If Willie could have his dream, he would go to Sable Island and ride free over the sand dunes on the back of a wild horse. Instead, 11-year-old Willie must work in the coal mines of Cape Breton, hardly ever seeing the light of day. But with the help of Gem, the gentle pit pony, he discovers that things aren't always as bad as they seem. And a surprising event reveals that miracles can happen, even in a coal mine.
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|Publisher:||Formac Publishing Company, Limited|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||8 - 10 Years|
About the Author
ZOE LUCAS is one of the few permanent residents on Sable Island and is involved in research and environmental monitoring programs, including studying its wild horses and sea birds.
JOYCE BARKHOUSE is the author of many short stories and books for children, including Anna's Pet (written with Margaret Atwood), which was made into a puppet play and toured internationally, and The Witch of Port Lajoie, which has been translated in four languages. She received the Order of Nova Scotia and was made a Member of the Order of Canada for her children's books and work in literacy.
Read an Excerpt
The wild horse screamed as its feet left the deck of the schooner. Then its body hung, limp and helpless in the sling under its belly, as it was winched ashore.
A crowd had gathered on the wharf to witness the spectacle of wild horses captured on far-off Sable Island, and brought to Nova Scotia to work in the coal mines of Cape Breton.
Among the watchers, a small boy stood with hands clenched into fists, his face twisted with pity. Tears trickled down his pale cheeks. His name was William Maclean but he was known around the coal mining town of Green Bay as "Wee Willie." Sometimes he was called "Wee Willie the Whistler."
Many of the Cape Breton miners had nicknames, like "Danny the Dancer," "Stumpy Sam," and "Freddie the Fiddler." This was because so many of the Scottish families had names exactly the same. There were three William Macleans in Green Bay School, but Wee Willie was the one best known around town. When he wasn't at school he could usually be found hanging around one of the livery stables, wanting to help with the horses.
In those days, back at the beginning of the twentieth century, horses were a part of everyday life. A coal mine could not operate without them. In Willie's town, many different breeds were for hire fast, pretty Morgans for driving or riding horseback, and big, strong Clydesdales for pulling heavy loads. Pairs of matched white horses were hired for weddings, and blacks for funerals.
Wee Willie loved them all. In fact, when he was with horses he forgot about everything else. Too often, he came home for supper too late to help with the chores. On these occasions, his little sisters, Maggie and Sara, had to go to the town well for water. It was much too hard for them. They staggered home with the heavy tin pail between them, sloshing water against their long skirts. His older sister, Nellie, who had all the other house-hold tasks to do, had to feed the hens, bring in the eggs, and carry in scuttles of coal for the kitchen stove.
Tonight, Willie was late again. Not until the last horse struggled to its feet on the slippery wharf did he realize the sun had almost set. He dashed a grubby fist across his eyes and started for home. He knew how angry his father would be. He would give Willie a thrashing and send him to bed without his supper.
Willie didn't mind the thrashing quite as much as he minded going to bed without his supper. The Maclean children, whose mother had died when Willie was six, didn't have as much to eat as some of the other families. His father, Rory Maclean, was a pit miner who worked with Willie's brother John in the Ocean Deeps Mine. He was a proud, stern man. He refused to charge at the Company Store. All the same, the family lived in a Company house, for the sake of cheap rent.
Willie lived on Sunny Row. Not a tree nor a flower grew along the dirt lane. The houses were all the same, shaped like rectangles with slanting roofs and square, small-paned windows. It was called Sunny Row because of a habit the men had of sunning themselves during the long afternoons of the brief, Nova Scotia summers. The miners' wives put wooden washtubs on the steps, and here the colliers sat when they came home from the pit, still black around the eyes with coal dust. They would soak their sore, tired feet in the warm water, and joke back and forth while they watched their children play ball or kick the can along the dusty street.
But now it was October. The days were short and the nights were cold. Willie should have been home from school long since.
He went around to the back of the house. As soon as he stepped into the porch he smelled supper. Ceann groppaig!* His favourite dish! His sister, Nellie, was a good cook. And he would have to go to bed without a single mouthful.
He opened the door a crack and peeked in.
There they were, the whole family, six of them, seated around the table in the warm kitchen. His frowning, dark-mustached father sat at one end. The lamplight shone on the bright red heads of Nellie and his big brother John and made pale ovals of the faces of the dark-eyed little ones, Maggie and Sara. It reflected on the spectacles of his tiny old grandmother in her frilled white cap, as she peered over at him from her rocking chair. In the middle of the table sat the steaming ceann groppaig, a huge codfish head stuffed with a pudding made of rolled oats and flour and mashed cod livers.
All this, Willie saw in the flash of a second and he was puzzled. What had happened? Usually the children ate first, because there weren't enough chairs to go around. When there was a ceilidh,* or when the minister came to call, then Nellie would borrow extra chairs from one of the neighbours. But tonight there was no guest.
He opened the door a crack wider.
His father glared at him from under his bushy, black eyebrows. "Come in," he ordered. "Shut the door. You're letting in a cold draft."
Willie went in, hanging his head, shamefaced, and shut the door