Anne edged away from him nervously. Her face had assumed an expression of wild interest which she was certain couldn’t last much longer.
“Now, take coal at the pit’s mouth,” he went on—“at the pit’s mouth”—he shook a forefinger at her—“at the pit’s mouth—and I know this for a fact—the royalties, the royalties are—”
“It’s awful,” said Anne. “I know.”
She went home feeling a little disturbed. There was something in her mind, a dim sense of foreboding, which kept casting its shadow across her pleasanter thoughts; “Just as you feel,” she said, “when you know you’ve got to go to the dentist.” But they had a big dinner-party that evening, and Anne, full of the joy of life, was not going to let anything stand in the way of her enjoyment of it.
Her man began on the stairs.
“Well,” he said, “what about the coal strike? When are you going to start your coal-parties? ‘Fire, 10—2.’ They say that that’s going to be the new rage.” He smiled reassuringly at her. He was giving the impression that he could have been very, very serious over this terrible business, but that for her sake he was wearing the mask. In the presence of women a man must make light of danger.
Anne understood then what was troubling her; and as, half-way through dinner, the man on her other side turned to talk to her, she shot an urgent question at him. At any cost she must know the worst.
“How long will the strike last?” she said earnestly. “That’s just what I was going to ask you,” he said. “I fear it may be months.”
Anne sighed deeply.
* * * * *
I took the last sandwich and put down the plate.
“And that,” said Anne, “was three weeks ago.”
“It has been the same ever since?” I asked, beginning on a new plate.
“Every day. I’m tired of it. I shrink from every new man I meet. I wait nervously for the word ‘coal,’ feeling that I shall scream when it comes. Oh, I want a vote or something. I don’t know what I want, but I hate men! Why should they think that everything they say to us is funny or clever or important? Why should they talk to us as if we were children? Why should they take it for granted that it’s our duty to listen always?”
I rose with dignity. Dash it all, who had been doing the listening for the last half-hour?
“You are run down,” I said. “What you want is a tonic.”
Quite between ourselves, though, I really think—
But no. We men must stick together.