When her children were sick she couldn't send them off to the public wards of the hospitals. In the first place half the hospitals wouldn't take them as charity patients simply because she maintained a certain dignity, and in the second place the idea, by education, was so repugnant to her that it never entered her head to try. So she stayed at home and sewed from daylight until she couldn't hold open her eyes at night. That's where you get your true "Song of the Shirt." She not only sewed her fingers to the bone but while doing it she suffered a very fine kind of torture wondering what would happen to the five if she broke down. Asylums and homes and hospitals don't imply any great disgrace to most of the tenement dwellers but to a woman of that type they mean Hell. God knows how she did it but she kept the five alive and clothed and in school until the boy was about fifteen and went to work. When I hear of the lone widows of the tenements, who are apt to be very husky, and who work out with no great mental struggle and who have clothes and food given them and who set the children to work as soon as they are able to walk, I feel like getting up in my seat and telling about Helen Bonnington—a plain middle-classer. And she was no exception either.
I seem to have rambled off a bit here but this was only one of many contrasts which I made in these years which seemed to me to be all in favor of my new neighbors. The point is that at the bottom you not only see advantages you didn't see before but you're in a position to use them. You aren't shackled by conventions; you aren't cramped by caste. The world stands ready to help the under dog but before it will lift a finger it wants to see the dog stretched out on its back with all four legs sticking up in prayer. Of the middle-class dog who fights on and on, even after he's wobbly and can't see, it doesn't seem to take much notice.
However Ruth started in with a few reforms of her own. She made it a point to go down and see young Michele every day and watch that he didn't get any more macaroni and gravy. The youngster himself resented this interference but the parents took it in good part. Then in time she ventured further and suggested that the baby would be better off if the windows were washed to let in the sunshine and the floor scrubbed a bit. Finally she became bold enough to hint that it might be well to wash some of the bed clothing.
The district nurse appreciated the change, if Michele himself didn't and I found that it wasn't long before Miss Colver was making use of this new influence in the house. She made a call on Ruth and discussed her cases with her until in the end she made of her a sort of first assistant. This was the beginning of a new field of activity for Ruth which finally won for her the name of Little Mother. It was wonderful how quickly these people discovered the sweet qualities in Ruth that had passed all unnoticed in the old life.
It made me very proud.
I had found that I was badly handicapped in all intercourse with my Italian fellow workers by the fact that I knew nothing of their language and that they knew but little English. The handicap did not lie so much in the fact that we couldn't make ourselves understood—we could after a rough fashion—as it did in the fact that this made a barrier which kept our two nationalities sharply defined. I was always an American talking to an Italian. The boss was always an American talking to a Dago. This seemed to me a great disadvantage. It ought to be just a foreman to his man or one man to another.
The chance to acquire a new language I thought had passed with my high school days, but down here everyone was learning English and so I resolved to study Italian. I made a bargain with Giuseppe, the young sculptor, who was now a frequent visitor at our flat, to teach me his language in return for instruction in mine. He agreed though he had long been getting good instruction at the night school. But the lad had found an appreciative friend in Ruth who not only sincerely admired the work he was doing but who admired his enthusiasm and his knowledge of art. I liked him myself for he was dreaming bigger things than I. To watch his thin cheeks grow red and his big brown eyes flash as he talked of some old painting gave me a realization that there was something else to be thought of even down here than mere money success. It was good for me.
The poor fellow was driven almost mad by having to offer for sale some of the casts which his master made him carry. He would have liked to sell only busts of Michael Angelo and Dante and worthy reproductions of the old masters.
"There are so many beautiful things," he used to exclaim excitedly in broken English; "why should they want to make anything that is not beautiful?"
He sputtered time and time again over the pity of gilding the casts. You'd have thought it was a crime which ought to be punished by hanging.
"Even Dante," he groaned one night, "that wonderful, white sad face of Dante covered all over with gilt!"
"It has to look like gold before an American will buy it," I suggested.
"Yes," he nodded. "They would even gild the Christ."
Ruth said she wanted to learn Italian with me, and so the three of us used to get together every night right after dinner. I bought a grammar at a second hand bookstore but we used to spend most of our time in memorizing the common every day things a man would be likely to use in ordinary conversation. Giuseppe would say, "Ha Ella il mio cappello?"
And I would say,
"Si, Signore, ho il di Lei cappello."
"Ha Ella il di Lei pane?"
"Si, Signore, ho il mio pane."
"Ha Ella il mio zucchero?"
"Si, Signore, ho il di Lei zucchero."
There wasn't much use in going over such simple things in English for Giuseppe and so instead of this Ruth would read aloud something from Tennyson. After explaining to him just what every new word meant, she would let him read aloud to her the same passage. He soon became very enthusiastic over the text itself and would often stop her with the exclamation,
"Ah, there is a study!"
Then he would tell us just how he would model whatever the picture happened to be that he saw in his mind. It was wonderful how clearly he saw these pictures. He could tell you even down to how the folds of the women's dresses should fall just as though he were actually looking at living people.
After a week or two when we had learned some of the simpler phrases Ruth and I used to practise them as much as possible every day. We felt quite proud when we could ask one another for "quel libro" or "quell' abito" or "il cotello" or "il cucchiaio." I was surprised at how soon we were able to carry on quite a long talk.
This new idea—that even though I was approaching forty I wasn't too old to resume my studies—took root in another direction. As I had become accustomed to the daily physical exercise and no longer returned home exhausted I felt as though I had no right to loaf through my evenings, much as the privilege of spending them with Ruth meant to me. My muscles had become as hard and tireless as those of a well-trained athlete so that at night I was as alert mentally as in the morning. It made me feel lazy to sit around the house after an hour's lesson in Italian and watch Ruth busy with her sewing and see the boy bending over his books. Still I couldn't think of anything that was practicable until I heard Giuseppe talk one evening about the night school. I had thought this was a sort of grammar school with clay modeling thrown in for amusement.
"No, Signore," he said. "You can learn anything there. And there is another school where you can learn other things."
I went out that very evening and found that the school he attended taught among other subjects, book keeping and stenography—two things which appealed to me strongly. But in talking to the principal he suggested that before I decided I look into the night trade school which was run in connection with a manual training school. I took his advice and there I found so many things I wanted that I didn't know what to choose. I was amazed at the opportunity. A man could learn here about any trade he cared to take up. Both tools and material were furnished him. And all this was within ten minutes' walk of the house. I could still have my early evenings with Ruth and the boy even on the three nights I would be in school until a quarter past seven, spend two hours at learning my trade, and get back to the house again before ten. I don't see how a man could ask for anything better than this. Even then I wouldn't be away from home as much as I often was in my old life. There were many dreary stretches towards the end of my service with the United Woollen when I didn't get home until midnight. And the only extra pay we salaried men received for that was a brighter hope for the job ahead. This was always dangled before our eyes by Morse as a bait when he wished to drive us harder than usual.
I had my choice of a course in carpentry, bricklaying, sheet metal work, plumbing, electricity, drawing and pattern draughting. The work covered from one to three years and assured a man at the end of this time of a position among the skilled workmen who make in wages as much as many a professional man. Not only this but a man with such training as this and with ambition could look forward without any great stretch of the imagination to becoming a foreman in his trade and eventually winning independence. All this he could accomplish while earning his daily wages as an apprentice or a common laborer.
The class in masonry seemed to be more in line with my present plans than any of the other subjects. It ought to prove of value, I thought, to a man in the general contracting business and certainly to a man who undertook the contracting of building construction. At any rate it was a trade in which I was told there was a steady demand for good men and at which many men were earning from three to five dollars a day. I must admit that at first I didn't understand how brick-laying could be taught for I thought it merely a matter of practice but a glance at the outline of the course showed me my error. It looked as complicated as many of the university courses. The work included first the laying of a brick to line. A man was given actual practice with bricks and mortar under an expert mason. From this a man was advanced, when he had acquired sufficient skill, to the laying out of the American bond; then the building of square piers of different sizes; then the building of square and pigeon hole corners, then the laying out of brick footings. The second year included rowlock and bonded segmental arches; blocking, toothing, and corbeling; building and bonding of vaulted walls; polygonal and circular walls, piers and chimneys; fire-places and flues. The third year advanced a man to the nice points of the trade such as the foreign bonds—Flemish, Dutch, Roman and Old English; cutting and turning of arches of all kinds,—straight, cambered, semi-circular, three centred elliptical, and many forms of Gothic and Moorish arches; also brick panels and cornices. Finally it gave practice in the laying out of plans and work from these plans. Whatever time was left was devoted to speed in all these things as far as it was consistent with accurate and careful workmanship.
I enrolled at once and also entered a class in architectural drawing which was given in connection with this.
I came back and told Ruth and though of course she was afraid it might be too hard work for me she admitted that in the end it might save me many months of still harder work. If it hadn't been for the boy I think she would have liked to follow me even in these studies. Whatever new thing I took up, she wanted to take up too. But as I told her, it was she who was making the whole business possible and that was enough for one woman to do.
The school didn't open for a week and during that time I saw something of Rafferty. He surprised me by coming around to the flat one night—for what I couldn't imagine. I was glad to see him but I suspected that he had some purpose in making such an effort. I introduced him to Ruth and we all sat down in the kitchen and I told him what I was planning to do this winter and asked him why he didn't join me. I was rather surprised that the idea didn't appeal to him but I soon found out that he had another interest which took all his spare time. This interest was nothing else than politics. And Rafferty hadn't been over here long enough yet to qualify as a voter. In spite of this he was already on speaking terms with the state representative from our district, the local alderman, and was an active lieutenant of Sweeney's—the ward boss. At present he was interesting himself in the candidacy of this same Sweeney who was the Democratic machine candidate for Congress. Owing to some local row he was in danger of being knifed. Dan had come round to make sure I was registered and to swing me over if possible to the ranks of the faithful.
The names of which he spoke so familiarly meant nothing to me. I had heard a few of them from reading the papers but I hadn't read a paper for three months now and knew nothing at all about the present campaign. As a matter of fact I never voted except for the regular Republican candidate for governor and the regular Republican candidate for president. And I did that much only from habit. My father had been a Republican and I was a Republican after him and I felt that in a general way this party stood for honesty as against Tammanyism. But with councillors, and senators and aldermen, or even with congressmen I never bothered my head. Their election seemed to be all prearranged and I figured that one vote more or less wouldn't make much difference. I don't know as I even thought that much about it; I ignored the whole matter. What was true of me was true largely of the other men in our old neighborhood. Politics, except perhaps for an abstract discussion of the tariff, was not a vital issue with any of us.
Now here I found an emigrant who couldn't as yet qualify as a citizen knowing all the local politicians by their first names and spending his nights working for a candidate for congress. Evidently my arrival down here had been noted by those keen eyes which look after every single vote as a miser does his pennies. A man had been found who had at least a speaking acquaintance with me, and plans already set on foot to round me up.
I was inclined at first to treat this new development as a joke. But as Rafferty talked on he set me to thinking. I didn't know anything about the merits of the two present candidates but was strongly prejudiced to believe that the Democratic candidate, on general principles, was the worst one. However quite apart from this, wasn't Rafferty to-day a better citizen than I? Even admitting for the sake of argument that Sweeney was a crook, wasn't Rafferty who was trying his humble best to get him elected a better American than I who was willing to sit down passively and allow him to be elected? Rafferty at any rate was getting into the fight. His motive may have been selfish but I think his interest really sprang first from an instinctive desire to get into the game. Here he had come to a new country where every man had not only the chance to mix with the affairs of the ward, the city, the state, the nation, but also a good chance to make himself a leader in them. Sweeney himself was an example.
For twenty-five years or more Rafferty's countrymen had appreciated this opportunity for power and gone after it. The result everyone knows. Their victory in city politics at least had been so decisive year after year that the native born had practically laid down his arms as I had. And the reason for this perennial victory lay in just this fact that men like Rafferty were busy from the time they landed and men like me were lazily indifferent.
Three months before, a dozen speakers couldn't have made me see this. I had no American spirit back of me then to make me appreciate it. You might better have talked to a sleepy Russian Jew a week off the steamer. He at least would have sensed the sacred power for liberty which the voting privilege bestows.
I began to ask questions of Rafferty about the two men. He didn't know much about the other fellow except that he was "agin honest labor and a tool of the thrusts." But on Sweeney he grew eloquent.
"Sure," he said. "There's a mon after ye own heart, me biy. Faith he's dug in ditches himself an he knows wot a full dinner pail manes."
"What's his business?" I asked.
"A contracthor," he said. "He does big jobs for the city."
He let himself loose on what Sweeney proposed to do for the ward if elected. He would have the government undertake the dredging of the harbor thereby giving hundreds of jobs to the local men. He would do this thing and that—all of which had for their object apparently just that one goal. It was a direct personal appeal to every man toiler. In addition to this, Rafferty let drop a hint or two that Sweeney had jobs in his own business which he filled discreetly from the ranks of the wavering. It wasn't more than a month later, by the way, that Rafferty himself was appointed a foreman in the firm of Sweeney Brothers.
But apart from the merits of the question, the thing that impressed me was Rafferty's earnestness, the delight he took in the contest itself, and his activity. He was very much disappointed when I told him I wasn't even registered in the ward but he made me promise to look after that as soon as the lists were again opened and made an appointment for the next evening to take me round to a rally to meet the boys.
I went and was escorted to the home of the Sweeney Club. It was a good sized hall up a long flight of stairs. Through the heavy blue smoke which filled the room I saw the walls decorated with American flags and the framed crayon portraits of Sweeney and other local politicians. Large duck banners proclaimed in black ink the current catch lines of the campaign. At one end there was a raised platform, the rest of the room was filled with wooden settees. My first impression of it all was anything but favorable. It looked rather tawdry and cheap. The men themselves who filled the room were pretty tough-looking specimens. I noticed a few Italians of the fat class and one or two sharp-faced Jews, but for the most part these men were the cheaper element of the second and third generation. They were the loafers—the ward heelers. I certainly felt out of place among them and to me even Rafferty looked out of place. There was a freshness, a bulk about him, that his fellows here didn't have.
As he shoved his big body through the crowd, they greeted him by his first name with an oath or a joke and he beamed back at them all with a broad wave of his hand. It was evident that he was a man of some importance here. He worked a passage for me to the front of the hall and didn't stop until he reached a group of about a dozen men who were all puffing away at cigars. In the midst of them stood a man of about Rafferty's size in frame but fully fifty pounds heavier. He had a quiet, good-natured face. On the whole it was a strong face though a bit heavy. His eyes were everywhere. He was the first to notice Rafferty. He nodded with a familiar,
Dan seized my arm and dragged me forward:
"I want ye to meet me frind, Mister Carleton," he said.
Sweeney rested his grey eyes on me a second, saw that I was a stranger here, and stepped forward instantly with his big hand outstretched. He spoke without a trace of brogue.
"I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Carleton," he said.
I don't know that I'm easily impressed and I flattered myself that I could recognize a politician when I saw one, but I want to confess that there was something in the way he grasped my hand that instantly gave me a distinctly friendly feeling towards Sweeney. I should have said right then and there that the man wasn't as black as he was painted. He was neither oily nor sleek in his manner. We chatted a minute and I think he was a bit surprised in me. He wanted to know where I lived, where I was working, and how much of a family I had. He put these questions in so frank and fatherly a fashion that they didn't seem so impertinent to me at the time as they did later. Some one called him and as he turned away, he said to Rafferty,
"See me before you go, Dan."
Then he said to me,
"I hope I'll see you down here often, Carleton."
With that Dan took me around and introduced me to Tom, Dick and Harry or rather to Tim, Denny and Larry. This crowd came nearer to the notion I had of ward politicians. They were a noisy, husky-throated lot, but they didn't leave you in doubt for a minute but what every mother's son of them was working for Sweeney as though they were one big family with Daddy Sweeney at the head. You could overhear bits of plots and counter plots on every side. I was offered a dozen cigars in as many minutes and though some of the men rather shied away from me at first a whispered endorsement from Dan was all that was needed to bring them back.
There was something contagious about it and when later the meeting itself opened and Sweeney rose to speak I cheered him as heartily as anyone. By this time a hundred or more other men had come in who looked more outside the inner circle. Sweeney spoke simply and directly. It was a personal appeal he made, based on promises. I listened with interest and though it seemed to me that many of his pledges were extravagant he showed such a good spirit back of them that his speech on a whole produced a favorable effect.
At any rate I came away from the meeting with a stronger personal interest in politics than I had ever felt in my life. Instead of seeming like an abstruse or vague issue it seemed to me pretty concrete and pretty vital. It concerned me and my immediate neighbors. Here was a man who was going to Congress not as a figurehead of his party but to make laws for Rafferty and for me. He was to be my congressman if I chose to help make him such. He knew my name, knew my occupation, knew that I had a wife and one child, knew my address. And I want to say that he didn't forget them either.
As I walked back through the brightly lighted streets which were still as much alive as at high noon, I felt that after all this was my ward and my city. I wasn't a mere dummy, I was a member of a vast corporation. I had been to a rally and had shaken hands with Sweeney.
Ruth's only comment was a disgusted grunt as she smelled the rank tobacco in my clothes. She kept them out on the roof all the next day.
OUR FIRST WINTER
This first winter was filled with just about as much interest as it was possible for three people to crowd into six or seven months. And even then there was so much left over which we wanted to do that we fairly groaned as we saw opportunity after opportunity slip by which we simply didn't have the time to improve.
To begin with the boy, he went at his studies with a zest that placed him among the first ten of his class. Dick wasn't a quick boy at his books and so this stood for sheer hard plugging. To me this made his success all the more noteworthy. Furthermore it wasn't the result of goading either from Ruth or myself. I kept after him about the details of his school life and about the boys he met, but I let him go his own gait in his studies. I wanted to see just how the new point of view would work out in him. The result as I saw it was that every night after supper he went at his problems not as a mere school boy but man-fashion. He sailed in to learn. He had to. There was no prestige in that school coming from what the fathers did. No one knew what the fathers did. It didn't matter. With half a dozen nationalities in the race the school was too cosmopolitan to admit such local issues. A few boys might chum together feeling they were better than the others, but the school as a whole didn't recognize them. Each boy counted for what he did—what he was.
Of the other nine boys in the first ten, four were of Jewish origin, three were Irish, one was Italian, and the other was American born but of Irish descent. Half of them hoped to go through college on scholarships and the others had equally ambitious plans for business. The Jews were easily the most brilliant students but they didn't attempt anything else. The Italian showed some literary ability and wrote a little for the school paper. The American born Irish boy was made manager of the Freshman football team. The other four were natural athletes—two of them played on the school eleven and the others were just built for track athletics and basket ball. Dick tried for the eleven but he wasn't heavy enough for one thing and so didn't make anything but a substitute's position with the freshmen. I was just as well satisfied. I didn't mind the preliminary training but I felt I would as soon he added a couple more years to his age before he really played football, even if it was in him to play. My point had been won when he went out and tried.
At the end of the first four months in the school I thought I saw a general improvement in him. He held himself better for one thing—with his head higher and his shoulders well back. This wasn't due to his physical training either. It meant a changed mental attitude. Ruth says she didn't notice any difference and she thinks this is nothing but my imagination. But she's wrong. I was looking for something she couldn't see that the boy lacked before. Dick to her was always all right. Of course I knew myself that the boy couldn't go far wrong whatever his training, but I knew also that his former indifferent attitude was going to make his path just so much harder for him. Dick, when he read over this manuscript, said he thought the whole business was foolish and that even if I wanted to tell the story of my own life, the least I could do was to leave out him. But his life was more largely my life than he realizes even now. And his case was in many ways a better example of the true emigrant spirit than my own.
He joined the indoor track squad this winter, too, but here again he didn't distinguish himself. He fought his way into the finals at the interscholastic meet but that was all. However this, too, was good training for him. I saw that race myself and I watched his mouth instead of his legs. I liked the way his jaws came together on the last lap though it hurt to see the look in his eyes when he fell so far behind after trying so hard. But he crossed the finish line.
In the meanwhile Ruth was just about the busiest little woman in the city. And yet strangely enough this instead of dragging her down, built her up. She took on weight, her cheeks grew rosier than I had seen them for five years and she seemed altogether happier. I watched her closely because I made up my mind that ginger jar or no ginger jar the moment I saw a trace of heaviness in her eyes, she would have to quit some of her bargain hunting. I didn't mean to barter her good health for a few hundred dollars even if I had to remain a day laborer the rest of my life.
That possibility didn't seem to me now half so terrifying as did the old bogey of not getting a raise. I suppose for one thing this was because we neither of us felt so keenly the responsibility of the boy. In the old days we had both thought that he was doomed if we didn't save enough to send him through college and give him, at the end of his course, capital enough to start in business for himself. In other words, Dick seemed then utterly dependent upon us. It was as terrible a thought to think of leaving him penniless at twenty-one as leaving him an orphan at five months. The burden of his whole career rested on our shoulders.
But now as I saw him take his place among fellows who were born dependent upon themselves, as I learned about youngsters at the school who at ten earned their own living selling newspapers and even went through college on their earnings, as I watched him grow strong physically and tackle his work aggressively, I realized that even if anything should happen to either Ruth or myself the boy would be able to stand on his own feet. He had the whole world before him down here. If worst came to worst he could easily support himself daytimes, and at night learn either a trade or a profession. This was not a dream on my part; I saw men who were actually doing it. I was doing it myself for that matter. Personally I felt as easy about Dick's future by the middle of that first winter as though I had established an annuity for him which would assure him all the advantages I had ever hoped he might receive. So did Ruth.
I remember some horrible hours I passed in that little suburban house towards the end of my life there. Ruth would sit huddled up in a chair and try to turn my thoughts to other things but I could only pace the floor when I thought what would happen to her and the boy if anything should happen to me; or what would happen to the boy alone if anything should happen to the both of us. The case of Mrs. Bonnington hung over me like a nightmare and the other possibility was even worse. Why, when Cummings came down with pneumonia and it looked for a while as though he might die, I guess I suffered, by applying his case to mine, as much as ever he himself did on his sick bed. I used to inquire for his temperature every night as though it were my own. So did every man in the neighborhood.
Sickness was a wicked misfortune to that little crowd. When death did pick one of us, the whole structure of that family came tumbling down like a house of cards. If by the grace of God the man escaped, he was left hopelessly in debt by doctor's bills if in the meanwhile he hadn't lost his job. Sickness meant disaster, swift and terrible whatever its outcome. We ourselves escaped it, to be sure, but I've sweat blood over the mere thought of it.
Now if our thoughts ever took so grim a turn, we could speak quite calmly about it. It was impossible for me ever to think of Ruth as sick. My mind couldn't grasp that. But occasionally when I have come home wet and Ruth has said something about my getting pneumonia if I didn't look out, I've asked myself what this would mean. In the first place I now could secure admission to the best hospitals in the country free of cost. I had only to report my case to the city physician and if I were sick enough to warrant it, he would notify the hospital and they would send down an ambulance for me. I would be carried to a clean bed in a clean room and would receive such medical attention as before I could have had only as a millionaire. Physicians of national reputation would attend me, medicines would be supplied me, and I'd have a night and day nurse for whom outside I would have had to pay some forty dollars a week. Not only this but if I recovered I would be supplied the most nourishing foods in the market and after that sent out of town to one of the quiet convalescent hospitals if my condition warranted it. I don't suppose a thousand dollars would cover what here would be given me for nothing. And I wouldn't either be considered or treated like a charity patient. This was all my due as a citizen—as a toiler. Of course this would be done also for Dick as well as for Ruth.
I don't mean to say that such thoughts took up much of my time. I'm not morbid and we never did have any sickness—we lived too sanely for that. But just as our new viewpoint on Dick relieved us of a tension which before had sapped our strength, so it was a great relief to have such insurance as this in the background of our minds. It took all the curse off sickness that it's possible to take off. In three or four such ways as these a load of responsibility was removed from us and we were left free to apply all our energy to the task of upbuilding which we had in hand.
This may account somewhat for the reserve strength which Ruth as well as myself seemed to tap. Then of course the situation as a whole was such as to make any woman with imagination buoyant. Ruth had an active part in making a big rosy dream come true. She was now not merely a passive agent. She wasn't economizing merely to make the salary cover the current expenses. Her task was really the vital one of the whole undertaking; she was accumulating capital. When you stop to think of it she was the brains of the business; I was only the machine. I dug the money out of the ground but that wouldn't have amounted to much if it had all gone for nothing except to keep the machine moving from day to day. The dollar she saved was worth more than a hundred dollars earned and spent again. It was the only dollar which counted. They say a penny saved is a penny earned. To my mind a penny saved was worth to us at this time every cent of a dollar.
So Ruth was not only an active partner but there was another side to the game that appealed to her.
"The thing I like about our life down here," she said to me one night, "is the chance it gives me to get something of myself into every single detail of the home."
I didn't know what she meant because it seemed to me that was just what she had always done. But she shook her head when I said so.
"No," she said. "Not the way I can now."
"Well, you didn't have a servant and must have done whatever was done," I said.
"I didn't have time to pick out the food for the table," she said. "I had to order it of the grocery man. I didn't have time to make as many of your clothes as I wanted. Why I didn't even have time to plan."
"If anyone had told me that a woman could do any more than you then were doing, I should have laughed at them," I said.
"You and the boy weren't all my own then," she said. "I had to waste a great deal of time on things outside the house. Sometimes it used to make me feel as though you were just one of the neighbors, Billy."
I began to see what she meant. But she certainly found now just as much time if not more to spare on the women and babies all around us.
"They aren't neighbors," she said. "They are friends."
I suppose she felt like that because what she did for them wasn't just wasted energy like an evening at cards.
But she went back again and again, as though it were a song, to this notion that our new home was all her own.
"You may think me a pig, Billy," she said. "But I like it. I like to pick out all myself, every single potato you and the boy eat; I like to pick out every leaf of lettuce, every apple. It makes me feel as though I was doing something for you."
"Good land—" I said.
But she wouldn't let me finish.
"No, Billy," she said. "You don't understand what all that means to me—how it makes me a part of you and Dick as I never was before. And I like to think that in everything you wear there's a stitch of mine right close to you. And that when you and the boy lie down at night I'm touching you because I made everything clean for you with my own hands."
It makes my throat grow lumpy even now when I remember the eager, half-ashamed way she looked up into my eyes as she said this. Lord, sometimes she made me feel like a little child and other times she made me feel like a giant. But whichever way she made me feel at the moment, she always left me wishing that I had in me every good thing a man can have so that I might be half way worthy of her. There are times when a fellow knows that as a man he doesn't count for much as compared with any woman. And with such a woman as Ruth—well, God knows I tried to do my best in those days and have tried to do that ever since, but it makes me ache to think how little I've been able to give her of all she deserves.
In her housework Ruth had developed a system that would have made a fortune for any man if applied in the same degree to his business. I learned a lot from her. Instead of going at her tasks in the haphazard fashion of most women or doing things just because her grandmother and her mother did them a certain way, she used her head. I've already told how she did her washing little by little every day instead of waiting for Monday and then tearing herself all to pieces, and that's a fair example of her method. When she was cooking breakfast and had a good fire, she'd have half her dinner on at the same time. Anything that was just as good warmed up, she'd do then. She'd make her stews and soups while waiting for the biscuits to bake and boil her rice or make her cold puddings while we were eating. When that stove was working in the morning you couldn't find a square inch of it that wasn't working. As a result, she planned never to spend over half an hour on her dinner at night and by the time the breakfast dishes were washed she was through with her cooking until then.
She used her head even in little things; she'd make one dish do the work of three. She never washed this dish until she was through with it for good. And she'd find the time at odd moments during her cooking to wash these dishes as they came along. If she spilled anything on the floor she stopped right then and there and cleaned it up, with the result that when breakfast was served, the kitchen looked as ship-shape as when she began. When she was busy, she was the busiest woman you ever saw. She worked with her head, both hands, and her feet. As a result instead of fiddling around all day, when she was through she was through.
When she got up in the morning she knew exactly what she had to do for the day, just how she was going to do it and just when she was going to do it. And you could bank that the things at night would be done, and be done just as she had planned. She thought ahead. That's a great thing to master in any business.
In my own work, the plan I had outlined for myself I developed day by day. At the end of three months I found that even what little Italian I had then learned was a help to me. The mere fact that I was studying their language placed me on a better footing with my fellows. They seemed to receive it as a compliment and to feel that I was taking a personal interest in them as a race. My desire to practise my few phrases was always a letter of introduction to a newcomer.
I talked with them about everything—where they came from, what made them come, what they did before they came, how long they worked and what pay they got in Italy, how they saved to get over here, how they secured their jobs, what they hoped to do eventually, where they lived, how large their families were, how much it cost them to live and what they ate. I inquired as to what they liked and what they disliked about their work; what they considered fair and what unfair about the labor and the pay; what they liked and didn't like about the foreman. Often I couldn't get any opinion at all out of them on these subjects; often it wasn't honest and often it wasn't intelligent. But as with my other questioning when I sifted it all down and thought it over, I was surprised at how much information I did get. If I didn't learn facts which could be put into words, I was left with a very definite impression and a very wide general knowledge.
In the meanwhile my note book was always busy. I kept jotting down names and addresses with enough running comment to help me to recall the men individually. I wasn't able to locate one out of ten of these men later but the tenth man was worth all the trouble.
As the winter advanced and the air grew frosty and the snow and ice came, the work in a good many ways was harder. And yet everything considered I don't know but what I'd rather work outdoors at zero than at eighty-five. Except that my hands got numb and everything was more difficult to handle I didn't mind the cold. There was generally exercise enough to keep the blood moving.
We had a variety of work before spring. After the subway job I shifted to a big house foundation and there met another group of skilled workmen from whom I learned much. The work was easier and the surroundings pleasanter if you can speak of pleasant surroundings about a hole in the ground. The soil was easier to handle and we went to no great depth. Here too I met a new gang of laborers. I missed many familiar faces out of the old crowd and found some interesting new men. Rafferty had gone and I was sorry. I saw more or less of him however during the winter for he dropped around now and then on Sunday evenings. I don't think he ever forgot the incident of the sewer gas.
I enjoyed too every hour in my night school. I found here a very large per cent. of foreigners and they were naturally of the more ambitious type. I found I had a great deal to learn even in the matter of spreading mortar and using a trowel. It was really fascinating work and in the instructor I made an invaluable friend. Through him I was able to arrange my scattered fragments of information into larger groups. Little by little I told him something of my plan and he was very much interested in it. He gave me many valuable suggestions and later proved of substantial help in more ways than one.
I BECOME A CITIZEN
As I said, there were still many opportunities which I didn't have time to improve. The three of us seemed to have breathed in down here some spirit which left us almost feverish in our desire to learn. Whether it was the opportunity which bred the desire or the desire as expressed by all these newcomers, fresh from the shackles of their old lives, which created the opportunity, I leave to the students of such matters. All I know is that we were offered the best in practical information, such as the trade schools and the night high schools; the best in art, the best in music, the best in the drama. I am speaking always of the newcomer—the emigrant. Sprinkled in with these was the cheaper element of the native-born, whether of foreign or of American descent, who spent their evenings on the street or at the cheap theatres or in the barrooms. This class despised the whole business. Incidentally these were the men who haunted the bread line, the Salvation Army barracks, and were the first to join in any public demonstration against the rich. The women, not always so much by their own fault, were the type which keeps the charitable associations busy. I'm not saying that among these there were not often cases of sheer hard luck. Now and then sickness played the devil with a family and more often the cussedness of some one member dragged down a half dozen innocent ones with him, but I do say that when misfortune did come to this particular class they didn't buck up to it as Helen Bonnington did or use such means as were at their disposal to pull out of it. They just caved in. Even in their daily lives, when things were going well with them, they lost in the glitter and glare of the city that spark which my middle-class friends lost by stagnation.
Because there was no poetic romance left in their own lives, they despised it in the lives of others and laughed at it in art. Whatever went back into the past, they looked upon scornfully as "ancient." They lived each day as it came with a pride in being up-to-date. As a result, they preferred musical comedy of the horse play kind to real music; they preferred cheap melodrama to Shakespere. They lived and breathed the spirit of the yellow journals.
I don't know what sort of an education it is the Italians come over here with, but they were a constant surprise to me in their appreciation of the best in art. And it was genuine—it was simple. I've heard a good many jokes about the foolishness of giving them a diet of Shakespere and Beethoven, of Maeterlinck and Mascagni, but that sort of talk comes either from the outsiders or from the Great White Way crowd. When you've seen Italians not only crowd in to the free productions down here but have seen them put up good money to attend the best theatres; when you've heard them whistle grand opera at their work and save hard earned dollars to spend on it down town; when you've seen them crowd the art museums on free days and spend a half dollar to look at some private exhibition of a fellow countryman's, you begin to think, if you're honest, that the laugh is on you. They made me feel ashamed not only because I was ignorant but because after I became more familiar with the works of the masters I was slower than they to appreciate them. In many cases I couldn't. I didn't flatter myself either that this was because of my superior frankness or up-to-dateness. I knew well enough that it was because of a lack in me and my ancestors.
Scarcely a week passed when there wasn't something worth seeing or hearing presented to these people. It came either through a settlement house or through the generosity of some interested private patron. However it came, it was always through the medium of a class which until now had been only a name to me. This was the independently well-to-do American class—the Americans who had partly made and partly inherited their fortunes and had not yet come to misuse them. It is a class still active in American life, running however more to the professions than to business. Many of their family names have been familiar in history to succeeding generations since the early settlement of New England. They were intellectual leaders then and they are intellectual leaders now. If I could with propriety I'd like to give here a list of half a dozen of these men and women who came, in time, to revive for me my belief that after all there still is left in this country the backbone of a worthy old stock. But they don't need any such trivial tribute as I might give them. The thing that struck me at once about them was that they were still finding an outlet for their pioneer instinct not only in their professions and their business, but in the interest they took in the new pioneer. Shoulder to shoulder with the modern Pilgrims they were pushing forward their investigations in medicine, in science, in economics. They were adapting old laws to new conditions; they were developing the new West; they were the new thinkers and the new politicians.
I don't suppose that if I had lived for fifty years under the old conditions I would have met one of them. There was no meeting ground for us, for we had nothing in common. I couldn't possibly interest them and I'm sure I was too busy with my own troubles to take any interest in them even if I had known of their existence.
Even down here I resented at first their presence as an intrusion. Whenever I met them I was inclined to play the cad and there's no bigger cad on the face of the earth than a workingman who is beginning to feel his oats. But as I watched them and saw how earnest they were and how really valuable their efforts were I was able to distinguish them from still another crowd who flaunted their silly charities in the newspapers. But these other quiet men and women were of different calibre; they were the ones who established pure milk stations, who encouraged the young men of real talent like Giuseppe, and who headed all the real work for good done down here.
They came into my life when I needed them; when perhaps I was swinging too far in my belief that the emigrant was the only force for progress in our nation. I know they checked me in some wild thinking in which I was beginning to indulge.
I find I have been wandering a little. But what we thought, counted for as much towards the goal as what we did and even if the thinking is only that of one man—and an ordinary man at that—why, so for that matter was the whole venture. I want to say again that all I'm trying to do is to put down as well as I can remember and as well as I am able, my own acts and thoughts and nothing but my own. Of course that means Ruth's and Dick's too as far as I understood them, for they were a part of my own. I don't want what I write to be taken as the report of an investigation but just as the diary of one man's experience.
If I had had the time I could have seen at least two of Shakespere's plays—presented by amateurs, to be sure, but amateurs with talent and enthusiasm and guided by professionals. I could have heard at least a half dozen good readers read from the more modern classics. I could have listened to as many concerts by musicians of good standing. I could have heard lectures on a dozen subjects of vital interest. Then there were entertainments designed confessedly to entertain. In addition to these there were many more lectures in the city itself open free to the public and which I now for the first time learned about. There was one series in particular which was addressed once a week by men of international renown. It was a liberal education in itself. Many of my neighbors attended.
But as for Dick he was too busy with his studies and Ruth was too glad to sit at home and watch him, to go out at night.
What spare time I myself had I began to devote to a new interest. Rafferty had first roused me to my duty as a citizen in the matter of local politics and through the winter called often enough to keep my interest whetted. But even without him I couldn't have escaped the question. Politics was a live issue down here every day in the year. One campaign was no sooner ended than another was begun. Sweeney was no sooner elected than he began to lay wires for his fellows in the coming city election who in their turn would sustain him in whatever further political ambitions he might have. If the hold the boss had on a ward or a city was a mystery to me at first, it didn't long remain so. The secret of his power lay in the fact that he never let go. He was at work every day in the year and he had an organization with which he could keep in touch through his lieutenants whether he was in Washington or at home. Sweeney's personality was always right there in his ward wherever his body might be.
The Sweeney Club rooms were always open. Night after night you could find his trusted men there. Here the man out of a job came and from here was recommended to one contractor or another or to the "city"; here the man with the sick wife came to have her sent to some hospital which perhaps for some reason would not ordinarily receive her; here the men in court sent their friends for bail; here came those with bigger plans afoot in the matter of special contracts. If Sweeney couldn't get them what they wanted, he at least sent them away with a feeling of deep obligation to him. Naturally then when election time came around these people obeyed Sweeney's order. It wasn't reasonable to suppose that a campaign speech or two could affect their loyalty.
Of course the rival party followed much the same methods but the man in power had a tremendous advantage. The only danger he needed to fear was a split in his own faction as some young man loomed up with ambitions that moved faster than Sweeney's own for him. Such a man I began to suspect—though it was looking a long way into the future—was Rafferty. That winter he took out his naturalization papers and soon afterwards he began an active campaign for the Common Council. It was partly my interest in him and partly a new sense of duty I felt towards the whole game that made me resolve to have a hand in this. I owed that much to the ward in which I lived and which was doing so much for me.
In talking with some of the active settlement workers down here, I found them as strongly prejudiced against the party in power as I had been and when I spoke to them of Rafferty I found him damned in their eyes as soon as I mentioned his party.
"The whole system is corrupt from top to bottom," said the head of one settlement house to me.
"Are you doing anything to remedy it?" I asked.
"What can you do?" he said. "We are doing the only thing possible—we're trying to get hold of the youngsters and give them a higher sense of civic virtue."
"That's good," I said, "but you don't get hold of one in ten of the coming voters. And you don't get hold of one in a hundred of the coming politicians. Why don't you take hold of a man like Dan who is bound to get power some day and talk a little civic virtue into him."
"You said he was a Democrat and a machine man," said he, as though that settled it.
"I don't see any harm in either fact," I said, "if you get at the good in him. A good Democrat is a good citizen and a good machine is a good power," I said.
The man smiled.
"You don't know," he said.
"Do you know?" I asked. "Have you been to the rallies and met the men and studied their methods?"
"All you have to do is to read the papers," he answered.
"I don't think so," I said. "To beat an enemy you ought to study him at first hand. You ought to find out the good as well as the bad in him. You ought to find out where he gets his power."
"Graft and patronage," he answered.
"What about the other party?" I said.
"Just as bad."
"Then what are you going to do about it?" I asked.
"Our only hope is education," he said.
"Then," I said, "why not educate the young politicians? Get to know Rafferty—he's young and simple and honest now. Help him to advance honestly and keep him that way."
He shook his head doubtfully but he agreed to have a talk with Dan. In the meanwhile I had a talk with Dan myself. I told him what my scheme was.
"Dan," I said, "you must decide right at the beginning of your career whether you're going to be just a tool of Sweeney's or whether you're going to stand on your own feet."
"Phot's the mather with Sweeney, now?" he asked.
"In some ways he's all right," I said. "And in other ways he isn't. But anyhow he's your boss and you have to do what he tells you to do just as though he was your landlord back in Ireland and you nothing but a tenant."
"Eh?" he said looking up quick.
I thought I'd strike a sore spot there and I made the most of it. I talked along like this for a half hour and I saw his lips come together.
"He'd knife me," he said finally. "He's sore now 'cause I'm afther wantin' to run for the council this year."
I had heard the rumor.
"Then," I said, "why don't you pull free and make a little machine of your own. Some of the boys will stand by you, won't they?"
"Will they?" he grinned.
With that I took him around to the settlement house. Dan listened good naturedly to a lot of talk he didn't understand but he listened with more interest to a lot of talk about the needs of the district which it was now getting cheated out of, which he did understand. And incidentally the man who at first did all the talking in the end listened to Dan. After the latter had gone, he turned to me and said:
"I like that fellow Rafferty."
That seemed to me the really important thing and right there and then we sat down and worked out the basis of the "Young American Political Club." Our object was to reach the young voter first of all and through him to reach the older ones. To this end we had a "Committee on Boys" and a "Committee on Naturalization." I insisted from the beginning that we must have an organization as perfect as that of any political machine. Until we felt our strength a little however, I suggested it was best to limit our efforts to the districts alone. We took a map of the city and we cut up the districts into blocks with a young man at the head of each block. He was to make a list of all the young voters and keep as closely in touch as possible with the political gossip of both parties. Over him there was to be a street captain and over him a district captain and finally a president.
All this was the result of slow and careful study. All the workers down here fell in with the plan eagerly and one of them agreed to pay the expenses of a hall any time we wished to use one for campaign purposes. At first our efforts passed unnoticed by either political party. It was thought to be just another fanciful civic dream. We were glad of it. It gave us time to perfect our organization without interference.
This business took up all the time I could spare during the winter. But instead of finding it a drag I found it an inspiration. They insisted upon making me president of the Club and though I would rather have had a younger man at its head I accepted the honor with a feeling of some pride. It was the first public office I had ever held and it gave me a new sense of responsibility and a better sense of citizenship.
In the meanwhile Dan made no open break with Sweeney but it soon became clear that he was not in such good favor as before. Although we had not yet openly endorsed his candidacy we were doing a good deal of talking for him. I received several visits from Sweeney's lieutenants who tried to find out just what we were about. My answer invariably was "No partisanship but clean politics."
When it came time to register I was forced to register with one of the two parties in order to take any part in the primaries. I registered as a Democrat for the first time in my life. I also attended a primary for the first time in my life. I also felt a new power back of me for the first time in my life. Little by little Dan had come to be an issue. Sweeney did not openly declare himself but it was soon evident that he had come to the primaries prepared to knife Rafferty if it were possible. Back of Dan stood his large personal following; back of me stood the balance of power. Sweeney saw it, gave the nod, and Dan was nominated.
Six weeks later he was elected, too. You'd have thought he had been elected mayor by the noise the small boys made. Rafferty came to me with his big paw outstretched,
"Carleton," he said, "the only thing I've got agin ye is thot ye ain't an Irishmon. Faith, ye'd make a domd foine Irishmon."
"It's up to you now," I said, "to make a damned fine American."
It wasn't more than two months later that Dan came to me to ask my opinion on a request of Sweeney's. It looked a bit off color and I said so.
"You can't do it, Dan," I said.
"It manes throuble," he said.
"Let it come. We're back of you with both feet."
Dan followed my advice and the trouble came. He was fired from his job as foreman under Sweeney.
But you can't keep down as good a foreman as Dan was and he had another job within a week.
A few months later I had another job myself. I was made foreman with my own firm at a wage of two dollars and a half a day. When I went back and announced this to Ruth, she cried a little. Truly our cup seemed full and running over.
FIFTEEN DOLLARS A WEEK
My first thought when I received my advance in pay was that I could now relieve Ruth of some of her burdens. There was no longer any need of her spending so much time in trotting around the markets and the department stores. Nor was there any need of her doing so much plotting and planning in her endeavor to save a penny. Furthermore I was determined that she should now enjoy some of the little luxuries of life in the way of better things to wear and better things to eat. But that idea was taken out of me in short order.
"No," she said, as soon as she recovered from the good news. "We mustn't spend one cent more than we've been spending."
"But look here," I said; "what's the good of a raise if we don't use it?"
"What's the good of a raise if we spend it?" she asked me. "We'll use it, Billy, but we'll use it wisely. How many times have you told me that if you had your life to live over again you wouldn't spend one cent over the first salary you received, if it was only three dollars a week, until you had a bank account?"
"I know that," I said. "But when a man has a wife and boy like you and Dick—"
"He doesn't want to turn them into burdens that will hold him down all his life," she broke in. "It isn't fair to the wife and boy," she said.
I couldn't quite follow her reasoning but I didn't have to. When I came home the next Saturday night with fifteen dollars in my pocket instead of nine she calmly took out three for the rent, five for household expenses and put seven in the ginger jar. I suggested that at least we have one celebration and with the boy go to the little French restaurant we used to visit, but she held up her hands in horror.
"Do you think I'd spend two dollars and a half for—why, Billy, you wouldn't!"
"I'd like to spend ten," I said. "I'd like to go there to dinner and buy you a half dozen roses and get the three best seats in the best theater in town," I said.
She came to my side and patted my arm.
"Thank you, Billy," she said. "But honest—it's just as much fun to have you want to do those things as really do them."
I believe she meant it. I wouldn't believe it of anyone else but for a week she talked about that dinner and those flowers and the theater until she had me wondering if we hadn't actually gone. Dick thought we were crazy.
And so, just as usual, after this she'd take her basket and start out two or three mornings a week and walk with me as far as the market. She'd spend an hour here and then if she needed anything more she'd go down town to the big stores and wander around here for another hour. But Saturday nights was her great bargain opportunity. If I couldn't go with her she'd take Dick and the two would plan to get there at about nine o'clock. From this time on she often picked up for a song odd ends of meat and good vegetables which the market men didn't want to carry over to Monday. In fact they had to sell out these things as their stock at the beginning of the week had to be fresh. I suppose marketing at this time of day would be a good deal of a hardship for those living in the suburbs but it was a regular lark for her. Most everyone is good natured on Saturday night if on no other night. The week's work is done and people have enough money from their pay envelopes to feel rich for a few hours anyway. Then there were the lights and the crowd and the shouting so that it was like twenty country fairs rolled into one.
After the excitement of coming home Saturdays with so much money wore off, I began to forget that I was earning fifteen instead of nine. If Ruth had spent it on the table I'm sure I'd have forgotten it even more quickly. I was getting all I wanted to eat, was warm and had a good clean bed to sleep in and what more can a man have even if he's earning a hundred a week? I think people are very apt to forget that after all a millionaire can spend only about so much on himself. And after the newness of fresh toys has worn off—like steam yachts and private cars—he is forced to be satisfied with just what I had, no matter how much more money he makes. He has only his five senses and once these are satisfied he's no better off than a man who satisfies these same senses on eight dollars a week. Generally he's worse off because in a year or so he has probably dulled them all. Rockefeller himself probably never in his life got half the fun out of anything that I did in just crawling into my clean bed at night with every tired muscle purring contentedly and my mind at rest about the next day. I doubt if he knows the joy of waking up in the morning rested and hungry. The only advantage he had over me that I can see is the power he had to help others. In a way I don't believe he found any greater opportunity even for that than Ruth found right here.
For those interested in the details I'm going to give another quotation from Ruth's note book. But to my mind these details aren't the important part of our venture. The thing that counted was the spirit back of them. It isn't the fact that we lived on from six to eight dollars a week or the statistics of how we lived on that which makes my life worth telling about if it is worth telling about. In the first place prices vary in different localities and shift from year to year. In fact since we began they have almost doubled. In the second place people have lived and are living to-day on less than we did. I give our figures simply to satisfy the curious and to show how Ruth planned. But no one could do as she did or do as we did merely by aping her little economies, or accepting the result of them. Either they would find the task impossible or look upon it as a privation and endure it as martyrs. In this mood they wouldn't last a week. I know that people who read this without at least a germ of the pioneer in them will either smile or shrug their shoulders. I've met plenty of this sort. I met them by the dozen down here. As I said, you can find them in every bread line, in every Salvation Army barracks or the Associated Charities will furnish you a list of as many as you want. You'll find them in the suburbs or you'll find them marching in line the next time there is a procession of the unemployed.
But give me true pioneers such as our own forefathers were, such as the young men out West are to-day, such as every steamer lands here by the hundreds from foreign countries every week and I say you can't down that kind, you can't kill them. I don't say that it's right to raise the price of necessities. I don't think it is, though I don't know much about it. But I do say that if you double the cost of food stuffs and then double it again, though you may cruelly starve out the weaklings, you'll find the pioneers still on their feet, still fighting.
It seems strange to me that men will go to Alaska and contentedly freeze and dig all day in a mine—not of their own, but for wages—and not feel so greatly abused or unhappy; that they will swing an axe all day in a forest and live on baked beans and bread without feeling like martyrs; that they will go to sea and grub on hard tack and salt pork and fish without complaint and then will turn Anarchists on the same fare in the East. It seems strange too that these men keep strong and healthy, and that our ancestors kept strong and healthy on even a still simpler diet. Why, my father fought battles—and the mental strain must have been terrific—and did more actual labor every day in carrying a rifle and marching than I do in a week, and slept out doors under a blanket—all on a diet that the average tramp of to-day would spurn. He did this for four years and if the sanitary conditions had been decent would have returned well and strong as many a man did who didn't run afoul typhoid fever and malaria. Men who do such things have something in them that the men back East have lost. I call it the romantic spirit or the pioneer spirit and I say that a man who has it won't care whether he's living in Maine or California and that whatever the conditions are he will overcome them. I know that we three would have lived on almost rice alone as the Japanese do before we'd have cried quit. That was because we were tackling this problem not as Easterners but as Westerners; not as poor whites but as emigrants. Men on a ranch stand for worse things than we had and have less of a future to dream about.
So I repeat that to my mind the house details don't count here for any more than they did in the lives of the original New England settlers, or the forty-niners, or those on homesteads or in Alaska to-day. However, I'll put them in and I'll take the month of May as an example—the first month after I was made foreman. It's fairer to give the items for a month. They are as follows:
Oatmeal, .17 Corn meal, .10 About one tenth barrel flour, .65 Potatoes, .35 Rice, .08 Sugar, .40 White beans, .16 Pork, .20 Molasses, .10 Onions, .23 Lard, .50 Apples, .36 Soda, etc., .14 Soap, .20 Cornstarch, .10 Cocoa shells, .05 Eggs, .75 Butter, 1.12 Milk, 4.48 Meats, 1.60 Fish, .60 Oil, .20 Yeast cakes, .06 Macaroni, .09 Crackers, .06 Total $12.75
This makes an average of three dollars and nineteen cents a week. With a fluctuation of perhaps twenty-five cents either way Ruth maintained this pretty much throughout the year now. It fell off a little in the summer and increased a little in the winter. It's impossible to give any closer estimate than this. Even this month many things were used which were left over from the week preceding and, on the other hand, some things on this list like molasses and sugar and cornstarch went towards reducing the total of the month following.
This left say a dollar and seventy-five cents a week for such small incidentals as are not accounted for here but chiefly for sewing material, bargains in cloth remnants and such things as were needed towards the repair of our clothes as well as for such new clothes as we had to buy from time to time. I think we spent more on shoes than we did clothes but Ruth by patronizing the sample shoe shops always came home with a three or four dollar pair for which she never paid over two dollars and sometimes as low as a dollar and a half. The boy and I bought our shoes at the same reduction at bankrupt sales. We gave our neighbors this tip and saw them save a good many dollars in this way.
On the whole these people were not good buyers; they never looked ahead but bought only when they were in urgent need and then bought at the cheapest price regardless of quality. They would pay two and two and a half for shoes that wouldn't last them any time at all. Whatever Ruth bought she considered the quality first and the price afterwards. Then, too, she often ran across something she didn't need at the time but which was a good bargain; she would buy this and put it away. She was able to buy many things which were out of season for half what the same things would cost six months later. It was very difficult to make our neighbors see the advantage of this practice and their blindness cost them many a good dollar.
We also had the advantage of our neighbors in knowing how to take good care of our clothes. The average man was careless and slovenly. In a week a new suit would be spotted with grease, wrinkled, and all out of shape. He never thought of pressing it, cleaning it or of putting it away carefully when through wearing it. The women were no better about their own clothes. This was also true of their shoes. They might shine them once a month but generally they let them go until they dried up and cracked. In this way their new clothes soon became workday clothes, their new shoes, old shoes, and as such they lasted a very few months.
Dick and I might have done a little better than our neighbors even without Ruth to watch us, but we certainly would not have had the training we did have. Shoes had to be cleaned and either oiled or shined before going to bed. If it rained we wore our old pairs whether it was Sunday or not or else we stayed at home. Every time Dick or I put on our good clothes we were as carefully inspected as troops on parade. If a grease spot was found, it was removed then and there. If a button was missing or a bit of fringe showed or a hole the size of a pin head was found we had to wait until the defect was remedied. Every Sunday morning the boy pressed both his suit and mine and every night we had to hang our coats over a chair and fold our trousers. If we were careless about it, the little woman without a word simply got up and did them over again herself.
These may seem like small matters but the result was that we all of us kept looking shipshape and our clothes lasted. When we finally did finish with them they weren't good for anything but old rags and even then Ruth used them about her housework. I figured roughly that Ruth kept us well dressed on about half what it cost most of our neighbors and yet we appeared to be twice as well dressed as any of them. Of course we had a good many things to start with when we came down here but our clothing bill didn't go up much even during the last year when our original stock was very nearly exhausted. She accomplished this result about one-half by long-headed buying, and one-half by her carefulness and her skill with the needle.
To go back to the matter of food, I'll copy off a week's bill of fare during this month. Ruth has written it out for me. You'll notice that it doesn't vary very much from the earlier ones.
Breakfast: fried hasty pudding with molasses; doughnuts, cocoa made from cocoa shells.
Dinner: lamb stew with dumplings, boiled potatoes, boiled onions, cornstarch pudding.
Breakfast: oatmeal, baked potatoes, creamed codfish, biscuits.
Luncheon: for Billy: brown bread sandwiches, cold beans, doughnuts, milk; for Dick and me: boiled rice, cold biscuits, baked apples, milk.
Dinner: warmed over lamb stew, baked apples, cocoa, cold biscuits.
Breakfast: oatmeal, milk toast, cocoa.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold biscuits, hard-boiled eggs, doughnuts; for Dick and me: warmed over beans, biscuits.
Dinner: hamburg steak, baked potatoes, graham muffins, apple sauce, milk.
Breakfast: oatmeal, griddle-cakes with molasses, cocoa shells.
Luncheon: for Billy: sandwiches made of biscuits and left over steak, doughnuts; for Dick and me: crackers and milk, hot gingerbread.
Dinner: vegetable hash, hot biscuits, gingerbread, apple sauce, milk.
Breakfast: oatmeal, fried hasty pudding, doughnuts, cocoa shells.
Luncheon: for Billy: hard-boiled eggs, cold biscuits, gingerbread, baked apple; for Dick and me: baked potatoes, apple sauce, cold biscuits, milk.
Dinner: lyonnaise potatoes, hot corn bread, Poor man's pudding, milk.
Breakfast: smoked herring, baked potatoes, oatmeal, graham muffins.
Luncheon: for Billy: herring, cold muffins, doughnuts; for Dick and me: German toast, apple sauce.
Dinner: fish hash, biscuits, Indian pudding, milk.
Breakfast: oatmeal, German toast, cocoa shells.
Luncheon: for Billy: cold biscuits, hard-boiled eggs, bowl of rice; for Dick and me: rice and milk, doughnuts, apple sauce.
Dinner: baked beans, new raised bread.
To a man accustomed to a beefsteak breakfast, fried hasty pudding may seem a poor substitute and griddle cakes may seem well enough to taper off with but scarcely stuff for a full meal. All I say is, have those things well made, have enough of them and then try it. If a man has a sound digestion and a good body I'll guarantee that such food will not only satisfy him but furnish him fuel for the hardest kind of physical exercise. I know because I've tried it. And though to some my lunches may sound slight, they averaged more in substance and variety than the lunches of my foreign fellow-workmen. A hunk of bread and a bit of cheese was often all they brought with them.
Dick thrived on it too. The elimination of pastry from his simple luncheons brought back the color to his cheeks and left him hard as nails.
I've read since then many articles on domestic economy and how on a few dollars a week a man can make many fancy dishes which will fool him into the belief that he is getting the same things which before cost him a great many more dollars. Their object appears to be to give such a variety that the man will not notice a change. Now this seems to me all wrong. What's the use of clinging to the notion that a man lives to eat? Why not get down to bed rock at once and face the fact that a man doesn't need the bill of fare of a modern hotel or any substitute for it? A few simple foods and plenty of them is enough. When a man begins to crave a variety he hasn't placed his emphasis right. He hasn't worked up to the right kind of hunger. Compare the old-time country grocery store with the modern provision house and it may help you to understand why our lean sinewy forefathers have given place to the sallow, fat parodies of to-day. A comparison might also help to explain something of the high cost of living. My grandfather kept such a store and I've seen some of his old account books. About all he had to sell in the way of food was flour, rice, potatoes, sugar and molasses, butter, cheese and eggs. These articles weren't put up in packages and they weren't advertised. They were sold in bulk and all you paid for was the raw material. The catalogue of a modern provision house makes a book. The whole object of the change it seems to me is to fill the demand for variety. You have to pay for that. But when you trim your ship to run before a gale you must throw overboard just such freight. Once you do, you'll find it will have to blow harder than it does even to-day to sink you. I am constantly surprised at how few of the things we think we need we actually do need.
The pioneer of to-day doesn't need any more than the pioneer of a hundred years ago. To me this talk that a return to the customs of our ancestors involves a lowering of the standard of living is all nonsense; it means nothing but a simplifying of the standard of living. If that's a return to barbarism then I'm glad to be a barbarian and I'll say there never were three happier barbarians than Ruth, the boy and myself.
If I'd been making five dollars a day at this time, I wouldn't have moved from the tenement. In the first place as far as physical comfort went I was never better off. We had all the room we needed. During the winter we had used the living room as a kitchen and dining room just as our forefathers did. We economized fuel in this way and Ruth kept the rooms spotless. We had no fires in our bedrooms and did not want any. We all of us slept with our windows wide open. If we had had ten more rooms we wouldn't have known what to do with them. When we had a visitor we received him in the kitchen. Some of our neighbors took boarders and also slept in the kitchen. I don't know as I should want to do that but at the same time many a family lives in a one room hut in the forest after this fashion. By outsiders it's looked upon as rather romantic. It isn't considered a great hardship by the settlers themselves.
Then we had the advantage of our roof and with summer coming on we looked forward to the garden and the joy of the warm starry nights. We had some wonderful winter pictures, too, from that same roof. It was worth going up there to see the house tops after a heavy snow storm.
If I had wanted to move I could have done only one of two things; either gone back into the suburbs or taken a more expensive flat up town. I certainly had had enough of the former and as for the latter I could see no comparison. If anything this flat business was worse than the suburbs. I would be surrounded by an ordinary group of people who had all the airs of the latter with none of their good points. I'd be hedged in by conventions with which I was now even in less sympathy than before. I wouldn't have exchanged my present freedom of movement and independence of action for even the best suite in the most expensive apartment house in the city. Not for a hundred dollars a week. Advantages? What were they? Would a higher grade of wall paper, a more expensive set of furniture and steam heat compensate me for the loss of the solid comfort I found here by the side of my little iron stove? Was an electric elevator a fair swap for my roof? Were the gilt, the tinsel and the soft carpets worth the privilege I enjoyed here of dressing as I pleased, eating what I pleased, doing what I pleased? Was their apartment-house friendship, however polished, worth the simple genuine fellowship I enjoyed among my present neighbors? What could such a life offer me for my soul's or my body's good that I didn't have here? I couldn't see how in a single respect I could better my present condition except with the complete independence that might come with a fortune and a country estate. Any middle ground, assuming that I could afford it, meant nothing but the undertaking again of all the old burdens I had just shaken off.
Ruth, the boy and myself now knew genuinely more people than we had ever before known in our lives. And most of them were worth knowing and the others worth some endeavor to make worth knowing. We were all pulling together down here—some harder than others, to be sure, but all with a distinct ambition that was dependent for success upon nothing but our own efforts.
I was in touch with more opportunities than I had ever dreamed existed. All three of us were enjoying more advantages than we had ever dreamed would be ours. My Italian was improving from day to day. I could handle mortar easily and naturally and point a joint as well as my instructor. I could build a true square pier of any size from one brick to twenty. I could make a square or pigeonhole corner or lay out a brick footing. And I was proud of my accomplishment.
But more interesting to me than anything else was the opportunity I now had as a foreman to test the value of the knowledge of my former fellow workmen which I had been slowly acquiring. I was anxious to see if my ideas were pure theory or whether they were practical. They had proven practical at any rate in securing my own advance. This had come about through no such pull as Rafferty's. It was the result of nothing but my intelligent and conscientious work in the ditch and among the men. And this in turn was made possible by the application of the knowledge I picked up and used as I had the chance. It was only because I had shown my employers that I was more valuable as a foreman than a common laborer that I was not still digging. I had been able to do this because having learned from twenty different men how to handle a crowbar for instance, I had from time to time been able to direct the men with whom I was working as at the start I myself had been directed by Anton'. Anton' was still digging because that was all he knew. I had learned other things. I had learned how to handle Anton'.
I had no idea that my efforts were being watched. I don't know now how I was picked out. Except of course that it must have been because of the work I did.
At any rate I found myself at the head of twenty men—all Italians, all strangers and among them three or four just off the steamer. My first job was on a foundation for an apartment house. Of course my part in it was the very humble one of seeing that the men kept at work digging. The work had all been staked out and the architect's agent was there to give all incidental instructions. He was a young graduate of a technical school and I took the opportunity this offered—for he was a good-natured boy—to use what little I had learned in my night school and study his blue prints. At odd times he explained them to me and aside from what I learned myself from them it helped me to direct the men more intelligently.
But it was on the men themselves that I centred my efforts. As soon as possible I learned them by name. At the noon hour I took my lunch with them and talked with them in their own language. I made a note of where they lived and found as I expected that many were from my ward. Incidentally I dropped a word here and there about the "Young American Political Club," and asked them to come around to some of the meetings. I found out where they came from and wherever I could, I associated them with some of their fellows with whom I had worked. I found out about their families. In brief I made myself know every man of them as intimately as was possible.
I don't suppose for a minute that I could have done this successfully if I hadn't really been genuinely interested in them. If I had gone at it like a professional hand shaker they would have detected the hypocrisy in no time. Neither did I attempt a chummy attitude nor a fatherly attitude. I made it clearly understood that I was an American first of all and that I was their boss. It was perfectly easy to do this and at the same time treat them like men and like units. I tried to make them feel that instead of being merely a bunch of Dagoes they were Italian workingmen. Your foreign laborer is quick to appreciate such a distinction and quick to respond to it. With the American-born you have to draw a sharper line and hold a steadier rein. I figured out that when you find a member of the second or third generation still digging, you've found a man with something wrong about him.
The next thing I did was to learn what each man could do best. Of course I could make only broad classifications. Still there were men better at lifting than others; men better with the crowbar; men better at shoveling; men naturally industrious who would leaven a group of three or four lazy ones. As well as I could I sorted them out in this way.
In addition to taking this personal interest in them individually, I based my relations with them collectively on a principle of strict, homely justice. I found there was no quality of such universal appeal as this one of justice. Whether dealing with Italians, Russians, Portuguese, Poles, Irish or Irish-Americans you could always get below their national peculiarities if you reached this common denominator. However browbeaten, however slavish, they had been in their former lives this spark seemed always alive. However cocky or anarchistic they might feel in their new freedom you could pull them up with a sharp turn by an appeal to their sense of justice. And by justice I mean nothing but what ex-president Roosevelt has now made familiar by the phrase "a square deal." Justice in the abstract might not appeal to them but they knew when they were being treated fairly and when they were not. Also they knew when they were treating you fairly and when they were not. I never allowed a man to feel bullied or abused; I never gave a sharp order without an explanation. I never discharged a man without making him feel guilty in his heart no matter how much he protested with his lips. And I never discharged him without making the other men clearly see his guilt. When a man went, he left no sympathizers behind him.
On the other hand I made them act justly towards their employer and towards me. I taught them that justice must be on both sides. I tried to make them understand that their part was not to see how little work they could do for their money and that mine was not to see how much they could do, but that it was up to both of us to turn out a full fair day's work. They were not a chain gang but workmen selling their labor. Just as they expected the store-keepers to sell them fair measure and full weight, so I expected them to sell a full day and honest effort.
It wasn't always possible to secure a result but when it wasn't I got rid of that man on the first occasion. It was very much easier to handle in this way the freedom-loving foreigners than I looked for; with the American-born it was harder than I expected.
On the whole however I was mighty well pleased. I certainly got a lot of work out of them without in any way pushing them. They didn't sweat for me and I didn't want them to—but they kept steadily at their work from morning until night. Then too, I didn't hesitate to do a little work myself now and then. If at any point another man seemed to be needed to help over a difficulty I jumped in. I not only often saved the useless efforts of three or four men in this way but I convinced them that I too had my employers' interests at heart. My object wasn't simply to earn my day's pay, it was to finish the job we were on in the shortest possible time. It makes a big difference whether a man feels he is working by the day or by the job. I tried to make them feel that we were all working by the job.