Don Messer’s Jubilee

 

It all started with someone posting a link to a video of Fred McKenna playing some songs. What he was playing was not that interesting but it opened up a memories of my Sydney childhood in Cape Breton. When my father relocated us in Sydney it was a one TV channel town (almost as bad as a one horse town) and that channel was CJCB – which is still on the air but is now part of CTV.

 

CJCB was essentially community TV with some shows imported from Halifax. One of which was Don Messer’s Jubilee out of Halifax. Jubilee  (click Jubilee for link to video). To be honest I hated this show. I wanted real music i.e. radio top ten stuff. I don’t even recall if my parents enjoy the show but the minute it came on I dismayed. I must have watched it though because I remember the names of the singers – Marg Osburne & Charlie Chamberlain – who looked like a pair geriatrics. She was in her mid-30’s, he was in his 60’s. Fred McKenna was a frequent guest.

I also remember the Bupta Dancer who, thanks to Wikipedia, I now know were the Buchta Dancers – they did square dance crap. It was decades before I could tolerate the sound of country fiddle. But hearing Fred McKenna made me consider how this music influenced me, if at all. I did find one collection iTunes & downloaded all 32 minutes of it. Sweet but with almost no emotional resonance. The show’s intro music “Goin’ to the Barndance Tonight” isn’t included 😦

Part of why Jubilee didn’t impress me was that none of the singers or dancers had a shred of sex appeal. Black & white TV didn’t help much. Bulky boxy conservative clothes made the square dancers & singers seem even more square. The show lacked glamour or sparkle. I have vague memories of watching Liberace with my mother & being impressed by his glittery style. Jubilee had no visual style.

The music is pleasant, folky, sometimes Celtic with strong fiddle playing by Don Messer. The songs are uncomplicated folk, sea shanty & religious. Only one of the ones I’ve downloaded has much of an emotional resonance for me ‘Farewell To Nova Scotia.’ A farewell I’ve never regretted.

See Me?

people think they know me

they see me in my writing

they don’t see fiction

the fact that each confessed event

is reality 

my reality

one that they can identify with 

as my actually experience

in fact the closer I capture 

something of their emotional life 

the more they are sure

I have to have experienced it

they don’t want to believe

that each piece is a mask

not a piece of me

they see my photos 

read bits of life that I process for display

and add it up into picture of me

they approach me with that 

ah-ha

I see by your web page 

that you are …

 

they don’t realize I am 

as big a liar as they are

I may not talk in internet inches

but I don’t reveal anything out of turn either

that would be too painful 

so like so many other’s 

I adopt a mask of playful indifference

ironic poses to amuse

what they don’t see 

I’m not going to hint it

 

trust me

no one has the entire picture

many don’t even have a glimpse

not that have hidden depth

there may be surprises

tucked away in many closets

I don’t see that something to confess

shoes shirts all get displayed

and even those things 

that I explain aren’t me

the endless lists of almost lovers

sweet boyhood sexual discoveries

the bitter relationship breakups

all those fictions 

I can make so real 

are things that happen to people

but not always to me

I’m too shallow for most of that 

safe in that distance

the pose that many writers seems to strike

knowing full well

that no one questions it

the fiction

is seen as a valid side of the writer

even if I deny the experience

it must be a part of who I am

of who you perceive me to be

the need to wear this disguise

reveals who I am

 

the mask one selects 

is a reflection of the person

Romeo Harlequin Godzilla

one after the other put on 

taken off

my face the mirror of yours

so what you see as me

isn’t me at all

but the you I squeeze into 

when I sit down at the keyboard

to see though what I think is your mask

losing sense of self to that image

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every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
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Nine Lives

Nine Lives

O when I was nine

I was still a child

there was no instant communication

news travelled slow

on the radio   TV news   newspapers

delay that provided an innocence

I knew about war

because my Dad had fought in one

he was a man

my mother was a woman

I was a boy child

who only knew what the culture 

of the time

reported of my gender 

 

O when I was nine

I wasn’t aware of so much

I did know I wasn’t like other boys

I played backlot-baseball

I played with dolls

I  wasn’t the son my dad expected

I didn’t like to fight

like other boys

I never understood 

why physical violence was required

to be accepted

 

O when I was nine

I had indulged in sex play

with boys and girls

looking at the differences

anatomy I didn’t understand

the boys where more interesting

I didn’t come out

but I knew shame

when we were caught

I had fear

but no closet

sex was dirty regardless

of gender

 

O when I was nine

I don’t know I was swimming

that I was making waves

as I dog-paddled from nine to nineteen

by that time I knew

these were dangerous waters

 

O at nine there was only

the fear of getting caught

not the fear

of my culture drowning me

like an unwanted litter of kittens

that were denied their nine lives


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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLVI – Lillian Gets A Proposal

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to  paypal.me/TOpoet

Coal Dusters

Chapter XLVI

Lillian Gets A Proposal

After an afternoon of giving lessons to the miner’s children Lillian let herself in though the back of the O’Dowell’s house. The house was very different from the parish manse. Two-and-half stories it was always warm and well-lit, not the dark and damp cool she found her uncle’s place. She hung her coat in the back porch and went directly to the kitchen.

“Anything need doing, Aileen?” she asked.

“Not a thing Miss McTavish.” She sniffed at Lillian. “But you better change out of them clothes before we sit to supper.”

“They were clean this morning.” Lillian hated this sly disparagement of the mudders. It was one of the ways in which Aileen showed her disapproval of Lillian’s working with the miner’s children.

“Whatever you say, Miss.”

Lillian went up the backstairs to her small room at the rear of the second floor. This stairway let her avoid passing the living room where Clara spent most of the day when she wasn’t out with, or in entertaining, one of her various ladies societies. Lillian had joined ‘Ladies Sewing For Orphans Guild’ and ‘The Young Women For Temperance.’

Her room overlooked the garden. Once she removed her blouse, she sat on the chair at the foot of her bed that looked out over the yard. She could smell the lilacs. Since leaving her uncle’s house she had kept as busy as possible so as not to dwell on what had happened. 

The bruises on her back and legs were fading but were still visible. Dr. Drummond has assured her there would be no scarring. He had checked with the Regional Registry and had found no record of her death. He felt certain that Steven’s government connections could help her but she wanted to wait until she had a cleared plan of action.

She poured some cool water from the ewer into its bowl. It was a luxury to do something so simple. She wiped her face with a cloth dampened with the water and a dash of rosewater. Her hands were still rough and she didn’t foresee them improving quckly.

To be less of burden to the O’Dowell’s she had made herself useful around their house, helping with the wash, in the kitchen and particularly in the garden which had been neglected for many years. Much to her, and Clara’s surprise, there were hardy patches of sage and lavender. It had been too late in the season to plant vegetables but she had found an area where tomatoes had been reseeding themselves over the years.

The bell for dinner tinkled. She wiped the dust off her shoes with her damp cloth and put on a fresh blouse. As long at Steven was still on the mainland they would have a sedate supper.

Walking softly down the main stairway she strained to hear who, if anyone, was at the dinner table. The only sound was of cutlery, as food was being served. She sat at her place at the table.

“Good evening Clara.”

“You’ll say grace, my dear, and we can begin.”

“God, for food and health and the end of the strike, please receive our gratitude and praise.” Lillian looked up to make sure Clara had found this suitable to the occasion. She had been called upon to say grace a few times and was always at loss for words.

“Quite right Lillian. Quite right.”

They ate in silence till desserts was brought out.

“These are your pies, are they not?” Clara asked.

“Yes Clara. The rhubarb and strawberries are from your own garden.”

“Lillian, it’s time we discussed your situation.”

Lillian put her fork down as gently as she could. “Of course.”

“As much as we’re happy to offer you our hospitality it can’t go on indefinitely.”

“I understand that.”

“We have no need of addition domestic help in the house and you are too refined to be contented with that type of position.”

“Under the circumstance I find myself in I’m content to be occupied in useful ways. Teaching the children is more rewarding than I expected.”

“I’m glad to hear you are aware of these things. I have spoken with Sister Claire from St. Margaret’s Covent.”

“Ahh.” Lillian’s heart sank.

“She agrees with me that you would be a fine teacher. She’s heard about you tutoring the miners and the children. She also admires your tenacity in being useful without … being resentful toward them.”

“They aren’t responsible for the position I’ve found myself in, that’s …”

“We’ll say nothing of the good Father. Having you out of his house is a wise thing regardless. We knew who you were, of course, but still it was troublesome to many have a young woman under the same roof as him, even a close relative. Unseemly in fact, especially when the particulars of your being here were revealed to us.”

“You know about …. ” Lillian wondered how many others of the village knew of her past.

“Yes. I knew that before I invited you to reside with us. I understand how these things can happen in a city as large as Boston. But understanding doesn’t mean I approve.”

She stopped talking when Aileen came in to clear the table.

“Aileen, we’ll take tea on the front veranda. Might as well use it while the weather allows.”

Lillian went into the kitchen with Aileen and brought the tea tray out to the front veranda. Miss O’Dowell was leaning against the rail and looking out over the street.

“Father wanted a house with lovely views everywhere.”

“He certainly managed to do that.” Lillian set the tea service on a table between two wicker chairs.

“He was always pushing us to do what was right even if it didn’t feel the most convenient thing to do at the time. I always resented that as a child.” she sat and poured herself a cup of tea. “I thought he meant sacrificing what I wanted to do for something I didn’t want to do at the time.” She motioned for Lillian to sit.

“Clara events have been moving too fast for me to stop long enough to tell what is right or what is best. All I want is to get my life under my own control. Not someone else’s. I want to be able to make my own decisions. A decision not based on what would be best for the reputation of my family.”

“I realize that Lillian. But here, as with your uncle there is still the question of propriety. An unmarried young women living under the roof of an unmarried man.”

“You are suggesting I get married?” Lillian put her teacup down. “To …”

“Dr. Drummond.”

“Dr. Drummond!” Lillian had been hoping the suggestion would be Steven. “But … he’s Presbyterian.” 

She had visited the Doctor’s home where what he called what was his clinic, was in the front parlour of the house. The miner’s homes were cramped and untidy enough but to live in one that also smell of medicines was more that knew she could bare.

“I have seen the way he looks at you Lillian.” Clara said.”You could be of great help in his life. Sometimes we all to have make sacrifices for to better servers those around us.”

“Such as you have made?” Lillian stood. “I’m sorry Clara, I didn’t mean to sound so … ungrateful. I will give this some consideration.”

 

Lillian was awoken in the morning by shouting from the living room. She recognized Steven O’Dowell’s voice. He must have arrived home sometime during the night. She couldn’t make out what was being said but there was anger in his voice.

She sat up in the bed straining to pick out the words but she couldn’t. She put on her silk house coat and tip-toed to the bedroom door, opened it a crack and put her ear to it.

“I will run for the office if I so choose.” It was Steven.

“Not if I don’t sign those cheques you won’t. You know what papa said about politicians. That they look after their interests first.”

“He’s been dead too long now to have a valid opinion Clara and you will let me have the trust fund money or …”

“Or what!”

Over the few weeks Lillian had been at the O’Dowell home she had been told directly or over-heard things that filled in some of the family situation. When their father had died he left the estate in trust with Clara as the sole authority to disburse funds for her or Steven’s use. As much as she found Steven difficult she understood his chafing under the control of his family. 

She sat at her vanity and shook her hair loose from the cloths she used to hold in during the night. After brushing it she began to plait into a braided bun to pin it up out of her way for the day. 

She wondered how she could free herself from her family. They had severed all ties as far as he could tell. As Clara had pointed out she was stranded here with nothing to fall back on. She had little money of her own. Few possession outside of what was her trunk. There was no way to make much use of them.

She went over to the trunk and opened it up. She shook her head at the girl who had packed these things a few short months ago. Where did she think she was going wear any of these dresses? How could her mother have let her pack these useless items. Not even a useful pair of shoes. Her uncle was right when he dismissed her clothing as pointless finery.

Still wrapped careful in tissue was the beaded bag she had been given for her last birthday. She’d had a birthday since but by then her life had been torn away from her by a family that was determined that her dreams weren’t going to come true. It was a life she had lost. 

Yes that birthday had been magical. To make up for coming between her and David Henderson it had been extra lavish. A new dress with a sparkly beaded belt that matched her dainty shoes and this little bag. Its thin silver chain allowed to dangle so delicately on her wrist. Not designed to hold much more than a handkerchief she was so proud and pleased with it she couldn’t keep her eyes off it as she was whisked around the dance floor as it dangling and reflected in the light. 

She had been so eager and excited for that party. Now here she was with no future and a past that was no longer hers at all. She slipped the bag over her wrist. It didn’t look as if it could belong to someone with such rough hands. Anguished she pulled it off hoping to break the chain.

Squeezing it in her hand she felt something paper crumple inside it. Had she slipped some little love note in it, a list of of the men who filled her dance card. She opened it. It was money!

She pulled out what had been folded to fit in the bag. She opened it up and it two war bonds valued at $200.00 each dawn on the Exchange Bank of Boston.  How had they gotten there? What could she do with them here and now? Would any bank be able to cash them for her? Or were they only of value in Boston?

She pulled photo album from the bottom of the trunk to put the bonds into until she could decide what to do with them. As she opened the album newspaper clippings of her birthday gala fell out. Several of them included the portrait her father had done by Fairway Photographers. In the photo her hair had been pulled back to show off her forehead. There was her name under each ‘Miss Lillian McTavish celebrates her birthday and her beauty at the Fairmount Hotel.’ If she needed proof of who she was they certainly would do the trick.

A knock at her door broke her revere.

“Lillian are you awake?”

“Yes Aileen. I’ll be down in a moment.”

She folded the bonds put them in the back of the album. Perhaps the bonds had been gift from her Godfather Jackson Burns who was on the board of directors at the Exchange Bank.

She took the back stairs down to the kitchen. She didn’t want to be drawn too quickly into whatever discussion Clara and Steven were having. She needed time to think. This changed so many things. Why hadn’t she found that money sooner! She wouldn’t have wasted so much time with those miners or her misguided plan to teach her uncle a lesson by marrying any of those unwashed coal blackened men.

She went into the dining no longer feeling that she had to behave subservient to anyone. She regretted putting her beautiful hair up in such a tight bun. How she would love to toss her head, her hair in distain at these people. 

“Good morning, Clara.” She sat at table before Steven could offer to pull a chair out for her. “Steven how are things in Halifax? I hear there maybe a by-election soon.”

“Yes. Alf Landon is stepping down. After dealing with those communist miners he was disheartened and disillusioned by their total lack of gratitude.”

“He thought they could be happy if they were to be forced back to work?” Lillian laughed lightly.

“They should be grateful they might get their jobs back at all.”

“Enough.” Clara tapped her tea cup with her spoon to get their attention. “There will be no further discussion of politics at this table. Not at breakfast.”

“Yes Clara.” Steven reached for the teapot and gave Lillian a sheepish glance. His hand missed the handle of the teapot and tipped it over.

“See!” Clara glared at him, “too hungover to pour a cup of tea, let alone run for office. Aileen!”

“Yes, Miss Clara,” Aileen came into the dining room wiping her hands on her apron.

“There’s been a little accident. We’ll be wanting a fresh pot of tea.”

Aileen picked up the pot and patted at the spilled tea with a dishcloth. “Sure hope it doesn’t stain that good table cloth. I put it on fresh this morning.”

Lillian found it difficult to refrain her laugher. “Here, Aileen, let me help you with that.” She took the teapot and went quickly into the kitchen. How was she going to get out of this house? How?

Aileen came into the kitchen with the rest of the breakfast china on a tray, “They won’t be wanting a fresh pot after all Miss Lillian.”

“Right. I’ll get that table cloth and see if we can keep it from staining too much. Get me the baking soda.”

“Oh miss you are a good’un. I’d never have thought of that.”

Lillian peeked into the dining room to make sure it was empty. No one was there. She rolled up the table cloth and brought to the wash tub at the back of the kitchen. She wet the damp area and sprinkled some of the baking soda on it and left it to set without rinsing it. She turned around and Steven was standing at the door.

“Oh! Mr. O’Dowell!”

“I didn’t mean to startle you Lillian. There’ something I’ve been meaning to ask you. I’ve enjoyed our brief walks and seeing how well you manage to be helpful round and how you handle yourself and also how my sister is disposed towards you I was …”

“Yes, Mr. O’Dowell?” Lillian took her kerchief off and loosened hair.

He took both her hands to pull her toward him.

“Steven!” she pulled away form him.

“I … Will you marry me?”

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A Little Sad

The past week has been both productive and at the the same time – plodding. I’ve been feeling a little sad, or is it depressed, & was not sure why. The weather is a factor – as much as I like layering I’m officially over it. The time it takes to get ready to go any where makes wanting to go any where a matter perseverance rather than of pleasure.

I’m tired of negotiating slippery, unshovelled, stretches of icy sidewalks – of spending energy trying not to fall as opposed to on what to take pictures of. Freezing my hands to use my camera had no appeal. The best part of my walks has been sending cell pics to some of the guys I see – it’s almost like having them on the walk with me.

 

Another thing that is lowering my spirits is my decision not to go to Capturing Fire this year. This is mainly financial as I need new glasses, plus I’ve already booked my visit to Cape Breton. When I booked the Cape Breton I thought it would be easy to skip Fire but it isn’t. Though, if 649 or Lotto Max pay off soon enough I’ll go.

 

I’m into the last section of Coal Dusters (only another 50,000 words to go) & I’ve been enjoying revisiting & reinvesting in these characters, I don’t really want to say goodbye to them. Though getting on to Picture Perfect will be great fun. I don’t mind feeling a little low though – it’s like the the ache of the earth as frost leaves.

Turning The News Off

I’ve lost track of what the truth is

there is one side and the other

there are the facts 

and then there is how they are 

in translation

in context

in spin

I want to confront someone

anyone

on the state of things

but no one is responsible

no one is accountable

except the receptionist

of the spokesperson

speaking on behalf of the unnamed source

 

too many people to punch 

not that I want to punch

I only want to know

what the in the hell is going on

global warming

war in (you fill in the blank)

no, it’s not a war 

it’s peace keeping

it’s rebuilding a fragile ecosystem 

with guns

with oil pipe lines

 

I want know who to believe

to have something to believe in

is the truth relevant to survival

does it matter if I find out

who killed Kennedy

as long as the buses run on time

though time is fleeting

& no one tells the right time anymore

it’s so 

no one wants to be wrong

I don’t know what right is anymore

 

which pile of bs do we attack first

besides it isn’t bs

it’s the grease that keeps the wheels turning

it’s fertilizer

so accept the stench 

& get on with what ever 

you where doing

it’s none of your business anyways

even if it’s your life

in your back yard

you may have the right to remain silent

but that seems to only 

when you know the truth

while there is no one to tell it to 

no one can change conditions

fast enough clean things up

 

you don’t understand

that may be what I said

but that isn’t want I meant

you are taking it the wrong way

twisting it to suit your view point

which is unfair

besides it is none of your business

even though 

you are the ones to pay for it 

in the long run

with your tax dollars

to figure out who did what

costs more to reveal a truth

than the damage 

the lie may or may not have caused 

if it was a lie

if it was collusion behind closed doors

it was for your benefit

so why not stop worrying

get on with your little life

leave the important stuff

to people you can’t control

who all know better than you

who can afford the price of the truth

who are free of integrity

in fact be grateful you are in the dark

it is safe there trust me

the truth isn’t relevant anymore

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http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLV – Birk Gets Questioned

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to  paypal.me/TOpoet

Coal Dusters – Chapter XLV

Birk 

Gets 

Questioned

Birk was taking clothes off the line to bring in the laundry for his mother when Maddy came running out to the back,

“There’s officers here for you Birk Nelson.” she shouted.

“Officers?” Birk stopped folding the sheet he had just taken off the line.

“Yes. You better come quick. They are asking for Birk Nelson. You must be in big trouble.” She began to cry. “I’m scared.”

“Don’t be.” He said. “I’m a big boy I can look out for myself.”

He followed her through the kitchen and to the front door. There were two of Colonel Strickland’s officers standing there. One was laughing and chatting with Karen Dunlop from across the lane. When the two of them saw Birk their faces became much sterner.

“Birk Nelson.” one of them said.

“Yes.”

“Colonel Strickland would like to a have word with you. Come with us.”

Since the ambush Strickland had been investigating the supposed shooting murder of one of the scabs. Word had already spread that, in fact, the worker had not been shot but was scared and fainted. Birk knew that neither he nor Clancy had been armed. He hadn’t seen the other strikers carry guns. Unless there was one in the crate that had held the kerosene fire bombs. Several of the strikers had been brought in for questioning.

As the they marched with him between them Birk nodded and waved to his neighbours. Clancy was at the corner.

“So they finally caught you.” Clancy said. “Like they finally caught me.” 

“No talking to the prisoner.” one of the soldiers warned Clancy away with his rifle.

“He’ll have a much to say as any one us.” Clancy laughed and winked at Birk. “They’ll have to arrest every man in Castleton.”

The solider kept Birk moving.

“See you at the colliery gate.” Clancy said as they passed by him.

“Right.” 

They took him to Mrs. Franklin’s Inn. Colonel Strickland had commandeered the house for military use rather than travel back and forth from the barracks in Sydney. 

There were posters for the upcoming election, some with Steven O’Dowell’s picture on them and others with David Preston’s picture on them. When they took him into the house one of the soldiers knocked at the parlour door.

“Bring Mr. Nelson in.” A voice responded.

The other soldier opened the door and motioned for Birk to enter.

Furniture in the parole had been pushed to the walls to make a clear space in the middle of the room. There was a sort of desk at one end with kitchen chairs in front and in back of it. Colonel Strickland was sitting in the chair behind the desk.

“Sit.” Strickland pointed to the other kitchen chair. “Forgive appearances. I would rather a real desk than this …. I think it was once a side table?”

Birk sat.

“Mr. Nelson. Birk, isn’t it? Odd sort of name, isn’t it?”

“Can’t say. I’ve had it all my life, I’m used to it.”

“Right. I’ve heard a fair bit about you these past few days. I know you were one of the men involved in that shooting the other night. Accessory to murder is what you are. You realize that don’t you. You can be put behind bars for life.”

“Won’t be any worse than being underground digging coal to make other men rich.”

“Folks tell me you are a decent man though. Prison is no place for decent men. If you help me find the others involved I could make things easy for you. We need to know who made those incendiary bombs. As well as who pulled the trigger.”

“I wasn’t there.” Birk kept his focus on the wall then looked Colonel Strickland directly  in the eyes. “Your informant is wrong.”

“Informant!” The Colonel stood. “What makes you think we have an informant?”

“None of the men around here would tell such tale unless it was to mislead you.”

“Mr. Nelson, we aren’t that easily mislead. Several miners saw you go off with the group of .… insurrectionist. All I need is the names of who they were. One of them was your friend  Clancy Sinclair.”

“He wasn’t …”

“Wasn’t what?” The Colonel came from behind the desk and stood facing Birk. “From around here?”

“That’s no news to anyone.”

“You know if you cooperate I can help get you enlisted with the service, you know. We are always looking for strong young men like yourself. Good pay, a steady job, fresh air, maybe learn a skill more useful than digging in the dirt.”

“And make war on my neighbours?”

“I can get you a posting somewhere else.”

“I got nothing I can tell you. I was there when the scabs was brought to the gate. We were all there. I had no part in anything else that went on.”

“Of course. Of course. I didn’t expect anyone to tell the truth. You all cover up for each other. Even the Catholic men have no idea who it was that tried to delay the convoy.”

Birk stood. “I’m free to go?”

“Not so fast.”

Eye-to-eye with Strickland Birk saw that they were almost the same height.

“I want to you know that I know who was involved but without collaboration we may have to charge the union itself with inciting you men into criminal actions.”

“Send us all to prison!” Birk was puzzled. He wasn’t sure he understood just what Colonel Strickland actually knew or even thought he knew. But he knew the less he said the better off he would be.

“That isn’t in my hands.” Strickland said. “Help me and I can make less trouble, resist and things will get worse.”

“Children are dying Colonel Strickland. I don’t see as how you could make things anywise than that.”

“Think it over Mr. Nelson. You miners are on the losing side. It isn’t too late for you to change your lot in life.”

There was no one in the hall when Birk left the parlour. There were no militia when he walked down to the street. Was taking him there with guards all just show to impress the miners? As he glanced back to make sure he wasn’t being watched he saw that the O’Dowell posters had moustaches drawn over the moustache that was already there.

 

It was nearing the end of his shift at the colliery gate with Clancy. They were as close as they were allowed be after the court had granted an injunction prohibiting the strikers of interfering with the emergency relief workers. Some days the only people Birk and Clancy saw where the militia guards and their union representative.

“What we need is a trap for some of them deer over by Blue Lake.” Clancy said.

“Easier with a shotgun.” Birk laughed.

After the ambush incident most of the Mudder families had been questioned, their houses searched for unwarranted supplies of kerosene. Some had had their firearms confiscated. 

“You know what would happen if either of us was caught with a rifle. You trying to get us both arrested? We could dig a pit.” Clancy said. “You could dig while I practice raking the dirt away.”

“With a sign to warn off any one else out in forest.”

“Deer can’t read. You have any better ideas. Rabbit is fine when we can get a couple.”

“Duck flying soon.” Birk said.

“How we goin’ to catch them? Lasso? Sticks and stones as they fly over head?”

They been over these ways of getting game many times.

“We could catch them in jars.” Clancy said. “If’n there are any left.”

“I didn’t think those soldiers, or whatever you want to call them, could act any stupider. You saw how that Strickland acted when saw all those jars Ma had been saving up for preserves.”

“He sure learned a respect for the wooden spoon fast enough.” Clancy laughed.

“I did I tell you when he got me for questioning he offered me to join up.”

“Me too! Asked if I could help on the sly because I wasn’t a local and had no family loyalties around here.”

“You turn him down?”

“Of course. You turn him down?”

“What do you think! I couldn’t stand guard over m’own here. That’s what I told him. He said I could do my service somewheres else. Told him wasn’t fixing to leave my folks and get shot up in some war any time soon.”

“No war coming soon other this one.” Jim McKlusky arrived. “Time for us take over for a spell.”

“Much going on?” Tommy Driscoll asked. 

“A couple of them inside asked if we had tobacco and papers for them.” Clancy said. “When I said no, they asked if wanted to sig up because they had an endless supply thanks to His Majesty.”

“Buggers.” McKlusky spit on the road. “They been trying to get us all to sign up. Army pays regular, one of ‘em told me.”

“Me too,” Driscoll nodded. “Was tempted but because I’m smarter than them I couldn’t see myself taking orders from them.”

“They don’t know the difference between a huntin’ rifle and a shotgun.” McKlusky said. “And better learn to keep their hands off the women or some of them will be found with their under-drawers around their necks.”

“You votin’ for Steven O’Dowell’s running for election.” Clancy asked as they walked back to Birk’s house.

“For a mick he talks some sense. After all it is time for a change. A big change. Armstrong’ll never talk back to BritCan. We need someone who will.”

“Going to his rally tonight?”

“I hear there’ll there’ll be food.“ Birk said.

“Best way to a voters heart, right.”

“All the candidates have been doing that but …”

“The O’Dowell’s have better biscuits, right?”

“Right.”

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Chapter XLIV – Lillian Sets Her Sights Anew

Coal Dusters – Chapter XLIV

Lillian 

Sets Her Sights 

Anew

Lillian considered her options as she walked toward the O’Dowell’s house. Since her unexpected arrival there she had only seen Steven O’Dowell in passing. Her previous encounters with him had made shy away from unnecessary contact with him. One thing she had learned from her father was sometimes a man’s faults were worth overlooking for his uses. 

“Good evening Miss McTavish.” It was Steven O’Dowell. “You lost in another world?”

“Not exactly Mr. O’Dowell. I’ve just returned from Castelton to pay my condolences to the Nelsons. One of their children passed away. It’s a hard life for them. For all the miners. Even the Catholic families have lost children over the past month.”

“I’ve told you many times to call me Steven.” He offered her his arm.

Since she had come to reside at the O’Dowell’s house his actions towards her had changed. Even when they had been together for meals he’d been much more circumspect, as if his sister were always present with them. Of course she still found his Bay Rum to be pungent to the point where she couldn’t wait to escape it and get to her room.

She wasn’t sure how to start but this was too good an opportunity to let slip. Out in the open air his cologne wasn’t so overwhelming.

“Not too long ago you mentioned a Mr. James Dunham?” She hadn’t forgotten how he had caught her off guard with his knowledge of what had happened to her in Boston. Or at least of knowledge he implied he had. 

“I regret those remarks, Miss McTavish. James Dunham proved to be most untrustworthy in his business dealings. Quite distasteful in fact.”

“By business dealing you mean gambling?”

Lillian wanted to laugh at his discomfort. She recognized in Steven the same recklessness her older brother had when it came to quick money.

“I know we got off on the wrong foot. Henceforth I intend to be as honest as I can with you. So, yes it was a gambling debt he owed me.”

“Thank you, Mr O’Dowell. But your vices are of no concern to me.”

“I gather from Clara that you had been instructing some of the Mudder brats.” 

“Yes. They don’t have the benefits of the good Sisters that our children are so lucky to have. If we want to lead them out of their ways they need to be taught.”

“Lead them!” He gave a half-laugh. “You think of yourself as a missionary.”

“Quite right. If we can make socks for the children of Africa, who as far as we know have no religion at all, or even a need for socks, in hopes of leading them to salvation why shouldn’t we do it here, when there are children right under our noses who need those socks badly.” She a bit taken aback at the vehemence of her own words.

“Well said. Clara was right that there was more to you than good pies and tidy needlepoint.”

Lillian didn’t trust his aspect of Steven. She instinctively knew the face he had shown her the first few times they had met was a true one. He had the quick mind and language of a politician. The sort, her father taught her, who would find what it took to appear he was being honest, when in fact he was waiting merely to get what he wanted. Whether that was your vote, your money or … she shuddered to think of giving her heart to him.

“Thank you, Mr. O’Dowell. Do you think there’ll be a break soon in this dead-lock between the miners and the BritCanada Coal Company?”

“No. The BritCanada Coal Company’s agent Gerald Foxing won’t even talk with the minister of labour. As far as they’re concerned there is nothing to discuss. Either miners accept their terms or find work elsewhere. Why, he even refused to discuss matters with the Federal Minster of Labour. Told the Prime Minister’s office, that as far as he was concerned the miners weren’t as bad off as they claimed. It was all a play for public sympathy. Something those Bolshevist agitators have conspired to do in their plot to take down the nation.”

“Take down the nation? These men? These people?”

“Sounds ludicrous but when Foxing wants to shut the government up that’s all he has to say. That and his bottom line.”

“Is there a solution?”

“Not one that’ll undo the damage done, I’m afraid. These miners don’t trust the government or even their union anymore. Can’t say as I blame them. Change is in the air though. Elections coming up. I’m pretty sure Armstrong won’t get back in.”

Lillian wasn’t interested in the political situation. As much as she had pity for the miners she only wanted to find some way to get herself out of where she was, off this God-forsaken island and back to civilization. If listening to his platter would help then she’d do it. 

“Thank you for walking with me Mr. O’Dowell.” They had come to the front walk of the O’Dowell home. “Thank you, also for taking me in when you did.”

“I am grateful that I have a way to atone to you for my ungentlemanly behaviour when we first met Miss McTavish. I know now that I was mistaken about the nature of your character. Even if what James Dunham said was true he was sorely mistaken about you.” He opened the door for her and followed her in.

“Thank you again Mr. O’Dowell.” She went into the house and up to her room. As much as she had been resisting it, she was being to feel at home in Castleton. The local’s had never failed to extend a hand of welcome to her, even though it was not always returned. She hadn’t expected to forge any bonds with with anyone while she was here because she wanted to believe she was only here temporarily. 

If she could find a way to leave she would without a moment of regret. She couldn’t think of a soul she would miss or who she expected would miss her either.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Other than her hands she had maintained her looks. She had wasted her attentions on Birk Nelson, perhaps she was better off trying for a man whom she knew found her attractive and was not so bound up in his mother’s apron strings to act on his feelings. Steven had just made no secret of that he still found her attractive, he had been quite gentlemanly when apologized for expressing his interest.

He wasn’t unattractive and his glad-hand manners weren’t that disagreeable. Her mother had told her that everyman needs a woman to make man out of him. Steven certainly had potential and what he father might call ‘good prospects.’

She loosened her hair and let it down. The evening sun behind her turned it into a small blaze in the mirror. It was slightly snarled from being coiled in a braid for the day. She rarely wore it down outside of her room. She brushed it slowly. The curl would need a hot iron to flatten out but the curl suited her. She put a small dab of rosewater pomade in her hands and with her fingers brushed it through the curls. She shook it out. The pale green shawl would be ideal.

She washed her hands, put the shawl around her shoulders and made sure her hair lay on it perfectly. She went down to the living-room. Steven and Clara were sitting opposite each other deep in a conversation which ended when she came into the room.

“Lillian!” Clara smiled. “Your hair! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in it’s full glory.”

“When I was at St.Agatha’s I’ve always found it best to keep it covered when I was working in the kitchen or the garden or out of the house.” she glanced at Steven to see his reaction.

“A shame to hide it.” Steven’s eyes shone with appreciation.

“Thank you.” Why had she ever considered marrying one of the miners? That would only have discomforted her uncle for a short time but leave her anchored here in this miserable place forever. Steven travelled to Halifax, sometimes to Montreal and even to Boston. 

“You’ve spend a pleasant day Lillian?” Clara asked.

“In some ways. One of the miner’s children I’ve been teaching died.”

“It’s always sad when a child dies.” Clara shook her head.

“Yes. Sadder is how accustomed to such death the families have become.” Lillian let her head droop a little so her hair would fall off her shoulders. Pushing it back as she straighten up. “I don’t think I could ever bear to lose a child.” 

She caught Steven’s eye and held it for a moment, then looked away as if shy. Her heart was racing.

“Hopefully you never will.” Clara stood and stepped between them.

Lillian stood and went to the door of the living room. She quickly coiled her hair, took a couple of hair pins out her pocket and pinned it up. “I’ll go and see if Aileen needs any help in the kitchen.”

She went part way down the passage to the kitchen and leaned against the wall. Her spirits soared. She was sure now that she had found the solution to everything.

Steven came into the foyer. He saw her leaning against the wall.

“Miss McTavish!”

“Oh, Mr O’Dowell!” She leaned into his shoulder crying. “It has been a most difficult day. Most difficult. I don’t think I could have faced these past few weeks without the kindness you and your sister have shown me.”

The first thing she would do is have him stop wearing that over-powering bay rum of which he was so fond.


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Chapter XLIII – Lillian  Seeks Advice

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLIII

Lillian 

Seeks Advice

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.”

“Death certificate?”

“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.”

“Sorry, Miss?”

“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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Chapter XLII – Birk Hides in the Bushes

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLII

Birk

Hides

in the Bushes

Birk pushed the piss jar back under his bed. By the shadow of the moonlight he figured it was about midnight. With the colliery closed there was no hourly reminder of the time. He rolled back into the bed and found the comfortable rut that held his body like a grave. 

A grave! That was what his bother Geo would say when they rolled into each other in the bad. ‘Get back to your grave!’

The door to the bedroom squeaked open.

“Birk!” Clancy whispered. “Are you awake?”

“Yes.” His sleepiness disappeared. Had Clancy snuck  into the house to get into bed with him? “They kick you out at Franklin’s?”

“Get yer pants on. There’s trouble brewing down at the colliery.”

“What?” Birk pushed off the bed and groped for his trousers.

“I overheard that Strickland talk with Bowden, the mine manager and they are going to sneak in the scabs tonight. I’ve already told Gregory. He’s getting some of the men together to give them a proper welcome.”

“Those bastards.” Birk laced up his boots and started for the door.

“Might put a shirt on though.” Clancy laughed under his breath.

“This’un will do.” He grabbed the work shirt that had been singed in the fire.

Outside there was a dozen or so men milling around at the corner of Birk’s lane and the Pitt Road. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness. He recognized Jake Malone, Jim McKlusky, and the cigar-puffing, union rep Willam Gregory.

“I’ve been in touch with the men in North Sydney and the scabs is coming by bus along the number 6 road. They have troops with them too.” Gregory told them. “They left about an hour ago so they should be here pretty soon.”

“None coming by the ferry?” Jake asked.

“Not as far as we know. After that face-off t’other day the Dingle doesn’t want to take the risk of their boat being scuttled.”

“He’ll take us from side to side but he ain’t taking sides.” One of them said and the others laughed.

“Guess the navy has enough sense to stay out of this.” One of the miners said.

“Quiet now.” Birk said. “If they want to surprise us we better extra quiet so we can surprise them.”

“Right.” Gregory said. “Here’s what I’m thinking. Some of us can take the ridge trail over to the turn off from Number Six road.”

“There’s that maple outcrop along there. We can block the road with some trees.” one of them suggested.

“Not have enough time for that much chopping.” McKlusky said. “How about we scatter broken glass. Cut up the tires.”

“Good plan, if we can get enough broken glass. What did you have in mind Mr. Gregory?” someone asked.

“I think if we make a show of force there to delay them, we can get ready for them here at the gate. Or maybe they’ll turn back once they see there’s no surprise.” He said.

“They’ll have troops with them.” Clancy said. “Least ways that’s what I heard.”

“Let’s burn em up.” McKlusky suggested. “We can make some kerosine bombs and toss them.”

“We just want to stop them,” Birk said. “Not kill them.”

“Speak for yourself little man.” McKlusky said. “We gotta show them we really mean business.”

“Okay. Okay.” Gregory said. “Six of you head over that turn off and do what you can to delay them. The rest of us will go to the colliery gate to reinforce our guys there.”

“Alright.” McKlusky said. “I’m for the turn off. Who’s coming with me. Tommy Driscoll?”

“Yep. We can handle ‘em.” Tommy raised his fists.

“Fists and flat iron.” Another miner shook an ax over his head. 

“Good man Davy.” Tommy Driscoll shook Davy’s hand.

Birk and Clancy stepped forward. 

“I know the Ridge Trail.” Birk said. “Stick close to me and we can get there without using lights at all.”

“Good lads. We’ll show them Cape Breton miners are as tough as they come.” Tommy Driscoll said. 

They set off up Pitt St. with Tommy Driscoll in the lead.

“Wait here men.” McKlusky said. “Tommy and I have to pick up something from m’place.”

They returned shortly. Each with an ax and carrying wooden crate between them.

“That’s kerosene.” Birk said.

“Yes it is. We made these bottle bombs a while back in case we had a use for them.” Tommy said pulling out a bottle half filled with kerosene with a rag stuffed into it.

“Okay Birk lets get a move on.” McKlusky said.

Birk lead them toward the trail to Blue Lake but took a different path that ran at a right angle off it. The smell of the kerosene made him nauseous. 

“Careful here.” He slowed them down. “We’re almost at the culvert by the road. The earth is loose along here.”

“You couldn’t find a better way.” McKlusky said. “Shit.” He lost his footing, let go of his side of the crate and slid down the embankment.

“Good thing there hasn’t been much rain.” Birk said helping Tommy hold the crate. “We all might as well take the McKlusky short cut.”

They slid down and Birk made his way up to the road. He reached out to help Clancy up.

“There’s a spot on the other side where we can watch who’s coming up or down the road.”

They dashed across the road to a hillock of bramble bushes. 

“You think we’ll have long to wait?” Tommy asked. “Must be near three bloody o’clock in the morning.”

“Ye missing getting your piece of fun?” Davy said.

They all started to laugh.

“Shh.” Birk said. “I think I hear something.”

The men stilled and held their breath.

“Sounds like motors.” Clancy whispered.

“More than one.” McKlusky said.

The noise got louder. Lights appeared on the road as the vehicles approached.

“That has to be them.” McKlusky stood to look over the bramble.

Birk crept carefully around to get a clear view. He saw at least two set of headlights, then a third.

“What was the plan?” He asked McKlusky. “We jump out and say …”

“This.” McKlusky lit the rag in one of the bottles and tossed into the road in front of the first truck. It arched up and landed at the side of the road, shattered & burst into flame. The three trucks stopped as the flames burned lower and lower.

The tarp cover on the first truck flipped open and troops climbed out.

Another bottle flamed over from the opposite of the road and smashed on the roof of bus in the middle of the cortège. As the kerosene flames spread there was shouting inside the bus. Men shoved each other out the doors. some climbing out the windows.

Birk looked beside him and saw that Tommy wasn’t there. He must have run dashed to the other side while the troops were debarking.

Another bottle flew into the air and landed on the tarp covering the first transport. Two of the soldiers shot in the direction the bottle had come from.

“I said not to shoot.” One of the militia said. He stepped into the headlights of the transport. “This is Corporal Stevens. We are armed and have orders to do what we have to get these men to the colliery.”

“Turn back if you value your lives.” McKlusky shouted back.

“You have been given fair warning.” Stevens signalled his men. “In the air.”

The men discharged their guns into the air. Another bottle arched down on to them. A spotlight on the roof of the first transport’s cab went on and began to play across the trees on either side of the road. A similar light shone from the roof of the third transport.

“Get back in the bus.” Stevens ordered the men. “Nothing more is going to happen.”

Birk kneeled and felt on the ground beneath him and found a stone. He stepped briefly into the light and threw it at the spotlight. It hit the bulb and it flickered out.

“Lower aim.” Stevens ordered.

The troops fired into the bushes on both sides of the road. 

Birk heard a ragged cry from the woods near him. 

“They must have hit Davy Rudenko.” McKlusky said. “You two get to the colliery and tell Gregory what’s happened here.”

“What about Tommy?” Clancy asked.

“He’s already hightailed it back the way we came. I’ll check on Davy.”

There was another round of shots. Bullets hit the dirt at Birk’s feet.

“Let’s get.” Clancy grabbed Birk by the shoulder and started to the wood behind them.

“This way.” Birk nudged him into a different direction to a well-used path that took them directly to Chestnut Street. 

When they got to the colliery Birk quickly explained what had happened. 

“You and Clancy best get back to your place Birk.” Gregory said. “You both stink of kerosine. Wash up as best you can when you get home.”

 

Birk woke to voices at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor. At first he thought it was his mother talking with Sal then he remembered Sal was no longer with them. He rolled to get out of the bed and Clancy was there beside him. When they had gotten to the house it was too late for Clancy to go back to the boarding house without drawing attention to himself.

He got out of the other side of the bed and tip-toed to the door to listen. He recognized Mrs. Franklin’s voice.

“It’s best that you tell anyone who asks that Clancy Sinclair has been boarding with you since he returned.” she was saying. “If they find out it was him who alerted the miners there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Yes. I understand Mrs. Franklin.” he heard his mother say.

Birk got dressed silently and went down stairs.

“She gone?” He asked his mother.

“Yes. She brought Clancy’s kit bag over. That Colonel Strickland is convinced Clancy was spying on him. Davy Rudenko is dead, you know.”

“Yes’m I was there when it happened.” He quickly told her about trying to delay the cortege. 

“That’s why your clothes are hanging on line.” she said. “Yours and his.”

“Yeh. We must have got splashed with those kerosine bombs Jim McKlusky was tossing. We never handled them, Ma.”

“It’s all made a mess more trouble that it avoided.” she poured him a cup of tea. 

“I better take this up to Clancy.” Birk hefted the kitbag, “Or he’ll be coming down the stairs naked.”

“You mean you boys snuck in the house like that!”

“Yep. We were too tired to think beyond making sure our clothes was airing.”

He took the steps to his room two at a time. Clancy was still asleep.

“Getting near 10 m’boy.” Birk shook Clancy by the shoulder. 

“Like old times.” Clancy sat up.

“Here’s your gear. Mrs. Franklin brought over. Colonel Strickland is on your trail. So as of now,  you’ve been here since you got back from the mainland, right?”

“Sure. Any other news from last night.”

“Only what we know already. Davy Rudenko is dead.”

“You decent?” Blackie came into the room

“Yes Da.” Birk stood the closet door way to make room for his father.

“Thanks to the militia those scabs got into the colliery. There was a face off though. Father McTavish come down to try and get the strikers to see sense but he got bashed good on the head. That shut him up.”

“Bashed? That all.” Clancy said. “By one of his own parishioners.” 

“No one know for sure.” Blackie said. “There’s talk of murder though.”

“You mean Davy Rudenko?” Birk said.

“No. One of the new miners was shot out on the road.”

“What!” Clancy pulled a pair of pants out of his kit bag. “None of us had guns. Must have been one of the soldiers that shot him.”

“Don’t matter to BritCan, now does it? They’ll blame the union for everything.”

“Shit.” Clancy said.

“Except the fact that the miners they brought in don’t know what they’re doing. Most of them have never been near a mine in their lives. Most of them were recruited off the street in Halifax and Montreal.”

“Figures.” Birk shook his head.

“They’re sweeping up the yard until the company can get someone in who can teach’em how to wield a pick and rake underground.” 

“And set a blast.” Birk said.

 

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Chapter XLI:  Birk Reads From The Bible

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Chapter XLI 

Birk Reads

From 

The Bible

“Can you see her?” Birk’s mother called from the front of the house.

“No sign Ma.” Birk called back from the corner of their street. “Miss McTavish is usually here by now.” He walked back to the house.

“I hope she hasn’t come down with what Sal has.” she went into the house. “You best stay here in case she arrives. We can’t let her in the house until Doctor Drummond has checked to make sure Sal hasn’t the flu.”

“Right Ma. Not as if I have anything better to do anyway. Should I change of m’good clothes?” 

“Not until after the doctor has been.” She went into the house and came out with a chair. “You can sit here. Don’t want you sitting on the stoop in those pants.”

“Thanks Ma.”

“They look as if they were bought special for you I did a good job of getting them to fit. They look better on you than they ever looked on the priest uncle of hers.”

Reverend Browne arrived with Dr. Drummond.

“Is it that serious?” Birk asked the Reverend. “I mean to bring you here.”

“Not that I know Birk. I ran into the doctor as I was heading over here anyway. Your mother wanted to to have word with you.”

“With me?”

“She’s worried about you and Miss McTavish.” Browne said.

“You haven’t heard?” Doctor Drummond said. “Miss McTavish has left Castleton. Yesterday it was. She’s convalescing at the O’Dowell’s in North Sydney.”  

“What!” Birk said.

“She had a … she suffered an injury.”

“She’s teachin’ us to read better.” Birk wasn’t sure what else to say.

Dr. Drummond went into the house.

“Birk, you didn’t fancy her.” Browne asked.

“She’s a fine lady. Pretty.”

“So you …”

“But I know my place. I know she has her’s too. It wasn’t as if I set out to rescue her from that fire.”

“I heard that was how you came in contact with her.”

“Yes, sir. Then Father Patrick had me to their house to thanks me. Gave me these clothes.”

“Decent of him.”

“I thought so too. So did ma. So when she, I mean Miss Lillian offer to teach us all some, Ma said we couldn’t rightly shut the door in her face.”

“Your mother is concerned. She’s afraid you might get … infatuated with Miss McTavish.”

Birk’s knee twitched. “I got nothing to offer a fine lady. Nothing.”

“Sadly, that doesn’t stop most men.” Reverend Browne shook his head. “They …”

A harsh, broken shriek came from the house. Birk and the Reverend rushed in. Dr. Drummond was helping his mother down the stairs.

“What is it?” Browne asked the doctor.

“There is nothing to be done.” He helped Birk’s mother sit at the kitchen table. “She might last a week.”

Two days later Birk stared down at the two coffins in the grave. One fresh pine and the other partially rotted and collapsed maple wood. The old one was the brother who died decades ago. The family plot wasn’t expected to be filled so soon so they were burying Sal beside her brother in the same grave.

“You want a hand with that?”

Startled Birk whirled around. “Clancy! Where’d you spring from.”

“Your Ma said you’d be here. Sad day.”

“It came on sudden. She was feeling sort of hot and in the afternoon and went to her bed. When Maddy went to get her for supper she was … gone already.”

“Poor Maddy. Never find as sweet a sister to replace her. They were such good playmates. So close. No other word for it but sad.”

“Sad times.” Birk picked up one of the shovels. “Heard BritCan is really sending troops rather than settle up proper by us. That Colonel Strickland isn’t such a bad sort after all. He tells us what BritCan doesn’t.”

“Cavalry to Calvary.” Clancy said.

“Huh? You not back no time at all and making fun of me already?”

“Sorry. Forgot how little that Bible stuff means to you. Calvary was where Christ was put on the cross.”

“And it was the horsemen who did it! Same as they are trying to do to us, you mean?”

“Yeh so they are.”

Birk was flooded with conflicting emotions. Happy as he was to see Clancy back again he didn’t want to always feel he wasn’t as good, as smart talking as him.

“Stop gawking at me and grab that shovel.”

Birk tossed a spade full of the heavy clay dirt into the grave.

“You’d think the soil up here would be more sandy, being so close to the sea.”

“Nope. BritCan picked this spot cause the soil wasn’t apt to have coal running through it.”

“Not for the view.” Clancy stopped for a moment to shade his eyes.

The cemetery was on a low hillock that give a partial view of the harbour.

“I suppose. The miners didn’t want a view of the pits. After years of working in’m no one wanted to spend eternity looking down on them.” Birk sighed deeply.

“What is it?”

“Sal didn’t get many years to work at anything. We buried her with that doll of hers that she was always dragging around. Sometimes I think it’s good to die young rather than go on living this way.”

“You’re turning to a thinker Birk Nelson. Life can sour one on life. That’s for sure.”

“So what is that brings you back?”

“My Ma didn’t need my help and there was nothing going on the railroad either. When there’s no coal or steel to sell and ship, then there’s no money to spend. When there’s no money to spend on goods that have to be shipped and sold. What hurts one thing eventually hurts everything. I heard Sydney Mines went bankrupt. The town ran out of money because there was none coming in, they had to close the schools with no money to pay the teachers.”

“You coming back to stay with us or what?”

“Nah. I’m tossing in at Franklin’s, for now. Even with those militia men there, I’ll get a room to myself. Least ways I won’t wake up with you kicking me in the shins.”

“Or you pulling the blankets off a me.”

“You been fishing much?”

“Took my …” Birk swallowed back the tears that suddenly came to him, “ …. took the little ones over a few times. Made them feel useful to catch some for us to eat. Didn’t tell’em they were nearly small enough to toss back in.”

“It was a fine spot to fish.” Clancy grinned.

“If you sun on the rocks.” Birk knew that Clancy was talking about the times they had spent near each other.

“We’ll have to do that again soon.”

“I’d welcome that.”

“That’s done it.” Birk levelled the dirt and packed it down. “When it rains we have come back to make sure it stays level.”

“You think you can make a leap at that?” Clancy nodded at the iron arch that spanned the entrance to the graveyard. It was about seven feet at either end.

“Don’t know. Been a while since I’ve wanted to clamber around for fun.”

“You mean it’s too tall for you?”

“You’ll eat those words.”

Birk brushed the dirt off his hands, adjusted his stance and ran the few yards to the gate and jumped the lower end. He grabbed a handhold on the top of the column. A simple flex and he spun up to straddle the gatepost. Without hesitation he stood on it.

“Nothing to it.” He said standing on one foot.

“Comes natural to you monkeys.” Clancy laughed.

Birk flipped over to his hands and walked across the arc, flipped back to his feet and walked back again then dropped lightly to the ground.

“I should do that more often.” He rubbed his hands on his coveralls. “Makes me feel I’m my old self for a minute. Someone without a care in the world. That was one of the things Sal always laughed to see. Me walking on m’hands.”

They headed back to Mudside.

“You ever heard anything from Geo?”

“Nary a word but takes time for mail. General delivery’s at Franklin’s since the pluck me was burned down.”

“I keep hearing how much better things are in other places.”

“Pa says it’s the same all over. Sure they may pay you more but underground is underground. When you get paid more you get charged more.” Birk said.

“You seen any of the McTavish lass.” Clancy asked.

“No much and yet more than I want. She did come to pay her respects when she heard about Sal.”

“Mrs. Franklin tells me she’s gone to North Sydney.”

“That’s what I heard too but we go another of our own here to occupy me. Good to see Clancy.” He reached out to shake Clancy hand.

“Same here Birk.” Clancy let Birk pull him closer. “I didn’t know how much I’d come to … miss Castleton.”

When Birk got home the house was silent. His mother was sitting alone at the kitchen table. On the chair beside her were some of Sal’s things. Tattered dresses and stockings.

“Not much to anyone now.” She flattened one of the dresses on the table. “Can’t even make a decent wash cloth out it yet we was right proud to let her wear it. A hand-me-down that the Rev gave us. I never thought I’d have to dress my children in hand-me-downs let alone bury them in them.”

“Ma, you did the best. That’s all we can do.” Birk ached to say something that would make her feel better. “Want me to read to you from the good book?”

“Yes! Something from the Psalms. The one about loving kindness. Which is that?” She got up and went the living-room.

Birk followed her and sat beside her as he flipped through the Bible to find the verses she wanted.

“Here it is number 103.” She handed him the book.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” He read slowly and didn’t find himself stumbling over words as much as he used to. As he read his wondered what had happened to the good things that were supposed to satisfy, to merciful graciousness that the verse talked about.

“Read that part about his children’s children,”

“This part? ‘But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them. The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.”

“Yes. A throne in heaven for my children. All my children. I’m sure that’s what he has for Sal and Charles.”

Although Birk didn’t fully understand what the verses were saying he was pretty sure it his mother didn’t know either. It was clear that God didn’t pity them at all but rather enjoyed letting the miners struggle without any sign of mercy.

“I sure hope so. I doubt if anyone will forget we are dust though. A handful of coal dust.”

“Coal dust to dust.” His mother laughed. “At times you are funnier than you know Birk.”

“I sure don’t aim to be ma. Mayhaps we don’t fear the Lord enough, as it says here. ‘For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.’ ”

“I don’t think it says we have to be scared, the way you would be of a ghost or that the mine’ll fall in on you. It means to be more in awe of Him. To be aware.”

“Maybe that’s it, Ma. Oft times when we’re in the pits I never think or worry about the mine fallin’ in on us. I do my work and gets though the day.”

“You check to make sure the braces are set proper?”

“Always.”

“That’s fear. That’s being aware. Those braces are your prayers. Once they are in place you don’t have to keep saying them you get on about your day in faith.”

“I see.” Birk didn’t see but accepted what she was saying. Maybe if he had prayed more this wouldn’t be happening? He rarely said prayers the way he saw his sisters do at the side of their bed every night. He knew some would say them before going into the mines but thought that foolishness.

The prayers his sisters said didn’t keep Sal alive. Her dying so sudden couldn’t have been God answering anyone’s prayer.

“You must be gladdened to have your old pal back.”

“You mean Clancy? Yeah, he come over to the graveyard to give me hand putting Sal to rest. He’s staying at Franklin’s.”

“He told me. He’s a good’un though. Your Pa and I were happy when you two started to along some. Better than you and Geo every did.”

“Maybe that’s cause Clancy wasn’t told to torment as much as he could to make a man out of me the way Geo was.”

“Where you hear that foolishness?” His mother got up.

“From Geo. Told me that before he left for Alberta. How’s it was your idea.”

“My idea was that he not to be soft with you. He took that in his own way.”

“I know that Ma. I’m not getting at you. Not even sure why I told you that.”

“I’m trying to do the best for you as I can.” She wiped a tear away. “By all my children.”

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If 

I bought a cassette of If I at the Radio Shack in the Zeller’s Mall (now the Sydney Shopping Centre) when I was living in Cape Breton. In fact that is where I bought my first stereo system. They had a rack of discontinued, discounted cassettes from which I bought music that never showed up at the local record shop. We’re talking early 70’s.

 

This British band has a great jazz sound – a British Blood, Sweat & Tears. I loved that cassette. Each track is sweet & still contemporary – it could be released this week & sound fresh. Dockland is brilliantly moody. The horn work is superb, as are the lyrics, the singing.

I kept my eye out for more by them for decades. Nothing else by them reached Cape Breton. None of my music buddies ever heard of them. They got reviewed by the US rock press: ie Rolling Stone. As far I know they never had a hit song. When I upgraded from cassette to CD this was one cassette I wanted to replace before the tension was shot but I could find nothing. It was as if they disappeared. Then in I found a 2008 CD compilation ‘What Did I Say About The Box Jack’ of tracks from heir first albums. I was happy to hear those songs I knew & some that I had never heard. The booklet was excellent too.

When I finally upgraded my internet to high speed I did a search & downloaded mp3 version of their first two lps & a live concert from 1972. If you are unfamiliar with If, that first lp is worth tracking down. Or if it’s still around the 2008 compilation.

Care

‘You’re nothing but trouble.’ Drak resisted the temptation to hit. He knew hitting would get some response but would also slow things down. And things were going badly enough as it was. ‘You hear me? Trouble.’

‘Yes,’ Steve stepped back. ‘Sorry. I’m …’

‘I know what you are trying to do.’ Drak lost control and the back of his hand smacked Steve across the cheek before he could stop himself. Struck Steve twice more and was stopped on the third blow by a hand that clenched his wrist. Hurt it.

‘Enough of this. There’s too much at stake for you two to be playing at enemy with each other.’

‘Sorry Sis Care’

‘Sorry Sis Care.’

The two men were ashamed.

‘But he …’

‘Drak,’ Sis Care stood firmly before them. ‘I don’t want explanations or excuses. I want action. Not infighting. You know that.’

‘Yes.’ Drak answered.

‘You both understand that?’

‘Yes,’ Steven muttered.

‘Drak, you understand that don’t you?’ Her face was inches from his interface.

‘Yes, Sis Care. It’s just that …’

‘I said, no explanations and no excuses. This one is the last one.’ She tapped the laser pistol at her side. ‘I don’t need much to make me use this. You both know that.’

‘Yes,’ they replied.

‘Okay. Now we have less than ten minutes before we rejoin Group R. Have you laid all the trip wires?’

‘Three to go but Steve here was …’

‘Drak, cut the crap. Three to go and they take five minutes each to set. We have ten. Get your asses in gear.’

The three of them laid the trrace2 wire filaments along the base of the copter pad and over the catwalk entries. Once all of these optic paths where broken the blast would be set off..

‘Hurry up,’ Sis found herself impatient with Steve. ‘What are you fumbling with there anyway?’

‘Sorry, I get …’ Steve reddened as the ply slipped from his hands.

‘Give it to me.’ She snatched it up. ‘I’ll finish this off.’

As she picked it up Steve stepped on her hand.

‘Not so fast, Sis.’

She had her laser in her hand before he could react. A blast ripped through his arm and sent him sprawling ten feet away from her.

‘What …’ Drak raced over.

‘I guess he wasn’t your fault after all. Okay we’re done here. Let’s go.’

‘What about?’ Drak nodded at Steve.

‘Leave him. He’s not one of ours.’

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August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton 
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