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Challenging the law
The story is set in Scotland in the late 18th century. Mack McAsh is a young miner working for Sir George Jamisson. The sermon came to an end. In addition to the usual servicethere was to be a christening1 today: Mack's cousin Jen had given birth to her fourth child. Her eldest, Wullie, was already working down the pit. Mack had decided that the most appropriate time for hisannouncement was during the christening. As the moment drew near he felt a watery sensation in his stomach. Then he told himself not to be foolish: he risked his life every day down a mine - whyshould he be nervous about defying a fat merchant? Jen stood at the font2, looking weary3. She was only thirty but she had borne four children and worked down the pit for twenty-three years and she wasworn out. Mr York sprinkled4 water on her baby's head. Then her husband, Saul, repeated the form of words that made a slave of every Scottish miner's son. "I pledge5 this child to work in Sir GeorgeJamisson's mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he dies." This was the moment Mack had decided on. He stood up. At this point in the ceremony the viewer6, Harry Ratchett, wouldnormally step up to the font and hand over to Saul the "arles", the traditional payment for pledging the child, a purse of ten pounds. However, to Mack's surprise, Sir George rose to perform this ritualpersonally. As he stood up, he caught Mack's eye. For a moment the two men stood staring at one another. Then Sir George began to walk to the font. Mack stepped into the central aisle7 of the littlechurch and said loudly: "The payment of arles is meaningless." Sir George froze in midstep and all heads turned to look at Mack. There was a moment of shocked silence. Mack could hear his own heartbeat."This ceremony has no force," Mack declared. "The boy may not be pledged to the mine. A child cannot be enslaved." Sir George said: "Sit down, you young fool, and shut your mouth." The patronizing8...
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