HotFreeBooks.com
Mary Minds Her Business
by George Weston
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Well, let's look at it another way," said the chairman, and he nodded to his colleagues as though he knew there could be no answer to this one. "There are only so many jobs to go around. What are the men going to do if the women take their jobs?"

"That's it!" nodded the other two. All three looked at Mary.

"I used to wonder that myself," she said, "but one day I saw that I was asking the wrong question. There is just so much work that has to be done in the world every day, so we can all be fed and clothed, and have those things which we need to make us happy. Now everybody in this room knows that 'many hands make light work.' So, don't you see? The more who work, the easier it will be for everybody."

But the spokesman only smiled at this—that smile which always meant to Mary, "No use talking to a woman"—and aloud he said, "Well, as I told you before, we weren't sent to argue. We only came to tell you what the automatic hands were going to do if these four women weren't laid off."

"I understand," said Mary; and turning to the four she asked, "How do you feel about it?"

"I suppose we'll have to go," said Mrs. Ridge, her face red but her back straighter then ever. "I guess it was our misfortune, Miss Spencer, that we were born women. It seems to me we always get the worst end of it, though I'm sure I don't know why. I did think once, when the war was on, that things were going to be different for us women after this. But it seems not.... You've been good to us, and we don't want to get you mixed up in any strike, Miss Spencer.... I guess we'd better go...."

Judge Cutler's expression returned to Mary's mind: "Another year like this and, barring strikes and accidents, Spencer & Son will be on its feet again—" Barring strikes! Mary was under no misapprehension as to what a strike might mean....

"I want to get this exactly right," she said, turning to the chairman again. "The only reason you wish these women discharged is because they are women, is that it?"

"Yes; I guess that's it, when you come right down to it."

"Do you think it's fair?"

"I'm sorry, Miss Spencer, but it's not a bit of use arguing any longer. If these four women stay, the men in our department quit: that's all."

Mary looked up at the pictures of her forbears who seemed to be listening attentively for her answer.

"Please tell the men that I shall be sorry—very sorry—to see them go," she said at last, "but these four women are certainly going to stay."



CHAPTER XXIV

From one of the windows of Mary's office, she could see the factory gate.

"If they do go on strike," she thought, "I shall see them walk out."

She didn't have to watch long.

First in groups of twos and threes, and then thick and fast, the men appeared, their lunch boxes under their arms, all making for the gate. Some were arguing, some were joking, others looked serious. It struck Mary that perhaps these latter were wondering what they would tell their wives.

"I don't envy them the explanation," she half smiled to herself.

But her smile was short-lived. In the hallway she heard a step and, turning, she saw Uncle Stanley looking at her.

"What's the matter with those men who are going out?" he asked.

"As if he didn't know!" she thought, but aloud she answered, "They're going on strike."

"What are they striking for?"

"Because I wouldn't discharge those four women."

He gave her a look that seemed to say, "You see what you've done—think you could run things. A nice hornet's nest you've stirred up!" At first he turned away as though to go back to his office, but he seemed to think better of it.

"You might as well shut down the whole plant," he said. "We can't do anything without the automatics. You know that as well as I do."

He waited for a time, but she made no answer.

"Shall I tell the rest of the men?" he asked.

"Tell them what, Uncle Stanley?"

"That we're going to shut down till further notice?"

Mary shook her head.

"It would be a pity to do that," she said, "because—don't you see?—there wouldn't be anything then for the four women to do."

At this new evidence of woman's utter inability to deal with large affairs, Uncle Stanley snorted. "We've got to do something," said he.

"All right, Uncle," said Mary, pressing the button on the side of her desk, "I'll do the best I can."

For in the last few minutes a plan had entered her mind—a plan which has probably already presented itself to you.

"When the war was on," she thought, "nearly all the work in that room was done by women. I wonder if I couldn't get them back there now—just to show the men what we can do—"

In answer to her ring, Joe knocked and entered, respectful admiration in his eye. You may remember Joe, "the brightest boy in the office." In the three years that Mary had known him, he had grown and was now in the transient stage between office boy and clerk—wore garters around his shirt sleeves to keep his cuffs up, feathered his hair in the front, and wore a large black enamel ring with the initial "J" worked out in "diamonds."

"Joe," she said, "I want you to bring me the employment cards of all the women who worked here during the war. And send Miss Haskins in, please; I want to write a circular letter."

She hurried him away with a nod and a quick smile.

"Gee, I wish there was a lion or something out here," he thought as he hurried through the hall to the outer office, and after he had taken Mary the cards and sent Miss Haskins in, he proudly remarked to the other clerks, "Maybe they thought she'd faint away and call for the doctor when they went on strike, but, say, she hasn't turned a hair. I'll bet she's up to something, too."

It wasn't a long letter that Mary sent to the list of names which she gave Miss Haskins, but it had that quiet pull and power which messages have when they come from the heart.

"Oh, I know a lot will come," said Mrs. Ridge when Mary showed her a copy of it. "They would come anyhow, Miss Spencer. Most of them never made money like they made it here. They've been away long enough now to miss it and—Ha-ha-a!—Excuse me." She suddenly checked herself and looked very red and solemn.

"What are you laughing at?" asked Mary.

"I was thinking of my next door neighbour, Mrs. Strauss. She's never through saying that the year she was here was the happiest year of her life; and how she'd like to come back again. She'll be one of the first to come—I know she will. And her husband is one of the strikers—that's the funny part of it!"

Mary smiled herself at that, and she smiled again the next morning when she saw the women coming through the gate.

"Report in your old locker room," her letter had read, "and bring your working clothes."

By nine o'clock more than half the automatic machines were busy, and women were still arriving.

"The canteen's going again," ran the report up and down the aisles.

At half past ten the old gong sounded in the lathe room, and the old tea wagon began its old-time trundling. In addition to refreshments each woman received a rose-bud—"From Miss Spencer. With thanks and best wishes."

"Do you know if the piano's here yet?" asked a brisk looking matron in sky blue overalls.

"Yep," nodded the tea girl. "When I came through, they were taking the cover off it, and fixing up the rest room."

"Isn't it good to be back again!" said the brisk young matron to her neighbour. "Believe me or not, I haven't seen a dancing floor since I quit work here."

Mrs. Ridge had been appointed forewoman. Just before noon she reported to Mary.

"There'll be a lot more tomorrow," she said. "When these get home, they'll do nothing but talk about it; and I keep hearing of women who are fixing things up at home so they can come in the morning. So don't you worry, Miss Spencer, this strike isn't going to hurt you none, but—Ha-ha-ha!—Excuse me," she said, suddenly checking her mirth again and looking very red and solemn.

"I like to hear you laugh," said Mary, "but what's it about this time!"

"Mrs. Strauss is here. I told you she would be. She left her husband home to do the housework and today is washday—that's the funny part of it!"

Whatever Mrs. Ridge's ability as a critic of humour might be, at least she was a good prophet. Nearly all the machines were busy the next morning, and new arrivals kept dropping in throughout the day.

Mary began to breathe easy, but not for long.

"I don't want to be a gloom," reported Archey, "but the lathe hands are trying to get the grinders to walk out. They say the men must stick together, or they'll all lose their jobs."

She looked thoughtful at that.

"I think we had better get the nursery ready," she said. "Let's go and find the painters."

It was a pleasant place—that nursery—with its windows overlooking the river and the lawn. In less than half an hour the painters had spread their sheets and the teamster had gone for a load of white sand. The cots and mattresses were put in the sun to air. The toys had been stored in the nurse's room. These were now brought out and inspected.

"I think I'll have the other end of the room finished off as a kindergarten," said Mary. "Then we'll be able to take care of any children up to school age, and their mothers won't have to worry a bit."

She showed him where she wished the partition built, and as he ran his rule across the distance, she noticed a scar across the knuckles of his right hand.

"That's where I dressed it, that time," she thought. "Isn't life queer! He was in France for more than a year, but the only scar that I can see is the one he got—that morning—"

Something of this may have shown in her eyes for when Archey straightened and looked at her, he blushed ("He'll never get over that!" thought Mary)—and hurried off to find the carpenters.

These preparations were completed only just in time.

On Thursday she went to New York to select her kindergarten equipment. On Friday a truck arrived at the factory, filled with diminutive chairs, tables, blackboards, charts, modelling clay, building blocks, and more miscellaneous items than I can tell you. And on Saturday morning the grinders sent a committee to the office that they could no longer labour on bearings which had passed through the hands of women workers.

Mary tried to argue with them.

"When women start to take men's jobs away—" began one of the committee.

"But they didn't," she said. "The men quit."

"When women start to take men's jobs away from them," he repeated, "it's time for the men to assert themselves."

"We know that you mean well, Miss Spencer," said another, "but you are starting something here that's bad. You're starting something that will take men's work away from them—something that will make more workers than there are jobs."

"It was the war that started it," she pleaded, "not I. Now let me ask you something. There is so much work that has to be done in the world every day; isn't there?"

"Yes, I guess that's right."

"Well, don't you see? The more people there are to do that work, the easier it will be for everybody."

But no, they couldn't see that. So Mary had to ring for Joe to bring in the old employment cards again, and that night and all day Sunday, Mrs. Ridge's company spread the news that four hundred more women were wanted at Spencer & Son's—"and you ought to see the place they've got for looking after children," was invariably added to the mothers of tots, "free milk, free nurses, free doctoring, free toys, rompers, little chairs and tables, animals, sand piles, swings, little pails and shovels—you never saw anything like it in your life—!"

If the tots in question heard this, and were old enough to understand, their eyes stood out like little painted saucers, and mutely then or loudly they pleaded Mary's cause.



CHAPTER XXV

It sometimes seems to me that the old saying, "History repeats itself," is one of the truest ever written. At least history repeated itself in the case of the grinders.

Before the week was over, the places left vacant by the men had been filled by women, and the nursery and kindergarten had proved to be unqualified successes.

Many of the details I will reserve till later, including the growth of the canteen, the vanishing mirror, an improvement in overalls, to say nothing of daffodils and daisies and Mrs. Kelly's drum. And though some of these things may sound peculiar at first, you will soon see that they were all repetitions of history. They followed closely after things that had already been done by other women in other places, and were only adopted by Mary first because they added human touches to a rather serious business, and second because they had proved their worth elsewhere.

Before going into these affairs, however, I must tell you about the reporters.

The day the grinders went on strike, a local correspondent sent a story to his New York paper. It wasn't a long story, but the editor saw possibilities in it. He gave it a heading, "Good-bye, Man, Says She. Woman Owner of Big Machine Shop Replaces Men With Women." He also sent a special writer and an artist to New Bethel to get a story for the Sunday edition.

Other editors saw the value of that "Good-bye, Man" idea and they also sent reporters to the scene. They came; they saw; they interviewed; and almost before Mary knew what was happening, New Bethel and Spencer & Son were on their way to fame.

Some of the stories were written from a serious point of view, others in a lighter vein, but all of them seemed to reflect the opinion that a rather tremendous question was threatening—a question that was bound to come up for settlement sooner or later, but which hadn't been expected so soon.

"Is Woman Really Man's Equal?" That was the gist of the problem. Was her equality theoretical—or real? Now that she had the ballot and could no longer be legislated against, could she hold her own industrially on equal terms with man? Or, putting it as briefly as possible, "Could she make good?"

Some of these articles worried Mary at first, and some made her smile, and after reading others she wanted to run away and hide. Judge Cutler made a collection of them, and whenever he came to a good one, he showed it to Mary.

"I wish they would leave us alone," she said one day.

"I don't," said the judge seriously. "I'm glad they have turned the spotlight on."

"Why?"

"Because with so much publicity, there's very little chance of rough work. Of course the men here at home wouldn't do anything against their own women folks, but quite a few outsiders are coming in, and if they could work in the dark, they might start a whisper, 'Anything to win!'"

Mary thought that over, and somehow the sun didn't shine so brightly for the next few minutes. Ma'm Maynard's old saying arose to her mind:

"I tell you, Miss Mary, it has halways been so and it halways will: Everything that lives has its own natural enemy—and a woman's natural enemy: eet is man!"

"No, sir, I don't believe it!" Mary told herself. "And I never shall believe it, either!"

The next afternoon Judge Cutler brought her an editorial entitled, "We Shall See."

"The women of New Bethel (it read) are trying an experiment which, carried to its logical conclusion, may change industrial history.

"Perhaps industrial history needs a change. It has many dark pages where none but man has written.

"If woman is the equal of man, industrially speaking, she is bound to find her natural level. If she is not the equal of man, the New Bethel experiment will help to mark her limitations.

"Whatever the outcome, the question needs an answer and those who claim that she is unfitted for this new field should be the most willing to let her prove it.

"By granting them the suffrage, we have given our women equal rights. Unless for demonstrated incapacity, upon what grounds shall we now deny them equal opportunities?

"The New Bethel experiment should be worked out without hard feeling or rancour on either side.

"Can a woman do a man's work?

"Let us watch and we shall see."

Mary read it twice.

"I like that," she said. "I wish everybody in town could see that."

"Just what I thought," said the judge. "What do you say if we have it printed in big type, and pasted on the bill-boards?"

They had it done.

The day after the bills were posted, Archey went around to see how they were being received.

"It was a good idea," he told Mary the next morning, but she noticed that he looked troubled and absent-minded, as though his thoughts weren't in his words.

"What's the matter, Archey?" she quietly asked.

"Oh, I don't know," he said, and with the least possible touch of irritation he added, "Sometimes I think it's because I don't like him. Everything that counts against him sticks—and I may have been mistaken anyway—"

"It's something about Burdon," thought Mary, and in the same quiet voice as before she said,

"What is it, Archey?"

"Well," he said, hesitating, "I went out after dinner last night—to see if they were reading the bill-boards. I thought I'd walk down Jay Street—that's where the strikers have their headquarters. I was walking along when all at once I thought I saw Burdon's old car turning a corner ahead of me.

"It stopped in front of Repetti's pool-room. Two men came out and got in.

"A little while later I was speaking to one of our men and he said some rough actors were drifting in town and he didn't like the way they were talking. I asked him where these men were making their headquarters and he said, 'Repetti's Pool Room.'"

Mary thought that over.

"Mind you, I wouldn't swear it was Burdon's old car," said Archey, more troubled than before. "I can only tell you I'm sure of it—and I might be mistaken at that. And even if it was Burdon, he'd only say that he had gone there to try to keep the strike from spreading—yes, and he might be right at that," he added, desperately trying to be fair, "but—well, he worries me—that's all."

He was worrying Mary, too, although for a different reason.

With increasing frequency, Helen was coming home from the Country Club unconsciously scented with that combination of cigarette smoke and raspberry jam. Burdon had a new car, a swift, piratical craft which had been built to his order, and sometimes when he called at the house on the hill for Helen, Mary amused herself by thinking that he only needed a little flag-pole and a Jolly Roger—a skirted coat and a feathered hat—and he would be the typical younger son of romance, scouring the main in search of Spanish gold.

Occasionally when he rolled to the door, Wally's car was already there, for Wally—after an absence—was again coming around, pale and in need of sympathy, singing his tenor songs to Helen's accompaniment and with greater power of pathos than ever, especially when he sang the sad ones at Mary's head—

"There in the churchyard, crying, a grave I se-ee-ee Nina, that sweet dove flying was thee-ee-ee, was thee—"

"Ah, I have sighed for rest—"

"—And if she willeth to destroy me I can die.... I can die...."

After Wally had moved them all to a feeling of imminent tears, he would hover around Helen with a vague ambition of making her cousin jealous—a proceeding which didn't bother Mary at all.

But she did worry about the growing intimacy between Helen and Burdon and, one evening when Helen was driving her up to the house from the factory, Mary tried to talk to her.

"If I were you, Helen," she said, "I don't think I'd go around with Burdon Woodward quite so much—or come to the office to see him quite so often."

Helen blew the horn, once, twice and again.

"No, really, dear, I wouldn't," continued Mary. "Of course you know he's a terrible flirt. Why he can't even leave the girls at the office alone."

Quite unconsciously Helen adopted the immemorial formula.

"Burdon Woodward has always acted to me like a perfect gentleman," said she.

"Of course he has, dear. If he hadn't, I know you wouldn't have gone out with him last night, for instance. But he has such a reckless, headstrong way with him. Suppose last night, instead of coming home, he had turned the car toward Boston or New York, what would you have done then?"

"Don't worry. I could have stopped him."

"Stopped him? How could you, if he were driving very fast?"

"Oh, it's easy enough to stop a car," said Helen. "One of the girls at school showed me." Leaning over, she ran her free hand under the instrument board.

"Feel these wires back of the switch," she said. "All you have to do is to reach under quick and pull one loose—just a little tug like this—and you can stop the wildest man, and the wildest car on earth.... See?"

In the excitement of her demonstration she tugged the wire too hard. It came loose in her hand and the engine stopped as though by magic.

"It's a good thing we are up to the house," she laughed. "You needn't look worried. Robert can fix it in a minute."

It wasn't that, though, which troubled Mary.

"Think of her knowing such a thing!" she was saying to herself. "How her mind must run at times!"

But of course she couldn't voice a thought like that.

"All the same, Helen," she said aloud, "I wouldn't go out with him so much, if I were you. People will begin to notice it, and you know the way they talk."

Helen tossed her head, but in her heart she knew that her cousin was right—a knowledge which only made her the more defiant. Yes ...people were beginning to notice it....

The Saturday afternoon before, when Burdon was taking her to the club in his gallant new car, they had stopped at the station to let a train pass. A girl on the sidewalk had smiled at Burdon and stared at Helen with equal intensity and equal significance.

"Who was that?" asked Helen, when the train had passed.

"Oh, one of the girls at the office. She's in my department—sort of a bookkeeper." Noticing Helen's silence he added more carelessly than before, "You know how some girls act if you are any way pleasant to them."

It was one of those trifling incidents which occasionally seem to have the deepest effect upon life. That very afternoon, when Mary had tried to warn her cousin, Helen had gone to the factory apparently to bring Mary home, but in reality to see Burdon. She had been in his private office, perched on the edge of his desk and swinging her foot, when the same girl came in—the girl who had smiled and stared near the station.

"All right, Fanny," said Burdon without looking around. "Leave the checks. I'll attend to them."

It seemed to Helen that the girl went out slowly, a sudden spot of colour on each of her cheeks.

"You call her Fanny!" Helen asked, when, the door shut again.

"Yes," he said, busy with the checks. "They do more for you, when you are decent with them."

"You think so?"

He caught the meaning in her voice and sighed a little as he sprawled his signature on the next check. "I often wish I was a sour, old crab," he said, half to Helen and half to himself. "I'd get through life a whole lot better than I do."

Mary had come to the door then, ready to start for home. When Helen passed through the outer office she saw the girl again, her cheek on her palm, her head bent over her desk, dipping her pen in the red ink and then pushing the point through her blotter pad. None of this was lost on Helen, nor the girl's frown, nor the row of crimson blotches that stretched across the blotter.

"She'll go in now to get those checks," thought Helen, as the car started up the hill, and it was just then that Mary started to warn her about going out so much with Burdon.

Once in the night Helen awoke and lay for a long time looking at the silhouette of the windows. "...I wonder what they said to each other...." she thought.

The next morning Mary was going through her mail at the office when she came to an envelope with a newspaper clipping in it. This had been cut from the society notes of the New Bethel Herald.

"Burdon Woodward has a specially designed new car which is attracting much attention."

The clipping had been pasted upon a sheet of paper, and underneath it, the following two questions were typewritten:

"How can a man buy $8,000 cars on a $10,000 salary?

"Why don't you audit his books and see who paid for that car?"

Mary's cheeks stung with the brutality of it.

"What a horrible thing to do!" she thought. "If any one paid attention to things like this—why, no one would be safe!"

She was on the point of tearing it to shreds when another thought struck her.

"Perhaps I ought to show it to him," she uneasily thought. "If a thing like this is being whispered around, I think he ought to get to the bottom of it, and stop it.... I know I don't like him for some things," she continued, more undecided than ever, "but that's all the more reason why I should be fair to him—in things like this, for instance."

She compromised by tucking the letter in her pocket, and when Judge Cutler dropped in that afternoon, she first made him promise secrecy, and then she showed it to him.

"I feel like you," he said at last. "An anonymous attack like this is usually beneath contempt. And I feel all the more like ignoring it because it raises a question which I have been asking myself lately: How can a man on a ten thousand dollar salary afford to buy an eight thousand dollar car?"

Mary couldn't follow that line of reasoning at all.

"Why do you feel like ignoring it, if it's such a natural question?" she asked.

"Because it's a question that might have occurred to anybody."

That puzzled Mary, too.

"Perhaps Burdon has money beside his salary," she suggested.

"He hasn't. I know he hasn't. He's in debt right now."

They thought it over in silence.

"I think if I were you, I'd tear it up," he said at last.

She promptly tore it into shreds.

"Now we'll forget that," he said. "I must confess, however, that it has raised another question to my mind. How long is it since your bookkeeping system was overhauled here?"

She couldn't remember.

"Just what I thought. It must need expert attention. Modern conditions call for modern methods, even in bookkeeping. I think I'll get a good firm of accountants to go over our present system, and make such changes as will keep you in closer touch with everything that is going on."

Mary hardly knew what to think.

"You're sure it has nothing to do with this?" she asked, indicating the fragments in the waste-basket.

"Not the least connection! Besides," he argued, "you and I know very well—don't we?—that with all his faults, Burdon would never do anything like that—"

"Of course he wouldn't!"

"Very well. I think we ought to forget that part of it, and never refer to it again—or it might be said that we were fearing for him."

This masculine logic took Mary's breath away, but though she thought it over many a time that day, she couldn't find the flaw in it.

"Men are queer," she finally concluded. "But then I suppose they think women are queer, too. To me," she thought, "it almost seems insulting to Burdon to call accountants in now; but according to the judge it would be insulting to Burdon not to call them in—"

She was still puzzling over it when Archey, that stormy petrel of bad news, came in and very soon took her mind from anonymous letters.

"The finishers are getting ready to quit," he announced. "They had a vote this noon. It was close, but the strikers won."

They both knew what a blow this would be. With each successive wave of the strike movement, it grew harder to fill the men's places with women.

"If this keeps on, I don't know what we shall do," she thought. "By the time we have filled these empty places, we shall have as many women working here as we had during the war."

Outwardly, however, she gave no signs of misgivings, but calmly set in motion the machinery which had filled the gaps before.

"If you're going to put that advertisement in again," said Archey, "I think I'd add 'Nursery, Restaurant, Rest-room, Music'"

She included the words in her copy, and after a moment's reflection she added "Laundry."

"But we have no laundry," objected Archey, half laughing. "Are you forgetting a little detail like that?"

"No, I'm not," said Mary, her eyes dancing. "You must do the same with the laundry as I did with the kindergarten. Go to Boston this afternoon.... Take a laundryman with you if you like.... And bring the things back in the morning by motor truck. We have steam and hot water and plenty of buildings, and I'm sure it won't take long to get the machines set up when you once get them here—"

At such moments there was something great in Mary. To conceive a plan and put it through to an irresistible conclusion: there was nothing in which she took a deeper delight.

That night, at home, she told them of her new plan.

"Just think," she said, "if a woman lives seventy years, and the washing is done once a week, you might say she spent one-seventh of her life—or ten whole years—at the meanest hardest work that was ever invented—"

"They don't do the washing when they're children," said Helen.

"No, but they hate it just as much. I used to see them on wash days when Aunt Patty took me around, and I always felt sorry for the children."

Wally came in later and listened sadly to the news of the day.

"You're only using yourself up," he said, "for a lot of people who don't care a snap of the finger for you. It seems to me," he added, "that you'd be doing better to make one man happy who loves you, than try to please a thousand women who never, never will."

She thought that over, for this was an angle which hadn't occurred to her before.

"No," she said, "I'm not doing it to gain anything for myself, but to lift the poor women up—to give them something to hope for, something to live for, something to make them happier than they are now. Yes, and from everybody's point of view, I think I'm doing something good. Because when the woman is miserable, she can generally make her man miserable. But when the woman is happy, she can nearly always make the man happy, too."

"I wish you'd make me happy," sighed poor Wally.

"Here comes Helen," said Mary with just the least trace of wickedness in her voice. "She'll do her best, I'm sure."

Helen was dressed for the evening, her arms and shoulders gleaming, her coiffure like a golden turban.

"Mary hardly ever dresses any more," she said as she came down the stairs, "so I feel I have to do double duty."

On the bottom landing she stopped and with extravagant motions of her body sang the opening lines of the Bedouin's Love Song, Wally joining in at last with his plaintive, passionate tenor.

"If you ever lose your money, Wally," she said, coming down the remaining stairs, "we'll take up comic opera." Curtseying low she simpered, "My lord!" and gave him her hand to kiss.

"She knows how to handle men," thought Mary watching, "just as the women at the factory know how to handle metal. I wonder if it comes natural to her, or if she studies it by herself, or if she learned any of it at Miss Parsons'."

She was interrupted by a message from Hutchins, the butler. The spread of the strike had been flashed out by the news association early in the afternoon, and the eight-ten train had brought a company of reporters.

"There are half a dozen of them," said Hutchins, noble in voice and deportment. "Knowing your kindness to them before, I took the liberty of showing them into the library. Do you care to see them, or shall I tell them you are out?"

Mary saw them and they greeted her like old friends. It didn't take long to confirm the news of the strike's extension.

"How many men are out now?" one of them asked.

"About fifteen hundred."

"What are you going to do when you have used up all your local women?" asked another.

"What would you do?" she asked.

"I don't know," he replied. "I guess I'd advertise for women in other cities-cities where they did this sort of thing during the war."

"Bridgeport, for instance," suggested another.

"Pittsburgh—there were a lot of women doing machine work there—"

"St. Louis," said a fourth. "Some of the shops in St. Louis were half full of women—" With the help they gave her, Mary made up a list.

"Even if you could fill the places locally," said the first, "I think I'd get a few women from as many places as possible. It spreads the idea—makes a bigger story—rounds out the whole scheme."

After they had gone Mary sat thoughtful for a few minutes and then returned to the drawing room. When she entered, Helen and Wally were seated on the music bench, and it seemed to Mary that they suddenly drew apart—or if I may express a distinction, that Wally suddenly drew apart while Helen played a chord upon the piano.

"Poor Wally," thought Mary a little later. "I wish he wouldn't look like that when he sings.... Perhaps he feels like I felt this spring.... I wonder if Ma'm was right.... I wonder if people do fall in love with love...."

Her reflections took a strange turn, half serious, half humorous.

"It's like a trap, almost, when you think of it that way," she thought. "When a man falls in love, he can climb out again and go on with his work, and live his life, and do wonderful things if he has a chance. But when a woman falls in the trap, she can never climb out and live her own life again. I wonder if the world wouldn't be better off if the women had been allowed to go right on and develop themselves, and do big things like the men do....

"I'm sure they couldn't do worse....

"Look at the war—the awfullest thing that ever happened: that's a sample of what men do, when they try to do everything themselves.... But they'll have to let the women out of their traps, if they want them to help....

"I wonder if they ever will let them out....

"I wonder if they ought to come out....

"I wonder...."

To look at Mary as she sat there, tranquil of brow and dreamy-eyed, you would never have guessed that thoughts like these were passing through her mind, and later when Helen took Wally into the next room to show him something, and returned with a smile that was close to ownership, you would never have guessed that Mary's heart went heavy for a moment.

"Helen," she said, when their visitor had gone, "do you really love Wally—or are you just amusing yourself?"

"I only wish that Burdon had half his money."

"Helen!"

"Oh, it's easy for you to say 'Helen'! You don't know what it is to be poor.... Well, good-night, beloved—

"Good-night, good-night My love, my own—"

she sang. "I've a busy day ahead of me tomorrow."

Mary had a busy day, too.

Nearly two hundred women responded to her new advertisement in the morning, and as many more at noon. Fortunately some of these were familiar with the work, and the most skilful were added to the corps of teachers. In addition to this, new nurses were telephoned for to take care of the rapidly growing nursery, temporary tables were improvised in the canteen, another battery of ranges was ordered from the gas company, and preparations were made for Archey's arrival with the laundry equipment.

Yes, it was a busy day and a busy week for Mary; but somehow she felt a glory in every minute of it—even, I think, as Molly Pitcher gloried in her self-appointed task so many years ago. And when at the close of each day, she locked her desk, she grew into the habit of glancing up and nodding at the portraits on the walls—a glance and a nod that seemed to say, "That's us!"

For myself, I like to think of that long line of Josiah Spencers, holding ghostly consultations at night; and if the spirits of the dead can ever return to the scenes of life which they loved the best, they must have spent many an hour together over the things they saw and heard.

Steadily and surely the places left vacant by the men were filled with women, naturally deft of hand and quick of eye; but the more apparent it became that the third phase of the strike was being lost by the men, the more worried Archey looked—the oftener he peeped into the future and frowned at what he saw there.

"The next thing we know," he said to Mary one day, "every man on the place will walk out, and what are we going to do then?"

She told him of the reporter's suggestion.

"A good idea, too," he said. "If I were you, I'd start advertising in those other cities right away, and get as many applications on file as you can. Don't just ask for women workers. Mention the kind you want: machine tool hands, fixers, tool makers, temperers, finishers, inspectors, packers—I'll make you up a list. And if you don't mind I'll enlarge the canteen, and change the loft above it into a big dining room, and have everything ready this time—"

A few days later Spencer & Son's advertisement appeared for the first time outside of New Bethel, and soon a steady stream of applications began to come in.

Although Mary didn't know it, her appeal had a stirring note like the peal of a silver trumpet. It gripped attention and warmed imagination all the way from its first line "A CALL TO WOMEN" to its signature, "Josiah Spencer & Son, Inc. Mary Spencer, President."

"That's the best yet," said Archey, looking at the pile of applications on the third day. "I sha'n't worry about the future half as much now."

"I don't worry at all any more," said Mary, serene in her faith. "Or at least I don't worry about this," she added to herself.

She was thinking of Helen again.

The night before Helen had come in late, and Mary soon knew that she had been with Burdon. Helen was quiet—for her—and rather pale as well.

"Did you have a quarrel?" Mary had hopefully asked.

"Quarrel with Burdon Woodward?" asked Helen, and in a low voice she answered herself, "I couldn't if I tried."

"... Do you love him, Helen?"

To which after a pause, Helen had answered, much as she had spoken before, "I only wish he had half of Wally's money...." And would say no more.

"I have warned her so often," said Mary. "What more can I say?" She uneasily wondered whether she ought to speak to her aunts, but soon shook her head at that. "It would only bother them," she told herself, "and what good could it do?"

Next day at the factory she seemed to feel a shadow around her and a weight upon her mind.

"What is it?" she thought more than once, pulling herself up short. The answer was never far away. "Oh, yes—Helen and Burdon Woodward. Well, I'm glad she's going out with Wally today. She's safe enough with him."

It had been arranged that Wally should drive Helen to Hartford to do some shopping, and they were expected back about nine o'clock in the evening. But nine o'clock, ten o'clock, eleven o'clock and midnight came—and still no sign of Wally's car.

"They must have had an accident," thought Mary, and at first she pictured this as a slight affair which simply called for a few hours' delay at a local garage—perhaps the engine had overheated, or the battery had failed.

But when one o'clock struck, and still no word from the absent pair, Mary's fancies grew more tragic.

By two o'clock she imagined the car overturned at the bottom of some embankment, and both of them badly hurt. At three o'clock she began to have such dire forebodings that she went and woke up Aunt Cordelia, and was on the point of telephoning Wally's mother when the welcome rumbling of a car was heard under the porte cochere. It was Wally and Helen, and though Helen looked pale she had that air of ownership over her apologetic escort which every woman understands.

Mary already divined the end of the story.

"We were coming along all right," said Wally, "and would have been home before ten. But when we were about nine miles from nowhere and going over a bad road, I had a puncture.

"Of course that delayed me a little—to change the wheels—but when I tried to start the car again, she wouldn't go.

"I fussed and fixed for a couple of hours, it seems to me, and then I thought I'd better go to the nearest telephone and have a garage send a car out for us. But Helen, poor girl, was tired and of course I couldn't leave her there alone. So I tackled the engine again and just when I was giving up hope, a car came along.

"They couldn't take us in—they were filled—but they promised to wake up a garage man in the next town and send him to the rescue. It was half past two when he turned up, but it didn't take him long to find the trouble, and here we are at last."

He drew a full breath and turned to Helen.

"Of course I wouldn't have cared a snap," he said, "if it hadn't been for poor Helen here."

"Oh, I don't mind—now," she said.

"I knew it!" thought Mary. "They're engaged..." And though she tried to smile at them both, for some reason which I can never hope to explain, it took an effort. Wally and Helen were still looking at each other.

"Tired, dear?" he asked.

Helen nodded and glanced at Mary with a look that said, "Did you hear him call me 'Dear'?"

"I think if I were you, I'd go to bed," continued Wally, all gentle solicitude. She took an impulsive step toward him. He kissed her.

"We're engaged," he said to Mary.

What Mary said in answer, she couldn't remember herself when she tried to recall it later, for a strange thought had leaped into her mind, driving out everything else.

"I almost hate to ask," she thought. "It would be too dreadful to know."

But curiosity has always been one of mankind's fateful gifts, and at the breakfast table next morning, Mary had Wally to herself.

"Oh, Wally," she said. "What did the garage man find was the trouble with your car?"

"The simplest thing imaginable," he said. "One of the wires leading to the switch on the instrument board had worked loose—that awful road, you know."

"I knew it," Mary quietly told herself, and in her mind she again saw Helen demonstrating how to quell the wildest car on earth. Mary ought to have stopped there, but a wicked imp seemed to have taken possession of her.

"Did Helen cry, when she saw how late it was getting?"

"She did at first," he said, looking very solemn, "but when I told her—"

His confessions were interrupted by Hutchins, who whispered to Mary that she was wanted on the telephone.

"It's Mr. Forbes," he said.

Archey's voice was ringing with excitement when he greeted Mary over the wire.

"Can you come down to the office early this morning?" he asked.

"What's the matter?"

"I just found out that the rest of the men had a meeting last night—and they voted to strike. There won't be a man on the place this morning ... and I think there may be trouble...."



CHAPTER XXVI

Afterwards, when Mary looked back at the leading incidents of the big strike it wasn't the epic note which interested her the most, although the contest had for her its moments of exaltation.

Nor did her thoughts revert the oftenest to those strange things which might have engrossed the chance observer—work and happiness walking hand in hand, for instance, to the accompaniment of Mrs. Kelly's drum—or woman showing that she can acquire the same dexterity on a drilling machine as on a sewing machine, the same skill at a tempering oven as at a cook stove, the same competence and neatness in a factory as in a house.

Indeed, when all is said and done, the sound of the work which women were presently doing at New Bethel was only an echo of the tasks which women had done during four years of war, and being a repetition of history, it didn't surprise Mary when she stopped to think it over. But looking back at the whole experience later, these were the two reflections which interested her the most.

"They have always called woman a riddle," she thought. "I wonder if that is because she could never be natural. If woman has been a riddle in the past, I wonder if this is the answer now...."

That was her first reflection.

Her second was this, and in it she unconsciously worded one of the great lessons of life. "The things I worried about seldom happened. It was something which nobody ever dreamed of—that nearly ended everything."

And when she thought of that, her breath would come a little quicker and soon she would shake her head, and try to put her mind on something else; although if you had been there I think you would have seen a suspicious moisture in her eye, and if she were in her room at home, she would go to a photograph on the wall-the picture of a gravely smiling girl on a convent portico—signed "With all my love, Rosa."

Still, as you can see, I am running ahead of my story, and so that you may better understand Mary's two reflections and the events which led to them, I will now return to the morning when she received Archey's message that every man in the factory had gone on strike as a protest against the employment of women.

As soon as she reached the office she sent a facsimile letter to the skilled women workers who had applied from out of town.

"If we only get a third of them," she thought, "we'll pull through somehow."

But Mary was reckoning without her book. For one thing, she was unaware of the publicity which her experiment was receiving, and for another thing perhaps it didn't occur to her that the same yearnings, the same longings, the same stirrings which moved her own heart and mind so often—the same vague feeling of imprisonment, the same vague groping for a way out—might also be moving the hearts and minds of countless other women, and especially those who had for the first time in their lives achieved economic independence by means of their labour in the war.

Whatever the reason, so many skilled women journeyed to New Bethel that week, coming with the glow of crusaders, eager to write their names on this momentous page of woman's history, that Mary's worry turned into a source of embarrassment. However, by straining every effort, accommodations were found for the visitors and the work of re-organization was at once begun.

The next six weeks were the busiest, I had almost said the most feverish, in Mary's life.

The day after the big strike was declared, not a single bearing was made at Spencer & Son's great plant. For a factory is like a road of many bridges, and when half of these bridges are suddenly swept away, traffic is out of the question.

So the first problem was to bridge the gaps.

From the new arrivals, fixers, case-hardeners and temperers were set to work—women who had learned their trades during the war.

Also a call was issued for local workers and the "school" was opened, larger than ever. For the first few weeks it might be said that half the factory was a school of intensive instruction; and then, one day which Mary will never forget, a few lonely looking bearings made laborious progress through the plant—only a few, but each one embodying a secret which I will tell you about later.

The missing bridges weren't completed yet, you understand—not by any manner of means—but at least the foundations had been laid, and every day the roadway became a little wider and a little firmer—and the progress of the bearings became a little thicker and a little quicker.

And, oh, the enthusiasm of the women—their shining eyes, their breathless attention—as they felt the roadway growing solid beneath their feet and knew it was all their work!

"If we keep on at this rate," said Archey, looking at the reports in Mary's office one morning, "it won't be long before we're doing something big."

There was just the least touch of astonishment in his voice—masculine, unconscious—which raised an equally unconscious touch of exultation in Mary's answer.

"Perhaps sooner than you think," she said.

For no one knew better than she that the new organization was rapidly finding itself now that the roadway of production had been rebuilt. Every day weak spots had been mended, curves straightened out, narrow places made wider.

"Let's speed up today," she finally said, "and see what we can do."

At the end of that day the reports showed that all the departments had made an improvement until the bearings reached the final assembling room and there the traffic had become congested. For the rest of the week the assembly room was kept under scrutiny, new methods were tried, more women were set to work.

"Let's speed up again today," said Mary one morning, "and see if we can make it this time—"

And finally came the day when they did make it! For four consecutive days their output equalled the best ever done by the factory, and then just as every woman was beginning to thrill with that jubilation which only comes of a hard task well done, a weak spot developed in the hardening department.

Oh, how everybody frowned and clicked their tongues! You might have thought that all the cakes in the world had suddenly burned in the ovens—that every clothes line in America had broken on a muddy washday!

"Never mind," said Mary. "We're nearly there. One more good try, and over the top we'll go...."

One more good try, and they did go over the top. For two days, three days, four days, five days, a whole week, they equalled the best man-made records. For one week, two weeks, three weeks, the famous Spencer bearings rolled out of the final inspection room and into their wooden cases as fast as man had ever rolled them. And when Mary saw that at last the first part of her vision had come true, she did a feminine thing, that is to say a human thing. She simultaneously said, "I told you so," and sprung her secret by sending the following message to the newspapers:

"The three thousand women at this factory are daily turning out the same number of bearings that three thousand men once turned out.

"The new bearings are identical with the old ones in every detail but one, namely: they are one thousandth of an inch more accurate than Spencer bearings were ever made before.

"Our customers appreciate this improvement and know what it means.

"Our unfriendly critics, I think, will also appreciate it and know what it means."

Upon consideration, Mary had that last paragraph taken out.

"I'll leave that to their imaginations," she said, and after she had signed each letter, she did another feminine thing.

She had a gentle little cry all by herself, and then through her tears she smiled at her silent forbears who seemed to be watching her more attentively than ever from their frames of tarnished gilt upon the walls.

"It hasn't been all roses and lilies," she told them, "but—that's us!"



CHAPTER XXVII

Meanwhile, as you will guess, it hadn't been "all roses and lilies" either, for the men who had gone on strike.

"Didn't you say you expected trouble?" Mary asked Archey one morning just after the big strike was declared.

"Yes," he told her. "They were talking that way. But they are so sure now that we'll have to give in, that they are quite good natured about it."

Mary said nothing, but her back grew stiff, something like Mrs. Ridge's; and when she saw Uncle Stanley in the outer office a few minutes later and he smiled without looking at her—smiled and shook his head to himself as though he were thinking of something droll—Mary went back to her room in a hurry, and stayed there until she felt tranquil again.

"What are the men saying now?" she asked Archey the following week.

"They are still taking it as a sort of a joke," he told her, "but here and there you catch a few who are looking thoughtful—especially those who have wives or daughters working here."

That pleased her.

The next time the subject was mentioned, Archey brought it up himself.

"There was quite a fight on Jay Street yesterday," he said.

As Mary knew, Jay Street was the headquarters of the strikers, and suddenly she became all attention.

"Those out-of-town agitators are beginning to feel anxious, I guess. Two of them went around yesterday whispering that the women at the factory needed a few good scares, so they'd stay home where they belonged. They tackled Jimmy Kelly, not knowing his wife works here. 'What do you mean: good scares?' he asked. 'Rough stuff,' they told him, on the quiet. 'What do you mean, rough stuff?' he asked them. They whispered something—nobody knows what it was—but they say Jimmy fell on them both like a ton of bricks on two bad eggs. 'Try a little rough stuff, yourself,' he said, 'and maybe you'll stay home where you belong.'"

Mary's eyes shone. It may be that blood called to blood, for if you remember one of those Josiah Spencers on the walls had married a Mary McMillan.

"It's things like that," she said, "that sometimes make me wish I was a man," and straightway went and interviewed Mrs. James Kelly, and gave her a message of thanks to be conveyed to her double-fisted husband.

The next week Mary didn't have to ask Archey what the men were doing, because one of the Sunday papers had made a special story of the subject.

Some of the men were getting work elsewhere, she read.

Others were on holidays, or visiting friends out of town.

Some were grumpy, some were merry, one had been caught red-handed—or at least blue-aproned—cooking his own dinner. All who could be reached had been asked how they thought the strike would end, and the reply which I am quoting is typical of many.

"They may bungle through with a few bearings for a while," said Mr. Reisinger, "but they won't last long. It stands to reason that a woman can't do man's work and get away with it."

Mary was walking through the factory the next day when she heard two women discussing that article.

"I told Sam Reisinger what I thought about him last night," said the younger. "He was over to our house for supper.

"'So it stands to reason, does it?' I said to him, 'that a woman can't do a man's work and get away with it? Well, I like your nerve! What do you understand by a man's work?' I said to him.

"'Do you think she ought to have all the meanest, hardest work in the world, and get paid nothing for it, working from the time she gets up in the morning till she goes to bed at night? Is that your idea of woman's work?' I said to him. 'But any nice, easy job that only has to be worked at four hours in the morning, and four hours in the afternoon, and has a pay envelope attached to it: I suppose you think that's a man's work!' I said to him.

"'Listen to me, Sam Reisinger, there's no such thing as man's work, and there's no such thing as woman's work,' I said to him. 'Work's work, and it makes no difference who does it, as long as it gets done!

"'Take dressmaking,' I said to him. 'I suppose you call that woman's work. Then how about Worth, and those other big men dressmakers?

"'Maybe you think cooking is woman's work. Then how about the chefs at the big hotels?' I said to him.

"'Maybe you think washing is woman's work. Then how about the steam laundries where nearly all the shirt ironers are men?' I said to him.

"'Maybe you think that working in somebody else's house is woman's work. Then how about that butler up at Miss Spencer's?' I said to him.

"'And maybe we can bungle through with a few bearings for a while, can we?' I said to him, very polite. 'Well, let me tell you one thing, Sam Reisinger, if that's the way you think of women, you can bungle over to the movies with yourself tomorrow night. I'm not going with you!'"

For a long time after that when things went wrong, Mary only had to recall some of the remarks which had been made to a certain Mr. Sam Reisinger on a certain Sunday afternoon, and she always felt better for it.

"What are the men saying now?" she asked Archey at the end of their first good week.

"They're not saying much, but I think they're up to something. They've called a special meeting for tonight."

The next morning was Sunday. Mary was hardly downstairs when Archey called.

"I've found out about their meeting last night," he said. "They have appointed a committee to try to have a boycott declared on our bearings."

It didn't take Mary long to see that this might be a mortal thrust unless it were parried.

"But how can they?" she asked.

"They are going to try labour headquarters first. 'Unfair to labour'—that's what they are going to claim it is—to allow women to do what they're doing here. They're going to try to have a boycott declared, so that no union man will handle Spencer bearings, the teamsters won't truck them, the railways won't ship them, the metal workers and mechanics won't install them, and no union man will use a tool or a machine that has a Spencer bearing in it. That's their program. That's what they are going to try to do."

From over the distance came the memory of Ma'm Maynard's words:

"I tell you, Miss Mary, it has halways been so and it halways will: Everything that lives has its own natural enemy—and a woman's natural enemy—eet is man!"

"No, sir!" said Mary to herself, as resolutely as ever, "I don't believe it. They're trying to gain their point—that's all—the same as I'm trying to gain mine.... But aren't they fighting hard when they do a thing like that...!"

It came to her then with a sharp sense of relief that no organization—no union—could well afford to boycott products simply because they were made by women. "Because then," she thought, "women could boycott things that were made by unions, and I'm sure the unions wouldn't want that."

She mentioned this to Archey and it was decided that Judge Cutler should follow the strikers' committee to Washington and present the women's side of the case.

Archey went, but the atmosphere of worry which he had brought with him stayed behind. Mary seemed to breathe it all day and to feel its oppression every time she awoke in the night.

"What a thing it would be," she thought, "if they did declare a boycott! All the work we've done would go for nothing—all our hopes and plans—everything wiped right out—and every woman pushed right back in her trap—and a man sitting on the lid—with a boycott in his hand...!"

The next day after a bad night, she was listlessly turning over the pages of a production report, when Mrs. Kelly came in glowing with enthusiasm, holding in her hand a book from the rest room library.

"Miss Spencer," she said, "it's in this book that over on the other side the women in the factories had orchestras. I wonder if we couldn't have an orchestra now!"

Mary's listlessness vanished.

"I've talked it over with a lot of the women," continued Mrs. Kelly, "and they think it's great. I've come to quite a few that play different instruments. I only wish I knew my notes, so I could play something, too."

Mary thought that over. It didn't seem right to her that the originator of the idea couldn't take part in it.

"Couldn't you play the drum?" she suddenly asked.

"Why, so I could!" beamed Mrs. Kelly in rare delight. "Do you mind then if I start a subscription for the instruments?"

"No; I'll do that, if you'll promise to play the drum."

"It's a promise," agreed Mrs. Kelly, and when she reached the hall outside and saw the size of Mary's subscription she joyfully smote an imaginary sheepskin, "Boom.... Boom.... Boom-boom-boom...!"

That is the week that Wally was married—with a ceremony that Helen had determined should be the social event of the year.

She was busy with her plans for weeks, making frequent trips to New York and Boston in the building up of her trousseau, arranging the details of the breakfast, making preparations for the decorations at the church and at the house on the hill, preparing and revising her list of those to be invited, ordering the cake and the boxes, attending to the engraving, choosing the music, keeping in touch with the bridesmaids and their dresses.

"Why, she's as busy as I am," thought Mary one day, in growing surprise at Helen's knowledge and ability; and dimly she began to see that in herself and Helen were embodied two opposite ideas of feminine activity.

"Of course she believes her way is the best," continued Mary thoughtfully, "just the same as I believe mine is. But I can't help thinking that it's best to be doing something useful, something that really makes a difference in the world—so that at the end of every week we can say to ourselves, 'Well, I did this' or 'I did that'—'I haven't lived this week for nothing....'"

Mary started dreaming then, and the next day when she accompanied Helen up the aisle of St. Thomas's as maid of honour, her eyes went dreamier still. And yet if you had been there I think you might have seen the least trace of a shadow in their depths—just the least suspicion of a wavering, unguessed doubt.

But when Wally, with his wife at his side, started his car an hour later and rolled smoothly on his wedding tour in search of the great adventure, in search of the sweetest story—Mary changed her dress and hurried back to the factory where she made a tour of her own. And as she walked through the workshops with their long lines of contented women, passing up one aisle and down another—nearly every face turning for a moment and flashing her a smile—the shadows vanished from her eyes and her doubts went with them.

"This is the best," she told herself, "I'm sure I did right, choosing this instead of Wally. It's best for me, and best for these three thousand women—" Her imagination caught fire. She saw her three thousand pioneers growing into three hundred thousand, into three million. A moment of greatness fell upon her and in fancy she thus addressed her unsuspecting workers:

"You are doing something useful—something that you can be proud of. Your daily labour isn't wasted. There isn't a country in the world that won't profit by it.

"Because of these bearings which you are making, automobiles and trucks will carry their loads more easily, tractors will plough better, engines will run longer, water will be pumped more quickly, electric light will be sold for less money.

"You are helping transportation—agriculture—commerce. And if that isn't better, nobler work than washing, ironing, getting your own meals, washing your own dishes, and doing the same old round of profitless chores day after day, and year after year, from the hour you are old enough to work, till the hour you are old enough to die—well, then, I'm wrong and Helen's right; and I ought to have married Wally—and not one of you women ought to be here today!"

A whisper arose in her mind. "....Somebody's got to do the housework...."

"Yes, but it needn't take up a woman's whole life," she shortly told herself, "any more than it does a man's. I'm sure there must be some way...some way...."

She stopped, a sudden flush striking along her cheek as she caught the first glimpse of her golden vision—that vision which may some day change the history of the human race. "Oh, if I only could!" she breathed to herself. "If I only could!"

She slowly returned to the office. Judge Cutler was waiting to see her, just back from his visit to Washington.

"Well?" she asked eagerly, shutting the door. "Are they going to boycott us?"

"I don't think so," he answered. "I told them how it started. As far as I can find out, the strike here is a local affair. The men I saw disclaimed any knowledge or responsibility for it.

"Of course, I pointed out that women had the vote now, and that boycotts were catching.... But I don't think you need worry.

"They're splendid men—all of them. I'm sure you'd like them, Mary. They are all interested in what you are doing, but I think they are marking time a little—waiting to see how things turn out before they commit themselves one way or the other."

Mary thrilled at that.

"More than ever now it depends on me," she thought, and another surge of greatness seemed to lift her like a flood.

The judge's voice recalled her.

"On my way back," he was saying, "I stopped in New York and engaged a firm of accountants to come and look over the books. They are busy now, but I told them there was no hurry—that we only wanted their suggestions—"

"I had forgotten about that," said Mary.

"So had I. What do you suppose reminded me of it?"

She shook her head.

"One of the first men I saw in Washington was Burdon Woodward."

"I think it just happened that way," said Mary uneasily. "He told me he was going away for a few days, but I'm sure he only did it to get out of going to Helen's wedding."

"Well, anyhow, no harm done. It was the sight of him down there that reminded me: that's all.... How has everything been running here? Smoothly, I hope?"

Smoothly, yes. That was the week when Mary sent her letters to the papers, announcing that the women at Spencer & Son's had not only equalled past outputs, but were working within a closer degree of accuracy.

And all that month, and the next month, and the next, the work at Spencer & Son's kept rolling out as smoothly as though it were moving on its own bearings—not only the mechanical, but the welfare work as well.

The dining room was re-modelled, as you will presently see. The band progressed, as you will presently hear. The women were proud and happy in the work they were doing, and Mary was proud because they were proud, happy because they were happy, and all the time she was nursing another secret, no one dreaming what was in her mind.

Along in the third month, Wally and Helen came back from their wedding tour. Mary looked once, and she saw there was something wrong with Wally. A shadow of depression hung over him—a shadow which he tried to hide with bursts of cheerfulness. But his old air of eagerness was gone—that air with which he had once looked at the future as a child might stare with delighted eyes at a conjurer drawing rabbits and roses out of old hats and empty vases.

In a word, he looked disenchanted, as though he had seen how the illusion was produced, how the trick was done, and was simultaneously abating his applause for the performer and his interest in the show.

"He's found her out," thought Mary, and with that terrible frankness which sometimes comes unbidden to our minds she added with a sigh, "I was always afraid he would."

Wally had taken a house near the country club—one of those brick mansions surrounded by trees and lawns which are somehow reminiscent of titled society and fox hunters in buckskin and scarlet. There Helen was soon working her way to the leadership of the younger set.

She seldom called at the house on the hill.

"I'm generally dated up for the evening, and you're never there in the daytime. So I have to drop in and see you here," she said one afternoon, giving Mary a surprise visit at the office. "Do you, know you're getting to be fashionable?" she continued.

"Who? Me?"

"Yes. You. Nearly everywhere we went, they began quizzing us as soon as they found Miss Spencer was a cousin of mine."

Mary noted Helen's self-promotion to the head of the cousinship, but she kept her usual tranquil expression.

"It's because she's Mrs. Cabot now," she thought. "Perhaps she wouldn't have called at all if these people hadn't mentioned me!"

But when Helen arose to go, Mary revised her opinion of the reason for her cousin's call.

"Well, I must be going," said Helen, rising. "I'll drop in and see Burdon for a few minutes on my way out."

"That's it," thought Mary, and her reflections again taking upon themselves that terrible frankness which can seldom be put in words, she added to herself, "Poor Wally.... I was always afraid of it...."

She was still looking out of the window in troubled meditation when the arrival of the afternoon mail turned her thoughts into another track. As Helen had said, the New Bethel experiment had become fashionable. Taking it as their text, the women's clubs throughout the country were giving much of their time to a discussion of the changed industrial relations due to the war. Increasingly often, visitors appeared at the factory, asking if they could see for themselves—well-known, even famous figures among them. But on the afternoon when Helen Cabot made her first call, Mary received a letter which took her breath away, so distinguished, so illustrious were the names of those who were asking if they could pay a visit on the following day.

Mary sent a telegram and then, her cheeks coloured with pride, she made a tour through the factory to make sure that everything would be in order, whispering the news here and there, and knowing that every woman would hear it as unmistakably as though it had been pealed from the heavens in tones of thunder.

The visitors arrived at ten o'clock the next morning.

There were four in the party—two men and two women. Mary recognized three of them at the first glance and felt a glow of pride warm her as they seated themselves in her office.

"Not even you," she thought with a glance at the attentive figures on the walls, "not even you ever had visitors like these." And in some subtle manner which I simply cannot describe to you, she felt that the portrayed figures were proud of the visitors, too—and prouder yet of the dreamy-eyed girl who had brought it about, flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood, who was looking so queenly and chatting so quietly to the elect of the earth.

The fourth caller was introduced as Professor Marsh, and Mary soon perceived that he was a hostile critic.

"I shall have to be careful of him," she thought, "or I shall be giving him some good, hard bouncers before I know it—and that would never do today." So putting the temptation behind her she presently said, "We'll start at the nursery, if you like—any time you're ready."

You have already seen something of that nursery, its long row of windows facing the south, its awnings, toys, sand-piles and white-robed nurses. Since then Mary had had time to elaborate the original theme with a kitchen for preparing their majesties' food, linen closets and a rest-room for the nurses.

The chief glory of the nursery, however, was its noble line of play-rooms, each in charge of two nurses.

"Let's look in here," said Mary, opening a door.

They came upon an interesting scene. In this room were twelve children, about two years old. The nurses were feeding them. Each nurse sat on the inside of a kidney shaped table, large enough to accommodate six children, but low enough to avoid the necessity for high chairs with the consequent dangling between earth and heaven.

In front of each child was a plate set in a recess in the table—this to guard against overturning in the excitement of the moment—and in each plate was a generous portion of chicken broth poured over broken bread.

It was evidently good. Approval shone on each pink face. A brisk play of spoons and the smacking of lips seemed to be the order of the day.

"Each play room has its own wash room—" said Mary.

She opened another door belonging to this particular suite and disclosed a bathroom with special fixtures for babies. Large bowls, with hot and cold water, were set in porcelain tables.

"What's the use of having so many bath-bowls in this table," asked Professor Marsh, "when you only have two nurses to do the bathing?"

"Every woman with a baby has half an hour off in the morning, and another half hour in the afternoon," he was told. "In the morning, she bathes her baby. In the afternoon she loves it."

In the next play-room which they visited, the babies were of the bottle age, and were proving this to the satisfaction of every one concerned.

In the next, refreshments were over; and some of the youngsters slept while others were starting large engineering projects upon the sand pile.

"I never saw such nurseries," said the most distinguished visitor. He looked at the artistic miniature furniture, the decorations, the low padded seat which ran around the walls—at once a seat and a cupboard for toys. He looked at the sunlight, the screened verandah, the awning, the flowers, the birds hopping over the lawn, the river gleaming through the trees.

"Miss Spencer," he said, "I congratulate you. If they could understand me, I would congratulate these happy youngsters, too."

"But don't you think it's altogether wrong," said Professor Marsh, "to deprive a child of the advantages of home life?"

"I read and hear that so often," said Mary, "that I have adopted my own method of replying to it."

She led her visitors into a small room with a low ceiling. It was furnished with a cookstove, a table, a small side-board, an old conch and a few chairs. The floor was splintery and only partly covered by frayed rugs and worn oil cloth. The paper on the walls was a dark mottled green. The ceiling was discoloured by smoke.

"This is the kitchen of an average wage-earner," said Mary. "Some are better. Some are worse. I bought the furniture out of a room, just as it stood, and had the whole place copied in detail."

Three of the visitors looked at each other.

"Imagine a tired woman," continued Mary, "standing over that stove—perhaps expecting another baby before long. She has been washing all morning and now she is cooking. The room is damp with steam, the ceiling dotted with flies. Then imagine a child crawling around the floor, its mother too busy to attend to it, and you'll get an idea of where some of these children in the nursery would be—if they weren't here. Mind," she earnestly continued, "I'm not saying that home life for poor children doesn't have its advantages, but we mustn't forget that it has its disadvantages, too."

She led them next to the kindergarten.

A recess was on and the children were out in the play-ground—some swinging, some sliding down the chutes, others playing in a merry-go-round which was pushed around by hand.

"Every other hour they have for play," said Mary. "In the alternate hours the teachers read to them, talk to them, teach them their letters, teach them to sing and give them the regular kindergarten course. If they weren't here," she said, half turning to Professor Marsh, "most of them would probably be playing on the street."

The next place they visited was the dining room—which occupied the upper floor of one of the great buildings which Mary's father had planned. But to look at it, you would never have suspected the original purpose for which the place had been intended. It was a dining room that any hotel would be glad to call its own, with its forest-colour decorations, its growing palms and ferns on every side.

"The compartments around the walls are for the families," explained Mary. "It is, of course, optional with those who work here whether they use the dining room or not. We supply all food at cost. This was this morning's breakfast."

The bill of fare is too long to quote in full, but the visitors noted that it included a choice of fruit, choice of cereal, choice of tea, coffee, milk or cocoa—and for the main dish, either fish, ham and eggs, oyster stew or small steak.

"What you have seen so far," said Mary, "is a side issue. Many of our workers are young women not yet married, others have some one at home to look after the children. In fact the woman with a baby or little children is in the minority, but I thought it only right to provide for them—for a number of reasons—"

"Including sympathy?" smiled one of the ladies.

Mary gave her a grateful glance.

"We will now have an inspection of our real work here," she said, "—the same being the manufacture of bearings."

The first room they entered was the ground floor of one of the buildings which housed the automatic department. At the nearer machines were long lines of women stamping out the metal discs which held the balls and rollers in their places.

"When these machines were operated by men," said Mary, "it required considerable strength to throw the levers. But by a very simple improvement we changed the machines so that the lightest touch on the handle is sufficient to do the work. We also put backs on the stools—and elbow rests—and racks for the feet—"

They followed her glances to each of these changes but their attention soon turned to the business-like speed and precision with which each woman did her work.

"Women, of course, are naturally quick," said Mary as though reading their thoughts. "You know what they can do on a typewriter, for instance—or on a sewing machine. As you can see, it is much simpler to operate one of these automatic machines than it is to typewrite a legal document—or make a dress."

Together they looked up the long aisle at the double line of workers in their creams and browns, their fingers deftly placing the blanks in position and removing the finished discs. Somewhere, unseen, a phonograph started playing a lively tune.

"Where do they get their flowers?" asked one of the guests, noticing that each woman was wearing a rose or a carnation.

"They find them in their locker rooms every morning," said Mary. "They usually sing when the phonograph plays," she added, "but perhaps they feel nervous—at having company—"

This was confirmed when they left the room, for as they stood in the hallway first a hum was heard behind them here and there, and soon a mellow toned chorus arose.

"They certainly seem happy," said one of the visitors.

"They are," said Mary. "And, indeed, why shouldn't they be? Their work is light and interesting; they are paid well; and more than anything else, I think, they all know they are making something useful—something tangible—something they can look upon with satisfaction and pride."

They ascended a stairway and suddenly the scene changed. Below, the work had been cast as though in a light staccato key, but here the music for the machinery had a more powerful note.

"These are the oscillating grinders," said Mary, raising her voice above the skirling symphony. "It isn't everybody who can run them."

She wondered whether her visitors caught the unconscious air of pride which many of the women wore in this department. At one end of the room a steady stream of rough castings came flowing in, while at the other end an equally steady volume of finished cones went flowing out. Mary had always liked to watch the oscillators and as she stood there, her guests temporarily forgotten, her eyes filled with the almost human movements of the whirling machines, her ears with the triumphant music of the abrasive wheels biting into the metal, that same unconscious air of pride fell upon her, too, and although she didn't know it, her glance deepened and her head went up—quite in the old Spencer manner.

"Is their work fairly accurate?" asked one of the visitors, breaking the spell.

"Let's go and see," said Mary, leading the way.

The cones left the grinders upon an endless conveyor which carried them to an inspection room. Here at long tables were lines of attentive women, each with a set of gauges in front of her. The visitors stopped behind one of these inspectors just as she picked up a cone to put it through its course of tests.

First she slipped it into a gauge to see if it was too large. A pointer on a dial before her swung to "O.K." Almost without stopping the motion of her hand, she inserted it into another gauge to see if it was too small. Again the pointer swung to "O.K." The third test was to verify the angle of the cone, and for the third time the pointer said "O.K." The next moment the cone had been dropped into a box and another was going through the same course.

"How many have been rejected today?" asked one of the visitors.

"Two," said the inspector.

These two unfortunates lay on a rack in front of her. Interrupting her work she picked up one of them. At the second operation the pointer turned to a red segment of the dial and a bell rang.

"I don't hear many bells ringing," commented the visitor, quizzically looking around the room.

Mary smiled with quiet pleasure.

"Next," she said, "I'm going to take you to a department where women never worked before."

She led the way to one of the tempering buildings—a building equipped with long lines of ovens—each as large as a baker's oven—where metal cones were heated instead of rolls.

"Here, too, as you will see," said Mary, "we have tried to reduce the element of human error as far as possible. In each oven is an electric thermometer and when the bearings have reached the proper degree of heat, an incandescent bulb is automatically lighted in front of the oven.... See?"

They made their way to the oven where a white light had appeared. A woman-worker had already opened the door and was pulling a lever. As though by magic, a bunch of castings, wired together, came travelling out of their heat bath and were immediately lowered into a large tank which held the tempering liquid.

"What would have happened if the oven hadn't been opened when the white light appeared?" asked another of the visitors.

"In five minutes a red lamp would have been automatically lighted," said Mary "—a signal for the forewoman to come and take charge of the oven."

"And suppose the red lamp had been disregarded?"

"In five minutes more an alarm bell would have started. You would have heard it over half the factory—and it would have kept ringing until the superintendent herself had come and stopped it with a key which only she is allowed to carry."

"Is that the bell now?" he asked, as a mellow chime came from one of the distant buildings.

"No," smiled Mary, listening, "that's the lunch bell. In another ten minutes I shall have a surprise for you."

At the end of that time, they made their way to the dining room, which was already filled with eager women. In one corner was a private room, glass-partitioned. As Mary followed her guests toward it, the full, subdued strains of the Crusader March suddenly sounded in harmonious greeting from the other end of the room.

"Ah!" said the most distinguished visitor, turning to look. "Men at last!"

Mary let him look and then she beamed with pleasure at his glance of appreciation.

"Our own orchestra—one hundred pieces," she said. "This is their first public appearance."

Oh, but it was a red-letter day for Mary!

Whether it was the way she felt, or because the sound became softened and mellowed in travelling the length of the dining room, it seemed to her that she had never heard music so sweet, had never listened to sounds that filled her heart so full or lifted her thoughts so high.

The climax came at the end of the dessert. A shy girl entered, a small leather box in her hand.

"I have a souvenir for your visitor, Miss Spencer," she said, and turning to him she added, "We made it with our own hands, thinking you might like to use it as a paper weight—as a reminder of what women can do."

The box was lined with blue velvet and contained a small model of the Spencer bearing, made of gold, perfect to the last ball and the last roller. The visitor examined it with admiration—every eye in the dining room (which could be brought to bear) watching him through the glass partition.

"If I ever received a more interesting souvenir," he said, "I fail to recall it. Thank you, and please thank the others for me. Tell them how very much I appreciate it, and tell them, too, if you will, that here in this factory today I have had my outlook on life widened to an extent which I had thought impossible. For that, too, I thank you."

Of course they couldn't hear him in the main room, but they could see when he had finished speaking. They clapped their hands; the band played; and when he arose and bowed, they clapped and played louder than before. And a few minutes later when the party left the dining room to the strains of El Capitan, it seemed to Mary that after the closing chord she heard two vigorous beats of the drum—soul expression of Mrs. Kelly, signifying "That's us!"

The visitors departed at last, and Mary returned to her office to find other callers awaiting her.

The first was Helen, togged to the nines.

"Somehow she heard they were here," thought Mary, "and she came down thinking to meet them. She thought surely I would bring them in here again." But her next reflection made her frown a little. "—Partly that, I guess," she thought, "and partly to see Burdon, as usual."

A knock on the door interrupted her, and Joe entered, bearing two cards.

"These gentlemen have been waiting since noon," he announced, "but they said they didn't mind waiting when I told them who was with you."

The cards bore the name of a firm of public accountants.

"Oh, yes," said Mary. "Show them in, please, Joe. And ask Mr. Burdon if I can see him for a few minutes."

If you had been there, you might have noticed a change pass over Helen. A moment before Burdon's name was mentioned she was sitting relaxed and rather dispirited, as you sometimes see a yacht becalmed, riding the water without life or interest. But as soon as it appeared that Burdon was about to enter, a breeze suddenly seemed to fill Helen's sails. Her beauty, passive before, became active. Her bunting fluttered. Her flags began to fly.

The door opened, but Helen's smiling glance was disappointed. The two auditors entered.

One was grey, the other was young; but each had the same pale, incurious air of detachment. They reminded Mary of two astronomy professors of her college days, two men who had just such an air of detachment, who always seemed to be out of their element in the daylight, always waiting for the night to come to resume the study of their beloved stars.

"I have sent for our treasurer, Mr. Woodward," said Mary. "Won't you be seated for a few minutes?"

They sat down in the same impersonal way and glanced around the room with eyes that seemed to see nothing. By the side of the mantel was a framed piece of history, an itemized bill of the first generation of the firm, dated June 28, 1706, and quaint with its old spelling, its triple column of pounds, shillings and pence.

"May I look at that?" asked one of the accountants, rising. The other followed him. Their heads bent over the document.... It occurred to Mary that they were verifying the addition.

Again the door opened and this time it was Burdon, his dashing personality immediately dominating the room.

Mary introduced the accountants to him.

"With our new methods," she said, "we probably need a new system of bookkeeping. I also want to compare our old costs with present costs—"

Burdon stared at her, but Mary—half-ashamed of what she was doing—kept her glance upon the two accountants.

"Mr. Burdon will give you all the old records, all the old books you want," she said, "and will help you in every possible way—"

And still Burdon stared at her—his whole life concentrated for a moment in his glance. And still Mary looked at the two accountants who completed the triangle by looking at Burdon, as they naturally would, waiting for him to turn and speak to them. As Mary watched them, she became conscious of a change in their manner, a tenseness of interest, such as the two astronomers aforesaid might display at the sight of some disturbance in the heavens.

"What do they see?" she thought, and looked at Burdon. But Burdon at the same moment had turned to the accountants, his manner as large, his air as dashing as ever.

"Anything you want, gentlemen," he said, "you have only to ask for it."

When Mary reached home that evening, you can imagine how Aunt Patty and Aunt Cordelia listened to her recital, their white heads nodding at the periods, their cheeks pink with pride. Now and then they exchanged glances. "Our baby!" these glances seemed to say, and then turned back to Mary with such love and admiration that finally the object of this pantomime could stand it no longer, but had to kiss them both till their cheeks turned pinker than ever and they gasped for breath.

That night, when Mary went to her room and stood at the window, looking out at the world below and the sky above, she threw out her arms and, turning her face to the moonlight, she felt that world-old wish to express the inexpressible, to put immortal yearnings into mortal words.

Life—thankfulness for life—a joy so deep that it wasn't far from pain—hoping—longing-yearning ... for what? Mary herself could not have told you—perhaps to be one with the starlight and the scent of flowers—to have the freedom of infinity—to express the inexpressible—

For a long time she stood at the window, the moon looking down upon her and bathing her face in its radiance.... Insensibly then the earth recalled her and her thoughts began to return to the events of the day.

"Oh, yes," she suddenly said to herself, "I knew there was something.... I wonder why the accountants stared at Burdon so...."



CHAPTER XXVIII

Far away, that same moon was watching another scene—a ship on the Southern sea throbbing its way to New York.

It was a steamer just out of Rio, its drawing rooms and upper decks filled with tourists doubly happy because they were going home.

On the steerage deck below, in the apron of a kitchen worker, a man was standing with his elbows on the rail—an uncertain figure in the moonlight. Once when he turned to look at the deck above, a lamp shone upon him. If you had been there you would have seen that while a beard covered much of his face, his cheeks were wasted and his eyes looked as though he needed rest.

He turned his glance out over the sea again, looking now to the north star and now to the roadway of ripples that led to the moon.

"I wonder if Rosa's asleep," he thought. "Eleven o'clock. She ought to be. It's a good school. She's lucky. So was I, that the old gentleman didn't get my letter...."

On the deck above, a violin and harp were accompanying a piano.

"That's where I ought to be—up there," he thought, "not peeling potatoes and scouring pans down here. All I have to do is to go up and announce myself...." He smiled—a grim affair. "Yes, all I have to do is to go up and announce myself.... They'd take care of me, all right!"

He lifted his hand and thoughtfully rubbed his beard.

"As long as I stick to Russian, I'm safe. Nicholas Rapieff—nobody has suspected me now for fifteen years. Paul Spencer's dead—dead long ago. But, somehow or other, I have taken it into my head that I would like to see the place where he was born...."

His glance were on the ripples that led to the moon.

"I wonder if the orchard is still back of the house," he thought, "and the winesap tree I fell out of. I wonder if old Hutch is dead yet. I remember he carried me in the house, and the very next week I knocked the clock down on him.... I wonder if that swimming hole is still there where the river turns below the dam. That was the best of all.... I remember how I liked to lie there—an innocent kid—and dream what I was going to do when I was a man.... Lord in Heaven, what wouldn't I give to dream those dreams again...."

On the upper deck the dance had come to an end.

"Time to turn in," thought Paul.

He crossed to the steerage door and a moment later the moon was shining on an empty deck.



CHAPTER XXIX

As time went on, it became increasingly clear to Mary that Wally wasn't happy—that the "one great thing in life" for him was turning out badly. Never had a Jason sailed forth with greater determination to find the Golden Fleece of Happiness, but with every passing week he seemed to be further than ever from the winning of his prize.

Mary turned it over in her mind for a long time before she found a clue to the answer.

"I believe it's because Helen has nothing useful to occupy her mind," she thought one day; and more quickly than words can describe the fancy, she seemed to see the wives at each end of the social scale—each group engaged from morning till night on a never-ending round of unproductive activities, walkers of treadmills, drudges of want and wealth.

"They are in just the same fix—the very rich and the very poor," she thought, "grinding away all day and getting nowhere—never satisfied—never happy—because way down in their hearts they know they're not doing anything useful—not doing anything that counts—"

Her mind returned to Helen's case.

"I'm sure that's it," she nodded. "Helen hasn't found happiness, so she goes out looking for it, and never thinks of trying the only thing that would help her. Yes, and I believe that's why so many rich people have divorces. When you come to think of it, you hardly ever heard of divorces during the war—because for the first time in their lives a lot of people were doing something useful—"

Hesitating then she asked herself if she ought not to speak to Helen.

"I didn't get any thanks the last time I tried it," she ruefully remarked. "But perhaps if I used an awful lot of tact—"

She had her chance that afternoon when Helen dropped in at the office on her way back from the city.

"Shopping—all day—tired to death," she said, sinking into the chair by the side of the desk. "How are you getting on?"

Mary felt like replying, "Very well, thank you.... But how are you getting on, Helen?.... you and Wally?"

Somehow, though, it sounded dreadful, even to hint that everything wasn't as it should be between Wally and his wife.

"Besides," thought Mary, "she'd only say, 'Oh, all right,' and yawn and change the subject—and what could I do then?" She answered herself, "Nothing," and thoughtfully added, "It will take a lot of tact."

Indeed there are some topics which require so much tact in their presentation that the article becomes lost in its wrappings, and its presence isn't even suspected by the recipient.

"How's Wally?" asked Mary.

"Oh, he's all right."

"When I saw him the other day, I thought he was looking a bit under."

"Oh, I don't know—"

As Mary had guessed, Helen patted her hand over her mouth to hide a yawn. "How's Aunt Patty and Aunt Cordelia?" she asked.

Mary sighed to herself.

"What can I do?" she thought. "If I say, 'Helen, you know you're not happy. Folks never are unless they are doing something useful,' she would only think I was trying to preach to her. But if I don't say anything—and things go wrong—"

One of the accountants entered—the elder one—with a sheaf of papers in his hand. On seeing the visitor, he drew back.

"Don't let me interrupt you," whispered Helen to Mary. "I'll run in and see Burdon for a few minutes—"

Absent-mindedly Mary began to look at the papers which the accountant placed before her—her thoughts elsewhere—but gradually her interest centred upon the matter in hand.

"What?" she exclaimed. "A shortage as big as that last year? Never!"

The accountant looked at her with the same quizzical air as an astronomer might assume in looking at a child who had just said, "What? The sun ninety million miles away from the earth? Never!"

"Either that," he said, "or a good many bearings were made in the factory last year—and lost in the river—"

"Oh, there's some mistake," said Mary earnestly. "Perhaps the factory didn't make as many bearings as you think."

Again he gave her his astronomical smile, as though she were saying now, "Perhaps the moon isn't as round as you think it is; it doesn't always look round to me."

"I thought it best to show you this, confidentially," he said, gathering the papers together, "because we have lately become conscious of a feeling of opposition—in trying to trace the source of this discrepancy. It seems to us," he suggested, speaking always in his impersonal manner, "that this is a point which needs clearing up—for the benefit of every one concerned."

"Yes," said Mary after a pause "Of course you must do that. It isn't right to raise suspicions and then not clear them up.... Besides," she added, "I know that you'll find it's just a mistake somewhere—"

After he had gone, Helen looked in, Burdon standing behind her, holding his cane horizontally, one hand near the handle, the other near the ferrule. In the half gloom of the hall he looked more dashing—more reckless—than Mary had ever visioned him. His cane might have been a sword ... his hat three-cornered with a sable feather in it....

"I just looked in to say good-bye," said Helen. "I'm going to take Burdon home."

"I need somebody to mind me," said Burdon, flashing Mary one of his violent smiles; and turning to go he said to Helen over his shoulder, "Come, child. We're late."

"He calls her 'child'..." thought Mary.

That night Wally was a visitor at the house on the hill—and when Mary saw how subdued he was—how chastened he looked—her heart went out to him.

"It seems so good to be here, calling again like this," he said. "Does it remind you of old times, the same as it does me?"

But Mary wouldn't follow him there. As they talked it occurred to her more than once that while Wally appeared to be listening to her, his thoughts were elsewhere—his ears attuned for other sounds.

"What are you listening for!" she asked him once.

He answered her with a puzzle.

"For the Lorelei's song," he said, and going to the piano he sang it, his clear, plaintive tenor still retaining its power to make her nose smart and the dumb chills to run up and down her back. She was sitting near the piano and when he was through, he turned around on the bench.

"Have you ever been the least bit sorry," he asked, "that you turned me down—for a business career?"

"I didn't turn you down," she said. "We couldn't agree on certain things: that's all."

"On what, for instance?"

"That love is the one great thing in life, for instance. You always said it was—especially to a girl. And I always said there were other things in a woman's life, too—that love shouldn't monopolize her any more than it does a man."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse