Part 2 out of 5
"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
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, estranged,
"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 speak?"
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 place...."
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
"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.
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
"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 utensils.
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 shelf!"
Joe laughed with joy.
"With my flunkies and my handmaids. No, Marty, I'm going into another
"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 honest
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 pretty
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 hell!"
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
"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 as
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
Marty squirmed in his chair.
"Joe," he burst out, "how the devil is the printery going to run without
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
"_Me_?" Then Marty laughed loud. "Listen, my ears! Did you hear that?"
"Think it over!" snapped Joe. "Now come along."
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 with a:
"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 on that?"
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 yourself."
"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,
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 _burst_?"
"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 hurt.
"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 was pie.
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 round:
"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 stammer:
"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, murmuring:
"It's all over. That's out of my life."
And he felt as if something had died within him.
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
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. Promise."
"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 in
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.
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
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 his pen-holder.
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
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
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
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 express
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 unendurable.
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 to
It was three o'clock when he surrendered. He strode in to his mother.
"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 kindled eyes.
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
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 and scheme.
"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,
"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
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
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 already
"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 to
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
"We're in the fight now, mother!" he cried. "There's something doing!"
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!"
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
"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 take
"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.
Back to Full Books