The Life We Choose – Episode 75

In the library, the fire burning low in the grate, the colonel sat back, the remains of a glass of his favourite claret in his hand. He smiled to himself, recalling an unexpectedly pleasant evening in the company of Giles, who had been prevailed upon to stay and who had been constantly amusing with his tales of the high society of Edinburgh.

After a splendid dinner prepared by Mrs Goudie, Fleur had withdrawn to inspect her new dresses, bought in Paris.

She’d seemed almost subdued throughout the meal and her husband had hopes that his earlier rebuke was having some effect at last. The door of the drawing-room had remained firmly shut on the wreckage inside.

It would be set to rights in no time at all, he reflected, taking his last sip of claret and setting down his glass.

Meanwhile Bunty lay awake, staring at the ceiling, listening to the rising wind outside. She had cleared a space for her brother’s homecoming, but knew that first thing in the morning she’d have to tell him about Rushforth, about everything from Rushforth’s sacking to Daniel Morrison’s concerns about conditions at the pit.

*  *  *  *

Down in Langrigg, the lamps were going out, one by one, the village settling into silence, the clank of the winding gear stilled at last as the night shift took their places at the coal face. Pate Walker was lying awake, waiting for the nocturnal sounds he knew would come.

Sarah had banked up the fire and Daniel was finishing off some task in the scullery when it happened.

It began with the clatter of boots in the empty street outside – a hoarse, desperate shout; the pit hooter tearing the silence to shreds with sudden blasts. It grew as there was banging on doors, as lights went on, as the men and women of Langrigg ran towards the pit gates.

“Roof fa’. A bad yin.” The message was shouted above the thrum of pit boots, the clank and squeak of the winding gear seeming to grow louder and more desperate by the minute. Children, suddenly disturbed, began to wail.

“Stay here, Sarah.” Daniel pulled on his boots, reached for his jacket and in an instant he had gone, leaving the front door flapping on its hinges.

Sarah grabbed her shawl and followed him. She almost collided with Jeanie Makin, who grabbed her arm and turned a desperate face to hers.

“My man’s doon there, Mistress Morrison, and he shouldna be. He’s workin’ a doubler the night.” The rest of her words were borne away on a chill wind and the sound of running feet.

“I’ll stay with you, Jeanie.” Sarah took the other’s trembling hand.

Together, they plunged into the rushing throng.

The pit gates had been closed. Inside, close to the pithead, lights flared, illuminating dark shapes that moved purposefully into groups, one figure with an outstretched arm shouting instructions. With a start, Sarah realised that it was Daniel’s voice.

A strange silence had fallen on the women who waited outside the pit gates. Suddenly, it was broken by the loud clank and squeal of the winding gear.

“The cage is comin’. That means they’re a’ safe.”

There was no cheering or jubilation among the crowd. Instead, Mary Ellen’s voice sounded loud in the murmur of the crowd as she pushed her way to the front.

“I’ll go and get whit news there is,” was all she said as she opened one of the gates. “You a’ bide here while the men go aboot their business.”

The womenfolk needed no telling. Dread had struck them into silence.

Suddenly, into that silence came the sound of a distant, rumbling roar, and, for an instant, the very ground beneath their feet seemed to tremble.

Jeanie Makin began to cry.

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”.