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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 9 The Delivery Service

Story ID:2007
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 9
The Delivery Service

Saturday afternoon brought a welcome relief to Will’s new routine. The mine closed at noon, but instead of lazing around, he and Emily walked along the dusty road that led to the mine owner’s big house. They often delivered fresh laundry to Boardman family on Saturday afternoons as well as baked goods Gran made. The extra money helped both families.

Emily shifted paper-wrapped parcels of clean laundry in her arms. “Is the box heavy, Will?”

"A little." He balanced the deep cardboard carton holding a large layer cake. "Seems like Gran is baking more for the Boardmans every week. I wonder what their cook does all day." He looked at the Burnt Sugar cake and licked his lips.

"It's because your Gran bakes better than anybody in Medlin," Emily said. "The Boardmans like her cakes and breads better than Cook's. Mrs. Boardman told my mother that herself, but she tells their cook that they only order to help out a miner's family."

"Well, I like Gran's cakes and breads, too, but I like them better when I don't have to carry them so far. We're nothing but a delivery service every Saturday, Em. Maybe one day we should go into business for ourselves, eh?" He glanced up at the cloud-filled sky and inhaled the crisp March air. "Oh, it's good to be above ground."

Emily said, "I can see it now. We'll have a beautiful red wagon drawn by a pair of fine black horses, and on the side it will say, in gold letters, Jamison and Scott Delivery Service."

"That sounds like a circus wagon," Will said. He thought for a moment, his eyes half-closed in concentration. "I see a dark green wagon pulled by chestnut horses. Large black letters spell out, Scott and Jamison Delivery Service, or maybe, Scott and Jamison, Carters. The letters could be outlined in gold if you want it fancy."

Emily laughed. "Well, all right. If my name goes first, you can pick the colors."

Will’s mood changed. "I thought since we only worked half a day today, I would have the rest of the day to myself, but no sooner had we handed Gran our pay envelopes than she had all my usual Saturday chores ready and waiting. Chop the wood, fill the coal box for the stove, deliver the baking and on and on. It's the first half-nice Saturday we've had, and I won't have a minute for myself. She makes me mad, but I don’t dare sass her."

They passed the empty red-brick school building, and Will stopped. He could almost hear Miss Duncan rapping her pointer on the slate-board for attention and boys and girls opening books. The younger children in Miss Gillwooley's class would be reciting their letters. He shook his head and clutched the box more tightly. "I want to go back, Em. Back to school."

"I know," Emily said. "It might have been better if Mike had been the one to go to the Black Swan. He wouldn't miss school like you do."

Will sighed and followed her. He dragged his feet, moving past shops, church, and the bank, lined up side by side. Saturday shoppers passed them on the wooden walkway, intent on their own errands. The biggest building on the square rose two stories. The bottom floor housed both a furniture store and the Undertaker, and the Miner's Union Hall resided on the second floor. Will and Emily’s fathers would often be found here on a Saturday afternoon. Miners gathered to complain to one another about conditions in the mine, and they devised plans to improve their lives. More talk than results came out of the Union Hall.

Emily shifted her parcels once again. "I wonder if we'll see Cecily Boardman today. She wears the most beautiful dresses. Each time I look at her I think her dress is the most elegant ever." Emily sighed. "She never has to wear a pinafore over her dress like I do." Her eyes were bright. "Maybe she'll talk to us today."

"Fat chance," Will said. "When has she ever talked to either of us? We're miners'

kids. She's not even allowed to go to school with us. Oh no, she has a tutor!" He made aface at Emily.

She giggled, but before she could say anything more, Will stopped and whirled around, sure now that someone followed them. Only a few steps behind them loomed a dirty, disheveled boy. He stared at Will and Emily with narrowed eyes and mouth clamped tight.

"Leo!" Will shouted. "Why are you following us?"

Leo came to life at Will’s words. "I've been behind you a long ways, and you never even knew it." He wiped his sleeve across his upper lip.

Emily's eyes opened wider when Leo stepped forward. She moved closer to Will, hugging the parcels to her chest.

"Yeah," Leo went on. "I listened in on your big plans. Big dreamer you are, Wee Will. You'll end up in the mine like your pa and brother all your life. Just like the rest of us!"

"No, I won't," Will said firmly, his mouth set like Gran's when she meant business. "I'll find a way out, you'll see." Although Will said the words without thinking, as soon as they left his lips, he realized how much he meant them. Below the aching muscles, the anger at Gran, and the misery of working in the mine, a new determination grew. He would find a way out, no matter how long it took. No more giving up because he didn't know how to fight Gran.

Leo inched closer. "I want to see what’s in that box, then I'm going to punch both of you." Leo lunged forward.

"Will turned and tried to run, but before he could get started, Leo stuck his dirty hand in the box and poked two fingers into the top of the cake.. Will jerked the box away from Leo. He leaned close to Emily and whispered. "Go to the left, and I'll go to the right. He won't know who to follow."

As if they'd come to a fork in the road, Will and Emily parted and moved in different directions. Leo stood in the dirt road, as if deciding which one to follow.. "I'll get you next time or maybe in the mine when you're alone," he hollered.

Will and Emily circled and headed toward each other breathing hard. Emily peered at the cake. "Oh, what did that horrible boy do?"

Will set the box down. They gasped at the goudge Leo's fingers had made in the three layer Burnt Sugar Cake.

"I can't take this cake to the Boardman's, and I can't take it back to Gran either," Will said. "What am I to do, Em?" He paced around the box, holding one hand to his stomach.

"I think I can fix it." Emily fished in her pinafore pocket. She reached under her coat to get to the pocket, holding the laundry parcels in her other arm. She struggled but triumphantly held up the small comb that she sometimes used to hold back her heavy hair.

"What do you think you can do with a comb?" Will asked. But he picked up the box and followed her to the side of the road. He had no other ready solution.

"Watch this." Emily lifted the damaged cake out of the box and set it on the ground. Using the teeth of the comb, she gently pulled the frosting over the holes.

Will watched but shook his head in frustration. "You covered the holes, but those lines look kind of funny in the frosting with the rest of it so smooth.”

"I'm not finished." Emily pulled the comb first one direction, then another, across the top of the cake. After she was satisfied with the effect, she did the same to the sides of the cake. Before long, the caramel-colored icing looked like it had been designed with lines swirling in all directions.

She smiled at Will. "There!"

"I always said you were the artistic one," Will told her. "Thanks Em, you saved my life."

Emily licked the frosting off her comb. "I thought it was the cake I saved!"

* * *

When they returned home, Gran was outside shaking a dust mop by the back steps. "Did the cook comment on my Burnt Sugar Cake?"

"Oh, she did, Gran. Cook said it was the most unusual cake she's ever seen, didn't she, Emily?"

Emily bit her bottom lip and nodded in agreement.

"Unusual?" Gran repeated the word, a frown on her face. "Now, why would she say that? It's the one I always make, but that woman couldn't make a Burnt Sugar Cake if she tried a month of Sundays!" She shook the mop vigorously and headed back into the house calling over her shoulder, "Come on, Will, there are more chores to be done."

Before he went into the house, Will grasped Emily’s arm. “Wait a minute, Em. Have you heard whether the gypsies have camped out by the lake yet? They usually come sooner than this.”

A slow smile spread across Emily’s face. “No, I haven’t heard anything , but I know what you’re thinking, Will Jamsion. You think you’ll find the answer to getting back to school at the gypsy camp, don’t you? And maybe you will.” She waved and headed home.