The Life We Choose – Episode 77

“Ah had a feelin’ ye’d come, Daniel, so Ah’ve been busy.”

Pate was sitting by the fire, pipe unlit, a sheet of paper in his hand. On it was a rough pencil drawing.

“Mary Ellen’s been keepin’ me up with the news fae the pit,” he said. “A second fall wi’ a flood forbye. See this.” He jabbed the paper with his finger. On it were what, at first glance, looked like a tangle of pencilled lines with crosses marked here and there.

“That flood was likely frae the auld quarry up ower the hill. It’s likely to have been leakin’ water intae the workin’s for a while, an’ the second fall wid hae brought the hale lot doon wi’ it.”

*  *  *  *

From the moment Tricky Binnie had banged frantically on the front door of the colonel’s house, raising the alarm, the place had been in an uproar. The colonel, who had been dozing contentedly by the fire in the library, had been the first to be roused and had organised everything with military precision. Tricky was sent to rouse the Goudies and the colonel summoned Bunty and Fleur, both in night attire. He marshalled his troops in the big hallway, having quite forgotten about Giles, the house guest, who was in a deep sleep.

Down in the hallway, orders were rapped out.

“Blankets, sheets,” he said, jabbing his finger at the top landing.

Bunty had already dressed hurriedly and was pulling on her boots.

“I’ll meet Goudie at the stables and get a wagon and a trap ready” she announced.

“Where will I find spare blankets?” Fleur asked in a trembling voice.

“The big kists on the top landing,” was the brusque reply.

“And you can make yourself useful by helping her,” he rapped out at a sleepy Giles who had appeared at the top of the stairs in a velvet dressing gown.

“I’d best get dressed,” Fleur said with a wary sidelong glance at him.

“Never mind that. Time is of the essence. Get on with it, both of you,” the colonel bellowed, making for the front door.

“I’m going down to Langrigg,” he announced to no-one in particular.

All morning and into the afternoon, the colonel had been at the pithead and had to be dissuaded from going down in the cage with the rescue team.

“Little enough room down there, Colonel. Best to stay here and help with the injured men they’re bringing up,” Daniel advised him.

Miss Bunty was unloading sheets and blankets from a wagon and laying them out on doors that had been taken off their hinges and had become makeshift stretchers.

Her thoughts in turmoil, Sarah couldn’t rest. She fought the sleep that threatened to engulf her, the fear that made her grow cold at the very thought of Daniel going down the pit again with a rescue team. She kicked off the coverlet, put on her shoes and went through to the scullery to splash cold water on her face, then made her way back to the Wee School.

It was all but deserted for the first time that day. Mary Ellen was standing in the scullery, her arms around a sobbing Rachel.

“Tak’ your time, henny. Catch your breath, and tell me what’s wrong,” she was saying.

“I’m feart to tell Mammy.” The little girl sobbed, clinging to Mary Ellen.

“Tell her what?” Mary Ellen coaxed.

Sarah took a handkerchief from her pocket.

“Come here, Rachel, and let me dry your eyes,” Sarah said gently, touching the little girl’s arm.

“It’s Abie, Mistress Morrison. Oor Abie ran away, an’ I canna find him an’ Mammy’s still at the pit gates. I was watching the wee yins an’ Abie ran away an’ now it’s gettin’ dark . . .” Her faltering words fell away as she turned to cling to Sarah.

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”.