It might be full of moss too, for no one knew the extent of the breakage in the metals, and even though it were clear, the damp would be lying in it; but surely they might make an attempt on it. Robert remembered working this level to within about nine feet from going through on the heading. If he had plenty of hands, just to go down and drill a hole in anywhere, and blast out the coal with a shot or two wherever he could best place them, he might succeed in getting through to the men. It might be that after the first rush filling the roadways, the flood of moss had drained off, and was not now running so thickly down the heading.
“Let me go and try, sir,” he pleaded eagerly. “I think I can manage, if the level is still unbroken. We can work in short turns, so as not to be overcome with the damp. Will you let me have a try? I believe it’s the only chance we have, and if we do succeed, look what it will mean to the women in the village. Will you let me try?”
“Yes,” replied Anderson, reaching for his lamp, “and I shall be one of the triers too. Go out and pick seven or eight men. I’ll get the necessary tools and get off over the moor to the old air shaft. It may still be open. It is a pity we let it go out of repair, but we can have a trial.”
Robert ran out, a hope filling his heart, telling his news to those round about, and the first man to step forth, before he had finished, was Dugald McIntosh, the man who had put more value on his canaries than on his wife’s health, who quietly lifted up the drills the manager had brought, and slinging them lightly over his shoulder, was off across the moor at a run, with a dozen men at his heels, all eager to get to grips with the danger, and try to rescue their imprisoned comrades.
A FIGHT WITH DEATH
Robert Sinclair seemed to be the one man who knew what to do—at least, he seemed to be the only one who had a definite aim in view and as if by some natural instinct everyone was just ready to do his bidding. He was the leader of the herd towards whom everyone looked ready for a new order to meet any new situation which might arise. Initiative and resource were a monopoly in his hands. He was silent, and worked to get ready to descend the old air-shaft, with grim set lips. Yet there seemed to be no sense of bustle, only the work was done quickly and orderly, his orders being issued as much by signs as by speech, and soon a windlass was erected with ropes and swing chair fastened, into which he at once leaped, followed by another man. Tools and explosives were packed in and lamps lit and the order given to lower the chair.