The Project Gutenberg eBook of Too dearly bought

This ebook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this ebook or online at If you are not located in the United States, you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this eBook.

Title: Too dearly bought

or, The town strike

Author: Agnes Giberne

Illustrator: M. Irwin

Release date: March 18, 2024 [eBook #73196]

Language: English

Original publication: London: John F. Shaw and Co, 1894


Transcriber's note: Unusual and inconsistent spelling is as printed.



"We'll make our own terms. We'll be the masters now!"








With Illustrations.





IDA'S SECRET; or, The Towers of Ickledale.

   Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

WON AT LAST; or, Mrs. Briscoe's Nephews.

   Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

  "The treatment is so admirable we can understand Miss Giberne's book being a help to many."—Athenæum.


   Large Cr. 8vo, 5/—.

  "A thoroughly interesting and good book."—Birmingham Post.


   Large Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

  "A pathetic tale of country life, in which the fortunes of a family are followed out with a skill that never fails to interest."—Scotsman.

THE OLD HOUSE IN THE CITY; or, Not Forsaken.

   Crown 8vo, cloth, 2/6.

  "An admirable book for girls."—Teachers' Aid.

FLOSS SILVERTHORN; or, The Master's Little Hand-maid.

   Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

  "We should like to see this in every home library."—The News.

MADGE HARDWICKE; or, The Mists of the Valley.

   Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

  "An extremely interesting book, and one that can be read with profit by all."—The Schoolmaster.


   Cr. 8vo, 2/6.

  "We are glad to see this capital story in a new shape."—Record.


   Cr. 8vo, 1/6.

  "A timely story, which should be widely circulated."

























THE procession was coming down Pleasant Lane!

A great number of noisy little boys came trooping on ahead, with shrill cries, to announce this important fact. Hardly one among them understood exactly what the procession was about; but flags and banners are the delight of a boy's heart. Not seldom this particular form of affection for coloured bunting lasts on into manhood.

The wives and mothers, who turned out of their doorways to enjoy the sight, were, however, more learned than their little boys as to the cause of the stir. And everybody was aware that Peter Pope was to be at its head.

Peter Pope, a smooth-tongued and comfortably-dressed individual, had been very busy lately in the town. Most of his business had been in the way of talk; but what of that? There was a committee, of course, behind him, which did a good deal of work while Pope did the talk. He had been sent down, as a delegate from London, for the express purpose of teaching the inhabitants of the town; and teaching commonly means a certain amount of talk. Peter Pope had come to teach the men of the town to appreciate their degraded and enslaved condition. With this object in view he had talked vigorously for many weeks; and the men were becoming fast convinced of the truth of his words. They had not dreamt before what a melancholy thing it was to be a British working-man; but now their eyes were opened.

If you want to convince the British Public about anything,—especially that part of the British Public which reads very few books, and knows very little of history, and never goes out of England, just remember this! There is not the least need that you should be clever or learned yourself, or even powerful in speech. You only have to go on saying the same thing over and over and over again, with dogged pertinacity; and in time you are sure to be believed. The British Public is wonderfully easy of belief, and will swallow anything,—if only you give it time! Peter Pope had done this. He had talked on, with a resolute and dogged pertinacity; he had given his hearers plenty of time; and now he was rewarded by seeing the biggest boluses he could offer, meekly gulped down.

It was a dingy and smoky town enough to which he had come; one of the crowded manufacturing towns, of which England owns so many. Not a clean or pretty town, but a prosperous one hitherto, with a fair abundance of work for willing toilers. Those who were unwilling to toil did badly there as elsewhere; and these were the men who first swallowed Peter Pope's bait.

Pleasant Lane was not the least narrow and dingy of many narrow dingy streets. The houses on either side were small, and for the most part not over clean. One little home near the centre formed a marked exception as to this last point; boasting dainty muslin blinds, windows filled with plants, and a spotless front doorstep.

On that step stood Sarah Holdfast, in her clean print gown, watching like others for the coming procession. Not that she had the least idea of seeing her husband figure in it. She was only dandling her baby, and lifting it up to be amused with the stir.

Martha Stevens, a young and pretty woman in the next doorway, had no such security about her husband. Roger Stevens was morally sure to be in the thick of whatever might be stirring,—whether it were good or bad. He was a well-meaning man, and not usually unsteady; but, like a good many of his companions, he was easily led, always ready to believe what he was told, and ever prepared to follow the crowd. As the stream of public opinion—the public opinion of the little world around himself—happened just then to run in the direction of a grand procession, Martha had not a shadow of doubt that her husband would find his place somewhere in the said procession.

"What's it all about, mother?" asked Robert, a rosy child of nine.

"It's the men, Bobbie," she said. "They're having a procession."

"What for?" asked Bobbie.

"They want something that the masters won't give 'em. They want higher wages and shorter hours."

"But what's the 'cession for?" persisted Bobbie.

"I'll tell you what it's for," volunteered a slovenly woman in the left-hand doorway, tossing a ragged infant in her arms. "It's to show that they're Men, and they're going to have their Rights! Time enough too! Working-men ain't a-going to be trampled on no longer, nor their wives neither. We won't put up with no more tyranny nor nonsense."

Martha moved her head from one side to the other, and was silent.

But Sarah Holdfast remarked dryly, "There's a sort of tyranny in the home that isn't so easy got rid of! And there's a tyranny of working-man to working-man, which I'd like to see done away with. It may be harder tyranny than the tyranny of capital, which folks talk such a lot about nowadays."

"Oh, you! I dare say—you're sure to say that!" the untidy woman retorted with contempt. "Your husband's such a poor-spirited chap—all on the side of the masters."

"He is not on the side of the masters," Sarah answered resolutely. "He's on the side of doing what is right; and he's against tyranny of every sort,—it don't matter whether it's tyranny of masters or of men. That's what the lot of you don't and won't see."

"Here it comes!" cried Bobbie.

Except to a young imagination such as Bobbie's, the advancing procession was not perhaps very imposing; but it made a good show in point of numbers, and the men kept well together, in a solid and orderly phalanx. Outside the main body walked detached individuals, carrying money-boxes; for the processioners had a practical object in view beside the mere display of numbers. They would not only march round the town, endeavour to impress the imaginations of people generally, and pay a visit to their employers' office to make formal demand of what they required, but also they hoped to gather funds by the way for the coming struggle. Most of the men appeared thus far to be sober; but some towards the rear showed signs of a recent visit to a public-house.

At the head of the procession marched a brass band, playing lively jigs, very much out of tune; and the amount of flags and banners following was really quite respectable.

First might be seen a great sheet of white calico, stretched across two poles, and bearing the portentous inscription—


Next swaggered unsteadily along a second white calico sheet, with the words—


An axiom so self-evident that nobody could question its truth.

An "Oddfellows" banner, drooping gracefully from its single pole, came next. It had a picture of the good Samaritan on a blue ground, and was not peculiarly appropriate to a strike; but flags of all kinds help to swell the general effect, and this with others was borrowed.

After the good Samaritan, a loaf stuck upon a pole was borne along. No especial meaning might be attached to the uplifted loaf; but no doubt bread is always an impressive object. What would man be without the "staff of life"? There is also an obvious connection between loaves and wages.

At the tail of the procession, after sundry other appropriate and inappropriate flags, made or borrowed, came the final output of native genius—another big square of white, having its inscription painted with a tar-brush—


This sentiment began with a magnificent "W," and tapered gradually off to an absurdly diminutive "s"; no doubt the natural expression of artistic feeling.

A loose crowd of open-mouthed followers clattered along behind, deeply impressed by the whole affair.

"It's a grand lot of flags, mother, ain't it?" said Bobbie.

Martha was gazing, as if she did not hear, and little fair-haired Millie said, "Daddy's there!"

One look in the direction where the tiny hand pointed, and Martha turned away.

"Come, Millie,—come, Bobbie,—we'll go indoors now."

"O mother, I want to wait," cried Bobbie. But he yielded to her touch and went in, only asking eagerly—"'Why mayn't we stay?"

Martha made no answer. How could she bear to tell her child that his father had been drinking?





"TELL ye what, boys; now's the time! Now's the time if ye want to gain your freedom! If ye give in tamely now and let yourselves be driven to the shambles like a flock of silly sheep, and crushed to the earth under the iron heels of a set of despots, as 'ud grind down the very souls of ye, if they could, into scrapings of gold-dust,—why, ye'll never hold the position of men!"

Peter Pope had taken his stand at the corner of a street one evening, two or three days after the grand procession. He mounted a block of wood which lay conveniently there; and being thus raised over the heads of his compeers, was at once in a situation to exercise power over their minds. Men began to gather round him, with attentive eyes and ears, ready to believe whatever Peter Pope might assert. Englishmen do not often put faith in Roman infallibility; but give an English Pope to a particular class, and no amount of infallibility becomes impossible.

"Now's the time!" pursued the orator, flourishing his arms, "now's the time! It'll maybe never come to ye again. There's a good old saying, lads, as tells us 'Procrastination is the thief of time!' Procrastination means putting off. Procrastination is putting off the settling of a question like you're doing now. Procrastination is the thief of time. It steals time! It steals the nick of time, when the nick of time comes; and once gone, you'll never get that nick of time back."

"Now's the time I tell ye, boys! Will you cringe before the iron heel of capital? Will ye knuckle down before the bloodhounds of tyrannic power, when ye may fight and conquer, if ye will; and come out from the battle men, and not slaves?"

"For you're not men now!—Don't think it. Men!—When ye have to work like dogs for your living! Men!—When you're counted plebeians by them as 'll scarce deign to look at ye in passing. I tell ye, lads, ye're all tied hand and foot; though many a one of you scarce feels his bonds, just because he don't know what freedom is. You're degraded and miserable and enslaved, and don't scarce know what it is to wish for anything better."

"That's what I've come down to you for, my men. It's because I want you all to see what you are, and what you might be, if ye'd sense and spirit to exert yourselves. It's because I'm a friend of the Working-man. It's because the noble society, of which I am a member and a delegate—and proud to be both;—it's because that noble society is the friend of the Working-man, desirous to rescue him from the gigantic heel of a merciless power, which is crushing him in the dust—like the boa-constrictor, lads, which wraps the victim in its voluminous folds, and slays him in its slimy embrace. And the best thing a friend can give is advice. Advice, men. Wise advice; thoughtful advice; advice founded on knowledge, which 'tisn't everybody has power to attain to."

"What are we to do first? That's what you'll say; that's the question ye'll put. Don't I read it now in your manly faces, lads, all a-looking up at me this moment? And I'll tell you what you're to do first! You're to—"


The word came out with tremendous emphasis, emitted by the whole force of Peter Pope's lungs, after a suitable pause. It made a proportionate impression.

"Ye'll say, 'What for?' To show your power, lads; to show that ye won't be cajoled, nor cheated, nor beaten down, nor taken in, nor treated like a pack of infants. And then you're to—"

"STRIKE!! That's the word for you, men. It's a mighty easy word. It's a mighty easy thing. Just strike—and the business is done."

"What business?" a voice asked.

"What business? Why, the business of getting what you want. You want shorter hours and an increase of fifteen per cent. on your wages, eh? Just so. You've made the demand in fair and reasonable terms, eh? Just so. You're freeborn Englishmen, all of you, eh? Just so—or had ought to be. What man living has a right to say you're not to have a rise which is your fair and just due? Why, if it wasn't for the tyranny of capital, you'd have had it months ago."

"Will ye submit to that tyranny? Will ye let your children grow up under that tyranny? Tell you, lads, it's time to make a change. Things have gone on long enough. It's time you should be the masters now! Show yourselves men, lads. Better to die than to yield. Give a cheer with me, now! Hurrah for the strike! Hurrah! Hurrah for the strike! Hurrah for the strike, boys!"

They went a little mad, of course, and shouted and yelled in chorus, not musically, but to Peter Pope's satisfaction. Peter Pope's enthusiasm was catching, and so was the toss of his cap. What "boys" would not have followed his example, under like circumstances?—"Boys" of any age. There is no great difference, after all, between the credulity, or to use a certain working-man's forcible word, the "gullibility," of young and old and middle-aged.

Somewhere near the outskirts of the crowd stood a man, in age verging perhaps on fifty, or even fifty-five. He was little and crooked in figure, with a wizened face, and glittering eyes under bent overhanging brows. Everybody knew Peter Stuckey; the man-servant of the Rector of the neighbouring church—gardener, groom and coachman, all in one. Years before, Mr. Hughes had taken Peter Stuckey into his service, after the severe accident which cut the man off from his old work. Peter did his utmost to repay with personal devotion this disinterested act.

Through his namesake's oration, he stood with his head on one side, and a note-book in his hand, scribbling a word occasionally. After the uproar of cheering, Stuckey turned to a sensible-looking man near, who had been as silent as himself, and dryly remarked—

"I say, we've learnt a deal this evening."

"H'm," the other answered.

"Such a lot o' facts, I've had to note 'em down for fear of forgetting. Let's see—"

"'Working-men are like sheep.' Some truth in that. I've heard say as how if one sheep jumps over a broomstick, all the rest 'll follow to save walking round it."

"The aristocracy is 'bloated.' Don't see much meanin' in the term; but, howsoever, it looks grand, so we'll let it pass."

"'Men are not men, but has to work like dogs.' Shouldn't wonder. Little enough o' work Rover gets through in the twenty-four hours—and little enough many o' them get through. But he does a deal o' barking."

"'Peter Pope yonder is a friend o' the working-man.' Werry disinterested friend!"

Stuckey paused, and gave a side-glance at his companion.

"Well, I won't go for to say whether Peter Pope or Peter Stuckey is the wiser man o' the two; but I won't go for to say I haven't a notion. Any way he's uncommon like to his namesake of Rome, layin' down the law for everybody."

"There's nothing on earth that can't be made out in the way of talk," the other said briefly.

"You're a sensible fellow, Holdfast, and no mistake. Now what's your opinion about this here notion of a strike?" asked Stuckey, putting one hand up to his mouth with a confidential air.

"I'll not move in the matter. But it'll come about without me," Holdfast replied, wearing the look of one who sees impending evil.

"Trust Pope for that; he'd be a loser if it didn't. They'd every man Jack of 'em put his head into a noose if Pope told 'em it was right. Well—an' I've got to be off," said Stuckey, as a fresh burst of shouts arose.

He lingered till it ceased, then singled out a man standing near—

"I say, Stevens; you and the rest is hearing a lot o' rayther startling assertions. If you'll take a bit o' friendly 'adwice,' you'll just ask Mr. Pope a question from me. Which is—how much that there Society pays him for the making of his grand speeches?"

Stuckey's voice was very distinct. Peter Pope had to defer the winding-up of his oration a full quarter of an hour, that he might do away with the effect of Stuckey's parting suggestion.





"THERE!" said Roger Stevens, setting down his bag of tools, with the air of a man who has done a noble deed, and is aware of the same.

Martha's lips parted, then closed fast. She stood looking without a word.

"Nobody'll dare say now that we're to be trodden on like reptiles," continued Stevens loftily.

"Who ever did say it?" asked Martha.

"Well, Pope said they might; and they won't be able now."

"Then the strike's begun, and it's all up!" faltered the wife.

"All up! It's all just begun! There's thousands out to-day, and there 'll be a thousand more to-morrow. The masters won't stand that long. We'll make our own terms. We'll be the masters now!!"

"Mr. Pope says so, I s'pose," murmured Martha.

"And good reason he has to say it too. I tell you, he knows what he's about. 'Tain't often you come across a cleverer chap than Pope."

"I wish he'd kept himself and his cleverness away! I've a notion he wouldn't be so ready for the strike, if it was he that had to lose his living by it."

"Well, I never did in all my life see a woman like you—not a bit of spirit!" declared Stevens. "One 'ud think you cared for nothing in the world but food and drink."

"Why, it's food and drink you're striking for now, isn't it? Drink 'specially, and tobacco," said Martha; with tart truth. "Leastways, it's more money to get your drink and tobacco with."

"No, it isn't," returned Roger loudly. "It's because a rise is our due! It's for public spirit, and to show we won't be trampled on. That's what it's for. There's a lot of men gone out to-day who haven't got no particular grievances, and they're just striking for the principle of the thing—just for to help us."

"They'd be a deal wiser if they stayed in for the principle of the thing," said Martha.

"You've not got a spark of spirit in you," grumbled Roger. "Look at Mrs. Hicks! She don't hold her husband back. She's been pushing him on, and encouraging him from the first to act like a man."

"Mrs. Hicks may, but Mrs. Holdfast don't; and I'd a deal sooner be like Mrs. Holdfast."

Roger flung away impatiently out of the house; and Martha walked to the open door.

A busy street met her gaze,—busy, that is to say, as regarded the amount of moving life, not as regarded actual employment. The road was filled with scattered groups of working-men in their working-dress; some of whom wore looks of depression and anxiety, though the prevailing sensation seemed to be of triumph.

For the Strike was begun!

The masters could not long hold out. Success, speedy success, in the shape of higher wages and shorter hours, might be confidently expected. So Peter Pope declared. Capital could not but fail in a tussle with labour; for what was capital without labour? Peter Pope forgot to ask the equally forcible question—What was labour without capital? It is so easy to say, What is a man's head without his body?—But then one naturally inquires next, What is a man's body without his head? Unless the two work in harmony, both come to grief; and a wrong done by the one to the other always recoils upon itself. This is not more true of the joint existence, a man's head and body, than of that other joint existence, Labour and Capital.

Still, Peter Pope said things were all right; and who should know better than Peter Pope?

Those among the strikers who were members of a Trades Union felt comfortably sure of a certain amount of help, to carry them through the fight.

The larger proportion, who were not members of any such Union, indulged in vague hopes of being somehow or other tided through.

For the strikers belonged to more trades than one in the town; some having gone out, as Stevens implied, "on principle," or in sympathy with the rest.

Peter Pope was not far off. Martha could see him at a little distance, haranguing a group of listeners. She turned away with a sigh, and found Sarah Holdfast by her side.

"Stevens is one of them, I suppose," Mrs. Holdfast said kindly.

Martha tried to speak, and her voice was choked.

"Come, I'll go indoors for a minute. Baby is asleep, and Bessie's such a steady little lass, I may leave them just for a bit."

Martha was glad to get out of sight of that exultant crowd, looking to her foreboding sight so like a flock of thoughtless sheep, frisking to the slaughter. Peter Pope's illustration had not been inapt.

"How well the children do look, all of them!" said Mrs. Holdfast. "Just see Bobbie's cheeks! And I'm sure Baby Harry is a beauty. Hasn't he fat arms?"

"And how long are they going to keep fat, I wonder?" asked Martha.

Mrs. Holdfast hardly knew what to say. She stroked the head of little three years-old Harry, as he nestled up to his mother. Martha took such a pride in her children. They had hitherto rivalled Mrs. Holdfast's in healthy freshness.

"I'd work my fingers to the bone, if I could, to keep 'em as they are now," said Martha. "But whatever am I to do? I can't leave 'em alone all day, and go out to charing. I'm sure it's little enough work my husband does at the best of times; and now he's ready to risk starving us all, just that he may stick up for his 'rights' as he calls it. Rights indeed! It makes me sick to hear 'em all a-talking of their rights," cried Martha, with sudden energy, as she hugged little Harry in her arms. "A man's wife and children has a right to expect he'll give them food to eat, and clothes to wear; and if he won't do that, he'd no business to marry."

"Men are easy led to believe whatever they're told—provided it's one of themselves that tells them," said Mrs. Holdfast shrewdly.

"I don't see as that's any excuse. They'd ought to have sense to think for themselves."

"So they would, if they was all like my John," said Mrs. Holdfast, with pardonable pride. "But there's where it is. He reads and learns, while other folks talk."

Martha found no comfort in the thought of John Holdfast's superiority.

"See here—" she said, looking round—"all the little comforts we've been getting together, when we could spare a sixpence or a shilling. And they'll all go now. I won't say but what Roger's been a good husband in the main, letting alone that he's so easy led. He does care for the children, and he brings home his wages more regular than most—if he wasn't so fond of a day's holiday, when he ought to be at work. Talk of short hours! He's never in no danger of overdoing hisself. But that's the way with the men. I wonder whatever 'd happen if we women was to strike for short hours, and knock off work, and leave things to take care of themselves."

Mrs. Holdfast shook her head dubiously. She saw that it was a relief to Martha to pour out.

"I'm sure I've toiled day and night for him and children, and never wanted to complain. Roger has had a clean home, and his clothes mended, and his Sunday dinners as good as the best of them. And I'd just begun to think of laying by something against a rainy day. And here's the end of it all."

"Maybe the strike won't last long."

"Don't tell me that! You don't think so. Get a wrong notion into a man's head, and he'll stick to it like beeswax. They're made up of selfishness, down to their shoes; and that's what it is! And Roger like the rest! As if four days of work in the week wasn't little enough for a great strong man like him—and I'm sure it's seldom he does more. As if he couldn't put up patiently with less wages and more work for a while, sooner than see his wife and children starve before his eyes."

"You're talking a lot of nonsense! Like a woman," said Stevens, standing in the doorway. "You don't know nothing about the matter, and that's a fact! It's our rights that's got to be considered, Pope says. We're striking for our rights!"

"I don't care for nobody's rights nor for Mr. Pope neither, so as I've bread to put in the children's mouths," sobbed Martha. "Do you think I don't know what you're bringing us to? I hope I am talking like a woman! I wouldn't wish to do anything else. I wouldn't wish to talk like the men—a set of lazy creatures, with never a thought except for their own comfort."

Stevens walked off, and Martha looked up pitifully.

"There now! I'm wrong! I know I'm wrong—speaking like that to him before the children. But it's hard to be patient. Your husband's at work still, ain't he?"

"He's at work, and he'll be at work as long as ever he can. If many more go out in the town, the works may have to stop for want of men to keep them going. But John 'll only stop if he's obliged. He won't go out with the rest."

"They won't like that," said Martha.

"Maybe not," Mrs. Holdfast said quietly. "He's had a warning already."

"A warning from the strikers!" Martha's eyes grew round. She wondered at Mrs. Holdfast's composure.

"Yes; but he says he don't see that one sort of tyranny is better than another. If he's a freeborn Englishman, he's got a right to work as long as he will, and the others haven't power to forbid him. That's what John says."

Martha sighed. "They haven't no right," she said. "But as for power—if I was you, I should be all in a fright for him."

"It's no manner of use expecting troubles till they come," said Mrs. Holdfast.





"SO there's a lot more of you to-day, a-setting to work to run your heads agin a stone wall," said Stuckey.

He had a basket of ferns in his hand, which he was carrying home, taking Pleasant Lane on his way.

"Nothing of the sort," responded Stevens. "There's no stone wall at all. You just wait, and you'll see."

"Sure to do that! For why? 'Cause I can't help it," said Stuckey. "Nor wouldn't if I could. It's a werry interesting contemplation."

"What's interesting?"

"Why, this here strike," said Stuckey. "I've come along here for the werry purpose of examining into your state of mind, and learnin' how you're all a-looking on the state of affairs. Once on a time I'd ha' gone along with you all, afore I got to be more enlightened."

"Oh, you're enlightened, are you?" said Stevens, with contempt.

"Hope so," Stuckey answered. "Not as I means for to say that enlightenment o' the understanding goes alongside of a garden spade more than of a pick. But since I've laid by the pick and took up the spade, I've learnt to look upon things in a more reasonable sort of a light, there ain't no denying."

"Glad to hear it," said Stevens incredulously. "You don't go the best way to show your sense by talking of a stone wall."

"Maybe I do, more'n you're aware. Maybe it's an inwisible stone wall, as none o' you'll see, till heads go bang agin it. But ye all seem mighty cheerful this evening. Mr. Hughes 'll ask me by an' by,—"

"'Well, Peter,' he'll say, 'and how's the men getting along to-night?'" he'll say.

"And I'll tell him, 'Not a bit depressed nor down in the mouth, sir,' I'll say, 'but all as merry as crickets, thinking o' the nice long holiday they're a-going to get."

"And he'll say, 'Poor fellows!'"

"Mr. Hughes has been down the road himself, and heard Pope, so it isn't like he'll go to you for information," retorted Stevens.

"I've heard him!" said Stuckey, with a nod. "I've heard Pope! Heard him yesterday a-talking against that 'ere cruel bloodhound of a master, Mr. Bertie, who's just been setting up a soup-kitchen for them iron-workers that's got cut off from work by the action of the strikers. Werry bloodthirsty deed!"

"I've nothing to say against Mr. Bertie himself," said Stevens. "We're striking for our rights. 'Tain't because Pope tells us. It's because we want our rights."

"Never you mind, man," Stuckey responded, in consoling tones. "When Peter Pope's golden age is come, and capital is abolished, and masters is all wiped out of existence, and men don't need to work, and wages comes pouring in from nobody knows where, ye'll all share and share alike, I don't doubt. That's something to look forward to, ain't it? Never you mind a bit o' trouble beforehand. Some o' ye's pretty sure to struggle through the starwation-time previous; leastways I hopes so. And if so be ye don't—why it's only dying for your rights!"


Before he could enter, a hand came on his arm.

With a friendly nod, Stuckey trudged away, leaving Stevens not greatly cheered by his remarks. Coming so soon after his wife's complaints, Roger found them depressing. Almost without thought, he turned his step towards the nearest public-house; but before he could enter, a hand came on his arm.

"Now, Stevens—Stevens, man, it's no time for that!"

"No time for what?" demanded Stevens, shaking himself free.

"You know! Think of the wife and children," urged John.

"And if I do?" asked Stevens surlily.

"Winter's at hand, and not much money like to come to you yet awhile, I wouldn't now—if I was you. Just think of the little ones! You haven't even Union funds to depend on."

"I know that well enough—more's the pity!" Stevens hesitated a moment, then turned short round and walked away—both from the public-house and from John Holdfast. So Holdfast's effort had not been quite a failure.

Sarah Holdfast had returned from her kind little visit to Martha, next door. When her husband reached home, she had prepared his tea, washed the children, and made everything spick and span. Holdfast's first move was, as always, to disappear up-stairs, that he might do away with the marks of toil before he enjoyed his evening meal. His next move, on reappearance, was to take the baby in his strong arms, and to let little Bessie climb upon his knee. But he seemed a degree absent to-day; not so playful with the young ones as Mrs. Holdfast was accustomed to see him.

"Anything wrong, John?" she asked, when tea was nearly over.

"Well, yes. It can't be helped," said John, trying to speak cheerfully.

"Work going to stop?"

"Not for a few days—three or four, I suppose. But if more men go out to-morrow and next day,—if the strike don't end by then—"

"It won't yet," she said.

"I'm afraid not."

"It won't—yet awhile. The masters and the men's both equal set on their own way; and neither's ready to give in one inch to the other. There 'll be a fight first."

John nodded.

"And the works 'll have to stop?"

"Yes. It ain't known certainly yet; but I've had a private word. Not the only one," muttered John.

A look of fear came into Mrs. Holdfast's eyes. "The men?" she breathed.

"If I don't go out like the rest, but just stick to work as long as I can get it, I'm to look to myself, and take the consequences."

Mrs. Holdfast breathed quickly.

"Don't seem I'm to have much choice soon," said John. "I'll have to go out then. Only it'll be because I must, not because I choose. That's all the difference."

"John, wouldn't it be best to go out now? If you'll have to be paid off in a day or two—"

John gave her a steady look.

"You wouldn't have me act as a craven?" he asked. "Give in, for fear of consequences!"

"But if they was to hurt you? There's some among 'em who might do that."

"Then I'd have to bear it."

"Only, wouldn't it be better, just this once—"

"Say the true word, Sarah. Wouldn't it be safer?"

"Well, wouldn't it be safer?" she faltered.

"Safer for my bones, I shouldn't wonder. There's a cowardly few among 'em, I know, who wouldn't scruple to knock me down, if they got a chance of doing it, unbeknown. But I don't mean 'em to have a chance if I can help it. Come, cheer up," said John. "Things 'll come right in the end."

Things seemed very wrong to Sarah at this moment.

"Pope says the men strike for their rights," continued John. "Well, and I'm standing out for my rights. I've my rights as well as they! Don't you see? If Pope's free to take his view of the question, I'm free to take my view of it. And my view don't coincide with Pope's. I've no notion of giving in to tyranny, whether it's tyranny of men or of masters. If the lot of them are free to strike, I'm free to not strike."

"That wouldn't be much help to me if you got hurt."

"Hope I shan't be, but any way I've got to do right," said John. "I've got to do what seems to me right; and a strike just now don't seem to me right. It don't seem to me called for. It don't seem to me likely to bring good. Pope and others says I'm wrong; and they says I'm bound to do what they think right. Now I don't nor can't see that. If Pope's a free and independent Englishman, I'm the same. If I've got to give in my judgment to Pope, and do what I count to be wrong, because he says it's right, I wonder where my freedom is. That's tyranny, and tyranny of the worst sort, because it tries to hold a man's conscience in bondage. I'll not give in to it, Sarah. I wasn't named 'Holdfast' for nothing. So long as I live, I'll 'hold fast' to what is right, so far as I can see what's right."

John spoke quietly, not with a noisy voice or manner; and his words were all the more impressive from their quietness. Sarah fully agreed with all he said, as a matter of principle,—only as his wife she was afraid for him. She would not argue against his convictions, but her eyes grew tearful.

"I think we needn't fear," John said more softly. "We haven't brought ourselves into the difficulty, Sarah, woman. If we had, it 'ud be different. I think we've got just to go straight ahead, and do what's right, and put our trust in God. If it's His will to let me suffer, why, there's some good reason for it. I'm sure of that."





SARAH could not shake off the thought of something happening to John. All the next day, and the next, she lived in fear, often hard to control. Those evenings he came home safely untouched. He did not tell Sarah how the men on strike glowered at him; how he was pursued on his way by the contemptuous groan of "Blackleg!!"

Many a man would sooner face a knock-down blow than that sound of scorn; but John was not made of yielding stuff. He did not tell Sarah all this, for there was no need to add to her anxiety.

On the third day it became known that the works must close; so John Holdfast, and those others who had refused to join the strike, would be reduced to idleness. Some said this might not be for long, as there was talk of workmen coming from a distance. Mrs. Holdfast hoped that the closing of the works would appease the strikers' anger against her husband; but she did not happen to hear the report about men arriving from elsewhere, or she would hardly have been so hopeful.

Her dread had lessened on the third day; and that very evening John was long coming home. He was far later than usual. Mrs. Holdfast waited and waited, uneasiness deepening into terror. She put on her bonnet and shawl at length, and went out into the dusk to look for John; but she could see nothing of him, and it was impossible to leave the children for more than a few minutes.

She went in next door, and found Martha alone.

Stevens had gone somewhere, Martha said—to a meeting, she thought. "They're always at it with their speechifying," she said. "Maybe your husband's with them."

"He'd have told me if he meant to go," Mrs. Hold fast answered.

"Roger don't trouble to tell me," said Martha.

No comfort was to be had there, and Mrs. Holdfast hastened home; the dread of foul play growing upon her with sickening force.

Another hour she waited. It had grown quite dark. John never stayed away like this without previous warning.

Mrs. Holdfast went again next door, in her misery, and found Stevens just come in. He knew nothing, he said—had seen nothing, heard nothing. He had not set eyes on Holdfast that day.

At first he seemed very much disinclined to take any steps. "Holdfast's got himself into bad odour," he said; "staying in when the rest went out. He'd better have taken good advice."

Mrs. Holdfast would not then argue against the view that to go with the multitude must be the wiser course. She used all her energies to get him to act, and presently her entreaties overcame his reluctance. He left the house to make inquiries, and Sarah went back to her home.

Another long period of wearying suspense, and at length somebody was coming. Sarah knew what it meant, directly her ears caught the sound of shuffling footsteps. She went to the open door, and heard Stevens' voice—

"Come along! Here you are! Just home."

"John!" cried Sarah.

"I've found him. He's had a fall or something," said Stevens. "Been and tumbled into a pond."

Did Stevens really think so? There was a shamefaced sound in his voice.

Sarah was by her husband's side, helping to bear him up, to pull him along. John said nothing. It was as much as he could do to move at all, with the assistance of them both.


"Tumbled into the pond! Not he! He's been in;
but it wasn't a tumble."

Once in the kitchen, they could see the state he was in—dripping wet, half-covered with green slime from the pond, his face ghastly pale, his right arm hanging helplessly, blood flowing still from a cut in his forehead. Stevens got him into a chair, and shut the door, John sat drooping forward, like one stupefied.

"Must have knocked his head against a sharp stone," said Stevens.

Sarah was bending over her husband, examining the cut. She straightened herself, and looked full at Stevens.

"Don't tell me that!" she said in a hard voice. "You know better! It's their doing—cowardly brutes, that dare to call themselves men!"

Then her manner softened, "But I do thank you," she said.

"Shouldn't wonder if you'd like me to help to get him up-stairs," said Stevens. "He don't seem able to stand alone. I say, Mrs. Holdfast—if I was you, I wouldn't go about saying it was the men."

"No, I won't; for they're not men!" she answered, with bitter scorn. "I'll say it's been done by brutes. You wouldn't have me say what I don't believe, would you? Tumbled into the pond! Not he! He's been in; but it wasn't a tumble."

"Well, I'll maintain it was a tumble; and I'll thank you to keep my name out of it too," said Stevens.

"I wouldn't get you into the same trouble, not on any account," Mrs. Holdfast answered gratefully.

Getting John up-stairs was no easy task. He was too dizzy and dazed to stand without support, and he seemed not to understand what was said. The right arm would hardly endure a touch, but it appeared to be only bruised and strained, not broken. Stevens was very much averse to a doctor being called, and Sarah hoped it might not be needful. She bathed and bound up the injured arm and the cut forehead, and John showed signs of amendment. When he was in bed, and Sarah began feeding him with spoonfuls of tea, Stevens being gone, he looked almost comfortable.

"Things might be worse," he murmured, with an attempt at a smile.

"Yes; they might have managed to kill you outright," Sarah said sternly. The sternness was for others. She was very tender towards John. "Do you think you can tell me how it happened?" she asked.

John had little to tell. He had had occasion to go round by a certain lonely lane, to leave a message for somebody; and he supposed his going to have been known. Two or three men, perhaps more, had set upon him suddenly, in the dusk and loneliness, had ducked him in the pond, and otherwise maltreated him. He believed that they had left him on the road beside the pond, more or less unconscious. Stevens had found him there, when he was beginning to regain his sense, and had given him a helping arm home.

"And that's about all," John said.

"You didn't see the faces of the men?"

"No, not a glimpse. They were too sharp, and the cut blinded me."

"And they call themselves men!" she said again. "Men! Brutes, I say! John, I'll never forgive them!"

"That's no resolve for a Christian woman to make," John answered. "Why, Sarah, woman, how will you ever pray your prayers in church next Sunday, not to speak of to-night and to-morrow morning, without you forgive?"

"The brutes! That they should treat you so!" she said. "But I'm not going to let you go on talking now; you've got to try and sleep."

"Don't feel much like sleep," said John. "One word more. Sarah, I don't mean to hide the truth of what I know. It wouldn't be right, for others' sake. But I do want you not to go about saying a lot of hard words. It's no good, and there's bitterness enough. We've got to be kind and to forgive."

Sarah could only say tearfully—

"I'll try."





WINTER was setting in, and the strike continued in full force.

Nobody showed any inclination to give way. There was no talk, as yet, of compromise. Masters and men alike stood firm, holding resolutely each to his own view of the matter, refusing resolutely each to take a kind and unselfish view of the difficulties on the other side.

For of course there were two sides to the question, as there always are, each side having its own share of wrong and of right. The masters had their heavy expenses; their wearing anxieties; their fluctuations in profits. The men had their large families, more or less; their many needs; their comparatively low wages. A little measure of true sympathy and understanding on either side for the other, might have shortened the struggle; but the masters did not fully understand the men's position, and the men were far from sympathizing with the masters' position.

It was a dull cold sky; the sky overhead being black, the mud underfoot blacker still. Sleety rain fell off and on upon the scores of idle loungers in Pleasant Lane and other streets. Many of the loungers took refuge in public-houses—for however badly off the strikers might be, they almost always seemed to have something to spend there.

The usual stir of the busy town was hushed. All sound of engine and hammer had ceased. Work was at an end. Wages were at an end. Food in too many houses threatened to be soon at an end also.

Peter Pope was not just now at hand; and the recollection of a stirring speech the evening before was not enough to prevent down-heartedness this morning. Many of those poor fellows, lolling idly about, were simply ready to do whatever they were told. Peter Pope desired them to hold out; and so they did hold out. But if each one had been questioned separately as to his real feeling in the matter, the answer in nine cases out of ten would have been—

"Give me work, and let me earn bread for my little ones—" irrespective of those "rights" about which Peter Pope eloquently declaimed.

John Holdfast had come out of his house for a breath of air, and he stood at the gate looking about. A fortnight of suffering had rendered him pale and gaunt. The cut on his forehead was nearly healed, but his right arm was still in a sling, and very helpless.

There had been a great stir about John's injuries; but all attempts to identify John's injurers had failed. John had recognized no faces; and everybody else professed entire ignorance. Men of the better class were utterly ashamed of the miserable affair; but few had courage to speak out what they thought, or to give open sympathy to John.

"Good morning, Holdfast. How's the arm to-day, eh?" asked Mr. Hughes, coming at a brisk pace through Pleasant Lane.

Many a visit had Mr. Hughes paid to John lately; and many a supply of food had Stuckey brought from the Rectory. Much kindness had also been shown, and much practical help given, by the heads of the firm for which John worked. So, in point of fact, he and his family had suffered far less from the strike, thus far, than others.

"Getting on, sir, thank you," John answered cheerfully. "The doctor hopes it'll be up to work in a few weeks."

"Fortunate, if it is. Those strained muscles are troublesome things. I hope the strike will not last till your arm is really up to work."

John shook his head dubiously.

"I wish it may not, sir."

"Mr. Bertie has been to see you."

"Twice, sir. He says he don't mean me to be a loser by this."

"No; so I hear. Quite right too. No hope now, I'm afraid, of finding out the fellows who maltreated you."

"No," John said slowly. "I don't know as I can say I'm sorry. But if they was found, it wouldn't be right to let 'em off."

"Certainly not; for the sake of others more than yourself. But—" Mr. Hughes paused and sighed. "How I wish one could breathe a breath of Christ-like loving-kindness into all this—all these business relations between masters and men, between workmen and workmen. The wheels would move then without creaking, and adjustment would not be a matter of fighting."

"That's so, sir," John answered emphatically. "It's Christian consideration for others that's wanted, not just each side trying to grab the biggest profits."

John had left his house, and was walking slowly by Mr. Hughes' side. A gesture had invited him to do so.

"I'm afraid the poor wives and children are the worst sufferers."

"Likely to be," said John. "Sarah and I, we've nothing to complain of—thanks to you and to Mr. Bertie. But them poor Stevenses next door—"

"Stevens joined the strike?"

"Yes, sir; and he don't belong to the Union. I don't know how ever he gets along. His wife is getting as thin—"

"I dare say I can give you a basket of cake and odds and ends for her, poor thing! Can you come with me for it?"

"Now, sir?"

"Yes, now. No time like the present. Poor fellows!" murmured Mr. Hughes, as they passed another group of idlers. "They look very deplorable this morning. Rather different from their state of excitement under one of Pope's orations."

"That sort of excitement don't last," said John. "But I suppose it's the only way to get hold of them."

"Speechifying is, you mean?"

"Yes, sir. Pope has a hold upon 'em, somehow. I'd give a deal to see somebody able to stand up and give the other side of the matter. They do want showing a common-sense view of things."

"Why don't you do it yourself?"

John looked up in astonishment.

"You have read and thought on these subjects and you have a large share of common-sense. Why not impart it to others?"

Holdfast laughed slightly.

"I've not got the gift of the gab," he said.

"Never mind about gifts. If you have a matter clearly in your mind, I imagine that you are capable of putting it into plain words."

"I'm afraid that's not much in my line, sir. I haven't got Pope's smooth tongue, you see."

"Working-men don't want only smoothness. They get enough and too much of that from certain quarters. What they really want is truth. Give them facts. Think things out for yourself, and make up your own mind as to what is right; then throw your influence into the right scale. You have shown already that you are no coward; that you can stand alone; and that you are not afraid to act independently. Don't be afraid to speak as well as to act; and don't conclude that, because you have not Pope's tongue, you have therefore no tongue at all. It may be your positive duty to speak out sometimes, for the sake of others."

"I'll think it over, sir, any way. I wouldn't wish to neglect my duty, if it is a duty," said John. "But I'm afraid the men would only say I was taking the masters' side."

"Don't give them a chance of saying so. Don't take the masters' side. You have not to do that. Let the masters look to themselves, and take the men's side—which Pope does not do, for all his boasting. Try to show them—as many as will listen to you—the wise and common-sense view of things. Show them the folly of trying to control forces which will not be controlled. Show them the doubtful wisdom of half-starving themselves for the chance of a slight rise in wages, which, when gained, cannot repay them for what they have lost in gaining it. At the same time, don't deny that masters, like men, are sometimes unfair; and that pressure has sometimes to be wisely and justly used."

"Maybe I might say something," John observed thoughtfully.






"Yes, Bobbie."

"I'm so hungry."

"And I'm so hungry too," chimed in little Harry.

Martha Stevens was mending a child's frock by the dim light of a wintry afternoon. Snow outside fell thickly; and there were only a few decaying embers in the grate. Food and firing were hard to procure. Not once or twice only, since Holdfast spoke to Mr. Hughes of the Stevens' needs, kind supplies had been sent from the Rectory; but such supplies could only mean temporary relief.

One thing after another had gone to the pawnshop. The best Sunday clothes first; then all the little ornaments and treasures and knick-knacks; and at last even Martha's wedding-ring. The once cheery home was changed.

"I'm so hungry, mother, I don't know what to do."

Bobbie's nine-years-old manliness threatened to fail him; and there was the sound of a sob. Little Millie, curled up on the ground at her mother's feet, lifted her head slowly.

"It's no good crying, Bobbie," she said, in a grave unchildlike manner. "Mother hasn't got nothing?"

"Millie's hungry too, I know," said Mrs. Stevens. "And she don't go on as you do, Bobbie."

"Millie's a girl," sobbed Bobbie. "I don't think she feels it so dreadful bad as me."

"She's worse than any of us, I know that," said Martha, looking down on the tiny blue stick of an arm, which had once been so round and mottled. "And boys hadn't ought to give in more easy than girls."

Bobbie put his head down on a chair, and tried to smother the sobs; but it was hard work. Grown-up men found it no easy task to endure the gnawings of hunger which could not be satisfied; and it was no wonder that Bobbie, with his keen boyish appetite, should fail.

"I'm so hungry,—I'm so hungry," broke out from him anew.

"Father 'll have to take something else—" take it to the pawnbroker's, she meant. "The baker says he don't know how he's to go on giving credit, for there's no knowing where it'll end. And I don't know how we'll ever be able to pay what we owe him now!"

Hundreds of other families were more or less in the same condition; yet the men talked still of holding out.

"Just a little longer," Pope told them, "and they would have everything their own way."

"Father's coming!" Millie said, as a step was heard; and little Harry lifted his heavy head, only to lay it down again.

Stevens came in with a moody air, and took a seat. He looked thinner himself under the pressure of want.

"We've nothing left in the house," Martha said; "and the children's craving and crying till I don't know how to bear myself."

Stevens drew a small loaf—twopenny size—from his pocket, and tossed it on the table. "That's all I've got," he said; "and I didn't expect to have so much."

"Where did you get it from?" Martha asked, taking it in hand to respond to the little ones' eager eyes.

"Met Holdfast," 'said Roger gruffly.

"And he gave it you?"

A grunt of assent. "For the children."

"And where's the next to come from?"

This question had no answer.

"We can't starve," she said, looking at him. "There isn't another crumb nor another penny in the house. Where's the next loaf to come from?"

Stevens was silent.

"You'll have to get something, somehow! We can't go on like this," she continued, speaking quietly thus far. Then she burst out as if choked, "But if you'd been getting your wages all this time we'd never have got to such a pass! As if it mattered that you'd have had to work a bit longer than you liked! What business has a man got to marry, if he don't mean to work? Why, dear me, a lot more work wouldn't have pulled you down yourself, like the want of food! . . . And there's the children! . . . And if you do get what you're trying for, it won't pay for these weeks. It won't give us back half, nor a quarter, of what we've lost. I wish you men had some common-sense, I do, if it's only for the sake of your wives and children."

"You needn't scold," said Roger.

"I don't want to scold! It isn't scolding! I'm only telling you the plain truth. If you'd look the matter in the face for once, you'd maybe see how things are before it's too late."

"Too late for what?" asked Stevens.

Martha did not speak. Her eyes went first to his, then travelled round the room, passed over the older children; and rested on Harry. Roger followed her glance.

"I can't help it," he said desperately. "What am I to do? Pope says we'd be cowards now to give in."

"Pope says!" she repeated with scorn. "Can't you think for yourselves, and not be at Pope's beck and call?"

"Just see how Holdfast was treated—" Stevens began, and stopped.

"Ah, that's it! That's the real truth! You're afraid, all of you,—afraid of Pope, and afraid of each other, and afraid of being called 'blacklegs.' What's that but cowardice? . . . Roger, are you going to wait, and let your little ones starve afore your eyes? . . . There's work to be had now, for I know there is. It's offered to any who'll take. Mr. Holdfast 'ud be at work, if it wasn't for his arm. What's to keep you back?"

"I daren't be the first to give in," he faltered. "They'd hoot at me for a 'blackleg.'"

"Daren't! And you call yourself a man! You call yourself independent! You call yourself a freeborn Englishman! Daren't! And you call that liberty!" she uttered, with unconscious eloquence. "I call it being a slave."

Stevens seemed too dejected for anger. "You know well enough, there's lots of men willing to get to work," he said, "if others would let them. But there's too many for holding out still. What's a man to do? He can't stand alone—and there's nobody to take the lead."

"Except Pope! Take the lead yourself," said Martha.

Roger sat in gloomy silence.

"They do say there's signs that the masters 'll give in soon," he observed at length.

"I don't believe it. And if they did, we'll have lost a deal more than we'll gain."

Roger rose slowly.

"Where are you going?" she asked, in a sharp voice. It had grown sharp lately under the wearing strain of want.

"There's a meeting."

"Pope, I suppose," she said.

"Pope's away for to-night. It was Holdfast asked me to go."

"If he's to be there, you'll have a word on the right side."

"Holdfast said it wasn't to be a question of taking' sides, but just for to consider the state of affairs," said Roger.

Then he passed out into the falling snow, glad to escape from those pinched pitiful faces. Little Harry's wan look haunted him all the way. Harry had been such a beautiful child; plump and rosy, and full of fun. While now—!

"Something 'll have to be done soon," murmured Roger.

The Church schoolroom had been lent by Mr. Hughes to the men for this evening, that they might meet to talk things over among themselves; and Holdfast had undertaken to call them together. A moderate gathering was the response.

It did not promise to be an excited meeting. Pope was not there to supply bombast; and the men were generally more or less depressed. Many of them were hungry; some might almost have been called half-starved.

The main question was—Ought the strike to continue, or should it cease? Ought they to hold on, or were they willing to yield? Were the promised results worth the battle,—if such results might be gained by further delay? In other words, was the game worth the candle?

One and another stood up to speak. In Pope's absence, they were conscious of unusual freedom. They tried to look these questions fairly in the face, with such light as they possessed. It was not that these few men expected to decide for the whole community. The number present was a mere fraction of the whole number out on strike. But even to gain a few frankly-expressed opinions was worth much.

Presently John Holdfast was seen to rise and come forward. He spoke to the chairman, then turned to face the meeting. It was easy to see that he had something to say. There were many present who had baited John and jeered at him for his independent action of late; yet there was not one who did not really in his heart respect John; and no unwillingness to hear him was displayed.

John had at first something of the embarrassed and hesitating air usual with men who find themselves in an unwonted position. But that did not last. He knew his subject; and he had a good command of words. Indeed, as he went on, he showed a degree of fluency which perhaps astonished himself at least as much as his hearers.





"I'VE got a few words to say to you to-night, lads. I'm a plain-spoken man, as you know, with no particular gift for speechifying; so you'll have to bear with me, if I blunder, and put things badly. I'm one of yourselves, and you'll just take my blundering kindly, and look beyond it to the root of the matter. It's as one of yourselves that I want to talk to you."

"There's been a lot said already, as to whether you should or shouldn't go on with the strike. Some are for one side, and some for the other. Well, I s'pose you all know pretty well which side I'm for. But maybe you don't all know so well what's my reasons, nor why I'm for that side."

"Now you needn't think I'm going to pretend to settle the whole question for you in a dozen words, and expect you all in a moment to follow what I say. That wouldn't be fair nor sensible. What I want to do is just to put the thing before you in a reasonable light."

"It seems to me that a deal of nonsense is talked, and a lot of mistakes are made, in these days, through men not looking on both sides of a question. You've heard the old story of the shield, and the two knights looking upon it. One said it was made of gold, and the other would have it was made of silver; and words ended in blows, and if I'm not mistaken, one wounded the other to death. At all events, it wasn't till after there'd been fighting, that somebody passing by showed them how the shield was gold on one side and silver on the other. So both were right and both were wrong; for it was gold, but it wasn't all gold; and it was silver, but it wasn't only silver: A little patience and common-sense were wanted there, weren't they?"

"Folks do much the same now. One is on the masters' side, and he says the shield is all gold. Another is on the men's side, and he says the shield, is all silver. Neither of 'em has the sense to walk round, and take a look on the other side."

"There's the masters' side of the question, the side of Capital. There's the men's side, the side of Labour. Each has its rights, and each depends upon the other. It's all very fine to talk of independence; but I tell you, men, you can't be independent. There's no man living who can stand alone, and do for himself without help from others. You're dependent on others for the food you eat, for the clothes you wear, for the houses you live in, for the tools you work with."

"Aye, and more than that; when you buy, you're among the capitalists. Others have worked for you, and you pay them for their labour. There's no such sharp division as many make out between capitalists and labouring-men. It's a question of degrees. The working-man spends less money, and works more with his hands; the capitalist spends more money, and works less with his hands. That's the distinction. But they're all members of one community, and each depends upon the other."

"To come back to the common view of the matter; the greater amount of capital is in the masters' hands no doubt, and power goes with money. Yet, if the masters couldn't get hands to work for them, much use would their wealth be to them. The men do the work, and power goes with labour too; but if there was no capital out of which their wages would come, they'd be badly off too."

"Fact is, there's power on both sides, and there's dependence on both sides. It's the few with capital to balance the many without capital. More truly, it's the few with large capital to balance the many with little capital."

"Now you mind one thing that I have to say. Capital is your friend, and not your enemy. Some among you are given to talking about the tyranny of capital. Well, I don't say capital is never tyrannical when it gets a chance, just as I don't say labour is never tyrannical when it gets a chance too. But the 'tyranny of labour' may be as true a phrase as the 'tyranny of capital;' and all the while, each is the friend of the other. Capital is the friend of labour, and labour is the friend of capital. Capital can't get along without labour, and labour can't get along without capital. A man 'll sometimes act tyrant to his own friend, if he gets a chance—when he's thinking too much about his own pocket."

"One thing's sure. If a man hurts his friend, he hurts himself too in the long run, whether he sees it or not. The masters can't do wrong to the men without injuring themselves, and the men can't wrong the masters without hurting themselves; for each depends on the other."

"I suppose it would be a happy thing if the two sides could come to an agreement as to their exact rights, and so put a stop to all disputes. But that's a thing more easy said than done; for the fact is, there's no one spot where you can say the rights of one side begin, and the rights of the other end. Or if there is such a spot, it's always moving."

"I'll tell you what—it's like what the children call a see-saw, you know. The masters with their capital are seated on one end of the board, and the men with their labour are seated on the other end. The plank is supported on a narrow edge, and the very least change in the quantity of gold at one end, or in the number of men at the other end, makes a re-adjustment needful to keep the balance."

"Nell, and the re-adjustment can't come about in a moment. If both parties keep quiet, the board 'll swing a little, and presently they'll see what the true balance is—whether the masters or the men weigh heaviest. But sometimes they won't wait. They fidget, and they get excited; and the plank swings harder, and maybe they end in an upset altogether, which puts off the settling for a good bit longer. I think we've had something of that sort lately."

"I'm inclined to believe that the upset don't make much difference in the long run. The plank 'll find its balance just the same, whether those at each end sit quiet or whether they don't. It may swing more or less; but nothing on earth can keep the heavier end from being lowest, nor the lighter end from being highest, when it does come to rest."

"Matters are something like that in the labour-market."

"You've had a lot of fine words said to you of late by Pope, which maybe some of you believe. He'd teach you to think that everything is in your own hands; that you only have to strike and strike again to get higher and higher wages, and that the masters all keep you wilfully down, and don't give you your dues."

"Well, I've had a good lot of spare time lately, and I thought I couldn't do better than read about these questions, and get up some information."

"I've one fact to give you, as a result of my reading. Facts are stubborn things you know; and I'm not sure as this isn't a specially stubborn fact. Any way, here it is. Whatever you and the masters do or don't do, and whether so be that you like it or not, labour, as a general rule and in the long run, is always paid at its worth."

"You don't see that, eh?"

"Well, I'll give you the key to it in a sentence I've read somewhere. 'Labour is dear when it is scarce, and cheap when it is plentiful.' Other things have their bearing on the question, I won't deny; but you'll always have to work back to this. When trade's prosperous, and the demand for labour grows, and the masters compete one against another for hands, then wages rise. But when the market is overstocked, and the demand for labour gets less, and the men compete one against another for work, instead of the masters competing for men, there's a change. Natural enough, those in need of work will take it at a lower rate, rather than go without; and down the wages run. It isn't a surer law that water finds its own level, than that wages do the same."

"But suppose now you won't let men take lower wages. Suppose, by the power of combination, you force the wages to keep at a higher level than they'd do naturally? That's possible sometimes, I don't deny; just as you can bank up a stream of water, and hinder it from flowing down."

"I'm not talking about the right or the wrong of such action, nor whether you've a right to restrain the freedom of others. That's for you and them to consider. But I'll tell you what must be the result of such action."

"By forcing up the wages, you make the fruits of your work more dear than elsewhere. Then other towns or other countries will compete against you, producing the same things more cheaply. Then the public will leave you, and buy elsewhere. Stands to reason, don't it, that folks turn to the cheapest market for their goods? If you men can buy a serviceable coat for a low price at one shop, you won't choose to pay a high price for the same at another shop. So, by getting higher wages than are really your due, you'll have driven away the trade from your neighbourhood, perhaps from your country; and masters and men will suffer alike."

"Maybe you'll say that if all working-men over the world joined into one great league, they could force up the wages everywhere alike. Well, I don't know as that's altogether an impossible state of things for a time. But mind you, it would be only for a time. It couldn't go on always. The produce of higher wages being too expensive for the condition of the times, people would buy less; or they'd find something else cheaper to use instead. I don't know as I'm making myself clear; but it's clear to myself what I mean."

"I can't tell what 'll be the outcome of the present strike. Maybe, if you go on long enough, the masters will give in, and you'll get your higher wage. Well, and if so be the state of the market allows it, all will go right. But if your doing so forces the masters to put a higher price on the produce of your work than is paid for it elsewhere, we shall be losers in the end. For trade will flow away from our town. Customers will go elsewhere."

"You'll tell me now that I'm arguing on the masters' side. But I'm not. It's the men's side I'm considering; and the trouble you'll all be in, if a time of slack trade comes."

"I want you all, as I've said before, to take a common-sense view of the matter. That's what some of your fine speechifiers don't help you to do. I dare say you'd like it better if I was to talk a lot about tyranny and oppression, and iron heels trampling you down, and such trash, and then was to butter you up for a set of noble chaps, the like of which never trod this earth before."

"You're used to that sort of thing, ain't you, now? But it's not in my line, nor never will be. You may be noble if you choose—all and any of you. I don't say you all are; any more than I'd go for to say that all the aristocracy or all the capitalists of the country are noble. Nobody's noble who lives to himself, and who's a slave to any manner of wrong-doing. But there's many a noble fellow among them; and I hope there's many a noble fellow among us too. Any way, I've a notion that your iron-heeled aristocracy would be the last to deny the fact. Only, whether you're noble or no, I do say you let your eyes be too easy blinded by a handful of dust."

"Now you just think quiet for a minute or two, about this notion of cheap and dear labour depending on whether it's plentiful or scarce."

"You all know that pearls and diamonds cost a lot more than bits of glass and wood. Why do they? Because they're valuable, you'll say. But why are they valuable? Because men want to have them? No, it's not that only. It's because they're scarce.

"Take the Kohinoor—the grandest diamond in England, belonging to Her Majesty. Three cheers for our noble Queen, lads!" John's hat went up, and the haggard men before him responded warmly. "That's it!" said John, well pleased. "Now about the Kohinoor. I'm afraid to say how much it is worth. But supposing that instead of one there was fifty such diamonds in the country. Would they all be worth as much? No, of course not. And suppose there was ten thousand—why, lots of people could buy them then, the price 'ud be so much lower. And suppose they were as common as pebbles in the road; why, then you'd be able to, pick them up like pebbles, you know, and not have to pay anything at all."

"So a thing is worth more or less, partly according to whether it's wanted, but mostly according to whether it's scarce or plentiful."

"That's how it is with labour. When there's much work to be done, and few men to do it, labour is dear because it's scarce. When there's little work to be done, and many men to do it, labour is cheap because it is plentiful. And when labour is cheap, no amount of strikes can make it worth more than it is worth, even though wages may be forced up unnaturally for a while."

"Would you go for to say," put in a voice, "that strikes are never on no account to be resorted to?"

"No, I don't say that," returned John. "It's natural and it's right that working-men should band together to protect their own interests; and maybe now and then a strike's the only method open to them. Any way, I do know it oughtn't to be a common thing. For in nine cases out of ten, lads, the loss is more than the gain. A strike is wise, only when affairs are in such a condition, that you all know on the very best authority—not only on Pope's authority—that a rise is your just due, and that there's no chance of your getting it for a long while save by a strike. That's a state of things that might be; and then if you liked to go in for a strike—well, it mightn't be altogether unreasonable."

"But a strike should be your last resort, not your first. If a rise in wages is really your due, I suppose it's sure to come sooner or later, from the pressure of competition, whether you strike or whether you don't. But if you're mistaken as to the state of things, and a rise is not your due—why a strike isn't like to do more than bring loss and disappointment; or even if it does force the wages up for a bit, that can't last, and things will be worse for your trade in the end."

"It 'ud be a good thing if masters and men would draw together, and be more friendly-like, and each listen to the other. For there's rights on both sides, and difficulties on both sides; and there's room on both sides for a kind and thoughtful spirit to be shown. It wouldn't do no harm to you, lads, if you was sometimes to put yourselves into the masters' place, and think how you'd act there. And I wish the masters would do the same for the men. Not as they don't sometimes, I'll be bound. There's masters and masters, just as there's men and men! I don't see as we ourselves have much to complain of. Mr. Bertie and Mr. Lovett have been good friends to us for many a year. It wasn't till Pope came to enlighten our ignorance, that we found out we was grovelling under the heels of two bloodthirsty tyrants."

"No, no; not so bad as that!" cried several voices.

"Hope not!" said John dryly. "Any way, my slavery don't fret me much. I've got along pretty comfortable, in spite of it—till these last weeks."

"I say," broke in a fresh voice, "that's all very fine, you know, what you've been saying; and I don't say there's no truth in it. But I'd like to know one thing, and that is, why working-men are paid at a higher rate in other countries than in England?"

"And perhaps, if I answer that, you'll tell me why workmen are paid at a lower rate in other countries than in England," said John.

"Look at America," was the answer.

"And look at France—look at Germany—look at Holland. It comes in both cases from the same reason. Labour is more scarce in one place than in another; or, capital is more plentiful. Either way the wages must rise."

"Twelve to eighteen shillings a day, as I've heard say Englishmen could make awhile back in a place called Lima," chimed in somebody else.

"Maybe so," John answered. "And if you want to make that amount, you'd best go there—supposing it's the same still. Only take care too many of you don't go; for as sure as labour gets more plentiful, the wages will run down."

"When you think of the lower rate of wages paid to workmen on the Continent, you'll no doubt say that the advantage on our side is all owing to Trades, Unions and strikes. But it's nothing of the sort. Trades Unions, property managed, are all very well in their way; and a strike at the right time may be a good thing in its way. But Trades Unions and strikes can't force wages up to a higher level and keep them there, when the state of the labour-market don't allow it."

"There's trades in England, with powerful Unions, which haven't made any advance in wages during years past. There are trades on the Continent, with no Unions at all to push for them, which have just gone on with the tide; and the workmen have gained twenty or thirty per cent. on their wages."

"I've spoken longer than I meant when I began; and now it's about time I should stop. A word more, first. You'll tell me, perhaps, that many a strike isn't for higher wages, but for shorter hours. So it is. English workmen are growing mighty careful of themselves nowadays, and afraid of work. But the rise is the same either way. It's a rise if you get better pay for ten hours' work than before; and it's a rise if you keep ten hours' pay for nine hours' work."

"Yes; and it's the same thing in another way. The cost of production is greater, whichever sort of rise you get; and that means a higher price for the thing sold; and that means, sometimes, driving away the trade to some other place. A lot of trade has drifted away from England to foreign countries, of late years—and why? Just because the shorter hours and higher wages of English workmen mean higher prices for the produce of their work—and people won't pay higher prices when they can get as good for lower. Would you? No, of course you wouldn't!"

"You've borne patiently with me, and I mustn't tax you further, though there's plenty more I could say yet. But I do want you just to think over these matters for yourselves, and not be led away by fine talk which hasn't sense in it. And while you're thinking, you just remember the wives and children at home. What's best for them?"

Holdfast sat down without another word, and not without his meed of applause.

But though he was heard patiently throughout, and though he had dropped some seeds which might perchance take root, yet those present were few in number compared with the many out on strike; and those few had not force of character or vigour of will to speak out and to act for themselves.





IT was a Sunday evening, and bitterly cold. A hard frost had come to aggravate the misery which already reigned in the town.

Martha Stevens cowered over a scanty fire, with her shivering children. Harry had wailed himself to sleep in his little bed; but Millie and Bobbie were up still, clinging to their mother's faded dress.

"I wonder what father's doing," patient Millie said. She did not utter the first words which rose to her lips—"I wonder if father 'll bring us anything to eat." Millie was unusually thoughtful for her few years, and would not say needlessly what would distress "mother."

"I don't know. There isn't much here to tempt him," sighed Martha.

The door opened slowly. "I say—may I come in, Mrs. Stevens?" asked a voice.

A ragged slatternly figure, carrying a baby, entered and drew towards the fire-place. It was their near neighbour, Mrs. Hicks.

"You can sit down," said Martha; "only shut the door first. The wind's bitter cold. Do you want anything?"

"That's a nice question, ain't it?" said Mrs. Hicks, acting on the leave given. "Do I want—anything? O no; we're all so flush o' cash just now, we don't want nothing, do we? Not you, nor me, nor nobody!"

Martha made no answer. She felt too listless and despairing for neighbourly talk. Molly Hicks gazed round the little room with hungry eyes.

"Maybe you've not got to such a pass as we," she said. "Maybe you haven't a crust to spare!"


"Maybe you haven't a crust to spare!" she said.

"It wouldn't be on the shelf long if I had," Martha said in a hard tone.

"Ah—then I'm come to the wrong place," said Molly. "Look here, Mrs. Stevens!"

She held out a wan baby, with claw-like fingers and wizened face—a face that might have belonged to some old man.

"And Jack 'll stand seeing that! And he'll stand knowing that the child's being killed! It'll die soon! And I tell him so! And he won't believe, till it's too late! If ever I go and work him up again to this sort of thing, I'll—"

Molly caught her breath in a sob. But for her "working up," as she rightly termed it, her husband might never have joined the strike. He was a man slow to decide, difficult to move; but when once he had decided on some new course of action, he was equally resolute in holding, to it. Molly had given the impulse. She could not now undo her own work.

"How long does your husband s'pose it'll last?" asked Mrs. Hicks, after a pause.

"I don't know. Nobody don't know," said Martha wearily. "Till the masters give in, or till the men see they've no hope of getting their way. And they don't seem like to see that, so long as Mr. Pope goes on talking at them."

"I wish Pope was at the bottom of the sea. That's what I wish," said Mrs. Hicks, slowly rising.

Martha's drooping manner and empty cupboard did not tempt her to a longer stay. Wrapping the baby in her torn shawl, she went out again.

"Mother, how dreadful bad Mrs. Hicks' baby does look," said Bobbie.

Martha could not speak. She could only think how changed were the faces of her own children—of little Harry especially. Bobbie's mind seemed to go in the same direction.

"And Millie's got such thin arms; and baby don't laugh as he used, and all the red's gone out of his checks. I wish I was a man; I'd go off to the works, and get a lot of money."

"It'll be long enough before you're a man, Bobbie," sighed his mother. "Years and years first. And when you are, I suppose you'll just be like the rest,—do what everybody else does, and never think about the little ones at home."

"Don't father think?"

Martha put a sudden check upon herself.

"Yes, he does," she said. "He does think; and it goes to his heart to see baby Harry's look. I didn't mean that, Bobbie; I only meant, I wish with all my heart the strike was over."

"Look 'ee here, Mrs. Holdfast!"

Molly Hicks once more held out her baby, and Sarah Holdfast's kind face softened with pity.

"Poor little thing! Why, she's wasted away to nothing!"

"Starving!" said Mrs. Hicks, in a dry unnatural voice.

"Poor little thing!" repeated Mrs. Holdfast.

"There's nothing for anybody at home. And we've parted with pretty near everything. The house is just left bare. They've helped us at the shops, till they say they can't go on no longer. I don't know how it'll all end. I've got nobody to help me, nor nobody to turn to."

Molly Hicks sat down on the doorstep of the Holdfasts' cottage, and rocked the baby to and fro. It set up a faint whimper, as if in response, but seemed too weak to cry.

"Don't stay there. You'll give the child its death of cold. Come in, and you shall have a cup of tea," said Sarah, "and some milk for baby."

Mrs. Hicks obeyed the invitation with alacrity.

Tea-things were still on the table, for Mrs. Holdfast had delayed for once putting them away until the children were in bed. She was glad now of Bessie's unwonted sleepiness. A little boiling water added to the remains of tea in the tea-pot, soon produced a very drinkable cup; and Molly disposed of it eagerly. A big slice of bread and butter awaited her also; but she turned from it, to soak scraps of dry bread in a saucer of milk, and to squeeze them between the tiny creature's parched lips. Sarah looked on with tearful eyes.

"There! Not too fast," she said. "Take something yourself now."

"I don't know how to thank you enough, that I don't," said Molly Hicks at length, when her wants and those of the baby seemed both satisfied. "I haven't had such a meal for days. It's not a bit of good to say one word to my husband. He won't listen. If he'd a grain of sense, he'd be back at work—now work's to be had. But he won't. He's as obstinate—!"

"One man's afraid to stir without the rest stirring too," said Sarah.

"Then he'd ought to think of his children, and put his fears in his pocket," said Molly.

"You didn't think like that in the beginning of the strike," Sarah ventured to say.

"No, I didn't—more fool I!" said Molly. "Talking a lot of rubbish, and getting him to go along with the rest, when he wouldn't have done it but for me! O yes, he'd hear me then; but he won't hear me now. I just wish I'd bitten off my tongue first! You don't look as if you'd come to the end of everything yet, Mrs. Holdfast."

"No," said Sarah quietly. "It isn't John's fault he can't work; and he's been helped."

"He ain't at work yet."

"His arm isn't well enough. It's been business—longer than we thought. The doctor says he'll have to rest it yet awhile."

"Everybody knows how that came about," said Molly.

Sarah was silent.

"Some folks do say it was an accident. But everybody knows. It was the men—because your husband wouldn't join 'em."

"Maybe," Sarah said in constrained tones. "Well——all we can do is to—"

"Have the law out of 'em! But you can't!" said Molly.

"No. We can't; for John doesn't know who it was. Any way, we've got to forgive them."

"That ain't so easy," said Molly, with a short laugh, hanging over the fire. "Where's your husband now?"

"Gone to church."

"Catch my husband putting his foot inside of a church door," said Molly.

"Then he loses a lot of happiness," said Mrs. Holdfast. "John and me can't go together, because of the children; but he mostly manages for me to go once, and he does like to go twice, as often as not. I've been this afternoon; and he's been morning and evening. We wouldn't give it up—no, not for anything."

"Why, what's the good?" asked Molly, opening her eyes.

"I think the good is, because it's right—first," said Mrs. Holdfast. "And if we go in a right spirit, it brings us nearer to God. And we go to worship Him, and to learn about Him. You just try, Mrs. Hicks; you'll soon feel you couldn't do without it."

"I!" said Mrs. Hicks. "In this gown! And it's the only one I've got."

"I'd sooner go in a work-a-day gown than not at all," said Sarah. "Maybe it would be hard. But I'm quite sure I couldn't stay away. I don't know how I'd ever bear trouble when it comes, if I hadn't such a Friend to turn to, and to ask to help me."

"A friend! Do you mean Mr. Hughes?"

"No; I didn't mean Mr. Hughes, though he's been a real good friend and no mistake," said Mrs. Holdfast. "I meant One above—One who's a Friend to all that call up on Him. I wouldn't stay away from His House, when I've a chance to go—no, not for anything you could mention. And John, he feels the same, Mrs. Hicks."





"THERE was another meeting of the men last night, Peter," said Mr. Hughes one morning, in a thoughtful tone, as he paced the garden-path.

"Werry important meeting, sir," said Stuckey.

"Were you there yourself?"

"I was, sir. It's interestin' to watch an' see the course which matters is a-takin'."

Peter spoke in a contemplative tone, gazing straight over the top of the Rector's hat.

"What course are they taking?" asked Mr. Hughes, amused.

"An' that's the werry question, sir," responded Peter, moving his head to and fro, with an air of profound consideration.

"Did Pope address the men?"

"And he did, sir; an' told the men a lot of things in werry uncommon fine language. Pope speaks a deal finer than you do, sir."

"He does, does he?" laughed Mr. Hughes.

"Werry much finer, only it ain't by a long chalk so clear to the understandin'. For why, sir? Peter Pope, he strings together a lot of fine words, like children do with glass beads, and those that listens is none the wiser. But he does a deal of butterin', and that's what the men likes. They likes the butter laid on thick, and no mistake, sir."

"Human nature, I'm afraid. Most people have no objection to a certain amount of flattery."

"Just my own view of the matter, sir. As I was a-telling of Holdfast this very morning: 'They likes a good spread o' butter, Holdfast,' says I; 'and they don't know, not they, as it's rancid butter, calc'lated to do 'em no good.'"

"What did Pope say to them yesterday, Peter?"

"Telled 'em what a splendid set of manly fellows they all was, sir, to be sure, and what a cowardly lot of sneaking chaps they'd got over 'em. Telled 'em too they'd got everything in their own hands—sort of general management of the whole world, you know—and all they'd got to do was to strike, an' strike, an' strike again, and drive the wages up as high as ever they liked. That's what he says! Telled 'em the masters 'ud soon give in, and then they'd have another strike, and the masters 'ud give in again. All as easy as b—a—ba, sir!"

"And the men believed him!"

"Well, I don't know as I can 'xactly say that, sir. There is some among the men as has too much sense to be altogether so easy bamboozled with a lot of clap-trap. But any way, they do like uncommon to hear it all. Sort of tickles and soothes 'em, you know."

"Was Holdfast there?"

"I've a notion not, but I ain't sure. Any way, he's spoke up bravely once, and I make no doubt he'll do it again. I'm not sure as I won't take up the line myself some day."

"Which line?" Mr. Hughes asked.

"Speechifying, sir, for the good of them as is ignorant," Peter said loftily.

"You think you have a gift that way?"

Peter scratched his head, divided between modesty and assurance.

"Well, sir, my old mother, she were knowing and no mistake, and she'd used to say I had a gift for most things, whatever I chose to take up."

"Perhaps a little practice beforehand would be advisable, before adventuring yourself in public," suggested Mr. Hughes.

"Just the werry identical same conclusion as I comed to myself," asserted Peter. "Nothing in the world like practice for giving of a man confidence, sir. And it's confidence as does it. It ain't the gift only; it's confidence, and practice leads to confidence."

"Have you begun your practising?"

"It ain't my way, sir, for to go a-puttin' off when I sees a duty plain afore me. Soon 's I sees my way, I up and does it. Yes, I was a-practising yesterday evening; an' I'd just got to that 'ere point, sir, as I'd worked up a picture-like of a lot o' men round, all a-listenin' as meek as lambs, and I a-giving out o' my opinions—I'd got to that 'ere point, sir, when Mary Anne she come in, an' says she,—"

"'Why, Peter,' says she, 'whatever are you after,' says she, 'a-hitting out at the candlestick like that?' says she."

"'That's action,' says I. 'A fine thing is action,' says I, 'and Pope's got a lot of it. Gives him a sort of hold-like on people's minds, Mary Anne,' says I."

"Mary Anne she didn't see it, and she fell a-laughing at me, fit to bu'st; but there's no manner o' doubt it is so, sir. Nor action ain't hard to get, neither. It's just a swing, an' a stamp, an' a bang of the feet now and agin, and a deal o' tossing about o' the arms between times. Just a sort of emphaticallizing of the words by means o' the body, you see, sir. I've been a-telling Holdfast he's got to work up his action, afore he speaks agin. The men likes a lot of action."

"I shouldn't recommend either you or Holdfast to take Pope for your model," said the much diverted Mr. Hughes, as he moved away. "A statement, well worded, may be quite as emphatic without the swing or the stamp."

Peter stood motionless, weighing this parting utterance. He rubbed his forehead more than once in dubious style.


"'A fine thing is action,' says I, 'and Pope's got a lot of it.'"

"Don't know as I can give in to that 'ere notion neither. There ain't no doubt as the men likes action. A speaker as didn't stir a finger wouldn't make no way with our chaps. They likes a stamp and a bang, once and agin. Same time, they did listen pretty patient to Holdfast; for all he'd no action, nor didn't lay on the butter."

"It's a queer thing now—come to think of it!—A werry queer and extraordinary thing, to see all these able-bodied fellows hanging about idle for weeks an' weeks, an' bringing their families to the brink o' starwation—and for why? 'Cause they're told! That's why! Peter Pope tells 'em to do it, and they does it! Not as they wants to do it, most of 'em! There's hundreds this minute as 'ud be glad and thankful to give in, an' be at work again! But no! They're bid to hold out, and hold out they will. They'll hold out, and they'll do all they can to make others hold out, and maybe punish them as don't."

"And all the while they're sick at heart, poor fellows, knowing; all they've lost an' must lose, and knowing the misery at home! Supposing the masters do give way. What then! Think a bit of a rise in their wages 'll ever make up for what they've gone through these weeks? Not it! An' the men knows that—many of 'em—as well as I do; for they've sense down below. But they haven't the courage to speak out, nor to act for themselves. Talk of independence! They're like a flock of sheep, everybody a-running after the rest."

"Yes, it is a werry queer state of things indeed. But if it hadn't ha' been for that there accident, I'd ha' been among 'em now, scuttling after Pope, like to the rest."

"'Tain't so amazin' the members of a Union holding out when they're bid. Whether it's wise or foolish orders they has, and whatever they thinks privately, they gets an allowance, and they're helped through. But it's mighty queer to see them hundreds of men who don't belong to no Union, nor don't get a penny from it saving by way of charity, all knuckling down alike. Werry advantageous for Pope! It's a fine increase of income as he's been getting all through the strike, which 'll stop when the strike stops."

"So it ain't surprising that Peter Pope is sort of anxious to keep the strike a-going! And it ain't so werry surprising that the unionists shouldn't mind a bit longer holiday, an' being kept without havin' to work for their living. But it's most surprising an' altogether remarkable, when a lot of poor starving chaps, who don't get no extra income nor don't belong to no Union, should be so wonderful ready to do just as they're bid, and take the bread out of their children's mouth's to put jam an' pastry into Peter Pope's mouth! Don't seem fair on the children, though!"





"NO Sunday dinner to-morrow, mother," said Bobbie, late in the afternoon of a cold and wintry day. "I wish there was."

"Not much chance of Sunday dinners, till father brings home wages regular again," sighed Martha.

She looked thin and worn, poor woman, with weeks of insufficient food. Little enough came into the house these days; and what there was, she reserved, mother-like, as far as possible for the children, eating scarcely enough herself to keep soul and body together.

"I'm so hungry, mother. I'm always hungry," complained Bobbie. "We don't never have enough now. O mother, it used to be so nice on Sundays. It isn't now."

"No," she said patiently. "I haven't much for you to-morrow, Bobbie, without father brings anything home. And that ain't likely. I don't know whether—"

She paused to stoop over baby Harry. He was lying on the little cot-bed, covered by a shawl. A slight moaning had drawn her attention.

"He's so cold to-night. I don't like his look," she said anxiously. "Millie, just put one more scrap of coal on the fire. We mustn't use it all. But he's like ice."

"Harry hasn't eaten nothing all day," said Millie.

"He don't seem to have no appetite. He's got so low, for want of proper food—that's where it is," Martha said bitterly. "He turns against everything now. I'm sure I'm at my wits' end to know what to do. If he don't get better by Monday, I'll have to take him to the doctor's—not as it's much use. Good food's what he wants; and how am I to get it for him?"

She lifted the little fellow, and brought him close to the fire, where she sat down. Harry lay heavily across her knees, not looking up at any of them.

Martha leant forward to touch up the tiny fire.

"We must have a bit of a blaze to warm him," she said. "He does seem bad. Speak to him, Millie. He always likes your voice, you know."

Millie's blue fingers strayed lovingly over the wan baby-face.

"Harry—Harry," she cooed softly. "Wake up, Harry."

"He's too cold, and he wants food," said Martha, as there was no response. "You just hold him careful a minute, Millie, while I get a bit of bread. I'll try again. There's a drop of milk still."

She crumbled the bread into the milk, and tried to feed the child, but he moaned and turned away. A spoonful of milk, slightly warmed, she held next to the pale lips—still in vain. None was swallowed. Harry only seemed to be fretted by her attempts; and there was a weak little wail of complaint. Martha gave it up, and took him back into her arms.

"I don't like him being like this," she said uneasily. "It isn't his way. He used to be such a healthy little fellow."

"Is it the strike, mother?" asked Bobbie.

"It's being half-starved—and that's the strike," she said.

"Then I wish there wasn't no strike," said Bobbie.

Roger Stevens came into the room at this juncture.

"No tea for me, I s'pose," he said gloomily.

"There's a bit of bread, and a drop of milk," said Martha. "I'm out of tea, and I can't get any more. There's no money left, and only half a loaf for to-morrow. I durstn't touch that to-night."

Stevens came to the table, and munched a few mouthfuls of the dry crust hastily, drinking off the milk at one draught.

"I say; haven't you a drop more?"

"I'm keeping it for Harry. He hasn't taken a scrap of food all day. I can't make him. Seems like as if his stomach turned against it. He's ill, Roger."

She spoke plaintively.

"Oh, he'll be all right in a few days," said Stevens. Nevertheless, his eyes went uneasily to the small figure on Martha's knee. "It's the cold."

"Yes; cold and starvation. He's dying of the strike."

"Dying! Rubbish and nonsense!" Roger spoke angrily. "No more dying than you nor me. He wants feeding up a bit. The strike's just at an end, and he'll be all right then."

"Will he? Children don't get back strength so easy, once it's run down," said Martha. "How do you know the strike's at an end?"

"Some sort of proposals has come from the masters—I've not heard particulars. Meeting us half-way, I'm told."

"And it's going to be settled?"

"There's a meeting. We're going to consider the question," said Stevens. "Some don't want to give in till we get the whole. It's only a half rise that's talked of. I don't know if we'll accept the offer, or if we'll wait a while longer."

"And meantime—what are we to do?" asked Martha. "There's nothing to eat. What are we to do? Roger, don't be persuaded," she implored. "Do take the right side; and don't you mind what others say. If the masters give way one half, surely the men can give way the other half. It's like children if they don't—holding out because they've said they will. Don't you listen to what others say—Pope least of all. It's nothing to him—he, with all his comforts. And just look at us. It's life and death to the children."

"A man must do as others do," came in answer.

"I don't see the 'must.' Mr. Holdfast don't; and I'm sure he's as much of a man as any of you. I wouldn't be so easy led, if I was a man, that I wouldn't!" declared Martha passionately. "As if folks' talk was more to you than the wants of your own little ones."

Stevens walked off, banging the door behind him; and the noise brought another moan from Harry. Martha sat watching him, tears running down her cheeks.

"Maybe he'd like me to sing to him," said Millie. "Would he, mother?"

"Try," was the reply.

And Millie's thin but sweet child-voice rose softly in one of the hymns she had learnt at the Church Sunday-school, Bobbie's uncertain tones joining in now and then.

"I love to hear the story,
    Which angel voices tell,
 How once the King of Glory
    Came down on earth to dwell;"

"I am both weak and sinful,
    But this I surely know,
 The Lord came down to save me,
    Because He loved me so."

Millie came to a pause.

"I've forgot the next verse," she said. "Mother, Harry likes me to sing. He's got his eyes open. Harry likes hymns about Jesus and the angels, don't he?"

Martha only said "Go on," in a choked voice.

And Millie started the last verse, Bobbie still following her lead.

"To sing His love and mercy,
    My sweetest songs I'll raise,
 And though I cannot see Him,
    I know He hears my praise:
 For He has kindly promised
    That even I may go
 To sing among His angels,
    Because He loves me so."

Baby Harry lay quite still. There was no response of look or word, as in earlier and brighter days. The blue eyes were shut, and the small face was white—how white Martha could not see in the dim light, though she could feel how heavily he lay on her arm. She resolved anew that on Monday, if he were not better, he must see the doctor.

But no Monday would ever dawn for little Harry. He was slipping quietly away from the hard and bitter strifes of men, with all their sorrowful consequences, away to the Land of peace where love alone has sway; where want can never enter; where hunger and thirst are unknown. He who had "kindly promised" a Home among the angels, was even now drawing baby Harry out of the mother's clasp into His own strong and gentle Arms, "because He loved him so."





IT was on the whole an orderly meeting, and altogether an earnest one. For a momentous decision had to be made. Many pale and haggard men present had had no meal worth mentioning through the past day.

The masters' proposals were laid before them. The demand of the men on strike was for fifteen per cent. increase on their wages. Half this was conceded. If the men returned at once to work, seven and a half per cent increase should be theirs. If not, immediate measures would be taken to procure hands from elsewhere. This was distinctly stated.

Then came the discussion. Should the men accept the offer, or should they refuse to yield one jot of their demand?

Of course there were opposite views. Pope was loudly in favour of holding out; and he had his band of devoted followers. Some unionists, in receipt of a weekly allowance, which, though perhaps small, kept them from destitution, argued for firmness. But many present were not unionists; and it soon became evident which way the sense of the majority tended. Long pressure of want had loosened their implicit confidence in Peter Pope. Some of them had even begun to think a little for themselves, independently.

A good many stood up in turn. The delegates who had interviewed the masters came first. Then Pope was allowed full swing; and many of his hearers, carried away for the moment by his honeyed phrases, seemed to swing with him. But others spoke out plainly after, in rough and terse language, showing up the miseries of the strike and its doubtful advantages, also in some cases protesting against the tyranny which would impose upon them all, a yoke chosen by the few.

John Holdfast once again rose, and gave something of an abstract of his former speech, addressed now to larger numbers. It was well received, winning applause. When he sat down, Peter Stuckey made his appearance from a retired corner, and was hauled up on the platform. His crooked little figure and wizened comical face were the signal for a gust of laughter; but Peter stood his ground, nodded, smiled, and signified his intention to "say something."

The chairman, with a broad grin, introduced him to the audience, and a hail of clapping followed. Stuckey chose a convenient spot on which to stand, braced himself for mental action, forgot all about bodily action, and dashed into the fray.

"I've seen pretty nigh all of you before, men; so don't need to say where I'm comed from. I was a fellow-workman of some o' you once—till it pleased God to afflict me, and cut me off from such employment. Well—He gave me a friend to take care o' me, and one as has been a friend to many a one o' you too, more especial of late. We'll give a cheer for Mr. Hughes, by and by.—Wait awhile!" shouted Stuckey. "I've got a lot to say, and bein' none too used to public speakin', I'll maybe forget."

"You've all been hearing a lot o' sensible words spoke this evening. More sensible by a long chalk than some as I've heard spoke other evenings. Werry good, so far! But it won't do to end with talk, lads; you've got to make up your minds for to act."

"Just you let me say first of all that I takes it this here is a conversational sort of a meetin' like, an' if any man don't agree with what's said, he's free to say so."

If this was a clever dodge of Stuckey's, to cover a sudden confusion of ideas, consequent on his unaccustomed position, it proved successful. Up started two or three men, and two or three voices cried—

"Got to act how? What action? Put it plain, Stuckey."

"Well, if ye wants me to be the mouthpiece of the meeting, I'll put it plain an' no mistake," said Stuckey. "Ye've got to consider these here proposals, and to answer them. Ye've got to settle whether ye'll say 'yes,' and go back to your work; or whether you give up, once an' for all. For mind ye, they ain't going to shilly-shally. There's work to be done, and if you won't do it, somebody else will. Yes—furriners, maybe—" in response to a general groan.

"It's no manner o' use to howl, boys! Howlin' won't stop 'em. I'm not especial fond o' furriners; no more than yourselves; but I hopes I've got a bit o' common' sense; and I do see that. If Englishmen won't work, furriners will. There's where it is. And it ain't likely the masters 'll keep the works all idle just as long as you choose, if others is willing to come and work. I wouldn't, if I was a master; nor none of you wouldn't, if you was masters. It's common-sense, lads."

"But the masters is willin' to come half-way to you, if you'll go half-way to them. That's reasonable, that is! As fair an end to a quarrel as can be; each side a-going half-way to meet the other. You wouldn't have all the givin' in on one side, would you? Leastways, save and except the wrong was all o' one side, which is a most uncommon state of affairs."

"Now I wouldn't go for to say in this here strike which side's been most wrong, nor which has been most right. Ain't no doubt it's been a half-and-half concern, right and wrong mixed up o' both sides like the plums an' suet in a pudden'. There's been mistakes, and there's been misunderstandings, and there's been a lot of hard words, not to speak of hard blows; and some o' you's misbehaved yourselves, an' forgotten your manliness, lads, for all Mr. Pope's so fond o' telling ye what a set of manly chaps ye be. It is forgetting your manliness, and it's acting like miserable curs an' sneaks, to set upon an innocent man in the dark, 'cause he don't see things just as you see 'em! An' you all know among yourselves whether there hasn't been some'at o' that sort going on, once and agin. But, howsoever, let's hope we won't have nothin' o' the sort agin, nor Englishmen forgetting they're men."

"Nor I won't go for to say as the masters is altogether right. For why? I ain't sure about it. Uncommon pleasant-spoken gentlemen they is, an' you knows it, an' ready to do a kindness any day. But there's a law of love and kindness, men, an' a law of thinking for others afore a man's own pocket; an' I shouldn't wonder if that 'ere law of Christian love don't always reign in the hearts of masters towards their men, no more than it always reigns in the hearts o' the men towards the masters. Eh, lads! I wonder now, I do, which is fittest to fling a stone at the other, for t'other's want of loving-kindness!"

"Well, now, to be werry plain indeed, an' to come to the p'int—my advice to you is,—End the strike! Accept these here proposals!"

"And put your necks into a noose!" protested a voice.

"Sounds uncommon like my namesake, t'other Peter," said Stuckey, peering about with wrinkled-up eyes. "Can't see ye nowhere, friend Pope, but maybe ye ain't far, seeing ye was on this here platform an hour since. If so be ye happens to be present still, allow me for to say as I condoles with ye most heartily, an' expresses the general sympathy o' the meeting, on the diminishment o' your income like to come on ye soon. It's werry tryin' to come down of a sudden in yer income! I've knowed that trial my own self, and my hearers has lately knowed it in a most marked an' melancholy way. We're werry grieved an' sad for ye, friend Pope; only 'tis more adwisable as your income should be diminished, than some hundreds o' families should be sunk altogether into a state o' starwation."

This sally was received with a burst of laughter, in the midst of which somebody quitted the hall.

"Shouldn't wonder if that's Mr. Pope hisself, so overcomed wi' the thoughts of his coming reduction, as he couldn't contain his emotions no longer. Werry sad for him! No! What—he's here still! Well, well,—'tisn't for to be expected as all present should disinterestedly sacrifice 'emselves for the sake o' Pope's pocket."

Tumultuous cheering, mingled with certain loud protests from Pope or Pope's friends, gave Peter time to rearrange his ideas, and to start afresh.

"You've all been a-hearin' of a lot o' wise remarks from Holdfast here. He's a friend o' mine, an' a friend o' many o' you, an' he's a friend worth havin'. For why? He's a man of sense, an' he's a true man. He don't butter ye up with clap-trap, and he ain't afraid to do what's right for fear o' consequences."

"There's been a lot of talk about banding together, and resisting of oppression. Now I'm not a-going to cry down Trades Unions. I'm not a-goin' to deny, no more than Holdfast does, that working-men needs to band together for mutual help and protection, an' lookin' after one another's interests, as well as layin' by money in store agin' a rainy day."

"But I'd like to speak a word of warning too, lads. Which is—Take care what ye're after! Don't ye, in fear of one tyranny, put yourselves under another. Trades Union men ain't infallible, no more than other men. Trades Unionism is werry apt to get selfish, and selfishness is short-sighted."

"I won't deny as Trades Unions has done a lot of good; an' ye needn't be in a hurry to deny as they've mayhap done some harm too. Just you think for yourselves. Haven't they sometimes encouraged bad feeling between men and masters? Haven't they sometimes pushed you into strikes which couldn't end but in failure and loss?"

"You're free an' independent working-men, ain't you? Well, but I wonder how many a one o' you dares stand out an' act independent in the face of the Union? How many a one among you, when he's at work, dares put forth his best strength, an do his utmost, an' run ahead of others? Ye don't need that I should tell you how things be! You look out sharp, men, or there won't be much o' your boasted freedom left to you soon,—and the tyrants of your choice will be those of your own standing. Don't see as that 'll make your bondage easier."

"Well, well, 'tis easy to see you don't all agree with me! Not surprisin', neither, it isn't! For why? There's lots o' bad workmen to every good workman. 'Tis natural the bad workmen an' the lazy chaps should want to put themselves on a level with the best an' the most diligent. But what's natural ain't always fair, nor it don't always work well in the end. If I was you, I'd learn to look ahead a bit. I can tell you, shorter an' shorter hours, an' higher an' higher wages, an' easier an' easier work, sounds mighty pleasant. But it may mean some'at in the future as won't be pleasant. It may mean trade driven away from English shores to foreign countries. It may mean less work to do and too many men to do it, in our land."

"Well; I've given my warning; an' that's all I can do. Anybody got any questions to ask?"





"I'VE a question to ask," said Roger Stevens, rising. "Holdfast said awhile since that labour is paid always at its true value. Now I don't agree to that."

"I didn't say 'always.' I said that as a rule it is," remarked Holdfast.

"Comes to pretty much the same thing, don't it?"

"No. You have to allow a time before each rise and fall, when it's not paid at its exact market value. Sometimes it's paid over its worth, and then it must soon fall. Sometimes it's paid under its worth, and then it must soon rise. But it finds its true level in time either way, and competition alone will send it up or down, without the help of strikes."

"I don't know as I hold with you," repeated Stevens.

"It's found to be true."

"Found by who?"

"Men who know a deal more of the matter than you or I. Men who have workmen in all parts of the world, and are able to compare the rise and fall of wages in different countries at the same time, noting the cause of each. These things have been watched and written about."

"And you mean to say you'd do away with strikes altogether?" asked Stevens, in a voice of dissent.

"No; I've told you already I wouldn't. But I would have them the last instead of the first resort. If you're being really paid under the fair worth of your labour, it's because the demand for that labour is increasing; and in such a case competition among the masters will soon act for you, and bring about a rise. If your labour is being paid at its fair value, no strike can bring about a lasting rise. If labour is growing more plentiful, and the demand is growing less, then, strike or no strike, your wages must fall."

"And who's to settle what the fair value of our labour is? And who's to say when we're paid over or under what's right?" A subdued stamping signified general acquiescence in this question.

"That's the difficulty, I grant you," Holdfast answered. "It's easy to say, if you and I are each on one end of a see-saw, we've just got to sit still, and let the board balance up and down till it finds its right position. We shouldn't need there to ask anybody to come and settle the slope of the board for us. The weight at each end would do that, if the board's only let alone. But it ain't so easy in the matter we're discussing; for each side is eager to grab the biggest profits, and it's hard to say how much ought justly to go to each, nor when things are fair and square. I wouldn't say no manner of pressure is ever needed on either side, to keep fair relations between employers and men—on both sides, mind!"

"But I do say it's the pressure of competition which does in the end settle the question—the competition of masters for labour, or the competition of men for work, depending on which is the more scarce. We need to look after our interests, and the masters need to look after their interests; but neither they nor we have that power over the question which some would make out. Where there's much work to be done, and few men to do it, no combining of masters can keep the wages down; and where there's little work to be done, and many men to do it, no combining of men can keep the wages up."

"Clear as daylight, ain't it?" chimed in Stuckey. "If labour's runnin' downhill, nobody can't make the wages run uphill; and if labour's runnin' uphill, nobody can't make the wages run downhill. If a rise is your due, why, you're pretty sure to get it by waitin' a bit; for it'll come in the natural course of events, like! If ye strike first, why most like ye'll wait a bit then too; and when it comes, ye'll be mighty stuck up, and think ye've won a huge victory. But fact is, you haven't got a victory at all. Ye've only half-starved your families, an' used up your savings, an' pawned your clothes, just for to get what ye'd have got in the end without all that bother, if ye'd been patient an' waited. The board's found its balance, don't ye see?—An' it's moral sure to have done that, if you hadn't given it no such shake."

"It's competition as really settles the question. If you wants to test the matter now an' agin, why, a strike's not a bad test. But it's a werry expensive one; an' it means a lot of trouble. Nor I don't see for my part as it's a great consolation to yourselves, to think that maybe you've half-ruined a master or two, as well as half-starvin' of your own little ones. I'd sooner wait a while longer sometimes, lads!"

Stuckey sat down, amid applause; but Holdfast was standing still.

"Stevens was asking just now," he said, "about the worth of labour; and about how it's commonly found in the long run to be paid at its worth. Well, there's a curious fact I came across lately, and I don't know as it mayn't be new to some of you. It is that labour, taken generally, is found to be of pretty much the same value throughout the world."

"Oh! Oh!" cried two or three voices.

"I mean what I say. Mind, I'm not giving you a hard and fast rule. I only tell you that it's been found generally, in places where capital and labour have free play, and where there ain't any extraordinary pressure from the scarcity of one or the other, that the cost of labour is wonderfully equal."

"I don't see that at all," Stevens observed.

"Maybe not; but it's worth your going into and reading about. It's been found by employers, with contracts in all parts of the world, that though the wages of the men in each place were different, the actual cost of the labour was much the same."

"But I say," broke in a voice, "if the cost was different, how could it be the same?"

"I said the wages were different, but the cost of the labour was equal. That's easy enough to understand. I'll give you two instances. There was a London bricklayer working beside a country one. The country bricklayer was paid three-and-sixpence a day for his work; the London chap five-and-sixpence. D'you suppose he was paid more because he was a Londoner? Of course not! He was paid more because his work was worth more. It was found that in one day he laid near upon twice as many bricks as the countryman. Would you say that his labour was the more expensive of the two?"

"No, no," Stevens answered.

"Well, and in some works on a French railway the French navvies were paid at the rate of two-and-sixpence a day, the English navvies at the rate of five shillings a day. It wasn't out of politeness to your country, you may be sure of that! It was because their labour was worth more. It was found, on comparison, that the work done by the English at five shillings a day was positively cheaper labour than the work done by the French at two-and-sixpence."

A cheer interrupted John.

"Yes; that was good. English workmen have had that pre-eminence! But will they keep it?" asked Holdfast steadily. "There's a spirit among us now that makes one fear for the future of English trade."

"Well, you see how it may be that labour, taken all round, is more equally paid than shows on the surface. It's the better workmen the better pay; just because he is a better workman. But the cost of work, done by the good workman at high pay, or done by the poor workman at low pay, is found to come to much the same in the end."

"I don't know as this question of the equality of the cost of labour has so much to do with us men as with the masters. It's a question that affects their pockets. But it's worth our knowing too; for it bears on the truth of labour being paid at its worth; and it tells us of forces which will have their way, and which masters nor men can't control."

"Any way, you'll do well to hold back from vain struggles which can't profit you—struggles to bring about a rate of wages beyond the real worth of your labour. For you might as well try to force a river to run uphill."

"And yet—" Holdfast spoke slowly—"and yet there are times, and no use to deny it, when things ain't fair, and the men have real good reason to know it—reason beyond the empty talk of clap-trap blusterers—and the question is, what's to be done?"

"I don't say it's often so. There's a deal of ignorance on such points; and sometimes there's unfair accusations; and many a strike fails of its object just because it deserves to fail. But for all that there are times, now in one trade, now in another, when a rise is known on all sides and acknowledged by good judges to be the real due of the men, and yet it's withheld."

"It'll come in the end, no doubt. Sooner or later the pressure can't be resisted. But long waiting means loss; and when men have got big families and small means, it stands to reason they do want to get their due. Right they should too."

"Well, even then, I still say, let the strike be your last resort, men! Don't fly to it at once. I do think a deal might be done first. For a strike itself means trouble and loss; and it does harm to yourselves and your families, harm to your trade and your country."

"Why shouldn't masters and men meet in a kindly spirit, each acknowledging the rights of the other, to discuss the question? For each side has its rights, and each side has its difficulties; and there's no such thing as smooth sailing for masters any more than for men. I can't and don't see, for my part, why capital and labour need be at daggers drawn; seeing that each is needful for the life of the other, and seeing too that we're a Christian country."

"There'd ought to be some way of getting at the truth of things, in this land, short of fighting. A strike means loss to masters and to men; and many a strike, it's found later, need never have taken place at all."

"I'd have you all think for the future whether arbitration isn't sometimes a thing possible. Couldn't able and honourable men be found, who'd look into the state of the matter, and tell us in honest truth whether a rise is our just due—men who could be trusted by employers and workmen alike? Wouldn't sometimes a calm and temperate demand for a rise, backed by a real knowledge of the justice of it, be as likely to bring about what's wanted as all the anger and bitterness of a strike?"

"Well—that's for another time. You've got to decide now for the present. An offer has come, meeting you half-way. Seems to me, we ought to go the other half to meet 'em. As friend Stuckey says, that's a tolerable fair ending to a struggle, each side yielding half."

"Any way, I'm meaning to be at work again next week. I'd have been sooner, if it wasn't for a lame arm. I hope to see all of you at work too."





WHILE the men's meeting went on, Martha and the children still sat in the dim firelight. Millie and Bobbie were asleep, leaning against their mother's knee; and Martha, in a kind of half-dream, had forgotten the passing of time. It was beyond the little ones' hour for bed, and she had not noted the fact.

Somebody came in with a light step, and Sarah Holdfast's pleasant voice asked, "Why, Mrs. Stevens, is this the way you spend your evening?"

Martha sat slowly more upright, wearing a dazed look.

"O dear, I'm tired," she said. "I didn't know it was so late."

"And the children up still?"

"They were so cold, I made a bit more fire, and they didn't seem to want to leave it. I must have been near asleep too," Martha gasped listlessly. "Well, I've got to wake 'em now."

"Wait a minute. I'll light your candle. I've got a loaf of bread here, and some butter and a jug of milk. Poor thing!" as a faint cry escaped Martha. "You're so hungry, aren't you? There's a basket of food come from Mr. Hughes, and I knew John would want you to have a share. Don't you stir yet."

Martha did not move. She sat motionless, staring down at the little head on her arm.

Mrs. Holdfast had already lighted the candle, and pulled down the blind.

"Why, you're as white as a sheet, you poor thing!" she said, stirring quickly about. "There! Give the children something to eat before they go to bed. And it's plain you want it too. Well, my husband's in hopes the strike will soon be over; and I'm sure I hope the same. It's been a hard time for you all. I'll tell you what—a cup of tea will do you more good than anything. Haven't got any? Never mind, I'll put the kettle on to boil, and get a pinch in from next door."

Martha had not answered save by silence.

She looked strangely pale, and the dazed expression in her eyes had increased. The little child on her knee lay motionless, and when Mrs. Holdfast came near, Martha shielded the tiny face from observation.

"He's off—sound!" she said hoarsely.

"Well, let him be a few minutes," said Sarah cheerfully. "Don't you get up yet. I'm sure you're not fit. Now, Millie, Bobbie—wake up, wake up."

She aroused the two drowsy children; and Bobbie at once broke into fretting sobs. "I'm so hungry! I'm so hungry!" he wailed.

Martha made no response at all, but Sarah took him to the table, and Bobbie's pitiful face changed into smiles at the sight of bread and butter. When he and Millie were supplied, Sarah hastened away for the "pinch of tea."

On her return, she found Martha still in the same position, passive and white as an image, only with a bewildered wildness in her eyes. There was again the shielding motion of both hands to hide baby Harry's face. Mrs. Holdfast noticed it now, and wondered, but said nothing till the tea was ready. Then she poured out a cup, hot and strong, and brought it with a goodly slice of bread and butter to Martha's side.

"That'll do you good," she said. "And you'll let me see to Harry, won't you? It's time he should have something."

"No, he's sound—sound;" repeated Martha in a hollow voice.

"Baby Harry hasn't eaten nothing all day," said Millie.

"Then he oughtn't to wait, I'm sure. Give him to me."

Martha did not resist when Sarah lifted the child from her lap, only her eyes followed him with a strange gaze, and Mrs. Holdfast's own face changed; for the little fair head fell helplessly, and the long lashes lay upon cheeks of waxen whiteness.

Sarah checked the cry which rose to her lips. She turned to the fire, away from Martha.

"He don't wake up, not even for your taking him," said Millie. "He must be dreadful sleepy."

"He is—very sound," Mrs. Holdfast answered in trembling tones, as she pressed the tiny cold form more closely in her arms.

"Give him back to me!" demanded Martha hoarsely.

"No, my dear—take your tea first," said Mrs. Holdfast. "I'll lay him in his cot—just for—"

"No, no—give him to me! I won't have him laid—laid out—nowhere!" cried Martha, in a voice of sharp anguish. "Give my baby back to me!"

"I'll hold him for you. Just a minute or two. You take your tea and bread and butter. You must eat, you know."

Martha obeyed silently, rapidly. It was almost more than Sarah had ventured to hope. Tea and bread and butter alike vanished, and a faint tinge of colour came to Martha's lips. She was able now to stand up, with outstretched hands.

"Not yet," insisted Mrs. Holdfast. "You just put Millie and Bobbie to bed, and I'll see to him. Yes, do, my dear—it's best for you. Take them," pleaded the good woman.

Martha yielded again. She hurried the two children away, and saw them both in bed. Undressing did not take long, but Sarah was busy also during her short absence.

Harry's little cot had been much in the kitchen of late. He had slept away most of the day, often, in his growing weakness. When Martha returned, still with half-wild, half-dreamy eyes, she found Mrs. Holdfast standing beside the cot, and within lay Harry, prepared as if for the night. He had his little night-dress on, and the calm white baby-face rested peacefully on the pillow. The lips, just parted, were rigid in repose, and one wee waxen hand was crossed over the other.

"You've put him to bed," said Martha's hollow voice.

"Yes, my dear; I've put him to bed," said Sarah pityingly.

Martha came nearer, and gasped for breath, gazing upon the fair little image. Then her eyes went with passionate appeal to Sarah's.

"Poor thing!" murmured Sarah.


She hung over the cot, sobbing wildly.

"You think I don't know! But I do!" said Martha bitterly. "I do! I do! He's murdered! If ever anybody was murdered, it's my—" and then she broke into a bitter wail—"O my baby! My baby Harry!"

She hung over the cot, sobbing wildly, and Sarah's arm came round her in support.

"He'll never be hungry again," she whispered. "Think of that, my dear; and don't you want him back. There 'll be no strikes up there. He's got to the end of all the trouble. Don't you go and say that to your husband when he comes. Stevens 'll have enough to bear!"

Enough indeed! There was not one of his children whom Stevens loved as he loved baby Harry.

An hour later he returned, light-footed and eager with the news which, he felt sure, would gladden Martha's heart. The door was flung open, and he entered briskly.

"I say, Martha, it's all right! We've settled to accept the masters' proposals, and I'll be off to work to-morrow morning. It's all right. Just as you wanted."

A gesture from Mrs. Holdfast checked Roger. She was present still, having persuaded a neighbour to stay with her own little ones for a time.

Martha sat beside the cot, dropping hot quiet tears at intervals, and the desolate look of the mother's eyes, lifted to his, Stevens would not soon forget.

"Too late now!" she whispered.

Roger's glance went from her to the small face on the pillow—the face of his own little Harry, the child who till lately had never failed to greet him with a joyous spring, and cry of "Dadda." Harry had always been the father's especial pet. Even of late, when the child was too weak to spring or cry out, the tiny face had always brightened at the sound of Roger's voice.

It did not brighten now; yet that was no look of common sleep. Roger knew the difference.

"You don't say—What's the matter? Why don't you give him something, eh? Letting him lie there! And the room as cold—! What d'you want for him, Martha? Tell me, sharp, and I'll get it. I can now; we're going to work again, and it'll be all right."

Martha's tears fell faster, and a sound like a sob crept into Roger's rough voice.

"No use," Martha said brokenly; "the strike's done it at last. It's killed him—our baby Harry!"

"He's better off. He'll never know trouble again," said Mrs. Holdfast. "Don't you go and want him back again too much—both of you. He's out of it all now!"

"If I'd known! Why didn't somebody tell me?" demanded Stevens, hoarsely. "I'd have done—anything—if I'd known!"

Sobs came hard and thick from the father's heart. But no sounds of grief could bring back the household darling; no wailing could reach him on that distant shore which he had reached. He was "out of it all now," indeed! The better for little Harry!

So the strike was at an end; and Peter Pope, finding his services no longer required, betook himself elsewhere.

There were some who counted that the working-men of the place owed him much, seeing that by dint of the strike he had won for them an increase of seven and a half per cent. on their wages.

There were others who held that the same increase would have come, probably as soon, without the pressure exerted by the strike.

There were very many who found that the said increase of wages would by no means suffice to repay them for the heavy losses they had suffered through the strike.

There were not a few who maintained that the trade of the town, and its consequent prosperity, had received lasting injury from the strike.

On the whole it may be safely said, that if the strike had done some possible good, it had also done a considerable amount of positive harm. It may be hoped that the working-men of the town, having learnt wisdom from a success which involved more of loss than of solid gain, would be long before they embarked in another such enterprise.