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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 12 The Eviction

Story ID:2124
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 12
The Eviction

That evening the miners' families came to pay their respects to the Riley family. Men entered the small home holding their caps, while the women arrived bearing food. They brought pies and cakes, potatoes and beans, chicken and ham, breads and jars of home canned fruits and pickles. The donations covered every tabletop.

Gran and Amanda Scott accepted the food for Mrs. Riley who sat stone-faced in the tiny parlor. A wooden coffin rested across several straight chairs. Tall candles glowed at all four corners of the roughly made box where Big Mike lay.

Will and Emily sat on the floor with the Riley children. Will inched closer to Mike. He patted his friend's knee. Mike's only response was silence.

* * *

Dawn ushered in a glorious morning, sunny and mild. Birds trilled a song, while two black horses pulled an enclosed wagon down Maple Street. Black leather harnesses, trimmed with silver medallions and a plumed feather, completed the horses' ensemble. Manes and tails groomed perfectly, the animals stepped along as though they marched in a circus parade rather than a burial procession.

Amos Cowlings, the Undertaker, guided the horses. He, too, wore black from his high-top shoes to the tall hat that perched atop his head. The Reverend Gideon Claggett and the Riley family followed the hearse on foot. They led the long line of mourners who accompanied Big Mike to the cemetery.

Will planted each foot firmly as he marched to the burial site with his family and Emily's. Gran wore no apron today, a sure sign that this was an important occasion.

"Can you see Mike?" Emily whispered.

"I can," Will whispered back. "He's by his mother, and he has a little sister on each side."

A stern glance from Da quieted them.

The procession wound its way past the town square and down Elm Street to the small cemetery at the west edge of town. The headstones bore names familiar to all, for death was no stranger to a mining community.

Will peered at the open grave for only a few seconds, because the crowd quickly gathered around the yawning hole. He stood on tiptoe, but the taller grown-ups blocked his view. Peeking between them, he spied Reverend Claggett and the Riley family. He sucked in his breath when Oliver Boardman made his way to Mrs. Riley.

The elegantly dressed man had been waiting by the gravesite. He bowed solemnly and reached out to take the widow's hand, but no words were exchanged. The mine owner returned to his carriage before the Reverend Claggett started the service.

Will marked the man's abrupt departure with the same silence the rest of the mourners showed, but thoughts tumbled through his mind. Couldn’t he have stayed for the service? Did he think making an appearance was enough? Even the mighty Oliver Boardman couldn’t raise a dead man and return him to his family.

Voices soared through the clear morning air singing Big Mike's favorite hymn, "Amazing Grace,” but his deep bass voice was sorely missed in this rendition.

When the last scripture was read, the coffin lowered, and the first handful of moist dirt thrown atop, the crowd broke up. Emily whispered to Will, "My mother and your Gran are going back to Mike's house. They get to drink tea and sample more good things the ladies brought yesterday. It’s comfort time for Mike’s mother.”

Miss Duncan grasped Emily's arm and gently turned her towards the line of children a few steps away. "Come Emily, we must get to school, and Will needs to join the men." The teacher moved over to Mike and spoke so softly to him that her words could not be determined. She herded her class together and passed by Will, nodding when Will's eyes met hers. No cherries adorned her hat this morning.

Will moved to follow Miss Duncan, but she shook her head, stopping him in his tracks. A tug on his arm jolted him. He whirled around to face his brother.

"Come on, Will, we have to get to work. The burials are early so we can get in close to a full day's work."

"I don’t want to go to the mine." Will said. "I want to go to school with Miss Duncan." He heaved a deep sigh and moved slowly towards Freddie, head down, shoulders drooping.

* * *

Artie dropped his grease rag when Will stepped off the cage and passed by without a word."Wait Will, listen to me. You forget about the accident now. Don't go back in that tunnel and go over and over it, for it changes nothing. Big Mike is dead, and he's gonna stay dead."

Will wanted to heed Artie's advice, but the day dragged on leaving him with little to do but think. Rolly interrupted his thoughts when he walked through the tunnel more times than usual.
When the quitting whistle blew, Will sighed and moved quickly toward the cage. Up top, Emily was waiting. Even she was silent on the journey home.

When the Jamison men finished cleaning up, they found Gran in the kitchen pacing. She held a long handled wooden spoon in one hand, and the look on her face was fierce.Gran rapped the palm of her hand with the spoon repeatedly. "They didn't waste a bit of time." She narrowed her deep blue eyes. "Oliver Boardman sent his man to the Riley's to evict them. They're to be out of the house by week's end. Week's end, mind you!" Her face was flushed. "Can't give a body a few days to cope with the horror of what's happened, can they?"
Da placed his hand on Gran’s shoulder. "Mam, that's what comes of living in a house the mine owns. They only allow a miner to live there. You know that. What are the Rileys going to do?"

Gran threw the spoon on the table and flopped down in her rocker by the window. She pulled the white curtain aside and gazed at the Riley house next door. "She's going to send word to her folks on the farm and hope they'll take the family in, for a short time at least." She began to rock and said no more.

* * *

Two days later, when Will and Freddie returned home from the Black Swan, they stopped in their tracks at the sight of two farm wagons stacked high with the Riley's belongings. Mrs. Riley's father and brother loaded the last few items. Will raced toward the lead wagon where Gran and Emily's mother were helping the little children climb aboard. Gran lifted a basket and placed it next to them. "There now, you can have a picnic supper on your journey." The children stared back at her, unsmiling.

After Mike helped his mother onto the seat of the same wagon, he moved slowly over to Will. Emily joined them, and the three friends studied one another. No one spoke.

Will could barely stand the awful silence. Finally he said, "I'll miss you, you know."

Mike shuffled his feet, stared over at Will's house and back to his own. "Yeah, me too." He punched Will on the shoulder like he’d done so many times before.

Emily wiped tears from her face.

Mike ran to the wagon when it rolled forward. He jumped and swung himself into the wagon bed calling, "Write to me, Will. Write to me, Em."

Will waved until the wagons disappeared in a cloud of dust.