“Lillian!” He was shocked. “What is the meaning of this?”
Mr. O’Dowell released her and moved quickly away. “Father Patrick I … invited myself along with my sister to learn more about the Catholic Missions in Africa. Miss McTavish had no idea I would be here.”
“You will kindly remove yourself from my house at once, Mr. O’Dowell. And as for you Lillian go to your room at once.”
Lillian ran up to her room, yanked off her smock and threw herself on her bed pounding it with her fists. She could hear Mr. O’Dowell’s protestations as her uncle lead him and his sister out of the house. Miss O’Dowell apologizing as she explained that her brother had foisted himself upon her.
After a few moments there was knock at her door.
“Come in.” she said. She didn’t know what to expect from her uncle. The news that Mr. O’Dowell knew something of her past had stunned her. It was supposed by her family that she would be safe here from any rumours.
“I had hoped you were changed Lillian.” Her uncle began quietly. “It appeared to me for a time that you were repenting and atoning for your untoward actions that hurt your family extremely deeply. But to see you practicing those same wiles under my roof disappoints me.”
“Wiles uncle? I … I did not know Mr. O’Dowell would be here. It was you who invited Miss O’Dowell, not I.”
“Lillian, explanations do not further your case. I am aware of the subterfuges you indulged in to play the sham with your family. They may have worked on the simple men in Castleton Mines but they will not work here in my house. They will not be allowed. There will be no more callers at this house. Do you understand that. I have a reputation to maintain even if it means nothing to you.” He went to the dresser and removed the mirror. He stepped into the hall with it and she heard it smashing as he threw at the wall.
“I will send a message to the Mother Superior. It is clear to me you must be placed where your wiles will not gain foothold. You will leave this house tomorrow whether she agrees to take you or not.”
“Father Patrick.” Lillian was on her knees. “Please. You must believe me I did nothing …”
“Nothing! I saw you! In his embrace. In my home.”
“That was none of my doing.” She was wringing her hands.
“That is why you must be removed. If you are as unaware as you claim I must make sure others are protected from you.”
“Uncle! Father Pat.” She began to stand and reached out to him.
“Do not come near me.” He smacked her across the face with his open hand. She stumbled back to the window. His next smack sent her sprawling on the bed.
She rolled over to protect her face. There was stinging across her legs.
“All women are vessels of deceit. You are vessel of deceit.” Her uncle said. “This is something that brother of mine should have done a long time ago.”
She glanced over her shoulder to see that he was holding the old bamboo fishing rod she would use with a cloth on one end to reach corners in the house for dusting.
“He thought his money would be enough. Thought it made him better than me.” With each statement he brought the rod down across her back and shoulders.
“All the money a man has cannot buy his way into grace. He bought disgrace through you. But you will not bring that same disgrace into the House of the Lord.”
The rod whizzed through he air as it cut down on her. It was tearing through the crepe of her dress
“This will beat the devil out you. You hussy. As bad as the whore of Babylon. Temptress.”
“Father Patrick!” a woman’s voice came from the door way. “What in the name of God are you doing.”
It was Miss O’Dowell.
“My brother confessed to me your niece’s innocence in his attentions. I … knocked at the door and when no one answered I came in and could hear your accusations.”
“These are not accusations.” Father Patrick turned to face her.
Lillian painfully sat up on the edge of the bed.
“Irregardless this is not the way of the Lord either. It says clearly in Deuteronomy ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ Not your’s Father Patrick.” She took the now frayed bamboo rod out of his hand and went over to Lillian. “Are all right my girl? My foolish brother has never been capable of much decorum where his interests are concerned.”
“I …” Lillian faltered. “I am willing to face ….” she wanted to explain that in some way she was deserving of being punished but not to this degree.
“Miss O’Dowell your interference in private issues of a family matter are most unwarranted.” Father Patrick said.
“They are proper when a member of my family is the cause of this conflict between you and your niece. Come my dear.” She helped Lillian to stand. “You will come with me. I cannot allow you to remain under this roof.”
“Thank you Miss O’Dowell but …” she would not be driven out of another home. “But this is my home now. I’m sure you understand.”
“Very well. But if I hear of any further … abuse, I will pursue what channels I have available to me.” She looked Father Patrick in the eyes. “We have powerful connections.”
“I’m sure you do but I too, have connections. More powerful than yours.” Father Patrick glanced upward.
“Perhaps you are unaware of my mother’s maiden name Father Patrick. Before marriage she was Madeline DuPont. Sister to His Eminence Georges DuPont. The Bishop. A word to him about your behaviour Father Patrick and I can have you removed from this diocese. Is that clear. Perhaps you would be happier in the African Missionaries.”
“Is that a threat?” Father Patrick said.
“The O’Dowell’s do not make threats Father.” Miss O’Dowell said coldly. She turned back to Lillian. “The next meeting of the Catholic Ministries in Africa will be this Monday night. I hope to see you there Miss McTavish.”
“Yes, Miss O’Dowell.” Lillian replied.
“You may see me out, Father.” She reached out and took Father Patrick firmly by the forearm. “These steps are rather steep. Watch out for the broken glass.”
Alone Lillian took a few tentative steps but each movement rippled painfully across her calves and back. She heard the front door shut.
“Lillian.” Her uncle called from the bottom of the stairs. “There appears to be sufficient prepared for your luncheon that didn’t get eaten. I will have that for my supper. You can remain in your chambers for now.”
She removed her dress. She teared up to see that the back of the dress was in shreds but she was grateful to see that there as no blood. Even her own father had never raised a hand to her. Perhaps her uncle was right, that she might have been better for a firmer upbringing. She didn’t know.
She rolled off her stockings and there were red welts along her calves but once again the skin hadn’t been broken. As she looked at her wounds she found it difficult to connect the bruised flesh with her. With the her who had once lived such a carefree life in Boston.
She carefully pulled her usual pinafore over her head and wrapped her apron around once again. She stepped over the broken mirror and slowly made her way down the stairs.
She glimpsed her uncle on his knees in the parlour praying on front of the crucifix there. In the kitchen she saw that he had cleared the luncheon tray away and left it on the sideboard by the sink.
The tea was no longer hot but as she was now accustomed to the cold tea she didn’t mind. As she washed the sandwich tray she heard her uncle picking up mirror pieces on the stairs. He took the pieces to the trash bin behind the house and went to the church. With a small broom and a damp cloth she cleared up the the remaining shards.
The rest of the evening was spent in silence. Her uncle said nothing as he ate his dinner. He did look to her once and she held his gaze. If he was looking for a sign of forgiveness from her she wouldn’t give it.
The morning also passed with the same somber silence. She heated water for laundry and had filled the tub on the back veranda. It was a sunny and already warm day as she fried his one egg, piece of bacon and toasted his one piece of bread to go with it. If the cold tea was good enough for her then he could enjoy the same this morning.
“Lillian?” he broke the silence. “I’m shamed by my actions of yesterday.”
“Are you Father Patrick?”
“I forget that you haven’t had the same kind of up-bring as the families here.”
“I am aware of that. Father Patrick there may be something amiss in me, some lack in the eyes of our Lord. I do not fully understand but accept that is so.”
“Then you forgive me?” he asked.
“No.” she replied. “As you have said in your sermons. Only the Lord can forgive. Seek forgiveness there. Not from me.”
She went into the back garden. As the weather warmed and greenery started growing this had become her refuge. This was the day to wash the linens. The work allowed her mind to clear itself as she concentrated on the tasks at hand. As she worked the soreness in her back began to lessen as well. After hanging sheets on the line she sat at the small bench at the rear of the garden.
Her uncle came out. “I will be at the church office Lillian.”
“Yes, Father Patrick.” It was only when she was sure he was gone that she allowed herself to weep. Whatever female weaknesses he thought she was a vessel to, he would never see her sorrow.
“Why miss! What is the matter?” a male voice asked from the lane that ran behind the house.
She looked up and there were two young men with fishing poles over their shoulders.
“Ah tis her.” said the shorter of the men. “The gal looking for the colliery after the gas.”
“So it is.” Said the taller of the two.
“What has happened to ye?” The shorter one asked.
“Happened?” Lillian stood to see them better.
“Yer face?” he continued.
“Oh!” she covered her cheek where her uncle had first hit her. Was there a visible bruise?
“Some man been putting his hands on you?” The taller one asked angrily. “Isn’t fittin’ ”
“That’s right. No man should … ” the shorter one had put down his fishing rod and raised his fists. “If I caught someone hurting a lady I’d learn him different.”
“No. I … dusting the other day … stumbled …”
“I see miss.”
“Come on, Clancy we best be on our way.”
“Hold yer horses Birk. Good day to yer miss.”
Birk’s shirt was unbuttoned, untucked so that the light morning breeze caught it. Her eyes were caught by the sun’s gleam in the curly black hair on his chest.
The men continued down the lane.
It took Lillian a few moments to connect these faces with the two that had given her direction a few weeks ago. Today these faces were clean. What names they had … ‘Birk’ … ‘Clancy’ … How carefree they were too. Free to fish. To do what they pleased. Did they have wives at home who were tied down to children, who were, as she was, washing and cooking, while they were off on a lark.
She went back to the laundry tub saying their names over to herself Clancy … Birk … Birk.
She was comforted that there were men who would want to protect her. Not shunt her off, not blame her, but want to look after her.
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