To reach the shaft the trapped men were in was in itself a somewhat hazardous undertaking for despite the bal boys working at the pumps and the main pump emptying the bottom of the pit, the men and I were ankle deep in water.
In the dark ahead of us the sound of running water could be heard and the faint cries of men already working to clear the rockfall. We were doubled over as we slowly made way along the shaft to the opening of the new development* that veered away at an angle and sloped as soon as we entered it. My heart beat fast I must confess as light from our tallows reflected in water that was now swirling around our calves.
In the crouched position I was in it was a difficult task to turn one’s head. Behind me, Talan had carried two boryers* and a big hit* and the others a banjo shovel* each.
“I am thinking we clear an alcove either side of this shaft just behind the rocks to be removed,” I shouted above the noise of the men ahead. “We dare not use black powder.”*
Talan placed a hand on my shoulder. “Then, sir, you should let us pass you by, and we will get to work with urgency.” He squeezed past me and nodded back to the opening of the development. “You might better serve us, sir, if I may suggest – by supervising the bal boys and having a sled ready for the injured man if he cannot walk.”
I had not given much thought to the injured man but now realised that despite freeing him we still had to get him to the surface and then to Condurrow House. It was unfortunate that Elys was gone for the night for her housekeeping skills had nursed me to good health several times during the five years she had been with me. I knew that one of the bal maids waiting at the entrance would help in this regard.
After passing the men, I reached the main shaft once again and sought out the bal boy pumping water into a channel that sloped to the central pit.* Dressed in trousers cut below the knee and with little more than a shirt and ragged jacket on his back, I felt concerned for him. With nothing on his feet and with water dripping on him from above, he was soaked through as he worked the wooden cradle pump.
“You are doing good work,” I cried. “Keep I up, I will send you help for without your effort the water could cause problems with the rescue. Well done, lad.”
The boy looked up at me and renewed his effort with a broad grin that revealed several of his lower teeth missing, an unfortunate sign of a lack of health-giving food in his eating habits.
At the shaft’s exit I scrambled across some loose shale and mounted a ladder. Several more men were on the way down and I called to them across the ‘Devil’s Hole.’
“The men below may need a sled for the injured. One of you make haste and get one lowered to the shaft and new development.”
Thomas Hudson, a strong young man from the north of England who had been employed just a week earlier, started back up the ladders. I carried on climbing until I reached the man ladder* and within a short time was stepping across the open ground where many Bal Maids were gathered with lamps that shone through the early evening darkness.
“We be settin’ up a table and blanket or two in Jiggin’ House, sir,” called one. “There be hot tea and bannocks* as well.”
I thought it strange to see the maids without head dress for once and noticed that most wore their hair in one long pigtail or bunched in bun on top of head. All were concerned at the job in hand for I had learned from Pumbleweood that during the time my uncle Silas had ruled over the mine there had been many such incidences of falling rock where safety measures were not taken care of. Indeed, I was keen to know what had happened this night. Besides safety of the men in mind, I could ill afford accidents that not only cost money but spoiled the good name of the mine.
“I thank you, ladies,” I replied as I strode by.
I entered the engine room and found Pumblewood busying himself with some bal boys barrowing coal into the boiler house. It was a scene of confusion, but an ordered one with every man laboring in his job.
“The water pump be working quite regularly,” he informed me. “May God help those trapped.”
“I’m sure,” I agreed.
“I knew it would not be long.” Said Pumblewood. Looking over my shoulder. “And I can guess who this is come calling to see what mischief can be caused to his advantage.”
An open carriage and two had pulled up just inside the yard entrance and two men alighted. One I recognised right away as Tomas Treleaven, my main competitor for the coal quay and the owner of Gaevor Tin mine. The man had connections to some influential people in London and was a wealthy man from a long line of landowners. A devious man, I had been introduced to him some three years before and heard rumours of his ruthless business practices. Several mines were now under his ownership after the owners had been forced to sell after a spate of mysterious accidents in three smelting works and mechanical failures of pumping operations. This had caused repair expenses to be more than the owners could afford.
“Good evening to you, Arthur. I was near the Sherrif’s office when one of your men came for him. He is following on with more men in case they are needed. Can I be of any assistance?” he wheezed.
I shook his hand. His soft voice lacked concern. At first sight and meeting, his warm countenance gave one the impression of a man at peace with the world, but it was his small slate-gray eyes that stared unblinkingly into one's face, searching and surmising, that gave away his true intentions. A more instant lack of trust had I never felt before as on our first meeting and one that still made me guard my tongue.
Treleaven was a clean-shaven man with a gaunt ruddy face and squat fat nose that was disfigured by a large wart on the right nostril. His grey hair was brushed straight back from the forehead and tied in a short tail that hung above his collar. At just over five feet tall, his paunchy figure made him waddle when he walked. Fine food and plenty of it had damaged his health and a scarlet redness in his cheeks and neck were the result of overindulgence with Port wine. As he spoke, his breathing was laboured.
“I have the matter in hand, Mr Treleaven, but thank you for your concern. We have no fatalities but there are men trapped, and we are working to free them at this moment.”
“You have not met my sister’s son, Arther. This is Alan.”
A young man stepped forward, hand outstretched. Like his uncle, he was dressed in a smart black business suit but there the likeness ended. I shook his hand and knew he was not a man used to manual work. His hands were soft, and as I looked into his face, I saw the arrogant unmasked look of a city popinjay and immediately took a dislike to the fop. His lean figure towered above his uncle, eyeing me with a look I can only describe as purposefully snobbish. His short brown hair had been brushed forward and to the right, and I detected the strong smell of lavender dabbed about his person. An altogether unfriendly person, I did not smile nor offer any comment to him.
Treleaven lowered his head slightly as though looking at the ground about us and fixed a serious gaze on me through upturned eyes. He parted his jacket and pushed his fingers into the pockets of his waistcoat.
“Arthur, this accident will set you back a penny or two and on top of the cost of the quay it will do harm, I fear, to you and indeed the mining community hereabouts. The contract for the build, as I remember well, does stipulate the completion of work has been fixed for January, six months hence.”
We were slowly walking back toward the engine house, and although I wished not to be rude, it was my intention to check on all things that were more urgent than Treleaven’s appearance. He sensed my impatience and came to the reason for his visit.
“Arthur, I don’t want you to thank me, but I am prepared to make an offer for your mine and the contract that would make you a very wealthy man.” He waved his hand toward Alan who was stepping gingerly over puddles of water that lay in the wet mud. “Alan here is not a tin miner, as you can see, but he is an accountant and would do well here, managing the mine.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of several horses and a closed wagon with a large red cross painted on each side. The Sherrif, Septimus Beatocks, reigned his horse to a halt in front of us.
“Think on what we have discussed,” said Treleaven. He waved at the Sherrif and nodded farewell to me. “I’ll be in touch shortly.” He left with his nephew trailing behind him, still hopping across puddles.
“There ever be bad news that man be like a ferret with fire up his rear,” exclaimed Septimus. “Okay, what be the situation, young Arthur?”
I thought nothing of the strange encounter with Treleaven and gave Septimus my report. “There will be no work for your men at the rock fall, but the boys on the pumps and the stoker in the boiler house could be relieved for a while. The maids have tea and bannocks for all, and they will be standing by with tallow wicks to replace those in the pit.”
Septimus issued his orders, and we both made our way back to the pit. Although the tallows glowed on the walls, it was a black and dangerous place at night and not one that entertained the faint at heart. As we stood looking into this abyss, a shout from one of the bal boys echoed up,
“Be an injured man a coming. We needs a rope for a-hauling from strong arms above. There be two injured and four with hardly a breath of air between them.”
Thomas Hudson appeared beside us with the sled and called back. “The rope be comin’ and a sled. Make sure the man is tied tight.”
The rope was wound and tied to the sled and Hudson, with Septimus’ aid, lowered it down the pit. Within a few minutes, we were pulling the sled slowly up. Below, the voices of the miners could be heard shouting with some glee to celebrate a successful rescue.
Pumblewood brought the two hospital attendants to outside as the sled was laid on the ground. The injured man, although covered with open cuts and suffering a broken leg, was carried away accompanied by a second man with minor cuts. It was with much relief I saw them away and the rest of the community at the tea station.
The following morning brought bad news from the scene of the accident. Water had flooded the new development and the mined tunnel that led to it. The pump had worked all night, and by dawn, the seam of rock that gave way to water pressure had sealed itself to some extent with silt and attle. Filling that tunnel with more attle* from other workings would take days and all the while the pump would work full time, using much of my coal supply for the boiler house that powered the condenser and pumps engine. This situation would also cause production to be reduced by half. All this besides having to start another new development using a smaller workforce available. My mind being in many places at the same time, it was a wonder that Elys had ordered me to take powders for an aching head and worried mind.
Treleaven’s arrival and sketchy offer had, I surmised, not been something of a sudden decision but one of careful planning. I was sure his had been a well thought out plan and a question of waiting for the right opportunity to catch me at a weak moment. If he thought I would think kindly to his offer of help, he would be sadly mistaken. No matter the problems in mine production or building the new quay, I determined I had the right men behind me and the will to succeed. Work would start the following day to repair the mine and I would hold a meeting of adventurers* to assure them of our continued success and the contract news which I hoped would draw more investment from their wallets. Treleaven I would have to face, but on my terms.
With all this in mind, I decided to return to Condurrow House for a rest and to make Elys my own true love if she would have me. Mining was a dangerous and costly way of life and so was wooing a woman.
New Development – a new tunnel through seams of ore
Banjo Shovel – Short handled shovel shaped like a Banjo
Black Powder – Dynamite (Seams were blasted as the rock was too hard for pick and shovel)
Big Hit – Sledge Hammer
Boryer – Steel or Iron Rod for boring holes in rock for dynamite
Central Pit – A huge round hole dug down vertically, and from this, mine shafts were dug horizontally at various levels
Bannocks – Lumps of cooked pastry
Attle – Waste Rock