Authors: Clare Flynn
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #20th Century, #Historical Fiction, #Australian & Oceanian
A Greater World
A GREATER WORLD
Copyright ©2015 Clare Flynn
All rights reserved.
Published by Cranbrook Press 2015
No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Under no circumstances may any part of this book be photocopied for resale.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and co-incidental.
Cover design JD Smith Designs.
For Kathleen Flynn, who often had to travel where she didn’t want to go, but always made the best of it.
And over the Blue Mountains
We found a greater world
From The Blue Mountains (A Song of Australia)
Alfred Noyes (1880 -1958
With permission from The Society of Authors as the literary representative of the estate of Alfred Noyes
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Hunter's Down, Weardale, England 1920
Someone had made a bit of a mess of tying the coloured bunting between the trees. It was fluttering loose at one end, so the breeze lifted it and swept it up against the grey stone of the chapel wall and down again. The man smiled, thinking the pastor would not be happy as the string of brightly coloured triangles looked as though they belonged to the chapel, instead of marking the coming Miners' Gala. Bunting and Methodism didn't really sit well together.
He sat down on the wooden bench opposite the chapel, elbows on knees, fists tucked under his chin, and waited for Minnie. He saw her hurrying towards him from the row of cottages that fringed the other side of the green.
She flung her arms around his neck and he grabbed her by the waist and swung her around. Her long hair smelled of soap and he couldn't resist running his hands through it.
'You've just washed your hair?'
'Was that for seeing me?'
Minnie smiled and pulled him down beside her on the bench. 'Who says everything has to be for a fellow? Can't I please myself? What was so important that you wanted to see me out here instead of coming round our house, Michael Winterbourne?'
Michael hesitated and wondered whether to broach the idea of their leaving Hunter's Down, before or after his proposal of marriage. He plunged in, the words spilling out of his mouth so fast he was almost tripping over them.
'You know what I'm going to ask you, Min. And you know I'd have asked it long ago if it weren't for the war and showing some respect for your Da and your brother and then there's been your mother and the bairns to think of. I know she's been relying on you to help out and I couldn't rightly expect you not to be there for her, but now they're a bit older...'
'Yes. The answer's yes. I'll have you, Michael. There's no need for a long speech.'
She leaned back against the wood of the bench and smiled at him.
'You're a one,' Michael said.
'Aren't you going to kiss me then?'
When they finally pulled apart, he wondered whether it was even worth him putting the other part of his proposal. He knew inside what the answer would be, but he decided to have a go anyway.
'There's something else to sort out. You know how I feel about working in the mine?' He looked towards her for some encouragement, but she was staring fixedly at her lap, where her hands were folded.
'I hate it, Min. Everything about it. Sleeping all winter in bunks in a cramped barrack room that stinks of unwashed feet and stale cabbage. Seeing man after man going down with the black spit. Breaking me back doing work I hate. And much as I hate it, living with the even bigger fear that it all might stop tomorrow. The Crag's still employing but we don't rightly know how much longer. You know as well as I do. It's time for a change, Min. You and me together. A new life while we've got the choice, rather than waiting till the Company shuts us down and I'm one of many on the scrap heap trying to find work.'
She interrupted him. 'I said I'll marry you, but not if it means leaving here.'
'Look, I know you love it here. I do too, but the world's changing. I've changed. The war did that. I want to make me own decisions, not have some mine boss down in London make them for me.'
'Our Bill said just last night the Company will keep the Crag open until there's no lead left in the ground.'
'Mebbe they will, but we don't know when that'll be. Might be sooner than you think.'
'Nah! How many men's working there? Go on – tell me.'
'There's forty of us underground and another twenty up top.'
'That's sixty jobs if me sums are right. And you're a good worker, Michael – they'll not be losing you in a hurry. If there's layoffs there's others they'll cut afore you.'
'It's not just about jobs. I don't want to be hanging on and hoping and putting me life in the hands of others. I had enough of that in the war. I want to decide for meself.'
'What about me?' A frown and a down-turned mouth replaced her smile.
He reached for her hands and held them between his. 'Don't you see – now's our chance - while we're still young and there's just the two of us. It'll be much harder when we have bairns.'
She laughed. 'Aren't you getting a bit ahead of yerself, Michael Winterbourne? Who said anything about bairns?'
Her laughter encouraged him to press on. 'You've no idea what's outside the dale. The world's out there waiting for us. Great big cities, fancy buildings with electricity in every room, moving pictures, motor cars, so much to see and do.'
She cut in. 'There's a whole world right here and it's our world. It's been good enough for our families and it's good enough for me. Why are you so restless? Can't you just get on with life like the rest of us? You can worry about finding another job if you lose this one. But right now you've got a job and you earn a decent crust, so stop your yammering. Please!'
Then she began to sob, first quietly then big jerky gasps. She brushed aside his proffered handkerchief and taking his hand pulled him over to the newly built stone memorial in front of the chapel. She pointed to two of the dozen or so names engraved there - William Hawthorn, Ypres 1917 and George Hawthorn, Mons 1914 and turned back to look at him, tears now coursing down her cheeks.
'Mam needs me and I don't want to leave the place I've lived me whole life in. Me Da and our Georgie are gone now and this slab is all I've got left to remember them by, and every time I walk past it I think of them and say a little prayer for them. I'll marry you but only if we stay here. It's your choice.'
He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, feeling the rough wool of her shawl against his hands and the wet of her tears on his shirt.
'I'm sorry. Don't cry. I shouldn't 've asked. We'll stay put. I'll not mention it again.'
She dried her eyes and smiled up at him, then they walked hand in hand towards the row of houses. 'Let's tell me Mam. She'll be made up. I'll race you!' She let go his hand, and ran off, with Michael running after her.
An hour later he emerged from the cottages, replete with Mrs Hawthorn's buttered scones and a cup of strong tea. He was relieved the decision was made, even if it wasn't the one he wanted. After the long years of the war he'd do anything not to be apart from Minnie again. But he was disappointed that in this they hadn't seen eye to eye. He wondered whether she had guessed what he was going to say and had planned her response in advance. He looked back towards the war memorial. Before the war he would not have thought of leaving here, so was it surprising that Minnie should be so resistant?
She was going to marry him. The jaunty bunting could be for them, never mind the Miners' Gala. The sun burst through the clouds and lit up the green sward between the chapel and the hillside. As he set off for home he heard barking. His dog scampered down the hill to meet him.
'What're you doing, old thing? Worried you're not me favourite girl any more?' He ruffled the fur round the Collie's neck, bringing on more appreciative barking.
'You and Minnie know how to get on the right side of me don't you Stone! Come on let's get home. How about you and me taking our Dan out to find a few rabbits tomorrow.'
They headed off up the dale, the dog running back and forth, fetching the sticks he threw for her all the way home.
Michael shared the news of his engagement as soon as he got home.
'About time too' his mother said. 'I hope you're not going to waste time afore making me a granny!'
His father cracked open the bottle of Scotch whisky he'd won several years ago for pinning the tail on the donkey at the Gala. It had been gathering dust and he was glad at last to have the occasion to open it.
Their cottage was one of four conjoined in an L shape, huddled up against the side of the dale, as though sheltering from the elements. The adjoining cottages were also occupied by lead miners. That night the Winterbourne's tiny home was crowded with neighbours.
'You took yer time, lad – or were that lass leading you a dance then?' one of the lead smelters spoke.
'Hush, Walter – you know it weren't right to have a wedding celebration too soon after the poor lass lost her father and brother' said his wife.
'What happened to your plans to go looking for gold in California?' another miner asked. Laughter rang round the crowded room.
'Don't be daft. That girl'd not gan further than the end of Nantshead Dale. This place is in her blood' Mrs Winterbourne said. 'And glad of it I am too. She's talked some sense into my Michael's head. More than his father and I managed to do.'
'Under the thumb already are you?' The good-natured laughter erupted again.
Michael looked over at his brother, who was sitting on the floor leaning back against his mother's knees, and saw that Danny was grinning. It would have been hardest of all leaving him behind, so it was another reason to be glad not to have to do it. Their mother, as if thinking the same thing, tousled the younger boy's hair and smiled up at Michael. Margery Winterbourne had given up hope of carrying another child to term when Danny had arrived and disrupted the quiet of their lives with his puppy-like energy, laughter and chatter. The fourteen year old was her special gift, to be treasured and loved for being so unexpected.
Next morning, Danny rushed his breakfast, eager to take advantage of one of the first warm and sunny days of the spring. He had woken at dawn and tried to drag Michael from the bed they shared at weekends and holidays. During the working week in the winter months, Michael and their father slept over at the mine barracks, the trek over the dales being too long to be done comfortably before and after every shift, especially in bad weather. Now the daylight hours were lengthening and they could manage the walk there and back each day. But today was Sunday and Michael had a bit of a headache from his father's whisky and the home-brewed beer the neighbours brought in. He was determined not to get up before he was ready, so he feigned sleep, drowsing and thinking of Minnie.
They decided to walk south over the dales to a place they knew was a good spot for rabbits. It was rare to encounter another human being in this remote area. Winters were bleak up here and it was not unusual to be snowed in for weeks. But today the sunlight bathed the dale in a honey-coloured glow and the rough grass was brightened by swathes of white cow parsley. May trees heavy with white blossom lined the edges of the fields, like a collection of oversized bridal bouquets.
Around noon they stopped to eat their bait - chunks of bread and cheese their mother had pressed on them that morning. When they finished, they lay on their stomachs a few yards apart in the long grass, motionless as they watched the slope in front of them, ready for the serious business of the day to begin. The dog, Stone, lay between them, her ears twitching with anticipation. There were several warrens at the base of the slope and here, where the hill was topped by a small copse, was a favoured spot.
Danny Winterbourne frowned and flicked a fly away as it settled on his brow. As usual, he was fiddling with the small stone he carried with him everywhere. It was a large pebble with a hole in the middle and the boy loved to throw it in the air and catch it, rub its already smooth surface between his palms or sometimes thread string through the hole and swing it around his head. He even slept with his talisman under his pillow and it was this that had caused the family to name the dog Stone, as Danny was inseparable from her too. Now he was lying propped on his elbows, rubbing the stone between his palms.
'I don't get it Michael. We bagged half a dozen last time and we haven't seen a single one yet.'
'Be patient, Dan. If you keep blethering and fidgeting, you'll scare the blighters away. Stop messing about with that bit of rock or the rabbits'll sense you're there. Get yerself away over there, keep yer mouth shut and yer hands still.'
Danny was beginning to irritate him with his endless chatter. Michael knew he would never succeed in teaching his brother to shoot. He himself had learned as a small boy and it was second nature. Even the years serving in the Great War had not put him off. He had been away from the worst of the action on the front line, digging trenches and tunnels with the Engineering corps.
They lay in the rough grass with only a couple of lapwings for company. The black and white crested birds broke the silence of the dale with their distinctive peewit calls. It was hard to believe that under this open and empty landscape was what was once one of the biggest and most profitable lead seams in the world. In their father's youth there were mines everywhere, but most had long ago given up the last of their lead.
A large jackrabbit emerged from the trees and stopped at the top of the slope. Michael put his finger to his lips and nodded at Danny, then raised the gun and aimed, but as he did so a shaft of sunlight blinded him. He held the gun steady and squeezed the trigger. As the shot rang out he was aware of a sudden movement. Damn – he'd missed the bugger. He wiped the sweat from his brow and raised the gun again. Where had it gone? To the right of where it had been before he sensed movement and fired. He'd get the bastard after all.