I’ve lost track of the number of years I’ve been coming to the summer arts workshop at Loyalist. The first year was an exiting step into the new but I don’t remember much more than that. Many of the same people from that one have been coming back nearly every year & I’ve actually become friends with some of them. I do remember I presented more poetry than fiction.
That year we had a full array of daytime cafeteria options as well. This has changed over the years. This year we are limited to Tim Ho’s 😦 Not that dislike Tim’s, but not every day for breakfast & lunch.
There are some familiar faces and some new ones for this years workshop. Of course http://mesdamesofmayhem.com are well represented. This is the smallest group here for some time – 7 of us so lots of time to interact and get into some matters deeper. Revision is always a challenge & this group is up to being ruthless to get things clean & clear.
I got to do a brief talk about raising the stakes with a simple sentence: “He grinned.” to “His teeth were as white as the snow on an unplowed penitentiary parking lot.
This is my interview with Rosemary piece:
Walking with Clara Lillian noticed a large number men in uniform along the street. They were smoking and laughing. Some appeared to have been drinking.
“Who are they going to protect.” Mr. McFadden said. “The choir?”
The extra militia had been brought in over the past week at the demand of the coal company. The management had pressured the local police to beef up security around the mines after several company stores had been ransacked. It was as if they had been hoping the miners would take that sort of action so they could escalate things in their own way.
They passed through the main part of of the town. Off to one side street were men on horseback. There was also some artillery on a wheeled cart.
“What do they expect the miner’s to do?” Lillian asked Clara.
“They are sure there are agitators working to undermine the company’s influence.”
“Men whose only intent to disrupt lawful business under the guise of making things better for the workers. Communists.” Clara waved to her brother. “Steven any word from the Coal Company?”
He crossed the street to join them. “Good morning. The assembly is in full agreement with Wolvin’s [general manager of the Coal Company] statement that the men can end all this simply by returning to work. They are willing to open the mines so the men can start earning their keep.”
“Their keep!” Mr. McFadden said. “They were being paid barely enough to keep house and family together under the old contract and now they have to settle for less?”
“Mr. McFadden in order for the company to remain competitive in the market they have to have the coal for less, that means paying the men less. The alternative is to close down more of the mines. Is that what you think the miners want?”
“You know as well as I do that the miners want an end to this starvation. Coal Company is letting the miners’ children pay the price of their profits.”
“Coal Company can’t be held accountable for the ….” Steven glanced apologetically to Lillian and the other ladies, “… the propagation habits of the miners. If you can’t afford children don’t bring more into the world.”
“Steven!” Clara snapped. “What a thing to say!”
They were at the church steps. In the foyer the Monseigneur was greeting parishioners as they arrived. Her (Lillian) uncle Father Patrick was at his side. She hadn’t seen him since he had ‘cast her forth into the wilderness’ as it was reported to her by Aileen. She didn’t offer her hand to him but merely nodded as his glance went quickly to Mrs. McFadden beside her.
Seeing him again made her bruises throb. She had kept Clara from seeing how severe they actually were. She had made Dr. Banks swear not to mention the severity of them to anyone. The few long hot soaking baths with she had over the past week had eased the pain considerably. Aileen had insisted she try a poultice of comfrey and mustard which reduced the swelling and discolouration.
She followed Clara to the pew they were to use for the service. On the way she was stopped by HH (company store woman.)
“Ah Miss Lillian, it’s good to see you looking well.”
“You too HH. How’s the baby.’”
“Poorly miss. He has that flu so many of the children have had the past few months. Least we have been able fed him to keep his strength up. The doctor says there’s a good chance he’ll pull through.”
Lillian shook her head in dismay. As the strike progressed and food became scare the family had less and less to eat. Some gardens had helped stave of some of the hunger but many of the children were weak from lack of proper nutrition. This weakness made them more vulnerable to colds and recently a flu. There were funerals daily.
“I wish there was more I could do.” Lillian said.
“Knowing your prayers are with us is more than enough. At least we have a roof over our heads. There’s now many that doesn’t. When they closed the KK mine those families were forced out of the company houses. No mine no home. Where is a person to go?”
“There’ll be help I’m sure.” Lillian kissed HH on the cheek and joined Clara. She was more grateful that ever for having been given a haven when she needed one, but how long could she count on that with things getting worse for everyone around her.
The service washed over her without her paying attention to it. She heard bits and pieces of the various rituals and the sermon. Other parishes were sending money. The Monseigneur had spoken to the Premier to no vail. The Bishop had spoken to the some cabinet misters but was told this was a provincial not a federal matter and so they could do nothing. The conclusion seemed to be that God helps those who help themselves, which in this case the the Coal Company.
“What does helping themselves mean?” Lillian asked Mr McFadden as they made their way out after the mass.
“Pray and listen to the guidance one gets from the Lord.”
“What if the Lord tells some helping themselves is to strike for better working conditions and tells others that accepting any working condition is better than not working at all?”
“Miss McTavish you are sounding dangerously like those Communists.”
“I … I am?” Her face flushed. “Perhaps I’ve been listening too much what Steven has to say about all this.”
“Miss McTavish you are in many ways still an outsider here. This isn’t like in Boston.”
“I realize that but …”
“The folks here don’t think logically. They have no idea of a future only of the now.”
They were in the foyer once again. The crowd was stopped at the doors.
Screams and shouts came from outside.
“Father,” one of the parishioners shouted. “They are charging us with horses as we leave the church.”
The Monseigneur and her uncle pushed through the crowd.
The parishioners pushed back and she fell against the wall. An elderly women stumbled back into the church helping her husband. He was bleeding from a blow to the head.
“They just rode up as we were walking down the street. Swinging their batons and hitting anyone they could reach.” The woman gasped. “Anyone. We’re not miners!”
Over the shouting she could hear the horses. Then gun shots. There was brief silence after that.
The miners who were still in the church rushed out. Some pulling up the picket fencing around the church garden to give them something to use in self-defence.
Lillian cautiously went to one of the side exit doors to peer out. She saw a mass of men with pickets flailing at men on horses wielding thick black clubs. Both sides were shouting accusations at each other.
“Coal Company doesn’t even want us to go to church in peace. They have no respect for the God.”
“Commie rabble. Papiest scum. Pray to your God now.”
“I knows you father Billy Davis.”
“Get off the streets now or …”
“These are our streets, ya goddamned company bastard.”
Another shot rang out. The fighting stopped a moment. The miner’s feel back to the church grounds. The militia pulled back a few yards to regroup as well.
A runner dashed up to one of the horsemen with a message.
“A man is dead because of you.” The horseman said. “How many more have to die before you learn your place.”
“Who?” several men shouted at once.
“D. J.” the horseman shouted back. “You ready to leave peacefully.”
“We was till you charged as us with no cause.” someone yelled back.
The horseman nodded and all the troops stepped forward. “If that’s how you want it we’ll trample the lot of you.”
“Kill a child. Is that what you want?”
“Not us. You behave and there’ll be no trouble.”
Lilian’s uncle pushed through the men and stood alone in front of them. “How can we disperse with you blocking the streets and sidewalk?” he asked quietly. He puts hands out palms up.
One of the horses reared and the front hooves hit her uncle. He fell forward under the horse. Lilian darted out to drag her uncle out of the horse’s way.
“Get out of the way you Catholic biddy.” One of the other horsemen laughed and Lilian glanced at him as he swung his baton at her.
“That’s it!” a male voice from the other side of that horseman shouted as the horseman was yanked backwards off the horse. She caught a glimpse of Steven O’Dowell wresting that rider to the ground.
The rider of the rearing horse had it under control and had pulled it away from the prone body of her uncle.
She knelt beside him. He was on his stomach and she wasn’t sure if she should turn him over.
“Uncle Pat can you hear me.” she said.
“Yes child.” He turned his head toward her.
She saw that he was bleeding from his forehead. He pushed himself up painfully with his right arm. She struggled with his weight to help him stand. Two miners came over to take his weight from her.
“Thank you. I’m a bit winded. When I saw the beast rear before me it was like the horsemen of the Apocalypse had come for me. But this one was only an animal, not a messenger.”
“Lillian …” Steven came quickly to her brushing dust off his coat. “You haven’t been harmed in any way have you?”
“No Mr McDowell I haven’t. Father Pat has suffered some though. We must get him some medical attention.”
They helped her uncle back into the church. Inside on the benches were several others who had been assaulted by the militia.
In the evening Lillian returned to the McDowell’s after making sure her uncle was comfortable at the manse. Although he was grateful for her attentions earlier he made it clear that was a matter of circumstance. His distrust of her remained as firm as it had been.
(Maybe we need this conversation)
The McDowell’s living room was crowded with union men, a couple of the more outspoken miners and the MLA. She stood at the door as unobtrusively as she could.
“They have to go back.” One of them was saying. “After this violence they really have no choice.”
“But the union didn’t hire those goons from the mainland!” another man said.
“Yes, but you know how this will read. That the miner’s instigated the military …”
“Yeah. The fat over-fed louts in uniform with guns were forced to defend themselves from the miners who haven’t a decent meal in months.”
“You tell ‘em Neddy. It was those Godless Catholic whipped into a righteous frenzy in d’church who came charging out with candles to set fire to those poor soldiers who just happened to ridin’ their horses along the street by the church to enjoy the Sunday sun.”
“It’s never any one’s fault but ours for wanting a decent wage.”
“Your points are well take.” The MLA stood. “But I have news for you that none of you are going to like.”
“What? Coal Company is pulling out of the fields here!”
“Our prayers have been answered.”
“No, boys, no. There’ll be a bill proposed first thing tomorrow that’ll force you back to work.”
Lillian backed away as the men exploded in profanity.
She went up to her room. She was happy to shut the door at last to the noise, to the day. She slipped off her pretty blue shoes. They weren’t so blue anymore. They were covered with dust, mud, horse dung and what she suspected was dried blood. With a damp cloth she wiped them off. Most of the grime came off easily but the leather had deep scratches she knew would never be removed. Another layer of her old life in Boston had been removed. There was knock at her door.
“Come in Clara. I was just washing the dust of the day off.”
Clara came in followed my Aileen with a tea tray.
“I thought you might like a cup of tea before you turned in.” Clara nodded for Aileen to put the tray on the vanity. “That will be all Aileen.”
“Yes Miss Clara.”
Once Aileen had left Clara poured them both a cup of tea.
“My mother would sometimes do this with me. Come to my room with tea and biscuits.”
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