Chapter LVIX – Birk In Shackles

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

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 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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Out In The Open

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Out In The Open

I was hiding

my feelings from him

not hiding exactly

but not declaring them

not putting them into words

what was communicated in my touch

 

was that enough

did he

could he

read between the kisses

between my legs

 

was there enough

emotional import

in my smile

my eagerness

to convey 

what I was afraid 

to put into words

 

as I waited

for him to put into words

what I felt in his touch

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Chapter LVIII – Lillian Tends Birk’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 LVIII

Lillian

Tends

Birk’s Wounds

The distant ring echoed closer and was joined by an even nearer series of deeper toned whistles.

“What can that mean?” Lillian asked.

“Four blasts means something had happened at one of the mines.” Karina said. “The steel plant is using its whistle to spread the alarm.”

“So that’s how can we hear it here.”

“They relay a distress signal.” Clara explained.

“Can you really tell where it’s from?” Her heart was racing. She knew were it was from without being told.

“Not always.” Clara hesitated. “When it gets relayed here it means they need volunteers for the rescue crew.’

“It’s from Castleton Mines direction, isn’t it?” She pulled off the veil, grabbed her purse and headed to the stairs. 

“We have a phone here.” Clara headed to the mangers office on the main floor. “I’ll call to see if I can find out more. It has to be serious to get these signals. There’s been an an accident.” 

Clara raced down the stairs, Lillian following close after.

Several of the clerks were gathered at the door of the manager’s office. One was crying into a handkerchief.

The manager hung up his phone and came to the door.

“What is it?” Clara asked.

“There’s been a major cave-in at the Castleton colliery.” He said.

“Is anyone hurt?” One the clerks asked.

“They’re all dead. All dead.” The crying clerk said as she sank to the floor. 

“We don’t know that.” Clara helped the clerk to her feet.

“There’s nothing more I can tell you.” The manager said. “I called as soon as I heard the first alarm bells. No one knew how serious it is.”

“We have to go.” Lillian grabbed Clara’s hand. “Steven is …” she could speak.

“Have you heard anything?” Clara asked their driver as they got into the car.

“Not too much ma’am.” he replied. “It was sudden like. Everything was inspected afore they went down. Twas lower level though. Some on first faces are already up.”

“God!” Lillian was afraid to breathe. “Let Steven be alright.”

 

Once the car arrived in North Sydney Lillian had it stop at the church.

“We all must light candles.” She said.

Clara and the driver followed her into the church. There were already several people in there doing the same thing. Votive candles flickered in the rack.

The priest came over to them.

“Miss McTavish.” He whispered.

“Father Dunlop.” She nodded to him. “Have you any news?”

“Nothing definite.” He said.

Lillian lit her candle, put into a spot on the votive rack and genuflected to the cross over the altar.

She stepped outside with Father Dunlop while Clara and their driver lit their candles.

“You must be very concerned about Steven.” The priest said to her. “He is a Godly man.”

“Thank you Father. If all turns out well we’ll continue our pre-marriage talks with you.”

“Certainly. If you don’t mind I would like to accompany you. With Father Patrick away I am the nearest priest. I have to get my last rights kit.”

When they got to the dock they were informed that only emergency vehicles and personnel were being allowed to cross to Castleton.

“We can take Father Dunlop only I’m afraid.” The deckhand in charge said.

“Dr. Drummond will be expecting me.” Lillian declared. “Us.” She added, nodding too Clara. “We have assisted him before.”

“Very well.” The deckhand reluctantly let them aboard.

The small boat was crowded with two ambulance vans and various rescue volunteers. 

Lillian paced to the far end of the boat.

“Lillian that was very bold of you.” Clara stood beside her.“But I’m sure Steven will be okay. Lillian it is nothing. It has to be nothing.” Clara tired to calm her.

“No. It isn’t nothing.” Lillian exploded. “I can feel it. Don’t ask me how, but I can feel it.”

 

When they arrived at the colliery gate Lillian asked. “Where is Mr. O’Dowell? Has he been found yet?”

The General Manager came over to her and Clara.

“No he hasn’t. We don’t know when either Miss McTavish. Rest assured we’re doing everything we can to find him and the others.”

“I don’t care about the others.” Lillian saw all her hopes and dreams turning to dust before her eyes. “This can’t be happening. It can’t.”

“There. There.” Clara tried to calm her. “You must be strong.”

“I’m tired of being strong.” Lillian sank to a bench outside the infirmary.

“We’re doing everything we can. The first five levels have been cleared and all the men are safe.” The manager explained.

“What about the others?” she said.

“The cage has been jammed in the shaft. We can’t go lower till we are sure it’s safe to go down.”

“Cage?” Lillian didn’t understand.

“A sort of elevator that brings the men and coal up and down.” Clara said.

“Why don’t they pull it up.” Lillian said.

“The cable broke.” The manager said. “It had been tampered with.”

“What! Who would do such a thing.”

“Radicals, miss.” The manger dropped his voice. “There’s labour elements amongst the men who’d stop at nothing to …”

“To what! Kill each other in pursuit of some ideal even they don’t understand!” 

“We are working at removing the cable now. We don’t want to send men down in case the cage can’t hold their weight.”

“Then I’ll go down.” she pushed him aside. “I’m not that heavy.”

“Now, Miss McTavish.” The manager restrained her.

“We have to let them look after this.” Clara said. “Everything will be okay.” 

“Lillian!” Dr. Drummond came over to her. “I so glad you’ve come.”

“I had no choice. Steven is down there. somewhere. I have to be here when they bring him up.”

“Of course. The rescue is being hampered by the cage. They’ll have men cutting away the floor of the cage once they get the shaft clear. Much of it collapsed down with the cave in.”

“So there’s been no word from the lower levels?” Clara asked.

“Nothing.”

“There’s someone coming up.” a miner rushed over to tell the manager.

“I have to go ladies. Trust me we are doing everything we can.”

Lillian watched him run over the the mine entrance. A miner staggered out into the sunlight. His face was smeared with coal dust and blood. His shoulders were scraped raw and his hands were bloody pulps.

“It’s Birk Nelson!” someone shouted.

“Level seven.” someone else shouted. “He was down at level seven.”

Lillian held herself back as the rescue workers went to Birk. She stepped into his line of sight but his eyes were blinking as they adjusted to the sunlight. Someone handed him a cup of tea. She teared up as his bloody hand clung to the mug. He couldn’t seem to hold it tight enough, As he drank from it tea spilled over this chin and onto his shirt. Lillian followed as Dr. Drummond guided Birk to the dim wash house. 

He had her fill a basin with hot water to soak Birk’s bleeding hands. The water quickly blackened. Birk shuddered and try to pull his hands out. One of the workers held his shoulder still while the doctor rinsed Birk’s fingers gently.

“More clean water Lillian.” The doctor said.

She brought another basin of hot water over. She had dipped a clean rag into the water and while the doctor worked on Birk’s hands she wiped off some of the dirt and blood from Birk’s face.

“Ah, Miss Lillian, it is you.” Birk blinked his eyes as he focused on her face. “I thought I was dreaming. I haven’t been practicing my handwriting as much as you wanted, I have to confess. Sal keeps reminding me. I have been studying them boiler books though. Sal is proud of her beans. They are growing higher than the house now. You must come over to see’m. Sal will be so happy if you do.”

“Yes, yes.” Lillian was confused, she knew that Sal had died a few months ago.

“He’s in shock.” Dr Drummond said quietly to her. “Let’s take him to the infirmary. Now that his hands are clean I can check how serious the damage it. Not enough light in here for that.”

He started to lead Birk out of the wash house when Birk began to sag to the ground. With the help of a couple of miners they laid him on a stretcher and brought him to the infirmary.

“There’s more down there. You have to get the, Red dropped like a shoe out of my hands. I couldn’t help him though.” Birk hands reached up trying to grab something out of the air.

“We’ll get them.” one of the stretcher bearers said as he gently helped Birk onto one of the tables in the infirmary.

“How many were with you?” Lillian asked Birk.

“Many?” Birk shook his head. “Can’t say as I recollect now. It was so fast. Me and me mate Clancy were talking when …” He shuddered. “Clancy took a real liking to you Miss. He was always going on about your … Clancy! He’ll be down there now. The staving collapsed right on him. I … I did what I could then I had to climb out of there.”

“Be still Birk.” Dr. Drummond ordered. “They are working at getting the rest of the men out of there.”

“Red just fell. I couldn’t do a thing. He was holding to me than he was gone. So fast. So fast. I heard his fall stop at the bottom of the shaft.”

“Was … was Mr. O’Dowell with you?”

“Oh, no, Miss he was keen on being where the the blast was. Below us. He’s a brave’un you know. You will be married soon. He told us all. Right proud he was of it too. Better for you than …. ouch …”

Birk shuddered as Dr. Drummond was pulling splinters out the palms of his hand.

“Keep talking with him Lillian. The distraction will help him with the pain.” Dr. Drummond nodded to her.

“Did you hear anything from below you?” Lillian asked.

“Can’t recall. Sal sure enjoyed you visiting us. Mag too but Sal especially. She wanted to grow up to be a proper lady like you, you know. She won’t now …” Birk teared up. “Her beans done so well. It was if she was still with us as they grew and grew.”

“I look forward to seeing them soon Birk.” She said.

“I think that’s the worse of it Birk.” Dr. Drummond said. He coated Birk’s hands with a milky ointment. “Wrap his hands with this gauze. I’ll check the other injured miners. His mother is waiting at the front gate. Once you’ve done that you can let her take him home.”

As night fell Lillian sat exhausted one of the benches. 

“Ah here you are.” Clara handed her a mug of tea and sat next to her.

“Where have you been?” Lillian asked sipping the tea.

“Getting some of injured to their homes. Talking with wives. Talking with management too. The engineers are working on the cage itself. They’re afraid that removing it will cause the shaft below it to collapse.”

“How long can those men survive down there?” Lillian asked.

“That depends on how seriously they are injured.”

“We’ve managed to stabilize the cage.” The general manager came to explain to them. “It can’t be pulled up or down the way it is caught in the shaft but we have secured cables to it so that if it should come loose it won’t fall any further.”

“Thank God. So the rest of the miners can be brought up?” Clara asked.

“Yes. The top and the floor of the cage have been cut open wide enough so we drop a hoist down to the remaining levels to bring the rest of the men. It’ll be a slow process mind you as we can only bring them up a few at a time.”

“See, Lillian,” Clara said. “There’s hope. Let’s go to the …”

“I’m not going anywhere. I want to be here when they bring Steven up.”

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Coal Dusters – Chapter pending

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 pending

No chapter this week. As I work through this draft I’ve come across sections that were not fully developed in the first Nanowrimo on rush. The aftermath of the mine cave-in is one of those sections. I merely sketched in a few things for Lillian as she deals with the disaster & the possible death of Steven.

I left her in chapter LV trying on wedding veils when the alarm for the cave-in was heard in Sydney. The following chapters are about Birk climbing to the surface & they essentially wrote themselves & the rest of his story arc was clear in my mind & needs no bridging. Lillian’s narrative was clear to me as well but I hadn’t developed enough of a bridge for her after the disaster,

I love this part of revision but this is a major addition that I don’t want to rush through. The 800 words I originally wrote about her immediate response to the disaster are good but she’ll need maybe another 2200 to carry her to what happens next in her story arc.

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Chapter LV: Lillian Tries on a Wedding Dress

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

Lillian

Tries on a

Wedding Dress

“Lillian, it won’t matter what trousers I’m wearing down into the mine. The miner’s overalls will cover all I’m wearing.” Steven tried to joke. “This is the last day I’m joining them. It has been an education.”

“Yes, so you’ve told me every night.” She handed him a pair of brown serge pants.

“I’ve grown up here and yet never knew much about how they lived and worked.”

“Yes, yes. You’ll be able to represent them even better in Ottawa when you run for the Federal seat.”

“When I win!” He snapped his suspenders.

“When you are premier.”

“No! When I’m Prime Minster.”

“Oh, ho! Your dream get bigger every day.”

“With you at my side I have every reason to dream big.”

“Not now!” Lillian avoided his kiss. “They will be taking your picture before you get into the mining gear. You have to keep in mind that people’s eyes will now be on you, more than ever before.”

“I want them to see that I am one of them not some … shop display manikin of …”

“You want to look how the workers want to look themselves someday.” She interrupted him. “These clothes are dressy but simple enough at the same time. Now that things are getting back to normal, the miners will be ready to improve themselves.”

“I do wish you would be coming with me.”

“A woman in the mines!” Lillian laughed. “Worse than a woman on board a ship. No!”

“At least come with me. Be there when I go down with them. The other wives will be there everyday so far to celebrate their men returning to work. There’ll be those cameramen, too.”

“Dressed this way!” Lillian pointed out her housecoat and slippers. “By the time I’m prepared to go anywhere, they’d have hauled up the first ton of coal.”

A car horn tooted outside the house.

“There’s Gus now to take you along. Be sure to send him back with the motor directly, so me and Clara can go to Sydney.”

“Sydney?”

“That’s right. To your store there. They have some new wedding dresses for …”

“Wedding dresses.” Steven broke into a wider smile. “You mean …”

“That’s right you can confirm that the date is two weeks from today.”

The car horn tooted again.

Lillian went to the porch with him. As he got into the car she leaned in to remind Gus to bring the motor back.

She took Steven’s breakfast plate to use herself and was eating toast when Clara come down to breakfast.

“You’ve seen Steven off?”

“Yes. He’s looking forward to the official reopening of the mines more than the miner’s are.”

“No doubt. He only has to go down once more. They have to go down everyday.”

“He wanted to know enough to answer any questions the reports might have.”

Lillian dabbed a piece of her toast in the egg yolk on the plate.

“I see you’ve eaten.”

“Only some toast.” She glanced down. “Oh goodness! I’ve used Steven’s plate! Uncle Pat lived so simply he only had one plate, one cup for his breakfast. I’d wait till he was finished before having my own. It did mean less washing up. Strange how a habit starts and sticks with you.” 

She put the plate on the sideboard.

“I’ll get dressed for the drive while you have something to eat.” Lillian said.

Once she had changed her clothes she made sure her two war bonds where in her purse. She hadn’t told anyone about finding them and planned to deposit them in a bank in Sydney. Knowing she had a something to fall back on when she needed it made her fell more secure. Ready cash could come in handy.

The road to Sydney was fairly smooth though Lillian did have to hold to her hat a few times. Sydney wasn’t nearly as large as Boston but after spending so much time in Castleton it appeared to be  huge a metropolis. There were more cars than she’s seen anywhere else on the island. 

She had Gus drop her off at a corner a couple blocks away from O’Dowell’s.

“I’ll take a little walk to see more the shops.” She explained to Clara. “I’ll meet you at the store.”

She watched until the car was out of sight and went onto the Bank of Montreal which she knew was not the one the O’Dowell’s used. 

It took her longer than she expected to open an account of her own. Luckily the manager recognized her from Steven’s campaign so establishing her identity wasn’t an issue. It would take two weeks at least for the funds for the bonds would be in her account.

O’Dowell’s Sydney store was a three-floor building on Charlotte Street corner. Even though it was several years old it still had the feeling of newness to it. The name was in gold letters in arcs on all of the front windows. Over the main entrance there was stained glass with the name illuminated so the sun appeared to shining through it always. 

On the first floor was housewares. Lillian admired the gleaming stove and refrigerators.

“Eyeing possible wedding presents?” Clara asked.

“I was thinking this was the type of gift my family would never give. Too practical. They’d be more inclined to send something of this sort.” Lillian walked over to the fine china department. “A large, fancy, floral set of chinaware that could only be used once or twice a year, if that often.”

At the back of the first floor was a Toys and Children’s Furnishings department.

Lillian looking longingly at the line of dolls standing on a shelf on one wall. 

“Planning children?” Clara asked.

“Yes. But I was wondering what had become of my doll collection.” She’d left so much behind when she came to Cape Breton. Being in O’Dowell’s reminded her painfully of the many things she’d lost.

They took the lift up to the second floor. It was Men’s and Women’s Wear. When she stepped off the lift the first thing she saw was a mannequin in a short, pale green, one-piece dress. The skirt was pleated and the top had a loose beaded fringe around the neck.

“Oh.” Lillian sighed. “That is so pretty.”

“Pretty yes.” Clara touched the hem. “Too short to be practical.”

“It’s not meant to be practical Clara. It is meant to be pretty.”

Clara lead her to the back of the store to the bridal area.

“Missus O’Dowell.” A small woman with a strange accent scurried out from a side room. “What a great pleasure it is to see you.
“Thank you Karina.”

“Ah, and this must be Miss McTavish. Let me look at you.” She stepped back to gaze at Lillian. “Such a waist. In old country girls would be fattened up before being married. Here, ach, they want them skinny as boys.”

“You have something to show us.” Clara asked.

“Yah. Yah. You wait here. I get.” She went into the side room and came back out with two boxes. “Now the lace isn’t as good as we’d make back in Koniakow but I haven’t forgotten how. This first one is very traditional.” Karina took out a full bodied, white dress with a neck high top, long lacy white sleeves and full wide bottom. “Some crinolines will make you appear to be a queen. The veiling is quite simple though.”

She held it up against Lillian. Lillian pressed the dress’s shoulders to hers and stepped back. It was  similar to ball gowns of her mother’s she had envied. The bodice had seed pearls in an arc across the breast bone. She kicked out the bottom so it bounced lightly in the sun. She did a twirl so that it wrapped around her legs before falling away as she stood in front of the mirror.

“Lovely.” Clara said wiping a tear away from her eye. “The sort of dress I would have loved to have been married in.”

“Oh, yes. The young lady looks radiant even holding such a dress. It’s been so long since anyone has wanted such a gown. Things being as they have been.” Karina shook her head. “But perhaps that will change now.”

“It is more than words can say.” Lillian stared at herself in the mirror. Could this be the same girl who was cowering in fear as her uncle struck out at her?

“This other is much … plainer. Miss McTavish insisted we order it as it is more … modern.”

“You make modern sound more of a disappointment than an improvement.” Lillian replied, reluctantly handing the gown back to Karina.

The other dress was a simple sheath with a similar high neck but shorter sleeves. The white satin had a green and gold sheen to it as it caught the light. It had a small hat of the same fabric with a simple veil attached to it.

“It is lovely.” Lillian knew this was the one for her. She held it up to herself and stood in front of the mirror. The color complimented the red of her hair while the length would allowed some of her calves to show. “I’ll try this on, if you don’t mind.”

She saw Clara’s look of disappointment.

“How long would alterations take, of either?” Lillian asked.

“This one a few days. The beautiful lace one a week or more.”

Lillian stood in front of the mirror in the sheath dress. 

“This one won’t need alterations at all.” She said with a smile. “I do think it conveys the right message as well. After the hardships of the summer the other one is too …”

“Opulent.” Clara said. “You only get married once.”

“Yes.” Lillian teared up as she looked at her reflection.

“Perhaps one for the wedding and the other for the reception?” Clara suggested. “Do try it on. For me?”

  “Of course.” She took the larger dress. It weighed much more than the simpler one. The hem fell below her feet so she had to lift it up as she walked from the dressing room.

“It is …” Clara walked around her. “It is stunning.”

Lillian didn’t recognize herself in the mirror. The wedding dress was all she could see. 

“I do prefer the other dress.” Lillian said. “It is something I could wear again, but this …. No, it is too stunning for me.”

Lillian came out of the dressing room and handed the elaborate dress back to Karina. “The simple one is perfect. Perhaps a more elaborate veil with it would be in order.”

“Yes.” Karina’s face lit up. “I can have something. How soon.”

“Two … ?” Lillian said.

She was interrupted by alarm bells.

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Please Don’t Shoot

Please Don’t Shoot

I let death happen

by proxy

if I didn’t eat meat

wear shoes

would animal treatment

become more humane

 

do it take a stand

no more meat

nothing with a face

search out alternatives

plants may have faces

that I don’t recognize

so that makes it fine

 

the air that I breathe

is teaming with life

the water I drink

is alive with microorganisms 

that may have faces

my vision isn’t that good

atomic microscopes

focus so finite 

I can’t recognize anything

 

is that jelly fish like shimmer

darting around other shimmers

afraid of being seen

shamed by our look

not ready for their close-up

they aren’t animals

are they

 

is my decision that they don’t count

relevant to anything

other than another brick

in a sense of superiority

the smug comfort

of valuing all life

only as it serves my appetites

 

people

like me who still eat meat

will always be ethically

self-indulgent creeps

who should be shamed

better yet shot

 

but please don’t shoot me

until after dinner


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Chapter LIV: Birk in the Rubble

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

Birk

in the

Rubble

By the third day the faces were fully ready to be worked. Birk found that he and Clancy were back into their old routine. Joking in the mornings and focused when they started to work. Birk was happy to hear Clancy singing behind him as they got back to the grind of hacking the coal out of the seam. He slipped back into his physical digging and everything that had happened in the past few months vanished as he sweated.

“Com’on by. Time for a slurp of tea.”

“Wha?” Birk pushed himself out of the crevice he was working in.

“Can’t make up for lost time that way Birk.”

“Feels good though to be doing sumthin’ ”

They put their tools in a safe spot, got their lunch cans and scuttled along to a level spot on the floor to sit.

“Where you get to when you take off?” Birk asked expecting the same answer.

“Back to my Ma’s. How many time’s do I haf to tell you? I figured your family have enough to do keepin’ fed without my extra face to feed. Not much to do here with out getting pulled into that spineless union’s foolishness. Ya can’t trust them.” Clancy slurped his tea. “Still smells the same down here.”

“No more ‘an you can trust the owners.”

“That’s for sure. I hear you kept yourself busy in a pretty way.”

“Wha?” Birk nibbled at his bread.

“You and the nun. Steven O’Dowell’s betrothed.” 

Birk could see Clancy smirk in the dim light.

“That lass’s only been trying to teach us how read and write proper. Don’t see as I’m going to do much with that. I could read figures well enough. But now I can sign my name pretty good. But …. ”

“She’s was getting to you, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah, but not is that way.” Birk was eager to have someone to talk to about Lillian. There were things he didn’t he could tell his mother.  “Everyone thought I’m …. sweet on her. Asked me how I felt about her getting hitched to him. As if I would be bothered by that. But t’isn’t so. Sure she’s pretty and that but she makes it hard to breathe when she’s around. It was as if she’s trying cover me up with whatever scent she’s wearing. Always looked at me as if she wanted something more than an answer to what the numbers add up to.”

“She must have had her eye on you.”

“I wish she didn’t. Ma gets so burned up about her being a Catholic girl. She thinks Lillian wants to turn me mick too. I wished I knew what she was after.”

“What most women want Birk m’boy. To land a decent man who’ll look after them.”

“She was living at the O’Dowell’s then anyway so she had him. He’s more the decent man. I’s surprised to see him coming down everyday with us too.”

“Politics. He aims to be premier. He can brag how he knows what common folks have to do to get by. I don’t know what she saw in you, less she needed hairy chimney sweep.” Clancy’s laugh echoed in the shaft.

“Yeh. I’m glad yer back … that … Clancy, I never had a mate I much took too … not even m’brother.”

“Yeah. I missed you too monkey.”

Birk resisted the temptation to reach out and touch Clancy.

Back at the face they were working he was happy to hear Clancy singing the familiar ‘shovel and pick, pick and shovel,’ then, ‘rake and hustle, hustle and rake.’ He stopped mid-word.

“Hush,” Clancy whispered. “Stop for a minute.”

Birk leaned away from the wall. “What is it?”

They stood holding their breaths. A distant rumble could be heard. Then the ceiling over them groaned and a long, thin, flat shard of it shook free and fell with a dusty thud.

Birk pushed Clancy toward the wall. “We better high tail it.”

“Right. That’s what happens when you only have inspectors come to check the air. Not the shoring of the faces.”

They made their way to the main shaft that was crowed with the other men on the shift. They were grousing about how the management had pushed to get things started and how the union didn’t make any difference or even care about the possible unsafe conditions. Another heavier rumble overhead stopped their nattering.

“At’s a big one.” Jake Malone called across from where he was working.

Part of the ceiling collapsed ahead of them.

“Shite.” Clancy swore as he crawled into the now narrowed shaft. “Come b’y before it gets worse.”

There were men scrambling in front and behind them. More than once Birk got a solid kick in the side or face. He was pushed out onto the rough floor. Other men tumbled out after him.

“Clancy!” He called out. He choked on the thick gritty dust. 

The miners pushed him along to the cage that would take them up. There was another even louder crack followed by a rumble and the ceiling behind him came thundering down amidst the shouts of men trapped under it.

“Clancy! Me buddy’s back there.” Birk stopped and pushed his way back to the rubble, fell to his knees and began to pul at the chucks of rock. Some crumbled in his hands.

“Come away lad.” Hands pulled at his shoulder. “There’s nothing we can do for them as got caught.”

It took two of the miner’s to pull Birk to his feet. 

“We all lose someone to the coal one way or t’other.” one of them put an arm around his shoulder and led him away.

“No!” Birk muttered. “I can’t give up.” 

He pushed them away and went to where he had been digging and began to pull the rocks away again. “I know he’s alive. I can feel it. I can’t give up that easy.”

It was the same feeling he had before Clancy showed up at Sal’s burial. Something in his chest told him Clancy was near then and that something told him Clancy was here now. Alive.

One of the miners who had pulled him away came back to him with two shovels and handed one to him. “This’ll make it easier. One things as I know is to never ignore that feeling.”

They were joined by some of the others in shifting the debris. They came to the canvas air flow flaps. There was someone trapped under that. Part of the frame for the ventilator had crumbled to offer some protection to those men.

“There’s men under this.” Birk shouted as his hands tried to get a purchase under the thick edges to peel it back. It was too dark to see exactly who it was though.

Red and two of the men left the bodies they had found and brought them to the less dim area of the shaft by the cage entrance. One of them was dead. The other moaned as he was being moved.

The injured man reached out and grabbed Birk by the wrist. “Monkey is that you?”

“Shush, Clancy. It is. We’ll get out of here soon.”

They laid Clancy on one of the coal trams. In the flicker of his lamp Birk saw a thin ooze of blood around Clancy lips and ears. 

“I can’ feel anything.” Clancy whispered. “Are my … “

“Yes Yes yer legs is there. They look okay.” Birk ran his hands lightly over Clancy’s body feeling for any breaks, no bones were sticking out. “You’re all there.”

“Even my little fella?” Clancy tried to laugh but coughed some blood.

“Pretty sure. Maybe a bit worse for wear after that.” Birk wiped a tear away. 

Red came over. “How’s he doing.”

Birk stood up. “He’s making jokes about his little feller, that’s a good thing.”

Red kneeled beside Clancy.

“You going to be fine son.” He put his ear to Clancy heart. “That’s still beating. How’s it to breathe?”

“Not so easy.” Clancy wheezed and coughed up more blood.

“Suspect you broke a couple of ribs back there. Good thing the manifold fell atop you.” He stood brushing his hands off. He turned to Birk. “Masters wasn’t so lucky.”

“I got the count for you Red.” Ken Langly, one of the miners came over. “Feenie, O’Conner, Slake Jim, French Dan and Dark Sammy unaccounted for. A few cuts but none as is hurt that bad.”

“Something to thank the good Lord for.” Red signed deeply. “Air’s not too bad. Ventilator shafts must still be clear enough.”

The cage shaft echoed with the screech of mental on mental. The harsh sound grated on Birk’s ears.

“They tryin’ to move the cage up and down. She must a got stuck somewhere when the … collapse shifted things.”

Without the cage the miners would have to either wait near where they were, or start to climb up the sides of the shaft. They were more than a mile below the surface and they was the risk some of the handhold stavings had come loose if the shaft was twisted out of shape enough.

“I’m going to start up.” Ken Langly announced. “One of us has to make a try. I’ve done it more than a few times.” He laughed. “You know, to get a breath of fresh air.”

“I’ll go with ye lad.” Red said. “They’ll be wanting to know who’s survived and who’s hurt down here. So far only young Clancy here. Busted a couple of ribs.”

They started up the sides of the shaft. Every so often some debris would come down.

“How you doing?” Birk sat on the floor by the tram where Clancy was lying.

“Only hurts when I talk about it.”

“Go on with ya.” Birk leaned back, his head against Clancy shoulder.

“You know when that slab fell on me all I could think was that I’d never get out to Blue Lake again. You done any fishing out there?”

“Took my sisters out a few times but not same as the last time we was out there. Too far for them to walk anyway. I ended up carrying Sal, the fish and everything else too on the way home.”

“At’s all right and you were learning how to read and write the way a proper Boston boy would.”

“Sure while you was playing nurse maid to yer old mother.”

“She not as fine as that one though.”

“Why you keep harpin’ on about that gal. She’s all yours Clancy if she’ll have you. That is if O’Dowell can’t keep her happy. I told you before I don’t care none for her fine ways. Sure they can grow on you after a time but that doesn’t mean I want to … spend anymore time with her than I have to.”

“Gives me something to think on besides us dying down here.” Clancy said.

A mass of rocky debris and some lumber fell through the shaft and down to the bottom of it.

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Not Insulted

I’m Not Your Girlfriend

no

I’m not insulted

but

after years of being called

faggot fairy

I’m not going to put up 

with other queers

using those words 

to tease

to cut me down to size

the same goes for 

girl or girlfriend

 

it’s not that 

I don’t have a sense of humour

the only lesson I get

when you say

‘get over it girlfriend’

is that you are still feeding into

the commodification

the compulsion

of making ‘gay’ me

into something less masculine

no masculine is the wrong word

but ‘girlfriend’

is meant to be derogatory

because of the view

that ‘girl’ is lesser

no one says

‘get over it boyfriend’

 

so no I’m not insulted

merely bored

tired of people using 

the dominant culture’s language

to maintain a status quo

I don’t take myself so seriously

you can call me faggot

but don’t expect respect

in return

The climate around appropriate language is become increasingly volatile & unpredictable. It seems that if one isn’t as upset by something that another person is upset by then the problem is your lack of support, of sensitivity to their issue. Is it even appropriate anymore to give gender specific names to children?

Within the Lgbt+ community there is shift to gender neutral appropriateness. At many events one is asked what pronouns they wish to be used. Hosting shows I’ve been careful to find out what to use for introductions, & when blogging about shows I try to use as few pronouns as possible so as not to mis-gender anyone. It is creating a more nuanced use of language. 

In my post My Ass Pussy I talked about the use of feminizing language for man-to-man sex to somehow make it less gay. On a recent Gayish Podcast they talk about the use of ‘gurl’ between gay men as a playful taunt. To not want to be be called ‘gurl’ is seen as being overly sensitive & hence not queer enough.

Trans people fight for the right to choose the language that is used to refer to them, for pronouns, for respect. Blacks do the same. Yet when I don’t want to be referred as ‘gurl’ I have been sneered at by the very people who want to be so inclusive. I’ve been dis-included in some circles because I’m not accepting enough to let them call me faggot because they feel it’s okay because we are all faggots anyway, so get over yourself. I am over myself, but this sort of amusingly derogatory use of language tests my tolerance more and more. I’m not insulted but we are not amused.


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Chapter Liii – Lillian Has Something To Prove

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 Liii

Lillian

Has Something

To Prove

Lillian was working in the herb patch in the O’Dowell’s back garden when Aileen called to her from the back porch.

“A gentleman to see you Miss Lillian.”

Lillian stood and brushed the dirt off her hands onto her apron. “Gentleman.”

“Father Patrick, ma’am.”

Aileen held the door open for her as she continued to wipe her hands clean.

“He’s in the small study.”

Lillian had been in the small study once. It was a room off the front foyer that Steven’s father had used to store his hunting equipment which Steven had converted into an office when he ran in the election.

When she went into the room her uncle was standing with his back to her facing the desk. There were two armchairs in front of it and a bookcase on one wall. There was only one small window near the ceiling, more to allow ventilation in the room than light. The room smelled of cigar and pipe smoke.

“Father Patrick?” she said.

He turned. “Lillian how good to see you looking so well.” He sat in one of the arm chairs. She sat in the other. “I have been in Boston.”

“Ah. Steven was wondering why you hadn’t shown up during his campaign.”

“Sometimes politics and religion don’t need to mix. He did well enough with any show of support from me.”

“Yes.” She wondered what he wanted.

“I also understand you and he are to be wed.”

“Yes.”

“You know I can’t allow that. That union will not happen in any Catholic church in this parish or any other I can contact.”

“Perhaps you should take that up with the Bishop. He’s already agreed to perform the ceremony.”

“That will be changed. Have you told Mr O’Dowell about James Dunham? I’m sure …”

“He has, in fact, met James Dunham in Halifax.”

“And that didn’t dissuade him?”

“Not in the least,” Lillian wanted to laugh.

There was a knock at the door.

“Yes?” Lillian said.

The door opened. Aileen entered with a tea tray.

“Miss Clara said you may want the tea served.” She put the tea service on the desk.

“Thank Miss Clara for me.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Clara stepped into the room. “I didn’t want to barge in on what could be private conversation.”

“For the moment it is.” Father Patrick said. “If you don’t mind.” He stood and attempted to show her out of the room.

“If we are discussing the wedding I feel I should in included in the conversation.” Clara said.

“My uncle feels it’s an unwise decision on my part.” Lillian said. 

“Not exactly unwise, my dear.” Her uncle said. “I think it’s a very calculated decision on your apart. Devious. Eve would have been in awe. I have no objection to Miss O’Dowell hearing our conversation. Do you?”

“If it entails sordid rumours you have about Lillian past rest assured I have heard them.”

“They are not mere rumours, are they Lillian.”

“Don’t bother answering him Lillian. I am aware of Mr. James Dunham and of his ungentlemanly conduct with Miss McTavish. In fact I have met with him myself and spoke to him directly. I know the full story.”

“Apparently you are not as concerned about your family’s reputation as her family was about theirs.”

“This is not Boston Father Patrick.”

“Quite true. Quite true. But Mr. James Dunham is not what brings me here today. I will repeat what I told Lillian. This wedding will not take place.”

“You can’t stop it.” Clara said.

“One cannot marry the dead!”

He took a newspaper clipping out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Lillian.

She read it. It took her a few moments to comprehend its full import.

“Well, what does it say?” Clara asked.

“There was a memorial service in Boston for me last week. I died here some months ago of influenza.” she handed the clipping to Clara.

“The service was presided over by her grieving uncle, Father Patrick McTavish. What is the meaning of this Patrick?”

“I think it is pretty clear.”

“But I am alive. People know that.”

“The death certificate says otherwise. Signed by me.” He took a piece of paper out his inside pocket and haded it to Clara. “You have no proof of who you are, my dear. None at all.”

“Proof!” Clara exclaimed. “This has been signs only by you. There’s no doctor’s signature.”

He snatched it back from Clara. “A mere formality.  Also you can’t get married without proof  of identity in the Catholic Church. Lillian, do you have your baptismal record? Your confirmation certificate? You don’t even have a family to say you are you. The memorial was very emotional. You mother wept. A Mr. Henderson was heart broken.”

“David Henderson?” Clara said glancing at Lillian.

“He went to Europe when I was fifteen and he was not a beau, merely a boy I knew.” Lillian wanted to jump up and strike her uncle. “Why are you doing this?” she asked as calmly as she could.

“You must reap what you sow my child.” He said gently. “Her father said she was a willful, spiteful, conniving child and she had grown up to be even more so. Do you think I would let you ruin yet another family to satisfy your need for depraved comfort. When I was forced to drive this … this …. harlot from my home I was stunned to see her be taken into your bosom Miss O’Dowell. I feared she would be an asp. A snake in the grass.”

Lillian stood slowly. “Have you had your say uncle? Have you done your worse?”

“Lillian I mean no harm. Forgive me.”

“Forgiveness is not mine to give.” She looked him in the eyes. “If this is the consequence of my not bending to your depraved carnal desires then I am willing to suffer this consequence for keeping my honour intact.”

She opened the door to leave the study. “If you’ll excuse me Clara I have something in my room that may help clarify things. If they don’t satisfy the Church.”

“No one will have you.” her uncle said. “No one.”

“Father Patrick.” Clara stopped Lillian. “You have said more than enough. You have perhaps revealed more about yourself than you have about Lillian.”

“How can you remain so … indifferent to this hussy’s actions.”

“Whatever her actions may have been, and I assure you, I know she is no innocent babe, she has not displayed such an evil devious mind as you have. To revenge yourself is this way leaves me speechless.”

Lillian dashed up to her room and found the photo album and news paper clippings. She brought them down and presented them to Clara.

“This marriage will happen.” Clara said sternly. “Her family will be informed of your callous actions.”

“You think they banished her here on a whim?”

“They banished me because their reputation was more important to them than their child. Oh! It was all right for my brothers to get caught up in gambling, drunken galavanting behaviour.” Lillian found herself shouting.

“But let their precious daughter show a bit of spirit and out she goes. When they thought I had lost any value as a marriage pawn to enhance their precious social standing they disposed of me as if I were … a … a tea service that had gone out of fashion.”

She turned to Clara. “If I am a calculating harlot looking for the best possible marriage then I learned it from them. It runs in the family apparently. Doesn’t uncle?” She wanted to slap the stunned look on his face. “Falsifying my death to suit your ends is no better. Runs in the family.”

She pushed Clara aside nearly knocking over Aileen who had been hovering near the door listening. She stood in the foyer resisting the temptation to run up to her room, slam the door and throw herself on her bed to cry. That’s what the woman in books did. Cry till some man came up the stairs to make things better for them.

“Aileen.” she said.

“Yes Miss?”

“If anyone wants me, I’ll be out in the garden. Those climbing roses need to be cut back.”

On her way through the kitchen she grabbed the gardening sheers and headed directly to the climbing roses. She’d been intending to remove the dead branches for weeks now and she attacked them with a vengeance.

She lost track of time as her anger dissipated. Why was every path she took caught in these unforeseen and unforeseeable brambles. David Henderson turning out to be unsuitable because of a Jewish grandmother, Mr. Dunham a trifler, Birk Nelson so fearful of displeasing his mother and now this. If only she could cut these brambles as cleanly away from her path as the ones from the climbing bush.

With each clip she thought to herself ‘what can I do.’ ‘what can I do next.’ 

“Lillian!”

There was a hand on her shoulder. It was Clara.

“Lillian, I have been calling you for a few minutes.”

Lillian stood and wiped the sweat off her brow. “I couldn’t hear you over these.” She snipped at the air in front of her with the sheers.

“Then perhaps we’ll get them oiled properly so they won’t be so noisy in the future.” Clara smiled. “You uncle is certainly a man of actions and opinions.”

“Another of the McTavish bad traits.”

“Do you love my brother?”

“Love? I don’t know. If you mean that flood of blinding adoration, then, no, I don’t.” If that put the final touch on the end of this path she was ready to face it.

“That’s what I was hoping to hear. I’ve seen how you’ve dealt with him this past month. You know I wasn’t happy of this match but Steve would brook no argument with me. I didn’t want to distract him from his ambitions and I figured you would fall by the wayside.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Oh I wasn’t disappointed. He was willing to listen to you on matters of appearance and even of how to present himself to the public that he would never had heeded from me. If anyone won the seat it was you being by his side making sure he said the right things at the right time. Someone who was flooded with adoration couldn’t have been so … objective.”

“Thank you, Clara. This is the last thing I expected to hear you say.”

“Perhaps you’ve wondered why I never married?”

“Yes, but you did have your father to look after.”

“We had money and could have afforded to hire help but my father, much as yours did, I suspect, wanted to keep a protective eye on me. I never had the opportunity to meet a James Dunham. A few men courted me but none ever found the approval of my father. Those that did were ones he deemed suitable because of their social status, their financial potential and for no other reason.”

“I had never thought we might have that in common.”

‘But you have more determination than I ever had.”

“So does Father Pat.”

“It’s not you he’s striking at but your family. He told me about your father’s reaction to the death certificate. He may not have known it but your father’s grief brought the good Father great …  I want to say pleasure but that’s not it at all. It gave him an opportunity to castigate your father for being such a Godless parent. For being indulgent and permissive.”

“Permissive!”

“Oh yes, allowing you opportunities to enjoy life that he himself had not had. Your family’s wealth and social position become more important to them than their faith and as a result you were their downfall and punishment.”

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