The Life We Choose – Episode 76

Sarah shivered as she absently stirred the pot of soup that was simmering on the range in the schoolroom. And the thing that made her shiver was not the cold that had crept over her as she’d shared the women’s vigil at the pit gates the night before, or the sleep that had eluded her when at last she had come home as dawn broke. It was the memory of every detail of the awful night that had just passed – a memory, she knew, that would stay with her for the rest of her life.

Langrigg colliery had a rescue team, but some of them had been caught in the roof fall. Help had been brought from the next mining village, and a doctor had arrived to tend to the injuries of the men who were eventually brought to the surface. Tricky Binnie had been dispatched to fetch the colonel and Miss Bunty.

But as that morning had dawned, six men were still missing. Among them were the Maxtons, father and son, Dreels Cox and Isaac Makin. Sarah shivered again. The missing men had been ahead of the survivors. The second roof fall had come down behind them and with it a gigantic wall of water.

“My mammy’s at the pit gates wi’ Mrs Maxton, an’ Mary Ellen said me an’ my wee brother could get soup at the Wee School, Mistress Morrison.” A little girl looked up at Sarah hopefully. She was clutching the hand of her little brother.

“Go and sit down and I’ll bring you some soup.” Sarah smiled, glad that Mary Ellen had set this task for her.

As the morning wore on, Sarah lost all track of time. The Wee School, near as it was to the pit gates, became a sanctuary for those who needed food or the exchange of news, or just the company of others to help them through the waiting for news. All along the Raws, ranges were fired up, soups and stews were made and delivered to the Wee School. Children ran errands, delivered messages, brought lidded enamel cans of soup to those who kept vigil at the pit gates. Mary Ellen, face drawn with weariness, was persuaded to go home and rest just after noon. A weary rescue team was fed and returned to take instructions from the colonel. Miss Bunty went home and returned with a wagonload of blankets, shawls and other comforts for the vigil-keepers.

Once, as Sarah leaned against the draining board in the scullery, feeling suddenly dizzy from weariness, Daniel appeared as if from nowhere and put his arms around her. He was grimy with coal dust, unshaven, and his eyes were red-rimmed with weariness.

Her enquiring glance was met with a despairing shake of his head.

“No news,” he said. “They’re pumping the water out now, so that they can get at the worst of the roof fall, but there’s not a sound from the other side. Not a single sound.”

His voice petered out and he hugged Sarah to him for what seemed a long time. A silence closed round them.

“I’m going to see Pate. He knows more about that pit than anybody else. We’ll need to find a way through that mess down there – and find it quick.” His voice broke as he spoke. “But first, I’m taking you home to get some rest, love. There’s a lot ahead of us yet.”

Without waiting for a reply, he led her out through the schoolroom, pausing to have a quiet word with two of the women there.

“They’ll keep going until you have your rest,” he explained as they stepped out into the street.

Little was said until they got back to their own house.

Mind racing, but too tired to protest, Sarah allowed herself to be settled down, shoes kicked off, with a coverlet thrown over her.

“Get some sleep, love, and you’ll be more of a help down at the school. I’ll just get my working clothes from the scullery and I’ll away up and see Pate.”

His voice tailed off as Sarah sat bolt upright.

“Daniel, tell me the truth. You’ve been down the pit already, haven’t you?”

He didn’t answer, but tried to tuck the coverlet more securely around her. Desperately, Sarah clutched his arm.

“Daniel, please don’t go down there again. Please.” She began to cry. “Let the rescue team do what they have to do. Don’t put yourself in danger, please!”

“Sarah, I love you too much to make promises to you that I can’t keep.” Daniel kissed her.

And before she knew it, the scullery door had banged and he was gone.

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”.