Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bordertowns: Chapter 5

Jerold was proud of the three mules Ian had purchased. They pulled well together and were fast becoming pets. Occasionally Jerold would pick small bunches of the delicate sweet-grass and hold it out to them. Their flop ears stood straight as they vied with one another, greedily stretching their necks to seize the morsel from his hand. The new breaking plow was his joy, and after each day's use, he wiped the gleaming share with an oily rag to prevent rust; then he carefully greased the wheels.

At his request Ian approached a local blacksmith, and together Ian and the smith made a twelve-foot harrow with an oak frame and steel teeth. Jerold was determined to fall plow the next year's acreage quota in addition to the oat land which he would cut for their future winter's hay. He reasoned the frost would break up the large lumps by spring. Harrowing it then would form a good seedbed for the future crop. When his father agreed with his suggestion, Jerold's face beamed.

Mary or Jerold frequently checked Mike while he herded the cows, never letting him know he was being watched. Both knew there was little danger to the boy, for there were no poisonous snakes in the area. In addition, Mike was warned time and again to always remain within sight of the village.

Early that fall Patrick and Ian, along with several of the grading crew, were taken off the scraper work and employed removing and stockpiling rails from river barges and huge piles previously stacked along the riverbank. They were told the final leveling of the roadbed would be left until spring. Toward the end of October, work finally ran out and the crew was laid off with a promise of being rehired in early spring. Ian was only too glad to be released. He was sick of the foreman, Brogan, who had repeatedly ridiculed him with disparaging remarks, often using foul language. Ian found himself gritting his teeth, barely able to control his temper. He feared losing his job, knowing any display of anger ending in fisticuffs would automatically result in his being fired and blacklisted. Patrick felt fortunate in driving his own team, a team he had raised from colts while in Orillia. A young team true, but well trained by him and the boys. He noticed that the foreman vented his wrath only on the younger men, perhaps afraid the more experienced would take him to task. He felt relieved at his layoff, for preparations had to be made for the coming winter. The house needed banking, the barn needed repairs, and the few acres of oat hay had to be hauled in from his land in the States.

Maggy’s pregnancy was now obvious. She found she suffered the same back pains she had endured during past pregnancies. Jerold was her savior, often doing household chores in addition to his outside duties. "Mother, I've plenty of time. You rest -- there's lots of help."

A young lieutenant from the American fort, Kirby Ralston, stopped by occasionally to visit Mary. He had introduced himself while on a routine border patrol, stopping to ask her name. He was tall, handsome and courteous; Maggy secretly thought him ideal for Mary's future. When Maggy made a chance remark in his presence about the shortage of whitewash, the next patrol passing by dropped off a mixture of lime, whiting and adhesive.

Patrick built a hayrack for their wagon, and the men hauled and stacked over thirty tons of hay against their cattle shed. After the hay was up, the men went stateside to cut the winter's firewood from the land grant. The trees along the river were mostly oak, ash and elm, with a sprinkling of poplar. Every deadfall was picked up and several large ash trees were cut and corded. Patrick remarked to Jerold, "It only takes three big ash trees to make a cord of wood. It'll burn green without forming Creosote in the chimney. We'll have to cut the oak early in the spring for next winter's use. It'll be dry by fall."

By chance, while stopping at the St. Vincent lumberyard, the proprietor, Nixon, introduced Ian to a fur buyer from St. Paul. "Ian, this man is a representative of Abram Furs from the cities. He is seeking someone in the area to act as a fur buyer. Would you be interested? It's strictly a wintertime job."

"I could use the money, but I know nothing about buying furs."

The Abrams representative smiled. "Not to worry. Two years ago I was in the same boat, but it's not a difficult trade to learn. All it takes is common sense." Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew several cards. Handing one to Ian, he said, "These are the prices you should pay for prime pelts, but only prime. If you'll take the job, I'll give you a hasty education, here and now. I'll buy all the pelts you can garner this winter and pick them up in St. Vincent. My next trip will be early in January. You'll buy only on the U.S. side of the line, east and west of the Red River.”

The thought ran through Ian's mind, if this man learned how to buy furs, so can I. Eyeing the buyer, he said, "I'll take the job."

"Good! Now come outside. I've some furs in my buggy that I'll show you." For the next hour the buyer thumbed through various pelts. All were prime, or nearly so, but he showed Ian how to detect green hides by color of the skin. He also clued him in on worthless hides, by the loose, shedding or discolored hair. After completing his instruction, he said, "You'll have to finance yourself until I return. That's customary. You'll find our company reliable; Mr. Nixon will vouch for my honesty." Studying Ian carefully, he added, "There are furs to be had on the Canadian side of the border. They may gravitate to you, but don't get involved in smuggling. It's a mighty temptation, but we'll disown you if you are caught."

That afternoon Ian stopped at McRae's blacksmith shop in Emerson, the smith who had assisted him in making the harrow for Jerold. He mentioned accepting the offer of the fur buyer, but said worriedly, "The thing that bothers me is that I don't know any of the breeds and Indians around the area."

"Might be able to help you there." McRae began to smile. That is, if you can stand the man's smell. He's a breed, a Chippewa, almost looks white. He's a Mide. Know what that means?"

"Some kind of witch doctor?"

"Just about. It's a society of the Indians, organized to preserve the traditions and to give the ambitious a good living at the expense of others of the tribe." He laughed, "Something like the Orange Lodge and the Masons."

"Anyway, he's supposed to be a fourth degree, entitled to be called a Midewewan. He’s supposed to have magic powers, able to change into an animal or bird, if you can believe that crap. He's a shaman to his people, and well respected and obeyed by the local Indians and breeds. He hangs around here most afternoons, usually late in the day." McRae smiled sheepishly. "My fault, for I feed and share a bottle with him now and again." Turning momentarily to pump the bellows of the forge, he added, "Don't know his last name, but everyone calls him Pete, just Pete. He stays in St. Vincent with old man Grant."

"Will he work for me?"

"He might; he's usually broke. Why don't you come back later in the day? He may show up."

When Ian returned just before dark, he found McRae bending strips of iron on the toe of his anvil. Ian recognized the pieces he was bending to be future horseshoes. A ragged, hunched-up figure sat silently watching McRae.

"Ian, this is Pete." McRae nodded toward the man.

Pete's face was expressionless, and his gaze remained upon McRae, even after the introduction. Ian noted the broad, powerful shoulders, the shapeless coat, and the trousers tucked into high-laced moccasins. The man's face was burnished a tan color; his black hair hung carelessly from beneath a dirty stocking cap. The coppery cheeks were devoid of hair, but his lower chin showed a few sparse, black whiskers, indicating some white heritage. Ian detected a cunning expression on his face and sensed the potentiality for brutality in his makeup.

"Will you work for me? I'm going to buy furs." As he asked, Ian wondered how long it had been since the man had a bath and a change of clothes.

The breed, Pete, finally gazed at him. "You feed and pay?"

Ian nodded. "I'll feed you and pay you what you're worth."

"When start?"

"Tomorrow. I live by the boundary . . . "

"Know where you live. I be there in morning."

Pete stood slowly and held out his hand. A slow smile came to his face. Ian guessed his newly hired man to be a bit over six feet in height and approximately forty-five years of age.

McRae ceased bending the horseshoe on the anvil horn to say, "You've got your man, now try to keep him sober." He grinned at Pete in a conspiratorial manner. Ian noted the sly grin that appeared on the Indian's face.

Habitually, Ian was the first to arise each morning to start the kitchen fire and make coffee. Even before he entered the kitchen the following morning, he detected a strange, smoky odor. There, sitting by the kitchen door, was Pete. He had quietly entered the house sometime during the early hours and seated himself on the short bench by the door.

Wordlessly, Ian lighted the kindling in the stove and filled the coffee pot with water. Measuring out coffee beans, he dropped them into the small grinder and turned the crank. Finally he added the grindings to the pot. Pete watched his every move without speaking.

Moments later, the creaking of a bed could be heard, then slow footsteps on the stairs. When Patrick entered the kitchen, still tugging on his trousers, he saw Pete. He exclaimed, "What the hell?"

Ian grinned. "My hired man. I told you about him last night."

Patrick attempted to cover his surprise by pretending indifference. Then, obviously curious, he asked Pete, "How did you get into the house without making a sound?"

Pete said nothing, but pointed to his moccasins. Patrick shook his head in wonder, finally turning to the cupboard for cups. Later, when he told Maggy about it, she exclaimed, "Lord, Pat, we could be murdered in our beds!"

The sun had aged, becoming weak when the first snowflakes came on November 20. Hours later the wind came out of the northwest with a fury, discouraging all outdoors work. Visibility dropped to zero for the following two days. It was after this first storm that Patrick loosened his purse to purchase sheepskin coats for each member of the family. He also bought a second Swede saw, and the boys began cutting the stacked cordwood into stove lengths. Neighbors warned of the necessity to keep at least a week's supply of wood by the back door for emergencies.

The high price of coal oil, one dollar a gallon, resulted in only one lamp being used in the evenings when supper was over. Mary was again teaching, so she was usually crowded close to the feeble light, studying and planning for the next day. Only recently she and Mr. Baldwin had paid a visit to one of the town founders, Mr. Fairbanks. They complained about a lack of books, supplies and a proper blackboard for the school. Their request met with some success, for two weeks later a huge slate was delivered and attached to an inside wall of the schoolroom.

Mike's pet badger, now fully grown, was put into the small chicken house with the birds, supposedly to hibernate for the winter. The animal slept, but only periodically, waking each time the birds were fed. On one occasion Mike allowed the badger to follow him back to the house. While no one was watching, his pet tore open a 100-pound sack of flour. The resulting mess caused his firm banishment to the chicken house for the remainder of the winter.

Winter boredom set in and Patrick began to carve duck decoys from chunks of soft poplar stove wood. Discussions were held on how they should be painted. Ian suggested the color of mallards, but Jerold disagreed. "There are just as many pintails and spoonbills as mallards on the lake and river. Why not paint some of each?"

Patrick looked from one son to the other. "I'll carve an even dozen. You two can do the painting."

Shaggy coats appeared on the horses and mules as nature provided protection against the cold. Twice a week Jerold harnessed the horses and, using a homemade sled, loaded and spread the manure on the garden area. The milk cows were fed, watered and milked in the barn to protect them from the intense cold. Only when the temperature moderated, or when Jerold cleaned the barn, were they allowed outside.

Early in the winter snow was melted for washing and drinking water. Evaporation from the snow kept moisture in the house, aiding the family's comfort. In December the men joined neighbors in cutting ice from the Red River, keeping a load of the crystal-clear blocks stacked on sawhorses near the back door. When Mike questioned the wisdom of raising the heavy blocks of ice off the ground, Patrick laughed. "Dogs, son, dogs. We don't want yellow ice."

Melting snow for water required prodigious amounts of crystals, while the ice required very little space, being water in a solid form. Mike was hard pressed to understand why the muddy river water froze into the clear, glassy form. He was skeptical of Mary's explanation that only the water would freeze, excluding the dirt particles.

The Presbyterian Church started a Sunday school and Mary volunteered to take over the youngest of the children. Reverend Scott managed to obtain drawings to illustrate the biblical stories, making it more interesting for the youngsters.

After several unsuccessful tries, Jerold managed to construct a snow igloo for Mike. He found hard-packed snow necessary to form the building blocks. Even so, it was Ian's hired man, Pete, who aided and advised him on the construction. Jerold laughingly admitted to his father, "I cheated; I used water to freeze the blocks together.

Ian began buying furs in early November, often visiting the breeds and Indians on the west side of the river. His Métis helper thought nothing of venturing long distances through the snow to a shack, tepee, or one of the dugouts along the river. Most of Pete's friends lived at the Indian camp located north of Pembina, and seemingly through them, he was able to contact others.

Pete's only problem, other than his smoky odor, was the strong drink occasionally consumed at stops made to buy furs. Ian found himself spending an occasional night away from home, sometimes due to the distance traveled, but often because of Pete's inability to walk after getting drunk. He knew Pete's road to hell was paved with good intentions, but when he was drunk, he was irresponsible. Ian knew that to refuse any hospitality offered by Métis or Indians would be taken as an insult, but he soon learned how to decline the liquor with courtesy, and not linger too long at any one stop. Pete, on the other hand, would loiter as long as any liquor remained in a bottle or jug.

Traveling the twenty miles west to Smuggler's Point by horse or snowshoes involved spending the night, the snow being deep on the prairie; especially deep where the tall grass held the drifting snow. After the first thaws in early spring problems were encountered; ice forming on the surface of the snow cut into the horse's forelegs.

To his surprise Ian found the Indians in awe of Pete, and they often broke into a chant when he and Ian visited their camps. Ian also found the Indians very superstitious. To them it seemed that anything out of the ordinary bordered on the occult. The only conclusion Ian could reach was that both the Indians and breeds accepted Pete as some sort of medicine man.

The quantity of furs that began to come into his possession made Ian suspect that many were smuggled across the border from Canada. Yet, he felt no guilt, for he deemed anything he purchased stateside as legal.

One evening in late November, Pete insisted upon Ian's stopping at Joseph Grant's house, where Pete lived. It was late and Ian was anxious to reach home before total darkness. Pete was insistent, saying, "You'll see. You'll see."

Ian's objections ceased when he glimpsed Grant's youngest daughter Susan. Although she was of a mixed race, she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She was tall and slender, very fair-skinned and shapely, with a mischievous smile. He was instantly smitten and could scarcely keep his eyes from her. Unfortunately, she went to bed that evening before he could speak with her. From the general conversation that ensued, Ian learned that Susan had an older sister named Marguerite. She was being sparked by the sheriff from Pembina and was away at the time. His next visits to the Grant home were frustrating; in spite of his every effort to speak to Susan, either her father or mother rebuffed him.

Ian guessed Joseph Grant's age at nearly 70. His skin had the thin-translucent look of the aged. The droop of his shoulders and forward pitch of his head were readily noticeable.

Joseph's wife, Annette, was much younger, possibly in her early 40's. Her complexion was light and clear, and she retained an attractive face and shapely body. She was quite youthful looking, to Ian's thinking. He mentally questioned the difference in their ages and was puzzled. It didn't make sense to him.

Pete detected Ian's interest in Susan during that first visit, and teasingly whispered, "Pretty girl! Pretty young!"

Ian glanced at Pete suspiciously, guessing that it had been his intention all along that he see Susan. You schemer! He thought. He smiled to himself as he whispered back, "Beautiful girl! Almost old enough to marry!"

On December l0 Ian picked up the mail on his way home for dinner. In addition to the St. Paul Globe newspaper, there was a letter for Mary. She felt her heart beating wildly as she tore open the seal.
December 7, l877


Dearest Mary,

Absence does make the heart grow fonder! I will see you before Christmas if all go as planned. So many of our surveyors quit this past summer due to the trying circumstances of weather, mosquitoes and sickness, that we remaining few must bear the burden of completing the work. We arrived in the city yesterday and are endeavoring to finish our maps.

Thank the Lord! I am to be assigned to the Selkirk-Emerson route this coming spring. It will mean all the world to me, for I will be able to see you frequently. My stay with you over Christmas will be limited, as we never seem to catch up on work. I hope to spend almost a week with you, hopefully longer.

From your letters I gather your family home is small and crowded. Don't make any special preparations, since I've already written to the Hutchison Hotel for a room. I can hardly wait to see you again. I should arrive there a day or two before Christmas.

All my love!

Her fantasizing over the letter that afternoon, as she read it over and over, was interrupted by the sound of a horse approaching the house. The rhythmic crunching of its hooves could be heard clearly on the path outside. Hastily stretching a shawl over her shoulders, she opened the door to see a heavily bundled man astride a steaming horse. It was the tall, smiling Lieutenant Kirby Ralston from the fort. Stepping down from the horse, he casually tossed the reins to the ground and began tugging at his heavy mittens. Noting the reserved look on her face, he said mildly, "Golly, I flattered myself into thinking that you'd be glad to see me."

For a moment Mary was at a loss for words. Then she smiled. "Oh, Kirby, I am glad to see you! You know you're always welcome here! Come inside . . . it must have been a cold ride from the fort. It's way below zero."

"One moment." Turning back to his horse, he removed a blanket from behind the saddle and spread it over the animal, prudently securing it. When he had completed the chore, he followed Mary into the house.

Maggy looked up from the table where she had been putting her hair up into a bun. From her relaxed posture and form, it was obvious the baby would be arriving soon.

"Hello, Kirby! Don't worry about the snow on your boots. We need the moisture in the house. Have some time off?" She studied the tall lieutenant's face, knowing well that he was in pursuit of her daughter. From prior visits he had impressed her with his courtesy and knowledge. She knew he was a recent graduate of West Point and the son of an influential eastern family. Secretly, she determined to do everything in her power to push her daughter in his direction. Turning to Mary, she suggested, "Why don't you start tea?"

Mary knew her mother favored Kirby, but although he was a fine figure of a man, he didn't excite her, as did Robert. Going to the cupboard, she casually lifted the plates to hide Robert's letter under them. While Kirby seated himself across from her mother, she filled the kettle and moved it to the hottest part of the stove. Tea, to her mother, had become a social amenity, necessitating careful brewing and steeping, with attention to sugar and milk. Her mother liked lemon with her tea, but none were available just now.

"What's new at the fort, and in Pembina?" Maggy’s winter confinement made her eager for news.

"The usual. A stolen horse and a few frozen ears and toes." He laughed as he removed his heavy coat. "The sheriff took after the horse thief. It was George Parker's animal. The fool left it tied in front of the Double Decker saloon while he caroused with his cronies." He shook his head. "Sheriff Brown will catch the thief before he gets to Grand Forks. All he has to do is follow the tracks in the snow."

Mary picked three matching bone china cups from the varied assortment on the shelf and poured the fragrant tea. Kirby appraised her quietly, realizing he had never expected to find such a stunning girl in a prairie town. Why, she would light up any room, even his folk's home in Washington. He waited for her to sit down. "Mary, I've come to invite you to the Christmas Eve Ball at the fort." Glancing at Maggy, he added, "Maggy, you and your husband are also invited. Captain Collins has entrusted me with your invitation." Reaching into his blouse, he withdrew a small envelope and placed it before her. "There are over 100 invitations being sent out, many to folks in Emerson. It's to be a formal ball."

Maggy’s eyes glowed as she opened the envelope. She knew that the honor of this invitation was due to Kirby. "Oh, Kirby, you know Pat and I can't come. The baby is due at the end of January." Reflecting, she added, "It would be nice if we could be there to watch. Oh pshaw! It probably wouldn't work out." Turning to Mary, she exclaimed, "Just think, your first formal ball! You and Kirby will have a wonderful time. The officers will all be in dress uniform and the ladies in evening gowns."

Mary wished she could magically disappear. Her hopes were being shattered; she wanted to spend Christmas with Robert. Kirby was kind and sincere, and probably fine husband material, but he was not for her. She ran her forefinger around the edge of the teacup. The long silence that ensued was almost embarrassing.

"Well, what about it?" her mother demanded.

She could feel her temper rising. "Mother, I promised Robert I'd spend the holidays with him. He's coming at Christmas time and I can't let him down."

Kirby's disappointment was obvious. Then he suddenly brightened. "Well, if he is here on Christmas Eve, I'll invite him and we'll both escort you to the ball!"

"Would you?" Her face suddenly lit up. "In that case I'll gladly accept." She noted the look of chagrin on her mother's face and sought to defuse the tension. "Mother, I wish you and Father would go. Perhaps we could arrange it.”

Kirby was talkative and seemingly forgot the uncomfortable moment. From then on he and Maggie virtually monopolized further conversation. Mary relaxed to gather her thoughts. Perhaps Robert won't want to go to the ball. Even so, it would be unfair of me not to tell him of Kirby's invitation. Why did this situation have to happen? And the very first time I've been invited to a party at the fort. She could feel tears of frustration forming.

Late that afternoon, after Kirby had returned to Pembina, Mary walked to Trayner's millinery and apparel store on Main Street. The small door stood between two large display windows. The building itself was long and narrow, with a single aisle. Glass cabinets stood on either side, displaying lace, ribbons and all matter of trim for gowns and dresses. Although she had saved very little of her teaching money, she determined to have a stylish gown for the coming occasion. After minutes spent selecting a pattern, she settled on a rose silk material. Then seeds of doubt encompassed her. The material was expensive, and the fine stitching required a skill beyond her ability. Besides, she realized there were only a few days left until Christmas. A quick glance indicated that the dressmaker was behind in her work; several partially finished gowns hung in sight. Addressing the owner, she said, "Miss Trayner, I need a gown for the Christmas Eve Ball at Fort Pembina. How much would it cost and would you have time to make it for me?"

The small, short, bespectacled woman eyed Mary intently. At first she saw an image of herself, of decades ago. She noted with distaste the sheepskin coat and faded wool scarf. But it was the oval face and perfect creamy complexion, set off glossy black hair that won her over. Lordy, this child is a beauty! And her stature! Irish, of course, but she has no brogue. Her family hasn't much, goodness--they just moved here last summer. She's certainly not getting much pay as a teacher at the school. She can hardly afford my prices. How can I tell her that it's just impossible for me to squeeze in another customer?

Slowly an idea came to mind and she began to smile. Lately the demands on her time by the social set of Emerson were wearing on her. In fact, she was becoming irritated at the constant clamors to hurry, hurry, hurry. She would defy the elite of the community and turn this young Aphrodite into a princess. She would play Venus and bring this plain girl to life. It would be like the story of Pygmalion. Reaching out to touch Mary's shoulder reassuringly, she said, "Wait a moment. I have an idea."

Walking to the back room, she disappeared, to return within moments with a large box. After wiping away the dust, she cut the cords and raised the lid. Reaching inside she carefully lifted out a yellow silk dress. Examining it minutely, she smiled. “It's kept to perfection; it hasn't faded a bit." Handing it to Mary, she advised, "Go into the back room and try it on. It's closing time. I'll draw the curtains and lock the door."

After removing her heavy coat and sliding her wool dress off over her head, Mary felt uncomfortable. She was ashamed of her thin cotton chemise, high wool socks and boots. Carefully she sought the bottom of the silk dress and hurriedly slid it down over her shoulders. Seconds later, Miss Trayner rejoined her and began to hook the long row of small buttons at the back of the dress.

"Hold still, Mary, I don't want to pinch you. Ah! It's just as I thought. It fits to perfection. A little tight in the bosom, but that's to the best."

Mary could feel the tight enclosure of her breasts and buttocks under the yellow silk and turned partially to view herself in the oval mirror. She almost blushed when she saw the snug fit of glimmering silk over her bottom, and just below, the billowing, swirling, and circular full hemline brushing the floor. Turning to face the mirror fully, she was shocked to see most of her cleavage daringly revealed. Why, but for her chemise she would have been exposed nearly to her nipples! The gown actually hung from her upper arms, for her shoulders were completely bare, showing an expanse of creamy white flesh. Startled, she interjected aloud, "Oh, Heavens! Mother will be shocked if I wear this!"

"Hold still. Don't move!" The seamstress ignored her outburst and walked to the front of the store, returning with a double strand of imitation pearls. As she fastened the clasp behind Mary's neck, she said, "I'll lend these to you; they'll balance the neckline." Stepping back, she studied Mary critically. "There's still something missing. You'll need a pair of small curved combs or a clasp comb to set off your long hair and add to your height. Here, I'll show you." Stepping behind Mary, she bunched the heavy, long hair upright in her clenched fist, letting it fall to the rear, down over Mary's shoulders. "It adds to your height and poise, almost like a crown, you might say."

In the looking glass Mary could see the effect it created. She remembered her mother's Spanish combs. Perhaps she could borrow them. A sudden feeling of dismay came over her. "I can't buy this dress Miss Trayner. It must cost a fortune!"

The small woman looked at her intently. "My name is Emily . . . please call me that in the future. After all, we'll be seeing each other often." Turning partially away, she said, "I made that dinner dress for my niece when we lived in Toronto. She never wore it; she died during the diphtheria epidemic of '70."

Noting tears forming on the wrinkled cheeks, Mary gathered the small woman to her. Moments later, the seamstress pulled away. Finding a handkerchief, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose violently. "There now! That's over with."

Looking up, she said, "I'll be proud if you'll wear the gown. It's yours now; I don't want to keep it any longer; it holds too many memories." Then her personality changed dramatically; she was all business. "You'll need slippers and a wrap to match. Slippers are no problem. Mr. Suffel, the shoemaker, has them in a variety of colors. But a wrap . . . oh my!"

Mary was overwhelmed by the gift, but reasoned aloud, "It's so cold now, Miss Trayner -- I mean Emily! -- I'd be forced to wear a heavy coat when we travel to the fort. Perhaps I can wear a loose sweater under the coat to protect the dress -- or I could put it on at the fort. I still don't know what mother will say. The dress is gorgeous, but it's so mature. I've never worn anything so beautiful. It frightens me!"

"Ah, youth, and your first ball! Perhaps it's a bit daring." She grasped the front of the bodice and raised it slightly. "I'll take in the flare at the shoulders to conceal a bit." She tittered nervously. "It's not what's revealed; it's what's concealed."

Quickly she stepped behind the counter and returned with elbow-length, yellow gloves that matched the dress. "Try these on for size. You'll need a pair and you shall pay for them." Firmly, she added, "After all, I've a store to run, and it must support me."

In gratitude Mary impulsively hugged the small woman and kissed her cheek. "I don't know what to say, but thank you! Thank you!"

After re-dressing and shrugging her arms into her heavy coat, Mary wrapped her scarf over her head, tucking the ends under her coat collar. She was about to close the door when she heard Miss Trayner's parting words, "Come in tomorrow and we'll do a final fitting. Then you can take it home for your mother's approval. I'll bet she'll love it."

Stepping to the street, Mary turned toward home, her mind a hodgepodge of thoughts. Seconds later she became aware of a huge, heavily-bearded man standing in front of the corner tavern. A peculiar feeling of fear came over her for it was nearing dark. As she approached the saloon, the man made no effort to step aside; instead, he held out his arms to stop her. Her first reaction was that the man was drunk. Alarmed, she attempted to pass around him, but he easily blocked her movement and grasped at her arm. The feel of his fingers revolted her and she jerked free.

In a gruff voice he said, "Whoa now, girly! Let's have a look at you." For a brief moment he studied her face, and then said, "I know you from somewhere."

She ducked quickly under his outstretched arm and ran. She heard his laughter from behind, and at a safe distance cast a look back at him. He was facing her with a vacuous expression on his face. It wasn't until she was nearly home that she felt safe.

That evening when her father and Ian came home for supper, Mary related her experience with the stranger. Ian broke in angrily, "It could have been that foreman, Brogan. You say he was a big man, and heavily bearded? Was his head canted to one side?"

"I don't remember. I was so frightened."

"If it was Brogan, I'd like to deform him!" Ian was furious.

"Easy, son, he'll get his due some day. He'll find the wrong man to insult." Patrick was angered at first, but Maggie reached over to take his hand. At her reassuring squeeze, he turned to her and smiled, returning the pressure.

It was after Maggy and Mary had gone to bed that Ian managed to converse alone with his father. "I've heard talk that Brogan came from eastern Canada, and that he arrived here shortly after we did."

Patrick said grimly, "I've heard it too, and I can guess what you're thinking. You believe he could be the one who attacked your sister, eh?"

"It's possible, Pa. He has that crooked neck."

"Just a shot in the dark, but there's no proof; and even if we had it, what could we do?" He continued, "It's remotely possible, but very likely improbable. We'll bide our time and tend to our work. Justice usually works out in strange ways.

"There's another thing I wanted to bring up, for I'm guilty too. We've got to learn to control our rage and frustration." He hesitated, "Perhaps time will temper us. Pa always said haste creates stupid judgments and brings about the worst decisions."