“Mining?” The widow had overheard the gentlemen talking the previous evening, the fisherman who lodged in her spare room sharing his sea monster story, explaining the reason why he would never go back to the ocean. She brought up the topic of his new career as she offered him breakfast.
Ursula, despite feeling her mother’s displeasure through the stings of the hairbrush, could not help but listen as she did her morning chores in the kitchen.
“Yes, ma’am,” the no-longer-fisherman replied. “My cousin works in the coal mines west of here. I plan to see if he can get me work.”
“I see. I do not mean to pry, sir, but I would be curious as to your cousin’s name?”
The ex-fisherman shared it. Ursula would never quite recall what it was; it seemed a foreign language, full of intriguing consonants that did not exist in English.
“Yes. Well, a word to the wise. There has been unrest in the mines. Strikes. Your cousin’s name has been spoken in this regard. I will not repeat the details, as they are supported only by gossip. My own sister-in-law has some knowledge of these events, as her brother is a miner as well. Go with caution, good sir, and ensure those to whom you speak are trustworthy.”
Ursula heard her mother’s footstep on the stair, and quickly removed herself from anywhere near the kitchen. She swept and tidied the drawing room as her mother conferred with the widow about the day ahead. The girl’s head swirled with wild imaginings about “strikes” in the mines. She had no frame of reference for this; she wondered if it meant men fighting one another, as they had in the Great War, so recently concluded.
Unbidden, the smell of sulphur from the barrel in the basement returned to her sensory memory, the odor of hell. She had heard that war was hell, and mines were underground. Was the ex-fisherman on his way to a new kind of hell?
“Ursula,” her mother called to her. “Wash up and get to school. I must tend to your father.”