In the Mining Regions by Garry Moss


At the Station.

The cars stopped at a rude station. A little girl standing by a cow was the only human being to be seen. The girl was barefoot; her white hair looked as if it had not been touched by any comb for a week.

Grandly the hills stretched out, summit after summit. Here and there could be seen a little home, plain enough and poor enough, but made beautiful by its emerald setting.

"Do you work in the mills?" I asked the child with the white head. She stuck her forefinger in her mouth, looked shyly down, and shook her head.

Aunt Sally.

"Is that your cow?" was the next question. She nodded this time, and looked up at us with pleasant blue eyes.

"Can you show as where the mine is?"

"Yes, I can," she said, brightening at the small bit of money I held out, "It's yenter,–coom an' I'll tell ye."

We followed her to a fissure in the side of the hill, a place of rough beams, and bare of verdure. It seemed singularly deserted, for it wanted nearly half an hour to working time. We looked into the shaft with a shudder. It led in a slanting direction into the deep earth, and it seemed like going into a grave to enter it.

"Poppy goes down ther," said the girl. "He an' the other men are mad 'cause they have to stay there so long."

"Could we got a breakfast round hers, anywhere?" my friend asked of the child.

"Oh, yes, Aunt Sally, down there;" stud she pointed to a little clearing, dazzlingly white amidst the pretty garden spots. The girl volunteered to go with us.

The child led us into a small clean room, where were milk-pans, shining like silver.

Aunt Sally was a small, tidy body, with a bright English face of the best type, straight as an arrow, and with an eye that meant business.

"Them miners is a hard set," she said, as she bustled about us, getting bread and coffee. "You see, there's so many nations mixed. There's Irish, and German, and Swiss, and patience knows what else, and they get among themselves if they think things don't go right, and talk and talk, and git discontented and ugly.

"I'll 'low it's a hard life, 'specially for the women and children, though there aint but few o' them work about here. But then, though they work a good while, yet they have a good bit of daylight, after all. The men as don't drink are, as a general rule, the easiest to git along with. There go some of 'em now."

The Murdered Miner.

A group of low-browed, sturdy follows passed the door, laughing and talking, seemingly contented, and after breaking our fast, we followed them.

A woman was walking ahead of us, with, a child in her arms, a little girl of six or seven years tugging at her skirt. They were a very quiet trio.

I noticed that the woman wore a bit of black crape on her hat, and there was something in her face that inclined me to stop and speak to her.

"You look young to have two children," I said.

"Yes'm; I aint twenty yet," she said, shifting the great boy to the other arm.

"And you are in mourning."

"Yes'm. I've lost Jim. He was a good husband, a real steady man; never drunk nor nothin'. Him and me'd knowed each other ever sence we were little uns. We was raised in Edinburgh, miss, and come over when we was married. Then Jim got sick, and it cost all we brought to cure him. So we came up here a year ago, and was doing quite well, miss."

"Was it an accident in the mines?" I ventured to ask.

"Oh, no, miss, it was a cruel murder; he was killed by them Molly Maguires!" and her lips trembled, and the tears started to her eyes.

In the Mine I was sorry I had asked her, and was silent from sympathy.

"They're all very good to me about here. They've give me something to do, and Ruby, here, takes care of the baby like a little woman while I'm in the mine at work."

"Why, what can you possibly do?"

"Oh, a good many little odd jobs,–throwing the lumps out of the passages, and doing whatever comes to hand,–helping to load sometimes. I'm very glad to get it.

"They talk of raising me some money to buy a bit shanty," she added. "I can pick up a little to do, perhaps, then, that'll keep me out of the mine. It don't seem to be a woman's place, somehow. Not but what they're all very respectful and kind."

"Are there other women there?"

"Not many in this mine. Over on the hill where the men struck once or twice, there's a-many, and some of 'em do men's work; but a woman had better be home if she's got a home."

The sentiment found an echo in my heart as I looked on the pale, sorrowful face, so commonplace, yet so interesting, from its very sadness.

Down in the Mines.

"Wouldn't you like to go in?" she asked. "Ladies do, sometimes."

She placed the child in the arms of the girl,–a quiet little thing, and I followed her into the side of the hill, already thickly covered with working men, with the star of light burning on their foreheads, so faint and blue in the sunshine, so bright in the darkness.

I shall never forget the sensations of that hour. In and on, with a sense of continually descending; on each side, the great glistening black walls of anthracite; here and there small streams of water trickling down; now and then a dull thud of pick; a muffled, low roar, ringing in one's ears wherever there was a passage in which people were at work.

 Coal Cars There were great hollows that looked like caves on one hand, and precipitous banks on the other; little bursts of sound, coming upon one suddenly, of miners talking or laughing below the mule tracks; patient mules, laboring on in the darkness; patient or impatient men, toiling from morning till night; even women denied the fair sunshine of the outer world.

Here were carts being loaded. Here were men making great fissures in the coal; the air was filled with a shimmering dust, oddly gleaming in plates as the light struck it. It filled the nostrils and the throat, and I wondered how the miners dared open their months to talk.

"You can't think how bright it all seems outside, after I get through," said the young woman, whose name, I learned, was Matilda Vernon. "Sometimes I think it's almost worth while to be shut up, things look so different. You live in two worlds like."

I had a terrible sensation of dread in going out,–more palpably felt than when I entered. What if these horrible jagged masses should fall on or in front of me, obstructing my path! I could see myself flying before me, and my breath grew so short that it was something like agony as I toiled up and up, led by a miner so bulky that he almost filled the passage at times.

I could have shouted for joy when at last I saw the faint far glimmer of the beautiful glad light,–the light of the blessed sun. I could not wonder that the miners asked for the boon of the eight hours law. It certainly seems long enough, and too long, to be imprisoned in the bowels of the earth.

Back again to the station, ready for the journey West,–I could hardly believe that it was not yet ten o'clock in the morning.