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- The Underworld - 4/49 -


just slip round to see how ye was keepin'."

Andrew knew that Geordie would not have had a smoke for a long time, and this was his way of leaving him with a pipeful of tobacco.

"I think my pipe's on the mantelshelf," returned Geordie, "but I doot it's empty."

Andrew took down the pipe, filled it generously, set it alight, and sat for a few minutes trying vainly to keep up a connected conversation. After he had puffed a few minutes at Geordie's pipe he laid it down, dived his hand into his trousers pocket as he made for the door. He pulled forth the money, which was in a little bag, and laid it down on the table, saying: "I'm no' guid at this kind of thing, Geordie. There's something for ye from the men. Guid nicht!" and he was off, leaving Nellie in tears and Geordie in glum silence.

Mrs. Sinclair's tears were tears of rebellion as well as of gratitude. She was touched by Andrew's delicacy, but her independent spirit was wounded at having to take help from anyone. She thought of the children and of her husband, who needed nourishment, and taking up the little bag she poured its contents into her lap, while her hot tears fell upon the money. Little Robert, who was sitting watching, and who had never in all his life seen so much money, ran to his mother with a cry of delight.

"Oh, mammy, will I get sweeties noo?" and the boy danced with glee, as he shouted, "I'll get jeely-pieces noo, hurray!"

That night there was happiness in Geordie Sinclair's house, for there was food in plenty, and it seemed as if the children would never be able to appease their hunger.

The "jeely-pieces," or slices of bread with jam on them, disappeared with amazing rapidity, and Geordie had some beef-tea, which seemed to improve him almost as soon as he had taken it. For the first time for many months Mrs. Sinclair and the children went to bed with satisfied appetites; and the children's dreams were as the incidents in the life of a god, exalted and happy, and their mother's rest was unbroken and full of comfort.

But on Monday morning Andrew Marshall had to pay the price of the happiness he had been instrumental in giving them, for he was informed by one of Walker's henchmen that his place was stopped. The excuse given was that it was too far in advance of the others. Andrew knew what that meant, and as he went home, fierce rebellious feelings stirred within him. Peter Pegg, he was glad to know, had got started on "oncost" work, and Andrew felt he had done right in not allowing Peter to take the collection with him.

CHAPTER III

THE BLOCK

"I see Andra Marshall's back again," observed Sanny Robertson to Peter Pegg one evening three months later.

"Ay," said Peter, "he was at Glampy, but his place was stopped, an' there wasna anither for him."

"Got the sack again, I suppose," said Sanny. "Weel, he maun learn, Peter, that gaffers are no' gaun to put up wi' his nonsense. If a man will no' do what he's telt, he maun just take the consequences."

"Ay," said Peter, very dryly, and as Peter knew his man, no more was said.

Later the same night Matthew Maitland observed to Peter, as they sat on their "hunkers" at the corner:

"Andra's back again, I suppose."

"Ay," was the answer, "he was telt his place was stopped."

"Imphm," said Matthew, "it's a damn fine excuse. It's a pity but somethin' could be done."

"It's the Block," said Peter. "I'm telt that a' the managers roun' aboot ha'e an understandin' with one another no' to gi'e work to onybody they take a dislike to."

"Ay," agreed Matthew, "I ha'e heard aboot it, but I would soon put a stop to it."

"Ay, Matthew, it's a union we need up here badly. I'm telt that that chap Smillie has managed to start one down in the West Country, an' it's daein' weel. He's got some o' their wages up a hale shillin' a day since he took it in hand."

"Is that a fact, Peter? The sooner we ha'e him up here the better then. Black Jock needs a chap back onyway," and Matthew looked like a man who had suddenly discovered a great truth.

Andrew Marshall had never been allowed to forget his action in defying Walker; everywhere he went it was the same story--no work for him. The "Block" system among the managers was in good working order, and could easily starve a man into docility. Andrew became more desperate as time passed, and he knew that he and his wife were nearing the end of their small savings. He returned home one evening from his usual fruitless search for employment, and threw himself into the arm-chair by the fireside.

"No work yet, Andra?" asked Katie.

"Nane," was the gloomy response.

"We have no' very mony shillin's left noo, Andra. I dinna ken what we'll do."

Savage, revengeful feelings surged through Andrew, and found vent in a volley of oaths which terrified his wife.

"Dinna talk like that, Andra," she pleaded. "It's no' canny, an' forby, the Lord disna like ye to do it."

"If the Lord cared He could take Black Jock by the scruff o' the neck an' fling him into hell oot o' the road. It's Black Jock that's at the bottom o' this, an' I could twist his dirty neck for him."

"Weel, Andra, it's the Lord's doin', an' maybe things'll soon men'."

"If it's the Lord's doin', I dinna think muckle o' His conduct then," and Andrew lapsed into sullen silence.

On Monday morning he was up at five o'clock, desperately resolved to lay his case before the men. He walked to the end of the village, knowing the colliery would be idle, for Tam Donaldson was to be "creeled." This was a custom at one time very prevalent in mining villages. When a young man got married, the first day he appeared at his work afterwards he was taken home by his comrades, and was expected to stand them a drink. It generally ended in a collection being made, after they had tasted the newly-married man's whiskey, and a common fund thus being established, a large quantity of beer and whiskey was procured, and all drank to their heart's content.

Andrew heard the men calling to each other as they made their way to the pit, the lights from their lamps twinkling in the darkness of the winter morning.

"Is Tam away yet, Jamie?" he heard wee Allan ask, as he overtook old Jamie Lauder on his way to the pit.

"Ay, I saw to that," replied Lauder, "I chappit him up at five o'clock, so that he wadna sleep in. I hinna missed a creelin' for thirty-five years, an' I wasna' gaun to miss Tam Donaldson's. I heard him goin' oot two or three minutes afore me. We're in for a guid day, for he telt me he had in two bottles for the spree."

"That's a' right, then; I was afraid he wad maybe sleep in," and the two trudged on together towards the pit.

A group of dark figures stood on the pithead, waiting their turn to go below. The cage rattled up from the depths of the shaft, the men stepped in, and almost immediately disappeared down into the blackness. Arrived at the bottom, they walked along towards the different passages, chaffing and jesting with Tam Donaldson, the newly-married one.

"Ye'll be gaun to do something decent the day, Tam, when we take ye hame?" said Jamie Allan. "I hear ye ha'e two bottles ready for the occasion."

"Ay, but I'm damned shair there's no a lick gaun unless ye take me hame," answered Donaldson. "If I ha'e to be creeled, I'll be creeled right, an' every one o' ye'll gang hame wi' me afore ye get a taste."

"Oh, but we'll see to that, chaps," said old Lauder. "Here's a hutch, get him in an' aff wi' him."

The victim pretended to resist, and stoutly maintained that they should not creel him. He was seized by half a dozen pairs of arms, and with much expenditure of energy and breath, deposited in the hutch. Some considerate person had put some straw and old bags in the "carriage" to make it more comfortable, and a few of the wags had chalked inscriptions, the reverse of complimentary, all over it.

"There, noo', boys," said old Lauder, who had been busy hanging lighted pit lamps round Tam's cap, "gi'e him a guid run to the bottom, and see that he gets a guid bump in the lye."

The men ran the hutch to the "bottom" straight against the full tubs ready to be sent to the surface.

"Come on, Sourocks, let us up," called Allan to the old man who acted as "bottomer."

"Hell to the up will ye get!" replied the old fellow, "I'm gaun to put on these hutches first."

"No, ye'll no', an' if ye do, you'll gang into the 'sump,' an' we'll chap the bell oorsels"--the sump being the lodgment into which the water gathered before pumping operations could start.

"Sourocks" thought discretion the better part of valor in this case, and swearing quietly to himself, he signaled to the engineman at the top to draw them up.


The Underworld - 4/49

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