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- The Underworld - 10/49 -


see that nae dirty brute ever again gets the chance to insult ye," and he was out of the door before she could question him further.

Geordie went straight to where Walker lived and knocked at the door. A girl of fourteen came in answer to his knock, for Walker was a widower, his wife having died shortly after the birth of their only child.

"Is yer faither in?" enquired Geordie quietly, hardly able to control the raging anger in his heart.

"No, he's no' in," replied the girl. "Oh, is that you, Geordie?" she asked, recognizing him in the darkness. "My father said when he went oot that if ye cam' to the door, I was to tell ye he had nae places yet."

"That's a' richt," said Geordie, still very quietly. "Do ye ken onything aboot where he is this nicht?"

"No, unless he's up in Sanny Robertson's, or maybe in Peter Fleming's."

"Thank ye," said Geordie, turning away, "I'll go up an' see if he is there."

He knew that Peter Fleming was working that night, and had stopped on an extra shift to repair a road, by special instructions from Walker; so Geordie went direct to Fleming's house and knocked at the door. After an interval a woman's voice enquired, "Wha's that?" and Geordie thought there was anxiety in it.

"Open the door," said Geordie quietly. "What the hell are ye afert for?" and the woman, thinking it was her husband returned from work, immediately opened the door.

"You're shairly early," she said; then suddenly recognizing who the intruder was, she tried to shut the door.

"Na, na," said Geordie, now well in the doorway, "I want to see Black Jock."

"He's no' here," she lied readily enough, but with some agitation in her voice.

"You're a liar, Jean," replied Geordie, "that's him gaun oot at the room door," and Geordie withdrew hurriedly, determined that Black Jock should not escape him. He hurried to the end of the "row," and waited with all the passion of long years raging through his whole being. He stepped out as Walker advanced, and said: "Is that you, Walker?"

"Ay," came the answer, "what do ye want?" as he came to a halt.

"Just a meenit," said Geordie, placing himself in front of Walker, barring his way. "I want to warm yer dirty hide. It ought to have been done years ago, but I never kent till the nicht, and I'm gaun to dae it the noo," and the tones of his voice indicated that he meant what he said.

"Oh! What's wrang?" asked Walker in affected surprise. "I'll get ye a place," he went on hurriedly, "just as soon as I can--in fac' there's yin that'll be ready by the morn."

"I'm no gi'ein' a damn for yer place. It's you I'm efter the nicht. Come on, face up," and Sinclair squared himself for battle.

Thus challenged, Walker, who was like all bullies a coward at heart, tried to temporize, but Sinclair was in no mood for delay.

"Come on, pit them up, or I'll break yer jaw for you," he said threateningly.

"Man, Geordie, what ails ye the nicht?" asked Walker in hurried alarm, wondering wildly how he could stave off the chastisement which he knew from Geordie's voice he might expect. "Talk sensibly, man. Try an' ha'e some sense. What's the matter wi' ye?"

"Matter," echoed Geordie, "jist this. The wife has jist telt me a' aboot the nicht ye cam' chappin' to the door when I was lyin' hurt. She kent I'd break yer neck for it, and she was feart to tell me. So put up yer fists, ye black-hearted brute that ye are. I'm gaun to gi'e ye what we should hae gotten seven years syne, an' it'll maybe put ye frae preyin' on decent women. Come on."

"Awa', man, Geordie, an' behave yersel'," began Walker, trying to evade him.

"Tak' that, then, ye dirty brute!" and Geordie smashed his fist straight between Walker's eyes.

Roused at last, Walker showed fight and swung at Sinclair. He was the younger man by about two years, and had not had the hard work and bad conditions of the other, but Sinclair was a strong man, and was now roused to a great pitch, so he struck out with terrific force. Then the two closed and swayed about, struggling, cursing and punching each other with brutal might. Sinclair's extra weight and more powerful build soon began to tell, and he was able to send home one or two heavy blows on Black Jock's face and body. Panting and blowing, they separated, and as they did so, Sinclair caught his opponent a straight hard crash on the jaw that sent him rolling to the muddy road, and feeling as if a thousand fists had struck him all at once.

Walker lay for a short time, then gathering himself together, he rose to his feet and set off at a quick pace in the direction of his house, whilst Geordie, too, turned homewards, feeling that it was useless to follow him.

Mrs. Sinclair did not hear what had happened till a week later, when Geordie, being in a communicative mood, told her of the affair in simple, unaffected terms.

Shortly afterwards a great event happened in Lowwood, which made the deepest impression on Robert's mind. His father still being out of work, had sent a letter to Robert Smillie, who was then beginning to be heard of more and more in mining circles. In the letter Geordie explained, to the best of his ability, the local circumstances, and he mentioned his own case of persecution, and his agitation for the starting of a union. Smillie sent word in reply that he would come in two days, and Geordie enthusiastically set to work to organize a meeting, going round every house in the district, telling the folks that Smillie was coming, and exhorting them to turn out and hear him.

"I dinna think it'll do any guid," said old Tam Smith, when Geordie called upon him. "It's a' richt talkin' about a union, but the mair ye fecht the mair ye're oppressed. The bosses ha'e the siller, an' they can ay buy the brains to serve them."

Geordie made no reply, for he knew from experience that it was only too true.

"Just look at young Jamie Soutar," continued Tam. "He is yin o' the cleverest men i' the country. He wrocht wi' me as a laddie when he went into the pit, an' noo' he's travelin' manager for that big company doon the west country, an' I'm telt he's organizin' an' advocatin' the formin' o' what he calls a Coal Combine."

"That's a' richt, Tam. I admit it a', though I dinna jist ken what a Coal Combine means; but I ken that Bob Smillie is makin' great wark wi' the union he has formed. I ken he has gotten rises in wages for a' the men who ha'e joined, an' that he is advocatin' an eight hours day. If that can be done doon there, it can be done here; for there's naebody has ony mair need o' a eight hours day than miners."

"Oh, I'll turn oot a' richt at the meetin'," said Tam, who was always credited with seeing farther than most of his workmates, "an' I'll join the union, too, if it's formed; but ye'll see if ye live lang enough that the union'll no' be a' ye think it. The ither side will organize to bate ye every time." And with this encouraging prophecy, Geordie went on to the next house.

"No, I'm no' comin' to nae meetin'. I want naethin' to dae wi' yer unions. I can get on weel enough without them," curtly said Dan Sellars, the inmate. He was what Geordie somewhat expressively called a "belly-crawler," a talebearer, and one who drank and gambled along with Walker, Fleming, Robertson and a few others.

"Man, it'll no' do muckle guid," said another, "ye mind hoo' big Geordie Ritchie ran awa' wi' the money o' the last union we started? It'll gi'e a wheen bigmouths a guid job and an easy time. That's a' it will do."

"Oh, ay," answered Sinclair, "but that's no' to say that the union'll ay fail. Folks are no' a' Geordie Ritchies, an' they're no' a' bigmouths either. We're bound to succeed if we care to be solid thegither."

"I'll come to the meetin', Geordie, although I was sayin' that, but I'll no' promise to join yer union," was the answer, and Sinclair had to be content with that.

Thus went Geordie from house to house, meeting with much discouragement, and even downright opposition, but he was always good-humored, and so he seldom failed to extract a promise to attend the meeting.

The night of the meeting arrived, and the hall--an old, badly lit and ill-ventilated wooden erection--was packed to its utmost. There were eager faces, and dull, listless ones among the audience; there were eyes glad with expectancy, and eyes dulled with long years of privations and brutal labor; limbs young and supple and full of energy, and limbs stiff and sore, crooked and maimed.

Geordie Sinclair was chairman, and when he rose to open the meeting and introduce Smillie, he felt as if the whole world were looking on and listening.

"Weel, men," he began, halting and hesitating in his utterance, "for a lang time now there has been much cryin' for a union here. There has been a lot of persecution gaun' on, an' it has been lang felt that something should be done. We ha'e heard of how other men in other places ha'e managed to start a union, and how it has been a guid thing in risin' wages. Mr. Smillie has come here the nicht to tell us how the other districts ha'e made a start, and what thae other districts has gotten. If it can be done there, it can be done here. I ha'e wrocht aside Bob Smillie, an' I ken what kind of man he is. He has done great wark doon in the west country, an' he is weel fitted and able to be the spokesman for the miners o' Scotlan'. I'm no gaun' to say ony mair, but I can say that it gie's me great pleasure to ask Mr. Smillie to address ye."

A round of applause greeted Smillie as he rose to address them. Tall and manly, he dominated his audience from the very first sentence, rousing them to a great pitch of enthusiasm, as he proceeded to tell of all the many hardships which miners had to endure, of the "Block" system of persecution, and to point to the only means of successfully curing them by organizing into one solid body, so that they might become powerful enough to enforce their demands for a fuller, freer, and a happier life.


The Underworld - 10/49

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