General Fiction posted September 3, 2016 Chapters:  ...5 6 -7- 

This work has reached the exceptional level
The Gowling family face eviction from the crofter's cottage

A chapter in the book DAUGHTERS OF THE FOUR WINDS


by Annette Gulliver

There has been an accident at Wheal Coates Mine, and Matthew and his eldest son, Charlie are casualties.
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

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’." 

Chapter 7
Lavinia raised her head from her writing slate when she heard the church bells ring. She sprang from her desk to look out  the classroom window.

Her teacher stopped in mid-sentence. "Lavinia Gowling! What on earth do you think you’re doing?"

"The bells are ringing, Miss."

Miss Hemmings hurried to the window, and rubbed a clear spot on the frosty glass. "I don’t think that’s anything to concern you, young lady." 

One of the boys interrupted, "but, Miss, somethin’s happened at mine! Me da’s working down there. Bells only ring when there’s been accident."

Louisa Hemmings, well educated, and recently arrived from London, had no idea what the lad was talking about. Ignorant of the ways of the villagers, she began to panic. "Oh, dear," she said, as she tried to calm the chaos that erupted. "In that case, I think you should all go home."

Lavinia and Ben didn’t wait to be told twice. They joined the other children as they grabbed their hats and coats. "C’mon, Livvie," called Ben, as he ran ahead. "We have to tell Ma."
Clare rushed to the top of the nearby hill when she heard the bells. She knew why they were ringing. "Oh, God. Let them be safe."
Ben and Lavinia were out of breath by the time they got home, and when he saw his mother standing on the hill, Ben ran to her side. "Ma! What happened?" 

Clare didn’t want to frighten them. "I don’t know, but I’m goin’ to the mine to find out." She took her son by the arm. "Ben, I want you to come with me, while Lavinia looks after Erin."

She turned to face her daughter. "We should be back before dark. And in the meantime ya can start supper. The men will be hungry when they get home."
When Clare and Ben reached the mine, they were shocked to find a throng of hysterical women already there. Clare pushed her way through the crowd, her heart pounding as she scanned the dirty black faces of the men who had already surfaced. "Missus Gowlin," she heard a voice call. "Yer ‘usband’s over yonder by moor-house."

Clare saw Matthew propped up against a wall, his face covered in filth. "Matthew! Thank God you're alright." She flung her arms about him.

Matthew's eyes were wide as he clutched at her arm. "They can’t find Charlie! They can’t find Charlie!" 

Clare wiped away the tears streaming down his cheeks. She was finding it hard to control her emotions as well. "They’ll find him,  darlin'. They'll find him."

Ben stared at his parents. They clung together in silence, but their faces betrayed his brother’s fate.
The fire in the stone hearth crackled and hissed as Lavinia placed her baby sister into her cot. A mutton stew bubbled in the pot hanging above the fire, but she had no appetite, preferring to wait until the rest of her family returned home. Five hours had passed since her mother and brother left for the mine, and as nightfall approached, she felt her fear and frustration rise.

Another hour passed, and she resigned herself to a long night ahead. After putting a new log on the fire, she was about to go to bed, when she noticed the flicker of lamps through the cottage windows. She flung open the front door, but when the lights disappeared from sight, she slammed it behind her and went to bed. 

The flames from the fire threw eerie shadows across the walls as she lay wide awake. She was worried about her da and Charlie, but at the same time, agonised over her own future in St Agnes. The thought of being forced to join the women working on the surface of the mine, collecting tailings and rubble, filled her with dread. Lavinia was determined to find a better life for herself. "I hate this place. I wish we could leave here forever," she mumbled, as she rolled over and thumped her pillow.

She was almost asleep, when a voice outside alerted her. The door opened, and Lavinia was relieved to see her mother and father come inside. Ben followed, his eyes red, and his face streaked with tears. Lavinia stared at them for a moment, then flung herself into her father's arms.
The stained glass windows of St John's Church rattled in the wind, competing with the voice of the Vicar as he conducted the funeral service for Charles Gowling. Clare sat rigid in the front pew, her face covered by a dark veil. Her husband, and Ben sat either side of her, while Lavinia tried to settle baby Erin. Matthew stared at the modest timber coffin containing the remains of his eldest son. He was plagued by guilt; he blamed himself for his son's death.

When the service was over, the family followed the coffin bearers to a freshly dug plot in the churchyard. Clare was distraught, and leaned heavily on her husband's shoulder. "I can't do this, Matthew. I can't watch them put my son in the ground," she cried, as she sagged to her knees.

Matthew was lost for words. He couldn't move. "I ah ..."
Ben ran to his mother's side, and helped her back to her feet. "It's alright, Ma. I'll look  after ya." 
Wheal Coates Mine closed for two days as a mark of respect for the five miners who had perished. But as soon as the pumps had cleared the water from the lower tunnels, the men were ordered back to work. Matthew did not join his colleagues that day; he visited the doctor instead. After a lengthy consultation, he was given bad news. His lungs were too weak for him to run the ladders any longer. The incessant cough that had plagued him for months, showed signs of the dreaded black lung, the scourge of miners. 

He was still in shock when he returned home. Clare had just finished breastfeeding Erin as he walked into the house. "What did the doctor say, Matthew?" she asked, as she buttoned up her bodice.

Matthew slumped into his chair by the fire. "I'm not to run the ladders anymore." He held his head in his hands. "How in the hell can I feed my family now? What am I gonna do, Clare?"

Clare couldn't believe her ears. She sat down at the table, and stared into space.

"Clare!" Matthew shouted. "Did ya hear me? I don’t know what to do!"

Clare raised her face to him. "I don’t know!" she shouted, as she pushed him aside and ran outside.
Erin awoke from her sleep and began to cry. Matthew took her from her cot to soothe her. "Ya poor darlin’. Mama will be back soon," he crooned, as he carried her out to the garden. He stared at Clare as she sat by the vegetable patch, idly pulling out weeds. He didn't know what to say to her, and a lump formed in his throat. He was left with no choice; Ben would have to work in the mine, in spite of Clare's objections. The family’s meagre savings would not last very long.
Three months passed, and as Matthew’s health had not improved, Clare forced herself to get on with her daily life. Her first born son was gone, but although she still grieved for him, she had to carry on.

Matthew insisted that Ben go to work in the mine. "Clare. There's nothin' else we can do. He's a strong lad."

Clare opposed him strongly. "He's not goin' down the mine! I'll not risk losin' another son to that evil place. I want both Ben and Lavinia to get a decent education."

"But our savin's are nearly gone. And I don't like to see my wife havin' to earn the keep for my family."

"Shut up, will ya! I don't want to hear another word about it. I'm goin to the market tomorrow." 

Clare made ends meet by selling vegetables and flowers in the village market, as well as taking in mending for unmarried miners. She prayed that her earnings would tide the family over until Matthew was well enough to return to work, but with winter fast approaching, her children were in need of warm clothing. Ben had grown out of his britches, and his toes protruded from his boots. Not only that, Lavinia no longer fit into her clothes, as at thirteen years of age, her body was beginning to mature.

The following morning she was ready to go to the village, and as she counted a handful of pennies and put them into her purse, she noticed the forlorn expression on her husband’s face. "What’s the matter?"

"Nothin’. I was just wonderin’ what time ya will be home."

"I don’t know. But I’m takin’ Ben and Lavinia with me. Erin’s been fed, and yer supper’s in the pot. All ya need to do is get some rest."
Matthew dozed in his chair, only to be rudely awakened by a loud rap on the front door. He rubbed his eyes and wondered who it could be. He cautiously opened the door, and was confronted by a tall, thin young man, dressed in a severe black suit.
"Mr Gowling," the stern-faced stranger said, as he handed him a sealed envelope. "I’m here on behalf of the new owners of the mine." The man cleared his throat and continued. "And, it is my duty to inform you, that as no members of your family currently work in the mine, you are to vacate these premises by the end of the week."

The messenger’s beady brown eyes stared at Matthew over the rim of his wire-framed glasses. "You see, there’s already another family waiting to move in here." He was about to leave when, as if an afterthought, he tipped his hat. "And a very good-day to you, Sir!"

Matthew slammed the door behind him, and tried hard to control his anger. Unlike Mr Newton, who had since passed away, the new mine owners were strict with their tenants. The contents of the letter confirmed what the visitor had told him. The promises made to him by the old man years ago no longer applied. Their home was to be rented to an able-bodied miner and his family. Matthew was furious. He tore the letter into pieces, and threw it into the fire.

He waited for his heart to stop pounding, and then settled back to await Clare’s return. They were to be homeless, and he came to the only solution he could think of. He would pack up their belongings, and once more beg the charity of his old friend Stumpy Thomas.

The front door burst open, and Lavinia came running inside."Da," she shouted, "we’re home!"

Clare followed, carrying several brown paper parcels. She had passed the stranger on the road on her way home. She glanced at her husband, and their eyes locked. She knew instinctively what had happened.
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



The dialogue is in keeping with the culture and times of the local people.
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