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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLIII
Lillian waited with Dr. Drummond, outside the modest Protestant church that was so unlike St. Agatha’s she would have mistaken it for an oversized storage barn where not for the arched windows on the sides and the crucifix over the front double-doors.
Birk and his mother came out from the funeral service. Three pine box coffins preceded them. Each followed by its own grieving family.
“I was so sorry to hear about Sal.” She came over to console his mother.
“One gets used to these things.” His mother gently pushed Lillian away and nodded to Dr. Drummond. “Sad to say. Sad to say. We get used to these things.”
Lillian and the Doctor fell into step with them as they walked to the cemetery. She saw that none of the families were particularly tearful, more grim and sullen than caught up in sorrow.
She didn’t go in to the cemetery though. She knew that being so connected to St. Agatha’s she wouldn’t be welcome there at such a time.
When she’d heard from Dr. Drummond that Sal had died she couldn’t believe it. She had been with the girls earlier in the week. Both of them looked healthy enough and eager to keep learning. Perhaps if she had done more, brought them food, more vegetables from the garden. But even the O’Dowell’s were stretching out what goods they had.
Shortly the families left the cemetery nodded to Dr. Drummond as they walked around hime and Lillian. None of them acknowledging her presence. Birk and his mother stopped a few yards along and spoke quietly. He came to her as the rest went on their way.
“Miss McTavish, Ma thanks you for all you did for the girls, but thinks it best you don’t put yourself out anymore on our account.”
“I understand. How’s Maddy? She’s not ailing too?”
“No. She was too busted up to be with us. The Malones is minding her.”
“I am sorry that …”
“Sorry won’t bring Sal or any of the other children back.”
“I know that, but Birk, this is none of my doing.”
“I know.” He turned and started back into the cemetery. “I have to finish things now.”
“Finish?” Dr. Drummond asked.
“We bury our own. I dug the grave this morning ‘fore the service. Same with the other families. Digging in the earth again. Joe says he hoped we didn’t find coal or the company would stop us from burying our dead. They would too, if they thought they could.”
“They couldn’t do that.” Lillian said.
“They owns all the coal here abouts regardless of whose land it’s on. If you find coal digging your garden that coal belongs to the company not to you. So, if you don’t mind me Miss, I have a sister to bury.”
She watched him go in the graveyard.
“Thank you for accompanying me Dr. Drummond.” Lillian said as she walked back with Dr. Drummond to the pier.
“It was my pleasure though I was bit puzzled when you sent the request to me.”
“I … needed someone to talk with. Someone who knew something of my situation here. I feel I can trust you.”
“I’m pleased you thought of me Miss McTavish.”
“I have to tell you something that no one is aware of.”
“I am used to the confidences of my patients.”
Lillian took the newspaper clipping of her death notice out of her purse and give it him.
“My word.” He said after reading it through. “How is this possible?”
“I am not that familiar with the …. legalities of this matter.” Lillian said. “I was hoping that you, as a Doctor, might advise on how to proceed.”
“I would say in this case there has to be at least a death certificate of some sort to act as proof of your passing away.”
“Yes that is a document signed by a medical practitioner that serves as legal record of a death.”
“Oh. Who would issue such a document? I had no attending doctor until you were called upon.”
“I can check with the Provincial Registry where all births and deaths have to submitted. I can find out who signed your certificate. Might I ask if you have your birth certificate?”
“I’m not sure.” Lillian tried to remember what personal papers of hers she had in her trunks.
“Or any other proof of who you are. If ,as this notice says, you are deceased, to contest it you’ll need some documentation to prove who you are. Have you written your family?”
She gave him the letter her father had written to her uncle.
“This is unbelievable” He said after the read the letter. “Who knows about this?”
“Everyone in Boston knows I’m dead. I don’t know who else my father had used to insure his political success.” Lillian put her documents back in her purse.
“I never thought Father McTavish was such a scoundrel as to cooperate in such a subterfuge. But after seeing his physical abuse of you, it comes as no surprise either.”
The Dingle Dandy arrival horn sounded.
“Thank you for your understanding Dr. Drummond. I didn’t know who to turn to.”
“You will need someone more knowledgeable about the law. You are comfortable with the O’Dowells?”
“Oh, yes! They have been most welcoming.”
“Perhaps you might consider Steven. He is a lawyer.”
The ferry’s departure horn sounded.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you again.”
The only other passengers on the Dingle Derry were some of the troops now stationed in the area to keep peace. She overheard them talking about the ‘armed insurrection’ of the fool miners the previous night.
“Pardon me,” she went over to their bench. “I couldn’t help but overhear you mention an incident last night?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The heavier set of the soldiers lifted his cap. “We were in a convoy bringing replacement miners to the colliery here.”
“Yes.” the other stood and kicked his friend to do the same. “We have been detailed to go to North Sydney for more provisions.”
She could tell by their eager smiles they found her attractive.
“Was it a serious incident?” she asked.
“One fool Bolshi got shot dead. Sent to his maker.”
“Daniel! We were told to watch which locals we told what to.”
“I’m not a local. I’m visiting friends in North Sydney at the moment.”
“Perhaps we might call on you if we have time?”
“I’m sure Colonel Strickland would rather you do your duty and return directly.” she said.
“You know the Colonel?”
She nodded as if to say yes.
“Perhaps I can convey your regards to him.” the heavy set soldier asked.
Lillian found herself enjoying the interest these men were taking in her. Because of her uncle most of the men had kept a cool distance from her.
“You can tell him that Miss McTavish …”
“McTavish!” the other soldier said. “Not related to that priest?”
“My uncle, I’m afraid to say. Please don’t hold that against me.”
“No ma’am. We sure hope he wasn’t hurt too bad. I mean I didn’t mean to bash him so hard when he came rushing in at me.”
“I’m sure he forgives you.” Lillian said. She wished she had been there to see her uncle get bashed. “His head is hard. He can take it.”
The ferry docked and she directed the soldiers to a dry goods store, one that was opposite way from the one she was taking.
On the ferry back to North Sydney she was relived that her attempts to befriend Birk had been futile. Punishing her Uncle would have only confined her to the dreary life these men lived. Even Dr. Drummond was threadbare. He was unlike the well-to-do doctors in Boston. It was as if everyone had taken a vow of poverty.
She walked along the main street. The few open shops were empty of people and goods. Even the O’Dowell’s had closed off portions of their department store. Without the money generated by the mines some shops had been shut down and even boarded up. She hadn’t realized how many were dependant on mining industry. Up to now she has only seen the actual miners struggling. The struggled rippled out to nearly everyone in the area.
“Miss Lillian.” It was Mrs. Seldon, who used to the manage the company store. “Wasn’t that ambush business some terrible. It’s a wonder so few were hurt bad. Damned fools, if you ask me, trying stop those outsiders from getting into the colliery. How’s Father Patrick?”
“His head is as hard you’d expect.” Lillian forced herself to smile. Part of her had been glad to hear her uncle got what was coming to him.
“It was brave of him to even try to make some peace when the miners saw they were out-manned.”
“He was never one to stand down.” Lillian resisted blurting out what a hypocrite her uncle had turned out to be.
“I hear you are no longer tending to him?”
“No. I’m with the O’Dowell’s here in North Sydney for the time being. My uncle and I felt it was ….”
“I’m surprised you haven’t returned to your family in Boston by now Miss.”
“One day perhaps.” She couldn’t see herself back there now even if they hadn’t had announced her death; even she could prove she wasn’t dead. Revenge didn’t tempt her. “I’d best be on my way.”
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