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THE DISCOVERY OF COAL.

A BELGIAN LEGEND,

FIFTY-FIVE years had elapsed since the pious Ansfride, last Count of Huy, had given over his domains to the Bishops of Liége, when poor Tiel, his grandson and his last descendant, attained his twenty-second year. This was in the latter part of the year 1040. He commemorated the day with a small sturgeon, which he had caught with his own rod and line in the Meuse. Being deprived of all inheritance, he lived in a lowly cottage in the village of Plenevaux, his whole property consisting of a spade, pickaxe, and a few garden tools, a bow and arrows to hunt, and a rod and line to angle with. He further earned a trifle by shoeing horses, an art which an old farrier of the village had taught him out of compassion. He was so steady and well behaved that he was always called Tiel the Prud'homme. Old men esteemed him for his good behaviour, and not one of the girls of the village, or of all Condros, but would have accepted him for a husband, notwithstanding his poverty. But Tiel was in no hurry to give away either his heart or hand.

One fine evening, on the 17th of September, 1042, he was returning from paying his devotions at the holy shrine of the Abbey of Val Saint Lambert, when he missed his way in the forest of Plenevaux and Brion. It was a fine night, and so he for some time sought patiently to recover his whereabouts. Still it was not without a feeling of considerable relief that he suddenly perceived a light at the spot which is now known as the field of Beur. Making towards it, he found that the light in question issued like lambent flames from the chimney of au isolated cottage which appeared to have been quite recently built there. One only opening seemed to serve at once for door and window, and as there was no screen of any kind, Tiel could examine the interior at his ease before presuming to disturb the inmates.

The furniture was very scanty. It consisted of two stools, of a little table of slate, and of two beds of leaves. The light that had attracted the young man's attention was produced by a bright fire, which burnt with unwonten lustre and vigour, without Tiel being able to perceive any known combustible, such as wood, straw, or leaves.

By the light of this to him mysterious blaze, he was enabled to distinctly make out the only dwellers in the place : they were an old man and his daughter. The old man was not four feet in height; his legs were curved inwards, his head sank into his stout shoulders, his eyes sparkled, and yet his countenance wore a very grave aspect. His hair was just turning grey. He wore a red over-coat with black bands. The appearance of the dwarf was altogether so singular, that Tiel, filled with strange apprehensions which he could scarcely account to himself for, was hesitating to advance when he perceived the daughter.

She appeared to be about eighteen years of age. For a moment Tiel thought that he was contemplating an angel. All that he could at first distinguish was a small hand white as snow, reposing on a dress of black silk; but turning round to the fire, Tiel the Prud'homme was thunderstruck at the extreme beauty of that young head and face, clothed as it was with dark hair, raised up in a knot behind, her large eyes betokening nothing but mildness and affection, and her smile beaming with innocence. For the first time in his life his heart beat so tumultuously, that he forgot the simple nature of his errand, and feeling as much embarrassed at presenting himself before so fair an object, as he did of repugnance towards the uncouth form and aspect of the parent, he leant against a tree hesitating what steps to take, and yet devouring every movement of the girl with his eyes. The dwarf and his daughter did not speak to one another.

He had been indulging for some time in this new-born ecstasy, when the old man, rising up, tendered his arm to the maiden, and both moved as if to walk forth into the forest. Tiel instinctively hastened to hide himself in its woody recesses; he could not account for the feeling himself, but he felt that he would not be seen as he then was for everything in the world.

After wandering for some time, hearing nothing but the beating of his own heart, he resolved upon retracing bis steps; he could not tear himself from the magic influence to which he was now subject, and he felt that he must once more contemplate that forest hut and its incongruous tenants; but again he lost his way, nor could he discover either the light, the abode, or see or hear any signs of the monstrous dwarf or of his beautiful daughter.

At length, wearied and worn out, he found his way back to Plénevaux, but he was no longer the same young man.

His whole mind and heart were filled with one dominant thought that excluded all others. No sooner had the shades of evening so far closed as to enable him to avoid detection, than he stole off again to the forest, in the hopes of seeing the mysterious flames rising above the trees like a beacon light, but it was in vain. He did the same thing for many nights running, but always with the same result ; he could neither hear nor see anything of the hut or its inhabitants. Some woodmen, of whom he at length ventured in his anxiety to make inquiries as to a lone hut in the wood with its flambent chimney, admitted that they had heard strange noises in the forest of Brion, and that they had even seen flames play over marshy spots, but they had taken good care not to approach them, for there were rumours of evil spirits holding their sabbaths on occasions in those secluded places.

Tiel, however, did not allow himself to be totally discouraged. He knew what he had seen, and he, in fact, no longer lived, save to think of her, of whom he had had so ecstatic a vision, of her strange misformed parent, and of the little hut and its mysterious fire.

At that epoch the nobles of the land were engaged in those feudal wars which so distracted the middle ages. In the year 1044, almost all the villages that were not fortified had been devastated, and many forests had been burnt down. Desolation reigned everywhere on the borders of the Meuse. Winter was coming on, and the poor people, deprived of their usual resources, had to go as far as the forest of Ardennes to procure their usual supply of fuel. As to Tiel the Prud'homme (he no longer deserved that surname), he appeared to live isolated in the midst of his neighbours, dreaming of nothing but the vision which he had contemplated, oblivious of all else, and unable to persuade himself that what he bad seen was a mere hallucination of the brain.

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The 17th of September, 1044, the festival of the holy prelate of Maëstricht coming round, reminded him that it was on that very day, that returning from paying his devotions at the miraculous shrine of Val Saint Lambert, the said vision had presented itself to him. He accordingly took his way to Seraing, knelt in humility at the foot of the altar, and prayed till night came on.

This done, he took his way back by the forest of Brion, which had been consumed by fire, wandering just as chance directed. Those who have been enveloped in utter obscurity in a lone forest, to which, in this instance, the black charred trees and shrubs imparted additional horror, can best enter into the feelings of the young man when he suddenly perceived a light glimmering from the field of Bæuf, and then a black mass, which he soon made out to be the long-sought-for hut, now clearly discernible. He deviated from his route, giving the hut, as it were, a wide berth, in order to regain his composure and calm the tumultuous beatings of his heart. Approaching, then, the well-known opening very stealthily, he saw the same fire burning as before, the same old man, his hair a little greyer, the same fair girl, taller and more slim than of yore. At this sight he went down on his kness, raised his hands to Heaven, and returned thanks to Saint Lambert.

After having thus fervently prayed, he rose up and stepped firmly towards the hut. He had nerved himself to the resolve of casting himself at the feet of the old man, and asking his daughter in marriage.

He had nearly attained the threshold when he was stopped by hearing the dwarf beginning to sing, as he poked the mysterious fire with a bar of iron, and then the young girl, with a clear, fresh voice, took up the chorus. They sang, however, in the old Wallon dialect, and Tiel could not understand a word of what they said. Waiting till they had finished, and all again was silence, he hesitatingly advanced to the portal :

My lord and noble lady," he said, with a voice tremulous with emotion, “ will you permit me to warm myself a moment by your fire ?"

The young girl smiled and blushed with benevolence as she pointed with her finger to poor Tiel that there was a third stool which he had not before perceived.

“ You are welcome, if you love us,” said the dwarf, in a mild tone of voice.

Tiel felt himself encouraged by these few words. “If I love you !” he said, with deep emotion.

The young girl upon this fixed her eyes upon him with such a depth of feeling, that he could no longer restrain himself, and he threw himself on his knees between the dwarf and his daughter.

“I love you!" he repeated. “It now two years since I had the happiness of seeing you at this very spot. Since that day I have lived solely on the remembrance. I have come here to die if I cannot obtain the hand of the angel whose father you no doubt are."

The young man's heart rebounded in his bosom, for, as he finished these words, he looked up, and there were no signs of anger on the young girl's countenance. As to the dwarf, he raised his head and quietly

“Sit down. That which you ask is not impossible.”

said :

It is probable that the reader will be somewhat surprised at the nature of this demand and the answer given to it. Manners such as are here described are no longer in vogue. People do not now-a-days ask a girl in marriage, even if she dwells in a hut, of parents to whom they are utterly unknown, and of whom they themselves know nothing. But Tiel had so long lost sight of his beloved, that he was prepared to run any risk rather than again suffer so prolonged and cruel a separation ; and as to the dwarf, it has been suggested by certain learned archæologists that this mysterious personage belonged to the species little known in the present day, but familiar at that time, as gnomes, or inhabitants of the interior of the earth and guardians of its mines—little beings who considered it an honour to be on good terms with mankind.

However that may be, Tiel the Prud'homme kissed the hand of the old man with ecstasy.

" It is possible,” continued the dwarf, "for I see Florine loves you."

The young girl blushed again, but did not attempt to contradict her respected parent; on the contrary, she never felt more dutifully inclined. As to poor Tiel, if he had not been restrained by the usages and decorum of society, he must have exhibited some extravagant demonstrations of gladness.

“But who are you?" inquired the dwarf.

“I am grandson to Count Ansfride. They call me Tiel the Prud'homme."

“ He was a noble and worthy lord, Count Ansfride. And my daughter shall have a suitable dowry for one of such distinguished origin. But is it not true, Florine, that when he shall be your husband he must call himself Tiel the Collier ?”

Florine replied by an affirmative movement of the head. Tiel was not precisely prepared for such terms. At the same time, the words “my daughter shall have a suitable dowry,” gave him no small amount of uneasiness. The dwarf at once perceived the trouble of his guest.

“Does the surname of Tiel the Collier displease you, my son ?” in. quired the old man.

At that time, as we have before said, coal was utterly unknown. Tiel did not know, therefore, the meaning of the name, all he cared about it was that it should be pleasing to Florine. He therefore explained that the cause of his embarrassment lay in his poverty.

“ Man is made of flesh and bone,” said the old man ; 66 all are born equally poor, and none has a golden mine within himself. But fortune lies there” (and he stamped on the ground with his foot), “ in the bosom of our common mother. It must be conquered. Here is the prodigious treasure which will constitute your dowry if you wed my daughter,” he continued, as he struck with his iron bar a huge lump of coal that Tiel had not noticed in a corner of the chimney, and the properties of which he was entirely ignorant of.

He accordingly opened his great eyes, but without venturing to make a remark.

“ This, my son, will make you rich, you, your children, and the chil. dren of your children, your parents, your friends, and your fellow-citizens ; it is an inexhaustible fortune, which will one day double the prosperity of these countries, and will shed its benefits on the rest of the world. When

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civilisation shall have destroyed the forests, then will coal be sought for from the beneficent earth."

“ But what is this treasure ?” tremblingly inquired Tiel the Prud'homme.

“It is fire and light,” replied the dwarf.

And so saying, he broke the piece of coal that lay at his feet, and casting a bit into the fire, it sparkled and blazed away. Tiel at once saw that this so-called coal was adapted to take the place of wood, and that it gave out more light and heat.

“Come along,” said the dwarf; “I will show you the mine."

Thus saying, he got up and led the way. Tiel, in an ecstasy of joy, gave his arm to the beautiful Florine, and followed.

Arrived on the banks of the Meuse, the old man whistled, and immediately a boat made its appearance, rowed by six thick and short men, who took the visitors on board without uttering a word, and then deposited them at a place indicated by the dwarf. The old man then led the way, Tiel following with Florine. When the dwarf stopped, he perceived that the six little boatmen, whose footsteps he had not heard, were with them. The earth around was covered with blocks of sandstone interspersed with black-looking mineral. The six men then set to work picking with superhuman energy, the earth seemed to open as of itself, all of them entered into its bowels, and they were not long before they came to the beds of coal.

“ Here,” said the dwarf, “is what I promised you : bring workmen here to-morrow, and be happy. You have nothing to dread in your undertaking but two kinds of enemies—rather formidable, it must be admitted. In the first place, the Mehaigne, the Hoyous, and the Meuse, as also their tributaries, irritated at seeing you working your way beneath their beds, will do their utmost to force their way into your galleries, and to inundate and destroy your mines, as also to drown your workmen. You must do your best to anticipate and to avoid such disasters. The next thing you have to fear is the coal-damp. The grisou is a bad demon, quick as lightning, irritable and fatal, and who, the moment he is approached, vomits forth flames, accompanied by terrific explosions, which kill the miners and shake the mines to their

very

foundations. See that the light used to carry on your works does not come in contact with that inflammable gas.

And now farewell, and may Heaven protect you! And you, my daughter, now that you have a husband, embrace your father, and bid him farewell."

The pretty daughter of the dwarf then began to weep. Tiel was still busy consoling her, when he perceived that everything had disappeared from around him. The dwarf and his companions were gone.

Tiel conducted the daughter of the mysterious old man, whom he never saw again, to his cottage. The marriage ceremony was performed the next day at the Abbey of the Val Saint Lambert, and the very same day he set men to work at the mine.

Tiel the Collier soon became wealthy, and he was with Florine and her dowry the happiest and the wealthiest man of his age. His good luck preserved him as long as he lived, from inundations and the anger of the grisou. May good Saint Lambert for ever preserve all brave miners from these two frightful visitations !

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