Two events which occurred on the night that "47" was injured served to make the day memorial: the escape of two convicts and the wounding of the guards that attempted their capture. "47" was buried under a fall of slate about noon, and although his sad plight was discovered soon after the accident, no effort was made to ascertain his condition until late in the afternoon. When he was finally extricated from the living death he had been enduring for hours, he was simply laid upon a slack pile until the men, after the hour work ceased, would have time to carry him out.
He lay there suffering inexpressible pain until nearly eight o'clock. At that hour a squad of men placed his broken body on a board, in which plight he was conveyed to the main entry. Arriving there, he was placed upon a car of loaded coal and driven to the shaft and hoisted to the surface.
The men went up the incline, climbed the steps to the tipple and placing the body upon a skid, two squads of them, bearing the skid with their free hands, thus conveyed it to the camp.
As the men entered the tipple, it was observed that there were ten men in one squad and only six in the other. In order that the number in each might be the same, the guard released two of them from the larger squad and essayed to attach them to the smaller. In doing this he thoughtlessly set his gun against the wall.
The two men released, jumped between the guard and the gun, opened the tipple door, rushed down the steps and slunk away in the darkness. The guard fired several shots in the direction he thought they had taken, and hastened to camp to make the affair known. The bloodhounds were released and taken to the tipple, where they were put upon the trail of the men.
The men in the meantime had secured a good lead, making straight for the Welsh mining camp a few miles across the hills. By the help of the hounds the guards tracked them to their place of concealment and demanded their surrender. The men had gone to the principal loafing place in the little town and poured their tale of suffering into the ears of sympathetic listeners. They had related the story of "47's" accident and the criminal neglect which had followed, the unusual and cruel methods of punishment practiced by the heartless guards, the long hours of labor, the starvation rations. They stripped off their shirts and displayed the scars which the bayonets had left. They ended all by begging if it was the intention to again deliver them to the clutches of these fiends incarnate to season justice with mercy and kill them on the spot. They said they had no idea that escape was possible, for even now the blood hounds were baying upon their tracks, but hoping that the world might be enlightened upon the condition of the poor helpless victims whose case was worse than death, they had tempted fate and came forth to give to the world some idea of their condition.
The miners were touched by their story—who with hearts would not have been? Hiding the convicts, they secreted themselves and awaited results. In due time the blood hounds, closely followed by their attendants, tracked the convicts to their lair. The miners shot the dogs and after overpowering the guards, beat them severely and sent them back to camp. There was not an honest heart in the entire vicinity of that convict mine that did not throb with pent-up hatred toward it.
The stories of heartlessness which found their way to the homes of the people living near the camp, engendered a hatred for those who conducted it more deeply seated than the proverbial dislike of His Satanic Majesty for disinterested goodness. The miners had many additional reasons for hating the system as well as the men. First, it degraded labor by coming into competition with it. Second, the convicts fill places that were the just due of free labor. Third, convict coal could be put on the market cheaper than that dug by free labor, and hence the owners of mines operated by convicts regulated the wages of those conducted by them. Fourth, a deep seated hatred, native in the human heart, against systematic cruelty.
From the above observations, the reader will gather the causes that led up to the events which follow.
The assaulted guards went back to the camp and spread the news of their adventure and after consultation, the captain, with a dozen guards on horseback and armed cap-a-pie, rode over to the mining town.
While they are riding over to the Welsh town, let us go back to the hospital and look upon the scene transpiring there. The evening "47" was brought in, crushed beyond recognition, Lotus had sat up a short time. He had taken his milk, which constituted his diet since he had been able to eat anything, and dozed off in a restless sleep, when he was awakened by the men bringing in his old partner. They deposited the poor fellow on the straw and were marched off to the "cell house."
Lotus called a guard to him and asked: "May I not try to dress his wounds?"
"You would better attend to your own ills," said the guard, laughing.
"No, but I am a doctor and perhaps," said Lotus with an invisible blush, "I can relieve the poor fellow."
"You can give me instructions," said the guard. "I'll do it."
The face of the injured man is washed, splints are secured and under Lotus' instructions the bones are set and bandaged and "47" made as comfortable as possible for the night.
The old man did not regain consciousness until about the turn of the night. About this time Lotus thought he heard someone speak and raising himself on his elbow, he listened, then he heard: "Ninety-nine, where are you ninety-nine?"
"Here I am," said Lotus, crawling over to him. He motioned to his parched lips. Lotus called the guard and asked him to bring "47" a drink of water. The guard complied.
After he had moistened his lips he said: "Ninety-nine, I have but a short time to live, and I am glad of it. I dreamed of you just now. You'll live to get out of this place. Don't lose heart," he said huskily.
Lotus moistened his lips and said: "What did you dream?"
"My dreams always come true—you'll live to get out of here and the knowledge of that fact makes death a happy release."
"How long have you been here?" said Lotus. He had never asked "47" even his name. Fearing that reference to his past might call up unpleasant reminiscences, Lotus had purposely refrained from asking the old man anything about himself.
"Ten year as nearly as I can reckon it," he said, with a far away look in his eyes, as if trying to bridge the awful space of ten years in a convict mine.
"My life has been a hard one," he continued, without further questioning. "I lived the slave to a cruel master until after the war. When I became my own master, the first thing I did was to get married. I worked on the farm year after year, sometimes coming out a little behind at the end of the year and at rare periods coming out a little ahead. We had no children. We never cared much whether we had money or not: we tried to lay up our riches," he said, raising his eyes impressively heavenward, "Where moth and rust doth not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal."
"What a wealth of faith these old people have and how they apply what few passages of Holy Writ they know to the salvage of every wound of life," thought Lotus, as he moistened the old man's lips again. Breathing with difficulty, he continued.
"The last year me and the old woman spent together, after the year's crop was gathered and sold, the boss figured us in debt to him. I ventured to protest, when he drove us away from the place. On our way to find a new patch for the next year, we passed by a field where cabbage had been growing. We had some bacon and bread and stopped in a fence corner to cook our dinner. The field had been reaped. Standing in the field I saw a collard which was not considered worth cutting up when the cabbage had been cut. I went over and pulled it up, and boiling it with my little piece of bacon, it served to help our dinner greatly. This was my undoing. We were arrested for stealing and I was sent up for fifteen years—she for ten as my accomplice. She died of a broken heart a few months after her arrival. She could not endure this place. I used to wish I could die. I finally settled down to trust in God and stay until he called me."
Seeing the tears in Lotus' eyes, he said: "Don't cry, ninety-nine, forty-seven will soon be better off."
His voice grew weaker and Lotus could see what an effort it was for him to talk. "Don't try to talk," said Lotus.
"Take my hand, take my hand, ninety—ninety-nine—the pine knot is growing dim, it is nearly day."
For a long time Lotus lay there, holding the lean hand in his, and now and then exploring the wrist for the pulse. About four o'clock Lotus heard him say: "Night is breaking, the day is dawning—" then raising himself up in bed he lifted his hands heavenward exclaiming, "I'm coming now—I'm coming now!" and falling back on his couch of straw, the eyes of "47" closed on the sights of the world. May we hope that he saw in the beckoning distance angels awaiting him in a heavenly rest.
As he expired a gust of wind blew out the pine know that had flickered and glared all night over the couch of the dying. The clouds rolled back and through the broken roof, a flood of moonlight fell on the bed of the dead man, shrouding it in a sheen of silver.
Lotus was roused from the reverie which the circumstances produced, by hearing gun shot after gunshot, and the far away sound of galloping horses hastily approaching the camp.
Chapter 26 -- Chapter 28