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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portion Of Labor - Chapter 10
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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 10 Post by :richa Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :694

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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 10

Chapter X

When Ellen woke the next morning she had a curious feeling, as if she were blinded by the glare of many hitherto unsuspected windows opening into the greatness outside the little world, just large enough to contain them, in which she had dwelt all her life with her parents, her aunt, her grandmother, and her doll. She tried to adjust herself to her old point of view with her simple childish recognition of the most primitive facts as a basis for dreams, but she remembered what Mr. Atkins, who coughed so dreadfully, had said the night before; she remembered what the young man with the bulging forehead, who frightened her terribly, had said; she remembered the gloomy look in her father's face, the misery in her aunt Eva's; and she remembered her doll in the closet--and either everything was different or had a different light upon it. In reality Ellen's evening in the sound and sight of that current of rebellion against the odds of life which has taken the poor off their foot hold of understanding since the beginning of the world had aged her. She had lost something out of her childhood. She dreaded to go down-stairs; she had a feeling of shamefacedness struggling within her; she was afraid that her father and mother would look at her sharply, then look again, and ask her what the matter was, and she would not know what to say. When she went down, and backed about for her mother to fasten her little frock as was her wont, she was careful to keep her face turned away; but Fanny caught her up and kissed her in her usual way, and then her aunt Eva sung out to know if she wanted to go on a sleigh-ride, and had she seen the snow; and then her father came in and that look of last night had gone from his face, and Ellen was her old self again until she was alone by herself and remembered.

Fanny and Andrew and Eva had agreed to say nothing before the child about the shutting-up of Lloyd's, and their troubles in consequence. "She heard too much last night," Andrew said; "there's no use in her botherin' her little head with it. I guess that baby won't suffer."

"She's jest the child to fret herself most to pieces thinkin' we were awful poor, and she would starve or somethin'," Fanny said.

"Well, she sha'n't be worried if I can help it, no matter what happens to me," Eva said.

After breakfast that morning Eva went to work on a little dress of Ellen's. When Fanny told her not to spend her time over that, when she had so much sewing of her own to do, Eva replied with a gay, hard laugh, that she guessed she'd wait and finish her weddin'-fix when she was goin' to be married.

"Eva Loud, you ain't goin' to be so silly as to put off your weddin'," Fanny cried out.

"I dunno as I've put it off; I dunno as I want to get married, anyhow," Eva said, still laughing. "I dunno, but I'd rather be old maid aunt to Ellen."

"Eva Loud," cried her sister; "do you know what you are doin'?"

"Pretty well, I reckon," said Eva.

"Do you know that if you put off Jim Tenny, and he not likin' it, ten chances to one Aggie Bemis will get hold of him again?"

"Well," said Eva, "let her. I won't have been the one to drag him into misery, anyhow."

"Well, if you can feel that way," Fanny returned, looking at her sister with a sort of mixed admiration and pity.

"I can. I tell you what 'tis, Fanny. When I look at Jim, handsome and head up in the air, and think how he'd look all bowed down, hair turnin' gray, and not carin' whether he's shaved and has on a clean shirt or not, 'cause he's got loaded down with debt, and the grocery-man and the butcher after him, and no work, and me and the children draggin' him down, I can bear anything. If another girl wants to do it, she must, though I'd like to kill her when I think of it. I can't do it, because--I think too much of him."

"He might lose his work after he was married, you know."

"Well, I suppose we'd have to run the risk of that; but I'm goin' to start fair or not at all."

"Well, maybe he'll get work," Fanny said.

"He won't," said Eva. She began to sing "Nancy Lee" over Ellen's dress.

After breakfast Ellen begged a piece of old brown calico of her mother. "Why, of course you can have it, child," said her mother; "but what on earth do you want it for? I was goin' to put it in the rag-bag."

"I want to make my dolly a dress."

"Why, that ain't fit for your dolly's dress. Only think how queer that beautiful doll would look in a dress made of that. Why, you 'ain't thought anything but silk and satin was good enough for her."

"I'll give you a piece of my new blue silk to make your doll a dress," said Eva.

But Ellen persisted. When the doll came out of her closet of vicarious penance she was arrayed like a very scullion among dolls, in the remnant of the dress in which Fanny Brewster had done her house-work all summer.

"There," Ellen told the doll, when her mother did not hear "you look more like the way you ought to, and you ought to be happy, and not ever think you wish you had your silk dress on. Think of all the poor children who never have any silk dresses, or any dresses at all--nothing except their cloth bodies in the coldest weather. You ought to be thankful to have this." For all which good advice and philosophy the little mother of the doll would often look at the discarded beauty of the wardrobe, with tears in her eyes and fondest pity in her heart; but she never flinched. When the young man Nahum Beals came in, as he often did of an evening, and raised his voice in fierce denunciation against the luxury and extravagance of the rich, Ellen would listen and consider that he would undoubtedly approve of what she had done, did he know, and would allow that she had made her small effort towards righting things.

"Only think what Mr. Beals would say if he saw you in your silk dress; why, I don't know but he would throw you out of the window," she told her doll once.

Ellen did not feel any difference in her way of living after her father was out of work. "She ain't goin' to be stented in one single thing; remember that," Andrew told Fanny, with angry emphasis. "That little, delicate thing is goin' to have everything she needs, if I spend every cent I've saved and mortgage the place."

"Oh, you'll get work before it comes to that," Fanny said, consolingly.

"Whether I do or not, it sha'n't make any difference," declared Andrew. "I'm goin' to hire a horse and sleigh and take her sleigh-ridin' this afternoon. It'll be good, and she's been talkin' about a sleigh-ride ever since snow flew."

"She could do without that," Fanny said, doubtfully.

"Well, she ain't goin' to."

So it happened that the very day after Lloyd's had shut down, when every man out of employment felt poorer than he did later when he had grown accustomed to the sensation of no money coming in, Andrew Brewster hired a horse and double sleigh, and took Ellen, her mother, grandmother, and aunt out sleigh-riding. Ellen sat on the back seat of the sleigh, full of that radiant happiness felt by a child whose pleasures have not been repeated often enough for satiety. The sleigh slid over the blue levels of snow followed by long creaks like wakes of sound, when the livery-stable horse shook his head proudly and set his bells in a flurry. Ellen drew a long breath of rapture. These unaccustomed sounds held harmonies of happiness which would echo through her future, for no one can estimate the immortality of some little delight of a child. In all her life, Ellen never forgot that sleigh-ride. It was a very cold day, and the virgin snow did not melt at all; the wind blew a soft, steady pressure from the west, and its wings were evident from the glistening crystals which were lifted and borne along. The trees held their shining boughs against the blue of the sky, and burned and blazed here and there as with lamps of diamonds. The child looked at them, and they lit her soul. Her little face, between the swan's-down puffs of her hood, deepened in color like a rose; her blue eyes shone; she laughed and dimpled silently; she was in too much bliss to speak. The others kept looking at her, then at one another. Fanny nudged her mother-in-law, behind the child's back, and the two women exchanged glances of confidential pride. Andrew and Eva kept glancing around at her, and asking if she were having a good time. Eva was smartly dressed in her best hat, gay with bows and red wings bristling as sharply as the head-dress of an Indian chief in the old pictures. She had a red coat, and a long fur boa wound around her throat; the clear crimson of her cheeks, her great black eyes, and her heavy black braids were so striking that people whom they met looked long at her. Eva talked fast to Andrew, and laughed often and loudly.

Whenever that strident laugh of hers rang out, Mrs. Zelotes Brewster, on the seat behind, moved her be-shawled shoulders with a shivering hunch of disgust. "Can't you tell that girl not to laugh so loud when we're out ridin'," she said to her son that evening; "I saw folks lookin'."

"Oh, never mind, mother," Andrew said; "the poor girl's got a good deal on her mind."

"I suppose you mean that Tinny feller," said Mrs. Zelotes, alluding to something which had happened that afternoon in the course of the sleigh-ride.

The sleighing that day was excellent, for there had been an ice coating on the road before, and the last not very heavy snowfall had been just enough. The Brewsters passed and met many others: young men out with their sweethearts, whole families drawn by the sober old horse as old as the grown-up children; rakish young men driving stable teams, leaning forward with long circles of whip over the horses' backs, leaving the scent of cigars behind them; and often, too, two young ladies in dainty turnouts; and sometimes two girls or four girls from Lloyd's, who had clubbed together and hired a sleigh, taking reckless advantage of their enforced vacation.

"There's Daisy and Hat Sears, and--and there's Nell White and Eaat Ryoce in the team behind," Eva said.

"I should think they better be savin' their money if Lloyd's has shut up," said Mrs. Zelotes, severely.

"We ain't savin' ours, or Andrew ain't," Eva retorted, with a laugh.

"It's different with us," said Mrs. Zelotes, proudly, "though I shouldn't think it was right for Andrew to hire a team every day."

"Sometimes I think folks might just as well have a little as they're goin' along, for half the time they never seem to get there," Eva said, with another hard laugh at her own wit; and just then she saw something which made her turn deathly white, and catch her breath with a gasp in spite of herself, though that was all. She held up her head like a queen and turned her handsome white face full towards Jim Tenny and the girl for whom he had jilted her before, as they drove past, and bowed and smiled in a fashion which made the red flame up over the young man's swarthy cheek, and the pretty girl at his side shrink a little and avert her tousled fair head with a nervous giggle.

Mrs. Zelotes Brewster twisted herself about and looked after them. "There's John Tibbets and his wife in that sleigh; he's thrown out of work as well as you, Andrew," said Fanny, hastily. "See that feather in her bonnet blow; it's standin' up straight." But Fanny's manoeuvre to turn the attention of her mother-in-law was of no avail, for nothing short of sudden death could interpose an effectual barrier between Mrs. Zelotes Brewster's tongue and mind set with the purpose of speech. "Was that the Tinny fellow?" she demanded.

"Yes; I guess so. I didn't notice in particular," Fanny replied, in a low voice. Then she added, pointing to an advancing sleigh. "Good land, there's that Smith girl. They said she wasn't able to ride out. Seems to me she's taken a queer day for it."

"Was that that Tinny fellow?" Mrs. Zelotes asked again. She leaned forward and gave Eva a hard nudge on her red-coated elbow.

"Yes, it was," Eva answered, calmly.

"Who was that girl with him?"

"It was Aggie Bemis."

Mrs. Zelotes gave a sniff, then she settled back, studying Eva's back with a sort of reflective curiosity. Presently she fumbled under the sleigh cushion for an extra shawl which she had brought, and handed it up to Eva. "Don't you want this extra shawl?" she asked, while Fanny stared at her wonderingly. Mrs. Zelotes's civilities towards her sister had been few and far between.

"No, thank you," Eva replied, with a start.

"Hadn't you better? It must be pretty cold sitting up there. You must take all the wind. You can wrap this shawl all around your face and ears, and I don't want it."

"No, thank you; I'm plenty warm," Eva replied. She swallowed hard, and set her mouth hard. There was something about this kindness of her old disapprover which touched her deeply, and moved her to weakness more than had the sight of her recreant love with another girl. Fanny saw the little quiver pass over her sister's face, and leaned over and whispered.

"I shouldn't be a mite surprised if that girl asked Jim to take her. It would be just like her."

"It don't make any odds whether she did or not," returned Eva, with no affectation of secrecy. "I don't care which way 'twas." She sat up straighter than ever, and some men in a passing sleigh turned to look after her.

"I s'pose she don't think my shawl looks genteel enough to wear," Mrs. Zelotes said to Fanny; "but she's dreadful silly."

They drove through the main street of the city and passed Cynthia Lennox's house. Ellen looked at it with the guilt of secrecy. She thought she saw the lady's head at a front window, and the front door opened and Cynthia came down the walk with a rich sweep of black draperies, and the soft sable toss of plumes. "There's Cynthia Lennox," said Fanny. "She's a handsome-lookin' woman, ain't she?"

"She's most as old as Andrew, but you'd never suspect it," said Mrs. Zelotes. She had used to have a fancy that Andrew and Cynthia might make a match. She had seen no reason to the contrary, and she always looked at Cynthia with a curious sense of injury and resentment when she thought of what might have been.

As Cynthia Lennox swept down the walk to-day, the old lady said, sharply:

"I don't see why she should walk any prouder than anybody else. I don't know why she should, if she's right-minded. The Lennoxes wasn't any grander than the Brewsters way back, if they have got a little more money of late years. Cynthia's grandfather, old Squire Lennox, used to keep the store, and live in one side of it, and her mother's father, Calvin Goodenough, kept the tavern. I dunno as she has so much to be proud of, though she's handsome enough, and shows her bringin' up, as folks can't that ain't had it." Fanny winced a little; her bringing up was a sore subject with her.

"Well, folks can't help their bringin' up," she retorted, sharply.

"There's Lloyd's team," Andrew said, quickly, partly to avert the impending tongue-clash between his wife and mother.

He reined his horse to one side at a respectful distance, and Norman H. Lloyd, with his wife at his side, swept by in his fine sleigh, streaming on the wind with black fur tails, his pair of bays stepping high to the music of their arches of bells. The Brewsters eyed Norman Lloyd's Russian coat with the wide sable collar turned up around his proud, clear-cut face, the fur-gauntleted hands which held the lines and the whip, for Mr. Lloyd preferred to drive his own blooded pair, both from a love of horseflesh and a greater confidence in his own guidance than in that of other people. Mr. Lloyd was no coward, but he would have confided to no man his sensations had he sat behind those furnaces of fiery motion with other hands than his own upon the lines.

"I should think Mis' Lloyd would be afraid to ride with such horses," said Mrs. Zelotes, as they leaped aside in passing; then she bowed and smiled with eager pleasure, and yet with perfect self-respect. She felt herself every whit as good as Mrs. Norman Lloyd, and her handsome Paisley shawl and velvet bonnet as genteel as the other woman's sealskins and floating plumes. Mrs. Lloyd loomed up like a vast figure of richness enveloped in her bulky winter wraps; her face was superb with health and enjoyment and good-humor. Her cheeks were a deep crimson in the cold wind; she smiled radiantly all the time as if at life itself. She had no thought of fear behind those prancing bays which seemed so frightful to Mrs. Zelotes, used to the steadiest stable team a few times during the year, and driven with a wary eye to railroad crossings and a sense of one's mortality in the midst of life strong upon her. Mrs. Norman Lloyd had never any doubt when her husband held the lines. She would have smiled behind ostriches and zebras. To her mind Norman Lloyd was, as it were, impregnable to all combinations of alien strength or circumstances. When she bowed on passing the Brewsters, she did not move her fixed smile until she caught sight of Ellen. Then emotion broke through the even radiance of her face. She moved her head with a flurry of nods; she waved her hand; she even kissed it to her.

"Bow to Mis' Lloyd, Ellen," said her grandmother; and Ellen ducked her head solemnly. She remembered what she had heard the night before, and the sleigh swept by, Mrs. Lloyd's rosy face smiling back over the black fringe of dancing tails. Eva had shot a swift glance of utmost rancor at the Lloyds, then sat stiff and upright until they passed.

"I wouldn't ask Ellen to bow to that woman," said she, fiercely, between her teeth. "I hate the whole tribe."

No one heard her except Andrew, and he shook the lines over the steady stable horse, and said, "G'lang!" hoarsely.

Mrs. Norman Lloyd, in the other sleigh, had turned to her husband with somewhat timid and deprecating enthusiasm. "Ain't she a sweet little girl?" said she.

"What little girl?" Lloyd asked, abstractedly. He had not looked at the Brewsters at all.

"That little Ellen Brewster who ran away and was gone most three days a little while ago. She was in that sleigh we just passed. She is just the sweetest child I ever laid eyes on," and Norman Lloyd smiled vaguely and coldly, and cast a glance over his sable-clad shoulders to see how far behind the team whose approaching bells he heard might be.

"I suppose her father and aunt are out of work on account of the closing of the factory," remarked Mrs. Lloyd, and a shadow of reflection came over her radiant face.

"Yes, I believe they worked there," Lloyd replied, shaking loose the reins and speeding the horses, that he might not be overtaken. In a few minutes they reached the factory neighborhood. There were three factories: two of them on opposite sides of the road, humming with labor, and puffing with jets of steam at different points; Lloyd's, beyond, was as large as both those standing hushed with windows blank in the afternoon sunshine.

"I suppose the poor men feel pretty badly at being thrown out of work," Mrs. Lloyd said, looking up at the windows as she slipped past in her nest of furs.

"They feel so badly that I have seen a round dozen since we started out taking advantage of their liberty to have a sleigh-ride with livery teams at a good round price," Lloyd replied, with languid emphasis. He never spoke with any force of argument to his wife, nor indeed to any one else, in justification of his actions. His reasons for action were in most cases self-evolved and entirely self-regulated. He had said not a word to any one, not even to his foreman, of his purpose to close the factory until it was quite fixed; he had asked no advice, explained to no one the course of reasoning which led to his doing so. Rowe was a city of strikes, but there had never been a strike at Lloyd's because he had abandoned the situation in every case before the clouds of rebellion were near enough for the storm to break. When Briggs and McGuire, the rival manufacturers at his right and left, had resorted to cut prices when business was dull, as a refuge from closing up, Lloyd closed with no attempt at compromise.

"I suppose they need a little recreation," Mrs. Lloyd observed, thinking of the little girl's face peeping out between her mother and grandmother in the sleigh they had just passed.

"Their little recreation is on about the same scale for them as my hiring a special railroad train every day in the week to go to Boston would be for me," returned Lloyd, setting his handsome face ahead at the track.

"It does seem dreadful foolish," said his wife, "when they are out of work, and maybe won't earn any more money to support their families all winter--" Mrs. Lloyd hesitated a minute. "I wonder," said she, "if they feel sort of desperate, and think they won't have enough for their families, anyway--that is, enough to feed them, and they might as well get a little good time out of it to remember by-and-by when there ain't enough bread-and-butter. I dunno but we might do something like that, if we were in their places--don't you, Norman?"

"No, I do not," replied Lloyd; "and that is the reason why you and I are not in their places."

Mrs. Lloyd put her sealskin muff before her face as they turned a windy corner, and reflected that her husband was much wiser than she, and that the world couldn't be regulated by women's hearts, pleasant as it would be for the world and the women, since the final outcome would doubtless be destruction.

Mrs. Norman Lloyd was an eminent survival of the purest and oldest-fashioned femininity, a very woman of St. Paul, except that she did not keep silence in the sanctuary.

Just after they had turned the corner they passed an outlying grocery store much frequented as a lounging-place by idle men. There was a row of them on the wooden platform (backed against the wall), cold as it was, watching the sleighs pass, and two or three knots gathered together for the purposes of confabulation. Nearly all of them were employes of Lloyd's, and they had met at that unseasonable hour on that bitter day, drifting together unconsciously as towards a common nucleus of trouble, to talk over the situation.

When these men, huddled up in their shabby great-coats, with caps pulled over shaggy brows and sullenly flashing eyes, saw the Lloyds approaching, the rumble of conversation suddenly ceased. They all stood staring when their employer passed. Only one man, Nahum Beals, looked fairly at Lloyd's face with a denouncing flash of eyes.

To this man Lloyd, recognizing him and some of the others as his employes, bowed. Nahum Beals stood glaring at him in accusing silence, and his head was as immovable as if carved in stone. The other men, with their averted eyes, made a curious, motionless tableau of futile and dumb resistance to power which might have been carved with truth on the face of the rock from the beginning of the earth.

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Chapter XIThe closing of Lloyd's marked, in some inscrutable way, the close of the first period of Ellen Brewster's childhood. Looking back in later years, she always felt her retrospective thought strike a barrier there, beyond which her images of the past were confused. Yet it was difficult to tell why it was so, for after the first the child could, it seemed, have realized no difference in her life. Now and then she heard some of that conversation characterized at once by the confidence of wrong and injustice, and the logical doubt of it, by solid reasoning which, if followed
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Chapter IXAfter Ellen's experience in running away, she dreamed her dreams with a difference. The breath of human passion had stained the pure crystal of her childish imagination; she peopled all her air-castles, and sounds of wailing farewells floated from the White North of her fancy after the procession of the evergreen trees in the west yard, and the cherry-trees on the east had found out that they were not in the Garden of Eden. In those days Ellen grew taller and thinner, and the cherubic roundness of her face lengthened into a sweet wistfulness of wonder and pleading, as of
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