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- The Underworld - 6/49 -
agitators for the establishment of a union, for they knew that there was no protection for any of them if they remained unorganized.
"Men never were meant to work and live as colliers do," said Geordie, thoughtfully. "Life should be good, and free, and happy, with comfort and enjoyment for all. Look at the birds--they are happy! So are the flowers, or they wouldn't look so pleased. God meant a' men and weemin to be glad, even though they have to work. But hoo' the hell can folk be happy and worship God on two and sixpence a day? It's all wrong, Andrew, an' I'll never believe that men were meant to live as we live."
"That's true, Geordie," agreed Andrew soberly. "I only wish we could get everybody to see it as we see it. There's plenty for a' God's creatures--enough to make everybody happy, an' there need be no ill-will in the world, if only common-sense was applied to things; but I'm damn'd if I can see where even the men can be happy who are making their money oot o' our lives. They're bound to ken surely that what comes from misery can not make happiness for them."
"True, Andrew, true, and we maun just go on working for it. Sometimes I have the feeling that we are on the point of big changes: just as if the folk would awaken up oot o' their ignorance, with love in their hearts, an' make all things right for everybody. A world o' happiness for everybody is worth workin' for. So we maun gang on."
And so they talked of their dreams and felt the better for it.
A YOUNG REBEL
About two years after these events little Robert Sinclair went to school. It was a fine morning in late spring, and Robert trudged the seemingly long road, clasping an elder brother's hand, for the school lay about a mile to the north-west of the village, and that seemed to the boy a very long way.
It was a great experience. Robert's clothes had been well patched, his face had been washed and toweled till it shone, his eyes sparkled with excitement, and his heart beat high; yet he was nervous and awed, wondering what he would find there.
"By crikey," said wee Alec Johnstone to him, "wait till auld Clapper gie's ye a biff or twa wi' his muckle tawse. Do ye ken what he does to mak' them nippy? He burns them a wee bit in the fire, an' then st'eeps them in whusky. An' they're awful sair."
"Oh, but I ken what to do, Rab, if ye want to diddle him," put in another boy. "Just get a horse's hair--a lang yin oot o' its tail--and put it across yer haun', an' it'll cut his tawse in twa, whenever he gie's ye a pammy."
"That's what I'm gaun to do, Jamie," replied another. "I'll get some hairs frae Willie Rogerson. He's gettin' me some frae his father's when he's in the stable the morn, an' ye'll see auld Cabbage-heid's tawse gaun in twa, whenever he gie's me yin." And they all looked admiringly at this little hero who was going to do this wonderful thing so simply.
"I got four yesterday," said another, "an' I wasna' doin' onything. By criffens! it was sair, an' gin I had only had a horse's hair, I'd soon ha'e putten his tawse oot the road."
"I got four yesterday too," said another, "an' a' because I was looking at yon new laddie wha cam to the schule yesterday. By! they were sair. I never heard auld Cabbage-heid till he cam up an' telt me to put oot my haun."
"It's Peter Rundell's his name," chimed in another. "He's the Boss's laddie. My! if you just saw what fine claes he has on. A new suit, an' lang stockings, an' a pair o' fine new buits."
"Ay, an' a white collar too," said another, "an' hundreds o' pooches in his jacket."
"He has a waistcoat wi' three pooches in it--yin for a watch--an' a braw, black, shiny bonnet."
"He had a white hankey too, an' sweeties in yin o' his pooches."
Robert felt a certain amount of resentment as he listened to the description, and he grudged Peter Rundell his new suit for he himself had never known anything of that kind, but had always worn "make-downs" created by his mother's clever fingers out of the discarded clothes of grown-ups.
"Auld Cabbage-heid didna' like me looking at Peter Rundell an' that's the way he gied me four, but I'll get a horse's hair too, an' his tawse 'll soon get wheegh. He's awful cruel, Rab," he said, turning to Robert, "an' ye'd better look oot."
Each and all had some fearful story to tell of the cruelty of the headmaster, and all swore they'd get even with him. These stories filled Robert with a certain fear, for he was an imaginative and sensitive boy. Still he knew there was no escape. He must go to school and go through with it whatever the future might hold for him.
So far he had grown wild and free, and loved the broad wide moor which began even at the end of the row where he lived. It seemed to him that there never had been a time when he did not know that there was a moor there. Nothing in it surprised him, even as a child. Its varied moods were already understood by him, and its silences and its many voices appealed to and were balm to his soul. The great blue hills which fringed it away in the far distance were for him the ends of the world, and if he could go there some day, he would surely look over and find--what? The thought staggered him, and his imagination would not, or could not, construct for him what was at the other side. All day, often, he had lain stretched full length upon the moor, watching the great white clouds sailing past, seeing himself sometimes sitting astride them, proudly surveying, like God, the whole world. At times it was so real that he bounded to his feet when by some misadventure he slipped from the back of the cloud. He listened to the songs of larks, the cries of curlews and lapwings and all the other moorland birds, and became as familiar with each of them as they were with one another.
But this going to school was a break in his freedom, and it stirred him strangely. He felt already that he would rather not go to school. He had always been happy before, and he did not know what lay ahead.
In the schoolroom that morning, Robert was called out by the headmistress to her desk, and while she was jotting down in her register particulars as to his age, etc., it happened that Peter Rundell was also on the floor. Robert looked so wonderingly at the white collar and the shining boots, that Rundell, to fill in the blanks and keep himself cheerful, promptly put out his tongue. Robert, not to be behind in respectfulness, just as promptly put out his, at the same time making a grimace, and immediately they were at it, pummeling each other in hearty glee before the teacher could do anything to prevent them. It was their first fight. The whole class was in immediate uproar and cries of--"Go on, Rob!" and "Good Peter!" were ringing out, as the supporters on either side shouted encouragement. Both went at it and for a couple of minutes defied the efforts of the teacher to separate them; but in response to calls for help, Mr. Clapper, the headmaster, came in, and taking hold of Robert soon had him across his knee, and was giving him a taste of the "tawse" he had heard so much about that morning, and Robert went back to his seat very sore, both physically and mentally, and crying in pain and anger. Thus his first day began at school, and the succeeding months were full of many such incidents.
Life ran along in the ordinary ruts for three or four years, but always Peter and Robert were antagonists. If Rundell happened to get to the top of the class, Robert never rested till he had excelled and displaced him; and then it was Peter's turn to do likewise till he too succeeded.
Robert, when in the mood, was eager and brilliant, and nothing seemed able to stay him. At times, however, he was given to dreaming, and lived through whole days in the classroom quite unconscious of what was going on around him. He worked mechanically, living in a strange world of his own creation, usually waking up to find himself at the foot of the class with Peter smiling at the top.
Often he went hungry, for times were still hard, and the family had increased to six. It was a bitter struggle in which Mrs. Sinclair was engaged to try and feed--let alone clothe--her hungry children. Patient, plodding, and terrible self-sacrifices alone enabled her to accomplish what she did. It was always a question of getting sufficient food rather than aiming at any particular kind. It was quantity rather than quality that was her biggest problem, for the children had sharp appetites and could make a feast of the simplest material. A pot of potatoes, boiled with their "jackets" on, tumbled on to the center of the bare, uncovered table and a little salt placed in small heaps at the exact position where each person sat, a large bowl of butter-milk when it could be got, with a tablespoon for each with which to lift a spoonful of the milk, and thus was set the banquet of the miner's family.
"Mither, Rob's taken twa sups of milk to yae bite o' tattie," little Mary would say.
"Ay, an' what did you do?" Robert would reply. "When you thought naebody was lookin', you took three spoonfu' to yae wee tattie. I was watchin' you."
"Now that'll do," the mother would admonish them. "Try and make it gang as far as ye can. Here you!" she would raise her voice to another, "dinna be so greedy on it. The rest maun get some too." At this the guilty child would frown and look ashamed at being caught taking more than his share.
Robert's dreams, however, were always satisfying, and even the sordid surroundings of the home were gilded by the warmth and glow of his imagination. Some day, somewhere he seemed to feel, there was a place for him to fill in the hearts of men. Vague stirrings told him of great future events which no one could dominate, save the soul that filled his body.
One day, during the dinner hour, when the school children were all at play, Robert and Peter again came into conflict. Some girls were playing at a ring game, and Robert and a few other boys were shamefacedly looking on. He was by this time at the bashful age of ten, and already the sweet, shy face of Mysie Maitland had become familiar in every dream. Mysie's modesty and grace appealed to him and the strange magnetic power of soul for soul was continually drawing them together, even at this early age. No voice was like Mysie's voice, no name like her name to him. If only she chanced shyly to ask if he had a spare piece of pencil Robert was happy; he'd gladly give her his only piece and forthwith proceed to borrow another for himself. He saw that Mysie did certain things, used, for instance, to clean her slate with a bit of
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