Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 33

Dear Readers, we are almost to the end of the true tale of Sheriff Charley Brown.

As we head into the homestretch, there is sad news for Charley. Margerite comes home for a visit, which in turn makes Charley realize his missed chance at happiness, and forces a difficult but necessary decision on Margerite to tell Charley the truth...

April, l884

During the next two years Charley gradually resumed a casual relationship with his mother, primarily due to family pressure. In late February he found himself experiencing gradually increasing stomach cramps. He consulted his cousin for an answer.

After a serious study Charles told him, "Charley, I can feel a firm lump inside your abdomen, it shouldn't be there. You say your stomach is mighty sore. It's got to be some sort of foreign growth. I suggest you go east to Philadelphia as soon as possible for treatment. I've heard they specialize in internal growths such as this. I believe it would be prudent you take this trip. There isn't a thing I can do except open you up, and that would be stupid under the circumstances."

"Is it cancer?" Charley had a gaunt, questioning look.

Knowing well how worry could bring a person to an emotional collapse, Charles attempted to ease his mind. "It might be just a benign growth, let's hope so. Still, I'd rather you take the trip now, don't wait."

On Sunday, April 8, Charley and his mother boarded the cars at St. Vincent for their return to Philadelphia. Charley left Deputy Sheriff Frazer in charge. The Pioneer Express newspaper read: "It is learned that the trip of Sheriff Brown will benefit his health which is in a somewhat critical state. The sheriff's many friends will hope that he may return ere long, fully restored."

Dr. Charles Harris found himself busy with many trips to Walhalla since a new epidemic of smallpox had begun in the fall of '83 and continued. He did his best, but still lost eight patients before the year was out. It seemed the Métis and Indians had little natural resistance to the disease. They also ignored all quarantine rules.

During early June Paul and Marguerite decided their small house was too confining. They searched on weekends, examining many new homes under construction; they wanted to live near the lakeshore. They finally settled on a two-story, brick home, located on a large corner lot. Marguerite was thrilled with the floor plan.

"Paul, this back room on the north side has large windows. The light is just right for my painting. Do you mind?"

Lowering Paula to the floor, he began to laugh, "Heavens, with this huge house we'll have to find some way to fill it up. Do you have any plans in mind?"

Marguerite turned, smiling roguishly, "Paula is two years old. Don't you think you'd better get busy!"

She had never found time to return back home to the Territory, but now a sudden fretfulness came. She became anxious to see her family and show off her daughter. She discussed it with Paul. At the time his factory was expanding and he was swamped with work. He said, "I can't find the time this summer, but why don't you and Paula go? You have been spending so much time on your work that a trip home would be a vacation. I can arrange the tickets. Do you want to go?"

They finally decided she and Paula would leave in late September. She wrote her mother of their plans.
August 3, l884

Dear Mother and all,

Paula and I will be visiting you for a week in late September if our plans work out. I am so looking forward to going home. It will be so wonderful to see you all again. It has been much too long! I know I promised to visit years ago. Golly, it has been over three years since I left for Chicago. So much has happened that it will take me hours to explain the events.

Paul is unable to come because of his work with the company. However, he has arranged for our tickets for mid-September.

I haven’t told Paul my little secret yet. I think I am pregnant again; I hope it will be a boy this time.

Susan and Ian's daughter, Betsy, will be nearly the same age as Paula. I know they will hit it off well. Oh, there is so much I've missed being away all these years, but it just wasn't possible to get away before now.

The men must be at harvest, but I will see them in the evenings. At least from our correspondence I am fairly well acquainted with events there.

Paula is precocious, much like Susan when she was a little girl. She loves animals, especially dogs, cats and horses. She is a chatterbox and inquisitive. She will love St. Vincent and the children. I'll have to watch her carefully because of animals and the river.

Gee, when Susan and I were young how we used to play along the river with crayfish and watch the men fish from shore. It seems so long ago -- there is nothing like that here. I never thought I'd live, or even like living in a city, but that's all changed. Now my life is centered on Paul, Paula and my painting.

We are leaving Chicago on the evening of September 10 we should be in St. Vincent on Friday morning, shortly after 7:00 a.m. I am so excited -- I'm afraid the week will be much too short.

Love, Marguerite.
Word of Margurite's arrival had been passed to many of her friends in St. Vincent. Several were on hand to greet her return. Long moments after the train pulled to a stop, everyone waited expectantly until the brakeman finally opened a car door, then descended the steps to drop the metal step-stool on the platform.

Marguerite was the first to appear; she was carrying two bulging carpetbags. Seconds later she was followed by a smiling porter who helped Paula descend the high steps. Annette rushed forward to take her daughter in her arms, while Susan, smiling, bent over to pick up Paula. After all the well wishes were exchanged, Ian drove the family to Annette's house. After dropping them from the buggy, he said to Marguerite, "I'll go back to the depot and get your luggage."

Marguerite laughed, "I have none, my two carpetbags will suffice -- I'm only staying a week."

Susan protested, "Not if we can help it, a week isn't enough. You've three and a half years of your life to account for. We want to hear every bit of it."

While Susan went into the kitchen to prepare coffee, all eyes turned to Paula and Betsy, Susan's daughter. They were playing with Betsy's dolls. The two girls looked like twins, both were the same size and coloring. The only difference discernible was their hair. Paula's was a light brown while Betsy's was shiny ebony.

A few minutes later, when Annette held Paula on her lap, Marguerite noticed the intense expression on her mother's face. It wasn't until the next morning when they were eating breakfast together that her mother finally asked, "When was Paula born?"

Marguerite found herself upset at the question, and hesitated momentarily before answering. "In April of '82, why do you ask? Inwardly, she knew the answer, for her mother's intuition had always been uncanny.

Her mother replied softly, "I think you know." She slipped Paula from her lap to the floor. "Paula, why don't you run upstairs and find the kitty." As the child climbed the stairs, she asked quietly, "Does Paul know?"

Marguerite felt a heavy, crushing weight descending upon her. There was no use trying to evade the truth. "No Mother, and he'll never find out from me. It happened about two weeks before I left for Chicago. Now I am pregnant again, and with Paul's child. It will be born near the end of March, this coming year.”

"Did you know that Charlie is dying?"

Marguerite drew in a deep breath, and then stiffened, shock set in. For moments she was speechless, unable to catch her breath. Slowly recovering, she asked, "How do you know?"

"He's been sick for months. His condition has been in the local papers. He also went back East for treatment. I met his cousin, Doctor Harris, some time ago. He said Charley was very ill. I did go over to visit Charley two weeks ago. He is very thin and has a yellow cast. He insists in staying in his rooms over the saloon. Of course he asked about you. I told him you had a daughter, and seemed happy. He seemed content to hear that."

The guilt and remorse Marguerite had built up the past years since she left St. Vincent finally reached the breaking point. Her hands flew to her face and she broke into sobs. Tears flowed between her fingers as she cried, "My God! And I left him alone!"

Annette anxiously watched this sudden collapse of her daughter. Finally Marguerite seemed to pull herself together. Wiping the tears away with a finger, she asked, "Do you think I should see him?"

Long moments passed as her mother looked at her reflectively, "Do you really want to? Do you still love him?"

"Mother, I loved him very much at one time, but it didn't work out. He wasn't the marrying kind. I love Paul now, and always will. He is so kind and thoughtful; we have a wonderful relationship together. I'm not going to upset that!"

Annette said, "Ian has been over to see Charley several times. Of course they have been good friends these past years. I really believe you should see Charley. I think he has regrets he would like to share with you. It would be a kindness, and possibly cheer him up."

Marguerite considered the idea. "I wonder what would be the best time. I certainly don't want to run into his mother."

On the second afternoon she and Susan took a buggy to Pembina; Susan was to shop while Marguerite visited with Charley. To be on the safe side she stopped at the saloon to speak with John. He was excited to see her when she appeared at the door.

"My gosh! Marguerite! You're more beautiful than ever! I heard you were home for a few days. Are you going upstairs to see Charley?"

She smiled, "That was my plan, but I thought I'd see you first and clear the way."

John caught the implication and laughed, "His mother never comes to see him during the day, only in the evenings. I make sure he gets his meals, however much he can eat. Frankly, all he seems to want now is milk. It doesn't look good. Just go upstairs, the door is open."

Marguerite found the staircase hot and stuffy, but the upstairs rooms were bearable. Expecting to hear Charley's voice as she entered, she was disappointed. Looking into the kitchen she saw a heap of dirty dishes. She thought of his mother, "Why doesn't she clean up the sink and table!"

Entering Charley's bedroom she found him asleep. He appeared wan and thin, needing a shave. She was disappointed at his appearance; he had always been so clean-shaven and fastidious in his habits. Why didn’t someone come in to attend him?

She drew up a chair beside his bed. He was in a deep sleep, taking slow, raspy breaths. His hand hung near the edge of the cot and she grasped it gently, finding it almost cold. After moments spent studying his face, she said, "Charley, wake up! You have a visitor!"

Slowly he rolled his head, his eyes gradually opening. He stared for long seconds, then said weakly, "I must be still dreaming. I see my dream in front of me."

Marguerite smiled, "It's no dream Charley. It's really me. I'm just back for a visit to St. Vincent and heard you were ill. I thought you might like to visit.”

As he struggled to sit up, she aided him, putting her arm around his thin shoulders to raise him. Then she placed the pillows behind his back for support.

"There! That better?"

"Better yet if you hand me that glass of water." With both hands he sipped at the glass, studying her intently. "You are more beautiful than ever! It's hell to just lie here in bed and not be able to take you in my arms!"

Marguerite smiled, "Charley, those days are gone forever. I'm married now with a child. Yes, and another on the way too."

Charley snorted, "I was the fool who let you get away. If you had only told me how my Mother treated you, it would have been different."

"You couldn't make up your mind, why not admit it?"

He groaned, "Yes, I was the coward -- so damned proud. If you only knew how many times I've regretted it!"

"It's all water under the bridge. While I'm here, let me get your bed straightened out, then I'll clean up your kitchen."

"Oh my God! Talk with me! To hell with my kitchen and the bed."

"Fine! What will we talk about? It seems we said it all long ago."

He reached out to take her hand. "Tell me about your life in Chicago and about your child. Oh my God! I wish it was my child!"

Marguerite blanched at his outburst, but quickly pulled herself together. She described her daughter and her life in Chicago, leaving out any reference to Paul. She told him mainly of her success at portrait work and her new home.

"And are you happy in the big city?"

She admitted, "It took some getting used to, but I've adjusted to the hustle and bustle. We're getting electric streetcars now, so the horse drawn cars will soon disappear. You must admit there are many advantages to city life."

Releasing her hand she arose from the chair, "I'm going to do some straightening and picking up."

Tucking in his bed she folded the newspapers strewn about on the floor. Going to the kitchen she began heating water for the dishes. Minutes later, she returned to his bedroom. "Do you have enough reading material?"

"John brings up the paper each day and visits for awhile; also my cousin, Charles, occasionally brings me a book."

"I've never met your cousin, isn't he a doctor?"

"Yes, a good one too."

Marguerite glanced at Charley's alarm clock. "It's time to leave. Susan will be waiting in the buggy. She came over with me to do some shopping."

"Will you come again? It's been wonderful seeing you. Now I can chastise myself some more; what a fool I've been!" Reflecting, he added, "Perhaps it's just as well the way it turned out. You have a good man and I'll be meeting my maker. It's funny how things pan out."

"I'll try to get back, but I've a lot of obligations. Somehow I'll make it."

Descending the stairs from Charley's flat she was determined to see the barber and make sure that Charley was shaved and cleaned up.