We Ought Never To Have Done It: Part Seven
IV. One Hundred and Twenty Years Ago – Zone 12
In the clearing, there stands a shovel.
When first the O’Grady brothers struck coal in the mountains, the locals leapt with joy. "Coal in the mountains," they said. "We shall be rich at last."
And they were right for a time, oh yes. When first industry fought its steel-clad way into the hills near Neopia Central, it did so with claws gilt with gold. The folk of Neopia Central had no need for industry; they were a simple people, did things the old way with help from Faeriefolk and shared like among them. But money was a powerful tool, it was. They saw money shape the ways of lands across the sea and across the continent itself, and they knew the power it held. Weapons from the Haunted Woods and magical stones from the mysterious islands could be theirs at last, since now, perhaps, they had the money to trade for it.
"Money," they said. "Money from the coal. The O’Gradys say they found coal. We shall indeed be rich."
The expedition to the pine hills took all the strong lads from the village in order to lug the equipment up. Little Morker, as it was then known, could put up but five young ones to the O’Grady Expedition, but each was promised a single share of the company’s stock in return. This, it was promised, would be enough to feed a hundred families for generations to come, once the coal came shooting out of the ground like sparks from a fire. The metaphor was not perfect, but it was effective.
Before too long, Zone 12 of the O’Grady coal mining operation had been established only half a mile from Little Morker, and the digging begun in earnest. Of all the zones in the O’Grady operation, this was by far the most troublesome, the main cause of which was the paradoxical stubbornness of the locals. At first, they had been more than willing to let the company dig to their heart’s content in the hills in order to provide coal (and thusly money) to the community. The next moment, once the site had been chosen, the village elders were up in arms, stating that the spot was not to be chosen for reasons that could not be known to pet.
It was enough to make Humphrey Haggerty sick. The O’Grady company had hired him, of all eligible Poogles, to run this operation, and if Zone 12 failed to meet expectations, they would be very sore indeed. Hamm O’Grady was not known to be a kind Usul, and Zone 12, having been scouted on his orders, was his baby. Humphrey knew enough about fathers and their babies to be wary.
So when the mining crew of Zone 12 came to the ramshackle foreman’s office complaining about rambling locals and stuck drilling equipment, Humphrey had more than enough cause to heave himself out of his comfy chair and see what was the matter.
"It’s everything comin’ down at once, sir!" one of the young Buzz lads operating the drill chirped. "You said to go ahead with the drillin’, but there’s the elders from the village! They say we’re not to drill no more until you meet with them! Absolutely forbade it!"
"And since when," Humphrey intoned, drawing himself up to his full, not inconsiderable bulk, "do you listen to the village elders instead of your own boss? The O’Grady Coal Corporation does not take direction from folklore and superstition."
"I just thought, sir," the Buzz wheedled, "that since we’re leasin’ the land from them, we might want to pay respects like. It don’t hurt to-"
"I’ll thank you, lad, to not think any more on what will and won’t hurt, lest you find yourself a bit too close to the problem. Ready the drill." Humphrey walloped the young pet on the back and strode across to the shack reserved for visitors to the site.
There weren’t many visitors to be sure; Zone 12 was situated far up in the pine forests atop the hills that surrounded the local village. This was a place of fen folk, not known to pet; it reeked of magics unknown and begged to be tamed. The O’Grady Coal Corporation had made a small clearing atop one of the most advantageous hills and turned it into their home base. Zone 12 was to be a hub for at least six other operations that would spread out to neighboring hills. The coal ran deep and thick in these mountains, and the only way to coax it out was through rough, unerring force.
The drill would be brought to this small hamlet, oh yes. It would be brought to the mountains, small though the clearing was at the moment. The village would know turmoil and prosperity and progress and all the other things whispered in their ears when Hamm O’Grady had first come to see them many moons ago, when times were hard and winters cold and the shriveling of stomachs rampant among them. The drill would be their salvation or else explode trying.
Why the elders would defy them now was beyond reasoning. Humphrey swore to see the end of it.
"Master Grimmsley," he began, pushing open the door and opening his mouth before he even saw who sat in the table directly opposite. "How lovely it is to see you again. I thought our-" He stopped.
Master Grimmsley, the doddering old Wocky who normally came to call at Zone 12’s visitor’s shack, was not there. Instead, a much younger, much more fiery pet was in his place. She was an Elephante, coals blazing in her eyes, and the zeal of a dozen or more villagers coursing through her frame. She stood upon seeing Humphrey enter.
"Mister Haggerty, yes? I’m here to discuss the transgressions of your company against the lawful property of our village."
Humphrey sighed, closed the door, and heaved himself across the floor to settle into the chair across the table. "And who might you be, lass? One of Master Grimmsley’s secretaries, I don’t doubt. Well, you can tell him that-"
The Elephante slapped her trunk on the table with a sound like a thousand Hamm O’Grady fists. "I’ll thank you very much, Mister Haggerty, to refer to me as me, not as the lackey of an old fool. My name is Belinda Bellshanks, and I’m a concerned citizen."
Humphrey snorted. "Ho ho! Well, Miss Bellshanks, what is it that the O’Grady Coal Corporation can do for you? As you can no doubt see, we’re just about to make way on a major drilling operation, and such a ruckus is no place for a lady. If you’ve come seeking an escort down the hill…" He leered. "I’m sure we can find someone to assist."
The trunk came down again, this time much closer to Humphrey’s face than he would have liked. "Mister Haggerty," Belinda snapped, "You are rapidly approaching an unfortunate imitation of a buffoon."
Humphrey stared, dumbstruck. "Eh?"
"A buffoon, Mister Haggerty. A dullard, a louse, an incorrigible boor, and, above all else, a dunce."
"A...dunce?" Humphrey felt as though a carpet which had previously been nailed down under his feet had been not only ripped out from under him but wrapped around his entire body and hurled into the nearby river.
"Yes, a dunce. Do you not understand words, Mister Haggerty? I shall say it slower for you, then. You. Know. Nothing. You know nothing of these lands, of our village or customs, or of anything else to do with the area you seek to desecrate with foul machines and fouler motives."
The entire time she spoke, Belinda had been leaning closer and closer across the table and now her face took up all of Humphrey’s vision. He shook his head and stepped back from her. The mention of machines had cleared his head somewhat.
"Ah, you want to halt the drilling just as Master Grimmsley wanted. I knew you were just a secretary for the elders. As I started saying earlier, you can go tell them that we have no intentions of stopping! Your village was kind enough to grant us permission to use this land as we saw fit with the condition that part of the proceeds be returned to the village. Do you understand? I shall say it slower for you, then. You. Have. Nothing. Only the O’Grady Coal Corporation is able to bring a higher standard of living to this, if you’ll excuse me saying so, derelict region."
Belinda’s color, which had been the mostly black of Fire when she walked in, seemed to be growing brighter and hotter until she seemed almost molten in appearance. Humphrey took no notice of this.
"In fact," he continued, "you should be thanking us for wanting anything to do with you at all! Not barging into offices you don’t belong in and making senseless demands! Now, Miss Bellshanks, unless you wish to apologize to me, I don’t believe we have anything more to discuss. Good day." Humphrey smiled and extended a hand across the table. Belinda slapped it aside with her trunk and puffed herself up to her full, very considerable height.
"Mister Haggerty, I was not going to leave here without a guarantee from you that you would not continue drilling, but I see now that I was a very foolish girl. I had thought to change your mind with logical reasoning. ‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘someone who has been put in charge of a large operation must listen to sense.’ Now I see that you are a stranger to sense, as much as I was when I first walked in here. I will leave you and your miners to drill, then. You will drill and you will find something you did not wish, and then you will leave forever. Good day."
Then she was gone - from the office, from the site, and from the hill.
"Fwah, glad that’s over." Humphrey breathed deeply and returned to his own office and slowly placed himself back in his chair. He fell asleep to the sounds of the drilling equipment starting up.
To be continued…