Chapter 18 Continues

The story so far: Milo is sought out for his musical skills.

 

A few people looked up when Old Joe and Milo entered the tavern through the main entrance, but not many. Someone had distributed three or four songbooks and the men who could read English even a little bit were crouched around them, peering at the words.

“Read the words to me,” he heard Samo, one of the boarders say.

Long-haired preachers come out every night,

Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right, another miner read, slowly.

“Okay, then,” Samo said, and he began to sing, loudly: “Long haired preachers …” Samo was off-key, singing to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The men laughed boisterously.

“Not even close,” Toivo Eskola said. “I heard the men at the lumber camps sing it. It was a gospel mill song.”

“Okay, then. What the words again?” Samo asked. The miner read them again, and Samo sang them, this time to the tune of Amazing Grace.

During laughter and singing, Old Joe managed to secure one of the small red booklets. On the cover it read, Songs of the Workers, on the Road, in the Jungles, and in the Shops — Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. It was the official collection of strike songs put together by the IWW. Old Joe handed it to Milo, who ignored the cover and paged through the contents.

“Page Twenty,” another boarder said. “It called The Preacher and the Slave. Says the words are by some man named Joe Hill.” The boarder nodded toward Milo’s guitar, which was still slung over his shoulder. “Can you read music? The chords are listed.”

Milo turned to the song they were singing. He pressed the booklet flat, and propped a glass on the crease to keep it open. He started to strum. He played a few chords, softly, and adjusted his strings. “Can you read English?” Milo asked Old Joe.

Old Joe nodded.

“Can you sing?”

“Like a pig.”

“Grand. I’ll need help with some words.”

Milo began to play, more loudly now. The men in the tavern turned toward him as he and Old Joe began to sing. Old Joe sang even more loudly than Samo had, watching Milo’s face for cues. The lyrics were written to the tune of Bye and Bye.

Long-haired preachers come out every night,

Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right

But when asked how ‘bout something to eat?

They will answer in voices so sweet

As Old Joe and Milo reached the chorus, more and more workers recognized the melody.

You will eat, bye and bye,

In that glorious land above the sky;

Work and pray, live on hay,

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

“That’s how it go!” Toivo Eskola yelled. “That just how it go!” The miners in the tavern began to join in, singing if they could see the words in the pamphlet, or clapping if they could not see the booklet or read what was inside. When the song was over, they sang it again and again, until everyone in the bar knew the words to all four verses.

After a few rounds of singing, Old Joe left momentarily and came back with his own guitar. “I can play too,” he said. “Just have to hear it first.”

With two guitars playing, the music gained depth. More men joined Milo and Old Joe in singing the main verses as the words became familiar:

When the world and its wealth we have gained

To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain

You will eat, bye and bye,

When you’ve learned how to cook and how to fry;

Chop some wood, ‘twill do you good

Then you’ll eat, in the sweet, bye and bye

As the men sang the chorus, a few men trickled out, knowing they had to get up early for the day shift. A few more men trickled in.

As they sang the chorus again, the main entrance of the tavern swung open. A Bulgarian man whom Milo had never seen before entered, carrying a rifle. He was out of breath and had obviously ridden his horse as quickly as he could to get to the Slovenski Dom.

“Shut your pie holes!” he yelled, gesticulating wildly.

Old Joe stopped playing at once. “What is it, Andre?”

Everyone stared at the Bulgarian man. It grew quiet.

“Turner’s on his way.” He spotted a songbook. “Get rid of those or he’ll hang you all.” The books disappeared.

As quickly as he had come, the Bulgarian was gone. He hopped on his horse and rode away. Some of the men started for the door. They didn’t want to be anywhere near Sheriff Turner. Anton leaned across the bar to Old Joe. “Watch who tries to leave,” he said. “Watch carefully.”

Toivo Eskola made it to the entrance. He blocked the door with his arms. “Stay your body,” he said to Luke Johnson, a welder. Nobody’s leaving.”

“I ain’t doing the blacklist, Toivo. Got a wife and four younguns.”

“Don’t be such a bloody coward,” Toivo said. “Nobody said nothing about no blacklist. Set!”

“But Sheriff Turner …”

Toivo pushed Luke, not hard, just enough to make a point. “Be a man. Set down. Drink an ale.” Luke reluctantly went back to his table, exchanging eye contact with no one.

Toivo continued speaking. “All you, just stay calm. We ain’t broke no laws. Anton, throw us a few decks of cards. Act natural.”

Uneasily, the men who had not escaped went back to their barstools or tables. Milo started strumming again, an old, Slovenian song he learned to play when he was six years old. Old Joe was scanning the room, committing every face to memory. Cards were dealt. Drinks downed and refilled. A few minutes later, Sheriff Turner entered, accompanied by two deputies with guns drawn. The men stopped talking. They put their cards down. It was quiet. Very quiet.

“Howdy, Anton,” the sheriff said, grinning.

“Sheriff Turner,” Anton said without warmth. “Care for a cold one?”

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 18 continues.