But Robert did not answer, so down came the hard leather belt with a horrible crack across the naked little hips, and a thick red mark appeared where the blow had fallen. A roar of pain broke from the boy’s lips, in spite of his resolution not to cry, as lash after lash fell upon his limbs and across the little white back. Horribly, cruelly, relentlessly the belt fell with sickening regularity, while the tender flesh quivered at every blow, and an ugly series of red stripes appeared along the back and down across the sturdy legs.
“Oh, dinna’ hit me ony mair, faither,” he pleaded at last, the firm resolution breaking because of the pain of the blows. “Oh, dinna hit me!” and he jumped as the blows fell without slackening. “Oh, oh, oh! Mother, dinna’ let him hit me ony mair!” roared the boy, while the grim, set face of the parent never relaxed, and the belt continued to lash the quivering flesh.
Mrs. Sinclair, who by this time was crying too, feeling every blow in her mother-heart, began to fear this grim, cruel look on her husband’s face. He was mad, she felt, and there was murder in his eyes; and at last, spurred to desperation, she jumped forward, tore at the belt with desperate strength, and flung it into the corner, crying, as she gripped the boy in her arms.
“In the name of Heaven, Geordie, are ye gaun to kill my bairn afore my een?”
She tore the boy fiercely from his father’s grasp and shielded him from her husband, exclaiming at the same time with indignation, “Ha’e ye nae humanity aboot ye at a’? Hit me if ye are goin’ to hit any more. It’s murder, an’ I’ll no’ stand ony longer an’ let ye do it.”
Geordie, surprised and amazed at her action, and the fierceness in her voice, looked up, and immediately reason seemed to steal back into his mind. A flush of shame overspread his face, and he sat down, burying his face in his hands.
“Wheesht, sonny. Wheesht, my wee man,” crooned the mother soothingly, as she began to help Robert to get on his clothes, the tears falling still from her own eyes, as she saw the ugly stripes and bruises upon his back beginning to discolor. “Wheesht, sonny! Dinna’ greet ony mair. There noo’, my wee son. Daddy’s no’ weel the nicht,” she excused, “an’ didna’ ken what he was doin’.” Then breaking into a louder tone: “I wonder what in Heaven’s name puir folk are born for at a’. There noo’. There noo’. Dinna greet, my wee man, an’ mither’ll gi’e ye yer denner.”
Sinclair could stand it no longer, so slipping on his boots and reaching for his cap, he went out, never in all his life feeling more ashamed of himself.
Left to themselves—for all the other children were still out at play—Nellie soon had Robert quietened and sitting at his dinner of cold potatoes and buttermilk. Bit by bit she drew from him the story of the fight at school; divining for herself the reason for Robert’s attack upon Peter Rundell, she soon was in possession of the whole story with its termination of revolt against the headmaster and even the confession of what he had written on the table.