Read CHAPTER EIGHT of Deep Down‚ a Tale of the Cornish Mines , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

DOWN, DOWN, DOWN

Before descending the mine Captain Dan led Oliver to the counting-house, where he bade him undress and put on miner’s clothing.

“I’ll need a biggish suit,” observed Oliver.

“True,” said Captain Dan; “we are obliged usually to give visitors our smallest suits.  You are an exception to the rule.  Indeed, I’m not sure that I have a pair of trousers big enough for ­ah yes, by the way, here is a pair belonging to one of our captains who is unusually stout and tall; I dare say you’ll be able to squeeze into ’em.”

“All right,” said Oliver, laughing, as he pulled on the red garments; “they are wide enough round the waist, at all events.  Now for a hat.”

“There,” said the captain, handing him a white cotton skull-cap, “put that on.”

“Why, what’s this for?” said Oliver.

“To keep that from dirtying your head,” replied the other, as he handed his companion a thick felt hat, which was extremely dirty, on the front especially, where the candle was wont to be fixed with wet clay.  “Now, then, attach these two candles to that button in your breast, and you are complete. ­Not a bad miner to look at,” said Captain Dan with a smile of approval.

The captain was already equipped in underground costume, and the dirty disreputable appearance he presented was, thought Oliver, a wonderful contrast to his sober and gentlemanly aspect on the evening of their first meeting at his uncle’s table.

“I’ll strike a light after we get down a bit ­so come along,” said Captain Dan, leaving the office and leading the way.

On reaching the entrance to the shaft, Oliver Trembath looked down and observed a small speck of bright light in the black depths.

“A man coming up ­wait a bit,” said the captain in explanation.

Presently a faint sound of slow footsteps was heard; they grew gradually more distinct, and ere long the head and shoulders of a man emerged from the hole.  Perspiration was trickling down his face, and painting him, streakily, with iron rust and mud.  All his garments were soaking.  He sighed heavily on reaching the surface, and appeared to inhale the fresh air with great satisfaction.

“Any more coming?”

“No, Captain Dan,” replied the man, glancing with some curiosity at the tall stranger.

“Now, sir, we shall descend,” said the captain, entering the shaft.

Oliver followed, and at once plunged out of bright sunshine into subdued light.  A descent of a few fathoms brought them to the bottom of the first ladder.  It was a short one; most of the others, the captain told him, were long ones.  The width of the shaft was about six feet by nine.  It was nearly perpendicular, and the slope of the ladders corresponded with its width ­the head of each resting against one side of it, and the foot against the other, thus forming a zigzag of ladders all the way down.

At the foot of the first ladder the light was that of deep twilight.  Here was a wooden platform, and a hole cut through it, out of which protruded the head of the second ladder.  The Captain struck a light, and, applying it to one of the candles, affixed the same to the front of Oliver’s hat.  Arranging his own hat in a similar way, he continued the descent, and, in a few minutes, both were beyond the region of daylight.  When they had got a short way down, probably the distance of an ordinary church-steeple’s height below the surface, Oliver looked up and saw the little opening far above him, shining brightly like a star.  A few steps more and it vanished from view; he felt that he had for the first time in his life reached the regions of eternal night.

The shaft varied in width here and there; in most places it was very narrow ­about six feet wide ­but, what with cross-beams to support the sides, and prevent soft parts from falling in, and other obstructions, the space available for descent was often not more than enough to permit of a man squeezing past.

A damp smell pervaded the air, and there was a strange sense of contraction and confinement, so to speak, which had at first an unpleasant effect on Oliver.  The silence, when both men paused at a ladder-foot to trim candles or to rest a minute, was most profound, and there came over the young doctor a sensation of being buried alive, and of having bid a final farewell to the upper earth, the free air, and the sunshine, as they went down, down, down to the depths below.

At last they reached a “level” or gallery, by which the ladder-shaft communicated with the pump-shaft.

Here Captain Dan paused and trimmed Oliver’s candle, which he had thrust inadvertently against a beam, and broken in two.

“You have to mind your head here, sir,” said the captain, with a quiet smile; “’tis a good place to learn humility.”

Oliver could scarce help laughing aloud as he gazed at his guide, for, standing as he did with the candle close to his face, his cheeks, nose, chin, forehead, and part of the brim of his hat and shoulders were brought into brilliant light, while the rest of him was lost in the profound darkness of the level behind, and the flame of his candle rested above his head like the diadem of some aristocratic gnome.

“How far down have we come?” inquired Oliver.

“About eighty fathoms,” said the captain; “we shall now go along this level and get into the pump-shaft, by which we can descend to the bottom.  Take care of your feet and head as you go, for you’ll be apt to run against the rocks that hang down, and the winzes are dangerous.”

“And pray what are winzes?” asked Oliver as he stumbled along in the footsteps of his guide, over uneven ground covered with debris. ­“Ah! hallo! stop!”

“What’s wrong?” said the captain, looking back, and holding up his candle to Oliver’s face.

“Candle gone again, captain; I’ve run my head on that rock.  Lucky for me that your mining hats are so thick and hard, for I gave it a butt that might have done credit to an ox.”

“I told you to mind your head,” said Captain Dan, relighting the candle; “you had better carry it in your hand in the levels, it will light your path better.  Look out now ­here is a winze.”

The captain pointed to a black yawning hole, about six or seven feet in diameter, which was bridged across by a single plank.

“How deep does it go?” asked the youth, holding up his candle and peering in; “I can’t see the bottom.”

“I dare say not,” said the captain, “for the bottom is ten fathoms down, at the next level.”

“And are all the winzes bridged with a single plank in this way?”

“Why, no, some of ’em have two or three planks, but they’re quite safe if you go steady.”

“And, pray, how many such winzes are there in the mine?” asked Oliver.

“Couldn’t say exactly, without thinkin’ a bit,” replied the captain; “but there are a great number of ’em ­little short of a hundred, I should say ­for we have a good many miles of levels in Botallack, which possesses an underground geography as carefully measured and mapped out as that of the surface.”

“And what would happen,” asked Oliver, with an expression of half-simulated anxiety, “if you were to fall down a winze and break your neck, and my candle were to get knocked or blown out, leaving me to find my way out of a labyrinth of levels pierced with holes sixty feet deep?”

“Well, it’s hard to say,” replied Captain Dan with much simplicity.

“Go on,” said Oliver, pursing his lips with a grim smile, as he followed his leader across the narrow bridge.

Captain Dan continued his progress until he reached the pump-shaft, the proximity of which was audibly announced by the slow ascent and descent of a great wooden beam, which was styled the “pump-rod.”  Alongside, and almost touching it, for space was valuable there, and had to be economised, was the iron pipe ­nearly a foot in diameter ­which conveyed the water from the mine to the “Adit level.”

The slow-heaving plunge, of about ten feet in extent, and the sough or sigh of the great beam, with the accompanying gurgle of water in the huge pipe, were sounds that seemed horribly appropriate to the subterranean scene.  One could have imagined the mine to be a living giant in the last throes of death by drowning.  But these were only one half of the peculiarities of the place.  On the other side of the shaft an arrangement of beams and partially broken boards formed the traversing “ways” or tube, up which were drawn the kibbles ­these last being large iron buckets used for lifting ore to the surface.

In the present day, machinery being more perfect, the ancient kibble has been to some extent supplanted by skips, or small trucks with wheels (in some cases iron boxes with guiding-rods), which are drawn up smoothly, and without much tear and wear; but in the rough times of which we write, the sturdy kibble used to go rattling up the shaft with deafening noise, dinting its thick sides, and travelling with a jovial free-and-easy swing that must have added considerably to the debit side of the account of working expenses.  Between the pump-rod and the kibble-way there was just room for the ladders upon which Captain Dan, followed by Oliver, now stepped.  This shaft was very wet, water dropped and spirted about in fine spray everywhere, and the rounds of the ladders were wet and greasy with much-squeezed slime.

It would seem as though the kibbles had known that a stranger was about to descend and had waited for him, for no sooner did Oliver get on the ladder than they began to move ­the one to ascend full, and the other to descend empty.

“What’s that?” exclaimed Oliver.

“It’s only the kibbles,” replied Captain Dan.

Before the captain could explain what kibbles were, these reckless buckets met, with a bang, close to Oliver’s cheek, and rebounded on the beams that protected him from their fury.  Naturally the young man shrank a little from a noise so loud and so near.  He was at once scraped down on the other side by the pump-rod!  Drawing himself together as much as possible, and feeling for once the disadvantage of being a large man, he followed his leader down, down, ever down, into the profounder depths below.

All this time they had not met with a miner, or with any sign of human life ­unless the pump and kibbles could be regarded as such ­for they had been hitherto traversing the old levels and workings of the mine, but at last, during one of their pauses, they heard the faint sound of chip, chip, chip, in the far distance.

“Miners?” inquired Oliver.

Captain Dan nodded, and said they would now leave the shaft and go to where the men were at work.  He cautioned his companion again to have regard to his head, and to mind his feet.  As they proceeded, he stopped ever and anon to point out some object of peculiar interest.

“There’s a considerable space above and below you here, sir,” said the captain, stopping suddenly in a level which was not more than three feet wide.

Oliver had been so intent on his feet, and mindful of the winzes, that he had failed to observe the immense black opening overhead.  It extended so high above him, and so far forward and backward in the direction of the level, that its boundaries were lost in an immensity of profoundly dark space.  The rocky path was also lost to view, both before and behind them, so that the glare of their lights on the metallic walls rendered the spot on which they stood a point of brilliancy in the midst of darkness.  Only part of a great beam was visible here and there above them, as if suspended in the gloom to render its profundity more apparent.

This, Captain Dan explained, was the space that had once been occupied by a rich lode of ore, all of which had been removed years ago, to the great commercial advantage of a past generation.

Soon after passing this the captain paused at a deep cutting in the rock, and, looking sadly at it for a few minutes, said, ­“It was here that poor Trevool lost his life.  He was a good lad, but careless, and used to go rattling along the levels with his light in his hat and his thoughts among the stars, instead of carrying the light in his hand and looking to his feet.  He fell down that winze and broke his back.  When we got him up to grass he was alive, but he never spoke another word, and died the same night.”

“Poor fellow!” said Oliver; “I suppose your men have narrow escapes sometimes.”

“They have, sir, but it’s most always owin’ to carelessness.  There was a cousin of that very lad Trevool who was buried with a comrade by the falling in of a shaft and came out alive.  I was there at the time and helped to dig him out.”

Captain Dan here stopped, and, sticking his candle against the wet wall of the mine, sat down on a piece of rock, while our hero stood beside him.  “You see,” said he, “we were sinking a shaft, or rather reopening an old one, at the time, and Harvey, that was the man’s name, was down working with a comrade.  They came to a soft bit o’ ground, an’ as they cut through it they boarded it up with timbers across to prevent it slipping, but they did the work hastily.  After they had cut down some fathoms below it, the boarding gave way, and down the whole thing went, boards, timbers, stones, and rubbish, on their heads.  We made sure they were dead, but set to, nevertheless, to dig them out as fast as possible ­turning as many hands to the work as could get at it.  At last we came on them, and both were alive, and not very much hurt!  The timbers and planks had fallen over them in such a way as to keep the stones and rubbish off.  I had a talk with old Harvey the other day on this very subject.  He told me that he was squeezed flat against the side of the shaft by the rubbish which buried him, and that he did not lose consciousness for a moment.  A large stone had stuck right above his head, and this probably saved him.  He heard us digging down to him, he said, and when we got close he sang out to hold on, as the shovel was touching him.  Sure enough this was the case, for the next shovelful of rubbish that was lifted revealed the top of his head!  We cleared the way to his mouth as carefully as we could, and then gave him a drop of brandy before going on with the work of excavation.  His comrade was found in a stooping position, and was more severely bruised than old Harvey, but both of them lived to tell the tale of their burial, and to thank God for their deliverance.  Yes,” continued the captain, detaching his candle from the wall and resuming his walk, “we have narrow escapes sometimes. ­Look here, doctor, did you ever see a rock like that?”

Captain Dan pointed to a place in the side of the rocky wall which was grooved and cut as if with a huge gouge or chisel, and highly polished.  “It was never cut by man in that fashion; we found it as you see it, and there’s many of ’em in the mine.  We call ’em slinking slides.”

“The marks must have been caused when the rocks were in a state of partial fusion,” observed Oliver, examining the place with much curiosity.

“I don’t know as to that, sir,” said the captain, moving on, “but there they are, and some of ’em polished to that extent you could almost see your face in ’em.”

On turning the corner of a jutting rock a light suddenly appeared, revealing a pair of large eyes and a double row of teeth, as it were gleaming out of the darkness.  On drawing nearer, this was discovered to be a miner, whose candle was at some little distance, and only shone on him partially.

“Well, Jack, what’s doing?” asked the captain.

The man cast a disconsolate look on a large mass of rock which lay in the middle of the path at his feet.  He had been only too successful in his last blasting, and had detached a mass so large that he could not move it.

“It’s too hard for to break, Captain Dan.”

“Better get it into the truck,” said the captain.

“Can’t lift it, sur,” said the man, who grudged to go through the tedious process of boring it for a second blast.

“You must get it out o’ that, Jack, at all events.  It won’t do to let it lie there,” said the captain, passing on, and leaving the miner to get out of his difficulty as best he might.

A few minutes more and they came on a “pare” of men (in other words, a band of two or more men working together) who were “stopeing-in the back of the level,” as they termed the process of cutting upwards into the roof.

“There’s a fellow in a curious place!” said Oliver, peering up through an irregular hole, in which a man was seen at work standing on a plank supported by a ladder.  He was chiselling with great vigour at the rock over his head, and immediately beyond him another man stood on a plank supported by a beam of timber, and busily engaged in a similar occupation.  Both men were stripped to the waist, and panted at their toil.  The little chamber or cavern in which they worked was brilliantly illuminated by their two candles, and their athletic figures stood out, dark and picturesque, against the light glistering walls.

“A curious place, and a singular man!” observed the captain; “that fellow’s family is not a small one. ­Hallo!  James Martin.”

“Hallo!  Captain Dan,” replied the miner, looking down.

“How many children have you had?”

“How many child’n say ’ee?”

“Ay, how many?”

“I’ve had nineteen, sur, an’ there’s eight of ’em alive.  Seven of ’em came in three year an six months, sur ­three doubles an’ a single, but them uns are all gone dead, sur.”

“How old are you, Jim?”

“Forty-seven, sur.”

“Your brother Tom is at work here, isn’t he?”

“Iss, in the south level, drivin’ the end.”

“How many children has Tom had, Jim?”

“Seventeen, sur, an’ seven of ’em’s alive; but Tom’s only thirty-eight years old, sur.”

“Good-morning, Jim.”

“Good-morning, Captain Dan,” replied the sturdy miner, resuming his work.

“Good specimens of men these,” said the captain, with a quiet smile, to Oliver.  “Of course I don’t mean to say that all the miners hereabouts are possessed of such large families ­nevertheless there are, as I dare say you have observed, a good many children in and about St. Just!”

Proceeding onward they diverged into a branch level, where a number of men were working overhead; boring holes into the roof and burrowing upwards.  They all drove onwards through flinty rock by the same slow and toilsome process that has already been described ­namely, by chipping with the pick, driving holes with the borer, and blasting with gunpowder.

As the Captain and Oliver traversed this part of the mine they had occasionally to squeeze past small iron trucks which stood below holes in the sides of the level, down which ever and anon masses of ore and debris came from the workings above with a hard crashing noise.  The ore was rich with tin, but the metal was invisible to any but trained eyes.  To Oliver Trembath the whole stuff appeared like wet rubbish.

Suddenly a low muffled report echoed through the cavernous place.  It was followed by five or six similar reports in succession.

“They are blasting,” said Captain Dan.

As he spoke, the thick muddy shoes and brick-dust legs of a man appeared coming down the hole that had previously discharged ore.  The man himself followed his legs, and, alighting thereon, saluted Captain Dan with a free-and-easy “Good-morning.”  Another man followed him; from a different part of the surrounding darkness a third made his appearance, and others came trooping in, until upwards of a dozen of them were collected in the narrow tunnel, each with his tallow candle in his hand or hat, so that the place was lighted brilliantly.  They were all clad in loose, patched, and ragged clothes.  All were of a uniform rusty-red colour, each with his broad bosom bared, and perspiration trickling down his besmeared countenance.

Here, however, the uniformity of their appearance ended, for they were of all sizes and characters.  Some were robust and muscular; some were lean and wiry; some were just entering on manhood, with the ruddy hue of health shining through the slime on their smooth faces; some were in the prime of life, pale from long working underground, but strong, and almost as hard as the iron with which they chiselled the rocks.  Others were growing old, and an occasional cough told that the “miners’ complaint” had begun its fatal undermining of the long-enduring, too-long-tried human body.  There were one or two whose iron constitutions had resisted the evil influences of wet garments, bad air, and chills, and who, with much of the strength of manhood, and some of the colour of youth, were still plying their hammers in old age.  But these were rare specimens of vigour and longevity; not many such are to be found in Botallack mine.  The miner’s working life is a short one, and comparatively few of those who begin it live to a healthy old age.  Little boys were there, too, diminutive but sturdy urchins, miniature copies of their seniors, though somewhat dirtier; proud as peacocks because of being permitted at so early an age to accompany their fathers or brothers underground, and their bosoms swelling with that stern Cornish spirit of determination to face and overcome great difficulties, which has doubtless much to do with the excessive development of chest and shoulder for which Cornish miners, especially those of St. Just, are celebrated.

It turned out that the men had all arranged to fire their holes at the same hour, and assemble in a lower level to take lunch, or, as they term it, “kroust,” while the smoke should clear away.  This rendered it impossible for the captain to take his young companion further into the workings at that part of the mine, so they contented themselves with a chat with the men.  These sat down in a row, and, each man unrolling a parcel containing a pasty or a thick lump of cake with currants in it, commenced the demolition thereof with as much zeal as had previously been displayed in the demolition of the rock.  This frugal fare was washed down with water drawn from little flat barrels or canteens, while they commented lightly, grumblingly, or laughingly, according to temperament, on the poor condition of the lode at which they wrought.  We have already said that in mining, as in other things, fortune fluctuates, and it was “hard times” with the men of Botallack at that period.

Before they had proceeded far with their meal, one of the pale-faced men began to cough.

“Smoke’s a-coming down,” he said.

“We shall ’ave to move, then,” observed another.

The pouring in of gunpowder smoke here set two or three more a-coughing, and obliged them all to rise and seek for purer ­perhaps it were better to say less impure ­air in another part of the level, where the draught kept the smoke away.  Here, squatting down on heaps of wet rubbish, and sticking their candles against the damp walls, they continued their meal, and here the captain and Oliver left them, retraced their steps to the foot of the shaft, and began the ascent to the surface, or, in mining parlance, began to “return to grass.”

Up, up, up ­the process now was reversed, and the labour increased tenfold.  Up they went on these nearly perpendicular and interminable ladders, slowly, for they had a long journey before them; cautiously, for Oliver had a tendency to butt his head against beams, and knock his candle out of shape; carefully, for the rounds of the ladders were wet and slimy and a slip of foot or hand might in a moment have precipitated them into the black gulf below; and pantingly, for strength of limb and lung could not altogether defy the influence of such a prolonged and upright climb.

If Oliver Trembath felt, while descending, as though he should never reach the bottom, he felt far more powerfully as if reaching the top were an event of the distant future ­all the more that the muscles of his arms and legs, unused to the peculiar process, were beginning to feel rather stiff.  This feeling, however, soon passed away, and when he began to grow warm to the work, his strength seemed to return and to increase with each step ­a species of revival of vigour in the midst of hard toil with which probably all strong men are acquainted.

Up they went, ladder after ladder, squeezing through narrow places, rubbing against wet rocks and beams, scraping against the boarding of the kibble-shaft, and being scraped by the pump-rods until both of them were as wet and red and dirty as any miner below.

As he advanced, Oliver began to take note of the places he had passed on the way down, and so much had he seen and thought during his sojourn underground, that, when he reached the level where he first came upon the noisy kibbles, and made acquaintance with the labouring pump-rod, he almost hailed the spot as an old familiar landmark of other days!

A circumstance occurred just then which surprised him not a little, and tended to fix this locality still more deeply on his memory.  While he was standing in the level, waiting until the captain should relight and trim his much and oft bruised candle, the kibbles began their noisy motion.  This was nothing new now, but at the same time the shout of distant voices was heard, as if the gnomes held revelry in their dreary vaults.  They drew gradually nearer, and Oliver could distinguish laughter mingled with the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps.

“Foolish lads!” ejaculated Captain Dan with a smile, and an expression that proved he took some interest in the folly, whatever it might be.

“What is it?” inquired Oliver.

“They are racing to the kibble.  Look and you shall see,” replied the other.

Just then a man who had outrun his comrades appeared at the place where the level joined the shaft, just opposite.  Almost at the same moment the kibble appeared flying upwards.  The miner leaped upon it, caught and clung to the chain as it passed, and shouted a defiant adieu to his less fortunate comrades, who arrived just in time to witness him disappear upwards in this rapid manner “to grass.”

“That’s the way the young ones risk their lives,” said the captain, shaking his head remonstratively; “if that young fellow had missed the kibble he would have been dashed to pieces at the bottom of the shaft.”

Again Captain Dan said “Foolish lads,” and shook his head so gravely that Oliver could not help regarding him with the respect due to a sedate, fatherly sort of man; but Oliver was young and unsophisticated, and did not know at the time that the captain had himself been noted in his youth as an extremely reckless and daring fellow, and that a considerable spice of the daring remained in him still!

Diverging to the right at this point Captain Dan led Oliver to an old part of the mine, where there were a couple of men opening up and extending one of the old levels.  Their progress here was very different from what it had been.  Evidently the former miners had not thought it worth their while to open up a wide passage for themselves, and Oliver found it necessary to twist his broad shoulders into all sorts of positions to get them through.

The first level they came to in this part was not more than three feet high at the entrance.

“A man can’t hold his head very high here, sir,” said his guide.

“Truly no, it is scarce high enough for my legs to walk in without any body above them,” said Oliver.  “However, lead the way, and I will follow.”

The captain stooped and made his way through a winding passage where the roof was so low in many places that they were obliged to bend quite double, and the back and neck of the young doctor began to feel the strain very severely.  There were, however, a few spots where the roof rose a little, affording temporary relief.  Presently they came to the place where the men were at work.  The ground was very soft here; the men were cutting through soft granite! ­a condition of the stone which Oliver confessed he had never expected to see.  Here the lights burned very badly.

“What can be the matter with it?” said Oliver, stopping for the third time to trim the wick of his candle.

Captain Dan smiled as he said, “You asked me, last night, to take you into one of the levels where the air was bad ­now here you are, with the air so bad that the candle will hardly burn.  It will be worse before night.”

“But I feel no disagreeable sensation,” said Oliver.  “Possibly not, because you are not quite so sensitive as the flame of a candle, but if you remain here a few hours it will tell upon you.  Here are the men ­ you can ask them.”

The two men were resting when they approached.  One was old, the other middle-aged.  Both were hearty fellows, and communicative.  The old one, especially, was ruddy in complexion and pretty strong.

“You look well for an old miner,” said Oliver; “what may be your age?”

“About sixty, sur.”

“Indeed! you are a notable exception to the rule.  How comes it that you look so fresh?”

“Can’t say, sur,” replied the old man with a peculiar smile; “few miners live to my time of life, much less do they go underground.  P’raps it’s because I neither drink nor smoke.  Tom there, now,” he added, pointing to his comrade with his thumb, “he ain’t forty yit, but he’s so pale as a ghost; though he is strong ’nuff.”

“And do you neither drink nor smoke, Tom?” inquired Oliver.

“Well, sur, I both smokes and drinks, but I do take ’em in moderation,” said Tom.

“Are you married?” asked Oliver, turning again to the old man.

“Iss, got a wife at hum, an’ had six child’n.”

“Don’t you find this bad air tell on your health?” he continued.

“Iss, sur.  After six or seven hours I do feel my head like to split, an’ my stummik as if it wor on fire; but what can us do? we must live, you knaw.”

Bidding these men goodbye, the captain and Oliver went down to another level, and then along a series of low galleries, in some of which they had to advance on their hands and knees, and in one of them, particularly, the accumulation of rubbish was so great, and the roof so low, that they could only force a passage through by wriggling along at full length like snakes.  Beyond this they found a miner and a little boy at work; and here Captain Dan pointed out to his companion that the lodes of copper and tin were rich.  Glittering particles on the walls and drops of water hanging from points and crevices, with the green, purple, and yellow colours around, combined to give the place a brilliant metallic aspect.

“You’d better break off a piece of ore here,” said Captain Dan.

Oliver took a chisel and hammer from the miner, and applying them to the rock, spent five minutes in belabouring it with scarcely any result.

“If it were not that I fear to miss the chisel and hit my knuckles,” he said, “I think I could work more effectively.”

As he spoke he struck with all his force, and brought down a large piece, a chip of which he carried away as a memorial of his underground ramble.

“The man is going to fire the hole,” said Captain Dan; “you’d better wait and see it.”

The hole was sunk nearly two feet deep diagonally behind a large mass of rock that projected from the side of the level.  It was charged with gunpowder, and filled up with “tamping” or pounded granite, Then the miner lighted the fuse and hastened away, giving the usual signal, “Fire!” The others followed him to a safe distance, and awaited the result.  In a few minutes there was a loud report, a bright blinding flash, and a concussion of the air which extinguished two of the candles.  Immediately a crash followed, as the heavy mass of rock was torn from its bed and hurled to the ground.

“That’s the way we raise tin and copper,” said Captain Dan; “now, doctor, we had better return, if you would not be left in darkness, for our candles are getting low.”

“Did you ever travel underground in the dark?” inquired Oliver.

“Not often, but I have done it occasionally.  Once, in particular, I went down the main shaft in the dark, and gave a miner an awful fright.  I had to go down in haste at the time, and, not having a candle at hand, besides being well acquainted with the way, I hurried down in the dark.  It so chanced that a man named Sampy had got his light put out when about to ascend the shaft, and, as he also was well acquainted with the way, he did not take the trouble to relight.  There was a good deal of noise in consequence of the pump being at work.  When I had got about half-way down I put my foot on something that felt soft.  Instantly there was uttered a tremendous yell, and my legs at the same moment were seized by something from below.  My heart almost jumped out of my mouth at this, but as the yell was repeated it flashed across me I must have trod on some one’s fingers, so I lifted my foot at once, and then a voice, which I knew to be that of Sampy, began to wail and lament miserably.

“`Hope I haven’t hurt ‘ee, Sampy?’ said I.

“`Aw dear! aw dear! aw, my dear!’ was all that poor Sampy could reply.

“`Let us go up, my son,’ said I, `and we’ll strike a light.’

“So up we went to the next level, where I got hold of the poor lad’s candle and lighted it.

“`Aw, my dear!’ said Sampy, looking at his fingers with a rueful countenance; `thee have scat ’em all in jowds.’”

“Pray,” interrupted Oliver, “what may be the meaning of `scat ’em all in jowds’?

“Broke ’em all in pieces,” replied Captain Dan; “but he was wrong, for no bones were broken, and the fingers were all right again in the course of a few days.  Sampy got a tremendous fright, however, and he was never known to travel underground without a light after that.”

Continuing to retrace their steps, Captain Dan and Oliver made for the main shaft.  On the way they came to another of those immense empty spaces where a large lode had been worked away, and nothing left in the dark narrow void but the short beams which had supported the working stages of the men.  Here Oliver, looking down through a hole at his feet, saw several men far below him.  They were at work on the “end” in three successive tiers ­above each other’s heads.

“You’ve seen two of these men before,” said Captain Dan.

“Have I?”

“Yes, they are local preachers.  The last time you saw the upper one,” said Captain Dan with a smile, “you were seated in the Wesleyan chapel, and he was in the pulpit dressed like a gentleman, and preaching as eloquently as if he had been educated at college and trained for the ministry.”

“I should like very much to go down and visit them,” said Oliver.

“’Tis a difficult descent.  There are no ladders.  Will your head stand stepping from beam to beam, and can you lower yourself by a chain?”

“I’ll try,” said Oliver.

Without more words Captain Dan left the platform on which they had been walking, and, descending through a hole, led his companion by the most rugged way he had yet attempted.  Sometimes they slid on their heels down places that Oliver would not have dreamed of attempting without a guide; at other times they stepped from beam to beam, with unknown depths below them.

“Have a care here, sir,” said the captain, pausing before a very steep place.  “I will go first and wait for you.”

So saying, he seized a piece of old rusty chain that was fastened into the rock, and swung himself down.  Then, looking up, he called to Oliver to follow.

The young doctor did so, and, having cautiously lowered himself a few yards, he reached a beam, where he found the captain holding up his candle, and regarding him with some anxiety.  Captain Dan appeared as if suspended in mid-air.  Opposite to him, in the distance, the two “local preachers” were hard at work with hammer and chisel, while far below, a miner could be seen coming along the next level, and pushing an iron truck full of ore before him.

A few more steps and slides, and then a short ascent, and Oliver stood beside the man who had preached the previous Sunday.  He worked with another miner, and was red, ragged, and half-clad, like all the rest, and the perspiration was pouring over his face, which was streaked with slime.  Very unlike was he at that time to the gentlemanly youth who had held forth from the pulpit.  Oliver had a long chat with him, and found that he aspired to enter the ministry, and had already passed some severe examinations.  He was self-taught, having procured the loan of books from his minister and some friends who were interested in him.  His language and manners were those of a gentleman, yet he had had no advantages beyond his fellows.

“My friend there, sir, also hopes to enter the ministry,” said the miner, pointing, as he spoke, to a gap between the boards on which he stood.

Oliver looked down, and there beheld a stalwart young man, about a couple of yards under his feet, wielding a hammer with tremendous vigour.  His light linen coat was open, displaying his bared and muscular bosom.

“What! is he a local preacher also?”

“He is, sir,” said the miner, with a smile.

Oliver immediately descended to the stage below, and had a chat with this man also, after which he left them at their work, wondering very much at the intelligence and learning displayed by them; for he remembered that in their sermons they had, without notes, without hesitation, and without a grammatical error, entered into the most subtle metaphysical reasoning (rather too much of it indeed!), and had preached with impassioned (perhaps too impassioned) eloquence, quoting poets and prose writers, ancient and modern, with the facility of good scholars ­while they urged men and women to repent and flee to Christ, with all the fervour of men thoroughly in earnest.  On the other hand, he knew that their opportunities for self-education were not great, and that they had to toil in the meantime for daily bread, at the rate of about 3 pounds a month!

Following Captain Dan, Oliver soon reached the ladder-way.

While slowly and in silence ascending the ladders; they heard a sound of music above them.

“Men coming down to work, singing,” said the captain, as they stood on a cross-beam to listen.

The sounds at first were very faint and inexpressibly sweet.  By degrees they became more distinct, and Oliver could distinguish several voices singing in harmony, keeping time to the slow measured tread of their descending steps.  There seemed a novelty, and yet a strange familiarity, in the strains as they were wafted softly down upon his ear, until they drew near, and the star-like candles of the miners became visible.  Their manly voices then poured forth in full strength the glorious psalm-tune called “French,” which is usually sung in Scotland to the beautiful psalm beginning, “I to the hills will lift mine eyes.”

The men stopped abruptly on encountering their captain and the stranger.  Exchanging a few words with the former, they stood aside on the beams to let them pass.  A little boy came last.  His small limbs were as active as those of his more stalwart comrades, and he exhibited no signs of fatigue.  His treble voice, too, was heard high and tuneful among the others as they continued their descent and resumed the psalm.  The sweet strains retired gradually, and faded in the depths below as they had first stolen on the senses from above; and the pleasant memory of them still remained with the young doctor when he emerged from the mine through the hole at the head of the shaft, and stood once more in the blessed sunshine!