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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portion Of Labor - Chapter 57
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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 57 Post by :rossl58 Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2112

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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 57

Chapter LVII

Ellen had not arrived at her decision with regard to the strike as suddenly as it may have seemed. All winter, ever since the strike, Ellen had been wondering, not whether the principle of the matter was correct or not, that she never doubted; she never swerved in her belief concerning the cruel tyranny of the rich and the helpless suffering of the poor, and their good reason for making a stand, but she doubted more and more the wisdom of it. She used to sit for hours up in her chamber after her father and mother had gone to bed, wrapped up in an old shawl against the cold, resting her elbows on the window-sill and her chin on her two hands, staring out into the night, and reflecting. Her youthful enthusiasm carried her like a leaping-pole to conclusions beyond her years. "I wonder," she said to herself, "if, after all, this inequality of possessions is not a part of the system of creation, if the righting of them is not beyond the flaming sword of the Garden of Eden? I wonder if the one who tries to right them forcibly is not meddling, and usurping the part of the Creator, and bringing down wrath and confusion not only upon his own head, but upon the heads of others? I wonder if it is wise, in order to establish a principle, to make those who have no voice in the matter suffer for it--the helpless women and children?" She even thought with a sort of scornful sympathy of Sadie Peel, who could not have her nearseal cape, and had not wished to strike. She reflected, as she had done so many times before, that the world was very old--thousands of years old--and inequality was as old as the world. Might it not even be a condition of its existence, the shifting of weights which kept it to its path in the scheme of the universe? And yet always she went back to her firm belief that the strikers were right, and always, although she loved Robert Lloyd, she denounced him. Even when it came to her abandoning her position with regard to the strike, she had not the slightest thought of effecting thereby a reconciliation with Robert.

For the first time, that night when she had gone to bed, after announcing her determination to go back to work, she questioned her affection for Robert. Before she had always admitted it to herself with a sort of shamed and angry dignity. "Other women feel so about men, and why should I not?" she had said; "and I shall never fail to keep the feeling behind more important things." She had accepted the fact of it with childlike straightforwardness as she accepted all other facts of life, and now she wondered if she really did care for him so much. She thought over and over everything Abby had said, and saw plainly before her mental vision those poor women parting with their cherished possessions, the little starving children snatching at the refuse-buckets at the neighbors' back doors. She saw with incredulous shame, and something between pity and scorn, Mamie Bemis, who had gone wrong, and Mamie Brady, who had taken her foolish, ill-balanced life in her own hands. She remembered every word which she had said to the men on the morning of the strike, and how they had started up and left their machines. "I did it all," she told herself. "I am responsible for it all--all this suffering, for those hungry little children, for that possible death, for the ruin of another girl." Then she told herself, with a stern sense of justice, that back of her responsibility came Robert Lloyd's. If he had not cut the wages it would never have been. It seemed to her that she almost hated him, and that she could not wait to strive to undo the harm which she had done. She could not wait for morning to come.

She lay awake all night in a fever of impatience. When she went down-stairs her eyes were brilliant, there were red spots on her cheeks, her lips were tense, her whole face looked as if she were strained for some leap of action. She took hold of everything she touched with a hard grip. Her father and mother kept watching her anxiously. Directly after breakfast Ellen put on her hat and coat.

"What are you going to do?" asked Fanny.

"I am going over to see John Sargent, and ask him to get some other men and go to see Mr. Lloyd, and tell him we are willing to go to work again," replied Ellen.

Ellen discovered, when she reached the Atkins house, that John Sargent had already resolved upon his course of action.

"The first thing he said when he came in last night was that he couldn't stand it any longer, and he was going to see the others, and go to Lloyd, and ask him to open the shop on his own terms," said Abby. "I told him how we felt about it."

"Yes, I am ready to go back whenever the factory is opened," said Ellen. "I am glad he has gone."

Ellen did not remain long. She was anxious to return and finish some wrappers she had on hand. Abby promised to go over and let her know the result of the interview with Lloyd.

It was not until evening that Abby came over, and John Sargent with her. Lloyd had not been at home in the morning, and they had been forced to wait until late afternoon. The two entered the dining-room, where Ellen and her mother sat at work.

Abby spoke at once, and to the point. "Well," said she, "the shop's going to be opened to-morrow."

"On what terms?" asked Ellen.

"On the boss's, of course," replied Abby, in a hard voice.

"It's the only thing to do," said Sargent, with a sort of stolid assertion. "If we are willing to be crushed under the Juggernaut of principle, we haven't any right to force others under, and that's what we are doing."

"Bread without butter is better than no bread at all," said Abby. "We've got to live in the sphere in which Providence has placed us." The girl said "Providence" with a sarcastic emphasis.

Andrew was looking at Sargent. "Do you think there will be any trouble?" he asked.

Sargent hesitated, with a glance at Fanny. "I don't know; I hope not," said he. "Lee and Dixon are opposed to giving in, and they are talking hard to-night in the store. Then some of the men have joined the union since the strike, and of course they swear by it, because it has been helping them, and they won't approve of giving up. But I doubt if there will be much trouble. I guess the majority want to go to work, even the union men. The amount of it is, it has been such a tough winter it has taken the spirit out of the poor souls." Sargent, evidently, in yielding was resisting himself.

"You don't think there will be any danger?" Fanny said, anxiously, looking at Ellen.

"Oh no, there's no danger for the girls, anyhow. I guess there's enough men to look out for them. There's no need for you to worry, Mrs. Brewster."

"Mr. Lloyd did not offer to do anything better about the wages?" asked Ellen.

Sargent shook his head.

"Catch him!" said Abby, bitterly.

Ellen had a feeling as if she were smiting in the face that image of Robert which always dwelt in her heart.

"Well," said Abby, with a mirthless laugh, "there's one thing: according to the Scriptures, it is as hard for the rich man to get into heaven as it is for the poor men to get into their factories."

"You don't suppose there will be any danger?" Fanny said again, anxiously.

"Danger--no; who's afraid of Amos Lee and a few like him?" cried Abby, contemptuously; "and Nahum Beals is safe. He's going to be tried next month, they say, but they'll make it imprisonment for life, because they think he wasn't in his right mind. If he was here we might be afraid, but there's nobody now that will do anything but talk. I ain't afraid. I'm going to march up to the shop to-morrow morning and go to work, and I'd like to see anybody stop me."

However, before they left, John Sargent spoke aside with Andrew, and told him of a plan for the returning workmen to meet at the corner of a certain street, and go in a body to the factory, and suggested that there might be pickets posted by the union men, and Andrew resolved to go with Ellen.

The next morning the rain had quite ceased, and there was a faint something, rather a reminiscence than a suggestion, of early spring in the air. People caught themselves looking hard at the elm branches to see if they were acquiring the virile fringe of spring or if their eyes deceived them, and wondered, with respect to the tips of maple and horse-chestnut branches, whether or not they were swollen red and glossy. Sometimes they sniffed incredulously when a soft gust of south wind seemed laden with fresh blossom fragrance.

"I declare, if I didn't know better, I should think I smelled apple blossoms," said Maria.

"Stuff!" returned Abby. She was marching along with an alert, springy motion of her lean little body. She was keenly alive to the situation, and scented something besides apple blossoms. She had tried to induce Maria to remain at home. "I don't know but there'll be trouble, and if there is, you'll be just in the way," she told her before they left the house, but not in their parents' hearing.

"Oh, I don't believe there'll be any. Folks will be too glad to get back to work," replied Maria. She had a vein of obstinacy, gentle as she was; then, too, she had a reason which no one suspected for wishing to be present. She would not yield when John Sargent begged her privately not to go. It was just because she was afraid there might be trouble, and he was going to be in it, that she could not bear to stay at home herself.

Andrew had insisted upon accompanying Ellen in spite of her remonstrances. "I've got an errand down to the store," he said, evasively; but Ellen understood.

"I don't think there is any danger, and there wouldn't be any danger for me--not for the girls, sure," she said; but he persisted.

"Don't you say a word to your mother to scare her," he whispered. But they had not been gone long before Fanny followed them, Mrs. Zelotes watching her furtively from a window as she went by.

All the returning employes met, as agreed upon, at the corner of a certain street, and marched in a solid body towards Lloyd's. The men insisted upon placing the girls in the centre of this body, although some of them rebelled, notably Sadie Peel. She was on hand, laughing and defiant.

"I guess I ain't afraid," she proclaimed. "Father's keepin' on strikin', but I guess he won't see his own daughter hurt; and now I'm goin' to have my nearseal cape, if it is late in the season. They're cheaper now, that's one good thing. On some accounts the strike has been a lucky thing for me." She marched along, swinging her arms jauntily. Ellen and Maria and Abby were close together. Andrew was on the right of Ellen, Granville Joy behind; the young laster, who had called so frequently evenings, was with him. John Sargent and Willy Jones were on the left. They all walked in the middle of the street like an army. It was covertly understood that there might be trouble. Some of the younger men from time to time put hands on their pockets, and a number carried stout sticks.

The first intimation of disturbance came when they met an electric-car, and all moved to one side to let it pass. The car was quite full of people going to another town, some thirty miles distant, to work in a large factory there. Nearly every man and woman on the car belonged to the union.

As this car slid past a great yell went up from the occupants; men on the platforms swung their arms in execration and derision. "Sc-ab, sc-ab!" they called. A young fellow leaped from the rear platform, caught up a stone and flung it at the returning Lloyd men, but it went wide of its mark. Then he was back on the platform with a running jump, and one of the Lloyd men threw a stone, which missed him. The yell of "Scab, scab!" went up with renewed vigor, until it died out of hearing along with the rumble of the car.

"Sometimes I wish I had joined the union and stuck it out," said one of the Lloyd men, gloomily.

"For the Lord's sake, don't show the white feather now!" cried a young fellow beside him, who was striding on with an eager, even joyous outlook. He had fighting blood, and it was up, and he took a keen delight in the situation.

"It's easy to talk," grumbled the other man. "I don't know but all our help lies in the union, and we've been a pack of fools not to go in with them, because we hoped Lloyd would weaken and take us back. He hasn't weakened; we've had to. Good God, them that's rich have it their own way!"

"I'd have joined the union in a minute, and got a job, and got my nearseal cape, if it hadn't been for father," said Sadie Peel, with a loud laugh. "But, my land! if father'd caught me joinin' the union I dun'no' as there would have been anything left of me to wear the cape."

They all marched along with no disturbance until they reached the corner of the street into which they had to turn in order to approach Lloyd's. There they were confronted by a line of pickets, stationed there by the union, and the real trouble began. Yells of "Scab, scab!" filled the air.

"Good land, I ain't no more of a scab than you be!" shrieked Sadie Peel, in a loud, angry voice. "Scab yourself! Touch me if you dasse!"

Many young men among the returning force had stout sticks in their hands. Granville Joy was one of them. Andrew, who was quite unarmed, pressed in before Ellen. Granville caught him by the arm and tried to draw him back.

"Look here, Mr. Brewster," he said, "you keep in the background a little. I am young and strong, and here are Sargent and Mendon. You'd better keep back."

But Ellen, with a spring which was effectual because so utterly uncalculated, was before Granville and her father, and them all. She reasoned it out in a second that she was responsible for the strike, and that she would be in the front of whatever danger there was in consequence. Her slight little figure passed them all before they knew what she was doing. She was in the very front of the little returning army. She saw the threatening faces of the pickets; she half turned, and waved an arm of encouragement, like a general in a battle. "Strike if you want to," she cried out, in her sweet young voice. "If you want to kill a girl for going back to work to save herself and her friends from starvation, do it. I am not afraid! But kill me, if you must kill anybody, because I am the one that started the strike. Strike if you want to."

(Illustration: If you want to kill a girl for going back to work to save herself from starvation, do it!)

The opposing force moved aside with an almost imperceptible motion. Ellen looked like a beautiful child, her light hair tossed around her rosy face, her eyes full of the daring of perfect confidence. She in reality did not feel one throb of fear. She passed the picket-line, and turned instinctively and marched backward with her blue eyes upon them all. Abby Atkins sprang forward to Ellen's side, with Sargent and Joy and Willy Jones and Andrew. Andrew kept calling to Ellen to come back, but she did not heed him.

The little army was several rods from the pickets before a shot rang out, but that was fired into the air. However, it was followed by a fierce clamor of "Scab" and a shower of stones, which did little harm. The Lloyds marched on without a word, except from Sadie Peel. She turned round with a derisive shout.

"Scab yourselves!" she shrieked. "You dassen't fire at me. You're scabs yourselves, you be!"

"Scabs, scabs!" shouted the men, moving forward.

"Scab yourself!" shouted Sadie Peel.

Abby Atkins caught hold of her arm and shook her violently. "Shut up, can't you, Sadie Peel," she said.

"I'll shut up when I get ready, Abby Atkins! I ain't afraid of them if you be. They dassen't hit me. Scab, scab!" the girl yelled back, with a hysteric laugh.

"Don't that girl know anything?" growled a man behind her.

"Shut up, Sadie Peel," said Abby Atkins.

"I ain't afraid if you be, and I won't shut up till I get ready, for you or anybody else. I'm goin' to have my nearseal cape! Hi!"

"I ain't afraid," said Abby, contemptuously, "but I've got sense."

Maria pressed close to Sadie Peel. "Please do keep still, Sadie," she pleaded. "Let us get into the factory as quietly as we can. Think, if anybody was hurt."

"I ain't afraid," shrieked the girl, with a toss of her red fringe, and she laughed like a parrot. Abby Atkins gripped her arm so fiercely that she made her cry out with pain. "If you don't keep still!" she said, threateningly.

Willy Jones was walking as near as he could, and he carried his right arm half extended, as if to guard her. Now and then Abby turned and gave him a push backward.

"They won't trouble us girls, and you might as well let us and the men that have sticks go first," she said in a whisper.

"If you think--" began the young fellow, coloring.

"Oh, I know you ain't afraid," said Abby, "but you've got your mother to think of, and there's no use in running into danger."

The pickets were gradually left behind; they were, in truth, half-hearted. Many of them had worked in Lloyd's, and had small mind to injure their old comrades. They were not averse to a great show of indignation and bluster, but when it came to more they hesitated.

Presently the company came into the open space before Lloyd's. Robert and Lyman Risley and several foremen were standing at the foot of the stairs. The windows of the factory were filled with faces, and derisive cries came from them. Lloyd's tall shaft of chimney was plumed with smoke. The employes advanced towards the stairs, when suddenly Amos Lee, Dixon, and a dozen others appeared, coming with a rush from around a corner of the building, and again the air was filled with the cry of "Scab!" Ellen and Abby linked arms and sprang forward before the men with an impetuous rush, with Joy and Willy Jones and Andrew following. Ellen, as she rushed on towards the factory stairs, was conscious of no fear at all, but rather of a sort of exaltation of courage. It did not really occur to her that she could be hurt, that it could be in the heart of Lee or Dixon, or any of them, actually to harm her. She was throbbing and intense with indignation and resolution. Into that factory to her work she was bound to go. All that intimidated her in the least was the fear for her father. She rushed as fast as she could that her father might not get before her and be hurt in some way.

"Scab! scab!" shouted Lee and the others.

"Scab yourself!" shrieked Sadie Peel. Her father was one of the opposing party, and that gave her perfect audacity. "Look out you don't hit me, dad," she cried to him. "I'm goin' to get my nearseal cape. Don't you hit your daughter, Tom Peel!" She raced on with a sort of hoppity-skip. She caught a young man near her by the arm and forced him into the same dancing motion.

They were at the foot of the stairs, when Robert, watching, saw Lee with a pistol in his hand aim straight at Ellen. He sprang before her, but Risley was nearer, and the shot struck him. When Risley fell, a great cry, it would have been difficult to tell whether of triumph or horror, went up from the open windows of the other factories, and men came swarming out. Lee and his companions vanished.

A great crowd gathered around Risley until the doctors came and ordered them away, and carried him in the ambulance to the hospital. He was not dead, but evidently very seriously injured.

When the ambulance had rolled out of sight, the Lloyd employes entered the factory, and the hum of machinery began.

Fanny and Andrew stood together before the factory after Ellen had entered. Andrew had started when he had seen his wife.

"You here?" he said.

"I rather guess I'm here," returned Fanny. "Do you s'pose I was goin' to stay at home, and not know whether you and her were shot dead or not?"

"I guess it's all safe now," said Andrew. He was very pale. He looked at the blood-stained place where Lyman Risley had lain. "It's awful work," he said.

"Who did it?" asked Fanny, sharply. "I heard the shot just before I got here."

"I don't know for sure, and guess it's better I don't," replied Andrew, sternly.

Then all at once as they stood there a woman came up with a swift, gliding motion and a long trail of black skirts straight to Fanny, who was the only woman there. There were still a great many men and boys standing about. The woman, Cynthia Lennox, caught Fanny's arm with a nervous grip. Her finely cut face was very white under the nodding plumes of her black bonnet.

"Is he in there?" she asked, in a strained voice, pointing to the shop.

Fanny stared at her. She was half dazed. She did not know whether she was referring to the wounded man or Robert.

Andrew was quicker in his perceptions.

"They carried him off to the hospital in the ambulance," he told her. Then he added, as gently as if he had been addressing Ellen: "I guess he wasn't hurt so very bad. He came to before they took him away."

"You don't know anything about it," Fanny said, sharply. "I heard them say something about his eyes."

"His eyes!" gasped Cynthia. She held tightly to Fanny, who looked at her with a sudden passion of sympathy breaking through her curiosity.

"Oh, I guess he wasn't hurt so very bad; he _did come to. I heard him speak," she said, soothingly. She laid her hard hand over Cynthia's slim one.

"They took him to the hospital?"

"Yes, in the ambulance."

"Is--my nephew in there?"

"No; he went with him."

Cynthia looked at the other woman with an expression of utter anguish and pleading.

"Look here," said Fanny; "the hospital ain't very far from here. Suppose we go up there and ask how he is? We could call out your nephew."

"Will you go with me?" asked Cynthia, with a heart-breaking gasp.

If Ellen could have seen her at that moment, she would have recognized her as the woman whom she had known in her childhood. She was an utter surprise to Fanny, but her sympathy leaped to meet her need like the steel to the magnet.

"Of course I will," she said, heartily.

"I would," said Andrew--"I would go with her, Fanny."

"Of course I will," said Fanny; "and you had better go home, I guess, Andrew, and see how I left the kitchen fire. I don't know but the dampers are all wide open."

Fanny and Cynthia hastened in one direction towards the hospital, and Andrew towards home; but he paused for a minute, and looked thoughtfully up at the humming pile of Lloyd's. The battle was over and the strike was ended. He drew a great sigh, and went home to see to the kitchen fire.

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Chapter LVIIILyman Risley was very seriously injured. There was, as the men had reported, danger for his eyes. When Robert was called into the reception-room of the hospital to see his aunt, he scarcely recognized her. Her soft, white hair was tossed about her temples, her cheeks were burning. She ran up to him like an eager child and clutched his arm."How is he?" she demanded. "Tell me quick!""They are doing everything they can for him. Why, don't, poor Aunt Cynthia!""His eyes, they said--""I hope he will come out all right. Don't, dear Aunt Cynthia." The young man put his arm
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Chapter LVIThat was a hard winter for Rowe. Aside from the financial stress, the elements seemed to conspire against the people who were so ill-prepared to meet their fury. It was the coldest winter which had been known for years; coal was higher, and the poor people had less coal to burn. Storm succeeded storm; then, when there came a warm spell, there was an epidemic of the grippe, and doctors' bills to pay and quinine to buy--and quinine was very dear.The Brewsters managed to keep up the interest on the house mortgage, but their living expenses were reduced to the
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