Part 6 out of 7
"Indeed I would!" he said. "Oh, _indeed_ I would!"
She drew his head down upon her bosom and kissed his lips again
and again; then she released him and rose to go. She inquired very
tenderly about his health, about his work, about his likes in
the way of books and food and clothing; and one could see that,
notwithstanding her resolution to leave Ralph with Bachelor Billy, she
still had many plans in her mind, for his comfort and happiness. She
charged Billy to be very careful of the boy; she kissed him again, and
Mildred kissed him, and then they stepped into the carriage and the
restless brown horses drew them rapidly away.
THE FIRE IN THE SHAFT.
A boy with Ralph's natural courage and spirit could not remain long
despondent. Ambition came back to him with the summer days, and hope
found an abiding place in his breast once more. It was not, indeed,
the old ambition to be rich and learned and famous, nor the hope that
he should yet be surrounded with beauty in a home made bright by a
All these things, though they had not faded from his mind, were
thought of only as sweet dreams of the past. His future, as he looked
out upon it now, did not hold them; yet it was a future that had in
it no disappointment, no desolation, no despair. The path before him
was a very humble one, indeed, but he resolved to tread it royally.
Because the high places and the beautiful things of earth were not for
him was no reason why he should sit and mourn his fate in cheerless
inactivity. He determined to be up and doing, with the light and
energy that he had, looking constantly ahead for more. He knew that in
America there is always something better for the very humblest toiler
to anticipate, and that, with courage, hope, and high endeavor to
assist him, he is sure to reach his goal.
Ralph resolved, at any rate, to do all that lay in his power toward
the attainment of useful and honorable manhood. He did not set his
mark so very high, but the way to it was rough with obstacles and
bordered with daily toil.
His plan was, simply to find better places for himself about the
breaker and the mines, as his age and strength would permit, and so to
do his work as to gain the confidence of his employers. When he should
become old enough, he would be a miner's laborer, then a miner, and
perhaps, eventually, he might rise to the position of a mine boss.
He would improve his leisure with self study, get what schooling he
could, and, finally, as the height of his ambition, he hoped that,
some day, he might become a mining engineer; able to sink shafts, to
direct headings, to map out the devious courses of the mine, or to
build great breakers like the one in which he spent his days.
Having marked out his course he began to follow it. He labored
earnestly and with a will. The breaker boss said that no cleaner coal
was emptied into the cars at the loading place than that which came
down through Ralph's chute.
His plan was successful as it was bound to be, and it was not long
before a better place was offered to him. It was that of a driver boy
in the mine below the breaker. He accepted it; the wages were much
better than those he was now receiving, and it was a long step ahead
toward the end he had in view.
But the work was new and strange to him. He did not like it. He did
not think, at first, that he ever could like it. It was so dark in
the mines, so desolate, so lonely. He grew accustomed to the place,
however, as the days went by, and then he began not to mind it so
much after all. He had more responsibility here, but the work was not
so tiresome and monotonous as it had been in the screen-room, and he
could be in motion all the time.
He went down the shaft every morning with a load of miners and
laborers, carrying his whip and his dinner-pail, and a lighted lamp
fastened to the front of his cap. When he reached the bottom of
the shaft he hurried to the inside plane, and up the slope to the
stables to get his mule. The mule's name was Jasper. Nobody knew why
he had been named Jasper, but when Ralph called him by that name he
always came to him. He was a very intelligent animal, but he had
an exceedingly bad habit of kicking.
It was Ralph's duty to take the mule from the stable, to fasten him
to a trip of empty mine cars, and to make him draw them to the little
cluster of chambers at the end of the branch that turned off from the
This was the farthest point from the shaft in the entire mine. The
distance from the head of the plane alone was more than a mile, and
it was from the head of the plane that Ralph took the cars. When he
reached the end of his route he left one car of his trip at the foot
of each chamber in which it was needed, gathered together into a new
trip the loaded cars that had been pushed down to the main track for
him, and started back with them to the head of the plane.
He usually made from eight to ten round trips a day; stopping at noon,
or thereabouts, to eat the dinner with which the Widow Maloney had
filled his pail. All the driver boys on that level gathered at the
head of the plane to eat their dinners, and, during the noon-hour,
the place was alive with shouts and songs and pranks and chattering
without limit. These boys were older, stronger, ruder than those in
the screen-room; but they were no less human and good-hearted; only
one needed to look beneath the rough exterior into their real natures.
There were eight of them who took trips in by Ralph's heading, but,
for the last half-mile of his route, he was the only driver boy. It
was a lonesome half-mile too, with no working chambers along it,
and Ralph was always glad when he reached the end of it. There was,
usually, plenty of life, though, up in the workings to which he
distributed his cars. One could look up from the air-way and see the
lights dancing in the darkness at the breast of every chamber. There
was always the sharp tap, tap of the drill, the noise of the sledge
falling heavily on the huge lumps of coal, sometimes a sudden rush of
air against one's face, followed by a dull report and crash that told
of the firing of a blast, and now and then a miner's laborer would
come running a loaded car down to the heading or go pushing an empty
one back up the chamber.
There was a laborer up in one of these chambers with whom Ralph had
formed quite a friendship. His name was Michael Conway. He was young
and strong-limbed, with huge hairy arms, a kind face, and a warm
He had promised to teach Ralph the art of breaking and loading coal.
He expected, he said, to have a chamber himself after a while, and
then he would take the boy on as a laborer. Indeed, Ralph had already
learned many things from him about the use of tools and the handling
of coal and the setting of props. But he did not often have an
opportunity to see Conway at work. The chamber in which the young man
was laboring was the longest one in the tier, and the loaded car was
usually at the foot of it when Ralph arrived with his trip of lights;
so that he had only to run the empty car up into the air-way a few
feet, take on the loaded one, and start back toward the plane.
But one afternoon, when he came up with his last trip for the day, he
found no load at the foot of Conway's chamber, and, after waiting a
few minutes, he went up to the face to investigate. He found Conway
there alone. The miner for whom the young man worked had fallen sick
and had gone out earlier than usual, so his laborer had finished
the blast at which the employer had been at work. It was a blast of
top-coal, and therefore it took longer to get it down and break it up.
This accounted for the delay.
"Come up here with ye," said Conway to the boy; "I want to show ye
Ralph climbed up on to the shelf of coal at the breast of the chamber,
and the man, tearing away a few pieces of slate and a few handfuls of
dirt from a spot in the upper face, disclosed an opening in the wall
scarcely larger than one's head. A strong current of air coursed
through it, and when Conway put his lamp against it the flame was
extinguished in a moment.
"Where does it go to?" asked Ralph.
"I don't just know, but I think it must go somewhere into the workin's
from old No. 1 slope. The boss, he was in this mornin', and he said he
thought we must be a-gettin' perty close to them old chambers."
"Does anybody work in there?"
"Oh, bless ye, no! They robbed the pillars tin years ago an' more; I
doubt an ye could get through it at all now. It's one o' the oldest
places in the valley, I'm thinkin'. D'ye mind the old openin' ye can
see in the side-hill when ye're goin' up by Tom Ballard's to the
"Yes, that's where Uncle Billy worked when he was a miner."
"Did he, thin! Well, that's where they wint in. It's a long way from
here though, I'm thinkin'."
"Awful strong wind goin' in there, ain't they?"
"Yes, I must block it up again, or it'll take all our air away."
"What'll your miner do to-morrow when he finds this place?"
"Oh, he'll have to get another chamber, I guess."
The man was fastening up the opening again with pieces of slate and
coal, and plastering it over with loose wet dirt.
"Well," said Ralph, "I'll have to go now. Jasper's gettin' in a hurry.
Don't you hear 'im?"
Conway helped the boy to push the loaded car down the chamber and
fasten it to his trip.
"I'll not be here long," said the man as he turned back into the
air-way, "I'll take this light in, an' pick things up a bit, an' quit.
Maybe I'll catch ye before ye get to the plane."
"All right! I'll go slow. Hurry up; everybody else has gone out, you
After a moment Ralph heard Conway pushing the empty car up the
chamber, then he climbed up on his trip, took the reins, said,
"giddep" to Jasper, and they started on the long journey out. For
some reason it seemed longer than usual this night. But Ralph did not
urge his beast. He went slowly, hoping that Conway would overtake him
before he reached the plane.
He looked back frequently, but Mike, as every one called him, was not
yet in sight.
The last curve was reached, and, as the little trip rounded it,
Ralph's attention was attracted by a light which was being waved
rapidly in the distance ahead of him. Some one was shouting, too. He
stopped the mule, and held the cars back to listen, but the sound
was so broken by intervening pillars and openings that all he could
catch was: "Hurry! hurry--up!" He laid the whip on Jasper's back
energetically, and they went swiftly to the head of the plane. There
was no one there when he reached it, but half-way down the incline he
saw the light again, and up the broad, straight gallery came the cry
of danger distinctly to his ears.
"Hurry! hurry! The breaker's afire! The shaft's a-burnin'!--run!"
Instinctively Ralph unhitched the mule, dropped the trace-chains,
and ran down the long incline of the plane. He reached the foot,
rounded the curve, and came into sight of the bottom of the shaft.
A half-dozen or more of men and boys were there, crowding in toward
the carriage-way, with fear stamped on their soiled faces, looking
anxiously up for the descending carriage.
"Ralph, ye're lucky!" shouted some one to the boy as he stepped
breathless and excited into the group. "Ye're just in time for
the last carriage. It'll not come down but this once, again. It's
a-gettin' too hot up there to run it Ye're the last one from the end
chambers, too. Here, step closer!"
Then Ralph thought of Conway.
"Did Mike come out?" he asked. "Mike Conway?"
As he spoke a huge fire-brand fell from the shaft at their feet,
scattering sparks and throwing out smoke. The men drew back a little,
and no one answered Ralph's question.
"Has Mike Conway come out yet?" he repeated.
"Yes, long ago; didn't he, Jimmy?" replied some one, turning to the
"Mike Conway? no it was Mike Corcoran that went out. Is Conway back
"He is!" exclaimed Ralph, "he is just a-comin'. I'll tell 'im to
Another blazing stick fell as the lad darted out from among the men
and ran toward the foot of the plane.
"Come back, Ralph!" shouted some one, "come back; ye've no time; the
carriage is here!"
"Hold it a minute!" answered the boy, "just a minute; I'll see 'im on
The carriage struck the floor of the mine heavily and threw a shower
of blazing fragments from its iron roof. At the same moment a man
appeared from a lower entrance and hurried toward the group.
"It's Conway!" cried some one; "he's come across by the sump. Ralph!
"Why, where's Ralph?" asked Conway, as he crowded on to the carriage.
"Gone to the plane to warn ye," was the answer."
"Wait the hoisting bell, then, till I get 'im."
But the carriage was already moving slowly upward.
"You can't do it!" shouted some one.
"Then I'll stay with 'im!" cried Conway, trying to push his way off.
"Ralph, oh, Ralph!"
But the man was held to his place by strong arms, and the next moment
the smoking, burning carriage was speeding up the shaft for the last
Ralph reached the foot of the plane and looked up it, but he saw no
light in the darkness there. Before he had time to think what he
should do next, he heard a shout from the direction of the shaft:--
"Ralph! oh, Ralph!"
It was Conway's voice. He recognized it. He had often heard that voice
coming from the breast of Mike's chamber, in kindly greeting.
Quick as thought he turned on his heel and started back. He flew
around the curve like a shadow.
"Wait!" he cried, "wait a minute; I'm a-comin'!"
At the foot of the shaft there was a pile of blazing sticks, but there
was no carriage there, nor were there any men. He stumbled into the
very flames in his eagerness, and called wildly up the dark opening:
"Wait! come back! oh, wait!"
But the whirring, thumping noise of a falling body was the only answer
that came to him, and he darted back in time to escape destruction
from a huge flaming piece of timber that struck the floor of the mine
with a great noise, and sent out a perfect shower of sparks.
But they might send the carriage down again if he rang for it.
He ran across and seized the handle of the bell wire and pulled it
with all his might. The wire gave way somewhere above him and came
coiling down upon his head. He threw it from him and turned again
toward the opening of the shaft. Then the carriage did descend. It
came down the shaft for the last time in its brief existence, came
like a thunderbolt, struck the floor of the mine with a great shock
and--collapsed. It was just a mass of fragments covered by an iron
roof--that was all. On top of it fell a storm of blazing sticks and
timbers, filling up the space at the foot, piling a mass of wreckage
high into the narrow confines of the shaft.
Ralph retreated to the footman's bench, and sat there looking vaguely
at the burning heap and listening to the crash of falling bodies, and
the deep roar of the flames that coursed upward out of sight. He could
hardly realize the danger of his situation, it had all come upon him
so suddenly. He knew, however, that he was probably the only human
being in the mine, that the only way of escape was by the shaft, and
that that was blocked.
But he did not doubt for a moment that he would be rescued in time.
They would come down and get him, he knew, as soon as the shaft could
be cleared out. The crashing still continued, but it was not so loud
now, indicating, probably, that the burning wreckage had reached to a
great height in the shaft.
The rubbish at the foot had become so tightly wedged to the floor of
the mine that it had no chance to burn, and by and by the glow from
the burning wood was entirely extinguished, the sparks sputtered and
went out, and darkness settled slowly down again upon the place.
Ralph still sat there, because that was the spot nearest to where
human beings were, and that was the way of approach when they should
come to rescue him.
At last there was only the faint glimmer from his own little lamp
to light up the gloom, and the noises in the shaft had died almost
Then came a sense of loneliness and desolation to be added to his
fear. Silence and darkness are great promoters of despondency. But he
still hoped for the best.
After a time he became aware that he was sitting in an atmosphere
growing dense with smoke. The air current had become reversed, at
intervals, and had sent the smoke pouring out from among the charred
timbers in dense volumes. It choked the boy, and he was obliged to
move. Instinctively he made his way along the passage to which he was
most accustomed toward the foot of the plane.
Here he stopped and seated himself again, but he did not stay long.
The smoke soon reached him, surrounded him, and choked him again. He
walked slowly up the plane. When he reached the head he was tired and
his limbs were trembling. He went across to the bench by the wheel and
sat down on it. He thought to wait here until help should come.
He felt sure that he would be rescued; miners never did these things
by halves, and he knew that, sooner or later, he should leave the mine
alive. The most that he dreaded now was the waiting, the loneliness,
the darkness, the hunger perhaps, the suffering it might be, from
smoke and foul air.
In the darkness back of him he heard a noise. It sounded like heavy
irregular stepping. He was startled at first, but it soon occurred
to him that the sounds were made by the mule which he had left there
He was right. In another moment Jasper appeared with his head
stretched forward, sniffing the air curiously, and looking in a
frightened way at Ralph.
The boy spoke cheerily, because he was relieved from sudden fright,
and because he was glad to see in the mine a living being whom he
knew, even though it was only a mule.
The beast came forward and pushed his nose against Ralph's breast
as if seeking sympathy, and the boy put up his hand and rubbed the
"We're shut in, Jasper," he said, "the breaker's burned, an' things
afire have tumbled down the shaft an' we can't get out till they clean
it up an' come for us."
The mule raised his head and looked around him, then he rested his
nose against Ralph's shoulder again.
"We'll stay together, won't we, old fellow? We'll keep each other
company till they come for us. I'm glad I found you, Jasper; I'm very
He patted the beast's neck affectionately; then he removed the bridle
from his head, unbuckled the harness and slipped it down to the
ground, and tried to get the collar off; but it would not come. He
turned it and twisted it and pulled it, but he could not get it over
the animal's ears. He gave up trying at last, and after laying the
remainder of the harness up against the wheel-frame, he sat down on
the bench again.
Except the occasional quick stamping of Jasper's feet, there was no
sound, and Ralph sat for a long time immersed in thought.
The mule had been gazing contemplatively down the plane into the
darkness; finally he turned and faced toward the interior of the mine.
It was evident that he did not like the contaminated air that was
creeping up the slope. Ralph, too, soon felt the effect of it; it
made his head light and dizzy, and the smoke with which it was laden
brought back the choking sensation into his throat. He knew that he
must go farther in. He rose and went slowly along the heading, over
his accustomed route, until he reached a bench by a door that opened
into the air-way. Here he sat down again. He was tired and was
breathing heavily. A little exertion seemed to exhaust him so. He
could not quite understand it. He remembered when he had run all the
way from the plane to the north chambers with only a quickening of the
breath as the result. He was not familiar with the action of vitiated
air upon the system.
Jasper had followed him; so closely indeed that the beast's nose had
often touched the boy's shoulder as they walked.
Ralph's lamp seemed to weigh heavily on his head, and he unfastened it
from his cap and placed it on the bench beside him.
Then he fell to thinking again. He thought how anxious Bachelor Billy
would be about him, and how he would make every effort to accomplish
his rescue. He hoped that his Uncle Billy would be the first one to
reach him when the way was opened; that would be very pleasant for
Mrs. Burnham would be anxious about him too. He knew that she would;
she had been very kind to him of late, very kind indeed, and she came
often to see him.
Then the memory of Robert Burnham came back to him. He thought of the
way he looked and talked, of his kind manner and his gentle words. He
remembered how, long ago, he had resolved to strive toward the perfect
manhood exemplified in this man's life. He wondered if he had done the
best he could. The scenes and incidents of the day on which this good
man died recurred to him.
Why, it was at this very door that the little rescuing party had
turned off to go up into the easterly tier of chambers. Ralph had not
been up there since. He had often thought to go over again the route
taken on that day, but he had never found the time to do so. He had
time enough at his disposal now, however; why not make the trip up
there? it would be better than sitting here in idleness to wait for
some sign of rescue.
He arose and opened the door.
The mule made as if to follow him.
"You stay here, Jasper," he said, "I won't be gone long."
He shut the door in the animal's face and started off up the
side-heading. There had not been much travel on this road during the
last year. Most of the chambers in this part of the mine had been
worked out and abandoned.
As the boy passed on he recalled the incidents of the former journey.
He came to a place where the explosion at that time had blown out the
props and shaken down the roof until the passage was entirely blocked.
He remembered that they had turned there and had gone up into a
chamber to try to get in through the entrances. But they had found the
entrances all blocked, and the men had set to work to make an opening
through one of them. Ralph recalled the scene very distinctly. With
what desperate energy those men worked, tearing away the stones
and dirt with their hands in order to get in the sooner to their
He remembered that while they were doing this Robert Burnham had
seated himself on a fallen prop, had torn a leaf from his memorandum
book and had asked Ralph to hold his lamp near by, so that he could
see to write. He filled one side of the leaf, half of the other side,
folded it, addressed it, and placed it in the pocket of his vest. Then
he went up and directed the enlargement of the opening and crawled
through with the rest. Here was the entrance, and here was the
opening, just as it had been left. Ralph clambered through it and went
down to the fall. The piled-up rocks were before him, as he had seen
them that day. Nothing had been disturbed.
On the floor of the mine was something that attracted his attention.
He stooped and picked it up. It was a piece of paper.
There was writing on it in pencil, much faded now, but still distinct
enough to be read. He held his lamp to it and examined it more
closely. He could read writing very well, and this was written
plainly. He began to read it aloud:--
"My DEAR WIFE,--I desire to supplement the letter sent to you from
the office with this note written in the mine during a minute of
waiting. I want to tell you that our Ralph is living; that he is
here with me, standing this moment at my side."
The paper dropped from the boy's trembling fingers, and he stood for
a minute awe-struck and breathless. Then he picked up the note and
examined it again. It was the very one that Robert Burnham had written
on the day of his death. Ralph recognized it by the crossed lines of
red and blue marking the page into squares.
Without thinking that there might be any impropriety in doing so, he
continued to read the letter as fast as his wildly beating heart and
his eyes clouded with mist would let him.
"I have not time to tell you why and how I know, but, believe me,
Margaret, there is no mistake. He is Ralph, the slate-picker,
of whom I told you, who lives with Bachelor Billy. If he should
survive this trying journey, take him immediately and bring him up
as our son; if he should die, give him proper burial. We have set
out on a perilous undertaking and some of us may not live through
it. I write this note in case I should not see you again. It will
be found on my person. Do not allow any one to persuade you that
this boy is not our son. I _know_ he is. I send love and greeting
to you. I pray for God's mercy and blessing on you and on our
A PERILOUS PASSAGE.
For many minutes Ralph stood, like one in a dream, holding the slip of
paper tightly in his grasp. Then there came upon him, not suddenly,
but very gently and sweetly, as the morning sunlight breaks into a
western valley, the broad assurance that he was Robert Burnham's son.
Here was the declaration of that fact over the man's own signature.
That was enough; there was no need for him to question the writer's
sources of knowledge. Robert Burnham had been his ideal of truth and
honor; he would have believed his lightest word against the solemn
asseveration of thousands.
The flimsy lie coined by Rhyming Joe no longer had place in his mind.
He cared nothing now for the weakness of Sharpman, for the cunning of
Craft, for the verdict of the jury, for the judgment of the court; he
_knew_, at last, that he was Robert Burnham's son, and no power on
earth could have shaken that belief by the breadth of a single hair.
The scene on the descending carriage the day his father died came back
into his mind. He thought how the man had grasped his hands, crying,
in a voice deep and earnest with conviction:--
"Ralph! Ralph! I have found you!"
He had not understood it then; he knew now what it meant.
He raised the paper to the level of his eyes, and read, again and
again, the convincing words:--
"Do not allow any one to persuade you that this boy is not our
son. I _know_ he is."
Then Ralph felt again that honest pride in his blood and in his
name, and that high ambition to be worthy of his parentage, that had
inspired him in the days gone by. Again he looked forward into the
bright future, to the large fulfilment of all his hopes and desires,
to learning, culture, influence, the power to do good; above all, to
the sweetness of a life with his own mother, in the home where he had
spent one beautiful day.
He had drawn himself to his full height; every muscle was tense, his
head was erect with proud knowledge, high hope flashed from his eyes,
gladness dwelt in every feature of his face.
Then, suddenly, the light went out from his countenance, and the old
look of pain came back there.
His face had changed with his changing thought as it did that day
in the court-room at Wilkesbarre. The fact of his imprisonment had
returned into his mind, and for the moment it overcame him. He sat
down on a jutting rock to consider it. Of what use was it to be Robert
Burnham's son, with two hundred feet of solid rock between him and the
outside world, and the only passage through it blocked with burned and
For a time despondency darkened his mind and despair sat heavily upon
him. He even wished that the joy of this new knowledge had not come to
him. It made the depth of his present misfortune seem so much greater.
But, after a while, he took heart again; courage came back to him; the
belief that he would be finally saved grew stronger in his mind; hope
burned up brightly in his breast, and the pride of parentage within
him filled him with ambition to do what lay in his power to accomplish
his own deliverance. It was little he could do, indeed, save to wait
with patience and in hope until outside help should come, but this
little, he resolved, should be done with a will, as befitted his birth
He folded the precious bit of paper he had found and fastened it in
his waistcoat pocket so that he should not lose it as Robert Burnham
had lost it; then he took up his lamp and went back through the
half-walled entrance, down the chamber and along the side-heading to
the air-way door where Jasper had been left.
There was a small can of oil sitting just inside the door-way. It
was the joint property of Ralph and the door-boy. It was fortunate,
he thought, that he had selected that place for it, as he was now in
great need of it. He filled his lamp, from which the oil had become
nearly exhausted, and then passed out through the door.
The mule was still there and uttered a hoarse sound of welcome when he
saw the boy.
"I found somethin' up there, Jasper," said Ralph, as he sat down
on the bench and began to pat the beast's neck again, "somethin'
wonderful; I wish I could tell you so you could understand it; it's
too bad you can't, Jasper; I know you'd be glad."
The mule seemed to recognize the pleasantness of the lad's voice and
to enjoy it, and for a long time Ralph sat there petting him and
talking to him.
Finally, he became aware that the air about him was growing to be very
bad. It made him feel sick and dizzy, and caused his heart to beat
He knew that he must go farther in. He thought, however, to make an
attempt to get out toward the shaft first. It might be that it had
grown clearer out there, it might be that the rescuers were already
working down toward him. He started rapidly down the heading, but
before he had gone half-way to the head of the plane, the smoke and
the foul air were so dense and deadly that he had to stop and to crawl
away from it on his hands and knees. He was greatly exhausted when he
reached the air-way door again, and he sat on the bench for a long
time to rest and to recover.
But he knew that it was dangerous to remain there now, and, taking the
can of oil with him, he started slowly up the heading. He did not know
how soon he should get back here, and when the oil in his lamp should
give out again he desired to be able to renew it.
The mule was following closely behind him. It was a great comfort,
too, to have a living being with him for company. He might have been
shut up here alone, and that would have been infinitely worse.
At the point where the branch leading to the new chambers left the
main heading, Ralph turned in, following his accustomed route.
It seemed to him that he ought to go to places with which he was
He trudged along through the half-mile of gang-way that he had always
found so lonely when he was at work, stopping now and then to rest.
For, although he walked very slowly, he grew tired very easily. He
felt that he was not getting into a purer atmosphere either. The air
around him seemed to lack strength and vitality; and when, at last, he
reached the tier of chambers that it had been his duty to supply with
cars, he was suffering from dizziness, from shortness of breath, and
from rapid beating of the heart.
At the foot of Conway's chamber Ralph found a seat. He was very weak
and tired and his whole frame was in a tremor.
He began to recall all that he had heard and read about people being
suffocated in the mines; all the stories that had ever been told to
him about miners being shut in by accident and poisoned with foul air,
or rescued at the point of death. He knew that his own situation was
a critical one. He knew that, with the shaft crowded full of wreckage
and giving no passage to the air, the entire mine would eventually
become filled with poisonous gases. He knew that his present physical
condition was due to the foulness of the atmosphere he was breathing.
He felt that the situation was becoming rapidly more alarming. The
only question now was as to how long this vitiated air would support
life. Still, his courage did not give way. He had strong hope that he
would yet be rescued, and he struggled to hold fast to his hope.
The flame of his lamp burned round and dim, so dim that he could
scarcely see across the heading.
The mule came up to him and put out his nose to touch the boy's hand.
"I guess we may as well stay here. Jasper," he said. "This is the
furthest place away from the shaft, an' if we can't stan' it here we
can't stan' it nowhere."
The beast seemed to understand him, for he lay down then, with his
head resting on Ralph's knee. They remained for a long time in that
position, and Ralph listened anxiously for some sound from the
direction of the shaft. He began to think finally that it was foolish
to expect help as yet. No human being could get through the gas and
smoke to him. The mine would first need to be ventilated. But he felt
that the air was growing constantly more foul and heavy. His head was
aching, he labored greatly in breathing, and he seemed to be confused
and sleepy. He arose and tried to walk a little to keep awake. He knew
that sleep was dangerous. But he was too tired to walk and he soon
came back and sat down again by the mule.
"I'm a-tryin', Jasper," he said, "I'm a-tryin' my best to hold out;
but I'm afraid it ain't a-goin' to do much good; I can't see much
He stopped suddenly. A thought had struck him. He seized his lamp
and oil-can and pushed ahead across the air-way and up into Conway's
The mule arose with much difficulty and staggered weakly after him. A
new hope had arisen in the boy's heart, an inspiration toward life had
put strength into his limbs.
At the breast of the chamber he set down his lamp and can, climbed up
on to the shelf of coal, and began tearing out the slate and rubbish
from the little opening in the wall that Conway had that day shown to
him. If he could once get through into the old mine he knew that he
should find pure air and--life.
The opening was too small to admit his body, but that was nothing;
there were tools here, and he still had strength enough to work. He
dragged the drill up to the face but it was too heavy for him to
handle, and the stroke he was able to make with it was wholly without
effect. His work with the clumsy sledge was still less useful, and
before he had struck the third blow the instrument fell from his
He was exhausted by the effort and lay down on the bed of coal to
rest, gasping for breath.
He thought if only the air current would come from the other mine
into this what a blessing it would be; but, alas! the draft was the
other way. The poisoned air was being drawn swiftly into the old
mine, making a whistling noise as it crossed the sharp edges of
Ralph knew that very soon the strong current would bring in smoke and
fouler air, and he rose to make still another effort. He went down
and brought up the pick. It was worn and light and he could handle it
more easily. He began picking away at the edges of coal to enlarge the
opening. But the labor soon exhausted him, and he sat down with his
back against the aperture to intercept the passage of air while he
recovered his breath.
He was soon at work again. The hope of escape put energy into his weak
Once, a block as large as his two hands broke away and fell down on
the other side. That was a great help. But he had to stop and rest
again. Indeed, after that he had very frequently to stop and rest.
The space was widening steadily, but very, very slowly.
After a time he threw down the pick and passed his head through the
opening, but it was not yet large enough to receive his body.
The air that was now coming up the chamber was very bad, and it was
blue with smoke, besides.
The boy bent to his task with renewed energy; but every blow exhausted
him, and he had to wait before striking another. He was chipping the
coal away, though, piece by piece, inch by inch.
By and by, by a stroke of rare good-fortune, a blow that drew the pick
from the lad's weak hands and sent it rattling down upon the other
side, loosened a large block at the top of the opening, and it fell
with a crash.
Now he could get through, and it would be none too soon either. He
dropped his oil-can down on the other side, then his lamp, and then,
after a single moment's rest, he crawled into the aperture, and
tumbled heavily to the floor of the old mine.
It was not a great fall; he fell from a height of only a few feet, but
in his exhausted condition it stunned him, and he lay for some minutes
in a state of unconsciousness.
The air was better in here, he was below the line of the poisoned
current, and he soon revived, sat up, picked up his lamp, and looked
He was evidently in a worked-out chamber. Over his head in the
side-wall was the opening through which he had fallen, and he knew
that the first thing to be done was to close it up and prevent the
entrance of any more foul air.
There was plenty of slate and of coal and of dirt near by, but he
could not reach up so high and work easily, and he had first to build
a platform against the wall, on which to stand.
It took a long time to do this, but when it was completed he stood up
on it to put the first stone in place.
On the other side of the opening he heard a hoarse sound of distress,
then a scrambling noise, and then Jasper's nose was pushed through
against his hand. The mule had stood patiently and watched Ralph while
he was at work, but when the boy disappeared he had become frightened,
and had clambered up on the shelf of coal at the face to try to follow
him. He was down on his knees now, with his head wedged into the
aperture, drawing in his breath with long, forced gasps, looking
piteously into the boy's face.
"Poor Jasper!" said Ralph, "poor fellow! I didn't think of you. I'd
get you in here too if I could."
He looked around him, as if contemplating the possibility of such a
scheme; but he knew that it could not be accomplished.
"I can't do it, Jasper," he said, rubbing the animal's face as he
spoke. "I can't do it. Don't you see the hole ain't big enough? an' I
couldn't never make it big enough for you, never."
But the look in Jasper's eyes was very beseeching, and he tried to
push his head in so that he might lay his nose against Ralph's breast.
The boy put his arms about the beast's neck.
"I can't do it, Jasper," he repeated, sobbing. "Don't you see I can't?
I wisht I could, oh, I wisht I could!"
The animal drew his head back. His position was uncomfortable, and it
choked him to stretch his neck out that way.
Ralph knew that he must proceed with the building of his wall. One
after another he laid up the pieces of slate and coal, chinking in
the crevices with dirt, keeping his head as much as possible out of
the foul current, stopping often to rest, talking affectionately to
Jasper, and trying, in a childish way, to console him.
At last his work was nearly completed, but the gruff sounds of
distress from the frightened mule had ceased. Ralph held his lamp up
out of the current, so that the light would fall through the little
opening, and looked in.
Jasper lay there on his side, his head resting on the coal bottom, a
long, convulsive respiration at intervals the only movement of his
body. He was unconscious, and dying. The boy drew back with tears in
his eyes and with sorrow at his heart. The beast had been his friend
and companion, not only in his daily toil, but here also, in the
loneliness and peril of the poisoned mine. For the time being, he
forgot his own misfortunes in his sympathy for Jasper. He put his face
once more to the opening.
"Good-by, Jasper!" he said, "good-by, old fellow! I couldn't help it,
you know, an'--an' it won't hurt you any more--good-by!"
He drew back his head, put the few remaining stones in place, chinked
the crevices with dirt and culm, and then, trembling and faint,
he fell to the floor of the old mine, and lay there, panting and
exhausted, for a long time in silent thought.
But it was not of himself he was thinking; it was of poor old Jasper,
dying on the other side of the black wall, deserted, barred out,
Finally it occurred to him that he should go to some other place in
the mine. The poisonous gases must still be entering through the
crevices of his imperfectly built and rudely plastered wall, and it
would be wise for him to get farther away. His oil had nearly burned
out again, and he refilled his lamp from the can. Then he arose and
went down the chamber.
It was a very long chamber. When he reached the foot of it he found
the entrances into the heading walled up, and he turned and went along
the air-way for a little distance, and then sat down to rest.
For the first time he noticed that he had cut his hands badly, on the
sharp pieces of coal he had been handling, and he felt that there was
a bruise on his side, doubtless made when he fell through the opening.
Hitherto he had not had a clear idea as to the course he should pursue
when he should have obtained entrance into the old mine. His principal
object had been to get into pure air.
Now, however, he began to consider the matter of his escape. It was
obvious that two methods were open to him. He could either try to make
his way out alone to the old slope near the Dunmore road, or he could
remain in the vicinity of Conway's chamber till help should reach him
from the Burnham mine.
But it might be many hours before assistance would come. The shaft
would have first to be cleared out, and that he knew would be no easy
matter. After that the mine would need to be ventilated before men
could make their way through it. All this could not be done in a day,
indeed it might take many days, and when they should finally come in
to search for him, they would not find him in the Burnham mine; he
would not be there.
If he could discover the way to the old slope, and the path should be
unobstructed, he would be in the open air within half an hour. In the
open air! The very thought of such a possibility decided the question
for him. And when he should reach the surface he would go straight
to Mrs. Burnham, straight to his mother, and place in her hands the
letter he had found. She would be glad to read it; she would be
very, very glad to know that Ralph was her son. Sitting there in the
darkness and the desolation he could almost see her look of great
delight, he could almost feel her kisses on his lips as she gave him
tender greeting. Oh! it would be beautiful, so beautiful!
But, then, there was Uncle Billy. He had come near to forgetting him.
He would go first to Uncle Billy, that would be better, and then they
would go together to his mother's house and would both enjoy her words
But if he was going he must be about it. It would not do to sit there
all night. All night? Ralph wondered what time it had come to be.
Whether hours or days had passed since his imprisonment he could
He picked up his lamp and can and started on. At no great distance he
found an old door-way opening into the heading. He passed through it
and began to trudge along the narrow, winding passage. He had often to
stop and rest, he felt so very weak. A long time he walked, slowly,
unsteadily, but without much pain. Then, suddenly, he came to the end
of the heading. The black, solid wall faced him before he was hardly
aware of it. He had taken the wrong direction when he entered the
gallery, that was all. He had followed the heading in instead of out.
His journey had not been without its use, however, for it settled
definitely the course he ought to take to reach the slope, and that,
he thought, was a matter of no little importance.
He sat down for a few minutes to rest, and then started on his return.
It seemed to be taking so much more time to get back that he feared he
had passed the door-way by which he had entered the heading. But he
came to it at last and stopped there.
He began to feel hungry. He wondered why he had not thought to look
for some one's dinner pail, before he came over into the old mine. He
knew that his own still had fragments of food in it; he wished that
he had them now. But wishing was of no use, the only thing for him
to do was to push ahead toward the surface. When he should reach his
mother's house his craving would be satisfied with all that could
tempt the palate.
He started on again. The course of the heading was far from straight,
and his progress was very slow.
At last he came to a place where there had been a fall. They had
robbed the pillars till they had become too weak to support the roof,
and it had tumbled in.
Ralph turned back a little, crossed the air-way and went up into the
chambers, thinking to get around the area of the fall. He went a long
way up before he found an unblocked opening. Then, striking across
through the entrances, he came out again, suddenly, to a heading. He
thought it must have curved very rapidly to the right that he should
find it so soon, if it were the one he had been on before. But he
followed it as best he could, stopping very often to catch a few
moments of rest, finding even his light oil-can a heavy burden in his
hands, trying constantly to give strength to his heart and his limbs
by thoughts of the fond greeting that awaited him when once he should
escape from the gloomy passages of the mine.
The heading grew to be very devious. It wound here and there, with
entrances on both sides, it crossed chambers and turned corners till
the boy became so bewildered that he gave up trying to trace it. He
pushed on, however, through the openings that seemed most likely
to lead outward, looking for pathways and trackways, hungering,
thirsting, faint in both body and spirit, till he reached a solid wall
at the side of a long, broad chamber, and there he stopped to consider
which way to turn. He struck some object at his feet. It was a pick.
He looked up at the wall in front of him, and he saw in it the
filled-up entrance through which he had made his way from the Burnham
It came upon him like a blow, and he sank to the floor in sudden
This was worse than anything that had happened to him since the time
when he ran back to the shaft to find the carriage gone and its place
filled with firebrands. His journey had been such a mournful waste of
time, of energy, and of hopeful anticipation.
But, after a little, he began to think that it was not quite so bad as
it might have been after all. He had his lamp and his oil-can, and
he was in a place where the air was fit to breathe. That was better,
certainly, than to be lying on the other side of the wall with poor
old Jasper. He forced new courage into his heart, he whipped his
flagging spirits into fresh activity, and resolved to try once more to
find a passage to the outside world.
But he needed rest; that was apparent. He thought that if he could lie
down and be quiet and contented for fifteen or twenty minutes he would
gain strength and vigor enough to sustain him through a long journey.
He arose and moved up the chamber a little way, out of the current of
poisoned air that still sifted in through the crevices of his rudely
Here he lay down on a place soft with culm, to take his contemplated
rest, and, before he was aware of it, sleep had descended on him,
overpowered him, and bound him fast. But it was a gracious victor. It
put away his sufferings from him; it allayed his hunger and assuaged
his thirst, it hid his loneliness and dispelled his fear, and it
brought sweet peace for a little time to his troubled mind. He was
alone and in peril, and far from the pure air and the bright sunlight
of the upper world; but the angel of sleep touched his eyelids just as
gently in the darkness of this dreadful place as though he had been
lying on beds of fragrant flowers, with white clouds or peaceful stars
above him to look upon his slumber.
IN THE POWER OF DARKNESS.
Ralph slept, hour after hour. He dreamed, and moved his hands uneasily
at intervals, but still he slept. There were no noises there to
disturb him, and he had been very tired.
When he finally awoke the waking was as gentle as though he had been
lying on his own bed at home. He thought, at first, that he was at
home; and he wondered why it was so very dark. Then he remembered that
he was shut up in the mines. It was a cruel remembrance, but it was
a fact and he must make the best of it. While he slept his oil had
burned out, and he was in total darkness. He felt for his oil-can and
found it. Then he found his lamp, filled it by the sense of touch, and
lighted it. He always carried matches; they had done him good service
in the mines before this. He was very thankful too, that he had
thought to bring the oil-can. Without it he would have been long ago
in the power of darkness. He was still hungry, and thirsty too, very
thirsty now, indeed.
He arose and tried to walk, but he was so dizzy that he had to sit
down again. He felt better after a little, though, very much better
than before he had taken his rest. He wondered how long he had slept,
and what progress was being made, if any, toward his rescue. He went
down to the opening in the wall, and held his lamp up to it. Threads
of smoke were still curling in through the slate and culm, and the air
that crept in was very bad. Then, for a little time, Ralph sat there
and listened. He thought that possibly he might hear some distant
sound of rescue. But there was no noise; the silence was burdensome.
His thirst increased and he was hot and feverish.
At last he rose with the determination to carry out his plan of
searching for the old slope.
He knew that it would be worse than useless to stay here.
Besides, he hoped that he might find a stream of water on the way at
which to quench his thirst.
He thought of the letter in his pocket, and the desire grew strong
within him to read it again. He took it out, unfolded it, and held it
close to the light, but there seemed to be a mist before his eyes and
he could not distinguish the words. He knew what it contained, though,
and that was sufficient for him. He was Robert Burnham's son. His
father had been brave and manly; so would he be. His father would have
kept up heart and courage to the end, no matter what fate faced him.
He determined that the son should do no less. He would be worthy of
his parentage, he would do all that lay in his power to accomplish his
own safety; if he failed, the fault should not be his.
He folded and replaced the letter, picked up his oil-can, fastened
his lamp to his cap and started down the chamber. He felt that he was
strong with the strength of inspiration. It seemed to him, too, that
he was very light in body. It seemed almost as though he were treading
on air, and he thought that he was moving very fast.
In reality his steps were heavy and halting, and his way down the long
chamber was devious and erratic. His fancied strength and elasticity
were born of the fever in his blood.
He came to the heading. He knew, now, which way to turn, and he passed
down it in what he thought was rapid flight.
But here was the fall again. What was to be done now? His last attempt
to get around it had been disastrous. He would not try that plan
again. He would work his way through it this time and keep to the
He climbed slowly up over the fallen rock and coal and let himself
down upon the other side. But it took his breath away, this climbing,
and he had to wait there a little while to recover it. There was a
clear space before him, though, and he made good progress through it
till he came again to the fall.
In this place the rock was piled higher and it was more difficult of
ascent. But he clambered bravely up, dragging his oil-can with him;
then he moved out along the smooth, sloping surfaces of fallen slate,
keeping as close as possible to the wall of the heading, climbing
higher and higher, very slowly now, and with much labor, stopping
often to rest.
He came, at last, to a place where the space between the fallen rock
and the roof above it was so narrow that he could scarcely squeeze his
slender body through it. When he had done so he found himself on the
edge of a precipice, a place where a solid mass had fallen like a
wall, and had made a shelf so high that the feeble rays of Ralph's
lamp would not reach to the bottom of it. The boy crawled, trembling,
along the edge of this cliff, trying to find some place for descent.
The oil-can that he carried made his movements cumbersome; the surface
of the rock was smooth and hard to cling to; his limbs were weak and
his fingers nerveless.
He slipped, the can fell from his hand, he tried to recover it,
slipped further, made a desperate effort to save himself, failed, and
went toppling over into the darkness.
The height was not very great, and he was not seriously injured by
the fall; but it stunned him, and he lay for some time in a state of
When he came to himself, he knew what had happened and where he was.
He tried to rise, but the effort pained him and he lay back again. He
was in total darkness. His lamp had fallen from his cap and become
extinguished. He reached out to try and find it and his hand came in
contact with a little stream of water. The very touch of it refreshed
him. He rolled over, put his mouth to it and drank. It was running
water, cool and delicious, and he was very, very thankful for it.
In the stream he found his lamp. The lid had flown open, the oil was
spilled out, and the water had entered. The can was not within reach
of him as he lay. He raised himself to his hands and knees and groped
around for it. He began to despair of ever finding it. It would be
terrible, he thought, to lose it now, and be left alone in the dark.
But at last he came upon it and picked it up. It was very light; he
felt for the plug, it was gone; he turned the can upside down, it was
For the moment his heart stopped beating; he could almost feel the
pallor in his face, he could almost see the look of horror in his own
eyes. From this time forth he would be in darkness. It was not enough
that he was weak, sick, lost and alone in the mysterious depths of
this old mine, but now darkness had come, thick darkness to crown his
suffering and bar his path to freedom. His self-imposed courage had
almost given way. It required matchless bravery to face a peril such
as this without a murmur, and still find room for hope.
But he did his best. He fought valiantly against despair.
It occurred to him that he still had matches. He drew them from his
pocket and counted them. There were seven.
He poured the water from the chamber of his lamp and pulled out the
wick and pressed it. He thought that possibly he might make it burn a
little longer without oil. He selected one of the matches and struck
it against the rock at his side. It did not light. The rock was wet
and the match was spoiled.
The next one he lighted by drawing it swiftly across the sleeve of his
jacket. But the light was wasted; the cotton wick was still too wet to
There was nothing left to him, then, save the matches, and they would
not light him far. But it was better to go even a little way than to
He rose to his feet and struck a match on his sleeve, but it broke
short off at the head, and the sputtering sulphur dropped into the
stream and was quenched. He struck another, this time with success.
He saw the heading; the way was clear; and he started on, holding one
hand out before him, touching at frequent intervals the lower wall of
the passage with the other.
But his side pained him when he tried to walk: he had struck it
heavily in his last fall; and he had to stop in order to relieve it.
After a time he arose again, but in the intense darkness and with that
strange confusion in his brain, he could not tell in which direction
He lighted another match; it sputtered and went out.
He had two matches left. To what better use could he put them than to
make them light him as far as possible on his way? He struck one of
them, it blazed up, and with it he lighted the stick of the imperfect
one which he had not thrown away. He held them up before him, and,
shielding the blaze with his hand, he moved rapidly down the narrow
He knew that he was still in the heading and that if he could but
follow it he would, in time, reach the slope.
His light soon gave out; darkness surrounded him again, but he kept
He moved from side to side of the passage, feeling his way.
His journey was slow, very slow and painful, but it was better to keep
going, he knew that.
He had one match left but he dared not light it. He wanted to reserve
that for a case of greater need.
The emergency that called for its use soon arose.
The heading seemed to have grown suddenly wider. He went back and
forth across it and touched all the pillars carefully. The way was
divided. One branch of the gallery bore to the right and another to
Straight ahead was a solid wall. Ralph did not know which passage to
enter. To go into one would be to go still farther and deeper into the
recesses of the old mine; to go into the other would be to go toward
the slope, toward the outer world, toward his mother and his home.
If he could only see he could choose more wisely.
Had the necessity arisen for the use of his last match?
He hesitated. He sat down to rest and to consider the question. It
was hard to think, though, with all that whirling and buzzing in his
Then a scheme entered his mind, a brilliant scheme by which he
should get more light. He resolved to act upon it without delay. He
transferred everything from the pockets of his jacket to those of his
waistcoat. Then he removed this outer garment, tore a portion of it
into strips, and held it in one hand while he made ready to light his
last match. He held his breath while he struck it.
It did not light.
He waited a minute to think. Then he struck it again, this time with
success. He touched it to the rags of his coat, and the oil-soaked
cloth flashed brightly into flame. He held the blazing jacket in his
hand, looked around him for one moment to choose his way, and then
began to run.
It was a travesty on running, to be sure, but it was the best he could
do. He staggered and stumbled; he lurched rapidly ahead for a little
space and then moved with halting steps. His limbs grew weak, his
breath came in gasps, and the pain in his side was cutting him like a
But he thought he was going very rapidly. He could see so nicely too.
The flames, fanned by the motion, curled up and licked his hand and
wrist, but he scarcely knew it.
Then his foot struck some obstacle in the way and he fell. For a
moment he lay there panting and helpless, while the burning cloth,
thrown from him in his fall, lighted up the narrow space around him
till it grew as clear as day. But all this splendid glow should not be
wasted; it would never do; he must make it light him on his journey
till the last ray was gone.
He staggered to his feet again and ran on into the ever growing
darkness. Behind him the flames flared, flickered, and died slowly
out, and when the last vestige of light was wholly gone he sank,
utterly exhausted, to the floor of the mine, and thick darkness
settled on him like a pall.
A long time he lay there wondering vaguely at his strange misfortunes.
The fever in his blood was running high, and, instead of harboring
sober thought, his mind was filled with fleeting fancies.
It was very still here, so still that he thought he heard the
throbbing in his head. He wondered if it could be heard by others who
might thus find where he lay.
Then fear came on him, fear like an icy hand clutching at his breast,
fear that would not let him rest, but that brought him to his feet
again and urged him onward.
To die, that was nothing; he could die if need be; but to be shut up
here alone, with strange and unseen things hovering about him in the
blackness, that was quite beyond endurance. He was striving to get
away from them. He had not much thought, now, which way he went, he
cared little for direction, he wished only to keep in motion.
He had to stop at times to get breath and to rest his limbs, they
ached so. But, whenever he stood still or sat down to rest, the
darkness seemed to close in upon him and around him so tightly as to
give him pain. He would not have cared so much for that, though, if it
had not been filled with strange creatures who crept close to him to
hear the throbbing in his head. He could not bear that; it compelled
him to move on.
He went a long way like this, with his hands before him, stumbling,
falling, rising again, stopping for a moment's rest, moaning as he
walked, crying softly to himself at times like the sick child that he
Once he felt that he was going down an inclined way, like a long
chamber; there had been no prop or pillar on either side of him for
many minutes. Finally, his feet touched water. It grew to be ankle
deep. He pushed on, and it reached half-way to his knees. This would
never do. He turned in his tracks to retreat, just saved himself
from falling, and then climbed slowly back up the long slope of the
When he had reached the top of it he thought he would lie down and try
not to move again, he was so very tired and sick.
In the midst of all his fancies he realized his danger. He knew that
death had ceased to be a possibility for him, and had come to be more
He felt that it would be very sad indeed to die in this way, alone,
in the dark, in the galleries of this old mine; it was not the way
Robert Burnham's son should have died. It was not that he minded
death so much; he would not have greatly cared for that, if he could
only have died in his mother's arms, with the sweet sunlight and the
fresh air and the perfume of flowers in the room. That, he thought,
would have been beautiful, very beautiful indeed. But this, this was
"It is very sad," he said; "poor Ralph, poor boy."
He was talking to himself. It seemed to him that he was some one else,
some one who stood by trying to pity and console this child who was
dying here alone in the awful darkness.
"It's hard on you," he said, "I know it's hard on you, an' you've
just got to where life'd be worth a good deal to you too. You had
your bitter an' the sweet was just a-comin'; but never mind, my boy,
never mind; your Uncle Billy says 'at heaven's a great sight better
place 'an any you could ever find on earth. An', then, you're Robert
Burnham's son, you know, an' that's a good deal to think of;
For a long time after this there was silence, and the boy did not
move. Then fear came back to him. He thought that the darkness was
closing in again upon him, that it pressed him from above, from right
and left, that it crowded back his breath and crushed his body. He
felt that he must escape from it.
He was too weak now to rise and walk, so he lifted himself to his
hands and knees and began to move away like a creeping child.
There were many obstacles in his path, some of them imaginary, most of
them real. There were old mine caps, piles of dirt, pieces of slate,
and great lumps of coal on' which he cut his hands and bruised his
knees. But he met and passed them all. He was intent only on getting
away from these dreadful powers of darkness, they tortured him so.
And he did get away from them. He came to a place where the space
about him seemed large, where the floor was smooth, and the air so
clear and pure that he could breathe it freely.
Utter darkness, indeed, surrounded him, but it was a darkness not
peopled with evil beings; it was more like the sweet darkness of a
summer night, with the fragrance of dew-wet flowers in the air.
He leaned against a pillar to rest. He thought to stay here until the
end should come.
He was not suffering from any pain now; he was glad of that. And he
should die peacefully, leaving no wrong behind him, with no guilt
upon his conscience, no sin upon his soul. He was glad of that too.
He wondered if they would know, when they found his body, that he was
Robert Burnham's son. Suppose they should never find it out. Suppose
the days and months and years should pass away, and no one ever know
what high honor came to him while yet he lived on earth. That would be
sad, very, very sad; worse even than death itself. But there was a way
for him to make it known. He thought that some sweet voice was telling
him what to do.
He took from his waistcoat pocket the paper that declared his birth,
unfolded it once, pressed it to his lips once, took pins from the edge
of the collar of his vest, and pinned the letter fast upon the bosom
of his flannel shirt.
It took him a long time to do this in the darkness, his hands were so
very weak and tremulous, but, when it was done, he smoothed the paper
over carefully and was content.
"They'll know it now," he said gently to himself, "they'll surely know
it now. They'll no sooner find me here than they'll know who I am, an'
who my mother is, an' where to take me. It's just the same, just the
same as though I was alive myself to tell 'em."
He leaned back then, and closed his eyes and lay quite still. He felt
no pain from his cut and bleeding hands and knees, nor from his burned
wrist, nor from his bruised body. He was not hungry any more, nor
thirsty, nor suffering for breath. He was thinking, but he thought
only of pleasant things. He remembered no evil, neither any person who
had done him evil.
Off somewhere in the distance he could see blue sky, and the tips of
waves glancing in the sunlight, and green fields, and long stretches
of yellow grain. It seemed very real to him, so real that he wondered
if he was still lying there in the darkness. He opened his eyes to
see. Yes, it was dark, very dark.
The faint noise of dripping water came to his ears from somewhere in
the mine below him. It reminded him of a tiny waterfall he had once
seen under the shadow of a great rock on the bank of Roaring Brook.
It was where a little stream, like a silver thread, ran down across
the mossy covering of the edge and went drip, dripping into the
stone-walled basin far below. He wondered if the stream was running
there this day, if the tall rock-oak was bending yet above it, if the
birds sang there as gayly as they sang that happy day when first he
For a little time he thought that he was indeed there. He found it
hard to make himself believe that he was still in the mine, alone. But
he was not alone; he knew that he was not alone. He felt that friends
were somewhere near him. They were staying back in the shadow so that
they should not disturb him. They would come to him soon, when--when
he should waken.
He did not move any more, his eyes were closed and he seemed to be
sleeping. His breath came gently, in long respirations. The precious
letter rose and fell with the slow heaving of his breast.
Down in the darkness the water dripped as placidly as pulses beat. For
the rest there was no sound, no motion.
Once the boy stirred a little and opened his eyes.
"Is that you, Uncle Billy?" he said. "Come an' sit down an' rest a
little, an' then we'll go out. I think I got lost or--or somethin'."
His Uncle Billy was not there. The darkness about him held no human
being save himself, but the vision was just as real to him, and the
coming was just as welcome as though it had all been true.
"Why, how strange you look, Uncle Billy; an' you're a-laughin' at
me--what! does she? Well, I'll go to her just as soon as I get out,
just as soon. How did she find it out? I was goin' to be the first to
tell her. I'm glad she knows it, though."
After a moment he continued:--
"Oh, no, Uncle Billy; I shouldn't ever do that, I couldn't. You've
been too good to me. You've been awful good to me, Uncle Billy--awful
Again silence fell. Thick darkness, like a veil, wrapped the
unconscious child in its folds. Black walls and winding galleries
surrounded him, the "valley of the shadow" lay beyond him, but on his
breast he bore the declaration of his birth, and in his heart he felt
that "peace of God which passeth understanding."
Down in the darkness the water dripped; up in the earth's sky the
stars were out and the moon was shining.
A STROKE OF LIGHTNING.
It was a hot day at Burnham Breaker. The sun of midsummer beat
fiercely upon the long and sloping roofs and against the coal-black
sides of the giant building.
Down in the engine-room, where there was no air stirring, and the
vapor of steam hung heavily in the atmosphere, the heat was almost
The engineer, clothed lightly as he was, fairly dripped with
perspiration. The fireman, with face and neck like a lobster, went
out, at intervals, and plunged his hands and his head too into the
stream of cool water sent out from the mine by the laboring pumps.
Up in the screen-room, the boys were sweltering above their chutes,
choking with the thick dust, wondering if the afternoon would never be
at an end.
Bachelor Billy, pushing the cars out from the head, said to himself
that he was glad Ralph was no longer picking slate. It was better that
he should work in the mines. It was cool there in summer and warm in
winter, and it was altogether more comfortable for the boy than it
could be in the breaker; neither was it any more dangerous, in his
opinion, than it was among the wheels and rollers of the screen-room.
He had labored in the mines himself, until the rheumatism came and put
a stop to his under-ground toil. He mourned greatly the necessity that
compelled him to give up this kind of work. It is hard for a miner to
leave his pillars and his chambers, his drill and powder-can and fuse,
and to seek other occupation on the surface of the earth. The very
darkness and danger that surround him at his task hold him to it with
an unaccountable fascination.
But Bachelor Billy had a good place here at the breaker. It was not
hard work that he was doing. Robert Burnham had given him the position
ten years and more ago.
Even on this hot mid-summer day, the heat was less where he was than
in any other part of the building. A cool current came up the shaft
and kept the air stirring about the head, and the loaded mine-cars
rose to the platform, dripping cold water from their sides, and that
was very refreshing to the eye as well as to the touch.
It was well along in the afternoon that Billy, looking out to the
north-west, saw a dark cloud rising slowly above the horizon, and said
to Andy Gilgallon, his assistant, that he hoped it would not go away
without leaving some rain behind it.
Looking at it again, a few minutes later, he told Andy that he felt
sure there would be water enough to lay the dust, at any rate.
The cloud increased rapidly in size, rolling up the sky in dark
volumes, and emitting flashes of forked lightning in quick succession.
By and by the face of the sun was covered, and the deep rumbling of
the thunder was almost continuous.
There was a dead calm. Not even at the head of the shaft could a
particle of moving air be felt.
"Faith! I don't like the looks o' it, Billy," said Andy Gilgallon,
as a sharp flash cut the cloud surface from zenith to horizon, and a
burst of thunder followed that made the breaker tremble.
"No more do I," replied Bachelor Billy; "but we'll no' git scart afoor
we're hurt. It's no' likely the buildin' 'll be washit awa'."
"Thrue for ye! but this bit o' a steeple ud be a foine risting-place
for the lightnin's fut, an' a moighty hot fut it has, too--bad 'cess
The man had been interrupted by another vivid flash and a sharp crack
The mountains to the north and west were now entirely hidden, and the
near hills were disappearing rapidly behind the on-coming storm of
rain. Already the first drops were rattling sharply on the breaker's
roof, and warning puffs of wind were beating gently against the side
of the shaft-tower.
"I'm glad Ralph's no' workin' i' the screen-room," said Bachelor
Billy, as he put up his hand to shield his eyes from the blinding
glare. "It'd be a fearfu' thing to ha' the breaker hit."
The fury of the storm was on them at last. It was as though the
heavens were shattered.
Billy looked out upon the dreadful onslaught of the elements with awe
and wonder on his face. His companion crouched against the timbers of
the shaft in terror.
Then--lightning struck the breaker.
People who sat in their houses a mile away started up in sudden fright
at the fierce flash and terrible report.
A man who was running toward the engine-room for shelter was blinded
and stunned by the glare and crash, and fell to his knees.
When he rose again and could use his eyes, he saw men and boys
crowding from the building out into the pouring rain. But the breaker
was on fire. Already the shaft-tower was wrapped in smoke and lighted
with flame. Some one in authority stood in the door of the engine-room
The carriage was descending the shaft. When it came up it was loaded
with men. It went down again, almost with the rapidity of lightning
The engineer was crowding his servant of iron and steel to the utmost.
The men of the next load that came up had hardly time to push
each other from the carriage before it darted down again into the
The flames were creeping lower on the shaft timbers, and were rioting
among the screens.
The engine-room was hot and stifling. The engineer said he was
hoisting the last load that could be brought out.
When it reached the surface Conway leaped from among the men and stood
in the door of the engine-room.
"Let it down again!" he shouted. "Ralph is below yet, the boy. I'll go
down myself an' git 'im."
He heard a crash behind him, and he turned in time to see the iron
roof of the carriage disappear into the mouth of the shaft.
The burning frame-work at the head had ceased to support it, and it
had fallen down, dragging a mass of flaming timbers with it.
Conway went out into the rain and sat down and cried like a child.
Afterward, when the storm had partially subsided, a wagon was stopped
at the door of the office near the burning breaker, the limp body of
Bachelor Billy was brought out and placed in it, and it was driven
rapidly away. They had found him lying on the track at the head with
the flames creeping dangerously near. He was unconscious when they
came to him, he was unconscious still. They took him to his room at
Mrs. Maloney's cottage, and put him in his bed. The doctor came soon,
and under his vigorous treatment the man lost that deathly pallor
about his face, but he did not yet recover consciousness. The doctor
said he would come out of it in time, and went away to see to the
others who had been injured.
The men who had brought the invalid were gone, and Mrs. Maloney was
sitting by him alone.
The storm had passed, the sun had come out just long enough to bid
a reassuring "good-night" to the lately frightened dwellers on the
earth, and was now dropping down behind the western hills.
A carriage stopped at Bachelor Billy's door and a moment later Mrs.
Burnham knocked and entered.
"I heard that he had suffered from the stroke," she said, looking at
the still form on the bed, "and I came to see him. Is he better?"
"He ain't come out of it yet, ma'am," responded Mrs. Maloney, "but
the doctor's been a-rubbin' of im' an' a-givin' 'im stimmylants, an'
he says it's all right he'll be in the course of a few hours. Will ye
have a chair, ma'am?"
"Thank you. I'll sit here by him a while with the fan and relieve you.
Where is Ralph?"
"He's not come yet, ma'am."
"Why, Mrs. Maloney, are you sure? Is it possible that anything has
happened to him?"
"To shpake the trut', ma'am, I'm a bit worried about 'im meself. But
they said to me partic'ler, as how ivery man o' thim got out o' the
mine befoor the carriage fell. Most like he's a-watchin' the fire an'
doesn't know his Uncle Billy's hurted. Ye'll see 'im comin' quick
enough when he hears that, I'm thinkin'."
Mrs. Burnham had seated herself at the bedside with the fan in her
"I'll wait for him," she said; "perhaps he'll be here soon."
"I'll be lookin' afther the supper, thin," said Mrs. Maloney, "the
lad'll be hungry whin he comes," and she left the room.
Bachelor Billy lay very quiet, as if asleep, breathing regularly, his
face somewhat pale and his lips blue, but he had not the appearance of
one who is in danger.
A few minutes later there came a gentle knock at the street door. Mrs.
Burnham arose and opened it. Lawyer Goodlaw stood on the step. She
gave him as courteous greeting as though she had been under the roof
of her own mansion.
"I called at your home," he said, as he entered, "and, learning that
you had come here, I concluded to follow you."
He went up to the bed and looked at Bachelor Billy, bending over him
with kind scrutiny.
"I heard that the shock had affected him seriously," he said, "but he
does not appear to be greatly the worse for it; I think he'll come
through all right. He's an honest, warm-hearted man. I learned the
other day of a proposition that Sharpman made to him before the trial;
a tempting one to offer to a poor man, but he rejected it with scorn.
I'll tell you of it sometime; it shows forth the nobility of the man's
Goodlaw had crossed the room and had taken a seat by the window.
"But I came to bring you news," he continued. "Our detective returned
this morning and presented a full report of his investigation and its
result. You will be pleased with it."
"Oh, Mr. Goodlaw! is Ralph--is Ralph--"
She was leaning toward him with clasped hands.
"Ralph is your son," he said.
She bowed her head, and her lips moved in silence. When she looked up,
there were tears in her eyes, but her face was radiant with happiness.
"Is there any, any doubt about it now?" she asked.
"None whatever," he replied.
"And what of Rhyming Joe's story?"
"It was a pure falsehood. He does not tire of telling how he swindled
the sharpest lawyer in Scranton out of a hundred and fifty dollars, by
a plausible lie. He takes much credit to himself for the successful
execution of so bold a scheme. But the money got him into trouble. He
had too much, he spent it too freely, and, as a consequence, he is
serving a short term of imprisonment in the Alleghany county jail for
some petty offence."
The tears would keep coming into the lady's eyes; but they were tears
of joy, not of sorrow.
"I have the detective's report here in writing," continued Goodlaw;
"I will give it to you that you may read it at your leisure. Craft's
story was true enough in its material parts, but a gigantic scheme was
based on it to rob both you and your son. The odium of that, however,
should rest where the expense of the venture rested, on Craft's
attorney. It is a matter for sincere congratulation that Ralph's
identity was not established by them at that time. He has been
delivered out of the hands of sharpers, and his property is wholly
saved to him.
"I learn that Craft is dying miserably in his wretched lodgings in
Philadelphia. With enough of ill-gotten gain to live on comfortably,
his miserly instincts are causing him to suffer for the very
necessities of life."
"I am sorry for him," said the lady; "very sorry."
"He is not deserving of your sympathy, madam; he treated your son with
great cruelty while he had him."
"But he saved Ralph's life."
"That is no doubt true, yet he stole the jewelry from the child's
person and kept him only for the sake of obtaining ransom.
"This reminds me that it is also true that he had an interview with
your husband on the day of Mr. Burnham's death. What took place
between them I cannot ascertain, but I have learned that afterward,
while the rescuing party were descending into the mine, your husband
recognized Ralph in a way that those who saw and heard him could not
at the time understand. Recent events, however, prove beyond a doubt
that your husband knew, on the day he died, that this boy was his
Mrs. Burnham had been weeping silently.
"You are bringing me too much good and comforting news," she said; "I
am not quite able to bear it all, you see."
She was smiling through her tears, but a look of anxiety crossed her
face as she continued:--
"I am worried about Ralph. He has not yet come from the breaker."
She glanced up at the little clock on the shelf, and then went to look
out from the window.
The man on the bed moved and moaned, and she went back to him.
"Perhaps we had better send some one to look for the boy," said
Goodlaw. "I will go myself--"
He was interrupted by the opening of the door. Andy Gilgallon stood
on the threshold and looked in with amazement. He had not expected to
find the lady and the lawyer there.
"I come to see Bachelor Billy," he said. "Me an' him work togither at
the head. He got it worse nor I did. I'm over it, only I'm wake yit.
The likes o' it was niver seen afoor."
He looked curiously in at the bed where his comrade was lying.
"Come in," said Mrs. Burnham, "come in and look at him. He's not
conscious yet, but I think he'll soon come to himself."
The man entered the room, walking on the toes of his clumsy shoes.
"Have you seen anything of Ralph since the fire?" continued the lady.
Andy stopped and looked incredulously at his questioner.
"An' have ye not heard?" he asked.
"Heard what, Andy?" she replied, her face paling as she noted the
man's strange look.
"Why, they didn't get 'im out," he said. "It's in the mine he is,
She stood for a moment in silence, her face as white as the wall
behind her. Then she clasped her hands tightly together and all the
muscles of her body grew rigid in the desperate effort to remain calm
for the sake of the unconscious man on the bed, for the sake of the
lost boy in the mine, for the sake of her own ability to think and to
Goodlaw saw the struggle and rose from his chair.
"It's a dangerous imprisonment," he said, "but not, of necessity, a
She still stood staring silently at the messenger who had brought to
her these dreadful tidings.
"They're a-thryin' to get to the mouth o' the shaft now," said Andy.
"They're a-dhraggin' the timbers away; timbers wid the fire in 'em
yit. Ye'd be shtartled to see 'em, mum."
Then the lady spoke.
"I will go to the shaft," she said. Her carriage was already at the
door; she started toward it, throwing a light wrap across her arm as
Again the man on the bed moved and moaned.
"Stay with him," she said to Andy, "until I come myself, or send some
one to relieve you. See that he has everything he needs. He is my
Goodlaw helped her to the carriage.
"Will you come with me?" she asked.
He seated himself beside her and they were driven away. There was
little that he could say to comfort and assure her. The shock was too
recent. The situation of her son was too perilous.
Darkness was coming on when they reached the scene of the disaster;
one or two stars were already out, and the crescent of the new moon
was hanging in the west. Great clouds of white smoke were floating
away to the east, and where the breaker had that morning stood there
was now only a mass of charred and glowing ruins.
There were many people there, people who talked in low tones and
who looked on with solemn faces. But there were no outcries nor
lamentations; there was but one person, a boy, shut up in the mine,
and he was kin to no one there.
Up at the south-west corner of the pile they were throwing water on
the ruins. An engine had been brought up from the city and was pouring
a steady stream on the spot where the shaft was thought to be.
Many men were engaged in cutting and pulling away the burned timbers,
handling them while they were yet glowing with fire, so eager were
they to forward the work of rescue.
The superintendent of the mines was there, directing, encouraging,
and giving a helping hand. He saw Mrs. Burnham and came up to her
"It was a very disastrous lightning stroke," he said; "the property of
the company is in ruins, but as yet no lives have been lost. There is
but one person in the mine, the boy Ralph; you both know him. We are
clearing away the wreckage from the mouth of the shaft as rapidly as
possible, in the hope that we may get down there in time to save his
life. Our people have directed me to spare no effort in this matter.
One life, even though it is that of an unknown boy, is not too poor a
thing for us to try, by every possible means, to save."
"That boy," said Goodlaw, "is Mrs. Burnham's son."
"Is it possible! Has he been identified, then, since the trial?"
"Fully, fully! My dear sir, I beg that you will do all that lies in
your power to save this life for your company's sake, then double your
effort for this lady's sake. She has no such fortune as this boy is to
Mrs. Burnham had sat there pale-faced and eager-eyed. Now she spoke:--
"What is the prospect? What are the chances? Can you surely save him?
Tell me truly, Mr. Martin?"
"We cannot say certainly," replied the superintendent; "there are too
many factors in the problem of which we are yet ignorant. We do not
know how badly the shaft is choked up; we do not know the condition
of the air in the mine. To be frank with you, I think the chances are
against rescuing the boy alive. The mine soon fills with poisonous
gases when the air supply is cut off."
"Are you doing all that can be done?" she asked. "Will more men, more
money, more of anything, help you in your work?"
"We are doing all that can be done," he answered her. "The men are
working bravely. We need nothing."
"How soon will you be able to go down and begin the search?"
The man thought for a moment before replying.
"To-morrow," he said, uncertainly. "I think surely by to-morrow."
She sank back into the carriage-seat, appalled by the length of time
named. She had hoped that an hour or two at the farthest would enable
them to reach the bottom of the shaft.
"We will push the work to the utmost," said Martin, as he hurried
away. "Possibly we shall be able to get in sooner."
Goodlaw and Mrs. Burnham sat for a long time in silence, watching the
men at their labor. Word had been passed among the workers that the
missing boy was Mrs. Burnham's son, and their energetic efforts were
put forth now for her sake as well as for the lad's. For both mother
and son held warm places in the hearts of these toiling men.
The mouth of the shaft had been finally uncovered, a space cleared
around it, and the frame of a rude windlass erected. They were
preparing to remove the debris from the opening.
Conway came to the carriage, and, in a voice broken with emotion, told
the story of Ralph's heroic effort to save a human life at the risk of
his own. He had little hope, he said, that Ralph could live till they
should reach him; but he should be the first, he declared, to go into
the mine in search of the gallant boy.
At this recital Mrs. Burnham wept; she could restrain her tears no
At last Goodlaw persuaded her to leave the scene. He feared the effect
that continued gazing on it might have upon her delicate nerves.
The flashing of the lanterns, the huge torches lighting up the
darkness, the forms of men moving back and forth in the smoky
atmosphere, the muscular and mental energy exhibited, the deep
earnestness displayed,--all this made up a picture too dramatic and
appalling for one whose heart was in it to look at undismayed.
Arrangements were made for a messenger service to keep Mrs. Burnham
constantly informed of the progress of the work, and, with a
parting appeal to those in charge to hasten the hour of rescue, the
grief-stricken mother departed.
They drove first to Bachelor Billy's room. Andy was still there and
said he would remain during the night. He said that Billy had spoken
once or twice, apparently in his right mind, and was now sleeping
Then Mrs. Burnham went to her home. She passed the long night in
sleepless anxiety, waiting for the messages from the mine, which
followed each other in slow succession. They brought to her no good
news. The work was going on; the opening was full with wreckage; the
air was very bad, even in the shaft. These were the tidings. It was
hardly possible, they wrote, that the boy could still be living.
Long before the last star had paled and faded in the western sky, or
the first rays of the morning sun had shot across the hills, despair
had taken in her heart the place of hope. She could only say: "Well,
he died as his father died, trying to save the lives of others. I have
two lost heroes now to mourn for and be proud of, instead of one."
But even yet there crossed her mind at times the thought that
possibly, possibly the one chance for life as against thousands and
thousands for death might fall to her boy; and the further and deeper
thought that the range of God's mercy was very wide, oh, very wide!
AT THE DAWN OF DAY.
It was not until very late on the morning following the storm that
Bachelor Billy came fully to his senses and realized what had
He was told that the breaker had been struck by lightning and burned
to the ground, and that his own illness was due to the severity of the
He asked where Ralph was, and they told him that Ralph was up at the
mine. They thought it wiser that he should not know the truth about
the boy just yet.
He thought to get up and dress himself, but he felt so weak and
bruised, and the strong metallic taste in his mouth nauseated him so,
that he yielded to the advice of those who were with him and lay down
He looked up anxiously at the clock, at intervals, and seemed to be
impatient for the noon hour to arrive. He thought Ralph would come
then to his dinner. He wondered that the boy should go away and leave
him for so long a time alone in his illness.
The noon hour came, but Ralph did not come.
Andy Gilgallon returned and tried to divert the man's mind with
stories of the fire, but the attempt was in vain.
At one o'clock they made a pretence of sending Mrs. Maloney's little
girl to look for Ralph, in order to quiet Bachelor Billy's growing
But he remained very anxious and ill at ease. It struck him that there
was something peculiar about the conduct of the people who were with
him when Ralph's name was mentioned or his absence discussed. A
growing fear had taken possession of his mind that something was
wrong, and so terribly wrong that they dared not tell it to him.
When the clock struck two, he sat up in the bed and looked at Andy
Gilgallon with a sternness in his face that was seldom seen there.
"Andy," he said, "tha's summat ye're a-keepin' fra me. If aught's
happenit to the lad I want ye s'ould tell me. Be he hurt, be he dead,
I wull know it. Coom noo, oot wi' it, mon! D'ye hear me?"
Andy could not resist an appeal and a command like this. There was
something in the man's eyes, he said afterwards, that drew the truth
right out of him.
Bachelor Billy heard the story calmly, asked about the means being
taken for the boy's rescue, and then sat for a few moments in quiet
Finally he said: "Andy, gi' me ma clothes."
Andy did not dare to disobey him. He gave his clothes to him, and
helped him to dress.
The man was so sick and dizzy still that he could hardly stand. He
crossed the room, took his cap from its hook and put it on his head.
"An' where do yez be goin' to I donno?" inquired Andy, anxiously.
"I'm a-goin' to the breaker," replied Bachelor Billy.