Chapter 20706856

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Chapter NumberVI.
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-05-07
Page Number588
Word Count2054
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.

FOR a moment Jack stood stunned by the calamity. There were, he knew, over three hundred men and boys in the pit, and he turned faint and sick as the thought of their fate came across him.

Tnen ne ran towards tne top 01 tne suaiu xne tankman lay insensible, at a distance of some yards from the pit, where he had been thrown by the force of the explosion. Two or three men came running up, with white scared faces. The ?moke had nearly ceased already; the damage was done, and a deadly stillness seemed to reign. Jack ran into the engine-house. The engine man was leaning against a wall, Beared and almost fainting. " Are you hurt, John ?" "No!" " Pull yourself round, man. The first thing is to Bee if the lift is all right. I Bee one of the cages is at bank, and the force of the explosion is in the upcast shaft. Just give a turn or two to the engine, and see if the winding gear's all right Slowly." The engine-man turned on the steam ; there was a slight movement, and then the engine stopped. " A little more steam," Jack said. "The cage has caught, but it may come." There was a jerk, and then the engine began to work. " That is aU right," Jack said ; " whether the cage is on or not. Stop now, and wind it back, aud get the other cage up again. Does the bell act, I wonder?" Jack pulled the wire which, when in order, ?truck a bell at the bottom of the shaft, and then looked at a bell hanging over his head for the answer. None came. "I expect the wire's broke," Jack said, and went out to the pit's mouth again. The surface men were all gathered round now, the tip-men, and the yard-men, and those from the coke-ovens, all looking wild and pale. "I am going down," Jack said; "we may find some poor fellows near the bottom, and can't wait till some head-man comes on the ground. Who will go with me ? I don't want any married men, for you know, lads, there may be another blow at any moment" " I will go with you," one of the yard-men said, stepping forward ; " there's no one depen dent on me." "I, too," said another ; " it's no oddß to any one but myself whether I come up again or not Here's with you, whatever comes of it" Jack brought three safty lamps from the lamp room, and took his place in the cage with the two volunteers. "Lower away!" he shouted, "but go very slow when we get near the bottom, and look out for our signal." It was but three minutes from the moment that the cago began to sink to that when it touched the bottom of the shaft, but it seemed an age to those in it They knew that at any moment a second explosion might come, and that they might be driven far up into the air above the top of the shaft, mere scorched fragments of flesh. Not a word was spoken during the descent, and there was a general exclamation of " Thank Qod I" when they felt the cage touch the bottom. Jack, as an official of the mine, and by virtue of superior energy, at once took the lead. " Now," he said, " let us push straight up the main road." Just as they stepped out they came across the bodies of two men, and stooped over them with their lamps. " Both dead," Jack said ; "we can do nought for them."

A little way on, and in a heap were some waggons thrown together and broken up, the body of a pony, and that of the lad, his driver. Then they came to the first door—a door no longer, not a fragment of it remaining. In the door-boy's niche the lad lay in a heap. They bent over him. " He is alive," Jack said. " Will you two carry him to the cage T I will look round, and ace if there is anyone else about here; beyond, this way, there ia no hope. Make haste f Look how the gas is catching inside the lamps, the place is full of fire-damp." The men took up the lad and turned to go to the bottom of the shaft. Jack looked a few yards down a cross-road, and then followed them. He was in the act of turning into the next road, to glance at that also, when he felt a suck of air. " Down on your faces I" he shouted, and, springing a couple of paces farther up the cross* road, threw himself on his face. There was a mighty roar—a thundering sound, as of an express ttain—a blinding light, and a scorching heat. He felt himself lifted from the ground by the force of the blast, and dashed down again. Then he knew it was over, and staggered to his feet. The force of the explosion had passed along the main road, and so up the shaft, and he owed his life to the fact that he had been in the road off the course. He returned into the main road, but near the bottom of the shaft he was brought to a standstill. The roof had fallen, aud the passage was blocked with fragments of rook and broken waggons. He knew that the bottom of the shaft must be partly filled up, that his com rades were killed, that there was no hope of escape in that direction. For a moment he paused to consider; then, turning up the side road to the left, he ran at full speed from the shaft. He knew that the danger now was not so much from the fire-damp—the explosive gas—as from the even more dreaded choke-damp, which surely follows after an explosion and the cessation of ventilation. Many more miners are killed by this choke damp, as they hasten to the bottom of the shaft after an explosion, than by the fire itself. Choke damp, which ia carbonic acid gas, is heavier than ordinary air, and thus the lowest parts of a colliery become first filled with it, as they would with water. In all coal mines there is a slight, sometimes a considerable, inclination, or "dip" aa it is called, of the otherwise flat bed of coaL The shaft is almost always sunk at the lower end of the area owned by the proprietors of the mine, as by this means the whole pit naturally drains to the " sump," or well, at the bottom of the shaft, whence it is pumped up by the engine above ; the loaded waggons, too, are run down from the workings to the bottom of the shaft with com parative ease. The explosion had, as Jack well knew, de stroyed all the doors which direot the currents of air. and the ventilation had entirety ceased. The lower part of the mine, where the explosion had been strongest, would soon be filled with choke damp, the product of the explosion, and Jack was making for the old workings, near the upper boundary line of the pit. There the air would remain pure long after it had been vitiated else where. It was in this quarter of the mine that Bill Haden and some twenty other colliers worked. Presently, Jack saw lights ahead, and heard a clattering of steps. It was clear that, as he had hoped, the miners working there had escaped the force of the explosion, which had, without doubt, played awful havoc in the parts of the mine where the greater part of the men were at work. " Stop I stop 1" Jack shouted, as they came up to him. "Ia it fire, Jack?" Bill Haden, who was one of the first, asked. " Tes, Bill; didn't you feel it ?" " Some of us thought we felt a suck of air a quarter hour since, but we weren't sure; and then came another, which blew out the lights. Come along, lad ; there is no time for talking." " It's of no use going on," Jack said ; " the shaft's choked up. I came down after the first blow, and I fear there's no living soul in the new workings. By this time they must be full of the choke-damp." The men looked at each other with blank faceß. " Hast seen Brook ?" Jack asked, eagerly. "Ay, he paused our stall with one of the Wilkinsons, ten minutes ago, just before the blast came." " We may catch him in time to stop him yet," Jack said, " if he has gone round to look at the walling of the old goafs. There are three men at work there." " I'll go with you, Jack," Bill Haden said. " Our best place is my stall, lads," he went on, turning to the others : " that is pretty well the highest ground in the pit, and the air will keep good there as long as anywhere—may be, till help comes. You come along of us, mate," he said, turning to the man who worked with him in his stalL As they hurried along, Jack, in a few words, told what had taken place, as far as he knew it. Five minutes' run brought them to the place where the masons were at work walling up the entrance to some old workings. .They looked astonished at the new comers. " Have you seen the gaffers ?" " Ay, they ha' just gone on. There, don't you see his light down the heading f No f well I saw it a moment since." " Come along," Jack said. " Quick ! I expect they've met it." At full speed they hurried along. Presently they all stopped short; the lights burnt low, and a choking sensation came on them. " Back, Jack, for your life!" gasped Bill Haden ; but at that moment Jack's feet Btruck something, which he knew was a body. " Down at my feet ; help !" he cried. Then he stooped and tried to raise the body. Then the last gleam of his light went out—his lungs seemed to cease acting, and he saw no more. When he came to himself again he was being carried on Bill Haden's shoulder. "All right, dad," he said. "I am coming round now ; put me down." " That's a good job, Jack. I thought thoud'st scarce come round again." " Have you got either of the otherß ?" " We've got Brook; you'd your arm round him «o tight that Ned and I lifted you together.

He's on ahead ; the masons are carrying Brook, and Ned'B showing the way. Canst walk now ?" " Yes, I'm better now. How did you manage to breathe, dad ?" "We didn't breathe, Jack; we're too old hands, for that. When we saw you fall, we juat drew back, took a breath and then shut our mouths, and went down for you just the same as if we'd been a groping for you under water. We got hold of you both, lifted you up and carried you along as far as we could before we drew a breath again. You're sharp, Jack, but you don't know everything yet." And Bill Haden chuckled to find that for once his practical experience taught him something that Jack had not learned from his books. Jaok now hurried along after Bill Haden, and in a few minutes reached the plaoe fixed upon. Here the miners were engaged in restoring conscious ness to Mr. Brook, who, under the influence of water dashed on his face and artificial respiration sot up by alternately pressing upon the chest and allowing it to rise again, was just beginning to show signs of life. Their interest in their em ployment was so great that it was not until Mr. Brook was able to sit up that they began to talk about the future. [TO BE CONTINUED.]