Chapter 20706494

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Chapter NumberIV (CONTINUED)
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-04-23
Page Number522
Word Count3263
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleFacing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines
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Facing Death.


CHAPTER IV.— (Continued.)

BY G. A. HENTY, in the Union Jack.

NO sooner did Mr. Merton hear of the resolu tion of the miners to destroy the engines than he sat down and wrote an urgent letter to Sir John Butler.

" Ib there anything else, Jack V " I don't know, sir. If the master* could be warned of the attack they might get a few viewer* and firemen and make a sort of defence ; but if the men's blood's up it might go hard with them; and it would go bard with you if you were known to have taken the news of it" "I will take the risk of that," Mr. Merton said. "Directly it is dark I will set out. What are you going to do, Jack f" " I've got my work marked out," Jack said. "Td rather not tell you till it's all over. Good bye, sir ; Harry is waiting for the letter." Mr. Merton did not carry out his plans. As soon as it was dark he left the village, bat a hundred yards out he came upon a party of men, evidently posted as sentries. These roughly told him that it he didn't want to be chucked into the canal he'd best go home to bed ; and this, after trying another road with the same result, he did. Jack walked with Harry as far as the railway station, mentioning to several friends he met that he was off again. The lads crossed the line, went out oi the opposite booking-offloe, and set off— for it was now past 5, and already dark—at the top of their speed in different directions. Jack did not stop till he reached the engine-house of the Vaughan mine. The pumps were still clank ing inside, and the water streaming down the shoot. Peeping carefully in, to see that his friend, John Ratcliffe, was alone, Jack entered. " Well, John," he said, " the engine's still going." "Ay, Jack; but if what's more nor one has told me to-day be true it be for the last time." N Look here, John ; Mr. Brook has been a good master, will you do him a good turn t" M Ay, lad, if I can ; I've held on here, though they've threatened to chuck me down the shaft; but I'm a married man, and can't throw away my life." "I don't ask you to, John. I want you to work hard here with me till 6 o'clock strikes, and then go home as usual." " What dost want done, lad t" " What steam* is th«re in the boiler 1" "Only about 161b. I'm just knocking off, and have banked the fire up." " All right, John. I watit you to help me fix the fire hose, the short length, to that blow-off cook at the bottom of the boiler. We can un screw the pipe down to the dram, and can fasten the hose to it with a union, I expect You've got some unions, haven't you t" " Tes, lad ; and what then 1" " That's my business, John. I'm going to hold this place till the Boldiers come ; and I think that with 201b. of steam in the boiler, and the hose, I can keep all the miners of Btokebridge out At any rate, Til try. Now, John, set to work. I want thee to go straight home, and then no one will suspect thee of having a hand in the matter. I'll go out when thou dost, and thou canst swear, if thou art asked, that there was not a soul in the house when thou earnest away." "Thou wilt lose thy life, Jack." "That's my business," Jack said. "I think not. Now act to work, John; give me a spanner, and let's get the pipe off the cook at once." John Ratcliffe set to work with a will, and in twenty minutes the unions were screwed on and the hoae attached, a length of 30ft, which was quite sufficient to reaoh to the window, some Bft above the ground. Along by this window ran a platform. There was another, and a surlier, window on the other side. While they were working John Ratcliffe tried to dissuade Jack from carrying out his plan. "It's no use, John. I mean to save the engines, and so the pit They'll never get in ; and no one knows I am here, and no one will Buspect me. None of 'em will know my voice, for they won't bring boys with them, and dad won't be here. There, it's striking 6. Let me just drop a rope out of the window to climb in again with. Now we'll go out together ;do thou lock the door, take the key, and go off home. Like enough they'll aak thee for the key, or they may bring their sledges to break it in. Anyhow it will make no difference, for there are a couple of bolts inside, and I shall make it fast with bars. There, that'B right Good night, John. Re member, whatever comes of it, thou knowest nought of it Thou earnest away and left the place empty, as usual, and no one there."

° Good-bye, lad. Fd stop with 'co and share thy risk, but they'd know I waa here, and my life wouldn't be worth the price of a pot o' beer. Don't forget, lad, if thou lowerat the water, to damp down the fire and open the valves." Jack, left to himself, clambered up to the window and entered the engine-houseagain, threw aome fresh coal on the fire, heaped a quantity of ooal against the door, and jammed several long iron ban against it Then he lighted his pipe and sat listening, occasionally getting up to hold a lantern to the steam gauge as it crept gradu ally up. "Twenty-five pounds," he said ; "that will be enough to throw the water 50 or 60 yards on a level, and the door of the winding-engine's not more than 30, so I can hold them both if they try to break in there." He again banked up the fires, and sat think ing. Harry would be at the magistrate's by a quarter to 6. By 6 o'clock Sir John could be on his way to Birmingham for troops ; fifteen miles to drive—say an hour and a-half. Another hour for the soldiers to start, and three hours to do the nineteen miles to the Vaughan, half-past 11 —perhaps half-an-hour earlier, perhaps half* an-hour later. There was no fear that there was plenty of water. The boiler was a large one, and was built partly into, partly out of, the engine-house. That is to say, while the furnace door, the gauges, and the safety-valve were inside, the main portion of the boiler was out side the walla. The blow-off oock was 2in. dia meter, and the nozzle of the hose an inch and a-half. It would take some minutes then, even with the steam at a pressure of 251b. to the inch, to blow the water out, and a minute would, he waa certain, do all that was needed. Not even when, upon the first day of his life in the pit, Jack sat hour after hour alone in the darkness, did the time seem to go so slowly as it did that evening. Onoe or twice he thought he heard footsteps, and crept cautiously up to the window to listen, but each time, convinced of his error, he returned to his place on a bench near the furnace. He heard the hours strike, one after another, on the Stokebrldge churoh clock—B, 9,lo—and then he took his post by the window and listened. A quarter of an hour passed, and then there was a faint confused sound. Nearer it came, and nearer, until it swelled into the trampling of a crowd of many hundreds of men. They came along with laugh ing and rough jests, for they had no thought of opposition—no thought that any one waa near them. The crowd moved forward until they were within a few yards of the engine-house, and then one, who seemed to be in command, said, M Smash the door in with your sledges, lads." Jack had, as they approached, gone down to the boiler and had turned the blow-off oock, and the boiling water swelled the strong leathern hose almost to bunting. Then he went back to the window, threw it open, and stood with the nozzle !? his hand. "Hold !" he shouted out in loud dear tones. " Let no man move a step nearer for his life." The mob stood silent, paralysed with surprise. Jack had spoken without a tinge of the local accent, and as none of the boys were there his voice was quite unreoognised. M Who is he P "It's a stranger!" and other sentences, were muttered through the throng. " Who are you!" the leader asked, recovering from his surprise. M Never mind who I am," Jack said, standing well back from the window, lest the light from the lanterns which aome of the men carried might fall on his face. " I am here in the name of the law. I warn you to desist from your evil design. Go to your homes ; the soldiers are on their way, and may be here any minute. More over, I have means here of destroying any man who attempts to enter." There was a movement in the crowd. M The aoldien are ooming," ran from meuth to mouth, and the more timid began to move towards the outside of the crowd. "Stand firm, lads, it be a lie," shouted the leader. "Thee baint to be frightened by one man, beast 'cc ? What! 500 Staffordshire minen afeared o' one? Why, yell be the laughing stock of the country I Now, lads, break in the door ; we'll soon see who be yon chap who talks ao big." There was a rush to the door, and a thunder ing clatter as the heavy blows of the sledge hammers fell on the wood ; while another party began an assault upon the door of the winding engine house. Then Jack, with closely-pressed lips and set face, turned the cock of the nozzle. Then with a hiss the scalding water leaped out in a stream. Jack stood well forward now and with the hose swept the crowd, as a fireman might sweep a burning building. Driven by the tremendous force of the internal steam, the boil ing water knocked the men in front headlong over ; then, as he raised the nozzle and scattered the water broadcast over the crowd, wild yells, screams, and curses broke- on the night air. Another move, and the column of boiling fluid fell on those engaged on the other engine-house door, and smote them down. Then Jack turned the oock again, and the stream of water ceased. It wan but half a minute since he had turned it on, but it had done its terrible work. A score of men lay on the ground, rolling in agony ; others danced, screamed, and yelled in pain; othen, less severely scalded, filled the air with cursing; while all able to move made a wild rush back from the terrible building. When the wild cries had a little subsided, Jack called out— "Now, lads, you can oome back safely. I have plenty more hot water, and I could have scalded the whole of you as badly as those in front had I wanted to. Now I promise, on my oath, not to turn it on again if you will come and carry off your mates who are here. Take them off home as quick as you can, before the soldiers come. I don't want to do you harm. You'd all best be in bed as soon as you can." The men hesitated, but it waa clear to them all that it had been in the power of their unknown foe to have inflicted a far heavier punishment upon them than he had done, and there was a ring of truth and honesty in his voice which they could not doubt So after a little hesitation a number of them came forward, and lifting the men who had fallen near the engine-house carried them off; and in a few minutes there was adeep

sflenoe where, just before, a very pandemonium had seemed let loose. Then Jack, the strain over, sat down and cried like a child. Half an hour later, listening intently, he heard a deep sound in the distance. " Here come th« soldiers," he muttered; "it is time for me to be off." He glanced at the steam gauge, and saw that the steam was falling, while the water gauge showed that there was still sufficient water for safety, and he then opened the window at the back of the building and dropped to the ground. In an instant he was seized in a powerful grasp. " I thought ye'd be coming out here, and now I've got ye," growled a deep voice, which Jack recogni-.ed as that of Roger Hawkins, the terror of Stokebridge. For an instant his heart seemed to stand still at the extent of his peril; then, with a sudden wrench, he swung round and faced his captor, twisted his hands in his handkerchief, and drovo his knuckles into his throat Then came a crashing blow in his face—another, and another. With head bent down, Jack held on his grip with the gameness and tenacity of a bulldog, while the blows rained on his head, and hia assailant, in his desperate effort to free himself, swung his body hither and thither in the air a* a bull might swing a dog which had pinned kirn. Jack felt his senses going—a dull daied feeling came over him. Then he felt a crash, as his adversary reeled and fell—and then all was dark. It could have been but a few minutes that he lay thus, for he awoke with the sound of a thunder of hones' hoofs and a clatter of swords in the yard on the other side of the engine-house. Rousing himself he found that he still grasped the throat of the man upon him. With a vague sense of wonder whether his foe was dead he rose to his feet and staggered off, the desire to avoid the troops dispersing all other ideas in his brain. For a few hundred yards he staggered along, swaying like a drunken man, and knowing nothing of where he was going ; then he stumbled and fell again, and lay for hours insensible. It was just the faint break of day when he came to, the cold of the morning having brought him to himself. It took him a few minutes to recall what had happened and his whereabouts. Then he made his way to the canal, which was close by, washed the blood from hit face, and then set out to walk to Birmingham, Ho was too shaken and bruised to make much pmgrssa, and after walking for a couple of boon oropi into the shelter of a haystack and went off to sleep for many hours. After it was dusk, fat the evening, he started again, and made his way to bis lodgings at 10 o'clock that night It was a fortnight before he could leave his room, to bruised and cut was his face, and a month mot* before the last sign of the struggle was obliter ated, and he felt that he could return to Stoke bridge without his appearance being notioad. There great changes had taken place. Tho military had found the splintered door, tho how, and the still steaming water iv the yard, and tho particulars of the occurrence which had taken place had been pretty accurately judged. They were indeed soon made public by the stories of the scalded men, a great namber of whom wore forced to place themselves in the hands of tho doctor, many of them having had very narrow escapes of their lives, but none of them had actually succumbed. In searching round tho engine-house the soldiers had found a man, an* parently dead, his tongue projecting from hja mouth. A surgeon had acoompanied them, and a vein having been opened and water dashed In his face he gave signs of recovery. He had been taken off to gaol as being concerned in the attack on the engine-house ; but no evidence could bo obtained against him, and he would have been released had he not been recognised aa a man who had, five years before, effected a daring escape from Portland, where he was undergoing a life sentence for a brutal manslaughter. The defeat of the attempt to destroy tho Vaughan engine was the death-blow of tho strike. Among the foremost in the attack, and therefore so terribly scalded that they were disabled for weeks, were most of the leaders of the strike in the pits of the district, and, their voices silenced, and their counsel discredited, the men two days after the attack had a great meeting, at which it was resolved almost unanimously to go to work on the masters' terms. Great excitement was caused throughout tho district by the publication of the details of tho defenoe of the engine-house, and the moot straw* ous efforts were made by Mr. Brook to disoover the person to whom he was so indebted. Tho miners were unanimous in describing him aa a stranger, and as speaking like a gentleman ; and there was great wonder why any one who had done so great a service to the mine owners should conceal his identity. Jack's secret was, however, well kept by the three or four who alone knew it, and who knew too that his life would not bo safe for a day did the colliers, groaning and smarting over their terrible injuries, discover to whom they were indebted for them. Upon bis return homo he was greeted by Diok Haden with the remark— "Well, tfack, I'm main glad thou art back. Dost know, lad, that bottle o' gin o* thine was the best present that ever were made me, for hadn't it been for that I should ha' been brofight home with my flesh all scalded to rags, like some of the other chaps. Why didn't come home afore, lad ? I've been wanting thee sorely." " I couldn't get away before, dad; but I'm ready to go to work to-morrow." [TO BX COKTUftntD.]

A row days ago a letter was posted in New Orleans, addressed as follows : Swift at the train panue your waft Stop not for flag or banner, Until you reach Vim Sophie Kay, In Clinton, Louisiana. Best Haste's first poetic "fragment" com* menoed in these words : I tipped the nectar of her lipa; I ripped and horarad o'er her, And the last two lines were as follows : Her father's hoof flashed on the toene. I'm wiier, now, and torer. " Is your wife a Democrat or a Republican f" asked one Rookland citizen of another in • store one morning. " She's neither," was the prompt response, and then glancing cautiously around and sinking his voice to a hoarse whisper he ex plained : " She's a Home Ruler."