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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 4 An Unpleasant Dinner

Story ID:1853
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Medlin Iowa USA
Year:1895
Person:Will Jamison
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Chapter 4
An Unpleasant Dinner

After washing and changing out of their grimy work clothes, Rob Jamison and his oldest son, Freddie, entered the small kitchen and sniffed. Gran's dinner often highlighted their day.

Will bolted from his chair when his father appeared, but before he could say a word, Gran stepped in front of him. "Will's going to be keeping you company at the mine tomorrow. It's time he left school and helped out by bringing some money home" She went back to her cook-stove and turned up the wick on the kerosene lamp that rested on the warming shelf.

The men gaped at her like dumb animals, apparently stunned. Freddie broke the silence. "I think not!"

In an only slightly softer voice, his father echoed him. "I think not, too. Will's not for the mine, Mam." His gaze shifted from his mother to his youngest son. "It's all right for Freddie and me, but not for Will."

Angry words flew across the kitchen, but it was a one-sided argument. Will prayed his father and brother would not give up easily. If this was a matter of strong will, Gran would likely come out on top. Da found it easier to give in to Gran than to prolong a fight. Keep going, Da. Don’t quit now.

Rob Jamison's voice shook. "Will's too young. He's too small for the jobs they'd give him."

Freddie spoke up. "Gran, if there's one person in this family that got the brains, it's our Will. He's meant for learning, not working at the Black Swan. Besides that, he does chores for you after school. Who's going to do them if he's down at the mine with us?"

Gran ignored them while she put the meal on the table. Each plate or bowl landed a little harder than the last, but she kept her silence.

When all was ready, the short, plump woman who ruled the house, sat down at the table, folded her hands and bowed her head.

They all knew what was expected of them. Chairs scraped across the wood floor and Da, Freddie, and Will joined Gran at the table.

Gran asked the blessing, raised her head, and picked up a plate of biscuits, still warm from the oven. She surveyed her family around the table, her eyes resting briefly on each of them. "I'm not asking you to like it, but this is the way it has to be. Mr. Rollins is expecting Will tomorrow morning, and he will be there, and every day thereafter, as well." She handed the biscuit plate to her son, who took it with a jerk.

Will studied his father across the table. He'd never seen such sadness in Da’s eyes before. Looking at his da made him want to cry. He tried to eat, but the lump in his throat made it hard to swallow.

Freddie glowered and stabbed his food, but he kept his silence. Gran was not one to change her mind, and they all knew it.

Later that night, the brothers lay side by side in bed, Gran's quilts pulled up to their chins.

"It'll be all right, Will," Freddie said in the darkness. "It's not so bad, you know. One day you can be a driver like me. It's wonderful to drive the mules. I feel like a king sometimes when I guide that train of coal cars through the mine."

"But don't you miss school? Don’t you miss your friends?" Will asked.

"Nah. I never liked school much, not the way you do.. As for my friends-- why, most of them are in the mine with me." He laughed a little and added, "My friends and Leo Fenton, too."

Will bolted upright, pulling the quilt partially off Freddie who grabbed it back. "Did Leo do anything to you today? He was at the schoolyard giving Mike and me a hard time. He said things about our mam. I tried to ignore him, but I ended up fighting him. Gave the bugger a bloody nose."

"Leo’s no good, Will. Steer clear of him. There's been a lot of things happening at the mine lately, things that shouldn't be. Somebody's been leaving things on the tracks. Unless the driver sees what's there, his train could derail and spill all the coal. And the driver would be lucky to come out of it in one piece. Tom Scott found one of the wooden props cut halfway through. Slate'll fall on top of a miner if the props don't hold. Last time that happened, John Turner ended up with a broken back."

Will swallowed twice before he asked, "Do you think Leo is causing trouble?"

“There’s some that think so, but how would I know? I put in my day's work and go home. I stay away from Leo, and you should, too. You better get some sleep, Will. Morning comes mighty fast." He turned over, leaving Will to think about what the morning would bring. It was clear he wouldn't be going to school. What would Mike and Emily think when he didn’t show up? And Miss Duncan—would she think he’d known about this turn of events? He punched his pillow and wiped a tear from his cheek.