answering him Lillian. I am aware of Mr. James Dunham and of his ungentlemanly conduct with Miss McTavish. In fact I have met with him myself and spoke to him directly. I know the full story.”
“Apparently you are not as concerned about your family’s reputation as her family was about theirs.”
“This is not Boston Father Patrick.”
“Quite true. Quite true. But Mr. James Dunham is not what brings me here today. I will repeat what I told Lillian. This wedding will not take place.”
“You can’t stop it.” Clara said.
“One cannot marry the dead!”
He took a newspaper clipping out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Lillian.
She read it. It took her a few moments to comprehend its full import.
“Well, what does it say?” Clara asked.
“There was a memorial service in Boston for me last week. I died here some months ago of influenza.” she handed the clipping to Clara.
“The service was presided over by her grieving uncle, Father Patrick McTavish. What is the meaning of this Patrick?”
“I think it is pretty clear.”
“But I am alive. People know that.”
“The death certificate says otherwise. Signed by me.” He took a piece of paper out his inside pocket and haded it to Clara. “You have no proof of who you are, my dear. None at all.”
“Proof!” Clara exclaimed. “This has been signs only by you. There’s no doctor’s signature.”
He snatched it back from Clara. “A mere formality. Also you can’t get married without proof of identity in the Catholic Church. Lillian, do you have your baptismal record? Your confirmation certificate? You don’t even have a family to say you are you. The memorial was very emotional. You mother wept. A Mr. Henderson was heart broken.”
“David Henderson?” Clara said glancing at Lillian.
“He went to Europe when I was fifteen and he was not a beau, merely a boy I knew.” Lillian wanted to jump up and strike her uncle. “Why are you doing this?” she asked as calmly as she could.
“You must reap what you sow my child.” He said gently. “Her father said she was a willful, spiteful, conniving child and she had grown up to be even more so. Do you think I would let you ruin yet another family to satisfy your need for depraved comfort. When I was forced to drive this … this …. harlot from my home I was stunned to see her be taken into your bosom Miss O’Dowell. I feared she would be an asp. A snake in the grass.”
Lillian stood slowly. “Have you had your say uncle? Have you done your worse?”
“Lillian I mean no harm. Forgive me.”
“Forgiveness is not mine to give.” She looked him in the eyes. “If this is the consequence of my not bending to your depraved carnal desires then I am willing to suffer this consequence for keeping my honour intact.”
She opened the door to leave the study. “If you’ll excuse me Clara I have something in my room that may help clarify things. If they don’t satisfy the Church.”
“No one will have you.” her uncle said. “No one.”
“Father Patrick.” Clara stopped Lillian. “You have said more than enough. You have perhaps revealed more about yourself than you have about Lillian.”
“How can you remain so … indifferent to this hussy’s actions.”
“Whatever her actions may have been, and I assure you, I know she is no innocent babe, she has not displayed such an evil devious mind as you have. To revenge yourself is this way leaves me speechless.”
Lillian dashed up to her room and found the photo album and news paper clippings. She brought them down and presented them to Clara.
“This marriage will happen.” Clara said sternly. “Her family will be informed of your callous actions.”
“You think they banished her here on a whim?”
“They banished me because their reputation was more important to them than their child. Oh! It was all right for my brothers to get caught up in gambling, drunken galavanting behaviour.” Lillian found herself shouting.
“But let their precious daughter show a bit of spirit and out she goes. When they thought I had lost any value as a marriage pawn to enhance their precious social standing they disposed of me as if I were … a … a tea service that had gone out of fashion.”
She turned to Clara. “If I am a calculating harlot looking for the best possible marriage then I learned it from them. It runs in the family apparently. Doesn’t uncle?” She wanted to slap the stunned look on his face. “Falsifying my death to suit your ends is no better. Runs in the family.”
She pushed Clara aside nearly knocking over Aileen who had been hovering near the door listening. She stood in the foyer resisting the temptation to run up to her room, slam the door and throw herself on her bed to cry. That’s what the woman in books did. Cry till some man came up the stairs to make things better for them.
“Aileen.” she said.
“If anyone wants me, I’ll be out in the garden. Those climbing roses need to be cut back.”
On her way through the kitchen she grabbed the gardening sheers and headed directly to the climbing roses. She’d been intending to remove the dead branches for weeks now and she attacked them with a vengeance.
She lost track of time as her anger dissipated. Why was every path she took caught in these unforeseen and unforeseeable brambles. David Henderson turning out to be unsuitable because of a Jewish grandmother, Mr. Dunham a trifler, Birk Nelson so fearful of displeasing his mother and now this. If only she could cut these brambles as cleanly away from her path as the ones from the climbing bush.
With each clip she thought to herself ‘what can I do.’ ‘what can I do next.’
There was a hand on her shoulder. It was Clara.
“Lillian, I have been calling you for a few minutes.”
Lillian stood and wiped the sweat off her brow. “I couldn’t hear you over these.” She snipped at the air in front of her with the sheers.
“Then perhaps we’ll get them oiled properly so they won’t be so noisy in the future.” Clara smiled. “You uncle is certainly a man of actions and opinions.”
“Another of the McTavish bad traits.”
“Do you love my brother?”
“Love? I don’t know. If you mean that flood of blinding adoration, then, no, I don’t.” If that put the final touch on the end of this path she was ready to face it.
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. I’ve seen how you’ve dealt with him this past month. You know I wasn’t happy of this match but Steve would brook no argument with me. I didn’t want to distract him from his ambitions and I figured you would fall by the wayside.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Oh I wasn’t disappointed. He was willing to listen to you on matters of appearance and even of how to present himself to the public that he would never had heeded from me. If anyone won the seat it was you being by his side making sure he said the right things at the right time. Someone who was flooded with adoration couldn’t have been so … objective.”
“Thank you, Clara. This is the last thing I expected to hear you say.”
“Perhaps you’ve wondered why I never married?”
“Yes, but you did have your father to look after.”
“We had money and could have afforded to hire help but my father, much as yours did, I suspect, wanted to keep a protective eye on me. I never had the opportunity to meet a James Dunham. A few men courted me but none ever found the approval of my father. Those that did were ones he deemed suitable because of their social status, their financial potential and for no other reason.”
“I had never thought we might have that in common.”
‘But you have more determination than I ever had.”
“So does Father Pat.”
“It’s not you he’s striking at but your family. He told me about your father’s reaction to the death certificate. He may not have known it but your father’s grief brought the good Father great … I want to say pleasure but that’s not it at all. It gave him an opportunity to castigate your father for being such a Godless parent. For being indulgent and permissive.”
“Oh yes, allowing you opportunities to enjoy life that he himself had not had. Your family’s wealth and social position become more important to them than their faith and as a result you were their downfall and punishment.”
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