Among the Fife Miners by Kellogg Durland
London, Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1904
Dedication “To my friends the members of the Whitehorse Club Edinburgh”
To the publishers of Blackwood's Magazine and the editors of the Outlook (New York), the writer desires to offer his thanks for the privilege of here reprinting such matter as has appeared in their periodicals. At the same time he would acknowledge his indebtedness to the Rev. W. L. Stephen, M.A., and Mr. David Beveridge whose valued assistance made the experiment possible. The kindly co-operation of Mr. Edward McGegan has also been deeply appreciated. His verification of facts, criticisms of details, and many suggestions have added to the effect and worth of the study from the student's point of view.
The following entry appears in my private journal under the date of Kelty, June 29th, 1901 :
"Last winter I was interested in a club of working men in Edinburgh. They were all intelligent men who read the newspapers and discussed among themselves what they read. The publication of certain facts concerning the Fife miners aroused their interest in these men and led to a series of questions which I was unable to answer on the spot, so I visited the mining village of Kelty, talked with the men, and one of the managers, and went down a pit, carrying back to the Club sufficient material for an interesting and profitable discussion. My own interest was whetted. I wanted to see more of the miners. Their views on life must be so different from any that I have been used to. Professor G_____ had once said to me “You are a very good example of the educated, middle-class dilettante. You will never be worth your salt till you have done something with your hands.” When I wrote to him about a scheme for learning more about mines and miners he immediately replied with his enthusiastic approval. My idea was to cast my lot in with the miners and do everything that they do that I might become familiar with every phase of their life.
I planned to begin my experiment on Monday, July 1st, 1901.
There were several reasons why I selected Kelty . ... it is a typical Scottish mining village; the Gothenburg system of public houses is being tried there ; there is a flourishing co-operative store ; it borders on an agricultural district - Kinross around Loch Leven. Friday morning, June 28th, I left Edinburgh for Kelty and directly sought out _______ who told me that I might have difficulty in securing a place to stay in, as the village is very much over-crowded.
I got a 'crop' (hair cut) and bought my miner's lamp, ball of wick, flannel shirt, 'gravits,' tea flask and piece box. A first name is the order of the day here, and as my own is quite unpronounceable to the men I am advised to take another, and so for the sake of simplicity have adopted 'Bill.' I report for work at the pit head at 6.15, Monday morning." ( A few purely verbal changes and omissions are made to eliminate personal references.)
This was written in a journal intended for no other eyes than my own, at a time when the publication of my experiences, or any part of them, had not been considered or even seriously suggested.
As a social student sincerely interested in questions of the day I have several times sloughed off the commonly accepted hall marks of gentility and thrown myself into places where I have jostled shoulder to shoulder with the unadorned realities of life. This for my own edification, never for purposes of publication, and indeed, publication has never been made of any of these experiences. My journals lie shelved in their entirety. As the days and weeks of the summer passed, friends who were watching the progress of my schooling among the hardy toilers of the pits began to urge publication; and at last, having been convinced that an account of some of the incidents of the summer might prove of interest, I decided to put them into some such form as that in which they now appear. They do not pretend at anything more than a collection of impressions by an unbiased, yet sympathetic, observer who has aimed to present them in a simple, straightforward way. Truth, and accuracy of detail have never been knowingly sacrificed to picturesqueness of effect or readableness. Incidents set down were all thought to be typical and fairly representative of a class.
The manuscript has been read and freely commented upon by a number of critics, affording opportunities for weeding out the more superficial observations and doubtful impressions that would naturally be noted by one coming to the field with a wholly fresh point of view. Every suggestion that has come to the writer has been considered, and whenever possible has been acted upon.
All of July, and most of August, was spent in the pits. Toward the end of the second month, a slight accident to my right hand kept me off work till September, and then when I began again I continued steadily at it till into October. The latter days were spent at the brick works, for, as I have attempted to explain in Chapter IV., bricks being made from the waste material of the coal pits, brick kilns are now frequently run in conjunction with pits and under the same general management. Brick-making is, in point of fact, so closely connected with coal-mining that, in spite of the marked difference between the trades, the separate unions and wide distinctions in other particulars, I could not look upon my experience among the Fife miners as complete until I had also laboured at the brick works. Here, however, my experience was necessarily of a slighter nature, owing partly to the trivial injury which handicapped me in the use of my hand for some weeks. At the same time it was sufficient to enable me to draw comparisons between the two trades. Here again, this chapter is offered for what it appears, nothing more. It may be judged upon its surface value.
The growing interest in the Gothenburg experiments in Scotland, as a phase of that gratifying quickened interest in the temperance problem in Great Britain seems to warrant the devotion of one chapter to a consideration of its place in communities like that of Kelty.
It will be noticed that throughout the opening chapters the role of the writer in conversation with the men is that of "devil's advocate," the only object being to get at their opinions. Any opinions of his own that appeared to him as worthy of expression have been relegated to the final chapter on "Conclusions." Referential footnotes scattered through the book may add somewhat to its authenticity.
And lastly, if there has been any secondary motif in the publication of these chapters it has been that a wider audience than that of my own circle of acquaintances may catch a little of that spirit of admiration which I feel so strongly for the men with whom the following pages deal. From the educational point of view I cannot rank my sojourn among the Fife miners too highly. Measured by the standards of social conventions they may be rough diamonds, but diamonds of the first water they are, nevertheless. It will be sufficient to know that here and there in the bigger world another has come to think on them more intelligently and more appreciatively, and to feel what the writer has striven to reveal, that under the surface crudities, which sometimes arrest one, there is always the ring of sterling worth.
CHAPTER I - THE DAY SHIFT
The horn blew six o'clock as we clattered across the railway bridge where I vainly tried to scuff over the boards with my leather-soled shoes in the same noisy fashion as the men whose hob-nailed boots scraped and banged against the wood and iron with the rough ease that betrays long unconscious practice. A straggling procession of coal blackened men shuffled along the broad road from the pit, slow and careless after the night shift; another stream of men fresh for the work of the day tended towards the restless, hard-breathing, vomiting Thing, the Aitken Pit. A long cloud of heavy brown smoke from the towering brick chimney stretched strainingly over the fields to the last of the Lomonds as if to crest old Benarty with a symbol of the work-a-day world.
The engine that moves the great wheels round which run the cables that support the cages intermittently belched forth heavy, full puffs of steam that barely blew to the top of the mound of weathering blae, behind the engine-house, before being dissipated in the fresh air of the morning. Railway tracks fairly veined the area beneath and around the raised sifting shed; the loud clanging of hard hammer strokes against resounding iron that came from a long, low building not far from the tracks betold the smithy and machine shop.
The human current flowed past the flaming forge, turning in and out among the railway waggons that stood on the tracks waiting for fresh loads, on under the sifting shed and up a long flight of iron steps to the pit-head, where, according to my first orders, I was to present myself at a quarter after six. As we neared the top I realised that a group of girls whose heads and shoulders were covered with soiled shawls had taken note of the stranger and were already surmising who he might be and where he could have come from. The little tin lamp in my cap - my "bunnet" as the men say - felt strangely heavy as if it would draw the cap over my eyes, and the never ceasing rattle was bewildering.
There was only a moment to look about, for as one of the cages jarred to the top and sixteen men rushed out, the manager appeared and we joined the group awaiting the signal to step on. Caution is the watchword of the pit. Three clamorous strokes announced that men were about to ascend and descend and a single clank signified that all was ready. The crowd rocked impatiently before the cage during the moment when the gate stood open and the pitheadman held it clear until the signal from below had been given. Then sixteen of us with lowered heads to escape the low gate made a quick rush into the gale of ventilating air that is forced down the shaft and thence through all the pit.
I heard a gruff warning to "grip the bar" and as my fingers grasped the cold, wet rod a shade above our heads, the cage began to drop, fast almost from the start; down, down, down, the air forced below by the powerful. fan whistling gaily upon us, then the cage dropped faster as if to race with the wind; a rough scrape midway down shook the cage like a toy then it settled into a speedy run so swift and smooth that there was scarce any perceptible motion. The darkness was blinding. Suddenly there was a strong feeling as if we had stopped and the next moment were bounding upwards, up, up, and ever so much faster than we had dropped down. What was wrong? No one spoke, yet up we flew, up into the increasing wind. A sudden burst of light - but not day-light; another rush, into the lurid glare of a score of tiny reeking lamps and the cage settled uneasily towards the sump with a mocking grating as if conscious that a greenhorn had been played a pretty trick and suffered a strange illusion.
"Light your lamp. This way - mind the hutches." He led and I stumbled after.
Even here, twelve hundred feet down, there was the same deafening, clattering roar as above. Races of six, eight, nine and ten hutches came rattling out of the black passages drawn by fast-going ponies, guided by a single rope which took the place of reins. Wee boy drivers, not so high as the undersized ponies some of them, grotesque in their patched muddy clothes, cried in piercingly shrill voices at the animals, deep-chested men shouted back and forth as they rolled the coal-weighted hutches off the rails on to the smooth sheet plates and then on to the cages, or jerked the empty ones back to the rails.
"Follow this man," and without a word my new guide, a grizzled old miner, turned abruptly to the right down a dark passage - a "level" - where the last echoes of the noisy pit bottom were quickly lost and only the weird babbling swish of an unseen stream and the sucking of the mucky ooze beneath our feet was audible.
Presently there was another turn, this time to the left, followed almost immediately by a second through a strong wooden trap-door that closed with a prison dull thud behind us. Here the low roof and lower proppings bent us far forward and we began a laborious ascent over wet, muddy slippery rock with numerous small pools through which we splashed in silence. Occasionally, when the sickening reek of the lamps, his burning oil and mine tallow, blew persistently into my face filling my mouth and nostrils with a nauseating odour I rolled against the soppy walk and sometimes crashed my head with discomforting force against the roof. At the end of two hundred and fifty yards we reached an open area high and wide and in every detail a second bottom. Here I was handed over to the section "gaffer" with whom I began another and longer climb which must have taken near a quarter of an hour.
The road was up two "wheelbraes" that are made perilous by fast running cable hutches. The weight of six full hutches descending is balanced by six empty hutches that are attached to the other end of the cable and are thus hurried to the top. Twice we had to take refuge in man-holes and both times the gaffer spoke pleasantly enough of his experience of fifty years in the pit and pointed out certain dangers that I should constantly guard against. Even by the murky light of the lamps in our bonnets I could catch the laughing twinkle under the shaggy eyebrows and behind the strong lines of relaxed sternness, for in spite of my old clothes and my blue flannel shirt, in spite even of my workman's gravit carelessly thrown round my neck (previously arranged with the most consummate care as a matter of fact) and my tin tea-flask and "piece" box carried so indifferently there was no disguising the fact that whatever else I might have been I never before had been a pitman.
The first task given me was with a small gang of roadsmen to remove a heavy fall of rock from an old wheelbrae which has been out of use for a long time and was about to be used again. Roadsmen are generally all-round practical men who can turn their hands to anything, and their work is various. Sometimes they are platelayers, sometimes joiners, again they are brushers or repairers, - in short a roadsman must be prepared to overcome any obstacle that may be met with in making ready a section or part of a section for the miners who hew the coal from the rock. Some tons of rock had dropped from the roof, completely blocking the brae for nearly twenty yards ; the old props had been demolished, and there was nothing left but debris.
The work of smashing the rocks into manageable bits that could be removed in a "bogey" and stowed away in an old "waste" - a place from which the coal has been previously removed - occupied us for several days. Some of the stones which for the others were not difficult to lift, proved awkward in my unaccustomed hands ; and many of the rocks were sharp cornered, and cut. Every two or three yards it was necessary to put up proppings to make ourselves secure and this introduced the joiner work. Heavy bars or beams had to be fitted across the roof with the ends resting in the coal which, as it happened, formed the walls on both sides, and larch trees wedged tightly in from below. It was rough, unfinished work, like most work in the pit, and I venture to suggest that much of the roughness characteristic of miners comes from the fact that there is so little polishing in their lives. A passage is never swept clean, a prop is never fitted with exactness, appearances count for nothing so long as the work is strong and safe. They begin work on the fore shift about 6.15, stop for their breakfast about "half ten," and quit work about a quarter after two. Only the enginemen must be exact.
"Bill," shouted Jim, the grey, old-school miner who appeared to have me in charge - among the men I was never anything but Bill, indeed that was almost all they knew about me - "Bill, saw off about twa inches frae yon tree - I'll hold it for ye."
I began with feverish haste which resulted in the saw jumping from the groove and tearing across the forefinger of my left hand. It wasn't the cut that I feared, only that Jim might have seen my clumsiness, so with all the strength I could muster I clutched the tree so as to repress the bleeding as much as possible, and so that the few drops of escaping blood might trickle from underneath the tree and away from his sight. Jim was a typical pitman of the better class. For forty-nine years he had worked at the coal, and as he had been steady and saving all his days he had no reason to dread the coming of old age. The winter of life never looks bleak and moory to men like Jim. He worked quickly, and when he was puffed into an honest sweat he would stop for a "blow." Jim, like myself and most roadsmen was an oncost man, that is he worked "on the company's time" at so much per shift; hewers are paid by the ton, drawers, who draw the coal away from the face, by section contractors, who receive a bargained-for sum per score of hutches drawn, the price varying according to the distance and difficulty, some roads being much harder than others. On the whole the men at the face who are paid by the ton make more than the oncost men, but the latter have the advantage of being able to work, as they put it, "according to their wages." Once and awhile they lose an hour or two owing to the stupidity or carelessness of some other body, as when a lot of trees and bars needed in a "wooding" operation are marked, for instance, "Campbell's No. 2," (which was where we were working during these first days) and it is switched off to "Spion Kop " or " Meek's Level."
Once Jim saw me rise up in a forgetful moment and knock my head rather solidly against the roof.
"Ye'll be sair te-morn's mornin', Bill."
"Ay," I replied in my broadest Scotch as cheerily as I could under the circumstances, "but bide a wee and I'es be a' richt."
All through the long hours there was never any respite from the terribly cramped position. To stand straight one must needs lie down as it were, and the strain told. When the rocks and stones had been cleared away there was always a mass of small stuff which had to be shovelled into the bogey, and to toss near a half ton at a stretch was sore work for one's back, but the cheeriness of the men was always a help. Those who can, sing at their work ; and sometimes the words of a popular song or an old familiar Scotch ballad came out of the darkness at most unexpected moments. One morning as I was making my way along a lengthy level whistling to myself the refrain of "Sweet Genevieve," someone so far ahead that I could not catch the faintest gleam of the lamp that I knew full well he must have, caught up the melody, and out of the lugubrious gloom came the faint, silvery echo, like sounds sent back by some eerie spirit of the earth's depths. A good song not only means a light heart but it makes the very work seem lighter. The men have divined this, possibly subconsciously, and though a quarter of a mile below the waving grain that in summer greeted them, as they came out of the depths, like a smile from heaven, they make the ancient rocks re-echo with the sounds of their voices as well as with the music of their industry. But while singing is so common a feature, a ringing laugh is seldom heard, probably because conversation generally takes a serious turn.
When the stones had all been cleared away we transformed ourselves into a gang of plateplayers and worked with a speed that was surprising. With absolutely no knowledge of the matter I had fancied this piece of work one for experts, but as fast as the sleepers could be brought up and the rails procured, the ground was cleared, the hollow places raised with quickly made wedges, the bulging places brought down with a pick, and the tracks laid. An inspector comes round once a day, and unlike inspectors and gaffers in other parts of the world, he usually bids the men stop a few minutes for a smoke and a brief friendly chat ensues. There is almost a code or convention as to the treatment of visitors in the pit though they be but ordinary miners from an adjoining section. It is considered the proper thing to stop for a "wee puff" at least. As for myself I never appreciated a pipe before, but in the pit a pipe was a priceless blessing, not so much as an end but as a means. A smoke meant a rest. In pits where there is fire damp and gas, smoking is not permitted, but there is not supposed to be any gas in the Aitken, and the stolen minutes when we sat on the damp, cold rock, or on the warm small coal and puffed at our blackened "cutties" stand out like oases of refreshing delight in that primal period when to the tyro these moments of dolce far niente were like quaffs from a stream of crystalline limpidity to a parched and aching throat.
It was then when we lolled in a circle and watched the clouds of blue fragrant smoke from the pipes mingle with the black odoriferous reek of the lamps that we discussed the world and its far-off philosophies, or rested in stillness, listening to the sounds of the pit - the dull snapping of the working coal, the scamper of the bold, hungry rats that come down with the feed for the ponies, and multiply and increase like tribes of old, and grow ferocious when crumbs are scarce; or the muffled rumble of hutches on a distant level like the rolling of Alpine thunder, now far off and low, swelling nearer and louder, bursting in a report-like crash as the hutches slide from the rails to the plates (sheets); again there is the dull boom of a powder blow or the sharp crack of a gelegnite blast; or again these sounds cease and there is only the eternal drip, drip, drip of water from undiscoverable springs, or the deep toned surging like the hum of big sea shells that come out of that unutterable silence which is intensified beyond expression, when the lamps flicker out and the palpable blackness becomes truly "darkness visible."
One morning the gaffer met me at the bottom and told me that I must go on to the drawing. Drawing was the hardest work in the pit according to the men, so that I received my orders with a slight qualm. On long wheel braes, where there is a distinct gradation, the endless cable system is used for running the hutches back and forth, up and down, and on long levels where it is possible ponies draw the loaded hutches in long trains or races. Drawers push the hutches one at a time from the face where they are filled to the main levels or wheel braes where they are formed into races and sent to the bottom.
There were forty ponies in the Aitken pit, and wonderfully intelligent beasts they were. Many of them came from Norway. Once taken into the pit some of them spend all their lives in the darkness. They become accustomed to the roads they travel, and in a very short time are able to go trotting over the roughest places at a smart pace which occasionally breaks into a gallop. When they near the bottom they are trained to leap aside at the moment they are freed from the hutches and let the heavy load rumble past at a rate that would mean death to the animal that delayed the fraction of a moment in stepping over the rails. But most wonderful of all are the thieving ponies, that show their fondness for food and drink by learning to open the piece boxes of the men and eating the bread and jam or cheese; or the still cleverer ones that uncork the flasks and drain them to the last drop. When first I heard these stories I was sceptical but it was not long ere I was convinced of their truth. One man lost his piece box, and after accusing his neighbours of playing him a mean, practical joke, went home hungry. The next morning a pony was seen to leave his stall with an empty piece box which was duly dropped at the very spot where on the previous day the victim had left his breakfast.
It was to a part of the pit that was new to me that I was directed for the drawing - a walk of ten minutes through a much used level where long races of hutches rattled from one end to the other, the ponies guided by reckless boys who delight in shouting their warning at the last moment and make the dismal passage ring with their piercing voices high above the clatter of the hoof-beats and the thunderous rumbling of the heavy hutches. At the point where I left the main level there was a blast of air so warm and for the moment overpowering, that it seemed vitiated. The man with whom I was to work appeared, and I followed toward the ever increasing heat for nearly two hundred yards where the men were working naked to the waist, their streaming bodies streaked and begrimed with coal dust which permeated all the atmosphere till they seemed little like men. Breathing was an effort in spite of the current of air that passed through the passage. The monotonous click of the picks against the resisting coal fell on the ear like sounds from an unreal world, while from a distance the men who crouched or knelt before the grim wall, which they attacked with the brutal force of automatons, looked like creatures damned for their sins, the muttered " T-s-s-t-t-s-s-t, sish-s--sish-h, t-s-s-t" coming from between their half closed teeth with machine-like regularity.
An empty hutch weighs nearly five hundred pounds. In appearance it is like a small railway coal waggon. An average load is from half a ton to twelve hundred pounds of coal. Fourteen or fifteen hundred pounds is a fairish load for a muscular man.
I started on my first trip. First a dead level, followed by a slight rise, another short level then an abrupt fall, not sufficiently abrupt to be characterised as steep but so inclined that it would have sent an unrestrained or unbalanced car forward at so bounding a rate that it would have left the rails at the first bend, of which there were several. It took every particle of my strength to mount the first incline and with a sense of relief I felt the forward end drop as I gripped the other to hold it back. An uneven bit of rock caused my foot to trip over a sleeper, the hutch gained in speed till I was jerked off my feet. The hot air cooled as I was dragged on with quickly increasing speed, faster and faster. I struggled with might and main to hold back, but it was useless. The thing had gained a terrible headway, by great leaps and bounds I went stumbling into the nothingness ahead at a mad pace; my lamp was blown out before twenty yards had been covered and there flashed a picture of the one hundred and sixty or more yards to go; clinging desperately as if for my life, my weight hanging all too loose on the end of the runaway hutch barely balanced it to the rails. If I rose to three quarters my height I knew I would crash against the stone roof with terrific force, if I let go, a hard tumble would be inevitable. Not knowing what was in front was terrible, and the thought of reaching the end of the level where men, ponies and long races were passing with every few seconds, was sickening, as with crouching leaps we - the hutch and I - went careering on, till with a joyous thrill I found it coming more and more under my control and at last it rolled gently on to the switch as if the whole run had been just as usual. Every muscle in my body felt pulled out and my tongue was cleaving to the roof of my mouth like dry leather. There was naught to do but relight my lamp, get behind an empty hutch, and laboriously push it back to the face. How my legs stiffened and ached under the strain! My breath came in wheezes and every pore seemed a tiny spring. With greater determination I started upon the second trip, when to my unaffected horror it was the same madcap rush over again, only worse. My fingers would not act, my strength seemed to be running like the sweat from every limb. How the hutch kept the rails throughout that breathless, perilous run I shall never know. The heat was cruel. With violently trembling hands I grasped my flask and swallowed a mouthful of tea, lukewarm but refreshing. My lips were like blotting paper.
Until now my mate, a broad shouldered fellow with herculean biceps and chest had not spoken a word, but as he passed he said lightly :
"After my first shift on this job I thought I was dead."
With this encouragement I again started to the top with an empty. The hutch caught on the plates and I had difficulty in getting it on to the rails. A pony driver, a boy who looked more like an imp, pushed me aside and the quickness with which he set it right showed that he had learned the trick. I don't know the lad, they called him Dick, but again and again during the day he gave me a friendly lift without uttering a word. Then and there I registered a vow that if Dick and I ever meet under altered circumstances I will spare absolutely nothing to do him a good turn. I remember him with deepest gratitude, for his was the only substantial sympathy I got.
As I bent over that next tub on the up journey the flame of my lamp curled down and licked the ends of my hair that had escaped the protection of my hat. I heard it crackle as it singed, and I smelt it, but dared not take a hand from the heavy hutch lest it roll back upon me.
At the top my mate was called away for a moment and as I saw him disappear in the darkness, with an indescribable sensation of relief I sank across the tracks and let my head rest on an iron rail. It was so restful - I could have slept. The drowsiness was pleasant - I wanted to yield to it. Then came the thought of my reputation among the men and with a genuine laugh I sprang to my feet determined to get some fun out of my job. Why take it all so seriously? What if it does crash off the rails into the propping and perhaps unloose a ton or two of rock? It will be a jolly moment and the damage at worst will be reparable. Be a fatalist. Test the theory of the Will to Believe ; see if Will can push a hutch.
When we started a third time my heart was light and the scheme worked beautifully. That reckless race in the dark was the most thrilling sport I ever had. The hutch kept the rails, I steadied it hard and enjoyed the whole run hugely. But alas! The next time about half way down, when I had begun to feel myself safe and happy there was a sudden scraping, a wild leap from the rails, the coals spilled, my lamp flew out of my bonnet, and I was thrown violently against the hutch which had nearly turned on end. In the flashing second that followed there was a simultaneous sensation of being pinned to the roof and crushed under the hutch as it righted itself, empty of its load. As a matter of fact both things almost happened, but neither quite.
Slowly the long day wore on and I managed to worry through with it. The road grew familiar, the heat became less cruel and with frequent mouthfuls of bitter tea the task came to be less hard than it had seemed at first. The deepest shaft has its sump, and when the call came that it was "lowsing" time there was a grim satisfaction in knowing that the "sairest brae in the pit" had not proved "owre hard " for one not of mining stock.
The merriest quarter of an hour in the day is often that at the pit bottom when the men are waiting for the cage to carry them to the top. Hour after hour all through the weary days the cages rattle up and down the shaft with the coal, four hutches at a time, sixteen hundred tons a day. Sharply at a quarter past two the iron signal clanks and the men who have been gathering for some minutes rush with light if not buoyant steps towards the shaft. The open area known as the bottom fairly blazes with murky light, and from far down the distant passages come the bobbing lamps of men, will-o'-the-wisp-like in straggling procession. Once in a while when the men are in the mood they break into song as they are gathering in the bottom, and to one who has heard the chorus of those mud-covered, coal-besmirched men letting their lusty voices ring out on the catchy strains of a favourite air, recollections of the pit can never remain all shadow. One of the bottomers whose business it was to pull the empty hutches from the cages as they reached the bottom and push on the full ones, had a famous tenor voice, and to hear his clear musical notes ringing out with distinct sweetness above the crunching, jarring rattle that never ceased for a moment was, something not to be forgotten. The one-time popular ballad "White Wings" thus sung seemed to express a certain longing for an outlook on a broader world than they, poor cramped miners, knew aught of, as if an innate something was feeling the narrowness of its life and cried out for a boundless freedom. In the abysmal depths of the Aitken pit eight hundred men are working out their lives. Their work is labour that costs hard sweat, and though they feel themselves slaves of the lamp even as their fathers before them were serfs of the soil, they extract as much joy from life as they may, and to many of them the ideals they never realise and the pleasures they never taste are sung with spirit in the ballads of their fighting, loving sires, or the songs of the passing hour. So it was when the great bottomer sang the words :-
"Sail home ! as straight as an arrow
My yacht shoots along on the crest of the sea
High up where cliffs they are craggy
There's where the girl of my heart waits for me."
Then came the deep throated chorus from the crowd of rough workers fairly drowning the boisterous noise
" White wings they never grow weary,
They carry me cheerily over the sea ;
Night comes, I long for my dearie,
I'll spread out my white wings and sail home to thee."
The song ended, the roar of iron goes on till the signal is given from the pithead. A small coupler, surely not more than four feet high, who has been performing his work of coupling the hutches into races with extraordinary quickness and dexterity, shrilly cries out, "Wha's last ?" Men entering the bottom shout the same query, "Wha's last ?" and peer into the surging crowd till one calls back " Follow me."
"Cry the bend," orders one from the midst of the crowd. "One," "twa," "three," - and so on to eight, while across the shaft another eight are being tolled out. It is a puzzling proceeding. Each man as he turns the bend in the passage that leads to the open bottom follows the man who immediately preceded him and hence his number is called the bend. As the first cage arrives with its sixteen men fresh for the next shift there is a tinny rattle of tea flasks and piece boxes as the men prepare to spring on to the cage. Once, on, we all grip the bar as in descending. Suddenly the cage starts, up it leaps, up into the teeth of the fresh air which in running against becomes a gale. Nearly every lamp blows out at the start - one burned uneasily a few seconds and I could see the unprotected space between the cage and the shaft. A man slipped from an ascending cage about the time I went into the pit and fell to the bottom a mangled, lifeless mass. The last lamp became dark and in the awful blackness of the pit we were drawn with breathless speed toward the top. Two thirds of the way up there was a jar, a torrent of water appeared to be falling on to the roof of the cage, the cage stopped, then began to drop swiftly, silently down. It was the experience of the descent reversed, owing, I think, to the sudden slacking of speed which gives the very peculiar sensation of reversing the motion.
A sudden burst of daylight dispels the illusion. Was ever daylight so pure before? Then the sun, the glorious golden sunlight filling the vale between the hills, caressing the ripening harvests, deepening the green of the woodland. If ever I appreciated the sun it was that moment after my first shift in the pit. Old miners have since told me that the delight of the first plunge out of the darkness into the radient light of heaven never lessens with years. For the first minute it is dazzling, one stumbles over the tracks about the pit head, and when the cooling air, sweet-scented from the fields, blows soothingly from the hills toward the sea, and as the eye rests on the distant village of less than five thousand souls all told, straggling along one road up and down a brae, the imagination recalls the ride of Queen Mary over that road three centuries ago, after she had broken the bounds of Loch Leven Castle and rode with a small dashing cavalcade to the Queen City of the North twenty-five miles away.
Since that time the hand of man has been laid heavily on the beautiful valley at the foot of the Lomonds, and from a single coign of vantage may be counted nearly a score of towering chimneys, marking as many working collieries. Here and there a lark quivers from earth to sky breathing into the air his trilling song, and peeweets call back and forth as they swoop in graceful circles near the foot of the hills, but the sounds that predominate are of the groaning, creaking wheels, the belching steam puffs, the whistles that call men to labour, robbing pristine Nature of her virginity ; but of the pain and travail of the transformation has been born the Soul of Industry; and it is the throbbing of that Soul at Work that echoes through the quiet air or is carried on the strong winds to further valleys to harbinger the advance of the dayspring when man shall find his work and pleasure one and inseparable, the warp and woof of life.