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- The Underworld - 20/49 -
"That's richt," said Tam, "but mind an' no' tire yersels too much, for ye've a nicht at the tatties the morn. The polis'll be at the bing the morn's nicht efter this carry-on, an' when he is busy watchin' for coal thieves, we maun see that we get in a denner or twa o' tatties. I heard him sayin' he could not be everywhere at yince, an' couldna' both watch coal thieves an' tattie stealin' at yin an' the same time."
* * * * *
All this time matters went very smoothly. The men were very firm, having great trust in Smillie. After about six weeks, however, from various causes a suspicious atmosphere began to be created. Hints had been appearing from time to time in the newspapers that matters were not altogether as the miners thought they were. Then vague rumors got afloat in many districts and spread with great rapidity, and these began to undermine the confidence of the strikers.
"What think ye o' the fecht noo, Tam?" enquired Matthew Maitland one night as they sat among the others at the "Lazy Corner," as the village forum was called.
"I dinna ken what to think o' it," replied Tam glumly. "Do ye think there's any truth in that story aboot Smillie havin' sell't us?"
"It wad be hard to ken," replied Matthew Maitland, taking his pipe out of his mouth and spitting savagely upon the ground. "But I heard it for a fact, and that a guid wheen o' men doon the country hae gaen back to their work through it. An' yet, mind ye, Smillie seemed to me to be a straight-forret man an' yin that was sincere. Still, ye can never tell; an' twa-three hunner pound's a big temptation to a man."
"Ay," said Tam dryly, "we hae been diddled sae often wi' bigmoothed men on the make, that it mak's a body ay suspicious when yin hears thae stories. I heard Wiston, the coal-maister, had gien him five hunner pounds on the quiet."
"I heard that too," replied Matthew, "but, like you, I'm loth to think it o' Smillie. I'd believe it quicker aboot yon ither chiel, Charlie Rogerson. He comes oot to speak to us ay dressed in a black dress-suit, wi' white cuffs doon to his finger nebs, his gold ring, his lum hat, an' a' his fal-de-lals."
"Weel, I dinna believe a word o' this story aboot Bob," said Robert quietly, who had "hunkered" down beside the two men who sat so earnestly discussing matters while the others went on with their games and dancing.
"Do ye no', Rob?" said Tam.
"No, I do not," was the firm reply, "for nae matter what happens in a fight, it's ay the opeenion o' some folk that the men ha'e been sell't."
Robert, though young, took a keen interest in the fight. While other lads of his age looked upon it as a fine holiday, the heavy responsibilities he had to face gave him a different outlook, and so the men seemed to recognize that he was different from the other boys, and more sober in his view-point.
"This story is set aboot for the purpose o' breakin' oup the men," he continued. "We hear o' Smillie haein hale rows o' cottages bought, an' a lot ither rubbish, but I wouldna believe it. It's a' to get the men to gang back to their work; an' if they do that, it'll no' only break the strike, but it'll break up the union, an' that's what's wanted mair than anything else. I've heard Smillie an' my faither talkin' aboot a' thae things lang syne, an' Smillie says that's what the stories are set aboot for. We should ha'e sense enough no' to heed them, for I dinna think Smillie has sell't us at a'."
There was a fine, firm ring in the boy's voice as he spoke which moved the two older men, and made them feel a little ashamed that they had been so ready to doubt.
"Ah, weel, Rob," said Tam, "maybe you are richt, but a lot o' men ha'e gaen back to their work already, an' it'll break up the strike if it spreads. But we'll ha'e to get some tatties in the nicht; the polisman's goin' to be watchin' auld Burnfoot's hen-hoose, sae it'll be a grand chance for some tatties," and the talk drifted on to another subject.
About the eighth week of the strike the news went round the village that Sanny Robertson and Peter Fleming were "oot at the pit."
"I wad smash every bone in their dirty bodies if I had my way o' it. I would," said Matthew Maitland, with emphasis. Matthew was always emphatic in all he said, though seldom so in what he did.
"But we'll ha'e to watch hoo we act," said Andrew Marshall more cautiously. "It's agin the law, ye ken, to use force."
"I wadna' gi'e a damn," said Peter Pegg, his big eye making frantic efforts to wink. "I wad see that they blacklegged nae mair."
"Sae wad I," promptly exclaimed half a dozen of the younger men.
"We maun see that they don't do it ony mair."
"Ay, an' I hope we'll mak' sure work that they sleep in for twa-three mornin's."
"I'll tell ye what," said old Lauder, "let us get a few weemin' and weans thegither, an' we'll gang doon to the pit an' wait on them comin' up frae their shift. The bairns can get tin cans an' a stane for a drumstick, an' we'll ha'e a loonie band. We can sing twa or three o' thae blackleg sangs o' Tam Donaldson's, an' play them hame."
"That's the plan, Jamie," replied Tam, who had suddenly seen himself immortalized through his parodies of certain popular songs. "Let us get as mony women an' callans as possible, and we can mak' a damn'd guid turnout. We'll sing like linties, an' drum like thunder, an' the blacklegs'll feel as if they were goin' through Purgatory to the tune o':"
Tattie Wullie, Tattie Wullie, Tattie Wullie Shaw, Where's the sense o' workin', Wullie?-- Faith, ye're lookin' braw.
Peter Fleming, Peter Fleming, Peter, man, I say, Ye've been workin', ye've been workin', Ye've been workin' the day.
Peter Fleming, Peter Fleming, If ye work ony mair, Peter Fleming, Peter Fleming, Your heart will be sair.
With little difficulty a band of men, women and children was organized and proceeded to the pit to await the coming up of the culprits. Hour after hour they waited patiently, determined not to miss them, and the time was spent in light jesting and singing ribald songs.
"I wadna' like if my faither was a blackleg," observed Mysie Maitland to the girl next her.
"No, nor me, either!" quickly agreed the other. "It wad be awfu' to hear folk cryin' 'Blackleg' after yir faither, wadna' it, Mysie?"
"Ay," was the reply. "I wadna' like it."
"They should a' be hunted oot o' the place," put in Robert, who was standing near. "They are just sellin' the rest o' the men, an' helpin' to break up the strike. So ye mind, Mysie, hoo Tam Graham's lass aye clashed on the rest o' us on the pit-head? She's just like her faither, ay ready to do onything agin the rest, if it would gi'e her a wee bit favor."
"Ay, fine I mind o' it, Rob," Mysie replied eagerly. "Do ye mind the day she was goin' to tell aboot you takin' hame the bit auld stick for firewood? When I telt her if she did, I'd tell on her stealin' the tallow frae the engine-house an' the paraffin ile ay when she got the chance. She didna say she'd tell then."
"Ay, Mysie. Maybe I'd ha'e gotten the sack if she had telt. But she was aye a clashbag. But here they come!" he shouted animatedly, as the bell signaled for the cage to rise, and presently the wheels began to revolve, as the cage ascended.
"May the tow break, an' land the dirty scums in hell," prayed one man.
"Ay, an' may the coals they howkit the day roast them forever," added another. Though they prayed thus, yet once again they found that the "prayer of the wicked availeth naught." Buckets of water, however, and even bits of stone and scrap iron were surreptitiously flung down the shaft; and when the blacklegs did appear, they were nearly frightened out of their senses. It would have gone hard with them as they left the cage, but someone whispered, "Here's the polis!" and so the crowd had to be content with beating their tin cans; and keeping time to the songs improvised by Tam Donaldson, they escorted the blacklegs to their homes.
Next morning a large number of the strikers gathered at the Lazy Corner, enjoying themselves greatly.
"They tell me," said Tam Donaldson, "that our fren's ha'e slept in this morning."
A laugh greeted this sally, which seemed to indicate that most of them knew about the sleeping-in and the reason for it.
"Ay, they'd be tired oot efter their hard day's work yesterday," replied another.
"Ay, an' they dinna seem to be up yet," said a third, "for I see the doors are still shut, an' the bairns are no' awa' to the school. They maun ha'e been awfu' tired to ha'e slept sae lang."
"Let's gang doon and gi'e them a bit sang to help to keep their dreams pleasant," suggested Tam Donaldson, as they moved off down the row and stopped before Jock Graham's door. Tam, clearing his throat, led of:
Hey, Johnnie Graham, are ye wauken yet, Or is yer fire no' ken'lt yet? If you're no wauken we will wait, An' tak' ye to the pit in the mornin'.
Black Jock sent a message in the dark, Sayin': Johnny Graham, come to your wark, For tho' ye've been locked in for a lark, Ye maun come to the pit in the mornin'.
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