He trudged wearily down the street, carrying the heavy pail and trying to keep up with the brisk pace his older brother set. It was bitterly cold and the steam that had swirled from the pail as they left the house was now a mere mist. His mittened fingers were stiff from holding the narrow metal handle, and he could no longer feel his toes. He wished Mother had come with them this time, but she was helping Mrs. Wills with her sick baby. His brother was strong for a ten-year-old, but he felt safer when Mother was along.
As they came to the top of the hill, he could finally see the factory down below. The first thing he noticed was that no smoke came from the chimneys. The second thing he noticed were police cars surrounding the entrance. He'd never seen that many before. He looked up at his brother, who was glaring down at the scene.
His brother looked down and smiled. "Don't worry, kiddo. Probably just the bulls pushing their weight around again. C'mon, Dad's waiting for his supper."
The two boys made their way down the street, the crowd growing larger as they proceeded. As they got closer to the plant, they could hear angry shouting up ahead. Even James slowed to a more cautious pace. Finally they were forced to stop entirely.
James pulled on a woman's sleeve. "Excuse me, ma'am. What's going on?"
The woman, holding a pail similar to the ones the boys had, looked down at him with hate in her eye.
"Sloan's had the heat shut off, and now they won't let us take food in!"
"But...my dad's in there!"
The woman smiled sadly. "All our men are in there, boy. Don't you worry, though. They aren't going to give up. They'll never give up! But you'd best head back up the hill, or go home. We don't need any children getting hurt."
The two boys moved back, reluctantly.
"James, what about Dad? We got his supper and..."
James shook his head sadly. "We can't, John. I want to help him, too, but Dad expects us to take care of Mother, too. If one of us got hurt...besides, she'll be hearing about all of this soon. We gotta go home, so she won't worry."
Reluctantly, John followed his brother to the top of the hill. There he stopped, a stubborn pout coming on his face.
"You go home, James. But I'm staying here. I won't go any closer, I promise. But I gotta make sure Dad's okay." His resolve melted a bit at the glare from his brother, but not enough. "Please, James. I swear I won't go any closer."
James knew that look. John may be younger, but no one except Dad could be more stubborn.
"Okay, but if there's any trouble, you get yourself home. I don't want Mother coming down here looking for you, and you know she would."
John nodded and turned back toward the plant. He found himself a spot with some older boys, who had a fire going in a round barrel. His backside was freezing, but his front was warm.
It would do.