Chapter 919183

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Chapter NumberV.
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-04-30
Page Number3
Word Count3267
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)
Trove TitleFacing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines
article text

Facing Death.


By G. A. Hentï, in the Union Jack.

Chapter, V.

At 12 o'clock on a bright summer day Mr. Brook drove up in his dog-cart, with two gentle- men, to the Vaughan mine. One waa the Govern- ment inspector of tho district ; tho other, a newly-appointed deputy inspector, whom he was taking his rounds with him, to instruct in his


"I um very sorry that Thompson, my manager, ia away to-day," Mr. Brook said, aa they alighted. " Had I known you wore coming, I would of course have had bira iu readiueaB to go round with you. Is Williams, the uudorground mana- ger, in the pit ?" he asked the baukumu, whose duty it was to look after the ascending aud de- scending cag«.

" No, hir ; he came up about half au hour ago. Watkius, the viewer, ia below."

"lie must do, tlieu," Mr. Brook said, "but I wish Mr. Thompson had been here. Perhaps you would like lo look at the phiu of the pit before you go down? Is Williama's office open?"

"Yes, sir," the baukuaau answered.

Mr. Brook led the way into the office.

"Hullo?" he Baid, seeing a young mau at work making a copy of a rniuiug plan; "who are


The young mau rose,

" Jack Simpaan, sir. I work below, but when it's my night shift Mr. Williams allows me to help him hero by day."

" Ah, I remember you now," Mr. Brook said. " Let me seo what you are doing. That's a creditable piece of work for a working collier, ia it not?" he said, holding up a beautifully executed plan.

Mr. Hardingo looked with aurpriso at tho draughtsman, a young mau of soma oue-or-two aud-tweuty, with a flank, open, pleasant face. .

" Why, you don't look or talk like a miner,"

he said.

" Mr. Merton, the schoolmaster hero, was kind enough to take n great deal of pains with me,


" Havo you beeu doing this sort of worklong V Mr. Hardinge asked, pointing to tho plan.

" About three or four years," Mr. Brook said promptly.

Jack looked immensely surpriaod. Mr. Brook smiled.

" I noticed an extraordinary chaugo in Wil- liama's reports, both in the hand-writing and ex- pression. Now I understand it. You work tho same stall as naden, do you not ?"

" Yea, air, but not tho same shift ; he had a mate he baa worked with ever siuco my father was killed, so I work the other shift with Har- vey."

" Now let us look at the plans of the pit," Mr. Hardiuge said.

The two inspectors bent over tho tablo and examined tho plans, asking a question of Mr. Brook now and then. Jack had turned to leave, when his employer ceased to apeak to him, but Mr. Brook made a motion to him to stay.

" What is the size of your furnace ?"

" It's au Sft. furnace," Mr. Brook replied.

" Do you kuow how many thousand cubic feet of air a minute you pass ?"

Mr. Brook shook his head ; ho left the manage- ment of the mine entirely in the hands of his

mnuuger. ,.

Mr. Hai dingo had happened to look at Jack as he spoke ; aud the latter, thiukiug the question waa addressed to him, answered :

"About SOOOft. a minute, sir."

" How do you know ? ' Mr. Harding asked.

" By taking the velocity of the air, Bir, and the

aroa of tho downcast Bhaft."

" How would you measure the velocity, theo- retically ?" Mr. Hardinge asked, curious to see how much the youug collier know.

" I should require to know the tomporature of tho shafts respectively, and tho height of the | upcast shaft."

" How could you do it then ?"

"The formula, sir, is ü/=* (t-lj h being the


height of tho upcast, t' its tomperature, I tho température of tho exterior air, aud o^i1-32'°"

" You are a strange young follow," Mr. Har- diuge said. "May I ubIc you a question or two?"

" Certainly, sir." '

" Could you woik out the cubo root of say 999,888,777?"

Jack closed his cye3 for a minute, and then gave the correct answer to fivo4placo8 of decimals.

The three gontlomeu gave" an exclamation of


" How on earth did you do that ?" Mr. Har- dinge exclaimed. " It would take mo ton minutes to work it out on paper."

" 1 accuatomed myself to calculate while I was in the dark, or woikiug," Jack said quietly.

"Why you would rival Bidder himself," Mr. Hardingo said ; " and how far havo you worked up in liguies?"

" I did the differential oalculus, sir, and then Mr. Merton said that I had botter stick to tho

mechanical application of mathematics, inBte.vl of going on any farther ; that waa two years ago."

Tho eui pi ¡se of the three gentlemen at thia simple avowal from a young pitman was un-

bounded. '

Then Mr. Hardinge said :

" Wo must talk of this again lator on. Now let us go down the pit; thia young man will do cxcellontly well for ii guide. But I am afraid, Mr. Brook, that I shall have to troublo you a good deal. Aa far aa I can seo from the plan the mine is very badly laid out, and the voutilntion alto- gether defective. What is your opinion ?" ho iibked, turuiug abiuptly to Jack, and wishing to seo whether his practical knowledge at nil corre- sponded with Ina theoretical acquirements.

" I would rathor not say, air," Jack said. " It is not for ino to express an opinion as to Mr. Thompson's plan."

" Let na havo your ideas," Mr. Brook said. " Juat toll us frankly what you would do if you were manager of the Vaughan.''

Jack turned to the plan.

" I should widen the air-ways, and split the current ; that would raise the number of cubic feet of air to about 12,000 a minute. It is too far for a single current to travel, oapecially as the air-ways aro not wide ; the friction is altogether too great. I should put a split in hero, take a current round through the old workings to keop thom clear, widen these passages, Bplitthe current again here, and then make a cut through this new ground so as to take a strong current to sweep the face of the main workings, and carry it off straight to the upcast. But that current ought not to puss through the furnace, but be lot in above, for the gas comes off very thick sometimes, and might not be diluted enough with air, going straight to the furnaces." ,

" Your ideas are very good," Mr. Hardinge said quietly. " Now we'll get into our clothes and go below." '?

So saying he opened a bag and took out two mining suits of clothes, which, fira^taking oil' their coats, be and his companion proceeded to put on over their othor garments., Mr. Brook went into his office, and similarly propared him- self ; while Jack, who wae not dressed for min- ing, went to tho closet .where a few buRb were hung up for tho uBe of viaitora and others, and prepared to go down. Then he went to the lamp room and fetched four Davy lampB. While ho was away Mr. Brook joined tho m&peotorH.

" That is an extraordinary young fellow," Mr. Hardinge Baid. "Do you know' his suggestions ure exactly what I had intended to offer to you myself ? You will have some terrible explosion here unlesa you make some radical change."

That evening the inspectora > stayed for tho night at Mr. Brook's, and the next day that gentleman went over with them to Wolverhamp ton, where ha had some buainess. His principal object hero waa to take them to see Mr. Merton, who had for four ycarB occupied the position of master in an endowed school there, thanks prin- cipally to Mr. Brook's influence exerted power- fully in hil favour, when he had learnt that it was the schoolmaster who had Bent tbo letter which liad had the effect of bringing over the troops when the collieries wero threatened with


Mr. Merton related to his visitors the history of Jack's efforts to educate himself, and gave them the opinion he had given the lad himself, that ho might, had he chosen, have taken a scholarship and then the highest mathematical hououra. " He has been working lately at eu gineering, and calculating the Btrains and EtreoH-a of iron bridgea," he said. "And now, Mr. Brook, I will tell you- andlamsure that you and these gentlemen will give me your promise of i-ccrecy upon the subject-what I have never yet told to a soul. It was that lad who brought me word of the intended attack on the engines, and got me to write the letter to Sir John Butler. But that is cot all, air, It was that boy-for lie waa but

sixteen then-who'defeuded your engine-house against that mob of 500 men 1" \

"Blesa my heart, Merton, why did you not tell mo before ? Why, l'vo puzzled over that over siuce. And to think it was one of my own pit boys who did that gallant action, aud I have doue nothing for him !"

" He would not havo it told, sir. He wanted to go on as'a working niiuer, and loam his busi- ness from tho bottom. Besides h¡3 life wouldn't have been safo in this district for a day if it had been known. But 1 think you ought to bo told of it now. The lad ia as niudeat na ho ia brava and clever, and would go to bia grave without over lettiug out that he saved the Vaughan, and indeed all the pita in the district. But, now that he is « mau, it is light you should know ; but pray do not lot bim imagino that jon nie aware of it. He is very young yet, and will riso on his own marita, aud would dislike nothing hi much as thinking that he owed an.) thing lo what he did that night."

"What am I to do, Mr Hardline!" Mr. Brook asked, in perplexity. " Whit would you advise !"

" 1 should give him bia first lift M> own," Mr. Hardinge slid, deciduUy. "It will bo many inoutha before jon have carried out the new schouio for the ventilation of the miue ; mid, believe me, it will no1 be safe, if thurn come a 8uddeu influx of yarrill the ultMiuio. siuu made. Make this young fellow deputy viewer, with special ohargo to look after the ventilation. In that way ho will not havo to give instruction to the mon as to their work, but will continu his attention to the ventilation, the Htato nf the air, the doora, aud ho ou., liven then his puàtiuu will for a time be difficult ; but thu lad has plenty of Eolf-control, and will bo able to tide over it, and tho men will got to sea that he really uuderotauds his business. You will of course order the under- ground manager and viewers to give him every support. Thu underground manager, at auy rate, must be perfectly uwatu of his capabilities, as hu Boema to havo done all bia paper woik for some


Never wero a body of mon moro astonished than wero the pitmeu of the Vaughan whim thoy hoard that young Jack Simpson was appoiuted a deputy viewer, with tho special charge of the

ventilation of the mine.

A deputy viewer is not a position of great honour ; the pay ia scarcely moro tlmu that which a getter will earn, and the rank is scarcely higher. This kind of post, indeed, is generally given to a miner of experience, getting past his work-as care, attention, and knowledge ate re- quired rather than hard work. That a young mau should bo appoiuted waa au anomaly which simply astonished thu colliers of the Vaughan. Tho news waa first known ou the surface, and us the men carno up in the cages the new* was told them, and the majority, iustoad of at once hurry- ing home, stoppud to talk it over.

"It be tho rumuiest start I ever heard on," oue said. " Ah ! here comes Bill Haden. Hust bearii t' news, Bill f"

" What news !"

" Why, your Jack mudo a deputy. What dost think o' that, right over heads o' ua all ? Didst e'er hoar toll o' such o' thing ?"

'I No, I didn't," Bill Haden said emphatically. " iii t' first time aa u'or I heard o' t' rinht mau boon picked out wi'out a question o' age. 1 know bim, and, I tull 'eo, he mayn't know t' best place for putting in a prop, or of timberiug in loose ground, as w. 11 as us as is old enough to be his fathers ; but he knows 113 much about t' book learniug of a mino as one of the Govorutueut inspector chaps. You mightn't think it pleasant for mo, as lina stood iu t' place o' his father, to seo bim put over my head, but I know how t boy has worked, ¡mil I know what he is, and I tell'00 I'll work under him willing. Jack Simpson will go far ; you as live will seo it."

Jack Haden was nil authority in the Vaughan pit, and his dictum reconciled many who might otherwise have resented the appointment of such a lad. The enthusiastic- approval of Harry Shep- herd and of the rest of the other young hnnds in tho mino who had grown up with Jack Simpson, and know something of how hard ho lind worked, and who had all acknowledged his leadership in all things, also had its effect ; mid the now deputy outored upon his duties without anything like tho discontent which might have bcou looked for being excited.

The moBt important part of Jack's duties con- sisted in going round tho pit before tho men went down iu the morning, to seo that there was no accumulatiou of gus in the night, and that the voutilation was going on properly. Tho deputy gonorally takes a helper with him, mid Jack had chosen his friend 1 bury for the post-as, in the event of finding gau, it has to bo dispersed by beating it with au empty sack, so na to cause a disturbance of the air, or, if the accumulation bo important, by putting up 11 temporary braticing, or partition, formed of cotton-cloth stretched on a framework, in such a way as to turu a strong current of air ncrois tho spot where tho gas is accumulating, or from which it is issuing. The gas is visible to tho «yo as a sort of dull fog or smoke. If the accumulation is aurions tho main body of minors aro not nllowed to descend into the mino uutil tho %'iowor has, with assistance, succeeded in completely dispersing it.

" It's a lonosomo feeliug," Hurry said, the first morning that hu entered upon his duties with Jack Simpson, "to think that wo be the only two

down boro."

"It's no moro lonosomo than sitting in the dark waiting for the tubs to come along, Harry, aud it's 'far safer. Thero is not the slightest rick of an explosion now, for there aro only our safety lampB down hore, while in tho day tho mon will open thoir lampa to light their pipes ; make what regulations the master may, the men will break them In get a smoke."

Upon the receipt of Mr. Hardingo's official re- port, strongly condemning the arrangements in tho Vaughan, Mr. Brook al once appointed n new manager in the place of Mr. Thompson, nnd upou his arrival ho made him acquainted with the extent of Jack's knowledge and ability, aud requested' him to keep his eye specially upou him, and to employ him, ns far us possible, as his right-hand mun in carrying out his orders.

" I wish that main wind drift wore through," Jack suid, nix months after his appoint- ment, as he was sitting over his tea with Bill Haden. " The gas is coming in very had in the new workings."

" Wuss nor I ever know 't, Jack. It's a main good job that the furnace was made bigger, and some o' fch' airways widened, for it does como out sharp surely. In th' old part where I bo, a' don't notice it ; but when I went down yeaterduy where Petor Jones be workiug,' the gas wero just whistling out of n blower cloau by."

, "Another fortnight, and the airway will bo through, dad ;' and that will make a groat change. I shall bo very glad, for the pit's in a bad Btato

now." '

" Ah, thou think'at a good deal of it, Jack, be- . cause thou'st got part of tho 'sponeibility of it.

It don't fret me."

" I wish the men wouldn't ombke, dad ; I don't want to get a bad name for reporting them, but it's just playing with their lives."

Bill Haden waa silent ; he was given toindulgo in a quiet smoko himself, aa Jack, working with him for 'five yearn, well know.

" Well, Jack, thou know'st there's a craving for a draw or two of bacca."

" So there is for a great miny other things that we have to do without," Jack said. " If it were only a question of a man blowing himself to pieces I should say nought about it ; but it ia whether ho is willing to make 500 widows and 2000 orphans rather than go for a few hours without smoking. What U the U60 of Davy lampa ? what ia the use of all our caro as to the ventilation, if at any moment the gaB maybe fired at a lamp opened for lighting a pipe ? I like my pipe, but if I thought thero waa ever any chance of its becoming my master I would novor touch tobacco again."

Threeways later, when Jack carno up from his rounds at 10 o'clock, to oat bia breakfast and write up hie journal of the stato of the mine, he saw Mr. Brook and the manager draw up to the pit mouth. Jack shrank back from the little window of the office whero ho waa writing, and did not look out again until ho knew that they had descended the mine, as ho did not wish to havo any appearance of thrusting himself for- ward. For another hour he wrote ; and then the window of the office flew in pieces, the chairs danced, and the walla rocked, while a dull heavy roar, like diatant thunder, burst upon bia ears.

Ho leaped to bia feet, and rushed to the door. Black smoke waa pouring up from the pit's, mouth, stickB and pieces of wood and coal were falling in a shower iu the yard; and Jack saw that his worst anticipation had been realised, and that .a terriblo explosion bad taken place in the Vaughan pit.