― 139 ―

Judas: A Strike Incident.

JUDAS! Here he comes—“Judas, the traitor!”

He passed among them with downcast head, glancing fearfully from side to side at the ominous, lowering faces. All reviled him; the women spat upon him; several of the men attempted to strike him. It was all the two policemen could do to save him from the fury of the crowd. Presently stones began to fly. Most of them passed wide of the mark, but one of them found its billet. He reeled as the missile struck him; then, recovering himself, he broke from his escort, and rushed wildly down the narrow street, followed by a shower of stones and curses, and the execrating shouts of “Judas! Judas!”

It was the time of a great strike. The strikers knew not the curse of their heritage as they battled against starvation with ever-dwindling strength.

It was reserved for one man to bring it home to them—one of their own number—a traitor—Judas! He was the first to fail, as he had been the last to join them. In going back to the yoke and pittance, he paved the way for others to follow, one by one, until it seemed as if the long slow weeks of suffering and self-sacrifice had been once more in vain.

Can you wonder that they hated him? And the Law of the land—the Law which put forth all its powers to thrust them back into the abyss—can you wonder that they hated that too, and rebelled against it?

And he, the traitor? Ah, these are not merely the execrations of a handful of betrayed brethren that greet him to-night: they are

  ― 140 ―
the voices of unborn generations which send up, as he slinks along, that universal shout of “Judas! Judas!”

Later he stands hatless, beneath a lamp in the deserted street. His face is smeared with blood where the stone struck him. He has had more than one bitter experience this evening. Soon after he escaped from his pursuers he staggered, sick and faint, into a hotel. The bar was filled with men, many of whom were strikers, though he failed to notice them till it was too late to retreat. He reeled to the counter.

“Give me some brandy, quick,” he said, “for the love of God!”

The bottle was passed to him in silence. The room had been filled with clamour when he entered; now an ominous silence prevailed. He would have given worlds to search the assemblage for one pitying, relenting face; but he dared not lift his eyes. He hastily swallowed the spirit and thrust a coin across the counter. Then a voice was heard.

“What, Hennessy, would you touch his cursed silver—blood money?”

The publican hesitated. His sympathies were with the men on strike, yet he could not help feeling some faint sense of pity for the abject wretch before him. But pity at times is an unprofitable sentiment. He flicked the coin back again.

“No,” he said, “he has had the drink; but I will not touch his money!”

“Curse you!” cried the hunted wretch, as he shivered the glass upon the floor. “Oh, curse you all!”—and he rushed from the place, followed by derisive laughter.

He is recalling the scene now, as he stands beneath the streetlamp, with the rain pattering upon his uncovered head.

“My God!” he cries, “I cannot stand this much longer.”

Later still. He is walking, he knows not whither, although the street seems familiar. In truth he is close to the factory.

  ― 141 ―
Suddenly he hears a sound of sobbing, A child—a little boy—is crouched against the fence, crying bitterly.

“What is the matter?” he asks.

The child tells him—he is lost.

“Come with me,” he says; “I will take you home.” He knows the boy—for more than twelve months he worked beside his father in the factory.

The child gives his hand trustingly, and they go on together. A little further on he stops to look at his watch, and the boy gets a glimpse of his face.

Instantly the child endeavours to wrest himself free, at the same time crying out, in terror, “Let me go!—let me go!”

“What is the matter?” he asks. “Come with me; I will take you home.”

“No, no!” exclaims the child, beating frantically the detaining hand, “not with you—I know you. You are Judas!

Instantly he releases the boy.

“Even the children!” he groans. “Oh, God, I am heavily punished!”

He is at the door of his lodgings. Although it is very late now, there is a faint light within. He opens the door softly and enters. As he is passing up the passage, the door of the sitting-room opens and his landlady calls him.

“I have been waiting up for you, sir,” she says as a beginning. “I am very sorry to have to do anything unpleasant; you have been near two years now in my house, sir, but I must give you warning. You see, sir,” she went on, seeing that he was about to speak, “it's the other boarders. They've heard about you going back to the factory, and to-night they all came to me and said that they would not live in the same house as a ‘scab,’ and that if you did not go to-night they would all leave in the morning; and so you see, sir, I could do nothing else except to ask you, although I am sorry to lose you, if ——”

“To-night!” he said, bitterly, “they are in a hurry—to-night!”

  ― 142 ―

“If you please, sir, that's what they said, and if you can make it convenient to go, sir—there is that little matter of arrears, we would call that square.”

“Very well,” he said, turning on his heel abruptly, “I will think over it.”

“To-night!” he muttered, as he lit the candle in his own room; “to-night! Ah well, as well to-night as to-morrow, or the next day.”

In the morning a small crowd gathered in the street.

“Poor fellow!” said a woebegone woman who was nursing a wan and woebegone infant; “poor fellow!”

You pity him!” exclaimed a man at her side; “only for him we should have won. As it is—look at me, look at yourself, look at the child, half-starved now, and likely to be whole-starved soon, thanks to him—and you pity him!”

And one by one the crowd took the question up, and discussed it; for by this time the news was generally known.

Judas, the traitor, had hanged himself.