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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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“And shut the door when you leave.”
“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.”
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.
“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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