Robert Edward Knowles.

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I goes in fer duckin' 'em; and if duckin' won't do, I goes in fer fixin'
'em so's they won't work nowheres. If this is a free country, let's have
our share of the kerridges - I believe in equality the same as Jack."

These views were received with renewed expressions of approval, for to
most of the excited men they seem quite unanswerable.

"That's the ticket; make 'em walk the plank. We're just as good as
them," I heard some burly mechanic mutter.

The eager audience turned towards Angus, awaiting his reply, if haply
reply could be provided. It has been my lot to hear many strong
addresses, but I esteem this answering speech of Angus's among the
strongest utterances I have heard.

"Mr. Slater wishes," he began, "to know by what right our employers make
more money than we do. In answer, let me ask him by what right Bill
Montgomery, the foreman in the moulding shop, gets more money every
pay-day than Tom Coxford, who is one of his men. I suppose he will admit
it is because Bill has more ability and more experience than Tom; he
will also admit that the difference in their wages is a just difference,
and indeed I have never heard any one find fault with it. Well, carry
out that principle, and some one who has more skill than Montgomery will
get more money than he gets. Then there will be some one above him
again, and so on till you get to the head of the firm. If differing
wages are just at all - and every one admits they are - then how can you
deny their legitimate profits to the men whose industry and business
ability have established the concern and guided it along to what it is
to-day?

"Mr. Slater says that men are all equal. I don't agree with him. It is
clear that God means some men to be rich and others to be less rich. If
a man quarrels with the inequality among men, his quarrel is with God.
God makes some men richer than others to begin with. When we see the
highest riches, like those of brains and strength, unequally divided, we
need not wonder to see the lesser riches somewhat unevenly distributed.
God gives one man, or a woman like Jenny Lind, a voice that means a
thousand dollars a night as often as they want to sing, and He gives
another man a voice like an alarm-clock or a buzz-saw. He gives one man
a mind that seems always to be full, and another man a mind, let him do
his best, that is always as empty as a last year's nest. Surely I have
more ground for envying the man who is born with more brains than I than
the man who is born with more wealth than I. And yet God alone is
responsible for the first-named inequality. We hear too much rubbish
about this theory of all men being equal born.

"As for Bob Taylor's hint that we should employ violence to prevent men
working for what wage they please, I have only this to say, that nobody
but a lazy dog like him would suggest such a policy.

"We all know that when the whistle blows in the morning, Bob always
tries how much of it he can hear before he goes in; and when it blows at
night, he tries how much of it he can hear after he gets out. Bob is
always slow at the end where he ought to be quick, and quick at the end
where all honest men try at least to be decently slow; and then he talks
to us about ducking some poor fellow who wants to make an honest living
for his wife and children. I will say this much, too, that if the time
ever comes when a free-born man cannot sell his labour in the market
for what price he likes, then I will turn my back upon the old flag and
leave its soil forever.

"Now, I am going to ask Mr. Slater a question or two about this dividing
up business.

"Do you think, Mr. Slater, if a man has a million dollars, that he ought
to divide up with the man who has very little, if that man happens to be
working for him?"

"Most sartintly," replied Jack.

"Very well, if a man has ten thousand dollars, should he divide up with
a poorer man who works for him?"

"Sure," answered Jack promptly.

"Well, suppose a man has a house and a little garden, and he has a man
hired to help dig it or repair it, should he divide up with this poorer
workman who has neither house nor garden?"

Jack hesitated, his brows knit in thought; then he answered slowly -

"Naw, I don't just think so."

"Why not?" said Angus.

"Well, 'twouldn't be fair; besides, I happen to have a little house and
garden of my own."

Then all that crowd of men exploded in a burst of derisive laughter
which set the seal of triumph on Angus's argument.

After the uproar had subsided, an intrepid Scotsman, only a few months
in New Jedboro, volunteered to address the meeting.

"I canna jist answer the argyments o' Mr. Strachan, but I maun pit
forrit my idea that oor wives and bairns haena the luxuries o' them as
owns the works. I canna but mind that Robbie Burns said, 'A man's a man
for a' that,' an' I thocht the present a fittin' occasion to mind ye o'
the words, bein' as we're met the nicht to speak oot against slavery o'
ilka kind."

"No man who knows me," replied Angus, "will say that I will either yield
to slavery or assist it in any form. But the man who calls himself a
slave because his employer has more money than he, is no friend to
honest labour. We would all like wealth, but wealth is neither happiness
nor liberty. After all, the men whom we envy have not so much more than
we; they can only lie on one pillow at a time, can only eat one mouthful
at a time, can only smoke one cigar at a time, and as for the kind of
couch a man sits down upon, it matters little so that he has earned his
rest by honest toil.

"My Scottish friend hardly realizes what he says. I know he has a wife
and a sweet little lassie. There is Mr. Blake, the richest of our
manufacturers, and he has neither the one nor the other. Now I ask my
compatriot, would he trade his lot for that of Mr. Blake with all his
money? He answers no. Then who is the richer man - Mr. Blake, or our
fellow-workman from auld Scotland?

"Speaking of Scotland, let me say this one word. I lived there till I
was a well-grown lad, as did scores of you, and I defy you to contradict
me when I say that we are a hundred times better off here than we were
among the sheep or behind the ploughs in the old land, neither of which
we could hardly ever hope to call our own. Were we not there accounted
almost as sheep for the slaughter? How much better were we than the kine
we tended? Were not we even driven from the land we rented at a cruel
price, that some haughty lord might make a deer-run of the place? What
were we there but grovelling vassals, and what hope had we ever to be
independent, or to own even a house in which to die?

"I do not need to tell you of the difference here, of how the most of us
have our own little homes, and count our friends among the best people
in New Jedboro; and three-fourths of the aldermen in our council, and
the trustees of our schools, and the elders of our kirks, are from the
ranks of honest labour.

"Let us thank God we have escaped from the class tyranny and the peasant
bondage of the land beyond the seas."

A new and different light was now upon the rapt faces of the men - and
the end of it all was that they turned the diamond-ringed gentlemen from
their doors.




XIV

_WITH The EMPLOYERS_


Nor was this the last of Angus's eloquence. A few days later the
manufacturers, being met in conclave at Mr. Blake's office, sent for the
young Scotsman and personally thanked him for his good offices in
settling the strike. Both sorts were there - the kind and the unkind, the
gentleman and the churl - but all alike united in grateful praise for the
mediation which Angus had accomplished. Many unctuous things were said,
but when one tyrant arose to speak his gratitude, Angus's face bore a
look which boded ill.

"We're glad," said Mr. M'Dougall, swelling with vulgar pompousness, "to
see that you recognize the rights of property and the claims of vested
interests. And we trust," he added, "that Labour has learned a lesson it
will not soon forget." Then he sat down with the majesty of a balloon
descending.

"I am glad, sir," replied Angus, "to have been of service in quelling a
movement led by selfish and grasping strangers, but I may at the same
time say that it would be well for Mr. M'Dougall and his kind to pay
more heed himself to the rights of property. For skill and industry and
faithfulness are property just as much as Mr. M'Dougall's vested
interests. And he may as well be warned that Labour will not forever
tolerate the selfishness and the pride with which he treats his hands."

"I move," interrupted Mr. Thoburn, himself a gifted tyrant, "that this
meeting do now adjourn."

"This meeting will do nothing of the sort." This time it was Mr. Blake
who spoke, and there was iron in his voice. "None of us thought Mr.
Strachan spoke too long when he was dealing with the agitators from
Chicago, and let us hear him out, unless we are bigger cowards than the
men who work for us."

The meeting endorsed these sentiments, and Angus resumed -

"I speak in the interests of Capital," he said, "when I declare that the
fault is not all on the side of the working man. Many of our employers
are kind and sympathetic men, but others of them are not. I envy no man
among you the wealth he has gathered, but the selfishness of some of our
manufacturers is maddening to the working man.

"Some of you know nothing of our trials and our difficulties, and, what
is worse, you do not want to know. You pass by the men who are making
you rich as though they were the dogs of the street. You sit next pew to
them in the kirk, and yet treat them like the dirt beneath your feet. It
is doubtless your conviction that you have discharged your whole duty to
us when you pay our wages every fortnight. I tell you," he cried
passionately, "that is the great fallacy which is yet to prove the
undoing of the employers of labour.

"You forget we are men, as well as you, and have higher claims upon you
than your pay sheet acknowledges. If our employer dies, we follow him in
a body to his grave. If one of us dies, you drive past his hearse with
your haughty carriages, or bolt down a side street to avoid the
association.

"Tom Lamplough, who has worked for Mr. Thoburn twenty years, buried his
only child last Thursday, and his employer spent the afternoon speeding
his thoroughbred on the race-track beside the cemetery. At the very
moment when Tom was groping about the open grave, struggling with his
broken heart and following his daughter with streaming eyes, Mr. Thoburn
was bawling out that his filly had done it in two and a quarter - and the
clods were falling on the coffin all the while."

At this juncture Thoburn arose, his face the very colour of the corpse
he had disdained.

"Will no man throttle this fanatic?" he hoarsely craved. "Must we be
insulted thus by a mere working man?"

"I insult no man," retorted his accuser, "when I tell him but the truth.
It was you who insulted the dead, and outraged her desolate father
because he was but your servant. Is what I say the truth?"

"I decline to answer that," said Thoburn.

"You will not decline to answer before the throne of God. For you and
Tom will meet yonder. Good God, man, did you ever think of that? Did it
ever occur to you that you and Tom will take your last ride in the same
conveyance, and have the same upholstery in the tomb? And somebody
else's filly will be making its mile in less time than yours when the
clods are falling on your coffin."

I have often marvelled at this strange power of rhetoric in an untutored
man; but it only confirmed what I am more and more inclined to
believe - that emotion and intellect are twins, and that the soul is
oratory's native home.

There was a pause, but it was brief. For there flew to the rescue of his
beleaguered brother Mr. Hiram Orme, the millionaire proprietor of the
great Acme works. Vulgar and proud, he lived a life of ostentatious
luxury.

No thought of the poor or the suffering ever disturbed the shallow tenor
of his enamelled existence Secure in the fortress of wealth, which is a
lie! he cared nothing for such wounded soldiers as had helped to build
it, or for their widows or their orphans. With all sail set, he careened
on his inconsiderate way, and the vessels whose side he sought were
never those bearing the signals of distress.

Mr. Hiram Orme had a high contempt for all working men, and a keen
suspicion of every attitude which smacked of liberty. The working man,
like the negro, was happier far in a state of semi-slavery - such was the
honest view of the honest man.

And now he was upon his feet, glaring with wrath, profoundly complacent
in the assurance of superior wealth, and prepared to demolish both Angus
and the King's English at a blow.

"Them's nice words," he broke forth, "for a working man to be using to
the man what he's dependent on for to get his bread and butter. And I
want for to tell this man Strachan that beggars can't be choosers. A
pretty preachment he's givin' us about coffins and them like things.
There's one thing certain, and that is, me and the rest of my brother
manufacturers will have a sight finer coffins than him and his sort will
have." The manufacturers shuddered, like men sitting in some deadly
draught.

"We've had jist about enough sass from our young friend, I think; he's
nothin' but a hewer of wood and a drawer of water for us anyhow.
Doesn't the Bible tell servants like him for to be obedient to their
masters?"

Then Angus's Scotch blood leaped, protesting, to his face, and his soul
tore open his burning lips as the tide bursts a dam built by children's
hands.

"I eat honest bread, earned by honest toil," he hotly cried, "and that
is more than Mr. Orme can say. I would beg from door to door before I
would munch, as he does, the crusts that are stained with blood. We all
know how he has ground his working girls to the earth, how he has
refused to ventilate his factories, and even to heat them decently in
the winter time. We all know how he has spurned the poor and the needy
with his foot, and how he has crawled upon his belly before the rich and
great. I will tell you something about Mr. Orme. It does not apply to
all of you. Some of you, thank God! have remembered that your working
men were human beings like yourselves - you have helped and befriended
the sick and the poor, you have pensioned the closing years of faithful
men. You have called yourselves to ask for our sick and dying, and we
have blessed you for it. What poor burdened hearts want is the warm
heart touch from your own hands or lips, but Mr. Orme has given neither
the one nor the other.

"Mr. Orme, do you remember Dick Draper, who was your boss carder, and
who lives in a little house behind your mansion? Do you remember that he
worked for you ten or fifteen years, and that you discharged him because
he would not leave the Union?"

"Yes, I remember him. Why?" answered Orme huskily.

"I will tell you why. A few months after you discharged him, partly
because his health failed and partly because you blackballed him at all
other shops, he was still out of work, his money all gone, his pantry
bare, and his youngest boy dying of a slow disease of the spine. Some of
us went to you and asked you to help us raise enough to send him to
Montreal for treatment that might save his life. You showed us the door,
and told us to tell him he could make his money like you made yours. You
said if the boy died it would be one mouth less for Dick to feed, and
told us there was a grand old maxim about every man for himself and the
devil have the hindermost. As we were going down your splendid avenue,
you shouted that Dick's spine was stiff enough when he joined the Union.
Then you asked us if spines were hereditary. Then you laughed and your
barns and your grand driving sheds echoed back its cruel mockery."

Orme arose and started towards the door.

"Mr. Chairman, I protest," he began.

"Sit doon," thundered Angus, lapsing into his native tongue, "sit doon
till I tell ye a'. The nicht Dick's boy was deein', we went to ye and
begged ye to stop yir music and yir dancin'. For ye had some graun' fowk
at yir pairty, an' the flowers for it cost ye mair nor wad hae sent the
laddie to Montreal. An' the noise fashed an' fretted the deein' bairn.
But ye bade us begone, an' said ye'd invite us to yir pairty when ye
wanted us - an' the puir laddie dee'd in his faither's airms to the cruel
music o' yir fiddles an' yir reels, an' his faither sat wi' him a' the
nicht, croonin' wi' sorrow, an' yir graun' guests' laughter breakin' on
him like a blizzard frae the north."

"Is the sermon nearly done?" said Mr. Orme, with a sneer. "You missed
your calling; you're a preacher." The hot tears were in Angus' eyes and
he seemed to have forgotten that Orme was present, the taunt lost upon
him.

"I will say no more," turning now to the others, "and I have perhaps
spoken over warmly. But I have uttered no word other than the truth. And
I will only make my last appeal, which I know will have some weight,
with most of you, at least. The remedy for all this threatening trouble
lies in mutual sympathy, for I doubt not you have your own difficulties,
even as we have ours. I am glad to have helped to allay this recent
trouble, and my best service shall never be denied you in the future.
But I pray you to consider the words of a man who wishes you nothing
else but good. Pardon what of violence and ponder what of reason has
been mixed with what I said. Capital has its labour, and labour has its
capital - and we are all toilers together."

He bowed to the employers and withdrew, but the seed his hand had cast
was fallen, some no doubt on rocky ground, but some also on good and
honest soil.

And Angus had won a victory; but his greatest triumph was unseen, for he
had ruled his own spirit, which high authority assures us is greater
than the taking of a city.

Not inconsiderable, too, were the outward pledges of his victory. For,
as we said, the sleek agitators had been dismissed, the mills and
factories were running again, and the industrial tides of life in New
Jedboro gradually subsided into their old channels.

And now those unseen forces that are ever silently working to upset old
standards and to displace old ways, broke out in a new form, this time
threatening the very centre of one of St. Cuthbert's most established
customs.




XV

_A BOLD PROPOSAL_


The old precentor's box beneath the pulpit was still St. Cuthbert's only
choir loft. Many years back, the iconoclasts among them had managed to
gather a few of the most songful ones together in a front pew, demurely
sitting as part of the congregation, but concentrated for purposes of
leadership. This proved, however, more than St. Cuthbert's could abide,
and its mal-odour of "High Church" alarmed the Scottish Presbyterians.
Going down the aisle, Saunders M'Tavish voiced the general alarm in
sententious tones -

"The thin end o' the wedge," he warningly exclaimed, "and it's no' a far
cry noo to the candles an' the incense. They'll be bringin' ower the
pope next," and the kirk session, convening the next night, soon stopped
that leakage in their ancestral dyke.

Since then the precentor's box had preserved its lonely splendour.
Within it, in the far-back thunderous days of their great Boanerges, the
precentor stood to lead the swelling psalm as it rose from the seated
multitude - for they stood to pray, but sat to sing. From the
fast-gathering mists that now threaten those receding years, surviving
ones still rescue images of the precentor's ruffled locks, swept by the
pentecostal swirl - so seemed it to his worshippers - of Dr. Grant's
Geneva gown. And in this same box Sabbath after Sabbath appeared the
stalwart form of Archie M'Cormack, modern in nothing but his years.

His was a conservatism of the intense and passionate sort; not the
choice of his judgment, but the deepest element of his life. He no more
chose old ways, old paths, or the spirit of earlier times, than the
trout chooses water or the Polar bear its native snows. He was born not
among them, but of them, and remained till death their incarnate
descendant. No mere Scotch kirkman was Archie, but a prehistoric
Calvinist, a Presbyterian by the act of God and an elder from all
eternity. Even his youthful thoughts and imaginations adjusted
themselves to the scope of the Westminster Confession, abhorring any
horizon unillumined by the gray light which flowed in mathematical
exactitude from a hypothetical heart in the Shorter Catechism.

Although, strangely enough, Archie could never master the catechism. A
random question was his doom. Catechise him straight through, and his
response was swift and accurate. No thrust availed against him, a
knight invincible in his well-pieced coat of mail, a very dragon of
orthodoxy from whose lips there issued clouds of Calvinism, till the
minister himself was often well-nigh obscured thereby. But once dip
Archie into the middle of its mighty bosom to search an answer there,
and he would never reappear, or, if he haply might, it would be with
sorry fragments of divers answers in his hands, incongruous to
absurdity. Is not the same true of babbling guides in old cathedrals?

"What is sin?" the minister once suddenly asked Archie in the course of
catechetical visitation, the district being assembled at one central
house. Archie's answer, being a mosaic, is still quoted by those who
heard it, terror-stricken where they sat.

"Sin," replied the wide-gleaning man, "is an act of God's free grace,
infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in its full purpose of and endeavour
after new obedience."

This terrible and miscellaneous eruption was the more lamentable from
the fact that his poor wife heard this blare of discordant dogmas with
unbelieving ears, while even little Kirsty gasped, exclaiming above her
breath, "Ye're sair muddled, faither."

Archie looked vacantly from wife to daughter, like one who has let
something drop. Then gazing despondently at the minister's struggling
face, he said, "I'm feart that's no' jist richt in a' its parteeklars."
The epilogue was worse than the tragedy. A grim Presbyterian smile went
round, more vocal than the echoing laughter of less silent sects, and it
smote on Archie's ears like the scorners' bray. Forward went the
catechism, a penitential gloom succeeding the sinful indulgence. The
Scottish sun dips suddenly.

Sober enough now are the faces from which all merriment has fled,
forgetting the precentor's discomfiture, and looking only to their own
deliverance from the guns now turned against themselves. But Archie did
not forget - into a secret Scottish place he had retreated, his hot,
burning heart forging some weapon of revenge. It was ready in due time.
An hour after, just before the armistice which the benediction alone
made sure, he turned upon the honest rustics with a look of belated
triumph in his face, and slew them with the retort which long travail
had brought forth.

"A'm no' sae gleg on the subject o' sin as some fowk I ken."

The minister, by aid of special grace, said nothing. Archie, although he
held solemnly on his way through the benediction, as became a precentor,
yet chuckled exultantly all the homeward road. At evening worship he
selected the Twenty-seventh Psalm and sang the second verse with
rejoicing unction -

"Whereas mine enemies and foes,
Most wicked persons all,
To eat my flesh against me rose,
They stumbled and did fall,"

and the honest rustics, as they sought the cover of their homes with
emancipated feet, pronounced one to the other that most Scotch of all
Scottish verdicts, half of eulogy and half of condemnation: "He's a lad,
is Airchie. Ay, Airchie's a lad to be sure."

* * * * *

What sleuth-hounds women are in matters of the heart! How quickly they
take the scent of any path, virgin though it be, if that path hath been
touched by the very feet of love, tracing its devious course with
passionate inerrancy.

I thought the news trifling, when I told my wife that Angus and our
Margaret had appeared before St. Cuthbert's session to present a certain
prayer. My mind was taken up exclusively with the request they
proffered. But Margaret's mother was unconcerned with their plea. Of the
pleaders she thought alone. Divers questions she flung forth at me,
furtive all, their author in ambush all the while.

"Did they seem interested in each other?" was the burden of them all;
for, though she avoided plainness of speech, I could yet detect her


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Online LibraryRobert Edward KnowlesSt. Cuthbert's; a novel → online text (page 6 of 17)