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In the 1870s in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, mine owners and their employees, particularly the Irish immigrants, are in conflict over working conditions.
Private police forces commissioned by the state but paid by the coal companies are sworn to protect property of the mine owners. The miners know their real purpose is to spy upon targeted agitators and intimidate and break up strikers.
The Mollie Maguires, a secret society some see as working to improve the lot of the Irish and which others damn as a terrorist organization, are viewed as an increasing threat.
Benjamin Franklin Yeager is a coal company police officer. He does his best to follow orders while trying to be fair to the workers whose lot he sees as little different from his own. Despite his efforts at fairness, Yeager’s job makes him the enemy of the Irish.
And that’s the crux of his troubles.
For Ben is in love with an Irish girl.
The men carrying the coffin trudged up the hill, heads bent, faces red and wet with perspiration and shoulders hunched under the weight of their burden, the steady tromp of their feet raising clouds of dust. A little crowd of mourners followed in their wake, women and children and a few old men. The harsh cry of a crow echoing like the scrape of chalk on a board grated against the wailing of the women and the crying of the children.
Below them, at the base of the hill, hovered the black shacks of the miners with the steeple of the church and the dark hulk of the breaker rising above them. Beyond, green forested hills shimmered in the hot glare of the sun. The colliery whistle blew and Father Paul Delaney wondered who was left in the patch to work.
Delaney leaned against the fence, his hands clutching at the iron bars, watching as they came. The hot sun beat down upon the balding dome of his head and he felt the sweat running in rivulets down his back. His tight hold on the bars didn’t stop the shaking of his body. He glanced back over his shoulder at the little clutch of men behind him. They stood in a tight little formation, quiet save for the shuffling of their feet and the nervous smacking of the cudgels they held against open palms. Father Delaney trembled. He tried to spit but his mouth was too dry.
The cortege came up to the fence. Breathing heavily, the men placed down their burden.
“Open the gate,” McHugh said.
“I will not,” Father Delaney told him.
McHugh stepped closer, spat an amber stream of tobacco juice off to the side. “Open the fuckin’ gate, Father.”
“You cannot bury him here.”
“Sean, you know he’s excommunicated.”
“Open the gate!”
Father Delaney smelled a mix of beer and tobacco on the man’s breath, felt the heat of his anger. He took a little step back. The situation was even worse than the priest had imagined that morning when he’d warned his congregation of what might happen when the Mollie Maguires tried to bury McHugh’s brother, Daniel, in consecrated ground.
McHugh beckoned and another man came forward with an iron bar. He stuck the bar through the gate, heaved once and the lock snapped off. McHugh yanked the gate open, seized Father Delaney by the shoulder, and thrust him out of his way. The priest stumbled forward, fell on his knees in the dirt. “C’mon,” McHugh said, stepping past him.
Father Delaney turned his head and watched as the men with the coffin and the other mourners went around him and into the cemetery. Then, with his eyes shut and his lips moving in prayer, the priest grunted as someone kicked him hard in the side. He felt a hard stab of pain and imagined he heard a snap of rib. Delaney collapsed face down, sobbing, with his mouth in the dirt.
Behind him came a rushing sound like the roar of an approaching storm as the two mobs met and clashed, cudgels and fists smacking against flesh, shouts and screams shattering the stillness that had prevailed moments before. The cortege bearing the coffin took the brunt of the first attack by defenders of the faith and it fell from their grasp, rolled down an incline and broke open. Daniel McHugh’s corpse spilled out onto the grass. A woman screamed.
Father Delaney tried to get up, and the surge of the two gangs knocked him back again as they rushed at one another. He lay in the cool grass, clenching his teeth, fingering his rosary, wondering what had become of Captain Llewellyn and his men.
Those defending the sanctity of the cemetery had the advantage only for the initial assault. They were greatly outnumbered and soon fell back as the Hibernians pressed them. A few stood their ground and took their lumps despite the odds. The majority fled, licking their wounds.
Then, just as McHugh and his bullies were anticipating victory, a single shot rang out.
The roar of the mob palled.
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 324
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