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Title: Children of the Dead End - The Autobiography of an Irish Navvy
Author: MacGill, Patrick
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Logo]


681 Fifth Avenue



"I wish the Kinlochleven navvies had been thrown into the loch. They
would fain turn the Highlands into a cinderheap," said the late Andrew
Lang, writing to me a few months before his death.

In the following pages I have endeavoured to tell of the navvy; the life
he leads, the dangers he dares, and the death he often dies. Most of my
story is autobiographical. Moleskin Joe and Carroty Dan are true to
life; they live now, and for all I know to the contrary may be met with
on some precarious job, in some evil-smelling model lodging-house, or,
as suits these gipsies of labour, on the open road. Norah Ryan's painful
story shows the dangers to which an innocent girl is exposed through
ignorance of the fundamental facts of existence; Gourock Ellen and Annie
are types of women whom I have often met. While asking a little
allowance for the pen of the novelist it must be said that nearly all
the incidents of the book have come under the observation of the writer:
that such incidents should take place makes the tragedy of the story.


The Garden House,

_January, 1914._


CHAPTER                                       PAGE
     I. A NIGHT IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE             1

    II. OLD CUSTOMS                              8

   III. A CORSICAN OUTRAGE                      15

    IV. THE GREAT SILENCE                       18

     V. THE SLAVE MARKET                        25

    VI. BOYNE WATER AND HOLY WATER              34

   VII. A MAN OF TWELVE                         41

  VIII. OLD MARY SORLEY                         48

    IX. A GOOD TIME                             56

     X. THE LEADING ROAD TO STRABANE            62

    XI. THE 'DERRY BOAT                         67



   XIV. PADDING IT                              92

    XV. MOLESKIN JOE                            99

   XVI. MOLESKIN JOE AS MY FATHER              105

  XVII. ON THE DEAD END                        111

 XVIII. THE DRAINER                            127

   XIX. A DEAD MAN'S SHOES                     129

    XX. BOOKS                                  136

   XXI. A FISTIC ARGUMENT                      146

  XXII. THE OPEN ROAD                          151

 XXIII. THE COCK OF THE NORTH                  168

  XXIV. MECCA                                  175


  XXVI. A GREAT FIGHT                          197

 XXVII. DE PROFUNDIS                           213

XXVIII. A LITTLE TRAGEDY                       217

  XXIX. I WRITE FOR THE PAPERS                 225

   XXX. WINTER                                 230

  XXXI. THE GREAT EXODUS                       243

 XXXII. A NEW JOB                              254

XXXIII. A SWEETHEART OF MINE                   263


  XXXV. THE SEARCH                             287

 XXXVI. THE END OF THE STORY                   298




     "The wee red-headed man is a knowing sort of fellow,
     His coat is cat's-eye green and his pantaloons are yellow,
     His brogues be made of glass and his hose be red as cherry,
     He's the lad for devilment if you only make him merry,
     He drives a flock of goats, has another flock behind him.
     The little children fear him but the old folk never mind him.
     To the frogs' house and the goats' house and the hilly land and
     He will carry naughty children where the parents dare not follow.
     Oh! little ones, beware. If the red-haired man should catch you,
     You'll have only goats to play with and croaking frogs to watch
     A bed between two rocks and not a fire to warm you!--
     Then, little ones, be good and the red-haired man can't harm you."

     --From _The Song of the Red-haired Man_.

It was night in the dead of winter, and we sat around the fire that
burned in red and blue flames on the wide open hearth. The blue flames
were a sign of storm.

The snow was white on the ground that stretched away from the door of my
father's house, down the dip of the brae and over the hill that rose on
the other side of the glen. I had just been standing out by the little
hillock that rose near the corner of the home gable-end, watching the
glen people place their lamps in the window corners. I loved to see the
lights come out one by one until every house was lighted up. Nothing
looks so cheerful as a lamp seen through the darkness.

On the other side of the valley a mountain stream tumbled down to the
river. It was always crying out at night and the wail in its voice could
be heard ever so far away. It seemed to be lamenting over something
which it had lost. I always thought of women dreeing over a dead body
when I listened to it. It seemed so strange to me, too, that it should
keep coming down and down for ever.

The hills surrounding the glen were very high; the old people said that
there were higher hills beyond them, but this I found very hard to

These were the thoughts in my mind as I entered my home and closed the
door behind me. From the inside I could see the half-moon, twisted like
a cow's horn, shining through the window.

"It will be a wet month this," said my father. "There are blue flames in
the fire, and a hanging moon never keeps in rain."

The wind was moaning over the chimney. By staying very quiet one could
hear the wail in its voice, and it was like that of the stream on the
far side of the glen. A pot of potatoes hung over the fire, and as the
water bubbled and sang the potatoes could be seen bursting their jackets
beneath the lid. The dog lay beside the hearthstone, his nose thrust
well over his forepaws, threaping to be asleep, but ready to open his
eyes at the least little sound. Maybe he was listening to the song of
the pot, for most dogs like to hear it. An oil lamp swung by a string
from the roof-tree backwards and forwards like a willow branch when the
wind of October is high. As it swung the shadows chased each other in
the silence of the farther corners of the house. My mother said that if
we were bad children the shadows would run away with us, but they never
did, and indeed we were often full of all sorts of mischief. We felt
afraid of the shadows, they even frightened mother. But father was
afraid of nothing. Once he came from Ardara fair on the Night of the
Dead[1] and passed the graveyard at midnight.

Sometimes my mother would tell a story, and it was always about the wee
red-headed man who had a herd of goats before him and a herd of goats
behind him, and a salmon tied to the laces of his brogues for supper. I
have now forgotten all the great things which he went through, but in
those days I always thought the story of the wee red-headed man the most
wonderful one in all the world. At that time I had never heard another.

For supper we had potatoes and buttermilk. The potatoes were emptied
into a large wicker basket round which we children sat with a large bowl
of buttermilk between us, and out of this bowl we drank in turn. Usually
the milk was consumed quickly, and afterwards we ate the potatoes dry.

Nearly every second year the potatoes went bad; then we were always
hungry, although Farley McKeown, a rich merchant in the neighbouring
village, let my father have a great many bags of Indian meal on credit.
A bag contained sixteen stone of meal and cost a shilling a stone. On
the bag of meal Farley McKeown charged sixpence a month interest; and
fourpence a month on a sack of flour which cost twelve shillings. All
the people round about were very honest, and paid up their debts
whenever they were able. Usually when the young went off to Scotland or
England they sent home money to their fathers and mothers, and with this
money the parents paid for the meal to Farley McKeown. "What doesn't go
to the landlord goes to Farley McKeown," was a Glenmornan saying.

The merchant was a great friend of the parish priest, who always told
the people if they did not pay their debts they would burn for ever and
ever in hell. "The fires of eternity will make you sorry for the debts
that you did not pay," said the priest. "What is eternity?" he would
ask in a solemn voice from the altar steps. "If a man tried to count the
sands on the sea-shore and took a million years to count every single
grain, how long would it take him to count them all? A long time, you'll
say. But that time is nothing to eternity. Just think of it! Burning in
hell while a man, taking a million years to count a grain of sand,
counts all the sand on the sea-shore. And this because you did not pay
Farley McKeown his lawful debts, his lawful debts within the letter of
the law." That concluding phrase "within the letter of the law" struck
terror into all who listened, and no one, maybe not even the priest
himself, knew what it meant.

Farley McKeown would give no meal to those who had no children. "That
kind of people, who have no children to earn for them, never pay debts,"
he said. "If _they_ get meal and don't pay for it they'll go
down--down," said the priest. "'Tis God Himself that would be angry with
Farley McKeown if he gave meal to people like that."

The merchant established a great knitting industry in West Donegal. My
mother used to knit socks for him, and he paid her at the rate of one
and threepence a dozen pairs, and it was said that he made a shilling of
profit on a pair of these in England. My mother usually made a pair of
socks daily; but to do this she had to work sixteen hours at the task.
Along with this she had her household duties to look after. "A penny
farthing a day is not much to make," I once said to her. "No, indeed, if
you look at it in that way," she answered. "But it is nearly two pounds
a year and that is half the rent of our farm of land."

Every Christmas Farley McKeown paid two hundred and fifty pounds to the
church. When the priest announced this from the altar he would say,
"That's the man for you!" and all the members of the congregation would
bow their heads, feeling very much ashamed of themselves because none of
them could give more than a sixpence or a shilling to the silver
collection which always took place at the chapel of Greenanore on
Christmas Day.

When the night grew later my mother put her bright knitting-needles by
in a bowl over the fireplace, and we all went down on our knees, praying
together. Then mother said: "See and leave the door on the latch; maybe
a poor man will need shelter on a night like this." With these words she
turned the ashes over on the live peat while we got into our beds, one
by one.

There were six children in our family, three brothers and three sisters.
Of these, five slept in one room, two girls in the little bed, while
Fergus and Dan slept along with me in the other, which was much larger.
Father and mother and Kate, the smallest of us all, slept in the

When the light was out, we prayed to Mary, Brigid, and Patrick to shield
us from danger until the morning. Then we listened to the winds outside.
We could hear them gather in the dip of the valley and come sweeping
over the bend of the hill, singing great lonely songs in the darkness.
One wind whistled through the keyhole, another tapped on the window with
an ivy leaf, while a third swept under the half-door and rustled across
the hearthstone. Then the breezes died away and there was silence.

"They're only putting their heads together now," said Dan, "making up a
plan to do some other tricks."

"I see the moon through the window," said Norah.

"Who made the moon?" asked Fergus.

"It was never made," answered Dan. "It was there always."

"There is a man in the moon," I said. "He was very bad and a priest put
him up there for his sins."

"He has a pot of porridge in his hand."

"And a spoon."

"A wooden spoon."

"How could it shine at night if it's only a wooden spoon? It's made of
white silver."

"Like a shillin'."

"Like a big shillin' with a handle to it."

"What would we do if we had a shillin'?" asked Ellen.

"I'd buy a pocket-knife," said Dan.

"Would you cut me a stick to drive bullocks to the harvest fair of
Greenanore?" asked Fergus.

"And what good would be in havin' a knife if you cut sticks for other

"I'd buy a prayer-book for the shillin'," said Norah.

"A prayer-book is no good, once you get it," I said. "A knife is far and
away better."

"I would buy a sheep for a shillin'," said Fergus.

"You couldn't get a sheep for a shillin'."

"Well, I could buy a young one."

"There never was a young sheep. A young one is only a lamb."

"A lamb turns into a sheep at midsummer moon."

"Why has a lamb no horns?" asked Norah.

"Because it's young," we explained.

"We'll sing a holy song," said Ellen.

"We'll sing _Holy Mary_," we all cried together, and began to sing in
the darkness.

     "Oh! Holy Mary, mother mild.
     Look down on me, a little child.
     And when I sleep put near my bed
     The good Saint Joseph at my head,
     My guardian Angel at my right
     To keep me good through all the night;
     Saint Brigid give me blessings sweet;
     Saint Patrick watch beside my feet.
     Be good to me O! mother mild,
     Because I am a little child."

"Get a sleep on you," mother called from the next room. "The wee
red-headed man is comin' down the chimley and he is goin' to take ye
away if ye aren't quiet."

We fell asleep, and that was how the night passed by in my father's
house years ago.


[1] The evening of All Souls' Day.



     "Put a green cross beneath the roof on the eve of good Saint Bride
     And you'll have luck within the house for long past Lammastide;
     Put a green cross above the door--'tis hard to keep it green,
     But 'twill bring good luck and happiness for long past Hallow E'en
     The green cross holds Saint Brigid's spell, and long the spell
     And 'twill bring blessings on the head of you and all that's

     --From _The Song of Simple People_.

Once a year, on Saint Bride's Eve, my father came home from his day's
work, carrying a load of green rushes on his shoulders. At the door he
would stand for a moment with his feet on the threshold and say these

"Saint Bride sends her blessings to all within. Give her welcome."

Inside my mother would answer, "Welcome she is," and at these words my
father would loosen the shoulder-knot and throw his burden on the floor.
Then he made crosses from the rushes, wonderful crosses they were. It
was said that my father was the best at that kind of work in all the
countryside. When made, they were placed in various parts of the house
and farm. They were hung up in our home, over the lintel of the door,
the picture of the Holy Family, the beds, the potato pile and the
fireplace. One was placed over the spring well, one in the pig-sty, and
one over the roof-tree of the byre. By doing this the blessing of Saint
Bride remained in the house for the whole of the following year. I
liked to watch my father plaiting the crosses, but I could never make
one myself.

When my mother churned milk she lifted the first butter that formed on
the top of the cream and placed it against the wall outside the door. It
was left there for the fairy folk when they roamed through the country
at midnight. They would not harm those who gave them an offering in that
manner, but the people who forgot them would have illness among their
cattle through all the length of the year.

If my father met a red-haired woman when he was going to the market he
would turn home. To meet a red-haired woman on the high-road is very

It is a bad market where there are more women than men. "Two women and a
goose make a market," is the saying among the Glenmornan folk.

If my mother chanced to overturn the milk which she had drawn from the
cow, she would say these words: "Our loss go with it. Them that it goes
to need it more than we do." One day I asked her who were the people to
whom it went. "The gentle folk," she told me. These were the fairies.

You very seldom hear persons called by their surname in Glenmornan.
Every second person you meet there is either a Boyle or an O'Donnell.
You want to ask a question about Hugh O'Donnell. "Is it Patrick's Hugh
or Mickey's Hugh or Sean's Hugh?" you will be asked. So too in the Glen
you never say _Mrs._ when speaking of a married woman. It is just
"Farley's Brigid" or "Patrick's Norah" or "Cormac's Ellen," as the case
may be. There was one woman in Glenmornan who had a little boy of about
my age, and she seldom spoke to anybody on the road to chapel or market.
Everyone seemed to avoid her, and the old people called her "that
woman," and they often spoke about her doings. She had never a man of
her own, they said. Of course I didn't understand these things, but I
knew there was a great difference in being called somebody's Mary or
Norah instead of "that woman."

On St. Stephen's Day the Glenmornan boys beat the bushes and killed as
many wrens as they could lay their hands on. The wren is a bad bird, for
it betrayed St. Stephen to the Jews when they wanted to put him to
death. The saint hid in a clump of bushes, but the wrens made such a
chatter and clatter that the Jews, when passing, stopped to see what
annoyed the birds, and found the saint hiding in the undergrowth. No
wonder then that the Glenmornan people have a grudge against the wren!

Kissing is almost unknown in the place where I was born and bred. Judas
betrayed the Son of God with a kiss, which proves beyond a doubt that
kissing is of the devil's making. It is no harm to kiss the dead in
Glenmornan, for no one can do any harm to the dead.

Once I got bitten by a dog. The animal snapped a piece of flesh from my
leg and ate it when he got out of the way. When I came into my own house
my father and mother were awfully frightened. If three hairs of the dog
that bit me were not placed against the sore I would go mad before seven
moons had faded. Oiney Dinchy, who owned the dog, would not give me
three hairs because I was unfortunate enough to be stealing apples when
the dog rushed at me. For all that it mattered to Oiney, I might go as
mad as a March hare. The priest, when informed of the trouble, blessed
salt which he told my father to place on the wound. My father did so,
but the salt pained me so much that I rushed screaming from the house.
The next door neighbours ran into their homes and closed their doors
when they heard me scream. Two little girls were coming to our house for
the loan of a half-bottle of holy water for a sick cow, and when they
saw me rush out they fled hurriedly, shrieking that I was already mad
from the bite of Oiney Dinchy's dog. When Oiney heard this he got
frightened and he gave my father three hairs of the dog with a civil
hand. I placed them on my sore, the dog was hung by a rope from the
branch of a tree, and the madness was kept away from me. I hear that
nowadays in Glenmornan the people never apply the holy salt to the bite
of a dog. Thus do old customs change.

The six-hand reel is a favourite Glenmornan dance, but in my time a new
parish priest came along who did not approve of dancing. "The six-hand
reel is a circle, the centre of which is the devil," said he, and called
a house in which a dance was held the "Devil's Station." He told the
people to cease dancing, but they would not listen to him. "When we get
a new parish priest we don't want a new God," they said. "The old God
who allowed dancing is good enough for us." The priest put the seven
curses on the people who said these words. I only know three of the
seven curses.

     May you have one leg and it to be halting.
     May you have one eye and it to be squinting
     May you have one tooth and it to be aching.

The second curse fell on one man--old Oiney Dinchy, who had a light foot
on a good floor. When tying a restive cow in the byre, the animal caught
Oiney in the ball of one eye with the point of its horn, and Oiney could
only see through the other eye afterwards. The people when they saw this
feared the new parish priest, but they never took any heed to the new
God, and up to this day there are many good six-hand reelers in
Glenmornan. And the priest is dead.

The parish priest who came in his place was a little pot-bellied man
with white shiny false teeth, who smoked ninepenny cigars and who always
travelled first-class in a railway train. Everybody feared him because
he put curses on most of the people in Glenmornan; and usually on the
people whom I thought best in the world. Those whom I did not like at
all became great friends of the priest. I always left the high-road when
I saw him coming. His name was Father Devaney, and he was eternally
looking for money from the people, who, although very poor, always paid
when the priest commanded them. If they did not they would go to hell as
soon as they died. So Father Devaney said.

A stranger in Glenmornan should never talk about crows. The people of
the Glen are nicknamed the "Crow Chasers," because once in the bad days,
the days of the potato failure, they chased for ten long hours a crow
that had stolen a potato, and took back the potato at night in triumph.
This has been cast up in their teeth ever since, and it is an ill day
for a stranger when he talks about crows to the Glenmornan people.

Courtship is unknown in Glenmornan. When a young man takes it in his
head to marry, he goes out in company with a friend and a bottle of
whisky and looks for a woman. If one refuses, the young man looks for
another and another until the bottle of whisky is consumed. The friend
talks to the girl's father and lays great stress upon the merits of the
would-be husband, who meanwhile pleads his suit with the girl. Sometimes
a young man empties a dozen bottles of whisky before he can persuade a
woman to marry him.

In my own house we had flesh meat to dinner four times each year, on St.
Patrick's Day, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. If the
harvest had been a good one we took bacon with our potatoes at the
ingathering of the hay. Ours was a hay harvest; we grew very little

Of all the seasons of the year I liked the harvest-time best. Looking
from the door of my father's house I had the whole of Glenmornan under
my eyes. Far down the Glen the road wound in and out, now on one side of
the river and now on the other, running away to the end of Ireland, and
for all that I knew, maybe to the end of the world itself.

The river came from the hills, tumbling over rocks in showers of fine
white mist and forming into deep pools beneath, where it rested calmly
after its mad race. Here the trout leaped all day, and turned the placid
surface into millions of petulant ripples which broke like waves under
the hazel bushes that shaded the banks. In the fords further along the
heavy milch cows stood belly-deep in the stream, seeking relief from the
madness that the heat and the gad-flies put into their blood.

The young cattle grazed on the braes, keeping well in the shadow of the
cliffs, while from the hill above the mountain-sheep followed one
another in single file, as is their wont, down to the lower and sweeter

The mowers were winding their scythes in long heavy sweeps through the
meadow in the bottomlands, and rows of mown hay lay behind them. Even
where I stood, far up, I could hear the sharp swish of their scythes as
they cut through the bottom grass.

The young maidens, their legs bare well above their knees, tramped linen
at the brookside and laughed merrily at every joke that passed between

The neighbours spoke to one another across the march ditches, and their
talk was of the weather and the progress of the harvest.

The farmer boy could be seen going to the moor for a load of peat, his
creel swinging in a careless way across his shoulders and his hands deep
in his trousers' pockets. He was barefooted, and the brown moss was all
over the calves of his legs. He was thinking of something as he walked
along and he looked well in his torn shirt and old hat. Many a time I
wondered what were the thoughts which filled his mind.

Now and again a traveller passed along the road, looking very tired as
he dragged his legs after him. His hob-nailed boots made a rasping sound
on the grey gravel, and it was hard to tell where he was going.

One day a drover passed along, driving his herd of wild-eyed, panting
bullocks before him. He was a little man and he carried a heavy cudgel
of a stick in his hands. I went out to the road to see him passing and
also to speak to him if he took any notice of a little fellow.

"God's blessing be on every beast under your care," I said, repeating
the words which my mother always said to the drovers which she met. "Is
it any harm to ask you where you are going?"

"I'm goin' to the fair of 'Derry," said he.

"Is 'Derry fair as big as the fair of Greenanore, good man?"

He laughed at my question, and I could see his teeth black with tobacco
juice. "Greenanore!" he exclaimed. "'Derry fair is a million times

Of course I didn't believe him, for had I not been at the harvest-fair
of Greenanore myself, and I thought that there could be nothing greater
in all the seven corners of the world. But it was in my world and I knew
more of the bigger as the years went on.

In those days the world, to me, meant something intangible, which lay
beyond the farthest blue line of mountains which could be seen from
Glenmornan Hill. And those mountains were ever so far away! How many
snug little houses, white under their coatings of cockle lime, how many
wooden bridges spanning hurrying streams, and how many grey roads
crossing brown moors lay between Glenmornan Hill and the last blue line
of mountain tops that looked over into the world for which I longed with
all the wistfulness of youth, I did not know.



     "When brown trout leap in ev'ry burn, when hares are scooting on
       the brae,
     When rabbits frisk where e'er you turn, 'tis sad to waste your
       hours away
     Within bald Learning's droning hive with pen and pencil, rod and
     Oh! the unhappiest soul alive is oft a little lad at school."

     --From _The Man who Met the Scholars_.

I did not like school. My father could neither read nor write, and he
didn't trouble much about my education.

The priest told him to send me to the village school, and I was sent

"The priest should know what is best," my father said.

The master was a little man with a very large stomach. He was short of
breath, and it was very funny to hear him puffing on a very warm day,
when the sweat ran down his face and wetted his collar. The people about
thought that he was very wise, and said that he could talk a lot of
wisdom if he were not so short of breath. Whenever he sat by the school
fire he fell asleep. Everyone said that though very wise the man was
very lazy. When he got to his feet after a sleep he went about the
schoolroom grunting like a sick cow. For the first six months at school
I felt frightened of him, after that I disliked him. He beat me about
three times a day. He cut hazel rods on his way to school, and used them
every five minutes when not asleep. Nearly all the scholars cried
whenever they were beaten, but I never did. I think this was one of his
strongest reasons for hating me more than any of the rest. I learned
very slowly, and never could do my sums correctly, but I liked to read
the poems in the more advanced books and could recite _Childe Harold's
Farewell_ when only in the second standard.

When I was ten years of age I left school, being then only in the third
book. This was the way of it. One day, when pointing out places on the
map of the world, the master came round, and the weather being hot the
man was in a bad temper.

"Point out Corsica, Dermod Flynn," he said.

I had not the least idea as to what part of the world Corsica occupied,
and I stood looking awkwardly at the master and the map in turn. I think
that he enjoyed my discomfited expression, for he gazed at me in silence
for a long while.

"Dermod Flynn, point out Corsica," he repeated.

"I don't know where it is," I answered sullenly.

"I'll teach you!" he roared, getting hold of my ear and pulling it
sharply. The pain annoyed me; I got angry and hardly was aware of what I
was doing. I just saw his eyes glowering into mine. I raised the pointer
over my head and struck him right across the face. Then a red streak ran
down the side of his nose and it frightened me to see it.

"Dermod Flynn has killed the master!" cried a little girl whose name was
Norah Ryan and who belonged to the same class as myself.

I was almost certain that I had murdered him, for he dropped down on the
form by the wall without speaking a word and placed both his hands over
his face. For a wee bit I stood looking at him; then I caught up my cap
and rushed out of the school.

Next day, had it not been for the red mark on his face, the master was
as well as ever. But I never went back to school again. My father did
not believe much in book learning, so he sent me out to work for the
neighbours who required help at the seed-time or harvest. Sixpence a day
was my wages, and the work in the fields was more to my liking than the
work at the school.

Whenever I passed the scholars on the road afterwards they said to one
another: "Just think of it! Dermod Flynn struck the master across the
face when he was at the school."

Always I felt very proud of my action when I heard them say that. It was
a great thing for a boy of my age to stand up on his feet and strike a
man who was four times his age. Even the young men spoke of my action
and, what was more, they praised my courage. They had been at school
themselves and they did not like the experience.

Nowadays, whenever I look at Corsica on the map, I think of old Master
Diver and the days I spent under him in the little Glenmornan



     "Where the people toil like beasts in the field till their bones
       are strained and sore,
     There the landlord waits, like the plumbless grave, calling out for
     Money to flounce his daughters' gowns or clothe his spouse's hide,
     Money so that his sons can learn to gamble, shoot, and ride;
     And for every debt of honour paid and for every dress and frill,
     The blood of the peasant's wife and child goes out to meet the

     --From _The Song of the Glen People_.

I was nearly twelve years old when Dan, my youngest brother, died. It
was in the middle of winter, and he was building a snow-man in front of
the half-door when he suddenly complained of a pain in his throat.
Mother put him to bed and gave him a drink of hot milk. She did not send
for the doctor because there was no money in the house to pay the bill.
Dan lay in bed all the evening and many of the neighbours came in to see
him. Towards midnight I was sent to bed, but before going I heard my
father ask mother if she thought that Dan would live till morning. I
could not sleep, but kept turning over in the bed and praying to the
Blessed Virgin to save my little brother. The new moon, sharp as a
scythe, was peeping through the window of my room when my mother came to
my bed and told me to rise and kiss Dan for the last time. She turned
her face away as she spoke, and I knew that she was weeping. My brother
was lying on the bed, gazing up at the ceiling with wide-staring eyes.
A crimson flush was on his face and his breath pained him. I bent down
and pressed his cheek. I was afraid, and the kiss made my lips burn like
fire. The three of us then stood together and my father shook the holy
water all over the room. All at once Dan sat up in the bed and gripped a
tight hold of the blankets. I wanted to run out of the room but my
mother would not let me.

"Are ye wantin' anything?" asked my father, bending over the bed, but
there was no answer. My brother fell back on the bed and his face got
very white.

"Poor Dan is no more," said my father, the tears coming out of his eyes.
'Twas the first time I ever saw him weeping, and I thought it very
strange. My mother went to the window and opened it in order to let the
soul of my brother go away to heaven.

"It is all in the hands of God," she said. "He is only taking back what
He sent us."

There was silence in the room for a long while. My father and mother
wept, and I was afraid of something which was beyond my understanding.

"Will Dan ever come back again?" I asked.

"Hush, dearie!" said my mother.

"It will take a lot of money to bury the poor boy," said my father. "It
costs a good penny to rear one, but it's a bad job when one is taken

I had once seen an old woman buried--"Old Nan," the beggarwoman. For
many years she had passed up and down Glenmornan Road, collecting
bottles and rags, which she paid for in blessings and afterwards sold
for pence. Being wrinkled, heavy-boned, and bearded like a man, everyone
said that she was a witch. One summer Old Nan died, and two days later
she was carried to the little graveyard. I played truant from school and
followed the sweating men who were carrying the coffin on their
shoulders. They seemed to be well-pleased when they came in sight of the
churchyard and the cold silent tombstones.

"The old witch was as heavy as lead," I heard the bearers say.

They set down their burden and dug a hole in the soft earth, throwing up
black clay and white bones to the surface with their shovels. The bones
looked like those of sheep which die on the hills and are left to rot.
The air was heavy with the humming of bees, and a little brook sang a
soft song of its own as it hurried past the graveyard wall. The upturned
earth had a sickly smell like mildewed corn. Some of the diggers knew
whose bone this was and whose that was, but they had a hard argument
about a thigh-bone before Old Nan was put into the earth. Some said that
the thigh-bone belonged to old Farley Kelly, who had died many years
before, and others said that it belonged to Farley's wife. I thought it
a curious thing that people could not know the difference between a man
and a woman when dead. While the men were discussing the thigh-bone it
was left lying on the black clay which fringed the mouth of the grave,
and a long earth-worm crawled across it. A man struck at the worm with
his spade and broke the bone into three pieces. The worm was cut in two,
and it fell back into the grave while one of the diggers threw the
splinters of bone on top of it. Then they buried Old Nan, and everyone
seemed very light-hearted over the job. Why shouldn't they feel merry?
She was only an old witch, anyhow. But I did not feel happy. The grave
looked a cold cheerless place and the long crawling worms were ugly.

So our poor Dan would go down into the dark earth like Old Nan, the
witch! The thought frightened me, and I began to cry with my father and
mother, and we were all three weeping still, but more quietly, when the
first dim light of the lonely dawn came stealing through the window

Two old sisters, Martha and Bride, lived next door. My mother asked me
to go out and tell them about Dan's death. I ran out quickly, and I
found both women up and at work washing dishes beside the dresser.
Martha had a tin basin in her hand, and she let it drop to the floor
when I delivered my message. Bride held a jug, and it seemed for a
moment that she was going to follow her sister's example, but all at
once she called to mind that the jug was made of delft, so she placed it
on the dresser, and both followed me back to my home. Once there they
asked many questions about Dan, his sickness and how he came to die.
When they had heard all, they told of several herbs and charms which
would have cured the illness at once. Dandelion dipped in rock water, or
bogbine[2] boiled for two hours in the water of the marsh from which it
was plucked, would have worked wonders. Also seven drops of blood from a
cock that never crowed, or the boiled liver of a rabbit that never
crossed a white road, were the very best things to give to a sick
person. So they said, and when Bride tried to recollect some more
certain cures Martha kept repeating the old ones until I was almost
tired of listening to her voice.

"Why did ye not take in the docthor?" asked Martha.

"We had no money in the house," said my mother.

"An' did ye not sell half a dozen sheep at the fair the day afore
yesterday?" asked Bride. "I'm sure that ye got a good penny for them
same sheep."

"We did that," said my mother; "but the money is for the landlord's rent
and the priest's tax."

At that time the new parish priest, the little man with the pot-belly
and the shiny false teeth, was building a grand new house. Farley
McKeown had given five hundred pounds towards the cost of building,
which up to now amounted to one thousand five hundred pounds. So the
people said, but they were not quite sure. The cost of building was not
their business, that was the priest's; all the people had to do was to
pay their tax, which amounted to five pounds on every family in the
parish. They were allowed five years in which to pay it. On two
occasions my father was a month late in paying the money and the priest
put a curse on him each time. So my father said. I have only a very
faint recollection of these things which took place when I was quite a
little boy.

"God be good to us! but five pounds is a heavy tax for even a priest to
put on poor people," said Bride.

"It's not for us to say anything against a priest, no matter what he
does," said my father, crossing himself.

"I don't care what ye say, Michael Flynn," said the old woman; "five
pounds is a big tax to pay. The priest is spending three hundred gold
sovereigns in making a lava-thury (lavatory). Three hundred sovereigns!
that's a waste of money."

"Lava-thury?" said my mother. "And what would that be at all?"

"It's myself that does not know," answered Bride. "But old Oiney Dinchy
thinks that it is a place for keeping holy water."

"Poor wee Dan," said Martha, looking at the white face in the bed. "It's
the hard way that death has with it always. He was a lively boy only
three days ago. Wasn't it then that he came over to our house and tied
the dog's tail to the bundle of yarn that just came from Farley
McKeown's. I was angry with the dear little rascal, too; God forgive

Then Martha and Bride began to cry together, one keeping time with the
other, but when my mother got ready some tea they sat down and drank a
great deal of it.

A great number of neighbours came in during the day. They all said
prayers by Dan's bedside, then they drank whisky and tea and smoked my
father's tobacco. For two nights my dead brother was waked. Every day
fresh visitors came, and for these my father had to buy extra food,
snuff, and tobacco, so that the little money in his possession was
sliding through his fingers like water in a sieve.

On the day of the funeral Dan went to the grave in a little deal box
which my father himself fashioned. They would not let me go and see the

In the evening when my parents came back their eyes were red as fire and
they were still crying. We sat round the peat blaze and Dan's stool was
left vacant. We expected that he would return at any moment. We children
could not understand the strange silent thing called Death. The oil lamp
was not lighted. There was no money in the house to pay for oil.

"There's very little left now," said my mother late that night, as I was
turning in to bed. She was speaking to my father. "Wasn't there big
offerings?" she asked.

Everybody who comes to a Catholic funeral in Donegal pays a shilling to
the priest who conducts the burial service, and the nearest blood
relation always pays five shillings, and is asked to give more if he can
afford it. Money lifted thus is known as offerings, and all goes to the
priest, who takes in hand to shorten the sufferings of the souls in

"Eight pounds nine shillings," said my father. "It's a big penny. The
priest was talking to me, and says that he wants another pound for his
new house at once. I'm over three weeks behind, and if he puts a curse
on me this time what am I to do at all, at all?"

"What you said is the only thing to be done," my mother said. I did not
understand what these words meant, and I was afraid to ask a question.

"It's the only thing to be done," she remarked again, and after that
there was a long silence.

"Dermod, asthor[3]!" she said all at once. "Come next May, ye must go
beyont the mountains to push yer fortune, pay the priest, and make up
the rent for the Hallow E'en next coming."


[2] Marsh trefoil.

[3] Darling.



     "My mother's love for me is warm,
       Her house is cold and bare,
     A man who wants to see the world
       Has little comfort there;
     And there 'tis hard to pay the rent,
       For all you dig and delve,
     But there's hope beyond the Mountains
       For a little Man of Twelve."

     --From _The Man of Twelve_.

When the following May came round, I had been working at the
turnip-thinning with a neighbouring man, and one evening I came back to
my own home in the greyness of the soft dusk. It had been a long day's
work, from seven in the morning to nine of the clock at night. A boy can
never have too much time to himself and too little to do, but I was kept
hard at work always, and never had a moment to run about the lanes or
play by the burns with other children. Indeed, I did not care very much
for the company of boys of my own age. Because I was strong for my years
I despised them, and in turn I was despised by the youths who were older
than myself. "Too-long-for-your-trousers" they called me, and I believe
that I merited the nickname, for I wished ever so much to grow up
quickly and be able to carry a creel of peat like Jim Scanlon, or drive
a horse and cart with Ned O'Donnel, who lived next door but one to my
father's house.

Sometimes I would go out for a walk with these two men on a Sunday
afternoon, that is, if they allowed me to accompany them. I listened
eagerly to every word spoken by them and used to repeat their remarks
aloud to myself afterwards. Sometimes I would speak like them in my own

"Isn't it a shame the way Connel Diver of the hill treats his wife," I
said to my father and mother one day. "He goes out in the evening and
courts Widow Breslin when he should stay at home with his own woman."

"Dermod, asthor! What puts them ideas into yer head?" asked my mother.
"What d'ye know abot Connel Diver and the Widow Breslin?"

"It's them two vagabonds, Micky's Jim and Dinchy's Ned, that's tellin'
him these things," said my father; "but let me never catch him goin' out
of the door with any of the pair of them again."

Whatever was the reason of it, I liked the company of the two youths a
great deal more afterwards.

On this May evening, as I was saying, I came back from the day's work
and found my mother tying all my spare clothes into a large brown

"Ye're goin' away beyont the mountains in the mornin', Dermod," she
said. "Ye have to go out and push yer fortune. We must get some money to
pay the rent come Hallow E'en, and as ye'll get a bigger penny workin'
with the farmers away there, me and yer da have thought of sendin' ye to
the hirin'-fair of Strabane on the morra."

I had been dreaming of this journey for months before, and I never felt
happier in all my life than I did when my mother spoke these words. I
clapped my hands with pure joy, danced in front of the door, and threw
my cap into the air.

"Are ye not sorry at leavin' home?" my mother asked, and from her manner
of speaking I knew that she was not pleased to see me so happy.

"What would I be sorry for?" I asked, and ran off to tell Micky's Jim
about the journey which lay before me the next morning. Didn't I feel
proud, too, when Micky's Jim, who had spent many seasons at the potato
digging in Scotland, shook hands with me just the same as if I had been
a full-grown man. Indeed, I felt that I was a man when I returned to my
own doorstep and saw the preparations that were being made for my
departure. Everyone was hard at work, my sisters sewing buttons on my
clothes, my mother putting a new string in the _Medal of the Sacred
Heart_ which I had to wear around my neck when far away from her
keeping, and my father hammering nails into my boots so that they would
last me through the whole summer and autumn.

That night when we were on our knees at the Rosary, I mumbled through my
prayers, made a mistake in the number of _Hail Marys_, and forgot
several times to respond to the prayers of the others. No one said a
word of reproof, and I felt that I had become a very important person. I
thought that my mother wept during the prayers, but of this I was not
quite certain.

"Rise up, Dermod," said my mother, touching me on the shoulder next
morning. "The white arm of the dawn is stealin' over the door, and it is
time ye were out on yer journey."

I took my breakfast, but did not feel very hungry. At the last moment my
mother looked through my bundle to see if I had everything which I
needed, then, with my father's blessings and my mother's prayers, I went
out from my people in the grey of the morning.

A pale mist was rising off the braes as I crossed the wooden bridge that
lay between my home and the leading road to Greenanore. There was hardly
a move in the wind, and the green grass by the roadside was heavy with
drops of dew. Under the bridge a salmon jumped, all at once, breaking
the pool into a million strips of glancing water. As I leant over the
rails I could see, far down, a large trout waving his tail in slow easy
sweeps and opening and closing his mouth rapidly as if he was out of
breath. He was almost the colour of the sand on which he was lying.

I stopped for a moment at the bend of the road, and looked back at my
home. My father was standing at the door waving his hand, and I saw my
mother rub her eyes with the corner of her apron. I thought that she was
crying, but I did not trouble myself very much about that, for I knew
women are very fond of weeping. I waved my hand over my head, then I
turned round the corner and went out of their sight, feeling neither
sorry nor afraid.

I met Norah Ryan on the road. She had been my schoolmate, and when we
were in the class together I had liked to look at her soft creamy skin
and grey eyes. She always put me in mind of pictures of angels that were
hung on the walls of the little chapel in the village. Her mother was
going to send her into a convent when she left school--so the neighbours

"Where are ye for this morning, Dermod Flynn?" she asked.

"Beyond the mountains," I told her.

"Ye'll not come back for a long while, will ye?"

I said that I would never come back, just to see how she took it, and I
was very vexed when she just laughed and walked on. I felt sorrier
leaving her than leaving anyone else whom I knew, and I stood and looked
back after her many, many times, but she never turned even to bid me

On the road several boys and girls, all bound for the hiring market of
Strabane, joined me. When we were all together there was none amongst us
over fourteen years of age. The girls carried their boots in their
hands. They were so used to running barefooted on the moors that they
found themselves more comfortable walking along the gritty road in that
manner. While journeying to the station they sang out bravely, all
except one girl, who was crying, but no one paid very much heed to her.
A boy of fourteen who was one of the party had been away before. His
shoulders were very broad, his legs were twisted and his body was all
awry. Some said that he was born in a frost and that he got slewed in a
thaw. He smoked a short clay pipe which he drew from his mouth when the
girls started singing.

"Sing away now, ye will!" he cried. "Ye'll not sing much afore ye're
long away." For all that he was singing louder than any three of the
party himself before we arrived at the railway station.

The platform was crowded. I saw youngsters who had come a distance of
twelve miles and who had been travelling all night. They looked worn out
and sleepy. With some of the children fathers and mothers came.

"We are goin' to drive a hard bargain with the masters," some of the
parents said.

"Some of them won't bring in a good penny because they're played out on
the long tramp to the station," said others.

They meant no disrespect for their children, but their words put me in
mind of the manner of speaking of drovers who sell bullocks at the
harvest-fair of Greenanore.

There was a rush for seats when the train came in and nearly every
carriage became crowded in an instant. There were over twenty in my
compartment, some standing, a few sitting, but most of us trying to look
out of the windows. Next to us was a first-class carriage, and I noticed
that it contained only one single person. I had never been in a railway
train before and I knew very little about things.

"Why is there only one man in there, while twenty of us are crammed in
here?" I asked the boy with the clay pipe, for he happened to be beside

My friend looked at me with the pride of one who knows.

"Shure, ye know nothin'," he answered. "That man's a gintleman."

"I would like to be a gintleman," I said in all simplicity.

"Ye a gintleman!" roared the boy. "Ye haven't a white shillin' between
ye an' the world an' ye talk as if ye were a king. A gintleman, indeed!
What put that funny thought into yer head, Dermod Flynn?"

After a while the boy spoke again.

"D'ye know who that gintleman is?" he asked.

"I don't know at all," I answered.

"That's the landlord who owns yer father's land and many a broad acre

Then I knew what a gentleman really was. He was the monster who grabbed
the money from the people, who drove them out to the roadside, who took
six ears of every seven ears of corn produced by the peasantry; the man
who was hated by all men, yet saluted on the highways by most of the
people when they met him. He had taken the money which might have saved
my brother's life, and it was on account of him that I had now to set
out to the Calvary of mid-Tyrone. I went out on the platform again and
stole a glance at the man. He was small, thin-lipped, and ugly-looking.
I did not think much of him, and I wondered why the Glenmornan people
feared him so much.

We stood huddled together like sheep for sale in the market-place of
Strabane. Over our heads the town clock rang out every passing quarter
of an hour. I had never in my life before seen a clock so big. I felt
tired and placed my bundle on the kerbstone and sat down upon it. A
girl, one of my own country-people, looked at me.

"Sure, ye'll never get a man to hire ye if ye're seen sitting there,"
she said.

I got up quickly, feeling very much ashamed to know that a girl was able
to teach me things. It wouldn't have mattered so much if a boy had told

There was great talk going on about the Omagh train. The boys who had
been sold at the fair before said that the best masters came from near
the town of Omagh, and so everyone waited eagerly until eleven o'clock,
the hour at which the train was due.

It was easy to know when the Omagh men came, for they overcrowded an
already big market. Most of them were fat, angry-looking fellows, who
kept moving up and down examining us after the manner of men who seek
out the good and bad points of horses which they intend to buy.

Sometimes they would speak to each other, saying that they never saw
such a lousy and ragged crowd of servants in the market-place in all
their life before, and they did not seem to care even if we overheard
them say these things. On the whole I had no great liking for the Omagh

A big man with a heavy stomach came up to me.

"How much do ye want for the six months?" he asked.

"Six pounds," I told him.

"Shoulders too narrow for the money," he said, more to himself than to
me, and walked on.

Standing beside me was an old father, who had a son and daughter for
sale. The girl looked pale and sickly. She had a cough that would split
a rock.

"Arrah, an' will ye whisth that coughin'!" said her brother, time and
again. "Sure, ye know that no wan will give ye wages if ye go on in that

The father never spoke. I suppose he felt that there was nothing to be
said. During one of these fits of coughing an evil-faced farmer who was
looking for a female servant came around and asked the old man what
wages did he want for his daughter.

"Five pounds," said the old man, and there was a tremble in his voice
when he spoke.

"And maybe the cost of buryin' her," said the farmer with a white laugh
as he passed on his way.

High noon had just passed when a youngish man, curiously old in
appearance, stood in front of me. His shoulders were very broad, and one
of them was far higher than the other. His waist was slender like a
girl's, but his buttocks were heavy out of all proportion to his thin
waist and slim slivers of shanks.

"Six pounds!" he repeated when I told him what wages I desired. "It's a
big penny to give a wee man. I'll give ye a five-pound note for the six
months and not one white sixpence more."

He struck me on the back while he spoke as if to test the strength of my
spine, then ran his fingers over my shoulder and squeezed the thick of
my arm so tightly that I almost roared in his face with the pain of it.
After a long wrangle I wrung an offer of five pounds ten shillings for
my wages and I was his for six months to come.

"Now gi' me your bundle and come along," he said.

I handed him my parcel of clothes and followed him through the streets,
leaving the crowd of wrangling masters and obdurate boys fighting over
final sixpences behind me. My master kept talking most of the time, and
this was how he kept going on.

"What is yer name? Dermod Flynn? A Papist?--all Donegals are Papists.
That doesn't matter to me, for if ye're a good willin' worker me and ye
'ill get on grand. I suppose ye'll have a big belly. It'll be hard to
fill. Are ye hungry now? I suppose yer teeth will be growin' long with
starvation, so I'll see if I can get ye anything to ate."

We turned up a little side street, passed under a low archway and went
into an inn kitchen, where a young woman with a very red face was
bending over a frying-pan on which she was turning many thick slices of
bacon. The odour caused my stomach to feel empty.

"This is a new cub that I got, Mary," said the man to the servant. "He's
a Donegal like yerself and he's hungry. Give him some tay and bread."

"And some butter," added Mary, looking at me.

"How much is the butter extra?" asked my master.

"Tuppence," said Mary.

"I don't think that this cub cares for butter. D'ye?" he asked, turning
to me.

"I like butter," I said.

"Who'd have thought of that, now?" he said, and he did not look at all
pleased. "Ye can wait here," he continued, "and I'll come back for ye in
a wee while and the two of us can go along to my farm together."

He went out and left me alone with the servant. As he passed the window,
on his way to the street, Mary put her thumb to her nose and spread her
fingers out towards him.

"I hate Orangemen," she said to me; "and that pig of a Bennet is wan of
the worst of the breedin'. Ah, the old slobber-chops! See and keep up
yer own end of the house with him, anyhow, and never let the vermint
tramp over you."

She made ready a pot of tea, gave me some bread and butter and two
rashers of bacon.

"Ate yer hearty fill now, Dermod," said the good-natured girl; "for
ye'll not get a dacent male for the next six months."

And I didn't.



     "Since two can't gain in the bargain,
       Then who shall bear the loss
     When little children are auctioned
       As slaves at the Market Cross?
     Come to the Cross and the Market,
       Where the wares of the world are sold,
     And the wares are little children,
       Traded for pieces of gold."

     --From _Good Bargains_.

My master's name was Bennet--Joe Bennet. He owned a farm of some eighty
acres and kept ten milch cows, two cart-horses, and twenty sheep. He
possessed a spring-cart, but he seldom used it. It had been procured at
one time for taking the family to church, but they were ashamed to put
any of the cart-horses between the shafts, and no wonder. One of the
horses was spavined and the other was covered with angleberries.

He brought me home from Strabane on the old cart drawn by the spavined
horse, and though it was well past midnight when we returned I had to
wash the vehicle before I turned into bed. My supper consisted of
buttermilk and potatoes, which were served up on the table in the
kitchen. The first object that encountered my eye was a large picture of
_King William Crossing the Boyne_, hung from a nail over the fireplace
and almost brown with age. I hated the picture from the moment I set
eyes on it, and though my dislikes are short-lived they are intense
while they last. This picture almost assumed an orange tint before I
left, and many a time I used to spit at it out of pure spite when left
alone in the kitchen.

The household consisted of five persons, Bennet, his father and mother,
and two sisters. He was always quarrelling with his two sisters, who, in
addition to being wasp-waisted and spider-shanked, were peppery-tongued
and salt-tempered, but he never got the best of the argument. The two
hussies could talk the head off a drum. The old father was half-doting,
and he never spoke to anybody but me. He sat all day in the
chimney-corner, rubbing one skinny hand over the other, and kicking the
dog if ever it happened to draw near the fire. When he spoke to me it
was to point out some fault which I had committed at my work.

The woman of the house was bent like the rim of a dish from constant
stooping over her work. She got up in the morning before anyone else and
trudged about in the yard all day, feeding the hens, washing the linen,
weeding the walk or seeing after the cows. I think that she had a liking
for me. One day when I was working beside her in the cabbage patch she
said these words to me:

"It's a pity you're a Papist, Dermod."

I suppose she meant it in good part, but her talk made me angry.

My bedroom was placed on the second floor, and a rickety flight of
stairs connected the apartment with the kitchen. My room was comfortable
enough when the weather was good, but when it was wet the rain often
came in by the roof and soaked through my blankets. But the hard work on
Bennet's farm made me so tired that a wet blanket could not keep me from
sleeping. In the morning I was called at five o'clock and sent out to
wash potatoes in a pond near the house. Afterwards they were boiled in a
pot over the kitchen fire, and when cooked they were eaten by the pigs
and me. I must say that I was allowed to pick the best potatoes for
myself, and I got a bowl of buttermilk to wash them down. The pigs got
buttermilk also. This was my breakfast during the six months. For dinner
I had potatoes and buttermilk, for supper buttermilk and potatoes. I
never got tea in the afternoon. The Bennets took tea themselves, but I
suppose they thought that such a luxury was unnecessary for me.

I always went down on my knees at the bedside to say my prayers. I knew
that young Bennet did not like this, so I always left my door wide open
that he might see me praying as he passed by on the way to his own

From the moment of my arrival I began to realise that the Country beyond
the Mountains, as the people at home call Tyrone, was not the best place
in the world for a man of twelve. Sadder than that it was for me to
learn that I was not worthy of the name of man at all. Many and many a
time did Bennet say that he was paying me a man's wages while I was only
fit for a child's work. Sometimes when carrying burdens with him I would
fall under the weight, and upon seeing this he would discard his own,
run forward, and with arms on hips, wait until I rose from the ground

"Whoever saw such a thing!" he would say and shake his head. "I thought
that I got a man at the hirin'-fair." He drawled out his words slowly as
if each one gave him pleasure in pronouncing it. He affected a certain
weariness in his tones to me by which he meant to imply that he might,
as a wise man, have been prepared for such incompetency on my part. "I
thought that I had a man! I thought that I had a man!" he would keep
repeating until I rose to my feet. Then he would return to his own
burden and wait until my next stumble, when he would repeat the same
performance all over again.

Being a Glenmornan man, I held my tongue between my teeth, but the
eternal persecution was wearing me down. By nature being generous and
impulsive, I looked with kindly wonder on everything and everybody. I
loved my brothers and sisters, honoured my father and mother, liked the
neighbours in my own townland, and they always had a kind word for me,
even when working for them at so much a day. But Bennet was a man whom I
did not understand. To him I was not a human being, a boy with an
appetite and a soul. I was merely a ware purchased in the market-place,
something less valuable than a plough, and of no more account than a
barrow. I felt my position from the first. I, to Bennet, represented
five pounds ten shillings' worth of goods bought at the market-place,
and the buyer wanted, as a business man, to have his money's worth. The
man was, of course, within his rights; everybody wants the worth of
their money, and who was I, a boy bought for less than a spavined horse,
to rail against the little sorrows which Destiny imposed upon me? I was
only an article of exchange, something which represented so much amidst
the implements and beasts of the farm; but having a heart and soul I
felt the position acutely.

I worked hard whenever Bennet remained close by me, but I must admit
that I idled a lot of the time when he was away from my side. Somehow I
could not help it.

Perhaps I was working all alone on the Dooish Mountain, making rikkles
of peat. There were rag-nails on my fingers, I was hungry and my feet
were sore. I seemed to be always hungry. Potatoes and buttermilk do not
make the best meal in the world, and for six of every seven days they
gave me the heartburn. Sometimes I would stand up and bite a rag-nail
off my finger while watching a hare scooting across the brown of the
moor. Afterwards a fox might come into view, showing clear on the
horizon against the blue of the sky. The pain that came into the small
of my back when stooping over the turf-pile would go away. There was
great relief in standing straight, although Bennet said that a man
should never stand at his work. And there was I, who believed myself a
man, standing over my work like a child and watching foxes and hares
while I was biting the rag-nails off my fingers. No sensible man would
be seen doing such things.

At one moment a pack of moor-fowl would rise and chatter wildly over my
head, then drop into the heather again. At another a wisp of snipe would
suddenly shoot across the sky, skimming the whole stretch of bogland
almost as quickly as the eye that followed it. Just when I was on the
point of restarting my work, a cast of hawks might come down from the
highest reach of the mountain and rest immovable for hours in the air
over my head. It strains the neck to gaze up when standing. Naturally I
would lie down on my back and watch the hawks for just one little while
longer. Minutes would slip into hours, and still I would lie there
watching the kindred of the wild as they worked out the problems of
their lives in their several different ways. Meanwhile I kept rubbing
the cold moss over my hacked hands in order to drive the pain out of
them. When Bennet came round in the evening to see my day's work he
would stand for a moment regarding the rikkles of peat with a critical
stare. Then he would look at me with pity in his eyes.

"If yer hands were as eager for work as yer stomach is for food I'd be a
happy master this day," he would say, in a low weary voice. "I once
thought that ye were a man, but such a mistake, such a mistake!"

Ofttime when working by the stream in the bottomlands, I would lay down
my hay-rake or shearing hook and spend an hour or two looking at the
brown trout as they darted over the white sand at the bottom of the
quiet pools. Sometimes I would turn a pin, put a berry on it and throw
it into the water. I have caught trout in that fashion many a time.
Bennet came across me fishing one day and he gave me a blow on the
cheek. I did not hit him back; I felt afraid of him. Although twelve
years of age, I don't think that I was much of a man after all. If
anybody struck Micky's Jim in such a manner he would strike back as
quickly as he could raise his fist. But I could not find courage to
tighten my knuckles and go for my man. When he turned away from me, my
eyes followed his ungainly figure till it was well out of sight. Then I
raised my fist and shook it in his direction.

"I'll give you one yet, my fine fellow, that will do for you!" I cried.

Although I idled when alone in the fields I always kept up my own end of
the stick when working with others. I was a Glenmornan man, and I
couldn't have it said that any man left me behind in the work of the
fields. When I fell under a burden no person felt the pain as much as
myself. A man from my town should never let anything beat him. When he
cannot carry his burden like other men, and better than other men, it
cuts him to the heart, and on almost every occasion when I stumbled and
fell I almost wished that I could die on the bare ground whereon I
stumbled. But every day I felt that I was growing stronger, and when
Lammastide went by I thought that I was almost as strong even as my
master. When alone I would examine the muscles of my arms, press them,
rub them, contract them and wonder if I was really as strong of arm as
Joe Bennet himself. When I worked along with him in the meadowlands and
corn-fields he tried to go ahead of me at the toil; but for all he tried
he could not leave me behind. I was a Glenmornan man, proud of my own
townland, and for its sake and for the sake of my own people and for the
sake of my own name I was unwilling to be left behind by any human
being. "A Glenmornan man can always handspike his own burden," was a
word with the men at home, and as a Glenmornan man I was jealous of my
own town's honour.

'Twas good to be a Glenmornan man. The pride of it pulled me through my
toil when my bleeding hands, my aching back and sore feet well nigh
refused to do their labour, and that same pride put the strength of
twenty-one into the spine of the twelve-year-old man. But God knows that
the labour was hard! The journey upstairs to bed after the day's work
was a monstrous futility, and often I had hard work to restrain from
weeping as I crawled weakly into bed with maybe boots and trousers still
on. Although I had not energy enough remaining to take off my clothes I
always went on my knees and prayed before entering the bed, and once or
twice I read books in my room even. Let me tell you of the book which
interested me. It was a red-covered volume which I picked up from some
rubbish that lay in the corner of the room, and was called the _History
of the Heavens_. I liked the story of the stars, the earth, the sun and
planets, and I sat by the window for three nights reading the book by
the light of the moon, for I never was allowed the use of a candle. In
those nights I often said to myself: "Dermod Flynn, the heavens are
sending you light to read their story."



     "'Why d'ye slouch beside yer work when I am out o' sight?'
     'I'm hungry, an' an empty sack can never stand upright.'"

            *       *       *       *       *

     "'Stoop to yer work, ye idle cub; ye slack for hours on end.'
     'I've eaten far too much the day. A full sack cannot bend.'"

     --From _Farmyard Folly_.

About a week after, on the stroke of eleven at night, I was washing
potatoes for breakfast in a pond near the farmhouse. They were now
washed always on the evening before, so that the pigs might get their
meals a little earlier in the morning. Those same pigs were getting
fattened for the Omagh pork market, and they were never refused food.
When they grunted in the sty I was sent out to feed them, when they
slept too long I was sent out to waken them for another meal. Although I
am almost ashamed to say it, I envied those pigs.

Potato-washing being the last job of the day, I always thought it the
hardest. I sat down beside the basket of potatoes which I had just
washed, and felt very much out of sorts. I was in a far house and a
strange man was my master. I felt a bit homesick and I had a great
longing for my own people. The bodily pain was even worse. My feet were
all blistered; one of my boots pinched my toes and gave me great hurt
when I moved. Both my hands were hacked, and when I placed them in the
water sharp stitches ran up my arms as far as my shoulders.

I looked up at the stars above me, and I thought of the wonderful things
which I had read about them in the book picked up by me in my bedroom.
There they were shining, thousands upon thousands of them, above my
head, each looking colder and more distant than the other. And nearly
all of them were larger than our world, larger even than our sun. It was
so very hard to believe it. Then my thoughts turned to the God who
fashioned them, and I wondered in the way that a man of twelve wonders
what was the purpose behind it all. Ever since I could remember I had
prayed to God nightly, and now I suddenly thought that all my prayers
were very weak and feeble. Behind His million worlds what thought would
He have for a ragged dirty plodder like me? Were there men and women on
those worlds, and little boys also who were very unhappy? Had the Son of
God come down and died for men on every world of all His worlds? These
thoughts left me strangely disturbed as I sat there on the brink of the
pond beside my basket. Things were coming into my mind, new thoughts
that almost frightened me, and which I could not thrust away.

As I sat the voice of Bennet came to me.

"Hi! man, are ye goin' to sit there all night?" he shouted. "Ye're like
the rest of the Donegal cubs, ye were born lazy."

I carried the potatoes in, placed them beside the hearth, then dragged
myself slowly upstairs to bed.

"Ye go upstairs like a dog paralysed in the hindquarters," shouted my
boss from the kitchen.

"Can ye not let the cub a-be?" his mother reproved him, in the aimless
way that mothers reprove grown-up children.

At the head of the stairs I sat down to take off my boots, for a nail
had passed through the leather and was entering the sole of my right
foot. I was so very tired that I fell asleep when untying the laces. A
kick on the ankle delivered by my master as he came up to bed wakened

"Hook it," he roared, and I slunk into my room, too weary to resent the
insult. I slid into bed, and when falling asleep I suddenly remembered
that I had not said my prayers. I sat up in my bed, but stopped short
when on the point of getting out. Every night since I could remember I
had knelt by my bedside and prayed, but as I sat there in the bed I
thought that I had very little to pray for. I looked at the stars that
shone through the window, and felt defiant and unafraid and very, very

"No one cares for me," I said, "not even the God who made me." I bent
down and touched my ankle. It was raw and bleeding where Bennet's nailed
boot had ripped the flesh. I was too tired to be even angry, and I lay
back on the pillows and fell asleep.

Morning came so suddenly! I thought that I had barely fallen into the
first sleep when I again heard Bennet calling to me to get up and start
work. I did not answer, and he was silent for a moment. I must have
fallen asleep again, for the next thing that I was aware of was my
master's presence in the room. He pulled me out of bed and threw me on
the floor, and kicked me again with his heavy boots. I rose to my feet,
and, mad with anger, for passion seizes me quickly, I hit him on the
belly with my knee. I put all my strength into the blow, and he got very
white and left the room, holding his two hands to his stomach. He never
struck me afterwards, for I believe that he knew I was always waiting
and ready for him. If he hit me again I would stand up to him until he
knocked me stupid; my little victory in the bedroom had given me so much
more courage and belief in my own powers. In a fight I never know when
I am beaten; even as a child I did not know the meaning of defeat, and I
have had many a hard fight since I left Glenmornan, every one of which
went to prove what I have said. Anyhow, why should a Glenmornan man, and
a man of twelve to boot, know when he is beaten?

The bat I gave Bennet did not lessen my heavy toil in the fields. On the
contrary, the man kept closer watch over me and saw that I never had an
idle moment. Even my supply of potatoes was placed under restriction.

Bennet caused me to feed the pigs before I took my own breakfast, and if
a pig grunted while I was eating he would look at me with the eternal
eyes of reproach.

"Go out and give that pig something more to eat," he would say. "Don't
eat all yerself. I never saw such a greedy-gut as ye are."

One day I had a good feed; I never enjoyed anything so much in all my
life, I think. A sort of Orange gathering took place in Omagh, and all
the Bennets went. Even the old grizzled man left his seat by the
chimney-corner, and took his place on the spring-cart drawn by the
spavined mare. They told me to work in the fields until they came back,
but no sooner were their backs turned than I made for the house,
intending to have at least one good feed in the six months. I made
myself a cup of tea, opened the pantry door, and discovered a delightful
chunk of currant cake. I took a second cup of tea along with the cake. I
opened the pantry door by inserting a crooked nail in the lock, but I
found that I could not close the door again. This did not deter me from
drinking more tea, and I believe that I took upwards of a dozen cups of
the liquid.

I divided part of the cake with the dog. I could not resist the soft
look in the eyes which the animal fixed on me while I was eating. Before
I became a man, and when I lived in Glenmornan, I wept often over the
trouble of the poor soft-eyed dogs. They have troubles of their own, and
I can understand their little worries. Bennet's dog gave me great help
in disposing of the cake, and when he had finished the meal he nuzzled
up against my leg, which was as much as to say that he was very thankful
for my kindness to him. I got into trouble when the people of the house
returned. They were angry, but what could they do? Bread eaten is like
fallen rain; it can never be put back in its former place.

Never for a moment did I dream seriously of going home again for a long,
long while. Now and again I wished that I was back for just one moment,
but being a man, independent and unafraid, such a foolish thought never
held me long. I was working on my own without anyone to cheer me, and
this caused me to feel proud of myself and of the work I was doing.

Once every month I got a letter from home, telling me about the doings
in my own place, and I was always glad to hear the Glenmornan news. Such
and such a person had died, one neighbour had bought two young steers at
the harvest-fair of Greenanore, another had been fined a couple of
pounds before the bench for fishing with a float on Lough Meenarna, and
hundreds of other little items were all told in faithful detail.

My thoughts went often back, and daily, when dragging through the turnip
drills or wet hay streaks, I built up great hopes of the manner in which
I would go home to my own people in the years to come. I would be very
rich. That was one essential point in the dreams of my return. I would
be big and very strong, afraid of no man and liked by all men. I would
pay a surprise visit to Glenmornan in the night-time when all the lamps
were lit on both sides of the valley. At the end of the boreen I would
stand for a moment and look through the window of my home, and see my
father plaiting baskets by the light of the hanging lamp. My mother
would be seated on the hearthstone, telling stories to my little
sisters. (Not for a moment could I dream of them other than what they
were when I saw them last.) Maybe she would speak of Dermod, who was
pushing his fortune away in foreign parts.

And while they were talking the latch of the door would rise, and I
would stand in the middle of the floor.

"It's Dermod himself that's in it!" they would all cry in one voice.
"Dermod that's just come back, and we were talking about him this very

Dreams like these made up a great part of my life in those days.
Sometimes I would find myself with a job finished, failing to remember
how it was completed. During the whole time I was buried deep in some
dream while I worked mechanically, and at the end of the job I was
usually surprised to find such a large amount of work done.

I was glad when the end of the term drew near. I hated Bennet and he
hated me, and I would not stop in his service another six months for all
the stock on his farm. I would look for a new master in Strabane
hiring-mart, and maybe my luck would be better next time. I left the
farmhouse with a dislike for all forms of mastery, and that dislike is
firmly engrained in my heart even to this day. The covert sneers, the
insulting jibes, the kicks and curses were good, because they moulded my
character in the way that is best. To-day I assert that no man is good
enough to be another man's master. I hate all forms of tyranny; and the
kicks of Joe Bennet and the weary hours spent in earning the first rent
which I ever paid for my people's croft, were responsible for instilling
that hatred into my being.

I sent four pounds fifteen shillings home to my parents, and this was
given to the landlord and priest, the man I had met six months before
on Greenanore platform and the pot-bellied man with the shiny false
teeth, who smoked ninepenny cigars and paid three hundred pounds for his
lavatory. Years later, when tramping through Scotland, I saw the
landlord motoring along the road, accompanied by his two daughters, who
were about my age. When I saw those two girls I wondered how far the
four pounds fifteen which I earned in blood and sweat in mid-Tyrone went
to decorate their bodies and flounce their hides. I wondered, too, how
many dinners they procured from the money that might have saved the life
of my little brother.

And as far as I can ascertain the priest lives yet; always imposing new
taxes; shortening the torments of souls in Purgatory at so much a soul;
forgiving sins which have never caused him any inconvenience, and at
word of his mouth sending the peasantry to heaven or to hell.



     "Do that? I would as soon think of robbing a corpse!"


I devoted the fifteen shillings which remained from my wages to my own
use. My boots were well-nigh worn, and my trousers were getting thin at
the knees, but the latter I patched as well as I was able and paid half
a crown to get my boots newly soled. For the remainder of the money I
bought a shirt and some underclothing to restock my bundle, and when I
went out to look for a new master in the slave market of Strabane I had
only one and sevenpence in my pockets.

I never for a moment thought of keeping all my wages for myself. Such a
wild idea never entered my head. I was born and bred merely to support
my parents, and great care had been taken to drive this fact into my
mind from infancy. I was merely brought into the world to support those
who were responsible for my existence. Often when my parents were
speaking of such and such a young man I heard them say: "He'll never
have a day's luck in all his life. He didn't give every penny he earned
to his father and mother."

I thought it would be so fine to have all my wages to myself to spend in
the shops, to buy candy just like a little boy or to take a ride on the
swing-boats or merry-go-rounds at the far corner of the market-place. I
would like to do those things, but the voice of conscience reproved me
for even thinking of them. If once I started to spend it was hard to
tell when I might stop. Perhaps I would spend the whole one and
sevenpence. I had never in all my life spent a penny on candy or a toy,
and seeing that I was a man I could not begin now. It was my duty to
send my money home, and I knew that if I even spent as much as one penny
I would never have a day's luck in all my life.

I had grown bigger and stronger, and I was a different man altogether
from the boy who had come up from Donegal six months before. I had a
fight with a youngster at the fair, and I gave him two black eyes while
he only gave me one.

A man named Sorley, a big loose-limbed rung of a fellow who came from
near Omagh, hired me for the winter term. Together the two of us walked
home at the close of the evening, and it was near midnight when we came
to the house, the distance from Strabane being eight miles. The house
was in the middle of a moor, and a path ran across the heather to the
very door. The path was soggy and miry, and the water squelched under
our boots as we walked along. The night was dark, the country around
looked bleak and miserable, and very few words passed between us on the
long tramp. Once he said that I should like his place, again, that he
kept a lot of grazing cattle and jobbed them about from one market to
another. He also alluded to another road across the moor, one better
than the one taken by us; but it was very roundabout, unless a man came
in from the Omagh side of the country.

There was an old wrinkled woman sitting at the fire having a shin heat
when we entered the house. She was dry and withered, and kept turning
the live peats over and over on the fire, which is one of the signs of a
doting person. Her flesh resembled the cover of a rabbit-skin purse that
is left drying in the chimney-corner.

"Have ye got a cub?" she asked my master without as much as a look at

"I have a young colt of a thing," he answered.

"They've been at it again," went on the old woman. "It's the brannat cow
this time."

"We'll have to get away, that's all," said the man. "They'll soon not be
after leavin' a single tail in the byre."

"Is it me that would be leavin' now?" asked the old woman, rising to her
feet, and the look on her face was frightful to see. "They'll niver put
Mary Sorley out of her house when she put it in her mind to stay. May
the seven curses rest on their heads, them with their Home Rule and
rack-rint and what not! It's me that would stand barefoot on the red-hot
hob of hell before I'd give in to the likes of them."

Her anger died out suddenly, and she sat down and began to turn the turf
over on the fire as she had been doing when I entered.

"Maybe ye'd go out and wash their tails a bit," she went on. "And take
the cub with ye to hould the candle. He's a thin cub that, surely," she
said, looking at me for the first time. "He'll be a light horse for a
heavy burden."

The man carried a pail of water out to the byre, while I followed
holding a candle which I sheltered from the wind with my cap.

The cattle were kept in a long dirty building, and it looked as if it
had not been cleaned for weeks. There were a number of young bullocks
tied to the stakes along the wall, and most of these had their tails cut
off short and close to the body. A brindled cow stood at one end, and
the blood dripped from her into the sink. The whole tail had been
recently cut away.

"Why do you cut the tails off the cattle?" I asked Sorley, as he
proceeded to wash the wound on the brindled cow.

"Just to keep them short," he said, stealing a furtive glance at me as
he spoke. I did not ask any further questions, but I could see that he
was telling an untruth. At once I guessed that the farm was boycotted,
and that the peasantry were showing their disapproval of some action of
Sorley's by cutting the tails off his cattle. I wished that moment that
I had gotten another master who was on a more friendly footing with his

When we returned to the house the old woman was sitting still by the
fire mumbling away to herself at the one thing over and over again.

"Old Mary Sorley won't be hounded out of her house and home if all the
cattle in me byre was without tails," she said in rambling tones, which
now and again rose to a shriek almost. "What would an old woman like me
be carin' for the band of them? Am I not as good as the tenant that was
here before me, him with his talk of rack-rint and Home Rule? Old Mary
Sorley is goin' to stay here till she leaves the house in a coffin."

The man and I sat down at a pot of porridge and ate our suppers.

"Don't take any heed of me mother," he said to me. "It's only dramin'
and dotin' that she is."

Early next morning I was sent out to the further end of the moor, there
to gather up some sheep and take them back to the farmyard. I met three
men on the way, three rough-looking, angry sort of men. One of them
caught hold of me by the neck and threw me into a bog-hole. I was nearly
drowned in the slush. When I tried to drag myself out, the other two
threw sods on top of me. The moment I pulled myself clear I ran off as
hard as I could.

"This will teach ye not to work for a boycotted bastard," one of them
called after me, but none of them made any attempt to follow. I ran as
hard as I could until I got to the house. When I arrived there I
informed Sorley of all that had taken place, and said that I was going
to stop no longer in his service.

"I had work enough lookin' for a cub," he said; "and I'm no goin' to let
ye run away now."

"I'm going anyway," I said.

"Now and will ye?" answered the man, and he took my spare clothes and
hid them somewhere in the house. My bits of clothes were all that I had
between me and the world, and they meant a lot to me. Without them I
would not go away, and Sorley knew that. I had to wait for three days
more, then I got my clothes and left.

That happened when old Mary Sorley died.

It was late in the evening. She was left sitting on the hearthstone,
turning the fire over, while Sorley and I went to wash the tails of the
wounded cattle in the byre. My master had forgotten the soap, and he
sent me back to the kitchen for it. I asked the old woman to give it to
me. She did not answer when I spoke, and I went up close to her and
repeated my question. But she never moved. I turned out again and took
my way to the byre.

"Have ye got it?" asked my master.

"Your mother has fainted," I answered.

He ran into the house, and I followed. Between us we lifted the woman
into the bed which was placed in one corner of the kitchen. Her body
felt very stiff, and it was very light. The man crossed her hands over
her breast.

"Me poor mother's dead," he told me.

"Is she?" I asked, and went down on my knees by the bedside to say a
prayer for her soul. When on my knees I noticed where my spare clothes
were hidden. They were under the straw of the bed on which the corpse
was lying. I hurried over my prayers, as I did not take much pleasure in
praying for the soul of a boycotted person.

"I must go to Omagh and get me married sister to come here and help me
for a couple of days," said Sorley when I got to my feet again. "Ye can
sit here and keep watch until I come back."

He went out, saddled the pony, and in a couple of minutes I heard the
clatter of hoofs echoing on the road across the moor. In a little while
the sounds died away, and there I was, all alone with the corpse of old
Mary Sorley.

I edged my chair into the corner where the two walls met, and kept my
eye on the woman in the bed. I was afraid to turn round, thinking that
she might get up when I was not looking at her. Out on the moor a
restless dog commenced to voice some ancient wrong, and its mournful
howl caused a chill to run down my backbone. Once or twice I thought
that someone was tapping at the window-pane behind me, and feared to
look round lest a horrible face might be peering in. But all the time I
kept looking at the white features of the dead woman, and I would not
turn round for the world. The cat slept beside the fire and never moved.

The hour of midnight struck on the creaky old wag-of-the-wall, and I
made up my mind to leave the place for good. I wanted my clothes which I
had seen under the straw of the kitchen bed. It was an eerie job to turn
over a corpse at the hour of midnight. The fire was almost out, for I
had placed no peat on it since Sorley left for Omagh. A little wind came
under the door and whirled the pale-grey ashes over the hearthstone.

I went to the bed and turned the woman over on her side, keeping one
hand against the body to prevent it falling back on me. With the other
hand I drew out my clothes, counting each garment until I had them all.
As soon as I let the corpse go it nearly rolled out on the ground. I
could hardly remove my gaze from the cold quiet thing. The eyes were
wide open all the time, and they looked like icy pools seen on a dark
night. I wrapped my garments up in a handkerchief which was hanging from
a nail in the bedstock. The handkerchief was not mine. It belonged to
the dead woman, but she would not need it any more. I took it because I
wanted it, and it was the only wages which I should get for my three
days' work on the farm. While I was busy tying my clothes together the
cat rose from the fireplace and jumped into the bed. I suppose it felt
cold by the dying fire. I thought at the time that it would not be much
warmer beside a dead body. From the back of the corpse the animal
watched me for a few minutes, then it fell asleep.

I took my bundle in my hand, opened the door, and went out into the
darkness, leaving the sleeping cat and the dead woman alone in the
boycotted house. The night was fine and frosty and a smother of cold
stars lay on the face of the heavens. A cow moaned in the byre as I
passed, while the stray dog kept howling miserably away on the middle of
the moor. I took the path that twisted and turned across the bogland,
and I ran. I was almost certain that the corpse was following me, but I
would not turn and look behind for the world. If you turn and look at
the ghost that follows you, it is certain to get in front, and not let
you proceed any further. So they said in Glenmornan.

After a while I walked slowly. I had already left a good stretch of
ground between me and the house. I could hear the brown grass sighing on
the verge of the black ponds of water. The wind was running along the
ground and it made strange sounds. Far away the pale cold flames of the
will-of-the-wisp flitted backwards and forwards, but never came near the
fringe of the road on which I travelled.

I heard the rattle of horse's hoofs coming towards me, and I hid in a
clump of bracken until the rider passed by. I knew that it was Sorley on
his way back from Omagh. There was a woman sitting behind him on the
saddle, and when both went out of sight I ran until I came out on the
high-road. Maybe I walked three miles after that, and maybe I walked
more, but at last I came to a haystack by the roadside. I crept over the
dyke, lay down in the hay and fell asleep, my head resting on my little
bundle of clothes.



     "There's a good time comin', though we may never live to see it."


A watery mid-November sun was peering through a leafless birch tree that
rose near my sleeping-place when I awoke to find a young healthy slip of
a woman looking at me with a pair of large laughing eyes.

"The top o' the morn to ye, me boy," she said. "Ye're a young cub to be
a beggar already."

"I'm not a beggar," I answered, getting up to my feet.

"Ye might be worse now," she replied, making a sort of excuse for her
former remark. "And anyway, it's not a dacent man's bed ye've been lyin'
on all be yerself, me boy." I knew that she was making fun of me, but
for all that I liked the look of her face.

"Now, where would ye be a-goin' at this time o' the morn?" she asked.

"That's more than I know myself, good woman," I said. "I have been
working with a man named Sorley, but I left him last night."

"Matt Sorley, the boycotted man?"

"The same."

"Ye'll be a Donegal cub?"

"That I am," I replied.

"Ye're a comely lookin' fellow," said the woman. "An' what age may ye

"I'll be thirteen come Christmas," I said proudly.

"Poor child!" said the woman. "Ye should be in yer own home yet. Was old
Mary Sorley good to ye?"

"She's dead."

"Under God the day and the night, and d'ye tell me so!" cried the woman,
and she said a short prayer to herself for the soul of Mary Sorley.

"She was a bad woman, indeed, but it's wrong to speak an ill word of the
dead," my new friend went on when she had finished her prayer. "Now
where would ye be makin' for next?"

"That's it," I answered.

For a moment the woman was deep in thought. "I suppose ye'll be lookin'
for a new place?" she asked suddenly.

"I am that," I said.

"I have a half-brother on the leadin' road to Strabane, and he wants a
cub for the winter term," said the woman. "I live in the same house
meself and if ye care ye can come and see him, and I meself will put in
a word in yer favour. His name in James MaCrossan, and he's a good man
to his servants."

That very minute we set out together. We came to the house of James
MaCrossan, and found the man working in the farmyard. He had a good,
strong, kindly face that was pleasant to look upon. His shirt was open
at the front, and a great hairy chest was visible. His arms, bare almost
to the shoulders, were as hairy as the limbs of a beast, and much
dirtier. His shoes were covered with cow-dung, and he stood stroking a
horse as tenderly as if it had been a young child in the centre of the
yard. His half-sister spoke to him about me, while I stood aside with my
little bundle dangling from my arm. When the woman had finished her
story MaCrossan looked at me with good humour in his eyes.

"And how much wages would ye be wantin'?" he asked.

"Six pounds from now till May-day," I said.

The man was no stickler over a few shillings. He took me as a servant
there and then at the wages I asked.

His farm was a good easy one to work on, he and his sister were very
kind to me, and treated me more like one of themselves than a servant. I
lay abed every morning until seven, and on rising I got porridge and
milk, followed by tea, bread and butter, for breakfast. There was no
lack of food, and I grew fatter and happier. I finished my day's work at
eight o'clock in the evening, and could then turn into bed when I liked.
The cows, sheep, and pigs were under my care, MaCrossan worked with the
horses, while Bridgid, his half-sister, did the house-work and milked
the cows. I did not learn to milk, for that is a woman's job. At least,
I thought so in those days. Pulling the soft udder of a cow was not the
proper job for a man like me.

One day my master came into the byre and asked me if I could milk.

"No," I answered. "And what is more I don't want to learn. It is not a
manly job."

MaCrossan merely laughed, and by way of giving me a lesson in manliness,
he lifted me over his head with one wrench of his arm, holding me there
for at least a minute. When he replaced me on the ground I felt very
much ashamed, but the man on seeing this laughed louder than ever. That
night he told the story to his half-sister.

"Calls milkin' a job for a woman, indeed!" she exclaimed. "The little
rogue of a cub! if I get hold of him."

With these words she ran laughing after me, and I ran out of the house
into the darkness. Although I knew she was not in earnest I felt a bit
afraid of her. Three times she followed me round the farmyard, but I
managed to keep out of her reach each time. In the end she returned to
the house.

"Dermod, come back," she called. "No one will harm ye."

I would not be caught in such an easy manner, and above all I did not
want the woman to grip me. For an hour I stood in the darkness, then I
slipped through the open window of my bedroom, which was on the ground
floor, and turned into my bed. A few moments afterwards Bridgid came
into the room carrying a lighted candle, and found me under the
blankets. I watched her through the fringe of my eyelashes while
pretending that I was fast asleep.

"Ha, ye rogue!" she cried. "I have ye now."

She ran towards me, but still I pretended to be in a deep slumber. I
closed my eyes tightly, but I felt awfully afraid. She drew closer, and
at last I could feel her breath warm on my cheek. But she did not grip
me. Instead, she kissed me on the lips three times, and I was so
surprised that I opened my eyes.

"Ye little shamer! d'ye think that _that_ is a woman's job too?" she
asked, and with these words she ran out of the room.

I stayed on the farm for nineteen months, and then, though MaCrossan was
a very good master, I set my mind on leaving him. Day and night the
outside world was calling to me, and something lay awaiting for me in
other lands. Maybe I could make more money in foreign parts, and earn a
big pile for myself and my people. Some day, when I had enough and to
spare, I would do great things. There was a waste piece of land lying
near my father's house in Glenmornan, and my people had set their eyes
on it. I would buy that piece of land when I was rolling in money. Oh!
what would I not do when I got rich?

About once a month I had a letter from mother. She was not much of a
hand at the pen, and her letters were always short. Most of the time she
wanted money, and I always sent home every penny that I could spare.

Sometimes I longed to go back again. In a boy's longing way I wanted to
see Norah Ryan, for I liked her well. Her, too, I would remember when I
got rich, and I would make her a great lady. These were some of my
dreams, and they made me hate the look of MaCrossan's farm. Daily I grew
to hate it more, its dirty lanes, the filthy byre, the low-thatched
house, the pigs, cows, horses, and everything about the place.
Everything was always the same, and I was sick of looking at the same
things day after day for all the days of the year.

My mind was set on leaving MaCrossan, though his half-sister and himself
liked me better than ever a servant was liked before in mid Tyrone. The
thought of leaving them made me uncomfortable, but the voice that called
me was stronger than that which urged me to stay. I had a longing for a
new place, and the longing grew within me day after day. Over the hills,
over the sea, and miles along some dusty road which I had never seen,
some great adventure was awaiting me. Nothing would keep me back, and I
wrote home to my own mother, asking if Micky's Jim wanted any new men to
accompany him to Scotland. Jim was the boss of a potato-digging squad,
and each year a number of Donegal men and women worked with him across
the water.

Then one fine morning, a week later, and towards the end of June, this
letter came from Micky's Jim himself:


     "i am riting you these few lines to say that i am very well at
     present, hoping this leter finds you in the same state of health.
     Well, dear Dermid i am gathering up a squad of men and women to
     come and work with me beyont the water to dig potatoes in Scotland.
     there is a great lot of the Glenmornan people coming, Tom of the
     hill, Neds hugh, Red mick and Norah ryan, Biddy flannery and five
     or six more. Well this is to say that if you woud care to come i
     will keep a job open for you. Norah ryan, her father was drounded
     fishing in Trienna Bay so she is not going to be a nun after all.
     If you will come with me rite back and say so. your wages is going
     to be sixteen shillings a week accordingley. Steel away from your
     master and come to derry peer and meet me there, its on the twenty
     ninth of the month that we leave Glenmornan.

     "Yours respectfuly,




     "No more the valley charms me and no more the torrents glisten,
     My love is plain and homely and my thoughts are far away;
     The great world voice is calling and with throbbing heart I listen,
     And I cannot but obey; I cannot but obey."

     --From _Songs of the Dead End_.

On the morning of the twenty-ninth of June, 1905, I left Jim
MaCrossan's, and went out to hoe turnips in a field that lay nearly half
a mile away from the farmhouse. I had taken a hoe from a peg on the wall
of the barn, and had thrown it across my shoulder, when MaCrossan came
up to me.

"See an' don't be late comin' in for yer dinner, Dermod," he said.
"Ye'll know the time be the sun."

That was his last speech to me, and I was sorry at leaving him, but for
the life of me I could not tell him of my intended departure. There is
no happiness in leaving those with whom we are happy. I liked MaCrossan
more because of his strength than his kindness. Once he carried an anvil
on his back from Lisnacreight smithy to his own farmhouse, a distance of
four miles. When he brought it home I could not lift it off the ground.
He was a wonderful man, powerful as a giant, good and kindly-spoken. I
liked him so much that I determined to steal away from him. I was more
afraid of his regret than I would be of another man's anger.

I slung the hoe over my shoulder and whistled a wee tune that came into
my head as I plodded down the cart-road that led to the field where the
turnips were. The young bullocks gazed at me over the hedge by the
wayside, and snorted in make-believe anger when I tried to touch their
cold nostrils with my finger-tips. The crows on the sycamore branches
seemed to be very friendly and merry. I could almost have sworn that
they cried, "Good morning, Dermod Flynn," as I passed by.

The lane was alive with rabbits at every turn. I could see them peering
out from their holes under the blossomed hedgerows with wide anxious
eyes. Sometimes they ran across in front of me, their ears acock and
their white tufts of tails stuck up in the air. I never thought once of
flinging a stone at them that morning; I was out on a bigger adventure
than rabbit-chasing.

A little way down I met MaCrossan's half-sister, Bridgid. She had just
taken out the cows and was returning to the house after having fastened
the slip rails on the gap of the pasture field.

"The top o' the mornin' to ye, Dermod," she cried.

"The same to you," I answered.

She walked on, but after she had gone a little way, she called back to

"Will ye be goin' to the dance in McKirdy's barn on Monday come a week?"

"I will, surely," I replied across my shoulder. I did not look around,
but I could hear the soles of her shoes rustling across the dry clabber
as she continued on her journey.

The moment I entered the field I flung the hoe into the ditch, and
crossed to the other side of the turnip drills. I put my hand into the
decayed trunk of a fallen tree, and took out a little bundle of clothes
which was concealed there. I had hidden the clothes when I received Jim
Scanlon's letter. I hung the bundle over my arm, and made for the
high-road leading to Strabane. It was nearly three hours' walk to the
town, and the morning was grand. I cut a hazel rod to keep me company,
and swung it round in my hand after the manner of cattle-drovers. I went
on my way with long swinging strides, thinking all the time, not of
Micky's Jim and the Land Beyond the Water, but of Norah Ryan whom I
would see on 'Derry Pier with the rest of the potato squad.

I could have shouted with pure joy to the people who passed me on the
road. Most of them bade me the time of day with the good-natured
courtesy of the Irish people. The red-faced farmer's boy, who sat on the
jolting cart, stopped his sleepy horse for a minute to ask me where I
was bound for.

"Just to Strabane to buy a new rake," I told him, for grown-up men never
tell their private affairs to other people.

"Troth, it's for an early harvest that same rake will be," he said, and
flicked his horse on the withers with his whip. Then, having satisfied
his curiosity, he passed beyond the call of my voice for ever.

A girl who stood with her back to the roses of a roadside cottage gave
me a bowl of milk when I asked for a drink of water. She was a taking
slip of a girl, with soft dreamy eyes and red cherry lips.

"Where would ye be goin' now?" she asked.

"I'm goin' to Strabane."

"And what would ye be doin' there?"

"My people live there," I said.

"It's ye that has the Donegal tongue, and be the same token ye're a
great liar," said the girl, and I hurried off.

A man gave me a lift on the milk-cart for a mile of the way. "Where are
ye goin'?" he asked me.

"To Strabane to buy a new spade," I told him.

"It's a long distance to go for a spade," he said with a laugh. "D'ye
know what I think ye are?"

"What?" I asked.

"Ye're a cub that has run away from his master," said the man. "If the
pleece get ye ye'll go to jail for brekin' a contract."

I slid out of the cart, pulling my bundle after me, and took to my heels
along the dry road. "Wan cannot see yer back for dust," the man shouted
after me, and he kept roaring aloud for a long while. Soon, however, I
got out of the sound of his voice, and I slowed down and recovered my
wind. About fifteen minutes later I overtook an old withered woman, lean
as a rake, who was talking to herself. I walked with her for a long
distance, but she was so taken up with her own troubles that she had not
a word for me.

"Is it on a day like this," the old body was saying aloud to herself,
"that the birds sing loud on the trees, and the sun shines for all he is
worth in the hollow of the sky, a day when the cruel hand of God strikes
heavy on me heart, and starves the blood in me veins? Who at all would
think that me little Bridgid would go so soon from her own door, and the
fire on her own hearthstone, into the land where the cold of death is
and the darkness? Mother of God! be good to a poor old woman, but it's
bitter that I am, bekase she was tuk away from me, lavin' me alone in me
old age with no wan sib to meself, to sleep under me own roof. Well do I
mind the day when little Bridgid came. That day, my good man Fergus
himself was tuk away from me, but I wasn't as sorry as an old woman
might be for her man, for she was there with the black eyes of her
lookin' into me own and never speakin' a word at all, at all. Then she
grew big, with the gold on her hair, and the redness on her mouth, and
the whiteness of the snow on her teeth. 'Tis often meself would watch
her across the half-door, when she was a-chasin' the geese in the yard,
or pullin' the feathers from the wings of the ducks in the puddle. And
I would say to meself: 'What man will take her away from her old mother
some fine mornin' and lave me lonely be the fire in the evenin'?' And no
man came at all, at all, to take her, and now she's gone. The singin'
birds are in the bushes, and the sun is laughin', the latch of me door
is left loose, but she'll not come back, no matter what I do. So I do be
trampin' about the roads with the sweat on me, and the shivers of cold
on me at the same time, gettin' a handful of meal here, and a goupin of
pratees there, and never at all able to forget that I am lonely without

I left the woman and her talk behind me on the road, and I thought it a
strange thing that anyone could be sorry when I was so happy. In a
little while I forgot all about her, for my eyes caught the chimneys of
Strabane sending up their black smoke into the air, and I heard some
church clock striking out the hour of noon.

It was well on in the day when I got the 'Derry train, but on the moment
I set my foot on the pier by the waterside I found Micky's Jim sitting
on a capstan waiting for me. He was chewing a plug of tobacco, and
spitting into the water.

"Work hasn't done ye much harm, Dermod Flynn, for ye've grown to be a
big, soncy man," was Jim's greeting, and I felt very proud of myself
when he said these words.



     "Bad cess to the boats! for it's few they take back of the many
     they take away."--A GLENMORNAN SAYING.

Jim and I had a long talk together, and I asked him about the people at
home, my father and mother, the neighbours, their doings, their talk,
and all the rest of the little things that went to make up the world of
the Glenmornan folk. In return for his information I told Jim about my
life in Tyrone, the hardships of Bennet's place, the poor feeding, the
hard work, the loneliness, and, above all, the fight in the bedroom
where I gave Joe Bennet one in the stomach that made him sick for two
hours afterwards.

"That's the only thing that a Glenmornan man could do," said Micky's
Jim, when I told him of the fight.

Afterwards we sauntered along the wharf together, waiting for the other
members of the party, who had gone to the Catholic chapel in 'Derry to
say their prayers before leaving their own country. Everything I saw was
a source of wonder to me. I lived many miles from the sea at home, and
only once did I even see a fishing-boat. That was years before, when I
passed Doon Ferry on my way to the Holy Well of Iniskeel. There did I
see the fishing-boats of Trienna lying by the beach while the fishermen
mended their nets on the foreshore. Out by the rim of the deep-sea water
the bar was roaring, and a line of restless creamy froth stretched
across the throat of the bay, like the bare white arms of a girl who
bathes in a darksome pool. I asked one of the fishers if he would let me
go with him across the bar. He only laughed at me and said that it would
suit me far better to say my prayers.

For the whole of the evening I could not take my eyes off the boats that
lay by 'Derry Pier. Micky's Jim took no notice of them, because he had
seen them often enough before.

"Ye'll not wonder much at ships when ye've seen them as much as I've
seen them," he said.

We sought out our own boat, and Jim said that she was a rotten tub when
he had examined her critically with his eyes for a moment.

"It'll make ye as sick as a dog goin' roun' the Moils o' Kentire," he
said. "Ye'll know what it is to be sea-sick this night, Dermod."

We went on board, and waited for the rest of the party to come along.
While waiting Jim prowled into the cook's galley and procured two cups
of strong black tea, which we drank together on deck.

It was, "Under God, the day an' the night, ye've grown to be a big man,
Dermod," and "Ye're a soncy rung o' a fellow this minute, Dermod Flynn,"
when the people from my own arm of the Glen came up the deck and saw me
there along with Micky's Jim. Many of the squad were old stagers who had
been in the country across the water before. They planted their patch of
potatoes and corn in their little croft at home, then went to Scotland
for five or six months in the middle of the year to earn money for the
rent of their holding. The land of Donegal is bare and hungry, and
nobody can make a decent livelihood there except landlords.

The one for whom I longed most was the last to come, and when I saw her
my heart almost stopped beating. She was the same as ever with her soft
tender eyes and sweet face, that put me in mind of the angels pictured
over the altar of the little chapel at home. Her hair fell over her
shawl like a cascade of brown waters, her forehead was white and pure as
marble, her cheeks seemed made of rose-leaf, of a pale carnation hue,
and her fair light body, slender as a young poplar, seemed too holy for
the contact of the cold world. She stepped up the gang-plank, slowly and
timidly, for she was afraid of the noise and shouting of the place.

The boat's derricks creaked angrily on their pivots, the gangways
clattered loudly as they were shifted here and there by noisy and dirty
men, and the droves of bullocks, fresh from the country fairs, bellowed
unceasingly as they were hammered into the darkness of the hold. On
these things I looked with wonder, Norah looked with fright.

All evening I had been thinking about her, and the words of welcome
which I would say to her when we met. When she came on deck I put out my
hand, but couldn't for the life of me say a word of greeting. She was
the first to speak.

"Dermod Flynn, I hardly knew ye at all," she said with a half-smile on
her lips. "Ye got very big these last two years."

"So did you, Norah," I answered, feeling very glad because she had kept
count of the time I was gone. "You are almost as tall as I am."

"Why wouldn't I be as tall as ye are," she answered with a full smile.
"Sure am I not a year and two months older?"

Some of the other women began to talk to Norah, and I turned to look at
the scene around me. The sun was setting, and showed like a red bladder
in the pink haze that lay over the western horizon. The Foyle was a
sheet of wavy molten gold which the boat cut through as she sped out
from the pier. The upper deck was crowded with people who were going to
Scotland to work for the summer and autumn. They were all very ragged,
both women and men; most of the men were drunk, and they discussed,
quarrelled, argued, and swore until the din was deafening. Little heed
was taken by them of the beauty of the evening, and all alone I watched
the vessel turn up a furrow of gold at the bow until my brain was
reeling with the motion of the water that sobbed past the sides of the
steamer, and swept far astern where the line of white churned foam fell
into rank with the sombre expanse of sea that we were leaving behind.

Many of the passengers were singing songs of harvestmen, lovers,
cattle-drovers, and sailors. One man, a hairy, villainous-looking
fellow, stood swaying unsteadily on the deck with a bottle of whisky in
one hand, and roaring out "Judy Brannigan."

     "Oh! Judy Brannigan, ye are me darlin',
     Ye are me lookin' glass from night till mornin'--
     I'd rather have ye without wan farden,
     Than Shusan Gallagheer with her house and garden."

Others joined in mixing up half a dozen songs in one musical outpouring,
and the result was laughable in the extreme.

     "If all the young maidens were ducks in the water,
     'Tis then the young men would jump out and swim after . . "
     "I'm Barney O'Hare from the County Clare
     I'm an Irish cattle drover,
     I'm not as green as ye may think
     Although I'm just new-over . . ."
     "For a sailor courted a farmer's daughter
     That lived convainint to the Isle of Man . . ."
     "As beautiful Kitty one mornin' was trippin'
     With a pitcher of milk to the fair of Coleraine
     And her right fol the dol right fol the doddy,
     Right fol the dol, right fol the dee."

I could not understand what "right fol the dol," etc., meant, but I
joined in the chorus when I found Micky's Jim roaring out for all he
was worth along with the rest.

There were many on board who were full of drink and fight, men who were
ready for quarrels and all sorts of mischief. One of these, a man called
O'Donnel, paraded up and down the deck with an open clasp-knife in his
hand, speaking of himself in the third person, and inviting everybody on
board to fistic encounter.

"This is young O'Donnel from the County Donegal," he shouted, alluding
to himself, and lifting his knife which shone red with the blood hues of
the sinking sun. "And young O'Donnel doesn't care a damn for a man on
this bloody boat. I can fight like a two-year-old bullock. A blow of me
fist is like a kick from a young colt, and I don't care a damn for a man
on this boat. Not for a man on this boat! I'm a Rosses man, and I don't
care a damn for a man on this boat!"

He looked terrible as he shouted out his threats. One eyebrow was cut
open and the flesh hung down even as far as his cheekbone. I could not
take my eyes away from him, and he suddenly noticed me watching his
antics. Then he slouched forward and hit me on the face, knocking me
down. The next instant Micky's Jim was on top of him, and I saw as if in
a dream the knife flying over the side of the vessel into the sea. Then
I heard my mate shouting, "Take that, you damned brat--and that--and
that!" He hammered O'Donnel into insensibility, and by the time I
regained my feet they were carrying the insensible man below. I felt
weak and dizzy. Jim took me to a seat, and Norah Ryan bathed my cheek,
which was swollen and bleeding.

"It was a shame to hit ye, Dermod," she said more than once as she
rubbed her soft fingers on the wound. Somehow I was glad of the wound,
because it won such attention from Norah.

The row between O'Donnel and Jim was only the beginning of a wild
night's fighting. All over the deck and down in the steerage the
harvestmen and labourers fought one with another for hours on end. Over
the bodies of the women who were asleep in every corner, over coils of
ropes, trunks and boxes of clothes, the drunken men struggled like
demons. God knows what they had to quarrel about! When I could not see
them I could hear them falling heavily as cattle fall amid a jumble of
twisted hurdles, until the drink and exertion overpowered them at last.
One by one they fell asleep, just where they had dropped or on the spot
where they were knocked down.

Towards midnight, when, save for the thresh of the propellers and the
pulsing of the engines, all was silent, I walked towards the stem of the
boat. There I found Norah Ryan asleep, her shawl drawn over her brown
hair, and the rising moon shining softly on her gentle face. For a
moment I kept looking at her; then she opened her eyes and saw me.

"Sit beside me, Dermod," she said. "It will be warmer for two."

I sat down, and the girl nestled close to me in the darkness. The sickle
moon drifted up the sky, furrowing the pearl-powdered floor with its
silver front. Far away on the Irish coast I could see the lights in the
houses along-shore. When seated a while I found Norah's hand resting in
mine, and then, lulled with the throb of the engine and the weeping song
of the sea, I fell into a deep sleep, forgetting the horror of the night
and the red wound on my face where O'Donnel had struck me with his fist.

Dawn was breaking when I awoke. Norah still slept, her head close
against my arm, and her face, beautiful in repose, turned towards mine.
Her cherry-red lips lay apart, and I could see the two rows of pearly
white teeth between. The pink tips of her ears peeped from amid the
coils of her hair, and I placed my hand on her head and stroked her
brown tresses ever so softly. She woke so quietly that the change from
sleeping to waking was hardly noticeable. The traces of dim dreams were
yet in her eyes, and as I watched her my mind was full of unspoken

"Have ye seen Scotland yet, Dermod?" she asked.

"That's it, I think," I said, as I pointed at the shoreline visible many
miles away.

"Isn't it like Ireland." Norah nestled closer to me as she spoke. "I
would like to be goin' back again," she said after a long silence.

"I'm going to make a great fortune in Scotland, Norah," I said. "And I'm
going to make you a great lady."

"Why are ye goin' to do that?" she asked.

"I don't know," I confessed, and the two of us laughed together.



     "'Tell the truth and shame the devil,' they say. Well, to tell you
     the truth, there are some truths which would indeed shame the
     devil!"--MOLESKIN JOE.

The potato merchant met us on Greenock quay next morning, and here
Micky's Jim marshalled his squad, which consisted in all of twenty-one
persons. Seventeen of these came from Ireland, and the remainder were
picked up from the back streets of Greenock and Glasgow. With the
exception of two, all the Irish women were very young, none of them
being over nineteen years of age, but the two extra women needed for the
squad were withered and wrinkled harridans picked from the city slums.
These women met us on the quay.

"D'ye see them?" Micky's Jim whispered to me. "They cannot make a livin'
on the streets, so they have to come and work with us. What d'ye think
of them?"

"I don't like the look of them," I said.

The potato merchant hurried us off to Buteshire the moment we arrived,
and we started work on a farm at mid-day. The way we had to work was
this. Nine of the older men dug the potatoes from the ground with short
three-pronged graips. The women followed behind, crawling on their knees
and dragging two baskets a-piece along with them. Into these baskets
they lifted the potatoes thrown out by the men. When the baskets were
filled I emptied the contents into barrels set in the field for that
purpose. These barrels were in turn sent off to the markets and big
towns which we had never seen.

The first day was very wet, and the rain fell in torrents, but as the
demand for potatoes was urgent we had to work through it all. The job,
bad enough for men, was killing for women. All day long, on their hands
and knees, they dragged through the slush and rubble of the field. The
baskets which they hauled after them were cased in clay to the depth of
several inches, and sometimes when emptied of potatoes a basket weighed
over two stone. The strain on the women's arms must have been terrible.
But they never complained. Pools of water gathered in the hollows of the
dress that covered the calves of their legs. Sometimes they rose and
shook the water from their clothes, then went down on their knees again.
The Glasgow women sang an obscene song, "just by way o' passing the
time," one of them explained, and Micky's Jim joined in the chorus. Two
little ruts, not at all unlike the furrows left by a coulter of a
skidding plough, lay behind the women in the black earth. These were
made by their knees.

We left off work at six o'clock in the evening, and turned in to look up
our quarters for the night. We had not seen them yet, for we started
work in the fields immediately on arriving. A byre was being prepared
for our use, and a farm servant was busily engaged in cleaning it out
when we came in from the fields. He was shoving the cow-dung through a
trap-door into a vault below. The smell of the place was awful. There
were ten cattle stalls in the building, five on each side of the raised
concrete walk that ran down the middle between two sinks. These stalls
were our sleeping quarters.

The byre was built on the shoulder of a hillock and the midden was
situated in a grotto hollowed underneath; its floor was on a level with
the cart-road outside, and in the corner of this vault we had to build a
fire for cooking our food. A large dung-hill blocked the entrance, and
we had to cross this to get to the fire which sparkled brightly behind.
Around the blaze we dried our sodden clothes, and the steam of the
drying garments rose like a mist around us.

One of the strange women was named Gourock Ellen, which goes to show
that she had a certain fame in the town of that name. The day's drag had
hacked and gashed her knees so that they looked like minced flesh in a
butcher's shop window. She showed her bare knees, and was not in the
least ashamed. I turned my head away hurriedly, not that the sight of
the wounds frightened me, but I felt that I was doing something wrong in
gazing at the bare leg of a woman. I looked at Norah Ryan, and the both
of us blushed as if we had been guilty of some shameful action. Gourock
Ellen saw us, and began to sing a little song aloud:

     "When I was a wee thing and lived wi' my granny,
     Oh! it's many a caution my granny gi'ed me,
     She said: 'Now be wise and beware o' the boys,
     And don't let the petticoats over your knee.'"

When she finished her verse she winked knowingly at Micky's Jim, and,
strange to say, Jim winked back.

We boiled a pot of potatoes, and poured the contents into a wicker
basket which was placed on the floor of the vault. Then all of us sat
down together and ate our supper like one large family, and because we
were very hungry did not mind the reeking midden behind us.

During our meal an old bent and wrinkled man came hobbling across the
dung-heap towards the fire. His clothing was streaming wet and only held
together by strings, patches, and threads. He looked greedily towards
the fire, and Gourock Ellen handed him three hot potatoes.

"God bless ye," said the man in a thin piping voice. "It's yerself that
has the kindly heart, good woman."

He ate hurriedly like a dog, as if afraid somebody would snatch the
bread from between his jaws. He must have been very hungry, and I felt
sorry for the man. I handed him the can of milk which I had procured at
the farmhouse, and he drank the whole lot at one gulp.

"It's yerself that is the dacent youngster, God bless ye!" he said, and
there were tears in his eyes. "And isn't this a fine warm place ye are
inside of this wet night."

The smell of the midden was heavy in my nostrils, and the smoke of the
fire was paining my eyes.

"It's a rotten place," I said.

"Sure and it's not at all," said the man in a pleading voice. "It's
better than lyin' out under a wet hedge with the rain spat-spatterin' on
yer face."

"Why do you lie under a hedge?" I asked.

"Sure, no one wants me at all, at all, because of the pain in me back
that won't let me stoop over me work," said the man. "In the farms they
say to me, 'Go away, we don't want ye'; in the village they say, 'Go
away, we're sick of lookin' at ye,' and what am I to do? Away in me own
country, that is Mayo, it's always the welcome hand and a bit and sup
when a man is hungry, but here it's the scowling face and the ill word
that is always afore an old man like me."

One by one the women went away from the fire, for they were tired from
their day's work and wanted to turn into bed as early as possible. The
old man sat by the fire looking into the flames without taking any heed
of those around him. Jim and I were the last two to leave the fire, and
my friend shook the old man by the shoulder before he went out.

"What are ye goin' to do now?" asked Jim.

"Maybe ye'd let me sleep beside the fire till the morra mornin'," said
the man.

"Ye must go out of here," said Jim.

"Let him stay," I said, for I felt sorry for the poor old chap.

Jim thought for a minute. "Well, I'll let him stay, cute old cadger
though he is," he said, and the both of us went into the byre leaving
the old man staring dreamily into the flames.

One blanket apiece was supplied to us by the potato merchant, and by
sleeping two in a bed the extra blanket was made to serve the purpose of
a sheet. We managed to make ourselves comfortable by sewing bags
together in the form of a coverlet and placing the make-shift quilts
over our bodies.

"Where is Norah Ryan?" asked Micky's Jim, as he finished using his
pack-needle on the quilts which he was preparing for our use. Jim and I
were to sleep in the one stall.

Norah Ryan was not to be seen, and I went out to the fire to find if she
was there. From across the black midden I looked into the vault which
was still dimly lighted up by the dying flames, and there I saw Norah
speaking to the old man. She was on the point of leaving the place, and
I saw some money pass from her hand to that of the stranger.

"God be good to ye, decent girl," I heard the man say, as Norah took her
way out. I hid in the darkness and allowed her to pass without seeing
me. Afterwards I went in and gave a coin to the old man. He still held
the one given by Norah between his fingers, and it was a two-shilling
piece. Probably she had not another in her possession. What surprised me
most was the furtive way in which she did a kindness. For myself, when
doing a good action, I like everybody to notice it.

In the byre there was no screen between the women and the men. The
modesty of the young girls, when the hour for retiring came around, was
unable to bear this. The strange women did not care in the least.

The Irish girls sat by their bedsides and made no sign of undressing. I
slid into bed quietly with my trousers still on; most of the men
stripped with evident unconcern, nakedly and shamelessly.

"The darkness is a good curtain if the women want to take off their
clothes," said Micky's Jim, as he extinguished the only candle in the
place. He re-lit a match the next moment, and there was a hurried
scampering under the blankets in the stalls on the other side of the

"That's a mortal sin, Micky's Jim, that ye're doin'," said Norah Ryan,
and the two strange women laughed loudly as if very much amused at
persons who were more modest than themselves.

"Who are ye lyin' with, Norah Ryan? Is it Gourock Ellen?" asked my

"It is," came the answer.

"D'ye hear that, Dermod--a nun and a harridan in one bed?" said Jim
under his breath to me.

Outside the raindrops were sounding on the roof like whip-lashes. Jim
spoke again in a drowsy voice.

"We're keepin' some poor cows from their warm beds to-night," he said.

I kept awake for a long while, turning thoughts over in my mind. The
scenes on the 'Derry boat, and my recent experience in the soggy fields,
had taken the edge off the joy that winged me along the leading road to
Strabane. I was now far out into the heart of the world, and life loomed
darkly before me. The wet day went to crush my dreams and the ardour of
my spirits. Hitherto I had great belief in women, their purity, virtue,
and gentleness. But now my grand dreams of pure womanhood had collapsed.
The foul words, the loose jokes and obscene songs of the two women who
were strangers, the hard, black, bleeding and scabby knees that Gourock
Ellen showed to us at the fire had turned my young visions into
nightmares. The sight of the girls ploughing through the mucky clay,
and the wolfish stare of the old man who envied those who fed beside a
dungheap were repellent to me. I looked on life in all its primordial
brutishness and found it loathsome to my soul.

Only that morning coming up the Clyde, when Norah and I looked across
the water to a country new to both of us, my mind was full of dreams of
the future. But the rosy-tinted boyish dreams of morning were shattered
before the fall of night. Maybe the old man who lay by the dung-heap
came to Scotland full of dreams like mine. Now the spirit was crushed
out of him; he was broken on the wheel of life, and he had neither
courage to rob, sin, nor die. He could only beg his bit and apologise
for begging. The first day in Scotland disgusted me, made me sick of
life, and if it were not that Norah Ryan was in the squad I would go
back to Jim MaCrossan's farm again.

That night, as for many nights before, I turned into bed without saying
my prayers, and I determined to pray no more. I had been brought up a
Catholic, and to believe in a just God, and the eternal fire of
torments, but daily newer and stranger thoughts were coming into my
mind. Even when working with MaCrossan in the meadowlands my mind
reverted to the little book in which I read the story of the heavens.
God behind His million worlds had no time to pay any particular
attention to me. This thought I tried to drive away, for the Church had
still a strong hold on me, and anything out of keeping with my childish
creed entered my mind like a nail driven into the flesh. The new
thoughts, however, persisted, they took form and became part of my
being. The change was gradual, for I tried desperately to reject the new
idea of the universe and God. But the sight of the women in the fields,
the story of the old man with the pain in his back who slept under a wet
hedge was to me conclusive proof that God took no interest in the
personal welfare of men. And when I gripped the new idea as
incontestable truth it did not destroy my belief in God. Only the God of
my early days, the God who took a personal interest in my welfare, was

Sometimes the rest of the Catholic members of the squad went to chapel,
when the farm on which we wrought was near a suitable place of worship,
but I never went. Their visits were few and far between, for we were
distant from the big towns most of the time.

We seldom stopped longer than one fortnight at a time on any farm. We
shifted about here and there, digging twenty acres for one farmer, ten
for another, living in byres, pig-stys and barns, and taking life as we
found it. Daily we laboured together, the men bent almost double over
their graips, throwing out the potatoes to the girls who followed after,
dragging their bodies through the mire and muck like wounded animals,
and I lifted the baskets of potatoes and filled the barrels for market.
Still, for all the disadvantages, life was happy enough to me, because
Norah Ryan was near me working in the fields.

But the life was brutal, and almost unfit for animals. One night when we
were asleep in a barn the rain came through the roof and flooded the
earthen floor to a depth of several inches. Our beds being wet through,
we had to rise and stand for the remainder of the night knee-deep in the
cold water.

When morning came we went out to work in the wet fields.

Once when living in a pig-sty we were bothered by rats. When we were at
work they entered our habitation, ransacked the packets of food, gnawed
our clothes, and upset everything in the place. They could only get in
by one entrance, a hole in the wall above my bed, and by that same way
they had to go out. After a little while the rats became bolder and came
in by night when we were asleep. One night I awoke to find them jumping
down from the aperture, landing on my body in their descent. Then they
scampered away and commenced prowling around for food. I counted twenty
thuds on my breast, then stuck my trousers in the throat of the opening
above my bed and wakened Jim, who snored like a hog through it all. We
got up and lit a candle. When the rats saw the light they hurried back
to their hole, but we were ready and waiting for them, Micky's Jim with
a shovel shaft, and I with a graip shank. We killed them as they came,
all except one, which ran under the bed-clothes of Norah Ryan's bed.
There was great noise of screaming for a while, but somehow or another
Gourock Ellen got hold of the animal and squeezed it to death under the
blankets. I left my trousers in the aperture all night, and they were
nibbled almost to pieces in the morning. They were the only ones in my
possession, and I had to borrow a pair from Jim for the next day.

The farmer gave us a halfpenny for every rat's tail handed in, as he
wanted to get rid of the pests, and from that time forward Jim and I
killed several, and during the remainder of the season we earned three
pounds between us by hunting and killing rats. Gourock Ellen sometimes
joined in the hunt, by way of amusement, but her principal relaxation
was getting drunk on every pay-day.

The other woman, whose name was Annie, usually accompanied her on
Saturday to the nearest village, and the two of them got full together.
They also shared their food in common, but often quarrelled among
themselves over one thing and another. They fought like cats and swore
awfully, using the most vile language, but the next moment they were the
best of friends again. One Saturday night they returned from a
neighbouring village with two tramp men. Micky's Jim chased the two men
away from the byre in which we were living at the time.

"I'll have no whorin' about this place," he said.

"You're a damned religious beast to be livin' in a cowshed," said one of
the tramps.

One day Gourock Ellen asked me who did my washing, though I believe that
she knew I washed my own clothes with my own hands.

"Myself," I said in reply to Ellen's inquiry.

"Will yer own country girls not do it for you?"

"I can do it myself," I replied.

When I looked for my soiled under-garments a week later I could not find
them. I made inquiries and found that Gourock Ellen had washed them for

"It's a woman's work," she said, when I talked to her, and she washed my
clothes to the end of the season and would not accept payment for the

Nearly everyone in the squad looked upon the two women with contempt and
disgust, and I must confess that I shared in the general feeling. In my
sight they were loathsome and unclean. They were repulsive in
appearance, loose in language, and seemingly devoid of any moral
restraint or female decency. It was hard to believe that they were young
children once, and that there was still unlimited goodness in their
natures. Why had Gourock Ellen handed the potatoes to the old Mayo man
who was hungry, and why had she undertaken to do my washing without
asking for payment? I could not explain these impulses of the woman, and
sometimes, indeed, I cannot explain my own. I cannot explain why I then
disliked Gourock Ellen, despite what she had done for me, and to-day I
regret that ignorance of youth which caused me to despise a human being
who was (as after events proved) infinitely better than myself.



     "He would gamble on his father's tombstone and play banker with the

The middle of September was at hand, and a slight tinge of brown was
already showing on the leaves. We were now working on a farm where the
River Clyde broadens out to the waters of the deep ocean. One evening,
when supper was over, I went out alone to the fields and sat down on the
green sod and looked outwards to the grey horizon of the sea. Beside me
ran a long avenue of hazel bushes, and a thrush was singing on a near
bough, his amber and speckled bosom quivering with the passion of his
song. The sun had already disappeared, trailing its robe of carmine from
off the surface of the far water, and an early star was already keeping
its watch overhead. All at once the bushes of the hazel copse parted and
Norah Ryan stood before me.

"Is it here that ye are, Dermod, lookin' at the sea?"

"I was looking at the star above me," I replied.

Norah had discarded her working clothes, and now wore a soft grey tweed
dress that suited her well. Together we looked up at the star, and then
my eyes fell on the sweet face of my companion. In the shadow of her
hair I could see the white of her brow and the delicate and graceful
curve of her neck. Her brown tresses hung down her back even as far as
her waist, and the wind ruffled them ever so slightly. Somehow my
thoughts went back to the June seaweed rising and falling on the long
heaving waves of Trienna Bay. She noticed me looking at her, and she sat
down on the sod beside me.

"Why d'ye keep watchin' me?" she asked.

"I don't know," I answered in a lame sort of way, for I am not good at
making excuses. I was afraid to tell her that I liked the whiteness of
her brow, the softness of her hair, and the wonderful glance of her
eyes. No doubt she would have laughed at me if I did.

"Do you mind the night on the 'Derry boat?" I asked. "All that night
when you were asleep, I had your hand in mine."

"I mind it very well."

As she spoke she closed her fingers over mine and looked at me in the
eyes. The glance was one of a moment; our gaze met and the next instant
Norah's long lashes dropped slowly and modestly over the grey depths of
her eyes. There was something strange in that look of hers; it was the
glance of a soul which did not yet know itself, full of radiant
awakening and wonderful promise. In it was all the innocence of the
present and passion of the future; it was the glance both of a virgin
and a woman. We both trembled and looked up at the stars that came out
one by one into the broad expanse of heaven. The thrush had gone away,
and a little wind played amongst the branches of the trees. In the
distance we could hear the water breaking on the foreshore with a
murmurous plaint that was full of longing. We kept silence, for the
spell of the night was too holy to be broken by words. How long we
remained there I do not know, but when we returned to the byre all the
rest of the party were in bed. Next night I waited for her in the same
place and she came again, and for many nights afterwards we watched the
stars coming out while listening to the heart song of the sea.

One wet evening, early in October, when Norah and I were sitting by the
fire in the cart-shed that belonged to a farmer near Greenock, talking
to Micky's Jim about Glenmornan and the people at home, a strange man
came to the farmyard. Although a stranger to me, Micky's Jim knew the
fellow very well, for he belonged to a neighbouring village, was a noted
gambler, and visited the squad every year. He sat down and warmed his
hands at the fire while he looked critically at the members of the squad
who had come in to see him.

"Have ye the devil's prayer book with ye?" asked Jim.

"That I have," answered the man, drawing a pack of cards from his
pocket. "Will we have a bit o' the Gospel o' Chance?"

The body of a disused cart was turned upside down, and six or seven men
belonging to the squad sat around it and commenced to gamble for money
with the stranger. For a long while I watched the play, and at last put
a penny on a card and won. I put on another penny and another and won
again and again, for my luck was good. It was very interesting. We
gambled until five o'clock in the morning and at the finish of the game
I had profited to the extent of twenty-five shillings. During the game I
had eyes for nothing else; the women had gone to bed, but I never
noticed their departure, for my whole mind was given up to the play. All
day following I looked forward to the evening and the return of the man
with the devil's prayer book, and when he came I was one of the first to
give a hand to turn the disused cart upside down. The farmer's son, Alec
Morrison, a strong, well-knit youth, barely out of his teens, came in to
see the play and entered into conversation with Norah Ryan. He worked as
a bank clerk in Paisley, but spent every week-end at his father's farm.
He was a well-dressed youth; wore boots which were always clean, and a
gold ring with a blue stone in the centre of it shone on one of his
fingers. I took little heed of him, for my whole being was centred on
the game and my luck was good.

"Come Hallow E'en I'll have plenty of money to take home to Glenmornan,"
I said to myself, more than once, for on the second night I won over
thirty shillings.

The third night was against me--the third time, the gambler's own!--and
afterwards I lost money every night. But I could not resist the call of
the cards, the school fascinated me, and the sight of a winner's
upturned "flush" or "run" set my veins on fire. So I played night after
night and discussed the chances of the game day after day, until every
penny in my possession was in the hands of the man with the devil's
prayer book. Before I put my first penny on a card I had seven pounds in
gold, which I intended to take home to my people in Glenmornan. Now it
was all gone. Gourock Ellen offered me ten shillings to start afresh,
but I would not accept her money. Norah Ryan took no interest in the
game, her whole attention was now given up to the farmer's son, and it
was only when I had spent my last penny that I became aware of the fact.
He came in to see her every evening and passed hour after hour in her
company. I did not like this; I felt angry with her and with myself, and
I hated the farmer's son. I had many dreams of a future in which Norah
would play a prominent part, but now all my dreams were dashed to
pieces. Although outwardly I showed no trace of my feelings I felt very
miserable. Norah took no delight in my company any more, all her spare
time was given up to Alec Morrison. The cards did not interest me any
longer. I hated them, and considered that they were the cause of my
present misfortune. If I had left them alone and paid more attention to
Norah she would not have taken so much pleasure in the other man's

I nursed my mood for a fortnight, then I turned to the cards again and
lost all the money in my possession. On the first week of November,
when the squad broke up, I had the sum of twopence in my pocket. On the
evening prior to the day of the squad's departure, I came suddenly round
the corner of the hayshed by the farmhouse and saw a very curious thing.
Norah was standing there with the farmer's son and he was kissing her. I
came on the two of them suddenly, and when Norah saw me she ran away
from the man.

I had never thought of kissing Norah when she was alone with me. It was
a very curious thing to do, and it never entered into my mind. Perhaps
if I had kissed her when we were together she would like me the more for
it. Why I should kiss her was beyond my reasoning. All I knew was that I
longed for Norah with a great longing. I was now discouraged and
despondent. I felt that I had nothing to live for in the world.
To-morrow the rest of the party would go away to their homes with their
earnings and I would be left alone. I could not think for a moment of
going home penniless. I would stay in Scotland until I earned plenty of
money, and go home a rich man. I had not given up thoughts of becoming
rich. A hundred pounds to me was a fortune, fifty pounds was a large
amount, and twenty pounds was a sum which I might yet possess. If I
lived long enough I might earn a whole twenty, or maybe fifty pounds. I
had heard of workers who had earned as much. For the whole season I had
only sent two pounds home to my own people, while I spent seven on the
cards. I played cards because I wanted to make a bigger pile. Now I had
but twopence left in my possession!

The squad broke up next day, and Norah Ryan had hardly a word to say to
me when bidding good-bye, but she had two hours to spare for
leave-taking with Morrison, who, although it was now the middle of the
week, a time when he should be at business in the bank, had come to
spend a day on the farm. No doubt he had come to bid Norah good-bye.
Micky's Jim was going home to Ireland, and Gourock Ellen and Annie said
that they were going to Glasgow to get drunk on their last week's pay.

It was afternoon when the party broke up and set out for the railway
station, and a heavy snow was lying on the ground. I got turned out of
the byre by the farmer when the rest went off, and I found myself in a
strange country, houseless, friendless, and alone.

The road lay behind me and before me, and where was I to turn? This was
the question that confronted me as I went out, ragged and shivering,
into the cold snow with nothing, save twopence, between me and the cold
chance charity of the world. A man can't get much for twopence. While
working there was byre or pig-sty for shelter; when idle I was not worth
the shelter of the meanest roof in the whole country. I walked along, my
mind confused with various thoughts, and certain only of one thing. I
must look for work. But God alone knew how long it would be until I got
a job! I was only a boy who thought that he was a man, and it was now
well into early winter. There was very little work to be done at that
season of the year on farms or, indeed, anywhere. A man might get a job;
a boy had very little chance of finding employment. My clothes were
threadbare, my boots were leaking, and the snow was on the ground. I
felt cold and lonely and a little bit tired of life.

Suddenly I met Gourock Ellen, and it came to me that I was travelling
towards the station. I thought that the woman was returning for
something which she had forgotten, but I was mistaken.

"I came back tae see you, Dermod," she said.

"Why?" I asked in surprise.

"I thought up tae the very last minute that you were goin' hame till
Ireland, but Jim Scanlon has tellt me at the station that you are goin'
tae stop here. He says that you have ower a pound in siller. Is that

"That's so," I lied, for I disliked to be questioned in such a manner. I
told Jim that I had a pound in my possession. Otherwise he would have
prevailed upon me to accept money from himself. But I am too proud to
accept a favour of that kind.

"I've been watchin' you at the cards, Dermod, and I know the kin' o'
luck you had," said Gourock Ellen. "Ye'll hardly have yin penny left at
this very minute. Six shillin's, half of my last week's pay, would d'you
no harm, if you'd care to take it."

"I don't want it," I said.

"Then you don't know what it is to fast for hours on end, to get turned
away from every door with kicks and curses, and to have the dogs of the
country put after your heels."

"I don't want your money," I said, for I could not accept money from
such a woman.

"I liked you from the first time I saw you, gin that I am a bad woman
itself," she said, as if divining my thoughts. "And I dinna like to see
you goin' out on the cauld roads with not a copper in your pockets. I'm
auld enough to be your----"

Her cheeks gave the faintest suspicion of a blush, and she stopped
speaking for just a second, leaving the last word, which no doubt she
intended to speak, unuttered on her tongue.

"You can have half of my money if you want it, and if you like you can
come with me tae Glesga, and I'll find you a bed and bite until you get
a job."

"I'm not going to Glasgow," I said, for it was not in my heart to go
into the one house with that woman. I could not explain my dislike for
her company, but I preferred the cold night and the snow to the bed and
bite which she promised me.

"Well, you can take the couple o' shillin's anyway," she persisted;
"they'll do you no ill."

"I don't want your money," I said for the third time.

"'Twas earned decently, anyway," she said. "I canna see why you'll no
take it. Will you bid me good-bye, Dermod?"

She put out her hand to me as she spoke, and I pressed it warmly, for in
truth I was glad to get rid of her. Suddenly she reached forward and
kissed me on the cheek; then hurried away, leaving me alone on the
roadway. The woman's kiss disconcerted me, and I suddenly felt ashamed
of my coldness towards her. She was kind-hearted and considerate, and I
was a brute. I looked after her. When she would turn round I would call
to her to stop, and I would go with her to Glasgow. The thought of
spending the night homeless on the bleak road frightened me. She reached
the corner of the road and went out of my sight without ever turning
round. I looked at the two coppers which I possessed, and wondered why I
hadn't taken the money which Gourock Ellen offered me. I also wondered
why she had kissed me.



     "A nail in the sole of your bluchers jagging your foot like a pin,
     And every step of the journey driving it further in;
     Then out on the great long roadway, you'll find when you go abroad,
     The nearer you go to nature, the further you go from God."

     --_A Song of the Dead End_.

Out on tramp, homeless in a strange country, with twopence in my pocket!
The darkness lay around me and the snow was white on the ground.
Whenever I took my hands out of my pockets the chill air nipped them
like pincers. One knee was out through my trousers, and my boots were
leaking. The snow melted as it came through the torn uppers, and I could
hear the water gurgling between my toes as I walked. When I passed a
lighted house I felt a hunger that was not of the belly kind. I came to
the village of Bishopton, and went into a little shop, where I asked for
a pennyworth of biscuits. The man weighed them in scales that shone like
gold, and broke one in halves to make the exact weight.

"There's nothin' like fair measure, laddie," he said.

"Is there any chance of a man getting a job about this district?" I

"What man?" said the shopkeeper.

"Me," I said.

"Get out, ye scamp!" roared the man. "It would be better for you to go
to bed instead of tryin' to take a rise out of yer betters."

"You are an old pig!" I shouted at the man, for I did not like his way
of speaking, and disappeared into the darkness. I ate the biscuits, but
felt hungrier after my meal than I was before it.

The night was calm and deadly cold. Overhead a very pale moon forged its
way through a heaven of stars. On such a night it is a pleasure to sit
before a nice warm fire on a well-swept hearth. I had no fire, no home,
no friends; nothing but the bleak road and the coldness. I kept walking,
walking. I knew that it would be unwise to sit down: perhaps I would
fall asleep and die. I did not want to die. It was so much better to
walk about on the roads of a strange country in which there was nobody
to care what became of me; no one except an old harridan, and she was
far away from me now. The love of life was strong within me, for I was
very young, and never did I cling closer to life than I did at that
moment when it was blackest. My thoughts went to the future and the good
things which might lie before me.

"I'll get a job yet," I said to myself. "I'll walk about until I meet
somebody who needs me. Then I'll grow up in years and work among men,
maybe getting a whole pound a week as my pay. A pound a week is a big
wage, and it will amount to a lot in a year. I will pay ten shillings a
week for my keep in some lodging-house, as Micky's Jim had done when he
worked on Greenock pier, and I will save the other half-sovereign. Ten
shillings a week amounts to twenty-six pounds a year. In ten years I
shall save two hundred and sixty pounds. Such a big lump-sum of money!
Two hundred and sixty pounds!

"It will be hard to keep a wife on a pound a week, but I will always
remain single, and send my money home to my own people. If I don't, I'll
never have any luck. I will never gamble again. Neither will I marry,
for women are no earthly use, anyway. They get old, wrinkled, and fat
very quickly. They are all alike, every one of them."

I found my thoughts wandering from one subject to another like those of
a person who is falling asleep. Anyhow, I had something to live for, so
I kept walking, walking on.

I was in the open country, and I did not know where the road was leading
to, but that did not matter. I was as near home in one place as in

From one point of the sky, probably the north, I saw the clouds rising,
covering up the stars, and at last blotting the moon off the sky as a
picture is wiped off a slate. It was more dismal than ever when the moon
and stars were gone, for now I was alone with the night and the
darkness. I could hear the wind as it passed through the telegraph wires
by the roadside. It was a weeping wind, and put me in mind of the breeze
calling down the chimney far away at home in Glenmornan.

A low bent man came out of the darkness and shuffled by. "It looks like
snow," he said, in passing.

"It does," I replied. I could not see his face, but his voice was
kindly. He shuffled along. Perhaps he was going home to a warm supper
and bed. I did not know, and I wondered who the man was.

Suddenly the snow from the darkness above drifted down and my clothes
were white in an instant. My bare knee became very cold, for the flakes
melted on it as they fell. The snow ran down my legs and made me shiver.
I took off my muffler and tied it around the hole in my trousers to
prevent the snowflakes from getting in. I felt wearied and cold, but
after a while I got very angry. I got angry, not with myself, but with
the wind, the snow, my leaky boots and ragged clothes. I was angry with
the man who carried the devil's prayer book, and also with the man who
broke a biscuit in two because he was an honest body and a believer in
fair measure. Perhaps I ought to have been angry with myself, for did I
not spend all my money at the card school, and was it not my own fault
that now I had only one penny in my possession? If I had saved my money
like Micky's Jim I would have now eight or nine pounds in my pocket.

Suddenly the snow cleared, and my eyes fell on a farmhouse hardly a
stone's-throw away from the road. Thinking that I might get a shed to
lie in I went towards it. There was no light showing in the house and it
must have been long after midnight. As I approached a dog ran at me
yelping. I turned and fled, but the dog caught my trousers and hung on,
trying to fasten his teeth in my leg. I twisted round and swung him
clear, then lifted my boot and aimed a blow at the animal which took him
on the jaw. His teeth snapped together like a trap, and he ran back
squealing. I took to my heels and returned to the road. From there I saw
a light in the farmhouse, so I ran quicker than ever. I was frightened
at what I had done; I had committed a crime in looking for a night's
shelter along with the beasts of the byre. I could not get sleeping with
men; I was not a man. I could not get sleeping in a shed; I was not even
a brute beast. I was merely a little boy who was very hungry, ragged,
and tired.

I ran for a long distance, and was sweating all over when I stopped. I
stood until I got cool, then continued my walking, walking through the
darkness. I was still walking when the day broke cold and cheerless. I
met a navvy going to his work and I asked him for a penny. He had no
money, but he gave me half of the food which he had brought from home
for his daily meal.

On the outskirts of Paisley I went to the door of a mansion to ask for a
penny. A man opened the door. He was a fat and comfortable-looking,
round-paunched fellow. He told me to get off before the dog was put
after me. I hurried off, and forsook the big houses afterwards.

Once in Paisley I sat down on a kerbstone under the Caledonian Railway
Bridge in Moss Street. I fell asleep, and slept until a policeman woke
me up.

"Go away from here!" he roared at me. I got away.

A gang of men were laying down tramway rails on the street and I went
forward and asked the overseer for a job. He laughed at me for a minute,
then drew his gang around to examine me.

"He's a fine bit o' a man," said one.

"He's shouthered like a rake," said another.

Discomfited and disgusted I hurried away from the grinning circle of
men, and all day long I travelled through the town. I soon got tired of
looking for work, and instead I looked for food. I was very
unsuccessful, and youth is the time for a healthy appetite. I spent my
last penny on a bun, and when it was dark I got a crust from a night
watchman who sat in a little hut by the tram-lines. About midnight I
left the town and went into the country. The snow was no longer falling,
but a hard frost had set in. About two o'clock in the morning I lay down
on the cold ground utterly exhausted, and fell asleep. When dawn came I
rose, and shivering in every limb I struck out once more on my journey.
I looked for work on the farms along the road, but at every place I was
turned away.

"Go back to the puirs' house," said every second or third farmer.

I went to one farmhouse when the men were coming out from dinner.

"Are you lookin' for a job?" asked a man, whom I took to be master.

"I am," I answered.

"Then give us a hand in the shed for a while," he said.

I followed the party into a large building where implements were
stored, and the men gathered round a broken reaper which had to be taken
out into the open.

"Help us out with this," said the farmer to me.

There were six of us altogether, and three went to each side of the
machine and caught hold of it.

"Now, lift!" shouted the farmer.

The men at the other side lifted their end, but ours remained on the
ground despite all efforts to raise it.

"Damn you, lift!" said my two mates angrily to me.

I put all my energy into the work, but the cold and hunger had taken the
half of my strength away. We could not lift the machine clear of the
ground. The farmer got angry.

"Get out of my sight, you spineless brat!" he roared to me, and I left
the farmyard. When I came to the high-road again there were tears in my
eyes. They were tears of shame; I was ashamed of my own weakness.

For a whole week afterwards I tramped through the country, hating all
men, despised by everyone, and angry with my own plight. A few gave me
food, some cursed me from their doors, and a great number mocked me as I
passed. "Auld ragged breeks!" the children of the villages cried after
me. "We're sick o' lookin' at the likes o' you!" the fat tubs of women,
who stood by their cottage doors, said when I asked them for something
to eat. Others would say: "Get out o' our sight, or we'll tell the
policeman about you. Then you'll go to the lock-up, where you'll only
get bread and water and a bed on a plank."

Such a dreadful thing! It shocked me to think of it, and for a while I
always hurried away when women spoke in such a manner. However, in the
end, suffering caused me to change my opinions. A man with an empty
stomach may well prefer bread and water to water, a bed on a plank to a
bed on the snow, and the roof of a prison to the cold sky over him. So
it was that I came into Paisley again at the end of the week and asked a
policeman to arrest me. I told him that I was hungry and wanted
something to eat. The man was highly amused.

"You must break the law before the king feeds you," he said.

"But I have been begging," I persisted.

"If you want me to arrest you, break a window," said the man. "Then I'll
take you before a bailie and he'll put you into a reformatory, where
they'll give you a jail-bird's education. You'll come out worse than you
went in, and it's ten to one in favour of your life ending with a hempen
cravat round your neck."

The man put his hand in his pocket and took out a sixpence, which he
handed to me.

"Run away now and get something to eat," he shouted in an angry voice,
and I hurried away hugging the silver coin in my hand. That night I got
twopence more, and fed well for the first time in a whole week.

I met the policeman once again in later years. He was a Socialist, and
happened to have the unhealthy job of protecting blacklegs from a crowd
of strikers when I met him for the second time. While pretending to keep
the strikers back he was urging them to rush by him and set upon the
blacklegs--the men who had not the backbone to fight for justice and
right. Not being, as a Socialist, a believer in charity, he feigned to
be annoyed when I reminded him of his generous action of years before.



     "Soft words may win a woman's love, or soothe a maiden's fears.
     But hungry stomachs heed them not--the belly hasn't ears."

     --From _The Maxims of Moleskin Joe_.

That night I slept in a watchman's hut on the streets, and in the
morning I obtained a slice of bread from a religious lady, who gave me a
long harangue on the necessity of leading a holy life. Afterwards I went
away from Paisley, and out on the road I came upon a man who was walking
along by himself. He was whistling a tune, and his hands were deep in
his trousers' pockets. He had knee-straps around his knees, and a long
skiver of tin wedged between one of the straps and the legs of his
trousers, which were heavy with red muck frozen on the cloth. The cloth
itself was hard, and rattled like wood against the necks of his boots.
He was very curiously dressed. He wore a pea-jacket, which bore marks of
the earth of many strange sleeping-places. A grey cap covered a heavy
cluster of thick dark hair. But the man's waistcoat was the most
noticeable article of apparel. It was made of velvet, ornamented with
large ivory buttons which ran down the front in parallel rows. Each of
his boots was of different colour; one was deep brown, the other dark
chrome; and they were also different in size and shape.

In later years I often wore similar boots myself. We navvies call them
"subs." and they can be bought very cheaply in rag-stores and
second-hand clothes-shops. One boot has always the knack of wearing
better than its fellow. The odd good boot is usually picked up by a
rag-picker, and in course of time it finds its way into a rag-store,
where it is thrown amongst hundreds of others, which are always ready
for further use at their old trade. A pair of odd boots may be got for a
shilling or less, and most navvies wear them.

The man's face was strongly boned and fierce of expression. He had not
shaved for weeks. His shoulders were broad, and he stood well over six
feet in height. At once I guessed that he was very strong, so I liked
the man even before I spoke to him.

"Where are you for?" he asked when I overtook him.

"God knows," I answered. "Where are you for?"

"Christ knows," he replied, and went on with the tune which he had left
off to question me.

When he had finished whistling he turned to me again.

"Are you down and out?" he asked.

"I slept out last night," I answered.

"The first time?" he enquired.

"I slept out for a whole week."

"There's a good time comin', though we may never live to see it," he
said, by way of consolation. "Had you anything to eat this mornin'?"

"A slice of bread," I said; then added, "and a lot of advice along with
it from an old lady."

"Damn her advice!" cried the man angrily. "The belly hasn't ears. A
slice of bread is danged mealy grub for a youngster."

He stuck his hand in the pocket of his pea-jacket and drew out a chunk
of currant bread, which he handed to me.

"Try that, cully," he said.

I ate it ravenously, for I was feeling very hungry.

"By cripes! you've a stomach," said my companion, when I had finished
eating. "Where are you for, anyhow?"

"I don't know. I'm looking for work."

"It's not work you need; it's rest," said the stranger.

"You've been working," I replied, looking at his covering of muck. "Why
don't you clean your trousers and shoes?"

"If you were well fed you'd be as impudent as myself," said the man.
"And clean my trousers and shoes! What's the good of being clean?"

"It puts the dirt away."

"It does not; it only shifts it from one place to another. And as to
work--well, I work now and again, I'm sorry to say, although I done all
the work that a man is put into the world to do before I was twenty-one.
What's your name?"

"Dermod Flynn. What's yours?"

"Joe--Moleskin Joe, my mates calls me. Have you any tin?"

"Twopence," I replied, showing the man the remainder of the eightpence
which I had picked up the night before.

"You're savin' up your fortune," he said with fine irony. "I haven't a
penny itself."

"Where did you get the currant cake?" I asked.

"Stole it."

"And the waistcoat?"

"Stole it," said the man, and then continued with thinly-veiled sarcasm
in his voice. "My name's Moleskin Joe, as I've told you already. I don't
mind havin' seen my father or mother, and I was bred in a workhouse. I'm
forty years of age--more or less--and I started work when I was seven.
I've been in workhouse, reformatory, prison, and church. I went to
prison of my own free will when the times were bad and I couldn't get a
mouthful of food outside, but it was always against my will that I went
to church. I can fight like hell and drink like blazes, and now that you
know as much about my life as I know myself you'll maybe be satisfied.
You're the most impudent brat that I have ever met."

The man made the last assertion in a quiet voice, as if stating a fact
which could not be contradicted. I did not feel angry or annoyed with
the man who made sarcastic remarks so frankly and good-humouredly. For a
long while I kept silence and the two of us plodded on together.

"Why do you drink?" I asked at last.

"Why do I drink?" repeated the man in a voice of wonder. "Such a funny
question! If God causes a man to thirst He'll allow him to drink, for
He's not as bad a chap as some of the parsons make Him out to be. Drink
draws a man nearer to heaven and multiplies the stars; and 'Drink when
you can, the drouth will come' is my motto. Do you smoke or chew?"

He pulled a plug of tobacco from his pocket, bit a piece from the end of
it, and handed the plug to me. Now and again I had taken a whiff at
Micky's Jim's pipe, and I liked a chew of tobacco. Without answering
Moleskin's question I took the proffered tobacco and bit a piece off it.

"There's some hope for you yet," was all he said.

We walked along together, and my mate asked a farmer who was standing by
the roadside for a few coppers to help us on our way.

"Go to the devil!" said the farmer.

"Never mind," Moleskin remarked to me when we got out of hearing.
"There's a good time comin', though we may never live to see it in this

Afterwards we talked of many things, and Joe told me of many adventures
with women who were not good and men who were evil. When money was
plentiful he lived large and drank between drinks as long as he was
able to stand on his feet.

The man impressed me, and, what was most wonderful, he seemed to enjoy
life. Nights spent out in the cold, days when hardly a crust of food was
obtainable, were looked upon as a matter of course by him.

"Let us live to-day, if we can, and the morrow can go be damned!" he
said, and this summed up the whole of his philosophy as far as I could
see. It would be fine to live such a life as his, I thought, but such a
life was not for me. I had my own people depending on my earnings, and I
must make money to send home to Glenmornan. If I had a free foot I would
live like Joe, and at that moment I envied the man who was born in a
workhouse and who had never seen a father or mother.

A lot of events took place on the road. Passing along we overtook a
dour-faced man who carried a spade over his shoulder.

"He's goin' to dig his own grave," said Moleskin to me.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Well, I'd like to know how a man is goin' to live long if he works on a
day like this!"

Just as we came up to him a young woman passed by and gave us an
impudent glance, as Moleskin called it. She was good to look at and had
a taking way with her. As she went by the man with the spade turned and
looked after her.

"Did ye see that woman?" he asked Moleskin when we came abreast.

"By God, I'm not blind!" said my friend.

"Dinna sweer," said the man with the spade. "'Tis an evil habit."

"'Tisn't a habit," said Joe. "'Tis a gift."

"'Tis a gift frae the deevil," replied the other man. "A gift frae the
deevil, that's what it is. 'Tis along with that woman that ye should be,
though God forgi'e me for callin' her a woman, for her house is on the
way tae Sheol goin' doon tae the chambers of death. I wadna talk tae her
wi' muckle mooth sine she be a scarlet woman with a wily heart."

"What are you jawin' about?" asked Moleskin, who seemed at a loss what
to make of the man with the spade, while for myself I did not in the
least understand him.

"Have you a sixpence?" asked Joe suddenly.

"A sixpence?" queried the man. "Gin that I hae, what is it tae ye?"

"If you have a sixpence you should have given it to that woman when she
was passin'. She's a lusty wench."

"Gi'e a sixpence to that woman!" replied the stranger. "I wadna do it,
mon, if she was lyin' for death by the roadside. I'm a Chreestian."

"I would give up your company in heaven for hers in hell any day," said
Moleskin, as the man with the spade turned into a turnip field by the
roadside. "And never look too much into other people's faults or you're
apt to forget your own!" roared Joe, by way of a parting shot.

"Don't you think that I had the best of that argument?" Joe asked me
five minutes later.

"What was it all about?" I asked.

"I don't know what he was jawin' at half of the time," said Joe. "But
his talk about the Christian was a damned good hit against me. However,
I got in two good hits myself! The one about her company in hell and the
one about lookin' too much into other people's faults were a pair up for
me. I think that I did win, Flynn, and between me and you I never like
to get the worst of either an argument or a fight."



     "The opinions of a man who argues with his fist are always
     respected."--MOLESKIN JOE.

About midday we met a red-faced farmer driving a spring-cart along the

"Where are you bound for?" he called to me as he reined up his pony.

"What the hell is it to you?" asked Moleskin, assuming a pugilistic pose
all of a sudden. Love of fighting was my mate's great trait, and I found
it out in later years. He would fight his own shadow for the very fun of
the thing. "The man who argues with his fist is always respected," he
often told me.

"I'm lookin' for a young lad who can milk and take care of beasts in a
byre," replied the man nervously, for Joe's remark seemed to have
frightened him. "Can the youngster milk?"

"I can," I answered gleefully. I had never caught hold of a cow's teat
in my life, but I wanted work at all costs, and did not mind telling a
lie. A moment before I was in a despondent mood, seeing nothing in front
of me but the life of the road for years to come, but now, with the
prospect of work and wages before me, I felt happy. Already I was
forming dreams of the future, and my mind was once more turning to the
homecoming to Glenmornan when I became a rich man. A lot of my dreams
had been dashed to pieces already, but I was easily captured and made
the slave of new ones. Also, there was a great deal of my old pride
slipping away. There was a time when I would not touch a cow's teat, but
the Glenmornan pride that looked down upon such work was already gone.

"Milk!" cried Moleskin in answer to the last remark of the farmer. "You
should see my son under a cow! He's the boy for a job like that, you'll
find. What wages are you goin' to offer him?"

"Ten pounds from now till May-day, if he suits," replied the farmer.

"He'll suit you all right," said Joe. "But he'll not go with you for one
penny less than eleven pounds."

"I'll take ten pounds, Moleskin," I cried. I did not want to sleep
another night on the cold ground.

"Hold your blessed jaw," growled my mate. Then he turned to the farmer
again and went on:

"Eleven pounds and not one penny less. Forbye, you must give me
something for lettin' him go with you, as I do not like to lose the

After a great deal of haggling, during which no notice was taken of me,
a bargain was struck, the outcome of which was that I should receive the
sum of ten guineas at the end of six months spent in the employ of the
farmer. My "father" received five shillings, paid on the nail, because
he allowed me to go to work.

"There's a good time comin', though we may never live to see it," said
Joe, as he shoved the silver into his pocket and cast a farewell glance
at me as I climbed into the cart. I caught my mate's square look for a
minute. In the left eye a faint glimmer appeared and the eyelid slowly
descended. Then he bit a piece off the end of his plug, started
whistling a tune and went on his way.

The farmer set the young cob at a gallop, and in about a quarter of an
hour we arrived at his place, which was called Braxey Farm. When
evening came round my master found that I could not milk.

"You'll learn," he said, not at all unkindly, and proceeded to teach me
the correct way in which to coax a cow's udder. In a fortnight's time I
was one of the best milkers in the byre.

Just off the stable I had a room to sleep in, an evil-smelling and dirty
little place crammed with horses' harness and agricultural implements.
But after the nights spent on the snow I thought the little room and the
bed the most cosy room and bed in the world. I slept there all alone,
and by night I could hear the horses pawing the floor of the stable, and
sometimes I was wakened by the noise they made and thought that somebody
had gotten into my room.

I started work at five o'clock in the morning and finished at seven in
the evening, and when Sunday came round I had to feed the ploughman's
horses in addition to my ordinary work.

I liked the place in a negative sort of way; it was dull and depressing,
but it was better than the life of the road. Now and again I got a
letter from home, and my people were very angry because I had sent so
little money to them during the summer months. For all that, I liked to
get a letter from home, and I loved to hear what the people whom I had
known since childhood were doing. On the farm there was no one to speak
to me or call me friend. The two red-cheeked servant girls who helped me
at the milking hardly ever took any notice of me, a kid lifted from the
toll-road. They were decent ploughmen's daughters, and they let me know
as much whenever I tried to become familiar. After all, I think they
liked me to speak to them, for they could thus get an excuse to dwell on
their own superior merits.

"Workin' wi' a lad picked off the roads, indeed! Whoever heard of such
a thing for respectable lassies!" they exclaimed.

Even the ploughman who worked on the farm ignored me when he was out of
temper. When in a good humour he insulted me by way of pastime.

"You're an Eerish pig!" he roared at me one evening.

I am impulsive, and my temper, never the best, was becoming worse daily.
When angry I am blind to everything but my own grievance, and the
ploughman's taunt made me angrier than ever I had been in my life
before. He had just come into the byre where the girls and I were
milking. He was a married man, but he loved to pass loose jokes with the
two young respectable lassies, and his filthy utterances amused them.

Although the ploughman was a big hardy fellow, his taunt angered me, and
made me blind to his physical advantages. I rushed at him head down and
butted him in the stomach. He flattened out in the sink amidst the
cow-dung, and once I got him down I jumped on him and rained a shower of
blows on his face and body. The girls screamed, the cows jumped wildly
in the stalls, and we were in imminent danger of getting kicked to
death. So I heard later, but at that moment I saw nothing but the face
which was bleeding under my blows. The ploughman was much stronger than
I, and gripping me round the waist he turned me over, thus placing me
under himself. I struggled gamely, but the man suddenly hit my head
against the flagged walk and I went off in a swoon. When I came to
myself, the farmer, the two girls, and the ploughman were standing over

I struggled to my feet, rushed at the man again, and taking him by
surprise I was able to shove him against one of the cows in the stall
nearest him. The animal kicked him in the leg, and, mad with rage, he
reached forward and gripped me by the throat with the intention of
strangling me. But I was not afraid; the outside world was non-existent
to me at that moment, and I wanted to fight until I fell again.

The farmer interposed. We were separated and the ploughman left the
byre. That night I did not sleep; my anger burned like a fire until
dawn. The next day I felt dizzy and unwell, but that was the only evil
result of the fight. The ploughman never spoke to me again, civilly or
otherwise, and I was left in peace.

From start to finish the work on Braxey Farm was very wearisome, and the
surroundings were soul-killing and spiritless. By nature I am sensitive
and refined. A woman of untidy appearance disgusts me, a man who talks
filthily without reason is utterly repellent to me. The ploughman with
his loose jokes I loathed, the girls I despised even more than they
despised me. Their dislike was more affected than real; my dislike was
real though less ostentatious. It gave me no pleasure to tell a dirty
slut that she was dirty, but a dirty woman annoyed me in those days. I
could not imagine a man falling in love with one of those women, with
their short, inelegant petticoats and hobnailed shoes caked with the
dried muck of the farmyard. I could not imagine love in the midst of
such filth, such squalid poverty. But I did not then understand the
meaning of love; to me it was something which would exist when Norah
Ryan became a lady, and when I had a grand house wherein to pay her
homage. I am afraid that my knowledge of life was very small.

The talk of the two girls gave me the first real insight into love and
all that it cloaks with the false covering of poetical illusion. Every
poetical ideal, every charm and beauty which I had associated with love
was dispelled by the talk of those two women. For a while I did not
believe the things of which they spoke. My mind revolted. The ploughman
and the two girls continued their disgusting anecdotes. I did my best
not to listen. Knowing that I hated their talk the servants would
persist in talking, and every particle of information collected by them
was in course of time given to me.

My outlook on life became cynical and sour. I was a sort of outcast
among men, liking few and liked by none. When the end of the season came
I was pleased to get clear of Braxey Farm; the more familiar I became
with the people the more I disliked them. The farmer paid me nine
pounds, and explained that he retained the other thirty shillings
because he had to learn me how to milk.

"Your feyther was a great liar," he added.

Out of my wages I sent seven pounds home to Glenmornan and kept the
remainder for my own use, as I did not know when I could get a next job.
My mother sent me a letter that another brother was born to me--the
second since I left home--and asking me for some more money to help them
along with the rent. But my disposition was changing; my outlook on life
was becoming bitter, and I hated to be slave to farmers, landlords,
parents, and brothers and sisters. Every new arrival into the family was
reported to me as something for which I should be grateful. "Send home
some more money, you have another brother," ran the letters, and a sense
of unfairness crept over me. The younger members of the family were
taking the very life-blood out of my veins, and on account of them I had
to suffer kicks, snubs, cold and hunger. New brothers and sisters were
no pleasure to me. I rebelled against the imposition and did not answer
the letter.



     "He tramped through the colourless winter land or swined in the
       scorching heat,
     The dry skin hacked on his sapless hands or blistering on his feet;
     He wallowed in mire, unseen, unknown where your houses of pleasure
     And hapless hungry and chilled to the bone he builded the edifice."

     --From _A Song of the Dead End_.

In this true story, as in real life, men and women crop up for a moment,
do something or say something, then go away and probably never reappear
again. In my story there is no train of events or sequence of incidents
leading up to a desired end. When I started writing of my life I knew
not how I would end my story; and even yet, seeing that one thing
follows another so closely, I hardly know when to lay down my pen and
say that the tale is told. Sometimes I say, "I'll write my life up to
this day and no further," but suddenly it comes to me that to-morrow may
furnish a more fitting climax, and so on my story runs. In fiction you
settle upon the final chapter before you begin the first, and every
event is described and placed in the fabric of the story to suit an end
already in view. A story of real life, like real life itself, has no
beginning, no end. Something happens before and after; the first chapter
succeeds another and another follows the last. The threads of a made-up
story are like the ribs of an open umbrella, far apart at one end and
joined together at the other. You close the umbrella and it becomes
straight; you draw the threads of the story together at the end and the
plot is made clear. Emanating as it does from the mind of a man or
woman, the plot is worked up so that it arouses interest and compels
attention. Such an incident is unnecessary; then dispense with it. Such
a character is undesirable; then away with him. Such a conversation is
unfitting; then substitute one more suitable. But I, writing a true
story, cannot substitute imaginary talk for real, nor false characters
for true, if I am faithful to myself and the task imposed upon me when I
took to writing the story of my life. No doubt I shall have some readers
weak enough to be shocked by my disclosures; men and women, who like
ascetic hermits, fight temptation by running from it, and avoid sin by
shutting their eyes to it. But these need not be taken into account,
their weakness is not worthy of attention. I merely tell the truth,
speak of things as I have seen them, of people as I have known them, and
of incidents as one who has taken part in them. Truth needs no
apologies, frankness does not deserve reproof. I write of the ills which
society inflicts on individuals like myself, and when possible I lay
every wound open to the eyes of the world. I believe that there is an
Influence for Good working through the ages, and it is only by laying
our wounds open that we can hope to benefit by the Influence. Who
doctors the wounds which we hide from everybody's eyes?

It was beautiful weather and the last day of May, 1906, when I left
Braxey Farm and took to the road again. I obtained work, before night
fell, on an estate in the vicinity. The factor, a pompous man with a
large stomach, gave me the job; and I got lodgings with a labourer who
worked on the estate. My pay was eighteen shillings a week, and I
stopped a fortnight. At the end of that period I got sacked. This was
how it happened.

Two men, a fat man and a fatter, came to the spot where I was working
on the estate grounds. The fat man was the factor.

"Are you working here?" asked the fat man.

"Yes," I answered.

"'Yes, sir,' you mean," said the fatter man.

"I mean 'yes,'" I said. The man looked overbearing, and he annoyed me.

"I'm the master of this place," said the fatter man. "You must address
me as 'sir' when speaking to me."

A fat man looks awfully ridiculous with his big stomach, his short
breath, and short legs. An ugly man may look dignified; a gargoyle may
even possess the dignity of unrivalled ugliness, but a fat man with a
red face who poses as a dignified being is very funny to see. I never
raise my hat to any man, and I was not going to say "sir" to the blown
bubble in front of me.

"You had better say 'sir,'" said the factor. "This gentleman is your

The word "master" is repellent to me.

"Sir be damned!" I snapped out.

"Pay him off this evening," was all that gentleman said; and that
evening I was on the road again.

Afterwards I kept mucking about on farms and other places, working a day
here and a week there, earning a guinea clear at one job and spending it
while looking for the next. Sometimes I tramped for days at a time,
sleeping in haysheds, barns and ditches, and "bumming my grub," as we
tramps say, from houses by the roadside. Often in the darkness of the
night I lit my little fire of dried sticks under shelter of a rock or
tree, and boiled my billy of tea in the red flames. Then I would fall
asleep while looking at the pictures in the embers, and my dreams would
take me back again to Glenmornan and the road that led from Greenanore
to my home on the steep hillside of Donegal. Often and often I went
home to my own people in my nightly dreams. When morning came I would
set out again on my journey, leaving nothing to tell of my passing but
the ashes of my midnight fire. I had nothing to cheer me, no hopes, no
joys, no amusements. It was hard to obtain constant employment; a farmer
kept me a fortnight, a drainer a week, a roadmender a day, and
afterwards it was the road, the eternal, soul-killing road again. When I
had money I spent it easily; spending was my nearest approach to
pleasure. When I had aught in my purse I lived in suspense, thinking of
the time when all would be spent, but when the coin was gone I had the
contentment of a man who knows that he can fall no lower. Always,
however, I sought for work; I wanted something to do. My desire to
labour became a craze, an obsession, and nothing else mattered if I got
plenty of work to do.

"You are an idle, useless-lookin' lump o' a man," the women in roadside
cottages said to me. "Why don't you work?" Looking for work meant
laziness and idleness to them. For me they felt all the contempt which
people with fixed abodes feel for vagabonds. They did not hate me; of
that I was not worthy. They were very human, which is the worst that can
be said of them, and they despised me. Work was scarce; I looked light
and young, and a boy is not much good to a farmer. Yet for my age I was
very strong, and many a man much older than myself I could work blind,
if only I got the chance. But no one seemed to want me. "Run away,
little impudence, and hide behind your big sister's petticoats!" were
the words that I was greeted with when I asked for a job.

For a whole month I earned my living by gathering discarded metal from
the corporation middens near Glasgow and selling the scrap to
proprietors of the city rag-stores. Starvation has hold of the forelock
of a man who works at that job. Sometimes I made tenpence a day. By
night I slept on the midden, or, to be more exact, in the midden. I dug
a little hole in the warm refuse sent out from the corporation stables,
and curled myself up there and went to sleep, somewhat after the manner
of Job of old. Once a tipster employed me to sell his tips outside the
enclosure of Ayr racecourse. I gave up that job quickly, for I could
only earn sixpence a day. During the end of the summer I made a few
shillings by carrying luggage for passengers aboard the steamer at
G---- Pier, but in the end the porters on the quay chased me away. I was
depriving decent men of their livelihood, they said.

About this time I met Tom MacGuire, a countryman of my own, an
anarchist, a man with great courage, strength, and love of justice. Tom
said that all property was theft, all religion was fraud, and a life
lacking adventure was a life for a pig. He had just come out of jail
after serving six months' hard because he shot the crow[4] in a Greenock
public-house. I met him on the roadside, where he was sitting reading an
English translation of some of Schopenhauer's works. We sat down
together and talked of one thing and another, and soon were the best of
friends. I told Tom the story of the man who wanted me to say "Yes,
sir," when speaking to him.

"I have a job on that man's place to-night," said Tom. "Will you come
and give me a hand?"

"What is the job?" I asked.

Tom lowered the left eyelid slightly as I looked at him. That was his
only answer. I guessed instinctively that Tom's job was a good one, and
so I promised to accompany him.

We worked together on that estate not only that night, but for some
weeks afterwards. Operations started at midnight and finished at four
o'clock in the morning. We stopped in Paisley, and we went into the town
in the morning, each on a different route, and sold the proceeds of our
night's labour. At the end of a fortnight, or, to be exact, fifteen
days' work on the estate, Tom was accosted by two policemen as he was
going into Paisley. His belly looked bigger than any alderman's, and no
wonder! When searched he had three pheasants under his waistcoat.
Because of that he got six months, and the magistrate spoke hard things
against Tom's character. For all that, my mate was a sound, good fellow.
In a compact made beforehand it was understood that if one was gripped
by the law he would not give his comrade away, and Tom was good to his
word when put to the test. From that time forward I forsook poaching. I
loved it for its risks alone, but I was not an adept at the art, and I
could never make a living at the game. I felt sorry for poor Tom and I
have never seen him since.

Once, eighteen months after I had left Braxey Farm, I wrote home to my
own people. I was longing to hear from somebody who cared for me. In
reply an angry letter came from my mother. "Why was I not sending home
some money?" she asked. Another child had come into the family and there
were many mouths to fill. I would never have a day's luck in all my life
if I forgot my father and mother. I was working with a drainer at the
time and I had thirty shillings in my possession. This I sent home, but
not with a willing heart, for I did not know when I would be idle again.
Three days later my mother wrote asking me to send some more money, for
they were badly needing it. I did not answer the letter, for I got
sacked that evening, and I went out on the road again with five
shillings in my pocket and new thoughts in my head, thoughts that had
never come there before.

Why had my parents brought me into the world? I asked myself. Did they
look to the future? At home I heard them say when a child was born to
such and such a person that it was the will of God, just as if man and
woman had nothing to do with the affair. I wished that I had never been
born. My parents had sinned against me in bringing me into the world in
which I had to fight for crumbs with the dogs of the gutter. And now
they wanted money when I was hardly able to keep myself alive on what I
earned. Bringing me into the world and then living on my labour--such an
absurd and unjust state of things! I was angry, very angry, with myself
and with everyone else, with the world and the people on it.

The evening was wet; the rain came down heavily, and I got drenched to
the skin. While wandering in the town of Kilmacolm, my eye caught the
light of a fire through the window-blind of an inn parlour. It would be
very warm inside there. My flesh was shivery and my feet were cold, like
lumps of ice, in my battered and worn boots. I went in, sat down, and
when the bar-tender approached me, I called for a half-glass of whisky.
I did not intend to drink it, having never drunk intoxicating liquor
before, but I had to order something and was quite content to pay
twopence for the heat of the fire. It was so very comfortable there that
I almost fell asleep three or four times. Suddenly I began to feel
thirsty; it seemed as if I was drying up inside, and the glass of
whisky, sparkling brightly as the firelight caught it, looked very
tempting. I raised it to my mouth, just to wet my lips, and the whisky
tasted good. Almost without realising what I was doing I swallowed the
contents of the glass.

At that moment a man entered, a man named Fergus Boyle, who belonged to
the same arm of the Glen as myself, and he was then employed on a farm
in the neighbourhood. I was pleased to see him. I had not seen a
Glenmornan man since I had left Micky's Jim's squad, but Fergus brought
no news from home; he had been in Scotland for over five years without a
break. Without asking me, he called for "two schooners[5] of beer, with
a stick[6] in iviry wan of them."

"Don't pull the hare's foot,[7] for I don't drink, Fergus," I said. I
did not want to take any more liquor. I could hardly realise that I had
just been drinking a moment before, the act being so unpremeditated. I
came into the inn parlour solely to warm myself, and thinking still of
that more than anything else I could hardly grasp what had resulted. I
had a great dislike in my heart for drunken men, and I did not want to
become one. Fergus sniffed at the glass beside me and winked knowingly.
Evidences were against my assertion, and if I did not drink with Fergus
he would say that I did not like his company. He was the first
Glenmornan man whom I had seen for years, and I could not offend him.
When the bar-tender brought the drinks I drained the schooner at one
gulp, partly to please Fergus and partly because I was very dry. I stood
treat then myself, as decency required, and my remembrance of subsequent
events is very vague. In a misty sort of way I saw Fergus putting up his
fists, as a Glenmornan man should when insulted, and knocking somebody
down. There was a scuffle afterwards and I was somehow mixed up in it
and laying out round me for all I was worth.

Dawn was breaking when I found myself lying on the toll-road, racked by
a headache and suffering from extreme thirst. It was still raining and
my clothes were covered with mud; one boot was gone and one sleeve of my
coat was hanging by a mere thread. I found the sum of sevenpence in my
pockets--the rest of the money had disappeared. I looked round for
Fergus, but could not see him. About a hundred paces along the road I
came on his cap and I saw the trace of his body in the wet muck.
Probably he had slept there for a part of the night and crept away when
the rain brought him to his senses. I looked high and low for my lost
boot, but could not find it. I crept over the wall surrounding a cottage
near the road and discovered a pair of boots in an outhouse. I put them
on when I came back to the road and threw my own old one away. The pain
in my head was almost intolerable, and my mind went back to the stories
told by hard drinkers of the cure known as the "hair of the dog that bit
you." So it was that I went into Kilmacolm again, not knowing how I came
out, and waited until the pubs opened, when I drank a bottle of beer and
a half-glass of whisky. My headache cleared away and I had threepence
left and felt happy. By getting drunk the night before I made myself
impervious to the rain and blind to the discomforts of the cold and the
slush of the roadway. Drunkenness had no more terrors for me, and as a
matter of course I often got drunk when a cold night rested over the
houseless road, and when my body shuddered at the thought of spending
hour after hour in the open. Drink kept me company, and there was no
terror that we could not face together, drink and I.

I never have seen Fergus since, but often I think of the part which he
played in my life. If he had not come into the inn at the moment when I
was sitting by the fire I would probably never have drunk another glass
of spirits in my life. I do not see anything wrong in taking liquor as
long as a man makes it his slave. Drink was a slave to me. I used it for
the betterment of my soul, and for the comfort of the body. In
conformity with the laws of society an individual like me must sleep
under a wet hedgerow now and again. There is nothing in the world more
dismal. The water drops off the tree like water from the walls of a
dungeon, splashes on your face, maybe dropping into the eyes when you
open them. The hands are frozen, the legs are cold, heavy and dead; you
hum little songs to yourself over and over again, ever the same song,
for you have not the will to start a fresh one, and the cold creeps all
over the body, coming closer and closer, like a thief to your heart.
Sometimes it catches men who are too cold to move even from the spectre
of death. The nights spent in the cold are horrible, are soul-killing.
Only drink can draw a man from his misery; only by getting drunk may a
man sleep well on the cold ground. So I have found, and so it was that I
got drunk when I slept out on a winter's night. Maybe I would be dead in
the morning, I sometimes thought, but no one would regret that, not even
myself. Drink is a servant wonderfully efficient. Only when sober could
I see myself as I really was, an outcast, a man rejected by society, and
despised and forgotten. Often I would sit alone in a quiet place and
think my life was hardly worth living. But somehow I kept on living a
life that was to me as smoke is to the eyes, bitter and cruel. As time
wore on I became primeval, animalised and brutish. Everything which I
could lay hands on and which would serve my purposes was mine. The milk
left by milkmen at the doors of houses in early morning was mine. How
often in the grey dawn of a winter morning did I steal through a front
gate silently as a cat and empty the milk-can hanging over some
doorstep, then slip so silently away again that no one either heard my
coming or going. It was most exciting, and excitement is one of the
necessaries of life. Excitement appeals to me, I hanker after it as a
hungry man hankers after food. I like to see people getting excited over

One evening in early spring, nearly two years after I had left Braxey
Farm, I was passing a large house near G----, or was it P----? I now
forget which of these towns was nearest the house. I had at that time a
strange partiality for a curious form of amusement. I liked to steal up
to large houses in the darkness and watch the occupants at dinner.

A large party was at dinner in the house on this spring evening, and I
crept into the shrubbery and looked through the window into the lighted
room. With the slushy earth under my body I lay and watched the people
inside eating, drinking, and making merry. At the further end of the
table a big fat woman in evening dress sat facing me, and she looked
irrepressibly merry. Her low-cut frock exposed a great spread of bulging
flesh stretching across from shoulder to shoulder. It was a most
disgusting sight, and should have been hidden.

The damp of the earth came through my clothing and I rose to my feet,
intending to go away. Before me lay the darkness, the night, and the
cold. I am, as I said, very impulsive, and long for excitement. Some
rash act would certainly enliven the dull dark hours. In rising, my hand
encountered a large pebble, and suddenly an idea entered my mind. What
would the old lady do if the pebble suddenly crashed through the window?
If such a thing occurred it would be most amusing to witness her
actions. I stepped out of the shrubbery in order to have a clear swing
of the arm, and threw the stone through the window. There was a tinkling
fall of broken glass, and everyone in the room turned to the
window--everyone in the room except the old lady. She rose to her feet,
and in another moment the door of the house opened and she stood in the
doorway, her large form outlined against the light in the hall. So
quickly had she come out that I had barely time to steal into the
shrubbery. From there I crept backwards towards the road, but before I
had completed half the journey I heard to my horror the fat lady calling
for a dog. Then I heard a short, sharp yelp, and I turned and ran for
all I was worth. Before I reached the gate a fairly-sized black animal
was at my heels, squealing as I had heard dogs in Ireland squeal when
pursuing a rabbit. I turned round suddenly, fearing to get bitten in the
legs, and the animal, unable to restrain his mad rush, careered past. He
tried to turn round, but my boot shot out and the blow took him on the
head. This was an action that he did not relish, and he hurried back to
the house, whimpering all the way. In a moment I was on the road, and I
ran for a long distance, feeling that I had had enough excitement for
one night. Needless to say I never threw a stone through a window again.
I had been out of work for quite a long while and hunger was again
pinching me. I remember well the day following my encounter with the fat
lady and her dog, for on that day I sold my shirt in a rag-store in
Glasgow and got the sum of sixpence for the same.

It was now two years and a half since I had seen Micky's Jim or any
members of his squad, but often during that time I thought of Norah Ryan
and the part she played in my life. Almost daily since leaving the squad
I had thoughts of her in my mind. For a while I was angry with myself
for allowing such thoughts to master me, but in the end I became
resigned to them. Norah's fair face would persist in rising before my
vision, and when other dreams, other illusions, were shattered, the
memory of Norah Ryan still exercised a spell over me. In the end I
resigned myself to the remembrances of her, and in the course of time
remembrance gave rise to longings and I wanted to see her again. Now,
instead of being almost entirely mental, the longing, different from the
youthful longing, was both of the mind and body. I wanted to kiss her,
take her on my knees and fondle her. But these desires were always
damped by the thought of the other man, so much so that I recoiled from
the very thought even of meeting Norah again.

Since meeting Gourock Ellen and hearing the loose talk of the women in
Braxey Farm most women were repulsive in my sight. For all that, Norah
Ryan was ever the same in my eyes. To me she was a wonder, a mystery, a
dream. But when I desired to go and see her a certain pride held me
back. She allowed another man to kiss her. I never kissed her, partly
because kissing was practically unknown in Glenmornan, and partly
because I thought Norah far above the mere caresses of my lips. To kiss
her would be a violation and a wrong. Why had she allowed Morrison to
kiss her? I often asked myself. She must have loved him, and, loving
him, she would have no thought for me. Perhaps she would be annoyed if I
went to see her, and it is wrong to annoy those whom we love. True love
to a man should mean the doing of that which is most desirable in the
eyes of her whom he loves. The man who disputes this has never loved; if
he thinks that he has, he is mistaken. He has been merely governed by
that most bestial passion, lust.

The year had already taken the best part of autumn to itself, and I was
going along to Greenock by the Glasgow road when I came to a farmhouse.
There I met with Micky's Jim and a squad of potato-diggers. It gave me
pleasure to meet Jim again, and, the pleasure being mutual, he took me
into the byre and gave me food and drink. There were many Glenmornan
people in the squad, but there were none of those who were in it in my
time, and of these latter people you may be certain I lost no time in
asking. Gourock Ellen and Annie had not come back that season, and
nobody knew where they had gone and what had become of them.

"It does not matter, anyhow," said Jim, who, curiously enough, had
nothing but contempt for women of that class.

Norah Ryan, first in my thoughts, was the last for whom I made

"She left us a week ago, and went away to Glasgow," said Jim.

"Indeed she did, poor girl," said one of the Glenmornan women.

"And her such a fine soncy lass too! Wasn't it a great pity that it
happened?" said another.

"What happened?" I asked, bewildered. "Is she not well?"

"It's worse than that," said a woman.

"Much worse!" cackled another, shaking her head.

"The farmer's son kept gaddin' about with her all last year," broke in
Jim, and I noticed the eyes of everybody in the byre turned on me. "But
he has left her to herself now," he concluded.

"I'm glad to hear it," I said.

"I think that ye had a notion of her yerself," said Jim, "and the
farmer's son was a dirty beast, anyhow."

"Why has she left the squad?" I asked again. "Has she got married?"

"When she left here she was in the family-way, ye know," answered
Micky's Jim. "Such a funny thing, and no one would have thought of it,
the dirty slut. Ye would think that butter would not melt in her mouth."

"That's just so," chorused the women. "Wan would think that butter would
not melt in the girl's mouth."

"She was a dirty wench," said Micky's Jim, as if giving a heavy

I was stunned by the news and could hardly trust my ears. Also I got mad
with Micky's Jim for his last words. It comes naturally to some people
to call those women betrayed by great love and innocence the most
opprobrious names. The fact of a woman having loved unwisely and far too
well often offers everybody excuses to throw stones at her. And there
are other men who, in the company of their own sex, always talk of women
in the most filthy manner, and nobody takes offence. Often have I
listened to tirades of abuse levelled against all women, and I have
taken no hand in suppressing it, not being worthy enough to correct the
faults of others. But when Micky's Jim said those words against Norah
Ryan I reached out, forgetting the bread eaten with him and the hand
raised on the 'Derry boat on my behalf years before, and gripping him
under the armpits I lifted him up into the air and threw him head
foremost on the floor. He got to his feet and rushed at me, while the
other occupants of the byre watched us but never interfered.

"I didn't think it was in ye, Dermod, to strike a friend," he said, and
drove his fist for my face. But I had learned a little of the art of
self-defence here and there; so it was that at the end of five minutes
Jim, still willing in spirit but weak in flesh, was unable to rise to
his feet, and I went out to the road again, having fought one fight in
which victory gave me no pleasure.

I walked along heedlessly, but in some inexplicable manner my feet
turned towards Glasgow. My brain was afire, my life was broken, and I
almost wished that I had not asked about Norah when I met Jim. My last
dream, my greatest illusion, was shattered now, and only at that moment
did I realise the pleasure which the remembrances of early days in
Norah's company had given me. I believed so much in my ideal love for
Norah that I thought the one whom I idealised was proof against
temptation and sin. My mind went back to the night when I saw her give
the two-shilling piece, nearly all her fortune, to the man with the pain
in his back--the same night when she and I both blushed at the
frowardness of Gourock Ellen. Such goodness and such innocence!
Instinctively I knew that her sin--not sin, but mistake--was due to her
innocence. And some day Norah might become like Gourock Ellen. The
thought terrified me, and almost drove me frantic. Only now did I know
what Norah Ryan really meant to me. For her I lived, and for her alone.
I loved her, then it was my duty to help her. Love is unworthy of the
name unless it proves its worth when put to the test. I went to Glasgow
and made enquiries for my sweetheart. For three whole weeks I searched,
but my search was unsuccessful, and at last hunger drove me from the

Perhaps Jim knew of her abode? After our last encounter it was hard to
go back and ask a favour of him. In the end I humbled myself and went
and spoke to one of the women in the squad. She did not know where Norah
was; and sour against Heaven and Destiny I went out on the long road


[4] Ordering and drinking whisky, and having no intention of paying for
the drink, is known to navvies as "shooting the crow."

[5] Schooner. A large glass used for lager-beer and ale, which contains
fourteen fluid ounces.

[6] A stick. A half-glass of whisky mixed with beer--a navvyism for
_petite verre_.

[7] Pulling the hare's foot. A farmyard phrase. The hare in the
cornfield takes refuge in the standing corn when the servants are
reaping. To the farmer himself belongs the privilege of catching the
animal. If he is unable to corner the hare he stands drinks to all the
harvesters, and the drink is usually a sure one.



     "Voiceless slave of the solitude, rude as the draining shovel is
     Man by the ages of wrong subdued, marred, misshapen, misunderstood,
     Such is the Drainer."

     --From _Songs of a Navvy_.

Late in the September of the same year I got a job at digging sheep
drains on a moor in Argyllshire. I worked with a man named Sandy, and I
never knew his second name. I believe he had almost forgotten it
himself. He had a little hut in the centre of the moor, and I lived with
him there. The hut was built of piles shoved into the ground, and the
cracks between were filled with moss to keep out the cold. In the wet
weather the water came through the floor and put out the fire, what time
we required it most.

One night when taking supper a beetle dropped from the roof into my

"The first leevin' thing I've seen here for mony a day, barrin'
oursel's," Sandy remarked. "The verra worms keep awa' frae the place."

We started work at seven o'clock in the morning. Each of us dug a sod
six inches deep and nine inches wide, and threw it as far as we could
from the place where it was lifted. All day long we kept doing the same
thing, just as Sandy had been doing it for thirty years. We hardly ever
spoke to one another, there was nothing to speak about. The moor spread
out on all sides, and little could be seen save the brown rank grass,
the crawling bogbine, and the dirty sluggish water. We had to drink this
water. The nearest tree was two miles distant, and the nearest
public-house a good two hours' walk away. Sandy got drunk twice a week.

"Just tae put the taste o' the feelthy water oot o' my mooth," he
explained in apologetic tones when he got sober. I do not know why he
troubled to make excuses for his drunkenness. It mattered very little to
me, although I was now teetotal myself. I was even glad when the man got
drunk, for intoxicated he gave a touch of the ridiculous to the scene
that was so killingly sombre when he was sober. In the end I became
almost as soulless and stupid as the sods I turned up, and in the long
run I debated whether I should take to drink or the road in order to
enliven my life. I had some money in my pocket, and my thoughts turned
to Norah Ryan. Perhaps if I went to Glasgow I would find her. I took it
in my head to leave; I told Sandy and asked him to come.

"There's nae use in me leavin' here noo," he said. "I've stopped too
lang for that."

The farmer for whom we wrought got very angry when I asked him for my

"There's nae pleasin' o' some folk," he grumbled. "They'll nae keep a
guid job when they get one."

The last thing I saw as I turned out on the high-road was Sandy leaning
over his draining spade like some God-forsaken spirit of the moorland.
Poor man! he had not a friend in all the world, and he was very old.

I stopped in Glasgow for four weeks, but my search for Norah was
fruitless. She seemed to have gone out of the world and no trace of her
was to be found.



     "In the grim dead-end he lies,
       With passionless filmy eyes,
     English Ned, with a hole in his head,
       Staring up at the skies.

     "The engine driver swore, as often he swore before:
       'I whistled him back from the flamin' track,
     And I couldn't do no more!'

     "The ganger spoke through the 'phone: 'Platelayer seventy-one
       Got killed to-day on the six-foot way
     By a goods on the city run.

     "'English Ned is his name, no one knows whence he came;
       He didn't take mind of the road behind,
     And none of us is to blame.'"

     --From _Songs of the Dead End_.

The law has it that no man must work as a platelayer on the running
lines until he is over twenty-one years of age. If my readers look up
the books of the ---- Railway Company, they'll find that I started work
in the service of the company at the age of twenty-two. My readers must
not believe this. I was only eighteen years of age when I started work
on the railway, but I told a lie in order to obtain the post.

One day, five weeks following my return from the Argyllshire moors, and
long after all my money had been expended on the fruitless search for
Norah Ryan, I clambered up a railway embankment near Glasgow with the
intention of seeking a job, and found that a man had just been killed
by a ballast engine. He had been cut in two; the fingers of his left
hand severed clean away were lying on the slag. The engine wheels were
dripping with blood. The sight made me sick with a dull heavy nausea,
and numberless little blue and black specks floated before my eyes. An
almost unbearable dryness came into my throat; my legs became heavy and
leaden, and it seemed as if thousands of pins were pricking them. All
the men were terror-stricken, and a look of fear was in every eye. They
did not know whose turn would come next.

A few of them stepped reluctantly forward and carried the thing which
had been a fellow-man a few minutes before and placed it on the green
slope. Others pulled the stray pieces of flesh from amidst the rods,
bars, and wheels of the engine and washed the splotches of blood from
the sleepers and rails. One old fellow lifted the severed fingers from
the slag, counting each one loudly and carefully as if some weighty
decision hung on the correct tally of the dead man's fingers. They were
placed beside the rest of the body, and prompted by a morbid curiosity I
approached it where it lay in all its ghastliness on the green slope
with a dozen men or more circled around it. The face was unrecognisable
as a human face. A thin red sliver of flesh lying on the ground looked
like a tongue. Probably the man's teeth in contracting had cut the
tongue in two. I had looked upon two dead people, Dan and Mary Sorley,
but they might have been asleep, so quiet did they lie in their eternal
repose. This was also death, but death combined with horror. Here and
there scraps of clothing and buttons were scrambled up with the flesh,
but all traces of clothing were almost entirely hidden from sight. The
old man who had gathered up the fingers brought a bag forward and
covered up the dead thing on the slope. The rest of the men drew back,
quietly and soberly, glad that the thing was hidden from their eyes.

"A bad sight for the fellow's wife," said the old man to me. "I've seen
fifteen men die like him, you know."

"How did it happen?" I asked.

"We was liftin' them rails into the ballast train, and every rail is
over half a ton in weight," said the man, who, realising that I was not
a railway man, gave full details. "One of the rails came back. The men
were in too big a hurry, that's what I say, and I've always said it, but
it's not their fault. It's the company as wants men to work as if every
man was a horse, and the men daren't take their time. It's the sack if
they do that. Well, as I was a-sayin', the rail caught on the lip of the
waggon, and came back atop of Mick--Mick Deehan is his name--as the
train began just to move. The rail broke his back, snapped it in two
like a dry stick. We heard the spine crack, and he just gave one squeal
and fell right under the engine. Ugh! it was ill to look at it, and,
mind you, I've seen fifteen deaths like it. Fifteen, just think of

Then I realised that I had been saved part of the worst terror of the
tragedy. It must have been awful to see a man suddenly transformed into
that which lay under the bag beside me. A vision came to me of the poor
fellow getting suddenly caught in the terrible embrace of the engine,
watching the large wheel slowly revolving downwards towards his face,
while his ears would hear, the last sound ever to be heard by them, the
soft, slippery movement of that monstrous wheel skidding in flesh and
blood. For a moment I was in the dead man's place, I could feel the
flange of the wheel cutting and sliding through me as a plough slides
through the furrow of a field. Again my feelings almost overcame me, my
brain was giddy and my feet seemed insecurely planted on the ground.

By an effort I diverted my thoughts from the tragedy, and my eyes fell
on a spider's web hung between two bare twigs just behind the dead man.
It glistened in the sunshine, and a large spider, a little distance out
from the rim, had its gaze fixed on some winged insect which had got
entangled in the meshes of the web. When the old man who had seen
fifteen deaths passed behind the corpse, the spider darted back to the
shelter of the twig, and the winged insect struggled fiercely, trying to
free itself from the meshes of death.

On a near bough a bird was singing, and its song was probably the first
love-song of the spring. In the field on the other side of the line, and
some distance away, a group of children were playing, children
bare-legged, and dressed in garments of many colours. Behind them a row
of lime-washed cottages stood, looking cheerful in the sunshine of the
early spring. Two women stood at one door, gossiping, no doubt. A young
man in passing raised his hat to the women, then stopped and talked with
them for a while. From far down the line, which ran straight for miles,
an extra gang of workers was approaching, their legs moving under their
apparently motionless bodies, and breaking the lines of light which ran
along the polished upper bedes of the rails. The men near me were
talking, but in my ears their voices sounded like the droning of bees
that flit amid the high branches of leafy trees. The coming gang drew
nearer, stepping slowly from sleeper to sleeper, thus saving the soles
of their boots from the contact of the wearing slag. The man in front, a
strong, lusty fellow, was bellowing out in a very unmusical voice an
Irish love song. Suddenly I noticed that all the men near me were gazing
tensely at the approaching squad, the members of which were yet unaware
of the tragedy, for the rake of ballast waggons hid the bloodstained
slag and scene of the accident from their eyes. The singer came round
behind the rear waggon, still bellowing out his song.

     "I'll leave me home again and I'll bid good-bye to-morrow,
     I'll pass the little graveyard and the tomb anear the wall,
     I have lived so long for love that I cannot live for sorrow
     By the grave that holds me cooleen in a glen of Donegal."

Every eye was turned on him, but no man spoke. Apparently taking no heed
of the splotches of blood, now darkly red, and almost the colour of the
slag on which they lay, he approached the bag which covered the body.

"What the devil is this?" he cried out, and gave the bag a kick,
throwing it clear of the thing which it covered. The bird on the bough
atop of the slope trilled louder; the song of the man died out, and he
turned to the ganger who stood near him, with a questioning look.

"It's Mick, is it?" he asked, removing his cap.

"It's Micky," said the ganger.

The man by the corpse bent down again and covered it up slowly and
quietly, then he sank down on the green slope and burst into tears.

"Micky and him's brothers, you know," said a man who stood beside me in
a whisper. The tears came into my eyes, much though I tried to restrain
them. The tragedy had now revealed itself in all its horrible intensity,
and I almost wished to run away from the spot.

After a while the breakdown van came along; the corpse was lifted in,
the brother tottered weakly into the carriage attached to the van, and
the engine puffed back to Glasgow. A few men turned the slag in the
sleeper beds and hid the dark red clotted blood for ever. The man had a
wife and several children, and to these the company paid blood money,
and the affair was in a little while forgotten by most men, for it was
no man's business. Does it not give us an easy conscience that this
wrong and that wrong is no business of ours?

When the train rumbled around the first curve on its return journey I
went towards the ganger, for the work obsession still troubled me. Once
out of work I long for a job, once having a job my mind dwells on the
glories of the free-footed road again. But now I had an object in view,
for if I obtained employment on the railway I could stop in Glasgow and
continue my search for Norah Ryan during the spare hours. The ganger
looked at me dubiously, and asked my age.

"Twenty-two years," I answered, for I was well aware that a man is never
taken on as a platelayer until he has attained his majority.

There and then I was taken into the employ of the ---- Railway Company,
as Dermod Flynn, aged twenty-two years. Afterwards the ganger read me
the rules which I had to observe while in the employment of the company.
I did not take very much heed to his droning voice, my mind reverting
continuously to the tragedy which I had just witnessed, and I do not
think that the ganger took very much pleasure in the reading. While we
were going through the rules a stranger scrambled up the railway slope
and came towards us.

"I heard that a man was killed," he said in an eager voice. "Any chance
of gettin' a start in his place?"

"This man's in his shoes," said the ganger, pointing at me.

"Lucky dog!" was all that the man said, as he turned away.

The ganger's name was Roche, "Horse Roche"--for his mates nicknamed him
"Horse" on account of his enormous strength. He could drive a nine-inch
iron spike through a wooden sleeper with one blow of his hammer. No
other man on the railway could do the same thing at that time; but
before I passed my twenty-first birthday I could perform the same feat
quite easily. Roche was a hard swearer, a heavy drinker, and a fearless
fighter. He will not mind my saying these things about him now. He is
dead over four years.



     "For me has Homer sung of wars,
       Æschylus wrote and Plato thought,
       Has Dante loved and Darwin wrought,
     And Galileo watched the stars."

     --From _The Navvy's Scrap Book_.

Up till this period of my life I had no taste for literature. I had
seldom even glanced at the daily papers, having no interest in the world
in which I played so small a part. One day when the gang was waiting for
a delayed ballast train, and when my thoughts were turning to Norah
Ryan, I picked up a piece of paper, a leaf from an exercise book, and
written on it in a girl's or woman's handwriting were these little

     "No, indeed! for God above
       Is great to grant, as mighty to make,
     And creates the love to reward the love,--
       I claim you still, for my own love's sake!
     Delayed it may be for more lives yet,
       Through worlds I shall traverse, not a few--
     Much is to learn and much to forget
       Ere the time be come for taking you.

     "I have lived (I shall say) so much since then,
       Given up myself so many times.
     Gained me the gains of various men,
       Ransacked the ages, spoiled the climes;
     Yet one thing, one, in my soul's full scope,
       Either I missed or itself missed me:
     And I want and find you, Evelyn Hope
       What is the issue? let us see!"

While hardly understanding their import, the words went to my heart.
They expressed thoughts of my own, thoughts lying so deeply that I was
not able to explain or express them. The writer of the verse I did not
know, but I thought that he, whoever he was, had looked deep into my
soul and knew my feelings better than myself. All day long I repeated
the words to myself over and over again, and from them I got much
comfort and strength, that stood me in good stead in the long hours of
searching on the streets of Glasgow for my luckless love. Under the
glaring lamps that lit the larger streets, through the dark guttery
alleys and sordid slums I prowled about nightly, looking at every young
maiden's face and seeing in each the hard stare of indifference and the
cold look of the stranger. Round the next corner perhaps she was
waiting; a figure approaching reminded me of her, and I hurried forward
eagerly only to find that I was mistaken. Oh! how many illusions kept me
company in my search! how many disappointments! and how many hopes. For
I wanted Norah; for her I longed with a great longing, and a dim vague
hope of meeting her buoyed up my soul.

     "And I want and find you, Evelyn Hope!
     What is the issue? let us see!"

Such comforting words, and the world of books might be full of them! A
new and unexplored world lay open before me, and for years I had not
seen it, or seeing, never heeded. I had once more the hope that winged
me along the leading road to Strabane when leaving for a new country.
Alas! the country that raised such anticipations was not what my hopes
fashioned, but this newer world, just as enticing, was worthy of more
trust and greater confidence. I began to read eagerly, ravenously. I
read Victor Hugo in G---- Tunnel. One day a falling rail broke the top
joint of the middle finger of my left hand. Being unable for some time
to take part in the usual work of the squad I was placed on the look-out
when my gang worked on the night-shift in the tunnel at G----. When the
way was not clear ahead I had to signal the trains in the darkness, but
as three trains seldom passed in the hour the work was light and easy.
When not engaged I sat on the rail beside the naphtha lamp and read
aloud to myself. I lived with Hugo's characters, I suffered with them
and wept for them in their troubles. One night when reading _Les
Miserables_ I cried over the story of Jean Valjean and little Cosette.
Horse Roche at that moment came through the darkness (in the tunnel it
is night from dawn to dawn) and paused to ask me how I was getting

"Your eyes are running water, Flynn," he said. "You sit too close to the
lamp smoke."

I remember many funny things which happened in those days. I read the
chapter on _Natural Supernaturalism_, from _Sartor Resartus_, while
seated on the footboard of a flying ballast train. Once, when Roche had
left his work to take a drink in a near public-house, I read several
pages from _Sesame and Lilies_, under shelter of a coal waggon, which
had been shunted into an adjacent siding. I read Montaigne's _Essays_
during my meal hours, while my mates gambled and swore around me.

I procured a ticket for the Carnegie Library, but bought some books,
when I had cash to spare, from a second-hand bookseller on the south
side of Glasgow. Every pay-day I spent a few shillings there, and went
home to my lodgings with a bundle of books under my arm. The bookseller
would not let me handle the books until I bought them, because my hands
were so greasy and oily with the muck of my day's labour. I seldom read
in my lodgings. I spent most of my evenings in the streets engaged on my
unsuccessful search. I read in the spare moments snatched from my daily
work. Soon my books were covered with iron-rust, sleeper-tar and waggon
grease, where my dirty hands had touched them, and when I had a book in
my possession for a month I could hardly decipher a word on the pages.
There is some difficulty in reading thus.

I started to write verses of a kind, and one poem written by me was
called _The Lady of the Line_. I personified the spirit that watched
over the lives of railway men from behind the network of point-rods and
hooded signals. The red danger lamp was her sign of power, and I wrote
of her as queen of all the running lines in the world.

I read the poem to my mates. Most of them liked it very much and a few
learned it by heart. When Horse Roche heard of it he said: "You'll end
your days in the madhouse, or"--with cynical repetition--"in the House
of Parliament."

On Sunday afternoons, when not at work, I went to hear the socialist
speakers who preached the true Christian Gospel to the people at the
street corners. The workers seldom stopped to listen; they thought that
the socialists spoke a lot of nonsense. The general impression was that
socialists, like clergymen, were paid speakers; that they endeavoured to
save men's bodies from disease and poverty as curates save souls from
sin for a certain number of shillings a day. From the first I looked
upon socialist speakers as men who had an earnest desire for justice,
and men who toiled bravely in the struggle for the regeneration of
humanity. I always revolted against injustice, and hated all manner of
oppression. My heart went out to the men, women, and children who toil
in the dungeons and ditches of labour, grinding out their souls and
bodies for meagre pittances. All around me were social injustices,
affecting the very old and the very young as they affected the supple
and strong. Social suffering begins at any age, and death is often its
only remedy. That remedy is only for the individual; the general remedy
is to be found in Socialism. Industry, that new Inquisition, has
thousands on the rack of profit; Progress, to millions, means slavery
and starvation; Progress and Profit mean sweated labour to railway men,
and it meant death to many of them, as to Mick Deehan, whose place I had
filled. I had suffered a lot myself: a brother of mine had died when he
might have been saved by the rent which was paid to the landlord, and I
had seen suffering all around me wherever I went; suffering due to
injustice and tyranny of the wealthy class. When I heard the words
spoken by the socialists at the street corner a fire of enthusiasm
seized me, and I knew that the world was moving and that the men and
women of the country were waking from the torpor of poverty, full of
faith for a new cause. I joined the socialist party.

For a while I kept in the background; the discussions which took place
in their hall in G---- Street made me conscious of my own lack of
knowledge on almost any subject. The members of the party discussed
Spencer, Darwin, Huxley, Karl Marx, Ricardo, and Smith, men of whom I
had never even heard, and inwardly I chafed at my own absolute ignorance
and want of the education necessary for promoting the cause which I
advocated. Hours upon hours did I spend wading through Marx's _Capital_,
and Henry George's _Progress and Poverty_. The former, the more logical,
appealed to me least.

I had only been two months in the socialist party when I organised a
strike among the railway men, the thirty members of the Flying Squad on
which I worked.

We were loading ash waggons at C---- engine shed, and shovelling ashes
is one of the worst jobs on the railway. Some men whom I have met
consider work behind prison walls a pleasure when compared with it. As
these men spoke from experience I did not doubt their words. The ash-pit
at C---- was a miniature volcano. The red-hot cinders and burning ashes
were piled together in a deep pit, the mouth of which barely reached the
level of the railway track. The Flying Squad under Horse Roche cleared
out the pit once every month. The ashes were shovelled into waggons
placed on the rails alongside for that purpose. The men stripped to the
trousers and shirt in the early morning, and braces were loosened to
give the shoulders the ease in movement required for the long day's
swinging of the shovel. Three men were placed at each waggon and ten
waggons were filled by the squad at each spell of work. Every three
wrought as hard as they were able, so that their particular waggon might
be filled before the others. The men who lagged behind went down in the
black book of the ganger.

On the day of the strike the pit was a boiling hell. Chunks of coal
half-burned and half-ablaze, lumps of molten slag, red-hot bricks and
fiery ashes were muddled together in suffocating profusion. From the
bottom of the pit a fierce impetus was required to land the contents of
the shovel in the waggon overhead. Sometimes a brick would strike on the
rim of the waggon and rebound back on the head of the man who threw it
upwards. "Cripes! we'll have to fill it ourselves now," his two mates
would say as they bundled their bleeding fellow out of the reeking heat.
A shower of fine ashes were continuously falling downwards and resting
upon our necks and shoulders, and the ash-particles burned the flesh
like thin red-hot wires. It was even worse when they went further down
our backs, for then every move of the underclothing and every swing of
the shoulders caused us intense agony. Under the run of the shirt the
ashes scarred the flesh like sand-paper. All around a thick smoke rested
and hid us from the world without, and within we suffered in a pit of
blasting fire. I've seen men dropping at the job like rats in a furnace.
These were usually carried out, and a bucket of water was emptied on
their face. When they recovered they entered into the pit again.

Horse Roche stood on the coupling chains of the two middle waggons,
timing the work with his watch and hastening it on with his curses. He
was not a bad fellow at heart, but he could do nothing without flying
into a fuming passion, which often was no deeper than his lips. Below
him the smoke was so thick that he could hardly see his own labourers
from the stand on the coupling chain. All he could see was the shovels
of red ashes and shovels of black ashes rising up and over the haze that
enveloped the pit beneath. But we could hear Roche where we wrought.
Louder than the grinding of the ballast engine was the voice of the
Horse cursing and swearing. His swearing was a gift, remarkable and
irrepressible; it was natural to the man; it was the man.

"God's curse on you, Dan Devine, I don't see your shovel at work at
all!" he roared. "Where the hell are you, Muck MaCrossan? Your waggon
isn't nearly water-level yet, and that young whelp, Flynn, has his
nearly full! If your chest was as broad as your belly, MacQueen, you'd
be a danged sight better man on the ash-pile! It's not but that you are
well enough used to the ashes, for I never yet saw a Heelin man who
didn't spend the best part of his life before a fire or before grub!
Come now, you men on the offside; you are slacking it like hell! If you
haven't your waggon up over the lip, I'll sack every God-damned man of
you on the next pay day! Has a brick fallen on Feeley's head? Well,
shove the idiot out of the pit and get on with your work! His head is
too big, anyhow, it's always in the road!"

This was the manner in which Horse Roche carried on, and most of the men
were afraid of him. I felt frightened of the man, for I anticipated the
gruelling which he would give me if I fell foul of him. But if we had
come to blows he would not, I am certain, have much to boast about at
the conclusion of the affair. However, I never quarrelled with Roche.

On the day of the strike, about three o'clock in the afternoon, when
fully forespent at our work, the ballast engine brought in a rake of
sixteen-ton waggons. Usually the waggons were small, just large enough
to hold eight tons of ashes. The ones brought in now were very high, and
it required the utmost strength of any one of us to throw a shovelful of
ashes over the rim of the waggon. Not alone were the waggons higher, but
the pile in the pit had decreased, and we had to work from a lower
level. And those waggons could hold so much! They were like the grave,
never satisfied, but ever wanting more, more. I suggested that we should
stop work. Discontent was boiling hot, and the men scrambled out of the
pit, telling Roche to go to hell, and get men to fill his waggons.
Outside of the pit the men's anger cooled. They looked at one another
for a while, feeling that they had done something that was sinful and
wrong. To talk of stopping work in such a manner was blasphemy to most
of them. Ronald MacQueen had a wife and a gathering of young children,
and work was slack. Dan Devine was old, and had been in the service of
the company for twenty years. If he left now he might not get another
job. He rubbed the fine ashes out of his eyes, and looked at MacQueen.
Both men had similar thoughts, and before the sweat was dry on their
faces they turned back to the pit together. One by one the men followed
them, until I was left alone on the outside. Horse Roche had never
shifted his position on the coupling chains. "It'll not pain my feet
much, if I stand till you come back!" he cried when we went out. He
watched the men return with a look of cynical amusement.

"Come back, Flynn," he cried, when he saw me standing alone. "You're a
fool, and the rest of the men are cowards; their spines are like the
spines of earth worms."

I picked up my shovel angrily, and returned to my waggon. I was
disgusted and disappointed and ashamed. I had lost in the fight, and I
felt the futility of rising in opposition against the powers that
crushed us down. That night I sent a letter to the railway company
stating our grievance. No one except myself would sign it, but all the
men said that my letter was a real good one. It must have been too good.
A few days later a clerk was sent from the head of the house to inform
me that I would get sacked if I wrote another letter of the same kind.

Then I realised that in the grip of the great industrial machine I was
powerless; I was a mere spoke in the wheel of the car of progress, and
would be taken out if I did not perform my functions there. The human
spoke is useful as long as it behaves like a wooden one in the socket
into which it is wedged. So long will the Industrial Carriage keep
moving forward under the guidance of heavy-stomached Indolence and
inflated Pride. There is no scarcity of spokes, human and wooden. What
does it matter if Devine and MacQueen were thrown away? A million seeds
are dropping in the forest, and all women are not divinely chaste. The
young children are growing. Blessings be upon you, workmen, you have
made spokes that will shove you from the sockets into which your feet
are wedged, but God grant that the next spokes are not as wooden as

Again the road was calling to me. My search in Glasgow had been quite
unsuccessful, and the dull slavery of the six-foot way began to pall on
me. The clerk who was sent by the company to teach me manners was a most
annoying little fellow, and full of the importance of his mission. I
told him quietly to go to the devil, an advice which he did not relish,
but which he forbore to censure. That evening I left the employ of the
---- Railway Company.

Just two hours before I lifted my lying time, the Horse was testing
packed sleepers with his pick some distance away from the gang, when a
rabbit ran across the railway. Horse dropped his pick, aimed a lump of
slag at the animal and broke its leg. It limped off; we saw the Horse
follow, and about a hundred paces from the point where he had first
observed it Roche caught the rabbit, and proceeded to kill it outright
by battering its head against the flange of the rail. At that moment a
train passed us, travelling on the down line. Roche was on the up line,
but as the train passed him we saw a glint of something bright flashing
between the engine and the man, and at the same moment Roche fell to his
face on the four-foot way. We hurried towards him, and found our ganger
vainly striving to rise with both arms caught in his entrails. The pick
which he had left lying on the line got caught in the engine wheels and
was carried forward, and violently hurled out when the engine came level
with the ganger. It ripped his belly open, and he died about three
minutes after we came to his assistance. The rabbit, although badly
wounded, escaped to its hole. That night I was on the road again.



     "You're hungry and want me to give you food? I'll see you in hell
     first!"--From _Words to the Hungry_.

I left my job on Tuesday, and tramped about for the rest of the week
foot-free and reckless. The nights were fine, and sleeping out of doors
was a pleasure. On Saturday night I found myself in Burn's model
lodging-house, Greenock. I paid for the night's bedding, and got the use
of a frying-pan to cook a chop which I had bought earlier in the day.
Although it was now midsummer a large number of men were seated around
the hot-plate on the ground floor, where some weighty matter was under
discussion. A man with two black eyes was carrying on a whole-hearted
argument with a ragged tramp in one corner of the room. I proceeded to
fry my trifle of meat, and was busily engaged on my job when I became
aware of a disturbance near the door. A drunken man had come in, and his
oaths were many, but it was impossible to tell what he was swearing at.
All at once I turned round, for I heard a phrase that I knew full well.

"There's a good time comin', though we may never live to see it," said
the drunken man. The speaker was Moleskin Joe, and face to face he
recognised me immediately.

"Dermod Flynn, by God!" he cried. "Dermod--Flynn--by--God! How did you
get on with your milkin', sonny? You're the only man I ever cheated out
of five bob, and there's another man cheatin' you out of your bit of
steak this very minute."

I turned round rapidly to my frying-pan, and saw a man bending over it.
This fellow, who was of middle age, and unkempt appearance, had broken
an egg over my chop, and was busily engaged in cooking both. I had never
seen the man before.

"You're at the wrong frying-pan," I roared, knowing his trick.

"You're a damned liar," he answered.

"No, but you are the damned liar," I shouted in reply.

"Good!" laughed Moleskin, sitting down on a bench, and biting a plug of
tobacco. "Good, Flynn! Put them up to Carroty Dan; he's worth keepin'
your eye on."

"If he keeps his eye on me, he'll soon get it blackened," replied the
man who was nick-named Carroty, on account of his red hair. "This is my

"It is not," I replied.

"Had you an egg on this chop when you turned round?" asked Carroty.

"I had not."

"Well, there's an egg on this pan, cully, so it can't be yours."

I knew that it would be useless to argue with the man. I drew out with
all my strength, and landed one on the jowl of Carroty Dan, and he went
to the ground like a stuck pig.

"Good, Flynn!" shouted Moleskin, spitting on the planking beneath his
feet. "You'll be a fighter some day."

I turned to the chop and took no notice of my fallen enemy until I was
also lying stretched amidst the sawdust on the floor, with a sound like
the falling of many waters ringing in my head. Carroty had hit me under
my ear while my attention was devoted to the chop. I scrambled to my
feet but went to the ground again, having received a well-directed blow
on my jaw. My mouth was bleeding now, but my mind was clear. My man
stood waiting until I rose, but I lay prone upon the ground considering
how I might get at him easily. A dozen men had gathered round and were
waiting the result of the quarrel, but Moleskin had dropped asleep on
the bench. I rose to my knees and reaching forward I caught Carroty by
the legs. With a strength of which, until then, I never thought myself
capable, I lifted my man clean off his feet, and threw him head foremost
over my shoulders to the ground behind. Knowing how to fall, he dropped
limply to the ground, receiving little hurt, and almost as soon as I
regained my balance, he was in front of me squaring out with fists in
approved fashion. I took up a posture of instinctive defence and waited.
My enemy struck out; I stooped to avoid the blow. He hit me, but not
before I landed a welt on the soft of his belly. My punch was good, and
he went down, making strange noises in his throat, and rubbing his guts
with both hands. His last hit had closed my left eye, but all fight was
out of Carroty; he would not face up again. The men returned to their
discussion, Moleskin slid from his bench and lay on the floor, and I
went on with my cooking. When Carroty recovered I gave him back his egg,
and he ate it as if nothing had happened to disturb him. He asked for a
bit of the chop, and I was so pleased with the thrashing I had given him
that I divided half the meat with the man.

Later in the evening somebody tramped on Moleskin Joe and awoke him.

"Who the hell thinks I'm a doormat?" he growled on getting to his feet,
and glowered round the room. No one answered. He went out with Carroty,
and the two of them got as drunk as they could hold. I was in bed when
they returned, and Carroty, full of a drunken man's courage, challenged
me again to "put them up to him." I pretended that I was asleep, and
took no notice of his antics, until he dragged me out of the bed. Stark
naked and mad with rage, I thrashed him until he shrieked for mercy. I
pressed him under me, and when he could neither move hand nor foot, I
told him where I was going to hit him, and kept him sometimes over two
minutes waiting for the blow. He was more than pleased when I gave him
his freedom, and he never evinced any further desire to fight me.

"It's easy for anyone to thrash poor Carroty," said Joe, when I had
finished the battle.

On Sunday we got drunk together in a speak-easy[8] near the model, and
it was with difficulty that we restrained Carroty from challenging
everybody whom he met to fistic encounter. By nightfall Moleskin counted
his money, and found that he had fourpence remaining.

"I'm off to Kinlochleven in the morning," he said. "There's good graft
and good pay for a man in Kinlochleven now. I'm sick of prokin' in the
gutters here. Damn it all! who's goin' with me?"

"I'm with you," gibbered Carroty, running his fingers through the
"blazing torch"--the term used by Joe when speaking of the red hair of
his mate.

"I'll go too," I said impulsively. "I've only twopence left for the
journey, though."

"Never mind that," said Moleskin absently. "There's a good time comin'."

Kinlochleven is situated in the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands,
and I had often heard of the great job going on there, and in which
thousands of navvies were employed. It was said that the pay was good
and the work easy. That night I slept little, and when I slept my dreams
were of the journey before me at dawn, and the new adventures which
might be met with on the way.


[8] A shebeen. "You must speak easy in a shebeen when the police are



     "The road runs north, the road runs south, and there foot-easy,
     The tramp, God speed him! wanders forth, and nature's gentry go.
     Gentlemen knights of the gravelled way, who neither toil nor spin,
     Men who reck not whether or nay the landlord's rents come in,
     Men who are close to the natal sod, who know not sin nor shame,
     And Way of the World or Way of the Road, the end is much the same."

     --From _A Song of the Road_.

In the morning I was afoot before any of my mates, full of impatience,
and looking forward eagerly to the start.

"Wake up, Moleskin!" I cried, as I bent over my mate, where he lay
snoring loudly in the bed; "it is time to be away."

"It's not time yet, for I'm still sleepy," said Moleskin drowsily. "Slow
and easy goes far in a day," he added, and fell asleep again. I turned
my attention to Carroty.

"Get up, Carroty!" I shouted. "It's time that we were out on our

"What journey?" grumbled Carroty, propping himself up on his elbow in
the bed.

"To Kinlochleven," I reminded him.

"I never heard of it."

"You said that you would go this morning," I informed him. "You said so
last night when you were drunk."

"Well, if I said so, it must be so," said the red-haired one, and
slipped out of the blankets. Moleskin rose also, and as a proof of the
bond between us, we cooked our food in common on the hot-plate, and at
ten minutes to ten by the town clock we set out on the long road leading
to Kinlochleven. Our worldly wealth amounted to elevenpence, and the
distance to which we had set our faces was every inch, as the road
turned, of one hundred miles, or a six days' tramp according to the
computation of my two mates. The pace of the road is not a sharp one.
"Slow and easy goes far in a day," is a saying amongst us, and it sums
up the whole philosophy of the long journey. Besides our few pence, each
man possessed a pipe, a knife, and a box for holding matches. The
latter, being made of tin, was very useful for keeping the matches dry
when the rain soaked the clothing. In addition, each man carried, tied
to his belt, a tin can which would always come in handy for making tea,
cooking eggs, or drinking water from a wayside well.

When we got clear of the town Moleskin opened his shirt front and
allowed the wind to play coolly against his hairy chest.

"Man alive!" he exclaimed, "this wind runs over a fellow's chest like
the hands of a soncy wench!" Then he spoke of our journey. Carroty was
silent; he was a morbid fellow who had little to say, except when drunk,
and as for myself I was busy with my thoughts, and eager to tramp on at
a quicker pace.

"We'll separate here, and each must go alone and pick up what he can lay
his hands on," said Moleskin. "As I'm an old dog on the road, far more
knowing than a torch-headed boozer or young mongrel, I'll go ahead and
lead the way. Whenever I manage to bum a bit of tucker from a house,
I'll put a white cross on the gatepost; and both of you can try your
luck after me at the same place. If you hear a hen making a noise in a
bunch of brambles, just look about there and see if you can pick up an
egg or two. It would be sort of natural for you, Carroty, to talk about
your wife and young brats, when speaking to the woman of a house. You
look miserable enough to have been married more than once. You're good
lookin', Flynn; just put on your blarney to the young wenches and maybe
they'll be good for the price of a drink for three. We'll sit for a bite
at the Ferry Inn, and that is a good six miles of country from our

Without another word Joe slouched off, and Carroty and I sat down and
waited until he turned the corner of the road, a mile further along. The
moment he was out of sight, Carroty rose and trudged after him, his head
bent well over his breast and his hands deep in the pockets of his coat.
This slowness of movement disgusted me. I was afire to reach
Kinlochleven, but my mates were in no great hurry. They placed their
faith in getting there to-morrow, if to-morrow came. Each man was calmly
content, when working out the problem of the day's existence, to allow
the next day to do for itself.

Carroty had barely turned the corner when I got up and followed. Over my
head the sun burned and scalded with its scorching blaze. The grey road
and its fine gravel, crunching under the heels of my boots, affected the
ears, and put the teeth on edge. Far in front, whenever I raised my
head, I could see the road winding in and out, now losing itself from my
view, and again, further on, reappearing, desolate, grey, and lonely as
ever. Although memories of the road are in a sense always pleasing to
me, the road itself invariably depressed me; the monotony of the same
everlasting stretch of dull gravelled earth gnawed at my soul. Most of
us, men of the road, long for comfort, for love, for the smile of a
woman, and the kiss of a child, but these things are denied to us. The
women shun us as lepers are shunned, the brainless girl who works with a
hoe in a turnip field will have nothing to do with a tramp navvy. The
children hide behind their mothers' petticoats when they see us coming,
frightened to death of the awful navvy man who carries away naughty
children, and never lets them back to their mothers again.

He is a lonely man who wanders on the roads of a strange land, shunned
and despised by all men, and foul in the eyes of all women. Rising cold
in the morning from the shadow of the hedge where the bed of a night was
found, he turns out on his journey and begs for a crumb. High noon sees
nor wife nor mother prepare his mid-day meal, and there is no welcome
for him at an open door when the evening comes. Christ had a mother who
followed him all along the road to Calvary, but the poor tramp is seldom
followed even by a mother's prayers along the road where he carries the
cross of brotherly hate to the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Suddenly I saw a white cross on a gate in front of a little cottage. A
girl stood by the door, and I asked for a slice of bread. From the
inside of the house a woman cried out: "Don't give that fellow anything
to eat. We're sick of the likes of him."

The maiden remonstrated. "Poor thing! he must eat just like ourselves,"
she said.

Once I heard one of the servant girls on Braxey Farm use the same words
when feeding a pig. I did not wait for my slice of bread. I walked on;
the girl called after me, but I never turned round to answer. And the
little dignity that yet remained made me feel very miserable, for I felt
that I was a man classed among swine, and that is a very bitter truth to
learn at eighteen.

Houses were rare in the country, but alas! rarer were the crosses of
white. I had just been about two hours upon the journey, when as I was
rounding a bend of the road I came upon Carroty sitting on a bank with
his arms around a woman who sat beside him. I had been walking on the
grass to ease my feet, and he failed to hear my approach. When he saw
me, he looked half ashamed, and his companion gazed at me with a look
half cringing and half defiant. She put me in mind of Gourock Ellen. Her
face might have been handsome at one time, but it was blotched and
repugnant now. Vice had forestalled old age and left its traces on the
woman's features. Her eyes were hard as steel and looked as if they had
never been dimmed by tears. I wondered what Carroty could see in such a
person, and it was poor enough comfort to know that there was at least
one woman who looked with favour upon a tramp navvy.

"Tell Moleskin that I'm not comin' any further," Carroty shouted after
me as I passed him by.

"All right," I answered over my shoulder. Afterwards I passed two white
crosses, and at each I was refused even a crust of bread. "Moleskin has
got some, anyhow, and that is a comfort," I said to myself. Now I began
to feel hungry, and kept an eye in advance for the Ferry Inn. Passing by
a field which I could not see on account of the intervening hedgerow, I
heard a voice crying "Flynn! Flynn!" in a deep whisper. I stopped and
could hear some cows crop-cropping the grass in the field beyond.
"Flynn!" cried the voice again. I looked through the hedgerow and there
I saw Moleskin, the rascal, sitting on his hunkers under a cow and
milking the animal into his little tin can. When he had his own can full
I put mine through the branches and got it filled to the brim. Then my
mate dragged himself through the branches and asked me where I had left
Carroty. I told him about the woman.

"The damned whelp! I might have known," said Joe, but I did not know
whether he referred to the woman or the man. We carried our milk cans
for a little distance, then turning off the road we sat down in the
corner of a field under a rugged tree and began our meagre meal. Joe
had only one slice of bread. This he divided into equal shares, and
when engaged in that work I asked him the meaning of the two white
crosses by the roadside, the two crosses, which as far as I could see,
had no beneficial results.

"They were all right," said Joe. "I got food at the three places."

"What happened to the other two slices?" I asked.

"I gave it to a woman who was hungrier than myself," said Joe simply.

We sat in a nice cosy place. Beside us rumbled a little stream; it
glanced like anything as it ran over the stones and fine sands in its
bed. From where we sat we could see it break in small ripples against
the wild iris and green rushes on the bank. From above, the gold of the
sunlight filtered through the waving leaves and played at hide and seek
all over our muck-red moleskin trousers. Far down an osier bed covered
the stream and hid it from our sight. From there a few birds flew
swiftly and perched on the tree above our heads and began to examine us
closely. Finding that we meant to do them no harm, and observing that
Moleskin threw away little scraps which might be eatable, one bold
little beggar came down, and with legs wide apart stood a short distance
away and surveyed us narrowly. Soon it began to pick up the crumbs, and
by-and-bye we had a score of strangers at our meal.

Later we lay on our backs and smoked. 'Twas good to watch the blue of
the sky outside the line of leaves that shaded us from the sun. The
feeling of rest and ease was sublime. The birds consumed every crumb
which had been thrown to them; then they flew away and left us. When our
pipes were finished we washed our feet in the passing stream, and this
gave us great relief. Moleskin pared a corn; I turned my socks inside
out and hit down a nail which had come through the sole of my bluchers,
using a stone for a hammer.

"Now we'll get along, Moleskin," I said, for I was in a hurry.

"Along be damned!" cried my mate. "I'm goin' to have my dog-sleep."[9]

"You have eaten," I said, "and you do not need your dog-sleep to-day."

Joe refused to answer, and turning over on his side he closed his eyes.
At the end of ten minutes (his dog-sleep usually lasted for that length
of time), he rose to his feet, and walked towards the Clyde, the
foreshore of which spread out from the lower corner of the field. A
little distance out a yacht heaved on the waves, and a small boat lay on
the shingle, within six feet of the water. The tide was full. Joe caught
hold of the boat and proceeded to pull it towards the water, meanwhile
roaring at me to give him a hand. This was a new adventure. I pulled
with all my might, and in barely a minute's space of time the boat was
afloat and we were inside of it. Joe rowed for all he was worth, and
soon we were past the yacht and out in the deep sea. A man on the yacht
called to us, but Joe put down one oar and made a gesture with his hand.
The man became irate and vowed that he would send the police after us.
My mate took no further heed of the man.

"Can you row?" he asked me.

"I've never had an oar in my hand in my life," I said.

"How much money have you?" he asked as he bent to his oars again. "I
gave all mine to that woman who was hungry."

"I have only a penny left," I said.

"We have to cross the Clyde somehow," said Joe, "and a penny would not
pay two men's fares on a ferry-boat. It is too far to walk to Glasgow,
so this is the only thing to do. I saw the blokes leavin' this boat when
we were at our grubbin'-up, so there was nothin' to be done but to take
a dog-sleep until they were out of the way."

My respect for Joe's cleverness rose immediately. He was a mate of whom
anyone might have been proud.

When once on the other side, we shoved the boat adrift; and went on the
road again, outside the town of Dumbarton. Joe took the lead along the
Lough Lomond road, and promised to wait for me when dusk was near at
hand. The afternoon was very successful; I soon had my pockets crammed
with bread, and I got three pipefuls of tobacco from three several men
when I asked for a chew from their plugs. An old lady gave me twopence
and later I learned that she had given Moleskin a penny.

Far outside of Dumbarton in a wild country, I overtook my mate again. It
was now nearly nightfall, and the sun was hardly a hand's breadth above
the horizon. Moleskin was singing to himself as I came up on him. I
overheard one verse and this was the kind of it. It was a song which I
had heard often before sung by navvies in the models.

     "Oh! fare you well to the bricks and mortar!
       And fare you well to the hod and lime!
     For now I'm courtin' the ganger's daughter,
       And soon I'll lift my lyin' time."

He finished off at that, as I came near, and I noticed a heavy bulge
under his left oxter between the coat and waistcoat. It was something
new; I asked him what it was, but he wouldn't tell me. The road ran
through a rocky moor, but here and there clumps of hazel bounded our
way. We could see at times soft-eyed curious Highland steers gazing out
at us from amongst the bushes, as if they were surprised to see human
beings in that deserted neighbourhood. When we stood and looked at them
they snorted in contempt and crashed away from our sight through the

"I think that we'll doss here for the night," said Moleskin when we had
walked about a mile further. He crawled over a wayside dyke and threw
down the bundle which he had up to that time concealed under his coat.
It was a dead hen.

"The corpse of a hen," said Joe with a laugh. "Now we've got to drum
up," he went on, "and get some supper before the dew falls. It is a hard
job to light a fire when the night is on."

From experience I knew this to be the case; so together we broke rotten
hazel twigs, collected some dry brambles from the undergrowth and built
them in a heap. Joe placed some crisp moss under the pile; I applied a
match and in a moment we had a brightly blazing fire. I emptied my
pockets, proud to display the results of the afternoon's work, which,
when totalled, consisted of four slices of bread, twopence, and about
one half-ounce of tobacco. Joe produced some more bread, his penny, and
three little packets which contained tea, sugar, and salt. These, he
told me, he had procured from a young girl in a ploughman's cottage.

"But the hen, Moleskin--where did you get that?" I asked, when I had
gathered in some extra wood for the fire.

"On the king's highway, Flynn," he added with a touch of pardonable
pride. "Coaxed it near me with crumbs until I nabbed it. It made an
awful fuss when I was wringing its neck, but no one turned up, more by
good luck than anything else. I never caught any hen that made such a
noise in all my life before."

"You are used to it then!" I exclaimed.

"Of course I am," was the answer. "When you are on the road as long as
I've been on it, you'll be as big a belly-thief[10] as myself."

It was fine to look around as the sun went down. Far west the sky was a
dark red, the colour of old wine. A pale moon had stolen up the eastern
sky, and it hung by its horn from the blue above us. Looking up at it,
my thoughts turned to home, and I wondered what my own people would say
if they saw me out here on the ghostly moor along with old Moleskin.

I searched around for water, and found a little well with the moon at
the bottom. As I bent closer the moon disappeared, and I could see the
white sand beneath. I thought that the well was very holy, it looked so
peaceful and calm out there alone in the wild place. I said to myself,
"Has anybody ever seen it before? What purpose does it serve here?" I
filled the billies, and when turning away I noticed that a pair of eyes
were gazing at me from the depths of the near thicket where a heavy
darkness had settled. I felt a little bit frightened, and hurried
towards the fire, and once there I looked back. A large roan steer came
into the clearing and drank at the well. Another followed, and another.
Their spreading horns glistened in the moonshine, and Joe and I watched
them from where we sat.

"Will I take some more water here?" I asked my mate, as he cleaned out
the hen, using the contents of the second billy in the operation.

"Wait a minute till all the bullocks have drunk enough," he replied.
"It's a pity to drive them away."

The fowl was cooked whole on the ashes, and we ate it with great relish.
When the meal was finished, Moleskin flung away the bones.

"The skeleton of the feast," he remarked sadly.

Next day was dry, and we got plenty of food, food enough and to spare,
and we made much progress on the journey north. Joe had an argument with
a ploughman. This was the way of it.

Coming round a bend of the road we met a man with the wet clay of the
newly turned earth heavy on his shoes. He was knock-kneed in the manner
of ploughmen who place their feet against the slant of the furrows which
they follow day by day. He was a decent man, and he told Moleskin as
much when my mate asked him for a chew of tobacco.

"I dinna gang aboot lookin' for work and prayin' to God that I dinna get
it, like you men," said the plougher. "I'm a decent man, and I work hard
and hae no reason to gang about beggin'."

I was turning my wits upside down for a sarcastic answer, when Joe broke

"You're too damned decent!" he answered. "If you weren't, you'd give a
man a plug of tobacco when he asks for it in a friendly way, you
God-forsaken, thran-faced bell-wether, you!"

"If you did your work well and take a job when you get one, you'd have
tobacco of your own," said the ploughman. "Forbye you would have a hoose
and a wife and a dinner ready for you when you went hame in the evenin'.
As it is, you're daunderin' aboot like a lost flea, too lazy to leeve
and too afeard to dee."

"By Christ! I wouldn't be in your shoes, anyway," Joe broke in quietly
and soberly, a sign that he was aware of having encountered an enemy
worthy of his steel. "A man might as well expect an old sow to go up a
tree backwards and whistle like a thrush, as expect decency from a
nipple-noddled ninny-hammer like you. If you were a man like me, you
would not be tied to a woman's apron strings all your life; you would be
fit to take your turn and pay for it. Look at me! I'm not at the beck
and call of any woman that takes a calf fancy for me."

"Who would take a fancy to you?"

"You marry a wench and set up a beggarly house," said Joe, without
taking any heed of the interruption. "You work fourteen or fifteen hours
a day for every day of the year. If you find the company of another
woman pleasant you have your old crow to jaw at you from the chimney
corner. You'll bring up a breed of children that will leave you when you
need them most. Your wife will get old, her teeth will fall out, and her
hair will get thin, until she becomes as bald as the sole of your foot.
She'll get uglier until you loathe the sight of her, and find one day
that you cannot kiss her for the love of God. But all the time you'll
have to stay with her, growl at her, and nothin' before both of you but
the grave or the workhouse. If you are as clever a cadger as me why do
you suffer all this?"

"Because I'm a decent man," said the plougher.

Joe straightened up as if seriously insulted. "Well, I'm damned!" he
muttered and continued on his journey. "It's the first time ever I got
the worst of an argument, Flynn," he said after we had gone out of the
sight of the ploughman, and he kept repeating this phrase for the rest
of the day. For myself, I thought that Joe got the best of the argument,
and I pointed out the merits of his sarcastic remarks and proved to him
that if his opponent had not been a brainless man, he would be aware of
defeat after the first exchange of sallies.

"But that about the decent man was one up for him," Joe interrupted.

"It was the only remark which the man was able to make," I said. "The
pig has its grunt, the bull its bellow, the cock its crow, and the
plougher his boasted decency. To each his crow, grunt, boast, or bellow,
and to all their ignorance. It is impossible to argue against ignorance,
Moleskin. It is proof against sarcasm and satire and is blind to its own
failings and the merits of clever men like you."

Joe brightened perceptibly, and he walked along with elated stride.

"You're very clever, Flynn," he said. "And you think I won?"

"You certainly did. The last shot thrown at you struck the man who threw
it full in the face. He admitted that he suffered because of his

Joe was now quite pleased with himself, and the rest of the day passed
without any further adventure.

On the day following it rained and rained. We tasted the dye of our caps
as the water washed it down our faces into our mouths. By noon we came
to the crest of a hill and looked into a wild sweep of valley below. The
valley--it was Glencoe--from its centre had a reach of miles on either
side, and standing on its rim we were mere midges perched on the
copestones of an amphitheatre set apart for the play of giants. Far
away, amongst grey boulders that burrowed into steep inclines, we could
see a pigmy cottage sending a wreath of blue spectral smoke into the
air. No other sign of human life could be seen. The cottage was subdued
by its surroundings, the movement of the ascending smoke was a sacrilege
against the spell of the desolate places.

"It looks lonely," I said to my mate.

"As hell!" he added, taking up the words as they fell from my tongue.

We took our meal of bread and water on the ledge and saved up the crumbs
for our supper. When night came we turned into a field that lay near the
cottage, which we had seen from a distance earlier in the day.

"It's a god's charity to have a shut gate between us and the world,"
said Moleskin, as he fastened the bars of the fence. Some bullocks were
resting under a hazel clump. These we chased away, and sat down on the
spot which their bellies had warmed, and endeavoured to light our fire.
From under grey rocks, and from the crevices in the stone dyke, we
picked out light, dry twigs, and in the course of an hour we had a
blazing flame, around which we dried our wet clothes. The clouds had
cleared away and the moon came out silently from behind the shadow of
the hills. The night was calm as the face of a sleeping girl.

We lay down together when we had eaten our crumbs, but for a long while
I kept awake. A wind, soft as the breath of a child, ruffled the bushes
beside us and died away in a long-drawn swoon. Far in the distance I
could hear another, for it was the night of many winds, beating against
the bald peaks that thrust their pointed spires into the mystery of the
heavens. From time to time I could hear the falling earth as it was
loosened from its century-long resting place and flung heavily into the
womb of some fathomless abyss. God was still busy with the work of

I was close to the earth, almost part of it, and the smell of the wet
sod was heavy in my nostrils. It was the breath of the world, the world
that was in the eternal throes of change all around me. Nature was
restless and throbbing with movement; streams were gliding forward
filled with a longing for unknown waters; winds were moving to and fro
with the indecision of homeless wayfarers; leaves were dropping from the
brown branches, falling down the curves of the wind silently and slowly
to the great earth that whispered out the secret of everlasting change.
The hazel clump twined its trellises of branches overhead, leaving
spaces at random for the eternal glory of the stars to filter through
and rest on our faces. Joe, bearded and wrinkled, slept and dreamt
perhaps of some night's heavy drinking and desperate fighting, or maybe
his dreams were of some weary shift which had been laboured out in the
lonely places of the world.

Coming across the line of hills could be heard the gathering of the sea,
and the chant of the deep waters that were for ever voicing their
secrets to the throbbing shores.

The fire burned down but I could not go to sleep. I looked in the dying
embers, and saw pictures in the flames and the redness; pictures of men
and women, and strange pictures of forlorn hopes and blasted
expectations. I saw weary kinless outcasts wandering over deserted
roads, shunned and accursed of all their kind. Also I saw women, old
women, who dragged out a sordid existence, labouring like beasts of
burden from the cradle to the grave. Also pictures of young women with
the blood of early life in them, and the fulness of maiden promise in
them, walking one by one in the streets of the midnight city--young
women, fair and beautiful, who knew of an easier means of livelihood
than that which is offered by learning the uses of sewing-needle or
loom-spindle in fetid garret or steam-driven mill. In the flames and the
redness I saw pictures of men and women who suffered; for in that, and
that only, there is very little change through all the ages. Thinking
thus I fell asleep.

When I awoke, all the glory of the naked world was aflame with the early
sun. The red mud of our moleskins blended in harmony with the tints of
the great dawn. The bullocks were busy with their breakfasts and bore us
no ill-will for the wrong which we had done them the night before. Two
snails had crawled over Joe's coat, leaving a trail of slimy silver
behind them, and a couple of beetles had found a resting-place in the
seams of his velvet waistcoat. He rubbed his eyes when I called to him
and sat up.

The snails curled up in mute protest on the ground, and the beetles
hurried off and lost themselves amid the blades of grass. Joe made no
effort to kill the insects. He lifted the snails off his coat and laid
them down easily on the grass. "Run, you little devils!" he said with a
laugh, as he looked at the scurrying beetles. "You haven't got hold of
me yet, mind."

I never saw Joe kill an insect. He did not like to do so, he often told
me. "If we think evil of insects, what will they think of us?" he said
to me once. As for myself, I have never killed an insect knowingly in
all my life. My house for so long has been the wide world, that I can
afford to look leniently on all other inmates, animal or human. Four
walls coffin the human sympathies.

When I rose to my feet I felt stiff and sore, and there was nothing to
eat for breakfast. My mate alluded to this when he said bitterly: "I
wish to God that I was a bullock!"

A crow was perched on a bush some distance away, its head a little to
one side, and it kept eyeing us with a look of half quizzical contempt.
When Joe saw it he jumped to his feet.

"A hooded crow!" he exclaimed.

"I think that it is as well to start off," I said. "We must try and pick
up something for breakfast."

My mate was still gazing at the tree, and he took no heed to my remark.
"A hooded crow!" he repeated, and lifting a stone flung it at the bird.

"What about it?" I asked.

"Them birds, they eat dead men," Moleskin answered, as the crow flew
away. "There was Muck Devaney--Red Muck we called him--and he worked at
the Toward waterworks three winters ago. Red Muck had a temper like an
Orangeman, and so had the ganger. The two of them had a row about some
contract job, and Devaney lifted his lyin' time and jacked the graft
altogether. There was a heavy snow on the ground when he left our shack
in the evenin', and no sooner were his heels out of sight than a
blizzard came on. You know Toward Mountain, Flynn? Yes. Well, it is
seven long miles from the top of the hill to the nearest town. Devaney
never finished his journey. We found him when the thaw came on, and he
was lyin' stiff as a bone in a heap of snow. And them hooded crows!
There was dozens of them pickin' the flesh from his naked
shoulder-blades. They had eat the very guts clean out of Red Muck, so we
had to bury him as naked as a newborn baby. By God! Flynn, they're one
of the things that I am afraid of in this world, them same hooded crows.
Just think of it! maybe that one that I just threw the stone at was one
of them as gobbled up the flesh of Muck Devaney."


[9] A sleep on an empty stomach in the full sun.

[10] One who steals to satisfy his hunger.



     Though up may be up and down be down,
       Time will make everything even,
     And the man who starves at Greenock town
       Will fatten at Kinlochleven;

     So what does it matter if time be fleet,
       And life sends no one to love us?
     We've the dust of the roadway under our feet
       And a smother of stars above us.

     --_A Wee Song._

I think that the two verses given above were the best verses of a song
which I wrote on a bit of tea-paper and read to Moleskin on the last day
of our journey to Kinlochleven. Anyhow, they are the only two which I
remember. Since I had read part of the poem "Evelyn Hope," I was
possessed of a leaning towards lilting rhymes, and now and again I would
sit down and scribble a few lines of a song on a piece of paper. Times
were when I had a burning desire to read my effusions to Moleskin, but
always I desisted, thinking that he would perhaps laugh at me, or call
me fool. Perhaps I would sink in my mate's estimation. I began to like
Joe more and more, and daily it became apparent that he had a genuine
liking for me.

We were now six days on our journey. Charity was cold, while
belly-thefts were few and far between. We were hungry, and the weather
being very hot at high noon, Moleskin lay down and had his dog-sleep. I
wrote a few other verses in addition to those which herald this
chapter, and read them to my mate when he awoke. When I had finished I
asked Joe how he liked my poem.

"It's a great song," answered Moleskin. "You're nearly as good a poet as
Two-shift Mullholland."

"Two-shift Mullholland?" I repeated. "I've never heard of him. Do you
know anything written by him?"

"Of course I do. Have you never heard of 'The Shootin' of the Crow'?"

"Never," I replied.

"You're more ignorant than I thought," said Joe, and without any further
explanation he started and sang the following song.

                     "THE SHOOTIN' OF THE CROW.

     "Come all you true-born navvies, attend unto my lay!
     While walkin' down through Glasgow town, 'twas just the other day,
     I met with Hell-fire Gahey, and he says to me: 'Hallo!
     Maloney has got seven days for shootin' of the crow;
         With his fol the diddle, fol the diddle daddy.

     "'It happened near beside the docks in Moran's pub, I'm told
     Maloney had been on the booze, Maloney had a cold,
     Maloney had no beer to drink, Maloney had no tin,
     Maloney could not pay his way and so they ran him in,
         With his fol the diddle, fol the diddle daddy.'

     "The judge he saw Maloney and he says, 'You're up again!
     To sentence you to seven days it gives me greatest pain,
     My sorrow at your woeful plight I try for to control;
     And may the Lord, Maloney, have mercy on your soul,
         And your fol the diddle, fol the diddle daddy.'

     "Oh! labour in the prison yard, 'tis very hard to bear,
     And many a honest navvy man may sometimes enter there;
     So here's to brave Maloney, and may he never go
     Again to work in prison for the shootin' of the crow,
         With his fol the diddle, fol the diddle daddy."

The reader of this story can well judge my utter literary simplicity at
the time when I tell him that I was angry with Joe for the criticism he
passed upon my poem. While blind to the defects of my own verses I was
wide awake to those of Mullholland, and I waited, angrily eager, until
Joe finished the song.

"It's rotten!" I exclaimed. "You surely do not think that it is better
than mine. What does 'fol the diddle' mean? A judge would not say that
to a prisoner. Neither would he say, 'May the Lord have mercy on your
soul,' unless he was going to pass the sentence of death on the man."

"What you say is quite right," replied Joe. "But a song to be any good
at all must have a lilt at the tail of it; and as to the judge sayin',
'May the Lord have mercy on your soul,' maybe he didn't say it, but if
you have 'control' at the end of one line, what must you have at the end
of the next one, cully? 'May the Lord have mercy on your soul' may be
wrong. I'll not misdoubt that. But doesn't it fit in nicely?"

Moleskin gave me a square look of triumph, and went on with his

"Barrin' these two things, the song is a true one. Maloney did get seven
days' hard for shootin' the crow, and I mind it myself. On the night of
his release I saw him in Moran's model by the wharf, and it was in that
same model that Mullholland sat down and wrote the song that I have sung
to you. It's a true song, so help me God! but yours!--How do _you_ know
that we'll fatten at Kinlochleven? More apt to go empty-gutted there, if
you believe me! Then you say 'up is up, and down is down.' Who says that
they are not? No one will give the lie to that, and what's the good of
sayin' a thing that everyone knows about? You've not even a lilt at the
tail of your screed, so it's not a song, nor half a song; it's not even
a decent 'Come-all-you.' Honest to God, you're a fool, Flynn! Wait till
you hear Broken-Snout Clancy sing 'The Bold Navvy Man!' That'll be the
song that will make your heart warm. But your song was no good at all,
Flynn. If it had only a lilt to it itself, it might be middlin'."

I recited the verse about Evelyn Hope, and when I finished, Joe asked me
what it was about. I confessed that I did not exactly know, and for an
hour afterwards we walked together in silence.

Late in the evening we came to the King's Arms, a lonely public-house
half-way between the Bridge of Orchy and Kinlochleven. We hung around
the building until night fell, for Joe became interested in an outhouse
where hens were roosting. By an estimation of the stars it was nearly
midnight when both of us took off our boots, and approached the
henhouse. The door was locked, but my mate inserted a pointed steel bar,
which he always carried in his pocket, in the keyhole, and after he had
worked for half a minute the door swung open and he crept in.

"Leave all to me," he said in a whisper.

The hens were restless, and made little hiccoughy noises in their
throats, noises that were not nice to listen to. I stood in the centre
of the building while Joe groped cautiously around. After a little while
he passed me and I could see his big gaunt form in the doorway.

"Come away," he whispered.

About twenty yards from the inn he threw down that which he carried and
we proceeded to put on our boots.

"It's a rooster," he said, pointing to the dead fowl; "a young soft one
too. When our boots are on, we'll slide along for a mile or so and drum
up. It's not the thing to cook your fowl on the spot where you stole it.
I mind once when I lifted a young pig----"

Suddenly the young rooster fluttered to its feet and started to crow.

"Holy hell!" cried Moleskin, and jumping to his feet he flung one of his
boots at the fowl. The aim was bad, and the bird zig-zagged off,
crowing loudly. Both of us gave chase.

The bird was a very demon. Several times when we thought that we had
laid hands on it, it doubled in its tracks like a cornered fox and
eluded us. Once I tried to hit it with my foot, but the blow swung
clear, and my hobnailed boot took Moleskin on the shin, causing him to
swear deeply.

"Fall on it, Joe; it's the only way!" I cried softly.

"Fall be damned! You might as well try to fall on a moonbeam."

A light appeared at the window of the public-house; a sash was thrown
open, and somebody shouted, "Who is there?"

"Can you get hold of it?" asked Joe, as he stood to clean the sweat from
his unshaven face.

"I cannot," I answered. "It's a wonderful bird."

"Wonderful damned fraud!" said my mate bitterly. "Why didn't it die

"Who's there? I say," shouted the man at the window. I made a desperate
rush after the rooster, and grabbed it by the neck.

"It will not get away this time, anyhow," I said.

"Where is my other boot, Flynn?" called out Joe.

"I do not know," I replied truthfully.

The door opened, and Moleskin's boot was not to be found. We sank into
the shadow of the earth and waited, meanwhile groping around with our
hands for the missing property. Across the level a man came towards us
slowly and cautiously.

"We had better run for it," I said.

We rushed off like the wind, and the stranger panted in pursuit behind
us. Joe with a single boot on, struck the ground heavily with one foot;
the other made no sound. He struck his toe on a rock and swore; when he
struck it a second time he stopped like a shot and turned round. The
pursuer came to a halt also.

"If you come another step nearer, I'll batter your head into jelly!"
roared Moleskin. The man turned hurriedly, and went back. Feeling
relieved we walked on for a long distance, until we came to a stream.
Here I lit a fire, plucked the rooster and cooked it, while Joe dressed
his toe, and cursed the fowl that caused him such a calamity. I gave one
of my boots to Joe and threw the other one away. Joe was wounded, and
being used in my early days to go barefooted, I always hated the
imprisonment of boots. I determined to go barefooted into Kinlochleven.

"Do you hear it?" Joe suddenly cried, jumping up and grabbing my arm.

I listened, and the sound of exploding dynamite could be heard in the
far distance.

"The navvies on the night-shift, blastin' rocks in Kinlochleven!" cried
Joe, jumping to his feet and waving a wing of the fowl over his head.
"Hurrah! There's a good time comin', though we may never live to see it.

"Hurrah!" I shouted, for I was glad that our travels were near at an

Although it was a long cry till the dawn, we kicked our fire in to the
air and set out again on our journey, Joe limping, and myself
barefooted. We finished our supper as we walked, and each man was
silent, busy with his own thoughts.

For myself I wanted to make some money and send it home to my own people
in Glenmornan. I reasoned with myself that it was unjust for my parents
to expect me to work for their betterment. Finding it hard enough to
earn my own livelihood, why should I irk myself about them? I was, like
Moleskin, an Ishmaelite, who without raising my hand against every man,
had every man's hand against me. Men like Moleskin and myself are
trodden underfoot, that others may enjoy the fruit of centuries of
enlightenment. I cursed the day that first saw me, but, strangely
inconsistent with this train of thought, I was eager to get on to
Kinlochleven and make money to send to my own people in Glenmornan.



     "Oh, God! that this was ended; that this our toil was past!
     Our cattle die untended; our lea-lands wither fast;
     Our bread is lacking leaven; our life is lacking friends,
     And short's our prayer to Heaven for all that Heaven sends."

     --From _God's Poor_.

The cold tang of the dawn was already in the air and the smell of the
earth was keen in our nostrils, when Moleskin and I breasted the steep
shoulder of a hill together, and saw the outer line of derricks standing
gaunt and motionless against the bald cliffs of Kinlochleven. From the
crest of the rise we could see the lilac gray vesture of the twilight
unfold itself from off the naked peaks that stood out boldly in the
ghostly air like carved gargoyles of some mammoth sculpture. A sense of
strange remoteness troubled the mind, and in the half-light the far
distances seemed vague and unearthly, and we felt like two atoms frozen
into a sea of silence amidst the splendour of complete isolation. A long
way off a line of hills stood up, high as the winds, and over their
storm-scarred ribs we saw or fancied we saw the milky white torrents
falling. We could not hear the sound of falling waters; the white frothy
torrents were the ghosts of streams.

The mood or spell was one of a moment. A derrick near at hand clawed out
with a lean arm, and lifted a bucket of red muck into the air, then
turned noisily on its pivot, and was relieved of its burden. The sun
burst out suddenly like an opening rose, and the garments of the day
were thrown across the world. One rude cabin sent up a gray spiral of
smoke into the air, then another and another. We sat on a rock, lit our
pipes, and gazed on the Mecca of our hopes.

A sleepy hollow lay below; and within it a muddle of shacks, roofed with
tarred canvas, and built of driven piles, were huddled together in
bewildering confusion. These were surrounded by puddles, heaps of
disused wood, tins, bottles, and all manner of discarded rubbish. Some
of the shacks had windows, most of them had none; some had doors facing
north, some south; everything was in a most haphazard condition, and it
looked as if the buildings had dropped out of the sky by accident, and
were just allowed to remain where they had fallen. The time was now five
o'clock in the morning; the night-shift men were still at work and the
pounding of hammers and grating noises of drills could be heard
distinctly. The day-shift men, already out of bed, were busily engaged
preparing breakfast, and we could see them hopping half-naked around the
cabins, carrying pans and smoking tins in their hands, and roaring at
one another as if all were in a bad temper.

"I'm goin' to nose around and look for a pair of understandin's," said
Joe, as he rose to his feet and sauntered away. "You wait here until I
come back."

In fifteen minutes' time he returned, carrying a pair of well-worn
boots, which he gave to me. I put them on, and then together we went
towards the nearest cabin.

Although it was high mid-summer the slush around the dwelling rose over
our boots, and dropped between the leather and our stockings. We entered
the building, which was a large roomy single compartment that served the
purpose of bedroom, eating-room, dressing-room, and gambling saloon.
Some of the inmates had sat up all night playing banker, and they were
still squatting around a rough plank where silver and copper coins
clanked noisily in the intervals between the game. The room, forty feet
square, and ten foot high, contained fifty bed-places, which were ranged
around the walls, and which rose one over the other in three tiers
reaching from the ground to the ceiling. A spring oozed through the
earthen floor, which was nothing but a puddle of sticky clay and water.

A dozen or more frying-pans, crammed with musty, sizzling slices of
bacon, were jumbled together on the red hot-plate in the centre of the
room, and here and there amid the pile of pans, little black sooty cans
of brewing tea bubbled merrily. The odour of the rank tea was even
stronger than that of the roasting meat.

The men were very ragged, and each of them was covered with a fine
coating of good healthy clay. The muck was caked brown on the bare arms,
and a man, by contracting his muscles firmly, could break the dirt clear
off his skin in hard, dry scales. No person of all those on whom I
looked had shaved for many months, and the hair stood out strongly from
their cheeks and jowls. I myself was the only hairless faced individual
there. I had not begun to shave then, and even now I only shave once a
fortnight. A few of the men were still in bed, and many were just
turning out of their bunks. On rising each man stood stark naked on the
floor, prior to dressing for the day. None were ashamed of their
nakedness: the false modesty of civilisation is unknown to the outside
places. To most people the sight of the naked human body is repulsive,
and they think that for gracefulness of form and symmetry of outline
man's body is much inferior to that of the animals of the field. I
suppose all people, women especially, are conscious of this, for nothing
else can explain the desire to improve nature's handiwork which is
inherent in all human beings.

Joe and I approached the gamblers and surveyed the game, looking over
the shoulders of one of the players.

"Much luck?" inquired my mate.

"Not much," answered the man beside him, looking up wearily, although in
his eyes the passion of the game still burned brightly.

"At it all night?"

"All night," replied the player, wearily picking up the cards which had
been dealt out and throwing them away with an air of disgust.

"I'm broke," he cried, and rising from his seat on the ground, he began
to prepare his meal. The other gamblers played on, and took no notice of
their friend's withdrawal.

"It's nearly time that you gamblers stopped," someone shouted from
amidst the steam of the frying meat.

"Hold your damned tongue," roared one player, who held the bank and who
was overtaking the losses of the night.

"Will someone cook my grub?" asked another.

"Play up and never mind your mealy grub, you gutsy whelp!" snarled a
third, who was losing heavily and who had forgotten everything but the
outcome of the game. Thus they played until the whistle sounded, calling
all out to work; and then each man snatched up a crust of bread, or a
couple of slices of cold ham, and went out to work in the barrow-squads
or muck-gangs where thousands laboured day by day.

Meanwhile my mate and I had not been idle. I asked several questions
about the work while Joe looked for food as if nothing else in the world
mattered. Having urged a young fellow to share his breakfast with me, he
then nosed about on his own behalf, and a few minutes later when I
glanced around me I saw my pal sitting on the corner of a ground bunk,
munching a chunk of stale bread and gulping down mighty mouthfuls of
black tea from the sooty can in which it had been brewed. On seeing me
watching him he lowered his left eyelid slightly, and went solemnly on
with his repast.

"We'll go out and chase up a job now," said Moleskin, emptying his can
of its contents with a final sough. "It will be easy to get a start. Red
Billy Davis, old dog that he is, wants three hammermen, and we'll go to
him and get snared while it is yet early in the day."

"But how do you know that there are three men wanted?" I asked. "I heard
nothing about it, although I asked several persons if there was any
chance of a job."

"You've a lot to learn, cully," answered Moleskin. "The open ear is
better than the open mouth. I was listenin' while you were lookin'
around, and by the talk of the men I found out a thing or two. Come

We went out, full of belly and full of hope, and sought for Red Billy
Davis and his squad of hammermen. I had great faith in Moleskin, and now
being fully conscious of his superior knowledge I was ready to follow
him anywhere. After a long search, we encountered a man who sat on the
idle arm of a crane, whittling shavings off a splinter of wood with his
clasp-knife. The man was heavily bearded and extremely dirty. When he
saw us approaching he rose and looked at my mate.

"Moleskin, by God!" he exclaimed, closing the knife and putting it in
his pocket. "Are you lookin' for a job?"

"Can you snare an old hare this mornin'?" asked Joe.

"H'm!" said the man.

"Pay?" asked Joe laconically.

"A tanner an hour, overtime seven and a half," said the man with the

"The hammer?" asked Joe.

"Hammer and jumper," answered the man. "You can take off your coat now."

"This mate of mine is lookin' for work, too," said Joe, pointing at me.

"He's light of shoulder and lean as a rake," replied the bearded man,
with undisguised contempt in his voice.

My temper was up in an instant. I took a step forward with the intention
of pulling the old red-haired buck off his seat, when my mate put in a
word on my behalf.

"He knocked out Carroty Dan in Burn's model," said Joe, by way of
recommendation, and my anger gave way to pride there and then.

"If that is so he can take off his coat too," said the old fellow,
pulling out his clasp-knife and restarting on the rod. "Hammers and
jumpers are down in the cuttin', the dynamite is in the cabin at the far
end on the right. Slide."

"Come back, lean-shanks," he called to me as I turned to go. "What is
your name?" he asked, when I turned round.

"Dermod Flynn," I replied.

"You have to pay me four shillin's when you lift your first pay," said

"That be damned!" interrupted Moleskin.

"Four shillin's," repeated Red Billy, laying down his clasp-knife and
taking out a note-book and making an entry. "That's the price I charge
for a pair of boots like them."

Moleskin looked at my boots, which it appears he had stolen from Red
Billy in the morning. Then he edged nearer to the ganger.

"Put the cost against me," he said. "I'll give you two and a tanner for
the understandin's."

"Two and a tanner it is," said Red Billy, and shut the book.

"You must let me pay half," I said to Joe later.

"Not at all," he replied. "I have the best of the bargain."

He put his hand in his pocket and drew out something. It was the
clasp-knife that Red Billy placed on the ground when making the entry in
his note-book.



     "He could fight like a red, roaring bull."


Sixpence an hour meant thirty shillings a week, and a man was allowed to
work overtime until he fell at his shift. For Sunday work ninepence an
hour was given, so the navvies told me, and now I looked forward to the
time when I would have money enough and to spare. In anticipation I
computed my weekly earnings as amounting to two pounds ten, and I dreamt
of a day in the near future when I could again go south, find Norah
Ryan, and take her home as my wife to Glenmornan. I never thought of
making my home in a strange land. Oh! what dreams came to me that
morning as I took my place among the forty ragged members of Red Billy's
gang! Life opened freshly; my morbid fancies were dispelled, and I
blessed the day that saw my birth. I looked forward to the future and
said that it was time for me to begin saving money. When a man is in
misery he recoils from the thoughts of the future, but when he is happy
he looks forward in eager delight to the time to come.

The principal labour of Red Billy's gang was rock-blasting. This work is
very dangerous and requires skilful handling of the hammer. In the art
of the hammer I was quite an adept, for did I not work under Horse Roche
on the ---- Railway before setting out for Kinlochleven? Still, for all
that, I have known men who could not use a hammer rightly if they worked
with one until the crack of doom.

I was new to the work of the jumper gang, but I soon learned how
operations were performed. One man--the "holder"--sat on the rock which
was to be bored, his legs straight out in front of him and well apart.
Between his knees he held the tempered steel drill with its sharp nose
thrust into the rock. The drill or "jumper" is about five feet long, and
the blunt upper end is rounded to receive the full force of the
descending hammer. Five men worked each drill, one holding it to the
rock while the other four struck it with their hammers in rotation. The
work requires nerve and skill, for the smallest error in a striker's
judgment would be fatal to the holder. The hammer is swung clear from
the hip and travels eighteen feet or more before it comes in contact
with the inch-square upper end of the jumper. The whole course of the
blow is calculated instinctively before the hammer rises to the swing.
This work is classed as unskilled labour.

When it is considered that men often work the whole ten-hour shift with
the eternal hammer in their hands it is really a wonder that more
accidents do not take place, especially since the labour is often
performed after a night's heavy drinking or gambling. A holder is seldom
wounded; when he is struck he dies. Only once have I seen a man thus get
killed. The descending hammer flew clear of the jumper and caught the
poor fellow over the temple, knocking him stiff dead.

Red Billy's gang was divided into squads, each consisting of five
persons. We completed a squad not filled up before our arrival, and
proceeded to work with our two hammers. Stripped to our trousers and
shirt, and puffing happily at our pipes, we were soon into the lie of
the job, and swung our heavy hammers over our heads to the virile music
of meeting steel. Most of the men knew Joe. He had worked somewhere and
at some time with most on the place, and all had a warm word of welcome
for Moleskin. "By God, it's Moleskin! Have you a chew of 'baccy to
spare?" was the usual form of greeting. There was no handshake. It is
unknown among the navvies, just as kissing is unknown in Glenmornan. For
a few hours nobody took any notice of me, but at last my mate introduced
me to several of those who had gathered around, when we took advantage
of Red Billy's absence to fill our pipes and set them alight.

"Do you know that kid there, that mate of mine?" he asked, pointing at
me with his pipe-shank. I felt confused, for every eye was fixed on me,
and lifting my hammer I turned to my work, trying thus to hide my

"A blackleg without the spunk of a sparrow!" said one man, a
tough-looking fellow with the thumb of one hand missing, who, not
satisfied with taking off his coat to work, had taken off his shirt as
well. "What the hell are you workin' for when the ganger is out of

I felt nettled and dropped my hammer.

"I did not know that it was wrong to work when the ganger was out of
sight," I said to the man who had spoken. "But if you want to shove it
on to me you are in the wrong shop!"

"That's the way to speak, Flynn," said Moleskin approvingly. Then he
turned to the rest of the men.

"That kid, that mate of mine, rose stripped naked from his bed and
thrashed Carroty Dan in Burn's model lodging-house," he said. "Now it
takes a good man to thrash Carroty."

"_I_ knocked Carroty out," said the man who accused me of working when
the ganger was out of sight, and he looked covertly in my direction.

"There's a chance for you, Flynn!" cried Moleskin, in a delighted
voice. "You'll never get the like of it again. Just pitch into Hell-fire
Gahey and show him how you handle your pair of fives."

Gahey looked at me openly and eagerly, evincing all tokens of pleasure
and willingness to come to fistic conclusions with me there and then. As
for myself, I felt in just the right mood for a bit of a tussle, but at
that moment Red Billy appeared from behind the crane handle and shouted
across angrily:

"Come along, you God-damned, forsaken, lousy, beggarly, forespent
wastrels, and get some work done!" he cried.

"Can a man not get time to light his pipe?" remonstrated Moleskin.

"Time in hell!" shouted Billy. "You're not paid for strikin' matches

We started work again; the fight was off for the moment, and I felt
sorry. It is disappointing to rise to a pitch of excitement over
nothing; and a fight keeps a man alert and alive.

Having bored the rock through to the depth of four or five feet, we
placed dynamite in the hole, attached a fuse, lit it, and hurried off to
a place of safety until the rock was blown to atoms. Then we returned to
our labour at the jumper and hammer.

Dinner-time came around; the men shared their grub with my mate and me,
Hell-fire Gahey giving me a considerable share of his food. Red Billy,
who took his grub along with us, cut his bread into thin slices with a
dirty tobacco-stained knife, and remarked that he always liked tobacco
juice for kitchen. Red Billy chewed the cud after eating, a most
curious, but, as I have learned since, not an unprecedented thing. He
was very proud of this peculiarity, and said that the gift--he called it
a gift--was the outcome of a desire when young and hungry to chew over
again the food which he had already eaten.

No one spoke of my proposed fight with Gahey, and I wondered at this
silence. I asked Moleskin if Hell-fire was afraid of me.

"Not at all," said Joe. "But he won't put his dinner-hour to loss by
thrashin' a light rung of a cully like you. That's the kind of him."

I laughed as if enjoying Joe's remark, but in my mind I resolved to go
for Gahey as soon as I got the chance, and hammer him, if able, until he
shrieked for mercy. It was most annoying to know that a man would not
put his time to loss in fighting me.

We finished work at six o'clock in the evening, and Moleskin and I
obtained two shillings of sub.[11] apiece. Then we set off for the
store, a large rambling building in which all kinds of provisions were
stored, and bought food. Having procured one loaf, one pound of steak,
one can of condensed milk and a pennyworth of tea and sugar, we went to
our future quarters in Red Billy's shack.

Our ganger built a large shack at Kinlochleven when work was started
there, and furnished it with a hot-plate, beds, bedding, and a door. He
forgot all about windows, or at least considered them unnecessary for
the dwelling-place of navvy men. Once a learned man objected to the lack
of fresh air in Billy's shack. "If you go outside the door you'll get
plenty of air, and if you stay out it will be fresher here," was Billy's
answer. To do Billy justice, it is necessary to say that he slept in the
shack himself. Three shillings a week secured the part use of a bedplace
for each man, and the hot-plate was used in common by the inmates of the
shack. At the end of the week the three shillings were deducted from the
men's pay. Moleskin and I had no difficulty in securing a bed, which we
had to share with Gahey, my rival. Usually three men lay in each bunk,
and sometimes it happened that four unwashed dirty humans were huddled
together under the one evil-smelling, flea-covered blanket.

Red Billy's shack was built of tarred wooden piles, shoved endwise into
the earth, and held together by iron cross-bars and wooden couplings.
Standing some distance apart from the others, it was neither better nor
worse than any of the rest. I mean that it could be no worse; and there
was not a better shack in all the place. As it happened to stand on a
mountain spring a few planks were thrown across the floor to prevent the
water from rising over the shoe-mouths of the inmates. In warm weather
the water did not come over the flooring; in the rainy season the
flooring was always under the water. A man once said that the Highlands
were the rain-trough of the whole world.

The beds were arranged one over another in three rows which ran round
the entire hut, which was twelve feet high and about thirty feet square.
The sanitary authorities took good care to see that every cow in the
byre at Braxey farm had so many cubic feet of breathing space, but there
was no one to bother about the navvies' byres in Kinlochleven; it was
not worth anybody's while to bother about our manner of living.

Moleskin and I had no frying-pan, but Gahey offered us the use of his,
until such time as we raised the price of one. We accepted the offer and
forthwith proceeded to cook a good square supper. It had barely taken us
five minutes to secure our provisions, but by the time we started
operations on the hot-plate the gamblers were busy at work, playing
banker on a discarded box in the centre of the building. Gahey, who was
one of the players, seemed to have forgotten all about the projected
fight between himself and me.

"Is Gahey not going to fight?" I asked Moleskin in a whisper.

"My God! don't you see that he's playin' banker?" said Joe, and I had to
be content with that answer, which was also an explanation of the man's
lack of remembrance. Fighting must be awfully common and boring to the
man when he forgets one so easily, I thought. To me a fight was
something which I looked forward to for days, and which I thought of for
weeks afterwards. Now I felt a trifle afraid of Gahey. I was of little
account in his eyes, and I concluded, for I jump quickly to conclusions,
that I would not make much of a show if I stood up against such a man, a
man who looked upon a fight as something hardly worthy of notice. I
decided to let the matter drop and trouble about it no further. I think
that if Gahey had asked me to fight at that moment I should have
refused. The truth was that I became frightened of the man.

"Can I have a hand while I'm cookin' my grub?" Joe asked the dealer, a
man of many oaths whose name was Maloney, a personage already enshrined
in the song written by Mullholland on the _Shootin' of the Crow_.

"The more the merrier!" was the answer, given in a tone of hearty
assent. On hearing these words Moleskin left the pan under my care, put
down a coin on the table, and with one eye on the steak, and another on
the game, he waited for the turn-up of the banker's card. During the
whole meal my mate devoted the intervals between bites to the placing of
money on the card table. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, and when
the game concluded with a free fight my mate had lost every penny of his
sub., and thirteen pence which he had borrowed from me. It was hard to
determine how the quarrel started, but at the commencement nearly every
one of the players was involved in the fight, which gradually resolved
itself into an affair between two of the gamblers, Blasting Mick and
Ben the Moocher.

Red Billy Davis came in at that moment, and between two planks,
wallowing in the filth, he found the combatants tearing at one another
for all they were worth.

"Go out and fight, and be damned to yous!" roared Red Billy, catching
the two men as they scrambled to their feet. "You want to break
ev'rything in the place, you do! Curses be on you! go out into the world
and fight!" he cried, taking them by their necks and shoving them
through the door.

Nothing daunted, however, both continued the quarrel outside in the
darkness. No one evinced any desire to go out and see the result of the
fight, but I was on the tip-toe of suspense waiting for the finish of
the encounter. I could hear the combatants panting and slipping outside,
but thinking that the inmates of the shack would consider me a greenhorn
if I went to look at the fight I remained inside. I resolved to follow
Moleskin's guidance for at least a little while longer; I lacked the
confidence to work on my own initiative.

"Clean broke!" said Moleskin, alluding to his own predicament, as he sat
down by the fire, and asked the man next to him for a chew of tobacco.
"Money is made round to go round, anyway," he went on; "and there is
some as say that it is made flat to build upon, but that's damned rot.
Doesn't ev'ryone here agree with that?"

"Ev'ryone," was the hearty response.

"Why the devil do all of you agree?" Joe looked savagely exasperated.
"Has no man here an opinion of his own? You, Tom Slavin, used to save
your pay when you did graft at Toward Waterworks, and what did _you_ do
with your money?"

Tom Slavin was a youngish fellow, and Joe's enquiry caused him to look
redder than the hot-plate.

"He bought penny ribbons and brass bracelets for Ganger Farley's
daughter," put in Red Billy, who had quickly regained his good humour;
"but in the end the jade went and married a carpenter from Glasgow."

Red Billy chuckled in his beard. He was twice a widower, grass and clay,
and he was a very cynical old man. I did not take much heed to the
conversation; I was listening to the scuffle outside.

"What did I always say about women!" said Moleskin, launching into the
subject of the fair sex. "Once get into the hands of a woman and she'll
drive you to hell and leave you with the devil when she gets you there.
How many fools can a woman put through her hands? Eh! How much water can
run through a sieve? No matter how many lovers a woman has, she has
always room for one more. It's a well-filled barn that doesn't give room
for the threshin' of one extra sheaf. Comin' back to that sliver of a
Slavin's wenchin', who is the worst off now, the carpenter or Tom? I'll
go bail that one is jealous of the other; that one's damned because he
did and the other's damned because he didn't."

"There's a sort of woman, Gourock Ellen they call her," interrupted Red
Billy with a chuckle, "and she nearly led you to hell in Glasgow three
years ago, Mister Moleskin."

"And what about the old heifer you made love to in Clydebank, Moleskin?"
asked James Clancy, a man with a broken nose and great fame as a singer,
who had not spoken before.

"Oh! that Glasgow woman," said Moleskin, taking no heed of the second
question. "I didn't think very much of her."

"What was wrong with her?" asked Billy.

"She was a woman; isn't that enough?"

"It was a different story on the night when you and Ginger Simpson
fought about her in the Saltmarket," cut in some individual who was
sitting in the bed sewing patches on his trousers.

"I've fought my man and knocked him out many a time, when there wasn't a
wench within ten miles of me," cried Moleskin. "Doesn't ev'ryone here
believe that?"

"But that woman in Clydebank!" persisted Clancy.

"Have you seen Ginger Simpson of late?" said Moleskin, making an effort
to change the subject, for he observed that he was cornered. It was
evident that some of the inmates of the shack had learned facts relating
to his career, which Moleskin would have preferred to remain unknown.

"Last winter I met him in Greenock," said Sandy MacDonald, a man with a
wasting disease, who lay in a corner bunk at the end of the shack. "He
told me all about the fight in the Saltmarket, and that Gourock

"But the Clydebank woman----"

"Listen!" said Joe, interrupting Clancy's remark. "They're at it outside
yet. It must be a hell of a fight between the two of them."

He referred to Blasting Mick and Ben the Moocher, who were still busily
engaged in thrashing one another outside, and in the silence that
followed Joe's remark I could hear distinctly the thud of many blows
given and taken by the two combatants in the darkness.

"Let them fight; that's nothin' to us," said Red Billy, taking a bite
from the end of his plug. "But for my own part I would like to know
where Gourock Ellen is now."

Joe made no answer; he was visibly annoyed, and I saw his fists closing

"Do you mind the Clydebank woman, Moleskin?" asked Clancy, making a
final effort in his enquiries. "She was fond of her pint, and had a
horrid squint."

"I'll squint you, by God!" roared Moleskin, reaching out and gripping
Clancy by the scruff of the neck. "If I hear you talkin' about Clydebank
again, I'll thicken your ear for you, seein' that I cannot break your
nose! And you, you red-bearded sprat, you!" this to Red Billy Davis; "if
you mention Gourock Ellen again, I'll leave your eyes in such a state
that you'll not be fit to see one of your own gang for six months to

Just at that moment the two fighters came in, and attracted the whole
attention of the party inside by their appearance. They looked worn and
dishevelled, their clothes were torn to ribbons, their cheeks were
covered with clay and blood, and their hair and beards looked like mops
which had been used in sweeping the bottom of a midden. One good result
of the two men's timely entrance was that the rest of the party forgot
their own particular grievances.

"Quite pleased with yoursels now?" asked Red Billy Davis, but the
combatants did not answer. They sat down, took off their boots, scraped
the clay from their wounds, and turned into bed.

"Moleskin, do you know Gourock Ellen?" I asked my mate when later I
found him sitting alone in a quiet corner.

Moleskin glared at me furiously. "By this and by that, Flynn! if you
talk to me about Gourock Ellen again I'll scalp you," he answered.

For a moment I felt a trifle angry, but having sense enough to see that
Moleskin was sore cut with the outcome of the argument, and knowing that
he was the only friend whom I had in all Kinlochleven I kept silent,
stifling the words of anger that had risen to my tongue. By humouring
one another's moods we have become inseparable friends.

One by one the men turned into bed. Maloney having collared all the
day's sub. there was no more gambling that night. Joe sat for a while
bare naked, getting a belly heat at the fire, as he himself expressed
it, before he turned into bed.

"Where have you left your duds, Flynn?" he asked, as he rose to his feet
and extinguished the naphtha lamp which hung from the roof by a piece of
wire. I was already under the blankets, glad of their warmth, meagre
though it was, after so many long chilly nights on the road.

"They are under my pillow," I answered.

"And your bluchers?"

"On the floor."

"Put them under your pillow too, or maybe you'll be without them in the

Acting upon Joe's advice, I jumped out of bed, groped in the darkness,
found my boots and placed them under my pillow. Presently, wedged in
between the naked bodies of Moleskin Joe and Hell-fire Gahey, I
endeavoured to test the strength of the latter's arms by pressing them
with my fingers. The man was asleep, if snoring was to be taken as a
sign, and presently I was running my hand over his body, testing the
muscles of his arms, shoulders, and chest. He was covered with hair,
more like a brute than a human; long, curling, matted hair, that was
rough as fine wire when the hand came in contact with it. The
rubber-like pliability of the man's long arms impressed me, and assured
me that he would be a quick hitter when he started fighting. Added to
that he had a great fame as a fighting man in Kinlochleven. He was a
loud snorer too; I have never met a man who could snore like Gahey, and
snoring is one of the vices which I detest. Being very tired after the
long homeless tramp from Greenock, I fell asleep by-and-bye; but I did
not sleep for long. The angry voice of Joe awakened me, and I heard him
expostulate with Hell-fire on the unequal distribution of the blankets.

"You hell-forsaken Irish blanket-grabber, you!" Joe was roaring;
"you've got all the clothes in the bed wrapped round your dirty hide."

"Ye're a hell-fire liar, and that's what ye are!" snorted Gahey. "It's
yerself that has got all the beddin'."

Joe replied with an oath and a vigorous tug at the blankets. In turn my
other bedmate pulled them back, and for nearly five minutes both men
engaged in a mad tug-of-war. Hell-fire got the best of it in the end,
for he placed his back against the wall of the shack, planted his feet
in my side, and pulled as hard as he was able until he regained complete
possession of the disputed clothing. Just then Moleskin's hand passed
over my head with a mighty swish in the direction of Gahey. I turned
rapidly round and lay face downwards on the pillow in order to avoid the
blows of the two men as they fought across my naked body. And they did
fight! The dull thud of fist on flesh, the grunts and pants of the men,
the creaking of the joints as their arms were thrown outwards, the jerky
spring of the wooden bunk-stanchions as they shook beneath the straining
bodies, and the numberless blows which landed on me in the darkness
makes the memory of the first night in Kinlochleven for ever green in my

Rising suddenly to his feet Gahey stood over me in a crouching position
with both his heels planted in the small of my back. The pain was almost
unendurable, and I got angry. It was almost impossible to move, but by a
supreme effort I managed to wriggle round and throw Gahey head-foremost
into Moleskin's arms, whereupon the two fighters slithered out of bed,
leaving the blankets to me, and continued their struggle on the floor.

Somewhere in the middle of the shack I could hear Red Billy swearing as
he endeavoured to light a match on the upper surface of the hot-plate.

"My blessed blankets!" he was lamenting. "You damned scoundrels! you'll
not leave one in the hut. Fighting in bed just the same as if you were
lyin' in a pig-sty. What the devil was I thinkin' of when I took on that
pig of a Moleskin Joe?"

Billy ceased thinking just then, for a wild swing of Moleskin's heavy
fist missed Gahey and caught the ganger under the ear. The whiskered one
dropped with a groan amid the floor-planks and lay, kicking, shouting
meanwhile that Moleskin had murdered him. Someone lit a match, and my
bedmates ceased fighting and seemed little the worse for their
adventure. Billy's face looked ghastly, and a red streak ran from his
nose into the puddle in which he lay. He had now stopped speaking and
was fearfully quiet. I jumped out of bed, shaking in every limb, for I
thought that the old ganger was killed.

"A tin of water thrown in his face will bring him round," I said, but
feared at the same time that it would not.

"Or a bucketful," someone suggested.

"Stab a pin under the quick of his nail."

"Burn a feather under his nose."

"Give him a dig in the back."

"Or a prod in the ribs."

The match had gone out, no one could find another, and the voices of
advice came from the darkness in all the corners of the room. Even old
Sandy MacDonald, who could find no cure for his own complaint, the
wasting disease, was offering endless advice on the means of curing Red
Billy Davis.

A match was again found; the lamp was lit, and after much rough
doctoring on the part of his gang, the ganger recovered and swore
himself to sleep. Joe and Gahey came back together and stood by the bed.

"It's myself that has the hard knuckles, Moleskin," said Gahey. "And
they're never loth to come in contact with flesh that's not belongin' to
the man who owns them."

"There's a plot of ground here, and it's called the 'Ring,'" said
Moleskin. "About seven o'clock the morrow evenin', I'll be out that way
for a stroll. Many a man has broke a hard knuckle against my jaw, and if
you just meet me in the Ring----"

"I'll take a bit of a dander round there, Joe," said Hell-fire, and
filled with ineffable content both men slipped into their bed, and fell
asleep. As for myself, the dawn was coming through a chink in the shack
when my eyes closed in slumber.


[11] Wages paid on the day on which it is earned.



     "When rugged rungs stand up to fight, stark naked to the buff, Each
     taken blow but gives them zest, they cannot have enough, For they
     are out to see red blood, to curse and club and clout, And few men
     know and no one cares what brings the fuss about."

     --From _Hard Knuckles_.

About fifty yards distant from Red Billy's hut a circle of shacks
enclosed a level piece of ground, and this was used as a dumping place
for empty sardine cans, waste tins, scrap iron, and broken bottles. This
was also the favourite spot where all manner of quarrels were settled
with the fists. It had been christened the Ring, and in those days many
a heavy jowl was broken there and many a man was carried out of the
enclosure seeing all kinds of dancing lights in front of his eyes. It
was to this spot that Moleskin and Gahey came to settle their dispute on
the evening of the second day, and I came with them, Joe having
appointed me as his second, whose main duty would consist in looking on
and giving a word of approval to my principal now and again. When we
arrived two fights were already in progress, and my mates had to wait
until one of these was brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Some men
who had come out through sympathy with the combatants were seated on the
ground in one corner, and had transferred their interest from the
quarrels to a game of banker or brag. Moleskin and Gahey evinced not the
slightest interest in the two fights that were taking place; but
grumbled a little because they had to wait their turn so long. For
myself, I could hardly understand my mate's indifference to other
people's quarrels. At that time, as a true Irishman, I could have spent
all day long looking at fights. These men looked upon a fight as they
looked upon a shift. "Hurry up and get it done, and when it is done
trouble no more about it." Another man's shift or another man's fight
was not their business.

I could not take my eyes away from the struggles which were going on
already. A big Irishman, slow of foot, strong and heavy-going, was
engaged in an encounter with a little Pole, who handled his fists
scientifically, and who had battered his opponent's face to an ugly
purple by the time we arrived. However, in the end the Irishman won. He
lifted his opponent bodily, and threw him, naked shoulders and all, into
the middle of a heap of broken bottles and scraggy tins. The Pole would
fight no more. His mates pulled the edged scraps of tin out of his
flesh, while his victor challenged all Poles (there were a fair
sprinkling of them at Kinlochleven) who were yet on the safe side of
hell to deadly battle.

The second fight was more vindictive. A Glasgow craneman had fallen foul
of an English muck-filler, and the struggle had already lasted for the
best part of an hour. Both men were stripped to the buff, and red
splotches of blood and dirt covered their steaming bodies. The craneman
thought that he had finished matters conclusively when he gave his
opponent the knee in the stomach, and knocked him stiff to the ground.
Just as he was on the point of leaving the ring the Englishman suddenly
recovered, rose to his knees and, grabbing his adversary by the legs,
inserted his teeth in the thick of the victor's right calf. Nothing
daunted, however, the craneman bent down and tightened his thumbs under
his enemy's ear, and pressed strongly until the latter let go his hold.

"Our turn now," said Moleskin affably, as he stripped to the waist and
fastened his gallowses around his waist. "It'll give me much pleasure to
blacken your eyes, Gahey."

Joe was a fine figure when stripped. His flesh was pure white below the
brown of his neck, and the long muscles of his arms stood out in clearly
defined ridges. When he stretched his arms his well-developed biceps
rose and fell in graceful unison with every movement of his
perfectly-shaped chest. When on the roads, dressed in every curious
garment which he could beg, borrow, or thieve, Joe looked singularly
unprepossessing; but here, naturally garbed, and standing amidst the
nakedness of nature, he looked like some magnificent piece of sculpture,
gifted with life and fresh from the hands of the genius who fashioned

Gahey was of different build altogether. The profusion of hair that
covered his body resolved itself into a mane almost in the hollow of the
breast bone. His flesh was shrivelled and dried; his limbs looked like
raw pig-iron, which had in some strange manner been transformed into the
semblance of a human being.

"Hell-fire and Moleskin Joe," I heard the gamblers say as they threw
down their cards and scraped the money from the ground. "This will be a
good set-to. Moleskin can handle his mits, and by this and that,
Hell-fire is no slow one!"

Joe stepped into the ring, hitched up his trousers and waited. Gahey
followed, stood for a moment, then swung out for his enemy's head, only
to find his blow intercepted by an upward sweep of the arm of Moleskin,
who followed up his movement of defence by a right feint for the body of
Gahey, and a straight left that went home from the shoulder. Gahey
replied with a heavy smash to the ribs, and Joe looked at him with a

"See and don't hurt your knuckles on my ribs, Gahey," he said.

"I was only feelin' if yer heart was beatin' just a trifle faster than
the usual," replied Gahey.

Both men smiled, but the smile was a mask, behind which, clear-headed
and cool-eyed, each of them looked for an opening and an opportunity to
drive home a blow. To each belonged the wisdom bred of many weary,
aching fights and desperate gruellings. Gahey was by far the quicker
man; his long brown arms shot out like whiplashes, and his footwork was
very clever. He was a man, untrained in the art, but a natural fighter.
His missing thumb seemed to place him at no disadvantage. Joe was slower
but by far the stronger man. He never lost his head, and his blows had
the impact of a knotted club. When he landed on the flesh of the body,
every knuckle left its own particular mark; when he landed on the face,
there was a general disfigurement.

Gahey broke through the mask of his smile, and struck out with his
right. In his eyes the purpose betrayed itself, and his opponent,
forewarned, caught the blow on his arm. Hell-fire darted in with the
left and took Joe on the stomach. The impact was sharp and sudden; my
mate winced a trifle slightly, but the next moment he forced a smile
into his face.

"You're savin' your knuckles, matey," he said to Gahey. "There's no
danger of you breakin' them on the soft of my belly."

"Well, I'll test them here," Gahey retorted, and came in with a
resounding smack to Moleskin's jaw. Joe received the blow stolidly, and
swung a right for Gahey, but, missing his man, he fell to the ground.

"See! see!" everyone around the ring shouted. "Who'd have thought that a
light rung of a fellow like Gahey would have beat Moleskin Joe?"

"Wait till he's beaten!" I shouted back angrily. "I'll have something to
say to some of you idiots."

"Good, Flynn!" said Moleskin, rising to his feet. "Just put in a word
on my behalf with them lubberly coopers. I'll see to them myself in a
minute or two, when I get this wee job off my hands."

So saying, my mate made for Gahey, who was afraid to come into contact
with Joe when he was on the ground. The men fought to win, and the fight
had no rules. All was fair, clinching, clutching, scraping, kicking,
sarcasm, and repartee. Joe followed Gahey up, coming nearer every moment
and eager to get into grips. When that would happen, Gahey was lost; but
being wary, he avoided Moleskin's clutches, and kept hopping around,
aiming in at intervals one of his lightning blows, and raising a red
mark on Moleskin's white body whenever he struck. Joe kept walking after
his man; nothing deterred him, he would keep at it until he achieved his
purpose. The other man's hope lay in knocking Moleskin unconscious; but
even that would ensure victory only for the moment. Joe once fought a
man twenty-six times, and got knocked out every time. In the
twenty-seventh fight, Joe knocked out his opponent. Joe did not know
when he was beaten, and thus he was never defeated.

Now he kept walking stolidly round and round the ring after Gahey.
Sometimes he struck out; nearly always he missed, and seldom was he
quick enough to avoid the lightning blows of his enemy. Even yet he was
smiling, although the smile had long gone from the face of Gahey, who
was still angry and wanting to inflict punishment. He inflicted
punishment, but it seemed to have no effect; apparently unperturbed, Joe
took it all without wincing.

The crowd watched Gahey wistfully; now they knew instinctively that he
was going to get beaten. Joe was implacable, resistless. He was walking
towards an appointed goal steadily and surely; his pace was merciless,
and it was slow, but in the end it would tell. For myself, I doubted if
Joe could be successful. He was streaming with blood, one eyebrow was
hanging, and the flesh of the breast was red and raw. Gahey was almost
without a scratch; if he finished the fight at that moment, he would
leave the ring nearly as fresh as when he came into it. Joe still
smiled, but the smile looked ghastly, when seen through the blood. Now
and again he passed a joke.

The look of fear came into Gahey's eyes suddenly. It came to him when he
realised that he would be beaten if he did not knock Joe out very soon.
Then he endeavoured at every opportunity to strike fully and heavily,
trying to land on the point, but this Joe kept jealously guarded. Gahey
began to lose confidence in himself; once or twice he blundered and
almost fell into Joe's arms, but saved himself by an effort.

"I'll get you yet, my Irish blanket-grabber!" Joe said each time.

"Get him now and put an end to the fight," I cried to Moleskin. "It's
not worth your while to spend so much time over a little job."

Joe took my advice and rushed. Gahey struck out, but Joe imprisoned the
striking arm, and drawing it towards him, he gripped hold of Gahey's
body. Then, without any perceptible effort, he lifted Gahey over his
head and held him there at arm's length for a few minutes. Afterwards he
took him down as far as his chest.

"For God's sake don't throw me into the tins, Moleskin," cried Gahey.

"I don't want to dirty the tins," answered Joe. "Now I want to ask you a
question. Who was right about the blankets last night?"

Gahey gave no answer. Joe threw him on the ground, went on top of him,
and began knuckling his knees along Gahey's ribs.

"Who was right about the blankets last night?" asked Moleskin again.

"You were," said Gahey sulkily. Joe smiled and rose to his feet.

"That's a wee job finished," he said to me. "You could knock Gahey out,
yourself, Flynn."

"Could ye, bedamned!" roared Gahey, dancing around me and making strange
passes with his fist.

"Go on, Flynn, give it to him same as you did with Carroty in Greenock!"
shouted Joe as he struggled with the shirt which he was pulling over his
head. Gahey's lip was swollen, his left ear had been thickened, but
otherwise he had not received a scratch in the fight with Moleskin, and
he was now undoubtedly eager to try conclusions with me. As I have said,
I was never averse to a stand-up fight, and though the exhibition which
Hell-fire made against Joe filled me with profound respect for the man,
I looked at him squarely between the eyes for a moment, and then with a
few seasonable oaths I stripped to the waist, my blood rushing through
my veins at the thought of the coming battle.

I am not much to look at physically, but am strong-boned, though lacking
muscle and flesh. I can stand any amount of rough treatment; and in
after days men, who knew something about the art of boxing, averred that
I was gifted with a good punch. Though very strong, my bearing is
deceptive; new mates are always disinclined to believe that my strength
is out of keeping with my appearance, until by practical demonstration
they are taught otherwise. While slender of arm my chest measurement is
very good, being over forty-three inches, and height five feet eleven.
In movement inclined to be slow, yet when engaged in a fight I have an
uncommonly quick eye for detail, and can preserve a good sound striking
judgment even when getting the worst of the encounter, and never yet
have I given in to my man until he knocked me unconscious to the

Gahey stood in the centre of the enclosure, and waited for me with an
air of serene composure, and carried the self-confident look of a man
who is going to win.

Despite the ease with which Moleskin had settled Gahey a few minutes
previously, I felt a bit nervous when I took my way into the open and
glanced at the circle of dirty, animated faces that glared at me from
all comers of the ring. Gahey did not seem a bit afraid, and he laughed
in my face when I raised my hands gingerly in assuming an attitude of
defence. I did not feel angry with the man. I was going to fight in a
cold-blooded manner without reason or excuse. In every previous fight I
had something to annoy me before starting; I saw red before a blow was
given or taken. But now I had no grievance against the man and he had
none against me. We wanted to fight one another--that was all.

Gahey, though apparently confident of victory, was taking no chances. He
swung his right for my head in the first onslaught, and I went slap to
the ground like a falling log.

"Oh, Flynn!" cried Joe in an agonised voice; and I thought that his
words were whispered in my ear where I lay. Up to my feet I jumped, and
with head lowered down and wedged between my shoulder joints, I lunged
forward at Gahey, only to recoil from an upward sweep of his fist, which
sent all sorts of dancing lights into my eyes. My mouth filled with
blood and a red madness of anger came over me. I was conscious no more
of pain, or of the reason for the fight. All that I now wanted was to
overcome the man who stood in front of me. I heard my opponent laugh,
but I could not see him; he struck out at me again and I stumbled once
more to the ground.

"Flynn! Dermod Flynn!" shouted Joe, and there was a world of reproach
in his voice.

Again I stood up, and the blindness had gone from my eyes. My abdomen
heaved frankly, and I gulped down mighty mouthfuls of air. Gahey stood
before me laughing easily. My whole mind was centred on the next move of
the contest; but in some subconscious way I took in every detail of the
surroundings. The gamblers stood about in clusters, and one of them
carried the pack of cards in his hand, the front of it facing me, and I
could see the seven of clubs on top of the pack. Joe was looking tensely
at me, his lips wide apart and his tobacco-stained teeth showing
between. Behind him, and a little distance off, the rest of the crowd,
shouldered together, stood watching; and behind and above the circle of
dirty faces the ring of cabins spread outwards under the shadow of the
hair-poised derricks and firmly-set hills.

A vicious jab from Gahey slipped along the arm with which I parried it.
I hit with my left, and the soft of my enemy's throat jellied inwards
under the stroke. I followed up with two blows to the chest and one to
the face. A stream of blood squirted from Gahey's jowl as my fist took
it; and this filled me with new hopes of victory. Joe had drawn very
little blood from the man, but then, though faster than my mate on my
feet, I was not gifted with his staying power.

Behind me Moleskin clapped his hands excitedly, and urged me afresh with
hearty words of cheer.

"Burst him up!" he yelled.

"Sure," I answered. My anger had subsided, and a feeling of confidence
had taken its place.

"Will ye, be God!" cried Gahey, and he rushed at me like a mad wind,
landing his brown hard fists repeatedly on my face and chest, and
receiving no chastisement in return.

"I'll burst yer ear!" he cried, and did so, smashing the lobe with one
of his lightning blows. The blood from the wound fell on my shoulders
for the rest of the fight. Another blow, a light one on the stomach,
sickened me slightly, and my confidence began to ooze away from me. It
went completely when I endeavoured to trip my opponent, and got tripped
myself instead. My head took the ground, and I felt a little groggy when
I regained my feet; but in rising I got in a sharp jab to Gahey's nose
and drew blood again.

The battle sobered down a little. Both of us circled around, looking for
an opening. Suddenly I drove forward with my right, passed Gahey's
guard, and with a well-directed blow on the chest, I lifted him neatly
off his feet, and left him sitting on the ground. Rising, he rushed at
me furiously, caught me by the legs, raised, and tried to throw me over
his shoulders.

Then the fight turned in my favour. I had once on my wanderings met a
man who had been a wrestler, and he taught me certain tricks of his art.
I had a good opening before me now for one of them. Gahey had hold of me
by the knees, and both his arms were twined tightly around my joints. I
stooped over him, gripped him around the waist, and threw myself
backwards flat to the ground. As I reached the earth I let Gahey go, and
flying clean across my head, he slid along the rough ground on his naked
back. When he regained his feet I was up and ready for him, and I
knocked him down again with a good blow delivered on the fleshy part,
where the lower ribs fork inward to the breast-bone. That settled him
for good. The crowd cheered enthusiastically and went back to their
cards. One or two stopped with Gahey, and it took him half an hour to
recover. When he was well again Moleskin and I escorted him back to the

We washed our wounds together and talked of everything but the fights
which had just taken place. The result of the quarrels seemed to have
had no effect on the men, but my heart was jumping out of my mouth with
pleasure. I had beaten one of the great fighters of Kinlochleven; I, a
boy of nineteen, who had never shaved yet, had knocked Gahey to the
ground with a good hard punch, and Gahey was a man twice my age and one
who was victor in a thousand battles. Excitement seized hold of me, my
step became alert, and I walked into the shack with the devil-may-care
swagger of a fighting man. The gamblers were sitting at the table and
the bright glitter of silver caught my eye. Big Jim Maloney was banker.

"Come here, ye fightin' men," he cried; "and take a hand at another

The excitement was on me. In my pocket I had three shillings sub., and I
put it down on the board, the whole amount, as befitted a fighting man.
I won once, twice, three times. I called for drinks for the school. I
put Maloney out of the bank, I backed any money, and all the time I won.
The word passed round that Flynn was playing a big game; he would back
any money. More and more men came in from the other shacks and remained.
I could hear the clink of bottles all round me. The men were drinking,
smoking, and swearing, and those who could not get near the table betted
on the result of the game.

My luck continued. The pile of silver beside me grew and grew, and stray
pieces of gold found their way into the pile as well. Every turn-up was
an ace or court-card. My luck was unheard of; and all around me
Kinlochleven stood agape, and played blindly, as if fascinated. Gain was
nothing to me, the game meant all. I called for further drinks; I drank
myself, although I was already drunk with excitement. I had forgotten
all about the good resolutions made on the doorstep of Kinlochleven but
what did it matter? Let my environment mould me, let Nature follow out
its own course, she knows what is best. I was now living large; the game
held me captive, and the pile of glistening silver grew in size.

A man beside made some objection to my turn-up. He was one of the
fiercest men in the shack, and he was known as a fighter of merit. I
looked him between the eyes for a minute and he flinched before my gaze.

"I'll thrash you till you roar for mercy!" I called at him and he became

The drink went to my head and the cards turned up began to play strange
antics before my eyes. The knaves and queens ran together, they waltzed
over the place, and the lesser cards would persist in eluding my hand
when it went out to grip them. I was terribly drunk, the whisky and the
excitement were overpowering me.

"I'm going to stop, mateys," I said, and I caught a handful of gold and
silver and put it into my pocket, then staggered to my feet. A cry of
indignation and contempt arose. "I was not going to allow any of them to
overtake their luck; I was not a man; I was a mere rogue." I was well
aware of the fact that a winner is always honour bound to be the last to
leave the table.

"I'm going to play no more," I said bluntly.

The crowd burst into a torrent of abuse. My legs were faltering under
me, and I wanted to get into bed. I would go to bed, but how? The
players might not allow it; they wanted their money. Then I would give
it to them. I put my hand in my pocket, pulled out the cash, and flung
it amongst the crowd of players. There was a hurried scramble all round
me, and the men groped in the muck and dirt for the stray coins. I got
into bed with my clothes on and fell asleep. In a vague sort of way I
heard the gamblers talk about my wonderful luck, and some of them
quarrelled about the money lifted from the floor. When morning came I
was still lying, fully-dressed, over the blankets on the centre of the
bed, while Joe and Gahey were under the blankets on each side of me.

I still had two half-sovereigns in my pocket along with a certain amount
of smaller cash, and these coins reminded me of my game. But I did not
treasure them so much as the long scar stretching across my cheek, and
the disfigured eye, which were tokens of the fight in which I thrashed
Hell-fire Gahey. All that day I lived the fight over and over again, and
the victory caused me to place great confidence in myself. From that day
forward I affected a certain indifference towards other fights, thus
pretending that I considered myself to be above such petty scrapes.

By instinct I am a fighter. I never shirk a fight, and the most violent
contest is a tonic to my soul. Sometimes when in a thoughtful mood I
said to myself that fighting was the pastime of a brute or a savage. I
said that because it is fashionable for the majority of people,
spineless and timid as they are, to say the same. But fighting is not
the pastime of a brute; it is the stern reality of a brute's life. Only
by fighting will the fittest survive. But to man, a physical contest is
a pastime and a joy. I love to see a fight with the bare fists, the
combatants stripped naked to the buff, the long arms stretching out, the
hard knuckles showing white under the brown skin of the fists, the
muscles sliding and slipping like live eels under the flesh, the steady
and quick glance of the eye, the soft thud of fist on flesh, the sharp
snap of a blow on the jaw, and the final scene where one man drops to
the ground while the other, bathed in blood and sweat, smiles in
acknowledgment of the congratulations on the victory obtained.

Gambling was another manner of fighting, and brim full of excitement. In
it no man knew his strength until he paid for it, and there was
excitement in waiting for the turn-up. Night after night I sat down to
the cards, sometimes out in the open and sometimes by the deal plank on
the floor of Red Billy's shack. Gambling was rife and unchecked. All
night long the navvies played banker and brag; and those who worked on
the night-shift took up the game that the day labourers left off. One
Sunday evening alone I saw two hundred and fifty banker schools gathered
in a sheltered hollow of the hills. That Sunday I remembered very well,
for I happened to win seven pounds at a single sitting, which lasted
from seven o'clock on a Saturday evening until half-past six on the
Monday morning. I finished the game, went out to my work, and did ten
hours' shift, although I was half asleep on the drill handle for the
best part of the time.

One day a man, a new arrival, came to me and proposed a certain plan
whereby he and I could make a fortune at the gambling school. It was a
kind of swindle, and I do not believe in robbing workers, being neither
a thief nor a capitalist. I lifted the man up in my arms and took him
into the shack, where I disclosed his little plan to the inmates. A
shack some distance off was owned by a Belfast man named Ramsay, and
several Orangemen dwelt in this shack. Moleskin proposed that we should
strip the swindler to the pelt, paint him green, and send him to
Ramsay's shack. Despite the man's entreaties, we painted him a glorious
green, and when the night came on we took him under cover of the
darkness to Ramsay's shack, and tied him to the door. In the morning we
found him, painted orange, outside of ours, and almost dead with cold.
We gave him his clothes and a few kicks, and chased him from the place.

I intended, when I came to Kinlochleven, to earn money and send it home
to my own people, and the intention was nursed in good earnest until I
lifted my first day's pay. Then Moleskin requested the loan of my spare
cash, and I could not refuse him, a pal who shared his very last crumb
of bread with me time and again. On the second evening the gamble
followed the fight as a matter of course; and on the third evening and
every evening after I played--because I was a gambler by nature. My luck
was not the best; I lost most of my wages at the card-table, and the
rest went on drink. I know not whether drink and gambling are evils. I
only know that they cheered many hours of my life, and caused me to
forget the miseries of being. If drunkenness was a vice, I humoured it
as a man might humour sickness or any other evil. But drink might have
killed me, one will say. And sickness might have killed me, I answer.
When a man is dead he knows neither hunger nor cold; he suffers neither
from the cold of the night nor the craving of the belly. The philosophy
is crude, but comforting, and it was mine. To gamble and drink was part
of my nature, and for nature I offer no excuses. She knows what is best.

I could not save money, I hated to carry it about; it burned a hole in
my pocket and slipped out. I was no slave to it; I detested it. How
different now were my thoughts from those which buoyed up my spirit on
first entering Kinlochleven! those illusions, like previous others, had
been dispelled before the hard wind of reality. I looked on life
nakedly, and henceforth I determined to shape my own future in such a
way that neither I, nor wife, nor child, should repent of it. Although
passion ran riot in my blood, as it does in the blood of youth, I
resolved never to marry and bring children into the world to beg and
starve and steal as I myself had done. I saw life as it was, saw it
clearly, standing out stark from its covering of illusions. I looked on
love cynically, unblinded by the fumes off the midden-heap of lust, and
my life lacked the phantom happiness of men who see things as they are

The great proportion of the navvies live very pure lives, and women play
little or no part in their existence. The women of the street seldom
come near a model, even when the navvies come in from some completed job
with money enough and to spare. The purity of their lives is remarkable
when it is considered that they seldom marry. "We cannot bring children
into the world to suffer like ourselves," most of them say. That is one
reason why they remain single. Therefore the navvy is seldom the son of
a navvy; it is the impoverished and the passionate who breed men like
us, and throw us adrift upon the world to wear out our miserable lives.



     "I've got kitchen for my grub out of the mustard-pot of sorrow."


At that time there were thousands of navvies working at Kinlochleven
waterworks. We spoke of waterworks, but only the contractors knew what
the work was intended for. We did not know, and we did not care. We
never asked questions concerning the ultimate issue of our labours, and
we were not supposed to ask questions. If a man throws red muck over a
wall to-day and throws it back again to-morrow, what the devil is it to
him if he keeps throwing that same muck over the wall for the rest of
his life, knowing not why nor wherefore, provided he gets paid sixpence
an hour for his labour? There were so many tons of earth to be lifted
and thrown somewhere else; we lifted them and threw them somewhere else:
so many cubic yards of iron-hard rocks to be blasted and carried away;
we blasted and carried them away, but never asked questions and never
knew what results we were labouring to bring about. We turned the
Highlands into a cinder-heap, and were as wise at the beginning as at
the end of the task. Only when we completed the job, and returned to the
town, did we learn from the newspapers that we had been employed on the
construction of the biggest aluminium factory in the kingdom. All that
we knew was that we had gutted whole mountains and hills in the

We toiled on the face of the mountain, and our provisions came up on
wires that stretched from the summit to the depths of the valley below.
Hampers of bread, casks of beer, barrels of tinned meat and all manner
of parcels followed one another up through the air day and night in
endless procession, and looked for all the world like great gawky birds
which still managed to fly, though deprived of their wings.

The postman came up amongst us from somewhere every day, bringing
letters from Ireland, and he was always accompanied by two policemen
armed with batons and revolvers. The greenhorns from Ireland wrote home
and received letters now and again, but the rest of us had no friends,
or if we had we never wrote to them.

Over an area of two square miles thousands of men laboured, some on the
day-shift, some on the night-shift, some engaged on blasting operations,
some wheeling muck, and others building dams and hewing rock facings. A
sort of rude order prevailed, but apart from the two policemen who
accompanied the letter-carrier on his daily rounds no other minion of
the law ever came near the place. This allowed the physically strong man
to exert considerable influence, and fistic arguments were constantly in

Sometimes a stray clergyman, ornamented with a stainless white collar,
had the impudence to visit us and tell us what we should do. These
visitors were most amusing, and we enjoyed their exhortations
exceedingly. Once I told one of them that if he was more in keeping with
the Workman whom he represented, some of the navvies stupider than
myself might endure his presence, but that no one took any heed of the
apprentice who dressed better than his Divine Master. We usually chased
these faddists away, and as they seldom had courage equal to their
impudence, they never came near us again.

There was a graveyard in the place, and a few went there from the last
shift with the red muck still on their trousers, and their long unshaven
beards still on their faces. Maybe they died under a fallen rock or
broken derrick jib. Once dead they were buried, and there was an end of

Most of the men lifted their sub. every second day, and the amount left
over after procuring food was spent in the whisky store or
gambling-school. Drunkenness enjoyed open freedom in Kinlochleven. I saw
a man stark naked, lying dead drunk for hours on a filthy muck-pile. No
one was shocked, no one was amused, and somebody stole the man's
clothes. When he became sober he walked around the place clad in a
blanket until he procured a pair of trousers from some considerate

I never stole from a mate in Kinlochleven, for it gave me no pleasure to
thieve from those who were as poor as myself; but several of my mates
had no compunction in relieving me of my necessaries. My three and
sixpenny keyless watch was taken from my breast pocket one night when I
was asleep, and my only belt disappeared mysteriously a week later. No
man in the place save Moleskin Joe ever wore braces. I had only one
shirt in my possession, but there were many people in the place who
never had a shirt on their backs. Sometimes when the weather was good I
washed my shirt, and I lost three, one after the other, when I hung them
out to dry. I did not mind that very much, knowing well that it only
passed to one of my mates, who maybe needed it more than I did. If I saw
one of my missing shirts afterwards I took it from the man who wore it,
and if he refused to give it to me, knocked him down and took it by
force. Afterwards we bore one another no ill-will. Stealing is rife in
shack, on road, and in model, but I have never known one of my kind to
have given up a mate to the police. That is one dishonourable crime
which no navvy will excuse.

As the days went on, I became more careless of myself, and I seldom
washed. I became like my mates, like Moleskin, who was so fit and
healthy, and who never washed from one year's end to another. Often in
his old tin-pot way he remarked that a man could often be better than
his surroundings, but never cleaner. "A dirty man's the only man who
washes," he often said. When we went to bed at night we hid our clothes
under the pillows, and sometimes they were gone in the morning. In the
bunk beneath ours slept an Irishman named Ward, and to prevent them
passing into the hands of thieves he wore all his clothes when under the
blankets. But nevertheless, his boots were unlaced and stolen one night
when he was asleep and drunk.

One favourite amusement of ours was the looting of provisions as they
came up on the wires to the stores on the mountains. Day and night the
hampers of bread and casks of beer were passing over our heads suspended
in midair on the glistening metal strings. Sometimes the weighty barrels
and cases dragged the wires downwards until their burdens rested on the
shoulder of some uprising knoll. By night we sallied forth and looted
all the provisions on which we could lay our hands. We rifled barrels
and cases, took possession of bread, bacon, tea, and sugar, and filled
our stomachs cheaply for days afterwards. The tops of fallen casks we
staved in, and using our hands as cups drank of the contents until we
could hold no more. Sometimes men were sent out to watch the hillocks
and see that no one looted the grub and drink. These men were paid
double for their work. They deserved double pay, for of their own accord
they tilted the barrels and cases from their rests and kept them under
their charge until we arrived. Then they helped us to dispose of the
contents. Usually the watcher lay dead drunk beside his post in the
morning. Of course he got his double pay.



     "The sweat was wet on his steaming loins and shoulders bent and
     And he dropped to earth like a spavined mule that's struck in the
       knacker's yard.
     Bury him deep in the red, red muck, and pile the clay on his
     For all that he needs for his years of toil are years of unbroken

     --_From the song that follows._

Talking of thieving puts me in mind of the tragedy of English Bill. Bill
was a noted thief. He would have robbed his mother's corpse, it was
said. There were three sayings in Kinlochleven, and they were as

     Moleskin Joe would gamble on his father's tombstone.
     English Bill would rob his mother of her winding-sheet.
     Flynn would fight his own shadow and get the best of it.

The three of us were mates, and we were engaged on a special job,
blasting a rock facing, in the corner of a secluded cutting. There was
very little room for movement, and we had to do the job all by
ourselves. One evening we set seven charges of dynamite in the holes
which we had drilled during the day, put the fuses alight, and hurried
off to a place of safety, and there waited until the explosion was over.
While the thunder of the riven earth was still in our ears the ganger
blew his whistle, the signal to cease work and return to our shacks.

Next morning Bill reappeared wearing a strong heavily-soled pair of new
bluchers which he had purchased on the evening previously.

"They're a good pair of understandings, Bill," I said, as I examined my
mate's boots with a feeling of envy.

"A damned good pair!" said Moleskin ruefully, looking at his own bare
toes peeping through the ragged leather of his emaciated uppers.

Bill's face glowed with pride as he lifted his pick and proceeded to
clean out the refuse from the rock face. Bill was always in a hurry to
start work, and Joe often prophesied that the man would come to a bad
end. On this morning Joe was in a bad temper, for he had drunk too well
the night before.

"Stow it, you fool," he growled at Bill. "You're a damned hasher, and no
ganger within miles of you!"

Bill made no reply, but lifted his pick and drove it into the rock which
we had blasted on the day before. As he struck the ground there was a
deadly roar; the pick whirled round, sprung upwards, twirled in the air
like a wind-swept straw, and entered Bill's throat just a finger's
breadth below the Adam's apple. One of the dynamite charges had failed
to explode on the previous day, and Bill had struck it with the point of
the pick, and with this tool which had earned him his livelihood for
many years sticking in his throat he stood for a moment swaying
unsteadily. He laughed awkwardly as if ashamed of what had happened,
then dropped silently to the ground. The pick slipped out, a red foam
bubbled on the man's lips for a second, and that was all.

The sight unnerved us for a moment, but we quickly recovered. We had
looked on death many times, and our virgin terror was now almost lost.

"He's no good here now," said Moleskin sadly. "We'll look for a
muck-barrow and wheel him down to the hut. Didn't I always say that he
would come to a bad end, him with his hurry and flurry and his frothy
get-about way?"

"He saved us by his hurry, anyhow," I remarked.

We turned the man over and straightened his limbs, then hurried off for
a muck-barrow. On coming back we discovered that some person had stolen
the man's boots.

"They should have been taken by us before we left him," I said.

"You're damned right," assented Joe.

Several of the men gathered around, and together we wheeled poor Bill
down to the hut along the rickety barrow road. His face was white under
the coating of beard, and his poor naked feet looked very blue and cold.
All the workmen took off their caps and stood bareheaded until we passed
out of sight. No one knew whose turn would come next. When Bill was
buried I wrote, at the request of Moleskin Joe, a song on the tragedy. I
called the song "A Little Tragedy," and I read it to my mate as we sat
together in a quiet corner of the hut.

                           "A LITTLE TRAGEDY.

     "The sweat was wet on his steaming loins and shoulders bent and
     And he dropped to earth like a spavined mule that's struck in the
       knacker's yard.
     Bury him deep in the red, red muck, and pile the clay on his
     For all that he needs for his years of toil are years of unbroken

     "And who has mothered this kinless one? Why should we want to know
     As we hide his face from the eyes of men and his flesh from the
       hooded crow?
     Had he a sweetheart to wait for him, with a kiss for his toil-worn
     It doesn't matter, for here or there another can fill his place.

     "Is there a prayer to be prayed for him? Or is there a bell to
     We'll do the best for the body that's dead, and God can deal with
       the soul.
     We'll bury him decently out of sight, and he who can may pray.
     For maybe our turn will come to-morrow though his has come to-day.

     "And maybe Bill had hopes of his own and a sort of vague desire
     For a pure woman to share his home and sit beside his fire;
     Joys like these he has maybe desired, but living and dying wild,
     He has never known of a maiden's love nor felt the kiss of a child.

     "In life he was worth some shillings a day when there was work to
     In death he is worth a share of the clay which in life he laboured
     Wipe the spume from his pallid lips, and quietly cross his hands,
     And leave him alone with the Mother Earth and the Master who

My mate seemed very much impressed by the poem, and remained silent for
a long while after I had finished reading it from the dirty scrap of
tea-paper on which it was written.

"Have you ever cared a lot for some one girl, Flynn?" he asked suddenly.

"No," I answered, for I had never disclosed my little love affair to any

"Have you ever cared a lot for one girl, Flynn?" repeated Joe.

"I have cared--once," I replied, and, obeying the impulse of the moment,
I told Joe the story. He looked grave when I had finished.

"They're all the same," he said; "all the same. I cared for a wench
myself one time and I intended to marry her."

I looked at my mate's unshaven face, his dirty clothes, and I laughed

"I'm nothin' great in the beauty line," went on Moleskin as if divining
my thoughts; "but when I washed myself years ago I was pretty passable.
She was a fine girl, mine, and I thought that she was decent and
aboveboard. It cost me money and time to find out what she was, and in
the end I found that she was the mother of two kids, and the lawful wife
of no man. It was a great slap in the face for me, Flynn."

"It must have been," was all that I could say.

"By God! it was," Moleskin replied. "I tried to drink my regret away,
but I never could manage it. Have you ever wrote a love song?"

"I've written one," I said.

"Will you say it to me?" asked Joe.

I had written a love song long before, and knew it by heart, for it was
a song which I liked very much. I recited it to my mate, speaking in
half-whispers so that the gamblers at the far end of the shack could not
hear me.

                               "A LOVE SONG

     "Greater by far than all that men know, or all that men see is
     The lingering clasp of a maiden's hand and the warmth of her virgin
     The tresses that cover the pure white brow in many a clustering
     And the deep look of honest love in the grey eyes of a girl.

     "Because of that I am stronger than death and life is barren no
     For otherwise wrongs that I hardly feel would sink to the heart's
       deep core,
     For otherwise hope were utterly lost in the endless paths of
     But only to look in her soft grey eyes--I am strong, I am strong!

     "Does she love as I love? I do not know, but all that I know is
     'Tis enough to stay for an hour at her side and dream awhile of her
     'Tis enough to clasp the hands of her, and 'neath the shade of her
     To press my lips on her lily brow and leave my kisses there.

     "In the dreary days on the vagrant ways whereon my feet have trod
     She came as a star to cheer my way, a guiding star from God,
     She came from the dreamy choirs of heaven, lovely and wondrous
     And I follow the path that is lighted up by her eyes, her eyes."

"I don't like that song, because I don't know what it is about," said
Moleskin when I had finished. "The one about English Bill is far and
away better. When you talk about a man that drops like a spavined mule
in the knacker's yard, I know what you mean, but a girl that comes from
the dreamy choirs of heaven, wherever they are, is not the kind of wench
for a man like you and me, Flynn."

I felt a little disappointed, and made no reply to the criticism of my

"Do you ever think how nice it would be to have a home of your own?"
asked Moleskin after a long silence, and a vigorous puffing at the pipe
which he held between his teeth. "It would be fine to have a room to sit
in and a nice fire to warm your shins at of an evenin'. I often think
how roarin' it would be to sit in a parlour and drink tea with a wife,
and have a little child to kiss me as you talk about in the song on the
death of English Bill."

I did not like to hear my big-boned, reckless mate talk in such a way.
Such talk was too delicate and sentimental for a man like him.

"You're a fool, Joe," I said.

"I suppose I am," he answered. "But just you wait till you come near the
turn of life like me, and find a sort of stiffness grippin' on your
bones, then you'll maybe have thoughts kind of like these. A young
fellow, cully, mayn't care a damn if he is on the dead end, but by God!
it is a different story when you are as stiff as a frozen poker with one
foot in the grave and another in hell, Flynn."

"It was a different story the day you met the ploughman, on our journey
from Greenock," I said. "You must have changed your mind, Moleskin?"

"I said things to that ploughman that I didn't exactly believe myself,"
said my mate. "I would do anything and say anything to get the best of
an argument."

Many a strange conversation have I had with Moleskin Joe. One evening
when I was seated by the hot-plate engaged in patching my corduroy
trousers Joe came up to me with a question which suddenly occurred to
him. I was held to be a sort of learned man, and everybody in the place
asked me my views upon this and that, and no one took any heed of my
opinions. Most of them acknowledged that I was nearly as great a poet as
Two-shift Mullholland, now decently married, and gone from the ranks of
the navvies.

"Do you believe in God, Flynn?" was Joe's question.

"I believe in a God of a sort," I answered. "I believe in the God who
plays with a man, as a man plays with a dog, who allows suffering and
misery and pain. The 'Holy-Willy' look on a psalm-singing parson's dial
is of no more account to Him than a blister on a beggar's foot."

"I only asked you the question, just as a start-off to tellin' you my
own opinion," said Joe. "Sometimes I think one thing about God, and
sometimes I think another thing. The song that you wrote about English
Bill talks of God takin' care of the soul, and it just came into my head
to ask your opinion and tell you my own. As for myself, when I see a man
droppin' down like a haltered gin-horse at his work I don't hold much
with what parsons say about the goodness of Providence. At other times,
when I am tramping about in the lonely night, with the stars out above
me and the world kind of holding its breath as if it was afraid of
something, I do be thinking that there is a God after all. I'd rather
that there is none; for He is sure to have a heavy tally against me if
He puts down all the things I've done. But where is heaven if there is
such a place?"

"I don't know," I replied.

"If you think of it, there is no end to anything," Moleskin went on. "If
you could go up above the stars, there is surely a place above them, and
another place in turn above that again. You cannot think of a place
where there is nothing, and as far as I can see there is no end to
anything. You can't think of the last day as they talk about, for that
would mean the end of time. It's funny to think of a man sayin' that
there'll be no time after such and such a time. How can time stop?"

I tried to explain to Joe that time and space did not exist, that they
were illusions used for practical purposes.

"No man can understand these things," said Joe, as I fumbled through my
explanation of the non-existence of time and space. "I have often looked
at the little brooks by the roadside and saw the water runnin', runnin',
always lookin' the same, and the water different always. When I looked
at the little brooks I often felt frightened, because I could not
understand them. All these things are the same, and no man can
understand them. Why does a brook keep runnin'? Why do the stars come
out at night? Is there a God in Heaven? Nobody knows, and a man may
puzzle about these things till he's black in the face and grey in the
head, but he'll never get any further."

"English Bill may know more about these things than we do," I said.

"How could a dead man know anything?" asked Joe, and when I could not
explain the riddle, he borrowed a shilling from me and lost it at the

That was Joe all over. One moment he was looking for God in Nature, and
on the next instant he was looking for a shilling to stake on the
gaming-table. Once in an argument with me he called the world "God's
gamblin' table," and endeavoured to prove that God threw down men,
reptiles, nations, and elements like dice to the earth, one full of
hatred for the other and each filled with a desire for supremacy, and
that God and His angels watched the great struggle down below, and
betted on the result of its ultimate issue.

"Of course the angels will not back Kinlochleven very heavily," he



      "'Awful Railway Disaster,'
      The newspapers chronicle,
      The men in the street are buying.
      My! don't the papers sell.
      And the editors say in their usual way,
      'The story is going well.'"

      --From _Songs of the Dead End_.

Day after day passed and the autumn was waning. The work went on, shift
after shift, and most of the money that I earned was spent on the
gambling table or in the whisky store. Now and again I wrote home, and
sent a few pounds to my people, but I never sent them my address. I did
not want to be upbraided for my negligence in sending them so little.
The answers to my letters would always be the same: "Send more money;
send more money. You'll never have a day's luck if you do not help your
parents!" I did not want answers like that, so I never sent my address.

One night towards the end of October I had lost all my money at the
gambling school, although Moleskin had twice given me a stake to
retrieve my fallen fortunes. I left the shack, went out into the
darkness, a fire in my head and emptiness in my heart. Around me the
stark mountain peaks rose raggedly against the pale horns of the anæmic
moon. Outside the whisky store a crowd of men stood, dark looks on their
faces, and the wild blood of mischief behind. Inside each shack a dozen
or more gamblers sat cross-legged in circles on the ground, playing
banker or brag, and the clink of money could be heard as it passed from
hand to hand. Above them the naphtha lamps hissed and spluttered and
smelt, the dim, sickly light showed the unwashed and unshaven faces
beneath, and the eager eyes that sparkled brightly, seeing nothing but
the movements of the game. Down in the cuttings men were labouring on
the night-shift, gutting out the bowels of the mountain places, and
forcing their way through the fastness steadily, slowly and surely. I
could hear the dynamite exploding and shattering to pieces the rock in
which it was lodged. The panting of weary hammermen was loud in the
darkness, and the rude songs which enlivened the long hours of the night
floated up to me from the trough of the hills.

I took my way over the slope of the mountain, over the pigmies who
wrought beneath, fighting the great fight which man has to wage
eternally against nature. Down in the cuttings I could see my mates
toiling amidst the broken earth, the sharp ledges of hewn rock, and the
network of gang-planks and straining derricks that rose all around them.
The red glare of a hundred evil-smelling torches flared dismally, and
over the sweltering men the dark smoke faded away into the rays of the
pallid moon. With the rising smoke was mingled the steam of the men's
bent shoulders and steaming loins.

Above and over all, the mystery of the night and the desert places
hovered inscrutable and implacable. All around the ancient mountains sat
like brooding witches, dreaming on their own story of which they knew
neither the beginning nor the end. Naked to the four winds of heaven and
all the rains of the world, they had stood there for countless ages in
all their sinister strength, undefied and unconquered, until man, with
puny hands and little tools of labour, came to break the spirit of
their ancient mightiness.

And we, the men who braved this task, were outcasts of the world. A
blind fate, a vast merciless mechanism, cut and shaped the fabric of our
existence. We were men flogged to the work which we had to do, and
hounded from the work which we had accomplished. We were men despised
when we were most useful, rejected when we were not needed, and
forgotten when our troubles weighed upon us heavily. We were the men
sent out to fight the spirit of the wastes, rob it of all its primeval
horrors, and batter down the barriers of its world-old defences. Where
we were working a new town would spring up some day; it was already
springing up, and then, if one of us walked there, "a man with no fixed
address," he would be taken up and tried as a loiterer and vagrant.

Even as I thought of these things a shoulder of jagged rock fell into a
cutting far below. There was the sound of a scream in the distance, and
a song died away in the throat of some rude singer. Then out of the pit
I saw men, red with the muck of the deep earth and redder still with the
blood of a stricken mate, come forth, bearing between them a silent
figure. Another of the pioneers of civilisation had given up his life
for the sake of society.

I returned to the shack, and, full of the horror of the tragedy, I wrote
an account of it on a scrap of tea-paper. I had no design, no purpose in
writing, but I felt compelled to scribble down the thoughts which
entered my mind. I wrote rapidly, but soon wearied of my work. I was
proceeding to tear up the manuscript when my eye fell on a newspaper
which had just come into the shack wrapped around a chunk of mouldy
beef. A thought came to me there and then. I would send my account of
the tragedy to the editor of that paper. It was the _Dawn_, a London
halfpenny daily. I had never heard of it before.

I had no envelope in my possession. I searched through the shack and
found one, dirty, torn, and disreputable in appearance. Amongst all
those men there was not another to be found. I did not rewrite my story.
Scrawled with pencil on dirty paper, and enclosed in a dirtier envelope,
I sent it off to Fleet Street and forgot all about it. But, strange to
say, in four days' time I received an answer from the editor of the
_Dawn_, asking me to send some more stories of the same kind, and saying
that he was prepared to pay me two guineas for each contribution

The acceptance of my story gave me no great delight; I often went into
greater enthusiasm over a fight in the Kinlochleven ring. But outside a
fight or a stiff game of cards, there are few things which cause me to
become excited. My success as a writer discomfited me a little even. I
at first felt that I was committing some sin against my mates. I was
working on a shift which they did not understand; and men look with
suspicion on things beyond their comprehension. A man may make money at
a fight, a gaming table or at a shift, but the man who made money with a
dirty pencil and a piece of dirty paper was an individual who had no
place in my mates' scheme of things.

For all that, the editor's letter created great stir amongst my mates.
It passed round the shack and was so dirty on coming back that I
couldn't read a word of it. Red Billy said that he could not understand
it, and that I must have copied what I had written from some other
paper. Moleskin Joe said that I was the smartest man he had ever met, by
cripes! I was. He took great pleasure in calling me "that mate of mine"
ever afterwards. Old Sandy MacDonald, who had come from the Isle of
Skye, and who was wasting slowly away, said that he knew a young lad
like me who went from the Highlands to London and made his fortune by
writing for the papers.

"He had no other wark but writin', and he made his fortune," Sandy
asserted, and everyone except myself laughed at this. It was such a
funny thing to hear old Sandy make his first joke, my mates thought. A
man to earn his living by writing for the papers! Whoever heard of such
a thing?

In all I wrote five articles for the _Dawn_, then found that I could
write no more. I had told five truthful and exciting incidents of my
navvying life, and I was not clever enough to tell lies about it. Ten
guineas came to me from Fleet Street. Six of these I sent home to my own
people, and for the remainder I purchased many an hour's joy in the
whisky store and many a night's life-giving excitement at the gaming

I sent my address home with the letter, and when my mother replied she
was so full of her grievances that she had no time to enquire if I had
any of my own. Another child had been born, and the family in all now
consisted of thirteen.



     "Do you mind the nights we laboured, boys, together,
     Spreadeagled at our travail on the joists,
     With the pulley-wheels a-turning and the naphtha lamps a-burning,
     And the mortar crawling upwards on the hoists,
     When our hammers clanked like blazes on the facing,
     When the trestles shook and staggered as we struck,
     When the derricks on their pivots strained and broke the
       crank-wheel rivets
     As the shattered jib sank heavy in the muck?"

     --From _Songs of the Dead End_.

The winter was at hand. When the night drew near, a great weariness came
over the face of the sun as it sank down behind the hills which had seen
a million sunsets. The autumn had been mild and gentle, its breezes
soft, its showers light and cool. But now, slowly and surely, the great
change was taking place; a strange stillness settled softly on the
lonely places. Nature waited breathless on the threshold of some great
event, holding her hundred winds suspended in a fragile leash. The
heather bells hung motionless on their stems, the torrents dropped
silently as smoke from the scarred edges of the desolate ravines, but in
this silence there lay a menace; in its supreme poise was the threat of
coming danger. The crash of our hammers was an outrage, and the
exploding dynamite a sacrilege against tired nature.

A great weariness settled over us; our life lacked colour, we were
afraid of the silence, the dulness of the surrounding mountains weighed
heavily on our souls. The sound of labour was a comfort, the thunder of
our hammers went up as a threat against the vague implacable portent of
the wild.

Life to me had now become dull, expressionless, stupid. Only in drink
was there contentment, only in a fight was there excitement. I hated the
brown earth, the slushy muck and gritty rock, but in the end hatred died
out and I was almost left without passion or longing. My life now had no
happiness and no great sadness. My soul was proof against sorrow as it
was against joy. Happiness and woe were of no account; life was a spread
of brown muck, without any relieving splash of lighter or darker
colours. For all that, I had no great desire (desire was almost dead
even) to go down to the Lowlands and look for a newer job. So I stayed
amidst the brown muck and existed.

When I had come up my thoughts for a long while were eternally straying
to Norah Ryan, but in the end she became to me little more than a
memory, a frail and delightful phantom of a fleeting dream.

The coming of winter was welcome. The first nipping frost was a call to
battle, and, though half afraid, most of the men were willing to accept
the challenge. A few, it is true, went off to Glasgow, men old and
feeble who were afraid of the coming winter.

In the fight to come the chances were against us. Rugged cabins with
unplanked floors, leaking roofs, flimsy walls, through the chinks of
which the winds cut like knives, meagre blankets, mouldy food, well-worn
clothes, and battered bluchers were all that we possessed to aid us in
the struggle. On the other hand, the winter marshalled all her forces,
the wind, the hail, frost, snow, and rain, and it was against these that
we had to fight, and for the coming of the opposing legions we waited
tensely and almost eagerly.

But the north played a wearing game, and strove to harry us out with
suspense before thundering down upon us with her cold and her storm. The
change took place slowly. In a day we could hardly feel it, in a week
something intangible and subtle, something which could not be defined,
had crept into our lives. We felt the change, but could not localise it.
Our spirits sank under the uncertainty of the waiting days, but still
the wild held her hand. The bells of the heather hung from their stems
languidly and motionless, stripped of all their summer charm, but
lacking little of the hue of summer. Even yet the foam-flecked waters
dropped over the cliffs silently as figures that move in a dream. When
we gathered together and ate our midday meal, we wrapped our coats
around our shoulders, whereas before we had sat down without them. When
night came on we drew nearer to the hot-plate, and when we turned naked
into bed we found that the blankets were colder than usual. Only thus
did the change affect us for a while. Then the cold snap came suddenly
and wildly.

The plaintive sunset waned into a sickly haze one evening, and when the
night slipped upwards to the mountain peaks never a star came out into
the vastness of the high heavens. Next morning we had to thaw the door
of our shack out of the muck into which it was frozen during the night.
Outside the snow had fallen heavily on the ground, and the virgin
granaries of winter had been emptied on the face of the world.

Unkempt, ragged, and dispirited, we slunk to our toil, the snow falling
on our shoulders and forcing its way insistently through our worn and
battered bluchers. The cuttings were full of slush to the brim, and we
had to grope through them with our hands until we found the jumpers and
hammers at the bottom. These we held under our coats until the heat of
our bodies warmed them, then we went on with our toil.

At intervals during the day the winds of the mountain put their heads
together and swept a whirlstorm of snow down upon us, wetting each man
to the pelt. Our tools froze until the hands that gripped them were
scarred as if by red-hot spits. We shook uncertain over our toil, our
sodden clothes scalding and itching the skin with every movement of the
swinging hammers. Near at hand the lean derrick jibs whirled on their
pivots like spectres of some ghoulish carnival, and the muck-barrows
crunched backwards and forwards, all their dirt and rust hidden in
woolly mantles of snow. Hither and thither the little black figures of
the workers moved across the waste of whiteness like shadows on a
lime-washed wall. Their breath steamed out on the air and disappeared in
space like the evanescent and fragile vapour of frying mushrooms.

"On a day like this a man could hardly keep warm on the red-hot hearth
of hell!" Moleskin remarked at one time, when the snow whirled around
the cutting, causing us to gasp with every fiercely-taken breath.

"Ye'll have a heat on the same hearthstone some day," answered Red
Billy, who held a broken lath in one mittened hand, while he whittled
away with his eternal clasp-knife.

When night came on we crouched around the hot-plate and told stories of
bygone winters, when men dropped frozen stiff in the trenches where they
laboured. A few tried to gamble near the door, but the wind that cut
through the chinks of the walls chased them to the fire. Moleskin told
the story of his first meeting with me on the Paisley toll-road, and
suddenly I realised that I was growing old. It was now some years since
that meeting took place, and even then I was a man, unaided and alone,
fighting the great struggle of existence. I capped Moleskin's story with
the account of Mick Deehan's death on the six-foot way. Afterwards the
men talked loudly of many adventures. Long lonely shifts were spoken of,
nights and days when the sweat turned to ice on the eyelashes, when the
cold nipped to the bone and chilled the workers at their labours. One
man slipped off the snow-covered gang-plank and fell like a rock forty
feet through space.

"Flattened out like a jelly-fish on the groun' he was," said Clancy, who
told the story.

Red Billy, who worked on the railway line in his younger days, gave an
account of Mick Cassidy's death. Mick was sent out to free the
ice-locked facing points, and when they were closed by the signalman,
Cassidy's hand got wedged between the blades and the rail.

"Held like a louse was Cassidy, until the train threw him clear,"
concluded Billy, adding reflectively that "he might have been saved if
he had had somethin' in one hand to hack the other hand off with."

Joe told how one Ned Farley got his legs wedged between the planks of a
mason's scaffold and hung there head downwards for three hours. When
Farley got relieved he was a raving madman, and died two hours
afterwards. We all agreed that death was the only way out in a case like

Gahey told of a night's doss at the bottom of a coal slip in a railway
siding. He slept there with three other people, two men and a woman. As
the woman was a bad one it did not matter very much to anyone where she
slept. During the night a waggon of coal was suddenly shot down the
slip. Gahey got clear, leaving his thumb with the three corpses which
remained behind.

"It was a bad endin', even for a woman like that," someone said.

Outside the winds of the night scampered madly, whistling through every
crevice of the shack and threatening to smash all its timbers to
pieces. We bent closer over the hot-plate, and the many who could not
draw near to the heat scrambled into bed and sought warmth under the
meagre blankets. Suddenly the lamp went out, and a darkness crept into
the corners of the dwelling, causing the figures of my mates to assume
fantastic shapes in the gloom. The circle around the hot-plate drew
closer, and long lean arms were stretched out towards the flames and the
redness. Seldom may a man have the chance to look on hands like those of
my mates. Fingers were missing from many, scraggy scars seaming along
the wrists or across the palms of others told of accidents which had
taken place on many precarious shifts. The faces near me were those of
ghouls worn out in some unholy midnight revel. Sunken eyes glared
balefully in the dim unearthly light of the fire, and as I looked at
them a moment's terror settled on my soul. For a second I lived in an
early age, and my mates were the cave-dwellers of an older world than
mine. In the darkness, near the door, a pipe glowed brightly for a
moment, then the light went suddenly out and the gloom settled again.
The reaction came when Two-shift Mullholland's song, _The Bold Navvy
Man_, was sung by Clancy of the Cross. We joined lustily in the chorus,
and the roof shook with the thunder of our voices.

                      "THE BOLD NAVVY MAN.

     "I've navvied here in Scotland, I've navvied in the south,
     Without a drink to cheer me or a crust to cross me mouth,
     I fed when I was workin' and starved when out on tramp,
     And the stone has been me pillow and the moon above me lamp.
     I have drunk me share and over when I was flush with tin,
     For the drouth without was nothin' to the drouth that burned
     And where'er I've filled me billy and where'er I've drained me can,
     I've done it like a navvy, a bold navvy man.
               A bold navvy man,
               An old navvy man,
     And I've done me graft and stuck it like a bold navvy man.

     "I've met a lot of women and I liked them all a spell--
     They drive some men to drinkin' and also some to hell,
     But I have never met her yet, the woman cute who can
     Learn a trick to Old Nick or the bold navvy man.
               Oh! the sly navvy man,
               And the fly navvy man,
     Sure a woman's always runnin' to the bold navvy man.

     "I do not care for ladies grand who are of high degree,
     A winsome wench and willin', she is just the one for me,
     Drink and love are classed as sins, as mortal sins by some,
     I'll drink and drink whene'er I can, the drouth is sure to come--
     And I will love till lusty life runs out its mortal span,
     The end of which is in the ditch for many a navvy man.
               The bold navvy man,
               The old navvy man,
     Safe in a ditch with heels cocked up, so dies the navvy man.

     "I've splashed a thousand models red and raised up fiery Cain
     From Glasgow down to Dover Pier and back that road again;
     I've fought me man for hours on end, stark naked to the buff
     And me and him, we never knew when we had got enough.
     'Twas skin and hair all flyin' round and red blood up and out,
     And me or him could hardly tell what brought the fight about.--
     'Tis wenches, work and fight and fun and drink whene'er I can
     That makes the life of stress and strife as suits the navvy man!

"Let her go, boys; let her go now!" roared Clancy, rising to his feet,
kicking a stray frying-pan and causing it to clatter across the shack.
"All together, boys; damn you, all together!

                         "Then hurrah! ev'ry one
                         For the bold navvy man,
     For fun and fight are damned all right for any navvy man!"

Even old Sandy MacDonald joined in the chorus with his weak and
querulous voice. The winter was touching him sharply, and he was worse
off than any of us. Along with the cold he had his wasting disease to
battle against, and God alone knew how he managed to work along with his
strong and lusty mates on the hammer squad at Kinlochleven. Sandy was
not an old man, but what with the dry cough that was in his throat and
the shivers of cold that came over him after a long sweaty shift, it
was easily seen that he had not many months to live in this world. He
looked like a parcel of bones covered with brown withered parchment and
set in the form of a man. How life could remain fretting within such a
frame as his was a mystery which I could not solve. Almost beyond the
effects of heat or cold, the cold sweat came out of his skin on the
sweltering warm days, and when the winter came along, the chilly weather
hardly made him colder than he was by nature. His cough never kept
silent; sometimes it was like the bark of a dog, at other times it
seemed as if it would carry the very entrails out of the man. In the
summer he spat blood with it, but usually it was drier than the east

At one period of his life Sandy had had a home and a wife away down in
Greenock; but in those days he was a strong lusty fellow, fit to pull
through a ten-hour shift without turning a hair. One winter's morning he
came out from the sugar refinery, in which he worked, steaming hot from
the long night's labour, and then the cold settled on him. Being a
sober, steady-going man, he tried to work as long as he could lift his
arms, but in the end he had to give up the job which meant life and home
to him. One by one his little bits of things went to the pawnshop; but
all the time he struggled along bravely, trying to keep the roof-tree
over his head and his door shut against the lean spectre of hunger.
Between the four bare walls of the house Sandy's wife died one day; and
this caused the man to break up his home.

He came to Kinlochleven at the heel of the summer, and because he
mastered his cough for a moment when asking for a job, Red Billy Davis
started him on the jumper squad. The old ganger, despite his swearing
habits and bluntness of discourse, was at heart a very good-natured
fellow. Sandy stopped with us for a long while and it was pitiful to
see him labouring there, his old bones creaking with every move of his
emaciated body, and the cold sweat running off him all day. He ate very
little; the tame robin which flitted round our shack nearly picked as
much from off the floor. He had a bunk to himself at the corner of the
shack, and there he coughed out the long sleepless hours of the night,
bereft of all hope, lacking sympathy from any soul sib to himself, and
praying for the grave which would end all his troubles. For days at a
stretch he lay supine in his bed, unable to move hand or foot, then,
when a moment's relief came to him, he rose and started on his shift
again, crawling out with his mates like a wounded animal.

Winter came along and Sandy got no better; he could hardly grow worse
and remain alive. Life burned in him like a dying candle in a ruined
house, and he waited for the end of the great martyrdom patiently.
Still, when he could, he kept working day in and day out, through cold
and wet and storm. Heaven knows that it was not work which he needed,
but care, rest, and sympathy. All of us expressed pity for the man, and
helped him in little ways, trying to make life easier for him. Moleskin
usually made gruel for him, while I read the _Oban Times_ to the old
fellow whenever that paper came into the shack. One evening as I read
something concerning the Isle of Skye Sandy burst into tears, like a
homesick child.

"Man! I would like tae dee there awa' in the Isle of Skye," he said to
me in a yearning voice.

"Die, you damned old fool, you?" exclaimed Joe, who happened to come
around with a pot of gruel just at that moment and overheard Sandy's
remark. "You'll not die for years yet. I never saw you lookin' so well
in all your life."

"It's all over with me, Moleskin," said poor Sandy. "It's a great wonder
that I've stood it so long, but just now the thocht came to me that I'd
like tae dee awa' back in my own place in the Isle of Skye. If I could
just save as muckle siller as would take me there, I'd be content

"Some people are content with hellish little!" said Joe angrily. "You've
got to buck up, man, for there's a good time comin', though you'll
never--I mean that ev'rything will come right in the end. We'll see that
you get home all right, you fool, you!"

Joe was ashamed to find himself guilty of any kind impulse, and he
endeavoured to hide his good intentions behind rough words. When he
called Sandy an old fool Sandy's eyes sparkled, and he got into such
good humour that he joined in the chorus of the _Bold Navvy Man_ when
Clancy, who is now known as Clancy of the Cross, gave bellow to
Mullholland's _magnum opus_.

Early on the morning of the next day, which was pay-day, Moleskin was
busy at work sounding the feelings of the party towards a great scheme
which he had in mind; and while waiting at the pay-office when the day's
work was completed, Joe made the following speech to Red Billy's gang,
all of whom, with the exception of Sandy MacDonald, were present.

"Boys, Sandy MacDonald wants to go home and die in his own place," said
Joe, weltering into his subject at once. "He'll kick the bucket soon,
for he has the look of the grave in his eyes. He only wants as much tin
as will take him home, and that is not much for any man to ask, is it?
So what do you say, boys, to a collection for him, a shillin' a man, or
whatever you can spare? Maybe some day, when you turn respectable, one
of you can say to yourself, 'I once kept myself from gettin' drunk, by
givin' some of my money to a man who needed it more than myself.' Now,
just look at him comin' across there."

We looked in the direction of Joe's outstretched finger and saw Sandy
coming towards us, his rags fluttering around him like the duds of a
Michaelmas scarecrow.

"Isn't he a pitiful sight!" Moleskin went on. "He looks like the Angel
of Death out on the prowl! It's a God's charity to help a man like Sandy
and make him happy as we are ourselves. We are at home here; he is not.
So it is up to us to help him out of the place. Boys, listen to me!"
Moleskin's voice sank into an intense whisper. "If every damned man of
you don't pay a shillin' into this collection I'll look for the man that
doesn't, and I'll knuckle his ribs until he pays for booze for ev'ry man
in Billy's shack, by God! I will."

Everyone paid up decently, and on behalf of the gang I was asked to
present the sum of three pounds fifteen shillings to Sandy MacDonald.
Sandy began to cry like a baby when he got the money into his hands, and
every man in the job called out involuntarily: "Oh! you old fool, you!"

Pay-day was on Saturday. On Monday morning Sandy intended starting out
on his journey home. All Saturday night he coughed out the long hours of
the darkness, but in the morning he looked fit and well.

"You'll come through it, you fool!" said Moleskin. "I'll be dead myself
afore you."

On the next night he went to bed early, and as we sat around the gaming
table we did not hear the racking cough which had torn at the man's
chest for months.

"He's getting better," we all said.

"Feeling all right, Sandy?" I asked, as I turned into bed.

"Mon! I'm feelin' fine now," he answered. "I'm goin' to sleep well
to-night, and I'll be fit for the journey in the morn."

That night Sandy left us for good. When the morning came we found the
poor wasted fellow lying dead in his bunk, his eyes wide open, his hands
closed tightly, and the long finger-nails cutting into the flesh of the
palm. The money which we gave to the man was bound up in a little
leathern purse tied round his neck with a piece of string.

The man was very light and it was an easy job to carry him in the little
black box and place him in his home below the red earth of Kinlochleven.
The question as to what should be done with the money arose later. I
suggested that it should be used in buying a little cross for Sandy's

"If the dead man wants a cross he can have one," said Moleskin Joe. And
because of what he said and because it was more to our liking, we put
the money up as a stake on the gaming table. Clancy won the pile,
because his luck was good on the night of the game.

That is our reason for calling him Clancy of the Cross ever since.

The winter rioted on its way. Snow, rain, and wind whirled around us in
the cutting, and wet us to the bone. It was a difficult feat to close
our hands tightly over the hammers with which we took uncertain aim at
the drill heads and jumper ends. The drill holder cowered on his seat
and feared for the moment when an erring hammer might fly clear and
finish his labours for ever. Hourly our tempers grew worse, each
movement of the body caused annoyance and discomfort, and we quarrelled
over the most trivial matters. Red Billy cursed every man in turn and
all in general, until big Jim Maloney lost his temper completely and
struck the ganger on the jaw with his fist, knocking him senseless into
a snowdrift.

That night Maloney was handed his lying time and told to slide. He
padded from Kinlochleven in the darkness, and I have never seen him
since then. He must have died on the journey. No man could cross those
mountains in the darkness of mid-winter and in the teeth of a

Some time afterwards the copy of a Glasgow newspaper, either the
_Evening Times_ or _News_ (I now forget which), came into our shack
wrapped around some provisions, and in the paper I read a paragraph
concerning the discovery of a dead body on the mountains of Argyllshire.
While looking after sheep a shepherd came on the corpse of a man that
lay rotting in a thawing snowdrift. Around the remains a large number of
half-burnt matches were picked up, and it was supposed that the poor
fellow had tried to keep himself warm by their feeble flames in the last
dreadful hours. Nobody identified him, but the paper stated that he was
presumably a navvy who lost his way on a journey to or from the big
waterworks of Kinlochleven.

As for myself, I am quite certain that it was that of big Jim Maloney.
No man could survive a blizzard on the houseless hills, and big Jim
Maloney never appeared in model or shack afterwards.



     "We'll lift our time and go, lads,
       The long road lies before,
     The places that we know, lads,
       Will know our like no more.
     Foot forth! the last bob's paid out,
       Some see their last shift through.
     But the men who are not played out
       Have other jobs to do."

     --From _Tramp Navvies_.

'Twas towards the close of a fine day on the following summer that we
were at work in the dead end of a cutting, Moleskin and I, when I, who
had been musing on the quickly passing years, turned to Moleskin and
quoted a line from the Bible.

"Our years pass like a tale that is told," I said.

"Like a tale that is told damned bad," answered my mate, picking stray
crumbs of tobacco from his waistcoat pocket and stuffing them into the
heel of his pipe. "It's a strange world, Flynn. Here to-day, gone
to-morrow; always waitin' for a good time comin' and knowin' that it
will never come. We work with one mate this evenin', we beg for crumbs
with another on the mornin' after. It's a bad life ours, and a poor one,
when I come to think of it, Flynn."

"It is all that," I assented heartily.

"Look at me!" said Joe, clenching his fists and squaring his shoulders.
"I must be close on forty years, maybe on the graveyard side of it, for
all I know. I've horsed it since ever I can mind; I've worked like a
mule for years, and what have I to show for it all to-day, matey? Not
the price of an ounce of tobacco! A midsummer scarecrow wouldn't wear
the duds that I've to wrap around my hide! A cockle-picker that has no
property only when the tide is out is as rich as I am. Not the price of
an ounce of tobacco! There is something wrong with men like us, surely,
when we're treated like swine in a sty for all the years of our life.
It's not so bad here, but it's in the big towns that a man can feel it
most. No person cares for the likes of us, Flynn. I've worked nearly
ev'rywhere; I've helped to build bridges, dams, houses, ay, and towns!
When they were finished, what happened? Was it for us--the men who did
the buildin'--to live in the homes that we built, or walk through the
streets that we laid down? No earthly chance of that! It was always,
'Slide! we don't need you any more,' and then a man like me, as helped
to build a thousand houses big as castles, was hellish glad to get the
shelter of a ten-acre field and a shut gate between me and the winds of
night. I've spent all my money, have I? It's bloomin' easy to spend all
that fellows like us can earn. When I was in London I saw a lady spend
as much on fur to decorate her carcase with as would keep me in beer and
tobacco for all the rest of my life. And that same lady would decorate a
dog in ribbons and fol-the-dols, and she wouldn't give me the smell of a
crust when I asked her for a mouthful of bread. What could you expect
from a woman who wears the furry hide of some animal round her neck,
anyhow? We are not thought as much of as dogs, Flynn. By God! them rich
buckos do eat an awful lot. Many a time I crept up to a window just to
see them gorgin' themselves."

"I have often done the same kind of thing," I said.

"Most men do," answered Joe. "You've heard of old Moses goin' up the
hill to have a bit peep at the Promist Land. He was just like me and
you, Flynn, wantin' to have a peep at the things which he'd never lay
his claws on."

"Those women who sit half-naked at the table have big appetites," I

"They're all gab and guts, like young crows," said Moleskin. "And they
think more of their dogs than they do of men like me and you. I'm an

"A what?"

"One of them sort of fellows as throws bombs at kings."

"You mean an Anarchist."

"Well, whatever they are, I'm one. What is the good of kings, of
fine-feathered ladies, of churches, of anything in the country, to men
like me and you? One time, 'twas when I started trampin' about, I met an
old man on the road and we mucked about, the two of us as mates, for
months afterwards. One night in the winter time, as we were sleepin'
under a hedge, the old fellow got sick, and he began to turn over and
over on his beddin' of frost and his blankets of snow, which was not the
best place to put a sick man, as you know yourself. As the night wore
on, he got worse and worse. I tried to do the best I could for the old
fellow, gave him my muffler and my coat, but the pains in his guts was
so much that I couldn't hardly prevent him from rollin' along the ground
on his stomach. He would do anythin' just to take his mind away from the
pain that he was sufferin'. At last I got him to rise and walk, and we
trudged along till we came to a house by the roadside. 'Twas nearly
midnight and there was a light in one of the windows, so I thought that
I would call at the door and ask for a bit of help. My mate, who bucked
up somewhat when we were walkin', got suddenly worse again, and fell
against the gatepost near beside the road, and stuck there as if glued
on to the thing. I left him by himself and went up to the door and
knocked. A man drew the bolts and looked out at me. He had his collar
on back to front, so I knew that he was a clergyman.

"'What do you want?' he asked.

"'My mate's dyin' on your gatepost,' I said.

"'Then you'd better take him away from here,' said the parson.

"'But he wants help,' I said. 'He can't go a step further, and if you
could give me a drop of brandy----'

"I didn't get any further with my story. The fellow whistled for his
dog, and a big black animal came boundin' through the passage and
started snarlin' when it saw me standin' there in the doorway.

"'Now, you get away from here,' said the clergyman to me.

"'My mate's dyin',' I said.

"'Seize him,' said the man to the dog."

"What a scoundrel that man must have been," I said, interrupting
Moleskin in the midst of his story.

"He was only a human being, and that's about as bad as a man can be,"
said Joe. "Anyway, he put the dog on me and the animal bounded straight
at the thick of my leg, but that animal didn't know that it was up
against Moleskin Joe. I caught hold of the dog by the throat and twisted
its throttle until it snapped like a dry stick. Then I lifted the dead
thing up in my arms and threw it right into the face of the man who was
standin' in the hallway.

"'Take that an' be thankful that the worst dog of the two of you is not
dead,' I shouted. 'And when it comes to a time that sees you hangin' on
the lower cross-bars of the gates of heaven, waitin' till you get in,
may you be kept there till I give the word for you to pass through.'

"My mate was still hangin' on the gatepost when I came back, and he was
as dead as a maggot. I could do nothin' for a dead man, so I went on my
own, leavin' him hangin' there like a dead crow in a turnip field. Next
mornin' a cop lifted me and I was charged with assaultin' a minister and
killin' his dog. I got three months hard, and it was hard to tell
whether for hittin' the man or killin' the dog. Anyway, the fellow got
free, although he allowed a man to die at his own doorstep. I never
liked clergy before, and I hate them ever since; but I know, as you
know, that it's not for the likes of you and me that they work for."

"Time to stop lookin' at your work, boys!" interrupted Red Billy, as he
approached us, carrying his watch and eternal clasp-knife in his hands.
"Be damned to you, you could look at your work all day, you love it so
much. But when you go to the pay-office to-night, you'll hear a word or
two that will do you good, you will!"

On arriving at the pay-office, every man in turn was handed his lying
time and told that his services were no longer required. Red Billy
passed the money out through the window of the shack which served as
money-box. Moleskin came after me, and he carefully counted the money
handed to him.

"Half-a-crown wrong in your tally, old cock," he said to Red Billy.
"Fork out the extra two-and-a-tanner, you unsanctified, chicken-chested
cheat. I didn't think that it was in your carcase to cheat a man of his
lyin' time."

"No cheatin'," said Billy.

"Well, what the hell----!"

"No cheatin'," interrupted Billy.

"I'm two-and-a-tanner short----"

"No cheatin'," piped Billy maliciously.

"I'll burst your nut, you parrot-faced, gawky son of a Pontius Pilate,
if you don't fork out my full lyin' time!" roared Moleskin.

"I always charge two-and-six for a pair of boots and the same for a
clasp-knife," said the ganger.

Billy had a long memory, and Joe was cornered and crestfallen. I,
myself, had almost forgotten about the knife which Joe had lifted from
Red Billy on the morning of our arrival in Kinlochleven, and Joe had
almost lost memory of it as well.

"I had the best of that bargain," Red Billy went on sweetly. "The knife
was on its last legs and I just intended to buy a new one. A half-crown
was a good penny for a man like me to spend, so I thought that if
Moleskin paid for it, kind of quiet like, it would be a very nice thing
for me--a--very--nice--thing--for--me."

"I grant that you have the best of me this time," said Moleskin, and a
smile passed over his face. "But my turn will come next, you know. I
wouldn't like to do you any serious harm, Billy, but I must get my own
back. I have only to look for that old woman of yours and send her after
you. I can get her address easy enough, and I have plenty of time to
look for it. You don't care much for your old wife, Billy, do you?"

Billy made no answer. It was rumoured that his wife was a woman with a
tongue and a temper, and that Billy feared her and spent part of his
time in endeavouring to get out of her way. Joe was working upon this
rumour now, and the ganger began to look uncomfortable.

"Of course, if I get my half-crown and another to boot, I'll not trouble
to look for the woman," said Joe. "It won't be hard to find her. She'll
have gone back to her own people, and it is well known that they belong
to Paisley. Her brothers are all fightin' men, and ready to maul the man
that didn't play fairly with their own blood relations. By God! they'll
give you a maulin', Billy, when I send them after you. They'll come up
here, and further until they find you out. You'll have to shank it when
they come, run like hell, in fact, and lose your job and your lyin'
time. If you give me seven-and-six I'll not give you away!"

"I'll give you the half-crown," said Billy.

"I'm losin' my time talkin' to you," said Joe pleasantly, and he pulled
out his watch. "Every minute I stop here I'm goin' to put my charge up a

"I'll give you the five shillin's if you go away and keep clear of
Paisley," growled the ganger. "Five shillin's! you damned cheat! Are you
not content with that?"

"One minute," said Joe solemnly. "Eight-and-six."

"My God!" Billy cried. "You're goin' to rob me. I'll give you the

We were heartily enjoying it. There were over one hundred men looking
on, and Joe, now master of the strained situation, kept looking
steadfastly at his watch, as if nothing else in the world mattered.

"Two minutes; nine-and-six," he said at the end of the stated time.

"Here's your nine-and-six!" roared Billy, passing some silver coins
through the grating. "Here, take it and be damned to you!"

Joe put the money in his pocket, cast a benevolent glance at Billy, and
my mate and I went out from Kinlochleven. We did not go into the shack
which we had occupied for over a year. There was nothing there belonging
to us, all our property was on our backs or in our pockets, so we turned
away straight from the pay-office and took to the road again.

The great procession filed down the hillside. Hundreds of men had been
paid off on the same evening. The job was nearly completed, and only a
few hands were required to finish the remainder of the labour. Some men
decided to stay, but a great longing took possession of them at the
last moment, and they followed those who were already on the road.

Civilisation again! Away behind the hunchbacked mountains the sunset
flamed in all its colours. Islands of jasper were enshrined in lakes of
turquoise, rivers of blood flowed through far-spreading plains of dark
cumulus that were enshrouded in the spell of eternal silence. Overhead
the blue was of the deepest, save where one stray cloud blushed to find
itself alone in the vastness of the high heavens.

We were an army of scarecrows, ragged, unkempt scare crows of
civilisation. We came down from Kinlochleven in the evening with the
glow of the setting sun full in our faces, and never have I looked on an
array of men such as we were. Some were old, lame men who might not live
until they obtained their next job, and who would surely drop at their
post when they obtained it. These were the veterans of labour, crawling
along limply in the rear, staggering over boulders and hillocks, men who
were wasted in the long struggle and who were now bound for a new
place--a place where a man might die. They had built their last town and
were no longer wanted there or anywhere else. Strong lusty fellows like
myself took the lead. We possessed hale and supple limbs, and a mile or
two of a journey meant very little to any of us.

Now and again I looked behind at the followers. The great army spread
out in the centre and tailed away towards the end. A man at the rear sat
down and took a stone out of his boot. His comrades helped him to his
feet when he had finished his task. He was a very old, decrepit, and
weary man; the look of death was in his eyes, but he wanted to walk on.
Maybe he would sit down again at the foot of the mountain. Maybe he
would sleep there, for further down the night breezes were warmer, much
warmer, than the cold winds on the hillside. Probably the old fellow
thought of these things as he tumbled down the face of the mountain; and
perhaps he knew that death was waiting for him at the bottom.

Some sang as they journeyed along. They sang about love, about drink,
about women and gambling. Most of us joined in the singing. Maybe the
man at the rear sang none, but we could not hear him if he did, he was
so far behind.

The sun paled out and hid behind a hump of the mountain. Overhead a few
stars twinkled mockingly. In the distance the streams could be heard
falling over the cliffs. Still the mountain vomited out the human
throng, and over all the darkness of the night settled slowly.

What did the men think of as they walked down from Kinlochleven? It is
hard to say, for the inmost thoughts of a most intimate friend are
hidden from us, for they lack expression and cannot be put into words.
As to myself, I found that my thoughts were running back to Norah Ryan
and the evenings we spent on the shores of the Clyde. I was looking
backward; I had no thoughts, no plans, for the future.

I was now almost careless of life, indifferent towards fortune, and the
dreams of youth had given place to a placid acceptance of stern
realities. On the way up to the hills I had longed for things beyond my
reach--wealth, comfort, and the love of fair women. But these longings
had now given place to an almost unchanging calm, an indifference
towards women, and an almost stoical outlook on the things that are.
Nothing was to me pleasurable, nothing made me sad. During the last
months in Kinlochleven I had very little desire for drink or cards, but
true to custom I gave up neither. With no man except Moleskin did I
exchange confidences, and even these were of the very slightest. To the
rest of my mates I was always the same, except perhaps in the whisky
saloon or in a fight. They thought me very strong in person and in
character, but when I pried deeply into my own nature I found that I was
full of vanity and weaknesses. The heat of a good fire after a hard
day's work caused me to feel happier; hunger made me sour, a good meal
made me cheerful. One day I was fit for any work; the next day I was
lazy and heedless, and at times I so little resembled myself that I
might be taken for a man of an entirely opposite character. Still, the
river cannot be expected to take on the same form in shine as in shadow,
in level as in steep, and in fall as in freshet. I am a creature of
environment, an environment that is eternally changing. Not being a
stone or clod, I change with it. I was a man of many humours, of many
inconsistencies. The pain of a corn changed my outlook on life. Moleskin
himself was sometimes disgusting in my sight; at other times I was only
happy in his company. But all the time I was the same in the eyes of my
mates, stolid, unsympathetic, and cold. In the end most of my moods
went, and although I had mapped out no course of conduct, I settled into
a temperate contentment, which, though far removed from gladness, had no
connection with melancholy.

Since I came to Kinlochleven I had not looked on a woman, and the
thoughts of womankind had almost entirely gone from my mind. With the
rest of the men it was the same. The sexual instinct was almost dead in
them. Women were merely dreams of long ago; they were so long out of
sight that the desire for their company had almost expired in every man
of us. Still, it was strange that I should think of Norah Ryan as I
trudged down the hillside from Kinlochleven.

The men were still singing out their songs, and Joe hummed the chorus
through the teeth that held his empty pipe as he walked along.

Suddenly the sound of singing died and Moleskin ceased his bellowing
chorus. A great silence fell on the party. The nailed shoes rasping on
the hard earth, and the half-whispered curse of some falling man as he
tripped over a hidden boulder, were the only sounds that could be heard
in the darkness.

And down the face of the mountain the ragged army tramped slowly on.



     "The more you do, the more you get to do."

     --_Cold Clay Philosophy._

When we arrived in Glasgow I parted company with Moleskin Joe. I told
him that I was going to work on the railway if I got an opening, but my
mate had no liking for a job where the pay could be only lifted once a
fortnight; he wanted his sub. every second day at least. He set out for
the town of Carlisle. There was a chance of getting a real job there, he

"Mind you, if there's a chance goin' for another man, I'll let you know
about it," he added. "I would like you to come and work along with me,
matey, for me and you get on well together. Keep clear of women and
always stand up to your man until he knocks you out--that's if you're
gettin' the worst of the fight."

We parted without a handshake, as is the custom with us navvy men. He
never wrote to me, for I had no address when he left, and he did not
know the exact model to which he was going. Once out of each other's
sight, the link that bound us together was broken, and being homeless
men we could not correspond. Perhaps we would never meet again.

I got a job on the railway and obtained lodgings in a dismal and crooked
street, which was a den of disfigured children and a hothouse of
precocious passion, in the south side of Glasgow. The landlady was an
Irishwoman, bearded like a man, and the mother of several children. When
indoors, she spent most of her time feeding one child, while swearing
like a carter at all the others. We slept in the one room, mother,
children and myself, and all through the night the children yelled like
cats in the moonshine. The house was alive with vermin. The landlady's
husband was a sailor who went out on ships to foreign parts and always
returned drunk from his voyages. When at home he remained drunk all the
time, and when he left again he was as drunk as he could hold. I had no
easy job to put up with him at first, and in the end we quarrelled and
fought. He accused me of being too intimate with his wife when he was
away from home. I told him that my taste was not so utterly bad, for
indeed I had no inclination towards any woman, let alone the hairy and
unkempt person who was my landlady. I struck out for him on the stair
head. Three flights of stairs led from the door of the house down to the
ground floor. I threw the sailor down the last flight bodily and
headlong; he threw me down the middle flight. Following the last throw
he would not face up again, and I had won the fight. Afterwards the
woman came to her husband's aid. She scratched my face with her fingers
and tore at my hair, clawing like an angry cat. I did not like to strike
her back so I left her there with her drunken sailor and went out to the
streets. Having no money I slept until morning beside a capstan on
Glasgow quay. Next day I obtained lodgings in Moran's model, and I
stopped there until I went off to London eleven months afterwards.

I did not find much pleasure in the company of my new railway mates.
They were a spineless and ignorant crowd of men, who believed in
clergycraft, psalm-singing, and hymn-hooting. Not one of them had the
pluck to raise his hands in a stand-up fight, or his voice in protest
against the conditions under which he laboured. Most of them raised
their caps to the overseers who controlled their starved bodies and to
the clergy who controlled their starved souls. They had no rational
doctrine, no comprehension of a just God. To them God took on the form
of a monstrous and irritable ganger who might be pacified by prayers
instead of by the usual dole of drink.

Martin Rudor was the name of my new ganger. He was very religious and
belonged to the Railway Mission (whatever that is). He read tracts at
his work, which he handed round when he finished perusing them. These
contained little stories about the engine-driver who had taken the wrong
turning, or the signalman who operated the facing points on the running
line leading to hell. Martin took great pleasure in these stories, and
he was an earnest supporter of the psalm-singing enthusiasts who raised
a sound of devilry by night in the back streets of Glasgow. Martin said
once that I was employed on the permanent way that led to perdition. I
caught Martin by the scruff of the neck and rubbed his face on the slag.
He never thought it proper to look out my faults afterwards. Martin
ill-treated his wife, and she left him in the end. But he did not mind;
he took one of his female co-religionists to his bosom and kept her in
place of his legal wife, and seemed quite well pleased with the change.
Meanwhile he sang hymns in the street whenever he got two friends to
help and one to listen to him.

What a difference between these men and my devil-may-care comrades of
Kinlochleven. I looked on Martin Rudor and his gang with inexpressible
contempt, and their talk of religion was a source of almost unendurable
torment. I also looked upon the missions with disgust. It is a paradox
to pretend that the thing called Christianity was what the Carpenter of
Galilee lived and died to establish. The Church allows a criminal
commercial system to continue, and wastes its time trying to save the
souls of the victims of that system. Christianity preaches contentment
to the wage-slaves, and hob-nobs with the slave drivers; therefore, the
Church is a betrayer of the people. The Church soothes those who are
robbed and never condemns the robber, who is usually a pillar of
Christianity. To me the Church presents something unattainable, which,
being out of harmony with my spiritual condition, jars rather than
soothes. To me the industrial system is a great fraud, and the Church
which does not condemn it is unfaithful and unjust to the working
people. I detest missions, whether organised for the betterment of South
Sea Islanders or unshaven navvies. A missionary canvasses the working
classes for their souls just in the same manner as a town councillor
canvasses them for their votes.

I have heard of workers' missions, railway missions, navvies' missions,
and missions to poor heathens, but I have never yet heard of missions
for the uplifting of M.P.'s, or for the betterment of stock exchange
gamblers; and these people need saving grace a great deal more than the
poor untutored working men. But it is in the nature of things that piety
should preach to poverty on its shortcomings, and forget that even
wealth may have sins of its own. Clergymen dine nowadays with the
gamblers who rob the working classes; Christ used the lash on the
gamblers in the Temple.

I heard no more of Norah Ryan. I longed to see her, and spent hours
wandering through the streets, hoping that I would meet her once again.
The old passion had come back to me; the atmosphere of the town
rekindled my desire, and, being a lonely man, in the midst of many men
and women, my heart was filled with a great longing for my sweetheart.
But the weary months went by and still there was no sign of Norah.

When writing home I made enquiries about her, but my people said that
she had entirely disappeared; no Glenmornan man had seen Norah Ryan for
many years. My mother warned me to keep out of Norah's company if ever I
met her, for Norah was a bad woman. My mother was a Glenmornan woman,
and the Glenmornan women have no fellow-feeling for those who sin.

Manual labour was now becoming irksome to me, and eight shillings a week
to myself at the end of six days' heavy labour was poor consolation for
the danger and worry of the long hours of toil. I did not care for
money, but I was afraid of meeting with an accident, when I might get
maimed and not killed. It would be an awful thing if a man like me got
deprived of the use of an arm or leg, and an accident might happen to me
any day. In the end I made up my mind that if I was to meet with an
accident I would take my own life, and henceforth I looked at the future
with stoical calm.

I have said before that I am very strong. There was no man on the
railway line who could equal me at lifting rails or loading ballast
waggons. I had great ambitions to become a wrestler and go on the stage.
No workman on the permanent way could rival me in a test of strength.
Wrestling appealed to me, and I threw the stoutest of my opponents in
less than three minutes. I started to train seriously, bought books on
physical improvement, and spent twelve shillings and sixpence on a pair
of dumb-bells. During meal hours I persuaded my mates to wrestle with
me. Wet weather or dry, it did not matter! We went at it shoulder and
elbows in the muddy fields and alongside the railway track. We threw one
another across point-rods and signal bars until we bled and sweated at
our work. I usually took on two men at a time and never got beaten. For
whole long months I was a complete mass of bruises, my skin was torn
from my arms, my clothes were dragged to ribbons, and my bones ached so
much that I could hardly sleep at night owing to the pain. I attended
contests in the music-halls, eager to learn tips from the professionals
who had acquired fame in the sporting world.

The shunter of our ballast train was a heavy-shouldered man, and he had
a bad temper and an unhappy knack of lifting his fists to those who were
afraid of him. He was a strong rung of a man, and he boasted about the
number of fights in which he had taken part. He was also a lusty liar
and an irrepressible swearer. Nearly everyone in the job was afraid of
him, and to the tune of a wonderful vocabulary of unprintable words he
bullied all Martin Rudor's men into abject submission. But that was an
easy task. He felt certain that every man on the permanent way feared
him, and maybe that was why he called me an Irish cur one evening. We
were shovelling ashes from the ballast waggons on one line into the
four-foot way of the other, and the shunter stood on the foot-board of
the break-van two truck lengths away from me. I threw my shovel down,
stepped across the waggons, and taking hold of the fellow by the neck
and waist I pulled him over the rim of the vehicle and threw him
headlong down the railway slope. I broke his coupling pole over my knee,
and threw the pieces at his head. The breaking of the coupling pole
impressed the man very much. Few can break one over their knees. When
the shunter came to the top of the slope again, he was glad to apologise
to me, and thus save himself further abuse.

That evening, when coming in from my work, I saw a printed announcement
stating that a well-known Japanese wrestler was offering ten pounds to
any man whom he could not overcome in less than five minutes in a
ju-jitsu contest. He was appearing in a hall on the south side of the
city, and he was well-known as an exponent of the athletic art.

I went to the hall that evening, hoping to earn the ten pounds. The
shunter was four stone heavier than I was, yet I overcame him easily,
and the victory caused me to place great reliance on myself.

I took a threepenny seat in the gallery, and waited breathless for the
coming of the wrestler. Several artists appeared, were applauded or
hissed, then went off the stage, but I took very little heed of their
performances. All my thoughts were centred on the pose which I would
assume when rising to accept the challenge.

Sitting next to me was a fat foreigner, probably a seller of
fish-suppers or ice-cream. I wondered what he would think of me when he
saw me rise to my feet and accept the challenge. What would the girl who
sat on the other side of me think? She kept eating oranges all the
evening, and giggling loudly at every indecent joke made by the actors.
She was somewhat the worse for liquor, and her language was far from
choice. She was very pretty and knew it. A half-dressed woman sang a
song, every stanza of which ended with a lewd chorus. The girl beside me
joined in the song and clapped her hands boisterously when the artiste
left the stage.

The wrestler was the star turn of the evening, and his exhibition was
numbered two on the programme. When the number went up my heart
fluttered madly, and I felt a great difficulty in drawing my breath.

The curtain rose slowly. A man in evening dress, bearing a folded paper
in his hand, came out to the front of the stage. One of the audience
near me applauded with his hands.

"That's nae a wrestler, you fool!" someone shouted. "You dinna ken what
you're clappin' about."


The audience took up the word and all shouted silence, until the din was

"Ladies and gentlemen," began the figure on the stage, when the noise

Everyone applauded again. Even the girl beside me blurted out "Hear!
hear!" through a mouthful of orange juice. Those who pay threepence for
their seats love to be called ladies and gentlemen.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure in introducin' U---- Y----,
the well-known exponent of the art of ju-jitsu."

A little dark man with very bright eyes stepped briskly on the stage,
and bowed to the audience, then folded his arms over his breast and
gazed into vacancy with an air of boredom. He wore a heavy overcoat
which lay open at the neck and exposed his chest muscles to the gaping

"Everybody here has heard of U---- Y----, no doubt." The evening dress
was speaking again. "He is well known in America, in England, and on the
continent. At the present time he is the undefeated champion of his
weight in all the world. He is now prepared to hand over the sum of ten
pounds to any man in the audience who can stand against him for five
minutes. Is there any gentleman in the audience prepared to accept the

"I could wrestle him mysel'," said the girl of the orange-scented breath
in a whisper. Apart from that there was silence.

"Is any man in the audience prepared to accept the offer and earn the
sum of ten pounds?" repeated the man on the stage.

"I am."

Somehow I had risen to my feet, and my words came out spasmodically.
Everyone in front turned round and stared at me. My seat-mate clapped
her hands, and the audience followed her example.

There is no need to give an account of the contest. Suffice to say that
I did not collar the ten-pound note, and that I had not the ghost of a
chance in the match. It only lasted for forty-seven seconds. The crowd
hissed me off the stage, and I got hurriedly into the street when I
regained my coat in the dressing-room. I went out into the night, sick
at heart, a defeated man, with another of my illusions dashed to pieces.
I took no interest in wrestling afterwards.



     "She learned the pitiful story, that they must suffer who live,
     While selling her soul in the gutters for all that the gutters

     --From _Lost Souls_.

There was a cold air running along the street when I stepped into the
open and took my way along the town to Moran's model where I lodged. I
felt disappointed, vexed, and ashamed of my ludicrous exhibition on the
stage. Forty-seven seconds! As I walked along I could hear the referee
repeating the words over and over again. Forty-seven seconds! I was both
angry and ashamed, angry at my own weakness, and ashamed of the
presumption which urged me to attack a professional athlete. I walked
quickly, trying to drive all memories of the night from my mind.

The hour of midnight rang out, and the streets were almost deserted.
Here and there a few night-prowlers stole out from some gloomy alley and
hurried along, bent, no doubt, upon some fell mission which could only
be carried through under cover of the darkness. Once a belated drunken
man swayed in front of me, and asked for a match to light his pipe. I
had none to give him, and he cursed me as I passed on. I met a few women
on the streets, young girls whose cheeks were very red, and whose eyes
were very bright. This was the hour when these, our little sisters,
carry on the trade which means life to their bodies and death to their
souls. It is so easy to recognise them! Their eyes sparkle brightly in
the lamplight; they speak light and trivial words to the men whom they
meet, and ever they hold their skirts lifted well over their ankles so
that those whom they meet may know of the goods which they sell. The
sisters of the street barter their chastity for little pieces of silver,
and from them money can purchase the rightful heritage of love.

These, like navvies, are outcasts and waifs of society. They are
despised by those who hide imperfections under the mask of decency, men
and women who are so conscious of their own shortcomings that they make
up for them by censuring those of others.

White slavery is now the term used in denoting these girls' particular
kind of slavery. But, bad as it is, it is chosen by many women in
preference to the slavery of the mill and the needle. As I write this,
there are many noble ladies, famed for having founded several societies
for the suppression of evils that never existed, who believe that the
solution of the white slave problem can only be arrived at by flogging
men who live on the immoral earnings of women. This solution if extended
might meet the case. In all justice the lash should be laid on the backs
of the employers who pay starvation wages, and the masters who fatten on
sweated labour. The slavery of the shop and the mill is responsible for
the shame of the street.

A girl came out from the shadow of a doorway, and walked along the
street in front of me, her head held down against the cutting breeze.
Sometimes she spoke words to the men who passed her, but all went on
unheeding. Only to those who were well-dressed and prosperous-looking
did she speak.

I thought of my own sisters away home in Ireland, and here, but for the
grace of God, went one of them. At that moment I felt sick of life and
sorry for civilisation and all its sin.

I detected something familiar in the figure of the woman before me.
Perhaps I had met the woman before. I overtook her, and when passing
looked at her closely.

"Under God, the day and the night, it's Dermod Flynn that's in it!" she
cried in a frightened voice.

I was looking at Norah Ryan. Just for a moment she was far from my
thoughts, and my mind was busy with other things. I had almost lost all
hopes of meeting her, and thought that she was dead or gone to a strange

"Is this you, Norah?" I asked, coming to a standstill, and putting out
the hand of welcome to her.

She seemed taken aback, and placed her hand timorously in mine. Her
cheeks were very red and her brow was as white as snow. She had hardly
changed in features since I had last seen her, years before. Now her
hair was hidden under a large hat; long ago it hung down in brown waving
tresses over her shoulders. The half-timid look was still in the grey
eyes of her, and Norah Ryan was very much the same girl who had been my
sweetheart of old. Only, now she had sinned and her shame of all shames
was the hardest to bear.

"Is it ye, yerself, that's in it, Dermod Flynn?" she asked, as if not
believing the evidence of her own eyes.

In her voice there was a great weariness, and at that moment the sound
of the waters falling over the high rocks of Glenmornan were ringing in
my ears. Also I thought of an early delicate flower which I had once
found killed by the cold snows on the high uplands of Danaveen, ere yet
the second warmth of the spring had come to gladden the bare hills of
Donegal. In those days, being a little child, I felt sorry for the
flower that died so soon.

"I didn't expect to meet ye here," said Norah. "Have ye been away back
and home since I saw ye last?"

"I have never been at home since," I answered. "Have you?"

"Me go home!" she replied. "What would I be doin' goin' home now with
the black mark of shame over me? Do ye think that I'd darken me mother's
door with the sin that's on me heavy, on me soul? Sometimes I'm thinkin'
long, but I never let on to anyone, and it's meself that would like to
see the old place again. It's a good lot I'd give to see the grey boats
of Dooey goin' out again beyont Trienna Bar in the grey duskus of the
harvest evenin'! Do ye mind the time ye were at school, Dermod, and the
way ye hit the master with the pointer?"

"I mind it well," I answered. "You said that he was dead when he dropped
on the form."

"And do ye mind the day that ye went over beyont the mountains with yer
bundle under yer arm? I met ye on the road and ye said that ye were
never comin' back."

"You did not care whether I returned or not," I said resentfully, unable
to account for my mood of the moment. "You did not even stop to bid me

"I was frightened of ye."

"Why were you frightened?"

"I don't know."

"But you did not even turn and look after me," I said.

"That was because I knew that ye, yerself, was lookin' behind."

"Do you remember the night on the 'Derry boat?" I asked.

"Quite well do I mind it, Dermod," she replied. "I often be thinkin' of
them days, I do, indeed."

She was looking at me with wistful and pathetic eyes, and the street
lamp beside us shone full on her face. There was a long interval of
silence, and I did not know what to say next. Many a time had I thought
of our next meeting, and my head was usually teeming with the words of
welcome which I would say to her. But now I was almost at a loss for one
single word. The situation was strained, and she showed signs of taking
her departure.

"Where are you going at this hour of the night, Norah?" I asked

"I'm goin' for a walk."

"Where are you working?"

Well did I know her work, but I could not resist asking her the
question. The next moment I was sorry for my words. Norah's face became
white, she stammered a few words about being a servant in a gentleman's
house, then suddenly burst into tears.

"Don't cry," I said in a lame sort of manner. "What's wrong?"

She kept her eyes fixed on the pavement, and did not answer. I could see
her bosom heaving, and hear the low sobs that she tried vainly to
suppress. We stood there for nearly five minutes without a word. Then
she held out her hand.

"Slan agiv,[12] Dermod," she said. "I must be goin'. It was good of ye
to speak to me in that nice way of yers, Dermod."

The hand which she placed in mine was limp and cold. I struggled to find
words to express my feelings at the moment, but my tongue was tied, and
my mind was teeming with thoughts which I could not express. She drew
her hand softly from mine and walked back the way she had come.

I stood there nonplussed, feeling conscious of some great wrong in
allowing that grey-eyed Irish girl to wander alone through the naked
streets of Glasgow. For years I had recognised the evils of
prostitution, but never had those evils come home so sharply to me as
they did at that moment. Despite my cynical views on love I had always
a feeling deeper than friendship for Norah Ryan, and at times when I
tried to analyse this feeling I found that it was not love; it was
something more constant, less rash and less wavering. It was not subject
to changes or stints, it was a hold-fast, the grip of which never

It was a love without any corporal end; its greatest desire did not turn
to the illusive delights of the marriage bed. My love had none of the
hunger of lust; it was not an appetite which might be satiated--it was
something far holier and more enduring. To me Norah represented a
poetical ideal; she was a saint, the angel of my dreams. Never for a
moment did I think of winning her love merely for the purpose of
condemning her to a hell of bearing me children. In all our poetry and
music of love we delight merely in the soft glance of eyes, the warm
touch of lips, the soft feel of a maiden's breast and the flutter of one
heart beating against another. But all love of women leads to passion,
and poetry or music cannot follow beyond a certain boundary. There
poetry dies, music falters, and the mark of the beast is over man in the
moments of his desire. But my love for Norah was different. To me she
represented a youthful ideal which was too beautiful and pure to be
degraded by anything in the world.

Norah had given her love to another. Who was I that I should blame her?
In her love she was helpless, for love is not the result of effort. It
cannot be stopped; its course cannot be stayed. As well ask the soft
spring meadows to prevent the rising freshet from wetting the green
grass, as ask a maiden to stem the torrent of the love which overwhelms
her. Love is not acquired; it is not a servant. It comes and is master.

Norah's sufferings were due to her innocence. She was betrayed when yet
a child, and a child is easily led astray. But to me she was still
pure, and I knew that there was no stain on the soul of her.

For a long while I stood looking after her and turning thoughts over in
my mind. In the far distance I could see her stealing along the pavement
like a frightened child who is afraid of the shadows. I turned and
followed her, keeping well in the gloom of the houses which lined the
pavement. She passed through many streets, stopping now and again to
speak to the men whom she met on her journey. Never once did she look
back. At the corner of Sauciehall Street, a well-dressed and
half-intoxicated man stopped and spoke to her. For a few seconds they
conversed; then the man linked his arm in hers and the two of them
walked off together.

I stood at the street corner, unable to move or act, and almost unable
to think. A blind rage welled up in my heart against the social system
that compelled women to seek a livelihood by pandering to the impurity
of men. Norah had come to Scotland holy and pure, and eager to earn the
rent of her mother's croft. She had earned many rents for the landlord
who had caused me sufferings in Mid-Tyrone and who was responsible for
the death of my brother Dan. To the same landlord Norah had given her
soul and her purity. The young girls of Donegal come radiantly innocent
from their own glens and mountains, but often, alas! they fall into sin
in a far country. It is unholy to expect all that is good and best from
the young girls who lodge with the beasts of the byre and swine of the
sty. I felt angry with the social system which was responsible for such
a state of affairs, but my anger was thrown away; it was a monstrous
futility. The social system is not like a person; one man's anger cannot
remedy it, one man's fist cannot strike at its iniquities.

Norah had now disappeared, and with my brain afire I followed her round
the turn of the street. What I intended to do was even a riddle to
myself. When I overtook them the man who accompanied Norah would bear
the impress of my knuckles for many days. Only of this was I certain. I
turned into several streets and searched until three o'clock in the
morning. But she had gone out of my sight once again. Then I went home
to bed, but not to sleep.

Sick at heart and a prey to remorse, I prowled through the streets for
many nights afterwards, looking for Norah. I did not meet her again, and
only too late did I realise the opportunity which I had let slip when I
met her at midnight in the city. But meeting her as I had met her on the
streets, I found myself faced with a new problem, which for a moment
overwhelmed and snapped the springs of action within me. In Glenmornan
Norah would now be known as "that woman," and the Glenmornan pride makes
a man much superior to women who make the great mistake of life. Thank
goodness! the Glenmornan pride was almost dead within my heart. I
thought that I had killed it years before, but there, on the streets of
Glasgow, I found that part of it was remaining when I met with Norah
Ryan. It rose in rebellion when I spoke to the girl who had sinned, it
checked the impulse of my heart for just a moment, and in that moment
she whom I loved had passed out of my sight and perhaps out of my life.

Life on the railway, always monotonous, became now dreary and dragging.
Day and night my thoughts were turning to her whom I loved, and my heart
went out to the girl who was suffering in a lonely town because she
loved too well. I was now almost a prey to despair, and in order to
divert my mind somewhat from the thoughts that embittered my life I
began to write for the papers again.

Ideas came to me while at work, and these I scribbled down on scraps of
paper when the old psalm-singing ganger was not watching me. When I got
back to Moran's in the evening I worked the ideas into prose or verse
which I sent out to various papers. Many of my verses appeared in a
Glasgow paper, and I got paid at the rate of three-and-sixpence a poem.
Later on I wrote for London weeklies, and these paid me better for my
work. Some editors wrote very nice letters to me, others sent my stuff
back, explaining that lack of space prevented them from publishing it. I
often wondered why they did not speak the truth. A navvy who generally
speaks the truth finds it difficult to distinguish the line of
demarcation which runs between falsehood and politeness. Most of my
spare evenings I gave up to writing, but often I found myself out in the
street where I had met Norah Ryan, and sometimes I wandered there until
four o'clock in the morning, but never once set eyes on her.

A literary frenzy took possession of me for a while. I bought
second-hand books on every subject, and studied all things from the
infinitely great to the infinitesimally little. Microbes and mammoths,
atoms and solar systems--I learned a little of all and everything of
none. I wrote, not for the love of writing as much as to drown my own
introspective humours, but in no external thing was I interested enough
to forget my own thoughts.

I studied literary style, and but for that I might have by this time
cultivated a style of my own; I read so much that now I have hardly an
original idea left. Only lately have I come to the conclusion that true
art, the only true art, is that which appeals to the simple people. When
writing this book I have been governed by this conclusion, and have
endeavoured to tell of things which all people may understand.

Most of my articles and stories came back with the precision of
boomerangs, weapons of which I have heard much talk, and which are said
to come back to the hand of the man who throws them away; some were
published and never paid for, and some never came back at all.

Suddenly it occurred to me that editors might like to publish articles
on subjects which were seldom written about. I wrote about the navvies'
lives again; the hopes and sorrows and aspirations of the men of the
hovel, model, and road. Several papers took my articles, and for a while
I drew in a decent penny for my literary work. Indeed, I had serious
intentions of giving up manual labour and taking to the pen for good.
Some of my stories again appeared in the _Dawn_, the London daily paper
which had published my Kinlochleven stories, and on one fine morning I
received a letter from the editor asking me to come and take a job on
the staff of his paper. He offered me two pounds a week as salary, and
added that I was certain to attain eminence in the position which was
now open to me. I decided to go, not because I had any great desire for
the job, but because I wanted to get rid of old Rudor and his gang, and
I also wanted to see London. Being wise enough to throw most of the
responsibility on the person who suggested such a change in my life and
work, I answered the editor, saying that though I was a writer among
navvies I might merely be a navvy among writers, and that journalistic
work was somewhat out of my line. Still the editor persisted and
enclosed the cost of my railway fare to London. To go I was not
reluctant, to leave I was not eager. I accepted because the change
promised new adventures, but there was no excitement in my heart, for
now I took things almost as they came, unmoved and uncaring. Norah had
gone out of my life, which, full of sorrow for losing her, was empty
without her. The enthusiasm which once winged my way along the leading
road to Strabane was now dead within me.

I washed the dirt of honest work from my hands and face, and the whole
result of seven years' hard labour was dissipated in the wash-tub. Then
I went out and bought two ready-made suits and several articles of
attire which I felt would be necessary for my new situation. I packed
these up, and with my little handbag for company I went out from Moran's
model by Glasgow wharf, and caught the night express for London.


[12] Good-bye; literally, "Health be with you."



     "A newspaper is as untruthful as an epitaph."


I had never seen an omnibus. I did not know that it was necessary to
take off my hat when entering a dwelling. I had never used a fork when
eating. I had never been introduced to a lady; to me the approved form
of introduction was a mystery. My boots had not been blackened for
years. I wore my first collar when setting out for London. It nearly
choked me. Since leaving Glenmornan I had rarely been inside an ordinary
dwelling house. Most of the time I had lived under God's sky, the roof
of a byre, and the tarred wooden covering of the navvies' shack at
Kinlochleven. I had, it is true, seen the inside of a drawing-room and a
dining-room--through the window. I lacked knowledge of most of the
things which most people know and which really do not matter. I went to
London a greenhorn gloriously green.

Outside Euston station I asked a man the way to Fleet Street. He
inquired if I was going to walk or take an omnibus. Omnibus! I had never
heard of an omnibus; he might have asked me if I intended to ride on a
pterodactyl! I said that I was going to walk, and the stranger gave me
several hints as to the direction which I should follow. Even if I had
understood what he was saying, I am certain that I could not have
remembered the directions. When he finished, he asked me for the price
of his breakfast. This I understood, and gave him threepence, which
pleased the man mightily.

It was funny that the first man accosted by me in London should ask for
the price of a meal. The prospects of making a fortune looked poor at
the moment.

I walked to Fleet Street, making inquiries from policemen on the way.
This was safest, and I hadn't to pay for a meal when my questions were
answered. By ten o'clock I found myself at the office of the _Dawn_, and
there I met the editor.

The editor was a Frenchman, short of stature and breath. His figure was
ridiculously rotund, and his little legs were so straight that they
looked as if they were jointless. He would not have made much of a show
on a ten-hour shift in the cutting of Kinlochleven, and though Fleet
Street knows that he is one of the ablest editors in London I had not
much respect for the man when I first saw him. He was busily engaged in
looking through sheets of flimsy when I entered, and for a few minutes
he did not take much notice of me. He called me Pim, asked me several
questions about the navvies, my politics and writings. He looked annoyed
when I said I was a socialist.

"A writer among navvies, and a navvy among writers; is that it?" asked
the news-editor when I entered his office, a stuffy little place full of
tobacco smoke. "You see that we have heard of you here. Going to try
your hand at journalism now, are you? Feeling healthy and fit?"

He plied me with several questions relating to my past life, took no
heed of my answers and, fumbling amongst a pile of papers, he drew out a
type-written slip.

"I have a story for you," he said. "A fire broke out early this morning
in a warehouse in Holborn. Go out and get all the facts relating to it
and work the whole affair up well. If you do not know where Holborn is,
make enquiries."

I met a third man, a young, clean-shaven, alert youth, in the passage
outside the news-editor's door.

"Are you Flynn?" he asked, and when I answered in the affirmative he
shook hands with me. "My name is Barwell," he continued. "I am a
journalist like yourself. What the devil caused you to come here?"

I had no excuses to offer.

"You might have stayed where you were," said Barwell. "You'll find that
a navvies' office is much better than a newspaper office. Have you had

"No," I answered. It was now nearly one o'clock, but I had not had
breakfast yet. I had never been inside a restaurant in my life, and the
daintily-dressed waitresses and top-hatted feeders deterred me from
entering that morning. I might have done something unbecoming and
stupid, and in a strange place I am sensitive and shy.

"Come along then. We'll go out together and feed."

We entered a restaurant in the Strand, and my friend ordered lunch for
two. During the course of the meal I suffered intense mental agony. The
fork was a problem, the serviette a mystery, and I felt certain that
everybody in the place was looking at me.

"The news-editor has asked me to write an account of a fire in Holborn,"
I said to Barwell when we had eaten, "Do you know where Holborn is?"

"The whole account of the fire is given in the evening papers," said
Barwell. "Therefore you do not require to go near the place."

"You mean----"

"Exactly what you are going to say," said the young man looking at the
copy of the evening paper which he had bought at the door when entering.
"You can write your story now and get the facts from this. Have you a
pencil and notebook?"


"If you are going to take up journalism they are the initial and
principal requirements. Beyond a little tact and plenty of cheek you
require nothing else. A conscience and a love of truth are great
drawbacks. Are you ready?"

He handed me a pencil and notebook.

"Now begin. The opening sentence must be crisp and startling; and never
end your sentences with prepositions."

"But I know nothing about the fire," I expostulated.

"Oh! I've forgotten." He picked up the paper which he had
absent-mindedly kicked under the table. "Now you are all right. Get your
facts from this rag, but write the story in your own way. You'll find
this good training if ever you've got to weave out lies of your own.
Meanwhile I've three or four novels to review."

As he spoke he opened a parcel which he had brought along with him, and
took out several books which he regarded critically for a moment.

"Are they worth reading?" I asked.

"I do not know."

"You do not know and you're going to review them!"

"It's bad policy to read a book before you review it," he answered. "It
is apt to give rise to prejudice. This volume," taking up one in his
hand as he spoke, "_The Woman who Fell_, is written by a personal friend
of the editor. I must review it favourably. This one, _In the Teeth of
the Tempest_, is written by a strong supporter of the Liberal
Government. The _Dawn_ is tory, the author is liberal, therefore his
work must be slated. See?"

"But your own opinion----"

"What the devil do I need with an opinion of my own?"

Thereupon Barwell reviewed the books which he had not read and I muddled
through an account of the fire which I had not seen, and when we had
finished we took our way into the street again.

Although it was barely past three o'clock, the early December night had
now fallen. Fleet Street was a blaze of light and a medley of taxi-cabs
and omnibuses. Except for the down-at-heel mendicant, and the women who
had more paint than modesty, everybody was in a great hurry.

"What do you think of it all, Flynn?" asked Barwell suddenly. "Isn't it
a great change from your past life? London! there's no place like it in
all the world! Light loves and light ladies, passion without soul,
enjoyment without stint, and sin without scandal or compunction."

"Only those with some idea of virtue can sin with compunction," I said.
This thought came to me suddenly, and Barwell looked surprised at my

"By Jove! that's so," he answered, scribbling my remark down on his
notebook. "Well, what is your opinion of London, all that you have seen
of it?"

"What the devil do I want with an opinion?" I asked, quoting his own

"Quite so; but we are now speaking in a confidential, not in a
journalistic sense. Do you not think that it is a heavenly privilege to
be allowed to write lies for a kingdom of fools within ninety-eight
million miles of the sun? You'll fall in love with London directly, old
man, for it is the centre of the universe. The world radiates outwards
from Charing Cross and revolves around the Nelson column. London is the
world, journalism is the midden of creation."

"Do you really think that men are acting in a straightforward manner by
writing unfair and untruthful articles for the public?" I asked.

"The public is a crowd of asses and you must interest it. You are paid
to interest it with plausible lies or unsavoury truths. An unsavoury
truth is always palatable to those whom it does not harm. Our readers
gloat over scandal, revel in scandal, and pay us for writing it. Learn
what the public requires and give it that. Think one thing in the
morning and another at night; preach what is suitable to the mob and
study the principle of the paper for which you write. That's how you
have to do it, Flynn. A paper's principle is a very subtle thing, and it
must be studied. Every measure passed in Parliament affects it, it
oscillates to the breezes of public opinion and it is very intangible.
The principle of a daily paper is elusive, old man, damned elusive. Come
in and have a whisky and soda."

"Not elusive but changeable, I suppose," I said, alluding to his
penultimate remark as we stood at the bar of the wine shop. "The
principles of the _Dawn_ are rather consistent, are they not?"

"The principles oscillate, old man. Your health, and may you live until
newspapers are trustworthy! Consistent, eh? Some day you'll learn of the
inconsistencies of Fleet Street, Flynn. Here the Jew is an advocate of
Christianity, the American of Protection, the poet a compiler of
statistics, the penny-a-liner a defender of the idle rich, and the
reporter with anarchistic ideas a defender of social law and order. Here
charlatans, false as they are clever, play games in which the pawns are
religion and atheism, and make, as suits their purpose, material
advantages of the former or a religion of the latter. Fleet Street is
the home of chicanery, of fraud, of versatile vices and unnumbered sins.
It is an outcome of the civilisation which it rules, a framer of the
laws which it afterwards destroys or protects at caprice; without
conscience or soul it dominates the world. Only in its falseness is it
consistent. Truth is further removed from its jostling rookeries than
the first painted savage who stoned the wild boar in the sterile wastes
of Ludgate Circus."

Barwell's gestures were as astonishing as his eloquence. One hand
clutched the lapel of his coat; in the other he held the glass of liquor
which he shook violently when reaching the zenith of his harangue. The
whisky splashed and sparkled and kept spurting over the rim of the glass
until most of the contents were emptied on the floor. He hardly drank a
quarter of the liquor. We went out, and once in the street he continued
his vehement utterances.

"Take the _Dawn_ for example," he said. "The editor is a Frenchman, the
leader-writer a German, the American special correspondent an Irishman
who came to England on a cattle boat and who has never ventured on the
sea since. The _Dawn_ advocates Tariff Reform, and most of the reporters
are socialists. The leader-writer points out the danger of a German
menace daily. What influences one of the Kaiser's subjects to sit down
and, for the special benefit of the British nation, write a thrilling
warning against the German menace? Salary or conscience, eh? The _Dawn_
knows the opinions of Germany before Germany has formed an opinion, and
gives particulars of the grave situation in the Far East before the
chimerical situation has evolved from its embryological stages.
Consistent, my dear fellow? It is only consistent in its
inconsistencies. The reviewers seldom read the books which they review
in its pages, and the quack suffers from the ills which through its
columns he professes to cure. The bald man who sells a wonderful hair
restorer, the cripple who can help the lame, and the anæmic pill-maker
who professes ability to cure any disease, all advertise in the _Dawn_.
A newspaper is as untruthful as an epitaph, Flynn."

"If you dislike the work so much why do you remain on the staff?" I

"I do not dislike it. Being by nature a literary Philistine and vagabond
journalist, I love the work. Anyhow, there is nothing else which I can
do. If I happened to be placed on a square acre of earth fresh from the
hands of the Creator, and given a spade and shovel to work with, what
use could I make of those tools of labour? I could not earn my living
with a spade and shovel. It was for the like of us that London and
journalism were created."

For a while I was very much out of my place at my quarters in
Bloomsbury, for it was in that locality that I obtained rooms along with
Barwell. Everything in the place was a fresh experience to me; at the
dinner-table I did not know the names of the dishes. The table napkins
were problems which were new to me, and the frilled and collared
maid-servant was a phenomena, disconcerting and unavoidable.

I who had cooked my own chops for the best part of seven years, I who
had dined in moleskin and rags for such a long while, felt the handicap
of dining inside four walls, hemmed with restraint, and almost choked
with the horrible starched abomination which decency decreed that I
should wear around my neck. It was very wearisome. Barwell was utterly
careless and outraged custom with impunity, but I, who feared to do the
wrong thing, always remained on the tenter-hooks of suspense. Barwell
knew what should be done and seldom did it, while I, who was only
learning the very rudimentary affectations of civilised society, took
care to follow out the most stringent commands of etiquette whenever I
became aware of those commands.

At the office of the _Dawn_ I was reticent and backward. I lacked the
cleverness, the smartness and readiness of expression with which other
members of the staff were gifted. I had come into a new world, utterly
foreign to me, and often I longed to be back again with Moleskin Joe on
some long road leading to nowhere.

For a while my stories were not successful, although I made a point of
seeing the things of which I wrote. I came back to the office every
evening full of my subject, whether a florist's exhibition, a cat show,
or a police court case, and sat down seriously to write my story. When
half-written I tore it up seriously and began again. When satisfied with
the whole completed account I took it to the sub-editor, who read it
seriously and seriously threw it into the waste-paper basket. At the end
of the first week I found that only two articles of mine had appeared in
the _Dawn_. I had written eight.

"You write in too serious a vein for a modern paper," said the

When the spring came round I could feel, even in Fleet Street, the spell
of the old roving days come over me; those days when Moleskin and I
tramped along the roads of Scotland, thanking God for the little scraps
of tobacco which we found in our pockets, while wondering where the next
pipeful could be obtained! My heart went out to the old mates and the
old places. I had a longing for the little fire in the darkness, the
smell of the wet earth, the first glimpse of the bend in the road, and
the dream about the world of mystery lying round the corner. When I went
across Blackfriars Bridge, or along the Strand, on a cold, bracing
morning, I wanted to walk on ever so far, away--away. Where to--it
didn't matter. The office choked me, smothered me; it felt so like a
prison. I wanted to be with Moleskin Joe, and often I asked myself,
"Where is he now? what is my old comrade doing at this moment? Is the
old vagabond still happy in his wanderings and his hopes of a good time
coming, or has he finished up his last shift and handed in his final
check for good and all?" Often I longed to see him again and travel with
him to new and strange places.

Of my salary, now three pounds a week, I sent a guinea home to my own
people every Saturday. Of course, now, getting so much, they wanted
more. Journalism to them implied some hazy kind of work where money was
stint-less and to be had for the asking. My other brothers were going
out into the world now, and my eldest sister had gone to America. "I
wish that I could keep _them_ at home," wrote my mother. "_You_ are so
long away now that we do not miss you."

"Will you go down to Cyfladd, Flynn, and write some 'stories' about the
coal strike?" asked the news editor one morning. "I think that you have
a natural bent for these labour affairs. Your navvy stories were
undoubtedly good, and even a spicy bit of socialism added to their

"Spicy bit of socialism, indeed!" broke in the irrepressible Barwell.
"The day will come when the working men of England shall invade London
and decorate Fleet Street with the gibbeted bodies of hireling editors.
Have you a cigarette to spare, Manwell?"

"You go down to Cyfladd, Flynn," said the news editor, handing his
cigarette-case to Barwell. "See what is doing there and write up good
human stories dealing with the discontent of the workers. Do not be
afraid to state things bluntly. Tell about their drinking and
quarrelling, and if you come across miners who are in good circumstance
don't fail to write about it."

"But suppose for a moment that he comes across men who are really poor,
men who may not have had enough wages to make both ends meet, what is he
to do?" asked loquacious Barwell, the socialistic Philistine, who played
with ideas for the mere sake of the ideas. "For myself, I do not believe
in the right to strike, and I admire the man who starves to death
without making a fuss. Why should uncultured and uneducated miners
create a fuss if they are starved to death in order to satisfy the needs
of honourable and learned gentlemen? What right has a common worker to
ask for higher wages? What right has he to take a wife and bring up
children? The children of the poor should be fattened and served up on
the tables of the rich, as advocated by Dean Swift in an age prior to
the existence of the _Dawn_. The children of the poor who cannot become
workers become wastrels; the rich wastrels wear eye-glasses and spats.
We have no place in the scheme of things for the wastrels who wear
neither eye-glasses nor spats, therefore I believe that it would be good
for the nation if many of the children of the poor were fattened,
killed, and eaten. But I am wandering from the point. Let us look at the
highly improbable supposition of which I have spoken. It is highly
improbable, of course, that there are poor people amongst the miners,
for they have little time to spend the money which they take so long to
earn. Now and again they die, leaving a week's wages lying at the
pay-office. I have heard of cases like that several times. These men,
who are out on strike, may leave a whole week's pay to their wives and
children when they die, and for all that they grumble and go out on
strike! But we cannot expect anything else from uneducated workmen. I am
wandering from the point again, and the point is this: Suppose, for an
instant, that Flynn doesn't find a rich, quarrelsome, and drunken miner
in Cyfladd, what is he to do? Return again?"

"You're a fool, Barwell!" said the news editor.

"Manwell, you're a confirmed fool," Barwell replied.

I put on my coat and hat, stuffed my gloves, which I hated, into my
pocket, and went out into the street. The morning was dry and cold, the
air was exhilarating and good to breathe. I gulped it down in mighty
mouthfuls. It was good to be in the open street and feel the little
winds whipping by in mad haste. Up in the office, steaming with
cigarette smoke, it was so stuffy, so dead. Everything there was so
artificial, so unreal, and I was altogether out of sympathy with all the
individuals on the _Dawn_. "Do I like the _Dawn_?" I asked myself. I
wanted to face things frankly at that moment. "Do I like journalism, or
merely feel that I should like it?" But I made no effort to answer the
question; it was not very important, and now I was walking hurriedly,
trying to keep myself warm. Two things occurred to me at the same
instant: I was short of money and I had not asked for my railway fare to
Wales at the office. Where did the train start from? Was it Euston? I
did not exactly know, and somehow it didn't seem to matter.

I would not go to Wales; I did not want to analyse my reasons for not
going, but I was determined not to go. I felt that in going I would be
betraying my own class, the workers. Moleskin Joe would never dream of
doing a thing like that; why should I? I must make some excuse at the
office, I thought, but asked myself the next instant why should I make
any excuses? Besides, the office was like a prison; it choked me. I
wanted to leave, but somehow felt that I ought not.

I found myself going along Gray's Inn Road towards my lodging-house. A
girl opened a window and looked at me with a vacant stare. She was
speaking to somebody in the room behind her and her voice trailed before
me like a thin mist. She somewhat resembled Norah Ryan: the same white
brow, the red lips, only that this girl had a sorrowful look in her
eyes, as if too many weary thoughts had found expression there.

How often during the last four months had I thought of Norah Ryan. I
longed for her with a mighty longing, and now that she was alone and in
great trouble it was my duty to help her. I felt angry with myself for
going up to London when I should have followed up my holier mission in
Glasgow. What was fortune and fame to me if I did not make the girl whom
I really loved happy? Daily it became clearer to me that I was earnestly
and madly in love with Norah. We were meant for one another from
childhood, although destiny played against us for a while. I would find
her again and we would be happy, very happy, together, and the past
would be blotted out in the great happiness which would be ours in the
future. To me Norah was always pure and always good. In her I saw no
wrong, no sin, and no evil. I would look for her until I found her, and
finding her would do my best to make her happy.

The girl closed the window as I passed. I came to my lodgings, paid the
landlady, and wrote to the Dawn saying that I was leaving London. I
intended to tramp to the north, but a story of mine had just been
published in ---- and the money came to hand while I was settling with
the landlady.

I learned later that Barwell went down to Wales. That night I set off by
rail for Glasgow.



     "When I go back to the old pals,
     'Tis a glad, glad boy I'll be;
     With them will I share the doss-house bunk
     And join their revels with glee,
     And the lean men of the lone shacks
     Will share their tucker with me."

     --From _Songs of the Dead End_.

I pawned my good clothes, my overcoat, and handbag in Glasgow, took a
bed in Moran's model by the wharf, and once again recommenced my search
for Norah.

The search was both fruitless and tiring. Day after day I prowled
through the streets, and each succeeding midnight found me on the spot
where I had met Norah on the evening of my wrestling encounter. For
hours I would stand motionless at the street corner and scrutinise every
woman who passed me by. Sometimes in these children of the night I
fancied that I detected a resemblance to her whom I loved. With a
flutter in my heart I would hurry forward, only to find that I was
mistaken. Disappointed, I would once again resume my vigil, and
sometimes the grey smoky dawn was slanting across the dull roofs of the
houses before I sought my model and bed. It is a weary job, looking for
a friend in a great big city. One street is more perplexing than a
hundred miles of open country. A window or a wall separates you from her
whom you seek. You pass day after day, perhaps, within speaking distance
of her whom you love, and never know that she is near you. Every door
is a puzzle, every lighted window an enigma. The great city is a Sahara,
in which you look for one special grain of sand; and doubt, perplexity,
and heart yearning accompany you on your mission. I could not write,
neither could I turn my attention to manual labour. My whole being was
centred on my search, and the thought of anything else was repugnant to
me. My desire for Norah grew and grew, it filled my soul, leaving no
room for anything else.

To Moran's, where I stayed, the navvies came daily when out on their
eternal wanderings, and here I met many of my old mates. They came,
stopped for a night, and then padded out for Rosyth, where the big naval
base, still in process of construction, was then in its first stages of
building. Most of the men had heard of my visit to London, and none
seemed surprised at my return. None of them thought that the job had
done me much good, for now my hands were as white as a woman's. Carroty
Dan, who came in drunk one night, examined me critically and allowed
that he could knock me out easily in my present condition, but being too
drunk to follow up any train of reasoning he dropped, in the midst of
his utterances, on the sawdust of the floor and fell asleep. Hell-fire
Gahey, Clancy of the Cross, Ben the Moocher, and Red Billy Davis all
passed through Moran's, one of their stages on the road to Rosyth. Most
of them wanted me to accompany the big stampede, but I had no ear for
their proposals. I had a mission of my own, and until it was completed
no man could persuade me to leave Glasgow.

I made enquiries about Moleskin Joe. Most of the men had met Moleskin
lately, but they did not know where he was at the moment. Some said that
he was in gaol, one that he was dead, and another that he was married.
But I knew that if he was alive, and that if I stopped long enough in
Moran's, I would meet him there, for most navvies pass that way more
than once in their lives. I had, however, lost a great deal of interest
in Moleskin's doings. There was only one thing for which I now lived,
and that was the search for the girl whom I loved.

One morning about four o'clock I returned to my lodgings and stole
upstairs to the bedroom, which contained three other beds in addition to
mine. The three were occupied, and as I turned on the gas I took a
glimpse of the sleepers. Two of them I did not know, but I gave a start
of surprise when I caught a glimpse of the unshaven face showing over
the blankets of the bed next to mine. I was looking at Moleskin Joe. I
approached the bed. The man was snoring loudly and his breath was heavy
with the fumes of alcohol. I clutched the blankets and shook the

"Moleskin!" I shouted.

He grumbled out some incoherent words and turned over on his side.

"Moleskin!" I called again, and gave him a more vigorous shake.

"Lemme alone, damn you!" he growled. "There's a good time comin'----"

The sentence ended in a snore and Joe fell asleep again. I troubled him
no further, but turned off the light and slipped into bed.

In the morning I woke with a start to find Joe shaking me with all his
might. He was standing beside my bed, undressed, save for his trousers.

"Flynn!" he yelled, when I opened my eyes. "My great unsanctified
Pontius Pilate, it's Flynn! Hurrah! May the walls of hell fall on me if
I'm not glad to see you. May I get a job shoein' geese and drivin' swine
to clover if this is not the greatest day of my life! Dermod Flynn, I am
glad to see---- Great blazes, your hands are like the hands of a brothel

Joe left off his wild discourses and prodded the hand which I placed
over the blankets with his knuckles. He was still half intoxicated, and
a bottle three-quarters full of spirits was lying against the pillow of
his bed.

"White as a mushroom, but hard as steel," he said when he finished

"How are you, Moleskin?" I asked. They were the first words that I had

"Nine pounds to the good!" he roared. "I'll paint Moran's red with it.
I'll raise Cain and flamin' fiery hell until ev'ry penny's spent. Then
Rosyth, muck barrows, hard labour, and growlin' gangers again. But who'd
have thought of seen' you here!" he went on in a quieter tone. "Man!
I've often been thinkin' of you. I heard that you went up to Lon'on,
then I found the name of the paper where you were workin' your shifts
and I bought it ev'ry day. By God! I did, Flynn. I read all them great
pieces about the East Lon'on workin' people. I read some of your
writin's to the men in Burn's at Greenock, and some of the lodgers said
that you were stuck up and priggish. I knew what you'd do if you were
there yourself. You would knock red and blue blazes out of ev'ry man of
them. Well, you weren't there and I done the job for you. Talk about
skin and hair! It was flyin' all over the place between the hot-plate
and the door for two hours and longer. I'm damned eternal if it wasn't a
fight! Never seen the like of it.... Man! your hands are like a woman's,
Flynn!... Come and have a drink, one good long, gulpin' drink, and it
will make a man of you!... Did you like the ways of London?"

"No," I replied. "The pen was not in my line."

"I knew that," said Joe solemnly, as he lifted the bottle from the
pillow. "Finger doctorin' doesn't suit a man like you. When you work you
must get your shoulder at the job and all the strength of your spine
into the graft. Have some blasted booze?"

"I've given up the booze, Moleskin," I answered.

He glanced at me with a look of frosty contempt and his eyes were fixed
for a long while on my white hands.

"Lon'on has done for you, man, and it is a pity indeed," he said at
last, but I understood Moleskin and knew that his compassion was given
more in jest than in earnest. "What are you goin' to do? Are you for


"Then why the devil aren't you?"

"Are you going there?" I asked, forgetting that he had already told me
of his design.

"When I burst the last tanner in my pocket," he answered. "I've nine
quid clear, so I'll get drunk nine hundred times and more. What caused
you to give up the booze? A woman, was it?"

Suddenly the impulse came to me and I told Joe my story, my second
meeting with Norah Ryan, and my desire to see her again. There in the
ragged bed, with Joe stripped naked to the buff, and half drunk, sitting
beside me, I told the story of my love for Norah, our parting, her
shame, and my weary searching for her through the streets of Glasgow.
Much of the story he knew, for I had told it to him in Kinlochleven long
before. But I wanted to unburden myself of my sorrow, I wanted sympathy,
I wanted the consolation of a fellow-man in my hours of worry. When I
had finished my mate remained silent for a long while and I expected his
usual tirades against women when he began to speak. On the contrary, the
story seemed to have sobered him and his voice was full of feeling when
he spoke.

"I'm goin' to help you to find your wench, Dermod," he said. "That's
better than gettin' drunk, though I'd prefer gettin' drunk to gettin'


"Don't but me!" roared Joe. "I'm goin' to give you a hand. Do you like
that or do you not?"

"I'll be more than glad to have your help," I answered; "but----"

"No more damned buts, but let's get to business. Here, Judas Iscariot,
are you feelin' sour this mornin'?"

Joe spoke to one of the lodgers, a hairy and deformed fellow who was
just emerging in all his nakedness from the blankets.

"Hellish sour, Moleskin!" answered the man. "Anything to spare?"

"Take this and get drunk out of sight," said Moleskin, handing him the

"You mean it?" exclaimed the man. "You are goin' to give me the whole

"Take it and get out of my sight," was all that Joe said and the old man
left the room, hugging the bottle under his naked arm.

"He was a bank clerk did you say?" asked Moleskin. "Them sort of fellows
that wear white collars and are always washing themselves. I never could
trust them, Flynn, never in all my natural. Now give me the farmer
cully's address; maybe he knows where your wench is."

In my heart of hearts I knew that the mission proposed by Joe would have
no beneficial results, but I could not for the life of me say a word to
restrain him from going. In my mind there was a blind trust in some
unshapen chance and I allowed Joe to have his way.

The farmhouse where Alec Morrison lived being twenty miles distant from
Glasgow, I offered Joe his railway fare, and for a moment I was
overwhelmed by his Rabelaisian abuse. He would see me fried on the
red-hot ovens and spits of hell if ever I offered him money again.

Morrison maybe was not at home; perhaps he had gone to London, to
Canada. But Joe would find him out, I thought; and it was with a
certain amount of satisfaction that I remembered having heard how Joe
once fought a man twenty-six times, and getting knocked out every time
challenged his opponent to a twenty-seventh contest. In the last fight
my mate was victorious.

During his absence I moped about, unable to work, unable to think, and
hoping against hope that the mission would be successful. Late in the
afternoon he returned with a sprained thumb and without any tidings of
my sweetheart. The clerk was at home, and the encounter with Joe was
violent from the outset. Morrison said that my mate was a fool who had
nothing better to do than meddle with the morals of young women; and
refused to answer any questions. Joe took the matter in hand in his
usual fistic and persuasive way and learned that the farmer's son had
not seen Norah for years and that he did not know where she was. Joe,
angry at his failure, sprained his thumb on the young man's face before
coming back to Glasgow.

"And what was the good of this?" said Moleskin, holding up his sprained
thumb and looking at it. "It didn't give one much satisfaction to knock
him down. He is a fellow with no thoughts in his head; one of them kind
that thinks three shillings a week paid to a woman will wipe out any sin
or shame. By God! I'm a bad one, Flynn, damned bad, but I hope that I've
been worse to myself than anybody on this or the other side of the
grave. Look at these young women who come over from Ireland! I'd rather
have the halter of Judas Iscariot round my neck than be the cause of
sendin' one of them to the streets, and all for the woman's sake, Flynn.
There should be something done for these women. If we find a tanner
lying in the mud we lift and rub it on our coats to clean it; but if we
find a woman down we throw more mud over her.... I like you, Flynn, for
the way you stand up for that wench of yours. Gold rings, collars, and
clean boots, and under it all a coward. That's what Morrison is."

"What is to be done now?" I asked. Joe was silent, but his mind was at
work. All that evening he sat by the bed, his mind deep in thought,
while I paced up and down the room, a prey to agony and remorse.

"I have it, Flynn," he cried at length. "I have it, man!" He jumped up
from his bed in great excitement.

"Your wench was Catholic and she would go to the chapel; a lot of them
do. They steal into church just like thieves, almost afraid to ask
pardon for their sins, Flynn. If there is anything good in them they
hide it, just as another person would hide a fault; but maybe some
priest knows her, some priest on the south side. We'll go and ask one of
the clergy fellows thereabouts. Maybe one of them will have met the
woman. I've never knew a----" He stopped suddenly and left the sentence

"Go on," I said. "What were you going to say?"

"Most of the women that I know go to church."

His words spoke volumes. Well did I know the class of women who were
friends of Moleskin Joe, and from personal experience I knew that his
remarks were true.

It was now eight o'clock. We went out together and sought the priest who
had charge of the chapel nearest the spot where many months before I had
met Norah Ryan. The priest was a grey-haired and kindly old Irishman,
and he welcomed us heartily. Joe, to whom a priest represented some kind
of monster, was silent in the man's presence, but I, having been born
and bred a Roman Catholic, was more at home with the old man.

I told my story, but he was unable to offer any assistance. His
congregation was a large one and many of its members were personally
unknown to him.

"But in the confessional, Father," I said. "Probably there you have
heard a story similar to mine. Maybe the girl whom I seek has told you
of her life when confessing her sins. Perhaps you may recollect hearing
such a story in the confessional, Father."

"It may be, but in that case the affair rests between the penitent and
God," said the old priest sadly, and a far-away look came into his
kindly eyes.

"If the disclosure of a confessional secret brings happiness to one
mortal at the expense of none, is it not best for a man to disclose it?"
I asked.

"I act under God's orders and He knows what is best," said the old man,
and there was a touch of reproof in his voice.

Sick at heart, I rose to take my leave. Moleskin, glad to escape from
the house, hurried towards the door which the priest opened. As I was
passing out, the old man laid a detaining hand upon my arm.

"In a situation like this, one of God's servants hardly knows what is
best to do," he said in a low whisper which Moleskin, already in the
street, could not hear. "Perhaps it is not contrary to God's wishes that
I should go against His commands and make two of His children happy even
in this world. Three months ago, your sweetheart was in this very
district, in this parish, and in this chapel. Do not ask me how I have
learned this," he hurried on, as I made a movement to interrupt him. "If
I mistake not she was then in good health and eager to give up a certain
sin, which God has long since forgiven. Be clean of heart, my child, and
God will aid you in your search and you'll surely find her."

He closed the door softly behind me and once again I found myself in the
street along with Moleskin.

"What was the fellow sayin' to you?" asked my mate.

"He says that he has seen her three months ago," I answered. "But
goodness knows where she is now!"

In the subsequent search Moleskin showed infinite resource. Torn by the
emotions of love, I could not form correct judgments. No sooner had one
expedient failed, however, than my mate suggested another. On the
morning after our interview with the priest he suddenly rose from his
seat in the bedroom, full of a new design.

"My great Jehovah, I have it, Flynn!" he roared enthusiastically.

"What is it?" I asked. Every new outburst of Moleskin gave me renewed

"Gourock Ellen, that's the woman!" he cried. "She knows ev'rything and
she lives in the south side, where you saw your wench for the last time.
I'm goin' to see Gourock Ellen, for she's the woman that knows
ev'rything, by God! she does. You can stop here and I'll be back in next
to no time."

About seven o'clock in the evening Joe returned. There was a strained
look on his face and he gazed at me furtively when he entered. Instantly
I realised that the search had not gone well. He was nervous and
agitated, and his voice was low and subdued. It was not Moleskin's voice
at all. Something had happened, something discouraging, awful.

"I'm back again," he said.

"Have you seen her, Joe?" I asked hoarsely. I had been waiting his
return for hours and I was on the tenter-hooks of suspense.

"I've seen Gourock Ellen," said Joe.

"Does she know anything about Norah?"

"She does." I waited for further information, but my mate relapsed into
a silence which irritated me.

"Where is Norah, Moleskin?" I cried. "Tell me what that woman said. I'm
sick of waiting day after day. What did Gourock Ellen tell you, Joe?"

"I saw Norah Ryan, too," was Moleskin's answer.

"Thank you, Moleskin!" I cried impetuously. "You're a real good

A look at Joe's face damped my enthusiasm. Why the agitation and
faltering voice? Presentiments of bad tidings filled my mind and my
voice trembled as I put the next question.

"Where did you see her, Joe?" I asked.

"In Gourock Ellen's house."

"In that woman's house!" I gasped involuntarily, for I had not rid
myself of the fugitive disgust with which I had regarded that woman when
first I met her. "That's not the house for Norah! What took her there?"

"Gourock Ellen found Norah lyin' on the streets hurted because some
hooligans treated her shameful," said Joe, in a low and almost inaudible
voice. "For the last six weeks she has watched over your girl, day and
night, when there was not another friend to help her in all the world.
And now Norah Ryan is for death. She'll not live another twenty-four

To me existence has meant succeeding reconciliations to new misfortunes,
and now the greatest misfortune had happened. Moleskin's words cut
through my heart as a whiplash cuts through the naked flesh. Fate,
chance, and the gods were against me, and the spine of life was almost



     "Our years pass like a tale that is told badly."


The darkness had long since fallen over the tumbledown rookeries of the
Glasgow alley wherein this story is to end, but the ragged children
still played in the gutters and the old withered women still gossiped on
the pavements. Two drunken men fought outside a public-house and another
lay asleep on the dirty kerbstone. When Moleskin and I came to the close
which was well known to my mate we had to step over the drunken man in
making an entrance.

We passed through a long arched passage and made our way up a flight of
rickety wooden stairs, which were cracked at every step, while each
crack was filled with the undisturbed dirt of months.

"In there," said Joe, pointing to a splintered door when we gained the
top landing. "I'm goin' to stop outside and wait till you come back

I rapped on the door, but there was no response. I pushed against the
handle and it opened inwards. An open door is a sure sign of poverty. It
is a waste of time to lock a door on an empty house. Here where the
wealth of men was not kept, the purity of women could not be stolen.
Probably Death had effected his entrance before me, but he is one whom
no door can hold. I looked into the room.

How bare it looked! A guttering candle threw a dim light over the place
and showed up the nakedness of the apartment. The paper on the walls was
greasy to the height of a man's head and there was no picture or
ornament in the place to bring out one reviving thought. The floor was
dirty, worn, and uncarpeted; a pile of dead ashes was in the fireplace
and a frying-pan without a handle lay in one corner of the room. No
chair was to be seen. A pile of rags lay on the floor and these looked
as if they had been used for a bed. The window was open, probably to let
the air into the room, but instead of the pure fresh air, the smoke of a
neighbouring chimney stole into the chamber.

This much did my eyes take in vaguely before I saw the truckle bed which
was placed along the wall near the window. On the bed a woman lay
asleep--or maybe dead! I approached quietly and stood by the bedside. I
was again looking at Norah, my sweetheart, grown fairer yet through sin
and sorrow. The face was white as the petals of some water flower, and
the shadow of the long wavy hair about it seemed to make it whiter
still. She was asleep and I stood there lost in contemplation of her, a
spirit which the first breeze might waft away. Her sleep was sound. I
could see her bosom rising and falling under the ragged coverlet and
could hear the even breath drawn softly in between the white lips now
despoiled of all the cherry redness of six years ago. Instinctively I
knew that the life of her was already broken in the grip of sorrow and

Suddenly she opened her soft grey eyes. In their calm and tragic depths
a strange lustre resembling nothing earthly shone for a moment. There
was in them the peace which had taken the place of vanished hopes and
the calm and sorrowful acceptance of an end far different from her
childish dreams.

She started up in the bed and a startled look stole into her face. A
bright colour glowed faintly in her cheeks, and about her face there was
still the girlish grace of the Norah whom I had met years before on the
leading road to Greenanore.

"I was dreamin' of ye, Dermod," she said in a low silvery voice. "Ye
were long in comin'."

Sitting up with one elbow buried in the pillow, her chemise slipped from
her shoulders and her skin looked very pink and delicate under the
scattered locks of brown hair. I went down on my knees by the bedside
and clasped both her hands in mine. She was expecting me--waiting for

"Ellen told me that ye were lookin' for meself," she continued. "A man
came this mornin'."

"I sent him, Norah," I said. "'Tis good to see you again, darling. I
have been looking for you such a long time."

"Have ye?" was all her answer, and gripping my two big hands tightly
with her little ones she began to sob like a child.

"It's the kindly way that ye have with ye, Dermod," she went on, sinking
back into the bed. Her tearless sobs were almost choking her and she
gazed up at the roof with sad, blank eyes. "Ye don't know what I am and
the kind of life I have been leadin' for a good lot of years, to come
and speak to me again. It's not for a decent man like ye to speak to the
likes of my kind! It's meself that has suffered a big lot, too, Dermod,
and I deserve pity more than hate. Me sufferin's would have broke the
heart of a cold mountainy stone."

"Poor Norah! well do I know what you have suffered," I said. "I have
been looking for you for a long while and I want to make you happy now
that I have found you."

"Make me happy!" she exclaimed, withdrawing her hands from mine. "What
would ye be doin' wantin' to make me happy? I'm dead to ev'rybody, to
the people at home, and to me own very mother! What would she want with
me now, me, her daughter, and the mother of a child that never had a
priest's blessin' on its head? A child without a lawful father! Think of
it, Dermod! What would the Glenmornan people say if they met me on the
streets? It was a dear child to me, it was. And ye are wantin' to make
me happy. Ev'ry time ye come ye say that ye are goin' to make me happy.
D'ye mind seein' me on the streets, Dermod?"

"I remember it, Norah," I said. She had spoken of the times I came to
see her and I did not understand. Perhaps I came to her in dreams.

"It was the child, Dermod," she rambled on; "it was the little boy and
he was dyin', both of a cough that was stickin' in his throat and of
starvation. I hadn't seen bread or that what buys it for many's a long
hour, even for days itself. I could not get work to do. I tried to beg,
but the peelis was goin' to put me in prison, and then there was nothin'
for me, Dermod, but to take to the streets.... There was long white
boats goin' out and we were watchin' them from the strand of Trienna
Bay, Dermod and me. I called him Dermod, but he never got the
christenin' words said over him or a drop of holy water.... Where is
Ellen? Ellen, ye're a good friend to me, ye are. The people that are sib
to meself do not care what happens to one of their own kind, but it's ye
yerself that has the good heart, Ellen. And ye say that Dermod Flynn is
comin' to see me? I would like to see him again.... I called me little
boy after him, too.... Little Dermod, I called him, and now he's dead
without the priest's blessin' ever put over him."

"I'm here, Norah," I said, for I knew that her mind was wandering. "I am
here, Norah. I am Dermod Flynn. Do you know me now?"

The long lashes dropped over her eyes and hid them from my sight.

"Norah, do you remember me?" I repeated. "I am Dermod, Dermod Flynn. Say
Dermod after me."

She opened her eyes again and looked at me with a puzzled glance.

"Is it ye, Dermod?" she cried. "I knew that ye were comin' to see me. I
was thinkin' of ye often and many's the time that I thought ye were
standin' be me bed quiet like and takin' a look at me. Ye're here now,
are ye? Say true as death."

"True as death," I repeated after her. The phrase was a Glenmornan one.

"Then where is Ellen and where is the man that came here this mornin'
and left a handful of money to help us along?" she asked. "He was a good
kindly man, givin' us so much money and maybe needin' it himself, too.
Joe was his name."

"Moleskin Joe," I said.

"There were three men on the street and they made fun of me when I was
passin' them," said Norah, and her mind was wandering again. "And one of
the men caught me and I tried to get away and I struggled and fought.
For wasn't I forgiven for me sins at the chapel that day and I was goin'
to be a good woman all the rest of me life? I told the men to let me
alone and one of them kicked me and I fell on the cold street. No one
came to help me. Who would care at all, at all, for a woman like me? The
very peelis will not give me help. 'Twas Ellen that picked me up when
the last gasp was almost in me mouth. And she has been the good friend
to me ever since. Sittin' up at night be me side and workin' her fingers
to the bone for me durin' the livelong day. Ellen, ye're very good to

"Ellen is not here, Norah," I said, and the tears were running down my

I placed my hand on Norah's forehead, which was cold as marble, and at
that moment somebody entered the room. I was aware of the presence of
the newcomer, but never looked round. Norah's face now wore a look of
calm repose and her lashes falling slowly hid the far-away look in her
grey eyes. For a moment I thought that she held silent council with the

I was still aware of the presence. Somebody came forward, bent tenderly
over the bed and softly brushed the stray tresses back from Norah's
brow. It was the woman, Gourock Ellen. At that moment I felt myself an
intruder, one who was looking on things too sacred for his eyes.

"Norah, are you asleep?" Ellen asked, and there was no answer.

"Norah! Norah!" The woman of the streets bent closer to the girl in the
bed and pressed her hand to Norah's heart.

"Have ye come back, Ellen?" Norah asked, in a quiet voice without
opening her eyes. "I was dreamin' in the same old way. I saw him comin'
back again. He was standin' be me bed and he was very kind, like he
always was."

"He's here, little lass," answered Ellen; then to me, "Speak to her,
man! She's been wearin' her heart awa' thinkin' of you for a lang, lang,
weary while. Speak to her and we'll save her yet. She's just wanderin' a
bit in her heid."

"Then it's not dreamin' that I was!" cried Norah. "It's Dermod himself
that's in it and back again. Just comin' to see me! It's himself that
has the kindly Glenmornan heart and always had. Dermod, Dermod!"

Her voice became low and strained and I bent closer to catch her words.

"It was ye that I was thinkin' of all the time and I was foolish when
we were workin' with Micky's Jim. It's all me fault and sorrow is on me
because I made ye suffer. Maybe ye'll go home some day. If ye do, go to
me mother's house and ask her to forgive me. Tell her that I died on the
year I left Micky's Jim's squad. I was not me mother's child after that;
I was dead to all the world. My fault could not be undone--that's what
made the blackness of it: Niver let yer own sisters go into a strange
country, Dermod. Niver let them go to the potato-squad, for it's the
place that is evil for a girl like me that hasn't much sense. Ye're not
angry with me, Dermod, are ye?"

"Norah, I was never angry with you," I said, and I kissed her lips. They
were hot as fire. "Darling, you didn't think that I was angry with you?"

"No, Dermod, for it's ye that has the kindly way!" said the poor girl.
"Would ye do something for me if iver ye go back to yer own place?"

"Anything you ask, Norah," I answered, "and anything within my power to

"Will ye get a mass said for me in the chapel at home, a mass for the
repose of me soul?" she asked. "If ye do I'll be very happy."

When I raised my head, Moleskin was in the room. He had stolen in
quietly, tired of waiting, and perhaps curious to see the end. He
removed his cap and stood in the middle of the floor and looked
curiously around. Norah sat up in bed and beckoned Ellen to approach.

She opened her mouth as if to speak, but there was a rattle in her
throat, her teeth chattered, her hands opened and closed like those of a
drowning man who clutches at floating sedge, and she dropped back to the
pillow. Ellen and I hastened to help her, and laid her down quietly on
the bed. Her eyes were open, her mouth wide apart showing two rows of
white teeth. The spirit of the girl I loved had passed away. Without
doubt, outside and over the smoke of the large city, a great angel with
outspread wings was waiting for her soul.

I was conscious of a great relief. Death, the universal comforter, had
smoothed out things in a way that was best for the little girl, who knew
the deep sorrows of an erring woman when only a child.

Joe looked awkwardly around. There was something weighing on his mind.
Presently he touched me on the arm.

"Would there be any harm in me goin' down on my knees and sayin' a
prayer?" he asked.

"No harm, Joe," I said, as I knelt again by the bedside.

Ellen and Joe went down on their knees beside me. Outside the sounds of
the city were loud in the air. An organ-grinder played his organ on the
pavement; a crowd of youngsters passed by, roaring out a comic song.
Norah lay peacefully in the Great Sleep. I could neither think nor pray.
My eyes were riveted on the dead woman.

The candle made a final splutter and went out. Inside the room there was
complete darkness. Joe hardly breathed, and not knowing a prayer, he was
silent. From time to time I could hear loud sobs, the words of a great
prayer--the heart prayer of a stricken woman. Gourock Ellen was weeping.


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Children of the Dead End - The Autobiography of an Irish Navvy" ***

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