As the result of the differences among the leaders, the strike collapsed at the end of seventeen weeks. The men were forced to return to work on the old terms. In some cases a reduction was imposed, making their condition worse than at the start. The masters sought to drive home their victory in order to break the union. In many parts of the country they succeeded, while in others the spirit of the men resisted it. Generally it ended in compromise; but, so far as the Union was concerned, it was a broken organization; branches went down, and it was many years afterwards before it was again reestablished in some of the districts.
Though at the time it might have seemed all loss, yet it had its advantages, and especially demonstrated the fact that there was a fine discipline and the necessary unity among the rank and file. The next great work was to find out how that unity could be guided and that discipline perfected—how to find a common ideal for the men. This was Robert Smillie’s task, and who shall say, looking at the rank and file to-day, that he has failed?
Eight years passed, and Robert grew into young manhood. One of his younger brothers had joined him and Andrew Marshall in the partnership. It had been a long, stiff struggle, and his mother knew all the hardness and cruelty of it. In after years Robert loved his mother more for the fight she put up, though it never seemed to him that he himself had done anything extraordinary. He was always thoughtful, and planned to save her worry. On “pay-nights,” once a fortnight, when other boys of his age were getting a sixpence, or perhaps even a shilling, as pocket-money, so that they could spend a few coppers on the things that delight a boy’s heart, Robert resolutely refused to take a penny. For years he continued thus, always solacing himself with the thought that it was a “shilling’s worth less of worry” his mother would have.
Yet, riches were his in that the enchantment of literature held him captive, and his imagination gained for him treasures incomparably greater than the solid wealth prized by worldly minds. His father had possessed about a dozen good books, among others such familiar Scottish household favorites as “Wilson’s Tales of the Borders,” “Mansie Waugh,” by “Delta,” “Scots Worthies,” Allan Ramsay’s “Gentle Shepherd,” Scott’s “Rob Roy” and “Old Mortality,” and the well-thumbed and dog-eared copy of Robert Burns’ Poems.
“Gae awa’, man Robin,” his mother would say sometimes to him, as he sat devouring Wilson’s “Tales” or weeping over the tragic end of Wallace’s wife Marion as recounted in Jean Porter’s entrancing “Scottish Chiefs.”
“Gang awa’ oot an’ tak’ a walk. Ither laddies are a’ oot playin’ at something, an’ forby it’s no’ healthy to sit too long aye readin’.”
“Ach. I canna’ be bothered,” he would answer. “I’d raither read.”