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IRISH PATRIOTS 1
While I was attaché at Washington I was sent by the minister to look after some Irish patriots at Boston. I took up my residence at a small hotel, and wrote down an imaginary name in the hotel book as mine. In the evening I went to a gambling establishment, where I lost all the money I had with me except half a dollar. Then I went to bed, satisfied with my prowess. The next morning the bailiffs seized on the hotel for debt, and all the guests were requested to pay their bills and to take away their luggage. I could not pay mine, and so I could not take away my luggage. All that I could do was to write to Washington for a remittance, and to wait two days for its arrival. The first day I walked about, and spent my half dollar on food. It was summer, so I slept on a bench on the common, and in the morning went to the bay to wash myself. I felt independent of all the cares and troubles of civilization. But I had nothing with which to buy myself a breakfast. I grew hungry and, towards evening, more hungry still, so much so that I entered a restaurant and ordered dinner without any clear idea how I was to pay for it, except by leaving my coat in pledge. In those days Boston restaurants were mostly in cellars, and there was a bar near the door where the proprietor sat to receive payment. As I ate my dinner I observed that all the waiters, who were Irishmen, were continually staring
? From The Life of Henry Labouchère. G. P. Putnam's Sons. Reprinted by permission.
at me, and evidently speaking of me to each other. A guilty conscience made me think that this was because I had an impecunious look, and that they were discussing whether my clothes would cover my bill. At last one of them approached me, and said: “I beg your pardon, sir; are you the patriot Meagher?” Now this patriot was a gentleman who had aided Smith O'Brien in his Irish rising, had been sent to Australia, and had escaped thence to the United States. It was my business to look after patriots, so I put my finger before my lips, and said: “Hush !” while I cast up my eyes to the ceiling as though I saw a vision of Erin beckoning to me. It was felt at once that I was Meagher. The choicest viands were placed before me, and most excellent wine. When I had done justice to all the good things I approached the bar and asked boldly for my bill. The proprietor, also an Irishman, said: “From a man like you, who has suffered in the good cause, I can take no money; allow a brother patriot to shake you by the hand.” I allowed him. I further allowed all the waiters to shake hands with me, and stalked forth with the stern, resolved, but somewhat condescendingly dismal air which I have seen assumed by patriots in exile. Again I slept on the Common, again I washed in the bay. Then I went to the post-office, found a letter for me from Washington with some money in it, and breakfasted.
IV. B. INCIDENT
THE TRAGEDY OF THE MINE 1
I was sitting on the edge of the bed, loosening the heel of one of my rubber boots with the toe of the other, when suddenly, through the stillness of the sleeping town, from the powerhouse half a mile away, came a low and rising note, the great siren whistle in the power-house. Almost fascinated, I listened
1 From A Year in a Coal-mine. Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Reprinted by permission.
as the great note rose higher and more shrill and died away again. One blast meant a fire in the town; two blasts, fire in the buildings at the mine; and three blasts, the most terrible of all, a disaster or trouble in the mine. Once more, after an interminable pause, the sound came again; and once more rose and died away. I did not move, but there was a sudden coldness that came over me as once more, for the third time, the deep note broke out on the quiet air. Almost instantaneously the loud jingle of my telephone brought me to my feet. I took down the receiver : "The mine's blown up,” said a woman's voice.
It was half a mile between my room and the gate to the - mine-yards, and as my feet beat noisily on the long, straight
road, doors opened, yellow against the blackness of the night, and voices called out — women's voices mostly. The gate-man knew little. “She's let go," was all that he could say.
There were two men at the fan-house, the fan engineer and his assistant, and in a second I learned from them that there had come a sudden puff up the air-shaft that had spun the fan backward a dozen revolutions on the belt before it picked up again. The explosion doors, built for such an emergency on the new dome above the air-shaft, had banged open noisily and shut again of their own weight. That was all.
There were half a dozen men at the top of the hoisting-shaft. The hoisting engineer sat, white faced, on his seat by the shaftmouth, one arm laid limply on the window-sill, his hand clenched on the lever. “I tried to telephone 'em,” he said, “but they didn't answer. The cage was down. She came out with a puff like you blow out of your pipe; that's all.” He stopped and awkwardly wiped his face. “Then I left the hoist down five minutes and brought her up,” he continued, “but there was no one in it. Then I sent it down again. It's down there now.”
“How long has it been down?” I asked. “Ten minutes," he hazarded.
I gave him the order to hoist; and the silence was suddenly broken by the grind of the drums as he pulled the lever back, and the cable began to wind slowly upward. A minute later
.. the black top of the hoist pushed up from the hole, and the decks, one by one, appeared — all empty.
There was no one at the mine except the hoisting engineer and some of the night force who were on duty at the powerhouse and in the engine-room. In the long months of trouble our force had gradually diminished, and of those who had remained and who were equal to such an emergency, part were now in the mine, and the rest, worn out and exhausted by the long day's work, were far away in the town, asleep; or perhaps, if the whistle had aroused them, on their way to the mine. Instant action was necessary, for following an explosion comes the after-damp, and if any were living, this poisonous gas would destroy them.
As I turned from the shaft mouth, McPherson, the superintendent, a square-built, freckled Scotsman about fifty years of age, came running toward the warehouse. There were but two helmets ready, for so favorably had our work progressed that we had neglected to keep more than two charged with oxygen, and had allowed the rest to be taken apart for repairs. Familiar with the conditions existing in the mine, we realized that the explosion, however slight, must have blown down many of the stoppings which we had erected, and allowed the pent-up gas to rush back into the portion of the mine which we had recovered, and in which the night shift was now imprisoned. If the gas had been ignited by open fire, immediate action was necessary, for our own safety as well as for the chance of rescuing the men in the mine; for in the month preceding we had seen the mine “repeat” at regular intervals with two explosions, and if the fire had been ignited from open flame, we must enter it, effect the rescue of our comrades, and escape before we could be caught by a second explosion. On the other hand, the chances were equal that the explosion might have been set off by a defective gauze in a safety lamp or some other cause, and that there would be no immediate explosion following the first one.
In the hurry of adjusting our helmets, no one noticed that . the charge of oxygen in mine was short, and that an hour and
forty minutes was my working limit; and all unconscious of this, I tightened the valve, and with the oxygen hissing in the check-valves, we left the bright light of the room, and felt our way down the steps into the darkness of the yard, where a great arc-light above the hoisting-shaft made objects visible in its lavender light. A crowd had already gathered; a dark, silent crowd that stood like a flock of frightened sheep around the mouth of the man-hoist. With a man on either side of us to direct us, we walked to the hoist, our electric hand-lanterns throwing long white beams of light before us. There was no sound; no shrieking of women, no struggling of frenzied mothers or sisters to fight their way into the mine; but there was a more awful silence, and as we passed a pile of ties, I heard a whimpering noise, like a puppy, and in the light of my lamp saw the doubled form of a woman who crouched alone on the ground, a shawl drawn over her head, sobbing.
We stepped on the hoist, and for an instant there came the picture of a solid line of people who hung on the edge of the light; of white faces; of the lavender glare of the arc-lamp, contrasting with the orange light from the little square window in the house of the hoisting engineer. “Are you ready ?” he called to us. “Let her go,” we said; and the picture was gone as the hoist sank into the blackness of the shaft. We said nothing as we were lowered, for we knew where the men would be if we could reach them, and there was nothing else to talk about. The grind of the shoes on the hoist as they scraped the rails made a sound that drowned out my feeble whistling of the Merry Widow waltz inside of my helmet.
We felt the motion of our descent slacken, and then came a sudden roaring splash as the lower deck of the hoist hit the water which filled the sump. Slowly we sank down until the water which flooded that part of the mine rose, cold and dead, to our knees, and the hoist came to a stop. Splashing clumsily over the uneven floor, we climbed the two steps which led to the higher level of B entry, and for a minute turned the white beams of our lights in every direction. There was nothing to be seen, and no trace of any explosion except a thin, white layer