The Life We Choose – Episode 58

Daniel hesitated for a moment, then turned towards the pit office. Old Harry, the keeper of the office, would be there alone at this time of day.

Harry was busy tidying up an already tidy office.

“Did ye see Mr Rushforth on yer travels?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he added, “I dinna expect ye did. Naebody’s seen him for a day or twa. I dinna ken how he pits in his time.”

Daniel darted a look out at the pithead.

“I’m looking for the drawings of the old workings that were closed about fifteen years ago, Harry. Pate Walker told me about them.”

Harry nodded.

“Oh, aye. Aboot the accident. Pate lost the power o’ his legs in that, an’ three guid men lost their lives. A bad business a’ thegither. Juist a meenit.”

He explored several shelves before finding the drawings tucked away at the back of one. Daniel spread them out and studied them, tracing paths with his fingers.

“What are you doing here, Morrison?”

Rushforth was standing in the doorway, a strange half-smile on his face.

As Daniel opened his mouth to answer, the manager spoke again.

“Get out o’ here, Morrison. You’ve nae business here.”

Daniel knew that there would be no point in arguing, and as he left, he heard the manager unleash a tirade of abuse at Harry.

As he made his way to the pit gates, he met Miss Bunty. Dressed in boots, tweed plus fours with matching jacket and carrying a stout walking stick, she looked flushed and more than a little flustered.

“I’m trying to track down that elusive manager,” she said to Daniel, “for the second time this week, and I’m blowed if I’m going to trail all the way up to his house in search of him.”

She pushed an unruly tangle of curls back from her flushed face.

“You look upset. Is something wrong?” she asked Daniel.

Still stinging from Rushforth’s contemptuous dismissal and worried about what Lofty had told him, Daniel told Bunty about the old workings.

“I only had a chance to have a quick look,” he said, “but the flooding, the damaged pit props and the noises – all of them seem to be coming from those old workings. I think somebody should have a closer look at those drawings.”

Bunty bit her lip and seemed to be having trouble holding on to her temper.

“Rushforth’s work, I’d say. My brother’s due back shortly. I’ll have a word with him and I’m sure he’ll investigate it.”

“You still here, Morrison? I thought I told you to clear off.” The manager spoke from behind Daniel. Neither he nor Miss Bunty had heard Rushforth approach.

“Best get away, then.” Daniel took his leave without glancing at him.

Bunty didn’t hesitate. She poked Rushforth in the chest with her stick.

“Get back into the office,” she said, face flaring with annoyance. “Explain to me where you have been for the last two days, because you certainly have not been here,” she thundered, driving a stunned Rushforth back into the office at the point of her stick.

Harry was still tidying up. Rushforth, knowing his love of gossip, had no wish to lose face.

“Ye’ve nae authority here,” he growled at Bunty. “Women ken nothin’ aboot coal minin’. I answer tae yer brother – naebody else.”

The look on Miss Bunty’s face made his words peter out into an uncertain silence.

“And until he gets back, Rushforth, you answer to me. I have never found it necessary to discuss family business with . . .” she paused and treated him to a glance that would have withered the leaves on a tree. “. . . with the likes of you, who deserves no respect from me, my brother or any of the people who work here at Langrigg.”

She paused for breath, quite pink in the face. Then, after a minute or two, when the air thrummed with tension and Harry held his breath, Bunty finished her tirade.

“I’ll have you know that my brother and I are joint owners of this pit, Rushforth. Up till now, I’ve left the running of it to him, but in his absence, I have the right to take charge. And that I will do, as from now,” she continued, her voice rising again. “And just in case you think to deprive me of the information which I require to set things straight here, to correct your neglect and to safeguard the workers, I’m sure there are those who are well qualified to advise me.”

Harry stood very still, hoping that he had become invisible and reflecting gleefully that he would have a great tale to tell when this bad-tempered meeting ended.

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”.