by James Oppenheim
BY JAMES OPPENHEIM 1911
TO THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER
PART I—THE DREAM
I. THE PRINTERY
II. THE EAST
III. THE GOOD
V. MYRA AND JOE
VI. MARTY BRIGGS
VII. LAST OF JOE
BLAINE AND HIS
VIII. THE WIND
IN THE OAKS
PART II—THE TEST
III. OTHERS: AND
IV. OTHERS: AND
VI. A FIGHT IN
VII. OF THE
VIII. THE ARREST
X. THE TRIAL
XIII. THE CITY
PART I—THE DREAM
I. THE PRINTERY
That windy autumn noon the young girls of the hat factory darted out
of the loft building and came running back with cans of coffee, and
bags of candy, and packages of sandwiches and cakes. They frisked
hilariously before the wind, with flying hair and sparkling eyes, and
crowded into the narrow entrance with the grimy pressmen of the eighth
floor. Over and over again the one frail elevator was jammed with the
laughing crowd and shot up to the hat factory on the ninth floor and
The men smoked cigarettes as the girls chattered and flirted with
them, and the talk was fast and free.
At the eighth floor the pressmen got off, still smoking, for “Mr.
Joe” was still out. Even after the presses started up they went on
surreptitiously, though near one group of them in a dark corner of the
printery lay a careless heap of cotton waste, thoroughly soaked with
machine-oil. This heap had been passed by the factory inspector
unnoticed, the pressmen took it for granted, and Joe, in his slipshod
manner, gave it no thought. Later that very afternoon as the opening of
the hall door rang a bell sharply and Joe came in, the men swiftly and
guiltily flung their lighted cigarettes to the floor and stepped them
out or crumpled them with stinging fingers in their pockets. But Joe
did not even notice the clinging cigarette smell that infected the
strange printery atmosphere, that mingled with its delightful odor of
the freshly printed page, damp, bitter-sweet, new. Once Marty Briggs,
the fat foreman, had spoken to Joe of the breaking of the “No Smoking"
rule, but Joe had said, with his luminous, soft smile:
“Marty, the boys are only human—they see me smoking in the private
Up and down the long, narrow, eighth-floor loft the great intricate
presses stood in shadowy bulk, and the intense gray air was spotted
here and there with a dangling naked electric bulb, under whose
radiance the greasy, grimy men came and went, pulling out heaps of
paper, sliding in sheets, tinkering at the machinery. Overhead whirled
and traveled a complex system of wheels and belting, whirring,
thumping, and turning, and the floor, the walls, the very door trembled
with the shaking of the presses and made the body of every man there
The stir of the hat factory on the floor above mingled with the stir
of the presses, and Joe loved it all, even as he loved the presence of
the young girls about him. Some of these girls were Bohemians, others
Jewish, a few American. They gave to the gaunt, smoky building a touch
as of a wild rose on a gray rock-heap—a touch of color and of melody.
Joe, at noon, would purposely linger near the open doorway to get a
glimpse of their bright faces and a snatch of their careless laughter.
Some of the girls knew him and would nod to him on the street—their
hearts went out to the tall, homely, sorrowful fellow.
But his printery was his chief passion. It absorbed him by its
masterful stress, overwhelming every sense, trembling, thundering,
clanking, flashing, catching his eye with turning wheels and chewing
press-mouths, and enveloping him in something tremulously homelike and
elemental. Even that afternoon as Joe stood at the high wall-desk near
the door, under a golden bulb of light, figuring on contracts with
Marty Briggs, he felt his singular happiness of belonging. Here he had
spent the work hours of the last ten years; he was a living part of
this living press-room; this was as native to him as the sea to a fish.
And glancing about the crowded gray room, everything seemed so safe,
secure, unending, as if it would last forever.
Up to that very evening Joe had been merely an average
American—clean of mind and body, cheerful, hard-working, democratic,
willing to live and let live, and striving with all his heart and soul
for success. His father had served in the Civil War and came back to
New York with his right sleeve pinned up, an emaciated and sick man.
Then Joe's mother had overridden the less imperious will of the soldier
and married him, and they had settled down in the city. Henry Blaine
learned to write with his left hand and became a clerk. It was the only
work he could do. Then, as his health became worse and worse, he was
ordered to live in the country (that was in 1868), and as the young
couple had scarcely any money they were glad to get a little shanty on
the stony hill which is now the corner of Eighty-first Street and
Lexington Avenue and is the site of a modern apartment-house. But Joe's
mother was glad even of a shanty; she made an adventure of it; she
called herself the wife of a pioneer, and said that they were making a
clearing in the Western wilderness.
Here in 1872 Joe was born, and he was hardly old enough to crawl
about when his father became too sick to work, and his mother had to
leave “her two men” home together and go out and do such work as she
could. This consisted largely in reading to old ladies in the
neighborhood, though sometimes she had to do fancy needlework and
sometimes take in washing. Of these last achievements she was justly
proud, though it made Henry Blaine wince with shame.
Joe was only six years old when his father died, and from then on he
and his mother fought it out together. The boy entered the public
school on Seventy-ninth Street, and grew amazingly, his mind keeping
pace. He was a splendid absorber of good books; and his mother taught
him her poets and they went through English literature together.
Yorkville sprang up, a rubber-stamped neighborhood, of which each
street was a brownstone duplicate of the next. The rocky hill became
valuable and went for twenty thousand dollars, of which three thousand
had to be deducted for the mortgage. Then Joe graduated from high
school, and, lusting for life, took a clerk's job with one of the big
express companies. He held this for two years, and learned an
interesting fact—namely, that a clerk's life began at 5 P.M. and ended
at 8.30 A.M. In between the clerk was a dead but skilled machine that
did the work of a child. He learned, besides, that advancement was slow
and only for a few, and he saw these few, men past middle life, still
underlings. A man of forty-five with a salary of three thousand was
doing remarkably well, and, as a rule, he was a dried-up, negative,
Out of all this he went like a stick of dynamite, took the seventeen
thousand dollars and went into his father's business of printing. Joe
was shrewd, despite his open nature; he never liked to be “done”; and
so he made money and made it fast. Besides his printing he did some
speculating in real estate, and so at thirty-eight he was a successful
business man and could count himself worth nearly a hundred thousand
dollars. He made little use of this money; his was a simple, serious,
fun-loving nature, and all his early training had made for plain living
and economy. And so for years he and his mother had boarded in a
brownstone boarding-house in the quiet block west of Lexington Avenue
up the street. They spent very little on themselves. In fact, Joe was
too busy. He was all absorbed in the printery—he worked early and
late—and of recent years in the stress of business his fine
relationship with his mother had rather thinned out. They began leading
separated lives; they began shutting themselves away from each other.
And so here he was, thirty-eight years of his life gone, and what
had it all been? Merely the narrow, steady, city man's life—work,
rest, a little recreation, sleep. Outside his mother, his employees,
his customers, and the newspapers he knew little of the million-crowded
life of the city about him. He used but one set of streets daily; he
did not penetrate the vast areas of existence that cluttered the acres
of stone in every direction. There stood the city, a great fact, and
even that afternoon as the wild autumn wind blew from the west and
rapid, ragged cloud masses passed huge shadows over the ship-swept
Hudson, darkened briefly the hurrying streets, extinguished for a
moment the glitter of a skyscraper and went gray-footed over the flats
of Long Island, even at that moment terrific forces, fierce
aggregations of man-power, gigantic blasts of tamed electricity,
gravitation, fire, and steam and steel, made the hidden life of the
city cyclonic. And in that mesh of nature and man the human comedy went
on—there was love and disaster, frolic and the fall of a child, the
boy buying candy in a shop, the woman on the operating-table in the
hospital. Who could measure that swirl of life and whither it was
leading? But who could live in the heart of it all and be unaware of
Yet Joe's eyes were unseeing. Children played on the street, people
walked and talked, the toilers were busy at their tasks, and that was
all he knew or saw. And yet of late he had a new, unexpected vista of
life. Like many men, Joe had missed women. There was his mother, but no
one else. He was rather shy, and he was too busy. But during the last
few months a teacher—Myra Craig—had been coming to the printery to
have some work done for the school. She had strangely affected
Joe—sprung an electricity on him that troubled him profoundly. He
could not forget her, nor wipe her image from his brain, nor rid his
ears of the echoes of her voice. He went about feeling that possibly he
had underrated poetry and music. Romance, led by Myra's hand, had
entered the dusty printery and Joe began to feel like a youngster who
had been blind to life.
Outside the world was blowing away on the gray wings of the
twilight, blowing away with eddies of dust that swept the sparkling
street-lamps, and the air was sharp with a tang of homesickness and
autumn. The afternoon was quietly waning, up—stairs the hat-makers,
and here the printers, were toiling in a crowded, satisfying present,
and Joe stood there musing, a tall, gaunt man, the upstart tufts of his
tousled hair glistening in the light overhead. His face was the
homeliest that ever happened. The mouth was big and big-lipped, the
eyes large, dark, melancholy and slightly sunken, and the mask was a
network of wrinkles. His hands were large, mobile, and homely. But
about him was an air of character and thought, of kindliness and
camaraderie, of very human nature. He stood there wishing that Myra
would come. The day seemed to demand it; the wild autumn cried out for
men to seek the warmth and forgetful glory of love.
He could get some nice house and make a home for her; he could take
her out of the grind and deadliness of school-work and make her happy;
there would be little children in that house. He thought she loved him;
yes, he was quite sure. Then what hindrance? There, at quarter to five
that strange afternoon, Joe felt that he had reached the heights of
success, and he saw no obstacle to long years of solid advance. He had
before his eyes the evidence of his wealth—the great, flapping
presses, the bending, moving men. If anything was sure and solid in
this world, these things were.
He felt sure Myra would come. She had not been around for a week,
and, anticipating a new meeting with her, he felt very young, like a
very young man for the first time aware of the strange loveliness of
night, its haunting and hidden beauties, its women calling from afar.
It all seemed wild and impossible romance. It smote his heart-strings
and set them trembling with music. He wondered why he had been so
stupid all these years and evaded life, evaded joys that should have
been his twenty years earlier. Now it seemed to him that his youth had
passed from him defeated of its splendor.
If Myra came to-day he would tell her. The very thought gave his
heart a lovely quake of fear, a trembling that communicated itself to
his hands and down his legs, a throbbing joy dashed with a strange
tremor. And then as he wanted, as he wished for, the door beside him
opened and the bell sharply sounded.
She stood there, very small, very slight, but quite charming in her
neat, lace-touched clothes. A fringe at the wrist, a bunch at the neck,
struck her off as some one delicate and sensitive, and the face
strengthened this impression. It was long and oval, with a narrow
woman-forehead cut off by a curve of dark hair; the mouth was small and
sweet; the nose narrow; the eyes large, clear gray, penetrating. Under
the gracefully modeled felt hat she stood quite complete, quite a
personality. One instantly guessed that she was an aristocrat by birth
and breeding. But her age was doubtful, seeming either more or less
than the total, which was thirty-two.
There she stood, glancing at Joe with a breathless eagerness. He
turned pale, and yet at the same time there was a whirl of fire in his
heart. She had come to him; he wanted to gather her close and bear her
off through the wild autumn weather, off to the wilderness. He reached
out a hand and inclosed a very cold and very little one.
“Why, you're frozen!” he said, with a queer laugh.
“Oh—not much!” she gasped. She held her leather bag under her arm
and took off her gloves. Then she loosened her coat, and gave a sigh.
He gazed at her warm-tinted cheek, almost losing himself, and then
“More school stuff?”
She made a grimace and tried to speak lightly, but her voice almost
“Class 6-B, let me tell you, is giving the 'Landing of the
Pilgrims,' and every blessed little pilgrim is Bohemian. Here's the
With trembling fingers she opened her bag and handed him some loose
sheets. He bent over them at once.
“Now make it cheap, Mr. Blaine,” she said, severely. “Rock bottom!
Or I'll give the job to some one else.”
Joe laughed strangely.
“How many copies?”
He spoke as if in fear.
“Fifty cents too much?”
“I don't want the school to ruin you!”
He said nothing further, and in the awkward silence she began
pitifully to button her coat. There was no reason for staying.
Then suddenly he spoke, huskily:
“Don't go, Miss Craig....”
“You want ...” she began.
He leaned very close.
“I want to take a walk with you. May I?”
She became dead white, and the terror of nature's resistless purpose
with men and women, that awful gravitation, that passion of creation
that links worlds and uses men and women, went through them both.
“I may?” he was whispering.
Her “Yes” was almost inaudible.
So Joe put on his coat, and slapped over his head a queer gray
slouch hat, and called over Marty.
“I won't be back to-night, Marty!” he said.
Then at the door he gave one last glance at his life-work, the
orderly presses, the harnessed men, and left it all as if it must
surely be there when he returned. He was proud at that moment to be Joe
Blaine, with his name in red letters on the glass door, and under his
name “Power Printer.” His wife would be able to hold her head high.
The frail elevator took them clanking, bumping, slipping, down, down
past eight floors, to the street level. The elevator boy, puffing at
his cigarette, remarked, amiably:
“Gee! it's a windy day. It's gittin' on to winter, all right....
Good-night, Mr. Blaine!”
“Good-night, Tom,” said Joe.
II. THE EAST EIGHTY-FIRST STREET FIRE
They emerged in all the magic wildness of an autumn night and walked
east on Eighty-first Street. The loft building was near the corner of
Second Avenue. They passed under the elevated structure, cutting
through a hurrying throng of people.
“Take my arm,” cried Joe.
She took it, trembling. They made an odd couple passing along
between the squalid red-brick tenements, now in shadow, now in the glow
of some little shop window, now under a sparkling lamp. At Avenue A
they went south to Seventy-ninth Street, and again turned east, passing
a row of bright model tenements, emerging at last at the strange
Down to the very edge of the unpaved waste they walked, or rather
floated, so strange and uplifted and glorious they felt, blown and
carried bodily with the exultant west wind, and they only stopped when
they reached the wooden margin, where an old scow, half laden with
brick, was moored fast with ropes. This scow heaved up and down with
the motion of the rolling waters; the tight ropes grated; the water
The man and woman seemed alone there, a black little lump in the
vast spaces, for behind them the city receded beyond empty little
hill-sides and there was nothing some distance north and south.
“Look,” said Joe, “look at the tide!”
It was running north, a wide expanse of rolling waters from their
feet to Blackwells Island in the east, all hurling swiftly like a
billowing floor of gray. Here and there whitecaps spouted. On
Blackwells Island loomed the gray hospitals and workhouses, and at
intervals on the shore sparkled a friendly light.
“But see the bridge,” exclaimed Myra.
She pointed far south, where across the last of the day ran a
slightly arched string of lights, binding shore with shore. On the New
York side, and nearer, rose the high chimneys of mills, and from these
a purplish smoke swirled thickly, melting into the gray weather.
And it seemed to Joe at that wild moment that nothing was as
beautiful as smoking chimneys. They meant so much—labor, human beings,
And over all—river, bridge, chimneys, Blackwells Island, and the
throbbing city behind them—rose the immense gray-clouded heavens. A
keen smell of the far ocean came to their nostrils and the air was
clear and exhilarant. Then, as they watched, suddenly a tug lashed
between enormous flat boats on which were red freight-cars, swept north
with the tide. A thin glaze of heat breathed up from the tug's pipe; it
was moving without its engines, and the sight was unbelievable. The
whole huge mass simply shot the river, racing by them.
And then the very magic of life was theirs. The world fell from
them, the dusty scales of facts, the complex intricacies of existence
melted away. They were very close, and the keen, yelling wind was
wrapping them closer. Vision filled the gray air, trembled up from the
river to the heavens. They rose from all the chaos like two white
flames blown by the wind together—they were two gigantic powers of the
earth preparing like gods for new creation. In that throbbing moment
each became the world to the other, and love, death-strong, shot their
He turned, gazing strangely at her pale, eager, breathless face.
“I want ...” he began.
“Yes,” she breathed.
He opened his lips, and the sound that escaped seemed like a sob.
And then at the sound of her name she was all woman, all love. She
And they flung their arms round each other. She sobbed there,
overcome with the yearning, the glory, the beatitude of that moment.
“Oh,” he cried, “how I love you!... Myra ...”
“Joe, Joe—I couldn't have stood it longer!”
All of life, all of the past, all of the million years of earth
melted into that moment, that moment when a man and a woman, mingled
into one, stood in the heart of the wonder, the love, the purpose of
nature—a mad, wild, incoherent half-hour, a secret ecstasy in the
passing of the twilight, in the swing of the wind and the breath of the
“Come home to my mother,” cried Joe. “Come home with me!”
They turned ... and Myra was a strange new woman, tender, grave, and
wrought of all lovely power, her face, in the last of the light, mellow
and softly glowing with a heightened woman-power.
“Yes,” she said, “I want to see Joe's mother.”
It was Joe's last step to success. Now he had all—his work, his
love. He felt powerfully masculine, triumphant, glorious.
Night had fallen, and on the darkness broke and sparkled a thousand
lights in tenement windows and up the shadowy streets—everywhere
homes, families; men, women, and children busily living together;
everywhere love. Joe glanced, his eyes filling. Then he paused.
“Look at that,” he said in a changed voice.
Over against the west, a little to the north, the gray heavens were
visible—a lightning seemed to run over them—a ghastly red
lightning—sharply silhouetting the chimneyed housetops.
“What is it?” said Myra.
He gazed at it, transfixed.
“That's a fire ... a big fire.” Then suddenly his face, in the pale
light of a street-lamp, became chalky white and knotted. He could
barely speak. “It must be on Eighty-first or Eighty-second Street.”
She spoke shrilly, clutching his arm.
“Not ... the loft?”
“Oh, it can't be!” he cried, in an agony. “But come ... hurry ...”
They started toward Eighty-first Street up Avenue A. They walked
fast; and it seemed suddenly to Joe that he had been dancing on a thin
crust, and that the crust had broken and he was falling through. He
turned and spoke harshly:
“You must run!”
Fear made their feet heavy as they sped, and their hearts seemed to
be exploding in their breasts. They felt as if that fire were consuming
them; as if its tongues of flame licked them up. And so they came to
the corner of Eighty-first Street and turned it, and looked, and
Joe spoke hoarsely.
“It's burning;... it's the loft.... The printery's on fire....”
Beyond the elevated structure at Second Avenue the loft building
rose like a grotesque gigantic torch in the night. Swirls of flame
rolled from the upper three stories upward in a mane of red, tossing
volumes of smoke, and the wild wind, combing the fire from the west,
rained down cinders and burned papers on Joe and Myra as they rushed up
the street. Every window was blankly visible in the extreme light,
streams of water played on the walls, and the night throbbed with the
palpitating, pounding fire-engines.
And it seemed to Joe as if life were torn to bits, as if the world's
end had come. It was unbelievable, impossible—his eyes belied his
brain. That all those years of labor and dream and effort were going up
in flame and smoke seemed preposterous. And only a few moments before
he and Myra had stood on the heights of the world; had their mad
moment; and even then his life was being burned away from him. He felt
the hoarse sobs lifting up through his throat.
They reached Second Avenue, and were stopped by the vast swaying
crowd of people, a density that could not be cloven. They went around
about it frantically; they bore along the edge of the crowd, beside the
houses; they wedged past one stoop; they were about to get past the
next, when, in the light of the lamp, Joe saw a strange sight. Crouched
on that stoop, with clothes torn, with hair loosed down her back, her
face white, her lips gasping, sat one of the hat factory girls. It was
Fannie Lemick. Joe knew her. And no one seemed to notice her. The crowd
was absorbed in other things.
And even at that moment Joe heard the dire clanging of ambulances,
and an awful horror dizzied his brain. No, no, not that! He clutched
the stoop-post, leaned, cried weirdly:
She gazed up at him. Then she recognized him and gave a terrible
“Mr. Joe! Oh, how did you get out?”
“I wasn't there,” he breathed. “Fannie! what's happened?... None of
the girls ...”
“You didn't know?” she gasped.
He felt the life leaving his body; it seemed impossible.
“No ...” he heard himself saying. “Tell me....”
She looked at him with dreadful eyes and spoke in a low, deadly,
“The fire-escape was no good; it broke under some of the girls;...
they fell;... we jammed the hall;... some of the girls jumped down the
elevator shaft;... they couldn't get out ... and Miss Marks, the
forelady, was trying to keep us in order.... She stayed there ... and I
ran down the stairs, and dropped in the smoke, and crawled ... but when
I got to the street ... I looked back ... Mr. Joe ... the girls were
jumping from the windows....”
Joe seized the stoop-post. His body seemed torn in two; he began to
“From the ninth floor,” he muttered, “and couldn't get out.... And I
wasn't there! Oh, God, why wasn't I killed there!”
III. THE GOOD PEOPLE
Joe broke through the fire line. He stepped like a calcium-lit
figure over the wet, gleaming pavement, over the snaky hose, and among
the rubber-sheathed, glistening firemen, gave one look at the ghastly
heap on the sidewalk, and then became, like the host of raving
relatives and friends and lovers, a man insane. It was as if the common
surfaces of life—the busy days, the labor, the tools, the houses—had
been drawn aside like a curtain and revealed the terrific powers that
In his ears sounded the hoarse cries of the firemen, the shout of
the sprayed water, the crash of axes, the shatter of glass. It was too
magnificent a spectacle, nature, like a Nero, using humanity to make a
sublime torch in the night. And through his head pulsed and pulsed the
defiant throb of the engines. Cinders fell, sticks, papers, and Joe saw
fitfully the wide ring of hypnotized faces. It was as if the world had
fallen into a pit, and human beings looked on each other aghast.
“Get back there!” cried a burly policeman.
Joe resisted his shouldering.
“I'm Mr. Blaine;... it's my loft burning. I'm looking for my
“Go to the morgue then,” snapped the policeman. “A fire line's a
Joe was pushed back, and as the crowd closed about him, a soft
pressure of clothing, men and women, he became aware of the fact that
he had lost his head. He pulled himself together; he told himself that
he, a human being, was greater than anything that could happen; that he
must set his jaw and fight and brave his way through the facts. He must
get to work.
Myra clutched his sleeve. He turned to her a face of death, but she
brought her wide eyes close to him.
“Myra,” he said, in a whisper, suddenly in that moment getting a
sharp revelation of his changed life. “I may never see you again. I
belong to those dead girls.” He paused. “Go home ... do that for me,
He had passed beyond her; there was no opposing him.
“I'll go,” she murmured.
Then, dizzily, she reeled back, and was lost in the crowd.
And then he set to work. He was strangely calm now, numb, unfeeling.
There was nothing more to experience, and the overwrought brain refused
any new emotions. So stupendous was the catastrophe that it left him
finally calm, ready, and eagerly awake. He stepped gently through the
crowd, searching, and found John Rann, the pressman. John wept like a
little boy when they met.
“Marty got out ... yes ... most of us did ... but Eddie Baker,
Morty, and Sam Bender.... It was the cotton waste, Mr. Joe, and the
Joe put his arm about the rough man.
“Never mind, Johnny ... Go home to the kiddies....”
There was so little he could do. He went to a few homes he knew, he
went to the hospital to ask after the injured, he went to the morgue.
At midnight the fire, like an evil thing, drew him back, and he
encountered only a steamy blackness lit by the search-light of the
engine. There was still the insistent throbbing. And then he thought of
his mother and her fears, and sped swiftly up the street, over deserted
Lexington Avenue, and up the lamp-lit block. Already newsboys were
hoarsely shouting in the night, as they waved their papers—a cry of
the underworld palpitating through the hushed city: “Wuxtra! Wuxtra!
Great—fire—horror! Sixty—killed! Wuxtra!”
The house was still open, lighted, awake. People came into the hall
as he entered, but he shunned them and started up the stairs. One
called after him.
“Your mother's out, Mr. Joe.”
“Out? How long?”
“Since the fire started ... She's been back and forth several times
He went on up, entered the neat, still front room, lit the gas
beside the bureau mirror, and began to pace up and down. His mother was
searching for him; he might have known it; he should have remembered
And then he heard the uncanny shouting of the newsboys—as if those
dead girls had risen from their ashes and were running like flaming
furies through the city streets, flinging handfuls of their fire into a
million homes, shaking New York into a realization of its careless,
guilty heart, crying for vengeance, stirring horror and anger and pity.
Who was the guilty one, if not he, the boss?
And then the inquisition began, the repeated sting of lashing
thoughts and cruel questions. He asked himself what right he had to be
an employer, to take the responsibility of thirty lives in his hands.
He was careless, easy-going, he was in business for profits. Had such a
man any right to be placed over others, to be given the power over
other lives? The guilt was his; the blame fell on him. He should have
kept clean house; he should have stamped out the smoking; he should not
have smoked himself. There fell upon his shoulders a burden not to be
borne, the burden of his blame, and he felt as if nothing now in the
world could assuage that sense of guilt.
Life, he found, was a fury, a cyclone, not the simple, easy affair
he had thought it. It was his living for himself, his living alone, his
ignorance of the fact that his life was tangled in with the lives of
all human beings, so that he was socially responsible, responsible for
the misery and poverty and pain all about him.
That he should be the one! Had he not lived just the average
life—blameless, cheerful, hard-working, fun-loving—the life of the
average American? Just by every-day standards his was the useful and
good life. But no, that was not enough. In his rush for success he had
made property his treasure instead of human beings. That was the crime.
And so these dead lay all about him as if he had murdered them with his
hands. It was his being an average man that had killed sixty-three
girls and men. And what had he been after? Money? He did not use his
money, did not need so much. Just a little shared with his employees
would have saved them. No, the average man must cease to exist, and the
social man take his place, the brother careful of his fellow-men, not
careless of all but his own gain.
A boy passed, hoarsely shouting that terrible extra. Would nothing
in the world silence that sound? The cold sweat came out on his face.
He was the guilty one. That was the one fact that he knew.
And then he paused; the door opened creakingly and his mother
entered. She was a magnificent young-old woman, her body sixty-three
years old, her mind singularly fresh and young. She was tall, straight,
spirited, and under the neat glossy-white hair was a noble face,
somewhat long, somewhat slim, a little pallid, but with firm chin and
large forehead and living large black eyes set among sharp lines of
lids. The whole woman was focussed in the eyes, sparkled there, lived
there, deep, limpid, quick, piercing. Her pallor changed to pure
“Joe ...” her voice broke. “I've been looking for you....”
He paused, walled away from her by years of isolation. She advanced
slowly; her face became terrible in its hungry love, its mother
passion. She met his eyes, and then he fled to her, and his body shook
with rough, tearless sobs. Her relief came in great tears.
“And all those girls,” she was murmuring, “and those men. How did it
He drew back; his eyes became strange.
“Mother,” he said, harshly, “I'm the guilty one. There was a heap of
cotton waste in the corner, shouldn't have been there. And I let the
men smoke cigarettes.”
She was horrified.
“But why did you do that?” she whispered, moving a little
away from him.
“My thoughtlessness ... my business.” The word was charged
with bitterness. “Business! business! I'm a business man! I wasn't in
business”—he gave a weird laugh—“for the health of my employees! I
was making money!”
She looked at him as if he had ceased being her son and had turned
into a monster. Then she swayed, grasped the bedpost and sank on the
Her voice was low and harsh.
“Your fault ... and all those young girls....”
His mother had judged him; he looked at her with haggard eyes, and
spoke in a hollow voice.
“Nothing will ever wipe this guilt from my mind.... I'm branded for
life ... this thing will go on and on and on every day that I live....”
She glanced at him then, and saw only her son, the child she had
carried in her arms, the boy who had romped with her, and she only knew
now that he was suffering, that no one on earth could be in greater
“Oh, my poor Joe!” she murmured.
“Yes,” he went on, beside himself, “I'm blasted with guilt....”
She cried out:
“If you go on like this, we'll both go out of our minds, Joe! Fight!
It's done ... it's over.... From now on, make amends.... Joe!”—She
rose magnificently then—“Your father lost his arm in the war.... Now
give your life to setting things right!”
And she drew him close again. Her words, her love, her belief in him
roused him at last.
“You know the fault isn't all yours,” she said. “The factory
inspector's to blame, too—and the men—and the people up-stairs—and
the law because it didn't demand better protection and fire-drills—all
are to blame. You take too much on yourself....”
And gradually, striving with him through the early morning hours,
she calmed him, she soothed him, and got him to bed. He was at last too
weary to think or feel and he slept deep into the day. And thinking a
little of herself, she realized that the tragedy had brought them
closer together than they had been for years.
* * * * *
Out of those ashes on East Eighty-first Street rose a certain
splendor over the city. All of New York drew together with indignation
and wondrous pity. It did not bring the dead girls to life again—it
was too late for that—but it brought many other dead people to life.
Fifty thousand dollars flowed to the newspapers for relief; an
inquest probed causes and guilt and prevention; mass—meetings were
held; the rich and the powerful forgot position and remembered their
common humanity; and the philanthropic societies set to work with
money, with doctors and nurses and visitors. The head of one huge
association said to the relief committee in a low, trembling voice: “Of
course, our whole staff is at your service.” Just for a time, a little
time, the five-million-manned city flavored its confused, selfish
struggle with simple brotherhood.
How had it happened? Whose was the fault? How came it that sixty
girls were imprisoned in the skies, as it were, and could only fling
themselves down to the stone pavement in an insanity of terror? What
war was more horrible than this Peace of Industry? Such things must be
prevented in future, said New York, rising like a wrathful god—and for
a while the busy wheels of progress turned.
Joe had to attend the inquest as a witness. He gave his testimony in
a simple, sincere, and candid way that gained him sympathy. His men
testified in his behalf, trying to wholly exonerate him and inculpate
themselves, and the lawyers cleverly scattered blame from one power to
another—the city, the State, the fire department, the building
department, etc. It became clear that Joe could not be officially
punished; it was evident that he had done as much as the run of
employers to protect life, and that his intentions had been blameless.
However, that did not ease Joe's real punishment. He was a changed
man that week, calm, ready with his smile, but haggard and bowed,
nervous and overwrought, bearing a burden too heavy for his heart. He
made over the twenty thousand dollars of insurance money to the Relief
and Prevention Work; he visited the injured and the bereaved; he forgot
Myra and tried to forget himself; he attended committee meetings.
Myra wrote him a little note:
DEAR JOE,—Don't forget that whatever happens I
believe in you utterly and I love you and shall always
love you, and that you have me when all else is lost.
To which he merely replied:
DEAR MYRA,—I shall remember what you say, and I
shall see you when I can.
It was on Sunday afternoon that Joe met Fannie Lemick on the street.
Her eyes filled with tears and he noticed she was trembling.
“Mr. Joe!” she cried.
“Are you going, too?”
“Don't you know? The mass-meeting at Carnegie Hall!”
He looked at her, smiling.
“I'll go with you, if I may!”
So they went down together. A jam of poor people was crowding the
doors, and a string of automobiles drew up and passed at the curb. Joe
and Fannie got in the throng. There was no room left in the orchestra
and they were swept with the flood up and up, flight after flight, to
the high gallery. Here they found seats and looked down, down as if on
the side of the planet, on the far-away stage filled with the speakers
and the committees, and on that sea of humanity that swept back and up
through the boxes to themselves. All in the subdued light, the golden
light that crowd sat, silent, remorseful, stirred by a sense of having
risen to a great occasion; thousands of human beings, the middle class,
the rich, the poor; Americans, Germans, Italians, Jews. But all about
him Joe felt a silent hatred, a still cry for vengeance, a class
bitterness. Many of these were relatives of the dead.
It was a demonstration of the human power that refuses to submit to
environment and circumstance and fate; that rises and rebukes facts,
reshapes destiny. And then the speaking began: the bishop, the rabbi,
the financier, the philanthropist, the social worker. They spoke
eloquently, they showed pity, they were constructive, they were
prepared to act; they represented the “better classes” and promised the
“poor,” the toilers, that they would see that relief and protection
were given; but somehow their eloquence did not carry; somehow that
mass of commonest men and women refused to be stirred and thrilled.
There was even a little hissing when it was announced that a committee
of big men would see to the matter.
Joe had a dull sense of some monstrous social cleavage; the world
divided into the rulers and the ruled, the drivers and the driven. He
felt uncomfortable, and so did the throng. There was a feeling as if
the crowd ought to have a throat to give vent to some strange, fierce
fact that festered in its heart.
And then toward the end the chairman announced that one of the
hat-trimmers, one of the girls who worked—in another hat factory,
would address the meeting—Miss Sally Heffer.
A girl arose, a young woman with thin, sparse, gold-glinting hair,
with face pallid and rounded, with broad forehead and gray eyes of
remarkable clarity. She was slim, dressed in a little brown coat and a
short brown skirt. She came forward, trembling, as if overcome by the
audience. She paused, raised her head and tried to speak. There was not
a sound, and suddenly the audience became strangely still, leaning
Then again she tried to speak; it was hardly above a whisper; and
yet so clear was the hush that Joe heard every word. And he knew, and
all knew, that this young woman was overcome, not by the audience, but
by the passion of the tragedy, the passion of an oppressed class. She
was the voice of the toilers at last dimly audible; she was the voice
of a million years of sore labor and bitter poverty and thwarted life.
And the audience was thrilled, and the powerful were shaken with
Trembling, terrible came the words out of that little body on the
“I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to
talk good-fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and
we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its
thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know
what these things are to-day: the iron teeth are our necessities, the
thumbscrews the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must
work, and the rack is here in the fire-trap structures that will
destroy us the minute they catch on fire.
“This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in this
city. Every week I learn of the untimely death of one of my sister
workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and
women is so cheap and property is so sacred! There are so many of
us for one job, it matters little if sixty of us are burned to death.
“We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a
couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers and brothers and sisters by
way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only
way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable, the
strong hand of the law is allowed to press heavily down on us.
“Public officials have only words of warning to us—warning that we
must be intensely orderly and intensely peaceable, and they have the
workhouse just back of all their warnings.
“I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much
blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the
working people to save themselves. The only way they can save
themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”
Joe heard nothing further. There were several other speakers, but no
words penetrated to his brain. He felt as if he must stifle. He felt
the globe of earth cracking, breaking in two under his feet, and for
the first time in his life he was acutely aware of the division of
humanity. All through his career he had taken his middle-class position
for granted; he tacitly agreed that there were employees and employers;
but in his own case his camaraderie had hidden the cleavage. Now he saw
a double world—on the one side the moneyed owners, on the other the
crowded, scrambling, disorganized hordes of the toilers—each one of
them helpless, a victim, worked for all that was in him, and then flung
aside in the scrap heap. And behold, this horde was becoming
self-conscious, was beginning to organize, was finding a voice. And he,
who was one of the “good people,” was rejected by this voice. He had
been “tried” and found wanting. He was on the other side of the fence.
And it was the fault of his class that fire horrors and all the chaos
and cruelty of industry arose. So that now the working people had found
that they must “save themselves.”
In an agony of guilt again he felt what he had said to Myra: “From
now on I belong to those dead girls”—yes, and to their fellow-workers.
Suddenly it seemed to him that he must see Sally Heffer—that to her he
must carry the burden of his guilt—to her he must personally make
answer to the terrible accusations she had voiced. It was all at once,
as if only in this way could he go on living, that otherwise he would
end in the insanity of the mad-house or the insanity of suicide.
He was walking down the stairs with Fannie, and he was trembling.
“Do you know this Sally Heffer?”
“Know her? We all do!” she cried, with all a young girl's
“I want to see her, Fannie. Where does she live?”
“Oh, somewhere in Greenwich Village. But she'll be up at the Woman's
League after the meeting.”
He went up to the Woman's League and found the office crowded with
women and men. He asked for Miss Heffer.
“I'll take your name,” said the young woman, and then came back with
the answer that “he'd have to wait.”
So he took a seat and waited. He felt feverish and sick, as if he
could no longer carry this burden with him. It seemed impossible to sit
still. And yet he waited over an hour, waited until it was eight at
night, all the gas-jets lit.
The young woman came up to him.
“You want to see Miss Heffer? Come this way.”
He was led up a flight of stairs to a little narrow hall-room. Sally
Heffer was there at a roll-top desk, still in her little brown
coat—quiet, pale, her clear eyes remarkably penetrating. She turned.
He shook pitifully,... then he sat down, holding his hat in his
“I'm Joe Blaine....”
“Joe Blaine ... of what?”
“Of the printery ... that burned....”
She looked at him sharply.
“So, you're the employer.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well,” she said, brusquely, “what do you want?”
“I heard you speak this afternoon.” His face flickered with a smile.
“And so you ...?”
He could say nothing; and she looked closer. She saw his gray face,
his unsteady eyes, the tragedy of the broken man. Then she spoke with a
“You want to do something?”
“Yes,” he murmured, “I want to give—all.”
She lowered her voice, and it thrilled him.
“It won't help to give your money—you must give yourself. We don't
He said nothing for a moment; and then strength rose in him.
“I'll tell you why I came.... I felt I had to.... I felt that you
were accusing me. I know I am guilty. I have come here to be”—he
She drew closer.
“You came here for that?”
She rose and took a step either way. She gazed on him, and suddenly
she broke down and cried, her hands to her face.
“O God,” she sobbed, “when will all this be over? When will we get
rid of this tragedy? I can't stand it longer.”
He rose, too, confused.
“Listen,” he whispered. “I swear to you, I swear, that from this day
on my life belongs to those”—his voice broke—“dead girls ... to the
She impulsively reached out a hand, and he seized it. Then, when she
became more quiet, she murmured:
“I can see you mean it. Oh, this is wonderful! It is a miracle
springing out of the fire!”
There was a strange throbbing silence that brought them close
together. And Sally, glancing at him again, whispered:
“I can see how you have suffered! Let me help you ... all that I
He spoke in great pain.
“What can I do? I know so little.”
“Do? You must learn that for yourself. You must fit in where you
belong. Do you know anything of the working-class movement?”
“No,” he said.
“Then I will make a list of books and magazines for you.”
She sat down and wrote a list on a slip, and arose and handed it to
She was gazing at him again, gazing at the tragic face. Then she
“I believe in you.... Is there anything else?”
And again she reached out her hand and he clasped it. Her fine faith
smote something hard in him, shriveled it like fire, and all at once,
miraculously, divinely, a little liquid gush of lovely joy, of
wonderful beatitude began to rise from his heart, to rise and overflow
and fill him. He was being cleansed, he had expiated his guilt by
confessing it to his accuser and receiving her strange and gentle
forgiveness; tears came to his eyes, came and paused on the lashes and
trickled down. He gulped a sob.
“I can go on now,” he said.
She looked at him, wondering.
“You can!” she whispered.
And he went out, a free man again, at the beginning of a new life.
IV. GOLDEN OCTOBER
Life has an upspringing quality that defies pain. Something buoyant
throbs in the heart of the world—something untamed and wild—exultant
in the flying beauty of romping children, glinting in the dawn-whitened
sea, risen, indeed, through man into triumphant cities and works, and
running like a pulse through his spirit. San Francisco is shattered,
and there is death and sorrow and destruction: a whole population is
homeless—whereupon the little human creatures come down from the hills
like laughing gods and create but a more splendid city. Earth itself
forges through its winters with an April power that flushes a continent
with delicate blossoms and tints.
Joe had come home from Sally Heffer a man renewed. From some clear
well in his nature sprang a limpid stream of soft, new joy; a new
exhilarating sense of life; a new creative power that made him eager
for action. His heart was cleansed, and with the exquisite happiness of
a forgiven child he “took up the task eternal.” Hereafter he was a man
dedicated, a man consecrated to a great work.
His mother noticed the change in him, a new wisdom, a sweet
jocularity, and, withal, the return of much of his old nature—its
rough camaraderie, its boyish liveliness and homely simplicity. For her
this was a marvelous relief, and she could only watch him and wonder at
the change. He seemed very busy again, and she did not disturb him in
these sensitive days of growth; she waited the inevitable time when he
would come to her and tell her what he was going to do, whether he
would re-establish his business or whether he had some new plan. And
then one day, tidying up his room, she stumbled on a heap of books. Her
heart thrilled and she began to surreptitiously borrow these books
Already the great city had forgotten its fire horror—save the tiny,
growing stir of an agitating committee—and even to those most nearly
concerned it began to fade, a nightmare scattered by the radiance of
new morning. One could only trust that from those fair and unpolluted
bodies had sprung a new wave of human brotherliness never to be quite
lost. And Joe's mother had had too much training in the terrible to be
long overborne. She believed in her son and stood by him.
Luckily for Joe, he had much work to do. He and Marty Briggs had to
settle up the business, close with customers, dig from the burned
rubbish proofs and contracts, attend the jury, and help provide for his
men. One sunny morning he and Marty were working industriously in the
loft, when Marty, with a cry of exultation, lifted up a little slot
“Holy Moses, Joe!” he exclaimed, “if here ain't the old kick-box!”
They looked in it together, very tenderly, for it was the very
symbol of Joe's ten years of business. On its side there was still
pasted a slip of paper, covered with typewriting:
This business is human—not perfect. It needs good
thinking, new ideas (no matter how unusual), and
There are many things you think wrong about the
printery and the printery's head—things you would
not talk of face to face, as business time is precious
and spoken words are sometimes hard to bear.
Now this is what I want: Sit down and write what
you think in plain English. It will do me good.
Suddenly Marty looked at his boss.
“What is it, Marty?” The big fellow hesitated.
“Say—when that jury finishes—you're going to set things up again,
and go on. Ain't you?”
Joe smiled sadly.
“I don't know, Marty.”
Tears came to Marty's eyes.
“Say—what will the fellers say? Ah, now, you'll go ahead, Joe.”
“Just give me a week or two, Marty—then I'll tell you.”
But the big fellow's simple grief worked on him and made him waver,
and there were other meetings with old employees that sharply drew him
back to the printery. One evening, after a big day of activity, he
found it too late to reach the boarding-house for supper and he
remembered that John Rann's baby was sick. So he turned and hurried
across the golden glamor of Third Avenue, on Eightieth Street, and just
beyond climbed up three flights of stairs in a stuffy tenement and
knocked on the rear door. Smells of supper—smells chiefly of cabbage,
cauliflower, fried onions, and fried sausages—pervaded the hall like
an invisible personality, but Joe was smell-proof.
A husky voice bade him come in and he pushed open the door into a
neat kitchen. At a table in the center under a nicely globed light sat
John Rann in his woolen undershirt. John was smoking a pipe and reading
the evening paper, and opposite John two young girls, one about ten,
the other seven, were studying their lessons.
“Hello, John!” said Joe.
John nodded amiably, and muttered:
He was a strong, athletic, stocky fellow, with sunken little blue
eyes, heavy jaws, and almost bald head. Before he had time to rise the
two young girls leaped up with shrieks of joy and rushed to Joe. Joe at
once tucked one under each arm and hugged them forward to a big chair,
into which they all sank together.
“Well! Well!” cried Joe.
“Who do you love most?” asked the seven-year-old.
“The one who loves me most!” said Joe.
“I do!” they both shrieked.
“Now leave Mr. Joe be,” warned the father. “Such tomboys they're
getting to be, there's no holdin' 'em in!”
At once in the half-curtained doorway to the next room appeared a
stocky little woman, whose pale face was made emphatic by large
steel-rimmed glasses that shrank each eye-pupil to the size of a
tack-head. Her worried forehead smoothed; she smiled.
“I knew it was Mr. Joe,” she said, “by the way those gals yelled.”
Joe spoke eagerly:
“I just had to run in, Mrs. Rann, to ask how the baby was.”
“He's a sight better. Mrs. Smith, who lives third floor front, had
one just like him sick a year ago come Thanksgiving, and he died like
that. But the doctor you sent over is that kind and cute he's got the
little fellow a-fightin' for his life. He's a big sight better.
Want to see him?”
Joe gave a kiss each way, set down two reluctant women-to-be, and
followed Mrs. Rann to the inner room. In a little crib a youngster,
just recovered from colic, was kicking up his heels. Joe leaned over
and tickled the sole of one foot.
“Well, Johnny boy!”
“Unc! Unc!” cried the infant.
The mother purred with delight.
“He's trying to say Uncle Joe. Did you ever hear the likes?”
Joe beamed with pride.
“Well, your uncle hasn't forgotten you, old man!”
And he produced from his pocket a little rubber doll that whistled
whenever its belly was squeezed.
John Rann appeared behind them.
“Say, Mr. Joe, you haven't had your supper yet.”
“Not hungry!” muttered Joe.
“G'wan! Molly, put him up a couple of fried eggs, browned on both,
and a cup of coffee. I won't take no, either.”
“Well, perhaps I'd better. I'm ashamed to ask for anything home this
hour—in fact, I'm scared to.”
So he got his fried eggs and coffee, and the family hung around him,
and Joe, circled with such warm friendliness, was glad to be alive. He
was especially pleased with Mrs. Rann's regard. But Joe was always a
favorite with mothers. Possibly because he was so fond of their babies.
Possibly because mothers love a good son, wherever they find one.
Possibly because his heart was large enough to contain as something
precious their obscure lives. Just before he left John asked him:
“Will the printery soon be running, Mr. Joe?”
“Tell you later,” murmured Joe, and went out. But he was sorely
However, to Joe there had been revealed—almost in a day and after
thirty-eight years of insulated life—two of the supreme human facts.
There was humanity, on the one side, building the future, the new
state, organizing its scattered millions into a rich, healthy, joyous
life and calling to every man to enlist in the ranks of the creators;
and then there was woman, the undying splendor of the world, the beauty
that drenches life with meaning and magic, that stirs the elemental in
a man, that wakens the race instinct, that demands the creation of new
generations to inhabit that new state of the future. Intertwined, these
wondrous things drew the heart now this way, now that, and to Joe they
arose separately in intermittent pulsations that threatened to absorb
He did not dare go to Myra until he was sure of himself. It seemed
that he would have to choose between woman and work. It seemed as if
his work would lead into peril, dirt, disaster, and that he could not
ask a delicate, high-strung woman to go with him. The woman could not
follow her warrior to the battle, for marriage meant children to Joe,
and the little ones must stay back at home with the mother.
In that moment of clear terror he had said to Myra:
“I may never see you again.... I belong to those dead girls.”
And this phrase came and went like a refrain. He must choose between
her and those “dead girls.” There stood Myra with gray luminous eyes
and soft echoing voice magically hinting of a life of ever-renewed
romance. She had a breast for his aching head, she had in her hands a
thousand darling household things, she had in her the possibilities of
his own children ... who should bring a wind of laughter into his days
and a strange domestic tenderness. The depths of the man were stirred
by these appeals—that was the happy human way to take, the common road
fringed with wild flowers and brier-lost berries, and glorious with the
stride of health and the fresh open air.
And Myra herself, that charming presence to infold his life—He
would go walking through the golden October park, by little leaf-strewn
paths under the wild and sun-soaked foliage, with many vistas every way
of luring mystery, and over all the earth the rich opulent mother-bliss
of harvest, and his heart would ache, ache within him, ache for his own
harvests, ache like the sun for the earth, the man for the woman.
A mad frenzy would seize him and he would plunge into his books and
read and think and lash himself to a fury of speculation till the early
hours of the morning. Exhaustion alone brought him peace.
But something had to be done. He sat down and wrote to her with a
DEAR MYRA,—Though I am impatient to see you, I
must yet wait a little while. Bear with me. You will
And then she replied:
DEAR JOE,—Can't I help you?
He had to fight a whole afternoon before he replied:
And back he went into the whirlwind of the world-vision, a
stupendous force upsetting, up-rooting, overturning, demolishing,
almost erasing and contradicting everything that Joe had taken for
granted, and in the wake of the destruction, rising and ever rising, a
new creation, the vision of a new world.
He had taken so much for granted. He had taken for granted that he
lived in a democracy—that the Civil War had once for all made America
a free nation—a nation of opportunity, riches, and happiness for all.
Not so. Literally millions were living in abject poverty, slaves to
their pay-envelopes; to lose a job meant to lose everything, there
being more laborers than jobs, or if not, at least recurrent “panics"
and “hard times” when the mills and the mines shut down. And these wage
slaves had practically no voice in one of the chief things of their
life—their work. So millions were penned in places of danger and
disease and dirt, lived and toiled in squalor, and were cut off from
growth, from health, from leisure and culture and recreation; and
worse, millions of women had to add the burden of earning a living to
the already overwhelming burden of child-bearing and home-making; and,
still worse, millions of children had been drafted into the service of
He proved the case for himself. He began making tours of the city,
discovering New York, laying bare the confusion and ugliness and grime
and crime and poverty of a great industrial center. He poked into the
Ghetto, into Chinatown, Greenwich Village, and Little Italy; he peered
into jails, asylums, and workhouses; he sneaked through factories and
hung about saloons. Everywhere a terrific struggle, many sinking down
into the city's underworld of crime, men becoming vagrants or thieves,
women walking the streets as prostitutes.
And over this broad foundation of the “people” rose the structure of
business and politics, equally corrupted—or so it seemed to Joe, as it
does to every one who is fresh to the facts. Men at the top gathering
into their hands the necessities of life: oil, meat, coal, water-power,
wool; seizing on the railroads, those only modern means of social
exchange; snatching strings of banks wherein the people's money was
being saved; and using their mighty money-power to corrupt legislation,
to thwart the will of the voters, to secure new powers, to crush
opposition. So had arisen a “Money Power” that was annuling democracy.
And Joe's books argued that all this change had been wrought by the
invention of machinery, that only through steam, steel, and electricity
could world-wide organization take place, that only through these arose
the industrial city, the modern mill. The very things that should have
set man free, the enormous powers he snatched from nature and harnessed
to do his work, powers with the strength of a nation of men—these very
things had been seized by a few for their own profit, and had enslaved
the majority. Over and over again could the race be fed, clothed,
housed, and enriched by these powers, and that with lessened hours of
toil and more variety of work.
But Joe's books argued further and most dogmatically that this
organization by the selfish few was a necessary step in progress, that
when their work was finished the toilers, the millions, would arise and
seize the organization and use it thereafter for the good of all.
Indeed, this was what Sally's labor movement meant: the enlightenment
of the toilers as to the meaning of industrialism, and their training
for the supreme revolution.
And out of all this arose the world-vision. At such moments Joe
walked in a rarer air, he stepped on a fairer earth than ordinarily
obtains. It was the beauty and loveliness of simple human camaraderie,
of warm human touch. And at such times Joe had no doubt of his
life-work. It lay in exquisite places, in chambers of jolly grandeur,
in the invisible halls and palaces of the human spirit. He was one with
the toilers of earth, one with the crowded underworld. It was that
these lives might grow richer in knowledge, richer in art, richer in
health, richer in festival, richer in opportunity, that Joe had
dedicated his life. And so arose that wonderful and inexpressible
vision—a picture as it were of the far future—a glimpse of an earth
singing with uplifted crowds of humanity, on one half of the globe
going out to meet the sunrise, on the other, the stars. He heard the
music of that Hymn of Human Victory, which from millions of throats
lifts on that day when all the race is woven into a harmony of labor
and joy and home and great unselfish deeds. That day, possibly, might
never arrive, forever fading farther and farther into the sunlit
distances—but it is the day which leads the race forward. To Joe,
however, came that vision, and when it came it seemed as if the last
drop of his blood would be little to offer, even in anguish, to help,
even by ever so little, the coming and the consummation of that
He would awake in the night, and cry out in a fever:
“By God, I'm going to help change things.”
The vision shook him—tugged at his heart, downward, like the clutch
of a convulsive child; seized him now and again like a madness. Even
unto such things had the “dead girls” brought him.
So, crammed with theories—theories as yet untested by
experience—Joe became an iconoclast lusting for change. He was
bursting with good news, he wanted to cry the intimations from the
housetops, he wanted to proselytize, convert. He was filled with
Shelley's passion for reforming the world, and like young Shelley, he
felt that all he had to do was to show the people the truth and the
truth would make them free.
All this was in his great moments,... there were reactions when his
human humorous self—backed by ten years of the printery—told him that
the world is a complex mix-up, and that there are many visions; moments
that made him wonder what he was about, and why so untrained a man
expected to achieve such marvels.
But these reactions were swallowed up by the recurrent pulsations,
the spasms of his vision. He felt from day to day a growth of purpose,
an accumulation of energy that would resistlessly spill into action,
that would bear him along, whether or no. But what should he do, and
how? He was unfitted, and did not think he cared, for settlement work.
He knew nothing and cared less for charity work. Politics were an
undiscovered world to him. What he wanted passionately was to go and
live among the toilers, get to know them, and be the means of arousing
and training them.
But then there was the problem of his mother—a woman of
sixty-three. Could he leave her alone? It was preposterous to think of
taking her with him. Myra could a thousand times better go. He must
talk with his mother, he must thresh the matter out with her, he must
not delay longer to clear the issue. And yet he hesitated. Would she be
able to understand? How could he communicate what was bursting in his
breast? She belonged to a past generation; how could she hear the
far-off drums of the advance?
Up and down the Park he went early one evening in a chaos of
excitement, and he had a sudden conviction that he could not put off
the moment any longer. He must go to his mother at once, he must tell
all. As he walked down the lamp-lit street, under all the starriness of
a tranquil autumn night, he became alternately pale and flushed, his
heart thumped hard against his ribs, he felt like a little boy going to
his mother to confess a wrong.
He looked up; the shades of the second floor were illumined: she was
up there. Doing what? Sharply then he realized what a partial life she
led, the decayed middle-class associates of the boarding-house, tired,
brainless, and full of small talk, the lonesome evenings, the long
days. He became more agitated, and climbed the stoop, unlocked his way
into the house, went up the dim, soft, red-cushioned stairs, past the
milky gas-globe in the narrow hall, and knocked at her door.
“Come in!” she cried.
He swung the door wide and entered. She was, as usual, sitting in
the little rocker under the light and beside the bureau, between the
bed and the window. The neat, fragrant room seemed to be sleeping, but
the clear-eyed, upright woman was very much awake. She glanced up from
her sewing and realized intuitively that at last the crisis had come.
His big, homely face was a bald advertisement of his boyish excitement.
She nodded, and murmured, “Well!”
He drew up a chair awkwardly, and sat opposite her, tilting back to
accommodate his sprawling length. Then he was at a loss.
“Well,” he muttered, trying to be careless, “how are you?”
“All right,” she said drily.
She could not help him, though her heart was beginning to pain in
“I've been walking about the Park,” he began again, with an
indifference that was full of leaks, “and thinking....” He leaned
forward and spoke suddenly: “Say, mother, don't you get tired of living
in this place?”
She felt strangely excited, but answered guardedly.
“It isn't so bad, Joe.... There are a few decent people ... there's
Miss Gardiner, the librarian ... and I have books and sewing.”
“Oh, I know,” he went on, clumsily, “but you're alone a lot.”
“Yes, I am,” she said, and all at once she felt that she could speak
no further with him. She began sewing diligently.
His voice sounded unnatural.
“Since the ... fire ... I've been doing some thinking, some
“I've been going about ... studying the city....”
“Now I want you to understand, mother.... I want to tell you of ...
It's—well, I want to do something with my money, my life....” And his
voice broke, in spite of himself.
His mother felt as if she were smothering. But she waited, and he
“For those dead girls, mother....” and sharply came a dry sob. “And
for all the toilers. Oh, but can you understand?”
There was a silence. Then she looked at him from her youthful,
brilliant eyes, and saw only an overgrown, rather ignorant boy. This
gave her strength, and, though it was painful, she began speaking:
“Understand? Do you mean the books you are reading?”
“Yes,” he murmured.
“Well,” she smiled weakly, “I've been reading them, too.”
“You!” He was shocked. He looked at her as if she had
revealed a new woman to him.
“Yes,” she said, quickly. “I found them in your room.”
He was amazedly silent. He felt then that he had never really known
“Joe,” she said, tremulously, “I want to tell you a little about the
war.... There are things I haven't told you.”
And while he sat, stupefied and dumfounded, she told him—not all,
but many things. She was back in the Boston of the sixties, when she
was a young girl, when that town was the literary center of America,
when high literature was in the air, when the poets had great fame and
every one, even the business man, was a poet. She had seen or met some
of the great men. Once Whittier was pointed out to her, at a time when
his lines on slavery were burning in her brain. She had seen the
clear-eyed Lowell walking under the elms of Cambridge, and she justly
felt that she was one of those
“Who dare to be
In the right with two or three.”
Once, even, a relative of hers, a writer then well known and now
forgotten, had taken her out to see “the white Mr. Longfellow.” It was
one of the dream-days of her life—the large, spacious, square Colonial
house where once Washington had lived; the poet's square room with its
round table and its high standing desk in which he sometimes wrote; the
sloping lawn; the great trees; and, better than anything, the simple,
white-haired, white-bearded poet who took her hand so warmly and spoke
so winningly and simply. He even gave her a scrap of paper on which
were written some of his anti-slavery lines.
Those were great days—days when America, the world's experiment in
democracy, was thrown into those fires that consume or purify. The
great test was on, whether such a nation could live, and Boston was
athrob with love of country and eagerness to sacrifice. The young,
beautiful, clear-eyed girl did not hesitate a moment to urge Henry
Blaine to give up all and go to the front. It was like tearing her own
heart in two, and, possibly at a word, Blaine would have remained in
Boston and helped in some other way. But she fought it out with him one
night on Boston Commons, and she wished then that she was a man and
could go herself. On that clear, mild night, the blue luminous tinge of
whose moon she remembered so vividly, they walked up and down, they
passionately embraced, they felt the end of life and the mystery of
death, and then at last when the young man said: “I'll go! It's little
enough to do in this crisis!” she clung to him with pride and sacred
joy and knew that life was very great and that it had endless
And so Henry Blaine went with his regiment, and the black and
terrible years set in—years in which so often she saw what Walt
Whitman had seen:
“I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierced with missiles
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs (and all in
And the staffs all splinter'd and broken.
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them.
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought.
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffered not,
The living remain'd and suffer'd, the mother suffer'd,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer'd,
And the armies that remain'd suffer'd.”
Terrible years, years of bulletins, years of want, hard times, years
when all the future was at stake, until finally that day in New York
when she saw the remnant returning, marching up Broadway between the
black crowds and the bunting, the drums beating, the fifes playing,
“Returning, with thinned ranks, young, yet very old,
worn, marching, noticing nothing.”
Henry Blaine was one of these and he came to her a cripple, an
emaciated and sick man. Then had followed, as Joe knew, the marriage,
the hard pioneer life in the shanty on the stony hill, the death, and
the long widowhood....
Had she not a right to speak to him?
“Understand?” she ended. “I think, Joe, I ought to understand.... I
sent your father into the war....”
Depth beneath depth he was discovering her. He was amazed and awed.
He asked himself where he had been all these years, and how he had been
so blind. He felt very young then. It was she who actually knew what
the word social and the word patriotism meant.
He looked down on the floor, and spoke in a whisper:
“And ... would you send me off, too? The new war?”
She could scarcely speak.
“I ... oh, I'll have to go down in a tenement somewhere—the
“Well, then,” she said, quietly, “I'll go with you.”
“But you—” he exclaimed, almost adding, “an old woman”—“it's
She answered him with the same quietness.
“You forget the shanty.”
And then it was clear to him. Like an electric bolt it shot him,
thrilling, stirring his heart and soul. She would go with him;
more than that, she should. It was her right, won by years of
actual want and struggle and service. More, it was her escape from a
flat, stale, meaningless boarding-house existence. Suddenly he felt
that she was really his mother, knit to him by ties unbreakable, a
terrible thing in its miraculousness.
But he only said, in a strained voice,
“All right, mother!”
And she laughed, and mused, and murmured:
“How does the world manage to keep so new and young?”
V. MYRA AND JOE
Myra Craig used to dream at night that the fifty-seven members of
her class arose from their desks with wild shrieks and danced a
war-dance about her. This paralyzed her throat, her hands, and her
feet, and she could only stand, flooded with horror, awaiting the
arrival of the school principal and disgrace. Out of this teacher's
dream she always awoke disgusted with school-work.
Myra came from Fall River—her parents still lived there—came when
she was ten years younger, to seek her fortune in the great city. New
York had drawn her as it draws all the youth of the land, for youth
lusts for life and rushes eagerly to the spot where life is most
intense and most exciting. The romance of crowds, of wealth, of art, of
concentrated pleasure and concentrated vice, of immense money-power,
the very architecture of the world-city, the maelstrom of people, drew
the young Fall River woman irresistibly. She did not want the even and
smooth future of a little town; she wanted to plunge into the hazardous
interweaving of the destinies of millions of people. She wanted to
grasp at some of the magic opportunities of the city. She wanted a
And so she came. Early that June morning she left her cabin on the
Sound steamboat and went out on deck, and then she had unfolded to her
the most thrilling scene of the earth. Gazing, almost panting with
excitement, it seemed to her that the nature she had known—the hills
and fields of New England—shrank to littleness. First there was all
about her the sway of the East River, golden—flecked with the morning
sun, which glowed through a thin haze. From either shore a city
climbed, topped with steeples and mill chimneys—floods of tenements
and homes. Then the boat swept under the enormous steel bridges which
seemed upheld by some invisible power and throbbed with life above
them. And then, finally, came the Vision of the City. The wide expanse
of rolling, slapping water was busy with innumerable harbor craft,
crowded ferries, puffing tugs, each wafting its plume of smoke and
white steam; but from those waters rose tier after tier of square-set
skyscrapers climbing in an irregular hill to the thin peak of the
highest tower. In the golden haze, shot with sun, the whole block of
towers loomed distant, gigantic, shadowy, unreal—a magic city floating
on the waters of the morning. Windows flashed, spirals of white smoke
spun thin from the far roofs. Myra thought of those skyscrapers as the
big brothers of the island gazing out over the Atlantic.
The boat rounded the tip of the island, furrowing the broad surface
of the bay, which seemed as the floor of a stage before that lifting
huge sky-lost amphitheater. Every advance changed the many-faceted
beauty of New York, and Myra, gazing, had one glimpse across little
green Battery Park up the deep twilit canon of Broadway, the city's
spine. The young woman was moved to tears. She seemed to slough off at
that moment the church of her youth, averring that New York was too big
for a creed. It was the great human outworking; the organism of the
mighty many. It seemed a miracle that all this splendor and wonder had
been wrought by human hands. Surely human nature was great—greater
than she had dreamed. If creatures like herself had wrought this, then
she was more than she had dared to imagine, “deeper than ever plummet
had sounded.” She felt new courage, new faith. She wanted to leave the
boat and merge with those buildings and those swarming streets. She was
proud of the great captains who had engineered this masswork, proud of
the powers that ruled this immensity.
But beyond all she felt the city's livingness. The air seemed
charged with human activity, with toil-pulsations. She was all crowded
about with human beings, and felt the mystery of what might be termed
crowd-touch. Here, surely, was life—life thick, happy, busy,
daring, ideal. Here was pioneering—a reaching forth to a throbbing
future. So, as the boat landed, she mentally identified herself with
this city, labeled herself New-Yorker, and became one of its millions.
Her rapture lasted throughout her first stay. She tasted romance
glancing in shop windows or moving in a crowd or riding in an elevated
train. A letter of introduction to a friend of her mother's secured her
a companion, who “showed her the sights” and helped her choose her
boarding-house in East Eightieth Street. And then came the examinations
for public-school teaching; and after these she went home for the
summer, returning to New York in the fall.
Then her new life began, the rapture ceased, and Myra Craig, like so
many others, found that her existence in the city was just as narrow as
it had been in the town. In some ways, more narrow. She was quite
without friends, quite without neighborhood. Her day consisted in
teaching from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., correcting papers and planning lessons
and making reports until well into the evening, sometimes until late in
the night, and meeting at meals unfriendly people that she disliked.
Her class was composed of rather stupid, rather dirty children. They
smelled—a thing she never forgave them. And what could one woman
do with fifty or sixty children? The class was at least three times too
big for real teaching, and so almost inevitably a large part of the
work became routine—a grind that spoiled her temper and embittered her
heart. Her fellow-teachers were an ignorant lot; the principal himself
she thought the biggest lump of stupidity she had ever met—a man
demanding letter-perfection and caring not one rap for the growth of
children. Her week-ends were her only relief, and she used these partly
for resting and partly in going to theater and concert.
Such for ten years—with summers spent at home—was Myra's life. It
was bounded by a few familiar streets; it was largely routine; it was
hard and bitter; and it had no future. It was anything but what she had
dreamed. New York was anything but what she had dreamed. She never saw
again that Vision of the City; never felt again that throb of life,
that sense of pioneering and of human power. And yet in those years
Myra had developed. She was thrown back on books for friendship, and
through these and through hard work and through very routine she
developed personality—grew sensitive, mentally quick, metropolitan.
She had, as it were, her own personal flavor—one felt in her
presence a difference, a uniqueness quite precious and exquisite.
And then one day she had gone to the printery and met a man, who was
homely, rough, simple, and, in spite of her revulsion from these
qualities, was immensely drawn to him. Something deeper than the veneer
of her culture overpowered her. She had almost forgotten sex in the
aridity of those ten years; she had almost become a dried old maid; but
now by the new color in her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes, the fresh
rapidity of her blood, and through the wonder of the world having
become more light, as if there were two suns in the sky instead
of one—yes, through the fact that she lived now at ten human-power
instead of one—her heart told her exultingly, “You are a woman.”
Girlhood had come again, but girlhood made all woman by immense
tenderness, by the up-rush of a wild love, and by the awakening of all
her instincts of home and mating and child-bearing. And then had come
that mad, wind-blown twilight at the riverside when the spirit of life
had drenched her and she had become grave, tender, and wrought of all
lovely power. Joe was just a boy then to her, and her great woman-heart
drew him in and sheltered him in the sacred warmth of her being. In
that moment she had reached the highest point of her womanhood, a new
unfolding, a new release. And then had come horror, and he had been
swept away from her—one glimpse of his numb, ghastly face, and he was
It was Fannie Lemick that took her home. She only knew that she was
being led away, while crashing through her mind went flames, smoke, the
throbbing of the engines, and the words: “I may never see you again ...
dead girls....” All that night she tossed about in a horror, and in the
morning she feverishly read the terrible news until she thought she
must swoon away. She became sick; the landlady had to come up and help
her; the doctor had to be sent for, and he had told her that this
nervous breakdown had been long overdue; she had been working under too
great a strain; it only needed some shock to break her.
But while she lay in a sick fever her heart went out to Joe. If she
only could be at his side, nerve him to the fight, protect him and
soothe him. She knew that his whole old life had been consumed in that
fire, and lay in ruins, and she felt subtly that he had been taken from
her. By one blow, at the very moment of the miracle of their love, they
had been torn from each other. She did not want to live; she hoped that
she had some serious disease that would kill her.
But she did live; she became better, and then in a mood of
passionate tenderness she wrote her first little love-letter to Joe.
She went about, doing her school-work and bearing the weight of
intolerable lonely days, and he had written twice, just a word to her,
a word of delay. What kept him? What was he doing? She read of his
testimony at the inquest and became indignant because he blamed
himself. Who was to blame for such an accident? It was not his
cigarette that had started the blaze. In her overwrought condition she
passed from a terrible love to a sharp hate, and back and forth. Was he
a fool or was he more noble than she could fathom? He should have seen
her sooner, he should not have left her a prey to her morbid thoughts.
Time and again she became convinced that he had ceased to love her,
that he was more concerned over his burnt printery. She twisted his
letters against him. She would sit in her room trying to work at her
school papers, and suddenly she would clench her fists, turn pale, and
stare despairingly at the blank wall.
Day after day she waited, starting up every time she heard the
postman's whistle and the ringing of the bell. And then at last one
night, as she paced up and down the narrow white little room, she heard
the landlady climbing the stairs, advancing along the hall, and there
was a sharp rap. She felt faint and dizzy, flung open the door, took
the letter, and sank down on the bed, hardly daring to open it.
It was brief and cold:
Dear Myra,—I know you are up early, so I am
coming around at seven to-morrow morning—I'll be
out in the street and wait for you. We can go to the
Park. I have some serious problems to lay before
“Serious problems!” She understood. He was paving the way for
renouncing her. Perhaps it was a money matter—he thought he ought not
marry on a reduced income. Or perhaps he found he didn't love her. For
hours she sat there with the letter crumpled in her hand, frozen,
inert, until she was incapable of feeling or thinking. So he was coming
at seven. He took it for granted that she would be ready to see
him—would be eager to walk in the Park with him. Well, what if she
didn't go? A fine letter that, after that half-hour at the riverside. A
love-letter! She laughed bitterly. And then her heart seemed to break
within her. Life was too hard. Why had she ever left the peace and
quiet of Fall River? Why had she come down to the cruel, careless,
vicious city to be ground up in a wholesale school system and then to
break her heart for an uncouth, half-educated printer? It was all too
hard, too cruel. Why had she been born to suffer so? Why must she
tingle now with pain, when in a few years she would be unfeeling dust
again? Among all the millions of the people of the earth, among all the
life of earth and the circling million scattered worlds, she felt
utterly isolated, defrauded, betrayed. Life was a terrible gift, and
she did not want it. This whirl of emotion rose and rose in her, went
insanely through her brain, and, becoming intolerable, suddenly ceased
and left her careless, numb, and hard.
She arose mechanically and looked in the glass at herself. Her face
“I'm getting homely,” she thought, and quietly went to bed.
But in the night she awoke to a swift frenzy of joy. He was coming.
After all, he was coming. She would see him. She would be near him
again. Yes, how she loved him! loved with all her nature. It was the
intensity of her love that made her hate. And she lay throbbing with
joy, her whole being quivering with desire for him. He was hers, after
all. It was the woman's part to forgive and forget.
But when the morning broke, and she arose in her nightgown and sat
on the chair at the window, smoothing out and rereading the letter, her
doubts returned. He was coming to renounce her. He would make all sorts
of plausible excuses, he would be remorseful and penitent, but it all
came to the same end. Why should she go and meet him to be humiliated
in this way? She would not go.
Yet she rose and dressed with unusual care and tried to smile back
the radiance of her face, and fixed her hair this way and that in a
pitiful attempt to take away the sharpness of her expression, and when
her little clock showed seven she put on hat and coat with trembling
hands and went swiftly down and out at the front door. She was shaking
with terrible emotions, fire filled and raged in her breast, and she
had to bite her lip to keep it still.
The city flashed before her in all the sparkle of October, the air
tingled, and in the early morning light the houses, the street, looked
as bright and fresh as young school-children washed, combed,
bright-eyed, new with sleep, and up from roofs went magic veilings of
flimsy smoke. Down the avenues clanged cars black with mechanics,
clerks, and shop-girls on the way to work; people streamed hurrying to
their day's toil. The city was awake, shaking in every part of her with
glad breakfast and the rush to activity. What colossal forces swinging
in, swinging out of the metropolis in long pulsations of freight and
ship and electricity! Wall Street would roar, the skyscrapers swarm,
the schools drone and murmur and sing, the mills grind and rattle, and
the six continents and the seven seas would pulse their blood into the
city and be flushed by her radiating tides. Into this hidden activity
Myra stepped, deaf and blind to all but the clamor of her heart and a
single man walking like a black pawn aureoled in the low early
She came down slowly, as he came up. She glanced at his face. She
was shocked by its suffering, its gray age. He looked quite shabby in
his long frayed coat, his unpolished shoes, his gray slouch hat—shabby
and homely, and ill-proportioned, stooping a little, his rough shock of
hair framing the furrowed face and sunken melancholy eyes. And it was
for this man that she had been breaking her heart! Yet, at the moment
there swept over her an awful surge of passion, so strong that she
could have seized him in her arms and died in his embrace.
He, in turn, saw how white and set her face was, how condemnatory.
He had come to her almost ready to throw his plans overboard and cleave
to her—for a day and a night that side of his nature had dominated,
expunging all else, driving him to her, demanding that he grasp her
magic presence, her womanly splendor. This alone was real, and all the
rest fantastic. And he had walked up and down the street with all the
October morning singing in his blood; the world was glorious again and
he was young; he would take her, he would forget all else, and they
would go off somewhere in the wilderness and really live. He had never
lived yet. He thirsted for life, he thirsted for all this woman could
give him. And now the condemnation in her face choked him off, made her
a stranger, separated them, made it hard to speak to her.
He cried in a low voice:
The word was charged with genuine passion, and she became more pale,
and stood unable to find her tongue, her lips quivering painfully.
Then suddenly there was a nervous overflow.
“You wanted to walk in the Park,” she blurted in a cold, uneven
voice. “We'd better be going then. I won't have much time. I've got to
be at school early.”
She started off, and he strode beside her. They walked in a strange
slow silence, each charged with inexpressible, conflicting emotions,
and each waiting for the other. This strain was impossible, and finally
Joe began speaking in low tones.
“I know it seems queer that I haven't been to see you ... but you'll
understand, I couldn't. There was so much to do....”
He stopped, and then again came the cold, uneven voice:
“You could have found a moment.”
They went on in silence, and entered the Park, following the walk
where it swept its curve alongside the tree-arched roadway, past low
green hills to the right and the sinking lawns to the left, crossed the
roadway, and climbed the steep path that gave on to the Ramble—that
twisty little wilderness in the heart of the city, that remote, wild,
A little pond lay in the very center of it, all deep with the blue
sky, and golden October gloried all about it—swaying in wild-tinted
treetops, blowing in dry leaves, sparkling on every spot of wet, and
all suffused and splashed and strangely fresh with the low, red,
radiant sunlight. There was splendor in the place, and the air dripped
with glorious life, and through it all went the lovers, silent,
“We can sit here,” said Joe.
It was a bench under a tree, facing the pond. They sat down, each
gazing on the ground, and the leaves dropped on them, and squirrels ran
up to them, tufted their tails and begged for peanuts with lustrous
beady eyes, and now and then some early walker or some girl or man on
the way to work swung lustily past and disappeared in foliage and far
low vistas of tree trunks.
The suspense became intolerable again. Joe turned a little to her.
She was trembling; a moment more she would be in his arms, sobbing,
forgiving him. But she hurried on in an unnatural way.
“You wanted to speak to me—I'm waiting. Why don't you
It was a blow in the face; his own voice hardened then.
“You're making it very hard for me.”
She said nothing, and he had to go on.
“After the fire—” his voice snapped, and it was a space before he
went on, “I felt I was guilty.... I went to a mass-meeting and one of
the speakers accused the ... class I belong to ... of failing in their
duty.... She said ...”
Myra spoke sharply:
Joe felt suddenly silenced. Something unpleasant was creeping in
between them. He did not know enough of women, either, to divine how
Myra was suffering, to know that she had reached a nervous pitch where
she was hardly responsible for what she thought and said. He went on
“I felt that I was accused... I felt that I had to make reparation
to the toilers, ... had to spend my life making conditions better....
You see this country has reached a crisis ...”
It was all gibberish to her.
“Exactly what do you mean?” she asked, sharply.
“I mean”—he fumbled for words—“I must go and live among the poor
and arouse them and teach them of the great change that is taking
She laughed strangely.
“Oh—an uplifter, settlement work, charity work—”
He was stupefied.
“Myra, can't you see—”
“Yes, I see,” she said, raising her voice a little; “you're going to
live in the slums and you want me to release you. I do. Anything else?”
She was making something sordid of his beautiful dream, and she was
startlingly direct. He was cut to the heart.
“You're making it impossible,” he began.
She laughed a little, stroking down her muff.
“So you're going to live among the poor ... and you didn't dare come
and tell me....”
“I had no right to involve you until I was sure....”
“And now you're sure....”
“No,” he cried.
She raised her voice a little again:
“And I wrote asking if I couldn't help you. Women are fools....”
He sat searching about for something to say. His heart was like cold
lead in his breast; his head ached. He felt her side of the case very
vividly, and how could she ever understand?
Then, as she sat there her head seemed to explode, and she spoke
“It's time to get to school. I want to go alone. Good-by.”
She rose and went off rapidly.
“Myra!” he cried, leaping up, but she only accelerated her pace....
Instead of going to school she went straight home, flung herself
full-length on the bed, buried her face in the pillow, and shook for a
long time with terrible tearless sobs. Her life was ruined within her.
VI. MARTY BRIGGS
Joe went home in a distraught condition. He was angry, amazed, and
passion-shaken. He had had a look into that strange mixture which is
woman—and he was repelled, and yet attracted as he had never been
before. He felt that all was over between them, that somehow she had
convicted him of being brutal, selfish, and unmanly, and in the light
of her condemnation he saw in his delay to meet her only cowardice and
harsh indifference. And yet all along he had acted on the conclusion
that he had no right to ask a woman to go into the danger of his work
Pacing up and down his narrow room, he began lashing himself again,
excusing, forgiving Myra everything. He had never really understood her
nature; he should have gone to her in the beginning and trusted to her
love and her insight; he should have let her share the aftermath of the
fire; that fierce experience would have taught her that he was forever
mortgaged to a life of noble reparation, and even the terror of it all
would have been better than shutting her out, to brood morbidly alone.
Yet, what could he do? He must be strong, be wise, keep his head. He
had pledged himself, sworn himself into the service of the working
class movement. There was no escape. He tried to bury himself in his
books, regain for a moment his splendid dream of the future state, feel
again those strange throes of world-building, of social service.
And out of it all grew a letter, a letter to Myra. He wrote it in a
strange haste, the sentences coming too rapidly for his pen. It ran:
DEAR MYRA,—I must make you understand! I hurt
you when I wanted to help you; I wronged you when
I wanted only to do right by you. Why didn't you
listen to me this morning?
It was at the fire there, at that moment you tugged
at my sleeve and I spoke to you, that I saw clearly that
my life was no longer my own, that I could not even
give it to you, whom I loved, whom I love now with
every bit of my existence. I told you I belonged to
those dead girls. Have you forgotten? Sixty of them—and
three of my men. It was as if I had killed them
myself. I am a guilty man, and I must expiate this
guilt. There is no use fooling myself with pleasant
phrases, no use thinking others to blame. It was I
who was responsible.
And through the death of those girls I learned of the
misery of the world, of the millions in want, the women
wrenched from their homes to toil in the mills, the
little children—fresh, sweet bodies, bubbling hearts,
and tender, whimsical minds—slaving in factories,
tiny boys and girls laboring like men and women in
cotton and knitting mills, in glass factory and coal-mine,
and on the streets of cities, upon whose frail little
spirits is thrust the responsibility, the wage burden, the
money, and family trouble, the care and drudgery and
mortal burden we grown people ourselves not seldom
find too hard. I have learned of a world gone wrong;
I have learned of a new slavery on earth; and I as a
member of the master class share the general guilt for
the suffering of the poor...I must help to free
them from the very conditions that killed the sixty
And when I think of those girls and their families
(some of them were the sole support of their mothers
and sisters and brothers) the least I can do is to render
up my life for the, lives that were lost—the least I can
do is to fill myself with the spirit of the dead and
go forth, not to avenge them, but to help build a
world where the living will not be sacrificed as they
This country is facing a great crisis; civilization is
facing a great crisis. Shall we go forward or be drawn
backward? There is a call to arms and every man must
offer his life in the great fight—that fight for democracy,
that fight for lifting up the millions to new levels of
life, that fight for a better earth and a superber race
of human beings; and in that fight I am with the
pioneers, heart and soul; I am ringing with the joy
and struggle of it; I am for it, with all my strength and
all my power. It demands everything; its old cry,
“Arise, arise, and follow me;” means giving up possessions,
giving away all, making every sacrifice. Before
this issue our little lives shrink into nothingness,
and we must sink our happiness into the future of the
How can I ask you to go into the peril, the dirt, and
disease of this struggle? And how can I refrain from
going in myself? Let me see you once more. Do not
deny me that. And understand that through life my
love will follow you ... a love greatened, I trust, by
what little I do in the great cause....
Ever yours, JOE
He waited for an answer and none came, and he felt during those days
that the life was being dragged out of him. Feverishly then he buried
himself in his tasks and his books, he went on cramming himself with
theories until he reached the bursting-point and wanted to go out on
fire with mission, almost a fanatic, an Isaiah to shake the city with
invective and prophesy change. What could he do to spread the tidings,
the news? The time had come to find an outlet for the overbearing flood
within him. And then one evening in the Park like a flash came the
plan. He must go among the poor, he must get to know them—not in this
neighborhood, “a prophet is not without honor, etc.”—but in some new
place where he was unknown. He thought of Greenwich Village. Did not
Fannie Lemick tell him that Sally Heffer lived in Greenwich Village?
Well, he would look into the matter. He was a printer; why not then
print a little weekly newspaper directly for the toilers, for his
neighbors? He could tell all that way, pour out his enlightenment, stir
them, stand by them, take part in their activities, their troubles and
their strikes and lead them forth to a new life. He was sure they were
ripe for the facts, powder awaiting the spark; he would go down among
them and make his paper the center of their disorganized life.
The more he thought of the plan the more it thrilled him. What was
greater than the power of the press? What more direct? He was done with
palliatives, finding men jobs, giving Christmas turkeys, paying for
coal. What the people needed was education so that they could get
justice—all else would follow.
But even at that perfervid period of his life Joe was saved from
being a John Brown by his sense of humor. This was the imp in him that
always poked a little doubt into his heart and laughed at his ignorance
and innocence. By next morning Joe was smiling at himself.
Nevertheless, he was driven ahead.
He called for Marty Briggs and they went to lunch together. Third
Avenue lay naked to the rain, which swept forward in silvery gusts,
dripping, dripping from the elevated structure, and the pattering
liquid sound had a fresh mellow music. Here and there a man or woman,
mush-roomed by an umbrella, dashed quickly for a car, and the trolleys,
gray and crowded, seemed to duck hurriedly under the downpour. The
faces of Joe and Marty were fresh-washed and spattering drops; they
laughed together as they walked.
“I've some business to talk over with you,” explained Joe, and they
finally went into a little restaurant on Third Avenue. The stuffy
little place, warm and damp with the excluded rain, and odorous with
sizzling lard and steaming coffee and boiling cabbage, was crowded with
people, but Joe and Marty took a little table to themselves in the
darkest corner. They sat against the dirty rear wall, whose white paint
was finger-marked, fly-specked, and food-spotted, and in which a
shelf-aperture furnished the connection with the kitchen. To this hole
in the wall hurried the three waitresses, shrieking their orders above
the din of many voices and the clatter and clash of plates and
A monstrous greasy cook peered forth, shoving out a plate of fried
eggs and echoing huskily:
“Corn-beef-an'-cabbage!” “One harf-an'-harf!” “Make a sunstroke on
the hash!” and other pleasing chants of the noon.
“What'll yer have?”
A thin and nervous young woman swooped between them and mopped off
the sloppy, crumby table with her apron.
“What's good?” asked Joe.
The waitress regarded Joe with half-shut eyes.
“You want veal cutlets.”
And she wafted the information to the cook.
“Well, Joe,” said the practical Briggs, unable to hold in his
excitement any longer, “let's get down to business.”
Joe leaned forward.
“I'm thinking of starting up the printery, Marty.”
Marty flushed, choked, and could hardly speak.
“I knew you would, Joe.”
“Yes,” Joe went on, “but I'm not going to go on with it.”
Marty spoke sharply:
“I'll tell you later, Marty.”
“Not—lost your nerve? The fire?”
Joe laughed softly.
“Retire?” Marty's appetite was spoiled. He pushed the veal cutlet
from him. He was greatly agitated. “Retire—you? I can see you
doing nothing, blamed if I can't. Gettin' sporty, Joe, in your old age,
aren't you? You'll be wearing one of these dress-suits next and a
flasher in yer chest. Huh!” he snorted, “you'd make a good one on the
Joe laughed with joy.
“With my flunkies and my handmaids. No, Marty, I'm going into
“Editing a magazine.”
“And what do you know about editing a magazine?”
“What do most of the editors know?” queried Joe. “You don't have to
know anything. Everybody's editing magazines nowadays.”
“A magazine!” Marty was disgusted. “You're falling pretty low, Joe.
Why don't you stick to an honest business? Gosh! you'd make a queer
fist editing a magazine!”
Joe was delighted.
“Well, there are reasons, Marty.”
So Joe in a shaking voice unfolded his philosophy, and as he did so
Marty became dazed and aghast, gazing at his boss as if Joe had turned
into some unthinkable zoological oddity. Into Marty's prim-set life,
with its definite boundaries and unmysterious exactness, was poured a
vapor of lunacy. Finally Joe wound up with:
“So you see I've got to do what little I can to help straighten
things. You see, Marty? Now, what do you think of it? Give me your
Marty spoke sharply:
“You want to know what I really think?”
“Every word of it!”
“Now see here, Joe,” Marty burst out, “you and I grew up in the
business together, and we know each other well enough to speak out,
even if you are my boss, don't we?”
“We do, Marty!”
Marty leaned over.
“Joe, I think you're a blamed idiot!”
“Well, Marty, if it weren't for the blamed idiots—like Columbus and
Tom Watts and the prophets and Abe Lincoln—this world would be in a
But Marty refused to be convinced, even averring that the world
is in a pretty mess, and that probably the aforementioned “idiots"
had caused it to be so. Then finally he spoke caressingly:
“Ah, Joe, tell me it's a joke.”
“No,” said Joe, earnestly, “it's what I've got to face, Marty, and I
need your backing.”
Marty mused miserably.
“So the game's up, and you've changed, and we men can go to the
dogs. Why, we can't run that printery without you. We'd go plumb to
Joe changed his voice—it became more commanding.
“Never mind now, Marty. I want your help to figure things out.”
So Marty got out his little pad and the two drew close together.
“I want to figure on a weekly newspaper—I'm figuring big on the
future—just want to see what it will come to. Say an edition of twenty
thousand copies, an eight-page paper, eight by twelve, no
Marty spoke humbly:
“As you say, Joe. Cheap paper?”
“Do your own printing?”
“Well, you'll need a good cylinder press for a starter.”
“How much help?”
“Make-up man—pressman—feeder—that's on the press. Will you set up
the paper yourself?”
“No, I'll have it set up outside.”
“Who'll bind it, fold, and address?”
“The bindery—give that out, too.”
“And who'll distribute?”
“The news company?”
“No, I won't deal with any news company. I want to go direct to the
people. Say I get a hundred newsmen to distribute in their
“But who'll get the paper to the newsmen?”
“Hire a truck company—so much a week.”
“And how much will you charge for the paper?”
“Cent a copy.”
“Can't do it,” said Marty.
Marty did some figuring, so they raised the price to two cents. And
then they put in twenty minutes and worked out the scheme. It summed up
Paper sells at 2 cts., 20,000 $400
Profit $ 60
Joe was exultant.
“Sixty profit! Well, I'm hanged.”
“Not so fast, Joe,” said Marty, drily. “They say no one ever started
a magazine without getting stuck, and anyway, you just reckon there'll
be expenses that will run you into debt right along. But of course
there'll be the ads.”
“I don't know about the ads,” said Joe. “But the figures please me
just the same.”
Marty squirmed in his chair.
“Joe,” he burst out, “how the devil is the printery going to run
Their eyes met, and Joe laughed.
“Will it be worth twenty-five thousand dollars when it's rebuilt and
business booming again?” he asked, shrewdly.
“More than that!” said Marty Briggs.
“Then,” said Joe, “I want you to take it.”
“Me?” Marty was stunned.
“You can do it easily. I'll take a mortgage and you pay it off two
thousand a year and five per cent. interest. That will still leave you
a tidy profit.”
“Me?” Then Marty laughed loud. “Listen, my ears! Did you hear
“Think it over!” snapped Joe. “Now come along.”
VII. LAST OF JOE BLAINE AND HIS MEN
So the printery was rehabilitated, and one gray morning Joe, with a
queer tremor at his heart, went down the street and met many of his men
in the doorway. They greeted him with strange, ashamed emotion.
“Morning, Mr. Joe.... It's been a long spell.... Good to see the old
place again.... Bad weather we're having.... How've you been?”
The loft seemed strangely the same, strangely different—fresh
painted, polished, smelling new and with changed details. For a few
moments Joe felt the sharp shock of the fire again, especially when he
heard the trembling of the hat factory overhead ... and that noon the
bright faces and laughter in the hallway! It seemed unreal; like ghosts
revisiting; and he learned later that the first morning the hat factory
had set to work, some of the girls had become hysterical.
But as he stood in his private office, looking out into the gray
loft, and feeling how weird and swift are life's changes, the men
turned on the electrics, and the floors and walls began their old
trembling and the presses clanked and thundered. He could have wept. To
Joe this moment of starting up had always been precious: it had seemed
to bring him something he had missed; something that fitted like an old
shoe and was friendly and familiar. All at once he felt as if he could
not leave this business, could not leave these men.
And yet he had only three days with them to wind up the business and
install Marty Briggs. And then there was a last supper of Joe Blaine
and his men. Those days followed one another with ever-deepening gloom,
in which the trembling printery and all the human beings that were part
of it seemed steeped in a growing twilight. Do what Joe would and could
in the matter of good-fellowship, loud laughter, and high jocularity,
the darkness thickened staggeringly. Hardly had Joe settled the
transfer of the printery to Marty, when the rumor of the transaction
swept the business. At noon men gathered in groups and whispered
together as if some one had died, and one after another approached Joe
“Mr. Joe, is it true what the fellows say?”
“Going to leave us, Mr. Joe?”
“Got to go?”
“I'm afraid I have to.”
“I'll hate to go home and tell my wife, Mr. Joe. She'll cry her head
“Oh, come! come!”
“Say—we men, Mr. Joe—”
But Tom would say no more, and go off miserably; only to be replaced
by Eddie or Mack or John, and then some such dialogue would be
repeated. Under the simple and inadequate words lurked that sharp
tragedy of life, the separation of comrades, that one event which above
all others darkens the days and gives the sense of old age. And the men
seemed all the closer to Joe because of the tragedy of the fire. All
these conversations told on Joe. He went defiantly about the shop, but
invariably his spoken orders were given in a humble, almost
affectionate tone, as (with one arm loosely about the man):
“Say, Sam, don't you think you'd better use a little benzine
And Sam would answer solemnly:
“I've always done as you've said, Mr. Joe—since the very first.”
His men succeeded in this way in making Joe almost as miserable as
when he had parted from Myra; and indeed a man's work is blood of his
blood, heart of his heart.
Possibly one thing that hurt Joe as much as anything else was a
curious change in Marty Briggs. That big fellow, from the moment that
Joe had handed over the business, began to unfold hitherto unguessed
bits of personality. He ceased to lament Joe's going; he went about the
shop with a certain jaunty air of proprietorship; and the men, for some
unknown reason, began to call him Mr. Briggs. He even grew a bit cool
toward Joe. Joe watched him with a sad sort of mirth, and finally
called him into the office one morning. He put his hands on the big
man's shoulders and looked in his face.
“Marty,” he said, “I hope you're not going to make an ass of
“What do you mean?” murmured Marty.
Joe brought his face a little nearer.
“I want to know something.”
Joe spoke slowly:
“Are you Marty Briggs now or are you Martin Briggs?”
Marty tried to laugh; tried to look away.
“What's the difference?” he muttered.
“Difference?” Joe's voice sank. “Marty, I thought you were a bigger
man. It's only the little peanut fellows who want to be bossy and
holier-than-thou. Don't make any mistake!”
“I guess,” muttered Marty, “I can steer things O.K.”
“You'd better!” Joe spoke a little sharply. “Our men here are as big
as you and I, every one of them. My God! you'll have to pay the price
of being a high muck-a-muck, Marty! So, don't forget it!”
Marty tried to laugh again.
“You're getting different lately,” he suggested.
“I?” Joe laughed harshly. “What if it's you? But don't let's
quarrel. We've been together too long. Only, let's both remember.
That's all, Marty!”
All of which didn't mend matters. It was that strangest of all the
twists of human nature—the man rising from the ranks turning against
On Friday night Joe climbed the three flights of the stuffy
Eightieth Street tenement and had supper with the Ranns. That family of
five circled him with such warmth of love that the occasion burst
finally into good cheer. The two girls, seated opposite him, sent him
smiling and wordless messages of love. Not a word was said of the fire,
but John kept serving him with large portions of the vegetables and the
excellent and expensive steak which had been bought in his honor; and
John's wife kept spurring him on.
“I'm sure Mr. Joe could stand just a weeny sliver more.”
“Mrs. Rann”—Joe put down knife and fork—“do you want me to
“A big man like you? Give him the sliver, John.”
“John, spare me!”
“Mr. Joe”—John waved his hand with an air of finality—“in the shop
what you says goes, but in this here home I take my orders from the old
“Nellie—Agnes—” he appealed, despairingly, to his little loves, “
you save me! Don't you love me any more?”
This set Nellie and Agnes giggling with delight.
“Give him a pound, a whole pound!” cried Agnes, who was the elder.
A nice sliver was waved dripping on Joe's plate, which Joe proceeded
to eat desperately, all in one mouthful. Whereupon the Ranns were
convulsed with joy, and John kept “ha-ha-ing” as he thumped the table,
and went to such excesses that he seemed to put his life in peril and
Mrs. Rann and the girls had to rise and pound him until their hands
“Serves you right, John,” said Joe, grimly. “Try it again, and
you'll get a stroke.”
“Ain't he the limit?” queried John, gasping.
Then Mrs. Rann went mysteriously to the cupboard, and the girls
began to whisper together and giggle. And then Mrs. Rann brought
something covered with a napkin, and then the napkin was removed. It
Joe pretended that he didn't know the secret, and leaned far over
and gazed at it.
“It's—well, what is it?”
Mrs. Rann's voice rang with exultation.
“Your favorite, Mr. Joe.”
A shout went up from all. Then real moisture came stealthily to
Joe's eyes, and he looked about on those friendly faces, and murmured:
“Thoughtful, mightily thoughtful!”
There was a special bottle of wine—rather cheap, it is true, but
then it was served with raisin pie and with human love, which made it
very palatable. Mrs. Rann fixed John with a sharp glance through her
glasses and cleared her throat several times, and finally Agnes gave
him a poke in the ribs, whispering:
“Hurry up, dad!”
John blushed and rose to his feet.
“Mr. Joe, I ain't a talker, anyway on my feet. But, Mr. Joe, you've
been my boss six years. And, Mr. Joe—” He paused, stuck, and gazed
appealingly at Joe.
Joe rose to the occasion.
“So it's, here's to good friends, isn't it, John?”
“That's it—you took the words out of my mouth! Toast!”
So they drank.
Then Joe rose, and spoke musingly, tenderly:
“There's a trifle I want to say to you to-night—to every one of
you. I can't do without you. Now it happens that I'm going to put a
press in my new business and I'm looking for a first-class crackerjack
of a pressman. Do you happen to know any one in this neighborhood who
could take the job?”
He sat down. There was profound silence. And then Mrs. Rann took off
her spectacles and sobbed. John reached over and took Joe's hand, and
his voice was husky with tears.
“Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Ah, say, you make me feel foolish!”
Joe stayed with them late that night, and when he left, the kisses
of the two girls moist on his cheeks, he had no doubt of his life-work.
But next day, Saturday—the last day—was downright black. Things went
wrong, and the men steered clear of Joe.
“Don't bother him,” they said, meaning to spare him, and
thereby increasing his pain. Men spoke in hushed tones, as soldiers
might on the eve of a fatal battle, and even Marty Briggs dropped his
new mannerisms and was subdued and simple.
Then Joe went off into a state of mind which might be described as
the “hazes”—a thing he did now and then. At such times the word went
“The old man's got 'em again!”
And he was left well alone, for the good reason that he was
unapproachable. He seemed not to listen to spoken words, nor to pay any
attention to the world about him. The men, however, appreciated these
spells, for, as a rule, something came of them—they bore good
practical fruit, the sure test of all sanity.
The day finally wore away, to every one's relief. Joe took a last
look around at all the familiar scene, shut his desk, handed over the
keys to Marty (who could not speak because he was half-choked), sang
out, “See you later, boys!” heard for the last time the sharp ring of
the door-bell and the slam of the door, and hurried away. Then at last
night came, and with night the last supper (as already announced) of
Joe Blaine and His Men.
By Monday there would be painted an addition on that door, namely:
The supper was held in the large hall, upstairs, of Pfaff's, on East
Eighty-sixth Street. The large table was a dream of green and white, of
silver and glass, and the men hung about awkwardly silent in their
Sunday best. Then Joe cried:
“Start the presses!”
There came a good laugh then to break the icy air, and they sat down
and were served by flying waiters, who in this instance had the odd
distinction of appearing to be the “upper classes” serving the
“lower”—a distinction, up to date, not over-eagerly coveted by
society. For the waiters wore the conventional dress of “gentlemen” and
the diners were in plain and common clothes.
At first the diners were in a bit of a funk, but Pfaff's excellent
meats and cool, sparkling wines soon set free in each a scintillant
human spirit, and the banquet took on almost an air of gaiety.
Finally there came the coffee and the ice-cream in forms, and Martin
Briggs rose. There was a stamping of feet, a clanking of knives on
glasses, a cry of “Hear! Hear!”
Martin Briggs knew it by heart and launched it with the aid of two
swallows of water. His voice boomed big.
“Fellow-workers, friends, and the Old Man!”
This produced tumults of applause.
“We are met to-night on a solemn occasion. Ties are to be severed,
friends parted. Such is life. Mr. Blaine—” (Cries from the far end of
the table, “Say, Joe! say, Joe!”) “Mr. Joe has been our friend, through
all these long years. He has been our friend, our boss, our co-worker.
Never did he spare himself; often he spared us. He had created an
important business, a profitable business, a business which has brought
a good living to every one of us. It is not for us to talk of the
catastrophe—this is not the occasion for that. Enough to say that
to-night Mr. Joe leaves that business. Others must carry it on. My
sentiment is that these others must continue in the same spirit of Mr.
Joe. That's my sentiment.” (Roars of applause, stamping of feet, but
one voice heard in talk with a neighbor, “Say, I guess his wife wrote
that, Bill.”) “So I propose a toast. To Mr. Joe, now and forever!”
They rose, they clanked glasses, they drank. Then they sat down and
felt that something was wrong. Marty surely had missed fire.
Whereupon John Rann, blushing, rose to his feet, and began to
“Say, fellers, do you mind if I put in a word?” (Cries: “Not a bit!”
“Soak it him, Johnny.”) “Well, I want to say,” his voice rose, “Joe
Blaine is it.” (Applause, laughter, stamping.) “He's jest one of
us.” (Cries: “You bet!” “You've hit it, Johnny!” “Give us more!”) “He's
a friend.” (Cries: “That's the dope!”) “He never did a mean thing in
his life.” (One loud cry: “Couldn't if he wanted to!”) “Say,” (Cries:
“Go ahead!” “Nobody 'll stop yer!” “Give him hell!” Laughter.) “We
fellers never appreciated this here Joe Blaine, did we?” (Cries: “Gosh
no!”) “But we do now!” (Uproarious and prolonged applause.)
“Say, fellers, he's been like a regular father to us kids.” (A strange
silence.) “He's been—Oh, hell!” (Speaker wipes his eyes with a red
handkerchief. Strange silence prolonged. Then one voice: “Tell him to
his face, John. 'Bout time he knew.”) “Joe Blaine” (speaker faces Mr.
Blaine, and tries not to choke), “if any one tries to say that you had
anything to do with the fire—he's a damned liar!”
A thrill charged the men; they became pale; they gazed on Joe, who
looked as white as linen; and suddenly they burst forth in a wildness,
a shouting, a stamping, a cry of: “Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe!”
Joe arose; he leaned a little forward; he trembled visibly, his
rising hand shaking so that he dropped it. Then at last he spoke:
“Yes—John is my friend. And you—are my friends. Yes. But—you're
wrong. I was to blame.” He paused. “I was to blame. Here,
to-night, I want to say this: Those girls, those comrades of ours—all
that went to waste with them—well,” his voice broke, “I'm going to try
to make good for them....”
For a moment he stood there, his face working strangely as if he
were going to break down, and the men looked away from him. Then he
went on in a voice warmly human and tender:
“You and I, boys, we grew up together. I know your wives and
children. You've given me happy hours. I've made you stand for a
lot—your old man was considerable boy—had his bad habits, his queer
notions. Once in awhile went crazy. But we managed along, quarreling
just enough to hit it off together. Remember how I fired Tommy three
times in one week? Couldn't get rid of him. Oh, Tommy, what 'pi' you
made of things! Great times we've had, great times. It hurts me raw.”
He paused, looking round at them. They were glancing at him furtively
with shining eyes. “Hurts me raw to think those times are over—for me.
But the dead have called me. I go out into another world. I go out into
a great fight. I may fail—quite likely I will. But I shall be backed.
Your love goes with me, and I've got a big job ahead.” Again he paused,
overcome. Then he tried to smile, tried to smooth out the tragic with a
forced jocularity. “Now, boys, behave. Mind you don't work too much.
And don't all forget the old man. And—but that's enough, I guess.”
The silence was terrible. Some of those big men were crying softly
like stricken children. It was the last requiem over the dead, the last
flare-up of the tragic fire. They crowded round Joe. He was blind
himself with tears, though he felt a strange quiet in his heart.
And then he was out in the starry autumn night, walking home,
“It's all over. That's out of my life.”
And he felt as if something had died within him.
VIII. THE WIND IN THE OAKS
Early Monday evening there came a note from Myra:
I wanted you to know that I am leaving for the
country—to-morrow—to get a rest.
Joe at once put on his hat and coat and went out. The last meeting
with his men had given him a new strength, a heightened manhood. Like a
man doomed to death, he felt beyond despair now. He only knew he must
go to Myra and set straight their relationship as a final step before
he plunged into the great battle. No more weakness! No more quarreling!
But clear words and definite understanding!
He went up the stoop and rang the bell. A servant opened the door,
showed him into the dimly lighted parlor, and went up the stairs with
his name. He heard her footsteps, light, hesitant. She appeared before
him, pale and sick and desperate.
“What do you want?” she asked in a tortured voice.
He arose and came close to her. He spoke authoritatively:
“Myra, get on your things. We must take a walk.”
Her shifting eyes glanced up, gave him their full luminous gray and
all the trouble of her heart.
“Myra,” his voice deepened, and struck through her, “you must go
with me to-night. It's our last chance.”
She turned and was gone. He heard her light footsteps ascending; he
waited, wondering, hoping; and then she came down again, showing her
head at the door. She had on the little rounded felt hat, and she
carried her muff.
They went out together, saying nothing, stepping near one another
under the lamps and over the avenues, and into the Park. It was a
strange, windy night, touched with the first bleakness of winter,
tinged with the moaning melancholy of the tossing oak-trees, and with
streaks of faint reflected city lights in the far heavens.
It was their last night together. Both knew it. There was no help
for it. The great issues of life were sweeping them away into black
gulfs of the future, where there might never be meeting again, never
hand-touch nor sound of each other's voice. And strangely life deepened
in their hearts, and they were swept by the mystery of being alive ...
alive in the star-streaked darkness of space, alive with so many other
brief creatures that brightened for a moment in the gloom and then sank
away into the stormy heart of nature. And Love contended with Death,
and the little labors of man helped Death to crush Love; and so that
moment of existence, that brief span, became a mere brute struggle, a
clash, a fight, a thing sordid and worse than death.
Out of the mystery, each, from some unimaginable distance, had come
forth and met here on the earth, met for a wild moment, a moment that
gave them lightning-lit glimpses of that mystery, only to part from
each other now, each to return into the darkness.
They felt in unison more than they could ever say. And it was the
last night together.
They sat down on a bench, under those mournful boughs, under the
lamentations of the oaks.
“Myra,” said Joe.
She murmured, “Yes.”
His voice was charged with some of the strangeness of the night,
some significance of the mystery of life and death.
“You read my letter ...”
“And you understand ... at last?”
“I don't know ... I can't tell.”
He paused; he leaned nearer.
“Why are you going away?”
“I've been sick,” she whispered. “The doctor told me to go.”
“For a rest.”
“And you go to-morrow?”
“I go to-morrow.”
“Without forgiving me?” He leaned very near.
There was a palpitating silence, a silence that searched their
souls, and sharply then Myra cried out:
“Oh, Joe! Joe! This is killing me!”
“Myra!” he cried.
He drew her close, very close, stroking her cheek, and the tears ran
over his fingers.
“Oh, don't you see,” he went on, brokenly, “I can't ask you to come
with me? And yet I must go?”
“I don't know,” she sobbed. “I must go away and rest ... and think
... and try to understand....”
“And may I write to you?...”
“Yes,” she murmured.
“And I am forgiven?”
“Forgive me!” she sobbed.
They could say no more, but sat in the wild darkness, clasping each
other as if they could not let one another go.... How could they send
each other forth to go in loneliness and homelessness to the ends of
the earth? The hours passed as they talked brokenly together, words of
remorse, of love, of forgiveness.
And then finally they arose—it was very late—and Myra whispered,
clinging to him:
“We must say good-by here!”
“Good-by!” he cried ... and they kissed.
“Joe,” she exclaimed, “take care of yourself! Do just that for me!”
“I will,” he said huskily, “but you must do the same for me.
“Oh, Joe!” she cried out, “what is life doing with us?”
And they went back, confused and strange, through the lighted
streets. They stood before her house.
“Till you come back!” he whispered.
She flashed about then, a look of a new wonder in her eyes.
“If only I thought you were right in your work!” she cried.
“You will! You will, Myra! And in that hope, we will go on!”
She was gone; the door shut him out of her life. And all alone,
strong, bitter, staring ahead, Joe stepped off to begin the new life
... to plunge into the battle.
* * * * *
PART II—THE TEST
It was in that red gash of crosstown brick—West Tenth Street—that
the new life began. The neighborhood was quaint and poor, a part of
that old Greenwich Village which at one time was a center of quiet and
chaste respectability, with its winding streets, its old-fashioned low
brick houses, its trees, its general air of detachment and hushed life.
Now it was a scene of slovenliness and dust, of miserable lives huddled
thickly in inadequate houses, of cheap roomers and boarders, of squalid
poverty—a mix of many nations well-sprinkled with saloons.
But the house was quite charming—three stories, red brick, with a
stoop of some ten steps, and long French windows on the first floor.
Behind those French windows was a four-room flat; beneath them, in the
basement, a room with iron-grated windows. Into that flat Joe and his
The invasion was unostentatious. No one could have dreamed that the
tall, homely man, dashing in and out in his shirt-sleeves between the
rooms and the moving-van drawn up at the curb, had come down with the
deliberate purpose of making a neighborhood out of a chaos, of
organizing that jumble of scattered polyglot lives.... In the faded
sunshine of the unusually warm winter afternoon, with its vistas of
gold-dusty air, and its noise of playing children and on-surging
trolleys and trucks and all the minute life of the saloons and the
stores—women hanging out of windows to get the recreation of watching
the confused drama of the streets, neighbors meeting in doorways, young
men laughing and chatting in clusters about lamp-posts—Joe toiled
valiantly and happily. He would rapidly glance at the thickly peopled
street and wonder, with a thrill, how soon he would include these lives
in his own, how soon he would grip and rouse and awaken the careless
All was strange, all was new. Everything that was deep in his
life—all the roots he had put down through boyhood, youth, and manhood
into the familiar life of Yorkville—was torn up and transplanted to
this fresh and unfriendly soil.... He felt as if he were in an alien
land, under new skies, in a new clime, and there was all the romance of
the mysterious and all the fear of the untried. Beginnings always have
the double quality of magic and timidity—the dreaded, delicious first
plunge into cold water, the adventurous striking out into unknown
perils.... Did it not at moments seem like madness to dare
single-handed into this vast and careless population? Was he not merely
a modern Don Quixote tilting at windmills? Well, so be it, he thought;
the goal might be unreachable, but the quest was life itself.
He had an inkling of the monstrous size of New York. All his days he
had lived within a half-hour's ride of Greenwich Village, and yet it
was a new world to him. So the whole city was but a conglomeration of
nests of worlds, woven together by a few needs and the day's work,
worlds as yet undiscovered in every direction, huge tracts of peoples
of all races leading strange and unassimilated lives. He felt lost in
the crowded immensity, a helpless, obscure unit in the whirl of life.
He had fallen in love with Greenwich Village from the first day he
had explored it for a promising dwelling-place. Here, he knew, lived
Sally Heffer, and here doubtless he would meet her and she would help
shape his fight, perhaps be the woman to gird on his armor, put sword
in his hand, and send him forth. For he needed her, needed her as a
child needs a teacher, as a recruit needs a disciplined veteran. It was
she who had first revealed the actual world to him; it was she who had
first divined his power and his purpose; it was she who had released
him from guilt by showing him a means of expiation.
And yet, withal, he feared to meet her. There had been something
terrible about her that afternoon at Carnegie Hall, and something that
awed him that evening at the Woman's League. Until she had broken down
and wept, she had hardly seemed a woman—rather a voice crying in the
wilderness, a female Isaiah, the toilers become articulate. And he
could not think of her as a simple, vivacious young woman. How would
she greet him? Would her eyes remember his part in the fire?
At least, so he told himself, he would not seek her out (he had her
address from Fannie Lemick) until he had something to show for his new
life—until, possibly, he had a copy of that magazine which was still a
hypothesis and a chimera. Then he would nerve himself and go to her and
she should judge him as she pleased.
That first supper with his mother had a sweetness new to their
lives. He ran out to the butcher, the grocer, and the delicatessen man,
and came home laden with packages. The stove in the rear kitchen was
set alight; the wooden table in the center was spread with cloth and
cutlery; and they sat down opposite each other, utterly alone ... no
boarding—house flutter and gossip and noise, no unpleasant jarring
personalities, no wholesale cookery. All was quiet and peace—a
brooding, tinkling silence. They both smiled and smiled, their eyes
moist, and the food tasted so good. Blessed bread that they broke
together, the cup that they shared between them! The moment became
sacred, human, stirred by all the old, old miraculousness of home, that
deepest need of humanity, that rich relationship that cuts so much
deeper than the light touch-and-go of the world.
Joe spoke awkwardly.
“So we're here, mother ... and it's ripping, isn't it?”
She could hardly speak, but her eyes seemed to sparkle with a second
“Yes,” she murmured, “it's the first time we've had anything like
this since you were a boy.”
They both thought of his father, and the vanished days of the shanty
on the hillside, and his mother thought:
“People must live out their own lives in their own homes.”
There was something that fed the roots of her woman-nature to have
this place apart, this quiet shelter where she ruled. It would be a joy
to go marketing, it would be a delight to cook, and it was charming to
live so intimately with her son. They were a family again.
After supper they washed the dishes together, laughing and chatting.
There were a hundred pleasing details to consider—where to place
furniture, what to buy, whether to have a servant or not (Joe insisted
on one), and all the incidents of the day to go over.
And then after the dish-washing they stopped work, and sat down in
the front office amid the packing-cases and the trunks and the litter
and debris. The gas was lighted above them, and the old-fashioned stove
which stood in the center and sprouted up a pipe nearly to the ceiling
and then at right angles into the wall was made red-hot with wood and
coal. Joe smoked and his mother sewed, and a hush seemed to fall on the
city, broken only by the echo of passing footsteps and the mellowed
thunder of the intermittent trolley-cars.
“And they call this a slum,” muttered Joe.
In fact, save possibly for less clear air and in the summer a noise
of neighbors, they might have been living in New York's finest
neighborhood—almost a disappointment to two people prepared to plunge
into dirt, danger, and disease.... Later Joe learned that some of the
city's magazine writers had settled in the district on purpose, not
because they were meeting a crisis, but because they liked it, liked
its quaint old flavor, its colorful life, its alien charm, and not
least, its cheaper rents.
But this evening all was unknown save the joy and peace of a real
home. They went to bed early, Joe in the room next the office, his
mother in the adjoining room next the kitchen, but neither slept for a
long time. They lay awake tingling with a strange happiness, a fine
freedom, a freshness of re-created life. Only to the pioneer comes this
thrill of a new-made Eden, only to those who tear themselves from the
easy ruts and cut hazardous clearings in the unventured wilderness. It
is like being made over, like coming with fresh heart and eyes upon the
glories of the earth; it is the only youth of the world.
The night grew late and marvelously hushed, a silence almost
oppressive, where every noise seemed like an invader, and Joe, lying
there keenly awake, seemed to feel the throb of the world, the
pauseless pulsations of that life that beats in every brain and every
heart of the earth; that life that, more intense than human love and
thought, burns in the suns that swing about heaven rolling the globe of
earth among them; that life that enfolds with tremendous purpose the
little human creature in the vastness, that somehow expresses itself
and heightens and changes itself in human lives and all the dreams and
doings of men. Joe felt that life, thrilling to it, opening his heart
to it, letting it surcharge and overflow his being with strength and
joy. And he knew then that he lay as in a warm nest of the toilers and
the poor, that crowded all about him in every direction were sleeping
men and women and little children, all recently born, all soon to die,
he himself shortly to be stricken out of these scenes and these
sensations. It was all mystery unplumbable, unbelievable ... that this
breath was not to go on forever, that this brain was to be stopped off,
this heart cease like a run-down clock, this exultation and sorrow to
leave like a mist, scattered in that life that bore it.... That he, Joe
Blaine, was to die!
Surely life was marvelous and sacred; it was not to be always a
selfish scramble, a money rush, a confusion and jumble, but rather
something of harmony and mighty labors and mingled joys. He felt great
strength; he felt equal to his purposes; he was sure he could help in
the advancing processes.... Even as he was part of the divine mystery,
so he could wield that divineness in him to lift life to new levels,
while the breath was in his body, while the glow was in his brain.
And he thought of Myra, his mate in the mystery, and in the night he
yearned for her, hungered through all his being. She had written him a
note; it came to him from the mountains. It ran:
DEAR JOE,—You will be glad to know that I am getting
back to myself. The peace and stillness of the
white winter over the hills is healing me. It seems
good merely to exist, to sleep and eat and exercise and
read. I can't think now how I behaved so unaccountably
those last few weeks, and I wonder if you will
ever understand. I have been reading over and over
again your long letter, trying hard to puzzle out its
meanings, but I fear I am very ignorant. I know nothing
of the crisis you speak of. I know that “ye have
the poor always with you,” I know that there is much
suffering in the world—I have suffered myself—but I
cannot see that living among the poor is going to help
vitally. Should we not all live on the highest level
possible? Level up instead of leveling down. Ignorance,
dirt, and sickness do not attract me ... and
now here among the hills the terrible city seems like
a fading nightmare. It would be better if people lived
in the country. I feel that the city is a mistake. But
of one thing I am sure. I understand that you cannot
help doing what you are doing, and I know that it would
have been a wrong if I had interfered with your life.
I would have been a drag on you and defeated your
purposes, and in the end we would both have been very
unhappy. It seems to me most marriages are. Write
me what you are doing, where you are living, and how
He had smiled over some of the phrases in this letter, particularly,
“I feel that the city is a mistake.” Would Myra ever know that her very
personality and all of her life were interwoven inextricably with the
industrial city—that the clothes she wore, the food she ate, the books
she studied, the letter she wrote him, even down to ink, pen, and
paper, the education and advantages she enjoyed, were all wrought in
the mills, the mines, the offices, and by the interchange and inweaving
and mighty labors of industrialism? The city teacher is paid by taxes
levied on the commerce and labors of men, and the very farmer cannot
heighten his life without exchange with the city.
And so her letter made him smile. Yet at the same time it stirred
him mightily. All through it he could read renunciation; she was giving
him up; she was loosening her hold over him; she was nobly sacrificing
her love to his life-work. And she announced herself as teachable and
receptive. She could not yet understand, but understanding might come
So in the night he tried to send his thought over the hills, flash
his spirit into hers, in the great hope that she would thrill with a
new comprehension, a new awakening.... In a world so mysterious, in an
existence so strange, so impossible, so unbelievable, might such a
miracle be stranger than the breath he breathed and the passions he
And so in that hope, that great wild hope, he fell asleep in the
uneventful beginnings of the battle. And all through those unconscious
hours forces were shaping about him and within him to bear his life
through strange ways and among strange people. His theories, so easy as
he drank them out of books, were to be tested in the living world of
men and women, in that reality that hits back when we strike it, and
that batters us about like driftwood in the whirlpool.
II. THE NINE-TENTHS
Standing on Washington Heights—that hump on northwestern Manhattan
Island—gazing, say, from a window of the City College whose gray and
quaint cluster fronts the morn as on a cliff above the city—one sees,
at seven of a sharp morning, a low-hung sun in the eastern skies, a
vast circle and lift of mild blue heavens, and at one's feet, down
below, the whole sweep of New York from the wooded ridges of the Bronx
to the Fifty-ninth Street bridge and the golden tip of the Metropolitan
Tower. It is a flood of roofs sweeping south to that golden, flashing
minaret, a flood bearing innumerable high mill chimneys, church
steeples, school spires, and the skeleton frames of gas-works. Far in
the east the Harlem River lies like a sheet of dazzling silver, dotted
with boats; every skylight, every point of glass or metal on the roofs,
flashes in the sun, and, gazing down from that corner in the sky, one
sees the visible morning hymn of the city—a drift from thousands of
house chimneys of delicate unraveling skeins of white-blue smoke
lifting from those human dwellings like aerial spirits. It is the song
of humanity rising, the song of the ritual of breaking bread together,
of preparation for the day of toil, the song of the mothers sending the
men to work, the song of the mothers kissing and packing to school the
rosy, laughing children.
It might be hard to imagine that far to the south in that moving
human ocean, a certain Joe Blaine, swallowed in the sea, was yet as
real a fact as the city contained—that to himself he was far from
being swallowed, that he was, in fact, so real to himself that the rest
of the city was rather shadowy and unreal, and that he was immensely
concerned in a thousand-flashing torrent of thoughts, in a mix-up of
appetite and desires, and in the condition and apparel of his body.
That as he sat at his desk, for instance, it was important to him to
discover how he could break himself of a new habit of biting the end of
And yet, under that flood of roofs, Joe was struggling with that
crucial problem. He finally settled it by deciding to smoke lots of
cigars, and proceeded to light one as a beginning. He smoked one, then
a second, then a third—which was certainly bad for his health. He was
in the throes of a violent reaction.
Several days of relentless activity had followed the moving in.
There was much to do. The four rooms became immaculately
clean—sweetened up with soap and water, with neat wallpaper, with
paint and furniture. Even the dark inner bedrooms contrived to look
cozy and warm and inviting. Joe's mother was a true New England
housekeeper, which meant scrupulous order, cleanliness, and brightness.
The one room exempt from her rule was Joe's. After the first clean-up,
his mother did not even try to begin on it.
“You're hopeless, Joe,” she laughed, “and you'll ruin faster than I
can set right.”
And so that editorial office soon became a nest of confusion. The
walls were lined with bookshelves and a quaint assortment of books, old
and new, populated not only these, but the floor, the two tables, the
roll-top desk, and here and there a chair. White paper began to heap up
in the corners. Magazines—“my contemporaries,” said the proud
editor—began their limitless flood. And the matting on the floor was
soon worn through by Joe's perpetual pacing.
The whole home, however, began to have atmosphere—personality.
There was something open, hospitable, warm about it—something
comfortable and livable.
Among the first things Joe did was to procure two assistants. One
was the bookkeeper, Nathan Slate, a lean and dangling individual, who
collapsed over his high desk in the corner like a many-bladed penknife.
He was thin and cadaverous, and spoke in a meek and melancholy voice,
studied and slow. He dressed in black and tried to suppress his thin
height by stooping low and hanging his head. The other addition was
Billy, the office-boy, a sharp, bright youth with red hair and
brilliant blue eyes.
There was much else to do. For instance, there were the money
affairs to get in shape. Joe secured a five-per-cent mortgage with his
capital. Marty Briggs paid down two thousand cash and was to pay two
thousand a year and interest. So Joe could figure his income at
somewhat over six thousand dollars, and, as he hoped that he and his
mother would use not more than fifteen hundred a year, or, at the most,
two thousand, he felt he had plenty to throw into his enterprise.
Among the first things that Joe discovered was a gift of his own
temperament. He was a born crowd-man, a “mixer.” He found he could
instantly assume the level of the man he talked with, and that his
tongue knew no hindrance. Thought flowed easily into speech. This gave
him a freedom among men, a sense of belonging anywhere, and singled him
out from the rest. It gave him, too, the joy of expression—the joy of
throwing out his thought and getting its immediate reaction in other
lives. Yet he understood perfectly the man who seemed shy and recluse,
who was choked-off before strangers, and who yet burned to be a
democrat, to give and take, to share alien lives, to be of the moving
throng of life. Such a man was the victim either of a wrong education,
an education of repression that discouraged any personal display, or he
had a twist in his temperament. Joe, who began to be well aware of his
gift, used it without stint and found that it had a contagious
quality—it loosened other people up; it unfolded their shy and secret
petals like sun heat on a bud; it made the desert of personality
blossom like the rose. He warmed the life about him because he could
So it was not hard for Joe to shift to this new neighborhood and
become absorbed in its existence. Tradespeople, idlers, roomers and
landlady in the house accepted him at once and felt as if they had
known him all their lives. By a power almost of intuition he probed
their obscure histories and entered into their destinies.
However, in spite of these activities and all the bustle and stir of
fresh beginnings, Joe, that sunny morning, was suffering a sharp
reaction. In the presence of Nathan Slate and Billy he was pretending
to work, but his brain was as dry as a soda-cracker. It was that
natural revulsion of the idealist following the first glow. Here he
was, up against a reality, and yet with no definite plan, not even a
name for his paper, and he had not even begun to penetrate the life
about him. The throbbing moment had arrived when he must set his
theories into motion, drive them out into the lives of the people, and
get reactions. But how? In what way? His brain refused to think, and he
felt nothing save a misery and poverty of the spirit that were
It seemed to him suddenly as if he had hastily embarked on a search
for the fountain of eternal youth—a voyage that followed mirages, and
was hollow and illusory. Beginnings, after the first flush, always have
this quality of fake, and Joe was standing in the shadow-land between
two lives. The old life was receding in the past; the new life had not
yet appeared. Without training, without experience, without definite
knowledge of the need to be met, with only a strong desire and a mixed
ideal, and almost without his own volition, he found himself now
sitting at a desk in West Tenth Street, with two employees, and nothing
to do. How out of this emptiness was he to create something vital?
This naturally brought a pang he might have anticipated. He had a
sudden powerful hankering for the old life. That at least was
man-size—his job had been man's work. He looked back at those fruitful
laborious days, with their rich interest and absorbing details, their
human companionships, and had an almost irrepressible desire to rush
out, take the elevated train, go down East Eighty-first Street, ascend
the elevator, ring the bell, and enter his dominion of trembling,
thundering presses. He could smell the old smells, he could see the
presses and the men, he could hear the noise. That was where he
belonged. Voluntarily he had exiled himself from happiness and use. He
wanted to go back—wanted it hard, almost groaned with homesickness.
Such struggles are death throes or birth throes. They are as real as
two men wrestling. Joe could sit still no longer, could mask no longer
the combat within him. So he rose hastily and went out and wandered
about the shabby, unfriendly neighborhood. He had a mad desire, almost
realized, to take the car straight to Eighty-first Street, and only the
thought of Marty Briggs in actual possession held him back. Finally he
went back and took lunch, and again tried the vain task of pretending
It was three o'clock when he surrendered. He strode in to his
“Mother,” he said, “isn't there something we can do together?”
“In what way?”
“Any way. I've been idling all day and I'm half dead.” He laughed
strangely. “I believe I'm getting nerves, mother.”
“Nerves!” She looked at him sharply. “What is it, Joe?”
“Oh! It's in-betweenness.”
“I see.” She smiled. “Well, there's some shopping to do—”
So they went out together and took the Sixth Avenue car to
Thirty-fourth Street. Their shopping took them to Fifth Avenue, and
then, later, up Broadway to Forty-second Street. It was a different New
York they saw—in fact, the New York best known to the stranger. The
gorgeous palaces of trade glittered and sparkled, shimmered and
flashed, with jewels and silver, with silks and knick-knacks. The
immense and rich plenty of earth, the products of factories and mills,
were lavishly poured here, gathered in isles, about which a swarming
sea of well-dressed women pushed and crowded. The high ceilings were
hung with glowing moons of light; the atmosphere was magic with
confused talk, shuffling footsteps, and all the hum and stir of a human
hive. Up and down Fifth Avenue swept a black thick stream of motors and
carriages in which women and men lounged and stared. The great hotels
sucked in and poured out tides of jeweled and lace-wrapped creatures,
and in the lighted interiors of restaurants were rouged cheeks and
As Joe and his mother reached Forty-second Street, that whirlpool of
theaters released its matinee crowds, a flood of youth, beauty,
brightness, and luxury.
And it seemed to Joe, seeing all this life from a Tenth Street
viewpoint, that here was a great city of wealth and idleness. Evidently
a large population had nothing to do save shop and motor, eat and idle.
How could he from shabby Tenth Street send out a sheet of paper that
would compete with these flashing avenues?
The sight depressed him. He said as much to his mother.
“This is New York,” he said, “barbaric, powerful, luxuriant. These
people are the power of the city—the mighty few—these are the owners.
What can we do with them?”
His mother sensed then the struggle in his mind.
“Joe,” she cried, “isn't there any place where we can see—the other
There was. They took the car down to Eighth Street, they walked
east, and entered little Washington Park, with its monumental arch, and
its shadowy trees, its wide and curving walks—its general sense of
being a green breathing-space in the sweep of streets. As they walked
through the sharp wintry air in the closing sunlight, what time the
blue electric lights gleamed out among the almost naked boughs, the
six-o'clock whistles began blowing from factories all about them—a
glad shriek that jumped from street to street over the city—and at
once across the eastern plaza of the park streamed the strange torrent
of the workers—a mighty, swift march of girls and boys, women and men,
homeward bound, the day's work ended—a human stream, in the gray
light, steeped in an atmosphere of accomplishment, sweet peace,
solution. All life seemed to touch a moment of harvest.
Joe's mother was thrilled, and in spite of himself Joe felt his
heart clutched, as it were, in a vise. He felt the strange, strong,
human grip. It was a marvelous spectacle, though common, daily, and
cheap as life.
Joe's mother whispered, in a low voice:
“Joe, this is the real New York!”
And then again:
“Those others are only a fraction—these are the people.”
“Yes,” murmured Joe, his blood surging to his cheeks, “these are the
They went closer to that mighty marching host—they saw the cheap
garments—baggy trousers, torn shoes, worn shirts; they saw the
earnest, tired faces, the white and toil-shrunk countenances, the
poverty, the reality of pain and work, all pressing on in an atmosphere
of serious progress, as if they knew what fires roared, what sinews
ached down in the foundations of the world where the future is created.
And Joe realized, as never before, that upon these people and their
captains, their teachers and interpreters, rested the burdens of
civilization; that the mighty city was wrought by their hands and those
who dreamed with them, that the foam and sparkle of Broadway and Fifth
Avenue bubbled up from that strong liquor beneath. And he believed that
the second-generation idlers had somehow expropriated the toilers and
were living like drones in the hive, and he felt that this could not be
forever, and he was seized by the conviction that a change could only
come through the toilers themselves. Could these pale people but know
their power, know their standing, know the facts of this strange double
life, and then use their might wisely and well, constructively,
creatively, to build up a better and fairer world, a finer justice, a
more splendid day's work, a happier night's home! These that created a
great city could, if trained, create a higher life in that city!
Surely the next few ages of the future had their work cut out for
them—the most stupendous task the race had ever undertaken.
Then, after all, he was right. All who could must be dedicated to
the work of sowing enlightenment, of yeasting the crowds with knowledge
and love and light—all who could. Then he, too, could do his share;
he, too, could reach this crowd. And these people—they were reachable.
No theaters and restaurants competed with him here. Their hearts and
minds were open. He could step in and share their lives. He had done so
in his shop, and these were of the same human nature.
Power returned to him.
“Mother,” he said, his eyes flashing, “it's all right. Now I'm ready
to begin! I'm for the nine-tenths.”
They turned, walking home in silence, and as they went the phrase
“nine-tenths,” which Joe must have picked up in some book on socialism
or some sociological study, kept haunting his mind. The new power
released in him made his brain work like lightning—creatively.
Thoughts crowded, combinations sprung up; he began to actively dream
“I've got it!” he cried. “Why not call my paper The Nine-Tenths
He began to plan aloud as the quick thoughts flashed.
“An eight-page paper—weekly. An editorial, giving some of the plain
facts about civilization—simple stuff to teach the people what
industry means, what their work means, what they ought to be doing.
Then news—news about all movements toward freedom—labor, strikes,
reform, new laws, schools—news of all the forces working for
betterment—a concrete statement of where the world stands to-day and
what it is doing. But a fair sheet, mother. No railing, no bitterness,
no bomb-throwing. Plenty of horse sense, plenty of banking the fires,
of delaying wisely. No setting class against class. No under-rating of
leaders and captains. Justice, but plenty of mercy. Facts, but plenty
of philosophy to cool 'em off. Progress all the time, but no French
revolutions. And when sides must be taken, no dishonest compromises, no
cowardly broad—mindedness—but always with the weakest, the under dog,
whenever their cause is good. That's my programme; that's The
“Of course,” said his mother, “you'll see things clearer as you do
them. There'll be changes.”
“Surely!” His mind was already miles ahead. “Mother, I've got it
now, for sure!”
“What now?” She laughed, enthusiastically.
“Isn't this a whopper? No ads.”
“But why not, Joe? That would support the paper.”
“No, not a line. I don't expect the paper to pay. That's where our
money comes in. We mustn't carry a line. Don't you see? There's hardly
a paper in the land that is free. They're influenced by their
advertising—that's their bread and butter. And even if they're not
influenced, people suspect they are. We must be free even of that
suspicion. We can be free—utterly so—say what we please—speak our
minds out—and nothing to hinder us. That will be unique—that will be
something new in magazines. We'll go the limit, mother.”
His mother laughed.
“I guess you're right, Joe. It's worth trying. But how are you going
to circulate the paper?”
“How?” Again his mind jumped forward. “House-to-house canvass—labor
unions—street corners. I'm going to dig in now, get acquainted with
the people round about, spread it any old way. And I'm going to start
with the idea of a big future—twenty thousand copies finally. You see,
it'll be a sort of underground newspaper—no publicity—but spreading
from group to group among the workers. Broadway and up-town will never
see a copy.”
So the new life started, started in full swing. Joe worked late that
very night putting his plans on paper, and the next morning there was
plenty of activity for everybody. Joe bought a rebuilt cylinder press
for fifteen hundred dollars and had it installed in the basement. Then
he had the basement wired, and got an electric motor to furnish the
power. John Rann and his family were moved down to a flat farther west
on Tenth Street, and a feeder, a compositor, and a make-up man were
hired along with him. In the press-room (the basement) was placed a
stone—a marble-top table—whereon the make-up man could take the
strips of type as they came from the compositors, arrange them into
pages, and “lock them up” in the forms, ready to put on the presses.
Then Joe arranged with a printery to set up the type weekly; with a
bindery to bind, fold, bundle, and address the papers; and with Patrick
Flynn, truckman, to distribute the papers to newsdealers.
Next Joe made a tour of the neighborhood, spoke with the
newsdealers, told them that all they would have to do was to deliver
the papers to the addresses printed upon them. He found them willing to
thus add to their income.
Thus he made ready. But he was not yet prepared to get subscriptions
(one dollar a year or twenty-five cents a quarter), feeling that first
he must have a sample paper to show.
The labor on that first number was a joy to him. He would jump up in
the middle of the night, rush into the office, light the gas, and get
to work in his nightgown. He was at it at all hours. And it proved to
be an enormous task. Eight pages eight by twelve do not read like a
lot, but they write like a very great deal. There was an editorial,
“Greetings to You,” in which Joe set forth in plain words the ideas and
ideals of the paper, and in which he made clear the meaning of the
phrase “nine-tenths.” Then he found that there were two great strikes
in progress in the city. This amazed him, as there was no visible sign
of such a condition. The newspapers said nothing of it, and peace
seemed to brood over the city's millions. Yet there were thousands of
cloak-makers out, and over in Brooklyn the toilers in the sugar
refineries were having little pitched battles with strike-breakers in
the streets. Three men had been killed and a score wounded.
Joe dug into these strikes, called at the union headquarters, spoke
with the men, even called on some of the cloak-makers' bosses and
learned their grievances. Then he wrote accounts of the strike without
taking sides, merely reporting the facts as fairly as he could.
In this way, and with the aid of clippings, and by printing that
poem by Lowell which was his mother's favorite, wherein was the couplet
“They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three,”
he made up a hodge-podge of a magazine.
Up in the corner of the editorial page he ran the following, subject
A WEEKLY WORD ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
* * * * *
I ACCEPT LIFE LARGELY, BUT NOT IN DETAILS
* * * * *
SOME OF THE DETAILS NOT ACCEPTED
Anything that prevents a child from being well born
and from fulfilling its possibilities.
Anything that prevents a woman or man from using
every good side of her or his nature.
ABOUT THESE DETAILS NO DOUBT:
And let's avoid jealousy, quarrels, ridicule, meanness,
and the rest of the mosquito things.
Otherwise: what a glorious world.
This didn't please him altogether, but he wanted to be definite and
simple, and he wanted to show that he wasn't a narrow partisan.
Thus the first number came to be. As he turned it out, Billy rushed
it in batches to the compositors, and when finally it all came back in
strips of type, it was hurried down to the idlers in the basement. At
ten-thirty that chilly, dust-blowing morning, when the sun-stricken air
glittered with eddies of motes, Joe, sitting at his desk, had the
exquisite rapture of feeling the building tremble.
He rushed to his mother, and exulted.
“Can't you feel the press going? Listen!”
Truly the new life had begun—the vision was beginning to
crystallize in daily living.
“We're in the fight now, mother!” he cried. “There's something
And later, when Joe stood at the back of the press and that first
complete sheet came through, he picked it up as if it were a new-born
child, as indeed it was, wet, drippy, forlorn, and weird, and yet a
wonder and a miracle. Joe looked on his own creation—the little
sheets—the big, black The Nine-Tenths—the clear, good type. He
was awed and reduced almost to tears.
He mailed a copy to Myra with a brief note:
DEAR MYRA,—Here's the answer to your question.
I'm doing the inclosed, and doing it in West Tenth
Street. Do you know the neighborhood? Old Greenwich
Village, red, shabby, shoddy, common, and vulgar.
Mother and I are as happy as children. How are you?
Your letter is splendid. I am sure you will come to
understand. When are you returning to New York?
And he thought, “Now I have something to show Sally Heffer!”
III. OTHERS: AND SALLY HEFFER
Joe filled a stiff cloth portfolio with a batch of 9/10s
(abbreviation for home use), pulled his gray hat over his bushy hair,
and went over and tapped the collapsible Slate on the shoulder.
“Yes, Mr. Joe.”
“Nathan,” cried Joe, excitedly, “if there's a rush of subscribers
while I'm gone, make 'em stand in line, and each wait his turn. But
don't let them block the car tracks—string 'em around the corner.”
Nathan gazed at Joe like a lost soul.
“But I think, Mr. Joe,” he said, slowly, “you place your hopes too
high. I don't like to be too gloomy, Mr. Joe, but I have my doubts
about a rush.”
“Slate,” cried Joe, slapping the tragic bookkeeper a whack, “you're
And he swung out to the street in the brilliant morning sunshine,
ready to begin his canvass.
“Next door,” he mused, “is the place to start.”
There was a woman sitting on the stoop, a two-year-old girl in her
arms. Joe paused and looked at the baby.
The baby looked at him a little doubtfully, and then laughed.
“Girl or boy?” asked Joe of the mother.
“She's a darling! What's her name?”
“Named after you?”
“You wouldn't mind if I gave her a peppermint to suck?”
“Would you mind some candy, Annie?”
“Candy!” shrieked the child.
Joe dove into his bulging pocket and produced a good hard white one.
Annie snatched it up and sucked joyously.
“Thank the man, Annie.”
“Is this your only one, Mrs.—”
“Cassidy's my name! No, I've buried two others.”
“From this house?”
“No, we keep movin'—” Mrs. Cassidy laughed a little.
Joe made a grim face.
“Jump your rent, eh?”
Mrs. Cassidy shrugged her shoulders.
“What can poor people do?”
“But hasn't Mr. Cassidy a job?”
“He has when he has it—but it's bum work. Slave like a nigger and
then laid off for six months, maybe.”
“What kind of work is that?”
“'Longshore—he's a 'longshoreman.”
“And when he's unemployed you have a hard time, don't you?”
“Hard?” Mrs. Cassidy's voice broke. “What can we do? There's the
insurance every week—fifteen cents for my man, ten cents for me, and
five cents for Annie. We couldn't let that go; it's buryin'-money, and
there ain't a Cassidy isn't going to have as swell a funeral as any in
the ward. And then we've got to live. I've found one thing in this
world—the harder you work the less you get.”
Joe spoke emphatically.
“Mrs. Cassidy, when your husband's out of work, through no fault of
his own, he ought to get a weekly allowance to keep you going.”
“And who's to give it to him?”
“Who? Do you know what they do in Germany?”
“What do they do in Germany?”
“They have insurance for the unemployed, and when a man's out he
gets so-and-so-much a week. We ought to have it in America.”
“How can we get it? Who listens to the poor?”
“Your man belongs to a union, doesn't he?”
“Well, the trouble is our people here don't know these things. If
they knew them, they'd get together and make the bosses come round.
It's ignorance holding us all back.”
“I've often told Tim he ought to study something. There's grand
lectures in the schools every Tuesday and Thursday night. But Tim don't
put stock in learning. He says learning never bought a glass of beer.”
“Mrs. Cassidy, that's not what I mean. Listen. I'm a neighbor of
yours—live next door—”
“Sure! Didn't I see you move in? When my friend, Mrs. Leupp, seen
your iron beds, she up and went to Macy's and bought one herself. What
yer doing in there, anyway, with that printing-press? It gives me the
Joe laughed heartily.
“You feel the press in this house?”
“First time, I thought it was an earthquake, Mr. Blaine.”
Joe was abashed.
“How'd you know my name?”
“Ast it off your landlady.”
“Well, you're wrong—I'm Mr. Joe.”
Mrs. Cassidy was hugely amused.
“You're one grand fellow, let me tell you. But, oh, that black, thin
one—he's creepy, Mr. Joe. But your mother—she's all right. I was
telling Mrs. Rann so myself.”
Joe sighed tragically.
“I suppose the whole neighborhood knows all my family secrets.”
“Pretty near,” laughed Mrs. Cassidy.
“Well, there's one thing you didn't know.”
“About my newspaper.”
“What about it?”
“What paper do you take?”
Mrs. Cassidy mentioned a daily penny paper.
“Let's see,” said Joe, “that's eleven cents a week, isn't it? Will
you spend two cents more, and take The Nine-Tenths?”
“It's a paper that tells about the rich and the poor, and what the
poor ought to do to get more out of life. Here, take this copy, keep
it; make Tim read it.”
Mrs. Cassidy was handed a neat little sheet, eight by twelve inches,
clearly printed. There was something homely and inviting about it,
something hospitable and honest. The woman fingered it curiously.
“Ain't it cute?” she cried.
“It's all written for just such people as you, and I want you to
“How much is it?”
“Well, you pay twenty-five cents and get it for three months, once a
week, and let Tim read it out loud. Say, don't you think Annie'd like
to see the printing-press?”
“'Deed she would!”
And then Joe did the one thing that won. He seized up little Annie
himself, and bore her down to the press-room, Mrs. Cassidy following,
and mentally concluding that there was no one in the ward like Mr. Joe.
Result: first subscription, and Joe elated with victory. All of
which shows, it must be confessed, that Joe was considerable of a
politician, and did not hesitate to adopt the methods of Tammany Hall.
It was the next day, at a street corner, that, quite accidentally,
Joe met Michael Dunan, truckman.
“I've got a cigar,” said Joe, “but I haven't a match.”
“I've got a match,” said Michael, easily, “but I haven't a cigar.”
“My name's Joe Blaine,” said Joe, handing over a panetela.
“Mine's Mike Dunan,” said Michael, passing a match.
They lit up together.
“The drinks are on me,” murmured Michael.
They stepped into the saloon at the corner—a bright, mirrory place,
whose tiled floor was covered with sawdust, and whose bar shone like
“Two beers, Donovan.”
“Dark or light, Mike?”
They drank. Michael pounded the bar.
“Joe Blaine, the times are hard.”
“How so, Michael?”
“The rich are too rich, and the poor too poor. I'm tired of it!”
“Then look this over.”
Michael looked it over, and bubbled with joy.
“That's great. Did you spiel it out? Did you say this little piece?
Joe, I want to join your union!”
Joe laughed; he sized up the little man, with his sparkling eyes,
his open face, his fiery, musical voice, his golden hair. And he had an
“Mike,” he said, “I'm getting out this paper up the street. Have a
press there and an office. Run in and see my mother. If you like her,
tell me, and you can join the Stove Circle.”
“And what may the Stove Circle be?”
“The get-together club—my advisory board.”
“See here, you,” said a blunt, biting, deep-chested voice at their
side. “Let me get a look.”
Joe turned and met Oscar Heming, delicatessen man, stumpy,
bull-necked, with fierce bristling mustache, and clothes much too big
for him. He was made a member at once of the Stove Circle.
That same evening Joe went down three steps into a little, low,
cigar store, whose gas-blazing atmosphere reeked with raw and damp
tobacco. He stepped up to the dusty counter.
“What's your best?”
The proprietor, a wise little owl of a man, with thin black hair,
and untidy spade beard, and big round glasses enlarging his big brown
eyes, placed a box before him.
“My own make—Underdogs—clear Havana—six cents apiece.”
“I like the name. Give me ten. But explain!”
“Well”—Nathan Latsky (for so he proved to be) shrugged his
shoulders—“I'm one myself. But—what's in a name?”
“He's a red revolutionist!” said a voice, and Joe, turning, noticed
two men leaning beside him at the counter; one, a fine and fiery Jew,
handsome, dark, young; the other, a large and gentle Italian, with
pallid features, dark hair sprinkled with gray, and a general air of
largeness and leadership about him. The Jew had spoken.
“Why a red?” asked Joe.
“Oh,” said Latsky, quietly, “I come from Russia, you know!”
“Well, I'm a revolutionist myself,” said Joe. “But I haven't any
“Union man?” asked the Italian.
“Not exactly. I run a radical newspaper.”
“What's the name of it?” asked the Jew.
The words worked magic. They were all eagerness, and exchanged
names. Thus Joe came to know Jacob Izon and Salvatore Giotto and Nathan
Latsky. He was greatly interested in Izon, the facts of whose life he
soon came to know. Izon was a designer, working at Marrin's, the
shirtwaist manufacturer; he made thirty dollars a week, had a wife and
two children, and was studying engineering in a night school. He and
his wife had come from Russia, where they had been revolutionists.
The three men examined the paper closely.
“That's what we need,” said Izon. “You must let us help to spread
Joe added the three to the Stove Circle.
He went to Giotto's house with him, up to the sixth floor of a
tenement, and met the Italian's neat, dark-eyed wife, and looked in on
the three sleeping children. Then under the blazing gas in the crowded
room, with its cheap, frail, shiny furniture, its crayons on the wall,
its crockery and cheap clocks, and with the noise of the city's night
rising all about them, the two big men talked together. Joe was
immensely interested. The Italian was large-hearted, open-minded, big
in body and soul, and spoke quaintly, but thoughtfully.
“Tell me about yourself,” said Joe.
Giotto spread out the palms of his hands.
“What to tell? I get a good education in the old country—but not
much spik English—better read, better write it. I try hard to learn.
Come over here, and education no good. Nobody want Italian educated
man. So worked on Italian paper—go round and see the poor—many
tragedies, many—like the theater. Write a novel, a romance, about the
poor. Wish I could write it in English.”
“Good work,” cried Joe. “Then what did you do?”
“Imported the wine—got broke—open the saloon. Toughs come there,
thieves, to swindle the immigrants. Awfully slick. No good to warn
immigrants—they lose all their money. Come in crying. What can I do? I
get after the bums and they say, 'Giotto no good; we will kill him.'
Then I get broke again. Go to West Virginia and work in the
coal-mine—break my leg. And that was the baddest place in the world.”
“And the town. Laborers—Italian, nigger; saloons and
politics—Jews; bosses all Irish—nothing but the saloons and the women
to spenda the money. Company own everything—stores, saloons, women.
Pay you the money and get it all back. Every day a man killed. Hell!”
“Then where did you go?”
“Chicago—printing—anything to do I could get. Sometimes make forty
cents a day. Little. Have to feed and work for wife and three children.
I try and try. Hod-carrier”—Giotto laughed at the memory—“press
coats—anything. Then come back here.”
“And what are you doing now?”
“I try to make labor union with Italians. Hard work. Italians live
like pigs—ignorant—not—not social. Down-stairs live a
Calabria man, makes ice-cream—got four rooms—in the four rooms man,
wife, mother, five children, fifteen boarders—”
“Go on!” cried Joe. “Why do you stop?”
“So maybe your paper help. Many Italians read English. I make them
read your paper, Mr. Joe.”
* * * * *
It was not until nearly the end of the week that Joe sought out
Sally Heffer. Though every day he meditated stepping down that narrow
red side street, each time he had felt unprepared, throbbingly
incapable; but this evening as he finished his work and was on the way
home it seemed that beyond his own volition he suddenly swerved at her
corner, hurried down the lamp-lit pave, searched out the faded number
in the meager light, mounted the stoop, and pushed open the unlocked
He was very weary—heart-sick and foot-sore—as he climbed the dark
steps of the three-story house. He felt pent in the vast pulsations of
life about him—a feeling of impossibility, of a task greater than he
could bear. He simply had to see the young woman who was responsible
for sending him here. He had a vivid mental image of her tragic
loveliness, of how she had stepped back and forth before him and
suddenly put her hands to her face and wept, of how she had divined his
suffering, and impulsively seized his hand, and whispered, “I have
faith in you.” He expected a sort of self-illumined Joan of Arc with
eyes that saw visions, with spirit flaming. And even in the dark
top-floor hallway he was awed, and almost afraid.
Then in the blackness, his eyes on the thread of light beneath the
rear door, he advanced, reached up his hand, and knocked.
There came, somehow surprising him, a definite, clear-edged voice:
He opened the door, which swung just free of the narrow cot. Just
beyond, Sally Heffer was writing at a little table, and the globed gas
burned above her, lighting the thin gold of her sparse hair. She turned
her face to him quite casually, the same pallid, rounded face, the same
broad forehead and gray eyes, of remarkable clarity—eyes that were as
clear windows allowing one to peer in. And she was dressed in a white
shirtwaist and the same brown skirt, and over a hook, behind her, hung
the same brown coat. Yet Joe was shocked. This was not the Sally Heffer
of his dreams—but rather a refreshing, forceful, dynamic young woman,
brimming over with the joy of life. And even in that flash of
strangeness he sensed the fact that at the time he had met her she was
merely the voice of a vast insurgent spirit, merely the instrument of a
great event. This was the everyday Sally, a quite livable, lovable
human being, healthy, free in her actions, pulsing with the life about
her. The very words she used were of a different order.
And as she casually glanced around she began to stare, her eyes lit
with wonder, and she arose, exclaiming:
At the sound of her voice the tension snapped within him; he felt
common and homely again; he felt comfortable and warm; and he smiled
“Yes,” he said, “I'm here.”
She came close to him, more and more incredulous, and the air became
“But what brings you here?”
“I live here—West Tenth.”
“Live here? Why?”
Her eyes seemed to search through his.
“You made me,” he murmured.
She smiled strangely.
Impulsively her hand went out, and he clasped it ... her hand seemed
almost frozen. Tears of humility sprang to her eyes.
“I was high and mighty that night,... but I couldn't help it.... But
you ... do you realize what a wonderful thing you've done?”
He laughed awkwardly.
“Yes, here's what I've done”—he handed her a copy of The
Nine-Tenths—“and it's very wonderful.”
She gave a strange, short laugh again—excitement, exultation—and
held the paper as if it were a living thing.
“This ... The Nine-Tenths ... oh!... for the working
people.... Let me see!”
She went to the light, spread the paper and eagerly read. Then she
glanced back a moment and saw his worn face and the weary droop of his
“Say—you're dead tired. Sit down. You don't mind the bed, do you?”
He smiled softly.
“I don't! I am pretty much done up.” And he sank down, and let his
hands droop between his knees.
Sally read, and then suddenly turned to him.
“This editorial is—it's just a ripper.”
The author felt the thrill of a creator. She went on:
“I wish every working-girl in New York could read this.”
“So do I.”
She turned and looked at him, more and more excited.
“So this is what you're doing. I must pinch myself—it's all
a dream! Too good to be true.”
Suddenly there seemed to be a reversal in their relationships.
Before, his end of the beam was down, hers up. But subtly in her voice
he felt the swing to the other extreme. She had set him in a realm
“Tell me,” she said, “just how you came to go into this.”
He told her a little, and as he spoke he became thoroughly at his
ease with her, as if she were a man, and in the pleasure of their swift
comradeship they could laugh at each other.
“Mr. Blaine,” she said, suddenly, “if I got you into this, it's up
to me to help you win. I'm going to turn into an agent for you—I'll
make 'em subscribe right and left.”
Joe laughed at her.
“Lordy, if you knew how good it is to hear this—after tramping up
three miles of stairs and more and nabbing a tawdry twenty
“Is that all you got?”
“People don't understand.”
“We'll make them!” cried Sally, clenching her fist.
Joe laughed warmly; he was delighted with her.
“Are you working here?” he asked.
“Yes—you know I used to be in Newark—I was the president of the
Newark Hat-Trimmers' Union.”
“I'm trying to organize the girls here.”
“Well,” he muttered, grimly. “I wouldn't like to be your boss, Miss
She laughed in her low voice.
“Let me tell you what sort I am!” And she sat down, crossed her
legs, and clasped her hands on her raised knee. “I was working in that
Newark factory, and the girls told me to ask the boss, Mr. Plump, for a
half holiday. So I went into his office and said: 'Mr. Plump, the girls
want a half holiday.' He was very angry. He said: 'You won't get it.
Mind your own business.' So I said, quietly: 'All right, Mr. Plump,
we'll take a whole holiday. We won't show up Monday.' Then he
said to me, 'Sally Heffer, go to hell!' He was the first man to say
such a thing to my face. Well, one of the girls found me in the hall
drying my eyes, and when she got the facts she went back and told the
others, and the bunch walked out, leaving this message: 'Mr. Plump, we
won't come back till you apologize to Sally.' Well, we were out a week,
and what do you think?” Sally laughed with quiet joy. “Plump took it to
the Manufacturers Association, and they—backed him? Not a bit! Made
“Oh, I'm doing things all the time,” said Sally. “Organized the
Jewish hat-trimmers in Newark, and all my friends went back on me for
sticking up for the Jews. Did I care? Ten years ago every time the men
got a raise through their union, the girls had their salaries cut.
Different now. We've enough sense to give the easy jobs to the old
ladies—and there's lots of old ones trimming hats.”
“What's trimming hats?”
Sally plucked up Joe's gray hat, and then looked at Joe, her eyes
“It's a little hard to show you on this. But see the sweat-band? It
has a lot of needle holes in it, and the trimmer has to stitch through
those holes and then sew the band on to the hat, and all the odds and
ends. It kills eyes. What do you think?” she went on. “The girls used
to drink beer—bosses let 'em do it to keep them stimulated—and it's
ruined lots. I stopped that.”
Joe looked at Sally. And he had a wild impulse then, a crazy
“How much do you get a week?”
“Well,” said Joe, “I want a woman's department in the paper. Will
you handle it for fifteen a week?”
“But you don't know me!”
“Well,” said Joe, “I'm willing to gamble on you.”
Sally's low voice loosed exultation.
“You're a wonder, Mr. Blaine. I'll do it! But we're both
“I know it,” said Joe, “and I like it!”
They shook hands.
“Come over to-morrow and meet my mother!” He gave her the address.
“Good-by,” she said. “And let me tell you, I'm simply primed for
woman stuff. It is the women”—she repeated the phrase slowly—“it is
the women, as you'll find, who bear the burden of the world! Good-by!”
He went down into the open air exulting.
He could not overcome his astonishment. She was so different than he
had anticipated, so much more human and simple; so much more easy to
fit into the every-day shake-up of life, and full of that divine
allowance for other people's shortcomings. It was impossible to act the
tragedian before her. And, most wondrous of all, she was a “live wire.”
He had gone to her abasing himself; he came away as her employer,
subtly cheered, encouraged, and lifted to new heights of vivid
“Sally Heffer!” he kept repeating. “Isn't she a marvel! And, miracle
of miracles, she is going to swing the great work with me!”
And so the Stove Circle was founded with Sally Heffer, Michael
Dunan, Oscar Heming, Nathan Latsky, Salvatore Giotto, and Jacob Izon.
Its members met together a fortnight later on a cold wintry night. The
stove was red-hot, the circle drew about it on their kitchen chairs,
and Joe spent the first meeting in going over his plans for the paper.
There were many invaluable practical comments—especially on how to get
news and what news to get—and each member was delegated to see to one
department. Latsky and Giotto took immigration, Dunan took politics and
the Irish, Heming took the East Side, Izon, foreign news, and Sally
Heffer took workwomen. Thereafter each one in his way visited labor
unions, clubs, and societies and got each group to pledge itself to
send in news. They helped, too, to get subscriptions—both among their
friends and in the unions. In this way Joe founded his paper. He never
repeated the personal struggle of that first week, for he now had an
enthusiastic following to spread the work for him—men and a woman,
every one of whom had access to large bodies of people and was an
authority in his own world.
But that wonderful week was never forgotten by Joe. Each day he had
risen early and gone forth and worked till late at night, making a
canvass in good earnest. House after house he penetrated, knocking at
doors, inquiring for a mythical Mrs. (or Mr.) Parsons (this to hush the
almost universal fear that he had come to collect the rent or the
instalment on the furniture or clothes of the family). In this way he
started conversation. He found first that the immediate neighborhood
knew him already. And he found many other things. He found rooms tidy,
exquisite in their cleanliness and good taste of arrangement; and then
other rooms slovenly and filthy. He found young wives just risen from
bed, chewing gum and reading the department-store advertisements in the
paper, their hair in curl-papers. He found fat women hanging out of
windows, their dishes unwashed, their beds unmade, their floors
unswept. He found men sick in bed, and managed to sit down at their
side and give them an interesting twenty minutes. He found other men,
out of work, smoking and reading. He found one Italian family making
“willow plumes” in two narrow rooms—one a bedroom, the other a
kitchen—every one at work, twisting the strands of feathers to make a
swaying plume—every one, including the grandmother and little dirty
tots of four and six—and every one of them cross-eyed as a result of
the terrific work. He found one dark cellar full of girls twisting
flowers; and one attic where, in foul, steaming air, a Jewish family
were “finishing” garments—the whole place stacked with huge bundles
which had been given out to them by the manufacturer. He found one home
where an Italian “count” was the husband of an Irish girl, and the girl
told him how she had been led into the marriage by the man's promise of
title and castle in Venice, only to bring her from Chicago to New York
and confess that he was a poor laborer.
“But I made the best of it,” she cried. “I put down my foot, hustled
him out to work, and we've done well ever since. I've been knocking the
dago out of him as hard as I can hit!”
“You're ambitious,” said Joe.
“My! I'd give my hands for education!”
Joe prescribed The Nine-Tenths.
Everywhere he invited people to call—“drop over”—and see his plant
and meet his mother. Even the strange specimen of white woman who had
married a negro and was proud of it.
“Daniel's black outside, but there's many stuck-up women I know
whose white man is black inside.”
Absorbingly interesting was the quest—opening up one vista of life
after another. Joe gained a moving-picture knowledge of life—saw
flashed before him dramatic scene after scene, destiny after
destiny—squalor, ignorance, crime, neatness, ambition, thrift,
respectability. He never forgot the shabby dark back room where under
gas-light a frail, fine woman was sewing ceaselessly, one child sick in
a tumble-down bed, and two others playing on the floor.
“I'm all alone in the world,” she said. “And all I make is two
hundred and fifty dollars a year—less than five dollars a week—to
keep four people.”
Joe put her on the free list.
He learned many facts, vital elements in his history.
For instance, that on less than eight hundred dollars a year no
family of five (the average family) could live decently, and that
nearly half the people he met had less, and the rest not much more.
That, as a rule, there were three rooms for five people; and many of
the families gathered their fuel on the street; that many had no
gas—used oil and wood; that many families spent about twenty-five
cents a day for food; that few clothes were bought, and these mainly
from the instalment man and second hand at that; that many were
recipients of help; and that recreation and education were everywhere
reduced to the lowest terms. That is, boys and girls were hustled to
work at twelve by giving their age as fourteen, and recreation meant an
outing a year to Coney Island, and beer, and, once in a while, the
nickel theater; that there were practically no savings. And there was
one conclusion he could not evade—namely, that while overcrowding,
improvidence, extravagance, and vice explained the misery of some
families, yet there were limits. For instance:
On Manhattan Island no adequate housing can be obtained at less than
twelve or fourteen dollars a month.
That there is no health in a diet of bread and tea.
That—curious facts!—coal burns up, coats and shoes wear out in
spite of mending.
That the average housewife cannot take time to go bargain-hunting or
experimenting with new food combinations, or in making or mending
garments, and neither has she the ability nor training to do so.
That, in fact, the poor, largely speaking, were between the upper
and nether millstones of low wages and high prices.
Of course there was the vice, but while drink causes poverty,
poverty causes drink. Joe found intemperance among women; he found
little children running to the saloon for cans of beer; he found plenty
of men drunkards. But what things to offset these! The woman who bought
three bushels of coal a week for seventy-five cents, watched her fires,
picked out the half-burned pieces, reused them, and wasted no heat; the
children foraging the streets for kindling-wood; the family in bed to
keep warm; the wife whose husband had pawned her wedding-ring for
drink, and who had bought a ten-cent brass one, “to keep the respect of
her children”; the man working for ten dollars a week, who once had
owned his own saloon, but, so he said, “it was impossible to make money
out of a saloon unless I put in gambling-machines or women, and I
wouldn't stand for it”; the woman whose husband was a drunkard, and
who, therefore, went to the Battery 5 A.M. to 10, then 5 P.M. to 7,
every day to do scrubbing for twenty dollars a month; the wonderful
Jewish family whose income was seven hundred and ninety-seven dollars
and who yet contrived to save one hundred and twenty-three dollars a
year to later send their two boys to Columbia University.
And everywhere he found the miracle of miracles: the spirit of
charity and mutual helpfulness—the poor aiding the poorer; the
exquisite devotion of mothers to children; the courage that braved a
For a week the canvass went on. Joe worked feverishly, and came home
late at night too tired almost to undress himself. Again and again he
exclaimed to his mother:
“I never dreamed of such things! I never dreamed of such poverty! I
never dreamed of such human nature!”
Greenwich Village, hitherto a shabby red clutter of streets,
uninviting, forbidding, dull, squalid, became for Joe the very swarm
and drama and warm-blooded life of humanity. He began to sense the fact
that he was in the center of a human whirlpool, in the center of beauty
and ugliness, love and bitterness, misery and joy. The whole
neighborhood began to palpitate for him; the stone walls seemed bloody
with struggling souls; the pavements stamped with the steps of a
“What can I do,” he kept thinking, “with these people?”
And to his amazement he began to see that just as up-town offered
the rivals of luxury, pleasure, and ease, so down-town offered the
rivals of intemperance, grinding poverty, ignorance. His theories were
beginning to meet the shock of facts.
“How move them? How touch them off?” he asked himself.
But the absorbing interest—the faces—the shadowy scenes—the
gas-lit interiors—everywhere human beings, everywhere life, packed,
At the end of the week he stopped, though the fever was still on
him. He had gained two hundred and fifty subscribers; he had
distributed twelve hundred copies of the paper. He now felt that he
could delay no longer in bringing out the next number. So he sat down,
and, with Sally Heffer's words ringing in his mind, he wrote his famous
editorial, “It is the Women”:
It is the women who bear the burden of this world—the poor women.
Perhaps they have beauty when they marry. Then they plunge into
drudgery. All day and night they are in dark and damp rooms,
washing, cooking, cleaning, sewing. They wear the cheapest
calico wrappers. They take their husbands' thin pay-envelopes,
manage the finances. They stint and save—they buy one carrot at
one egg. When rent-week comes—and it comes twice a month—they
food by half to pay for housing. They are underfed, they are
everything but toil—save love. Child after child they
bear. The toil
increases, the stint is sharper, the worry infinite. Now they
clothe their children, feed them, dress them, wash them, amuse
They must endure the heart-sickness of seeing a child underfed.
must fight the demons of disease. Possibly they must stop a
the speed of their labor and face death. Only for a moment! Need
them: mouths ask for food, floors for the broom, and the
for keen reckonings. Possibly then the husband will begin to
drink—possibly he will come home and beat his wife, drag her
floor, blacken her eyes, break a rib. The next day the task is
again—the man is fed, the children clothed, the food marketed,
floor scrubbed, the dress sewn. And then as the family grows
hard times. The man is out of work—he wants to work but cannot.
and the butcher and grocer must be paid, but there are no wages
home. The woman takes in washing. She goes through the streets to
more prosperous and drags home a basket of soiled clothes. The
life grows heavier—the husband becomes accustomed to the changed
relationships. Very often he ceases to be a wage-earner and loafs
saloons. From then on the woman wrestles with worlds of
trouble—unimaginable difficulties. Truly, running a state may be
than running a family. And yet the woman toils on; she does not
complain; she sets three meals each day before husband and
sees that they have clothes; she gives the man his drink money;
endures his cruelty; she plans ambitiously for her children. Or
the man begins to work again, and then one day is killed in an
There is danger of the family breaking up. But the woman rises to
crisis and works miracles. She keeps her head; she takes charge;
toils late into the night; she goes without food, without sleep.
she manages. There was a seamstress in Greenwich Village who
family of three and herself along on two hundred and fifty
year—less than five dollars a week! If luck is with the woman
children grow up, go to work, and for a time ease the burden. But
what is left? The woman is prematurely old—her hair is gray, her
drawn and wrinkled, or flabby and soiled, her back bent, her
and red and big. Beauty has gone, and with the years of drudgery,
of the over-glory, much of the finer elements of love and joy,
vanished. Her mind is absorbed by little things—details of the
has ceased to attend church, she has not stepped beyond the
corner for years, she has not read or played or rested. Much is
her. Love only is left. Love of a man, love of children. She is a
mother and wife, as of old. And she knows the depth of sorrow and
truth of pain.
He repeated his programme. Perhaps—he afterward thought so
himself—this editorial was a bit too pessimistic. But he had to write
it—had to ease his soul. He set it off, however, by a lovely little
paragraph which he printed boxed. Here it is:
Possibly much of the laughter heard on this planet comes from
the mothers and fathers who are thinking or talking of the
In this way, then, Joe entered into the life of the people.
IV. OTHERS: AND THEODORE MARRIN
Joe became a familiar figure in Greenwich Village. As time went on,
and issue after issue of The Nine-Tenths appeared, he became
known to the whole district. Whenever he went out people nodded right
and left, passed the time of day with him, or stopped him for a
hand-shake and a question. He would, when matters were not pressing,
pause at a stoop to speak with mothers, and people in trouble soon
began to acquire a habit of dropping in at his office to talk things
over with the “Old Man.”
If it was a matter of employment, he turned the case over to some
member of the Stove Circle; if it was a question of honest want, he
drew on the “sinking-fund” and took a note payable in sixty days—a
most elastic note, always secretly renewable; if it was an idle beggar,
a vagrant, he made short work of his visitor. Such a visitor was Lady
Hickory. Billy was at his little table next the door; over in the
corner the still-despondent Slate was still collapsing; at the east
window sat Editor Sally Heffer, digging into a mass of notes; and near
the west, at the roll-top desk, a visitor's chair set out invitingly
beside him, Joe was writing—weird exercise of muttering softly, so as
not to disturb the rest, and then scratching down a sentence.
Billy leaped up to receive her ladyship, who fatly rolled in, her
tarnished hat askew, her torn thrice-dingy silks clutched up in one fat
Lady Hickory gave one cry:
“There he is!”
She pushed Billy aside and rolled over into the visitor's chair.
“Oh, Mr. Joe!”
“What's up?” he asked.
“Everything's up—I'm dying, Mr. Joe—I need help—I must get to the
“It doesn't smell like consumption,” he said with a sigh. “It smells
He hustled her out rather roughly, Nathan Slate regarding him with
mournful round eyes. Twenty minutes later Nathan came over and sat
“There's something troubles my conscience, Mr. Joe.”
“Let her rip!”
Nathan cleared his throat.
“You say you're a democrat, Mr. Joe, and you're always saying, 'Love
thy neighbor,' Mr. Joe.”
“Has that hit you, Nathan?”
Nathan unburdened, evading this thrust.
“Why, then, Mr. Joe, did you turn that woman away?”
Joe was delighted.
“Why? I'll tell you! Suppose that I know that the cucumber is
inherently as good as any other vegetable, does that say I can digest
it? Cucumbers aren't for me, Nathan—especially decayed ones.”
Nathan stared at him disconsolately, shook his head, and went back
to puzzle it out. It is doubtful, however, that he ever did so.
Besides such visitors, there were still others who came to him to
arbitrate family disputes—which constituted him a sort of Domestic
Relations Court—and gave him an insight into a condition that
surprised him. Namely, the not uncommon cases of secret polygamy and
In short, Joe was busy. His work was established in a flexible
routine—mornings for writing; afternoons for callers, for circulation
work, and for special trips to centers of labor trouble; evenings for
going about with Giotto to see the Italians, or paying a visit, say, to
the Ranns, or some others, or meeting at Latsky's cigar store with a
group of revolutionists who filled the air with their war of the
classes, their socialist state, their dreams of millennium.
He gave time, too, to his mother—evening walks, evening talks, and
old-fashioned quiet hours in the kitchen, his mother at her needlework,
and he reading beside her. One such night, when his mother seemed
somewhat fatigued, he said to her:
“Don't sew any more, mother.”
“But it soothes me, Joe.”
Joe spoke awkwardly.
“Are you perfectly satisfied down here? Did we do the right thing?”
His mother's eyes flashed, as of old.
“We did,” she cried in her youthful voice. “It's real—it's
absorbing. And I'm very proud of myself.”
“Yes, proud!” she laughed. “Joe, when a woman reaches my age she has
a right to be proud if young folks seek her out and talk with her and
make her their confidante. It shows she's not a useless incumbrance,
Joe sat up.
“Have they found you out? Do they come to you?”
“They do—especially the young wives with their troubles. All of
them troubled over their husbands and their children. We have the
finest talks together. They're a splendid lot!”
“Who's come, in particular?”
“Well, there's one who isn't married—one of the best of them.”
“Not Sally Heffer!”
“That girl,” said Joe's mother, “has all sorts of possibilities—and
she's brave and strong and true. Sally's a wonder! a new kind of
A new kind of woman! Joe remembered the phrase, and in the end
admitted that it was true. Sally was of the new breed; she represented
the new emancipation; the exodus of woman from the home to the
battle-fields of the world; the willingness to fight in the open,
shoulder to shoulder with men; the advance of a sex that now demanded a
broader, freer life, a new health, a home built up on comradeship and
economic freedom. In all of these things she contrasted sharply with
Myra, and Joe always thought of the two together.
But unconsciously Sally was always the fellow-worker—Myra—what
Myra meant he could feel but not explain; yet these crowded days left
little time for thoughts sweet but often intense with pain. He wrote to
her rarely—mere jottings of business and health; he rarely heard from
her. Her message was invariably the same—the richness and quiet of
country life, the depth and peace of rest, the hope that he was well
and happy. She never mentioned his paper—though she received every
number—and when Joe inquired once whether it came, she answered in a
postscript: “The paper? It's in every Monday's mail.” This neglect
irritated Joe, and he would doubly enjoy Sally's heart-and-soul passion
for The Nine-Tenths.
Sally was growing into his working life, day by day. Her presence
was stimulating, refreshing. If he felt blue and discouraged, or dried
up and in want of inspiration, he merely called her over, and her quiet
talk, her sane views, her quick thinking, her never-failing good humor
and faith, acted upon him as a tonic.
“Miss Sally,” he said once, “what would I ever do without you?”
Sally looked at him with her clear eyes.
“Oh,” she said, “I guess you'd manage to stagger along somehow.”
But after that she hovered about him like a guardian angel. What
bothered her chiefly, when she thought of Joe's work, was her lack of
education, and she set about to make this up by good reading, and by
attending lectures at night, and by hard study in such time as she
could snatch from her work. She and Joe were comrades in the best
sense. They could always depend upon each other. It was in some ways as
if they were in partnership. And then there was that old tie of the
fire to draw them together.
She was of great help in setting him right about the poor.
“People are happy,” she would say—“most people are happy. Human
nature is bigger than environment—it bubbles up through mud. That's
almost the trouble with it. If the poor were only thoroughly unhappy,
they'd change things to-morrow. No, Mr. Joe, it's not a question of
happiness; it's a question of justice, of right, of progress, of
developing people's possibilities. It's all the question of a better
life, a richer life. People are sacred—they mustn't be reduced to
And with her aid he gained a truer perspective of the life about
him—learned better how to touch it, how to “work” it. The paper became
more and more adapted to its audience, and began to spread rapidly.
Here and there a labor union would subscribe for it in bulk for all its
members, and the Stove Circle soon had many a raw recruit drumming up
trade, making house-to-house canvasses. In this way, the circulation
finally reached the five-thousand mark. There were certain unions, such
as that of the cloak-makers, that regarded the paper as their special
oracle—swore by it, used it in their arguments, made it a vital part
of their mental life.
This enlarged circulation brought some curious and unlooked-for
results. Some of the magazine writers in the district got hold of a
copy, had a peep at Joe, heard of his fame, and then took copies
up-town to the respectable editors and others, and spread a rumor of
“that idiot, Joe Blaine, who runs an underground paper down on Tenth
Street.” As a passion of the day was slumming, and as nothing could be
more piquant than the West Tenth Street establishment, Joe was amused
to find automobiles drawing up at his door, and the whole neighborhood
watching breathlessly the attack of some flouncy woman or some
“How perfectly lovely!” one fair visitor announced, while the office
force watched her pose in the center of the room. “Mr. Blaine, how
dreadful it must be to live with the poor!”
“It's pretty hard,” said Joe, “to live with any human being for any
length of time.”
“Oh, but the poor! They aren't clean, you know; and such manners!”
Sally spoke coldly.
“I guess bad manners aren't monopolized by any particular class.”
The flouncy one flounced out.
These visits finally became very obnoxious, though they could not be
stopped. Even a sign, over the door-bell, “No begging; no slumming,”
was quite ineffective in shutting out either class.
There were, however, other visitors of a more interesting
type—professional men, even business men, who were drawn by curiosity,
or by social unrest, or by an ardent desire to be convinced. Professor
Harraman, the sociologist, came, and made quite a dispassionate study
of Joe, put him (so he told his mother) on the dissecting-table and
vivisected his social organs. Then there was Blakesly, the corporation
lawyer, who enjoyed the discussion that arose so thoroughly that he
stayed for supper and behaved like a gentleman in the little kitchen,
even insisting on throwing off his coat, rolling up his sleeves, and
helping to dry the dishes.
“You're all wrong,” he told Joe when he left, “and some day possibly
we'll hang you or electrocute you; but it's refreshing to rub one's
mind against a going dynamo. I'm coming again. And don't forget that
your mother is the First Lady of the Island! Good-by!”
Then there was, one important day, the great ex-trust man, whose
name is inscribed on granite buildings over half the earth. This
man—so the legend runs—is on the lookout for unusual personalities.
The first hint of a new one puts him on the trail, and he sends out a
detective to gather facts, all of which are card-indexed under the
personality's name. Then, if the report is attractive, this man goes
out himself and meets the oddity face to face. He came in on Joe
jovial, happy, sparkling, and fired a broadside of well-chosen
questions. Joe was delighted, and said anything he pleased, and his
visitor shrewdly went on. In the end Joe was stunned to hear this
“Mr. Blaine, you're on the right track, though you don't know it.
You think you want one thing, but you're after another. Still—keep it
up. The world is coming to wonderful things.”
“That's queer talk,” said Joe, “coming from a multimillionaire.”
The multimillionaire laughed.
“But I'm getting rid of the multi, Mr. Blaine. What more would you
have me do? Each his own way. Besides”—he screwed up his eye
shrewdly—“come now, aren't you hanging on to some capital?”
“Yes—in a way!”
“So are we all! You're a wise man! Keep free, and then you can help
The most interesting caller, however, judged from the standpoint of
Joe's life, was Theodore Marrin, Izon's boss, manufacturer of
high-class shirtwaists, whose Fifth Avenue store is one of the most
luxurious in New York. He came to Joe while the great cloak-makers'
strike was still on, at a time when families were reduced almost to
starvation, and when the cause seemed quite hopeless.
Theodore Marrin came in a beautiful heavy automobile. He was a short
man, with a stout stomach; his face was a deep red, with large,
slightly bulging black eyes, tiny mustache over his full lips; and he
was dressed immaculately and in good taste—a sort of Parisian-New
Yorker, hail-fellow-well-met, a mixer, a cynic, a man about town. He
swung his cane lightly as he tripped up the steps, sniffed the air, and
knocked on the door of the editorial office.
“Mr. Blaine in?”
“I should hope he was! There, my boy.” He deftly waved Billy aside
and stepped in. “Well! well! Mr. Blaine!”
Joe turned about, and arose, and accepted Mr. Marrin's extended
“Who do you think I am?”
“I'm ready for anything.”
“Well, Mr. Blaine, I'm the employer of one of your men. You know
“Oh, you're Mr. Marrin! Sit down.”
Marrin gazed about.
“Unique! unique!” He sat down, and pulled off his gloves. “I've been
wanting to meet you for a long time. Izon's been talking, handing me
your paper. It's a delightful little sheet—I enjoy it immensely.”
“You agree with its views?”
“Oh no, no, no! I read it the way I read fiction! It's damned
“Well, what can I do for you?”
“What can I do for you!” corrected Marrin.
“See here, Mr. Blaine, I'm interested. How about taking a little ad.
from me, just for fun, to help the game along?”
“We don't accept ads.”
“Oh, I know! But if I contribute handsomely! I'd like to show it
around to my friends a bit. Come, come, don't be unreasonable, Mr.
Sally shuffled about, coughed, arose, sat down again, and Joe
“Can't do it. Not even Rockefeller could buy a line of my paper.”
“Do you mean it?”
“Well, what a shame! But never mind. Some other time. Tell me, Mr.
Blaine”—he leaned forward—“what are you? One of these bloody
“No, I'm not a socialist.”
“What d'ye call yourself, then—Republican?”
Marrin was horror-stricken.
“Not a blooming anarchist?”
“No, not an anarchist.”
“What are you, then? Nothing?”
“I can tell you what I'm not,” said Joe.
“I'm not any kind of an ist.”
“A fine fellow!” cried Marrin. “Why, a man's got to stand for
“I do,” said Joe, “I stand for human beings—and sometimes,” he
chuckled, “I stand for a whole lot!”
Marrin laughed, so did Sally.
“Clever!” cried Marrin. “Damned clever! You're cleverer than I
thought—hide your scheme up, don't you? Well! well! Let me see your
Joe showed him about, and Marrin kept patting him on the back:
“Delightful! Fine! You're my style, Mr. Blaine—everything done to a
nicety, no frills and feathers. Isn't New York a great town? There are
things happening in it you'd never dream of.”
And when he left he said:
“Now, if there's anything I can do for you, Mr. Blaine, don't
hesitate to call on me. And say, step up and see my shop. It's the
finest this side of Paris. I'll show you something you've never seen
And he was whisked away, a quite self-satisfied human being.
That very evening Marrin's name came up again. It was closing-up
time, Billy and Slate had already gone, and the room was dark save for
the shaded lights over Joe's desk and Sally's table. The two were
working quietly, and outside a soft fall of snow was muffling the noise
of the city. There only arose the mellowed thunder of a passing car,
the far blowing of a boat-whistle, the thin pulse of voices. Otherwise
the city was lost in the beautiful storm, which went over the gas-lamps
like a black-dotted halo. In the rear room there was a soft clatter of
dishes. The silence was rich and full of thought. Joe scratched on,
Sally puzzled over reports.
Then softly the door opened, and a hoarse voice said:
“Joe? You there?”
Sally and Joe turned around. It was Izon, dark, handsome, fiery,
muffled up to his neck, his hat drawn low on his face, and the thin
snow scattering from his shoulders and sleeves.
“Yes, I'm here,” Joe said in a low voice. “What is it?”
Izon came over.
“Joe!”—his voice was passionate—“there's trouble brewing at
“Marrin? Why, he was here only to-day!”
Izon clutched the back of a chair and leaned over.
“Marrin is a dirty scoundrel!”
His voice was hoarse with helplessness and passion.
“Tell me about this! Put it in a word!”
Tears sprang to Izon's eyes.
“You know the cloak-makers' strike—well! Some manufacturer has
asked Marrin to help him out—to fill an order of cloaks for him.”
“And Marrin—” Joe felt himself getting hot.
“Has given the job to us men.”
“How many are there?”
“And the women?”
“They're busy on shirtwaists.”
“And what did the men do?”
“As they were told.”
“So you fellows are cutting under the strikers—you're scabs.”
Izon clutched the chair harder.
“I told them so—I said, 'For God's sake, be men—strike, if this
“And what did they say?”
“They'd think it over!”
Sally arose and spoke quietly.
“Make them meet here. I'll talk to them!”
Izon muttered darkly:
“Marrin's a dirty scoundrel!”
Joe smote his hands together.
“We'll fix him. You get the men down here! You just get the men!”
And then Joe understood that his work was not child's play; that the
fight was man-size; that it had its dangers, its perils, its fierce
struggles. He felt a new power rise within him—a warrior strength. He
was ready to plunge in and give battle—ready for a hand-to-hand
conflict. Now he was to be tested in the fires; now he was to meet and
make or be broken by a great moment. An electricity of conflict filled
the air, a foreboding of disaster. His theories at last were to meet
the crucial test of reality, and he realized that up to that moment he
had been hardly more than a dreamer.
V. FORTY-FIVE TREACHEROUS MEN
Out of the white, frosty street the next night, when every lamp up
and down shone like a starry jewel beneath the tingling stars,
forty-five men emerged, crowding, pushing in the hall, wedging through
the doorway, and filling the not-too-large editorial office. Joe had
provided camp-stools, and the room was soon packed with sitting and
standing men, circles of shadowy beings, carelessly clothed, with rough
black cheeks and dark eyes—a bunch of jabbering aliens, excited,
unfriendly, curious, absorbed in their problem—an ill-kempt lot and
At the center stove, a little way off from its red heart, sat Joe
and Sally and Izon. The men began to smoke cigarettes and little
cigars, and with the rank tobacco smell was mingled the sweaty human
odor. The room grew densely hot, and a window had to be thrown open. A
vapor of smoke filled the atmosphere, shot golden with the lights, and
in the smoke the many heads, bent this way and that, leaning forward or
tilted up, showed strange and a little unreal. Joe could see faces that
fascinated him by their vivid lines, their starting dark eyes and the
white eye-balls, their bulging noses and big mouths. Hands fluttered in
lively gestures and a storm of Yiddish words broke loose.
Joe arose, lifting his hand for silence. Men pulled each other by
the sleeve, and a strident “'Ssh!” ran round the room.
“Silence!” cried Joe. His voice came from the depths of his big
chest, and was masterful, ringing with determination.
An expectant hush followed. And then Joe spoke.
“I want to welcome you to this room. It belongs to you as much as to
anybody, for in this room is published a paper that works for your
good. But I not only want to welcome you: I want to ask your permission
to speak at this meeting.”
There were cries of: “Speak! Go on! Say it!”
Joe went on. Behind his words was a menace.
“Then I want to say this to you. Your boss, Mr. Marrin, has done a
cowardly and treacherous thing. He has made scabs of you all. You are
no better than strike-breakers. If you do this work, if you make these
cloaks, you are traitors to your fellow-workers, the cloak-makers. You
are crippling other workmen. You are selling them to their bosses. But
I'm sure you won't stand for this. You are men enough to fight for the
cause of all working people. You belong to a race that has been
persecuted through the ages, a brave race, a race that has triumphed
through hunger and cold and massacres. You are great enough to make
this sacrifice. If this is so, I call on you to resist your boss, to
refuse to do his dirty work, and I ask you—if he persists in his
orders—to lay down your work and strike.”
He sat down, and there was a miserable pause. He had not stirred
them at all, and felt his failure keenly. It was as if he had not
reached over the fence of race. He told himself he must school himself
in the future, must broaden out. As a matter of fact, it was the menace
in his tone that hushed the meeting. The men rather feared what lay
behind Joe's words.
At once, however, one of the men leaped to his feet, and began a
fiery speech in Yiddish, speaking gaspingly, passionately, hotly,
shaking his fist, fluttering his hands, tearing a passion to tatters.
Joe understood not a word, but the burden of the speech was:
“Why should we strike? What for? For the cloak-makers? What have we
to do with cloak-makers? We have troubles enough of our own. We have
our families to support—our wives and children and relations. Shall
they starve for some foolish cloak—makers? Comrades, don't listen to
such humbug. Do your work—get done with it. You have good jobs—don't
lose them. These revolutionists! They would break up the whole world
for their nonsense! It's not they who have to suffer; it's us working
people. We do the starving, we do the fighting. Have sense; bethink
yourselves; don't make fools out of yourselves!”
A buzz of talk arose with many gesticulations.
“He's right! Why should we strike—Och, Gott, such nonsense!—No
more strike talk.”
Then Sally arose, pale, eyes blazing. She shook a stanch little fist
at the crowd. But how different was her speech from the one in Carnegie
Hall—that time when she had been truly inspired.
“Shame on all of you! You're a lot of cowards! You're a lot of
traitors! You can't think of anything but your bellies! Shame on you
all! Women would never stand for such things—young girls, your sisters
or your daughters, would strike at once! Let me tell you what will
happen to you. Some day there will be a strike of shirt-waist-makers,
and then your boss will go to the cloak-house and say, 'Now you make
shirtwaists for me,' and the cloak-makers will make the shirtwaists,
saying, 'When we were striking, the shirtwaist-makers made cloaks; now
we'll make waists.' And that will ruin your strike, and ruin you all.
Working people must unite! Working people must stand by each other!
That's your only power. The boss has money, land, machinery, friends.
What have you? You only have each other, and if you don't stand by each
other, you have nothing at all. Strike! I tell you! Strike and show
'em! Show 'em! Rise and resist! You have the power! You are bound to
win! Strike! I tell you!”
Then a man shouted: “Shall a woman tell us what to do?” and tumult
broke loose, angry arguments, words flying. The air seemed to tingle
with excitement, expectation, and that sharp feeling of human crisis.
Joe could feel the circle of human nature fighting about him. He leaned
forward, strangely shaken.
Izon had arisen, and was trying to speak. The dark, handsome young
man was gesturing eloquently. His voice poured like a fire, swept the
crowd, and he reached them with their own language.
“Comrades! Comrades! Comrades!” and then his voice rose and stilled
the tumult, and all leaned forward, hanging on his words. “You
must”—he was appealing to them with arms outstretched—“you must! You
will strike; you will not be cowards! Not for yourselves, O comrades,
but for your children—your children! Do I not know you? Do I
not know how you toil and slave and go hungry and wear out your bodies
and souls? Have I not toiled with you? Have I not shared your struggles
and your pain? Do I not know that you are doing all, all for your
children—that the little ones may grow up to a better life than
yours—that your little ones may be happier, and healthier, and richer,
and finer? Have I not seen it a thousand times? But what sort of a
world will your children find when they grow up if you do not fight
these battles for them? If you let the bosses enslave you—if you are
cowards and slaves—will not your children be slaves? Oh, we that
belong to Israel, have we not fought for freedom these bloody thousand
years? Are we to cease now? Can't you see? Can't you open your hearts
and minds?” His voice came with a passionate sob. “Won't you see that
this is a fight for the future—a fight for all who work for wages—a
fight for freedom? Not care for the cloak-makers? They are your
brothers. Care for them, lest the day come when you are uncared for!
Strike! You must—you must! Strike, comrades! We will hang by
each other! We will suffer together! And it will not be the first time!
No, not the first time—or the last!”
He sank exhausted on his chair, crumpled up. Sweat was running down
his white face. There was a moment's hush—snuffling, and a few coarse
sobs—and then a young man arose, and spoke in trembling voice:
“I move—we send Jacob Izon to-morrow to our boss—and tell
him—either no cloaks, or—we strike!”
Joe put the motion.
“All in favor, say aye.”
There was a wild shout of ayes. The motion was carried. Then the air
was charged with excitement, with fiery talk, with denunciation and
“Now we're in for it!” said Joe, as the room was emptied, and the
aroused groups trudged east on the crunching snow.
And so it was. Next morning, when Theodore Marrin made the rounds of
the vast loft where two hundred girls and forty-five men were busily
working—the machines racing—the air pulsing with noise—Jacob Izon
arose, trembling, and confronted him.
“I want to tell you something.”
“The men have asked me to ask you not to have us make the cloaks.”
Marrin's red face seemed to grow redder.
“So, that's it!” he snapped. “Well, here's my answer. Go back to
The men had stopped working and were listening. The air was
Izon spoke tremblingly.
“I am very sorry then. I must announce that the men have struck!”
Marrin glared at him.
“Very well! And get out—quick!”
He turned and walked away, flaming with rage. The men quickly put
their work away, got their hats and coats, and followed Izon. When they
reached the street—a strange spectacle on flashing, brilliant Fifth
Avenue—Izon suggested that they go down to Tenth Street, for they
stood about like a lot of lost sheep.
“No,” cried one of the men, “we've had enough of Tenth Street.
There's a hall we can use right over on Eighteenth Street. Come on.”
The rest followed. Izon reported to Joe, and Joe asked:
“Do you think they'll fight it out?”
“I don't know!” Izon shrugged his shoulders.
This doubt was justifiable, for he soon found that he was leading a
forlorn hope. As morning after morning the men assembled in the dark
meeting-room behind a saloon, and sat about in their overcoats
complaining and whining, quoting their wives and relatives, more and
more they grew disconsolate and discouraged. There were murmurs of
rebellion, words of antagonism. Finally on the fifth morning a
messenger arrived with a letter. Izon took it.
“It's from Marrin,” he murmured.
“Read it! Read it out loud!”
He opened it and read:
TO MY MEN,—I have thought matters over. I do not like to sever
connections with men who have been so long in my employ. If you
to work this morning, you may go on at the old salaries, and we
consider the matter closed. If, however, you listen to advice
to ruin your future, and do not return, please remember that I
be responsible. I shall then secure new men, and your places will
occupied by others.
P.S.—Naturally, it is understood that under no
circumstance will your
leader—Jacob Izon—the cause of this trouble between us—be
re-employed. Such men are a disgrace to the world.
Izon's cheeks flushed hot. He looked up.
“Shall I write to him that we will not consider his offer, and tell
him we refuse to compromise?”
There was a silence a little while, and then one of the older men
shuffled to his feet.
“Tell you what we do—we get up a collection for Izon. Then
everything will be all right!”
Izon's eyes blazed.
“Charity? Not for me! I don't want you to think of me! I want you to
think of what this strike means!”
Then some one muttered:
“We've listened long enough to Izon.”
And another: “I'm going to work!”
“So am I! So am I!”
They began to rise, to shamefacedly shamble toward the door. Izon
rose to his feet, tried to intercept them, stretched out his arms to
“For God's sake,” he cried, “leave me out, but get something. Don't
go back like this! Get something! Don't you see that Marrin is ready to
give in? Are you going back like weak slaves?”
They did not heed him; but one old man paused and put a hand on his
“This will teach you not to be so rash next time. You will learn
And they were gone. Izon was dazed, heart-broken. He hurried home to
his wife and wept upon her shoulder.
Late that afternoon Joe and Sally were again alone in the office,
their lights lit, their pens scratching, working in a sweet unspoken
sympathy in the quiet, shadowy place. There was a turning of the knob,
and Izon came in. Joe and Sally arose and faced him. He came slowly,
his face drawn and haggard.
“What is it?” Joe drew the boy near.
“They've gone back—the men have gone back!”
“Gone back?” cried Joe.
“Read this letter!”
Joe read it, and spoke angrily.
“Then I'll do something!”
Izon pleaded with him.
“Be careful, Joe—don't do anything foolish for my sake. I'll get
“But your wife! How does she take it?”
Izon's face brightened.
“Oh, she's a Comrade! That's why I married her!”
“Good!” said Joe. “Then I'll go ahead. I'll speak my mind!”
“Not for me, though,” cried Izon. “I'll get something else.”
“Are you sure of that?” asked Joe.
“Are you sure,” Joe went on, “that you won't be blacklisted?”
Izon stared at him.
“Well—I suppose—I will.”
“You'll have to leave the city, Jacob.”
“I can't. I'm right in my course of engineering. I can't go.”
“Well, we'll see!” Joe's voice softened. “Now you go home and rest.
There's a good fellow. And everything will be all right!”
And he saw Izon out.
Joe began again to feel the tragic undercurrents of life, the first
time since the dark days following the fire. He came back, and stood
brooding, his homely face darkened with sorrow. Sally stood watching
him, her pale face flushing, her eyes darting sympathy and daring.
“Yes, Miss Sally.”
“I want to do something.”
“I want to go up to Marrin's to-morrow and get the girls out on
“I've done it before; I can do it again.”
Joe laughed softly.
“Miss Sally, what would I do without you? I'd go stale on life, I
She made an impulsive movement toward him.
“I want to help you—every way.”
“I know you do.” His voice was a little husky, and he looked up and
met her fine, clear eyes.
Then she turned away, sadly.
“You'll let me do it?”
“Oh, no!” he said firmly. “The idea's appealing, but you mustn't
think of it, Miss Sally. It will only stir up trouble.”
“We ought to.”
“Not for this.”
“But the shirtwaist-makers are working in intolerable conditions;
they're just ready to strike; a spark would blow 'em all up.”
He shook his head.
“Wait—wait till we see what my next number does!”
Sally said no more; but her heart nursed her desire until it grew to
an overmastering passion. She left for the night, and Joe sat down,
burning with the fires of righteousness. And he wrote an editorial that
altered the current of his life. He wrote:
FORTY-FIVE TREACHEROUS MEN
Theodore Marrin and the forty-four who went back to work for him:
Every one of you is a traitor to American citizenship.
Let us use blunt words and call a spade a spade.
Theodore Marrin, you have betrayed your employees.
You forty-four men, you have betrayed yourselves and your
And so it went, sharp, incisive, plain-spoken—words that were hot
brands and burned.
He was sitting at this task (twice his mother had called him to
supper and he had waved her away) when an exquisite black-eyed little
woman came in.
“I'm Mrs. Izon.”
Joe wheeled about and seized her hand.
“Tell me to do something for you! You and your brave husband!”
Mrs. Izon spoke quietly:
“I came here because Jacob is so worried. He is afraid you will harm
yourself for us.”
Joe laughed softly.
“Tell him not to worry any longer. It's you who are suffering—not
I. I? I am only having fun.”
She was not satisfied.
“We oughtn't to get others mixed up in our troubles.”
“It's hard for you, isn't it?” Joe murmured.
“Yes.” She smiled sadly. “I suppose it isn't right when you are in
the struggle to get married. Not right to the children.”
Joe spoke courageously.
“Never you mind, Mrs. Izon—but just wait. Wait three—four days.
They did wait, and they did see.
VI. A FIGHT IN GOOD EARNEST
Sally hesitated before going into Marrin's that Monday morning. A
blinding snow-storm was being released over the city, and the fierce
gusts eddied about the corner of Fifth Avenue, blew into drifts, lodged
on sill and cornice and lintel, and blotted out the sky and the world.
Through the wild whiteness a few desolate people ploughed their way,
buffeted, blown, hanging on to their hats, and quite unable to see
ahead. Sally shoved her red little hands into her coat pockets, and
stood, a careless soul, in the white welter.
From her shoulder, some hundred feet to the south, ran the
plate-glass of Marrin's, spotted and clotted and stringy with snow and
ice, and right before her was the entrance for deliveries and
employees. A last consideration held her back. She had been lying awake
nights arguing with her conscience. Joe had told her not to do it—that
it would only stir up trouble—but Joe was too kindly. In the battles
of the working people a time must come for cruelty, blows, and swift
victory. Marrin was an out-and-out enemy to be met and overthrown; he
had made traitors of the men; he had annihilated Izon; she would fight
him with the women.
Nor was this the only reason. Sally felt that her supreme task was
to organize the women in industry, to take this trampled class and make
of it a powerful engine for self-betterment, and no women were more
prepared, she felt, than the shirtwaist-makers. She knew that at
Marrin's the conditions were fairly good, though, even there, women and
young girls worked sometimes twelve hours and more a day, and earned,
many of them, but four or five dollars a week. What tempted Sally,
however, was the knowledge that a strike at Marrin's would be the spark
to set off the city and bring out the women by the thousands. It would
be the uprising of the women; the first upward step from sheer
wage-slavery; the first advance toward the ideal of that coming woman,
who should be a man in her freedom and her strength and her power, and
yet woman of woman in her love and her motherhood and wife-hood.
Industry, so Sally knew, was taking the young girls by the million,
overworking them, sapping them of body and soul, and casting them out
unfit to bear children, untrained to keep house, undisciplined to meet
life and to be a comrade of a man. And Sally knew, moreover, what could
be done. She knew what she had accomplished with the hat-trimmers.
Nevertheless, she hesitated, not quite sure that the moment had
come. Joe's words detained her in a way no man's words had ever done
before. But she thought: “I do this for him. I sharpen the edge of his
editorial and drive it home. Words could never hurt Marrin—but I can.”
She got under the shelter of the doorway and with numb hand pulled a
copy of The Nine-Tenths from her pocket, unfolded it, and reread
the burning words of: “Forty-five Treacherous Men.” They roused all her
fighting blood; they angered her; they incited her.
“Joe! Joe!” she murmured. “It's you driving me on—it's you! Here
It was in some ways a desperate undertaking. Once, in Newark, a
rough of an employer had almost thrown her down the stairs,
man-handling her, and while Marrin or his men would not do this, yet
what method could she use to brave the two hundred and fifty people in
the loft? She was quite alone, quite without any weapon save her
tongue. To fail would be ridiculous and ignominious. Yet Sally was
quite calm; her heart did not seem to miss a beat; her brain was not
confused by a rush of blood. She knew what she was doing.
She climbed that first flight of semi-circular stairs without
hindrance, secretly hoping that by no mischance either Marrin or one of
his sub-bosses might emerge. There was a door at the first landing. She
passed it quickly and started up the second flight. Then there was a
turning of a knob, a rustling of skirts, and a voice came sharp:
“Where are you going?”
Sally turned. The forelady stood below her—large, eagle-eyed woman,
with square and wrinkled face, quite a mustache on her upper lip. Sally
“To see one of the girls. Her mother's sick.”
The forelady eyed Sally suspiciously.
“Did you get a permit from the office?”
Sally seemed surprised.
“Permit? No! Do you have to get a permit?”
The forelady spoke roughly.
“You get a permit, or you don't go up.”
“Where's the office?”
“Thanks for telling me!”
Sally came down, and, as she entered the doorway, the forelady
proceeded up-stairs. Sally delayed a second, until the forelady
disappeared around the bend, and then quickly, quietly she followed,
taking the steps two at a time. The forelady had hardly entered the
doorway on the next landing when Sally was in with her, and treading
softly in her footsteps.
This was the loft, vast, lit by windows east and west, and hung,
this snow-darkened morning, with many glittering lights. Through all
the space girls and women, close together, bent over power-machines
which seemed to race at intolerable speed. There was such a din and
clatter, such a whizzing, thumping racket, that voices or steps would
well be lost. Then suddenly, in the very center of the place, the
forelady, stopping to speak to a girl, while all the girls of the
neighborhood ceased work to listen, thus producing a space of calm—the
forelady, slightly turning and bending, spied Sally.
She came up indignantly.
“Why did you follow me? Go down to the office!”
Many more machines stopped, many more pale faces lifted and watched.
Sally gave a quick glance around, and was a trifle upset by seeing
Mr. Marrin coming straight toward her. He came with his easy, tripping
stride, self-satisfied, red-faced, tastefully dressed, an orchid in his
buttonhole. Sally spoke quickly.
“I was only looking for Mr. Marrin, and here he is!”
As Mr. Marrin came up, more and more machines stopped, as if by
contagion, and the place grew strangely hushed.
The forelady turned to her boss.
“This woman's sneaked in here without a permit!”
Marrin spoke sharply.
“What do you want?”
Then in the quiet Sally spoke in a loud, exultant voice.
“I only wanted to tell the girls to strike!”
A sudden electricity charged the air.
“What!” cried Marrin, the vein on his forehead swelling. “You come
“To tell the girls to strike,” Sally spoke louder. “For you've made
the men traitors and you've blacklisted Izon.”
Marrin sensed the danger in the shop's quiet.
“For God's sake,” he cried, “lower your voice—speak to me—tell me
“I am,” shrieked Sally. “I'm telling you I want the girls to
“Come in my private office, quick! I'll talk with you!”
Sally followed his hurried steps.
“Yes, I'll tell you there,” she fairly shrieked, “that I want the
girls to strike!”
“Can't you shut up?”
And then Sally wheeled about and spoke to the two hundred.
“Girls! come on out! We'll tie him up! We're not like the men! We
won't stand for such things, will we?”
Then, in the stillness, Jewish girls here and there rose from their
machines. It was like the appearance of apparitions. How did it come
that these girls were more ready than any one could have guessed, and
were but waiting the call? More and more arose, and low murmurs spread,
words, “It's about time! I won't slave any more! He had no right to put
out Izon! The men are afraid! Mr. Blaine is right!”
Marrin tried to shout:
“I order you to get to work!”
But a tumult drowned his voice, a busy clamor, an exultant jabber of
tongues, a rising, a shuffling, a moving about.
Sally marched down the aisle.
“Follow me, girls! We're going to have a union!”
It might have been the Pied Piper of Hamelin whistling up the
rats—there was a hurrying, a scurrying, a weird laughter, a blowing
about of words, and the two hundred, first swallowing up Sally, crowded
the doorway, moved slowly, pushed, shoved, wedged through, and
disappeared, thundering, shouting and laughing, down the steps. The two
hundred, always so subdued, so easily bossed, so obedient and
submissive, had risen and gone.
Marrin looked apoplectic. He rushed over to where the forty-four men
were sitting like frightened animals. He spoke to the one nearest him.
“Who was that girl? I've seen her somewhere!”
“She?” the man stammered. “That's Joe Blaine's girl.”
“Joe Blaine!” cried Marrin.
“Look,” said the man, handing Marrin a copy of The Nine-Tenths, “the girls read this this morning. That's why they struck.”
Marrin seized the paper. He saw the title:
FORTY-FIVE TREACHEROUS MEN
and he read beneath it:
Theodore Marrin, and the forty-four who went back to
work for him:
Every one of you is a traitor to American citizenship.
Let us use blunt words and call a spade a spade.
Theodore Marrin, you have betrayed your employees.
And then farther down:
No decent human being would work for such a man.
He has no right to be an employer—not in such hands
should be placed the sacred welfare of men and women.
If I were one of Marrin's employees I would prefer the
streets to his shop.
Marrin looked up at the forty-four. And he saw that they were more
than frightened—they were in an ugly humor, almost ferocious. The
article had goaded them into a senseless fury.
Marrin spoke more easily.
“So that's your friend of labor, that's your Joe Blaine. Well, here
is what your Joe Blaine has done for you. You're no good to me without
the girls. You're all discharged!”
He left them and made madly for the door. The men were chaotic with
rage; they arose; their voices went sharp and wild.
“What does that Joe Blaine mean? He takes the bread out of our
mouths! He makes fools of us! He ought to be shot! I spit on him! Curse
One man arose on a chair.
“You fools—you listened to that man, and went on strike—and now
you come back, and he makes you lose your jobs. Are you going to be
fools now? Are you going to let him get the best of you? He is laughing
at you, the pig. The girls are laughing at you. Come on! We will go
down and show him—we will assemble before his place and speak to him!”
The men were insane with rage and demon-hate. Vehemently shouting,
they made for the stairs, rushed pell-mell down, and sought the street,
and turned south through the snow. There were few about to notice them,
none to stop them. Policemen were in doorways and odd shelters. And so,
unimpeded, the crazed mob made its way.
In the mean time Marrin had come out in his heavy fur coat and
stepped into his closed automobile. It went through the storm, easily
gliding, turned up West Tenth Street, and stopped before Joe's windows.
Marrin hurried in and boldly opened the office door. Billy jumped up to
“Mr. Blaine—” he began.
“Get out of my way!” snapped Marrin, and stepped up to Joe.
Joe was brooding at his desk, brooding and writing, his dark face
troubled, his big form quite stoop-shouldered.
“Well,” said Joe, “what's the matter, Mr. Marrin?”
Marrin tried to contain his rage. He pointed his cane at Joe.
“You've made a mistake, Mr. Blaine.”
“It isn't the first one.”
“Let me tell you something—”
“I will let you.”
Marrin spoke with repression.
“Next time—don't attack both the boss and the men. It's bad policy.
“Oh, I did take sides,” said Joe, lightly. “I'm against anything
“Well, you'll get yours! And let me tell you something! I've a good
mind to sue you for libel and shut up your shop.”
Joe rose, and there was a dangerous light in his eyes. His hands
were open at his sides, but they twitched a little.
“Then,” said Joe, “I'll make it worth your while. If you don't want
to be helped out, get out!”
“Very well,” sputtered Marrin, and turned, twirling his cane, and
made an upright exit.
The sad Slate was paralyzed; Billy was joyous.
But Joe strode into the kitchen, where his mother was quietly
reading at the window.
“What is it, Joe?”
“Mother,” he said, “that fellow Marrin was in threatening to sue me
“Could it hurt you?”
“It might. Speaking the truth is always libelous.”
Joe's mother spoke softly.
“Your father lost an arm in the war. You can't expect to fight
without facing danger. And besides,” she laughed easily, “you can
always get a job as a printer, Joe.”
Joe paced up and down moodily, his hands clasped behind his back.
“If it was only myself—” he murmured, greatly troubled. “I wonder
where Sally is this morning.”
“Didn't she come, Joe?”
“No. Not a word from her. I'd hate her to be sick.”
“Hadn't you better send over and see?”
“I'll wait a bit yet. And yet—” he sighed, “I just need Sally now.”
His mother glanced at him keenly.
“Sally's a wonder,” she murmured.
“She is—” He spoke a little irritably. “Why couldn't she have come
There were quick steps, and Billy rushed in, his eyes large, his
“Mr. Joe!” he said breathlessly.
“There's a lot of men out on the street, and they're beginning to
Nathan Slate came in, a scarecrow of fear, teeth chattering.
“Oh, Mr. Joe,” he wailed. “Oh, Mr. Joe!”
Joe's mother rose, and spoke under her breath.
“Mr. Slate, sit down at once!”
Slate collapsed on a chair, trembling.
Joe felt as if a fork of lightning had transfixed him—a sharp white
fire darting from head and feet and arms to his heart, and whirling
there in a spinning ball. He spoke quietly:
“I'll go and see.”
It seemed long before he got to the front window. Looking out
through the snow-dim pane, he saw the street filled with gesticulating
men. He saw some of the faces of the forty-four, but mingled with these
were other faces—the faces of toughs and thugs, ominous, brutal,
menacing. In a flash he realized that he had been making enemies in the
district as well as friends, and it struck him that these were the
criminal element in the political gang, hangers-on, floaters, the
saloon contingent, who were maddened by his attempt to lead the people
away from the rotten bosses. As if by magic they had emerged from the
underworld, as they always do in times of trouble, and he knew that the
excited East Side group was now flavored with mob-anarchy—that he had
to deal, not with men whose worst weapon was words, but with brutes who
lusted for broken heads. Some of the faces he knew—he had seen them
hanging about saloons. And he saw, too, in that swift scrutiny, that
many of the men had weapons; some had seized crowbars and sledges from
a near-by street tool-chest which was being used by laborers; others
had sticks; some had stones. An ominous sound came from the mob,
something winged with doom and death, like the rattling of a venomous
snake, with head raised to strike, ready fangs and glittering eyes. He
could catch in that paralyzing hum words tossed here and there: “Smash
his presses! Clean him out! Lynch him, lynch him! Kill—kill—kill!—”
A human beast had coiled at his door, myriad-headed, insane,
bloodthirsty, all-powerful—the mob, that terror of civilization, that
sudden reversion in mass to a state of savagery. It boded ill for Joe
Blaine. He had a bitter, cynical thought:
“So this is what comes of spreading the truth—of really trying to
help—of living out an ideal!”
A snowball hit the window before him, a soft crash and spread of
drip, and there rose from the mob a fiendish yell that seemed itself a
power, making the heart pound, dizzying the brain.
Joe turned. His mother was standing close to him, white as paper,
but her eyes flashing. She had not dared speak to Joe, knowing that
this fight was his and that he had passed out of her hands.
He spoke in a low, pulsing voice.
“Mother, I want you to stay in back!”
She looked at him, as if drinking her fill of his face.
“You're right, Joe,” she whispered, and turned and went out.
Billy was standing at the stove, a frightened boy, but he gripped
the poker in his hand.
“Billy,” said Joe, quietly, “run down and tell Rann to keep 'em out
of the press-room.”
Billy edged to the door, opened it, and fled.
Joe was quite alone. He sat down at his desk and took up the
“Hello, Central!” his voice was monotonous in its lowness and
“Give me police headquarters—quick!”
Central seemed startled.
“Police—? Yes, right away! Hold on!—Here they are!”
“Hello! Police headquarters!” came a man's voice.
“This is Joe Blaine.” Joe gave his address. “There's a riot in front
of the house—a big mob. Send over a patrol wagon on the jump!”
At that moment there was a wild crash of glass, and a heavy stone
sang through the air and knocked out the stove-pipe—pipe and stone
falling to the floor with a rumble and rattle—and from the mob rose
So Joe was able to add:
“They've just smashed my window with a stone. You'd better come damn
“Right off!” snapped Headquarters.
Joe put down the telephone, and stepped quietly over the room and
out into the hall. Even at that moment the hall door burst wide and a
frenzied push and squabble of men poured forth upon him. In that brief
glimpse, in the dim storm-light, Joe saw faces that were anything but
human—wild animals, eyes blood-shot, mouths wide, and many fists in
the air above their heads. There was no mercy, no thought, nothing
civilized—but somehow the demon-deeps of human nature, crusted over
with the veneer of gentler things, had broken through. Worse than
anything was the crazy hum, rising and rising, the hoarse notes, the
fierce discord, that beat upon his brain as if to drown him under.
Joe tried to shout:
“Keep back! I'll shoot! Keep back!”
But at once the rough bodies, the terrible faces were upon him,
surrounding him, pushing him. He seized a little man who was jumping
for his throat—seized and shook the little beast.
“Get back!” he cried.
Fists pushed into his eyes, blows began to rain upon his body and
his head. He ducked. He felt himself propelled backward by an
irresistible force. He felt his feet giving way. Warm and reeking
breath blew up his nostrils. He heard confused cries of: “Kill him!
That's him! We've got him!” Back and back he went, the torn center of a
storm, and then something warm and sweet gushed over his eyes, earth
opened under him and he sank, sank through soft gulfs, deeper and
deeper, far from the troublous noise of life, far, far—into an
The flood poured on, gushing down the stair-way, at the foot of
which Rann and his two men stood, all armed with wrenches and tools.
“I'll break the head of any one who comes!”
The men in advance tried to break away, well content to leave their
heads whole, but those in the rear pushed them on. Whack! whack! went
the wrench—the leader fell. But then with fierce screams the mob broke
loose, the three men were swept into the vortex of a fighting
whirlpool. Some one opened the basement gate from the inside and a new
stream poured in. The press-room filled—crowbars got to work—while
men danced and wildly laughed and exulted in their vandal work. Then
suddenly arose the cry of, “Police!” Tools dropped; the mob turned like
a stampede of cattle, crushed for the doors, cried out, caught in a
trap, and ran into the arms of blue-coated officers....
When Joe next opened his eyes and looked out with some surprise on
the same world that he was used to, he found himself stretched in his
bed and a low gas-flame eyeing him from above. He put out a hand,
because he felt queer about the head, and touched bandages. Then some
one spoke in his ear.
“You want to keep quiet, Mr. Blaine.”
He looked. A doctor was sitting beside him.
“Where's mother?” he asked.
“Here I am, Joe.” Her voice was sweet in his ears.
She was sitting on the bed at his feet.
She took the seat beside him and folded his free hand with both of
“Mother—I want to know what's the matter with me—every bit of it.”
“Well, Joe, you've a broken arm and a banged-up head, but you'll be
“And you—are you all right?”
“They didn't go in the kitchen?”
“And the press?”
“And the office?”
“How about Rann and the men?”
“The police came?”
“Cleaned them out.”
There was a pause; then Joe and his mother looked at each other with
queer expressions on their faces, and suddenly their mellow laughter
filled the room.
“Isn't it great, mother? That's what we get!”
“Well, Joe,” said his mother, “what do you expect?”
Suddenly then another stood before him—bowed, remorseful, humble.
It was Sally Heffer, the tears trickling down her face.
She knelt at the bedside and buried her face in the cover.
“It's my fault!” she cried. “It's my fault!”
“Yours, Sally?” cried Joe, quite forgetting the “Miss.” “How so?”
“I—I went to Marrin's and got the girls out.”
“Got the girls out?” Joe exclaimed. “Where are they?”
“On the street.”
“Bring them into the ruins,” said Joe, “and organize them. I'm going
to make a business of this thing.”
Sally looked up aghast.
“But I—I ought to be shot down. It's I that should have been hurt.”
Joe smiled on her.
“Sally! Sally! what an impetuous girl you are! What would I do
VII. OF THE THIRTY THOUSAND
One wonderful January twilight, when the clear, cold air seemed to
tremble with lusty health, Myra sat alone in the Ramble, before the
little frozen pond. And she thought:
“This is the bench we sat on; and it was here, that morning, that we
quarreled; and this is the little pond; and those the trees—but how
changed! how changed!”
A world-city practises magic. Any one who for years has slept in her
walls and worn the pave of her streets and mingled with her crowds and
her lighted nights, is changed by her subtle enchantment into a child
of the city. He is never free thereafter. The metropolis may send him
forth like a carrier-pigeon, and he may think he is well rid of his
mistress, but the homing instinct inevitably draws him back. “All other
pleasures,” as Emerson said of love, “are not worth its pains.” Myra
thought that she hated New York—the great nervous sea of life, whose
noise and stress and tragedy had shattered her health. She had longed
for the peace of nature; she had gone forth to the meadows and the
mountains, and for a long time been content with the sounds of the
barnyard and the farm, the wind and the brook; she had sunk, as it
were, into the arms of the earth and rested on that great nourishing
breast. She loved pure air, far horizons, quiet, and the mysterious
changes of the landscape. She thought she was done with the city
forever. For had she not found that the Vision of White Towers seen
that first evening was hollow and bitter at the heart, that beneath the
beauty was dust and horror, routine and disease?
But one snow-bound morning as she gazed out from the quiet house and
saw the limitless white of the world, the fences buried, the trees
loaded, the earth lost under the gray heavens, suddenly she was filled
with a passionate desire for life. She was amazed at the
restlessness in her heart. But she could not shake it off. Her desire
was very definite—to walk down Eightieth Street, to hear and see the
trolleys bounding down the little hill to Seventy-ninth Street, to shop
on Third Avenue, to go threading her way through the swarm of school
children outside the school gates. And then subtly she felt the elixir
of a Broadway night, the golden witchery of the lights, the
laughter-smitten people, the crowded cars and motors, the shining
shops, the warmth of the crowd. A thousand memories of streets and
rooms, of people and of things, flooded her mind. The country seemed
barren and cold and lonely. She was grievously homesick. It was as if
the city cried: “It is winter; the world is dark and dead. Come, my
children, gather together; gather here in my arms, you millions; laugh
and converse together, toil together, light fires, turn on lights, warm
your hands and souls at my flaming hearth. We will forget the ice and
the twilight! Come, winter is the time for human beings!”
And so Myra awoke to the fact that she was indeed a child of the
city—that the magic was in her blood and the enchantment in her heart.
It was useless to recall the mean toil, the narrow life, the unhealthy
days. These, dropped in the great illusion of crowded New York, were
transformed into a worthy struggle, a part of the city's reality. She
suddenly felt as if she would go crazy if she stayed in the
country—its stillness stifled her, its emptiness made her ache.
But there was a deeper call than the call of the city. She wanted to
be with Joe. Her letters to him had been for his sake, not hers. She
had tried to save him from herself, to shut him out and set him free,
to cure him of his love. Desperately she did this, knowing that the
future held nothing for them together. And for a time it had been a
beautiful thing to do, until finally she was compelled to believe that
he really was cured. His notes were more and more perfunctory, until,
at last, they ceased altogether. Then, when she knew she had lost him,
it seemed to her that she had condemned herself to a barren, fruitless
life; that the best had been lived, and it only remained now to die.
She had given up her “whole existence,” cast out that by which she
truly lived. There were moments of inexpressible loneliness, when,
reading in the orchard, or brooding beside some rippling brook, she
glanced southward and sent her silent cry over the horizon. Somewhere
down there he was swallowed in the vastness of life; she remembered the
lines of his face, his dark melancholy eyes, his big human, humorous
lips, his tall, awkward strength; she felt still those kisses on her
lips; felt his arms about her; the warmth of his hand; the whisper of
his words; and the wind in the oaks.
That afternoon at the riverside he had cast his future at her feet.
She had been offered that which runs deeper than hunger or dream or
toil, the elemental, the mystic, the very glory of a woman's life. She
had been offered a life, too, of comradeship and great issues. And now,
when these gifts were withdrawn, she knew she would nevermore have rest
or joy in this world. Is not life the adventure of a man and a woman
going forth together, toiling, and talking, and laughing, and creating
on the road to death? Is not earth the mating-place for souls? Out of
nature we rise and seek out each other and mate and make of life a
glory and a mystery. This is the secret of youth, and the magic of all
music and of all sorrow and of all toil. Or, so it seemed to Myra.
There is no longing in the world so tragic or terrible as that of
men and women for each other. And so Myra had her homesickness for the
city transfused and sharpened by her overmastering love. She fought
with herself bitterly; she resolved to wait for one more mail. Nothing
came in that mail.
Then she evaded the issue. There were practical reasons for her
return. Her health was quite sound again, she had been idle long
enough; it was time to get back to work. What if she did return to the
city? Surely it was not necessary to seek out Joe. It would be enough
to be near him. He need not be troubled. So vast is the city that he
would not know of her presence. What harm, then, in easing her heart,
in getting back into the warmth and stir of life?
With a young girl's joy she packed her trunk and took the train for
New York, and at sunset, as she rode in the ferry over the North River,
she stood bravely out on deck, faced the bitter and salt wind, and saw,
above the flush of the waters, that breathless skyline which, like the
prow of some giant ship, seemed making out to sea. Lights twinkled in
windows, signal-lamps gleamed red and green on the piers, chimneys
smoked, and as the ferry nosed its way among the busy craft of the
river, Myra exulted. She was coming back! This again was New York,
real, right there, unbudged, her thousand lights like voices calling
her home. The ferry landed; she hurried out and took a surface car And
how good the crowd seemed, how warm the noise and the lights, what
gladness was in the evening ebb-tide of people, how splendid the
avenues shone with their sparkle and their shops and their traffic! She
felt again the good hard pave under her feet. She met again a hundred
familiar scenes. The vast flood of life seemed to engulf her, suck her
up as if to say: “Well, you're here again! Come, there is room! Another
All about her was rich life, endless sights, confusion and variety.
The closing darkness was pierced with lights, windows glowed, people
were hurrying home. It was all as she had left it. And she felt then
that the city was but Joe multiplied, and that Joe was the city. Both
were cosmopolitan, democratic, tragic, light-hearted, many-faceted.
Both were careless and big and easy and roomy. Both had a great freedom
about them. And what a freedom the city had!—nothing snowbound here,
but invitation, shops open, cars gliding, the millions transported back
and forth, everything open and inviting.
She was glad for her neat back room—for gas-lights and running
water—for the comfort and ease of life. She was glad even to sit in
the crowded dining-room, and that night she was glad to lie abed and
hear the city's heart pounding about her—that old noise of whistles on
the river, that old thunder of the elevated train.
But she found that nearness to Joe made it impossible to keep away
from him. Just as of old she had found excuses for going up to the
trembling printery, so now she felt that somehow she must seek him out.
She kept wondering what he was doing at that particular moment. Was he
toiling or idling? Was he with his mother? Did he still wear the same
clothes, the same half-worn necktie, the same old lovable gray hat?
What would he say, how would he look, if she suddenly confronted him?
Myra had to laugh softly to herself. She saw the wonder in his face,
the open mouth, the flashing eyes. Or, would he be embarrassed? Was
there some other woman—one who accorded with his ideals—one who could
share his life-work? Of course she hoped that there was. She hoped he
had found some one worthy of him. But the thought gave her intense
misery. Why had he thrown his life away and gone down into that foolish
and shoddy neighborhood? Surely when she saw him she would be
disappointed by the changes in him. He would be more than ever a
fanatic—more than ever an unreasonable radical. He might even be
vulgarized by his environment—might have taken its color, been leveled
down by its squalor.
She must forget the new Joe and cleave to the old Joe. Next
afternoon, walking out, almost involuntarily, she turned west and
entered the Park. The trees were naked, a lacy tracery of boughs
against the deep-blue sky. She followed the curve, she crossed the
roadway, she climbed the hill to the Ramble. She began to tingle with
the keen, crisp air, and with the sense of adventure. It was almost as
if she were going to meet Joe—as if they had arranged a secret
meeting. She took the winding paths, she passed the little pool. There
was the bench! But empty.
Then she sat down on that bench, and looked out at the naked
wilderness of trees, at the ice in the pond, at the sodden brown, dead
grasses. The place was wildly forlorn and bare. When they had last been
here the air had been tinged with the haunting autumn, the leaves had
been falling, the pool had been deep with the heavens. And again she
“This is the bench we sat on; and it was here, that morning, that we
quarreled; this is the little pond, and those the trees—but how
changed! how changed!”
Then as she sat there she beheld the miracle of color. Behind her,
between the black tree trunks, the setting sun was a liquid red
splendor, daubing some low clouds with rosiness, and all about her, in
the turn between day and night, the world, which before was a blend in
the strong light, now divided into a myriad sharp tints. The air held a
tinge of purple, the distance a smoky violet, the brown of the grasses
was a strong brown, the black of the trunks intensely black. Out among
distant trees she saw a woman and child walking, and the child's
scarlet cloak seemed a living thing as it swayed and moved. How sharp
and distinct were the facts of earth! how miraculously tinted! what
tones of blue and red, of purple and black! It was the sunset singing
its hymn of color, and it made her feel keenly the mystery and beauty
of life—the great moments of solution and peace—the strange human
life that inhabits for a brief space this temple of a million glories.
But something was missing, there was a great lack, a wide emptiness.
She resolved then to see Joe.
It was not, however, until the next afternoon that she took the
elevated train to Ninth Street and then the crosstown car over the
city. She alighted in the shabby street; she walked up to the entrance;
she saw over the French windows a big canvas sign, “Strike
Headquarters.” Within, she thought she saw a mass of people. This made
her hesitate. She had expected to find him alone. And somehow, too, the
place was even shabbier, even meaner than she had expected. And so she
stood a moment—a slender, little woman, her hands in a muff, a fur
scarf bound about her throat, her gray eyes liquid and luminous, a rosy
tint in her cheeks, her lips parted and releasing a thin steam in the
bitter winter air. Overhead the sky was darkening with cloud-masses, a
shriveling wind dragged the dirty street, and the world was desolate
and gray. The blood was pulsing in Myra's temples, her heart leaped,
her breath panted. And as she hesitated a girl passed her, a girl about
whose breast was bound a placard whereon were the words:
JOIN THE STRIKE
OF THE THIRTY THOUSAND
What strike? What did it mean? Was Joe in a strike? She thought he
had been editing a paper. She had better not intrude. She turned, as if
to fly, and yet hesitated. Her feet refused to go; her heart was
rebellious. Only a wall divided him from her. Why should she not see
him? Why not a moment's conversation? Then she would go and leave him
to his work.
Another girl passed her and paused—a girl also placarded, a girl
with a strange beauty, somewhat tall, with form well rounded, with pale
face full of the fascination of burning eagerness. This girl's eyes
were a clear blue, her lips set tight, and her light-brown hair blew
beautifully about her cheeks. She was, however, but thinly clothed, and
her frail little coat was short and threadbare.
She spoke to Myra—a rich, sympathetic voice.
“Are you looking for Mr. Blaine?”
“Yes—” said Myra, almost gasping. “Is he in?”
“He's always in!” The girl smiled.
“There's nothing the matter?”
“With him? No! But come, come out of the cold!”
There was nothing to do but follow. The girl opened a door and they
entered the office. It was crowded with girls and women and men. Long
benches were about the wall, camp-stools filled the floor. Many were
seated; on two of the benches worn-out men were fast asleep, and
between the seats groups of girls were talking excitedly. Several
lights burned in the darkening room, and Myra saw swiftly the strange
types—there were Jewish girls, Italian girls, Americans, in all sorts
of garbs, some very flashy with their “rat"-filled hair, their
pompadours, their well-cut clothes, others almost in rags; some tall,
some short, some rosy-cheeked, many frail and weak and white. At a
table in the rear Giotto was receiving money from Italians and handing
out union cards. He looked as if he hadn't slept for nights.
Myra was confused. She felt strangely “out” of all this; strangely,
as if she were intruding. The smell of the place offended her,
especially as it was mixed with cheap perfumes; and the coarse slangy
speech that flashed about jarred on her ear. But at the same time she
was suffocating with suspense.
“Where is he?” she murmured—they were standing right within the
“Over there!” the girl pointed.
But all Myra saw was a black semicircle of girls leaning over some
one invisible near the window.
“He's at his desk, and he's talking with a committee. You'd better
wait till he's finished!”
This news choked Myra. Wait? Wait here? Be shut out like this? She
was as petulant as a child; she felt like shedding tears.
But the girl at her side seemed to be playing the part of hostess,
and she had to speak.
“What strike is this?”
The girl was amazed.
“What strike! Don't you know?”
“No—I don't. I've been out of the city.”
“It's the shirtwaist-makers' strike.”
“Oh! I see!” said Myra, mechanically.
“It's the biggest woman's strike that ever was. Thirty thousand
out—Italians, Jews, and Americans.”
“Yes?” Myra was not listening.
Suddenly then the door was flung open and a well-dressed girl rushed
in, crying shrilly:
“Say, girls, what do you think?”
A group gathered about her.
“What's up? What's the news? Don't stand there all day!”
The girl spoke with exultant indignation.
“I've been arrested!”
“And I didn't do nothing, either—I was good. What do you think of
this? The judge fined me ten dollars. Well, let me tell you, I'm going
to get something for those ten dollars! I'm going to
“You bet! Ain't it a shame?”
And the group swallowed her up.
Myra wondered why the girl had been arrested, and was surprised at
her lack of shame and humiliation.
But she had not much time for thought. The door opened again, and
Sally Heffer entered, sparkling, neat, eyes clear.
At once cries arose:
“Here's Sal! Hello, Sally Heffer! Where have you been?” Girls
crowded about. “What's the news? Where did you come from?”
Where had Myra heard that name before?
Sally spoke with delicious fastidiousness.
“I've been to Vassar.”
“Yes, Vassar College—raised fifty dollars!”
“Sally's it, all right! Say, Sal, how did they treat you? Stuck up?”
“Not a bit,” said Sally. “They were ever so good to me. They're
lovely girls—kind, sweet, sympathetic. They wanted to help and they
were very respectful, but”—she threw up her hands—“oh, they're
There was a shout of laughter. Myra was shocked. A slum girl to
speak like this of Vassar students? She noticed then, with a queer
pang, that Sally made for the window group, who at once made a place
for her. Sally had easy access to Joe.
The girl at her side was speaking again.
“You've no idea what this strike means. There's some rich women
interested in it—they work right with us, hold mass-meetings, march in
the streets—they're wonderful. And some of the big labor-leaders and
even some of the big lawyers are helping. There's one big lawyer been
giving all his time. You see, we're having trouble with the police.”
“Yes, I see,” said Myra, though she didn't see at all, and neither
did she care. It seemed to her that she could not wait another instant.
She must either go, or step over to his desk.
“Is he still so busy?” she asked.
“Yes, he is,” said the girl. “Do you know him personally?”
Myra laughed softly.
“Then you heard how he was hurt?”
“Hurt!” gasped Myra. Her heart seemed to grow small, and it
was pierced by a sharp needle of pain.
“Yes, there was a riot here—the men came in and smashed
“And Mr. Blaine? Tell me!” The words came in a blurt.
“Had his arm broken and his head was all bloody.”
Myra felt dizzy, faint.
“Oh, he's all right now.”
“When did this happen?”
“About six weeks ago!”
Six weeks! That was shortly after the last letter came. Myra was
suffering agony, and her face went very pale.
“How did it happen?” she breathed.
“Oh, he called some strikers traitors, and they came down and broke
in. It's lucky he wasn't killed.”
He had suffered, he had been in peril of his life, while she was
resting in the peace of the country. So this was a strike, and in this
Joe was concerned. She looked about the busy room; she noticed anew the
sleeping men and the toiling Giotto; and suddenly she was interested.
She was wrenched, as it were, from her world into his. She felt in the
heart of a great tragedy of life. And all the time she kept saying over
and over again:
“His arm was broken! his head bloody! and I wasn't here! I wasn't at
And she had thought in her country isolation that life in the city
wasn't real. What a moment that must have been when Joe faced the
rioters—when they rushed upon him—when he might have been killed! And
instead of deterring him from his work, here he was in the thick of it,
braving, possibly, unspeakable dangers. Then, glancing about, it seemed
to her that these girls and men were a part of his drama; he gave them
a new reality. This was life, pulsing, immediate, tragic. She must go
to him—she mustn't delay longer.
She took a few steps forward, and at almost the same moment the
girls about Joe left him, scattering about the room. Then she saw him.
And what a spectacle! He was in his shirt-sleeves, his hair was more
tousled than ever, and his face was gray—the most tragic face she had
ever seen—gray, sunken, melancholy, worn, as if he bore the burden of
the world. But in one hand he held a pen, and in the other—a ham
sandwich. It was a big sandwich, and every few moments he took a big
bite, as he scratched on. Myra's heart was wrung with love and pity,
with remorse and fondness, and mainly with the tragi-comedy of his face
and the sandwich.
She stood over him a moment, breathless, panting, her throat full of
blood, it seemed. Then she stooped a little and whispered:
He wheeled round; he looked up; his gray face seemed to grow grayer;
his lips parted—he was more than amazed. He was torn away, as it were,
from all business of life.
“Why,” he said under his breath, “it's you, Myra!”
“Yes”—tears stood in her eyes—“it's I.”
He surveyed her up and down, and then their eyes met. He ran his
hand through his hair.
“You—you—” he murmured. “And how well you look, how strong, how
fresh! Sit down! sit down!”
She took the seat, trembling. She leaned forward.
“But you—you are killing yourself, Joe.”
He smiled sadly.
“It's serious business, Myra.”
She gazed at him, and spoke hard.
“Is there no end to it? Aren't you going to rest, ever?”
“End? No end now. The strike must be won.”
He was trying to pull himself together. He gave a short laugh; he
“So you're back from the country.”
“Yes, I'm back.”
“You're cured, then?”
“Yes,” she smiled, “cured of many things. I like the city better
than I thought!”
He gave her a sharp look.
“So!” Then his voice came with utter weariness: “Well, the city's a
queer place, Myra. Things happen here.”
Somehow she felt that he was standing her off. Something had crept
in between them, some barrier, some wall. He had already emerged from
the shock of the meeting. What if there were things in his life far
more important than this meeting? Myra tried to be brave.
“I just wanted to see you—see the place—see how things were
Joe laughed softly.
“Things are getting on. Circulation's up to fifteen
thousand—due to the strike.”
“We got out a strike edition—and the girls peddled it around town,
and lots subscribed. It's given the paper a big boost.”
“I'm glad to hear it,” Myra found herself saying.
“You glad?” If only his voice hadn't been so weary! “That's
“It is strange!” she said, her eyes suffused again. His gray,
tragic face seemed to be working on the very strings of her heart. She
longed so to help him, to heal him, to breathe joy and strength into
“Joe!” she said.
He looked at her again.
“Oh—I—” She paused.
“Isn't there some way I can help?”
A strange expression came to his face, of surprise, of wonder.
“Mr. Blaine! Mr. Blaine!” Some one across the room was calling.
“There's an employer here to see you!”
Joe leaped up, took Myra's hand, and spoke hastily.
“Wait and meet my mother. And come again—sometime. Sometime when
I'm not so rushed!”
And he was gone—gone out of the room.
Myra arose, still warm with the touch of his hand—for his hand was
almost fever-warm. All that she knew was that he had suffered and was
suffering, and that she must help. She was burning now with an
eagerness to learn about the strike, to understand what it was that so
depressed and enslaved him, what it was that was slowly killing him.
Her old theories met the warm clasp of life and vanished. She forgot
her viewpoint and her delicacy. Life was too big for her shallow
philosophy. It seized upon her now and absorbed her.
She strode back to the young girl, who she learned later was named
Rhona Hemlitz, and who was but seventeen years old.
She said: “Tell me about the strike! Can't we sit down together and
talk? Have you time?”
“I have a little time,” said Rhona, eagerly. “We can sit here!”
So they sat side by side and Rhona told her. Rhona's whole family
was engaged in sweat-work. They lived in a miserable tenement over in
Hester Street, where her mother had been toiling from dawn until
midnight with the needle, with her tiny brother helping to sew on
buttons, “finishing” daily a dozen pairs of pants, and making—
Myra was amazed.
“Thirty cents—dawn till midnight! Impossible!”
And then her father—who worked all day in a sweatshop.
“And you—what did you do?” asked Myra.
Rhona told her. She had worked in Zandler's shirtwaist
factory—bending over a power-machine, whose ten needles made
forty-four hundred stitches a minute. So fast they flew that a break in
needle or thread ruined a shirtwaist; hence, never did she allow her
eyes to wander, never during a day of ten to fourteen hours, while,
continuously, the needles danced up and down like flashes of steel or
lightning. At times it seemed as if the machine were running away from
her and she had to strain her body to keep it back. And so, when she
reeled home late at night, her smarting eyes saw sharp showers of
needles in the air every time she winked, and her back ached
“I never dreamt,” said Myra, “that people had to work like that!”
“Oh, that's not all!” said Rhona, and went on. Her wages were rarely
over five dollars a week, and for months, during slack season, she was
out of work—came daily to the factory, and had to sit on a bench and
wait, often fruitlessly. And then the sub-contracting system,
whereunder the boss divided the work among lesser bosses who each ran a
gang of toilers, speeding them up mercilessly, “sweating” them! And so
the young girls, sixteen to twenty-five years old, were sapped of
health and joy and womanhood, and, “as Mr. Joe wrote, the future is
robbed of wives and mothers!”
Myra was amazed. She had a new glimpse of the woman problem. She saw
now how millions of women were being fed into the machine of industry,
and that thus the home was passing, youth was filched of its glory, and
the race was endangered. This uprising of the women, then, meant more
than she dreamed—meant the attempt to save the race by freeing the
women from this bondage. Had they not a right then to go out in the
open, to strike, to lead marches, to sway meetings, to take their
places with men?
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
“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
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
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.
VIII. THE ARREST
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
“It's good to see you yet, Rhona. I get so cold my bones ready to
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
“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
“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
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
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,
“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
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
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,
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.
“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:
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
X. THE TRIAL
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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
Joe smiled sadly.
“Sent to the workhouse for five days.”
Exclamations of indignation arose. The committee could not believe
“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
“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
“What if you could do something.”
Myra could hardly speak.
“You.” A hand caught hers. “Try. He's simply giving his life to the
There was a silence a little while. The tears were wet upon Myra's
“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
“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.
XI. THE WORKHOUSE
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
“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,
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
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
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.
XII. 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
“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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
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
* * * * *
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
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
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
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
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
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
“Joe! Joe!” her soul cried, “take me now! This is too much for me to
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
JOE BLAINE &HIS MEN.
Joe looked at it, and started.
“It's no dream, Myra,” he sighed. “Times have changed, and we, too,
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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.”
XIII. THE CITY
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
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.
He had gone the way of all reformers, first the explosive arousal,
then the theory, then the test.
He went over the Greenwich Village experience with Myra:
“Why,” he laughed, “I expected to do great things. Whereas, look, I
have done nothing. This strike ends in a little bettering, and a
few people read my paper. It's just a little stir, hardly a dent—a few
atoms set into motion. How slow! how slow! Patience! That's the
word I've learned! It will take worlds of time; it will take a
multitude striving; it will take unnumbered forces—education,
health-work, eugenics, town-planning, the rise of women, philanthropy,
law—a thousand thousand dawning powers. Oh, we are only at the faint
beginnings of things!”
And he thought of the books he had read, and the theories of which
he had been so sure.
“But,” he exclaimed, “was my diagnosis correct? Did I really know
the human muddle? Has any man really mapped out civilization? It's so
huge, complex, varied—so many disorganized forces—who can classify
it—label it? It's bigger than our thought about it. We lay hands on
only a few wisps of it! Life! Life itself—not our interpretation—is
the great outworking force!”
And then again.
“We see certain tendencies and believe they will advance unhindered,
but there may be other tendencies to counteract, change, even defeat
these. No future can be predicted! And yet I was so sure of the
future—so sure of what we are to build—that future which we keep
modifying so persistently the moment it hits To-day.”
In short, he had reached his social manhood—which meant to
him, not dogma, but the willingness to arise every morning ready to
reshape his course, prepared for any adventure, receptive, open-minded,
and all willing to render his very life for what seemed good to do.
Scientific reverence this, the willingness to experiment, to try, to
test, and then, if the test failed, to grope for a new line of outlet,
the readiness to reverse all he believed in in the face of a new and
contradictory fact. He was a new Joe Blaine.
And so the spirit that sprang from those dead girls became a
creative power, a patient, living strength.
And so in the blaze of new morning, in the beginnings of a new life,
Joe and Myra leaned over the rail of the boat, coming back, coming back
to the ramparts and heights of the great World City. They saw full in
the glory of the morning sun those tiers on tiers of towers rising to
their lonely pinnacle. Beneath them harbor craft scurried about in the
bright waters; above them rose the Big Brothers of the city looking out
toward the sea. It seemed some vision builded of no human hands. It
seemed winged and uplifted toward the skies, an immensity of power and
beauty. It seemed to float on measureless waters, a magic metropolis,
setting sail for the Arabian Nights.
Tears came into Joe's eyes. He held Myra's hand fast.
“Are you glad to get back?”
“Yes, glad, Joe.”
“No more peace, no more green earth, Myra.”
“I know it, Joe.”
“Even our honeymoon—that can't be repeated, can it?”
“No,” she said, sadly, “I guess it cannot.”
“And this means work, hardship, danger, injustice—all the troubles
She pressed his hand.
“Yet you're glad, Myra!”
“Tell me why.”
“Because,” she mused, “it's the beginning of our real life
“How so real?”
Myra's eyes were suffused with tears.
“The common life—the life of people—the daily toil—the pangs and
the struggles. I'm hungry for it all!”
He could have kissed her for the words.
“We'll do, Myra,” he cried, “we'll do. Do you know what I see this
“A new city! My old city, but all new.”
“It's you that is new, Joe.”
“And that's why I see the new city—a vision I shall see until some
larger vision replaces it. Shall I tell you about it?”
“It is the city of five million comrades. They toil all day with one
another; they create all of beauty and use that men may need; they
exchange these things with each other; they go home at night to gardens
and simple houses, they find happy women there and sunburnt, laughing
children. Their evenings are given over to the best play—play with
others, play with masses, or play at home. They have time for study,
time for art, yet time for one another. Each loosens in himself and
gives to the world his sublime possibilities. A city of toiling
comrades, of sparkling homes, of wondrous art, and joyous festival.
That is the city I see before me!” He paused. “And to the coming of
that city I dedicate my life.”
“It's too bright, too good for human nature.”
“Not for human nature,” he whispered. “If only we are patient. If
only we are content to add our one stone to its rising walls.”
She pressed his hand again.
“Joe,” she murmured, “what do you think you'll be doing a year from
“I don't know,” he smiled. “Perhaps editing—perhaps working with a
strike—perhaps something else. But whatever it is, it will be some new
adventure—some new adventure!”
So they entered that city hand in hand, the future all before them.
And they found neither that City of the Future nor a City of
Degradation, but a very human city full of very human people.