Chapter 20705809

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-03-12
Page Number329
Word Count5283
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleThe Mine by the Sea
article text

The Storyteller.

The Mine by the Sea.


THE little seaport town of Saint by is built upon the shores of a natural harbour, formed by a break in the line of cliffs which, with but few interruptions, stretch along the north-western

coast of the county of Fellshire. The white washed houses perched in irregular lines upon the steep hill-sides, and long disused fort com manding tho bay, and the ships and fishing* smacks moored to the quays within the harbour, give an air of pictureequeness and cheerfulness to the town which is hardly sustained by a nearer ?iew of the narrow dingy streets, and an ex perience of the many mingled odours of the quays and beach. Yet tho little town ia prosperous in its way ; a considerable trade is done in the ex port of coal und iron ore from the mines of the neighbourhood ; many boats are employed in tho fishing trade ; beside, Saintby is the market town whither the farmers of tbo surrounding district every week bring the produce of their farms for sale. Immediately to the south of Saintby the cliff* make a bold sweep in a westerly direction, and the headland thus formed, on which a light house has been built, is always Bpoken of by the country people under the general name of " The Heads." Further on the cliff* recede again and toon come to an end, being succeeded by a long stretch of very fertile level country skirting the sea. The commencement of this plum is only about five miles in a direct line from Saintby, and this configuration of the land has given rise to a legend among tho people that the headland had once toon an island, tho sea then flowing over the site of the present Saiutby, and through the deep valley which stretches behind the cliffy and ends in the level tract of oountry spoken of. Saintby in a quiet dull little town, yet it has sights and wonders of its own. Its coal mines, Bunk close to the shore, their underground work ingd atretchiug for miles beneath the bottom of the sea, are, though the natives do not think bo, its moat remarkable feature. And of these, the "Westray mine, which was situated on a strip of land at the base of the sandstone cliff, aud im mediately overlooked the sea, was, at the time of my story, one of tuo largest and most productive. Mrs. Benson kept the toll-bur at Raby, a little haiulot lying on the main road from Saintby to Rivington, the nearest market town to the south. I say Mrs. Benson kept it, although her husband's name was painted Above the door, but ho was now, after an advouturous life as a sailor in the old fighting days-of the navy, a crippled bed ridden old man, and all the work of collecting the tolls, keeping the house bright and clean, and cultivating the little patch of garden belonging to it, was performed by Mrs. Benson and her daughter Agnes, a handsome freeh-featured girl of eighteen. Raby was about two milea from Saintby, and lay on the inlaud slope of the lime cliffd. To any one who chose to climb from tho seushuro up the desolate faco of those precipitous cliffd, on mounting to the summit a strangely different

scene presented itself to hii eyes. The hfll-nch*, both that on which he stood and that facing him, and separated by the narrow Talley at his feet, were covered with cluttering tree* and rich meadow land, and completely sheltered by the rocky barrier from all rough winds and the blighting touch of the sea foam that in the wild winter storms was often flung high op the slopes of the seaward side. " Mother, here's George again 1" siid Agnes, one autumn evening, as she was ironing her mother's caps on a broad table beneath the cottage window, just at the moment when the shadow of a visitor on his way to the door fell over her work. " Come thi ways in, George—come thi ways in!" cried, in a cheery but not very musical voice, the old woman, who was occupied in bend* . ing over the fire in preparation of oat-cakes for the family supper. She did not turn to him immediately, evidently being on too familiar terms with him for ceremony. The door opened, and with slow slightly bait* ing step the visitor came forward. He was a tall man, but stooped a good deal, leaning on a stick that he alwaya carried with him ; this, with the perceptible drag of his left foot in walking, being the result of a terrible accident in the Westray mine, in which he, together with many other*, had suffered. But it was also to this accident that his friendship with the Bensons was owing. About five years before, young Tom Benson, Agnea's brother, when working in the mine, was crushed to death by the fall of a huge mass of coal, and in the attempt to rescue his friend Oeorge Heimera—for that was bis name—had also been struck, and suffered injuries from which he had never quite recovered. Ever since her Tom's death Mrs. Benson had welcomed Heimen to the cottage, and of late he had got into the habit of coming there very frequently, under the pretext of giving Agnes writing lessons. His faco was pale aud thin, with no special regularity or beauty in his features, but still with something characteristic in it—a look of clever ness and power, with a curious earnestness of manner that made one soon forget the rough* hewn lines on his face. He came forward into the kitchen. "Well, mother!"—for ever siuoe her aon't death he called her by this name—"you look finely to-day. Aud so does Agner. How's the old man ?"' •'Badly, George, badly enough; them rheu matics plagues him terrible. But, hist, he hears every word in t' next room. Hast had thi supper ?" 11 Nay, I want no supper; thank you all the same," he answered, and turned toward Agnes. " I came to ask if Agnes would have her lesson to-night, or would come a walk on t* cliff. It's so bonny fine with sun setting over t' sea, Agnes I" He spoke thus, leaning over the dresser, as the long table was called, at which Agnes was still continuing her ironing operations. " Ay, George, tak her out—tak her out a bit," said the old woman. "She's been that queer o* late I canna mak out what's come to her. Why, what dost think ? She gave sixpenny change for a fourpenny bit at tow-bar this morning ; and what wi' breaking things and forgetting what a body says she makes me clean daft sometimes. Thee tak her in the fresh air, and see if thou can brighten her up a bit." " Nay, mother, there's this ironing to finish." The girl looked round with a deep blush upon her face and a supplicating look toward her mother, but the old woman would not heed this, and Agnes had to get her bonnet and shawl— for the autumn evenings were now rather chilly —and accompany George in a stroll on the cliff*. "You mustn't quite believe all mother says about me," she began in a low voice, as they sauntered together up the lawn, sheltered by tall hedges rich with autumn flowers on the hillside. "But, George, I don't know how it is," she added, turning with quick impulsive gesture to him ; " you're patient aud kind, and mother— well, she's impatient and kind, and other people, they're juat about the aamo as they always were; but things don't seem to fit in now »s they used to—they don't always in this world, do they, George ?" " Why, what do you know about all that V cried George, in honest amazement; and then he came nearer to her with an instinctive impulse of help, though aa he did this she slightly drew away from him. " Men's troubles and women's aro not always alike," he went on, with a softened voice; " but when things go wrong with me, Agooa, I've got a bit of philosophy for them: keep on and worry them till they come right again—make them come right. One can only do one's best, you know. There's a deal o' things wrong with me just now at the pit and other places beside ; but 1 know this—l'll have a fight before I give iv. There's the master wants money badly for his son, who's in the army, and I tell him he's working the coal far too near the sea— that's one thing. And sometimes, when I'm down spirited, I tbiuk I'll give it up and go to places where men don't work in holes in the dark, and where there's such beautiful things as a collier like me can only dream of sometimes. Still, I'll stick to it aud fight it out. But, Agnes, what troubles thee? Can I help? I'm strong enough for two, laud, and thou know'st I'll do it if I em." " Nay, George, it's only silly fancies of mine, that's all," she eaid, bending over some flowers by the wayside, and so contriving to hide her tears. " Things are gone a bit awry, but per hapa they'll come straight some time." Thoy had now reached the edge of the cliff, and wore leaning upou the grassy hedge that had been plaoed there to prevent the cattle falling over. The sun was setting behind the western sea, with all the broad crimson glories of illumined clouds and glittering expanse of waters. Agnes had taken off her bounet and laid it beside her, Splendidly beautiful she looked as she stood there, with long wavy hair of softest golden, exquisitely moulded features, and complexion bright aud roay with the hues of country life. Her girlish figure and innocent child-like ways almost entirely concealed^ a strength of will and latent passion of which none but Heimera had as yet a suspicion. He stood by her side, while his eyes wandered over that sccue—tho tranquil flushing waters utrotched out before them, the glories of cloud laud around and above, and the long range of Bcarped cliffs rising above the sea line to right aud loft. And thon they were fixed upon her

'fact,1 lib up also with that ethereal brightneu from the vert, and softly and slowly he spoke again: 41 Agnes, I've nude up my miod to speak it oat, come what may ! In going to tell » bit o' my troubles that p'raps thee never guessed at. It's only ten years since I came here, and before that —well, never mind, it s all over and done for now. Things had been different with me before. I spoke different, lived different from what I do now. All at once I found myself ruined, with my name blackened for ever, and I chose men should think me dead. I went to the pit and worked there. Tom, thy brother, was the first that showed me any kindnesi, then tby mother, and than—Agnes, there was a bit of kindness iv thy voice and ways, and I began to hope a little. And I came o' nights to the toll-bar, and the more I came the more I hoped and longed for thee. And now it's out. Agnen, ouoat thou care a bit for a poor rough fellow like I am ?" * Ob, George! I never thought—of that," she faltered out " Sever thought I" said he, laying hold of her hand with passionate grasp. "Never thought, when I used to guide these little fingers o' winter nights in our schooling, how I longed to aeiie them and tell thee all, or that when we wandered about on these cliffs and talked o* all strange things in the big world, I was any* thing more than the stern old school-master? Well, IwasafooL Curse it all!" and he stamped with sodden rage and impatience. Her head was bent low, and the team were fast ailing again. M Agner, dear, look up," he went on, with a sudden change in his voice; " I see it's no use ; I was a fool to think auy woman could care for me again. Woll, never tnind. I won't trouble you in this way any more. But, oh, if you could only love me, child !" he broke out with another burst of passion. VI would make you so happy —happier far than any of the poor fools about here could do!" " Oh, George, didn't I say it was all a mistake the way things go ?" sho said, looking appealiugly into his face. "You were so good, George, I never thought of that, and then—there was •jnother, and be used to court me, though neither you nor mother knew; and I love him, oh, George, so much ! But 1 don't know how it is, things have gone wrong, and I dou't kuow whether heoares for menow,audl'mso wretched!" Heiuvvs was too geuerous to ask the name. Still, ho thought he might watch over and help her, and there waa no knowing but Bbc might learn to love him at last So, with some hope yet left* he talked of other matters, the fair at Saxby, the new steamer anchored in Saintby harbour, and so on, till it was time to return to the cottage. He would not go in that night, but wandered instead for many hours by the sea shore with the gently murmuring'waves and the countless gleaming stars for company. Then he ret urned to the mine in which he was overlooking, and did not leave it till again the sun was setting on the following day. A week went past, when ono night George, weary and disheartened (for things were going on very badly in the mine), strolled along the beach till he came to some seaweed-covered rooks. Lying down and resting his head upon his hand, he remained there motionless for a long time with his eyes fixed upon the waves that in restless mood were beating upon the rocks before him. It was about 9 o'clock, and the night was now very dark. All at onoe he heard footsteps approaching by the narrow path which wound along the side of the cliff at a little distance above his head. fie looked up, though the darkness was too great to see anyone, but at the same time he heard voices, and evidently the speakers had stopped jußt above where he was lying. At the same instant he recognised their voices. They were Agnee Benson and her cousin Jim Maeaey, a good-looking hard-working fellow, ignorant and thoughtless, and too fond of spending hit money in publichouses, with no ambition to be any thing higher in life than a working collier, but with no worse faults that Heimers knew of. It was bitter torture for him to listen, but he could not move from where he was without being discovered, and he did not wish that The lovers' quarrel had evidently been made up ; their talk was half baDter and half in earnest of a happy future in which none but themselves should have a part, and George detected in the soft tones of Agnes's voice a joyous riDg that be had not before heard in it. Then came tbe sound of kisses interchanged, and still George bad to listen. Then they paased away up tbe hillside, in the direction of Agoes's borne. George Heimers stood erect, his back against the cliff. All was still, save for the long melan choly cry of a sea gull that chanced to fly past him, and the hoarse Bound of the waves beating at his feet with the grating rattle of tbe pebbles as each spent wave drew back from the shore. The thick darkness was about him and within his souL Terrible to him was the clamour of those waves as they rushed up the beach, and then retiring dragged with them their prey from the shore. The sound was in his ears like the dirge of his hopes overthrown, his life drawn downward, downward, by the waves of pitiless fate to the depths of that ocean of despair that never more gives up its dead.

Chapter 11. A strange sight is a coal mine. Wonderfully picturesque with its streets and lanes and alleys, its unending corridors and countless chambers of the dead. Toe men there, with blackened faces and scanty attire, seem of another race from those above ground, and the feeble lights gloaming in tho midst of the darkness give a weird unreal aspect to the scene. „ The only Bounds heard are those of xho coal waggons slowly pushed along by boys towards the mouth of the pit, and in the narrow pass ages, where the men are at work, the claug of their pickaxes as they cleave their way through the great rocks of coal. Men are uot the only beings here. There are horaes, that have not seen the daylight for many a year, to draw the waggons in the broader passage*, aud sometimes, if the light of the lamp is turned toward the ground, the bright little oyea of rats (how they came to that under world 1 don't kuow) u'-y be seen peering out of nooks among the walls. There is au almost fearful Bonibreness about the

place. Thoughts that the daylight would at once dispel teem to haunt the air, and the voice* of the men as they wander about, each one, Gideon-like, with hi« lamp and pickaxe, haw a deeper hollower tone than above ground. Two days had passed ; and daring that time) a atoim, long remembered on the coast* had bean raging; but the men in the mine, aecuatomed as they wera to hearing the roar of the waves above their heads, paid little heed to th« in. creased noiae. George Ueimera alone had noticed it, aDd each day had apeot wore time than usmal in examining the supports of the roof. It was 110w nighttime, and he had been super intending tome rather dangerous work in the lower levels, of Masting with gunpowder, which, much against his advice, the owner had ordered. Thb bring done, leaving farther orders for work with the men, George turned away and walkti alone in the direction of the pit's month, carry ing in one hand a large canister containing tha gunpowder ; in the other hia lamp and tie heavy stick that, on account of his lameness, was km constant companion. Even in that imperfceft light it might have been seen that a great change had passed over his face; it was haggard and pinched-looking ; there was a strange restlest glitter in hU eye*, and now and then hia lip* parted with an involuntary quivering movement, quickly pressed together again with that stein set expression that was now habitual to them. Instead of leaving the mine, a suddtm thought seemed to strike him half way, and he turned aside and entered a part of the mine long de serted on account of the danger of working too near the bottom of the sea, but which recently bad been opened ngain ; and, though George bad many times warned the owner of the danger of weakening the supports of tho roof, large quanti ties of coal had been taken from it All was still as he advanced through tW narrow passages, but soon these widened into » mere open space, and as he entered the noise* of the tumultuous waters overhead was fearfully loud. A cold draught cf air smote on him and. made him shiver. The place was knows to tk« colliers as the " Boggart's Hole," or the "Okest'ii Hole." It is an immense low-roofed hall, on* of those natural caverns that exist beneath the ?•» and land; and in the centre waa an abyas, into* whose depths uo human being had ever pene* troted. Tha workings hud bteh carried on along the Bides, and a rude pathway led halfway round, abruptly stopping above the great chasm. The poor light which George held illuoiatd only a narrow circle round bitn, but he know tko place well, and cautiously stepping along reached the part where the last workings had been made, and which was so low that he could touch with his band the black slimy roof, to which gigantic loathsome fungi clung. As be stood there wild fancies stole over him* Loud above sounded the thunderous boom of the> Burf, and beneath him lay, wrapped in eternal darkness, the great mine, stretching for ttilea into the depths of the earth. Ho seated himself on a projecting rock, the canister of powder on the ground at his side, and the lamp held between his kneee. What were his thoughts jutt then ? I know not all—but there was one, fiercer than the clamour of the waves above, mure terrible than the abyss beneath him—he had lost aU, ail I lie looked back upon his life-all had gone wrong from the begiuning, and now, when at last the cup of sweetness had seemed to be so near hia lips he had seen it dashed away. He ground his teeth with rage, and then his passion took another form—his breast heaved, and a great sobbing cry rose to his lips. 11 If she only knew how I lovo her ! Be low I A moment of the love I could give her would be) more than a lifetime of his. But I know that never, never —let me make an end of it. "Ah, and Jim Mausey, too; alight to this powder, and there'd be no victory to any one— the sea would cover us too close for that 1 But tho others ? " Pooh I it's only dying a little sooner; and what is life to stupid toiling drudges like them?" A terrible smile passed over his face; be placed the lamp by hia sido and bent over the canister. Only a light to the powder, and tha rocks above would be riven, and with h mighty burst the sea would rush iv and whelm them all I He took out his knife and proceeded to open the lid of the canister, which by some means had been fastened down too tightly. But, hark! Close beside him, juat beyond the ending of the path, he heard a rustling cracking sound, then a crash, and a huge frag* mttnt of rock rolled down, and he was only just in time to leap aside before the place where be bad stood was covered with shivered portions of it as it descended, and, leaping from ledge to ledge, at last, with sullen roar, was lost in the depth below. Still he listened, for another and more dreadful sound caught his ear—the low swishing sound of falling water. He crept aa near as he could along the narrow pathway, and as he did so his face was sprinkled with the cold spray of the torrent He hold out his hand, and then, touching his lips, tasted the water. It was salt! Still and breathless as a statue he stood for a moment; the next, holding the lamp before him, he was rushing with wild speed down the broken pathway away from the place. As he approached the entrance he stopped, and for a moment looked around in bewilderment —he had mistaken the road, and instead of taking that by which he had come, had followed another, which abruptly stopped—a mass of coal had fallen and broken it off. He had no time to turn back. He threw his lamp down, and, as fortune would hare it, it was not broken, but only fallen on one side about ten feet below; theu, drawing in hia breath, he prepared for the leap. He did not know the ground—tho lamp had gone out. If he leaped he might fall into some deep fissure ; but there was no time to hesitate. He took the leap and fell; the firm ground was beneath him. His arm was bruised and his ankle Bprained, but be hardly felt it Relighting his lamp he dashed along through the narrow passages toward the main where the men were at work. At last ho met a boy slowly dragging along a amall coal waggon. He caught the lad by the uhuulder aud uhouted to him : " Cau you run, Will i" " Ay,.oi can," auswered the boy. " Then run your hardeer, WilL Tell them n

the lower main the water's coming in, and in an hoar it'll all be flooded.'' " Fayther's there!" tbe boy cried, and without another word rushed off. Other boys were sent to the other parts of the mine, forced by George's stern voice to obey, as he told them he would not let one man leave the pit till they were all there. Then he waited. And if any one had seen hfa face as he stood alone a atraug'e change would have been noticed in it There was now a look of such triumphant gladness as for many a year had not rested there. He stretched out hfa arms like one who had just ended some weary labour. Then hfa head sank on hfa bosom, and he mat tered :— " 0 God! Saved! saved I Thou hast kept me from it, and I may yet save them all." Quickly he recovered himself and went into a snail office where he kept hfa books and instru ment*. He took from a box a small revolver and some matches and went out again. He then eet light to a heap of shavings and dry wood lying near the door, and this soon biased up, Nominating the whole place. And again he waited. Boon troop after troop of the men, flying at their utmost speed, reached the pit's mouth, and • fearful sight it was to see the struggling mass of men, each one, with maddened shoots and blows, striving to come nearer to the basket. But George Heimers's voice was heard loud above it all:— "The first that touohes that basket before I tell him I'll shoot that man !" They saw the levelled barrel of the revolver and drew back. "Those that are married, stand here." And in silence the men obeyed him. He then signalled to a certain number of them to eater the basket Not an instant was lost, and they were hoisted out of sight. Tbe others strainad their eyes to watch the ascending mass, calculating how soon it would return to rescue them. Some of tbe men who had their sons with them clasped them tight in their arms, whispering messages to be given if they were lost, for in nearly every case the fathers chose that the boys should go in their plaoe; some sank to the > round muttering prayers that they had never spoken since child* hood, and others listened to George Heimers as he told them there was still hope if they would obey him. Jim Maasey bad been in one of the most dis* tant workings, and was one of the last to reach the pit*s mouth, and now he stood by the wall •party with eyes bent down on something he held in hfa hand—a lock of Agnes's hair that she had given him the night before. Mom than half the number of men were now safe; and the basket, whirled up by those who knew just how much depended upon their work, had just left when George, in the calm voice with which he had spoken before, said : " Men, who's to go next ?" There were only about twenty left, men and boys, whom George had many a time helped by words and deeds ; they remembered this, and all cried at once : "Next tarn's thine, master—we'll come after !" " Thank you, my lads," he answered quietly M I'm not going this time, but I want to send some one in my place. Will you let me V Not so eagerly this time—bat still the answer, "Ay master!' was given. " Jim, come here !" Georgo shouted. " You take my place when it comes again. Nay, lad, you mutt I Remember, Agnes wants you1, Jim, you'll be goo Ito her, won't you ? And tell her sometimes the last words I tried to say were, •God bless both of you'!" Once more the basket descended, the few that were chosen leaped into it, the rope was shaken as the signal to hoist up, and with one tight handgrip George sent Jim on bis way. And as they parted Jim looked at the other's face, and never to hfa dying day did he forget what he ?aw there—the bitterness of death bad passed iiway, and a strange peace was shining forth from hfa eyes. It was the last freight George already had heard the distant thunder of the waters bursting in full flood into the mine. He knew the end was come, and when the basket was ascending he turned away down a side passage that he might not see the agony of the poor men when they found it was too late. Just as the basket reached the level of the upper ground, where hundreds were waiting anxiously to watch the arrival of each company that was saved, a tremendous black cloud rolled tip the pit's mouth, bursting up with a fearful roar high into mid air, and when it had cleared away and the men peered down the shaft, far away in the darkness beneath they c >uld hear the dash of the waves, and sometimes thought they could discern their white gleam as they leaped up the sides of the shaft Jim Massey and several othere volunteered to go down and seek for any who might be still struggling in the water. It was too late when they reaohed the plaoe, and only a few of tbe dead bodies were ever recovered. The mine fa now deserted, and its buildings are in ruina. Some time after the disaster a part of the cliff above it, probably undermined by the action of the waves, fell down one stormy night, and now there fa a great cavern wandering away in dark passages under the cliff where part of the coal mine nad been. It fa easy to penetrate beneath these gloomy arches in a boat during fine weather, and many times in after days Agnes—then a happy wife and mother—would come there with her children on summer days, and tell them the story of how their father's life had been saved. And when she had ended, and leaned back in the boat as they floated on through that silent gloom as of twilight, the large tears would gather in her eyes for him who lay in that unknown tomb of bis far below in some dark cavern of the sea,— Temple Bar.

That man hail i-ure a ]ialnle coTered o'er With steel nr lir.-vn, Hint on the rocky xhora First opotl tlie oozy ovsW r'» \ienTly coat, And risked the living morsel down hia throat Thk number of people alive a year ago, but dead now from " not knowing it was loaded," ia estimated by an American paper at 500, with a few old shotguns yet to hear from,