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- The Underworld - 40/49 -
very attentively to the speeches just delivered by yourself and the other honorable gentlemen."
Here some of the other delegates intervened to tell him that he was not expected to speak, but the Prime Minister, for some reason unknown, told him to go on and so he proceeded.
Then Robert proceeded to pour out his soul, stating the miners' grievances and their rights as men. How they were always put off with promises, and defeated in dialectics and the game of wits. As he spoke he felt the assembly gradually thaw, then become liquid, finally it seemed to join the torrent of his eloquence, and sweep on, blotting out all resistance.
When at last he sat down a wild burst of applause rent the air, as he sat down pale and excited; but glad that he had got the chance at last of speaking what he felt to the enemies of his class.
For fully five minutes the delegates went wild in their cheering and applause. Again and again it broke out afresh, when it had spent itself a little, and seemed to be dying down, but the memory of it always stirred them to fresh outbursts until at last, taking advantage of a lull, the Prime Minister suggested that he and his colleagues would prefer that the conference should stand adjourned till the next day, and this was agreed to by the delegates, who were not averse to the holiday.
Congratulations were showered upon Robert from all sides. Even men who differed from him on most things grasped his hand and shook it, and told him how proud they were of his little speech.
Robert heard and saw all their pleased enjoyment but was vaguely troubled in his heart, wondering how Smillie would have taken it, and this pained him more than the pleasant things the other delegates said to him.
"Man, Sinclair," said the one who had sat next to Robert in the Conference, when they got out on to the street, "you've fairly upset the hale jing bang o' them the day. Lod! But I was like a balloon in a high wind, fair carried away wi' you. I never thocht you could have done that. I was in the opinion that Smillie was the only yin that could stand up to that set o' rogues. It was great. It was that."
Robert laughed uneasily and bashfully as he answered, "I couldn't help it, Davie," then adding as an afterthought, "Maybe I hae put my fit in it. I wonder how Smillie took it a'."
"Ach, well, it disna matter a damn, onyway. You did fine, an' I canna see how Smillie has onything ado wi' it. However, we hae a hale day to oorsel's now, what dae you say to gaun to the length of Kew Gardens? It's a gran' place, an' I hae a sister oot there in service."
"Oh, I don't mind. I don't know onything aboot London and as you are nae stranger, I might as well gang wi' you, as bother onybody else to show me roun'."
"There's some of thae chaps'll fairly enjoy this," said Davie, nodding in the direction of some of the delegates. "That's the way they agreed to adjourn sae already. They jist leeve for the conferences. It's the time they like. They booze and get their horns oot for a day or two, an' I can tell you, Rab, it's maybe jist as well that they dinna bring their weemin folks wi' them. However, it tak's a' kinds of folk to mak' a world, I suppose, so let's off, and see as muckle o' London as possible," and they set off and were soon swallowed up in the great Metropolis.
THE MEETING WITH MYSIE
When the London Conference ended, the delegates hurried back to put the terms of the suggested agreement before the men, and as they journeyed the whole topic of conversation was of the Conference, and of the terms which had been suggested as a basis for settlement of the dispute.
"Well, you can a' say what you like," put in Davie Donaldson, who had sat beside Robert in the Conference, "but in my opinion we hae been diddled again. The wee showman wi' the ferret een was too mony for us, an' he jist twisted us round his wee finger as he liked."
"Ach, but you are never content," replied another who was of an opposite opinion. "It doesna matter what kind o' terms you get, you're never content."
"I'm no' content wi' thae terms ony way," persisted Davie stubbornly. "What the hell's the use o' makin' a demand for something, an' sayin' afore you gang that you mean to hae it, an' then to tamely tak' the hauf o' it, an' gang awa' hame as pleased as a wheen weans wha have been promised a penny to tak' castor oil? I'd be dam'd afore I'd tak' that."
"You're owre ill to please," said the other. "You're never satisfied wi' a fair thing. Didn't you hear as weel as me that there was a danger o' war breakin' oot at the present time, an' we couldna possibly hae a strike at a time like this."
"War!" retorted Davie, heatedly. "They'll aye hae a war or something else to fricht you wi', when you show that you mean business. Wha the hell hae we to quarrel wi' onyway, I'd like to ken?"
"Oh, it micht be France, or Germany, or Russia, or some ither o' thae cut-throat foreign nations."
"An' what are you gaun to quarrel aboot?" yelled Davie still more heatedly.
"What the hell do I ken?" was the answer.
"Then, if you don't ken, why the damn should you quarrel? It's a dam'd silly thing to fecht at ony time, but it's a dam'd sicht sillier to fecht withoot haein' a quarrel at a'," cried Davie, now fairly roused. "That's jist hoo they diddle us. They diddle the workers o' France an' ither countries in the same way. Maybe the French Government is telling the French colliers that there is a danger o' a war wi' Britain at this minute, to keep them quate; an' if they are, do you an' me ken anything aboot what the war will be for? No' a thing does yin o' us ken. Wars are no' made by workin' folk at all! They are made wi' the ither crowd, an' they laugh in their sleeves when they hae sent us awa' back to our work an' oor hames as quate as mice," and Davie looked round in triumph, asking with his eyes, and in the tones of his voice, for confirmation of his views from the others.
Thus they talked and discussed, exchanging opinions about all things in strong but expressive language, as the train sped northwards bearing them home. District meetings were organized, and the leaders put persuasively the arguments for the acceptance of the terms laid down. All through the crisis the men had behaved admirably, for they had learned to trust Smillie, even when they felt doubtful of his policy. Robert took a big share in the organizing of these meetings and in addressing them. He flung himself into this work whole-heartedly. The terms certainly did not please him; but, as the majority at the London Conference had decided to recommend them to the men, he thought it his duty to sink his personal opinions, and in the interests of discipline and the unity of the organization--as he had already had his say and had been found in the minority--he put all his efforts into trying to get the men to accept the suggested terms, and go forward as one united body. His persuasive powers of appeal, and his straight, direct way of argument, commended him to his comrades. By the time that the ballot had been carried through in the various districts, it was mid-February, and the Scottish delegates met in Edinburgh to give the result of the voting among the rank and file.
Robert attended the Conference, and while he had appealed to the men to accept the terms of the London Conference, he secretly hoped that the ballot vote of the men would decide to fight; for, like Davie Donaldson, he believed they had again been side-tracked. He wondered how Smillie regarded the matter. He had not had an opportunity of talking with Smillie to learn his opinion, but he felt sure that his leaders did not like the terms either.
If, however, the men had agreed on acceptance, he could not help matters; but a direct refusal from the rank and file would, he thought, be an intimation to the more reactionary leaders that the spirit of revolt was growing, and would give the rebels the chance for which they were looking. But he would soon know, he thought, as he hastened to the Synod Hall, where the Conference was to be held; for the result of the ballot was to be announced at the end of the first part of the Conference.
There was some routine business to get over when it opened, and after a while the President rose and gave the result of the ballot, which showed a considerable majority for acceptance, and this brought the adjournment for dinner.
Robert felt that he wanted to spend a quiet five minutes or so before the Conference resumed; so he hurried through with his dinner and then strolled out into Princes Street Gardens, which attracted him very much. His mind seemed to want peace and quietness, and as he walked along, turning over the situation and examining it from all points of view, the fluttering of early mating birds among the shrubs soon shifted his thoughts to other things; and, as they romped and courted, and fought among the bushes, his thoughts went back to the moor at home, and the little wood, and the memories of other things.
The vague stirrings of power within him had become more pronounced during the last six months, and he felt conscious of a growing sense of importance. It was not that he was conceited, but his mental muscles, as it were, seemed to have gained in power from the strenuous exertions which they had lately undertaken.
He knew that he possessed talents far above the average of his class. He was sensible of a certain superiority, yet it was not from the contemplation of this that he drew his elation. He saw the issue quite clearly and knew the pathway which must be trodden. He was not personally ambitious for the sake of making an impression or gaining power. He knew that in too many cases men had in the past made their position a sinecure in the Labor Movement and he condemned their action. The Movement must be served and not lived on. Not personal betterment, but the betterment of the whole lot. Whatever it demanded of service from anyone should be given willingly, no matter in what direction the call were made.
Musing thus, he strolled along among his hopes of the future. His life's work lay here, working for his own class--for humanity. There was nothing else to win him; for like most young men in like circumstances he had already concluded that now, since Mysie was not to be his, there was nothing else to which he could better devote his life.
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