The Life We Choose – Episode 29

So, as they drank their strong, sweet tea, Sarah listened to tales of how Daniel used to run the odd errand for Mary Ellen and carried full sacks of flour and porridge oats back to her to save her the trouble of going to the Junction.

Then, as Maggie turned the conversation to the Wee School and talk of the families who sent their children there, Sarah finished up her tea and glanced at Daniel.

“It’s getting late, Daniel,” she said. “I promised that we’d call in on Mary Ellen and Pate on our way home.” She smiled at Maggie. “It’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mrs Pender.”

As they took their leave, Maggie locked the door behind them.

At the door of the neat little cottage with the well-cared garden stood an old man, smoking his pipe. Daniel called a greeting.

“That’s Wull Greenlees, retired ploughman, who keeps a very tidy place and does odd jobs for Maggie into the bargain,” Daniel told Sarah.

“A good neighbour,” she murmured, and Daniel chuckled.

“More than that, Sarah,” he said. “He’s been courting Maggie for a lifetime.”

Sarah didn’t answer. She was reflecting that she had never run short of provisions since she and Daniel had set up home in Langrigg, and yet she’d never had to go to Maggie’s shop or indeed to the Junction.

“Mary Ellen’s doing far too much for me,” she said suddenly. “I’m getting far too used to it. Things will have to change.” Her steps, as she and Daniel turned back towards Langrigg, were purposeful.

* * * *

Mary Ellen poked the fire in the range into a blaze, then sat back to enjoy the last cup of tea of the day with Pate. No matter how busy she was, she always tried to give the last hour of the day to her husband and shut out the rest of the world.

“Daniel came by for a wee while when ye were oot on yer travels,” Pate said after he had lit his pipe. “We had a rare chat aboot auld times at the pit. I was tellin’ him that the colonel’s faither was a hard man but a fair yin. An’ he kept a better eye on the manager than the colonel does.”

Mary Ellen agreed.

“That’s for sure. But the colonel’s faither had a sensible wife – no’ like that silly wee cratur the colonel married.”

Pate nodded.

“Away in foreign parts again, Daniel tells me. An’ Rushforth’s never whaur he should be.”

Mary Ellen sighed.

“There’s a bit o’ bother boilin’ up, right enough. I’ve heard some o’ the women talkin’ about it. Somethin’ about the pay. The men put up the tonnage like Rushforth asked, but there wasna a penny extra in the pay packets. There’s bad feelin’ a’ ower Langrigg.”

“It’s worse than that, Mary Ellen. The main seam the men are workin’ on isna safe. Broken pit props, two or three wee roof falls – nothin’ serious, but signs . . .” He paused and Mary Ellen glanced at him in concern, knowing that the memory of the day he’d had his accident were flooding back. She was relieved when Pate began to speak again.

“But they’re no’ goin’ to take it lyin’ doon,” he said. “There’s been a meetin’ at the pit gates an’ there’s a bigger yin in the plannin’.”

“That’s a’ talk.” Mary Ellen was sceptical.

“Aye, talk o’ a strike, Mary Ellen.”

His wife stared at him.

“It takes a leader to work the men up to a strike,” she said at last. “An’ it takes a leader to persuade the womenfolk to try to feed bairns without a pay comin’ in.”

“I think they have a leader, Mary Ellen.” Pate stared into the fire as he spoke. “The laddie that spoke to the men at the pit gates. The laddie that’s no’ feart o’ Rushforth.”

Mary Ellen stared at him in something approaching horror.

“No’ Daniel?”

Pate nodded.

“He’s his father’s son, that’s for sure.”

For once, Mary Ellen was stunned into silence, fear coursing through her at the thought of Daniel and Sarah, of their plans for the future, the ambitions that would be crushed underfoot if Daniel incited the men of Langrigg to strike.

Looking at his wife’s stricken face, Pate thought it best to change the course of the conversation.

“Ach, it’ll a’ die away in a week or two, I expect. When the colonel gets back, he’ll set things right,” he said. “I telt the laddie that. Telt him aboot the colonel’s father shuttin’ doon the seam where I had the accident. Fu’ o’ coal, it was, but when it killed a man an’ left me . . .” he tapped his knee

“. . . auld Mr Grant didna hesitate.”

There was a companionable silence as Pate related the rest of his conversation with Daniel.

“Aye, he wants to be a minin’ engineer. He’d make a guid engineer, Mary Ellen. You should hear the questions he asks. He has a feel for the engineerin’ side o’ things, right enough.”

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.