The Life We Choose – Episode 78

Hugging her helper, Sarah exchanged an anxious glance with Mary Ellen.

“Now, you sit down, Rachel, and we’ll bring you some soup, and while you’re eating it, Mary Ellen and I will decide what to do. Try not to worry any more.”

A tear-stained little face gazed up at her for a moment. Rachel tried to smile her gratitude.

“Father’s lost, too, Mistress Morrison,” she said, before sitting down obediently, hands in her lap.

While Rachel ate her soup, Sarah and Mary Ellen had a hurried discussion in the scullery, taking care to keep their voices down.

“That wee rascal aye turns up frae his wanderin’s,” Mary Ellen said. “He’ll be back afore dark, you mark my words. It’s Jeanie Makin that’s worryin’ me. She’ll no’ leave the pit gates. The other women talk betimes, take a wee bit nourishment, try to keep one another’s spirits up, but Jeanie Makin . . .” She paused, looking troubled. “She’ll neither eat or drink, nor greet like big Ella. Juist stares at the pitheid, her lips movin’ as if she’s talkin’, but no’ makin’ a sound.”

Rachel had brought her empty plate back and was standing by the scullery door.

Sarah shot a warning glance at Mary Ellen.

“Jeanie’s praying for the men down there,” she whispered. “And there she’ll stay until they’re found.”

“It’s gettin’ dark, Mistress Morrison, an’ Abie’s lost,” Rachel reminded her, this time with a desperate note in her voice.

Sarah tried to smile at her.

“Then we’d best go and look for him.” Sarah tried to smile reassuringly at Rachel, but failed.

* * * *

Wearing her heaviest coat and with Rachel wrapped in a warm shawl, Sarah stopped first at the pit, hoping to find Daniel. A brazier had been lit, a shelter of sorts rigged up for the women who waited, for the others who came and went to support them in their vigil.

In search of Daniel, Sarah found Miss Bunty in the pit office where she was tearing a sheet into makeshift bandages.

“We might need these,” she said. “Must keep busy until the men are found.”

Her words petered out then and she gave a slight shake of the head.

“The rescue teams are still down there, trying to find a way through the roof fall.” She shot a wary glance at Rachel, who was standing by the door. “Daniel’s been in here, looking at the drawings of the old workings. He’s with the colonel now at the pithead.”

Sarah interrupted her.

“Abie’s gone wandering again. Rachel knows his favourite places, so we’re going to look for him.”

“Up the hill, past the old quarry,” Rachel chimed in. “He likes it up there, for he can see the Junction, an’ the canal an’ everythin’ frae there.”

Sarah took her hand. Outside, there was sleet in the wind. The sky was darkening.

Beset by a sudden fear, Sarah quickened her step. There was no time to lose.

They scrambled upwards, past the old quarry, towards the line of stunted trees, made hunchbacked by the east wind that numbed Sarah’s hands and feet. At times, Rachel ran ahead, calling Abie’s name while Sarah struggled through thorny undergrowth, pausing now and then to catch her breath. She had all but given up hope of finding Abie, when a small dishevelled figure burst from a thicket of bushes near the crest of the hill.

“Come quick. I can hear Faither!”

It was Abie Makin.

There was a hole in the ground at the heart of the thicket. Abie had torn grass away from the entrance. As Sarah moved the children back and tested the firmness of the ground before drawing nearer to the hole, she heard a sound. A hoarse shout, formless but clear. The shout of several desperate voices.

“Ah telt yis,” Abie Makin said proudly. “It’s Faither!”

Sarah made a quick decision.

“Rachel, take Abie and run as fast as you can down to the pit gates. Find the colonel or Miss Bunty or Daniel. Tell them what Abie found here and that the men are alive, but that they must hurry and bring ladders and ropes.”

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”.