|Chapter Number||III (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)|
|Trove Title||Facing Death: A Tale of the Coal Mines|
A TALE OF THE COAL MINES.
By G. A. Henty, in the Union Jack.
Chamer III.-(Continued. 1
It was two months from the coniuiencenienè of the strike before Jack Simpson returned from. Birmingham, coming home to stay from Saturday till Monday. Nothing can bo moro discouraging than the appearance of a colliery village where the hauda 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 groat 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 things alwaya look well. Meetings aro held in other centres, and promises of support flow 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 mouths the enthusiasm whioh the strike excited elsewhere dies out, the levies fall off, and the weekly money scarce enables life to be kept together.
It is distinctive of almost all strikes that tho women, beforehand averse to tho movement, when it has ouce beguu throw themselves heartily into the struggle. From the time it is fairly entered upon until its termination it is rare indeed to hear a collier's wife speak a word against it. When the hardest pinch comes, and the children's faces grow tbiu and white, and the rooms are stripped of furniture, much aa 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 relievo thom-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 tho first greetings.
" Wo bo all right, Jack ; if wo ain't we ought to be, when we've got no children to keep, and get nigh as much as them as has."
" Eight ehilliugs a week now, ain't it?"
Mrs. Haden nodded. Jack looked round.
" Holloa !" he said, " the clock's gone, and the new carpet !"
" Well, you seo, 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' thy little room. There's scores ot '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 Bcorn to do such a thiug ; but when he gets half on, aud has no moro nionoy, aud credit stopped, the craving's too much for him, and he'd sell the bed from under him-anything he'a got, I do believe, except his pups," aud she pointed to sonjo of Juno's great grandchildren, which were, as usual, lyiug before the fire-a mero handful of coal now in comparison with paBt times.
" I'll pick out a parcel of them that will bo UBeful 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 hud for a long time now some five shillings a week over. I have spent some in books, but eecond-liaud booka are very cheap-as dad will Dud when he tries to sell them. So I've got some money put by. It don't matter how much, but plouty to keep the wolf away while the strike Inste. But I don't moan, mother, to have my Bavinga di mik away. I'm getting sixteen bob a week, and I eau live on
ten or eleven, so I'll send you iivo shillings a , week. But dad mustn't know it. I'll be homo in a month again, and I'll leave you a pound, so that you can got food in. If he thinks about it at all, which aiu't likely, you can make out you get it on tick. Well, cUd, how are you !" he asked, aa Bill Haden entered the cottage.
" Ah, Jack, lad, how be it with 'ee ?"
"All right, dad ; getting on well. And how are things here ?"
" Bad, Jack. Those scoundrels, the masters, they won't give in ; but we're bound to beat 'em -bound to. If they don't come to our terms, wo mean to call the engine men, and the hands they've got to'keep tho ways clear, out of the pits. That'll bring 'em to thoir senses quick enough. I've been for it all along."
" Call off the engine-hands J" Jack, said in tones of alarm ; " you ain't going to do such a mad thing as that ! Why, if the water gains, and the mines get flooded, it'll be weeks, and maybe months, before the mines can bo cleared and putiu working order ¡ and what will you all bo doiug while that's being done ?"
" It'll bring 'em to their sense«, lad," Bill Haden said, bringing his hand doivu on tho table with a thump, '' Tbey mean to Btnrve us ; we'll ruiu them. There, let's have the pi ice of a quait, Jack ; I'm dry."
Jack Baw that argument against this mad scheme would bo of no use, for his foster father was already half-drunk, po he linndod him a shilling, and with a shrug of his shoulders walked
oft' to Mr. Mertou'B.
He had long since written to his master, Baying that he preferred woiking his way up slowly in mining, to outoriug upon a new life, in which, however successful he might be at college, the after course was not clear to him ; and his teacher had answered in a tone of approval of his
On his way be stoppod 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 Bturdy and strong than himself. This boy he had fought for and supported since their
early school-days, and the lad was devoted to
" Why, Harry, I should scarce have known you," he said, as the lad came to the door when lie opened it and called him. " You look bad, surely."
" We'ro a big family, Jack ; and the oxtra children's allowance was dropped last week. There's eight of ua, and food's scarce. Little Annie's going fast, I think. The doctor carno this morning, and said she wanted strengthening food. He might as well have ordered her a coach and-four. Baby died last week, and mother's ailing. Y'ou were right, Jack ; what fools we were to strike 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 ?" 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 Borne put by, and you and your father can pay me when good times como 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 bave 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 como round with mo to the butcher, and I'll get a few pounds of meat just to start you all. There, don't cry, and don't say anything, else I'll lick
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, Bir, 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 tbey don't choose to work, and, if they like it, let them ; even the women I don't pity so much, for if they did right they would take broomsticks and drive the men to work ; but the children, 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 £50 laid by-and money can't be better spent than for the children. The strike can't last over a month, or bIs weeks at the out- side, and maybe not that, I'll give you £5
a week, if you will kindly hand it over to Mrs Sheet, and say it has been sent you Eat its to go to feeding children Let me see , the soup don t cost above a ponny a bowl, and say a hatfponuy for a hunch of bread So that will give another hundred i dinner e\ery day "Will yoi do that for me, Bir'
"I will, my boj, Mr Merton said heartily You may save ruauy a young life
"Well, su, and what do you thiuk of things'
"Ifoar we shall hue trouble, Jick Lastmght thero was noting over at Crawfurd , a managers houso was burned dowu, and some policouieu badly hurt There is angry talk all o\er the distuct, and I feai we ah ill have it here
When Jack Btaittd on Sundry evouiug for Birmingham, his la«t words to his mother were,
' Mind mother, the \erj first word you heir about violence 01 assuult, j ou post this emelopo I have directed to me I mean to chuck up my place and come strlight back 111 keep filhei out of it somehow and I li do all I can to s ive 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 propel ty injuied
' W hy, lauk a mercy, Jack, you ain t goiug to fight the whole place bj yourself, aro you !
" I don t know what I am going to do yet,
Jack snid , "but you may be quite sure I shall do somothing '
Aud as his mother looked at the set bulldog expression of his mouth and jaw she tilt that Jack nas thoroughly in earnest
[TO 1)1 COMlNUtD ]