HotFreeBooks.com
The Nine-Tenths
by James Oppenheim
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Let me tell you what sort I am!" And she sat down, crossed her legs, and clasped her hands on her raised knee. "I was working in that Newark factory, and the girls told me to ask the boss, Mr. Plump, for a half holiday. So I went into his office and said: 'Mr. Plump, the girls want a half holiday.' He was very angry. He said: 'You won't get it. Mind your own business.' So I said, quietly: 'All right, Mr. Plump, we'll take a whole holiday. We won't show up Monday.' Then he said to me, 'Sally Heffer, go to hell!' He was the first man to say such a thing to my face. Well, one of the girls found me in the hall drying my eyes, and when she got the facts she went back and told the others, and the bunch walked out, leaving this message: 'Mr. Plump, we won't come back till you apologize to Sally.' Well, we were out a week, and what do you think?" Sally laughed with quiet joy. "Plump took it to the Manufacturers Association, and they—backed him? Not a bit! Made him apologize!"

Joe chuckled.

"Great! Great!"

"Oh, I'm doing things all the time," said Sally. "Organized the Jewish hat-trimmers in Newark, and all my friends went back on me for sticking up for the Jews. Did I care? Ten years ago every time the men got a raise through their union, the girls had their salaries cut. Different now. We've enough sense to give the easy jobs to the old ladies—and there's lots of old ones trimming hats."

"What's trimming hats?"

Sally plucked up Joe's gray hat, and then looked at Joe, her eyes twinkling.

"It's a little hard to show you on this. But see the sweat-band? It has a lot of needle holes in it, and the trimmer has to stitch through those holes and then sew the band on to the hat, and all the odds and ends. It kills eyes. What do you think?" she went on. "The girls used to drink beer—bosses let 'em do it to keep them stimulated—and it's ruined lots. I stopped that."

Joe looked at Sally. And he had a wild impulse then, a crazy thought.

"How much do you get a week?"

"Fifteen."

"Well," said Joe, "I want a woman's department in the paper. Will you handle it for fifteen a week?"

"But you don't know me!"

"Well," said Joe, "I'm willing to gamble on you."

Sally's low voice loosed exultation.

"You're a wonder, Mr. Blaine. I'll do it! But we're both plumb crazy."

"I know it," said Joe, "and I like it!"

They shook hands.

"Come over to-morrow and meet my mother!" He gave her the address.

"Good-by," she said. "And let me tell you, I'm simply primed for woman stuff. It is the women"—she repeated the phrase slowly—"it is the women, as you'll find, who bear the burden of the world! Good-by!"

"Good-by!"

He went down into the open air exulting.

He could not overcome his astonishment. She was so different than he had anticipated, so much more human and simple; so much more easy to fit into the every-day shake-up of life, and full of that divine allowance for other people's shortcomings. It was impossible to act the tragedian before her. And, most wondrous of all, she was a "live wire." He had gone to her abasing himself; he came away as her employer, subtly cheered, encouraged, and lifted to new heights of vivid enterprise.

"Sally Heffer!" he kept repeating. "Isn't she a marvel! And, miracle of miracles, she is going to swing the great work with me!"

And so the Stove Circle was founded with Sally Heffer, Michael Dunan, Oscar Heming, Nathan Latsky, Salvatore Giotto, and Jacob Izon. Its members met together a fortnight later on a cold wintry night. The stove was red-hot, the circle drew about it on their kitchen chairs, and Joe spent the first meeting in going over his plans for the paper. There were many invaluable practical comments—especially on how to get news and what news to get—and each member was delegated to see to one department. Latsky and Giotto took immigration, Dunan took politics and the Irish, Heming took the East Side, Izon, foreign news, and Sally Heffer took workwomen. Thereafter each one in his way visited labor unions, clubs, and societies and got each group to pledge itself to send in news. They helped, too, to get subscriptions—both among their friends and in the unions. In this way Joe founded his paper. He never repeated the personal struggle of that first week, for he now had an enthusiastic following to spread the work for him—men and a woman, every one of whom had access to large bodies of people and was an authority in his own world.

But that wonderful week was never forgotten by Joe. Each day he had risen early and gone forth and worked till late at night, making a canvass in good earnest. House after house he penetrated, knocking at doors, inquiring for a mythical Mrs. (or Mr.) Parsons (this to hush the almost universal fear that he had come to collect the rent or the instalment on the furniture or clothes of the family). In this way he started conversation. He found first that the immediate neighborhood knew him already. And he found many other things. He found rooms tidy, exquisite in their cleanliness and good taste of arrangement; and then other rooms slovenly and filthy. He found young wives just risen from bed, chewing gum and reading the department-store advertisements in the paper, their hair in curl-papers. He found fat women hanging out of windows, their dishes unwashed, their beds unmade, their floors unswept. He found men sick in bed, and managed to sit down at their side and give them an interesting twenty minutes. He found other men, out of work, smoking and reading. He found one Italian family making "willow plumes" in two narrow rooms—one a bedroom, the other a kitchen—every one at work, twisting the strands of feathers to make a swaying plume—every one, including the grandmother and little dirty tots of four and six—and every one of them cross-eyed as a result of the terrific work. He found one dark cellar full of girls twisting flowers; and one attic where, in foul, steaming air, a Jewish family were "finishing" garments—the whole place stacked with huge bundles which had been given out to them by the manufacturer. He found one home where an Italian "count" was the husband of an Irish girl, and the girl told him how she had been led into the marriage by the man's promise of title and castle in Venice, only to bring her from Chicago to New York and confess that he was a poor laborer.

"But I made the best of it," she cried. "I put down my foot, hustled him out to work, and we've done well ever since. I've been knocking the dago out of him as hard as I can hit!"

"You're ambitious," said Joe.

"My! I'd give my hands for education!"

Joe prescribed The Nine-Tenths.

Everywhere he invited people to call—"drop over"—and see his plant and meet his mother. Even the strange specimen of white woman who had married a negro and was proud of it.

"Daniel's black outside, but there's many stuck-up women I know whose white man is black inside."

Absorbingly interesting was the quest—opening up one vista of life after another. Joe gained a moving-picture knowledge of life—saw flashed before him dramatic scene after scene, destiny after destiny—squalor, ignorance, crime, neatness, ambition, thrift, respectability. He never forgot the shabby dark back room where under gas-light a frail, fine woman was sewing ceaselessly, one child sick in a tumble-down bed, and two others playing on the floor.

"I'm all alone in the world," she said. "And all I make is two hundred and fifty dollars a year—less than five dollars a week—to keep four people."

Joe put her on the free list.

He learned many facts, vital elements in his history.

For instance, that on less than eight hundred dollars a year no family of five (the average family) could live decently, and that nearly half the people he met had less, and the rest not much more. That, as a rule, there were three rooms for five people; and many of the families gathered their fuel on the street; that many had no gas—used oil and wood; that many families spent about twenty-five cents a day for food; that few clothes were bought, and these mainly from the instalment man and second hand at that; that many were recipients of help; and that recreation and education were everywhere reduced to the lowest terms. That is, boys and girls were hustled to work at twelve by giving their age as fourteen, and recreation meant an outing a year to Coney Island, and beer, and, once in a while, the nickel theater; that there were practically no savings. And there was one conclusion he could not evade—namely, that while overcrowding, improvidence, extravagance, and vice explained the misery of some families, yet there were limits. For instance:

On Manhattan Island no adequate housing can be obtained at less than twelve or fourteen dollars a month.

That there is no health in a diet of bread and tea.

That—curious facts!—coal burns up, coats and shoes wear out in spite of mending.

That the average housewife cannot take time to go bargain-hunting or experimenting with new food combinations, or in making or mending garments, and neither has she the ability nor training to do so.

That, in fact, the poor, largely speaking, were between the upper and nether millstones of low wages and high prices.

Of course there was the vice, but while drink causes poverty, poverty causes drink. Joe found intemperance among women; he found little children running to the saloon for cans of beer; he found plenty of men drunkards. But what things to offset these! The woman who bought three bushels of coal a week for seventy-five cents, watched her fires, picked out the half-burned pieces, reused them, and wasted no heat; the children foraging the streets for kindling-wood; the family in bed to keep warm; the wife whose husband had pawned her wedding-ring for drink, and who had bought a ten-cent brass one, "to keep the respect of her children"; the man working for ten dollars a week, who once had owned his own saloon, but, so he said, "it was impossible to make money out of a saloon unless I put in gambling-machines or women, and I wouldn't stand for it"; the woman whose husband was a drunkard, and who, therefore, went to the Battery 5 A.M. to 10, then 5 P.M. to 7, every day to do scrubbing for twenty dollars a month; the wonderful Jewish family whose income was seven hundred and ninety-seven dollars and who yet contrived to save one hundred and twenty-three dollars a year to later send their two boys to Columbia University.

And everywhere he found the miracle of miracles: the spirit of charity and mutual helpfulness—the poor aiding the poorer; the exquisite devotion of mothers to children; the courage that braved a terrible life.

For a week the canvass went on. Joe worked feverishly, and came home late at night too tired almost to undress himself. Again and again he exclaimed to his mother:

"I never dreamed of such things! I never dreamed of such poverty! I never dreamed of such human nature!"

Greenwich Village, hitherto a shabby red clutter of streets, uninviting, forbidding, dull, squalid, became for Joe the very swarm and drama and warm-blooded life of humanity. He began to sense the fact that he was in the center of a human whirlpool, in the center of beauty and ugliness, love and bitterness, misery and joy. The whole neighborhood began to palpitate for him; the stone walls seemed bloody with struggling souls; the pavements stamped with the steps of a battle.

"What can I do," he kept thinking, "with these people?"

And to his amazement he began to see that just as up-town offered the rivals of luxury, pleasure, and ease, so down-town offered the rivals of intemperance, grinding poverty, ignorance. His theories were beginning to meet the shock of facts.

"How move them? How touch them off?" he asked himself.

But the absorbing interest—the faces—the shadowy scenes—the gas-lit interiors—everywhere human beings, everywhere life, packed, crowded, evolving.

At the end of the week he stopped, though the fever was still on him. He had gained two hundred and fifty subscribers; he had distributed twelve hundred copies of the paper. He now felt that he could delay no longer in bringing out the next number. So he sat down, and, with Sally Heffer's words ringing in his mind, he wrote his famous editorial, "It is the Women":

It is the women who bear the burden of this world—the poor women. Perhaps they have beauty when they marry. Then they plunge into drudgery. All day and night they are in dark and damp rooms, scrubbing, washing, cooking, cleaning, sewing. They wear the cheapest clothes—thin calico wrappers. They take their husbands' thin pay-envelopes, and manage the finances. They stint and save—they buy one carrot at a time, one egg. When rent-week comes—and it comes twice a month—they cut the food by half to pay for housing. They are underfed, they are denied everything but toil—save love. Child after child they bear. The toil increases, the stint is sharper, the worry infinite. Now they must clothe their children, feed them, dress them, wash them, amuse them. They must endure the heart-sickness of seeing a child underfed. They must fight the demons of disease. Possibly they must stop a moment in the speed of their labor and face death. Only for a moment! Need calls them: mouths ask for food, floors for the broom, and the pay-envelope for keen reckonings. Possibly then the husband will begin to drink—possibly he will come home and beat his wife, drag her about the floor, blacken her eyes, break a rib. The next day the task is taken up again—the man is fed, the children clothed, the food marketed, the floor scrubbed, the dress sewn. And then as the family grows there come hard times. The man is out of work—he wants to work but cannot. Rent and the butcher and grocer must be paid, but there are no wages brought home. The woman takes in washing. She goes through the streets to the more prosperous and drags home a basket of soiled clothes. The burden of life grows heavier—the husband becomes accustomed to the changed relationships. Very often he ceases to be a wage-earner and loafs about saloons. From then on the woman wrestles with worlds of trouble—unimaginable difficulties. Truly, running a state may be easier than running a family. And yet the woman toils on; she does not complain; she sets three meals each day before husband and children; she sees that they have clothes; she gives the man his drink money; she endures his cruelty; she plans ambitiously for her children. Or possibly the man begins to work again, and then one day is killed in an accident. There is danger of the family breaking up. But the woman rises to the crisis and works miracles. She keeps her head; she takes charge; she toils late into the night; she goes without food, without sleep. Somehow she manages. There was a seamstress in Greenwich Village who pulled her family of three and herself along on two hundred and fifty dollars a year—less than five dollars a week! If luck is with the woman the children grow up, go to work, and for a time ease the burden. But then, what is left? The woman is prematurely old—her hair is gray, her face drawn and wrinkled, or flabby and soiled, her back bent, her hands raw and red and big. Beauty has gone, and with the years of drudgery, much of the over-glory, much of the finer elements of love and joy, have vanished. Her mind is absorbed by little things—details of the day. She has ceased to attend church, she has not stepped beyond the street corner for years, she has not read or played or rested. Much is dead in her. Love only is left. Love of a man, love of children. She is a fierce mother and wife, as of old. And she knows the depth of sorrow and the truth of pain.

He repeated his programme. Perhaps—he afterward thought so himself—this editorial was a bit too pessimistic. But he had to write it—had to ease his soul. He set it off, however, by a lovely little paragraph which he printed boxed. Here it is:

Possibly much of the laughter heard on this planet comes from the mothers and fathers who are thinking or talking of the children.

In this way, then, Joe entered into the life of the people.



IV

OTHERS: AND THEODORE MARRIN

Joe became a familiar figure in Greenwich Village. As time went on, and issue after issue of The Nine-Tenths appeared, he became known to the whole district. Whenever he went out people nodded right and left, passed the time of day with him, or stopped him for a hand-shake and a question. He would, when matters were not pressing, pause at a stoop to speak with mothers, and people in trouble soon began to acquire a habit of dropping in at his office to talk things over with the "Old Man."

If it was a matter of employment, he turned the case over to some member of the Stove Circle; if it was a question of honest want, he drew on the "sinking-fund" and took a note payable in sixty days—a most elastic note, always secretly renewable; if it was an idle beggar, a vagrant, he made short work of his visitor. Such a visitor was Lady Hickory. Billy was at his little table next the door; over in the corner the still-despondent Slate was still collapsing; at the east window sat Editor Sally Heffer, digging into a mass of notes; and near the west, at the roll-top desk, a visitor's chair set out invitingly beside him, Joe was writing—weird exercise of muttering softly, so as not to disturb the rest, and then scratching down a sentence.

Billy leaped up to receive her ladyship, who fatly rolled in, her tarnished hat askew, her torn thrice-dingy silks clutched up in one fat hand.

Lady Hickory gave one cry:

"There he is!"

She pushed Billy aside and rolled over into the visitor's chair.

"Oh, Mr. Joe!"

Joe turned.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Everything's up—I'm dying, Mr. Joe—I need help—I must get to the hospital—"

"Sick?"

"Gallopin' consumption!"

Joe sniffed.

"It doesn't smell like consumption," he said with a sigh. "It smells like rum!"

He hustled her out rather roughly, Nathan Slate regarding him with mournful round eyes. Twenty minutes later Nathan came over and sat down.

"Mr. Joe."

"Yes, Nathan."

"There's something troubles my conscience, Mr. Joe."

"Let her rip!"

"Mr. Joe—"

"I'm waiting!"

Nathan cleared his throat.

"You say you're a democrat, Mr. Joe, and you're always saying, 'Love thy neighbor,' Mr. Joe."

"Has that hit you, Nathan?"

Nathan unburdened, evading this thrust.

"Why, then, Mr. Joe, did you turn that woman away?"

Joe was delighted.

"Why? I'll tell you! Suppose that I know that the cucumber is inherently as good as any other vegetable, does that say I can digest it? Cucumbers aren't for me, Nathan—especially decayed ones."

Nathan stared at him disconsolately, shook his head, and went back to puzzle it out. It is doubtful, however, that he ever did so.

Besides such visitors, there were still others who came to him to arbitrate family disputes—which constituted him a sort of Domestic Relations Court—and gave him an insight into a condition that surprised him. Namely, the not uncommon cases of secret polygamy and polyandry.

In short, Joe was busy. His work was established in a flexible routine—mornings for writing; afternoons for callers, for circulation work, and for special trips to centers of labor trouble; evenings for going about with Giotto to see the Italians, or paying a visit, say, to the Ranns, or some others, or meeting at Latsky's cigar store with a group of revolutionists who filled the air with their war of the classes, their socialist state, their dreams of millennium.

He gave time, too, to his mother—evening walks, evening talks, and old-fashioned quiet hours in the kitchen, his mother at her needlework, and he reading beside her. One such night, when his mother seemed somewhat fatigued, he said to her:

"Don't sew any more, mother."

"But it soothes me, Joe."

"Mother!"

"Yes."

Joe spoke awkwardly.

"Are you perfectly satisfied down here? Did we do the right thing?"

His mother's eyes flashed, as of old.

"We did," she cried in her youthful voice. "It's real—it's absorbing. And I'm very proud of myself."

"Proud? You?"

"Yes, proud!" she laughed. "Joe, when a woman reaches my age she has a right to be proud if young folks seek her out and talk with her and make her their confidante. It shows she's not a useless incumbrance, but young!"

Joe sat up.

"Have they found you out? Do they come to you?"

"They do—especially the young wives with their troubles. All of them troubled over their husbands and their children. We have the finest talks together. They're a splendid lot!"

"Who's come, in particular?"

"Well, there's one who isn't married—one of the best of them."

"Not Sally Heffer!"

"The same!"

"I'm dinged!"

"That girl," said Joe's mother, "has all sorts of possibilities—and she's brave and strong and true. Sally's a wonder! a new kind of woman!"

A new kind of woman! Joe remembered the phrase, and in the end admitted that it was true. Sally was of the new breed; she represented the new emancipation; the exodus of woman from the home to the battle-fields of the world; the willingness to fight in the open, shoulder to shoulder with men; the advance of a sex that now demanded a broader, freer life, a new health, a home built up on comradeship and economic freedom. In all of these things she contrasted sharply with Myra, and Joe always thought of the two together.

But unconsciously Sally was always the fellow-worker—Myra—what Myra meant he could feel but not explain; yet these crowded days left little time for thoughts sweet but often intense with pain. He wrote to her rarely—mere jottings of business and health; he rarely heard from her. Her message was invariably the same—the richness and quiet of country life, the depth and peace of rest, the hope that he was well and happy. She never mentioned his paper—though she received every number—and when Joe inquired once whether it came, she answered in a postscript: "The paper? It's in every Monday's mail." This neglect irritated Joe, and he would doubly enjoy Sally's heart-and-soul passion for The Nine-Tenths.

Sally was growing into his working life, day by day. Her presence was stimulating, refreshing. If he felt blue and discouraged, or dried up and in want of inspiration, he merely called her over, and her quiet talk, her sane views, her quick thinking, her never-failing good humor and faith, acted upon him as a tonic.

"Miss Sally," he said once, "what would I ever do without you?"

Sally looked at him with her clear eyes.

"Oh," she said, "I guess you'd manage to stagger along somehow."

But after that she hovered about him like a guardian angel. What bothered her chiefly, when she thought of Joe's work, was her lack of education, and she set about to make this up by good reading, and by attending lectures at night, and by hard study in such time as she could snatch from her work. She and Joe were comrades in the best sense. They could always depend upon each other. It was in some ways as if they were in partnership. And then there was that old tie of the fire to draw them together.

She was of great help in setting him right about the poor.

"People are happy," she would say—"most people are happy. Human nature is bigger than environment—it bubbles up through mud. That's almost the trouble with it. If the poor were only thoroughly unhappy, they'd change things to-morrow. No, Mr. Joe, it's not a question of happiness; it's a question of justice, of right, of progress, of developing people's possibilities. It's all the question of a better life, a richer life. People are sacred—they mustn't be reduced to animals."

And with her aid he gained a truer perspective of the life about him—learned better how to touch it, how to "work" it. The paper became more and more adapted to its audience, and began to spread rapidly. Here and there a labor union would subscribe for it in bulk for all its members, and the Stove Circle soon had many a raw recruit drumming up trade, making house-to-house canvasses. In this way, the circulation finally reached the five-thousand mark. There were certain unions, such as that of the cloak-makers, that regarded the paper as their special oracle—swore by it, used it in their arguments, made it a vital part of their mental life.

This enlarged circulation brought some curious and unlooked-for results. Some of the magazine writers in the district got hold of a copy, had a peep at Joe, heard of his fame, and then took copies up-town to the respectable editors and others, and spread a rumor of "that idiot, Joe Blaine, who runs an underground paper down on Tenth Street." As a passion of the day was slumming, and as nothing could be more piquant than the West Tenth Street establishment, Joe was amused to find automobiles drawing up at his door, and the whole neighborhood watching breathlessly the attack of some flouncy woman or some tailor-made man.

"How perfectly lovely!" one fair visitor announced, while the office force watched her pose in the center of the room. "Mr. Blaine, how dreadful it must be to live with the poor!"

"It's pretty hard," said Joe, "to live with any human being for any length of time."

"Oh, but the poor! They aren't clean, you know; and such manners!"

Sally spoke coldly.

"I guess bad manners aren't monopolized by any particular class."

The flouncy one flounced out.

These visits finally became very obnoxious, though they could not be stopped. Even a sign, over the door-bell, "No begging; no slumming," was quite ineffective in shutting out either class.

There were, however, other visitors of a more interesting type—professional men, even business men, who were drawn by curiosity, or by social unrest, or by an ardent desire to be convinced. Professor Harraman, the sociologist, came, and made quite a dispassionate study of Joe, put him (so he told his mother) on the dissecting-table and vivisected his social organs. Then there was Blakesly, the corporation lawyer, who enjoyed the discussion that arose so thoroughly that he stayed for supper and behaved like a gentleman in the little kitchen, even insisting on throwing off his coat, rolling up his sleeves, and helping to dry the dishes.

"You're all wrong," he told Joe when he left, "and some day possibly we'll hang you or electrocute you; but it's refreshing to rub one's mind against a going dynamo. I'm coming again. And don't forget that your mother is the First Lady of the Island! Good-by!"

Then there was, one important day, the great ex-trust man, whose name is inscribed on granite buildings over half the earth. This man—so the legend runs—is on the lookout for unusual personalities. The first hint of a new one puts him on the trail, and he sends out a detective to gather facts, all of which are card-indexed under the personality's name. Then, if the report is attractive, this man goes out himself and meets the oddity face to face. He came in on Joe jovial, happy, sparkling, and fired a broadside of well-chosen questions. Joe was delighted, and said anything he pleased, and his visitor shrewdly went on. In the end Joe was stunned to hear this comment:

"Mr. Blaine, you're on the right track, though you don't know it. You think you want one thing, but you're after another. Still—keep it up. The world is coming to wonderful things."

"That's queer talk," said Joe, "coming from a multimillionaire."

The multimillionaire laughed.

"But I'm getting rid of the multi, Mr. Blaine. What more would you have me do? Each his own way. Besides"—he screwed up his eye shrewdly—"come now, aren't you hanging on to some capital?"

"Yes—in a way!"

"So are we all! You're a wise man! Keep free, and then you can help others!"

The most interesting caller, however, judged from the standpoint of Joe's life, was Theodore Marrin, Izon's boss, manufacturer of high-class shirtwaists, whose Fifth Avenue store is one of the most luxurious in New York. He came to Joe while the great cloak-makers' strike was still on, at a time when families were reduced almost to starvation, and when the cause seemed quite hopeless.

Theodore Marrin came in a beautiful heavy automobile. He was a short man, with a stout stomach; his face was a deep red, with large, slightly bulging black eyes, tiny mustache over his full lips; and he was dressed immaculately and in good taste—a sort of Parisian-New Yorker, hail-fellow-well-met, a mixer, a cynic, a man about town. He swung his cane lightly as he tripped up the steps, sniffed the air, and knocked on the door of the editorial office.

Billy opened.

"Yes, sir."

"Mr. Blaine in?"

"He's busy."

"I should hope he was! There, my boy." He deftly waved Billy aside and stepped in. "Well! well! Mr. Blaine!"

Joe turned about, and arose, and accepted Mr. Marrin's extended hand.

"Who do you think I am?"

Joe smiled.

"I'm ready for anything."

"Well, Mr. Blaine, I'm the employer of one of your men. You know Jacob Izon?"

"Oh, you're Mr. Marrin! Sit down."

Marrin gazed about.

"Unique! unique!" He sat down, and pulled off his gloves. "I've been wanting to meet you for a long time. Izon's been talking, handing me your paper. It's a delightful little sheet—I enjoy it immensely."

"You agree with its views?"

"Oh no, no, no! I read it the way I read fiction! It's damned interesting!"

Joe laughed.

"Well, what can I do for you?"

"What can I do for you!" corrected Marrin.

"See here, Mr. Blaine, I'm interested. How about taking a little ad. from me, just for fun, to help the game along?"

"We don't accept ads."

"Oh, I know! But if I contribute handsomely! I'd like to show it around to my friends a bit. Come, come, don't be unreasonable, Mr. Blaine."

Sally shuffled about, coughed, arose, sat down again, and Joe laughed.

"Can't do it. Not even Rockefeller could buy a line of my paper."

"Do you mean it?"

"Absolutely—flatly."

"Well, what a shame! But never mind. Some other time. Tell me, Mr. Blaine"—he leaned forward—"what are you? One of these bloody socialists?"

"No, I'm not a socialist."

"What d'ye call yourself, then—Republican?"

"No."

"Democrat?"

"No."

"Insurgent?"

"No."

Marrin was horror-stricken.

"Not a blooming anarchist?"

Joe laughed.

"No, not an anarchist."

"What are you, then? Nothing?"

"I can tell you what I'm not," said Joe.

"What?"

"I'm not any kind of an ist."

"A fine fellow!" cried Marrin. "Why, a man's got to stand for something."

"I do," said Joe, "I stand for human beings—and sometimes," he chuckled, "I stand for a whole lot!"

Marrin laughed, so did Sally.

"Clever!" cried Marrin. "Damned clever! You're cleverer than I thought—hide your scheme up, don't you? Well! well! Let me see your plant!"

Joe showed him about, and Marrin kept patting him on the back: "Delightful! Fine! You're my style, Mr. Blaine—everything done to a nicety, no frills and feathers. Isn't New York a great town? There are things happening in it you'd never dream of."

And when he left he said:

"Now, if there's anything I can do for you, Mr. Blaine, don't hesitate to call on me. And say, step up and see my shop. It's the finest this side of Paris. I'll show you something you've never seen yet! Good-by!"

And he was whisked away, a quite self-satisfied human being.

That very evening Marrin's name came up again. It was closing-up time, Billy and Slate had already gone, and the room was dark save for the shaded lights over Joe's desk and Sally's table. The two were working quietly, and outside a soft fall of snow was muffling the noise of the city. There only arose the mellowed thunder of a passing car, the far blowing of a boat-whistle, the thin pulse of voices. Otherwise the city was lost in the beautiful storm, which went over the gas-lamps like a black-dotted halo. In the rear room there was a soft clatter of dishes. The silence was rich and full of thought. Joe scratched on, Sally puzzled over reports.

Then softly the door opened, and a hoarse voice said:

"Joe? You there?"

Sally and Joe turned around. It was Izon, dark, handsome, fiery, muffled up to his neck, his hat drawn low on his face, and the thin snow scattering from his shoulders and sleeves.

"Yes, I'm here," Joe said in a low voice. "What is it?"

Izon came over.

"Joe!"—his voice was passionate—"there's trouble brewing at Marrin's."

"Marrin? Why, he was here only to-day!"

Izon clutched the back of a chair and leaned over.

"Marrin is a dirty scoundrel!"

His voice was hoarse with helplessness and passion.

Joe rose.

"Tell me about this! Put it in a word!"

Tears sprang to Izon's eyes.

"You know the cloak-makers' strike—well! Some manufacturer has asked Marrin to help him out—to fill an order of cloaks for him."

"And Marrin—" Joe felt himself getting hot.

"Has given the job to us men."

"How many are there?"

"Forty-five."

"And the women?"

"They're busy on shirtwaists."

"And what did the men do?"

"As they were told."

"So you fellows are cutting under the strikers—you're scabs."

Izon clutched the chair harder.

"I told them so—I said, 'For God's sake, be men—strike, if this isn't stopped.'"

"And what did they say?"

"They'd think it over!"

Sally arose and spoke quietly.

"Make them meet here. I'll talk to them!"

Izon muttered darkly:

"Marrin's a dirty scoundrel!"

Joe smote his hands together.

"We'll fix him. You get the men down here! You just get the men!"

And then Joe understood that his work was not child's play; that the fight was man-size; that it had its dangers, its perils, its fierce struggles. He felt a new power rise within him—a warrior strength. He was ready to plunge in and give battle—ready for a hand-to-hand conflict. Now he was to be tested in the fires; now he was to meet and make or be broken by a great moment. An electricity of conflict filled the air, a foreboding of disaster. His theories at last were to meet the crucial test of reality, and he realized that up to that moment he had been hardly more than a dreamer.



V

FORTY-FIVE TREACHEROUS MEN

Out of the white, frosty street the next night, when every lamp up and down shone like a starry jewel beneath the tingling stars, forty-five men emerged, crowding, pushing in the hall, wedging through the doorway, and filling the not-too-large editorial office. Joe had provided camp-stools, and the room was soon packed with sitting and standing men, circles of shadowy beings, carelessly clothed, with rough black cheeks and dark eyes—a bunch of jabbering aliens, excited, unfriendly, curious, absorbed in their problem—an ill-kempt lot and quite unlovely.

At the center stove, a little way off from its red heart, sat Joe and Sally and Izon. The men began to smoke cigarettes and little cigars, and with the rank tobacco smell was mingled the sweaty human odor. The room grew densely hot, and a window had to be thrown open. A vapor of smoke filled the atmosphere, shot golden with the lights, and in the smoke the many heads, bent this way and that, leaning forward or tilted up, showed strange and a little unreal. Joe could see faces that fascinated him by their vivid lines, their starting dark eyes and the white eye-balls, their bulging noses and big mouths. Hands fluttered in lively gestures and a storm of Yiddish words broke loose.

Joe arose, lifting his hand for silence. Men pulled each other by the sleeve, and a strident "'Ssh!" ran round the room.

"Silence!" cried Joe. His voice came from the depths of his big chest, and was masterful, ringing with determination.

An expectant hush followed. And then Joe spoke.

"I want to welcome you to this room. It belongs to you as much as to anybody, for in this room is published a paper that works for your good. But I not only want to welcome you: I want to ask your permission to speak at this meeting."

There were cries of: "Speak! Go on! Say it!"

Joe went on. Behind his words was a menace.

"Then I want to say this to you. Your boss, Mr. Marrin, has done a cowardly and treacherous thing. He has made scabs of you all. You are no better than strike-breakers. If you do this work, if you make these cloaks, you are traitors to your fellow-workers, the cloak-makers. You are crippling other workmen. You are selling them to their bosses. But I'm sure you won't stand for this. You are men enough to fight for the cause of all working people. You belong to a race that has been persecuted through the ages, a brave race, a race that has triumphed through hunger and cold and massacres. You are great enough to make this sacrifice. If this is so, I call on you to resist your boss, to refuse to do his dirty work, and I ask you—if he persists in his orders—to lay down your work and strike."

He sat down, and there was a miserable pause. He had not stirred them at all, and felt his failure keenly. It was as if he had not reached over the fence of race. He told himself he must school himself in the future, must broaden out. As a matter of fact, it was the menace in his tone that hushed the meeting. The men rather feared what lay behind Joe's words.

At once, however, one of the men leaped to his feet, and began a fiery speech in Yiddish, speaking gaspingly, passionately, hotly, shaking his fist, fluttering his hands, tearing a passion to tatters. Joe understood not a word, but the burden of the speech was:

"Why should we strike? What for? For the cloak-makers? What have we to do with cloak-makers? We have troubles enough of our own. We have our families to support—our wives and children and relations. Shall they starve for some foolish cloak—makers? Comrades, don't listen to such humbug. Do your work—get done with it. You have good jobs—don't lose them. These revolutionists! They would break up the whole world for their nonsense! It's not they who have to suffer; it's us working people. We do the starving, we do the fighting. Have sense; bethink yourselves; don't make fools out of yourselves!"

A buzz of talk arose with many gesticulations.

"He's right! Why should we strike—Och, Gott, such nonsense!—No more strike talk."

Then Sally arose, pale, eyes blazing. She shook a stanch little fist at the crowd. But how different was her speech from the one in Carnegie Hall—that time when she had been truly inspired.

"Shame on all of you! You're a lot of cowards! You're a lot of traitors! You can't think of anything but your bellies! Shame on you all! Women would never stand for such things—young girls, your sisters or your daughters, would strike at once! Let me tell you what will happen to you. Some day there will be a strike of shirt-waist-makers, and then your boss will go to the cloak-house and say, 'Now you make shirtwaists for me,' and the cloak-makers will make the shirtwaists, saying, 'When we were striking, the shirtwaist-makers made cloaks; now we'll make waists.' And that will ruin your strike, and ruin you all. Working people must unite! Working people must stand by each other! That's your only power. The boss has money, land, machinery, friends. What have you? You only have each other, and if you don't stand by each other, you have nothing at all. Strike! I tell you! Strike and show 'em! Show 'em! Rise and resist! You have the power! You are bound to win! Strike! I tell you!"

Then a man shouted: "Shall a woman tell us what to do?" and tumult broke loose, angry arguments, words flying. The air seemed to tingle with excitement, expectation, and that sharp feeling of human crisis. Joe could feel the circle of human nature fighting about him. He leaned forward, strangely shaken.

Izon had arisen, and was trying to speak. The dark, handsome young man was gesturing eloquently. His voice poured like a fire, swept the crowd, and he reached them with their own language.

"Comrades! Comrades! Comrades!" and then his voice rose and stilled the tumult, and all leaned forward, hanging on his words. "You must"—he was appealing to them with arms outstretched—"you must! You will strike; you will not be cowards! Not for yourselves, O comrades, but for your children—your children! Do I not know you? Do I not know how you toil and slave and go hungry and wear out your bodies and souls? Have I not toiled with you? Have I not shared your struggles and your pain? Do I not know that you are doing all, all for your children—that the little ones may grow up to a better life than yours—that your little ones may be happier, and healthier, and richer, and finer? Have I not seen it a thousand times? But what sort of a world will your children find when they grow up if you do not fight these battles for them? If you let the bosses enslave you—if you are cowards and slaves—will not your children be slaves? Oh, we that belong to Israel, have we not fought for freedom these bloody thousand years? Are we to cease now? Can't you see? Can't you open your hearts and minds?" His voice came with a passionate sob. "Won't you see that this is a fight for the future—a fight for all who work for wages—a fight for freedom? Not care for the cloak-makers? They are your brothers. Care for them, lest the day come when you are uncared for! Strike! You must—you must! Strike, comrades! We will hang by each other! We will suffer together! And it will not be the first time! No, not the first time—or the last!"

He sank exhausted on his chair, crumpled up. Sweat was running down his white face. There was a moment's hush—snuffling, and a few coarse sobs—and then a young man arose, and spoke in trembling voice:

"I move—we send Jacob Izon to-morrow to our boss—and tell him—either no cloaks, or—we strike!"

"Second! Second!"

Joe put the motion.

"All in favor, say aye."

There was a wild shout of ayes. The motion was carried. Then the air was charged with excitement, with fiery talk, with denunciation and ardor.

"Now we're in for it!" said Joe, as the room was emptied, and the aroused groups trudged east on the crunching snow.

And so it was. Next morning, when Theodore Marrin made the rounds of the vast loft where two hundred girls and forty-five men were busily working—the machines racing—the air pulsing with noise—Jacob Izon arose, trembling, and confronted him.

"Well, Jacob!"

"I want to tell you something."

"Go ahead."

"The men have asked me to ask you not to have us make the cloaks."

Marrin's red face seemed to grow redder.

"So, that's it!" he snapped. "Well, here's my answer. Go back to your work!"

The men had stopped working and were listening. The air was electric, ominous.

Izon spoke tremblingly.

"I am very sorry then. I must announce that the men have struck!"

Marrin glared at him.

"Very well! And get out—quick!"

He turned and walked away, flaming with rage. The men quickly put their work away, got their hats and coats, and followed Izon. When they reached the street—a strange spectacle on flashing, brilliant Fifth Avenue—Izon suggested that they go down to Tenth Street, for they stood about like a lot of lost sheep.

"No," cried one of the men, "we've had enough of Tenth Street. There's a hall we can use right over on Eighteenth Street. Come on."

The rest followed. Izon reported to Joe, and Joe asked:

"Do you think they'll fight it out?"

"I don't know!" Izon shrugged his shoulders.

This doubt was justifiable, for he soon found that he was leading a forlorn hope. As morning after morning the men assembled in the dark meeting-room behind a saloon, and sat about in their overcoats complaining and whining, quoting their wives and relatives, more and more they grew disconsolate and discouraged. There were murmurs of rebellion, words of antagonism. Finally on the fifth morning a messenger arrived with a letter. Izon took it.

"It's from Marrin," he murmured.

"Read it! Read it out loud!"

He opened it and read:

TO MY MEN,—I have thought matters over. I do not like to sever connections with men who have been so long in my employ. If you return to work this morning, you may go on at the old salaries, and we will consider the matter closed. If, however, you listen to advice calculated to ruin your future, and do not return, please remember that I will not be responsible. I shall then secure new men, and your places will be occupied by others.

Yours faithfully,

THEODORE MARRIN.

P.S.—Naturally, it is understood that under no circumstance will your leader—Jacob Izon—the cause of this trouble between us—be re-employed. Such men are a disgrace to the world.

Izon's cheeks flushed hot. He looked up.

"Shall I write to him that we will not consider his offer, and tell him we refuse to compromise?"

There was a silence a little while, and then one of the older men shuffled to his feet.

"Tell you what we do—we get up a collection for Izon. Then everything will be all right!"

Izon's eyes blazed.

"Charity? Not for me! I don't want you to think of me! I want you to think of what this strike means!"

Then some one muttered:

"We've listened long enough to Izon."

And another: "I'm going to work!"

"So am I! So am I!"

They began to rise, to shamefacedly shamble toward the door. Izon rose to his feet, tried to intercept them, stretched out his arms to them.

"For God's sake," he cried, "leave me out, but get something. Don't go back like this! Get something! Don't you see that Marrin is ready to give in? Are you going back like weak slaves?"

They did not heed him; but one old man paused and put a hand on his shoulder.

"This will teach you not to be so rash next time. You will learn yet."

And they were gone. Izon was dazed, heart-broken. He hurried home to his wife and wept upon her shoulder.

Late that afternoon Joe and Sally were again alone in the office, their lights lit, their pens scratching, working in a sweet unspoken sympathy in the quiet, shadowy place. There was a turning of the knob, and Izon came in. Joe and Sally arose and faced him. He came slowly, his face drawn and haggard.

"Joe! Joe!"

"What is it?" Joe drew the boy near.

"They've gone back—the men have gone back!"

"Gone back?" cried Joe.

"Read this letter!"

Joe read it, and spoke angrily.

"Then I'll do something!"

Izon pleaded with him.

"Be careful, Joe—don't do anything foolish for my sake. I'll get along—"

"But your wife! How does she take it?"

Izon's face brightened.

"Oh, she's a Comrade! That's why I married her!"

"Good!" said Joe. "Then I'll go ahead. I'll speak my mind!"

"Not for me, though," cried Izon. "I'll get something else."

"Are you sure of that?" asked Joe.

"Why not?"

"Are you sure," Joe went on, "that you won't be blacklisted?"

Izon stared at him.

"Well—I suppose—I will."

"You'll have to leave the city, Jacob."

"I can't. I'm right in my course of engineering. I can't go."

"Well, we'll see!" Joe's voice softened. "Now you go home and rest. There's a good fellow. And everything will be all right!"

And he saw Izon out.

Joe began again to feel the tragic undercurrents of life, the first time since the dark days following the fire. He came back, and stood brooding, his homely face darkened with sorrow. Sally stood watching him, her pale face flushing, her eyes darting sympathy and daring.

"Mr. Joe."

"Yes, Miss Sally."

"I want to do something."

"What?"

"I want to go up to Marrin's to-morrow and get the girls out on strike."

"What's that?"

"I've done it before; I can do it again."

Joe laughed softly.

"Miss Sally, what would I do without you? I'd go stale on life, I think."

She made an impulsive movement toward him.

"Mr. Joe."

"Yes?"

"I want to help you—every way."

"I know you do." His voice was a little husky, and he looked up and met her fine, clear eyes.

Then she turned away, sadly.

"You'll let me do it?"

"Oh, no!" he said firmly. "The idea's appealing, but you mustn't think of it, Miss Sally. It will only stir up trouble."

"We ought to."

"Not for this."

"But the shirtwaist-makers are working in intolerable conditions; they're just ready to strike; a spark would blow 'em all up."

He shook his head.

"Wait—wait till we see what my next number does!"

Sally said no more; but her heart nursed her desire until it grew to an overmastering passion. She left for the night, and Joe sat down, burning with the fires of righteousness. And he wrote an editorial that altered the current of his life. He wrote:

FORTY-FIVE TREACHEROUS MEN

Theodore Marrin and the forty-four who went back to work for him: Every one of you is a traitor to American citizenship. Let us use blunt words and call a spade a spade. Theodore Marrin, you have betrayed your employees. You forty-four men, you have betrayed yourselves and your leader.

And so it went, sharp, incisive, plain-spoken—words that were hot brands and burned.

He was sitting at this task (twice his mother had called him to supper and he had waved her away) when an exquisite black-eyed little woman came in.

"Mr. Blaine?"

"Yes."

"I'm Mrs. Izon."

Joe wheeled about and seized her hand.

"Tell me to do something for you! You and your brave husband!"

Mrs. Izon spoke quietly:

"I came here because Jacob is so worried. He is afraid you will harm yourself for us."

Joe laughed softly.

"Tell him not to worry any longer. It's you who are suffering—not I. I? I am only having fun."

She was not satisfied.

"We oughtn't to get others mixed up in our troubles."

"It's hard for you, isn't it?" Joe murmured.

"Yes." She smiled sadly. "I suppose it isn't right when you are in the struggle to get married. Not right to the children."

Joe spoke courageously.

"Never you mind, Mrs. Izon—but just wait. Wait three—four days. We'll see!"

They did wait, and they did see.



VI

A FIGHT IN GOOD EARNEST

Sally hesitated before going into Marrin's that Monday morning. A blinding snow-storm was being released over the city, and the fierce gusts eddied about the corner of Fifth Avenue, blew into drifts, lodged on sill and cornice and lintel, and blotted out the sky and the world. Through the wild whiteness a few desolate people ploughed their way, buffeted, blown, hanging on to their hats, and quite unable to see ahead. Sally shoved her red little hands into her coat pockets, and stood, a careless soul, in the white welter.

From her shoulder, some hundred feet to the south, ran the plate-glass of Marrin's, spotted and clotted and stringy with snow and ice, and right before her was the entrance for deliveries and employees. A last consideration held her back. She had been lying awake nights arguing with her conscience. Joe had told her not to do it—that it would only stir up trouble—but Joe was too kindly. In the battles of the working people a time must come for cruelty, blows, and swift victory. Marrin was an out-and-out enemy to be met and overthrown; he had made traitors of the men; he had annihilated Izon; she would fight him with the women.

Nor was this the only reason. Sally felt that her supreme task was to organize the women in industry, to take this trampled class and make of it a powerful engine for self-betterment, and no women were more prepared, she felt, than the shirtwaist-makers. She knew that at Marrin's the conditions were fairly good, though, even there, women and young girls worked sometimes twelve hours and more a day, and earned, many of them, but four or five dollars a week. What tempted Sally, however, was the knowledge that a strike at Marrin's would be the spark to set off the city and bring out the women by the thousands. It would be the uprising of the women; the first upward step from sheer wage-slavery; the first advance toward the ideal of that coming woman, who should be a man in her freedom and her strength and her power, and yet woman of woman in her love and her motherhood and wife-hood. Industry, so Sally knew, was taking the young girls by the million, overworking them, sapping them of body and soul, and casting them out unfit to bear children, untrained to keep house, undisciplined to meet life and to be a comrade of a man. And Sally knew, moreover, what could be done. She knew what she had accomplished with the hat-trimmers.

Nevertheless, she hesitated, not quite sure that the moment had come. Joe's words detained her in a way no man's words had ever done before. But she thought: "I do this for him. I sharpen the edge of his editorial and drive it home. Words could never hurt Marrin—but I can." She got under the shelter of the doorway and with numb hand pulled a copy of The Nine-Tenths from her pocket, unfolded it, and reread the burning words of: "Forty-five Treacherous Men." They roused all her fighting blood; they angered her; they incited her.

"Joe! Joe!" she murmured. "It's you driving me on—it's you! Here goes!"

It was in some ways a desperate undertaking. Once, in Newark, a rough of an employer had almost thrown her down the stairs, man-handling her, and while Marrin or his men would not do this, yet what method could she use to brave the two hundred and fifty people in the loft? She was quite alone, quite without any weapon save her tongue. To fail would be ridiculous and ignominious. Yet Sally was quite calm; her heart did not seem to miss a beat; her brain was not confused by a rush of blood. She knew what she was doing.

She climbed that first flight of semi-circular stairs without hindrance, secretly hoping that by no mischance either Marrin or one of his sub-bosses might emerge. There was a door at the first landing. She passed it quickly and started up the second flight. Then there was a turning of a knob, a rustling of skirts, and a voice came sharp:

"Where are you going?"

Sally turned. The forelady stood below her—large, eagle-eyed woman, with square and wrinkled face, quite a mustache on her upper lip. Sally spoke easily.

"Up-stairs."

"For what?"

"To see one of the girls. Her mother's sick."

The forelady eyed Sally suspiciously.

"Did you get a permit from the office?"

Sally seemed surprised.

"Permit? No! Do you have to get a permit?"

The forelady spoke roughly.

"You get a permit, or you don't go up."

"Where's the office?"

"In here."

"Thanks for telling me!"

Sally came down, and, as she entered the doorway, the forelady proceeded up-stairs. Sally delayed a second, until the forelady disappeared around the bend, and then quickly, quietly she followed, taking the steps two at a time. The forelady had hardly entered the doorway on the next landing when Sally was in with her, and treading softly in her footsteps.

This was the loft, vast, lit by windows east and west, and hung, this snow-darkened morning, with many glittering lights. Through all the space girls and women, close together, bent over power-machines which seemed to race at intolerable speed. There was such a din and clatter, such a whizzing, thumping racket, that voices or steps would well be lost. Then suddenly, in the very center of the place, the forelady, stopping to speak to a girl, while all the girls of the neighborhood ceased work to listen, thus producing a space of calm—the forelady, slightly turning and bending, spied Sally.

She came up indignantly.

"Why did you follow me? Go down to the office!"

Many more machines stopped, many more pale faces lifted and watched.

Sally gave a quick glance around, and was a trifle upset by seeing Mr. Marrin coming straight toward her. He came with his easy, tripping stride, self-satisfied, red-faced, tastefully dressed, an orchid in his buttonhole. Sally spoke quickly.

"I was only looking for Mr. Marrin, and here he is!"

As Mr. Marrin came up, more and more machines stopped, as if by contagion, and the place grew strangely hushed.

The forelady turned to her boss.

"This woman's sneaked in here without a permit!"

Marrin spoke sharply.

"What do you want?"

Then in the quiet Sally spoke in a loud, exultant voice.

"I only wanted to tell the girls to strike!"

A sudden electricity charged the air.

"What!" cried Marrin, the vein on his forehead swelling. "You come in here—"

"To tell the girls to strike," Sally spoke louder. "For you've made the men traitors and you've blacklisted Izon."

Marrin sensed the danger in the shop's quiet.

"For God's sake," he cried, "lower your voice—speak to me—tell me in private—"

"I am," shrieked Sally. "I'm telling you I want the girls to strike!"

He turned.

"Come in my private office, quick! I'll talk with you!"

Sally followed his hurried steps.

"Yes, I'll tell you there," she fairly shrieked, "that I want the girls to strike!"

Marrin turned.

"Can't you shut up?"

And then Sally wheeled about and spoke to the two hundred.

"Girls! come on out! We'll tie him up! We're not like the men! We won't stand for such things, will we?"

Then, in the stillness, Jewish girls here and there rose from their machines. It was like the appearance of apparitions. How did it come that these girls were more ready than any one could have guessed, and were but waiting the call? More and more arose, and low murmurs spread, words, "It's about time! I won't slave any more! He had no right to put out Izon! The men are afraid! Mr. Blaine is right!"

Marrin tried to shout:

"I order you to get to work!"

But a tumult drowned his voice, a busy clamor, an exultant jabber of tongues, a rising, a shuffling, a moving about.

Sally marched down the aisle.

"Follow me, girls! We're going to have a union!"

It might have been the Pied Piper of Hamelin whistling up the rats—there was a hurrying, a scurrying, a weird laughter, a blowing about of words, and the two hundred, first swallowing up Sally, crowded the doorway, moved slowly, pushed, shoved, wedged through, and disappeared, thundering, shouting and laughing, down the steps. The two hundred, always so subdued, so easily bossed, so obedient and submissive, had risen and gone.

Marrin looked apoplectic. He rushed over to where the forty-four men were sitting like frightened animals. He spoke to the one nearest him.

"Who was that girl? I've seen her somewhere!"

"She?" the man stammered. "That's Joe Blaine's girl."

"Joe Blaine!" cried Marrin.

"Look," said the man, handing Marrin a copy of The Nine-Tenths, "the girls read this this morning. That's why they struck."

Marrin seized the paper. He saw the title:

FORTY-FIVE TREACHEROUS MEN

and he read beneath it:

Theodore Marrin, and the forty-four who went back to work for him: Every one of you is a traitor to American citizenship. Let us use blunt words and call a spade a spade. Theodore Marrin, you have betrayed your employees.

And then farther down:

No decent human being would work for such a man. He has no right to be an employer—not in such hands should be placed the sacred welfare of men and women. If I were one of Marrin's employees I would prefer the streets to his shop.

Marrin looked up at the forty-four. And he saw that they were more than frightened—they were in an ugly humor, almost ferocious. The article had goaded them into a senseless fury.

Marrin spoke more easily.

"So that's your friend of labor, that's your Joe Blaine. Well, here is what your Joe Blaine has done for you. You're no good to me without the girls. You're all discharged!"

He left them and made madly for the door. The men were chaotic with rage; they arose; their voices went sharp and wild.

"What does that Joe Blaine mean? He takes the bread out of our mouths! He makes fools of us! He ought to be shot! I spit on him! Curse him!"

One man arose on a chair.

"You fools—you listened to that man, and went on strike—and now you come back, and he makes you lose your jobs. Are you going to be fools now? Are you going to let him get the best of you? He is laughing at you, the pig. The girls are laughing at you. Come on! We will go down and show him—we will assemble before his place and speak to him!"

The men were insane with rage and demon-hate. Vehemently shouting, they made for the stairs, rushed pell-mell down, and sought the street, and turned south through the snow. There were few about to notice them, none to stop them. Policemen were in doorways and odd shelters. And so, unimpeded, the crazed mob made its way.

In the mean time Marrin had come out in his heavy fur coat and stepped into his closed automobile. It went through the storm, easily gliding, turned up West Tenth Street, and stopped before Joe's windows. Marrin hurried in and boldly opened the office door. Billy jumped up to intercept him.

"Mr. Blaine—" he began.

"Get out of my way!" snapped Marrin, and stepped up to Joe.

Joe was brooding at his desk, brooding and writing, his dark face troubled, his big form quite stoop-shouldered.

"Well," said Joe, "what's the matter, Mr. Marrin?"

Marrin tried to contain his rage. He pointed his cane at Joe.

"You've made a mistake, Mr. Blaine."

"It isn't the first one."

"Let me tell you something—"

"I will let you."

Marrin spoke with repression.

"Next time—don't attack both the boss and the men. It's bad policy. Take sides."

"Oh, I did take sides," said Joe, lightly. "I'm against anything treacherous."

Marrin exploded.

"Well, you'll get yours! And let me tell you something! I've a good mind to sue you for libel and shut up your shop."

Joe rose, and there was a dangerous light in his eyes. His hands were open at his sides, but they twitched a little.

"Then," said Joe, "I'll make it worth your while. If you don't want to be helped out, get out!"

"Very well," sputtered Marrin, and turned, twirling his cane, and made an upright exit.

The sad Slate was paralyzed; Billy was joyous.

But Joe strode into the kitchen, where his mother was quietly reading at the window.

"What is it, Joe?"

"Mother," he said, "that fellow Marrin was in threatening to sue me for libel."

"Could it hurt you?"

"It might. Speaking the truth is always libelous."

Joe's mother spoke softly.

"Your father lost an arm in the war. You can't expect to fight without facing danger. And besides," she laughed easily, "you can always get a job as a printer, Joe."

Joe paced up and down moodily, his hands clasped behind his back.

"If it was only myself—" he murmured, greatly troubled. "I wonder where Sally is this morning."

"Didn't she come, Joe?"

"No. Not a word from her. I'd hate her to be sick."

"Hadn't you better send over and see?"

"I'll wait a bit yet. And yet—" he sighed, "I just need Sally now."

His mother glanced at him keenly.

"Sally's a wonder," she murmured.

"She is—" He spoke a little irritably. "Why couldn't she have come this morning?"

There were quick steps, and Billy rushed in, his eyes large, his cheeks pale.

"Mr. Joe!" he said breathlessly.

"Yes, Billy."

"There's a lot of men out on the street, and they're beginning to fire snowballs!"

Nathan Slate came in, a scarecrow of fear, teeth chattering.

"Oh, Mr. Joe," he wailed. "Oh, Mr. Joe!"

Joe's mother rose, and spoke under her breath.

"Mr. Slate, sit down at once!"

Slate collapsed on a chair, trembling.

Joe felt as if a fork of lightning had transfixed him—a sharp white fire darting from head and feet and arms to his heart, and whirling there in a spinning ball. He spoke quietly:

"I'll go and see."

It seemed long before he got to the front window. Looking out through the snow-dim pane, he saw the street filled with gesticulating men. He saw some of the faces of the forty-four, but mingled with these were other faces—the faces of toughs and thugs, ominous, brutal, menacing. In a flash he realized that he had been making enemies in the district as well as friends, and it struck him that these were the criminal element in the political gang, hangers-on, floaters, the saloon contingent, who were maddened by his attempt to lead the people away from the rotten bosses. As if by magic they had emerged from the underworld, as they always do in times of trouble, and he knew that the excited East Side group was now flavored with mob-anarchy—that he had to deal, not with men whose worst weapon was words, but with brutes who lusted for broken heads. Some of the faces he knew—he had seen them hanging about saloons. And he saw, too, in that swift scrutiny, that many of the men had weapons; some had seized crowbars and sledges from a near-by street tool-chest which was being used by laborers; others had sticks; some had stones. An ominous sound came from the mob, something winged with doom and death, like the rattling of a venomous snake, with head raised to strike, ready fangs and glittering eyes. He could catch in that paralyzing hum words tossed here and there: "Smash his presses! Clean him out! Lynch him, lynch him! Kill—kill—kill!—"

A human beast had coiled at his door, myriad-headed, insane, bloodthirsty, all-powerful—the mob, that terror of civilization, that sudden reversion in mass to a state of savagery. It boded ill for Joe Blaine. He had a bitter, cynical thought:

"So this is what comes of spreading the truth—of really trying to help—of living out an ideal!"

A snowball hit the window before him, a soft crash and spread of drip, and there rose from the mob a fiendish yell that seemed itself a power, making the heart pound, dizzying the brain.

Joe turned. His mother was standing close to him, white as paper, but her eyes flashing. She had not dared speak to Joe, knowing that this fight was his and that he had passed out of her hands.

He spoke in a low, pulsing voice.

"Mother, I want you to stay in back!"

She looked at him, as if drinking her fill of his face.

"You're right, Joe," she whispered, and turned and went out.

Billy was standing at the stove, a frightened boy, but he gripped the poker in his hand.

"Billy," said Joe, quietly, "run down and tell Rann to keep 'em out of the press-room."

Billy edged to the door, opened it, and fled.

Joe was quite alone. He sat down at his desk and took up the telephone.

"Hello, Central!" his voice was monotonous in its lowness and tenseness.

"Hello!"

"Give me police headquarters—quick!"

Central seemed startled.

"Police—? Yes, right away! Hold on!—Here they are!"

"Hello! Police headquarters!" came a man's voice.

"This is Joe Blaine." Joe gave his address. "There's a riot in front of the house—a big mob. Send over a patrol wagon on the jump!"

At that moment there was a wild crash of glass, and a heavy stone sang through the air and knocked out the stove-pipe—pipe and stone falling to the floor with a rumble and rattle—and from the mob rose murderous yells.

So Joe was able to add:

"They've just smashed my window with a stone. You'd better come damn fast."

"Right off!" snapped Headquarters.

Joe put down the telephone, and stepped quietly over the room and out into the hall. Even at that moment the hall door burst wide and a frenzied push and squabble of men poured forth upon him. In that brief glimpse, in the dim storm-light, Joe saw faces that were anything but human—wild animals, eyes blood-shot, mouths wide, and many fists in the air above their heads. There was no mercy, no thought, nothing civilized—but somehow the demon-deeps of human nature, crusted over with the veneer of gentler things, had broken through. Worse than anything was the crazy hum, rising and rising, the hoarse notes, the fierce discord, that beat upon his brain as if to drown him under.

Joe tried to shout:

"Keep back! I'll shoot! Keep back!"

But at once the rough bodies, the terrible faces were upon him, surrounding him, pushing him. He seized a little man who was jumping for his throat—seized and shook the little beast.

"Get back!" he cried.

Fists pushed into his eyes, blows began to rain upon his body and his head. He ducked. He felt himself propelled backward by an irresistible force. He felt his feet giving way. Warm and reeking breath blew up his nostrils. He heard confused cries of: "Kill him! That's him! We've got him!" Back and back he went, the torn center of a storm, and then something warm and sweet gushed over his eyes, earth opened under him and he sank, sank through soft gulfs, deeper and deeper, far from the troublous noise of life, far, far—into an engulfing blackness.

The flood poured on, gushing down the stair-way, at the foot of which Rann and his two men stood, all armed with wrenches and tools.

Rann shouted.

"I'll break the head of any one who comes!"

The men in advance tried to break away, well content to leave their heads whole, but those in the rear pushed them on. Whack! whack! went the wrench—the leader fell. But then with fierce screams the mob broke loose, the three men were swept into the vortex of a fighting whirlpool. Some one opened the basement gate from the inside and a new stream poured in. The press-room filled—crowbars got to work—while men danced and wildly laughed and exulted in their vandal work. Then suddenly arose the cry of, "Police!" Tools dropped; the mob turned like a stampede of cattle, crushed for the doors, cried out, caught in a trap, and ran into the arms of blue-coated officers....

When Joe next opened his eyes and looked out with some surprise on the same world that he was used to, he found himself stretched in his bed and a low gas-flame eyeing him from above. He put out a hand, because he felt queer about the head, and touched bandages. Then some one spoke in his ear.

"You want to keep quiet, Mr. Blaine."

He looked. A doctor was sitting beside him.

"Where's mother?" he asked.

"Here I am, Joe." Her voice was sweet in his ears.

She was sitting on the bed at his feet.

"Come here."

She took the seat beside him and folded his free hand with both of hers.

"Mother—I want to know what's the matter with me—every bit of it."

"Well, Joe, you've a broken arm and a banged-up head, but you'll be all right."

"And you—are you all right?"

"Perfectly."

"They didn't go in the kitchen?"

"No."

"And the press?"

"It's smashed."

"And the office?"

"In ruins."

"How about Rann and the men?"

"Bruised—that's all."

"The police came?"

"Cleaned them out."

There was a pause; then Joe and his mother looked at each other with queer expressions on their faces, and suddenly their mellow laughter filled the room.

"Isn't it great, mother? That's what we get!"

"Well, Joe," said his mother, "what do you expect?"

Suddenly then another stood before him—bowed, remorseful, humble. It was Sally Heffer, the tears trickling down her face.

She knelt at the bedside and buried her face in the cover.

"It's my fault!" she cried. "It's my fault!"

"Yours, Sally?" cried Joe, quite forgetting the "Miss." "How so?"

"I—I went to Marrin's and got the girls out."

"Got the girls out?" Joe exclaimed. "Where are they?"

"On the street."

"Bring them into the ruins," said Joe, "and organize them. I'm going to make a business of this thing."

Sally looked up aghast.

"But I—I ought to be shot down. It's I that should have been hurt."

Joe smiled on her.

"Sally! Sally! what an impetuous girl you are! What would I do without you?"



VII

OF THE THIRTY THOUSAND

One wonderful January twilight, when the clear, cold air seemed to tremble with lusty health, Myra sat alone in the Ramble, before the little frozen pond. And she thought:

"This is the bench we sat on; and it was here, that morning, that we quarreled; and this is the little pond; and those the trees—but how changed! how changed!"

A world-city practises magic. Any one who for years has slept in her walls and worn the pave of her streets and mingled with her crowds and her lighted nights, is changed by her subtle enchantment into a child of the city. He is never free thereafter. The metropolis may send him forth like a carrier-pigeon, and he may think he is well rid of his mistress, but the homing instinct inevitably draws him back. "All other pleasures," as Emerson said of love, "are not worth its pains." Myra thought that she hated New York—the great nervous sea of life, whose noise and stress and tragedy had shattered her health. She had longed for the peace of nature; she had gone forth to the meadows and the mountains, and for a long time been content with the sounds of the barnyard and the farm, the wind and the brook; she had sunk, as it were, into the arms of the earth and rested on that great nourishing breast. She loved pure air, far horizons, quiet, and the mysterious changes of the landscape. She thought she was done with the city forever. For had she not found that the Vision of White Towers seen that first evening was hollow and bitter at the heart, that beneath the beauty was dust and horror, routine and disease?

But one snow-bound morning as she gazed out from the quiet house and saw the limitless white of the world, the fences buried, the trees loaded, the earth lost under the gray heavens, suddenly she was filled with a passionate desire for life. She was amazed at the restlessness in her heart. But she could not shake it off. Her desire was very definite—to walk down Eightieth Street, to hear and see the trolleys bounding down the little hill to Seventy-ninth Street, to shop on Third Avenue, to go threading her way through the swarm of school children outside the school gates. And then subtly she felt the elixir of a Broadway night, the golden witchery of the lights, the laughter-smitten people, the crowded cars and motors, the shining shops, the warmth of the crowd. A thousand memories of streets and rooms, of people and of things, flooded her mind. The country seemed barren and cold and lonely. She was grievously homesick. It was as if the city cried: "It is winter; the world is dark and dead. Come, my children, gather together; gather here in my arms, you millions; laugh and converse together, toil together, light fires, turn on lights, warm your hands and souls at my flaming hearth. We will forget the ice and the twilight! Come, winter is the time for human beings!"

And so Myra awoke to the fact that she was indeed a child of the city—that the magic was in her blood and the enchantment in her heart. It was useless to recall the mean toil, the narrow life, the unhealthy days. These, dropped in the great illusion of crowded New York, were transformed into a worthy struggle, a part of the city's reality. She suddenly felt as if she would go crazy if she stayed in the country—its stillness stifled her, its emptiness made her ache.

But there was a deeper call than the call of the city. She wanted to be with Joe. Her letters to him had been for his sake, not hers. She had tried to save him from herself, to shut him out and set him free, to cure him of his love. Desperately she did this, knowing that the future held nothing for them together. And for a time it had been a beautiful thing to do, until finally she was compelled to believe that he really was cured. His notes were more and more perfunctory, until, at last, they ceased altogether. Then, when she knew she had lost him, it seemed to her that she had condemned herself to a barren, fruitless life; that the best had been lived, and it only remained now to die. She had given up her "whole existence," cast out that by which she truly lived. There were moments of inexpressible loneliness, when, reading in the orchard, or brooding beside some rippling brook, she glanced southward and sent her silent cry over the horizon. Somewhere down there he was swallowed in the vastness of life; she remembered the lines of his face, his dark melancholy eyes, his big human, humorous lips, his tall, awkward strength; she felt still those kisses on her lips; felt his arms about her; the warmth of his hand; the whisper of his words; and the wind in the oaks.

That afternoon at the riverside he had cast his future at her feet. She had been offered that which runs deeper than hunger or dream or toil, the elemental, the mystic, the very glory of a woman's life. She had been offered a life, too, of comradeship and great issues. And now, when these gifts were withdrawn, she knew she would nevermore have rest or joy in this world. Is not life the adventure of a man and a woman going forth together, toiling, and talking, and laughing, and creating on the road to death? Is not earth the mating-place for souls? Out of nature we rise and seek out each other and mate and make of life a glory and a mystery. This is the secret of youth, and the magic of all music and of all sorrow and of all toil. Or, so it seemed to Myra.

There is no longing in the world so tragic or terrible as that of men and women for each other. And so Myra had her homesickness for the city transfused and sharpened by her overmastering love. She fought with herself bitterly; she resolved to wait for one more mail. Nothing came in that mail.

Then she evaded the issue. There were practical reasons for her return. Her health was quite sound again, she had been idle long enough; it was time to get back to work. What if she did return to the city? Surely it was not necessary to seek out Joe. It would be enough to be near him. He need not be troubled. So vast is the city that he would not know of her presence. What harm, then, in easing her heart, in getting back into the warmth and stir of life?

With a young girl's joy she packed her trunk and took the train for New York, and at sunset, as she rode in the ferry over the North River, she stood bravely out on deck, faced the bitter and salt wind, and saw, above the flush of the waters, that breathless skyline which, like the prow of some giant ship, seemed making out to sea. Lights twinkled in windows, signal-lamps gleamed red and green on the piers, chimneys smoked, and as the ferry nosed its way among the busy craft of the river, Myra exulted. She was coming back! This again was New York, real, right there, unbudged, her thousand lights like voices calling her home. The ferry landed; she hurried out and took a surface car And how good the crowd seemed, how warm the noise and the lights, what gladness was in the evening ebb-tide of people, how splendid the avenues shone with their sparkle and their shops and their traffic! She felt again the good hard pave under her feet. She met again a hundred familiar scenes. The vast flood of life seemed to engulf her, suck her up as if to say: "Well, you're here again! Come, there is room! Another human being!"

All about her was rich life, endless sights, confusion and variety. The closing darkness was pierced with lights, windows glowed, people were hurrying home. It was all as she had left it. And she felt then that the city was but Joe multiplied, and that Joe was the city. Both were cosmopolitan, democratic, tragic, light-hearted, many-faceted. Both were careless and big and easy and roomy. Both had a great freedom about them. And what a freedom the city had!—nothing snowbound here, but invitation, shops open, cars gliding, the millions transported back and forth, everything open and inviting.

She was glad for her neat back room—for gas-lights and running water—for the comfort and ease of life. She was glad even to sit in the crowded dining-room, and that night she was glad to lie abed and hear the city's heart pounding about her—that old noise of whistles on the river, that old thunder of the elevated train.

But she found that nearness to Joe made it impossible to keep away from him. Just as of old she had found excuses for going up to the trembling printery, so now she felt that somehow she must seek him out. She kept wondering what he was doing at that particular moment. Was he toiling or idling? Was he with his mother? Did he still wear the same clothes, the same half-worn necktie, the same old lovable gray hat? What would he say, how would he look, if she suddenly confronted him? Myra had to laugh softly to herself. She saw the wonder in his face, the open mouth, the flashing eyes. Or, would he be embarrassed? Was there some other woman—one who accorded with his ideals—one who could share his life-work? Of course she hoped that there was. She hoped he had found some one worthy of him. But the thought gave her intense misery. Why had he thrown his life away and gone down into that foolish and shoddy neighborhood? Surely when she saw him she would be disappointed by the changes in him. He would be more than ever a fanatic—more than ever an unreasonable radical. He might even be vulgarized by his environment—might have taken its color, been leveled down by its squalor.

She must forget the new Joe and cleave to the old Joe. Next afternoon, walking out, almost involuntarily, she turned west and entered the Park. The trees were naked, a lacy tracery of boughs against the deep-blue sky. She followed the curve, she crossed the roadway, she climbed the hill to the Ramble. She began to tingle with the keen, crisp air, and with the sense of adventure. It was almost as if she were going to meet Joe—as if they had arranged a secret meeting. She took the winding paths, she passed the little pool. There was the bench! But empty.

Then she sat down on that bench, and looked out at the naked wilderness of trees, at the ice in the pond, at the sodden brown, dead grasses. The place was wildly forlorn and bare. When they had last been here the air had been tinged with the haunting autumn, the leaves had been falling, the pool had been deep with the heavens. And again she thought:

"This is the bench we sat on; and it was here, that morning, that we quarreled; this is the little pond, and those the trees—but how changed! how changed!"

Then as she sat there she beheld the miracle of color. Behind her, between the black tree trunks, the setting sun was a liquid red splendor, daubing some low clouds with rosiness, and all about her, in the turn between day and night, the world, which before was a blend in the strong light, now divided into a myriad sharp tints. The air held a tinge of purple, the distance a smoky violet, the brown of the grasses was a strong brown, the black of the trunks intensely black. Out among distant trees she saw a woman and child walking, and the child's scarlet cloak seemed a living thing as it swayed and moved. How sharp and distinct were the facts of earth! how miraculously tinted! what tones of blue and red, of purple and black! It was the sunset singing its hymn of color, and it made her feel keenly the mystery and beauty of life—the great moments of solution and peace—the strange human life that inhabits for a brief space this temple of a million glories. But something was missing, there was a great lack, a wide emptiness. She resolved then to see Joe.

It was not, however, until the next afternoon that she took the elevated train to Ninth Street and then the crosstown car over the city. She alighted in the shabby street; she walked up to the entrance; she saw over the French windows a big canvas sign, "Strike Headquarters." Within, she thought she saw a mass of people. This made her hesitate. She had expected to find him alone. And somehow, too, the place was even shabbier, even meaner than she had expected. And so she stood a moment—a slender, little woman, her hands in a muff, a fur scarf bound about her throat, her gray eyes liquid and luminous, a rosy tint in her cheeks, her lips parted and releasing a thin steam in the bitter winter air. Overhead the sky was darkening with cloud-masses, a shriveling wind dragged the dirty street, and the world was desolate and gray. The blood was pulsing in Myra's temples, her heart leaped, her breath panted. And as she hesitated a girl passed her, a girl about whose breast was bound a placard whereon were the words:

JOIN THE STRIKE OF THE THIRTY THOUSAND

What strike? What did it mean? Was Joe in a strike? She thought he had been editing a paper. She had better not intrude. She turned, as if to fly, and yet hesitated. Her feet refused to go; her heart was rebellious. Only a wall divided him from her. Why should she not see him? Why not a moment's conversation? Then she would go and leave him to his work.

Another girl passed her and paused—a girl also placarded, a girl with a strange beauty, somewhat tall, with form well rounded, with pale face full of the fascination of burning eagerness. This girl's eyes were a clear blue, her lips set tight, and her light-brown hair blew beautifully about her cheeks. She was, however, but thinly clothed, and her frail little coat was short and threadbare.

She spoke to Myra—a rich, sympathetic voice.

"Are you looking for Mr. Blaine?"

"Yes—" said Myra, almost gasping. "Is he in?"

"He's always in!" The girl smiled.

"There's nothing the matter?"

"With him? No! But come, come out of the cold!"

There was nothing to do but follow. The girl opened a door and they entered the office. It was crowded with girls and women and men. Long benches were about the wall, camp-stools filled the floor. Many were seated; on two of the benches worn-out men were fast asleep, and between the seats groups of girls were talking excitedly. Several lights burned in the darkening room, and Myra saw swiftly the strange types—there were Jewish girls, Italian girls, Americans, in all sorts of garbs, some very flashy with their "rat"-filled hair, their pompadours, their well-cut clothes, others almost in rags; some tall, some short, some rosy-cheeked, many frail and weak and white. At a table in the rear Giotto was receiving money from Italians and handing out union cards. He looked as if he hadn't slept for nights.

Myra was confused. She felt strangely "out" of all this; strangely, as if she were intruding. The smell of the place offended her, especially as it was mixed with cheap perfumes; and the coarse slangy speech that flashed about jarred on her ear. But at the same time she was suffocating with suspense.

"Where is he?" she murmured—they were standing right within the door.

"Over there!" the girl pointed.

But all Myra saw was a black semicircle of girls leaning over some one invisible near the window.

"He's at his desk, and he's talking with a committee. You'd better wait till he's finished!"

This news choked Myra. Wait? Wait here? Be shut out like this? She was as petulant as a child; she felt like shedding tears.

But the girl at her side seemed to be playing the part of hostess, and she had to speak.

"What strike is this?"

The girl was amazed.

"What strike! Don't you know?"

Myra smiled.

"No—I don't. I've been out of the city."

"It's the shirtwaist-makers' strike."

"Oh! I see!" said Myra, mechanically.

"It's the biggest woman's strike that ever was. Thirty thousand out—Italians, Jews, and Americans."

"Yes?" Myra was not listening.

Suddenly then the door was flung open and a well-dressed girl rushed in, crying shrilly:

"Say, girls, what do you think?"

A group gathered about her.

"What's up? What's the news? Don't stand there all day!"

The girl spoke with exultant indignation.

"I've been arrested!"

"Arrested! You!"

"And I didn't do nothing, either—I was good. What do you think of this? The judge fined me ten dollars. Well, let me tell you, I'm going to get something for those ten dollars! I'm going to raise—hell!"

"You bet! Ain't it a shame?"

And the group swallowed her up.

Myra wondered why the girl had been arrested, and was surprised at her lack of shame and humiliation.

But she had not much time for thought. The door opened again, and Sally Heffer entered, sparkling, neat, eyes clear.

At once cries arose:

"Here's Sal! Hello, Sally Heffer! Where have you been?" Girls crowded about. "What's the news? Where did you come from?"

Where had Myra heard that name before?

Sally spoke with delicious fastidiousness.

"I've been to Vassar."

"Vassar College?"

"Yes, Vassar College—raised fifty dollars!"

"Sally's it, all right! Say, Sal, how did they treat you? Stuck up?"

"Not a bit," said Sally. "They were ever so good to me. They're lovely girls—kind, sweet, sympathetic. They wanted to help and they were very respectful, but"—she threw up her hands—"oh, they're ignorant!"

There was a shout of laughter. Myra was shocked. A slum girl to speak like this of Vassar students? She noticed then, with a queer pang, that Sally made for the window group, who at once made a place for her. Sally had easy access to Joe.

The girl at her side was speaking again.

"You've no idea what this strike means. There's some rich women interested in it—they work right with us, hold mass-meetings, march in the streets—they're wonderful. And some of the big labor-leaders and even some of the big lawyers are helping. There's one big lawyer been giving all his time. You see, we're having trouble with the police."

"Yes, I see," said Myra, though she didn't see at all, and neither did she care. It seemed to her that she could not wait another instant. She must either go, or step over to his desk.

"Is he still so busy?" she asked.

"Yes, he is," said the girl. "Do you know him personally?"

Myra laughed softly.

"A little."

"Then you heard how he was hurt?"

"Hurt!" gasped Myra. Her heart seemed to grow small, and it was pierced by a sharp needle of pain.

"Yes, there was a riot here—the men came in and smashed everything."

"And Mr. Blaine? Tell me!" The words came in a blurt.

"Had his arm broken and his head was all bloody."

Myra felt dizzy, faint.

"But he's—better?"

"Oh, he's all right now."

"When did this happen?"

"About six weeks ago!"

Six weeks! That was shortly after the last letter came. Myra was suffering agony, and her face went very pale.

"How did it happen?" she breathed.

"Oh, he called some strikers traitors, and they came down and broke in. It's lucky he wasn't killed."

He had suffered, he had been in peril of his life, while she was resting in the peace of the country. So this was a strike, and in this Joe was concerned. She looked about the busy room; she noticed anew the sleeping men and the toiling Giotto; and suddenly she was interested. She was wrenched, as it were, from her world into his. She felt in the heart of a great tragedy of life. And all the time she kept saying over and over again:

"His arm was broken! his head bloody! and I wasn't here! I wasn't at his side!"

And she had thought in her country isolation that life in the city wasn't real. What a moment that must have been when Joe faced the rioters—when they rushed upon him—when he might have been killed! And instead of deterring him from his work, here he was in the thick of it, braving, possibly, unspeakable dangers. Then, glancing about, it seemed to her that these girls and men were a part of his drama; he gave them a new reality. This was life, pulsing, immediate, tragic. She must go to him—she mustn't delay longer.

She took a few steps forward, and at almost the same moment the girls about Joe left him, scattering about the room. Then she saw him. And what a spectacle! He was in his shirt-sleeves, his hair was more tousled than ever, and his face was gray—the most tragic face she had ever seen—gray, sunken, melancholy, worn, as if he bore the burden of the world. But in one hand he held a pen, and in the other—a ham sandwich. It was a big sandwich, and every few moments he took a big bite, as he scratched on. Myra's heart was wrung with love and pity, with remorse and fondness, and mainly with the tragi-comedy of his face and the sandwich.

She stood over him a moment, breathless, panting, her throat full of blood, it seemed. Then she stooped a little and whispered:

"Joe."

He wheeled round; he looked up; his gray face seemed to grow grayer; his lips parted—he was more than amazed. He was torn away, as it were, from all business of life.

"Why," he said under his breath, "it's you, Myra!"

"Yes"—tears stood in her eyes—"it's I."

He surveyed her up and down, and then their eyes met. He ran his hand through his hair.

"You—you—" he murmured. "And how well you look, how strong, how fresh! Sit down! sit down!"

She took the seat, trembling. She leaned forward.

"But you—you are killing yourself, Joe."

He smiled sadly.

"It's serious business, Myra."

She gazed at him, and spoke hard.

"Is there no end to it? Aren't you going to rest, ever?"

"End? No end now. The strike must be won."

He was trying to pull himself together. He gave a short laugh; he sat up.

"So you're back from the country."

"Yes, I'm back."

"To stay?"

"To stay."

"You're cured, then?"

"Yes," she smiled, "cured of many things. I like the city better than I thought!"

He gave her a sharp look.

"So!" Then his voice came with utter weariness: "Well, the city's a queer place, Myra. Things happen here."

Somehow she felt that he was standing her off. Something had crept in between them, some barrier, some wall. He had already emerged from the shock of the meeting. What if there were things in his life far more important than this meeting? Myra tried to be brave.

"I just wanted to see you—see the place—see how things were getting on."

Joe laughed softly.

"Things are getting on. Circulation's up to fifteen thousand—due to the strike."

"How so?"

"We got out a strike edition—and the girls peddled it around town, and lots subscribed. It's given the paper a big boost."

"I'm glad to hear it," Myra found herself saying.

"You glad?" If only his voice hadn't been so weary! "That's strange, Myra."

"It is strange!" she said, her eyes suffused again. His gray, tragic face seemed to be working on the very strings of her heart. She longed so to help him, to heal him, to breathe joy and strength into him.

"Joe!" she said.

He looked at her again.

"Yes, Myra."

"Oh—I—" She paused.

He smiled.

"Say it!"

"Isn't there some way I can help?"

A strange expression came to his face, of surprise, of wonder.

"You help?"

"Yes—I—"

"Mr. Blaine! Mr. Blaine!" Some one across the room was calling. "There's an employer here to see you!"

Joe leaped up, took Myra's hand, and spoke hastily.

"Wait and meet my mother. And come again—sometime. Sometime when I'm not so rushed!"

And he was gone—gone out of the room.

Myra arose, still warm with the touch of his hand—for his hand was almost fever-warm. All that she knew was that he had suffered and was suffering, and that she must help. She was burning now with an eagerness to learn about the strike, to understand what it was that so depressed and enslaved him, what it was that was slowly killing him. Her old theories met the warm clasp of life and vanished. She forgot her viewpoint and her delicacy. Life was too big for her shallow philosophy. It seized upon her now and absorbed her.

She strode back to the young girl, who she learned later was named Rhona Hemlitz, and who was but seventeen years old.

She said: "Tell me about the strike! Can't we sit down together and talk? Have you time?"

"I have a little time," said Rhona, eagerly. "We can sit here!"

So they sat side by side and Rhona told her. Rhona's whole family was engaged in sweat-work. They lived in a miserable tenement over in Hester Street, where her mother had been toiling from dawn until midnight with the needle, with her tiny brother helping to sew on buttons, "finishing" daily a dozen pairs of pants, and making—thirty cents.

Myra was amazed.

"Thirty cents—dawn till midnight! Impossible!"

And then her father—who worked all day in a sweatshop.

"And you—what did you do?" asked Myra.

Rhona told her. She had worked in Zandler's shirtwaist factory—bending over a power-machine, whose ten needles made forty-four hundred stitches a minute. So fast they flew that a break in needle or thread ruined a shirtwaist; hence, never did she allow her eyes to wander, never during a day of ten to fourteen hours, while, continuously, the needles danced up and down like flashes of steel or lightning. At times it seemed as if the machine were running away from her and she had to strain her body to keep it back. And so, when she reeled home late at night, her smarting eyes saw sharp showers of needles in the air every time she winked, and her back ached intolerably.

"I never dreamt," said Myra, "that people had to work like that!"

"Oh, that's not all!" said Rhona, and went on. Her wages were rarely over five dollars a week, and for months, during slack season, she was out of work—came daily to the factory, and had to sit on a bench and wait, often fruitlessly. And then the sub-contracting system, whereunder the boss divided the work among lesser bosses who each ran a gang of toilers, speeding them up mercilessly, "sweating" them! And so the young girls, sixteen to twenty-five years old, were sapped of health and joy and womanhood, and, "as Mr. Joe wrote, the future is robbed of wives and mothers!"

Myra was amazed. She had a new glimpse of the woman problem. She saw now how millions of women were being fed into the machine of industry, and that thus the home was passing, youth was filched of its glory, and the race was endangered. This uprising of the women, then, meant more than she dreamed—meant the attempt to save the race by freeing the women from this bondage. Had they not a right then to go out in the open, to strike, to lead marches, to sway meetings, to take their places with men?

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse