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Will Jamison and The Black Swan Mine Chapter 17 Another Accident

Story ID:2288
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 for 3+ weeks. The next chapter will be posted when I return.

Chapter 17
Another Accident


The next morning at the Black Swan Mine, daydreams filled Will's mind. What would it be like to travel with Uncle Jack? Visions of cities he’d only read about danced before him, but a frantic shout and the braying of mules chased the dreams away and brought him to his feet.

He moved closer to the ventilation door and tore it open. Even though the mules were far down the tunnel, the sounds they made left no doubt of their terror. A cry for help rose above the awful noise. The mine boss had said he must never leave his post, but the mules and the human plea erased that order in a flash.

Will dashed along the cart tracks, dim light from his hard hat guiding him. He breathed hard and fast. Miners' voices floated through the darkness.

"Hold on, we're coming."

"What's happened?"

"Who's calling?"

Someone ran behind Will, feet hitting the ground hard with each step. Will slowed as Tom Scott grasped his arm. They’d reached the source of the racket. Two downed mules ceased their bellowing when Will and Tom drew near. The call for help from the driver had stopped, too.

Will pointed a shaking finger. "Look. The coal cars are off the track."

Tom moved closer, pick-axe clutched in one hand. "The driver's wedged between the wall and the first car. His arm's sticking out."

Will's heart thumped in his chest. "Who is it?" The mules bellowed, and the odor of sweat filled the air. The coal car lay on its side, and the driver’s arm moved slightly, the fingers grasping at the darkness. Will’s knees nearly buckled. He prayed it wasn’t his brother trapped behind the car.

Miners gathered around the site, some strangely quiet, others asking questions. The steady drip of water pooled into a puddle around the mules.

Tom grabbed Will's arm. "There's not enough room for a man to get behind the coal car, Will, but maybe you can do it. Climb over the car and slip down next to the wall. Once you're set, you'll have to push with all your might to move the car enough to allow the driver to climb out. He's held fast."

Will swallowed hard. The mules breathed heavily, the chains holding them to the coal cars clanking against each other. Will winced with each labored breath they took. He moved forward and skirted one of the wooden posts that propped up the slate ceiling and stepped into the puddle. He drew back when the mules' eyes rolled wildly at his approach.

Tom’s soft voice filled the silence. "Go on, lad. You can do it."

Will inched closer to the mules. His stomach twisted in knots as he took a deep breath, bent down and patted the head of the lead mule, then the second one. "There, there, it's all right" He kept his voice soft and steady though his heart pounded with fear.

Satisfied that the mules wouldn’t try to get up, he slid by. He pressed against the rough wall, the hard edges of it digging through his jacket and shirt. The mules lay quietly, ears tuned to his soothing voice.

Will climbed up and over to the first car. His heart skipped a beat when he spied Leo Fenton's head of wild red hair. Relief washed over him. It wasn’t Freddie who’d wrecked.

His stomach churned, but he checked the area in front and behind Leo. "Hey Leo, it's me, Will. I'm going to get you out of here."

Leo stirred and raised his head a bit. "Will?" His usual sneering voice sounded weak and raspy.

Will positioned himself next to the coal car.
Most of the coal had spilled, but the car was still heavy. Weeks before, Will had tried to move the empty cars when they came off the cage. He hadn't been tall enough or strong enough to accomplish that task. That day Rolly told him to use his body as well as his arms, but he hadn't done much better, and they called a bigger boy to handle the job.

Now the miners yelled encouraging words.

"You can do it, Wee Will!"

"Put your mind to it, lad!"

"Shove with all your might and a little more!"

Will pushed with both hands, but the car didn't budge. He tried again, and again, while Leo's groans increased and the acrid smell of the mules’ sweat threatened to gag him.

Rolly's words filled his mind. Will turned his body sideways in the narrow space and tried using his shoulder along with his hands. The car moved ever so slightly.

"Keep going," Leo said in a little stronger voice. "Do it again, Will."

Will pushed with his shoulder and arms, and with each shove the car shifted a little more. Leo stirred, and Will winced but kept up the rhythm he'd established. Each push caused the car to move a bit more until finally Leo slipped out and climbed unsteadily over the car, a grimace on his coal-blackened face. His injured right arm dangled next to his body, and his eyes appeared glazed.

A surge of pleasure moved through Will’s body, as he eased himself along the wall and followed Leo over the car. He’d done it. He’d helped a miner in trouble. As the two boys clambered over the mules, the miners greeted them with joyous shouts. Will’s legs quivered as he touched solid ground.

Two men helped Leo down the tunnel, and Will turned to Tom Scott.

Tom’s thin face wore a broad smile. "The men will take care of the mules, Will. Your da’s going to be proud, and maybe Leo won't be so quick to tease you now. He might even slow down when driving his team."

Will felt a burning sensation, and he held out scraped and bleeding hands.

Tom winced. "You'd better go up top and get those hands tended."

When Will moved down the tunnel, a searing pain shot through his shoulder and down his arm. His brow was covered in cold sweat. He bit his lower lip and walked slowly toward the cage.

A shadowy figure loomed in front of him. Feeling dizzy, Will stopped. He swayed when he recognized his father's voice.

"Are you all right, lad?"

Strong arms lifted him, but he was too tired to answer. Da held him close. That was enough.