“They’ve got to be in such a state,” Aaron continued, “that nothing appeals to them except some material benefit; a pipe of tobacco or a mug of beer will stir them more than any dream of freedom. Oh! it’s sad to see them, often. I used to go to the gates at the shipbuilding yard and watch them come out. Ten years about does for a man there. It’s a short spell.”
Maraton sighed. “Yet they endure,” he muttered to himself.
“Yet they endure,” Aaron echoed. “Can’t you see why? Don’t you know that it is because they haven’t heard the word—the one great word? That’s what they’re waiting for—for the prophet to open their eyes and lead them out of the wilderness. Only just at first it may be that even his voice will sound in vain. You are sure you won’t mind my sister coming with us, sir? She is so interested and they all know her down there.”
“It will be an advantage to have your sister,” Maraton replied. “There are many things I should like to ask her.”
At twenty minutes past eight, Maraton, with his two companions, reached the building in which the meeting was to take place—a plain, unimposing-looking edifice, built for a chapel, whitewashed inside, but with plastered walls and bare floors. The room was almost packed, and it was with some difficulty that they found seats in the back row. David Ross, Peter Dale and Graveling occupied chairs on the platform. Between them, Julia and Aaron kept Maraton informed as to the identity of each newcomer.
“That’s Mr. Docker, who is going to speak now,” the latter declared in an excited whisper. “He is a fighting man. It’s he who has manoeuvred this strike, they say. Now he’s off.”
Mr. Docker has risen to his feet amidst a little hoarse cheering. For a quarter of an hour or more, he spoke fluently and convincingly. It appeared from his statements that boiler-makers were the worst paid mechanics in the universe, that it was he who had discovered this, that it was he who had drawn up the ultimatum which had been presented to the masters and refused. His peroration was friendly but appealing.
“There are some amongst Boulding’s people,” he wound up, “who, they tell me, are satisfied. If so, I hope they are not here. They haven’t any place here. To them I would say—’If you are satisfied with twenty-four shillings a week, well, don’t waste a penny in subscribing to the Unions, but go and spend your twenty-four shillings a week and live on it and enjoy it, and get fat on it if you can.’ But to those others I want to say that it’s just as easy to get twenty-eight. The masters don’t want you to strike just now. You only have to be firm and you can get what’s fair and right.”
A man rose up in the hall.
“Is it true,” he asked, “that Boulding’s won’t pay the advance?—that they are going to close the doors to-morrow if we insist upon it?”