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- The Judgment House - 30/85 -
husbands or sons or brothers had been struck out into darkness without time to strip themselves of the impedimenta of the soul. Two were left below, and these were brothers who had married but three months before. They were strong, buoyant men of twenty-five, with life just begun, and home still welcome and alluring--warm-faced, bonny women to meet them at the door, and lay the cloth, and comfort their beds, and cheer them away to work in the morning. These four lovers had been the target for the good-natured and half-affectionate scoffing of the whole field; for the twins, Jabez and Jacob, were as alike as two peas, and their wives were cousins, and were of a type in mind, body, and estate. These twin toilers were left below, with Rudyard Byng forcing his way to the place where they had worked. With him was one other miner of great courage and knowledge, who had gone with other rescue parties in other catastrophes.
It was this man who was carried to the surface when another small explosion occurred. He brought the terrible news that Byng, the rescuer of so many, was himself caught by falling timbers and imprisoned near a spot where Jabez and Jacob Holyhoke were entombed.
Word had gone to Glencader, and within an hour and a half Jasmine, Al'mah, Stafford, Lord Tynemouth, the Slavonian Ambassador, Adrian Fellowes, Mr. Tudor Tempest and others were at the pit's mouth, stricken by the same tragedy which had made so many widows and orphans that night. Already two attempts had been made to descend, but they had not been successful. Now came forward a burly and dour-looking miner, called Brengyn, who had been down before, and had been in command. His look was forbidding, but his face was that of a man on whom you could rely; and his eyes had a dogged, indomitable expression. Behind him were a dozen men, sullen and haggard, their faces showing nothing of that pity in their hearts which drove them to risk all to save the lives of their fellow-workers. Was it all pity and humanity? Was there also something of that perdurable cohesion of class against class; the powerful if often unlovely unity of faction, the shoulder-to-shoulder combination of war; the tribal fanaticism which makes brave men out of unpromising material? Maybe something of this element entered into the heroism which had been displayed; but whatever the impulse or the motive, the act and the end were the same--men's lives were in peril, and they were risking their own to rescue them.
When Jasmine and her friends arrived, Ian Stafford addressed himself to the groups of men at the pit's mouth, asking for news. Seeing Brengyn approach Jasmine, he hurried over, recognizing in the stalwart miner a leader of men.
"It's a chance in a thousand," he heard Brengyn say to Jasmine, whose white face showed no trace of tears, and who held herself with courage. There was something akin in the expression of her face and that of other groups of women, silent, rigid and bitter, who stood apart, some with children's hands clasped in theirs, facing the worst with regnant resolution. All had that horrible quietness of despair so much more poignant than tears and wailing. Their faces showed the weariness of labour and an ill-nourished daily life, but there was the same look in them as in Jasmine's. There was no class in this communion of suffering and danger.
"Not one chance in a thousand," Brengyn added, heavily. "I know where they are, but--"
"You think they are--dead?" Jasmine asked in a hollow voice.
"I think, alive or dead, it's all against them as goes down to bring them out. It's more lives to be wasted."
Stafford heard, and he stepped forward. "If there's a chance in a thousand, it's good enough for a try," he said. "If you were there, Mr. Byng would take the chance in the thousand for you."
Brengyn looked Stafford up and down slowly. "What is it you've got to say?" he asked, gloomily.
"I am going down, if there's anybody will lead," Stafford replied. "I was brought up in a mining country. I know as much as most of you about mines, and I'll make one to follow you, if you'll lead--you've been down, I know."
Brengyn's face changed. "Mr. Byng isn't our class, he's with capital," he said, "but he's a man. He went down to help save men of my class, and to any of us he's worth the risk. But how many of his own class is taking it on?"
"I, for one," said Lord Tynemouth, stepping forward.
"I--I," answered three other men of the house-party.
Al'mah, who was standing just below Jasmine, had her eyes fixed on Adrian Fellowes, and when Brengyn called for volunteers, her heart almost stood still in suspense. Would Adrian volunteer?
Brengyn's look rested on Adrian for an instant, but Adrian's eyes dropped. Brengyn had said one chance in a thousand, and Adrian said to himself that he had never been lucky--never in all his life. At games of chance he had always lost. Adrian was for the sure thing always.
Al'mah's face flushed with anger and shame at the thing she saw, and a weakness came over her, as though the springs of life had been suddenly emptied.
Brengyn once again fastened the group from Glencader with his eyes. "There's a gentleman in danger," he said, grimly, again. "How many gentlemen volunteer to go down--ay, there's five!" he added, as Stafford and Tynemouth and the others once again responded.
Jasmine saw, but at first did not fully realize what was happening. But presently she understood that there was one near, owing everything to her husband, who had not volunteered to help to save him--on the thousandth chance. She was stunned and stricken.
"Oh, for God's sake, go!" she said, brokenly, but not looking at Adrian Fellowes, and with a heart torn by misery and shame.
Brengyn turned to the men behind him, the dark, determined toilers who sustained the immortal spirit of courage and humanity on thirty shillings a week and nine hours' work a day. "Who's for it, mates?" he asked, roughly. "Who's going wi' me?"
Every man answered hoarsely, "Ay," and every hand went up. Brengyn's back was on Fellowes, Al'mah, and Jasmine now. There was that which filled the cup of trembling for Al'mah in the way he nodded to the men.
"Right, lads," he said with a stern joy in his voice. "But there's only one of you can go, and I'll pick him. Here, Jim," he added to a small, wiry fellow not more than five feet four in height--"here, Jim Gawley, you're comin' wi' me, an' that's all o' you as can come. No, no," he added, as there was loud muttering and dissent. "Jim's got no missis, nor mother, and he's tough as leather and can squeeze in small places, and he's all right, too, in tight corners." Now he turned to Stafford and Tynemouth and the others. "You'll come wi' me," he said to Stafford--" if you want. It's a bad look-out, but we'll have a try. You'll do what I say?" he sharply asked Stafford, whose face was set.
"You know the place," Stafford answered. "I'll do what you say."
"My word goes?"
"Right. Your word goes. Let's get on."
Jasmine took a step forward with a smothered cry, but Alice Tynemouth laid a hand on her arm.
"He'll bring Rudyard back, if it can be done," she whispered.
Stafford did not turn round. He said something in an undertone to Tynemouth, and then, without a glance behind, strode away beside Brengyn and Jim Gawley to the pit's mouth.
Adrian Fellowes stepped up to Tynemouth. "What do you think the chances are?" he asked in a low tone.
"Go to--bed!" was the gruff reply of the irate peer, to whom cowardice was the worst crime on earth, and who was enraged at being left behind. Also he was furious because so many working-men had responded to Brengyn's call for volunteers and Adrian Fellowes had shown the white feather. In the obvious appeal to the comparative courage of class his own class had suffered.
"Or go and talk to the women," he added to Fellowes. "Make 'em comfortable. You've got a gift that way."
Turning on his heel, Lord Tynemouth hastened to the mouth of the pit and watched the preparations for the descent.
Never was night so still; never was a sky so deeply blue, nor stars so bright and serene. It was as though Peace had made its habitation on the wooded hills, and a second summer had come upon the land, though wintertime was near. Nature seemed brooding, and the generous odour of ripened harvests came over the uplands to the watchers in the valley. All was dark and quiet in the sky and on the hills; but in the valley were twinkling lights and the stir and murmur of troubled life--that sinister muttering of angry and sullen men which has struck terror to the hearts of so many helpless victims of revolution, when it has been the mutterings of thousands and not of a few rough, discontented toilers. As Al'mah sat near to the entrance of the mine, wrapped in a warm cloak, and apart from the others who watched and waited also, she seemed to realize the agony of the problem which was being worked out in these labour-centres where, between capital and the work of men's hands, there was so apparent a gulf of disproportionate return.
The stillness of the night was broken now by the hoarse calls of the men, now by the wailing of women, and Al'mah's eyes kept turning to those places where lights were shining, which, as she knew, were houses of death or pain. For hours she and Jasmine and Lady Tynemouth had gone from cottage to cottage where the dead and wounded were, and had left everywhere gifts, and the promises of gifts, in the attempt to soften the cruelty of the blow to those whose whole life depended on the weekly wage. Help and the pledge of help had lightened many a dark corner that night; and an unexplainable antipathy which had suddenly grown up in Al'mah's mind against Jasmine after her arrival at Glencader was dissipated as the hours wore on.
Pale of face, but courageous and solicitous, Jasmine, accompanied by Al'mah, moved among the dead and dying and the bitter and bereaved living, with a gentle smile and a soft word or touch of the hand. Men near to death, or suffering torture, looked gratefully at her or tried to smile; and more than once Mr. Mappin, whose hands were kept busy and whose skill saved more than a handful of lives that night, looked
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