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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 4
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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 4 Post by :codebluenj Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :2870

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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 4

Part II Chapter IV

The great strike was fast being forgotten, as a cause argued and lost or won as you looked at it. A commission was holding many meetings these months, and going over the debris, taking voluminous testimony. It was said to be prejudiced in favor of the strikers, but the victors cared little. Its findings in the shape of a report would lie on the table in the halls of Congress, neither house being so constituted that it could make any political capital by taking the matter up. The Association of General Managers had lapsed. It had been the banded association of power against the banded association of labor. It had fought successfully. The issue was proved: the strike was crushed, with the help of marshals, city police, and troops. And with it the victors prophesied was crushed the sympathetic strike forever. It had cost, to be sure, many millions in all, but it paid. It was such a tremendous example!

The statistical side of passion was interesting and ironical. It gave the matter the air of a family row: the next day the heads of the factions were sitting down to make the inventory of broken glass, ruined furniture and provisions. A principle had been preserved, people said, talking largely and superficially, but the principle seemed elusive. The laborers, too, had lost, more heavily in proportion to their ability to bear--millions in wages, not to reckon the loss of manhood to those who were blacklisted for participation in the fracas.

The Commission went into the Pullman affair, quite unwarrantedly, according to the corporation, which was comfortably out of the mess. And there were minor disputes over the injunctions against Debs, and a languid stirring of dead bones in the newspapers. Every one was tired of the affair and willing to let it drop, with its lesson for this party or that. Sommers, having nothing more urgent to do, attended the meetings of the Commission and listened eagerly to get some final truth about the matter. But it seemed to him that both sides merely scratched the surface of the argument, and were content with the superficial "lessons" thereby gained. What good could come of the hearings? The country would get out of its doldrums sooner or later; employment would be easy to find; wages would rise, a little; every one would have his bellyful; and then, some years later, another wave of depression would set in, the bitter strife would be repeated, both parties unlessoned by this or any other experience. The world, at least this civilization, belonged to the strong; the poor would remain weak and foolish and treacherous.

It was whispered about on the first days of the hearing that an official of the American Railway Union would take the stand and make disclosures. He would show how the strike was finally ended, not by the law and the sword, but by money. The official's name was Dresser, Sommers heard, and every day he looked for him to take the stand. But the rumor passed away, and no "revelations" by Dresser or any one else who knew the inner facts appeared. Sommers learned them unexpectedly after the Commission had taken itself to Washington to prepare its report.

It happened one evening at the Keystone Hotel. He had come in after dinner and found Miss M'Gann in his room, calling upon Alves. She had brought Dresser with her. He was well dressed, his hair was cut to a conventional length, and he carried a silk hat--altogether a different person from the slouchy, beery man who had grumbled at McNamara and Hills. Sommers's glance must have said something of this, for Dresser began to explain,

"I've given up agitating--doesn't go, what with the courts granting injunctions and the railroads throwing money about."

"Do you mean _that was why the strike collapsed?" Sommers asked eagerly.

"Sure!" Dresser thundered heartily. "_I KNOW IT. Do you know where the leaders are? Well, one of 'em has got the finest little ranch you ever saw out in Montana. And another," he winked slowly and put his hand to his pocket. "They were poor men when the strike began, and they aren't working now for any dollar and a half a day."

"I don't believe it," Sommers replied promptly. "The managers had the affair in hand, anyway."

Dresser protested loudly, and irritated by the doctor's scepticism began to leak, to tell things he had seen, to show a little of the inside of the labor counsels. He had evidently seen more than Sommers had believed possible, and his active, ferreting mind had imagined still more. The two women listened open-mouthed to his story of the strike, and feeling where the sympathy lay Dresser spoke largely to them.

"You seem to have found something to do?" Sommers remarked significantly at the close.

"I'm assistant editor of a paper," Dresser explained.

Sommers laughed. "Herr Most's old sheet?"

"_The Investor's Monthly_."

Sommers shrieked with laughter, and patted Dresser on the back. "Sammy, you're a great man! I have never done you justice."

"The management has been changed," Dresser said gruffly. "They wanted a man of education, not a mere reporter."

"Who owns it?"

"R. G. Carson has the controlling interest."

Sommers relapsed into laughter. "So this is your ranch in Montana?"

Dresser rose with an offended air.

"Oh! sit down, man. I am complimenting you. Haven't you a place as office boy, compositor, or something for a needy friend?"

"I don't see what you're so funny about, doctor," Miss M'Gann expostulated.

"Spoiling the Philistines, you see," Dresser added, making an effort to chime in with Sommers's irony.

They talked late. Webber, the stylish young clerk, dropped in, and the conversation roamed over the universal topics of the day,--the hard times, the position of the employee in a corporation, etc. The clerk in the Baking Powder Trust was inclined to philosophical acceptance of present conditions. Abstractly there might not be much justice for the poor, but here in the new part of the country every man had his chance to be on top, to become a capitalist. There was the manager of the B. P. T. He had begun on ten dollars a week, but he had bided his time, bought stock in the little mill where he started, and now that the consolidation was arranged, he was in a fair way to become a rich man. To be rich, to have put yourself outside the ranks of the precarious classes--that was the clerk's ambition. Dresser was doubtful whether the good, energetic young clerk could repeat in these days the experience of the manager of the B. P. T. The two women took part in the argument, and finally Alves summed the matter up:

"If we could, all of us would be rich, and then we should feel like the rich, and want to keep what we could. But as we have to labor hard for a little joy, it's best to get the joy, as much as you can, and not fret over the work."

* * * * *

Dresser found the Keystone so agreeable that he came there to live. The doctor and Alves and Miss M'Gann with Webber and Dresser had a table to themselves in the stuffy basement dining room. Miss M'Gann accepted impartially the advances of both young men, attending church with one and the theatre with the other. The five spent many evenings in Sommers's room, discussing aimlessly social questions, while the doctor worked at the anatomy slides. Dresser's debauch of revolt seemed to have sobered him. He bought himself many new clothes, and as time went on, picked up social relations in different parts of the city. He still talked sentimental socialism, chiefly for the benefit of Alves, who regarded him as an authority on economic questions, and whose instinctive sympathies were touched by his theories. As the clothes became more numerous and better in quality, he talked less about socialism and more about society. _The Investor's Monthly interested him: he spoke of becoming its managing editor, hinting at his influence with Carson; and when the doctor jeered, Dresser offered him a position on the paper. Webber was openly envious of Dresser's prosperity, which he set down to the account of a superior education that had been denied him. When Dresser began to mention casually the names of people whom the Baking Powder clerk had read about in the newspapers, this envy increased. Dresser's evolution impressed Miss M'Gann also; Sommers noticed that she was readier to accept Dresser's condescending attentions than the devotion of the plodding clerk. Webber was simple and vulgar, but he was sincere and good-hearted. He was striving to get together a little money for a home. Sommers told Alves that she should influence Miss M'Gann to accept the clerk, instead of beguiling herself with the words of a talker.

"You are unfair to Sammy," Alves had replied, with some warmth. "She would do very well to marry him; he is her superior."

Sommers gave Alves a look that troubled her, and said:

"Because the fellow is settling into an amiable Philistine? He will never marry Jane M'Gann; it would hurt his prospects."

A few days later Dresser mentioned that he had met Miss Laura Lindsay, "the daughter of your former partner, I believe."

"My former boss," Sommers corrected, looking at Alves with an amused smile. He listened in ironical glee to Dresser's description of little Laura Lindsay. Dresser thought her "a very advanced young woman, who had ideas, a wide reader." She had asked him about Dr. Sommers and Alves.

"You had better not appear too intimate with us," Sommers advised. "Her papa doesn't exactly approve of me."

When he had left the room, Sommers added: "He will marry Laura Lindsay. An ideal match. He won't remain long in the Keystone, and I am glad of it. The converted Philistine is the worst type!"

Alves held her own opinion. She should be sorry to lose Dresser from their little circle. She permitted herself one remark,--"He is so much of a gentleman."

"A gentleman!" Sommers exclaimed scornfully. "Are any of us gentlemen in the American sense?"

It seemed probable, however, that Sommers and Alves would be the first to leave the Keystone. Although the sultry June weather made them think longingly of the idyllic days at Perota Lake, the journey to Wisconsin was out of the question. Struggle as he might, Sommers was being forced to realize that they must give up their modest position in the Keystone. And one day the proprietor hinted broadly that she had other uses for their room. They had been tolerated up to this point; but society, even the Keystone form of society, found them too irregular for permanent acceptance. And now it was impossible to move away from Chicago. They had no money for the venture.

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Part II Chapter V A change, even so small a change as from one boarding-house to another, is caused by some definite force, some shock that overcomes the power of inertia. The eleventh of June Sommers had gone to meet Alves at their usual rendezvous in the thicket at the rear of Blue Grass Avenue. The sultry afternoon had made him drowse, and when he awoke Alves was standing over him, her hands tightening nervously. "They have dropped you," he said, reading the news in her face. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, until they had plodded down the avenue
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Part II Chapter III The next day Sommers applied at the drug store for permission to hang his sign beneath the others. The question was referred to Jelly, who seemed to be the silent partner in the business, and in a few days consent was given. The little iron sign with gilt letters shone with startling freshness beneath the larger ones above. But no immediate results were visible. Sommers dropped into the store as nonchalantly as he could almost daily, but there were no calls for him. He met Jelly, who looked him over coldly, while he lopped over the glass
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