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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXI
“What are they accusing us of?” Birk asked though the bars between their cells.
Before Clancy could answer one of the officers came and and took Clancy out of his cell.
“Chief Constable does wan’t you two fancy boys too close to each other.” The constable sniggered as he took Clancy away. “We’re putting you in the infirmary lock up. No one there for you to bother.”
Birk paced his cell. He was as alone as he had ever been. The holding cells stank of urine. There was a bucket with a board over it in one corner for doing that sort of business. The bed was the only thing to sit on in the room. It was barely wide enough for him to lay on, with a hard thin straw mattress that didn’t soften the boards on the bed. No pillow and a thin grey sheet. At least sheet smelled clean.
He took his shoes off and lay on the bed. The wall was covered with various scratching and writing. Dates and names.
“Willie Campbell – lost a hand for his country now jailed in reward.” One of them said.
The ceiling overhead was mottled with mold and cobwebs in the corners. Some of plaster had cracked and fallen in one corner.
The one narrow window was high on the wall and let some light through. This is what he had come to.
The respect he had gotten the days after he crawled up out of the mine wasn’t going to keep him warm tonight. He wondered how it was he’d been so happy one day and now was here in a cell and not even understand why.
Buggery? He’d heard the men say that often enough in the pits. Calling someone an “old fart” “useless bugger” when you wanted to say something worse. But no one ever explained what bugger meant. He’d always thought it had to do with the rats as they were most often called “useless buggers.” When you said that about someone else you were calling them rat.
But the way that priest, Father Patrick, had said it it had to mean more than saying he and Clancy were mine rats. Then the copper calling them “fancy boys” because they weren’t as well dressed as he was. The only way he’d ever heard that before was to make fun of a miner getting too dressed up or not bothering to get dressed up for something. He was never one to put on airs, though Clancy did get a bit too cleaned up at times.
All that washing up at the tubs at Mrs. Franklin’s always seemed to him he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. They certainly weren’t acting like someone they weren’t now. Even at Blue Lake they were doing what they usual did. Horsing around. Expect for that moment when they touched each other’s privates. The moment when Lillian spied them.
Was that what she was going on about? Was that the pleasuring that got her so distraught. Not as if it was the sort of thing any man would think to let a lady do, to touch his little guy. Having her see it was bad enough, but to touch it. That wasn’t right. There had to be something in the scriptures about that. Yet she did see them naked. That she had caused him shame. That was an affront, he knew that even though he hadn’t done it to offend anyone. If he had known she was near he wouldn’t have let that happen.
He signed deeply accepting this was a consequence for his being so thoughtless. He drifted off wondering if he knew Willie Campbell.
In the morning a guard brought him a tray with a mug of tea and some toast and an apple.
“Here.” he pushed the tray though an opening at the bottom of the cell door.
“Thanks. More’n I usually get in the morning.” He sat with the tray on the bed. “What’s going to happen to me next?”
“You and your mate’ll be taken to Sydney, where Magistrate Doucet will see you this afternoon. Usually they don’t take cases that fast but that Miss McTavish got some pull I guess. She sure wants to see you and your mate get what for.”
“I wish I knew what got her so wound up.” Birk ate his toast.
“If’n you ask me she got too much time on her hands and not enough children to keep her occupied. That’s the trouble with some people not enough business of their own so they gets into the business of peoples that they have no business bothering with in the first place. Children is woman’s business.”
“Could be.” Birk finished his breakfast and slid the tray back.
“How’re your hands?” The officer asked as he picked the tray up.
Birk flexed his fingers and look at them.
“How you damage them so much.”
“Climbing up out of the mine that time.”
“Oh! That was you! I was going to offer to piss on em fer ya.” The officer laughed as he left the holding cells.
He returned some time later and unlocked the cell door.
“Time to transport you to Sydney.” He took Birk firmly by the arm and out to a truck in back of the police station. Clancy was already in the back of the enclosed back cab. There was wooden bench across each side of the cab.
“You here!” The officer pushed Birk sitting opposite Clancy.
“Feed you well?” Clancy asked.
“Good enough. You.”
“Yeah. Tea a bit weak but the milk sure was sweet.”
“At’s enough out of you two.” a couple of officers clamber in the back with them.
Birk and Clancy sat in silence as the truck drove to Sydney. The two officers talked non-stop about their families and about how the station had been swamped with out-of-work miners looking for work.
The truck bumped up and down on the road. The road underneath gradually smoothed.
“Comin’ into Sydney lads.” One of the officers said. “The streets may not be paved with gold but they sure are smooth.”
The truck came to a stop and the back door opened. They were lead directly into the back of a large building and up a flight of stairs to the second floor.
The officer opened a door with a frosted glass transom. “Clancy Sinclair, you’ll wait in here” Clancy went into the room. The officer locked it.
“You Birk Nelson, you’ll wait here.” He indicated a bench further along the wall.
Birk sat and had to plant his feet firmly to keep from sliding off the slippery bench. He lost track of time till a near by church rang for noon.
The door opened and Clancy stepped out and was taken away by an officer before Birk could make eye contact with him.
“Birk Nelson, You can go in now.” The other officer nodded to Birk.
There was no one in the room. There was desk with a chair, then a window behind it. The barred window overlooked the area behind the building. The only chair in the room was behind the desk.
There were some book shelves along one wall and pictures of Queen Victoria and another of George V. A door between the bookshelf and the window opened into another room. Birk wasn’t sure where to sit.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Magistrate Doucet came in from the side door. “You are young Mr. Nelson. Mac’s son?”
“Yes.” Birk stood holding his hands behind his back.
“I know your father. He worked with my uncle for many years. Jean Doucet.”
“T’Jean?” Birk smiled. “Yes. He’d play fiddle whenever we needed one.”
“Yes, that’s him. I understand you are the young man who did the dangerous climb out of the pits.”
“Yes.” Birk blushed. “I only did what anyone would have if he had to.”
“Modesty. A nice trait in a man.”
“Modesty?” Birk asked.
“Not one to brag.”
“I see. I suppose that’s me alright.”
“But we were none too modest yesterday. Letting your naked self in the air for all to see.”
Birk was trying to make the connection between not bragging and being seen naked.
“You don’t deny that do you?”
“No. No. We had been fishing at Blue Lake.”
“Yes. Yes. I have the story pretty clear in my head Birk. You strike me as being a good lad.”
“Thank you sir. I try.”
“How much schoolin’ have you had.”
“Some. I left at twelve to work the mines. So not much since then. Though Miss Lillian did help us some.”
“Miss Lillian? Then you knew here before the trouble at Blue Lake?”
“Yes sir. She had come to the Mudside to help teach those that had no school to go to. She’d visited my sister and I’d sit in too to make my writing and reading better.”
“Interesting. I didn’t know this. Did you have affections for her?”
“She was pleasant enough, Sir.”
“You weren’t interested in her? As a wife perhaps”
“Never. Not a bit of it. She was a proper Catholic gal with a priest uncle. My mother would never allow that sort of thing. No, I wasn’t keen on it. Never was.”
“Was she interested in you? Beyond teaching you?”
“Can’t say as I know. She did ask what hopes I had of getting married some day but I don’t see any sense it it.”
“Birk in my business I hav etc be a good judge of character and strike me as being a good sort of young man.” The magistrate leaned back in his chair.
“Thank you, sir.” He shifted from foot to foot.
“One way to do that is to keep your pants on when you’re out and about.” The magistrate laughed. “You never know when some gal with get the wrong idea about you.”
“You can go.” The magistrate stood and went to open the door to the hall.
“Sir, can I ask you a question?”
“Father Patrick said something about buggery? I heard that used around in the mines, but what does it mean?”
“Birk, my boy,” The magistrate patted Birk on the shoulder. “That is something you don’t need to know. I’ll say that it is a vile degrading business that no decent folks, let alone a man of the cloth, should know anything about. Don’t concern yourself with it. I have met those that have indulged in that sordid filth and you aren’t of their ilk. Not a bit.”
He walked Birk down to the street.
“You can get yourself home I trust?” The magistrate shook Birk’s hand.
“This the end of it?” Birk asked.
“Oh, yes.” The Magistrate said. “The young lady clearly is a touch hysterical after the death of her husband.”