“Men and angels cry out against it!” he screamed, in madness and despair. “Can this thing be? Can Heaven and earth look calmly on and see this horror? Are men all ingratitude? IS GOD ALL APATHY?”
A blow like a hammer striking a church bell tinkled outside the wall, and seemed to come from a great distance.
To him who, like the rugged Elijah, had expostulated so boldly with his Maker, and his Maker, who is not to be irritated, forgave him, that blow seemed at first to ring from heaven. He stood still, and trembled like a leaf; he listened; the sound was not repeated.
“Ah,” said he, “it was an illusion like hers.”
* * * * *
But for all that he seized his hammer, and darted to the back of the hall, and mounting on a huge fragment of coal struck the seam high above his head. He gave two blows at longish intervals, and then three blows in quick succession.
Grace heard, and began to raise herself on her hands in wonder.
Outside the wall came two leisurely blows that seemed a mile off, though they were not ten feet, and then three blows in quick succession.
“My signal echoed,” yelled Hope. “Do you hear, child, my signal answered? Thank God! thank God! thank God!”
He fell on his knees and cried like a child. The next minute, burning with hope and joy, he was by Grace’s side, with his arms round her.
“You can’t give way now. Fight on a few minutes more. Death, I defy you; I am a father; I tear my child from your clutches.” With this he raised her in his arms with surprising vigor. It was Grace’s turn to shake off all weakness, under the great excitement of the brain.
“Yes, I’ll live,” she cried, “I’ll live for you. Oh, the gallant men! Hear, hear the pickaxes at work; an army is coming to our rescue, father; the God you doubted sends them, and some hero leads them.”
The words had scarcely left her lips when Hope set her down in fresh alarm. An enemy’s pickaxe was at work to destroy them; Burnley was picking furiously at the weak part of the tank, shrieking, “They will tear me to pieces; there is no hope in this world nor the next for me.”
“Madman,” cried Hope—“he’ll let the water in before they can save us.” He rushed at Burnley and seized him; but his frenzy was gone, and Burnley’s was upon him; after a short struggle Burnley flung him off with prodigious power. Hope flew at him again, but incautiously, and the savage lowering his head, drove it with such fury into Hope’s chest that he sent him to a distance, and laid him flat on his back utterly breathless. Grace flew to him and raised him.
He was not a man to lose his wits. “To the truck,” he gasped, “or we are lost.”
“I’ll flood the mine! I’ll flood the mine!” yelled Burnley.