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Y boy tells me that I ought to write it down, and
he should know; for he's had a far better education than ever fell to the lot of his poor father. I shall
make but a poor out of my story I fear, and when all is told it is but the account of a miner's peril and deliverance; but perhaps, though it may be badly told and put together, it may teach some what I hope it has taught me, to feel sure that God is with us wherever we are, and that he will never fail nor forsake those who put their trust in him. But I must go back a good way in
to make my story clear. Thirty years ago I wore the red coat, but I grew tired of soldiering, and wanted to marry and settle down; for I had no fancy to take my Mary to lead such a life as I saw led by the poor soldiers' wives who followed the regiment. So I left the army and came home to England. But I didn't find it easy to get work: I knew no trade, and had never learned to handle any tool but the musket. So the hope of having a home to which I could take Mary seemed as far from fulfilment as
I was becoming almost reckless. But God had mercy on me. He gave me hope in his dear Son, and he led me to find work. To be sure it was not such work as I liked or had expected to get. It was but a collier’s berth in a pit where I had worked as a boy. But I had become so low and down-hearted that I was thankful to take anything that gave me the hope of earning our bread. It was our bread now, for as soon as I'd settled to my new work and got a roof over my head we were married. Mary had been used to a very different sort of life; her father was a farmer, and lived in a comfortable sort of way, though he had only just money enough to work his farm; but she was a bravehearted lass, and willing to bear anything so long as we were together. We were of course very poor, but we were happy enough. I didn't like my work much; but then I had always the evenings to look to, when I knew I should be drawn up into the free air, and go home to find my wife waiting for me at the door of our little cottage. Then when I had washed off all the coal dust and put on my clean jacket, Mary and I would sit and talk over our tea, or I would dig in our plot of garden ground where we raised many a good cabbage, and grew all our potatoes.
Sometimes on a winter evening she would bring out one of her favourite books and read to me, for she was a bit of a scholar was my Mary, and had had teaching above the
At night she took out the big Bible that had been her mother's, and we read together its sacred words of counsel and blessing—those words which are able to make us wise unto salvation. These were happy days, and Sundays were the best of all: our cottage was some way from the church, but wet or shine we managed to be there, and I am sure we never came away without feeling helped and strengthened by having been once more allowed to
join with our voices and our hearts in songs of praise and thanksgiving
I see the church yet many times a week, and the ivy climbs slowly over its walls; but now when I come out on Sundays I pass my Mary's grave, and instead of hearing her voice joining in the chants and hymns, I know that she is singing among the holy angels in heaven, for she trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I know that he has taken her to himself. But I must not forget my story, though it's hard work at times to keep my mind from dwelling on the past : I'm not an old man yet, but I'm a good deal shaken by all that has happened. In course of time I grew skilful at my work, and as I had a good character for steadiness 1 rose to be one of the overlookers, and so was able to carry home more money to my wife. And we needed it, for we had three children, and little mouths need a deal of bread, and little feet wear out a deal of shoe-leather, at least I know it was so with our children, and fine merry healthy ones they were.
One thing both Mary and I had set our hearts on-the children should all have a good education. " Learning isn't the first thing," she said, “ many a clever well-taught man has been far enough from being a good one, and we must always seek above all else for our children the one thing needful, the good part that shall never be taken away. But I should like them to be able to read and to know what others before them have done and said, and to understand something of the wonderful things that are going on all around us; to see God's glory in his works, and understand the teaching of his word.”
Yes, Mary,” said I, it may be a good thing to get on in the world, and it isn't much of that can be done without learning, as I know to my cost; but it does better things for us than that if we do but think of what we know, be it much or little, as a power to be used for God and to his
So Bill and Susan went to school, and used to come home with their slates and books in the evening, and Bill would sit and do sums, and make nothing of them too, that I was fairly dazed to look at. They went to Sunday-school, and Susan used to teach little Jim all the lessons she learned there: many and many an evening I've seen those two sitting together on the doorstep, and heard Susan singing to her little brother the verses of a hymn or a
psalm till he could say them with her in his childish voice. There was one verse she used to sing oftener than any
I've good reason to remember it well:
He gently clears thy way;
Shall end in brightest day.” Soon after our sixth child was born, my dear wife died; there was terrible fever in the village, and most of us were down with it, and Mary nursed me and the children night and day. But Ben and Bessie, the two who were next to the baby, died; and then their mother's heart seemed broken, for she lay down and the fever took hold of her at once, so that the doctor said there was no hope of her recovery. She warn't afraid to die; she knew in whom she had believed, and was sure that Jesus in whom she trusted would take her home to be happy with him for ever: death was to her the way to life itself. But her death made a terrible blank to us, and it was a sad, sad recovery, for poor Bill and me; I should scarce have cared to live but for the children, but I prayed for strength to do my duty here, and to be patient till God should see fit to take me.
It warn't more than six months after she had been taken from us that news reached me of a bit of money that had been left to her by an aunt who had not heard of her death. My boy Bill said to me, Now, father, you must give up work; you're not to say fit for it since you were ill, and there's enough now for you to live on in comfort at home.”
No, my boy," I answered, “it was left to your mother, and it shall be kept faithful for her children; as long as I've health and strength I hope to go on working; I'm used to the mine now, and may be there's a few there would scarce like to miss me."
I said this because for the last two or three years I had taught many of the boys to read in the evenings, and had all that would come in a class on Sunday afternoon to try and teach them something about Jesus our Saviour, who had loved and died for them. And one way and another, what with my being an old hand in the mine now, and my having had trouble and their being all sorry for me, I seemed to have gained a little influence over some of the wilder ones, and they didn't use to swear or talk quite so recklessly when I was there; and I had hopes that one or two of them were being led to better things, so I couldn't see it right to leave the mine.
One Monday morning, I remember it was very wet and cold, I got up and put on my working dress to go off to the pit as usual. I didn't feel rested nor in spirits, and I suppose I looked a little down, for Susan said, “ Father, do you stay at home to-day; I'll run over in a minute and let Mr. Sincox” (he's our head man at the mine) “ know you're ill; I'm sure you're not fit for work this morning wero it ever so."
“ Mary, lass," I said, " I'm not ill, only a little heavy as you may say, and there's the bell a ringing and it's my place to go; why there's blasting to be done, and it will be none the safer work if I'm not at my post.” I suppose it was from having been a soldier so long, but I always felt as if the bell was like the bugle calling, and I couldn't stay away without disgrace, and that day it seemed so more than ever. For whether it was Susan's words or not I can't say, but I felt a strange kind of dislike and unwillingness for my work, and would have been heartily glad if I could have seen it right to stay at home. But there was my duty clear and plain before me, and I was thankful that I had no room for doubt. When I had gone a step or two from the cottage I turned back and took the baby in my arms and kissed her, and then I kissed the others, and, with a prayer to God for them and for myself, I hurried off to tho pit's mouth. I found I was not wanted for the blasting, but was to go to my part of the workings as usual. It was my duty to go down first, and see that all was safe before the men began their work; and I was always very careful over this, for it was a solemn thing to feel that the lives of so many hung on what I might do or leave undone.
Soon the men came down with their picks as usual. There were not many employed just then in the part of which I had charge, only four men and two boys, little Jim Pierson and Charlie Brown; they were both in my class, and good attentive lads, steady too and mindful of their work.
It must have been nigh upon noon, when all at once I heard a loud distant sound like thunder, and then a frightful crash close at hand-a crash that seemed to us as though the solid roof over our head was giving way, and was going to bury us under its awful weight. We threw down