Chapter LXIX – Birk Leaves Castleton

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 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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On My Kindle 01

Last week I wrote about childhood sets of books. This week I’m looking complete sets on my Kindle. One of the cool things about Amazon for Kindle are the number of collections complete works by authors whose works can be impossible find in bookstores or even libraries. Different ebook companies have brought together set of mostly out of public domaine books at ridiculously low prices.

For example the set  “Slavery: Not Forgiven, Never Forgotten” – which for about $2 US includes:

Narrative of Frederick Douglass

12 Years a Slave

The Underground Railroad

Up From Slavery

Willie Lynch Letter

Confessions of Nat Turner

Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

History of Mary Prince

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom

Thirty Years a Slave

Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green

The Life of Olaudah Equiano

Behind The Scenes

Harriet: The Moses of Her People

Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life

50 Years in Chains

Twenty-Two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Freeman

Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb

Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave

Story of Mattie J. Jackson

A Slave Girl’s Story

From the Darkness Cometh the Light

Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy

Narrative of Joanna

Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped in a 3×2 Feet Box

Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley

Buried Alive (Behind Prison Walls) For a Quarter of a Century

Sketches of the Life of Joseph Mountain 

Oroonoko

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Heroic Slave

Slavery’s Pleasant Homes

Our Nig

Clotelle

Marrow of Tradition

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

A Fool’s Errand

Bricks Without Straw

Imperium in Imperio

The Hindered Hand

The History of Abolition of African Slave-Trade

History of American Abolitionism

Pictures of Slavery in Church and State

Life, Last Words and Dying Speech of Stephen Smith Who Was Executed for Burglary

Report on Charge of Aiding and Abetting in the Rescue of a Fugitive Slave

Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases

Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act

Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

Gettysburg Address

XIII Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1865)

Civil Rights Act of 1866

XIV Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1868)

Reconstruction Acts (1867-1868)

Whew! This is a university syllabus that probably no university book store or even research library could supply. 

Many of these sets are to broaden my knowledge of some writers who are known for their big hits; others are by authors of queer interest whose works I knew vaguely or of whom I have never heard of before until reading about them in my endless readings. One set is the Works of John Addington Symonds. I knew of him through mentions of his interactions with Walt Whitman. His books on Ancient Greek culture are sometimes citied in histories of queer writing. So I figure when I first got my Kindle to read some of those works. Interesting essays about travel in & history of Italy, but thank God writing style has changed. 

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (+ 130 Poe short stories); Mary Shelly: The Ultimate Collection; The Complete Works of Bram Stoker. Who read what Mary Shelly wrote other than Frankenstein? Stoker wrote more than Dracula? Reading their other works one sees the why those works have faded. Mary was more or less an accidental writer & reading he rather work it’s easy to see why some suspect her husband played a role in her big hit for the plotting & characterizations. She was not really a fabulist. Bram became an almost tradition writer of his time & none of his other plots were as ‘startling’ as Dracula. 

Lovecraft is a boyhood favorite of mine. His plots are rich, his writing style now strikes me as overly florid & it is creamy influenced by the Shelly & Stoker – but he does avoid, the most part, the need for some sort of romantic subplot. My bedroom on the east coast had slated ceilings so his story about the room with odd angles in the ceiling & walls always appealed to me. Those angles lead to another dimension. I have the bio ‘I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft’ on my e.bookshelf short list.

It’s not all gloom doom or educational on the Kindle thanks to Stephen Leacock: Humour Books collection; Mark Twain: 51 Classic Works. Both of these are authors I loved in my teens. Leacock still makes me laugh out loud. Twain can go on but he had a grasp of the foibles of human nature I love. His short pieces are fun & the longer books reflect their times. Both a writers of the local experience – Americana, Canadiana full of innocence that still speaks of today. Who isn’t intimidated if not anxious dealing with banks; has the plight of blacks in the USA progressed from the fears of the runway slaves in Twain?

Book Bound

in one of those boys’ books

tom swift hardy brothers

can’t remember which one 

there were mysterious lights 

on the cliff

or were they from a strange shape 

in the ocean

hovering by the moon 

something distant and indistinct

but threatening

 

tough guys

were skulking around town 

something held in coat pockets

that might be a gun

a magnetic pulsator

that would incapacitate  

one or all of our heroes

who would come to

tied up somewhere

worry about their girlfriend

they always had girlfriends 

who were peripheral 

to the story 

but clearly in place

so we young readers

would not get a whiff 

of anything more unsavoury

that those unshaved goons

with foreign accents

who slouched around the ranch

the railway yards

to do no good

 

the boys always had girlfriends

so no one would get the idea

that they weren’t the ideal role model

ripe with normal heterosexual 

pubescent tension

that let them figure out 

how to cut those ropes

how to make the star capacitor

turn the hydrogen to oxygen 

so they could breathe again

float to the surface

drive off

fly off

with the adoring faces of their girlfriends

soft and worshipful

 

red-haired teens 

with freckle faces

none of them shaving yet

jumping into their roadsters

worrying about their kidnapped fathers

deciphering cryptograms

punching each other joyfully 

in the arm

as each hurdle was accomplished

as each bruise cleared up

always ready to face 

the next opportunity

never doubting what they could do

never questioning 

how they really were

what did this all mean

why couldn’t they go

a few weeks without smugglers

Martian terrorists lurking around

to make make it difficult for everyone

 

they never had to face peer pressure

other than the football team

a team that never got drunk after a big game

boys who where boys

becoming real men

growing up slowly

always gaining parental 

acceptance and approval

amazing their pals

yet not letting it go to their heads

square jawed 

rugged 

individualist who only disobeyed 

to make things better

grew up with out self doubt

normal heterosexual 

pubescent tension

that let them figure out 

how to cut those ropes

but how not to escape

what was written for them

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

every Tuesday 2019

September

17 – Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

22 – Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors

Tuesday 24 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

https://www.facebook.com/events/504067323723768/

October

15 – Stratford Festival – The Crucible

November

7 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

December

The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

January

23 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

March

March 5 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

April

April 3 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Season 6 finales Buddies andBbad Times Theatre

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

https://wp.me/p1RtxU-uJ

Chapter LXIII – Lillian’s Frustrations Increase

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 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

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 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

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXI

Birk

at the

Courthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birk flexed his fingers and look at them.

“Getting better.”

“How you damage them so much.”

“Climbing up out of the mine that time.”

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

He returned some time later and unlocked the cell door.

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

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

“Feed you well?” Clancy asked.

“Good enough. You.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Modesty. A nice trait in a man.”

“Modesty?” Birk asked.

“Not one to brag.”

“I see. I suppose that’s me alright.”

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

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

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

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

“Thank you sir. I try.” 

“How much schoolin’ have you had.”

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

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

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

“She was pleasant enough, Sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

“Sir, can I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

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

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

He walked Birk down to the street.

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

“This the end of it?” Birk asked.

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

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Chapter LX – Lillian Makes Accusations

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LX

Lillian

Makes

Accusations

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

“You are alright my dear.” Clara said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Examine me!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were swimming.” Clancy said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They were …” Clara said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.” Her uncle said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I see.”

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

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

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The Colliery

The Colliery

while white sun simmers 

ocean’s edge 

we enter the colliery 

follow the guide 

metal basket jostles us down 

down 

smell coal seeping ocean 

light becomes dark then black 

 

thin beams from helmet lamps
graze without illuminating 

faces arms
fire fly flash of teeth tongue
the guide’s words roll out over echoless drips
a silence that stifles our breathing
the chilled walls absorb everything
wooden struts hold the earth from us
coal buffering the echo of our shuffle
as we crouch lower to fit

tiny lamp light glances off rock surfaces
jagged caroms of cold flashes
was that a face an arm
embedded between strata of earth
a zig-zag white trace
slipping in the endless squeeze 

from above below 

the passage narrowing even more
as we scrabble along hunched crabs
feel the ground 

hope for traction 

ache to stand but can’t
air thicker presses on all sides
can these wooden splints 

keep us safe 

 

a pressure in the lungs
the scatter of the fear 

is this the way I want to go
squished in a tremble of tectonic plates
hugged by the earth’s crust

 

we turn a corner catch our breath
the guide filling in gaps
stunned that so many men
spent their lives down here
ate slept shivered exited eventually
to return day after day
did they dare seek comfort 

in one another’s arms 

 

we shiver from black to dark to light
brought to the surface 

to life 

to summer 

where heavy clouds have formed
lightning races the horizon
rumble of thick thunder
blanket of rain falls
to wash us clean of the abyss
we never have to return to

 

This piece goes back to my visit to Cape Breton in 2012. One day we went to the Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay. I took that opportunity to visit a coal mine that was part of the facility. They gave us rubberized ponchos to wear and we waited in the change room for a while. from he high ceiling there were actual miner’s work clothes hanging as they would have when the mine was operational.

 

We wore modern helmets with small lamps on them & that was the main illumination for our tour. The beam was quite forced so, as the piece, says they only illuminated what you looked at. I half expected mine to fall on a face in a dark corner, or on a hand that was reaching out for me.

It was stressful to see the wooden stavings, that held up the ceiling & the walls knowing that that was all that held up the tons of earth over our heads. One clearly got the feeling what it was like down there & it made the sense of camaraderie the miners felt for each other very real.

The tour didn’t include us actually digging for coal though. We did get to sit the lunch area. We did get to steel the air, feel the floor, touch the walls, get dripped on by the sea. It was here that the idea for Coal Dusters was fully formed. Looking at the pictures of the men, some in early teens, who worked down here I wondered about their lives. We know all about their families but there was never a hint that their camaraderie might have been more than just that. 

 

When I have performed this piece people have told me it gave them chills, made them feel that suffocating claustrophobia. For me it was profound & haunting experience I was happy to share.

 

previous Brown Betty posts:

Man With A Past 1 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3B3

When I Was A Young Boy  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3By

Home (not of the brave) https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Cg

Nailed https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3D9

Unmasked https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3EE


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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 LVIII – Lillian Rips Her Coat

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

Rips

Her Coat

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

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

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

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

“Good morning Miss McTavish.” 

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

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

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

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

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

“Quite rightly so. What brings you here?”

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

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

“Where to?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They walked back to the main part of town.

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

They came to the town square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They gabbed for their clothes and quickly got dressed.

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

“We were swimming ma’am.” Birk said.

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

“No harm in it.” Clancy said.

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

She turned from them and started back to the path.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They bothered you miss?” He stood.

“They … naked.” she said.

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

“Birk Nelson and … and ..”

“Clancy Sinclair?” he supplied. 

“Yes. They …”

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

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

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

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

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Cape Breton Day 4

Today was a day of seeing people not places. In the morning I met up with one of the few friends I had during my last 10 years or so of living in Sydney – a guy I drank with, played lps with & kept in touch with too. He picked me up in his car & we did a bit of driving around Coxheath & Westmount.

Crossed back to the city & ended up at the Starbucks (yes, Sydney is a city with only 1 Starbucks!) where we talked some about present day health concerns & memories of the bars of yesteryear – the names of which I’d forgotten (was that suppressed?). One was The Shingle – a narrow stairway up & also one in back. Just hearing the name brought back memories of stumbling down those back stairs into the parking lot.

Another was The Venetian Gardens part of which jutted out over the harbour – an one time that watery underside was used for rum running. It had a bit of history as a ‘night club’ where big bands once played such at Duke Ellington. I hear local, almost famous Matt Minglewood, Sam Moon there. Near by was a real waterfront bar called The Helm, it was too butch for to ever have been in 🙂 The posh hotel The Isle Royal had a sophisticated basement cocktail lounge ‘The Celeigh Room.’ Too adult swanky for the boozy times I preferred. It did have a whiff of queer about it.

After that I popped in on my niece the master horror writer Betty Rocksteady where we talked about writing, plotting, character & also some about my growing up & surviving the toxic masculinity of the times. I walked from her place to my sister’s on Royal Ave. Took pics on the way. One of the milkshake with the flags of all the provinces sticking out of it.

 

Finalized Fortress visit plans. Ordered another memory – a pizza from Napoli Pizzeria. Napoli was possibly the first pizzeria that opened in Sydney. I remember the excitement that Sydney was prosperous enough for the latest food craze. We felt the same way when KFC finally opened in Sydney. It is still in the same family. The pizza itself is just as good as I recall. In fact I’m ending now to have another piece 🙂