"We can sit here," said Joe.
It was a bench under a tree, facing the pond. They sat down, each gazing on the ground, and the leaves dropped on them, and squirrels ran up to them, tufted their tails and begged for peanuts with lustrous beady eyes, and now and then some early walker or some girl or man on the way to work swung lustily past and disappeared in foliage and far low vistas of tree trunks.
The suspense became intolerable again. Joe turned a little to her.
She was trembling; a moment more she would be in his arms, sobbing, forgiving him. But she hurried on in an unnatural way.
"You wanted to speak to me—I'm waiting. Why don't you speak?"
It was a blow in the face; his own voice hardened then.
"You're making it very hard for me."
She said nothing, and he had to go on.
"After the fire—" his voice snapped, and it was a space before he went on, "I felt I was guilty.... I went to a mass-meeting and one of the speakers accused the ... class I belong to ... of failing in their duty.... She said ..."
Myra spoke sharply:
Joe felt suddenly silenced. Something unpleasant was creeping in between them. He did not know enough of women, either, to divine how Myra was suffering, to know that she had reached a nervous pitch where she was hardly responsible for what she thought and said. He went on blunderingly:
"I felt that I was accused... I felt that I had to make reparation to the toilers, ... had to spend my life making conditions better.... You see this country has reached a crisis ..."
It was all gibberish to her.
"Exactly what do you mean?" she asked, sharply.
"I mean"—he fumbled for words—"I must go and live among the poor and arouse them and teach them of the great change that is taking place...."
She laughed strangely.
"Oh—an uplifter, settlement work, charity work—"
He was stupefied.
"Myra, can't you see—"
"Yes, I see," she said, raising her voice a little; "you're going to live in the slums and you want me to release you. I do. Anything else?"
She was making something sordid of his beautiful dream, and she was startlingly direct. He was cut to the heart.
"You're making it impossible," he began.
She laughed a little, stroking down her muff.
"So you're going to live among the poor ... and you didn't dare come and tell me...."
"I had no right to involve you until I was sure...."
"And now you're sure...."
"No," he cried.
She raised her voice a little again:
"And I wrote asking if I couldn't help you. Women are fools...."
He sat searching about for something to say. His heart was like cold lead in his breast; his head ached. He felt her side of the case very vividly, and how could she ever understand?
Then, as she sat there her head seemed to explode, and she spoke hurriedly, incoherently:
"It's time to get to school. I want to go alone. Good-by."
She rose and went off rapidly.
"Myra!" he cried, leaping up, but she only accelerated her pace....
Instead of going to school she went straight home, flung herself full-length on the bed, buried her face in the pillow, and shook for a long time with terrible tearless sobs. Her life was ruined within her.
Joe went home in a distraught condition. He was angry, amazed, and passion-shaken. He had had a look into that strange mixture which is woman—and he was repelled, and yet attracted as he had never been before. He felt that all was over between them, that somehow she had convicted him of being brutal, selfish, and unmanly, and in the light of her condemnation he saw in his delay to meet her only cowardice and harsh indifference. And yet all along he had acted on the conclusion that he had no right to ask a woman to go into the danger of his work with him.
Pacing up and down his narrow room, he began lashing himself again, excusing, forgiving Myra everything. He had never really understood her nature; he should have gone to her in the beginning and trusted to her love and her insight; he should have let her share the aftermath of the fire; that fierce experience would have taught her that he was forever mortgaged to a life of noble reparation, and even the terror of it all would have been better than shutting her out, to brood morbidly alone.
Yet, what could he do? He must be strong, be wise, keep his head. He had pledged himself, sworn himself into the service of the working class movement. There was no escape. He tried to bury himself in his books, regain for a moment his splendid dream of the future state, feel again those strange throes of world-building, of social service.
And out of it all grew a letter, a letter to Myra. He wrote it in a strange haste, the sentences coming too rapidly for his pen. It ran:
DEAR MYRA,—I must make you understand! I hurt you when I wanted to help you; I wronged you when I wanted only to do right by you. Why didn't you listen to me this morning?
It was at the fire there, at that moment you tugged at my sleeve and I spoke to you, that I saw clearly that my life was no longer my own, that I could not even give it to you, whom I loved, whom I love now with every bit of my existence. I told you I belonged to those dead girls. Have you forgotten? Sixty of them—and three of my men. It was as if I had killed them myself. I am a guilty man, and I must expiate this guilt. There is no use fooling myself with pleasant phrases, no use thinking others to blame. It was I who was responsible.
And through the death of those girls I learned of the misery of the world, of the millions in want, the women wrenched from their homes to toil in the mills, the little children—fresh, sweet bodies, bubbling hearts, and tender, whimsical minds—slaving in factories, tiny boys and girls laboring like men and women in cotton and knitting mills, in glass factory and coal-mine, and on the streets of cities, upon whose frail little spirits is thrust the responsibility, the wage burden, the money, and family trouble, the care and drudgery and mortal burden we grown people ourselves not seldom find too hard. I have learned of a world gone wrong; I have learned of a new slavery on earth; and I as a member of the master class share the general guilt for the suffering of the poor...I must help to free them from the very conditions that killed the sixty girls...
And when I think of those girls and their families (some of them were the sole support of their mothers and sisters and brothers) the least I can do is to render up my life for the, lives that were lost—the least I can do is to fill myself with the spirit of the dead and go forth, not to avenge them, but to help build a world where the living will not be sacrificed as they were.
This country is facing a great crisis; civilization is facing a great crisis. Shall we go forward or be drawn backward? There is a call to arms and every man must offer his life in the great fight—that fight for democracy, that fight for lifting up the millions to new levels of life, that fight for a better earth and a superber race of human beings; and in that fight I am with the pioneers, heart and soul; I am ringing with the joy and struggle of it; I am for it, with all my strength and all my power. It demands everything; its old cry, "Arise, arise, and follow me;" means giving up possessions, giving away all, making every sacrifice. Before this issue our little lives shrink into nothingness, and we must sink our happiness into the future of the world.
How can I ask you to go into the peril, the dirt, and disease of this struggle? And how can I refrain from going in myself? Let me see you once more. Do not deny me that. And understand that through life my love will follow you ... a love greatened, I trust, by what little I do in the great cause....
Ever yours, JOE
He waited for an answer and none came, and he felt during those days that the life was being dragged out of him. Feverishly then he buried himself in his tasks and his books, he went on cramming himself with theories until he reached the bursting-point and wanted to go out on fire with mission, almost a fanatic, an Isaiah to shake the city with invective and prophesy change. What could he do to spread the tidings, the news? The time had come to find an outlet for the overbearing flood within him. And then one evening in the Park like a flash came the plan. He must go among the poor, he must get to know them—not in this neighborhood, "a prophet is not without honor, etc."—but in some new place where he was unknown. He thought of Greenwich Village. Did not Fannie Lemick tell him that Sally Heffer lived in Greenwich Village? Well, he would look into the matter. He was a printer; why not then print a little weekly newspaper directly for the toilers, for his neighbors? He could tell all that way, pour out his enlightenment, stir them, stand by them, take part in their activities, their troubles and their strikes and lead them forth to a new life. He was sure they were ripe for the facts, powder awaiting the spark; he would go down among them and make his paper the center of their disorganized life.
The more he thought of the plan the more it thrilled him. What was greater than the power of the press? What more direct? He was done with palliatives, finding men jobs, giving Christmas turkeys, paying for coal. What the people needed was education so that they could get justice—all else would follow.
But even at that perfervid period of his life Joe was saved from being a John Brown by his sense of humor. This was the imp in him that always poked a little doubt into his heart and laughed at his ignorance and innocence. By next morning Joe was smiling at himself. Nevertheless, he was driven ahead.
He called for Marty Briggs and they went to lunch together. Third Avenue lay naked to the rain, which swept forward in silvery gusts, dripping, dripping from the elevated structure, and the pattering liquid sound had a fresh mellow music. Here and there a man or woman, mush-roomed by an umbrella, dashed quickly for a car, and the trolleys, gray and crowded, seemed to duck hurriedly under the downpour. The faces of Joe and Marty were fresh-washed and spattering drops; they laughed together as they walked.
"I've some business to talk over with you," explained Joe, and they finally went into a little restaurant on Third Avenue. The stuffy little place, warm and damp with the excluded rain, and odorous with sizzling lard and steaming coffee and boiling cabbage, was crowded with people, but Joe and Marty took a little table to themselves in the darkest corner. They sat against the dirty rear wall, whose white paint was finger-marked, fly-specked, and food-spotted, and in which a shelf-aperture furnished the connection with the kitchen. To this hole in the wall hurried the three waitresses, shrieking their orders above the din of many voices and the clatter and clash of plates and utensils.
A monstrous greasy cook peered forth, shoving out a plate of fried eggs and echoing huskily:
"Corn-beef-an'-cabbage!" "One harf-an'-harf!" "Make a sunstroke on the hash!" and other pleasing chants of the noon.
"What'll yer have?"
A thin and nervous young woman swooped between them and mopped off the sloppy, crumby table with her apron.
"What's good?" asked Joe.
The waitress regarded Joe with half-shut eyes.
"You want veal cutlets."
And she wafted the information to the cook.
"Well, Joe," said the practical Briggs, unable to hold in his excitement any longer, "let's get down to business."
Joe leaned forward.
"I'm thinking of starting up the printery, Marty."
Marty flushed, choked, and could hardly speak.
"I knew you would, Joe."
"Yes," Joe went on, "but I'm not going to go on with it."
Marty spoke sharply:
"I'll tell you later, Marty."
"Not—lost your nerve? The fire?"
Joe laughed softly.
"Retire?" Marty's appetite was spoiled. He pushed the veal cutlet from him. He was greatly agitated. "Retire—you? I can see you doing nothing, blamed if I can't. Gettin' sporty, Joe, in your old age, aren't you? You'll be wearing one of these dress-suits next and a flasher in yer chest. Huh!" he snorted, "you'd make a good one on the shelf!"
Joe laughed with joy.
"With my flunkies and my handmaids. No, Marty, I'm going into another business."
"Editing a magazine."
"And what do you know about editing a magazine?"
"What do most of the editors know?" queried Joe. "You don't have to know anything. Everybody's editing magazines nowadays."
"A magazine!" Marty was disgusted. "You're falling pretty low, Joe. Why don't you stick to an honest business? Gosh! you'd make a queer fist editing a magazine!"
Joe was delighted.
"Well, there are reasons, Marty."
So Joe in a shaking voice unfolded his philosophy, and as he did so Marty became dazed and aghast, gazing at his boss as if Joe had turned into some unthinkable zoological oddity. Into Marty's prim-set life, with its definite boundaries and unmysterious exactness, was poured a vapor of lunacy. Finally Joe wound up with:
"So you see I've got to do what little I can to help straighten things. You see, Marty? Now, what do you think of it? Give me your honest opinion."
Marty spoke sharply:
"You want to know what I really think?"
"Every word of it!"
"Now see here, Joe," Marty burst out, "you and I grew up in the business together, and we know each other well enough to speak out, even if you are my boss, don't we?"
"We do, Marty!"
Marty leaned over.
"Joe, I think you're a blamed idiot!"
"Well, Marty, if it weren't for the blamed idiots—like Columbus and Tom Watts and the prophets and Abe Lincoln—this world would be in a pretty mess."
But Marty refused to be convinced, even averring that the world is in a pretty mess, and that probably the aforementioned "idiots" had caused it to be so. Then finally he spoke caressingly:
"Ah, Joe, tell me it's a joke."
"No," said Joe, earnestly, "it's what I've got to face, Marty, and I need your backing."
Marty mused miserably.
"So the game's up, and you've changed, and we men can go to the dogs. Why, we can't run that printery without you. We'd go plumb to hell!"
Joe changed his voice—it became more commanding.
"Never mind now, Marty. I want your help to figure things out."
So Marty got out his little pad and the two drew close together.
"I want to figure on a weekly newspaper—I'm figuring big on the future—just want to see what it will come to. Say an edition of twenty thousand copies, an eight-page paper, eight by twelve, no illustrations."
Marty spoke humbly:
"As you say, Joe. Cheap paper?"
"Do your own printing?"
"Well, you'll need a good cylinder press for a starter."
"How much help?"
"Make-up man—pressman—feeder—that's on the press. Will you set up the paper yourself?"
"No, I'll have it set up outside."
"Who'll bind it, fold, and address?"
"The bindery—give that out, too."
"And who'll distribute?"
"The news company?"
"No, I won't deal with any news company. I want to go direct to the people. Say I get a hundred newsmen to distribute in their neighborhood?"
"But who'll get the paper to the newsmen?"
"Hire a truck company—so much a week."
"And how much will you charge for the paper?"
"Cent a copy."
"Can't do it," said Marty.
Marty did some figuring, so they raised the price to two cents. And then they put in twenty minutes and worked out the scheme. It summed up as follows:
Paper sells at 2 cts., 20,000 $400 Expenses 340 —— Profit $ 60
Joe was exultant.
"Sixty profit! Well, I'm hanged."
"Not so fast, Joe," said Marty, drily. "They say no one ever started a magazine without getting stuck, and anyway, you just reckon there'll be expenses that will run you into debt right along. But of course there'll be the ads."
"I don't know about the ads," said Joe. "But the figures please me just the same."
Marty squirmed in his chair.
"Joe," he burst out, "how the devil is the printery going to run without you?"
Their eyes met, and Joe laughed.
"Will it be worth twenty-five thousand dollars when it's rebuilt and business booming again?" he asked, shrewdly.
"More than that!" said Marty Briggs.
"Then," said Joe, "I want you to take it."
"Me?" Marty was stunned.
"You can do it easily. I'll take a mortgage and you pay it off two thousand a year and five per cent. interest. That will still leave you a tidy profit."
"Me?" Then Marty laughed loud. "Listen, my ears! Did you hear that?"
"Think it over!" snapped Joe. "Now come along."
LAST OF JOE BLAINE AND HIS MEN
So the printery was rehabilitated, and one gray morning Joe, with a queer tremor at his heart, went down the street and met many of his men in the doorway. They greeted him with strange, ashamed emotion.
"Morning, Mr. Joe.... It's been a long spell.... Good to see the old place again.... Bad weather we're having.... How've you been?"
The loft seemed strangely the same, strangely different—fresh painted, polished, smelling new and with changed details. For a few moments Joe felt the sharp shock of the fire again, especially when he heard the trembling of the hat factory overhead ... and that noon the bright faces and laughter in the hallway! It seemed unreal; like ghosts revisiting; and he learned later that the first morning the hat factory had set to work, some of the girls had become hysterical.
But as he stood in his private office, looking out into the gray loft, and feeling how weird and swift are life's changes, the men turned on the electrics, and the floors and walls began their old trembling and the presses clanked and thundered. He could have wept. To Joe this moment of starting up had always been precious: it had seemed to bring him something he had missed; something that fitted like an old shoe and was friendly and familiar. All at once he felt as if he could not leave this business, could not leave these men.
And yet he had only three days with them to wind up the business and install Marty Briggs. And then there was a last supper of Joe Blaine and his men. Those days followed one another with ever-deepening gloom, in which the trembling printery and all the human beings that were part of it seemed steeped in a growing twilight. Do what Joe would and could in the matter of good-fellowship, loud laughter, and high jocularity, the darkness thickened staggeringly. Hardly had Joe settled the transfer of the printery to Marty, when the rumor of the transaction swept the business. At noon men gathered in groups and whispered together as if some one had died, and one after another approached Joe with a:
"Mr. Joe, is it true what the fellows say?"
"Going to leave us, Mr. Joe?"
"Got to go?"
"I'm afraid I have to."
"I'll hate to go home and tell my wife, Mr. Joe. She'll cry her head off."
"Oh, come! come!"
"Say—we men, Mr. Joe—"
But Tom would say no more, and go off miserably; only to be replaced by Eddie or Mack or John, and then some such dialogue would be repeated. Under the simple and inadequate words lurked that sharp tragedy of life, the separation of comrades, that one event which above all others darkens the days and gives the sense of old age. And the men seemed all the closer to Joe because of the tragedy of the fire. All these conversations told on Joe. He went defiantly about the shop, but invariably his spoken orders were given in a humble, almost affectionate tone, as (with one arm loosely about the man):
"Say, Sam, don't you think you'd better use a little benzine on that?"
And Sam would answer solemnly:
"I've always done as you've said, Mr. Joe—since the very first."
His men succeeded in this way in making Joe almost as miserable as when he had parted from Myra; and indeed a man's work is blood of his blood, heart of his heart.
Possibly one thing that hurt Joe as much as anything else was a curious change in Marty Briggs. That big fellow, from the moment that Joe had handed over the business, began to unfold hitherto unguessed bits of personality. He ceased to lament Joe's going; he went about the shop with a certain jaunty air of proprietorship; and the men, for some unknown reason, began to call him Mr. Briggs. He even grew a bit cool toward Joe. Joe watched him with a sad sort of mirth, and finally called him into the office one morning. He put his hands on the big man's shoulders and looked in his face.
"Marty," he said, "I hope you're not going to make an ass of yourself."
"What do you mean?" murmured Marty.
Joe brought his face a little nearer.
"I want to know something."
Joe spoke slowly:
"Are you Marty Briggs now or are you Martin Briggs?"
Marty tried to laugh; tried to look away.
"What's the difference?" he muttered.
"Difference?" Joe's voice sank. "Marty, I thought you were a bigger man. It's only the little peanut fellows who want to be bossy and holier-than-thou. Don't make any mistake!"
"I guess," muttered Marty, "I can steer things O.K."
"You'd better!" Joe spoke a little sharply. "Our men here are as big as you and I, every one of them. My God! you'll have to pay the price of being a high muck-a-muck, Marty! So, don't forget it!"
Marty tried to laugh again.
"You're getting different lately," he suggested.
"I?" Joe laughed harshly. "What if it's you? But don't let's quarrel. We've been together too long. Only, let's both remember. That's all, Marty!"
All of which didn't mend matters. It was that strangest of all the twists of human nature—the man rising from the ranks turning against his fellows.
On Friday night Joe climbed the three flights of the stuffy Eightieth Street tenement and had supper with the Ranns. That family of five circled him with such warmth of love that the occasion burst finally into good cheer. The two girls, seated opposite him, sent him smiling and wordless messages of love. Not a word was said of the fire, but John kept serving him with large portions of the vegetables and the excellent and expensive steak which had been bought in his honor; and John's wife kept spurring him on.
"I'm sure Mr. Joe could stand just a weeny sliver more."
"Mrs. Rann"—Joe put down knife and fork—"do you want me to burst?"
"A big man like you? Give him the sliver, John."
"John, spare me!"
"Mr. Joe"—John waved his hand with an air of finality—"in the shop what you says goes, but in this here home I take my orders from the old lady. See?"
"Nellie—Agnes—" he appealed, despairingly, to his little loves, "you save me! Don't you love me any more?"
This set Nellie and Agnes giggling with delight.
"Give him a pound, a whole pound!" cried Agnes, who was the elder.
A nice sliver was waved dripping on Joe's plate, which Joe proceeded to eat desperately, all in one mouthful. Whereupon the Ranns were convulsed with joy, and John kept "ha-ha-ing" as he thumped the table, and went to such excesses that he seemed to put his life in peril and Mrs. Rann and the girls had to rise and pound him until their hands hurt.
"Serves you right, John," said Joe, grimly. "Try it again, and you'll get a stroke."
"Ain't he the limit?" queried John, gasping.
Then Mrs. Rann went mysteriously to the cupboard, and the girls began to whisper together and giggle. And then Mrs. Rann brought something covered with a napkin, and then the napkin was removed. It was pie.
Joe pretended that he didn't know the secret, and leaned far over and gazed at it.
"It's—well, what is it?"
Mrs. Rann's voice rang with exultation.
"Your favorite, Mr. Joe."
A shout went up from all. Then real moisture came stealthily to Joe's eyes, and he looked about on those friendly faces, and murmured:
"Thoughtful, mightily thoughtful!"
There was a special bottle of wine—rather cheap, it is true, but then it was served with raisin pie and with human love, which made it very palatable. Mrs. Rann fixed John with a sharp glance through her glasses and cleared her throat several times, and finally Agnes gave him a poke in the ribs, whispering:
"Hurry up, dad!"
John blushed and rose to his feet.
"Mr. Joe, I ain't a talker, anyway on my feet. But, Mr. Joe, you've been my boss six years. And, Mr. Joe—" He paused, stuck, and gazed appealingly at Joe.
Joe rose to the occasion.
"So it's, here's to good friends, isn't it, John?"
"That's it—you took the words out of my mouth! Toast!"
So they drank.
Then Joe rose, and spoke musingly, tenderly:
"There's a trifle I want to say to you to-night—to every one of you. I can't do without you. Now it happens that I'm going to put a press in my new business and I'm looking for a first-class crackerjack of a pressman. Do you happen to know any one in this neighborhood who could take the job?"
He sat down. There was profound silence. And then Mrs. Rann took off her spectacles and sobbed. John reached over and took Joe's hand, and his voice was husky with tears.
"Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Ah, say, you make me feel foolish!"
Joe stayed with them late that night, and when he left, the kisses of the two girls moist on his cheeks, he had no doubt of his life-work. But next day, Saturday—the last day—was downright black. Things went wrong, and the men steered clear of Joe.
"Don't bother him," they said, meaning to spare him, and thereby increasing his pain. Men spoke in hushed tones, as soldiers might on the eve of a fatal battle, and even Marty Briggs dropped his new mannerisms and was subdued and simple.
Then Joe went off into a state of mind which might be described as the "hazes"—a thing he did now and then. At such times the word went round:
"The old man's got 'em again!"
And he was left well alone, for the good reason that he was unapproachable. He seemed not to listen to spoken words, nor to pay any attention to the world about him. The men, however, appreciated these spells, for, as a rule, something came of them—they bore good practical fruit, the sure test of all sanity.
The day finally wore away, to every one's relief. Joe took a last look around at all the familiar scene, shut his desk, handed over the keys to Marty (who could not speak because he was half-choked), sang out, "See you later, boys!" heard for the last time the sharp ring of the door-bell and the slam of the door, and hurried away. Then at last night came, and with night the last supper (as already announced) of Joe Blaine and His Men.
By Monday there would be painted an addition on that door, namely:
MARTIN BRIGGS SUCCESSOR TO
The supper was held in the large hall, upstairs, of Pfaff's, on East Eighty-sixth Street. The large table was a dream of green and white, of silver and glass, and the men hung about awkwardly silent in their Sunday best. Then Joe cried:
"Start the presses!"
There came a good laugh then to break the icy air, and they sat down and were served by flying waiters, who in this instance had the odd distinction of appearing to be the "upper classes" serving the "lower"—a distinction, up to date, not over-eagerly coveted by society. For the waiters wore the conventional dress of "gentlemen" and the diners were in plain and common clothes.
At first the diners were in a bit of a funk, but Pfaff's excellent meats and cool, sparkling wines soon set free in each a scintillant human spirit, and the banquet took on almost an air of gaiety.
Finally there came the coffee and the ice-cream in forms, and Martin Briggs rose. There was a stamping of feet, a clanking of knives on glasses, a cry of "Hear! Hear!"
Martin Briggs knew it by heart and launched it with the aid of two swallows of water. His voice boomed big.
"Fellow-workers, friends, and the Old Man!"
This produced tumults of applause.
"We are met to-night on a solemn occasion. Ties are to be severed, friends parted. Such is life. Mr. Blaine—" (Cries from the far end of the table, "Say, Joe! say, Joe!") "Mr. Joe has been our friend, through all these long years. He has been our friend, our boss, our co-worker. Never did he spare himself; often he spared us. He had created an important business, a profitable business, a business which has brought a good living to every one of us. It is not for us to talk of the catastrophe—this is not the occasion for that. Enough to say that to-night Mr. Joe leaves that business. Others must carry it on. My sentiment is that these others must continue in the same spirit of Mr. Joe. That's my sentiment." (Roars of applause, stamping of feet, but one voice heard in talk with a neighbor, "Say, I guess his wife wrote that, Bill.") "So I propose a toast. To Mr. Joe, now and forever!"
They rose, they clanked glasses, they drank. Then they sat down and felt that something was wrong. Marty surely had missed fire.
Whereupon John Rann, blushing, rose to his feet, and began to stammer:
"Say, fellers, do you mind if I put in a word?" (Cries: "Not a bit!" "Soak it him, Johnny.") "Well, I want to say," his voice rose, "Joe Blaine is it." (Applause, laughter, stamping.) "He's jest one of us." (Cries: "You bet!" "You've hit it, Johnny!" "Give us more!") "He's a friend." (Cries: "That's the dope!") "He never did a mean thing in his life." (One loud cry: "Couldn't if he wanted to!") "Say," (Cries: "Go ahead!" "Nobody 'll stop yer!" "Give him hell!" Laughter.) "We fellers never appreciated this here Joe Blaine, did we?" (Cries: "Gosh no!") "But we do now!" (Uproarious and prolonged applause.) "Say, fellers, he's been like a regular father to us kids." (A strange silence.) "He's been—Oh, hell!" (Speaker wipes his eyes with a red handkerchief. Strange silence prolonged. Then one voice: "Tell him to his face, John. 'Bout time he knew.") "Joe Blaine" (speaker faces Mr. Blaine, and tries not to choke), "if any one tries to say that you had anything to do with the fire—he's a damned liar!"
A thrill charged the men; they became pale; they gazed on Joe, who looked as white as linen; and suddenly they burst forth in a wildness, a shouting, a stamping, a cry of: "Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe!"
Joe arose; he leaned a little forward; he trembled visibly, his rising hand shaking so that he dropped it. Then at last he spoke:
"Yes—John is my friend. And you—are my friends. Yes. But—you're wrong. I was to blame." He paused. "I was to blame. Here, to-night, I want to say this: Those girls, those comrades of ours—all that went to waste with them—well," his voice broke, "I'm going to try to make good for them...."
For a moment he stood there, his face working strangely as if he were going to break down, and the men looked away from him. Then he went on in a voice warmly human and tender:
"You and I, boys, we grew up together. I know your wives and children. You've given me happy hours. I've made you stand for a lot—your old man was considerable boy—had his bad habits, his queer notions. Once in awhile went crazy. But we managed along, quarreling just enough to hit it off together. Remember how I fired Tommy three times in one week? Couldn't get rid of him. Oh, Tommy, what 'pi' you made of things! Great times we've had, great times. It hurts me raw." He paused, looking round at them. They were glancing at him furtively with shining eyes. "Hurts me raw to think those times are over—for me. But the dead have called me. I go out into another world. I go out into a great fight. I may fail—quite likely I will. But I shall be backed. Your love goes with me, and I've got a big job ahead." Again he paused, overcome. Then he tried to smile, tried to smooth out the tragic with a forced jocularity. "Now, boys, behave. Mind you don't work too much. And don't all forget the old man. And—but that's enough, I guess."
The silence was terrible. Some of those big men were crying softly like stricken children. It was the last requiem over the dead, the last flare-up of the tragic fire. They crowded round Joe. He was blind himself with tears, though he felt a strange quiet in his heart.
And then he was out in the starry autumn night, walking home, murmuring:
"It's all over. That's out of my life."
And he felt as if something had died within him.
THE WIND IN THE OAKS
Early Monday evening there came a note from Myra:
I wanted you to know that I am leaving for the country—to-morrow—to get a rest.
Joe at once put on his hat and coat and went out. The last meeting with his men had given him a new strength, a heightened manhood. Like a man doomed to death, he felt beyond despair now. He only knew he must go to Myra and set straight their relationship as a final step before he plunged into the great battle. No more weakness! No more quarreling! But clear words and definite understanding!
He went up the stoop and rang the bell. A servant opened the door, showed him into the dimly lighted parlor, and went up the stairs with his name. He heard her footsteps, light, hesitant. She appeared before him, pale and sick and desperate.
"What do you want?" she asked in a tortured voice.
He arose and came close to her. He spoke authoritatively:
"Myra, get on your things. We must take a walk."
Her shifting eyes glanced up, gave him their full luminous gray and all the trouble of her heart.
"Myra," his voice deepened, and struck through her, "you must go with me to-night. It's our last chance."
She turned and was gone. He heard her light footsteps ascending; he waited, wondering, hoping; and then she came down again, showing her head at the door. She had on the little rounded felt hat, and she carried her muff.
They went out together, saying nothing, stepping near one another under the lamps and over the avenues, and into the Park. It was a strange, windy night, touched with the first bleakness of winter, tinged with the moaning melancholy of the tossing oak-trees, and with streaks of faint reflected city lights in the far heavens.
It was their last night together. Both knew it. There was no help for it. The great issues of life were sweeping them away into black gulfs of the future, where there might never be meeting again, never hand-touch nor sound of each other's voice. And strangely life deepened in their hearts, and they were swept by the mystery of being alive ... alive in the star-streaked darkness of space, alive with so many other brief creatures that brightened for a moment in the gloom and then sank away into the stormy heart of nature. And Love contended with Death, and the little labors of man helped Death to crush Love; and so that moment of existence, that brief span, became a mere brute struggle, a clash, a fight, a thing sordid and worse than death.
Out of the mystery, each, from some unimaginable distance, had come forth and met here on the earth, met for a wild moment, a moment that gave them lightning-lit glimpses of that mystery, only to part from each other now, each to return into the darkness.
They felt in unison more than they could ever say. And it was the last night together.
They sat down on a bench, under those mournful boughs, under the lamentations of the oaks.
"Myra," said Joe.
She murmured, "Yes."
His voice was charged with some of the strangeness of the night, some significance of the mystery of life and death.
"You read my letter ..."
"And you understand ... at last?"
"I don't know ... I can't tell."
He paused; he leaned nearer.
"Why are you going away?"
"I've been sick," she whispered. "The doctor told me to go."
"For a rest."
"And you go to-morrow?"
"I go to-morrow."
"Without forgiving me?" He leaned very near.
There was a palpitating silence, a silence that searched their souls, and sharply then Myra cried out:
"Oh, Joe! Joe! This is killing me!"
"Myra!" he cried.
He drew her close, very close, stroking her cheek, and the tears ran over his fingers.
"Oh, don't you see," he went on, brokenly, "I can't ask you to come with me? And yet I must go?"
"I don't know," she sobbed. "I must go away and rest ... and think ... and try to understand...."
"And may I write to you?..."
"Yes," she murmured.
"And I am forgiven?"
"Forgive me!" she sobbed.
They could say no more, but sat in the wild darkness, clasping each other as if they could not let one another go.... How could they send each other forth to go in loneliness and homelessness to the ends of the earth? The hours passed as they talked brokenly together, words of remorse, of love, of forgiveness.
And then finally they arose—it was very late—and Myra whispered, clinging to him:
"We must say good-by here!"
"Good-by!" he cried ... and they kissed.
"Joe," she exclaimed, "take care of yourself! Do just that for me!"
"I will," he said huskily, "but you must do the same for me. Promise."
"Oh, Joe!" she cried out, "what is life doing with us?"
And they went back, confused and strange, through the lighted streets. They stood before her house.
"Till you come back!" he whispered.
She flashed about then, a look of a new wonder in her eyes.
"If only I thought you were right in your work!" she cried.
"You will! You will, Myra! And in that hope, we will go on!"
She was gone; the door shut him out of her life. And all alone, strong, bitter, staring ahead, Joe stepped off to begin the new life ... to plunge into the battle.
* * * * *
PART II—THE TEST
It was in that red gash of crosstown brick—West Tenth Street—that the new life began. The neighborhood was quaint and poor, a part of that old Greenwich Village which at one time was a center of quiet and chaste respectability, with its winding streets, its old-fashioned low brick houses, its trees, its general air of detachment and hushed life. Now it was a scene of slovenliness and dust, of miserable lives huddled thickly in inadequate houses, of cheap roomers and boarders, of squalid poverty—a mix of many nations well-sprinkled with saloons.
But the house was quite charming—three stories, red brick, with a stoop of some ten steps, and long French windows on the first floor. Behind those French windows was a four-room flat; beneath them, in the basement, a room with iron-grated windows. Into that flat Joe and his mother moved.
The invasion was unostentatious. No one could have dreamed that the tall, homely man, dashing in and out in his shirt-sleeves between the rooms and the moving-van drawn up at the curb, had come down with the deliberate purpose of making a neighborhood out of a chaos, of organizing that jumble of scattered polyglot lives.... In the faded sunshine of the unusually warm winter afternoon, with its vistas of gold-dusty air, and its noise of playing children and on-surging trolleys and trucks and all the minute life of the saloons and the stores—women hanging out of windows to get the recreation of watching the confused drama of the streets, neighbors meeting in doorways, young men laughing and chatting in clusters about lamp-posts—Joe toiled valiantly and happily. He would rapidly glance at the thickly peopled street and wonder, with a thrill, how soon he would include these lives in his own, how soon he would grip and rouse and awaken the careless multitude....
All was strange, all was new. Everything that was deep in his life—all the roots he had put down through boyhood, youth, and manhood into the familiar life of Yorkville—was torn up and transplanted to this fresh and unfriendly soil.... He felt as if he were in an alien land, under new skies, in a new clime, and there was all the romance of the mysterious and all the fear of the untried. Beginnings always have the double quality of magic and timidity—the dreaded, delicious first plunge into cold water, the adventurous striking out into unknown perils.... Did it not at moments seem like madness to dare single-handed into this vast and careless population? Was he not merely a modern Don Quixote tilting at windmills? Well, so be it, he thought; the goal might be unreachable, but the quest was life itself.
He had an inkling of the monstrous size of New York. All his days he had lived within a half-hour's ride of Greenwich Village, and yet it was a new world to him. So the whole city was but a conglomeration of nests of worlds, woven together by a few needs and the day's work, worlds as yet undiscovered in every direction, huge tracts of peoples of all races leading strange and unassimilated lives. He felt lost in the crowded immensity, a helpless, obscure unit in the whirl of life.
He had fallen in love with Greenwich Village from the first day he had explored it for a promising dwelling-place. Here, he knew, lived Sally Heffer, and here doubtless he would meet her and she would help shape his fight, perhaps be the woman to gird on his armor, put sword in his hand, and send him forth. For he needed her, needed her as a child needs a teacher, as a recruit needs a disciplined veteran. It was she who had first revealed the actual world to him; it was she who had first divined his power and his purpose; it was she who had released him from guilt by showing him a means of expiation.
And yet, withal, he feared to meet her. There had been something terrible about her that afternoon at Carnegie Hall, and something that awed him that evening at the Woman's League. Until she had broken down and wept, she had hardly seemed a woman—rather a voice crying in the wilderness, a female Isaiah, the toilers become articulate. And he could not think of her as a simple, vivacious young woman. How would she greet him? Would her eyes remember his part in the fire?
At least, so he told himself, he would not seek her out (he had her address from Fannie Lemick) until he had something to show for his new life—until, possibly, he had a copy of that magazine which was still a hypothesis and a chimera. Then he would nerve himself and go to her and she should judge him as she pleased.
That first supper with his mother had a sweetness new to their lives. He ran out to the butcher, the grocer, and the delicatessen man, and came home laden with packages. The stove in the rear kitchen was set alight; the wooden table in the center was spread with cloth and cutlery; and they sat down opposite each other, utterly alone ... no boarding—house flutter and gossip and noise, no unpleasant jarring personalities, no wholesale cookery. All was quiet and peace—a brooding, tinkling silence. They both smiled and smiled, their eyes moist, and the food tasted so good. Blessed bread that they broke together, the cup that they shared between them! The moment became sacred, human, stirred by all the old, old miraculousness of home, that deepest need of humanity, that rich relationship that cuts so much deeper than the light touch-and-go of the world.
Joe spoke awkwardly.
"So we're here, mother ... and it's ripping, isn't it?"
She could hardly speak, but her eyes seemed to sparkle with a second youth.
"Yes," she murmured, "it's the first time we've had anything like this since you were a boy."
They both thought of his father, and the vanished days of the shanty on the hillside, and his mother thought:
"People must live out their own lives in their own homes."
There was something that fed the roots of her woman-nature to have this place apart, this quiet shelter where she ruled. It would be a joy to go marketing, it would be a delight to cook, and it was charming to live so intimately with her son. They were a family again.
After supper they washed the dishes together, laughing and chatting. There were a hundred pleasing details to consider—where to place furniture, what to buy, whether to have a servant or not (Joe insisted on one), and all the incidents of the day to go over.
And then after the dish-washing they stopped work, and sat down in the front office amid the packing-cases and the trunks and the litter and debris. The gas was lighted above them, and the old-fashioned stove which stood in the center and sprouted up a pipe nearly to the ceiling and then at right angles into the wall was made red-hot with wood and coal. Joe smoked and his mother sewed, and a hush seemed to fall on the city, broken only by the echo of passing footsteps and the mellowed thunder of the intermittent trolley-cars.
"And they call this a slum," muttered Joe.
In fact, save possibly for less clear air and in the summer a noise of neighbors, they might have been living in New York's finest neighborhood—almost a disappointment to two people prepared to plunge into dirt, danger, and disease.... Later Joe learned that some of the city's magazine writers had settled in the district on purpose, not because they were meeting a crisis, but because they liked it, liked its quaint old flavor, its colorful life, its alien charm, and not least, its cheaper rents.
But this evening all was unknown save the joy and peace of a real home. They went to bed early, Joe in the room next the office, his mother in the adjoining room next the kitchen, but neither slept for a long time. They lay awake tingling with a strange happiness, a fine freedom, a freshness of re-created life. Only to the pioneer comes this thrill of a new-made Eden, only to those who tear themselves from the easy ruts and cut hazardous clearings in the unventured wilderness. It is like being made over, like coming with fresh heart and eyes upon the glories of the earth; it is the only youth of the world.
The night grew late and marvelously hushed, a silence almost oppressive, where every noise seemed like an invader, and Joe, lying there keenly awake, seemed to feel the throb of the world, the pauseless pulsations of that life that beats in every brain and every heart of the earth; that life that, more intense than human love and thought, burns in the suns that swing about heaven rolling the globe of earth among them; that life that enfolds with tremendous purpose the little human creature in the vastness, that somehow expresses itself and heightens and changes itself in human lives and all the dreams and doings of men. Joe felt that life, thrilling to it, opening his heart to it, letting it surcharge and overflow his being with strength and joy. And he knew then that he lay as in a warm nest of the toilers and the poor, that crowded all about him in every direction were sleeping men and women and little children, all recently born, all soon to die, he himself shortly to be stricken out of these scenes and these sensations. It was all mystery unplumbable, unbelievable ... that this breath was not to go on forever, that this brain was to be stopped off, this heart cease like a run-down clock, this exultation and sorrow to leave like a mist, scattered in that life that bore it.... That he, Joe Blaine, was to die!
Surely life was marvelous and sacred; it was not to be always a selfish scramble, a money rush, a confusion and jumble, but rather something of harmony and mighty labors and mingled joys. He felt great strength; he felt equal to his purposes; he was sure he could help in the advancing processes.... Even as he was part of the divine mystery, so he could wield that divineness in him to lift life to new levels, while the breath was in his body, while the glow was in his brain.
And he thought of Myra, his mate in the mystery, and in the night he yearned for her, hungered through all his being. She had written him a note; it came to him from the mountains. It ran:
DEAR JOE,—You will be glad to know that I am getting back to myself. The peace and stillness of the white winter over the hills is healing me. It seems good merely to exist, to sleep and eat and exercise and read. I can't think now how I behaved so unaccountably those last few weeks, and I wonder if you will ever understand. I have been reading over and over again your long letter, trying hard to puzzle out its meanings, but I fear I am very ignorant. I know nothing of the crisis you speak of. I know that "ye have the poor always with you," I know that there is much suffering in the world—I have suffered myself—but I cannot see that living among the poor is going to help vitally. Should we not all live on the highest level possible? Level up instead of leveling down. Ignorance, dirt, and sickness do not attract me ... and now here among the hills the terrible city seems like a fading nightmare. It would be better if people lived in the country. I feel that the city is a mistake. But of one thing I am sure. I understand that you cannot help doing what you are doing, and I know that it would have been a wrong if I had interfered with your life. I would have been a drag on you and defeated your purposes, and in the end we would both have been very unhappy. It seems to me most marriages are. Write me what you are doing, where you are living, and how you are.
He had smiled over some of the phrases in this letter, particularly, "I feel that the city is a mistake." Would Myra ever know that her very personality and all of her life were interwoven inextricably with the industrial city—that the clothes she wore, the food she ate, the books she studied, the letter she wrote him, even down to ink, pen, and paper, the education and advantages she enjoyed, were all wrought in the mills, the mines, the offices, and by the interchange and inweaving and mighty labors of industrialism? The city teacher is paid by taxes levied on the commerce and labors of men, and the very farmer cannot heighten his life without exchange with the city.
And so her letter made him smile. Yet at the same time it stirred him mightily. All through it he could read renunciation; she was giving him up; she was loosening her hold over him; she was nobly sacrificing her love to his life-work. And she announced herself as teachable and receptive. She could not yet understand, but understanding might come in time.
So in the night he tried to send his thought over the hills, flash his spirit into hers, in the great hope that she would thrill with a new comprehension, a new awakening.... In a world so mysterious, in an existence so strange, so impossible, so unbelievable, might such a miracle be stranger than the breath he breathed and the passions he felt?
And so in that hope, that great wild hope, he fell asleep in the uneventful beginnings of the battle. And all through those unconscious hours forces were shaping about him and within him to bear his life through strange ways and among strange people. His theories, so easy as he drank them out of books, were to be tested in the living world of men and women, in that reality that hits back when we strike it, and that batters us about like driftwood in the whirlpool.
Standing on Washington Heights—that hump on northwestern Manhattan Island—gazing, say, from a window of the City College whose gray and quaint cluster fronts the morn as on a cliff above the city—one sees, at seven of a sharp morning, a low-hung sun in the eastern skies, a vast circle and lift of mild blue heavens, and at one's feet, down below, the whole sweep of New York from the wooded ridges of the Bronx to the Fifty-ninth Street bridge and the golden tip of the Metropolitan Tower. It is a flood of roofs sweeping south to that golden, flashing minaret, a flood bearing innumerable high mill chimneys, church steeples, school spires, and the skeleton frames of gas-works. Far in the east the Harlem River lies like a sheet of dazzling silver, dotted with boats; every skylight, every point of glass or metal on the roofs, flashes in the sun, and, gazing down from that corner in the sky, one sees the visible morning hymn of the city—a drift from thousands of house chimneys of delicate unraveling skeins of white-blue smoke lifting from those human dwellings like aerial spirits. It is the song of humanity rising, the song of the ritual of breaking bread together, of preparation for the day of toil, the song of the mothers sending the men to work, the song of the mothers kissing and packing to school the rosy, laughing children.
It might be hard to imagine that far to the south in that moving human ocean, a certain Joe Blaine, swallowed in the sea, was yet as real a fact as the city contained—that to himself he was far from being swallowed, that he was, in fact, so real to himself that the rest of the city was rather shadowy and unreal, and that he was immensely concerned in a thousand-flashing torrent of thoughts, in a mix-up of appetite and desires, and in the condition and apparel of his body. That as he sat at his desk, for instance, it was important to him to discover how he could break himself of a new habit of biting the end of his pen-holder.
And yet, under that flood of roofs, Joe was struggling with that crucial problem. He finally settled it by deciding to smoke lots of cigars, and proceeded to light one as a beginning. He smoked one, then a second, then a third—which was certainly bad for his health. He was in the throes of a violent reaction.
Several days of relentless activity had followed the moving in. There was much to do. The four rooms became immaculately clean—sweetened up with soap and water, with neat wallpaper, with paint and furniture. Even the dark inner bedrooms contrived to look cozy and warm and inviting. Joe's mother was a true New England housekeeper, which meant scrupulous order, cleanliness, and brightness. The one room exempt from her rule was Joe's. After the first clean-up, his mother did not even try to begin on it.
"You're hopeless, Joe," she laughed, "and you'll ruin faster than I can set right."
And so that editorial office soon became a nest of confusion. The walls were lined with bookshelves and a quaint assortment of books, old and new, populated not only these, but the floor, the two tables, the roll-top desk, and here and there a chair. White paper began to heap up in the corners. Magazines—"my contemporaries," said the proud editor—began their limitless flood. And the matting on the floor was soon worn through by Joe's perpetual pacing.
The whole home, however, began to have atmosphere—personality. There was something open, hospitable, warm about it—something comfortable and livable.
Among the first things Joe did was to procure two assistants. One was the bookkeeper, Nathan Slate, a lean and dangling individual, who collapsed over his high desk in the corner like a many-bladed penknife. He was thin and cadaverous, and spoke in a meek and melancholy voice, studied and slow. He dressed in black and tried to suppress his thin height by stooping low and hanging his head. The other addition was Billy, the office-boy, a sharp, bright youth with red hair and brilliant blue eyes.
There was much else to do. For instance, there were the money affairs to get in shape. Joe secured a five-per-cent mortgage with his capital. Marty Briggs paid down two thousand cash and was to pay two thousand a year and interest. So Joe could figure his income at somewhat over six thousand dollars, and, as he hoped that he and his mother would use not more than fifteen hundred a year, or, at the most, two thousand, he felt he had plenty to throw into his enterprise.
Among the first things that Joe discovered was a gift of his own temperament. He was a born crowd-man, a "mixer." He found he could instantly assume the level of the man he talked with, and that his tongue knew no hindrance. Thought flowed easily into speech. This gave him a freedom among men, a sense of belonging anywhere, and singled him out from the rest. It gave him, too, the joy of expression—the joy of throwing out his thought and getting its immediate reaction in other lives. Yet he understood perfectly the man who seemed shy and recluse, who was choked-off before strangers, and who yet burned to be a democrat, to give and take, to share alien lives, to be of the moving throng of life. Such a man was the victim either of a wrong education, an education of repression that discouraged any personal display, or he had a twist in his temperament. Joe, who began to be well aware of his gift, used it without stint and found that it had a contagious quality—it loosened other people up; it unfolded their shy and secret petals like sun heat on a bud; it made the desert of personality blossom like the rose. He warmed the life about him because he could express himself.
So it was not hard for Joe to shift to this new neighborhood and become absorbed in its existence. Tradespeople, idlers, roomers and landlady in the house accepted him at once and felt as if they had known him all their lives. By a power almost of intuition he probed their obscure histories and entered into their destinies.
However, in spite of these activities and all the bustle and stir of fresh beginnings, Joe, that sunny morning, was suffering a sharp reaction. In the presence of Nathan Slate and Billy he was pretending to work, but his brain was as dry as a soda-cracker. It was that natural revulsion of the idealist following the first glow. Here he was, up against a reality, and yet with no definite plan, not even a name for his paper, and he had not even begun to penetrate the life about him. The throbbing moment had arrived when he must set his theories into motion, drive them out into the lives of the people, and get reactions. But how? In what way? His brain refused to think, and he felt nothing save a misery and poverty of the spirit that were unendurable.
It seemed to him suddenly as if he had hastily embarked on a search for the fountain of eternal youth—a voyage that followed mirages, and was hollow and illusory. Beginnings, after the first flush, always have this quality of fake, and Joe was standing in the shadow-land between two lives. The old life was receding in the past; the new life had not yet appeared. Without training, without experience, without definite knowledge of the need to be met, with only a strong desire and a mixed ideal, and almost without his own volition, he found himself now sitting at a desk in West Tenth Street, with two employees, and nothing to do. How out of this emptiness was he to create something vital?
This naturally brought a pang he might have anticipated. He had a sudden powerful hankering for the old life. That at least was man-size—his job had been man's work. He looked back at those fruitful laborious days, with their rich interest and absorbing details, their human companionships, and had an almost irrepressible desire to rush out, take the elevated train, go down East Eighty-first Street, ascend the elevator, ring the bell, and enter his dominion of trembling, thundering presses. He could smell the old smells, he could see the presses and the men, he could hear the noise. That was where he belonged. Voluntarily he had exiled himself from happiness and use. He wanted to go back—wanted it hard, almost groaned with homesickness.
Such struggles are death throes or birth throes. They are as real as two men wrestling. Joe could sit still no longer, could mask no longer the combat within him. So he rose hastily and went out and wandered about the shabby, unfriendly neighborhood. He had a mad desire, almost realized, to take the car straight to Eighty-first Street, and only the thought of Marty Briggs in actual possession held him back. Finally he went back and took lunch, and again tried the vain task of pretending to work.
It was three o'clock when he surrendered. He strode in to his mother.
"Mother," he said, "isn't there something we can do together?"
"In what way?"
"Any way. I've been idling all day and I'm half dead." He laughed strangely. "I believe I'm getting nerves, mother."
"Nerves!" She looked at him sharply. "What is it, Joe?"
"Oh! It's in-betweenness."
"I see." She smiled. "Well, there's some shopping to do—"
So they went out together and took the Sixth Avenue car to Thirty-fourth Street. Their shopping took them to Fifth Avenue, and then, later, up Broadway to Forty-second Street. It was a different New York they saw—in fact, the New York best known to the stranger. The gorgeous palaces of trade glittered and sparkled, shimmered and flashed, with jewels and silver, with silks and knick-knacks. The immense and rich plenty of earth, the products of factories and mills, were lavishly poured here, gathered in isles, about which a swarming sea of well-dressed women pushed and crowded. The high ceilings were hung with glowing moons of light; the atmosphere was magic with confused talk, shuffling footsteps, and all the hum and stir of a human hive. Up and down Fifth Avenue swept a black thick stream of motors and carriages in which women and men lounged and stared. The great hotels sucked in and poured out tides of jeweled and lace-wrapped creatures, and in the lighted interiors of restaurants were rouged cheeks and kindled eyes.
As Joe and his mother reached Forty-second Street, that whirlpool of theaters released its matinee crowds, a flood of youth, beauty, brightness, and luxury.
And it seemed to Joe, seeing all this life from a Tenth Street viewpoint, that here was a great city of wealth and idleness. Evidently a large population had nothing to do save shop and motor, eat and idle. How could he from shabby Tenth Street send out a sheet of paper that would compete with these flashing avenues?
The sight depressed him. He said as much to his mother.
"This is New York," he said, "barbaric, powerful, luxuriant. These people are the power of the city—the mighty few—these are the owners. What can we do with them?"
His mother sensed then the struggle in his mind.
"Joe," she cried, "isn't there any place where we can see—the other people?"
There was. They took the car down to Eighth Street, they walked east, and entered little Washington Park, with its monumental arch, and its shadowy trees, its wide and curving walks—its general sense of being a green breathing-space in the sweep of streets. As they walked through the sharp wintry air in the closing sunlight, what time the blue electric lights gleamed out among the almost naked boughs, the six-o'clock whistles began blowing from factories all about them—a glad shriek that jumped from street to street over the city—and at once across the eastern plaza of the park streamed the strange torrent of the workers—a mighty, swift march of girls and boys, women and men, homeward bound, the day's work ended—a human stream, in the gray light, steeped in an atmosphere of accomplishment, sweet peace, solution. All life seemed to touch a moment of harvest.
Joe's mother was thrilled, and in spite of himself Joe felt his heart clutched, as it were, in a vise. He felt the strange, strong, human grip. It was a marvelous spectacle, though common, daily, and cheap as life.
Joe's mother whispered, in a low voice:
"Joe, this is the real New York!"
And then again:
"Those others are only a fraction—these are the people."
"Yes," murmured Joe, his blood surging to his cheeks, "these are the nine-tenths."
They went closer to that mighty marching host—they saw the cheap garments—baggy trousers, torn shoes, worn shirts; they saw the earnest, tired faces, the white and toil-shrunk countenances, the poverty, the reality of pain and work, all pressing on in an atmosphere of serious progress, as if they knew what fires roared, what sinews ached down in the foundations of the world where the future is created. And Joe realized, as never before, that upon these people and their captains, their teachers and interpreters, rested the burdens of civilization; that the mighty city was wrought by their hands and those who dreamed with them, that the foam and sparkle of Broadway and Fifth Avenue bubbled up from that strong liquor beneath. And he believed that the second-generation idlers had somehow expropriated the toilers and were living like drones in the hive, and he felt that this could not be forever, and he was seized by the conviction that a change could only come through the toilers themselves. Could these pale people but know their power, know their standing, know the facts of this strange double life, and then use their might wisely and well, constructively, creatively, to build up a better and fairer world, a finer justice, a more splendid day's work, a happier night's home! These that created a great city could, if trained, create a higher life in that city!
Surely the next few ages of the future had their work cut out for them—the most stupendous task the race had ever undertaken.
Then, after all, he was right. All who could must be dedicated to the work of sowing enlightenment, of yeasting the crowds with knowledge and love and light—all who could. Then he, too, could do his share; he, too, could reach this crowd. And these people—they were reachable. No theaters and restaurants competed with him here. Their hearts and minds were open. He could step in and share their lives. He had done so in his shop, and these were of the same human nature.
Power returned to him.
"Mother," he said, his eyes flashing, "it's all right. Now I'm ready to begin! I'm for the nine-tenths."
They turned, walking home in silence, and as they went the phrase "nine-tenths," which Joe must have picked up in some book on socialism or some sociological study, kept haunting his mind. The new power released in him made his brain work like lightning—creatively. Thoughts crowded, combinations sprung up; he began to actively dream and scheme.
"I've got it!" he cried. "Why not call my paper The Nine-Tenths?"
He began to plan aloud as the quick thoughts flashed.
"An eight-page paper—weekly. An editorial, giving some of the plain facts about civilization—simple stuff to teach the people what industry means, what their work means, what they ought to be doing. Then news—news about all movements toward freedom—labor, strikes, reform, new laws, schools—news of all the forces working for betterment—a concrete statement of where the world stands to-day and what it is doing. But a fair sheet, mother. No railing, no bitterness, no bomb-throwing. Plenty of horse sense, plenty of banking the fires, of delaying wisely. No setting class against class. No under-rating of leaders and captains. Justice, but plenty of mercy. Facts, but plenty of philosophy to cool 'em off. Progress all the time, but no French revolutions. And when sides must be taken, no dishonest compromises, no cowardly broad—mindedness—but always with the weakest, the under dog, whenever their cause is good. That's my programme; that's The Nine-Tenths."
"Of course," said his mother, "you'll see things clearer as you do them. There'll be changes."
"Surely!" His mind was already miles ahead. "Mother, I've got it now, for sure!"
"What now?" She laughed, enthusiastically.
"Isn't this a whopper? No ads."
"But why not, Joe? That would support the paper."
"No, not a line. I don't expect the paper to pay. That's where our money comes in. We mustn't carry a line. Don't you see? There's hardly a paper in the land that is free. They're influenced by their advertising—that's their bread and butter. And even if they're not influenced, people suspect they are. We must be free even of that suspicion. We can be free—utterly so—say what we please—speak our minds out—and nothing to hinder us. That will be unique—that will be something new in magazines. We'll go the limit, mother."
His mother laughed.
"I guess you're right, Joe. It's worth trying. But how are you going to circulate the paper?"
"How?" Again his mind jumped forward. "House-to-house canvass—labor unions—street corners. I'm going to dig in now, get acquainted with the people round about, spread it any old way. And I'm going to start with the idea of a big future—twenty thousand copies finally. You see, it'll be a sort of underground newspaper—no publicity—but spreading from group to group among the workers. Broadway and up-town will never see a copy."
So the new life started, started in full swing. Joe worked late that very night putting his plans on paper, and the next morning there was plenty of activity for everybody. Joe bought a rebuilt cylinder press for fifteen hundred dollars and had it installed in the basement. Then he had the basement wired, and got an electric motor to furnish the power. John Rann and his family were moved down to a flat farther west on Tenth Street, and a feeder, a compositor, and a make-up man were hired along with him. In the press-room (the basement) was placed a stone—a marble-top table—whereon the make-up man could take the strips of type as they came from the compositors, arrange them into pages, and "lock them up" in the forms, ready to put on the presses.
Then Joe arranged with a printery to set up the type weekly; with a bindery to bind, fold, bundle, and address the papers; and with Patrick Flynn, truckman, to distribute the papers to newsdealers.
Next Joe made a tour of the neighborhood, spoke with the newsdealers, told them that all they would have to do was to deliver the papers to the addresses printed upon them. He found them willing to thus add to their income.
Thus he made ready. But he was not yet prepared to get subscriptions (one dollar a year or twenty-five cents a quarter), feeling that first he must have a sample paper to show.
The labor on that first number was a joy to him. He would jump up in the middle of the night, rush into the office, light the gas, and get to work in his nightgown. He was at it at all hours. And it proved to be an enormous task. Eight pages eight by twelve do not read like a lot, but they write like a very great deal. There was an editorial, "Greetings to You," in which Joe set forth in plain words the ideas and ideals of the paper, and in which he made clear the meaning of the phrase "nine-tenths." Then he found that there were two great strikes in progress in the city. This amazed him, as there was no visible sign of such a condition. The newspapers said nothing of it, and peace seemed to brood over the city's millions. Yet there were thousands of cloak-makers out, and over in Brooklyn the toilers in the sugar refineries were having little pitched battles with strike-breakers in the streets. Three men had been killed and a score wounded.
Joe dug into these strikes, called at the union headquarters, spoke with the men, even called on some of the cloak-makers' bosses and learned their grievances. Then he wrote accounts of the strike without taking sides, merely reporting the facts as fairly as he could.
In this way, and with the aid of clippings, and by printing that poem by Lowell which was his mother's favorite, wherein was the couplet already quoted,
"They are slaves who dare not be In the right with two or three,"
he made up a hodge-podge of a magazine.
Up in the corner of the editorial page he ran the following, subject to change:
A WEEKLY WORD ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
* * * * *
I ACCEPT LIFE LARGELY, BUT NOT IN DETAILS
* * * * *
SOME OF THE DETAILS NOT ACCEPTED ARE
Anything that prevents a child from being well born and from fulfilling its possibilities.
Anything that prevents a woman or man from using every good side of her or his nature.
ABOUT THESE DETAILS NO DOUBT:
DISEASE EXCESS WANT OVERWORK CHILD LABOR
And let's avoid jealousy, quarrels, ridicule, meanness, and the rest of the mosquito things.
Otherwise: what a glorious world.
This didn't please him altogether, but he wanted to be definite and simple, and he wanted to show that he wasn't a narrow partisan.
Thus the first number came to be. As he turned it out, Billy rushed it in batches to the compositors, and when finally it all came back in strips of type, it was hurried down to the idlers in the basement. At ten-thirty that chilly, dust-blowing morning, when the sun-stricken air glittered with eddies of motes, Joe, sitting at his desk, had the exquisite rapture of feeling the building tremble.
He rushed to his mother, and exulted.
"Can't you feel the press going? Listen!"
Truly the new life had begun—the vision was beginning to crystallize in daily living.
"We're in the fight now, mother!" he cried. "There's something doing!"
And later, when Joe stood at the back of the press and that first complete sheet came through, he picked it up as if it were a new-born child, as indeed it was, wet, drippy, forlorn, and weird, and yet a wonder and a miracle. Joe looked on his own creation—the little sheets—the big, black The Nine-Tenths—the clear, good type. He was awed and reduced almost to tears.
He mailed a copy to Myra with a brief note:
DEAR MYRA,—Here's the answer to your question. I'm doing the inclosed, and doing it in West Tenth Street. Do you know the neighborhood? Old Greenwich Village, red, shabby, shoddy, common, and vulgar. Mother and I are as happy as children. How are you? Your letter is splendid. I am sure you will come to understand. When are you returning to New York?
And he thought, "Now I have something to show Sally Heffer!"
OTHERS: AND SALLY HEFFER
Joe filled a stiff cloth portfolio with a batch of 9/10s (abbreviation for home use), pulled his gray hat over his bushy hair, and went over and tapped the collapsible Slate on the shoulder.
"Yes, Mr. Joe."
"Nathan," cried Joe, excitedly, "if there's a rush of subscribers while I'm gone, make 'em stand in line, and each wait his turn. But don't let them block the car tracks—string 'em around the corner."
Nathan gazed at Joe like a lost soul.
"But I think, Mr. Joe," he said, slowly, "you place your hopes too high. I don't like to be too gloomy, Mr. Joe, but I have my doubts about a rush."
"Slate," cried Joe, slapping the tragic bookkeeper a whack, "you're inspiring!"
And he swung out to the street in the brilliant morning sunshine, ready to begin his canvass.
"Next door," he mused, "is the place to start."
There was a woman sitting on the stoop, a two-year-old girl in her arms. Joe paused and looked at the baby.
The baby looked at him a little doubtfully, and then laughed.
"Girl or boy?" asked Joe of the mother.
"She's a darling! What's her name?"
"Named after you?"
"You wouldn't mind if I gave her a peppermint to suck?"
"Would you mind some candy, Annie?"
"Candy!" shrieked the child.
Joe dove into his bulging pocket and produced a good hard white one. Annie snatched it up and sucked joyously.
"Thank the man, Annie."
"Is this your only one, Mrs.—"
"Cassidy's my name! No, I've buried two others."
"From this house?"
"No, we keep movin'—" Mrs. Cassidy laughed a little.
Joe made a grim face.
"Jump your rent, eh?"
Mrs. Cassidy shrugged her shoulders.
"What can poor people do?"
"But hasn't Mr. Cassidy a job?"
"He has when he has it—but it's bum work. Slave like a nigger and then laid off for six months, maybe."
"What kind of work is that?"
"'Longshore—he's a 'longshoreman."
"And when he's unemployed you have a hard time, don't you?"
"Hard?" Mrs. Cassidy's voice broke. "What can we do? There's the insurance every week—fifteen cents for my man, ten cents for me, and five cents for Annie. We couldn't let that go; it's buryin'-money, and there ain't a Cassidy isn't going to have as swell a funeral as any in the ward. And then we've got to live. I've found one thing in this world—the harder you work the less you get."
Joe spoke emphatically.
"Mrs. Cassidy, when your husband's out of work, through no fault of his own, he ought to get a weekly allowance to keep you going."
"And who's to give it to him?"
"Who? Do you know what they do in Germany?"
"What do they do in Germany?"
"They have insurance for the unemployed, and when a man's out he gets so-and-so-much a week. We ought to have it in America."
"How can we get it? Who listens to the poor?"
"Your man belongs to a union, doesn't he?"
"Well, the trouble is our people here don't know these things. If they knew them, they'd get together and make the bosses come round. It's ignorance holding us all back."
"I've often told Tim he ought to study something. There's grand lectures in the schools every Tuesday and Thursday night. But Tim don't put stock in learning. He says learning never bought a glass of beer."
"Mrs. Cassidy, that's not what I mean. Listen. I'm a neighbor of yours—live next door—"
"Sure! Didn't I see you move in? When my friend, Mrs. Leupp, seen your iron beds, she up and went to Macy's and bought one herself. What yer doing in there, anyway, with that printing-press? It gives me the trembles."
Joe laughed heartily.
"You feel the press in this house?"
"First time, I thought it was an earthquake, Mr. Blaine."
Joe was abashed.
"How'd you know my name?"
"Ast it off your landlady."
"Well, you're wrong—I'm Mr. Joe."
Mrs. Cassidy was hugely amused.
"You're one grand fellow, let me tell you. But, oh, that black, thin one—he's creepy, Mr. Joe. But your mother—she's all right. I was telling Mrs. Rann so myself."
Joe sighed tragically.
"I suppose the whole neighborhood knows all my family secrets."
"Pretty near," laughed Mrs. Cassidy.
"Well, there's one thing you didn't know."
"About my newspaper."
"What about it?"
"What paper do you take?"
Mrs. Cassidy mentioned a daily penny paper.
"Let's see," said Joe, "that's eleven cents a week, isn't it? Will you spend two cents more, and take The Nine-Tenths?"
"It's a paper that tells about the rich and the poor, and what the poor ought to do to get more out of life. Here, take this copy, keep it; make Tim read it."
Mrs. Cassidy was handed a neat little sheet, eight by twelve inches, clearly printed. There was something homely and inviting about it, something hospitable and honest. The woman fingered it curiously.
"Ain't it cute?" she cried.
"It's all written for just such people as you, and I want you to take it."
"How much is it?"
"Well, you pay twenty-five cents and get it for three months, once a week, and let Tim read it out loud. Say, don't you think Annie'd like to see the printing-press?"
"'Deed she would!"
And then Joe did the one thing that won. He seized up little Annie himself, and bore her down to the press-room, Mrs. Cassidy following, and mentally concluding that there was no one in the ward like Mr. Joe.
Result: first subscription, and Joe elated with victory. All of which shows, it must be confessed, that Joe was considerable of a politician, and did not hesitate to adopt the methods of Tammany Hall.
It was the next day, at a street corner, that, quite accidentally, Joe met Michael Dunan, truckman.
"I've got a cigar," said Joe, "but I haven't a match."
"I've got a match," said Michael, easily, "but I haven't a cigar."
"My name's Joe Blaine," said Joe, handing over a panetela.
"Mine's Mike Dunan," said Michael, passing a match.
They lit up together.
"The drinks are on me," murmured Michael.
They stepped into the saloon at the corner—a bright, mirrory place, whose tiled floor was covered with sawdust, and whose bar shone like mahogany.
"Two beers, Donovan."
"Dark or light, Mike?"
They drank. Michael pounded the bar.
"Joe Blaine, the times are hard."
"How so, Michael?"
"The rich are too rich, and the poor too poor. I'm tired of it!"
"Then look this over."
Michael looked it over, and bubbled with joy.
"That's great. Did you spiel it out? Did you say this little piece? Joe, I want to join your union!"
Joe laughed; he sized up the little man, with his sparkling eyes, his open face, his fiery, musical voice, his golden hair. And he had an inspiration.
"Mike," he said, "I'm getting out this paper up the street. Have a press there and an office. Run in and see my mother. If you like her, tell me, and you can join the Stove Circle."
"And what may the Stove Circle be?"
"The get-together club—my advisory board."
"See here, you," said a blunt, biting, deep-chested voice at their side. "Let me get a look."
Joe turned and met Oscar Heming, delicatessen man, stumpy, bull-necked, with fierce bristling mustache, and clothes much too big for him. He was made a member at once of the Stove Circle.
That same evening Joe went down three steps into a little, low, cigar store, whose gas-blazing atmosphere reeked with raw and damp tobacco. He stepped up to the dusty counter.
"What's your best?"
The proprietor, a wise little owl of a man, with thin black hair, and untidy spade beard, and big round glasses enlarging his big brown eyes, placed a box before him.
"My own make—Underdogs—clear Havana—six cents apiece."
"I like the name. Give me ten. But explain!"
"Well"—Nathan Latsky (for so he proved to be) shrugged his shoulders—"I'm one myself. But—what's in a name?"
"He's a red revolutionist!" said a voice, and Joe, turning, noticed two men leaning beside him at the counter; one, a fine and fiery Jew, handsome, dark, young; the other, a large and gentle Italian, with pallid features, dark hair sprinkled with gray, and a general air of largeness and leadership about him. The Jew had spoken.
"Why a red?" asked Joe.
"Oh," said Latsky, quietly, "I come from Russia, you know!"
"Well, I'm a revolutionist myself," said Joe. "But I haven't any color yet."
"Union man?" asked the Italian.
"Not exactly. I run a radical newspaper."
"What's the name of it?" asked the Jew.
The words worked magic. They were all eagerness, and exchanged names. Thus Joe came to know Jacob Izon and Salvatore Giotto and Nathan Latsky. He was greatly interested in Izon, the facts of whose life he soon came to know. Izon was a designer, working at Marrin's, the shirtwaist manufacturer; he made thirty dollars a week, had a wife and two children, and was studying engineering in a night school. He and his wife had come from Russia, where they had been revolutionists.
The three men examined the paper closely.
"That's what we need," said Izon. "You must let us help to spread it!"
Joe added the three to the Stove Circle.
He went to Giotto's house with him, up to the sixth floor of a tenement, and met the Italian's neat, dark-eyed wife, and looked in on the three sleeping children. Then under the blazing gas in the crowded room, with its cheap, frail, shiny furniture, its crayons on the wall, its crockery and cheap clocks, and with the noise of the city's night rising all about them, the two big men talked together. Joe was immensely interested. The Italian was large-hearted, open-minded, big in body and soul, and spoke quaintly, but thoughtfully.
"Tell me about yourself," said Joe.
Giotto spread out the palms of his hands.
"What to tell? I get a good education in the old country—but not much spik English—better read, better write it. I try hard to learn. Come over here, and education no good. Nobody want Italian educated man. So worked on Italian paper—go round and see the poor—many tragedies, many—like the theater. Write a novel, a romance, about the poor. Wish I could write it in English."
"Good work," cried Joe. "Then what did you do?"
"Imported the wine—got broke—open the saloon. Toughs come there, thieves, to swindle the immigrants. Awfully slick. No good to warn immigrants—they lose all their money. Come in crying. What can I do? I get after the bums and they say, 'Giotto no good; we will kill him.' Then I get broke again. Go to West Virginia and work in the coal-mine—break my leg. And that was the baddest place in the world."
"And the town. Laborers—Italian, nigger; saloons and politics—Jews; bosses all Irish—nothing but the saloons and the women to spenda the money. Company own everything—stores, saloons, women. Pay you the money and get it all back. Every day a man killed. Hell!"
"Then where did you go?"
"Chicago—printing—anything to do I could get. Sometimes make forty cents a day. Little. Have to feed and work for wife and three children. I try and try. Hod-carrier"—Giotto laughed at the memory—"press coats—anything. Then come back here."
"And what are you doing now?"
"I try to make labor union with Italians. Hard work. Italians live like pigs—ignorant—not—not social. Down-stairs live a Calabria man, makes ice-cream—got four rooms—in the four rooms man, wife, mother, five children, fifteen boarders—"
"Go on!" cried Joe. "Why do you stop?"
"So maybe your paper help. Many Italians read English. I make them read your paper, Mr. Joe."
* * * * *
It was not until nearly the end of the week that Joe sought out Sally Heffer. Though every day he meditated stepping down that narrow red side street, each time he had felt unprepared, throbbingly incapable; but this evening as he finished his work and was on the way home it seemed that beyond his own volition he suddenly swerved at her corner, hurried down the lamp-lit pave, searched out the faded number in the meager light, mounted the stoop, and pushed open the unlocked door.
He was very weary—heart-sick and foot-sore—as he climbed the dark steps of the three-story house. He felt pent in the vast pulsations of life about him—a feeling of impossibility, of a task greater than he could bear. He simply had to see the young woman who was responsible for sending him here. He had a vivid mental image of her tragic loveliness, of how she had stepped back and forth before him and suddenly put her hands to her face and wept, of how she had divined his suffering, and impulsively seized his hand, and whispered, "I have faith in you." He expected a sort of self-illumined Joan of Arc with eyes that saw visions, with spirit flaming. And even in the dark top-floor hallway he was awed, and almost afraid.
Then in the blackness, his eyes on the thread of light beneath the rear door, he advanced, reached up his hand, and knocked.
There came, somehow surprising him, a definite, clear-edged voice:
He opened the door, which swung just free of the narrow cot. Just beyond, Sally Heffer was writing at a little table, and the globed gas burned above her, lighting the thin gold of her sparse hair. She turned her face to him quite casually, the same pallid, rounded face, the same broad forehead and gray eyes, of remarkable clarity—eyes that were as clear windows allowing one to peer in. And she was dressed in a white shirtwaist and the same brown skirt, and over a hook, behind her, hung the same brown coat. Yet Joe was shocked. This was not the Sally Heffer of his dreams—but rather a refreshing, forceful, dynamic young woman, brimming over with the joy of life. And even in that flash of strangeness he sensed the fact that at the time he had met her she was merely the voice of a vast insurgent spirit, merely the instrument of a great event. This was the everyday Sally, a quite livable, lovable human being, healthy, free in her actions, pulsing with the life about her. The very words she used were of a different order.
And as she casually glanced around she began to stare, her eyes lit with wonder, and she arose, exclaiming:
At the sound of her voice the tension snapped within him; he felt common and homely again; he felt comfortable and warm; and he smiled wearily.
"Yes," he said, "I'm here."
She came close to him, more and more incredulous, and the air became electric.
"But what brings you here?"
"I live here—West Tenth."
"Live here? Why?"
Her eyes seemed to search through his.
"You made me," he murmured.
She smiled strangely.
Impulsively her hand went out, and he clasped it ... her hand seemed almost frozen. Tears of humility sprang to her eyes.
"I was high and mighty that night,... but I couldn't help it.... But you ... do you realize what a wonderful thing you've done?"
He laughed awkwardly.
"Yes, here's what I've done"—he handed her a copy of The Nine-Tenths—"and it's very wonderful."
She gave a strange, short laugh again—excitement, exultation—and held the paper as if it were a living thing.
"This ... The Nine-Tenths ... oh!... for the working people.... Let me see!"
She went to the light, spread the paper and eagerly read. Then she glanced back a moment and saw his worn face and the weary droop of his back.
"Say—you're dead tired. Sit down. You don't mind the bed, do you?"
He smiled softly.
"I don't! I am pretty much done up." And he sank down, and let his hands droop between his knees.
Sally read, and then suddenly turned to him.
"This editorial is—it's just a ripper."
The author felt the thrill of a creator. She went on:
"I wish every working-girl in New York could read this."
"So do I."
She turned and looked at him, more and more excited.
"So this is what you're doing. I must pinch myself—it's all a dream! Too good to be true."
Suddenly there seemed to be a reversal in their relationships. Before, his end of the beam was down, hers up. But subtly in her voice he felt the swing to the other extreme. She had set him in a realm above herself.
"Tell me," she said, "just how you came to go into this."
He told her a little, and as he spoke he became thoroughly at his ease with her, as if she were a man, and in the pleasure of their swift comradeship they could laugh at each other.
"Mr. Blaine," she said, suddenly, "if I got you into this, it's up to me to help you win. I'm going to turn into an agent for you—I'll make 'em subscribe right and left."
Joe laughed at her.
"Lordy, if you knew how good it is to hear this—after tramping up three miles of stairs and more and nabbing a tawdry twenty subscriptions."
"Is that all you got?"
"People don't understand."
"We'll make them!" cried Sally, clenching her fist.
Joe laughed warmly; he was delighted with her.
"Are you working here?" he asked.
"Yes—you know I used to be in Newark—I was the president of the Newark Hat-Trimmers' Union."
"I'm trying to organize the girls here."
"Well," he muttered, grimly. "I wouldn't like to be your boss, Miss Heffer."
She laughed in her low voice.