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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 37 Post by :THEALAN Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :622

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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 37

Chapter XXXVII

Ellen actually went to work, with sheets of foolscap and a new bottle of ink, on a novel, which was not worth the writing; but no one could estimate the comfort and encouragement it was to Andrew. Ellen worked an hour or two every evening on the novel, and next day Andrew copied it in a hand like copperplate--large, with ornate flourishes. Andrew's handwriting had always been greatly admired, and, strangely enough, it was not in the least indicative of his character, being wholly acquired. He had probably some ability for drawing, but this had been his only outlet.

At the head of every chapter of Ellen's novel were birds and flowers done in colored inks, and every chapter had a tail-piece of elegant quirls and flourishes. Fanny admired it intensely. She was not quite so sure of Ellen's work as she was of her husband's. She felt herself a judge of one, but not of the other.

"If Ellen could only write as well as you copy, it will do," she often said to Andrew.

"What she is writing is beautiful," said Andrew, fervently. He was quite sure in his own mind that such a book had never been written, and his pride in his decorations was a minor one.

Ellen, although she was not versed in the ways of books, yet had enough of a sense of the fitness of things, and of the ridiculous, to know that the manuscript, with its impossible pen-and-ink birds and flowers heading and finishing every chapter, was grotesque in the extreme. She felt divided between a desire to laugh and a desire to cry whenever she looked at it. About her own work she felt more than doubtful; still, she was somewhat hopeful, since her taste and judgment, as well as her style, were alike crude. She told Abby and Maria what she was doing, under promise of strict secrecy, and after a while read them a few chapters.

"It's beautiful," said Maria--"perfectly beautiful. I had a Sunday-school book this week which I know wasn't half as good."

Ellen looked at Abby, who was silent. The three girls were up in Ellen's room. It was midwinter, some months after she had gone to work in the shop, and she had a fire in her little, air-tight stove.

"Well, what do you think of it, Abby?" asked Ellen. Ellen's cheeks were flushed as if with fever. She looked eagerly at the other girl.

"Do you want me to tell you the truth?" asked Abby, bluntly.

"Yes, of course I do."

"Well, then, I don't know a thing about books, and I'd knock anybody else down that said it, but it seems to me it's trash."

"Oh, Abby," murmured Maria.

"Never mind," said Ellen, though she quivered a little, "I want to know just how it looks to her."

"It looks to me just like that," said Abby--"like trash. It sounds as if, when you began to write it, you had mounted upon stilts, and didn't see things and people the way they really were. It ain't natural."

"Do you think I had better give it up, then?" asked Ellen.

"No, I don't, on account of your father."

"I believe it would about break father's heart," said Ellen.

"I don't know but it's worth as much to write a book for your father, to please him, and keep his spirits up, as it is to write one for the whole world," said Abby.

"Only, of course, she can't get any money for it," said Maria. "But I don't believe Abby is right, and don't you get discouraged, Ellen. It sounds beautiful to me."

"Well, I suppose it is worth keeping on with for father's sake," said Ellen; but she had a discouraged air. She never again wrote with any hope or heart; she had faith in Abby's opinion, for she knew that she was always predisposed to admiration in her case.

Ellen at that time was earning more, for she had advanced, and had long ago left her station beside Mamie Brady; and now in a month or two she would have a machine. The girls, many of them, said openly that her rapid promotion was due to favoritism, and that Ed Flynn wouldn't do as much for anybody but Ellen Brewster. Flynn hung about her in the shop a good deal, but he had made no efforts to pay her decided attention. His religion was the prime factor for his hesitation. He could not see his way clear towards open addresses with a view to marriage. Still, he had a sharp eye for other admirers, and Ellen had not been in the factory two months before Granville Joy was sent into another room. Robert Lloyd, to whom the foreman appealed for confirmation of the plan, coincided with readiness.

"That fellow ain't strong enough to run that machine he's doing now," said Flynn.

"Then put him on another," Robert said, coloring. It was not quite like setting his rival in the front of the battle; still, he felt ashamed of himself. Quicker than lightning it had flashed through his mind that young Joy could thus be sent into a separate room from Ellen Brewster.

"I think he had better take one of the heel-shaving machines below," said Flynn, "and let that big Swede, that's as strong as an ox, and never jumped at anything in his life, take his place here."

"All right," said Lloyd, assuming a nonchalant air. "Make the change if you think it advisable, Flynn."

While such benevolence towards a possible rival had its suspicious points, yet there was, after all, some reason for it. Granville Joy, who was delicately organized as to his nerves, was running a machine for cutting linings, and this came down with sharp thuds which shook the factory, and it was fairly torture to him. Every time the knife fell he cringed as if at a cannon report. He had never grown accustomed to it. His face had acquired a fixed expression of being screwed to meet a shock of sound. He was manifestly unfit for his job, but he received the order to leave with dismay.

"Hasn't my work been satisfactory?" he asked Flynn.

"Satisfactory enough," replied the foreman, genially, "but it's too hard for you, man."

"I 'ain't complained," said Joy, with a flash of his eyes. He thought he knew why this solicitude was shown him.

"I know you 'ain't," said Flynn, "but you 'ain't got the muscle and nerve for it. That's plain enough to see."

"I 'ain't complained, and I'd rather stay where I be," said Joy, angrily.

"You'll go where you are sent in this factory, or be damned," cried Flynn, walking off.

Joy looked after him with an expression which transformed his face. But the next morning the stolid Swede, who would not have started at a bomb, was at his place, and he was below, where he could not see Ellen.

Robert never spoke to Ellen in the factory, and had never called upon her since she entered. Now and then he met her on the street and raised his hat, that was all. Still, he began to wonder more and more if his aunt had not been mistaken in her view of the girl's motive for giving up college and going to work. Then, later on, he learned from Lyman Risley that a small mortgage had been put on the Brewster house some time before. In fact, Andrew, not knowing to whom to go, and remembering his kindness when Ellen was a child, had applied to him for advice concerning it. "He had to do it to keep his wife's sister in the asylum," he told Robert; "and that poor girl went to work because she was forced into it, not because she preferred it, you may be sure of that."

The two men were walking down the street one wind-swept day in December, when the pavement showed ridges of dust as from a mighty broom, and travellers walked bending before it with backward-flying garments.

"You may be right," said Robert; "still, as Aunt Cynthia says, so many girls have that idea of earning money instead of going to school."

"I know the pitiful need of money has tainted many poor girls with a monstrous and morbid overvalue of it," said Risley, "and for that I cannot see they are to blame; but in this case I am sure it was not so. That poor child gave up Vassar College and went to work because she was fairly forced into it by circumstances. The aunt's husband ran away with another woman, and left her destitute, so that the support of her and her child came upon the Brewsters; and Brewster has been out of work a long time now, I know. He told me so. That mortgage had to be raised, and the girl had to go to work; there was no other way out of it."

"Why didn't she tell Aunt Cynthia so?" asked Robert.

"Because she is Ellen Brewster, the outgrowth of the child who would not--" Risley checked himself abruptly.

"I know," said Robert, shortly.

The other man started. "How long have you known--she did not tell?"

Robert laughed a little. "Oh no," he replied. "Nobody told. I went there to call, and saw my own old doll sitting in a little chair in a corner of the parlor. She did not tell, but she knew that I knew. That child was a trump."

"Well, what can you expect of a girl who was a child like that?" said Risley. "Mind you, in a way I don't like it. This power for secretiveness and this rigidity of pride in a girl of that age strike me rather unpleasantly. Of course she was too proud to tell Cynthia the true reason, and very likely thought they would blame her father, or Cynthia might feel that she was in a measure hinting to her to do more."

"It would have looked like that," said Robert, reflecting.

"Without any doubt that was what she thought; still, I don't like this strength in so young a girl. She will make a more harmonious woman than girl, for she has not yet grown up to her own character. But depend upon it, that girl never went to work of her own free choice."

"You say the father is out of work?" Robert said.

"Yes, he has not had work for six months. He said, with the most dejected dignity and appeal that I ever saw in my life, that they begin to think him too old, that the younger men are preferred."

"I wonder," Robert began, then he stopped confusedly. It had been on his tongue to say that he wondered if he could not get some employment for him at Lloyd's; then he remembered his uncle, and stopped. Robert had begun to understand the older man's methods, and also to understand that they were not to be cavilled at or disputed, even by a nephew for whom he had undoubtedly considerable affection.

"It is nonsense, of course," said Risley. "The man is not by any means old or past his usefulness, although I must admit he has that look. He cannot be any older than your uncle. Speaking of your uncle, how is Mrs. Lloyd?"

"I fear Aunt Lizzie is very far from well," replied Robert, "but she tries to keep it from Uncle Norman."

"I don't see how she can. She looked ghastly when I met her the other day."

"That was when Uncle Norman was in New York," said Robert. "It is different when he is at home." As he spoke, an expression of intensest pity came over the young man's face. "I wonder what a woman who loves her husband will not do to shield him from any annoyance or suffering," he said.

"I believe some women are born fixed to a sort of spiritual rack for the sake of love, and remain there through life," said Risley. "But I have always liked Mrs. Lloyd. She ought to have good advice. What is it, has she told you?"

"Yes," said Robert.

"It will be quite safe with me."

Robert whispered one word in his ear.

"My God!" said Risley, "that? And do you mean to say that she has had no advice except Dr. Story?"

"Yes, I took her to New York to a specialist some time ago. Uncle Norman never knew it."

"And nothing can be done?"

"She could have an operation, but the success would be very doubtful."

"And that she will not consent to?"

"She has not yet."

"How long?"

"Oh, she may live for years, but she suffers horribly, and she will suffer more."

"And you say he does not know?"


"Why, look here, Robert, dare you assume the responsibility? What will he say when he finds out that you have kept it from him?"

"I don't care," said Robert. "I will not break an oath exacted by a woman in such straits as that, and I don't see what good it could do to tell him."

"He might persuade her to have the operation."

"His mere existence is persuasion enough, if she is to be persuaded. And I hope she may consent before long. She has seemed a little more comfortable lately, too."

"I suppose sometimes those hideous things go away as mysteriously as they come," said Risley.

"Yes," replied Robert. "Going back to our first subject--"

Risley laughed. "Here she is coming," he said.

In fact, at that moment they came abreast the street that led to the factories, and the six-o'clock whistle was just dying away in a long reverberation, and the workmen pouring out of the doors and down the stairs. Ellen had moved quickly, for she had an errand at the grocery-store before she went home. She was going to get some oysters for a hot stew for supper, of which her father was very fond. She had a little oyster-can in her hand when she met the two gentlemen. She had grown undeniably thinner since summer, but she was charming. Her short black skirt and her coarse gray jacket fitted her as well as if they had been tailor-made. There was nothing tawdry or slatternly about her. She looked every inch a lady, even with the drawback of an oyster-can, and mittens instead of gloves.

Both Risley and Robert raised their hats, and Ellen bowed. She did not smile, but her face contracted curiously, and her color obviously paled. Risley looked at Robert after they had passed.

"I have called on her twice," said Robert, as if answering a question. His relations with the older man had become very close, almost like those of father and son, though Risley was hardly old enough for that relation.

"And you haven't been since she went to work?"


"But you would have, had she gone to college instead of going to work in a shoe-factory?" Risley's voice had a tone of the gentlest conceivable sarcasm.

Robert colored. "Yes, I suppose so," he said. Then he turned to Risley with a burst of utter frankness. "Hang it! old fellow," he said, "you know how I have been brought up; you know how she--you know all about it. What is a fellow to do?"

"Do what he pleases. If it would please me to call on that splendid young thing, I should call if I were the Czar of all the Russias."

"Well, I will call," said Robert.

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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 38 The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 38

The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 38
Chapter XXXVIIIThe very next evening Robert Lloyd went to call on Ellen. As he started out he was conscious of a strange sensation of shock, as if his feet had suddenly touched firm ground. All these months since Ellen had been working in the factory he had been vacillating. He was undoubtedly in love with her; he did not for a moment cheat himself as to that. When he caught a glimpse of her fair head among the other girls, he realized how unspeakably dear she was to him. Ellen never entered nor left the factory that he did not know

The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 36 The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 36

The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 36
Chapter XXXVIThat night, when Ellen went down the street towards home with the stream of factory operatives, she computed that she must have earned about fifty cents, perhaps not quite that. She was horribly tired. Although the work in itself was not laborious, she had been all day under a severe nervous tension."You look tired to death, Ellen Brewster," Abby said, in a half-resentful, half-compassionate tone. "You can never stand this in the world.""I am no more tired than any one would be the first day," Ellen returned, stoutly, "and I'm going to stand it.""You act to me as if you