Chapter 25 Continues

The story so far: Lily is ordered home; strikers start to mobilize.

 

With paper and writing instrument in hand, Katka ran back to where she left her aunt, but Lily was nowhere to be seen. She called her name a few times and asked about her whereabouts. Finally, she spotted her. Lily had tried to walk toward home, but had stopped to sit on a boulder at the side of the road. Katka ran toward her. She saw that Lily was crying and wiping her face with her apron.

Katka wrapped her arms around her aunt, who sobbed into her shoulder for a moment, then stood up abruptly, pointing toward the top of the hill. “I have to get home.”

“What did Uncle Anton say to you?”

“He said …”

“Yes?”

“If something happened to this baby, he would hold me and only me responsible for murdering his son.”

“He didn’t say that. He couldn’t have,” Katka said.

A tear ran down Lily’s cheek.

“Nothing will happen, Lily,” Katka said. “The uprising. It’s got him acting strange.”

“He looked so serious. Like he knew something.”

“He didn’t.” Katka glanced back at the crowd. It was getting bigger.

“I need to go home.”

“I will go with you.”

“No,” Lily said. “We only have two reporters. We can’t both play hooky.” She smiled, halfheartedly. “This will be our biggest story yet. You better get it.”

“I will, Teta, I promise. But first, I will walk you to the bend. The men are still coming up the ladders. I don’t think anything will happen until they get them all up.”

Lily nodded. “To the bend and not one step further. I want a full report. Everything.”

Katka put a hand on her aunt’s back to give her support. When they got to the bend, Katka kissed her aunt on the cheek and raced back to town, once again lifting her skirts high above her knees as she ran.

 

Chapter 26

 

When Katka got back to town, perspiration dripping down her face, the crowd had backed up and a miner had set up three crates. Katka wormed her way through the crowd until she was almost to the front of the women’s section. Her view was adequate. Milo, who represented the miners, stood on the middle crate. Paul, who represented the Industrial Workers of the World union, stood to his left. To his right was a man she had never seen before. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Anton and slipped back a few rows.

“Who’s the man on the right?” Katka asked a woman standing next to her.

“His name is Andre Kristeva. They call him the Bulgarian.”

“Never seen him,” Katka said.

“Nor I. Until this very morning, he worked as an engineer in the mine, they say.”

“And they trust him to stand with him?”

“Wob spy, they say he is.”

Before she had time to ask more questions, Katka heard music. Someone had found a guitar for Milo. He started to play and the crowd grew quiet. Then he began to sing. It was a song from The Little Red Songbook, a song she had heard the miners singing in the tavern. The lyrics were set to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

When the union’s inspiration, through the workers’ blood shall run,

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun.

Yet what force on earth is weaker

than the feeble strength of one?

But the union makes us strong.

Milo’s voice was loud and chillingly pure. Even workers who did not speak English, workers who had risked their jobs by following Milo, felt inspired by both the courage of his actions and also by this melody, which rested on their tired shoulders like a firm, paternal hand. As he sang the repetitive chorus, the voices of workers, their wives and even their children could be heard clearly in the absence of drilling and blasting.

Solidarity forever! Solidarity forever! For the union makes us strong

It was odd to see Milo this way. She knew him well. Although he never became her beau, aside from Lily, he had become her dearest friend. Milo was steady and predictable. Smart, calculated, his innermost feelings known only to the trees and sometimes to her. But here, standing on that sugar crate, playing that guitar and singing, she saw him as others did. He was a man with his soul ablaze. The flames of discontent and injustice ignited in him a passion that seeped into his voice. He was no longer a philosopher, a man who studied labor pamphlets by candlelight on the cold back porch. His ideas had transformed into action and he had become a man — a man people would follow.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 26 continues.