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[* in case the reader should doubt the accuracy of any of the statements relative to the employment of the youth of both sexes in the English coal-mines, which he may find in this chapter, we beg to refer him to the "Report and Appendix to the Report, of the Children'. Employment Commission, presented to Both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty in 1842."]

I WAS born in a coal-mine in Staffordshire. Mv father was a married man, with five or six children by his wife: my mother was a single woman, who worked for him in the pit. I was, therefore, illegitimate; but this circumstance was neither considered disgraceful to my mother nor to myself, morality being on so low a scale amongst the mining population generally, as almost to amount to promiscuous intercourse. My mother was only eighteen when I was born. She worked in the pit up to the very hour of my birth; and when she found the labour-pains coming on, she threw off the belt and chain with which she had been dragging a heavy corf  (or wicker basket), full of coal, up a slanting road, - retired to a damp cave in a narrow passage leading to the foot of the shaft, and there gave birth to her child. That child was myself. She wrapped me up in her petticoat, which was all the clothing she had on at the time, and crawled with me, along the passage, which was about two feet and a half high, to the bottom of the shaft. There ahs got into the basket, and was drawn up a height of about two hundred and thirty feet - holding the rope with her right hand, and supporting me on her left arm. She often told me those particulars and said how she thought she should faint as she was ascending in the rickety vehicle, and how difficult she found it to maintain her hold of the rope, weak and enfeebled as she was. She, however, reached the top in safety, and hastened home to her miserable hove - for she was an orphan, and lived by herself. In a week she was up again, and back to her work in the pit; and she hired a bit of a girl, about seven or eight years old, to take care of me.
    "How my infancy was passed I, of course, can only form an idea by the mode of treatment generally adopted towards babies in the mining districts and under such circumstances as those connected [-354-] with my birth. My mother would, perhaps, come up from the pit once, In the middle of the day, to give me my natural nourishment; and when I screamed during her absence, the little girl, who acted as my nurse, most probably thrust a teaspoonful of some strong opiate down my throat to make me sleep and keep me quiet. Many children are killed by this treatment; but the reason of death, in such cases, is seldom known, because the Coroner's. assistance is seldom required in the mining districts.
    "When I was seven years old, my mother one day told me that it was now high time for me to go down with her into the pit, and earn some money by my own labour. My father, who now and then called to see me of a Sunday, and brought me a cake or a toy, also declared that I was old enough to help my mother. So it was decided that I should go down into the pit. I remember that I was very much frightened at the idea, and cried very bitterly when the dreaded day came. It was a cold winter's morning - I recollect that well; and the snow was very thick upon the ground. I shivered with chilliness and terror as my mother led me to the pit. She gave me a good scolding because I whimpered; and then a good beating because I cried lustily. But every thing combined to make me afraid. It was as early as five in that cold wintry morning that I was proceeding to a scene of labour which I knew to be far, far under the earth. The dense darkness of the hour was not even relieved by the white snow upon the ground; but over the country were seen blazing fires on every side,-fires which appeared to me to be issuing from the very bowels of the earth, but which were in reality burning upon the surface, for the purpose of converting coal into coke: there were also blazing fields of bituminous shale; and all the tall chimneys of the great towers of the iron furnaces vomited forth flames, - the whole scene thus forming a picture well calculated to appal and startle an infant mind.
    "I remember at this moment what my feelings were then -  as well as if the incident I am relating had only occurred yesterday. During the day-light I had seen the lofty chimneys giving vent to columns of dense smoke, the furnaces putting forth torrents of lurid flame, and the coke-fires burning upon the ground: but that was the first time I had ever beheld those meteors blazing amidst utter darkness; and I was afraid - I was afraid.
    The shaft was perfectly round, and not more than four feet in diameter, The mode of ascent and descant was precisely that of a well, with this difference - that, instead of a bucket there was a stout iron bar about three feet long attached in the middle, and suspended horizontally, to the end of the rope. From each end of this bar hung chains with hooks, to draw up the baskets of coal. This apparatus was called the clatch-harness. Two people ascended or descended at a time by these means. They had to sit cross-legged, as it were, upon the transverse bar, and cling to the rope. Thus, the person who got on first sate upon the bar, and the other person sate a-straddle on the first one's thighs. An old woman presided at the wheel which wound up or lowered the rope sustaining the clutch-harness; and as she was by no means averse to a dram, the lives of the persons employed in the mine were constantly at the mercy of that old drunken harridan. Moreover, there seemed to me to be great danger in the way in which the miners got on and of the clatch-harness. One moment's giddiness - a missing of the hold of the rope - and down to the bottom of the shaft headlong! When the clatch-harness was drawn up to the top, the old woman made the handle fast by a bolt drawn out from the upright post, and then, grasping a hand of both persons on the harness at the same time, brought them by main force to land. A false step on the part of that old woman, - the failure of the bolt which stopped the rotatory motion of the roller on which the rope was wound, - or the slipping of the hands which she grasped in hers, - and a terrible accident must hare ensued!
    "But to return to my first descent into the pit. My mother, who was dressed in a loose jacket, open in front, and trousers (which, besides her shoes, were the only articles of clothing on her, she wearing neither abut nor stockings), leapt upon the clatch-iron as nimbly as a sailor in the rigging of his ship. She then received me from the outstretched arm of the old woman, and made me sit in the easiest and safest posture she could imagine. But when I found myself being gradually lowered down into a depth as black as night, I felt too terror-struck even to cry out; and had not my mother held me tight with one hand, I should have fallen precipitately into that hideous dark profundity. 
    "At length we reached the bottom, where my mother lifted me, half dead with giddiness and fright, from the clatch-iron. I felt the soil cold, damp, and muddy, under my feet. A lamp was burning in a shade suspended in a little recess in the side of the shaft; and my mother lighted a bit of candle which she had brought with her, and which she stuck into a piece of clay to hold it by. Then I perceived a long dark passage, about two feet and a half high, branching off from the foot of the shaft. My mother went on her hands and knees, and told me to creep along with her. The passage was nearly six feet wide; and thus there was plenty of room for me to keep abreast of her. Had not this been the case, I am sure that I never should have had the courage either to precede, or follow her; for nothing could be more hideous to my infantine imagination than that low, yawning, black-mouthed cavern, running into the very bowels of the earth, and leading I knew not whither. Indeed, as I walked in a painfully stooping posture along by my mother's side, my fancy conjured up all kinds of horrors. I trembled lest some invisible hand should suddenly push forth from the side of the passage, and clutch me in its grasp: I dreaded lest every step I took might precipitate me into some tremendous abyss or deep well: I thought that the echoes which I heard afar off, and which were the sounds of the miner's pickaxe or the rolling corves on the rails, were terrific warnings that the earth was falling in, and would bury us alive: then, when the light of my mother's candle suddenly fell upon some human being groping his or her way along in darkness, I shuddered at the idea of encountering some ferocious monster or hideous spectre:- in a word, my feelings, as I toiled along that subterranean passage, were of so terrific a nature that they produced upon my memory an impression which never can be effaced, and which makes me turn cold all over as I contemplate those feelings now!
    "You must remember that I had been reared in a complete state of mental darkness; and that no enlightened instruction had dispelled the clouds of superstition which naturally obscure the juvenile mind. I could not read: I had not even been taught my alphabet. I had not heard of such a name as Jesus Christ; and all the mention of God that had ever met nay ears, was in the curses [-355-] and execrations which fell from the lips of my Father, my mother, her acquaintances, and even the little girl who had nursed me. You cannot wander, then, if I was so appalled, when I first found myself in that strange and terrific place.
    At length we reached the end of that passage, and struck into another, which echoed with the noise of pickaxes. In a few moments I saw the undergoers (or miners) lying on their sides, and with their pickaxes breaking away the coal. They did not work to a greater height than two feet, for fear, as I subsequently learnt, that they should endanger the security of the roof of the passage, the seam of coal not being a thick one. I well remember my infantine alarm and horror when I perceived that these men were naked - stark naked. But my mother did not seem to be the least abashed or dismayed: on the contrary, she laughed and exchanged a joke with each one as we passed. In fact, I afterwards discovered that Bet Flathers was a great favourite with the miners.
    "Well, we went on, until we suddenly came upon a scene that astonished me not a little. The passage abruptly opened into a large room,  -an immense cave, hollowed out of the coal in a seam that I since learnt to be twenty feet in thickness. This cave was lighted by a great number of candles; and at a table sate about twenty individuals - men, women, and children  -all at breakfast. There they were, as black as negroes - eating, laughing, chattering, and drinking. But, to my surprise and disgust, I saw that the women and young girls were all naked from the waist upwards, and many of the men completely so. And yet there was no shame - no embarrassment! But the language that soon met my ears! - I could not comprehend half of it, but what I did understand, made me afraid!
    "My mother caught me by the hand, and led me to the table, where I found my father. He gave us some breakfast; and in a short time, the party broke up - the men, women, and children separating to their respective places of labour. My mother and myself accompanied one of the men, for my mother had ceased to work for my father, since she had borne a child to him, as his wife had insisted upon their separation in respect to labour in the mine.
    "The name of the man for whom my mother worked was Phil Blossom. He was married, but had no children. His wife was a cripple, having met with some accident in the mine, and could not work. He was therefore obliged to employ some one to carry his coal from the place where he waned, to the cart that conveyed it to the foot of the shaft. Until I went down into the mine, my mother had carried the coal for him, and also  hurried (or dragged) the cart; but she now made me fill one cart while she hurried another. Thus, at seven years old, I had to carry about fifty-six pounds of coal in a wooden bucket. When the passage was high enough I carried it on my back; but when it was too low, I had to drag or push it along as best I could. Some parts of the passages were only twenty-two inches in height; this was where the workings were in very narrow seams; and the difficulty of dragging such a weight, at such an age, can be better understood than explained. I can well recollect that when 1 commenced that terrible labour, the perspiration, commingling with my tears, poured down my face.
    Phil Blossom worked in a complete state of nudity; and my mother stripped herself to the waist to perform her task. She had to drag a cart holding seven hundred weight, a distance of at least two hundred yards - for ours was a very extensive pit, and bad numerous workings and cuttings running a considerable way underground. The person who does this duty is called a hurrier: the process itself is termed tramming; and the cart is denominated a ship. The work was certainly harder than that of slaves in the West Indies, or convicts in Norfolk Island. My mother had a girdle round her waist; and to that girdle was fastened a chain, which passed between her legs and was attached to the skip. She then had to go down on her hands and knees, with a candle fastened to a strap on her forehead, and drag the skip through the low passages, or else to maintain a curved or stooping posture in the high ones.
    "Phil Blossom wee what was called a getter. He first made a long straight cut with a pickaxe underneath the part of the seam where he was working: this was called holing; and as it was commenced low down, the getter was obliged to lie fiat on his back or on his side, and work for a long time in that uneasy manner.
    "I did as well as I could with the labour allotted to me; but it was dreadful work. I was constantly knocking my head against the low roofs of the passages or against the rough places of the sides: at other times I fell flat on my face, with the masses of coal upon me; or else I got knocked down by a cart, or by some collier in the dark, as I toiled along the passages, my eyes blinded with my tears or with the dust of the mine.
    "Many - many weeks passed away; and at length I grew quite hardened in respect to those sights and that language which had at first disgusted me. I became familiar with the constant presence of naked men and half-naked women; and the most terrible oaths and filthy expressions ceased to startle me. I walked boldly into the great cavern which I have before described, and which served as a place at meeting for those who took their meals in the mine. I associated with the boys and girls that worked in the pit, and learnt to laugh at an obscene joke, or to practise petty thefts of candles, food, or even drink, which the colliers left in the cavern or at their places of work. The mere fact of the boys and girls in mines all meeting together, without any control, - without any one to look after them , - is calculated to corrupt all those who may be well disposed.
    "I remained as a carrier of coal along the passages till I was ten years old. I was then ordered to convey my load, which by this time amounted to a hundred weight on each occasion, up a ladder to a passage over where I had hitherto worked. This load was strapped by a leather round my forehead; and, as the ladder was very rudely formed, and the steps were nearly two feet apart, it was with great difficulty that I could keep my balance. I have seen terrible accidents happen to young girls working in that way. Sometimes the strap, or tagg, round one person's forehead has broken, and the whole load has fallen on the girl climbing up behind. Then the latter has been precipitated to the bottom of the dyke, the great masses of coal failing on the top of her. On other occasions I have seen the girls lose their balance, and fall off the ladder - their burden of coals, as in the other case, showering upon them or their companions behind. The work was indeed most horrible a a slave-ship could not have been worse.
    "If I did not do exactly as Phil Blossom told me, the treatment I received from him was horrible; and my mother did not dare interfere, or he would [-356-] serve her in the same manner. He thrashed me with his fist or with a stick, until I was bruised all over. My flesh was often marked with deep wales for weeks together. One day he nipped me with his nails until he actually cut quite through my ear. He often pulled my hair till it literally gave way in his hand; and sometimes be would pelt me with coals. He thought nothing of giving me a kick that would send me with great violence across the passage, or dash me against the opposite side. On one occasion he was in such a rage, because I accidentally put out the candle which be had to light him at his work, that he struck a random blow at me with his pickaxe in the dark, and cut a great gash in my head. All the miners in pits baste and bray - that is, beat and flog - their helpers.
    "You would be surprised if I was to tell you how many people to the pit were either killed or severely injured, by accidents, every year. But there are so many dangers to which the poor miners are exposed! Falling down the shaft, - the rope sustaining the clatch-harness breaking, - being drawn over the roller, - the fall of coals out of the corves in their ascent, - drowning in the mines from the sudden breaking in of water from old workings, - explosion of gas - choke damp,* [* "Explosions of carbonated hydrogen gas, which is usually called by the miners 'sulphur,' sometimes prove very destructive, not only by scorching to death, but by the suffocation of foul air after the explosion is over, and also by the violence by which persons are driven before it, or are smothered by the ruins thrown down upon them."- Appendix to First Report] falling in of the roofs or passages, - the breaking of ladders or well-staircases, - being run over by the tram-waggons, or carts dragged by horses, - the explosion of gunpowder used in breaking away huge masses of coal, - and several other minor accidents, are all perpetually menacing the life or limbs of those poor creatures who supply the mineral that cheers so many thousands of fire-sides!
    "Deaths from accidents of this nature were seldom, if ever, brought under the notice of the coroner: indeed, to save time, it was usual to bury the poor victims within twenty-four or thirty-six hours after their decease.
    "I earned three shillings a-week when I was ten years old, and my mother eleven. You may imagine, then, that we ought to have been pretty comfortable; but our household was just as wretched as any other in the mining districts. Filth and poverty are the characteristics of the collier population. Nothing can be more wretched -  nothing more miserable than their dwellings. The huts in which they live are generally from ten to twelve feet square, each consisting only of one room. I have seen a man and his wife and eight or ten children all huddling together in that one room; and yet they might have earned, by their joint labour, thirty shillings or more a week. Perhaps a pig, a jackass, or fowls form part of the family. And then the furniture! - not a comfort - scarcely a necessary! And yet this absence of even such articles as bedsteads, is upon principle : the colliers do not like to be encumbered with household goods, because they are often obliged to flit - that is, to leave one place of work and seek for another. Such a thing as drainage is almost completely unknown in these districts; and all the filth is permitted to accumulate before the door. The colliers are a dirty set of people; but, poor creatures! how can they well be otherwise? They descend into the mines at a very early hour in the morning: they return home at a very late hour in the evening, and they are then too tired to attend to habits of cleanliness. Besides, it is so natural for them to say, 'Why should we wash ourselves to-night, since to-morrow we must become black and dirty again?' or 'Why should we wash ourselves just for the sake of sleeping with a clean skin?' As for the boys and girls, they are often so worn out - so thoroughly exhausted, that I they go to rest without their suppers. They cannot keep themselves awake when they get home. I know that this was often and often my case; and I have preferred  -indeed, I have been compelled by sheer fatigue, to go to bed before my mother could prepare any thing to eat.
    "Again, how can the collier's home possibly be comfortable? He makes his wife and children toil with him in the mine: he married a woman from the mine; and neither she nor her daughters know any thing of housekeeping? How can disorder be prevented from creeping into the collier's dwelling when no one is there in the day-time to attend to it? Then all the money which they can save from the Tommy-shop, (of which I shall speak presently) goes for whiskey. Husband and wife, sons and daughters all look after the whiskey. The habits of the colliers are hereditarily depraved: they are perpetuated from father to son, from mother to daughter; none is better nor worse than his parents were before him. Rags and filth - squalor and dissipation - crushing toil and hideous want - ignorance and immorality; these are the features of the collier's home, and the characteristics of the collier's life.
    "Our home was not a whit better than that of any of our fellow-labourers; nor was my mother less attached to whiskey than her neighbours.
    "But the chief source of poverty and frequent want - amounting at times almost to starvation - amongst persons earning a sufficiency of wages as the truck system. This atrociously oppressive method consists of paying the colliers' wages in goods or partly in goods, through the medium of the tommy-shop. The proprietor of a tommy-shop has an understanding with the owners of the mines in his district; and the owners agree to pay the persons in their employment once a month, or once a fortnight. The consequence is that the miners require credit during the interval; and they are compelled to go to the tommy-shop, where they eat, obtain their bread, bacon, cheese, meat, groceries, potatoes, chandlery, and even clothes. The proprietor of the tommy-shop sends his book to the clerk of the owner of the mine the day before the wages are paid; and thus the clerk knows how much to stop from the wages of each individual, for the benefit of the shopkeeper. If the miners and their wives do not go to the tommy-shop for their domestic articles, they instantly loss their employment to the mine, in consequence of the understanding between their employer and the shopkeeper. Perhaps this would not be so bad if the tommy shops were honest; because it is very handy for the collier to go to a store which contains every article that he may require. But the tommy-shop charges twenty-five or thirty per cent. dearer than any other tradesman; so that if a collier and his family can earn between them thirty shillings a week, he loses seven or eight shillings out of that amount. In the course of a year about twenty pounds out of his seventy-five go to the tommy-shop for nothing but interest on the credit afforded! That interest is divided between the tommy-shop-keeper and the coal-mine proprietor.
    "In the district where my mother and I lived [-357-] there was no such thing at all as payment of wages in the current money of the kingdom. The tommy-shop-keeper paid the wages for the proprietors once a month: and how do you think he settled them? In ticket-money! This coinage consisted of pewter medals, or markers, with the sum that they represented, and the name of the tommy-shop on them. Thus, there were half-crowns, shillings, sixpences, and half-pence. But this money could only be passed at the tommy-shop from which it was issued; and there it must be taken out in goods. So, you see, that what with the truck-system and the tommy shop, the poor miners are regularly swindled out of at least one fourth part of their fair earning
    "The wages, in my time, were subject to great changes: I have known men earn twenty-five shillings a week at one time, and twelve or fifteen at another. And out of that they were obliged to supply their own candies and grease for the wheels of the carts or trams. The cost of this was about three-pence a day. Then, again, the fines were frequent and vexatious: it was calculated that they amounted to a penny a day per head. These sums all went into the coffers of the coal-owners.
    "Such was the state of superstitious ignorance which prevailed in the mines, that every one believed in ghost, arid spirits. Even old men were often afraid to work in isolated places; and the spots where deaths from accidents arose were particularly avoided. It was stated that the spectres of the deceased haunted the scenes of their violent departures from this world.
    " By the time I was twelve years old I was as wild a young she-devil as any in the mines. Like the other females. I worked with only a pair of trousers on. But I would not consent to hurry the trams and skips. I saw that my mother had got a great bald place on her head, where she pushed the tram forward up sloping passages; and as I was told that even amidst the black and filth with which I was encrusted, I was a good-looking wench, I determined not to injure my hair. I may as well observe that a stranger visiting a mine, and seeing the boys and girls all huddling together, half-naked, in the caves or obscure nooks, could not possibly tell one sex from the other. I must say that I think, with regard to bad language and licentious conduct, the girls were far  - far worse than the boys. It is true that in the neighbourhood of the pits Sunday-schools were established; but very few parents availed themselves of these means of obtaining a gratuitous education for their children. When I was twelve  years old, I did not know how to read or write: I was unaware that there was such a book as the Bible; and all I knew of God and Jesus Christ was through the oaths and imprecations of the miners.
    "It was at that period - I mean when I was twelve years old - that I determined to abandon the horrible life to which my mother had devoted me. I had up to that point preserved my health, said had escaped those maladies and cutaneous eruptions to which miners are liable; but I knew that my turn must come, sooner or later, to undergo all those afflictions. I saw nine out of ten of my fellow labourers pining away. Some were covered with disgusting boils, caused by the constant dripping of the water upon their naked flesh in the pit.. I saw young persons of my own age literally growing old in their early youth, - stooping, asthmatic, consumptive, and enfeebled. When they were washed on Sundays, they were the pictures of ill-health and premature decay. Many actually grew deformed in stature and all were of stunted growth. It is true that their muscles were singularly developed , but they were otherwise skin and bone.*  [* " Amongst the children said young persons I re marked that some of the muscles were developed to a degree amounting to a deformity; for example, the muscles of the back and loins stood from the body, and appear almost like a rope passing under the skin." - Report.] The young children were for the most part of contracted features, which, added to their wasted forms, gave them a strange appearance of ghastliness, when cleansed from the filth of the mine. The holers, or excavators, were bow-legged and crooked, the burners and trammers knock-kneed and high shouldered. Many - very many of the miners were affected with diseases of the heart. Then, who ever saw a person, employed in the pits, live to an advanced age? A miner of fifty-five was a curiosity the poor creatures generally drooped at five-and-thirty, and died off by forty. They invariably seemed oppressed with care and anxiety: jollity was unknown amongst them. I have seen jolly looking butchers, blacksmiths, carpenters, plough men, porters, and so on: but I never beheld a jolly-looking miner. The entire population that labours in the pits appears to belong to a race that is accursed!
    "I pondered seriously upon all this; and every circumstance that occurred, and every scene around me, tended to strengthen my resolution to quit an employment worse than that of a galley-slave. I saw my mother wasting all her best energies in that terrible labour, and yet remaining poor  -beggared! Scarcely enough for the present - not a hope for the future! Sometimes I wept when I contemplated her, although she had but little claims on my sympathy or affection; nevertheless, when I saw her bald head - her scalp thickened, inflamed, and sometimes so swollen, that it was like a bulb filled with spongy matter, and so painful that she could not bear to touch it, - when I heard her complain of the dreadful labour of pushing the heavy curves and trains with her sore head, - when I perceived her spine actually distorted with severe work ; her stomach growing so weak that she frequently vomited her food almost as soon as it was eaten; her heart so seriously affected that the intervals of violent palpitation frequently made her faint; her lungs performing their functions with difficulty; her chest torn with a sharp hacking cough, accompanied by the expectoration of a large quantity of matter of a deep black colour, called by colliers the black-spit :- when I saw her thus overwhelmed with a complication of maladies - dying before my eyes, at the age of thirty-three! I-when I looked around, and beheld nine out of ten of all the persons employed in the pits, whether male or female, similarly affected,- I shuddered at the bare idea of devoting my youth to that horrible toil, and then passing to the grave while yet in the prime of life !
    "I thought of running away, and seeking my fortune elsewhere. I knew that it was no use to acquaint my mother with my distaste for the life to which she had devoted me: she would only have answered my objections by means of blows. But while I was still wavering what course to pursue, a circumstance occurred which I must not forget to relate.
    "One morning my candle had accidentally gone out, and I was creeping along the dark passage to the spot where Phil Blossom was working, to obtain a light from his candle, when I heard him and my mother conversing together in a low tone, but with [-358-] great earnestness of manner. Curiosity prompted me to stop and listen. 'Are you sure that is the case?' said Phil.-' Certain,' replied my mother. 'I shall be confined in about five months,' - 'Well,' observed Phil, 'I don't know what's to be done. My old woman will kick up the devil's delight when she hears of it. I wish she was out of the way : I would marry you if she was.'-Then there was a profound silence for some minutes. It was broken by the man, who said, 'Yes, if the old woman was out of the way you and I might get married, and then we should live so comfortable together. I'm sure no man can be cursed with a wife of worse temper than mine.'- 'Yes,' returned my mother, 'she is horrible for that.' - 'Do you think there would be much harm in pushing her down a shaft, or shoving her bead under the wheel of your tram, Bet?' asked Phil, after another pause.-' There would be no harm,' said my mother, 'if so be we wern't found out.' - 'That's exactly what I mean,' observed Phil.- 'But then,' continued my mother, 'if she didn't happen to die at once, she might peach, and get us both into a scrape.' - 'So she might,' said Phil.-' I'll tell you what we might do,' exclaimed my mother, in a joyful tone: 'doesn't your wife come down at one to bring you your dinner?' - 'Yes,' replied Phil Blossom: 'that's all the old cripple is good for.'  - 'Well, then,' pursued my mother, I'll tell you how we can manage this business. ' - Then they began to whisper, and I could not gather another word that fell from their lips.
    "I was so frightened at what I had heard that I crept quickly but cautiously back again to my place of labour, and sate down on the lower steps of the ladder, in the dark - determined to wait till some one should come, rather than go and ask Phil Blossom for a light. I had suddenly acquired a perfect horror of that man. I had understood that my mother was with child by him; and I had heard them coolly plotting the death of the woman who was an obstacle to their marriage. At my age, such an idea was calculated to inspire me with terror. I think I sate for nearly an hour in the dark, my mind filled with thoughts of a nature which may be well understood. At length a young woman, bearing a corf, came with a light; and I was no longer left in obscurity. I then plucked up my courage, took my basket, and went to Phil Blossom for a load of coal. My mother was not there; and he was working with his pickaxe as coolly as possible. He asked me what had made me so long in returning for a load; and I told him I had fallen down a few steps of the ladder and hurt myself. He said no more on the subject; and I was delighted to escape without a braying or basting. While 1 was loading my corf, he asked me if I should like to have him for a father-in-law. I said  'Yes' through fear, for I was always afraid of his nieves, as the colliers call their clenched fists. He seemed pleased; and, after a pause, said that if ever he was my father-in-law, I should always take my bait (or meals) with him in the cavern I thanked him, and went on with my work; but I pretty well comprehended that the removal of Phil's wife by some means or another had been resolved on.
    "Shortly before one o'clock that same day my mother came to the place where I was carrying the coals, and gave me a butter-cake (as we called bread and butter), telling me that else was going up out of the mine, as she must pay a visit to the tommy-shop for some candles and grease for herself, and some tobacco for Phil Blossom. I did not dare utter a word expressive of the suspicions which I entertained; but I felt convinced that this proceeding was in some way connected with the subject of the conversation which I had overheard A strange presentiment induced me to leave my place of work, and creep along the passage to the foot of the shaft, in order to see whether Phil's wife would come down at the usual time with his bait. Several half-marrows and foals (as we called the young lads who pushed the trams) were at the end of the passage just at the foot of the shaft; and we got into conversation. It is a very curious thing to look up a shaft from the very bottom; the top seems no bigger than a sugar-basin. Well, the boys and I were chattering together about different things, when the click of the clatch-harness at the top of the shaft fell upon my ears. I peeped up and saw some one get on the clutch , then the creaking of the wheel and roller was heard. 'Here comes some one's bait, I dare say,' observed one of the half-marrows.- 'I wish it was mine,' said another; 'but I never get any thing to eat from breakfast-time till I go home at night.' - Scarcely were these words spoken when a piercing scream alarmed us: there was a inching sound-the chains of the harness clanked fearfully  - and down came a woman with tremendous violence to the bottom of the pit, the clatch rattling down immediately after her. A cry of horror burst from us all; the poor creature had fallen at our very feet. We rushed forward; but she never moved The back part of her head was smashed against a piece of hard mineral at the bottom of the shaft. But her countenance had escaped injury; and as I cast a hasty glance upon it, I recognised the well-known face of Phil Blossom's crippled wife.
    "One of the boys instantly hastened to acquaint him with the accident. He came to the spot where his wife lay a mangled heap, stone dead; and he began to bewail his loss in terms which would have been moving had I not been aware of their hypocrisy - the half-marrows were, however, deceived by that well-feigned grief, and did all they could to console him. I said nothing: I was confounded!
    " In due time the cause of the accident was ascertained. It appeared that my mother had gone up the shaft, but when she got to the top she struck her foot so forcibly against the upright post of the machinery, that she lamed herself for the time. The old woman who presided over the machinery (as I have before said) very kindly offered to go to the tommy-shop for her, on condition that she would remain there to work the handle for people coming up or going down. This was agreed to. The very first person who wanted to go down was Mrs. Bios sum; and my mother alleged that the handle unfortunately slipped oat of her hand as she was unwinding the rope. This explanation satisfied the overseer of the mine: the intervention of the coroner was not deemed necessary ;- my mother appeared much afflicted at the accident: Phil Blossom mourned the death of his wife with admirable hypocrisy ;- the corpse was interred within forty-eight hours ;-and thus was Phil's wife removed without a suspicion being excited!
    "I was now more than ever determined to leave the mine. I saw that my mother was capable of any thing; and I trembled lest she should take it into her head to rid herself of me. One day she told me that she was going to be married to Phil Blossom: I made a remark upon the singularity of her being united to the very man whose wife had died by her means ;-she darted at me a look of dark suspicion and terrible ferocity; and, in the next moment, [-359-] struck me to the ground. From that instant I felt convinced that I was not safe. Accordingly, one Sunday, when I was washed quite clean, and had on a tolerably decent frock, I left the hovel which my mother occupied, and set out on my wanderings. 
    "I had not a penny in my pocket, nor a friend on the face of the earth to whom I could apply for advice, protection, or assistance. All that stood between me and starvation, that I could see, was a piece of bread and some cheese, which I had taken with me when I left home. I walked as far as I could without stopping, and must have been about six miles from the pit where I had worked, when evening came on. It was November, and the weather was very chilly. I looked round me, almost in despair, to see if I could discover an asylum for the night. Far behind me the tremendous chimneys and furnaces vomited forth flames and volumes of smoke; and the horizon shone as if a whole city was on fire: but in the spot where I than found myself, all was drear, dark, and lonely. I walked a little farther, and, to my joy, espied a light. I advanced towards it, and soon perceived that it emanated from a fire burning in a species of cave overhung by a high and rugged embankment of earth belonging to a pit that had most probably ceased to be worked. Crouching over this fire was a lad of about fifteen, clothed in rags, dirty, emaciated, and with starvation written upon his countenance. I advanced towards him, and begged to be allowed to warm myself by his fire. He answered me in a kind and touching manner; and we soon made confidants of each other. I told him my history, only suppressing my knowledge that the death of Phil Blossom's wife arose from premeditation, instead of accident, as I did not wish to get my mother into a scrape, although I had no reason to have any regard for her. The lad then acquainted me with his sad tale. He was an orphan; and his earliest remembrance was experienced in a workhouse, of which, it appeared, he had become an inmate shortly after his birth, his parents having been killed at the same time by the explosion of a fire-damp in the pit in which they had worked. When the lad was eight years old, the parish authorities apprenticed him to a miner, who gave him the name of Skilligalee, in consequence of his excessive leanness. This man treated him very badly; but the poor boy endured all for a period of seven years, because he had no other asylum than that afforded him by his master. 'At length,' said the boy, 'a few weeks ago, master got hurt upon the head by the failing in of some coal where he was working; and from that moment he acted more like a madman than a human being. He used to seize me by the hair, and dash me against the side of the pit: sometimes he flogged me with a strap till my flesh was all raw. I could stand it no longer; so, about three weeks ago, I ran away. Ever since then I have been living, I can scarcely tell how. I have slept in the deserted cabins on the pits' bank, or in the old pits that have done working: I have got what I could to eat, and have even been I glad to devour the bits of candles that the colliers had left in the pits. All this is as true as I am here.* [* See Report page 43, section 194]  Yesterday I found some matches in a pit; and that is how I have this good fire here now. But I am starving !'
    "The poor fellow then began to cry. I divided with him my bread and cheese; and, when we had eaten our morsel, we began to converse upon our miserable condition. He had as much abhorrence of the mine as I had; he declared that he would sooner kill himself at once than return to labour in a pit; and I shared in his resolution. In less than an hour Skilligalee and myself became intimate friends. Varied and many were the plans which we proposed to earn a livelihood; but all proved hopeless when we remembered our penniless condition, and Skilligalee pointed to his rags. At length he exclaimed in despair, 'There is nothing left to do out to rob / - I am afraid that this is our only resource,'  was my reply.-' Do you mean it?' he demanded.- 'Yes!' I said boldly; and we exchanged glances full of meaning.
    "'Come with me.' said Skilligalee. I did not ask any questions, but followed him. He led the way it: silence for upwards of half an hour, and at length lights suddenly shone between a grove of trees. Skilligalee leapt over a low fence, and then helped me to climb it. We were then in a meadow - planted with trees - a sort of park, which we traversed, guided by the lights, towards a large house. We next came to a garden; and, having passed through this enclosure, we reached the back part of the premises. Skilligalee went straight up to a particular window, which he opened. He then crept I through, and told me to wait outside. In a few minutes he returned to the window, and handed me out a large bundle, wrapped up in a table-cloth. He then crept forth, and closed the window. We beat a retreat from the scene of our plunder; arid returned to the cave. The fire was still blazing, and Skilligalee fed it with more fuel, which he obtained by breaking away the wood from an old ruined cabin close by.
    "We next proceeded to open the bundle, which I found to contain a quantity of food, six silver forks, and six spoons. Skilligalee then told me that the mansion which we had just robbed was the dwelling of the owner of the mine wherein he had worked for seven years, and where he had been so cruelly treated by the pit-man to whom he had been apprenticed. He said that he had sometimes been sent with messages to the proprietor, from the overseer in the mine, and that the servants on those occasions had taken him into the kitchen and given him some food. He had thus obtained a knowledge of the premises. 'Last night,' he added, 'I was reduced by hunger to desperation, and I went with the intention of breaking into the pantry. To my surprise I found the window open, the spring-belt being broken. My courage, however, failed me; and I returned to this cave to suffer all the pangs of hunger. To-night you came: companionship gave me resolution and we have got wherewith to obtain the means of doing something for an honest livelihood.
    "We then partook of some of the cold meat and fine white bread which the pantry had furnished; - and, while we thus regaled ourselves, we debated what we should do with the silver forks and spoons. I said before that I was decently dressed; but my companion was in rags. It was accordingly agreed I that I should go to the nearest town in the morning,  dispose of the plate purchase some clothes for Skilligalee, and then rejoin him at the cave. This matter being decided upon, we laid down and went to sleep.
    "Next morning I washed myself at a neighbouring stream, made myself look as decent as I could, and set off. Skilligalee had told me how to proceed. In an hour I reached the town, and went to a pawnbroker's shop. I said that I was servant to a lady who was in a temporary difficulty and required [-360-] a loan. The pawnbroker questioned me so closely that I began to prevaricate: he called in a constable, and gave me into custody. I was taken before the magistrate; but I refused to answer a single question, being determined not to betray my accomplice. The magistrate remanded me for a week; and I was sent to prison. There I herded with juvenile thieves and prostitutes; and I cared little for my incarceration, because I was tolerably, and, at all events, regularly fed. When I was had up again, the owner of the mansion which I had helped to rob, was there to identify his property. I, however, still persisted in my refusal to answer any questions : I was resolved not to criminate Skilligalee; and I also felt desirous of being sent back to gaol, as I was certain of there obtaining a bed and a meal. In vain did the magistrate impress upon me the necessity of giving an explanation of the manner in which the plate came into my possession, for both he and the owner of the property were inclined to believe that I was only a tool, and not the original thief;- I remained dumb, and was remanded for another week.
    "At the expiration of that period, I was again placed before the magistrate; and, to my surprise, I found Skilligalee in the court. He was still clothed in his rags, and looked more wretched and famished than when I first saw him. I gave him a look, and made a sign to assure him that I would not betray him; but the moment the case was called, he stood forward and declared that he alone was guilty,- that he had robbed the house, and that I was merely an instrument of whom he had made use to dispose of the proceeds of the burglary. I was overcome by this generosity on his part; and both the magistrate and the owner of the property were struck by the avowal. The latter declared that he did not wish to prosecute: the former accordingly inflicted a summary sentence of imprisonment for a few weeks upon Skilligalee. He then questioned me about my own condition; and I told him that I had worked in a mine, but that I had been compelled to run away from home in consequence of the ill treatment I received at the hands of my mother. I expressed my determination to put an end to my life sooner than return to her; and the gentleman, whose house had been robbed, offered to provide for me at his own expense, if the magistrate would release me. This he agreed to do; and the gentleman placed me as a boarder in a school kept in the town by two elderly widows.
    "This school was founded for the purpose of furnishing education to the children of pit-men who were prudent and well disposed enough to pay a small stipend for that purpose, that stipend being fixed at a very low rate, as the deficiency in the amount required to maintain the establishment was supplied by voluntary contribution. There were only a few boarders - and they were all girls: the great majority of the pupils consisted of day-scholars. At this school I stayed until I was sixteen,. when the gentleman who had placed me there took me into his service as housemaid.
    "During the whole of that period I had never heard of my mother, or Phil Blossom. I now felt some curiosity to discover what had become of them; so, one day, having obtained a holiday for the purpose, I went over to the pit where I had myself passed so many miserable years. The same old woman, who had presided at the handle of the roller that raised or lowered the clatch-harness, during the period of my never-to-be-forgotten apprenticeship, was there still. She did not recognise me - I was so altered for the better. Clean, neatly dressed, stout, and tall, I could not possibly be identified with the dirty, ragged thin, and miserable-looking creature who had once toiled in that subterranean hell. I accosted the old woman, and asked her if a woman named Betsy Flathers or Blossom worked in the mine. 'Bet Blossom!', ejaculated the old woman: 'why, she's been dead a year!'
    "'Dead!' I echoed. 'And how did she die?' - 'By falling down the shaft, to be sure,' answered the old woman. - Although I entertained little affection for my mother, absence and a knowledge of her character having destroyed all feelings of that kind, I could not bear this intelligence without experiencing a severe shock.- 'Yes,' continued the old woman, 'it was a sort of judgment on her, I suppose, for she herself let a poor creature fall down some four or five years ago, when she took my place at the handle here for a few minutes while I went to the tommy-shop for her. She married the husband of the woman who was killed by the fall; and every body knew well enough afterwards that there wasn't quite so much neglect in the affair as she had pretended at the time, but a something more serious still. However, there was no proof; and so the thing was soon forgot. Well, one day, about a year ago, as I said just now, Phil Blossom came up to me and asked me to run to the tommy-shop to fetch him some candles. I told him to mind the wheel, and he said he would. It seems that a few minutes after I had left on his errand, his wife came up the clatch; and, according to what a lad, who looked up the shaft at the time, says, she had just reached the top, when she fell, harness and all, the whole pit echoing with her horrible screams. She died the moment she touched the bottom. Phil Blossom was very much cut up about it; but he swore that the handle slipped out of his hand, and then went whirling round and round with such force that he couldn't catch it again. I own people did say that Phil and his second wife led a precious dog-and-cat kind of a life; but the overseer thought there was no reason to make a stir about it, and there the matter ended.' - 'And what has become of Phil Blossom?' I inquired.-The old woman pointed down the shaft, as much as to say that he was still working in the mine.- 'Did they have any children?' I asked.- 'Bet had one, I believe,' said the old woman; 'but it died a few days after it was born, through having too large a dose of Godfrey's Cordial administered to make it sleep.' - I gave the old woman a shilling, and turned away from the place, by no means anxious to encounter Phil Blossom, who, I clearly perceived, had rid himself of my mother by the same means which she had adopted to dispose of his first wife.
    "As I was returning to my master's house, I had to cross a narrow bridge over a little stream. I was so occupied with the news I had just heard, I did not perceive that there was another person advancing from the opposite side, until I was suddenly caught in the arms of a young man in the very middle of the bridge. I gave a dreadful scream; but he burst out into a loud laugh, and exclaimed, 'Well, you needn't he so frightened at a mere joke.' I knew that voice directly; and glancing at the young man, who was tolerably well dressed, I immediately recognised my old friend Skilligalee. It was then my turn to laugh, which I did very heartily, because he had not the least notion who I was. I, however, soon told him; and he was quite delighted to meet me. We walked together to the very identical cave where we had first met when boy [-361-] 

and girl. Now he was a tall young man, and had improved wonderfully. He told me that be had become acquainted with some excellent fellows when he was in prison, and that he had profited so well by their advice and example, that he led a jovial life, did no work, and always had plenty of money. I asked him how he managed; and he told me, after some hesitation, that he had turned housebreaker. There was scarcely a gentleman's house, within twelve miles round, that he had not visited in that quality. He then proposed that I should meet him on the following Sunday evening, and take a walk together. I agreed, and we separated.
    "I did not neglect my appointment. Skilligalee was delighted to see me again; and he proposed that I should leave service, and live with him. I consented; and —"

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