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

DESCRIBES SETTING-DAY AT THE MINE, ETCETERA

That very evening, while Maggot was smoking his pipe by the fireside, his son Zackey referred to the bunch of copper which Penrose had discovered in the mine.  After a short conversation, Maggot senior went to the wounded man to talk about it.

“’Twas a keenly lode, did ’ee say?” asked Maggot, after he had inquired as to the health of his friend.

“Yes, and as I shall not be able to work there again,” said Penrose sadly, “I would advise you to try it.  Zackey is entitled to get the benefit of the discovery, for he was with me at the time, and, but for his aid, dear boy, I should have been suffocated.”

Maggot said no more on that occasion about the mine, being a man of few words, but, after conversing a short time with the wounded man, and ascertaining that no hope was held out to him of the recovery of his sight, he went his way to the forge to work and meditate.

Setting-day came ­being the first Saturday in the month, and no work was done on that day in Botallack, for the men were all above ground to have their “pitches” for the next month fixed, and to receive their wages ­ setting-day being also pay day.

Some time before the business of the day commenced, the miners began to assemble in considerable numbers in the neighbourhood of the account-house.  Very different was their appearance on that occasion from the rusty-red fellows who were wont to toil in the dark chambers far down in the depths below the spot where they stood.  Their underground dresses were laid aside, and they now appeared in the costume of well-off tradesmen.  There was a free-and-easy swing about the movements of most of these men that must have been the result of their occupation, which brings every muscle of the body into play, and does not ­as is too much the case in some trades ­over-tax the powers of a certain set of muscles to the detriment of others.

Some there were, however, even among the young men, whose hollow cheeks and bloodless lips, accompanied with a short cough, told of evil resulting from bad air and frequent chills; while, on the other hand, a few old men were to be seen with bright eyes and ruddy cheeks which indicated constitutions of iron.  Not a few were mere lads, whose broad shoulders and deep chests and resolute wills enabled them to claim the title, and do the work, of men.

There were some among them, both young and old, who showed traces of having suffered in their dangerous employment.  Several were minus an eye, and one or two were nearly blind, owing to blast-holes exploding in their faces.  One man in particular, a tall and very powerful fellow, had a visage which was quite blue, and one of his eyes was closed ­the blue colour resulting from unburnt grains of powder having been blown into his flesh.  He had been tattooed, in fact, by a summary and effective process.  This man’s family history was peculiar.  His father, also a miner, had lived in a lonely cottage on a moor near St. Just, and worked in Balaswidden Mine.  One night he was carried home and laid at his wife’s feet, dead ­almost dashed to pieces by a fall.  Not long afterwards the son was carried to the same cottage with his right eye destroyed.  Some time later a brother dislocated his foot twice within the year in the mine; and a few months after that another brother fell from a beam, descended about twenty-four feet perpendicularly, where he struck the side of the mine with his head, and had six or seven of his teeth knocked out; glancing off to one side, he fell twenty feet more on the hard rock, where he was picked up insensible.  This man recovered, however, under the careful nursing of his oft and sorely tried mother.

Maggot was present on this setting-day, with a new cap and a new blue cloth coat, looking altogether a surprisingly respectable character.  A good deal of undertoned chaffing commenced when he appeared.

“Hallo!” exclaimed one, “goin’ to become an honest man, Maggot?”

“Thinkin’ ’bout it,” replied the smith, with a good-humoured smile.

“Why, if I didn’t knaw that the old wuman’s alive,” said another, “I’d say he was agoin’ to get married again!”

“Never fear,” exclaimed a third, “Maggot’s far too ’cute a cunger to be caught twice.”

“I say, my dear man,” asked another, “have ‘ee bin takin’ a waalk ’pon the clifts lately?”

“Iss, aw iss,” replied the smith with much gravity.

“Did ’ee find any more daws ’pon clift?” asked the other, with a leer.

There was a general laugh at this, but Maggot replied with good-humour, ­“No, Billy, no ­took ’em all away last time.  But I’m towld there’s some more eggs in the nest, so thee’ll have a chance some day, booy.”

“I hope the daws ain’t the worse of their ducking?” asked Billy, with an expression of anxious interest.

“Aw, my dear,” said Maggot, looking very sad, and shaking his head slowly, “didn’t ’ee hear the noos?”

“No, not I.”

“They did catch the noo complaint the doctor do spaik of ­bronkeetis I think it is ­and although I did tie ’em up wi’ flannel round their necks, an’ water-gruel, besides ’ot bottles to their feet, they’re all gone dead.  I mean to have ’em buried on Monday.  Will ’ee come to the berryin, Billy?”

“P’raps I will,” replied Billy, “but see that the gravedigger do berry ‘em deep, else he’ll catch a blowin’ up like the gravedigger did in Cambourne last week.”

“What was that, booy?  Let us hear about it, Billy,” exclaimed several voices.

“Well, this is the way of it,” said Billy:  “the owld gravedigger in Cambourne was standin’ about, after mittin’ was over, a-readin’ of the tombstones, for he’d got a good edjication, had owld Tom.  His name was Tom ­the same man as put a straw rope to the bell which the cows did eat away, so that he cudn’t ring the people to mittin’.  Well, when he was studdyin’ the morials on the stones out comes Captain Rowe.  He was wan o’ the churchwardens, or somethin’ o’ that sort, but I don’t knaw nothin’ ‘bout the church, so I ain’t sure ­an’ he calls owld Tom into the vestry.

“`Now look here, Tom,’ says the captain, very stern, `they tell me thee ‘rt gettin’ lazy, Tom, an’ that thee do dig the graves only four fût deep.  Now, Tom, I was over to St. Just t’other day to a berryin’, and I see that they do dig their graves six fût or more deeper than you do.  That won’t do, Tom, I tell ‘ee.  What’s the meanin’ of it?’

“This came somewhat suddent on owld Tom, but he wor noways put out.

“`Well, you do see, Cap’n Rowe,’ says he, `I do it apurpose, for I do look at the thing in two lights.’”

“`How so?’ asked the captain.

“`Why, the people of St. Just only think of the berryin’, but I do think of the resurrection; the consekince is that they do dig too deep, an’ afore the St. Just folk are well out of their graves, ours will be a braave way up to heaven!’”

The laugh with which this anecdote was received had scarcely subsided when the upper half of one of the account-house windows opened, and the fine-looking head and shoulders of old Mr Cornish appeared.

The manager laid an open book on the window-sill, and from this elevated position, as from a pulpit, he read out the names, positions, etcetera, of the various “pitches” that were to be “sett” for the following month.  One of the mine captains stood at his elbow to give any required information ­he and his three brother captains being the men who had gone all over the mine during the previous month, examined the work, measured what had been done by each man or “pare” of men, knew the capabilities of all the miners, and fixed the portion that ought to be offered to each for acceptance or refusal.

The men assembled in a cluster round the window, and looked up while Mr Cornish read off as follows: ­

“John Thomas’s pitch at back of the hundred and five.  By two men.  To extend from the end of tram-hole, four fathom west, and from back of level, five fathom above.”

For the enlightenment of the reader, we may paraphrase the above sentence thus: ­

“The pitch or portion of rock wrought last month by John Thomas is now offered anew ­in the first place, to John Thomas himself if he chooses to continue working it at our rate of pay, or, if he declines, to any other man who pleases to offer for it.  The pitch is in the back (or roof) of the level, which lies one hundred and five fathoms deep.  It must be wrought by two men, and must be excavated lengthwise to an extent of four fathoms in a westerly direction from a spot called the tram-hole.  In an upward direction, it may be excavated from the roof of the level to an extent of five fathoms.”

John Thomas, being present, at once offered “ten shillings,” by which he meant that, knowing the labour to be undergone, and the probable value of the ore that would have to be excavated, he thought it worth while to continue at that piece of work, or that “pitch,” if the manager would give him ten shillings for every twenty shillings’ worth of mineral sent to the surface by him; but the captain also knew the ground and the labour that would be required, and his estimate was that eight shillings would be quite sufficient remuneration, a fact which was announced by Mr Cornish simply uttering the words, “At eight shillings.”

“Put her down, s’pose,” said John Thomas after a moment’s consideration.

Perhaps John knew that eight shillings was really sufficient, although he wanted ten.  At all events he knew that it was against the rules to dispute the point at that time, as it delayed business; that if he did not accept the offer, another man might do so; and that he might not get so good a pitch if he were to change.

The pitch was therefore sett to John Thomas, and another read off: ­“Jim Hocking’s pitch at back of the hundred and ten.  By one man.  To extend,” etcetera.

“Won’t have nothin’ to do with her,” said Jim Hocking.

Jim had evidently found the work too hard, and was dissatisfied with the remuneration, so he declined, resolving to try his chance in a more promising part of the mine.

“Will any one offer for this pitch?” inquired Mr Cornish.

Eight and six shillings were sums immediately named by men who thought the pitch looked more promising than Jim did.

“Any one offer more for this pitch?” asked the manager, taking up a pebble from a little pile that lay at his elbow, and casting it into the air.

While that pebble was in its flight, any one might offer for the pitch, but the instant it touched the ground, the bargain was held to be concluded with the last bidder.

A man named Oats, who had been in a hesitating state of mind, here exclaimed “Five shillings” (that is, offered to work the pitch for five shillings on every twenty shillings’ worth sent to grass); next instant the stone fell, and the pitch was sett to Oats.

Poor James Penrose’s pitch was the next sett.

“James Penrose’s late pitch,” read the manager, giving the details of it in terms somewhat similar to those already sett, and stating that the required “pare,” or force to be put on it, was two men and a boy.

“Put me down for it,” said Maggot.

“Have you got your pare?” asked Mr Cornish.

“Iss, sur.”

“Their names?”

“David Trevarrow and my son Zackey.”

The pitch was allocated in due form at the rate of fifteen shillings per twenty shillings’ worth of mineral sent up ­this large sum being given because it was not known to be an unusually good pitch ­Penrose having been too ill to speak of his discovery since his accident, and the captain having failed to notice it.  When a place is poor looking, a higher sum is given to the miner to induce him to work it.  When it is rich, a lower sum is given, because he can make more out of it.

Thus the work went on, the sums named varying according to the nature of the ground, and each man saying “Naw,” or “Put me down,” or “That won’t do,” or “I won’t have her,” according to circumstances.

While this was going on at the window, another and perhaps more interesting scene was taking place in the office.  This apartment presented a singular appearances.  There was a large table in the centre of it, which, with every available inch of surface on a side-table, and on a board at the window, was completely covered with banknotes and piles of gold, silver, and copper.  Each pile was placed on a little square piece of paper containing the account-current for the month of the man or men to whom it belonged.  Very few men laboured singly.  Many worked in couples, and some in bands of three, five, or more.  So much hard cash gave the place a wealthy appearance, and in truth there was a goodly sum spread out, amounting to several hundreds of pounds.

The piles varied very much in size, and conveyed a rough outline of the financial history of the men they belonged to.  Some large heaps of silver, with a few coppers and a pile of sovereigns more than an inch high, lying on two or more five-pound notes indicated successful labour.  Nevertheless, the evidence was not absolutely conclusive, because the large piles had in most cases to be divided between several men who had banded together; but the little square account-papers, with a couple of crowns on them, told of hard work and little pay, while yonder square with two shillings in the centre of it betokened utter failure, only to be excelled by another square, on which lay nothing.

You will probably exclaim in your heart, reader, “What! do miners sometimes work for a month, and receive only two shillings, or nothing as wages?”

Ay, sometimes; but it is their own seeking if they do; it is not forced upon them.

There are three classes of miners ­those who work on the surface, dressing ore, etcetera, who are paid a weekly wage; those who work on “tribute,” and those who work at “tut-work.”  Of the first we say nothing, except that they consist chiefly of balmaidens and children ­ the former receiving about 18 shillings a month, and the latter from 8 shillings to 20 shillings, according to age and capacity.

In regard to “tributers” and “tut-workers,” we may remark that the work of both is identical in one respect ­namely, that of hewing, picking, boring, and blasting the hard rock.  In this matter they share equal toils and dangers, but they are not subjected to the same remunerative vicissitudes.

When a man works on “tribute” he receives so many shillings for every twenty shillings’ worth of ore that he raises during the month, as already explained.  If his “pitch” turns out to be rich in ore, his earnings are proportionably high; if it be poor, he remains poor also.  Sometimes a part of the mineral lode becomes so poor that it will not pay for working, and has to be abandoned.  So little as a shilling may be the result of a “tributer’s” work for a month at one time, while at another time he may get a good pitch, and make 100 pounds or 200 pounds in the same period.

The “tutman” (or piecework man), on the other hand, cuts out the rock at so much per fathom, and obtains wages at the rate of from 2 pounds, 10 shillings to 3 pounds a month.  He can never hope to make a fortune, but so long as health and strength last, he may count on steady work and wages.  Of course there is a great deal of the work in a mine which is not directly remunerative, such as “sinking” shafts, opening up and “driving” (or lengthening) levels, and sinking “winzes.”  On such work tutmen are employed.

The man who works on “tribute” is a speculator; he who chooses “tut-work” is a steady labourer.  The tributer experiences all the excitement of uncertainty, and enjoys the pleasures of hope.  He knows something, too, about “hope deferred;” also can tell of hope disappointed; has his wits sharpened, and, generally, is a smart fellow.  The tut-worker knows nothing of this, his pay being safe and regular, though small.  Many quiet-going, plodding men prefer and stick to tut-work.

In and about the counting-room the men who had settled the matter of their next month’s work were assembled.  These ­the cashier having previously made all ready ­were paid in a prompt and businesslike manner.

First, there came forward a middle-aged man.  It was scarcely necessary for him to speak, for the cashier knew every man on the mine by name, and also how much was due to him, and the hundreds of little square accounts-current were so arranged that he could lay his hands on any one in an instant.  Nevertheless, being a hearty and amiable man, he generally had a word to say to every one.

“How’s your son, Matthew?” he inquired of the middle-aged man, putting the square paper with its contents into his hand.

“He’s braave, sir.  The doctor do say he’ll be about again in a week.”

Matthew crumpled up his account-current ­notes, gold, silver, copper and all ­in his huge brown hand, and, thrusting the whole into his breeches pocket, said “Thank ’ee,” and walked away.

Next, there came forward a young man with one eye, an explosion having shut up the other one for ever.  He received his money along with that of the three men who worked in the same “pare” with him.  He crumpled it up in the same reckless way as Matthew had done, also thrust it into his pocket, and walked off with an independent swagger.  Truly, in the sweat, not only of his brow, but, of every pore in his body, had he earned it, and he was entitled to swagger a little just then.  There was little enough room or inducement to do so down in the mine!  After this young man a little boy came forward saying that his “faither” had sent him for his money.

It was observable that the boys and lads among those who presented themselves in the counting-room, were, as a rule, hearty and hopeful.  With them it was as with the young in all walks of life.  Everything looked bright and promising.  The young men were stern, yet free-and-easy ­as though they had already found life a pretty tough battle, but felt quite equal to it.  And so they were, every one of them!  With tough sinews, hard muscles, and indomitable energy, they were assuredly equal to any work that man could undertake; and many of them, having the fear of God in their hearts, were fitted to endure manfully the trials of life as well.  The elderly men were sedate, and had careworn faces; they knew what it was to suffer.  Many of them had carried little ones to the grave; they had often seen strong men like themselves go forth in the morning hale and hearty, and be carried to their homes at evening with blinded eyes or shattered limbs.  Life had lost its gloss to them, but it had not lost its charms.  There were loving hearts to work for, and a glorious end for which to live, or, if need be, to die ­so, although their countenances were sedate they were not sad.  The old men ­of whom there were but two or three ­were jolly old souls.  They seemed to have successfully defied the tear and wear of life, to have outlived its sorrows, and renewed their youth.  Certainly they had not reached their second childhood, for they stepped forth and held out their hands for their pay as steadily as the best of the young ones.

When about one-half of the number had been paid, a woman in widow’s weeds came forward to take up the pay due to her son ­her “wretched Harry,” as she styled him.  All that was due was seven-and-sixpence.  It was inexpressibly sad to see her retire with this small sum ­the last that her unsettled boy was entitled to draw from the mines.  He had worked previously in the neighbouring mine, Wheal Owles, and had gone to Botallack the month before.  He was now off to sea, leaving his mother, who to some extent depended on him, to look out for herself.

The next who came forward was a blind man.  He had worked long in the mine ­so long that he could find his way through the labyrinth of levels as easily in his blind state as he did formerly with his eyesight.  When his eyes were destroyed (in the usual way, by the explosion of a hole), he was only off work during the period of convalescence.  Afterwards he returned to his familiar haunts underground; and although he could no longer labour in the old way, he was quite able to work a windlass, and draw up the bucket at a winze.  For this he now pocketed two pounds sterling, and walked off as vigorously as if he had possessed both his eyes!

Among others, a wife appeared to claim her husband’s pay, and she was followed by Zackey Maggot, who came to receive his own and Penrose’s money.

“How does Penrose get on?” inquired the cashier, as he handed over the sum due.

“Slowly, sur,” said Zackey.

“It is a bad case,” said one of the captains, who sat close by; “the doctor thinks there is little or no chance for his eyesight.”

Poor Zackey received his pay and retired without any demonstration of his wonted buoyancy of spirit, for he was fond of Penrose, almost as much so as he was of uncle David Trevarrow.

The varied fortune experienced in the mine was exhibited in one or two instances on this occasion.  One man and a boy, working together, had, in their own phraseology, “got a sturt” ­they had come unexpectedly on a piece of rich ground, which yielded so much tin that at the end of the month they received 25 pounds between them.  The man had been receiving “subsist,” that is, drawing advances monthly for nearly a year, and, having a wife and children to support, had almost lost heart.  It was said that he had even contemplated suicide, but this little piece of good fortune enabled him to pay off his debt and left something over.  Another man and boy had 20 pounds to receive.  On the other hand, one man had only 2 shillings due to him, while a couple of men who had worked in poor ground found themselves 2 shillings in debt, and had to ask for “subsist.”

Some time previous to this, two men had discovered a “bunch of copper,” and in the course of two months they cleared 260 pounds.  At a later period a man in Levant Mine, who was one of the Wesleyan local preachers, cleared 200 pounds within a year.  He gave a hundred pounds to his mother, and with the other hundred went off to seek his fortune in Australia!

After all the men had been paid, those who wished for “subsist,” or advances, were desired to come forward.  About a dozen of them did so, and among these were representatives of all classes ­the diligent and strong, the old and feeble, and the young.  Of course, in mining operations as in other work, the weak, lazy, and idle will ever be up to the lips in trouble, and in need of help.  But in mining the best of men may be obliged to demand assistance, because, when tributers work on hopefully day after day and week after week on bad ground, they must have advances to enable them to persevere ­not being able to subsist on air!  This is no hardship, the mine being at all times open to their inspection, and they are allowed to select their own ground.  Hence the demand for “subsist” is not necessarily a sign of absolute but only of temporary poverty.  The managers make large or small advances according to their knowledge of the men.

There was a good deal of chaffing at this point in the proceedings ­the lazy men giving occasion for a slight administration of rebuke, and the able men affording scope for good-humoured pleasantry and badinage.

In Botallack, at the present time, about forty or fifty men per month find it necessary to ask for “subsist.”

Before the wages were paid, several small deductions had to be made.  First, there was sixpence to be deducted from each man for “the club.”  This club consisted of those who chose to pay sixpence a month to a fund for the temporary support of those who were damaged by accidents in the mine.  A similar sum per month was deducted from each man for “the doctor,” who was bound, in consideration of this, to attend the miners free of charge.  In addition to this a shilling was deducted from each man, to be given to the widow and family of a comrade who had died that month.  At the present time from 18 pounds to 20 pounds are raised in this way when a death occurs, to be given to the friends of the deceased.  It should be remarked that these deductions are made with the consent of the men.  Any one may refuse to give to those objects, but, if he do so, he or his will lose the benefit in the event of his disablement or death.

Men who are totally disabled receive a pension from the club fund.  Not long ago a miner, blind of one eye, left another mine and engaged in Botallack.  Before his first month was out he exploded a blast-hole in his face, which destroyed the other eye.  From that day he received a pension of 1 pound a month, which will continue till his death ­or, at least as long as Botallack shall flourish ­and that miner may be seen daily going through the streets of St. Just with his little daughter, in a cart, shouting “Pilchards, fresh pilcha-a-rds, breem, pullock, fresh pullock, pil-cha-a-rds” ­at the top of his stentorian voice ­a living example of the value of “the club,” and of the principle of insurance!

At length the business of the day came to a close.  The wages were paid, the men’s work for another month was fixed, the cases of difficulty and distress were heard and alleviated, and then the managers and agents wound up the day by dining together in the account-house, the most noteworthy point in the event being the fact that the dinner was eaten off plates made of pure Botallack tin.

Once a quarter this dinner, styled the “account-dinner,” is partaken of by any of the shareholders who may wish to be present, on which occasion the manager and agents lay before the company the condition and prospects of the mine, and a quarterly dividend (if any) is paid.  There is a matter-of-fact and Spartan-like air about this feast which commands respect.  The room in which it is held is uncarpeted, and its walls are graced by no higher works of art than the plans and sections of the mine.  The food is excellent and substantial, but simple.  There is abundance of it, but there are no courses ­either preliminary or successive ­no soup or fish to annoy one who wants meat; no ridiculous entremets to tantalise one who wants something solid; no puddings, pies, or tarts to tempt men to gluttony.  All set to work at the same time, and enjoy their meal together, which is more than can be said of most dinners.  All is grandly simple, like the celebrated mine on which the whole is founded.

But there is one luxury at this feast which it would be unpardonable not to mention ­namely the punch.  Whoever tastes this beverage can never forget it!  Description were useless to convey an idea of it.  Imagination were impotent to form a conception of it.  Taste alone will avail, so that our readers must either go to Cornwall to drink it, or for ever remain unsatisfied.  We can only remark, in reference to it, that it is potent as well as pleasant, and that it is also dangerous, being of an insinuating nature, so that those who partake freely have a tendency to wish for more, and are apt to dream (not unreasonably, but too wildly) of Botallack tin being transformed into silver and gold.