Again, "Blank and Blank—good place to buy sausage."
Here too the market gardeners gathered as early as four o'clock with their vegetables fresh from the suburbs. They did mostly a wholesale business but if one knew how it was always possible to buy of them a cabbage or a head of lettuce or a few apples or a peck of potatoes. They were a genial, ruddy-cheeked lot and after a while they came to know Ruth. Often I'd go up there with her before work and she with a basket on her arm would buy for the day. It was always, "Good morning, miss," in answer to her smile. They were respectful whether I was along or not. But for that matter I never knew anyone who wasn't respectful to Ruth. They used to like to see her come, I think, for she stood out in rather marked contrast to the bowed figures of the other women. Later on they used to save out for her any particularly choice vegetable they might have. She insisted however in paying them an extra penny for such things.
From the market we went down a series of narrow streets which led to the water front. Here the vessels from the Banks come in to unload. The air was salty and though to us at first the wharves seemed dirty we got used to them, after a while, and enjoyed the smell of the fish fresh from the water.
Seeing whole push carts full of fish and watching them handled with a pitch fork as a man tosses hay didn't whet our appetites any, but when we remembered that it was these same fish—a day or two older,—for which we had been paying double the price charged for them here the difference overcame our scruples. The men here interested me. I found that while the crew of every schooner numbered a goodly per cent. of foreigners, still the greater part were American born. The new comers as a rule bought small launches of their own and went into business for themselves. The English speaking portion of the crews were also as a rule the rougher element. The loafers and hangers-on about the wharves were also English speaking. This was a fact that later on I found to be rather significant and to hold true in a general way in all branches of the lower class of labor.
The barrooms about here—always a pretty sure index of the men of any community—were more numerous and of decidedly a rougher character than those about the square. A man would be a good deal better justified in carrying a revolver on this street than he would in Little Italy. I never allowed Ruth to come down here alone.
From here we wandered back and I found a public playground and bathhouse by the water's edge. This attracted me at once. I investigated this and found it offered a fine opportunity for bathing. Little dressing-rooms were provided and for a penny a man could get a clean towel and for five cents a bathing suit. There was no reason that I could see, however, why we shouldn't provide our own. It was within an easy ten minutes of the flat and I saw right then where I would get a dip every day. It would be a great thing for the boy, too. I had always wanted him to learn to swim.
On the way home we passed through the Jewish quarter and I made a note of the clothing offered for sale here. The street was lined with second hand stores with coats and trousers swinging over the sidewalk, and the windows were filled with odd lots of shoes. Then too there were the pawnshops. I'd always thought of a pawnshop as not being exactly respectable and had the feeling that anyone who secured anything from one of them was in a way a receiver of stolen goods. But as I passed them now, I received a new impression. They seemed, down here, as legitimate a business as the second hand stores. The windows offered an assortment of everything from watches to banjoes and guns but among them I also noticed many carpenter's tools and so forth. That might be a useful thing to remember.
It was odd how in a day our point of view had changed. If I had brought Ruth and the boy down through here a month before, we would all, I think, have been more impressed by the congestion and the picturesque details of the squalor than anything else. We would have picked our way gingerly and Ruth would have sighed often in pity and, comparing the lives of these people with our own, would probably have made an extra generous contribution to the Salvation Army the next time they came round. I'm not saying now that there isn't misery enough there and in every like section of every city, but I'll say that in a great many cases the same people who grovel in the filth here would grovel in a different kind of filth if they had ten thousand a year. At that you can't blame them greatly for they don't know any better. But when you learn, as I learned later, that some of the proprietors of these second hand stores and fly-blown butcher shops have sons in Harvard and daughters in Wellesley, it makes you think. But I'm running ahead.
The point was that now that we felt ourselves in a way one of these people and viewed the street not from the superior height of native-born Americans but just as emigrants, neither the soiled clothes of the inhabitants nor the cluttered street swarming with laughing youngsters impressed us unfavorably at all. The impassive men smoking cigarettes at their doors looked contented enough, the women were not such as to excite pity, and if you noticed, there were as many children around the local soda water fountains as you'd find in a suburban drug store. They all had clothes enough and appeared well fed and if some of them looked pasty, the sweet stuff in the stores was enough to account for that.
At any rate we came back to our flat that day neither depressed nor discouraged but decidedly in better spirits. Of course we had seen only the surface and I suspected that when we really got into these lives we'd find a bad condition of things. It must be so, for that was the burden of all we read. But we would have time enough to worry about that when we discovered it for ourselves.
I BECOME A DAY LABORER
That night Ruth and I had a talk about the boy. We both came back from our walk, with him more on our minds than anything else. He had been interested in everything and had asked about a thousand questions and gone to bed eager to be out on the street again the next day. We knew we couldn't keep him cooped up in the flat all the time and of course both Ruth and I were going to be too busy to go out with him every time he went. As for letting him run loose around these streets with nothing to do, that would be sheer foolhardiness. It was too late in the season to enroll him in the public schools and even that would have left him idle during the long summer months.
We talked some at first of sending him off into the country to a farm. There were two or three families back where Ruth had lived who might be willing to take him for three or four dollars a week and we had the money left over from the sale of our household goods to cover that. But this would mean the sacrifice of our emergency fund which we wished to preserve more for the boy's sake than our own and it would mean leaving Ruth very much alone.
"I'll do it, Billy," she said bravely, "but can't we wait a day or two before deciding? And I think I can make time to get out with him. I'll get up earlier in the morning and I'll leave my work at night until after he's gone to bed."
So she would. She'd have worked all night to keep him at home and then gone out with him all day if it had been possible. I saw it would be dragging the heart out of her to send the boy away and made up my mind right then and there that some other solution must be found for the problem. Good Lord, after I'd led her down here the least I could do was to let her keep the one. And to tell the truth I found my own heart sink at the suggestion.
"What do the boys round here do in the summer?" she asked.
I didn't know and I made up my mind to find out. The next day I went down to a settlement house which I remembered passing at some time or other. I didn't know what it was but it sounded like some sort of philanthropic enterprise for the neighborhood and if so they ought to be able to answer my questions there. The outside of the building was not particularly attractive but upon entering I was pleasantly surprised at the air of cleanliness and comfort which prevailed. There were a number of small boys around and in one room I saw them reading and playing checkers. I sought out the secretary and found him a pleasant young fellow though with something of the professional pleasantness which men in this work seem to acquire. He smiled too much and held my hand a bit too long to suit me. He took me into his office and offered me a chair. I told him briefly that I had just moved down here and had a boy of ten whom I wished to keep off the streets and keep occupied. I asked him what the boys around here did during the summer.
"Most of them work," he answered.
I hadn't thought of this.
"What do they do?"
"A good many sell papers, some of them serve as errand boys and others help their parents."
Dick was certainly too inexperienced for the first two jobs and there was nothing in my work he could do to help. Then the man began to ask me questions. He was evidently struck by the fact that I didn't seem to be in place here. I answered briefly that I had been a clerk all my life, had lost my position and was now a common day laborer. The boy, I explained, was not yet used to his life down here and I wanted to keep him occupied until he got his strength.
"You're right," he answered. "Why don't you bring him in here?"
"What would he do here?"
"It's a good loafing place for him and we have some evening classes."
"I want him at home nights," I answered.
"The Y.M.C.A. has summer classes which begin a little later on. Why don't you put him into some of those?"
I had always heard of the Y.M.C.A., but I had never got into touch with it, for I thought it was purely a religious organization. But that proposition sounded good. I'd passed the building a thousand times but had never been inside. I thanked him and started to leave.
"I hope this won't be your last visit," he said cordially. "Come down and see what we're doing. You'll find a lot of boys here at night."
"Thanks," I answered.
I went direct to the Y.M.C.A. building. Here again I was surprised to find a most attractive interior. It looked like the inside of a prosperous club house. I don't know what I expected but I wouldn't have been startled if I'd found a hall filled with wooden settees and a prayer meeting going on. I had a lot of such preconceived notions knocked out of my head in the next few years.
In response to my questions I received replies that made me feel I'd strayed by mistake into some university. For that matter it was a university. There was nothing from the primary class in English to a professional education in the law that a man couldn't acquire here for a sum that was astonishingly small. The most of the classes cost nothing after payment of the membership fee of ten dollars. The instructors were, many of them, the same men who gave similar courses at a neighboring college. Not only that, but the hours were so arranged as to accommodate workers of all classes. If you couldn't attend in the daytime, you could at night. I was astonished to think that this opportunity had always been at my hand and I had never suspected it. In the ten years before I was married I could have qualified as a lawyer or almost anything else.
This was not all; a young man took me over the building and showed me the library, the reading-room, rooms where the young men gathered for games, and then down stairs to the well equipped gymnasium with its shower baths. Here a boy could take a regular course in gymnasium work under a skilled instructor or if he showed any skill devote himself to such sports as basketball, running, baseball or swimming. In addition to these advantages amusements were provided through the year in the form of lectures, amateur shows and music. In the summer, special opportunities were offered for out-door sports. Moreover the Association managed summer camps where for a nominal fee the boys could enjoy the life of the woods. A boy must be poor indeed who could not afford most of these opportunities. And if he was out of work the employment bureau conducted here would help him to a position. I came back to the main office wondering still more how in the world I'd ever missed such chances all these years. It was a question I asked myself many times during the next few months. And the answer seemed to lie in the dead level of that other life. We never lifted our eyes; we never looked around us. If we were hard pressed either we accepted our lot resignedly or cursed our luck, and let it go at that. These opportunities were for a class which had no lot and didn't know the meaning of luck. The others could have had them, too—can have them—for the taking, but neither by education nor temperament are they qualified to do so. There's a good field for missionary work there for someone.
Before I came out of the building I had enrolled Dick as a member and picked out for him a summer course in English in which he was a bit backward. I also determined to start him in some regular gymnasium work. He needed hardening up.
I came home and announced my success to Ruth and she was delighted. I suspected by the look in her eyes that she had been worrying all day for fear there would be no alternative but to send the boy off.
"I knew you would find a way," she said excitedly.
"I wish I'd found it twenty years ago," I said regretfully. "Then you'd have a lawyer for a husband instead of a—."
"Hush," she answered putting her hand over my mouth. "I've a man for a husband and that's all I care about."
The way she said it made me feel that after all being a man was what counted and that if I could live up to that day by day, no matter what happened, then I could be well satisfied. I guess the city directory was right when before now it couldn't define me any more definitely than, "clerk." And there is about as much man in a clerk as in a valet. They are both shadows.
The boy fell in with my plans eagerly, for the gymnasium work made him forget the study part of the programme. The next day I took him up there and saw him introduced to the various department heads. I paid his membership fee and they gave him a card which made him feel like a real club man. I tell you it took a weight off my mind.
On the Monday following our arrival in our new quarters, I rose at five-thirty, put on my overalls and had breakfast. I ate a large bowl of oatmeal, a generous supply of flapjacks, made of some milk that had soured, sprinkled with molasses, and a cup of hot black coffee—the last of a can we had brought down with us among the left-over kitchen supplies.
For lunch Ruth had packed my box with cold cream-of-tartar biscuit, well buttered, a bit of cheese, a little bowl of rice pudding, two hard-boiled eggs and a pint bottle of cold coffee. I kissed her goodby and started out on foot for the street where I was to take up my work. The foreman demanded my name, registered me, told me where to find a shovel and assigned me to a gang under another foreman. At seven o'clock I took my place with a dozen Italians and began to shovel. My muscles were decidedly flabby, and by noon I began to find it hard work. I was glad to stop and eat my lunch. I couldn't remember a meal in five years that tasted as good as that did. My companions watched me curiously—perhaps a bit suspiciously—but they chattered in a foreign tongue among themselves and rather shied away from me. On that first day I made up my mind to one thing—I would learn Italian before the year was done, and know something more about these people and their ways. They were the key to the contractor's problem and it would pay a man to know how to handle them. As I watched the boss over us that day it did not seem to me that he understood very well.
From one to five the work became an increasing strain. Even with my athletic training I wasn't used to such a prolonged test of one set of muscles. My legs became heavy, my back ached, and my shoulders finally refused to obey me except under the sheer command of my will. I knew, however, that time would remedy this. I might be sore and lame for a day or two, but I had twice the natural strength of these short, close-knit foreigners. The excitement and novelty of the employment helped me through those first few days. I felt the joy of the pioneer—felt the sweet sense of delving in the mother earth. It touched in me some responsive chord that harked back to my ancestors who broke the rocky soil of New England. Of the life of my fellows bustling by on the earth-crust overhead—those fellows of whom so lately I had been one—I was not at all conscious. I might have been at work on some new planet for all they touched my new life. I could see them peering over the wooden rail around our excavation as they stopped to stare down at us, but I did not connect them with myself. And yet I felt closer to this old city than ever before. I thrilled with the joy of the constructor, the builder, even in this humble capacity. I felt superior to those for whom I was building. In a coarse way I suppose it was a reflection of some artistic sense—something akin to the creative impulse. I can say truthfully that at the end of that first day I came home—begrimed and sore as I was—with a sense of fuller life than so far I had ever experienced.
I found Ruth waiting for me with some anxiety. She came into my soil-stained arms as eagerly as a bride. It was good. It took all the soreness out of me. Before supper I took the boy and we went down to the public baths on the waterfront and there I dived and splashed and swam like a young whale. The sting of the cold salt water was all the further balm I needed. I came out tingling and fit right then for another nine-hour day. But when I came back I threatened our first week's savings at the supper-table. Ruth had made more hot griddle-cakes and I kept her at the stove until I was ashamed to do it longer. The boy, too, after his plunge, showed a better appetite than for weeks.
NINE DOLLARS A WEEK
The second day, I woke up lame and stiff but I gave myself a good brisk rub down and kneaded my arm and leg muscles until they were pretty well limbered up. The thing that pleased me was the way I felt towards my new work that second morning. I'd been a bit afraid of a reaction—of waking up with all the romance gone. That, I knew, would be deadly. Once let me dwell on the naked material facts of my condition and I'd be lost. That's true of course in any occupation. The man who works without an inspiration of some sort is not only discontented but a poor workman. I remember distinctly that when I opened my eyes and realized my surroundings and traced back the incidents of yesterday to the ditch, I was concerned principally with the problem of a stone in our path upon which we had been working. I wanted to get back to it. We had worked upon it for an hour without fully uncovering it and I was as eager as the foreman to learn whether it was a ledge rock or just a fragment. This interest was not associated with the elevated road for whom the work was being done, nor the contractor who had undertaken the job, nor the foreman who was supervising it. It was a question which concerned only me and Mother Earth who seemed to be doing her best to balk us at every turn. I forgot the sticky, wet clay in which I had floundered for nine hours, forgot the noisome stench which at times we were forced to breathe, forgot my lame hands and back. I recalled only the problem itself and the skill with which the man they called Anton' handled his crow bar. He was a master of it. In removing the smaller slabs which lay around the big one he astonished me with his knowledge of how to place the bar. He'd come to my side where I was prying with all my strength and with a wave of his hand for me to stand back, would adjust two or three smaller rocks as a fulcrum and then, with the gentlest of movements, work the half-ton weight inch by inch to where he wanted it. He could swing the rock to the right or left, raise or lower it, at will, and always he made the weight of the rock, against which I had striven so vainly, do the work. That was something worth learning. I wanted to get back and study him. I wanted to get back and finish uncovering that rock. I wanted to get back and bring the job as a whole to a finish so as to have a new one to tackle. Even at the end of that first day I felt I had learned enough to make myself a man of greater power than I was the day before. And always in the background was the unknown goal to which this toil was to lead. I hadn't yet stopped to figure out what the goal was but that it was worth while I had no doubt for I was no longer stationary. I was a constructor. I was in touch with a big enterprise of development.
I don't know that I've made myself clear. I wasn't very clear in my own mind then but I know that I had a very conscious impression of the sort which I've tried to put into words. And I know that it filled me with a great big joy. I never woke up with any such feeling when with the United Woollen. My only thought in the morning then was how much time I must give myself to catch the six-thirty. When I reached the office I hung up my hat and coat and sat down to the impersonal figures like an automaton. There was nothing of me in the work; there couldn't be. How petty it seemed now! I suppose the company, as an industrial enterprise, was in the line of development, but that idea never penetrated as far as the clerical department. We didn't feel it any more than the adding machines do.
Ruth had a good breakfast for me and when I came into the kitchen she was trying to brush the dried clay off my overalls.
"Good Heavens!" I said, "don't waste your strength doing that."
She looked up from her task with a smile.
"I'm not going to let you get slack down here" she said.
"But those things will look just as bad again five minutes after I've gone down the ladder."
"But I don't intend they shall look like this on your way to the ladder," she answered.
"All right," I said "then let me have them. I'll do it myself."
"Have you shaved?" she asked.
I rubbed my hand over my chin. It wasn't very bad and I'd made up my mind I wouldn't shave every day now.
"No," I said. "But twice or three times a week—"
"Billy!" she broke in, "that will never do. You're going down to your new business looking just as ship-shape as you went to the old. You don't belong to that contractor; you belong to me."
In the meanwhile the boy came in with my heavy boots which he had brushed clean and oiled. There was nothing left for me to do but to shave and I'll admit I felt better for it.
"Do you want me to put on a high collar?" I asked.
"Didn't you find the things I laid out for you?"
I hadn't looked about. I'd put on the things I took off. She led me back into the bed room, and over a chair I saw a clean change of underclothing and a new grey flannel shirt.
"Where did you get this?" I asked.
"I bought it for a dollar," she answered. "It's too much to pay. I can make one for fifty cents as soon as I get time to sew."
That's the way Ruth was. Every day after this she made me change, after I came back from my swim, into the business suit I wore when I came down here, and which now by contrast looked almost new. She even made me wear a tie with my flannel shirt. Every morning I started out clean shaven and with my work clothes as fresh as though I were a contractor myself. I objected at first because it seemed too much for her to do to wash the things every day, but she said it was a good deal easier than washing them once a week. Incidentally that was one of her own little schemes for saving trouble and it seemed to me a good one; instead of collecting her soiled clothes for seven days and then tearing herself all to pieces with a whole hard forenoon's work, she washed a little every day. By this plan it took her only about an hour each morning to keep all the linen in the house clean and sweet. We had the roof to dry it on and she never ironed anything except perhaps the tablecloths and handkerchiefs. We had no company to cater to and as long as we knew things were clean that's all we cared.
We got around the rock all right. It proved not to be a ledge after all. I myself, however, didn't accomplish as much as I did the first day, for I was slower in my movements. On the other hand, I think I improved a little in my handling of the crowbar. At the noon hour I tried to start a conversation with Anton', but he understood little English and I knew no Italian, so we didn't get far. As he sat in a group of his fellow countrymen laughing and jabbering he made me feel distinctly like an outsider. There were one or two English-speaking workmen besides myself, but somehow they didn't interest me as much as these Italians. It may have been my imagination but they seemed to me a decidedly inferior lot. As a rule they were men who took the job only to keep themselves from starving and quit at the end of a week or two only to come back when they needed more money.
I must make an exception of an Irishman I will call Dan Rafferty. He was a big blue-eyed fellow, full of fun and fight, with a good natured contempt of the Dagoes, and was a born leader. I noticed, the first day, that he came nearer being the boss of the gang than the foreman, and I suspect the latter himself noticed it, for he seemed to have it in for Dan. There never was an especially dirty job to be done but what Dan was sent. He always obeyed but he used to slouch off with his big red fist doubled up, muttering curses that brought out his brogue at its best. Later on he confided in me what he was going to do to that boss. If he had carried out his threats he would long since have been electrocuted and I would have lost a good friend. Several times I thought the two men were coming to blows but though Dan would have dearly loved a fight and could have handled a dozen men like the foreman, he always managed to control himself in time to avoid it.
"I don't wanter be after losin' me job for the dirthy spalpeen," he growled to me.
But he came near it in a way he wasn't looking for later in the week. It was Friday and half a dozen of us had been sent down to work on the second level. It was damp and suffocating down there, fifty feet below the street. I felt as though I had gone into the mines. I didn't like it but I knew that there was just as much to learn here as above and that it must all be learned eventually. The sides were braced with heavy timbers like a mine shaft to prevent the dirt from falling in and there was the constant danger that in spite of this it might cave in. We went down by rough ladders made by nailing strips of board across two pieces of joist and the work down there was back-breaking and monotonous. We heaved the dirt into a big iron bucket lowered by the hoisting engine above. It was heavy, wet soil that weighed like lead.
From the beginning the men complained of headaches and one by one they crawled up the ladder again for fresh air. Others were sent down but at the end of an hour they too retreated. Dan and I stuck it out for a while. Then I began to get dizzy myself. I didn't know what the trouble was but when I began to wobble a bit Dan placed his hand on my shoulder.
"Betther climb out o' here," he said. "I'm thinkin' it's gas."
At that time I didn't know what sewer gas was. I couldn't smell anything and thought he must be mistaken.
"You'd better come too," I answered, making for the ladder.
He wasn't coming but I couldn't get up very well without him so he followed along behind. At the top we found the foreman fighting mad and trying to spur on another gang to go down. They wouldn't move. When he saw us come up he turned upon Dan.
"Who ordered you out of there?" he growled.
"The gas," answered Dan.
"Gas be damned," shouted the foreman. "You're a bunch of white livered cowards—all of you."
I saw Dan double up his fists and start towards the man. The latter checked him with a command.
"Go back down there or you're fired," he said to him.
Dan turned red. Then I saw his jaws come together.
"Begod!" he answered. "You shan't fire me, anyhow."
Without another word he started down the ladder again. I saw the Italians crowd together and watch him. By that time my head was clearer but my legs were weak. I sat down a moment uncertain what to do. Then I heard someone shout:
"By God, he's right! He's lying there at the bottom."
I started towards the ladder but some one shoved me back. Then I thought of the bucket. It was above ground and I staggered towards it gaining strength at each step. I jumped in and shouted to the engineer to lower me. He obeyed from instinct. I went down, down, down to what seemed like the center of the earth. When the bucket struck the ground I was dizzy again but I managed to get out, heave the unconscious Dan in and pile on top of him myself. When I came to, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital but by the time I had reached the emergency room I had taken a grip on myself. I knew that if ever Ruth heard of this she would never again be comfortable. When they took us out I was able to walk a little. The doctors wanted to put me to bed but I refused to go. I sat there for about an hour while they worked over Dan. When I found that he would be all right by morning I insisted upon going out. I had a bad headache, but I knew the fresh air would drive this away and so it did, though it left me weak.
One of the hardest day's work I ever did in my life was killing time from then until five o'clock. Of course the papers got hold of it and that gave me another scare but luckily the nearest they came to my name was Darlinton, so no harm was done. And they didn't come within a mile of getting the real story. When in a later edition one of them published my photograph I felt absolutely safe for they had me in a full beard and thinner than I've ever been in my life.
When I came home at my usual time looking a bit white perhaps but otherwise normal enough, the first question Ruth asked me was:
"What have you done with your dinner pail, Billy?"
Isn't a man always sure to do some such fool thing as that, when he's trying to keep something quiet from the wife? I had to explain that I had forgotten it and that was enough to excite suspicion at any time. She kept me uneasy for ten minutes and the best I could do was to admit finally that I wasn't feeling very well. Whereupon she made me go to bed and fussed over me all the evening and worried all the next day.
I reported for work as usual in the morning and found we had a new foreman. It was a relief because I guess if Dan hadn't knocked down the other one, someone else would have done it sooner or later. At that the man had taught me something about sewer gas and that is when you begin to feel dizzy fifty feet below the street, it's time to go up the ladder about as fast as your wobbly legs will let you, even if you don't smell anything.
Rafferty didn't turn up for two or three days. When he did appear it was with a simple:
It wasn't until several days later I learned that the late foreman had left town nursing a black eye and a cut on one cheek such as might have been made by a set of red knuckles backed by an arm the size of a small ham.
On Saturday night of that first week I came home with nine dollars in my pocket. I'll never be prouder again than I was when I handed them over to Ruth. And Ruth will never again be prouder than she was when, after she had laid aside three of them for the rent and five for current expenses, she picked out a one-dollar bill and, crossing the room, placed it in the ginger jar. This was a little blue affair in which we had always dropped what pennies and nickels we could spare.
"There's our nest-egg," she announced.
"You don't mean to tell me you're that much ahead of the game the first week?"
"Look here, Billy," she answered.
She brought out an itemized list of everything she had bought from last Monday, including Sunday's dinner. I've kept that list. Many of the things she had bought were not yet used up but she had computed the cost of the amount actually used. Here it is as I copied it off:
Flour, .25 Lard, .15 Cream of tartar and soda, .05 Oat meal, .04 Molasses, .05 Sugar, .12 Potatoes, .20 Rice, .06 Milk, 1.12 Eggs, .24 Rye bread, .10 Sausages, .22 Lettuce, .03 Beans, .12 Salt pork, .15 Corn meal, .06 Graham meal, .05 Butter, .45 Cheese, .06 Shin of beef, .39 Fish, .22 Oil, .28 Soap, .09 Vinegar, salt and pepper, about .05 Can of corn, .07 Onions, .06 Total $4.68
In this account, too, Ruth was liberal in her margins. She did better than this later on. A fairer estimate could have been made at the end of the month and a still fairer even than that, at the end of the year. It sounded almost too good to be true but it was a fact. We had lived, and lived well on this amount and as yet Ruth was inexperienced. She hadn't learned all she learned later. For the benefit of those who may think we went hungry I have asked Ruth to write out the bill of fare for this week as nearly as she can remember it. One thing you must keep in mind is that of everything we had, we had enough. Neither Ruth, the boy, nor myself ever left the table or dinner pail unsatisfied. Here's what we had and it was better even than it sounds for whatever Ruth made, she made well. I copy it as she wrote it out.
Breakfast: oatmeal, griddle-cakes with molasses, cream of tartar biscuits, milk.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold biscuits, two hard-boiled eggs, bowl of rice, cold coffee; for Dick and me: cold biscuits, milk, rice.
Dinner: baked potatoes, griddle-cakes, milk.
Breakfast: baked potatoes, graham muffins, oatmeal, milk.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold muffins, two hard-boiled eggs, rice, milk; for Dick and me: cold muffins, rice and milk.
Dinner: boiled potatoes, pork scraps, hot biscuits, milk.
Breakfast: oatmeal, fried potatoes, warmed over biscuits.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold biscuits, two hard-boiled eggs, bread pudding; for Dick and me: baked potatoes, cold biscuits, bread pudding.
Dinner: beef stew with dumplings, hot biscuits, milk.
Breakfast: fried sausages, baked potatoes, graham muffins, milk.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold muffins, cold sausage and rice; for Dick and me: the same.
Dinner: warmed over stew, lettuce, hot biscuits, milk.
Breakfast: oatmeal, fried rock cod, baked potatoes, rye bread, milk.
Luncheon: for Billy: rye bread, potato salad, rice; for Dick and me: the same.
Dinner: soup made from stock of beef, left over fish, boiled potatoes, rice, milk.
Breakfast: oatmeal, fried corn mush with molasses, milk.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold biscuits, two hard-boiled eggs, cheese, rice; for Dick and me: German toast.
Dinner: baked beans, hot biscuits.
Breakfast: baked beans, graham muffins.
Dinner: boiled potatoes, pork scraps, canned corn, corn cake, bread pudding.
A word about that bread pudding. Ruth tells me she puts in an extra quart of milk and then bakes it all day when she bakes her beans, stirring it every now and then. I never knew before how the trick was done but it comes out a rich brown and tastes like plum pudding without the raisins. She says that if you put in raisins it tastes exactly like a plum pudding.
So at the end of the first week I found myself with eighty dollars left over from the old home, one dollar saved in the new, all my bills paid, and Ruth, Dick and myself all fit as a fiddle.
That first dollar saved was the germ of a new idea.
It is a further confession of a middle-class mind that in coming down here I had not looked forward beyond the immediate present. With the horror of that last week still on me I had considered only the opportunity I had for earning a livelihood. To be sure I had seen no reason why an intelligent man should not in time be advanced to foreman, and why he should not then be able to save enough to ward off the poorhouse before old age came on. But now—with that first dollar tucked away in the ginger jar—I felt within me the stirring of a new ambition, an ambition born of this quick young country into which I had plunged. Why, in time, should I not become the employer? Why should I not take the initiative in some of these progressive enterprises? Why should I not learn this business of contracting and building and some day contract and build for myself? With that first dollar saved I was already at heart a capitalist.
I said nothing of this to Ruth. For six months I let the idea grow. If it did nothing else it added zest to my new work. I shoveled as though I were digging for diamonds. It made me a young man again. It made me a young American again. It brought me out of bed every morning with visions; it sent me to sleep at night with dreams.
But I'm running ahead of my story.
I thought I had appreciated Sunday when it meant a release for one day from the office of the United Woollen, but as with all the other things I felt as though it had been but the shadow and that only now had I found the substance. In the first place I had not been able completely to shake the office in the last few years. I brought it home with me and on Sundays it furnished half the subject of conversation. Every little incident, every bit of conversation, every expression on Morse's face was analyzed in the attempt to see what it counted, for or against, the possible future raise. Even when out walking with the boy the latter was a constant reminder. It was as though he were merely a ward of the United Woollen Company.
But when I put away my shovel at five o'clock on Saturday that was the end of my ditch digging. I came home after that and I was at home until I reported for work on Monday morning. There was neither work nor worry left hanging over. It meant complete relaxation—complete rest. And the body, I found, rests better than the mind.
Later in my work I didn't experience this so perfectly as I now did because then I accepted new responsibilities, but for the first few months I lived in lazy content on this one day. For the most part those who lived around me did all the time. On fair summer days half the population of the little square basked in the sun with eyes half closed from morning until night. Those who didn't, went to the neighboring beaches many of which they could reach for a nickel or visited such public buildings as were open. But wherever they went or whatever they did, they loafed about it. And a man can't truly loaf until he's done a hard week's work which ends with the week.
As for us we had our choice of any number of pleasant occupations. I insisted that Ruth should make the meals as simple as possible on that day and both the boy and myself helped her about them. We always washed the dishes and swept the floor. First of all there was the roof. I early saw the possibility of this much neglected spot. It was flat and had a fence around it for it was meant to be used for the hanging out of clothes. Being a new building it had been built a story higher than its older neighbors so that we overlooked the other roofs. There was a generous space through which we saw the harbor. I picked up a strip of old canvas for a trifle in one of the shore-front junk-shops which deal in second-hand ship supplies and arranged it over one corner like a canopy. Then I brought home with me some bits of board that were left over from the wood construction at the ditch and nailed these together to make a rude sort of window box. It was harder to get dirt than it was wood but little by little I brought home enough finally to fill the boxes. In these we planted radishes and lettuce and a few flower seeds. We had almost as good a garden as we used to have in our back yard. At any rate it was just as much fun to watch the things grow, and though the lettuce never amounted to much we actually raised some very good radishes. The flowers did well, too.
We brought up an old blanket and spread it out beneath the canopy and that, with a chair or two, made our roof garden. A local branch of the Public Library was not far distant so that we had all the reading matter we wanted and here we used to sit all day Sunday when we didn't feel like doing anything else. Here, too, we used to sit evenings. On several hot nights Ruth, the boy and I brought up our blankets and slept out. The boy liked it so well that finally he came to sleep up here most of the summer. It was fine for him. The harbor breeze swept the air clean of smoke so that it was as good for him as being at the sea-shore.
To us the sights from this roof were marvelous. They appealed strongly because they were unlike anything we had ever seen or for that matter unlike anything our friends had ever seen. I think that a man's friends often take away the freshness from sights that otherwise might move him. I've never been to Europe but what with magazine pictures and snap shots and Mrs. Grover, who never forgot that before she married Grover she had travelled for a whole year, I haven't any special desire to visit London or Paris. I suppose it would be different if I ever went but even then I don't think there would be the novelty to it we found from our roof. And it was just that novelty and the ability to appreciate it that made our whole emigrant life possible. It was for us the Great Adventure again. I suppose there are men who will growl that it's all bosh to say there is any real romance in living in four rooms in a tenement district, eating what we ate, digging in a ditch and mooning over a view from a roof top. I want to say right here that for such men there wouldn't be any romance or beauty in such a life. They'd be miserable. There are plenty of men living down there now and they never miss a chance to air their opinions. Some of them have big bodies but I wouldn't give them fifty cents a day to work for me. Luckily however, there are not many of them in proportion to the others, even though they make more noise.
But when you stop to think about it what else is it but romance that leads men to spend their lives fishing off the Banks when they could remain safely ashore and get better pay driving a team? Or what drives them into the army or to work on railroads when they neither expect nor hope to be advanced? The men themselves can't tell you. They take up the work unthinkingly but there is something in the very hardships they suffer which lends a sting to the life and holds them. The only thing I know of that will do this and turn the grind into an inspiration is romance. It's what the new-comers have and it's what our ancestors had and it's what a lot of us who have stayed over here too long out of the current have lost.
On the lazy summer mornings we could hear the church bells and now and then a set of chimes. Because we were above the street and next to the sky they sounded as drowsily musical as in a country village. They made me a bit conscience-stricken to think that for the boy's sake I didn't make an effort and go to some church. But for a while it was church enough to devote the seventh day to what the Bible says it was made for. Ruth used to read out loud to us and we planned to make our book suit the day after a fashion. Sometimes it was Emerson, sometimes Tennyson—I was very fond of the Idylls—and sometimes a book of sermons. Later on we had a call from a young minister who had a little mission chapel not far from our flat and who looked in upon us at the suggestion of the secretary of the settlement house. We went to a service at his chapel one Sunday and before we ourselves realized it we were attending regularly with a zest and interest which we had never felt in our suburban church-going. Later still we each of us found a share in the work ourselves and came to have a great satisfaction and contentment in it. But I am running ahead of my story.
We'd have dinner this first summer at about half past one and then perhaps we'd go for a walk. There wasn't a street in the city that didn't interest us but as a rule we'd plan to visit one of the parks. I didn't know there were so many of them or that they were so different. We had our choice of the ocean or a river or the woods. If we had wished to spend say thirty cents in car fare we could have had a further choice of the beach, the mountains, or a taste of the country which in places had not changed in the last hundred years. This would have given us a two hours' ride. Occasionally we did this but at present there was too much to see within walking distance.
For one thing it suddenly occurred to me that though I had lived in this city over thirty years I had not yet seen such places of interest as always attracted visitors from out of town. My attention was brought to this first by the need of limiting ourselves to amusements that didn't cost anything, but chiefly by learning where the better element down here spent their Sundays. You have only to follow this crowd to find out where the objects of national pride are located. An old battle flag will attract twenty foreigners to one American. And incidentally I wish to confess it was they who made me ashamed of my ignorance of the country's history. Beyond a memory of the Revolution, the Civil War and a few names of men and battles connected therewith, I'd forgotten all I ever learned at school on this subject. But here the many patriotic celebrations arranged by the local schools in the endeavor to instill patriotism and the frequent visits of the boys to the museums, kept the subject fresh. Not only Dick but Ruth and myself soon turned to it as a vital part of our education. Inspired by the old trophies that ought to stand for so much to us of to-day we took from the library the first volume of Fiske's fine series and in the course of time read them all. As we traced the fortunes of those early adventurers who dreamed and sailed towards an unknown continent, pictured to ourselves the lives of the tribes who wandered about in the big tangle of forest growth between the Atlantic and the Pacific, as we landed on the bleak New England shores with the early Pilgrims, then fought with Washington, then studied the perilous internal struggle culminating with Lincoln and the Civil War, then the dangerous period of reconstruction with the breathless progress following—why it left us all better Americans than we had ever been in our lives. It gave new meaning to my present surroundings and helped me better to understand the new-comers. Somehow all those things of the past didn't seem to concern Grover and the rest of them in the trim little houses. They had no history and they were a part of no history. Perhaps that's because they were making no history themselves. As for myself, I know that I was just beginning to get acquainted with my ancestors—that for the first time in my life, I was really conscious of being a citizen of the United States of America.
But I soon discovered that not only the historic but the beautiful attracted these people. They introduced me to the Art Museum. In the winter following our first summer here, when the out of door attractions were considerably narrowed down, Ruth and I used to go there about every other Sunday with the boy. We came to feel as familiar with our favorite pictures as though they hung in our own house. The Museum ceased to be a public building; it was our own. We went in with a nod to the old doorkeeper who came to know us and felt as unconstrained there as at home. We had our favorite nooks, our favorite seats and we lounged about in the soft lights of the rooms for hours at a time. The more we looked at the beautiful paintings, the old tapestries, the treasures of stone and china, the more we enjoyed them. We were sure to meet some of our neighbors there and a young artist who lived on the second floor of our house and whom later I came to know very well, pointed out to us new beauties in the old masters. He was selling plaster casts at that time and studying art in the night school.
In the old life, an art museum had meant nothing to me more than that it seemed a necessary institution in every city. It was a mark of good breeding in a town, like the library in a good many homes. But it had never occurred to me to visit it and I know it hadn't to any of my former associates. The women occasionally went to a special exhibition that was likely to be discussed at the little dinners, but a week later they couldn't have told you what they had seen. Perhaps our neighborhood was the exception and a bit more ignorant than the average about such things, but I'll venture to say there isn't a middle-class community in this country where the paintings play the part in the lives of the people that they do among the foreign-born. A class better than they does the work; a class lower enjoys it. Where the middle-class comes in, I don't know.
After being gone all the afternoon we'd be glad to get home again and maybe we'd have a lunch of cold beans and biscuits or some of the pudding that was left over. Then during the summer months we'd go back to the roof for a restful evening. At night the view was as different from the day as you could imagine. Behind us the city proper was in a bluish haze made by the electric lights. Then we could see the yellow lights of the upper windows in all the neighboring houses and beyond these, over the roof tops which seemed now to huddle closer together, we saw the passing red and green lights of moving vessels. Overhead were the same clean stars which were at the same time shining down upon the woods and the mountain tops. There was something about it that made me feel a man and a free man. There was twenty years of slavery back of me to make me appreciate this.
And Ruth reading my thoughts in my eyes used to nestle closer to me and the boy with his chin in his hands would stare out at sea and dream his own dreams.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
As I said, with that first dollar in the ginger jar representing the first actual saving I had ever effected in my whole life, my imagination became fired with new plans. I saw no reason why I myself should not become an employer. As in the next few weeks I enlarged my circle of acquaintances and pushed my inquiries in every possible direction I found this idea was in the air down here. The ambition of all these people was towards complete independence. Either they hoped to set up in business for themselves in this country or they looked forward to saving enough to return to the land of their birth and live there as small land owners. I speak more especially of the Italians because just now I was thrown more in contact with them than the others. In my city they, with the Irish, seemed peculiarly of real emigrant stuff. The Jews were so clannish that they were a problem in themselves; the Germans assimilated a little better and yet they too were like one large family. They did not get into the city life very much and even in their business stuck pretty closely to one line. For a good many years they remained essentially Germans. But the Irish were citizens from the time they landed and the Italians eventually became such if by a slower process.
The former went into everything. They are a tremendously adaptable people. But whatever they tackled they looked forward to independence and generally won it. Even a man of so humble an ambition as Murphy had accomplished this. The Italians either went into the fruit business for which they seem to have a knack or served as day laborers and saved. There was a man down here who was always ready to stake them to a cart and a supply of fruit, at an exorbitant price to be sure, but they pushed their carts patiently mile upon mile until in the end they saved enough to buy one of their own. The next step was a small fruit store. The laborers, once they had acquired a working capital, took up many things—a lot of them going into the country and buying deserted farms. It was wonderful what they did with this land upon which the old stock New Englander had not been able to live. But of course in part explanation of this, you must remember that these New England villages have long been drained of their best. In many cases only the maim, the halt, and the blind are left and these stand no more chance against the modern pioneer than they would against one of their own sturdy forefathers.
Another occupation which the Italians seemed to preempt was the boot-blacking business. It may seem odd to dignify so menial an employment as a business but there is many a head of such an establishment who could show a fatter bank account than two-thirds of his clients. The next time you go into a little nook containing say fifteen chairs, figure out for yourself how many nickels are left there in a day. The rent is often high—it is some proof of a business worth thought when you consider that they are able to pay for positions on the leading business streets—but the labor is cheap and the furnishings and cost of raw material slight. Pasquale had set me to thinking long before, when I learned that he was earning almost as much a week as I. It is no unusual thing for a man who owns his "emporium" to draw ten dollars a day in profits and not show himself until he empties the cash register at night.
But the fact that impressed me in these people—and this holds peculiarly true of the Jews—was that they all shied away from the salaried jobs. In making such generalizations I may be running a risk because I'm only giving the results of my own limited observation and experience. But I want it understood that from the beginning to the end of these recollections I'm trying to do nothing more. I'm not a student. I'm not a sociologist. The conditions which I observed may not hold elsewhere for all I know. From a different point of view, they might not to another seem to hold even in my own city. I won't argue with anyone about it. I set down what I myself saw and let it go at that.
Going back to the small group among whom I lived when I was with the United Woollen, it seems to me that every man clung to a salary as though it were his only possible hope. I know men among them who even refused to work on a commission basis although they were practically sure of earning in this way double what they were being paid by the year. They considered a salary as a form of insurance and once in the grip of this idea they had nothing to look forward to except an increase. I was no better myself. I didn't really expect to be head of the firm. Nor did the other men. We weren't working and holding on with any notion of winning independence along that line. The most we hoped for was a bigger salary. Some men didn't anticipate more than twenty-five hundred like me, and others—the younger men—talked about five thousand and even ten thousand. I didn't hear them discuss what they were going to do when they were general managers or vice-presidents but always what they could enjoy when they drew the larger annuity. And save those who saw in professional work a way out, this was the career they were choosing for their sons. They wanted to get them into banks and the big companies where the assurance of lazy routine advancement up to a certain point was the reward for industry, sobriety and honesty. A salary with an old, strongly established company seemed to them about as big a stroke of luck for a young man as a legacy. I myself had hoped to find a place for Dick with one of the big trust companies.
Of course down here these people did not have the same opportunities. Most of the old firms preferred the "bright young American" and I guess they secured most of them. I pity the "bright young American" but I can't help congratulating the bright young Italians and the bright young Irishmen. They are forced as a result to make business for themselves and they are given every opportunity in the world for doing it. And they are doing it. And I, breathing in this atmosphere, made up my mind that I would do it, too.
With this in mind I outlined for myself a systematic course of procedure. It was evident that in this as in any other business I must master thoroughly the details before taking up the larger problems. The details of this as of any other business lay at the bottom and so for these at least I was at present in the best possible position. The two most important factors to the success of a contractor seemed to me to be, roughly speaking, the securing and handling of men and the purchase and use of materials. Of the two, the former appeared to be the more important. Even in the few weeks I had been at work here I had observed a big difference in the amount of labor accomplished by different men individually. I could have picked out a half dozen that were worth more than all the others put together. And in the two foremen I had noticed another big difference in the varying capacity of a boss to get work out of the men collectively. In work where labor counted for so much in the final cost as here, it appeared as though this involved almost the whole question of profit and loss. With a hundred men employed at a dollar and a half a day, the saving of a single hour meant the saving of a good many dollars.
It may seem odd that so obvious a fact was not taken advantage of by the present contractors. Doubtless it was realized but my later experience showed me that the obvious is very often neglected. In this business as in many others, the details fall into a rut and often a newcomer with a fresh point of view will detect waste that has been going on unnoticed for years. I was almost forty years old, fairly intelligent, and I had everything at stake. So I was distinctly more alert than those who retained their positions merely by letting things run along as well as they always had been going. But however you may explain it, I knew that the foreman didn't get as much work out of me as he might have done. In spite of all the control I exercised over myself I often quit work realizing that half my strength during the day had gone for nothing. And though it may sound like boasting to say it, I think I worked both more conscientiously and intelligently than most of the men.
In the first place the foreman was a bully. He believed in driving his men. He swore at them and goaded them as an ignorant countryman often tries to drive oxen. The result was a good deal the same as it is with oxen—the men worked excitedly when under the sting and loafed the rest of the time. In a crisis the boss was able to spur them on to their best—though even then they wasted strength in frantic endeavor—but he could not keep them up to a consistent level of steady work. And that's what counts. As in a Marathon race the men who maintain a steady plugging pace from start to finish are the ones who accomplish.
The question may be asked how such a boss could keep his job. I myself did not understand that at first but later as I worked with different men and under different bosses I saw that it was because their methods were much alike and that the results were much alike. A certain standard had been established as to the amount of work that should be done by a hundred men and this was maintained. The boss had figured out loosely how much the men would work and the men had figured out to a minute how much they could loaf. Neither man nor boss took any special interest in the work itself. The men were allowed to waste just so much time in getting water, in filling their pipes, in spitting on their hands, in resting on their shovels, in lazy chatter, and so long as they did not exceed this nothing was said.
The trouble was that the standard was low and this was because the men had nothing to gain by steady conscientious work and also because the boss did not understand them nor distinguish between them. For instance the foreman ought to have got the work of two men out of me but he wouldn't have, if I hadn't chosen to give it. That held true also of Rafferty and one or two others.
Now my idea was this: that if a man made a study of these men who, in this city at any rate, were the key to the contractor's problem, and learned their little peculiarities, their standards of justice, their ambitions, their weakness and their strength, he ought to be able to increase their working capacity. Certainly an intelligent teamster does this with horses and it seemed as though it ought to be possible to accomplish still finer results with men. To go a little farther in my ambition, it also seemed possible to pick and select the best of these men instead of taking them at random. For instance in the present gang there were at least a half dozen who stood out as more intelligent and stronger physically than all the others. Why couldn't a man in time gather about him say a hundred such men and by better treatment, possibly better pay, possibly a guarantee of continuous work, make of them a loyal, hard working machine with a capacity for double the work of the ordinary gang? Such organization as this was going on in other lines of business, why not in this? With such a machine at his command, a man ought to make himself a formidable competitor with even the long established firms.
At any rate this was my theory and it gave a fresh inspiration to my work. Whether anything came of it or not it was something to hope for, something to toil for, something which raised this digging to the plane of the pioneer who joyfully clears his field of stumps and rocks. It swung me from the present into the future. It was a different future from that which had weighed me down when with the United Woollen. This was no waiting game. Neither your pioneer nor your true emigrant sits down and waits. Here was something which depended solely upon my own efforts for its success or failure. And I knew that it wasn't possible to fail so dismally but what the joy of the struggle would always be mine.
In the meanwhile I carried with me to my work a note book and during the noon hour I set down everything which I thought might be of any possible use to me. I missed no opportunity for learning even the most trivial details. A great deal of the information was superficial and a great deal of it was incorrect but down it went in the note book to be revised later when I became better informed.
I watched my fellow workmen as much as possible and plied them with questions. I wanted to know where the cement came from and in what proportion it was mixed with sand and gravel and stone for different work. I wanted to know where the sand and gravel and stone came from and how it was graded. Wherever it was possible I secured rough prices for different materials. I wanted to know where the lumber was bought and I wanted to know how the staging was built and why it was built. Understand that I did not flatter myself that I was fast becoming a mason, a carpenter, an engineer and a contractor all in one and all at once. I knew that the most of my information was vague and loose. Half the men who were doing the work didn't know why they were doing it and a lot of them didn't know how they were doing it. They worked by instinct and habit. Then, too, they were a clannish lot and a jealous lot. They resented my questioning however delicately I might do it and often refused to answer me. But in spite of this I found myself surprised later with the fund of really valuable knowledge I acquired.
In addition to this I acquired sources of information. I found out where to go for the real facts. I learned for instance who for this particular job was supplying for the contractor his cement and gravel and crushed stone—though as it happened this contractor himself either owned or controlled his own plant for the production of most of his material. However I learned something when I learned that. For a man who had apparently been in business all his life, I was densely ignorant of even the fundamentals of business. This idea of running the business back to the sources of the raw material was a new idea to me. I had not thought of the contractor as owning his own quarries and gravel pits, obvious as the advantage was. I wanted to know where the tools were bought and how much they cost—from the engines and hoisting cranes and carrying system down to pick-axes, crowbars and shovels. I made a note of the fact that many of the smaller implements were not cared for properly and even tried to estimate how with proper attention the life of a pick-axe could be prolonged. I joyed particularly in every such opportunity as this no matter how trivial it appeared later. It was just such details as these which gave reality to my dream.
I figured out how many cubic feet of earth per day per man was being handled here and how this varied under different bosses. I pried and listened and questioned and figured even when digging. I worked with my eyes and ears wide open. It was wonderful how quickly in this way the hours flew. A day now didn't seem more than four hours long. Many the time I've felt actually sorry when the signal to quit work was given at night and have hung around for half an hour while the engineer fixed his boiler for the night and the old man lighted his lanterns to string along the excavation. I don't know what they all thought of me, but I know some of them set me down for a college man doing the work for experience. This to say the least was flattering to my years.
As I say, a lot of this work was wasted energy in the sense that I acquired anything worth while, but none of it was wasted when I recall the joy of it. If I had actually been a college boy in the first flush of youthful enthusiasm I could not have gone at my work more enthusiastically or dreamed wilder or bigger dreams. Even after many of these bubbles were pricked and had vanished, the mood which made them did not vanish. I have never forgotten and never can forget the sheer delight of those months. I was eighteen again with a lot besides that I didn't have at eighteen.
My work along another line was more practical and more successful. What I learned about the men and the best way to handle them was genuine capital. In the first place I lost no opportunity to make myself as solid as possible with Dan Rafferty. This was not altogether from a purely selfish motive either. I liked the man. In a way I think he was the most lovable man I ever met, although that seems a lady-like term to apply to so rugged a fellow. But below his beef and brawn, below his aggressiveness, below his coarseness, below even a peculiar moral bluntness about a good many things, there was a strain of something fine about Dan Rafferty. I had a glimpse of it when he preferred going back to the sewer gas rather than let a man like the old foreman force him into a position where the latter could fire him. But that was only one side of him. He had a heart as big as a woman's and one as keen to respond to sympathy. This in its turn inspired in others a feeling towards him that to save my life I can only describe as love—love in its big sense. He'd swear like a pirate at the Dagoes and they'd only grin back at him where'd they'd feel like knifing any other man. And when Dan learned that Anton' had lost his boy he sent down to the house a wreath of flowers half as big as a cart wheel. There was scarcely a day when some old lady didn't manage to see Dan at the noon hour and draw him aside with a mumbled plea that always made him dig into his pockets. He caught me watching him one day and said in explanation, "She's me grandmither."
After I'd seen at least a dozen different ones approach him I asked him if they were all his grandmothers.
"Sure," he said. "Ivery ould woman in the ward is me grandmither."
Those same grandmothers stood him in good stead later in his life, for every single grandmother had some forty grandchildren and half of these had votes. But Dan wasn't looking that far ahead then. Two facts rather distinguished him at the start; he didn't either drink or smoke. He didn't have any opinions upon the subject but he was one of the rare Irishmen born that way. Now and then you'll find one and as likely as not he'll prove one of the good fellows you'd expect to see in the other crowd. However, beyond exciting my interest and leading me to score him some fifty points in my estimate of him as a good workman, I was indifferent to this side of his character. The thing that impressed me most was a quality of leadership he seemed to possess. There was nothing masterful about it. You didn't look to see him lead in any especially good or great cause, but you could see readily enough that whatever cause he chose, it would be possible for him to gather about him a large personal following. I was attracted to this side of him in considering him as having about all the good raw material for a great boss. Put twenty men on a rope with Dan at the head of them and just let him say, "Now, biys—altogither," and you'd see every man's neck grow taut with the strain. I know because I've been one of the twenty and felt as though I wanted to drag every muscle out of my body. And when it was over I'd ask myself why in the devil I pulled that way. When I told myself that it was because I was pulling with Dan Rafferty I said all I knew about it.
It seemed to me that any man who secured Dan as a boss would already have the backbone of his gang. I didn't ever expect to use him in this way but I wanted the man for a friend and I wanted to learn the secret of his power if I could. But I may as well confess right now that I never fully fathomed that.
In the meanwhile I had not neglected the other men. At every opportunity I talked with them. At the beginning I made it a point to learn their names and addresses which I jotted down in my book. I learned something from them of the padrone system and the unfair contracts into which they were trapped. I learned their likes and dislikes, their ambitions, and as much as possible about their families. It all came hard at first but little by little as I worked with them I found them trusting me more with their confidences.
In this way then the first summer passed. Both Ruth and the boy in the meanwhile were just as busy about their respective tasks as I was. The latter took to the gymnasium work like a duck to water and in his enthusiasm for this tackled his lessons with renewed interest. He put on five pounds of weight and what with the daily ocean swim which we both enjoyed, his cheeks took on color and he became as brown as an Indian. If he had passed the summer at the White Mountains he could not have looked any hardier. He made many friends at the Y.M.C.A. They were all ambitious boys and they woke him up wonderfully. I was careful to follow him closely in this new life and made it a point to see the boys myself and to make him tell me at the end of each day just what he had been about. Dick was a boy I could trust to tell me every detail. He was absolutely truthful and he wasn't afraid to open his heart to me with whatever new questions might be bothering him. As far as possible I tried to point out to him what to me seemed the good points in his new friends and to warn him against any little weaknesses among them which from time to time I might detect. Ruth did the rest. A father, however much a comrade he may be with his boy, can go only so far. There is always plenty left which belongs to the mother—if she is such a mother as Ruth.
As for Ruth herself I watched her anxiously in fear lest the new life might wear her down but honestly as far as the house was concerned she didn't seem to have as much to bother her as she had before. She was slowly getting the buying and the cooking down to a science. Many a week now our food bill went as low as a little over three dollars. We bought in larger quantities and this always effected a saving. We bought a barrel of flour and half a barrel of sugar for one thing. Then as the new potatoes came into the market we bought half a barrel of those and half a barrel of apples. She did wonders with those apples and they added a big variety to our menus. Another saving was effected by buying suet which cost but a few cents a pound, trying this out and mixing it with the lard for shortening. As the weather became cooler we had baked beans twice a week instead of once. These made for us four and sometimes five or six meals. We figured out that we could bake a quart pot of beans, using half a pound of pork to a pot, for less than twenty cents. This gave the three of us two meals with some left over for lunch, making the cost per man about three cents. And they made a hearty meal, too. That was a trick she had learned in the country where baked beans are a staple article of diet. I liked them cold for my lunch.
As for clothes neither Ruth nor myself needed much more than we had. I bought nothing but one pair of heavy boots which Ruth picked up at a bankrupt sale for two dollars. On herself she didn't spend a cent. She brought down here with her a winter and a summer street suit, several house dresses and three or four petticoats and a goodly supply of under things. She knew how to care for them and they lasted her. I brought down, in addition to my business suit, a Sunday suit of blue serge and a dress suit and a Prince Albert. I sold the last two to a second hand dealer for eleven dollars and this helped towards the boy's outfit in the fall. She bought for him a pair of three dollar shoes for a dollar and a half at this same "Sold Out" sale, a dollar's worth of stockings and about a dollar's worth of underclothes. He had a winter overcoat and hat, though I could have picked up these in either a pawnshop or second hand store for a couple of dollars. It was wonderful what you could get at these places, especially if anyone had the knack which Ruth had of making over things.
THE EMIGRANT SPIRIT
That fall the boy passed his entrance examinations and entered the finest school in the state—the city high school. If he had been worth a million he couldn't have had better advantages. I was told that the graduates of this school entered college with a higher average than the graduates of most of the big preparatory schools. Certainly they had just as good instruction and if anything better discipline. There was more competition here and a real competition. Many of the pupils were foreign born and a much larger per cent of them children of foreign born. Their parents had been over here long enough to realize what an advantage an education was and the children went at their work with the feeling that their future depended upon their application here.
The boy's associates might have been more carefully selected at some fashionable school but I was already beginning to realize that selected associates aren't always select associates and that even if they are this is more of a disadvantage than an advantage. The fact that the boy's fellows were all of a kind was what had disturbed me even in the little suburban grammar school. For that matter I can see now that even for Ruth and me this sameness was a handicap for both us and our neighbors. There was no clash. There was a dead level. I don't believe that's good for either boys or men or for women.
Supposing this open door policy did admit a few worthless youngsters into the school and supposing again that the private school didn't admit such of a different order (which I very much doubt)—along with these Dick was going to find here the men—the past had proved this and the present was proving it—who eventually would become our statesmen, our progressive business men, our lawyers and doctors—if not our conservative bankers. For one graduate of such a school as my former surroundings had made me think essential for the boy, I could count now a dozen graduates of this very high school who were distinguishing themselves in the city. The boy was going to meet here the same spirit I was getting in touch with among my emigrant friends—a zeal for life, a belief in the possibilities of life, an optimistic determination to use these possibilities, which somehow the blue-blooded Americans were losing. It seemed to me that life was getting stale for the fourth and fifth generation. I tried to make the boy see this point of view. I went back again with him to the pioneer idea.
"Dick," I said in substance, "your great-great-grandfather pulled up stakes and came over to this country when there was nothing here but trees, rocks and Indians. It was a hard fight but a good fight and he left a son to carry on the fight. So generation after generation they fought but somehow they grew a bit weaker as they fought. Now," I said, "you and I are going to try to recover that lost ground. Let's think of ourselves as like our great-great-grandfathers. We've just come over here. So have about a million others. The fight is a different fight to-day but it's no less a fight and we're going to win. We have a good many advantages that these newcomers haven't. You see them making good on every side of you but I'll bet they can't lick a good American—when he isn't asleep. You and I are going to make good too."
"You bet we are, Dad," he said, with his eyes grown bright.
"Then," I said, "you must work the way the newcomers work. I don't want you to think you're any better than they are. You aren't. But you're just as good and these two hundred years we've lived here ought to count for something."
The boy lifted his head at this.
"You make me feel as though we'd just landed with the Pilgrims," he said.
"So we have," I said. "June seventh of this very year we landed on Plymouth Rock just as our ancestors did two centuries ago. They've been all this time paving the way for you and me. They've built roads and schools and factories and it's up to us now to use them. You and I have just landed from England. Let's see what we can do as pioneers."
I wanted to get at the young American in him. I wanted him to realize that he was something more than the son of his parents; something more than just an average English-speaking boy. I wanted him to feel the impetus of the big history back of him and the big history yet to be made ahead of him. He had known nothing of that before. The word American had no meaning to him except when a regiment of soldiers was marching by. I wanted him to feel all the time as he did when his throat grew lumpy with the band playing and the stars and stripes flying on Fourth of July or Decoration Day.
I urged him to study hard as the first essential towards success but I also told him to get into the school life. I didn't want him to stand back as his tendency was and watch the other fellows. I didn't want him to sit in the bleachers—at least not until he had proved that this was the place for him. Even then I wanted him to lead the cheering. I wanted him to test himself in the literary societies, the dramatic clubs, on the athletic field. In other words, instead of remaining passive I wanted him to take an aggressive attitude towards life. In still other words instead of being a middle-classer I wanted him to get something of the emigrant spirit. And I had the satisfaction of seeing him begin his work with the germ of that idea in his brain.
In the meanwhile with the approach of cold weather I saw a new item of expense loom up in the form of coal. We had used kerosene all summer but now it became necessary for the sake of heat to get a stove. For a week I took what time I could spare and wandered around among the junk shops looking for a second hand stove and finally found just what I wanted. I paid three dollars for it and it cost me another dollar to have some small repairs made. I set it up myself in the living room which we decided to use as a kitchen for the winter. But when I came to look into the matter of getting coal down here I found I was facing a pretty serious problem. Coal had been a big item in the suburbs but the way people around me were buying it, made it a still bigger one. No cellar accommodations came with the tenement and so each one was forced to buy his coal by the basket or bag. A basket of anthracite was costing them at this time about forty cents. This was for about eighty pounds of coal, which made the total cost per ton eleven dollars—at least three dollars and a half over the regular price. Even with economy a person would use at least a bag a week. This, to leave a liberal margin, would amount to about a ton and a half of coal during the winter months. I didn't like the idea of absorbing the half dollar or so a week that Ruth was squeezing out towards what few clothes we had to buy, in this way—at least the over-charge part of it. With the first basket I brought home, I said, "I see where you'll have to dig down into the ginger jar this winter, little woman."
She looked as startled as though I had told her someone had stolen the savings.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
I pointed to the basket.
"Coal costs about eleven dollars a ton, down here."
When she found out that this was all that caused my remark, she didn't seem to be disturbed.
"Billy," she said, "before we touch the ginger jar it will have to cost twenty dollars a ton. We'll live on pea soup and rice three times a day before I touch that."
"All right," I said, "but it does seem a pity that the burden of such prices as these should fall on the poor."
"Why do they?" she asked.
"Because in this case," I said, "the dealers seem to have us where the wool is short."
"How have they?" she insisted.
"We can't buy coal by the ton because we haven't any place to put it." She thought a moment and then she said:
"We could take care of a fifth of a ton, Billy. That's only five baskets."
"They won't sell five any cheaper than one."
"And every family in this house could take care of five," she went on. "That would make a ton."
I began to see what she meant and as I thought of it I didn't see why it wasn't a practical scheme.
"I believe that's a good idea," I said. "And if there were more women like you in the world I don't believe there'd be any trusts at all."
"Nonsense," she said. "You leave it to me now and I'll see the other women in the house. They are the ones who'll appreciate a good saving like that."
She saw them and after a good deal of talk they agreed, so I told Ruth to tell them to save out of next Saturday night's pay a dollar and a half apiece. I was a bit afraid that if I didn't get the cash when the coal was delivered I might get stuck on the deal. The next Monday I ordered the coal and asked to have it delivered late in the day. When I came home I found the wagon waiting and it created about as much excitement on the street as an ambulance. I guess it was the first time in the history of Little Italy that a coal team had ever stopped before a tenement. The driver had brought baskets with him and I filled up one and took it to a store nearby and weighed into it eighty pounds of coal. With that for my guide I gathered the other men of the families about me and made them carry the coal in while I measured it out. The driver who at first was inclined to object to the whole proceeding was content to let things go on when he found himself relieved of all the carrying. We emptied the wagon in no time and the other men insisted upon carrying up my coal for me. I collected every cent of my money and incidentally established myself on a firm footing with every family in the house. Several other tenements later adopted the plan but the idea didn't take hold the way you'd have thought it would. I guess it was because there weren't any more Ruths around there to oversee the job. Then, too, while these people are far-sighted in a good many ways, they are short-sighted in others. Neither the wholesale nor co-operative plans appeal to them. For one thing they are suspicious and for another they don't like to spend any more than they have to day by day. Later on through Ruth's influence we carried our scheme a little farther with just the people in the house and bought flour and sugar that way but it was made possible only through their absolute trust in her. We always insisted on carrying out every such little operation on a cash basis and they never failed us.
Ruth's influence had been gradually spreading through the neighborhood. She had found time to meet the other families in the house and through them had met a dozen more. The first floor was occupied by Michele, an Italian laborer, his wife, his wife's sister and two children. On the second floor there was Giuseppe, the young sculptor, and his father and mother. The father was an invalid and the lad supported the three. On the third floor lived a fruit peddler, his wife and his wife's mother—rather a commonplace family, while the fourth floor was occupied by Pietro, a young fellow who sold cut flowers on the street and hoped some day to have a garden of his own. He had two children and a grandmother to care for.
It certainly afforded a contrast to visit those other flats and then Ruth's. Right here is where her superior intelligence came in, of course. The foreign-born women do not so quickly adapt themselves to the standards of this country as the men do. Most of them as I learned, come from the country districts of Italy where they live very rudely. Once here they make their new quarters little better than their old. The younger ones however who are going to school are doing better. But taken by and large it was difficult to persuade them that cleanliness offered any especial advantages. It wasn't as though they minded the dirt and were chained to it by circumstances from which they couldn't escape—as I used to think. They simply didn't object to it. So long as they were warm and had food enough they were content. They didn't suffer in any way that they themselves could see.
But when Ruth first went into their quarters she was horrified. She thought that at length she was face to face with all the misery and squalor of the slums of which she had read. I remember her chalk-white face as she met me at the door upon my return home one night. She nearly drove the color out of my own cheeks for I thought surely that something had happened to the boy. But it wasn't that; she had heard that the baby on the first floor was ill and had gone down there to see if there was anything she might do for it. Until then she had seen nothing but the outside of the other doors from the hall and they looked no different from our own. But once inside—well I guess that's where the two hundred years if not the four hundred years back of us native Americans counts.
"Why, Billy," she cried, "it was awful. I'll never get that picture out of mind if I live to be a hundred."
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Why the poor little thing—"
"What poor little thing?" I interrupted.
"Michele's baby. It lay there in dirty rags with its pinched white face staring up at me as though just begging for a clean bed."
"What's the matter with it?"
"Matter with it? It's a wonder it isn't dead and buried. The district nurse came in while I was there and told me,"—she shuddered—"that they'd been feeding it on macaroni cooked in greasy gravy. And it isn't six months old yet."
"No wonder it looked white," I said, remembering how we had discussed for a week the wisdom of giving Dick the coddled white of an egg at that age.
"Why the conditions down there are terrible," cried Ruth. "Michele must be very, very poor. The floor wasn't washed, you couldn't see out of the windows, and the clothes—"
She held up her hands unable to find words.
"That does sound bad," I said.
"It's criminal. Billy—we can't allow a family in the same house with us to suffer like that, can we?"
I shook my head.
"Then go down and see what you can do. I guess we can squeeze out fifty cents for them, can't we, Billy?"
"I guess you could squeeze fifty cents out of a stone for a sick baby," I said.
The upshot of it was that I went down and saw Michele. As Ruth had said his quarters were anything but clean but they didn't impress me as being in so bad a condition as she had described them. Perhaps my work in the ditch had made me a little more used to dirt. I found Michele a healthy, temperate, able-bodied man and I learned that he was earning as much as I. Not only that but the women took in garments to finish and picked up the matter of two or three dollars a week extra. There were five in the family but they were far from being in want. In fact Michele had a good bank account. They had all they wanted to eat, were warm and really prosperous. There was absolutely no need of the dirt. It was there because they didn't mind it. A five cent cake of soap would have made the rooms clean as a whistle and there were two women to do the scrubbing. I didn't leave my fifty cents but I came back upstairs with a better appreciation, if that were possible, of what such a woman as Ruth means to a man. Even the baby began to get better as soon as the district nurse drove into the parent's head a few facts about sensible infant feeding.
I don't want to make out that life is all beer and skittles for the tenement dwellers. It isn't. But I ran across any number of such cases as this where conditions were not nearly so bad as they appeared on the surface. Taking into account the number of people who were gathered together here in a small area I didn't see among the temperate and able-bodied any worse examples of hard luck than I saw among my former associates. In fact of sheer abstract hard luck I didn't see as much. In seventy-five per cent of the cases the conditions were of their own making—either the man was a drunkard or the women slovenly or the whole family was just naturally vicious. Ignorance may excuse some of this but not all of it. Perhaps I'm not what you'd call sympathetic but I've heard a lot of men talk about these people in a way that sounds to me like twaddle. I never ran across a family down here in such misery as that which Steve Bonnington's wife endured for years without a whimper.
Bonnington was a clerk with a big insurance company. He lived four houses below us on our street. I suppose he was earning about eighteen hundred dollars a year when he died. He left five children and he never had money enough even to insure in his own company. He didn't leave a cent. When Helen Bonnington came back from the grave it was to face the problem of supporting unaided, either by experience or relatives, five children ranging from twelve to one. She was a shy, retiring little body who had sapped her strength in just bringing the children into the world and caring for them in the privacy of her home. She had neither the temperament nor the training to face the world. But she bucked up to it. She sold out of the house what things she could spare, secured cheap rooms on the outskirts of the neighborhood and announced that she would do sewing. What it cost her to come back among her old friends and do that is a particularly choice type of agony that it would be impossible for a tenement widow to appreciate. And this same self-respect which both Helen's education and her environment forced her to maintain, handicapped her in other ways. You couldn't give Mrs. Bonnington scraps from your table; you couldn't give her old clothes or old shoes or money. It wasn't her fault because this was so; it wasn't your fault.