The Life We Choose – Episode 79

Rachel nodded.

“And lanterns,” she added before taking Abie’s hand and rushing and tumbling down the hill towards Langrigg.

Sarah didn’t dare move lest the ground would give way beneath her feet. Instead, she knelt down as near the hole as she dared go, shouting encouragement every few minutes until her voice cracked with the strain. There were no answering shouts and she said a silent prayer that the rescuers would come soon.

She had lost track of time when she saw them come up the hill, their lanterns like a straggling line of glow-worms in the gathering darkness. Their guide was Abie, who sat aloft Daniel’s shoulders.

As they reached her, she saw that they were carrying ropes, ladders, pickaxes and makeshift stretchers. She was lifted to her feet, set down on one of them and covered with blankets, Abie beside her, as the men set about their task, shouting encouragement to the men trapped below as they did so.

“It’s a mine shaft from the old workings, sealed off on the drawings, but it’s collapsed in on itself. Wet weather, likely.” Daniel paused for a moment to make sure that Sarah was comfortable, and gave her a hurried explanation.

Once everything was in place, there was a pause, then the colonel shouted into the silence.

“We need a small man to go down on a rope and see how the land lies before we can start getting these fellows out. Injured or not, they’ll need help.”

Two men volunteered, but were too big and burly for the task. Then a small figure in working clothes, his miner’s lamp shining in the darkness, pushed to the front of the throng.

“Ah’ll dae it,” Tricky Binnie announced.

There was a murmur of disbelief.

“Am Ah wee enough?” Tricky cut through the murmurs of the doubters to address the colonel.

“You’ll do, Binnie,” was the answer and Tricky gave one last instruction to the men holding the rope on which he’d swing away into darkness.

“Watch whit ye’re daein’,” he said, before disappearing downwards. A silence fell as his first signal was awaited – two tugs for a rope cradle to be lowered.

After what seemed an eternity, the signal came and, one by one, the men were brought to the surface, unrecognisable, eyes appearing luminous in blackened faces, working clothes clinging to them, soaked and tattered.

“Faither!” Abie Makin broke away from Sarah’s restraining arm and threw himself at a figure on a stretcher. There was a sudden respectful silence as a father’s arm was thrown protectively round his son and gripped him fast.

Warmed and caught up in the elation of the rescuers, Sarah threw off her cocoon of blankets and joined Daniel as Tricky was hoisted to the surface to the sound of cheering. He tried to take a bow, promptly collapsed on the grass and had to be carried home in a tarpaulin by the men who followed the line of stretchers, already halfway down the hill.

Daniel folded Sarah into an embrace.

“My brave Sarah,” he murmured. “There will be happy hearts tonight because of you.”

She laughed and shook her head.

“No, because of Abie Makin and his wandering ways,” was her answer.

Soaked to the skin and numb from exhaustion, she refused all offers of help and later had no memory of making her way back to Langrigg with Daniel. Nor had she any memory of being set down amid the comfort of soft pillows and counterpane, of Mary Ellen and Daniel’s voices whispering around her, mingled in concern. Exhausted, she slept a deep, dreamless sleep.

* * * *

By the time Sarah awoke, a new day was halfway gone and she was suddenly aware of the silence outside. For a while she lay awake, wondering at it. When at last she joined Daniel in the kitchen, where the fire was lit and a kettle was singing on the hob, she asked him about it.

“It’s Langrigg’s way of healing,” he said after a while. “They’ve closed their doors on the world and set about healing their wounds. The menfolk face danger every day of their lives and after this they’ll have to get up and face it again. And for the six that were rescued last night, and the lads that were injured in that first fall, it’ll be that bit harder. The womenfolk, the wee bits o’ children, all of them are injured in a way. They’ll remember all that’s happened for the rest of their lives, but it’s behind closed doors that the healing will start.”

He stared into the fire. Then he turned and took Sarah in his arms. After a moment or two, he held her away from him and smiled.

“And they’ll never forget what you did last night.”

Outside, there was the sudden rattle of a cart.

“That’ll be Sandy.” Daniel jumped to his feet. “He was here this morning. He wants to collect the first of the heavy stuff.”

As Sarah stared at her husband in disbelief, Daniel laughed.

“It’s Jess’s doing. She sees no point in delaying, and she’s afraid that you might change your mind.”

And so, as Langrigg slumbered on around them, Daniel and Sarah helped load the cart, taking the next step in the journey life held in store for them.

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”.