Such thoughts, confused and swift, came to her, and she asked Rhona what had happened. How had the strike started? First, said Rhona, there was the strike at Marrin's—a spark that set off the other places. Then at Zandler's conditions had become so bad that one morning Jake Hedig, her boss, a young, pale-faced, black-haired man, suddenly arose and shouted in a loud voice throughout the shop:
"I am sick of slave-driving. I resign my job."
The boss, and some of the little bosses, set upon him, struck him, and dragged him out, but as he went he shouted lustily:
"Brothers and sisters, are you going to sit by your machines and see a fellow-worker used this way?"
The machines stopped: the hundreds of girls and the handful of men marched out simultaneously. Then, swiftly the sedition had spread about the city until a great night in Cooper Union, when, after speeches of peace and conciliation, one of the girls had risen, demanded and secured the floor, and moved a general strike. Her motion was unanimously carried, and when the chairman cried, in Yiddish: "Do you mean faith? Will you take the old Jewish oath?" up went two thousand hands, with one great chorus:
"If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise."
By this oath Rhona was bound. And so were thirty thousand others—Americans, Italians, Jews—and with them were some of the up-town women, some of the women of wealth, some of the big lawyers and the labor-leaders and reformers.
"Some of the up-town women!" thought Myra. She was amazed to find herself so interested, so wrought up. And she felt as if she had stumbled upon great issues and great struggles; she realized, dimly, that first moment, that this strike was involved in something larger, something vaster—swallowed up in the advance of democracy, in the advance of woman. All the woman in her responded to the call to arms.
And she was discovering now what Joe had meant by his "crisis"—what he had meant by his fight for "more democracy; a better and richer life; a superber people on earth. It was a real thing. She burned now to help Joe—she burned to do for him—to enter into his tragic struggle—to be of use to him.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked Rhona.
"Now? Now I must go picketing."
"March up and down in front of a factory and try to keep scabs out."
"What are scabs?" asked ignorant Myra.
Rhona was amazed.
"You don't even know that? Why, a scab's a girl who tries to take a striker's job and so ruin the strike. She takes the bread out of our mouths."
"But how can you stop her?"
"Talk to her! We're not allowed to use violence."
"How do you do it?"
Rhona looked at the eager face, the luminous gray eyes.
"Would you like to see it?"
"Yes, I would."
"But it's dangerous."
"Police and thugs, bums hanging around."
"And you girls aren't afraid?"
"We don't show it, anyway. You see, we're bound to win."
Myra's eyes flashed.
"Well, if you're not afraid, I guess I haven't any right to be. May I come?"
Rhona looked at her with swift understanding.
"Yes, please do come!"
Myra rose. She took a last look about the darkening room; saw once more the sleeping men, the toiling Giotto, the groups of girls. Something tragic hung in the air. She seemed to breathe bigger, gain in stature, expand. She was going to meet the test of these newer women. She was going to identify herself with their vast struggle.
And looking once more, she sought Joe, but could not find him. How pleased he would be to know that she was doing this—doing it largely for him—because she wanted to smooth out that gray face, and lay her cheek against its lost wrinkles, and put her arm about his neck, and heal him.
Tears dimmed her eyes. She took Rhona's arm and they stepped out into the bleak street. Wind whipped their faces like quick-flicked knives. They walked close together.
"Is it far?" asked Myra.
"Quite far. It's over on Great Jones Street!"
And so Myra went, quite lost in the cyclone of life.
They gained the corner of Great Jones Street—one of those dim byways of trade that branch off from the radiant avenues. As they turned in the street, they met a bitter wind that was blowing the pavement clean as polished glass, and the dark and closing day was set off sharply by the intense lamps and shop-lights. Here and there at a window a clerk pressed his face against the cold pane and looked down into the cheerless twilight, and many toilers made the hard pavement echo with their fast steps as they hurried homeward.
"There they are," said Rhona.
Two girls, both placarded, came up to them. One of them, a thin little skeleton, pitiably ragged in dress, with hollow eyes and white face, was coughing in the cuff of the wind. She was plainly a consumptive—a little wisp of a girl. She spoke brokenly, with a strong Russian accent.
"It's good to see you yet, Rhona. I get so cold my bones ready to crack."
She shivered and coughed. Rhona spoke softly.
"Fannie, you go right home, and let your mother give you a good drink of hot lemonade with whiskey in it. And take a foot-bath, too."
Fannie coughed again.
"Don't you tell me, Rhona. Look out for yourself. There gets trouble yet on this street."
Myra drew nearer, a dull feeling in her breast. Rhona spoke easily:
"None of the men said anything or did anything, did they?"
"Well, they say things; they make angry faces, and big fists, Rhona. Better be careful."
"Where are they?"
"By Zandler's doorway. They get afraid of the cold."
Rhona laughed softly, and put an arm about the frail body.
"Now you run home, and don't worry about me! I can take care of myself. I expect another girl, anyway."
"Good-night—get to bed, and don't forget the hot lemonade!"
The two girls departed, blowing, as it were, about the corner and out of sight. Rhona turned to Myra, whose face was pallid.
"Hadn't you better go back, Miss Craig? You see, I'm used to these things."
"No," said Myra, in a low voice. "I've come to stay."
She was thinking of tiny Fannie. What! Could she not measure to a little consumptive Russian?
"All right," said Rhona. "Let's begin!"
They started to walk quietly up and down before the darkened loft building—up fifty yards, down fifty yards. A stout policeman slouched under a street-lamp, swinging his club with a heavily gloved hand, and in the shadow of the loft-building entrance Rhona pointed out to Myra several ill-looking private detectives who danced up and down on their toes, blew their hands, smoked cigarettes, and kept tab of the time.
"It's they," whispered Rhona, "who make all the trouble. Some of them are ex-convicts and thugs. They are a rough lot."
"But why is it allowed?" asked Myra.
"Why is anything allowed?"
The wind seemed to grow more and more cruel. Myra felt her ear-lobes swelling, the tip of her nose tingled and her feet and hands were numb. But they held on quietly in the darkening day. It all seemed simple enough—this walking up and down. So this was picketing!
Myra spoke softly as they turned and walked west.
"Have many of the girls been arrested?"
"Oh yes, a lot of them."
"Have they been disorderly?"
"Some of them have. It's hard to keep cool, with scabs egging you on and calling you cowards."
"And what happens to them if they are arrested?"
"Oh, fined—five, ten dollars."
They turned under the lamp; the policeman rose and sank on one foot after the other; they walked quietly back. Then, as they passed the doorway of the loft building, one of the young men stepped forward into the light. He was a square-set, heavy fellow, with long, square, protruding jaw, and little monkey eyes. His bearing was menacing. He stepped in front of the girls, who stopped still and awaited him. Myra felt the blood rush to her head, and a feeling of dizziness made her tremble. Then the man spoke sharply:
"Say, you—you can't go by here."
Myra gazed at him as if she were hypnotized, but Rhona's eyes flashed.
"Don't jaw me," said the man. "But—clear out!"
Rhona tried to speak naturally.
"Isn't this a public street? Haven't I a right to walk up and down with my friend?"
Then Myra felt as if she were struck by lightning, or as if something sacred in her womanhood had been outraged.
With a savage growl: "You little sheeny!" the man suddenly struck out a fist and hit Rhona in the chest. She lurched, doubled, and fell, saving herself with her hands. Myra did not move, but a shock of horror went through her.
The two other young men in the doorway came forward, and home-goers paused, drew close, looked on curiously and silently. One nudged another.
The thug muttered under his breath:
"Pull her up by her hair; we'll run her in!"
But Rhona had scrambled to her feet. She was too wild to cry or speak. She glanced around for help, shunning the evil monkey eyes. Then she saw the policeman under the lamp. He was still nonchalantly swinging his club.
She gave a gasping sob, pushing away Myra's offered help, and struggled over to him. He did not move. She stood, until he glanced at her. Then she caught his eye, and held him, and spoke with strange repression, as the crowd drew about them. Myra was in that crowd, dazed, outraged, helpless. She heard Rhona speaking:
"Do you think a man has any right to strike a girl?"
He did not answer; she still held his eyes.
"Do you think a man has any right to strike a girl?"
Still he said nothing, and the crowd became fascinated by the fixity of gaze of the two. Rhona's voice sharpened:
"Do you think a man has any right to strike a girl?"
The officer cleared his throat and looked away.
"Oh," he muttered carelessly, "it's all right. You people are always kicking, anyway."
Rhona's voice rose.
"I ask you to arrest him."
Several in the crowd backed this with mutterings. The policeman twirled his stick.
"Oh, all right!" he called. "Come along, Blondy!"
Blondy, the thug, came up grinning.
"Pinching me, John?" he asked.
"Sure." The policeman smiled, and then seized Blondy and Rhona each by an arm and started to march them toward Broadway. Myra followed wildly. Her mind was in a whirl and the bitter tears blurred her eyes. What could she do? How could she help? She sensed in the policeman's word a menace to Rhona. Rhona was in trouble, and she, Myra, was as good as useless in this crisis. She suddenly understood the helplessness of the poor and the weak, especially the poor and weak women. What could they do against this organized iniquity? Against the careless and cruel world? It was all right for gentlewomen in gentle environment to keep to the old ideals of womanhood—to stay at home and delegate their citizenship to the men. But those who were sucked into the vortex of the rough world, what of these? Were they not right in their attempts to organize, to rebel, to fight in the open, to secure a larger share of freedom and power?
But if these were Myra's feelings and thoughts—a sense of outrage, of being trampled on—they were little things compared with the agony in Rhona's breast. A growing and much-pleased crowd surrounded her, flinging remarks:
"Lock-steps for yours! Hello, Mamie! Oh, you kid! Now will you be good! Carrie, go home and wash the dishes!"
And one boy darted up and snapped the placard from her waist. The crowd laughed, but Rhona was swallowing bitter tears.
They passed down Broadway a block or two, and then turned west. Brilliant light from the shop windows fell upon the moving scene—the easy-going men, the slouching, shrill boys, and the girl with her pale set face and uncertain steps. All the world was going home to supper, and Rhona felt strangely that she was now an exile—torn by the roots from her warm life to go on a lonely adventure against the powers of darkness. She had lost her footing in the world and was slipping into the night. She felt singularly helpless; her very rage and rebellion made her feel frail and unequal to the task. To be struck down in the street! To be insulted by a crowd! She had hard work to hold her head erect and keep back the bitter sobs.
Up the darkened street they went, the crowd gradually falling away. And suddenly they paused before the two green lamps of the new station-house, and then in a moment they had vanished through the doorway.
Myra rushed up, panting, to a policeman who stood on the steps.
"I want to go in—I'm with her."
"Can't do it, lady. She's under arrest."
"Not she," cried Myra. "The man."
"Oh, we'll see. You run along—keep out of trouble!"
Myra turned, confused, weak. She questioned a passer-by about the location of Ninth Street. "Up Broadway—seven or eight blocks!" She started; she hurried; her feet were winged with desperate fear. What could be done? How help Rhona? Surely Joe—Joe could do something. He would know—she would hasten to him and get his aid. That at least she could do.
Now and then a bitter sob escaped her. She felt that she had lost her self-respect and her pride. Like a coward she had watched Rhona attacked, had not even raised her voice, had not, even attempted interference. They might have listened to a well-dressed woman, a woman of refinement. And she had done nothing—just followed the crowd, nursing her wounded pride. She began to feel that the world was a big place, and that those without money or position are at the mercy of the powerful. She began to revise her opinion of America, more keenly than ever she understood Joe's passion for more democracy. And she had a sense, too, that she had never really known life—that her narrow existence had touched life at but a few minor points—and that the great on-struggle of the world, the vast life of the race, the million-eddying evolution were all outside her limits. Now she was feeling the edge of new existences. The knowledge humbled, almost humiliated her. She wondered that Joe had ever thought well of her, had ever been content to share his life with her.
Driven by these thoughts and by her fear and her apprehension for Rhona's safety, she plunged west, borne by the wind, buffeted, beaten, blown along. The lights behind the French windows were like beacons in a storm. She staggered into the hall, entered the room. Her hair was wild about her face, her cheeks pale, her eyes burning.
The room was still crowded, intensely busy. She noticed nothing, but pushed her way to Joe's desk. He was talking with two girls.
She confronted him.
He lifted his gray, tragic face, amazed.
"You still here?"
It was as if he had forgotten her. But Myra was not now thinking of herself. She spoke, breathlessly:
"Joe, I think Rhona Hemlitz is in trouble."
"She was knocked down by a thug, and she had him arrested, but I'm afraid she's arrested."
A dangerous light came into Joe's eyes.
"All right! All right! Where did this happen?"
"On Great Jones Street."
"Well and good," he muttered.
"But isn't there anything to do?" cried Myra.
"Why, if she's not arrested, she'll come here and report, and if she doesn't come I'll go over to the Night Court at nine this evening."
"I must go with you," cried Myra.
"You?" He looked at her, and then suddenly he asked: "But how did you come to hear of this?"
"I was picketing with her."
A great change came over Joe's face, as if he beheld a miracle.
"Myra! So you have been picketing!"
Her face went very white.
"Don't! Don't!" she breathed painfully, sinking in a chair. "I was a coward, Joe—I didn't do anything to help her!"
"But what could you do?"
"Oh, something, anything."
He glanced at her keenly, and a swift smile lit his features. He spoke very gently.
"Myra, you step in back to my mother. Take supper with her. Keep her company. I'm afraid I'm neglecting mother these days."
"And the Night Court?" Myra was swallowing sobs.
"I'll look in for you at nine o'clock."
"Thank you," she whispered. "Oh, thank you."
It was something that he thought her worthy.
When the policeman with Rhona and Blondy passed up the steps between the green lamps of the new station-house, they found themselves in a long room whose warmth was a fine relief. They breathed more easily, loosened their coats, and then stepped forward. A police sergeant sat behind a railing, writing at a low desk, a low-hanging, green-shaded electric bulb above him.
Rhona felt that she had to speak quickly and get in her word before the others. She tried to be calm, but a dull sob went with the words.
"That man struck me—knocked me down. I've had him arrested."
The sergeant did not look up. He went on writing. Finally he spoke, easily:
The policeman cleared his throat.
"The other way round, Sergeant. She struck the man."
Rhona breathed hard, a feeling in her breast of her heart breaking. She gasped:
"That's not true. He struck me—he struck me."
The sergeant glanced up.
"What's your name?"
Rhona could not answer for a moment. Then, faintly:
"—— Hester Street."
"Oh!" he whistled slightly. "Striker?"
"Held for Night Court trial. Lock her up, Officer."
Blackness closed over the girl's brain. She thought she was going into hysterics. Her one thought was that she must get help, that she must reach some one who knew her. She burst out:
"I want to telephone."
"Mr. Blaine—Mr. Blaine!"
"West Tenth Street feller?"
The sergeant winked to the policeman.
"Oh, the matron'll see to that! Hey, Officer?"
Rhona felt her arm seized, and then had a sense of being dragged, a feeling of cool, fetid air, a flood of darkness, voices, and then she knew no more. The matron who was stripping her and searching her had to get cold water and wash her face....
Later Rhona found herself in a narrow cell, sitting in darkness at the edge of a cot. Through the door came a torrent of high-pitched speech.
"Yer little tough, reform! reform! What yer mean by such carryings-on? I know yer record. Beware of God, little devil...."
On and on it went, and Rhona, dazed, wondered what new terror it foreboded. But then without warning the talk switched.
"Yer know who I am?"
"Who?" quavered Rhona.
"I divorced him, I did."
"My husband, I'm telling yer. Are yer deef?"
Suddenly Rhona rose and rushed to the door.
"I want to send a message."
"By-and-by," said the matron, and her rum-reeking breath came full in the girl's face. The matron was drunk.
For an hour she confided to Rhona the history of her married life, and each time that Rhona dared cry, "I want to send a message!" she replied, "By-and-by."
But after an hour was ended, she remembered.
"Message? Sure! Fifty cents!"
Rhona clutched the edge of the door.
"Telephone—I want to telephone!"
"Telephone!" shrieked the matron. "Do yer think we keep a telephone for the likes of ye?"
"But I haven't fifty cents—besides, a message doesn't cost fifty cents—"
"Are yer telling me?" the matron snorted. "Fifty cents! Come now, hurry," she wheedled. "Yer know as yer has it! Oh, it's in good time you come!"
Her last words were addressed to some one behind her. The cell door was quickly opened; Rhona's arm was seized by John, the policeman, and without words she was marched to the curb and pushed into the patrol wagon with half a dozen others. The wagon clanged through the cold, dark streets, darting through the icy edge of the wind, and the women huddled together. Rhona never forgot how that miserable wagonful chattered—that noise of clicking teeth, the pulse of indrawn sighs, and the shivering of arms and chests. Closer and closer they drew, as if using one another as shields against the arctic onslaught, a couple of poor women, and four unsightly prostitutes, the scum of the lower Tenderloin. One woman kept moaning jerkily:
"Wisht I was dead—down in my grave. It's bitter cold—"
The horses struck sparks against the pave, the wheels grided, and the wagon-load went west, up the shadowy depths of Sixth Avenue, under the elevated structure, and stopped before Jefferson Market Court. The women were hustled out and went shuddering through long corridors, until at last they were shoved into a large cell.
* * * * *
At about the same moment Myra and Joe emerged from the West Tenth Street house and started for the court-house. They started, bowing their heads in the wind, holding on to their hats.
"Whew!" muttered Joe. "This is a night!"
Myra did not dare take his arm, and he spoke a little gruffly.
"Better hang on to me."
She slipped her arm through his then, gratefully, and tried to bravely fight eastward with him.
Joe was silent. He walked with difficulty. Myra almost felt as if she were leading him. If she only could have sent him home, nursed him and comforted him! He was so weary that she felt more like sending him to bed than dragging him out in this bitter weather.
More and more painfully he shuffled, and Myra brooded over him as if he were hers, and there was a sad joy in doing this, a sad glory in leading him and sharing the cruel night with him.
In this way they gained the corner of Sixth Avenue. Across the way loomed the illuminated tower-topped brick court-house.
"Here it is," said Joe.
Myra led him over, up the steps, and through the dingy entrance. Then they stepped into the court-room and sat down on one of the benches, which were set out as in a school-room.
The place was large and blue, and dimly lighted. The judge's end of it was screened off by wire netting. Up on a raised platform sat the magistrate at his desk, his eyes hidden by a green shade, his bald head radiant with the electric light above him. Clerks hovered about him, and an anaemic indoor policeman, standing before him, grasped with one hand a brass rail and with the other was continually handing up prisoners to be judged. All in the inclosed space stood and moved a mass of careless men, the lawyers, hangers-on, and all who fatten upon crime—careless, laughing, nudging, talking openly to the women of the street. A crass scene, a scene of bitter cynicism, of flashy froth, degrading and cheap. Not here to-night the majesty of the law; here only a well-oiled machine grinding out injustice.
Joe and Myra were seated among a crowd of witnesses and tired lawyers. The law's delay seemed to steep the big room with drowsiness; the air was warm and breathed in and out a thousand times by a hundred lungs. Myra looked about her at the weary, listless audience. Then she looked at Joe. He had fallen fast asleep, his head hanging forward. She smiled sadly and was filled with a strange happiness. He had not been able to hold out any longer. Well, then, he should sleep, she thought; she would watch alone.
Then, as she sat and gazed, a drunken woman in the seat before her fell sound asleep. At once the big special officer at the little gate of wire netting came thumping down the aisle, leaned close, and prodded her shoulder with his forefinger, crying:
"Wake up, there!"
She awoke, startled, and a dozen laughed.
Myra had a great fear that the officer would see Joe. But he didn't. He turned and went back to his post.
Myra watched eagerly—aware of the fact that this scene was not as terrible to her as it might have been. The experience of the day had sharpened her receptivity, broadened her out-look. She took it for what it was worth. She hated it, but she did not let it overmaster her.
There was much business going forward before the judge's desk, and Myra had glimpses of the prisoners. She saw one girl, bespectacled, hard, flashy, pushed to the bar, and suddenly heard her voice rise shrill and human above the drone-like buzzing of the crowd.
"You dirty liar; I'll slap yer face if yer say that again!"
A moment later she was discharged, pushed through the little gateway, and came tripping by Myra, shouting shrilly:
"I'll make charges against him—I'll break him—I will!"
Several others Myra saw.
A stumpy semi-idiot with shining, oily face and child-staring eyes, who clutched the railing with both big hands and stood comically in huge clothes, his eyes outgazing the judge. He was suddenly yanked back to prison.
A collarless wife-beater, with hanging lips and pleading dog's eyes, his stout Irish wife sobbing beside him. He got "six months," and his wife came sobbing past Myra.
Then there was an Italian peddler, alien, confused, and in rags, soon, however, to be set free; and next a jovial drunk, slapping the officers on the back, lifting his legs in dance-like motions and shouting to the judge. He was lugged away for a night's rest.
And then, of course, the women. It was all terrible, new, undreamed of, to Myra. She saw these careless Circes of the street, plumed, powdered, jeweled, and she saw the way the men handled and spoke to them.
Scene after scene went on, endless, confused, lost in the buzz and hum of voices, the shuffle of feet. The air grew warmer and more and more foul. Myra felt drowsy. She longed to put her head on Joe's shoulder and fall asleep—sink into peace and stillness. But time and again she came to with a jerk, started forward and eagerly scanned the faces for Rhona. What had happened to the girl? Would she be kept in jail overnight? Or had something worse happened? An increasing fear took possession of her. She felt in the presence of enemies. Joe was asleep. She could not question him, could not be set at ease. And how soundly he slept, breathing deeply, his head hanging far forward. If only she could make a pillow for that tired head!
She was torn between many emotions. Now she watched a scene beyond the netting—something cynical, cheap, degrading—watched it with no real sense of its meaning—wondered where she was and how she had come—and why all this was going on. Then she would turn and look piteously at Joe, her face sharp with yearning. Then she would drowse, and awake with a start. She kept pinching herself.
"If I fall asleep Rhona may get through without us—something will happen!"
It must have been past midnight. There was no sign of Rhona. Each new face that emerged from the jail entrance was that of a stranger. Again an overwhelming fear swept Myra. She touched Joe's arm.
"Joe! Joe!" she whispered.
He did not answer; his hand moved a little and dropped. How soundly he slept! She smiled then, and sat forward, determined to be a brave woman.
Then glancing through the netting she spied Blondy and his friends laughing together. She saw the evil monkey eyes. At once she was back sharply in Great Jones Street, trembling with outrage and humiliation. She tried to keep her eyes from him, and again and again looked at him and loathed him.
"If," she thought, "he is here, perhaps the time has come."
Again she searched the new faces, and gave a little cry of joy. There was Rhona, pale, quiet, her arm in the hand of the policeman who had made the arrest.
Myra turned to Joe.
"Joe! Wake up!"
He stirred a little.
"Joe! Joe! Wake up!"
He gave a great start and opened his eyes.
"What is it?" he cried. "Do they want union cards?"
"Joe," she exclaimed, "Rhona's here."
"Rhona?" He sat upright; he was a wofully sleepy man. "Rhona?" Then he gazed about him and saw Myra.
"Oh, Myra!" He laughed sweetly. "How good it is to see you!"
She paled a little at the words.
"Joe," she whispered, "we're in the court. Rhona's waiting for us."
Then he understood.
"And I've been sleeping, and you let me sleep?" He laughed softly. "What a good soul you are! Rhona! Come, quick!"
They arose, Joe rubbing his eyes, and stepped forward. Myra felt stiff and sore. Then Joe spoke in a low voice to the gate-keeper, the gate opened, and they entered in.
Rhona had spent the evening in the women's cell, which was one of three in a row. The other two were for men. The window was high up, and a narrow bench ran around the walls. Sprawled on this were from thirty to forty women; the air was nauseating, and the place smelled to heaven. Outside the bars of the door officers lounged in the lighted hall waiting the signal to fetch their prisoners. Now and then the door opened, a policeman entered, picked his woman, seized upon her, and pulled her along without speaking to her. It was as if the prisoners were dumb wild beasts.
For a while Rhona sat almost doubled up, feeling that she would never get warm. Her body would be still a minute, and then a racking spasm took her and her teeth chattered. A purple-faced woman beside her leaned forward.
"Bad business on the street a night like this, ain't it? Here, I'll rub your hands."
Rhona smiled bitterly, and felt the rub of roughened palms against her icy hands. Then she began to look around, sick with the smell, the sudden nauseous warmth. She saw the strange rouged faces, the impudent eyes, the showy headgear, flashing out among the obscure faces of poor women, and as she looked a filthy drunk began to rave, rose tottering, and staggered to the door and beat clanging upon it, all the while shrieking:
"Buy me the dope, boys, buy me the dope!"
Others pulled her back. Women of the street, sitting together, chewed gum and laughed and talked shrilly, and Rhona could not understand how prisoners could be so care-free.
All the evening she had been dazed, her one clear thought the sending of a message for help. But now as she sat in the dim, reeking cell, she began to realize what had happened.
Then as it burst upon her that she was innocent, that she had been lied against, that she was helpless, a wild wave of revolt swept her. She thought she would go insane. She could have thrown a bomb at that moment. She understood revolutionists.
This feeling was followed by abject fear. She was alone ... alone.... Why had she allowed herself to be caught in this trap? Why had she struck? Was it not foolhardy to raise a hand against such a mammoth system of iniquity? Over in Hester Street her poor mother, plying the never-pausing needle, might be growing anxious—might be sending out to find her. What new trouble was she bringing to her family? What new touch of torture was she adding to the hard, sweated life? And her father—what, when he came home from the sweatshop so tired that he was ready to fling himself on the bed without undressing, what if she were missing, and he had to go down and search the streets for her?
If only Joe Blaine had been notified! Could she depend on that Miss Craig, who had melted away at the first approach of peril? Yet surely there must be help! Did not the Woman's League keep a lawyer in the court? Would he not be ready to defend her? That was a ray of hope! She cheered up wonderfully under it. She began to feel that it was somehow glorious to thus serve the cause she was sworn to serve. She even had a dim hope—almost a fear—that her father had been sent for. She wanted to see a familiar face, even though she were sure he would upbraid her for bringing disgrace upon the family.
So passed long hours. Prisoners came in—prisoners went out. Laughter rose—cries—mutterings; then came a long silence. Women yawned. Some snuggled up on the bench, their heads in their neighbors' laps, and fell fast asleep. Rhona became wofully tired—drooped where she sat—a feeling of exhaustion dragging her down. The purple-faced woman beside her leaned forward.
"Say, honey, put your head in my lap!"
She did so. She felt warmth, ease, a drowsy comfort. She fell fast asleep....
"No! No!" she cried out, "it was he struck me!"
She had a terrible desire to sob her heart out, and a queer sensation of being tossed in mid-air. Then she gazed about in horror. She was on her feet, had evidently been dragged up, and John, the policeman, held her arm in a pinch that left its mark. Gasping, she was shoved along through the doorway and into a scene of confusion.
They stood a few minutes in the judge's end of the court-room—a crowd eddying about them. Rhona had a queer feeling in her head; the lights blinded her; the noise seemed like the rush of waters in her ears. Then she thought sharply:
"I must get myself together. This is the court. It will be all over in a minute. Where's Mr. Joe? Where's the lawyer? Where's my father?"
She looked about eagerly, searching faces. Not one did she know. What had happened? She felt the spasm of chills returning to her. Had Miss Craig failed her? Where was the strikers' lawyer? Were there friends waiting out in the tired audience, among the sleepy witnesses? Suddenly she saw Blondy laughing and talking with a gaudy woman in the crowd. She trembled all at once with animal rage.... She could have set upon him with her nails and her teeth. But she was fearfully afraid, fearfully helpless. What could she do? What would be done with her?
John pushed her forward a few steps; her own volition could not take her, and then she saw the judge. This judge—would he understand? Could he sympathize with a young girl who was wrongly accused? The magistrate was talking carelessly with his clerk, and Rhona felt in a flash that all this, which to her was terrible and world-important, to him was mere trivial routine.
She waited, her heart pounding against her ribs, her breath coming short and stifled. Then all at once she saw Joe and Myra as they entered the gate, and a beautiful smile lit up her face. It was a blessed moment.
They came up; Joe spoke in a low breath.
"Rhona, have you seen the lawyer about?"
"No," she muttered.
Joe looked around. He stood above that crowd by half a head. Then he muttered bitterly to Myra:
"Why isn't that fellow here to-night? You shouldn't have let me sleep!"
Myra was abashed, and Rhona, divining his misery, felt quite alone again, quite helpless.
Suddenly then she was pushed forward, and next the indoor policeman was handing her up to the judge, and now she stood face to face with her crisis. Again her heart pounded hard, her breath shortened. She was dimly aware of Joe and Myra behind her, and of Blondy and his friends beside her. She looked straight at the magistrate, not trusting herself to glance either side.
The magistrate looked up and nodded to the policeman.
"What's the charge?" His voice was a colorless monotone.
"Assault, your Honor. This girl was picketing in the strike, and this private detective told her to move on. Then she struck him."
Rhona felt as if she could burst; she expected the magistrate to question her; but he continued to address the policeman.
"These other detectives, your Honor."
The magistrate turned to Blondy's friends.
"Is what the policeman says true?"
"Yes," they chorused
Joe spoke clearly.
"Your Honor, there's another witness."
The magistrate looked at Joe keenly.
"Who are you?"
"My name's Blaine—Joe Blaine."
The magistrate spoke sharply:
"I can tell you now you'll merely damage the case. I don't take the word of such a witness."
Joe spoke easily.
"It's not my word. Miss Craig here is the witness. She saw the assault."
The magistrate looked at Myra.
"What were you doing at the time?"
Myra spoke hardly above a whisper, for she felt that she was losing control of herself.
"I—I was walking with Miss Hemlitz."
"Walking? You mean picketing."
"Well, naturally, your word is not worth any more than the prisoner's. You should have been arrested, too."
Myra could not speak any further; and the magistrate turned again to the policeman.
"You swear your charge is true?"
The policeman raised his hand.
Rhona felt a stab as of lightning. She raised her hand high; her voice came clear, sharp, real, rising above the drone-like noise of the court.
"I swear it is not true. I never struck him. He struck me!"
The magistrate's face reddened, a vein on his forehead swelled up, and he leaned toward Rhona.
"What you say, young lady"—there was a touch of passion in his voice—"doesn't count. Understand? You're one of these strikers, aren't you? Well, the whole lot of you"—his voice rose—"are on a strike against God, whose principal law is that man should earn bread by the sweat of his brow."
Rhona trembled before these unbelievable words. She stared into his eyes, and he went on passionately:
"I've let some of you off with fines—but this has gone too far. I'll make an example of you. You shall go to the workhouse on Blackwells Island for five days. Next!"
Joe, too, was dazed. But he whispered to Rhona:
"Meet it bravely. I'll tell the girls!"
Her arm was grasped, she was pushed, without volition, through crowding faces; and at length, after another ride in the patrol wagon, she found herself on a narrow cot in a narrow cell. The door was slammed shut ominously. Dim light entered through a high aperture.
She flung herself down her whole length, and sobbed. Bitter was life for Rhona Hemlitz, seventeen years old....
* * * * *
Joe, in the court-room, had seized Myra's arm.
"Let us get out of this!"
They went through the gateway, up the aisle, out the dim entrance, into the streets. It was two in the morning, and the narrow canons were emptied of life, save the shadowy fleeting shape of some night prowler, some creature of the underworld. The air was a trifle less cold, and a fine hard snow was sifting down—crunched underfoot—a bitter, tiny, stinging snow—hard and innumerable.
Cavernous and gloomy seemed the street, as they trudged west, arm in arm. Myra had never been so stirred in her life; she felt as if things ugly and dangerous had been released in her heart; a flame seemed raging in her breast. And then as they went on, Joe found vent in hard words.
"And such things go on in this city—in this high civilization—and this is a part of life—and then they wonder why we are so unreasonable. It goes on, and they shut their eyes to it. The newspapers and magazines hush it up. No, no, don't give this to the readers, they want something pleasant, something optimistic! Suppress it! Don't let the light of publicity smite it and clear it up! Let it go on! Let the secret sore fester. It smells bad, it looks bad. Keep the surgeon away. We might lose subscribers, we might be accused of muck-raking. But I tell you," his voice rose, "this world will never be much better until we face the worst of it! Oh," he gave a heavy groan, "Myra! Myra! I wonder if I ever will be happy again!"
Myra spoke from her heart.
"You're overworked, Joe; you're unstrung. Perhaps you see this too big—out of perspective!"
He spoke with intense bitterness.
"It's all my fault. It's all my fault. If I hadn't been so sleepy I'd have sent for a lawyer. I thought, of course, he'd be there!"
Myra spoke eagerly:
"That's just it, Joe. Oh, won't you take a rest? Won't you go away awhile? Just for your work's sake."
He mused sadly:
"Mother keeps saying the same thing."
"She's right!" cried Myra. "Joe, you're killing yourself. How can you really serve the strike if you're in this condition?"
He spoke more quietly.
"They need me, Myra. Do you think I'm worse off than Rhona?"
Myra could not answer this. It is a curious fact that some of the terrible moments of life are afterward treasured as the great moments. Looked back upon, they are seen to be the vital step forward, the readjustment and growth of character, and not for anything would any real man or woman miss them. Afterward Myra discovered that this night had been one of the master nights of her life, and when she repictured that walk up Tenth Street at two in the morning, through the thin sifting snow, the big tragic man at he; side, it seemed a beautiful and wonderful thing. They had been all alone out in the city's streets, close together, feeling as one the reality of life, sharing as one the sharp unconquerable tragedy, suffering together against the injustice of the world.
But at the moment she felt only bitter, self-reproachful, and full of pity for poor human beings. It was a time when the divine creatures born of woman seemed mere little waifs astray in a friendless universe, somehow lost on a cruel earth, crying like children in the pitiless night, foredoomed and predestined to broken hearts and death. It seemed a very sad and strange mystery, and more sad, more strange to be one of these human beings herself.
They reached the house. Lights were still burning in the office, and when they entered they found the District Committee sitting about the red stove, still working out the morrow's plans. Giotto was there, Sally Heffer, and Jacob Izon, and others, tired, pale, and huddled, but still toiling wearily with one another. As Joe and Myra came in they looked up, and Sally rose.
"Is she—" she began, and then spoke angrily, "I can see she's been held."
Joe smiled sadly.
"Sent to the workhouse for five days."
Exclamations of indignation arose. The committee could not believe it.
"I wish," cried impetuous Sally, "that magistrate were my husband. I'd throw a flatiron at his head and put some castor-oil in his soup!"
Joe laughed a little. He looked at his watch, and then at Myra.
"Myra," he said, gently, "it's two o'clock—too late to go home. You must sleep with mother."
Myra spoke softly.
"No—I can get home all right."
He took her by the arm.
"Myra," he leaned over, "do just this one thing for me."
"I will!" she breathed.
He led her in through his room, and knocked softly.
"Yes," came a clear, wide-awake voice. "I'm awake, Joe."
"Here's Myra. May she stay with you?"
Myra went in, but turned.
"Joe," she said, tremulously, "you're not going to stay up with that committee?"
"They need me, Myra."
"But, Joe," her voice broke—"this is too much of a good thing—"
Joe's mother interrupted her.
"Better leave the boy alone, Myra—to-night, anyway."
"I'll try to cut it short! Sweet dreams, ladies!"
For long they heard his voice mingled with the others, as they lay side by side in the black darkness. But Myra was glad to be near him, glad to share his invisible presence. After she had told Joe's mother about Rhona, the two, unable to sleep, talked quietly for some time. Drawn together by their love for Joe—and Joe's mother was quick in divining—they felt as if they knew each other intimately, though they had met for the first time that afternoon, when Myra, having reported Rhona's arrest to Joe, groped her way blindly to the rear kitchen and stood, trying not to sob, before the elder woman.
She had asked:
"Are you Mrs. Blaine?" and had gone on. "I'm Myra—Myra Craig. Joe and I used to know each other."
Whereupon Joe's mother, remembering something Joe had said of writing to a Myra Craig in the country, suddenly understood. There was a swift, "What! You and he—?" a sob from Myra, and the two were in each other's arms. Then followed supper and a quiet evening.
And now in the darkness they lay and talked.
"I've been worrying about Joe," Mrs. Blaine mused, softly.
"Can't you see why?"
"He looks badly," Myra sighed.
"Joe," said his mother, quietly, "is killing himself. He doesn't listen to me, and I don't want to interfere too much."
"Isn't there anything to be done?"
There was a silence and then Joe's mother spoke in a strange personal voice.
"What if you could do something."
Myra could hardly speak.
"You." A hand caught hers. "Try. He's simply giving his life to the cause."
There was a silence a little while. The tears were wet upon Myra's cheeks.
"Tell me about yourself—what you've been doing—both of you."
And as Mrs. Blaine told her, time and time again Myra laughed softly, or was glad the darkness concealed those unbidden tears.
But as Mrs. Blaine spoke of the attack of Marrin's men, Myra was thrilled.
"But what happened afterward?" she cried. "Isn't he in danger now? Mightn't there be another attack?"
Joe's mother's voice rang.
"Afterward? It was wonderful. The whole neighborhood rose to Joe's side. They even started a subscription to rebuild the press. Oh, the people here are amazing!"
"And the men who mobbed him?"
"Many were arrested, but Joe did not appear against them, and the men from Marrin's were the first to come in and tell of their remorse. As for the thugs and criminals—they don't dare lift their heads. Public opinion is hot against them."
Thus they talked, intimately, sweetly, and at last the elder woman kissed the younger good-night.
"But, dear, you've been crying!"
"Oh, I'm so glad to be here!" sobbed Myra. "So glad to be with you!"
And even then she had a sense of the greatness and wonder of that day; how new and untapped forces in her nature were emerging; how the whole seeming of life—"These shows of the night and day"—was changing for her; how life was deepening down to its bitter roots, roots bitter but miraculously sheathed in crystalline springs; in sweet waters, in beauty and love and mystery. It was the finding of her own soul—a power great enough to endure tragedy and come forth to a richer laughter and a wiser loveliness. Only thus does life reveal its meanings and its miracles, and prove that it is an adventure high and fine, ever tending higher, ever more enriched with faith and marvelous strength, and that mirth that meets the future with an expectant smile.
So thinking, so feeling, she grew drowsier, sank deeper—her body tired in every muscle, in every bone—her mind unable to keep awake; and so she faded into the pure rest of sleep.
That next day was as a dream to Rhona. Not until evening did it become real. Breakfast was brought to her cell, but she did not taste it. Next she was led out by a policeman to the street and packed in the patrol wagon with eight other women. The morning was gray, with a hard sifting snow, and as the wagon bumped over cobblestones, Rhona breathed deep of the keen air.
The ride seemed without end; but next she was in a ferry; and then, last, was hurried into a long gray building on Blackwells Island.
Her cell was fairly large, and contained two cots, one against each wall. She was left disconsolately alone, numb, in despair, and moving about in a dream.
But after supper she found herself locked in with another woman. She sat down on the edge of her cot, in the dim light of the room, and with a sharp glance, half fear, half curiosity, regarded her room-mate. This other was a woman of possibly thirty years, with sallow cheeks, bright burning eyes, and straggly hair. She stood before the little wall mirror, apparently examining herself. Suddenly she turned:
"What you looking at, kid?"
Rhona averted her eyes.
"I didn't mean—"
"Say," said the other, "ain't I the awful thing? Not a rat or a puff or a dab of rouge allowed in these here premises. I do look a sight—a fright. Gee!" She turned. "You're not so worse. A little pale, kid."
She came over and sat next to Rhona.
"What'll I call you?"
Rhona shrank. She was a sensitive, ignorant girl, and did not understand this type of woman. Something coarse, familiar, vulgar seemed to grate against her.
"Rhona's my name," she breathed.
"Well, that's cute! Call you Ronie?" She stretched out her arms. "Oh, slats! I'd give my teeth for a cigarette and a Manhattan cocktail. Wouldn't I, though!"
The woman turned toward her.
"My name's Millie. Now we're pals, eh?" Then she rattled on: "First time in the workhouse? Comes hard at first, doesn't it? Cut off from friends and fun—and ain't the work beastly? Say, Ronie, what's your job in little old New York?"
Rhona swallowed a dull sob.
"I haven't any—we're on strike."
Millie jumped up.
"What, you one of them shirtwaist strikers?"
"Why did they run you in?"
"An officer struck me, and then said I struck him."
"Just like a man! Oh, I know men! Depend upon it, I know the men! So, you were a shirt-waist-maker. How much d'yer earn?"
"Oh, about five or six a week."
"A—week!" Millie whistled. "And I suppose ten hours a day, or worse, and I suppose work that would kill an ox."
"Yes," said Rhona, "hard work."
Millie sat down and put an arm about the shrinking girl.
"Say, kiddie, I like you. I'm going to chuck a little horse sense at you. Now you listen to me. My sister worked in a pickle-place over in Pennsy, and she lasted just two years, and then, galloping consumption, and—" She snapped her fingers, her voice became husky. "Poor fool! Two years is the limit where she worked. And who paid the rent? I did. But of course I wasn't respectable—oh no! I was a sinner. Well, let me tell you something. In my business a woman can last five to ten years. Do you blame me? And I get clothes, and the eats, and the soft spots, and I live like a lady.... That's the thing for you! Why do you wear yourself out—slave-work and strikes and silly business?... You'll never get married.... The work will make you a hag in another year or two, and who will want you? And say, you've got to live just once—got to be just downright woman for a little spell, anyway.... Come with me, kid ... my kind of life."
Rhona looked at her terrified. She did not understand. What sort of woman was this? How live in luxury without working? How be downright woman?
"What do you mean?" asked the young girl.
So Millie told her. They went to bed, their light was put out, and neither had a wink of sleep. Rhona lay staring in the darkness and over the room came the soft whisper of Millie bearing a flood of the filth of the underworld. Rhona could not resist it. She lay helpless, quaking with a wild horror.... Later she remembered that night in Russia when she and others hid under the corn in a barn while the mob searched over their heads—a moment ghastly with impending mutilation and death—and she felt that this night was more terrible than that. Her girlhood seemed torn to shreds.... Dawn broke, a watery glimmer through the high barred window. Rhona rose from her bed, rushed to the door, pulled on the bars, and loosed a fearful shriek. The guard, running down, Millie, leaping forward, both cried:
"What's the matter?"
But the slim figure in the white nightgown fell down on the floor, and thus earned a few hours in the hospital.
* * * * *
They set her to scrubbing floors next day, a work for which she had neither experience nor strength. Weary, weary day—the large rhythm of the scrubbing-brush, the bending of the back, the sloppy, dirty floors—on and on, minute after minute, on through the endless hours. She tried to work diligently, though she was dizzy and sick, and felt as if she were breaking to pieces. Feverishly she kept on. Lunch was tasteless to her; so was supper; and after supper came Millie.
No one can tell of those nights when the young girl was locked in with a hard prostitute—nights, true, of lessening horror, and so, all the more horrible. As Rhona came to realize that she was growing accustomed to Millie's talk—even to the point of laughing at the jokes—she was aghast at the dark spaces beneath her and within her. She was becoming a different sort of being—she looked back on the hard-toiling girl, who worked so faithfully, who tried to study, who had a quiet home, whose day was an innocent routine of toil and meals and talk and sleep, as on some one who was beautiful and lovely, but now dead. In her place was a sharp, cynical young woman. Well for Rhona that her sentence was but five days!
The next afternoon she was scrubbing down the long corridor between the cells when the matron came, jangling her keys.
"Some one here for you," said the matron.
Rhona leaped up.
"My mother?" she cried out, in a piercing voice.
"See here," said the matron, "you want to go easy—and only five minutes, mind you."
"My mother?" Rhona repeated, her heart near to bursting.
"No—some one else. Come along."
Rhona followed, half choking. The big door was unlocked before her and swung open; she peered out. It was Joe and Myra.
Seeing these faces of friends suddenly recalled her to her old world, to the struggle, the heroism, the strike, and, filled with a sense of her imprisonment and its injustice, she rushed blindly out into the open arms of Myra and was clutched close, close.
And then she sobbed, wept for minutes, purifying tears. And suddenly she had an inspiration, a flash of the meaning of her martyrdom, how it could be used as a fire and a torch to kindle and lead the others.
She lifted up her face.
"You tell the girls," she cried, "it's perfectly wonderful to be here. It's all right. Just you tell them it's all right. Any of them would be glad to do it!"
And then the matron, who was listening, stepped forward.
There was one kiss, one hug, and the brave girl was led away. The door slammed her in.
Joe and Myra looked at each other, awed, thrilled. Tears trickled down Myra's face.
"Oh," she cried low, "isn't it lovely? Isn't it wonderful?"
He spoke softly.
"The day of miracles isn't over. Women keep on amazing me. Come!"
Quietly they walked out into the warm, sunshiny day. Streaks of snow were vanishing in visible steam. The sky was a soft blue, bulbous with little puffs of cloud. Myra felt an ineffable peace. Rhona's heroism had filled her with a new sense of human power. She longed to speak with Joe—she longed, as they stood on the ferry, and glided softly through the wash and sway of the East River, to share her sweet emotions with him. But he had pulled out a note-book and was busily making jottings. He seemed, if anything, more worn than ever, more tired. He was living on his nerves. The gray face was enough to bring tears to a woman's eyes, and the lank, ill-clothed form seemed in danger of thinning away to nothingness. So Myra said nothing, but kept looking at him, trying to save him by her strength of love, trying to send out those warm currents and wrap him up and infuse him with life and light and joy.
All the way out he had been silent, preoccupied. In fact, all these three days he had been preoccupied—toiling terribly early and late, busy, the center of a swarm of human activities, his voice everywhere, his pen in his hand. Meals he ate at his desk while he wrote, and sleep was gained in little snatches. Myra had been there to watch him, there to help him. Since that night in the court, she had come early and stayed until ten in the evening, doing what work she could. And there was much to be done—she found a profitable task in instructing new recruits in the rules of picketing—and also in investigating cases of need. These took her to strange places. She had vistas of life she had not dreamed to be true—misery she had thought confined to novels, to books like Les Miserables. It was all wonderful and strange and new. She was beginning to really know the life of the Greater Number—the life of the Nine-Tenths—and as she got used to the dust, the smells, and the squalor, she found daily all the richness of human nature. It was dramatic, absorbing, real. Where was it leading her? She hardly knew yet. The strangeness had not worn off.
She had been watching Joe, and she felt that he was hardly aware of her presence. He took her and her work as a matter of course. And this did not embitter her, for she felt that the time had passed for privileges, that this was a season in Joe's life when he belonged to a mass of the people, to a great cause, and that she had no right to any part of his life. He was so deep in it, so overwrought, that it was best to let him alone, to keep him free from the responsibility of personal relationships, not to burden him with added emotionalism. And so she accepted the rule of Joe's mother—to do Joe's bidding without question, to let him have his way, waiting patiently for the time when he would need and cry out for the personal. When that time came the two women were ready to help to heal, to nurse—to bind the wounds and soothe the troubled heart, and rebuild the broken spirit. It might be, of course, that in the end he would shut Myra out; that was a contingency she had to face; but she thought that, whatever came, she was getting herself equal to it.
They left the ferry and walked over to Second Avenue and took an elevated train. Then Joe spoke—leaning near, his voice gentle:
"I've been wondering."
"About this strike business. Wondering if it isn't mostly waste."
She found herself saying eagerly:
"But what else can the people do?"
He shook his head.
"In this country if men only voted right ... only had the right sort of government.... What are they gaining this way? It's too costly."
"But how are they going to vote right?"
"Education!" he exclaimed. "Training! We must train the children in democracy. We must get at the children."
Myra was amazed.
"Then you think your work is ... of the wrong sort?"
"No! no!" he said. "Everything helps—we must try every way—I may not be fit for any other way than this. But I'm beginning to think it isn't of the best sort. Maybe it's the only thing to do to-day, however."
She began to throb with a great hope.
"Don't you think," she cried, "you ought to go off and take a rest and think it over? You know you might go into politics, to Congress, or something—then you could really do something."
He looked at her with surprise.
"How you're thinking these days!" he mused. But then he went on very wearily. "Rest? Myra," his voice sank, "if I ever come out of this alive, I'll rest—rest deep, rest deep. But there's no end—no end to it...."
He reverted to the problem of the strike.
"Don't you think there's right on the other side, too? Don't you think many of the employers are doing all they can under present conditions? We're asking too much. We want men to change their methods before we change conditions. Who can do it? I tell you, I may be wronging as fine a lot of men as there are."
"Then why did you go into it?" she asked, quickly.
"I didn't. It came to me. It bore me under. But I haven't made a mistake this time. By chance I'm on the righter side, the better side. When it comes to the women in industry, there's no question. It is killing the future to work them this way—it is intolerable, inhuman, insane. We must stop it—and as we don't vote right, we must strike. A strike is justified these days—will be, until there's some other way of getting justice. Anyway, this time," he said, fiercely, "I'm right. But I'm wondering about the future. I'm wondering...."
He said nothing further, digging again at his notes. But Myra now nourished a hope, a secret throbbing hope ... the first ray of a new and more confident morning.
Myra moved down to West Tenth Street. She found a neat, little hall bedroom in one of the three-story brick houses—a little white room, white-curtained, white-walled, with white counterpane on the iron bed. She was well content with these narrow quarters, content because it was near Joe, content because it saved money (her savings were dwindling rapidly these days), and finally content because she had shifted the center of her interests to a different set of facts. She was both too busy and too aroused to be sensitive about running water and the minor comforts. Her whole being was engrossed in large activities, and she found with astonishment how many things she could do without. What previously had seemed so important, poetry, music, dress, quiet, ease, now became little things lost in a host of new big events. And, curiously enough, she found a new happiness in this freedom from superfluities—a sense of range and independence new to her. For at this time such things actually were superfluous, though the time was to come again when music and poetry had a new and heightened meaning.
But during these days of the strike she was a quite free woman, snatching her sleep and her food carelessly, and putting in her time in spending heart and soul on the problem in hand. She dressed simply, in shirtwaist and skirt, and she moved among the people as if she were one of them, and with no sense of contrast. In fact, Myra was changing, changing rapidly. Her work called for a new set of powers, and without hesitation these new powers rose within her, emerged and became a part of her character. She became executive, quick, stepped into any situation that confronted her, knew when to be mild, when to be sharp, sensed where sympathy was needed, and also where sympathy merely softened and ruined. Her face, too, followed this inner change. Soft lines merged into something more vivid. She was usually pale, and her sweet, small mouth had a weary droop, but her eyes were keen and living, and lit with vital force.
She began to see that a life of ease and a life of extreme toil were both equally bad—that each choked off possibilities. She knew then that women of her type walked about with hidden powers unused, their lives narrowed and blighted, negative people who only needed some great test, some supreme task, to bring out those hidden forces, which, gushing through the soul, overflowing, would make of them characters of abounding vitality. She felt the glory of men and women who go about the world bubbling over with freshness and zest and life, warming the lives they move among, spreading by quick contagion their faith and virility. She longed to be such a person—to train herself in that greatest of all the arts—the touching of other lives, drawing a music from long-disused heart-strings, rekindling, reanimating, the torpid spirit. It was her search for more life—richer, thicker, happier, more intense.
Her model was Joe's mother. It seemed to her that Joe's mother had met life and conquered it, and so would never grow old. She never found the older woman soured or bitter or enfeebled. Even about death there was no flinching.
"Don't you think I know," said Joe's mother, "that there is something precious in me that isn't going to go with the body? Just look at this body! That's just what's happening already! I'm too young to die. And besides I know one or two people whom I lost years ago—too precious to be lost—I've faith in them."
This, then, is the greatest victory of life: to treat death as a mere incident in the adventure; an emigration to a new country; a brief and tragic "auf wiedersehen." It has its pang of parting, and its pain of new birth—all birth is a struggle full of pain—but it is the only door to the future. Well for Joe's mother that her hand was ready to grasp the dark knob and turn it when the time came.
Once as she and Joe's mother were snatching a lunch together in the kitchen, the elder woman spoke softly:
"Myra, you're a great girl!" (She persisted in calling Myra a girl, though Myra kept telling her she was nearly thirty-three and old enough to be dignified.) "What will I ever do without you when the strike is over?"
"Is it as bad as that?"
"Yes, and getting worse, Myra!"
Myra flushed with joy.
"I'm glad. I'm very glad."
Joe's mother watched her a little.
"How have you been feeling, Myra?"
"I?—" Myra was surprised. "Oh, I'm all right! I haven't time to be unwell."
"You really think you're all right, then?"
"Oh, I know it! This busy life is doing me good."
"It does most of us good." She changed the subject.
Myra felt, with great happiness, that she was coming into harmony with Joe's mother. She would have been quite amazed, however, to know that Joe's mother was secretly struggling to adjust herself. For Joe's mother could not help thinking that the time might come when Joe and Myra would marry, and she was schooling herself for this momentous change. She kept telling herself: "There is no one in the world I ought to love more than the woman that Joe loves and weds." And yet it was hard to release her son, to take that life which had for years been closest to her, and had been partly in her hands, relinquish it and give it over into the keeping of another. There were times, however, when she pitied Myra, pitied her because Joe was engrossed in his work and had no emotions or thoughts to spare. And she wondered at such times whether Joe would ever marry, whether he would ever be willing to make his life still more complex. She watched Myra closely, with growing admiration; saw the changes in her, the faithful struggle, the on-surging power, and she thought:
"If it's to be any one, I know no one I should love more."
There were times, however, when she mentally set Myra side by side with Sally, to the former's overshadowing. Sally was so clean-cut, direct, such a positive character. She was hardy and self-contained, and would never be dependent. Her relationships with Joe always implied interdependence, a perfect give and take, a close yet easy comradeship which enabled her at any time to go her own way and work her own will. Sometimes Joe's mother felt that Sally was a woman of the future, and that, with such, marriage would become a finer and freer union. However, her imaginative match-making made her smile, and she thought: "Joe won't pick a mate with his head. The thing will just happen to him—or not." And as she came to know Myra better, she began to feel that possibly a woman who would take Joe away from his work, instead of involving him deeper, would, in the end, be best for him. Such a woman would mean peace, relaxation, diversion. She was greatly concerned over Joe's absorption in the strike, and once, when it appeared that the struggle might go on endlessly, she said to Myra:
"Sometimes I think Joe puts life off too much, pushing his joys into the future, not always remembering that he will never be more alive than now, and that the days are being lopped off."
Myra had a little table of her own, near the door, and this table, when she was there, was always a busy center. The girls liked her, liked to talk with her, were fond of her musical voice and her quiet manners. Some even got in the habit of visiting her room with her and having quiet talks about their lives. Sally, however, did not share this fondness for Myra. She felt that Myra was an intruder—that Myra was interposing a wall between her and Joe—and she resented the intrusion. She could not help noticing that Joe was becoming more and more impersonal with her, but then, she thought, "people are not persons to him any more; he's swallowed up in the cause." Luckily she was too busy during the day, too tired at night, to brood much on the matter. However, one evening at committee meeting, her moment of realization came. The committee, including Myra and Joe and herself and some five others, were sitting about the hot stove, discussing the call of a Local on the East Side for a capable organizer.
"It's hard to spare any one," mused Joe, "and yet—" He looked about the circle. "There's Miss Craig and—Miss Heffer."
Both Myra and Sally turned pale and trembled a little. Each felt as if the moment had come when he would shut one or the other out of his life. Sally spoke in a low voice:
"I'm pretty busy right here, Mr. Joe."
"I know," he reflected. "And I guess Miss Craig could do it."
He opened the stove door, took the tiny shovel, stuck it into the coal-box, and threw some fresh coal on the lividly red embers. Then he stood up and gazed round the circle again.
"Sally," he said, "it's your work—you'll have to go."
She bowed her head.
"You're sure," she murmured, "I'm not needed here?"
"Needed?" he mused. "Yes. But needed more over there!"
She looked up at him and met his eyes. Her own were pleading with him.
"Surely, Sally. We're not in this game for fun, are we?"
"I'll do as you say," she breathed.
Her head began to swim; she felt as if she would break down and cry. She arose.
"I'll be right back."
She groped her way through the inner rooms to the kitchen. Joe's mother was reading.
"Sally! What's the matter?"
Joe's mother arose.
"I'm going ... going to another Local.... I'm leaving here to-night ... for good and always."
Joe's mother drew her close, and Sally sobbed openly.
"It's been my home here—the first I've had in years—but I'll never come back."
"Oh, you must come back."
"No...." she looked up bravely. "Mrs. Blaine."
"He doesn't need me any more; he's outgrown me; he doesn't need any one now."
What could Joe's mother say?
"Sally!" she cried, and then she murmured: "It's you who don't need any one, Sally. You're strong and independent. You can live your own live. And you've helped make Joe strong. Wait, and see."
And she went on to speak of Sally's work, of her influence in the place, of the joy she brought to others, and finally Sally said:
"Forgive me for coming to you like a baby."
"Oh, it's fine of you to come to me!"
"So," cried Sally, "good-by."
She found her hat and coat and slipped away, not daring to say good-by to Joe. But as she went through the dark winter night she realized how one person's happiness is often built on another's tragedy. And so Sally went, dropping for the time being out of Joe's life.
* * * * *
There was one event that took place two weeks after Myra's coming, which she did not soon forget. It was the great mass-meeting to celebrate the return of Rhona and some others who had also been sent to the workhouse. Myra and Joe sat together. After the music, the speeches, Rhona stepped forward, slim, pale, and very little before that gigantic auditorium. She spoke simply.
"I was picketing on Great Jones Street. A man came up and struck me. I had him arrested. But in court he said I struck him, and the judge sent me to Blackwells Island. I had to scrub floors. But it was only for five days. I think we ought all to be glad to go to the workhouse, because that will help women to be free and help the strikers. I'm glad I went. It wasn't anything much."
They cheered her, for they saw before them a young heroine, victorious, beloved, ideal. But when Myra called at Hester Street, a week later, Rhona's mother had something else to say.
"Rhona? Well, you had ought to seen her when we first landed! Ah! she was a beauty, my Rhona—such cheeks, such hair, such eyes—laughing all the time. But now—ach!" She sighed dreadfully. "So it goes. Only, I wished she wasn't always so afraid—afraid to go out ... afraid ... so nervous ... so ... different."
Myra never forgot this. It sent her back to her work with wiser and deeper purpose. And so she fought side by side with Joe through the blacks weeks of that January. It seemed strange that Joe didn't go under. He loomed about the place, a big, stoop-shouldered, gaunt man, with tragic gray face and melancholy eyes and deepening wrinkles. All the tragedy and pathos and struggle of the strike were marked upon his features. His face summed up the sorrows of the thirty thousand. Myra sometimes expected him to collapse utterly. But he bore on, from day to day, doing his work, meeting his committees, and getting out the paper.
Here, too, Myra found she could help him. She insisted on writing the strike articles, and as Jacob Izon was also writing, there was only the editorial for Joe to do. The paper did not miss an issue, and as it now had innumerable canvassers among the strikers, its circulation gained rapidly—rising finally to 20,000.
Even at this time Joe seemed to take no special notice of Myra. But one slushy, misty night, when the gas-lamps had rainbow haloes, and gray figures sluff-sluffed through the muddy snow, she accompanied Joe on one of his fund-raising tours. They entered the side door of a dingy saloon, passed through a yellow hall, and emerged finally on the platform of a large and noisy rear room where several hundred members of the Teamsters' Union were holding a meeting. Gas flared above the rough and elemental faces, and Myra felt acutely self-conscious under that concentrated broadside of eyes. She sat very still, flushing, and feebly smiling, while the outdoor city men blew the air white and black with smoke and raised the temperature to the sweating-point.
Joe was introduced; the men clapped; and then he tried hard to arouse their altruism—to get them to donate to the strike out of their union funds. However, his speech came limp and a little stale. The applause was good-natured but feeble. Joe sat down, sighing, and smiling grimly.
An amazing yet natural thing happened. The Chairman arose, leaned over his table, and said:
"You have heard from Mr. Joe Blaine; now you will hear from the other member of the committee."
Not for some seconds—not until the stamping of feet rose to a fury of sound—did Myra realize that she was the other member. She had a sense of being drained of life, of losing her breath. Instinctively she glanced at Joe, and saw that he was looking at her a little dubiously, a little amusedly. What could she do? She had never addressed a meeting in her life; she had never stood on her feet before a group of men; she had nothing learned, nothing to say. But how could she excuse herself, how withdraw, especially in the face of Joe's challenging gaze?
The stamping increased; the men clapped; and there were shouts:
"Come ahead! Come on! That's right, Miss." It was a cruel test, a wicked predicament. All the old timidity and sensitiveness of her nature held her back, made her tremble, and bathed her face in perspiration. But a new Myra kept saying:
"Joe didn't rouse them. Some one must." She set her feet on the floor, and the deafening thunder of applause seemed to raise her. She took a step forward. And then with a queer motion she raised her hand. There was an appalling silence, a silence more dreadful than the noise, and Myra felt her tongue dry to its root.
"I—" she began, "I want to say—tell you—" She paused, startled by the queer sound of her own voice. She could not believe it was herself speaking; it seemed some one else. And then, sharply, a wonderful thing took place. A surge of strength filled her. She took a good look around. Her brain cleared; her heart slowed. It was the old trick of facing the worst, and finding the strength was there to meet it and turn it to the best. All at once Myra exulted. She would take these hundreds of human beings and swing them. She could do it.
Her voice was rich, vibrating, melodious.
"I want to tell you a little about this strike—what it means. I want to tell you what the girls and women of this city are capable of—what heroism, what toil, what sacrifice and nobility. It is not the easiest thing to live a normal woman's life. You know that. You know how your mothers or wives or sisters have been slaving and stinting—what pain is theirs, what burdens, what troubles. But think of the life of a girl of whom I shall tell you—a young girl by the name of Rhona Hemlitz."
She went on. She told the story of Rhona's life, and then quietly she turned to her theme.
"You understand now, don't you? Are you going to help these girls win their fight?"
The walls trembled with what followed—stamping, shouting, clapping. Myra sat down, her cheeks red, her eyes brilliant. And then suddenly a big hand closed over hers and a deep voice whispered:
"Myra, you set yourself free then. You are a new woman!"
That was all. She had shocked Joe with the fact of the new Myra, and now the new Myra had come to stay. They raised twenty-five dollars that night. From that time on Myra was a free and strong personality, surprising even Joe's mother, who began to realize that this was not the woman to take Joe from his work, but one who would fight shoulder to shoulder with him until the very end.
In the beginning of February the strike began to fade out. Employers right and left were making compromises with the girls, and here and there girls were deserting the union and going back. The office at West Tenth Street became less crowded, fewer girls came, fewer committees met. There was one night when the work was all done at eleven o'clock, and this marked the reappearance of normal conditions.
It was a day or two later that a vital experience came to Joe. Snow was falling outside, and it was near twilight, and in the quiet Joe was busy at his desk. Then a man came in, well, but carelessly dressed, his face pinched and haggard, his eyes bloodshot, his hair in stray tufts over his wrinkled forehead.
"I want to see you a minute, Mr. Blaine."
The voice was shaking with passion.
"Sit down," said Joe, and the man took the seat beside him.
"I'm Mr. Lissner—Albert Lissner—I was the owner of the Lissner Shirtwaist Company."
Joe looked at him.
"Lissner? Oh yes, over on Eighth Street."
The man went on:
"Mr. Blaine, I had eighty girls working for me.... I always did all I could for them ... but there was fierce competition, and I was just skimping along, and I had to pay small wages;... but I was good to those girls.... They didn't want to strike ... the others made them...."
Joe was stirred.
"Yes, I know ... many of the shops were good...."
"Well," said Lissner, with a shaking, bitter smile, "you and your strike have ruined me.... I'm a ruined man.... My family and I have lost everything.... And, it's killed my wife."
His face became terrible—very white, and the eyes staring—he went on in a hollow, low voice:
"I—I've lost all."
There was a silence; then Lissner spoke queerly:
"I happen to know about you, Mr. Blaine.... You were the head of that printing-place that burnt down...."
Joe felt a shock go through him, as if he had seen a ghost....
"Well, maybe you did all you could for your men;... maybe you were a good employer.... Yet see what came of it...." Suddenly Lissner's voice rose passionately: "And yet you had the nerve to come around and get after us fellows, who were just as good as you. There are bad employers, and bad employees, too—bad people of every kind—but maybe most people are good. You couldn't help what happened to you; neither can we help it if the struggle is too fierce—we're victims, too. It's conditions, it's life. We can't change the world in a day. And yet you—after your fire—come here and ruin us."
Joe was shaken to his depths. Lissner had made an overstatement, and yet he had thrown a new light on the strike, and he had reminded Joe of his long-forgotten guilt. And suddenly Joe knew. All are guilty; all share in the corruption of the world—the laborer anxious for mass-tyranny and distrustful of genius, the aristocrat afraid of soiling his hands, the capitalist intent on power and wealth, the artist neglectful of all but a narrow artifice, each one limited by excess or want, by intellect or passion, by vanity or lust, and all struggling with one another to wrest some special gift for himself. In the intricacy of civilization there are no real divisions, but every man is merely a brain cell, a nerve, in the great organism, and what one man gains, some other must lose. It was a world he got a glimpse of quite different from that sharp twofold world of the workers and the money-power, a world of infinite gradations, a world merely the child of the past, where high and low were pushed by the resistless pressure of environment, and lives were shaped by birth, chance, training, position, and a myriad, myriad indefinable forces.
All of this confused him at first, and it had been so long since he had dealt with theories that it was some time before the chaos cleared, some time before the welter of new thought took shape in his mind. But it made him humble, receptive, teachable, it made him more kindly and more gentle. He began a mental stock-taking; he began to examine into the lives about him.
Myra was there—the new Myra, a Myra with daily less to do in that office, and with more and more time to think. From her heart was lifted the hard hand of circumstance, releasing a tenderness and yearning which flooded her brain. It was a tragic time for her. She knew now that her services were nearly at an end, and that she must go her own way. She would not be near Joe any longer—she would not have the heart's ease of his presence—she could no longer brood over him and protect him.
It seemed to her that she could not bear the future. Her love for Joe rose and overwhelmed her. She became self-conscious before him, paled when he spoke to her, and when he was away her longing for him was insupportable. She wanted him now—all her life cried out for him—all the woman in her went out to mate with this man. The same passion that had drawn her from the country to his side now swayed and mastered her.
"Joe! Joe!" her soul cried, "take me now! This is too much for me to bear!"
And more and more the thought of his health oppressed her. If she only had the power to take him to her breast, draw him close in her arms, mother him, heal him, smooth the wrinkles, kiss the droop of the big lips, and pour her warm and infinite love into his heart. That surely must save him—love surely would save this man.
She began to scheme and dream—to plot ways of getting about him, of routing him out, of tearing him from his rut.
And then one afternoon at two she risked her all. It was an opportune time. Joe—wonder of wonders—was doing nothing, but sitting back like a gray wreck, with his feet crossed on his desk, and a vile cigar in his mouth. It was the first cigar in ages, and he puffed on it and brooded dreamily.
Myra came over, sat down beside him, and spoke airily.
"Why, hello, Myra!" he cried. "What d'ye mean by helloing me?"
"I'm glad to meet you."
"Same to you."
"I've come back from the country, Joe."
"So I see."
"Haven't I eyes?"
"Well," she said, flushed, bending forward, "Joe Blaine, where have your eyes been these five weeks?"
"They were on strike!" he said, promptly.
"Well," she said, "the strike's over!"
They laughed together as they had not since far and far in the beginning of things.
Joe leaned near.
"Myra," he said, "I need an airing. Take me out and shake me out! Oh!" he stretched his arms above his head. "Have I been hibernating and is it springtime again?"
"I want you to take me somewhere."
"To—the printery—I want to see it again."
"Go 'long wid you! Marty Briggs and me are bad friends, see?"
She reveled in this new gaiety of his.
"Joe, you're waking up. Please take me!"
"Put on your hat, your coat, and your little black gloves, young woman. Me for the printery!"
They went out together, glad as young children. The world was sheathed in a hard ice-coated snow; icicles dangled from every sill and cornice; the skies were melting blue, and the sun flashed along every surface. It was a world of flashing fire, of iridescent sunbursts. Through the clean, tingling air they walked, arm in arm, the stir of a new life in their hearts.
"Joe," said Myra, "I want you to signalize your resurrection by a great sacrifice to the gods."
"I'm ready. Expound!"
"I want you to buy a new hat."
He took off his hat and examined it.
"What's the matter with this?"
"It's like yourself, Joe—worn out!"
"But the boys of Eighty-first Street won't know me in a new hat."
"Never mind the boys of Eighty-first Street. Do as I tell you."
"Aw, Myra, give me a day to steel my heart and strengthen my sinews. Wait till we come back."
"And you'll get it then?"
"Sure as fate."
"Well—just this once you'll have your way!"
So they took the elevated to Seventy-sixth Street and walked through the old neighborhood to the printery. The familiar streets, which secretly bore the print of every size shoe he had worn since he was a tiny toddling fellow, made him meditative, almost sad.
"It seems ages since I was here!" he remarked. "And yet it's like yesterday. What have I been doing? Dreaming? Will I walk into the printery, and will you come in with the 'Landing of the Pilgrims'?"
Myra laughed, both glad and sad.
"I should have charged you more," said Joe, brusquely. "Fifty cents was too little for that job."
"I told you it would ruin your business, Joe." Strangely then they thought of the fire ... her order had been his last piece of business before the tragedy.
They walked east on Eighty-first Street and stopped before the old loft building. A new sign was riveted on the bulletin-board in the doorway.
MARTIN BRIGGS SUCCESSOR TO JOE BLAINE & HIS MEN.
Joe looked at it, and started.
"It's no dream, Myra," he sighed. "Times have changed, and we, too, have changed."
Then they went up the elevator to the clash and thunder on the eighth floor. And they felt more and more strange, double, as it were—the old Myra and the old Joe walking with the new Myra and the new Joe. Myra felt a queerness about her heart, a subtle sense of impending events; of great dramatic issues. Something that made her want to cry.
Then they stood a moment before the dirty door, and Joe said:
"Shall I? Shall I rouse 'em with the bell? Shall I break in on their peaceful lives?"
"Rouse away!" cried Myra. "Your hour has struck!"
He pulled the door, the bell rang sharply, and they stepped in. As of old, the tremble, the clatter, the flash of machines, the damp smell of printed sheets, swallowed them up—made them a quivering part of the place. And how little it had changed! They stood, almost choking with the unchanging change of things. As if the fire had never been! As if Tenth Street had never been!
Then at once the spell was broken. A pressman spied Joe and loosed a yell:
"It's the old man!"
His press stopped; his neighbors' presses stopped; as the yell went down the room, "Joe! Joe! The old man!" press after press paused until only the clatter and swing of the overhead belting was heard. And the men came running up.
"Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Shake! For God's sake, give me a grip! This is great for sore eyes! Where you been keeping yourself? Ain't he the limit? He's the same old penny! Look at him—even his hat's the same!"
Joe shook hand after hand, until his own was numb. They crowded about him, they flung their fondness at him, and he stood, his eyes blinded with tears, his heart rent in his breast, and a new color climbing to his cheeks.
Then suddenly a loud voice cried:
"What's the matter? What does this mean?"
And Marty Briggs emerged from the office.
"Hello, Marty!" cried Joe.
Marty stood dumfounded; then he came with a rush.
"Joe! You son-of-a-gun! Beg pardon, Miss! I ain't seen him for a lifetime!"
"And how goes it, Marty? How goes it, Marty?"
"Tip-top; busy as beavers. But, say," he leaned over and whispered, "I've found a secret."
"What is it, Marty?"
"You can't run a business with your hands or lungs or your manners—you need gray stuff up here."
The reception was a great success, full of cross-questions, of bartered news—as the arrival of new babies christened Joe or Josephine, the passing of old babies in the last birth of all, the absence of old faces, the presence of new ones. Glad talk and rapid, and only cut short by the urgency of business.
They sang him out with a "He's a jolly good fellow," and he emerged on the street with Myra, his eyes dripping.
Myra spoke softly.
"There's one more thing I want you to do for me."
"I want to walk with you in the Park."
He looked at her strangely, breathlessly.
"In the Ramble, Myra?"
She met his gaze.
"In the Ramble, Joe."
Silently, with strange, beating hearts and fore-glimmer of beauty and wonder and loveliness, they walked west to the Park, and entered that Crystal Palace. For every branch, every twig, every stone and rail had its pendent ice and icicle, and the strong sun smote the world with flakes of flame. The trees were showers of rainbow-flashing glory; now and then an icicle dropped like a dart of fire, and the broad lawns were sheets of dazzle. Earth was glittering, fresh, new, decked out in unimaginable jewels under the vast and melting blue skies. The day was tender and clear and vigorous, tingling with life.
They followed the curve of the walk, they crossed the roadway, they climbed the hill, they walked the winding path of the Ramble.
"You remember that morning?" murmured Joe, a music waking in his heart, his pulses thronged with a new beauty.
"Remember it?" Myra whispered. "Yes, Joe, I remember it."
"That is the very bench we sat on."
"That is the bench."
"And that is the little pond."
"That is the little pond."
"And this is the spot."
"This is the spot."
They sat down on that bench in the crystal wilderness, a man and woman alone in the blue-skied spaces, among the tree-trunks, and the circle of earth. And then to Myra came an inexpressible moment of agony and longing and love. She had struggled months; she had stayed away; and then she had come back, and merged her life in the life of this man. And she could bear this no longer! Oh, Joe, will you never speak? Will you never come to your senses?
More and more color was rising to his face, and his hands in his lap were trembling. He tried to speak naturally—but his voice was odd and unreal.
"You must have thought me a brute."
"I thought—you were busy, overworked."
"So I was. I was swallowed up—swallowed up."
There was a silence, in which they heard little gray sparrows twittering in the sunlight.
He hardly heard her "yes."
"There's been a miracle in my life this year."
"The way you came down and took hold and made good."
"Thank you," very faintly.
"It was the biggest thing that came my way."
"I was noticing it, Myra, out of the tail of my eye."
Myra tried to laugh. It sounded more like a dull sob.
"I haven't time to be polite."
"Don't want you to," Myra blurted.
"Strange," said Joe, "how things come about. Hello, Mr. Squirrel! Want a peanut? None on the premises. Sorry. Good-day!"
He leaned over, picked a bit of ice, and flung it in the air.
"Myra," he muttered. "I need a rest."
"You do," almost inaudible.
"I need—Didn't I say, no peanuts? No means no! Good-day!"
He turned about laughing.
"What do you think of that for a pesky little animal?"
"Joe!" she cried in her agony.
Joe said nothing, but stared, and a great sob shook him and escaped his lips.
He had her in his arms; he kissed her on the lips—that new kiss, sealing those others. And the wonderful moment came and went; the moment when two flames leap into one fire; when two lives dashing upon each other blend into one wonderful torrent. They did not mind the publicity of the place that afternoon; they were quite oblivious of the world. They were in another realm, breathing another air, treading a different earth. It was too sacred for words, too miraculous for aught but the beating of their living hearts, the pulse of singing blood, the secret in their brains. Their years fell away. They were youth itself, dabbling with the miracles of the world; they were boy and girl, new-created man and woman. The world was a garden, and they were alone in that garden, and nothing but beauty was in that place. They had each other to behold and hear and touch and commune with. That was enough....
"Joe," said Myra, when the first glory had faded and they were conversing sweetly, "I made up my mind to save you, and I did!"
"Wonderful woman! And you're sure now you don't mind me—the way I'm constructed in the cranium and all that?"
"I love you, Joe!" She was as happy as a woman could be.
"I'm a powerful idiot, Myra."
"So am I."
"Well," he mused, "you're taking your chances. Suppose I go off into another strike or something?"
"I'll go with you."
"Myra," he said, "then let's go home and tell mother."
They were as happy as children. They were well satisfied with the world. In fact, they found it an amazingly good place. Every face that passed seemed touched with beauty and high moral purpose, and the slate of wrong and injustice and bitterness had been sponged clean.
"Oh, Myra," cried Joe, "isn't it great to know that we have it in us to go plumb loony once in a while? Isn't it great?"
And so they made their way home, and walked tiptoe to the kitchen, and stood hand in hand before Joe's mother. She wheeled.
Joe gulped heavily.
"I've brought you a daughter, mother, the loveliest one I could find!"
Myra sobbed, and started forward—Joe's mother grasped her in a tight hug, tears running fast.
"It's about time, Joe," she cried, "it's just about time."
Over the city the Spring cast its subtle spell. The skies had a more fleeting blue and softer clouds and more golden sun. Here and there on a window-sill a new red geranium plant was set out to touch the stone walls with the green earth's glory. The salt breath of the sea, wandering up the dusty avenues, called the children of men to new adventures—hinted of far countries across the world, of men going down to the sea in ships, of traffic and merchandise in fairer climes, of dripping forest gloom and glittering peaks, of liquid-lisping brooks and the green scenery of the open earth.
Restlessness seized the hearts of men and the works of men. From the almshouses and the jails emerged the vagrants, stopped overnight to meet their cronies in dives and saloons, and next day took the freight to the blooming West, or tramped by foot the dust of the roads that leave the city and go ribboning over the shoulder and horizon of the world. Windows were flung open, and the fresh sweet air came in to make the babies laugh and the women wistful and the men lazy. Factories droned with machines that seemed to grate against their iron fate. And of a night, now, the parks, the byways, and the waterside were the haunts of young lovers—stealing out together, arms round each other's waists—the future of the world in their trembling hands.
The air was full of the rumor of great things. Now, perchance, human nature at last was going to reveal itself, the love and hope and comradeliness and joy tucked away so deep in its interlinings. Now, possibly, the streets were going to be full of singing, and the housetops were going to rejoice with the mellower stars. Anything was possible. Did not earth set an example, showing how out of a hard dead crust and a forlorn and dry breast she could pour her new oceans of million-glorious life? If the dead tree could blossom and put forth green leaves, what dead soul need despair?
Swinging and swaying and gliding, the great white Sound liner came up on the morning and swept her flag-flapped way down the shining river. Her glad whistle released her buoyant joy to the city, and the little tugs and the ferries answered with their barks and their toots. Up she came, triple-decked, her screw swirling in the green salt water, her smoke curling lustrous in the low-hung sun. She passed Blackwells Island, she swung easily beneath the great span of the Fifty-ninth Street bridge, and gave "good-morning" to the lower city.
On a side-deck, leaning over the rail, stood a man and a woman. The man was strong, tan-faced, his eyes bright with fresh power. The woman was rosy-cheeked and exquisite in her new beauty. For the miracle of Spring which changed the earth had changed Myra and Joe. They too had put forth power and life, blossom and new green leaves. They had gone to the earth to be remade; they had given themselves over to the great physician, Nature; they had surrendered to the soil and the sun and the air. Earth had absorbed them, infolded them, and breathed anew in their spirits her warmth, her joy, her powerful peace. They had run bare-headed in the sun; they had climbed, panting, the jutting mountainside; they had taken the winds of the world on the topmost peak; they had romped in the woods and played in the meadow. And then, too, they had fed well, and rested much, and been content with the generous world.
And in that health and peace of nature at last to Joe had come the great awakening of his life. The mental stock-taking he had begun on the day when Lissner had spoken to him, reached there its climax; the confusion cleared; the chaos took wonderful new shape.
And he was amazed to see how he had changed and grown. He looked back on the man who had gone down to West Tenth Street as on a callow and ignorant youth, enthusiastic, but crude and untried. Back through those past months he went with the search-light of introspection, and then at last he knew. He had gone down to Greenwich Village crammed with theories; he had set to work as if he were a sheltered scientist in a quiet laboratory, where an experiment could be carried through, and there suddenly he had been confronted with Facts! Facts! those queer unbudgable things! Facts in a fierce stampede that engulfed and swept him along and put all his dreams to a galloping test, a test wherein he had even forgotten his dreams.