Cirque de Picture Perfect 

Looking back to my 2014 blogs about writing Picture Perfect – Cirque de #NaNoWriMo 2014 – http://wp.me/p1RtxU-Uo – follow the link to see where it all started 🙂

My writing process hasn’t changed that much – write – walk & think – write more. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year though to give me time to think of edits. One of things I’ve heard is you put your first draft away for a few years then go back to it. Which is what I’ve done – 5 years to be exact.

Much of that first draft has never been looked at since it was written so it needs lots of edits. Lots of typos, wrong words filled in by spell check, ‘x’ where names should be. In the edit process I’ll be keeping notes of names, connections. I have collected all the written sections in a file & have seen that I was organized enough those years to keep a running plot outline of what was in each section. How much will remain is to be seen as I start the work.

In the mean time I’ll be reposting each of my original NaNoWriMo blog posts from 2014/15/16 – with some editing to remove things no longer relevant.

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Chapter LXIX: Lillian Catches The Train

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIX

Lillian

Catches 

The Train

Lillian arrived at the station with five minutes to spare. Her trunk had already been taken aboard. She went to her seat and sat back.

She checked her purse once again to make sure her bank draft was there. Next she made sure her transfer ticket to Montreal was there so she could change trains when she got to Truro.

The departure call was made. To her relief there was no sign of David Henderson. The train started to pull out. She smiled to herself at the image of him standing on the platform as the train pulled away.

Behind her she heard the conductor at the doorway talking to someone.

“Come on come on.” The conductor was saying. “Reach up and I can pull on if yer fast enough.” He grunted. “Ouf. There you go. Next time be here on time.”

“Didn’t know till now that I was going anywhere.” A man said.

The train picked up speed. 

Not that way.” The conductor said. “That’s for first class. Yer family ticket gets you caboose. T’other way.” 

As the train sped up Lillian let the scenery blur grateful that this was now her past not her future.

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Chapter LXVIII – Birk’s First Kiss

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVIII

Birk’s

First

Kiss

Birk and Clancy were in the small backyard of the house breaking up the soil so his mother could start a garden. 

“Birk get in here, now!” His mother shouted from the back stoop.

He and Clancy followed her into the house. 

There was a stranger sitting in the living room.

“This is Mr. Joseph from the steel plant. This be Birk and our boarder Clancy Sinclair.”

The man stood and shook hands with them. “I’m sorry for your loss.” he said.

“Loss?” Birk looked at his mother. “Maddy?”

“No,” she began to sob. “Mac died at the plant this afternoon.”

“Couldn’t catch his breath.” Mr. Joseph explained. “I work with him with the boilers. He was shovelling the number 3 and stopped heaving for air. Took him to the infirmary and then they rushed him to the city hospital but by then t’was too late. Doc there says t’was his heart gave out.”

“After them done broke it.” his mother said. “Goddamned BritCan pulled that heart right out of him.” She dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her apron.

“I came to tell yer Ma myself. Didn’t know Mac for long but he was eager worker. Told us how good his boy Birk was around the boilers, too.”

“Some, but not as good as he was.” Birk said. Without Mac the responsibility for the family was now his. There’d be no leaving to anywhere for work with Clancy.

“Thank you from coming to tell us.” Birk shook his hand. “I see Ma’s given you some tea. You want another cup?”

“No thank ye. I have a family awaiting me too. I’m over Hanson Road. Not too far from here. Number fifteen. Come by the Plant in the morning and I’ll see if we can fix you up.”

“How’s that?” Birk asked.

“We took Mac because we needed him. We still need him. We can give you a try to see if you’ll do.”

“I already have work at the Patterson millworks.”

“So yer ma tells me but you’ll get paid more, travel less and keep ahold of your house.”

“I’ll think on it.” Birk shook his hand again glancing at Clancy who had remained silent since coming into the house.

“You boys had supper?” his mother asked once Mr. Joseph was gone.

“Can’t say as I’m much hungry Mrs. Mac.” Clancy said.

“Come out the kitchen while I sees to supper.”

Maddy was the the kitchen table. “When Poppa coming home?” she asked.

“Not fer awhile.” Birk said. “Not fer a long while.”

“He’s gone to be with Sal.” His mother sat beside her.

“Sal?” Maddy teared up. “Sal gone to be with God.”

“So she has.” his mother said.

“That why that man was here?”

“Yes Maddy.”

“I hate him. He sent pappa away didn’t he.”

“No.” Birk said. “Mac was tried that’s all. Moving here and changing was too much for him.”

“For all of us.” His mother ladled out stew for them. “Eat and we can talk more about this later. I’ll say grace, ‘God thank you for the food we have that will give us strength to face what has to be faced. Amen.”

Birk washed the dishes while his mother put Maddy to bed.

“You’re some silent.” He said to Clancy.

“It was all so clear to me this afternoon. It made sense to leave here and build a life on my own plans not on something set out before me. A life for two of us.” Clancy said.

“Nothing holding you. You said you got no family here.”

“There’s you.” Clancy said softly. “You know when I took off that last time I didn’t mean to come back. I was through with all this, with those micks who want to lynch someone for not being a God-fearing mick.”

“Lynch?”

“That’s what they’d call that mob that Father Patrick brought over to teach you, us, a lesson. They would have strung us the nearest tree if they coulda. You know that. And why? For being naked?”

“For what we were doing.”

Clancy took Birk’s hand. “We were doing nothing, Birk. Nothing. But I was feeling something.” 

“To you maybe but to them it was something.”

“Exactly. I don’t want to live in fear for someone disapproving of the way I sneeze. Of who I want to be with. That’s what brought me back again. To get you to leave with me.”

“You had me convinced too.” Birk brushed the back of Clancy’s hand on his own chin. “But you know I can’t go now.”

“Fuk,” Clancy stood and let his chair fall over to the floor. “I knows that. I have to think about what to do, for me.”

“Millworks will be lookin’ for someone when I go.”

“Yeah.” Clancy gave a small laugh. “That isn’t what I had in mind.”

His mother came into the kitchen. “I see you done the dishes. That’s something I could never get Mac to do.” She picked up the chair that Clancy had knocked over. She sat in it with her elbows on the table and her head in her hand. “Sometimes I feel my age.”

“It hasn’t been easy,  Mrs. Mac.” Clancy said.

“So Clancy you back for good?” she asked.

“I can’t say Mrs. Mac. Birk and I was discussing that too. It’s not as if I’m kin to you or anyone else around here.”

“True. I’m trying to be practical about things, is all. I need to know what I can count on before making any decisions. I don’t want you and Birk disappearing one day.”

“Ma…” Birk started.

She held up her hand. “Birk I know you wants a life of yer own. Geo did too. That sure can’t happen here. I expected you to go with Geo when he went to Alberta. He offered to take you but Pa said it had to be your idea not something we planted in you.”

“You did?”

“Yer Pa and I talked about what was going to become of you. Then I got afraid that mick gal was trying to lure you off too. So I said things about her I didn’t mean. When she got set with O’Dowell I breathed easy again.”

“Ma! I was never one for her. I knew that from the first time met her.”

“I know, son, I know. But comes a time when we have to let our children look out for themselves.”

“This isn’t that time Ma.” Birk said looking to Clancy. 

“It is Birk. Isn’t it Clancy?” She looked to Clancy too. “You want Birk to take a chance on a bigger life with you?”

“I won’t deny it. I talked to him about it. There isn’t much more opportunity for him here than there is for me. You want him to die with a shovel in his hand the way Mac did?”

“We all die Clancy.” she half-laughed. “Don’t matter what we’re holding in our hands at the time.”

“Ma, I’m not going anywhere with Clancy.”

“Maddy and I can go live with my sister in Guysborough. There’s enough to do around their farm to keep us.”

“Aunt Dierdra? The one you curses under your breath anytime you get the opportunity.”

“The same.” she took a deep breath. “If’n you want to stay Clancy, we’d be happy to have you. Mac never got settled in that room of his upstairs so you can have it for yerself. You won’t ‘ave to bunk up with Birk at all.” 

“We all have a lot to think about.” Clancy got up from the table and went to the front door.

Birk followed him. “Clancy you know I can’t go now. Maybe the steel plant is my opportunity.”

“For you but not for me.”

He left Birk standing in the open doorway.

Birk sat in Mac’s armchair in the living room. Even though Mac had a bedroom for himself Mac still fell asleep in his old armchair. The chair wasn’t as comfortable as it looked when Mac sat in it. The curves and bumps were ones that had been created by Mac’s body over the years. Birk sat on the sofa and out his feet up on the low table in front of it.

This was his duty. Family. The adventure that Clancy offered had tempted him sorely. He was glad now that he didn’t have to make the decision to go or not. That he’d stay was plain to him. 

Lying on his bed he heard the backdoor open and someone come into the house. He pulled his coveralls on and went to the top of the stairs to listen. He heard nothing. He went half-way down the stairs and could see his mother asleep in Mac’s chair in the living-room. The street light softening her face with its yellow.

“Clancy!” he whispered.

“Shush.” Was the reply. “Who would it be?”

Clancy came to the bottom of the stairs holding his shoes.

They walked up the stairs.

“I didn’t think you’d come back.” Birk said.

“I had no choice.” He took Birk by the hand. “My heart is here.”

“I …” Without hesitation he pulled Clancy to him and kissed him. He didn’t want that kiss to end.

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Chapter LXVII: Lillian Gets A Surprise

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVII

Lillian

Gets A

Surprise

The Saturday of the unveiling was a windy overcast day. Rain threatened but never happened. Steven had been buried in the family plot at Hardwood Hill Cemetery. The bagpipes could be heard as she and Clara walked up the path to the family plot.

“Mama was a Presbyterian you know, and never converted, so when they wouldn’t bury her on Catholic soil our father didn’t want to be buried anywhere but her side. I know Steven felt the same way.” Clara leaned on Lillian for support.

There were several others already at the site. The Nova Scotia flag covered the small stone monument. It bellowed in the breeze.

“Good day Miss O’Dowell, Miss McTavish, I mean, Mrs. O’Dowell.” The custodian greeted them.

“Thank you Mr. Crookshank.” Clara shook his hand and nodded to other men there.

“He will be sorely missed.” Gus shook both their hands.

They stood in the wind for a moment listening the the piper. Clara signalled for him to stop.

“Lillian would you give me a hand?” Clara indicated to Lillian to stand opposite her by the grave stone. 

Once Lillian had taken the edge of the flag in her hand Clara leaned and undid the string that was holding it. They lifted it together and Lillian, expecting Clara to hold it, let go of her side once it was clear. Clara let go of her’s at the same time and the flag was blown away by the breeze to get stuck in upper branches of a near by oak tree.

“Oh my!” Lillian said and started to get it.

“Leave it for now, dear.” Clara said putting an arm around Lillian’s shoulder.

The monument was pink-grey marble column, the top edge had an inlay of black onyx carved to look like lumps of coal. It was topped with miner’s lamp made of brass. 

Clara read the inscription, “ ‘Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends. John xv:13’ ” Then she began to weep. The bagpiper began to play.

Lillian squeezed Clara’s hand and they walked down the path. Followed by the others and the bagpiper.

 

The silence back at the O’Dowell house was a relief to Lillian. She’d said all she had to say and longed to be on her way. It was worse than those last days at school before summer vacation. Clara had taken to her room and Lillian brought up a supper tray for her.

“Lillian you must understand how hard this is for me. To lose Steven and now to lose you so soon after.” she patted Lillian’s hand. “I know I’m beginning to sound same as an hysterical old woman but …”

“I will be back Clara.” Lillian hoped she sounded reassuring.

“Yes, but not till Christmas. Oh, do see if you can take some time to visit while you are at college.”

“Yes, yes.” Lillian said. “Once I know what my classes are and what work I’ll have before me I’ll know what time I have to spare.”

“This house has been so empty without you or Steven to share it with.”

“You’ll get used it so quickly you won’t want any intruders other than a cat or two.”

She went down to the kitchen

“Don’t awaken Miss Clara, Aileen.” she said. “I think it best if I slip away with less fuss than I arrived.”

“Yes miss. Am I to send the things in your room along to you?”

“No. They’ll be there for me when I return. Knowing my favorite blue shoes are here is sure to bring me back. I’d like you to have these.”

She gave Aileen the pair of stocking she had bought for the wedding. One less memento of a time she hoped to forget. 

 

She planned to leave Monday morning. Being here had become unbearable for her now that her escape from the island was assured. 

“I can’t quite believe you are going.” Mrs. Franklin said as they waited on the boarding house porch for the cab to take Lillian’s luggage to the train station.

“I am so grateful for everything you’ve done for me Rose.”

“Thank you, Lillian, you’ve been a joy to … “ she began to tear up.

“I’d like you to have this.”

“Oh  …” Mrs. Franklin pulled the tissue paper off what turns out to be an ornate carved ivory fan. “It is beautiful. The roses look so real.”

“I realize it isn’t that practical. Much like me, I suppose, I was brought up to be pretty but not practical. Life here has taught me to be practical.

“It was a gift from my father. He bought it for me on one his trips to the continent. I don’t want to have too many impractical memories.”

The cab pulled up. Once her luggage was safe at the train station she had the driver take her to the cemetery. She had given herself time to go back Steven’s grave. The day was sunny but the wind was strong around the grave.

As she knelt the wind pulled off her hat and her hair came loose. She laughed to herself thinking that Steven always did appreciate her hair.

“Steven,” she said softly, “forgive me for what I am doing. Even if you had lived I would never have been content here on this rock with you. Never.” 

“Lillian?” a man’s voice came from behind her. “Lillian McTavish!” The man repeated louder.

She stood, shivering, and turned around. The sun was in her eyes.

“Steven!” Had she brought him back to life? 

“It is you, Lillian! I thought it was a ghost.” He took her in his arms. She tried to push him away. 

“David Henderson? No, it can’t be. It can’t be.” She stumbled back away from him.

“It is.”

“How? Why?”

“When news of your death reached me in India I was devastated. I had hoped to return to Boston one day to be with you. I should never have let my family pressure me into leaving you. Never. It was torment I shall never want to experience again.

“I could hardly sit through the memorial service your uncle conducted in Boston. It wasn’t right to me. I had to see your grave to … be near you one last time.” Tears streaked his face. “To find you alive! How is that possible.”

“My uncle was … mistaken.” Lillian stared hard at David. He looked much she remembered. Older and less naive.

“He said at the memorial that you had been interred here with the other flu victims. I now see why the custodian was so puzzled when I asked about Lillian McTavish’s resting place earlier. He said that if you were here today it might be up here at the O’Dowell plot.”

A nearby church rang eleven.

“I … don’t know what to say David.”

“Tell me that my affections might still be returned.”

She started to walk down to the street. “Much had happened in the past year David. I can’t say what my affections are for anyone.”

“I understand that Lillian. I do honestly.” he stopped her and took both of her hands in his. “We can become reacquainted.”

He let go of her hands, put his around his waist pulled to him and kissed her. 

The wind wrapped her hair around them for a moment. They broke free and she quickly plated her hair and secured it under her hat. Was this Steven’s answer to her prayer for forgiveness?

“David I’ll be direct.”

“As you always were.”

They got into the cab that she had waiting for her. “Train station please.” Lillian said.

“I’m staying the The Royal.” David said.

“That may be, but my train leaves at noon. I intend to be on it.” Lillian’s thoughts were reeling with this unexpected, undreamed of event. Regardless of it she was determined to leave. “I can’t make any decision or plans as long as I am here.”

“I know that Lillian, but please hear me out. After my father’s death I inherited the firm and have increased its holdings in India considerably. When I first met you I was a young man with possibilities, now I am man of property.”

“I can see that. I presume you know that I was compromised by James Dunham.” She saw no reason to hold anything back from David.

“Compromised?”

“Yes. Do I have to explain that for you? That’s why I ended up here. I had a child by him. It was still born.”
“Lillian,” he clutched her hand and brought it to his lips.

“Do you still want to be become reacquainted with me?”

“How could you doubt it?” He said softly.

“You are free to come with me. I am not promising anything.”

“Yes. yes. Thank you. Drop me at the Royal and then take Miss McTavish to the train station.” The cab pulled up at the Royal. He jumped out. “It won’t take me long to pack my things and I’ll meet you at the station.”

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Chapter LXVI – Lillian Makes Up Her Mind 

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVI

Lillian

Makes Up 

Her Mind 

Lillian unlocked the front doors to O’Dowell’s Sydney store. She bent over to pick up a few scraps of newspaper rear had blown into the corner. There was almost something caught in that corner. She left the door unlocked for the rest of the staff. She saw that Mr. Oakley, the store manager, was already there.

“Good morning Mr. Oakley.” She called out. “I’ll leaving the door open for the rest of the staff.”

She took of her gloves, then her hat as she walked up the stairs to her own private office on the second floor. It was a space in a back corner, reclaimed from the storage area on the second floor.

She had started working at the O’Dowell’s in New Waterford to pass the time. She explained to Clara that she wanted to learn the family business as she was now part of the family. Spending the winter days at their home hosting meetings of the various Women’s guilds that Clara was involved in didn’t appeal to her. 

In the new year she moved to Sydney and started working at the Sydney store. Supposedly to learn even more about the business but it was part of her plan to escape Cape Breton. Mrs. Franklin had managed to sell her property in New Castleton and had opened a new boarding house on Cottage Road in Sydney.

“Mrs. O’Dowell would you come down when you have a chance.” 

“Yes, Mr. Oakley.”

She quickly checked her hair and make-up in the mirror by the door of her office. She admitted the way the simple one-piece shift look both pretty and practical. She had convinced the other female clerks in the store that wearing what the store sold would sell even more. 

As she walked down to the first floor she could smell coffee perking. That had been another of her suggestions. Some of the Boston department stores had lunch counters. Even though the trade at O’Dowell’s wasn’t as brisk as Boston’s she decided it would a worthwhile ‘experiment.’ So far it had been breaking even.

“Good morning Miss Lillian.” Theresa, the counter girl curtsied as Lillian walked past her. “Here is your coffee.”

“Something is smelling good.” Lillian took a sip. “What is it today?”

“Thank you ma’am. That would be the ginger crisp.”

Lillian went to the door of Mr. Oakley’s office.

“You wanted to speak with me?”

Before he could say anything a voice from behind said. 

“Lillian I must speak with you.”

She recognized the voice immediately. “Not during working hours Uncle Patrick.” She replied without turning around.

“That’s quite alright Mrs. O’Dowell. We can discuss the Ladies Wear order later to day.”

She turned to face her uncle.

“Is there someplace more private we can talk.” He asked. “It is important or I wouldn’t have come here.”

Lillian knew that since the closure of the Castleton Mines the diocese had decided to close the church there so they wouldn’t have to replace her uncle when he left for Africa.

“We can go up to my office.”

Lillian’s office was so small there was only room for her desk and a chair for her behind it. Test rest of the room was shelving for goods and a file cabinet. There no place for anyone else to sit down.

She sat at her desk. “What is it?”

He took a document out of an inner pocket of his overcoat.

“I’ve done you a service.” He said. “You’ve been granted an annulment.”

“An annulment!”

“Yes. When I explain the circumstance of your marriage. That it was done without proper church requirements, that your husband died without the marriage being consummated the request for an annulment was granted.”

“I never requested this.” Lillian crushed the document in her hands. “My marriage stands. It will stand in a court of law. You know that very well. Steven’s lawyers ascertained that in probate.”

“Lillian, don’t you understand me. It frees you from any obligation you may feel to the O’Dowells. You are free to go back to Boston.”

“Boston.” She stood. “I have no intention of ever going back to Boston.”

“What keeps you here? It was clear when you arrived that you loathed this place, these people. I don’t see that has changed much. Is this your future?” He gestured at the office. “A struggling clothing store where you can be … what … queen? At least you arrived you had prideful ambitions for a bigger life.”

“Get out of here.” Lillian restrained from screaming at him. She realized that he was partially right. No matter what she accomplished at O’Dowell’s it would never be her home.

“Think about what I said Lillian.” He straightened out the decree of annulment. “All you have to do is sign it.”

“I said get out.” She came out from behind her desk.

He backed out of the office. “I’ll be leaving for the mainland this afternoon. The first step on my African adventure. I do have you to thank for that. If Miss O’Dowell hadn’t interceded with the Monsignor I may have remained trapped here as well.”

Lillian stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched as he left the store. Trapped! Was she trapped?

“He did what?” Mrs. Franklin handed Lillian the serving platter of scalloped potato.

“You heard me, he had my marriage annulled.” Lillian held the kitchen door open with her foot so Mrs. Franklin could pass through the to dining room with similar platter of pork chops.

They each placed their platters on the inning room table and took their places beside each other at the table. While the other boarders passed the platters around the table to help themselves Lillian continued.

“It’s as if I might have forget his action in the past.”

“What did he expect you to do?” Mrs. Franklin asked.

“He did realize that the marriage meant I was now a Canadian citizen. Steven’s death didn’t change that.”

“So you declined the offer.”

“Certainly. I also destroyed the document. Threw it in the furnace at the store. But he did say something that was worth while.”

“Ah.”

“Yes that he felt trapped here and was grateful his actions towards me resulted in him being set free.”

“Set free?”

“Of his obligations to the parish.”

“No one felt he was ever happy here, if you know what mean. Not that he was as unkind to others as he was to you but …”

“He didn’t make a home for himself here?”

“Exactly.”

“I am like him in that I way, Rose. I feel trapped here.”

In her room Lillian took out the leather binder that held her important papers. The Bank of Montreal’s white with blue cloth along the spine was the first thing she looked at. She checked it every night whether she had made a deposit or not. This was her money. It had grown over the months since Steven’s death. 

There was finally enough for her to make plans. It was time to leave. All she needed was to decide where. No, she would decide that when she was her way. The train to Halifax would start her journey. Once she was there she make further plans. 

The next morning at O’Dowell’s she informed Mr. Oakley of her decision to leave the store.

“This is rather sudden Mrs. O’Dowell.”

“I have been thinking on this for awhile and spring seems a good time to make such a move.”

“You’ve told Clara, I mean, Miss McDowell?” 

“I will this afternoon. We will be finalizing the plans for unveiling Steven’s memorial this Sunday. I hope to be leaving the following day.”

“Where do you plan to go?” Mr. Oakley asked.

“I’ll be discussing that with Clara as well. Until then I’ll keep that to myself.”

The meeting Clara, Mrs. Donaldson and Mrs Donaldson took place over tea at Mrs. Franklin’s. Once the unveiling plans had been discussed with them she took the opportunity to make her announcement.

“Ladies.” She loudly to get their attention. “Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Donaldson. I am deeply grateful for your concern and support over these past months. I feel I have a family here to replace the one I left in Boston.”

“Lillian …” Mrs. Murphy teared up.

“I know you will be happy to know that I have decided to bid you farewell.”

“You can’t mean you are going to leave us?” Mrs. Donaldson said.

“It hasn’t been an easy decision. I don’t think it’ll for long but I will be leaving. I’ve made some inquires and there are few places left in the next term at the Normal College in Truro. I shall go there to become a qualified to be a teacher for all your children.”

“Lillian!” Clara said. “What an excellent idea. I felt you were wasting your self in the store.”

“I won’t be leaving till after the unveiling of Steven’s monument.” she said.

“That’s an excellent plan.” said Mrs. Murphy. “I always knew you were a practical girl.”

Lillian took a tray of the used cups and saucers to the kitchen relieved that they had believed the half-truths she had told them. She had no intention of going the Normal College. Even if she did she would never come back to this place. Never.

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Chapter LXV – Birk Gets An Offer From Clancy

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXV

Birk

Gets An Offer

From Clancy

Over the winter Birk settled into the routine of a new above ground life. Most days he was able to catch a ride to the Patterson Woodworks with T’Jean who lived a few streets over from them in Sydney. The mill offered snow shovelling to those who could afford it, so Birk was kept busy while the millworks was idle. He’d rather shovel snow that coal any day. He also enjoyed improving his carpentry skills in their workshop.

Spring was slow to come but burst suddenly upon the island. One mild day he spent unloading and sorting the first truck load of timber for the spring. At the end of the day he unconsciously went down the ferry back to Castleton Mines. He was half way down the lane from the colliery before he saw what he had done.

He stood in front of their old house, the sun reflecting off the windows. He walked to the back. There was nothing drying on the porch rail, nothing flapping on the clothes line, only the remains of the wood pile for the stove. The garden had green shoots sprouting.

He went into the house through the back door. The kitchen was empty without his mother at the sink. The floor where the stove had been was charred, the wall behind it discoloured. The living room was larger and wooden floors cleaner than he knew.

The stairs creaked as he went up to his room. The steps were uneven in ways he had never noticed before. The wallpaper yellowed and peeled away from the wall along the ceiling from where water always leaked through.

His sisters room smelled of them. They had never gotten around to fixing that spot on the wall where the girls fell one Christmas and cracked through the plaster to the lathing. The area around it was white after being covered by some drawing his sisters had made to hide it from them.

He went to his room half-expecting to find Clancy there. The room was as empty as all the others. There was pillow tossed in the corner, a single sock in the corner of the cupboard. The floor was gouged where the feet of the bed had rubbed a rut over the years.

He went out the front door. The only solid door in the house. He had helped his Dad and Geo rebuild the door frame under his mother’s watchful eye.

“A front door that was solid will keep a house from falling down around your ears.” She had said. She was right about that. Too bad it hadn’t been solid enough to keep the family inside.

“Come back for one last look?” Jake Malone from across the lane said from the front of his house.

“Turns out that way. So used to coming back here after work I came back here after work.” Birk laughed.

“Them old ways is sure hard to shake off.”

“You here for much longer?”

“Probably. BritCan may be gone but life here has to go one. I’m fixed with Jim Gillum on the boats. You?”

“Looks good for me at the Patterson’s Millworks.”

“Good on you. Yer mate?”
“Clancy? Not sure. He went back the mainland before Christmas. Nothing to hold him here.”

“Shame. You and he got along pretty good. Hard to find a mate that loyal.”

“I knows that.”

“Yeah after all that shite that got talked about you and that McTavish bitch he stuck by you. That’s a true mate.”

Birk was shocked to hear Lillian called a bitch. “She don’t mean no harm Jake. No need to cuss her out.”

“Don’t be so forgiving Birk m’boy. Them micks think cause they know a bit of Latin they can lord it over the rest of us. Let’em get away with that and there’ll be no end of it.”

“Best get going. Ma’ll wonder what became of me if I don’t get back to Sydney soon. Hours late as it is.”

“Tell’em we miss you even thought it’s been a day.”

The steel plant whistle was blowing 11 p.m. when Birk finally arrived home.

“Where you been boy?” His mother said. “Sent your sister over to T’Jeans to see what became of you. You could’a fallen into one of them saws for all we knew.”

“Sorry Ma. You’ll get a laugh when I tell you what I did. When I left the mill works I headed back to Mudside.”

“Mudside!”

“Yes’m, my feet took me back the old way and rest of me followed. The old house sure looks empty without us. I heard that Mrs. Franklin sold off her boarding house. Setting up the same here in Sydney.”

“You want a bite of supper?”

“Na sat a spell with Jake Malone. He’s working on the boats for now. I’m going to turn in. This house is so quiet without all the boards shifting but the noise of the plant can get some fierce too.”

“Go up quiet now. Yer Pa’s sleeping like I never see before.”

Birk took off his boots and tip-toed up to his room. He reached for the lamp then remembered they had lights, electric lights. But his Ma had been sitting in the back kitchen with only a lantern on. One of her old routines that was hard to break. He left the light off and went to the window.

He looked out to the houses around him and some of them had a lanterns flickering in a window. He turned the light on and had to close his eyes as it was too bright. Then turned it off quickly. Who needed so much brightness at night.

In the dark he went to the bathroom and ran some water to wash his face and hands. He was getting used to a bathroom with its own tub and running water. The old company house had a pump in the kitchen and buckets to bring water upstairs for washing up.

He folded his overalls on top of the dresser. This room about the same size as the old one. Longer but not as wide leaving no room between the bed and the wall for more than his legs. He was too restless to fall asleep. The house smelled so different. 

Sydney smelled so different from Castleton Mines. So close to the plant the the air was sour and sooty. Not that the pits smelled much better but once you got far enough away some of the smell was gone. Here it seemed to be everywhere. The midnight whistle sounded as he drifted off.

 

During his lunch break at the mill Birk heard a familiar singing near by.

“This is the hands that makes the boards, this is the hands that picks up sticks.”

Birk jumped up on top of a squared pile of lumber to peer around.

“Clancy! Where the hell are you by?”

“Hiding in the woodpile.” Came the reply.

“I’ll give you a hidin’ if you don’t show yer face.” He jumped to the ground and darted along the piled squares.

“This is the dog that can’t find a stick.” Came from behind him. 

He spun around and there was Clancy. He grabbed Clancy and wrestled him to the ground.

“Enough. Enough.” Clancy laughed and pushed him away. They stood up and brushed saw dust off their clothes.

“It’s months since we last saw ya b’y.”

“I know. I been working with my cousins down Hawksbury way. Tough work keeping that train moving across at Canso.”

“I thought might be doing more schoolin’?”

“Takes money to do that ‘less I ‘prentice with someone. Even that getting harder to find though.”

“So you back again. For good?”

“Can’t say but I’m for a bit.” He took a roll of money out of his pocket. “Made hundred-fifty bucks though so …”

“You rob a bank Clancy Sinclair?”

“Me! You know me to do a dishonest day’s work?”

“Tell me!” Birk stared at the money. He had never seen that much cash in anyone’s hand.

“I’ll be back when you get finish here.”

“T’Jean’ll take us back to Sydney.”

It started to rain at the end of the work day so they sat in the front cab of the truck instead of stretching out in the back box. Birk between T’Jean and Clancy.

“Snug b’ys.” T’Jean said.

“Better close than wet.” Birk said enjoying the nearness of Clancy.

“You smell like a pine box.” Clancy said.

“At’s what Ma says. She isn’t missing me coming back with coal dust in my hair. Least way I can actually wash this out.”

“You know the Sinclair’s over Boularderie?” T’Jean asked.

“Can’t say as I do. My Dad was Kenny Sinclair. Worked for the railway. Can’t say as he ever got over to the island much though. My Ma is related to the Roberts in Louisbourg.”

“Runs the bakery over there?”

“Yes. I should look them up too. Never thought of them. Cousins nearly as good as folks, right?”

“Depends on what you expect from them.’ T’Jean said. “The less you want the happier they’ll be to see you.”

Birk listened to Clancy and T’Jean talk families for the entire ride to Whitney Pier. He found out that Clancy had more kin here than he’d known before.

They got out at T’James. Three girls rushed out to greet him.

“You’ve met my daughters. Clarice, Catherine, Christine.” Each did a little wave as her name was said. “All getting to marriage age. This here be Clancy. Time to add another C to the household?”

“Poppa.” Catherine squealed. “Mama’s down at Aunt Mary’s”

“Thanks again for the ride T’Jean.” Birk said as he and Clancy headed down the street.

“Clarice, Catherine and Christine?”

“Runs in his family. He’s got brothers and sisters Jerome, Jenny and …”

“Jumpin’ Jesus?” Clancy laughed.

“James. So tell me!” Birk demanded.

“Tell you what?”

“Where did you get all that money?”

“From the railroad pension of my Pa’s. I can draw on once’t a year. This is as good a time as any to do that.”

“Not while we was scrounging in the woods for mushrooms during the strike.” Birk said.

“I was tempted but with so many in need around that I wouldn’t have helped anyone. Now it might do some good. And I found out some better news.”

“Which is?”
“My rail pass is good for two. Me for free and you for half-price.” 

“Me! Where we going to go?”

“Any where the railway takes us. Montreal. Toronto. We can leave here.”

“What put that idea in your head?” They stopped in front of the house.

“You did. There isn’t anything to hold us here. Work?”

“Family.”

“There’s no future for us here. The BritCan company has pretty much seen to that. Sons moving away. Fathers crushed in mine collapses. Sisters dying overnight. Isn’t that message getting through you. This island is worse than the water at the bottom of shaft. Wake up and get out of here with me.”

Birk’s mother came to the door.

“Get in here. Where you been Clancy Sinclair?”

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Chapter LXIX – Birk Leaves Castleton

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIX

Birk

Leaves

Castleton

Once Reverend Browne left, Birk and Clancy went out to the back porch.

“Been a long couple of days.” Clancy said.

“Things changed so fast at times I don’t know what’s going on. Was what we were doing such an evil thing?”

“I don’t know, Birk. There are some who think so. Maybe t’was all my fault for coming back.”

“How’s that?” 

“I wanted to be with you.” Clancy said softly. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too Clancy. It was the same as when Barky died.”

“Barky?”

“Yeah. A mutt I’d found out back of here when I was a kid. Sure was a friendly dog. He’d wait for me at the colliery gate to go home with me. When he died I was so … heart sick.”

“You loved that dog.” Clancy said and gave a playful bark.

“I sure did. I’m not calling you a dog!”

“No more than I was calling you a monkey.”

“Yeah.”

“Though monkey’s is less hairy.” Clancy laughed, got up and walked to the end of the garden.

Birk followed him.

“What’s all this mean Clancy. We’re pals, right? Isn’t this how pals is supposed to feel. In the mines looking out for each other. That don’t end down there.”

“No, it doesn’t. But I don’t know any more than you about … could be we take to each other too much. A man takes a wife not another man.”

“I know that! I will one day cause that’s what Ma wants.”

“Is that what you want?”

“Not, if gals are like Miss McTavish. All proper and acting they know better.”

“There are some that is and plenty that are like your Ma and mine, too. You never know what you’re going to get with women.”

“Why are they such devious things?”

“That’s the way they are made. You’re asking the wrong man anyway.”

“You not looking to married?” Birk asked.

“Yes, but I agrees with you. I’m no hurry for that, I need a reliable job to plan for sort of future.”

“You don’t have family to worry about the way I do.”

“Yeah, but same as you I don’t see the need for it, yet. I want be settled as something. What would I have to offer besides the clothes on my back. Don’t even have a place to call my own.” Clancy sighed.

“You always got a home with us, you knows that.”

“Yeah but that’s not the same as having a place of my own. Takes more scratch that I’ve earned to get that.” He kicked at the ground.

They headed back to the house.

“What’s buggery, Clancy?”

“Why you asking that?” Clancy give a little laugh. “What do you think it is?”

“I hear it around the mines often enough, about the union being run by useless buggers. I thought it had something to do with the rats as we always call’em useless buggers too.”

“You got that right.” Clancy laughed again. “Let see how I can tell you.”

“It’s what that Father Patrick called us at the police station, remember?”

“Yeah I recollect that. You know how a baby gets set don’t you?”

“Pa explained that. You put yer little guy into the woman’s little slipper, between her legs.” Birk said. “Only the gals don’t encourage that sort of thing but they do as a duty. Husbands enjoy it though but a gentleman don’t bother no lady with that business less she makes it known she wants to make babies.”

“Mac told you pretty good all you need to know on that account.”

“What’s that got to with mine rats?”

“I’m getting to it. It’s when a man puts his little feller up the arse of another man.”

“What!” Birk stepped back, his stomach churning. “In the shitter?” The image made him sick to his stomach.

“‘Fraid so.”

“You ever …”

“No.” Clancy said loudly. “When we was called abominations that was what they was talking about, though.”

“I …” Birk was looking for the words. “Where they get that notion from in the first place.”

“Something in the Catholic good book. I don’t know it well enough to tell you were they get it from. All I know is the ten commandments and that sure isn’t one of them.”

“What about what we was doing? Lettin’ our little fellas rub. That was pleasuring each other, wasn’t it?”

“So what if it was. It weren’t no one business if we were.”

“But it became their business when Miss McTavish caught us at it.”

“She done didn’t catch us at anything except being naked.”

 

The next morning Birk left Clancy helping the family pack up their possession for the move to Sydney. He caught the ferry to New Waterford and walked the mile or so to the millworks. 

His mind kept returning to the conversation he’d had with Clancy the night before. He wondered if anyone thought of him and Clancy the way Father Patrick did. Calling them unnatural. All he wanted to do was … what? That first time on the rocks with Clancy, naked together was so natural. Something he couldn’t have done if Clancy had been a girl. Was that good feeling what the priest was going on about. Was it a sin to feel that good feeling? 

His first day at the mill was simple hard work. Stripping branches off trees, keeping an eye out for boles that might trip up the saws, keeping the saw blades oiled proper.

The boilers were similar to the ones at the colliery. He showed them what he knew and they were impressed. Dan’l made it clear he’d have to get his proper papers before he could do more than check the dials with T Jean.

At the end of that day he was covered with sawdust and wood shavings.

“Nice change from the coal dust.” He said to T’Jean as he shook the dust off his overalls.

 

When he got back to Castleton Mines the second cart load of their possessions was packed and ready to go Sydney. His mother was leaning against the sink in the empty kitchen and crying.

“Never thought I’d leave this house alive.” she said wiping tears from her eyes. 

“It’s BritCan’s problem now.” His father said.

“No more winter winds to warm us in the night Ma.” Birk said.

“No more garden for us in the summer either.” She replied. “No apples in the back orchard.”

“We can always come back for ‘em when we wants.” His dad said. “No one’s going to be buying this property up in a hurry. These half fallin’ down shacks’ll be full fallen by the time the snow flies.”

“The house’ll be so cold without us.” Maddy said.

“I’ll come back to light a fire.” Birk consoled her.

“How did things go at the mill?” His father asked.

“About as hard as the mine only more daylight. They had me hauling trees around, digging some for the new water main that’s coming through. Least I still know how to use a pick.”

“Hands okay?” His mother asked.

“No trouble.” he showed his palms and waggled fingers. “Healed up pretty well.”

“Guess all the holy moaning over where you put’em did them some good.” She gave a little laugh.

“Put’em?” he asked.

“She means all that foolishness by the good Father.” His father said lashing down the last of the furniture.

“At’s a man who needs to keep his own flock in order, if you ask me,” His mother said. “At least two unweds on Carter Street. Those nuns can’t keep their own legs closed. Then bringing his dirty minded ideas over here to plague us.”

“T’wasn’t m’fault though Ma.” Birk shrugged. 

He clambered onto the back of the cart with Maddy. His mother sat in the front next to his Dad. 

“Look Birk any full-grown woman who is so shocked at the site of a naked man isn’t in her right mind. It may not be something we see often but when we do it’s something we have to abide and keep our … distaste in check.”

“You see Clancy at all?” He asked.

“He’s in Sydney at the new place. Getting some things sorted out for us and then going to see about work for himself.” His father said. “May not be much for him though. The steel plant’s been cut back since the war.”

Birk lay back on the sofa cushions as comfortable as he could and watched the clouds and sky go by over head as the cart bumped onto the ferry. On the other side they reloaded their possession on the millworks truck to drive it to Sydney. His Dad took the cart and horse back to Castleton for the last of their furniture.

“A lot of changes for us, eh Ma?” Birk said.

“Good for you at your age Birk. More opportunity for you outside of Mudside. Might be time for you to meet someone. More gals in Sydney.”

“Yeah Ma.” Birk answered. “Thought you was saving me for your old age?”

“At this rate I’m probably not going to make it.” She laughed bitterly. “There will be a decent school for Maddy. More kids her age.”

“If’n I stay on at the millworks I may want to live nearer to them.” Birk said. “I have to get my boiler man papers soon.”

“You think you can handle all the reading and writing?” He dad asked.

“I can try. When I spoke with Magistrate Doucet at the courthouse he said closing the mines might be a good thing as it’ll force us out of the ground and into the world. No more hiding down there where all I have to do is figure if I got enough dug out for one day.”

They pulled up to the new house.

“A paved street!” He hopped out of cab and lifted his mother out. “No more sinking to our knees in the mud.”

He helped unload the rest of furniture into the house. It didn’t feel as large as their old place but it was cleaner and the walls had corners that met, with level floors and electricity. Maddy had to be stopped from pressing the lights on and off.

By the time Brik was ready to go to bed Clancy hadn’t returned.

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Chapter LXIII – Lillian’s Frustrations Increase

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIII

Lillian’s

Frustrations

Increase

After her meeting with the magistrate Lillian went to St. Teresa’s to collect her thoughts and pray. While she was there it began to rain heavily. She regretted not bringing her umbrella with her as she walked briskly back to the courthouse for two o’clock. She paced back and forth in the lobby checking the time on the clock there each time she passed it. At 3:15 a clerk came out.

“Miss McTavish. Magistrate Doucet will see you now.”

She went into his office and sat in one of the arm chairs in front of his desk. 

He made notes for a few moments before looking. “Thank you or coming back Miss McTavish.”

“Is no one present to record what I have to say?” she asked.

“Not at this point Miss McTavish. The case, as it were, is almost settled. We may not have to waste any valuable court time on it. I’m merely getting the details to see if there is enough to warrant taking it trial. I’ve spoke with the two lads in question.”

“They denied everything I suppose?”

“On the contrary they confirmed much of what you suspected. But I do want to hear what it was exactly you saw.”

“They were naked and touching each other’s private parts. Smiling while they enjoyed …” she shuddered at what she had seen. “Unnatural expressions in their eyes.”

“Where were you when you saw this.”

“Blue Lake on the south shore side.”

“Yes, I know the area. Good fishing at times. Sun was in your eyes at all?”

“There was a slight glare from the water but my vision was clear.”

“About how far from them where you?”

“I … I don’t know.” Was he doubting what she saw? “I know what I saw. It was a clear as …” she glanced out the window and peered across to the other side of the street, “the lace on the curtains in that window across the street.”

“I see,” he answered without looking where she was looking. “Miss McTavish as an outsider you have been quick to adapt our Island life. But you know that in some matters of decorum we are quite different. We tend to be less formal, less concerned with appearance. For example swimming in the nude amongst men in what is usually a private setting, is not at all unusually. I even did it myself often in my youth.”

“They were not swimming when I saw them” Lillian said firmly.

“You did observe them in the water didn’t you?”

“Yes.” Lillian blushed at the momentary pleasure she had taken in watching them in the water.

“Have you seen many men in the nude?” He asked gently.

“Never!” she exploded. “But this was more …”

“I can easily see how a young, delicate, lady such as yourself would be flustered by such a sight. It would have offended your refined sensibilities. Quite rightly so.” He chuckled. “But to impute more to what you saw than that is a gross overstatement. An over-reaction to the situation. But given recent events in your life. After the death of Mr. O’Dowell, I can see where your mien could be unsettled by such an unexpected and unwelcome sight.”

“It was not their nudity …” Lillian stood to make her point.

“Mrs. O’Dowell, I am dismayed that a female of your breeding would even countenance such thoughts as you have hinted at. An awareness of such unspeakable acts does not reflect well upon you or your family. Now sit down.”

She sat glaring at him

“Now, even if what you say is true, let me tell you now, nothing more will be done about this matter. Any attempts by you to besmirch these men will only sully the memory of the late Steve O’Dowell and the other men who died in that tragic accident.”

“Sully?” Lillian said. “Sully?”

“Yes, sully. This sort of sordid stain will taint memory forever. Birk Nelson was instrumental in that rescue. Leave it be.” He said forcefully

“I refuse.” She stood again. “You may not have the moral fortitude to take action …”

“Mrs. O’Dowell!”

“These people cannot be allowed to live such a way!”

“I see no evidence of that in this case. It is more case of a silly, grief stricken, woman being alarmed by a naked man.”

“It was more than that. Much more.” She slammed the palms of her hands on the desk. “Don’t these people care at all?”

“Mrs. O’Dowell.” He said quietly. “After working twelve hours in a dark, dank, wet, lightless hole they have little time or energy to care for much more than getting food, sleep and back to work another day. How they might seek even a small bit of pleasure is of no great importance. To other men, or to God. Good day Miss McTavish.” He went to the door and opened it for her.

“I will speak to the Bishop about this matter.” she said as she passed him.

“Consult with whom you wish.”

“They cannot be let off scot-free.”

“They haven’t been. Public nudity is an offence, as is creating a public mischief. They have both been charged and pled guilty to those charges.”

Lillian wanted to slap the tight smirk off the magistrate’s face. Treating her as if she were merely a hysterical female was bad enough but to indulge these men in their behaviour was too much.

She fumed all the way across the bay and back to the O’Dowell house. The windows in her room rattled as she slammed the door behind her. She sat heavily on the chair in front of her vanity table. Her face was drawn and pale. Her forehead and eyebrow muscles ached, her jaw was sore from being clenched. She tanked off her hat, took the pins out of her hair and began to brush it relishing the sharp pain on her scalp as she tugged at the snarls.

She heard the front door open and close.

“Are you in Lillian?” Clara called from the bottom of the stairs.

“Yes, Clara.” She shook her hair out and wrapped it in a quick braid as she went down the stairs.

“That scowl tells me things didn’t go as you expected.” 

“No Clara, they did not. Not that I’m surprised. The spiritual laxness of these people is a bottomless pit.”

“It is a struggle we all deal with in one way or the other.” Clara agreed. “Some sins are more visible than others. It’s those unseen ones we must be particularly vigilant about. Pride leads the list.”

“Pride! These people have no pride!” Lillian exploded. “If they had any pride they would not live as they do.”

“It’s not their pride or lack of it that I’m speaking of, but yours, my dear.”

“Mine!” Lillian was shaken.

“Yes, yours. When I first met you at Father Patrick’s I saw that in you. You felt you were better than the circumstance into which you had fallen. In some ways that was justified and I admired your stubbornness in refusing to let yourself be humbled by it.”

“I was humbled.” Lillian said.

“No! Humiliated but not humbled. Then when you came to us even your gratitude had an element of ‘look how I’m lowering myself to be of help to you. I may be refined but I’m willing to be a garden drudge.’ You demanded to have your sacrifice  recognized, acknowledged.”

“I did not!” Lillian said.

“Never in words. Even with Steven you sometimes acted as if you were doing him a great favour when you appeared with him. Never did it appear that you were there because you loved him but because it was duty.” Clara stopped to sip her tea.

“I married him for …”

“Don’t say for love. How could you deny a dying man his final wish?” Clara said.

“I … didn’t know he was about to die.” Lillian wiped a tear from her face. “Are you quite finished?”

“I might ask you the same question. Are you quite finished?”

“If by that you do I know what I’m going to do. The answer is no. I have limited resources and clearly no options, but I’m not finished.” Lillian sighed then cried bitterly. “I don’t what to do next.”

“Look to your heart Lillian not to your head or your pride. What do you truly want?”

Lillian stood. “More than anything I’d want to feel that  I have a future. To be free.”

 

She went out the garden. The rain had stopped and the plants were eager to turn to face the setting sun. Some of what Clara had said was true but she was wrong about one thing. Lillian had never felt she was a drudge in the garden. There she was in control. She had made it possible for some plants to thrive, to come back to life after years of neglect. She had seen the results of her efforts in the fresh herbs they had for salads, the ripening tomatoes, the new shoots that had formed on the climbing rose. 

With her own hands she had shaped and encouraged and had be rewarded amply. 

She pulled off some sage leaves and crushed them. The aroma was of the earth, of life and she had to find a way to be free to be a part of it. Here all she could do was crush it between her fingers or be crushed by it.

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Chapter LXII – Birk Faces Father Patrick

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXII

Birk

Faces

Father Patrick

It was raining as Birk walked away from the court house. He peered around for Clancy but didn’t see him. He’s been to Sydney many times but never on his own. It was clear walking was the only way he would be getting home. He had no money for bus fare. He hoped he was walking in the right direction.

When he got to the corner of Charlotte St. and Pitt St. he was reassured. He could smell the harbour front from there and kept going in that direction. One of the ferries often stopped here and if he could find one to take him to New Waterford getting the rest of the way was simple enough. That is if he didn’t catch cold from getting drenched in the rain.

By the time he walked the length of the docks he was colder, wetter and disappointed. He hadn’t spotted any boat that might be headed where he needed to go. 

The hustle of men around him unloading, loading made him miss the noise and activity of the mines. Men working. He watched them and saw that he could easily do what they were doing. Work that took muscle and not thinking.

“Birk!” a voice called from behind him. “Birk Nelson?”

He turned around to where it came from. A tall thin man, about fifty, in long tight fitting black coat strode toward him, hand stretched to shake his.

“Dan’l Patterson.” The man said as he shook Birk’s hand.

“Of the Inverness Patterson’s?” These were the only Patterson’s he knew.

“Quite right. Pity them closing another of the mines.”

“They’d rather save money than pay money to make money.” Brik said.

“I’m here with another load of lumber from the mill.”

“Wet day for wood.” Birk finally placed Dan’l. He and his brother ran a lumber millworks outside of New Waterford.

“You here looking for work?”

Birk quickly recounted the incidents of the past few days. Dan’l chuckled and shook his head a few times.

“That’ll be story to pass on to yer kids when you’av ‘em. Some women take great joy is making the misery of men worse ‘an it is already.”

“So I’m learning. Not as if I set out for this lesson though. I’m fixing to find a way back to Castleton Mines.”

“Give us a hand unloading and you can come back with us after we collect for the wood.” He reached out to shake Birk’s hand again. “Deal.”

“Thanks.”

Their wood barge was the far end of the wharf where local boats with small loads would tie up to unload. The planks were lifted off with rope-and-pulley hoist and Birk guided them to the back of a truck.

“You can wait here below while we take these to the lumber yard. Or you can come along for the ride.”

“I’ll wait.”

“There’s a bite to eat on board. Help yourself but leave something for us, eh?” Dan’l said getting into the front cab of the truck.

Birk grabbed the hoist and swung over to the deck of the boat and dropped down on deck. The deck smelled of pine. Clean and different from the smell of the mines, or the pine they used in the mines. That pine always had a tar tang to it from the creosote. This pine had a clean sea salt bite to it. The smell comforted him.

He flexed his fingers to see if handling the boards had done any damage to them. They were a bit red but otherwise fine. No bleeding, meant they were healing up properly.

He sat at the enclosed end of the barge and ate one of the sandwiches he found in the lunch box. It looked a good life to work in lumber. Perhaps if the needed another couple of pairs of hands he and Clancy might be in luck. It would it be a change to work in daylight, in fresh air.

The lumber yard truck pulled and Dan’l hopped out.

“Another days’ work done.” He said walking down the pier to the dock. “You ready to cast off?”

“Sure.” Birk relied.

Dan’l unwound the ropes that held the scow to the pier then clambered down the ladder to get on board. 

“Over here.” He nodded to pier side hoarding. “We give a good shove and she’ll float away on her own.”

Birk braced himself against the rail of the boat and pushed hard away from the wet piling of the dock. The boat moved so quickly he nearly fell over board.

“Haha.” Dan’l laughed. “Don’t know yer own strength eh b’y. Then ’tis hard to know what someone is cap’ble of by lookn’ at them. Who’d think small you could cause such a ruckus.”

“Ruckus?” Birk asked.

“Talk of the town for too many. You and that Boston gal.”

“People taking about that?” Birk’s face was hot.

“Not as any one’d blame for taking a poke at her.”

“T’weren’t that way at all?” Birk balled his fists. “Not a bit.”

“Rest easy Birk Nelson I know how stories become something they never was. There’s always some truth to’em though.”

“I dunno know what to tell you. I’m sorry I ever met her for one thing.”

“Story of many men and women. People’ll forget it whatever it was in a few weeks. We all got enough to deal with.”

“I sure hope so.”

New Waterford came into sight.

“Might as well run you over Castleton Mines while I’m out.”

“Thanks.”

“I hear your Da’s going to the steel plant.”

“Yeh. They always need good boiler men there. He figures he can find something for me too.”

“We could always use some eager at the millworks. Mac show you much about boilers?”

“I know my way around them but I don’t have my papers.”

“Good enough. Come by tomorrow. Lonnie could use a hand as he’s gettin’ on and we could use you around the yard too. Not much by way of pay but better than nothing.” He stuck his hand out. “Deal?”

“Deal.”

They edged up to the Castleton Mines dock and Birk got off. Even though the rain had turned the Mudside streets to mud he had more hope than he had since the strike had started. 

Night had fallen by the time he was back at his house.

“Where you been?” His mother met him at the door. “Clancy’s been here for hours.”

“He has?” He squeezed past his mother to find Clancy at the kitchen table.

“Yeah the coppers drove me back in their wagon when Doucet was finished with me.”

“No such luck for me. I got brought over by Dan’l Patterson.”

“What did Doucet say to you?” His mother asked. “We thought for sure you had been shipped off to Dorchester.”

“What! He gave me what for letting my bare self be seen but that was it. I sure expected worse from the way Miss McTavish had been going on. Everyone was taking her side and so serious they were too.”

“There’s always those who are quick to believe the worse of the Mudsiders.” his Dad said.

“I went down to the Sydney docks to find a way back and met up with Dan’l Patterson of the mill. He brought me back across. “Says they’re lookin’ for help with the boilers at the mill yard.”

“The Lord at work.” His mother said. “Out of every time of hardship He brings good.”

“Might be …”

Birk was interrupted by a pounding at their front door. Before it could be answered someone shouted.

“Birk Nelson come out here and face your Maker.”

“Me Maker?” Birk said.

His father opened the door. Father Patrick pushed his way in with three men behind him. The hem of his cassock was spatted with mud.

“Take him.” he commanded the men with him.

Before he could react the men lifted him up and carried him out of the house into the street. They dropped him face first in the mud and stepped away.

“You Protestant abomination.” Father Patrick shouted at the top of his voice.

Birk felt a sharp blow across his back. The mud held his arms so he couldn’t turn over quickly. There was some scuffling behind him. When he got turned around, sitting in the mud, he saw his dad grappling with Father Patrick.

“No man whips my son in public.” ise Dad wrenched the whip out of the priest’s  hand. “What gives you the right!”

“See!” Father Patrick turned the men who had come with him. “This is how the Godless protect one another. How they chose to rut the way animals do, no better than pigs in the mud.

“You foul beasts.” He pointed at Birk, then Clancy. “Who flaunted their unnatural proclivities in daylight … in front of my niece. ” He gasped for air.

Most of the neighbouring families had come out to see what the commotion was.

“Go back to your church Father.” Someone shouted. “Tell the Pope wipe your arse.”

“I will not allow your kind to get away with treating our women in this way.” The priest said.

“Yeah, only you have that right.” Someone answered him back.

A clod of mud flew through the air and hit Father Patrick on the back.

“Take him.” The priest ordered the men with him.

“You’ll take no one.” Reverend Brown stepped out of the crowd and helped Birk back to his feet. “You Catholic hypocrite. You help your own in bad times, ignore those who don’t deem pure enough then dare to come here to punish the very one who didn’t think twice to save the lives of your precious parishioners. I’m sure that when Birk struggled up that shaft he wasn’t saying to God ‘Now God make sure only the orange get rescued.’ Did you Birk!”

“No Reverend Brown I wasn’t.”

“You were there when Miss McTavish told them that we hadn’t touched her.” Clancy said.

“It was her spirit you stained by the vision of what you two were engaged in.”
“And what might that be Father Patrick? Something you learned about behind those sanctified monastery walls from your brothers.”

Father Patrick’s face paled as he glared at Reverend Browne.

“How dare you impugn the purity of those righteous men.”

“How dare you think you can come here with your high-handed righteousness and think we would grovel, that we would let you get away with it.”

“We can’t allow these … beasts to get away with their depravity.”

“A depravity that exists only in your mind Father Patrick. And you men with him. That’s you isn’t David McInnis?”

“Yes Reverend Browne.”

“You were one of them working with Birk when the collapse happened?”

“Yes Reverend. We’ve been working together for years.”

“You have any reason to question his moral fitness as a man? Anyone here have any reason? I know this boy’s family. You all do. They’ve been good faith church goers as long as I can remember.”

All that could be heard was the squish of people’s feet in the mud.

“I suggest you all go home and have a good night’s sleep.” Reverend Brown said.

“You haven’t heard the last of this.” Father Patrick said evenly. “My niece …”

“You niece needs to mind her own business.” Brown said. “She’s an outsider. You too, I might add, Father Patrick. I’ve been here in Castleton Mines for over twenty years. You’ve only been here for three. I’m sure the Africans will appreciate you more than we have.”

“You haven’t heard the last of this.” The Priest looked to the men who can come with him but they had disappeared into the crowd.

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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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