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Title: The Blind Brother - A Story of the Pennsylvania Coal Mines
Author: Greene, Homer, 1853-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Blind Brother - A Story of the Pennsylvania Coal Mines" ***

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THE BLIND BROTHER.



SUNSHINE LIBRARY.

    =Aunt Hannah and Seth.= By James Otis.
    =Blind Brother (The).= By Homer Greene.
    =Captain’s Dog (The).= By Louis Énault.
    =Cat and the Candle (The).= By Mary F. Leonard.
    =Christmas at Deacon Hackett’s.= By James Otis.
    =Christmas-Tree Scholar.= By Frances Bent Dillingham.
    =Dear Little Marchioness.= The Story of a Child’s Faith and Love.
    =Dick in the Desert.= By James Otis.
    =Divided Skates.= By Evelyn Raymond.
    =Gold Thread (The).= By Norman MacLeod, D.D.
    =Half a Dozen Thinking Caps.= By Mary Leonard.
    =How Tommy Saved the Barn.= By James Otis.
    =Ingleside.= By Barbara Yechton.
    =J. Cole.= By Emma Gellibrand.
    =Jessica’s First Prayer.= By Hesba Stretton.
    =Laddie.= By the author of “Miss Toosey’s Mission.”
    =Little Crusaders.= By Eva Madden.
    =Little Sunshine’s Holiday.= By Miss Mulock.
    =Little Peter.= By Lucas Malet.
    =Master Sunshine.= By Mrs. C. F. Fraser.
    =Miss Toosey’s Mission.= By the author of “Laddie.”
    =Musical Journey of Dorothy and Delia.= By Bradley Gilman.
    =Our Uncle, the Major.= A Story of 1765. By James Otis.
    =Pair of Them (A).= By Evelyn Raymond.
    =Playground Toni.= By Anna Chapin Ray.
    =Play Lady (The).= By Ella Farman Pratt.
    =Prince Prigio.= By Andrew Lang.
    =Short Cruise (A).= By James Otis.
    =Smoky Days.= By Edward W. Thomson.
    =Strawberry Hill.= By Mrs. C. F. Fraser.
    =Sunbeams and Moonbeams.= By Louise R. Baker.
    =Two and One.= By Charlotte M. Vaile.
    =Wreck of the Circus (The).= By James Otis.
    =Young Boss (The).= By Edward W. Thomson.

  THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY,
  NEW YORK.



[Illustration]



                                  THE
                            BLIND BROTHER:

                              A Story of
                      THE PENNSYLVANIA COAL MINES

                                  BY
                             HOMER GREENE

 _The author received for this story the First Prize, Fifteen Hundred
         Dollars, offered by the_ YOUTH’S COMPANION _in 1886,
                      for the Best Serial Story_

                          FOURTEENTH THOUSAND

                               NEW YORK
                      THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY
                              PUBLISHERS



                           Copyright, 1887,
                      By THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO.



                                  TO

                              MY MOTHER,

               WHOSE TENDER CARE AND UNSELFISH DEVOTION
                       MADE HAPPY THE DAYS OF MY
                             OWN BOYHOOD,

                          This Book for Boys

                     IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED,
                            BY THE AUTHOR.

Honesdale, Penn., April 6, 1887.



CONTENTS.


 CHAPTER                           PAGE
      I. LOST IN THE MINE            11
     II. THE BURNED BREAKER          30
    III. THE UNQUIET CONSCIENCE      50
     IV. THE TRIAL                   69
      V. THE VERDICT                 89
     VI. THE FALL                   109
    VII. THE SHADOW OF DEATH        128
   VIII. OUT OF DARKNESS            148



THE BLIND BROTHER.



CHAPTER I.

LOST IN THE MINE.


The Dryden Mine, in the Susquehanna coal-fields of Pennsylvania, was
worked out and abandoned long ago. To-day its headings and airways and
chambers echo only to the occasional fall of loosened slate, or to the
drip of water from the roof. Its pillars, robbed by retreating workmen,
are crumbling and rusty, and those of its props which are still
standing have become mouldy and rotten. The rats that once scampered
through its galleries deserted it along with human kind, and its very
name, from long disuse, has acquired an unaccustomed sound.

But twenty years ago there was no busier mine than the Dryden from
Carbondale to Nanticoke. Two hundred and thirty men and boys went by
the slope into it every morning, and came out from it every night. They
were simple and unlearned, these men and boys, rugged and rude, rough
and reckless at times, but manly, heroic, and kindhearted.

Up in the Lackawanna region a strike had been in progress for nearly
two weeks. Efforts had been made by the strikers to persuade the miners
down the valley to join them, but at first without success.

Then a committee of one hundred came down to appeal and to intimidate.
In squads of ten or more they visited the mines in the region, and, in
the course of their journeyings, had come to the Dryden Slope. They
had induced the miners to go out at all the workings they had thus far
entered, and were no less successful here. It required persuasion,
sometimes threats, sometimes, indeed, even blows, for the miners in
Dryden Slope had no cause of complaint against their employers; they
earned good wages, and were content.

But, twenty years ago, miners who kept at work against the wishes of
their fellows while a strike was in progress, were called “black-legs,”
were treated with contempt, waylaid and beaten, and sometimes killed.

So the men in the Dryden Mine yielded; and soon, down the chambers and
along the headings, toward the foot of the slope, came little groups,
with dinner-pails and tools, discussing earnestly, often bitterly, the
situation and the prospect.

The members of a party of fifteen or twenty, that came down the airway
from the tier of chambers on the new north heading, were holding an
especially animated conversation. Fully one-half of the men were
visiting strikers. They were all walking, in single file, along the
route by which the mine-cars went.

For some distance from the new chambers the car-track was laid in the
airway; then it turned down through an entrance into the heading, and
from that point followed the heading to the foot of the slope. Where
the route crossed from the airway to the heading, the space between
the pillars had been carefully boarded across, so that the air current
should not be turned aside; and a door had been placed in the boarding,
to be opened whenever the cars approached, and shut as soon as they had
passed by.

That door was attended by a boy.

To this point the party had now come, and one by one filed through the
opening, while Bennie, the door-boy, stood holding back the door to let
them pass.

“Ho, Jack, tak’ the door-boy wi’ ye!” shouted some one in the rear.

The great, broad-shouldered, rough-bearded man who led the procession
turned back to where Bennie, apparently lost in astonishment at this
unusual occurrence, still stood, with his hand on the door.

“Come along, lad!” he said; “come along! Ye’ll have a gret play-spell
noo.”

“I can’t leave the door, sir,” answered Bennie. “The cars’ll be comin’
soon.”

“Ye need na min’ the cars. Come along wi’ ye, I say!”

“But I can’t go till Tom comes, anyway, you know.”

The man came a step closer. He had the frame of a giant. The others who
passed by were like children beside him. Then one of the men who worked
in the mine, and who knew Bennie, came through the doorway, the last in
the group, and said,--

“Don’t hurt the boy; let him alone. His brother’ll take him out; he
always does.”

All this time Bennie stood quite still, with his hand on the door,
never turning his head.

It was a strange thing for a boy to stand motionless like that, and
look neither to the right nor the left, while an excited group of men
passed by, one of whom had stopped and approached him, as if he meant
him harm. It roused the curiosity of “Jack the Giant,” as the miners
called him, and, plucking his lamp from his cap, he flashed the light
of it up into Bennie’s face.

The boy did not stir; no muscle of his face moved; even his eyes
remained open and fixed.

“Why, lad! lad! What’s the matter wi’ ye?” There was tenderness in the
giant’s voice as he spoke, and tenderness in his bearded face as Bennie
answered,--

“Don’t you know? I’m blind.”

“Blind! An’ a-workin’ i’ the mines?”

“Oh, a body don’t have to see to ’tend door, you know. All I’ve to do
is to open it when I hear the cars a-comin’, an’ to shut it when they
get by.”

“Aye, that’s true; but ye did na get here alone. Who helpit ye?”

Bennie’s face lighted up with pleasure, as he answered,--

“Oh, that’s Tom! He helps me. I couldn’t get along without him; I
couldn’t do _any thing_ without Tom.”

The man’s interest and compassion had grown, as the conversation
lengthened, and he was charmed by the voice of the child. It had in it
that touch of pathos that often lingers in the voices of the blind. He
would hear more of it.

“Sit ye, lad,” he said; “sit ye, an’ tell me aboot Tom, an’ aboot
yoursel’, an’ a’ ye can remember.”

Then they sat down on the rude bench together, with the roughly hewn
pillar of coal at their backs, blind Bennie and Jack Rennie, the giant,
and while one told the story of his blindness, and his blessings, and
his hopes, the other listened with tender earnestness, almost with
tears.

Bennie told first about Tom, his brother, who was fourteen years old,
two years older than himself. Tom was so good to him; and Tom could
see, could see as well as anybody. “Why,” he exclaimed, “Tom can see
_every thing_!”

Then he told about his blindness; how he had been blind ever since
he could remember. But there was a doctor, he said, who came up once
from Philadelphia to visit Major Dryden, before the major died; and he
had chanced to see Tom and Bennie up by the mines, and had looked at
Bennie’s eyes, and said he thought, if the boy could go to Philadelphia
and have treatment, that sight might be restored.

Tom asked how much it would cost, and the doctor said, “Oh, maybe a
hundred dollars;” and then some one came and called the doctor away,
and they had never seen him since.

But Tom resolved that Bennie should go to Philadelphia, if ever he
could save money enough to send him.

Tom was a driver-boy in Dryden Slope, and his meagre earnings went
mostly to buy food and clothing for the little family. But the dollar
or two that he had been accustomed to spend each month for himself he
began now to lay aside for Bennie.

Bennie knew about it, of course, and rejoiced greatly at the prospect
in store for him, but expressed much discontent because he, himself,
could not help to obtain the fund which was to cure him. Then Tom, with
the aid of the kindhearted mine superintendent, found employment for
his brother as a door-boy in Dryden Slope, and Bennie was happy. It
wasn’t absolutely necessary that a door-boy should see; if he had good
hearing he could get along very well.

So every morning Bennie went down the slope with Tom, and climbed
into an empty mine-car, and Tom’s mule drew them, rattling along the
heading, till they reached, almost a mile from the foot of the slope,
the doorway where Bennie staid.

Then Tom went on, with the empty cars, up to the new tier of chambers,
and brought the loaded cars back. Every day he passed through Bennie’s
doorway on three round trips in the forenoon, and three round trips in
the afternoon; and every day, when the noon-hour came, he stopped on
the down-trip, and sat with Bennie on the bench by the door, and both
ate from one pail the dinner prepared for them by their mother.

When quitting time came, and Tom went down to the foot of the slope
with his last trip for the day, Bennie climbed to the top of a load,
and rode out, or else, with his hands on the last car of the trip,
walked safely along behind.

“And Tom and me together have a’most twenty dollars saved now!” said
the boy exultingly. “An’ we’ve only got to get eighty dollars more, an’
then I can go an’ buy back the sight into my eyes; an’ then Tom an’ me
we’re goin’ to work together all our lives. Tom, he’s goin’ to get a
chamber an’ be a miner, an’ I’m goin’ to be Tom’s laborer till I learn
how to mine, an’ then we’re goin’ to take a contract together, an’ hire
laborers, an’ get rich, an’ then--why, then Mommie won’t have to work
any more!”

It was like a glimpse of a better world to hear this boy talk. The most
favored child of wealth that ever revelled seeing in the sunlight has
had no hope, no courage, no sublimity of faith, that could compare with
those of this blind son of poverty and toil. He had his high ambition,
and that was to work. He had his sweet hope to be fulfilled, and that
was to see. He had his earthly shrine, and that was where his mother
sat. And he had his hero of heroes, and that was Tom.

There was no quality of human goodness, or bravery, or excellence
of any kind, that he did not ascribe to Tom. He would sooner have
disbelieved all of his four remaining senses than have believed that
Tom would say an unkind word to Mommie or to him, or be guilty of a
mean act towards any one.

Bennie’s faith in Tom was fully justified. No nineteenth century boy
could have been more manly, no knight of old could have been more true
and tender, than was Tom to the two beings whom he loved best upon all
the earth.

“But the father, laddie,” said Jack, still charmed and curious;
“whaur’s the father?”

“Dead,” answered Bennie. “He came from the old country first, an’ then
he sent for Mommie an’ us, an’ w’en we got here he was dead.”

“Ah, but that was awfu’ sad for the mither! Took wi’ the fever, was he?”

“No; killed in the mine. Top coal fell an’ struck him. That’s the way
they found him. We didn’t see him, you know. That was two weeks before
me an’ Tom an’ Mommie got here. I wasn’t but four years old then, but
I can remember how Mommie cried. She didn’t have much time to cry,
though, ’cause she had to work so hard. Mommie’s al’ays had to work so
hard,” added Bennie, reflectively.

The man began to move, nervously, on the bench. It was apparent that
some strong emotion was taking hold of him. He lifted the lamp from his
cap again and held it up close to Bennie’s face.

“Killed, said ye--i’ the mine--top coal fell?”

“Yes, an’ struck him on the head; they said he didn’t ever know what
killed him.”

The brawny hand trembled so that the flame from the spout of the little
lamp went up in tiny waves.

“Whaur--whaur happenit it--i’ what place--i’ what mine?”

“Up in Carbondale. No. 6 shaft, I think it was; yes, No. 6.”

Bennie spoke somewhat hesitatingly. His quick ear had caught the change
in the man’s voice, and he did not know what it could mean.

“His name, lad! gi’ me the father’s name!”

The giant’s huge hand dropped upon Bennie’s little one, and held it in
a painful grasp. The boy started to his feet in fear.

“You won’t hurt me, sir! Please don’t hurt me; I can’t see!”

“Not for the warld, lad; not for the whole warld. But I must ha’ the
father’s name; tell me the father’s name, quick!”

“Thomas Taylor, sir,” said Bennie, as he sank back, trembling, on the
bench.

The lamp dropped from Jack Rennie’s hand, and lay smoking at his feet.
His huge frame seemed to have shrunk by at least a quarter of its size;
and for many minutes he sat, silent and motionless, seeing as little of
the objects around him as did the blind boy at his side.

At last he roused himself, picked up his lamp, and rose to his feet.

“Well, lad, Bennie, I mus’ be a-goin’; good-by till ye. Will the
brither come for ye?”

“Oh, yes!” answered Bennie, “Tom al’ays stops for me; he aint come up
from the foot yet, but he’ll come.”

Rennie turned away, then turned back again.

“Whaur’s the lamp?” he asked; “have ye no licht?”

“No; I don’t ever have any. It wouldn’t be any good to me, you know.”

Once more the man started down the heading, but, after he had gone a
short distance, a thought seemed to strike him, and he came back to
where Bennie was still sitting.

“Lad, I thocht to tell ye; ye s’all go to the city wi’ your eyes. I ha’
money to sen’ ye, an’ ye s’all go. I--I--knew--the father, lad.”

Before Bennie could express his surprise and gratitude, he felt a
strong hand laid gently on his shoulder, and a rough, bearded face
pressed for a moment against his own, and then his strange visitor was
gone.

Down the heading the retreating footsteps echoed, their sound swallowed
up at last in the distance; and up at Bennie’s doorway silence reigned.

For a long time the boy sat, pondering the meaning of the strange man’s
words and conduct. But the more he thought about it the less able was
he to understand it. Perhaps Tom could explain it, though; yes, he
would tell Tom about it. Then it occurred to him that it was long past
time for Tom to come up from the foot with his last trip for the day.
It was strange, too, that the men should all go out together that way;
he didn’t understand it. But if Tom would only come--

He rose and walked down the heading a little way; then he turned and
went up through the door and along the airway; then he came back to his
bench again, and sat down.

He was sure Tom would come; Tom had never disappointed him yet, and he
knew he would not disappoint him for the world if he could help it. He
knew, too, that it was long after quitting-time, and there hadn’t been
a sound, that he could hear, in the mine for an hour, though he had
listened carefully.

After a while he began to grow nervous; the stillness became oppressive;
he could not endure it. He determined to try to find the way out by
himself. He had walked to the foot of the slope alone once, the day Tom
was sick, and he thought he could do it again.

So he made sure that his door was tightly closed, then he took his
dinner-pail, and started bravely down the heading, striking the rails
of the mine car-track on each side with his cane as he went along, to
guide him.

Sometimes he would stop and listen, for a moment, if, perchance, he
might hear Tom coming to meet him, or, possibly, some belated laborer
going out from another part of the mine; then, hearing nothing, he
would trudge on again.

After a long time spent thus, he thought he must be near the foot of
the slope; he knew he had walked far enough to be there. He was tired,
too, and sat down on the rail to rest. But he did not sit there long;
he could not bear the silence, it was too depressing, and after a very
little while he arose and walked on. The caps in the track grew higher;
once he stumbled over one of them and fell, striking his side on the
rail. He was in much pain for a few minutes; then he recovered and went
on more carefully, lifting his feet high with every step, and reaching
ahead with his cane. But his progress was very slow.

Then there came upon him the sensation of being in a strange place. It
did not seem like the heading along which he went to and from his daily
work. He reached out with his cane upon each side, and touched nothing.
Surely, there was no place in the heading so wide as that.

But he kept on.

By-and-by he became aware that he was going down a steep incline.
The echoes of his footsteps had a hollow sound, as though he were in
some wide, open space, and his cane struck one, two, three, props in
succession. Then he knew he was somewhere in a chamber; and knew, too,
that he was lost.

He sat down, feeling weak and faint, and tried to think. He remembered
that, at a point in the heading about two-thirds of the way to the
foot, a passage branched off to the right, crossed under the slope, and
ran out into the southern part of the mine, where he had never been. He
thought he must have turned into this cross-heading, and followed it,
and if he had, it would be hard indeed to tell where he now was. He
did not know whether to go on or to turn back.

Perhaps it would be better, after all, to sit still until help should
come, though it might be hours, or even days, before any one would find
him.

Then came a new thought. What would Tom do? Tom would not know where
he had gone; he would never think of looking for him away off here; he
would go up the heading to the door, and not finding him there, would
think that his brother had already gone home. But when he knew that
Bennie was not at home, he would surely come back to the mine to search
for him; he would come down the slope; maybe he was, at that very
moment, at the foot; maybe Tom would hear him if he should call, “Tom!
O Tom!”

The loudest thunder-burst could not have been more deafening to the
frightened child than the sound of his own voice, as it rang out
through the solemn stillness of the mine, and was hurled back to his
ears by the solid masses of rock and coal that closed in around him.

A thousand echoes went rattling down the wide chambers and along the
narrow galleries, and sent back their ghosts to play upon the nervous
fancy of the frightened child. He would not have shouted like that
again if his life had depended on it.

Then silence fell upon him; silence like a pall--oppressive, mysterious
and awful silence, in which he could almost hear the beating of his own
heart. He could not endure that. He grasped his cane again and started
on, searching for a path, stumbling over caps, falling sometimes,
but on and on, though never so slowly; on and on until, faint and
exhausted, he sank down upon the damp floor of the mine, with his face
in his hands, and wept, in silent agony, like the lost child that he
was.

Lost, indeed, with those miles and miles of black galleries opening
and winding and crossing all around him, and he, lying prostrate and
powerless, alone in the midst of that desolation.



CHAPTER II.

THE BURNED BREAKER.


For a long time Bennie lay there, pitifully weeping. Then, away off
somewhere in the mine, he heard a noise. He lifted his head. By degrees
the noise grew louder; then it sounded almost like footsteps. Suppose
it were some one coming; suppose it were Tom! The light of hope flashed
up in Bennie’s breast with the thought.

But the sound ceased, the stillness settled down more profoundly than
before, and about the boy’s heart the fear and loneliness came creeping
back. Was it possible that the noise was purely imaginary?

Suddenly, tripping down the passages, bounding from the walls, echoing
through the chambers, striking faintly, but, oh, how sweetly, upon
Bennie’s ears, came the well-known call,--

“Ben-nie-e-e-e!”

The sound died away in a faint succession of echoing _e_’s.

Bennie sprang to his feet with a cry.

“Tom! Tom! Tom, here I am.”

Before the echoes of his voice came back to him they were broken by the
sound of running feet, and down the winding galleries came Tom, as fast
as his lamp and his legs would take him, never stopping till he and
Bennie were in one another’s arms.

“Bennie, it was my fault!” exclaimed Tom. “Patsy Donnelly told me you
went out with Sandy McCulloch while I was up at the stables; an’ I went
way home, an’ Mommie said you hadn’t been there, an’ I came back to
find you, an’ I went up to your door an’ you wasn’t there, an’ I called
an’ called, an’ couldn’t hear no answer; an’ then I thought maybe you’d
tried to come out alone, an’ got off in the cross headin’ an’ got lost,
an’”--

Tom stopped from sheer lack of breath, and Bennie sobbed out,--

“I did, I did get lost an’ scared, an’--an’--O Tom, it was awful!”

The thought of what he had experienced unnerved Bennie again, and,
still holding Tom’s hand, he sat down on the floor of the mine and wept
aloud.

“There, Bennie, don’t cry!” said Tom, soothingly; “don’t cry! You’re
found now. Come, jump up an’ le’s go home; Mommie’ll be half-crazy.”
It was touching to see the motherly way in which this boy of fourteen
consoled and comforted his weaker brother, and helped him again to his
feet. With his arm around the blind boy’s waist, Tom led him down,
through the chambers, out into the south heading, and so to the foot of
the slope.

It was not a great distance; Bennie’s progress had been so slow that,
although he had, as he feared, wandered off by the cross heading into
the southern part of the mine, he had not been able to get very far
away.

At the foot of the slope they stopped to rest, and Bennie told about
the strange man who had talked with him at the doorway. Tom could give
no explanation of the matter, except that the man must have been one
of the strikers. The meaning of his strange conduct he could no more
understand than could Bennie.

It was a long way up the slope, and for more than half the distance it
was very steep; like climbing up a ladder. Many times on the upward way
the boys stopped to rest. Always when he heard Bennie’s breathing grow
hard and laborious, Tom would complain of being himself tired, and they
would turn about and sit for a few moments on a tie, facing down the
slope.

Out at last into the quiet autumn night! Bennie breathed a long sigh of
relief when he felt the yielding soil under his feet and the fresh air
in his face.

Ah! could he but have seen the village lights below him, the glory of
the sky and the jewelry of stars above him, and the half moon slipping
up into the heavens from its hiding-place beyond the heights of
Campbell’s Ledge, he would, indeed, have known how sweet and beautiful
the upper earth is, even with the veil of night across it, compared
with the black recesses of the mine.

It was fully a mile to the boys’ home; but, with light hearts and
willing feet, they soon left the distance behind them, and reached the
low-roofed cottage, where the anxious mother waited in hope and fear
for the coming of her children.

“Here we are, Mommie!” shouted Tom, as he came around the corner
and saw her standing on the doorstep in the moonlight watching. Out
into the road she ran then, and gathered her two boys into her arms,
kissed their grimy, coal-blackened faces, and listened to their
oft-interrupted story, with smiles and with tears, as she led them to
her house.

But Tom stopped at the door and turned back.

“I promised Sandy McCulloch,” he said, “to go over an’ tell him if I
found Bennie. He said he’d wait up for me, an’ go an’ help me hunt him
up if I came back without him. It’s only just over beyond the breaker;
it won’t take twenty minutes, an’ Sandy’ll be expectin’ me.”

And without waiting for more words, the boy started off on a run.

It was already past ten o’clock, and he had not had a mouthful of
supper, but that was nothing in consideration of the fact that Sandy
had been good to him, and would have helped him, and was, even now,
waiting for him. So, with a light and grateful heart, he hurried on.

He passed beyond the little row of cottages, of which his mother’s was
one, over the hill by a foot-path, and then along the mine car-track to
the breaker. Before him the great building loomed up, like some huge
castle of old, cutting its outlines sharply against the moon-illumined
sky, and throwing a broad black shadow for hundreds of feet to the west.

Through the shadow went Tom, around by the engine-room, where the
watchman’s light was glimmering faintly through the grimy window; out
again into the moonlight, up, by a foot-path, to the summit of another
hill, along by another row of darkened dwellings, to a cottage where a
light was still burning, and there he stopped.

The door opened before he reached it, and a man in shirt-sleeves
stepped out and hailed him:

“Is that you, Tom? An’ did ye find Bennie?”

“Yes, Sandy. I came to tell you we just got home. Found him down in the
south chambers; he tried to come out alone, an’ got lost. So I’ll not
need you, Sandy, with the same thanks as if I did, an’ good-night to
you!”

“Good-nicht till ye, Tom! I’m glad the lad’s safe wi’ the mither. Tom,”
as the boy turned away, “ye’ll not be afeard to be goin’ home alone?”

Tom laughed.

“Do I looked scared, Sandy? Give yourself no fear for me; I’m afraid o’
naught.”

Before Sandy turned in at his door, Tom had disappeared below the brow
of the hill. The loose gravel rolled under his feet as he hurried down,
and once, near the bottom, he slipped and fell.

As he rose, he was astonished to see the figure of a man steal
carefully along in the shadow of the breaker, and disappear around the
corner by the engine-room.

Tom went down cautiously into the shadow, and stopped for a moment in
the track by the loading-place to listen. He thought he heard a noise
in there; something that sounded like the snapping of dry twigs.

The next moment a man came out from under that portion of the breaker,
with his head turned back over his shoulder, muttering, as he advanced
toward Tom,--

“There, Mike, that’s the last job o’ that kind I’ll do for all the
secret orders i’ the warl’. They put it on to me because I’ve got no
wife nor childer, nor ither body to cry their eyes oot, an’ I get i’
the prison for it. But I’ve had the hert o’ me touched the day, Mike,
an’ I canna do the like o’ this again; it’s the las’ time, min’ ye, the
las’ time I--Mike!--why, that’s no’ Mike! Don’t ye speak, lad! don’t ye
whusper! don’t ye stir!”

The man stepped forward, a very giant in size, with a great beard
floating on his breast, and laid his brawny hands on Tom’s shoulders
with a grip that made the lad wince.

Tom did not stir; he was too much frightened for one thing, too much
astonished for another. For, before the man had finished speaking,
there appeared under the loading-place in the breaker a little
flickering light, and the light grew into a flame, and the flame curled
around the coal-black timbers, and sent up little red tongues to lick
the cornice of the long, low roof. Tom was so astounded that he could
not speak, even if he had dared. But this giant was standing over him,
gripping his shoulders in a painful clutch, and saying to him, in a
voice of emphasis and determination,--

“Do ye see me, lad? Do ye hear me? Then I say to ye, tell a single soul
what ye’ve seen here the night, an’ the life o’ ye’s not worth the dust
i’ the road. Whusper a single word o’ it, an’ the Molly Maguires ’ll
tak’ terrible revenge o’ ye’! Noo, then, to your home! Rin! an’ gin ye
turn your head or speak, ye s’all wish ye’d ’a’ been i’ the midst o’
the fire instead.”

With a vigorous push, he sent Tom from him at full speed down the track.

But the boy had not gone far before the curiosity that overtook Lot’s
wife came upon him, and he turned and looked. He was just in time to
see and hear the sleepy watchman open the door of the engine-room, run
out, give one startled look at the flames as they went creeping up the
long slant of roof, and then make the still night echo with his cry of
“Fire!”

Before twenty minutes had passed, the surrounding hills were alive with
people who had come to look upon the burning breaker.

The spectacle was a grand one.

For many minutes the fire played about in the lower part of the
building, among the pockets and the screens, and dashed up against
the base of the shaft-tower like lapping waves. Then the small square
windows, dotting the black surface of the breaker here and there up its
seventy feet of height, began to redden and to glow with the mounting
flames behind them; a column of white smoke broke from the topmost
cornice, little red tongues went creeping up to the very pinnacle of
the tower, and then from the highest point of all a great column of
fire shot far up toward the onlooking stars, and the whole gigantic
building was a single body of roaring, wavering flame.

It burned rapidly and brilliantly, and soon after midnight there was
but a mass of charred ruins covering the ground where once the breaker
stood.

There was little that could be saved; the cars in the loading-place,
the tools in the engine-room, some loose lumber, and the household
effects from a small dwelling-house near by; that was all. But among
the many men who helped to save this little, none labored with such
energetic effort, such daring zeal, such superhuman strength, as the
huge-framed, big-bearded man they called Jack Rennie.

       *       *       *       *       *

The strike had become general. The streets of the mining towns were
filled with idle, loitering men and boys. The drinking saloons drove
a brisk business, and the merchants feared disaster. Tom had not told
any one as yet of his adventure at the breaker on the night of the
fire. He knew that he ought to disclose his secret; indeed, he felt a
pressing duty upon him to do so in order that the crime might be duly
punished. But the secret order of Molly Maguires was a terror in the
coal regions in those days; the torch, the pistol, and the knife were
the instruments with which it carried out its desperate decrees, and
Tom was absolutely afraid to whisper a word of what he knew, even to
his mother or to Bennie.

But one day the news went out that Jack Rennie had been arrested,
charged with setting fire to the Valley Breaker; and soon afterward a
messenger came to the house of the Widow Taylor, saying that Tom was
wanted immediately in Wilkesbarre at the office of Lawyer Pleadwell.

Tom answered this summons gladly, as it might possibly afford a means
by which he would be compelled to tell what he knew about the fire,
with the least responsibility resting on him for the disclosure. But
he resolved that, in no event, would he speak any thing but the truth.

After he was dressed and brushed to the satisfaction of his careful
mother, Tom went with the messenger to the railroad station, and the
fast train soon brought them into the city of Wilkesbarre, the county
town of Luzerne County.

On one of the streets radiating from the court-house square, they
stopped before a dingy-looking door on which was fastened a sign
reading: “James G. Pleadwell, Attorney-at-Law.”

Tom was taken, first, into the outer room of the law-offices, where
a man sat at a table writing, and two or three other men, evidently
miners, were talking together in a corner; and then, after a few
moments, the door into an inner apartment was opened and he was called
in there. This room was more completely furnished than the outer
one; there was a carpet on the floor, and there were pictures on the
walls; also there were long shelves full of books, all bound alike in
leather, all with red labels near the tops and black labels near the
bottoms of their backs.

At the farther side of the room sat a short, slim, beardless man, with
pale face and restless eyes, whom Tom recognized as having been in
the mine with the visiting strikers the day Bennie was lost; and by a
round centre table sat Lawyer Pleadwell, short and stout, with bristly
mustache and a stubby nose on which rested a pair of gold-rimmed
eye-glasses.

As Tom entered the room, the lawyer regarded him closely, and waving
his hand towards an easy chair, he said,--

“Be seated, my lad. Your name is--a’--let me see”--

“Tom--Thomas Taylor, sir,” answered the boy.

“Well, Tom, you saw the fire at the Valley Breaker?”

“Yes, sir,” said Tom; “I guess I was the first one ’at saw it.”

“So I have heard,” said the lawyer, slowly; then, after a pause,--

“Tom have you told to any one what you saw, or whom you saw at the
moment of the breaking out of that fire?”

“I have not, sir,” answered Tom, wondering how the lawyer knew he had
seen any one.

“Do you expect, or desire, to disclose your knowledge?”

“I do,” said Tom; “I ought to a’ told before; I meant to a’ told, but I
didn’t dare. I’d like to tell now.”

Tom was growing bold; he felt that he had kept the secret long enough
and that, now, it must out.

Lawyer Pleadwell twirled his glasses thoughtfully for a few moments,
then placed them deliberately on his nose, and turned straight to Tom.

“Well, Tom,” he said, “we may as well be plain with you. I represent
Jack Rennie, who is charged with firing this breaker, and Mr. Carolan
here is officially connected with the order of Molly Maguires, in
pursuance of whose decree the deed is supposed to have been done. We
have known, for some time, that a boy was present when the breaker was
fired. Last night we learned that you were that boy. Now, what we want
of you is simply this: to keep your knowledge to yourself. This will be
to your own advantage as well as for the benefit of others. Will you do
it?”

To Tom, the case had taken on a new aspect. Instead of being, as
he had supposed, in communication with those who desired to punish
the perpetrators of the crime, he found himself in the hands of the
prisoner’s friends. But his Scotch stubbornness came to the rescue, and
he replied,--

“I can’t do it, sir; it wasn’t right to burn the breaker, an’ the man
’at done it ought to go to jail for it.”

Lawyer Pleadwell inserted a thumb into the arm-hole of his vest, and
poised his glasses carefully in his free hand. He was preparing to
argue the case with Tom.

“Suppose,” said he, “you were a miner, as you hope to be, as your
father was before you; and a brutal and soulless corporation, having
reduced your wages to the starvation-point, while its vaults were
gorged with money, should kick you, like a dog, out of their employ,
when you humbly asked them for enough to keep body and soul together.
Suppose you knew that the laws were made for the rich and against the
poor, as they are, and that your only redress, and a speedy one, would
be to spoil the property of your persecutors till they came to treat
you like a human being, with rights to be respected, as they surely
would, for they fear nothing so much as the torch; would you think it
right for a fellow-workman to deliver you up to their vengeance and
fury for having taught them such a lesson?”

The lawyer placed his glasses on his nose, and leaned forward, eagerly,
towards Tom.

The argument was not without its effect. Tom had long been led to
believe that corporations were tyrannical monsters. But the boy’s
inherent sense of right and wrong was proof against even this specious
plea.

“All the same,” he said, “I can’t make out ’at it’s right to burn a
breaker. Why,” he continued, “you might say the same thing if it’d ’a
been murder.”

Pleadwell saw that he was on the wrong track with this clear-headed boy.

“Well,” he said, settling back in his chair, “if peaceful persuasion
will not avail, I trust you are prepared, in case of disclosure, to
meet whatever the Molly Maguires have in store for you?”

“Yes,” answered Tom, boldly, “I am. I’ve been afraid of ’em, an’ that’s
what’s kept me from tellin’; but I won’t be a coward any more; they can
do what they’re a mind to with me.”

The lawyer was in a quandary, and Carolan shot angry glances at Tom.
Here was a lad who held Jack Rennie’s fate in his hands, and whom
neither fear nor persuasion could move. What was to be done?

Pleadwell motioned to Carolan, and they rose and left the room
together; while Tom sat, with tumultuously beating heart, but with
constantly increasing resolution.

The men were gone but a few moments, and came back with satisfied
looks on their faces.

“I have learned,” said the lawyer, addressing Tom, in a voice laden
with apparent sympathy, “that you have a younger brother who is blind.
That is a sad affliction.”

“Yes, indeed it is,” replied Tom; “yes, indeed!”

“I have learned, also, that there is a possibility of cure, if the eyes
are subjected to proper and timely treatment.”

“Yes, that’s what a doctor told us.”

“What a blessing it would be if sight could be restored to him! what a
delight! What rejoicing there would be in your little household, would
there not?”

“Oh, indeed there would!” cried Tom, “oh, indeed! It’s what we’re
a-thinkin’ of al’ays; it’s what I pray for every night, sir. We’ve been
a-tryin’ to save money enough to do it, but it’s slow a-gettin’ it,
it’s awful slow.”

“A--how much”--Lawyer Pleadwell paused, and twirled his eye-glasses
thoughtfully--“how much would it cost, Tom?”

“Only a hundred dollars, sir; that’s what the doctor said.”

Another pause; then, with great deliberation,--

“Tom, suppose my friend here should see fit to place in your hands,
to-day, the sum of one hundred dollars, to be used in your brother’s
behalf; could you return the favor by keeping to yourself the knowledge
you possess concerning the origin of the fire at the breaker?”

The hot blood surged up into Tom’s face, his heart pounded like a
hammer against his breast, his head was in a whirl.

A hundred dollars! and sight for Bennie! No lies to be told--only to
keep quiet--and sight for Bennie! Would it be very wrong? But, oh, to
think of Bennie in the joy of seeing! The temptation was terrible.
Stronger, less affectionate natures than Tom’s might well have yielded.



CHAPTER III.

THE UNQUIET CONSCIENCE.


And Tom yielded.

The whisperings of conscience were drowned in the anticipation of
Bennie’s joy. The fear of personal violence would not have conquered
him; neither would the fallacious argument of compensation by
destruction have done so. But that vision of Bennie, with eyes that
could look into his eyes, with eyes that could see the houses and the
breakers, the trees and the birds and the flowers, that could even
see the far-off stars in the sky at night,--that was the vision that
crowded out from Tom’s mind the sharp distinction between right and
wrong, and delivered him over wholly to the tempter.

But he felt the shame of it, nevertheless, as he answered, in a choking
voice, at last,--

“Yes, I could. A hundred dollars ’d give sight to Bennie. I wouldn’t
lie for it, but I’ll keep still for it.”

Lawyer Pleadwell doubled up his glasses, slipped them into a morocco
case, and slipped the case into his vest-pocket. His object was
accomplished.

“Tom,” he said, “you’re a wise lad. If you keep on in this way, you’ll
make a lawyer; and a lawyer, with so evenly balanced a conscience as
yours, will be a credit to the profession.”

Tom was not quite sure whether this was intended for a compliment or
not, so he simply said, “Yes, sir.”

Pleadwell reached across the table for his high silk hat, motioned to
Carolan to follow him, and went out, saying to Tom as he went,--

“You stay here and amuse yourself; we’ll be back shortly.”

Tom sat there alone quite still. His mind was in a tumult. Is it right?
Is it _right_? Some unseen presence kept crowding the question in upon
him.

What would Bennie say to it?

What would Mommie say to it?

Yet there were no lies to be told; he was simply to hold his tongue.

But was it not shielding a criminal from just punishment? Was it not
virtually selling his honor for money? Would it not be better, after
all, to take back his promise, to do his duty fearlessly, and to
work and wait, patiently and with a clear conscience, for means to
accomplish the desire of his heart for Bennie?

He was just getting into a state of painful indecision when Carolan
came in alone, and closed the door carefully behind him. Without saying
a word, he handed to Tom, one by one, ten crisp, new ten-dollar bills.
The boy had never in his life before seen so much money at one time.
To hold it was like a scene in a fairy story; to own it was to be rich
beyond belief. The whispers of conscience were again stilled in the
novelty of possessing wealth with which such blessings might be bought.

Tom took the money, folded it awkwardly, and placed it in the inside
pocket of his vest. Carolan looked on with apparent satisfaction; then
went and seated himself in the chair he had formerly occupied, without
having uttered a word.

This man was a marked character in the anthracite coal region twenty
years ago. He was known among the miners as “Silent Mike,” was credited
with much native ability and sharpness, and was generally believed to
be at the head, in the anthracite region, of the secret order of Molly
Maguires. He was always shrewd enough not to implicate himself in any
lawlessness. The fact that he so controlled the organization as to meet
his personal ends caused it, eventually, to be split with internal
dissensions. Then, as a new reign of law and order came in, and as
organized labor began to base itself on higher principles, and to work
out its problem with less of vengeance and more of justice, the order
gradually passed out of existence.

Thinking there was nothing more to be said or done, Tom rose to go; but
just then Pleadwell entered, laid his silk hat carefully on the table,
and motioned to him to be seated. Having taken his eye-glasses from
their case and adjusted them carefully on his nose, he said to Tom,--

“It will not be wise for you to make any large expenditures of money
for any purpose until after the trial; and in the mean time it will
be absolutely unsafe for you to disclose to any one the fact of your
having money or the means by which it was obtained. Your own discretion
will teach you this. You understand me, do you not?”

Tom nodded, and Pleadwell continued:

“There is one thing more that I desire to speak of: I have heard that
when you reached the foot of the hill on the night the breaker was
burned, you saw a man come from near the point where the fire broke
out, pass by you in the shadow of the building, and disappear around
the corner by the engine-room. Is this true?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What kind of a looking man was this? Describe him.”

“He was a short man,” Tom replied, “kind o’ slim, an’ he didn’t have
any whiskers”--a sudden thought seemed to strike the boy, and looking
for a moment earnestly at Carolan, and then pointing his finger at him,
he exclaimed,--

“Why, he looked just like--just like him!”

Carolan smiled grimly, but Pleadwell laughed aloud.

“Well, Tom,” he said, “we shall not ask you to tell whom he looks like,
but if I should require your presence at the trial, and should call
you to the witness-stand, you would have no objection, I presume, to
giving a description of the man you saw pass by you in the shadow of
the breaker, just as you have described him to me?”

“No,” replied Tom, “not so long as it’s true.”

“Oh, I should expect you to say nothing that is not strictly true,”
said Pleadwell. “I would not allow a witness of mine to tell a lie.
Well, then, you are to be in the court-room here a week from next
Tuesday morning at nine o’clock. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Carolan, put Thomas Taylor’s name on that subpœna. You will consider
yourself subpœnaed, Tom. Now,” taking a heavy gold watch from his
fob-pocket and glancing at it, “you will have just time to catch the
train north.” Then stepping to the door between the two rooms, and
throwing it open, he said, “Harris, go to the station with this boy,
buy his ticket, and see that he gets the right train.”

Harris was the young man who came down with Tom, and he and the boy
were soon on the street together, walking briskly toward the station.

An hour earlier, when they were coming in, Tom had been very talkative
and inquiring, but now his companion was able to get from him no more
than a simple “yes” or “no,” and that only in answer to questions.

Conversation was impossible to the boy, with his mind so crowded with
perplexing doubts. He could not even take notice of the shop-windows,
or of the life in the streets, but followed blindly along by the
side of Harris. Somehow he felt as though he were walking under a
heavy weight, and that roll of money in his pocket seemed to be
burning him where it rested against his breast. He imagined that the
people he met looked at him suspiciously, as if they knew he had been
bribed--_bribed_!

The word came into his mind so suddenly, and with such startling force,
that he stopped still in the street, and only recovered himself when
Harris turned and called to him.

They were just in time for the train.

Tom found a place in the corner of the car where he would be alone, and
sat there thinking over what he had done, and trying to reason himself
into justification of his conduct.

The conductor came along and punched his ticket, and looked at him so
sharply that Tom wondered if he knew. But of course that was absurd.
Then he tried to dismiss the matter from his mind altogether, and give
his attention to what he could see from the car-window.

Outside a drizzling rain was beginning to fall on the brown fields
and leafless trees, and the autumn early twilight was fast deepening
into darkness. It was very dismal and cheerless, and not at all the
kind of outlook that could serve to draw Tom’s mind from its task of
self-contemplation. It was but a few minutes, therefore, before this
controversy with himself was going on again, harder than before.

Somehow that strange word “bribed” kept haunting him. It sounded
constantly in his ears. He imagined that the people in the cars were
speaking it; that even the rhythmic rattle of the wheels upon the rails
kept singing it to him with monotonous reiteration, “Bribed! _bribed_!”

Tom thought, as he hurried down the street in the gathering darkness,
out upon the plank walk, and up the long hill toward home, that he had
never been so unhappy in all his life before. It was strange, too,
for he had so often dreamed of the great joy he should feel when the
coveted hundred dollars had been saved.

Well, he had it now, every cent of it, rolled up and tucked safely away
in the pocket of his vest; but instead of happiness, it had brought
misery.

For the first time within his memory, the thought of meeting his mother
and his brother gave him no pleasure. He would not tell them about
the money that night at any rate; he had decided upon that. Indeed,
he had almost concluded that it would be better that they should not
know about it until after the trial. And then suppose they should not
approve! He was aghast at the very thought.

But Tom was a brave lad, and he put on a bright face before these two,
and told them of his trip to Wilkesbarre, and about what he had seen
and heard,--about the law-office, about Pleadwell and Carolan, about
every thing, indeed, but the bargain and the money.

He tried to eat his supper as if he enjoyed it, though every mouthful
seemed about to choke him, and on the plea of being very tired, he went
early to bed. There he lay half the night debating with his conscience,
trying to make himself believe that he had done right, yet feeling all
the time that he had stooped to dishonor.

He went over in his mind the way in which he should break the news
to Mommie and Bennie, and wondered how they would receive it; and
always beating upon his brain, with a regular cadence that followed
the pulsation of his heart, and with a monotonous rhythm that haunted
him even after he had fallen into a troubled sleep, went that terrible
word, _Bribed_!

       *       *       *       *       *

The autumn days went by, and still the strike continued. There were
no signs of resumption, no signs of compromise. On the contrary, the
breach between the miners and the operators was growing daily wider.
The burning of the Valley breaker and the arrest of Jack Rennie had
given rise to a bitterness of feeling between the two classes that
hindered greatly an amicable settlement of their differences.

Acts of lawlessness were common, and it was apparent that but little
provocation would be needed to bring on deeds of violence of a
desperate nature. The cry of want began to be heard, and, as the winter
season was drawing near, suffering became more frequent among the
improvident and the unfortunate.

The Taylor family saw coming the time when the pittance of twenty
dollars that the boys had saved for Bennie must be drawn upon to
furnish food and clothing for them all. Tom had tried to get work
outside of the mines, but had failed; there were so many idle men and
boys, and there was so little work to be done at that season of the
year. But the district school was open, not far from his home, and Tom
went there instead.

He was fond of books, and had studied much by himself. He could read
very well indeed. He used to read aloud to Bennie a great deal, and
during these days of enforced idleness the boys occupied much of their
time in that way; finding their literature in copies of old newspapers
which had been given to them, and in a few old books which had belonged
to their father.

Indian Summer came late that year, but it was very fair. It lingered
day after day, with its still air, its far-sounding echoes, its hazy
light and its smoky distances; and the brooding spirit of nature’s
quiet rested down, for a brief but beautiful season, about the unquiet
spirits of men.

On the afternoon of one of its most charming days, Tom and Bennie
sauntered out, hand in hand, as they always went, to where the hill,
south of their little mining village, rose like a huge, upturned bowl,
sloping downward from its summit to every point of the compass. Over
in the little valley to the south lay the ruins of the burned breaker,
still untouched; and off upon the other side, one could see the
sparkling Susquehanna far up into the narrow valley where its waters
sweep around the base of Campbell’s Ledge; across to the blue mountains
on the west; and down the famous valley of Wyoming, with its gray stone
monument in the middle distance, until the eastern hills crept in to
intercept the view.

It was a dreamy day, and a day fit for dreams, and when the boys
reached the summit of the hill, Tom lay down upon the warm sod, and
silently looked away to the haze-wrapped mountains, while Bennie sat
by his side, and pictured to his mind the view before him, as Tom had
described it to him many times, sitting in that very spot.

Poor Tom! These beautiful days had brought to him much perplexity of
mind, much futile reasoning with his conscience, and much, very much,
of silent suffering.

Lying there now, in the sunlight, with open eyes, he saw, in reality,
no more of the beautiful scene before him than did blind Bennie at his
side. He was thinking of the trial, now only three days distant, of
what he should be called upon to do and to say, and of how, after it
was all over, he must tell Mommie and Bennie about the hundred dollars.

Ah, there was the trouble! he could see his way clearly enough until it
should come to that; but how should he ever be able to tell to these
two a thing of which he tried to be proud, but of which, after all, he
felt guilty and ashamed?

Then, what would they say to him? Would they praise him for his
devotion to Bennie, and for his cleverness in having grasped an
opportunity? Or would they grieve over his lack of manly firmness and
his loss of boyish honor? Alas! the more he thought of it, the more he
feared that they would sorrow rather than rejoice.

But an idea came to Tom, as he lay there, thinking the matter over; the
idea that perhaps he could learn what Bennie’s mind would be on the
subject, without exciting any suspicion therein of what had actually
occurred. He resolved to try.

He hardly knew how best to approach the matter, but, after some
consideration, he turned to Bennie and said,--

“Bennie, do you s’pose Jack Rennie act’ally set fire to that breaker?”

“I shouldn’t wonder a bit, Tom,” replied Bennie; “those ’at know,
him says he’s dreadful bad. ’Taint so much worse to burn a breaker
than ’tis to burn a shaft-house, an’ they say he act’ally did burn a
shaft-house up at Hyde Park, only they couldn’t prove it on him.”

“Well, s’pose you’d ’a’ seen--s’pose you could see, you know,
Bennie--an’ s’pose you’d ’a’ seen Jack Rennie set fire to that breaker;
would you tell on him?”

“Yes, I would,” said Bennie, resolutely, “if I thought he’d never get
punished for it ’less I did tell on him.”

“Well, don’t you think,” continued Tom, reflectively, “’at that’d be
sidin’ with the wealthy _clapitulist_, against the poor laborer, who
ain’t got no other way to get even justice for himself, except to make
the rich _corpurations_ afraid of him, that way?”

Tom was using Pleadwell’s argument, not because he believed in it
himself, but simply to see how Bennie would meet it.

Bennie met it by saying,--

“Well, I don’t care; I don’t b’lieve it’s _ever_ right to burn up any
thing ’at belongs to anybody else; an’ if I saw any one a-doin’ it,
I’d tell on him if”--Bennie hesitated a moment, and Tom looked up
eagerly--“if I wasn’t afraid o’ the Molly Maguires. Jack Rennie’s a
Molly, you know.”

“But _wouldn’t_ you be afraid of ’em? s’pose one of ’em should come to
you an’ say, ‘Ben Taylor, if you tell on Jack, we’ll put out your’--I
mean ‘cut off your tongue.’ What’d you do?”

Bennie thought a moment.

“Well, I b’lieve I’d tell on him, anyway; an’ then I’d get a pistol,
an’ I wouldn’t let no Molly get nearer to me’n the muzzle of it.”

In spite of his great anxiety, Tom laughed at the picture of weak,
blind little Bennie holding a crowd of outlaws at bay, with a cocked
revolver in his hand. But he felt that he was not getting at the real
question very fast, so he tried again.

“Well, Bennie, s’pose you’d ’a’ seen him start that fire, an’ he’d ’a’
knowed it, an’ he’d ’a’ said to you, ‘Ben Taylor, if you ever tell on
me, I’ll burn your Mommie’s house down, an’ I’ll most kill your brother
Tom!’ _then_ what’d you do?”

Bennie hesitated. This was more of a poser.

“Well,” he answered, at last, “if I’d ’a’ b’lieved he’d ’a’ done what
he said--I don’t know--I guess I’d--well, maybe, if I didn’t have to
tell any lie, I just wouldn’t say any thing.”

Tom’s spirits rose; he felt that a great point was gained. Here was a
matter in which Bennie would have been even less firm than he himself
had been. Now was the time to come directly to the issue, to ask the
final question.

Tom braced himself to the task. He tried to speak naturally and
carelessly, but there was a strange shortness of breath, and a
huskiness in his voice which he could not control; he could only hope
that Bennie would not notice it.

“Well, then, s’pose--just s’pose, you know--that _I’d_ seen Jack Rennie
set fire to the breaker, an’ ’at he knew I was goin’ to tell on him,
an’ ’at he’d ’a’ said to me, ‘Tom, you got a blind brother Bennie,
ain’t you?’ an’ I’d ’a’ said, ‘Yes,’ an’ he’d ’a’ said, ‘What’ll it
cost to get Bennie’s sight for him?’ an’ I’d ’a’ said, ‘Oh, maybe a
hundred dollars,’ an’ he’d ’a’ said, ‘Here, Tom, here’s a hundred
dollars; you go an’ get Bennie’s eyes cured; an’ don’t you say any
thin’ about my settin’ that fire.’ What--what’d you ’a’ done if you’d
’a’ been me?”

Tom raised himself to a sitting posture, and leaned toward Bennie, with
flushed face and painful expectancy in his eyes.

He knew that for him Bennie’s answer meant either a return to a measure
of the old happiness, or a plunging into deeper misery.

The blind boy rose to his feet and stood for a moment as if lost in
thought. Then he turned his sightless eyes to Tom, and said, very
slowly and distinctly,--

“If you’d ’a’ took it, Tom, an’ if you’d ’a’ used it to cure me with,
an’ I’d ’a’ known it, an’ I’d ’a’ got my sight, I don’t believe--I
don’t believe I should ever ’a’ wanted to look at you, Tom, or wanted
you to see me; I’d ’a’ been so ’shamed o’ both of us.”



CHAPTER IV.

THE TRIAL.


Tom turned his head away, and covered his face with his hands. This was
cruel. For the first time in his life, he was glad Bennie could not see
him. But he felt that it was necessary for him to say something, so he
stammered out,--

“Well, I was only just s’posin’, you know. Course, no honest fellow’d
do that; but if they’ll only get to work again, we won’t ask anybody
for any hunderd dollars. We’ll earn it.”

The beauty of the autumn day died slowly out, and the narrow crescent
of the new moon, hanging over the tops of the far western hills, shone
dimly through the purple haze. Sadly and with few words the two boys
went their homeward way. A great burden of regret and remorse rested
upon Tom’s heart, and the shadow of it fell upon the heart of his blind
brother.

Poor, poor Tom! He knew not what to do. He could never use the money
now for Bennie, and he would not use it for himself. It had occurred to
him once to take the money back to Pleadwell, and seek to be released
from his agreement. But a little thought had convinced him that this
would be useless; that the money would not be received; that, having
accepted a bribe, he had placed himself in the power of those who had
given it to him, and that any wavering on his part, much more any
violation of his agreement, would bring down vengeance and punishment
on himself, and trouble and disgrace on those who were dear to him.

“Oh, why,” he asked himself, in bitter thought, “why did I ever take
the money?”

Tom’s mother attributed his melancholy to lack of work and loss of
earnings. She knew how his heart was set on laying up money to send
Bennie away, and how impatient he became at any delay in the progress
of his scheme. So she talked to him very cheerfully, and made delicate
little dishes to tempt his appetite, and when the morning for the trial
came, and Tom started for the train to go to Wilkesbarre, dressed in
his best clothes, and with the hated hundred dollars burning in his
pocket, she kissed him good-by with a smile on her face. She bade him
many times to be very careful about the cars, and said to him, at
parting, “Whatever tha says to thee, lad, tell the truth; whatever tha
does to thee, tell the truth; fear to look no man i’ the eye; be good
an’ honest wi’ yoursel’, an’ coom back to Mommie an’ Bennie, when it’s
ower, hearty an’ weel.”

Sandy McCulloch went down with Tom on the train, and together they
walked from the station to the Court House. There were many people
standing about in the Court-House Square, and in the corridors of the
building, and the court-room itself was nearly full when Tom and Sandy
entered it. They found vacant places on one of the rear benches, but,
as the seats were all graded down on a sloping floor to the bar, they
could see without difficulty all that was being done.

Tom had never been in a court-room before, and he looked with much
interest at the judges on the bench, at the lawyers chatting pleasantly
in the bar, at the entry and departure of the grand jury, and at the
officious constables, each with his staff of office, who kept order in
the court-room.

There were some motions and arguments which Tom could not understand,
being made by the attorneys; the clerk read some lists in a weak voice,
and the time of the court was thus occupied until toward noon.

By and by there was a slight bustle at the side door, to the right of
the judges’ bench, and the sheriff and his deputy entered with Jack
Rennie.

Head and shoulders above those who accompanied him, his heavily bearded
face somewhat pale from confinement, and stooping rather more than
usual, he moved slowly across the crowded bar, in full view of all the
people in the room, to a seat by the side of his counsel.

The instant Tom’s eyes rested on him he recognized him as the man who
had threatened him at the breaker on the night of the fire. The buzz of
excitement, occasioned by the entrance of the prisoner, subsided, and
the voice of the presiding judge sounded distinctly through the room:

“Commonwealth against Jack Rennie. Arson. Are you ready for trial?”

“We are, your Honor,” replied the district attorney, rising to his feet
and advancing to the clerk’s desk.

“Very well,” said the judge. “Arraign the prisoner.”

Rennie was directed to stand up, and the district attorney read, in a
clear voice, the indictment, which charged that the defendant “did,
on the eighteenth day of November last passed, feloniously, wilfully
and maliciously set fire to, burn and consume, a certain building, to
wit: a coal-breaker, the same being the property of a certain body
corporate known by the style and title of ‘The Valley Coal Company;’
by reason of which setting fire to, burning and consuming, a certain
dwelling-house, also the property of the said Valley Coal Company, and
being within the curtilage of said coal-breaker, was also burned and
consumed; contrary to the form of the act of the General Assembly, in
such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Rennie stood, listening intently to the reading of the indictment. When
the question was put:

“What say you,--guilty, or not guilty?” he replied, in a deep, chest
voice,--

“If I be guilty, ye ha’ but to prove it.”

“Make your plea, sir!” said the judge severely. “Guilty, or not guilty?”

“Then I’ll plead no’ guilty. No mon’s guilty till he’s proved guilty.”

Rennie resumed his seat, and the court was soon afterward adjourned for
the noon recess.

In the afternoon the selecting of jurors in the case against Rennie
began.

The first one called was a miner. One could tell that by the blue
powder-marks on his face, and that he was of Irish nativity could be
detected by the rich brogue that escaped his lips. He was “passed” by
the Commonwealth, and the clerk of the court recited the formula:

“Juror, look upon the prisoner. Prisoner, look upon the juror. What say
you,--challenge, or no challenge?”

“Swear the juror to ‘true answers make,’” said Attorney Pleadwell.

The man was sworn.

“Where do you live?” inquired the lawyer.

“Up on Shanty Hill, sorr.”

“That’s definite. Anywhere near this breaker that was burned?”

“Oh, the matther of a mile belike, barrin’ the time it’d take ye to
walk to the track beyant.”

“What’s your occupation?”

“Occupation, is it? Yis, sorr; as good a char_rac_ter as anny”--

“Oh, I mean what do you work at?”

“I’m a miner, sorr.”

“Where do you work?”

“Faith, I worked for the Valley Breaker Coal Company this tin years
come next St. Patrick’s day, may it plase the coort, an’ bad ’cess to
the man that burnt it, I say, an’”--

“Challenge!” interrupted Attorney Pleadwell, sharply.

A tipstaff hurried the challenged man from the witness-box, in a state
of helpless bewilderment as to what it all meant, and another juror was
called, a small, wiry man, chewing on a mouthful of tobacco. He was
sworn on his _voir dire_, and the district attorney asked him,--

“Do you belong to an organization known as the Molly Maguires?”

“No, sir!” quickly responded the man, before Pleadwell could interpose
an objection to the question.

The district attorney looked at the witness sharply for a moment, then
consulted with Attorney Summons, who sat by his side as private counsel
for the prosecution. They believed that the man had sworn falsely,
in order to get on the jury in behalf of the defendant, and he was
directed to stand aside.

The next juror called was a farmer from a remote part of the county,
who had heard nothing about the fire until he arrived in town, and who
displayed no prejudices. He was accepted by both sides as the first
juror in the case.

So the selection went on, slowly and tediously, enlivened at times by
an amusing candidate for the jury-box, or a tilt between counsel; and
long before the “twelve good men and true” had all been selected and
sworn, the early autumn night had fallen, and the flaring gas-jets
lighted up the space about the bench and bar, leaving the remote
corners of the court-room in uncertain shadow.

At six o’clock court was adjourned until the following morning, and Tom
went, with Sandy McCulloch, to a small hotel on the outskirts of the
city, where arrangements had been made to accommodate witnesses for the
defence. Notwithstanding his anxiety of mind, Tom was hungry, and he
ate a hearty supper and went early to bed.

But he could not sleep. The excitement of the day had left his brain
in a whirl, and he tossed restlessly about, going over in his mind
what had already occurred, and thinking with grave apprehension of
what to-morrow might bring forth. Through it all he still repeated one
resolve: that whatever came he would not lie.

With this unsatisfactory compromise with his conscience on his mind, he
fell at last into a troubled sleep.

When court was opened on the following morning, the court-room was more
densely crowded with idle men than it had been on the previous day. The
case against Rennie was taken up without delay. The district attorney
made the opening address on behalf of the Commonwealth, doing little
more than to outline the evidence to be presented by the prosecution.

The first witness called was a civil engineer, who presented a map
showing the plan, location and surroundings of the burned breaker.
Following him came two witnesses who detailed the progress of the fire
as they had seen it, one of them being the watchman at the breaker, and
the other the occupant of the dwelling-house which had been burned.

A third witness testified to having seen Rennie at the fire shortly
after it broke out, but did not know how long he had been there, nor
where he came from; and still another swore that he had seen the
defendant in a drinking-saloon in town, about half an hour before he
heard the alarm of fire, and had noticed that he went away, in the
direction of the breaker, in company with “Silent Mike.”

Then came a witness who gave his name as Lewis G. Travers; a slightly
built, but muscular man, of middle age, with sharp eyes and quiet
manner.

“What is your occupation?” inquired the district attorney, after the
man had been sworn.

“I am a detective.”

“Do you know Jack Rennie, the defendant?”

“I do.”

“Where did you last see him?”

“At a meeting, in Carbondale, of certain members of the order of Molly
Maguires.”

“Are you a member of that order?”

“I have been.”

“Will you relate the circumstances attending your connection with it?”

The stillness in the court-room was marvellous. On many an expectant
face were mingled expressions of hate and fear, as the witness, with
calm deliberation, related the thrilling story of how he had worked as
a common laborer in the mines, in order to gain a standing with the
lawless miners, and of how he had then been admitted to the order of
Molly Maguires, and had taken part in their deliberations.

As a member of the executive board, he had been present, he said,
at a secret meeting held in Carbondale, at which, on account of the
outspoken denunciation of the order, and the prompt dismissal of men
belonging to it, by the owners of the Valley Breaker, it was resolved
to visit them with vengeance, in the shape of fire; that Jack Rennie
was selected to carry out the resolution, and that Rennie, being
present, had registered a solemn oath to do the bidding of the order.

This was the substance of his testimony, and though the
cross-examination, by Pleadwell, was sharp, rigid and severe, the
effect of the evidence could not be broken.

At this point the Commonwealth rested. The case against Rennie had
assumed a serious phase. Unless he could produce some strong evidence
in his favor, his conviction was almost assured.

Pleadwell rose to open the case for the defence. After some general
remarks on the unfairness of the prosecution, and the weakness of the
detective’s story, he declared that they should prove, in behalf of
the defendant, that he was not at or near the breaker until after the
fire was well under way, and that the saving of a large portion of the
company’s loose property from destruction was due to his brave and
energetic efforts.

“Furthermore,” continued Pleadwell, earnestly, “we shall present to the
court and jury a most irreproachable witness, who will testify to you
that he was present and saw this fire kindled, and that the man who
kindled it was _not_ Jack Rennie.”

There was a buzz of excitement in the court-room as Pleadwell resumed
his seat; and Tom’s heart beat loudly as he understood the significance
of the lawyer’s last statement. He felt, more than ever, the wrong, the
disgrace, the self-humiliation to which he should stoop, by giving his
testimony in support of so monstrous a lie.

But what could he do? The strain on his mind was terrible. He felt
an almost irresistible desire to cry out, there, in the crowded
court-room, that he had yielded to temptation for the sake of blind
Bennie; that he had seen the folly and the wickedness, and known the
awful misery of it already; that the money that bought him was like
rags in his sight; and that his own guilt and cowardice should save
this criminal no longer from the punishment which his crime deserved.

By a strong effort, he repressed his emotion, and sat, with face
flushed and pallid by turns, waiting for the time when his wretched
bargain should be fulfilled.

The first witness called on the part of the defence was Michael
Carolan, better known as “Silent Mike.”

He testified that Rennie came down from Scranton with him and a body
of strikers on the morning of November 18; that they ate supper with
Carolan’s married sister, who lived in the village, just beyond the
burned breaker; that they spent the evening at a miners’ mass-meeting
in town, and afterwards called at a drinking-saloon; and that they were
on the way back to his sister’s house, for the night, when they heard
the cry of “Fire!”

“At this time,” continued Carolan, “Jack and me were together at the
crossin’ on Railroad Street, maybe a quarter of a mile away from the
breaker, an’ whin we heard the alarm, we looked up the track an’ saw
the blaze, an’ Jack says, says he, ‘Mike, the breaker’s a-fire,’ an’
I says, says I, ‘It is, sure;’ an’ with that we both ran up the track
toward the fire.

“Whin we were most there we met Sandy McCulloch comin’ from the hill
beyant, an’ me an’ him an’ Jack wint an’ shoved out the cars from the
loadin’-place that we could get at; an’ thin we wint to help with the
furniture at the dwellin’-house, an’ we saved ivery thing we could.”

Silent Mike had done well. Few people had ever before heard so many
words come in succession from his lips, and he told his story with such
impressive earnestness that it was easy to believe that he spoke the
truth. Indeed, there was very little in his account of the occurrence
that was not strictly in accordance with the facts. He had simply
omitted to state that he and Rennie had gone, first, up to the breaker
and kindled the blaze, and then returned, hastily, to the crossing
where they certainly were when the first cry of “Fire!” was heard.

Rennie’s case was looking up. There was a recess for dinner, and, when
court was re-opened, Sandy McCulloch was put on the witness-stand.

He was just getting into bed, he said, when he heard the cry of “Fire!”
He looked out and saw that the breaker was burning, and, hurrying on
his clothes, he ran down the hill.

“When I cam’ to the fit o’ the hill,” he continued, in answer to
Pleadwell’s question, “I heard some’at behin’ me, an’ I lookit aroun’,
an’ there I see Jack the Giant an’ Silent Mike a-speedin’ up the track
toward the breaker.

“The fire was a-burnin’ up brisk by then, an’ me an’ Jack an’ Mike, we
went an’ pushit some cars out fra the loadin’-place, down the track;
an’ then we savit a bit fra the dwellin’-house, an’ a bit fra the
engine-room, an’ a bit here an’ there, as we could; an’ Jack, he workit
like a’ possessed, he did, sir; sure he did.”

“What were you doing up so late at night?” was the first question put
to Sandy on cross-examination.

“Well, you see, sir, a bit o’ a lad that works i’ the mines wi’ us, he
had lost his brither i’ the slope the day, he had; an’ I gied him a
promise to help seek him oot gin he cam’ i’ the evenin’ to say as the
lad was no’ foond; an’ I was a-waitin’ up for him, min’ ye.”

“Well, did the lad come?” inquired Lawyer Summons, somewhat
sarcastically.

“He did that, an’ he tellit me as how he’d foond the brither, an’
leadit him hame, an’ would na want me; an’ I said ‘good-nicht’ till the
lad, an’ started to bed, an’ the clock struckit eleven.”

“Who was the lad that came to your house?”

“Tom Taylor, sir.”

Rennie started in his seat as the name was spoken, and the blood
mounted into his pale forehead as he gazed intently at the witness.

“Did the boy go in the direction of the breaker from your house?”
questioned Summons.

“He did, sir.”

“How long was it after he left you that you heard the cry of fire?”

“Well, maybe the time o’ ten minutes.”

“Could the boy have got beyond the breaker?”

“He must ’a’, sir, he must ’a’; the grass was na growin’ under his feet
goin’ doon the hill.”

“Do you think Tom Taylor fired that breaker?”

Sandy stared for a moment in blank amazement.

“Why, the guid Lord bless ye, mon! be ye daft? There ain’t a better boy
i’ the roun’ warl’n Tom Taylor!” and Sandy broke into a hearty laugh at
the very idea of Tom doing any thing wrong.

But Tom, who sat back in his seat and heard it all, was suddenly
startled with the sense of a new danger. Suppose _he_ should be charged
with setting fire to the breaker? And suppose Rennie and Carolan
should go upon the witness-stand and swear that they saw him running
away from the newly kindled blaze, as, indeed, they might and not lie,
either,--how could he prove his innocence? Yet he was about to swear
Jack Rennie into freedom, knowing him to be guilty of the crime with
which he was charged, and, what was still more despicable, he was about
to do it for money.

Looked upon in this light, the thing that Tom had promised to do rose
very black and ugly in his sight; and the poor delusion that he should
tell no lie was swept, like a clinging cobweb, from his mind.

It was while his heart was still throbbing violently under the
excitement of this last thought and fear, that he heard some one call,--

“Thomas Taylor!”

“Here, sir,” responded Tom.

“Take the witness-stand.”



CHAPTER V.

THE VERDICT.


Pale and trembling, Tom passed out into the aisle and down around the
jury-box, and stepped upon the little railed platform.

In impressive tones, the clerk administered to him the oath, and he
kissed the Holy Bible and swore to “tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth.”

_The whole truth!_

The words echoed and re-echoed through his mind, as he looked down
upon the lawyers and jurors, and across the bar into the hundreds of
expectant faces turned toward him. For a moment he felt frightened and
dizzy.

But only for a moment; fear gave place to astonishment, for Jack
Rennie had started to his feet, with wild eyes and face blanched with
sudden dread, and, bending over till his great beard swept Pleadwell’s
shoulder, he whispered, hoarsely, into the lawyer’s ear, in a tone
audible throughout the room,--

“Ye did na tell me who the lad was! He mus’ na be sworn; it’s na
lawfu’. I’ll no’ have it; I say I’ll no’ have it!”

In another moment Pleadwell had his hand on the man’s shoulder, and
forced him into a seat. There was a whispered consultation of a few
minutes between attorney and client, and then, while Rennie sat
with his eyes turned steadfastly away from the witness, his huge
hand clutching the edge of the table, and the expression of nervous
dread still on his face, Pleadwell, calmly, as if there had been no
interruption, proceeded with the examination.

He asked Tom about his residence and his occupation, and about how
blind Bennie lost himself in the mines. With much skill, he carried
the story forward to the time when Tom said good-night to Sandy, and
started down the hill toward home.

“As you approached the breaker, did you see a man pass by you in the
shadow?”

“I did,” replied Tom.

“About how far from you?”

“I don’t know; ten feet, maybe.”

“Where did he go?”

“Around the corner, by the engine-room.”

“From what point did he come?”

“From the loading-place.”

“How long after he left the loading-place was it that you saw the first
blaze there?”

“Two or three minutes, maybe.”

“Did you see his face?”

“I did.”

“How did he look? Describe him.”

“He was short and thin, and had no whiskers.”

Pleadwell pointed to Rennie, and asked,--

“Was this the man?”

“No, sir,” answered Tom.

Pleadwell leaned back in his chair, and turned to the jury with a smile
of triumph on his face. The people in the court-room nodded to each
other, and whispered, “That clears Jack.”

Every one, but Jack Rennie himself, seemed to feel the force of Tom’s
testimony. The prisoner still sat clutching the table, looking blankly
at the wall, pale, almost trembling, with some suppressed emotion.

But through Tom’s mind kept echoing the solemn words of his oath: “The
whole truth; _the whole truth_.” And he had not told it; his testimony
was no better than a lie. An awful sense of guilt came pressing in upon
him from above, from below, from every side. Hateful voices seemed
sounding in his brain: “Perjurer in spirit! Receiver of bribes!”

The torture of his self-abhorrence, in that one moment of silence, was
terrible beyond belief.

Then a sudden impulse seized him; a bright, brave, desperate impulse.

He stepped down from the witness-stand, passed swiftly between chairs
and tables, tearing the money from his breast-pocket by the way,
and flinging the hated hundred dollars down before the astonished
Pleadwell, he returned as quickly as he came, stepped into his
place with swelling breast and flaming cheeks and flashing eyes, and
exclaimed, falling, in his excitement, into the broad accent of his
mother tongue,--

“Noo I’m free! Do what ye wull wi’ me! Prison me, kill me, but I’ll no’
hold back the truth longer for ony mon, nor a’ the money that ony mon
can gi’ me!”

Men started to their feet in astonishment. Some one back among the
people began to applaud. Jack Rennie turned his face toward the boy
with a look of admiration, and his eyes were blurred with sudden tears.

“He’s the son o’ his father!” he exclaimed; “the son o’ his father!
He’s a braw lad, an’ good luck till him, but it was flyin’ i’ the face
o’ fortune to swear him. I told ye! I told ye!”

“Who gave you that money?” asked the district attorney of Tom, when
quiet had been partially restored.

Pleadwell was on his feet in an instant.

“Stop!” he shouted. “Don’t answer that question! Did I give you that
money?”

“No, sir,” replied Tom, awed by the man’s vehemence.

“Did Jack Rennie give you that money?”

“No, sir.”

Pleadwell turned to the court.

“Then if your Honors please, we object to the witness answering this
question. This is a desperate theatrical trick, concocted by the
prosecution to prejudice this defendant. We ask that they be not
allowed to support it with illegal evidence.”

The judge turned to Tom.

“Do you know,” he asked, “that this money was given to you by the
defendant’s authority, or by his knowledge or consent?”

“I can’t swear that it was,” replied Tom.

“The objection is sustained,” said his Honor, abruptly.

Pleadwell had gained a point; he might yet win the day. But the
district attorney would not loose his grip.

“Why did you just give that money to the attorney for the defence?” he
asked.

Pleadwell interposed another objection, but the court ruled that
the question was properly in the line of cross-examination of the
defendant’s witness, and Tom answered,--

“’Cause I had no right to it, an’ he knows who it belongs to.”

“Whom does it belong to?”

“I don’t know, sir. I only know who gave it to me.”

“When was it given to you?”

“A week ago last Thursday, sir.”

“Where was it given to you?”

“In Mr. Pleadwell’s office.”

“Was Mr. Pleadwell present?”

“No, sir.”

“How much money was given to you?”

“One hundred dollars, sir.”

“For what purpose was it given to you?”

“To send my blind brother away to get his sight.”

“I mean what were you to do in consideration of receiving the money?”

Before Tom could answer, Pleadwell was addressing the court:

“I submit, your Honor,” he said, “that this inquisition has gone
far enough. I protest against my client being prejudiced by the
unauthorized and irrelevant conduct of any one.”

The judge turned to the district attorney. “Until you can more closely
connect the defendant or his authorized agent,” he said, “with the
giving of this money, we shall be obliged to restrict you in this
course of inquiry.”

Pleadwell had made another point. He still felt that the case was not
hopeless.

Then Summons, the private counsel for the prosecution, took the
witness. “Tom,” he said, “did you tell the truth in your direct
examination?”

“I did, sir,” replied Tom, “but not the whole truth.”

“Well, then, suppose you tell the rest of it.”

“I object,” interposed Pleadwell, “to allowing this witness to ramble
over the field of legal and illegal evidence at will. If counsel has
questions to ask, let him ask them.”

“We will see that the witness keeps within proper limits,” said the
judge; then, turning to Tom, “Go on, sir.”

“Well, you see,” said Tom, “it was all just as I told it; only when I
got to the bottom o’ the hill, an’ see that man go by me in the dark, I
was s’prised like, an’ I stopped an’ listened. An’ then I heard a noise
in under the loadin’-place, an’ then that man,” pointing his trembling
forefinger to Rennie, “came out, a-kind o’ talkin’ to himself. An’ he
said that was the last job o’ that kind he’d ever do; that they put it
on him ’cause he hadn’t anybody to feel bad over him if he should get
catched at it.

“An’ then I see a blaze start up right where he come from, an’ it got
bigger an’ bigger. An’ then he turned an’ see me, an’ he grabbed me by
the shoulders, an’ he said, ‘Don’t you speak nor whisper, or I’ll take
the life o’ ye,’ or somethin’ like that; I can’t quite remember, I was
so scared. An’ then he pushed me down the track, an’ he said, ‘Run as
fast as ever you can, an’ don’t you dare to look back.’

“An’ I run, an’ I didn’t look back till the fire was a-burnin’ up
awful; an’ then I went with the rest to look at it; an’ he was there,
an’ a-workin’ desperate to save things, an’--an’--an’ that’s all.”

Tom stopped, literally panting for breath. The jurors were leaning
forward in their seats to catch every word, and over among the crowded
benches, where the friends of the prisoner were gathered, there was
a confused hum of voices, from which, now and then, rose angry and
threatening words.

Rennie sat gazing intently upon Tom, as though fascinated by the boy’s
presence, but on his face there was no sign of disappointment or anger;
only the same look of admiration that had come there when Tom returned
the money.

He clutched Pleadwell’s sleeve, and said to him,--

“That settles it, mon; that settles it. The spirit o’ the dead father’s
i’ the lad, an’ it’s no use o’ fightin’ it. I’ll plead guilty noo, an’
end it, an’ tak ma sentence an’ stan’ it. How long’ll it be, think ye?”

“Twenty years in the Penitentiary,” answered Pleadwell, sharply and
shortly.

Rennie dropped back in his chair, as though the lawyer had struck him.

“Twenty years!” he repeated; “twenty years! That’s a main lang time; I
canna stan’ that; I canna live through it. I’ll no’ plead guilty. Do
what ye can for me.”

But there was little that Pleadwell could do now. His worst fears had
been realized. He knew it was running a desperate risk to place on the
witness-stand a boy with a conscience like Tom’s; but he knew, also,
that if he could get Tom’s story out in the shape he desired to, and
keep back the objectionable parts, his client would go free; and he had
great faith in the power of money to salve over a bruised conscience.

He had tried it and failed; and there was nothing to do now but make
the best of it.

He resumed his calm demeanor, and turned to Tom with the question,--

“Did you ever tell to me the story you have just now told on the
witness-stand, or any thing like it?”

“I never did,” answered Tom.

“Did you ever communicate to me, in any way, your alleged knowledge of
Jack Rennie’s connection with this fire?”

“No, sir.”

Pleadwell had established his own innocence, so far as Tom’s story was
concerned at least, and he dismissed the boy from the witness-stand
with a wave of his hand which was highly expressive of virtuous
indignation.

Tom resumed his seat by the side of Sandy, whose mouth and eyes were
still wide open with surprise and admiration, and who exclaimed, as he
gave the boy’s hand a hearty grip,--

“Weel done, Tommy, ma lad! weel done! I’m proud o’ ye! an’ Bennie’n the
mither’ll be prouder yet o’ ye!”

And then, for the first time since the beginning of his trouble, Tom
put his face in his hands and wept. But he felt that a great load had
been lifted from his conscience, and that now he could look any man in
the eye.

There were two or three unimportant witnesses sworn in rebuttal and
sur-rebuttal, and the evidence was closed.

Pleadwell rose to address the jury, feeling that it was a useless task
so far as his client was concerned, but feeling, also, that he must
exert himself to the utmost in order to rebut a strong presumption of
questionable conduct on his own part.

He denounced Tom’s action in returning the money to him as a dramatic
trick, gotten up by the prosecution for effect; and called particular
attention to his own ignorance of the gift of any such money.

He declared Tom’s story of his meeting with Rennie, on the night of the
fire, to be improbable and false, and argued that since neither the
prosecution, nor the defence, nor any one else, had ever heard one word
of it till it came out on the witness-stand, it must, therefore, exist
only in the lad’s heated imagination.

He dwelt strongly on the probable falsity of the testimony of the
so-called detective; went over carefully the evidence tending to
establish an _alibi_ for Rennie; spoke with enthusiasm of the man’s
efforts and bravery in the work of rescue; lashed the corporations for
their indifference to the wrongs of the workingmen; spoke piteously of
the fact that the law denied to Rennie the right of being sworn in his
own behalf; and closed with a peroration that brought tears into the
eyes of half the people in the room.

He had made a powerful speech, and he knew it; but he thought of its
effect only as tending to his own benefit; he had no hope for Rennie.

Mr. Summons addressed the jury on the part of the Commonwealth. He
maintained that the evidence of the detective, taken in connection with
all the other circumstances surrounding the case, was sufficient to
have convicted the defendant, without further proof.

“But the unexpected testimony,” he declared, “of one brave and
high-minded boy has placed the guilt of the prisoner beyond the
shadow of a doubt; a boy whose great heart has caused him to yield
to temptation for the sake of a blind brother; but whose tender
conscience, whose heroic spirit, has led him to throw off the bonds
which this defence has placed upon him, and, in the face of all the
terrors of an order whose words are oaths of vengeance, and whose acts
are deeds of blood, to fling their hated bribes at their feet, as they
sat in the very court of justice; and to ‘tell the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth,’ for the sake of his own honor and
the upholding of the law.”

Warming up to his theme, and its possibilities in the way of oratorical
effect, Summons brought wit to bear upon logic and logic upon law, and
eloquence upon both, until, at the close of his address, the conviction
of the defendant was all but certain, and Tom’s position as a hero was
well assured.

Then came the charge of the court; plain, decisive, reviewing the
evidence in brief, calling the attention of the jury to their duty
both to the Commonwealth and to the defendant, directing them that
the defendant’s guilt must be established, in their minds, beyond a
reasonable doubt, before they could convict; but that, if they should
reach that point, then their verdict should be simply “Guilty.”

The jury passed out of the court-room, headed by a constable, after
which counsel for the defendant filed exceptions to the charge, and
the court proceeded to other business.

Very few people left the court-room, as every one supposed it would
not be long before the bringing in of a verdict, and they were not
mistaken. It was barely half an hour from the time the jury retired
until they filed back again, and resumed their seats in the jury-box.

“Gentlemen of the jury,” said the clerk of the court, rising, “have you
agreed upon a verdict?”

“We have,” replied the foreman, handing a paper to a tipstaff, which he
handed to the clerk; and the clerk in turn handed it to the presiding
judge.

The judges, one after another, read the paper, nodded their approval,
and returned it to the clerk, who glanced over its contents, and then
addressed the jury as follows:--

“Gentlemen of the jury, hearken unto your verdict as the court have it
recorded. In the case wherein the Commonwealth is plaintiff and Jack
Rennie is defendant, you say you find the defendant _guilty_. So say
you all?”

The members of the jury nodded their heads, the clerk resumed his seat,
and the trial of Jack Rennie was concluded.

It was what every one had anticipated, and people began to leave the
court-room, with much noise and confusion.

Rennie was talking, in a low tone, with Pleadwell and Carolan, while
the sheriff, who had advanced to take charge of the prisoner, stood
waiting for them to conclude the conference.

“I don’t want the lad harmed,” said Rennie, talking earnestly to
Carolan, “him, nor his mither, nor his brither; not a hair o’ his head,
nor a mou’-ful o’ his bread, noo min’ ye--I ha’ reasons--the mon that
so much as lays a straw i’ the lad’s path shall suffer for’t, if I have
to live a hunder’ year to tak’ ma vengeance o’ him!”

The sonorous voice of the court-crier, adjourning the courts until the
following morning, echoed through the now half-emptied room, and the
sheriff said to Rennie,--

“Well, Jack, I’m waiting for you.”

“Then ye need na wait longer, for I’m ready to go wi’ ye, an’ I’m
hungry too.” And Rennie held out his hands to receive the handcuffs
which the sheriff had taken from his pocket. For some reason, they
would not clasp over the man’s huge wrists.

“Oh!” exclaimed the officer, “I have the wrong pair. Simpson,” turning
to his deputy, “go down to my office and bring me the large handcuffs
lying on my table.”

Simpson started, but the sheriff called him back.

“Never mind,” he said, “it won’t pay; Jack won’t try to get away from
us, will you, Jack?” drawing a revolver from his pocket as he spoke,
and grasping it firmly in his right hand, with his finger on the
trigger.

“D’ye tak’ me for a fool, mon?” said Rennie, laughing, as he glanced
at the weapon; then, turning to Carolan and Pleadwell, he continued,
“Good-nicht; good-nicht and sweet dreams till ye!” Jack had never
seemed in a gayer mood than as he marched off through the side-door,
with the sheriff and his deputy; perhaps it was the gayety of despair.

Carolan had not replied to the prisoner’s cheery “good-nicht.” He had
looked on at the action of the sheriff, with a curious expression in
his eyes, until the trio started away, and then he had hurried from
the court-room at a gait which made Pleadwell stare after him in
astonishment.

It was dark outside; very dark. A heavy fog had come up from the river
and enshrouded the entire city. The street-lamps shone but dimly
through the thick mist, and a fine rain began to fall, as Tom and Sandy
hurried along to their hotel, where they were to have supper, before
going, on the late train, to their homes.

Up from the direction of the court-house came to their ears a confusion
of noises; the shuffling of many feet, loud voices, hurried calls, two
pistol-shots in quick succession; a huge, panting figure pushing by
them, and disappearing in the fog and darkness; by and by, excited men
hurrying toward them.

“What’s the matter?” asked Sandy.

And some one, back in the mist, replied,--

“Jack Rennie has escaped!”



CHAPTER VI.

THE FALL.


It was true. Carolan’s quick eye had noticed the opportunity for
Rennie to escape, and his fertile brain had been swift in planning an
immediate rescue. The few members of his order that he could find on
the instant were gathered together; there was a sudden onslaught at a
dark corner of the Court-House Square; the sheriff and his deputy lay
prone upon the ground, and their prisoner was slipping away through the
dark, foggy streets, with a policeman’s bullet whizzing past his ears,
and his band of rescuers struggling with the amazed officers.

But the sheriff of Luzerne County never saw Jack Rennie again, nor was
the hand of the law ever again laid upon him, in arrest or punishment.

As Tom walked home from the railroad station that night through the
drizzling rain, his heart was lighter than it had been for many a day.

True, he was nervous and worn with excitement and fatigue, but there
was with him a sense of duty done, even though tardily, which brought
peace into his mind and lightness to his footsteps.

After the first greetings were had, and the little home group of three
was seated together by the fire to question and to talk, Tom opened his
whole heart. While his mother and Bennie listened silently, often with
tears, he told the story of his adventure at the breaker on the night
of the fire, of his temptation and fall at Wilkesbarre, of his mental
perplexity and acute suffering, of the dramatic incidents of the trial,
and of his own release from the bondage of bribery.

When his tale was done, the poor blind brother, for whose sake he had
stepped into the shadow of sin, and paid the penalty, declared, with
laughter and with tears, that he had never before been so proud of Tom
and so fond of him as he was at that moment; and the dear, good mother
took the big fellow on her lap, as she used to do when he was a little
child, and held him up close to her heart, and rocked him till he fell
asleep, and into his curly hair dropped now and then a tear, that was
not the outcome of sorrow, but of deep maternal joy.

It was well along in December before the strike came to an end. There
had been rumors for a week of an approaching compromise between the
miners and the operators, but one day there came word that all hands
were to be at the mines, ready for work, the following morning.

It was glad news for many a poor family, who saw the holidays
approaching in company with bitter want; and it brought especial
rejoicing to the little household dependent so largely on the labor of
Tom and Bennie for subsistence.

The boys were at the entrance to the mine the next morning before the
stars began to pale in the east. They climbed into a car of the first
trip, and rode down the slope to the music of echoes roaring through
galleries that had long been silent.

The mules had been brought in the day before, and Tom ran whistling
to the mine stables to untie his favorite Billy, and set him to his
accustomed task. There came soon a half-dozen or more of driver-boys,
and such a shouting and laughing and chattering ensued as made the
beasts prick up their long ears in amazement.

“All aboard!” shouted Tom, as he fastened his trace-hook to the first
trip of cars. “Through train to the West! No stops this side o’
Chicorgo!”

“’Commodation ahead! Parly cars on the nex’ train, an’ no porters
’lowed!” squeaked out a little fellow, backing his mule up to the
second trip.

“I’ll poke the fire a bit an’ git the steam up fur yez,” said Patsy
Donnelly, the most mischievous lad of them all. Whereupon he prodded
Tom’s mule viciously in the ribs, and that beast began playing such a
tattoo with his heels against the front of the car as drowned all other
noises in its clatter.

“Whoa, Billy!” shouted Tom, helping Bennie into the rear car of the
trip. “Whoa, now! Stiddy--there, git-tup!” cracking his long leather
whip-lash over Billy’s ears as he spoke, and climbing into the front
car. “Git-tup! Go it! Whoop!”

Away went Tom and Bennie, rattling up the long heading, imitating
alternately the noise of the bell, the whistle, and the labored puffing
of a locomotive engine; while the sound-waves, unable to escape from
the narrow passage which confined them, rolled back into their ears in
volumes of resounding echoes.

Ah, they were happy boys that morning! happy even though one was
smitten with the desolation of blindness, and both were compelled to
labor, from daylight to dark, in the grimy recesses of the mine, for
the pittance that brought their daily bread; happy, because they were
young and free-hearted and innocent, and contented with their lot.

And Tom was thrice happy, in that he had rolled away the burden of an
accusing conscience, and felt the high pleasure that nothing else
on earth can so fully bring as the sense of duty done, against the
frowning face and in the threatening teeth of danger.

Sometimes, indeed, there came upon him a sudden fear of the vengeance
he might meet at Rennie’s hands; but as the days passed by this fear
disturbed him less and less, and the buoyancy of youth preserved him
from depressing thoughts of danger.

Billy, too, was in good spirits that morning, and drew the cars rapidly
along the heading, swinging around the sharp curves so swiftly that
the yellow flame from the little tin lamp was blown down to the merest
spark of blue; and stopping at last by the door in the entrance, where
Bennie was to dismount and sit all day at his lonely task.

Three times Tom went down to the slope that morning, through Bennie’s
door, with his trip of loads, and three times he came back, with his
trip of lights; and the third time he stopped to sit with his brother
on the bench and to eat, from the one pail which served them both, the
plain but satisfying dinner which Mommie had prepared for them.

Tom was still light-hearted and jovial, but upon Bennie there seemed to
have fallen since morning a shadow of soberness. To sit for hours with
only one’s thoughts for company, and with the oppressive silence broken
only at long intervals by the passing trips, this alone is enough to
cast gloom upon the spirits of the most cheerful.

But something more than this was weighing upon Bennie’s mind, for he
told Tom, when they had done eating, that every time it grew still
around him, and there were no cars in the heading or airway, and no
noises to break the silence, he could hear, somewhere down below him,
the “working” of the mine. He had heard it all the morning he said,
when every thing was quiet, and, being alone so, it made him nervous
and afraid.

“I could stan’ most any thing,” he said, “but to get caught in a
‘fall.’”

“Le’s listen an’ see if we can hear it now,” said Tom.

Then both boys kept very quiet for a little while, and sure enough,
over in the darkness, they heard an occasional snapping, like the
breaking of dry twigs beneath the feet.

The process which the miners call “working” was going on. The pressure
of the overlying mass of rock upon the pillars of coal left to support
it was becoming so great that it could not be sustained, and the
gradual yielding of the pillars to this enormous weight was being
manifested by the crackling noises that proceeded from them, and the
crumbling of tiny bits of coal from their bulging surfaces.

The sound of working pillars is familiar to frequenters of the mines,
and is the well-known warning which precedes a fall. The remedy is
to place wooden props beneath the roof for additional support, and,
if this is not done, there comes a time, sooner or later, when the
strained pillars suddenly give way, and the whole mass comes crashing
down, to fill the gangways and chambers over an area as great as that
through which the working extended, and to block the progress of
mining for an indefinite time.

Tom had been too long about the mines to be ignorant of all this, and
so had Bennie; but they knew, too, that the working often continued
weeks, and sometimes months, before the fall would take place, though
it might, indeed, come at any moment.

That afternoon Tom told the slope boss about the working, and he came
and made an examination, and said he thought there was no immediate
danger, but that he would give orders to have the extra propping of the
place begun on the following day.

“Jimmie Travis said he seen rats goin’ out o’ the slope, though, when
he come in,” said Tom, after relating to Bennie the opinion of the mine
boss.

“Then ’twon’t be long,” replied Bennie, “’fore the fall comes.”

He was simply echoing the belief of all miners, that rats will leave
a mine in which a fall is about to take place. Sailors have the same
belief concerning a ship about to sink.

“An’ when the rats begin to go out,” added Bennie, “it’s time for men
an’ boys to think about goin’ out too.”

Somehow, the child seemed to have a premonition of disaster.

The afternoon wore on very slowly, and Bennie gave a long sigh of
relief when he heard Tom’s last trip come rumbling down the airway.

“Give me the dinner-pail, Bennie!” shouted Tom, as the door closed
behind the last car, “an’ you catch on behind--Whoa, Billy!” as the
mule trotted on around the corner into the heading.

“Come, Bennie, quick! Give me your hand; we’ll have to run to catch him
now.”

But even as the last word trembled on the boy’s lips, there came a
blast of air, like a mighty wind, and in the next instant a noise as of
bursting thunder, and a crash that shook the foundations of the mines,
and the two boys were hurled helplessly against Bennie’s closed door
behind them.

The fall had come.

The terrible roar died away in a series of rumbling echoes, and, at
last, stillness reigned.

“Bennie!”

It was Tom who spoke.

“Bennie!”

He called the name somewhat feebly.

“Bennie!”

It was a shout at last, and there was terror in his voice.

He raised himself to his feet, and stood leaning against the shattered
frame-work of the door. He felt weak and dizzy. He was bruised and
bleeding, too, but he did not know it; he was not thinking of himself,
but of Bennie, who had not answered to his call, and who might be dead.

He was in total darkness, but he had matches in his pocket. He drew one
out and stood, for a moment, in trembling hesitancy, dreading what its
light might disclose. Then he struck it, and there, almost at his feet,
lay his cap, with his lamp still attached to it.

He lighted the lamp and looked farther.

At the other side of the entrance, half-hidden by the wreck of the
door, he saw Bennie, lying on his side, quite still. He bent down and
flashed the light into Bennie’s face. As he did so the blind boy opened
his eyelids, sighed, moved his hands, and tried to rise.

“Tom!”

The word came in a whisper from his lips.

“Yes, Bennie, I’m here; are you hurt?”

“No--yes--I don’t know; what was it, Tom?”

“The fall, I guess. Can you get up? Here, I’ll help you.”

Bennie gained his feet. He was not much hurt. The door had given way
readily when the boys were forced against it, and so had broken the
severity of the shock. But both lads had met with some cuts and some
severe bruises.

“Have you got a lamp, Tom?”

“Yes; I just found it; come on, let’s go home.”

Tom took Bennie’s hand and turned to go out, but the first step around
the pillar, into the heading, brought him face to face with a wall of
solid rock which filled every inch of the passage. It had dropped,
like a curtain, blotting out, in one instant, the mule and the cars,
and forming an impassable barrier to the further progress of the boys
in that direction.

“We can’t get out this way,” said Tom; “we’ll have to go up through the
airway.”

They went back into the airway, and were met by a similar impenetrable
mass.

Then they went up into the short chambers beyond the airway, and Tom
flashed the light of his lamp into every entrance, only to find it
blocked and barred by the roof-rock from the fall.

“We’ll have to go back up the headin’,” said Tom, at last, “an’ down
through the old chambers, an’ out to the slope that way.”

But his voice was weak and cheerless, for the fear of a terrible
possibility had grown up in his mind. He knew that, if the fall
extended across the old chambers to the west wall of the mine, as was
more than likely, they were shut in beyond hope of escape, perhaps
beyond hope of rescue; and if such were to be their fate, then it
would have been far better if they were lying dead under the fallen
rock, with Billy and the cars.

Hand in hand the two boys went up the heading, to the first opening
in the lower wall, and creeping over the pile of “gob” that partially
blocked the entrance, they passed down into a series of chambers that
had been worked out years before, from a heading driven on a lower
level.

Striking across through the entrances, in the direction of the slope,
they came, at last, as Tom had expected and feared, to the line of the
fall: a mass of crushed coal and broken rock stretching diagonally
across the range of chambers towards the heading below.

But perhaps it did not reach to that heading; perhaps the heading
itself was still free from obstruction!

This was the only hope now left; and Tom grasped Bennie’s hand more
tightly in his, and hurried, almost ran, down the long, wide chamber,
across the airway and into the heading.

They had gone scarce twenty rods along the heading, when that cruel,
jagged wall of rock rose up before them, marking the confines of the
most cheerless prison that ever held a hopeless human being.

When Tom saw it he stopped, and Bennie said, “Have we come to it, Tom?”

Tom answered: “It’s there, Bennie,” and sank down upon a jutting rock,
with a sudden weakness upon him, and drew the blind boy to a seat
beside him.

“We’re shut in, Bennie,” he said. “We’ll never get out till they break
a way into us, and, maybe, by the time they do that, it’ll be--’twon’t
be worth while.”

Bennie clung tremblingly to Tom; but, even in his fright, it came into
his mind to say something reassuring, and, thinking of his lonesome
adventure on the day of the strike, he whispered, “Well, ’taint so bad
as it might be, Tom; they might ’a’ been one of us shut up here alone,
an’ that’d ’a’ been awful.”

“I wish it had ’a’ been one of us alone,” answered Tom, “for Mommie’s
sake. I wish it’d ’a’ been only me. Mommie couldn’t ever stan’ it to
lose--both of us--like--this.”

For their own misfortune, these boys had not shed a tear; but, at
the mention of Mommie’s name, they both began to weep, and, for many
minutes, the noise of their sobbing and crying was the only sound heard
in the desolate heading.

Tom was the first to recover.

A sense of the responsibility of the situation had come to him. He
knew that strength was wasted in tears. And he knew that the greater
the effort towards physical endurance, towards courage and manhood,
the greater the hope that they might live until a rescuing party could
reach them. Besides this, it was his place, as the older and stronger
of the two, to be very brave and cheerful for Bennie’s sake. So he
dried his tears, and fought back his terror, and spoke soothing words
to Bennie, and even as he did so, his own heart grew stronger, and he
felt better able to endure until the end, whatever the end might be.

“God can see us, down in the mine, just as well as He could up there
in the sunlight,” he said to Bennie, “an’ whatever He’d do for us up
there He’ll do for us down here. An’ there’s them ’at won’t let us die
here, either, w’ile they’ve got hands to dig us out; an’ I shouldn’t
wonder--I shouldn’t wonder a bit--if they were a-diggin’ for us now.”

After a time, Tom concluded that he would pass up along the line of the
fall, through the old chambers, and see if there was not some opening
left through which escape would be possible.

So he took Bennie’s hand again, and led him slowly up through the
abandoned workings, in and out, to the face of the fall at every point
where it was exposed, only to find, always, the masses of broken and
tumbled rock, reaching from floor to roof.

Yet not always! Once, as Tom flashed the lamp-light up into a blocked
entrance, he discovered a narrow space between the top of the fallen
rock and the roof, and, releasing Bennie’s hand, and climbing up to it,
with much difficulty, he found that he was able to crawl through into
a little open place in the next chamber.

From here he passed readily through an unblocked entrance into the
second chamber, and, at some little distance down it, he found another
open entrance. The light of hope flamed up in his breast as he crept
along over the smooth, sloping surfaces of fallen rock, across one
chamber after another, nearer and nearer to the slope, nearer and
nearer to freedom, and the blessed certainty of life. Then, suddenly,
in the midst of his reviving hope, he came to a place where the
closest scrutiny failed to reveal an opening large enough for even his
small body to force its way through. Sick at heart, in spite of his
self-determined courage, he crawled back through the fall, up the free
passages and across the slippery rocks, to where Bennie stood waiting.

“I didn’t find any thing,” he said, in as strong a voice as he could
command. “Come, le’s go on up.”

He took Bennie’s hand and moved on. But, as he turned through an
entrance into the next chamber, he was startled to see, in the
distance, the light of another lamp. The sharp ears of the blind boy
caught the sound of footsteps.

“Somebody’s comin’, Tom,” he said.

“I see the lamp,” Tom answered, “but I don’t know who it can be. There
wasn’t anybody in the new chambers w’en I started down with the load.
All the men went out quite a bit ahead o’ me.”

The two boys stood still; the strange light approached, and, with the
light, appeared, to Tom’s astonished eyes, the huge form and bearded
face of Jack Rennie.



CHAPTER VII.

THE SHADOW OF DEATH.


“Why, lads!” exclaimed Rennie; “lads!” Then, flashing the light of his
lamp into the boys’ faces, “What, Tom, is it you? you and the blind
brither? Ah! but it’s main bad for ye, bairnies, main bad--an’ warse
yet for the poor mither at hame.”

When Tom first recognized Rennie, he could not speak for fear and
amazement. The sudden thought that he and Bennie were alone, in the
power of this giant whose liberty he had sworn away, overcame his
courage. But when the kindly voice and sympathizing words fell on
his ears, his fear departed, and he was ready to fraternize with the
convict, as a companion in distress.

“Tom,” whispered Bennie, “I know his voice. It’s the man ’at talked so
kind to me on the day o’ the strike.”

“I remember ye, laddie,” said Jack. “I remember ye richt well.” Then,
turning to Tom, “Ye were comin’ up the fall; did ye find any openin’?”

“No,” said Tom, speaking for the first time since the meeting; “none
that’s any good.”

“An’ there’s naught above, either,” replied Jack; “so we’ve little to
do but wait. Sit ye doon, lads, an’ tell me how ye got caught.”

Seated on a shelf of rock, Tom told in a few words how he and Bennie
had been shut in by the fall. Then Jack related to the boys the story
of his escape from the sheriff, and how his comrades had spirited him
away into these abandoned workings, and were supplying him with food
until such time as he could safely go out in disguise, and take ship
for Europe.

There he was when the crash came.

“Noo ye mus’ wait wi’ patience,” he said. “It’ll no’ be for lang;
they’ll soon be a-comin’ for ye. The miners ha’ strong arms an’
stoot herts, an’ ye’ll hear their picks a-tap-tappin’ awa’ i’ the
headin’--to-morrow, mayhap.”

“An’ is it night now?” asked Bennie.

“It mus’ be, lad. I ha’ naught to mark the time by, but it mus’ be
along i’ the evenin’.”

“But,” interrupted Tom, as the thought struck him, “if they find you
here, you’ll have to go back to the jail.”

“I ha’ thocht o’ that,” answered Jack. “I ha’ thocht o’ that, an’ my
min’s made up. I’ll go back, an’ stan’ ma sentence. I ha’ deserved it.
I’d ha’ no peace o’ min’ a-wanderin’ o’er the earth a-keepin’ oot o’
the way o’ the law. An’ maybe, if I lived ma sentence oot, I could do
some’at that’s better. But I’ll no’ hide any longer; I canna do it!”

Off somewhere in the fall there was a grinding, crunching sound for a
minute, and then a muffled crash. Some loosened portion of the roof had
fallen in.

For a long time Jack engaged the boys in conversation, holding their
minds as much as possible from the fate of imprisonment.

Toward midnight Bennie complained of feeling hungry, and Jack went down
into the old chambers where he had been staying, and came back after
a while with a basket of food and a couple of coarse blankets, and
then they all went up to Bennie’s doorway. Tom’s oil was up there, and
their lamps needed filling. It seemed more like home up there too; and,
besides that, it was the point toward which a rescuing party would be
most likely to work.

Jack’s basket was only partly full of food, but there would be enough,
he thought, to last, by economical use, during the following day. He
ate none of it himself, however, and the boys ate but sparingly.

Then they made up a little platform from the boards and timbers of the
ruined door, and spread the blankets on it, and induced Bennie, who
seemed to be weak and nervous, to lie down on it and try to sleep. But
the lad was very restless, and slept only at intervals, as, indeed, did
Tom and Jack, one of whom had stretched himself out on the bench, while
the other sat on the mine floor, reclining against a pillar.

When they thought it was morning, they all arose and walked around a
little, and the boys ate another portion of the food from the basket.
But Jack did not touch it; he was not hungry, he said, and he went off
into the new chambers to explore the place.

After a while he came back and sat down, and began telling stories of
his boyhood life in the old country, intermingling with them many a
marvellous tale and strange adventure, and so he entertained the boys
for hours.

It must have been well on into the afternoon that Tom took to walking
up and down the heading. Sometimes Jack went with him, but oftener he
remained to talk with Bennie, who still seemed weak and ill, and who
lay down on the blankets again later on, and fell asleep.

The flame of the little lamp burned up dimly. More oil and a fresh wick
were put in, but the blaze was still spiritless.

Jack knew well enough what the trouble was. There were places up in
the new chambers where the deadly carbonic acid gas was escaping into
the prison, adding, with terrible rapidity, to the amount produced by
exhalation and combustion. But he said nothing; the boys did not know,
and it would be useless to alarm them further.

[Illustration]

Bennie started and moaned now and then in his sleep, and finally awoke,
crying. He had had bad dreams, he said.

Jack thought it must be late in the second evening of their
imprisonment.

He took all the food from the basket, and divided it into three equal
parts. It would be better to eat it, he thought, before actual
suffering from hunger began. They would be better able to hold out in
the end.

Nevertheless, he laid his portion back in the basket.

“I haven’t the stomach for it just noo,” he said. “Mayhap it’ll taste
better an’ I wait a bit.”

There was plenty of water. A little stream ran down through the airway,
from which the pail had been repeatedly filled.

The night wore on.

The first sound of rescue had not yet been heard.

By-and-by both boys slept.

Jack alone remained awake and thoughtful. His face gave token of
great physical suffering. Once he lifted the cover from the basket,
and looked hungrily and longingly at the little portion of food that
remained. Then he replaced the lid, and set the basket back resolutely
on the ledge.

“No! no!” he murmured. “I mus’ na tak’ it oot o’ the mou’s o’ Tom
Taylor’s bairns.”

For a long time he sat motionless, with his chin in his hands, and his
eyes fixed on the sleeping lads. Then, straightening up, there came
into his face a look of heroic resolution.

“I’ll do it!” he said, aloud. “It’ll be better for us a’.”

The sound of his voice awakened Tom, who had slept for some hours,
and who now arose and began again his monotonous walk up and down the
heading.

After a while, Jack motioned to him to come and sit beside him on the
bench.

“I ha’ summat to say to ye,” he said. Then, with a glance at the
sleeping boy, “Come ye up the airway a bit.”

The two walked up the airway a short distance, and sat down on a broken
prop by the side of the track.

“Tom,” said Jack, after a moment or two of silence, “it’s a-goin’ hard
wi’ us. Mos’ like it’s near two days sin’ the fall, an’ no soun’ o’
help yet. Na doot but they’re a-workin’, but it’ll tak’ lang to get
here fra the time ye hear the first tappin’. The three o’ us can’t live
that lang; mayhap two can. Ye s’all be the ones. I ha’ fixed on that
fra the start. That’s why I ha’ ta’en no food.”

“An’ we’ve had it all!” broke in Tom. “You shouldn’t a-done it. The
three of us ought to a’ fared alike--’cept, maybe, Bennie; he aint so
strong, an’ he ought to be favored.”

“Yes, Tom, the weakes’ first. That’s richt; that’s why I’m a-givin’
my chances to you lads. An’ besides that, my life ain’t worth savin’
any way, alongside o’ yours an’ Bennie’s. Ye s’all share what’s i’ the
basket atween ye. ’Tain’t much, but it’ll keep ye up as long’s the
air’ll support ye. It’s a-gettin’ bad, the air is. D’ye min’ the lomp,
how dim an’ lazy-like it burns? A mon’s got to ha’ such strength as
food’ll give him to hold out lang in air like this.”

“I wish you’d ’a’ eaten with us,” interrupted Tom again. “’Tain’t right
to let your chances go that way on account of us.”

Paying no attention to this protest, Jack continued:

“But I’ve a thing on ma min’, Tom, that I’d feel easier aboot an’
fitter for what’s a-comin’ if I told it. It’s aboot the father, lad;
it’s aboot Tom Taylor, an’ how he cam’ to his death. Ye’ll no’ think
too hard o’ me, Tom? It wasna the fall o’ top coal that killit him--it
was _me_! Tom! lad! Tom! bear wi’ me a minute! Sit ye an’ bear wi’ me;
it’ll no’ be for lang.”

The boy had risen to his feet, and stood staring at the man in
terrified amazement. Then Jack rose, in his turn, and hurried on with
his story:

“It wasna by intent, Tom. We were the best o’ frien’s; I was his butty.
We had a chamber thegither that time i’ the Carbondale mine. But one
day we quarrelled,--I’ve no call to say what aboot,--we quarrelled
there in the chamber, an’ ugly words passed, an’ there cam’ a moment
when one o’ us struck the ither.

“Then the fight began; han’ to han’; both lamps oot; a’ in the dark;
oh, it was tarrible! tarrible!--doon on the floor o’ the mine, crashin’
up against the ragged pillars, strugglin’ an’ strainin’ like mad--an’
a’ of a sudden, I heard a sharp cry, an’ I felt him a-slippin’ oot o’
ma arms an’ doon to ma feet, an’ he lay there an’ was still.

“I foun’ ma lamp an’ lighted it, an’ when I lookit at him, he was dead.

“I was a coward. I was afraid to say we’d been a-fightin’; I was afraid
they’d say I murdered him. So I blastit doon a bit o’ roof, an’ fixed
it like the top coal’d killit him; an’ I wasna suspeckit. But I could
na stay there; an’ I wandered west, an’ I wandered east, an’ I took to
drink, an’ to evil deeds, an’ at last I cam’ back, an’ I went in wi’
the Molly Maguires--Scotchman as I was--an’ I done desperate work for
’em; work that I oughtn’t to be alive to-night to speak aboot--but I
ha’ suffered; O lad, I ha’ suffered!

“Mony an’ mony’s the nicht, as often as I ha’ slept an’ dreamed, that
I ha’ fought over that fight i’ the dark, an’ felt that body a-slip,
slippin’ oot o’ ma grasp. Oh, it’s been tarrible, tarrible!”

Jack dropped into his seat again and buried his face in his hands.

The man’s apparent mental agony melted Tom’s heart, and he sat down
beside him and laid a comforting hand on his knee.

“I have naught against you,” he said, and repeated, “I have naught
against you.”

After a while Jack looked up.

“I believe ye, lad,” he said, “an’ somehow I feel easier for the
tellin’. But ye mus’ na tell the mither aboot it, Tom; I’ve a reason
for that. I’ve a bit o’ money here, that I’ve saved along through the
years, an’ I’ve neither kith nor kin that’s near enow to leave it
wi’--an’ I want she should have it; an’ if she knew she might not tak’
it.”

As he spoke he drew, from an inner pocket, a folded and wrapped
package, and gave it to Tom.

“It’s a matter o’ a thousan’ dollars,” he continued, “an’ I’d like--I’d
like if a part o’ it could be used for gettin’ sight for the blin’ lad,
gin he lives to get oot. I told him, one day, that he should have his
sight, if money’d buy it--an’ I want to keep ma ward.”

Tom took the package, too much amazed, and too deeply moved to speak.

The grinding noise of settling rock came up from the region of the
fall, and then, for many minutes, the silence was unbroken.

After a while, Jack said, “Put the money where they’ll find it on ye,
gin ye--gin ye don’t get oot.”

Then he rose to his feet again.

“You’re not goin’ to leave us?” said Tom.

“Yes, lad, I mus’ go. It’s the way wi’ hunger, sometimes, to mak’ a man
crazy till he’s not knowin’ what he does. Ye s’all no ha’ that to fear
fra me. Tom,” grasping the boy, suddenly, by both hands, “don’t come up
into the new chambers, Tom; promise me!”

Tom promised, and Jack added, “Mayhap I s’all not see ye
again--good-by--keep up heart; that’s the gret thing for both o’
ye--keep up heart, an’ never let hope go.”

Then he loosed the boy’s hands, picked up his lamp, and, with a smile
on his face, he turned away. He passed down the airway, and out by
the entrance where blind Bennie lay, still sleeping, and stopped and
looked tenderly down upon him, as men look, for the last time in life,
on those whom they love.

He bent over, holding his heavy beard back against his breast, and
touched the tangled hair on the child’s forehead with his lips; and
then, weak, staggering, with the shadow of his fate upon him, he passed
out on the heading, and up into the new chambers, where the poisoned
air was heavy with the deadly gas, and the lamp-flame scarcely left the
wick; and neither Tom Taylor nor his blind brother ever saw Jack Rennie
again, in life or in death.

When Tom went back to the waiting-place, Bennie awoke.

“I had such a nice dream, Tom,” he said. “I thought I was a-lyin’ in
the little bed, at home, in the early mornin’; an’ it was summer, an’
I could hear the birds a-singin’ in the poplar tree outside; an’ then
Mommie she come up by the bed an’ kissed me; an’ then I thought, all
of a sudden, I could see. O Tom, it was lovely! I could see Mommie
a-stannin’ there, an’ I could see the sunlight a-comin’ in at the
window, an’ a-shinin’ on the floor; an’ I jumped up an’ looked out, an’
it was all just like--just like heaven.”

There was a pause, and then Bennie added, “Tom, do you s’pose if I
should die now an’ go to heaven, I could see up there?”

“I guess so,” answered Tom; “but you aint goin’ to die; we’re goin’ to
get out--both of us.”

But Bennie was still thinking of the heavenly vision.

“Then I wouldn’t care, Tom; I’d just as lieve die--if only Mommie could
be with me.”

Again Tom spoke, in earnest, cheerful tones, of the probability of
rescue; and discussed the subject long, and stimulated his own heart,
as well as Bennie’s, with renewed hope.

By-and-by the imperious demands of hunger compelled a resort to the
remnant of food. Tom explained that Jack had gone away, to be by
himself a while, and wanted them to eat what there was in the basket.
Bennie did not question the statement. So the last of the food was
eaten.

After this there was a long period of quiet waiting, and listening for
sounds of rescue, and, finally, both boys lay down again and slept.

Hours passed by with no sound save the labored breathing of the
sleepers. Then Tom awoke, with a prickling sensation over his entire
body, and a strange heaviness of the head and weakness of the limbs;
but Bennie slept on.

“He might as well sleep,” said Tom, to himself, “it’ll make the time
shorter for him.”

But by and by Bennie awoke, and said that he felt very sick, and that
his head was hurting him.

He fell asleep again soon, however, and it was not until some hours
later that he awoke, with a start, and asked for water. After that,
though oppressed with drowsiness, he slept only at intervals, and
complained constantly of his head.

Tom cared for him and comforted him, putting his own sufferings out of
sight; sleeping a little, straining his ears for a sound of rescue.

The hours crept on, and the flame of the little lamp burned round and
dim, and the deadly gas grew thicker in the darkness.

Once, after a longer period of quiet than usual, there came a whisper
from Bennie.

“Tom!”

“What is it, Bennie?”

“Where did Jack go?”

“Up in the new chambers.”

“How long’s he been gone?”

“Oh, a day or two, I guess.”

“Hark, Tom, is that him?”

“I don’t hear any thing, Bennie.”

“Listen! it’s a kind o’ tappin,’ tappin’--don’t you hear it?”

But Tom’s heart was beating so wildly that he could hear no lesser
noise.

“I don’t hear it any more,” said Bennie.

But both boys lay awake now and listened; and by and by Bennie spoke
again, “There it is; don’t you hear it, Tom?”

This time Tom did hear it; just the faintest tap, tap, sounding,
almost, as though it were miles away.

There was a little crowbar there, that had been brought down from the
new chambers. Tom caught it up, and hurried into the heading, and beat,
half a dozen times, on the wall there, and then, dropping the bar from
sheer exhaustion, he lay down beside it and listened.

It was hard to tell if they heard his strokes, though he repeated them
again and again, as his strength would permit.

But the faint tapping ceased only at intervals, and, once in a long
while, a scarcely perceptible thud could be heard.

Tom crept back to Bennie, and tried to speak cheeringly, as they lay
and listened.

But the blind boy’s limbs had grown numb, and his head very heavy and
painful. His utterance, too, had become thick and uncertain, and at
times he seemed to be wandering in his mind. Once he started up, crying
out that the roof was falling on him.

Hours passed. Echoing through the fall, the sound of pick and crowbar
came, with unmistakable earnestness.

Tom had tapped many times on the wall, and was sure he had been heard,
for the answering raps had reached his ears distinctly.

But they were so long coming; so long! Yet Tom nursed his hope, and
fought off the drowsiness that oppressed him, and tried to care for
Bennie.

The blind boy had got beyond caring for himself. He no longer heard the
sounds of rescue. Once he turned partly on his side.

“Yes, Mommie,” he whispered, “yes, I see it; ain’t it pretty!” Then,
after a pause, “O Mommie, how beautiful--how beautiful--it is--to see!”

Tap, tap, thud, came the sounds of rescue through the rock and coal.

Tap, tap, thud; but, oh, how the moments lagged; how the deadly gas
increased; how the sharp teeth of hunger gnawed; how feebly burned the
flame of the little lamp; how narrow grew the issue between life and
death!

A time had come when Bennie could be no longer roused to consciousness,
when the brain itself had grown torpid, and the tongue refused to act.

Tap! tap! louder and louder; they were coming near, men’s voices could
be heard; thud! thud! the prison-wall began to tremble with the heavy
blows; but the hours went slipping by into the darkness, and, over
the rude couch, whereon the blind boy lay, the angel of death hung
motionless, with pinions poised for flight.

“O God!” prayed Tom; “O dear God, let Bennie live until they come!”



CHAPTER VIII.

OUT OF DARKNESS.


It was with a light heart that the Widow Taylor kissed her two boys
good-by that morning in December, and watched them as they disappeared
into the fading darkness. When they were gone she went about her
household duties with a song on her lips. She did not often sing when
she was alone; but this was such a pretty little song of a mother and
her boy, that on this happy winter morning she could not choose but
sing it.

Hers were such noble boys, such bright, brave boys! They had given her
heart and life to begin the struggle for bread, on that awful day when
she found herself homeless, moneyless, among strangers in a strange
land; when, in answer to her eager question for her husband, she had
been told that he had met an untimely death, and was already lying in
his grave.

But, as she had toiled and trusted, her sons had grown, both in stature
and in grace, till they had become, indeed, her crown of rejoicing.

One thing yet she looked forward to with eager hope, and that was the
time when her blind boy might have the benefit of skilful treatment for
his eyes, with the possibility of sight. It might take years of saving
yet, but every day that they could all work made the time of waiting
one day less. So she was hardly less rejoiced at the renewal of their
tasks than were the boys themselves.

It was a bright day, and warm, too, for December; she thought of it
afterward, how fair the day was. But it was lonely without her boys. It
had been weeks since they had been away from her all day so; and, long
before the sun went down, she began to wish for their coming.

She made supper early, and set out a few treasured dainties on the
table, in honor of the first day’s work. Then, while the shadows grew
indistinct, and the darkness settled down upon the earth, she sat by
the window and saw the stars come out, and waited for her boys.

Suddenly there came a jar, the house rocked slightly, the windows
rattled, and a dish on the pantry-shelf fell to the floor and was
broken.

The Widow Taylor started to her feet, and stood, for a moment,
wondering what it could mean. Then she opened the door of her cottage
and looked out.

Other women were standing by their gates, and men were hurrying past
her in the darkness.

“What’s happened?” she called out, to a neighbor.

“A fall,” came back the answer; “it must ’a’ been a fall.”

“Where?”

She asked the question with a dreadful apprehension settling down upon
her.

“We canna tell; but mos’ like it’s i’ the Dryden Slope. They’re
a-runnin’ that way.”

The widow shrank back into her house, and sank, weakly, into a chair.
For the moment she was overcome; but only for the moment. Hope came to
her rescue. There were a hundred chances to one that her boys were not
in the mine, even if the fall had been there; indeed, it was already
time for them to be at home.

She waited, for a few moments, in anxious indecision; then, throwing a
shawl about her head and shoulders, she went out into the night.

She knew very well the route by which her boys came from their work,
and she determined to go until she should meet them. There were many
people hurrying toward the slope, but only one man coming from it, and
he was running for a doctor, and had no time to talk.

Increasing anxiety hastened the widow’s steps. She could not go fast
enough. Even as it was, people jostled by her in the darkness, and she
ran to keep up with them.

At last, the mile that lay between her cottage and the mine was almost
covered. Up on the hillside, at the mouth of the slope, she saw the
twinkling and glancing of the lights of many lamps. The crowds had
grown more dense. Other women were pushing past her, moaning and
lamenting.

She climbed the hill, and through the throng, to where a heavy rope had
been stretched about the mouth of the slope, as a barrier to hold back
the pressing crowd; and clutching the rope with both hands, she stood
there and waited and watched.

She was where she could see into the opening of the mine, and where she
could see all who came out.

Some cars were lowered from the slope-house to the mouth, and a dozen
men, with picks and crowbars, climbed into them and went speeding down
into the blackness. It was another rescuing party.

Across the open space before her, the widow saw Sandy McCulloch coming,
and cried out to him, “Sandy!”

He stopped for an instant, then, recognizing the woman’s voice, he came
up to her, and laid his hands on hers, and, before she could speak
again, he said, “Ye’re lookin’ for the lads. They’re no’ come oot yet.”

“Sandy--are they safe?”

“We canna tell. There was mony ’at got this side o’ the fall afoor it
comed; an’ some ’at got catched in it; an’ mos’ like there be some
’at’s beyon’ it.”

A car came up the slope, and the body of a man was lifted out, placed
on a rude stretcher, and carried by.

Sandy moved, awkwardly, to get between the dread sight and the woman’s
eyes. But she looked at it only for a moment. It was a man; and those
she sought were not men, but boys.

“They’re a-workin’,” continued Sandy, “they’re a-workin’ like tigers to
get to ’em, an’ we’re a-hopin’; that’s a’ we can do--work an’ hope.”

The man hurried away and left her, still standing there, to watch the
car that came up from the blackness, at lengthening intervals, with its
dreadful load, and to hear the shrill cry from some heart-broken wife
and mother, as she recognized the victim. But they were always men who
were brought out, not boys.

After a time, a party of workers came up, exhausted, and others went
down in their places. The men were surrounded with eager questioners,
but they had little to say. The work of rescue was progressing, that
was all.

By and by Sandy came back.

“Ye should no stay here, Mistress Taylor,” he said. “When the lads be
found ye s’all know it; I’ll bring ’em to ye mysel’. Mos’ like they’re
back o’ the fall, an’ it’ll tak’ time to get ’em--all nicht maybe,
maybe longer; but when they’re found, ye s’all not be long knowin’ it.”

“O Sandy! ye’ll spare naught; ye’ll spare naught for ’em?”

“We’ll spare naught,” he said.

He had started with her towards home, helping her along until the
bend in the road disclosed the light in her cottage window; and then,
bidding her to be hopeful, and of strong heart, he left her, and
hurried back to aid in the work of rescue.

The outer line of the fall, and the openings into it, had already been
searched; and all the missing had been accounted for--some living, some
dead, and some to whom death would have been a happy relief--all the
missing, save Tom Taylor and his blind brother.

It was well known that their route to the foot of the slope lay by the
new north heading; and, along this passage, the entire work of rescue
was now concentrated. The boys would be found, either buried under the
fall, or imprisoned back of it.

At some points in the heading, the rescuing parties found the rock
and coal wedged in so solidly that the opening of a few feet was the
work of an hour; again, the huge blocks and slabs were piled up,
irregularly; and, again, there would be short distances that were
wholly clear.

But no matter what these miners met, their work never for one moment
ceased nor lagged. They said little; men do not talk much under a
pressure like that; but every muscle was tense, every sense on the
alert; they were at the supreme height of physical effort.

Such labor was possible only for a few hours at a time, but the tools
scarcely ceased in their motion, so quickly were they caught up by
fresh hands, from the exhausted ones that dropped them.

Men do not work like that for money. No riches of earth could charge
nerve and muscle with such energetic fire. It was, indeed, a labor of
love.

There was not a workman in Dryden Slope but would have worn his fingers
to the bone to save these lads, or their widowed mother, from one hour
of suffering. The frank, manly character of Tom, and the pathetic
simplicity of his blind brother, had made both boys the favorites of
the mine. And beneath the grimy clothes of these rugged miners, beat
hearts as warm and resolute as ever moved the noblest of earth’s heroes
to generous deeds of daring.

When the Widow Taylor reached home it was almost midnight. She set away
the supper-dishes from the table, and, in place of them, she put some
of her simple household remedies. She prepared bandages and lint, and
made every thing ready for the restoration and comfort of the sufferers
when they should arrive.

She expected that they would be weak, wounded, too, perhaps; but she
had not yet thought of them as dead.

Then she lay down upon her bed and tried to sleep; but at every noise
she wakened; at every passing foot-fall she started to her feet.

At daybreak a miner stopped, with blackened face and bleeding hands, to
tell her that the work of rescue was going bravely on. He had, himself,
just come from the face of the new opening, he said; and would go back
again, to work, after he had taken a little food and a little sleep.

The morning went by; noon passed, and still no other tidings. The
monotony of waiting became unbearable at last, and the stricken woman
started on another journey to the mine.

When she came near to the mouth of the slope, they made way for her
in silent sympathy. A trip of cars came out soon after her arrival,
and a half-dozen miners lifted themselves wearily to the ground. The
crowd pressed forward with eager questions, but the tired workers only
shook their heads. They feared, they said, that not half the distance
through the fall had yet been accomplished.

But one of them, a brawny, great-hearted Irishman, came over to where
the Widow Taylor stood, white-faced and eager-eyed, and said, “It
won’t be long now, ma’am, till we’ll be afther rachin’ ’em. We’re
a-hopin’ every blissed hour to break through to where the purty lads is
a-sthayin’.”

She started to ask some question, but he interrupted her:

“Oh, av coorse! av coorse! It’s alive they are, sure; an’ hearty; a bit
hungry like, maybe, an’ no wondher; but safe, ma’am, as safe as av ye
had the both o’ thim in your own house, an’ the dure locked behind yez.”

“An’ do ye find no signs?” she asked. “Do ye hear no sounds?”

“Ah, now!” evading the question; “niver ye fear. Ye’ll see both childer
a-laughin’ in your face or ever the mornin’ dawns again, or Larry
Flannigan’s word’s no betther than a lie.”

She turned away and went home again, and the long night passed, and the
morning dawned, and Larry Flannigan’s word was, indeed, no better than
a lie.

It was only the same old story: “They’re a-workin’. It can’t be long
now.”

But among themselves the miners said that had the lads escaped the
fall, they would perish from hunger and foul air long before the way
could be opened into their prison. To bring their lifeless bodies out
for decent burial was all that could be hoped.

The morning of the fourth day dawned, beautiful and sunny. It was the
holy Christmas Day; the day on which the star-led shepherds found the
Christ-child in the hallowed manger in the town of Bethlehem. White
and pure upon the earth, in the winter sunlight, rested a covering of
newly fallen snow; and, pale-faced and hollow-eyed, the mother of the
two imprisoned boys looked out upon it from the window of her desolated
home.

The sympathizing neighbors who had kept her company for the night had
gone for a little while, and she was alone.

She knew that there was no hope.

They had thought it a kindness to tell her so at last, and she had
thanked them for not keeping the bitter truth hid from her.

She did not ask any more that she might see her two boys in life;
she only prayed now that their dear bodies might be brought to her
unmangled, to be robed for Christian burial.

To this end she began now to make all things ready. She put in order
the little best room; she laid out the clean, new clothing, and the
spotless sheets; she even took from her worn purse the four small coins
to place upon the white, closed lids.

In the locked cupboard, where the boys should not see them till the
time came, she found the Christmas presents she had thought to give to
them this day.

Not much, indeed. A few cheap toys, some sweetmeats purchased secretly,
a book or two, and, last of all, some little gifts that her own weary,
loving hands had wrought in the long hours after the children were
asleep.

And now the Christmas dawn had come; but the children--

She had not wept before, not since the first jar from the fall had
rocked her cottage; but now, with the sight of these poor, simple
Christmas gifts, there came some softening influence that moved her
heart, and brought the swift tears to her eyes, and she sat down in her
accustomed chair and wept--wept long and piteously, indeed, but in the
weeping found relief.

She was aroused by a knock at the door. The latch was lifted, the door
pushed open, and Sandy McCulloch stumbled in. He was out of breath, his
eyes were wide with excitement, and down each side of his grimy face
was a furrow where the tears had run.

The widow started to her feet.

“Sandy!”

A wild hope had come into her heart.

“They’re found!” he forced out breath enough to say.

“O Sandy, alive or--or”--

She could not finish the question; the room seemed whirling round her;
she grasped at the chair for support.

“Alive!” he shouted. “Alive, an’ a-goin’ to live!”

He started forward, and caught the woman as she fell. The shock of
joy had been too sudden and too great, and for a time nature gave way
before it.

But it was indeed true. When the men, working at the face of the
tunnel, caught the sound of responsive tappings, they labored with
redoubled energy, if such a thing could be, and, after another night of
most gigantic effort, they broke through into the prison-house, to find
both boys unconscious indeed, but alive, alive.

Medical aid was at hand, and though for a time the spirit of Bennie
seemed fain to leave his wasted body, it took a firmer hold at last,
and it was known that he would live.

In triumphant procession, they bore the rescued, still unconscious,
boys in tender haste to their mother’s house; and those who ran before
shouted, “Found! found!” and those who followed after cried, “Alive!
alive!”

How the women kissed their own children and wept, as they saw the lads
borne by! How the men grasped one another’s hands, and tried to speak
without a tremor in the voice--and failed. And how wild the whole town
went over the gallant rescue of the widow’s sons!

But Jack Rennie, poor Jack, brave, misguided Jack! They found his body
later on, and gave it tender burial. But it was only when the lips of
Tom and Bennie were unsealed, with growing strength, that others knew
how this man’s heroic sacrifice had made it possible for these two boys
to live.

Under the most watchful and tender care of his mother, Tom soon
recovered his usual health. But for Bennie the shock had been more
severe. He gained strength very slowly, indeed. He could not free his
mind from dreadful memories. Many a winter night he started from his
sleep, awakened by dreams of falling mines.

It was not until the warm, south winds of April crept up the valley
of Wyoming, that he could leave his easy-chair without a hand to help
him; and not until all the sweet roses of June were in blossom that he
walked abroad in the sunlight as before.

But then--oh, then what happened? Only this: that Jack Rennie’s gift
was put to the use he had bespoken for it; that skilled hands in the
great city gave proper treatment to the blind boy’s eyes through many
weeks, and then--he saw! Only this; but it was life to him,--new,
sweet, joyous life.

One day he stepped upon the train, with sight restored, to ride back
to his valley home. Wide-eyed he was; exuberant with hope and fancy,
seeing all things, talking to those about him, asking many questions.

The full and perfect beauty of late summer rested on the land. The
fields were never more luxuriantly green and golden, nor the trees more
richly clothed with verdure. The first faint breath of coming autumn
had touched the landscape here and there with spots of glowing color,
and the red and yellow fruit hung temptingly among the leaves of all
the orchard trees.

The waters of the river, up whose winding course the train ran on and
on, were sparkling in the sunlight with a beauty that, in this boy’s
eyes, was little less than magical.

And the hills; how high the hills were! Bennie said he never dreamed
the hills could be so high.

“Beautiful!” he said, again and again, as the ever changing landscapes
formed and faded in his sight; “beautiful! beautiful!”

Before the train reached Wilkesbarre the summer evening had fallen,
and from that city, up the valley of Wyoming, Bennie saw from the
car-window only the twinkling of many lights.

Tom was at the station to meet him. Dear, brave Tom, how his heart
swelled with pride, as, by some unaccountable instinct, Bennie came to
him, and called him by name, and put his arms around his neck.

Many were there to see the once blind boy, and give him welcome home.
And as they grasped his hand, and marked his happiness, some laughed
for joy, and others,--for the same reason indeed,--others wept.

Then they started on the long home walk, Tom and Bennie, hand in hand
together, as they used to go hand in hand, to find and greet the mother.

She was waiting for them; sitting by the window in her chair, as she
had sat that dreadful winter night; but there came now no sudden jar to
send a pallor to her face; she heard, instead, the light footsteps of
her two boys on the walk, and their voices at the door; and then--why,
then, she had Bennie in her arms, and he was saying--strange that they
should be the very words that passed his lips that awful hour when
death hung over him--he was saying, “O Mommie! how beautiful--how
beautiful--it is--to see!”



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 --Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_); text in
   bold by “equal” signs (=bold=).

 --Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 --Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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