THE THONG OF POVERTY
“Is it not about time you came to your bed, lassie?”
“Ay, I’ll no’ be very long now, Geordie. If I had this heel turned, I’ll soon finish the sock, and that will be a pair the day. Is the pain in your back worse the nicht, that you are so restless?” and the clicking of the needles ceased as the woman asked the question.
“Oh, I’m no’ so bad at all,” came the answer. “My back’s maybe a wee bit sore; but a body gets tired lying always in the yin position. Forby, the day aye seems long when you are out, and I dinna like to think of you out working all day, and then sitting down to knit at nicht. It must be very tiring for you, Nellie.”
“Oh, I’m no’ that tired,” she replied with a show of cheerfulness, as she turned another wire in the sock, and set the balls of wool dancing on the floor with the speed at which she worked. “I’ve had a real good day to-day, and I’m feeling that I could just sit for a lang while the nicht, if only the paraffin oil wadna’ go down so quick. But the longer I sit, it burns the more, and it’s getting gey dear to buy now-a-days.”
“Ay,” said the weary voice of the man. “If it’s no’ clegs it’s midges. Folk have always something to contend against. But don’t be long till you stop. It’s almost twelve o’clock, and you ought to be in your bed.”
“Oh, I’ll no’ be very long, Geordie,” was the bravely cheerful answer. “Just you try and gang to sleep and I’ll soon finish up. I’ll have to try and get up early in the morning, for I have to go to Mrs. Rundell and wash. She always gi’es me twa shillings, and that’s a good day’s pay. The only thing I grudge is being away all day, leaving you and the bairns, for I ken they’re no’ very easy to put up with. They’re steerin’ weans, and are no’ easy on a body who is ill.”
“Ay, they’re a steerin’ lot, lassie,” he answered tenderly. “But, poor things, they must hae some freedom, Nellie. I wish I was ready for my work.”
“Hoot, man,” she said with the same show of cheerfulness. “We might have been worse, and you will be better some day, and able to work as well as ever you did.”
For a time there was silence, broken only by the loud ticking of the clock, the clicking of the needles, and occasionally a low moan from the bed, as the injured miner sank into a restless sleep.
There had been an accident some six weeks before, and Geordie Sinclair, badly wounded by a fall of stone, had been brought home from the pit in a cart.
It was during the time known to old miners as the “two-and-sixpenny winter,” that being the sum of the daily wage then earned by the miners. A financial crisis had come upon the country and the Glasgow City Bank had failed, trade was dull, and the whole industrial system was in chaos. It had been a hard time for Geordie Sinclair’s wife, for there were four children to provide for besides her injured husband. Work which was well paid for was not over plentiful, and she had to toil from early morning till far into the night to earn the bare necessities of life. There were times like to-night, when she felt rebellious and bitter at her plight, but her tired eyes and fingers had to get to the end of the task, for that meant bread for the children in the morning.