From Najib’s blank face, the American saw his more or less technical explanation was going wide. Still remorseful at having hurt his factotum’s feelings, Kirby laid the paper aside and undertook to simplify the matter.
“It’s like this,” said he. “We’ll say a gang of men aren’t satisfied with the pay or the hours they are getting. They asked for more money or for shorter hours; or for both. If the demand is refused, they stop working. They won’t go back to their jobs till they get the cash and the hours they want. That is known as ‘going on strike.’ When a number of concerns are involved in it, it’s sometimes called ‘a general strike.’ This paper says a general strike is threatened. That means—”
“I apperceive it, howadji!” exclaimed Najib. “I am onward to it, now. I might have known the printed page cannot lie. But, oh, my heart berends itself when I think of the sad fate of those poor folk who do the stroking! Of an assuredly, Allah hath deprived them of wisdom!
“Not necessarily,” argued Kirby, wondering at his henchman’s outburst of sympathy for union labourers so many thousand miles away. “They may win, you know; or, at least, get a compromise. And their unions will support them while they are out of work. Of course, they may lose. And then—”
“But when they make refusal to do their work,” urged Najib, “will not the soldiers of the pasha cut them to ribbons with the kourbash and drive them back to their toil? Or if the pasha of that pashalik is a brutesome man, will not he cast those poor fellaheen into the prison and beseize their goods? And I answer, howadji, he will. Wherefore my eyes are tearing, for the men who have so unlucklessly—”
“Hold on!” exhorted Kirby; albeit despairing of opening the mind of a man whose forebears for thousands of years had lived in a land where the corvee—forced labour—was a hallowed institution; and where the money of employers could always enlist the aid of government soldiery to keep the fellaheen at their tasks. “Hold on! That sort of thing is dead and done with. Even in the East. Chinese Gordon stamped out the last of it, in Egypt, years ago. If a man doesn’t want to work, he can’t be forced to. All his boss can do is to fire him and try to get some one in his place. When a whole factory of men strike—especially if there are any big contract orders to fill in a rush—the employers sometimes find it cheaper to give them what they want than to call in untrained strikebreakers. On the other hand, sometimes, the boss can bring the men to terms. It all depends.”
Yielding to the human joy of imparting instruction to so interested a listener, Kirby launched forth into an elaboration of his theme; trying to expound something of the capital-and-labour situation to his follower; and secretly wondering at the keen zest wherewith his words were listened to.
Seldom was Kirby so successful in making Najib follow so long an oration. And he was pleased with his own new-found powers of explaining Occidental customs to an Oriental mind.