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Chapter VII

“The World Wants Masters”

note “IT can't do any good. We have made up our minds that the matter might just as well be fought out now, no matter what it costs. We've made all our arrangements. There is nothing to discuss. We are simply going to do business in our own way.”

“It can't do any harm. There is always something to be said on the other side and I always find workingmen fairly reasonable if they're met fairly. At any rate, you might as well see how they look at it. The labour agitation itself can't be stifled. The great point, as I regard it, is to make the immediate relations of Capital and Labour as peaceable as possible. The two parties don't see enough of each other.”

“I think we see a great deal too much of them. It's a pretty condition of things when we can't go on with our businesses without being interfered with by mobs of ignorant fools incited by loud-tongued agitators. The fools have got to be taught a lesson some day and we might as well teach it to them now.”

“You know I'm no advocate of Communism or Socialism or any such nonsense. I look at the matter solely from a business standpoint. I am a loser by disturbances in trade, so I try to prevent disturbances. I've always been able to prevent them in my own business and I think they can always be prevented.”

“Well, Melsom, you may be right when it's a question of wages, but this is a question of principle. We're willing to confer if they'll admit ‘freedom of contract.’ That's all there is to say about it.”

“But what is ‘freedom of contract?’ Besides, if it is questioned, there can't be much harm in understanding why. For my part, I find it an interminable point of discussion when it is raised and one of the questions that settles itself easily when it isn't.”

“It is the key of the whole position. If we haven't a right to employ whoever we like at any terms we may make with any individual we employ what rights have we?”

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“Hear what they think of it, Strong! It can surely do no harm to find out what makes them fight so.”

And so on for half an hour.

“Well, I don't mind having a chat with one of them,” conceded Strong at last. “It's only because you persist so, Melsom. I suppose this man you've been told is in town is an oily, ignorant fellow, who'll split words and wrangle up a cloud of dust until nobody can tell what we're talking about. I've heard these fellows.”

Thus it was that Ned, calling at the Trades Hall, after having washed and breakfasted at his hotel and seen to various items of union business about town, was greeted with the information that Mr. Melsom was looking for him.

“Who's Melsom?”

“Oh! A sort of four-leaved clover, a reasonable employer,” answered his genial informant. “He's in a large way of business, interested in a good many concerns, and whenever he's got a finger in anything we can always get on with it. He's a great man for arbitration and conciliation and has managed to settle two or three disputes that I never thought would be arranged peaceably. He's a thoroughly decent fellow, I can assure you.”

“What does he want with me, I wonder?”

“He wants you to see Strong, just to talk matters over and let Strong know how you Queenslanders look at things.”

“Who's Strong?”

“Don't you know? He's managing director of the Great Southern Mortgage Agency. He's the man who's running the whole show on the other side and a clever man, too, don't you forget it.”

Ned recollected the man he had seen at the restaurant and what Nellie had said of him, two years ago.

“But I can't see him without instructions. I must wire up to know what they say about it,” said Ned.

“That's just what you mustn't do, old man. Strong won't consent to any formal interview, but told Melsom, that he'd be glad to see anybody who knew how the other side saw things, to chat the matter over as between one man and another. I told Melsom yesterday that you were in town till to-night and he came this morning to get you to see Strong at eleven. He'll be back before then. I told him I thought it would be all right.”

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“I don't see how I can do that without instructions,” repeated Ned.

“If it were formal there could be only one possible instruction, surely,” urged the other. “As it is absolutely informal and as all that Melsom hopes is that it may lead to a formal conference, I think you should go. You'd talk to anybody, wouldn't you? Besides, Melsom has his heart set on this. I don't believe it will lead to anything, mind you, but it will oblige him and he often does a good turn for us.”

“That settles it,” said Ned. “Only I'll have to say I'm only giving my own opinion and I'll have to talk straight whether he likes it or not.”

“Of course. By the way, here are some wires that'll interest you, and I want to arrange about sending money up in case they proclaim the unions illegal. Heaven knows what they can't do now-a-days! Have you heard what they did here during the maritime strike?”

Shortly before eleven, Strong was closeted in his private office with a burly man of unmistakably bush appearance, modified both in voice and dress by considerable contact with the towns. Of sandy complexion, broad features and light-coloured eyes that did not look one full in the face, the man was of the type that attracts upon casual acquaintance but about which there is an indefinable something which, without actually repelling, effectually prevents any implicit confidence.

“You have been an officer of the shearers' union, you say?” enquired Strong, coldly.

“I've been an honorary officer, never a paid one,” answered the man, who held his hat on his knee.

“There's a man in Sydney now, named Hawkins. Do you know him?”

“Yes. I've shorn with him out at the—”

“What sort of a man is he?” interrupted Strong.

“He's a young fellow. There's not much in him. He talks wild.”

“Has he got much influence?”

“Only with his own set. Most of the men only want a start to break away from fellows like Hawkins. I'm confident the new union I was talking of, admitting ‘freedom of contract,’ would break the other up and that Hawkins and the rest of them couldn't stop it.”

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“It seems feasible,” said Strong, sharply. “At any rate, there's nothing lost by trying it. This is what we will do. We will pay you all expenses and six pounds a week from to-day to go up to Queensland, publicly denounce the union, support ‘freedom of contract’ and try to start another union against the present one; generally to act as an agent of ours. Payment will be made after you come out. Until then you must pay your own expenses.”

“I think I should have expenses advanced,” said the man.

“We know nothing of you. You represent yourself as so-and-so and if you are genuine there is no injustice done by our offer. You must take or leave it.”

“I'll take it,” said the man, after a slight hesitation.

“There's another matter. Do you know the union officials in Brisbane?”

“I know all of them, intimately.”

note “Then you may be able to do something with them. We are informed that they are implicated in all that's going on, the instigators of it. Bring us evidence criminally implicating them and we will pay well.”

“This is business,” said the man, a little shamefacedly. “What will you pay?”

Strong jotted some figures on a slip of paper. “If you are a friend of these men,” he said, passing the slip over, “you will know their value apiece to you.” A sneer he could not quite conceal peeped from under his business tone.

“That concludes our business, I think,” he continued, tearing the slip up, having received it back. “I will instruct our secretary and you can call on him this afternoon.”

He touched an electric bell-button on his desk. A clerk appeared at the door instantly.

“Show this man out by the back way,” ordered Strong, glancing at the clock. “Good-day!”

The summarily dismissed visitor had hardly gone when another clerk announced Mr. Melsom.

“Anybody with him?”

“Yes, sir. A tall, bush-looking man.”

“Show them both in.”

“What sneaking brutes these fellows are!” Strong thought, contemptuously, jotting instructions on some letters he was

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glancing through, working away as one accustomed to making the most of spare minutes.

noteMr. Melsom had left Ned and Strong together, having to attend to his own business which had already been sufficiently interfered with by his exertions on behalf of his pet theory of “getting things talked over.” Ned had felt inwardly agitated as he walked under the great archway and up the broad iron stairway that led to the inner offices of this great fortress-like building, the centre of the southern money-power. He had noted the massive walls of hewn stone, the massive gates and the enormous bolts, chains and bars. In the outer office he had glanced a little nervously around the lofty, stuccoed, hall-like room, of which the wood-work was as massive in its way as were the stone walls without and of which the very glass of the partitions looked put in to stay, while the counters and desks, with their polished brass-work and great leathern-bound ledgers, seemed as solid as the floor itself; he wondered curiously what all these clerks did who leaned engrossed over their desks or flitted noiselessly here and there on the matting-covered flagstones of the flooring. Why he should be nervous he could not have explained. But he was cool enough when, after a minute's delay, a clerk led Melsom and himself through a smaller archway opening from this great office hall and up a carpetted stone stairway leading between two great bare walls and along a long lofty passage, wherein footfalls echoed softly on the carpetted stone floor. Finally they reached a polished, pannelled door which being opened showed Strong writing busily at a cabinet desk placed in the centre of the handsomely furnished office-room. The great financier greeted Melsom cordially, nodded civilly enough to Ned and agreed with the latter's immediate statement that he came, as a private individual solely, to see a private individual, at the request of Mr. Melsom.

“Now, where do we differ?” Strong asked, when Melsom had gone.

“We are you and me, of course,” said Ned, putting his hat on the floor.

Strong nodded.

“Well, you have sat down at your desk here and drawn up a statement as to how I shall work without asking me. I object. I say that, as I'm concerned, you and I together should sit down and arrange how I shall work for you since I must work for you.”

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“In our agreement, that you refer to, we have tried to do what is fair,” replied Strong, looking sharply at Ned.

“Do you want me to talk straight?” asked Ned. “Because, if you object to that, it's better for me to go now than waste words talking round the subject.”

“Certainly,” answered Strong. “Straight talk never offends me.”

“Then how do I know you have tried to do fairly?” enquired Ned. “Our experience with the pastoralists leads us to think the opposite.”

“There have been rabid pastoralists,” admitted Strong, after a moment's thought, “just as there have been rabid men on the other side. I'll tell you this, that we have had great difficulty in getting some of the pastoralists to accept this agreement. We had to put considerable pressure on them before they would moderate their position to what we consider fair.”

Ned did not reply. He stowed Strong's statement away for future use.

“Besides,” remarked Strong, after a pause, during which he arranged the letters before him. “There is no compulsion to accept the agreement. If you don't like it don't work under it, but let those who want to accept it.”

“I fancy that's more how it stands than by being fair,” commented Ned, bitterly.

“Well! Isn't that fair?” asked Strong, leaning back in his office chair.

“Is it fair?” returned Ned.

“Well! Why not?”

“How can it be fair? We have nothing and you have everything. All the leases and all the sheep and all the cattle and all the improvements belong to you. We've got to work to live and we can't work except for you. What's the sense of your saying that if we don't like the agreement we needn't take it? We must either break the agreement or take it. That's how we stand.”

“Well, what do you object to in it?”

“I don't know what the others object to in it. I know what I object to.”

“That's what I want to know.”

“Well, for one thing, when I've earned money it's mine. The minute I've shorn a sheep the price of shearing it belongs to me

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and not to the squatter. It's convenient to agree only to draw pay at certain times, but it's barefaced to deliberately withhold my money weeks after I've earned it, and it's thieving to forfeit wages in case a squatter and I differ as to whether the agreement's been broken or not.”

“There ought to be some security that a pastoralist won't be put to loss by his men leaving him at a moment's notice,” asserted Strong.

“You've got the law on your side,” answered Ned. “You can send a man to prison, like a thief, if he has a row with a squatter after signing an agreement, but we can't send the squatter to prison if he's in fault. The Masters and Servants Act is all wrong and we'll alter it when we get a chance, I can assure you, but you're not content with the Masters and Servants Act. You want a private law all in your own hand.”

“We've had a very serious difficulty to meet,” said the other. “Men go on strike on frivolous pretext and we must protect our interests. We've not cut down wages and we don't intend to.”

“You have cut down wages, labourers' wages,” retorted Ned.

“That has been charged,” replied Strong, lifting his eyebrows. “But I can show you the list of wages paid on our stations during the last five years and you will see that the wages we now offer are fully up to the average.”

“That may be,” said Ned. “But they are less than they were last year. I'm speaking now of what I know.”

“Oh! There may be a few instances in which the unions forced up wages unduly which have been rectified,” said Mr. Strong. “But the general rate has not been touched.”

“The pastoralists wouldn't dare arbitrate on that,” answered Ned. “In January, 1890, they tried to force down wages and we levelled them up. Now, they are forcing them down again. At least it seems that way to me.”

“That matter might be settled, I think,” said Strong, dismissing it. “What other objections have you to the agreement?”

“As an agreement I object to the whole thing, the way it's being worked. If it were a proposal I should want to know how about the Eight Hours and the Chinese.”

“We don't wish to alter existing hours,” answered Strong.

“Then why not put it down?”

“And we don't wish to encourage aliens.”

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note “A good many pastoralists do and we are determined to try to stop them. It looks queer to us that nothing is said about it.”

“Some certainly did urge that Chinese should be allowed in tropical Queensland but our influence is against that and we hope to restrain the more impetuous and thus prevent friction.”

Ned shrugged his shoulders without answering.

“We hope—” began Strong. Then he broke off, saying instead: “I do not see why the men should regard the pastoralists as necessarily inimical and as not desirous of doing what is fair.”

“Look here, Mr. Strong,” said Ned leaning forward, as was his habit when in earnest. “We are beginning to understand things. We know that you people are after profits and nothing else, that to you we are like so many horses or sheep, only not so valuable because we're harder to break in and our carcasses aren't worth anything. We know that you don't care a curse whether we live or die and that you'd fill the bush with Chinese to-morrow if you could see your way to making an extra one per cent. by it.”

“You haven't much confidence in us, at any rate,” returned Strong, coolly. “But if we look carefully after profits you must recollect that a great deal of capital is trust funds. The widow and the orphan invest their little fortunes in our hands. Surely you wouldn't injure them?”

“I thought we were talking straight to one another,” said Ned. “You will excuse me, Mr. Strong, for thinking that to talk ‘widow and orphan’ isn't worthy of a man like you unless you've got a very small opinion of me. When you think about our widows and orphans we'll think about your widows and orphans. That's only clap-trap. It doesn't alter the hard fact that you're only after profit and don't care what happens to us so long as you get it.”

The financier bit his lips, flushing. He took up a letter and glanced over it before replying.

“Do you care what happens to us?”

“As things are, no. How can we? The worst that could happen to. one of you would leave you as well off as the most fortunate of us. There is war between us, only I think it possible to be a little civilised and not to fight each other like savages as we are doing.”

“I am glad you admit that some of your methods are savage.”

“Of course I admit it,” answered Ned. “That is my opinion of the way both sides fight now. Instead of conferring and arbitrating

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on immediate questions and leaving future questions to be talked over and understood and thoroughly threshed out in free discussion, we strike, you lockout, you victimise wholesale and, naturally, we retaliate in our own ways.”

“You prefer to be left uninterrupted to preach this new socialistic nonsense?”

“Why not, if it is sound? And if it isn't sound, why not? Surely your side isn't afraid of discussion if it knows it's right.”

“Do you really think that we should leave our individual rights to be decided upon by an ignorant mob?”

“My individual rights are at the mercy of ignorant individuals at present,” said Ned. “I am not allowed to work if I happen to have given offence to a handful of squatters.”

“I think you exaggerate,” answered Strong. “I know that some pastoralists are very vindictive but I regard most of them as honorable men incapable of a contemptible action.”

“Of course they are,” said Ned. “The only thing is what do they call contemptible? You and I are very friendly, just now, Mr. Strong. You're not small enough to feel any hatred just because I talk a bit straight but you know very well that you'd regard it as quite square to freeze me out because I do talk straight.”

The two men looked into each other's eyes. Strong began to respect this outspoken bushman.

“I think that one of the most fundamental of all rights in any civilised society is the right of a man to employ whom he likes at any terms and under any conditions that he can get men to enter his employment. It seems to me that without this right the very right to private property itself is disputed for in civilisation private property does not mean only a hoard, stored up for future use, but savings accumulated to carry on the industrial operations of civilisation. These savings have been prompted by the assurance that society will protect the man who saves in making, with the man who has not saved, the contracts necessary to carry on industry, unhampered by the interference of outsiders. That seems to me, I repeat, a fundamental right essential to the very existence of society. The man who disputes it seems to me an enemy of society. Whether he is right or wrong, or whether society itself is right or wrong, is another question with which, as it is a mere theory, practical men have nothing to do.” Strong had only been fencing in his talk before. Now that he was ready

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he stated his position, quite coolly, with a quiet emphasis that made his line of argument clear as day.

“Then why confer at all, under any conditions, even if unionists admitted all this?” asked Ned.

“Simply for convenience. Some of our members object to any conference but the general opinion is that it does not involve a sacrifice of principle to discuss details provided principles are admitted. In the same way, some favoured the employment of men at any wage arranged between the individual man and his employer, but the general opinion was that it is advisable and convenient for pastoralists in the same district to pay the same wages.”

“Then the pastoralists may combine but the bushmen mayn't.”

“We don't object to the bushmen forming unions. We claim the right to employ men without asking whether they are unionist or non-unionist.”

“Which means,” said Ned, “the right to victimise unionists.”

“How is that?” asked Strong.

“We know how. Do you suppose for a moment, Mr. Strong, that ideas spring up with nothing behind them? All those who are acquainted with the history of unionism know that ‘close unionism,’ the refusal to work with non-unionists, arose from the persistent preference given by employers to non-unionists, which was a victimising of unionists.”

“That may have been once, but things are different now,” answered Strong.

“They are not different now. Wherever employers have an opportunity they have a tendency to weed out unionists. I could give you scores of instances of it being done. The black list is bad enough now. It would be a regular terrorism if there was nothing to restrain the employer. Then down would come wages, up would go hours and in would come the Chinese. If it is a principle with you, it is existence itself with us.”

“I think the pastoralists would agree not to victimise, as you call it,” said Strong, after thinking a minute.

“Who is to say? How are we to know?” answered Ned. “Supposing, Mr. Strong, you and I had a dispute in which we both believed ourselves right would you regard it as a fair settlement to submit the whole thing, without any exception, to an arbiter whom we both chose and both believed to be fair?”

“Certainly I should,” said Strong.

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“The whole dispute, no matter what it was? You'd think it fair to leave it all to the arbiter?”


“Then why not leave ‘freedom of contract’ to arbitration?” demanded Ned. “You say you are right. We say we are right. We have offered to go to arbitration on the whole dispute, keeping nothing back. We have pledged ourselves to stand by the arbitration. Isn't that honest and fair? What could be fairer? It may be that we have taken a wrong method against victimising in close unionism. But it cannot be that we should not have some defence against victimising, and close unionism is the only defence we have as yet, that any union has had, anywhere, except in Sheffield and I don't suppose you want rattening to start here. Why not arbitrate?”

“It is a question of principle,” answered Strong, looking Ned in the face.

“That means you'll fight it out,” commented Ned, rising and picking up his hat. Then he put his foot on his chair and, leaning on his knee, thus expressed his inward thoughts: “You can fight if you like but when it's all over you'll remember what I say and know it's the straight wire. You've been swallowing the fairy tales about ours being a union of pressed men but you will see your mistake, believe me. You may whip us; you've got the Government and the police and the P.M.'s and the money and the military but how much nearer the end will you be when you have whipped us? You'll know by then that the chaps up North, like men everywhere else, will go down fighting and will come up smiling to fight again when you begin to take it out of them because they're down. And in the end you'll arbitrate. You'll have no way out of it. Its fair and because it's fair and because we all know it's fair we'll win that or—” Ned paused.

“Im sorry you look at the matter so,” said Strong, arranging his papers.

“How else should we look at it? If we pretend to give in as you want us to do, it'll only be as a trick to gain time, as a ruse to put you off until we're readier. We won't do that. For my part, and for the part of the men I know, the union is a thing which mustn't get a bad name. We may lie individually but the union's word must be as good as gold no matter what it says. If the union says the sheep are wet, they're wet, and if it says they're dry, they are dry—if the water's dripping off 'em,” added Ned, note

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with a twinkle in his eye. “I mean, Mr. Strong, that we're trying to be better men in our rough way and the union is what's making us better and some of us would die for it. But we'd sooner see it die than see it do what's cowardly.” note

“I am sorry that men like you are so deceived as to what is right,” said Strong.

“Perhaps we're all deceived. Perhaps you're deceived. Perhaps the whole of life is a humbug.” So Ned said, with careless fatalism. “Only, if your mates were in trouble you'd be a cur if you didn't stand by them, wouldn't you? That's the difference between you and me, Mr. Strong. You don't believe that we're all mates or that the crowd has any particular troubles and I do. And as long as one believes it, well, it doesn't matter to him whether he's deceived or not, I think. I won't detain you any longer. Its no use our talking, I can see.”

Strong got up and walked towards the door.

“I think not,” he said. “But I am glad to have met you, Mr. Hawkins, and I can't help feeling that you're throwing great abilities away. You'll get no thanks and do no good and you'll live to regret it. It's all very well to talk lightly of the outlook in Queensland but when you have become implicated in lawlessness and are suffering for it the whole affair will look different. Don't misunderstand me! You are a young man, capable, earnest. There is no position you might not aspire to. Be warned in time. Let me help you. I shall be only too glad. You will never repent it for I ask nothing dishonourable.” note

“I don't quite understand,” said Ned, sternly, his brow knitting.

“I'm not offering a bribe,” continued Strong, meeting Ned's gaze unflinchingly. “That's not necessary. You know very well that you will hang yourself with very little more rope. I am talking as between one man and another. I meet only too few manly men to let one go to destruction without trying to save him. The world doesn't need saviours; it needs masters. You can be one of them. Think well of it: Not one in a million has the chance.”

“You mean that you'll help me to get rich?”

“Rich!” sneered Strong. “What is rich? It is Power that is worth having and to have power one must control capital. In your wildest ranting of the power of the capitalist you have hardly touched the fringe of the power he has. Only there are very few

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who are able to use it. I offer you the opportunity to become one of the few. I never make a mistake in men. If you try you can be. There is the offer, take it or leave it.”

noteFor an instant Ned dreamed of accepting it, of throwing over everything to become a great capitalist, as Strong said so confidently he could be, and then, after long years, to pour his wealth into the treasuries of the movement, now often checked for lack of funds. Then he thought of Nellie and of Geisner, what they would say, still hesitating. Then he thought of his mates expecting him, waiting for him, and he decided.

“I was thinking,” he said, straightforwardly, “whether I wouldn't like to make a pile so as to give it to the movement. But, you see, Mr. Strong, the chaps are expecting me and that settles it. I am much obliged but it would be dishonourable in me.”

“You know what is in front?” asked Strong, calmly, making a last effort.

“I think so. I'm told I'm one of those to be locked up. What does that matter? That won't lose me any friends.”

“A stubborn man will have his way,” remarked Strong. Adding, at a venture: “Particularly when there is a woman in it.”

“There is a woman in it,” answered Ned, flushing a little; “a woman who won't have me.”

Strong opened the door. “I've done my best for you,” he said. “Don't blame me whatever happens. You, at least, had your choice of peace or war, of more than peace.”

“I understand. Personally, I shan't blame you,” said Ned. “I choose war, more than war,” and he set his mouth doggedly.

“War, at any rate,” answered Strong, holding out his hand, his face as grave as Ned's. The two men gripped hands tightly, like duellists crossing swords. Without another word they shook hands heartily and separated.

Strong closed the door and walked up and down his room, hurriedly, deep in thought, pulling his lip. He sat down at his desk, took up his pen, got up and paced the room again. He went to the window and looked out into the well that admitted light to the centre of the great fortress-building. Then walked back to his desk and wrote.

“He is a dangerous man,” he murmured, as if excusing himself. “He is a most dangerous man.”

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A youth answered a touch of the button. Strong sent for his confidential clerk.

“Send this at once to Queensland in cipher,” he instructed, in a business tone, when the man appeared; “this” being:

Prominent bush unionist named Hawkins leaves Sydney to-night by train for Central Queensland via Brisbane. Have him arrested immediately. Most important. note