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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 15 Uncle Jack's Offer

Story ID:2226
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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Note: I am going to be out of town this week, so I'm posting the usual Wednesday chapter a few days early. The next one will be posted Wednesday, June 13.

Chapter 15
Uncle Jack's Offer

The long walk home from the mine seemed shorter when Uncle Jack related stories of all the places he'd seen and the people he'd met on his travels. Will's feet didn't drag on the days when Uncle Jack waited for him after the shift. Even on days that only Emily met him, Uncle Jack would be in Gran's kitchen with his broad smile and a story when he got home. The house felt brighter and happier than before, and Gran was in a good mood most of the time, too.

Tonight Gran refilled their cups with strong tea, so strong they could only drink it with sugar and a good amount of milk in it. She set the brown teapot down next to the plate of Hermit cookies. Three hands reached out for more of the sweet, spicy treats filled with plump raisins. Uncle Jack took more than either Freddie or Will.

Gran shook her head. "Jack, your buttons are going to pop right off your vest, and I'm not the one to be sewing them back on!"

"Ah Maggie, it's your fault. I haven't had Hermits like these since our own mam made them." Uncle Jack leaned over and put his face close to Willís, swiping another cookie as he did so. "Will, how soon can you become a driver like Freddie? Seems to me you'd like that a whole lot better than opening and closing a door all day."

Will's head jerked up at his uncle's question, but before he could say anything, Freddie responded, "Not just anyone can drive those mules, you know. It takes some know-how and some muscle, too. Will's gonna be a trapper for a long time to come."

"I could learn to drive. Maybe not right away but later when I'm a little bigger." Will's voice rose. "I wouldn't go too fast like you and Leo. It's not good for the mules. You both like to show off."

Freddie burst from his chair, nearly toppling it. "Don't you put me in the same breath with Leo. I never drive any faster than I know I can handle, not crazy like him."

Will shouted, ďI don't really care if I'm ever a driver, but it might be better than being a trapper." He moved the cookie crumbs in front of him around and around on the white tablecloth, breathing heavily.

"I'm sorry I brought it up," Uncle Jack said. "It could be a lot worse. These are modern times, and you have all the new equipment we never had in the old days. It gets better every time a new generation comes round. Isn't that right, Rob?"

Da set his cup on the table. "It does get better, but that doesn't mean it's good. There's still room for improvement, more safety measures. Big Mike would still be our neighbor if that was so."

Gran folded her hands in her lap over her apron. "Tell the boys what miners endured in the old days, Jack."

"Way back, there was no cage to ride up and down. The men climbed long, shaky ladders to get below ground. Didn't have mules either." Uncle Jack leaned toward the boys and slipped one more cookie from the near-empty plate. "Instead of mules pulling a train of carts, women carried the coal up the ladders in baskets on their backs. It was hard work, and slow going, but they kept on to put food on the table."

Will sat up straighter. "Did boys work in the mines then like we do today?"

"A bit later on they did. Sometimes they would be lowered below ground in those same baskets that held the coal on the way up. Maybe a couple little kids in each basket. When they reached the bottom, they found no easy job, like yours, Will, nor yours, Freddie. They harnessed the boys to the big buckets of coal the men had picked out, and those children crawled through the tunnels pulling the heavy load behind them. If they survived that, they moved on to be miners themselves one day."

Gran broke in. "I remember what long days my father and brothers had, too. They left in the dark of morning and never came home until night had long since fallen, almost too tired to eat. The days here aren't quite so long. They're hard but not so long."

Gran reached for the empty teapot. "Will, you and Freddie clear this table, and I'll heat the water for washing up. No more talk of long ago. Today is today, and that is what we must deal with."

When the dishes were cleared, Uncle Jack beckoned to Will. "Come outside with me, Will. It's a nice night. Spring has come to stay, I believe."

Will waited for Gran to nod her gray head and followed the large man out the door. They each breathed the night air deeply and tipped their heads back toward the brilliant stars above. No cloud obscured the sky, and a full moon kept guard over the twinkling heavens. The clatter of dishes being washed floated through the open window.

Will and Uncle Jack walked to the hollow log and sat side by side. What would Uncle Jack think if he knew he was sitting on the postal station? Will stifled giggles with a hand over his mouth.
Uncle Jack cleared his throat. "I know you don't like working in the mine, lad. It's not hard to fathom your misery." He rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. "I've been pondering on something for a few days now."

Will felt a tiny flicker of hope well up inside. Would Uncle Jack fan the flicker into a flame?

"I've been trying to think of what we can do to help you out, and there's no other way than for you to come with me and travel the world." Uncle Jack held up his index finger. "A bit at a time, you understand."

"What do you mean?" Will asked.

"As long as you're here, your Gran will keep you working down in the mine. Come away with me, and you'll find sights you've never even dreamed about. I like to stay in a place a couple weeks and move on. We'll do that until the money runs out, but that won't happen for quite awhile, so don't fret over that part of it."

Will bounded from the log. "But, what about school? Where would I go to school?"

"School? Ah, you're done with that, lad. There'd be no way to attend school with us on the move. You're smart enough now; you don't need more book learning." Uncle Jack tapped his chest. "I didn't have it, and look at me."

"I don't know. It sounds good, but no school? I'm not sure." Will gazed at the moon, which lit the yard. One minute it was the moon, and the next it was Miss Duncanís face, her brow furrowed with a fierce frown. He shook his head and looked again, but only the golden moon hung in the night sky.

Will swallowed hard before he said, "I'd like to go with you to all those places, but I want to go back to school too. And the extra bit of money I bring home seems to help. It makes Gran breathe easier, I think."

"Ahh, that tiny bit makes no difference. I'll not ask again, lad."

"Please, Uncle Jack, give me some time to think about it." It was a way out of the mine, but was giving up school worth it?

"You're lucky I'm a soft-hearted Englishman." Uncle Jack tipped his head once more at the twinkling stars. "Take a little time to think it through, but I'll be leaving soon."