HotFreeBooks.com
One Way Out - A Middle-class New-Englander Emigrates to America
by William Carleton
Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse

Without boasting I think I can say that we cut down the contractor's estimate by at least a full day. I know they had to do some hustling to get the pile-drivers to the spot on time.

On the next job I had to begin all over again with a new gang. It seemed a pity that all my work on the other should be wasted but I didn't say anything. For two months I took each time the men I had and did my best with them. I had my reward in finding myself placed at the head of a constantly increasing force. I also found that I was being sent on all the hurry-up work. I learned something every day. Finally when the time seemed ripe I went to the contractor's agent with the proposition towards which I had all along been working. This was that I should be allowed to hire my own men.

The agent was skeptical at first about the wisdom of entrusting such power as this to a subordinate but I put my case to him squarely. I said in brief that I was sure I could pick a gang of fifty men who would do the work of seventy-five. I told him that for a year now I had been making notes on the best workers and I thought I could secure them. But I would have to do it myself. It would be only through my personal influence with them that they could be got. He raised several objections but I finally said:

"Let me try it anyhow. The men won't cost you any more than the others and if I don't make good it's easy enough to go back to the old way."

It's queer how stubbornly business men cling to routine. They get stuck in a system and hate to change. He finally gave me permission to see the men. I was then to turn them over to the regular paymaster who would engage them. This was all I wanted and with my note book I started out.

It was no easy job for me and for a week I had to cut out my night school and give all my time to it. Many of the men had moved and others had gone into other work but I kept at it night after night trotting from one end of the city to the other until I rounded up about thirty of them. This seemed to me enough to form a core. I could pick up others from time to time as I found them. The men remembered me and when I told them something of my plan they all agreed with a grin to report for work as soon as they were free. And this was how Carleton's gang happened to be formed.

It took me about three months to put all my fifty men into good working order and it wasn't for a year that I had my machine where I wanted it. But it was a success from the start. At the end of a year I learned that even the contractor himself began to speak with some pride of Carleton's gang. And he used it. He used it hard. In fact he made something of a special feature of it. It began to bring him emergency business. Wherever speed was a big essential, he secured the contract through my gang. He used us altogether for foundation work and his business increased so rapidly that we were never idle. I became proud of my men and my reputation.

But of course this success—this proof that my idea was a good one—only whetted my appetite for the big goal still ahead of me. I was eager for the day when this group of men should really be Carleton's gang. It was hard in a way to see the result of my own thought and work turning out big profits for another when all I needed was a little capital to make it my own. Still I knew I must be patient. There were many things yet that I must learn before I should be competent to undertake contracts for myself. In the meanwhile I could satisfy my ambition by constantly strengthening and perfecting the machine.

Then, too, I found that the gang was bringing me into closer touch with my superiors. One day I was called to the office of the firm and there I met the two men who until now had been nothing to me but two names. For a year I had stared at these names painted in black on white boards and posted about the grounds of every job upon which I had worked. I had never thought of them as human beings so much as some hidden force—like the unseen dynamo of a power plant. They were both Irish-Americans—strong, prosperous-looking men. Somehow they made me distinctly conscious of my own ancestry. I don't mean that I was over-proud—in a way I don't suppose there was anything to boast of in the Carletons—but as I stood before these men in the position of a minor employee I suppose that unconsciously I looked for something in my past to offset my present humiliating situation. And from a business point of view, it was humiliating. The Carletons had been in this country two hundred years and these men but twenty-five or thirty and yet I was the man who stood while they faced me in their easy chairs before their roll-top desks. It was then that I was glad to remember there hadn't been a war in this country in which a Carleton had not played his part. I held myself a little better for the thought.

They were unaffected and business-like but when they spoke it was plain "Carleton" and when I spoke it was "Mr. Corkery," or "Mr. Galvin." That was right and proper enough.

They had called me in to consult with me on a big job which they were trying to figure down to the very lowest point. They were willing to get out of it with the smallest possible margin of profit for the advertisement it would give them and in view of future contracts with the same firm which it might bring. The largest item in it was the handling of the dirt. They showed me their blue prints and their rough estimate and then Mr. Corkery said:

"How much can you take off that, Carleton?"

I told him I would need two or three hours to figure it out. He called a clerk.

"Give Carleton a desk," he said.

Then he turned to me:

"Stay here until you've done it," he said.

It took me all the forenoon. I worked carefully because it seemed to me that here was a big chance to prove myself. I worked at those figures as though I had every dollar I ever hoped to have at stake. I didn't trim it as close as I would have done for myself but as it was I took off a fifth—the matter of five thousand dollars. When I came back, Mr. Corkery looked over my figures.

"Sure you can do that?" he asked.

I could see he was surprised.

"Yes, sir," I said.

"I'd hate like hell to get stuck," he said.

"You won't get stuck," I answered.

"It isn't the loss I mind," he said, "but—well there is a firm or two that is waiting to give me the laugh."

"They won't laugh," I said.

He looked at me a moment and then called in a clerk.

"Have those figures put in shape," he said, "and send in this bid."

Corkery secured the contract. I picked one hundred men. The morning we began I held a sort of convention.

"Men," I said, "I've promised to do this in so many days. They say we can't do it. If we don't, here's where they laugh at the gang."

We did it. I never heard from Corkery about it but when we were through I thanked the gang and I found them more truly mine than they had ever been before.

Every Saturday night I brought home my fifteen dollars, and Ruth took out three for the rent, five for household expenses, and put seven in the ginger jar. We had one hundred and thirty dollars in the bank before the raise came, and after this it increased rapidly. There wasn't a week we didn't put aside seven dollars, and sometimes eight. The end of my first year as an emigrant found me with the following items to my credit: Ruth, the boy and myself in better health than we had ever been; Ruth's big mother-love finding outlet in the neighborhood; the boy alert and ambitious; myself with the beginning of a good technical education, to say nothing of the rudiments of a new language, with a loyal gang of one hundred men and two hundred dollars in cash.

This inventory does not take into account my new friends, my new mental and spiritual outlook upon life, or my enhanced self-respect. Such things cannot be calculated.

That first year was, of course, the important year—the big year. It proved what could be done, and nothing remained now but time in which to do it. It established the evident fact that if a raw, uneducated foreigner can come to this country and succeed, a native-born with experience plus intelligence ought to do the same thing more rapidly. But it had taught me that what the native-born must do is to simplify his standard of living, take advantage of the same opportunities, toil with the same spirit, and free himself from the burdensome bonds of caste. The advantage is all with the pioneer, the adventurer, the emigrant. These are the real children of the republic—here in the East, at any rate. Every landing dock is Plymouth Rock to them. They are the real forefathers of the coming century, because they possess all the rugged strength of settlers. They are making their own colonial history.



CHAPTER XVI

DICK FINDS A WAY OUT, TOO

When school closed in June, Dick came to me and said:

"Dad, I don't want to loaf all summer."

"No need of it," I said. "Take another course in the summer school."

"I want to earn some money," he said, "I want to go to work."

If the boy had come to me a year ago with that suggestion I should have felt hurt. I would have thought it a reflection upon my ability to support my family. We salaried men used to expect our children to be dependent on us until they completed their educations. For a boy to work during his summer vacation was almost as bad form as for the wife to work for money at any time. It had to be explained that the boy was a prodigy with unusual business ability or that he was merely seeking experience. But Dick did not fall into any of these classes. This was what made his proposal the more remarkable to me. It meant that he was willing to take just a plain every-day plugging job.

And underlying this willingness was the spirit that was resurrecting us all. Instead of acting on the defensive, Dick was now eager to play the aggressive game. I hadn't looked for this spirit to show in him so soon, in his life outside of school. I was mighty well pleased.

"All right," I said, "what do you think you can do?"

"I've talked with some of the fellows," he said, "and the surest thing seems to be selling papers."

I gave a gasp at that. I hadn't yet lost the feeling that a newsboy was a sort of cross between an orphan and a beggar. He was to me purely an object of pity. Of course I'd formed this notion like a good many others from the story books and the daily paper. I connected a newsboy with blind fathers and sick mothers if he had any parents at all.

"I guess you can get something better than that to do," I said.

"What's the matter with selling papers?" he asked.

When I stopped to think of the work in that way—as just the buying and selling of papers—I couldn't see anything the matter with it. Why wasn't it like buying and selling anything? You were selling a product in which millions of money was invested, a product which everyone wanted, a product where you gave your customers their money's worth. The only objection I could think of at the moment was that there was so little in it.

"It will keep you on the streets five or six hours a day," I said, "and I don't suppose you can make more than a dollar a week."

"A dollar a week!" he said. "Do you know what one fellow in our class makes right through the year?"

"How much?" I asked.

"He makes between six and eight dollars a week," said Dick.

"That doesn't sound possible," I said.

"He told me he made that. And another fellow he knows about did as well as this even while he was in college. He pretty nearly paid his own way."

"What do you make on a paper?" I asked.

"About half a cent on the one cent papers, and a cent on the two cent papers."

"Then these boys have to sell over two hundred papers a day."

"They have about a hundred regular customers," said Dick, "and they sell another hundred papers besides."

It seemed to me the boys must have exaggerated because eight dollars a week was pretty nearly the pay of an able-bodied man. It didn't seem possible that these youngsters whom I'd pitied all my life could earn such an income. However if they didn't earn half as much, it wasn't a bad proposition for a lad.

I talked the matter over with Ruth and I found she had the same prejudices I had had. She, too, thought selling papers was a branch of begging. I repeated what Dick told me and she shook her head doubtfully.

"It doesn't seem as though I could let the boy do that," she said.

If there was one thing down here the little woman always worried about deep in her heart, it was lest the boy and myself might get coarsened. She thought, I think, without ever exactly saying so to herself that in our ambition to forge ahead we might lose some of the finer standards of life. She was bucking against that tendency all the time. That's why she made me shave every morning, that's why she made me keep my shoes blacked, that's why she made us both dress up on Sunday whether we went to church or not. She for her part kept herself looking even more trig than when she had the fear that Mrs. Grover might drop in at any time. And every night at dinner she presided with as much form as though she were entertaining a dinner party. I guess she thought we might learn to eat with our knives if she didn't.

"Well," I said, "your word is final. But let's look at this first as a straight business proposition."

So I went over the scheme just as I had to myself.

"These boys aren't beggars," I said. "They are little business men. And as a matter of fact most of them are earning as much as their fathers. The trouble is that they've been given a black eye by well-meaning sympathizers who haven't taken the trouble to find out just what the actual facts are. A group of big-hearted women who see their own chickens safely rounded up at six every night, find the newsboys on the street as they themselves are on their way to the opera and conclude it's a great hardship and that the lads must be homeless and suffering. Maybe they even find a case or two which justifies this theory. But on the whole they are simply comparing the outside of these boys' lives with the lives of their own sheltered boys. They don't stop to consider that these lads are toughened and that they'd probably be on the street anyway. And they don't figure out how much they earn or what that amount stands for down here."

Ruth listened and then she said:

"But isn't it a pity that the boys are toughened, Billy?"

"No," I said, "it would be a pity if they weren't. They wouldn't last a year. We have to have some seasoned fighters in the world."

"But Dick—"

"Dick has found his feet now. The suggestion was his own. Personally I believe in letting him try it."

"All right, Billy," she said.

But she said it in such a sad sort of way that I said:

"If you're going to worry about him, this ends it. But I'd like to see the boy so well seasoned that you won't have to worry about him no matter where he is, no matter what he's doing."

"You're right," she said, "I want to see him like you. I never worry about you, Billy."

It pleased me to have her say that. I know a lot of men who wouldn't believe their wives loved them unless they fretted about them all the time. I think a good many fellows even make up things just to see the women worry. I remember that Stevens always used to come home either with a sick headache or a tale of how he thought he might lose his job or something of the sort and poor Dolly Stevens would stay awake half the night comforting him. She'd tell Ruth about it the next day. I may have had a touch of that disease myself before I came down here but I know that ever since then I've tried to lift the worrying load off the wife's shoulders. I've done my best to make Ruth feel I'm strong enough to take care of myself. I've wanted her to trust me so that she'd know I act always just as though she was by my side. Of course I've never been able to do away altogether with her fear of sickness and sudden death, but so far as my own conduct is concerned I've tried to make her feel secure in me.

When I stop to think about it, Ruth has really lived three lives. She has lived her own and she has lived it hard. She not only has done her daily tasks as well as she knew how but she has tried to make herself a little better every day. That has been a waste of time because she was just naturally as good as they make them but you couldn't ever make her see that. I don't suppose there's been a day when at night she hasn't thought she might have done something a little better and lain awake to tell me so.

Then Ruth has lived my life and done over again every single thing I've done except the actual physical labor. Why every evening when I came back from work she wanted me to begin with seven-thirty A.M. and tell her everything that happened after that. And when I came back from school at night, she'd wake up out of a sound sleep if she had gone to bed and ask me to tell her just what I'd learned. Though she never held a trowel in her hand I'll bet she could go out to-day and build a true brick wall. And though she has never seen half the men I've met, she knows them as well as I do myself. Some of them she knows better and has proved to me time and again that she does. I've often told her about some man I'd just met and about whom I was enthusiastic for the moment and she'd say:

"Tell me what he looks like, Billy."

I'd tell her and then she'd ask about his eyes and about his mouth and what kind of a voice he had and whether he smiled when he said so and so and whether he looked me in the eyes at that point and so on. Then she'd say:

"Better be a little careful about him"; or "I guess you can trust him, Billy."

Sometimes she made mistakes but that was because I hadn't reported things to her just right. Generally I'd trust her judgment in the face of my own.

Then Ruth led the boy's life. Every ambition he had was her ambition. Besides that she had a dozen ambitions for him that he didn't know anything about. And she thought and worked and schemed to make every single one of them come true. Every trouble he had was her trouble too. If he worried a half hour over something, she worried an hour. Then again there were a whole lot of other troubles in connection with him which bothered her and which he didn't know about.

Besides all these things she was busy about dressing us and feeding us and making us comfortable. She was always cleaning our rooms and washing our clothes and mending our socks. Then, too, she looked after the finances and this in itself was enough for one woman to do. Then as though this wasn't plenty she kept light-hearted for our sakes. You'd find her singing about her work whenever you came in and always ready with a smile and a joke. And if she herself had a headache you had to be a doctor and a lawyer rolled in one to find it out.

So I say the least I could do was to make her trust me so thoroughly that she'd have one less burden. And I wanted to bring up Dick in the same way. Dick was a good boy and I'll say that he did his best.

Ruth says that if I don't tear up these last few pages, people will think I'm silly. I'm willing so long as they believe me honest. Of course, in a way, such details are no one's business but if I couldn't give Ruth the credit which is her due in this undertaking, I wouldn't take the trouble to write it all out.

Dick told his school friend what he wanted to do and asked his advice on the best way to go at it. The latter went with him and helped him get his license, took him down to the newspaper offices and showed him where to buy his papers, and introduced him to the other boys. The newsboys hadn't at that time formed a union but there was an agreement among them about the territory each should cover. Some of the boys had worked up a regular trade in certain places and of course it wasn't right for a newcomer to infringe upon this. There was considerable talking and some bargaining and finally Dick was given a stand in the banking district. This was due to Dick's classmate also. The latter realized that a boy of Dick's appearance would do better there than anywhere.

So one morning Dick rose early and I staked him to a dollar and he started off in high spirits. He didn't have any of the false pride about the work that at first I myself had felt. He was on my mind pretty much all that day and I came home curious and a little bit anxious to learn the result. He had been back after the morning editions. Ruth reported he had sold fifty papers and had returned more eager than ever. She said he wouldn't probably be home until after seven. He wanted to catch the crowds on their way to the station.

I suggested to Ruth that we wait dinner for him and go on up town and watch him. She hesitated at this, fearing the boy wouldn't like it and perhaps not over anxious herself to see him on such a job. But as I said, if the boy wasn't ashamed I didn't think we ought to be. So she put on her things and we started.

We found him by the entrance to one of the big buildings with his papers in a strap thrown over his shoulder. He had one paper in his hand and was offering it, perhaps a bit shyly, to each passer-by with a quiet, "Paper, sir?" We watched him a moment and Ruth kept a tight grip on my arm.

"Well," I said, "what do you think of him?"

"Billy," she said with a little tremble in her voice, "I'm proud of him."

"He'll do," I said.

Then I said:

"Wait here a moment."

I took a nickel from my pocket and hurried towards him as though I were one of the crowd hustling for the train. I stopped in front of him and he handed me a paper without looking up. He began to make change and it wasn't until he handed me back my three coppers that he saw who I was. Then he grinned.

"Hello, Dad," he said.

Then he asked quickly,

"Where's mother?"

But Ruth couldn't wait any longer and she came hurrying up and placed her hand underneath the papers to see if they were too heavy for him.

Dick earned three dollars that first week and he never fell below this during the summer. Sometimes he went as high as five and when it came time for him to go to school again he had about seventy-five regular customers. He had been kept out of doors between six and seven hours a day. The contact with a new type of boy and even the contact with the brisk business men who were his customers had sharpened up his wits all round. In the ten weeks he saved over forty dollars. I wanted him to put this in the bank but he insisted on buying his own winter clothes with it and on the whole I thought he'd feel better if I let him. Then he had another proposition. He wanted to keep his evening customers through the year. I thought it was going to be pretty hard for him to do this with his school work but we finally agreed to let him try it for a while anyway. After all I didn't like to think he couldn't do what other boys were doing.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SECOND YEAR

Now as far as proving to us the truth of my theory that an intelligent able-bodied American ought to succeed where millions of ignorant, half-starved emigrants do right along, this first year had already done it. It had also proved, to our own satisfaction at least, that such success does not mean a return to a lower standard of living but only a return to a simpler standard of living. With soap at five cents a cake it isn't poverty that breeds filth, but ignorance and laziness. When an able-bodied man can earn at the very bottom of the ladder a dollar and a half a day and a boy can earn from three to five dollars a week and still go to school, it isn't a lack of money that makes the bread line; it's a lack of horse sense. We found that we could maintain a higher standard of living down here than we were able to maintain in our old life; we could live more sanely, breathe in higher ideals, and find time to accept more opportunities. The sheer, naked conditions were better for a higher life here than they were in the suburbs.

I'm speaking always of the able-bodied man. A sick man is a sick man whether he's worth a million or hasn't a cent. He's to be pitied. With the public hospitals what they are to-day, you can't say that the sick millionaire has any great advantage over the sick pauper. Money makes a bigger difference of course to the sick man's family but at that you'll find for every widow O'Toole, a widow Bonnington and for every widow Bonnington you'll find the heart-broken widow of some millionaire who doesn't consider her dollars any great consolation in such a crisis.

Then, too, a man in hard luck is a man in hard luck whether he has a bank account or whether he hasn't. I pity them both. If a rich man's money prevents the necessity of his airing his grief in public, it doesn't help him much when he's alone in his castle. It seems to me that each class has its own peculiar misfortunes and that money breeds about as much trouble as it kills. To my mind once a man earns enough to buy himself a little food, put any sort of a roof over his head, and keep himself warm, he has everything for which money is absolutely essential. This much he can always get at the bottom. And this much is all the ammunition a man needs for as good a fight as it's in him to put up. It gives him a chance for an extra million over his nine dollars a week if he wants it. But the point I learned down here is that the million is extra—it isn't essential. Its possession doesn't make a Paradise free from sickness and worry and hard luck, and the lack of it doesn't make a Hell's Kitchen where there is nothing but sickness and trouble and where happiness cannot enter.

As I say, I consider this first year the big year because it taught me these things. In a sense the value of my diary ends here. Once I was able to understand that I had everything and more that the early pioneers had and that all I needed to do to-day was to live as they did and fight as they did, I had all the inspiration a man needs in order to live and in order to feel that he's living. In looking back on the suburban life at the end of this first twelve months, it seemed to me that the thing which made it so ghastly was just this lack of inspiration that comes with the blessed privilege of fighting. That other was a waiting game and no help for it. I was a shadow living in the land of shadows with nothing to hit out at, nothing to feel the sting of my fist against. The fight was going on above me and below me and we in the middle only heard the din of it. It was as though we had climbed half way up a rope leading from a pit to the surface. We had climbed as far as we could and unless they hauled from above we had to stay there. If we let go—poor devils, we thought there was nothing but brimstone below us. So we couldn't do much but hold on and kick—at nothing.

But down here if a man had any kick in him, he had something to kick against. When he struck out with his feet they met something; when he shot a blow from the shoulder he felt an impact. If he didn't like one trade he could learn another. It took no capital. If he didn't like his house, he could move; he wasn't tearing up anything by the roots. If he didn't like his foreman, he could work under another. It didn't mean the sacrifice of any past. If he found a chance to black boots or sell papers, he could use it. His neighbors wouldn't exile him. He was as free as the winds and what he didn't like he could change. I don't suppose there is any human being on earth so independent as an able-bodied working-man.

The record of the next three years only traces a slow, steady strengthening of my position. Not one of us had any set-back through sickness because I considered our health as so much capital and guarded it as carefully as a banker does his money. I was afraid at first of the city water but I found it was as pure as spring water. It was protected from its very source and was stored in a carefully guarded reservoir. It was frequently analyzed and there wasn't a case of typhoid in the ward which could be traced to the water. The milk was the great danger down here. At the small shops it was often carelessly stored and carelessly handled. From the beginning, I bought our milk up town though I had to pay a cent a quart more for it. Ruth picked out all the fish and meat and of course nothing tainted in this line could be sold to her. We ate few canned goods and then nothing but canned vegetables. Many of our neighbors used canned meats. I don't know whether any sickness resulted from this or not but I know that they often left the stuff for hours in an opened tin. Many of the tenements swarmed with flies in the summer although it was a small matter to keep them out of four rooms. So if the canned stuff didn't get infected it was a wonder.

The sanitary arrangements in the flat were good, though here again many families proceeded to make them bad about as fast as they could. These people didn't seem to mind dirt in any form. It was a perfectly simple and inexpensive matter to keep themselves and their surroundings clean if they cared to take the trouble.

Then the roof contributed largely towards our good health. Ruth spent a great deal of time up there during the day and the boy slept there during the summer.

Our simple food and exercise also helped, while for me nothing could have been better than my daily plunge in the salt water. I kept this up as long as the bath house was open and in the winter took a cold sponge and rub-down every night. So, too, did the boy.

For the rest, we all took sensible precautions against exposure. We dressed warmly and kept our feet dry. Here again our neighbors were insanely foolish. They never changed their clothes until bed time, didn't keep them clean or fresh at any time, and they lived in a temperature of eighty-five with the air foul from many breaths and tobacco smoke. Even the children had to breathe this. Then both men and women went out from this into the cold air either over-dressed or under-dressed. The result of such foolishness very naturally was tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid and about everything else that contributes to a high death rate. Not only this but one person suffering from any of these things infected a whole family.

Such conditions were not due to a lack of money but to a lack of education. The new generation was making some changes however. Often a girl or boy in the public schools would come home and transform the three or four rooms though always under protest from the elders. Clean surroundings and fresh air troubled the old folks.

Ruth, too, was responsible for many changes for the better in the lives of these people. Her very presence in a room was an inspiration for cleanliness. Her clothes were no better than theirs but she stood out among them like a vestal virgin. She came into their quarters and made the women ashamed that the rooms were not better fitted to receive so pure a being. You would scarcely have recognized Michele's rooms at the end of the first year. The windows were cleaned, the floors scrubbed, and even the bed linen was washed occasionally. The baby gained in weight and Michele when he wanted to smoke either sat outside on the door step or by an open window. But Michele was an exception.

Ruth's efforts were not confined to our own building either. Her influence spread down the street and through the whole district. The district nurse was a frequent visitor and kept her informed of all her cases. Wherever Ruth could do anything she did it. Her first object was always to awaken the women to the value of cleanliness and after that she tried her best to teach them little ways of preparing their food more economically. Few of them knew the value of oatmeal for instance though of course their macaroni and spaghetti was a pretty good substitute. In fact Ruth picked up many new dishes of this sort for herself from among them.

Some families spent as much for beer as for milk. Ruth couldn't change that practice but she did make them more careful where they bought their milk—especially when there was a baby in the house. Then, too, she shared all her secrets of where and how to buy cheaply. Sometimes advantage was taken of these hints, but more often not. They didn't pay much more for many articles than she did but they didn't get as good quality. However as long as the food tasted good and satisfied their hunger you couldn't make them take an extra effort and get stuff because it was more nutritious or more healthful. They couldn't think ahead except in the matter of saving dollars and cents.

These people of course were of the lower class. There was another element of decidedly finer quality. Giuseppe for example was one of these and there were hundreds of others. It was among these that Ruth's influence counted for the most. They not only took advantage of her superior intelligence in conducting their households but they breathed in something of the soul of her. When I saw them send for her in their grief and in their joy, when I heard them ask her advice with almost the confidence with which they prayed, when I heard them give her such names as "the angel mother," "the blessed American saint," I felt very proud and very humble. Such things made me glad in another way for the change which had taken her out of the old life where such qualities were lost and brought her down here where they counted for so much. These people stripped of convention live with their hearts very near the surface. They don't try to conceal their emotions and so you are brought very quickly into close touch with them. Ruth herself was a good deal like that and so her influence for a day among them counted for as much as a year with the old crowd.

In the meanwhile I resumed my night school at the end of the summer vacation and was glad to get back to it. I had missed the work and went at it this next winter with increased eagerness to perfect myself in my trade.

During this second year, too, I never relaxed my efforts to keep my gang up to standard and whenever possible to better it by the addition of new men. Every month I thought I increased the respect of the men for me by my fair dealing with them. I don't mean to say I fully realized the expectations of which I had dreamed. I suppose that at first I dreamed a bit wildly. There was very little sentiment in the relation of the men to me, although there was some. Still I don't want to give the impression that I made of them a gang of blind personal followers such as some religious cranks get together. It was necessary to make them see that it was for their interest to work for me and with me and that I did do. I made them see also that in order to work for me they had to work a little more faithfully than they worked for others. So it was a straight business proposition. What sentiment there was came through the personal interest I took in them outside of their work. It was this which made them loyal instead of merely hard working. It was this which made them my gang instead of Corkery's gang—a thing that counted for a good deal later on.

The personal reputation I had won gave me new opportunities of which I took every advantage this second year. It put me in touch with the responsible heads of departments. Through them I was able to acquire a much broader and more accurate knowledge of the business as a whole. I asked as many questions here as I had below. I received more intelligent answers and was able to understand them more intelligently. I not only learned prices but where to get authoritative prices. As far as possible I made myself acquainted with the men working for the building constructors and for those working for firms whose specialty was the tearing down of buildings. I used my note-book as usual and entered the names of every man who, in his line, seemed to me especially valuable.

And everywhere, I found that my experiment with the gang was well known. I found also that my tendency for asking questions was even better known. It passed as a joke in a good many cases. But better than this I found that I had established a reputation for sobriety, industry and level-headedness. I can't help smiling how little those things counted for me with the United Woollen or when I sought work after leaving that company. Here they counted for a lot. I realized that when it came time for me to seek credit.

In the meanwhile I didn't neglect the fight for clean politics in my ward.

I resigned from the presidency of the young men's club at the end of a year and we elected a young lawyer who was taking a great interest in the work down here to fill the vacancy. That was a fine selection. The man was fresh from the law school and was full of ideals which dated back to the Mayflower. He hadn't been long enough in the world to have them dimmed and was full of energy. He took hold of the original idea and developed it until the organization included every ward in this section of the city. He held rallies every month and brought down big speakers and kept the sentiment of the youngsters red hot. This had its effect upon the older men and before we knew it we had a machine that looked like a real power in the whole city. Sweeney saw it and so did the bigger bosses of both parties. But the president kept clear of alliances with any of them. He stood pat with what promised to be a balance of power, ready to swing it to the cleanest man of either party who came up for office.

I made several speeches myself though it was hard work for me. I don't run to that sort of thing. I did it however just because I didn't like it and because I felt it was the duty of a citizen to do something now and then he doesn't like for his city and his country. The old excuse with me had been that politics was a dirty business at best and that it ought to be left to the lawyers and such who had something to gain from it. The only men I ever knew who went into it at all were those who had a talent for it and who liked it. Of course that's dead wrong. A man who won't take the trouble to find out about the men up for office and who won't bother himself to get out and hustle for the best of them isn't a good citizen or a good American. He deserves to be governed by the newcomers and deserves all they hand out to him. And the time to do the work isn't when a man is up for president of the United States, it's when the man is up for the common council. The higher up a politician gets, the less the influence of the single voter counts.

It was in the spring that some of my ideals received a set back. The alderman from our ward died suddenly and Rafferty was naturally hot after the vacancy. He came to see me about it, but before he broached this subject he laid another before me that took away my breath. It was nothing else than that I should go into partnership with him under the firm name of "Carleton and Rafferty." I couldn't believe it possible that he was in a position to take such a step within a couple of years of digging in the ditch. But when he explained the scheme to me, it was as simple as rolling off a log. A firm of liquor dealers had agreed to back him—form a stock company and give him a third interest to manage it. He had spoken to them of me and said he'd do it if they would make it a half interest and give us each a quarter.

"But good Lord, Dan," I said, "we'd have to swing a lot of business to make it go."

"Never you worry about thot, mon," he said. "I'll fix thot all right if I'm elicted to the boord."

"You mean city contracts?" I said.

"Sure."

I began to see. The liquor house was looking for more licenses and would get their pay out of Dan even if the firm didn't make a cent. But Dan with such capital back of him as well as his aldermanic power was sure to get the contracts. He would leave the actual work to me and my men.

I sat down and for two hours tried to make Dan realize how this crowd wanted to use him. I couldn't. In addition to being blinded by his overwhelming ambition, he actually couldn't see anything crooked in what they wanted. He couldn't understand why he should let such an opportunity drop for someone else to pick up. He had slipped out of my hands completely. This was where the difference between five or six years in America as against two hundred showed itself. And yet what was the old stock doing to offset such personal ambition and energy as Rafferty stood for?

"No, Dan," I said, "I can't do it. And what's more I won't let you do it if I can help it."

"Phot do yez mane?" he asked.

"That I'm going to fight you tooth and nail," I said.

He turned red. Then he grinned.

"Well," he said, "it'll be a foine fight anyhow."

I went to the president of the club and told him that here was where we had to stop Rafferty. He listened and then he said,

"Well, here's where we do stop him."

We went at the job in whirlwind fashion. I spoke a half dozen times but to save my life I couldn't say what I wanted to say. Every time I stood up I seemed to see Dan's big round face and I remembered the kindly things he used to do for the old ladies. And I knew that Dan's offer to take me into partnership wasn't prompted altogether by selfish motives. He could have found other men who would have served his purpose better.

In the meanwhile Dan had organized "Social Clubs" in half a dozen sections. For the first few weeks of the campaign I never heard of him except as leading grand marches. But the last week he waded in. There's no use going into details. He beat us. He rolled up a tremendous majority. The president of the club couldn't understand it. He was discouraged.

"I had every boy in the ward out working," he said.

"Yes," I said, "but Dan had every grandmother and every daughter and every granddaughter out working."

Dan came around to the flat one night after the election. He was as happy as a boy over his victory.

"Carleton," he said, again, "it's too domd bad ye ain't an Irishmon."

After he had gone, Ruth said to me:

"I don't think Mr. Rafferty will make a bad alderman at all."



CHAPTER XVIII

MATURING PLANS

I received several offers from other firms and as a result of these my wages were advanced first to three dollars a day and then to three and a half. Still Ruth refused to take things easier by increasing the household expenses. During the third year we lived exactly as we had lived during the first year. In a way it was easier to do this now that we knew there was no actual necessity for it. Of course it was easier, too, now that we had fallen into a familiar routine. The things which had seemed to us like necessities when we came down here now seemed like luxuries. And we none of us had either the craving for luxuries or the time to enjoy them had we wished to spend the money on them. In the matter of clothes we cared for nothing except to be warmly and cleanly dressed. Strip the problem of clothes down to this and it's not a very serious one. To realize that you've only to remember how the average farmer dresses or how the homesteader dresses. It's only when you introduce style and the conventions that the matter becomes complicated. Perhaps it was easier for me to dress as I pleased than for the boy or Ruth but even they got right down to bed rock. The boy wore grey flannel shirts and so at a stroke did away with collars and cuffs. For the rest a simple blue suit, a cap, stockings and shoes were all he needed outside his under clothes which Ruth made for him. Ruth herself dressed in plain gowns that she could do up herself. For the street, she still had the costumes she came down here with. None of us kept any extra clothes for parade.

We carried out the same idea in our food, as I've tried to show; we insisted that it must be wholesome and that there must be enough of it. Those were the only two things that counted. Variety except of the humblest kind, we didn't strive for. I've seen cook books which contain five hundred pages; if Ruth compiled one it wouldn't have twenty. Here again the farmer and the pioneer were our models. If anyone in the country had lived the way we were living, it wouldn't have seemed worth telling about. I find the fact which amazes people in our experiment was that we should have tried the same standard in the city. Everyone seems to think this was a most dangerous thing to attempt. The men who on a camping trip consider themselves well fed on such food as we had to eat expect to starve to death if placed on the same diet once within sound of the trolley cars. And on the camping trip they do ten times the physical labor and do it month after month in air that whets the appetite. Then they come back and boast how strong they've grown, and begin to eat like hogs again and wonder why they get sick.

We camped out in the city—that's all we did. And we did just what every man in camp does; we stripped down to essentials. We could have lived on pork scraps and potatoes if that had been necessary. We could have worried along on hard tack and jerked beef if we'd been pressed hard enough. Men chase moose, and climb mountains and prospect for gold on such food. Why in Heaven's name can't they shovel dirt on the same diet?

So, too, about amusements. When a man is trying to clear thirty acres of pine stumps, he doesn't fret at the end of the day because he can't go to the theatre. He doesn't want to go. Bed and his dreams are amusement enough for him. And he isn't called a low-browed savage because he's satisfied with this. He's called a hero. The world at large doesn't say that he has lowered the standard of living; it boasts about him for a true American. Why can't a man lay bricks without the theatre?

As a matter of fact however we could have had even the amusements if we'd wanted them. For those who needed such things in order to preserve a high standard of living they were here. And I don't say they didn't serve a useful purpose. What I do say is that they aren't absolutely necessary; that a high standard of living isn't altogether dependent on sirloin steaks, starched collars and music halls as I've heard a good many people claim.

This third year finished my course in masonry. I came out in June with a trade at which I could earn from three dollars to five dollars a day according to my skill. It was a trade, too, where there was pretty generally steady employment. A good mason is more in demand than a good lawyer. Not only that but a good mason can find work in any city in this country. Wherever he lands, he's sure of a comfortable living. I was told that out west some men were making as high as ten dollars a day.

I had also qualified in a more modest way as a mechanical draftsman. I could draw my own plans for work and what was more useful still, do my work from the plans of others.

By now I had also become a fairly proficient Italian scholar. I could speak the language fluently and read it fairly well. It wasn't the fault of Giuseppe if my pronunciation was sometimes queer and if very often I used the jargon of the provinces. My object was served as long as I could make myself understood to the men. And I could do that perfectly.

This year I watched Rafferty's progress with something like envy. The firm was "D. Rafferty and Co." Within two months I began to see the name on his dump carts whenever I went to work. Within six months he secured a big contract for repaving a long stretch of street in our ward. I knew our firm had put in a bid on it and knew they must have been in a position to put in a mighty low bid. I didn't wonder so much about how Dan got this away from us as I did how he got it away from Sweeney. That was explained to me later when I found that Sweeney was in reality back of the liquor dealers. Sweeney owned about half their stores and had taken this method to bring Dan back to the fold, once he found he couldn't check his progress.

During this year Dan bought a new house and married. We went to the wedding and it was a grand affair with half the ward there. Mrs. Rafferty was a nice looking girl, daughter of a well-to-do Irishman in the real estate business. She had received a good education in a convent and was altogether a girl Dan could be proud of. The house was an old-fashioned structure built by one of the old families who had been forced to move by the foreign invasion. Mrs. Rafferty had furnished it somewhat lavishly but comfortably.

As Ruth and I came back that night I said:

"I suppose if it had been 'Carleton and Rafferty' I might have had a house myself by now."

"I guess it's better as it is, Billy," she said, with a smile.

Of course it was better but I began to feel discontented with my present position. I felt uncomfortable at still being merely a foreman. When we reached the house Ruth and I took the bank book and figured out just what our capital in money was. Including the boy's savings which we could use in an emergency it amounted to fourteen hundred dollars. During the first year we saved one hundred and twenty dollars, which added to the eighty we came down here with, made two hundred dollars. During the second year we saved three hundred and ninety dollars. During the third year we saved six hundred dollars. This made a total of eleven hundred and ninety dollars in the bank. The boy had saved more than two hundred dollars over his clothes in the last two years.

It was Rafferty who helped me turn this over in a real estate deal in which he was interested. I made six hundred dollars by that. Everything Rafferty touched now seemed to turn to money. One reason was that he was thrown in contact with money-makers all of whom were anxious to help him. He received any number of tips from those eager to win his favor. Among the tips were many that were legitimate enough like the one he shared with me but there were also many that were not quite so above-board. But to Dan all was fair in business and politics. Yet I don't know a man I'd sooner trust upon his honor in a purely personal matter. He wouldn't graft from his friends however much he might from the city. In fact his whole code as far as I could see was based upon this unswerving loyalty to his friends and scrupulous honesty in dealing with them. It was only when honesty became abstract that he couldn't see it. You could put a thousand dollars in gold in his keeping without security and come back twenty years later and find it safe. But he'd scheme a week to frame up a deal to cheat the city out of a hundred dollars. And he'd do it with his head in the air and a grin on his face. I've seen the same thing done by educated men who knew better. I wouldn't trust the latter with a ten cent piece without first consulting a lawyer.

The money I had saved didn't represent all my capital. I had as my chief asset the gang of men I had drilled. Everything else being equal they stood ready to work for me in preference to any other man in the city. In fact their value as a machine depended on me. If I had been discharged and another man put in my place the gang would have resolved itself again into merely one hundred day laborers. Nor was this my only other asset. I had established myself as a reliable man in the eyes of a large group of business men. This meant credit. Nor must I leave out Dan and his influence. He stood ready to back me not only financially but personally. And he knew me well enough to know this would not involve anything but a business obligation on my part.

With these things in mind then I felt ready to take a radical departure from the routine of my life when the opportunity came. But I made up my mind I would wait for the opportunity. I must have a chance which would not involve too much capital and in which my chief asset would be the gang. Furthermore it must be a chance that I could use without resorting to pull. Not only that but it must be something on which I could prove myself to such good advantage that other business would be sure to follow. I couldn't cut loose with my men and leave them stranded at the end of a single job.

I watched every public proposal and analyzed them all. I found that they very quickly resolved themselves into Dan's crowd. I kept my ears wide open for private contracts but by the time I heard of any I was too late. So I waited for perhaps three months. Then I saw in the daily paper what seemed to me my opportunity. It was an open bid for some park construction which was under the guardianship of a commission. It was a grading job and so would require nothing but the simplest equipment. I looked over the ground and figured out the gang's part in it first. Then I went to Rafferty and told him what I wanted in the way of teams. I wanted only the carts and horses—I would put my own men to work with them. I asked him to take my note for the cost.

"I'll take your word, Carleton," he said. "Thot's enough."

But I insisted on the note. He finally agreed and offered to secure for me anything I wanted for the work.

I went back to Ruth and we sat down and figured the matter all over once again. We stripped it down to a figure so low that my chief profit would come on the time I could save with my machine. I allowed for the scantiest profit on dirt and rock though I had secured a good option on what I needed of this. I was lucky in finding a short haul though I had had my eye on this for some time. Of one thing I was extremely careful—to make my estimate large enough so that I couldn't possibly lose anything but my profit. Even if I wasn't able to carry out my hope of being able to speed up the gang I should be able to pay my bills and come out of the venture even.

Ruth and I worked for a week on it and when I saw the grand total it took away my breath. I wasn't used to dealing in big figures. They frightened me. I've learned since then that it's a good deal easier in some ways to deal in thousands than it is in ones. You have wider margins, for one thing. But I must confess that now I was scared. I was ready to back out. When I turned to Ruth for the final decision, she looked into my eyes a second just as she did when I asked her to marry me and said,

"Go after it, Billy. You can do it."

That night I sent in my estimate endorsed by Dan and a friend of his and for a month I waited. I didn't sleep as well as usual but Ruth didn't seem to be bothered. Then one night when I came home I found Ruth at the outside door waiting for me. I knew the thing had been decided. She came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder and patted me.

"It's yours, Billy," she said.

My heart stopped beating for a moment and then it went on again beating a dozen ticks to the second.

The next day I closed up my options. I went to Corkery, gave my notice and told him what I was going to do. He was madder than a hornet. I listened to what he had to say and went off without a word in reply. He was so unreasonable that it didn't seem worth it. That noon I rounded up the men and told them frankly that I was going to start in business for myself and needed a hundred men. I told them also that this first job might last only four or five weeks and that while I had nothing definite in mind after that I was in hopes to secure in the meanwhile other contracts. I said this would be largely up to them. I told them that I didn't want a man to come who wasn't willing to take the chance. Of course it was something of a chance because Corkery had been giving them steady employment. Still it wasn't a very big chance because there was always work for such men.

I watched anxiously to see how they would take it. I felt that the truth of my theories were having their hardest test. When they let out a cheer and started towards me in a mass I saw blurry.

I'll never forget the feeling I had when I started out in the morning that first day as an independent contractor; I'll never forget my feeling as I reached the work an hour ahead of my men and waited for them to come straggling up. I seemed closer than ever to my ancestors. I felt as my great-great-grandfather must have felt when he cut loose from the Massachusetts colony and went off down into the unknown Connecticut. I was full enough of confidence but I knew that a month might drive me back again. Deeper than this trivial fear however there was something bigger—something finer. I was a free man in a larger way than I had ever been before. It made me feel an American to the very core of my marrow.

The work was all staked out but before the men began I called them all together. I didn't make a speech; I just said:

"Men—I've estimated that this can be done by an ordinary bunch of men in forty days; I've banked that you can do it in thirty. If you succeed, it gives me profit enough to take another contract. Do the best you can."

There wasn't a mother's son among them who didn't appreciate my position. There were a good many who knew Ruth and knew her through what she had done for their families, and these understood it even better. The dirt began to fly and it was a pretty sight to watch. I never spoke again to the men. I simply directed their efforts. I spent about half the time with a shovel in my hands myself. There was scarcely a day when Ruth didn't come out to watch the work with an anxious eye but after the first week there was little need for anxiety. I think she would have liked to take a shovel herself. One Saturday Dick came out and actually insisted upon being allowed to do this. The men knew him and liked to see such spirit.

Well, we clipped ten days from my estimate, which left me with all my bills paid and with a handsome profit. Better still I had secured on the strength of Carleton's gang another contract.

The night I deposited my profit in the bank, Ruth quite unconsciously took her pad and pencil and sat down by my side as usual to figure up the household expenses for the week. We had been a bit extravagant that week because she had been away from the house a good deal. The total came to four dollars and sixty-seven cents. When Ruth had finished I took the pad and pencil away from her and put it in my pocket.

"There's no use bothering your head any more over these details," I said.

She looked at me almost sadly.

"No, Billy," she said, with a sigh, "there isn't, is there?"



CHAPTER XIX

ONCE AGAIN A NEW ENGLANDER

During all those years we had never seen or heard of any of our old neighbors. They had hardly ever entered our thoughts except as very occasionally the boy ran across one of his former playmates. Shortly after this, however, business took me out into the old neighborhood and I was curious enough to make a few inquiries. There was no change. My trim little house stood just as it then stood and around it were the other trim little houses. There were a few new houses and a few new-comers, but all the old-timers were still there. I met Grover, who was just recovering from a long sickness. He didn't recognize me at first. I was tanned and had filled out a good deal.

"Why, yes," he said, after I had told my name. "Let me see, you went off to Australia or somewhere, didn't you, Carleton?"

"I emigrated," I answered.

He looked up eagerly.

"I remember now. It seems to have agreed with you."

"You're still with the leather firm?" I inquired.

He almost started at this unexpected question.

"Yes," he answered.

His eyes turned back to his trim little house, then to me as though he feared I was bringing him bad news.

"But I've been laid up for six weeks," he faltered.

I knew what was troubling him. He was wondering whether he would find his job when he got back. Poor devil! If he didn't what would become of his trim little house? Grover was older by five years than I had been when the axe fell.

I talked with him a few minutes. There had been a death or two in the neighborhood and the children had grown up. That was the only change. The sight of Grover made me uncomfortable, so I hurried about my business, eager to get home again.

God pity the poor? Bah! The poor are all right if by poor you mean the tenement dwellers. When you pray again pray God to pity the middle-class American on a salary. Pray that he may not lose his job; pray that if he does it shall be when he is very young; pray that he may find the route to America. The tenement dwellers are safe enough. Pray—and pray hard—for the dwellers in the trim little houses of the suburbs.

I've had my ups and downs, my profits and losses since I entered business for myself but I've come out at the end of each year well ahead of the game. I never made again as much in so short a time as I made on that first job. One reason is that as soon as I was solidly on my feet I started a profit sharing scheme, dividing with the men what was made on every job over a certain per cent. Many of the original gang have left and gone into business for themselves of one sort and another but each one when he went, picked a good man to take his place and handed down to him the spirit of the gang.

Dick went through college and is now in my office. He's a hustler and is going to make a good business man. But thank God he has a heart in him as well as brains. He hopes to make "Carleton and Son" a big firm some day and he will. If he does, every man who faithfully and honestly handles his shovel will be part of the big firm. His idea isn't to make things easy for the men; it's to preserve the spirit they come over with and give them a share of the success due to that spirit.

We didn't move away from our dear, true friends until the other boy came. Then I bought two or three deserted farms outside the city—fifty acres in all. I bought them on time and at a bargain. I'm trying another experiment here. I want to see if the pioneer spirit won't bring even these worn out acres to life. I find that some of my foreign neighbors have made their old farms pay even though the good Americans who left them nearly starved to death. I have some cows and chickens and pigs and am using every square foot of the soil for one purpose or another. We pretty nearly get our living from the farm now.

We entertain a good deal but we don't entertain our new neighbors. There isn't a week summer or winter that I don't have one or more families of Carleton's gang out here for a half holiday. It's the only way I can reconcile myself to having moved away from among them. Ruth keeps very closely in touch with them all and has any number of schemes to help them. Her pet one just now is for us to raise enough cows so that we can sell fresh milk at cost to those families which have kiddies.

Dan comes out to see us every now and then. He's making ten dollars to my one. He says he's going to be mayor of the city some day. I told him I'd do my best to prevent it. That didn't seem to worry him.

"If ye was an Irishmon, now," he said, "I'd be after sittin' up nights in fear of ye. But ye ain't."

I'm almost done. This has been a hard job for me. And yet it's been a pleasant job. It's always pleasant to talk about Ruth. I found that even by taking away her pad and pencil I didn't accomplish much in the way of making her less busy. Even with three children to look after instead of one she does just as much planning about the housework. And we don't have sirloin steaks even now. We don't want them. Our daily fare doesn't vary much from what it was in the tenement.

Ruth just came in with Billy, Jr., in her arms and read over these last few paragraphs. She says she's glad I'm getting through with this because she doesn't know what I might tell about next. But there's nothing more to tell about except that to-day as at the beginning Ruth is the biggest thing in my life. I can't wish any better luck for those trying to fight their way out than they may find for a partner half as good a wife as Ruth. I wouldn't be afraid to start all over again to-day with her by my side.

THE END

* * * * *

- Typographical errors corrected in text: Page 129: semed replaced with seemed Page 219: exitement replaced with excitement Page 231: beafsteak replaced with beefsteak Page 252: dependdent replaced with dependent The following words are legitimate alternate spelling, and left as found: Shakespere goodby -

* * * * *

Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse