THE SECRET OF THE MINE
UP AND DOWN MOEL VAMMER.
PART I.—THE WAY UP. I
"ALFRED must go into business!" said my father, getting up and knocking the ashes out of his pipe in a determined way.
"Well, governor, said my brother Tom, after a few earnest whiffs from his little black cutty, "I must say I think you're very foolish. None of our family have ever condescended to trade, and, with our connections, I think something ought to be done for Alfred—the Civil Service, now? I suppose you couldn't afford to put him in the Army ?"
"Army, indeed! No, no, Tom; I can't afford another oldest son. Your education, my boy, cost me a pretty penny; and though I'm very glad to see you holding such a position—a Master of Arts, and a clergyman, and very well spoken of in the county—yet, after all, the pay—the pay ain't much. A hundred a year, isn't it, you're getting now, Tom ? "
The family council which was to decide my fate was not held in any baronial hall; it was at No. 44 Peagreen Street, Alchester in the Fiats, in a little back-parlor overlooking the water-butt My father, Captain Orlando Tubbs, R. N.—be particular about the R. N., please, as you'll bear in mind that a captain in the navy ranks as colonel in the army; and although my father was really only commander, yet he was captain by courtesy, and entitled to all the privileges of his rank—my father, bless his dear old soul! I think I can see him now as he stands in the little back-parlor, with his back to the fire and his hands clasped behind him, his quaint puckered face gathered into lines of thought, his mild honest eyes, which had so long looked out hopefully and cheerfully on the world, turned upon me, his younger son, With a world of quiet affection in the look—my father put is hand on my shoulder: "Ted, you'll have to go into business and make a fortune! "
Ah, boys, it's a fine thing to have a father to start us in our course.
When my father did put down his foot, which wasn't often, it was pretty Well understood amongst us that he would have his way; and although I affected to feel rather indignant that I should have to descend into trade and forfeit my social position, yet as that social position didn't bring with it any commensurate enjoyable advantages, I didn't really grieve at the prospect.
But I certainly did expect that, having made up my mind to the sacrifice, having resigned myself a victim to the altar of Mammon, the sacrifice would be accepted, the victim duly slaughtered.
My father had some rather vague and hazy ideas on the subject of business. Generally, he fancied that the correct thing to be done was to get me into a counting-house, and that, after a certain number of years' probation, I should become a merchant " And you'll go on 'Change, and all that, you know, Alfred." But when he inquired of one or two practical friends (he was rather fond, was my father—he'd been at sea, you know, and picked up some unrefined habits—he was rather fond of looking in at the bar of the White Hart of an evening, and having a glass of grog, a smoke, and a chat with the bagmen who congregated there : "There's some very sensible, clever fellows amongst them, and they know a great deal of the world," he would say) ; when he inquired of some of these practical friends of his, he was rather bewildered by the almost infinite ramifications of " trade," and the enormous difficulty in obtaining the slightest opening in the world for a well-nurtured youth.
"Do you know," said my father, glancing somewhat shyly at me and timidly towards my mother, " that some of lose gentlemen I met at the White Hart last night----"
"Gentlemen, indeed !" quoth my mother; "ugh !"
"They're quite gentlemen, indeed, my dear, and most expensively dressed, said my father, glancing down at his own somewhat seedy habit: as sailors do, he delighted in the most hideous costume possible—Wellington boots with square toes three inches too long, black trousers not reaching to his ankles, a black satin waistcoat, dress-coat, and great wisp of black silk round his neck supporting a shirt collar of the perpendicular order-—one pinnacle of which would be tickling his ear, whilst the other would be swallowed up by the great black silk serpent which was choking him.
"And I'm sure, my dear, they must be making a great deal of money, for their jewelry is most splendid. Well, as I was saying, my dear, one of those gentlemen told me that the best thing I could do for a boy would be—it would give him such a knowledge of goods, he told me—would be—hem !—to put him into a draper's shop."
My mother dropped her work, her needle in the air.
"Orlando," she said, after a solemn pause, "if you think of sending Alfred into a shop, I beg you will give me early notice of your intention. I shall certainly retire amongst my own friends, and eke out the remainder of my days on the small competence which, thank God, is still left to me, notwithstanding your extravagance."
Wasn't that noble of the old girl? it settled the question firmly. We heard no more of the draper's shop.
In his perplexity my father bethought him of an ancient cousin, a trader in the city of London; and to him he wrote a long letter setting forth my qualifications and antecedents: how that I had been educated at Alchester Grammar School, had attained to a respectable knowledge of Greek and Latin, new a little about Euclid, and something more about Colenso, from an arithmetical—not a theological—point of view, that is. My father's letter was backed up by a ponderous testimonial from Dr. Aldus, the head master; and for about a week after its despatch both my dad and myself had a secret notion that it would result in an offer from my cousin of a seat in his " counting-house " at a salary of a few hundreds, with a partnership in immediate prospective. The reply ran thus :—
"16 Munchurch Lane, E.C. "DEAR ORLANDO,
"There is no demand for the article you mention, If I were you I would send the lad to St. Bees, and make a parson of him. But if you should decide on trying to get a situation for him in the City, he may call at my office, and I will give him such advice as I can.
Our first impression on perusing this letter was unfavorable ; but on going over it again, we found that it was susceptible of a more hopeful rendering. Clearly, we couldn't expect a man of Barrel's position to open his arms and say, " Come and share my business and wealth." But he was evidently anxious to see me, and no time ought to be lost in giving him an opportunity.
Next day's noon saw me at No. 16 Munchurch Lane, a quiet little eddy in the City tide, knocking at the door of my cousin's office. He was in, and received me coldly enough.
"Oh, you're Tubbs' boy, are you?" he said, after reading my father's letter of introduction. " And you want a situation, eh ? What sort of a berth are you looking after?"
I told him I wasn't particular. I should rather like to be the secretary of a public company, but in the mean time I wouldn't object to a seat in his, my cousin's office, if we could come to terms.
"What good would you be to me ? " growled Barrel.
"Keep your books and assist you in your business."
"Books ! There's my books, young man," pointing with his pen to a battered parchment-covered volume on the table. "Assistance ! There's all the assistance I want," indicating a pale sharp-featured boy who sat in the outer office. "Three shillings a week, office hours eight to eight: holidays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. Suit you, eh?"
"I think I'll wait till the secretaryship's vacant," I said, with as much nonchalance as I could assume.
The bursting of one's first bubble, the collapse of one's first illusion, is a painful affair; but as I wasn't going to get anything out of my cousin, why should I be so civil to him ? To stand with bated breath and bowed shoulders before the dispensers of the privileges of the world is, to the great majority of us, the condition on which we hold such small portion of the great inheritance as may be ours; but to bow before an idol that gives us no meat from the sacrifice, to cringe for nothing, to grovel for the mere love of self-abasement !
I stuck my hands into my pockets, tilted back my chair, made a critical survey of the office, ending with my cousin, who was fidgeting in his seat, evidently wanting me to go.
"How do you find this City life agree with you, Barrel?—tendency to produce embonpoint, eh? Feel swimming in the head sometimes? Hope you don't go in for port wine? My poor old Fred Carter—you knew Carter, I dare say; same age as you, I should think, and just your make—well, he died of '47 port: took it a year too soon. I told him it would do for him."
My worthy relative seemed a good deal staggered. I must have appeared to him a skeleton at the banquet, for Carter was a school-fellow of his. Barrel loved his bottle of port,' and was going to dine that day at Clockmakers' Hall, where the '47 port was a feature.
"Really, Mr. Tubbs, you'll excuse me, but------"
"Don't mention it. Finish what you're about, and don't mind me. When you've done we'll go for a stroll, and you shall show me the Royal Exchange, and the Corn Market, and Billingsgate-just the lions of the city, you know."
At that moment there caught my eye, on my cousin's writing-table, a lump of quartz.
"What have you got here, Barrel—paving stones ? Is that in your line of business—dust contractor and road repairer—eh ?"
My cousin heaved a great sigh of relief, put down his pen, and looked me in the face quite aglow.
'' The very thing for you, Tubbs. Dear me, I shall be very glad to serve Orlando's boy.'
He wrote a short note and gave it me.
"There, take this to Stock and Barrel, Gresham House, and I don't think I shall be in town for the next week or so, or I should be delighted to see you; got an important appointment now. Good-bye, remember me to your father."
I found young Barrel a good specimen of a City stockbroker—a little florid and fast, but frank and free, with no nonsense about him. He read my uncle's note.
"Glad to see you, old fellow. We're relations, it seems. Come and dine with us to-night—Onslow Square, seven o'clock. Meantime, about this pursership."
"I beg your pardon ?"
"Ain't that something in a steamboat?"
"There are pursers and pursers; this is in a mine, a gold mine."
"But I don't want to go abroad."
"It's in North Wales. Read old Barrel's letter."
"Dumbrell was asking me to recommend a purser for the Dolgarreg Mine. If not disposed of, get it for my cousin, Tubbs, the bearer. The qualification is fifty 5L. shares, 2L paid, for the purchase of which I will be answerable."
"Gad, he's not a bad sort Is it vacant still, and how much shall I get ?"
"Go on to Dumbrell, Mincing Lane, at once," said Barrel, dashing a couple of scrawls across my cousin's letter.
Dumbrell I found, after a good deal of difficulty.
"You're a lucky fellow, Tubbs," he said; " I was this moment going to write and promise the berth to Jacob Faithful, the member for Middleton, for a nephew of his; but your uncle's such an old friend of mine you shall have it We're going down, a lot of us, to Llangarreg to-morrow; 9 A.M. Euston Station. Join us there. Capital thing. Look here."
Dumbrell went to his safe, and produced a number of little parcels carefully wrapped up in tissue paper. He placed them on the table, on which they rattled with a dull, heavy thud.
He opened out one or two of the parcels—yellow, glorious ingots of gold—and read from the labels upon them—
|" May the
||5th, 3 oz."
||6th, 5 oz."
||7th, 8 oz."
"We started a new Erlanger at noon on the 6th, and you see our production more than doubled."
"What's an Erlanger?"
"Oh, it's a new machine, invented by an American of that name. Splendid fellow, Erlanger. You'll see him tomorrow. He's down there superintending. Come, I think we may have a bottle of fizz and some luncheon on the strength of the new appointment. Thomas, run over to Simcox and tell him to send over a lobster-salad and a Stilton, sharp; and get up a bottle of Moet; and ask Mr. Parry if he'll come down and join us."
Under the influence of the champagne and lobster-salad; of the drive in Dumbrell's well-appointed mail-phaeton, drawn by a chestnut and bay, with magnificent shoulders and action, through the life and splendor of Hyde Park in high season; of the stroll under the lordly trees of Kensington, to the music of the Coldstreams' band, amongst the fair women and shiny-coated men, the well-graced actors in the high booth of Vanity Fair; of the dinner in Onslow Square, served amongst sparkling crystal and bright flowers ; of the fair, bright face of Bella Barrel, the sister of my friend the stockbroker, and the daughter of the house, my poor head, used only to the somewhat sombre life of Peagreen Street, Alchester, was in danger of losing its balance.
"If this is business," I said, as I sipped a winding-up brandy and soda at the Tavistock that night—"if this is business, count me in."
THE misery of a long railway journey is considerably alleviated by a well-filled hamper, good cigars, and three companions who love a rubber; so we reached the Dol-brandneth station on the Great Western line in good condition.
"Did you get my telegram, major, for the box-seat ? "
Dumbrell jumped out of the carriage and addressed the coachman, an immensely tall, thin man, with longer legs, more tightly draped than ever I beheld in mortal, dressed in a gray suit; a blue bird's-eye scarf the only piece of color about him, if you except his glowing wrinkled-up face. With eyeglass in his eye he was glowering over the way-bill, whilst his faithful henchman was bustling about looking after the luggage and the passengers.
"'Es, I got it"
"You've kept the seat for me ? "
"Been engaged for a fortnight," said the major, levelling his disengaged eye at the querist.
When I saw the exceedingly pretty girl who graced the box-seat of the Hie Away coach, I wasn't surprised that Dumbrell's telegram came too late.
Ah, never more amongst the hills of Wales shall we hear the rattle of the coach, the hoof-beat of the well-mettled team. The steady trot up the long slope, the slate rocks bristling overhead, the Camlan fretting and foaming down below in the wooded gorge ; the hills opening out into the peaceful upland valley; the dash down that steep hill-side, slipper on and break hard down—(gad, if anything should give way I)—the gallop along the level, looking back at the sweet lake of Mwynycil, pleasant retreat of Sybaritic trout-fishers, never more shall be ours save in dreams. Ah I now we are pounding up the steep pass, looking into the hoar recesses of the hills, and now by the little gloomy pool resort of fabled giants, and now at full speed along the level table-land, glancing up at the clouds which hang about the seamed sides of Hennfynydd ; and now, as the horses smell their oats, with more impetuous swing we rattle down the roads overhung with ash and hazel, the valley widening out, the river broadening, until the gray walls and blue roofs and smoke haze hanging in the clear evening air show us the end of our journey. Longa via finis !
When the coach stopped at the Royal Eagle Hotel, Llancarreg, the portico and the whole front of the house was crowded with on-lookers. Big bearded men from California or Australia; swart men from Cornwall; black and sandy Cymry from the slate quarries, and the nondescript tourist variety—from all these went up a mighty fume of tobacco.
"See that little stout fellow with the wooden leg ?—that's our captain," said Dumbrell as he swung himself off the roof of the coach.
The captain and a number of other men came forth to greet us. There was much hand-shaking, congratulation, and gloating over a little ingot of gold which the captain produced from his waistcoat-pocket.
"Captain Williams, allow me to introduce Captain Tubbs, our new purser."
The captain took off his hat and made a flourish with the stump of his leg.
"Proud to make Captain Tubbs' acquaintance."
My poor father had served his country for five-and-thirty years, and even now was only a captain by courtesy; and here had I, a beardless youth, acquired the honorable title at a bound.
As we stood discoursing by the door, there came to us a tall sallow man with grave dark eyes, eyes which looked steadily into yours without winking, but which closed at regular intervals, and opened again with a snap. Dumbrell seized him heartily by the hand.
"Tubbs, this is Erlanger, the man who has opened out the great store of wealth which lies in the Welsh quartz. This is the inventor of the great machine called after him, the man who is helping to make our fortunes."
"Well," said the American, laughing, "I don't seem to care much whether I make your fortunes or not, if I can make a pile for myself. You'll see the machines at work to-morrow. The more gold you make the more there'll be for me. Let's liquor, for that's the correct idiom, isn't it ? "
Erlanger dined with us, and proved a very gental, companionable man. As we sat at our dessert in the bay win-Sow of the hotel, we heard a great row outside, and presently saw a little crowd of shouting, gesticulating Cymry, the nucleus of which was a red-headed man, who rushed forward into the arcade of light which beamed from our gas-lit window, and, flourishing a hammer round his head, called out—
"Erlanger, you dirty old thief, come out and fight like a man, like a darned Yankee Doodle cockadoodle doo !''
And here our friend's excitement took another turn, and he began to flap his elbows and crow, to the accompaniment of shrill Celtic laughter.
The American grinned and turned to us.
"He's very wild to-night is Dominicho."
"Why do you keep such a drunken, impudent scoundrel in your employment, Erlanger ? "
"Well, he knows more about amalgum than any man I ever knew. He knows more about the Erlanger machines than any other man in creation. You'll find it out when he's gone; you won't get as much by half an ounce a ton."
"We'll risk that," said Dumbrell. "I fancy our captain here will work the thing as well as that tipsy—what is he-Irishman ? "
"I'm hanged if I know what he is. I picked him up in Naples when I was making a tour of the European continent. I should say he was a cross between an Irishman and a Maltese, with a dash of nigger about him. Well, I reckon you won't be sorry to be rid of us, Captain Williams. You feel like the captain of a barque who's got the pilot aboard; you ain't quite the cock on your own quarter-deck, eh?"
"Well, indeed," said Captain Williams. "I hope she'll turn out well. I'll do my best for her; yes, sure."
After the table was cleared, we held a meeting of the Board. I took my seat beside the secretary with a bran-new account-book before me. Dumbrell took the chair, and the month's accounts were submitted.
They proved eminently satisfactory. The Dolgarreg Gold, Silver, Copper, and Lead Mining Company had been in existence two months. During that time their operations had been principally confined to testing the quality of the rock and the dip of the strata They had commenced driving a level, and were taking off the surface rock ; and even from that, when crushed, they obtained a good percentage of gold With only one head of stamps at work, and one Erlanger's machine, they had extracted, from a hundred tons of quartz, fifty ounces of gold. During the last week, when two Erlangers were going, the results had been still better; and on this especial day, from three tons of ore, nine and a half ounces of gold had been produced. The ingot itself, hot from the crucible, was produced—a tan-gible proof which could not fail to convince the most sceptical. The latter part of our proceedings was conducted in whispers, the door having been locked.
The result was so eminently successful that we looked at each other in amazement. Was there not here "a poten-tiality of acquiring riches beyond the dreams of avarice ? "
It was only a question of plant—more stamps and more Erlangers. Six new Erlangers had just been put up, making eight in all. These, under a contract with Erlanger, were to be paid for at the rate of £100 each, but Erlanger had also stipulated for a royalty of a twenty-fourth of the gold produced under his process.
"These royalties are the deuce," said Dumbrell; "there's the Crown royalty, and Sir Wigkin's royalty ; and now this thing is turning out so well, we should try to buy up Erlanger. What will he take down, do you think ? Call him in and ask him."
Erlanger came in : the question was put to him.
"Well, gentlemen, I've done a good trade with you, and I don't want to make a hard bargain. I calculate each of these machines of mine will work a ton a day. I calculate you make three ounces a ton—you'll make four or five, it's quite likely. Well, take three ounces; that will give me about ten shillings a day for each machine; with eight machines, that's four pounds a day. No ; I don't think I'll deal. I like your mountainous country. I enjoy your hospitable ways: I think I'll stay among you for a while, and see after my royalties."
We looked rather blank. £1,200 a year out of our profits seemed so exorbitant for the mere use of a machine—the rent of a man's brains.
"Come, Erlanger," said Dumbrell, "let you and I talk the matter over by ourselves, and see if we can't come to some arrangement."
The two went out to hold a private conference, and presently Dumbrell returned, beaming.
"He'll take £3,500 down for the whole lot, and license us to use sixteen machines."
The Board drummed with their fingers on the table, In token of approval A minute was unanimously passed approving of the bargain, and the Board broke up and I went off to bed.
A peaceful night in the hill country ; the quiet stars shin-ing out, and the dim outlines of the hills soothing the soul, like the echo of distant music; and then the wash and gurgle of the river. But with a crash and clang, making night hideous, hark to the miner's band I Following that, a free fight amongst a dozen inebriated Cymry : much cry and little wool But the wash of the river, the silent music of the mountain, lasts out these discords.
How sombre and gray are the towns of the Cymry I huddled together in the valleys for warmth and shelter; visibly the homes of a beaten race, of an unsuccessful people. As I stood by the inn-door, in the early morning, gray stone buildings shutting up my sight in all directions, felt oppressed with the weight of the dull, aimless, nerveless life about me. It was not till I had passed out of the little town, and on to the bridge which spanned the river; that I felt a rebound from this oppression. Looking down the stream, I saw a broad meadow, a quarter of a mile in length; on the north side ran the Deva, shooting over a shallow gravelly bed; on either hand there rose a sloping bank of broken hills, covered with ash, hazel, and oak, here and there showing a mass of primeval rocks. Amongst the trees peeped out the ashlar-built houses of the wealthy, and thereabouts grew the broad-leaved chestnut and the massive beech, and here and there the swarthy pine. Above rose cragged and splintered rocks, and a range of heather-covered heights, and, frowning over these, one dark point of Henn-fynydd.
A man was fishing on the stream, coming up the water towards the bridge. As he neared me I recognized Erlanger. He came to me on the bridge, and sat down beside me on the parapet. He had a couple of dozen of little trout in his basket.
"There's little skelping creatures, " he said; "but they eat nice, too, fried-up crisp."
He pulled out a cigar-case, and offering me a Manilla, he began to smoke.
"You like a pipe best, do you? Well, now, pipes are meant for leisure men, students and so on; there's too much machinery about pipes; your pouch and your case, and your wire for poking it up, and your stopper for ramming it down. I took to these Manillas out in India, and I haven't smoked anything else since."
To sit on a bridge crossing a sparkling stream, on a bright May morning, smoking a pipe, with a companion who is smoking a good cigar, comes as near to supreme enjoyment as a man can well attain on this side of the silent stream.
The man who smokes the cigar misses the subtle perfume, the divine aroma, and his joy is not perfect
Amongst the hidden uses of things, I once thought I had discovered in the luxury and vanity, in the pomp and pride of the world, a compensating aroma for humble noses. But the weeds are so rank.
"What do you think of our mine?"
"Well, it looks well; but a mine's like a horse, you must back it at a long price, and can't expect to win every time. But if I had got some throw-away money I'd just as soon put it in that as in anything else. Have you got anything in it ? "
"Only a hundred pounds in shares."
"Ah, that will be nothing to you; you won't miss it if you lose."
"I should miss it, though ; except that and what my dad can spare me, I haven't got a rap."
Erlanger drew in a great mouthful of smoke and blew in forth through mouth and nostrils in a mighty cloud.
"I'd sell if I were you: what's the price now ? "
"Our £2 paid shares were at 2 premium last night at the Eagle."
"Ill buy the half of them at that price. Twenty-five shares at £4, is it a deal ? "
I thought for a moment A hundred pounds in hard cash in my hands, who had never had even a five-pound note to call my own : and yet these Americans were so sharp. I looked at my companion : there was a kindly twinkle in his eye which determined me.
Erlanger took out of his breast-pocket a roll of notes, and picked out ten crisp new Bank of England ten-pounders, and banded them to me. We walked back to the hotel to break fast I mentioned to one or two of my friends that Erlanger had been buying of me at £4, and I heard afterwards the report sent the shares up another 10S., and that then Erlanger sold a little parcel of five-and-twenty, just to put him in ready cash, he said.
The Dolgarreg Mine was about eight miles from Llancarreg. The four-horse coach which ran between Llancarreg and Caergwyn passed within two miles of it, and I had arranged to go by that conveyance, which started at 10 A.M., whilst the directors and a few local shareholders had chartered a vehicle for themselves, and were coming on at a later hour. It was early in the year, the stream of tourists had not set in, and I was the only passenger on the coach. To a man who had just emerged from the flats of East Anglia, I can't imagine a more complete enjoyment than the coach-drive of the night before and the one I was now taking. Passing over the bridge on which I had rested in the early morning, the road skirted the north side of the valley, till it debouched upon a triangular plain formed by the junction of two rivers. Here it took a sudden turn to the right, and, ascending the bank of the larger river, crossed it higher up on a gray-stone bridge. Then, bearing sharply to the left, it followed the course of the united rivers, now rapidly broadening into an estuary. The road did not run upon the alluvial plain, but was terraced out of the overhanging rocks, which closely hemmed in the river-bed and the strip of water meadows which enclosed it, and ever and again it quitted the valley, taking to some parallel ravine, the disused bed of countless centuries ago. As we neared the sea and felt the soft western breeze, the road ran along the very edge of the river-tide some fifty feet below. The tide was nearly at its full, just rippled here and there by the wind; but in the sheltered bays from which the rocks rose precipitously, the hills towering above, the rocks and hills were mirrored in the tranquil bosom of this fairy lake. For lake it seemed, its outlet hid in the sudden turn it took, some two miles away, the hills wrapping it up on every side.
I don't think the scenery much impressed the merry little Englishman who drove the coach: flicking at the chaffinches with his whip, as they darted amongst the bushes, trying to upset an old man's wheelbarrow with the near hind wheel, double-thonging an unfortunate Cambrian who wasn't sufficiently spry in getting his wagon out of the way, he at length engaged in a wordy war with his horse-keeper, who sat behind, his arms folded, moody and sullen.
"Tombach, you old rogue, you were drunk last night."
Tom grinned faintly, but couldn't gainsay it.
"Would you believe it, sir?" turning to me, "I found the tipsy old wretch lying dead drunk on the floor of the stable ?"
"No, indeed, Mis Morton : you big liar, how dare you take a poor man's character away ? "
"What!" shouted the coachman ; "do you mean to tell me I didn't find you on the stable floor ? "
"No, Mis Morton ; it's a lie, indeed it is; I was in a stall among the straw quite tidy and comfortable." Here the coach gave a lurch, and Taffy had to hang on by his toes and nails, our facetious coachman having, in rounding a corner, of malice prepense, edged the hind wheel over a big stone, and, the coach being light, it gave a tremendous kick, and nearly pitched the Celt into the middle of a heap of sharp loose stones. Tombach swore straight on end in good round English, for five minutes. We excel in blasphemy, we English, and all races we come in contact with find our oaths more expressive than their own. The coachman laughed till he cried, and nearly upset the coach in his transports; recovering, he pulled sharp up by a one-arch bridge which spanned a mountain torrent, now turbid and white with powdered quartz.
"This way to the gold mine, sir; that path to the right, and straight up to the top of the mountain. Thankee, sir; good-day." And away went the coach, leaving me at the foot of Moel Vammer.
It was a stiff climb up the side of the ravine till I reached the secluded cwm, where the stream, which had been descending in a series of leaps, took a more placid course. Along the slope of this cwm the pathway ran, till taking another sharp turn upwards it lost itself on the bluff breast of the Vammer.
But I saw my destination, for, perched up on a shoulder of the mountain, I spied a cluster of huts and the outline of a big wheel ; I heard, too, the muffled beat of the stamps, and the sharp clink of the miner's pick.
PART II.—THE WAY Down.
IT was on a Saturday that I commenced my first day's duty at the mine. It was not the pay-day, which occurred every other Saturday, and I had little to do except to stroll about the mine, watching the operations of crushing the quartz and the revolving Erlangers. My home was a little wooden hut, sheltered from the east by a rocky buttress. From the door I could see a broad strip of the Irish Channel, the placid estuary winding up among the hills, the dark precipices of Henfynydd frowning from the opposite side, and the mountains of Caerleon stretching out into the sea so far that they seemed like an opposing coast of dark blue hills.
The mine buildings were a row of wooden sheds covering the batteries of stamps and the Erlangers; at the further end was a small stone building, which contained a furnace. This was the laboratory, or melting-house, where the amalgam from the Erlangers was transmuted into glowing ingots.
The Ertanger machine was in the form of a double cone <>, which revolved rapidly upon gun-metal bearings. A hollow tube, perforated with minute holes, like a nutmeg-grater, ran through the centre of the cone in a line with the axis : this tube was filled with quicksilver, the cones were filled with crushed quartz, and the machine started. By the operation of centrifugal force the quicksilver was driven in minute particles through the mass of quartz, picking up the gold in its way, till it became a treacly amalgam. By a simple mechanical contrivance the motion was reversed, and the amalgam driven back into the central tube. This is about as near a description of the actual machine as, with the fear of patent and other laws before my eyes, I can venture upon. Don't go and construct a machine upon the same principle; it mightn't answer.
There was a practicable but very rough road for carriages to the mine. I had the choice of ascending and descending the mountain daily, and taking lodgings at Llancarreg, to come backwards and forwards by coach, or of living in the little wooden hut, in a Robiuson Crusoe sort of fashion. I determined on the latter course. The captain's lady kindly undertook to do my cooking, for a weekly honorarium, which she afterwards claimed as a sinecure pension. Cooking! Ye gods ! if to scarify, greasify, and filthify, good, wholesome victuals, be cooking, let me be a Patagonian and eat raw fiesh. The commissariat difficulty didn't affect our worthy captain. He lived on tea and bread and butter, varied with oatmeal; if he had a feed of flesh occasionally, he enjoyed it the more, greasy and sodden.
Dominicho inhabited a little hut partitioned off the machine sheds. He could there lie in his lair and watch the precious Erlangers. He generally spent his nights at Llancarreg, drinking and fighting, but would always be back at the mine ere dawn to start the machines. All day long he would lie in his hut, sleeping and drinking; but when evening came, and the result of the day's work was to be ascertained, he would crawl out and reel towards the machines. No hands but his might touch the precious amalgam; no one but he might regulate the speed of the machines and the consistency of the quartz paste.
Our directors came up in the afternoon, and Erlanger was with them. They brought hampers full of the materials of a picnic, and we dined on a jutting rock looking towards the sea. We had toasts and speeches afterwards, and were jolly enough, drinking success to everybody, and plenty of it Erlanger was especially jovial. His swart face was lighted up with good humor. It was his last night with us, and he had in his pocket a check for £3,500, signed by two directors, and counter-signed by the secretary. I also placed my initials in the corner of the check—"Entd A. H. I. ; " and one of my first duties was to enter into a handsome vellum-bound book—"Capital account, per Contra Cr.,
"By cash to Erlanger for Machines and Royalty redeemed, £3,500."
"Per Contra," also, a call would be necessary. Our nominal capital was £100,000 in 20,000 £5 shares. £32,000 of this capital had been paid up, and had been spent, and this was the way it had gone.
The vein of auriferous quartz was first discovered by one Jones, a quarryman. He confided the secret to two of his friends, who clubbed together their means, and got a " tack note " from Sir Wigkins. Having made a hole in the ground, their funds failed, and they sold the tack note lot £150 to another Jones. He and a mining engineer went shares in the adventure, and the latter, being well known In the City9 succeeded in floating a company, to which they sold their mine for. £30,000. Only ten thousand, however, were in hard cash, the other twenty were in paid-up shares, so the vendors of the mine retained a preponderating influence in it Thus the only real capital of the concern was the public money, the remaining 16,000 shares, on which £2 had been, paid. Then from 32,000 deduct 10 for purchase of mine, I for preliminary expenses, 10 for plants and machinery, 7 for tramways and waterways, 3 1/2 for Erlangers, and you will see that a solitary " monkey " was all our available balance. We therefore had a Board meeting that evening at Llancarreg, and decreed a call of £1 per share.
Reader, were you ever a capitalist, having a lot of money which you did not particularly want, and which you might invest in anything you took a fancy to ? I was once, long ago, in Wales, with youth and health and pluck, and a hundred pounds in hard cash. And the rotundity and symmetry of my stock tickled the fibres of my heart, and woke into activity all my acquisitive propensities. After all those propensities are but instincts of self-preservation. To have a little island all to ourselves, to be safe from the seething tide, to be a little apart from the crush and clamor, from the foul blows and fetid smells of the battle—no, scramble of life, all our hope of such a happiness lies in our power to grasp and hold; else, strong swimmers as we may be, we must give up our souls in the dark waters; tall men and stout hitters, we must rot in the earth, trodden underfoot in the mad rush of fools. And so I very much longed to stick to my hundred pounds.
The impending call would reduce my capital to £75, not such a nice, pleasant sum at all; and then I was still liable to £50 unpaid on my remaining shares.
It was evening, about 8 o'clock, when our meeting broke up, and I made my way from amongst the excited crowd of speculators at the Eagle to the quiet bridge outside the town. Erlanger was sitting on the parapet, in the moonlight, smoking. I lit my pipe, and seated myself beside him, and we sat some while silent The moonlight had not reached the town, which lay in the shadow of the hill over which she rose : it lay there dark and grim, only an inverted cone of misty light rose up from the market square, where the shops were lighted up and the hotels were flaring with gas. The miners' band was playing in the square, and, mellowed by distance, the sounds were harmonious enough.
"Home? sweet Home," was the tune they were playing, and the familiar tones carried my thoughts away to the little back parlor in Alchester, where my mother would now be sitting plying her needle, and my old dad would be plodding away at yesterday's "Times," ever and again reading out aloud some interesting paragraph. Erlanger, too, seemed to feel the tune, and his eyes looked soft for a moment.
'' It's a pretty tune that of yours. Home! I guess, though, you English think too much about home; where a man's work is, that's his home, I reckon. I wasn't thinking just now of the store down Tennessee, where I was raised, but of a little white house in Ceylon, where I was coffee-planting; of a dark, graceful girl, and a little pickaninny rolling about in the shade. It's sixteen years ago I lost them ; the youngster would be your age about by now. I always feel a kind of warmth to a youngster his age.
'' Now look here," he said, laying his hand on my shoulder, "get out of this here mine; get your money out, I mean. It's all well enough for these smart City chaps, they can work the thing up and down as it suits them, and they always know how to get out in time. Sell the rest of your shares, this call has knocked them down to par, but you'll find plenty to buy them at that. Go to the Eagle this very minute and sell them all."
"But I shall lose my place if I do, I expect—to hold shares is part of my qualification. And Dumbrell has been so kind to me, and it looks like deserting the ship."
"Just look here, Tubbs, if Dumbrell says anything to you," here Erlanger whispered in my ear, "he sold out yesterday, all but his bare qualification."
I walked back to the Eagle, and went into the landlord's little sanctum.
"Williams! I want to sell five-and-twenty Dolcarregs; what are they selling at ? "
"Just par; do you want to sell at once ? "
"I'll get you a customer at 5 discount"
"Done, I'll sell"
Williams went out and presently returned with a cheque for £43 15S., which I pocketed, and went to look up our captain; for we were going to drive back to the mine that night in the Company's dog-cart.
I went to six different public-houses, at each of which I ascertained he had just left; so I doubled back and caught HIM in the middle of his second round. His intellect was usually clearer when he was a little inebriated; but he was very loth to leave his friends, and I had a big job to haul him away. As we were starting from the door of the Eagle Dumbrell came out and stopped us.
"A word with you, Tubbs."
I went back into the hotel and he drew me into a private room.
"What's this I hear about your selling out your shares? Do you know, young man, that we shall probably dismiss a servant who has so little confidence in our Company ? "
I felt rather foolish. After all Erlanger might have deceived me about Dumbrell, and I didn't like the idea of taxing him with his operation, as, if I were mistaken, he would probably cut off my connection with his Company then and there.
"I didn't think you would look at the matter in that light: the shares were mine to do as I liked with."
"Nonsense, Tubbs, you know very well that all our officers, directors and all, must hold a certain amount of stock."
Now I knew very well, from a careful study of the prospectus, that the qualification of a director was fifty shares.
"Do you want me to buy the fifty shares you have left?"
Dumbrell started, turned a little red.
"What do you know about my shares?"
"Why, when the captain of the ship is getting out, it's time for the purser to look ofter himself."
"What do you know, Tubbs ? " he said, taking me by the arm. "What have you heard? Do you mean to buy in now? Come, give me the office."
I laughed, and said, "Am I to be dismissed ? "
"Dismissed, nonsense; I didn't know you were in the swim. Who sent you the telegram ? Old Barrel ? sly old dog, fancy his palming you off as a raw lad from Norfolk." What are you going to do, Bull or Bear ? "
"I'm going to sleep on the bosom of Moel Vammer, that's what I'm going to do. Good-bye, old fellow."
We were presently behind the swish-tailed chestnut dashing along to Dolcarreg. As we crossed the bridge Erlanger was still sitting on the parapet smoking : he waved a good-night and that was the last I saw of him.
As a rule I don't think a sunrise is worth getting up for, but on this particular Sunday morning it was one of the divinest sights it has been my lot to witness. When I came out of the hut, I rubbed my eyes and felt myself all over, to assure myself that I had not passed away from the body and entered into a more ethereal world. For during the night a white opaque mist had drifted from the sea into the valley, filling it up with snowy vapor; the projecting shoulder, on which was my hut, was a little island, a heavenly eyrie; over and against me the purple heights of Hennfynydd just tinged with pink, rose out of the vapory sea, and behind me the crags of Mammer; but all the lower world was hidden. The rising sun tinged the white fleecy cloud-waves with a pearly pink. One listened for the trumpet of the archangel; one looked for some wondrous sign of heavenly brightness; but none came. Only the soughing of the west wind, which came rustling in from the sea, shattering the heavenly ocean and revealing the living world below.
The broken masses of vapor rolled up the hill-sides, wreathing away into invisible mist under the sun's more powerful rays, but still hanging in snowy masses in the deep rifts and cwms. The tide is half flood, and yonder, on the sands at Aber, is rolling up in long low waves tinged with the pure blush of morning; a schooner in the bay is working off and on waiting for sufficient water on the bar, and, on the stubby stone pier, those little black dots are the ship's husband, and the master's wife, and perhaps the little bairnies looking out for dad. Is all well on board? Is all well at home ?
After the splendor of the morning the day dragged somewhat Happy as is the bachelor's Sunday morning, the protracted, dawdling breakfast, the leisurely pipe afterwards, the uncut " Field " to open and discuss, the tankard of Bass to restore suspended animation, yet about the time when the well-dressed crowds are thronging out of church or chapel there falls upon one a sort of blankness. Just as the schoolboy who has played truant in the bright spring morning, loitering back, espies his brisk schoolfellows, with their satchels, hurrying home to their midday meal, and thinks, "Ah! it would have been all over now, and no probable birching to encounter;" so did I, with the traditions of a Puritan ancestry hanging about me, feel a little quivering of the spirit at having spent what my grim old grandfather would have called a "godless Sunday." And then, too, to a lonely man the fresh bonnets and pretty faces, the rustle and flutter of womankind about one, the pleasant contact in the church porch with dainty muslin skirts and cunningly embroidered jupons freshen one up and bring a gleam of brightness into the day. Yes, I ought to have walked off to Llancarreg and gone to church. Then, too, perhaps, I could have faced that dish of woolly chops, simmering in grease, which Mrs. Captain Williams had prepared for my refection.
Nearly all the men employed in the mine were Welshmen, but amongst a number of hands who had just been taken on were two or three Irish, who, having been turned off some railway works in the Principality, had found their way to Llancarreg. Their engagement and my arrival had happened at the same time, and, I afterwards heard, had been connected in the minds of the Welsh miners with a fancied scheme of supplanting their own captain and themselves with a hated Sassenach chief and still more hated Gwydde-lod.
Wales has no local traditions—none but the most puerile at least, and those mostly vamped up by native dilettanti; but deep in the mind of the Cymry is a hatred of the Gwyddel, or Irishman. Just as quarrels between near relatives take a more embittered and venomous form than broils amongst strangers, so does this kindred tribe of Cymry hate its cousin the Gael. I don't think the hatred is reciprocated, I don't think the Irish care a button about the Welsh one way or the other; but certain it is that that the Welshman will endure the seed of the trailing serpent, his English neighbor, rather than an Irishman. The cause may be sought in the fact that in that fierce contest for the soil caused by the swelling wave of eastern conquest driving all the outer circles of population one into the other, the Gael, though harried out of Western Britain and forced to cross the sea, must have left many scattered remnants of the race to carry on a predatory war with their conquerors; and in their turn to be hunted down like wolves whenever the petty squabbles of the Welsh chieftains allowed them to turn their energies to the merely useful purpose of establishing internal security. The Welsh miners lodged for the most part at the foot of the mountain in a hamlet which lay close to the bridge which crossed our stream; there they had a chapel of their own, and a little public-house. The natives would not receive the Irishmen into their houses, so we had run up a bothie of planks and turf, in which they lived. One side of it was formed by a precipitous wall of rock, and the other faced a steep slope covered with loose and shifting stones. The pathway from my hut passed immediately in front of the bothie, and so on to the mine buildings: there was no other access to my hut than this, except from above by the steep grassy slope which led to the summit of the Mammer, but to reach that slope from the side of the mine involved a detour of some mile and a half.
I was sitting dull and disconsolate, smoking a pipe in front of my hut, the day was overcast, the wind had got round to the north-east and was howling dolefully amongst the rocks; a drizzling mist hid the summits of the hills and was fast wrapping up the landscape in gloom. To my home-staying mind the sense of loneliness and desertion was almost overwhelming, and the mist seemed to be fast cutting me off from all the living world. I was startled by a pebble which dropped on my hat; another followed, and, looking up, I saw half-way up the slope, and just within the line of driving vapor, the flutter of a woman's petticoat.
I sprang quickly up the steep and slippery slope, but the female form had disappeared; higher and higher I mounted, the fierce sleet cutting into my face like flicks from the point of a whip, but still no sight of the petticoat I had now lost sight of my hut; and though but a few hundred yards away, I might as well have been miles distant. I was no mountaineer, had never been in cloudland before, and was puzzled and confused at my position ; there were some awkward precipices to the right and left, and the gloom of the mountain top struck me with awe. At this moment I heard a gentle "cohoo" from above, and striking upwards in the direction of the sound, which was renewed every few minutes, half an hour's scramble brought me into a little plateau; a rough heap of stones and rugged wooden staff stood out dimly against the lift of the sky. Crouched under the lee side of this heap of stones was a woman.
After scrambling up to the top of a mountain in the track of a young female, one wouldn't be likely to be very particular about an introduction ; so, plumping myself down on a stone close beside my fair unknown, I took hold of her hand; her face was muffled up in a yellow bandanna hand-Kerchief, and with my other hand I ventured to push this back, and caught sight of a dark handsome face lighted up by brilliant black eyes. She jumped to her feet.
"You make too free, young Sassenach !" she screamed into my ears. The roar of the wind above us blew the words straight from her mouth into the great void. It was necessary to scream to be audible.
"I beg your pardon."
"I beg your pardon."
We looked at each other's eyes for the first time: we laughed.
Really there wasn't room for two people to stand sheltered by the heap of stones except edgewise close together. Under these circumstances I could not avoid offering my companion the support of an arm. Her waist was very tiny, round and firm, the arm which went round it was almost as large, it would have gone twice round had I two elbows. To hear a word one must put one's mouth close to an ear, to an ear peeping out of a wealth of dark hair, dishevelled by the wind. On the top of a mountain acquaintance ripens fast.
"You must go away, young Sassenach, you who are so bold; no, I mean it You must go away to Llancader now, directly in a minute, for my countrymen are arming to drive you away. Anwyldad ! and perhaps they will kill you. Oh, go away—run at once!"
I didn't understand her, didn't know what to say ; but she evidently expected an answer. She put up her face as I stooped down to speak. I attempted a shout, but—it was so much easier to kiss that glowing upturned face.
She took hold of me by the collar with both hands and shook me well.
"Silly boy! I want to save you; follow me—come."
And she broke away and ran down the hill-side. I followed, squashing through the spongy moss, her gleaming skirt my only guide.
We came to a little rift, a water-course, now dry, quiet and sheltered ; we could hear our own voices.
"See," said my companion, "follow this track; it will bring you into the old hill road to Aber ; you can't get wrong then ; keep straight on; don't try to get back to Llancader; there are men watching for you."
"The miners; they have sworn to drive you and the Irish out of the country."
"But where are the police, and the magistrates ?"
"Police! dearanwyl! the poor boy! don't trust to the police ; do you think they'd venture on the Mammer, even if you could find one or two in the next six hours ? No, my poor dear, you must go right away to Aber this very minute."
"And what will they, do with me if I don't go? "
"Listen: there's a steam tug in the harbor, the master is a brother of one of your miners ; they will tie you up and put you in a cart, and carry you to the creek, and then they'll pitch you and the Irishmen into the hold, and you'll be at Holyhead before you see the daylight again."
"The d—d brutes! " I said, grinding my teeth and stamping with impotent rage.
"No," she said, "not brutes; they're my countrymen, and I have two brothers among them. Away with you! Good-bye!"
"Stop, my dear ; you've been very kind to me, and I don't even know your name."
"And, Margaret, why did you come to tell me of this ? "
"Why?—well, indeed, I don't know; but I didn't like to see a nice boy ill-treated. But I must go now ; mother will miss me. Good-bye ! and start away."
"Margaret, I can't go; you must show me the way back to the mine, there's a dear! "
'' No, captain ; indeed you mustn't go back ? Don't, oh, don't go back! You may go back to-morrow—to-morrow in the morning early, but not to-day, no, no ! "
She took my arm and pushed me a little way along the path to Aber.
Once more my arm was round her waist, and I kissed her on each of her glowing cheeks.
"Good-bye, sweet Margaret! a Sassenach doesn't leave his post; but you're a dear kind girl. Good-bye, anwylbach ! "
Ah, how easy to learn is the language of love ! Half an hour on the hill-side with a pretty girl would give one a better grounding in Welsh than a whole course of lectures from the (future) professor of Celtic literature at Oxford.
"Up the hill-side till you cross the stream, and then down a path to the right," Margaret called after me as I strode away.
In my hut once more, with time to think. The prospect of a physical danger not actually present generally acts as a stimulant to the nerves, and it was so in my case. I fell exhilarated at the responsibility and peril to be faced. True that if one succumbed quietly and allowed oneself to be tied up into a bundle and pitched neck and crop, with two or three odoriferous Irishmen, into the hold of a greasy brig, one would probably escape with only a few hours' detention and inconvenience; but surely no man could submit to such indignity : better be knocked on the head at once. No, I swore to myself, this amusing little comedy, this farce of an attack upon four unarmed men, should turn out a tragedy indeed, rather than the plot should succeed. But I must think how they are to be met Let me see: last night, when I sat on the parapet of the bridge at Llancarreg, and saw the moon rise over the flank of Hennfynydd, it was eight o'clock; I heard it toll from the church tower; now the moon rises an hour later each night, and to-night it will rise at nine. At eight it will be pitch dark, and then the attack will be made. It is now four, and I have four hours to prepare. But, first, let me arrange my private affairs. I had in my pocket about a hundred and fifty pounds in notes; these I placed in my tobacco-jar, and filled it up with loose papers and stones ; I then went behind my hut to find a suitable cache for it. The rock behind had been partly quarried out to make room for the hut, and some loose rough blocks of stone were lying together. I raised one of the smaller of these blocks, and placed my jar in a crevice, replacing the stone. Yet, although my notes would be safe enough there should I survive to look after them, yet in the event of my being knocked over, they might lie till the day of judgment; and I didn't care to make either the Bank of England or a Welsh miner my residuary legatee. I must write to Tom and tell him where the deposit was, but must also provide against the possibility of my papers being overhauled by the victors in the fight, who could likely enough read English, and who had probably heard of my having received a good deal of money. Yes, it would do Tom good, poor fellow ; pay off his Cambridge duns and set him on his legs. I would write him a letter in French, and leave it in the captain's hut. The captain and his wife had gone to a preaching meeting miles away, were coming back next day, and had left their hut in my charge.
I wrote my letter to Tom—
"MON CHER TOM,—Derriére ma hutte á la mine de Dolcarreg, cette hutte avec le toit de feutre, il y a une pile de grandes masses de pierre. Otes la plus haute pierre, c'est une pierre pyramidale, et tu trouveras un pot de tabac; fume le tabac et garde le pot en souvenir de ton frére.
and felt more comfortable. Now for our means of defence. Could I rely upon the Irishmen ? Why, of course, I could. Who like an Irishman, on your right hand or your left, in the supreme press of the fight, if you have but the heart and the pluck to show him the way.
The three Irishmen were snoozing on their blankets in the little bothie. When I called them they came blinking into the light What is there about the Irish, the true aboriginal face, which gives one such an idea of age, of an aged and timeworn race; as though the same souls had been used up in other bodies for countless ages, and now look out sorrowfully through the dim fleshly eyes, wearying for their final release. There is the same look about the Tartar.
Their dull wooden faces lighted up when I told them of the fight in prospect.
"Be Jazes, well stand by the captain ! Just wait while we get our sticks; a fine oak saplin' I cut in Kilabeg, yer hanner—'twill suit the Welshmen's heads, begorra! "
There were three of them, as I said, John Moriarty, Sam O'Connor, and Peter Blake. John had a red head, and was the only one of the lot who could open his mouth, and he was not very communicative. They went to find their sticks, and came back looking blank.
"The sticks is gone, yer hanner."
There had come up the day before a consignment of picks for the miners' use. The picks were gone.
"They're not gone far, I'll bet," I said. "Master Taffy wouldn't carry those heavy picks a long way; but it might take us a week to find them."
"What will we do without our sticks?" spoke the Irish* man, doubtfully.
There were plenty of boards and rafters, and there was a circular saw on the premises ; but what use is a slip off a deal board in a man's fist ? If we could only find the picks their handles were of stout, well-seasoned ash, fitted to withstand the rough jar of the strike on the solid rock. What could they have done with them ? They must be somewhere close at hand. A white footprint gave me the clue. Within the shed which contained the stamps, at one end, the nearer end to the Erlangers and Dominicho's den, was a huge conical heap of quartz, pulverized to the consistency of a coarse powder. The man who had hidden the picks had trodden in a little puddle of water formed by the dripping of the trough which ran overhead to supply the big wheel ; he had trodden into the heap of white quartz powder, and had left the imprint of his foot in white paste on the storehouse door-sill. A few prods with a long lath soon discovered a hard lump in the middle of the pile. The picks were there, sure enough. We had the heads off half-a-dozen in a minute. Why would not we use them as they were ? Well, a pick is not a handy weapon in a free fight You may probably knock over your first man, probably make him a subject for the coroner ; but then you are done. Now, with a handy cudgel you may, if you are lucky, knock two or three out of time.
Dominicho was not in his lair; he had no doubt gone to Llancader to drink, and would not be back till morning, probably.
What were our chances of holding our position ? I examined the ground carefully. The plateau on which the mine buildings were erected—partly a natural terrace, partly quarried into the solid rock—narrowed suddenly at the end the furthest from the road by which you entered. In the narrowest part, with just room enough in front for two people to pass, stood the Irish bothie. A jutting rock cut this off from the little nook which held my hut, access to which could only be gained by a narrow path cut in the face of the rock. The escarpment of the mountain below was not perpendicular, but sloped at an angle of about 70 degrees. Evidently the defensive position was the little terrace on which stood my hut It had also the advantage that retreat was possible; the grassy slope which led to the summit of the Mammer might enable us to escape the result of a defeat I took no counsel with my forces, nor did I form any elaborate plan of defence. A great general cares not for advice, his plans are always simple ; but his the keen eye which sees the supreme crisis, his the firm hand which hurls the thunderbolt of war crashing through the weak place in the enemy's array.
I had also learnt a lesson from the merry little coachman who had driven me to Dolcarreg.
"Now, sir," he said, "if ever you 'as a row with a Welshman, and you sees as it must end in a fight, don't you go and talk with him, and argue with him; he'll talk himself into a rage, and get his dander up by degrees, and p'r'aps he'll end by giving you a licking, for they're bad to I at once they get started. But jest you go quietly up to him, and give him a good smack in the face—you'll knock all the fight out of him; hell get under the table and roar for mercy."
This saying had I laid up in my mind, and it bore fruit afterwards.
IT was now five o'clock; the heavy clouds which nauhung around the hills parted for a while ; there was fair weather and bright sunshine far out at sea ; the sun, declining in the west, lit up the broad reaches of shining yellow sands below ; the flood-tide was beginning to make. Far out at sea, the purple hills, their bases hidden in a light ethereal mist, shone out like the mountains which rise from the heavenly horizon.
Just now, in Alchester, my mother and dear old dad were taking their early tea, the old woman made up for evening service, with her Bible and Prayer-book by her side, all the places looked out
The steam-tug anchored in the tideway was swinging to the flood. From the black smoke which her funnel emitted she was evidently getting up steam.
A thought occurred to me: our friends would no doubt choose the darkest part of the night to make their attack upon us. What an advantage it would be to us in our final rush if we could have a good bright light thrown into the faces of the enemy! Amongst my schoolfellows at Alchester I had been noted as a skilful firework-maker. We had two good hours before us, and it would while away the time at all events if I tried to make a Bengal light. There was plenty of powder—barrels full; there was also sulphur and antimony in the laboratory. The powder must be pounded. There was a big mortar, but it was iron, and pounding gunpowder in an iron mortar is not always good for the eyesight ; but O'Connor didn't mind the job, and I gave him only about half an ounce at a time, and as he had no whiskers to singe, and such an ugly mug that you might have rubbed him down with a red-hot poker without spoiling his complexion, I felt quite easy about him. With the office ruler, and gum, and unlimited writing-paper, I made half-a-dozen very respectable cases ; and we had mixed the composition, and filled and rammed them by seven o'clock; and then I withdrew my forces into the hut, and waited events.
The slight break in the weather had been only a temporary lull ; again the wind was howling, and the mist and rain were driving furiously athwart the mountain-side. Not a pleasant night to be out; and I began to hope that our Celtic foes would not face the storm.
In a waterproof coat and leggings I scrambled to the edge of the cliff and listened. I could, ever and anon, when the wind abated, hear the dash of the swollen brooklets, and now and again the bleat of a mountain sheep. Stay : in that momentary hush I distinctly heard a human foot-tread—a loosened stone I could hear clattering down the mountain-side ; but next moment the soughing of the angry wind obliterated every other sound. I crept back to the hut, and administered a ration of whisky to the whole of the forces.
"Now, boys, you'll just keep quiet till you hear me whistle three times, so, and then you'll just follow me."
"We'll be there, yer hanner, never fear!"
But it was a false alarm. Tired of waiting, I ventured into the mine works. All was quiet there, quiet and dark But hark ! By Jove! they're upon me ! A confused clatter of footsteps, and I was surrounded by a crowd of dark moving forms; but I was not recognized, and stole quietly away round the rocky corner, and safe. It was now almost calm, and I could hear the tramp of many men. They halted at the further gable of the bothie, and there was a sound of picks at work against the walls—soon a slight crash as the roof fell in, and a rush forward of men. They intended to catch the Irishmen in the ruins of their cabin. They were evidently posed at finding nobody at home. I could see a dark cluster of men, and hear muttered tones.
The time had come ; thrice I whistled, and then lighting a vesuvian, fired my blue light. For a moment it smouldered, and then brightly blazing up revealed the whole scene; the rocks and crags around, the crowd of men with blackened faces. At my signal the Irishmen ran out; the Cymry stood blinking at the dazzling light. As I ran forward into the middle, flinging the blue light into the thick of them, the whole scene disappeared into intense blue-black darkness. A flash of intense brightness seemed to dart into my brain, a noise and whiz as of a thousand steam hammers. I fell on one knee, then seemed to sink away altogether, clutching at the terrible shapes which floated in the unformed void through which I fell.
I next remember awaking to consciousness in my hut, a couple of tallow candles were flaming and smoking in the draught, upheld in beer bottles. John Moriarty was standing beside me with a basin of water and a wet rag in his hand. The other two were seated on the settle by the fire. They were refreshing themselves by occasional applications to my whisky bottle. Fah ! the smell of that Irish whisky ! Far from averse to other condiments, even now the taste and smell of Irish whisky inspires me with unutterable disgust.
"We bate 'em finely, yer hanner, the dirty Welsh blackguards ; but whist now, you'll do 'beautiful, av you'll only be asy and quiet."
John, with skill and tenderness, adjusted the bandage round my aching, throbbing head.
"But, John, how did you manage to drive them away. there were such a lot of them ? n
"Well, yer hanner, we were routing them and bating them finely, but what frightened the souls out of them was a mighty scream from behind them, and the sound of two or three men rolling over the precipice, and then they ran, yer hanner, and Peter Blake and I, yer hanner, we druv 'em right off the mountain."
So I fell asleep in the arms of victory, and woke next morning with nothing but a bandage round my forehead and a splitting headache to remind me of the battle.
But they found Dominicho at the bottom of the height with his neck broken. A knife was clenched in his hands, it was covered with blood, and there were traces of blood on the rocks above. Clearly the miners had turned Dominicho out of his lair; his must have been the footstep I had heard the night before, before the others came: and Dominicho in his fury had driven his knife into one ortwo of the Cymry. Hence the diversion which had secured us the victory. Whether he had tumbled over the rock, or been hurled over by the infuriated miners, we never knew; nor did we learn anything about the wounded Welsh : they kept quiet enough. There was an inquest of course, a Welsh jury empanelled, and a verdict, "Accidental death," and there was an end of the matter.
The death of Dominicho threw Captain Williams on his own resources in working the Erlangers. We were rather short-handed on the Monday, but there was plenty of stuff to work up, and the Erlangers were busy all the day. Captain Williams suggested that as there was a dead man lying in the shed, the work should be suspended for a day, till the inquest had been held, but the "auri sacra fames'I was upon us all The directors would return to London the next morning, and were anxious to have a favorable result of this day's work especially. Williams shook his head: " Indeed there's nothing gold hates so much as death ; and I had a bad dream last night It was a great preaching meeting we were at in the evening, and certainly there was some talk about the Diaoul—yes, indeed. But I dreamt that I was on the Mammer at midnight, and there was a bright light, and the Diaoul himself appeared in the middle of it, and it was just on the strike of the Cerrigwen vein, the one that's yielding so well; and he stood there and grinned at me, and he was for all the world like Erlanger in the face, and there he stood smelling the wind, till he gave a loud scream and struck his foot into the ground; and I'm frightened he's drove all the gold into the middle of the Mammer."