Read CHAPTER III - HEROES OF THE UNDERGROUND of The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on ReadCentral.com.

Knowing that his father had spent many years on Tillamook Rock, Eric was eager to see every nook and cranny of the building, and he importuned his uncle to go with him over the structure. But, although the inspector and the light-keeper were brothers, the trip was an official one, and his uncle deputed one of the assistant light-keepers to show the lad around.

Eric was not slow in making use of his time. He climbed up to the lantern and saw for himself close at hand the lens he had so often heard described, astonishing his guide with all sorts of questions. Most of these showed an extraordinary knowledge of lights and lighthouses, in which a mass of information was combined with utter ignorance of detail. This was due to the boy’s long acquaintance with the Lighthouse Service through the several members of his family who had served in it.

“You know,” said Eric, “I had the idea that Tillamook Rock would seem a lot higher, when one was on top of it. When you look at it from the sea, it stands up so sheer and straight that it seems almost like a mountain.”

“Well, lad,” the assistant-keeper answered, “it is tolerable high. It’s nigh a hundred feet to the level o’ the rock, an’ the light’s another forty. It’s none too high, at that.”

“Why? The sea can’t hurt you much, this high up!” said Eric, leaning over the railing of the gallery around the light and looking down. “Even a twenty-foot wave’s a big one, and you’re six or seven times as high up as that.”

“You think we’re sort o’ peacefully floatin’ in a zone o’ quiet up here? You’ve got to revise your notion o’ the Pacific quite a much! Neptoon can put up a better article of fight right around this same spot here than anywheres else I know. Maybe you didn’ hear o’ the time the sea whittled off a slice o’ rock weighin’ a ton or so and sort o’ chucked it at the light?”

“No,” said Eric, “I never heard a word about it. When was it?”

“Nigh about twelve years ago,” the light-keeper said reminiscently. “It was the winter I got sick, an’ I’ve got that night stuck good an’ fast in my think-bank. There was a howlin’ nor’wester comin’ down. She’d been blowin’ plenty fresh for a couple o’ weeks, but instead o’ letting up, the sea kep’ on gettin’ more wicked. The way some o’ the big ones would come dashin’ in an’ shinnin’ up the rock as if they were a-goin’ to snatch the buildin’ down, was sure wearin’ on the nerves. That winter, there was more’n once I thought the sea was goin’ to nip off the lighthouse like a ball takin’ off the last pin in a bowlin’ frame.”

“Dashing up against the lighthouse!” exclaimed the boy. “Aren’t you putting that on a bit? Why you’re over a hundred feet above sea level.”

“In ‘most any big storm the surf dashes up to the top o’ the rock. But on this day I’m talkin’ of, there was one gee-whopper of a sea. It broke off a chunk of rock weighin’ every ounce o’ half a ton, the way you’d bite off a piece o’ candy, an’ just chucked that rock at the lantern, breakin’ a pane of glass, clear at the top of the tower.”

The boy whistled incredulously.

“It’s a dead cold fact,” the other confirmed. “If you think I’m stretchin’ it a bit, you read the Annual Report an’ you’ll find it’s so.”

“What did you do?”

“We put in a new glass,” said the keeper.

“During the storm?”

“We haven’t got any business to worry about storms, we’ve only got to keep the light goin’,” was the reply. “If the End o’ the World was scheduled to come off in the middle of the night, you can bet it would find the Tillamook Rock Light burnin’! Storm! Takes a sight more than a sixty mile gale an’ a ragin’ sea to stop a Lighthouse crowd. You know that yourself, or you oughter, with your folks. No, sir! There’s no storm ever invented that can crimp the Service. We had that broken glass out and a new one in place, in just exactly eighteen minutes. It was some job, too! The chaps workin’ on the outside had to be lashed on to the platform.”

“Why, because of the wind?”

“Just the wind. That little breeze would have picked up a two-hundred-pound man like a feather.”

“Weren’t you scared?”

“No,” said the light-keeper, “didn’t have time to think of it. Cookie was scared, all right.”

“Have you a cook on the rock?” said Eric in surprise, “I thought you all took turns to cook.”

“The men do, in most o’ the lighthouses,” was the reply, “but Tillamook’s so cut off from everything that we’ve five men on the post. That means quite a bit o’ cookin’, an’ so we have a chef all our own. Didn’t you ever hear the story o’ Cookie?”

“Never,” said the boy, “go ahead!”

“Quite a while ago,” the light-keeper began, “the Service hired a cook for Tillamook. He was a jim-dandy of a cook an’ could get good money ashore. But he’d been crossed in love, or he’d lost his money, or something, I don’t remember what, an’ so he wanted to forget his sorrows in isolation.”

“Sort of hermit style?” suggested Eric.

“That’s it, exactly. Well, Cookie took the job, an’ the tender tried to land him here. Three times the tender came out, an’ each trip the sea was kickin’ up didoes so that he couldn’t land. He got scared right down to his toes an’ they couldn’t make him get into the boat. But each time he went back to town, after having renigged that way, his friends used to josh the life out of him.

“So, one day, when it was fairly calm, he said he would go. He’d been teased into it. The captain o’ the tender chuckled, for he knew there was quite a sea running outside, but they started all right. Sure enough, soon as they rounded the cape, the sea was runnin’ a bit. It didn’t look so worse from the deck o’ the tender, an’ Breuger that was the cook’s name was telling the first officer how the world was going to lose the marvelous cookin’ that he alone could do.

“But, as soon as Tillamook Rock come in sight, Cookie’s courage began to ooze. He talked less of his cookin’ and more o’ what he called ’the perils of the sea.’ As soon as the tender come close to the rock, he fell silent. The boat was swung out an’ Cookie was told to get in. As before, he refused.

“‘That’s all right,’ said the skipper, who had been expectin’ him to back out. ’We’ll help you. It’s a bit hard climbing with the rheumatism.’”

“Did he have rheumatism?” asked the boy, grinning in anticipation.

“You couldn’t prove he didn’t have it!” responded the light-keeper with an answering flicker of a smile. “The captain turned to a couple of sailors. ‘Give him a hand,’ he said, ‘he needs it.’

“Two husky A.B.’s chucked Breuger into the boat, an’ before Cookie realized what was happenin’, the boat was in the water an’ cast off from the side o’ the tender. But he had some sense, after all, for he saw there was no use makin’ a fuss then. It was a bad landin’ that day, four or five times worse than this afternoon, an’ I guess it looked dangerous enough to a landsman to be a bit scarin’. One of the men went up with him, holdin’ on to him, so he wouldn’t get frightened an’ drop, an’ in a minute or two he was swung in to the landin’-place.

“There was one of our fellows here who was as funny as a goat, an’ we had an awful time to keep him from raggin’ Cookie. But we knew that Breuger was goin’ to fix our grub for quite a spell and keepin’ him in a good humor was a wise move. Anyway, when you’re goin’ to live in quarters as small as a lighthouse, you can’t afford to have any quarrelin’. A funny man’s all right, but he needs lots of room.

“So, instead of hazin’ him for showin’ the white feather so often, I praised Cookie for having made so brave a landin’ on such an awful day. Quick as a wink, his manner changed. He just strutted. He slapped himself on the chest an’ boasted of his line of warlike ancestors seemed to go back to somewhere about the time of Adam. It never once struck him that every one else on the rock had had to make a landin’ there, too. He gave himself the airs of bein’ the sole hero on Tillamook. There were days when this was a bit tryin’, but we forgave him. He could cook. Shades of a sea-gull! How he could cook! We used to threaten to put an extra padlock on the lens, lest he should try to fricassee it!”

“Easy there!” protested Eric.

“Well,” said the other, “you know the big Arctic gull they call the Burgomaster?”

“Yes, I’ve seen it in winter once or twice.”

“Breuger could cook that oily bird so’s it would taste like a pet squab. He used to take a pride in it, too, an’ he liked best the men who ate most. Now I was real popular with Cookie. Those were the days for eats!” and the light-keeper sighed regretfully.

“How long did he stay?” queried the boy.

“That’s just the point,” the other answered. “He never went back.”

“Never?”

“Not alive,” responded the light-keeper. “He’d had one experience of landin’ an’ he’d never risk another. He stayed on Tillamook for over eighteen years, never leavin’ it, even for a day. An’ he died here.”

“Well,” the boy commented, “this is where I’m going to differ from Cookie, for there’s Father coming down.” He looked over the edge. “It would make a great dive,” he said, “if it weren’t for the surf.”

“It’d be your last,” was the response. “Nobody could get out alive from that poundin’. More’n one good man’s been drowned there. The first man that ever tried to build a lighthouse on this rock got washed off. That was the end of him.”

“Tell me about it?” pleaded the boy. “There’s just time enough!”

“Ask your dad,” said the other; “he’s got the early history o’ Tillamook by heart. Meantime, I wish you all sorts of luck, lad, an’ if ever you’re in a Coast Guard vessel on this coast and see Tillamook flashin’, don’t forget the boys that never let a light go out!”

“Father,” said Eric, a little later, when they had boarded the lighthouse-tender and got into dry clothes, “tell me the story of the building of Tillamook Lighthouse. They told me, over there, that you knew all about it.”

“I ought to,” the inspector replied, “I helped build it. And it was a job! I suppose Tillamook would be classed among the dozen hardest lighthouse-building jobs of the world.”

“What would be the others?”

“Well, in America, on the Pacific Coast there’s St. George’s Reef. Spectacle Reef in the Great Lakes, and Minot’s Ledge off Boston, were bad. There are a lot around England and Scotland, like Eddystone, Wolf Rock, the Long Ships, and Bell Rock that’s the old ‘Inchcape Rock’ you read about in school and there was a particularly bad one called Or-Mar, in the Bay of Biscay. It took the engineer one year and a week before he could make the first landing on Or-Mar.”

“Over a year!”

“A year and a week,” the inspector repeated. “And Tillamook wasn’t much better. It was in December 1878 that we got orders for a preliminary survey of the reef for the purpose of choosing a lighthouse site. After a dozen or more attempts, the engineer returned baffled. In the following June, six months later, the rock was still unviolated. No human foot had ever trodden it.

“Then the Department began to make demands. Washington got insistent. Urgent orders were issued that the rock would have to be scaled. The engineer was instructed to make a landing. Fortunately, toward the end of the month there came a spell of calm weather.”

“Like the calm to-day?”

“Just about. That’s as calm as Tillamook ever gets. After several more attempts, lasting nearly a week, the boat was run close to the rocks and two sailors got ashore. A line was to be thrown to them. No sooner were they ashore than the boat backed away, to keep from being stove in. Remembering that it had been six months before the boat had a chance of getting as near the rock as it had the minute before, the two sailors became panicky at seeing the boat back away. Both being powerful swimmers, they threw themselves into the sea and the boat managed to pick them up before the surf caught them.

“This had been enough to show that landing was not impossible. With the evidence that two sailors had ventured, the engineer could not withdraw. He was a bold and daring fellow himself. Two days later, although the sea was not nearly as calm, the boat was brought up to the rock again, and at almost the same landing-place as before, he succeeded in getting ashore.

“One of the things that makes Tillamook so dangerous is that you can never tell when it is suddenly going to change from its ordinary wildness to a pitch of really savage fury. A ground swell, hardly perceptible on the surface of the sea, will kick up no end of a smother on the rock. The engineer lost no time in his survey. He had already made a study of the rock from every point of the sea around it, so that he was able to do his actual survey ashore quickly. Less than an hour was enough. By that time he had every detail needed for his report.

“But when he was ready to go, Tillamook was less ready to loose her capture. The waves were dashing over the landing place and the sky was rapidly becoming beclouded. Yet, for the engineer, there was no question of choice! To stay there meant being marooned, death from exposure and starvation. There was nothing to do but dare. The engineer, beckoning for the boat to come in as near the rock as possible, cast himself into the sea. It was touch and go, but we picked him up, although he was nearly done for when we got him. The report was duly sent into Washington and approved.

“The next thing was to arrange about the actual building. For this a man of skill and experience was needed. John W. Trewavas, a famous lighthouse expert, one of the constructors of the Wolf Rock Light off the English Coast, came to America to pit his knowledge and his strength against the Pacific Ocean. Although it was summer weather, he hung around Tillamook for a month before there was even a chance to make a landing. Then, on September 18, 1879 I was steering the boat Mr. Trewavas thought he saw his opportunity. I took the boat right in, so that her nose almost touched the rock. He leaped ashore, and, at the same instant, with a tremendous back-water stroke, the oarsmen jumped the surf-boat back out of danger. One second’s yes, half a second’s delay, and the boat would have been in splinters.

“The slope on which Trewavas had landed was wet and covered with slippery seaweed. Experienced and cautious, he waited for a moment to make sure of his foothold, well knowing the dangers of slipping. Peril was nearer him than he knew. A roller came breaking in, sending a spurt of water right over the spot where he was standing. So precarious was his footing that he did not dare move away quickly. Trewavas had just shuffled his feet a few inches further on that slippery slope when a comber heaved its great length along the rock. Almost without a curl it struck just below the landing and a boiling torrent of spume and spray hid the daring man from sight. Just for a second, but when the wave receded, he was gone. The rock was empty.”

“Couldn’t you pick him up, Father?”

“We never even saw him again, in that whirlpool of currents. The undertow dragged him down immediately and he never came to the surface. The body was never found.”

“Who was the next to land?” asked Eric.

“I was,” his father said, “and I landed on exactly the same spot. I had taken off my boots, but even so, the seaweed was slippery and dangerous. Remembering poor Trewavas’ fate, in a jiffy I was off the slope and on the level platform of the rock. They threw me a line from the boat, and I pulled ashore some tools and supplies. With a rope to help them, several of the men joined me. That was the beginning of the conquest of Tillamook.”

“And did that sort of business last all through?” queried the boy.

“Pretty much. Once, when the lighthouse was about half built, the schooner on which the men lived, and which was anchored a little distance off the rock, was blown from her moorings. A revenue cutter picked her up and brought her back. I tell you the men who were still on the rock had a sure-enough scare when they saw the schooner gone. They made sure they were marooned and done for. I had a job to keep them at work.

“Then there was another time, just when we were finishing the house, a terrific storm came up and the seas washed clear over the lower part of the rock. In the middle of the night there was an awful crash. Some of the men wanted to rush out to see what it was. I had to stand by the door with a revolver and threaten to shoot the first man who left.”

“Why?”

“If they’d gone out, it’s more than likely that some of them would have been washed or blown away, and I was responsible. In the morning we found that one of the tool-houses had been blown in. I watched those men like a hen does her chickens, and we didn’t have a single accident in the building of Tillamook Rock Light after the work of actual construction was begun.”

“You’re sorry to say good-by to the old light, Father,” said the boy sympathetically.

The old inspector roused himself from a reverie into which he had fallen.

“Yes,” he admitted, “I am. But what the Commissioner says, goes! Of course it’s always interesting to face new problems, and I’ll have a freer hand on the Lakes. It’ll be easier for you to get home from the East, too, when you’re at the Academy.”

“That’s providing I get there all right,” agreed Eric. “Winning into the Coast Guard is just about the one thing I want most in the world.”

“And like everything else in the world that’s worth getting, you’ve got to work for it,” his father added. “Well, here we are at the wharf again. This is probably the last time you’ll smell the old Pacific, Eric, for in another week it’ll be a case of ’Go East, young man, go East!’”

“I hope it isn’t going to be too cold for Mother,” the boy suggested.

“It’ll be cold enough, don’t you worry about that,” the other answered, “I’ve heard enough about the Great Lakes. But it’s a clear cold, not damp like it is out here. The cold won’t hurt you, anyway. It’ll give you a chance to harden up.”

When, ten days later, Eric helped the family to settle in its new home in Detroit, the headquarters of the Eleventh Lighthouse District, he thought his fears of cold would be unfounded. The unusual beauty of the city of Detroit in the haze of an autumn afternoon, gave no sense of a rigorous winter. This feeling received a jolt, however, when, strolling along the river front next day, he came across two of the huge ice-breaker car ferries, awaiting their call to defy Jack Frost. He was standing watching them, and trying to picture ’the Dardanelles of America’ under the grip of ice, when a boy about his own age, with one arm in a sling, slapped him on the shoulder.

“Ed!” exclaimed Eric. “Who’d have thought of seeing you here!”

“Why not, old man?” said the other laughing, “I live here.”

“Do you? Bully! So do I. The folks moved here yesterday.”

“Your father, too?”

“Sure.”

“I thought he’d never leave the Coast.”

“He didn’t want to,” said Eric, “but he was appointed inspector in charge of this district, so he had to come. But what’s happened to you,” the lad continued, “what have you been doing with yourself?”

“Got my arm broken in a mine rescue,” the other said.

“What kind of a mine rescue? An accident?”

“Coal-mine explosion.”

“But what are you doing with coal mines?”

“I’m trying to qualify as a mining expert. You’re not the only one who thinks Uncle Sam’s the best boss there is. I’m going into the government, too.”

“You are? In the Geological Survey?”

“Bureau of Mines,” the other answered. “How about you? Still thinking of the Revenue Cutter Service no, Coast Guard it is now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Coast Guard,” Eric agreed. “You bet I’m going in, if I can make it. But the exams are the stiffest things you ever saw! I’m going to cram for them this whole winter.”

“Isn’t that great! I’m doing special work here, too. What’s your end? Mathematics and navigation, I suppose?”

“Mostly mathematics,” Eric replied. “What’s yours?”

“Mineralogy and chemistry,” his friend replied. “I’m going to try to specialize on the prevention of accidents in mines. I’ve got a good reason to remember my subject.” He nodded with a certain grim humor to his bandaged arm.

“How did you do it?”

“I was down with a rescue party,” said the older lad, “and we got caught. That was all.”

With his characteristic impetuosity, Eric took hold of his friend’s unbandaged arm and led him to a seat in Owen Park, just facing Belle Isle, the most beautiful island park in the United States. With his love of lighthouses, the Light at the northeast corner seemed to Eric like an old friend.

“There,” he said. “Now you’re going to sit right there, Ed, and tell me all about it. I’ve only had two or three letters from you since you left ’Frisco, and we were in First-Year High together.”

“That’s so,” his friend agreed. “All right, if you’ve got to have the yarn, here goes.” He leaned back on the bench, and began his story.

“You remember that Father was interested in mines?”

“Of course,” Eric answered; “he showed me that little model of a colliery he kept in his study.”

“You do remember that,” the other said, his eyes kindling. “I helped him make it. It was a lot of fun. Dad was a crank on conservation. He was one of the first men in America to take it up. You know it was his influence that swung Washington into line? The waste in coal really used to worry him. He was always afraid of a coal famine, and he spent a lot of time doping out ways to stop the waste in mining. He was just daffy about it, then.”

“I can remember that, too,” the boy said reminiscently. “He had pictures showing how quickly the coal was being used up, and how much coal every person in the United States was consuming, and all that sort of stuff. It was always mighty interesting to me. Your dad and I got along finely together.”

“You did,” his friend agreed. “Well, after a while, Dad decided to drop his business in ’Frisco and go mining. He’d always kept close tabs on the coal question, so that, when he got ready to start, nothing would satisfy him but small holdings in half a dozen parts of the country.”

“What for?”

“You see, Dad wasn’t trying to make a pile of money out of mining; he wanted to experiment with all sorts of coal and find some way to use it so that there wouldn’t be so much waste. The locomotive, for instance, only converts about thirty per cent. of the coal into power. The other seventy per cent. goes up the smokestack. Same thing with an ocean liner.”

“I know,” said the boy.

“All right. So Dad bought a mine in Illinois, and one in Manitoba, and took a half-share in some Minnesota mines and another in a Michigan mine. Then he joined a company in Pennsylvania, and I don’t know what all. Anyhow, he’s got stuff all over the place. It was out of the question for the rest of us to be traveling from mine to mine all the time, the way Dad jumps around, and so we settled here. It’s sort of central for him.

“Being mixed up in such a lot of mines, Dad had a chance to work out some of his pet schemes. He’d always been enthusiastic over the government’s relations with the miners, and when it started rescue work, he was one of the first to equip a rescue car and ask some of the experts to come out and instruct his miners how to handle it. You know Dad everything he does, every one else has got to do?”

“He always was like that,” Eric agreed.

“He’s that way still. So, of course, I was elected to that first-aid business right away. I had to know it all! There’s nothing half-way about Dad. Caesar’s Ghost! How I slaved over that stuff! Luckily for me, they sent out a cracker-jack from Washington, and it was such good sport working with him that I soon picked it up. The next move was that I should go from one to another of Dad’s mines and organize the rescue work. I’ve been doing that for the last year.”

“I should think that was bully!” exclaimed Eric. “But how do you do it?”

“It’s easy enough to start.” The young fellow laughed. “I’m a regular rescue ‘fan’ now. I usually get two or three teams together and have a match. Talk about your kids on a baseball diamond in a vacant lot! Those miners’ rescue teams have the youngsters skinned a mile for excitement when there’s a rival test.”

“But I don’t see how you could have a fire-rescue match,” said Eric, puzzled, “you can’t set a mine on fire just to have a drill!”

“Scarcely! At least, you can’t set a whole mine on fire. Once in a while, though, you can use an old mine shaft. But we generally do it in the field. There the entries and rooms are outlined with ropes on stakes. Across the entrances of these supposed rooms crossbars are laid, just the height of a mine gallery.

“The contest is to find out how good the men are, individually, and to teach them team work. Each man has a breathing apparatus, and a safety and electric lamp, while each crew has a canary bird.”

“A what?”

“A canary bird!”

“What kind of a machine is that?” asked Eric, thinking the other was referring to some name for a piece of rescue apparatus.

“A canary bird? It’s a yellow machine with feathers, and sings,” said Ed, laughing.

“You mean a real canary bird?”

“Yes, a live one.”

“But what the crickets do they need a canary bird for?”

“To give them a pointer as to when the air is bad. You see, Eric, there’s all sorts of different kinds of poisonous gases in coal mines. Some you can spot right off, but there’s others you can’t.”

“I thought gas was just gas,” Eric answered, “‘damp,’ don’t they call it?”

“There’s several different ‘damps.’ Take ‘fire damp’ or just plain ‘gas’ as the miners call it. That’s really methane, marsh gas, the same stuff that makes the will-o’-the-wisp you can see dancing around over a marsh. It’ll explode, all right, but there’s got to be a lot of it around before much damage’ll be done. ‘Fire damp’ is like a rattlesnake, he’s a gentleman.”

“How do you mean?” queried the boy.

“Well, just the same way that a rattler’ll never strike before giving you warning, ‘fire damp’ always gives you a chance ahead of time.”

“How?”

“You know every miner carries a safety lamp?”

“Yes.”

“‘Fire damp’ makes a sort of little cap over the flame of the lamp, like a small sugar-loaf hat. As soon as a miner sees this, he knows that there’s enough ‘gas’ around to make it dangerous. As it’s a gas that it doesn’t do much harm to breathe, you see he can always make a get-away. Isn’t that being a gentleman, all right?”

“Yes, I guess it is.”

“Then there’s ‘black damp.’ That’s ordinary carbon dioxide, or carbonic acid gas.”

“Isn’t that just the stuff we breathe out?” questioned Eric.

“Exactly,” his former schoolmate replied. “In an old mine, though, you’ve got to remember, nearly all the oxygen is absorbed by the coal. That gives a lot less chance for a leak of carbonic acid gas to mix with enough oxygen to keep the air pure. For ‘black damp’ though, the lamp’s a good guide again. When a miner sees that his lamp is beginning to burn dim, it’s a sign the air’s short of oxygen.”

“Of course,” said Eric, “we used to have that experiment in our high school chemistry.”

“We did. But do you remember just how much oxygen a lamp has to have?”

“No,” the boy was forced to admit, “I’ve plumb forgot.”

“A safety lamp will go right out with less than seventeen per cent. of oxygen, while a man can live fairly comfortably on fifteen or sixteen per cent. So the flickering out of a lamp is a sure sign that the danger line’s not far off.”

“It’s a gentleman, too, then,” said Eric with a laugh.

“Yes,” the other assented dubiously, “but there’s less margin. Now, ‘white damp,’ or carbon monoxide, is a horse of a different color. That’s the real danger, Eric. Pretty nearly all the cases of poisoning in mines are due to ‘white damp.’ Just the other day, in Pennsylvania, two hundred men were killed whouf! just like blowing out a match. But ‘white damp’ hasn’t got any effect on the flame of a safety lamp. If anything, it may hit it up even a trifle brighter. So the lamp isn’t any good. That’s where the mice come in.”

“Mice? I thought you said canaries!”

“We use both mice and canaries. When you haven’t got a canary, take a mouse.”

“Which is the better?”

“Canary! ‘White damp’ catches him quicker. That means he gives an earlier warning. A canary will fall off his perch in four minutes when the air’s only got one-fifth of one per cent, of ‘white damp.’”

“And how long could a fellow stand that much of the gas?”

“About ten minutes, without being really put to the bad, though twenty minutes of it would make him mighty sick. You see, that gives a party six minutes clear before any harm’s done. Any time a canary gives a warning, if the miners turn back right then and there, nobody’d be hurt. Isn’t that a great little alarm, though?”

“It is that,” Eric agreed. “But what happens to the canary?”

“Oh, he comes around again in about five minutes. If a bird gets too much ‘white damp,’ though, he loses some of his value, because he gets immune and can stand almost ten minutes. So you see, Eric, the ’yellow machine with feathers’ can be a real help sometimes.”

“Great!” said Eric, “I’ll always look at a canary with respect after this. But I’ve been taking you away from the yarn, Ed, with all my questions. You were telling about the drill.”

“So I was. Well, as soon as all the men are fitted up and the teams are ready, a signal is given. All the men are examined for their general health, their heart, pulse, breathing and all that sort of thing, and then they are made to get into the special helmet and sent into a smoke-house filled with the worst kind of fumes. They have to be there ten minutes. When they come out, the doctor examines them again. If any man shows poor condition, his team is penalized.

“Then all the lights are fixed up and examined, and there’s a sure enough penalty if any one slips up on the lamp test. After that, a team is sent on the run to fetch a miner who is supposed to be lying unconscious in a working. No one knows where he is. The team to find him quickest and bring him back counts one point. Then the unconscious man is supposed to be revived. The team that does that best gets another point and so on.”

“Real first-aid stuff,” said Eric.

“You bet. We question the miners swiftly on accidents and they have to know bandaging and everything else. Running stretchers in a working that’s only three feet or three feet six high isn’t any joke.”

“Are the galleries as small as that?” said Eric in surprise. “How can you stand up?”

“You can’t. In lots of mines the men work all day long and never get a chance to straighten their backs. Then, in a really big drill, a miner is supposed to be imprisoned by a fall of roof. The team has to find him, to inspect the roof, to show how it should be timbered, and to put out a supposed fire in one of the workings. I tell you, a man who has a certificate from the Bureau of Mines as a trained mine-rescue man is trained all right. It was in one of those drills that I got hurt.”

“Oh,” cried Eric, disappointed, “I thought it was a real accident!”

“It was,” his friend answered. “I said it was during a drill, not at one. It was in Central Pennsylvania. The contest was going ahead in good shape, when a chap came tearing down the road in a wagon, his horses on the gallop.

“‘Explosion in the Eglinton, Shaft Three!’ he called as soon as he got within hearing. ‘There’s hundreds of men caught!’

“Everybody looked at me. I wasn’t a government man, and I was only there because I had trained most of the teams. I’m willing enough to be the whole thing, but after all I’ve got some gumption, and I wasn’t going to take hold of something that needed an experienced man’s handling. There was one old operator there, on one of the judging committees. He’d been watching me closely. ‘Mr. Barnett,’ I said hurriedly, ’will you take charge?’

“I tell you, Eric, you should have seen his face change! He jumped forward with a cheer. With a word here, an order there, in two minutes’ time he had that wagon off again with two rescue teams fully equipped, himself leading, and I was heading all the rest of the men on a steady dog-trot to the place. Old man Barnett was a leader, all right!

“When we got to the mine shaft, it was surrounded by women, some crying, but most of them silent. The two rescue crews had been working like fiends, and work was needed, too.

“I didn’t see how I could be much use, anyway. The miners were ’way ahead of me. I haven’t had enough experience underground. Just the same, as soon as Barnett saw me, he shouted,

“‘Down with you, boy!’ and down I had to go.

“As I passed him, I said,

“‘Mr. Barnett, I don’t know much about the practical end of this!’

“‘I know ye don’t,’ he answered grimly, ’ye don’t have to. But men always need a leader. Get on down!’

“As soon as the bucket rattled me to the bottom of the shaft, I fixed on my apparatus, ready to start with the rest of my team. I’d been through that mine once and the comment I’d heard at the pit mouth had told me where the trouble was, so we started off boldly.

“We went ’way in and met one of the parties coming out with a stretcher. We were near enough to make signs to them, just visible in the dull gloom of dimly burning safety lamps when, woof! down came a mass of roof. I saw it coming and dodged back, but not quite in time, for a chunk of coal caught my shoulder. It twisted me round so that I fell with my left arm stretched out, and then a big chunk rolled full on me, just above the wrist.”

“Broke it?”

“Yes, quite a nasty smash, a comminuted fracture, the doctor called it. My boys snaked that coal off and got me up in a hurry, but the party with the stretcher was cut off. That fall of the roof had choked up the passage solid. The men were already at work at it, using their pickaxes like demons. Seeing I couldn’t do any good with a broken arm, I ran back for reenforcements.”

“Didn’t your arm hurt like blazes?”

“I suppose it did, but I don’t remember noticing it much at the time. I got back to the mine entrance and steered another gang to where the cave-in had occurred. But what do you suppose I found when we got there?”

“What?” called Eric, excitedly.

“My men were poisoned!”

“How?”

“White damp.”

“You mean they were dead?” exclaimed the boy, horror-stricken.

“No, they were all at work,” said the other, “but they were pickaxing the rock in a listless sort of way that I recognized at once. You see, I’d done quite a bit of reading along those lines Dad was so keen on it so I could tell at once that they’d had a dose of carbon monoxide, and a bad dose at that.

“‘Come back, boys!’ I cried. ’Come back! The place is full of ’white damp’!

“But they were a plucky lot of fellows. Their comrades were entombed on the other side of the cave-in and they wouldn’t quit. And all the while they were breathing in the fumes.”

“So were you!” exclaimed Eric.

“Yes, but I wasn’t working. I couldn’t do much, with my arm all smashed up, and so I wasn’t breathing in as deeply and taking in as much of that stuff as they were. I urged them to come back, but they were Americans, and wouldn’t give in as long as there was any hope of rescue.

“Then I ordered them back. I think they thought I was crazy. I picked up a shovel and threatened to smash it across the face of the first man who didn’t follow orders. They grumbled, but, after all, they’d been well trained and they knew that they had to do what the leader ordered. The second gang that had come up had its own leader, you see, and he told them to go on. That made my men all the harder to handle, but I brought them back.

“Just as we got near the mine entrance, one of the men collapsed. That gave me an awful scare. I sent one of the men up to tell Barnett, while I ran back into the workings.”

“What for?”

“To try to get that second gang back, anyway.”

“But wasn’t it an awful chance to take, to go back into that stuff?”

“Who bothers about chances?” exclaimed the other. “But I took the canary!”

“Well?”

“I wasn’t more than half-way to the gang when the bird began to quiver and just as I reached them, it fell off the perch. I held out the cage. That was all the proof I needed.”

“‘Guess the kid’s right,’ the foreman of the gang said. ‘Go back, boys.’

“They raised a howl with him the same way that my own men did with me. But he was an old-timer, and without wasting any words, he smashed the foremost of the workers across the jaw. Under a torrent of abuse, the men fell back. I was half-way to the entrance when everything turned black before me. Next thing I knew, I was in the Mine Superintendent’s house with a trained nurse.”

“White damp?” queried Eric.

“That’s what the doctor said.”

“What happened to the imprisoned bunch?”

“Old Man Barnett had just reached the entrance to the working with a large rescue party all equipped with breathing apparatus, when I collapsed. He got the trapped men out.”

“I should think they’d have been poisoned for fair,” said Eric.

“Not a bit of it,” his friend replied. “The leak of white damp had all come on the outside of the roof-fall, and there was hardly any of it on the other side. Some of the men were pretty weak from lack of air and that sort of thing, but not seriously hurt. It was the rescuers who suffered.”

“How was that, Ed?”

“Three of the five men who were in my gang died,” said the other mournfully.

“Great guns! Died?”

“Yes,” the young miner said, “poor fellows, they went under. Another man and I were the only ones who got over it.”

“Died in saving others! That’s sure tough!” There was a pause, and Eric added, “What got you two clear?”

“The other chap had been lying full length on the ground, while working, and as white damp rises, he had breathed less of the gas than the others. I wasn’t able to work, so I didn’t have to breathe deep.” He looked down at his broken arm. “It’s a queer thing,” he said, “but it was breaking my arm that saved my life.”