For Roy, it was a good time except for the accidents. The work at the mine challenged him. He enjoyed the frequent carousing after work at The Red Nugget with his mates. Sometimes in the evenings he played Poker with Cal and Pa. Once in a while a few of the neighbor men would join them. Then the stakes would go up, the betting turn more reckless and the shouts more raucous. Betsy and AnnaBeth found it difficult to sleep.
That is— until this summer. At twenty-four, Roy was in love. Jenny Foster, the daughter of Tobias Foster, and niece of Sheriff Foster, was the finest gal Roy had ever known. He had noticed her singing at the Methodist Church for a long time. It was his single motive for attending services. He had finally gotten up the courage to speak to her.
Tall and slim, she was very shapely. Roy knew he couldn’t do better than to win the hand of this lovely girl, whose disposition was as sweet as her features. He meant to make her his bride.
More and more poker nights gave way to visits at Jenny’s home. This meant giving up The Red Nugget after work in exchange for a good bath.
And while he was soaking, Roy could just imagine what pleasures the night would bring. He didn’t mind the razzing that went along with his new habits. It was all part of the scene that made up that magic time in a young man’s life when he was smitten with love. Warm evenings were spent with his sweetheart strolling down Fifth Street to the ice-cream parlor, and then out toward the edge of town, away from prying eyes.
But Roy didn’t much like it that her father, as well as his own parents, expected them to wait a couple of years to consummate their intentions. She was too young, they said.
He wanted her now.
Often in their evenings, Jenny brought out her violin and entertained Roy and her father with melodious music while the men enjoyed a glass of port and a cigar. At some point Tobias would excuse himself, leaving the young people alone in the parlor, while he retired to his bedroom to read.
Roy had a very hearty sexual appetite and much of their time was spent with Jenny dissuading him from going too far. Endless arguments ensued.
“Please, Sweetheart. You know I love you.”
“Then we can wait. . .”
“Jenny, I can’t stand it. I love you.”
“I love you too, and that makes it worth waiting for. Doesn’t it?”
Roy groaned. “Yes, but what are you worried about?”
“You know. I might . . .”
“Then we’ll get married.”
“I don’t want it that way.”
And a replay of this time-immemorial dialogue would go on night after night. In truth Roy understood Jenny’s position perfectly, and respected her for it, but he was getting so randy he could hardly bear it, and two years seemed a lifetime.
As he approached the front door, Roy could hear his parents arguing. He waited on the porch. But even from there he could hear the disagreement.
“Jeremy Willis, I cannot leave it alone. Those poor people—”
“It’s not our business, Betsy.”
“It is our business! I have to find Patty.”
Calvin came up the steps. Roy motioned him to be still and sit beside him on the swing.
“They’re having a row,” he whispered to his brother.
Betsy continued. “But where have they gone? And why haven’t I heard from her?”
“If it’s the house cleaning you’re worried about, there are plenty others—”
“It’s not that, Jeremy. I care about Patty.”
Jeremy put his head in the newspaper, and Betsy knew the conversation was over.
There were seasons of affection, as she called them— times when, if she did not contradict him, or worse yet, disagree with him in public, Jeremy could be quite kind and generous. But if she dared cross him, he was harsh indeed.
His position and reputation were everything to him. Just a few months ago he had been appointed to the Board of Supervisors and he felt much honored. He was one of only two “members at large” from the community. All others had administrative positions in the Keweenaw Company. He knew his role was subordinate. He was allowed to vote, but it was understood that he would follow suit, would defer to his seniors in all matters discussed, and would not make new proposals. Still, he swelled with pride at his new standing.
He felt established enough to buy a motor car. Not one of those tin Lizzies. Henry Ford had said you could have a Model T in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. No, he’d get an Oldsmobile, in a wine color if he could, or maybe dark blue. Yes, he would do that.
Two days later Betsy said to her daughter, “You’d think Patty could have sent word.”
Finally, in frustration, she decided to go to that part of town set aside by the Keweenaw for their workers.
“I’ll go with you, Mother,” AnnaBeth said.
“No, Dear, I wouldn’t want you to see such sights as I’m likely to encounter.”
“But you shouldn’t go alone.”
“I’ll be fine. You start supper, will you? You can warm up the ham and parsnips, if I’m not home.”
Betsy didn’t have an address, but counted on her inquiries directing her to the right place. She walked along Elm, and back up to the main road, past the mine. She continued on flat ground for half a mile, where she could see the tiny plots of land and houses leased to the employees of the Keweenaw. The miners’ houses sat all in a straight row, and for the most part looked much the same.
Betsy thought the whole village looked forlorn. Each modest house had an outhouse and a fence separating it from its neighbors. The place was almost treeless, save for a few young saplings struggling to survive in the sun-baked clay. Nonetheless, some tidy gardens displayed their vegetables. Here and there she saw a cow or a bleating goat.
She walked along the dirt road until she caught sight of a woman tending her potato patch.
“Excuse me, please,” Betsy waited for the woman to look up.
Seeing Betsy’s finery, the woman stared at her. “No Inglis,” she said, and turned away.
Betsy nodded and continued down the road hoping to see someone else. She would rather avoid knocking on doors if possible. In a few blocks she encountered another woman rounding the corner with her shopping basket. Betsy stopped her.
“Could you direct me to the home of Patty and Michael Riley, please?”
“Riley, is it? I’ve not heard of them.” The woman looked puzzled. “But you’ve come to the right part. This is the Irish section it is, and by the name, I’d say you’re lookin’ for Irish.”
“Well, ma’am, I know all the Irish here, and there’s none called by that name. What kinda work does your man do?”
“Mr. Riley is a trammer for the Keweenaw.”
“Oh, there’s your answer then! The trammers don’t live here. These houses are for miners.”
“Where are the trammers’ houses?”
The young woman raised her head. “Why ma’am, the trammers are simple laborers, not skilled at anythin’. It’s mucking out the rock they do, after the miners have found the veins of copper. The miners, like my husband, has to choose where to drill and where to set explosives, a job that takes—”
“Where do the trammers live?”
The young woman shrugged. “Wherever they can find, here and there, is my guess. But not on company property, I can tell you that. Try the west end, past the sawmill.”
“Thank you and good day, then.”
Betsy strode away, upset that she’d come so far for nothing, and smarting that she’d had to be schooled by a simple miner’s wife. Well, of course she knew the difference between the work of a miner and a trammer. But it shocked her that while the miner was provided with home and garden, the trammer was offered no accommodation at all.
She increased her pace. Well, certainly the Company would have the addresses of their employees. As long as she was near the mine, she decided to stop and get the information.
On the grounds, she strode directly to the building on which hung a sign that read “Employment.” Under it was written in smaller print, “Reliable, Sober Men Wanted. Good wages. Apply within”. She was shown into a small cubicle, the office of the chief clerk. Everything in it was covered with dust. Several dirty coffee cups lay about the desk and the nearby cabinet. As he motioned to Betsy to sit down, Mr. Copley waved at the flies that buzzed about his partially eaten meal.
A plume of dust rose to greet her nostrils as the man dropped a large ledger on the desk. Betsy reached for her handkerchief.
Betsy looked down at the book. As the clerk turned the pages, she could see that many names had been crossed out, and others added. They were all in heavy black ink, in a hand she recognized as being from the old country.
“Would you be knowin’ when he began employment with us?” Mr. Copley asked. “The names are entered by date, so that’s the only way we have of findin’ them.”
“I believe it’s was about six years ago. They’d just arrived when his missus came to work for me.”
“Oh, that long ago?”
Mr. Copley dropped a second ledger on the desk. Another plume of dust caught the slender ray of light through the grimy window.
He turned the pages and after some time declared, “Ah, here we have it.” He copied the address down on a piece of paper. “This is where he lives, unless they’ve moved. They’re supposed to let us know when they change their whereabouts, but they don’t always.”
Betsy thanked him and took her leave. She was angry as she marched along the road. She was appalled at what she’d learned.
Approaching an unfamiliar part of town, she debated whether to turn back or to go the other way and try to find the home of the Rileys. She was hungry and tired, but she didn’t want to give up now.
She hadn’t gone this far on foot in a very long time. Her feet ached. She felt hot and dirty. The August winds whipped up the dust in the streets and blew it in her face. By nine o’clock the heat had burned the dew off the flowers and grass. It was going to be a very hot day.
She followed the directions to a neighborhood so filthy that she had to pick up her skirts to avoid dragging them in the dirt and the litter. Horse droppings were thick with flies as big as nickels. The stench of manure invaded her nostrils. Betsy felt she could taste it in the dust that pervaded every pore. She heard a splash and turned abruptly. The contents of a chamber pot emptied from the window above had just missed her. Betsy choked back her nausea.
As she turned the corner two scrawny half-starved cats rubbed against her legs and meowed. A naked toddler sat banging two stones together on a stoop. This was the street she was looking for— now to find the right building.
Betsy could find no numbers on the houses. She was about to inquire of a man approaching her, when he shot a wad of tobacco so close to her she had to jump to escape it. When the next person came near she screwed her courage in place and approached him.
“I am looking for number fourteen. Would you know which door that might be?”
“Sorry, mum. I don’t live on this street. You’ll have to ask within.”
Well, she supposed, she should have done that in the first place. She knocked on the nearest door. A woman heavy with child, and another under her arm came to the door.
She would have been pretty, Betsy thought, a few years ago, or under other circumstances. Time and hard work had taken its toll. The woman pushed loose strands of pale hair away from her face, and wiped spit-up from the baby’s mouth.
“Yah, das is number fourteen, and dere are four families here, but none by name Riley.”
“Perhaps I’m in the wrong section, then. Where do the Irish live?” Betsy inquired.
The woman laughed. “Yer thinkin’ of miners’ houses. There’s no sections here.”
“You’re sure you don’t know the Rileys?’
“If he vasn’t German, I vouldn’t know.”
As Betsy turned to go the woman said, “You might try askin’ at de Irish saloons. That’d be vhere his friends vould be. But be sure it’s Irish vhere you do your askin’. De others vouldn’t know.”
Betsy could hear a man singing a German love song in the next room. Now he came up to them and caught the last of what his wife was saying. “De lady von’t go in de beer hall.” He put his arm around his wife. “Who’s it yer lookin’ for?”
“Riley. Michael and Patty Riley.”
The man shook his head. “Must verk on de day shift. I verk on de night shift. If he verked on de night shift I mighta heard of him.”
She turned to the man. “Could you make the inquiries? I would pay you.”
“Ach! I vould get torn to pieces in an Irish bar.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ah, vell das de vay it is. And if de Irish vas to come in Deutch bar? De same. Yah, de saloons are separate, for Slavs, Norvegians—everybody. It’s bad ‘nuf ve haf to verk togeder. Ve sure don’t vant to drink togeder!” He laughed and pulled his wife toward him, looked at her with adoration, Betsy thought.
Again she turned to leave, but the man continued, “If you go up on Clancy Street, dats vere you find most de Irish. Dey vont boder you, Lady, not if you go in the daytime. Ask some fellow dere to help you find ‘im. Yah, dat vould be goot.”
Betsy had never been to this part of town. Street after street was lined with saloons. Finally she found Clancy. It was difficult for Betsy to navigate in her laced up leather shoes with the French heel. By now she was limping. The sights and smells were no better than she’d experienced in the rest of town. She passed people speaking in foreign tongues and bars with strange sounding names. No one and nothing looked remotely Irish. Occasionally, a door would open and Betsy would catch the boisterous clamor from within.
She began to feel queasy.
Her dress was much too warm for the afternoon. Comfortable when the sun had first shown itself in the sky, Betsy felt it must now be in the eighties. Her long skirts and petticoats held the heat; the tightness around her collar and wrists trapped it.
She began to feel weak. She remembered she’d been on her feet for hours and hadn’t eaten since early morning. Suddenly she felt as if everything was whirling around her.
As she came to, the first thing she knew was that she was lying on something hard in a dark place. Groping beneath her, she thought it must be a table. Sensing a strong smell of beer and chewing tobacco, she strained to make out dim shapes. A dull thud was coming from nearby, but she couldn’t place it. She tried to sit up. A sharp pain on the side of her head caused her to wince.
A man hurried up to her with a wet cloth.
“Don’t try to get up, Mum. Here, put this to your face.”
He tried to apply the cloth to her forehead, but Betsy pushed it away. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a pub.”
“You fainted on the street, Mum. A hot day it is, too, and no wonder you went down.”
Betsy felt her head. “How did I get in here?” She climbed off the table, and the barkeep helped her sit on a chair.
“Carried in by the first to see you, you were. And you are now speakin’ to the owner of the establishment, Sean Sullivan. At your service, mum.” He made a slight bow.
She could hear the sound of men’s voices in the room. “I have to get out of here,” she said.
“You’d best rest a bit first. Have you had anythin’ to eat, Mum?”
Betsy shook her head.
Sean Sullivan motioned to someone. “Bring the lady a bit of steak and kidney pie.”
“Oh, I can’t.” She tried to get up. “I must get home.”
“It’s hurt, you are, and faint with hunger. I wouldn’t be decent if I let you go now, would I, Mum?”
Betsy’s head throbbed, her stomach growled, and in truth the coolness of this dark den was comforting. She looked into the concerned blue eyes of the man watching over her.
“Did you say steak and kidney pie?”
“That I did.”
She looked around her. “This must be a British pub.”
“Irish, it is.”
“At last,” she mumbled.
Her eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and she could see a dart board. This was the cause of the thuds she’d heard.
The food arrived with a glass of beer. Betsy devoured the pie. She couldn’t think of drinking beer and she didn’t trust the water.
While she was eating, Betsy was entertained by a few of the men, including Sean. They were singing along with the piano player, who was banging out some Irish ditties on an old instrument. Betsy had the feeling they were showing off just for her. She was amused, and for a few minutes forgot how tired she was.
“The pie is as good as ever I’ve had,” she declared, and meant it. “And I enjoyed the singing. I’m sorry, I’ve no money to pay for the food. I’ll have to get it to you later.”
“I wouldn’t take anything anyway. It’s not every day I get to serve a lady such as yourself. It’s honored I am.”
“You’re very kind.”
“If you don’t mind my askin’, what were you doin’ on Clancy Street, all on yer own?”
Betsy colored. Normally she wouldn’t be explaining herself to anyone except her husband, and not always to him. But this was not a normal time. “I’ve been everywhere looking for someone. His wife works for me but she hasn’t come by for over a week. I don’t know where they live.”
“And who might that be?”
“His name’s Riley.”
“Do you know him?” It was the first ray of hope she’d had all day.
The man put his fingers to his mouth and made a loud whistle. “Michael, get yerself over here! Look sharp, there’s a lady here to see you.”
Betsy couldn’t believe her ears. A man, slight in build with a huge head of hair, approached the table.
The man looked puzzled. “You want me?”
“I am Mrs. Willis. It’s your wife I want, actually. I was trying to find the correct address.”
“Pleased to meet you, mum.” The man removed his cap. “We had to move. Livin’ with my brother-in-law, now we are. Duffy by name, over on Livery Road.”
As if reading her mind Riley said, “My missus has a bad infection, mum. So weak she can’t get to the chamber pot.”
She wondered what in the world he was doing in a pub with a wife sick at home.
“I’ll be going home now, anyway, if you like I can show you where we’re lodgin’.”
The barkeep spoke up. “The lady won’t do any more trudgin’ about today. I’ll take you both in the wagon. That is, if the lady’s feelin’ spry enough to go.”
The ride in the saloonkeeper’s buckboard offered more unsavory views of the seamier side of town.
While they jogged along, Betsy said, “Why did you move, Mr. Riley?”
“I lost m’job, ma’am.”
“Tell her what happened, Michael,” Sean interjected.
“Well, you see . . .” Michael twisted his mouth in tandem with the cap in his hand.
“Go ahead, tell her. The lady won’t bite.”
“You see, I had— spells for quite some time, at home. But never on the job.”
“What do you mean— “spells?”
“I’d pass out for a time, I would. Not for long. And then when I woke up, I’d be, confused, you might say. For a little while.”
“Nobody at the mine knew. But then it happened there Friday last. The captain he said, I was a l’ability to meself and others.”
“I’m so sorry to hear this, Mr. Riley.”
“It happened down below,” Michael continued, “but the captain said it could happen goin’ down the shaft or comin’ up, and then I might fall off the man-car— maybe take one or two others with me.”
“What will you do?”
“Try the Miners’ Fund,” Betsy said. “Perhaps they’d help you, under the circumstances.”
Dismally, Michael nodded.
“You were a good worker, weren’t you?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am.”
When they arrived at their destination, the barkeep spoke. “Here y’are then, Michael Riley. Don’t be away from us too long.”
Michael jumped down off the buckboard and offered Betsy his arm. She accepted it gratefully. It was a long way to the ground.
Once down, she turned and thanked her benefactor.
Sean Sullivan called after her, “It’s here I’ll be waitin’ for you, mum, when you come out, to take you home.”
“Oh, that will not be necessary, Mr. Sullivan.”
“Oh, will it not, then? I’ll be here anyway.”
Before they entered, Betsy touched the arm. “How serious is your wife’s condition? What does the doctor say?”
Michael shook his head. “I’ve no money for a doctor, mum.”
“But the Company doctor—”
“There’s no company doctor for us trammers. No, that there isn’t.”
Inside, Betsy’s eyes didn’t immediately adjust to the darkness. The only source of light came from one small window on the north side of the room they occupied. She was about to ask why no lamps were lit when she remembered that oil cost money too.
Betsy thought her nostrils had been assaulted enough for the day, but new obnoxious odors arose to insult them further. She found Patty in bed, her sheets soiled, the stench of feces and urine filling the room.
Patty opened her eyes, but otherwise showed little sign of life. Betsy felt her forehead.
“She has a high fever.”
“What have you been doing for her?”
The man looked embarrassed. “Well, I bring her water, empty the pot . . . She won’t take food.”
“How long has she been like this?”
“She’s been sick ‘bout a week. The fever— two days.”
“Try to get her to take some broth. And place cold wet cloths on her forehead. Change them often.”
“I’ll send a doctor to her tomorrow.”
“I have no money for the doctor.”
“Never mind. I’ll take care of it.”
“I’m much obliged, ma’am.”
Betsy turned toward the door. “Stay home and take care of her. You should be ashamed, hanging around the saloon with your wife so ill.”
Michael hung his head, and mumbled, “Yes, mum.”
“Why do you do it?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. Sean Sullivan was outside waiting for her, and Betsy was glad for it.
“Climb in, it’s takin’ you home now, I’ll be doin’.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Was she bad?” he asked as they wound their way through the grimy streets.
Betsy nodded. “Why was he at the pub when his wife is so sick?”
“Ah, a man’s got to get out now and then. It was only for a couple of hours.”
“And how does he pay for his drinks?” Betsy bristled.
“They’re on the house, mum. Or others buy ‘em. We’ve all been sorry for his losin’ his job.”
“I see. I have to get his wife help. Apparently the Company won’t do anything for them.”
“Same with all of the trammers. If the Keweenaw feels like it, they’ll do for the miner, providin’ he’s been with ‘em quite a while, has a family to support, and not been out sick too much in the past. All the companies are happy to get the good skilled miner.”
They rode through and out of the seamier end of town, and were on even ground now as they traversed paved streets.
“Those that knows his trade is worth somethin’.” Sean Sullivan chuckled. “And they can get pretty high and mighty sometimes, lordin’ it over the trammers.”
“The trammers get nothin’.”
“Why is that?”
“With boatloads of immigrants comin’ from all over the world, they’re as disposable as sawdust on a butcher’s floor. Sweep ‘em up and throw ‘em out. That’s their feeling.”
“One mine worker dies a week in the mines on the peninsula, and two are crippled for life.”
Betsy gasped in dismay.
“I reckon,” Sean continued, “that it’s the mines that reduce the average life expectancy to forty-seven years old.”
“That’s the county’s average.”
“But there are many old people about.”
“And as many died before thirty in the mine.”
“I didn’t know it was that bad.”
Betsy was quiet, and they sat in silence for a few minutes.
The next day Betsy arranged with a private doctor to see Patty, and to call and give her a report.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She has dysentery. I’ve given her some medicine, but I doubt it will do much good. It’s advanced.”
“Is there nothing can be done for her?”
“It’s in God’s hands now.”
She didn’t believe he’d be so indifferent if his patient had money and social standing.
Betsy wrote another letter to the editors:
I have long been aware of the poverty of the miners. Imagine my shock and dismay to discover that of the trammers! Living in ghastly conditions in the worst part of town, these poor people can hardly keep body and soul together. When they are injured or infirmed they are offered no assistance from the mining companies. It appears that management believes if they are unable to work they are of no use to the company. B.T. Wilkins
But she was still concerned about Patty. She had another idea.
“Roy, I want you to go out to Carlene’s, the half-breed’s place. She sells herbs. Sometimes she can heal people when doctors fail. Give her this message.” Betsy explained to her son what to say, and how Carlene could find Patty.
Following the directions his mother had given him, Roy rode his horse out to the cabin south of town. He almost passed it, so hidden from view it was. But for the smoke he smelled coming from the chimney, he would have missed it.
“I had an omen someone would be calling for me,” the woman said to him.
He gave the woman some money and a basket of food to take to the Rileys’. She gave him a pleasant smile, and he returned it with his own.
Roy described Patty’s problem to this strange woman. He found her attractive in an unusual way, with eyes that went all the way through him. She was large, full busted, with an inviting red mouth.
“Is there anything you can do for her?” Roy asked.
The woman looked intently at him. “I might be able to save her.”
This half Indian woman of the Ojibwa tribe had a compelling presence that puzzled Roy. It mesmerized him and made him uneasy at the same time.
Carlene invited him to come in for a cup of tea. Roy hesitated.
With a pleasant authority she said, “You can’t ride all the way out here, and all the way back without a drop to quench your thirst.”
Three days later, word got to Betsy that Patty Riley would be staying among the living.