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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 6 Emily's Tale

Story ID:1912
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 6
Emily's Tale

When the final whistle blew late in the day, Will rode the cage with other tired men and boys, all of them blackened with coal dust.
He stepped onto the ground and took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the crisp March air. Across the yard Emily called his name and hobbled toward him, her limp more pronounced than usual.

“It's been the most awful day." She seemed close to tears.

What did Emily have to whine about? He'd spent his day in a dark, dangerous place worrying that there wouldn’t be enough air to breathe. He hated every minute of this day. His fingers tightened around the handle of his lunch bucket, and he shouted. "You think I was down there having fun?"
Emily backed away from him and then inched closer again, hands on her hips and eyes narrowed. "Wait until you hear what happened! Your Gran and Miss Duncan, oh, it was awful…” Her words trailed away.
Tom Scott appeared at his daughter's side. “What was awful Em?" He reached out to touch her long curls but drew back at the sight of his coal-blackened hand.

Will’s father and brother joined them "What's going on?" Freddie asked.

"I’m sorry I snapped at you. Tell us what happened, Emily." Will spoke in a softer voice, anxious now to know what had upset her so.

Emily directed her story to Will, but she had the attention of all four as they walked to town.
"Your Gran met me at the door when I came to get you for school this morning. She said to tell Miss Duncan that you wouldn't be in school anymore. I stood there on the back steps with my mouth open. Your Gran told me to hurry and deliver the message. Mike came out of his house then, so I told him. He went back and pounded on your door until she answered. Mike asked where you were. 'At the Black Swan' she said and closed the door without another word."

"When we got to school, I told Miss Duncan. Her face got all red, and her eyes went shiny like she might cry or something. She stared out the window, shook her head and said, 'Not Will--not Will.'

"She sent our whole class into Miss Webber's classroom. She must have got her hat and coat and gone out, but in minutes she was back. Emily imitated her teacher's voice. ‘Emily Scott, come with me.’

I went out that door lickety-split. She wanted me to show her where you lived…"

Will's heart pounded, but he said nothing, and they continued walking while Emily
went on her story.

"Miss Duncan marched down the street like she was leading a parade. You know that black straw hat she wears every spring? The one with the cherries on it. It nearly sailed off her head she walked so fast. I could barely keep up.

Your Gran must have seen us through the window for she met us at the door. 'Aren't you supposed to be in school?' she said. I didn't know if she was talking to me or Miss

Miss Duncan flew up those steps and went right past your Gran into the kitchen. Miss Duncan was shaking so, the cherries on her hat bounced. Your Gran stood on one side of the table and Miss Duncan on the other. And me, I stood in the corner like a silent little mouse.

Miss Duncan said, 'How could you? How could you take a fine mind like Will's and throw it down a shaft?'

Will interrupted. “What did Gran say to that?” Hope flickered until Emily went on.

"Your Gran lifted her head and smoothed her apron. 'Miss Duncan,' she said, 'that is no concern of yours. But, if you must know, we need the extra pay envelope. Medlin is a mining town, full of miners and railroad men. Most of your students end up in the mines. He was going to become a miner sooner or later. It had to be sooner than I'd hoped.' She never smiled, only stared across the table."

"Miss Duncan seemed a bit calmer, and she rested her hands on the back of your chair, Will. Funny, isn't it, that she would stand by your chair?"

"That doesn’t matter. Go on, Em." Will urged.
“Miss Duncan said, 'But, Mrs. Jamison, Will is not like all the others. He deserves to stay in school. With his bright mind, he can become a real scholar. Please allow him to come back to school.'

"She was wonderful. She tried so hard for you, Will. 'No,' your Gran said, and she put her hands on the back of the chair in front of her. There they were, both holding onto chairs, knuckles turning white. And me in the corner not knowing what to do."

"So, what happened next, Emily?" Freddie pressed to hear more of the tale.

"Your Gran said, 'I left school when I was Will's age. Back in England it was. I was sent to the big house on the hill. There were piles of pots to scrub and stacks of linens to iron. I was sent there to help my family, to keep food on the table. Now, it's Will's turn. I had no choice, and neither does he.'

"It got so quiet we could hear the soup pot bubbling on the stove and the clock ticking on the sideboard."

"Miss Duncan turned without another word. But she whirled around and said, 'Mrs. Jamison, one day Will is going to make you proud, and it won't be because he put food on your table.'

"She spied me in the corner and told me to come with her--that we had to get back to school. I started out after her but glanced back once." Emily's voice dropped. "Your Gran was standing by the stove, her head down with both hands over her face. It made me so sad."

Emily sighed. "Mss Duncan made me promise never to say a word about her visit to your Gran at school, but this isn't school, is it?"

By this time, they had reached Maple Street. Emily walked on to her house followed by her father, and Will climbed the steps to his house while Da and Freddie lingered in the yard. What would he find inside? Had Gran filled the tub where they washed up, or would he be expected to do it? Would Gran tell them about Miss Duncan’s visit? He swallowed hard and opened the door.