Read CHAPTER IV - INTRODUCING HARRY, THE BUMPING-MULE of Derrick Sterling A Story of the Mines , free online book, by Kirk Munroe, on ReadCentral.com.

As Derrick walked towards the entrance to the mine, he wondered what the bully whom he had just met meant by what he said. He did not then know that Bill Tooley had been discharged from the mine by Mr. Jones for brutal treatment of the mule he had driven, and for general laziness and neglect of his duties.

At the mouth of the “travelling-road,” down which the early arrivals were compelled to make their way into the mine, Derrick was greeted by a little group of miners who were lighting their lamps and preparing to descend.

“’Tis bonny to see thee, Derrick lad,” called out one of them.

“’Twill be luck to the mine to have such as you in her,” said another.

“My lad would ha’ been your age an’ he’d lived,” said a third. “’Twould ha’ been a proud day for me to ha’ seen him alongside o’ thee, lad, lighting his bit lamp, and ready to take up the life of an honest miner.”

In the group was Tom Evert, Paul’s father, a brawny, muscular man, who was considered one of the best miners in Raven Brook. Taking Derrick a little to one side, he said,

“They tell me, lad, thou’rt to drive Bill Tooley’s mule.”

“I don’t know anything about Bill Tooley’s mule,” answered Derrick. “I only know that Mr. Jones said I was to drive a bumping-mule, and I intend to do exactly what he tells me.”

“Of course, lad, of course; but the bumping-mule he has in mind will be Bill Tooley’s, I doubt not, and I’d rather ’twould be another than you had the job. Bill Tooley, with his feyther to back him, is certain to take it out, some way or another, of the lad that steps into his place.”

“I’m not afraid of Bill Tooley, as you ought to know, Mr. Evert,” said Derrick, somewhat boastfully, as he thought of the thrashing he had so recently given the young man in question.

“Of course not, lad, of course not. I know you can lick him fast enough in fair fight. My poor little Paul can bear ready witness to that, for which I’m under obligations to you. It’s not fair fighting I mean; for when it comes to argyfying with them Tooleys, it’s foul play you must look out for; and what the young un lacks in pluck he makes up in inflooence.”

Derrick was about to ask what he meant, but was interrupted by a movement of the miners towards the entrance. In another moment he found himself rapidly descending the steep steps of the travelling-road, and feeling that the attempt to keep pace with the long-limbed fellows ahead of him must certainly result in his pitching headlong into the unknown depth of blackness.

The travelling-road was a gigantic stairway, leading at a steep angle directly down into the earth. It was high enough for a man to stand upright in without hitting his head against the roof, and it was provided with steps. They were cut or dug out of the rock, earth, or coal down through which the road passed, and were very broad and very high. The front edge of each was formed of a smooth round log. From the roof and sides of the road dripped and trickled little streams of water that made everything in it wet and soggy, and rendered the edges of the steps particularly slippery.

The air in the road was chilly in comparison with that of the warm summer’s morning in which the outside world was rejoicing, and Derrick shivered as he first encountered its penetrating dampness. Of course the darkness was intense, but at first it was partially dispelled by the lights of the half-dozen miners in whose company he had entered the road. As they gradually left him behind, their twinkling lights grew fainter and fainter, until at last they vanished entirely, and Derrick found himself stumbling alone down the apparently interminable stairway.

While yet in company with the miners, he had passed through one door made of heavy planks, that completely closed the road, and now he came to another. Through its chinks and cracks there was a rush of air from outside inward that hummed and whistled like a small gale. It took all of Derrick’s strength to pull this door open, and it closed behind him with a crash that reverberated in long, hollow echoes down the black depths before him.

Some distance below he was startled by a heavy booming sound from above, which was followed by a tremendous clattering, mingled with shouts and cries. In the first of these sounds he recognized the closing of the door through which he had recently passed, but he could not account for the others.

They were continued, and grew louder and louder as they approached, until at length they were close at hand, and he saw lights and a confused mass of struggling forms directly above him. Stepping to one side, Derrick flattened himself against the wall to let them pass; but just as the miner who came first reached that point, he tossed the end of a rope into the boy’s hands, saying, “Here, lad, lead this mule down the rest of the way, will ye? I’m in a powerful hurry myself.”

In another instant he had gone, leaping with immense strides down the precipitous steps, and Derrick found himself staring into the comical face of a large mule which, with his fore-feet on one step and his hind ones on that above, looked as though he were about to stand on his head.

“Go on, can’t yer!” called out an impatient voice from behind the mule. “Do ye think I can hang onto this ’ere blessed tail all day? A mule’s no feather-weight, let me tell yer.”

Then Derrick realized that another man held the mule by the tail, and was exerting all his strength to prevent him from going down too fast. Accepting the situation, he started ahead, encouraging the mule to follow; but this arrangement did not seem to suit the animal, for he refused to budge a step from where he stood, nor could the man in the rear push him along.

“Here, you!” the man called out to Derrick, “come back here and steer him while I take his head. When he gets started, hang on to his tail with all your might, and hold back all yer can.”

So they changed places, and the mule was so greatly pleased at having got his own way that he began to plunge down the stairs with great rapidity. Derrick felt almost as though he were being rushed through space on the tail of a comet, and shuddered to think of the broken limbs and general destruction that must inevitably follow such reckless travelling. The mule, however, seemed to know what he was about as well as the man who led him, and took such good care of himself that Derrick soon plucked up courage, and even began to enjoy the situation.

As he was thinking that they must be somewhere near the centre of the earth, the mule gave an unusually violent plunge forward, and then stopped so suddenly that poor Derrick found himself sprawling on the animal’s back, with both arms clasped tightly about his neck. With this the mule began to caper and shake himself so violently that the boy was forced to loose his hold and fall to the ground, amid roars of laughter from a score of miners who witnessed the scene.

Greatly confused, Derrick scrambled to his feet, gave a reproachful glance at the mule, which was calmly gazing at him with a wondering look in his wide-open eyes, and turned to see in what sort of a place he had been so unceremoniously landed. At the same moment Mr. Jones, dressed in miner’s costume, and looking as grimy as any of the others, stepped from the laughing group and said,

“My boy, I congratulate you on being the first person who ever rode into this mine on mule-back, I am glad you found the travelling-road so good. Came on your own mule too. How did you know this was the bumping-mule you were to drive?”

“I didn’t know what sort of a mule he was until just as we got here and he bumped me off his back,” replied Derrick; “and I begin to think that he knows more about driving than I do.”

“Well, you have made a notable beginning,” said the mine boss, “and I am sure you two will get along capitally together. Harry Mule, this is Derrick Sterling, who is to be your new driver, and I want you to behave yourself with him.” Then to Derrick he said, “Harry has the reputation of being the most knowing, and at the same time the most perverse, mule in the mine. I believe though he only shows bad temper to those who abuse him, and I have selected you to be his driver because I know you will treat him kindly, and give him a chance to recover his lost reputation. If he does not behave himself with you, I shall put him in the tread-mill. Now stand there out of the way for a few minutes, and then I will show you where you are to work.”

Derrick did as he was directed, and quickly found himself intensely interested in the strange and busy scene before him. The travelling-road entered the mine in a large chamber close beside the foot of the slope that led upward to the new breaker. From this chamber branched several galleries, or “gangways,” in which were laid railway-tracks. Over these, trains of loaded and empty coal-cars drawn by mules were constantly coming and going. By the side of the track in each gangway was a ditch containing a stream of ink-black water, flowing towards a central well in one corner of the chamber, from which it was pumped to the surface. Opposite to where he stood, Derrick saw the black, yawning mouth of another slope, which, as he afterwards learned, led down into still lower depths of the mine. The men around him were handling long bars of railroad iron, which they were loading with a great racket on cars, and despatching to distant gangways in which new tracks were needed. Two large reflector lamps in addition to the miners’ lamps made the chamber quite bright, and with all its noise and bustle it seemed to Derrick the most interesting place he had ever been in. He was sorry when the mine boss called and told him to bring along his mule and follow him.

They entered one of the gangways, leading from the central chamber, which the mine boss said was known as Gangway N. He also told Derrick something about his mule, and said that by its last driver, Bill Tooley, the poor animal had been so cruelly abused that he had sent it to the surface for a few days to recover from the effects.

“I guess he has recovered,” said Derrick, “judging from the way he brought me into the mine.”

They had not gone very far before they came to a closed door on one side of the gangway beyond which the mule absolutely refused to go, in spite of all Derrick’s coaxings and commands.

“It is the door of his stable,” said the mine boss, who stood quietly looking on, without offering any assistance or advice, waiting to see what the boy would do.

Tying the end of the halter to one of the rails of the track on which they were walking, Derrick started into the stable, where he quickly found what he wanted. Coming out with a handful of oats, he let the mule have a little taste of them; and then, loosening the halter, tried to tempt him forward with them. This plan failed, for Harry declined to yield to temptation, and remained immovable. Then Derrick turned a questioning glance upon the mine boss, who said,

“Never again hitch an animal to a track along which cars are liable to come at any moment. Now, why don’t you beat the mule?”

“Oh no, sir!” exclaimed Derrick, in distress. “I don’t want to do that.”

“Neither do I want you to,” laughed the other. “I only asked why you didn’t?”

“Because,” said Derrick, “I want him to become fond of me, and my mother says the most stubborn animals can be conquered by kindness, while beatings only make them worse.”

“Which is as true as gospel,” said the mine boss. “Well, the only other thing I can suggest is for you to go into the stable, get the harness that hangs on the peg nearest the door, and put it on him.”

Acting upon this hint, Derrick had hardly finished buckling the last strap of the harness when the mule began to move steadily forward of his own accord.

“That’s his way,” said the mine boss. “In harness he knows that he is expected to work, but without it he thinks he may do as he pleases.”

Presently the mule stumbled slightly, and again he stopped and refused to go ahead.

“Do you know what is the matter now, sir?” asked Derrick.

“I think perhaps he wants his lamp lighted,” replied the mine boss.

A miner’s lamp, attached to a broad piece of leather, hung down in front of the mule from his collar.

The boy lighted this lamp, and immediately the mule began to move on, showing that this was exactly what he had wanted.

“Seems to me he knows almost as much as folks,” cried Derrick, highly delighted at this new proof of his mule’s intelligence.

“Quite as much as most folks, and more than some,” answered his companion, dryly.

During their long walk they passed through several doors which, as Derrick was told, served to regulate the currents of air constantly flowing in and out of the mine, and kept in motion by the great fan at its mouth. Whenever they approached one of these the mine boss called, loudly, “Door,” and it was immediately opened by a boy who sat behind it and closed it again as soon as they had passed. Each of these boys had besides his little flaring lamp, such as everybody in the mine carried, a can of oil for refilling it, a lunch-pail and a tin water-bottle, and each of them spent from eight to ten hours at his post without leaving it.

Finally Derrick and the mine boss came to a junction of several galleries, a sort of mine cross-roads, and the former was told that this was to be his headquarters, for here was where the trains were made up, and from here the empty cars were distributed. At the farther end of each of the headings leading from this junction two or more miners were at work drilling, blasting, and picking tons of coal from between its enclosing walls of slate. They were all doing their best to fill the cars which it was Derrick’s business to haul to the junction and replace with empty ones. There were also a number of miners at work in breasts, or openings at the sides of the gangways that followed the slant of the coal vein, who expected to be supplied with empty cars and have their loaded ones taken away by Derrick. These breast miners filled their cars very quickly, as the moment they loosened the coal it slid down the slaty incline, above which it had been bedded, to a wooden chute on the edge of the gangway that discharged it directly into them.

As Derrick was told of all this, he realized that he and Harry Mule would have to get around pretty fast to attend to these duties, and supply empty cars as they were needed.

What interested him most in this part of the mine was an alcove hewn from solid rock near the junction, in which was a complete smithy. It had forge, anvil, and bellows, and was presided over by a blacksmith named Job Taskar, as ugly a looking fellow, Derrick thought, as he had ever seen. Here the mules were shod, tools were sharpened, and broken iron-work was repaired. It was a busy place, and its glowing forge, together with the showers of sparks with which Job Taskar’s lusty blows almost constantly surrounded the anvil, made it appear particularly cheerful and bright amid the all-pervading darkness. Nearly every man and boy in that section of the mine was obliged to visit the smithy at least once during working hours. Thus it became a great news centre, and offered temptations to many of its visitors to linger long after their business was finished.

After pointing out to Derrick the several places at which his services would be required, the mine boss left him, and the boy found himself fully launched on his new career.

He soon discovered that Harry Mule knew much more of the business than he did, and by allowing him to have his own way, and go where he thought best, Derrick got along with very few mistakes. Among the miners upon whom he had to attend he found brawny Tom Evert, stripped to the waist, lying on his side, and working above his head, but bringing down the coal in glistening showers with each sturdy blow of his pick. When he saw Derrick he paused in his work long enough to exchange a cheery greeting with him and to dash the perspiration from his eyes with the back of his grimy hand; then at it he went again with redoubled energy.

At the end of one of the headings Derrick found another acquaintance in the person of Monk Tooley. He scowled when he saw the new driver, and growled out that he’d better look sharp and see to it he was never kept waiting for cars, or it would be the worse for him.

Twice Derrick started to leave this place, and each time the miner called him back on some trivial pretext. The boy could not see, nor did he suspect, what the man was doing, but as he turned away for the third time, Monk Tooley sprang past him with a shout, and ran down the heading. Derrick did not hear what he said, but turning to look behind him, he saw a flash of fire, and had barely time to throw himself face downward, behind his car, when he was stunned by a tremendous explosion. Directly afterwards he was nearly buried beneath an avalanche of rock and coal.