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- The Underworld - 5/49 -

"He's no gaun to walk hame," said Allan, as they all gathered again on the pit head. "We'll take the hutch hame wi' Tam in it. Put a rope on it, and we'll draw the damned thing through the moor, an' maybe Tam'll mind the day he was creeled as lang as he lives."

This proposal was jumped at, especially by the younger men, to whom an idle day did not mean so much worry on pay-day as to their married elders.

Andrew Marshall had waited at the end of the village, knowing that the creeling was to take place, and that he would get the men on their way from the pit. Presently old Lauder, who had taken a short cut across the moor, came up, and Andrew accosted him.

"Will ye wait here, Jamie, so that I can try an' get a meetin' held wi' the rest o' the men when they come alang?"

"I will that, Andra," replied Jamie, taking the lighted lamp from his head, and sitting down at the corner on his "hunkers." "They're a' comin' hame anyway, for we're creelin' Tam Donaldson."

Soon the procession appeared, the hutch jolting along the rough street, the men shouting and singing as they came. The village had turned out to see the fun. Andrew and Jamie found themselves in the midst of a crowd of women and children, as the foremost of the men came to a halt at the corner.

Andrew quietly stepped out and addressed the men, asking them if they would wait a few minutes--as they were idle in any case--to have a meeting. All were agreed.

"Here's Sanny Robertson," said Tam Tate, peering into the breaking light, "he'll no' likely wait, but we'll see what he says aboot it," and all waited in silence until Robertson approached. He seemed to guess what was in the air, and hurriedly tried to pass on, but Andrew stepped out with the usual question.

"No," he replied uneasily, "I'll ha'e no part in ony mair strife. Folk just get into bother for nothing. Men'll ha'e to keep mind that gaffers now-a-days'll no' put up wi' disobedience."

"Ay, but ye maun mind," said Tam Tate hastily, "that men maun be treated as human bein's, even by a gaffer."

"I can aye get on with the gaffer," replied Robertson, "an' I dinna see what way ither folk canna do the same."

"That's a' richt," put in old Jamie Lauder, "but a' men are no' just prepared to do as ye do," and there was a hint of something in his voice which the others seemed to understand.

"I ha'e no quarrel," sulkily replied Robertson, "an' I dinna see what way I should get into this one. I can get plenty o' work, an' ither folk can get it too, if they like to behave themselves."

"Ye're a liar," roared Tam Tate angrily, his usual hasty temper getting the mastery. "It's no' you that gets the work, it's Mag!"

The others laughed uproariously, for it was common knowledge that Sanny got his good jobs because of Walker's intimacy with his wife.

"Ye leave the best man in the house every mornin' when ye gang oot!" roared another amid coarse laughter, whilst Andrew turned to tackle the next comer.

A few refused to wait, but it was generally known that these were the men whose houses were always open to Walker by day or night. When they were all gathered, Andrew Marshall stood up, and for the first time in his life spoke at a meeting.

"Weel, men," he began, "ye a' ken the position o' things. Ye ken as weel as me that I got the sack for gatherin' for Geordie Sinclair. Weel, I ha'e been oot o' work three months; the Block is on against me, an' it seems I ha'e to starve. I canna get work onywhere, an' I stopped ye a' the day to ask ye to make my quarrel yours, an' try and put an end to this business."

That was the whole speech, but its simple sincerity appealed to all, and many expressed approval and determination to stand by Andrew in his fight.

"I think it's a damn'd shame," said old Lauder.

"I'll tell ye what it is," said Matthew Maitland, "it's a downricht barefaced murder, an' I would smash this damn'd cantrip o' Black Jock's. I ken that he'll get a' that is said at this meetin', an' maybe I'll get the same dose; but I think it's aboot time somethin' was done to put an end to his capers," and so Matthew floundered on.

"Ay, an' let us see what can be done for Geordie, too," put in Peter Pegg, and his long neck seemed to get longer at every syllable, while his big eye made a great attempt to wink and to look backward, as if he expected to see someone coming from behind. "We a' ken," continued Peter, "that Geordie is ready for work noo', this fower week syne, but Black Jock says he has no places, an' forby two strangers got jobs just yesterday."

"I ken for yae thing that there's fower places staunin' in Millar's Level," said Jamie Lauder, "an' I'm telt there's five or six staunin' in the Black Horse Dook. It's a' a bit of humbug, an' I think we should try an' put an end to it."

"Weel, I think we're a' agreed on that," said Tam Tate. "Has ony o' you onything to suggest?"

For a few minutes there was silence, while they sat or stood deep in thought, trying to find a solution. It was an eerie gathering, with the gray dawn just beginning to break, while on every head the indispensable lamp burned and flickered. Men expectorated savagely upon the ground, staring hard at the stones at their feet, thinking and wondering how they might serve their comrades.

"It's about time we had a union," said one.

"Ay," replied another, "so that some bigmouthed idiot can pocket the money an' get a guid saft job oot o' it."

"We've had plenty of unions," put in another. "The last yin we started here--ye mind Bob Ritchie gaed aff to America wi' a' the money. It was a fine go for him!"

"Oh, ay, but let us see what can be done wi' this case," said Jamie Lauder. "Hoo' wad it do if we appointed a deputation to gang an' lay the hale thing afore Mr. Rundell?"

Jamie was always listened to with the respect due to his proved good sense, for everyone knew that he was a man who would not intentionally hurt a fellow creature by word or deed.

"I believe it wad be a guid plan," agreed Tam Tate. "He maybe disna ken the hauf that gangs on. What do ye a' think o' it, men?"

This was before the days of limited companies and coal syndicates, and the proprietor of the pits in Lowwood, Mr. Rundell, lived about two miles out of the village. He was not a bad man, as men go; he was fiery and quick-tempered, but had a not ungenerous nature withal, and was usually susceptible to a reasoned statement. Just as they were about to decide on a course of action, Andrew spoke: "I dinna want ony mair o' ye than can be helped to get into bother, so, if ye like, Jamie Lauder--if he's agreeable--could gang wi' me and Geordie Sinclair, and we'll put the hale case afore him an' see what he mak's o't."

This was received with approval, and it was agreed that Andrew, Jamie and Geordie should form the deputation.

But Black Jock soon heard of the decision, and, as usual, acted with alacrity; for, had the men only known it, they had decided on a course which he did not want them to adopt. He visited Jamie Lauder, and told him that the day before Rundell and he had agreed that the places in the Black Horse Dook should be started at once, and that he was angry at the course taken by the men. He believed that Mr. Rundell would also be very angry, and if only Andrew and Geordie had come to him the night before, they could have been working that day. He represented Rundell as being in an explosive mood, and that he was furious at the men taking the idle day, and that he had threatened that if they were not at work next day, he would lock them out. So plausibly did he speak, and so sincere did his concern appear, that Jamie, who was withal a simple man, and aware that the circumstances of his comrades would not admit of a very long fight, began to think it might be as Black Jock had said.

"I think ye'd better ca' a meetin' o' the men, Jamie, and put the hale case afore them. Let them ken that Rundell decided just yesterday to start the places, and that Andra and Geordie can start the morn. I ha'e no ill wull at ony o' the twa o' them, and I'm vexed that things ha'e been as bad as they've been, but I couldna get the boss to start the places, and what could I do? They can a' be back at their work the morn if they like to look at it reasonably. Of course, ye can please yersel'," he went on, "it's a' yin to me; but if Rundell tak's it into his head to ha'e a fight, well--ye ken what it means, an' I wouldna like to ha'e ony strife the noo', for times are very hard for us a'."

Simple and honest as Jamie was, Black Jock's plausibility appealed to him, and he began to think that Walker perhaps was not so bad as he was made to appear. Again, Jamie knew that Rundell was a man of hasty temper and impulsive judgments, and could not brook trouble, and he began to think that perhaps it might be better to hold the meeting as suggested and tell the men what he had heard, and appeal to them to go back to work.

"All right," he said to Walker, "I'll call a meeting to-night and put the case as you have said, and ask them to go back. But mind, you've not to go back on your promise. You'll have to start Andrew and Geordie within twa days, or the men will no' continue to work. Mind, I'm taking a lot on myself to do this, and you'll have to carry out your part and start them."

"I'll fill my part, never fear," was the answer, and there was relief in Walker's voice. "See, there's my hand," he said, extending a big black limb as he spoke, first spitting on his palm to ensure due solemnity. "There's no dryness about that, Jamie. I mean it. I'll start Geordie and Andrew all right. You get the men to go back to work to-morrow, for I'm afraid Rundell will make trouble if you remain idle anither day. Noo' I promise." And Jamie took the extended hand in token of the bargain and returned to summon the meeting, which was duly held, and, as Walker had anticipated, the men were appeased, and returned to work the next day.

Sure enough, within two days Andrew Marshall and Geordie Sinclair were both started to work, and matters went smoothly for a time.

But though they had had a lesson, it did not stop their activities as

The Underworld - 5/49

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