Chapter 912577

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Chapter NumberIV (CONTINUED)
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-04-27
Page Number5
Word Count3161
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)
Trove TitleFacing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines
article text

Facing Meath.


Bl Q. A. Henty, in the Union Jack.

CUArrLR IV.-(Continued.)

No sooner did Mr. Merton hear of the resolu- tion of the minera to destroy the engines than he sat down and wroto au uigent letter to Sir John Butler.

" Ia there anything else, Jack !''

" I don't know, sir. If the masters could be warned of the attack thoy might get a few vi6Wer8 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 hurd with you if you

wero known to have taken the news of it."

" I will take the risk of that," Mr. Merton Baid. " Directly it is dark I will set oat. What are you going to do, Jack ?"

" I've got my work marked out," Jack said. " I'd rather not tell you till it's all over. Good- bye, sir ; Harry ¡b waiting for the letter."

Mr. Merton did not carry out his plans. As sjon as it waB dark he left the village, but a hundred yarda out be carno upon a party of men, evidently posted as sentries. These roughly told him that if he didn't want to be chucked into the canal he'd best go home to bed ; and this, after trying another road with tho same result, he did.

Jack walked with Harry as far aa the railway station, mentioning to several friends he met that he was off again. The lads crossed the line, weut out of the opposite booking-olfice, and bet oü' for it was now past 5, and already dark-at the top of their sjieed in different directiona. Jack did not stop till ho reached tho eugino-houBe of tho Vaughan mino. The pumps were still clank- ing inside, and the water streaming down the Bhoot. Peeping carefully in, to see that his friend, John Ratcliffe, waa alono, Jack ontered.

" Well, John," he eaid, " the engine's still going."

"Ay, Jack; but if what's moro nor one has told me to-day bo truo it be for the last time."

" Look here, John ; Mr. Brook has been a good master, will you do bim a good turn !"

" Ay, lad, if I can ; I've held on here, though they've threatened to chuck mo down tho shaft ; but I'm n married mau, 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 doat want done, lad ?"

" What steam is there in the boiler ?"

"Only about 15lb. I'm just knocking off, and have banked the fire up."

" All right, John. I want you to help mo fix tbo firo lioso, the Bhort length, to that blow-off

cock at the bottom of tho boiler. We can un- screw the pipe down to the draiu, and can fasten the hose to it with a union, 1 expect. You've got some unions, haven't you ?"

" Yes, lad ; and what then ?"

" That'B my buBiuesB, John. I'm going to hold this place till the soldiers come ; and 1 think that with 201b. of steam in the boiler, and the hoso, 1 can keop all the minera of Stokebridge out. At any rate, I'll try. Now, John, set to woik. I waut thoa to go straight home, and thon no one will suBpect thee of having a hand in thu matter. I'll go out when thou doat, and thou canat swear, if thou art asked, that there wai not a bouI iu tho houso when thou cnicBt away."

" Thou witt lose thy life, Jack."

" That's my business," Jack Baid. " I think not. Now set to work, John ; give mo a spanner, and lot's get the pipe off the cock at


John Ratcliffe sot to work with a will, and in twenty minutes the unions wero screwed on and the hose attached, a length of 30ft., which was quite sufficient to reach to tho window, some 8ft. above the ground. Along by this 'window ran a platform. There was anotbor, and a pmallor, window on the other side.

While they were working John Ratcliffe tried to dissuade Jack from carrying out h¡B plan.

"It's no use, John. I mean to save the engineB, and bo tho pit. They'll never got in ; and no one knows I am here, and no ono will suspect me. Nono of 'em will know my voice, for they won't bring boys with them, and dad won't be hore. Thero, it's striking 6. Let mo just drop a rope out of the window to climb in again with. Now we'll go out together-; do thou' lock the door, toko the key, and go off home. Liko enough they'll nBk thee for the key, or they may bring thoir sledges to break it in. Anyhow it will mako no difference, for there are a couplo of bolts insido, and I shall make it fast with bars.( There, that's right. Good night, John. Re- member, wbatover comcB of it, thou knoweat nought of it. Thou earnest away and left the placo empty, as ufual, and no one there."

" Good-bye, lad. I'd stop with 'oo and share thy risk, but they'd know I was here, and my life wouldn't be worth the price of a pot o' beer. Don't forget, lad, if thou lowerst the water, to damp down the fire and open the valves." *

Jack, left to himself, clambered up to'tho window and entered tho engine-houaoagain, threw some fresh coal on the fire, heaped a quantity of coal againat the door, and jammed several long iron bara againat it. Then he lighted his pipe and sat listening, occasionally gotting up to hold a lantern to the steam gauge as it crept gradu- ally up. ' '

"Twenty-five pounds," he Baid ; "that will bo enough to throw tho 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 bo at the magistrate's by a quarter to 6. By 0 o'clock Sir John could be on his way to Birmingham for troopa ; 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 walls. The blow-off cock 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 ' was 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 soem to go so slowly as it did that evening. Once 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 Stokebridge church clock-8,9,10-and then, he took-his poBt by the window and listened! " A quarter of an hour passed, and then there was a faint confused sound. Neaier it came, and nearer, untibjt, swelled into the^ trampling of a crowd of many hundredä of men. They came along with laugh- ing and rough jests, for they had no thought of opposition-uo thought that any one waa near

them. The crowd moved forward until they were within a few yards of tho engine-house, and then one, who seemed to be in command, said, " Smash the door in with your sledges, lads."

Jack had, as tbey approached, gone down to tho boiler and bad turned the blow-off cock, and the boiling water swelled the strong leathern hose almost to bursting. Then ho went back to the window, threw it open, and stood with the no/zle

in his hand.

" Hold !" ho shouted out in loud clear tones. " Let no mun move a step nearor for his life."

The mob Btood silent, paralysed with Burpriae. Jack had spoken without a tinga of the local accent, and as nono of the boys were there his voice was quite unrecoguised. " Who is he ?" " It's a stranger 1" aud other sentences, were muttered through the throng.

" Who are you ? ' the loader asked, recovering from his surprise.

" No\er mind who I am," Jack said, standing well back from the window, lost the light from the lanterns which some of tho mon carried might fall on his face. " I am hero iu the name of the law. I warn you to desist from your evil design. Go to your bornea ¡ the soldiers are ou their way, and may bo here auy miuute. Moi ll- over, I have means hern of destroying any man who attempts to enter."

There was a movement in the crowd. " The soldiers are-coming," ian from mouth to mouth, and the more timid began to move towards thu outsido of the crowd.

"Stand firm, lade, it bo a lie," shouted the leader. "Thee baiut to be frightened by one man, beest'ee ? What I 500 Staffordshire mitlers afeared o' one ? Why, ye'il be the laughing- stock of the country I Now, Inda, break in the door ; we'll soon Bee who bo yon chap wBo talks so big."

There was a ruBh 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.

Tlieu Jack, with closely-pressed lips and sot face, turned the cock of the nozzle.

Then with a hiss tho scalding water leaped out in a stream. Jack Btood well forward now and with the hose swept the crowd, iib a firemau might sweep a burning building. Driven by the tremondous force of the internal steam, tho boil- ing water knocked tho mou in frout headlong out ; then, aa ho raised tho bozzleand scattered the water broadcast over the crowd, wild yella, screiuus, and curses broko ' on the night air. Another move, and the column of boiling fluid fell on thoRe engaged on tho othor ougino-house door, and smote thom down.

Theu Jack turned the cock agaiu, and the

Btream of water ce.iBod.

It was but half a minuto bíiico ho had turned it ou, but it had done itatoiriblo work. A scoro of men Hy on the ground, rolling iu agony ; others dauced, screamed, and yelled in pain ; others, less severely scalded, filled the air with cursing ; while all able to movo made a wild ruBh back from the terrible building.

When the wild cries had a little subsided,

Jack called out

" Now, lads, you can como back safely. I havo plenty more hot water, and I could havo scalded the whole of you as badly aB 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 hore. Take them off homo as quick as you can, before the soldiers come. I don't want to do you harm. You'd all beat bo in bed aa 6oon as you can."

The mon hesitated, hut it was clenr to them all that it had boon in tho power of their unknown foo to havo inllictod 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 carno forwaid, and lifting the men who bad fallen near the engine-house carried them off; and in a few miuutes there was adoep silence whoro, just before, a veiy pandemonium

had aeemed lot loose.

Thon Jack, the strain over, sat down and cried

Uko a child.

Half an hour later, listening intently, he heard a deep sound in tho distanee. " Here come the soldieis," ho muttered ; "it is time for me to bo off." Ile glanced at the ateam gauge, and saw that the steam waa falling, while the water gaugo Bhowed that there was still suflicieut watnr for

safety, and he theu opened tho window at the back of the building and dropped to tho ground. In an instant ho waa aeizod in a powerful grasp.

" I thought yo'd ba coming out hore, and now I've got yo," growled a dcop voice, which Jack rocogni»ed 03 that of Roger Hawkins, the tenor of Stokebridge.

For an instant his heart soomod to stand still

at the extent of his poril ; thon, with a auddon wiojch, ho swung round and faced Ina captor, twiated his hands in Ina handkerchief, and drovo hie knuckles into bia throat. Then carno a crashing blow in his faoa-another, and another. With head bout down, Jack held on his grip with tho gamoneas and tenacity of a bulldog, while tho blows rained on his head, and his assailant, in his desperate effort to freo himself, swung his body hither and thither in the air as a hull might swing a dog which had pinned him. Jack felt his Benses going-a dull dazed fcoling carno over him. Then he felt n crnah, as bia adversary reeled and fell-lind then all was dark.

It coul 1 have boen but a few minutes that he lay thoa, for ho awoke with tho sound of a thunder of horaos' hoofa and a clatter of swords

in tho yard on the otherside of the engine-house. Housing himBclf ho found that be still grasped the throat of the man upon bim. With a vaguo senBo of wondor whotbor his foo waB dead ho rose to his foot and ataggered off, tho desire to avoid tho troops dispersing all other ideas in his brain. For a few hundred yards ho staggerod along, swaying like a drunken mun, and knowing nothing of where he waB going ; then ho stumbled and fell again, and lay for hours insensible.

It was just the faint break of day when ho came to, the cold of tho morning having brought him to himself. It took bim a fow minutes to

recall what had happened and his whereabouts. Then he made his way to tho canal, which was close by, washed tho blood from his faco, and then set out to walk to Birmingham. Ho was too shaken and bruised to make much progress, and after walking for a couple of hours crept into the Bhelter of a haystack and went off to Bleep for many hours. After it was dusk, in the evening, he startod agnin, and made his way to his lodgings at 10 o'clock that night. It was a fortnight before ho could leave his room, so bruised and out was bia face, and a month more before the last sign of the struggle waa obliter- ated, and he felt that ho could return to Stoke- bridge without his appearance being noticed.

There great changes had taken placo, The 1 military had found the splintered door, the hose,

and tho Btill steaming water iu the yard, and the , particulars of the occurrence which had taken

place had been pretty accurately judged. Thoy i were indeed soon made public by the stories of

the scalded men, a great number of whom werö forced to place themaelvea in the handa of tho doctor, many of them having had very narrow escapea of their lives, but none of them had actually succumbed. In searching round the engine-house tho soldiers had found, ap- parently dead, his tongue projecting from bia mouth. A surgeon had accompanied them, and a vein havingbeen opened and water dashed in his face he gave signs of recovery. He had been taken off to gaol as being ctinceraed in the attack on the engina-houae ; but no ovidenoo could be obtained against him, and ho would have been released had be not been recognised as a man who had, five years before, effected a daring escape from Portland, where ho was undergoing ,a life sentence for a brutal manslaughter.

The defeat of the attempt to destroy the Vaughan engine was the death-blow of tho strike. Among the foremost in the attack, and therefore so terribly scalded that thoy 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 tho attack hid a great meeting, at which it was resolved almost unanimously to go to work ion the masters' tern«.

Great excitement waa caused, throughout the .district by the publication of the details of the

^efence of the engine-house, and the moststrenu-, ous effort* Were mado by Mr. Brook to discover the perron to whom lie waa so indebted. The iminors wero unanimous in describing him as a 'stranger, and as speaking like a gentleman ; and .there was great' wonder; why any ona who had, ¡dono so ßreat a service to the mine owners should ¡conceal his identity. Jack's secret was, however, "well kept by the three or four who alono knew |it, and who knew too that his life would nofc be j safe for a day did the 'collier?, "groaning and

smarting over their terrible injuries, discover to I whom they were indebted for them.

Upon his return home he was greeted by Dick

Haden with the remark

" Well, Jack, I'm main glad thou art back Dost know, lad, that bottle o' gin o' thine was the best present that over were made me, for hadn't it been for that I should ha' been brought homo with my flesh all scolded to rags, like some of the other oh-ipj Why didn't como home afore, lad ' I've been wanting thoo sorelv."

" I couldn't get aw ij IWure, dad , but I'm ready to go to work to m »row "

[to llh i»s n mi id ]