|Chapter Number||III (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Facing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines|
A TALE OF THE COAL MINES.
CHAPTER III. —(Continued.)
BY G. A. HENTY, in the Union Jack.
IT was two months from the commencement of the strike before Jack Simpson returned from Birmingham, coming home to stay from Saturday till Monday. Nothing can be more discouraging
than the appearance of a colliery village where the hands are on strike. For the first week or two there is much bravado, and anticipation of early victory ; and, as money is still plentiful, the public-houses do a great trade. But^ as the stern reality of the struggle becomes felt, a gloom falls over the place. The men hang about listlessly, and from time to time straggle down to the com mittee-room, to hear the last news from the other places to which the strike extends, and to try to gather a little confidence therefrom. At first thingß always look well. Meeting* are held in other centres, and promises of support low in. For a time money arrives freely, and the Union committee make an allowance to each member, which, far below his regular pay as it is, is still amply sufficient for his absolute wants. But by the end of two months the enthusiasm which the strike excited elsewhere dies out, the levies fall
off, and the weekly money Maree enables life to be kept together. It ia distinctive of almott all strikes that the women, beforehand averse to the movement, when it has once began throw themselves heartily into the struggle. From the time it ia fairly entered upoa until its termination it ia rare indeed to hear a collier's wife speak a word against it When the hardest pinch comes, and the children's faces grow thin and white, and the rooms are stripped of furniture, much as the women may long for an end of it, they never grumble, never pray their husbands to give in. This patient submission to their husbands' wills —this silent bearing of the greatest of suffering, namely, to see children suffer and to be unable to relieve them—is one of the most marked features of all great strikes in the coal districts. " Well, mother, and how goes it ?" Jack asked cheerfully after the first greetings. " We be all right, Jack ; if we ain't we ought to be, when we've got no children to keep, and get nigh as much as them as has." "Eight shillings a week now, ain't it?" Mrs. Haden nodded. Jack looked round. " Holloa I" he said, " the dock's gone, and the new carpet!" "Well, you see, my boy," Mrs. Haden said, hesitatingly, "Bill is down-hearted sometimes, and he wants a drop of comfort." "I understand," Jack said significantly. " Jack,"—and she again spoke hesitatingly— "I wish ee'd carry off all they books out o T thy little room. There's scores of 'em, and the smallest would fetch a glass o' beer. I've kept the door locked, but it might tempt him, my boy —not when he's in his right senses, you know; he'd scorn to do such a thing; but when he gets \\m\i on, and has no more money, and credit stopped, the craving's too much for him, and he'd sell the bed from under him—anything he's got, I do believe, except his pups," and she pointed to some of Juno's great grandchildren, which were, as usual, lying before the fire—a mere handful of coal now in comparison with past times. "I'll pick out a parcel of them that will be useful to me," Jack said, " and take them away. The rest may go. And now look here, mother. After paying you for my board, I have had for a long time now some five shillings a week over. I have spent some in books, but second-hand books are very cheap—as dad will find when he tries to sell them. So I've got some money put by. It don't matter how much, but plenty to keep the wolf away while the strike last*. Bnt I don't mean, mother, to have my savings drunk away, rm getting sixteen bob a week, and I can Uve on ten or eleven, so I'll send you five shillings a week. But dad mustn't know it I'll be home in a month again, and I'll leave you a pound, so that you can get food in. If he thinks about it at all, which ain't likely, you can make out you get it on tick. Well, dad, how are you ?" he asked, as Bill Haden entered the cottage. " Ah, Jack, lad, how be it with 'eef "All right, dad; getting on well And how are things here r "Bad, Jack. Those scoundrels, the masters, they won't give in ; bat we're bound to beat 'em —bound to. If they don't come to our terms, we mean to call the engine men, and the hands they've got to keep the ways clear, out of the pits. That'll bring 'em to then* senses quick enough. I've been for it all along." " Call off the engine-handa 1" Jack, said in tones of alarm ; "you ain't going .to do such a mad thing as that 1 Why, if the water gains, and the mines get flooded, it'll be weeks, and maybe months, before the mines can be cleared and put in working order ; and what will you all be doing while that's being done f "It'll bring 'em to their senses, lad," Bill Haden said, bringing his hand down on the table with a thump. s They mean to starve us; we'll ruin them. There, let's have the price of a quart, Jack; I'm dry." Jack saw that argument against this mad scheme would be of no use, for his foster father was already half-drunk, so he handed him a shilling, and with a shrug of his shoulders walked off to Mr. Merton's. He had long since written to his master, saying that he preferred working his way up slowly in mining, to entering upon a new life, in which, however successful he might be at college, the after course was not dear to him; and his teacher bad answered in a tone of approval of his choice. On his way he stopped at the houses of many of his boy friends, and was shocked at the misery which already prevailed in some of them. His greatest friend was a lad of about his own age, but far less sturdy and strong than himself. This boy he had fought for and supported since their early school-days, and the lad was devoted to him. " Why, Harry, I should icaroe have known you," he said, as the lad came to the door when he opened it and called him. "You look bad, surely." "We're a big family, Jack; and the extra children's allowance was dropped last week. There's eight of us, and food's scarce. Little Annie's going fast, I think. The doctor came this morning, and said she wanted strengthening food. He might as well have ordered her a coach and-four. Baby died hut week, and mother's ailing. You were right, Jack; what fools we were to Btrike I I've been miles round looking for a job, but it's no use ; there's fifty asking for every place open." The tears came into Jack's eyes as he looked at the pinched face of his friend. " Why did you not write to me T" he asked, almost angrily. " I told you where a letter would find me; and here are you all clemming, and me know nought of it It's too bad. Now look here, Harry, I must lend you some money—you know I've got some put by, and you and your father can pay me when good times come again. Your dad gets his eight shillings from the Union, I suppose ?" "Yes," the lad answered. " Well, with fifteen shillings a week you could make a shift to get on. So I'll let you have ten shillings a week; that'll be seven shillings to add to the eight, and the other three will get meat to make broth for Annie. The strike can't last, much over another month, and that won't hurt me one way or the other. Here's the first ten shillings ; put it in your pocket, and then come round with me to the batcher, and I'll get a few
poandi of me»t just to start you all. There, don't cry, and don't say anything, else I'll lick yon." But when Jack himself entered the school* master's house, and was alone with Mr. Merton, he threw himself in a chair and burst into tears. "It is awful, sir, awful. To see those little children, who were so noisy and bright when I went away, so pale, and thin, and quiet now. Poor little things ! poor little things ! As to the men they are starving because they don't choose to work, and, if they like it, let them ; even the women I don't pity ho much, for if they did right they would take broomsticks and drive the men to work ; but the childreD, it's dreadful!" " It is dreadful, Jack, and it makes me feel sick and ill when I go into the infant-school. The clergyman's wife has opened a sort of soup kitchen, and a hundred children get a bowl of soup and a piece of bread at dinner-time every day, and they sell soup under cost price to the women. Mr. Brook has given £50 towards it" "Look here, sir," Jack said; "you know I've over £60 laid by—and money can't be better spent than for the children. The strike can't last over a month, or six weeks at the out aide, and maybe not that I'll give you £5 a week, if you will kindly hand it over to Mrs. Street, and say it has been Bent you. Bnt it's to go to feeding children. Let me see ; the soup don't cost above a penny a bowl, and say a halfpenny for a hunch of bread. So that will give another hundred a dinner every day. Will you do that for me, sir?" "I will, my boy," Mr. Merton said heartily. " Ton may save many a young life." " Well, air,and what do you think of things!" " I fear we shall have trouble, Jack. Last night there was rioting over at Crawfurd ; a manager'! house was burned down, and some policemen badly hurt There is angry talk all over the district, and I fear we shall have it here." When Jack started on Sunday evening for Birmingham, his last words to his mother were, — ° Mind, mother, the very first word you hear about violence or assault, you post this envelope I have directed to me. I mean to chuck up my place, and come straight back. I'll keep father out of it somehow ; and I'll do all I can to save Mr. Brook's property. He's a good master, and he's been specially kind to me, and 1 won't have him or his property injured." " Why, latfk a 1 mercy, Jack, you ain't going to fight the whole place by yourself, are you ?" " I don't know what I am going to do yet," Jack laid; M but you may be quite sure I shall do something." And as his mother looked at the set bulldog expression of his mouth and jaw she felt thai Jack was thoroughly in earnest [TO BE COHTINOTDJ