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The action takes place on February 7th between the hours of noon and six in the afternoon, close to the Trenartha Tin Plate Works, on the borders of England and Wales, where a strike has been in progress throughout the winter.
WILDER. [Who is lean, cadaverous, and complaining, with drooping grey moustaches, stands before the fire.] I say, this fire's the devil! Can I have a screen, Tench?
SCANTLEBURY. A screen, ah!
TENCH. Certainly, Mr. Wilder. [He looks at UNDERWOOD.] That is— perhaps the Manager—perhaps Mr. Underwood——
SCANTLEBURY. These fireplaces of yours, Underwood——
UNDERWOOD. [Roused from studying some papers.] A screen? Rather! I'm sorry. [He goes to the door with a little smile.] We're not accustomed to complaints of too much fire down here just now.
WILDER. [In an injured voice.] You mean the men. H'm!
SCANTLEBURY. Poor devils!
WILDER. It's their own fault, Scantlebury.
EDGAR. [Holding out his paper.] There's great distress among them, according to the Trenartha News.
WILDER. Oh, that rag! Give it to Wanklin. Suit his Radical views. They call us monsters, I suppose. The editor of that rubbish ought to be shot.
EDGAR. [Reading.] "If the Board of worthy gentlemen who control the Trenartha Tin Plate Works from their arm-chairs in London would condescend to come and see for themselves the conditions prevailing amongst their work-people during this strike——"
WILDER. Well, we have come.
EDGAR. [Continuing.] "We cannot believe that even their leg-of-mutton hearts would remain untouched."
WILDER. Ruffian! I remember that fellow when he had n't a penny to his name; little snivel of a chap that's made his way by black-guarding everybody who takes a different view to himself.
WILDER. What does your father say?
EDGAR. He says "The kettle and the pot."
SCANTLEBURY. [Blowing out his cheeks.] I shall boil if I don't get that screen.
ENID. Put it closer, Frank. Will that do, Mr. Wilder? It's the highest we've got.
WILDER. Thanks, capitally.
SCANTLEBURY. [Turning, with a sigh of pleasure.] Ah! Merci, Madame!
ENID. Is there anything else you want, Father? [ANTHONY shakes his head.] Edgar—anything?
EDGAR. You might give me a "J" nib, old girl.
ENID. There are some down there by Mr. Scantlebury.
SCANTLEBURY. [Handing a little box of nibs.] Ah! your brother uses "J's." What does the manager use? [With expansive politeness.] What does your husband use, Mrs. Underwood?
UNDERWOOD. A quill!
SCANTLEBURY. The homely product of the goose. [He holds out quills.]
UNDERWOOD. [Drily.] Thanks, if you can spare me one. [He takes a quill.] What about lunch, Enid?
ENID. [Stopping at the double-doors and looking back.] We're going to have lunch here, in the drawing-room, so you need n't hurry with your meeting.
SCANTLEBURY. [Rousing himself, suddenly.] Ah! Lunch! That hotel— Dreadful! Did you try the whitebait last night? Fried fat!
WILDER. Past twelve! Are n't you going to read the minutes, Tench?
TENCH. [Looking for the CHAIRMAN'S assent, reads in a rapid and monotonous voice.] "At a Board Meeting held the 31st of January at the Company's Offices, 512, Cannon Street, E.C. Present—Mr. Anthony in the chair, Messrs. F. H. Wilder, William Scantlebury, Oliver Wanklin, and Edgar Anthony. Read letters from the Manager dated January 20th, 23d, 25th, 28th, relative to the strike at the Company's Works. Read letters to the Manager of January 21st, 24th, 26th, 29th. Read letter from Mr. Simon Harness, of the Central Union, asking for an interview with the Board. Read letter from the Men's Committee, signed David Roberts, James Green, John Bulgin, Henry Thomas, George Rous, desiring conference with the Board; and it was resolved that a special Board Meeting be called for February 7th at the house of the Manager, for the purpose of discussing the situation with Mr. Simon Harness and the Men's Committee on the spot. Passed twelve transfers, signed and sealed nine certificates and one balance certificate."
[He pushes the book over to the CHAIRMAN.]
ANTHONY. [With a heavy sigh.] If it's your pleasure, sign the same.
WANKLIN. What's the Union's game, Tench? They have n't made up their split with the men. What does Harness want this interview for?
TENCH. Hoping we shall come to a compromise, I think, sir; he's having a meeting with the men this afternoon.
WILDER. Harness! Ah! He's one of those cold-blooded, cool-headed chaps. I distrust them. I don't know that we didn't make a mistake to come down. What time'll the men be here?
UNDERWOOD. Any time now.
WILDER. Well, if we're not ready, they'll have to wait—won't do them any harm to cool their heels a bit.
SCANTLEBURY. [Slowly.] Poor devils! It's snowing. What weather!
UNDERWOOD. [With meaning slowness.] This house'll be the warmest place they've been in this winter.
WILDER. Well, I hope we're going to settle this business in time for me to catch the 6.30. I've got to take my wife to Spain to-morrow. [Chattily.] My old father had a strike at his works in '69; just such a February as this. They wanted to shoot him.
WANKLIN. What! In the close season?
WILDER. By George, there was no close season for employers then! He used to go down to his office with a pistol in his pocket.
SCANTLEBURY. [Faintly alarmed.] Not seriously?
WILDER. [With finality.] Ended in his shootin' one of 'em in the legs.
SCANTLEBURY. [Unavoidably feeling his thigh.] No? Which?
ANTHONY. [Lifting the agenda paper.] To consider the policy of the Board in relation to the strike. [There is a silence.]
WILDER. It's this infernal three-cornered duel—the Union, the men, and ourselves.
WANKLIN. We need n't consider the Union.
WILDER. It's my experience that you've always got to, consider the Union, confound them! If the Union were going to withdraw their support from the men, as they've done, why did they ever allow them to strike at all?
EDGAR. We've had that over a dozen times.
WILDER. Well, I've never understood it! It's beyond me. They talk of the engineers' and furnace-men's demands being excessive—so they are—but that's not enough to make the Union withdraw their support. What's behind it?
UNDERWOOD. Fear of strikes at Harper's and Tinewell's.
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