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[NOW FIKST PUBLISHED.] A PROPHET OF THE MINES. A CHRISTMAS STO,O-" BY J. MONK FOSTER. Author of A Pit Brow Lassie, The Black Moss Mystery," &c., &c. I ALL RIGHTS RESER VED.) [CONTINUED FROM LAST WEFK.1 CHAPTER IV. IK TilE VALLEY OF PEATH. 1, 0 W L Y ously, the clock in the old church tower at Melling- ham chimed the hour of five, and the deep, clear notes of the bell long in air^ S' spread far over tbe snowy expanse of country surrounding the slumbering village, Five o'clock on the morn before Christmas Day, and the striking of that hour was the signal for all the toilers and spinners in the hamlet to arise, and prepare themselves for the labour of the coming day. Already several factory girls and pitmen were hurrying along the little alleys and lanes, their feet patting noiselessly on the thiok carpet of snow, and their forms \figue 3 visible through the thin fog which shut out the light of moon and stars. As the last notes of the deep-mouthed bell were dying away, the door of Levi Chorley's cottage opened and the Prophet appeal e oh^ the doorstep. He was attired in his pit* clothes, had a newly-shafted pick swung upon his left shoulder, and in his right hand he carried his can of tea. a He paused on the threshold a few moments, as if he were reluctant to quit his cosy home and face the deep snow and biting air. But he was troubled with his own woe rather than the morn's inclemenoy, and the haggard look on his honest, rugged face betokened the sharpness of the conflict that had been going on within his breast during the past To-morrow! to-morrow 1" he moaned wearily to himself as he stood there on the rtnnrstep Then suddenly he cried aloud, "Goodmornin', mother!" and shutting the door behind, him he trudged off to his W At'the bottom end of the villafja street-the Prophet came to a sudden standstill. From the unshuttered window of the house opposite where he stood a broad stream of light came falling upon the miner and lighting up a wide spaoe in the dark snow-swathed street. It was the home of Nancy Somers. It was the sound of her voice that bad arrested the Prophet's feet so suddenly. Standing there beside the window, be could hear her talking to her mother-could see her seated at the table eating her breakfast. That dark day before Christmas will never pass from the Prophet's memory, for it is burned into his brain as only one or two days in a man's lifetime can be. To look back upon it is to remember a time when he endured the very torture of hell for the sake of a fair woman-when he was sorely tempted to stain his soul with a cardinal crimc-but when his love of God and inherent manlipess snatched him from the direst temptation that eyer crossed a man's path, and brought him out of the fire unscorched and purified, For a moment or two Levi paused there, his eyes resting lovingly, hungrily, despairingly, on his loved one's slim figure and darn, hand- some face. Then with a sob be hurried on his way again, thinking of the morrow on which his old sweetheart and George Bradford were to be married. That working day passed as many other working dayspf the Prophet had, with the exception of the agony his own thoughts caused him. To those about him he was only & trifle more quiet than usual and more chary of his words. When he and his successful rival met, as they were compelled frequently to do, owingtothenature0! thei word passed between them. 7, of triumph which burned in £ ford* brown eyes told it. ow,, td., nlainlv at words could have said— Hal na 1 P w »nn ire out of the race for Nanoy no» Vour old ,» will become mj "'Levi ondertto'od >11 thi«, yet bore himself rniiv savin? no word that a man might r" ,!7' Ea from hi. breaking he.rt there issued ft voioeless prayer ttat cive him strength to bear his trouble—to see hil dftrlTng linked for .11 time to one who .« a gambler, a tippler, and a sceptic. And thus noonday passed and afternoon oame. In another hour the miners would finish work and his them homeward. But ere that brief period spent itself a destined to be enacted at ^ire s 7. one of those terrible calamities that^end shudder through the country s hf*rta™k'l scores of humble households with bitterest W The Prophet had just done. n«ihad filled his last tub with coal—had Placed1"8 dulled pioks upon the small wagon, had gathered his tools together and put them aside, had dressed himself, and was making his way towards the shunt, when the first dreadful note of the grim tragedy rang out. First of all came a swift, fieroe, blinding glare, as if a million lightning flashes had blended in ono, and shot themselves through the mine. Then a mighty ",hir'd S"* dashed the miner, semeks. to he a thunderous roar and orasn, j:i deadlr impact of two worlds, and, last of all, a deadly bush and darkness. The pit had exploded. When the Prophet oame to his senses ne was lying across the iron rails, with his ox- ™Jffed lamp firmly clutched m his right Land He was badly shaken, but not dis- and he sat there for a short space, won- dering what had happened. Then the truth flashed upon him, and, jumping to his feet, te rushed down the road m the knowing that on bia speed depended his escaping the deadly afterdamp. •Suddenly he paused m his mad rush for life. The voice of some stricken fellow-miner bad caught his par Help l Help!' For God's sake, help I V" nie Don't leave meT beseeching voice transfixed tne Prophet to the spot. It was his rival, Bradford, who called to him for aid. Should he go? No! Why should he, of all men, move a finger to help the man who had ruined his life-who to-morrow was to wed Nancy Somers ? Let him die. He had only to go on his way, and save himself, and leave the other to his fate. The after-damp would soon do its work, and to-morrow Nancy would again be free. Still he stood there, great beads of sweat gathering on his brow. To save his rival meant his own ruin--bot to leave him meant murder. And still the piteous cries of the maimed and helpless pitman rang through that dark gallery, and at last the Prophet turned away. For Nancy's sake he was ready to stain his soul with a dastardly crime. It was the only way in which he could save her from Bradford. But the Prophet did not go far. Suddenly he fell upon his knees in the darkness and began praying with all his power, tears of contrition running down his grimy cheeks and deep sobs shaking his breast. He had mastered the devil within him and masking God to forgive him for the awful crime he had nearly done. H I Then he jumped to his feet, rusnea to ine place where Bradford lay, tore away witta almost superhuman strength the great log ot! timber that had fallen upon his rival an crushed him to the floor; and then he led th freed man toward the pit shaft, each feeling his way along in the darkness. One of Bradford's legs had been rather severely orushed by the bar" that the explo- sion had hurled upon him, and be could only crawl painfully and slowly along the dark gallery at the other's heels. But the Prophet never dreamt now of quitting his companion's side and seeking his own safety. As a sort of atonement for his late evil thoughts, he had resolved to save Bradford or die with him. And so the two miners crept along the tortuous and silent corridora of the mine, which seemed now deserted by all save them- selves and the dead. Levi knew every nook and corner of the pit, and feeling his way by means of the rails, he worked along towards the shaft. Suddenly he stopped and ex- claimed: Hush There s somebody cummin. Dost heeur'em, Bradford i The next instant there was a twinkling of lights in the distance, a hurried tramp of many feet,, and a stream of excited, halt- naked, minet's came rushing towards—ana paat them. "Come this way! Come this way I" the fleeing pitmen cried to Levi and Bradford as they stood aside to let the throng pass. "The pit's fired, and the shaft has olosed in Come to th' owd pit 1 Come to th' owd pit 1" The Prophet snatched a lighted lamp from the hand of one of the lads who ran in the rear of the flying crowd, and then be and his companion turned about and also made their way In the direction of the old pit. On reaching the bottom of the disused I- 1. I There was a foafening ron, a swift terrible whirl t Kind, and they were dashed senseless to the floor. j a shaft they found the rest of the miners there, and one of them was olamorously signalling for help to the world above. sounding-rod ran up one side of the pit^ to the surface, and the signalling was affected by striking this rod with a heavy piece of metal. As yet the imprisoned men had received no answering signal from the pit top, but they did not despair of escaping, for they knew that someone must hear them soon, and then soeedy means would be taken for their rescue Besides, now that the Squire Pit shaft had olosed in, the only way of effecting an en- trance into the exploded mine was by means of the old pit, and the rescue parties would be certain to come that way. And still the sharp olang clang I olang I of the sounding-rod rang out, each stroke of the knocker filling the pit eye with great waves of sound, and yet no response came from above. The thoughts uppermost in all minds now were, How long yet shall we be imprisoned? Will release come ere the pit explodes again P or having esoaped the fire-damp, are we doomed to perish by the deadly choke-damp r" And while the pitmen conversed with each other about the horror they bad suffered and °«„Lof the relatives «nd Uaar, Btrnck down at thoir very sides-of the !? !i nd dying they had sorambled over in dead and dying toe/ p, t M, £ 5 Si hifcomUe., !u .nd thonght- ft11. But he did not think of bis own safety merely. He was thinking of his mother, of Nanoy Somers, of George Bradford, and feel- in^ strangely satisfied now that he had triumphed over his evil impulse to murder his rival by omitting to save him. Suddenly a glad cry broke from the hps of eaoh grimy, half-naked, bruised man and Ud. Someone signalling to them from surface At first there was a sharp continuous jingling of the rod, then three clear strokes Evfryone there understood the signal. It meant that preparations were being made *o desoend, and that their resoue was now cer- taj5'ost of the pitmen bad sprung to their feet when the answering signal ran out, and they crowded about the bottom of the pit, eacer to jump into the hoppet which was :o hear them to safety. Presently the sound of voices was heard in the shaft, each moment they came nearer and nearer; now the slowly descending hoppet came in sight with two men inside it-the under-manager, Mr. Barker, and the under-looker, Dick Huret. "How many of you are therer Barker asked as he stepped on solid ground and waved the excited men back. "About thirty on us," someone answered. And the others ?" again queried Barker sadly. I I "There was no response. For a moment the oitmen forgot themselves and thought only 8 their dead and dying n»i» entomb* i the deadly miue bebind them. "Let five lads get in !"the manager cried. No more Stand back, I tell you, the lads first I" Five lads jumped into the hoppet, the signal was given to ascend, and the youngsters were carried to the earth above and their friends. Again the hoppet descended, was filled with men, and away once more it rose towards heaven and safety. Again and again was a hoppet-ful of men taken up the shaft, until all that remained below now were three miners, the manager and underlooker, and the Prophet and Bradford. Once more the iron oup-shaped hoppet touched the pit bottom, and into it the three miners jumped, one of them saying, "Come on, Prophet, tha'art next J" Nowe," Levi answered, Bradford is hurt. Let him go fust. Ah'll wait." Bradford needed no urging to take Chor- ley's place. He scrambled into the hoppet with Levi's help, and off the four men were borne to the surface. Again the boppet came down, but ere the Prophet and the other two could get into it ther« was a deafening roar, a swift terrible whirlwind and they were dashed senseless to the floor. The iwiue had again exploded. the floor. The mine had again exploded.



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