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Chapter VIII

The Poet and the Pressman

“SILENCE, everybody!” commanded Mrs. Stratton. “Listen to Arty's latest!”

She had gone up to him as they all came in. “Is it good?” she asked, looking over his arm. For answer he held the slips down to her and changed them as she read rapidly, only pausing occasionally to ask him what a more than usually obscured word was. There was hardly a line as originally written. Some words had been altered three and four times. Whole lines had been struck out and fresh lines inserted. In some verses nothing was left of the original but the measure and the rhymes.

“No wonder you were worrying if you had all this on your mind,” she remarked, as he finished, smiling at him. “Let me read it to them.”

He nodded. So when the buzz of conversation had stopped she read his verses to the others, holding his arm in the middle of the room, her sweet voice conveying their spirit as well as their words. And Arty stood by her, jubilant, listening proudly and happily to the rhythm of his new-born lines, for all the world like a young mother showing her new-born babe.


There's a sound of lamentation 'mid the murmuring nocturne noises,
And an undertone of sadness, as from myriad human voices,
And the harmony of heaven and the music of the spheres,
And the ceaseless throb of Nature, and the flux and flow of years,
Are rudely punctuated with the drip of human tears—
As Time rolls on!

Yet high above the beat of surf, and Ocean's deep resounding,
And high above the tempest roar of wind on wave rebounding,
There's a burst of choral chanting, as of victors in a fight,
And a battle hymn of triumph wakes the echoes of the night,
And the shouts of heroes mingle with the shriekings of affright—
As Time rolls on!

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There's a gleam amid the darkness, and there's sight amid the blindness,
And the glow of hope is kindled by the breath of human kindness,
And a phosphorescent glimmer gilds the spaces of the gloom,
Like the sea-lights in the midnight, or the ghost-lights of the tomb,
Or the livid lamps of madness in the charnel-house of doom—
As Time rolls on!

And amidst the weary wand'rers on the mountain crags belated
There's a hush of expectation, and the sobbings are abated,
For a word of hope is spoken by a prophet versed in pain,
Who tells of rugged pathways down to fields of golden grain,
Where the sun is ever shining, and the skies their blessings rain—
As Time rolls on!

Where the leafy chimes of gladness in the tree-tops aye are ringing,
Answering to the joyous chorus which the birds are ever singing;
Where the seas of yellow plenty toss with music in the wind;
Where the purple vines are laden, and the groves with fruit are lined;
Where all grief is but a mem'ry, and all pain is left behind—
As Time rolls on!

But it lies beyond a desert 'cross which hosts of Death are marching,
And a hot sirocco wanders under skies all red and parching,
Lined with skeletons of armies through the centuries fierce and sere
Bones of heroes and of sages marking Time's lapse year by year,
Unmoistened by the night-dews 'mid the solitudes of fear—
As Time rolls on!

“Well done, Arty!” cried Ford. “I'd like to do a few ‘thumbnails’ for that.”

“Let me see it, please! Why don't you say ‘rushes’ for ‘wanders’ in the last verse, Arty?” asked George, reaching out his hand for the slips.

“Go away!” exclaimed Mrs. Stratton, holding them out of reach. “Can't you wait two minutes before you begin your sub-editing tricks? Josie, keep him in order!”

“He's a disgrace,” replied Josie. “Don't pay any heed to him, Arty! They'll cut up your verses soon enough, and they're just lovely.”

The others laughed, all talking at once, commending, criticising, comparing. Arty laughed and joked and quizzed, the liveliest of them all. Ned stared at him in astonishment. He seemed like somebody else. He discussed his own verses with a strange absence of egotism. Evidently he was used to standing fire.

“The metaphor in that third verse seems to me rather forced,” said Stratton finally. “And I think George is right. ‘Rushes’ does sound better than ‘wanders.’ I like that ‘rudely punctuated’

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line, but I think I'd go right through it again if it was mine.”

“I think I will, too,” answered Arty. “There are half-a-dozen alterations I want to make now. I'll touch it up to-morrow. It'll keep till then.”

“That sort of stuff would keep for years if it wasn't for the Scrutineer,” said Stratton. “Very few papers care to publish it nowadays.”

“The Scrutineer is getting just like all the rest of them,” commented George. “It's being run for money, only they make their pile as yet by playing to the gallery while the other papers play to the stalls and dress circle.”

“It has done splendid work for the movement, just the same,” said Ford. “Admit it's a business concern and that everybody growls at it, it's the only paper that dares knock things.”

“It's a pity there isn't a good straight daily here,” said Geisner. “That's the want all over the world. It seems impossible to get them, though.”

“Why is it?” demanded Nellie. “It's the working people who buy the evening papers at least. Why shouldn't they buy straight papers sooner than these sheets of lies that are published?”

“I've seen it tried,” answered Geisner, “but I never saw it done. The London Star is going as crooked as the others I'm told.”

“I don't see why the unions shouldn't start dailies,” insisted Nellie. “I suppose it costs a great deal but they could find the money if they tried hard.”

“They haven't been able to run weeklies yet,” said George, authoritatively. “And they never will until they get a system, much less run dailies.”

“Why?” asked Ned. “You see,” he continued, “our fellows are always talking of getting a paper. They get so wild sometimes when they read what the papers say about the unions and know what lies most of it is that I've seen them tear the papers up and dance a war-dance on the pieces.”

“It's a long story to explain properly,” said George. “Roughly it amounts to this that papers live on advertisements as well as on circulation and that advertisers are sharp business men who generally put the boycott on papers that talk straight. Then the cable matter, the telegraph matter, the news matter, is all procured by syndicates and companies and mutual arrangement

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between papers which cover the big cities between them and run on much the same lines, the solid capitalistic lines, you know. Then newspaper stock, when it pays, is valuable enough to make the holder a capitalist; when it doesn't pay he's still more under the thumb of the advertisers. The whole complex organisation of the press is against the movement and only those who're in it know how complex it is.”

“Then there'll never be a Labour press, you think?”

“There will be a Labour press, I think,” said George, turning Josie's hair round his fingers. “When the unions get a sound system it'll come.”

“What do you mean by your sound system, George?” asked Geisner.

“Just this! That the unions themselves will publish their own papers, own their own plant, elect their own editors, paying for it all by levies or subscriptions. Then they can snap their fingers at advertisers and as every union man will get the union paper there'll be a circulation established at once. They can begin with monthlies and come down to weeklies. When they have learnt thoroughly the system, and when every colony has its weekly or weeklies, then they'll have a chance for dailies, not before.”

“How would you get your daily?” enquired Geisner.

“Expand the weeklies into dailies simultaneously in every Australian capital,” said George, waxing enthusiastic. “That would be a syndicate at once to co-operate on cablegrams and exchange intercolonial telegrams. Start with good machinery, get a subsidy of 6d. a month for a year and 3d. a month afterwards, if necessary, from the unions for every member, and then bring out a small-sized, neat, first-rate daily for a ha'penny, three-pence a week, and knock the penny evenings off their feet.”

“A grand idea!” said Geisner, his eyes sparkling. “It sounds practical. It would revolutionise politics.”

“Who'd own the papers, though, after the unions had subsidised them?” asked Ned, a little suspiciously.

“Why, the unions, of course,” said George. “Who else? The unions would find the machinery and subsidise the papers on to their feet, for you couldn't very well get every man to take a daily. And the unions would elect trustees to hold them and manage them and an editor to edit each one and would be able to dismiss editors or trustees either if it wasn't being run straight. There'd be no profits because every penny made would go to make the

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papers better, there being no advertising income or very little. And every day, all over the continent, there would be printing hundreds of thousands of copies, each one advancing and defending the Labour movement.”

“It's a grand idea,” said Geisner again, “but who'd man the papers, George. Could Labour papers afford to pay managers and editors what the big dailies do?”

“I don't know much about managers, but an editor who wouldn't give up a lot to push the Cause can't think much of it. Why, we're nothing but literary prostitutes,” said George, energetically. “We just write now what we're told, selling our brains as women on the streets do their bodies, and some of us don't like it, some of the best too, as you know well, Geisner. My idea would be to pay a living salary, the same all round, to every man on the literary staff. That would be fair enough as an all round wage if it was low pay for editing and leader writing and fancy work. Many a good man would jump at it, to be free to write as he felt, and as for the rest of the staff by paying such a wage we'd get the tip-top pick of the ordinary men who do the pick-up work that generally isn't considered important but in my opinion is one of the main points of a newspaper.”

“Would you take what you call a ‘living salary’ on such a paper?” asked Connie.

“I'd take half if Josie—” He looked at her with tender confidence. The love-light was in her answering eyes. She nodded, proud of him.

“And they'd all publish my poetry?” asked Arty.

“Would they? They'd jump at it.”

“Then when they come along, I'll write for a year for nothing.”

“How about me?” asked Ford, “Where do I come in?”

“And me?” asked Connie.

“You can all come in,” laughed George. “Geisner shall do the political and get his editor ten years for sedition. Stratton will supply the mild fatherly sociological leaders. Mrs. Stratton shall prove that there can't be any true Art so long as we don't put the police on to everything that is ugly and repulsive. Nellie, here, shall blossom out as the Joan of Arc of women's rights, with a pen for a sword. And Arty we'll keep chained upon the premises and feed him with peppercorns when we want something particularly hot. Ford can retire to painting and pour his whole supply of bile out in one cartoon a week that we'll publish as a Saturday's

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supplement. Hawkins shall be our own correspondent who'll give the gentle squatter completely away in weekly instalments. And Josie and I'll slash the stuffing out of your ‘copy’ if you go writing three columns when there's only room for one. We'll boil down on our papers. Every line will be essence of extract. Don't you see how it's done already?”

“We see it,” said Nellie, stifling a yawn. “The next thing is to get the unions to see it.”

“That's so,” retorted George, “so I'll give you my idea to do what you can with.”

“We must go,” said Nellie, getting up from her chair. “It must be after one and I'm tired.”

“It's ten minutes to two,” said Ford, having pulled out his watch.

“Why don't you stay all night, Nellie,” asked Connie. “We can put Ned up, if he doesn't mind a shake-down. Then we can make a night of it. Geisner is off again on Monday or Tuesday.”

“Tuesday,” said Geisner, who had gone to the book-shelf again.

“Then I'll come Monday evening,” said Nellie, for his tone was an invitation. “I feel like a walk, and I don't feel like talking much.”

“All right,” said Connie, not pressing, with true tact. “Will you come on Monday too, Ned?” she asked, moving to the door under the hangings with Nellie. Josie slipped quickly out on to the verandah with George.

“I must be off on Monday,” replied Ned, regretfully. “There's a shed starts the next week, and I said I'd be up there to see that it shore union. I'm very sorry, but I really can't wait.”

“I'm so sorry, too. But it can't be helped. Some other time, Ned.” And nodding to him Connie went out with Nellie.

“So we shan't see you again,” said Stratton, lighting a cigar at the gas. Ford had resumed his puffing at his black pipe and his seat on the table.

“Not soon at any rate,” answered Ned. “I shall be in Western Queensland this time next week.”

“The men are organising fast up that way, aren't they?” asked Stratton.

“They had to,” said Ned. “What with the Chinese and the squatters doing as they liked and hating the sight of a white man, we'd all have been cleared out if we hadn't organised.”

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“Coloured labour has been the curse of Queensland all through,” remarked Ford.

“I think it has made Queensland as progressive as it is, too,” remarked Geisner. “It was a common danger for all the working classes, and from what I hear has given them unity of feeling earlier than that has been acquired in the south.”

“Some of the old-fashioned union ideas that they have in Sydney want knocking badly,” remarked Arty, smoking cheerfully.

“They'll be knocked safely enough if they want knocking,” said Geisner. “There are failings in all organisation methods everywhere as well as in Sydney. New Unionism is only the Old Unionism reformed up to date. It'll need reforming itself as soon as it has done its work.”

“Is the New Unionism really making its way in England, Geisner?” asked Stratton.

“I think so. A very intelligent man is working with two or three others to organise the London dock laborers on the new lines. He told me he was confident of success but didn't seem to realise all it meant. If those men can be organised and held together for a rise in wages it'll be the greatest strike that the world has seen yet. It will make New Unionism.”

“Do you think it possible?” asked Ford. “I know a little about the London dockers. They are the drift of the English labour world. When a man is hopeless he goes to look for work at the docks.”

“There is a chance if the move is made big enough to attract attention and if everything is prepared beforehand. If money can be found to keep a hundred thousand penniless men out while public opinion is forming they can win, I think. Even British public opinion can't yet defend fourpence an hour for casual work.”

“Men will never think much until they are organised in some form or other,” said Stratton. “Such a big move in London would boom the organisation of unskilled men everywhere.”

“More plots!” cried Connie, coming back, followed by Nellie, waterproofed and hatted.

“It's raining,” she went on, to Ned, “so I'll give you Harry's umbrella and let Ford take his waterproof. You'll have a damp row, Nellie. I suppose you know you've got to go across in George's boat, Ned.”

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Ned didn't know, but just then George's “Ahoy!” sounded from outside.

“We mustn't keep him waiting in the wet,” exclaimed Nellie. She shook hands with them all, kissing Mrs. Stratton affectionately. Ned felt as he shook hands all round that he was leaving old friends.

“Come again,” said Stratton, warmly. “We shall always be glad to see you.”

“Indeed we shall,” urged Connie. “Don't wait to come with Nellie. Come and see us any time you're in Sydney. Day or night, come and see if we're in and wait here if we're not.”

Geisner and Stratton put on their hats and went with them down the verandah steps to the little stone quay below. Josie was standing there, in the drizzle, wrapped in a cloak and holding a lantern. In a rowing skiff, alongside, was George; another lantern was set on one of the seats.note

“Are you busy to-morrow afternoon?” asked Geisner of Ned, as Nellie was being handed in, after having kissed Josie.

“Not particularly,” answered Ned.

“Then you might meet me in front of the picture gallery between one and two, and we can have a quiet chat.”

“All aboard!” shouted George.

“I'll be there,” answered Ned, shaking hands again with Geisner and Stratton and with Josie, noticing that that young lady had a very warm clinging hand.

“Good-bye! Good-bye! Good-bye!” From the three on shore.

“Good-bye! Good-bye! Good-bye!” From the three in the boat as George shoved off.

“Good-bye!” cried Connie's clear voice from the verandah. “Put up the umbrella, Ned!”

Ned obediently put up the umbrella she had lent him, overcoming his objections by pointing out that it would keep NeIlie's hat from being spoiled. Then George's oars began to dip into the water, and they turned their backs to the pleasant home and faced out into the wind and wet.

The last sound that came to them was a long melodious cry that Josie sent across the water to George, a loving “Good-bye!” that plainly meant “Come back!”