Title: Dress With Grace
Author: Sheila Sharpless
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2
The story tells of Len, a miner; his wife Emily; two sons, Jimmy and Arthur; and twin daughters Grace and Ellen. A mining accident leaves Len and Jimmy jobless, and to make ends meet, Emily has to work. The Great War sees the young ones enlist and heartbreak when one is reported missing. A young doctor appears after the war is over and sees the family through an unpleasant experience.
Grace has a dream that has always with her. Will it come true? Will she achieve her ambition? She moves to London to find out where she meets people who wish to help but setbacks depress her. However, unforeseen forces are building to help her.
"Come on Jimmy me boyo. Get up. We'll be late for the next shift, let alone the first one."
"Oh Da do I have to? I'm that tired. Can't I have a day off?"
"Day off?" shouted Len, his dad. "I've never had a day off in me life. Come on, yer mam's done yer bread and tea to take. The lamp lighter's been round already."
Len yanked the blanket off Jimmy and pulled him out from under his mam and da's bed where he slept each night. Jimmy was eleven years old, had left the school set up for working class children and was now able to work in the mines. He was a good looking lad with brown tousled hair, bright blue eyes full of questions and a very expressive face. Sometimes he felt really happy and grown up, working beside his da whom he adored. At other times, he hated it, the darkness, the cold dripping water, the smell and the rats that ran across his feet.
Perhaps just as bad, the journey down in the cage, but he knew it was a way of life, the way it would be till either his lungs gave out or he was too old to carry on. Although he hated the mine, he was a courageous boy knowing he had no option but to follow his da. Sometimes too, he felt jealous of his sisters, Grace and Ellen, twins. At ten, they worked in the clothes factory. Girls weren't allowed in the mines and after the act of 1891 they were supposed to attend school daily. Unfortunately, money was needed for the family so they rarely attended even though education was free and compulsory. Until this Act, parents had to pay a penny a week but many parents were unable to afford it. Jimmy was sent to school because it was considered more important for boys, but the girls grumbled about the work they had to do more than Jimmy did about his. "Awful hard they work us," grumbled Grace.
"Yes." Ellen joined in. "If we dare to talk they'll take some of our wages."
"At least you're mostly in daylight, you two, and you can see the sky." Jimmy thought they were lucky, much luckier than he was. "I never see the daylight. It's dark when we go in, dark when we come out, and we know it's dangerous, not like yours."
Ellen stood with her hands on her hips. "Well that's all you know. Those sewing machines can stitch your fingers to the plate if you aren't careful, and the rollers, bye, young kiddies have fallen asleep on the loom and lost their heads almost. Been badly hurt anyway."
"Jimmy, will you come now?" Len was getting angry.
"Coming Da." Jimmy rushed off, shouting. "Bye, bye Mam," Emily handed Jimmy his bag of bread and his jug of tea as he followed his da, who was hurrying to the mine.
Although it was late summer, the early morning was chilly, and Jimmy shivered as he walked down their street, Shaftesbury Street. Jimmy liked the name, because the street had been named after a prime minister and it made Jimmy feel quite proud when, if he was asked where he lived, he would say, "456 Shaftesbury Street."
A lot of miners were neighbors and sometimes Jimmy and his da would walk along with one or two, chatting about the football team or just about the mine, or the weather.
Passing St. Thomas's they heard the church clock strike four times. Four o clock. Their shift began at four thirty. They began to hurry past the row of terraced houses, each like their own, the front door opening on to the street. Two up, two down, a lavvy outside the backdoor, and a big sink in the kitchen for washing clothes and people.
Jimmy knew nothing else. He was born there as was his da and until his wedding would continue to live there. He loved the little house and particularly the kitchen where they all sat round the big, scrubbed wooden table. There were chairs, rather old and scruffy for the grownups but the children sat on a bench Len had made from a plank and two large pieces of wood, which he brought in one day from a wood merchant he knew. By the range, was an old armchair where Da liked to sit after supper. The cover of the chair was fraying, and you could see the coarse horse hair stuffing underneath. If you sat on it in bare legs it prickled horribly, but the kitchen was the family room, warm and cozy. Sort of friendly, Jimmy thought.
He was proud of his da, who was not a tall man, but strong, muscular with a thatch of brown hair, which rarely seemed free of the coal dust, despite his harsh rubbing with soap. Brown eyes which could look so kind, but also, when he was angry, blazing. Len was a good but stern husband and father with fixed ideas of his place in the family. He was a stubborn man and although he was never sentimental he cared a great deal for his family.
Looking up at him now, Jimmy noticed on his da's face the little blue marks that many miners got from the long and close contact with the coal.
It was nearly sunrise. The sky was getting lighter and they were hurrying up Pitt Hill, with the mine workings towering high above them. Jimmy saw other miners gathering, some coming up a different hill, Strawberry Hill, hurrying to get to work on time. Others were coming from another direction, crossing the moor, up from Glendower Valley. Yet more were behind them, leaving Shaftesbury Street as he and his da had done. Some two or three were singing, the sound taken up by others and ringing down the valley.
Jimmy suddenly remembered, it was the horrid foreman, Joseph Evans, on duty that day, the one they all hated. He was a bully and never gave anyone a good word. He'd threaten any boy, who wasn't working as fast as he said, with the strap. Many boys felt the leather belt on his leg or bottom, 'though the man would never dare, if he saw the boy's da watching. He was a mean looking man, tall, swarthy, as if the coal dust had got into his skin, his hair, his arms, permanently. His eyes seemed to be too close together, and yet he could fix anyone with a steely look, leaving the smaller children shaking with fear.
Once into the mine building, Jimmy knew how much he hated going down in the cage. It was always the same, first the crowding in, squashed so tightly that people pushed, trod on toes, dug elbows in ribs. Some had flattened noses and the dreadful feeling of your tummy falling out as the cage made its quick rattling way down to the coal face. It always began with the foreman pushing you in and shouting.
"Come on, get in. I haven't got all day to wait."
Someone would say, "Ow, get off my foot."
The reply came, "Well stop pushing then."
Then the foreman, "Shut up talking, come on there's six more to get in yet."
Jimmy got into the cage and there were the usual groans from everyone as the pushing and squashing became more and more unbearable with breathing almost impossible. When the cage reached the mine floor, everyone got out, while the foreman grumbled at them, telling them what to do, shouting at them,
"Come on you boys, you'll be hurryers. Know what that means?"
They have to know, so they say, brightly, "yes," even though they know it's one of the hardest jobs in the mine, and taxed all their strength.
"Yes sir, it's pushing the coal cart, one pulls and another pushes."
Then the foreman gave them a push and said.
"Go on then, get on with it."
He turned to another boy.
"You, boy, and you, you're carryers. Know what I mean?''
"Yes sir, we carry the coal, in a backitt."
For once the foreman was pleased and said, "Yes. One puts the backitt on the other's back, and then he carries the coal you put in it. Right?"
These two knew only too well of the backache that would follow.
"Go on then and be quick about it. You littl'n," he turned to the smallest boy "you will be the pump boy."
At this the little boy began to cry, "I don't w-want to b-be a p-pump boy. The w-water comes up and nearly drowns me. The r-rats eat my b-bread."
In spite of the boy's obvious terror, the foreman had no sympathy.
"Shut up, yer little misery. Yer've only gotta open a door and let the hurryers through. I don't want ter tell yer again."
One of the adults got angry and said to another, "'E oughta be horse whipped, the way 'e treats those litt'luns." He started towards the foreman but others held him back.
"Calm down mate, you won't do good making a row. You'll only get into trouble."
"Yes," came the reply, "but I reckon Lord Salisbury, who stopped kids under the age of ten working underground, would do something about the way these children are treated if he knew."
"You gonna tell 'im then?" joked someone.
"No, get over," was the reply.
The day, as always seemed to be endless, although all miners had to get used to the dark and the noise of men with their large tools hacking at the coal seam. Jimmy sometimes felt smothered, unable to breathe properly. At last came the time to go back up in the cage to walk back to the comfort of his home where his mam would be waiting.