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Authors: Rita Bradshaw

Tags: #Sagas, #Historical, #Fiction

Reach for Tomorrow

BOOK: Reach for Tomorrow
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Reach for Tomorrow
 
 
 
 
RITA BRADSHAW
 
 
 
headline
 
 
 
Copyright © 1999 Rita Bradshaw
 
 
The right of Rita Bradshaw to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
 
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
 
 
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
 
 
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
 
eISBN : 978 0 7553 7584 4
 
 
This Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
 
 
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
An Hachette UK Company
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
 
Table of Contents
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rita Bradshaw was born in Northampton, where she still lives today with her husband (whom she met when she was sixteen) and their family.
 
 
When she was approaching forty she decided to fulfil two long-cherished ambitions - to write a novel and learn to drive. She says, ‘the former was pure joy and the latter pure misery’, but the novel was accepted for publication and she passed her driving test. She has gone on to write many successful novels under a pseudonym.
 
 
As a committed Christian and fervent animal lover, Rita has a full and busy life, but she relishes her writing - a job that is all pleasure - and loves to read, walk her dogs, eat out and visit the cinema in any precious spare moments.
 
This book is for all the courageous women I have known in my life, who have fought back against the tragedies and difficulties life has thrown at them and their loved ones and have continued to reach for tomorrow.
 
Prologue - 1920
 
‘Da?’
 
‘Aye, lad?’
 
‘You ready then?’
 
‘Aye, Aa’m ready, lad, more’n ready. Aa’ve bin tastin’ that panhaggerty yer mam spoke about last night for the last hour an’ more.’
 
James Ferry grinned at his son as he spoke, but there was no answering smile on the black, coal-encrusted face as it stared back at him in the concentrated light from his pit helmet, and the young voice was agitated when it said, ‘Come on then.’
 
Eee, daft young blighter. James’s strong, big-nosed face did not betray his thoughts, but his voice was slightly impatient when he said, ‘All right, lad, all right. Steady does it.’ Still, they’d all been young once. The thought followed immediately and brought a tinge of compassion to the rough northern voice when he added, ‘Not long now.’
 
It was that dream their Molly had had the night before, that’s what had done it, James said to himself as he followed his son and the other eighteen men of his section down the slope into the main roadway towards the pit cage. There they would be hauled up by the winding-engine man, packed in like sardines, along with the other sections - one of which included his second son, Philip, who was just fifteen years of age - that made up their shift at the Wearmouth Colliery.
 
Aye, Molly had brought them all wide awake in the early hours with her screaming and crying, but that would have been all right if she’d had the sense to keep her mouth shut, James reflected irritably. But, Molly being Molly, she’d had to go and blurt out the horror of the nightmare. Eee, she hadn’t got the sense she was born with, that lass, she was as different to their Rosie as chalk to cheese, and it was nowt to do with their ages, as Jessie would have it. Jessie had spoilt the lass, that was it at bottom. Their Rosie had been fetching and carrying from when she was nigh on five and she’d always had a level head on her shoulders and a bit about her, but here was Molly still wasting her time playing with the other bairns and such like at nine. Aye, Molly was her mam’s favourite all right, and the others knew it.
 
James’s big body couldn’t stand upright even in the main roadway and now, as he came to an abrupt halt by cannoning into his son’s thin back, he said, ‘What’s the hold-up? Owt wrong?’ as he lifted his head in the thick, dust-laden air.
 
‘Dunno.’ Sam glanced round frowning, his teeth gleaming white in his black, sweaty face. ‘Old Bill said there’d bin a couple of falls last night near five, perhaps it’s somethin’ to do with that?’
 
‘Aye, Bill told me about that an’ all,’ the man in front of Sam said over his shoulder in a loud aside. ‘Not surprisin’, is it? There’s bin water seepin’ there for weeks but the surveyor says it’s all right. Mind, he don’t have to work in the bowels of hell so why should he worry, eh? Ruddy rabbit warren.’
 
‘Aye.’ The light from James’s helmet showed another black orb as the man turned to face him, and he answered it saying, ‘You’re right there an’ all, Sid. It’s all production with the managers an’ no questions asked as long as the coal’s got out, but they’ll catch their toes one day.’
 
‘Aye, man, but it’ll be our feet that bleed, that’s what worries me,’ the other man answered with a macabre grin, before his light flashed on the solid dank walls as he turned to face the front again. ‘The viewers’ll still be sittin’ pretty, damn ’em.’
 
James saw Sam hunch his shoulders before standing perfectly still again. That blasted dream . . . He could have throttled Molly when she blubbered on about a bang and fire and them all being buried in coal. It hadn’t bothered Phil too much; he wasn’t one for thinking, their Phil, but Sam was different. He was more like Rosie, he was, in fact the pair could’ve been twins the way their minds worked. Still, Sam’d have to get over it, the sooner the better, and maybe it’d do him a good turn in the long run. He needed to harden up a bit; he’d been down the pit for nigh on four years now and he was still as soft as clarts at times. It was all right for a lass to go on about sunsets and green fields and the like, but a grown man of eighteen?
 
And then James heard the rattle of the cage coming down, and he was just opening his mouth to say, ‘There you are, lad, we’ll soon be tastin’ your mam’s panhaggerty,’ when the rush of air alerted him to what was to follow seconds later.
 
The blast took him off his feet and flung him like an outsize rag doll against the shored-up wall of the main road, and he was dimly aware of more violent movement all around him through the grit and rocks and coal dust as bodies of men plummeted helplessly here and there as though thrown by a giant hand. There was a pressure in his ears that was unbearable, and a roaring in his head that took precedence over everything else as he struggled to remain conscious, fighting all the time for his next breath.
 
Sam? And Phil?
As the sounds from the explosion stabilized into groans and cries for help, James made the effort to stagger drunkenly to his feet, his head reeling. Their Phil had been at the front of the men with Frank, the collier he had been assigned to when he’d first come down the pit some thirteen months before, and they would have got the worst of it there.
 
‘Sam? Sam, lad?’ He could barely speak for the dust in his mouth, his nostrils, his eyes, and he choked, coughing and spitting a few times before he said again, ‘Sam? Sam, answer me.’ He had to find his lads, and quick. There could be another explosion if the fire-damp hadn’t finished with them, and that could mean flames or flooding if they weren’t buried alive. Hell, fire . . . His blood ran cold. He had seen what the flames could do to a man years ago when he’d been involved in a rescue in this very pit just a few years after he’d come down, and he’d never forgotten the sight of those contorted, burnt bodies. Pray God it wouldn’t be fire.
 
More men were lurching to their feet, some with injuries that were appalling, and James noticed - with a curious detachment that spoke of shock - that the floor and walls shone red in places from the light of his pit helmet, the coal a gleaming scarlet.
 
‘Da?’
 
The relief he felt when he heard Sam’s voice and saw his son attempt to rise from the mayhem nearly caused James to lose control of his bladder, and then, when he reached his side and saw what the razor-sharp guillotine of rock had done to Sam’s right leg, he wanted to vomit.
 
‘All right, lad, all right.’ He forced himself to speak naturally as he knelt down at the side of what remained of his first-born’s fine sturdy body. ‘We’re goin’ to get out of this, you hear me, Sam? Phil too.’
 
‘Where . . . is he?’
 
The severed stump was pumping blood and already Sam’s eyes were glazing over but he didn’t appear to be in any pain. There was nothing he could do, James knew that as he took his son into his arms, cuddling him close in a way he hadn’t done since Sam was a child. ‘He’s all right, lad, don’t you worry. You just rest a while an’ then the three of us’ll see about gettin’ out of here.’
 
‘Da?’
 
‘Aye, lad?’
 
‘Don’t . . . don’t leave me, will you?’
 
James breathed in very slowly and then out again as his grip on his son tightened, and his voice was uncharacteristically gentle when he said, ‘No, lad. Aa’ll not leave yer.’
 
‘At least there’s still some light,’ Sam mumbled faintly, staring up at the lamp on his father’s helmet. ‘I . . . I’ve never told you afore, Da, but I don’t like the dark. Funny that, eh, with me bein’ a miner? But I don’t. Rosie knows, I’ve told her,’ he said, his voice becoming weaker. ‘I can tell Rosie anythin’.’
 
‘Aye, she’s a bonny lass.’
 
‘She’s not like the others, our Phil an’ Molly an’ Hannah.’
 
James could see him slipping away in front of his very eyes and there was nothing he could do.
 
‘On Sundays, on our walks Boldon way across the fields an’ such with Davey an’ Flora, you oughta hear our Rosie talk, Da. She wants to make somethin’ of life, does Rosie. Oh, she wants to get wed an’ have bairns one day like all lasses, but she wants somethin’ different from livin’ round our streets. She’s a canny lass.’ Sam’s voice trailed away on a sigh and he settled himself more comfortably in his father’s arms.
 
BOOK: Reach for Tomorrow
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