When Euan got home that night, he sat with his wife, Colleen, and recounted the event.
“You can understand their frustration,” she said, pouring his tea.
“Oh, aye,” he said. “But you know yourself what happened at Cox’s Mill when the Union organised a march to protest against new machinery thousands o’ workers were locked out for weeks till that ended. Folk went hungry, Colleen. And were the workers any better off afterwards? Not really.”
“But the workers are just making ends meet, and the owners don’t seem to be suffering.”
“They’re the ones wi’ the money, so it stands to reason they’ll be the last to suffer.”
“Is that fair?”
“No. But it’s the way it is,” Euan replied. “And I’ll tell you something else I’ve heard recently. Some mill owners have invested in jute mills in India. So if the Union gies them trouble, they’ll close the Dundee mills completely!”
“Yer tea’s going cold, love,” Colleen said with a frown.
Euan was worried what trouble the Union would cause if they whipped the millworkers into a lather. He’d meant every word he’d said to the crowd today. The mill had been a part of his life as far back as his memory went. It was a similar story for Colleen, the daughter of Irish immigrants.
“The bairns all right?” he asked after a mouthful.
Before answering, Colleen got up to put more coal on the fire. Outside, snow threatened, December being bitterly cold so far. Euan watched as his wife drew her shawl tighter round her shoulders, her red hair tumbling down her shoulders.
Colleen had caught Euan’s eye when they were both just eleven, but she’d made him wait nine years before agreeing to marry him. When they did make it to the chapel, though, it was the happiest day of his life.
“Aye, the bairns are fine,” she said. “They’re asleep, the two of them.”
“And you?” he asked.
“My back aches, that’s all.”
“Not long now, lass.”
“A Christmas baby.”
“Aye,” Euan said with a grin. “Our wee blessing.”
Much later, long after Colleen had fallen asleep, Euan crept out of bed, loaded the fire with dry vegetable peelings to keep it going through the night, then moved quietly to the back room where his two daughters, Helen and Jane, were tucked up in the bed they shared. He pulled the blanket closer to their faces, kissing them gently on their foreheads.
Did he want his lassies to become half-timers, spending half their day at school and the other half at the mill, on their hands and knees, cleaning dust from beneath the machinery for four shillings a week? Surely his bairns would have a better future if they stuck in at school and found work elsewhere.
He and Colleen had got something of a surprise when she discovered she was carrying another wean. At nearly thirty-two, Colleen had almost given up hope of falling pregnant again.
It was also another reason he couldn’t get involved with Union demonstrations.
Just then, Helen’s eyes opened a fraction.
“Back tae sleep, Nell,” he said with a tender smile.