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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXII
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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.