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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Kids and Trains: Meet August

Children Stealing Coal, RR, Boston, Lewis Hines
Children Stealing Coal, RR, Boston Lewis Hines

The screechin’ brakes woke me with a jounce, causin’ me to roll into a rumpled old man who I had never met. There were usually many familiar faces in the boxcars, but as time marched on, there seemed to be even more of us ridin’ the rails.

“Look where you’re goin’ for Chrissakes,” he said.

I thought about respondin’, but he had already turned away and pulled his coat up over his head. I brushed the hay off myself and got my comb outta’ my tin. I always tried to look presentable, even after a night of travelin’.

“You gettin’ off here, August?” asked my old friend, Jacob, a decent soul, always offerin’ to lend a hand in some way or another.

“Yep,” I said, “sure am.”

“What’s in Fall River that you’re lookin’ to get?”

“I’m thinkin’ about millwork. I’ve been travelin’ for a while, and it’s time for a break.”

He laughed and picked strands of hay from his bushy gray beard. “You still got some time ‘fore the cold sets in,” he said.

“Oh, I know,” I said.

“Didn’t you work up ta Lowell?”

“I did,” I said.

“So why’d ya leave?”

“I dunno. It just wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” I said.

He grabbed his sack as we slowed down to a crawl. “Good luck, son. I’m sure I’ll see you ‘fore too long.”

A few others followed him, and one by one they hopped off the train before it came to a stop. The ones who were stayin’, burrowed deeper into the hay and behind random boxes to avoid gettin’ caught. Most of us knew where the bulls were, and Fall River was one of those places.

I headed for the openin’ when someone shoved me aside. I swung around ready to fight for my spot when a slight girl continued on by and rolled out onto the embankment. I tucked my bag under my arm and thought of how lucky she was that I didn’t cold-cock her because that was my aim. I never hit a girl and didn’t want that day to be the first.

I got off the train without incident and didn’t catch sight of a bull. They would take you out and beat you senseless if they found you hidin’ in a car. I only got caught once, and that was enough for me.

After sprucin’ up, I walked towards the station where the payin’ folks were gettin’ off the train. I didn’t see any easy targets, which was always the case for me. Long ago, I figured that out. Fall River was nothin’ like Boston. There were some well-to-do folks, but not as many. Most of the people were millworkers and had nothin’ to spare.

A high-pitched scream sliced through the usual chatter. Somethin’ wicked had happened. I couldn’t help but be as curious as the next one. I walked a little closer and there—all torn up and sittin’ on a trunk—was that same pretty girl I’d seen in Boston. ~AUGUST WOOD~ September 1, 1872 ~ EXCERPT The Angels' Lament Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book Two ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ [Stealing coal from railroad coal-yard.] Location: [Boston, Massachusetts]. / Lewis W. Hine.


Oct 10, 2020

Yes... jounce is a great word. I enjoy being a wordsmith as well. Thanks, Peter. Mj


Oct 09, 2020

I remember reading this chapter and thinking this is a cool way to introduced a character. The other thing I was struck by was the word jounce. What a great descriptive word to use for the beginning of a chapter, especially for a train scene. I love using interesting words to describe a setting or using them in a narrative.

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