General Fiction posted August 22, 2016 Chapters:  ...4 5 -6- 7 


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Sixteen years on, and the Gowling family face tragedy

A chapter in the book DAUGHTERS OF THE FOUR WINDS

Short Lived Happiness

by Annette Gulliver




Background
Sixteen years have passed since Clare left Ireland. She is now a mother, and life is hard for a young family in a mining village.
There is a place across the sea
A place where my soul longs to be
As years go by memories grow dim
They are but whispers on the wind
Previously: 
Clare looked up at her husband, and touched his arm. "We have a son. Isn’t he beautiful?"

The infant let out a piercing cry, and Clare reached out. "Here! Give him to me. He’s probably hungry."  

Matthew placed his son into his wife’s outstretched arms, and stared in awe when Clare put the babe to her breast to suckle. A lump formed in his throat, and when tears began to stream from his eyes, he hastily brushed them away. He’d never been so emotional in his life.
**
 
 Chapter 6
Sixteen Years Later
 St Agnes, Cornwall  1860

 
Overhead rolled the billowing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and as he chipped away at the hard, unyielding rock in the labryrinth of tunnels beneath the sea, Matthew Gowling wiped the sweat from his brow. He bored a hole for the last gunpowder fuse he was to set for the day, and then called to his son. “Charlie! I’m lightin’ the fuse now. Stay with me, lad.”

He applied his candle to a long length of fuse, and taking Charlie by the arm, hastily retreated to a safe distance. A loud explosion followed, covering them both in a shower of debris. Matthew struck a flint on rock to relight their tallow candles, and when the dust settled, scrambled across the fallen rubble to examine the rock wall. Sixteen-year- old Charlie’s eyes shone with excitement as he peered at the wall. “Was it a good one, Da?”

Matthew shook his head. “No, lad. But don’t worry. We’ll try higher up tomorra.”

It had been the last blast for the day, and their shift was over. Matthew tied his tools at each end of a rope and slung them about his shoulders to leave his hands free. He fixed his candle to the front of his hat with a lump of clay, reminding Charlie to do the same, and together, they hurried through the dark, damp tunnel to the bottom of the ladder. Charlie was first to run the ladders up ‘to grass’, and when he reached the top, a smile spread across his young face. He was almost as fast as his father. “Da,” he shouted down the empty shaft. “Will ya hurry up? I’m starvin’.”

A storm was raging across the moors when Matthew reached the top of the shaft. He was exhausted, and after stopping to catch his breath, he followed his son through the blinding rain to the shelter of the moor-house. The storm eventually passed, and after changing into dry clothes, they began the long trek home.

Matthew followed Charlie,  but when he was wracked with a rasping cough, he stopped and clutched his chest.

Charlie ran back to him. “Are ya alright, Da?”

Matthew waved him away. “Ya go on ahead, lad. I’m fine.” The bitter taste of blood filled his mouth. The exertion of running the ladders was affecting him more each day.

Charlie stayed by his father, stopping only when the man coughed again. He was worried. “Da. I think ya should tell Ma yer not feelin’ well.”’

“No, lad! And ya must promise never to say a word to her. She has enough to do without worryin’  'bout me!”
**
Clare eased herself onto the bed when another contraction gripped her body. They were growing stronger and coming a minute apart. She knew her time to birth was near. “Ben,” she shouted to her youngest son, “I want ya to fetch Maggie. The bairn is comin'.”

Ben came running inside from the garden. He glared at his little sister who was playing on the floor with a kitten. “It’s not fair! Why do I have to go? "

Clare clutched at her stomach and gritted her teeth. “Don’t argue with me lad. Just do as yer told!”

Lavinia cuddled her kitten as she stood by her mother’s bed. “Does it hurt, Mama?”

“No, darlin’. Why don’t ya go outside to wait for yer da and yer brother to come home?”

Lavinia scowled. “But, I want to stay here.”

Clare felt another contraction coming on. “Go outside now!”

Ben ran all the way to the village, and by the time he reached the midwife’s cottage he was out of breath. He waited for a moment, and then lifted the heavy brass knocker on the front door.

Maggie Ellis heard the impatient rap on her door, and put down her knitting. “There be no rest for the weary,” she muttered, as she struggled out of her armchair to answer it. One look at young Ben Gowling’s face was all she needed. She hastily grabbed her trusty bag, and with Ben’s help, hitched a pony to her cart, and was on her way.
**
Ben and Lavinia followed Maggie all about the kitchen, and when she boiled a large pot of water over the fire, Ben could no longer contain his curiosity. He peered into the pot. "What's that for?"

He jumped when Maggie turned on him. “Ye two bairns keep outta me way! ‘Ere’s a lantern. Ye can take yer sister with ye to the top of the hill and wait for yer da.”

The children grabbed the lantern and ran up the hill behind the cottage. Ben scanned the road. “I hope they come home soon. I'm gettin' hungry.”

Lavinia stared back at the cottage. She wondered what all the fuss was about. “Why do babies take so long to be born?”

Ben was sick of her questions. “How would I know? Shush! I think they’re coming!” He could hear voices in the darkness, and frantically waved the lantern in the air.

Charlie noticed the light first. “Da, look! Is that our lantern?”

Matthew knew immediately. “Hurry, lad. The bairn must be comin’.”
**
Clare gripped a rope tied to the bedhead, and bit down hard on the rag in her mouth as Maggie shouted encouragement. “That’s it, me girl! We’re nearly there!”

The old midwife had delivered all three Gowling babies over the years, and as Clare gave a loud groan, the newborn slid into Maggie’s waiting arms. “Oh, look,” she crooned, as the infant loudly wailed. “It be another girl!” 

Matthew rushed into the house to be greeted by a menacing stare from Maggie. “It took ye long enough to get ‘ere! Now stay outta me way ‘til I’m done.”

“No! I want to see Clare!”

Maggie noted the expression on the man’s face, and relented. “Gaw on, ye can see ‘er now.”

Matthew hurried to Clare’s bedside. He stared at the baby in her arms, and laughed. “Another girl! What are we gonna call this one?” 

Clare smiled as she touched the baby's crown of black hair. “I want to name her Erin Jane, after me Grandma.”

Three curious faces peeked around the bedroom door, and Matthew beckoned to them. “C'mon and meet yer baby sister!”

His eyes misted over as he looked at his family gathered together. He loved each and every one of them, but with another mouth to feed, he knew life would only become harder.
**
In spite of his worsening cough, Matthew continued to work long hours in the mine. With four growing children life was hard, but at least the small wage that Charlie earned helped to make ends meet. The last shift on a Saturday afternoon was about to end as the sound of hammers and chisels striking on rock echoed through the tunnels. Charlie held a candle to light the wall where his father worked. “Can I light the next fuse, Da?”

Matthew glanced at his son. Like most boys in the village, the lad had been working in the mine since the age of twelve. He was a fast learner, and would soon be allowed to work unsupervised. "No, lad. There be plenty of time for that in the future."

Matthew placed some gunpowder in the wall, but stopped when he heard a strange noise above the din of the other miners.  He turned to Charlie. “Did ya hear that?”

"Yeh. What was it?"

There’d been talk of an incident the previous day when a blast had been set too close to the wall of a neighbouring mine. The mine had been flooded years ago, and Matthew hoped that no harm would come from it. He cocked his head to listen, and satisfied that all was well, he continued working. "Nothin' to worry about, lad."

He was about to light the fuse, when a loud rumble came from the far end of the tunnel, he instinctively knew what had happened. The water from the other mine had burst through the walls of Wheal Coate’s tunnels. He shouted a warning as the torrent rushed in, pushing the air before it, creating a wind, which blew out the candles, plunging them into darkness. “Run for yer life, Charlie,” he shouted.

They dropped their tools and charged towards the ladder shaft as the water bore down on them. Matthew reached the bottom rung of the ladder first, and held out his hand. “Charlie! Grab a hold!” he yelled, as he frantically groped in the darkness. 

A roar like rolling thunder filled the tunnel as a wall of freezing water slammed into him. He held his breath as he frantically pulled himself higher up the ladder, and when he reached the safety of the next level, waited for Charlie to catch up. The minutes passed, and he began to panic. There was no sign of his son. The tunnel below was completely flooded.

Helping hands assisted him the rest of the way up the ladders, and when he staggered into daylight on the surface, he was distraught. “I have to go back,” he told his rescuers. “My son is still down there.”

Matthew's head reeled as he felt someone help him to his feet. “C'mon, man. We’ll find 'im. Now, let’s get ya out of yer wet clothes. Ya must be freezin’." 
                        ****
To be continued:
 
Character List:
Sean and Meara O'Connell - Irish farmers in County Kerry, Ireland
Clare O'Connell - only daughter of Sean and Meara
Matthew Gowling - An Englishman from Cornwall
Father Moriarity - parish priest in Dingle Town, County Kerry
Stumpy Thomas - the village blacksmith in St Agnes, Cornwall, England
Charles Gowling - first born son of Matthew and Clare
Ben Gowling - second son in the family
Lavinia Gowling - first daughter  
Erin Gowling - baby daughter


Book of the Month contest entry

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Please note the vernacular used is in keeping with the times and the locality
up 'to grass' - a term used for reaching the top of the mine shaft
moor-house - a place of shelter on the surface
bairn - another word for baby
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