Moonstone Promise (Moonstone Romance Book 3)

By: Elizabeth Ellen Carter

CHAPTER ONE



1 February, 1791



The siren wailed, its long, mournful cry echoing down Coal Hill in a single-mouthed chorus, alerting those in the town below. Ann Sellars stopped tending the till at the first note, hoping it was her imagination and not the warning siren from the mines across the Monongahela River, but it continued.

Dread filled her.

“Is it the Penventen?” she asked, keeping her voice steady. Ann’s young assistant swung the telescope in the display window toward the mountain overlooking Pittsburgh and peered up at the hills.

“Can’t tell,” Patience Lockwood answered. “I don’t see any rushing about the camp though.”

Ann breathed out a prayer and locked the cash box. There would be no more customers today. She stepped outside where the siren screamed louder. The townsfolk on the street gravitated to the building that housed the offices of the three district mining companies, Penventen, Valentine, and Yankee Star.

A crowd had already gathered. Worried faces expressed their fears more eloquently than words. Fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands all worked those pits. When the sirens sounded like this, not all of them would be returning home.

“Any word?” Ann queried, tapping an old man gently on the shoulder.

“No, Mrs. Sellars. I think it’s the Star. My boy works there…”

She didn’t try to reassure him. She knew what it was like to have well-meaning folk tell you everything was going to be all right.

But it wasn’t. They knew it, and she knew it.

The siren eventually stopped. An hour dragged by, but the crowd did not disperse. Finally, a smartly dressed man, a manager, climbed ashen-faced and grim onto the back of a flatbed wagon.

“A shaft has collapsed in the Yankee Star. Thirty-nine men are trapped.” He cleared his throat. “We’re grateful for the support of our colleagues at Penventen and Valentine who have promised men and equipment. I assure you, we will be working night and day to bring the men home.”

The Reverend Greenwood stepped up to the makeshift podium to announce the church would be open through the night. The rescuers needed food, and the families needed comfort. The church stood ready to offer both.

Ann would be there. How could she not? Nearly four years ago she learned she had become a widow at twenty-three.

She turned toward the church where schoolchildren milled on the grass, their lessons disrupted by the emergency. An endless stream of people entered the building to prepare for the rescuers and any men they could bring home.

“Mama!”

Her son, aged six, rushed toward her. He had her coloring in his soft brown hair and blue eyes. There was very little of his father in young Andrew’s looks, but his personality was another matter entirely.

Andrew looked up at her. “We heard the siren. Is it Mr. Jackson’s mine?” They had become close to the Penventen miners and particularly to manager Toby Jackson.

Ann shook her head. “It’s the Yankee Star.”

The revelation didn’t cheer the lad. He had friends whose fathers worked there.

“What can we do, Mama? I want to go up and help but…” Andrew shuffled his feet. He was such a serious young boy, mindful that he was the man of the house.

“Well, we can pray, and you can help Patience and Ruth with preparing supper—or you can help me count out equipment the men might need for the rescue.”

Andrew perked up at the suggestion of something manly to do.

She led him down the long, straight street away from the church, stepping clear of the traffic that had increased since the alarm.

“I wish Mr. Jackson was here,” the youngster admitted after a period of silence. “When did the letter say he’d be back?”

“It’s the same as the last time you asked, two weeks’ time.” Not that Ann would tell her son, but she had memorized every word of the letter she’d received three days ago: Toby had arrived in New York safely after the voyage from England, and he had much to tell her, which he would do in person.

He had proposed marriage at their last meeting and she had declined.

It seemed too soon after the loss of Robert, but now after twelve months without Toby’s slow and steady courtship, she missed him terribly and was ready to call what she felt for him love.