Mr. Todd, leaning back in his chair and gripping the arms, gazed defiantly at a row of palms.
“Carried unanimously!” snapped Mrs. Evans.
Mrs. Gorman, tall and bony, advanced and stood over Mr. Todd. Strong men held their breath.
“It’s my chair,” she said, gruffly. “I’ve been moved into it.”
“Possession,” said Mr. Todd, in as firm a voice as he could manage, “is nine points of the law. I’m here and—”
Mrs. Gorman turned, and, without the slightest warning, sat down suddenly and heavily in his lap. A hum of admiration greeted the achievement.
“Get up!” shouted the horrified Mr. Todd. “Get up!”
Mrs. Gorman settled herself more firmly.
“Let me get up,” said Mr. Todd, panting.
Mrs. Gorman rose, but remained in a hovering position, between which and the chair Mr. Todd, flushed and dishevelled, extricated himself in all haste. A shrill titter of laughter and a clapping of hands greeted his appearance. He turned furiously on the pallid Mr. Porter.
“What d’you mean by it?” he demanded. “Are you the master, or ain’t you? A man what can’t keep order in his own house ain’t fit to be called a man. If my wife was carrying on like this——”
“I wish I was your wife,” said Mrs. Gorman, moistening her lips.
Mr. Todd turned slowly and surveyed her.
“I don’t,” he said, simply, and, being by this time near the door, faded gently from the room.
“Order!” cried Mrs. Gorman, thumping the arm of her chair with a large, hard-working fist. “Take your seats, ladies.”
A strange thrill passed through the bodies of her companions and communicated itself to the men in the chairs. There was a moment’s tense pause, and then the end man, muttering something about “going to see what had happened to poor old Ben Todd,” rose slowly and went out. His companions, with heads erect and a look of cold disdain upon their faces, followed him.
It was Mr. Porter’s last meeting, but his wife had several more. They lasted, in fact, until the day, a fortnight later, when he came in with flushed face and sparkling eyes to announce that the strike was over and the men victorious.
“Six bob a week more!” he said, with enthusiasm. “You see, I was right to strike, after all.”
Mrs. Porter eyed him. “I am out for four bob a week more,” she said, calmly.
Her husband swallowed. “You—you don’t understand ’ow these things are done,” he said, at last. “It takes time. We ought to ne—negotiate.”
“All right,” said Mrs. Porter, readily. “Seven shillings a week, then.”
“Let’s say four and have done with it,” exclaimed the other, hastily.
And Mrs. Porter said it.
It was nearly high-water, and the night-watchman, who had stepped aboard a lighter lying alongside the wharf to smoke a pipe, sat with half-closed eyes enjoying the summer evening. The bustle of the day was over, the wharves were deserted, and hardly a craft moved on the river. Perfumed clouds of shag, hovering for a time over the lighter, floated lazily towards the Surrey shore.