Friday, March 5, 2010

Like a Girl From De Bullion Street

Women at Camp Chapleau. The poor and their babies. 1910 Montreal

As much as she hated to admit it to herself, Flora did not feel proud of brother Herb, not lately.

And this despite the fact that she had been sheltered from all the unpleasantness, on one hand, while being left to imagine all kinds of things, on the other. Her mother's moods blew hot and cold with each letter or lack of letter from her secretive son, and she bore the brunt of it, but it was Flora's duty, as a good daughter, to ignore it all.

It was the same with Mrs. Montgomery's recent illness. She was called on to bring Margaret's soups and stews to the family, and when entering the Montgomery's, she had felt the pall of quiet despair and had no idea what was the cause of this, except "her old problems."

A few phrases overheard here and there led her to believe it had something to do with childbirth, but what?

And then Marion's feud with Herb at Christmas, and all these whispers about de Bullion Street.

Then Edith told Marion a story, which brought everything into the sharp, ugly focus, and which, paradoxically, made Marion double up in laughter right there on the road. The three sisters were walking to church New Year's Day morn, the two older sisters in front, and Edith was recounting how her young student, Alice, said "maudit" during a lesson. Alice's mother, Maria, had overheard from the hall and exclaimed, in French of course, "You talk like a whore from de Bullion Street."

"I turned beet red, I imagine," Edith told Marion, who basically buckled over right there on the icy road, holding her sides and stopping everyone in their tracks. Edith had glanced back at Flora, sheepishly, no doubt regretting her remark.

And, of course, Flora was left out of the joke, which didn't strike her as funny at all.

All things considered. She had known for a while that de Bullion Street was the cause of Herb's falling out with Marion - and the reason his parents were worried about his 'picking up bad habits.'

She and May had puzzled out, by piecing together bits of private conversations, that friends of Marion's had seen Herb leaving an establishment on de Bullion Street in Montreal and that Marion had spoken to Herb and warned him to stop whatever he had been doing, but he had not, so she had broken the bad news to her parents.

But the young women had always assumed it was a saloon he had been caught leaving, or at worse a poker game.

But this?

Her brother, who had at one time had all the local farm girls in a frenzy of flirtatiousness, was now interested in fallen women!

She would pray for him at church. And pray that no one at church knew.