Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sheriff Charley Brown: The Final Chapter

Well here we are, dear readers, at the final chapter of our tale. And a great tale it has been, about a real place, a real time, and real people. About our own history, told by a local man - a descendent of the main character. While it has a sad ending, there is joy and healing, too. But that is getting ahead of ourselves. It's better if you read it for yourselves...

After the dinner party on Tuesday evening, hosted by Ian and Susan, Marguerite was exhausted. She had been on the go since early morning. She had approached Susan late that evening about another trip to Pembina on Wednesday afternoon, but Susan had questioned. "Do you think it wise?"

"Look, I'm not in love with Charley any longer, but we have had our feelings. And many of them have not gone away. Perhaps it's fortunate we didn't marry, but you don't evade someone because they are sick. Charley has little time left, I just hope I can ease his mind a bit."

Susan conceded, "Then let's go over shortly after lunch. Most of the fieldwork is done, the men are now plowing and hauling grain. Ian's mother and I should be done feeding the crew and cleaning up by two o'clock. Are you going to take Paula along?"

Marguerite knew Susan had no suspicion of Paula's birth; her mother would never disclose that secret. "Perhaps I should, I'd like John Kabernagle and some of my friends in Pembina to see her. After all, I'm mighty proud of Paula!"

On Wednesday afternoon, after the chores were done, Susan put the light harness on their buggy horse. Paula was allowed to help Marguerite lift the shafts as Susan backed the horse to the two-seater.

Crossing on the ferry took only a short while, and Marguerite enjoyed the few minutes speaking with Trudo, the ferryman. When Susan swung the buggy around in front of Charley and John's saloon, John stepped from the door.

"I see there are three lovely ladies to see my partner today. Hello Susan! I hardly see you anymore."

"It's the harvest, John, I've been tied down feeding the threshers. How are Hannah and the girls?"

"Same as ever, Hannah is teaching, and the girls are looking forward to going away for more schooling." John bent to reach out his hand to Paula. "And who is this beautiful young lady who is chaperoning you two?"

Paula spoke up boldly, "My name is Paula Evans, and I'm two and a half years old!" She reached up to take John's hand.

John smiled, "My-my! Nearly three years already; you are growing up mighty fast."

Marguerite spoke up, "I want to show her off to Charley. Is the way clear, upstairs?"

John laughed, "I believe Doc Harris is up there with Charley, but go ahead anyway."

Entering Charley's rooms they heard voices from the bedroom. Marguerite spoke up forcefully, "Can we enter?"

Charley's raspy voice came, "Come in! Come in!"

As they entered the room the doctor was just folding his stethoscope. Charley spoke weakly, "Charles, this is Marguerite Evans and Susan McLaren. If I were to guess, I suspect this lovely little girl is Marguerite's daughter - they look alike. The ladies are old friends who have come to visit this old wreck. Girls, this is my cousin, Doctor Charles Harris."

After greetings were exchanged Paula looked at the doctor quizzically, "Are you a real doctor? I've never seen a real doctor. What is that thing in your hand?"

"Sit on the edge of this bed and I'll show you." Removing a handkerchief from his pocket he carefully wiped the earplugs. "Now I'll put this on your head and you can hear your heart beat." As he carefully put the plugs to her ears and the device to her chest, the expression on her face changed to wonderment.

She said, "It goes lip-tup, lip-tup."

Removing the stethoscope, the doctor said, "That is what your heart sounds like inside you. You can't hear it, but it's working all the time."

After a further minute or two of conversation the doctor left. Marguerite went into the kitchen to get a second chair. After a few minutes of conversation Susan felt unwanted, she finally stood and said, "I've got to stop at the druggist for mother. I'll see you outside when you're done visiting." Smiling at Charley, she added, "You three have a good visit."

Charley made a fuss over Paula; he was obviously surprised at her vocabulary and grasp of words. He bantered back and forth with her while Marguerite watched anxiously. She remembered only too well Charley's remark on Monday, when he had said; I wish she were my child. She had held her breath for moments after his utterance, afraid now that he might be as intuitive as her Mother. Thank the Lord, he was not.

After a half hour Marguerite mentioned that Susan was undoubtedly waiting for them. Paula seemed reluctant to leave, but finally she and Charley shook hands. The serious expression on their faces caused Marguerite concern.

As they were about to leave, he said to Paula, "Are you coming to see me again?'

Margurite spoke up, "I'll try again on Friday or Saturday, as we’re leaving on Monday. I want to see the Geroux's and some others here in town. I don't know when we'll ever get back to St. Vincent again, probably not for a year or more."

When she mentioned her meeting with Charley to her mother, her mother said nothing, just gazed at her without a word. Eventually another subject came up, and the moment passed. Marguerite had promised herself she would never disclose her secret, but was it fair to Charley? Would it make him any happier? If she did tell him, would he keep her secret?

After a half hour of reminiscing, she decided to visit him again on Friday afternoon.

On Thursday Marguerite and Susan visited on the St. Vincent side of the river. They also took a late afternoon lunch out to the men who were plowing. Ian teased Susan, "I suppose you'll expect us to plow late tonight." He turned to Marguerite, "She's a slave driver, but she keeps me honest."

Marguerite had mentioned to all that she would be going to make a last visit to see Charley on Friday afternoon. Her mother had responded, saying, "I would like to go along with you if you don't mind. I'll take the day off from work at the fort and spend a few moments with Charley, then I'll leave you two to mull things over."

Puzzled over her mother's sudden interest, Marguerite hoped her mother had no plans to interfere. As it turned out, Annette did make her excuses after a short visit, leaving the three deep in conversation. Paula on the edge of his bed was avidly studying Charley’s collection of miniature horses while he explained the detailing. Both Charley and Marguerite carefully sidestepped any mention of intimate moments they had shared, discussing the good times, and associations with friends. Charley confided some of his business interests, intimating his cousin Charles was to wind them up after he was gone.

When they parted, Charley insisted Paula take the two small wooden horses she admired the most. Clutching them to her chest she bent to give him a fleeting hug, then kissed him on the cheek. Marguerite, tears showing, bent over to smooth back his hair. Grasping his shoulders, she kissed him on the lips.

As they stood to leave, he murmured, "Those are the two best kisses I've ever had!”

All Friday night and Saturday Marguerite's conscience bothered her. It wasn't until Sunday, after church service, that she made her decision. She borrowed Ian and Susan's buggy and drove back over to see Charley. He was awake when she walked up to his rooms shortly after the noon hour. "I've come to see you a final time. I want to tell you something, but you've got to promise me to keep it a secret. You must swear to me never to divulge what I tell you."

He spoke jestingly, "I'll promise! I'll carry it to my grave. It must be important for you to see me again."

Marguerite's mind was in turmoil, tears began to show as she sat on the edge of his bed. She bent over to clutch him.

Confused, he asked, "What is it, dearest?"

She blurted out, "Paula is your daughter! After that picnic south of the fort, and that same night in this room, I became pregnant. I didn't know it until after I was in Chicago and was married. I've been at wit's end, whether or not to tell you."

For long seconds he was silent, absorbing it all, then he said, "So that's why she and I took to each other instantly, we're so much alike." He twisted his body to face her fully, "I'm proud of you both, and you are right. This must remain a secret. You have a successful marriage and a career to consider."

"Yes, my life with Paul has been a happy one, and as I told you, I am pregnant again."

He attempted to squeeze her hand. "I'm glad you told me, at least I'll be leaving a bit of me." He lay back weakly, musing, as if to himself, his voice hardly audible, "What a stupid man I was, not marrying this fine girl."

Marguerite could see he was drifting into sleep. When he was obviously asleep, she slipped away.

By Monday noon Marguerite and Paula were on their way to Chicago. That afternoon a large bouquet of wild flowers was delivered to Charley. The printing was crude, printed in large block letters. It simply read, “Paula” ...

AUTHOR’S NOTE

PEMBINA PIONEER EXPRESS, October 18, l884 Obituary Notice - Charles J. Brown. Although for weeks the demise of C.J.Brown was looked for almost hourly, yet the news of his death last Saturday evening cast a gloom over the town and county. Looking back a few short months it seems but yesterday when we saw him in full health and vigor, attending to the duties of his office as Sheriff of Pembina County, but the place which knew him once shall no more. The subject of the sketch was born at Berlinsburg, West Virginia, August 14, l845. His father, Thomas Brown was sheriff of Berkley County, W. Virginia, for twelve years, and his grandfather on his mother's side was Admiral Boarman of the U.S. Navy. In l861 he enlisted as a soldier and served till the end of the war, and although he fought in many bloody battles, was captured and imprisoned, he escaped without a wound. At the close of the war he engaged in mercantile pursuits in his native state, but only for a year, when he again enlisted as soldier at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His regiment was transferred to Fort Pembina in the year l870. In l875 he left the Army and his subsequent life in Pembina County is too well known to require further detail. The funeral last Monday was very largely attended, people assembling from all parts of the county to show their respect for the deceased. The body was interred with Masonic honors, and a company of soldiers from Fort Pembina also joined the procession. Of Chas J. Brown it may be said, he had many friends and few enemies. In his official capacity he never showed a disposition to render any harsher the decrees of the law which it was his duty to execute. With pronounced criminals he was decided and prompt in his treatment, but an element of misfortune always awakened his sympathy and consideration.

Card of thanks: I desire to thank the many kind friends who assisted me in my hour of trouble, the Masonic fraternity, the military and others, who so kindly performed the last sad rites in honor of my deceased son. Mrs. E. R. Brown.

POSTSCRIPT

During my high school years I was raised by my Grandfather, Doctor Charles Boarman Harris, and my Grandmother, Katherine. They were very secretive about Charley's daughter, due to their strict, moral standards. However, I did discover that Charley, just prior to his passing, had charged my Grandfather with the final disposition of his assets, the proceeds to be sent to the young girl for her education and use. That was many years ago. At the time of my teens, she would have been nearly 48 years of age.

Although my grandparents had lost track of her over the years, they often spoke kindly of both she and her Mother. I often heard them express concern over her life, and possible children she may have had.

Charles H. Walker, author of Sheriff Charley Brown