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THE LOST MINERS. A. Little group of villagers were gathered together at noon in the timber-yard fronting the workshop of William Wicks the carpenter. The men stood in various attitudes around the carpenter, who was reading a newspaper aloud to his neighbours, namely, Parsons the blacksmith, Bands the shoemaker, Everest the tailor, Jones the farmer, and lloberts, who lived opposite the churchyard gate, and was a leisurely sort of man, having a small independence to live upon, in the shape of sundry house and cottage rents.
Neither the reader nor his hearers seemed to be elated by the news, whatever it might be, although there was much earnest interest in all their looks. So far, indeed, from pleasure being depicted on their countenances, there were appearances of painful sympathy manifested by each, in their several ways. Sometimes the voice of the reader faltered; while here and there an unbidden and unnoticed tear stole down the cheek of one and another of his listeners. We may transcribe some of the newspaper intelligence which produced this effect.
"At twenty minutes to six o'clock," Bo the carpenter read, "Messrs. Humble and Hall came io bank, both suffering considerably from the combined effect of noxious air, and the sad sight of which they had been spectators. As speedily as possible, some hot tea was administered to them; and in a short time, both men were sufficiently recovered to relate what they had aeesx in the workings below.
"Mr. Humble was visibly affected, and it was only between his half-stifled sobs that the painful recital of the scene he had just witnessed could be obtained from him. | His first words on returning to consciousness, were, 'Oh dear! oh dear! so many of my fellow-creatures killed! My canny fellows!' In answer to Mr. P—, he said, 'Yes, they're all dead. If they're only happy! May the Lord have mercy on them!' Here the trial was too much for him, for he again gave vent to his harrowed feelings, and was unable to go on with his distressing story.
"Mr. Hall was rather more collected; and from him was learned that those in the pit were all dead. The men, he said, were all at the shaft, and the boys were lying among them, «de by side with their relatives. It is scarcely possible to conceive a scene more touching than this—fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, after undergoing almost unheard-of misery and privation in that dreary dungeon, quietly resigning themselves to their horrid iate; their last remaining consolation being that even in death they were not divided.
"At half-past four o'clock the intelligence of the discovery was conveyed to the village. It is impossible to give an idea of the terrible scenes in every house. . . . In every house may be heard the hysterical sob, the agonized wail of suffering woman, weeping for the husband of her love, and the father of her orphan children, now lying cold and silent in the depths of the fatal pit. . . The street of the village is filled with women who steal noiselessly from house to house on their mission of mercy, endeavouring to impart solace to these bereaved ones. Not women alone, however; for ministers of the gospel may be seen hurrying to and fro, in the semi-darkness, engaging in the work of their Master, and endeavouring, by their spiritual consolation, to cheer the 'weary and heavy-laden.'
"It is heart-rending to reflect that every house is tenanted by grief-stricken widows and fatherless children, many of them left fatherless at the very threshold of life, and deprived, suddenly, of the hand that should have guarded their infant years.
"In our hurried passage along the street, many scenes came under our notice almost too sacred for us to allude to: here, the weeping mother pressing to her breast the infant who was lisping out the name of its 'dada:' and a gush of tears and a hopeless shake of the head told too truly that the heart of that loved 'dada' was cold in death at the bottom of the mine. There, might be seen a fine little boy sobbing as if his heart would break, and' looking wistfully towards the pit, as if he expected to see some well-remembered form, and perhaps wondering, poor little fellow, what his unhappy mother meant by telling him that he was an orphan. . . ."
"Don't read any more, Wicks, don't!" cried Everest, the tailor, hurriedly: "it is too shocking, altogether. And to think that such things should happen in our day, too!"
"It makes one shudder to think of it," added the shoe maker; "and to consider that while we have been sitting at ease every night for this last week, and making ourselves comfortable by our firesides, more than two hundred of our poor fellow-creatures have been dying, or already dead, shut up in that horrible coal mine!"
"With their poor wives and little ones clamouring and despairing round, the pit's mouth for their husbands and sons, and fathers and brothers! It is hard to Bay which must have suffered most—those in the mine, or those out of it," said Mr. Jones, the farmer.
"For my part," observed Samuel Eoberts, "I am almost disposed to think that the poor wives and mothers on the ground above must have been the biggest sufferers, because their trouble is the most lasting. The poor things
in the mine were soon out of their misery; but the women ."
"May-be you are right, Eoberts," said the carpenter; "and what I read just now about the scene in the village, puts me in mind of that verse in Jeremiah's prophecies,— 'A voice was heard in Eamah, lamentation, and bitter weeping: Eachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they were not.'"
"And I was thinking of what queen Esther said to the king, 'How shall I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?'"
"I tell you what it is," said Parsons, the blacksmith, with his strong voice, which trembled a little, too, with present emotion; "I don't hold with using cast-iron where there's human life to be considered. I know something about the nature of metals, or ought to do; and I know that cast-iron is not to be depended on like wrought. There's a brittleness about it that ought not to be trusted to; and where one part is weak, all is weak. You remember, neighbours, some of you, our talk about the wellchain in my forge yonder."
"But that is made of wrought-iron, isn't it?" demanded Bands.
"To be sure it is; and I should like to know who would trust himself to a cast-iron chain, if such a thing could be," replied Parsons. "But that isn't it. You may see where there is a faulty link in a wrought-iron chain,* and you may remedy it; but I would defy any one to tell mo where a cast-iron beam is faulty till the mischief is done. And 1 say again, where one part is weak, all is weak."
Our readers will readily understand the cause of this conversation. Deep down in a coal mine, shut out from light, and liberty, and food (except what they might have with them), and from pure air; and, as it too sadly proved at last, from help and hope, more than two hundred poor miners had recently been imprisoned by an unforeseen accident; and the sad news had just been spread through all England, by every newspaper, that when, after a week's arduous and anxious toil, a way had been made to them from the pit's mouth, down the ruined shaft, the miners had all been found dead. This was the intelligence which the carpenter had been reading to his neighbours during their dinner hour; and no wonder that the sympathies of * See "The Faulty Link," in Tract Magazine, June, 1861.
each were called forth by such an occasion. It is not for us to say whether the blacksmith's strictures on the use of cast-iron were just or otherwise. Like everybody else, he had his opinions, no doubt; and being a worker of iron, it was natural for him to say that there is nothing like wrought-iron for strength and safety.
The men had not yet dispersed, but were in full, though subdued conference about the terrible and fatal event, and were saying one to another what a noble, loving thing it was of the dear queen (full of sorrow as she herself is at this present time) to forget her own griefs while she sent kind messages to that afflicted colliery village, and anxious inquiries about the poor imprisoned miners. While they were talking of this, their friendly clergyman, Mr. Gresham, passed along the road.
It would not have been like him if he had not halted for a minute or two, to exchange greetings with his parishioners: and it would not have been like them if they had not made him acquainted with the subject of their deliberations, though, indeed, he might have guessed at this, by seeing the newspaper in the hand of one of them, and the sorrowful countenances of all; for the accident had been in most people's thoughts all the past week.
"I cannot decide the question between cast-iron and wrought-iron," said Mr. Gresham, when appealed to; "though I must say there is some show of reason on my friend Parsons' side; but I agree with you all that it is a beautiful and touching inoident, that our excellent queen has shown such sympathy for the poor sufferers. For though she could do nothing in the way of help to the imprisoned miners, her kindness will surely always live in the hearts of the afflicted mourners."
"It is a dreadful accident, make the best of it," continued Everest, after a few more words from Mr. Gresham; "1 have heard of such things before in coal mines, but never anything so bad as this. Have you, sir?"
"Not in a coal mine," replied Mr. Gresham: "at least, I do not remember to have read of any similar event more appalling. But"— here he considered a little while— "yes—1 think—indeed I am sure, I have heard of, and known, and even witnessed, something which may be likened to this sad tragedy; while infinitely more terrible j and fatal in its consequences, far more wide-spread too in its ruin."