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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 7 Home Again

Story ID:1946
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 7
Home Again

Will glared at the dirty water in the tub that Da and Freddie left him. Was it worth trying to clean the coal dust from his face and neck and hands? Will inspected his hands once more and plunged them into the cold water. He scrubbed with Gran's strong lye soap until his skin tingled.

By the time Will changed clothes and entered the kitchen, the only empty chair was his own, the one Miss Duncan had held onto earlier that day. Emily’s words echoed in his mind as he slid into his chair. "Sorry Gran."

Gran's eyes met his own. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it again and gathered the soup bowls. She ladled the thick vegetable soup that had simmered all day into their bowls. The steamy aroma of beans, tomatoes and onions filled the kitchen.

"Aren't we going to pray?" Will asked.
"What? Oh yes." Gran laid the ladle down and bowed her head. The others lowered their heads while she recited the familiar words.

When she finished, Will and Freddie glanced at each other, at Gran, and at each other again. Da passed the steaming bowls to the boys. They reached for the bread and butter in the center of the table and spooned their soup. No one spoke.

Freddie broke the silence. "Did you have any visitors today, Gran?"

Will and Da stopped eating, spoons in mid-air.
Gran gazed across the table at Freddie. "No, I didn't, except for Emily this morning for a minute. There's enough here to keep me busy all day. I don't go out visiting like some do."

Freddie pressed on. "No one else, Gran? Nobody all day?"

Why didn't Freddie drop it? Will didn't want to get into another hopeless argument over his leaving school. Bitter words would dart back and forth across the table, all of which would do no good. He'd be going back to the Black Swan the next day, argument or not. Gran would win again. There was no use in trying to persuade her to let him return to school. He was too tired to fight. He sighed and dipped his spoon into the soup.

"No, Freddie, nobody else all day!” She turned to Will. "How did your first day go?"

How can Gran lie to us? Will crushed a piece of bread in his fingers. "It was all right."

Da broke in. "He did fine. Now, how about some of that bread pudding I spied on the sideboard? It's Will's favorite."

He could count on Da to try to keep peace in the house. Neither of them wanted to know Gran's side of the tale Emily had related. Only Freddie liked to stir things up.

Will slumped in his chair and forced himself to eat the bread pudding. Tonight it stuck in his throat. Gran made the dessert rich with butter, sugar, and raisins. She'd placed a jug of thick cream on the table to top the pudding.

Freddie reached for the half-eaten pudding in Will's dish. "If you don't want that, I'll eat it."

"Off to bed with you, Will" Gran said. "You've had a long day. I'll do the clearing up tonight."

Will climbed the narrow stairs slowly, pulling one heavy foot after the other. Voices from the kitchen drifted toward him. He stopped halfway up the stairway when Gran asked Da if he thought the rash of accidents at the mine were really accidents.

"How would I know?" his father answered. "Things happen in mines all the time, You know that, Mam."

"Something's not right, Rob. I feel it in my bones." Gran answered. “It’s the same as I felt before the mine took your da from us.”

The last thing Will heard before he reached the small room he and Freddie shared was Da saying, "Those bones of yours talk more than a magpie sometimes."

Will pulled off his shirt and hung it on one of the pegs on the wall. The slanted ceiling was peeling, and the one window allowed only a little light or air. He yawned and fingered the two books on top of the small oak chest. Tonight he was too tired to read or line up the marbles that lay in a bag next to the books.

He padded to the window, pulled back the starched, white curtain, and peered into the darkness at Mike's house next door. Had Mike passed the spelling test today? He and Emily usually quizzed Mike on the way to school on test days. Will dropped the curtain and blinked hard to keep tears away.

Freddie rushed in, a wide smile on his face. "Will, did ya see how Gran conveniently forgot all about her visitor? Thought we'd caught her for sure, but she didn't fall for it, did she?" His grin faded. "Say, we never did get to talk coming home or tonight at dinner either. How did things go at the mine? I mean, how did it really go? You can tell me the truth."

Will sank down on the brightly colored quilt on the bed. "Rolly was nice to me, and I met a boy called Artie. He's an all right guy. I gave him part of my lunch, and we talked. I swept the stable til I was sick of it. And Leo was just like you said. That rotter tripped me when we got off the cage."

Freddie's hands curled into fists, and his expression was fierce. "He what? I'll take care of him."

Will shook his head and put his hands up, palms out towards his brother. "No, Freddie, you stay out of it. I can fight my own battles. It'll only be worse if you step in."

"But, Will, he's so much bigger than you, and he's mean, real mean."

"Sometimes words are stronger than fists," Will said.

"Yeah? Well, they don't leave marks like fists do." Freddie said.

Will sprang from the bed. "Yes, they do, but the marks are on the inside."