Part 4 out of 5
"Mother, I want you to stay in back!"
She looked at him, as if drinking her fill of his face.
"You're right, Joe," she whispered, and turned and went out.
Billy was standing at the stove, a frightened boy, but he gripped the
poker in his hand.
"Billy," said Joe, quietly, "run down and tell Rann to keep 'em out of
Billy edged to the door, opened it, and fled.
Joe was quite alone. He sat down at his desk and took up the telephone.
"Hello, Central!" his voice was monotonous in its lowness and tenseness.
"Give me police headquarters--_quick_!"
Central seemed startled.
"Police--? Yes, right away! Hold on!--Here they are!"
"Hello! Police headquarters!" came a man's voice.
"This is Joe Blaine." Joe gave his address. "There's a riot in front of
the house--a big mob. Send over a patrol wagon on the jump!"
At that moment there was a wild crash of glass, and a heavy stone sang
through the air and knocked out the stove-pipe--pipe and stone falling
to the floor with a rumble and rattle--and from the mob rose murderous
So Joe was able to add:
"They've just smashed my window with a stone. You'd better come damn
"Right off!" snapped Headquarters.
Joe put down the telephone, and stepped quietly over the room and out
into the hall. Even at that moment the hall door burst wide and a
frenzied push and squabble of men poured forth upon him. In that brief
glimpse, in the dim storm-light, Joe saw faces that were anything but
human--wild animals, eyes blood-shot, mouths wide, and many fists in the
air above their heads. There was no mercy, no thought, nothing
civilized--but somehow the demon-deeps of human nature, crusted over
with the veneer of gentler things, had broken through. Worse than
anything was the crazy hum, rising and rising, the hoarse notes, the
fierce discord, that beat upon his brain as if to drown him under.
Joe tried to shout:
"Keep back! I'll shoot! Keep back!"
But at once the rough bodies, the terrible faces were upon him,
surrounding him, pushing him. He seized a little man who was jumping for
his throat--seized and shook the little beast.
"Get back!" he cried.
Fists pushed into his eyes, blows began to rain upon his body and his
head. He ducked. He felt himself propelled backward by an irresistible
force. He felt his feet giving way. Warm and reeking breath blew up his
nostrils. He heard confused cries of: "Kill him! That's him! We've got
him!" Back and back he went, the torn center of a storm, and then
something warm and sweet gushed over his eyes, earth opened under him
and he sank, sank through soft gulfs, deeper and deeper, far from the
troublous noise of life, far, far--into an engulfing blackness.
The flood poured on, gushing down the stair-way, at the foot of which
Rann and his two men stood, all armed with wrenches and tools.
"I'll break the head of any one who comes!"
The men in advance tried to break away, well content to leave their
heads whole, but those in the rear pushed them on. Whack! whack! went
the wrench--the leader fell. But then with fierce screams the mob broke
loose, the three men were swept into the vortex of a fighting whirlpool.
Some one opened the basement gate from the inside and a new stream
poured in. The press-room filled--crowbars got to work--while men danced
and wildly laughed and exulted in their vandal work. Then suddenly arose
the cry of, "Police!" Tools dropped; the mob turned like a stampede of
cattle, crushed for the doors, cried out, caught in a trap, and ran into
the arms of blue-coated officers....
When Joe next opened his eyes and looked out with some surprise on the
same world that he was used to, he found himself stretched in his bed
and a low gas-flame eyeing him from above. He put out a hand, because he
felt queer about the head, and touched bandages. Then some one spoke in
"You want to keep quiet, Mr. Blaine."
He looked. A doctor was sitting beside him.
"Where's mother?" he asked.
"Here I am, Joe." Her voice was sweet in his ears.
She was sitting on the bed at his feet.
She took the seat beside him and folded his free hand with both of hers.
"Mother--I want to know what's the matter with me--every bit of it."
"Well, Joe, you've a broken arm and a banged-up head, but you'll be all
"And you--are you all right?"
"They didn't go in the kitchen?"
"And the press?"
"And the office?"
"How about Rann and the men?"
"The police came?"
"Cleaned them out."
There was a pause; then Joe and his mother looked at each other with
queer expressions on their faces, and suddenly their mellow laughter
filled the room.
"Isn't it great, mother? That's what we get!"
"Well, Joe," said his mother, "what do you expect?"
Suddenly then another stood before him--bowed, remorseful, humble. It
was Sally Heffer, the tears trickling down her face.
She knelt at the bedside and buried her face in the cover.
"It's my fault!" she cried. "It's my fault!"
"Yours, Sally?" cried Joe, quite forgetting the "Miss." "How so?"
"I--I went to Marrin's and got the girls out."
"Got the girls out?" Joe exclaimed. "Where are they?"
"On the street."
"Bring them into the ruins," said Joe, "and organize them. I'm going to
make a business of this thing."
Sally looked up aghast.
"But I--I ought to be shot down. It's I that should have been hurt."
Joe smiled on her.
"Sally! Sally! what an impetuous girl you are! What would I do without
OF THE THIRTY THOUSAND
One wonderful January twilight, when the clear, cold air seemed to
tremble with lusty health, Myra sat alone in the Ramble, before the
little frozen pond. And she thought:
"This is the bench we sat on; and it was here, that morning, that we
quarreled; and this is the little pond; and those the trees--but how
changed! how changed!"
A world-city practises magic. Any one who for years has slept in her
walls and worn the pave of her streets and mingled with her crowds and
her lighted nights, is changed by her subtle enchantment into a child of
the city. He is never free thereafter. The metropolis may send him forth
like a carrier-pigeon, and he may think he is well rid of his mistress,
but the homing instinct inevitably draws him back. "All other
pleasures," as Emerson said of love, "are not worth its pains." Myra
thought that she hated New York--the great nervous sea of life, whose
noise and stress and tragedy had shattered her health. She had longed
for the peace of nature; she had gone forth to the meadows and the
mountains, and for a long time been content with the sounds of the
barnyard and the farm, the wind and the brook; she had sunk, as it were,
into the arms of the earth and rested on that great nourishing breast.
She loved pure air, far horizons, quiet, and the mysterious changes of
the landscape. She thought she was done with the city forever. For had
she not found that the Vision of White Towers seen that first evening
was hollow and bitter at the heart, that beneath the beauty was dust and
horror, routine and disease?
But one snow-bound morning as she gazed out from the quiet house and saw
the limitless white of the world, the fences buried, the trees loaded,
the earth lost under the gray heavens, suddenly she was filled with a
passionate desire for _life_. She was amazed at the restlessness in her
heart. But she could not shake it off. Her desire was very definite--to
walk down Eightieth Street, to hear and see the trolleys bounding down
the little hill to Seventy-ninth Street, to shop on Third Avenue, to go
threading her way through the swarm of school children outside the
school gates. And then subtly she felt the elixir of a Broadway night,
the golden witchery of the lights, the laughter-smitten people, the
crowded cars and motors, the shining shops, the warmth of the crowd. A
thousand memories of streets and rooms, of people and of things, flooded
her mind. The country seemed barren and cold and lonely. She was
grievously homesick. It was as if the city cried: "It is winter; the
world is dark and dead. Come, my children, gather together; gather here
in my arms, you millions; laugh and converse together, toil together,
light fires, turn on lights, warm your hands and souls at my flaming
hearth. We will forget the ice and the twilight! Come, winter is the
time for human beings!"
And so Myra awoke to the fact that she was indeed a child of the
city--that the magic was in her blood and the enchantment in her heart.
It was useless to recall the mean toil, the narrow life, the unhealthy
days. These, dropped in the great illusion of crowded New York, were
transformed into a worthy struggle, a part of the city's reality. She
suddenly felt as if she would go crazy if she stayed in the country--its
stillness stifled her, its emptiness made her ache.
But there was a deeper call than the call of the city. She wanted to be
with Joe. Her letters to him had been for his sake, not hers. She had
tried to save him from herself, to shut him out and set him free, to
cure him of his love. Desperately she did this, knowing that the future
held nothing for them together. And for a time it had been a beautiful
thing to do, until finally she was compelled to believe that he really
was cured. His notes were more and more perfunctory, until, at last,
they ceased altogether. Then, when she knew she had lost him, it seemed
to her that she had condemned herself to a barren, fruitless life; that
the best had been lived, and it only remained now to die. She had given
up her "whole existence," cast out that by which she truly lived. There
were moments of inexpressible loneliness, when, reading in the orchard,
or brooding beside some rippling brook, she glanced southward and sent
her silent cry over the horizon. Somewhere down there he was swallowed
in the vastness of life; she remembered the lines of his face, his dark
melancholy eyes, his big human, humorous lips, his tall, awkward
strength; she felt still those kisses on her lips; felt his arms about
her; the warmth of his hand; the whisper of his words; and the wind in
That afternoon at the riverside he had cast his future at her feet. She
had been offered that which runs deeper than hunger or dream or toil,
the elemental, the mystic, the very glory of a woman's life. She had
been offered a life, too, of comradeship and great issues. And now, when
these gifts were withdrawn, she knew she would nevermore have rest or
joy in this world. Is not life the adventure of a man and a woman going
forth together, toiling, and talking, and laughing, and creating on the
road to death? Is not earth the mating-place for souls? Out of nature we
rise and seek out each other and mate and make of life a glory and a
mystery. This is the secret of youth, and the magic of all music and of
all sorrow and of all toil. Or, so it seemed to Myra.
There is no longing in the world so tragic or terrible as that of men
and women for each other. And so Myra had her homesickness for the city
transfused and sharpened by her overmastering love. She fought with
herself bitterly; she resolved to wait for one more mail. Nothing came
in that mail.
Then she evaded the issue. There were practical reasons for her return.
Her health was quite sound again, she had been idle long enough; it was
time to get back to work. What if she did return to the city? Surely it
was not necessary to seek out Joe. It would be enough to be near him. He
need not be troubled. So vast is the city that he would not know of her
presence. What harm, then, in easing her heart, in getting back into the
warmth and stir of life?
With a young girl's joy she packed her trunk and took the train for New
York, and at sunset, as she rode in the ferry over the North River, she
stood bravely out on deck, faced the bitter and salt wind, and saw,
above the flush of the waters, that breathless skyline which, like the
prow of some giant ship, seemed making out to sea. Lights twinkled in
windows, signal-lamps gleamed red and green on the piers, chimneys
smoked, and as the ferry nosed its way among the busy craft of the
river, Myra exulted. She was coming back! This again was New York, real,
right there, unbudged, her thousand lights like voices calling her
home. The ferry landed; she hurried out and took a surface car And how
good the crowd seemed, how warm the noise and the lights, what gladness
was in the evening ebb-tide of people, how splendid the avenues shone
with their sparkle and their shops and their traffic! She felt again the
good hard pave under her feet. She met again a hundred familiar scenes.
The vast flood of life seemed to engulf her, suck her up as if to say:
"Well, you're here again! Come, there is room! Another human being!"
All about her was rich life, endless sights, confusion and variety. The
closing darkness was pierced with lights, windows glowed, people were
hurrying home. It was all as she had left it. And she felt then that the
city was but Joe multiplied, and that Joe was the city. Both were
cosmopolitan, democratic, tragic, light-hearted, many-faceted. Both were
careless and big and easy and roomy. Both had a great freedom about
them. And what a freedom the city had!--nothing snowbound here, but
invitation, shops open, cars gliding, the millions transported back and
forth, everything open and inviting.
She was glad for her neat back room--for gas-lights and running
water--for the comfort and ease of life. She was glad even to sit in the
crowded dining-room, and that night she was glad to lie abed and hear
the city's heart pounding about her--that old noise of whistles on the
river, that old thunder of the elevated train.
But she found that nearness to Joe made it impossible to keep away from
him. Just as of old she had found excuses for going up to the trembling
printery, so now she felt that somehow she must seek him out. She kept
wondering what he was doing at that particular moment. Was he toiling or
idling? Was he with his mother? Did he still wear the same clothes, the
same half-worn necktie, the same old lovable gray hat? What would he
say, how would he look, if she suddenly confronted him? Myra had to
laugh softly to herself. She saw the wonder in his face, the open mouth,
the flashing eyes. Or, would he be embarrassed? Was there some other
woman--one who accorded with his ideals--one who could share his
life-work? Of course she hoped that there was. She hoped he had found
some one worthy of him. But the thought gave her intense misery. Why had
he thrown his life away and gone down into that foolish and shoddy
neighborhood? Surely when she saw him she would be disappointed by the
changes in him. He would be more than ever a fanatic--more than ever an
unreasonable radical. He might even be vulgarized by his
environment--might have taken its color, been leveled down by its
She must forget the new Joe and cleave to the old Joe. Next afternoon,
walking out, almost involuntarily, she turned west and entered the
Park. The trees were naked, a lacy tracery of boughs against the
deep-blue sky. She followed the curve, she crossed the roadway, she
climbed the hill to the Ramble. She began to tingle with the keen, crisp
air, and with the sense of adventure. It was almost as if she were going
to meet Joe--as if they had arranged a secret meeting. She took the
winding paths, she passed the little pool. There was the bench! But
Then she sat down on that bench, and looked out at the naked wilderness
of trees, at the ice in the pond, at the sodden brown, dead grasses. The
place was wildly forlorn and bare. When they had last been here the air
had been tinged with the haunting autumn, the leaves had been falling,
the pool had been deep with the heavens. And again she thought:
"This is the bench we sat on; and it was here, that morning, that we
quarreled; this is the little pond, and those the trees--but how
changed! how changed!"
Then as she sat there she beheld the miracle of color. Behind her,
between the black tree trunks, the setting sun was a liquid red
splendor, daubing some low clouds with rosiness, and all about her, in
the turn between day and night, the world, which before was a blend in
the strong light, now divided into a myriad sharp tints. The air held a
tinge of purple, the distance a smoky violet, the brown of the grasses
was a strong brown, the black of the trunks intensely black. Out among
distant trees she saw a woman and child walking, and the child's scarlet
cloak seemed a living thing as it swayed and moved. How sharp and
distinct were the facts of earth! how miraculously tinted! what tones of
blue and red, of purple and black! It was the sunset singing its hymn of
color, and it made her feel keenly the mystery and beauty of life--the
great moments of solution and peace--the strange human life that
inhabits for a brief space this temple of a million glories. But
something was missing, there was a great lack, a wide emptiness. She
resolved then to see Joe.
It was not, however, until the next afternoon that she took the elevated
train to Ninth Street and then the crosstown car over the city. She
alighted in the shabby street; she walked up to the entrance; she saw
over the French windows a big canvas sign, "Strike Headquarters."
Within, she thought she saw a mass of people. This made her hesitate.
She had expected to find him alone. And somehow, too, the place was even
shabbier, even meaner than she had expected. And so she stood a
moment--a slender, little woman, her hands in a muff, a fur scarf bound
about her throat, her gray eyes liquid and luminous, a rosy tint in her
cheeks, her lips parted and releasing a thin steam in the bitter winter
air. Overhead the sky was darkening with cloud-masses, a shriveling
wind dragged the dirty street, and the world was desolate and gray. The
blood was pulsing in Myra's temples, her heart leaped, her breath
panted. And as she hesitated a girl passed her, a girl about whose
breast was bound a placard whereon were the words:
JOIN THE STRIKE
OF THE THIRTY THOUSAND
What strike? What did it mean? Was Joe in a strike? She thought he had
been editing a paper. She had better not intrude. She turned, as if to
fly, and yet hesitated. Her feet refused to go; her heart was
rebellious. Only a wall divided him from her. Why should she not see
him? Why not a moment's conversation? Then she would go and leave him to
Another girl passed her and paused--a girl also placarded, a girl with a
strange beauty, somewhat tall, with form well rounded, with pale face
full of the fascination of burning eagerness. This girl's eyes were a
clear blue, her lips set tight, and her light-brown hair blew
beautifully about her cheeks. She was, however, but thinly clothed, and
her frail little coat was short and threadbare.
She spoke to Myra--a rich, sympathetic voice.
"Are you looking for Mr. Blaine?"
"Yes--" said Myra, almost gasping. "Is he in?"
"He's always in!" The girl smiled.
"There's nothing the matter?"
"With him? No! But come, come out of the cold!"
There was nothing to do but follow. The girl opened a door and they
entered the office. It was crowded with girls and women and men. Long
benches were about the wall, camp-stools filled the floor. Many were
seated; on two of the benches worn-out men were fast asleep, and between
the seats groups of girls were talking excitedly. Several lights burned
in the darkening room, and Myra saw swiftly the strange types--there
were Jewish girls, Italian girls, Americans, in all sorts of garbs, some
very flashy with their "rat"-filled hair, their pompadours, their
well-cut clothes, others almost in rags; some tall, some short, some
rosy-cheeked, many frail and weak and white. At a table in the rear
Giotto was receiving money from Italians and handing out union cards. He
looked as if he hadn't slept for nights.
Myra was confused. She felt strangely "out" of all this; strangely, as
if she were intruding. The smell of the place offended her, especially
as it was mixed with cheap perfumes; and the coarse slangy speech that
flashed about jarred on her ear. But at the same time she was
suffocating with suspense.
"Where is he?" she murmured--they were standing right within the door.
"Over there!" the girl pointed.
But all Myra saw was a black semicircle of girls leaning over some one
invisible near the window.
"He's at his desk, and he's talking with a committee. You'd better wait
till he's finished!"
This news choked Myra. Wait? Wait here? Be shut out like this? She was
as petulant as a child; she felt like shedding tears.
But the girl at her side seemed to be playing the part of hostess, and
she had to speak.
"What strike is this?"
The girl was amazed.
"_What strike_! Don't you know?"
"No--I don't. I've been out of the city."
"It's the shirtwaist-makers' strike."
"Oh! I see!" said Myra, mechanically.
"It's the biggest woman's strike that ever was. Thirty thousand
out--Italians, Jews, and Americans."
"Yes?" Myra was not listening.
Suddenly then the door was flung open and a well-dressed girl rushed in,
"Say, girls, what do you think?"
A group gathered about her.
"What's up? What's the news? Don't stand there all day!"
The girl spoke with exultant indignation.
"I've been arrested!"
"And I didn't do nothing, either--I was good. What do you think of this?
The judge fined me ten dollars. Well, let me tell you, I'm going to _get
something_ for those ten dollars! I'm going to raise--hell!"
"You bet! Ain't it a shame?"
And the group swallowed her up.
Myra wondered why the girl had been arrested, and was surprised at her
lack of shame and humiliation.
But she had not much time for thought. The door opened again, and Sally
Heffer entered, sparkling, neat, eyes clear.
At once cries arose:
"Here's Sal! Hello, Sally Heffer! Where have you been?" Girls crowded
about. "What's the news? Where did you come from?"
Where had Myra heard that name before?
Sally spoke with delicious fastidiousness.
"_I've_ been to Vassar."
"Yes, Vassar College--raised fifty dollars!"
"Sally's it, all right! Say, Sal, how did they treat you? Stuck up?"
"Not a bit," said Sally. "They were ever so good to me. They're lovely
girls--kind, sweet, sympathetic. They wanted to help and they were very
respectful, but"--she threw up her hands--"_oh, they're ignorant_!"
There was a shout of laughter. Myra was shocked. A slum girl to speak
like this of Vassar students? She noticed then, with a queer pang, that
Sally made for the window group, who at once made a place for her. Sally
had easy access to Joe.
The girl at her side was speaking again.
"You've no idea what this strike means. There's some rich women
interested in it--they work right with us, hold mass-meetings, march in
the streets--they're wonderful. And some of the big labor-leaders and
even some of the big lawyers are helping. There's one big lawyer been
giving all his time. You see, we're having trouble with the police."
"Yes, I see," said Myra, though she didn't see at all, and neither did
she care. It seemed to her that she could not wait another instant. She
must either go, or step over to his desk.
"Is he still so busy?" she asked.
"Yes, he is," said the girl. "Do you know him personally?"
Myra laughed softly.
"Then you heard how he was hurt?"
"_Hurt_!" gasped Myra. Her heart seemed to grow small, and it was
pierced by a sharp needle of pain.
"Yes, there was a riot here--the men came in and smashed everything."
"And Mr. Blaine? _Tell me_!" The words came in a blurt.
"Had his arm broken and his head was all bloody."
Myra felt dizzy, faint.
"Oh, he's all right now."
"When did this happen?"
"About six weeks ago!"
Six weeks! That was shortly after the last letter came. Myra was
suffering agony, and her face went very pale.
"How did it happen?" she breathed.
"Oh, he called some strikers traitors, and they came down and broke in.
It's lucky he wasn't killed."
He had suffered, he had been in peril of his life, while she was resting
in the peace of the country. So this was a strike, and in this Joe was
concerned. She looked about the busy room; she noticed anew the sleeping
men and the toiling Giotto; and suddenly she was interested. She was
wrenched, as it were, from her world into his. She felt in the heart of
a great tragedy of life. And all the time she kept saying over and over
"His arm was broken! his head bloody! and I wasn't here! I wasn't at his
And she had thought in her country isolation that life in the city
wasn't real. What a moment that must have been when Joe faced the
rioters--when they rushed upon him--when he might have been killed! And
instead of deterring him from his work, here he was in the thick of it,
braving, possibly, unspeakable dangers. Then, glancing about, it seemed
to her that these girls and men were a part of his drama; he gave them a
new reality. This was life, pulsing, immediate, tragic. She must go to
him--she mustn't delay longer.
She took a few steps forward, and at almost the same moment the girls
about Joe left him, scattering about the room. Then she saw him. And
what a spectacle! He was in his shirt-sleeves, his hair was more tousled
than ever, and his face was gray--the most tragic face she had ever
seen--gray, sunken, melancholy, worn, as if he bore the burden of the
world. But in one hand he held a pen, and in the other--a ham sandwich.
It was a big sandwich, and every few moments he took a big bite, as he
scratched on. Myra's heart was wrung with love and pity, with remorse
and fondness, and mainly with the tragi-comedy of his face and the
She stood over him a moment, breathless, panting, her throat full of
blood, it seemed. Then she stooped a little and whispered:
He wheeled round; he looked up; his gray face seemed to grow grayer; his
lips parted--he was more than amazed. He was torn away, as it were, from
all business of life.
"Why," he said under his breath, "it's you, Myra!"
"Yes"--tears stood in her eyes--"it's I."
He surveyed her up and down, and then their eyes met. He ran his hand
through his hair.
"You--you--" he murmured. "And how well you look, how strong, how fresh!
Sit down! sit down!"
She took the seat, trembling. She leaned forward.
"But you--you are killing yourself, Joe."
He smiled sadly.
"It's serious business, Myra."
She gazed at him, and spoke hard.
"Is there no end to it? Aren't you going to rest, ever?"
"End? No end now. The strike must be won."
He was trying to pull himself together. He gave a short laugh; he sat
"So you're back from the country."
"Yes, I'm back."
"You're cured, then?"
"Yes," she smiled, "cured of many things. I like the city better than I
He gave her a sharp look.
"So!" Then his voice came with utter weariness: "Well, the city's a
queer place, Myra. Things happen here."
Somehow she felt that he was standing her off. Something had crept in
between them, some barrier, some wall. He had already emerged from the
shock of the meeting. What if there were things in his life far more
important than this meeting? Myra tried to be brave.
"I just wanted to see you--see the place--see how things were getting
Joe laughed softly.
"Things _are_ getting on. Circulation's up to fifteen thousand--due to
"We got out a strike edition--and the girls peddled it around town, and
lots subscribed. It's given the paper a big boost."
"I'm glad to hear it," Myra found herself saying.
"_You_ glad?" If only his voice hadn't been so weary! "That's strange,
"It _is_ strange!" she said, her eyes suffused again. His gray, tragic
face seemed to be working on the very strings of her heart. She longed
so to help him, to heal him, to breathe joy and strength into him.
"Joe!" she said.
He looked at her again.
"Oh--I--" She paused.
"Isn't there some way I can help?"
A strange expression came to his face, of surprise, of wonder.
"Mr. Blaine! Mr. Blaine!" Some one across the room was calling. "There's
an employer here to see you!"
Joe leaped up, took Myra's hand, and spoke hastily.
"Wait and meet my mother. And come again--sometime. Sometime when I'm
not so rushed!"
And he was gone--gone out of the room.
Myra arose, still warm with the touch of his hand--for his hand was
almost fever-warm. All that she knew was that he had suffered and was
suffering, and that she must help. She was burning now with an eagerness
to learn about the strike, to understand what it was that so depressed
and enslaved him, what it was that was slowly killing him. Her old
theories met the warm clasp of life and vanished. She forgot her
viewpoint and her delicacy. Life was too big for her shallow philosophy.
It seized upon her now and absorbed her.
She strode back to the young girl, who she learned later was named Rhona
Hemlitz, and who was but seventeen years old.
She said: "Tell me about the strike! Can't we sit down together and
talk? Have you time?"
"I have a little time," said Rhona, eagerly. "We can sit here!"
So they sat side by side and Rhona told her. Rhona's whole family was
engaged in sweat-work. They lived in a miserable tenement over in Hester
Street, where her mother had been toiling from dawn until midnight with
the needle, with her tiny brother helping to sew on buttons, "finishing"
daily a dozen pairs of pants, and making--_thirty cents_.
Myra was amazed.
"Thirty cents--dawn till midnight! Impossible!"
And then her father--who worked all day in a sweatshop.
"And you--what did you do?" asked Myra.
Rhona told her. She had worked in Zandler's shirtwaist factory--bending
over a power-machine, whose ten needles made forty-four hundred stitches
a minute. So fast they flew that a break in needle or thread ruined a
shirtwaist; hence, never did she allow her eyes to wander, never during
a day of ten to fourteen hours, while, continuously, the needles danced
up and down like flashes of steel or lightning. At times it seemed as if
the machine were running away from her and she had to strain her body to
keep it back. And so, when she reeled home late at night, her smarting
eyes saw sharp showers of needles in the air every time she winked, and
her back ached intolerably.
"I never dreamt," said Myra, "that people had to work like that!"
"Oh, that's not all!" said Rhona, and went on. Her wages were rarely
over five dollars a week, and for months, during slack season, she was
out of work--came daily to the factory, and had to sit on a bench and
wait, often fruitlessly. And then the sub-contracting system, whereunder
the boss divided the work among lesser bosses who each ran a gang of
toilers, speeding them up mercilessly, "sweating" them! And so the young
girls, sixteen to twenty-five years old, were sapped of health and joy
and womanhood, and, "as Mr. Joe wrote, the future is robbed of wives and
Myra was amazed. She had a new glimpse of the woman problem. She saw now
how millions of women were being fed into the machine of industry, and
that thus the home was passing, youth was filched of its glory, and the
race was endangered. This uprising of the women, then, meant more than
she dreamed--meant the attempt to save the race by freeing the women
from this bondage. Had they not a right then to go out in the open, to
strike, to lead marches, to sway meetings, to take their places with
Such thoughts, confused and swift, came to her, and she asked Rhona what
had happened. How had the strike started? First, said Rhona, there was
the strike at Marrin's--a spark that set off the other places. Then at
Zandler's conditions had become so bad that one morning Jake Hedig, her
boss, a young, pale-faced, black-haired man, suddenly arose and shouted
in a loud voice throughout the shop:
"I am sick of slave-driving. I resign my job."
The boss, and some of the little bosses, set upon him, struck him, and
dragged him out, but as he went he shouted lustily:
"Brothers and sisters, are you going to sit by your machines and see a
fellow-worker used this way?"
The machines stopped: the hundreds of girls and the handful of men
marched out simultaneously. Then, swiftly the sedition had spread about
the city until a great night in Cooper Union, when, after speeches of
peace and conciliation, one of the girls had risen, demanded and secured
the floor, and moved a general strike. Her motion was unanimously
carried, and when the chairman cried, in Yiddish: "Do you mean faith?
Will you take the old Jewish oath?" up went two thousand hands, with one
"If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from
the arm I now raise."
By this oath Rhona was bound. And so were thirty thousand
others--Americans, Italians, Jews--and with them were some of the
up-town women, some of the women of wealth, some of the big lawyers and
the labor-leaders and reformers.
"Some of the up-town women!" thought Myra. She was amazed to find
herself so interested, so wrought up. And she felt as if she had
stumbled upon great issues and great struggles; she realized, dimly,
that first moment, that this strike was involved in something larger,
something vaster--swallowed up in the advance of democracy, in the
advance of woman. All the woman in her responded to the call to arms.
And she was discovering now what Joe had meant by his "crisis"--what he
had meant by his fight for "more democracy; a better and richer life; a
superber people on earth. It was a real thing. She burned now to help
Joe--she burned to do for him--to enter into his tragic struggle--to be
of use to him.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked Rhona.
"Now? Now I must go picketing."
"March up and down in front of a factory and try to keep scabs out."
"What are scabs?" asked ignorant Myra.
Rhona was amazed.
"You don't even know that? Why, a scab's a girl who tries to take a
striker's job and so ruin the strike. She takes the bread out of our
"But how can you stop her?"
"Talk to her! We're not allowed to use violence."
"How do you do it?"
Rhona looked at the eager face, the luminous gray eyes.
"Would you like to see it?"
"Yes, I would."
"But it's dangerous."
"Police and thugs, bums hanging around."
"And you girls aren't afraid?"
"We don't show it, anyway. You see, we're bound to win."
Myra's eyes flashed.
"Well, if you're not afraid, I guess I haven't any right to be. May I
Rhona looked at her with swift understanding.
"Yes, please do come!"
Myra rose. She took a last look about the darkening room; saw once more
the sleeping men, the toiling Giotto, the groups of girls. Something
tragic hung in the air. She seemed to breathe bigger, gain in stature,
expand. She was going to meet the test of these newer women. She was
going to identify herself with their vast struggle.
And looking once more, she sought Joe, but could not find him. How
pleased he would be to know that she was doing this--doing it largely
for him--because she wanted to smooth out that gray face, and lay her
cheek against its lost wrinkles, and put her arm about his neck, and
Tears dimmed her eyes. She took Rhona's arm and they stepped out into
the bleak street. Wind whipped their faces like quick-flicked knives.
They walked close together.
"Is it far?" asked Myra.
"Quite far. It's over on Great Jones Street!"
And so Myra went, quite lost in the cyclone of life.
They gained the corner of Great Jones Street--one of those dim byways of
trade that branch off from the radiant avenues. As they turned in the
street, they met a bitter wind that was blowing the pavement clean as
polished glass, and the dark and closing day was set off sharply by the
intense lamps and shop-lights. Here and there at a window a clerk
pressed his face against the cold pane and looked down into the
cheerless twilight, and many toilers made the hard pavement echo with
their fast steps as they hurried homeward.
"There they are," said Rhona.
Two girls, both placarded, came up to them. One of them, a thin little
skeleton, pitiably ragged in dress, with hollow eyes and white face, was
coughing in the cuff of the wind. She was plainly a consumptive--a
little wisp of a girl. She spoke brokenly, with a strong Russian accent.
"It's good to see you yet, Rhona. I get so cold my bones ready to
She shivered and coughed. Rhona spoke softly.
"Fannie, you go right home, and let your mother give you a good drink of
hot lemonade with whiskey in it. And take a foot-bath, too."
Fannie coughed again.
"Don't you tell me, Rhona. Look out for yourself. There gets trouble yet
on this street."
Myra drew nearer, a dull feeling in her breast. Rhona spoke easily:
"None of the men said anything or did anything, did they?"
"Well, they say things; they make angry faces, and big fists, Rhona.
Better be careful."
"Where are they?"
"By Zandler's doorway. They get afraid of the cold."
Rhona laughed softly, and put an arm about the frail body.
"Now you run home, and don't worry about me! I can take care of myself.
I expect another girl, anyway."
"Good-night--get to bed, and don't forget the hot lemonade!"
The two girls departed, blowing, as it were, about the corner and out of
sight. Rhona turned to Myra, whose face was pallid.
"Hadn't you better go back, Miss Craig? You see, I'm used to these
"No," said Myra, in a low voice. "I've come to stay."
She was thinking of tiny Fannie. What! Could she not measure to a
little consumptive Russian?
"All right," said Rhona. "Let's begin!"
They started to walk quietly up and down before the darkened loft
building--up fifty yards, down fifty yards. A stout policeman slouched
under a street-lamp, swinging his club with a heavily gloved hand, and
in the shadow of the loft-building entrance Rhona pointed out to Myra
several ill-looking private detectives who danced up and down on their
toes, blew their hands, smoked cigarettes, and kept tab of the time.
"It's they," whispered Rhona, "who make all the trouble. Some of them
are ex-convicts and thugs. They are a rough lot."
"But why is it allowed?" asked Myra.
"Why is anything allowed?"
The wind seemed to grow more and more cruel. Myra felt her ear-lobes
swelling, the tip of her nose tingled and her feet and hands were numb.
But they held on quietly in the darkening day. It all seemed simple
enough--this walking up and down. So this was picketing!
Myra spoke softly as they turned and walked west.
"Have many of the girls been arrested?"
"Oh yes, a lot of them."
"Have they been disorderly?"
"Some of them have. It's hard to keep cool, with scabs egging you on
and calling you cowards."
"And what happens to them if they are arrested?"
"Oh, fined--five, ten dollars."
They turned under the lamp; the policeman rose and sank on one foot
after the other; they walked quietly back. Then, as they passed the
doorway of the loft building, one of the young men stepped forward into
the light. He was a square-set, heavy fellow, with long, square,
protruding jaw, and little monkey eyes. His bearing was menacing. He
stepped in front of the girls, who stopped still and awaited him. Myra
felt the blood rush to her head, and a feeling of dizziness made her
tremble. Then the man spoke sharply:
"Say, you--you can't go by here."
Myra gazed at him as if she were hypnotized, but Rhona's eyes flashed.
"Don't jaw me," said the man. "But--_clear out_!"
Rhona tried to speak naturally.
"Isn't this a public street? Haven't I a right to walk up and down with
Then Myra felt as if she were struck by lightning, or as if something
sacred in her womanhood had been outraged.
With a savage growl: "You little sheeny!" the man suddenly struck out a
fist and hit Rhona in the chest. She lurched, doubled, and fell, saving
herself with her hands. Myra did not move, but a shock of horror went
The two other young men in the doorway came forward, and home-goers
paused, drew close, looked on curiously and silently. One nudged
The thug muttered under his breath:
"Pull her up by her hair; we'll run her in!"
But Rhona had scrambled to her feet. She was too wild to cry or speak.
She glanced around for help, shunning the evil monkey eyes. Then she saw
the policeman under the lamp. He was still nonchalantly swinging his
She gave a gasping sob, pushing away Myra's offered help, and struggled
over to him. He did not move. She stood, until he glanced at her. Then
she caught his eye, and held him, and spoke with strange repression, as
the crowd drew about them. Myra was in that crowd, dazed, outraged,
helpless. She heard Rhona speaking:
"Do you think a man has any right to strike a girl?"
He did not answer; she still held his eyes.
"Do you think a man has any right to strike a girl?"
Still he said nothing, and the crowd became fascinated by the fixity of
gaze of the two. Rhona's voice sharpened:
"_Do you think a man has any right to strike a girl_?"
The officer cleared his throat and looked away.
"Oh," he muttered carelessly, "it's all right. You people are always
Rhona's voice rose.
"I ask you to arrest him."
Several in the crowd backed this with mutterings. The policeman twirled
"Oh, all right!" he called. "Come along, Blondy!"
Blondy, the thug, came up grinning.
"Pinching me, John?" he asked.
"Sure." The policeman smiled, and then seized Blondy and Rhona each by
an arm and started to march them toward Broadway. Myra followed wildly.
Her mind was in a whirl and the bitter tears blurred her eyes. What
could she do? How could she help? She sensed in the policeman's word a
menace to Rhona. Rhona was in trouble, and she, Myra, was as good as
useless in this crisis. She suddenly understood the helplessness of the
poor and the weak, especially the poor and weak women. What could they
do against this organized iniquity? Against the careless and cruel
world? It was all right for gentlewomen in gentle environment to keep to
the old ideals of womanhood--to stay at home and delegate their
citizenship to the men. But those who were sucked into the vortex of the
rough world, what of these? Were they not right in their attempts to
organize, to rebel, to fight in the open, to secure a larger share of
freedom and power?
But if these were Myra's feelings and thoughts--a sense of outrage, of
being trampled on--they were little things compared with the agony in
Rhona's breast. A growing and much-pleased crowd surrounded her,
"Lock-steps for yours! Hello, Mamie! Oh, you kid! Now will you be good!
Carrie, go home and wash the dishes!"
And one boy darted up and snapped the placard from her waist. The crowd
laughed, but Rhona was swallowing bitter tears.
They passed down Broadway a block or two, and then turned west.
Brilliant light from the shop windows fell upon the moving scene--the
easy-going men, the slouching, shrill boys, and the girl with her pale
set face and uncertain steps. All the world was going home to supper,
and Rhona felt strangely that she was now an exile--torn by the roots
from her warm life to go on a lonely adventure against the powers of
darkness. She had lost her footing in the world and was slipping into
the night. She felt singularly helpless; her very rage and rebellion
made her feel frail and unequal to the task. To be struck down in the
street! To be insulted by a crowd! She had hard work to hold her head
erect and keep back the bitter sobs.
Up the darkened street they went, the crowd gradually falling away. And
suddenly they paused before the two green lamps of the new
station-house, and then in a moment they had vanished through the
Myra rushed up, panting, to a policeman who stood on the steps.
"I want to go in--I'm with _her_."
"Can't do it, lady. She's under arrest."
"Not she," cried Myra. "The man."
"Oh, we'll see. You run along--keep out of trouble!"
Myra turned, confused, weak. She questioned a passer-by about the
location of Ninth Street. "Up Broadway--seven or eight blocks!" She
started; she hurried; her feet were winged with desperate fear. What
could be done? How help Rhona? Surely Joe--Joe could do something. He
would know--she would hasten to him and get his aid. That at least she
Now and then a bitter sob escaped her. She felt that she had lost her
self-respect and her pride. Like a coward she had watched Rhona
attacked, had not even raised her voice, had not, even attempted
interference. They might have listened to a well-dressed woman, a woman
of refinement. And she had done nothing--just followed the crowd,
nursing her wounded pride. She began to feel that the world was a big
place, and that those without money or position are at the mercy of the
powerful. She began to revise her opinion of America, more keenly than
ever she understood Joe's passion for more democracy. And she had a
sense, too, that she had never really known life--that her narrow
existence had touched life at but a few minor points--and that the great
on-struggle of the world, the vast life of the race, the million-eddying
evolution were all outside her limits. Now she was feeling the edge of
new existences. The knowledge humbled, almost humiliated her. She
wondered that Joe had ever thought well of her, had ever been content to
share his life with her.
Driven by these thoughts and by her fear and her apprehension for
Rhona's safety, she plunged west, borne by the wind, buffeted, beaten,
blown along. The lights behind the French windows were like beacons in a
storm. She staggered into the hall, entered the room. Her hair was wild
about her face, her cheeks pale, her eyes burning.
The room was still crowded, intensely busy. She noticed nothing, but
pushed her way to Joe's desk. He was talking with two girls.
She confronted him.
He lifted his gray, tragic face, amazed.
"You still here?"
It was as if he had forgotten her. But Myra was not now thinking of
herself. She spoke, breathlessly:
"Joe, I think Rhona Hemlitz is in trouble."
"She was knocked down by a thug, and she had him arrested, but I'm
afraid _she's_ arrested."
A dangerous light came into Joe's eyes.
"All right! All right! Where did this happen?"
"On Great Jones Street."
"Well and good," he muttered.
"But isn't there anything to do?" cried Myra.
"Why, if she's not arrested, she'll come here and report, and if she
doesn't come I'll go over to the Night Court at nine this evening."
"I must go with you," cried Myra.
"You?" He looked at her, and then suddenly he asked: "But how did you
come to hear of this?"
"I was picketing with her."
A great change came over Joe's face, as if he beheld a miracle.
"Myra! So you have been picketing!"
Her face went very white.
"Don't! Don't!" she breathed painfully, sinking in a chair. "I was a
coward, Joe--I didn't do anything to help her!"
"But what could you do?"
"Oh, something, anything."
He glanced at her keenly, and a swift smile lit his features. He spoke
"Myra, you step in back to my mother. Take supper with her. Keep her
company. I'm afraid I'm neglecting mother these days."
"And the Night Court?" Myra was swallowing sobs.
"I'll look in for you at nine o'clock."
"Thank you," she whispered. "Oh, thank you."
It was something that he thought her worthy.
When the policeman with Rhona and Blondy passed up the steps between the
green lamps of the new station-house, they found themselves in a long
room whose warmth was a fine relief. They breathed more easily, loosened
their coats, and then stepped forward. A police sergeant sat behind a
railing, writing at a low desk, a low-hanging, green-shaded electric
bulb above him.
Rhona felt that she had to speak quickly and get in her word before the
others. She tried to be calm, but a dull sob went with the words.
"That man struck me--knocked me down. I've had him arrested."
The sergeant did not look up. He went on writing. Finally he spoke,
The policeman cleared his throat.
"The other way round, Sergeant. _She_ struck the _man_."
Rhona breathed hard, a feeling in her breast of her heart breaking. She
"That's not true. He struck me--he struck me."
The sergeant glanced up.
"What's your name?"
Rhona could not answer for a moment. Then, faintly:
"---- Hester Street."
"Oh!" he whistled slightly. "Striker?"
"Held for Night Court trial. Lock her up, Officer."
Blackness closed over the girl's brain. She thought she was going into
hysterics. Her one thought was that she must get help, that she must
reach some one who knew her. She burst out:
"I want to telephone."
"Mr. Blaine--Mr. Blaine!"
"West Tenth Street feller?"
The sergeant winked to the policeman.
"Oh, the matron'll see to that! Hey, Officer?"
Rhona felt her arm seized, and then had a sense of being dragged, a
feeling of cool, fetid air, a flood of darkness, voices, and then she
knew no more. The matron who was stripping her and searching her had to
get cold water and wash her face....
Later Rhona found herself in a narrow cell, sitting in darkness at the
edge of a cot. Through the door came a torrent of high-pitched speech.
"Yer little tough, reform! reform! What yer mean by such carryings-on? I
know yer record. Beware of God, little devil...."
On and on it went, and Rhona, dazed, wondered what new terror it
foreboded. But then without warning the talk switched.
"Yer know who I am?"
"Who?" quavered Rhona.
"I divorced him, I did."
"My husband, I'm telling yer. Are yer deef?"
Suddenly Rhona rose and rushed to the door.
"I want to send a message."
"By-and-by," said the matron, and her rum-reeking breath came full in
the girl's face. The matron was drunk.
For an hour she confided to Rhona the history of her married life, and
each time that Rhona dared cry, "I want to send a message!" she replied,
But after an hour was ended, she remembered.
"Message? Sure! Fifty cents!"
Rhona clutched the edge of the door.
"Telephone--I want to telephone!"
"Telephone!" shrieked the matron. "Do yer think we keep a telephone for
the likes of ye?"
"But I haven't fifty cents--besides, a message doesn't cost fifty
"Are yer telling _me_?" the matron snorted. "Fifty cents! Come now,
hurry," she wheedled. "Yer know as yer has it! Oh, it's in good time you
Her last words were addressed to some one behind her. The cell door was
quickly opened; Rhona's arm was seized by John, the policeman, and
without words she was marched to the curb and pushed into the patrol
wagon with half a dozen others. The wagon clanged through the cold, dark
streets, darting through the icy edge of the wind, and the women huddled
together. Rhona never forgot how that miserable wagonful chattered--that
noise of clicking teeth, the pulse of indrawn sighs, and the shivering
of arms and chests. Closer and closer they drew, as if using one another
as shields against the arctic onslaught, a couple of poor women, and
four unsightly prostitutes, the scum of the lower Tenderloin. One woman
kept moaning jerkily:
"Wisht I was dead--down in my grave. It's bitter cold--"
The horses struck sparks against the pave, the wheels grided, and the
wagon-load went west, up the shadowy depths of Sixth Avenue, under the
elevated structure, and stopped before Jefferson Market Court. The women
were hustled out and went shuddering through long corridors, until at
last they were shoved into a large cell.
* * * * *
At about the same moment Myra and Joe emerged from the West Tenth Street
house and started for the court-house. They started, bowing their heads
in the wind, holding on to their hats.
"Whew!" muttered Joe. "This is a night!"
Myra did not dare take his arm, and he spoke a little gruffly.
"Better hang on to me."
She slipped her arm through his then, gratefully, and tried to bravely
fight eastward with him.
Joe was silent. He walked with difficulty. Myra almost felt as if she
were leading him. If she only could have sent him home, nursed him and
comforted him! He was so weary that she felt more like sending him to
bed than dragging him out in this bitter weather.
More and more painfully he shuffled, and Myra brooded over him as if he
were hers, and there was a sad joy in doing this, a sad glory in leading
him and sharing the cruel night with him.
In this way they gained the corner of Sixth Avenue. Across the way
loomed the illuminated tower-topped brick court-house.
"Here it is," said Joe.
Myra led him over, up the steps, and through the dingy entrance. Then
they stepped into the court-room and sat down on one of the benches,
which were set out as in a school-room.
The place was large and blue, and dimly lighted. The judge's end of it
was screened off by wire netting. Up on a raised platform sat the
magistrate at his desk, his eyes hidden by a green shade, his bald head
radiant with the electric light above him. Clerks hovered about him, and
an anaemic indoor policeman, standing before him, grasped with one hand
a brass rail and with the other was continually handing up prisoners to
be judged. All in the inclosed space stood and moved a mass of careless
men, the lawyers, hangers-on, and all who fatten upon crime--careless,
laughing, nudging, talking openly to the women of the street. A crass
scene, a scene of bitter cynicism, of flashy froth, degrading and cheap.
Not here to-night the majesty of the law; here only a well-oiled machine
grinding out injustice.
Joe and Myra were seated among a crowd of witnesses and tired lawyers.
The law's delay seemed to steep the big room with drowsiness; the air
was warm and breathed in and out a thousand times by a hundred lungs.
Myra looked about her at the weary, listless audience. Then she looked
at Joe. He had fallen fast asleep, his head hanging forward. She smiled
sadly and was filled with a strange happiness. He had not been able to
hold out any longer. Well, then, he should sleep, she thought; she would
Then, as she sat and gazed, a drunken woman in the seat before her fell
sound asleep. At once the big special officer at the little gate of wire
netting came thumping down the aisle, leaned close, and prodded her
shoulder with his forefinger, crying:
"Wake up, there!"
She awoke, startled, and a dozen laughed.
Myra had a great fear that the officer would see Joe. But he didn't. He
turned and went back to his post.
Myra watched eagerly--aware of the fact that this scene was not as
terrible to her as it might have been. The experience of the day had
sharpened her receptivity, broadened her out-look. She took it for what
it was worth. She hated it, but she did not let it overmaster her.
There was much business going forward before the judge's desk, and Myra
had glimpses of the prisoners. She saw one girl, bespectacled, hard,
flashy, pushed to the bar, and suddenly heard her voice rise shrill and
human above the drone-like buzzing of the crowd.
"You dirty liar; I'll slap yer face if yer say that again!"
A moment later she was discharged, pushed through the little gateway,
and came tripping by Myra, shouting shrilly:
"I'll make charges against him--I'll break him--I will!"
Several others Myra saw.
A stumpy semi-idiot with shining, oily face and child-staring eyes, who
clutched the railing with both big hands and stood comically in huge
clothes, his eyes outgazing the judge. He was suddenly yanked back to
A collarless wife-beater, with hanging lips and pleading dog's eyes, his
stout Irish wife sobbing beside him. He got "six months," and his wife
came sobbing past Myra.
Then there was an Italian peddler, alien, confused, and in rags, soon,
however, to be set free; and next a jovial drunk, slapping the officers
on the back, lifting his legs in dance-like motions and shouting to the
judge. He was lugged away for a night's rest.
And then, of course, the women. It was all terrible, new, undreamed of,
to Myra. She saw these careless Circes of the street, plumed, powdered,
jeweled, and she saw the way the men handled and spoke to them.
Scene after scene went on, endless, confused, lost in the buzz and hum
of voices, the shuffle of feet. The air grew warmer and more and more
foul. Myra felt drowsy. She longed to put her head on Joe's shoulder and
fall asleep--sink into peace and stillness. But time and again she came
to with a jerk, started forward and eagerly scanned the faces for Rhona.
What had happened to the girl? Would she be kept in jail overnight? Or
had something worse happened? An increasing fear took possession of her.
She felt in the presence of enemies. Joe was asleep. She could not
question him, could not be set at ease. And how soundly he slept,
breathing deeply, his head hanging far forward. If only she could make a
pillow for that tired head!
She was torn between many emotions. Now she watched a scene beyond the
netting--something cynical, cheap, degrading--watched it with no real
sense of its meaning--wondered where she was and how she had come--and
why all this was going on. Then she would turn and look piteously at
Joe, her face sharp with yearning. Then she would drowse, and awake with
a start. She kept pinching herself.
"If I fall asleep Rhona may get through without us--something will
It must have been past midnight. There was no sign of Rhona. Each new
face that emerged from the jail entrance was that of a stranger. Again
an overwhelming fear swept Myra. She touched Joe's arm.
"Joe! Joe!" she whispered.
He did not answer; his hand moved a little and dropped. How soundly he
slept! She smiled then, and sat forward, determined to be a brave
Then glancing through the netting she spied Blondy and his friends
laughing together. She saw the evil monkey eyes. At once she was back
sharply in Great Jones Street, trembling with outrage and humiliation.
She tried to keep her eyes from him, and again and again looked at him
and loathed him.
"If," she thought, "he is here, perhaps the time has come."
Again she searched the new faces, and gave a little cry of joy. There
was Rhona, pale, quiet, her arm in the hand of the policeman who had
made the arrest.
Myra turned to Joe.
"Joe! Wake up!"
He stirred a little.
"Joe! Joe! Wake up!"
He gave a great start and opened his eyes.
"What is it?" he cried. "Do they want union cards?"
"Joe," she exclaimed, "Rhona's here."
"Rhona?" He sat upright; he was a wofully sleepy man. "Rhona?" Then he
gazed about him and saw Myra.
"Oh, Myra!" He laughed sweetly. "How good it is to see you!"
She paled a little at the words.
"Joe," she whispered, "we're in the court. Rhona's waiting for us."
Then he understood.
"And I've been sleeping, and you let me sleep?" He laughed softly.
"What a good soul you are! Rhona! Come, quick!"
They arose, Joe rubbing his eyes, and stepped forward. Myra felt stiff
and sore. Then Joe spoke in a low voice to the gate-keeper, the gate
opened, and they entered in.
Rhona had spent the evening in the women's cell, which was one of three
in a row. The other two were for men. The window was high up, and a
narrow bench ran around the walls. Sprawled on this were from thirty to
forty women; the air was nauseating, and the place smelled to heaven.
Outside the bars of the door officers lounged in the lighted hall
waiting the signal to fetch their prisoners. Now and then the door
opened, a policeman entered, picked his woman, seized upon her, and
pulled her along without speaking to her. It was as if the prisoners
were dumb wild beasts.
For a while Rhona sat almost doubled up, feeling that she would never
get warm. Her body would be still a minute, and then a racking spasm
took her and her teeth chattered. A purple-faced woman beside her leaned
"Bad business on the street a night like this, ain't it? Here, I'll rub
Rhona smiled bitterly, and felt the rub of roughened palms against her
icy hands. Then she began to look around, sick with the smell, the
sudden nauseous warmth. She saw the strange rouged faces, the impudent
eyes, the showy headgear, flashing out among the obscure faces of poor
women, and as she looked a filthy drunk began to rave, rose tottering,
and staggered to the door and beat clanging upon it, all the while
"Buy me the dope, boys, buy me the dope!"
Others pulled her back. Women of the street, sitting together, chewed
gum and laughed and talked shrilly, and Rhona could not understand how
prisoners could be so care-free.
All the evening she had been dazed, her one clear thought the sending of
a message for help. But now as she sat in the dim, reeking cell, she
began to realize what had happened.
Then as it burst upon her that she was innocent, that she had been lied
against, that she was helpless, a wild wave of revolt swept her. She
thought she would go insane. She could have thrown a bomb at that
moment. She understood revolutionists.
This feeling was followed by abject fear. She was alone ... alone.... Why
had she allowed herself to be caught in this trap? Why had she
struck? Was it not foolhardy to raise a hand against such a mammoth
system of iniquity? Over in Hester Street her poor mother, plying the
never-pausing needle, might be growing anxious--might be sending out to
find her. What new trouble was she bringing to her family? What new
touch of torture was she adding to the hard, sweated life? And her
father--what, when he came home from the sweatshop so tired that he was
ready to fling himself on the bed without undressing, what if she were
missing, and he had to go down and search the streets for her?
If only Joe Blaine had been notified! Could she depend on that Miss
Craig, who had melted away at the first approach of peril? Yet surely
there must be help! Did not the Woman's League keep a lawyer in the
court? Would he not be ready to defend her? That was a ray of hope! She
cheered up wonderfully under it. She began to feel that it was somehow
glorious to thus serve the cause she was sworn to serve. She even had a
dim hope--almost a fear--that her father had been sent for. She wanted
to see a familiar face, even though she were sure he would upbraid her
for bringing disgrace upon the family.
So passed long hours. Prisoners came in--prisoners went out. Laughter
rose--cries--mutterings; then came a long silence. Women yawned. Some
snuggled up on the bench, their heads in their neighbors' laps, and fell
fast asleep. Rhona became wofully tired--drooped where she sat--a
feeling of exhaustion dragging her down. The purple-faced woman beside
her leaned forward.
"Say, honey, put your head in my lap!"
She did so. She felt warmth, ease, a drowsy comfort. She fell fast
"No! No!" she cried out, "it was _he_ struck _me_!"
She had a terrible desire to sob her heart out, and a queer sensation of
being tossed in mid-air. Then she gazed about in horror. She was on her
feet, had evidently been dragged up, and John, the policeman, held her
arm in a pinch that left its mark. Gasping, she was shoved along through
the doorway and into a scene of confusion.
They stood a few minutes in the judge's end of the court-room--a crowd
eddying about them. Rhona had a queer feeling in her head; the lights
blinded her; the noise seemed like the rush of waters in her ears. Then
she thought sharply:
"I must get myself together. This is the court. It will be all over in a
minute. Where's Mr. Joe? Where's the lawyer? Where's my father?"
She looked about eagerly, searching faces. Not one did she know. What
had happened? She felt the spasm of chills returning to her. Had Miss
Craig failed her? Where was the strikers' lawyer? Were there friends
waiting out in the tired audience, among the sleepy witnesses? Suddenly
she saw Blondy laughing and talking with a gaudy woman in the crowd. She
trembled all at once with animal rage.... She could have set upon him
with her nails and her teeth. But she was fearfully afraid, fearfully
helpless. What could she do? What would be done with her?
John pushed her forward a few steps; her own volition could not take
her, and then she saw the judge. This judge--would he understand? Could
he sympathize with a young girl who was wrongly accused? The magistrate
was talking carelessly with his clerk, and Rhona felt in a flash that
all this, which to her was terrible and world-important, to him was mere
She waited, her heart pounding against her ribs, her breath coming short
and stifled. Then all at once she saw Joe and Myra as they entered the
gate, and a beautiful smile lit up her face. It was a blessed moment.
They came up; Joe spoke in a low breath.
"Rhona, have you seen the lawyer about?"
"No," she muttered.
Joe looked around. He stood above that crowd by half a head. Then he
muttered bitterly to Myra:
"Why isn't that fellow here to-night? You shouldn't have let me sleep!"
Myra was abashed, and Rhona, divining his misery, felt quite alone
again, quite helpless.
Suddenly then she was pushed forward, and next the indoor policeman was
handing her up to the judge, and now she stood face to face with her
crisis. Again her heart pounded hard, her breath shortened. She was
dimly aware of Joe and Myra behind her, and of Blondy and his friends
beside her. She looked straight at the magistrate, not trusting herself
to glance either side.
The magistrate looked up and nodded to the policeman.
"What's the charge?" His voice was a colorless monotone.
"Assault, your Honor. This girl was picketing in the strike, and this
private detective told her to move on. Then she struck him."
Rhona felt as if she could burst; she expected the magistrate to
question her; but he continued to address the policeman.
"These other detectives, your Honor."
The magistrate turned to Blondy's friends.
"Is what the policeman says true?"
"Yes," they chorused
Joe spoke clearly.
"Your Honor, there's another witness."
The magistrate looked at Joe keenly.
"Who are you?"
"My name's Blaine--Joe Blaine."
The magistrate spoke sharply:
"I can tell you now you'll merely damage the case. I don't take the word
of such a witness."
Joe spoke easily.
"It's not my word. Miss Craig here is the witness. She saw the assault."
The magistrate looked at Myra.
"What were you doing at the time?"
Myra spoke hardly above a whisper, for she felt that she was losing
control of herself.
"I--I was walking with Miss Hemlitz."
"Walking? You mean picketing."
"Well, naturally, your word is not worth any more than the prisoner's.
You should have been arrested, too."
Myra could not speak any further; and the magistrate turned again to the
"You swear your charge is true?"
The policeman raised his hand.
Rhona felt a stab as of lightning. She raised her hand high; her voice
came clear, sharp, real, rising above the drone-like noise of the court.
"I swear it is not true. I never struck him. _He_ struck me!"
The magistrate's face reddened, a vein on his forehead swelled up, and
he leaned toward Rhona.
"What you say, young lady"--there was a touch of passion in his
voice--"doesn't count. Understand? You're one of these strikers, aren't
you? Well, the whole lot of you"--his voice rose--"are on a strike
against God, whose principal law is that man should earn bread by the
sweat of his brow."
Rhona trembled before these unbelievable words. She stared into his
eyes, and he went on passionately:
"I've let some of you off with fines--but this has gone too far. I'll
make an example of you. You shall go to the workhouse on Blackwells
Island for five days. Next!"
Joe, too, was dazed. But he whispered to Rhona:
"Meet it bravely. I'll tell the girls!"
Her arm was grasped, she was pushed, without volition, through crowding
faces; and at length, after another ride in the patrol wagon, she found
herself on a narrow cot in a narrow cell. The door was slammed shut
ominously. Dim light entered through a high aperture.
She flung herself down her whole length, and sobbed. Bitter was life for
Rhona Hemlitz, seventeen years old....
* * * * *
Joe, in the court-room, had seized Myra's arm.
"Let us get out of this!"
They went through the gateway, up the aisle, out the dim entrance, into
the streets. It was two in the morning, and the narrow canons were
emptied of life, save the shadowy fleeting shape of some night prowler,
some creature of the underworld. The air was a trifle less cold, and a
fine hard snow was sifting down--crunched underfoot--a bitter, tiny,
stinging snow--hard and innumerable.
Cavernous and gloomy seemed the street, as they trudged west, arm in
arm. Myra had never been so stirred in her life; she felt as if things
ugly and dangerous had been released in her heart; a flame seemed raging
in her breast. And then as they went on, Joe found vent in hard words.
"And such things go on in this city--in this high civilization--and this
is a part of life--and then they wonder why we are so unreasonable. It
goes on, and they shut their eyes to it. The newspapers and magazines
hush it up. No, no, don't give this to the readers, they want something
pleasant, something optimistic! Suppress it! Don't let the light of
publicity smite it and clear it up! Let it go on! Let the secret sore
fester. It smells bad, it looks bad. Keep the surgeon away. We might
lose subscribers, we might be accused of muck-raking. But I tell you,"
his voice rose, "this world will never be much better until we face the
worst of it! Oh," he gave a heavy groan, "Myra! Myra! I wonder if I ever
will be happy again!"
Myra spoke from her heart.
"You're overworked, Joe; you're unstrung. Perhaps you see this too
big--out of perspective!"
He spoke with intense bitterness.
"It's all my fault. It's all my fault. If I hadn't been so sleepy I'd
have sent for a lawyer. I thought, of course, he'd be there!"
Myra spoke eagerly:
"That's just it, Joe. Oh, won't you take a rest? Won't you go away
awhile? Just for your work's sake."
He mused sadly:
"Mother keeps saying the same thing."
"She's right!" cried Myra. "Joe, you're killing yourself. How can you
really serve the strike if you're in this condition?"
He spoke more quietly.
"They need me, Myra. Do you think I'm worse off than Rhona?"
Myra could not answer this. It is a curious fact that some of the
terrible moments of life are afterward treasured as the great moments.
Looked back upon, they are seen to be the vital step forward, the
readjustment and growth of character, and not for anything would any
real man or woman miss them. Afterward Myra discovered that this night
had been one of the master nights of her life, and when she repictured
that walk up Tenth Street at two in the morning, through the thin
sifting snow, the big tragic man at he; side, it seemed a beautiful and
wonderful thing. They had been all alone out in the city's streets,
close together, feeling as one the reality of life, sharing as one the
sharp unconquerable tragedy, suffering together against the injustice of
But at the moment she felt only bitter, self-reproachful, and full of
pity for poor human beings. It was a time when the divine creatures born
of woman seemed mere little waifs astray in a friendless universe,
somehow lost on a cruel earth, crying like children in the pitiless
night, foredoomed and predestined to broken hearts and death. It seemed
a very sad and strange mystery, and more sad, more strange to be one of
these human beings herself.
They reached the house. Lights were still burning in the office, and
when they entered they found the District Committee sitting about the
red stove, still working out the morrow's plans. Giotto was there, Sally
Heffer, and Jacob Izon, and others, tired, pale, and huddled, but still
toiling wearily with one another. As Joe and Myra came in they looked
up, and Sally rose.
"Is she--" she began, and then spoke angrily, "I can see she's been
Joe smiled sadly.
"Sent to the workhouse for five days."
Exclamations of indignation arose. The committee could not believe it.
"I wish," cried impetuous Sally, "that magistrate were my husband. I'd
throw a flatiron at his head and put some castor-oil in his soup!"
Joe laughed a little. He looked at his watch, and then at Myra.
"Myra," he said, gently, "it's two o'clock--too late to go home. You
must sleep with mother."
Myra spoke softly.
"No--I can get home all right."
He took her by the arm.
"Myra," he leaned over, "do just this one thing for me."
"I will!" she breathed.
He led her in through his room, and knocked softly.
"Yes," came a clear, wide-awake voice. "I'm awake, Joe."
"Here's Myra. May she stay with you?"
Myra went in, but turned.
"Joe," she said, tremulously, "you're not going to stay up with that
"They need me, Myra."
"But, Joe," her voice broke--"this is too much of a good thing--"
Joe's mother interrupted her.
"Better leave the boy alone, Myra--to-night, anyway."
"I'll try to cut it short! Sweet dreams, ladies!"
For long they heard his voice mingled with the others, as they lay side
by side in the black darkness. But Myra was glad to be near him, glad to
share his invisible presence. After she had told Joe's mother about
Rhona, the two, unable to sleep, talked quietly for some time. Drawn
together by their love for Joe--and Joe's mother was quick in
divining--they felt as if they knew each other intimately, though they
had met for the first time that afternoon, when Myra, having reported
Rhona's arrest to Joe, groped her way blindly to the rear kitchen and
stood, trying not to sob, before the elder woman.
She had asked:
"Are you Mrs. Blaine?" and had gone on. "I'm Myra--Myra Craig. Joe and I
used to know each other."
Whereupon Joe's mother, remembering something Joe had said of writing to
a Myra Craig in the country, suddenly understood. There was a swift,
"What! You and he--?" a sob from Myra, and the two were in each other's
arms. Then followed supper and a quiet evening.
And now in the darkness they lay and talked.
"I've been worrying about Joe," Mrs. Blaine mused, softly.
"Can't you see why?"
"He looks badly," Myra sighed.
"Joe," said his mother, quietly, "is killing himself. He doesn't listen
to me, and I don't want to interfere too much."
"Isn't there anything to be done?"
There was a silence and then Joe's mother spoke in a strange personal
"What if _you_ could do something."
Myra could hardly speak.
"You." A hand caught hers. "Try. He's simply giving his life to the
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