“Now, my man,” said, or rather screamed, Bartley, “tell him where Hope is, and Mary—that I—Oh, God! oh, God!”
“Master,” said Jim, faintly, “I was in the hall with Mr. Hope and the lady when the first explosion came. Most of us ran past the old shaft and got clear. A few was caught by the falling shaft, for I looked back and saw it. But I never saw Master Hope among them. If he was, he is buried under the shaft; but I do really think that he was that taken up with his girl, and that darned villain that fired the mine, as he’s like to be in the hall either alive or dead.”
He could say no more, but fell into a sort of doze, the result of the powerful stimulant on his enfeebled frame and empty stomach. Then Bartley, with trembling hands, brought out a map of the mine and showed Walter where the second party had got to.
“See,” said he, “they are within twenty feet of the bottom, and the hall is twenty-three feet high. Hope measured it. Give up working downward, pick into the sides of that hall, for in that hall I see them at night; sometimes they are alive, sometimes they are dead, sometimes they are dying. I shall go mad, I shall go mad!”
With this he went raging about, giving the wildest orders, with the looks and tones of a madman. In a minute he had a cage ready for Walter, and twenty fresh-lit lamps, and down went Walter with more men and pickaxes. As soon as he got out of the cage he cried, wildly, “Stop that, men, and do as I do.”
He took a sweep with his pick, and delivered a horizontal blow at the clay on that side of the shaft Bartley had told him to attack. His pickaxe stuck in it, and he extricated it with difficulty.
“Nay, master,” cried a miner who had fallen in love with him, “drive thy pick at t’ coal.”
Walter then observed that above the clay there was a narrow seam of coal; he heaved his pick again, but instead of striking it half downward, as he ought to have done, he delivered a tremendous horizontal blow that made the coal ring like a church bell, and jarred his own stout arms so terribly that the pick fell out of his numbed hand.
Then the man who had advised him saw that he was disabled for a time, and stepped into his place.
But in that short interval an incident occurred so strange and thrilling that the stout miners uttered treble cries, like women, and then one mighty “Hah!” burst like a diapason from their manly bosoms.
BURIED ALIVE.—THE THREE DEADLY PERILS.
Seven miners were buried under the ruins of the shaft; but although masses of coal and clay fell into the hall from the side nearest to the explosions, and blocked up some of the passages, nobody was crushed to death there; only the smoke was so stifling that it seemed impossible to live.
That smoke was lighter than the air; its thick pall lifted by degrees and revealed three figures.