Chapter LXI – Birk at the Courthouse

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 LXI

Birk

at the

Courthouse

“What are they accusing us of?” Birk asked though the bars between their cells.

Before Clancy could answer one of the officers came and and took Clancy out of his cell. 

“Chief Constable does wan’t you two fancy boys too close to each other.” The constable sniggered as he took Clancy away. “We’re putting you in the infirmary lock up. No one there for you to bother.”

Birk paced his cell. He was as alone as he had ever been. The holding cells stank of urine. There was a bucket with a board over it in one corner for doing that sort of business. The bed was the only thing to sit on in the room. It was barely wide enough for him to lay on, with a hard thin straw mattress that didn’t soften the boards on the bed. No pillow and a thin grey sheet. At least sheet smelled clean.

He took his shoes off and lay on the bed. The wall was covered with various scratching and writing. Dates and names. 

“Willie Campbell – lost a hand for his country now jailed in reward.” One of them said.

The ceiling overhead was mottled with mold and cobwebs in the corners. Some of plaster had cracked and fallen in one corner.

The one narrow window was high on the wall and let some light through. This is what he had come to.

The respect he had gotten the days after he crawled up out of the mine wasn’t going to keep him warm tonight. He wondered how it was he’d been so happy one day and now was here in a cell and not even understand why.

Buggery? He’d heard the men say that often enough in the pits. Calling someone an “old fart” “useless bugger” when you wanted to say something worse. But no one ever explained what bugger meant. He’d always thought it had to do with the rats as they were most often called “useless buggers.” When you said that about someone else you were calling them rat.

But the way that priest, Father Patrick, had said it it had to mean more than saying he and Clancy were mine rats. Then the copper calling them “fancy boys” because they weren’t as well dressed as he was. The only way he’d ever heard that before was to make fun of a miner getting too dressed up or not bothering to get dressed up for something. He was never one to put on airs, though Clancy did get a bit too cleaned up at times.

All that washing up at the tubs at Mrs. Franklin’s always seemed to him he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. They certainly weren’t acting like someone they weren’t now. Even at Blue Lake they were doing what they usual did. Horsing around. Expect for that moment when they touched each other’s privates. The moment when Lillian spied them.

Was that what she was going on about? Was that the pleasuring that got her so distraught. Not as if it was the sort of thing any man would think to let a lady do, to touch his little guy. Having her see it was bad enough, but to touch it. That wasn’t right. There had to be something in the scriptures about that. Yet she did see them naked. That she had caused him shame. That was an affront, he knew that even though he hadn’t done it to offend anyone. If he had known she was near he wouldn’t have let that happen. 

He signed deeply accepting this was a consequence for his being so thoughtless. He drifted off wondering if he knew Willie Campbell.

 

In the morning a guard brought him a tray with a mug of tea and some toast and an apple.

“Here.” he pushed the tray though an opening at the bottom of the cell door.

“Thanks. More’n I usually get in the morning.” He sat with the tray on the bed. “What’s going to happen to me next?”
“You and your mate’ll be taken to Sydney, where Magistrate Doucet will see you this afternoon. Usually they don’t take cases that fast but that Miss McTavish got some pull I guess. She sure wants to see you and your mate get what for.”

“I wish I knew what got her so wound up.” Birk ate his toast.

“If’n you ask me she got too much time on her hands and not enough children to keep her occupied. That’s the trouble with some people not enough business of their own so they gets into the business of peoples that they have no business bothering with in the first place. Children is woman’s business.”

“Could be.” Birk finished his breakfast and slid the tray back.

“How’re your hands?” The officer asked as he picked the tray up.

Birk flexed his fingers and look at them.

“Getting better.”

“How you damage them so much.”

“Climbing up out of the mine that time.”

“Oh! That was you! I was going to offer to piss on em fer ya.” The officer laughed as he left the holding cells.

He returned some time later and unlocked the cell door.

“Time to transport you to Sydney.” He took Birk firmly by the arm and out to a truck in back of the police station. Clancy was already in the back of the enclosed back cab. There was wooden bench across each side of the cab.

“You here!” The officer pushed Birk sitting opposite Clancy.

“Feed you well?” Clancy asked.

“Good enough. You.”

“Yeah. Tea a bit weak but the milk sure was sweet.”

“At’s enough out of you two.” a couple of officers clamber in the back with them.

Birk and Clancy sat in silence as the truck drove to Sydney. The two officers talked non-stop about their families and about how the station had been swamped with out-of-work miners looking for work.

The truck bumped up and down on the road. The road underneath gradually smoothed.

“Comin’ into Sydney lads.” One of the officers said. “The streets may not be paved with gold but they sure are smooth.”

The truck came to a stop and the back door opened. They were lead directly into the back of a large building and up a flight of stairs to the second floor.

The officer opened a door with a frosted glass transom. “Clancy Sinclair, you’ll wait in here” Clancy went into the room. The officer locked it.

“You Birk Nelson, you’ll wait here.” He indicated a bench further along the wall.

 

Birk sat and had to plant his feet firmly to keep from sliding off the slippery bench. He lost track of time till a near by church rang for noon.

The door opened and Clancy stepped out and was taken away by an officer before Birk could make eye contact with him.

“Birk Nelson, You can go in now.” The other officer nodded to Birk.

There was no one in the room. There was desk with a chair, then a window behind it. The barred window overlooked the area behind the building. The only chair in the room was behind the desk.

There were some book shelves along one wall and pictures of Queen Victoria and another of George V. A door between the bookshelf and the window opened into another room. Birk wasn’t sure where to sit.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Magistrate Doucet came in from the side door. “You are young Mr. Nelson. Mac’s son?”
“Yes.” Birk stood holding his hands behind his back.

“I know your father. He worked with my uncle for many years. Jean Doucet.”

“T’Jean?” Birk smiled. “Yes. He’d play fiddle whenever we needed one.”

“Yes, that’s him. I understand you are the young man who did the dangerous climb out of the pits.”

“Yes.” Birk blushed. “I only did what anyone would have if he had to.”

“Modesty. A nice trait in a man.”

“Modesty?” Birk asked.

“Not one to brag.”

“I see. I suppose that’s me alright.”

“But we were none too modest yesterday. Letting your naked self in the air for all to see.”

Birk was trying to make the connection between not bragging and being seen naked.

“You don’t deny that do you?”
“No. No. We had been fishing at Blue Lake.”

“Yes. Yes. I have the story pretty clear in my head Birk. You strike me as being a good lad.”

“Thank you sir. I try.” 

“How much schoolin’ have you had.”

“Some. I left at twelve to work the mines. So not much since then. Though Miss Lillian did help us some.”

“Miss Lillian? Then you knew here before the trouble at Blue Lake?”
“Yes sir. She had come to the Mudside to help teach those that had no school to go to. She’d visited my sister and I’d sit in too to make my writing and reading better.”

“Interesting. I didn’t know this. Did you have affections for her?”

“She was pleasant enough, Sir.”

“You weren’t interested in her? As a wife perhaps”

“Never. Not a bit of it. She was a proper Catholic gal with a priest uncle. My mother would never allow that sort of thing. No, I wasn’t keen on it. Never was.”

“Was she interested in you? Beyond teaching you?”
“Can’t say as I know. She did ask what hopes I had of getting married some day but I don’t see any sense it it.”

“Birk in my business I hav etc be a good judge of character and strike me as being a good sort of young man.” The magistrate leaned back in his chair.

“Thank you, sir.” He shifted from foot to foot.

“One way to do that is to keep your pants on when you’re out and about.” The magistrate laughed. “You never know when some gal with get the wrong idea about you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You can go.” The magistrate stood and went to open the door to the hall.

“Sir, can I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“Father Patrick said something about buggery? I heard that used around in the mines, but what does it mean?”

“Birk, my boy,” The magistrate patted Birk on the shoulder. “That is something you don’t need to know. I’ll say that it is a vile degrading business that no decent folks, let alone a man of the cloth, should know anything about. Don’t concern yourself with it. I have met those that have indulged in that sordid filth and you aren’t of their ilk. Not a bit.”

He walked Birk down to the street.

“You can get yourself home I trust?” The magistrate shook Birk’s hand.

“This the end of it?” Birk asked.

“Oh, yes.” The Magistrate said. “The young lady clearly is a touch hysterical after the death of her husband.”

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Chapter LX – Lillian Makes Accusations

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LX

Lillian

Makes

Accusations

“Those men … naked …” she gabbed at the air in front of her,

“You are alright my dear.” Clara said.

“Where?” Lillian looked around. She was in the O’Dowell’s sitting room.

“The officers brought you here. They didn’t want to to be at the station when they brought those creatures in.” Clara explained. 

Lillian sank back on the couch. “They have been arrested?”

“Oh yes.” Her uncle said. “They were at the Nelson residence. They’ll regret what they’ve done to you.”

“Yes. Yes.” she said. “Father Patrick! When did you …”

“Dr. Drummond is here to examine you.” A policeman stepped into her field of vision.

“Examine me!” 

“To see the extent of …” the policeman hesitated and drop his voice. “… your violation.”

“My violation!” Lillian pushed herself upright and swung her feet to the floor. “It’s my sense of decency that has been assailed not my person.” She stood. “Where are they?”

“In the jail.” The policeman said. “But you claimed they had interfered with you.”

“No, not me, but they have affronted the laws of God. Take me to them. Let them deny that to my face.” She gently pushed Clara aside and went to the front door.

As they walked back to the police station Lillian barely listened as her uncle spoke to her.

“You’re leaving your parish?” she asked him.

“Yes. I had been summoned to Montreal by the Bishop. He had been … informed of the confusions around your death.”

“Confusions which you were complicit in.” Clara said.

“Yes, well, be what that may. We, he and I, decided it would in the best interests of all if I went to Africa.”

Lillian stopped and laughed aloud. “Africa! You are going to be an African Missionary!”

“It will be blessing for me to carry the word of God where it takes me.” He replied.

“I’ll pray for the souls of those savages.” Lillian said as they went into the police station.

They followed the officers to the cells where Birk and Clancy were being held.

Lillian was startled when Birk jumped to the bars of his cell. “Tell them Miss that we didn’t interfere with you in anyway. Tell them!”

Lillian stepped back. Clearly the constables had misinterpreted her distress. 

“I regret if you have been mislead.” She turned to the officers. “They did my person no harm but what I saw will be forever burned into my memory.”

“But you said they were naked.” One of the officers said.

“We were swimming.” Clancy said. 

“They were doing more than that. Weren’t you.” She glared at Birk. His face reddened.

“You see.” She gloated. “He knows what they were doing.”

“What?” the officer looked from Lillian to Birk. “You were not interfered with Miss McTavish?”

“We …” Birk showed his scarred hands through the bars.

“We were pissing on his hands.” Clancy said. “To help them toughen up after what happened in the mines.”

“Birk Nelson is the lad that climbed up, ma’am.” another of the officers said. “If it weren’t for him many more might have perished.”

Lillian’s ire rose to hear the young man defended. “A good deed does not wash a soul clean. It may allow for mercy but he, they, must not be given permission by any brave deed to act the way base animals do. They were pleasuring one another.” She shouted. “Behaving the way abominations do.”

“They were …” Clara said.

“Buggery?” Her uncle gasped and blushed. “Forgive me for saying such a thing in your presence Miss O’Dowell.”

“What is he talking about.” Birk looked blankly at Clancy.

“This has gone far enough. You can go the chief constable and make a full statement to clear up this misunderstanding.” The office in charge said. “We’ll leave these boys to contemplate the consequences of their heedless actions.”

Lillian was taken to the chief constable’s office. She was given a hard, armless chair to sit on.

“Sorry, Miss McTavish, but this chair is usually reserved for prisoners. We don’t want them too comfortable for questioning. Now tell me exactly what happened. What was it you think you saw.”

“I was walking along on the trails that lead to Blue Lake. I wanted solicitude to collect my thoughts. Since the death of my husband I have been making plans for my future.” Lillian paused. “I came over a small rise and could see the lake. I saw those animals cavorting. Naked. Touching one another’s privates. Beastial animals.” She shuddered. 

“What exactly did you see ma’am? How close were you when you first saw them?” The chief Constable asked.

“I’ve told you what exactly I saw. Are you doubting my word?” Lillian stood. “Their lack of decency is appalling. To think I tried to elevate his mind while they were …”

“Yes, ma’am. But you’ve heard what they have said.”

“They are abominations.” Her uncle shouted. “You have no right to defend what they were doing. You’ve heard what my niece has said. What more do you want from her.”

“Father Patrick,” The chief constable said. “I am doing my duty as an policeman. I have no evidence of what this lady claims to have seen.”

“What more evidence do you need.” Father Patrick said. “They have admitted to being naked in public.”

“That is hardly a crime.” the Constable replied. “They were in a rather deserted area. It was perhaps inconsiderate of them to have removed their under drawers to swim.”

“They weren’t merely swimming.” Lillian said. “I saw with my own eyes. I know what I saw. Something must be done.”

“Yes.” Her uncle said.

“What are you going to do?” she demanded.

“It had already  been arraigned that they’ll appear in Sydney tomorrow afternoon before the magistrate for interfering with Miss McTavish. I’ll inform the court that the charges had been changed to something less dire.”

“Less dire! To interfere with a lady is unconscionable but not unexpected of undisciplined young men but what they were doing is unnatural.” 

“They should be horsewhipped for behaving as they did in front of a lady.” Clara said.

“If this was in fact an indecent assault in anyway they will be dealt with severely once sentenced.” the Constable said. “But that is not in our hands.”

The next morning Lillian set out directly after breakfast to go to Sydney in hopes of having an opportunity to speak with the magistrate before he sat in session with Birk and Clancy. She had met Magistrate Doucet a few times while with Steven.

She asked after him at the courthouse and was told he usually lunch at the Island Hotel on court days. She found him there.

“Magistrate Doucet,” she stood by his table. “Might I have a word with you?”

“Of course Miss McTavish. Please sit down.” he indicated empty chair on the other side of his table. “If it’s about the two lads I can assure they will be sternly taken to task for this behaviour.”

“I had no doubts about your judgement. You must be aware of what it says in the scriptures about such matter.” She had spent part of the night, with her uncle, going over the sections of the the Bible that spoke of such things. From her purse she took notes she had made of the the appropriate passages. “This is what it says in the good book.” She placed her notes on the table.

“Thank you.” The magistrate nodded without looking at them. “I will take all this account once I have heard what these lads have to say. You must be aware, Miss McTavish they haven’t had the advantages you have had in growing up. The education and opportunities for experiencing the world. They aren’t as … sophisticated as the men you know in Boston.”

“That’s no excuse. Morality has nothing to do with education.”

“It is all learned, Miss McTavish. What I am saying is that it is unfair to judge these men by the standards that you might use judge those with whom you grew up.” He held his hand up to keep her from speaking out. “However if they have broken a law they will faces the consequences. Ignorance of the law is not permitted.”

“Thank you Mr. Doucet.” Lillian stood to go. “I will be in court to testify to what I saw.”

“I will be seeing them in chambers Miss McTavish. If what you allege is true I will not allow such matters to be heard of in public. There is no need to affront any more people than necessary with such unpleasantness. I may seek to question you, say, at … ” he took out his pocket watch and consulted it. “At 3 pm.”

“Yes, I see.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be seen publicly as someone aware of such distasteful knowledge.”

“I understand.” Lillian was disappointed when she left. She was longing to have these men shamed in front of as many people as possible.

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Chapter LVIX – Birk In Shackles

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LVII

Birk

In

Shackles

Birk and Clancy came back to the Nelson’s with their fish. 

“What is it?” his mother asked. “I can tell by the look on yer faces that something happened.”

“That Miss Lillian caught me and Clancy horsing around. We was bare naked.” He blushed as he told her.

“Why did you do that with her there?” Maddy asked.

“We didn’t know she was there.” Clancy said.

“That stretch of Blue Lake empty most of the time. Even more so this time of the year.” Birk said. “It was warm enough and we wanted to cool down.”

“We had been in for a swim when she came up over the path and spotted us.” Clancy said.

“Started in screaming at us. Calling us Godless and then ran off as if she had seen something awful.”

“Guess a naked, hairy, thing such as yourself might scare a young Catholic gal.” Birk’s mother started to laugh. “She’s been through enough as it is without seeing you two.”

“She wasn’t scared.” Clancy said. “She was in a true rage about how about it wasn’t right for men to be together the way we was. Playing around as if we were kids in the sun.”

“We got dressed as quick as we could but she was gone before we could …”

“Could what?” his mother asked. 

“I don’t know.” Clancy said. “Explain.”

“She didn’t want to hear anything from us once she’d made her mind up. So, we come back here with the fish.” Birk put the fish into a wash basin.

“That’ll teach you.” His mother hit him with her wooden spoon. “You aren’t children anymore. Stop behaving that way.”

“Yes Ma.” Birk flinched.

“And you Clancy Sinclair. I figured you being a bit older would have enough sense. Neither of you are children anymore. You are men. Keep that in mind. It’s not as if the lake is the miner’s wash up room. Now is it?”

“Yes ma’am.” Clancy said.

 

Birk and Clancy were in the back orchard gathering dead wood when Maddy came out to them.

“There’s policemen at the house come looking for you two.”

“What!” Birk said wiping sweat of his brow.

“Ma says to come directly.”

“We’re coming.” He pulled on his shirt.

“What you think it is?” He asked Clancy.

“Fishing out of season? Maybe this is what that priest’s niece said she’d get us in trouble.”

Birk shook his head. “You think she’d do something that mean? I figured she’d go to her uncle, the way she went on about the scriptures.”

“Perhaps’n he got the the police after us then. I wouldn’t put that past him.”

When they got to the house there were three constables waiting for them.

“Birk Nelson? Clancy Sinclair?” The tallest of them asked sharply.

“Yes.” They each answered.

The other two constables stepped forward and grabbed them roughly by the arms.

“You will come with us. Peaceably.”

“What is this about?” Birk’s mother said.

“These bastards know well enough what they’ve done. Ma’am. I can’t want to speak of it in front of children.”

“Maddy you go up to your room.” She stood at the bottom of the stairs till Maddy was in her room. “Now shut your door.”

Birk and Clancy glanced at each other but kept still.

“We done nothing wrong, officers.” Clancy said. ‘Cept get caught by the female with our drawers off to take a swim.”

“That’s not how she tells it.” The tall officer spoke directly into Birk’s face. “Putting your disgusting hands on the good Catholic girl. You got your nerve.”

“We didn’t touch her.” Birk tried to pull away.

“You’ll regret what you did.” One policeman pushed Birk’s face to the wall and shackled his arms behind him.

Birk struggled to get free.

“Keep that up boy. Resisting will only take use more force to keep you in line.”

The officers did the same to Clancy.

They pushed Birk and Clancy along the street. There was another pair of constables waiting at the corner.

“They give you any trouble?” One them asked.

“Not enough. Sarg.” The one with Birk said.

“They fess up?”

“What do you think?”

“You two take the tall one to the ferry. While we have a word with this one.”

The two officers pushed Clancy onto the boat.

“Now. So its Blackie’s son is it?” Sarg said pushing his face close to Birk’s. “Your Da’s a mighty superior man.”

“How’s that?” Birk asked.

“Engineer, that’s how. Working when the other’s isn’t. He was too busy to teach you the difference between right and wrong though. I know what you did to that Boston gal. Filthy Christers like you aren’t above the law. Now you are going to find that out.”

“We didn’t do nothing to her.” Birk had barely finished when the Sarg punched him hard in the face.

“You saying that girl is a liar. Her with her uncle a priest.” He punched Birk again sending him staggering.

“She’s …”  Birk’s mouth was full of blood.

“She’s got us now to defend her honour now. So don’t think you can play innocent.”

Sarg shoved Birk toward the boat, kicking him in the hip. “Keep moving.”

Birk struggled to get his hands out of the handcuffs. 

“Keep still boyo.” Sarg whacked Birk across the ear with the palm of his hand. “Resisting arrest and tryin’ to escape is all we need. Keep that up and there’ll be no need for a trial.”

“The sight of him is making me sick.” Sarg said to the other two officers. “Take him over there out of my sight.”

The officers shoved Birk past Clancy to the other side of the ferry. In passing Birk saw that Clancy’s nose was busted and bleeding over the front of his torn shirt. He sat on a bench and glared out over the water.

The constables escorted Birk and Clancy to the police station in New Waterford and put them each in their own cell in the holding rooms and left them.

“What you think she’s gone and told them?” Clancy asked quietly.

“I don’t know. She didn’t come near enough for us to even talk to her. Maybe she saw more than we know.”

“Saw more? What more, us sporting in the water. She was too far away to see much o’that anyway.”

“She called us things I don’ understand half of what she said about us being unwholesome. Being forna – something?”

“She’s more educated than sensible, if you ask me Birk. I don’t know what she was trying to say except she didn’t much approve that we were having a good time while she was being unhappy about her husband dying like he did in the mines.”

“The constable said that we interfered with her. That means we … put our hands on her.” Birk reddened.

“That was what she meant. That we had forced our attentions on her, on her body.”

“What! She never even came that close to us. Why would she say that?”
“To get us here. She promised to make us as unhappy as she is.”

The door opened and Lillian came in followed by two of the policemen, Father Patrick and Clara O’Dowell.

Birk grabbed the bars of his cell. “Tell them Miss, that we didn’t interfere with you in anyway. Tell them!”

“Interfered?” Lillian asked.

“That’s right ma’am.” The constable that had bloodied Birk’s nose said. “These are the boys you said attempted to have their way with you when you was at the lake.”

“I see you’ve already taken into your hands to punish them.” Clara said. 

“No ma’am.” Another of the officers grinned. “They was tossed around by the waters as we brought them over.”

“I regret you have been mislead constables. I said nothing of that sort of anyone. They did my person no harm but what I saw will be forever burned into my memory.”

“But you said they were naked.” The constable said.

Birk backed away from the bars.

“You see.” She gloated. “He knows what they were doing.”

Clancy explained, again, about the pissing on his hands. Birk showed them his damaged palms and fingers. He kept his eyes on Lillian’s face hoping her looks would make more sense to him than her words. The words were angry with that undercurrent he’d heard in his sister’s voices when they found something that they didn’t approve of, like the time they came across a dead dog out back of their house.

His eyes went from face to face as they talked more to each other than to him and Clancy. They were trying to find out exactly what it was that got Lillian so distressed.

“Buggery?” Father Patrick glared at him then Clara. “Forgive me for saying such a thing in your presence, Miss O’Dowell.”

Birk didn’t know what the priest was talking about. He felt even more lost as Father Patrick became red-faced as he began to quote scripture. 

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Chapter LVIII – Lillian Rips Her Coat

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LVIII

Lillian

Rips

Her Coat

Lillian stepped off the Dingle Dandy. The sun was warm on her face. The sky was as clear a blue as she had seen since coming to the Cape Breton. She began to walk, aimlessly at first. There was no where she had to be, nothing she had to do. There were no emotional holds to her here. 

She walked along Castleton’s main street nodding to people she had become acquainted with during Steven’s campaign. Some knew her name, she knew some of their names, but they meant nothing to her now. To them she was an extension of Steven O’Dowell, his tragic widow, if anything at all.  To her they weren’t even votes anymore.

She stood on the dock to stare across the bay. New Waterford on the other shore looked so small and distant. Was her future small and distant? 

She walked to the gates of the colliery. The notices of its closing now tattered by the wind and bleached white by the sun. The grounds that she could see look as if everyone had that morning stepped away for a moment.

“Good morning Miss McTavish.” 

“Lovely day, Mrs. Seldon.” Lillian leaned over the pram that Mrs. Seldon was pushing. “I see little one has recovered.”

“Yes Miss. The service for Mr. O’Dowell was powerful good.”

“Yes. The Bishop spoke quite eloquently, if a bit long.”

“Oh, Miss.” Mrs. Seldon began to cry. “You are so strong. To put on a smile in your trying times.”

“Strong? No I’ve come to see that tears aren’t going to change what’s happened.”

“Quite rightly so. What brings you here?”

“Nothing in particular. I had to get out of the house for awhile.”

“Never good to sit still for too long. I’m meeting Mr. Seldon here. He’s to get the last of what was owed him. Then we’re leaving same as so many.”

“Where to?”

“Depends on how much he gets. And here he is now. Looking none to happy.”

Mr. Seldon came through the gate. “Miss McTavish.” He doffed his cap to her.

Lillian didn’t bother to correct him. Her marriage to Steven had become more trouble to explain that it was worth.

“So what’s to be done?” his wife asked.

“They says another week. We can stay in the house no charge until they are ready to give my full discharge. They’ve been too busy with the government inspectors and such to look after the books for us little people.”

“Do they still think it was sabotage?” Lillian asked.

“T’isn’t clear.” he replied. “The lower levels were where they think it began have flooded so quick they can’t go down to check ‘em. No one as was down there survived. Of course you know that.” He look away from Lillian. “Sorry to remind you of that Miss. He was a brave’un he was and always stood up for everyone.”

“Thank you Mr. Seldon.” Lillian looked forward to the day when people would stop offering their pity to her.

“Mrs. Seldon says you plan to leave?” she asked.

“Yes Miss. I have kin in Winnipeg so we is goin’ to try our luck out west. And you Miss, you plannin’ to stop here much longer.”

“I haven’t given it much thought Mr. Seldon.” There had been so much to deal with over the past weeks she had given her own future only slight thought. During the days leading up to the service she had helped Clara gather Steven’s clothing to donate through the parish. She had no interest in his jewelry or any other memento. The only thing she had kept was the bottle of the cloying bay rum he was prone to use before she discouraged him.

“You can always go back to your family in Boston.” Mrs. Seldon suggested.

They walked back to the main part of town.

“I suppose I could.” Lillian answered. She could imagine the look on her mother’s face if she turned up at the door. No first she would be greeted by Mable, who would probably scream and faint to see her dead mistress return. Then she would face her mother who would not know right away what to say. Perhaps comment on Lillian’s dusty, dirty shoes or her rather plain attire. “No, I think not, after my time here, Boston holds no promise or appeal for me.”

They came to the town square.

“Nice to see you again Miss.” Mr. Seldon said.

“I know there is plan for you.” Mrs. Seldon said. “If we don’t see you again before we leave you’ll always have a place in my heart for saving ‘the little one’ that time in the fire.”

“Thank you” Lillian kissed Mrs. Seldon on the cheek and continued on her aimless way.

Without the sounds of the mine Castleton was quiet. There was no train shunting coal back and forth, no periodic whistles for change of shifts, no warning clanging of coal about to be loaded into a scow. She couldn’t hear any children or dogs. Castleton Mines was dying all around her. 

There was nothing to keep her here. Not that there had even been anything to keep her there except her own uncertainty and fear.

She had married Steven but lost him before she had a firm foundation to … to what? Get back at her uncle? At her family? They know she was alive after all but to what end? A letter from her father made it clear she was not welcome back to their home. All he would do was print a retraction notice of her death.

Her steps took her along the ridge that lead to Blue Lake. She had walked there a few times with Birk and his sisters. She was amazed at how blue the water was. Not quite sky blue but very clear. She had also been delighted by how happy and excited the little girls had been by something so simple as a lake.

The things that pleased her as the most a child were gifts at Christmas. Dolls, intricate doll houses, and as she got older it was  jewels, paste copies of things her mother wore. She could still see that dainty pair of shoes with the sparkling ruby buckles. 

As she walked the winding path she saw the lake horizon rise and fall before her. It was as if the lake was playing hide and seek with her. The ribbon of blue dipping behind the dune, the rocks, then coming into view again.

She stopped to catch her breath in the last of the dips. She knew that once she walked up the lake would reveal its entire self in one glance. 

She measured her pace to save that view for as long as possible. She she came up she first heard, then saw the young men frolicking in the water.

She blushed when she saw they were naked. She stopped transfixed. She had never seen a man naked. Not even her brothers when they were younger. She had never even seen them bare-chested.

When James Dunham had interfered with her, they had, for the most part, remained fully clothed. Her skirts pulled up and her underthings stretched to allow him entry. 

She stepped back not wanting to be seen. How would Steven have treated her? They both had assumed they would have children.

She inched forward to watch the men again. She recognized them as Birk and Clancy. Birk’s torso was as hairy as his forearms. Clancy’s was pale and hairless expect for hair around his … She closed her eyes then forced them open. She stared at the male members of the two men.

The men jostled and shoved each other too much for her to see more than the fleshy bobbing of their privates. Then they stopped and Birk went to the edge of the lake and made water on his hands. Clancy stood facing him and did the same. Making water on Birk’s hands!

Her eyes opened wider as they reached out to grasp one another privates in their hands. They were grinning foolishly at each other. Pleasuring each other! 

She look around frantically for a stick of sort sort, something to use as switch to teach them, to stop them. There was nothing. She couldn’t let this go on.

“What are you doing?” She shouted down at them.

The men stepped away from each other as Lillian charged down the path to confront them.

They gabbed for their clothes and quickly got dressed.

“Indecent. Shameless animals.” She was nearly shrieking. “Fornicators. Abominations.”

“We were swimming ma’am.” Birk said.

“Decent God-fearing men don’t swim unclad.” Lillian raged Birk with all the scorn she could muster. Was this unnatural proclivity why he was so fearful of her.

“No harm in it.” Clancy said.

“No harm! You weren’t swimming. You were … in contact with each other … you were touching each other in the most unwholesome, unnatural way. I saw … disgusting. How could you …”

She turned from them and started back to the path.

“Ma’am!” Clancy called after her. “I don’t what you think you saw but it was … it’s an old miner’s trick for the hands. To use piss to toughen them. That’s what you saw.”

“I know what I saw.” Lillian stopped to glare at them. “The constables will hear about this. The scriptures are clear about this sin and I’m certain the laws of this land don’t allow it either.”

She rushed back up the path, stumbling in her outrage. Her brothers had sniggered about one of the men in their circle who was more interested in the players on the field than playing the field. She hadn’t quite understood what they meant but now she saw it clearly.

To think of the time she had sacrificed to Birk to try and guide him into a better life and yet he had chosen to lower himself into this sort of degradation. To do it where anyone could see! 

Out of breath she found herself back at the town square. Her dress had been torn by branches when she had made her day through the woods. Who would she tell. Who could do what needed to be done to deal with this? Would Clara know? No! What she had witness was something she couldn’t tell another woman. It was bad enough that she had seen it now she had to recount it.

Her Uncle? No! Yes. But more than him. No. She would have to go to the constabulary in New Waterford. That would take time. Time that those unclean creatures would use to escape. They would … where could they go. Into the woods?

She ran down the the dock as the ferry was pulling out.

“Got on in the nick of time Miss McTavish.”

“Yes I have urgent business in New Waterford and God was with me to insure I did it.”

She paced the decks the boat crossed over to New Waterford. Once on the other side she ran as fast as she could up to the main street and to the police station. Out of breath she couldn’t stand and collapsed on a bench.

“Why it’s Miss McTavish.” one of the police men came over to her. “Bring a glass of water for her. What is it miss?” He kneed in front of her.

“Two men.” she gasped for breath. “by the lake. They …”

“They bothered you miss?” He stood.

“They … naked.” she said.

“Who were they Miss. Do you know who they were?”

“Birk Nelson and … and ..”

“Clancy Sinclair?” he supplied. 

“Yes. They …”

“What is it Constable Jeffers.” another policeman asked.

“Two men attempted to infer with Miss McTavish. I know who they are. Have no fear ma’am.”

“Not …” she reached for the glass of water and fainted.

When she came to she was in the foyer of the Victoria Hotel. Clara was patting her hand. Her Uncle hovered in the background.

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August 2019 Sneak Peek


First the July recap of my on line life 🙂 My fan base continues expanded slowly but surely. WordPress followers are up to 337, Twitter at 217, & Tumblr is at 234. As you can see my popularity in India remains quite high as it leads the list of countries I get hits from. My WP hits topped 40 many days with a several of 60 hit days! The school memory posts have been fun to work on – finding pictures of the schools, making google maps shows me how much those neighbourhoods have changed.

Coal Dusters continues to grow as I get nearer the end with 119,000 words posted so far, still about 20,000 words to go. Into the final stretch. The mine has closed, Lillian has gotten married, the guys hav been caught in a compromising position. What remains? Keep reading to find out what the thrilling conclusion will be. 

My one Stratford excursion was to see  ‘Nathan the Wise’ which I throughly enjoyed: Our Father Issues https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3CB. Next show is Mae West’s Sex at the Shaw Festival. I’m looking forward to seeing an unexpurgated production of her play. Her film scripts were heavily censored & even then were bawdy to the extreme – “Is that gun that in your pocket? Or are you just happy to see me.” – I think that’s one of the few jokes about an erection I’ve heard in any movie.

I finally broke down & got myself prescription sunglasses. When I’m out walking I’ve been fine seeing shapes. I can see well enough to take photos but with my trip to Cape Breton pending I wanted to be able to see everything clearly. Now I see everything clearly. “Oh! That isn’t a gun in your pocket.”

Also bought some Final Touch stainless steel ice cubes at IQ Living! No more watered down ice coffee for me 🙂 Best part is that the cubes sink to the bottom of the glass so the drink cools from the bottom up.

August brings my long await trip to the east coast back to my home town of Sydney. Packing has started by picking clothes to wear – I wish one could teleport luggage – though maybe having a house fly merged with my jean’s fly insult such a pretty picture.

I have several things lined up – all very touristy mind you – a trip to Baddeck to meet friends who moved to NS a few years ago, a trip to the Fortress of Louisbourg to experience the life in the 1700’s (that’ll bring back lots of memories of unwashed, sweaty soldiers). Taking in at least one Highland Arts Theatre production, visiting some local museums, taking lots of photos. Printed out a list of the 12th step meetings which isn’t nearly as extensive as Toronto’s but there is one a day, should I choose to get to them.

 

 

I’ll be taking a media break of sorts – no TV or podcasts for ten days. Limited internet too but I will try to keep up my WP regular posts as well checking in about my excursions. I have all my music, Dusters posts done for the next two weeks.

The rest of August will be spent recovering from the Cape.


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Chapter LVII – Lillian Faces The Future

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 LVII

Lillian

Faces

The Future

Lillian turned Steve’s face back to hers. The weight of his head was heavy in her hands.

“He’s lost consciousness.” Lillian looked up to Dr. Drummond. “All that blood he’s lost has made him weak. He’ll be alright now, won’t he Dr. Drummond?”

She leaned to kiss Steven again. “My husband! I didn’t realize how proud I would be to say those words, Steve. My husband.”

“I think he should rest now.” Dr. Drummond gently removed her hands from around Steven’s head. “You need some rest too.” He helped her stand. “It has been an ordeal for both of you.” He took her out of the infirmary.

“Yes. Yes.” She held her hand up to look at the wedding ring. “Married. I’m actually married.”

She glanced back and saw the orderly pull the sheet over Steven’s face. “No! He’s not …”

She couldn’t stand. Dr. Drummond signalled to one of the nurses to help lead Lillian out of the infirmary. 

The nurse helped Lillian sit on one of the benches in the wash area. 

“Would you like some water? I could get you a cup of tea, if you’d like, Miss McTavish.” 

“It’s Mrs. O’Dowell now.” Lillian replied savouring the words. “Mrs. Steven O’Dowell.”

“I’ll be back in a bit with a nice cup of tea for you Mrs. O’Dowell.” The nurse left.

Restless Lillian walked aimlessly around the wash house. She stepped out and went toward the main gate. The cramped feeling of walls and roofs was suffocating her. She wanted to be able to breathe deeply without the smell of coal in the air.

Her steps took her up the road that lead away from the colliery. One rather side she saw dark shuttered houses. Some had light flickering in various rooms. People with homes. At least homes for now until he company made the move.

How many of them had lost husbands fathers to the mines? A second story curtain flashed white in the dark. She saw the white sheet being pulled up over Steven’s face. Was he actually dead?

She felt the ring on her finger. Yes, they had been married. She felt his head in her hands. His face smudged with coal dust and blood. His eyes so full of love for her. 

She stopped and began to weep. She couldn’t stop her sobs and she let herself give out a howl of grief, anger and fear. Wiping her face on her shawl she stopped  at the steps to St. Agatha’s. She found the key where it was hidden in a nook under a window sill and let herself in.

Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dark.  A few steps to her to the votive rack. She found a candle and lit it before genuflecting and going into the church. 

The air was still and clean. It was silent.

She knelt, took out her rosary and prayed aloud.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

After each amen she moved to the next bead sometimes visualizing Steven transcending out his pains. At other times she reaffirmed her trust that Mary would be lead her to do what was right for her. after the last prayer was said she remained still for a few moments before slowly standing.

Dizzy she sat on the pew. She turned so she could lay flat and stretched her legs out, pushing her back against the firm wood of the bench. How many parishioners has sat here over the years. She fell asleep.

 

She woke with the sun streaming through the windows. Straightening out her skirts she left the church, locked the door and put the key back in its nook. She went to the manse and went in though the back door.

While she started a fire in the stove to make herself a cup of tea she wondered if her uncle was back. All she knew was that he had been summoned by the Bishop. Perhaps he had been reassigned a new parish with this sure to be closed thanks to the strike and now the disaster. She caught her breath. Steven was a victim of that disaster too. What would become of her?

Everything was where it had always been in the kitchen. There were some biscuits in the back pantry but little else. So her Uncle had not yet returned.

After going to the mine infirmary to see Steven’s body to convince herself that he was in fact dead she collected the the marriage licence and other papers he had had in his coat pocket. She kept the blood- stained ribbon he used to tie their wedding rings around his neck. 

Back at the O’Dowell house she gave the  envelope to Clara to open.

Clara sat and quickly went through the papers. 

“I think the most pertinent, to you, at this time are these two letters.”

Lillian took the two single page letters. The first was from the American Consulate in Ottawa. It affirmed that Lillian Patrinella McTavish was alive. There was no legal record of her death registered with the authorities. The other was a letter from her father saying that he had been misinformed of her death by his brother and that he regrets any distress this may have caused his daughter.

“Lillian, I have seen these documents already.” Clara said. “Steven used his Federal connections to make sure that his marriage to you would be … legitimate. They were to be his gift to you after the ceremony. Which I guess in a way they are.”

Clara patted her eyes with her handkerchief.

The next few weeks moved so quickly Lillian often longed for the cool silence of the manse that morning which seemed like another world. After the funeral she remained unsure of her position in the O’Dowell household.

As she went down the stairs she could hear a babble of female voices coming from the living room. This was the day the Women’s Association for Catholic African Missionaries met at the O’Dowell house. After attending two of the meetings, solely to please Clara, she didn’t feel at ease with these women. All of whom were ten or more years older than her. They talked more about their neighbours than the plight of the African Missionaries.

Lillian ducked into the kitchen.

“You’re looking better to day Miss Lillian.” Aileen said.

“I wasn’t aware I wasn’t looking well?” Lillian joked. “Can I help with anything?”

“No, Miss. You join the others I can tend to this.” Aileen was pouring water into the tea pot.

“I’ll take that in Aileen. You can set a spell.” Lillian took the tea tray and went into the living room. “Good afternoon ladies.”

“Ah Lillian,” said Mrs. Donaldson. “We were talking about you and your future.”

“You are thinking I’d make a good missionary to Africa?” Lillian poured tea into their proffered cups.

“Oh dear no!” said Mrs. Murphy. “Rather we were discussing how happy we’ve been to have you here in our midst.”

“And how much they’d hate to see you leave.” Clara said.

“Yes!” came in a chorus from several of the ladies.

“What we offer to propose,” said Mrs. Murphy, “is that you teach our daughters proper etiquette.”

“The Sisters at the school are good for educating them,” said Mrs. Murphy, “but that doesn’t prepare them for being in society at large.”

Lillian looked at them. She wanted scream, ‘Look at me! Look at the society my fine upbringing has brought me to. You want your daughters to be cast aside the way we would a piece of furniture that has lost its use because it has some insignificant damage!’

“I’m sincerely flattered.” Lillian took a deep breath as she considered her reply. “I’m sure you mean well but …”

“Hear our offer first Lillian.” Mrs. Murphy said. “I’ve talked this over already with Mrs. Prentis and Mrs. Donaldson.”

Those two ladies nodded their heads.

“This came a pleasant surprise to me too Lillian,” Clara said. “I had no idea that you had made such an impression.”

“How could she not. Being at Steven’s side …” Mrs. Murphy paused to hold back her emotions. “during his campaign we all saw what a refine and practicable person you were. Even then it occurred to me that I would love to have daughter exactly like you.”

“Again I am flattered. But what exactly is it you want me to teach?”

“How to comport yourself.” Mrs. Donaldson said. “Too many of these young Catholic girls are becoming …. too modern. They talk about getting a job, not raising a family.”

“That’s right. It’s one thing to want to be a clerk at O’Dowell’s but to want to learn short-hand and typing and work in an office.” Said Mrs. Murphy. “That’s a step too far. That might be fine for Protestant girls but well … you know the morals of that sort.”

“I understand your concerns ladies but fail to see how I can impart anything to them of that nature. There are no books to fall back on. I might instruct them in needlepoint but that isn’t going to strengthen their morals as you imply.”

“But your example …” Mrs. Murphy started.

“No, ladies I don’t see what I can do.” Lillian shrugged.

“She is right.” Clara said smiling. “After all the way Lillian comports herself was learned in her own home. Right Lillian?”

“Yes, Clara.” she again resisted the temptation to lecture these women. “ It is probably more advantageous for your daughters to learn practical things that they can use in the world. Needlepoint and how to set a proper table won’t take you as far as short-hand. In fact, I’m sorry I never got the opportunity to learn it myself. Do you want your daughters to be so dependant on a husband that she can’t fend for herself in the world.” Lillian sighed deeply.

“We were looking for ways to be helpful to you.” Mrs. Murphy said taking Lillian by the hand and patting it. 

“I know that Mrs. Murphy.” She leaned and kissed Mrs. Murphy on the cheek. “I’m not that helpless. The Lord has made clear my path thus far and He will continue to do so. I don’t need a crystal ball to be sure of that.”

“Shall you be wanting another pot of tea?” Aileen came into the living room.

“No, Aileen.” Clara said. “The meeting is about to adjourn.”

“I’ll help clear these things away Aileen.” Lillian busied herself with the cup and saucers to avoid any further conversations with the women.

She knew her first step would be get out of the reach of these well-meaning women. Perhaps though it might be wise to heed them after all her own plans had so far not worked out as expected. Each solution had produced yet another trial for her to face. 

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Chapter LVI – Birk and Clancy Go Fishing

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 LVI

Birk

and Clancy

Go Fishing

The unusually mild fall day warmed Birk and Clancy as walked along the lane that passed behind St. Agatha’s manse. Leaves had changed and were starting to gather on the laneway.

“Sad about her.” Birk stopped to look at the garden.

“Yep. Strange how things happen. Who would have thought what her future was going to bring her.”

“She was pretty one.” Birk said.

“Guess that isn’t enough to make a happy life. Good thing that isn’t your problem.” Clancy started back up the lane.

“What you saying?” Birk gave him a playful shove.

“Birk, let’s face it no one is ever going to call you pretty or even handsome.”

“Goes for you too.” He took off running keeping a grip on the fishing poles.

Clancy followed suit.

Birk ran a few hundred feet then stopped to see how far Clancy was behind him. Clancy had stopped running only after a few yards and was walking and breathing hard.

“The ribs won’t let me keep up with you.” 

“Didn’t think. When you can’t see the hurt you forget that it’s there.”

“When I breath too heavy I know it’s there.” Clancy touched his ribs.

“Mac’s taking that job at the steel plant in Sydney.” Birk said. “We’ll be moving there. He thinks probably something there for me too.”

“Yeah, so I heard. I figure I’ll go back to my Ma’s for awhile and then decide what to do. Go west I suppose. Sudbury perhaps.”

“Many have.” Birk said. 

Over past few weeks while they both recovered from their injuries they had spoken often about what lay ahead. Birk didn’t see himself leaving the island the way his brother George had.  With the mine officially closed many had already moved out of Castleton Mines. Some went to relatives else where on the island. Those that could were going back to school or looking to get trained in other trades. The Vocational School in Glace Bay offered courses in auto repair, electric engineering that Birk had considered. But the small size of the print in the their material scared him.

They came to the cliffs that led down to the beach along Blue Lake.

“I’m not sure I can hop down as easy you can.” Clancy stopped a few feet away from the first one.

“There is another way, you know.” Birk laughed.

“What!” Clancy said. “You never told me that, you bastard.”

“Yeah, but this one is faster. But we’ll take the t’other one this time.” He lead Clancy around the thicket and there was rocky path that coiled through the firs and down to the bottom of the drop. 

When they got to the bottom, Clancy stopped to catch his breath and to look back the way they had come. “You never said a thing! I’d never seen it either. Not from here anyhow and it is right in front of me.”

“Forest can be that way. You ready to keep going. Not much further.”

The walked up a sandy hillock and stood facing the lake.

“There’s the rocks over there?” Clancy pointed to a low shelf of flat rock near the lake.

“That be them. Last time I was here was with Maddy and Sal.” He had a lump in his throat. “Was hard to say no to Maddy today. She sure wanted to tag along. She’s been that way since Sal passed.”

Clancy reach over and put his arm around Birk’s shoulder. “It’s been tough times for everyone hasn’t it.”

“We can stand the gaff.” Birk tried to joke.

“Sure we can, but that don’t mean we have to enjoy it.” Clancy hand slid down Birk’s arm and he took one of Birk’s hands his own and lifted it to look at it. “This is healing pretty good. Sort of soft though.”

“What you expect.” Birk pulled his arm away. “That medicated stuff don’t harden the skin none.” He flexed his fingers. “But the ache is pretty much gone from what I put them through.”

“There’ll be scars, too.”

Ma says I’ll have man’s hands.”

They went down to the shore, baited their hooks and cast them into the water.

“You never say much about what happened.” Clancy said.

“Happened?”

“When you climbed up to the cage.”

“Don’t hardly want to remember that much.” For a moment Birk could feel that help[less sensation of hanging in the air, nothing but a black bottomless pit beneath his feet.

“Weren’t nothing to put m’feet on. When Red dropped so sudden I was dangling there same as …. the last leaf on a tree in the wind not knowing when it was going to be pulled off. My heart about stopped and I thought I was going to throw up.”

“Jez but I’d a crapped my pants for sure.”

“Not sure I didn’t do that myself. My coveralls were pretty much a mess when I did get up. Mud and grease from the cables and blood from who knows where.”

They cast their lines again.

“Worse moment was when I saw the the damn trap had to be pushed up, not dropped down. I had no way to get a grip to push it.”

“You could’a used your head. It’s hard enough.”

“Not as hard a something I can think of.” Birk nodded at the rocks where they had dried in the sun before.

“So what did you do?” 

“For some reason I thought of Sal’s bean plants, How they’d cling to anything and pull up and up. I acted a monkey and swung me feet up at it. A couple of swings and it popped open enough for me to crawl though. That’s what ripped me fingers up so bad. The grate was made to stand on not hold on to.”

“Christ! I wish I could have seen you from down there. When you went up we didn’t think we’d ever see you again, you know. Some thought you was brave and other’s thought you was a damned fool.”

“Not much choice. Did I want to die down there, waiting to be plucked up or do what I could? You know it was thanks to you I finally made it up.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I began to sing-song to myself the way you would when we were working.”

“This is a pole, this is the fish, this is a wish, soon a trout for my dish.” Clancy sang.

“It was more this way, ‘This is the hand, this is the hold, this is the hand that finds the coal, this is the hand that finds the hold.’” Every word of the song came back to Birk.

Clancy put down his fishing rod, reached over and took Birk’s free hand in both of his and sang the song back to him. “ ‘This is the hand, this is the hand I hold, this is the hand that found the light, this is the hand that finds the hold.’” He gently pressed Birk’s fingers open and kissed the palm of his hand.

“What the …” Birk yanked his hand out of Clancy’s.

They looked into each other’s eyes. Birk broke the gaze.

“This isn’t catching us much fish.” he said.

“Then let’s get to it.”

They re-baited and cast and over the next hour caught several sizeable fish.

“Ma’ll be happy with these.”

Clancy cleaned two and put them on branches to roast over a small fire.

“Won’t be doing this much once we move.” Birk said. “Too far a hike from where we’ll be in Sydney.”

“You Dad already found a place?”

“They showed him a few when he was over to do what paper work had to be done. He says the windows are properly caulked. No more winter breezes. Plumbing too.”

Clancy walked over the the flat rock and laid down on it.

“A little warm from the sun.” He stretched his arms and legs out as far as he could.

“Usually is.” Birk stretched out beside him. “The sky sure is blue today. Not a cloud. I wonder how far I’m seeing when I look right up into it.”

“As far as you do a night. No stars to catch your eyes.” He slid his arm under Birk’s neck.

“There could be something for you at the plant too, Clancy.”

“Might be, but I’m for one of those mechanics courses. I’d want some job that is not dark and wet all day, like the pits, nor hot and burning all night the steel plant is.”

“That makes some sense. I’m not sure about all the readin’ though.”

“I can help some with that, if you’ll let me.”

“I figured you would.” Birk rolled to his side so he was facing Clancy. “How the ribs?” He swung himself straddled over Clancy with his arms extended and on his toes so their noses almost touching.

“Try.”

Birk lowered himself.

“Ow. Off.” He pushed Birk away. “I can’t take that much weight, yet.”

“How about you on me?”

Clancy rolled on top of Birk. “Not as bad” 

They moved their groins together.

“No!” Clancy winced and gingerly moved off Birk. “We’re going to have to wait a bit longer before we can do anything.” 

“Least ways we can have that bit of fish.” Birk pushed himself up to his feet and helped Clancy stand up.

“Yer little fella says it be wanting for something.” He playful brushed his hand over the bulge in Clancy’s pants. He let it linger there.

“Yours too?” Clancy squeezed the bulge in Birk’s pants.

“Swim?” Birk stepped back and quickly shed his clothes and splashed into the lake. “Water isn’t too cold.”

“I’ll be right there.” Clancy moved the cooked fish away from the fire, then pulled off his clothes to chase after Birk.

“It’s freezing!” Clancy shouted splashing Birk.

They swam away from the shore to a point where the water was about neck deep for Birk. They splashed, shoved and pulled each other under the water. Brushing closer and closer, stopping at times to press against each other from the front, from behind.

“Ribs hurting?” Birk asked with Clancy hugging him around the shoulders from behind.

“Not a bit in this cold water.”

“Birk reached behind and grabbed Clancy’s privates by the root. Clancy pushed himself in and out in the the tight grip and quickly exploded. As Birk felt the small warm jet on the back of his hand his own flashed out into the water.

They swam back to the shore.

“Think the fish’ll enjoy that?” Birk asked.

“Not as much as we did. Didn’t hurt your hand much?”

“Nay.” Birk opened and closed his hands. “I … we never did anything such as that before.” 

“Such as what?” Clancy pulled the fish off the spit and handed one to Birk.

“I never held your little fella. Never felt it in my hand.”

“You mind?”

“Nah. Shh … look!” Birk said.

A doe with two fawns came out of the wood around the curve from them.

“Beauties.” Clancy said. “True beauties.”

They watched in silence while the deer drank from the lake and then suddenly scampered back into the woods.

“They must heard something?”

“Yeah, you breathing.” Birk said. “Best be heading back.”

Birk stood and went back to the edge of the water. “Got leave a little something behind.” He held his hands in front of him and pissed on them

“You still doing that!” Clancy said.

“Have to get ‘em toughened up after being so medicated.”

“Here let me give you a little more.” He stepped beside Birk and pissed on Birk’s hands as well.

Birk splashed some of his piss at Clancy. Clancy stepped back.

“Hey.”

“Good for you, too!” He rubbed the urine into his hands then kneeled to dipped his hands in the water.

“As good as this.” Clancy aimed the last of his urine to Birk’s face.

“You bastard.” Birk jumped up and splashed Clancy with water he had cupped in his hands.

Clancy was laughing. “You should have seen the look on your face.” He reached out and took Birk’s privates in his hand. “I’ve never done it before either. I’ve handled my little feller enough times but never another one.”

“Your hands are cold.” Birk said. He cupped Clancy’s privates in his hand. 

“So are yours. But your member is warming up fast.”

“Yours too!”

“What are you men doing?” A woman shouted down at them.

Birk stepped away from Clancy looking around to see where the voice had come from.

It was Lillian McTavish coming toward them from the part of the path that was hidden from their view.

The two men gabbed for their clothes and quickly got dressed.

“Indecent. Shameless animals.” She was nearly shrieking. “Fornicators. Abominations.”

“We were swimming, ma’am.” Birk said.

“Decent God-fearing men don’t swim unclad.”

Birk had never seen a look so piercing in anyone’s eyes before. 

“No harm in it.” Clancy said.

“No harm! You weren’t swimming. You were … in contact with each other … you were touching each other in the most unwholesome, unnatural way. I saw … disgusting. How could you …”

She turned from them and started back to the path.

“Ma’am!” Clancy said. “I don’t what you think you saw but it was … it’s an old miner’s trick for the hands. To use piss to toughen them. That’s what you saw.”

 

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LV – Birk Faces The Future

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 LV

Birk

Faces

The Future

The next morning Birk went to the colliery infirmary. Dr. Drummond carefully removed the bandages. The skin on his hands was torn and rubbed away along his knuckles but otherwise he was uninjured. 

“The swelling has gone down considerably.” Drummond said.

“Too bad this had t’happen.” Birk said to the doctor washing the medicated ointment off his hands. “Things getting back to the way they used be.”

“Still some splinters here. I’ll have get them out before they get infected.”

“Do what you have to.” It was odd to Birk to have a man handle his hands so gently then so firmly as the doctor used tweezers, sometimes needles to pull out the splinters.

“Not sure I’m goin’ to get all of them today though.”

Birk’s father came into the infirmary.

“How’s he looking Doctor.”

“He’ll pull though but it’ll be a few weeks before he’ll be pulling anything else.”

The two men laughed at something that Birk didn’t understand.

The last of the miners were being brought into the infirmary.

“We’re getting them up from the levels that were blocked by the cage.” One of the rescue team said. “Someone did a good job to get that trap open.”

“Some times good things happen when a miner opens his big trap.” Birk’s father said..

Dr. Drummond had one of his nurses do the final work on Birk’s hands so he could attend to the other men. The nurse rubbed a salve on Birk’s hands then wrapped them both in fresh gauze.

“You’ll need to leave this on for a day. Keep it as clean as you can. Come back tomorrow and we’ll check to see if all the splinters are cleared out and make sure no infection has set in.” The nurse left to attend to the recent arrivals.

“You been home yet?” He asked his father. “Ma was wondering?”

“I’ve had to keep an eye on the ….”

A woman’s shout cut him off.

“Who is it?” Birk stood and walked toward were the woman was.

“It’s Lillian McTavish.” One of the rescue workers said.

“Christ!” He had forgotten that Seven O’Dowell had gone down with the second group of men.

“They did bring him up alive.” His father said. “But died in her arms.”

Birk didn’t know if he should offer condolences. “She was kind to us, you know, Mac. Very kind.” He began to cry.

“It’ll be hard for all of us.” He father put his arm around Birk’s shoulder. “They were wed before he drew his last breath.”

“Not much we can do about that is there.” Birk didn’t know how to respond. “Married?”

Birk watched as Lillian was taken out of the infirmary and lead to the manager’s office.

“Ah, Birk, sure is good to see your face again.” Clancy said from behind him. 

“Only been a couple of hours.” Birk tried to smile.

“Ah, Mr. Sinclair.” Dr. Drummond walked over and put his stethoscope to Clancy’s chest.

Clancy coughed and spat up coal dust and blood. “That’s a pain I never expected to feel.” he tapped the bottom of his rib cage. “Right close to m’young heart.”

“You been spitting up much blood?” Drummond asked Clancy.

“Some but not every time.”

“Take as deep a breath as you can.”

Clancy breathed in. Pain flashed across his face as he coughed again. He spit onto a cloth a nurse handed him. The doctor examined it. 

“A bit of blood but if it was worrisome it would be a lot redder. Any in your urine?

“Not that I’ve noticed.” Clancy said.

“To be safe you should go the hospital for an X-ray.” The doctor said. “There’s some other’s going shortly. You can go along with them.”

Once they saw that Clancy was on his way to the hospital Birk and his father started to leave for home. He saw Lillian being taken to the back of the infirmary where the bodies were kept. Her screams and sobs started him weeping again as his father lead him away.

“There’s nothing to be done. She has …”

“She has no family here. Nothing.”

“She has those who’ll look for her. Trust me Birk.” He father said. “The O’Dowell’s are good people.”

Birk broke away from his father and stepped through the door at the back of the infirmary. The smell made him dizzy.

“I …” he started unsure if what to say.

“You!” Lillian screamed and rushed at him flailing at him with her fists. “You miners killed him. He did his best for you minders and now you’ve gone and killed him. Murderers. Butchers.” She struck his chest and shoulder several times before being pulled away. She sagged sobbing into the arms of one of the nurses.

“Come on Birk.” His father pulled him out of the room by the arm. “I told you we weren’t wanted here.”

“What did she mean by murderers?” He asked as they exited the colliery.

“When you got out of the cage did you get a good look at the cage cable.”

“I was working to get up and out of there nothing more.” Birk thought for a moment. “It was fair snapped.”

“Clean break or frayed? You know, frayed as if it had worn through.”

“It was some dark down there Blackie. Felt more of a clean break though.”

“Yeah, that’s what they found. Management’s saying someone tampered with the cable.”

“Sabotage?”

“Looks that way but we won’t know till those inspectors take a closer look at things.”

“The ones as said it was safe for us to go down in the first place?” 

Birk woke the next morning and dressed for work without thinking. His bandaged fingers couldn’t manage his buttons or his boot laces but Maddy would be happy to do that for him again. When came down to the kitchen Clancy was already there.

“They didn’t keep you then?” he asked.

“No. They found a pulse but no heart.” Clancy half-laughed. “Can’t laugh though, hurts too much.” He lifted his shirt to show bruises that spilled over the bandaging around his ribs. “Gotta keep still and not press on my chest for a few weeks. One rib broken but not going to move too much. The other moved a bit but still where it’s supposed to be. How’s your hands?”

“Feel okay but will get them checked again by Doc Drummond later this morning.”

“You have to go to the parish hall for that.” His mother said. “Colliery is done for. Closed up tighter than it was before.”

“Closed!” Birk said. “Over night!”

“Yep. The sab – o – tage,” she pronounced each syllable. “Gives them the perfect excuse to shut down another mine. Plus proof positive there are dangerous sub- vers -ive Reds who don’t care about anyone’s property.”

“Reds! Ha!” Clancy said. “Word at the hospital yesterday was that they done it themselves.”

“The BritCan? Why??” Birk said.

“They wanted to shut it down all along and now they can and blame the one’s that needed the work the most. They get to collect the insurance. More money in insurance than in the coal profits.”

“Could be.” his mother said. “You know how they collected when all the company stores were done in. I hears it was more than the goods in the stores was worth. They made a profit on that while we struggling to put food on the table.”

“Wouldn’t put that past them.” Birk found himself agreeing. “But to do that to the pits?”

“Who else?” Clancy asked.

“Maybe they are right. Maybe there is some Bolishi element here that wants to see to it.”

“What? Who’d go along with Bloshi’s after that. Destroying our chance to work isn’t going to bring anyone to their way of thinking.”

“Either way there’ll be hell to pay what with Steven O’Dowell getting killed because of the collapse.” His mother said.

Birk and Clancy went down the colliery gate and sure enough it was locked. Hoardings were already up around the various building. Posts on either side of the gate had notices about the closing of the mine till further notice.

“They were mighty quick to get things shut down.” Clancy said. “That hoarding some sturdy for a hasty job.”

“Almost as if they had planned it already.” Birk nodded. “Wonder who they payed to put that up?”

Jake Malone man joined them.

“Further notice! At’s what they said about the number six last year while they sold off what they could and let it fill with water. Same’ll happen here.”

“My hands was finally getting back in to shape.” Birk held up his bandages. “I wouldda been happy to stick with it.”

“Even when we was willing to settle they weren’t happy. Guess we learned our lesson.” Jake laughed bitterly.

“Which is?” Birk asked.

“Fucked if you do and screwed if you don’t.” Jake laughed again. “I’ll probably be packing it in now. Nothing now to keep any of us here is there. I should have gone with your bother Geo when he left.”

There weren’t too many at the parish hall infirmary. The doctor peeled the wrapping off Birk’s hands.

“Good. No infection has set in. No splinters have worked their way up so we put have gotten them all.”

Birk flexed his fingers. They were still sore from all the climbing he had done in the shaft. 

“It’ll be another week or so before the skin’s healed up enough for you to put them to much use. You can lift a spoon if you need to but best get the missus to do up your fly.” The doctor grinned. “That is if you can afford a missus. How’s the ribs Mr. Sinclair?”

“Okay if I don’t laugh or roll over in my sleep.” Clancy answered. “Or don’t push me out of the bed.”

“You’re still boarding with the Nelson’s?” The doctor asked.

“Yeah.”

“Wonder what’ll happen to the houses?” Birk said. “Company owns ‘em.”

Outside they talked with a couple of the other miners. There was to be a meeting that night to discuss what to do next.

“Not much we can do.” One of them said. “They got us over a barrel and they want us to pay for the barrel to boot.”

“Least ways none of the other mines is going to be closed.” The other miner said.

“Course not.” Clancy said. “This one had the strongest union support for one thing. Get rid of us and they get rid of the ones they called trouble makers. No need for a black-list when you chop everyone out of the picture.”

The union meeting was being held at the usual hall in New Waterford. The men sat in a sullen silence on the ferry over to New Waterford. Some smoking. Some sipping from flasks.

“Shame about Steven O’Dowell.” One of them said.

“Yeah. When had someone willing to stand up fer us this has to happen.”

“BritCan going make sure the inspectors point the blame away from them.” another said.

The union meeting offered nothing new for the men. There were no job opportunities unless they wanted to move out of the province and even then they wouldn’t be assured of work where they went. There was no money left in the union coffers to help them financially.

The only good news was that BritCan would let them stay in the company houses until they decided what to do about the colliery.

As they walked back to the wharf a sense of what the future was going to be dogged Birk’s steps. He’d never thought of being anything other than what he was. Never thought of being a miner anywhere else except here where he had grown up.

“What you thinking?” Clancy asked.

“When I was a kid all you need to worry about was getting up and goin’ to school or the mines. Not that I ever took to goin’ to the pits but I knew it was was I supposed to do. Then when I was old enough I did what m’dad and bother did. Now that’s gone.”

“There’s a whole world outside of there, you know?” Clancy said.

“I can’t imagine going away the way my brother did. Least ways Geo had some one with him. I’d be on my own without a family to fall back on.”

“I’d go with you, you darn idiot.” Clancy said. “You should know that much.”

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Colby Days 2


Our Cottage Road house, between Park St & Whitney Ave by a laneway, was a compact two-story home belonging to Miss Kelly who lived in the house next door. Her house was huge. She had boarders on the second & third floors & she lived alone on the first floor. Her house was the model for the boarding house in my novel Coal Dusters. She deserves a post of her own, so this is all I’ll say about her now 🙂

This was a more upperclass neighbourhood. Larger houses, doctors & lawyers & sport celebrities abounded. Larger houses too – many 3 story, single family dwellings. Colby remained within walking distance & I would trudge Cottage Rd. in the morning, home for lunch, back for the afternoon. I’d walk home along central with the guys.

I was at Colby for grades IV & V. I have a class photos of me in Grade VI at Ashby school. I don’t recall if that was another summer move though. I do remember some of my Colby teachers though. The principle Miss Greenwood, Mrs. Butterworth & Mrs. McLeod. There were others but even seeing the list of teachers on the Colby School page didn’t ring any lunch bells. https://www.facebook.com/groups/colbyschool/

I do remember the hand bell that rang to get us into the school. I was a middling student even then. I had attention issues 🙂 I was also aware that I didn’t have the same feelings about girls as the boys claimed to have. I was, in fact, a sissy who preferred hopscotch to baseball. I don’t recall having any real pals or playmates of either sex.

I did get into a couple of fist fights though & lost. It was hard to keep punching when everyone around you was encouraging the other guy to teach me a lesson. I became a coward because proving my masculinity with violence was beyond me. Shame & fear were the biggest lessons I learned at Colby School.

It was here that I had to spend a summer writing out  words from a speller. I did page after page of writing each word out twenty times. Then had to retake the spelling exam at the start of the new term before I could go on. I did pass but again, the real lesson learned was shame, not how to spell.

The other thing I remember from then was the birth of my brother. Now that my Dad was settled in Sydney, his job was going well, may parents felt secure enough to raise a family. I felt I was a disappointment & now they wanted to get it right this time. My brother was about a year old when my mother was pregnant again, & we moved again, this time to the Ashby area.

Fully Human

I’m not enjoying this

so it must be good for me

the less I like it

the better what I am getting

the more I suffer

the more fully human I am

what I enjoy is to be avoid

it is merely a diversion 

from suffering

because life is suffering

 

any attempt to diminish suffering

diminishes all life

we a cannot afford pleasure

to admit to liking something 

someone

is to admit to weakness

is to admit to being 

a shallow fun-loving 

corrupter of basic human dignity

dignity requires suffering 

and sacrifice

 

those who aren’t willing to suffer

aren’t worth the breath 

they take to live

they should be face 

the error of their ways 

or be shunned

 

if you are having a good time

do it in another room

quietly

we don’t want reality 

sullied by gasps 

of sexual indulgences

we don’t want to hear laugher 

behind our backs

take to another room

another city if possible

 

here we are on the righteous trail

suffering to fulfill our real 

authenticity as humans

as a parade of weeping assholes

(poem prompted by one of Montaigne’s essays)


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Chapter LIV: Lillian Tends Steven’s Wounds

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 LIV

Lillian

Tends

Steven’s Wounds

Lillian lost track of time while the recuse workers brought the men from the lower faces up. Other than some cuts, scrapes and broken arms none of the injures were that serious. 

Clancy Sinclair from Level 8 had a couple of broken ribs. She assisted Dr. Drummond as he wrapped a bandage around Clancy’s rib cage.

“Nothing we can do to set your ribs Mr. Sinclair.” The doctor explained. “This is just to hold them in place while they knit properly. At your age they’ll be fine quickly.”

“No sweet hugging for me.” Clancy winked at Lillian.

“I should hope not.” Birk said from behind them.

“I thought you went home?” Lillian said.

“I did, but there was nothing for me there with all the worry. I couldn’t rest wondering. I can’t do anything to help.” He held up his bandaged hands. “But I had to be here. How is he Dr Drummond.”

“He’ll be fine in a week or so.”

“I … when you went up that shaft I was afraid that was the last I’d see of you or anyone.” Clancy tried to sit up.

Lillian teared up thinking of Steven trapped under tons of coal.

“I promised I’d get you out of there.” Birk went over to off a shoulder to help Clancy stand. 

“We’re even now.” Clancy said.

“How so?”

“You saved my life this time. I saved your life before.”

“When?”

“That gas build up.” Clancy said.

  “Is it okay if he walks.” Birk asked.

“Yes. His legs are fine. Best thing for him to move around.” Dr. Drummond said.

Lillian came over to help as well. She remembered seeing Steven looking so brave in his Draeger suit as part of the rescue team at the gas build up. Was the the first time she realized he was more than bravado?

While Clancy was standing Dr. Drummond pressed along his back and spine.

“How does that feel.” He asked. “You can feel my touch?”

“Yes.” Clancy was unsteady as he took a few steps.

“There doesn’t appear to be any nerve damage.”

“I can take him home?” Birk asked.

“I’ve only checked him for visible injures.” Dr. Drummond said. “He could have internal damage. Promise that if there’s blood in your spit or such you get over to the hospital in Sydney as fast as you can.”

“If’n the roads don’t kill me.” Clancy winced as he tried to laugh. Oh! My ribs are some sore.”

“To bad they aren’t half as hard as your head.” Birk said.

“Don’t make me laugh.” Clancy bent over in pain holding his ribs at the same time.

“Ma’ll keep an eye out on both us.” Birk said. “You look after the ones as is really hurt. Thank you Miss McTavish.”

“Lead on McDuff.” Clancy put his arm over Birk’s shoulder.

Lillian watched them disappear into the dark. Dear God, let Steven’s injures be as gentle as these, she prayed, so he can continue to play a role in the men’s lives. Thank you. 

Lillian was dozing on one of the infirmary cots when a shout woke her.

“They are bringing up the men from level nine now.”

The rescuers had spent the past few hours clearing the debris away so they had access to the final level. The first body they brought up was completely shrouded which meant it was dead. 

“Is it?” she asked Dr, Drummond as he lifted the cover off the face of corpse.

“Nope. It’s Red Mac.”

“There’s another coming up.” One of the rescuers said. “In bad shape.”

The next was Steven strapped to the stretcher hoist. His face was uncovered so Lillian knew he was alive. She took his hand and squeezed it. His eyes flickered briefly as they looked at her. She wiped the dirt off his face as best she could.

Dr. Drummond gently undid the straps that held Steven to the gurney.

“He’s lost a lot blood.” Drummond said as he did his preliminary check. He lifted back the blankets that covered Steven’s torso and quickly dropped them.

“Lillian, perhaps you should wait outside while I check him completely.”

He nodded to one of the orderlies to accompany her.

Steven grip on her hand tightened.

“No. Lillian stay.” Steven said hoarsely. “I ….”

“I’ll stay Dr Drummond. You know, I saw worse after the power plant attack.”

“Yes.” Dr. Drummond nodded. “Please look away, if you can.”

Lillian kept her eyes on Steven’s while the doctor lifted the blankets away from Steven’s torso. She could smell the blood, the muck of the coal mine. Steven’s grip on her hand loosened and tightened.

“Okay.” Dr. Drummond said once he’d finished his examination

“How does it look?” Steven asked. “Hope it isn’t as bad as it feels.”

“Steven, both your legs have been crushed. I doubt if I could save them even if I had the best of equipment. We’ll do what we can to staunch the bleeding but you have lost a lot of blood already.”

“I see.” Steven sighed. “Lillian will have to be brave for both of us. That is if she’ll still have me.” He smiled faintly.

“Of course I do Steven.” Lillian said. 

“We’ll have to work fast.” Dr. Drummond said. “Bring him into the operating area.”

Steven released Lillian’s hand and he was taken into the infirmary.

“Lillian, I’d rather you wait here while I do what I can. I have to tell you there is little hope he’ll survive even if I can stop the bleeding. His legs will have to be amputated.”

“My God!” Lillian leaned heavily against the wall. 

“I’ve given him something for the pain.”

“He’s asking for Miss McTavish.” One of the orderlies came out the room. 

She followed him into the room.

“Lillian,” Steven tapped his jacket over his heart. “In here. Take … out.”

Dr. Drummond nodded his approval.

Lillian slid her hand into his inside pocket as gently as she could. The cool of Steven’s body chilled her. She pulled out a thin packed wrapped in canvas.

“My good luck.” Steven said. “Open.”

She unfold the canvas and inside was their wedding licence. There was also a manila envelope.

“Read later. Please.” He struggled to sit up.

“Yes. You must rest.” She put hand on his forehead to keep him in place.

“Not yet. No rest for the wicked.” He laughed. “Is Father McTavish here?”

“No, but Father Dunlop is. Yes.” Lillian said. “But you won’t need him for unction, yet. Will he, Dr Drummond? He’ll pull through. Won’t he?”

“There’s a good chance.”

“Bring Dunlop here.” Steven said. “Is Clara here?”

“She was but she went to Mrs. Franklin’s to rest.” Lillian tried not to cry. 

The orderly returned shortly with the priest.

“Father Dunlop I have a service for you to perform.” Steven said.

The priest opened his kit and took out the oil for final unction.

“No! No!” Steven whispered. “Give him the license. We are to be married.”

“Married!” Father Dunlop took the license from Lillian. 

“Dr. Drummond and his orderly can be witnesses.” Steven said.

“I …. I’m not prepared to … the ceremony …”

“It doesn’t have to be the whole service Father. Do the legal part. You can do that can’t you?”

“Yes, I suppose I can.” The priest flipped though his handbook of rituals. “Here we are.”

“Steve McTavish and Lillian McTavish, have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” He read from the book.

“Yes.” They replied in unison.                   

“Are you prepared, as you follow the path of marriage, to love and honour each other for as long as you both shall live?                        

“Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”

“Yes.” they both replied 

“Steven, do you take Lillian to be your wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and to honour her all the days of your life?”

“I do.”

“Lillian, do you take Steven to be your husband? Do you promise to be faithful to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and to honour him all the days of your life?

“I do.”

“The rings?” Dunlop asked.

“Here.” Steven tugged at a piece of ribbon around his neck. 

Lillian pulled it out and their wedding rings were suspended on it. 

“It pays to be prepared.” Steven smiled.

The priest said a blessing over the wedding rings. They placed the rings on each other’s fingers.

“I now pronounce you man and wife.”

There was brief silence. 

“You may kiss the bride.” The priest said.

There was some applause as Lillian bent to kiss Steven. As their lips met his body shuddered and his head fell limply to one side.

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