To Billy's surprise, he was not alone. Next to him stood an even more formidable figure: Perceval Jones, chairman of Celtic Minerals, the company that owned and operated the Aberowen coal mine and several others. A small, aggressive man, he was called Napoleon by the miners. He wore morning dress, a black tailcoat and striped gray trousers, and he had not taken off his tall black top hat.
Jones looked at the boys with distaste. "Griffiths," he said. "Your father's a revolutionary socialist."
"Yes, Mr. Jones," said Tommy.
"And an atheist."
"Yes, Mr. Jones."
He turned his gaze on Billy. "And your father's an official of the South Wales Miners' Federation."
"Yes, Mr. Jones."
"I don't like socialists. Atheists are doomed to eternal damnation. And trade unionists are the worst of the lot."
He glared at them, but he had not asked a question, so Billy said nothing.
"I don't want troublemakers," Jones went on. "In the Rhondda Valley they've been on strike for forty-three weeks because of people like your fathers stirring them up."
Billy knew that the strike in the Rhondda had not been caused by troublemakers, but by the owners of the Ely Pit at Penygraig, who had locked out their miners. But he kept his mouth shut.
"Are you troublemakers?" Jones pointed a bony finger at Billy, making Billy shake. "Did your father tell you to stand up for your rights when you're working for me?"
Billy tried to think, though it was difficult when Jones looked so threatening. Da had not said much this morning, but last night he had given some advice. "Please, sir, he told me: 'Don't cheek the bosses, that's my job.' "
Behind him, Spotty Llewellyn sniggered.
Perceval Jones was not amused. "Insolent savage," he said. "But if I turn you away, I'll have the whole of this valley on strike."
Billy had not thought of that. Was he so important? Nobut the miners might strike for the principle that the children of their officials must not suffer. He had been at work less than five minutes, and already the union was protecting him.
"Get them out of here," said Jones.
Morgan nodded. "Take them outside, Llewellyn," he said to Spotty. "Rhys Price can look after them."
Billy groaned inwardly. Rhys Price was one of the more unpopular deputy managers. He had set his cap at Ethel, a year ago, and she had turned him down flat. She had done the same to half the single men in Aberowen, but Price had taken it hard.
Spotty jerked his head. "Out," he said, and he followed them. "Wait outside for Mr. Price."
Billy and Tommy left the building and leaned on the wall by the door. "I'd like to punch Napoleon's fat belly," said Tommy. "Talk about a capitalist bastard."
"Yeah," said Billy, though he had had no such thought.
Rhys Price showed up a minute later. Like all the deputies, he wore a low round-crowned hat called a billycock, more expensive than a miner's cap but cheaper than a bowler. In the pockets of his waistcoat he had a notebook and a pencil, and he carried a yardstick. Price had dark stubble on his cheeks and a gap in his front teeth. Billy knew him to be clever but sly.
"Good morning, Mr. Price," Billy said.
Price looked suspicious. "What business have you got saying good morning to me, Billy Twice?"
"Mr. Morgan said we are to go down the pit with you."
"Did he, now?" Price had a way of darting looks to the left and right, and sometimes behind, as if he expected trouble from an unknown quarter. "We'll see about that." He looked up at the winding wheel, as if seeking an explanation there. "I haven't got time to deal with boys." He went into the office.
"I hope he gets someone else to take us down," Billy said. "He hates my family because my sister wouldn't walk out with him."
"Your sister thinks she's too good for the men of Aberowen," said Tommy, obviously repeating something he had heard.
Excerpted from Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. Copyright © 2010 by Ken Follett. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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