Ursula was there when the widow brought another gentleman home, a man who barely earned the honorific of “gentleman” based upon his rough attire. He wore grubby overalls and high rubber boots, and steered a wheelbarrow toward the cellar door.
She saw the bags labeled “Portland Cement” travel, one by one, down the cellar steps, on the gentleman’s back. And she saw buckets of water follow, carried by the widow herself.
When the widow saw the girl watching, she shooed Ursula away with urgent whispers to “get to school, and forget what you’ve seen.”
It took years for Ursula to realize what she witnessed: the decommissioning of a highly unstable barrel of old dynamite, by pouring in concrete and letting it harden. It took even longer for her to understand why the widow had been so nervous: not only the chance of an explosion, but the risk of being caught holding explosives that someone had planned to use in the labor disputes swirling around the mines.
The ex-fisherman did find his way to work in the mines, but soon after, the long strikes sent him on to seek his fortunes even farther west. He kept his vow never to return to the sea. Instead, he found a timber company that took him on, and rose to be a foreman, a job that provided a sound enough living for him to marry and have five daughters of his own.
Ursula and her parents stayed in the widow’s house for several years, long enough for her to become a lovely young woman. When her father’s drinking finally chased him away from this small town, Ursula was old enough, and indispensable enough to the widow, to stay behind. She took the smaller room at the top of the stairs, as the young teacher moved into her parents’ old room.
The traveling salesman from Montana had long since moved on to new territories for his work and grisly habits.
The salesman’s room was soon filled with a new character: The widow’s youngest son, newly discharged from the army, arriving to spend a few months with his mother while he determined what to do with his life.
Ursula helped carry his bags to the room, after introducing herself with a pretty curtsey. He beamed a smile at her in response, and demanded she call him by his Christian name, Sydney, since he had never in his life thought of himself as Mister anything.
She felt her world shift again, as her observation of this dashing young man changed everything.