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"The Storm"

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

The House of Clay

The Woman With a Sore Thought

The Storm

The Innocent Disturber

The Play


Nellie McClung, Purple Springs (Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1992) 176-78, 185-86.

Mr. Paine sat in front of the stove, smoking and spitting, abusing the country, the weather, the Government, the church. Nothing escaped him, and everything was wrong.

A certain form of conceit shone through his words too, which increased his listener's contempt. He had made many sharp deals in his time, of which he was inordinately proud. Now he gloated over them. Fifteen thousand dollars of horse notes were safely discounted in the bank, so he did not care, he said, whether spring came or not. He had his money. The bank could collect the notes.

Peter looked at him to see if he were joking. Surely no man with so much money would live so poorly and have his wife and children so shabbily dressed. Something of this must have shown in his face.

"I've made money," cried Sylvester Paine, spitting at the leg of the stove; "and I've kept it—or spent it, just as I saw fit, and I did not waste it on a fancy house. What's a house, anyway, but a place to eat and sleep. I ain't goin' to put notions into my woman' head, with any big house—she knows better than to ask it now. If she don't like the house—the door is open—let her get out—I say. She can't take the kids—and she won't go far without them."

He laughed unpleasantly: "That's the way to have them, and by gosh! There's one place I admired the old Premier—in the way he roasted those freaks of women who came askin' for the vote. I don't think much of the Government, but I'm with them on that—in keepin' the women where they belong."

"But why," interrupted Peter, with a very uneasy mind, "why shouldn't women have something to say?"

"Are you married?" demanded his host.

"No, not yet," said Peter blushing.

"Well, when you're married—will you let your wife decide where you will live? How you earn your living—and all that? No sire, I'll bet you won't—you'll be boss, won't you? I guess so. Well, every man has that right, absolutely. Here am I—I'm goin' to sell out here and buy a hotel—there's good money in it, easy livin'. She—" there was an unutterable scorn in his voice, "says she won't go—says it ain't right to sell liquor. I say she'll come with me or get out. She might be able to earn her own livin', but she can't take the kids. Accordin' to law, children belong to the father—ain't that right? There's a man comin' to buy the farm—I guess he would have been out today, only for the storm. We have the bargain made—all but the signin' up."

Mrs. Paine stood still in the middle of the floor, and listened in terror. "A man coming to buy the farm!" Every trace of color left her face! Maybe it was not true.

He saw the terror in her face, and followed up his advantage.

"People have to learn to do as they're told when I'm round. No one can defy me—I'll tell you that. Every one knows me—I can be led, but I can't be driven."

* * *

"There is no law to protect Mrs. Paine," Pearl went on, after a long pause. "The law is on your side, Mr. Gilchrist. If you want the place there is no law to save Mrs. Paine. Mr. Paine is quite right in saying he can take the children, so she will have to follow. Mrs. Paine is not the sort of woman to desert her children. She would live even in a hotel rather than desert her children. The law is on your side, gentlemen—you have the legal right to go on with the transaction."

"What law is this?" said Mr. Gilchrist.

"The law of the Province," said Pearl.

"Do you mean to say," said Mr. Gilchrist hotly, "that Mrs. Paine cannot claim any part of the price of this farm as her own—or does not need to sign the agreement of sale, has she no claim at all?"

"She has none," said Pearl, "she has no more claim on this farm than the dog has!"

"By Gosh! I never knew that," he cried. "We'll see a lawyer in town before we do anything. That's news to me."

"Are you sure of it, Pearl?" Mrs. Paine whispered. "Maybe there's something I can do. This young man is a lawyer—maybe he could tell us. . . ."

"The law," said Peter miserably—as one who hates the word he is about to utter—"gives a married woman no rights. She has no claim on her home, nor on her children. A man can sell or will away his property from his wife. A man can will away his unborn child—and it's a hell of a law," he added fiercely.

Pearl turned to Robert Gilchrist, saying, "Mr. Gilchrist, the law is with you. The woman and the three children have no protection. Mr. Paine is willing that they should be turned out. It is up to you. . . ."

"I suppose," continued Pearl, "the people who made the laws did not think it would ever come to a show-down like this. They thought that when a man promised to love and cherish a woman—he would look after her and make her happy, and see to it that she had clothes to wear and a decent way of living—if he could."

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