A Night Under Ground

MY dear Laura Matilda, have you ever worked your way under ground, like the ghost Hamlet, Senior? On the contrary, you confess, but a dim idea of that peculiar mode of progression abides in the well-ordered mansion of your mind ?

Well, I do not wonder at it; you are civilized beyond the common herd ; your mamma, careful of her own comfort and the beauty of her child, guards both. Your sunny summer-times go by in the shade of sylvan groves, or amid the whirl of Saratoga or Newport ball-rooms. I accept your ignorance; it is a pretty blossom in your maiden chaplet. For myself, I blush for my own familiarity with rough scenes chanced upon in wayward wanderings.

Let me tell you of a path among the “untrodden ways.” Transport yourself with me.

Fancy a low, level, drowsy point of land, stretching out into the unbroken emerald green of Lake Superior, at the point where a narrow, yellowish river offers its tribute. The King of Lakes is exclusive; he disdains to blend his brilliant waters with those of the muddy river; a wavy line, distinctly and clearly defined, but seeming as if drawn by a trembling hand, undulates at their junction, — no democratic, union-seeking boundary, but the arbitrary line of division that separates the Sultan from the slave, the peer from the peasant.

Along this shore are scattered various buildings that seem to nod in the indolent sunshine of the bright, clear, quiet air of midsummer. One of these, differing from the rest in its more modern construction, is a spacious hotel that holds itself proudly erect, and from its summit the gay flag of my country floats flauntingly.

We must pass this by, and go down a plank-covered walk to reach the sandygolden beach where the green waves dash with silent dignity, in these long calms of July. Before the hotel the river flows also sleepily; but both shores are vocal with ladies’ laughter and the singing of young girls, the lively chatter of a party of pleasure-tourists.

The fine steamer that brought us to this point has gone,

“ Sailing out into the west, Out into the west, as the sun went down ”;

but no “ weeping and wringing of hands ” was there; we knew it must “ come back to the town,” — that we are merely transient waifs cast upon this quiet beach, flitting birds of passage who have alighted in the porticos of the “ Bigelow House,” Ontonagon, Michigan.

A long, low flat-boat, without visible sails, steam-pipes, or oars, — a narrow river-craft, with a box-like cabin at one end, the whole rude in its ensemble, and uncivilized in its details,-—is the object that meets the gaze of those who would curiously inspect the means by which the adventurous novelty-seeking portion of our party are to be conveyed up this Ontonagon river to the great coppermines that form the inestimable wealth of that region. For the metallic attraction has proved magnetic to the fancies of a few. A mine is a mystery; and mysteries, to the female mind, are delights.

What is the boat to us but a means ? If it seem prosaic, what care we ? Have we escaped the French fashions of àlamode watering-places, to be fastidious amid wigwams and unpeopled shores ?

We all know what it is to embark far a day’s travel, but we do not all understand the charm of being stowed away like freight in a boat such as the one here faintly sketched; how seats are improvised ; how umbrellas are converted into stationary screens, and awnings grow out of inspiration; how baskets are hidden carefully among carpet-bags, and camp-stools, and water-jugs, and stowedin-shavings ice ; how the long-suffering, patient ladies shelter themselves in the tiny, stifling cabin, while those of the merry, complexion-careless sort lounge in the daylight’s glare, and one couple, fond of seclusion and sentiment, discover a good place for both, at the rudderend.

There is an oar or two on board, it appears, as we push off in the early dawn ; and these are employed for a mile or so at the mouth of the river; then the current begins to quicken in a narrower bed, and a group of sinewy men betake themselves to their poles, lazily at first, until —

But you do not know exactly what these implements are ?

They are heavy, wooden, sharp-pointed poles, ten or twelve feet long. On either side of the boat runs a “walk,” arranged as if a ladder were laid horizontally ; but in reality the bars or rungs are firmly fastened to the walk, to be used as rests for the feet. Here the men, five on a side, march like a chain-gang, backward and forward ; placing one end of the pole in the bed of the stream, resting the other in the hollow of the shoulder near the arm-pit, and bracing themselves by their feet against these bars, they pry the boat along.

Progression by such means is unavoidably slow; but no steamboat-race on our Western rivers, blind and reckless, boiler-defying and life-despising, ever produced more excitement than this same poling.

Wait till the current runs rapidly, fretting and seething in its angry haste, when for a moment’s delay the boat must lose ground ; when the poles are plunged into the rocky bed like harpoons into the back of an escaping whale ; when the athletic forms of the men are bent forward until each prostrates himself in the exertion of his full powers; when not a false step—each step a run—can be hazarded ; when that monotonous unanimity of labor is at its height, in which each boatman becomes possessed as if by a devil of strife ; when their faces lose every gentle semblance of humanity, and become distorted to a simple expression of stubborn brute force ; when the muscles of their arms are knitted, rope-like, and every nerve stretched to its utmost; — wait till you have seen all this, and you will confess that a woman’s lazy life can know no harder toil than that of the mind’s sympathetic coexertion,— that is, if she be excitable or impressible.

The stream is tortuous, erratic, shallow, and narrow. Sometimes, as we glide, always noiselessly, beneath the overhanging foliage and tangled vines along shore, what myriads of gayly winged insects — brilliant dragon-flies, mammoth gnats, preposterous mosquitoes — swarm about our heads; disturbed from their gambols by the laughter and songs aboard our moving craft!

Only one halt in our journey, and that to dine. Just above this point we pass the swiftest rapids on the route, where the river widens, and each side of the bank is beautiful in its wooded picturesqueness, while the waters rush, in foaming, surging, tumbling confusion, over the rugged rocks, or dart between them like a merry band of water-sprites chasing each other in gleesome frolic.

It seems a desecration of these rapids thus to subdue and triumph over them. They are as if placed there by Nature as a sportive check to man’s further intrusion ; and as the waters come hurrying down, led, as it were, by some Undine jealous for her realm, their murmurings seem to say, in playful, yet earnest remonstrance, — “ Let our gambols divert you ; we will hasten to you ; but approach no nearer ! Permit us to guard the sanctuary of our hidden sources, our beloved and holy solitudes! ”

But vain appeal! Our men polo frantically onward, and so the day passes. By mid-afternoon their labors cease, and we come to anchor at the bank, having achieved seventeen miles in nine hours ! Let those of us to whom lightning-expresstrains have been slow grumble hereafter at their fifty miles an hour !

A country-wagon receives most of the ladies; the majority of their attendant cavaliers walk; of two horses, the sidesaddled one has about one hundred pounds avoirdupois far his share, and, in spite of the lack of habit and equestrian “pomp and circumstance” generally, I cannot term it the most unpleasant three miles I ever travelled. The road is a wild, rugged ascent up a well-wooded hill-side. There is a tonic vigor in the atmosphere, which communicates itself irresistibly to one’s mental state ; the gladdened lungs inhale it eagerly, as a luxury. When one walks in this air, one seems to gain wings ; to ride is to float at will.

Presently, at the top, a low village comes in sight; yelping curs start from wayside cabins ; coarse, dull-featured women gape at half-opened doors or sit idly on rude steps; and the men we chance to meet wear that cadaverous pallor inseparable from the mere idea of a miner. We do not regret that the pert dogs have imparted speed to our horses’ heels; — a swift, exhilarating gallop brings us in sight of a large, comfortable house, perched like a bird-box in the hills; then others are discerned ; and in a few move bounds, we are at the gate. Here, where all visitors to the Minnesota Mines are received and entertained, we prove avantcouriers of the slowly advancing wagonload,— “the largest party of ladies ever met there,” they tell us, as we forewarn our hosts of the band so boldly invading their copper-bound country.

Very soon we are rambling over the hills,—those of Nature’s rearing, and others formed by the accumulation of refuse brought up from the mine. We discover and secure some fine specimens of the metal; sundry of the knowing ones, after mysterious interviews with rascallylooking miners, appear with curious bits of pure silver ore mingled with crystals of quartz and tinted with tiny specks of copper. These, being the most valuable curiosities of the region, are usually secreted by the miners for the purpose of private speculation.

We feel a reverence for this ground, so teeming with metallic wealth,—and yet a certain timorousness, as we remember that we walk on a crust, that beneath us are great caves and subterranean galleries.

This outer shell, this surface-knowledge of what lies below, does not content me. I have also a brave friend who shares my feeling. We agree, that, despite the interest of this crust,to know of the fruit beneath and not taste it is worse than aggravating; we grow reckless in our thirst for the forbidden knowledge.

We have entertained a little plot in our headstrong minds all the way, which we have hardly dared to name before. It is surely not feminine to look longingly on those ladders made for the descent of hardy miners only; visitors beneath the surface are rare ; only gentlemen interested in seeing for themselves the richness of these vaunted mines have essayed the tour; even many of these failing to penetrate farther than the first level, and bravely owning their faintheartedness. In spite of this, we feel our way cautiously. A descent is to be made this night, when the Captain of the Mine goes his nightly round of inspection ; a gentleman, the head and front of our expedition, whom we shall call the “ Colonel,” proposes to accompany him.

Why may we not form an harmonious quartette ? We have nerve ; has it not been tested throughout the somewhat arduous journey of the preceding weeks ? We have presence of mind; we are passable gymnastes.

In fact, viewing Mon Amie and me from our own point of view, than ourselves never did there exist two mortals more manifestly fashioned straight from the hand of Nature, and educated by previous physical culture and mental discipline for the performance of a feat at once perilous and daring, one unknown to the members of “ our set,” and which might have been thought impracticable by all who had known us only in the gaslight glare of Society, and the circumspection of crinoline’s confining circle.

Does it matter by what cunning wiles of pretty pleading and downright demonstrations of the project’s reasonableness we succeeded for we did succeed) in being allowed to take our fates in our own hands or trust them to our own surefootedness ? I think not.

“ For when a woman will, she will, you may depend on’t.”

But you should have seen the robing ! We are to start at ten, P. M. Previously we betake ourselves to our chambers, and, entertaining a vague notion that Fashion’s expanse may prove inconvenient, we are looping up our trailing robes in fantastic folds, when a tap at the door.

Voilà ! a servant with two full suits of new, but coarse, miners’ clothes, — with a modest intimation from our companions of their advisability, — in fact, their absolute necessity. We pause aghast! Ah ! the renewed shouts of laughter from those merry', but more timorous damsels, who, from their secure surroundings. — those becoming barriers adopted at the dictate of Parisian caprice and retained with feminine pertinacity, — had poked fun at our forlorn limpness !

This climax of costume is startling, but the laughter rouses our courage. We stand on the brink of our Rubicon. Shall trousers deter us from the passage ? Shall a coat be synonymous with cowardice ? No, — we rise superior to the occasion ; we pant to be free ; we inbreathe the spirit of liberty, as we don our blouses. We loop our long tresses under such head-coverings as would drive any artist hatter to despair: to us they prove a weighty argument against hats in general, as we feel their heavy rims press on our tender brain-roofs. However, when the saucy eyes of Mon Amie look out sparkling from under her begrimed helmet, the effect is not bad; on the contrary, the masquerade is piquant. No need to mention the ribbons that we knot under our wide, square collars for becomingness, our coquetry “under difficulties,” nor the gauntleted gloves wherewith we protect our hands, nor the daintiness of the little boots that peep from the loose trousers, which have something Turkish in their cut. Mon Amie, with her rosy blushes, reminds me of a jocund miller’s boy; — as for myself, well, I do not think the Bloomer dress so very bad, after all !

A torch-bearing band have stationed themselves at the doors to bid us godspeed,— to make merry at our droll masquerade,—to quiz our odd head-gear,— to criticize us from head to foot, in short,— but between all, to offer words of caution. Then we go out into the starlit, but not over-bright night, — such a one as is friendly to lovers and to thieves, friendly to religion and to thought, the beloved of sentimentalists, and the adored of this particular group of adventurous miners. In Indian file, lantern-led, we traverse the narrow, beaten path that leads to one of the openings of the mine. These are covered by a rough-plank house, — too much like a shed to merit that pretentious term, which implies something fit to live in ; in the centre of this shelter is an open space, perhaps a yard square, and similar in appearance to a trap-door in a roof. Here we wait a few moments, while the Captain of the Mine and the Agent of the Mining Company,— who has joined our party at the last moment, to afford us the undivided services of the Captain as guide,— are engaged in some mysterious process of moulding ; an odor, not attar of rose, nor yet Frangipanni, salutes our nostrils ; then our companions approach. Both the Colonel and the Agent are “ lit up,”—in fact, all-luminous with the radiance of tallow “dips”; one of these, stuck in a lump of soft clay, adheres to the front of each hat, and in their hands they have others.

We also are to wear a starry flame on our brows; and, not content with this, are invested with several short unlighted candles, which are to dangle gracefully by their wicks from a buttonhole of our becoming blouses. Thus our costume is complete ; and I doubt if Buckingham sported the diamond tags of Anne of Austria with more satisfaction than do we our novel and odorous decoration : we dub ourselves the Light Guard on the instant.

In the delay before starting, we observe several miners descend through the black and most suggestive trap-door, each bearing a tin can in his mouth, as a good dog carries a basket at the bidding of his master.

The flame of the candle, bright in the density of the pit’s darkness, as its bearer descends step by step with the rapidity which custom has made easy, becomes in a few seconds like the tiniest glow-worm : one can follow the spark only; the man disappears within the moment.

I cannot describe, nor, indeed, convey the least idea of this peculiar effect. We feel our hearts tremble at the thought that whither that light has gone we must follow. For the first time I realize that we are about to go into the earth,— that we shall presently crawl like insects, burrow like underground vermin, beneath the surface, man’s proper place. But such thoughts are not for long indulgence.

" Now let us descend ! ” says the Colonel.

Grasping the round of the ladder where it rose slightly above the floor, the Captain, our guide, with that air of assurance which practice bestows, swings himself from sight. To him succeeds the Colonel. Next comes my own turn. This is not the first time my feet have tried ladderbars; in the country-spent vacations of my school-days, how many times have I alertly scaled the highest leading to granaries, to barn-lofts, to bird-houses, to all quasi-inaccessible places, whither my daring ignorance — reckless, because unconscious of danger — had tempted me ! But mounting a clean, strong, wide ladder, in the full flood of day, light below, above, around, promising you security by its very fulness of effulgence, is a far different thing from groping your way, step by step, down a slimy, muddy frame which hangs in a straight line from the very start. I shake off a first tremor, draw a full breath, and with fortitude follow my leader carefully. As I look above, after fairly getting committed, I can behold Mon Amie's feet, whose arched insteps cling round each bar with a pretty dependence that is in the highest degree appealing. Above her I hear the deep voice of the Agent.

And so the quintette, in grim harmony of enterprise, go down, down, down, like so many human buckets, into a bottomless well.

Alas, and alas! our own arms, with their as yet untried muscles, must be our only windlass to bring us to the surface again ! Down, down, down, deeper, deeper, deeper ! Will this first ladder never end ?

Ah, at last! At the foot, on either side, stand the Captain and the Colonel, like sentries. We have reached a shelf of rock, and we may rest. Here we perch ourselves, like sea-birds on a precipice that overlooks the sea.

By the light of our flickering candles we behold each other’s faces, and we can talk together. We are but two hundred feet under ground. A desolate stillness reigns here; no sound reaches us, either of labor or the steps of passing workmen. A cold stream of water trickles from a cleft rock behind us; we bathe our foreheads in it, and betake ourselves to the ladder again.

From our next resting-place we proceed through a gallery, an exhausted vein, kept open as a passage from one shaft to another. As we turn a corner, we seem to plunge into a rocky cavern ; our feet tread on roughly imbedded rocks ; the sides of the cave jut out in refuse boulders,—harsh, dark-colored, ashen ; overhead are beams of hard wood, bracing and strengthening the excavation. Wec traverse this gallery hastily.

Now that we are here, we are conscious of excitement. Mon Amie manifests hers by her steady, deliberate tones, a sort of exaltation foreign to her usually vibrating voice, her tremulous cadences; she seems borne along, despite and above herself. For my own part, as my lungs inflate themselves with this pure, dry, bracing air, exquisitely redolent of health, and testifying at once to a total exemption from noxious exhalations or mephitic vapors, I grow têle-montée, rattle-brained; my laugh echoes through these stony chambers, wild snatches of song hover on my lips, odd conceits flit through my brain, I joke, I dash forward with haste ; my excitement endows me with a superfeminine self-possession.

But now we hear an ominous rattle, a clanking of chains, a rumbling as of distant thunder; we are approaching a shaft. The shafts in this mine are not sunk perpendicularly, but are slightly inclined: the huge buckets, lowered and raised by means of powerful machinery, are but ancient caldrons, counterparts of those in which the weird witches in “Macbeth” might have brewed their unholy decoctions, or such as the dreadful giants that formed the nightmare of my childhood might have used in preparing those Brobdignagian repasts among the ingredients of which a plump child held the same rank as a crab in ours.

The sounds grow nearer; presently our guide disappears; then I behold the Colonel, in whose steps I follow, faithful as his shadow, crouch sidewise : we must pass behind this inclined plane, which rests on roughly hewn rocks, that protrude till it appears impossible that any living thing, except a lizard, can find a passage. I am sure we must shrink from the original rotundity with which Nature blessed us. I feel as the frog in the fable might have felt, if, after successfully inflating himself to the much-envied dimensions of the ox, he had suddenly found himself reduced to his proper proportions. Edging sidewise, accommodating the inequalities of the damp surfaces to the undulations of our forms, deafened, crazed by the roar of the caldrons that dash madly from side to side, we fairly ooze through.

More ladders ! This time they are not hung quite perpendicularly, are shorter, and some lean a little, which affords rest; others have one side higher than the other: to these my already aching palms cling with desperation. So have I seen insects adhere, through sheer force of fear, to a shaken stem, or a perilous branch beaten by a storm-wind.

The voices of my companions come to me from above, though I cannot see the soles of Mon Amie’s friendly feet, which at first preserved an amiable companionship with my own hands; but, looking far upward, I behold a tiny, star-like spark. When I was a child, I used to think that fire-flies were the crowns of the fairies, which shone despite their wearers’ invisibility : this idea was recalled to me.

Hark ! booming from unthought-of depths, a roar rolls up in majestic waves of echoing thunder. At this resonant burst, I tremble,— I think a prayer.

“ They are blasting below us,” cries the Colonel, de profundis.

Then up rushes a volume of thick, white smoke, and we are enveloped as in shrouds. I have no more fear, — but the odor, ah! that sulphureous, sickening, deathly odor! Faintness seizes me,— the ladder swims before my eyes, —I am paralyzed, — Death has me, I think !

But the very excess of the danger has in it something of reviving power. I remember, that, just as I left my room,—• whose quiet safety never before appeared so heavenly,— prompted by some instinctive impulse, I had placed a small vial of ammonia in the breast-pocket of my coat.

I have well nigh swooned with ecstasy, as I have inhaled the overcoming odors of some rare bouquet, love-bestowed and prized beyond gems; my senses have reeled in the intoxication of those wondrous extracts whose Oriental, tangible richness of fragrance holds me in a spell almost mystical in its enthralment; but I dare aver that no blossom’s breath, no pungent perfume distilled by the erudite inspiration of Science, ever possessed a tithe of the delicious agony of that whiff of unromantic ammonia, which, powerful as the touch of magic, and thrilling as the kiss of love, snatched me back to life, arrested my tottering senses, as they blindly staggered on the very brink of certain death. When we reach the next level, and our faces are revealed to each other, with one voice they exclaim, “ How frightfully pale you are!” But I say nothing. In fact, their familiar features, wearing no longer their daylight semblance, present an aspect at once grim and grotesque, and more like the spirits of my friends than their incorporated substances.

Traversing the wild, rude corridors, we find that the path grows more perilous, the way more intricate ; we have words of warning from our protectors, who often look back anxiously. They have begun to realize what they have done in yielding to a woman’s odd caprice.

In this level we are shown the spots from which famous masses of copper have been removed, and are granted useful, but fleeting statistics of weight; we are also so fortunate as to discover some chips of the wonderful block, raised in ’54, I think, which weighed five hundred tons. Then we chance upon chasms, which, seen so dimly, though dreadful enough in reality, are made a thousand times more so by the terrors of imagination; we creep along the brinks of these, scarcely daring to look down ; above, the heavy boulders lie heaped in frightful confusion. When we have crawled past these death-traps and stand in safety once more, we throw down bits of stone, and seconds elapse before we hear the dull thump with which each signals its arrival in the depths. Along the edges of some of these gloomy pits we cannot pick our way ; therefore a plank is thrown across, and, trusting to so slender a bridge, we pass, one by one. A single false step were enough to dash one to atoms, — so to be transformed to a bruised and mangled mass, to perform one’s own sepulture, and lie in a grander grave than will ever be hollowed by mortal hands to hide our useless bodies.

The deeper one penetrates into these mines, the wilder, more dangerous the paths. It is as though the upper regions were kept in “ company ” order, but lower down we meet with the every-day roughnesses of veritable miners’-life ; we follow their hazardous, but familiar steps ; we behold all the hardships these toiling, burrowing workers undergo, that the hidden coffers of Earth may yield their tribute of treasure to Man, its self-appointed, arrogant master.

Occasionally we meet a passing miner. Grasping his ponderous tools, he flits by like a phantom ; even in the momentary glance, we can perceive how livid his sunless labor has left him; he is blanched as a ghoul, and moves as noiselessly, with feather-light step. Each with a motion salutes the Captain; but they do not heed the little group of strangers who have braved so many dangers to behold the wonders which to them are as commonplace as the forge to a blacksmith, or to a carpenter his work-bench.

Still farther below us we hear the clink and clatter of real work. Down we plunge, — another ladder, “long drawn out.” Some of its rounds are wanting; others are loose and worn to a mere splinter. Warned by the voice below me, I proceed with a trembling caution, tenfold more exciting to the strained nerves than the wildest bound on a mettled racer, the fiercest rush that ever tingled through every fibre of the rider’s frame.

The water has saturated the banks by which our crazy ladder hangs, and every round is damp and slimy with clayey mud. Alas, for my poor pretty gantlets ! Mon Amie has thrown away hers, as useless.

Finally the ladder ceases abruptly. My feet in vain seek a resting-place. There is none.

A voice says, — that kindly, earnest voice, the symbol of protective care, and our smoother of all difficulties, — “ We have swung ourselves down by a chain that hangs from the side of the last round. We are too far below to reach or assist you. Take the chain firmly; it is the only route, and we cannot return ! ”

Que faire ? Behold a pleasant predicament for two city-bred ladies, not “to the manner born,” of swinging themselves from the end of a ladder by means of a rusty iron chain, from which they would alight — where ? Surely, we know not.

I am very sure I could not reproduce in description, and probably not by practice, the inevitable monkey-contortions, the unimaginable animal agility, by which I transfer my weight to the clumsy links of this almost invisible chain. The size of the staple from which it hangs dissipates all fears in respect to its strength. Hand over hand, my feet sliding on the slippery bank, remembering sailors in the shrouds, and taking time to pity them, at last I reach friendly hands, and stand breathless on another level.

How the soft, white, dimpled palms of Mon Amie testify to the hardship of this episode, as she bathes them in the cooling water ! But, because one’s hands are tender, cannot one’s nerves be strong, one’s will indomitable ?

Again on the tramp. The cavernous passages are sublime in height, the chasms fearful in their yawning gulfs. We pick our way daintily, at intervals pausing to listen to the distant reverberations of exploding blasts. The atmosphere here, as above, is fairly heavenly in its purity and invigorating freshness; it girds us with singular strength, and clothes us as in a garment of e..ehanted armor that defies all soul-sinking.

Creeping behind another shaft, we reach still another chasm, above which piles of dark rocks lie heaped in such confusion as might result from a great convulsion. There is a narrow path along its edge, and here the stones are small; but, as we look up, the mighty masses frown down upon us with threatening grandeur. Along this path, treading lightly, as if gifted with wings, the Captain passes; then the Agent (for we had slightly altered our order of march); Mon Amie follows. She is half-way past the danger, when an ominous pause,— we are ordered to stop.

Down into the chasm rolls a stone, displaced by an unlucky step of our pioneer. One stone is nothing,*—-but more follow that had been supported by this: small ones at first, — but the larger rocks threaten a slide. If they are not arrested in their course, she is lost !

What a moment that is ! I dare not breathe. Mon Amie stands statue-like, awaiting the death which she believes is upon her. Not many words are spoken. I think I feel all that her one glance conveys. But the brave men beyond her, with instant unanimous action bracing themselves against the sliding rocks, oppose their feeble force to the downsweeping agents of destruction; a moment more, and they would have been too late. With the step of a frightened antelope Mon Amie trembles past them. I see her safe, and hasten on. "Step lightly!” says a voice full of suspense and fear, despite its calmness.

Step, indeed! As if I rest on those treacherous stones ! My feet brush them no more than the wing of a butterfly grazes the roses among which it flutters. Step, forsooth! If ever the angels concerned themselves for this atom in Creation’s myriads, they hover round me now, they bear me up, they teach me how to fly ! Deprived now of their human props, how the angry fragments leap and tumble and chase one another through the echoing abyss below ! These reverberations seem freighted with elfin voices that jeer the insensate rocks for their baffled scheme of mischief.

But they chanted a far different chorus, and the darkness saw another sight, when, a few moons later, they dashed themselves down in irresistible array, and bore with them in their desperate plunge the lifeless bodies of two passing miners, in whose hearts, it may be, dwelt at the moment only happy thoughts of the homes ’neath the blue skies to which they were hurrying, the dear familiar sunlit Paradise that would succeed the endless night of their Inferno of toil.

“ But men must work, mid women must weep;
And the sooner ’tis over, the sooner to sleep ! ”

Well, we take up our march again presently, and, led by a monotonous hammering, proceed toward the sound. Some of the miners are at work here, clearing a mass of ore from the stubborn rock. Their strokes fall as regularly as those of machinery, and the grim men who wield the ponderous hammers accompany each blow with a peculiar loud indrawing of the breath, like the pant of a blacksmith at his anvil. So strong is this resemblance, that we burst forth all together in the strains of the “Anvil Chorus”; and the accompaniment is beaten with tenfold more regularity and effect than on the stage, in the glare of the footlights, by “ II Trovatore’s ” gypsy-comrades. I doubt if Verdi’s music was ever so rendered before, amid such surroundings. The compliment may be the higher, coming from so low a region.

Beyond this group are a few miners resting from toil. One of these, as he stands leaning his folded arms on a jutting rock, upon which he has placed his candle, elicits our spontaneous admiration. His beauty is Apollo-like, — every chiselled feature perfect in its classic regularity; his eyes sad, slumberous, and yet deep and glowing, are quite enough for any susceptible maiden’s heart; about a broad expanse of forehead cluster thick masses of dark brown hair; his shirt, open at the throat, reveals glimpses of ivory ; altogether he is statuesque and beautiful. Even his hands, strongly knit as they are, have not been rendered coarse by labor; they bear the same pallid hue as his face, and he looks like some nobly-born prisoner. “ What untoward fate cast him there ? ” I often ask myself. He exists in my memory as a veritable Prince Charming, held captive in those gloomy caves of enchantment that yielded up to me their unreal realities in that nightmarish experience. I never fancy him on upper earth living coarsely, even, it may be, talking ungrammatically, defying Horne Tooke and outraging Murray, among beings of a lower order of humanity; but he rises like a statue, standing silent and apart.

Some one throws away a nearly burntout candle at this spot. It falls but a few inches from a can of gunpowder, which is not too securely closed. As I utter a quick word of warning to the careless one, a miner starts. “Good Heaven!” I hear him exclaim, as we disappear,— “ that was a woman !”

When we reach the next shaft, the Captain deposits himself in the descending bucket, and, irregularly tossing from side to side, goes down to overlook some work, and leave fresh orders with the miners. We await his return before, again betaking ourselves to the ladders.

On the next level, we behold scores of men in busy action. I can think only of ants in an ant-hill : some are laden with ore; others bearing the refuse rocks and earth, the débris of the mine, to the shafts; others, again, are preparing blasts,— we do not tarry long with these ; others with picks work steadily at the tough ore. In some places, the copper freshly broken glitters like gold, and the specks on the rocks, or in the earth-covered mass, as our candle-light awakens their sparkles, gleam like the spangles on a dancer’s robe or stars in a midnight sky. All the while we hear the dreadful rattle of the downsinking caldrons, or the heavy labor of the freighted ones, as they ascend from level to level.

Suddenly our path conducts us past a seated bevy of miners taking their “ crib,” as it is termed, from the food-can, which stands at hand, —a small fire blazing in the midst of them. Weary and sore, we seat ourselves near them, while Our hardier companions talk with the respectful group.

They work eight hours at a time, they tell us, — ascending at the expiration of that period to betake themselves to their homes, which are mostly in the little village where the yelping curs also reside. They enjoy unusual health, and pity the upper-world of surface - laborers, whom they regard with a kind of contempt. Accidents are not frequent, considering the perils of their occupation. The miners here are generally Cornish-men, with some Germans.

I sit silent, thinking of my Prince Charming, with many vague conjectures. At first, these men have paused in their repast in presence of the strangers; but now, with rude courtesy, noticing our weariness, they offer a portion to us. Faint and famishing, we by no means disdain it. I wonder what Mrs. Grundy would say, could her Argus-eyes penetrate to the spot, where we, — bound to “die of roses in aromatic pain,”—-in miners’-garb, masculine and muddy, sit on stones with earthy delvers, more than six hundred feet under ground,— where the foot of woman has never trod before, nor the voice of woman echoed, — and sip, with the relish of intense thirst, steaming black tea from an old tin cup!

Eh, bien ! for all that, let me do it justice. Never was black tea less herb-like; never draught of sillery, quaffed from goblet of rare Bohemian glass, more delicious! And so, with thank-yous that were not only from the lip, we toil on some distance yet, to the shaft by which we are to ascend,— one quite remote from that by which we began our trip.

Halting at the foot of the ladder, we pour forth the “Star-spangled Banner” with the full strength of lungs inflated by patriotism, until the stirring staves ring and resound through those dim caves. The miners, who hold the superstition, that to whisper bodes ill-luck, must have imagined we were exorcising evil spirits with an incantation.

Then begins our weary way upward. We sing “ Excelsior ” in our hearts, and forget our aching limbs, for the most laborious portion of the night’s toil is before us. The almost perpendicular ladder is just beside the powerful pump, which, worked by a steam-engine, exhausts the water from the mine, and its busy piston, in monotonous measure, keeps time to our climbing.

Two rests during the entire distance, which we travel in brave silence. Indeed, we cannot speak,-—the oppressive strain upon the chest is so great. Step after step, hand over hand, up we go. At last, warmer air greets us, lights flicker from above; the trap-door is reached; we are on the surface again; we are out of the depths, — and our hearts whisper a Te Deum of thanksgiving.

I think well of the establishment of a chapel, such as exists at the entrance to the Valenciana mine in Mexico, where each miner spends half an hour, going to or returning from his labors. Such a union of work and worship seems a proper adjunct to the profit and the peril.

There is a faint glimmer of coming dawn far away in the east, as we go forth into the midsummer-night, and we catch the distant notes of chanticleer, as he sounds his shrill réveille to the day.

As my confused brain seeks repose, and my weary limbs sink into the softness of the never-so-welcome bed, my thoughts fly to distant ones, to whom I would whisper, — as I do to you who have so patiently burrowed with me, — “ Only love me for the dangers I have passed! ”

But it is in vain that you long for a similar experience, my dear Laura Matilda. Being the first, we are also the last women to whom these subterranean passages will yield their mysteries, their windings, and their wonders. Against all of my own sex the Pandemonian depths of the Minnesota Mines are henceforth as obstinately barred as ever were the golden gates of the Mohammedan Paradise.