n artist sitting in the shade under a tree, painting a bit of rustic gate and a lane bright with many honeysuckles. Presently he is conscious of a movement behind him, and looking round, sees a sturdily built boy of some ten years of age, with an old bull-dog lying at his feet, and another standing by his side, watching him.
“Well, lad, what are you doing?”
“Nowt!” said the boy promptly.
“I mean,” the artist said with a smile, “have you anything to do? if not, I will give you sixpence to sit still on that gate for a quarter of an hour. I want a figure.”
The boy nodded, took his seat without a word, and remained perfectly quiet while the artist sketched him in.
“That will do for the present,” the artist said. “You can come and sit down here and look at me at work if you like; but if you have nothing to do for an hour, don’t go away, as I shall want you again presently. Here is the sixpence; you will have another if you’ll wait. What’s your name?” he went on, as the boy threw himself down on the grass, with his head propped up on his elbows.
“Bull-dog,” the lad said promptly; and then colouring up, added “at least they call me Bull-dog, but my right name be Jack Simpson.”
“And why do they call you Bull-dog, Jack?”
The artist had a sympathetic voice and spoke in tones of interest, and the lad answered frankly:
“Mother—that is, my real mother—she died when I were a little kid, and Juno here, she had pups at the time—not that one, she’s Flora, three years old she be—and they used to pretend she suckled me. It bain’t likely, be it?” he asked, as if after all he was not quite sure about it himself. “Schoolmaster says as how it’s writ that there was once two little rum’uns, suckled by a wolf, but he can’t say for sure that it’s true. Mother says it’s all a lie, she fed me from a bottle. But they called me Bull-dog from that, and because Juno and me always went about together; and now they call me so because,” and he laughed, “I take a good lot of licking before I gives in.”
“You’ve been to school, I suppose, Jack?”
“Yes, I’ve had five years schooling,” the boy said carelessly.
“And do you like it?”
“I liked it well enough; I learnt pretty easy, and so ‘scaped many hidings. Dad says it was cos my mother were a schoolmaster’s daughter afore she married my father, and so learning’s in the blood, and comes natural. But I’m done with school now, and am going down the pit next week.”
“What are you going to do there? You are too young for work.”
“Oh, I sha’n’t have no work to do int’ pit, not hard work—just to open and shut a door when the tubs go through.”
“You mean the coal-waggons?”
“Ay, the tubs,” the boy said. “Then in a year or two I shall get to be a butty, that ull be better pay; then I shall help dad in his stall, and at last I shall be on full wages.”
“And after that?” the artist asked.
The lad looked puzzled.
“What will you look forward to after that?”
“I don’t know that there’s nowt else,” the boy said, “except perhaps some day I might, perhaps—but it ain’t likely—but I might get to be a viewer.”
“But why don’t you make up your mind to be something better still, Jack—a manager?”
“What!” exclaimed the boy incredulously; “a manager, like Fenton, who lives in that big house on the hill! Why, he’s a gentleman.”
“Jack,” the artist said, stopping in his work now, and speaking very earnestly, “there is not a lad of your age in the land, brought up as a miner, or a mechanic, or an artisan, who may not, if he sets it before him, and gives his whole mind to it, end by being a rich man and a gentleman. If a lad from the first makes up his mind to three things—to work, to save, and to learn—he can rise in the world. You won’t be able to save out of what you get at first, but you can learn when your work is done. You can read and study of an evening. Then when you get better wages, save something; when, at twenty-one or so, you get man’s wages, live on less than half, and lay by the rest. Don’t marry till you’re thirty; keep away from the public-house; work, study steadily and intelligently; and by the time you are thirty you will have a thousand pounds laid by, and be fit to take a manager’s place.”
“Do’st mean that, sir?” the boy asked quickly.
“I do, Jack. My case is something like it. My father was a village schoolmaster. I went when about twelve years old to a pottery at Burslem. My father told me pretty well what I have told you. I determined to try hard at any rate. I worked in every spare hour to improve myself generally, and I went three evenings a week to the art school. I liked it, and the master told me if I stuck to it I might be a painter some day. I did stick to it, and at twenty could paint well enough to go into that branch of pottery. I stuck to it, and at five-and-twenty was getting as high pay as any one in Burslem, except one or two foreign artists. I am thirty now. I still paint at times on china, but I am now getting well known as an artist, and am, I hope, a gentleman.”
“I’ll do it,” the boy said, rising slowly to his feet and coming close to the artist. “I’ll do it, sir. They call me Bull-dog, and I’ll stick to it.”
“Very well,” the artist said, holding out his hand; “that’s a bargain, Jack. Now, give me your name and address; here are mine. It’s the 1st of June to-day. Now perhaps it will help you a little if I write to you on the 1st of June every year; and you shall answer me, telling me how you are getting on, and whether I can in any way give you help or advice. If I don’t get an answer from you, I shall suppose that you have got tired of it and have given it up.”
“Don’t you never go to suppose that, sir,” the boy said earnestly. “If thou doesn’t get an answer thou’llt know that I’ve been killed, as father was, in a fall or an explosion. Thank you, sir.” And the boy walked quietly off, with the old bull-dog lazily waddling behind him.
“There are the makings of a man in that boy,” the artist said to himself. “I wish though I had finished his figure before we began to talk about his plans for the future. I shall be very proud of that boy if he ever makes a name for himself.”
That evening Jack sat on a low stool and gazed into the fire so steadily and silently that Bill Haden, albeit not given to observe his moods, asked:
“What ail’st, lad? What be’st thinkin’ o’?”
Jack’s thoughts were so deep that it took him some time to shake them off and to turn upon his stool.
“Oi’m thinking o’ getting larning.”
“Thinking o’ getting larning!” the miner repeated in astonishment, “why, ‘ee be just a dun o’ getting larning. ‘Ee ha’ been at it for the last foive year, lad, and noo thou’st going to be done wi’ it and to work in the pit.”
“Oi’m a going to work in the pit, dad, and oi’m a gwine to get larning too. Oi’ve made oop my mind, and oi’m gwine to do it.”
“But bain’t ‘ee got larning?” the miner said. “Thou canst read and write foine, which is more nor I can do and what dost want more?”
“Oi’m a going to get larning,” Jack said again, steadily repeating the formula, “and oi’m gwine soom day to be a manager.”
Bill Haden stared at the boy and then burst into a fit of laughter. “Well, this bangs a’.”
Mrs. Haden was as surprised but more sympathetic.
“Bless the boy, what hast got in your head now?”
Jack showed not the slightest sign of discomfiture at his father’s laughter.
“I met a chap to-day,” he said in answer to Mrs. Haden, “as told I that if I made up my moind to work and joost stuck to ‘t, I could surely make a man o’ myself, and might even roise soom day to be a manager; and I’m a going to do it.”
“Doant ‘ee say a word to check the boy, Bill,” Mrs. Haden said to her husband, as he was about to burst out into jeering remarks. “I tell ‘ee, what Jack says he sticks to, and you oughter know that by this time. What the man, whos’ever he might be, said, was right, Jack,” she went on, turning to the boy. “Larning is a great thing. So far you ain’t showed any turn for larning, Jack, as I ever see’d, but if you get it you may raise yourself to be an overman or a viewer, though I doan’t say a manager; that seems too far away altogether. If you stick to what you say you may do it, Jack. I can’t help you in larning, for I ain’t got none myself, but if I can help you in any other way I ‘ull, and so ‘ull feyther, though he does laugh a bit.”
“He be roight enough to laugh,” Jack said, “for I hain’t had any turn that way, I doant know as I ha’ now, but I’m a going to try, and if trying can do it,” he said in his steady tones, “oi’ll do it. I think I ha’ got some o’ the bull-dog strain in me, and I’ll hoult on to it as Bess would hoult on to a man’s throat if she pinned him.”
“I know you will, my lad,” Mrs. Haden said, while her husband, lighting his pipe and turning to go out, said:
“It matters nowt to me one way or t’other, but moind, lad, larning or no larning, thou’st got to go into the pit next week and arn your living.”
“Jack,” Mrs. Haden said presently, “dost know, I wouldn’t do nowt wi’ this new fancy o’ thine, not till arter thou’st a been to work i’ the pit for a while; a week or two will make no differ to ‘ee, and thou doan’t know yet how tired ye’ll be when ye coom oop nor how thou’lt long for the air and play wi’ lads o’ thy own age. I believe, Jack, quite believe that thou be’st in arnest on it, and I know well that when thou dost begin thou’lt stick to ‘t. But it were better to wait till thou know’st what ’tis thou art undertaking.”
Jack felt that there was a good deal in what his mother said. “Very well, mother. ‘Twant make no differ to me, but oi’ll do as th’ asks me.”
THE VAUGHAN PIT.
mong the group of men and boys assembled round the mouth of the Vaughan pit on the 7th of June were two little lads, Jack Simpson and Harry Shepherd, who were to make the descent for the first time. The boys were fast friends. Harry was the taller but was slighter than Jack, and far less sturdy and strong. Both were glad that they were to go into the pit, for although the life of a gate-boy is dull and monotonous, yet in the pit villages the boys look forward to it as marking the first step in a man’s life, as putting school and lessons behind, and as raising them to a position far in advance of their former associates.
Nowadays the law has stepped in, and the employment of such mere children in the mines is forbidden, but at that time it had not been changed, and if a boy was big enough to shut a door he was big enough to go into a mine.
“Dost feel skeary, Jack?” Harry asked.
“Noa,” Jack said; “what be there to be skeary aboot? I bean’t afeard of the dark, and they say in time ‘ee get used to it, and can see pretty nigh loike a cat. There be dad a calling. Good-bye, Harry, I’ll see thee to-night.”
The yard of the Vaughan resembled that of other large collieries. It was a large space, black and grimy, on which lines of rails were laid down in all directions; on these stood trains of waggons, while here and there were great piles of coal. In the centre rose up a lofty scaffolding of massive beams. At the top of this was the wheel over which a strong wire rope or band ran to the winding engine close by, while from the other end hung the cage, a wooden box some six feet square. At the corner of this box were clips or runners which fitted on to the guides in the shaft and so prevented any motion of swinging or swaying. So smoothly do these cages work that, standing in one as it is lowered or drawn up, only a very slight vibration or tremor tells that you are in motion. Near the square house in which stood the winding engine was another precisely similar occupied by the pumping engine.
The Vaughan was worked by a single shaft divided by a strong wooden partition into two, one of these known as the downcast shaft, that is, the shaft through which the air descends into the mine, the other the upcast, through which the current, having made its way through all the windings and turnings of the roadways below, again ascends to the surface. This system of working by a single shaft, however, is very dangerous, as, in the event of an explosion, both shafts may become involved in the disaster and there will be no means of getting at the imprisoned miners. Nowadays all well-regulated mines have two shafts, one at a distance from the other, but this was less common thirty years back, and the Vaughan, like most of its neighbours, was worked with a single shaft.
Each miner before descending went to the lamp-room and received a lighted “Davy.” As almost every one is aware, the principle of this lamp, and indeed of all that have since been invented, is that flame will not pass through a close wire-gauze. The lamp is surrounded with this gauze, and although, should the air be filled with gas to an explosive point, it will ignite if it comes in contact with flame, the gauze prevents the light of the lamp from exploding the gas-charged air outside. When the air is of a very explosive character even the Davy-lamps have to be extinguished, as the heat caused by the frequent ignitions within the lamp raises the gauze to a red heat, and the gas beyond will take fire.
Jack took his place in the cage with Bill Haden and as many others as it could contain. He gave a little start as he felt a sudden sinking; the sides of the shaft seemed to shoot up all round him, wet, shining, and black. A few seconds and the light of day had vanished, and they were in darkness, save that overhead was a square blue patch of sky every moment diminishing in size.
“Be’st afeard, Jack?” Bill Haden asked, raising his lamp so as to get a sight of the boy’s face.
“Noa, why should I?” Jack said; “I heard ‘ee say that the ropes were new last month, so there ain’t nothin to be afeard on!”
“That is the young un they call Bull-dog, ain’t it, Bill?”
“Ay!” Bill Haden answered; “he’s game, he is; you can’t make him yelp. I’ve licked him till I was tired, but he never whimpered. Now then, out you go;” and as the cage stopped the men all stepped out and started for the places in which they were working.
“Coom along, Jack; the viewer told me to put you at No. 10 gate.”
It was ten minutes fast—and as Jack thought very unpleasant—walking. The sleepers on which the rails for the corves, or little waggons, were laid, were very slippery. Pools of water stood between them and often covered them, and blocks of coal of all sizes, which had shaken from the corves, lay in the road. When it was not water it was black mud. Sometimes a line of waggons full or empty stood on the rails, and to pass these they had to squeeze against the damp walls. Before he reached his post the gloss of Jack’s new mining clothes had departed for ever. The white jumper was covered with black smears, and two or three falls on the slippery wooden sleepers had effectively blackened his canvas trousers.
“There, lad,” Bill Haden said at length, holding his lamp high to afford a general view of the situation; “that’s your place.”
“The place” was a hollow like a cupboard, some five feet high, two deep, and a little wider. There was a wooden seat in it, a peg or two had been driven into the rock to hang things from, and a handful or so of hay upon the ground showed that Jack’s predecessor had an idea of comfort.
“There you are, and not a bad place either, Jack. You see this cord? Now when thou hearst a team of corves coming along, pull yon end and open the door. When they have passed let go the cord and the door shuts o’ ‘tself, for it’s got a weight and pulley. It’s thy business to see that it has shut, for if a chunk of coal has happened to fall and stops the door from shutting, the ventilation goes wrong and we all goes to kingdom come in no time. That’s all thou’st got to do ‘cept to keep awake. Of course you woan’t do that; no boy does. So that you larn to wake up when the corves come along, that ull do foine.”
“But if I doan’t?” Jack asked.
“Well, if thou doan’t thou’lt get waked with a cuff o’ th’ ear by the driver, and it depends on what sort o’ chap he be how hard the cuff thou’lt get. I doan’t think thou’lt feel lonely here, for along that side road they bring down other corves and the horse comes and takes ’em on. On this main road the horses go through to the upper end of the mine, half a mile farther.”
“How do it make a differ whether this door be open or shut, father?”
“Well, lad, the air comes up the road we ha come by. Now it’s wanted to go round about by the workings on that side road. This door be put to stop it from going by the straight road, so there’s nothing for it but for to go round by the workings, maybe for a mile, maybe three miles, till it gets back into the main road again. So when the door is open the ventilation is checked right round the workings; so mind doan’t ‘ee open the door till the horse is close to it, and shut it directly it’s past.”
When the door closed behind his foster-father, and Jack Simpson remained alone in the dense darkness, a feeling of utter loneliness and desertion stole over him. The blackness was intense and absolute; a low confused murmur, the reverberation of far-off noises in the pit, sounded in his ears. He spoke, and his voice sounded muffled and dull.
“This be worse nor I looked for,” the boy said to himself; “I suppose I’ll get used to it, but I doan’t wonder that some young uns who ain’t strong as I be are badly frighted at first.”
Presently the confused noise seemed to get louder, then a distinct rumble was heard, and Jack felt with delight that a train of waggons was approaching. Then he saw far along the gallery a light swinging, as the man who bore it walked ahead of the horse. The water in the little pools between the sleepers reflected it in a score of little lines of light. Now he could hear the hollow splashing sound of the horses’ hoofs, and prepared to answer to the shout of “door” by pulling at the string beside him. When the light came within twenty yards it changed its direction; he heard the grating of the wheels against the points, and saw that the waggons were going up the other road. There upon a siding they came to a stop, and a minute or two later a number of full waggons were brought down by another horse. A few words were exchanged by the drivers, but Jack’s ear, unaccustomed to the echoes of a mine, could not catch what they said; then the first man hitched his horse on to the full waggons, and started for the shaft, while the other with the empties went up the road to the workings.
The incident, slight as it had been, had altogether dissipated the feeling of uneasiness of which Jack had been conscious. Before, he had seemed shut out from the world, as if within a living tomb, but the sight of men engaged at their ordinary work close by him completely restored the balance of his mind, and henceforth he never felt the slightest discomfort at being alone in the dark.
A few minutes after the rumbling of the departing train of “tubs” had died in his ear, he again heard it. Again he watched the slowly approaching light, and when it came within a few yards of him he heard the expected shout of “Gate!” He replied by a shout of “All right!” and as the driver came level with him pulled the cord and the door opened.
“G’long, Smiler,” the driver said, and the horse went forward. The man leaned forward and raised his lamp to Jack’s face.
“I thawt ’twasn’t Jim Brown’s voice. Who be’st thou?”
“Jack Simpson; I live along wi’ Bill Haden.”
“Ay, ay, I know’st, I knew thy father, a good sort he was too. Be’st thy first day doon the pit?”
“Ay,” Jack said.
“Foind it dark and lonesome, eh? Thou’lt get used to it soon.”
“How often do the corves come along?” Jack asked as the man prepared to run on after the waggons, the last of which had just passed.
“There be a set goes out every ten minutes, maybe, on this road, and every twenty minutes on the other, two o’ ours to one o’ theirs;” and he moved forward.
Jack let the door slam after him, went out and felt that it had shut firmly, and then resumed his seat in his niche. He whistled for a bit, and then his thoughts turned to the learning which he had determined firmly to acquire.
“I wish I’d ha’ took to it afore,” he said to himself. “What a sight o’ time I ha’ lost! I’ll go over in my head all the lessons I can remember; and them as I doant know, and that’s the best part, I reckon I’ll look up when I get hoame. Every day what I learns fresh I’ll go over down here. I shall get it perfect then, and it will pass the time away finely. I’ll begin at oncet. Twice two is four;” and so Jack passed the hours of his first day in the pit, recalling his lessons, reproaching himself continually and bitterly with the time he had wasted, breaking off every ten minutes from his rehearsals to open the door for the train of corves going in empty and going out full, exchanging a few words each time with the drivers, all of whom were good-naturedly anxious to cheer up the new boy, who must, as they supposed, be feeling the loneliness of his first day in the pit keenly. Such was by no means the case with Jack, and he was quite taken by surprise when a driver said to him, “This be the last train this shift.”
“Why, it bean’t nigh two o’clock, surely?” he said.
“It be,” the driver said; “wants ten minutes, that’s all.”
Soon the miners began to come along.
“Hullo, Jack!” Bill Haden’s voice said. “Be’st still here. Come along of me. Why didst stop, lad? Thou canst always quit thy post when the first man comes through on his way out. Hast felt it lonely, lad?”
“Not a bit, dad.”
“That’s strange too,” Bill said. “Most young boys finds it awful lonely o’ first. I know I thowt that first day were never coming to an end. Weren’t frighted at t’ dark?”
“I thought it was onnatural dark and still the first ten minutes,” Jack admitted honestly; “but arter the first set o’ corves came along I never thawt no more about the dark.”
“Here we are at the shaft, joomp in, there’s just room for you and me.”