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- The Underworld - 49/49 -


to meet the rising moss creeping up relentlessly from below.

Choking and only half conscious he staggered on with all sense of disaster gone from his mind, with no thought of his comrades on the other side waiting so impatiently to be released, and singing their frothy songs in the hope that all was well, his legs doubling below him, and his lungs heaving to expel the poison which the thick air contained. Down at last he fell, his head striking against the side of the roadway, and he lay still.

The moss might rise hungrily over him now, the rotten roof might fall upon him, all the dangers of the mine might conspire together against him; but nothing they might do could ever again strike terror into the young heart that lay there, feebly throbbing its last as it was being overcome with the deadly poison of the black damp.

He was proof against all their terrors now, the spirit could evade them yet; for though the old shaft might collapse and imprison his body and claim it as a sacrifice to the King Terror of the Underworld, no prison was ever created that could contain the indomitable spirit of man as God. He was free--free, and was happy and could cry defiance to the dangers of the mine, to the terrors of time itself. He could clutch the corners of the earth, and play with it as a toy of time, among the Gods of Eternity.

"Choose, choose wha' you'll tak'," throbbed the young heart and a smile of triumph played upon the lips as the pictures of bygone times flitted across his dying brain. He was again the happy infant, hungry it may be, and ill-clad, but Heaven contained no happier soul. The little stomach might not be filled with sufficient food; but the spirit of him as it was in younger years knew no material limits to its laughter in the childish ring games of youth. Again he was waiting in the dark wintry mornings on Mysie, so that she would not be afraid to go to work on the pit-head; ay, and he was happy to take the windward side of her in the storm, and shield her from the winter's blast, tying her little shawl about her ears and making her believe he did not feel the cold at all.

He was back again at his mother's knee, listening to her glorious voice singing some pitiful old ballad, as she crooned him to sleep; or lying trying to forget the hunger he felt as the glorious old tune seemed to drown his senses while he waited to say his prayer at night.

"Jesus, tender shepherd, hear me, Bless Thy little lamb to-night, In the darkness be Thou near me, Keep me safe till morning light."

Then there was the "good-night" to everyone and the fond kiss of the best of all mothers, the sinking into sleep that billowed and rocked the weary young spirit of him, crushed and bruised by the forces of the world, and finally the sweet shy smile of a young girl blushing and awkward, but flooding his soul with happiness and thrilling every fiber of him with her magic as she stood upon the hill crest, outlined against the sunset with a soft breeze blowing, kissing the gray hill side, bringing perfumes from every corner of the moor and beckoning him as she rose upward, he followed higher and higher, the picture taking shape and becoming more real until it merged into spirit.

And the creeping moss moved upward, hungry for its prey and greedy to devour the fine young body so fresh and strong and lusty; but it was balked, for it claimed only the empty shell. The prize had gone on the wings of an everlasting happiness and the spirit of the moor, because there is no forgetting, triumphed over the spirit of destruction, so that in the records of the spirit he shall say:

"I shall remember when the red sun glowing Sinks in the west, a gorgeous flare of fire; How then you looked with the soft breeze blowing Cool through your hair, a heaving living pyre Fired by the sun for the sweet day's ending; I still shall hear the whirring harsh moor-hen, Roused from her rest among the rushes bending I shall remember then.

"I shall remember every well-loved feature, How, on the hill crest when the day was done, Just how you looked, dear, God's most glorious creature, Heaven's silhouette outlined against the sun; I shall remember just how you the fairest, Dearest and brightest thing that God e'er made, Warmed all my soul with holy fire the rarest, That vision shall not fade."

But pain and tragedy forever seem to have no limit to their hunger; and in the clear spring air above the place where the bodies of her boys lay, Mrs. Sinclair's heart was again the food upon which the tragedy of life fed. All the years of her existence were bound up in the production of coal, and the spirits of her husband and of her sons call to-day to the world of men--men who have wives, men who have mothers, men who have sweethearts and sisters and daughters, stand firm together; and preserve your women folk from these tragedies, if you would justify your manhood in the world of men.


The Underworld - 49/49

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