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Coal Dusters – Chapter LX
“Those men … naked …” she gabbed at the air in front of her,
“You are alright my dear.” Clara said.
“Where?” Lillian looked around. She was in the O’Dowell’s sitting room.
“The officers brought you here. They didn’t want to to be at the station when they brought those creatures in.” Clara explained.
Lillian sank back on the couch. “They have been arrested?”
“Oh yes.” Her uncle said. “They were at the Nelson residence. They’ll regret what they’ve done to you.”
“Yes. Yes.” she said. “Father Patrick! When did you …”
“Dr. Drummond is here to examine you.” A policeman stepped into her field of vision.
“To see the extent of …” the policeman hesitated and drop his voice. “… your violation.”
“My violation!” Lillian pushed herself upright and swung her feet to the floor. “It’s my sense of decency that has been assailed not my person.” She stood. “Where are they?”
“In the jail.” The policeman said. “But you claimed they had interfered with you.”
“No, not me, but they have affronted the laws of God. Take me to them. Let them deny that to my face.” She gently pushed Clara aside and went to the front door.
As they walked back to the police station Lillian barely listened as her uncle spoke to her.
“You’re leaving your parish?” she asked him.
“Yes. I had been summoned to Montreal by the Bishop. He had been … informed of the confusions around your death.”
“Confusions which you were complicit in.” Clara said.
“Yes, well, be what that may. We, he and I, decided it would in the best interests of all if I went to Africa.”
Lillian stopped and laughed aloud. “Africa! You are going to be an African Missionary!”
“It will be blessing for me to carry the word of God where it takes me.” He replied.
“I’ll pray for the souls of those savages.” Lillian said as they went into the police station.
They followed the officers to the cells where Birk and Clancy were being held.
Lillian was startled when Birk jumped to the bars of his cell. “Tell them Miss that we didn’t interfere with you in anyway. Tell them!”
Lillian stepped back. Clearly the constables had misinterpreted her distress.
“I regret if you have been mislead.” She turned to the officers. “They did my person no harm but what I saw will be forever burned into my memory.”
“But you said they were naked.” One of the officers said.
“We were swimming.” Clancy said.
“They were doing more than that. Weren’t you.” She glared at Birk. His face reddened.
“You see.” She gloated. “He knows what they were doing.”
“What?” the officer looked from Lillian to Birk. “You were not interfered with Miss McTavish?”
“We …” Birk showed his scarred hands through the bars.
“We were pissing on his hands.” Clancy said. “To help them toughen up after what happened in the mines.”
“Birk Nelson is the lad that climbed up, ma’am.” another of the officers said. “If it weren’t for him many more might have perished.”
Lillian’s ire rose to hear the young man defended. “A good deed does not wash a soul clean. It may allow for mercy but he, they, must not be given permission by any brave deed to act the way base animals do. They were pleasuring one another.” She shouted. “Behaving the way abominations do.”
“They were …” Clara said.
“Buggery?” Her uncle gasped and blushed. “Forgive me for saying such a thing in your presence Miss O’Dowell.”
“What is he talking about.” Birk looked blankly at Clancy.
“This has gone far enough. You can go the chief constable and make a full statement to clear up this misunderstanding.” The office in charge said. “We’ll leave these boys to contemplate the consequences of their heedless actions.”
Lillian was taken to the chief constable’s office. She was given a hard, armless chair to sit on.
“Sorry, Miss McTavish, but this chair is usually reserved for prisoners. We don’t want them too comfortable for questioning. Now tell me exactly what happened. What was it you think you saw.”
“I was walking along on the trails that lead to Blue Lake. I wanted solicitude to collect my thoughts. Since the death of my husband I have been making plans for my future.” Lillian paused. “I came over a small rise and could see the lake. I saw those animals cavorting. Naked. Touching one another’s privates. Beastial animals.” She shuddered.
“What exactly did you see ma’am? How close were you when you first saw them?” The chief Constable asked.
“I’ve told you what exactly I saw. Are you doubting my word?” Lillian stood. “Their lack of decency is appalling. To think I tried to elevate his mind while they were …”
“Yes, ma’am. But you’ve heard what they have said.”
“They are abominations.” Her uncle shouted. “You have no right to defend what they were doing. You’ve heard what my niece has said. What more do you want from her.”
“Father Patrick,” The chief constable said. “I am doing my duty as an policeman. I have no evidence of what this lady claims to have seen.”
“What more evidence do you need.” Father Patrick said. “They have admitted to being naked in public.”
“That is hardly a crime.” the Constable replied. “They were in a rather deserted area. It was perhaps inconsiderate of them to have removed their under drawers to swim.”
“They weren’t merely swimming.” Lillian said. “I saw with my own eyes. I know what I saw. Something must be done.”
“Yes.” Her uncle said.
“What are you going to do?” she demanded.
“It had already been arraigned that they’ll appear in Sydney tomorrow afternoon before the magistrate for interfering with Miss McTavish. I’ll inform the court that the charges had been changed to something less dire.”
“Less dire! To interfere with a lady is unconscionable but not unexpected of undisciplined young men but what they were doing is unnatural.”
“They should be horsewhipped for behaving as they did in front of a lady.” Clara said.
“If this was in fact an indecent assault in anyway they will be dealt with severely once sentenced.” the Constable said. “But that is not in our hands.”
The next morning Lillian set out directly after breakfast to go to Sydney in hopes of having an opportunity to speak with the magistrate before he sat in session with Birk and Clancy. She had met Magistrate Doucet a few times while with Steven.
She asked after him at the courthouse and was told he usually lunch at the Island Hotel on court days. She found him there.
“Magistrate Doucet,” she stood by his table. “Might I have a word with you?”
“Of course Miss McTavish. Please sit down.” he indicated empty chair on the other side of his table. “If it’s about the two lads I can assure they will be sternly taken to task for this behaviour.”
“I had no doubts about your judgement. You must be aware of what it says in the scriptures about such matter.” She had spent part of the night, with her uncle, going over the sections of the the Bible that spoke of such things. From her purse she took notes she had made of the the appropriate passages. “This is what it says in the good book.” She placed her notes on the table.
“Thank you.” The magistrate nodded without looking at them. “I will take all this account once I have heard what these lads have to say. You must be aware, Miss McTavish they haven’t had the advantages you have had in growing up. The education and opportunities for experiencing the world. They aren’t as … sophisticated as the men you know in Boston.”
“That’s no excuse. Morality has nothing to do with education.”
“It is all learned, Miss McTavish. What I am saying is that it is unfair to judge these men by the standards that you might use judge those with whom you grew up.” He held his hand up to keep her from speaking out. “However if they have broken a law they will faces the consequences. Ignorance of the law is not permitted.”
“Thank you Mr. Doucet.” Lillian stood to go. “I will be in court to testify to what I saw.”
“I will be seeing them in chambers Miss McTavish. If what you allege is true I will not allow such matters to be heard of in public. There is no need to affront any more people than necessary with such unpleasantness. I may seek to question you, say, at … ” he took out his pocket watch and consulted it. “At 3 pm.”
“Yes, I see.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be seen publicly as someone aware of such distasteful knowledge.”
“I understand.” Lillian was disappointed when she left. She was longing to have these men shamed in front of as many people as possible.