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Will Jamison and the Black Swan Mine Chapter 2 Laughter, Songs, and Silence

Story ID:1779
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Medlin Iowa USA
Person:Will Jamison
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Chapter 2
Laughter, Songs, and Silence

Emily Scott, Mike Riley, and Will walked home from school each day in the same order that their houses lined up, Will in the middle, flanked by his two best friends. Mike and Emily were as much a part of Will’s life as the sun, moon, and stars. He could not remember a time when the three of them were not best friends. They moved fast along the dirt road, heads bowed to the sharp March wind.

Emily gasped and grabbed Will's arm. She pointed to a large man on the other side of the road. "Look! There’s Fergus Fenton. He’s a strange one. I don't like the wild look in his eyes." She shivered and inched closer to Will.

"Leo's father isn't like our dads. He doesn't go to the mine anymore. My da says he’s been fired,” Will said. “He’s got nothing to do but watch people if he has no job.”

They increased their pace when a gust of wind sent swirls of dirt from the road around them.

Emily said, "You seem very satisfied with yourself today, Will. What's going on?"

"Not much to look satisfied about, if you ask me," Mike grumbled. "Miss Duncan's making us write an extra paper tonight. It's all old Gillwooley's fault!"

"You'd better be grateful it was Miss Duncan setting the punishment, not Miss Gillwooley," Emily said to Mike. Turning her attention back to Will, she added, "I'm still wanting to know why you look so pleased, Will."

Will could contain himself no longer. His news bubbled inside him until he felt near to bursting and who better to tell than his two best friends? "I do have some news. Miss Duncan told me that I won first prize in the school essay contest, and I'm to read my entry at Spring Festival. What do you think of that?"

Mike and Emily whooped and hollered, jumping up and down in their excitement. Mike pounded Will playfully on the back.

Will dodged the blows, laughing. "Hey, you two are more excited than I am."

"But it is exciting, really exciting," Emily said. "Think of it—you'll stand on the bandstand in the park, and everyone will listen. Most every person in Medlin will be there. They'll think you're the smartest boy in town." She grinned at the boys. "Of course, we already know that, don't we, Mike?"

Mike chuckled. "It'll never be me to claim that title or old Fergus Fenton over yonder either, so it must be Will here."

They turned onto Maple Street, and so did Fegus Fenton. All the houses appeared much the same, tall and narrow. Once painted white, they were now a weathered gray, leaning a bit from poor construction and the weight of their years. Oliver Boardman owned the Black Swan coal mine and most of the houses in town, theirs included. He deducted the rent from each miner's pay every Saturday. The miners were responsible for the care and repairs of the house, but being short of both time and money, few miners lived up to the repair part of the contract. Long work and low pay ensured the house's neglect.

When they neared their own houses, Emily clutched Will's coat sleeve. "What will your Gran say about the contest? Will she be happy?" Concern furrowed her brow, and her normally slight limp became more noticeable.

Mike answered for his friend. "Sure she will. Who wouldn't be happy for the professor here? Will’s Gran’s not as bad as you think.”

"With Gran it's hard to tell. Some days it takes a lot to make her smile," Will replied. Anger was no stranger in the Jamison house.

"Never mind your Gran," Mike said. "Your dad and Freddie will be happy for you. They'll come to hear you read on Festival Day. And my whole family will come, too.”

The wind blew harder, and Emily pulled the collar of her thin and worn coat closer. "My da says it's a wonder old skinflint Boardman ever closes the Black Swan, even for Festival Day."

"That's the reason Gran doesn't like the festival. The mine’s closed, and there’s no pay that day. Maybe she'll like it better if she comes and hears me read my essay." Head down, Will kicked at the dirt once more. "But maybe not."

Footsteps behind them brought a halt to the conversation. All three turned round. "Oh, it's only my mam," Emily said.

Amanda Scott caught up with the trio. "You children go inside this minute. You'll catch your death out here in this cold wind."

The paper-wrapped packages Mrs. Scott carried held clothes that she laundered and ironed every week for the Boardman family. Emily never tired of describing the fine clothing the three Boardmans wore. The two boys ignored her tales more often than not.

Will frowned when he spotted Fergus Fenton leaning against a tree across the road. Was he watching their house? Leo's father wore coal-blackened clothes although he had been fired from the mine weeks before.

Will waved to Mike and Emily and climbed three stairs to the back door of his house. He stepped inside an enclosed area, more a porch than a room. He passed the big tub his father and brother used for washing up every night. Gran wouldn't let them enter her immaculate kitchen until they had cleaned up and changed their clothes. The tub stood in the corner nearest the door so the last one to wash could toss the blackened water out back. One of Will's chores each afternoon was to carry buckets of water from the kitchen to fill the tub.

In the late afternoon, Gran spent her time preparing dinner. Emily's mother might be singing while she worked in her kitchen. Over in Mike's full house, there would be laughter and good-natured teasing in the tiny kitchen. Here Gran worked silently.

What would Gran think of his prize? Will hoped for her approval, but he feared she wouldn't care. The pleasant aroma of dried apple pie and beans baking greeted him as he entered Gran's kingdom.

His grandmother turned from the black cook-stove. "You're late, Will."

There was no singing. There was no laughter. There would be no approval.