Chapter 20706640

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-04-30
Page Number554
Word Count3399
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleFacing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines
article text


Facing Death.



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

AT 12 o'clock on a bright summer day Mr. Brook drove up in his dog-cart, with two gentlemen, to the Vaughan mine. One was the Government inspector of the district; the other, a

newly-appointed deputy inspector, whom be was taking his rounds with him, to instruct in his duties. "I am very sorry that Thompson, my manager, is away to-day," Mr. Brook ssid, as they alighted. M Had I known you were coming, I would of course have had him in readiness to go round with you. Is Williams, the underground mana ger, in the pit f he asked the **wfrn-"» l whose duty it was to look after the ascending and de* soending cage, " No, sir; he came np about half an hour ago. Watkins, the viewer, is below." "He must do, then," Mr. Brook said, "but I wish Mr. Thompson had been here. Perhaps you would like to look at the plan of the pit before you go down ? Is Williams's office open V " Tea, sir," the h-.nfcm-.^ answered. Mr. Brook led the way into the office. "Hullo ?" he said, seeing a young tnan at work making a copy of a mining plan; "who are you?" The young man rose, — "Jack Simpson, sir. I work below, but when it's my night shift Mr. Williams allows me to help him here by day." " Ah, I remember you now," Mr. Brook said. "Let me see what you are doing. That's a creditable piece of work for a working oollier, is it not?' he said, holding up a beautifully executed plan. Mr. Hardinge looked with surprise at the draughtsman, a young man of some one-or-two sad-twenty, with a frank, open, pleasant face. " Why. you don't look or talk like a miner," he said. "Mr. Merton, the schoolmaster here, was kind enough to take a great deal of pains with me, sir." " Have you been doing this sort of worklong V , Mr. Hardinge asked, pointing to the plan. " About three or four years," Mr. Brook said promptly. Jack looked immensely surprised. Mr. Brook smiled. v I noticed an extraordinary change la Wll* llama's reports, both in the hand-writing and ex* presaion. Now I understand it Ton work the same stall aa Haden, do you not ?" 44 Tea, sir. but not the same shift; he bad a mate he has worked with ever since my father was killed, so I work the other shift with Har* vey." "Now let us look at the plans of the pit," Mr. Hardinge said. The two inspectors bent over the table and examined the plans, asking a question of Mr. Brook now and then. Jack had tamed to leave, when his employer ceased to speak to him. but Mr. Brook made a motion to him to stay. " What is the die of your furnace f" " It'a an Bft furnace/Mr. Brook replied. " Do you know how many thousand cubic feat of air a minute yon pass I" Mr. Brook shook his head; be left the manage ment of the mine entirely in the hands of his manager. Mr. Hardinge had happened to look at Jack as he spoke ; and the latter, fcMnyi>g the question was addressed to him, answered: "About 8000 ft a minute, sir." " How do you know ?' Mr. Harding asked. " By taking the velocity of the air, sir, and the area of the downcast shaft" " How would you measure the velocity, theo retically ?" Mr. Hardinge asked, curious to see how much the young collier knew. " I should require to know the temperature of the shafts respectively, and the height of the upcast shaft" " How could you do it then ?" " The formula, air, is M=*(t-V h being the ASO-t-x' height of the upcast, t' its temperature, t the temperature of the exterior air, and *=<— 82*" " You are a strange young fellow," Mr. Har dinge said. "May I ask you a question or two?" " Certainly, sir." " Could you work out the cube root of say 999,888,777?" Jaok closed his eyes for a minute, and then gave the correct answer to five places of decimals. The three gentlemen gave an exclamation of surprise. "How on earth did you do that f Mr. Har dingeexclaimed. "It would take me ton minutes to work it out on paper." " I accustomed myself to calculate while I was in the dark, or working," Jack said quietly. "Why you would rival Bidder himself," Mr. Hardinge said ; " and how far have you worked up in figures ?" " I did the differential calculus, air, and then Mr. Merton said that I had bettor stick to the mechanical application of mathematics, instead of going on any farther; that was two years ago." The surprise of the three gentlemen at this simple avowal from a young pitman was un bounded. . Then Mr. Hardinge said:— "We must talk of this again later on. Now let us go down the pit; this young man will do excellently well for a guide. But I am afraid, Mr. Brook, that I shall have to trouble you a good deal. As far as I can see from the plan the mine is very badly laid out, and the ventilation alto gether defective. What is your opinion 1" he asked, turning abruptly to Jack, and wishing to see whether his practical knowledge at all cone* sponded with his theoretical acquirements. " I would rather not say, air," Jack said. "It is not for me to express an opinion as to Mr. i Thompson's plan," 1 v Let us have your ideas," Mr. Brook said.

" Just tell tv frankly what yon would do if yon wen manager of the Vaughan." J&k turned to the plan. " I should widen the air-ways, and split the oarrent; that would raise the number of cubio feet of air to about 12,000 a minute. It is too far for a single current to travel, especially aa the air-ways are not wide ; the friction is altogether too great. I should pot a split in here, take a current round through the old workings to keep them clear, widen these passages, split the current again here, and then make a cut through this new ground so as to take a strong current to sweep the face of the main workings, and carry it off straight to the upcast. But that current ought not to pass through the furnace, but be let in aboTe, for the gas comes off very thick sometimes, and might not be diluted enough with air, going straight to the furnaces." M Tour ideas are very good," Mr. Hardinge said quietly. M Now we'll got into our clothes and go below." So aaying he opened a bag and took out two mining suits of clothes, which, first taking off their coats, he and his companion proceeded to put on over their other garments. Mr. Brook went into his office, and similarly prepared him* •elf ; while Jack, who waa not dressed for min ing, went to the closet where a few suits were hung up for the use of visitors and other*, and prepared to go down. Then he went to the lamp* room and fetched four Davy lamps. While he was away Mr. Brook joined the inspectors. "That is an extraordinary young fellow," Mr. Hardinge said. "Do you know his suggestions are exactly what I had intended to offer to you myself T Ton will have some terrible explosion here unless you make some radical change." That evening the inspectors stayed for the night at Mr. Brook's, and the next day that gentleman went over with them to Wolverhamp too, where he had'some business. His principal object here was to take them to see Mr. Merton, who bad for four years occupied the position of master in an endowed school there, thanks prin cipally to Mr. Brook's influence exerted power* fully in his favour, when he had learnt that it was the schoolmaster who had sent the letter which had had the effect of bringing over the troops when the ooUieries were threatened with destruction. Mr. Merton related to his visitors the history of Jack's efforts to educate himself, and gave them the opinion he had given the lad himself, that he might, had he chosen, have taken a scholarship and then the highest mathematical honours. "He has been working lately at en gineering, and calculating the strains and stresses of iron bridges," he said. M And now, Mr. Brook, I will tell you—and I am rare that yon and these gentlemen will give me your promise of secrecy upon the subject—what I have never yet told to a souL It was that lad who brought me word of the intended attack on the engines, and got me to write the letter to Sir John Butler. But that is not all, sir. It was that boy—for he was but sixteen then—who defended your engine-house against that mob of 500 men I M Bless my heart, Merton, why did you not tell me before t Why. I've punled over that ever since. And to think it was one of my own pit boys who did that gallant action, and I have dome nothing for him !" "He would not have it told, sir. He wanted to go on as a working miner, and learn his busi ness from the bottom. Besides his life wouldn't have been safe in this district for a day if it had been known. But I think you ought to be told of it now. The lad is as modest as he is brave and clever, and would go to his grave without ever letting out that he saved the Vaughan, and indeed all the pits in the district. But, now that he is a man, it is right you should know; but pray do not let him imagine that you an aware of it He |s very young yet, and will rise on his own merits, and would dislike nothing so much as thinking that he owed anything to what he did that night" M What am I to do, Mr. Hardinge ?" Mr. Brook asked, in perplexity. "What would you advise!" "I should give him his first lift at once," Mr. Hardinge said, decidedly. "It will be many months before you have carried out the new scheme for the ventilation of the mine; and, believe me, it will not be safe, if there come a sudden influx of gas, till the alterations are made. Make this young fellow deputy viewer, with special charge to look after the ventilation. In that way he will not have to give instruction to the men as to their work, but will confine bis attention to the ventilation, the state of the air, the doors, and so on. Even then his position will for a time be difficult; but the lad has plenty of aelf-eontrol, and will be able to tide over it, and the men wUI get to see that he really understands his business. You will of course order the under ground manager and viewers to give him every support. The underground manager, at any rate, must be perfectly aware of bis capabilities, as he seems to have done all his paper work for some time." Never were a body of men more astonished than were the pitmen of the Vaughan when they heard that young Jack Simpson was appointed a deputy viewer, with the special charge of the ventilation of the mine. A deputy viewer is not a position of great honour; the pay is scarcely more than that which a getter will earn, and the rank is scarcely higher. This kind of post, indeed, is generally given to a miner of experience, getting past his work—aa care, attention, and knowledge are re* quired rather than hard work. That a young man should be appointed was an anomaly which simply astonished the colliers of the Vaughan. The news was first known on the surface, and as the men came up in the cages the news was told them, and the majority, instead of at once hurry* ing home, stopped to talk it over. "It be the rummest start I ever heard on," one said. "Ah I here comes Bill Haden. Hast heard tf news, Bill ?" " What news ?" ." Why, your Jack made a deputy. What dost think o' that, right over heads o* us all ? Didst e'er hear tell o' such o' thing ?" " No, I didn't," Bill Haden said emphatically. "It's t' first time as e'er I heard o' t' right man been picked out wi'out a question o' age. I know him. and, I tell 'cc, he mayn't know t' best place for putting in a prop, or of timbering in loose ground, as well aa us as is old enough to be bis fathers; but he knows as much about t' book

learning of a mine m one of the Government inspector chap*. Tou mightn't think it pleasant for me, as has stood in t' place o' hi* father, to Bee him put over my head, but I know how t boy hat worked, and I know what he is, and I teU 'cc I'll work under him willing. Jack Simpson will go far ; you aa live will see it" Jack Baden was an authority in the Vaaghan pit, and hia dictum reconciled many who might otherwise have resented the appointment of saeh a lad. The enthusiastic approval of Harry Bhep« herd and of the rest of the other young hands in the mine who had grown up with Jack Simpson, and knew something of how hard he had worked, and who had all acknowledged his leadership in all things, aUo had its effect; and the new deputy entered upon his duties without anything like the discontent which might have been looked for being excited. The most important part of Jack's duties con* aisted in going round the pit before the men went down in the morning, to see that there was no accumulation of gas in the night, and that the ventilation was going on properly. The deputy generally takes a helper with him, and Jack had chosen his friend Harry for the post—M, in the event of finding gas, it has to he dispersed by beating it with an empty sack, so aa to cause a disturbance of the air, or, if the accumulation be important, by putting up a temporary bratieing, or partition, formed of cotton-cloth stretched on a framework, in such a way as to turn a strong current of air across the spot where the gas Is accumulating, or from which it is issuing. The gas is visible to the eye as a sort of dull fog or smoke. If the accumulation is serious the main body of miners are not allowed to descend into the mine until the viewer has, with aaristainrw. succeeded in completely dispersing it " It's a lonesome feeling," Harry said, the first morning that he entered upon hia duties with Jack Simpson," to think that we be the only twa down here." "It's no more lonesome than sitting in the dark waiting for jkhe tubs to come along, Harry, and it's far safer. There is not the slightest risk of an explosion now, for there are only our safety lamps down here, while in the day the men will open their lamps to light their pipes ; make what regulations the master may, the men will break them to get a smoke." Upon the receipt of Mr. Hardinge's official re* port, strongly condemning the arrangements in the Vaughan, Mr. Brook at once appointed a new manager in the place of Mr. Thompson, and upon nis arrival he made him acquainted with the extent of Jack's knowledge and ability, and requested him to keep his eye specially upon him, and to employ him, as far as possible, aa his right-hand man in carrying out his orders. MI wish that main wind drift were through," Jack said one day, six months after his appoint ment, as he was sitting over his tea with Bill Haden. " The gas is coming in very bid in the new workings." " Wuss nor I ever knew 't, Jack. It's a main good job that the furnace was mad* bigger, and some o' th' airways widened, for it aoes come out sharp surely. In th' old part where I be, a' don't notice it; but when I went down yesterday where Peter Jones be working, the gas were just whistling out of a blower dose by." "Another fortnight, and the airway will be through, dad ; and that will make a greet dung*. I shall be very glad, for the pit's in a bad state now." " Ah, thou think'st a good deal of it. Jack, be cause thou'st got part of the 'sponawflity of it It don't fret me." "I wish the men wouldn't smoke, dad; I don't want to get a bad name for reporting them, but it's just playing with their live*." Bill Haden was silent; he was given to indulge in a quiet smoke himself, as Jack, working with him for five years, well knew. "Well, Jack, thou know'st there's a craving for a draw or two of bacea." "Sothere is for a great many other things that we have to do without," Jack said. "If it were only a question of a man blowing H^wlf to pieces I should say nought about it; but it fa whether he is willing to make 600 widows and 2000 orphans rather than go for a few hours without smoking. What is the use of Davy lamps ? what is the uae of all our care as to the ventilation, if at any moment the gas maybe fired at a lamp opened for lighting a pipe 1 I like my pipe, but if I thought there was ever any ohanot of its becoming my master I would never touch tobacco again." Three days later, when Jack came up from his rounds at 10 o'clock, to eat his breakfast and write up his journal of the state of the mine, he saw Mr. Brook and the manager draw up to the pit mouth. Jack shrank back from the little window of the office where he waa writing, and did not look out again until he knew that they bad descended the mine, as he did not wish to have any appearance of thrusting himself for ward. For another hour he wrote; and then the window of the office flew in pieces, the chairs danced, and the walls rocked, while a dull heavy roar, like distant thunder, burst upon his ears. He leaped to his feet, and rushed to the door. Black smoke was pouring up from the pit's mouth, sticks and pieces of wood and coal were falling in a shower in the yard; and Jack saw that his worst anticipation had been realised, and that a terrible explosion had taken place in th* Vaughan pit [to be oovronncn.]

A Stable on ? Hocm-top.—lt moat be eon* feased (says The Age of Steel) that the bonding of a stable for twenty horses on the top of a private mansion, aoceas to which is obtained by means of a lift, ia calculated to awaken feelings of astonishment even in theae days of marvela. Tet this ia the case on a house just erected la Belgrade-square, London, by Mr. Saatoon. Ground ia very valuable in that fashionable part of London ; and by relegating the hones to the top of the house two birds are killed with one Btone, for space is saved and the Btnell of the stables avoided. The horses do not seem by any means to object to the mode of ascent; possibly they are unconscious of it, on account of the closed shutters on the lift. Policemah : " Now, then, move ob 1 There's nothing the matter here." Sarcastic boy : ?'Of course there isn't. If there waa yoo wouldn't be here.".