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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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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Chapter XL – Lillian Leaves Castleton

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XL

Lillian Leaves Castleton

When Lillian returned to the manse she appreciated the cool silence of the house. It was as if she had gone deaf as she stood in the stillness of the kitchen. No shouting, no children rushing around her, no bullets being fired over her head.

She cleared the ashes out of the kitchen stove. This was one of the jobs she hated and one which she was already grateful to have Father Patrick do but he was no where to be seen when she got back to the house. After the incident at the wharf the union was meeting at the Hall so she knew he was there. 

Once the fire was going she put the kettle on. Even if they were having a cold dinner her Uncle always enjoyed a fresh cup of tea with his evening meal. As she was in the pantry she heard him coming in the back door.

“Is that you Father Patrick?” she called.

“Who did you think it was?” came his gruff reply. “One of those empty-headed miners you’ve been convortuing with behind my back?”

She stepped into the kitchen to confront him. “Behind your back? Yesterday you said how much you admired me for helping the striker’s children.”

“Children, yes.” He grabbed her roughly by the shoulders. “You weren’t seen walking down the street holding hands with children. Flaunting it. Mrs. McIssac was all too eager to say how good the women thought you are but I know she wanted to make it clear was they there talking about you. About you and those dirty mine rats. ” He shoved her hard against the wall.

“Mine rats? Mrs. McIssac? They were walking me home. Seeing that I was safe.” She struggled to get out of his grip.

“She was all too eager to tell me all about you and that Franklin strumpet. Visiting her at the brothel she runs.”

“Brothel?”

“Was she hoping to entice you into becoming one of her house maids? I see through your innocent act my child. I can see the evil conniving behind your eyes. I can see fear there. Fear that you have been caught once again trying to inveigle some unsuspecting man into the mire of your carnality.”

He loosened his grip to grab the wooden plunger she used to wash the clothes. She turned to get out of the kitchen but he hit her across the back before she got to the door. The blow sent her sprawling on to her hands and knees into the back pantry. Before she could get up he struck her repeated until she was on her stomach.

“I should have beat the evil out of you the last time my child but that interring O’Dowell harridan got in the way. This time there is no one to hold back the wrath of God.”

Each time she tried to raise herself up he pushed her back down with his foot.

“You want to cavort with those …. unwashed animals you might as well get used to living at their level.”

With a groan Lillian rolled on to her back. She could taste blood in her mouth. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand her eyes holding her uncle’s eyes.

“Do not look to me for mercy.” He said. “There is none for wonton females of your sort who are nothing more than the evil that leads men away from the will of God.”

She reached up to the edge of the counter to pull herself to her feet with taking her eyes away from his.

“I said do not look to me for mercy.” He reach up to her face to shield her eyes from his. 

She flinched back.

“I won’t mar your face. Not this time my child.”

Bracing herself against the wall she moved unsteadily from the pantry without taking her eyes from his.

“Take your eyes off me you … witch. I will not fall under you spell.” Pulled the rosary out his vest pocket and held it up between them. “Leave my house.”

“Gladly.”

She steadied herself firmly against the counter.

“I said to stop glaring at me.” He raised his arm and stepped toward her.

Pushing away from the counter she parried his arm with hers and shoved him with all her might with the other. Her sudden attack caused him to slip and fall back hitting his head against the lower cabinets. He slid down until he was sitting on the floor. Without hesitation, using what strength she had left she slapped him in the face with all her might.

“The Lord is my shield …” he began.

“Turn the other cheek Father.” She said as he slapped him again. 

Using the railing she pulled herself up the stairs to her room. Each step was agonizing. She was in tears by the time she got to the top and had brace herself firmly to keep from falling backwards.

In her room she longed to sit long enough to catch her breath but she was unsure of what her uncle would do next. She bent to reach for her carpet bag and momentarily lost consciousness.

Dazed she thrust her hair brushes from the top of the dresser along with some underclothes and her other house shift into the bag. The house was quiet as she walked down to the front door.

“Uncle Patrick?” she asked.

The noise of a creaking chair came from the living-room.

“I will return to collect the rest of my things tomorrow. I will not be alone.”

“Satan will always find those willing to his biding.” he said.

She walked unsure of where to go. Mrs. Franklin’s boarding house was the nearest thing to a hotel in Castleton Mines. She was sure Rose would understand her need for a room? All she needed was temporary lodgings. How would she pay? Thee were a few items of value in her trunks. Perhaps she could trade them. She stopped at the gate to catch her breath.

The front rooms of the house were well lit. She walked up the steps, glanced in the parlour window and saw Colonel Strickland standing with his back tot he window regaling the men in the room.

She knocked on the door. Mrs. Franklin opened it and caught Lillian as she collapsed.

The sun was streaming across the foot of the bed when she awoke with a start. She had been undressed and put into the bed. Her dress was laid across the back of a chair by the bed. Her back throbbed as she pushed herself up and swung her feet to the floor.

It took her a few minutes to understand where she was. Her last memory was of a group of men looking down at her once floor. Mrs. Franklin must have put her to bed. 

There was a timid knock at the door. “Miss McTavish?”

“Yes.” she answered. “Mrs. Franklin?”

“No ma’am.” the door opened wide enough for a head to appear. “T’is Aileen from the O’Dowell’s. Might I come in?”

“Yes. Please.” she pulled a shawl around her shoulders.

“Mrs. Franklin sent a boy over to tell us you were here.  Dr. Drummond said you weren’t to be disturbed. We’ve all been mighty worried about you.”

“Dr. Drummond?”

“Yes ma’am. Miss O’Dowell saw how … harmed you were. She knew who had done it. That uncle of yours. Some priest he’s turned out to be. So kind to all who sees him but when no one sees him he’s … sorry ma’am.”

“That’s quite alright Aileen.”

“She’s been to his house, if’n you don’t mind, and had all your things removed.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“All day yesterday. Doctor says not to worry but you will be sore for a bit.”

Mrs. Franklin strode into the room. “Aileen you were to let us know if Miss McTavish had awakened, not tire her with conversation.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Franklin, but when i saw she was sitting up I forgot.” Aileen pulled at her fingers.

“That’s quite alright.” Lillian said. “I could do we a cup of tea though Aileen. If there’s some brewed that is.” She glanced to Mrs. Franklin.

“The kettle just boiled in Aileen. There’s a tea pot where you can see it. Let it steep a few minutes before you bring it up.”

“The tea things?” Aileen asked as she backed to the door.

“I’ll be down shortly to get them.”

“Yes mum.”

“And shut the door when you leave.” 

“Yes mum.”

“Some of these girls have to be told everything.” Mrs. Franklin moved Lillian’s dress and sat on the chair. “So how are you feeling Lillian?”

“I’m a bit dazed. have I really been asleep for two days?”

“Asleep … more like unconscious. Do remember arriving here?”

“Yes. Colonel Strickland was here?”

“Yes. He still is, along with a couple of his men. He was talking with Mr. O’Dowell when you arrived. It was Steven who forbad us to move you at all until Dr. Drummond had examined you.” 

“I see. I don’t want to be any more trouble to you.” She tested the floor with her feet as she stood up cautiously. Dizzy she sat on the bed.

“Dr. Drummond is here now. He wanted to speak with you once you were awake. Shall I let him come up?”

“Have you a mirror, Rose?”

“Of course.” Mrs. Franklin went to the dresser and brought Lillian a mirror and a hair brush.

“Oh! These are mine!”

“Yes I took a few things out of your bag.”

Lillian realized she was wearing one of her own nightdresses.

“You robe is here too.”

Lillian was relieved to see that her face showed no signs of her ordeal. Her hair however was quite tangled. She started to brush it out but the brush pulled at her scalp. Her back ached the harder she tried. She began to cry.

“It’s hopeless.” she said.

“There! There! Lillian.” Mrs. Franklin took another brush off the dresser and began to help. “It isn’t that bad.”

“I really don’t know what to do, Rose. I can’t go back to that man’s house. I can’t go back to Boston.”

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, Lillian.”

“Of course. Do I look presentable?”

“Under the circumstances you look fine.” She went to the door. “Dr. Drummond, Miss McTavish can receive you now.”

A few moments later the doctor came into the room. He was much younger than Lillian had expected.

“How is my patient today?” he asked putting his bag on the dresser and taking out a stethoscope.

“Sore.” Lillian said. She felt faint as he put his hands on her. She was accustomed to much old doctors. Men as old or older than her father. 

“Understandable. Umm … I don’t want to seem indelicate but I must examine your back.”

“Oh!” Lillian blushed.

“Of course Mrs. Franklin will remain in the room. Would you like Aileen to be here as well?”

“Yes. If you don’t mind?” Lillian said.

“No, not at all.” He went to the door. “I’ll send her in and once you are ready have her call me back in. You needn’t disrobe completely if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“Thank you.”

 

After the doctor had listened to her breathing and heart, he gently felt her back.

“Is this painful?” he asked.

“I don’t feel anything.” she said.

“Not even this?” he asked.

“No.”

“I see. Very well you can get dressed.” He turned his back to her as he looked through his bag.

“Is it serious.” Lillian asked.

“Nothing feels broken, if that’s what you mean. There is of course bruising but it is the lack of sensation that is worrisome.”

“It will return as the bruising subsides?” Lillian attempted once again to stand.

“Yes.” Dr. Drummond held his arm out for her to hold as she took a few tentative steps.

“I … I don’t want to be an invalid.”

“No, that is unlikely.”

With his help and with Mrs. Franklin near at hand she walked around the room.

“Can I tell her now ma’am?” Aileen asked.

“Tell me what?” Lillian asked.

“Miss O’Dowell says you are to come live us in North Sydney once you are well enough to come.”

“That’s very kind of her but …”

“I don’t want to sound inhospitable Lillian,” Mrs. Franklin said. “But this isn’t a … fitting place for a single. young lady to reside.”

“She is right, Miss McTavish.” Dr. Drummond said. “I would say you are fit to travel.”

“Thank you. Yes, tell Miss O’Dowell I’d be happy to accept her kind invitation.” Lillian was grateful but knew she had no viable alternative either.

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Chapter XXXIX – Lillian Joins the Mob

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 XXXIX

Lillian Joins The Mob

Back sore from the uncomfortable train ride, yet excited, Lillian stood at the gate to her home in Boston. It hadn’t changed at all since she had departed several months ago. The white house with its yellow shutters looked freshly painted in the warm afternoon sun. The shutter on the upper right windows needed repairs. She didn’t understand how her father could allow that misaligned shutter to mar the perfect facade of their house.

The gate opened soundlessly when she pushed it. She nodded to the train porter behind her to follow her up the stairs. He put her travel bag beside her at the front door. She sorted the coins in her change purse to make sure she was giving him American, not Canadian, money.

“Thank you.” she said dropping a dime in the palm of his hand.

She watched to make sure he had gone before she turned and knocked at the door. She was disappointed that she even had to knock, she had fully expected Sarah, or any of the other housemaids, to have seen her and to have thrown the door open wide to welcome her home.

Her first knocks with her knuckles could hardly be heard. She pulled off her travel gloves to rap soundly at the door. There was no sound from inside. No hurried footsteps to answer her knock.

She tried the door handle and it was locked. Reluctantly she used the brass knocker in the middle of the door. No response. She knocked again. No response.

Surely they weren’t up at the summer cottage? Even if they were, there was always house staff on duty when they were up at the lake. She stepped to to peer in one of the side windows. She could see Sarah in the foyer dusting the stair railings. Her knock on the window to get Sarah’s attention.

When Sarah didn’t respond she went back to the front door. It was just shutting and her travel bag was gone!

She tried the door handle again, pushed against it with all her weight but it refused to budge. She pounded the door with both her hands and all her might. She could hear the pounding echo from the houses in the square behind her. The door suddenly opened and she fell hard on the floor. Momentarily dazed she painfully turned herself over and found herself on the floor beside her bed in Castleton.

The pounding continued. It was someone knocking on the front door of the manse. She grabbed her wrap, slipped on her shoes and rushed down the stairs to answer the door.

“Father Patrick!” she called out as she ran. “Father Patrick!”

She opened the door and it Mrs. McIssac from across the street.

“Sorry to be bothering you Miss Lillian.” She was breathing heavily. “I was told to gather as many of the women as I could to go down to the pier to be with the miner’s when the Dingle Dandy gets here.”

“Oh yes.” She pulled her wrap closer. “I must have overslept. I was up later than usual getting some things ready for the strikers.”

“We all do what we can. Castleton is now your home as much as any of us.”

“I’ll join you as soon as I can. But don’t wait on me if you are ready to go now.”

Lillian shut the door and leaned her back on it to catch her breath. She tried to remember her dream of Boston. She could feel that morning sun on her skin as she walked up the steps to her house. Her true home.

She went to Father Patrick’s room and knocked on the door. It swung open at her touch. The bed hadn’t been slept in.

Twenty minutes later she latched the kitchen door behind her. Mrs. McIssac, Mrs. Danvers and several other women from nearby were at the Upper Chestnut corner talking amongst themselves. There were several of their children with them.

“I’m saying we shouldn’t have the children underfoot.” one of the women was saying.

“We can’t lock them up Marg.”

“I certainly wouldn’t leave mine alone in the house.” one said.

“Or anyone else’s.” Another replied.

The women all laughed.

“Outdoors has been good enough for them so far this summer.” Mrs. Danvers said.

“For sure but there hasn’t been troops to worry about.”

“Might we put them in the Hall?” Mrs. McIssac asked.

“Ah … I don’t know.” Lillian said. “I don’t have … authority to give permission. You would have to ask Father McTavish. He’s not here.”

“He’s probably with the men already.” One of the women said.

“I’m going there what ever you say,” one of the boys said. He looked at his buddy and the two of them scampered down the road.

One of the smaller girls began to cry. “They gonna kill Daddy. I know it.”

As the women and children marched toward the dock they were joined by more of the wives of the miners. Lillian nodded to the few she had met already and to some who were familiar to her from their attendance as the various services at St. Agatha’s.

“It’s good for us to have an opportunity to show our numbers to them.” Mrs. Franklin was walking beside Lillian. “The men can’t stand alone all the time with us women folk hiding behind them. It’s time we were in the front ranks.”

“I doubt if it’ll much difference.” Lillian said. “But it is better than waiting.”

A distant horn tooting quieted them.

“That’s The Dandy leaving North Sydney.” One of the women said. “It’ll be here soon.”

“You children stay behind. You hear.” Mrs. McIssac made them form a row. “We’ll have enough to do without keeping an eye on you. You understand.”

“Yes ma’am.” one of the older girls said.

“I’ll keep watch over them.” Lillian took the smallest girl by the hand. “You’ll be good, won’t you?”

“Yes Miss McTavish.” the child said.

As they rounded the corner the dock came into view. Lillian could see the ranks of miners already there surrounding the dock. In the distance she could see the Dingle Dandy approaching. She could make out several men on board.

The miner’s began to shout. “Back to the mainland.” “Respect us workers.” “This ain’t yer fight.” “Don’t cross our picket lines.”

As the ferry got closer they miners began to stomp their feet. Lillian was afraid the dock might gave way under the pounding. She could feel the vibration in her feet.

As the boat was about to dock it was clear that there was a dozen or so men on board. Three in suits, the others in uniforms with varying shades of brown. 

“Not real uniforms.” Mrs. Franklin said to her. “Probably ex-militia. Putting on a front for us.”

“That’s Mr. Bowden?” Lillian shaded her eyes.

“Yes and I think that’s Baldwin with him.” Mrs. Franklin said.

“Baldwin?” Lillian asked.

“The Premiere. At least for now. With the election coming up he’s not going to miss this chance to campaign.”

As the ferry tied up to the wharf, the miners began to chant repeatedly, “You can’t stand the gaff. You can’t stand the gaff.” 

Lillian was stunned to see that the first person to step off the ferry was her uncle. He raised his hands and the men fell silent.

“Thank you for the enthusiastic greeting.”

The men laughed.

“I have spent the night in discussion with Premiere Baldwin, Mr. Bowen and Colonel Strickland.”

“Which of them did you give final unction to?” One of the miners shouted out. The other miners laughed.

“What did they confess?” Another called out.

“Men. Friends. Parishoners. ” Father McTavish stepped closer to the line of miners. “I have convinced them that we are civilized enough to conduct ourselves like adults, not like a bunch of hooligans. No one wants things to escalate any further.”

“We aren’t the one trying to bust up the strike with outsiders.” William Gregory stepped out from the crowd of miners.

“We have no intention of busting up the strike but BritCan can’t let the mines remain idle. We have the legal right to mine the coal there, regardless of the union’s stance.” Bowden answered.

“They have the rights to their coal.” The Premiere took a document out of his overcoat pocket. 

“Not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Someone called out. A clod of grass flew from the back to the crowd and landed directly on the Premiere’s chest and scattered dirt over the document.

“We want to come to amicable agreement.” Baldwin continued. “These are difficult time for everyone. There has to be compromise on your part if …”

“Here’s a compromise,” Gregory looked around the men behind them before continuing. “Pay the miner’s what you are going to pay the scabs, including the bonus you’ve guaranteed them.”

“I’m not here to negotiate.” the Premiere said. “I wanted to tell you directly that either you comply with the BritCan conditions or the province will step in with full support from Ottawa, I might add.”

“We will use what force is necessary.” Colonel Strickland said. “We would rather not have to go to that extreme.”

“Tell that to your wife.” Mrs. McIssac pushed through the crowd to face the colonel. “Tell that to your children.”

“My wife and children obey the law.” He said.

“I hope you are proud of yourself.” She turned to the Premiere. “It’s the law of money you obey not of the people who elected you. Remember that when the election comes around.”

“I’m asking you all to disperse.” Colonel Strickland said. “Go back to your homes and stop interfering with the lawful business of the BritCan Coal Company.”

“Or what?” one of the miners shouted.

The Colonel nodded to one of his men who was still aboard the DingleDandy.

“Attention.” The man shouted. A dozen, fully armed men came up from below deck and marched off the boat.

There were boo’s from the miners as stones, bricks and bottles flew through the air. The Colonel signalled Premiere Baldwin, Mr. Bowen and Father McIssac to step behind the soldiers.

“Arms.” He commanded.

“They aren’t going to fire on us, are they?” Lillian asked. 

“Women and children move back.” Gregory shouted. 

“Aim.” The Colonel said.

The soldiers brought their rifles to their shoulders.

“Fire.”

They discharged their weapons over the heads of the crowd. 

The children and some of the women scattered. Some were screaming, others were crying.

Lillian was pulled back by a couple of the children.

“Come Miss we have to get safe.” 

Lillian looked down and one was Birk’s sister Maddy.

“That was merely a warning.” The Colonel shouted over the noise of the crowd. “The replacement company workers will be arriving soon. My men will remain here to make sure no one … I repeat … no one interferes with them doing their lawful work. Now disperse before we take further action.”

Premiere Baldwin and Mr. Bowen boarded the Dingle Dandy and it started back to North Sydney. The crowd dispersed into grumbling factions.

Birk and his father Blackie appeared from out of one of the factions.

“Maddy there you are.” Blackie tugged her hand out of Lillian’s. “I’ll look after her.”

“You’re okay?” Birk asked.

“Yes.” Lillian replied.

“It was just a show of force.” Blackie said.

“Looked more like a declaration of war on the miners.” Lillian shook her head.

“Miners have been at war with the company for generations. Some years it feels like a losing battle but … there’ seems no other way.”

“You safe to get home?” Birk asked.

“Oh yes.” Lillian said nodding to Mrs. McIssac and the other women. “I should be getting back to the manse. Father Patrick looks famish.”

Her uncle was talking with some of his parishioners as he walked away from the dock with them. As he passed her, he glanced at Lillian.

“There was no need for you to be here Lillian.” He said.

“I was asked by Mrs. McIssac to help mind the children.” she said. “Excuse me Mr. Nelson. I’d best get these children back to their families.”

She reached out for two of the parish children she recognized and took them by the hand. “Come along now. Heather, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Weren’t you scared when the guns went off?” Heather asked.

Lillian resisted saying. “You can’t kill the dead.”

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Chapter XXXVII – Birk Pays a Call

Coal Dusters – Chapter XXXVII

Birk Pays a Call

Holding Maddy loosely by the hand Birk stood at the corner street. He stared down at the door of the rectory. His mother had pressed the shirt and finally stitched the cuffs of pants Lillian had sent to him but he thought he still looked unkept. His borrowed belt made the pants bunch out around his behind. That was a tailoring job his mother said would take more than a few stitches to do. He was already sweating from his walk there. His face itched from shaving it twice in the same morning. His hair refused to stay down no matter what he tried. He looked down at his work boots wishing he had shoes more fitting to wear. 

The boots, even when they were new, didn’t hold any kind of shine. There weren’t meant to. His sisters had tried to clean them but there was nothing to be done about the scrapes on the toes. The crease of the pants made the boots look even more unsuitable. His mother wouldn’t let him go in bare feet.

“We going to stand here all morning?” Maddy asked. She was wearing her Sunday dress with a new piece of lace sown around the neck. There was a yellow satin bow in her hair that she kept pushing back into place.

His mother had insisted he take his sister along so she could see how those outside Mudtown lived. He was sure it was to make sure he acted proper. He wished Clancy could have been with him but after the scrap they got into yesterday that wasn’t going to be. 

When Birk had woken that morning it took a few minutes for him to remember that Clancy was gone and not sleeping on the floor where it was cooler in the summer.

He walked to the front door of the house and knocked. No answer. Knocked again a little harder. Maddy kicked at the door but her shoes did make much of a sound. 

“You sure you got the right day?” she asked.

“It’s the day Clancy read to me from her note.” Did he have the wrong day? Wrong time? Clancy had read those things to him off the note. Was that his idea, to send him there at the wrong time to make an even a bigger fool of himself. Maybe the note didn’t ask for him to lunch. “You read it too, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” She stood on tiptoes to see through the side  window.

He turned to leave.

The door opened.

“Mr. Nelson.” Father Patrick said. “You have to knock louder than that.”

Birk turned back to the door. “Sorry.. uh … Father McTavish. I wasn’t sure how ….”

“Come in, please.” Lillian appeared behind Father Patrick and pushed past him.

“Thank, ye, Miss. You remember my sister Maddy.” He was awed at Lillian’s appearance.

“Hello.” Maddy curtsied. 

Previously Birk had only seen Lillian dressed in dark green pinafores with darker green aprons around them, a black kerchief of some sort covering her hair. So similar to a nun he had assumed that she was one.

Today she was wearing a light blue shift with a pleated skirt that ended directly below her knees. A row of blue buttons along the back went from her neck to her waist. How did those buttons get done? He had enough trouble with ones that went up the front of his shirt. She was wearing black shoes with small heels and with straps across the top of her foot.

He took this all in with a couple of rapid shy glances as they followed her into the parlour. She continued through the parlour to another room.

“How is your family faring during the strike?” Father Patrick asked him. He gestured to a chair for Birk to sit. Maddy sat on chair by the fire. Hey eyes wide as she looked around the room.

“We gets by.” Birk looked briefly at Father Patrick. “We have … a little garden… we hunt some and …. fish in the lake.”

The room wasn’t much bigger than the parlour in his house. The furniture was more ornate. The window panes were so clean as to be nearly transparent. The lace curtains barely held back the sun.  He was nervous with the crucifix on the wall that loomed over his shoulder.

“Very enterprising.” Father Patrick said. “How are you doing is school.” The priest asked Maddy.

“Good. How do you get the windows so clean? The curtain are so white. My sister Sal wasn’t feeling strong today so she couldn’t come with us. She supposed to help Ma with picking pears, which means finding any that fall from the tree.”

“Pears?” Lillian asked. 

‘Yes ma’am.” Birk said. “There some pear trees and apple trees in behind our lane.”

“Very nice. I’ll get the tea things.”

Lillian retuned with a tray on which was a tea service. Birk had never seen such a set. The tray was highly polished silver. The whitish ceramic tea pot had a thick gold braid along the base, the cups had saucers that matched and weren’t cracked. The gleaming ivory of the china glowed in the sunlight that came through the window. He was afraid to handle it.

“Tea? Mr. Nelson.” Lillian asked him.

“Why thank ‘er miss.”

She handed him a cup and saucer. 

He quickly put them on the table beside him before they could notice how much he was shaking. Maddy went to the tea service and brought the milk over and poured some into Birk’s cup.

“Thank you.” He said as she stirred for him. He tired to pick the cup up by the handle but his fingers could barely hold it. He sipped trying not too look too clumsy.

“Father Patrick, my uncle, and I wanted to express our gratitude for your daring rescue. Your brother is very brave.” She put a cup and saucer on the table beside Maddy and poured her a cup tea.

“T’wasn’t me who saved that babby, it was you miss. That took a brave heart to do that. I only helped when I had to.”

“Be that as it may, I wanted to thank you in person.” She handed Birk a plate with a couple of biscuits on it. “I made these fresh this morning.”

Birk looked directly at her face for the first time. Her dark auburn hair shone in the light that came through the window. The light gave it a reddish tinge. Her skin was clear. No sign of the bruise remained. She smelled of flowers. He didn’t know what kind. Lilacs or roses. A delicate clean smell.

“This is thanks enough for me.” He touched the shirt she had sent to him.

“A little large on you.” She laughed lightly.

“True miss but it’ll wear well.”

“Not those trousers through.” Father Patrick said. 

Maddy started to giggle. “Me and Sal each fit in a leg of them.”

“Stand so I can see how they fit you.” Lillian said.

Birk blushed as he stood. Some of his mother’s hasty stitch work had come loose. The cuffs were unrolled and caught beneath the heels of his boots. The waist was bunched by the belt he had borrowed from Blackie to cinch it. They had tried suspenders but the pants drooped so he looked as if he was wearing a cloth barrel.

“I am much taller than you, my lad.” Father Patrick grinned. “But I think Lillian can alter them to fit you somewhat better.”

“Yes. Thank you …” Birk blushed that they were going do those alterations right away.

“I can bring them over another day.” Maddy said. “Ma’d’ve done them but she was busy tending to Sal.”

“Yes.” Lillian laughed. “We aren’t going to do it now, if that’s what you feared.”

“I like your biscuits.” Maddy said. “Can I have one to take home to Sal?”

“Of course.” Lillian turned to Birk. “Do the men think the strike will last much longer?” She asked.

“Can’t say miss. We have the … demonstration at the end of the week.”

“The attack on the company store was not a wise action.” Father Patrick said. “I’ve sure troops will be brought in soon to make sure order is maintained.”

“Not as if that at the pluck me was planned. Happened so fast none of us was ready for it.”

“Not from what I hear.” Father Patrick said. “It has been brewed up by a couple of the men for a few days. They were waiting for an opportunity. You know Jim McKlusky?”

“Sure. He lives next door to us in Mudside.” So Jim was the ring leader of that pack.

There was knock at the door. Lillian went to answer it. She brought Mr. Bowen, one of the mine managers, into the room

“It’s Mr Bowen, Father Patrick.”

“Sorry to barge in on you this way Father but ….” he caught sight of Birk. “Oh, I see you have company.”

“Yes. This is Birk Nelson. The young miner who  saved my niece from the fire the other night.”

“Least he could do. It was them bastards that started it.” Mr. Bowen glared at Birk. “You men should know better.”

“I didna’ have anything to do with that.” Birk said. 

Mr. Bowen give a dismissive snort and turned to Father Patrick. “Father I have some urgent business that I must speak to you about. In private.”

“Why don’t we step out into the garden Mr. Bowen.” Father Patrick said. “It won’t take up too much time will it Mr. Bowen?”

Father Patrick lead Mr. Bowen out through the kitchen to the back garden.

“The garden is where we first saw you a few weeks back.” Birk said.

“I was not very happy that day. You were going fishing with your brother. I envied your freedom.” Lillian got up and leaned against the fence.

“Clancy’s no brethren to us.” Maddy said sharply.

“Oh I see.”

“They fights like brothers though.”

“Sush Maddy.”

“It’s true! You and Clancy were as bad and you and Geo t’other day punching away at each other.”

“He’s had some schoolin’ mor’n me and thinks he’s better n’ me ‘cause of it. Same way as so many mainlanders, you see. I jus’ got tired of him lordin’ it over me.” Birk said.

“You do want to improve your mind, don’t you.” Lillian looked at Birk, “You don’t want to be a … an uneducated miner for the rest of your life, do you?”

“Twas good nuf for my father, his father, good enough for me.” Birk shifted uneasily on his chair. Each move of his caused it to squeak.

“The mines can’t last forever you know.”

“Long nuf for the sorts of me, ma’am.”

“Is it such a bad thing, I mean, to improve your mind.”

“No ma’am. But I jus don’t see the point in it, for me. Fir my sister’s it’s different. Ma wants them to leave here one day.” Birk stared up at her. “There’s isn’t much else for me. Not that I care for the coal but …”

“Don’t you have any dreams, Birk.”

“Dreams, miss. Sure but they are dreams not life.”

“You don’t want, say a wife, someone to look after you and someone you can look after.”

“Got me ma to look after me and I got my sisters to look out fer. My family’s enough family for me.” He nodded at Maddy.

“The right wife could be a helpmate in that though, wouldn’t she?”

Birk was confused and unsure what she was getting at. He didn’t want to ask her because he knew Maddy would be telling his Mother everything she heard here. He stood. “I thank you miss, for taking the time to talk with me. We best be on our way though.”

“Wait a moment and I’ll give Maddy some of the biscuits to take home.” She took Maddy by the hand and they went to the kitchen.

He looked around the room. He couldn’t picture Lillian living anywhere else. She would never be suited to a life in Mudtown.

Maddy and Lillian were laughing when they returned from the kitchen.

“I’d be happy to come by to visit with Sal.” Lillian said to Maddy. 

“She would never believe how nice you are.” Maddy said. “She’s gets better and better, so our ma tells us.”

“I’m sure she is.” Lillian smiled. “Don’t forget what we talked about.” She adjusted Maddy’s hair ribbon.

“I won’t. Thank you kindly for the biscuits.” She curtsied. “We can go now, Birk.”

She took Birk by the hand as Lillian opened the front door for them

“Thank you again for rescuing me.” Lillian kissed Birk quickly on cheek.

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Chapter XXXVI

Coal Dusters – Chapter XXXVI

Birk and Clancy 

Fall Out

Since the start of the strike Birk had been going to the Sunday morning service with his mother and sisters. This morning he had spent a good part of the morning getting the pants Lillian had sent to fit him better. His mother said she would make alterations but he didn’t want to wait.

The striped shirt didn’t look too bad to him. The collar was okay as long as he didn’t button it all the way. He rolled the cuff one fold so his hands could be seen. But the cuffs needed studs to hold them closed

The pants refused to cooperate. The legs took three folds to get them to ankle height. The waist left five inches slack around his waist.

“That uncle of her’s must have a belly bigger than a cow.” Birk said as he cinched it with a rope. 

“Guess he was fully grown. Not half-sized the way you grew.” Clancy said. “You’ll look an idiot going anywhere in those clothes. Ya look a kid trying on his Dad’s clothes.”

Birk took the pants off. “Here. Ya try ’em on then.” He threw them at Clancy. He was able to pull the shirt off over his head without unbuttoning it.

“She sent them to you not me.” Clancy threw the pants into Birk’s face. “Besides they already stink of you.”

“Says who?”

“Says me you … you … runt. At least I finished growing up. The only part o’you that’s man sized is between yer legs. And you didn’t even know what to do with it till I showed ya!”

Birk shoved Clancy into the wall as hard as he could. “These fists are man sized too. In case ya forget.” He punched Clancy in the stomach with his right hand and in the ear with his left.

Clancy walloped Birk in the side with his right fist.

Birk yelped.

“Hope I broke something. I’ve been wanting to that for a long time.”
“Me too.” He swung and hit Clancy in the nose. Blood spurted.

They grappled with each other and fell on the floor at the foot of the bed.

“You boys stop fightin’ or I’ll get Ma.” Sal poked her head in the room.

Birk stood and hauled Clancy to his feet by the front of his shirt. Clancy stomped on Birk’s foot and pushed him back and out the bedroom door.

“When I came here that first time. Saw that it was you lived here. I almost changed my mind.” He hit Birk in the chest. “But it was cheaper than Mrs. Franklin’s.”

“Too bad you didn’t.” Birk connected again with Clancy’s jaw. “Ya soft arse know-it-all mainlander. You should’ve been paying me to put up with you.”

“I couldn’t sleep proper till I got you sort of washed up. I’d wake up and think I was stuck in some … Hell that stank of feet and … pig shit.”

Birk had Clancy in a headlock and lost his footing at the top of the stairs and they tumbled down over each other. They pulled away from each other when they landed.

His sisters were screaming for them to stop fighting.

“These feet ya mean.” Birk pushed his bare feet into Clancy’s face as they lay on the floor.

“Pigs’ i’d smell better.” 

“I’m sure you’d know that.”

Clancy bit Birk on the instep.

“Ow.” Birk pulled his foot back then slammed it into Clancy’s shoulder as Clancy was pushing himself up.

“Birk! Clancy! What’s got into the two of you.” Birk’s mother was trying to come between them.

“He’s had this comin’ calling me stupid, a runt.”

“I thought you guys had become good pals.” she said.

“Me too.” Birk wiped blood from his mouth. “Me too.”

“The last puss I want to see most mornings is this one.” He swung at Birk and missed. 

Birk pushed him through the kitchen and out into the back yard.

“Watch those tomaters.” His mother shouted.

Clancy stumbled and fell. Birk kicked him in the side. Clancy grabbed at the dirt and threw it into Birk’s face as he got up. They lunged at each other. Heads locked on each other’s shoulder and hitting at each other’s sides and stomach.

“Ya can always go back to Mrs. Franklin.” Birk gasped into Clancy’s ear.

“You can go to Hell you stinkin’ mine rat.”

Birk braced himself and gave Clancy a shove with both arms. Clancy reeled back against the shed and slumped to the ground.

“Soft arse.” Birk spit a gob of blood on to Clancy’s face and went back into the house.

“I’ll be ready for church in a bit Ma.” He splashed cold water on his face. Rinsed the blood out of his mouth.

Up in the bedroom he carefully folded the pants and shirt. He’d get his mother to alter them later in the day.

He passed Clancy coming up the stairs as he went down to join his mother and sisters for church. 

On the way home after the service his mother asked. “What was that dust up?”

“Nothing Ma.”

“I knows better. That weren’t no horseplay. Neither of you were holdin’ back.”

“He told me it made him sick to look at me. That  ‘cause I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t a full man and would never be one.”

“Hurtful words.” She shook her head. “How he feel about the gal as sent you the pants and shirt.”

“He think’s she’s pretty and such.”

“Could be he’s sore she sent you something nice and he got nothing.”

“But I don’t give a care about her. Could have been anyone caught in the fire and I’d ’av done the same thing.”

“I know.”

“I know my duty to you and the girls. Besides she’s practically a nun.”

When they returned to the house from the morning service he found that Clancy was gone. All his clothes and other belongings had been removed from the bedroom. On the bureau was a note:

“Seeing as you can’t read writing I’ve printed this note to tell you I got word that my mother was poorly and I have gone to tend to her. Clancy.”

He tucked the note into his pants pocket. Picked up the shirt and pants that Lillian had sent him and took them downstairs.

“Ma you think you can fix these so they fits me better.”

She shook the shirt out. “That’s quality.” She held it to her face then studied the seams. “Don’t want to tamper with it. Look at that stitching. It’s a blessed art. I could never sew that that fine.”

“Look! We fit yer pants, Birk.” His sisters had pulled on the pants, each standing in one of the legs and holding them up by the waist. They hopped toward him.

“Get outta there.” He laughed.

“Priest’s a big man.” His mother said. “These wouldn’t even fit Blackie.”

The girls got out of the pants and Birk pulled them on over the pants he was wearing.

“Even if ya can fix the cuff some.” He folded the hem several times so that it rode at the hight his present pants did. “Even if they too big around the waist I won’t be stepping on them when I wear them.”

“Your waist will always grow.” His mother laughed. “Give ‘em here. I can do a a few stitches to keep them from dragging along.”
“Thanks Ma.”

“Where’s that Clancy gotten too?”

“Gone.” Birk said. “Packed his things and gone.”

“Yer joking.” she went up to the room and came back down. “So he is.”

He gave her the note.

“I knowed his Ma was ailing.” She said. 

“He say anything to you about goin’ to see her?” Birk looked at the note.

“Yes but didn’t say when.”

“I’m sure he’ll be back for that union march at the end of the week.”

“Depends on his Ma.” His mother said.

After supper Birk went out to check his rabbit traps. There was one caught but he left it there as he continued on his way to his favorite sitting spot. He climbed up high in a branch of the oak tree.

His Ma was right, the things Clancy had said were to him mean. It was same as his first months in the mines where he had to prove himself everyday. The men all riding him for being so small, then for being so hairy but he showed them. Showed Clancy too that he wasn’t going to take that from him either. 

But how could Clancy have been hidin’ those thoughts the past months. Acting as if they were friends. Making him feel he was …. someone he wanted to be with. But foolin’ him all the time. 

Getting him to talk about his hopes and making him think about the future. All that was a big show, a sham. Birk rubbed his head against the bark of the tree. 

When he got the rabbit on his way home he remembered showing the trap line to Clancy, showing him to skin the rabbit easy and where the salt was to treat the pelt.

He sat on the garden bench. He didn’t want to go into the house. He didn’t want to go up his empty room. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. He couldn’t figure out why this had happened to him. That someone could become such a part of his life that when they were gone it was if he had no life ahead of him.

He heard men talking in the road in front of the house, the McKlusky’s arguing next door. 

“I’m going out.” He heard Jim yell. “Where to is none of your business.”

“Don’t be late. I know it isn’t union this time o’ night.” His wife shouted back. “It’s to that Dan’s you’re going.”

“I’ll go where I want and I’ll stay out as late as I want.”

A gate slammed and Birk half hoped it was Clancy coming back but it wasn’t their gate. It was Jim on his way to the bootlegger’s. 

What was his life before Clancy showed up? Him and Geo eating at the table in the morning. Shovelling coal into the carts. He missed that. Doing things with his hands kept his mind from thinking about anything. He wanted to stop thinking. 

His mother came out of the house with a couple of mugs of tea.

“Sweet summer night,” she handed him a mug and sat beside him. “Before you kids came along me and Blackie ‘d sit out here. Then you could smell the hay.”

“You ever want to get out of here? The mines I mean.”

“Before I wed Blackie I thought about teaching or even nursing but once I had Geo those were a girl’s dream. Never can get ahead with the company. You buys from the company store, owes them money. You pays the company a fair price for a house, too, as long as you working there, but the house never gets to be yours.”

“It would nice to have something that was yours.” Birk sighed heavily. “Think I’ll take a walk.”

“A walk?”

“Clancy ‘d do that to get away and think a bit. Yeh something to do.”

Birk headed along their lane and to Pitt St and along to Chestnut Avenue. The smell of the burned company store was still in the air. He nodded to a few folks as he passed them. We went out of his way to pass Mrs. Franklin’s. There were boarders laughing and smoking on the veranda but none of them was Clancy.

He went along the pier and sat on a piling staring out at the reflection of lights on the water. The last drop off by the Dingle Dandy had been half-an-hour ago.

He’d never had this much free time. Time with nothing to do except worry about when the strike would be settled; what had he done to rattle Clancy so; what was he going to do at lunch with Lillian and Father Patrick. 

If this was what a man of leisure had to do, he wasn’t interested. He’d rather be worked to the bone and back sore from the pits than have time to think about things he didn’t understand and problems he didn’t know how to solve.

The Reverend Brown once said that God makes each man to his purpose. All along Birk figured his purpose was to work, to crush coal, bring his pay home to the family, sleep and do it again. Cut and dry so he didn’t have make any decisions himself.

“Taking the air?” someone said from behind him.

Birk started and almost fell off the piling and into the harbour. 

“Oh, Jim, you about knocked me over.”

“Saw you and that mainlander having a go at each other earlier.”

“Got in one another’s way. Gave him a good what for though. Sort of thing I never could get away with Geo.”

“That Geo used to love to torment you some.”

“Ma says it was what brothers were supposed to do.”

“Never had a brother. All sisters. Thought getting married wud be an escape from that. Trouble is sisters is women and I married  a woman. Them ‘s the breaks.”

“How long you think this strike is going to go on?” Birk asked.

“Not too much longer after us burning down the pluck me.  Sort of thing the Corporation won’t stand for. There’ll action and not the kind of action we’re going to appreciate much.”

“You ever think o’ getting out of the mines?”

“And do what? I suppose I could try for the Steel Plant, or that iron foundry in North Sydney. But this is what I know. You want to try your hand at something else?”

“Clancy said future’s black underground. He got some schoolin’ though he could get on. Oh … I dunno … I was pretty happy doin’ what we all do …”

“But you feel there’s something more? I know that feelin’. When I was your age I wanted something more too. Sure wish I done something about it then. What did I do? I changed shifts in the mines. That’s what I did. Come on I’ll spot you a tip at Dan’s.”

“Ma ’d kill me if she finds out I went to the bootlegger.”

“You only die once.” Jim laughed. 

“Sure why not. I’m wanting to do something different. Maybe this is it, eh?”

Dan’s house was at the edge of the end of Castleton Mines past St Agatha’s hall. Birk knew that after the recent union meetings some of the men would end up there drinking their strike pay.

“If it’s not Blackie’s boy.” Dan greeted him. “Thought you tea-total same as yer old man.”

Birk grinned. He recognized several of the men there. There was also a couple women there. Wearing not much of anything. The place smelled of beer, cigarette smoke and sweat. He peered around afraid he’d see Clancy there.

“Aren’t you the hairy beast.” one of the women brushed up against him and put her hand into his shirt. All she was wearing was an untied silk robe. He saw that she was naked underneath it. He moved back.

“Look ladies we got a virgin here?” she laughed hoarsely.

Birk continue to back away. 

“Don’t be afraid, little man. I won’t hurt ya.” She touched his face and moved to kiss him.

“No … n … no … thanks Ma’am.”  Her perfume made it hard for him to breathe.

He turned and rushed out of the house and ran all the way home. Was this were McKlusky spent his time? Was this what men did? 

He took his boots off on the back porch of the house and went in quietly.

His mother was at the kitchen table.

“Where you been?” she asked.

“Down the dock. Thinking.”

She leaned over and smelled his shirt. “All this time?”

“I got took over to Dan’s. Ma it was … I never been in there … you gotta believe me. I was so afraid I’d find Clancy there. There was women. I didn’t know what to do so I bolt out of there fast as I could.”

“Who took ya?”

“I don’t want to say. Don’t ask me. I wanted to see what went on in those places. That’s all.”

“I believe you Birk. I do.” She shook her head. “You go to bed. You got to meet that nun tomorrow.”

“Nun?”

“The priest’s niece.”

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Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip this summer to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet