Coal Dusters Chapter XLVII – Lillian Goes to Church

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Coal Dusters

Chapter XLVII

Lillian Goes to Church 

Lillian stood on the front walk of the the McFadden’s home. The O’Dowell’s had come over to New Waterford for the night on Saturday so they could attend the special service at Mount Carmel. The strike was nearing its fifth week with no sign of ending. The Monseigneur had called for a special service on Sunday to bring the Word of God to the parishioners of the area. Her uncle was one of the priest asked to speak to the men.

Clara had insisted on her and Lillian spending the night so they wouldn’t be rushed in the morning to get across the bay to New Waterer in time for the service. She plucked a stray thread off of her dark coat. She was pleased at the opportunity to wear some of her Boston clothes. Even more pleased to have her lace gloves to cover her hands. Her eyes kept going down to her pumps. How dainty her feet looked in the dark blue shoes. Probably two years out of style by now, she thought, but still looking better than anything she had seen anyone wearing here.

“Ah Lillian, there you are.” Clara came out of the house followed by the McFadden’s and their two daughters. “You are looking quite well turned out today.”

“Thank You Clara. I haven’t gotten much opportunity to dress my best.”

They walked the few blocks to the church.

As she with Clara, Lillian noticed a large number men in uniform along the street. They were smoking and laughing. Some appeared to have been drinking.

“Who are they going to protect.” Mr. McFadden said. “The choir?”

The extra militia had been brought in to New Waterford at the demand of the coal company. The management had pressured the local police to beef up security around the mines after many of the company stores had been ransacked. It was as if they had been hoping the miners would take that more militant action after the ambush hadn’t succeeded. Any action so the company could escalate things in their own way.

Lillian and Clara passed through the main part of of the town. Off to one side street were more men on horseback. There was also some artillery on a wheeled cart. Colonel Strickland stood there with his hands behind his back watching the men inspect the artillery. 

“What do they expect the miner’s to do?” Lillian asked Clara.

“They are sure there are agitators working to undermine the company’s influence.”

“Agitators?”

“Men whose only intent to disrupt lawful business under the guise of making things better for the workers. Communists.” Clara waved to her brother. “Steven, any word from BritCanada Coal?”

He crossed the street to join them. “Good morning.” He kissed his sister on the cheek and shook Lillian’s hand. They had decided to keep their engagement a secret for the time being. The assembly is in full agreement with Wolvin’s statement that the men can end all this simply by returning to work. They are willing to open the mines so the men can start earning their keep. As general manager he has no ability to negotiate. He’s only a messenger but the men feel he’s the one keeping the company from giving in.”

“Their keep!” Mr. McFadden said. “They were being paid barely enough to keep house and family together under the old contract and now they have to settle for less?”

“Mr. McFadden, in order for the company to remain competitive in the market they have to have the coal for less, that means paying the men less. The alternative is to close down more of the mines. Is that what you think the miners want?”

“You know as well as I do that the miners want an end to this starvation. BritCanada Coal is letting the miners’ children pay the price of their profits.”

“BritCanada Coal can’t be held accountable for the ….” Steven glanced apologetically to Lillian and the other ladies, “… the propagation habits of the miners. If you can’t afford children don’t bring more into the world.”

“Steven!” Clara snapped. “What a thing to say!”

They were at the church steps. In the foyer the Monseigneur was greeting parishioners as they arrived. Father Patrick was at his side. She hadn’t seen him since he had ‘cast her forth into the wilderness’ as it was reported to her by Aileen. She didn’t offer her hand to him but merely nodded as his glance went quickly to Mrs. McFadden beside her. 

Seeing him again made her bruises throb. She had kept Clara from seeing how severe they actually were. She had made Dr. Drummond swear not to mention the severity of them to anyone. The few long hot soaking baths which she had over the past week had eased the pain considerably. Aileen had insisted she try a poultice of comfrey and mustard which reduced the swelling and discolouration.

She followed Clara to the pew they were to use for the service. On the way she was stopped by Hanna Seldon.

“Miss Lillian, it’s good to see you looking well.”

“You too Hanna. How’s the baby.”

“Poorly miss. He has that flu so many of the children have had the past few months. Least we have been able feed him to keep his strength up. The doctor says there’s a good chance he’ll pull through.”

Lillian shook her head in dismay. As the strike progressed and food became scarce many families had less and less to eat. Gardens had helped stave of some of the hunger but many of the children were weak from lack of proper nutrition. This weakness made them more vulnerable to colds and recently a flu. There were funerals daily.

“I wish there was more I could do.” Lillian said.

“Knowing your prayers are with us is more than enough. At least we have a roof over our heads. There’s now many that doesn’t. When they closed the Lingan mine those families were forced out of the company houses. No mine no home. Where is a person to go?”

“There’ll be help I’m sure.” Lillian kissed Hanna on the cheek and joined Clara. She was more grateful that ever for having been given a haven when she needed one, but how long could even the O’Dowell’s  manage with things getting worse for everyone around her.

The service washed over her without her paying attention to it. She heard bits and pieces of the various rituals and the sermon. Other parishes were sending money. The Monseigneur had spoken to the Premier to no avail. The Bishop had spoken to the some cabinet misters but was told this was a provincial not a federal matter and so they would do nothing. The conclusion appeared to be that God helps those who help themselves, which in this case only the BritCanada Coal Company had pockets deep enough to help themsevels.

“What does helping themselves mean?” Lillian asked Mr McFadden as they made their way out after the mass.

“Pray and listen to the guidance one gets from the Lord.” 

“What if the Lord tells some helping themselves is to strike for better working conditions and tells others that accepting any working condition is better than not working at all?”

“Miss McTavish your words are dangerously similar to those of the Communists.”

“They … they are?” Her face flushed. “Perhaps I’ve been listening too much what Steven has to say about all this.”

“Miss McTavish you are in many ways still an outsider here. This isn’t Boston.”
“I comprehend that but …”

“The folks here don’t think logically. They have no idea of a future only of their stomachs in the now.”

They were in the foyer once again. The crowd was stopped at the doors.

Screams and shouts came from outside.

“Father,” one of the parishioners shouted. “They are charging with horses as we leave the church.”

The Monseigneur and her uncle pushed through the crowd.

The parishioners pushed back and she fell against the wall. An elderly women stumbled back into the church helping her husband. He was bleeding from a blow to the head.

“They rode up as we were walking down the street. Swinging their batons and hitting anyone they could reach.” The woman gasped. “Anyone! We’re not miners!”

Over the shouting she could hear the horses. Then gun shots. There was brief silence.

The miners who were still in the church rushed out. Some pulling up the picket fencing around the church lawn to give them something to use in self-defence.

Lillian cautiously went to one of the side exit doors to peer out. She saw a mass of men with wooden pickets flailing at the militia on horses wielding thick black clubs. Both sides were shouting accusations at each other.

“BritCan doesn’t even want us to go to church in peace. They have no respect for the God.”

“Commie rabble. Papist scum. Pray to your God now.”

“I knows you father Billy Davis.”

“Get off the streets now or …”

“These are our streets, ya goddamned company bastard.”

Another shot rang out. The fighting stopped a moment. The miners fell back to the church grounds. The militia pulled back a few yards to regroup.

A runner dashed up to one of the horsemen with a message.

“A man is dead because of you.” The lead horseman said. “How many more have to die before you learn your place.”

“Who?” several men shouted at once.

“Daniel Jenkis!” the horseman shouted back. “You ready to leave peacefully.”

“We was till you charged as us with no cause.” someone yelled back.

The horseman nodded and all the troops stepped forward. “If that’s how you want it we’ll trample the lot of you.”

“Kill a child. Is that what you want?”

“Not us. You behave and there’ll be no trouble.”

Lilian’s uncle pushed through the men and stood alone in front of them. “How can we disperse with you blocking the streets and sidewalk?” he asked quietly. He puts hands out palms up.

One of the horses reared and the front hooves hit her uncle. He fell forward under the horse. Lilian darted out to drag her uncle out of the horse’s way.

“Get out of the way you Catholic biddy.” One of the other horsemen laughed and Lilian glanced at him as he swung his baton at her.

“That’s it!” a male voice from the other side of that horseman shouted as the horseman was yanked backwards off the horse. She caught a glimpse of Steven O’Dowell wresting that rider to the ground.

The rider of the rearing horse had it under control and had pulled it away from the prone body of her uncle.

She knelt beside him. He was on his stomach and she wasn’t sure if she should turn him over.

“Uncle Pat can you hear me.” she said squeezing his hand.

“Yes child.” He turned his head toward her.

She saw that he was bleeding from a gash on his forehead. He pushed himself up painfully with his right arm. She struggled with his weight to help him stand. Two miners came over to take his weight from her.

“Thank you. I’m a bit winded. When I saw the beast rear before me it was the horsemen of the Apocalypse come to life to warn me. But this one was only an animal, not a messenger.”

“Lillian …” Steven came quickly to her brushing dust off his coat. “You haven’t been harmed in any way have you?”

“No, Steven I haven’t. Father Pat has been injured sorely. We must get him some medical attention.”

They helped her uncle back into the church. Inside on the benches were several others who had been assaulted by the militia. 

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLVI – Lillian Gets A Proposal

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 XLVI

Lillian Gets A Proposal

After an afternoon of giving lessons to the miner’s children Lillian let herself in though the back of the O’Dowell’s house. The house was very different from the parish manse. Two-and-half stories it was always warm and well-lit, not the dark and damp cool she found her uncle’s place. She hung her coat in the back porch and went directly to the kitchen.

“Anything need doing, Aileen?” she asked.

“Not a thing Miss McTavish.” She sniffed at Lillian. “But you better change out of them clothes before we sit to supper.”

“They were clean this morning.” Lillian hated this sly disparagement of the mudders. It was one of the ways in which Aileen showed her disapproval of Lillian’s working with the miner’s children.

“Whatever you say, Miss.”

Lillian went up the backstairs to her small room at the rear of the second floor. This stairway let her avoid passing the living room where Clara spent most of the day when she wasn’t out with, or in entertaining, one of her various ladies societies. Lillian had joined ‘Ladies Sewing For Orphans Guild’ and ‘The Young Women For Temperance.’

Her room overlooked the garden. Once she removed her blouse, she sat on the chair at the foot of her bed that looked out over the yard. She could smell the lilacs. Since leaving her uncle’s house she had kept as busy as possible so as not to dwell on what had happened. 

The bruises on her back and legs were fading but were still visible. Dr. Drummond has assured her there would be no scarring. He had checked with the Regional Registry and had found no record of her death. He felt certain that Steven’s government connections could help her but she wanted to wait until she had a cleared plan of action.

She poured some cool water from the ewer into its bowl. It was a luxury to do something so simple. She wiped her face with a cloth dampened with the water and a dash of rosewater. Her hands were still rough and she didn’t foresee them improving quckly.

To be less of burden to the O’Dowell’s she had made herself useful around their house, helping with the wash, in the kitchen and particularly in the garden which had been neglected for many years. Much to her, and Clara’s surprise, there were hardy patches of sage and lavender. It had been too late in the season to plant vegetables but she had found an area where tomatoes had been reseeding themselves over the years.

The bell for dinner tinkled. She wiped the dust off her shoes with her damp cloth and put on a fresh blouse. As long at Steven was still on the mainland they would have a sedate supper.

Walking softly down the main stairway she strained to hear who, if anyone, was at the dinner table. The only sound was of cutlery, as food was being served. She sat at her place at the table.

“Good evening Clara.”

“You’ll say grace, my dear, and we can begin.”

“God, for food and health and the end of the strike, please receive our gratitude and praise.” Lillian looked up to make sure Clara had found this suitable to the occasion. She had been called upon to say grace a few times and was always at loss for words.

“Quite right Lillian. Quite right.”

They ate in silence till desserts was brought out.

“These are your pies, are they not?” Clara asked.

“Yes Clara. The rhubarb and strawberries are from your own garden.”

“Lillian, it’s time we discussed your situation.”

Lillian put her fork down as gently as she could. “Of course.”

“As much as we’re happy to offer you our hospitality it can’t go on indefinitely.”

“I understand that.”

“We have no need of addition domestic help in the house and you are too refined to be contented with that type of position.”

“Under the circumstance I find myself in I’m content to be occupied in useful ways. Teaching the children is more rewarding than I expected.”

“I’m glad to hear you are aware of these things. I have spoken with Sister Claire from St. Margaret’s Covent.”

“Ahh.” Lillian’s heart sank.

“She agrees with me that you would be a fine teacher. She’s heard about you tutoring the miners and the children. She also admires your tenacity in being useful without … being resentful toward them.”

“They aren’t responsible for the position I’ve found myself in, that’s …”

“We’ll say nothing of the good Father. Having you out of his house is a wise thing regardless. We knew who you were, of course, but still it was troublesome to many have a young woman under the same roof as him, even a close relative. Unseemly in fact, especially when the particulars of your being here were revealed to us.”

“You know about …. ” Lillian wondered how many others of the village knew of her past.

“Yes. I knew that before I invited you to reside with us. I understand how these things can happen in a city as large as Boston. But understanding doesn’t mean I approve.”

She stopped talking when Aileen came in to clear the table.

“Aileen, we’ll take tea on the front veranda. Might as well use it while the weather allows.”

Lillian went into the kitchen with Aileen and brought the tea tray out to the front veranda. Miss O’Dowell was leaning against the rail and looking out over the street.

“Father wanted a house with lovely views everywhere.”

“He certainly managed to do that.” Lillian set the tea service on a table between two wicker chairs.

“He was always pushing us to do what was right even if it didn’t feel the most convenient thing to do at the time. I always resented that as a child.” she sat and poured herself a cup of tea. “I thought he meant sacrificing what I wanted to do for something I didn’t want to do at the time.” She motioned for Lillian to sit.

“Clara events have been moving too fast for me to stop long enough to tell what is right or what is best. All I want is to get my life under my own control. Not someone else’s. I want to be able to make my own decisions. A decision not based on what would be best for the reputation of my family.”

“I realize that Lillian. But here, as with your uncle there is still the question of propriety. An unmarried young women living under the roof of an unmarried man.”

“You are suggesting I get married?” Lillian put her teacup down. “To …”

“Dr. Drummond.”

“Dr. Drummond!” Lillian had been hoping the suggestion would be Steven. “But … he’s Presbyterian.” 

She had visited the Doctor’s home where what he called what was his clinic, was in the front parlour of the house. The miner’s homes were cramped and untidy enough but to live in one that also smell of medicines was more that knew she could bare.

“I have seen the way he looks at you Lillian.” Clara said.”You could be of great help in his life. Sometimes we all to have make sacrifices for to better servers those around us.”

“Such as you have made?” Lillian stood. “I’m sorry Clara, I didn’t mean to sound so … ungrateful. I will give this some consideration.”

 

Lillian was awoken in the morning by shouting from the living room. She recognized Steven O’Dowell’s voice. He must have arrived home sometime during the night. She couldn’t make out what was being said but there was anger in his voice.

She sat up in the bed straining to pick out the words but she couldn’t. She put on her silk house coat and tip-toed to the bedroom door, opened it a crack and put her ear to it.

“I will run for the office if I so choose.” It was Steven.

“Not if I don’t sign those cheques you won’t. You know what papa said about politicians. That they look after their interests first.”

“He’s been dead too long now to have a valid opinion Clara and you will let me have the trust fund money or …”

“Or what!”

Over the few weeks Lillian had been at the O’Dowell home she had been told directly or over-heard things that filled in some of the family situation. When their father had died he left the estate in trust with Clara as the sole authority to disburse funds for her or Steven’s use. As much as she found Steven difficult she understood his chafing under the control of his family. 

She sat at her vanity and shook her hair loose from the cloths she used to hold in during the night. After brushing it she began to plait into a braided bun to pin it up out of her way for the day. 

She wondered how she could free herself from her family. They had severed all ties as far as he could tell. As Clara had pointed out she was stranded here with nothing to fall back on. She had little money of her own. Few possession outside of what was her trunk. There was no way to make much use of them.

She went over to the trunk and opened it up. She shook her head at the girl who had packed these things a few short months ago. Where did she think she was going wear any of these dresses? How could her mother have let her pack these useless items. Not even a useful pair of shoes. Her uncle was right when he dismissed her clothing as pointless finery.

Still wrapped careful in tissue was the beaded bag she had been given for her last birthday. She’d had a birthday since but by then her life had been torn away from her by a family that was determined that her dreams weren’t going to come true. It was a life she had lost. 

Yes that birthday had been magical. To make up for coming between her and David Henderson it had been extra lavish. A new dress with a sparkly beaded belt that matched her dainty shoes and this little bag. Its thin silver chain allowed to dangle so delicately on her wrist. Not designed to hold much more than a handkerchief she was so proud and pleased with it she couldn’t keep her eyes off it as she was whisked around the dance floor as it dangling and reflected in the light. 

She had been so eager and excited for that party. Now here she was with no future and a past that was no longer hers at all. She slipped the bag over her wrist. It didn’t look as if it could belong to someone with such rough hands. Anguished she pulled it off hoping to break the chain.

Squeezing it in her hand she felt something paper crumple inside it. Had she slipped some little love note in it, a list of of the men who filled her dance card. She opened it. It was money!

She pulled out what had been folded to fit in the bag. She opened it up and it two war bonds valued at $200.00 each dawn on the Exchange Bank of Boston.  How had they gotten there? What could she do with them here and now? Would any bank be able to cash them for her? Or were they only of value in Boston?

She pulled photo album from the bottom of the trunk to put the bonds into until she could decide what to do with them. As she opened the album newspaper clippings of her birthday gala fell out. Several of them included the portrait her father had done by Fairway Photographers. In the photo her hair had been pulled back to show off her forehead. There was her name under each ‘Miss Lillian McTavish celebrates her birthday and her beauty at the Fairmount Hotel.’ If she needed proof of who she was they certainly would do the trick.

A knock at her door broke her revere.

“Lillian are you awake?”

“Yes Aileen. I’ll be down in a moment.”

She folded the bonds put them in the back of the album. Perhaps the bonds had been gift from her Godfather Jackson Burns who was on the board of directors at the Exchange Bank.

She took the back stairs down to the kitchen. She didn’t want to be drawn too quickly into whatever discussion Clara and Steven were having. She needed time to think. This changed so many things. Why hadn’t she found that money sooner! She wouldn’t have wasted so much time with those miners or her misguided plan to teach her uncle a lesson by marrying any of those unwashed coal blackened men.

She went into the dining no longer feeling that she had to behave subservient to anyone. She regretted putting her beautiful hair up in such a tight bun. How she would love to toss her head, her hair in distain at these people. 

“Good morning, Clara.” She sat at table before Steven could offer to pull a chair out for her. “Steven how are things in Halifax? I hear there maybe a by-election soon.”

“Yes. Alf Landon is stepping down. After dealing with those communist miners he was disheartened and disillusioned by their total lack of gratitude.”

“He thought they could be happy if they were to be forced back to work?” Lillian laughed lightly.

“They should be grateful they might get their jobs back at all.”

“Enough.” Clara tapped her tea cup with her spoon to get their attention. “There will be no further discussion of politics at this table. Not at breakfast.”

“Yes Clara.” Steven reached for the teapot and gave Lillian a sheepish glance. His hand missed the handle of the teapot and tipped it over.

“See!” Clara glared at him, “too hungover to pour a cup of tea, let alone run for office. Aileen!”

“Yes, Miss Clara,” Aileen came into the dining room wiping her hands on her apron.

“There’s been a little accident. We’ll be wanting a fresh pot of tea.”

Aileen picked up the pot and patted at the spilled tea with a dishcloth. “Sure hope it doesn’t stain that good table cloth. I put it on fresh this morning.”

Lillian found it difficult to refrain her laugher. “Here, Aileen, let me help you with that.” She took the teapot and went quickly into the kitchen. How was she going to get out of this house? How?

Aileen came into the kitchen with the rest of the breakfast china on a tray, “They won’t be wanting a fresh pot after all Miss Lillian.”

“Right. I’ll get that table cloth and see if we can keep it from staining too much. Get me the baking soda.”

“Oh miss you are a good’un. I’d never have thought of that.”

Lillian peeked into the dining room to make sure it was empty. No one was there. She rolled up the table cloth and brought to the wash tub at the back of the kitchen. She wet the damp area and sprinkled some of the baking soda on it and left it to set without rinsing it. She turned around and Steven was standing at the door.

“Oh! Mr. O’Dowell!”

“I didn’t mean to startle you Lillian. There’ something I’ve been meaning to ask you. I’ve enjoyed our brief walks and seeing how well you manage to be helpful round and how you handle yourself and also how my sister is disposed towards you I was …”

“Yes, Mr. O’Dowell?” Lillian took her kerchief off and loosened hair.

He took both her hands to pull her toward him.

“Steven!” she pulled away form him.

“I … Will you marry me?”

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XLV – Birk Gets Questioned

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 XLV

Birk 

Gets 

Questioned

Birk was taking clothes off the line to bring in the laundry for his mother when Maddy came running out to the back,

“There’s officers here for you Birk Nelson.” she shouted.

“Officers?” Birk stopped folding the sheet he had just taken off the line.

“Yes. You better come quick. They are asking for Birk Nelson. You must be in big trouble.” She began to cry. “I’m scared.”

“Don’t be.” He said. “I’m a big boy I can look out for myself.”

He followed her through the kitchen and to the front door. There were two of Colonel Strickland’s officers standing there. One was laughing and chatting with Karen Dunlop from across the lane. When the two of them saw Birk their faces became much sterner.

“Birk Nelson.” one of them said.

“Yes.”

“Colonel Strickland would like to a have word with you. Come with us.”

Since the ambush Strickland had been investigating the supposed shooting murder of one of the scabs. Word had already spread that, in fact, the worker had not been shot but was scared and fainted. Birk knew that neither he nor Clancy had been armed. He hadn’t seen the other strikers carry guns. Unless there was one in the crate that had held the kerosene fire bombs. Several of the strikers had been brought in for questioning.

As the they marched with him between them Birk nodded and waved to his neighbours. Clancy was at the corner.

“So they finally caught you.” Clancy said. “Like they finally caught me.” 

“No talking to the prisoner.” one of the soldiers warned Clancy away with his rifle.

“He’ll have a much to say as any one us.” Clancy laughed and winked at Birk. “They’ll have to arrest every man in Castleton.”

The solider kept Birk moving.

“See you at the colliery gate.” Clancy said as they passed by him.

“Right.” 

They took him to Mrs. Franklin’s Inn. Colonel Strickland had commandeered the house for military use rather than travel back and forth from the barracks in Sydney. 

There were posters for the upcoming election, some with Steven O’Dowell’s picture on them and others with David Preston’s picture on them. When they took him into the house one of the soldiers knocked at the parlour door.

“Bring Mr. Nelson in.” A voice responded.

The other soldier opened the door and motioned for Birk to enter.

Furniture in the parole had been pushed to the walls to make a clear space in the middle of the room. There was a sort of desk at one end with kitchen chairs in front and in back of it. Colonel Strickland was sitting in the chair behind the desk.

“Sit.” Strickland pointed to the other kitchen chair. “Forgive appearances. I would rather a real desk than this …. I think it was once a side table?”

Birk sat.

“Mr. Nelson. Birk, isn’t it? Odd sort of name, isn’t it?”

“Can’t say. I’ve had it all my life, I’m used to it.”

“Right. I’ve heard a fair bit about you these past few days. I know you were one of the men involved in that shooting the other night. Accessory to murder is what you are. You realize that don’t you. You can be put behind bars for life.”

“Won’t be any worse than being underground digging coal to make other men rich.”

“Folks tell me you are a decent man though. Prison is no place for decent men. If you help me find the others involved I could make things easy for you. We need to know who made those incendiary bombs. As well as who pulled the trigger.”

“I wasn’t there.” Birk kept his focus on the wall then looked Colonel Strickland directly  in the eyes. “Your informant is wrong.”

“Informant!” The Colonel stood. “What makes you think we have an informant?”

“None of the men around here would tell such tale unless it was to mislead you.”

“Mr. Nelson, we aren’t that easily mislead. Several miners saw you go off with the group of .… insurrectionist. All I need is the names of who they were. One of them was your friend  Clancy Sinclair.”

“He wasn’t …”

“Wasn’t what?” The Colonel came from behind the desk and stood facing Birk. “From around here?”

“That’s no news to anyone.”

“You know if you cooperate I can help get you enlisted with the service, you know. We are always looking for strong young men like yourself. Good pay, a steady job, fresh air, maybe learn a skill more useful than digging in the dirt.”

“And make war on my neighbours?”

“I can get you a posting somewhere else.”

“I got nothing I can tell you. I was there when the scabs was brought to the gate. We were all there. I had no part in anything else that went on.”

“Of course. Of course. I didn’t expect anyone to tell the truth. You all cover up for each other. Even the Catholic men have no idea who it was that tried to delay the convoy.”

Birk stood. “I’m free to go?”

“Not so fast.”

Eye-to-eye with Strickland Birk saw that they were almost the same height.

“I want to you know that I know who was involved but without collaboration we may have to charge the union itself with inciting you men into criminal actions.”

“Send us all to prison!” Birk was puzzled. He wasn’t sure he understood just what Colonel Strickland actually knew or even thought he knew. But he knew the less he said the better off he would be.

“That isn’t in my hands.” Strickland said. “Help me and I can make less trouble, resist and things will get worse.”

“Children are dying Colonel Strickland. I don’t see as how you could make things anywise than that.”

“Think it over Mr. Nelson. You miners are on the losing side. It isn’t too late for you to change your lot in life.”

There was no one in the hall when Birk left the parlour. There were no militia when he walked down to the street. Was taking him there with guards all just show to impress the miners? As he glanced back to make sure he wasn’t being watched he saw that the O’Dowell posters had moustaches drawn over the moustache that was already there.

 

It was nearing the end of his shift at the colliery gate with Clancy. They were as close as they were allowed be after the court had granted an injunction prohibiting the strikers of interfering with the emergency relief workers. Some days the only people Birk and Clancy saw where the militia guards and their union representative.

“What we need is a trap for some of them deer over by Blue Lake.” Clancy said.

“Easier with a shotgun.” Birk laughed.

After the ambush incident most of the Mudder families had been questioned, their houses searched for unwarranted supplies of kerosene. Some had had their firearms confiscated. 

“You know what would happen if either of us was caught with a rifle. You trying to get us both arrested? We could dig a pit.” Clancy said. “You could dig while I practice raking the dirt away.”

“With a sign to warn off any one else out in forest.”

“Deer can’t read. You have any better ideas. Rabbit is fine when we can get a couple.”

“Duck flying soon.” Birk said.

“How we goin’ to catch them? Lasso? Sticks and stones as they fly over head?”

They been over these ways of getting game many times.

“We could catch them in jars.” Clancy said. “If’n there are any left.”

“I didn’t think those soldiers, or whatever you want to call them, could act any stupider. You saw how that Strickland acted when saw all those jars Ma had been saving up for preserves.”

“He sure learned a respect for the wooden spoon fast enough.” Clancy laughed.

“I did I tell you when he got me for questioning he offered me to join up.”

“Me too! Asked if I could help on the sly because I wasn’t a local and had no family loyalties around here.”

“You turn him down?”

“Of course. You turn him down?”

“What do you think! I couldn’t stand guard over m’own here. That’s what I told him. He said I could do my service somewheres else. Told him wasn’t fixing to leave my folks and get shot up in some war any time soon.”

“No war coming soon other this one.” Jim McKlusky arrived. “Time for us take over for a spell.”

“Much going on?” Tommy Driscoll asked. 

“A couple of them inside asked if we had tobacco and papers for them.” Clancy said. “When I said no, they asked if wanted to sig up because they had an endless supply thanks to His Majesty.”

“Buggers.” McKlusky spit on the road. “They been trying to get us all to sign up. Army pays regular, one of ‘em told me.”

“Me too,” Driscoll nodded. “Was tempted but because I’m smarter than them I couldn’t see myself taking orders from them.”

“They don’t know the difference between a huntin’ rifle and a shotgun.” McKlusky said. “And better learn to keep their hands off the women or some of them will be found with their under-drawers around their necks.”

“You votin’ for Steven O’Dowell’s running for election.” Clancy asked as they walked back to Birk’s house.

“For a mick he talks some sense. After all it is time for a change. A big change. Armstrong’ll never talk back to BritCan. We need someone who will.”

“Going to his rally tonight?”

“I hear there’ll there’ll be food.“ Birk said.

“Best way to a voters heart, right.”

“All the candidates have been doing that but …”

“The O’Dowell’s have better biscuits, right?”

“Right.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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March 2019 Sneak Peek


A quick look back before the peek – my TOpoet.ca following has crept up to 307 maybe I’ll get to 330 by the end of the year. Also the jump in WordPress hits has remained consistent many days with over 40 hits. I hope that remains once Google+ closes. India now keeps the lead in the number of hits, with US, Canada, Argentina, UK (!) rounding out the top five. Twitter is up to 213 followers thanks to more self-publishing entrepreneurs following me :-). Tumblr up 222 – even with their community standards I’m still getting hetero porn sites (‘Wet pussy waiting to date you’) trying to follow me.

Cold Dusters is moving along slowly but surely. Working though this second half I’m finding more spots where bridges have yet to be built, or where past events have to taken more into account i.e. Lillian dealing with her death notice. Some characters have been expanded. Not worrying about a paper publisher has let the story loosen up and expand in a much more natural way.

Speaking editing – for the Friday posts I’ve been including poems from way back in 2008. I have an endless back log of pieces that I haven’t looked at since I first spewed them out – so I can’t say they are new pieces but they are newly cleaned up of most typos – though I do aha etc some guessing as toy what I want when I, typing as fast as I could think, inout things like ‘f[erpqosjsdp[f gpdmf[ sdmf;’s’ 🙂 Actually not quite than radom but you get the picture.

 

The big event for March will be Hot Damn! It’s A Queer Slam with feature Inali Barger, at Buddies in Bad Times on Thursday, March 7. One more Toronto show in April will cap season 5 and send some Hot Damn! talent to Capturing Fire in Washington DC this June. Chances of my getting to Capturing Fire are slim this year, unless lotto max pays off. At least I don’t have to worry about travel health insurance in Canada.

The View From Here

I’ve looked at this from all sides

taken your view

my view

the outsiders’ view

the long short jaundiced

rear view

and it doesn’t matter which side

I’m the one in the wrong

even if it is your fault

that I’m in this position

it’s still my fault for looking twice

when the first glance 

told me all I needed to know

I shouldn’t have taken a closer look

and let you pass me by

 

but what’s a man supposed to do

opportunities like you

don’t come my way everyday

not that this was my last chance 

but it was as good a chance

as I’ve had in some time

a stroke of luck

and here I am

the guilty party once again

someone who said what he shouldn’t 

at just the wrong time 

for the greatest effect

 

those names we called each other

were only meant to hurt

I didn’t believe them for a minute 

but you did

I’m not sensitive

one of my faults I know

cold heartless me

I’m too quick to react 

when my buttons get pushed

I should never have showed you 

where those buttons were 

never let your tooth brush 

in my bathroom

never let your socks under my bed

never say never again

 

it’s all my fault for making peace

for being the placater 

I should have let go 

when I first thad a chance

rather prove that by holding on

I was really really serious about us

I had lots of opportunities 

to escape but I stayed

I should have defended myself 

the second time 

changed my view the third

but I didn’t

to make sure you realized I cared

that I could be forgiving

 

looking from all sides

inside outside top bottom head-to-toe

like I looked over you the first time

everything held the eye

I didn’t have enough eyes 

to take it all in 

no eye to the future

 

I knew it would come to no good

I would end up the heatless prick 

once more

I had to see if this time would be different

you wouldn’t be like all the others

and you weren’t 

trouble was I was like all the others

you told me that over and over

every man you meet treats you this way

I was no better than any of them

not as bad as some

but bad enough

and you know

for once

I’m glad you’re right

glad that over is over

trust me it’s over

 

I won’t take it lying down 

standing up behind over backwards

or any which way 

if that’s what it takes

to be true to you 

I’d rather be a liar

because it doesn’t matter which side

view is from

I’m the one in the wrong

 

things will be different next time

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http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Chapter XLIV – Lillian Sets Her Sights Anew

Coal Dusters – Chapter XLIV

Lillian 

Sets Her Sights 

Anew

Lillian considered her options as she walked toward the O’Dowell’s house. Since her unexpected arrival there she had only seen Steven O’Dowell in passing. Her previous encounters with him had made shy away from unnecessary contact with him. One thing she had learned from her father was sometimes a man’s faults were worth overlooking for his uses. 

“Good evening Miss McTavish.” It was Steven O’Dowell. “You lost in another world?”

“Not exactly Mr. O’Dowell. I’ve just returned from Castelton to pay my condolences to the Nelsons. One of their children passed away. It’s a hard life for them. For all the miners. Even the Catholic families have lost children over the past month.”

“I’ve told you many times to call me Steven.” He offered her his arm.

Since she had come to reside at the O’Dowell’s house his actions towards her had changed. Even when they had been together for meals he’d been much more circumspect, as if his sister were always present with them. Of course she still found his Bay Rum to be pungent to the point where she couldn’t wait to escape it and get to her room.

She wasn’t sure how to start but this was too good an opportunity to let slip. Out in the open air his cologne wasn’t so overwhelming.

“Not too long ago you mentioned a Mr. James Dunham?” She hadn’t forgotten how he had caught her off guard with his knowledge of what had happened to her in Boston. Or at least of knowledge he implied he had. 

“I regret those remarks, Miss McTavish. James Dunham proved to be most untrustworthy in his business dealings. Quite distasteful in fact.”

“By business dealing you mean gambling?”

Lillian wanted to laugh at his discomfort. She recognized in Steven the same recklessness her older brother had when it came to quick money.

“I know we got off on the wrong foot. Henceforth I intend to be as honest as I can with you. So, yes it was a gambling debt he owed me.”

“Thank you, Mr O’Dowell. But your vices are of no concern to me.”

“I gather from Clara that you had been instructing some of the Mudder brats.” 

“Yes. They don’t have the benefits of the good Sisters that our children are so lucky to have. If we want to lead them out of their ways they need to be taught.”

“Lead them!” He gave a half-laugh. “You think of yourself as a missionary.”

“Quite right. If we can make socks for the children of Africa, who as far as we know have no religion at all, or even a need for socks, in hopes of leading them to salvation why shouldn’t we do it here, when there are children right under our noses who need those socks badly.” She a bit taken aback at the vehemence of her own words.

“Well said. Clara was right that there was more to you than good pies and tidy needlepoint.”

Lillian didn’t trust his aspect of Steven. She instinctively knew the face he had shown her the first few times they had met was a true one. He had the quick mind and language of a politician. The sort, her father taught her, who would find what it took to appear he was being honest, when in fact he was waiting merely to get what he wanted. Whether that was your vote, your money or … she shuddered to think of giving her heart to him.

“Thank you, Mr. O’Dowell. Do you think there’ll be a break soon in this dead-lock between the miners and the BritCanada Coal Company?”

“No. The BritCanada Coal Company’s agent Gerald Foxing won’t even talk with the minister of labour. As far as they’re concerned there is nothing to discuss. Either miners accept their terms or find work elsewhere. Why, he even refused to discuss matters with the Federal Minster of Labour. Told the Prime Minister’s office, that as far as he was concerned the miners weren’t as bad off as they claimed. It was all a play for public sympathy. Something those Bolshevist agitators have conspired to do in their plot to take down the nation.”

“Take down the nation? These men? These people?”

“Sounds ludicrous but when Foxing wants to shut the government up that’s all he has to say. That and his bottom line.”

“Is there a solution?”

“Not one that’ll undo the damage done, I’m afraid. These miners don’t trust the government or even their union anymore. Can’t say as I blame them. Change is in the air though. Elections coming up. I’m pretty sure Armstrong won’t get back in.”

Lillian wasn’t interested in the political situation. As much as she had pity for the miners she only wanted to find some way to get herself out of where she was, off this God-forsaken island and back to civilization. If listening to his platter would help then she’d do it. 

“Thank you for walking with me Mr. O’Dowell.” They had come to the front walk of the O’Dowell home. “Thank you, also for taking me in when you did.”

“I am grateful that I have a way to atone to you for my ungentlemanly behaviour when we first met Miss McTavish. I know now that I was mistaken about the nature of your character. Even if what James Dunham said was true he was sorely mistaken about you.” He opened the door for her and followed her in.

“Thank you again Mr. O’Dowell.” She went into the house and up to her room. As much as she had been resisting it, she was being to feel at home in Castleton. The local’s had never failed to extend a hand of welcome to her, even though it was not always returned. She hadn’t expected to forge any bonds with with anyone while she was here because she wanted to believe she was only here temporarily. 

If she could find a way to leave she would without a moment of regret. She couldn’t think of a soul she would miss or who she expected would miss her either.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Other than her hands she had maintained her looks. She had wasted her attentions on Birk Nelson, perhaps she was better off trying for a man whom she knew found her attractive and was not so bound up in his mother’s apron strings to act on his feelings. Steven had just made no secret of that he still found her attractive, he had been quite gentlemanly when apologized for expressing his interest.

He wasn’t unattractive and his glad-hand manners weren’t that disagreeable. Her mother had told her that everyman needs a woman to make man out of him. Steven certainly had potential and what he father might call ‘good prospects.’

She loosened her hair and let it down. The evening sun behind her turned it into a small blaze in the mirror. It was slightly snarled from being coiled in a braid for the day. She rarely wore it down outside of her room. She brushed it slowly. The curl would need a hot iron to flatten out but the curl suited her. She put a small dab of rosewater pomade in her hands and with her fingers brushed it through the curls. She shook it out. The pale green shawl would be ideal.

She washed her hands, put the shawl around her shoulders and made sure her hair lay on it perfectly. She went down to the living-room. Steven and Clara were sitting opposite each other deep in a conversation which ended when she came into the room.

“Lillian!” Clara smiled. “Your hair! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in it’s full glory.”

“When I was at St.Agatha’s I’ve always found it best to keep it covered when I was working in the kitchen or the garden or out of the house.” she glanced at Steven to see his reaction.

“A shame to hide it.” Steven’s eyes shone with appreciation.

“Thank you.” Why had she ever considered marrying one of the miners? That would only have discomforted her uncle for a short time but leave her anchored here in this miserable place forever. Steven travelled to Halifax, sometimes to Montreal and even to Boston. 

“You’ve spend a pleasant day Lillian?” Clara asked.

“In some ways. One of the miner’s children I’ve been teaching died.”

“It’s always sad when a child dies.” Clara shook her head.

“Yes. Sadder is how accustomed to such death the families have become.” Lillian let her head droop a little so her hair would fall off her shoulders. Pushing it back as she straighten up. “I don’t think I could ever bear to lose a child.” 

She caught Steven’s eye and held it for a moment, then looked away as if shy. Her heart was racing.

“Hopefully you never will.” Clara stood and stepped between them.

Lillian stood and went to the door of the living room. She quickly coiled her hair, took a couple of hair pins out her pocket and pinned it up. “I’ll go and see if Aileen needs any help in the kitchen.”

She went part way down the passage to the kitchen and leaned against the wall. Her spirits soared. She was sure now that she had found the solution to everything.

Steven came into the foyer. He saw her leaning against the wall.

“Miss McTavish!”

“Oh, Mr O’Dowell!” She leaned into his shoulder crying. “It has been a most difficult day. Most difficult. I don’t think I could have faced these past few weeks without the kindness you and your sister have shown me.”

The first thing she would do is have him stop wearing that over-powering bay rum of which he was so fond.


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Émile Zola

Nana was my introduction to Émile Zola. I bought a copy of it way back in the 70’s when I was living in Cape Breton. It floored me. I knew he was writing, publishing in France at the same time Dickens was publishing in England. Both wrote about class, labour, family but that’s where the resemblance ends. Zola wrote adult fiction full of drugs, druggies, adulterers, prostitution, social disease and nice people too.

Nana floored me with its frank sexuality. No classic novel I’d read by Scott, Stevenson, even Dostoyevsky approached this level of sexuality. At points he delves into the lesbian subculture of Paris that still amazes me today. It certainly wasn’t what I expected in a novel of that time & also showed me that there is a hidden gay history too. Nana uses her sexuality to move up and down the class ladder. In fact all the women in Zola novels are clearly sexual beings, not always in control of it, not always giving into it.

He has a great grasp of human psychology from a time when human psychology wasn’t even a field of study. I have, on my Kindle, the complete works – which I hope to finish before I die 🙂 He was prolific & as a result as popular as Dickens. I bought the complete works to get the novels that are out-of-print in translation. As a result I can’t commune ton his ability as a stylist – the translations are good enough for me. His plotting is solid. Went, or more of them, are a family saga that rivals any daytime soap. The family tree of his fictional family is impressive, as was his ability to keep it organized. He was a social commentator who spared no one.

If you are unfamiliar I would recommend Thérèse Raquin, (http://wp.me/p1RtxU-Cx) or Nana. Germinal is also amazing & inspired my novel Coal Dusters – good too are L’Assommoir and La Bête humaine.

 

Plus he was very handsome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émile_Zola#/media/File:Émile_Zola_by_Carjat.jpg 

The Fault In My Chromosomes

there is a theory

that when the first atomic bomb 

was exploded

the molecular structure of life 

of our dna

as we know it 

was changed

 

there’s always some explanation

for what went wrong

the first match

the first man 

who looked at the moon

and thought 

that’s not god

why am I blood-letting goats

to make sure

the moon will rise again

to insure sure we get good crops

 

us assuming that there is 

some secret level of control

we can manifest 

if we find the right path

we can work down 

to the chromosomal level of life

get at the delicate tissue

to harness it 

or our our personal gratification

then everything would work out swell

 

no war

no struggle

no hunger disease

no TV – that’s going too far

what if the atomic structure of life 

was changed by the first TV broadcast

what if those beams

were controlling us humans

telling us what to say

what to wear 

what to eat

when to go out

how many layers of clothing we need

that would never happen

we can’t be manipulated

at the cellular level by a cell phone

electronic conveniences are our tools

we aren’t their tools

they do our bidding

they have no control over who we love

over how often we hook up

they don’t conspire against us

we are in control at all times

we can turn them off 

see I’ve set my cell phone to no ring 

I can leave it that way for hours

often I don’t even check for texts

some people can’t imagine that at all

somedays I don’t turn on my TV for hours

don’t check my email

I am always in control of my universe

 

when the first atomic bomb

was exploded

molecular structure was changed

so I am not responsible for my actions

nothing is ever my fault

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


http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Chapter XLIII – Lillian  Seeks Advice

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 XLIII

Lillian 

Seeks Advice

Lillian waited with Dr. Drummond, outside the modest Protestant church that was so unlike St. Agatha’s she would have mistaken it for an oversized storage barn where not for the arched windows on the sides and the crucifix over the front double-doors.

Birk and his mother came out from the funeral service. Three pine box coffins preceded them. Each followed by its own grieving family.

“I was so sorry to hear about Sal.” She came over to console his mother.

“One gets used to these things.” His mother gently pushed Lillian away and nodded to Dr. Drummond. “Sad to say. Sad to say. We get used to these things.”

Lillian and the Doctor fell into step with them as they walked to the cemetery. She saw that none of the families were particularly tearful, more grim and sullen than caught up in sorrow.

She didn’t go in to the cemetery though. She knew that being so connected to St. Agatha’s she wouldn’t be welcome there at such a time.

When she’d heard from Dr. Drummond that Sal had died she couldn’t believe it. She had been with the girls earlier in the week. Both of them looked healthy enough and eager to keep learning. Perhaps if she had done more, brought them food, more vegetables from the garden. But even the O’Dowell’s were stretching out what goods they had.

Shortly the families left the cemetery nodded to Dr. Drummond as they walked around hime and Lillian. None of them acknowledging her presence. Birk and his mother stopped a few yards along and spoke quietly. He came to her as the rest went on their way.

“Miss McTavish, Ma thanks you for all you did for the girls, but thinks it best you don’t put yourself out anymore on our account.”

“I understand. How’s Maddy? She’s not ailing too?”

“No. She was too busted up to be with us. The Malones is minding her.”

“I am sorry that …”

“Sorry won’t bring Sal or any of the other children back.”

“I know that, but Birk, this is none of my doing.”

“I know.” He turned and started back into the cemetery. “I have to finish things now.”

“Finish?” Dr. Drummond asked.

“We bury our own. I dug the grave this morning ‘fore the service. Same with the other families. Digging in the earth again. Joe says he hoped we didn’t find coal or the company would stop us from burying our dead. They would too, if they thought they could.”

“They couldn’t do that.” Lillian said.

“They owns all the coal here abouts regardless of whose land it’s on. If you find coal digging your garden that coal belongs to the company not to you. So, if you don’t mind me Miss, I have a sister to bury.” 

She watched him go in the graveyard.

“Thank you for accompanying me Dr. Drummond.” Lillian said as she walked back with Dr. Drummond to the pier.

“It was my pleasure though I was bit puzzled when you sent the request to me.”

“I … needed someone to talk with. Someone who knew something of my situation here. I feel I can trust you.”

“I’m pleased you thought of me Miss McTavish.”

“I have to tell you something that no one is aware of.”

“I am used to the confidences of my patients.”

Lillian took the newspaper clipping of her death notice out of her purse and give it him.

“My word.” He said after reading it through. “How is this possible?”

“I am not that familiar with the …. legalities of this matter.” Lillian said. “I was hoping that you, as a Doctor, might advise on how to proceed.”

“I would say in this case there has to be at least a death certificate of some sort to act as proof of your passing away.”

“Death certificate?”

“Yes that is a document signed by a medical practitioner that serves as  legal record of a death.”

“Oh. Who would issue such a document? I had no attending doctor until you were called upon.”

“I can check with the Provincial Registry where all births and deaths have to submitted. I can find out who signed your certificate. Might I ask if you have your birth certificate?”

“I’m not sure.” Lillian tried to remember what personal papers of hers she had in her trunks.

“Or any other proof of who you are. If ,as this notice says, you are deceased, to contest it you’ll need some documentation to prove who you are. Have you written your family?”

She gave him the letter her father had written to her uncle.

“This is unbelievable” He said after the read the letter. “Who knows about this?”

“Everyone in Boston knows I’m dead. I don’t know who else my father had used to insure his political success.” Lillian put her documents back in her purse.

“I never thought Father McTavish was such a scoundrel as to cooperate in such a subterfuge. But after seeing his physical abuse of you, it comes as no surprise either.”

The Dingle Dandy arrival horn sounded.

“Thank you for your understanding Dr. Drummond. I didn’t know who to turn to.”

“You will need someone more knowledgeable about the law. You are comfortable with the O’Dowells?”

“Oh, yes! They have been most welcoming.”

“Perhaps you might consider Steven. He is a lawyer.”

The ferry’s departure horn sounded.

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you again.”

The only other passengers on the Dingle Derry were some of the troops now stationed in the area to keep peace. She overheard them talking about the ‘armed insurrection’ of the fool miners the previous night.

“Pardon me,” she went over to their bench. “I couldn’t help but overhear you mention an incident last night?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The heavier set of the soldiers lifted his cap. “We were in a convoy bringing replacement miners to the colliery here.”

“Yes.” the other stood and kicked his friend to do the same. “We have been detailed to go to North Sydney for more provisions.”

She could tell by their eager smiles they found her attractive.

“Was it a serious incident?” she asked.

“One fool Bolshi got shot dead. Sent to his maker.”

“Daniel! We were told to watch which locals we told what to.”

“Sorry, Miss?”

“I’m not a local. I’m visiting friends in North Sydney at the moment.”

“Perhaps we might call on you if we have time?” 

“I’m sure Colonel Strickland would rather you do your duty and return directly.” she said.

“You know the Colonel?”

She nodded as if to say yes.

“Perhaps I can convey your regards to him.” the heavy set soldier asked.

Lillian found herself enjoying the interest these men were taking in her. Because of her uncle most of the men had kept a cool distance from her.

“You can tell him that Miss McTavish …”

“McTavish!” the other soldier said. “Not related to that priest?”

“My uncle, I’m afraid to say. Please don’t hold that against me.”

“No ma’am. We sure hope he wasn’t hurt too bad. I mean I didn’t mean to bash him so hard when he came rushing in at me.”

“I’m sure he forgives you.” Lillian said. She wished she had been there to see her uncle get bashed. “His head is hard. He can take it.”

The ferry docked and she directed the soldiers to a dry goods store, one that was opposite way from the one she was taking.

On the ferry back to North Sydney she was relived that her attempts to befriend Birk had been futile. Punishing her Uncle would have only confined her to the dreary life these men lived. Even Dr. Drummond was threadbare. He was unlike the well-to-do doctors in Boston. It was as if everyone had taken a vow of poverty.

She walked along the main street. The few open shops were empty of people and goods. Even the O’Dowell’s had closed off portions of their department store. Without the money generated by the mines some shops had been shut down and even boarded up. She hadn’t realized how many were dependant on mining industry. Up to now she has only seen the actual miners struggling. The struggled rippled out to nearly everyone in the area.  

“Miss Lillian.” It was Mrs. Seldon, who used to the manage the company store. “Wasn’t that ambush business some terrible. It’s a wonder so few were hurt bad. Damned fools, if you ask me, trying stop those outsiders from getting into the colliery. How’s Father Patrick?”

“His head is as hard you’d expect.” Lillian forced herself to smile. Part of her had been glad to hear her uncle got what was coming to him.

“It was brave of him to even try to make some peace when the miners saw they were out-manned.”

“He was never one to stand down.” Lillian resisted blurting out what a hypocrite her uncle had turned out to be.

“I hear you are no longer tending to him?”

“No. I’m with the O’Dowell’s here in North Sydney for the time being. My uncle and I felt it was ….”

“I’m surprised you haven’t returned to your family in Boston by now Miss.”

“One day perhaps.” She couldn’t see herself back there now even if they hadn’t had announced her death; even she could prove she wasn’t dead. Revenge didn’t tempt her. “I’d best be on my way.”

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Chapter XLII – Birk Hides in the Bushes

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 XLII

Birk

Hides

in the Bushes

Birk pushed the piss jar back under his bed. By the shadow of the moonlight he figured it was about midnight. With the colliery closed there was no hourly reminder of the time. He rolled back into the bed and found the comfortable rut that held his body like a grave. 

A grave! That was what his bother Geo would say when they rolled into each other in the bad. ‘Get back to your grave!’

The door to the bedroom squeaked open.

“Birk!” Clancy whispered. “Are you awake?”

“Yes.” His sleepiness disappeared. Had Clancy snuck  into the house to get into bed with him? “They kick you out at Franklin’s?”

“Get yer pants on. There’s trouble brewing down at the colliery.”

“What?” Birk pushed off the bed and groped for his trousers.

“I overheard that Strickland talk with Bowden, the mine manager and they are going to sneak in the scabs tonight. I’ve already told Gregory. He’s getting some of the men together to give them a proper welcome.”

“Those bastards.” Birk laced up his boots and started for the door.

“Might put a shirt on though.” Clancy laughed under his breath.

“This’un will do.” He grabbed the work shirt that had been singed in the fire.

Outside there was a dozen or so men milling around at the corner of Birk’s lane and the Pitt Road. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness. He recognized Jake Malone, Jim McKlusky, and the cigar-puffing, union rep Willam Gregory.

“I’ve been in touch with the men in North Sydney and the scabs is coming by bus along the number 6 road. They have troops with them too.” Gregory told them. “They left about an hour ago so they should be here pretty soon.”

“None coming by the ferry?” Jake asked.

“Not as far as we know. After that face-off t’other day the Dingle doesn’t want to take the risk of their boat being scuttled.”

“He’ll take us from side to side but he ain’t taking sides.” One of them said and the others laughed.

“Guess the navy has enough sense to stay out of this.” One of the miners said.

“Quiet now.” Birk said. “If they want to surprise us we better extra quiet so we can surprise them.”

“Right.” Gregory said. “Here’s what I’m thinking. Some of us can take the ridge trail over to the turn off from Number Six road.”

“There’s that maple outcrop along there. We can block the road with some trees.” one of them suggested.

“Not have enough time for that much chopping.” McKlusky said. “How about we scatter broken glass. Cut up the tires.”

“Good plan, if we can get enough broken glass. What did you have in mind Mr. Gregory?” someone asked.

“I think if we make a show of force there to delay them, we can get ready for them here at the gate. Or maybe they’ll turn back once they see there’s no surprise.” He said.

“They’ll have troops with them.” Clancy said. “Least ways that’s what I heard.”

“Let’s burn em up.” McKlusky suggested. “We can make some kerosine bombs and toss them.”

“We just want to stop them,” Birk said. “Not kill them.”

“Speak for yourself little man.” McKlusky said. “We gotta show them we really mean business.”

“Okay. Okay.” Gregory said. “Six of you head over that turn off and do what you can to delay them. The rest of us will go to the colliery gate to reinforce our guys there.”

“Alright.” McKlusky said. “I’m for the turn off. Who’s coming with me. Tommy Driscoll?”

“Yep. We can handle ‘em.” Tommy raised his fists.

“Fists and flat iron.” Another miner shook an ax over his head. 

“Good man Davy.” Tommy Driscoll shook Davy’s hand.

Birk and Clancy stepped forward. 

“I know the Ridge Trail.” Birk said. “Stick close to me and we can get there without using lights at all.”

“Good lads. We’ll show them Cape Breton miners are as tough as they come.” Tommy Driscoll said. 

They set off up Pitt St. with Tommy Driscoll in the lead.

“Wait here men.” McKlusky said. “Tommy and I have to pick up something from m’place.”

They returned shortly. Each with an ax and carrying wooden crate between them.

“That’s kerosene.” Birk said.

“Yes it is. We made these bottle bombs a while back in case we had a use for them.” Tommy said pulling out a bottle half filled with kerosene with a rag stuffed into it.

“Okay Birk lets get a move on.” McKlusky said.

Birk lead them toward the trail to Blue Lake but took a different path that ran at a right angle off it. The smell of the kerosene made him nauseous. 

“Careful here.” He slowed them down. “We’re almost at the culvert by the road. The earth is loose along here.”

“You couldn’t find a better way.” McKlusky said. “Shit.” He lost his footing, let go of his side of the crate and slid down the embankment.

“Good thing there hasn’t been much rain.” Birk said helping Tommy hold the crate. “We all might as well take the McKlusky short cut.”

They slid down and Birk made his way up to the road. He reached out to help Clancy up.

“There’s a spot on the other side where we can watch who’s coming up or down the road.”

They dashed across the road to a hillock of bramble bushes. 

“You think we’ll have long to wait?” Tommy asked. “Must be near three bloody o’clock in the morning.”

“Ye missing getting your piece of fun?” Davy said.

They all started to laugh.

“Shh.” Birk said. “I think I hear something.”

The men stilled and held their breath.

“Sounds like motors.” Clancy whispered.

“More than one.” McKlusky said.

The noise got louder. Lights appeared on the road as the vehicles approached.

“That has to be them.” McKlusky stood to look over the bramble.

Birk crept carefully around to get a clear view. He saw at least two set of headlights, then a third.

“What was the plan?” He asked McKlusky. “We jump out and say …”

“This.” McKlusky lit the rag in one of the bottles and tossed into the road in front of the first truck. It arched up and landed at the side of the road, shattered & burst into flame. The three trucks stopped as the flames burned lower and lower.

The tarp cover on the first truck flipped open and troops climbed out.

Another bottle flamed over from the opposite of the road and smashed on the roof of bus in the middle of the cortège. As the kerosene flames spread there was shouting inside the bus. Men shoved each other out the doors. some climbing out the windows.

Birk looked beside him and saw that Tommy wasn’t there. He must have run dashed to the other side while the troops were debarking.

Another bottle flew into the air and landed on the tarp covering the first transport. Two of the soldiers shot in the direction the bottle had come from.

“I said not to shoot.” One of the militia said. He stepped into the headlights of the transport. “This is Corporal Stevens. We are armed and have orders to do what we have to get these men to the colliery.”

“Turn back if you value your lives.” McKlusky shouted back.

“You have been given fair warning.” Stevens signalled his men. “In the air.”

The men discharged their guns into the air. Another bottle arched down on to them. A spotlight on the roof of the first transport’s cab went on and began to play across the trees on either side of the road. A similar light shone from the roof of the third transport.

“Get back in the bus.” Stevens ordered the men. “Nothing more is going to happen.”

Birk kneeled and felt on the ground beneath him and found a stone. He stepped briefly into the light and threw it at the spotlight. It hit the bulb and it flickered out.

“Lower aim.” Stevens ordered.

The troops fired into the bushes on both sides of the road. 

Birk heard a ragged cry from the woods near him. 

“They must have hit Davy Rudenko.” McKlusky said. “You two get to the colliery and tell Gregory what’s happened here.”

“What about Tommy?” Clancy asked.

“He’s already hightailed it back the way we came. I’ll check on Davy.”

There was another round of shots. Bullets hit the dirt at Birk’s feet.

“Let’s get.” Clancy grabbed Birk by the shoulder and started to the wood behind them.

“This way.” Birk nudged him into a different direction to a well-used path that took them directly to Chestnut Street. 

When they got to the colliery Birk quickly explained what had happened. 

“You and Clancy best get back to your place Birk.” Gregory said. “You both stink of kerosine. Wash up as best you can when you get home.”

 

Birk woke to voices at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor. At first he thought it was his mother talking with Sal then he remembered Sal was no longer with them. He rolled to get out of the bed and Clancy was there beside him. When they had gotten to the house it was too late for Clancy to go back to the boarding house without drawing attention to himself.

He got out of the other side of the bed and tip-toed to the door to listen. He recognized Mrs. Franklin’s voice.

“It’s best that you tell anyone who asks that Clancy Sinclair has been boarding with you since he returned.” she was saying. “If they find out it was him who alerted the miners there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Yes. I understand Mrs. Franklin.” he heard his mother say.

Birk got dressed silently and went down stairs.

“She gone?” He asked his mother.

“Yes. She brought Clancy’s kit bag over. That Colonel Strickland is convinced Clancy was spying on him. Davy Rudenko is dead, you know.”

“Yes’m I was there when it happened.” He quickly told her about trying to delay the cortege. 

“That’s why your clothes are hanging on line.” she said. “Yours and his.”

“Yeh. We must have got splashed with those kerosine bombs Jim McKlusky was tossing. We never handled them, Ma.”

“It’s all made a mess more trouble that it avoided.” she poured him a cup of tea. 

“I better take this up to Clancy.” Birk hefted the kitbag, “Or he’ll be coming down the stairs naked.”

“You mean you boys snuck in the house like that!”

“Yep. We were too tired to think beyond making sure our clothes was airing.”

He took the steps to his room two at a time. Clancy was still asleep.

“Getting near 10 m’boy.” Birk shook Clancy by the shoulder. 

“Like old times.” Clancy sat up.

“Here’s your gear. Mrs. Franklin brought over. Colonel Strickland is on your trail. So as of now,  you’ve been here since you got back from the mainland, right?”

“Sure. Any other news from last night.”

“Only what we know already. Davy Rudenko is dead.”

“You decent?” Blackie came into the room

“Yes Da.” Birk stood the closet door way to make room for his father.

“Thanks to the militia those scabs got into the colliery. There was a face off though. Father McTavish come down to try and get the strikers to see sense but he got bashed good on the head. That shut him up.”

“Bashed? That all.” Clancy said. “By one of his own parishioners.” 

“No one know for sure.” Blackie said. “There’s talk of murder though.”

“You mean Davy Rudenko?” Birk said.

“No. One of the new miners was shot out on the road.”

“What!” Clancy pulled a pair of pants out of his kit bag. “None of us had guns. Must have been one of the soldiers that shot him.”

“Don’t matter to BritCan, now does it? They’ll blame the union for everything.”

“Shit.” Clancy said.

“Except the fact that the miners they brought in don’t know what they’re doing. Most of them have never been near a mine in their lives. Most of them were recruited off the street in Halifax and Montreal.”

“Figures.” Birk shook his head.

“They’re sweeping up the yard until the company can get someone in who can teach’em how to wield a pick and rake underground.” 

“And set a blast.” Birk said.

 

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Big Dickens

I have the complete Dickens on my shelf – paperback & hardcover. The paperbacks are Penguin classics with lots of notes. Some of the hardcovers are the classic Oxford editions. My Nicholas Nickleby is a 2 volume reproduction of the original serialized version that includes the ads etc. Some of the books I have read more than once. I have also sat through various Masterpiece Theatre explorations of the novels, seen movies & musicals of same & have Five of the Christmas books also as mp3s. I have resisted downloading the entire works as ebook.

I’m not sure which Dickens was the first I actually read – probably A Christmas Carol, though it could have been Oliver Twist, or was the Pickwick Papers? There was one of the Pickwick stories in out high school English literature text. The one where they go skating. I was in focused pursuit at one time of getting everything, even the obscure ones, like Master Humphrey’s Clock.

It was the boy hero that captivated me. I didn’t recognize the accuracy of his depiction of the poverty of time though. Recent readings show how unstinting he was with that cultural context. People caught up in journeys, quests in following their dreams & hopes. He was a master plotter who did count on coincidence a bit much, & often fell back on the long lost relative, but who cares.

What still inspires me about him is his ability to create complex, human villains i.e. Mr. Murdstone, Daniel Quilp, Uriah Heep, Bill Sykes. He had a gift for names that rivals Shakespeare’s. His heroes were too good to be real, his women either good little wives, generous relatives or harsh thanks to the men in their lives. His narrative structure was simple, almost formulaic, stories were told in linear movements, with some backstory when needed.

I’ve always like the fact that he was an unabashed sentimentalist and that as a writer he had no compunction in manipulating the readers emotions. When I realized he wrote drafts by hand – let that sink in a little – by hand – I was staggered. Of course he was being usually paid by the word so his books did get rather long. But his shorter works are also stunning: Hard Times is one of his best works.

Day and Night

day never holds me 

as fully as the night

in light there is always

a part that doesn’t get revealed

doesn’t get illuminated

turn as fast as I can

part of me is always in shadow

 

light is not the total lover

always leaves one part untouched

night covers all

nothing gets omitted 

over-looked

holds me in toto

comforting tender complete

caressing even where I cannot see

I was submerged and protected

no night burn for me 

for being too long naked in its glance

but I do welcome the sun

the energy released in my flesh and bones

by the ignition of my skin

 

if I had to make choice 

between night and day

as to which would be the better lover

I couldn’t say

day brings flowers

night brings stars

both return despite 

my placid display of cliches

tender is the night

bright is the day

as one retreats 

to make way for the other

I am saddened

I want to hold them both

straddle those slippery moments

when one makes way

gracefully stepping aside 

they do not fight 

to see who will be next

there is no resentment

that I have taken each 

in their own time

that I give myself equally to them

give myself without question 

without doubt

so do not make me choice

 

when I die

will I go into the light

or merely roll over 

into the comforting dark

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August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
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Chapter XLI:  Birk Reads From The Bible

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

Chapter XLI 

Birk Reads

From 

The Bible

“Can you see her?” Birk’s mother called from the front of the house.

“No sign Ma.” Birk called back from the corner of their street. “Miss McTavish is usually here by now.” He walked back to the house.

“I hope she hasn’t come down with what Sal has.” she went into the house. “You best stay here in case she arrives. We can’t let her in the house until Doctor Drummond has checked to make sure Sal hasn’t the flu.”

“Right Ma. Not as if I have anything better to do anyway. Should I change of m’good clothes?” 

“Not until after the doctor has been.” She went into the house and came out with a chair. “You can sit here. Don’t want you sitting on the stoop in those pants.”

“Thanks Ma.”

“They look as if they were bought special for you I did a good job of getting them to fit. They look better on you than they ever looked on the priest uncle of hers.”

Reverend Browne arrived with Dr. Drummond.

“Is it that serious?” Birk asked the Reverend. “I mean to bring you here.”

“Not that I know Birk. I ran into the doctor as I was heading over here anyway. Your mother wanted to to have word with you.”

“With me?”

“She’s worried about you and Miss McTavish.” Browne said.

“You haven’t heard?” Doctor Drummond said. “Miss McTavish has left Castleton. Yesterday it was. She’s convalescing at the O’Dowell’s in North Sydney.”  

“What!” Birk said.

“She had a … she suffered an injury.”

“She’s teachin’ us to read better.” Birk wasn’t sure what else to say.

Dr. Drummond went into the house.

“Birk, you didn’t fancy her.” Browne asked.

“She’s a fine lady. Pretty.”

“So you …”

“But I know my place. I know she has her’s too. It wasn’t as if I set out to rescue her from that fire.”

“I heard that was how you came in contact with her.”

“Yes, sir. Then Father Patrick had me to their house to thanks me. Gave me these clothes.”

“Decent of him.”

“I thought so too. So did ma. So when she, I mean Miss Lillian offer to teach us all some, Ma said we couldn’t rightly shut the door in her face.”

“Your mother is concerned. She’s afraid you might get … infatuated with Miss McTavish.”

Birk’s knee twitched. “I got nothing to offer a fine lady. Nothing.”

“Sadly, that doesn’t stop most men.” Reverend Browne shook his head. “They …”

A harsh, broken shriek came from the house. Birk and the Reverend rushed in. Dr. Drummond was helping his mother down the stairs.

“What is it?” Browne asked the doctor.

“There is nothing to be done.” He helped Birk’s mother sit at the kitchen table. “She might last a week.”

Two days later Birk stared down at the two coffins in the grave. One fresh pine and the other partially rotted and collapsed maple wood. The old one was the brother who died decades ago. The family plot wasn’t expected to be filled so soon so they were burying Sal beside her brother in the same grave.

“You want a hand with that?”

Startled Birk whirled around. “Clancy! Where’d you spring from.”

“Your Ma said you’d be here. Sad day.”

“It came on sudden. She was feeling sort of hot and in the afternoon and went to her bed. When Maddy went to get her for supper she was … gone already.”

“Poor Maddy. Never find as sweet a sister to replace her. They were such good playmates. So close. No other word for it but sad.”

“Sad times.” Birk picked up one of the shovels. “Heard BritCan is really sending troops rather than settle up proper by us. That Colonel Strickland isn’t such a bad sort after all. He tells us what BritCan doesn’t.”

“Cavalry to Calvary.” Clancy said.

“Huh? You not back no time at all and making fun of me already?”

“Sorry. Forgot how little that Bible stuff means to you. Calvary was where Christ was put on the cross.”

“And it was the horsemen who did it! Same as they are trying to do to us, you mean?”

“Yeh so they are.”

Birk was flooded with conflicting emotions. Happy as he was to see Clancy back again he didn’t want to always feel he wasn’t as good, as smart talking as him.

“Stop gawking at me and grab that shovel.”

Birk tossed a spade full of the heavy clay dirt into the grave.

“You’d think the soil up here would be more sandy, being so close to the sea.”

“Nope. BritCan picked this spot cause the soil wasn’t apt to have coal running through it.”

“Not for the view.” Clancy stopped for a moment to shade his eyes.

The cemetery was on a low hillock that give a partial view of the harbour.

“I suppose. The miners didn’t want a view of the pits. After years of working in’m no one wanted to spend eternity looking down on them.” Birk sighed deeply.

“What is it?”

“Sal didn’t get many years to work at anything. We buried her with that doll of hers that she was always dragging around. Sometimes I think it’s good to die young rather than go on living this way.”

“You’re turning to a thinker Birk Nelson. Life can sour one on life. That’s for sure.”

“So what is that brings you back?”

“My Ma didn’t need my help and there was nothing going on the railroad either. When there’s no coal or steel to sell and ship, then there’s no money to spend. When there’s no money to spend on goods that have to be shipped and sold. What hurts one thing eventually hurts everything. I heard Sydney Mines went bankrupt. The town ran out of money because there was none coming in, they had to close the schools with no money to pay the teachers.”

“You coming back to stay with us or what?”

“Nah. I’m tossing in at Franklin’s, for now. Even with those militia men there, I’ll get a room to myself. Least ways I won’t wake up with you kicking me in the shins.”

“Or you pulling the blankets off a me.”

“You been fishing much?”

“Took my …” Birk swallowed back the tears that suddenly came to him, “ …. took the little ones over a few times. Made them feel useful to catch some for us to eat. Didn’t tell’em they were nearly small enough to toss back in.”

“It was a fine spot to fish.” Clancy grinned.

“If you sun on the rocks.” Birk knew that Clancy was talking about the times they had spent near each other.

“We’ll have to do that again soon.”

“I’d welcome that.”

“That’s done it.” Birk levelled the dirt and packed it down. “When it rains we have come back to make sure it stays level.”

“You think you can make a leap at that?” Clancy nodded at the iron arch that spanned the entrance to the graveyard. It was about seven feet at either end.

“Don’t know. Been a while since I’ve wanted to clamber around for fun.”

“You mean it’s too tall for you?”

“You’ll eat those words.”

Birk brushed the dirt off his hands, adjusted his stance and ran the few yards to the gate and jumped the lower end. He grabbed a handhold on the top of the column. A simple flex and he spun up to straddle the gatepost. Without hesitation he stood on it.

“Nothing to it.” He said standing on one foot.

“Comes natural to you monkeys.” Clancy laughed.

Birk flipped over to his hands and walked across the arc, flipped back to his feet and walked back again then dropped lightly to the ground.

“I should do that more often.” He rubbed his hands on his coveralls. “Makes me feel I’m my old self for a minute. Someone without a care in the world. That was one of the things Sal always laughed to see. Me walking on m’hands.”

They headed back to Mudside.

“You ever heard anything from Geo?”

“Nary a word but takes time for mail. General delivery’s at Franklin’s since the pluck me was burned down.”

“I keep hearing how much better things are in other places.”

“Pa says it’s the same all over. Sure they may pay you more but underground is underground. When you get paid more you get charged more.” Birk said.

“You seen any of the McTavish lass.” Clancy asked.

“No much and yet more than I want. She did come to pay her respects when she heard about Sal.”

“Mrs. Franklin tells me she’s gone to North Sydney.”

“That’s what I heard too but we go another of our own here to occupy me. Good to see Clancy.” He reached out to shake Clancy hand.

“Same here Birk.” Clancy let Birk pull him closer. “I didn’t know how much I’d come to … miss Castleton.”

When Birk got home the house was silent. His mother was sitting alone at the kitchen table. On the chair beside her were some of Sal’s things. Tattered dresses and stockings.

“Not much to anyone now.” She flattened one of the dresses on the table. “Can’t even make a decent wash cloth out it yet we was right proud to let her wear it. A hand-me-down that the Rev gave us. I never thought I’d have to dress my children in hand-me-downs let alone bury them in them.”

“Ma, you did the best. That’s all we can do.” Birk ached to say something that would make her feel better. “Want me to read to you from the good book?”

“Yes! Something from the Psalms. The one about loving kindness. Which is that?” She got up and went the living-room.

Birk followed her and sat beside her as he flipped through the Bible to find the verses she wanted.

“Here it is number 103.” She handed him the book.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” He read slowly and didn’t find himself stumbling over words as much as he used to. As he read his wondered what had happened to the good things that were supposed to satisfy, to merciful graciousness that the verse talked about.

“Read that part about his children’s children,”

“This part? ‘But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them. The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.”

“Yes. A throne in heaven for my children. All my children. I’m sure that’s what he has for Sal and Charles.”

Although Birk didn’t fully understand what the verses were saying he was pretty sure it his mother didn’t know either. It was clear that God didn’t pity them at all but rather enjoyed letting the miners struggle without any sign of mercy.

“I sure hope so. I doubt if anyone will forget we are dust though. A handful of coal dust.”

“Coal dust to dust.” His mother laughed. “At times you are funnier than you know Birk.”

“I sure don’t aim to be ma. Mayhaps we don’t fear the Lord enough, as it says here. ‘For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.’ ”

“I don’t think it says we have to be scared, the way you would be of a ghost or that the mine’ll fall in on you. It means to be more in awe of Him. To be aware.”

“Maybe that’s it, Ma. Oft times when we’re in the pits I never think or worry about the mine fallin’ in on us. I do my work and gets though the day.”

“You check to make sure the braces are set proper?”

“Always.”

“That’s fear. That’s being aware. Those braces are your prayers. Once they are in place you don’t have to keep saying them you get on about your day in faith.”

“I see.” Birk didn’t see but accepted what she was saying. Maybe if he had prayed more this wouldn’t be happening? He rarely said prayers the way he saw his sisters do at the side of their bed every night. He knew some would say them before going into the mines but thought that foolishness.

The prayers his sisters said didn’t keep Sal alive. Her dying so sudden couldn’t have been God answering anyone’s prayer.

“You must be gladdened to have your old pal back.”

“You mean Clancy? Yeah, he come over to the graveyard to give me hand putting Sal to rest. He’s staying at Franklin’s.”

“He told me. He’s a good’un though. Your Pa and I were happy when you two started to along some. Better than you and Geo every did.”

“Maybe that’s cause Clancy wasn’t told to torment as much as he could to make a man out of me the way Geo was.”

“Where you hear that foolishness?” His mother got up.

“From Geo. Told me that before he left for Alberta. How’s it was your idea.”

“My idea was that he not to be soft with you. He took that in his own way.”

“I know that Ma. I’m not getting at you. Not even sure why I told you that.”

“I’m trying to do the best for you as I can.” She wiped a tear away. “By all my children.”

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