Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SCANDAL AND FIREWOOD 28th installment


A Man at Work, 1910 era. From the Tighsolas album. Perhaps a worker at the Transcontinental Railway. Or maybe a teacher.


December 1908 and Flora was struggling at school, as per usual. Her Latin results were abyssmal and her French borderline. To be fair, the atmosphere in Mr. Jackson's classroom was not at all productive, for it was now widely known that he had asked to have his contract terminated.

Many parents had made formal requests for their children to be transferred out of his class, but not Flora's parents, who were, again, as per usual, otherwise preoccupied.


Mrs. Montgomery was very ill, so mother Margaret was busy fulfilling her neighbourly obligations, providing meals for the family, in rotation with other neighbours. Montgomery wasn't suffering from typhoid, or diptheria or tuberculosis, nothing contagious, so Norman wasn't afraid for his wife. Indeed, the occasion provided the couple with another chance to give each other moral support in hard times.


"I hear Mrs. Montgomery is ill. Is it her 'old troubles'? Well, as you said, it is better to be healthy with no money then wealthy with no health," he wrote to her. "Keep well, and tell Herb, next time he is down, to get about 8 cords of wood from the Last Factory at the best price. That is what I got last year."

Flora was reading that very line, in that very letter when Margaret came in from next door. 8 Cords of Wood. Flora knew she would be the one getting up at 6:30 to stoke the furnace in the winter - again. She examined her little birdy wrists. At ninety pounds, she was hardly the image of the person usually entrusted in a household with such an important task.


Margaret said, "Mrs. Montgomery is a little better. She ate quite a bit of my soup. Are you reading Father's letter? He is upset that the Danville people didn't read out his regrets at the St. Andrew's Dinner.


"He is a Past President," Flora replied. "But the Danville people aren't as backward as he says. Certainly, the dresses on the Danville women put ours in the shade."


"And the haggis was interesting, was it not?" Margaret added. Margaret and Flora had enjoyed the St. Andrew's Festivities in the neighbouring town immensely. In fact, Flora had travelled a great deal around the E.T. in the fall as she had been appointed by the Presbytery to one of their Committees, a solemn responsibility, with many social perks, including teas at the homes of some of the E.T's most respectable citizens.


Margaret was busying herself with the stove, setting some burning coal on the kindling, for she had prepared her scones early this day. "I want to go to Church, if nothing, to show them I still have my dignity. Did I tell you, Mrs. Kelloch is still ignoring me and the others act like they do not want to talk to me. Still, I am curious for news about Lindy Anderson. Jim Anderson, father says, has applied to Parliament for a divorce."

Edith, no doubt, would have proferred an opinion here, but Flora was not interested in the lives of Old Married People. "Is Herb coming," Flora asked, wondering if her mother had any idea why the Ladies of the Missionary Society were being so cruel to her. "Father seems to think so."

Margaret took a deep breath and for a brief moment her hands were still, the steel poker pointing up at the ceiling.

"Yes, he is coming home. In fact, it looks like he has been transferred back to Cowansville, full time,"she said, closing the door on the firebox.. Hopefully, away from all the city's temptations, he'll finally straighten out." Margaret tested the temperature of the oven with her elbow, then popped the scones in.

As usual, what Margaret was leaving unsaid, spoke volumes. So, she knew. Mother knew about Herb and de Bullion Street. She knew why he wasn't speaking to Marion. She must have discovered the uncomforable truth about her only son on that trip to Montreal two weeks ago to buy Edith a suit.


"Did he ask for the transfer? " Flora asked feigning innocence. She gentle fingered the rim of the pan with the uncooked biscuits.


"Well, no." Margaret stood up and turned to Flora. "I believe your Father had something to do with it. In Quebec, we ran into Mr. McKinnon of the Eastern Townships Bank, and father and he had a private meeting, while I sat in the sitting room of our hotel and wrote a letter home. I couldn't concentrate for curiousity. "Anyway," she said, gazing out into the hallway, "something had to be done."

I must go upstairs and change and find some spare linens for the Montgomery's. They have not had a chance to do the laundry. Flora you are in charge of supper. Just keep an eye on the scones and heat up the leftover haddie." Margaret disappeared up the stairs. "Oh," she hollered down to Flora, "and I'm expecting a delivery from McCrae's.. mostly spices for the Christmas cakes. I must get started. Ring over to them, will you and tell them to add some candied pineapple, if they have any."

Flora walked to the phone, on the wall in the hall and picked up its earpiece and looked up McCrae's number. 30 06 on the list tacked to its wooden side. She cranked the bronze handle to make the call. So a year had passed, since Christmas 1907, when Margaret had got but a 'glimpse of her family' as someone had said, she couldn't remember who. So so much had happened over the past 12 months, the brilliant Tercentary, Boston and Wellesley, the Election, Marion and Edith's moves, it was dizzying, and yet... if she thought about it, so little had really changed. At least, all the family's problems remained pretty much unchanged.