|Chapter Number||VII (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)|
|Trove Title||Facing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines|
A TALE OF THE COAL MINES.
By G. A. Hektt, in the Union Jack.
A STitAKCiER arriving at Stokebridgo on that Sunday morning might have thought that thero was a fair, or some similar festivity, so great was tho number of people who passed out of the station as each traiu came in. For the day Stoke blidgo was the great point of attraction for ex- cursionista from all parts of Staffordshire, Not that there was anything to see. The Vaughan mine looked still and deserted ; no smoko issued from its chimneys ; and a strong body of police kept all except those who had busiuess there from approaching within a certain distanco of the shaft. Still less was thero to seo in Stokebridgo itself. Every blind was down-for scarco a house but had lost at least one of ita members ; and in the dnrkened room women sat, silently weeping
for the dead far below.
For the last four days work had been entirely suspended through the district ; and the men of the other collieries, as well as those of the Yaughau who, belonging to the othor shift, had escaped, hung about the pit yard, in the vague hope of being able in some way to ba useful.
Within an hour of the explosion, tho managers of the surrounding pits had assembled ; and iu spite of the fact that tho three volunteers who had first descended wore, without doubt, killed, plenty of other brave fellows volunteered their services, and would havo gone down if permitted. But the repeated explosions, and tho fact that the lower part of the shaft was now blocked up, decided the experienced men who had assembled that such a course would be madness-au opinion which was thoroughly endorsed by Mr. Hardinge and other Government inspectors and iniuiug authorities, who arrived within a few hours of
It was unanimously agreed that tho pit waa on fire, for a light smoke curled up from the pit mouth, and some already began to whisper that itjwould have to bo closed u». There aro fow things more painful thau tomine to the con- clusion that nothing can be done, when women, half mad with Borrow and anxiety, are imploring
men to make an efi'ort to save thoae below.
Jane Haden, quiet and tearless, sat gazing at the fatal shaft, when she was touched on the shoulder. She looked np, and saw Harry.
"Thou art not down with them then, Harry?" " No ; I almost wish I was," Harry said. " I carno up with Jack, and hurried away to get breakfast. When I heard the blow I ran up, and found Jack had jubt gone down. If I had only been near, 1 might havo gone with bim ;" and tho young mau spoko in regret at not having shared his f riend'a fate rather than in gladness at his own escape.
" Dost think there's any hope, Harry ?"
" It's no use lying, and there's no hope for Jack, mother," Harry Baid ; "but if anyone's Baved it's Uko to be your Bill. He was up in the old workings, a long way off from (ho part where the strength of the blow would como."
"It's no use tolling me, Harry ; I ask, but I know how it is. There ain't a chance-not a chanco at all. If tho pit's n-firo they'll have to flood it, and then it'll bo weeks before thoy pump it out again ; and wheu thoy bring Jack and Bill up I shan't know 'em. That's what I feel, I
shan't even know 'em."
" Don't wait here, Mrs. Haden ; nought can be done now ; the inspectors and managers will meet this evening and consult what is best to bo done."
"Is your father down, Harry? I can't thiuk of aught but my own, or I'd have asked afore."
" No ; he is in the othor Bhift My brothers Willie and George are both down. Come, mother, let me take you home."
But Mrs. Haden would not wove, but sat with scores of other women, watching the mouth of the pit, and the smoko curling up, till night full.
Tho news spread round Stokebridgo late in the evening that the managers bud determined to Bunt up the mouth of the pit, if thero was still smoko in the morning. Thou, as is always tho caBO when Btich a determination is arrived at, thero waa a cry of grief and anger throughout tho villago, and all who had friends bolow pro- tested that it would he nothing Bhort of murder to cut off the supply of air. Wbmeu went down to the inn whero the meeting waa held, and raved like wild creatures ; but the miners of tho dis- trict could not but own the stop was necessary, for that the only chanco to extinguish the fire waa by cutting off the air, unless tho dreadful alternative of drowning the pit was resorted to.
In the morning tho smoko still curled up, and the pit's mouth was cloaed. Boarda wore placed over both the shafts, and earth wa9 heaped upon them, so as to cut off altogother the supply of air, and so stifle tho fire. This was on Thursday morning. Nothing was done on Friday ; and ou Saturday afternoon the mining authorities met again in council. Thore were experts thero now from all parts of the kingdom-for the extent of the catastrophe had sent a thrill of horror through the land. It was agreed that the earth and staging should bo removed next morning oarly, and that if smoko still came up, water should bo turned
in from the canal.
At 8 in the morning a number of tho leading authorities met at the mine. Men had during tho night removed the greater part of the earth, and the rest was now taken oil', and the planks withdrawn. At onco a volume of smoke pouretl out. This was in any case expected ; and it waa not for another half-hour, when tho accumulated smoke had cleared off, and a straight but un- broken column began to rise aa before, that the conviction that the pit was still on fire seized all present.
" I fear there is no alternative," Mr. Hardinge said ; " the pit must be flooded."
Thero was not a dissentient voice ; and tho party moved towards the canal to see what would be the best method of letting in the water, when a cry from the men standing round caused them to turn, and they saw a dense white column rise
from the Bhiift.
" Steam !" everyone cried in astonishment, A low rumbling sound ran from the pit.
" What can have happened ?" Mr. Hardinge exclaimed, in surprise. " This is most extraordi- nary !"
AH crowded round the pit mouth, and could still hear a distant roariug sound. Presently this died away. Gradually the steam cea8ed to rise, and the air above the pit mouth was clear,
" There is no smoke rising," one of the in- spectors said. " What on earth can have happened? Let us lower a light down."
Hoisting gear and rope had been prepared on the first day, in case it should be necessary to lower anyone, for the wiro rope had Bnnpped when the attempt had been made to draw up tho cage after the second explosion, and the Budden release from the Btrain had caused the engine to fly round, breaking some gear, and for the time disabling it from further work ; 140 fathoms of rope, the depth of the shaft being 120 fathoms, had been prepared, and was in readinesa to bo pissed over a pulley suspended above the shaft. A lighted candle in a candlestick was placed on a
sort of tray, which was fastened to the rope, and, then it was lowered gradually down. Eagerly those above watched it as it descended-down down, till it became a mero speck below. Then it Buddenly disappeared.
"Stop !" Mr. Hardinge, who was directing the operations, said.
" There are six more fathoms yet, sir-nigh seven-before it gets to the 120 fathom mark."
" Draw up carefully, lads." What eau have put the light out 4.0ft. from the bottom of the shaft ? Choke damp, I suppose ; but it's very singular."
When the candle came up to the surface thero was a cry of astonishment, the tray and the candle were wet ! The whole of those present were astounded, and Mr. Hardinge at once determined to descend himself and verify this extraordinary occurence. There was no fear of au explosion now. Taking a miner's lamp, he took his seat in a sling, and waa lowered down. Just before the rope had run out to the point at which the light was extinguished, he gave the signal to stop by jerking a thin rope which he hold in his
Thero was a pause, and in a minute or two came two jerks, the signal to haul up.
" It is so," he said, when he gained the sur- face ; " there are 40ft. of water in the shaft, but where it came from U more than I can tell."
Greatly astonished at this singular occurrence, the group of mining engineers walked back to breakfast at Stokebridge, whero the population were much excited at the news that the pit waa flooded. To the miners it waa a subject of thi greatest surprise, while the friend» of thoBe in the pit received the news ob the death-blow of their last hopes. It was now impossible that any. one could be alive in the pit.
At 10 o'clock the mining authorities went again to discuss the serious phenomenon. All agreed
that it was out of tho question that bo large a quantity of water had accumulated in any old workings, for the plan of the pit had been re- peatedly inspected by them all. Some inclined to the belief that there must have beeu some immense natural cavern above the workings, and that whou the fire in the pit burned away the pillars left to support the roof this must have fallon in, and let the wa'er in the cavern into the mino ; others pointed out that thero waa no ex- ample whatever of a cavern of such dimensions as this must have been being found in the coal formation, nud pointed to the worked-out Logan pit, which was known to be full of water, as the probablo source of the water. During the pre- vious four tluya tho practicability of cutting through from the Logan, which was known to have boen worked uearly up to the Vaughan boundary, as a meaua of entering the pit and roscuiug auy miners who might be alive, had been discussed, but the fact that to erect pump- ing gear and get out tho water would bo an rtfTiir of many weeks had caused the idea to be abandoned as soon as broached. To those who argued that tho water had como from tho Logan, it was pointed out that there wero certainly several yards of solid coal botweeu the Vaughan and the Logau still standing, and that as the force of the explosion waB evidently near the Vaughan shaft it was incredible that this barrier between the pits should have been (shattered. However, it was decided to solve the question ono way or the other by au ¡mmediato visit to the top of the old Logan shaft.
[will he concluded in ouh next.]