North Anglesey Coast of Wales, August 1635
Squire Dafydd Jones sat at dinner wearing a new velvet jacket over a shirt of the finest linen. The silver on the table sparkled from having been polished and repolished. The finest of everything he had graced the table. His campaign to win the hand of the Lady Elizabeth, a swan whom he had known when she was still a duckling, in the face of rather stiff competition from Lord Sir Anthony Marshall was not going well. The English gentleman had the clear advantage of being frequently at court in London. Dafydd sensed this meeting would be his last chance to sway Elizabeth’s father. So he pulled out the stops and spread an elaborate feast.
Over dinner, Elizabeth was friendly enough, but not really warm. Her father was polite, but Dafydd could see the man was wondering what advantage he gained by marrying his daughter to a country squire on the North Anglesey Coast of Wales. Dafydd stressed that Lady Elizabeth would have a comfortable life as his wife, on the strength of the lands he kept in sheep if nothing else. But he talked at length of reopening the flooded copper mine which had once been the backbone of his family’s fortune. It was obvious to Dayfdd that Lord Wycliffe was of the opinion there was no way to keep the mine dry without costing more to bail it than the copper was worth.
* * *
Actually, Lord Wycliffe was wishing Elizabeth would just state a preference. He would be content either way, as long as she was happy, but the lass told him it was for him to decide.
“Father,” she’d said with a pleasant laugh when he had outright asked her, “that is a decision you will have to make. Surely you don’t expect a young lady to have enough wisdom to decide something like that?”
The only reason to marry her to Jones would be to give her a quiet, peaceful life. If it weren’t for the common fact that the Englishman was known for chasing skirts and had already fathered several spurious offspring, there really wouldn’t be any discussion at all. There probably wasn’t any reason, really, to discuss the matter further anyway. Still, Squire Jones had sent the invitation to dine and to view the project he was working on, which would allow him to reopen the mine. Lord Wycliffe admitted to a mild curiosity. The project was, of late, a frequent topic of conversation at many dinner tables. Jones was not the only mine owner with a water problem. If the mine could indeed start producing again, then perhaps there was something to discuss after all. So, the three of them sat at the table enjoying an excellent cut of beef and a surprisingly good wine.
* * *
First came the sound of the blast, then the shockwave, followed by falling debris, and finally shouts of “Fire!”
Dafydd threw his napkin onto his barely touched plate, and rushed to the door. The assembly shed was missing half its roof and the walls were engulfed in flame. He sprinted to join a bucket brigade dousing the flames with water being drawn from the trough near the well much faster than the trough could be refilled. When the water was gone, there was nothing to do but to stand and watch the shed burn.
George, the foreman, noted Dafydd dropping his, now ruined, new coat over the face of the man lying on the ground. He started walking toward the estate’s young owner.
“George, how bad is it?”
“Well, Squire, you can see the building is a complete loss.”
“Damn the building, man,” Dafydd nearly shouted. The young squire rarely raised his voice. George’s eyebrows went up. Calming himself, Dafydd asked, “How many people did we lose?”
“I think six, including Harold,” George said. At the naming of Harold, Dafydd closed his eyes and bit his lip. “The others, one was a new hire, four were mayflies.”
A voice behind Dafydd asked, “Mayflies?”
George spoke past Dafydd to answer Lord Wycliffe’s question. “Mayflies is what I call them, sir. People just hanging around getting in the way.” The old foreman didn’t have a lot of use for a man who would work for free.
“Be fair, George,” Dafydd said. “they were just wanting to help.” When word got out they were building a Grantville steam engine, the curious started turning up to see it. Some stayed to help and learn.
“Who was Harold?” Elizabeth asked.
“Harold, now, that’s a real loss.” George said. “He’s the one who had been to Grantville. He and Dafydd used to be playmates now and then in their younger days. He came home with this scheme to put the mine back into production. Figured it was good for both families his and Dafydd’s. Harold’s father was the last mine manager. His brother runs a sheep station from the old mine site now. No, Harold was the real loss, Miss. Someone who has actually seen a working steam engine is not easily replaced.”
“Damn,” Dafydd ‘s gaze turned to the nearly completed windmill water tower. “Damn,” he said again.
Henry approached, hat in hand, limping badly and singed to the scalp on one side. Dafydd stared at the useless tower. “It wouldn’t have helped, Squire. The boiler took every soul in the shed to heaven, along with the roof, when it blew.” He shook his head. “It didn’t need to happen. Thomas said the pressure relief valve would be ready tomorrow, but Harold did not want to wait. Well, we will have a relief valve waiting when we get everything else put back together.”
“Is it worth it, Henry?” Dafydd asked. With Lord Wycliffe and Elizabeth standing right there taking it all in, his immediate reason for wanting the mine reopened was now surely lost.
“Squire, for Wales to have the first working steam engine in the Isles, before the damned English?” Henry started to put his hat on his head, but stopped with a wince. “For us to have the railroads, so the English are working for Welshmen instead of us working for them?” Harold’s dreams, which he had shared freely with anyone who would listen, were of a grand scale. He had read widely while in Grantville; the almost complete loss of Welch identity in the Grantville histories had annoyed him greatly. Henry continued, “I know you want it to pump out the mine, but that’s just the beginning. Yes, it is worth it.
“I’ve got all of Harold’s drawings and notes. I don’t know how many times the two of us went over them. He told me everything he knew. The blacksmiths have already done it once. The materials are all on hand. We will see what we can salvage tomorrow when the ashes have cooled. I’ll have you a working steam engine within a month, Squire. And I won’t be in such a hurry that I can’t wait for a relief valve.”
Dafydd turned to Elizabeth and her father. “Shall we get back to our dinner?”
Looking at the ruins, the older gentleman shook his head. Dafydd did not have to be told: Lord Wycliffe was of the opinion there was no realistic hope of reopening the mine. “No, young man. I think it would be better if we departed now, so you can get on with the business of cleaning up the disaster.”
Considering how he had abandoned his guests to engage in hopeless, desperate, pointless labor, Dafydd was surprised at the mildness of Lord Wycliffe’s reproof. “Let me see you to your carriage then,” Dafydd replied. The squire handed Elizabeth into the coach and watched it down the lane, around the hill, and out of sight, with a guilty sense of loss. How could losing the woman who infatuated him, no matter how lovely she was, even start to compare with the loss of six good men? Still, somehow, it was what was foremost in his mind.
* * *
Lord Wycliffe had a surprise waiting for him, once he and his daughter were alone in the carriage.
“Father,” Elizabeth asked, “are you still wondering if I have a preference?”
“Well, I think it is settled now, isn’t it? He has no hope of reopening the mine now, does he?”
“I don’t care. If my preference matters to you, then I prefer to marry Dafydd.”
Completely baffled, Lord Wycliffe stared at his daughter, and blurted, “Why?”
“When he asked the foreman what the losses were, the man started counting the cost. Dafydd was sharp with him. He wanted to know how many people they had lost. He is a good man with a kind heart. His children may never live in London, or be presented at court—but they will be loved and well cared for, not just well provided for. When he said, ‘Damn the building, how many men did we lose?’ he reminded me of you. Dafydd cares for people. I think that will mean a lot to me in the years to come. No, Father, not just a lot, I think it will mean everything.”
* * *