+ ~ -
 
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
 
Report an Error
Go!
 
Go!
 
TOC
 

dangerous place: he has brought us to this
portion of the mine to show us how the water
accumulates when undisturbed.

The vein of ore has, in this part, ceased to
yield a profit for the necessary labour, and
the works have been abandoned.  We creep
breathlessly down until our guide bids us halt;
and, holding out his lantern at arm's length,
but half reveals, in the pitchy darkness, a low-
roofed cavern, floored by an inky lake of
still dead water; in which we see the light of
the lantern reflected as in a mirror. It is
fearful to look onso black and motionless:
a sluggish pool, thick and treacherous, which
seemingly would engulf us without so much
as a wave or a bubble; and we are within a
foot of its surface!  We draw involuntarily
back, and creep up the steep stair to the first
level above us.

Along a narrow gallery we proceed for a
short space, and then down again; still down
the interminable steps, till our knees crack
with the ever uniform motion, and the hot
perspiration streams from every pore.  The
air is so thick and heavy, that we occasionally
draw breath with a half gasp; and still we
descend, till we hear the muffled ring of steel,
tink, tink, tink, immediately near us, and
are suddenly arrested in our downward course
by the level ground.

We are in a narrow gallery, considerably
loftier than any we have yet seen; for we can
walk about in it without stooping.  At the
further end are two miners, just distinguishable
by the tiny glow of their lanterns.  From
these proceed the ring of steelthe muffled
tinkling in the thick air we had heardand
we see that they are preparing for a "blast."
With a long, steel rod, or chisel, they are
driving a way into the hard rock (geologists
say there is little else in the Erzgebirge than
the primitive gneiss and granite), and thus
prepare a deep, narrow chamber, within which
a charge of gunpowder is placed and exploded.
The hard material is rent into a thousand pieces,
bringing with it the ore so indefatigably sought.

With every limb strained and distorted,
the miners pursue their cramping labours,
grovelling on the earth.  The drilling or
boring they are engaged in is a slow process,
and the choice of a spot, so that the explosion
may loosen as much of the lode and as little
of the rock as possible, is of considerable
importance.  They cease their labours as we
enter, and turn to look at us.  The curse of
wealth-digging is upon them.  They, in their
stained and disordered costume, seated on
the ground on their semi-circular leathern
aprons (for that is the obvious use of this
portion of the dress, in these moist regions);
we, in our borrowed garments and brimless
beavers, with flushed features and dripping
hair.  The miners do not wear the abominable
hats, at least "beneath the day," that is, in
the mines.

"Is this the bottom of the mine ?" we
inquire anxiously.

The guide smiles grimly as he answers,
"We are little more than half-way to the
bottom; but we can descend no deeper in
this direction."

Heaven knows we have no desire!

"This is the first working," he continues.
"The rest of the mine is much the same as
you have already seen.  We have no other
means of reaching the workings than by the
stone staircases you have partly descended."

"What are the miners' hours of work?"

"Eight hours a day for five days in the
week at this depth," is the answer, "In the
deeper workings the hours are fewer."

"What is the extent of the mine ?" we
demand.

"I cannot tell.  There is no miner living
who has traversed them all.  The greater
portion is out of work, and spreads for miles
underground."

"And the depth?"

"About two hundred fathomstwelve
hundred feetthe sea level. The 'Old Hope
of God' is sixty feet below the level of the sea."

"Are there many mines like this ?"

"There are about two hundred mines in
all, with five hundred and forty pits: in all
the mines together there are some four
thousand eight hundred hands, men and boys.
This mine occupies nine hundred of them."

"And your pay ?"

"One dollar a week is a good wage with us."

One dollar is about three shillings of English
money!  This seems small pay, even in cheap
Saxony.

"But," we pursue our inquiries, "you have
no short time, and are pensioned ?—at least,
so says our Fahrschein."

"We are paid our wages during sickness,
and are never out of work.  When we can no
longer use the pick, nor climb these staircases,
we can retire upon our pension of eight
silver groschens a week."

Tenpence!  Magnificent independence!  This
is digging for silver with a vengeance.

But we are faint with fatigue; and, bidding
adieu to the two miners, we gladly agree to
our guide's suggestion of ascending to the
happy daylight.  Our way is still the same;
although we mount by another shaft, most
appropriately named Himmelfahrtthe path
of heaven; but we clamber up the same steep
steps; feel our way along the same slimy
walls, and occasionally drive our hats over
our eyes against the same low, dripping roof.
With scarcely a dry thread about us; our
hair matted and dripping; beads of perspiration
streaming down our faces, we reach
the top at last; and thank heaven, that after
two hours' absence deep down among those
terrible "diggings," we are permitted once
more to feel the bracing air, and to look upon
the glorious light of day.

Our labours, however, are not over.
Distant rather more than an English mile from
Himmelsf├╝rst, are the extensive amalgamation
works, the smelting furnaces, and refining