Burnley struggled furiously, but Hope dashed him down at his feet. Just as a far more awful explosion than all took place, one side of that amphitheatre fell in and the very earth heaved. The corner part of the shaft fell in upon the cage and many poor miners who were hoping to escape by it; but those escaped for the present who obeyed Hope’s order and fled to another part of the mine, and when the stifling vapors drifted away there stood Hope pale as death, but strong as iron, with the assassin at his feet, and poor Grace crouching and quivering in her recess. Their fate now awaited these three, a speedy death by choke-damp, or a slow death by starvation, or a rescue from the outside under circumstances of unparalleled difficulty, since there was but one shaft completed, and that was now closed by a mountain of debris.
The explosions so tremendously loud below were but muffled sounds at the pit’s mouth; but, alas! these muffled sounds, and one flash of lurid flame that shot up into the air, told the tale of horror to every experienced pitman and his wife, and the cry of a whole village went up to heaven.
The calamity spread like wildfire. It soon found its way to Clifford Hall, and the deputy ran himself with the news to Mr. Bartley. Bartley received it at first with a stony glare, and trembled all over; then the deputy, lowering his voice, said, “Sir, the worst of it is, there is foul play in it. There is good authority to say that Ben Burnley fired the mine to destroy his betters, and he has done it; for Mr. Hope and Miss Hope that is, Miss Bartley that was, are both there.” He added, in a broken voice, “And if they are not buried or stifled, it will be hard work to save them. The mine is a ruin.”
Bartley delivered a wild scream, and dashed out of the house at once; he did not even take his hat, but the deputy, more self-possessed, took one out of the hall and followed him.
Bartley hurried to the mine, and found that several stout fellows had gone down with their pickaxes and other tools to clear the shaft, but that it must be terribly slow work, so few men could work at a time in that narrow space. Bartley telegraphed to Derby for a more powerful steam-engine and experienced engineers, and set another gang to open the new shaft to the bottom, and see if any sufferers could be saved that way. Whatever he did was wise, but his manner was frenzied. None of his people thought he had so much feeling, and more than one of the quaking women gave him a kind word; he made no reply, he did not even seem to hear. He wandered about the mine all night wringing his hands, and at last he was taken home almost by force.
Humanity overpowered prejudice, and Colonel Clifford came to the mine to see if he could be of any use to the sufferers. He got hold of the deputy and learned from him what Bartley was doing. He said he thought that was the best course, as there would be division of labor; but, said he, “I am an old campaigner, and I know that men can not fight without food, and this work will be a fight. How will you house the new-comers?”