|Chapter Title||THE OLD ENGLISH WORKSHOP.|
|Newspaper Title||Bunyip (Gawler, SA : 1863 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||One Who Loved His Fellow Men|
One Who Loved His Fellow Men.
The Old English Workshop.
The proprietor of the Vulcan Foundry and Engineering Works, Mr. Thomas Rawson, had experienced an exception ally busy season, the demand for his justly-famed mining and agricultural machinery having been so great that his numerous stall of workmen, numbering some hundreds, had been required to work from early morn till dewy eve to keep abreast of the work.
The busy time, however, is now prac tically over and the employees have been making preparations for recuperat ing their wasted strength at some of the popular holiday resorts, for the Christmas holidays are now near at hand, in fact this is the very day on which the labors of a vast multitude cease for the year. As some of the persons who play an important part in this narrative are to be found within the smoky walls of this factory, let us step within and make their acquaintance. As we enter we are greeted with the hum and buzz p£ machinery, the in of hammer and the many, other noises, surrounded by which the followers of Tubal-Cain work and thrive. Through out the premises there is much to interest and instruct us, but we are not to-day visiting the works for this pur pose, but rather to become acquainted
with the persons before alluded to. These are to be found in what are known as the fitting and machine worshops, and it as it is now nearly knock-off time we shall have no time to spare; in fact many of the men are already preparing to leave, machines are being cleaned, and tools are being carefully placed away. Standing near a large facing-lathe there is a man with a keen restless expression, William Figgin by name, but more familiarly known to his workmates as Creeping Billy. He is by no means a favorite with his com rades, and if you were to ask them for his character they would probably reply that he was both a bully and a con temptible crawler. This verdict would certainly not be far from the mark, for since his entrance to the trade, nine years ago, he has been a perpetual source of trouble to the shop; he is not at all brilliant with his work, preferring idleness to industry, and it is only by special favor that he has been enabled to stay for so long a term. He now stands erect, stretching himself to his full height, which is hot very great, and scans the workshop with a searching gaze, his eyes wandering round until they see by the shop clock that in twenty minutes time the working day will be o'er, and while in this position slowly soliloquises that the day is almost ended, and he had not accomplished all the trouble and dis comfort he had intended for his mates. With these thoughts coursing through
his brain he anxiously looks round for the desired opportunity, which is soon furnished by one of the smallest boys in the shop impatiently stealing round to see the time. Figgin immediately calls out to him in stentorian tones, ' Here, you lazy, idiotic, disreputable, loafing, fat-headed, humble-footed son of a gun, come here and do a bit.' The boy approaches slowly and tremblingly, and crouches before the bully, who gives him a short lecture on the duties of boys toward their elders, and finishes up by telling him not to stand there like a dummy, but to move his diminutive, insignificant specimens of lower ex tremities and rush off to the paintshop to borrow some burgoo to clean his lathe with. In spite of such an exuberant flow of words the boy moves not, for he clearly sees in this merely an attempt to create merriment, at his expense, and well can he remember being sent for 'strap oil' when he was forced to have it-applied outwardly, and he is therefore on the horns of a dilemma, not knowing whether to take his thrashing from Figgin or journey to the paint shop for it. But Creeping Billy is on the warpath, and without more ado roughly seizes his victim by the collar, shakes him as a cat would a mouse, and calls to one of his satellites to get a stick while he holds the little scoundrel, who has so puffed himself up that he acts as if he were a prince instead of a mere workshop lad. Mean while the execrations of the man and the cries of the lad had awakened the attention of all the men engaged within a certain radius, and these now intently gaze to the spectacle, some with feelings of pleasure, others of pity. Conspicuous among the latter is a young man named James Blair, 22 years of age; tall, of fair complexion, and with such an expression of sym pathy, and kindness, his very soul
seeming to shine from his eyes, that one feels irresistibly drawn towards him. He is well liked by his workmates, except ing only Creeping Billy and a few of the same stamp. In fact he is so popular that his very presence seems to bring happiness with it, and so great is his sympathy that he keeps a small surgical establishment within his tool cupboard, and often has he been seen attending to the injured aud suffering of the shop, for all the wounded ones seem instinctively to find their way to him. This trait of character has earned for him the not unfriendly sobriquet of The Doctor. Furthermore he is a great favorite with Mr. Rawson, the pro prietor, who finding him friendless and homeless when a boy, had befriended him by bringing him up in his own home and teaching him the trade of a fitter. But to return to the scuffle, our new acquaintance stood for a moment irresolute, then took a few steps forward, stopped again, and then as with a definite purpose in hand, quickly moved towards Figgin, who was still shaking the frightened boy, and bade him desist. As no notice was taken of this demand he promptly stepped forward to separate the bully from his prey. He pushed
the man to one side, but he instantly sprang upon his assailant, a straggle ensued, and finally Creeping Billy fell heavily on his machine and was picked up senseless. It was feared that his collar-bone had been broken, but after he bad been carried home & medical practitioner was summoned, who, after careful examina tion, reported that although he was certainly severely bruised fortunately no bones were broken.
CHAPTER II. The Assault Case. Although the bully had suffered com paratively little he was filled with feel ings of resentment for the treatment he had received from Blair, who had belittled him in the eyes of his shop mates, and as he lay recovering he silently decided, if possible, to make him regret his interference. Several ways of accomplishing this end presented themselves to him, but as with many of them there was a possi bility of the tables being turned upon him he decided for the present merely to summon his bloodthirsty assailant, as he was pleased to term Blair, to the Law Court on a charge of assault, and as he was then away on his holidays, thinking that greater inconvenience would be caused by having the case tried at once than if he were to wait, without more ado, saw that a summons for assault was immediately issued. While these arrangements were being made James Blair was quietly walking about the town which he was visiting, thinking deeply of the incident in which he had figured so prominently. At first he severely blamed himself for so easily letting his feelings gain the
mastery of his more thoughttul self, but as time went by and many of his friends had expressed their perfect appreciation of his act, he thought that perhaps after all what he had so rashly done was the wisest course he could have pursued, for though his passions had mastered him, yet he had released a suffering being from the clutches of a violent man, to whom a severe lesson had been administered. Thus his view turned from one aspect of the case to the other, and he decided, as he had commenced, henceforth as far as it was possible as a lover of his fellow men, that he should devote his life to the emancipation of suffering humanity. Having thus justified his action he was both surprised and annoyed one day, when out with a party of friends, to be served with a summons demanding his attendance at the Law Court the follow ing Tuesday to answer a charge of assault. However, understanding that a non-appearance would, even if it had no worse effect, be construed into an acknowledgment of guilt, he imme diately decided to appear at the specified time. The intervening days of suspense having dragged heavily along, James Blair, for the first time in his life is the defendant in a Court of Law. It is unnecessary to state that after many witnesses had been called against and in support of the case, the Court ruled that although there were extenuating circumstances, yet most certainly Blair had committed an assault, and although they deeply sympathised with him they
felt that they would be failing in their duty if they neglected to impose a penalty, therefore the sum of twenty pounds would be awarded Figgin as damages. Notwithstanding the verdict being couched in such sympathetic language the fact remained that the damages must be paid, therefore Figgin's spirits were elevated, and Blair's correspon dingly depressed. But it was destined that the triumph of Creeping Billy should be short-lived, for the men of the Vulcan Works thinking such a noble, unselfish action as they had wit nessed ought not to punished, subscribed enough not only to pay Blair's ex penses, but also to leave a balance as compensation for the trouble and incon venience to which he had been subjected, thereby outwitting Figgin, who, hoping to see him a branded criminal, had the mortification of seeing him elevated to the rank of a hero instead. CHAPTER III. The Great Strike and its Effects. After the events recorded in the last chapter Figgin apparently lost his enmity towards his assailant, but in (his heart he still nursed a feeling of bitter revenge; indeed, he had several times tried to bring disgrace upon Blair, but never with more than partial success. Now, two years having passed unevent fully by he decides once more to try and encompass the ruin of his enemy; this
time by a deep and subtle plot that will not only injure him but also hundreds of others. On several occasions he has tried to induce his employer to discharge Blair, but the old man — liking the boy whom he had befriended and rescued from want and misery — would not for a moment entertain the idea, always declaring that as long as a man was employed in the shop 'Jamie would be sure of a job.' Finding all direct attempts in this direction to be futile Creeping Billy — for by that title he was still known and spoken of — had carefully laid the plot before alluded to, which was to plunge the shop into the midst of a disastrous strike; for, he argued with himself, that in an individual war his rival would, undoubtedly, be found upon the side of the oppressed. The way in which he sought to com pass this end was to induce his em ployer to cause a reduction of wages to be made throughout the shop, and so whenever opportunity offered he would speak of the affluence and luxuries enjoyed by the workmen, and of the scanty profits. Thus it came about that one evening, as the men were leaving the works, they were surprised and alarmed on being confronted by a huge placard announcing that after the conclusion of the then financial week certain reductions in the salaries of employees would ensue. It should be stated that the men were divided into two great classes — the unionists and non-unionists. The latter class were immediately ruffled, despon dent, or abusive, according to tempera
ment, in marked contrast to the former, who, knowing that the strength of a large society was behind them, took the matter in a philosophical manner, feel ing assured that so long as they kept together and the other shops in the district maintained the old rate, these obnoxious reductions could not come to pass. A mass meeting was called for the following evening, to which all the workmen were invited, and there amidst intense enthusiasm it was decided to strenuously oppose the suggested alterations, and if necessary to strike the following week. As Figgin had hoped James Blair, feeling it to be his duty, attended that meeting, and was on account of his superior education and influence with their employer selected to convey the resolution of the meeting to him. The old man seemed willing to yield — for he prided himself on the amicable relations that existed between him and his workmen — but upon consulting Figgin such a different phase of the subject was presented that he decided to adhere to his former decision.
He conveyed this resolve to Blair, at the same time telling him he expected what ever happened to see him stand true to his benefactor and the old shop. Laden with this information the delegate returned to his shopmates, stating that their employer was immovable, and as for himself he could not as yet say what action he should take. He left the meeting at an early hour, but before returning to his home he walked about the town in a dilemma, unable to decide whether to stand by bis benefactor or act in accordance with decision — to devote his life to the
interests ot the downtrodden and oppressed. He returned home un decided, and all night long lay in an agony of mind, tossed about between two courses, both of which appeared to lie in the path of duty. Thus his mind remained the battling - ground of conflicting emotions until returning home the following evening, when he heard a blind woman reading scripture in the street as he passed. She was reading from the 41st Psalm, 'Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth.' To his tormented mind the words seemed like a ray of light, clearly to point him to ward duty. They were indelibly im pressed upon his memory, and he argued with himself that he would be showing more consideration for the poor by standing by his shopmates than by their master, and definitely decided to adopt that course. Thus it came about that when the men left the works on strike Blair was found among them as one of their leaders. For weeks the strained con ditions prevailed between employer and employees, and although many strikers had experienced the pinch of poverty, such exemplary order was maintained that nothing transpired worthy of chronicling. But this quiet and orderly
state of affairs was by no means what Figgin had desired, his aim being, if possible, to have his old-time assailant incarcerated as a criminal. Therefore, hearing that a mass meeting was to be held in a public hall the following Saturday morning he engaged some men who were still working in the shop to go there for the purpose of endeavor ing to create a riot. The morning having duly arrived the strikers assembled on an open allotment without the boundaries of the town, and with banners flying solemnly marched toward their meeting place. Many of the populace, attracted by such an im posing spectacle followed after, includ ing Figgin and his followers. But those whose wish had been to create a disturbance were doomed to disappoint ment; for instead of a violent, abusive, lawless gathering the proceedings were opened by the singing of that grand old hymn, 'Oh God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,' in which the men threw plenty of energy. After this several of their leaders, in cluding Blair addressed the meeting, urging the men to stand true to each other, and counselling them to refrain from creating any breach of the peace, so that ere long right should triumph and the strike end in victory for the strikers. True, some of the men whom Figgin had employed tried to raise a revolutionary tone by such cries as 'Burn them out,' 'Knives and pistols,' 'Down with capitalists and oppressors,'
etc., but as they received no support from the strikers, they soon lapsed into silence, and the meeting ended as orderly as it had begun. It is unnecessary farther to describe the events connected with 'The Great
Strike,' as it has since been called, suffice it to state that after a two months' battle most of the men were reinstated at the old rate, excepting only those who had taken a prominent part in the struggle. These were boycotted, through Figgin's influence, he having on account of his enmity toward Blair so embittered Mr. Rawson's mind that he would employ none of the leaders. Not content with this he then drew up what was called a 'black-list,' which contained the names of prominent strike officials, with a request that no employ ment should be given them, and copies of this were forwarded to the other firms in his, and adjoining districts. As a result of this policy six months later— all the avenues of honorable labor appearing closed to him within his native land, he having again and again tried to find a new situation with out success, owing to Figgin's manifesto to the employers — James Blair set sail for the colony of South Australia in the steamship Britannia. (To be continued)