Fourteen-year-old Mick doesn’t want to end up like his father, a roughneck union miner working for low wages in the Coeur d’Alene silver-mining district of Idaho. He detests the vigilante attitude of his father’s union and would rather do his fighting with words like his mentor, Mr. Delaney, who runs the town newspaper. But when the radicals of his father’s union blow up the mining company’s ore-concentrating mill, Mick’s dreams blow up with it. Federal soldiers put the town under martial law and arrest every man in it, including Mick and his father. Mick realizes that he’s his family’s only chance for survival. He must escape and do the one thing he swore he’d never do join the scabs working in the mines. First-time author Mary Cronk Farrell has crafted a gripping historical novel based on a true event that occurred at the turn of the last century. Lessons from this overlooked part of U.S. history will still resonate with readers today. Author’s note.
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Mary Cronk Farrell is a free-lance journalist living in Spokane, Washington. This is her first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Mick ran from the bedroom. He felt a ripping in his throat and heard his own yell, but it was swallowed by Bridey’s shrieks. As he flung the front door open, a third explosion hit. He grabbed on to the doorframe.
Outside, smoke blackened the air and debris fell from the sky like hail. A plume of fire shot into the air, dissolving into ash and flying wreckage as it rose. It seemed to come from the Bunker Hill concentrator behind Prospector Hill. The column surged so high he had to tip his head back to see where it topped off. Then the ground and the house shook again.
The dynamite! Before Mick could finish the thought, two more blasts pounded the air, two more tornadoes of smoke and debris churned upward. Then quiet fell, an eerie stillness, and the fog of soot turned broad day to twilight.
Oh, my God!” It was Bridey. Her fingers fastened on his elbow, her chest heaved.
Mick pried himself loose. I’m going down there. I’ll look for Da and tell him Mam’s sick.” He avoided Main Street by cutting through the back lots where the hillside rose steeply to the south. He was coughing by the time he hit flat ground. There was a stream of miners coming his way.
Some men cheered hoarsely, pumping their arms in the air. Others ran as though the devil were chasing them. They headed to the depot and piled onto the waiting train.
Mick climbed a small rise. It was covered with tree stumps, and new spring green was shooting up through the soggy brown of last year’s growth. He topped it, then fell back a step. His hands flew to his mouth as he gasped.
The Bunker Hill concentrator lay like a smoking pile of kindling. The most modern machinery in the world. The words floated through Mick’s mind as he stared. The mill’s timbers had been tossed aloft and dropped like a pile of Nat’s toy pick-up sticks. Fire was raging through the company offices and boarding house.
His knees gave way. He sank down on a stump and brushed away the ash that had settled on his cheeks and eyebrows. Though he was more than two hundred yards away, he could feel the heat of the flames, hear the burning wood snap and crackle. The sharp, bitter smell of charred wood and powder stung his nose. A silent line of people stood watching from a distance as the fire blazed, a fire so huge that anyone could see there was no way to stop it. The afternoon sun filtered through the thick air, covering all with a strange, pale yellow light.
The shriek of a whistle followed by the shrill clanging of a bell broke the spell that gripped Mick. He turned to watch the train pull away from the station, heading east. There was a chorus of lusty yells from those on board. Where was Da? Had he helped light the fuse?
A cold wind gusted down the gulch and up the back of Mick’s shirt. He plunged his hands into his trouser pockets, took one last look at the devastation, and started back toward town.
A crowd of miners filled Main Street. They were hooting and hollering and swigging from bottles. The chorus of an old ditty, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” rang out over the commotion.
At the Royal Galena, Mick slipped through the swinging doors and scanned the room for Da’s broad shoulders and reddish blond hair. The place was packed and rang with boisterous voices. He passed by the card tables. Men were three deep at the long polished bar.
Mick, honey . . .” Mick felt a hand on his shoulder and turned, blushing at the sound of his name in that syrupy trill. Looking for your pa?” It was Miss Beatrice Beaufontaine. Her lips were as red as a cardinal’s wing. She smiled at him. Her fingers, with their scarlet nails, slid easily along his arm. He couldn’t speak.
I ain’t seen your pa all day,” Miss Beatrice drawled, waving a whiskey bottle in her other hand. But if he comes in, I’ll sure tell him you’re looking for him.” Y-y-yes, ma’am.” I’ve got to pour drinks for these thirsty men. You run along now.” Mick ran.
He went down the street to the Iron Horse. Keeping close to the wall, he surveyed the room. Bursts of laughter and the slam of glasses on the bar punctuated the rowdy racket of conversation. Drink flowed, and Old Man Holohan pounded out a jaunty tune on the piano in the corner. Da wasn’t there.
Mick ducked out. Where was his father? Had he joined the union mob going back up the canyon on the train? Mick leaned against the post that rose from the hitching rail and tried to think what to do. Better go home and check on Mam. Surely the doctor would be there by now.
The house was quiet. Bridey was sprinkling herbs into a pot on the stove. Nat sat at the table, his face all pinched up, as if he was trying not to let the tears out..
I couldn’t find Da,” said Mick.
He’s here,” Bridey said. With Mam.” She tasted the stew, then put the lid on the kettle and motioned with her headdddd toward the bedroom. He came home right after the explosion.” I couldn’t get the doctor,” said Nat. He wasn’t at the hospital, and when the dynamite blew . . .” His voice quavered, and he pressed his lips together and looked down at the gingham tablecloth.
Mam’s doing better,” said Bridey. The herbal tea took her fever right down.” You should see the concentrator,” said Mick. There’s nothing left. They blew it to smithereens.” Da wouldn’t tell us what happened,” Nat said. He went right into Mam, and he ain’t come out.” Bridey sliced bread for supper, and Mick took the tin bowls from the shelf and put them around the table. He placed the spoons next to them, one by one, then the tin cups, then the red checkered napkins. He and Bridey sat down with Nat and waited.
When Da came out, Mick jumped to his feet. He searched Da’s face but could tell nothing.
Let’s eat,” Da said. Your mother’s sleeping. She won’t be up for supper.” I saw the mill,” said Mick.
Wasn’t that grand?” A wide smile lifted Da’s bushy mustache and the word grand sounded a foot long. I never saw a prettier sight in all my days.” He slapped Mick on the shoulder. The Bunker Hill boys won’t be talkin’ so high and mighty now.” Mick tried to smile back at Da, but he felt sick to his stomach. He could hardly believe what he’d seen. The mill, blasted to toothpicks and ash. Maybe there had been men working inside. Had anyone been killed? He sat down to supper, a sense of dread passing through him like a shiver. He wondered again whether his father had helped set off the explosion.
Copyright © 2004 by Mary Cronk Farrell. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Company. Please verify quotations against the bound book.
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