Produced by David Widger
By W.W. JACOBS
“You’ve what?” demanded Mrs. Porter, placing the hot iron carefully on its stand and turning a heated face on the head of the family.
“Struck,” repeated Mr. Porter; “and the only wonder to me is we’ve stood it so long as we have. If I was to tell you all we’ve ‘ad to put up with I don’t suppose you’d believe me.”
“Very likely,” was the reply. “You can keep your fairy-tales for them that like ’em. They’re no good to me.”
“We stood it till flesh and blood could stand it no longer,” declared her husband, “and at last we came out, shoulder to shoulder, singing. The people cheered us, and one of our leaders made ’em a speech.”
“I should have liked to ‘ave heard the singing,” remarked his wife. “If they all sang like you, it must ha’ been as good as a pantermime! Do you remember the last time you went on strike?”
“This is different,” said Mr. Porter, with dignity.
“All our things went, bit by bit,” pursued his wife, “all the money we had put by for a rainy day, and we ‘ad to begin all over again. What are we going to live on? O’ course, you might earn something by singing in the street; people who like funny faces might give you something! Why not go upstairs and put your ‘ead under the bed-clothes and practise a bit?”
Mr. Porter coughed. “It’ll be all right,” he said, confidently. “Our committee knows what it’s about; Bert Robinson is one of the best speakers I’ve ever ‘eard. If we don’t all get five bob a week more I’ll eat my ‘ead.”
“It’s the best thing you could do with it,” snapped his wife. She took up her iron again, and turning an obstinate back to his remarks resumed her work.
Mr. Porter lay long next morning, and, dressing with comfortable slowness, noticed with pleasure that the sun was shining. Visions of a good breakfast and a digestive pipe, followed by a walk in the fresh air, passed before his eyes as he laced his boots. Whistling cheerfully he went briskly downstairs.
It was an October morning, but despite the invigorating chill in the air the kitchen-grate was cold and dull. Herring-bones and a disorderly collection of dirty cups and platters graced the table. Perplexed and angry, he looked around for his wife, and then, opening the back-door, stood gaping with astonishment. The wife of his bosom, who should have had a bright fire and a good breakfast waiting for him, was sitting on a box in the sunshine, elbows on knees and puffing laboriously at a cigarette.
“Susan!” he exclaimed.
Mrs. Porter turned, and, puffing out her lips, blew an immense volume of smoke. “Halloa!” she said, carelessly.
“Wot—wot does this mean?” demanded her husband.
Mrs. Porter smiled with conscious pride. “I made it come out of my nose just now,” she replied. “At least, some of it did, and I swallowed the rest. Will it hurt me?”
“Where’s my breakfast?” inquired the other, hotly. “Why ain’t the kitchen-fire alight? Wot do you think you’re doing of?”
“I’m not doing anything,” said his wife, with an aggrieved air. “I’m on strike.”
Mr. Porter reeled against the door-post. “Wot!” he stammered. “On strike? Nonsense! You can’t be.”
“O, yes, I can,” retorted Mrs. Porter, closing one eye and ministering to it hastily with the corner of her apron. “Not ‘aving no Bert Robinson to do it for me, I made a little speech all to myself, and here I am.”
She dropped her apron, replaced the cigarette, and, with her hands on her plump knees, eyes him steadily.
“But—but this ain’t a factory,” objected the dismayed man; “and, besides —I won’t ‘ave it!”
Mrs. Porter laughed—a fat, comfortable laugh, but with a touch of hardness in it.
“All right, mate,” she said, comfortably. “What are you out on strike for?”
“Shorter hours and more money,” said Mr. Porter, glaring at her.