Chapter 908677

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-03-19
Page Number3
Word Count1795
Last Corrected2020-03-10
Newspaper TitleThe Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)
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.")

Chapter I.

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 these in the next row, so in the street beyond, and through- out the whole village. There is a deary mono- tony about the place, and if stone giant could come and pick up all tho 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 tho place of which they had left in the morning. There is a church and a vicarage half hidden away in the trees in its pretty old-fashioned garden; there are two or three small red bricked disso.iting chapels, and tho doctor's house, with a bright, brass knocker and plate on the door. There are no other build- ings above the average; and it needs not the high chimneys, and engine-house with winding gear, dotting the surrounding country, to notify the fact that strokebridge is a mining village.

It is early in the .afternoon, and many of the women come to their doors and looked cud curiously after a miner, who, in his working clothes, and black with coil dust, walks rapidly towards his house, with his head bent down, and his thick felt lint slouched over his eyes.

" It's Bill Haden; he works at the ' Vaughan.' " " What brings he up at this hour !" " Summat wrong, lil 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 washing-tub, turned round with a surprised ex- clamation, and a bulldog with half-a-dozen round tumbling puppies scrambled out of n basket by the fire, and rushed to greet him.

" What is it, Dill? what's brought thee home

before time ?"

For a moment Bill Haden did not answer, but stooped, and as it were mechanically lifted the dog and stroked his head.

" There's blood on thy hands, Bill. What be wrong with 'ee ?"

" It bain't none of mine lass," the man said, in an unsteady voice. " It be Jack's. He is gone."

" Not Jack Simpson ?"

"Ay, Jack Simpson ; the mate I ha' worked with over since we were butties together. A full just came as worked side by side in the stall, and it broke his neck, and he's dead."

The woman dropped into a chair, throw her apron over her head, and cried aloud, partly at the loss of her husband's mate, partly at tho thought of the narrow escape be had himself


" 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-mounth baby? I misdoubt me it will

kill her."

" Thou'st got to do it," Bill said doggedly, "and thou'd best 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 a word she rose and went out, while her husband stood glaring into the fire, mid still patting the bulldog in his arms, A tear filling on his hand staitled him. He dropped the dog mid gave it a kick, passed his sleeve across his eyes, mid said angrily :

" Blest if I baint a crying like a gal. Who'd a thawt it? Well, well, poor old Jack! he was a 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 Hint has often to be discharged in a large 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 carno out with signs of tears on her cheeks, her neighbours on either side at once assailed her with questions.

" Jack Simpson's killed by a fall," she said, "and I ha' got to bleak it to his wife.

Rapidly the news spread along tho 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," 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 1 o'clock. One or two only, of the most intimate with the Simpsons, followed Jane Haden slowly down the street 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 lo make what preparations were needed for the last incoming of tho 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, us tho gossips had predicted, gone hard with the young widow. She was silting before the fire when Jane entered, working, and rocking tho cradle beside with her foot. At the sight of her visitor's pale face, and tear-stained cheeks, and 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 eye« staling at her visitor.

"Mary, my poor girl," Mrs. Haden began.

That was enough; the whole truth burst upon


" He ís killed ?" she gasped.

Mrs. Haden gave no answer in words, but her face was sufficient as she made a step forward toward 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


"Thank God," Jane Haden said, as she went to the front door and beckoned the others in,

"she had fainted."

"Ay, I thawt as much," one of the women said, " and a good job too. It's always beat so till ho is brought home, and things are 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 Jano Haden took her seat by the bed, onr 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, and 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 Ieft her friend's side over since she was carried up stairs, wrapped the baby in a shawl, 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," ho said, as he entered the room, "so the poor gal's gone. I heard it as i carne along. Thou'st had a hard two days on't. Hullus!

what's that?"

" It'a the baby, Bill," his wife said.

" What hast brought in here for !" he 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 us he lay

on her arm.

" Look at him, Bill; he's something like Jack,

don't thou see it!"

" Not a bit of it," ho said gruflty. " Kids don't take after their father, as pups do."

"I can see the likeness quite plain, Bill. Now," she went on, laying her hand on his shoulder, "I want to keep him. We ain't got none of our

"own, Bill, I can't abear the thought of Li" ? 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-worse nor a dozen pups, mid no chanceof winning a prize with him nohow, or of selling him, or of swopping him if his points don't tura out right. Still, lass, the trouble will be there and by the time he's ten he'll begin to earn his grub in the pit ; so, if thy mind be set on it, there's 'n end o' the matter. Now let'd have tea;

I ain't had a meal fit for a dog for the lest two, days, and Juno ain't got her milk regular."

So little Jack Simpson become a member of the Haden family, and his fit her and mother were laid to rest in the big burying ground on the

hill-side above the village,