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Stranger on the Run Part 5
Stranger on the Run Part 5

Stranger on the Run Part 5

IanGIanG

Nye and Cathy returned to her house. Her father was tired after a long day fishing and so was in bed. The young couple sat down in a small sitting room. Light from a gas lamp was limited but a coal fire gave more. Nye began knocking his knees together but Cathy told him to stop.

"Do you want any tea?" she asked.

"No thanks," he replied. "Let's get this over with.

"I was born in South Wales. Where I grew up most able bodied men worked in a coal mine. I could see a huge winding wheel and a big heap of slag from my bedroom. I did a lot of reading while I was at school and I sang in a children's choir. I started work down a pit when I was thirteen. I had four sisters but they're all older than I am. They're all married with homes of their own.

"Another boy who worked down there was younger than I was. He shouldn't have been there of course, but the master turned a blind eye. My Dad found out and, being a committed socialist, confronted our manager about it. That child was soon back at school. After that a lot of people had a warm spot for my father. Dad was in the right, but I'm sure he enjoyed fighting for its own sake as much as helping the boy.

"One cold morning Dad and I went down the pit, like we had so many times before. I don't remember much about the explosion. I heard a very loud bang, saw this blinding flash of light and everything went black. The next thing I recall is being carried out on a strecher, above ground, looking up at a grey sky. My body was racked with pain, like nothing I'd felt before."

Nye leaned forward, elbows on his knees, both hands on his forehead. One shudder after another went through him. "Dad made it," he sobbed, "but two of my best friends didn't."

Cathy got up and squatted on the rug in front of him. She wrapped both of her hands around his right fist. Their gazes met and he saw that she understood. That would be because she too had been through a disaster. In the gaslight their shadows merged. He slid to the floor and wrapped strong arms around her.

Burning coal heated them to a point that should've been uncomfortable but neither registered this. In his mind's eye, Nye was underground with coal dust in brown hair. He was in a seam so narrow he had to lie down to work in it. He remembered the weight of a pick axe in his big hands, and a pit poney working nearby.

"Do you want to stop?"

"No, I've come this far so I may as well finish.

"It was months before I could go back to work. If it hadn't been for the Medical Aid Society I'd never have made it. As the time to go back drew near I went from one bout of panic to another. I had bad dreams at night. I coudn't pick up a cup of tea without shaking so much that I spilt it all over the place. There was night after night when I woke up screaming. Mum was in tears because of me.

"One day I told Dad I couldn't go back down the pit. At first he just said I'd have to, I had to work and there were no other jobs in our valley. I tried a corner shop but they didn't need anyone else. My bad dreams and my panic attacks went on. I told Dad I wouldn't go back again and again, but he went into full blown rages every time. "You're under twenty-one boy," he said. "If I say go back then you do." Two days before I should've gone back w-we came to blows over it."

Cathy inhaled sharply. Most of the fire burnt low, but one plucky flame rose high. Ceramic dogs looked down from the mantlepiece.

Nye went on saying "the night before I should've gone back, Mum handed me a little money and some cheese sandwiches. We kissed and held each other tight. Both of us were sobbing. I went to bed but got up and sneaked out while Dad was asleep. I took what Mum had given me and went to the railway station. Rain came pouring down and made me shiver. There was a long line of trucks full of coal, waiting to go. I hid inside one, under tarpaulin that was over the coal. Not long afterwards I heard an engine, then felt myself moving. I didn't know where it would take me and nor did I care, as long as it was away from another beating."

Cathy gripped his hand again.

Nye asked "why did I throw in the sponge? I feel guilty about deserting my family! Was it because I lost two friends in one day? There's a strong feeling of camaradare amongst miners, but for me it got shaken then. Part of me doesn't want to admit that it hit me so hard, even to myself but I think it did.

"Oh Cathy, I'm thinking about all the times when I let Mum down; when I staggered home drunk and collapsed and gave her a fright, when she spent ages cooking a meal and I grumbled about some trivial fault in it, when I was too lazy to rid the snow on our path and she had to do it. I didn't know how lucky I was 'tll she wasn't there."

"When I was younger I wasn't much better myself. One day I took a fancy to a dress in a shop window but Mum said we couldn't afford it. When we got home I threw a tantrum over it. Lookin' back, after the fire in the mill, goin' without one dress seems like somethin' and nothing. How could I 'ave been so petty?

"When people decide you're a local heroine they want you to be perfect. That's not easy. Don't go thinkin' I'm ideal Nye; I'm not."

"Don't worry, I won't.

When I got here I was black from the coal so I washed in the sea. Then I went looking for work. As a young stranger with no qualifications, no experience of anything but mining, not even a suit to wear at an interview, labouring was all I could get. You know the rest."

"Does your mother know you're safe?"

"I sent her a postcard but I posted it from a town down the coast, not here. If Dad saw the postmark on it, he'd come looking for me."

"If he does let my Dad know."

They threw strong arms around each other and he pressed her to his body. A powerful surge of relief coursed through Nye and he felt sure Cathy was feeling one too.

Then came urgent tolling of a bell and the bang from a firework. Both of them stiffened, then let go. Nye pulled himself up, said "sorry Cathy but I've got to go," and ran out of the house. She had been here many times with her father and so knew what to expect.

A drunken man had somehow got trapped under the pier. High tide was rising and had cut off his escape route. He was clinging to a pillar but wouldn't be able to hold on much longer. Nye and his crewmates rowed out as quickly as possible. They carried lanterns and there were lights on the pier, but beneath the structure all was dark. They shouted to the casualty "where are you mate? We're the lifeboat. Help is here!" There came no answer. Had the man let go from exhaustion? Were they too late? Nye grew anxious. Glancing around he saw that everyone else did too.

Then Millward turned his torch round and shouted. He illuminated a frightened man who clung to a pillar. His face was white as chalk. He looked older than Nye, about thirty. Cold waves lapped at his feet. He closed his eyes, dazzled by torchlight. Blue Dolphin turned and headed towards him. Exhausted hands lost their grip on cold, smooth metal. Nye cried "no!" and pulled harder on his oar. The other man fell backwards, hit frigid water and sent up plumes of spray.

Cox shouted orders. Nye siezed strong rope and tied it round his waist. Looking at black sea he felt afraid. It looked like the portal to the undetworld. Then he recalled his first rescue and, feeling braver, stepped forward into Blue Dolphin's prow. Then he threw himself into the sea, close to where that other man had gone under.

To be continued

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About The Author
IanG
IanG
About This Story
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Posted
13 Jul, 2022
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1,461
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