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engine. When the bell sounded, the brakesman checked the speed, by taking hold of the hand-gear connected with the steam-valves, which were so arranged that by their means he could regulate the speed of the engine, and stop or set it in motion when required. Connected with the fly-wheel was a powerful wooden brake, acting by pressure against its rim, something like the brake of a railway carriage against its wheels, and the brakesman was enabled, by applying his foot to a footstep near him, on catching sight of the chain attached to the ascending corve cage, at once, and with great precision, to stop its revolutions, and arrest the ascent of the corves at the pit mouth, when they were forthwith landed on the " settle board.” On the full corves being replaced by empty ones, it was then the duty of the brakesman to reverse the engine, and send the corves down the pit to be filled again.
The monotony of George Stephenson's occupation as a brakesman was somewhat varied by the change which he made, in his turn, from the day to the night shift. This duty, during the latter stage, chiefly consisted in sending the men and materials into the mine, and in drawing other men and materials out. Most of the workmen enter the pit during the night shift, and leave it in the latter part of the day, whilst coal-drawing is proceeding. The requirements of the work at night are such, that the brakesman has a good deal of spare time on his hands, which he is at liberty to employ in his own way. From an early period, Stephenson was accustomed to employ those vacant night hours in working the sums set for him by Andrew Robertson upon his slate, in practising writing in his copy-book, and also in mending the shoes of his fellow-workmen. His wages while working at the Dolly Pit amounted to from 11. 15s. to 21. in the fortnight*;
William Coe has furnished me with an abstract of the wages book of Black Callerton, from which it appears that George Stephenson's earnings for the
but he gradually added to them as he became more expert at shoe-mending, and afterwards at shoe-making. Probably he was stimulated to take in hand this extra work by the attachment which he had at this time formed for a respectable young woman of the village, named Fanny Henderson. Fanny was a servant in a neighbouring farm-house ; and George, having found her a high-principled young woman of excellent character, courted her with the intention of making her his wife and setting up in a house of his own. The personal attractions of Fanny Henderson, though these were considerable, were the least of her charms. Her temper was of the sweetest; and those who knew her speak of the charming modesty of her demeanour, her kindness of disposition, and withal her sound good sense.
Amongst his various mendings of old shoes at Callerton, George Stephenson was on one occasion favoured with the shoes of his sweetheart, Fanny Henderson, to sole. One can imagine the pleasure with which he would linger over such a piece of work, and the pride with which he would execute it. A friend of his, still living, relates that, after he had finished the shoes, he carried them about with him in his pocket on the Sunday afternoon, and that from time to time he would whip them out and hold them up to sight,—the tiny little shoes that they were,-exhibiting them with exultation to his friend, and exclaiming, “ what a capital job he had made of them!” Other lovers have carried about with them a lock of their fair one's hair, a glove, or a handkerchief; but none could have been prouder of their cherished love-token than was George Stephenson of his Fanny's shoes, which he learn which he had made such a capital
fortnight were as follows :-On June 18th, 1801, he was paid il. 198. 4d., and a ticket for two shillings' worth of rye ; on June 17th, 1802, he was paid Il. 158. But bread was so dear in those days, that the wages paid to workmen were not really so high as they appear : in 1801, wheat was selling at 5l. 18s. 3d., and
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CHAP. I.] FIGHT WITH SED NELSON. which probably did not amount to much. He eren admitted that be could carry Stephenson no further in arithmetic, the pupil having outstripped the master. He went on, homerer, with his writing lessons; and by the year following, when he signed his name in the parish registry of Newburn, on the occasion of his marriage to Fanny Henderson, he was able to write a good, legible round hand.
George continued very fond of measuring his strength and agility, as at Newburn, with his fellow-workmen, and he maintained his prestige at lifting heavy weights and throwing the hammer. He also occasionally indulged in a little sporting by stealth; and in after life he was accustomed to tell a story of going out with some of the pitmen to shoot crows in a neighbouring wood, early one summer's morning, while it was yet grey, when, proceeding across the fields, he thought he saw a hare sitting on her form. Taking sure aim, he “ let drive." The hare did not stir. Running up to the game to bag it, lo! it was only a big grey stone he had been firing at! George's “dead shot " was long a standing joke against him amongst the pitmen.
Not long after he began to work at Black Callerton as brakesman, he had a quarrel with a pitman named Ned Nelson, a roistering bully, who was the terror of the village. Nelson was a great fighter; and it was therefore considered dangerous to quarrel with him. Stephenson was so unfortunate as not to be able to please this pitman by the way in which he drew him out of the pit; and Nelson swore at him grossly because of the alleged clumsiness of his brakeing. George defended himself and appealed to the testimony of the other workmen. But Nelson had not been accustomed to George's style of self-assertion; and, after a great deal of abuse, he threatened to kick the brakesman, who defied him to do so. Nelson ended by challenging challenge, when a day was fixed on which the fight was to come off.
Great was the excitement at Black Callerton when it was known that George Stephenson had accepted Nelson's challenge. Everybody said that he would be killed. The villagers—the young men, and especially the boys of the place, with whom George was an especial favourite — all wished that he might beat Nelson, but they scarcely dared to say so. They came about him while he was at work in the enginehouse, to inquire if it was really true that he was “goin to feight Nelson ?” “ Ay; never fear for me ; I'll feight him.” And “feight” him he did. For some days previous to the appointed day of battle, Nelson went entirely off work for the purpose of keeping himself fresh and strong, whereas Stephenson went on doing his daily work, as usual, and appeared not in the least disconcerted by the prospect of the affair. So, on the evening appointed, after George had done his day's labour, he went into the Dolly Pit Field, where his already exulting rival was ready to meet him. George stripped, and “went in ” like a practised pugilist — though it was his first and last fight. After a few rounds, George's wiry muscles and practised strength enabled him severely to punish his adversary, and to secure for himself an easy victory.
This circumstance is related in illustration of Stephenson's personal pluck and courage; and it was thoroughly characteristic of the man. He was no pugilist, and the very reverse of quarrelsome. But he would not be put down by the bully of the colliery, and he fought him. There his pugilism ended; they afterwards shook hands, and continued good friends. In after life, Stephenson's mettle was often as hardly tried, though in a different way; and he did not fail to exhibit the same resolute courage, in contending with the bullies of the railway world, as he had thus early shown in his encounter with Ned Nelson, the fighting pitman of Black Callerton.