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Coal Dusters – Chapter LI
“You see if you can talk some sense into him!” Clara said. “He sure isn’t going to listen to me.”
“Clara, I’ve been talking to these men all my life. I know what they want to hear and how they expect a man to look.” Steven stood in front of the mirror and adjusted his bright yellow silk tie. “This tie will make sure they look at me.”
Clara rolled her eyes. Lillian laughed.
“Steven,” Lillian said, “That tie would be perfect if you were in line for secretary of the local union.”
He turned to her with a slightly hurt look on his face. “You disapprove?”
In the weeks since he had proposed Lillian had enjoyed bringing some of her Boston social experience to use as Steven campaigned in the district. Under her gaze he had toned down some of his appearance. He was starting to look successful and confident in his decisions as opposed to a brash young man dressing flashily to sell his opinions.
“Not entirely.” she reached out and undid his tie and slipped it from around his neck. “But this would be more suitable for signalling a train to stop than directing people to vote for you.”
“Gus McLelland said …”
“I don’t care what Gus McLelland said, Steven.” Gus was his campaign manager. “Trust me it isn’t the men who vote for you. I’ve told you that before. Sure, you can sell yourself to the men with a brassy tie, but it’s the wives you want to appeal to.”
“Most of them don’t vote, even though they can.” Steven complained. “They aren’t the ones in the front seats whenever I speak.”
“That’s because they are in the back talking about what you wear.” She went to his dresser and took out a couple of ties, a dark blue one and a brown one. “That yellow is fine for barroom stumping but if the wives see you as another drunk they’ll make sure their men don’t vote for you.” She held each of the ties against the lapels of his suit jacket. “Here put this one on.”
Frowning he slid the blue one under his collar and began to tie it. “If it’ll make you happy.”
“Here let me.” Lillian smiled as she recalled doing this for her bothers when they had an important function to go to. She leaned into Steven to smell him. One of the things she had found so difficult to abide when she first met him was the overpowering scent he wore.
“You are wearing the scent I suggested.” she patted his shoulder. “It suits you.”
“Just a little on my moustache.” He smiled as he smoothed the moustache out and twirled the ends lightly.
That was the one thing he had refused to alter, so far. She had gotten him to lessen the amount of pomade he used so that his hair looked less patent leather. It would take a fair bit more work before he was truly presentable but once they were married she would be able to give him more polish. It would take more a lot more polish if he was to become Premiere but she was sure she could to it.
“I’m happy that you are coming with me tonight dearest.” He said to her as he looked at himself in the mirror. “No matter how good you make me look I always look better with you by my side.”
“Steven, you’ve become quite a charmer.” Clara said from where she had been sitting. “Lillian has worked more than a miracle with you.”
Lillian blushed. Getting Steven to propose hadn’t been too difficult but winning Clara fully over to her side had proved to be a challenge because of her assisting Dr. Drummond after the unsuccessful power plant take over. The letters of commendation from both the union and the Colonel Strickland helped repair that dissension between them.
Lillian decided to concentrate on Steven and not to worry about Clara. His run for the election was the perfect opportunity to see how much potential Steven actually had.
“You have your notes ready?” she asked him.
“Right here in my pocket.” He tapped one of his suit jacket pockets. “But I don’t plan to use them unless I have to.”
“Put your charm to use when to speak to them.” Lillian said. “They are more important to you than flattering me.”
One of the things Lillian quickly discovered about Steven was that he was an accomplished orator. He could speak at the drop of a hat and frequently say exactly what the people wanted to hear. Even when he practiced a speech for her there was little for her to polish.
“Just remember, no matter how many of your cronies are present, no racy jokes.”
“But it always helps to start by getting them to laugh.” Steven said.
“How many times do I have to tell you it’s the wives who’ll get them to vote. What gets you drinks in a barroom isn’t going to get you votes at the polling station.”
“I know. I know.”
“You can save those for after the rally when the wives aren’t there.”
Invariably after every one of his campaign rallies he would disappear with Gus and several of the men while she and Clara would make their way back to the house. She knew that giving him his way now on some matters would make it easier for her to be even more demanding once they were married.
The door bell rang. A few moments later Aileen called up the stairs.
“It’s Mr. McLelland with the car for you.”
When the car pulled up by the arena to let him out Lillian told herself that for the first time she was where she deserved to be. There was a cheer from the men outside as they got out of the car. There were photographers from the Sydney and Halifax papers. She and Steven stopped to have their pictures taken as they chatted with miners, their wives and children.
Inside they had some time before the rally was to officially begin so she went to the table where the refreshments were served and allowed her picture to be taken pouring cups of tea. The stresses of the past few months vanished. Even if she didn’t feel love for Steven she had love for this life that was opening up to her.
“Time to go, Lillian.” Clara came over to her beaming. “It’s nearly seven.”
She and Lillian walked quickly over to the change room under the bleachers and when the nearby church bells rang seven o’clock, Steven stepped into the arena quickly followed by Gus and then she and Clara stepped out. It had been decided that until they were married it was best that Lillian not appear as these rallies on his arm but always with Clara. The applause was deafening.
Men were tossing their hats in the air, stomping on the floor, standing on their chairs.
They mounted the low stage. The crowd stood and continued to applaud till Lillian and Clara sat down.
Gus introduced Steven to more cheers and Steven took the microphone. He silenced the crowd and gave a variation on the speech she had heard him give several times. He always hit ‘standing the gaff’ as hard as he could. The actual words of the BritCan management’s taunt had given him all the fuel he needed for his campaign’s platform.
As he mentioned Montreal, Toronto, London she could see herself in those cities attending similar events with her husband as his political star rose and rose.
He let them know how their resistance demonstrated clearly to all levels of government and BritCan that Cape Bretonners weren’t going to take being bullied. Once again he repeated his promise not to marry till the mines were open. This had been her suggestion, at first because he had pressed her for a date and she wasn’t ready to rush into it, then because she knew it would allow the public to see that he was willing to sacrifice his plans for theirs, that he considered their personal concerns of greater importance than his own.
“In conclusion when you go to the polls Monday you know know to vote for. And if you forget I know your wives will make sure you do the right thing by then and your families. Let’s end the BritCan strangle hold on the mines and shrive the gaff where the sun don’t shine.”
The arena erupted in cheering and stomping so strong dust floated down from the ceiling.
As expected, once the rally was over, Steven had to, as he put it, take council with his campaign committee.
On their way to the car a reporter stopped her and Clara.
“Miss McTavish might I have a few words with you.”
“Yes,” she glanced to Clara.
“Not too many David,” Clara clearly know the Post reporter.
“Miss McTavish, you are of the Boston’s McTavish’s?” he asked.
“Yes, I am.” Lillian was unsure of what to tell the reporter. Facts about who she was wouldn’t be too difficult to ascertain.
“What is it about Cape Breton that brought you here?”
“I can’t answer that but what has kept me here has been the spirit of the people. Always welcoming and accepting of an outsider such as myself. Even during the difficult times of this strike they have been resolute and strong in their convictions.
“One of the few … positive things, for me, about it has been the opportunity to meet and help all families, regardless of faith, education or social standing. I’ll never regret helping the children of Castleton’s Mudside with their ABC’s. I deeply regret the damage that BritCan has allowed this strike to … inflict on these families.”
Applause from the people gathered around caught Lillian off guard.
“Thank you Miss McTavish.” the reporter said. “I’d be reluctant to oppose you if you should ever chose to run for office.”
“Have no fear of that. I know a woman’s place is in the home not in politics.”
In the car Clara patted Lillian on the hand. “That was very well said my dear. You share Steven’s ability to charm without over-stating your case. Your family would be proud of you. Very proud.”
When the results of the election were announced Tuesday came as no surprise that the party had won nearly every seat they had candidates for. What was unexpected was that the labour party failed to make a showing.
“Fat lot of good labour has done the miners these past few years.” Steven explained. “All BritCan has to do is accuse them of being Reds. New premiere will be here tomorrow and we’ll face off against BritCan at last.”
“So soon?” Lillian said.
“We can’t give them time to think. We have to show them that we are firm and prepared to take the hardline to get these miner’s back to full pay. If they had their way we’d be waiting for a few months till they asked to negotiate. No, we’re telling them to get to the table now whether they want to or not.”
“And if they decline.”
“We’ll deal with that eventuality should it arise. But they’ve already indicated a willingness to negotiate. Besides everyone knows what the ultimate reward will be.”
“A raise in pay?”
“No! A wedding date for us. I can’t tell you the number of people who have been clambering for that. The sooner coal comes out of the ground the sooner we can seal our vows.” He smiled.
“Very well. As long as I have enough warning to get a suitable dress.”
“No worries there, O’Dowell’s in Sydney has an excellent selection. At a good price too. Don’t worry about invitations, Clara has already ordered the blanks from our supplier in Montreal. They will be printed here.”
“Doesn’t leave much for me to do. You best not have ordered a cake too!”
“No! Clara said was going to be your department. Too bad we can’t break tradition and have a wedding pie.”
“Now who would want to put pie under their pillow?”
“True. Whatever you decide upon, remember we want a piece saved for our daughter when she weds.”
“An O’Dowell tradition I suppose. One I won’t break. Clara has a piece of our mother’s wedding cake. Or is it our grandmother’s?”
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