Chapter 29 and 30

THE NEW MANAGER.

The next day preparations for pumping out the Vaughan commenced; but it took weeks to get rid of the water which had flowed in in five minutes. Then the work of clearing the mine and bringing up the bodies commenced.

This was a sad business. A number of coffins, equal to that of the men known to be below at the time of the explosion, were in readiness in a shed near the pit mouth. These were sent down, and the bodies as they were found were placed in them to be carried above. In scarcely any instances could the dead be identified by the relatives, six weeks in the water having changed them beyond all recognition; only by the clothes could a clue be obtained. Then the funerals began. A great grave a hundred feet long by twelve wide had been dug in the churchyard, and in this the coffins were laid two deep.

Some days ten, some fifteen, some twenty bodies were laid there, and at each funeral the whole village attended. Who could know whether those dearest to them were not among the shapeless forms each day consigned to their last resting-place?

At last the tale was complete; the last of the victims of the great explosion at the Vaughan was laid to rest, the blinds were drawn up, and save that the whole of the people seemed to be in mourning, Stokebridge assumed its usual aspect.

Upon the day before the renewal of regular work, Jack Simpson, accompanied by Mr. Brook appeared upon the ground, and signified that none were to descend until he had spoken to them. He had already won their respect by his indefatigable attention to the work of clearing the mine, and by the care he had evinced for the recovery of the bodies.

Few, however, of the hands had spoken to him since his accession to his new dignity; now they had time to observe him, and all wondered at the change which had been wrought in his appearance. Clothes do not make a man, but they greatly alter his appearance, and there was not one but felt that Jack looked every inch a gentleman. When he began to speak their wonder increased. Except to Mr. Dodgson, Harry, Nelly Hardy, and some of his young comrades, Jack had always spoken in the dialect of the place, and the surprise of the colliers when he spoke in perfect English without a trace of accent or dialect was great indeed.

Standing up in the gig in which he had driven up with Mr. Brook he spoke in a loud, clear voice heard easily throughout the yard.

“My friends,” he said, “my position here is a new and difficult one, so difficult that did I not feel sure that you would help me to make it as easy as possible I should shrink from undertaking it. I am a very young man. I have grown up among you, and of you, and now in a strange way, due in a great measure to the kindness of your employers, and in a small degree to my own exertions to improve myself, I have come to be put over you. Now it is only by your helping me that I can maintain this position here. You will find in me a true friend. I know your difficulties and your wants, and I will do all in my power to render your lives comfortable. Those among you who were my friends from boyhood can believe this, the rest of you will find it to be so. Any of you who are in trouble or in difficulty will, if you come to me, obtain advice and assistance. But while I will try to be your friend, and will do all in my power for your welfare, it is absolutely necessary that you should treat me with the respect due to Mr. Brook’s manager. Without proper discipline proper work is impossible. A captain must be captain of his own ship though many of his men know the work as well as he does. And I am glad to be able to tell you that Mr. Brook has given me full power to make such regulations and to carry out such improvements as may be conducive to your comfort and welfare. He wants, and I want, the Vaughan to be a model mine and Stokebridge a model village, and we will do all in our power to carry out our wishes. We hope that no dispute will ever again arise here on the question of wages. There was one occasion when the miners of the Vaughan were led away by strangers and paid dearly for it. We hope that such a thing will never occur again. Mr. Brook expects a fair return, and no more than a fair return, for the capital he has sunk in the mine. When times are good you will share his prosperity, when times are bad you, like he, must submit to sacrifices. If disputes arise elsewhere, they need not affect us here, for you may be sure that your wages will never be below those paid elsewhere. And now I have said my say. Let us conclude by trusting that we shall be as warm friends as ever although our relations towards each other are necessarily changed.”

Three rousing cheers greeted the conclusion of Jack’s speech, after which he drove off with Mr. Brook. As the men gathered round the top of the shaft, an old miner exclaimed: “Dang it all, I ha’ it now. I was wondering all the time he was speaking where I had heard his voice before. I know now. As sure as I’m a living man it was Jack Simpson as beat us back from that there engine-house when we were going to stop the pumps in the strike.”

Now that the clue was given a dozen others of those who had been present agreed with the speaker. The event was now an old one, and all bitterness had passed. Had it been known at the time, or within a few months afterwards, Jack’s life would probably have paid the penalty, but now the predominant feeling was one of admiration. Those who had, during the last few weeks, wearily watched the pumping out of the Vaughan, felt how fatal would have been the delay had it occurred when the strike ended and they were penniless and without resources, and no feeling of ill-will remained.

“He be a game ‘un; to think o’ that boy standing alone agin’ us a’, and not a soul as much as suspected it! Did’st know o’t, Bill Haden?”

“Noa,” Bill said, “never so much as dream’t o’t, but now I thinks it over, it be loikely enoo’. I often thought what wonderful luck it were as he gave me that ‘ere bottle o’ old Tom, and made me as drunk as a loord joost at th’ roight time, and I ha’ thought it were curious too, seeing as never before or since has he giv’d me a bottle o’ liquor, but now it all comes natural enough. Well, to be sure, and to think that lad should ha’ done all that by hisself, and ne’er a soul the wiser! You may be sure the gaffer didn’t know no more than we, or he’d a done summat for the lad at the time. He offered rewards, too, for the finding out who ‘t were as had done it, and to think ’twas my Jack! Well, well, he be a good plucked un too, they didn’t ca’ him Bull-dog for nowt, for it would ha’ gone hard wi’ him had ‘t been found out. I’m main proud o’ that lad.”

And so the discovery that Jack had so wished to avoid, when it was at last made, added much to the respect with which he was held in the Vaughan pit. If when a boy he would dare to carry out such a scheme as this, it was clear that as a man he was not to be trifled with. The reputation which he had gained by his courage in descending into the mine, in his battle with Tom Walker, and by the clear-headedness and quickness of decision which had saved the lives of the survivors of the explosion, was immensely increased; and any who had before felt sore at the thought of so young a hand being placed above them in command of the pit, felt that in all that constitutes a man, in energy, courage, and ability, Jack Simpson was worthy the post of manager of the Vaughan mine.

Bill Haden was astonished upon his return home that night to find that his wife had all along known that it was Jack who had defended the Vaughan, and was inclined to feel greatly aggrieved at having been kept in the dark.

“Did ye think as I wasn’t to be trusted not to split on my own lad?” he exclaimed indignantly.

“We knew well enough that thou mightest be trusted when thou wer’t sober, Bill,” his wife said gently; “but as about four nights a week at that time thou wast drunk, and might ha’ blabbed it out, and had known nowt in the morning o’ what thou’dst said, Jack and I were of a mind that less said soonest mended.”

“May be you were right,” Bill Haden said after a pause; “a man has got a loose tongue when he’s in drink, and I should never ha’ forgiven myself had I harmed t’ lad.”

_____________________________________________________________

RISEN.

It was not until the pit was cleared of water and about to go to work again, that the question of Bill Haden and his wife removing from their cottage came forward for decision. Jack had been staying with Mr. Brook, who had ordered that the house in which the late manager had lived should be put in good order and furnished from top to bottom, and had arranged for his widow and children to remove at once to friends living at a distance. Feeling as he did that he owed his life to the young man, he was eager to do everything in his power to promote his comfort and prosperity, and as he was, apart from the colliery, a wealthy man and a bachelor, he did not care to what expense he went.

The house, “the great house on the hill,” as Jack had described it when speaking to his artist friend Pastor years before, was a far larger and more important building than the houses of managers of mines in general. It had, indeed, been originally the residence of a family owning a good deal of land in the neighbourhood, but they, when coal was discovered and work began, sold this property and went to live in London, and as none cared to take a house so close to the coal-pits and village of Stokebridge, it was sold for a nominal sum to the owner of the Vaughan, and was by him used as a residence for his manager.

Now, with the garden nicely laid out, redecorated and repaired outside and in, and handsomely furnished, it resumed its former appearance of a gentleman’s country seat. Mr. Brook begged Jack as a favour not to go near the house until the place was put in order, and although the young man heard that a Birmingham contractor had taken it in hand, and that a large number of men were at work there, he had no idea of the extensive changes which were taking place.

A few days before work began again at the Vaughan Jack went down as usual to the Hadens’, for he had looked in every day to say a few words to them on his way back from the pit-mouth. “Now, dad,” he said, “we must not put the matter off any longer. I am to go into the manager’s house in a fortnight’s time. I hear they have been painting and cleaning it up, and Mr. Brook tells me he has put new furniture in, and that I shall only have to go in and hang up my hat. Now I want for you to arrange to come up on the same day.”

“We ha’ been talking the matter over in every mortal way, the old woman and me, Jack, and I’ll tell ‘ee what we’ve aboot concluded. On one side thou really wan’t t’ have us oop wi’ ‘ee.”

“Yes, indeed, dad,” Jack said earnestly.

“I know thou dost, lad; me and Jane both feels that. Well that’s an argiment that way. Then there’s the argiment that naturally thou would’st not like the man who hast brought thee oop to be working in the pit o’ which thou wast manager. That’s two reasons that way; on the other side there be two, and the old ‘ooman and me think they are stronger than t’others. First, we should be out o’ place at the house oop there. Thou wilt be getting to know all kinds o’ people, and whatever thou may’st say, Jack, your mother and me would be oot o’ place. That’s one argiment. The next argiment is that we shouldn’t like it, Jack, we should feel we were out o’ place and that our ways were out o’ place; and we should be joost miserable. Instead o’ doing us a kindness you’d joost make our lives a burden, and I know ‘ee don’t want to do that. We’s getting on in loife and be too old to change our ways, and nothing thou could’st say could persuade us to live a’ways dressed up in our Sunday clothes in your house.”

“Well, dad, I might put you both in a comfortable cottage, without work to do.”

“What should I do wi’out my work, Jack? noa, lad, I must work as long as I can, or I should die o’ pure idleness. But I needn’t work at a stall. I’m fifty now, and although I ha’ got another fifteen years’ work in me, I hope, my bones bean’t as liss as they was. Thou might give me the job as underground viewer. I can put in a prop or see to the firing o’ a shot wi’ any man. Oi’ve told my mates you want to have me and the old woman oop at th’ house, and they’ll know that if I stop underground it be o’ my own choice. I know, lad, it wouldn’t be roight for me to be a getting droonk at the “Chequers” and thou manager; but I ha’ told t’ old ‘ooman that I will swear off liquor altogether.”

“No, no, dad!” Jack said, affected at this proof of Bill Haden’s desire to do what he could towards maintaining his dignity. “I wouldn’t think o’t. If you and mother feel that you’d be more happy and comfortable here—and maybe you are right, I didn’t think over the matter from thy side as well as my own, as I ought to have done—of course you shall stay here; and, of course, you shall have a berth as under-viewer. As for swearing off drink altogether, I wouldn’t ask it of you, though I do wish you could resolve never to drink too much again. You ha’ been used to go to the “Chequers” every night for nigh forty years, and you couldn’t give it up now. You would pine away without somewhere to go to. However, this must be understood, whenever you like to come up to me I shall be glad to see you, and I shall expect you on Sundays to dinner if on no other day; and whenever the time shall come when you feel, dad, that you’d rather give up work, there will be a cottage for you and mother somewhere handy to me, and enough to live comfortably and free from care.”

“That’s a bargain, lad, and I’m roight glad it be off my mind, for I ha’ been bothering over’t ever since thee spoke to me last.”

The same evening Jack had a long talk with Harry. His friend, although healthy, was by no means physically strong, and found the work of a miner almost beyond him. He had never taken to the life as Jack had done, and his friend knew that for the last year or two he had been turning his thoughts in other directions, and that of all things he would like to be a schoolmaster. He had for years read and studied a good deal, and Mr. Dodgson said that with a year in a training college he would be able to pass. He had often talked the matter over with Jack, and the latter told him now that he had entered his name in St. Mark’s College, Chelsea, had paid his fees six months in advance, his savings amply sufficing for this without drawing upon his salary, and that he was to present himself there in a week’s time.

The announcement took away Harry’s breath, but as soon as he recovered himself he accepted Jack’s offer as frankly as it was made. It had always been natural for Jack to lend him a hand, and it seemed to him, as to Jack, natural that it should be so now.

“Have you told Nelly?”

“No, I left it for you to tell, Harry. I know, of course, one reason why you want to be a schoolmaster, and she will know it too. She is a strange girl, is Nelly; I never did quite understand her, and I never shall; why on earth she should refuse you I can’t make out. She’s had lots o’ other offers these last four years, but it’s all the same. There’s no one she cares for, why shouldn’t she take you?”

“I can wait,” Harry said quietly, “there’s plenty of time; perhaps some day I shall win her, and I think—yes, I think now—that I shall.”

“Well,” Jack said cheerfully, “as you say there’s plenty of time; I’ve always said thirty was the right age to marry, and you want eight years of that, and Nelly won’t get old faster than you do, so if she don’t fall in love with any one else it must come right; she has stood out for nearly four years, and though I don’t pretend to know anything of women, I should think no woman could go on saying no for twelve years.”

Harry, although not given to loud mirth, laughed heartily at Jack’s views over love-making, and the two then walked across to Nelly Hardy’s cottage. Jack told her what Bill Haden and his wife had decided, and she approved their determination. Then Harry said what Jack had arranged for him.

Nelly shook her head as if in answer to her own thoughts while Harry was speaking, but when he ceased she congratulated him warmly.

“You were never fit for pit-work, Harry, and a schoolmaster’s life will suit you well. It is curious that Jack’s two friends should both have taken to the same life.”

Jack’s surprise was unbounded when, a month after the reopening of the Vaughan, Mr. Brook took him over to his new abode. His bewilderment at the size and completeness of the house and its fittings was even greater than his pleasure.

“But what am I to do alone in this great place, Mr. Brook?” he asked; “I shall be lost here. I am indeed deeply grateful to you, but it is much too big for me altogether.”

“It is no bigger now than it has always been,” Mr. Brook said, “and you will never be lost as long as you have your study there,” and he pointed to a room snugly fitted up as a library and study. “You will be no more lonely than I or other men without wives and families; besides you know these may come some day.”

“Ah! but that will be many years on,” Jack said; “I always made up my mind not to marry till I was thirty, because a wife prevents you making your way.”

“Yes; but now that you have made your way so far, Jack, a wife will aid rather than hinder you. But it will be time to think of that in another three or four years. You will not find it so dull as you imagine, Jack. There is your work, which will occupy the greater part of your day. There is your study for the evening. You will speedily know all the people worth knowing round here; I have already introduced you to a good many, and they will be sure to call as soon as you are settled here. In the stable, my dear boy, you will find a couple of horses, and a saddle, and a dog-cart, so that you will be able to take exercise and call about. I shall keep the horses. I consider them necessary for my manager. My men will keep the garden in order, and I think that you will find that your salary of £350 a year to begin with ample for your other expenses.”

Jack was completely overpowered by the kindness of his employer, but the latter would not hear of thanks. “Why, man, I owe you my life,” he said; “what are these little things in comparison?”

Jack found fewer difficulties than he had anticipated in his new position. His speech at the opening of the mine added to the favour with which he was held for his conduct at the time of the explosion, and further heightened the respect due to him for his defence of the Vaughan. As he went through the mine he had ever a cheery “Good morning, Bob,” “Good morning, Jack,” for his old comrades, and the word “sir” was now universally added to the answered “Good morning,” a concession not always made by colliers to their employers.

The miners soon felt the advantages of the new manager’s energy, backed as he was in every respect by the owner. The work as laid down by the government inspector was carried out, and Mr. Brook having bought up for a small sum the disused Logan mine, in which several of the lower seams of coal were still unworked, the opening between the pits was made permanent, and the Logan shaft became the upcast to the Vaughan, thus greatly simplifying the work of ventilation, lessening the danger of explosion, and giving a means of escape for the miners should such a catastrophe recur in spite of all precautions.

As nearly half the old workers at the pit had perished in the explosion, an equal number of new hands had to be taken on. Jack, sharing the anxiety of the vicar and Mr. Dodgson, that all the good work should not be checked by the ingress of a fresh population, directed that all vacancies should be filled up by such colliers of good character as resided at Stokebridge, working for other pits in the neighbourhood. As the Vaughan promised to be the most comfortable and well-worked pit in the country, these were only too glad to change service, and more names were given in than vacancies could be found for. As all the inhabitants of Stokebridge had participated in the benefits of the night schools and classes, and in the improvements which had taken place, the advance of the village suffered no serious check from the catastrophe at the Vaughan.

Chapter list