Chapter XVI – Lillian Makes A Promise

Coal Dusters

Chapter XVI

Lillian Makes A Promise

During the week after the coal gas disaster at the colliery Lillian received more house calls than she had even when she was living at home in Boston. It was as if the parishioners accepted that she was actually here, that she belonged here, living in the rectory. A different mother or wife would drop by in the afternoons to take tea with her.

One afternoon about midweek it was a young mother, Jen Hollerhan with her two children. The children were one and two years old. Jen was a little taller than Lillian but much heavier. Her deep brown hair was already streaked with grey.

“Having babies certainly puts the weight on ya.” Jen explained. “You’d think having them to tend to along with m’ husband would have worn it off but it hasn’t yet. Ages one too.” She smoothed her hair away from her face.

“They must be quite a handful.” Lillian held the youngest on her lap. The baby reached up to grab at Lillian’s loose hair.

“I sure hope I’m not keeping you from your chores?” Jen asked. “But I wanted to meet you, you see.”

“My uncle, Father Patrick says my best work can be done talking with his parishioners. Thank you.”

“I hears you are from away. Boston, is it?”

“Yes that’s right. Father Patrick is my father’s brother.”

“Ahh. And who’s your father?”

“James Whitely McTavish.”

“Not from these parts is he?”

“No. In truth, none of my family is. Father Pat is the only the family I have here, but I have been made to feel most welcome these past few days. He has told me the congregation has made him feel he has always lived here.” 

Holding the child Lillian began to wonder if this is how it would have been if she hadn’t lost her baby. At least Jen was married. She wasn’t sure if would have even been allowed to keep the child.

“Not the same as living in Boston though is it? My sister Kelly’s in Boston now. Working for a rich family in the kitchen. The Gibbons?”

“I may know them.” The last thing Lillian wanted was for anyone here to make any contact with families she knew in Boston. “I see. What are your children’s names?” Lillian didn’t want to talk about Boston.

“The wee one is Moira. We named her after John’s mother. The big ’un is Chester. That’s my granddad’s name. On my mother’s side. She was a McDonald. From up Inverness.”

“Chester already getting to be quite a little man I see.”

Jen was keeping Chester from climbing on the back of the settee by holding the back of his pants at the waist.

“Don’t I know it. He’ll soon be working with his Dad I can tell. He’s as stubborn as his father too. That’s be Davy Hollerhan. Get’s a notion in his head and won’t let go especially when he’s been drinkin’. Davy I mean ”

“I see.” Lillian wasn’t sure of what to say. 

“Look, Miss McTavish.”

‘“Miss Lillian, please.” One thing her uncle has told her was to let his parishioners feel she was a part of their lives without becoming overly familiar with them.

“Miss Lillian it’s about my Davy that I’ve come to see yer. His drinkin’ ‘s getting worse.”

“That must be difficult for you.”

“I knew you’d understand. It isn’t as if it was my doing but when he comes home I don’t know how to settle him.”

“But where does he get the drink?” Lillian knew prohibition was keeping the saloons closed.

“There’s those that know where to get it when they want it. Bootleggers. Many makes their own, you know. I guess yer wouldn’t know being here in the priest’s house. But there are lots of places a man can get a bottle. Easy.”

“Perhaps we should tell the constabulary?”

“The what? Oh, you mean the law. Not much they can do. They can’t be at every house. Besides one of them makes his own, too. Only Our Lord can be in every house.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I was hopin’, Miss Lillian, that you could pray for my Davy. Perhaps if you spoke to him, tell him how much it is hurting me and the children.”

“Speak to him? I’m not in a position to do that sort of thing. That’s my unc … I mean, Father Pat’s work, isn’t it? To speak to the men and help them see the light.”

“Yes, but if a proper lady such as yerself spoke to him the shame might make him see right.”

“Shame?” How could she cause shame in anyone?

“Then you won’t help me?” Jen began to cry. “The other is even harder for me to bear.”

“The other?”

“Davy has been …. I don’t know how to tell you this Miss … you being such a lady and all.”

Lillian resisted the temptation to tell Jen that she wasn’t such a lady. That she had done things in her recent past that made her less than a lady, that she was in need of repentance and salvation as much as Jen’s husband was. She longed to share her heart with someone, another woman who might understand, but she held her tongue.

“Go on Jen.”

“Miss, I know you aren’t sworn to silence the way Father Patrick is but what I tell you can’t be repeated.”

“Yes. Jen.” she reached out and grasped Jen’s hand. “I promise.”

“John has been keeping with another woman.” her voice dropped after ‘keeping’.

“He has what?”

“Tis adultery ma’am. S’ another woman. On t’other side of the village, in the orange. Only them type would do such a thing. At first I didn’t mind. It meant he wouldn’t be using me to satisfy his bestial cravings. I know a woman has duty to perform but anything more than that is sinful.”

“So I understand. The good book is very clear ‘He who commits adultery destroys himself.’” Lillian said.

“But he comes home sometimes smelling of her. Drunk and saying as I think I’m too good for loving. He thinks that …. that bestial act is love. It’s a sin. He’s is destroying himself and his family at the same time. He used to be sweet and gentle too. Taking my clothes off and folding them tidy. Now he don’t even bother. Pawing at me and shoving his tongue in my mouth.” She stopped to shiver. 

“Father Pat sermonized about it once. Carnality is the tool of Satan. We must not let the flesh come between us and Our Redeemer.” Jen began to weep loudly. She let loose her grip on Chester who slid the floor and began to cry as well. This set off Moira who had been dozing in Lillian’s lap.

Lillian didn’t know what to do or say. She recalled her degradation at the hands of James Dunham. She had remained almost fully clothed, as had he. The notion of being naked with him had never occurred to her at that time.

“When I told him what I suspected he went into a rage. The worst I have ever seen. He …” she covered her face with her hand. She stood and removed her shawl to reveal bruises on both her arms. “He shook me so hard I couldn’t see. I feared he would strike the children. Said all I did was complain.”

“How …” Lillian was about to say ‘how could any man raise his had to a women but stopped.

“It’s a good man’s fault.” Jen wrapped her shawl around her again. “I know it isn’t fittin’ for me to say anything but I don’t know what to do. It’s first time he put his hands on me to make me mind what I was saying.”

She sat back down. 

“Perhaps the children would enjoy some warm milk.” Lillian suggested. She handed Chester a biscuit from the tea tray. He stop crying and put it in his mouth.

“You are too kind for listening patiently to the likes of me. I have no one here in Castleton Mines to talk to, you know?”

“No family?”

“Other than Davy’s kin no. I have some cousins for sure, but my family is from Inverness. Jake Struthers is m’ father. I’m the only one to have made a leave from them.”

Lillian handed the bawling Moria back to her mother. Jen unbuttoned her blouse and breast fed the infant.

“She’ll be quiet now miss.”

As the baby began to suck eagerly Lillian felt a flash of heat in her body. She had come so close to motherhood. 

“I … I’ll make fresh pot of tea.” She stood and went to the kitchen. Nothing in her upbringing had prepared her for this sort of emotional out pouring. She was embarrassed to hear such intimate details about another person’s private life. Then to have a child breast fed causally in front of her. That sort of thing was to be done where no one could see it.

She opened and closed drawers and cupboards loudly so that if Jen should be listening she would think Lillian was occupied with domestic duties. Tongue in her mouth? Was that some sort of kissing? The two men she knew had kissed her cheeks or her hands but never on the mouth. 

When she came back into the parlour with tea Jen had put on her shawl.

“Thank ye very much. Hearing me out Miss McTavish. I knew when I saw you helping at the colliery the other week that you would be the one to listen to me. I know there isn’t anything you can directly do other than have a word with Father Patrick. Perhaps if he spoke to Davy he might set Davy back on the righteous path.”

“There is one thing I know we can do.”

“Yes Miss.” Jen said eagerly.

Lillian took out her rosary. “We can pray right here and right now.”

Jen took out her rosary as well.

“Thank you Miss. He’s going to that fight tonight and I fear he’ll come home blind drunk.”

The two women knelt and Lillian started in on the hail Mary. 

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. And if you can please intercede with John Hollerhan so that he may once again see the light and be brought back to salvation in Your Son, Jesus. Amen.” 

Jen quickly joined her.

“Thank you!” Jen said when they were finished. “I knew you were the right one to talk to.”

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