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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 07/05/2019
Where the Mountains Touch the SkyBorn 1949, M, from Colorado Springs, CO, United States
Where the Mountains Touch the Sky
Coal is discovered in the Challenge Valley region of British Columbia in 1887; 1890 and the rough and tumble west of Canada has a need for teachers and medical people. Anabelle Higgins graduated from the nursing school in Toronto, Canada. She receives an answer back from Doctor George Carlson recently of Challenge Valley. He has an immediate need of a nurse to get there as soon as possible.
The Postman thought he was about to lose his hand as the anxious girl grabbed the letter from his hand. Anabelle’s mother started to scold the girl as she ran back into the house with the letter she long awaited.
“Anabelle!” her mother Audrey Higgins called after her as the girl ran up to her room to read the expected reply.
“Ah that’s alright Mrs. Higgins. I understand how anxious she is for the Doctor’s reply.”
“But all the way out to some dirty mining town in British Columbia by herself? And furthermore. Unescorted? Unheard of! When I was a young girl it was unheard of!” She took the rest of the mail from the Postman. “My husband doesn’t seem to think there’s much danger.”
Anabelle rapidly descended the stairs waving the letter at her mother. “Mama! Mama! I got it – I got the position!”
The girl grabbed her mother about the waist to hug her. Audrey took the letter from her daughter’s hand to read it for herself. The Postman laughed as he walked back to the street to continue his rounds.
Anabelle’s two younger sisters following squealing and waving their hands about with delight, their big sister was going to be able to travel and see the country.
March 16, 1890
Dear Miss Higgins:
Your credentials are impeccable. I received your telegram 27 February 1890 and subsequent letter and credentials yesterday, 15 March 1890.
I hope you still plan on coming to Challenge Valley as I am desperate for a nurse and assistant. I took over the practice as of last summer …
A positive reply was sent to Doctor George Carlson the next day. A week later Anabelle bid a tearful good-bye to her parents at the train platform in New London, Ontario, Canada.
“Oh, Mother don’t worry, I’ll be alright. The Doctor says there are other women out there
already, mining families and there’s a school teacher and a Reverend.”
Her sisters stood in the middle watching their parents and sister, they had heard all the arguments before. This was nothing new to them.
“See Mother,” said her father in a patronizing tone. “Just the journey will be a long one. Now you be careful, Anabelle you’ll do just fine. And stay away from the rowdies and ruffians.”
One of the sisters said quietly, “You should not have said that, father.”
The conductor called, “ALL ABOARD!”
Giving her parents and sisters, a final kiss Anabelle picked up her bags hurrying to board the train.
Her mother called wiping away tears at her eyes, “Don’t forget to write …!”
Finding an empty seat Anabelle claimed it waving to her parents and sisters one last time as the train, its bell ringing slowly moved out from the station, the engine leaving a great trail of black smoke in its wake.
With all the enthusiasm of a young girl about to be on her own for the first time, Anabelle waved good-bye to her parents as the train, the whistle blowing departed west. Butterflies threatened to escape from her stomach as she settled in for the trip which would take her through three western provinces and the big western cities eventually four days later arriving in Challenge Valley.
Anabelle changed trains in Toronto. As she settled in for next part of the trip a lady with a boy and girl sat with her. Anabelle was alone, most men riding by themselves politely declined to sit with her for propriety sake. Anabelle introduced herself. “Anabelle Higgins.”
“Nancy Lynwood and my son and daughter Christina and Robert.” The children smiled but did not say anything as the two women struck up a conversation.
“I graduated from nursing school last month and I am going out to Challenge Valley in British Columbia.” Still feeling the enthusiasm of the trip ahead of her and being on her own for the first time since completing the school.
“Oh, that is wonderful,” Nancy Lynwood chortled the two women talking enthusiastically about
Visiting family in Toronto and returning home in a small farming town in Saskatchewan.
The trip seemed to take forever but nothing dampened the thrill Anabella felt for her adventure the closer she got to Challenge Valley. Most of that time the book she had with her went unread staring out the window or nodding off to sleep. The last day of Anabelle’s journey the conductor assured her it would only be a matter of a few hours before they reached the Valley.
She wished it would be sooner. The butterflies of her excitement fluttered around in her stomach
as she watched out the window for the town of Brickman.
“What will it be like?” she asked herself. “Will it be a rough town like everyone says it will be? What will it be like?” she asked herself over and over.
Late afternoon the train made the short stop at the lone station for Challenge Valley. Anabelle’s heart sank as the train pulled away from the station. Anabelle looked around a moment at the bordering mountains, towering mine heads not far from the station. In the distance coal breakers towered over the tallest trees that were still standing. Close by set a row of loaded wooden coal cars waiting for a scheduled coal train heading west to Vancouver to pick them up. Anabelle felt nervous being alone, no one to meet her until a voice called from an open door.
Anabelle looked toward the door. “Yes, sir?”
“Here, got a note for you from Doctor Carlson.”
Anabelle took the note from the station master. The note read if she arrived before he was able to meet her, to wait, he’d be right along.
Taking a seat on the bench on the track side of the station she waited for the Doctor to pick her
up. The time was passed as she watched two freight trains and another passenger train pass the
station before she heard the jangling of harness.
“Miss Higgins?” A new man’s voice called from the other side of the station.
Standing with a smile Anabelle stepped around the corner of the station, a rugged looking man in the traditional black broad cloth suit got off the trap bowing slightly to her.
“Doctor George Carlson. Sorry I am late. Had to patch up the Robinson boy again, plus a few more problems. Have you been waiting long?”
“Oh no that is alright. Is the boy alright?” An edge of concern for the boy to her words.
Carlson took her bags placing them in the back of the trap. “He’ll be fine. Problem is,
that is not the first time he’s fallen out of a tree. I think the boy is accident prone. Have you been waiting long?”
Being polite Anabelle assured the Doctor she had not waited long. George helped Anabelle up to the seat, they started back to the town of Brickman.
“Well the good news now is the contractors finished the hospital yesterday.”
“Yes, you mentioned the fact in your letter they were working on it.” She settled in beside the Doctor for the ride back to the bustling mining town. “Yes, and a new one too. The contractors have begun on the new church too by the way.”
Carlson glanced over at Anabelle. “The other one burned one day about a year ago. Seems the minister was called out on a family related emergency and left some votive candles burning and a window open. Wind caught the candles tipping one over. Pssst, the church went up. That was as I said a year ago now. So, we are getting a new one -- also a school finally.”
Anabelle looked around at the snowcapped mountains reaching up to touch the sky. They passed through a tunnel of overhanging tree branches. She could make out the spur line that ran to a mine. The sudden wet blaring whistle of a steam engine startled Anabelle. She watched as a train of several dozen loaded coal cars passed on the track to the junction.
Doctor Carlson said watching the train a minute, “You’ll get used to it. Like you will the sounds from the mines. That’s one of the reasons for the hospital, the mines and mine accidents and railroad men and a logging company. The other – births. We have a couple women who are qualified mid-wives which helps. I made it a point to train them in their work. That takes a load off my shoulders.”
“What about the children?”
“Miss Julia Hampton is the school teacher. Kind of a duck out of water here you might say. She comes from a very wealthy family in Toronto. Her father is part owner in the Grand Trunk rail line that runs down in to the US and shipping magnet with another company that runs Great Lakes grain freighters both to the US and in Canada. She says the west needs teachers out here more than the east.” The doctor shrugged. “So here she is.”
Anabelle looked back at the mountains which seemed to touch the sky. “Is there always snow on
the mountains this time of year?”
“Usually up to late-June until mid-September then there’s snow on `em again.”
Anabelle looked around at the vast forest of trees surrounding the area. The trail broke out of the forest entering the town of Brickman, a bustling young town that had grown up around the three large coal mines of the area.
On the surface, the town appeared like any other small rural town west of the Great Divide of Canada or the U.S.
The road led through rows of company houses, all identical, all small compared to the home she
left back east. They passed a house where a woman in a gray and white dress was holding a small child waved to them.
Doctor Carlson pulled the trap over to the side. “Hello Doris how is Maggie?”
“Maggie finally gave birth an hour ago and another boy.”
“Oh, this is my new nurse, Miss Anabelle Higgins, Doris Shaffer one of our mid-wives.”
“Oh fantastic! Welcome, Miss Higgins. We need a professional nurse out here! Maggie!” Doris called as Carlson got off the trap, Doctor Carlson grabbing his medical bag from the trap’s floor gesturing for Anabelle to follow. Carlson helped the girl down from the trap following Doris into the front room of the modest home. “Doc is here with his new nurse!”
Anabelle watched as they climbed a narrow flight of stairs to a loft and bed room. Anabelle being new was unsure if she should follow or not. Doc looked back with a grin, gestured for her to follow.
“Come on, Anabelle you’re my nurse. You need to get your feet wet now.”
Anabelle smiled shyly following Doctor Carlson up to the second level to a small room.
“Thank you, Doc.” Maggie proudly held the infant for Carlson and Anabelle to see. “Isn’t he beautiful? Carl and I named him Benedict.”
Maggie was a natural red head with freckles and lively manner that rarely let life get in her way of happiness. She was sitting up in bed nursing the baby. Doc pulled up a chair sitting beside the bed, Anabelle was on her first case even before she had a chance to get settled.
The new mother let the doctor examine her to assure she was alright and then the baby was healthy. Anabelle watched Carlson gently check the baby then lay it back in the mother’s arms and return to nursing.
Carlson pulled out his stethoscope to check Maggie over. Popped a thermometer in her mouth. Turning back to Anabelle he said, “The medical people in the different Provinces – and States believe it or not say only a doctor is supposed to take a temperature – Problem is none of them had to work in a mining or lumbering town and no qualified assistance. I’ll teach you how to take temperatures. It’s simple.”
When the mercury reached its mark, Carlson took the thermometer from Maggie’s mouth. “Now, Maggie just gave birth so she’ll have a slight temperature for probably the next twenty-four hours, so we must keep an eye on that. We’ll come by tomorrow to check on her and the baby. The first twenty-four to thirty-six hours for the baby is always the most critical.”
Carlson checked the baby over to assure he was okay, the baby crying at being disturbed.
After a few minutes, they left to continue in to the town.
Anabelle looked around at the bustling frontier town, the inhabitants, what people were doing, the buildings were different then the east, the excitement of a different life style there in the far west of Canada, the outback than what she was used to around Toronto and New London.
Doctor Carlson stopped in front of Peggy’s Home for Single Women. “And here you are my dear. I’ve reserved you a room here. I’ll explain the other arrangements later.”
They stepped on to the porch, some women sitting out front looking at the lady with Doctor Carlson. Tipping his hat to the women they greeted him.
“My new nurse,” he said to the women, many brightened up. The women especially had been anticipating Anabelle’s arrival.
“Welcome Anabelle,” they greeted her with genuine happiness.
He walked up to the desk, looked around then rang a small hand bell sitting on the counter.
“Hold yer horses! I’ll be with ya in a moment!” a woman’s gravelly voice tainted with Scottish called from the back of the large rooming house.
“That’s Peggy,” said Carlson with a chuckle.
A buxom gray-haired woman stepped from the back and the kitchen area drying her hands on the apron. A young girl, her helper Amanda looked from the back seeing Anabelle and the Doctor, ducked back in to the kitchen.
“Doc…! If’n I’d known …”
Carlson smiled. “Peggy, this is Anabelle Higgins my new nurse.”
“Anabelle, welcome. Just got in, eh? We was prayen’ Doc’d get someone in soon, especially now that the hospital is done and they opened the new mine a couple months ago.”
“Well she needs to get settled in. She’s already getting her feet wet so to speak. Maggie Larson’s
new baby was born not even an hour ago.”
“Oh good. And that’s her second.”
“Yup. Well, I’m headn’ over to the hospital.” He said to Anabelle as she took the pen from the ink well to sign the register. “You get yourself settled in, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Dr. Carlson left, Anabelle filled out the register then followed Peggy to the second floor and the far end.
“I know you’ll be putting in some long hours now that the hospital is done so I’m putting
you down here where you’ll have some peace and quiet. The girls tend to get a bit noisy some times. But now with you here, they’ll tone it down abit at night.”
“Thank you,” Anabelle said as Peggy opened the door, gave her the key then left her alone.
She hung up her few things, she’d mostly be in her work clothes during much of the day and maybe even during the evening treating patients. She’d need all her strength. She rested until Peggy announced supper. Anabelle went down stairs to the dining room where the other women were gathering for an early supper. Word was quick to get around that she was Doc Carlson’s new nurse.
“New London?” a lady by the name of Sally said, “A long way from home.”
“They need medical people and teachers out here,” Anabelle replied with a weak smile.
“With new mines in the area,” another lady, Josephine added, “There’ll be plenty of work.”
“And single men looking for a wife,” Jackie said passing a basket of rolls to Helen.
“Can’t keep yer mind outta the gutter,” Helen chided spooning up vegetables.
Peggy and Amanda her kitchen helper brought out bowls and platters of food.
“Wait until the first mine accident,” another lady said spooning mashed potatoes on her plate.
“You’ll definitely see what happens around here then.”
Anabelle knew about mine accidents from the Toronto press but that was different. They toned the reporting down a bit for the women readers.
“That’ll be enough, Agnes,” said Peggy setting another platter on the table.
She knew there would be risks out here but put aside the worse one – the mines.
Later she stood at her window watching the men past the curtains walk along the main street of the town in a never-ending stream of misery to their homes. Soot, coal dust, dirt coated the men, they appeared as if they had sprung from a bad dream. Dante’s Inferno, the walking dead. Stooped over from working in the confines of the mines, deep underground, in some places hardly enough room to walk up right.
Swinging pick and shovel for eight hours; there’s a couple breaks besides a lunch but it was all underground.
Drawing the curtains closed assuring they were closed all the way she began to undress for bed.
Pulling on her nightgown Anabelle considered, ‘This has to be the edge of civilization until the
traveler reached Vancouver or Victoria. America was the same way – there it was not until one reached San Francisco or Sacramento and Seattle did one enjoy the enmities of civilization.’
Following breakfast at the boarding house Anabelle walked over to the hospital, Dr. Carlson
arrived a few minutes before sitting in his office and examining room organizing himself for the day.
Walking in to the hospital Anabelle called, “Doctor Carlson?”
“Office,” he called back returning to the reception and waiting area. “Good, before anyone comes. Let me show you the hospital. Not like the ones back east but this is a start for Brickman.”
They walked through the hospital which Anabelle found was larger than it seemed.
“It’s not state of the art,” said Carlson looking in a room marked SURGERY. “At least not until I can get another doctor and a couple more nurses in here. This is it. Not to mention the money to do more.”
They walked back to the front, Anabelle helped the lady working as assistant Lydia Graves was signing people in, Anabelle checking the register to see who would be first.
By late morning they’d seen all the people coming in for injuries and sickness. Afternoon they began their rounds.
“First stop of course is Maggie and the baby.”
They walked along the street, people recognizing Doctor Carlson and he in turn introducing Anabelle, his new nurse. It was far different in Brickman then back home in New London. Back home in the city, unless people knew you, they tended to look through a person and not see them; however, in the west, in a town like Brickman everyone knew everyone. And someone in the medical field or teacher, you were a person of standing. You were always welcome into their homes, whether they had an ailment or not.
Knocking on the door it was soon opened by the mid-wife Doris Schaffer, “Doc, Miss Anabelle. Please come in, come in…”
Sitting at the small writing desk following supper, adjusting the lamp, Anabelle started a letter
back to her parents assuring them she arrived in Brickman and Challenge Valley all right, and spent her first day at the hospital and making the rounds with Doctor Carlson.
However, she took out her journal to write down her observations of the last part of the trip in to Brickman.
March 23, 1890
I arrived in Challenge Valley yesterday after a long and tiring trip. Not that the scenery was all boring, it gave me a different view of our great country.
The town of Brickman is not nearly as wild as what the popular press reports about towns of the west. I knew the profession of a nurse would be a challenge, but the other merit that they seldom talk about at school is how respectful people are of medical and teachers. I was stopped so many times on the street by people telling me about their ailments, other’s bidding hello, ladies wanting to get to know me. The mid-wives, Doris Shaffer and Claudia Miller are relived I am here, they can turn to me to help them when Dr. Carlson has other duties. Then there is Miss Julia Hampton the school teacher whom I have yet to meet …
The days of the week wore on for Anabelle as the people of Brickman began to rely on her advice. In the evening, she joined many of the girls on the front veranda listening to them talk about local stories the girls tended to tell her after dinner. Some of the single men from the mines stopped by to see one or the other of the girls, but there were those who avoided Anabelle – she was a nurse, she wouldn’t be interested in romance. As a result, Anabelle threw herself into her work caring for any patient having to stay overnight.
Anabelle picked up her pen, dipped it in the ink well pausing, her hand with the pen resting over the blank page of the manuscript. Reflecting on the week’s events, the people she saw, people who visited the hospital, the “girls” who lived at the boarding house. She smiled to herself thinking about Peggy and her dead pan sense of humor.
April 4, 1890
Another week has gone by and another month has fled us like a ghost fleeing the light of day as I face another night alone…
Anabelle studied the line she wrote thinking of her life there in Brickman. She was lonely on the one hand, she knew many of the women, friends with them, yet she felt isolated by her position.
Putting the final wrap on the miner’s arm some days later she said, “Now – try to keep it clean, Mr. Hartman. I know it’s hard to do in a mine. It’ll heal …”
The wet throaty blast of a whistle broke the still late morning air of the town. The long-repeated blasts caught their attention at the hospital. The door of the examining room flew open. Doc Carlson’s face was as stark white as his jacket. “Anabelle, grab your bag and let’s go – that’s the Corbett Mine whistle – there’s been an accident!”
Anabelle didn’t know what to do next or do first. Everyone in town suddenly had a purpose for what they had to do to rescue the trapped miners.
Anabelle just got herself settled on the trap’s seat Doc Carlson whipped the horse into an immediate gallop. Carlson expertly weaving his way through the gathering crowd that included shop keepers, people yelling to make way for the Doctor.
People parted in front of the trap like the Red Sea parting for Moses. Carlson and Anabelle pulled up near the entrance, smoke and soot and coal gases still billowing out as the tram brought the first casualties to the surface. It was a scene of pandemonium and confusion, men running around helping, most getting in the way of the organizing a rescue party.
Carlson jumped off to look at the first men brought to the surface. Anabelle jumped off to help get the triage line in order. Opening her bag to take out a stethoscope to begin checking vital signs. A group of women ran up with towels and buckets of water to wash the men down. Carlson began treating the serious injuries first. He signaled Anabelle to help him now that the women were helping sort out the casualties as they were brought to the surface.
“The wives and other women know exactly what to do, they had been through this before.” Dr. Carlson opened a miner’s shirt to check him over. Two women walked over with water and towels. “Careful, broken ribs and left arm. As soon as they get him cleaned up, start bandaging the ribs, secure the arm.”
Dr. Carlson moved on to the next miner. Quickly and efficiently Anabelle with the help of the two women wrapped the man’s ribs then splint his arm until a cast could be put on it later.
Anabelle heard someone ask, “Where is Lester?”
“Good place for him,” the first replied stalking away.
Assuming Lester was either the owner or chief engineer, she knew there would be a lot of questions over the next few days.
Within a few minutes, Anabelle’s training took over and she moved among the casualties treating injuries, helping others, assuring others were helped then moved to the next victim. The women were a tremendous help identifying the worse ones, treating the ones they could, Anabelle helping with the worse.
A gentle hand was laid on her shoulder. Looking up she first saw the square of white then the black and a cross on a gold chain.
“Reverend…” she said starting to stand.
“No Anabelle. You are God’s blessing today. You are doing a great work.” He went on to the next person.
The Minister’s words of encouragement meant a lot to Anabelle just then. She watched as he stopped at each of the women and casualties of the disaster then going on to the next.
Anabelle was moving to the next survivor when a lone man rode up, dismounting he rushed into the mine to begin helping. Shortly he was helping carry casualties to her. As he laid one man down their eyes met briefly. There was no time for talk. He gently laid the man down and went back for another. She watched after him until a hand touched her arm.
Dr. Carlson had the worse that needed tending placed on wagons and taken to the hospital.
The work went on unceasingly to near supper before they could take a break.
Everyone helping was exhausted. Carlson knelt beside Anabelle as she dropped a ladle into a bucket of water. Brushing her hair from her eyes she nodded. Carlson said touching her arm, “Take the trap back to the hospital, Anabelle. I can get a ride later.”
Nodding, Anabelle gathered her things up climbing on the trap she quickly rode back to the hospital arriving behind a wagon carrying the injured. The women from the boarding house and wives were already tending to the men brought in earlier.
Her training as a nurse did little to prepare her for this. Light industry, farm, other light accidents, birthing, and sickness, but not mine accidents. She had no time for pleasantries, despite the help, it was still organized chaos at the mines and in the town. Anabelle rushed in to the hospital, the women pointed out the worse cases. Anabelle found herself, despite what she was told by her instructors and doctors, doing the doctor’s work too.
Coal soot, dirt, and blood coated her once crisp white apron and dress. She could now count herself among the veterans of mine accidents.
Ten o’clock that night Anabelle returned to the boarding house.
“Anabelle,” Peggy said softly stepping out from the back. “Hungry?”
Anabelle stopped at the steps, looking back with a tired worn look, a look she had seen among
the town people throughout the day as they struggled to help as best they could. She looked at herself, blood, coal soot and dirt stained her once crisp white dress and apron.
“Please. Thank you. I’m famished.”
Walking to the dining room she sat heavily, the women leaving her alone she had been working
with Dr. Carlson throughout the day, no breaks or anything to eat since the mine’s whistle blew.
Anabelle was falling asleep as she was eating. Peggy finally led her up to her room.
“Give me your things, Anabelle and I’ll send them over to the Chinese laundry to be cleaned. I
don’t know what Chong uses but he can get the toughest stains out of things.”
The next morning the alarm sounded. Anabelle reached over to shut it off. Sitting up she realized she’d slept only a few hours.
“Oh god, the patients.”
Anabelle hurriedly dressed in a fresh uniform. Peggy would send the other to the laundry later in the morning. Anabelle rushed down the steps past some of the other girls who were already up.
“Out to the hospital?”
“`Morning everyone. Yes. The patients need tending to.”
“Anabelle, you want breakfast?” Peggy called after her.
“Later, I need to tend to the patients first.”
The front door bang shut behind her.
Peggy watched Anabelle run down the street toward the hospital. “She keeps this up, she’s the one who’ll need Doc Carlson instead.”
“She’s been going ever since the accident,” said Dolly turning away from the window walking to the dining room.
Anabelle stepped through the door. Dr. Carlson was leaning back in the receptionist’s chair, feet propped on the desk, jacket thrown over him.
“Dr. Carlson,” she said nudging him awake. “It’s six o’clock.”
“Huh?” Carlson woke looking around the room. “Everything okay?”
“So far,” she said walking down the short hall to the ward. Striking a match, she light, a wick to begin lighting lamps along the walls. Some men woke watching her as she began her duties.
“When can I get out of here, Miss Higgins?” one man asked.
“That’s up to the doctor. I can’t say. He’ll be in shortly.”
Peggy and four of the girls from the rooming house brought over breakfast for the patients still in the hospital.
“Oh, Peggy thank you. I was going to ask the doctor what we should do?”
“Not to worry, everything is taken care of. You take care to get them back to good health we’ll
take care of the rest. Also,” She lifted a napkin from a plate, “breakfast for you and the Doctor.”
The sight of the food lightened the men up as plates of food were set on the bedside tables for them.
Peggy assured everything was okay in the ward, Anabelle returned to the front as the lady who was the receptionist walked in.
They watched for a moment three riders riding up to the hospital. One was with the Northwest Mounted Police; the other two she was uncertain. Then she recognized one rider from the day before. She got only a glimpse of him from time to time as he helped get some of the miners out.
Carlson opened the door as the Mountie and the other led the man inside.
“`Morning, Constable James …” Carlson said to the Mountie.
“`Morning, Doctor Carlson, got an outlaw here been shot in an attempted train hold up.”
The other man with him said, “He’s what’s left. The others are dead,”
“Take him in to the side room,” Carlson said ignoring the comment directing them toward the examining room.
Anabelle gasped. “What happened?”
The other with the Mountie said, “Tried holding up the wrong train and messed with the wrong person.”
Carlson looked at the Constable then the outlaw. “Who was that?”
The other said, “You know of a Jim Walker? Moved from the U.S. about three years ago?”
“Yes.” Carlson laid the other on the table to begin prepping him for the operation. “Anabelle, watch what I’m doing here. I’ll show you how to remove a bullet from someone. I take it they never showed you this at school, did they?”
“Walker was on the train going to Vancouver,” the other finished.
“No, sir.” Anabelle watched as Carlson pulled the man’s shirt open, she took a wad of cotton to dab at the blood.
“Figures.” Carlson looked up at the two. “And I bet Walker got the drop on them too.”
“The two in the coach were the first he gunned down then took on the rest one by one.”
The other watched Anabelle for a minute. Now he knew the girl’s name. He stepped out of the room to give Carlson and Anabelle room to work. He looked in at her, she turned to look back at him their eyes connected. They briefly smiled at each other. After a ten minutes Carlson got the bullet out. Anabelle could not help but grimace as the bullet was pulled out.
Carlson looked at it, the slug mashed against the shattered bone. “He’s lucky to be alive. What’d Walker use anyway?”
“.357 hollow points.”
Anabelle looked sickly at the blood dripping from the wound dabbing at it with more cotton.
Carlson looked up at her. “Get used to it. You’ll be seeing a lot more. And if this Walker stays in
the area much, there will be a lot more.”
“Who is this Walker?” Anabelle asked swallowing the phlegm back in her throat that she wanted to throw up.
“Was in the US Army for around ten years, discharged from the Army turned bounty hunter got tired of chasing outlaws so he decided to come up here thinking it’d be more peaceful.” the Constable said watching the outlaw a minute. “Tried ranch work. Was in the Montana – Wyoming area for a while, before moving up here. Seems the outlaws up here ran into him or he ran into them. Anyway, three outlaw gangs disappeared now this one.”
Anabelle never learned the stranger’s name she had met briefly until much later. She was too shy to ask Dr. Carlson or later anyone in town least they think ill of her. She watched him from afar as he walked or rode around the town otherwise he stayed by the Constable’s office most of the time.
The last of the victims were released by Dr. Carlson, Anabelle stripped the beds turning the linen in to the laundry, Ling Chong’s wife Lou Ana came over to pick the linen up to be washed.
“We take care of,” Lou assured her gathering the linen into a basket.
“We’re grateful,” Anabelle said as Lou bowed and turned to leave.
April 20, 1890
Dear Momma and Daddy and sisters,
Please excuse me for not writing before this but I’ve been busy almost since I got here. Yes, Dr. Carlson needs a nurse, he needs an army of them. Brickman just two weeks ago experienced its first mine accident since I got here …
Anabelle sat on the front porch of the boarding house with the other women following supper. Every one of them had a hand in helping the miners. Feeling relaxed for once, not as harried as
the weeks following the mine collapse the women were enjoying the refreshing early spring evening air.
They watched as the stranger with Constable James walked along the nearly empty street. Anabelle felt a burning in side her as she watched them walk past, neither looked left or right as they passed the boarding house. Anabelle watched for a moment wanting to ask his name but held back.
Sunday afternoon was not only a day of rest but one for people to visit friends and think about something other than work. A baseball game was being played in the empty field near the railroad tracks. The mines were quiet, the engine sat on the siding by the small two stall engine house waiting for Monday morning to begin the cycle all over again.
Anabelle walked to the stream that ran past the town before joining a larger river that flowed to another river. She looked at the placid waters of the mountain fed stream thinking of the dreams she shared with the stream back home. Her nursing career came true, but finding true love was yet to be realized. “Who?” she would ask herself.
The book she carried, a silly dime store novel she sat under the tree opening the book at the bookmarker when she heard:
“Excuse me, ma am, you must be Miss Higgins, the new nurse?”
Anabelle glanced to her left to see the man she had seen during the mine disaster and at the hospital. “Yes. And you are?”
“Jason Roberts. May I?” asking to move closer Anabelle reluctantly assented.
Anabelle nodded to Jason Roberts letting him slid closer.
Closing the book Anabelle knew she had to get over her shyness if she were to get to know this gentleman. “I’ve seen you around town every so often. And I see you help Constable James once in a while.
“Peter and I go back a way. He went on to be in the Mounties and I went in first civil engineering then mines and engineering. We met up again when the mines and railroad opened up out here. I actually work for Tidwell Mining and Engineering Co. the second of the three mines. I’m now their chief engineer.”
“What happened to the other engineer?”
“Company moved him to another mine site.” He shrugged at the thought.
Jason laid back gazing across the stream, the sun dabbled light filtering through the leaves dancing on the ground. Anabelle closed the book staring at the opposite side. Neither spoke for a time.
Thinking about what he wanted to say. He asked, “Just out of nursing school?”
“Yes. That was my first mine accident,” Anabelle said staring at the water she glanced at Jason. “You were brave going in that mine after those men.”
Curling his mouth back Jason said in a low voice, “You don’t want to know how many times I’ve had to do that.”
Glancing at Jason, Anabelle was silent. Looking away she did not have anything to say. The tone of Jason’s voice told her a lot. They sat beside each other staring at the calm water moving past them toward its unknown fate.
Anabelle’s mind took flight as she gazed at the surrounding forests that darkened the horizon around Brickman. She considered, for the moment the strength of the region did not lie in its giant trees and silence, but in that only migrating birds knew where the trees ended.
“Excuse me Jason I must go.” Gathering her things up Anabelle began to stand. Jason sprang to his feet to help her up. Lying a hand in his she was mildly surprised by the gentleness of his work hardened hand. She folded her hand around his as he effortlessly lifted her up. Looking into his eyes she saw the dark blue that could cut a man down in an instant, but melt a woman’s heart. “Thank you, sir.”
“Here may I walk you back to the boarding house?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Jason offered Anabelle his arm as they walked. They passed the mines and rail cars and silence.
Anabelle looked at the mines in the late afternoon light the silence, nothing moved. Jason followed her gaze to the mines that were silent for a Sunday afternoon. “Sometimes I wish it were like this always – quiet. I remember back home our neighborhood would be so quiet at times you could hear a child kick a stone down the street from a block away.”
Jason smiled at the memory. “I guess it’s that way all over. Only the street cars ran on Sunday afternoon. When I was in college myself with friends of mine and the girls we were courting at the time would ride the street cars to the picnic park and spend the day there. The only problem with that idea, Monday meant back to classes.”
“But look at you now. A successful engineer.”
Jason smiled at the thought he had at that moment. ‘I have everything but a good woman at my
side.’ Glancing toward her, he said, “And you are a successful nurse.”
They passed many families who now knew Anabelle. People called to them, waved, children waved. She wanted to cry as the men she helped Dr. Carlson treat thanked her for the treatment she gave them. Many returned to work within a day or two of the mining accident.
Stopping at the foot of the boarding house porch, several men sat on the railing or chairs facing the girls Peggy set out for them. They looked amazed Jason was escorting Anabelle back to the house.
She thanked him and ran inside the girls looking after her.
“Maybe she found someone?” Agnes said watching Jason walk away toward the Mounted Police station, James standing outside the station watching the town.
“That someone is the engineer for Midland Mining and Engineering. If you ask me, they’re made for each other.”
“Mm, we’ll see,” one of the others replied.
Anabelle closed the door to her room leaning against it as if blocking out the world for a while. Laying across the bed thinking about Jason. This was the first time she was alone with a man and acting like a silly school girl. What would he think of her now?
Monday by mid- morning walk-in patients were finished, Dr. Carlson was busy with two patients who needed attention at the clinic.
Patting her patronizingly on the shoulder, he said, “Okay, Anabelle time to spread your wings.
I’ll be tied up here for a few more hours. You can start handling the rounds for us now. There should not be much except check on the few who are still bed ridden, Maggie’s little one whose a month old now, and the Lambert boy, another one that’s accident prone.”
Gathering up the things she would need, Anabelle stepped out to the hospital’s front porch. She found herself on her own to make the morning rounds of the town. Her first stop was the school, which was the local community hall until the school house being built was finished.
Miss Julia Hampton stood outside greeting her charges as they filed back in after lunch and afternoon recess. “Nurse Higgins, good afternoon,” Julia called as Anabelle stopped beside her.
Anabelle smiled and nodded to each child as they filed past saying good afternoon to Miss Higgins and Miss Hampton.
“Miss Hampton.” Setting her bag down at her feet she watched as the children filed in for class.
“Nothing that needs my attention yet?”
Julia allowed her knowing smile crossing her fingers. “No but give them a chance.”
Anabelle’s next stop was to see Maggie. Except for one of the miners who suffered a broken leg she had a good report to give Dr. Carlson when she got back to the hospital.
The next day as Anabelle finished the morning rounds of the patients on bed rest she gave Jason a cheerful good-morning.
“`Morning, Anabelle,” Jason called catching up to her. “Going back to the hospital?”
Anabelle stopped in the middle of the street smiling at Jason. “Good morning, Mr. Roberts. You must have finished your work early today?”
“I did,” Jason said as they continued on their way to the hospital. “But I have to be back to inspect some new work the men are doing today. By the way, having lunch?”
“At the boarding house.”
“Come on over to the café we can have lunch there.”
“Okay.” She decided this would be one way to get over her shyness. After all, being a nurse not only carried its weight but she could not be shy of men anymore.
An hour later they walked into the café, Emily, a new girl from New Brunswick laid menus before them. Anabelle chose roast beef and Jason chicken fried steak.
Breaking the ice between them, he said. “I understand you traveled all the way from New London, Ontario.”
Nodding she said quietly. “Mother was against it, father said it was the only way for me to learn to be on my own, especially as a nurse and hope to make something of myself.”
Their meals arrived shortly Anabelle enjoying the taste of the roast beef, Jason savoring the chicken fried steak. They small talked as they ate, Robert enjoyed listening to Anabelle’s stories of New London and her sisters.
“I don’t know if you saw the notices around town yet but this weekend will be the community dance. Would you do me the honor of going to the dance with me?”
Her heart seemed to skip a beat. Smiling into her napkin Anabelle nodded. “Certainly. It will be an honor.”
The door bell, a small brass bell rang as someone entered. Jason turned his head slightly toward the person who just entered.
Anabelle leaned toward Jason whispering, “Do you know who that is?”
The other looked around the dining room, nodding to Jason and a couple other people.
Jason acknowledged the other returning to his meal. “The American.” He dropped the subject there.
Anabelle was intrigued by the other man. A mystery to be solved. She had read the dime novels both Canadian and American of the heroine who solved some unexplainable mystery or crime that puzzled the police or noted private eye. Why was he far from his origins in America living in the Canadian west?
Lydia Graves and Anabelle watched Doc Carlson fasten a small bell and bracket above the door so it jangled when someone entered or left if they were in the back working.
Carlson stepped down off the chair he was standing on to admire his handy work. He opened and closed the door, the bell jingled each time.
“We should hear that in the back,” he said putting the chair back in place.
Carlson looked out the door watching Constable James crossing the street from the center of town to the hospital.
He said putting the hammer down on an end table as James walked up the steppes to the door. Carlson opened the door as James reached for it.
“Good morning, Constable and what brings you by the hospital?” Carlson asked as the other stepped in removing his hat.
“Good, morning Doctor – ladies. The Corbett Mine accident. Need to finish my report on the accident, all together how many men did you and Nurse Higgins treat that day?” Taking out a note book he was ready to write.
Opening the day book, Lilly found the section with the neatly written notes on the accident and number of men Dr. Carlson and Anabelle treated that day. “Fifty-five and eight were admitted to the hospital. Three in serious condition. Five…”
Constable James looked up at Lilly as she stopped, tears coming to her eyes.
Carlson patted her on the shoulder turning the book so he could see it. Finding the entry
Carlson read, “Five dead.”
Holding on to his professionalism, Constable James touched the brim of his 'Baden-Powell' hat, he said, “Thank you, Dr. Carlson, ladies. I’m sorry to upset you asking these questions, ma’am.” He turned to leave.
James left the hospital, Dr. Carlson said, “That’s going to make some report. As a matter of fact, that’s his first serious incident report.”
The remainder of the day was light, the usual number of children being brought to the hospital by
worried and concerned mothers for bumps and scraps during recess at school. Dr. Carlson, almost from the beginning let Anabelle treat the children, the young ones seemed to favor her gentle hand.
The girls were starting to turn in by ten o’clock that night. Anabelle was just settling down, the covers pulled up to her chin when there was a loud ruckus then a banging at her door.
“Anabelle! Anabelle! There’s a fire!”
“What?” Anabelle sat bolt upright in bed looking toward the darkened window now lighted by angry red and orange flames. The flames shot into the night air past distant trees and buildings of downtown Brickman. Opening the door, she saw several girls in various stages of undress were gathered in the hall. “Let me get dressed, I’ll be right there.”
Outside, past the drawn drapes of her room, Anabelle could hear the fierce clanging of the volunteer fire company’s bells on the two fire engines, black smoke billowing from the stacks, the teams of horses anxious to be moving as the firemen stoked the small boiler to pump water on to the fire.
“It’s at the Corbett Mine,” a girl told her looking toward the window at the end of the hall the flames animated against the black star light velvet of the moonless night.
Anabelle was dressed in the matter of minutes, pulling the cape on, one of the girls passed her the bag she carried for such emergencies. Rushing down the stairs Anabelle was out the door just as Doctor Carlson drew up with the trap.
Jumping onto the bench she drew in a quick breath tainted by the fire to steady her nerves. Carlson cracked the whip and the horse took off at a near-gallop in the direction of the beleaguered mine.
“Now this is interesting,” Carlson said as they wound their way through the town toward the mine passing people turning out to see the fire.
People were rushing from their homes toward the mine, two galloping horses caught up with them, one Constable James, the other Jason Roberts. The two riders passed them.
“A building…” Anabelle gasped pointing to the fire.
Carlson drew up in a clear area. Constable James and Roberts stood beside their mounts watching as the firemen began to put water on the fire, steam with the smoke rose into the night air. “The mine office. Everything is lost.” Walker arrived seeing there was not much he could do that the firemen were not doing already.
People gathered around to watch and speculate what caused it, or who caused the fire.
Carlson climbed down from the trap. He said to Anabelle, “Stay here. It doesn’t look as if there is much for us to do.”
Walking up to three men he looked the fire over the firemen started the pump to hose the fire down the water hissing from the heat like an angry snake. Smoke and steam rose in to the night sky the air stank from the smoke and burning debris but another odor permeated the air an odor that made those close to the fire sick.
“Arson,” said Roberts under his breath. “That odor tells me a lot and I don’t like it.”
Constable James silently holding his thoughts agreed with them. He didn’t like the smell of the smoke that lingered on the night air. It was too close to burning human remains.
“What are your thoughts?” He asked although he knew but was staying quiet for the moment.
The Mayor, Richard Strassman pulled up in his buggy minutes later looking shocked at the fury of the fire. “Where’s Mark Kotterburg?”
Mark Kotterburg was part owner of the Corbett Mine and Mineral Company.
“Have no idea, sir,” said Constable James. “Haven’t seen him for two days, nor Peter Lester. Lester is supposed to be in Vancouver according to a couple people.”
A woman’s scream split the night. The sudden scream was heard above the sounds of the fire engine pumps, the sounds of people talking, the crackling of the dying fire. The other women gathered around her as she fainted.
Mayor Strassman looked in the direction of the cluster of women but said nothing immediately.
“Who was that?” Jason asked looking toward the crowd of women.
“Donna Ames,” said Carlson running over to the group. “Someone must have told her; her husband Paul is dead.”
“Must have been one of the women,” said Peter James closing his notebook walking toward what was left of the fire.
Anabelle jumped down from the trap to follow the doctor. Women and men parted when the two walked up, Jason Roberts following.
“This does not look good,” Jason said as they peered down on the woman being comforted by two of the women.
“Donna Ames, doctor,” one of the women told Doctor Carlson as he knelt beside Donna.
“Will she be all right, Doctor?” another lady asked wringing her hands.
“Yes,” he said feeling tired now feeling her forehead for lack of a thermometer. “Stress and trauma learning of her husband’s death.”
Reaching back to Anabelle she took a vial of ammonia salts from her bag passing it to Dr. Carlson. Uncapping the vial, he waved the salts under her nose. She awoke with a start, tears flowing from her eyes. Their children comforted by another woman, the men busy with the fire.
It was late when the fire was finally doused leaving charred ruins and the stone foundation. Anabelle could only watch staying near the trap waiting for the doctor to return from tending to the remains. Donna Ames was finally taken home having cried all the tears there was to cry that night.
Two men brought a hay wagon around drawing it up near the burned-out building. She watched as four men carefully lifted a bundle from the ashes, carefully lying it on the wagon. Carlson walked back to the trap his foot falls heavy with grief.
Stopping in front of Anabelle he said, “I’ll go back on the wagon with the remains, Anabelle. Take the trap and stop at Mrs. Ames to assure she is alright then come over to the hospital I’ll need you there.”
Anabelle drew up to the house, one which appeared as all the rest, uniform in design, uniform in color but not in the way the woman decorated it. Stopping the trap at the house Anabelle grabbed her bag jumping down she ran up the front steps through the open door. Passing friends and those who recognizing her made way for her. Seeing her coming people naturally parted for her. The white nurse’s uniform was like a pass giving her admittance to almost any place in the town. She walked over to the chair where Donna sat in her grief, her children gathered around her still unable to grasp the loss of their father.
“Donna,” one of the women said getting her attention, “its Nurse Higgins.”
“Donna, its Anabelle are you okay?” she gently asked, kneeling beside Donna’s chair pulling her stethoscope from the medical bag.
Nodding Donna looked up through reddened, blood shot eyes. “My husband…? He’s really dead?”
Anabelle did not have Doctor Carlson at her side to tell her what to do. She was trapped by the
simple question. The one person at that moment who could help her out of the problem walked
in the house. Laying a hand on her shoulder, she looked up in to the sad eyes of the minister.
“I’ll help, Anabelle,” Reverend Michaels said softly. “Thank you for all you’re doing.”
Nodding Anabelle stood letting the Reverend to take her place.
Reverend Michaels said, “Anabelle, you need to get some rest. Tomorrow will be busy enough.”
Michaels knew how hard she worked as a nurse, at times she had to take over from Carlson
doing his work, a job she was quickly learning she was never taught at nursing school.
Returning to the hospital, the front light up by lanterns on brackets. The hay wagon, horses, and
buggies were parked in front of the hospital. The sight held a surreal appearance as Anabelle stopped the trap near the front of the hospital.
Rushing inside she ran back to the examining room where Doctor Carlson was working on the remains. He looked up as she walked in to the room.
“Good. How is Mrs. Ames?”
“She’s fine now, sir. Reverend Mitchell is with her.”
Not saying anything, he turned back to his work. Anabelle turned her face away from the charred body, the odor nauseating everyone. Doors and windows were opened against the chill late spring night. She saw everyone was there from the Mayor to Constable James standing around the table. The blackened body in the examining room lights did not appear human, more some creature from a nightmare. The girl’s eyes fastened on the sight for a moment, the image etching itself on her mind a demon that would live on in her soul.
Working against the odor, Dr. Carlson pointed to the base of the skull. “Anabelle hold the head up – here use a towel.”
Trying to hold the bile down she held the head up so Carlson could use a lamp to shine light at the base of the skull.
“Fractured.” He looked up at James. “See?”
“Yes.” James looked closer adjusting the light. “Trauma.”
“Hit from behind by a blunt force.”
Gripping the edge of the examining table, Annabelle listened to the men discuss what was now turning into a murder case.
The meat and potatoes set half-finished before Anabelle. Peggy set across from her. Tears of frustration and fear streamed down the girl’s face. Sobbing, the feeling of helplessness smothered her as she held her face in her hands the sobs racking her body. Anabelle needed then to talk out her fears to someone who would listen. No longer did she have her mother or sisters, she was on her own now.
“It was horrible, Peggy. Mrs. Ames has nowhere to go after this. All her friends are here, her children’s friends are here. They grew up here.”
Looking up, her eyes blood shot and red from crying, her eyes wet with her tears.
Peggy reached across the table taking Anabelle’s hand. “Donna has a few days before she has to move out of company housing. If she has to she can move in here for a few days.”
Nodding, she said, “Thank you, Peggy.”
Despite feeling washed out and only getting a few hours’ sleep she joined the other ladies for breakfast in the dining room. Not too many talked. Anabelle was still feeling the weight of Donna Ames’ husband’s death. The conversations centered on the day’s activities or letters from home. Anabelle knew she would have to send a long letter to her family to catch them up on the events in Brickman.
Feeling like the walking dead Anabelle made the rounds while the doctor and town mortician prepared the body for burial the next day. It was already known the town would shut down, like it did for those killed in the accident, for the funeral. The town and miners and railroad crewmen would be there.
Walking along the street Anabelle stopped when Constable James left out of the NWMP station, a piece paper in hand. The Constable had a determined look as he swiftly walked toward the telegraph office and the general store where it was located.
The next day the mines and mills shut down. Reverend Michaels conducted the memorial service and funeral for Paul Ames. Miners, town’s people, rail road workers, Miss Hampton closed school that day, the two saloons in the town were closed until late afternoon. There was hardly a dry eye among those at the grave site as six miners lowered the casket into the ground. The miners pooled their money for a head stone for the grave.
Despite the funeral, the community events went on, it took some of the joy out of the day Friday night of the dance but they went on with their daily lives.
A stack of towels walked up the hall stopping in front of a door. Knocking the girl entered the room walking into a white cloud of steam and a dozen giggling, laughing women. Bath time at Peggy’s rooming house. Peggy stepped out, her hair falling in her face.
“That’s all the towels, Dolly?”
“Good our turn,”
The door opened again steam rolled out to the hall as two girls wrapped in towels and robes darted to their rooms to dress for the community dance. Peggy sent Dolly to get herself ready for
the dance. The girls helped each other with hair and cinching up dresses. They knew especially
they would have to look their best for their beaus.
Anabelle and her new friends were gathered in the boarding house parlor Peggy overseeing the event, the girls waiting for the men to begin calling on them. Several of the men were just as shy and worried they would make mistakes as the girls. Jason Roberts stepped in to the parlor smiling to Anabelle. The girls pairing with the men walking the short distance to the community hall. Music already playing could be heard as they approached.
Constable James stood near the door, his red and black uniform of the Mounted Police set him apart from the other men that night. Julie Hampton, walking over with some of the other women smiled to Peter as she entered the hall.
“Going to join us, Peter?” she asked with a wink of her eye.
“Maybe later,” he said as people passing bid him hello. Peter tipped his hat to the ladies nodding to the men maintaining his professionalism.
In the far corner parents fixed beds for their children, food and drink plenty was provided by the women. Some of the single women from the Boarding House provided treats for the event. Anabelle with Jason stood to the side with two other couples watching people arriving. Jason nudged Anabelle.
“Would you believe that?” he whispered nodding toward the door.
Anabelle stopped, her drink almost to her mouth. “Doc and Peggy?”
“Wondrous things do happen,” Jason said in a low voice trying not to appear amazed.
Violins and trumpets with piano played the opening number. Jason and Anabelle joined the other couples on the floor for the first dance.
By the middle of the evening Peter James joined the dance, Julie flowing in to his arms. Resplendent in his crimson and black uniform, Julie in a lilac and white gown smiled to each other. The tune changed to a waltz, Peter guiding Julia around the floor. The others quickly gave over the floor to the couple some of the women had tears of happiness. They became oblivious to everyone else as they circled the floor.
The next day, Saturday Doc Carlson had one patient and by lunch the three closed up the hospital for the weekend.
“That was a first,” Carlson said as he locked the door. “Let’s enjoy ourselves for once.”
June 23, 1890
Dear Mother and Father and Sisters,
Yes, it was been a grand spring and promises to be a wonderful summer. As I write this the hospital has been quite busy of late, nothing tragic to speak of since the mine disaster…
Anabelle was still feeling shy with Jason twirling the parasol they walked in silence for a few minutes following the road past the Corbett Mine. Stopping, Jason followed Anabelle’s gaze to the burned-out ruins of the mine office.
“Do you see something?” Jason asked trying to see what she saw amongst the rubble.
“I want to take another look, Jay.” Anabelle crossed the idle rail road tracks to the abandoned mine company yard. Jason following still did not know what caught the girl’s attention, but she was intent on something. Picking up her long skirt, Anabelle carefully mounted the steps picking her way through the debris Jason holding her hand she walked to what had been the front entrance.
Looking the charred debris over she carefully stepped through the ruins, Anabelle located the burnt remains of the desk and chair where Paul Ames would have been sitting and a partially ruined file cabinet two drawers standing open, the papers a sodden mass from the water.
“Now,” Anabelle said never having seen the inside of a mine’s office she tried to visualize the building. Her amateur detective’s intuition taking charge. “If somebody wants something from here, what would they want and where would it be located?”
Jason stood by the ruined door. “I’ll tell ya, the mine’s safety records for one and the latest engineer inspection reports another. Those two could be used against him – or management.”
‘Yes.’ He should know, Anabelle thought, he’s a mine engineer. Looking around again, Anabelle said, “Where would they be kept?”
Jason saw the remains of two more desks and chairs and two file cabinets.
“Probably back here.” Jason stepped over the charred remains to what was left of a wooden file cabinet. Looking down at the lower water soaked drawers that were pulled out, Jason carefully knelt but refrained from touching the drawers. They looked down at the drawers then glanced at each other.
Anabelle said holding her skirt out of the ashes and away from the charred timbers she looked around the corner seeing a can laying on its side the lid off.
“What bothers me now this Lester who was supposed to be here was not,” Jason said with a trace of bitterness and suspicion to his words, “and now Mark Kotterburg one of the owners is missing.”
Jason and Anabelle were intent on the file cabinet they did not hear the shuffling of feet on the gravel.
“Jason – Anabelle!” a man’s voice called.
Jason looked up glancing past the burned walls they saw Constable James and Miss Hampton walking toward them.
“Peter – Julia, Peter you better take a good look at this mess. The more we look the more there is that doesn’t look right.”
Constable James climbed up to the burned-out office area. Jason started pointing out things they found that gave them reason to be suspicious. Julia decided they did not need her getting in the way she just watched.
“Think they –whoever got what they came for and left?”
“Pretty sure they did,” Jason said standing. Dusting his hands off. “By the way, has anything on this been sent to your headquarters in Calgary?”
“Yes. There’s a team being sent to look into it as well as mine safety inspectors.”
“And all those men put out of work too.” Anabelle looked at the silent mining machinery of the two remaining mines that would be active on Monday.
The two couples, crossing the silent tracks began walking back to the town.
“Not necessarily,” said Jason letting Anabelle slip her hand through his arm. “My company and the other began picking up many of the men from Corbett to fill in the evening shift. We need to make up some of the short fall caused by the accident and now this situation.”
Wednesday morning Anabelle finished her morning rounds, Doctor Carlson was with the inspectors, who arrived by train on the express from Toronto.
Constable James, and Jason Roberts were at the town hall testifying about what they knew and saw at the mine. Constable James was waiting for a reply to his telegram looking for both Lester and Kotterburg. Corbett’s chief owner and partner, Henry Corbett Jr. was not in the mood as the board reviewed the evidence. The faults and violations would now fall to him and the other partner.
Anabelle heard Lilly say, “Jim, what … who is this?”
“Found him by the trail leading into town.”
“Anabelle...!” Lilly called
Anabelle rushed out from the back stopped long enough to look him over. “What happened to
him, Mr. Walker?”
“Cargo wagon went off the road and turned over.” Walker looked around then asked, “Where is everybody?”
“Town hall discussing the Corbett Mine case,” said Lilly. “And we still haven’t seen anything of either Lester or Kotterburg.”
Walker walked the man back to the examining room, Anabelle getting water and clean clothes.
Lilly took the day book in to begin filling it out.
There was a commotion outside the Mountie Station drawing Constable James out to the street. Finishing his testimony, he returned to duty at the station. James stopped short coming face to face with Mark Kotterburg.
“I thought something happened?” James said puzzled. “Where have you been the last several weeks?”
“Ottawa. What happen to the mine? The office is burned, I’m told there has been an accident and five miners killed and now Paul Ames. What’s happened, where has Lester been?”
“Missing. It’s suspected those accidents were planned.” James said guiding Kotterburg out of the street. “The mining commission and police are holding hearings now.”
Julie Hampton watched from the community center as James walked across the street to the town
hall and the hearings on the mine disaster. Anabelle stepped out of the hospital to check on a pregnant woman. She stopped to watch the two men cross to the town hall. She saw the look of concern on Julie’s face watching the children playing, dodging wagons, coaches and carriages. They would be glad when the new school was finally built that summer. Then there would a large area for the children to play in and be safe.
Carriages pulled up to the town hall sometime later, the officials boarded carriages Jason and Constable James ran back to get their horses followed the procession, rode out to the mine.
“Wonder what they’re going to do?” Lilly said watching from the front door of the hospital.
“I think they’re going to look the mine over. I wonder if they’re going to ever reopen it?” Anabelle mused feeling anxious watching the line of carriages leave for the mines.
They turned around to go back inside. They knew Dr. Carlson would be tied up with the hearing the remainder of the day. At five o’clock Lilly left to go back to the boarding house, Anabelle stayed until Dr. Carlson returned toward sunset, smiling.
Anabelle opened the door. “The meeting went well, I suppose.”
“Very well.” Carlson stepped inside taking his hat off tossing it on the desk. Pulling a chair around to sit down. Anabelle sat opposite him. “Mr. Kotterburg was exonerated of negligence by the inspectors. So now both the Northwest Mounted Police and RCMP are looking for Lester. And to make matters worse for him, Constable James went one step further. He requested they extend the search for him to the US. It’s likely he’d have made it to the States or tried to get past the border police before getting picked up by the authorities there.”
Anabelle was surprised by the sudden turn of events. “But if Lester tries to leave by sea?”
“If he does – well, best of luck to him. Hope he can speak fluent Japanese or Chinese.”
Anabelle and Carlson enjoyed a hearty laugh.
“The worse part though is, he stole company money when he left. James proved that part. Oh, Lester was not idle after the accident he tried covering up the records prior to the accident.”
“What is Mr. Kotterburg going to do?” Anabelle asked as Carlson stretched his legs out.
“Recover. He’ll go back to Calgary, probably work on getting a loan from one of the banks to reopen the mine and hire new men. That means more people and a growing community. Anyway,” Carlson stood. “I don’t think we’ll have anyone else today, let’s close up and work on this tomorrow.”
The day prior everyone in Brickman was looking forward to Canada Day, July 1 or Dominion Day, Le Jour de la Confédération in French. Miss Hampton was busy coaching the children on their lines they’d be reciting on July 1 for the community commoration and recognition when Canada, which united three colonies into a single country called Canada within the British Empire was founded.
Anabelle and Lilly decorated the hospital lobby with the colors of the new flag of Canada. The girls were busy hanging the bunting on the porch when a pair of hands slipped around Lilly’s waist. Lifting her up to tack the bunting from the side of the porch over hang. Squealing she looked down to see Jim Walker holding her up.
“Jim!” Lilly squealed shocked. “What if the Doctor sees us?”
Anabelle squealed as she was lifted aloft. “Jason!”
“I do,” Carlson said laughing. “Haven’t had this much fun since my birthday in university.”
The two girls’ feet touched the ground. Their faces red from embarrassment they brushed their hands over themselves grinning at each other. The two men laughing took the girl’s arms to walk them back to the rooming house.
Constable Peter James stood in the back of the community center listening as lines were recited, Julie Hampton coaching them as they stumbled over the words. Julie satisfied it was as good as it would get released the children. Collapsing onto a chair as the children rushed out past the Constable. He sat in the row behind her.
“Why don’t you go outside to cool off?” he suggested.
Julie looked back at him with a weary smile. “I would if I had the strength to walk outside. I’ll be glad when this is over tomorrow.”
Patting her on the arm he said, “Come on you need to get out of here as much as the children.”
As they stepped outside, Peter took the keys from Julie locking the door they walked to the town hall to return the keys to the town clerk a studious young man gazing at James from behind gold wire rim glasses.
“Thank you, Constable,” he said in a delicate lilting tone that made James cringe.
“I’ll open the community hall tomorrow at eight o’clock.”
“Certainly. I’ll be here.”
Stepping outside Peter glanced back as he was closing the door. “Guy gives me the creeps.”
They walked back to the boarding house where Julie was living. “See you tomorrow?
Julie nodded. “Yes.”
Turning she went inside past the others sitting on the porch watching.
Everywhere Anabelle looked colorful bunting and flags fluttered in the wind. The snapping and popping of the flags was a contrast to the sound of the horses and sounds from trains working around the sidings for the mines. Anabelle felt a thrill as she watched Brickman transformed into a wonderland of color. She felt a sense of liveliness that she was missing with all the troubles of the days before. She skipped back to Peggy’s with a gay feeling that all was right with the world now.
Anabelle remembered with fondness the Canada or Dominion Days in Toronto as a young girl and even when she was going to nursing school the parades, the bands, floats, and girls throwing candy to the crowd.
The next morning the girls rushed through breakfast then out the door to meet their beaus waiting patiently for them. Peggy watched with a wistful tear the young girls leaving for the day. Anabelle tried to be more supreme then the others. Jason was waiting for her, the others rushing away on the arms of their men.
The roasting pits had been ignited long ago, the pork and beef was laid out in the long pits to begin roasting that would take most of the day.
People were gathered around the board displaying the day’s events that were ending with the fireworks display. Anabelle held onto Jason’s arm as they walked stopping to watch the baseball field laid out, the pitchers warming up, batters swinging their bats getting their swing just right.
Constable James and Julie Hampton stopped at the town hall for the key to the community center. The clerk was puttering around the office aimlessly as they walked in the door.
“Ah, Constable James and Miss Hampton I see you are here for the key.” Holding the key out between thumb and fore finger he passed the key to James with a delicate gesture. “And I need remind you I need the key back as soon as the pageant is over – Constable.”
“You’ll have it as soon the children are finished,” he assured him turning toward Julie he made a face. Julie had to suppress a laugh.
Clutching the key in his hand, James quickly left the town hall crossing the street Julie nearly running to keep up with him.
“You’d think he owns this key,” James said in a low voice when Julie caught up with him.
“I’ll make sure he gets it back when we are through,” she assured James.
Children were already at the community hall waiting to get in to set up for the annual Dominion Day pageant. James unlocked the door, stepping aside the children streamed in getting their costumes on, many were ready by the time the first adults began to arrive for the opening of the festivities.
The mayor and managers and owners took that time to “stump” their latest causes. Mr. Kotterburg profusely apologizing for the mine collapse and fire assuring it would be set right and the men would have plenty of work. Jason noted the owner of the local paper was taking copious notes for the publication the next day.
After fifteen minutes of using the occasion as a platform to air their causes the mayor turned the floor over to Julie.
“The children worked especially hard on their presentation this year. Jerimiah…” Julie sat at the piano playing the background music. Jerimiah Wells opened the event with the first settlers arriving in the “new” world.
Anabelle and Jason listened to the presentation with full attention.
Peggy and her helper, Dolly finished up the dishes in a melancholy mood wondering if someone would take them to the Dominion Day festivities, all the other girls in the boarding house had beaus already to include Dr. Carlson’s nurse Anabelle.
Peggy started to sit on the porch and watch the events from afar when there was a soft cough from the street.
“Peggy?” Dr. Carlson said getting her attention. “Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the festivities?”
A young man, hat in hand said, “Dolly? May I ask you to go to the Dominion Day festivities with me?”
Dolly smiled warmly nodding. “Yes, I’d be delighted, Phil. Taking the apron off tossing it inside on the registration counter she skipped down the steps taking Phil’s arm they walked to the community center where the children’s presentation was getting underway.
Darkness fell over the land like a cozy blanket. Everyone counted off the seconds, then on one the sky was filled with a sparkling blaze of color. The fireworks light up the prairie sky, the popping, booming, bangs echoed off the distant mountains, mountains that reached the sky, covered with snow into late summer cooling the distant valley.
Jason slipped his arm about Anabelle’s waist. He quietly asked her, “Anabelle, I know your father isn’t here to speak for you to say yes or no, but I want to ask you to marry me?”
At that moment, a large rocket exploded over head lighting up the sky like daylight. The brief white light of the rocket reflected the look of surprise and brief indecision on the girl’s part. She was stunned by the question. Recovering she said, “Yes, Jason. I’ll write my family tonight asking my father about the - matter.”
A woman’s scream pierced the joy of the night. “My child! He’s hurt. Doctor…!”
Anabelle cried, “Oh no! Isabelle, the Robinson boy.”
She stood pulling Jason to his feet, “Come on.” She made out Doc Carlson on the other side of the crowded field standing, Peggy standing with him. The four rushed through the crowd, Lilly pulling Jim Walker to his feet leading him though the crowd. Started running toward the hospital.
“I’ll open the hospital!” Lilly called running toward the town.
Doc and Anabelle rushed over to the tree the boy fell out of. Isabelle knelt over the boy comforting him. A wagon was brought over to carry him to the hospital.
Lilly had the hospital open, Anabelle and Jason ran up to it to set up the examining room. Soon the rattle of harness and snort of the horses the wagon had arrived. Lilly had both doors open. Jim helped carry the Robinson boy carefully inside to the examining room. A few minutes later the Reverend rushed in, Lilly just pointed to the back and the room with the examining lamps light.
Jason and Jim quickly vacated the examining room leaving it to Carlson and Anabelle. Late night people around Brickman looked toward the lights of the hospital to see if they were still light. It was near dawn when Anabelle turned the lamps down. Lilly and Jim were asleep in the front room, Jason fell asleep on the porch.
Doc Carlson sat in the chair asleep in the Robinson boy’s room with his parents hovering close by.
Anabelle sat beside Jason watching the silver-gray sliver of light appear to the east heralding another day slowly replacing the black of night. The girl’s mind was divided. A man she came to care for very much asked her to marry him, but there was the need too of the people of Challenge Valley who looked to her now in their time of need. She could not in good conscious walk away from that, it was the profession she chose.
Jim said in a quiet voice, “Now I know what it’s like waking up beside you.”
Blushing a shade of scarlet Anabelle looked away a moment. “You were serious asking my hand in marriage?”
Looking down at the floor boards of the porch she said, “I can only promise you I will think on it, Jason. I made a spontaneous decision to come out here. I knew in my heart I was needed here. Doc Carlson needs me – the people need me – I cannot back out now.”
Jason knew too well the life he had chosen. Times it could be lonely, constant toil and misery – and danger. The responsibility. The decisions either the men had work or did not have work, the mines were safe for them to work in or not safe to work in. Satisfying both the miners and management and government was never easy.
Anabelle glanced at Jason. He said looking away, her fair eyes searching his, “I’ll always be here for you, Anabelle.”
Taking his rough hand laying it over her soft one, Jason gently squeezed. Anabelle looked down at it enveloping hers holding it for a minute, she said, “We’ll still have each other for company and companionship – and I do love you Jason.”
“Yes, I do love you Anabelle. And there’s always tomorrow.” Jim stood kissing her lips, turning he walked down the steps to the street walking toward the distant mines. This was another day, the festivities of yesterday forgotten.
Now snowcapped the mountains in late summer still showed their majesty, the mountains touched the sky like arms extended in solace offering peace in their beauty and tragedy. In the shadow the great edifices basked in wonder of a new world.
Anabelle turned to the mountains seeking the answer to the question that appeared to be a Gregorian Knot, impossible to answer. “Have I just passed up a chance to make a life for myself and the man I have come to love, or have I merely set it aside for another calling? I’ll never know now.”
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