Thunder and heavy rain marked the dawn of that day. The hills above the town, usually rocky and scrubby in the long dry season, were now soaking wet. Green was beginning to survive as new damp slippery moss on the many rocky surfaces and shoots of still wet scraggy grass in the spaces between. The stream bed above the cliff was now fast flowing with water cascading to the stone and boulder filled basin carved out far below.
Centuries of mining scarred the surrounding hills. Silver ore was still being torn from the many galleries and tunnels hidden below, but many of the mine workings were disused and neglected. Abandoned vertical shafts high up on the hills often lay hidden by rocky piles of mining detritus. The shaft holes were sometimes blocked by a grid of old railway rails to stop the unwary from falling in; but sometimes there was no protection at all.
Either way, a stone dropped into a disused mine shaft hole fell into a black silence until, often many seconds later, it hit bottom with an eerie, echoing thump that fell away again to silence. Sometimes it would hit the sides and clatter all the way down. Sometimes there was no echo, just a thump as the rock hit the decaying body of something far below that had fallen in.
Lower down, tunnels had been dug into the hillsides. Some of these were short and came to nothing. Others disappeared into the bowels of the earth. In these the bright sunlight faded quickly into a stygian darkness where nothing was visible without a lamp. These long tunnels were dark mysterious places where the deep silence was broken only by the sound of dripping water and, sometimes, the faint echoing noise of mining in some distant gallery far underground.
That morning, early, I escaped with my small friend from next door to explore the mysteries in the hills behind the safety of home. This was not a new adventure. We had ignored parental warnings and strictures before and had not been caught. Telling no one and clad in nothing more than ordinary clothes and shoes we opened the gates of the compound for the freedom of the mine road outside and the open scarred hillsides beyond.
This time the target was not to find a new tunnel to explore or a shaft down which to chuck stones to see what happened. Now it was to climb the cliff by the winding road up into the mountains behind the town.
No one took any notice of us. In fact there was really nobody about to take much notice as in those days the population was small, and the landscape was empty of people who had better things to do.
The cliff blocked the far end of a short reentrant on the first horseshoe curve of the road and within easy walking distance of home. The treeless hill sides on either side were very steep. The only way up was to climb the rocks that formed the cliff itself. At first the route was easy, being mainly on broken large boulders solidly fixed by the soil and small stones wedged between. The route quickly became much steeper as the boulders gave way to wet earth and the scree of smaller rock. It became harder to stand upright until finally, I was forced to start crawling. I could make progress by pushing on the sometimes solid granite surfaces with my now much damaged and soaking shoes and scrabbling for tufts of grass to hold onto. By looking between my feet I could see my small companion far below only just starting to climb.
Looking up, I saw a large stone projecting out of the ground and close to the solid top edge of the cliff. In front was a relatively flat pitch of loose earth held by patches of wet grass. Standing on tip toe and stretching as far as I could I just reached the large projecting stone above. Grabbing it I used it to pull myself up...........
Oh deceptive stone of solid appearance!
As soon as I grabbed it I felt it give. It came away suddenly from the cliff edge and hurtled down.... I saw it come straight for me and then I felt FEAR as I started to slide, then nothing, no pain, nothing at all in the
TOTAL BLACKNESS that engulfed me.
Blackness, no memory of anything at all..no sounds , no vision, no hearing, NOTHING.....Then a brief nightmare and blurred vision of masked faces above , bright overhead lights and breathing, rubber mask on my face, pain , nasty smell, ......then again NOTHING , no sensation of anything, no consciousness, a total blank nothingness... no memory of anything.
I am told that it was two days later, when I woke up in hospital.
Tommy Harrington was the boy who saw me fall and who had the sense to run to the road to stop a car and who then showed the driver where home was and who saw the driver cover my head with a dirty cloth. It was Tommy whose first reactions and cool head that saved me from oblivion. I never saw much of Tommy after that and cannot remember thanking him. So, if ever he reads this he will know that I survived and that I have not forgotten what he did. Thank you Tommy!
Copyright M.& M.M. Ough Dealy
This page last modified on Sunday, July 27, 2014