It was all so natural and apparently easy—an epic in moleskin and human flesh, with only the little glimmer of oil-lamps, which darted from side to side in a mad mazurka of toil, crossing and recrossing, swinging and halting, the flames flattening out with every heave of their owners’ bodies, then abruptly being brought to the steady again. Looked at from the road-foot, it was like a carnival of fireflies engaged in trying how quickly they could dart from side to side, and cross each other’s path, without coming into collision.
Who shall sing in lyrical language the exhilaration of such splendid men’s work? Who shall catch that glow of strength and health, and work it into deathless song? The ring of the hammers on the stone, the dull regular thud upon the timber, the crash of breaking rock, and the strong, warm-blooded, generous-hearted men; the passionate glowing bodies, and above all, the great big heroic souls, fighting, working, striving in a hell of hunger and death, toiling till one felt they were gods instead of humans—gods of succor and power, gods of helpfulness and strength.
So the work went on hour after hour, and now their efforts were beginning to tell. No more came the rumbling, treacherous falls; but perceptibly, irresistibly was the passage gradually cleared, and the way opened up, until it seemed as if these men were literally eating their way into that rock-filled passage.
“Can ye tell me where Black Jock is a’ this time?” enquired Andrew, as Peter and Matthew and he sat back the road, resting while the others worked. “Rundell has been here twa or three times, for hours at a time, but I hae never seen Walker yet.”
“I hae never seen him either, an’ I was hearin’ that he was badly,” returned Peter, and his big eye seemed to turn as if it were looking for and expecting some one to slip up behind him.
“Ay,” broke in Matthew, “badly! I wadna say, but it micht be that he’s badly; but maybe he’s not.”
“Do ye ken, boys,” said Andrew quietly, taking his pipe out of his mouth, and speaking with slow deliberation, “I’m beginnin’ to think Black Jock is guilty o’ Geordie’s death. Geordie, as we a’ ken, had ay something against Walker. There was something he kent aboot the black brute that lately kept him gey quiet; for, if ye noticed, whenever Geordie went to him about anybody’s complaint, the men aye won. I ken Walker hated him, an’ I’m inclined to think that he has deliberately put Geordie into this place, kennin’ that the lower seam had been worked out lang, lang syne. His plans wad tell him as muckle about the workin’s, and I ken, at least, he’s never been in Geordie’s place since it was started, an’ there’s nae ither places drivin’ up sae far as this. They’re a’ stoppit afore they come this length; an’ forby, frae what Rundell has let drap the day, he never kent that the coal was being worked as far up as this. By ——! Peter, gin I could prove what I suspect, I’d murder the dirty brute this nicht! I would that!”