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San Cassimally

Scottish-Mauritian novelist and playwright.

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Kitty had always had self-knowledge, and knew that her passionate nature would have made it impossible for her to lead a life of chastity, and so, conceding to herself that she would never be able to keep her promise to John, she reversed her decision to stop meeting Mark, but increased her vigilance — at least for the time being.

Mark was a fund of knowledge of Ojibwa traditions and religions. He knew where the secret scrolls were buried. He was an expert carver and made sculptures in mica, bones and wood. He admitted to Kitty that he had converted to Christianity in name only, to please the elders who thought that there was no harm in it, as long as one did not forget Midewiwin, their own religion. He found the story of Christ being three in one confusing, and could not believe the story of the one fish that fed a whole tribe. As a skilful fishermen, he would have found it easier to believe that one man needed many fish, and not the other way round. He told her about how his ancestors had made maps on birch scrolls, of rivers and mountains, and spoke about geometrical concepts, but only as a sort of game they played.

John finally revealed his feelings for her to Felicity when she challenged him, and she was overjoyed. For over a year, the teenage girl had been dreaming of being in the arms of the man she had loved from the very beginning, of offering him her lips to be embraced. She had never doubted that he felt the same way about her, and now she knew for sure. She had guessed why he had been reticent in declaring his love, as she was well aware of the difference of birth, but she thought that he was such an exceptionally accomplished man in every way that it did not matter. Well, yes, she agreed that the lower classes were not the same, but how could she help falling in love with such a man? Love is blind, a princess can fall in love with a swineherd, or a prince with a beggar girl. She will love her John with all her might, smooth out his coarseness and educate him in the manners of high society, not that they were likely to have balls and banquets in the backwoods. As a girl she used to dream about life in the high society, wearing nice gowns and pearls, and dancing with a fluttering fan, although she drew the line at masks — why would any pretty girl want to have a bird face? When father died, the family had to live in reduced circumstances, and she had thought that it was most unfair. What would she have done without Paul? He was so straightforward, such a brick. Surely he would not object to John as a brother-in-law, how could he? He had allowed, even encouraged her to work with tools on the estate, he was not someone who liked finery and silks for himself. Surely as a loving brother, he would want her happiness and there was no way she could ever be happy in this life without John. Eleanore had started encouraging her lately and had promised that if Paul was not amenable to her inclination then she would talk to him. She hoped that it would never come to that.

The Captain seemed to expect this, and when Eleanore broached the subject, he saw no objection, although admittedly he felt a little bit uneasy. Theirs was an aristocratic family with Scottish kings as ancestors, and as such, he would have preferred a man of noble birth, but on a personal level, he knew that John had nobility of character, and questioned himself as to which one was better, the latter or an accident of birth. But were there such a thing as an accident of birth? The good Lord did not do things by accident, which suggested that the Otonabee incident had happened by the design of the Creator. Overruling the inbuilt prejudices of centuries, he had come to the conclusion that in a land of harsh realities which was also a land of unimaginable potential, one had to rewrite the rules. No, John would be much better than any duke as a partner for sweet dear Felicity. Her happiness transcended all other concerns. He liked the young Highlander, had done so from the beginning, when he had shown such selflessness and such extraordinary gifts of natural leadership, not only during the crisis on the Otonabee, but in countless other situations. Without him, Bonnyrig would be neither bonny nor well-rigged! Who said he had no sense of fun, eh! He must remember to repeat this bon mot to his wife. She had been such a brick. He could have cried with joy when he first saw her in dungarees, asking for a spade so she could start working on the fields. He admitted to himself that he found his wife in dungarees a sexually explosive figure. How he wished that he had the courage to ask her to wear them in the bedroom on occasions. She, the daughter of a duke, who grew up in a house where she was served on silver plates by maids, who used to be dressed by attendants… He was the luckiest of men, and he had shown that he could adapt to the backwoods, although no doubt meeting John had made it easier. Yes, Felicity could not find a better man. They were young and obviously in love. Yes, he would give them his blessing without hesitation.

John had been so full of joy when he broke the news to Kitty, and was stunned by her silence.

‘What’s the matter, sister?’ She raised her face to him, and he saw her tear-filled eyes.

‘I am sure now that I am pregnant,’ she said gloomily.

‘How could you?’ he asked angrily. She said nothing.

‘Whose is it?’ he asked with a sneer.

‘John, I told you that Mark Wahaitiya was special, you are just being nasty. You were always a nasty little prick!’ He said nothing, and she ran out, looking for Mark, shouting, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t shame you, I am going away.’

Photo Credit: CC-BY-ND Xhalt Designs

The last thing Kitty wanted was to compromise John’s position, so there was only one thing to do: go away from Bonnyrig, from Oxenham, possibly from Ontario. She hoped that no one had responded to the advert that Tom MacNeill had spoken about. She would take her chances and go to Peterborough on the off chance, and if the teaching post was no longer available, she would seek employment elsewhere. She knew that if one looked properly, it should not be too difficult to find a teaching post somewhere, as schools were being created all the time.

She informed Mark about her decision, and he was shocked. No, he said, he will never let her go away, and if she did, he would have nothing to live for. You can join me, she said. They argued for hours, and finally it was decided that she would try Peterborough, but she would come see him regularly.

John was equally devastated, he did not want to lose his sister. He knew that she was avoiding him, and sought her out. He found her sitting under a large hemlock and went and sat by her side. For a long while they said nothing, then they found themselves holding each other like lovers, but still saying nothing.

‘I wish I could tell you that it does not matter what they think, that you come first, but I can’t. If you think that it is best for you to go away, don’t go too far, I can’t afford to lose you again.’

‘Aye,’ she said, but with twinkling eyes, added, ‘doesn’t mean you’re not a nasty little prick, though.’

A church school is never going to want a teacher with a child born out of wedlock, John said sadly. Surprisingly, Kitty who was somebody who thought all things out and from all possible angles had not considered that. She had been so impressed by the MacNeills that she had assumed that they would see no impediment to her condition. Now suddenly like a big cloud passing above can change a sunny picnic into a cold and gloomy ordeal, it dawned upon her that indeed her aspirations might come to a dead end. She now became convinced that there was no hope of a solution. The cloud had since become a downpour. Cobjohn, with his deep religious convictions would order them both out of his property. Why had she not thought things over first? She was too impulsive, too red-blooded.

‘No, dear Kitty,’ John said to comfort her, ‘it will never come to that, go to Peterborough if you must, maybe it is for the best, but if that does not work, come back, we will talk to Paul,’ adding with another twinkle, ‘he’ll be lost without me, you know’

When Kitty arrived at St John’s she was received like a long lost relative. The twins squealed with joy when they saw ‘Aunt Kitty’. Hannah reacted like it was Christmas, and even Father Tom beamed with pleasure. Hannah made some tea and produced some scones that she had baked only the day before. Kitty explained that she had something to discuss with Father Tom, and his wife took the protesting children away. She asked if he still needed a teacher, and he was delighted to say yes, the job was hers. The one young woman the Bishop interviewed, was deficient in arithmetic. He repeated that there was very little money in it, but said that she would live in a small room in the school itself, and would have her Sunday lunch with the family.

‘I don’t want more,’ she said.

‘But there is one thing, Father Tom…’

‘Tom, please.’

‘Tom, I happen to be pregnant,’ she said, and at the same time his wife came back. The couple seemed shocked and stared at each other in silence.

‘Hmm…’ finally said Tom.

‘That’s a problem, isn’t it?’

‘Could be.’

‘Does the father want to marry you?’ Hannah asked, and she nodded.

‘In that case there should be no problem,’ Tom said with a tentative smile.

‘There is another problem, Tom,’ Kitty said, ‘the father of the child is an Ojibwa.’

Another stunned silence. The three people looked at each other in turn, none of them knowing how to deal with this situation. Finally it was Kitty who broke the silence.

‘I think I have wasted enough of your time, I am sorry to have put you on the spot, it was thoughtless of me.’

Photo Credit: CC-BY-NC-ND Helen K

‘Don’t be silly, lassie,’ said the vicar’s wife, ‘why should that be a problem?’ Tom looked away and disguised his discomfiture in a diplomatic cough.

‘The Bishop might not sanction it,’ he said still looking away, whereupon his wife rushed out and the two looked at her in surprise saying nothing. Hannah reappeared with something in her hand. She came towards her husband and thrust the object in his hand. It was a bible.

‘Thomas MacNeill,’ she said, ‘show me in here, where it says that a Scottish Christian cannot marry an Ojibwa Christian.’ Kitty knew that the battle was won.

‘Dearest, I am not saying I object, all I am saying is that the Bishop in Toronto is a strict —’. She wafted her hand dismissively made a face and pulled her head back slightly, and Tom said no more.

‘Welcome to St John’s,’ said Hannah. Some woman, thought Kitty.

Eleanore hoped that since the possible source of scandal, Kitty, had gone away, Paul would not now change his mind about Felicity and John when informed of the condition of the sister of his brother-in-law-to-be. The captain knew nothing about the turn that events had taken until the night of Kitty’s departure, when they were seated in their sitting room where they often sat after a meal, reading from some book sent from Scotland, drinking a small glass of port before going to bed, and his wife went behind his chair and fondled his hair. He sensed that something was afoot, and that she was preparing him for it. So he did what he usually did under the circumstances, he hummed something tunelessly.

‘Yes,’ Eleanore said, massaging his neck, ‘Kitty’s gone.’

‘And when will she be back?’

‘I don’t know about that, probably never.’ Paul jumped on hearing this, whereupon she told him about Mark and the child she was expecting.

‘And why did she go away?’

‘Don’t be silly, she thought we wouldn’t approve of John and Felicity marrying under the circumstances.’

‘Do we? Disapprove?’

‘No, of course not, but she thought you might…’

‘Felicity would be marrying John, not his sister,’ he said, perplexed. ‘I’ll have you know that one of the reasons I decided to leave Perthshire was that back home people impose too many restrictions on themselves. We came to a new country, and we should adopt new, more intelligent values. I am surprised that you did not know that about me.’ She looked at him, her admiration clear for the whole world to see. He shook his head slightly.

‘Which does not mean that I approve of congress outside wedlock.’

‘Paul,’ she said happily, ‘you are a strange man, and I love you for it.’ He hmmed hmmed again. She felt a sudden surge of love mounting in her, for her man, like sap up a maple tree at the start of spring.

‘And what if the Reverend MacNeill refuses to help her?’ The optimistic Eleanore had not envisaged that possibility.

‘Send her word tomorrow, that she can come back here anytime. Did we leave the conventions and false morality of dear Britain in order to fall into the same morass here?’ Yes, yes, she thought happily, you made your point. A man and wife become wed at church by a priest, and indeed so were the two of them, but it was tonight, after seeing behind the dark side of the moon so to say, that she felt that Paul and her had become truly one. Had she guessed about what he thought of her in dungarees, she would have rushed and changed, but sadly he will never tell her.

‘No, beloved, of course we did not.’ After a pause, he hmmed hmmed again.

‘Yes dear?’

‘I hope they marry, the Ojibwa chappie and Kitty, I mean.’

‘I expect they will want to.’ After a short pause, he added.

‘Now that our hands are not tied by any of the old country’s prejudices, we will be at liberty to create a new order.’

O my lovely sweet pompous magnificent man!

Photo Credit: CC-BY-NC-ND Natasha Hus

Tom MacNeill himself celebrated the union of the Ojibwa man and Kitty, the first time such a marriage had taken place in the Maritime, as far as anybody knew.

John and Felicity tied the knot two years later after. A week after that felicitous event, a letter arrived from home, informing them of the passing away of Grand Mam.

Seven months later Kitty gave birth to her daughter Eleanore, named for the woman who was to become her best friend and ally in this world.

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