Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BORDERTOWNS: Chapter 13

Patrick was ecstatic to finally get at the building of their house. "That carpenter, Johannason, is a hustler! We got all the plate set on the brick foundation today and are starting on the studding tomorrow. He's going to balloon frame to the roof-line, says it'll make a stronger house. It looks huge already and we've only the plates set."

"When do we move in?" Maggy questioned.

"We should be able to get into the new house by the end of June. We'll pay the rent here until October, and then see what turns up. It may pay to keep this place next winter. The youngsters still need schooling, and Mary has to get her teaching certificate."

"She can get her credentials for the United States next year. They give the examination in Pembina each spring. She'll be better prepared by then and she'll be of age. Since we're moving across the line, it's best she's qualified to teach there. Mr. Baldwin has promised to help her with the necessary studies. Speaking of moving to the United States, you'll have to take a day off from your job. We'll have to go to Pembina and apply for citizenship. I suppose Mary and the boys will have to apply too."

"Yup! We've put it off too long. I'll try to get off on Wednesday afternoon."

The small acreage of sod that Jerold had plowed and seeded to oats the past year was seeded to wheat in early April. With occasional help from Ian, Jerold set out to plow and seed an additional 120 acres, 60 acres on his father's river quarter and 60 acres of the 320 acres Ian had finally managed to purchase from the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in February.

A young Norwegian boy, Knute Carlson, aided Jerold. Jerold found the young lad wandering the streets of St. Vincent, hungry and destitute. He was, as Mary put it, instantly adopted by Jerold. He spoke little English, but by subtle questioning, Patrick discovered he had run away from home along the Minnesota River. When it was suggested he return to his father, he shook his head and objected vigorously. He had come to them with faded, torn trousers and a dismal looking wool shirt. He was a long, lean boy with an almost pleading face and expressive soft brown eyes. His upper lip was formed into two peaks. Shaggy, dirty blond hair was plastered closely to his head the afternoon he met Maggy. She could tell he had just wetted and finger combed the unruly mop. She almost cringed at the first sight of him, deeming the large holes at the elbows of the boy's shirt unpatchable. "Knute, you need a haircut." She stroked her chin thoughtfully.

"Yah, Ma'am."

Maggy turned to Jerold. "I've saved the hand-me-downs you've outgrown. It'll be years before Mike can use them. Some of the newer ones will fit Knute. Also, he'll need new boots, his are shot. Take him to Mike Ryan's boot store, your Father will pay."

"Sure, Mother. He can share my room until the plowing is done."

In spite of his skepticism at having another mouth to feed, Patrick felt sorry for the lad and let him stay. Yet, he was careful not to commit himself on Knute's future. Within a few days the boy was accepted and treated as one of the family. He took to Mary, for she began making subtle changes in him, correcting his English and manners. It was obvious he had never before known love and acceptance; his gratitude was often embarrassing.

School was dismissed in mid-April, a time when everyone who could be spared was needed for fieldwork. On the quarter just east of the river Ian was busy hand broadcasting wheat seed from a bag hung from his shoulder, while Jerold harrowed behind him with the young team. To their south Knute plowed steadily with their three mules.

Just before noon Jerold stopped his team alongside Ian to make conversation. As he squinted up at the fleecy cumulus clouds above them, he remarked, "Figure it to be a tough season, Ian?"

Ian grinned as he shifted the heavy bag to his other shoulder. "There isn't any other kind. This isn't a country for lazybones." He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "You know, I've had enough of this. Hitch your team to the wagon and we'll go into town. George West, the implement dealer, just got in three new seeders. They spread the grain more evenly. I think one team can pull an eight-foot drill."

"Sure would speed things up." Jerold was beaming. He looked over toward Knute's rig. "We'll be running over Knute, though."

Their short trip to town was more costly than Ian planned, for he found Jerold eyeing a new steel 16-foot boss-harrow. Ian joined him, asking, "How much is it? Can one team handle it?"

The implement dealer overheard the conversation. "It's made for a team and it only costs $27. For that, I'll unhook the sections and load it into your wagon. You can tie the drill behind."

Ian saw the wishful look on Jerold's face. "We'll take it. Now we can really do some planting."

Before the end of May they had nearly completed field work; only five acres remained to be plowed and sown. It was late in the afternoon when Jerold happened to glance toward Knute. He was suddenly horrified; Knute was lying face down on the ground some distance behind the plow. The mules had stopped, evidently sensing they had no driver. When Jerold reached the youth, he appeared unconscious; yet, he was grinding his teeth and thrashing his head. Puzzled, Jerold raised him to a sitting position, and began brushing dirt from his face, mouth and nostrils. Within moments Knute began to regain consciousness, uttering guttural sounds all the while. Jerold realized that Knute had been subjected to an attack of some sort. When Knute finally opened his eyes, he seemed embarrassed. He shrugged away from Jerold, and then, grinning foolishly, rose to his feet and gathered up the mule reins. Without a word of thanks he regained his seat on the plow and clucked the mules into motion.

That evening Jerold consulted with his father. "Pa, something is wrong with Knute." He explained what had happened.

"It might be the falling-down sickness, Jerold. I think doctors call it epilepsy. Old Murrick, back in Orillia, had it. Didn't seem to bother him much, but he was a tough old goat. The trouble is, Knute might get hurt if an attack comes at the wrong time. The next time I go to Pembina I'll drive out to the fort. The Army surgeon there might be able to help. There may be some medicine available.

"Does Ian know about this?"

Jerold nodded. "I told him."

"What did he say?"

"That we'll have to keep a watch over him."

"I'll tell your Mother. She'll be more protective over him than ever. He is a fine boy."

Jerold looked worried. "Pa, I like him. He can still stay with us, can't he?"

Patrick put his arm around Jerold's shoulders. He understood his son's concern. "Sure, as long as we have a roof over our heads, he's a part of our family."

When seeding was completed in late May, Patrick welcomed the warmer weather. The sun brought forth a show of green as the grass and trees shrugged off the drabness of winter. Frequent rains gave the newly sown wheat a good start, and vivid blossoms of early wildflowers were beginning to show. In addition to the two quarters Ian had purchased from the railroad in February, Patrick had obtained the same amount. Also, he had arranged for the purchase of a further quarter for Jerold, making the down payment. He marveled over the changes that had occurred in the matter of only a year. Why his family now owned 1120 acres, a far cry from the paltry 80 acres they had rented in Orillia.

Jerold now tipped the scale at 170 pounds. Both Maggy and Patrick marveled at his growth and strength, inasmuch as neither could justify his size when searching back into their family histories. His heavy-boned structure, six-foot-plus height and broad shoulders made him look almost thin. Patrick reasoned that at the rate he was growing, he would weigh far more in the future. He had not lost his kindness and gentleness and remained an avid reader when not at work. His intellectual curiosity gained him the use of many books through the auspices of the schoolmaster at Emerson. In fact, when Mr. Baldwin dismissed the classes in the spring, he had said to Mary, "A pity he couldn't have attended school in England. A good preparatory school, then Eton."

Mary planned to remain in Emerson during the summer, helping with the chores, milking the cows and tending the garden. She and Maggy had worked the huge garden plot, seeding it to potatoes and a variety of vegetables. Her next project was the re-glazing of the poorly mounted glass in the windowpanes of the house. She and her mother churned butter every other day, which sold locally for 35 cents a pound.

Mike, five years of age on April l, was daily herding the cows on grassland across the border on the American side of the boundary line. There were few border-crossing problems for the townspeople, the locals deeming it their privilege to freely move back and forth. Patrols from Fort Pembina and the United States Customs were interested only in contraband goods. Horses and other items smuggled and sold in Minnesota or the Dakota Territory, were seized whenever possible, and sold at public auction. Petty hiding of materials under voluminous skirts, although illegal, was commonplace.

The track laying from the south to St. Vincent was proceeding at the rate of over one mile each day. Construction of a turntable and roundhouse for engines was also under way in the newly cleared area northwest of St. Vincent. Sidetracks capable of holding over four hundred boxcars were being planned.

At the end of June Robert and Annie quietly moved back to Emerson where he was to check on the contractor's final joining of the C.P.R. steel connecting with the St. Paul & Pacific Railway. The couple was forced to seek temporary quarters at the Emerson House until living quarters could be found.

Mary knew nothing of their arrival until she stopped at the cafe to visit Annie's mother. There, sitting at a table with several other women, was a young woman dressed in a flowered gingham. Her profile seemed familiar, and when she turned, Mary realized it was Annie. Mary's face lit up in expectation as she approached the radiant girl. "Annie, when did you arrive back home?"

Annie's face froze. The shock of suddenly seeing Mary rendered her speechless. She had dreaded this moment, hoping to forestall this inevitable embarrassment. Finally, gathering courage, she said haltingly, "I'm married to Robert now."

Almost instant reaction set in, and swinging her arm forcefully, Mary slapped Annie's face. "You slut! You!"

Within seconds the side of Annie's face began reddening; tears began streaming down her cheeks.

Seconds passed as Mary's shock slowly died and she realized what she had done. Mortified, she dropped to her knees beside Annie’s chair and threw her arms around Annie. Annie responded, and they held each other tightly as they shared their tears. Embarrassed patrons watched uneasily.

The long silence was broken by the sound of boots as a man entered the dining room. It was Robert. He stood stunned at the sight of the two embracing girls. Then he said haltingly, "Mary!"

The two girls parted and Mary looked up at Robert, her face chalk-white. Rising to her feet, she threw him a venomous glance, and then swept past him toward the door. Her mind was a turmoil of mixed feelings, her disgust at seeing him obvious. The traumatizing sight of Robert offset her sudden feeling of empathy for Annie. As she left the cafe, she realized the people around Annie were shocked. She had upset any congratulations being offered Annie. Her display of sudden anger, tempered by sympathy, now changed to pity for Annie. She forced a smile to her face as she was greeted friends from time to time while on her way back to the house.

By the time she reached home, she had recovered her composure; her mood turned cynical. "Mom, guess who I just saw at the cafe?"

Maggy looked up quizzically from the bread dough she was kneading. "I'm guessing."

"I saw Annie. She's the one Robert married."

Maggy wiped her flour-covered hands on her apron and sat down at the table, her surprise evident. "My goodness! Is it really true?" She saw the look of anguish on Mary's face and naked sympathy came to her own.

As Maggy attempted to struggle for words, Mary exclaimed, "What's wrong with me? How could he do it? He never showed any interest in her." Mary was rubbing her eyes in a vain attempt to stop the tears.

Her mother was at a loss. She sat as if dumbfounded. Finally, she said slowly, "Well, it's done with." She looked up at her daughter and found herself trying to force lightness into the situation. "It's not the end of the world. Why, you're only seventeen. There'll be lots of men in your life before you wed."

Mary tossed her head decisively, "Kirby's coming over this afternoon to escort me downtown to see the Indian dance. I'll have nothing to do with them."

By them, Maggy knew Mary was referring to Robert and Annie.

The events of the day were climaxed by entertainment provided by Sitting Bull and his accompanying warriors, who were in Emerson attempting to gain sympathy and raise money for their cause. Since Sitting Bull's recent involvement in the destruction of Custer and his troopers in Montana, he had fled to the safety of Canada.

Kirby and Mary stood arm in arm while they watched the spectacle of the Indians dancing to their drummers. Finally, Kirby said ruefully, "Oh, how I'd love to take him back across the line. That old devil knows he's safe over here. Just look at him thumbing his nose at our boys." He was referring to several American troopers from Fort Pembina who had crossed the border to view the event. The soldiers' feelings were evident; they were openly taunting the Indians with remarks and gestures.

Disgusted, Kirby turned to Mary. "Have you had enough of them?"

She nodded. "They're a pathetic lot, aren't they? Their clothes are nothing but rags. At least they don't appear to have been drinking."

Kirby studied her face intently. "I've heard Robert has returned to Emerson and that he is now married."

Facing him, Mary answered calmly, "Yes, I've seen both of them. He married Annie Gillis quite suddenly." She found it difficult to hide her bitterness.

The temptation to gather her into his arms was almost irresistible, still Kirby held back, knowing this was not the time or place. Finally, with a wry grin, he said, "At least it's thinned my competition."

"Let's not get into that again," Mary scolded. "I told you I’ll not marry until I come of age.”

"Yes, but there's talk I may be transferred to the Fort Leavenworth school in the near future. Of course, our 17th Infantry is not due to change posting until July of '82."

"Do you really think you'll be transferred soon?" Mary felt a sudden concern, realizing that during these last months she was beginning to feel comfortable with Kirby. He did not excite her as Robert had, but he displayed a manliness and confidence, together with a courtesy that she admired. A feeling of premonition came over her and she didn't want him to leave.

The summer days passed, one by one, seeming to settle into a pattern. A healing process set in for Mary. While doing the household chores and yard work with the boys, she wondered if it really had been love she felt for Robert, or were there different kinds of love? The emotions she had felt now seemed old and out of place. Robert had been her first attraction, a seemingly mysterious bond. She would cherish the feeling she had held for Robert, but his final letter had been the turning point, transforming her from a young girl to a woman.

Her heart warmed when she thought of Kirby, his gentle look and caring smile. At first she had taken him for granted as you would a family friend. Now, almost without realizing it, her feelings were changing. She was becoming aware of qualities she had never noticed: his courtesy, sincerity, warmth, and interest in other people and their problems and concerns. She knew that if she married him, she would never have to spend her life worrying about his faithfulness.

Perhaps that horrible experience in Orillia had been the trigger causing her to seek security and happiness with Robert. Pondering over the past, she felt secure with the future. She had no wish to ever see Robert again, and each day she found herself looking forward to Kirby's visits. Her only fear was how he would react when she told him of her experience in Orillia. Would he want her then? She was honest enough with herself to know she would have to tell him all.

She found herself again exchanging confidences and intimacies with her mother, feeling she could share. Susan, also, became her confidant, almost a sister. Mary knew that Susan was knowledgeable about people of both St. Vincent and Pembina -- whom to avoid, and which places to shun. She was a frequent visitor to the McLaren home, always in high spirits, with laughter that was catching. She never hesitated to volunteer with household chores, once prompting Maggy to say, "Susan, don't you have enough to do at home without pitching in over here?" Maggy had suddenly regretted her words, for a shocked expression appeared on Susan's face. From her downcast look Maggy realized Susan had interpreted her words to mean she wasn't wanted. She quickly apologized, "I didn't mean it as an insult, Susan; I just meant that when you visit us we don't expect you to work."

Maggy gently put her arm around Susan's shoulder. "We're not the perfect family, Susan; we have our arguments too. We do enjoy your visits and Patrick and the boys all love you." Smiling, he added, "Especially Ian."

Susan replied proudly, "I try my best to learn the right things. I want to be everything Ian wants in a wife.”

Many times when work was slack, Mary visited Susan, Marguerite and Annette at the Grant home. She found an easy association with the women but could not warm up to Grant. He seemed a bitter man, uncommunicative when sober and often maudlin when drunk. Mary came to realize that although both Susan and Marguerite were Métis, they seemed knowledgeable, and well liked by everyone. At first she thought it was because they were both attractive, but then she realized it was because of their intelligence and bubbling enthusiasm.

There had been a dearth of letters from Orillia this past month and Maggy realized she was at fault; she had not picked up a pen for weeks.
Emerson,

June 28, 1878

Dear Father and Mother,

Our new house in St. Vincent is finally finished. We will move as soon as we get the stove, furnace and furniture we ordered. Pat has decided to keep this house in Emerson until fall, perhaps for the winter. The children will possibly go to school here this coming winter, under Mary's supervision. Ian and Pat have each purchased two quarters of land from the St. P. & P. agents. That gives Pat and me a total of 640 acres. We managed to seed a total of 130 acres to wheat this spring, so we should have a good income this fall. Pat also made the down payment on a quarter for Jerold although it will not be seeded this year. The land is $12 per acre, to be paid for in seven yearly payments. How we will ever manage to farm 1120 acres remains to be seen, however Jerold and Knute continue to plow land to be put into crop next year. Oh yes, Knute is a young Norwegian boy we have taken in. He stays with us, a likeable boy who ran away because of mistreatment. He is practically one of our family now.

Ian has taken the job of laying siding in the railroad yard. We have hundreds of men nearby, all working on the trackage. The C.P.R. line from the north has not reached Emerson. Completion is expected in October or November. There will be a big celebration then.

The St. P. & P. line has hired men for the St. Vincent section crew and Pat is a foreman at $35 a month. They are busy in the yards installing more tracks and switches. Their line has not reached here from the south either, but it is coming fast. The rails used here in the yards all arrived by steamboat, sent down-river from Fargo.

Ian is just home for supper -- says he is going to try for a higher paying job if one comes up for grabs.

The farm crops and gardens look grand. We have been blessed with showers during May and June and the talk is of a bumper crop.

The men have been to Pembina to price the latest model McCormick reaper. It is said to cut and then tie the grain bundles with a hemp string they call twine. Jerold says we'll need one this fall.

We have all had our photographs taken locally and will send to you in a separate envelope.

The cattle are doing well and we sell butter every other day for 35 cents a pound. I sold my rights to my quarter of land that lay far to the east for $100. Then I bought two cows to freshen in July. I got the two for $70. Then I bought a third cow, a heavy milker, for another $40. We now have ten milk cows, four calves, five horses, three mules, many pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, two cats, a dog and Mike's pet badger. We plan to buy more cattle as soon as possible, having found we can now sell milk for 10¢ a quart.

A farmer to the south of our land, Mr. Trail, has 640 acres ready for wheat next year. Plans are being made to build a grain elevator in St. Vincent to hold 60,000 bushels. It will have a railroad siding for the loading of boxcars.

Pat says we'll have no trouble selling our grain this fall as the railroad will haul it to Minneapolis. Up to now all wheat had to be hauled to Pembina, and then loaded into barges for the upriver trip to market. We hope to get 80 cents per bushel, but it is said we might get even more.

Mike said a piece at the Methodist Concert and Mary acted a part in the Easter play. Mary says hello to Grandpa and Grandma. She misses papa's violin, although Jerold is doing well with his. He has trouble playing jigs, but he is improving.

Love, Maggy