Chapter 20705928

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-03-19
Page Number363
Word Count1771
Last Corrected2013-04-30
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleFacing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines
article text


Facing Death.



BY G.A. HENTY, (Author of "Times of Peril: a Tale of India.")

A Row of brick-built houses with slate roofs, at the edge of a large mining village in Stafford shire. The houses are dingy and colourless, and without relief of any kind. So are those in the

next row, so in the street beyond, and through oat the whole village. There is a dreary mono, tony about the place, and if some giant could come and pick up all the rows of houses, and change their places one with another, it is a question whether the men, now at work, would notice any difference whatever until they entered the house standing in the place of that which they had left in the morning. There is a church, and a vicarage half hidden away in the trees in ita pretty old-fashioned garden; there are two or three small red-bricked dissenting chapels, and the doctor's house, with a bright brass knocker and plate on the door. There are no other build ing? *}»»• the average ; and it needs not the high chimneys, and engine-houses with winding gear, dotting the surrounding country, to notify the fact that Stokebridge is a mining village. It is early in the afternoon, and many of the women come to their doors and looked curiously after a miner, who, in his working clothes, and black with coal dust, walks rapidly towards his house, with his head bent down, and his thick felt hat slouched over his eye*. !! £L- BiU Haden she work> •* *n« * Vaughan.'" "What brings he up at this hour ?" " Summat wrong, I'll be bound." Bill Haden stopped at the door of his house in the row first spoken of, lifted the latch, and went In. He walked along a narrow passage into the back room. His wife, who was standing at the waahing-tub, turned round with a surprised ex olamation, and a bulldog with half-a-doeen round tumbling puppies sorambled out of a buket by tl» fin, and rushed to greet him.

" What is it, Bill ? what's brought thee home before time V For a moment Bill Haden did not answer, but stooped, and as it were mechanically lifted the dog and stroked hia head. " There's blood on thy hands, BUI. What be wrong with *cc ?" "It bain't none of mine, last," the man said, in an unsteady voioe. "It be Jack's. He is gone." " Not Jack Simpson V "Ay, Jack Simpaoq; the mate I ha' worked with ever since we were butties together. A fall just came as we worked side by side in the stall, and it broke his neck, and he's dead." The woman dopped into a chair, threw her apron over her head, and cried aloud, partly at the loss of her husband's mate, partly at the thought of the narrow escape he had himself had.

" Now, lass," her husband said, " there be no time to lose. It be for thee to go and break it to his wife. I ha' come straight on, a purpose. I thawt to do it, but I feel like a gal myself, and it had best be told her by another woman." Jane Haden took her apron from her face. " Oh, Bill, how can I do it, and she ill, and with a two-month baby ? I misdoubt me it will kill her." " Thou'at got to do it," Bill said doggedly, M and thou'd beat be quick about it; it won't be many minutes afore they bring him in." When Bill spoke in that way his wife knew, as he said, that she'd got to do it, and without » word she rose and went out, while her husband stood glaring into the fire, and still patting the bulldog in bis arms. A tear falling on hia hand startled him. He dropped the dog and gave it a kick, passed his sleeve across his eyes, and said angrily: " Blest if I baint a crying like a gal. Who'd a thawt it ? Well, well, poor old Jack ! he was a good mate too,"—and Bill Haden proceeded to light his pipe. Slowly and reluctantly Mrs. Haden passed along the row. The sad errand on which she was going was one that has often to be discharged in a Targe colliery village. The women who had seen Bill go in were still at their doors, and had been joined by others. The news that he had come in at this unusual hour had passed about quickly, and there was a general feeling of uneasiness among the women, all of whom had husbands or relatives below ground. When, therefore, Jane Haden came out with signs of tears on her cheeks, her neighbors on either side at once assailed her with questions. M Jack Simpson's killed by a fall," she said, " and I ha' got to break it to his wife. Rapidly the news spread along the row, from door to door, and from group to group. The first feeling was everywhere one of relief that it was not their turn this time; then there was a chorus of pity for the widow. "It will go hard with her, 1' was the general verdict Then the little groups broke up, and went back to their work of getting ready for the return of their husbands from the pit at 4 o'clock. One or two only, of the most intimate with the Simpsons, followed Jane Haden slowly down the Btreet to the door of their house, and took up a position a short distance off, talking quietly together, in case they might be wanted, and with the intention of going in after the news was broken, to help com fort the widow, and to make what preparations were needed for the hut incoming of the late master of the house. It was but a minute or two they had to pause, for the door opened again, and Jane Haden beckoned them to come in.

It had, as the gossips had predicted, gone hard with the young widow. She was sitting before the fire when Jane entered, working, and rooking the cradle beside with her foot At the sight of her visitor's pale face, and tear-stained cheeks, snd quivering lips, she had dropped her work and stood up, with a terrible presentiment of evil—with that dread which is never altogether absent from the mind of a collier's wife. She did not speak, but stood with wide-open eyes staring at her visitor. "Mary, my poor girl," Mrs. Haden began. That was enough; the whole truth burst upon her. " He is killed ?" she gasped. Mrs. Haden gave no answer in words, but her face waa sufficient as she made a step forward towards the slight figure which swayed unsteadily before her. Mary Simpson made no sound save a gasping sob, her hand went to her heart, and then she fell in a heap on the ground, before Mrs. Haden, prepared as she was, had time to clasp her. "Thank God," Jane Haden said, as she went to the front door and beckoned the otheas in. "she hss fainted." " Ay, I thawt as much," one of the women said," and a good job too. It's always best so till he is brought home, snd things sre straightened up." Between them Mary Simpson was tenderly lifted and carried upstairs and laid on the bed of a lodger's room there. The cradle was brought up and put beside it, and then Jane Haden took her seat by the bed, one woman went for the doctor, while the others went down to prepare the room below. In a short time all that re mained of Jack Simpson was borne home on a stretcher, on the shoulders of six of his fellow workmen, snd laid in the darkened room. The doctor came and went for the next two days, and then his visits ceased. It had gone hard with Mary Simpson. She had passed from one long fainting fit into another, until at last she lay as quiet as did Jack below ; and the doctor, murmuring " A weak heart, poor little woman ; the shock was too much for her," took his departure for the last time from the house. Then Jane Haden, who had not left her friend's Bide ever sipce she was carried up stairs, wrapped the baby in a Bhawl, and went home, a neighbour carrying the cradle. When Bill Haden came home from work he found the room done up, and the table laid for tea, and the kettle on the fire. His wife was sitting by it with the baby on her lap. "Well, lass," he said, as he entered the room, "so thepoor gal's gone. I heard it as I came along. Thou'sthadahardtwodsyson't Hulloal what's that?" " It's the baby, Bill," his wife said. " What hast brought uu here for ?" ho asked roughly. Jane Haden did not answer directly, but stand.

ing in front of her husband removed the hand* kerchief which covered the baby's face as he lay on her arm. " Look at him, Bill; he's something like Jack, don't thou see it?" 41 Not a bit of it," he Baid gruffly. " Kids don t take after their father, as pups do." MI can see the likeneat quite plain, BilL Now,' she went on, laying her hand on hia shoulder, "I want to keep him. We ain't got none of our own, Bill, and I can't abear the thought of his going to the House." Bill Haden stood irresolute. " I shouldn't like to think of Jack's kid in the House ; still he'll be a heap of trouble in the house—worae nor a dozen pupa, and no chanceof winning a prize with him nohow, or of selling him, or of swopping him if his points don't turn out right Still, lass, the trouble will be thine, and by the time he's ten he'll begin to earn bis grub in the pit; so, if thy mind be set on it, there's 'n end o' the matter. Now let's have tea; I ain't had a meal fit for a dog for the last two days, and Juno ain't got her milk regular." So little Jadt. Simpson became a member of the Haden family, and his father and mother were laid to rest in the burying ground on the hill-side above the village. (to bi continukd.)