He was furious and proposed to "go to the mat" with the State Department. Mamise, however, shook her head; she saw that her only hope of rehabilitation lay in a positive proof of her fidelity.
"I got my name stained in England because I didn't have the pluck to do something positive. I was irresolution personified, and I'm paying for it. But for once in my life I learned a lesson, and when I learned what Nicky planned I ran right to you with it. Now if we catch Nicky red-handed, and I turn over my own brother-in-law to justice, that ought to redeem me, oughtn't it?"
Davidge had a better idea for her protection. "Marry me, and then they can't say anything."
"Then they'll suspect you," she said. "Too many good Americans have been dragged into hot water by pro-German wives, and I'm not going to marry you till I can bring you some other dower than a spotted reputation."
"I'd take you and be glad to get you if you were as polka-dotted as a leopardess," said Davidge.
"Just as much obliged; but no, thank you," said Mamise. "Furthermore, if we were married, the news would reach Nicky Easton through Jake Nuddle, and then Nicky would lose all trust in me, and come down on us without warning."
"This makes about the fifteenth rejection I've had," said Davidge. "And I'd sworn never to ask you again."
"I promised to ask you when the time was ripe," said Mamise.
"Don't forget. Barkis is always willin' and waitin'."
"While we're both waiting," Mamise went on, "there's one thing you've got to do for me, or I'll never propose to you."
"Granted, to the half my shipyard."
"It's only a job in your shipyard. I can't stand this typewriter-tapping any longer. I'm going mad. I want to swing a hammer or something. You told me that women could build a whole ship if they wanted to, and I want to build my part of one."
"If you speak of my hands, I'll prove to you how strong they are. Besides, if I were out in the yard at work, I could keep a better watch for Nicky, and I could keep you better informed as to the troubles always brewing among the workmen."
"I'm strong enough for it, too. I've been taking a lot of exercise recently to get in trim. If you don't believe me, feel that muscle."
She flexed her biceps, and he took hold of it timidly in its silken sleeve. It amazed him, for it was like marble. Still, he hated to lose her from the neighborliness of the office; he hated to send her out among the workmen with their rough language and their undoubted readiness to haze her and teach her her place. But she was stubborn and he saw that her threat was in earnest when she said:
"If you don't give me a job, I'll go to some other company."
Then he yielded and wrote her a note to the superintendent of the yard, and said:
"You can begin to-morrow."
She smiled in her triumph and made the very womanly comment: "But I haven't a thing to wear. Do you know a good ladies' tailor who can fit me out with overalls, some one who has been 'Breeches-maker to the Queen' and can drape a baby-blue denim pant modishly?"
The upshot of it was that she decided to make her own trousseau, and she went shopping for materials and patterns. She ended by visiting an emporium for "gents' furnishings." The storekeeper asked her what size her husband wore, and she said:
"Just about my own."
He gave her the smallest suit in stock, and she held it up against her. It was much too brief, and she was heartened to know that there were workmen littler than she.
She bought the garment that came nearest to her own dimensions, and hurried home with it joyously. It proved to be a perfect misfit, and she worked over it as if it were a coming-out gown; and indeed it was her costume for her debut into the world of manual labor.
Abbie dropped in and surprised her in her attitudes and was handsomely scandalized:
"When's the masquerade?" she asked.
Mamise told her of her new career.
Abbie was appalled. "It's against the Bible for a woman to wear a man's things!" she protested. Abbie could quote the Scripture for every discouraging purpose.
"I'd rather wear them than wash them," said Mamise; "and if you'll take my advice you'll get a suit of overalls yourself and earn an honest living and five times as much money as Jake would give you—if he ever gave you any."
But Abbie wailed that Mamise had gone indecent as well as crazy, and trembled at the thought of what the gossips along the row would do with the family reputation. The worst of it was that Mamise had money in the bank and did not have to work.
That was the incomprehensible thing to Jake Nuddle. He accepted the familiar theory that all capital is stolen goods, and he reproached Mamise with the double theft of poor folks' money and now of poor folks' work. Mamise's contention that there were not enough workmen for the country's needs fell on deaf ears, for Jake believed that work was a crime against the sacred cause of the laboring-man. His ideal of a laboring-man was one who seized the capital from the capitalists and then ceased to labor.
But Jake's too familiar eyes showed that he regarded Mamise as a very interesting spectacle. The rest of the workmen seemed to have the same opinion when she went to the yard in her overalls next morning. She was the first woman to take up man's work in the neighborhood, and she had to endure the most searching stares, grins, frowns, and comments that were meant to be overheard.
She struck all the men as immodest; some were offended and some were delighted. As usual, modesty was but another name for conformity. Mamise had to face the glares of the conventional wives and daughters in their bodices that followed every contour, their light skirts that blew above the knees, and their provocative hats and ribbons. They made it plain to her that they were outraged by this shapeless passer-by in the bifurcated potato-sack, with her hair tucked up under a vizored cap and her hands in coarse mittens.
Mamise had studied the styles affected by the workmen as if they were fashion-plates from Paris, and she had equipped herself with a slouchy cap, heavy brogans, a thick sweater, a woolen shirt, and thick flannels underneath.
She was as well concealed as she could manage, and yet her femininity seemed to be emphasized by her very disguise. The roundness of bosom and hip and the fineness of shoulder differed too much from the masculine outline to be hidden. And somehow there was more coquetry in her careful carelessness than in all the exaggerated womanishness of the shanty belles. She had been a source of constant wonder to the community from the first. But now she was regarded as a downright menace to the peace and the morals of society.
Mamise reported to the superintendent and gave him Davidge's card. The old man respected Davidge's written orders and remembered the private instructions Davidge had given him to protect Mamise from annoyance at all costs. The superintendent treated her as if she were a child playing at salesmanship in a store. And this was the attitude of all the men except a few incorrigible gallants, who tried to start flirtations and make movie dates with her.
Sutton, the master riveter, alone received her with just the right hospitality. He had no fear that she would steal his job or his glory or that any man would. He had talked with her often and let her practise at his riveting-gun. He had explained that her ambition to be a riveter was hopeless, since it would take at least three month's apprenticeship before she could hope to begin on such a career. But her sincere longings to be a builder and not a loafer won his respect.
When she expressed a shy wish to belong to his riveting-gang he said:
"Right you are, miss—or should I say mister?"
"I'd be proud if you'd call me bo," said Mamise.
"Right you are, bo. We'll start you in as a passer-boy. I'll be glad to get rid of that sleep-walker. Hay, Snotty!" he called to a grimy lad with an old bucket. The youth rubbed the back of his greasy glove across the snub of nose that had won him his name, and, shifting his precocious quid, growled:
"Ah, go git your time—or change to another gang. Tell the supe. I'm not fast enough for you. Go on—beat it!"
Mamise saw that she already had an enemy. She protested against displacing another toiler, but Sutton told her that there were jobs enough for the cub.
He explained the nature of Mamise's duties, talking out of one side of his mouth and using the other for ejaculations of an apparently inexhaustible supply of tobacco-juice. Seeing that Mamise's startled eyes kept following these missiles, he laughed:
"Do you use chewin'?"
"I don't think so," said Mamise, not quite sure of his meaning.
"Well, you'll have to keep a wad of gum goin', then, for you cert'n'y need a lot of spit in this business."
Mamise found this true enough, and the next time Davidge saw her she kept her grinders milling and used the back of her glove with a professional air. For the present, however, she had no brain-cells to spare for mastication. Sutton introduced her to his crew.
"This gink here with the whiskers is Zupnik; he's the holder-on; he handles the dolly and hangs on to the rivets while I swat 'em. The pill over by the furnace is the heater; his name is Pafflow, and his job is warming up the rivets. Just before they begin to sizzle he yanks 'em out with the tongs and throws 'em to you. You ketch 'em in the bucket—I hope, and take 'em out with your tongs and put 'em in the rivet-hole, and then Zupnik and me we do the rest. And what do we call you? Miss Webling is no name for a workin'-man."
"My name is Marie Louise."
"Moll is enough."
And Moll she was thenceforth.
The understanding of Mamise's task was easier than its performance. Pafflow sent the rivets to her fast and fleet, and they were red-hot. The first one passed her and struck Sutton. His language blistered. The second sizzled against her hip. The third landed in the pail with a pleasant clink, but she was so slow in getting her tongs about it, and fitting it into its place, that it was too cold for use. This threw her into a state of hopelessness. She was ready to resign.
"I think I'd better go back to crocheting," she sighed.
Sutton gave her a playful shove that almost sent her off the platform:
"Nah, you don't, Moll. You made me chase Snotty off the job, and you're goin' t'rough wit' it. You ain't doin' no worse 'n I done meself when I started rivetin'. Cheese! but I spoiled so much work I got me tail kicked offen me a dozen times!"
This was politer language than some that he used. His conversation was interspersed with words that no one prints. They scorched Mamise's ears like red-hot rivets at first, but she learned to accept them as mere emphasis. And, after all, blunt Anglo-Saxon never did any harm that Latin paraphrase could prevent.
The main thing was Sutton's rough kindliness, his splendid efficiency, and his infinite capacity for taking pains with each rivet-head, hammering it home, then taking up his pneumatic chipping-tool to trim it neat. That is the genius and the glory of the artisan, to perfect each detail ad unguem, like a poet truing up a sonnet.
Sutton was putting in thousands on thousands of rivets a month, and every one of them was as important to him as every other. He feared the thin knife-blade of the rivet-tester as the scrupulous writer dreads the learned critic's scalpel.
Mamise was dazed to learn that the ship named after her would need nearly half a million rivets, each one of them necessary to the craft's success. The thought of the toil, the noise, the sweat, the money involved made the work a sort of temple-building, and the thought of Nicky Easton's ability to annul all that devout accomplishment in an instant nauseated her like a blasphemy. She felt herself a priestess in a holy office and renewed her flagging spirits with prayers for strength and consecration.
But few of the laborers had Sutton's pride or Mamise's piety in the work. Just as she began to get the knack of catching and placing the rivets Pafflow began to register his protest against her sex. He took a low joy in pitching rivets wild, and grinned at her dancing lunges after them.
Mamise would not tattle, but she began again to lose heart. Sutton's restless appetite for rivets noted the new delay, and he grasped the cause of it at once. His first comment was to walk over to the furnace and smash Pafflow in the nose.
"You try any of that I. W. W. sabotodge here, you——, and I'll stuff you in a rivet-hole and turn the gun loose on you."
Pafflow yielded first to force and later to the irresistible power of Mamise's humility. Indeed, her ardor for service warmed his indifferent soul at last, and he joined with her to make a brilliant team, hurtling the rivets in red arcs from the coke to the pail with the precision of a professional baseball battery.
Mamise eventually acquired a womanly deftness in plucking up the rivet and setting it in place, and Davidge might have seen grounds for uneasiness in her eager submissiveness to Sutton as she knelt before him, watched his eye timidly, and glowed like coke under the least breath of his approval.
Sutton was a mighty man in his way, and earning a wage that would have been accounted princely a year before. All the workers were receiving immense increase of pay, but the champion riveters were lavishly rewarded.
The whole shipyard industry was on a racing basis. Plans were being laid to celebrate the next Fourth of July with an unheard-of number of launchings. Every boat-building company was trying to put overboard an absolute maximum of hulls on that day.
"Hurry-up" Hurley, who had driven the first rivets into a steel ship pneumatically, and Charles M. Schwab, of Bethlehem, were the inspiring leaders in the rush, and their ambition was to multiply the national output by ten. The spirit of emulation thrilled all the thrillable workmen, but the riveters were the spectacular favorites. Their names appeared in the papers as they topped each other's scores, and Sutton kept outdoing himself. For special occasions he groomed himself like a race-horse, resting the day before the great event and then giving himself up to a frenzy of speed.
On one noble day of nine hours' fury he broke the world's record temporarily. He drove four thousand eight hundred and seventy-five three-quarter-inch rivets into place. Then he was carried away to a twenty-four-hour rest, like an exhausted prizefighter.
That was one of the great days in Mamise's history, for she was permitted to assist in the achievement, and she was not entirely grateful to Davidge for suppressing the publication of her name alongside Sutton's. Her photograph appeared with his in many of the supplements, but nobody recognized the lily-like beauty of Miss Webling in the smutty-faced passer-boy crouching at Sutton's elbow. The publication of her photograph as an English belle had made history for her, in that it brought Jake Nuddle into her life; but this picture had no follow-up except in her own pride.
This rapture, however, long postdated her first adventure into the shipyard. That grim period of eight hours was an alternation of shame, awkwardness, stupidity, failure, fatigue, and despair.
She did not even wash up for lunch, but picked her fodder from her pail with her companions. She smoked a convivial cigarette with the gang and was proud as a boy among grown-ups. She even wanted to be tough and was tempted to use ugly words in a swaggering pride.
But after her lunch it was almost impossible for her to get up and go back to her task, and she would have fainted from sheer weariness except that she had forsworn such luxuries as swoons.
The final whistle found her one entire neuralgia. The unending use of the same muscles, the repetition of the same rhythmic series, the cranium-shattering clatter of all the riveting-guns, the anxiety to be sure of each successive rivet, quite burned her out. And she learned that the reward for this ordeal was, according to the minimum wage-scale adopted by the Emergency Fleet Corporation, thirty cents an hour for eight hours, with a ten-per-cent. increase for a six-day week. This would amount to all of two dollars and sixty-four cents for the day, and fifteen dollars for the week!
It was munificent for a passer-boy, but it was ruinous for a young woman of independent fortune and an ambition to look her best. She gasped with horror when she realized the petty reward for such prolonged torment. She was too weary to contrast the wage with the prices of food, fuel, and clothing. While wages climbed expenses soared.
She understood as never before, and never after, why labor is discontent and why it is so easily stirred to rebellion, why it feels itself the exploited slave of imaginary tyrants. She went to bed at eight and slept in the deeps of sweat-earned repose.
The next morning, getting up was like scourging a crowd of fagged-out children to school. All her limbs and sundry muscles whose existence she had never realized before were like separate children, each aching and wailing: "I can't! I won't!"
But the lameness vanished when she was at work again, and her sinews began to learn their various trades and to manage them automatically. She grew strong and lusty, and her task grew easy. She began to understand that while the employee has troubles enough and to spare, he has none of the torments of leadership; he is not responsible for the securing of contracts and materials, for borrowings of capital from the banks, or for the weekly nightmare of meeting the pay-roll. There are two hells in the cosmos of manufacture: the dark pit where the laborer fights the tiny worms of expense and the dizzy crags where the employer battles with the dragons of aggregates.
Mamise saw that most of the employees were employees because they lacked the self-starter of ambition. They were lazy-minded, and even their toiling bodies were lazy. For all their appearance of effort they did not ordinarily attain an efficiency of thirty per cent. of their capabilities. The turnover in employment was three times what it should have been. Three hundred men were hired for every hundred steadily at work, and the men at work did only a third of the work they could have done. The total wastefulness of man rivaled the ghastly wastefulness of nature with spawn and energy.
The poor toilers were more reckless, more shiftless, relatively more dissipated, than the idle rich, for the rich ordinarily squandered only the interest on their holdings, while the laborer wasted his capital in neglecting to make full use of his muscle. The risks they took with life and limb were amazing.
On Saturdays great numbers quit work and waited for their pay. On Mondays the force was greatly reduced by absentees nursing the hang-over from the Sunday drunk, and of those that came to work so many were unfit that the Monday accident increase was proverbial.
The excuse of slavery or serfdom was no longer legitimate, though it was loudly proclaimed by the agitators, the trade-union editors, and the parlor reformers. For, say what they would, labor could resign or strike at will; the laborer had his vote and his equality of opportunity. He was free even from the ordinary obligations, for nobody expected the workman to make or keep a contract for his services after it became inconvenient to him.
There were bad sports among them, as among the rich and the classes between. There were unions and individuals that were tyrants in power and cry-babies in trouble. There was much cruelty, trickery, and despotism inside the unions—ferocious jealousy of union against union, and mutual destructiveness.
This was, of course, inevitable, and it only proved that lying, cheating, and bullying were as natural to the so-called "laborer" as to the so-called "capitalist." The folly is in making the familiar distinction between them. Mamise saw that the majority of manual laborers did not do a third of the work they might have done and she knew that many of the capitalists did three times as much as they had to.
It is the individual that tells the story, and Mamise, who had known hard-working, firm-muscled men, and devoted mothers and pure daughters among the rich, found them also among the poor, but intermingled here, as above, with sots, degenerates, child-beaters, and wantons.
Mamise learned to admire and to be fond of many of the men and their families. But she had adventures with blackguards, rakes, and brutes. She was lovingly entreated by many a dear woman, but she was snubbed and slandered by others who were as extravagant, indolent, and immoral as the wives and daughters of the rich.
But all in all, the ship-builders loafed horribly in spite of the poetic inspiration of their calling and the prestige of public laudation; in spite of the appeals for hulls to carry food to the starving and troops to the anxious battle-front of Europe. In spite also of the highest wages ever paid to a craft, they kept their efficiency at a lower point than lower paid workmen averaged in the listless pre-war days. Yet there was no lack of outcry that the workman was throttled and enslaved by the greed of capital. There was no lack of outcry that profiteers were bleeding the nation to death and making martyrs of the poor.
Most of the capitalists had been workmen themselves and had risen from the lethargic mass by the simple expedient of using their brains for schemes and making their muscles produce more than the average output. The laborers who failed failed because when they got their eight-hour day they did not turn their leisure to production. And some of them dared to claim that the manual toilers alone produced the wealth and should alone be permitted to enjoy it, as if it were possible or desirable to choke off initiative and adventure or to devise a society in which the man whose ambition is to avoid work will set the pace for the man who loves it for itself and whose discontent goads him on to self-improvement! As if it were possible or desirable for the man who works half-heartedly eight hours a day to keep down the man who works whole-souledly eighteen hours a day! For time is power.
Even the benefits the modern laborer enjoys are largely the result of intervention in his behalf by successful men of enterprise who thrust upon the toiler the comforts, the safeguards, and the very privileges he will not or cannot seek for himself.
During the war the employers of labor, the generals of these tremendous armies, were everlastingly alert to find some means to stimulate them to do themselves justice. The best artists of the country devised eloquent posters, and these were stuck up everywhere, reminding the laborer that he was the partner of the soldier. Orators visited the yards and harangued the men. After each appeal there was a brief spurt of enthusiasm that showed what miracles could be accomplished if they had not lapsed almost at once into the usual sullen drudgery.
There were appeals to thrift also. The government needed billions of dollars, needed them so badly that the pennies of the poorest man must be sought for. Few of the workmen had the faintest idea of saving. The wives of some of them were humbly provident, but many of them were debt-runners in the shops and wasters in the kitchens.
A gigantic effort was put forth to teach the American people thrift. The idea of making small investments in government securities was something new. Bonds were supposed to be for bankers and plutocrats. Vast campaigns of education were undertaken, and the rich implored the poor to lay aside something for a rainy day. The rich invented schemes to wheedle the poor to their own salvation. So huge had been the wastefulness before that the new fashion produced billions upon billions of investments in Liberty Bonds, and hundreds of millions in War Savings Stamps.
Bands of missionaries went everywhere, to the theaters, the moving-picture houses, the schools, the shops, the factories, preaching the new gospel of good business and putting it across in the name of patriotism.
One of these troupes of crusaders marched upon Davidge's shipyard. And with it came Nicky Easton at last.
Easton had deferred his advent so long that Mamise and Davidge had come almost to yearn for him with heartsick eagerness. The first inkling of the prodigal's approach was a visit that Jake Nuddle paid to Mamise late one evening. She had never broached to him the matter of her talk with Easton, waiting always for him to speak of it to her. She was amazed to see him now, and he brought amazement with him.
"I just got a call on long distance," he said, "and a certain party tells me you was one of us all this time. Why didn't you put a feller wise?"
Mamise was inspired to answer his reproach with a better: "Because I don't trust you, Jake. You talk too much."
This robbed Jake of his bluster and convinced him that the elusive Mamise was some tremendous super-spy. He became servile at once, and took pride in being the lackey of her unexplained and unexplaining majesty. Mamise liked him even less in this role than the other.
She took his information with a languid indifference, as if the terrifying news were simply a tiresome confirmation of what she had long expected. Jake was tremulous with excitement and approval.
"Well, well, who'd 'a' thought our little Mamise was one of them slouch-hounds you read about? I see now why you've been stringin' that Davidge boob along. You got him eatin' out your hand. And I see now why you put them jumpers on and went out into the yards. You just got to know everything, ain't you?"
Mamise nodded and smiled felinely, as she imagined a queen of mystery would do. But as soon as she could get rid of Jake she was like a child alone in a graveyard.
Jake had told her that Nicky would be down in a few days, and not to be surprised when he appeared. She wanted to get the news to Davidge, but she dared not go to his rooms so late. And in the morning she was due at her job of passing rivets. She crept into bed to rest her dog-tired bones against the morrow's problems. Her dreams were all of death and destruction, and of steel ships crumpled like balls of paper thrown into a waste-basket.
If she had but known it, Davidge was making the rounds of his sentry-line. The guard at one gate was sound asleep. He found two others playing cards, and a fourth man dead drunk.
Inside the yards the great hulls rose up to the moon like the buttresses of a cliff. Only, they were delicately vulnerable, and Europe waited for them.
True sleep came to Mamise so late that her alarm-clock could hardly awaken her. It took all her speed to get her to her post. She dared not keep Sutton waiting, and fear of the time-clock had become a habit with her. As she caught the gleaming rivets and thrust them into their sconces, she wondered if all this toil were merely a waste of effort to give the sarcastic gods another laugh at human folly.
She wanted to find Davidge and took at last the desperate expedient of pretended sickness. The passer-boy Snotty was found to replace her, and she hurried to Davidge's office.
Miss Gabus stared at her and laughed. "Tired of your rivetin' a'ready? Come to get your old job back?"
Mamise shook her head and asked for Davidge. He was out—no, not out of town, but out in the yard or the shop or up in the mold-loft or somewheres, she reckoned.
Mamise set out to find him, and on the theory that among places to look for anything or anybody the last should be first she climbed the long, long stairs to the mold-loft.
He was not among the acolytes kneeling at the templates; nor was he in the cathedral of the shop. She sought him among the ships, and came upon him at last talking to Jake Nuddle, of all people!
Nuddle saw Mamise first and winked, implying that he also was making a fool of Davidge. Davidge looked sheepish, as he always did when he was caught in a benevolent act.
"I was just talking to your brother-in-law, Miss Webling," he said, "trying to drive a few rivets into that loose skull. I don't want to fire him, on your account, but I don't see why I should pay an I. W. W. or a Bolshevist to poison my men."
Davidge had been alarmed by the indifference of his sentinels. He thought it imbecile to employ men like Nuddle to corrupt the men within, while the guards admitted any wanderer from without. He was making a last attempt to convert Nuddle to industry for Mamise's sake, trying to pluck this dingy brand from the burning.
"I was just showing Nuddle a little bookkeeping in patriotism," he said. "The Liberty Loan people are coming here, and I want the yard to do itself proud. Some of the men and women are going without necessities to help the government, while Nuddle and some others are working for the Kaiser. This is the record of Nuddle and his crew:
"'Wages, six to ten dollars a day guaranteed by the government. Investment in Liberty Bonds, nothing; purchases of War Savings Stamps, nothing; contributions to Red Cross, Y. M. C. A., K. of C., J. W. B., Salvation Army, nothing; contributions to relief funds of the Allies, nothing. Time spent at drill, none; time spent in helping recruiting, none. A clean sheet, and a sheet full of time spent in interfering with other men's work, sneering at patriotism, saying the Kaiser is no worse than the Allies, pretending that this is a war to please the capitalists, and that a soldier is a fool.'
"In other words, Nuddle, you are doing the Germans' business, and I don't intend to pay you American money any longer unless you do more work with your hands and less with your jaw."
Nuddle was stupid enough to swagger.
"Just as you say, Davidge. You'll change your tune before long, because us workin'-men, bein' the perdoocers, are goin' to take over all these plants and run 'em to soot ourselves."
"Fine!" said Davidge. "And will you take over my loans at the banks to meet the pay-rolls?"
"We'll take over the banks!" said Jake, majestically. "We'll take over everything and let the workin'-men git their doos at last."
"What becomes of us wicked plutocrats?"
"We'll have you workin' for us."
"Then we'll be the workin'-men, and it will be our turn to take over things and set you plutocrats to workin' for us, I suppose. And we'll be just where we are now."
This was growing too seesawy for Nuddle, and he turned surly.
"Some of you won't be in no shape to take over nothin'."
Davidge laughed. "It's as bad as that, eh? Well, while I can, I'll just take over your button."
"You mean I'm fired?"
"Exactly," said Davidge, holding out his hand for the badge that served as a pass to the yards and the pay-roll. "Come with me, and you'll get what money's coming to you."
This struck through Nuddle's thick wits. He cast a glance of dismay at Mamise. If he were discharged, he could not help Easton with the grand blow-up. He whined:
"Ain't you no regard for a family man? I got a wife and kids dependent on me."
"Well, do what Karl Marx did—let them starve or live on their own money while you prove that capital is as he said, 'a vampire of dead labor sucking the life out of living labor.' Or feed them on the wind you try to sell me."
"Aw, have a heart! I talk too much, but I'm all right," Jake pleaded.
Davidge relented a little. "If you'll promise to give your mouth a holiday and your hands a little work I'll keep you to the end of the month. And then, on your way!"
"All right, boss; much obliged," said Jake, so relieved at his respite that he bustled away as if victorious, winking shrewdly at Mamise—who winked back, with some difficulty.
She waited till he was a short distance off, then she murmured, quickly:
"Don't jump—but Nicky Easton is coming here in the next few days; I don't know just when. He told Jake; Jake told me. What shall we do?"
Davidge took the blow with a smile:
"Our little guest is coming at last, eh? He promised to see you first. I'll have Larrey keep close to you, and the first move he makes we'll jump him. In the mean while I'll put some new guards on the job and—well, that's about all we can do but wait."
"I mustn't be seen speaking to you too friendly. Jake thinks I'm fooling you."
"God help me, if you are, for I love you. And I want you to be careful. Don't run any risks. I'd rather have the whole shipyard smashed than your little finger."
"Thanks, but if I could swap my life for one ship it would be the best bargain I ever bought. Good-by."
As she ran back to her post Davidge smiled at the womanishness of her gait, and thought of Joan of Arc, never so lovably feminine as in her armor.
Days of harrowing restiveness followed, Mamise starting at every word spoken to her, leaping to her feet at every step that passed her cottage, springing from her sleep with a cry, "Who's there!" at every breeze that fumbled a shutter.
But nothing happened; nobody came for her.
The afternoon of the Liberty Loan drive was declared a half-holiday. The guards were doubled at the gates, and watchmen moved among the crowds; but strangers were admitted if they looked plausible, and several motor-loads of them rolled in. Some of them carried bundles of circulars and posters and application blanks. Some of them were of foreign aspect, since a large number of the workmen had to be addressed in other languages than English.
Mamise drifted from one audience to another. She encountered her team-mate Pafflow and tried to find a speaker who was using his language.
At length a voice of an intonation familiar to him threw him into an ecstasy. What was jargon to Mamise was native music to him, and she lingered at his elbow, pretending to share his thrill in order to increase it.
She felt a twitch at her sleeve, and turned idly.
Nicky Easton was at her side. Her mind, all her minds, began to convene in alarm like the crew of a ship attacked.
"Nicky!" she gasped.
"No names, pleass! But to follow me quick."
"I'm right with you." She turned to follow him. "One minute." She stepped back and spoke fiercely to Pafflow. "Pafflow, find Mr. Davidge. Tell him Nicky is here. Remember, Nicky is here. It's life and death. Find him."
Pafflow mumbled, "Nicky is here!" and Mamise ran after Nicky, who was lugging a large suit-case. He was quivering with excitement.
"I didn't knew you in pentaloons, but Chake Nuttle pointet you owit," he laughed.
"Wh-where is Jake?"
"He goes ahead vit a boondle of bombs. Nobody is on the Schiff. Ve could not have so good a chence again."
Mamise might have, ought to have, seized him and cried for help; but she could not somehow throw off the character she had assumed with Nicky. She obeyed him in a kind of automatism. Her eyes searched the crowd for Larrey, who had kept all too close to her of recent days and nights. But he had fallen under the hypnotism of some too eloquent spellbinder.
Mamise felt the need of doing a great heroic feat, but she could not imagine what it might be. Pending the arrival from heaven of some superfeminine inspiration, she simply went along to be in at the death.
Pafflow was a bit stupid and two bits stubborn. He puzzled over Mamise's peculiar orders. He wanted to hear the rest of that fiery speech. He turned and stared after Mamise and noted the way she went, with the foppish stranger carrying the heavy baggage. But he was used to obeying orders after a little balking, and in time his slow brain started him on the hunt for Davidge. He quickened his pace and asked questions, being put off or directed hither and yon.
At last he saw the boss sitting on a platform behind whose fluttering bunting a white-haired man was hurling noises at the upturned faces of the throng. Pafflow supposed that his jargon was English.
Getting to Davidge was not easy. But Pafflow was stubborn. He pushed as close to the front as he could, and there a wall of bodies held him.
The orator was checked in full career with almost fatal results by the sudden bellowing of a voice from the crowd below. He supposed that he was being heckled. He paused among the ruins of his favorite period, and said:
"Well, my friend, what is it?"
Pafflow ignored him and shouted: "Meesta Davutch! O-o-h, Meesta Davutch. Neecky is here."
Davidge, hearing his name bruited, rose and called into the mob, "What's that?"
"Neecky is here."
When Davidge understood he was staggered. For a moment he stood in a stupor. Then he apologized to the speaker. "An emergency call. Please forgive me and go right on!"
He bowed to the other distinguished guests and left the platform. Pafflow found him and explained.
"Moll, the passer-boy, my gang, she say find you, life and death, and say Neecky is here! I doan' know what she means, but now I find you."
"Which way—where—did you—have you an idea where she went?"
"She go over by new ship Mamise—weeth gentleman all dressy up."
Davidge ran toward the scaffolding surrounding the almost finished hull. He recognized one or two of his plain-clothes guards and stopped just long enough to tell them to get together and search every ship at once, and to make no excitement about it.
The scaffolding was like a jungle, and he prowled through it with caution and desperate speed, up and down the swaying, cleated planks and in and out of the hull.
He searched the hold first, expecting that Nicky would naturally plant his explosives there. That indeed was his scheme, but Mamise had found among her tumbled wits one little idea only, and that was to delay Nicky as long as possible.
She suggested to him that before he began to lay his train of wires he ought to get a general view of the string of ships. The best point was the top deck, where they were just about to hoist the enormous rudder to the stern-post.
Nicky accepted the suggestion, and Mamise guided him through the labyrinth. They had met Jake at the base of the falsework, and he came along, leaving his bundle. Nicky carried his suit-case with him. He did not intend to be separated from it. Jake was always glad to be separated from work.
They made the climb, and Nicky's artistic soul lingered to praise the beautiful day for the beautiful deed. In a frenzy of talk, Mamise explained to him what she could. She pointed to the great hatchway for the locomotives and told him:
"The ship would have been in the water now if it weren't for that big hatch. It set us—the company back ninety days."
"And now the ship goes to be in the sky in about nine minutes. Come along once."
"Look down here, how deep it is!" said Mamise, and led him to the edge. She was ready to thrust him into the pit, but he kept a firm grip on a rope, and she sighed with regret.
But Davidge, looking up from the depth of the well, saw Nicky and Mamise peering over the edge. His face vanished.
"Who iss?" said Nicky. "Somebody is below dere. Who iss?"
Mamise said she did not know, and Jake had not seen.
Nicky was in a flurry. The fire in Davidge's eyes told him that Davidge was looking for him. There was a dull sound in the hitherto silent ship of some one running.
Nicky grew hysterical with wrath. To be caught at the very outset of his elaborate campaign was maddening. He opened his suit-case, took out from the protecting wadding a small iron death-machine and held it in readiness. A noble plan had entered his brain for rescuing his dream.
Nuddle, glancing over the side, recognized Davidge and told Nicky who it was that came. When Davidge reached the top deck, he found Nicky smiling with the affability of a floorwalker.
"Meester Davitch—please, one momend. I holt in my hant a little machine to blow us all high-sky if you are so unkind to be impolite. You move—I srow. We all go up togedder in much pieces. Better it is you come with me and make no trouble, and then I let you safe your life. You agree, yes? Or must I srow?"
Davidge looked at the bomb, at Nicky, at Nuddle, then at Mamise. Life was sweet here on this high steel crag, with the cheers of the crowds about the stands coming faintly up on the delicious breeze. He knew explosives. He had seen them work. He could see what that handful of lightning in Nicky's grasp would do to this mountain he had built.
Life was sweet where the limpid river spread its indolent floods far and wide. And Mamise was beautiful. The one thing not sweet and not beautiful was the triumph of this sardonic Hun.
Davidge pondered but did not speak.
With all the superiority of the Kultured German for the untutored Yankee, Nicky said, "Vell?"
Perhaps it was the V that did it. For Davidge, without a word, went for him.
The most tremendous explosives refuse to explode unless some detonator like fulminate of mercury is set off first. Each of us has his own fulminate, and the snap of a little cap of it brings on our cataclysm.
It was a pity, seeing how many Germans were alienated from their country by the series of its rulers' crimes, and seeing how many German names were in the daily lists of our dead, that the word and the accent grew so hateful to the American people. It was a pity, but the Americans were not to blame if the very intonation of a Teutonism made their ears tingle.
Davidge prized life and had no suicidal inclinations or temptations. No imaginable crisis in his affairs could have convinced him to self-slaughter. He was brave, but cautious.
Even now, if Nicky Easton, poising the bombshell with its appalling threat, had murmured a sardonic "Well?" Davidge would probably have smiled, shrugged, and said:
"You've got the bead on me, partner. I'm yours." He would have gone along as Nicky's prisoner, waiting some better chance to recover his freedom.
But the mal-pronunciation of the shibboleth strikes deep centers of racial feeling and makes action spring faster than thought. The Sicilians at vespers asked the Frenchmen to pronounce "cheecheree," and slew them when they said "sheesheree." So Easton snapped a fulminate in Davidge when his Prussian tongue betrayed him into that impertinent, intolerable alien "Vell?"
Davidge was helpless in his own frenzy. He leaped.
Nicky could not believe his eyes. He paused for an instant's consideration. As a football-player hesitates a sixteenth of a second too long before he passes the ball or punts it, and so forfeits his opportunity, so Nicky Easton stood and stared for the length of time it takes the eyes to widen.
That was just too long for him and just long enough for Davidge, who went at him football fashion, hurling himself through the air like a vast, sprawling tarantula. Nicky's grip on the bomb relaxed. It fell from his hand. Davidge swiped at it wildly, smacked it, and knocked it out of bounds beyond the deck. Then Davidge's hundred-and-eighty-pound weight smote the light and wickery frame of Nicky and sent him collapsing backward, staggering, wavering, till he, too, went overboard.
Davidge hit the deck like a ball-player sliding for a base, and he went slithering to the edge. He would have followed Nicky over the hundred-foot steel precipice if Mamise had not flung herself on him and caught his heel. He was stopped with his right arm dangling out in space and his head at the very margin of the deck.
In this very brief meanwhile Jake Nuddle, who had been panic-stricken at the sight of the bomb in Nicky's hand, had been backing away slowly. He would have backed into the abyss if he had not struck a stanchion and clutched it desperately.
And now the infernal-machine reached bottom. It lighted on the huge blade of the ship's anchor lying on a wharf waiting to be hoisted into place. The shell burst with an all-rending roar and sprayed rags of steel in every direction. The upward stream caught Nicky in midair and shattered him to shreds.
Nuddle's whole back was obliterated and half a corpse fell forward, headless, on the deck. Davidge's right arm was ripped from the shoulder and his hat vanished, all but the brim.
Mamise was untouched by the bombardment, but the downward rain of fragments tore her flesh as she lay sidelong.
The bomb, exploding in the open air, lost much of its efficiency, but the part of the ship nearest was crumpled like an old tomato-can that a boy has placed on a car track to be run over.
The crash with its reverberations threw the throngs about the speakers' stands into various panics, some running away from the volcano, some toward it. Many people were knocked down and trampled.
Larrey and his men were the first to reach the deck. They found Davidge and Mamise in a pool of blood rapidly enlarging as the torn arteries in Davidge's shoulder spouted his life away. A quick application of first aid saved him until the surgeon attached to the shipyard could reach him.
Mamise's injuries were painful and cruel, but not dangerous. Of Jake Nuddle there was not enough left to assure Larrey of his identification. Of Nicky Easton there was so little trace that the first searchers did not know that he had perished.
Davidge and Mamise were taken to the hospital, and when Davidge was restored to consciousness his first words were a groan of awful satisfaction:
"I got a German!"
When he learned that he had no longer a right arm he smiled again and muttered:
"It's great to be wounded for your country."
Which was a rather inelegant paraphrase of the classic "Dulce et decorum," but caught its spirit admirably.
Of Jake Nuddle he knew nothing and forgot everything till some days later, when he was permitted to speak to Mamise, in whose welfare he was more interested than his own, and the story of whose unimportant wounds harrowed him more than his own.
Her voice came to him over the bedside telephone. After an exchange of the inevitable sympathies and regrets and tendernesses, Mamise sighed:
"Well, we're luckier than poor Jake."
"We are? What happened to him?"
"He was killed, horribly. His pitiful wife! Abbie has been here and she is inconsolable. He was her idol—not a very pretty one, but idols are not often pretty. It's too terribly bad, isn't it?"
Davidge's bewildered silence was his epitaph for Jake. Even though he were dead, one could hardly praise him, though, now that he was dead, Davidge felt suddenly that he must have been indeed the first and the eternal victim of his own qualities.
Jake had been a complainer, a cynic, a loafer always from his cradle on—indeed, his mother used to say that he nearly kicked her to death before he was born.
Mamise had hated and loathed him, but she felt now that Abbie had been righter than she in loving the wretch who had been dowered with no beauty of soul or body.
She waited for Davidge to say something. After a long silence, she asked:
"Are you there?"
"You don't say anything about poor Jake."
"I—I don't know what to say."
He felt it hateful to withhold praise from the dead, and yet a kind of honesty forced him to oppose the habit of lauding all who have just died, since it cheapened the praise of the dead who deserve praise—or what we call "deserve."
Mamise spoke in a curiously unnatural tone: "It was noble of poor Jake to give his life trying to save the ship, wasn't it?"
"What's that?" said Davidge, and she spoke with labored precision.
"I say that you and I, who were the only witnesses, feel sorry that poor Jake had to be killed in the struggle with Easton."
"Oh, I see! Yes—yes," said Davidge, understanding.
Mamise went on: "Mr. Larrey was here and he didn't know who Jake was till I told him how he helped you try to disarm Nicky. It will be a fine thing for poor Abbie and her children to remember that, won't it?"
Davidge's heart ached with a sudden appreciation of the sweet purpose of Mamise's falsehood.
"Yes, yes," he said. "I'll give Abbie a pension on his account."
"That's beautiful of you!"
And so it was done. It pleased a sardonic fate to let Jake Nuddle pose in his tomb as the benefactor he had always pretended to be.
The operative, Larrey, had made many adverse reports against him, but in the blizzard of reports against hundreds of thousands of suspects that turned the Department of Justice files into a huge snowdrift these earlier accounts of Nuddle's treasonable utterances and deeds were forgotten.
The self-destruction of Nicky Easton took its brief space in the newspapers overcrowded with horrors, and he, too, was all but forgotten.
When, after some further time, Mamise was able to call upon Davidge in her wheeled chair, she found him strangely lacking in cordiality. She was bitterly hurt at first, until she gleaned from his manner that he was trying to remove himself gracefully from her heart because of his disability.
She amazed him by her sudden laughter. He was always slow to understand why his most solemn or angry humor gave her so much amusement.
While her nurse and his were talking at a little distance it pleased her to lean close to Davidge and tease him excruciatingly with a flirtatious manner.
"Before very long I'm going to take up that bet we made."
"That the next proposal would come from me. I'm going to propose the first of next week."
"If you do, I'll refuse you."
Though she understood him perfectly, it pleased her to assume a motive he had never dreamed of.
"Oh, you mustn't think that I'm going to be an invalid for life. The doctor says I'll be as well as ever in a little while."
Davidge could not see how he was to tell her that he didn't mean that without telling her just what he did mean. In his tormented petulance he turned his back on her and groaned.
"Oh, go away and let me alone."
She was laughing beyond the limits called ladylike as she began to wheel her chair toward the door. The nurse ran after her, asking:
"What on earth?"
Mamise assured, "Nothing on earth, but a lot in heaven," and would not explain the riddle.
Davidge was the modern ideal of an executive. He appeared never to do any work. He kept an empty desk and when he was away no one missed him. He would not use a roll-top desk, but sat at a flat table with nothing on it but a memorandum-pad, a calendar, an "in" and an "out" basket, both empty most of the time.
He had his work so organized that it went on in his absence as if he were there. He insisted that the executives of the departments should follow the same rule. If they were struck down in battle their places were automatically supplied as in the regular army.
So when Davidge went to the hospital the office machine went on as if he had gone to lunch.
Mamise called on him oftener than he had called on her. She left the hospital in a few days after the explosion, but she did not step into his office and run the corporation for him as a well-regulated heroine of recent fiction would have done. She did not feel that she knew enough. And she did not know enough. She kept to her job with the riveting-gang and expected to be discharged any day for lack of pull with the new boss.
But while she lasted she was one of the gang, and proud of it. She was neither masculine nor feminine, but human. As Vance Thompson has said, the lioness is a lion all but a little of the time, and so Mamise put off sexlessness with her overalls and put it on with her petticoats. She put off the coarseness at the same time as she scrubbed away the grime.
The shipyard was still a realm of faery to her. It was an unending experience of miracles, commonplace to the men, but wonder-work to her. She had not known what "pneumatic" or "hydraulic" really meant. The acetylene flame-knife, the incomprehensible ability of levers to give out so much more power than was put in them, dazed her. Nothing in the Grimms' stories could parallel the benevolent ogres of air and water and their dumfounding transformations.
She learned that machinery can be as beautiful as any other human structure. Fools and art-snobs had said that machinery is ugly, and some of it is indeed nearly as ugly as some canvases, verses, and cathedrals. Other small-pates chattered of how the divine works of nature shamed the crudities of man. They spoke of the messages of the mountains, the sublimities of sunsets, and the lessons taught by the flowerets. These things are impressive, but it ought to be possible to give them praise without slandering man's creations, for a God that could make a man that could make a work of art would have to be a better God than one who could merely make a work of art himself.
But machinery has its messages, too. It enables the little cave-dweller to pulverize the mountain; to ship it to Mohammed in Medina; to pick it up and shoot it at his enemies.
Mamise, at any rate, was so enraptured by the fine art of machinery that when she saw a traveling-crane pick up a mass of steel and go down the track with it to its place, she thought that no poplar-tree was ever so graceful. And the rusty hulls of the new ships showing the sky through the steel lace of their rivetless sides were fairer than the sky.
Surgeons in steel operated on the battered epidermis of the Mamise and sewed her up again. It was slow work and it had all the discouraging influence of work done twice for one result. But the toil went on, and when at last Davidge left the hospital he was startled by the change in the vessel. As a father who has left a little girl at home comes back to find her a grown woman, so he saw an almost finished ship where he had left a patchwork of iron plates.
It thrilled him to be back at work again. The silence of the hospital had irked his soul. Here the air was full of the pneumatic riveter. They called it the gun that would win the war. The shipyard atmosphere was shattered all day long as if with machine-gun fire and the riveters were indeed firing at Germany. Every red-hot rivet was a bullet's worth.
The cry grew louder for ships. The submarine was cutting down the world's whole fleet by a third. In February the Germans sank the Tuscania, loaded with American soldiers, and 159 of them were lost. Uncle Sam tightened his lips and added the Tuscania's dead soldiers to the Lusitania's men and women and children on the invoice against Germany. He tightened his belt, too, and cut down his food for Europe's sake. He loosened his purse-strings and poured out gold and bonds and war-savings stamps, borrowing, lending, and spending with the desperation of a gambler determined to break the bank.
While Davidge was still in the hospital the German offensive broke. It succeeded beyond the scope of the blackest prophecy. It threw the fear of hell into the stoutest hearts. All over the country people were putting pins in maps, always putting them farther back. Everybody talked strategy, and geography became the most dreadful of topics.
On March 29th Pershing threw what American troops were abroad into the general stock, gave them to Haig and Foch to use as they would.
On the same day the mysterious giant cannon of the Germans sent a shell into Paris, striking a church and killing seventy-five worshipers. And it was on a Good Friday that the men of Gott sent this harbinger of good-will.
The Germans began to talk of the end of Great Britain, the erasure of France, and the reduction of America to her proper place.
Spring came to the dismal world again with a sardonic smile. In Washington the flower-duel was renewed between the Embassy terrace and the Louise Home. The irises made a drive and the forsythia sent up its barrage. The wistaria and the magnolia counterattacked. The Senator took off his wig again to give official sanction to summer and to rub his bewildered head the better.
The roving breezes fluttered tragic newspapers everywhere—in the parks, on the streets, on the scaffolds of the buildings, along the tented lanes, and in the barrack-rooms.
This wind was a love-zephyr as of old. But the world was frosted with a tremendous fear. What if old England fell? Empires did fall. Nineveh, Babylon, and before them Ur and Nippur, and, after, Persia and Alexander's Greece and Rome. Germany was making the great try to renew Rome's sway; her Emperor called himself the Caesar. What if he should succeed?
Distraught by so many successes, the Germans grew frantic. They were diverted from one prize to another.
The British set their backs to the wall. The French repeated their Verdun watchword, "No thoroughfare," and the Americans began to come up. The Allies were driven finally to what they had always realized to be necessary, but had never consented to—a unified command. They put all their destinies into the hands of Foch.
Instantly and melodramatically the omens changed. Foch could live up to his own motto now, "Attack, attack, attack." He had been like a man gambling his last francs. Now he had word that unlimited funds were on the way from his Uncle Sam. He did not have to count his money over and over. He could squander it regardless.
In every direction he attacked, attacked, attacked. The stupefied world saw the German hordes checked, driven rearward, here, there, the other place.
Towns were redeemed, rivers regained, prisoners scooped up by the ten thousand. The pins began a great forward march along the maps. People fought for the privilege of placing them. Geography became the most fascinating sport ever known.
Davidge had come from the hospital minus one arm just as the bulletins changed from grave to gay. He was afraid now that the war would be over before his ships could share the glorious part that ships played in all this victory. The British had turned all their hulls to the American shores and the American troops were pouring into them in unbelievable floods.
Secrecy lost its military value. The best strategy that could be devised was to publish just how many Americans were landing in France.
General March would carry the news to Secretary Baker and he would scatter it broadcast through George Creel's Committee on Public Information, using telegraph, wireless, telephone, cable, post-office, placard, courier.
Davidge had always said that the war would be over as soon as the Germans got the first real jolt. With them war was a business and they would withdraw from it the moment they foresaw a certain bankruptcy ahead.
But there was the war after the war to be considered—the war for commerce, the postponed war with disgruntled labor and the impatient varieties of socialists and with the rabid Bolshevists frankly proclaiming their intention to destroy civilization as it stood.
Like a prudent skipper, Davidge began to trim his ship for the new storm that must follow the old. He took thought of the rivalries that would spring up inevitably between the late Allies, like brothers now, but doomed to turn upon one another with all the greater bitterness after war. For peace hath her wickedness no less renowned than war.
What would labor do when the spell of consecration to the war was gone and the pride of war wages must go before a fall? The time would come abruptly when the spectacle of employers begging men to work at any price would be changed to the spectacle of employers having no work for men—at any price.
The laborers would not surrender without a battle. They had tasted power and big money and they would not be lulled by economic explanations.
Mamise came upon Davidge one day in earnest converse with a faithful old toiler who had foreseen the same situation and wanted to know what his boss thought about it.
Iddings had worked as a mechanic all his life. He had worked hard, had lived sober, had turned his wages over to his wife, and spent them on his home and his children.
He was as good a man as could be found. Latterly he had been tormented by two things, the bitterness of increasing infirmities and dwindling power and the visions held out to him by Jake Nuddle and the disciples Jake had formed before he was taken away.
As Mamise came up in her overalls Iddings was saying:
"It ain't right, boss, and you know it. When a man like me works as hard as I done and cuts out all the fun and the booze and then sees old age comin' on and nothin' saved to speak of and no chance to save more'n a few hundred dollars, whilst other men has millions—why, I'm readin' the other day of a woman spendin' eighty thousand dollars on a fur coat, and my old woman slavin' like a horse all her life and goin' round in a plush rag—I tell you it ain't right and you can't prove it is."
"I'm not going to try to," said Davidge. "I didn't build the world and I can't change it much. I see nothing but injustice everywhere I look. It's not only among men, but among animals and insects and plants. The weeds choke out the flowers; the wolves eat up the sheep unless the dogs fight the wolves; the gentle and the kind go under unless they're mighty clever. They call it the survival of the fittest, but it's really the survival of the fightingest."
"That's what I'm comin' to believe," said Iddings. "The workman will never get his rights unless he fights for 'em."
"And if he wants to get rich he's got to fight the rich."
"No. He wants to make sure he's fighting his real enemies and fighting with weapons that won't be boomerangs."
"I don't get that last."
"Look here, Iddings, there are a lot of damned fools filling workmen's heads with insanity, telling them that their one hope of happiness is to drag down the rich, to blow up the factories or take control of 'em, to bankrupt the bankers and turn the government upside down. If they can't get a majority at the polls they won't pay any attention to the polls or the laws. They'll butcher the police and assassinate the big men. But that game can't win. It's been tried again and again by discontented idiots who go out and kill instead of going out to work.
"You can't get rich by robbing the rich and dividing up their money. If you took all that Rockefeller is said to have and divided it up among the citizens of the country you'd get four or five dollars apiece at most, and you'd soon lose that.
"Rockefeller started as a laboring-man at wages you wouldn't look at to-day. The laboring-men alongside could have made just as much as he did if they'd a mind to. Somebody said he could have written Shakespeare's plays if he had a mind to, and Lamb said, 'Yes, if you'd a mind to.' The thing seems to be to be born with a mind to and to cultivate a mind to.
"You take Rockefeller's money away and he'll make more while you're fumbling with what you've got. Take Shakespeare's plays away and he'll write others while you're scratching your head.
"Don't let 'em fool you, Iddings, into believing that rich men get rich by stealing. We all cheat more or less, but no man ever built up a big fortune by plain theft. Men make money by making it.
"Karl Marx, who wrote your 'Workmen's Bible,' called capital a vampire. Well, there aren't any vampires except in the movies.
"Speaking of vamping wealth, did you ever hear how I got where I am?—not that it's so very far and not that I like to talk about myself—but just to show you how true your man Marx is.
"I was a working-man and worked hard. I put by a little out of what I made. Of nights I studied. I learned all ends of the ship-building business in a way. But I needed money to get free. It never occurred to me to claim somebody else's money as mine. I thought the rich would help me to get rich if I helped them to get richer. My idea of getting capital was to go get it. I was a long time finding where there was any.
"By and by I heard of an old wreck on the coast—a steamer had run aground and the hull was abandoned after they took out what machinery they could salvage. The hull stood up in the storms and the sand began to bury it. It would have been 'dead capital' then for sure.
"The timbers were sound, though, and I found I could buy it cheap. I put in all I had saved in all my life, eight thousand dollars, for the hull. I got a man to risk something with me.
"We took the hull off the ground, refitted it, stepped in six masts, and made a big schooner of her.
"She cost us sixty thousand dollars all told. Before she was ready to sail we sold her for a hundred and twenty thousand. The buyers made big money out of her. The schooner is carrying food now and giving employment to sailors.
"Who got robbed on that transaction? Where did 'dead labor suck the life out of living labor,' as Karl Marx says? You could do the same. You could if you would. There's plenty of old hulls lying around on the sands of the world."
Iddings had nothing in him to respond to the poetry of this.
"That's all very fine," he growled, "but where would I get my start? I got no eight thousand or anybody to lend me ten dollars."
"The banks will lend to men who will make money make money. It's not the guarantee they want so much as inspiration. Pierpont Morgan said he lent on character, not on collateral."
"The trouble isn't with Morgan, but with you. What do you do with your nights? Study? study? beat your brains for ideas? No, you go home, tired, play with the children, talk with the wife, smoke, go to bed. It's a beautiful life, but it's not a money-making life. You can't make money by working eight hours a day for another man's money. You've got to get out and find it or dig it up.
"That business with the old hull put me on my feet, put dreams in my head. I looked about for other chances, took some of them and wished I hadn't. But I kept on trying. The war in Europe came. The world was crazy for ships. They couldn't build 'em fast enough to keep ahead of the submarines. On the Great Lakes there was a big steamer not doing much work. I heard of her. I went up and saw her. The job was to get her to the ocean. I managed it on borrowed money, bought her, and brought her up the Saint Lawrence to the sea—and down to New York. I made a fortune on that deal. Then did I retire and smoke my pipe of peace? No. I looked for another chance.
"When our country went into the war she needed ships of her own. She had to have shipyards first to build 'em in. My lifelong ambition was to make ships from the keel-plate up. I looked for the best place to put a shipyard, picked on this spot because other people hadn't found it. My partners and I got the land cheap because it was swamp. We worked out our plans, sitting up all night over blue-prints and studying how to save every possible penny and every possible waste motion.
"And now look at the swamp. It's one of the prettiest yards in the world. The Germans sank my Clara. Did I stop or go to making speeches about German vampires? No. I went on building.
"The Germans tried to get my next boat. I fought for her as I'll fight the Germans, the I. W. W., the Bolshevists, or any other sneaking coyotes that try to destroy my property.
"I lost this right arm trying to save that ship. And now that I'm crippled, am I asking for a pension or an admission to an old folks' home? Am I passing the hat to you other workers? No. I'm as good as ever I was. I made my left arm learn my right arm's business. If I lose my left arm next I'll teach my feet to write. And if I lose those, by God! I'll write with my teeth, or wigwag my ears.
"The trouble with you, Iddings, and the like of you is you brood over your troubles, instead of brooding over ways to improve yourself. You spend time and money on quack doctors. But I tell you, don't fight your work or your boss. Fight nature, fight sleep, fight fatigue, fight the sky, fight despair, and if you want money hunt up a place where it's to be found."
If Iddings had had brains enough to understand all this he would not have been Iddings working by the day. His stubborn response was:
"Well, I'll say the laboring-man is being bled by the capitalists and he'll never get his rights till he grabs 'em."
"And I'll say be sure that you're grabbing your rights and not grabbing your own throat.
"I'm for all the liberty in the world, for the dignity of labor, the voice of labor, the labor-union, the profit-sharing basis, the republic of labor. I think the workers ought to have a voice in running the work—all the share they can handle, all the control that won't hurt the business. But the business has got to come first, for it's business that makes comfort. I'll let any man run this shop who can run it as well as I can or better.
"What I'm against is letting somebody run my business who can't run his own. Talk won't build ships, old man. And complaints and protests won't build ships, or make any important money.
"Poor men are just as good as rich men and ought to have just the same rights, votes, privileges. But the first right a poor man ought to preserve is the right to become a rich man. Riches are beautiful things, Iddings, and they're worth working for. And they've got to be worked for.
"A laboring-man is a man that labors, whether he labors for two dollars a day or a thousand; and a loafer is a loafer, whether he has millions or dimes. Well, I've talked longer than I ever did before or ever will again. Do you believe anything I say?"
Davidge had to laugh. "Well, Iddings, I've got to hand it to you for obstinacy; you've got an old mule skinned to death. But old mules can't compete with race-horses. Balking and kicking won't get you very far."
He walked away, and Mamise went along. Davidge was in a somber mood.
"Poor old fellow, he's got no self-starter, no genius, no ideas, and he's doomed to be a drudge. It's the rotten cruelty of the world that most people are born without enough get-up-and-get to bring them and their work together without a whistle and a time-clock and an overseer. What scheme could ever be invented to keep poor old Iddings up to the level of a Sutton or a Sutton down to his?"
Mamise had heard a vast amount of discontented talk among the men.
"There's an awful lot of trouble brewing."
"Trouble is no luxury to me," said Davidge. "Blessed is he that expects trouble, for he shall get it. Wait till this war is over and then you'll see a real war."
"Shall we all get killed or starved?"
"Probably. But in the mean while we had better sail on and on and on. The storm will find us wherever we are, and there's more danger close ashore than out at sea. Let's make a tour of the Mamise and see how soon she'll be ready to go overboard."
Nicky Easton's attempt to assassinate the ship had failed, but the wounds he dealt her had retarded her so that she missed by many weeks the chance of being launched on the Fourth of July with the other ships that made the Big Splash on that holy day. The first boat took her dive at one minute after midnight and eighty-one ships followed her into the astonished sea.
While the damaged parts of the Mamise were remade, Davidge pushed the work on other portions of the ship's anatomy, so that when at length she was ready for the dip she was farther advanced than steel ships usually are before they are first let into the sea.
Her upper works were well along, her funnel was in, and her mast and bridge. She looked from a distance like a ship that had run ashore.
There was keen rivalry among the building-crews of the ships that grew alongside the Mamise, and each gang strove to put its boat overboard in record time. The "Mamisers," as they called themselves, fought against time and trouble to redeem her from the "jinx" that had set her back again and again. During the last few days the heat was furious and the hot plates made an inferno of the work. Then an icy rain set in. The workers would not stop for mean weather, hot or cold.
Mamise, the rivet-passer, stood to her task in a continual shower-bath. The furnace was sheltered, but the hot rivets must be passed across the rain curtain. Sutton urged her to lay off and give way to Snotty or somebody whose health didn't matter a damn. Davidge ordered her home, but her pride in her sex and her zest for her ship kept her at work.
And then suddenly she sneezed!
She sneezed again and again helplessly, and she was stricken with a great fear. For in that day a sneeze was not merely the little explosion of tickled surfaces or a forewarning of a slight cold. It was the alarum of the new Great Death, the ravening lion under the sheep's wool of influenza.
The world that had seen the ancient horror of famine come stalking back from the Dark Ages trembled now before the plague. The influenza swept the world with recurrent violences.
Men who had feared to go to the trenches were snatched from their offices and from their homes. Men who had tried in vain to get into the fight died in their beds. Women and children perished innumerably. Hearse-horses were overworked. The mysterious, invisible all-enemy did not spare the soldiers; it sought them in the dugouts, among the reserves, at the ports of embarkation and debarkation, at the training-camps. In the hospitals it slew the convalescent wounded and killed the nurses.
From America the influenza took more lives than the war itself.
It baffled science and carried off the doctors. Masks appeared and people in offices were dressed in gauze muzzles. In some of the cities the entire populace went with bandaged mouths, and a man who would steal a furtive puff of a cigarette stole up a quiet street and kept his eyes alert for the police.
Whole families were stricken down and brave women who dared the pestilence found homes where father, mother, and children lay writhing and starving in pain and delirium.
At the shipyard every precaution was taken, and Davidge fought the unseen hosts for his men and for their families. Mamise had worn herself down gadding the workmen's row with medicines and victuals in her basket. And yet the death-roll mounted and strength was no protection.
In Washington and other cities the most desperate experiments in sanitation were attempted. Offices were closed or dismissed early. Stenographers took dictation in masks. It was forbidden to crowd the street-cars. All places of public assembly were closed, churches no less than theaters and moving-picture shows. It was as illegal to hold prayer-meetings as dances.
This was the supreme blow at religion. The preachers who had confessed that the Church had failed to meet the war problems were dazed. Mankind had not recovered from the fact that the world had been made a hell by the German Emperor, who was the most pious of rulers and claimed to take his crown from God direct. The German Protestants and priests had used their pulpits for the propaganda of hate. The Catholic Emperor of Austria had aligned his priests. Catholic and Protestants fought for the Allies in the trenches, unfrocked or in their pulpits. The Bishop of London was booed as a slacker. The Pope wrung his hands and could not decide which way to turn. One British general frivolously put it, "I am afraid that the dear old Church has missed the bus this trip."
All religions were split apart and, as Lincoln said of the Civil War, both sides sent up their prayers to the same God, demanding that He crush the enemy.
For all the good the Y. M. C. A. accomplished, it ended the war with the contempt of most of the soldiers. Individual clergymen won love and crosses of war, but as men, not as saints.
The abandoned world abandoned all its gods, and men fought men in the name of mankind.
Even against the plague the churchfolk were refused permission to pray together. Christian Scientists published full pages of advertising protesting against the horrid situation, but nobody heeded.
The ship of state lurched along through the mingled storms, mastless, rudderless, pilotless, priestless, and everybody wondered which would live the longer, the ship or the storm.
And then Mamise sneezed. And the tiny at-choo! frightened her to the soul of her soul. It frightened the riveting-crew as well. The plague had come among them.
"Drop them tongs and go home!" said Sutton.
"I've got to help finish my ship," Mamise pleaded.
"Go home, I tell you."
"But she's to be launched day after to-morrow and I've got to christen her."
"Go home or I'll carry you," said Sutton, and he advanced on her. She dropped her tongs and ran through the gusty rain, across the yard, out of the gate, and down the muddy paths as if a wolf pursued.
She flung into her cottage, lighted the fires, heated water, drank a quart of it, took quinine, and crept into her bed. Her tremors shook the covers off. Sweat rained out of her pores and turned to ice-water with the following ague.
The doctor came. Sutton had gone for him and threatened to beat him up if he delayed. The doctor had nothing to give her but orders to stay in bed and wait. Davidge came, and Abbie, and they tried to pretend that they were not in a worse panic than Mamise.
There were no nurses to be spared and Abbie was installed. In spite of her malministrations or because of them, Mamise grew better. She stayed in bed all that day and the next, and when the morning of the launching dawned, she felt so well that Abbie could not prevent her from getting up and putting on her clothes.
She was to be woman again to-day and to wear the most fashionable gown in her wardrobe and the least masculine hat.
She felt a trifle giddy as she dressed, but she told Abbie that she never felt better. Her only alarm was the difficulty in hooking her frock at the waist. Abbie fought them together with all her might and main.
"If being a workman is going to take away my waistline, here's where I quit work," said Mamise. "As Mr. Dooley says, I'm a pathrite, but I'm no bigot."
Davidge had told her to keep to her room. He had telephoned to Polly Widdicombe to come down and christen the ship. Polly was delayed and Davidge was frantic. In fact, the Widdicombe motor ran off the road into a slough of despond, and Polly did not arrive until after the ship was launched from the ways and the foolhardy Mamise was in the hospital.
When Davidge saw Mamise climbing the steps to the launching-platform he did not recognize her under her big hat till she paused for breath and looked up, counting the remaining steep steps and wondering if her tottering legs would negotiate the height.
He ran down and haled her up, scolding her with fury. He had been on the go all night, and he was raw with uneasiness.
"I'm all right," Mamise pleaded. "I got caught in the jam at the gate and was nearly crushed. That's all. It's glorious up here and I'd rather die than miss it."
It was a sight to see. The shipyard was massed with workmen and their families, and every roof was crowded. On a higher platform in the rear the reporters of the moving-picture newspapers were waiting with their cameras. On the roof of a low shed a military band was tootling merrily.
And the sky had relented of its rain. The day was a masterpiece of good weather. A brilliant throng mounted to the platform, an admiral, sea-captains and lieutenants, officers of the army, a Senator, Congressmen, judges, capitalists, the jubilant officers of the ship-building corporation. And Mamise was the queen of the day. She was the "sponsor" for the ship and her name stood out on both sides of the prow, high overhead where the launching-crew grinned down on her and called her by her nom de guerre, "Moll."
The moving-picture men yelled at her and asked her to pose. She went to the rail and tried to smile, feeling as silly as a Sunday-school girl repeating a golden text, and looking it.
Once more she would appear in the Sunday supplements, and her childish confusion would make throngs in moving-picture theaters laugh with pleasant amusement. Mamise was news to-day.
The air was full of the hubbub of preparation. Underneath the upreared belly of the ship gnomes crouched, pounding the wedges in to lift the hull so that other gnomes could knock the shoring out.
There was a strange fascination in the racket of the shores falling over, the dull clatter of a vast bowling-alley after a ten-strike.
Painters were at work brushing over the spots where the shores had rested.
Down in the tanks inside the hull were a few luckless anonymities with search-lights, put there to watch for leaks from loose rivet-heads. They would be in the dark and see nothing of the festival. Always there has to be some one in the dark at such a time.
The men who would saw the holding-blocks stood ready, as solemn as clergymen. The cross-saws were at hand for their sacred office. The sawyers and the other workmen were overdoing their unconcern. Mamise caught sight of Sutton, lounging in violent indifference, but giving himself away by the frenzy of his jaws worrying his quid and spurting tobacco juice in all directions.
There was reason, too, for uneasiness. Sometimes a ship would not start when the blocks were sawed through. There would be a long delay while hydraulic jacks were sought and put to work to force her forward. Such a delay had a superstitious meaning. Nobody liked a ship that was afraid of her element. They wanted an eagerness in her get-away. Or suppose she shot out too impetuously and listed on the ways, ripping the scaffolding to pieces like a whale thrashing a raft apart. Suppose she careened and stuck or rolled over in the mud. Such things had happened and might happen again. The Mamise had suffered so many mishaps that the other ship crews called her a hoodoo.
At last the hour drew close. Davidge was a fanatic on schedules. He did not want his ship to be late to her engagement.
"She's named after me, poor thing," said Mamise. "She's bound to be late."
"She'll be on time for once," Davidge growled.
In the older days with the old-fashioned ships the boats had gone to the sea like brides with trousseaux complete. The launching-guests had made the journey with her; a dinner had been served aboard, and when the festivities were ended the waiting tugs had taken the new ship to the old sea for the honeymoon.
But nowadays only hulls were launched, as a rule. The mere husk was then brought to the equipping-dock to receive her engines and all her equipment.
The Mamise was farther advanced, but she would have to tie up for sixty days at least. The carpenters had her furniture all ready and waiting, but she could not put forth under her own steam for two months more.
The more reason for impatience at any further delay. Davidge went along the launching-platform rails, like a captain on the bridge, eager to move out of the slip.
"Make ready!" he commanded. "Stand by! Where's the bottle? Good Lord! Where's the bottle?"
That precious quart of champagne was missing now. The bottle had been prepared by an eminent jeweler with silver decoration and a silken net. The neck would be a cherished souvenir thereafter, made into a vase to hold flowers.
The bottle was found, a cable was lowered from aloft and the bottle fastened to it.
Davidge explained to Mamise for the tenth time just what she was to do. He gave the signal to the sawyers. The snarl of the teeth in the holding-blocks was lost in the noise of the band. The great whistle on the fabricating-plant split the air. The moving-picture camera-men cranked their machines. The last inches of the timbers that held the ship ashore were gnawed through. The sawyers said they could feel the ship straining. She wanted to get to her sea. They loved her for it.