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Coal Dusters – Chapter LVIII
Lillian stepped off the Dingle Dandy. The sun was warm on her face. The sky was as clear a blue as she had seen since coming to the Cape Breton. She began to walk, aimlessly at first. There was no where she had to be, nothing she had to do. There were no emotional holds to her here.
She walked along Castleton’s main street nodding to people she had become acquainted with during Steven’s campaign. Some knew her name, she knew some of their names, but they meant nothing to her now. To them she was an extension of Steven O’Dowell, his tragic widow, if anything at all. To her they weren’t even votes anymore.
She stood on the dock to stare across the bay. New Waterford on the other shore looked so small and distant. Was her future small and distant?
She walked to the gates of the colliery. The notices of its closing now tattered by the wind and bleached white by the sun. The grounds that she could see look as if everyone had that morning stepped away for a moment.
“Good morning Miss McTavish.”
“Lovely day, Mrs. Seldon.” Lillian leaned over the pram that Mrs. Seldon was pushing. “I see little one has recovered.”
“Yes Miss. The service for Mr. O’Dowell was powerful good.”
“Yes. The Bishop spoke quite eloquently, if a bit long.”
“Oh, Miss.” Mrs. Seldon began to cry. “You are so strong. To put on a smile in your trying times.”
“Strong? No I’ve come to see that tears aren’t going to change what’s happened.”
“Quite rightly so. What brings you here?”
“Nothing in particular. I had to get out of the house for awhile.”
“Never good to sit still for too long. I’m meeting Mr. Seldon here. He’s to get the last of what was owed him. Then we’re leaving same as so many.”
“Depends on how much he gets. And here he is now. Looking none to happy.”
Mr. Seldon came through the gate. “Miss McTavish.” He doffed his cap to her.
Lillian didn’t bother to correct him. Her marriage to Steven had become more trouble to explain that it was worth.
“So what’s to be done?” his wife asked.
“They says another week. We can stay in the house no charge until they are ready to give my full discharge. They’ve been too busy with the government inspectors and such to look after the books for us little people.”
“Do they still think it was sabotage?” Lillian asked.
“T’isn’t clear.” he replied. “The lower levels were where they think it began have flooded so quick they can’t go down to check ‘em. No one as was down there survived. Of course you know that.” He look away from Lillian. “Sorry to remind you of that Miss. He was a brave’un he was and always stood up for everyone.”
“Thank you Mr. Seldon.” Lillian looked forward to the day when people would stop offering their pity to her.
“Mrs. Seldon says you plan to leave?” she asked.
“Yes Miss. I have kin in Winnipeg so we is goin’ to try our luck out west. And you Miss, you plannin’ to stop here much longer.”
“I haven’t given it much thought Mr. Seldon.” There had been so much to deal with over the past weeks she had given her own future only slight thought. During the days leading up to the service she had helped Clara gather Steven’s clothing to donate through the parish. She had no interest in his jewelry or any other memento. The only thing she had kept was the bottle of the cloying bay rum he was prone to use before she discouraged him.
“You can always go back to your family in Boston.” Mrs. Seldon suggested.
They walked back to the main part of town.
“I suppose I could.” Lillian answered. She could imagine the look on her mother’s face if she turned up at the door. No first she would be greeted by Mable, who would probably scream and faint to see her dead mistress return. Then she would face her mother who would not know right away what to say. Perhaps comment on Lillian’s dusty, dirty shoes or her rather plain attire. “No, I think not, after my time here, Boston holds no promise or appeal for me.”
They came to the town square.
“Nice to see you again Miss.” Mr. Seldon said.
“I know there is plan for you.” Mrs. Seldon said. “If we don’t see you again before we leave you’ll always have a place in my heart for saving ‘the little one’ that time in the fire.”
“Thank you” Lillian kissed Mrs. Seldon on the cheek and continued on her aimless way.
Without the sounds of the mine Castleton was quiet. There was no train shunting coal back and forth, no periodic whistles for change of shifts, no warning clanging of coal about to be loaded into a scow. She couldn’t hear any children or dogs. Castleton Mines was dying all around her.
There was nothing to keep her here. Not that there had even been anything to keep her there except her own uncertainty and fear.
She had married Steven but lost him before she had a firm foundation to … to what? Get back at her uncle? At her family? They know she was alive after all but to what end? A letter from her father made it clear she was not welcome back to their home. All he would do was print a retraction notice of her death.
Her steps took her along the ridge that lead to Blue Lake. She had walked there a few times with Birk and his sisters. She was amazed at how blue the water was. Not quite sky blue but very clear. She had also been delighted by how happy and excited the little girls had been by something so simple as a lake.
The things that pleased her as the most a child were gifts at Christmas. Dolls, intricate doll houses, and as she got older it was jewels, paste copies of things her mother wore. She could still see that dainty pair of shoes with the sparkling ruby buckles.
As she walked the winding path she saw the lake horizon rise and fall before her. It was as if the lake was playing hide and seek with her. The ribbon of blue dipping behind the dune, the rocks, then coming into view again.
She stopped to catch her breath in the last of the dips. She knew that once she walked up the lake would reveal its entire self in one glance.
She measured her pace to save that view for as long as possible. She she came up she first heard, then saw the young men frolicking in the water.
She blushed when she saw they were naked. She stopped transfixed. She had never seen a man naked. Not even her brothers when they were younger. She had never even seen them bare-chested.
When James Dunham had interfered with her, they had, for the most part, remained fully clothed. Her skirts pulled up and her underthings stretched to allow him entry.
She stepped back not wanting to be seen. How would Steven have treated her? They both had assumed they would have children.
She inched forward to watch the men again. She recognized them as Birk and Clancy. Birk’s torso was as hairy as his forearms. Clancy’s was pale and hairless expect for hair around his … She closed her eyes then forced them open. She stared at the male members of the two men.
The men jostled and shoved each other too much for her to see more than the fleshy bobbing of their privates. Then they stopped and Birk went to the edge of the lake and made water on his hands. Clancy stood facing him and did the same. Making water on Birk’s hands!
Her eyes opened wider as they reached out to grasp one another privates in their hands. They were grinning foolishly at each other. Pleasuring each other!
She look around frantically for a stick of sort sort, something to use as switch to teach them, to stop them. There was nothing. She couldn’t let this go on.
“What are you doing?” She shouted down at them.
The men stepped away from each other as Lillian charged down the path to confront them.
They gabbed for their clothes and quickly got dressed.
“Indecent. Shameless animals.” She was nearly shrieking. “Fornicators. Abominations.”
“We were swimming ma’am.” Birk said.
“Decent God-fearing men don’t swim unclad.” Lillian raged Birk with all the scorn she could muster. Was this unnatural proclivity why he was so fearful of her.
“No harm in it.” Clancy said.
“No harm! You weren’t swimming. You were … in contact with each other … you were touching each other in the most unwholesome, unnatural way. I saw … disgusting. How could you …”
She turned from them and started back to the path.
“Ma’am!” Clancy called after her. “I don’t what you think you saw but it was … it’s an old miner’s trick for the hands. To use piss to toughen them. That’s what you saw.”
“I know what I saw.” Lillian stopped to glare at them. “The constables will hear about this. The scriptures are clear about this sin and I’m certain the laws of this land don’t allow it either.”
She rushed back up the path, stumbling in her outrage. Her brothers had sniggered about one of the men in their circle who was more interested in the players on the field than playing the field. She hadn’t quite understood what they meant but now she saw it clearly.
To think of the time she had sacrificed to Birk to try and guide him into a better life and yet he had chosen to lower himself into this sort of degradation. To do it where anyone could see!
Out of breath she found herself back at the town square. Her dress had been torn by branches when she had made her day through the woods. Who would she tell. Who could do what needed to be done to deal with this? Would Clara know? No! What she had witness was something she couldn’t tell another woman. It was bad enough that she had seen it now she had to recount it.
Her Uncle? No! Yes. But more than him. No. She would have to go to the constabulary in New Waterford. That would take time. Time that those unclean creatures would use to escape. They would … where could they go. Into the woods?
She ran down the the dock as the ferry was pulling out.
“Got on in the nick of time Miss McTavish.”
“Yes I have urgent business in New Waterford and God was with me to insure I did it.”
She paced the decks the boat crossed over to New Waterford. Once on the other side she ran as fast as she could up to the main street and to the police station. Out of breath she couldn’t stand and collapsed on a bench.
“Why it’s Miss McTavish.” one of the police men came over to her. “Bring a glass of water for her. What is it miss?” He kneed in front of her.
“Two men.” she gasped for breath. “by the lake. They …”
“They bothered you miss?” He stood.
“They … naked.” she said.
“Who were they Miss. Do you know who they were?”
“Birk Nelson and … and ..”
“Clancy Sinclair?” he supplied.
“Yes. They …”
“What is it Constable Jeffers.” another policeman asked.
“Two men attempted to infer with Miss McTavish. I know who they are. Have no fear ma’am.”
“Not …” she reached for the glass of water and fainted.
When she came to she was in the foyer of the Victoria Hotel. Clara was patting her hand. Her Uncle hovered in the background.
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