|Chapter Number||VI (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Facing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines|
A TALE OF THE COAL MINES.
CHAPTER VI.— (Continued.)
BY G. A. HENRY, in the Union Jack.
JACK'S account of the state of things near the shaft was listened to gravely. The fact that the whole of the system of ventilation had bean deranged, and the proof given by the second ex-
plosion that the mine wu somewnere on are, needed no comment to these experienced men* It sounded their death knell. Gallant and un ceasing as would be the efforts made under any other circumstanoes to rescue them, the fact that the pit was on fire, and that fresh explosions might at any moment take place, would render it an aot of simple madness for their friends above to endeavour to clear the shaft and head ings, and to restore the ventilation. The fact was further impressed upon them by a sudden and simultaneous flicker of the lamps, and a faint shake, followed by a diatant rumble. " Another blast," Bill Haden said. "That settles us, lads. We may as well turn out all the lamps but two, so as to have light as long as we last oat" "Is there no hope!" Mr. Brook asked presently, ooming forward after he had heard from Haden's mate the manner in which he had been so far saved. " Not a scrap, master," said Bill Haden. "We are like rats in a trap ; and it would ha* been kinder of us if we'd a let you lay as you was." " Tour intention was equally kind," Mr, Brook said. " But i» there nothing that we can do ?" "Nought," Bill Haden said. MWe have got our dinners wi' us, and might make 'em last, a mouthful at a time, to keep life in us for a week or more. But what *ud be th* vie of it f It may be weeks —ay, or months—before they can stifle the fire and make their way here." " Can you suggest nothing, Jack t" Mr. Brook asked. " You are the only officer of the pit left now," he added with a faint smile. jack had not spoken since he reached the stall, but bad sat down on a block of coal, with his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands— • favourite attitude of his when thinking deeply. The other colliers had thrown themselves down on the ground ; some sobbed occasionally as they thought of their loved ones above, some lay in silence. Jack answered the appeal by ruing to his feet " Yes, sir, I think we may do something." The men raised themselves in surprise. "In the first place, sir, I should send men in each direction to see how near the choke-damp has got. There are four roads by which it could come up. I would shut the doors on this side of the place it has got to, roll blocks of coal and rubbish to keep 'em tight, and atop up the chinks with wet mud. That will keep the gas from ooming up, and there is air enough in the stalls and headings to last us a long time." "But that would only prolong our lives for a few hours, Jack, and I don't know that that would be any advantage. Better to be choked by the gas than to die of starvation," Mr. Brook
?aid, and a murmur from the men showed that they agreed with him. " I vote for lighting our pipes," one of the miners said. "If there is fiery gas here, it would be better to finish with it at once." There was a general expression of approval. M Wait!" Jack said authoritatively; " wait till I hare done. You know, Mr. Brook, we are dose to our north boundary here, in some place* within a very few yards. Now the ' Logan,' which lies next to u», has been worked out yean ago. Of oourse it ia full of water, and it was from fear of tapping that water that the works were stopped here. A good deal comes in through the crevices in No. 15 stall, which I expect ia nearest to it Now if we could work into the 'Logan,' the water would ruah down into our workings, and, as our pit is a good deal bigger than the Logan ever was, it wUI fill the lower workings and put out the fire but won't reach here. Then we can get up through the Logan, where the air is sure to be all right, as the water is sure to bring good air down with it We may not do it in time, but it ia a chance. What do you aay, air V "It is worth' trying, at any rate, Jack," Mr. Brook said. " Bravo, my lad ! your clear head may save us yet" "By gum, Jack! bat you're • good an I" Bill Haden said, bringing down his hand on Jack's shoulder with a force that almost knocked him down ; while the men, with revived hope, leaped to their feet, and, crowding round Jack, shook his hands with exclamations of approval and delight. « Now, lads," Mr. Brook said, " Jack Simpson is master now, and we will all work under his orders. But before we begin, boys, let as say a prayer. We are in God's hands ; let us ask His protection." Every head was bared, and the men stood reverently while, in a few words, Mr. Brook prayed for strength and protection, and rescue from their danger. 41 Now, Jack," he said, when he had finished, " give your orders." Jack at once sent off two men along each of the roads, to find how near the choke-damp had approached, and to block up and seal the doors. It was necessary to strike a light to relight some of the lamps, but this was a danger that could not be avoided. The rest of the men were sent round to all the places where work had been going on, to bring in the tools and dinners to No. 16 stall, to which Jack himself, Bill Haden, and Mr. Brook pro* oeeded at once. The work had been done there for yean. The floor was covered with black mud, and a close examination of the face showed tiny streamlets of water trickling down in several places. An examination of the stalls, or work* tag places, on either side, showed similar appear* ances, but in a less marked degree. It was there* fore determined to begin work in No. 16. " You don't mean to use powder, Jackf Bill Haden asked. " No, dad ; without any ventilation we should be choked with the smoke, and there would be the danger from the gas. When we think we are getting near the water, we will put in a big shot, so as to blow in the face." When the men returned with the tools and the dinners, the latter done up in handkerchiefs. Jack asked Mr. Brook to take charge of the food. " There are just twenty of us, sir, without you, and nineteen dinners. So if you divide among us four dinnen a day, it will last for five days, and by that time I hope we shall be free." Four men only could work at the face of the stall together, and Jack divided the twenty into five sets. "We will work in quarter-of-au-hour shifts at first," he said ; " that will give an hoar's rest to a quarter of an hour's work, and a man can work well, we know, for a quarter of as hour. When we get done up we will have halMiour shifts, which will give two hours for a sleep in between." The first-shift men, stripped as usual to the waist, set to work without an instant's delay; and the vigour and swiftness with which the blows fell upon the face of the rock would have told experienced miners that the men who stood there were working for life or death. The other men Jack took into the adjacent stalls, and set them to work to clear a narrow strip of the floor next to the upper wall, then to cut a little groove in the rocky floor along it, to interoept the water as it slowly trickled in, and lead it to small hollows which they were to make in the solid rock. The water coming through the two stalls would, thus collected, be ample for their wants. Jack then started to see how the men at work at the doors were getting on. These had already nearly finished their tasks. On the road leading to the main workings choke-damp bad been met with at a distance of fifty yards from the stall; but upon the upper road it was several hundred yards before it was found. On the other two roads it was over a hundred yards. The men had torn strips off their flannel jackets and had thrust them into the crevices of the doors, and had then plastered mud from the roadway on thickly, and there was no reason to fear any irruption of choke-damp, unless, indeed, an explosion should take place so violent as to blow in the doors. This, however, was unlikely, as, with a fire burn* ing, the gas would ignite as it came out; and although there might be many minor explosions there would scarcely be one so serious as the two first that had taken place. The work at the doors and the water being over, the men all gathered in the stall. Then Jack insisted on an equal division of the tobacco, of which almost all the miners possessed some—for colliers, forbidden to smoke, often chew tobacco, and the tobacco might therefore be regarded rather as a luxury, and as being very valuable in assisting the men to keep down the pangs of hunger. This only had to be divided into twenty shares, as Mr. Brook Baid that he could not use it in that way, and that he had, moreover, a couple of cigars in his pocket, which he could sack if hard driven to it Now that they were together again all the lamps wero extinguished, save the two required by the men at work. With work to be done, and a hope of ultimate release, the men's spirits rose, and between their spells of work they talked, and now and then even a laugh was heard. Mr. Brook, although unable to do a share of the work, was very valuable in aiding to keep up their spirits, by hb hopeful talk, and by anecdotes of people who had been in great danger in many ways in different parts of the world, but who had finally escaped. Sometimes one or other of the
men would propose a hymn—for, among miners M among sailors, there is at heart a deep re ligious feeling, consequent upon a life which may at any moment be cut short—and then their deep voices would rise together, while the blows of the sledges and picks would keep time to the swing of the tune. On the advice fit Mr. Brook the men each divided their portions of food, small as it was, into two portions, to be eaten twelve hours apart; for, as the work would pro ceed without interruption night and day, it was better to eat, however little, every twelve hours, than to go twenty-four without food. The first twenty-four hours over, the stall— or rather the heading, for it wts now driven as narrow as it was possible for four men to work simultaneously—greatly advanced ; indeed it would have been difficult for a miner to believe that so much work had been done in the time. There was, however, no change ii the appear ances ; the water still trickled in, but they could not perceive that it came faster than before. As fast as the coal fell—for fortunately the seam was over 4ft. thick, so that they did not have to work upon the seek—it was removed by the set of men who were next for work, so that there was not a minute lost from this cause. The next twenty-four hours saw almost as much work done as upon the first; but upon the third there was a decided falling off. The scanty food was telling upon thetu vow. Tho shifts were lengthenend to an hour to allow longer time for sleep between each spell of work, and each set of men when relieved threw themselves down, ex hausted, and slept for three hours, until it was their turn to wake up and remove the coal as the set at work got it down. At the end of seventy-two hours, the water was coming through the face much faster than at first, and the old miners accustomed to juige by sound were of opinion that the wall in front sounded less solid, and that they were approach ing the old wprkings of the Logan pit In the three days and nights they bad driven the head ing nearly fifteen yards from the point where they had begun. Upon the fourth day they worked cautiously, driving a borer 3ft. ahead of them into the coal, as in case of the water burst ing through suddenly they would be all drowned. At the end of ninety hours from the time of striking the first blow, the drill whioh, Jack hold ing it, Bill Haden was just driving in deeper with • sledge, suddenly went forward, and as suddenly flew out as if shot from a gun, followed by a jet of water, driven with tremendous force. A plug, which had been prepared in readiness, was with difficulty driven into the hole; two men who had been knocked down by the force of the water were picked up, much bruised and hurt; and, with thankful hearts that the end of their labour was at hand, all prepared for the last and most •ritioal portion of their task. [TO BX CONTINUED.]