Chapter XIV. Gathering Clouds
 

On the Rectory lawn a hard-fought game had just finished, bringing to a conclusion a lengthened series of contests which had extended over a whole week, in which series Patricia, with her devoted cavalier, Victor Forsythe, had been forced to accept defeat at the hands of her sister and her partner, Hugh Maynard.

"Partner, you were wonderful in that last set!" said Patricia, as they moved off together to offer their congratulations to their conquerors.

"Patsy," said her partner, in a low voice, "as ever, you are superb in defeat as in victory. Superb, unapproachable, wonderful."

"Anything else, Vic?" inquired Patsy, grinning at the youth.

"Oh, a whole lot more, Pat, if you only give me a chance to tell you."

"No time just now," cried Patricia as she reached the others. "Well, you two deserved to win. You played ripping tennis," she continued, offering Hugh her hand.

"So did you, Pat. You were at the very top of your form."

"Well, some other day," said Vic. "I think we are improving a bit, partner. A little more close harmony will do the trick."

"Come away, children," said Mrs. Templeton, calling to them from the shade at the side of the courts. "You must be very tired and done out. Why, how hot you look, Patricia."

"Stunning, I should say!" murmured Vic, looking at her with adoring eyes.

And a truly wonderful picture the girl made, in her dainty muslin frock, her bold red hair tossed in a splendid aureole about her face. Care-free, heart-free, as she flashed from her hearty blue eyes her saucy and bewitching glances at her partner's face, her mother sighed, thinking that her baby girl was swiftly slipping away from her and forever into that wider world of womanhood where others would claim her.

In lovely contrast stood her sister, dressed in flannel skirt and sweater of old gold silk, fair, tall, beautiful, a delicate grace in every line of her body and a proud, yet gentle strength in every feature of her face. There dwelt in her deep blue eyes a look of hidden, mysterious power which had wrought in her mother a certain fear of her eldest daughter. The mother never quite knew what to expect from Adrien. Yet, for all, she carried an assured confidence that whatever she might do, her daughter never would shame the high traditions of her race.

The long shadows from the tall elms lay across the velvet sward of the Rectory lawn. The heat of the early June day had given place to the cool air of the evening. The exquisitely delicate colouring from the setting sun flooded the sky overhead and deepened into blues and purples behind the elms and the church spire. A deep peace had fallen upon the world except that from the topmost bough of the tallest elm tree a robin sang, pouring his very heart out in a song of joyous optimism.

The little group, disposed upon the lawn according to their various desires, stood and sat looking up at the brave little songster.

"How happy he is," said Mrs. Templeton, a wistful cadence of sadness in her voice.

"I wonder if he is, Mamma. Perhaps he is only pretending," said Adrien.

"Cheerio, old chap!" cried Vic, waving his hand at the gallant little songster. "You are a regular grouch killer."

"He has no troubles," said Mrs. Templeton, with a sigh.

"I wonder, Mamma. Or is he just bluffing us all?"

"He has no strike, at any rate, to worry him," said Patricia, "and, by the way, what is the news to-day? Does anybody know? Is there any change?"

"Oh," cried Vic, "there has been a most exciting morning at the E. D. C.--the Employers' Defence Committee," he explained, in answer to Mrs. Templeton's mystified look.

"Do go on!" cried Patricia impatiently. "Was there a fight? They are always having one."

"Of course there was the usual morning scrap, but with a variation to-day of a deputation from the brethren of the Ministerial Association. But, of course, Mrs. Templeton, the Doctor must have told you already."

"I hardly ever see him these days. He is dreadfully occupied. There is so much trouble, sickness and that sort of thing. Oh, it is all terribly sad. The Doctor is almost worn out."

"He made a wonderful speech to the magnates, my governor says."

"Oh, go on, Vic!" cried Patricia. "Why do you stop? You are so deliberate."

"I was thinking of that speech," replied Victor more quietly than was his wont. "It came at a most dramatic moment. The governor was quite worked up over it and gave me a full account. They had just got all their reports in--'all safe along the Potomac'--no break in the front line--Building Industries slightly shaky due to working men's groups taking on small contracts, which excited great wrath and which McGinnis declared must be stopped."

"How can they stop them? This is a free country," said Adrien.

"Aha!" cried Victor. "Little you know of the resources of the E. D. C. It is proposed that the supply dealers should refuse supplies to all builders until the strike is settled. No more lumber, lime, cement, etc., etc."

"Boycott, eh? I call that pretty rotten," said Adrien.

"The majority were pretty much for it, however, except Maitland and my governor, they protesting that this boycott was hardly playing the game. Your friend Captain Jack came in for his licks," continued Vic, turning to Patricia. "It appears he has been employing strikers in some work or other, which some of the brethren considered to be not according to Hoyle."

"Nonsense!" cried Patricia indignantly. "Jack took me yesterday to see the work. He showed me all the plans and we went over the grounds. It is a most splendid thing, Mamma! He is laying out athletic grounds for his men, with a club house and all that sort of thing. They are going to be perfectly splendid! Do you mean to say they were blaming him for this? Who was?" And Patricia stood ready for battle.

"Kamerad!" cried Vic, holding up his hands. "Not me! However, Jack was exonerated, for it appears he sent them a letter two weeks ago, telling them what he proposed to do, to which letter they had raised no objection."

"Well, what then?" inquired Patricia.

"Oh, the usual thing. They all resolved to stand pat--no surrender-- or, rather, let the whole line advance--you know the stuff--when into this warlike atmosphere walked the deputation from the Ministerial Association. It gave the E. D. C. a slight shock, so my Dad says. The Doctor fired the first gun. My governor says that it was like a breath from another world. His face was enough. Everybody felt mean for just being what they were. I know exactly what that is, for I know the way he makes me feel when I look at him in church. You know what I mean, Pat."

"I know," said Patricia softly, letting her hand fall upon her mother's shoulder.

"Well," continued Vic, "the Doctor just talked to them as if they were his children. They hadn't been very good and he was sorry for them. He would like to help them to be better. The other side, too, had been doing wrong, and they were having a bad time. They were suffering, and as he went on to tell them in that wonderful voice of his about the women and children, every man in the room, so the governor said, was wondering how much he had in his pocket. And then he told them of how wicked it was for men whose sons had died together in France to be fighting each other here in Canada. Well, you know my governor. As he told me this tale, we just both of us bowed our heads and wept. It's the truth, so help me, just as you are doing now, Pat."

"I am not," cried Patricia indignantly. "And I don't care if I am. He is a dear and those men are just--"

"Hush, dear," said Mrs. Templeton gently. "And did they agree to anything?"

"Alas, not they, for at that moment some old Johnny began asking questions and then that old fire-eater, McGinnis, horned in again. No Arbitration Committee for him--no one could come into his foundry and tell him how to run his business--same old stuff, you know. Well, then, the Methodist Johnny took a hand. What's his name? Haynes, isn't it?"

"Yes, Haynes," said Hugh Maynard.

"Well, Brother Haynes took up the tale. He is an eloquent chap, all right. He took the line 'As you are strong, be pitiful,' but the psychological moment had gone and the line still held strong. Campbell of the woollen mills invited him up to view his $25,000.00 stock 'all dressed up and nowhere to go.' 'Tell me how I can pay increased wages with this stock on my hands.' And echo answered 'How?' Haynes could not. Then my old chief took a hand--the Reverend Murdo Matheson. He is a good old scout, a Padre, you know--regular fire-eater--a rasping voice and grey matter oozing from his pores. My governor says he abandoned the frontal attack and took them on the flank. Opened up with a dose of economics that made them sit up. And when he got through on this line, he made every man feel that it was entirely due to the courtesy and forbearance of the union that he was allowed to carry on business at all. He spiked Brother McGinnis's guns by informing him that if he was harbouring the idea that he owned a foundry all on his own, he was labouring under a hallucination. All he owned was a heap of brick and mortar and some iron and steel junk arranged in some peculiar way. In fact, there was no foundry there till the workmen came in and started the wheels going round. Old McGinnis sat gasping like a chicken with the pip. Then the Padre turned on the 'Liberty of the subject' stop as follows: 'Mr. McGinnis insists upon liberty to run his foundry as he likes; insists upon perfect freedom of action. There is no such thing as perfect freedom of action in modern civilisation. For instance, Mr. McGinnis rushing to catch a train, hurls his Hudson Six gaily down Main Street thirty miles an hour, on the left-hand side of the street. A speed cop sidles up, whispers a sweet something in his ear, hails him ignominiously into court and invites him to contribute to the support of the democracy fifty little iron men as an evidence of his devotion to the sacred principle of personal liberty. In short, there is no such thing as personal liberty in this burg, unless it is too late for the cop to see.' The governor says McGinnis's face afforded a perfect study in emotions. I should have liked to have seen it. The Padre never took his foot off the accelerator. He took them all for an excursion along the 'Responsibility' line: personal responsibility, mutual responsibility, community responsibility and every responsibility known to the modern mind. And then when he had them eating out of his hand, he offered them two alternatives: an Arbitration Committee as formerly proposed, or a Conciliation Board under the Lemieux Act. My governor says it was a great speech. He had 'em all jumping through the hoops."

"What do you mean, Vic?" lamented Mrs. Templeton. "I have only the very vaguest idea of what you have been saying all this time."

"So sorry, Mrs. Templeton. What I mean is the Padre delivered a most effective speech."

"And did they settle anything?" inquired Patricia.

"I regret to say, Patricia, that your friend Rupert--"

"My friend, indeed!" cried Patricia.

"Who comforts you with bonbons," continued Vic, ignoring her words, "and stays you with joy rides, interposed at this second psychological crisis. He very cleverly moves a vote of thanks, bows out the deputation, thanking them for their touching addresses, and promising consideration. Thereupon, as the door closed, he proceeded to sound the alarm once more, collected the scattered forces, flung the gage of battle in the teeth of the enemy, dared them to do their worst, and there you are."

"And nothing done?" cried Adrien. "What a shame."

"What I cannot understand is," said Hugh, "why the unions do not invoke the Lemieux Act?"

"Aha!" said Vic. "Why? The same question rose to my lips."

"The Lemieux Act?" inquired Mrs. Templeton.

"Yes. You know, Mrs. Templeton, either party in dispute can ask for a Board of Conciliation, not Arbitration, you understand. This Board has power to investigate--bring out all the facts--and failing to effect conciliation, makes public its decision in the case, leaving both parties at the bar of public opinion."

"But I cannot understand why the unions do not ask for this Conciliation Board."

"I fear, Hugh," said Victor in an awed and solemn voice, "that there is an Ethiopian in the coal bin."

"What does he mean, Patricia?"

"He means that there is something very dark and mysterious, Mamma."

"So there is," said Hugh. "The unions will take an Arbitration Committee, which the employers decline to give, but they will not ask for a Conciliation Board."

"My governor says it's a bluff," said Vic. "The unions know quite well that McGinnis et hoc genus omne will have nothing to do with an Arbitration Committee. Hence they are all for an Arbitration Committee. On the other hand, neither the unions nor McGinnis are greatly in love with the prying methods of the Conciliation Board, and hence reject the aid of the Lemieux Act."

"But why should they all be dominated by a man like McGinnis?" demanded Adrien. "Why doesn't some employer demand a Conciliation Board? He can get it, you know."

"They naturally stand together," said Hugh.

"But they won't long. Maitland declares that he will take either board, and that if the committee cannot agree which to choose, he will withdraw and make terms on his own. He furthermore gave them warning that if any strike-breakers were employed, of which he had heard rumours, he would have nothing to do with the bunch."

"Strike-breakers?" said Adrien. "That would certainly mean serious trouble."

"Indeed, you are jolly well right," said Vic. "We will all be in it then. Civic guard! Special police! 'Shun! Fix bayonets! Prepare for cavalry! Eh?"

"Oh, how terrible it all is," said Mrs. Templeton.

"Nonsense, Vic," said Hugh. "Don't listen to him, Mrs. Templeton. We will have nothing of that sort."

"Well, it is all very sad," said Mrs. Templeton. "But here is Rupert. He will give us the latest."

But Rupert appeared unwilling to talk about the meeting of the morning. He was quite certain, however, that the strike was about to break. He had inside information that the resources of the unions were almost exhausted. The employers were tightening up all along the line, credits were being refused at the stores, the unions were torn with dissension, the end was at hand.

"It would be a great mercy if it would end soon," said Mrs. Templeton. "It is a sad pity that these poor people are so misguided."

"It is a cruel shame, Mrs. Templeton," said Rupert indignantly. "I have it from scores of them that they didn't want to strike at all. They were getting good wages--the wage scale has gone up steadily during the war to the present extravagant height."

"The cost of living has gone up much more rapidly, I believe," said Adrien. "The men are working ten hours a day, the conditions under which they labour are in some cases deplorable; that McGinnis foundry is a ghastly place, terribly unhealthy; the girls in many of the factories are paid wages so shamefully low that they can hardly maintain themselves in decency, and they are continually being told that they are about to be dismissed. The wrong's not all on one side, by any means. To my mind, men like McGinnis who are unwilling to negotiate are a menace to the country."

"You are quite right, Adrien," replied Hugh. "I consider him a most dangerous man. That sort of pig-headed, bull-headed employer of labour does more to promote strife than a dozen 'walking delegates.' I am not terribly strong for the unions, but the point of vantage is always with the employers. And they have a lot to learn. Oh, you may look at me, Adrien! I am no bolshevist, but I see a lot of these men in our office."