Shacklady Chapter 9 Excerpt: Bertha Rocked!
A short while later a particularly intense aroma filled the air and as Wendy breathed out, she expressed her feelings, in one long, smokey low sigh. “Ohhhhhhh wow!”
“Good eh,” smiled Alan and lit his own smoke and after a long toke, held his breath and waited. “Lambs Breath.” He said, through the cloud of aromatic smoke.
“Thinking what you said about the workings being closed down, how, or why is the Lady Emily still inside the mine? Surely she was worth quite a bit to the creditors?” Wendy mused.
“Yeah, plus she’s also pointing in the wrong direction.” Nick added.
“Yep, you’re right,” agreed Alan. “I never really thought about it but there must be a turntable somewhere inside the main tunnel and if The Rest, is what I believe it is, well, I’d say there must be one, or more other engines parked down there somewhere.”
“I wonder where the driver is?” Wendy innocently said and then involuntarily shuddered.
Alan noticed, “Don’t worry, we’re all feeling it but Nick and myself are just better at hiding it, because after all, we are both extremely butch men,” he said, grinning wickedly.
“Hilarity apart, don’t you two think that we should concentrate our efforts on mapping out the main tunnel and see where that leads?” interjected Wendy. “You just never know what we’ll find down there,” she emphasised. “Perhaps, some tables, a few clocks, a couple of forgotten steam engines, the odd cave-in and of course, more than a few long dead miners?”
Her obviously more serious attitude, dragged Nick and Alan back from the realm of mirth. Alan sighed and reached over for some print outs. “I made a start on that but I have to confess that I got a little sidetracked here. When I started, I had originally intended just to look into the history of the mine and the conditions it worked under but the more I dug, the more it became clear that it wasn’t so much old Silas who was the driver of the project, but his wife Bertha. She was the real kingpin. Apparently, it was her, who thought that there was a seam of Welsh Jet below the Slate, and it was Silas who attempted to thwart her at every turn.”
“Bit of a shit, then?” interrupted Nick.
“It would seem so and it appears that she was a benevolent woman who treated the workers and their families, well. While Silas was simply exploiting them in every way possible. You know, the old bastard even set up a system where he was paying his workmen in tokens, which could only be spent in his shops, add that to the, ‘free’ accommodation in his houses and you basically had a slave labour force.”
“What a grasping bastard he must have been, but then again, I’ve heard of that kind of exploitation by the mine and mill owners before, especially in Wales,” interjected Nick, who was paying more attention now his excessive pie indulgence had settled.
“Bertha even set up a reading room and often gave English lessons herself. So it seems she was quite a pioneer when it came to women’s and workers rights.” Alan continued, “Let’s just say that she was a few decades ahead of history and Silas sure made her pay for it. Nevertheless, she also helped with the distribution of medicines and actually intended to build some good housing for the workers.
However, Silas was the complete opposite and it seems, became obsessed by the search for, ‘The Motherload.’ Usually that means Gold, or some other precious commodity but to Silas, that word meant anything that would turn a handsome profit and in this case, that commodity was green slate. Having worked out the main seam near the surface, he pushed his workers, harder and deeper. There were many small accidents, which only increased as he demanded more and more from his workers. Silas was not liked by The Miners but they all respected Bertha.”
“Go Bertha! You rocked girl,” a rather stoned Wendy interjected, with a power salute.
Alan smiled, raised a peace sign, then continued from his notes, “Silas’s overwhelming and desperate desire for money, led to increasingly dangerous channels being dug into the honeycomb and those incursions into the bedrock, left little room for even the smallest of miscalculations. When he informed the workforce that they would be digging a ‘B’ Channel, that would be running parallel to the main shaft and that it would only be separated from it by a narrow twelve inch rock division, many of the charge hands suggested it was an extremely dangerous thing to do. They noted the bed rock was brittle, so it wouldn’t take much to cause a potentially disastrous and undoubtedly fatal collapse in a large section of the honeycomb.
Silas was having none of it and he pompously informed, The Penetration Crew that if they didn’t like it they could leave immediately. As many mines were closing, not too many men were willing to give up on a job, home, school and medicines for their families to walk away with literally nothing. So B shaft went ahead. Naturally, their odds ran out and when one man shaved a little too much off the dividing wall a whole section of the honeycomb collapsed, killing five men.
Silas was furious and immediately evicted the deceased workers wives and family’s, then got five more men to do their jobs. Bertha heard what he’d done and quietly made sure that those bereaved family’s had a roof over their heads, and food in their stomach’s. She used her own money to rent three properties on the edge of the nearest village and sought work for the widows. All the workforce knew what she’d done, but silence was the code.”
“I agree with Wendy,” chimed in a rather stoned Nick, “Bertha rocked!”