Tuesday, November 03, 2009

BORDERTOWNS: Chapter 12

Maggy's pains began on the last Sunday in January, just after she had gone to bed. Patrick had taken off his shirt and was preparing to remove his shoes.

"Pat, put your shirt back on. It's my time."

He turned to see the grimace on her face, her fingers spread tensely over her abdomen.

"Ian is still up. I'll send him to St. Vincent for Susan's Mother. Susan said she would come, remember?"

"Of course I remember; it's what we planned. She'd be better than Mrs. Cowan. I can't depend upon Mary, she's too young. Besides, she has no experience. Let the children sleep." Her body stiffened and her fingers clenched tightly into fists. "Oh, Lordy! This one is lasting a long time." She gasped, "Get Ian on the way! The pains started an hour ago, but I though it was false labor. It's the real thing now; the pains are coming closer together and lasting longer."

When Patrick reached the bottom of the stairs, Ian saw the distressed look on his face. Instinctively, he sensed the problem. "Is the baby coming? Should I go for Annette?"

Patrick nodded as he grasped his coat. "Put the young team on the bobsled. I'll go out to help you harness up. Be sure you take robes for the woman's comfort. Its well below zero, but the wind seems to be down. You should be able to make it back within a couple of hours."

"I'll do a lot better than that!" Ian was tugging on his boots even as Patrick donned his buckle over shoes.

Within minutes the team was harnessed and backed to the sleigh. While Ian raised the tongue and hooked up the neck yoke, Patrick fastened the tugs. Climbing hurriedly into the sleigh-box, Ian urged the team into a fast trot.

Re-entering the house, Patrick added wood to the stove, then awoke Mary. "Your Mother is about to have the baby. Sit with her and keep her company. Ian has gone for Susan's Mother. They should be back soon."

Patrick had enough knowledge of birthing to lay out lye soap and heat a kettle of water. Rummaging through Maggy's prepared bag for the event, he found washcloths, clean sheets, diapers and baby clothing. Returning upstairs, Mary was sitting on the edge of the bed holding her mother's hand. Maggy was smiling at her daughter, apparently in an effort to reassure her.

"It's just a matter of two or three hours, darling. I'm fine, but I will have some temporary pain delivering the baby." She added, "It's not a new thing to me. After all, I carried you and your three brothers."

Mary's return smile was sickly; it was apparent she was apprehensive and unsure.

Ian returned with Susan's mother within an hour. After removing her coat, the woman banished Patrick from the bedroom, and then bade Mary fetch a washbowl of warm water, with washcloth and soap. She immediately bathed Maggy thoroughly, and then raised her hips to place a thick cotton pad beneath her pelvis and thighs. With a wad of cotton she then swabbed Maggy's stomach, thighs and genitals with a strong smelling liquid Mary suspected was alcohol. Finally she seemed satisfied, and, seating herself on the side of the bed opposite Mary, said softly, "Now we wait."

Maggy felt confident in her delivery now that Annette was present. She guessed her midwife to be nearly forty years of age, yet she had a smooth, clear face, without the sign of a wrinkle. She realized that this Metis woman must have been exceptionally attractive when she was young. In fact, she showed very little trace of Indian blood. Maggy judged she would still be quite attractive if she would devote a little more attention to her hair. She was satisfied with her appraisal of Annette, for it explained Susan's flawless complexion and delicate features. She wondered what Susan's father looked like.

Nearly a half hour elapsed before the Métis woman leaned forward to exclaim to Maggy, "You're beginning to show." She pointed out the pinkish discharge to Mary, who sat as if mesmerized.

It was nearly two hours later when a sudden gush of water came from the birth canal and the contractions came close upon each other. Maggy soon dilated sufficiently so that a portion of the baby's head finally became visible. When the final pains came, Maggy fiercely gripped the iron rungs of the headboard behind her. Beads of sweat stood out on her forehead; her hair seemed to cling to her temples, damp and lax. She was determined not to cry out as the intensity of the contractions increased, not wanting to frighten Mary. Each time that the pain became almost unbearable, she gritted her teeth to choke off any groan. Prior experience taught her to bear down strongly when Annette's voice and hands encouraged her. In moments the full head appeared and seconds later, the shoulders. Then, as Annette supported the babe's head, the body emerged as if pushed by a hidden force.

Even as Annette wiped the child's face, the small bundle began to writhe and snuffle. Then came a husky wail.

"It's a fine girl! A perfect girl!" Annette held up the child for Maggy's approval.

Maggy smiled weakly. "Her name will be Kathleen after Pat's mother, but I'll call her Kate. She's just what I wanted."

Annette lowered the baby and completed wiping it dry. Then she held it out to Mary. "Hold her while I cut the cord." Tying a string around the umbilical cord within inches of the infant's stomach, Annette severed the attachment, then quickly twisted a knot into the remaining end. She lifted her eyes to smile at Mary. "Now give the baby to your Mother."

For moments Mary continued to hold the baby, seemingly unable to part with her. The love that swelled from her for this tiny, but perfect body was total and instant. The crying she ignored. It was the occasional glimpse of the blue eyes as they opened, then clenched tightly shut, that charmed her. Little Kate's hair was coal black and surprisingly long for a newborn. The small, pink but wrinkled face that changed expression with every lusty howl fascinated Mary. Finally, as if realizing her reaction, she held out the child to her mother. The feeling came from her heart when she said, "Oh, Mother, she's beautiful!"

Maggy smiled at Mary as she raised the blanket from her bosom and guided the baby between her breasts. Almost instantly the small hands and mouth began groping.

"Oh Ma!" Mary exclaimed excitedly. "She's hungry already. I'll get Pa! He'll want to see her."

"Not yet; there is more to do." Annette was suddenly busy with the lining membranes. As the placenta came, she carefully rolled the discharge in the pad, effectively concealing it. Rising, she carried the bundle and the washbasin downstairs to the kitchen. Pausing momentarily beside Patrick, she smiled. "You have a lovely daughter. Your wife is fine; you can see them both in a few minutes.

Patrick and Ian exchanged smiles at the good news as Annette disposed of the pad in the kitchen stove. Then she dumped the soiled water from the basin, refilling it with fresh warm water. Returning upstairs she cleaned Maggy thoroughly. After drying her, she pulled the blanket up to Maggy's breast, partially covering the baby. Smiling at Mary, she said proudly, "Now you can call the men to come and look."

Patrick was the first up the stairs, closely followed by Ian. He leaned over to examine the child, and then he laughed aloud. "Thank the Lord she looks like you!" He tenderly pushed back the damp hair from Maggy's temple. "Good job, love! She's a big one!" He bent over to kiss Maggy's cheek, then, easing his weight beside her, took her hand in both of his. Looking into her eyes, he could see the warmness and tenderness. Her hair was spread in splendid disarray upon the pillow, emphasizing the proud look of accomplishment upon her face. More like a halo, he thought. The cost of bringing forth the child was etched on her features, yet her calm strength brought a feeling of pride to him. She was a woman and wife to be proud of!

A noise in the hall caused all heads to turn toward the doorway. Jerold entered the room, followed by a sleepy Mike who was rubbing his eyes. When the small youngster examined the now sleeping baby, he announced emphatically, "She's my new sister; I'm going to take care of her."

Jerold smiled at the youngster and put his arm around his shoulders. "You mean we're all going to take care of her."

Finally Annette shooed the family back to bed, then said aside to Patrick. "I'll stay the balance of the night. She is fine, but I think its best. Ian can take me home in the morning."

"Annette, we're grateful for your help. We've a lot to thank you for. If you stay up, I'll not sleep either. I'll make us coffee." Patrick was smiling.

She returned his smile. It was apparent she was tired. "That would be fine. It will shorten the night and help me stay awake."

Ian and his father remained in the kitchen long after the rest of the family had gone back to bed. They were discussing future work that had to be done before spring.

"Pa, I think we should begin cutting our oak firewood for next winter. My fur buying has slacked off to a trickle since the heavy snow. Then we should get the lumber hauled for the new house. We can clean the seed toward the end of March so it will be ready for spring." He reached for the coffee pot to refill his cup.

"It would ease things to have your help. I've pushed a lot on Jerold, although he never complains."

"He never will, Pa. Gosh, you two have worked all this winter to get the firewood, hay, and ice hauled. I haven't been any help. It doesn't seem fair that Jerold never has time to himself. He's not even had a chance to meet girls, at least not yet." Ian had to smile at the thought, remembering how bashful Jerold became in the presence of girls.

"None of us will have much time if we get next year’s firewood cut and haul the lumber for the house. I've made a deal with the lumberyard in St. Vincent to include the entire lot of lumber. Johannason, that Icelander from South Pembina, will be our carpenter. Says he'll build the house for $125 but he wants one of us to work full-time with him."

"Golly, with two stories and a front porch it's going to be huge. What'll we do for lining?"

"Nixon, at the lumber yard, recommends using both black paper and roll felt between the walls and siding. He also says dry peat moss works well over the ceiling joists in the attic. We can pick up some loads of it over east next summer after the swamps dry out.

Patrick arose from his chair to reach behind the wood box. Twisting the cork from a bottle hidden there, he poured a generous amount of whiskey into each of their coffee cups. "Mother won't object to our having one, even two." He smiled, "This is a night to remember."

By the end of February Maggy had lost most of the weight gained during her pregnancy and her figure became almost trim and taut again. She again began to attend church with Patrick, proud to display her new daughter. A Welshman named McGuire confronted her with a business proposition. He offered her $100 for her quarter of land located to the east, adjoining the border. She decided to accept the offer, and with the proceeds bought two cows that were to calve in July.

Patrick brought news of Charley McCune, a neighbor who had moved to Emerson from Orillia. "You knew he sold his holdings for $300. Well, since then, the fool has been drunk every day. That team of oxen he bought from the livery has died. Starved to death, no doubt; he kept them tied up day and night."

"He's our neighbor, Pat. Is there naught we can do to help?

"Not a bloody thing! You can't cure a drunk unless he wants to be cured. He's too far gone mentally and physically. The way he carries on, he'll not last long."

While walking to work early in March, Robert enjoyed the sudden break in the weather, a harbinger of the spring yet to come. Just as darkness had fallen the previous evening, the wind had shifted to the southwest, then gained in intensity throughout the night. Today it was a full blown Chinook, rapidly lowering the snow level. He noticed water beginning to form in the sleigh ruts as he crossed the Main Street of Winnipeg.

By mid-morning he was embroiled in a heated discussion with his superiors from Toronto. The argument was about the poor grading of the future rail line between Winnipeg Manitoba, and the United States border at Emerson. Robert stated his opinion that gravel ballast would be needed to support the steel and heavy loads anticipated. He found himself overruled, told in no uncertain terms that for economic reasons the road must be operational by late fall.

A clerk entered, and quietly whispered to Robert, “There is a young lady at the desk who wishes to speak with you.” He smiled conspiratorially, "She is a real beauty, too!"

Robert's first thought was that it must be Mary. Still, he was puzzled as he returned to the main office. Then a cold chill came over him as he caught sight of Annie standing by the counter. She had a whimsical smile, and before he could say a word, she grasped his shoulders and leaned forward to kiss him.

Instinctively he pulled back as her lips sought his. He whispered hoarsely, "What are you doing here?"

"I was frantic! I had to see you."

He turned to glare around the room at his fellow workers, who were obviously watching and listening. At his caustic glance they quickly pretended indifference. Taking Annie by the arm, he said, "Come along with me."

Entering the small cubicle apportioned for his use, he carefully closed the door. Turning to her, he asked,

"What's the occasion?"

Her facial expression changed and he sensed she was almost in tears.

"I'm pregnant! I couldn't face Mother any longer. I had to leave."

The word pregnant brought an unexpected shock to him. Long seconds passed as he absorbed the news. He suddenly felt nauseated.

"You mean from that night we spent together at the hotel?"

She nodded weakly, attempting to smile through the tears that were now streaming down her face.

He was completely flabbergasted and sat down heavily at his drawing table. Finally common sense dictated that he must get a grip on himself. "I'll beg off for the remainder of the day and we'll go to my hotel to talk. Wait here for a moment; I'll be right back." Passing through the door to the front desk, he made an excuse and picked up his coat. Returning to Annie, he found her wiping away the tears. As he took her arm and led her to the front door, he again felt all eyes upon him, as if he was running a gauntlet. No words were spoken until they crossed to the west side of the street. Stopping, he turned to her. "When did you arrive in Winnipeg?"

"Late last night on the stage. I didn't know where you lived and I was too ashamed to ask Mary. I did know you worked for the C.P.R. I'm sorry if I've caused you embarrassment, but what else could I do?" A contrite and timid look appeared as she wiped away the remaining tear tracks with the back of her glove.

"We've a lot of talking to do. What a mess!" Robert suddenly felt an involuntary shudder shake his body.

She studied his face apprehensively.

Finally he took her arm to resume their walk toward his hotel on Portage Avenue. Upon reaching his lodging, he escorted her to his room and helped her remove her coat. She sat on his bed and looked at him grimly.

"I've burned all my past bridges Robert. I'm two months overdue, and it's your child I'm carrying."

Remembering the stains on the bed sheet, Robert did not doubt her word. Yet, still hopeful, he asked again. "You're sure you are pregnant? There's absolutely no doubt?"

She looked up at him bitterly. “Do you think I'm lying to you?" she asked.

Looking into her eyes, he could see the truth. He also saw the look of uncertainty and fear of rejection on her face. For long moments he hesitated, but could see no way out. Seating himself beside her, he put his arm around her shoulders. "We'll get married this afternoon if it suits you."

Her look of relief was almost pathetic. "Oh,Robert! I'll be the best wife to you in the whole world. I've been in love with you since the first day I saw you. I guess you didn't want this baby, but we did get ourselves into this. It's happened to others before us. We'll work it out together, you'll see." She flung her arms around his neck with a wild abandon, kissing him fiercely, squeezing tightly to him. She felt her confidence returning. She knew she had broken all the rules, but she had won.

Robert felt a sudden erotic response and attempted to repel it. Standing, he reached for their coats. "Let's eat a bite; then we'll go the municipal office." He turned to her worriedly, "Where did you stay last night? Where is your luggage?"

"I have only a small bag and it's at Emmerling's Hotel. We can pick it up after we eat." She looked at him timorously, "Or after we are married." A gradual smile began to appear on her face. He could see her self-assurance returning.

That afternoon they were married at the municipal office and returned to his room after picking up her valise. When the door was secured, she flung her arms around his neck, hugging him wildly. In spite of his reticence, he found himself responding. At the time he perceived it as a purely physical response, not love. Their union was rough, with no inhibitions. She seemed insatiable, taking the offensive, making every effort to please him.

During the late hours of that evening Robert rested uneasily beside Annie. She slept on her stomach, masses of auburn hair spread over her shoulders, one leg carelessly cast over his thigh. He felt as if his nerves were disintegrating; self-reproach was setting in. His feeling of depression was almost overpowering. He had wanted children eventually, but not now, and not with Annie. Why had he done such a stupid thing? Was it the rum he drank that night, or was it his own self-pity?

Thinking back, he realized his father and mother had been liberal with him -- perhaps too much so. He remembered a similar narrow escaped while attending McGill University. Fortunately for him, several other classmates had been involved with the same girl. Now the situation was identical, but with an ominous twist. He had been forced into this marriage, knowing that if he refused Annie, and she had gone to his superiors, he would have been instantly fired. His Scottish employers were firm on morality.

He would never be positive if she had intentionally trapped him or not. That night's contact with her seemed so coincidental, yet he was the one who went into the restaurant and drank the rum. He alone was responsible for his conduct.

How was he going to tell Mary? He would appear a gutless and cowardly man not to inform her. Instinctively, he knew she would abhor him and never accept his explanation. It was the end of their romance.

Morosely, he dug his hands into his hair. Perhaps his marriage with Annie would work out. She would probably insist on accompanying him to his workplace. He had to admit that she was attractive and pleasant; also she was obviously in love with him. He knew she lacked education and polish, but hopefully that would come with time. When he thought of what his father and mother would think if they were introduced to Annie now, he felt abashed. He knew they expected him to make a marriage that would live up to their respected name.

His thoughts brightened and he smiled to himself. I'll make things right. She is actually appealing and warm-hearted, even a bit on the wild side. Her eyes actually dance when she laughs and she is a good listener. She seems kind and has a sharp wit. He spent long moments looking at her as she lay sleeping: her petite figure, the smooth skin of her back, and her firm buttocks. He had to admit to himself that she was exquisite. The sight of her awoke a sudden urgency, and he reached out to caress her back. She awoke slowly, turning with a smile, and then sought his lips.

Patrick, Ian and Jerold worked feverishly during the month of February to get the lumber hauled and stacked at their lot in St. Vincent. The white pine had been cut and milled in Minnesota and had been hauled by rail to Crookston, then transported by steamboat to St. Vincent. Ian remarked on its fine quality. "Hardly a knot showing and soft enough so that it won't split when nailed."

They also managed to haul sixteen cords of oak firewood from their farm woodlot, storing it behind the location of their future home.

When the weather broke in March, they began cleaning their seed grain, using a hand-cranked fan mill purchased at Pembina. Ian and Jerold took turns at the crank, neither cherishing the boring job.

All the family spoiled baby Kate, so much so that Maggy finally refused to let anyone pick her up. She now weighed nearly eleven pounds and was an exceptionally healthy child. She had begun making throaty noises and followed every movement with her eyes. Maggy had worried about the delivery because of her advanced age, but was pleasantly surprised to find the birth not a difficult one. Her breasts had filled fully, and she found no problems nursing Kathleen.

Mary had received four desultory letters from Robert in the past weeks and had answered each in a philosophical mood. His messages all ended with the same 'I love you,' but the basic contents left much to be desired from her point of view. There was no warmth, indicating that he was either annoyed or disenchanted with her.

Not having seen Annie for some weeks, Mary dropped by the cafe to visit. She found Annie's mother working in the kitchen; and, as it was the slack time of the afternoon, she sat down to enjoy tea with Mary. Mrs. Gillis was a blunt woman with wide blue eyes and red hair that was already showing streaks of gray. She seemed a simple creature, but Mary knew her to have a sharp tongue and an even worse temper.

"Golly, I haven't seen Annie for weeks. Where is she keeping herself?"

Mrs. Gillis looked uneasy. "She left on March 9 for Winnipeg. There was a note on her dresser telling me not to worry. It's been days and I haven't had a word from her."

"Did she take her clothes, and did she have money?" Mary could see the worried expression on the woman's face.

"Oh, she had her wardrobe and earnings. They'll carry her for a while, at least long enough to either get a job or come back home. It's not like her to not let me know where she is. Still, she has always been secretive, even as a child." Disdainfully, she added, "Got it from her Father, I guess. He never left a clue when he deserted me years ago."

While at supper that evening, Mary mentioned to her family that Annie had left home.

"Heck, she knows how to take care of herself. I've seen her brush-off plenty of men." Ian seemed disinterested.

Patrick waved his fork. "Not much future for her in Emerson, outside of marriage. She's not the type to backslide like some of the women across the river." Patrick was subtly referring to the bawdy house situated along the road to West Lynne.

It was nearly suppertime the following evening when Ian entered the house and handed Mary a letter from Robert, her first letter in nearly a month. It was brief and meteoric. She could feel her heart thudding. Then came the sickening dismay.
March 12

Mary,

Forgive me! It would never work between us, due to my perverse nature. I never meant to hurt you, but I am now married to another. I was never good enough for you.

Robert
Tears came as Mary lowered her head to the table. Suddenly she arose and rushed wildly upstairs, amid loud sobbing and wailing. Her mother reached out to pick up the letter. One glance told Maggy all; she handed it to Patrick.

"What's the matter, Mother?" Ian, who had washed in preparation for supper, was just wiping his face.

"That bastard!" Patrick was furious. "I thought he was a man."

Maggy reached over and rested her hand on his shoulder. "She's young, Pat. She'll take it hard for a while, but she'll get over it. There will be more men in her life before she marries."

Ian refrained from picking up the letter now discarded by his father. From his parent's reaction he deduced the situation. "We'll have to step softly and use diplomacy with her," he mused. "She sounded heart-broken."

Maggy picked up the letter and read it aloud. "So cruel, Pat." She crumpled it up and approached the stove. Then, thinking better of it, she unrolled the crushed paper. "It's Mary's letter. I'll put it aside. She'll mull over it for a few days; then hopefully she'll accept the fact."

After Mary had moped for a day or so, Kirby's visits brought out her old self. They became firm friends, although she never allowed his emotions free rein. She regained her spirit and seemed more mature. Finally, she confided to her mother, "I'll never marry until I'm fully of age."

Her mother agreed. "Forget Robert, dear. He's not our kind, and we're not in the same social class of his family. You're growing up now and our families live in different worlds."