Elizabeth had started working at Wheal Betsy when she was 10 years old and she knew she fell in love with him then.
He had shown her how to sort and wash different ores and had been so kind to her. When his gentle brown eyes fixed on her young face, she felt herself melt. She told her mother that she liked him and she had simply laughed, saying she would grow out of it and that he was far too old for her. He was an engineer at Wheal Friendship and had visited her mine that day she fell in love with him. His name was John Taylor.
He had to be about 16, she wasn’t sure, but when he returned to her mine to work she tried to talk to him but he was always so busy. She overheard him once talking to the manager of Wheal Friendship and his accent was funny; not like her Cornish one. She didn’t hold that against him though. She was going to marry him one day. She didn’t care what he sounded like.
Elizabeth found her work at the mine wearisome and exhausting. She had been reading a poetry book her mother had given her and she wanted to be a teacher one day. She longed to go to Tavistock and fulfil her dreams but she knew she couldn’t. There wasn’t enough money for her to be educated and her dreams were just that; dreams. She felt sad as she knew that in reality, she may never fulfil her potential. So instead she sang with the other bal maidens and this lifted her spirits; her beautiful soprano voice was so pure that often the other girls stopped singing to listen to her. But she would just smile and encourage them to join in. With her long dark hair and twinkling green eyes, it wasn’t just her singing voice that turned heads.
The following year there were whispers about John Taylor. He was very intelligent and his ideas had been accepted to improve the Wheal Friendship mine. Elizabeth was impressed to think that her future husband was so clever but still she hadn’t got to talk to him and express her feelings for him. Her age had nothing to do with her emotions. She didn’t tell her mother that she intended to marry him.
Her hopes for a happy ever after began to dim as two years passed and she continued working down the mine; learning new skills all the time such as spalling, framing and griddling. She kept a diary of her feelings for John Taylor and her dreams for a better life teaching children and marrying but she began to wonder if she was only ever destined to work at Wheal Betsy; never to live in true daylight.
Then Elizabeth found out from her mother that John Taylor had become the manager of Wheal Friendship. She was pleased for him but she thought she would never see him now, for surely his time would be taken up there.
Wheal Betsy didn’t hear Elizabeth’s sweet singing voice for the next five years as she became more and more disheartened. Becoming a young woman, her heart yearned all the more for her one true love. He had started building a magnificent waterway and her mother kept her updated on all the news. John Taylor had become a very important and famous man and yet Elizabeth still recalled the tender way he had shown her how to work in the mine and her heart would feel like it could burst when she remembered his kind words.
She found out from another worker that there was an important visitor coming to the mine and she knew it had to be him. That day Elizabeth made sure her dress was crease free and her hair as shiny as she could brush it. Her heart hammered in her chest as the bal maidens were called to cease work and stand for the visitor. John entered but he was with a group of people who Elizabeth didn’t recognise and they were quite loud and boisterous. Silently she stood, waiting for John to reach her, her eyes fixed intently on him. He had changed, grown older, but he was still the only man for her and she loosened a stray dark hair so that it hung prettily over her face. When he reached her, he smiled into her eyes and Elizabeth smiled shyly back. She said how he had helped her years ago and he replied that he remembered. Their eyes held but then he had to move on and it took a while for Elizabeth’s heart to cease its frantic beating.
There was a man in the group of people who watched her and had seen her blushes. He approached and introduced himself as Josiah; he was John’s best friend. Elizabeth regarded him with interest. How lucky he was to spend so much time with the man she loved. Josiah spoke about his friend with much admiration and Elizabeth enjoyed their conversation until he mentioned John’s engagement. He was to be married! She felt her whole world fall apart as John’s friend left her to join the group of visitors and they departed for the women to continue their work.
Elizabeth knew he would never be hers now and her dreams were broken along with her heart. That night her mother sensed her despair and tried to reassure her but Elizabeth shrugged her away and ran out into the night. How foolish she had been; John Taylor would never have married her. She was nothing to him; she was surprised he even remembered her.
Before she knew it, she had run from her home in Mary Tavy to Wheal Betsy in half the time it normally took her and as the rain began to fall it mixed with the tears that fell from her cheeks. Thunder made her jump but she no longer cared for the weather, for the future or even for herself. The man she loved was to marry another. Her life was over.
The rain got heavier and it wasn’t long before she was drenched, staring up at the dark sky with anguish. No one knew where to find her; no one would look for her anyway. It would be fitting to die by the mine that she had sacrificed her life for and now it was time…
Lightning suddenly lit up the sky and for a second, Elizabeth thought she saw the silhouette of a broad shouldered man stood by the engine house gazing her way but then almost immediately thunder crashed so loudly it took her breath away. She didn’t want to run for shelter. She wanted the lightning to strike her, as it must surely do if she stood there much longer.
Sobbing she waited for her life to be taken when with awe she watched a golden fork of lightning hit Wheal Betsy’s chimney stack and an eerie rumbling sound filled the air. The next moment, someone had grabbed her hand and had pulled her to safety. They had fallen together into a heap on the soggy, marshy ground and through her tears and the incessant rain; Elizabeth peered up into her rescuer’s eyes. It was Josiah who she had met earlier. He pulled her close and his body was warm and comforting. When she looked around again, the rain had eased a little and she was able to see that the chimney of the engine house had moved so that it now leaned at a strange angle. How lucky they were that it hadn’t fallen and swept them away.
Very lucky. Elizabeth realised that she was grateful. Perhaps she didn’t want to die after all. Josiah gazed down at her and warmth filled her despite the coldness of the rain. She belonged where she was.
Several years later Elizabeth would recount that night to her pupils, omitting certain details but explaining how the power of the storm struck the chimney of Wheal Betsy. That was why it now leaned. The story reminded her of the importance of life and how fortunate she was. Lucky to have met the true man of her dreams, her rescuer, the man she loved with all her heart. Now she couldn’t even remember who John Taylor was, even if everyone else could…
© Rebecca Mansell 2011