(How's that for a good alliteration?) It looks like winter has returned to Joplin. The ground is nearly covered with white. It looked like snow earlier when it was coming down, but it also sounded like there might have been ice mixed in with it. I'm not sure what it is yet as I haven't been out.:) We had enjoyed some really pretty spring type weather for a few days, but then the cold came back.
"Home Fires of the Great War" is now being sent out to test readers.:) If you are wondering when you will get your copy to read, drop me a line, and I might be able to tell you. I only printed 6 copies for all the readers so there are several of you who will have to share. I tried to spread them out so that you won't have to wait too long. And speaking of my book, make sure you come back next week as I will be having a quiz about the writing of "Home Fires of The Great War." The winner of the quiz will get to choose what they would like posted for two consecutive weeks.:) Does that interest anyone? So be sure you come back next week and take a go at the quiz.
And now for the rest of the story started last week. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
Neglected and ForsakenAt last the old man stood up stiffly and slowly began to make his way around the aged mine. He peered in at the empty windows, shook his head at the loose boards and sighed. Coming back to the rock, he resumed his seat where he sat motionless for some time. Finally he began to speak.
“You remember the blizzard don’t you, Frisco? That was the winter of 1884 . . .”
“I say, Joe, jest look at that snow come down, would ya?”
“I know. Ain’t it somethin’ to see! Ya know, Will, I don’t even want to try to make it back to my room at the hotel in this. It’s hard to see even the boardin’ house.”
Will took another look out the window. “Say! This ain’t jest a little snow storm. I’m thinking we’re in for a blizzard!”
The two men looked at each other. They both knew the danger of trying to go anywhere in a storm like this. The mine was closed for the winter, but Will always kept a stash of food supplies there “jest in case” he always said. Well, that “jest in case” had finally arrived.
“I reckon we might as well jest make ourselves at home an’ wait for the storm to blow over.”
Joe nodded in agreement. “It’s a good thing neither of us is married, Will.”
“Then we’d have ta try ta get home or the women folk would be all upset.” He grinned. “I know as that’s the way it is with my brother.”
The two men passed the rest of the day talking or just sitting and watching the swirling white clouds of snow out the windows. By bed time the storm showed no signs of abating, and the men rolled themselves up in blankets near the stove and slept. The next day and the next the storm raged. Drifts piled high against the sides of the mine covering up the lower windows. The men upstairs spent the time in telling stories and in game after game of checkers.
On the sixth day, the entire lower part of the mine was covered and to look out the upper windows gave the appearance of being on the lower level.
“My, this is one mean snow storm, I’m tellin’ you Joe!”
“Don’t tell me,” Joe growled, “I know. An’ I don’t mind tellin’ you that this here business of doin’ nothing but playin’ checkers, in which you always win I might add, has about drove me crazy. Can’t ya think of anything else ta do?”
Will looked thoughtful, his hand scratching his head as it did when he was thinking. Suddenly his eyes lit up. “How ‘bout we try digging a tunnel to the boardin’ house?”
The suggestion met with Joe’s instant agreement, and the two descended the stairs to the strangely dark and cold first level. After lighting one of the lanterns that was used in the mine, Will cautiously pulled open the door. A solid wall of snow stood before them. Will reached out and took a handful. With a grin he turned to Joe.
“This is the perfect kind of snow to make a tunnel in. See how well it packs?”
“Yah, but Will,” Joe put in, “What’re we goin’ to do with all the snow we dig out?”
“First we’ll fill a few pails to melt for our use. After that, well, I reckon at first we’ll have ta tote the buckets upstairs an’ dump them out the window. But that’ll only be ‘till we get a good start on it ‘cause then we can use it ta reinforce the tunnel as we go.”
It was hard, exhausting work digging that tunnel. Many times Joe paused to shake his head and mutter, “Sure glad I don’t work in the mine. Never could stand much of this type of thing.”
Will worked patiently but carefully, packing the snow firmly on all sides of the tunnel. When the two men grew too cold to work, they would retire to the upper level of the mine. And so for the next day and a half the storm raged above them as they worked on their tunnel. At last Will stopped short, cocked his head and listened.
“Say Joe, ya hear voices?”
Joe nodded, a grin spread across his face, and they both fell to work again with renewed vigor. Soon a wooded wall appeared. After an hour or two more, the door was uncovered, and they burst into the boarding house to the astonishment of the boarders. Before too long a second tunnel was started; this time heading to town. The storm was forgotten in the excitement of tunnel digging. And with more hands, this one progressed much faster. And so day followed day. The snow continued to fall and the wind continued to howl and blow, but under it all, the men and yes, even some of the brave women were digging tunnels to get about. Before the storm had stopped, nearly every building in town was connected.
The snow had reached the top of the second story windows in the mine. Will and Joe climbed up to the small window in the loft. Peering out they saw, not blowing snow, but sunshine!
“Well, I’ll be! If that ain’t the prettiest sight I’ve ever seen,” Will murmured. “What day did the storm start, Joe?”
Joe thought a moment and then gave a low whistle. “This is the twenty-third day, Will! That ought to be a record. Twenty-three days of blizzard! How much ya think got dumped this time?”
Will, who had been busy calculating as he noticed how high the snow came up on the mine, turned around. “I’d say twenty-five feet.”
The old man shook his head at the remembrance. “That sure ‘nough was quite a snow storm wasn’t it, old girl? An’ other years it was the avalanches that came down one side of those slopes,” here his gaze rose to the mountain peaks on his right, “an’ went right up that other side.” His gaze shifted to the farther side of the mountains. “They sure enough did a lot of damage to the town.”
The silence that followed was broken by the call of a bird in a nearby tree. “Well, Frisco, we’ve had many pleasant times together. This town jest never was the same after Silverton became the county seat. Them rich mine owners left Animas Forks for Silverton. An’ then, you know what happened. We watched it together. Folks just up an’ left. An’ now . . ..” The old timer’s voice trailed away. For some time he just sat there, his eyes on the old worn mine before him. At last he stood up. “I reckon I’ll be sayin’ good by now, Frisco. My nephew wants me ta go help him with his mine farther west, so I won’t be able ta come up here no more. But don’t fret, I’ll never be forgettin’ ya. So long, girl.”
It was with slow steps that the old man trudged dejectedly away towards the ramshackle log houses that used to be the town of Animas Forks. At the edge of the town, Old William Croften stopped and looked back at the timeworn Frisco Mine. He could hear faintly the creaking of her loose boards as the wind blew down on her. Slowly he turned and continued on his way. Soon he was lost to view down the obscure overgrown trail that led down the mountain.
The sun was beginning to set in a blaze of glowing colors. The twitter of birds was heard. A few small animals crept into their nests inside the old mine, and her boards creaked in the wind. Alone on the mountainside, the Frisco Mine stood like a sentry left at a forsaken post. Alone. She was forgotten by most who ever knew her. A weary, lonely sigh seemed to come from her as the darkness closed around. Would anyone ever come back to visit the old Frisco Mine? Or would she crumble into dust with no one to care?
Footnote: The story about the blizzard and tunnels is true.
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