Oh, Helen fair, beyond compare,
I’ll mak’ a garland o’ your hair
Shall bind my heart for evermair
Until the day I dee.
And Nellie Sinclair never in all her life sang that song so well as she did that night; and she never sang it again. Robert, who was lying in the room, heard her glorious voice, and marveled at the complete mastery she showed over the plaintive old tune. It was as if her very soul reveled in it, as the notes rose and fell; and it stirred the boy into tremendous emotional excitement, as the tragedy was unfolded in the beautiful words and the sadness of the old tune.
It was a memorable night of quiet happiness for all, and there was so much of tragedy lying behind it unseen and unknown. But so often are the sweetest moments of life followed by its sadness and its sorrow.
Next morning at five o’clock Robert leapt from his bed, full of importance at the prospect of going down the pit. Stripping off his sleeping shirt, he chattered as he donned the pit clothes. The blue plaid working-shirt which his mother had bought for him felt rough to his tender skin, but unpleasant as it was, he donned it with a sense of bigness. Then the rough moleskin trousers were put on and fastened with a belt round the waist, and a pair of leg-strings at the knees. The bundles of clothes, separately arranged the night before, had got mixed somewhat in Robert’s eagerness to dress, with the result that when his brother John rose, with eyes half shut, and reached for his stockings, he found those of Robert instead lying upon his bundle.
“Gie’s my socks,” he ordered grumpily, flinging Robert’s socks into the far corner of the kitchen. “You’ve on the wrong drawers too. Can ye no’ look what you’re doin’?” and the drawers followed the socks, while Robert looked at his mother with eyes of wonderment.
“Tak’ aff his socks, Rob,” she said, “he’s a thrawn, ill-natured cat, that, in the mornin’.”
“Well, he should look what he’s doin’ an’ no’ put on other folk’s claes,” and immediately the others burst out laughing, for this advocate of “watchin’ what he was doin’” had in his half sleepy condition failed to see that he had lifted his jacket and had rammed his leg down the sleeve in his hurry and anger.
“Noo, that’ll do,” said Geordie, as John flung the jacket at Robert, because he laughed. “That’ll do noo, or I’ll come alang yer jaw,” and thus admonished John was at once silent.
Robert soon had his toilet completed, however, even to the old cap on his head, upon which sat the little oil-lamp, which he handled and cleaned and wiped with his fingers to keep it bright and shiny, whilst all the time he kept chattering.
“For ony sake, laddie, hand your tongue,” said Geordie at last, as he drew in his chair to the table to start upon the frugal breakfast of bread and butter and tea. “Your tongue’s never lain since you got up.”