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´╗┐Title: On Strike Till 3
Author: Balfour, Grant
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On Strike Till 3" ***

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Internet Archive.



ON STRIKE TILL 3



By

GRANT BALFOUR


Author of

  "Canada My Home and Other Poems"
  "The Fairy School of Castle Frank"
  &c., &c.



TORONTO

WILLIAM BRIGGS

1913



Copyright, Canada, 1913, by

J. M. GRANT



  WHERE UNION DWELT

        Beside the deep ravine the cottage stood,
  O'erlooking elm and willow, beech and birch,
  In growth profuse and wild o'er shady stream:
  And viewing cedar, oak and towering pine
  On yonder crest aglow with light.  How grand
  The vision in the greenness of the spring,
  When birds of blue and scarlet vestments come;
  The greater glory of the summer time,
  When twinkling wings outvie the rarest flowers;
  Or ripeness of the fall, when richest green
  And gold and red in mass of tapestry
  Delight the eye.

        But now the scene is white,
  Resplendent white.  No miser hand hath swept
  The vale and heights but Nature bountiful
  Of beauty dazzling pure, the season's own.
  The spotless path below, meandering midst
  O'erhanging boughs and drooping plants enwrapped
  In feathered snow, a reverend scene, appears
  As if for angels formed, who came to walk
  This sacred aisle to worship winter's God.
  The lofty pines that grace the other crest,
  Enrobed in sparkling splendor, raise their heads
  In solemn awe to yonder jewelled dome,
  And offer praise to Him whose temple bright
  Holds earth and sky.

        Beneath a frosted birch,
  Lit up to brilliance by the burnished moon,
  The shingle cottage stood, a humble home.
  The labour of the day was done.  The lamp
  Within sent out its yellow rays athwart
  The silver snow and on the well-washed sheets
  And other things that hung on lines and told
  The woman's calling.  Work, from dawn of day
  Till dark, with poor reward.



  CHRISTMAS EVE

        'Twas Christmas Eve.
  The mother and her little boy (his name
  Was David Annandale) sat down to read
  And converse hold before they sought repose.
  A widow young, with richest auburn hair,
  Bright hazel eyes 'neath finely arching brows,
  Teeth of pearl, and sympathetic smile
  Most sweet.  No wonder that her child, a lad
  Of six, with raven hair and ruddy cheeks,
  Should find in her alone his heart's desire,
  His reigning thought, the perfect one.  His eyes
  Lovelit no blemish saw in careworn looks.

  Her stories, read and told with girlish zeal,
  Of beaver, bear and wolf, and jet black squirrel,
  But, best of all, of smiling Santa Claus,
  Aroused an interest intense.  The deep
  Ravine itself and other themes all passed
  Beneath her spell.  And he, tho' entertained,
  Was also purified and lifted up.
  "My mother, dear," he said, "When I'm a man,
  I'll work and work for you, and buy a castle
  And a carriage; you will be a lady,
  And nevermore be tired."

        Tired himself at last,
  His eyelids fell.  He dreamed a moment deep,
  Then wide awoke and starting up he wept,
  And as he sobbed he said, "I've seen my kitten
  In the cold ravine.  Oh, let it in!"
  This was a kitten lost a while before,
  A creature in his heart as much as treasure
  Real or ideal fills the heart
  Of any ardent man.  He ever longed
  And hoped for its return.  And every night
  The door was opened and the yearning call
  Went out into the empty air.  And every
  Night he saw the lost one's dish supplied,
  Which morning found untouched.  The mother did
  Her best to stay his tears, and as she bent
  And tucked him warm in bed she said that maybe
  Santa Claus would bring another kitten.
  "Tie a great big stocking, mother; make it
  Open wide and warm."  She did so, kissed him,
  And he closed his eyes.

        One hand alone,
  Would fill that empty stocking, nor forget
  A friend or neighbor would come later on,
  But David's eyes when morning came would look
  On emptiness, save for mother's hand.  Nay, stay,--
  At midnight, yea, at midnight, when the moon
  Was still a silver lamp, a creature poor,
  Benighted, wandered to the cottage door.
  Ill-treated, cold, too sick to cry, it looked
  With wistful eyes beneath the fastened door.
  Then turned and went aside and trembling climbed
  The sloping birchen tree and reached the roof.
  Adown the chimney peered, then slowly crept,
  Then fell.  It lay upon the hearth a time.
  But lured, it lapped the milk, and, strengthened, strove
  To climb into the little sleeper's cot.
  It strove but failed, and, guided by a gentle
  Hand, it fell at last into the open
  Stocking, head above, and finding comfort,
  Softly purred and slept.

        Ah, sleeping boy,
  Thou dreamest not the joy awaiting thee--
  The empty place within thy heart shall soon
  Be filled, thy grief assuaged, thy hot tears dried.
  'Tis little value--but 'tis much to thee--
  Because thy love is wrapped up there, and love
  Is value's measure in the heart of rich
  And poor.

        The boy awoke and rubbed his eyes.
  The sun had risen o'er the grand ravine,
  A silver scene, and sent its slanting rays
  Of gold beneath the blind, across the cot.
  He waited not, but crept along and looked
  Below.  Two eyes looked up.  A moment mutual
  Magnetized, transfixed!  He drew the creature
  From its woollen bed, he kissed it,--pressed it
  To his cheek--and wept for joy.  The mother
  Woke.  The midnight "gift" was seen and gladly
  Welcomed home while David slept, and now
  She also wept for joy.  No home was happier
  On that Christmas morn.  No gift was costlier
  Than the gift that meant the wasted worthless
  Waif's return.

[Illustration: "Magnetized"]



  THE LURKING FOE

        Till early spring (too soon),
  While David went to school, and learned well,
  The widow bravely labored on 'mid frost
  And snow and storm, thro' strain of overwork
  And worse.  Inhaled, mayhap, from matter bad,
  Close-handled in her calling (who can trace
  The lurking venom foe?) the wasting plague
  Had found a cruel lodgment in her breast.
  "One hope remains," the kind physician said--
  Who made no charge for visits not a few--
  "'Tis institutional treatment where the air
  Is light and pure, where food is plentiful,
  And rest abounds."

        The parting wrench was sore.
  The mother hid her grief and tears, and smiled,
  But David wept without restraint.  A farming
  Couple sympathetic offered refuge
  For awhile, and when he went away
  (His kitten in a basket 'neath his arm),
  His heart was heavy--for the sun was down,
  The world was dark.

        But five months' treatment free
  Was great and good, and David's mother seemed
  To be restored to health, for strength was there
  And color beautiful.  'Twas not enough,
  Tho' all that could be given, that other waiting
  Sufferers might have a chance to live.
  With rest at home the healing work begun
  Would one day be complete.

        Ye men of wealth,
  And all that generous give, with all that halt,
  Herein your golden opportunity
  Doth lie.  A home you have prepared for them
  That leave the prison cell, and this is well.
  But what awaits the convalescent widow
  And the orphan, fighting off the wasting plague?
  Suspicion--dread--a refuge craved for vainly
  Here and there--a battle hopeless, lost.
  Awake, awake!  Oh, give the shelter sure
  A child would give to any famished waif!
  Oh, wake, compassion, wake!

        When David, big
  With joy, returned, the wind sang in the trees,
  The flowers, red and white, a welcome smiled,
  The cottage seemed to be a prince's home,
  And mother in her loveliness a queen,
  While in the mother's eyes her child appeared
  As if a shepherd lad, he looked so strong,
  So lithe, and ruddy.  But the only flock
  That David had consisted of a kitten,
  Now a cat renowned of tiger-stripe
  And fat.  And once again the cottage-home
  Gave foretaste of the other, deathless, pure,
  And glad, for love was there.

        With quenchless hope
  The happy widow bravely bent her shoulders
  To the yoke again.  She had her boy
  To live for, work for, love, and he would be
  A man some day, and strong, when she would lean
  On him as he had leaned on her.  And yet
  The yoke was heavy, and grew heavier
  As vigour waned.  In spite of hope and will
  She craved for rest.  Or even if the wage
  Were better, labour could be lessened
  And give more of rest.



  ON STRIKE

        One day some workmen
  Struck for better pay.  And David wondered
  What it meant to strike.  "What is it, mother?--
  Do they hit the men that give them work?"
  The mother smiled.  "No, no, my child, they merely
  Rest or cease from work to force their masters
  Into giving better pay to get them
  Back to work."  A happy thought now seized him--
  "Oh, mother, strike, and then the people sure
  Will give you better pay."  The mother smiled,
  But sighed and said, "My darling boy, if I
  Should strike, a score of women poor are ready,
  Even glad, to take my place, perchance for less."
  The boy was disappointed, and his heart
  Was sad.

        But "strike," that odd word strike, as meaning
  Rest from work, or stopping work, clung fast
  To David's mind.  Apart from better pay
  He thought that something good remained, and so
  At night, the last thing done before he slept,
  The boy would often take his board, a blackboard
  Big, and chalk in letters large and white--
  "On strike till 7," "On strike till 6," "On strike
  Till 5," according as his mother's work
  Required, or strength could stand.  The metal clock,
  A loud alarum, was also wound and set.
  At this the mother always smiled, but when
  Her treasure's eyes were closed in sleep she wept.
  She dared not bend and kiss those cherub lips.
  His lovely face grew paler day by day,
  And dread, an awful dread, laid hold of her.
  And she herself was wasting swift and sure--
  The candle flame was burning low.



  ANOTHER CHRISTMAS

        Two nights, not more, before the Christmas eve,
  A heap of things for washing lay against
  The wall.  Alas, at any time too great,
  The present task might break the weary back,
  But Christmas need was pressing and the labour
  Must be done.  (Oh, spare that wasted frame!
  Hear, O Lord, the widow's cry!)

        The weary, yet the watchful boy,
  His blackboard took and wrote in letters big
  And urgent, seeming charged with meaning strange.
  And the clock's alarum was set.  And now
  On bended knee beside his mother's knee
  He spoke his simple prayer, pleading lastly
  That his mother might have better wages
  And have rest.  And, oh, the mother's heart
  Went with him, with himself before the throne,
  Forgetful, ay entirely, of herself.
  A wild temptation seized her.  She would clasp,
  Yea, fiercely hug, that wasted angel-body
  To her breast, and kiss those guileless, beauteous,
  Sweetest lips.  Alas! she knew the worst
  Had come--those eyes, uplifted, hollow, shining,
  Spoke of death.  And why refrain?  She would not,
  Yea, she drank the cup of pleasure to the full.
  The child was glad, and went to rest,
  A smile of heaven on his lips.

        And now the mother satisfied, as one
  With strongest wine, rose up, and ope'd the door.
  She looked abroad a moment, then went out
  Into the silent air.  The deep ravine
  Was glorious white.  The mighty pines were robed
  As if prepared to sing in heaven's choir
  On earth, when strong the northern tempest blew.
  The widow, vigour getting for a little
  From the frosty air, admired the scene,
  And lifting up her eyes to sparkling worlds
  Above, she felt assured, though human help
  And pity wholly failed, that somewhere, sometime,
  There was plenteous rest.

        And yet she thanked
  And praised the Power that good and evil gave,
  For one brief cup of pleasure, if no more--
  Her pleasure in her darling boy.  "Take him,
  O Lord, whatever portion mine."

        The tension loosed,
  The stricken widow turned, yet ere she turned
  She scanned the northern shore of brilliant night,
  And, lo, a mountain mass of tempest clouds
  Lined up for battle with the sleeping south.
  The woman, fearless, smiled as if in kinship
  With the coming storm.

        But having struggled, spoken,
  Pleaded strong, her transient vigour gone,
  She stumbled to the door and entered in.
  Beside the bed, she saw the letters written
  On the board, as if the sacred writing
  On the wall.  She saw the slender lovely hand
  Exposed that wrote them, and she bowed and kissed it,
  But she could not weep.

        Ere midnight came,
  The child awoke, disturbed, and anxious said,
  "Oh, mother dear, what is that awful sound?"
  "My darling, 'tis the sighing of the wind
  Among the pines."  But swifter sped the tempest,
  Swifter, and the pines--they bowed their heads
  Before the blast and sang.  The cedars high
  And oaks together answered back in song,
  And louder, louder, as if thunder grand,
  The tempest bell of music rang.  The boy
  Awoke again, and feebly cried--"Oh, mother,
  I'm afraid--what is that dreadful sound?"
  "My darling, fear not, 'tis the voice of God--
  He leads the choir.  And he remembers you
  And me."  "Oh, mother, take me in beside you,
  I'm afraid of God, but Jesus"--Here he stopped.
  He struggled till he got in part athwart
  The cot.  And as his wearied head sank down
  He whispered faintly, and there came a broken
  Answer, whispering--"Near me, nearer, darling"--
  That was all.

        The storm, the mother's music.
  But the child's affright, attained its height.
  Then sudden rang the loud alarum.  But
  They heard it not.

        *      *      *      *      *

  There was once a manger,
  Once a cross, and both by man despised.
  But God hath both exalted high.  And once
  A lonely cottage lowly, overlooked
  By men.  But God on it had mercy.
  Tho' He seemed to be in wrath.

[Illustration: "The morning saw her come"]

        Three wise men
  Did not come, nor one.  A child, a girl
  With golden hair and gray-blue laughing eyes,
  A furtive playmate of the boy, with stress
  Walked through the spotless wreaths of snow.  The morning
  Saw her come, when all was still.  No lock
  Debarred her, and she entered, having knocked.
  She saw the writing on the blackboard big,
  Against the wall, in trembling chalk--



  "ON STRIKE TILL 3"

  And duly signed by David Annandale.
  She saw the mother's snow-white face upturned
  To heaven.  She saw the raven locks of David
  Strewn upon her breast.  And saw his face--
  'Twas also white as snow.  The tragic scene
  Was quickly seen.  She stood amazed a moment,
  Then approached, uncertain, all atremble.
  And she softly pressed her playmate's brow.
  The chill of death went thro' her, and she gave
  A piercing cry and fled.

        Of Christmas Day,
  Next day but one, the pretty child had come
  To speak and childlike tell of something fine
  She was to bring.  But that great day of countless
  Happy homes would see the cottage empty.
  Nature, nature's God, in mercy stayed
  The stricken widow's ill-paid, weary labour.
  She had gone on strike, as David said,
  And she had taken her darling with her.





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