Friday, July 11, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter XXI

Wednesday, June 23, l881

For the past week Marguerite's thoughts had become more and more unsettled. Although she and Charley met almost daily and spent an occasional evening together, she knew he was frequently seeing Josey and her children. In fact she had seen the four promenading along the downtown streets on more than one occasion. Whenever she brought up the subject, Charley immediately grew cold, obviously irritated, finally saying, "Damn it all, Marguerite, get off that subject."

Revulsion finally came as she was checking the hotel dining room in preparation for the noon meal; Eliza Brown entered the doorway to confront her.

"Miss Grant, I must speak with you. It is vitally important, for my son is preparing to marry soon."

Marguerite was startled, almost speechless as Eliza's words registered. "Are you sure about that?"

"Dead sure! He is going to marry Josey Watson. Hasn't he told you yet?"

"He hasn't said a word to me." A sudden, sickening feeling came; she could feel her world falling apart.

"Young lady, did you think he was going to marry you? Why, you are nothing but a breed! Nothing but a tramp! Used goods! Do you think a man of my son's stature would stoop so low as to marry the likes of you?"

Colors began to swim before Marguerite's eyes; she was beginning to feel faint. Sagging into a chair, she muttered, "I don't believe it. Charley would never marry that woman without telling me."

"Oh no? Perhaps he hesitates to do so. Did you think that after two years he would finally marry you?" Her vicious look suddenly turned triumphant, "Why buy the cow when the milk is free?"

Marguerite suddenly felt an inner strength and rose to her feet -- a sudden rage came. "Get away from me, you old hag! Marry your precious son to that woman who abandoned him years ago. If he marries her after the way she treated him, he'll deserve everything he gets!"

At that moment Mrs. Geroux entered the room. "What is the trouble, Marguerite? I heard loud shouting."

Marguerite's temper had peaked and she pointed her finger shakily at Eliza Brown. "That old woman has just informed me that Charley is marrying the woman who is visiting her. She, the same as called me a slut because I'm of mixed breed, a Métis!

Mrs. Geroux looked coldly at Eliza. "Eliza, up to now we have been pleasant friends, but no longer. Please leave my place of business this instant -- don't ever come back! You won't be served. I happen to be Métis myself, and both my husband and I are proud of it."

The look on Eliza's face was scathing as she hurriedly left. Marguerite almost instantly burst into tears, throwing herself into the protective arms of her friend. Gently, Mrs. Geroux led her to the adjoining bar.

"We both need a lift after seeing that old harridan." Handing a napkin to Marguerite, she added, "Wipe your tears child. Some men just aren't worth a damn!"

Casually she poured whiskey into two glasses and added water. Handing one to Marguerite, she spoke softly, "It's a bit strong, but perhaps that's best." Picking up the other glass she tossed the drink down neatly. Turning, she asked, "What are you going to do now?"

Marguerite barely sipped at her drink. "Paul has asked me to marry him; I'm going to do just that. Perhaps it will be for the best. He's handsome and although I don't believe I love him, perhaps that will come in time."

"Isn't that the young man who was here during the Christmas holidays, the one who escorted you to the Emerson Ball?"

"Yes. He proposed to me that night while on our way back from Emerson, but I was so confused. I still love Charley, but it's hopeless now. I'll wire Paul to see if he still wants me. Perhaps he's changed his mind."

"I doubt it. He seemed to have a serious crush on you. Couldn't you tell?"

Marguerite shook her head impatiently, "I'll soon know. I'll send a wire from the telegraph office."

"Best you wire from the depot in St. Vincent. Anything that's sent from Pembina seems to be on the street within minutes." She put a comforting arm around Marguerite's shoulders. "I know you won't feel like working tonight. Why don't you go home and think things over. Perhaps you're being too hasty."

"You're right. I don't feel up to facing people. I feel more like hiding myself away. But I've made up my mind; if Paul wants me I'll go to him."

Leaving the hotel Marguerite found the street almost devoid of people. A slight breeze from the west filtered dancing spots of sunlight beneath the trees. As she turned down the hill toward the ferry a startled flock of redwing blackbirds rose in a black cloud to twist away up-river, the rust-tinted females mixed with black, shiny males. Trudo, the ferryman was lounging on a bench just outside his small shack on the barge, his hooked pipe resting against his chin. Rising, he walked over to his rowboat and began untying the bow rope. "I'll row you over, Marguerite -- it's quicker." Steadying her step into the flat-bottomed boat, he queried, "Quitting early today? You usually don't return home until just before dark."

"I've got problems, Joe. I'll have to sort them out on my own."

Trudo stepped into the craft and unshipped the oars, using one to push away from the barge a wry smile came to his face. "Everyone has troubles, even me. If the river is high, ferrying is hard work. If the river is low the barge sticks in the mud and I've got to dig it out. Then too, I must lower the cable when each steamboat passes. Either that or they'll break my wire. My only solace is a drink now and then."

Marguerite said nothing, knowing well that Joe was often too drunk to operate the ferry. When that happened teamsters took matters into hand and cranked the ferry across themselves, failing to pay. Determined, she stopped at the railroad depot to wire Paul. She found herself fighting tears that embarrassed her. Her wire was blunt: Do you still want to marry me? If so, where will I meet you? Marguerite.

Her answer came shortly before the supper hour while she and her mother were arguing over her decision to marry Paul. Her mother was advising restraint, when a sudden knock on the door was heard. Opening the door Marguerite found the depot agent's small son holding an envelope. The lad was smiling bashfully. "Pa said you'd want this telegram right away."

"Thank you, Pat!" Nervously she handed him a coin, then as he left she slid her finger under the envelope flap. Unfolded, the message brought a sudden feeling of euphoria and confidence: Yes! Yes! Yes! When can you take the train to Chicago? Let me know the time of your arrival. I will meet you, or I'll come for you if you like. All my love! Hurry! Hurry! Paul.

Handing the wire to her mother, she said, "Mother, my mind is made up! I'm going to look out for myself, and gain all the happiness I can. There is nothing left for me here. There must be a future with Paul."

"I still think you are making a mistake. You should confront Charley."

"After that scene with his Mother? I just couldn't face him. I'm not going to take any more abuse."

"At least talk with Susan. If you do go to Paul you'll have to plan ahead."

"Oh, I'll see Susan, but I'm leaving tomorrow morning. I'll pack my clothes tonight. Thank goodness I've money on hand."

"If you're short that's no problem. You know I keep a little hidden away."

Putting her arms around her mother, Marguerite hugged her affectionately. "Mom, you've put up with me for years. It's time I left the nest. I'll always love you, you know that!"

"Yes, both you and Susan have grown up to be everything I've wanted you to be. You both have talent and I'm proud of you. Susan has married a fine man and I know you'll do well. I did like Paul, he was honest with me when he came to pick you up that New Year's evening. He told me he was going to marry you. It came as a sudden shock and I never mentioned it to you. Perhaps I've favored Charley too much. Anyway, you know I'll always support you."

Marguerite took the telegram from her mother's hand, folding it slowly. "I'm going over to Susan's. If I catch the early train tomorrow, I'd better say my good-byes."

She found Susan in the garden behind their house weeding rows of vegetables. Her small son, Patrick, was rolling on a blanket nearby, bare legs thrust in the air. Susan was obviously surprised at her sister’s appearance.

"How come you're home so early?" Then she detected the signs of distress on Marguerite's face. Rising to her feet she brushed the dirt from her hands. "What's up? Is there trouble?"

Marguerite silently handed her the telegram, then turned to pick up the baby.

"So what are you going to do about this?" Susan waved the wire impatiently.

Fondling the smiling child, Marguerite attempted to explain her encounter with Charley's mother.

"That horrible woman!" Susan's anger showed. "Then you're really going to marry Paul. Is that it?" Suddenly she looked distressed, "Oh, Marguerite, you'll be so far away from us!"

"It's not the end of the world. We'll see each other; the trains still run."

"I've done enough weeding. Let's go inside and make tea." She looked toward the lowering sun as it cast long shadows across the garden. "It's getting late, Ian and the boys will be home soon. Best I get supper started."

While preparing tea, she suggested, "I've that yellow silk dress and the long blue one. I'll never wear them again. They'll be handy where you're going."

"Oh, they've both meant so much to you, I can't accept them."

"Why not? Mary passed that yellow silk down to me when she married Kirby, and I've worn the blue one on three occasions. They'll both fit you. Heck, they're old hat to me."

"In that case I'll gladly take them. I had planned on traveling light, but perhaps I should pack a small trunk. I can check it on my ticket."

"That's what I'd do; you can carry a small bag too. Since Paul will meet you at the station in Chicago there shouldn't be a problem. Why don't I come over after supper and help you pack. I'll bring the dresses. After all, we probably won't see each other for weeks, even months. At least I'll be able to see you off at the depot."

Marguerite found herself tossing and turning in bed that night, unable to catch a firm sleep. She hoped she would be able to relax on the trip, not wanting to appear tired and worn when she reached Paul. At early daylight she awoke to the crunching sounds of coffee beans being ground in the kitchen. Dressing hurriedly, she joined her mother who was bustling about the stove.

"Marguerite, Susan and I will both see you off on the train. I'm taking the day off." She turned to face her daughter, "I can't afford going to Chicago to see you married, but I'll see you on your way."

"Oh, Mom, you'll lose a day's pay at the fort.""

"No I won't. I'm getting $20 a month now and the fort furnishes me rations to take home. That's a lot more than the $13 a month the soldiers get. Ian is coming by to pick up your trunk. He'll drop Susan so the three of us can walk to the depot together.

"Where's Pa?"

"He went fishing at daylight. I didn't tell him you are leaving."

"No matter, I know who my true Father is." She felt an instant guilt, knowing the hurt her Mother must feel.

She could bite her tongue for she knew the remark was uncalled for. Her mother flushed, dropping her head. "Long ago I should have told you girls the truth, that Peter was your Father, but he wouldn't allow it. At least he told Susan the truth before he was murdered."

"Yes, he told Susan and she told me. That was after the night she was nearly raped; the night our Father killed that horrible man."

Marguerite, Susan and her mother walked to the depot at 7 a.m. the following morning, arriving only minutes before the train pulled into the station. The sharp whistle of the engine could be heard in the distance as the train switched onto the St. Vincent spur. The low rumble gradually grew louder and louder, the sound diminishing as the engine slowed to a stop just beyond the depot platform. Clouds of steam immediately surrounded the huge wheels, accompanied by a rhythmic, panting sound. Ian, emerged from the door of the express office with Marguerite's baggage check at the tips of his fingers. Seeing the three women standing together, he joined them, to say, "Your trunk is cleared through to Chicago. It'll be there to be picked up at your leisure." Handing the baggage check to Marguerite, he wrapped his arms around her in a fond embrace to whisper in her ear, "I only met Paul that one time at Christmas, but I really liked him. I know you'll have a good life together."

"Oh, Ian, thank you! I'll bring him back someday to really get acquainted."

Giving her mother and Susan a final hug she boarded the car at the brakeman's warning. Seating herself next to the window she gazed down at her family as they searched for the sight of her. When the train began backing toward the main line she saw her mother wiping tears as she waved. The smile on Susan's face seemed fixed, almost grim. Ian was waving slowly, a worried look on his face.

As they passed from sight she began reviewing her plans. She would arrive in St. Paul the next morning at 9 a.m. then transfer to another railroad for the final trip to Chicago. A sudden dark thought came when she realized she hadn't come around on time this month; she was overdue nearly a week. Could it have been that last Sunday in May when she and Charley picnicked out past the fort? Then she smiled to herself, relieved, remembering the many times she had been late. Things had been so stressful these past days, anxiety was probably the culprit. After all, she and Charley had been intimate before, and nothing had happened. That lack had been frustrating, for she had wanted his child. She realized that during the past weeks Charley seemed no longer close to her. Their lives had seemed not to be blending, more like separating. She knew that a wedding between she and Charley would have been fraught with danger with his mother pulling the strings of dissent. She also realized that even with her stepfather's drinking problem, the affection and love in her family had been constant. Now it was her emotions that were twisting her heart, for Charley's mother had made her feel almost helpless.

As the train cleared the sidetrack and gained speed, she glanced upward through the window, noting the fleecy, snow white cumulus clouds that cast shadowy ocher colors on the terrain. Between their folds she noted the Delft sky that reminded her of a saying she had read, enough blue to make a Dutchman a pair of pants. She found herself suddenly eager to see Paul.