Part 5 out of 5
There was a silence a little while. The tears were wet upon Myra's
"Tell me about yourself--what you've been doing--both of you."
And as Mrs. Blaine told her, time and time again Myra laughed softly, or
was glad the darkness concealed those unbidden tears.
But as Mrs. Blaine spoke of the attack of Marrin's men, Myra was
"But what happened afterward?" she cried. "Isn't he in danger now?
Mightn't there be another attack?"
Joe's mother's voice rang.
"Afterward? It was wonderful. The whole neighborhood rose to Joe's side.
They even started a subscription to rebuild the press. Oh, the people
here are amazing!"
"And the men who mobbed him?"
"Many were arrested, but Joe did not appear against them, and the men
from Marrin's were the first to come in and tell of their remorse. As
for the thugs and criminals--they don't dare lift their heads. Public
opinion is hot against them."
Thus they talked, intimately, sweetly, and at last the elder woman
kissed the younger good-night.
"But, dear, you've been crying!"
"Oh, I'm so glad to be here!" sobbed Myra. "So glad to be with you!"
And even then she had a sense of the greatness and wonder of that day;
how new and untapped forces in her nature were emerging; how the whole
seeming of life--"These shows of the night and day"--was changing for
her; how life was deepening down to its bitter roots, roots bitter but
miraculously sheathed in crystalline springs; in sweet waters, in beauty
and love and mystery. It was the finding of her own soul--a power great
enough to endure tragedy and come forth to a richer laughter and a wiser
loveliness. Only thus does life reveal its meanings and its miracles,
and prove that it is an adventure high and fine, ever tending higher,
ever more enriched with faith and marvelous strength, and that mirth
that meets the future with an expectant smile.
So thinking, so feeling, she grew drowsier, sank deeper--her body tired
in every muscle, in every bone--her mind unable to keep awake; and so
she faded into the pure rest of sleep.
That next day was as a dream to Rhona. Not until evening did it become
real. Breakfast was brought to her cell, but she did not taste it. Next
she was led out by a policeman to the street and packed in the patrol
wagon with eight other women. The morning was gray, with a hard sifting
snow, and as the wagon bumped over cobblestones, Rhona breathed deep of
the keen air.
The ride seemed without end; but next she was in a ferry; and then,
last, was hurried into a long gray building on Blackwells Island.
Her cell was fairly large, and contained two cots, one against each
wall. She was left disconsolately alone, numb, in despair, and moving
about in a dream.
But after supper she found herself locked in with another woman. She sat
down on the edge of her cot, in the dim light of the room, and with a
sharp glance, half fear, half curiosity, regarded her room-mate. This
other was a woman of possibly thirty years, with sallow cheeks, bright
burning eyes, and straggly hair. She stood before the little wall
mirror, apparently examining herself. Suddenly she turned:
"What you looking at, kid?"
Rhona averted her eyes.
"I didn't mean--"
"Say," said the other, "ain't I the awful thing? Not a rat or a puff or
a dab of rouge allowed in these here premises. I do look a sight--a
fright. Gee!" She turned. "You're not so worse. A little pale, kid."
She came over and sat next to Rhona.
"What'll I call you?"
Rhona shrank. She was a sensitive, ignorant girl, and did not understand
this type of woman. Something coarse, familiar, vulgar seemed to grate
"Rhona's my name," she breathed.
"Well, that's cute! Call you Ronie?" She stretched out her arms. "Oh,
slats! I'd give my teeth for a cigarette and a Manhattan cocktail.
Wouldn't I, though!"
The woman turned toward her.
"My name's Millie. Now we're pals, eh?" Then she rattled on: "First time
in the workhouse? Comes hard at first, doesn't it? Cut off from friends
and fun--and ain't the work beastly? Say, Ronie, what's your job in
little old New York?"
Rhona swallowed a dull sob.
"I haven't any--we're on strike."
Millie jumped up.
"What, you one of them shirtwaist strikers?"
"Why did they run you in?"
"An officer struck me, and then said I struck him."
"Just like a man! Oh, I know men! Depend upon it, I know the men! So,
you were a shirt-waist-maker. How much d'yer earn?"
"Oh, about five or six a week."
"A--_week_!" Millie whistled. "And I suppose ten hours a day, or worse,
and I suppose work that would kill an ox."
"Yes," said Rhona, "hard work."
Millie sat down and put an arm about the shrinking girl.
"Say, kiddie, I like you. I'm going to chuck a little horse sense at
you. Now you listen to me. My sister worked in a pickle-place over in
Pennsy, and she lasted just two years, and then, galloping consumption,
and--" She snapped her fingers, her voice became husky. "Poor fool! Two
years is the limit where she worked. And who paid the rent? I did. But
of course _I_ wasn't respectable--oh no! I was a sinner. Well, let me
tell you something. In my business a woman can last five to ten years.
Do you blame me? And I get clothes, and the eats, and the soft spots,
and I live like a lady.... That's the thing for you! Why do you wear
yourself out--slave-work and strikes and silly business?... You'll never
get married.... The work will make you a hag in another year or two,
and who will want you? And say, you've got to live just once--got to be
just downright woman for a little spell, anyway.... Come with me,
kid ... my kind of life."
Rhona looked at her terrified. She did not understand. What sort of
woman was this? How live in luxury without working? How be downright
"What do you mean?" asked the young girl.
So Millie told her. They went to bed, their light was put out, and
neither had a wink of sleep. Rhona lay staring in the darkness and over
the room came the soft whisper of Millie bearing a flood of the filth of
the underworld. Rhona could not resist it. She lay helpless, quaking
with a wild horror.... Later she remembered that night in Russia when
she and others hid under the corn in a barn while the mob searched over
their heads--a moment ghastly with impending mutilation and death--and
she felt that this night was more terrible than that. Her girlhood
seemed torn to shreds.... Dawn broke, a watery glimmer through the high
barred window. Rhona rose from her bed, rushed to the door, pulled on
the bars, and loosed a fearful shriek. The guard, running down, Millie,
leaping forward, both cried:
"What's the matter?"
But the slim figure in the white nightgown fell down on the floor, and
thus earned a few hours in the hospital.
* * * * *
They set her to scrubbing floors next day, a work for which she had
neither experience nor strength. Weary, weary day--the large rhythm of
the scrubbing-brush, the bending of the back, the sloppy, dirty
floors--on and on, minute after minute, on through the endless hours.
She tried to work diligently, though she was dizzy and sick, and felt as
if she were breaking to pieces. Feverishly she kept on. Lunch was
tasteless to her; so was supper; and after supper came Millie.
No one can tell of those nights when the young girl was locked in with a
hard prostitute--nights, true, of lessening horror, and so, all the more
horrible. As Rhona came to realize that she was growing accustomed to
Millie's talk--even to the point of laughing at the jokes--she was
aghast at the dark spaces beneath her and within her. She was becoming a
different sort of being--she looked back on the hard-toiling girl, who
worked so faithfully, who tried to study, who had a quiet home, whose
day was an innocent routine of toil and meals and talk and sleep, as on
some one who was beautiful and lovely, but now dead. In her place was a
sharp, cynical young woman. Well for Rhona that her sentence was but
The next afternoon she was scrubbing down the long corridor between the
cells when the matron came, jangling her keys.
"Some one here for you," said the matron.
Rhona leaped up.
"My mother?" she cried out, in a piercing voice.
"See here," said the matron, "you want to go easy--and only five
minutes, mind you."
"My mother?" Rhona repeated, her heart near to bursting.
"No--some one else. Come along."
Rhona followed, half choking. The big door was unlocked before her and
swung open; she peered out. It was Joe and Myra.
Seeing these faces of friends suddenly recalled her to her old world, to
the struggle, the heroism, the strike, and, filled with a sense of her
imprisonment and its injustice, she rushed blindly out into the open
arms of Myra and was clutched close, close.
And then she sobbed, wept for minutes, purifying tears. And suddenly she
had an inspiration, a flash of the meaning of her martyrdom, how it
could be used as a fire and a torch to kindle and lead the others.
She lifted up her face.
"You tell the girls," she cried, "it's perfectly wonderful to be here.
It's all right. Just you tell them it's all right. Any of them would be
glad to do it!"
And then the matron, who was listening, stepped forward.
There was one kiss, one hug, and the brave girl was led away. The door
slammed her in.
Joe and Myra looked at each other, awed, thrilled. Tears trickled down
"Oh," she cried low, "isn't it lovely? Isn't it wonderful?"
He spoke softly.
"The day of miracles isn't over. Women keep on amazing me. Come!"
Quietly they walked out into the warm, sunshiny day. Streaks of snow
were vanishing in visible steam. The sky was a soft blue, bulbous with
little puffs of cloud. Myra felt an ineffable peace. Rhona's heroism had
filled her with a new sense of human power. She longed to speak with
Joe--she longed, as they stood on the ferry, and glided softly through
the wash and sway of the East River, to share her sweet emotions with
him. But he had pulled out a note-book and was busily making jottings.
He seemed, if anything, more worn than ever, more tired. He was living
on his nerves. The gray face was enough to bring tears to a woman's
eyes, and the lank, ill-clothed form seemed in danger of thinning away
to nothingness. So Myra said nothing, but kept looking at him, trying to
save him by her strength of love, trying to send out those warm currents
and wrap him up and infuse him with life and light and joy.
All the way out he had been silent, preoccupied. In fact, all these
three days he had been preoccupied--toiling terribly early and late,
busy, the center of a swarm of human activities, his voice everywhere,
his pen in his hand. Meals he ate at his desk while he wrote, and sleep
was gained in little snatches. Myra had been there to watch him, there
to help him. Since that night in the court, she had come early and
stayed until ten in the evening, doing what work she could. And there
was much to be done--she found a profitable task in instructing new
recruits in the rules of picketing--and also in investigating cases of
need. These took her to strange places. She had vistas of life she had
not dreamed to be true--misery she had thought confined to novels, to
books like _Les Miserables_. It was all wonderful and strange and new.
She was beginning to really know the life of the Greater Number--the
life of the Nine-Tenths--and as she got used to the dust, the smells,
and the squalor, she found daily all the richness of human nature. It
was dramatic, absorbing, real. Where was it leading her? She hardly knew
yet. The strangeness had not worn off.
She had been watching Joe, and she felt that he was hardly aware of her
presence. He took her and her work as a matter of course. And this did
not embitter her, for she felt that the time had passed for privileges,
that this was a season in Joe's life when he belonged to a mass of the
people, to a great cause, and that she had no right to any part of his
life. He was so deep in it, so overwrought, that it was best to let him
alone, to keep him free from the responsibility of personal
relationships, not to burden him with added emotionalism. And so she
accepted the rule of Joe's mother--to do Joe's bidding without question,
to let him have his way, waiting patiently for the time when he would
need and cry out for the personal. When that time came the two women
were ready to help to heal, to nurse--to bind the wounds and soothe the
troubled heart, and rebuild the broken spirit. It might be, of course,
that in the end he would shut Myra out; that was a contingency she had
to face; but she thought that, whatever came, she was getting herself
equal to it.
They left the ferry and walked over to Second Avenue and took an
elevated train. Then Joe spoke--leaning near, his voice gentle:
"I've been wondering."
"About this strike business. Wondering if it isn't mostly waste."
She found herself saying eagerly:
"But what else can the people do?"
He shook his head.
"In this country if men only voted right ... only had the right sort of
government.... What are they gaining this way? It's too costly."
"But how are they going to vote right?"
"Education!" he exclaimed. "Training! We must train the children in
democracy. We must get at the children."
Myra was amazed.
"Then you think your work is ... of the wrong sort?"
"No! no!" he said. "Everything helps--we must try every way--I may not
be fit for any other way than this. But I'm beginning to think it isn't
of the best sort. Maybe it's the only thing to do to-day, however."
She began to throb with a great hope.
"Don't you think," she cried, "you ought to go off and take a rest and
think it over? You know you might go into politics, to Congress, or
something--then you could really do something."
He looked at her with surprise.
"How you're thinking these days!" he mused. But then he went on very
wearily. "Rest? Myra," his voice sank, "if I ever come out of this
alive, I'll rest--rest deep, rest deep. But there's no end--no end to
He reverted to the problem of the strike.
"Don't you think there's right on the other side, too? Don't you think
many of the employers are doing all they can under present conditions?
We're asking too much. We want men to change their methods before we
change conditions. Who can do it? I tell you, I may be wronging as fine
a lot of men as there are."
"Then why did you go into it?" she asked, quickly.
"I didn't. It came to me. It bore me under. But I haven't made a mistake
this time. By chance I'm on the _righter_ side, the better side. When it
comes to the women in industry, there's no question. It is killing the
future to work them this way--it is intolerable, inhuman, insane. We
must stop it--and as we _don't_ vote right, we _must_ strike. A strike
is justified these days--will be, until there's some other way of
getting justice. Anyway, this time," he said, fiercely, "I'm right. But
I'm wondering about the future. I'm wondering...."
He said nothing further, digging again at his notes. But Myra now
nourished a hope, a secret throbbing hope ... the first ray of a new and
more confident morning.
Myra moved down to West Tenth Street. She found a neat, little hall
bedroom in one of the three-story brick houses--a little white room,
white-curtained, white-walled, with white counterpane on the iron bed.
She was well content with these narrow quarters, content because it was
near Joe, content because it saved money (her savings were dwindling
rapidly these days), and finally content because she had shifted the
center of her interests to a different set of facts. She was both too
busy and too aroused to be sensitive about running water and the minor
comforts. Her whole being was engrossed in large activities, and she
found with astonishment how many things she could do without. What
previously had seemed so important, poetry, music, dress, quiet, ease,
now became little things lost in a host of new big events. And,
curiously enough, she found a new happiness in this freedom from
superfluities--a sense of range and independence new to her. For at this
time such things actually were superfluous, though the time was to come
again when music and poetry had a new and heightened meaning.
But during these days of the strike she was a quite free woman,
snatching her sleep and her food carelessly, and putting in her time in
spending heart and soul on the problem in hand. She dressed simply, in
shirtwaist and skirt, and she moved among the people as if she were one
of them, and with no sense of contrast. In fact, Myra was changing,
changing rapidly. Her work called for a new set of powers, and without
hesitation these new powers rose within her, emerged and became a part
of her character. She became executive, quick, stepped into any
situation that confronted her, knew when to be mild, when to be sharp,
sensed where sympathy was needed, and also where sympathy merely
softened and ruined. Her face, too, followed this inner change. Soft
lines merged into something more vivid. She was usually pale, and her
sweet, small mouth had a weary droop, but her eyes were keen and living,
and lit with vital force.
She began to see that a life of ease and a life of extreme toil were
both equally bad--that each choked off possibilities. She knew then that
women of her type walked about with hidden powers unused, their lives
narrowed and blighted, negative people who only needed some great test,
some supreme task, to bring out those hidden forces, which, gushing
through the soul, overflowing, would make of them characters of
abounding vitality. She felt the glory of men and women who go about the
world bubbling over with freshness and zest and life, warming the lives
they move among, spreading by quick contagion their faith and virility.
She longed to be such a person--to train herself in that greatest of all
the arts--the touching of other lives, drawing a music from long-disused
heart-strings, rekindling, reanimating, the torpid spirit. It was her
search for more _life_--richer, thicker, happier, more intense.
Her model was Joe's mother. It seemed to her that Joe's mother had met
life and conquered it, and so would never grow old. She never found the
older woman soured or bitter or enfeebled. Even about death there was no
"Don't you think I know," said Joe's mother, "that there is something
precious in me that isn't going to go with the body? Just look at this
body! That's just what's happening already! I'm too young to die. And
besides I know one or two people whom I lost years ago--too precious to
be lost--I've faith in them."
This, then, is the greatest victory of life: to treat death as a mere
incident in the adventure; an emigration to a new country; a brief and
tragic "auf wiedersehen." It has its pang of parting, and its pain of
new birth--all birth is a struggle full of pain--but it is the only door
to the future. Well for Joe's mother that her hand was ready to grasp
the dark knob and turn it when the time came.
Once as she and Joe's mother were snatching a lunch together in the
kitchen, the elder woman spoke softly:
"Myra, you're a great girl!" (She persisted in calling Myra a girl,
though Myra kept telling her she was nearly thirty-three and old enough
to be dignified.) "What will I ever do without you when the strike is
"Is it as bad as that?"
"Yes, and getting worse, Myra!"
Myra flushed with joy.
"I'm glad. I'm very glad."
Joe's mother watched her a little.
"How have you been feeling, Myra?"
"I?--" Myra was surprised. "Oh, I'm all right! I haven't time to be
"You really think you're all right, then?"
"Oh, I know it! This busy life is doing me good."
"It does most of us good." She changed the subject.
Myra felt, with great happiness, that she was coming into harmony with
Joe's mother. She would have been quite amazed, however, to know that
Joe's mother was secretly struggling to adjust herself. For Joe's mother
could not help thinking that the time might come when Joe and Myra would
marry, and she was schooling herself for this momentous change. She
kept telling herself: "There is no one in the world I ought to love more
than the woman that Joe loves and weds." And yet it was hard to release
her son, to take that life which had for years been closest to her, and
had been partly in her hands, relinquish it and give it over into the
keeping of another. There were times, however, when she pitied Myra,
pitied her because Joe was engrossed in his work and had no emotions or
thoughts to spare. And she wondered at such times whether Joe would ever
marry, whether he would ever be willing to make his life still more
complex. She watched Myra closely, with growing admiration; saw the
changes in her, the faithful struggle, the on-surging power, and she
"If it's to be any one, I know no one I should love more."
There were times, however, when she mentally set Myra side by side with
Sally, to the former's overshadowing. Sally was so clean-cut, direct,
such a positive character. She was hardy and self-contained, and would
never be dependent. Her relationships with Joe always implied
interdependence, a perfect give and take, a close yet easy comradeship
which enabled her at any time to go her own way and work her own will.
Sometimes Joe's mother felt that Sally was a woman of the future, and
that, with such, marriage would become a finer and freer union. However,
her imaginative match-making made her smile, and she thought: "Joe
won't pick a mate with his head. The thing will just happen to him--or
not." And as she came to know Myra better, she began to feel that
possibly a woman who would take Joe away from his work, instead of
involving him deeper, would, in the end, be best for him. Such a woman
would mean peace, relaxation, diversion. She was greatly concerned over
Joe's absorption in the strike, and once, when it appeared that the
struggle might go on endlessly, she said to Myra:
"Sometimes I think Joe puts life off too much, pushing his joys into the
future, not always remembering that he will never be more alive than
now, and that the days are being lopped off."
Myra had a little table of her own, near the door, and this table, when
she was there, was always a busy center. The girls liked her, liked to
talk with her, were fond of her musical voice and her quiet manners.
Some even got in the habit of visiting her room with her and having
quiet talks about their lives. Sally, however, did not share this
fondness for Myra. She felt that Myra was an intruder--that Myra was
interposing a wall between her and Joe--and she resented the intrusion.
She could not help noticing that Joe was becoming more and more
impersonal with her, but then, she thought, "people are not persons to
him any more; he's swallowed up in the cause." Luckily she was too busy
during the day, too tired at night, to brood much on the matter.
However, one evening at committee meeting, her moment of realization
came. The committee, including Myra and Joe and herself and some five
others, were sitting about the hot stove, discussing the call of a Local
on the East Side for a capable organizer.
"It's hard to spare any one," mused Joe, "and yet--" He looked about the
circle. "There's Miss Craig and--Miss Heffer."
Both Myra and Sally turned pale and trembled a little. Each felt as if
the moment had come when he would shut one or the other out of his life.
Sally spoke in a low voice:
"I'm pretty busy right here, Mr. Joe."
"I know," he reflected. "And I guess Miss Craig could do it."
He opened the stove door, took the tiny shovel, stuck it into the
coal-box, and threw some fresh coal on the lividly red embers. Then he
stood up and gazed round the circle again.
"Sally," he said, "it's _your_ work--you'll have to go."
She bowed her head.
"You're sure," she murmured, "I'm not needed here?"
"Needed?" he mused. "Yes. But needed more over there!"
She looked up at him and met his eyes. Her own were pleading with him.
"Surely, Sally. We're not in this game for fun, are we?"
"I'll do as you say," she breathed.
Her head began to swim; she felt as if she would break down and cry. She
"I'll be right back."
She groped her way through the inner rooms to the kitchen. Joe's mother
"Sally! What's the matter?"
Joe's mother arose.
"I'm going ... going to another Local.... I'm leaving here to-night ...
for good and always."
Joe's mother drew her close, and Sally sobbed openly.
"It's been my home here--the first I've had in years--but I'll never
"Oh, you must come back."
"No...." she looked up bravely. "Mrs. Blaine."
"He doesn't need me any more; he's outgrown me; he doesn't need any one
What could Joe's mother say?
"Sally!" she cried, and then she murmured: "It's you who don't need any
one, Sally. You're strong and independent. You can live your own live.
And you've helped make Joe strong. Wait, and see."
And she went on to speak of Sally's work, of her influence in the
place, of the joy she brought to others, and finally Sally said:
"Forgive me for coming to you like a baby."
"Oh, it's fine of you to come to me!"
"So," cried Sally, "good-by."
She found her hat and coat and slipped away, not daring to say good-by
to Joe. But as she went through the dark winter night she realized how
one person's happiness is often built on another's tragedy. And so Sally
went, dropping for the time being out of Joe's life.
* * * * *
There was one event that took place two weeks after Myra's coming, which
she did not soon forget. It was the great mass-meeting to celebrate the
return of Rhona and some others who had also been sent to the workhouse.
Myra and Joe sat together. After the music, the speeches, Rhona stepped
forward, slim, pale, and very little before that gigantic auditorium.
She spoke simply.
"I was picketing on Great Jones Street. A man came up and struck me. I
had him arrested. But in court he said I struck him, and the judge sent
me to Blackwells Island. I had to scrub floors. But it was only for five
days. I think we ought all to be glad to go to the workhouse, because
that will help women to be free and help the strikers. I'm glad I went.
It wasn't anything much."
They cheered her, for they saw before them a young heroine, victorious,
beloved, ideal. But when Myra called at Hester Street, a week later,
Rhona's mother had something else to say.
"Rhona? Well, you had ought to seen her when we first landed! Ah! she
was a beauty, my Rhona--such cheeks, such hair, such eyes--laughing all
the time. But now--ach!" She sighed dreadfully. "So it goes. Only, I
wished she wasn't always so afraid--afraid to go out ... afraid ... so
nervous ... so ... different."
Myra never forgot this. It sent her back to her work with wiser and
deeper purpose. And so she fought side by side with Joe through the
blacks weeks of that January. It seemed strange that Joe didn't go
under. He loomed about the place, a big, stoop-shouldered, gaunt man,
with tragic gray face and melancholy eyes and deepening wrinkles. All
the tragedy and pathos and struggle of the strike were marked upon his
features. His face summed up the sorrows of the thirty thousand. Myra
sometimes expected him to collapse utterly. But he bore on, from day to
day, doing his work, meeting his committees, and getting out the paper.
Here, too, Myra found she could help him. She insisted on writing the
strike articles, and as Jacob Izon was also writing, there was only the
editorial for Joe to do. The paper did not miss an issue, and as it now
had innumerable canvassers among the strikers, its circulation gained
rapidly--rising finally to 20,000.
Even at this time Joe seemed to take no special notice of Myra. But one
slushy, misty night, when the gas-lamps had rainbow haloes, and gray
figures sluff-sluffed through the muddy snow, she accompanied Joe on one
of his fund-raising tours. They entered the side door of a dingy saloon,
passed through a yellow hall, and emerged finally on the platform of a
large and noisy rear room where several hundred members of the
Teamsters' Union were holding a meeting. Gas flared above the rough and
elemental faces, and Myra felt acutely self-conscious under that
concentrated broadside of eyes. She sat very still, flushing, and feebly
smiling, while the outdoor city men blew the air white and black with
smoke and raised the temperature to the sweating-point.
Joe was introduced; the men clapped; and then he tried hard to arouse
their altruism--to get them to donate to the strike out of their union
funds. However, his speech came limp and a little stale. The applause
was good-natured but feeble. Joe sat down, sighing, and smiling grimly.
An amazing yet natural thing happened. The Chairman arose, leaned over
his table, and said:
"You have heard from Mr. Joe Blaine; now you will hear from the other
member of the committee."
Not for some seconds--not until the stamping of feet rose to a fury of
sound--did Myra realize that _she_ was the other member. She had a
sense of being drained of life, of losing her breath. Instinctively she
glanced at Joe, and saw that he was looking at her a little dubiously, a
little amusedly. What could she do? She had never addressed a meeting in
her life; she had never stood on her feet before a group of men; she had
nothing learned, nothing to say. But how could she excuse herself, how
withdraw, especially in the face of Joe's challenging gaze?
The stamping increased; the men clapped; and there were shouts:
"Come ahead! Come on! That's right, Miss." It was a cruel test, a wicked
predicament. All the old timidity and sensitiveness of her nature held
her back, made her tremble, and bathed her face in perspiration. But a
new Myra kept saying:
"Joe didn't rouse them. Some one must." She set her feet on the floor,
and the deafening thunder of applause seemed to raise her. She took a
step forward. And then with a queer motion she raised her hand. There
was an appalling silence, a silence more dreadful than the noise, and
Myra felt her tongue dry to its root.
"I--" she began, "I want to say--tell you--" She paused, startled by the
queer sound of her own voice. She could not believe it was herself
speaking; it seemed some one else. And then, sharply, a wonderful thing
took place. A surge of strength filled her. She took a good look around.
Her brain cleared; her heart slowed. It was the old trick of facing the
worst, and finding the strength was there to meet it and turn it to the
best. All at once Myra exulted. She would take these hundreds of human
beings and _swing them_. She could do it.
Her voice was rich, vibrating, melodious.
"I want to tell you a little about this strike--what it means. I want to
tell you what the girls and women of this city are capable of--what
heroism, what toil, what sacrifice and nobility. It is not the easiest
thing to live a normal woman's life. You know that. You know how your
mothers or wives or sisters have been slaving and stinting--what pain
is theirs, what burdens, what troubles. But think of the life of a girl
of whom I shall tell you--a young girl by the name of Rhona Hemlitz."
She went on. She told the story of Rhona's life, and then quietly she
turned to her theme.
"You understand now, don't you? Are you going to help these girls _win_
The walls trembled with what followed--stamping, shouting, clapping.
Myra sat down, her cheeks red, her eyes brilliant. And then suddenly a
big hand closed over hers and a deep voice whispered:
"Myra, you set yourself free then. You are a new woman!"
That was all. She had shocked Joe with the fact of the new Myra, and now
the new Myra had come to stay. They raised twenty-five dollars that
night. From that time on Myra was a free and strong personality,
surprising even Joe's mother, who began to realize that this was not the
woman to take Joe from his work, but one who would fight shoulder to
shoulder with him until the very end.
In the beginning of February the strike began to fade out. Employers
right and left were making compromises with the girls, and here and
there girls were deserting the union and going back. The office at West
Tenth Street became less crowded, fewer girls came, fewer committees
met. There was one night when the work was all done at eleven o'clock,
and this marked the reappearance of normal conditions.
It was a day or two later that a vital experience came to Joe. Snow was
falling outside, and it was near twilight, and in the quiet Joe was busy
at his desk. Then a man came in, well, but carelessly dressed, his face
pinched and haggard, his eyes bloodshot, his hair in stray tufts over
his wrinkled forehead.
"I want to see you a minute, Mr. Blaine."
The voice was shaking with passion.
"Sit down," said Joe, and the man took the seat beside him.
"I'm Mr. Lissner--Albert Lissner--I was the owner of the Lissner
Joe looked at him.
"Lissner? Oh yes, over on Eighth Street."
The man went on:
"Mr. Blaine, I had eighty girls working for me.... I always did all I
could for them ... but there was fierce competition, and I was just
skimping along, and I had to pay small wages;... but I was good to
those girls.... They didn't want to strike ... the others made them...."
Joe was stirred.
"Yes, I know ... many of the shops were good...."
"Well," said Lissner, with a shaking, bitter smile, "you and your strike
have ruined me.... I'm a ruined man.... My family and I have lost
everything.... And, it's killed my wife."
His face became terrible--very white, and the eyes staring--he went on
in a hollow, low voice:
"I--I've lost _all_."
There was a silence; then Lissner spoke queerly:
"I happen to know about you, Mr. Blaine.... You were the head of that
printing-place that burnt down...."
Joe felt a shock go through him, as if he had seen a ghost....
"Well, maybe you did all you could for your men;... maybe you were a
good employer.... Yet see what came of it...." Suddenly Lissner's voice
rose passionately: "And yet you had the nerve to come around and get
after us fellows, who were just as good as you. There are bad employers,
and bad employees, too--bad people of every kind--but maybe most people
are good. You couldn't help what happened to you; neither can we help it
if the struggle is too fierce--we're victims, too. It's conditions, it's
life. We can't change the world in a day. And yet you--after your
fire--come here and ruin us."
Joe was shaken to his depths. Lissner had made an overstatement, and yet
he had thrown a new light on the strike, and he had reminded Joe of his
long-forgotten guilt. And suddenly Joe knew. All are guilty; all share
in the corruption of the world--the laborer anxious for mass-tyranny and
distrustful of genius, the aristocrat afraid of soiling his hands, the
capitalist intent on power and wealth, the artist neglectful of all but
a narrow artifice, each one limited by excess or want, by intellect or
passion, by vanity or lust, and all struggling with one another to wrest
some special gift for himself. In the intricacy of civilization there
are no real divisions, but every man is merely a brain cell, a nerve, in
the great organism, and what one man gains, some other must lose. It was
a world he got a glimpse of quite different from that sharp twofold
world of the workers and the money-power, a world of infinite
gradations, a world merely the child of the past, where high and low
were pushed by the resistless pressure of environment, and lives were
shaped by birth, chance, training, position, and a myriad, myriad
All of this confused him at first, and it had been so long since he had
dealt with theories that it was some time before the chaos cleared, some
time before the welter of new thought took shape in his mind. But it
made him humble, receptive, teachable, it made him more kindly and more
gentle. He began a mental stock-taking; he began to examine into the
lives about him.
Myra was there--the new Myra, a Myra with daily less to do in that
office, and with more and more time to think. From her heart was lifted
the hard hand of circumstance, releasing a tenderness and yearning which
flooded her brain. It was a tragic time for her. She knew now that her
services were nearly at an end, and that she must go her own way. She
would not be near Joe any longer--she would not have the heart's ease of
his presence--she could no longer brood over him and protect him.
It seemed to her that she could not bear the future. Her love for Joe
rose and overwhelmed her. She became self-conscious before him, paled
when he spoke to her, and when he was away her longing for him was
insupportable. She wanted him now--all her life cried out for him--all
the woman in her went out to mate with this man. The same passion that
had drawn her from the country to his side now swayed and mastered her.
"Joe! Joe!" her soul cried, "take me now! This is too much for me to
And more and more the thought of his health oppressed her. If she only
had the power to take him to her breast, draw him close in her arms,
mother him, heal him, smooth the wrinkles, kiss the droop of the big
lips, and pour her warm and infinite love into his heart. That surely
must save him--love surely would save this man.
She began to scheme and dream--to plot ways of getting about him, of
routing him out, of tearing him from his rut.
And then one afternoon at two she risked her all. It was an opportune
time. Joe--wonder of wonders--was doing nothing, but sitting back like a
gray wreck, with his feet crossed on his desk, and a vile cigar in his
mouth. It was the first cigar in ages, and he puffed on it and brooded
Myra came over, sat down beside him, and spoke airily.
"Why, hello, Myra!" he cried. "What d'ye mean by helloing me?"
"I'm glad to meet you."
"Same to you."
"I've come back from the country, Joe."
"So I see."
"Haven't I eyes?"
"Well," she said, flushed, bending forward, "Joe Blaine, where have your
eyes been these five weeks?"
"They were on strike!" he said, promptly.
"Well," she said, "the strike's over!"
They laughed together as they had not since far and far in the beginning
Joe leaned near.
"Myra," he said, "I need an airing. Take me out and shake me out! Oh!"
he stretched his arms above his head. "Have I been hibernating and is it
"I want you to take me somewhere."
"To--the printery--I want to see it again."
"Go 'long wid you! Marty Briggs and me are bad friends, see?"
She reveled in this new gaiety of his.
"Joe, you're waking up. _Please_ take me!"
"Put on your hat, your coat, and your little black gloves, young woman.
Me for the printery!"
They went out together, glad as young children. The world was sheathed
in a hard ice-coated snow; icicles dangled from every sill and cornice;
the skies were melting blue, and the sun flashed along every surface. It
was a world of flashing fire, of iridescent sunbursts. Through the
clean, tingling air they walked, arm in arm, the stir of a new life in
"Joe," said Myra, "I want you to signalize your resurrection by a great
sacrifice to the gods."
"I'm ready. Expound!"
"I want you to buy a new hat."
He took off his hat and examined it.
"What's the matter with this?"
"It's like yourself, Joe--worn out!"
"But the boys of Eighty-first Street won't know me in a new hat."
"Never mind the boys of Eighty-first Street. Do as I tell you."
"Aw, Myra, give me a day to steel my heart and strengthen my sinews.
Wait till we come back."
"And you'll get it then?"
"Sure as fate."
"Well--just this once you'll have your way!"
So they took the elevated to Seventy-sixth Street and walked through the
old neighborhood to the printery. The familiar streets, which secretly
bore the print of every size shoe he had worn since he was a tiny
toddling fellow, made him meditative, almost sad.
"It seems ages since I was here!" he remarked. "And yet it's like
yesterday. What have I been doing? Dreaming? Will I walk into the
printery, and will you come in with the 'Landing of the Pilgrims'?"
Myra laughed, both glad and sad.
"I should have charged you more," said Joe, brusquely. "Fifty cents was
too little for that job."
"I told you it would ruin your business, Joe." Strangely then they
thought of the fire ... her order had been his last piece of business
before the tragedy.
They walked east on Eighty-first Street and stopped before the old loft
building. A new sign was riveted on the bulletin-board in the doorway.
JOE BLAINE & HIS MEN.
Joe looked at it, and started.
"It's no dream, Myra," he sighed. "Times have changed, and we, too, have
Then they went up the elevator to the clash and thunder on the eighth
floor. And they felt more and more strange, double, as it were--the old
Myra and the old Joe walking with the new Myra and the new Joe. Myra
felt a queerness about her heart, a subtle sense of impending events; of
great dramatic issues. Something that made her want to cry.
Then they stood a moment before the dirty door, and Joe said:
"Shall I? Shall I rouse 'em with the bell? Shall I break in on their
"Rouse away!" cried Myra. "Your hour has struck!"
He pulled the door, the bell rang sharply, and they stepped in. As of
old, the tremble, the clatter, the flash of machines, the damp smell of
printed sheets, swallowed them up--made them a quivering part of the
place. And how little it had changed! They stood, almost choking with
the unchanging change of things. As if the fire had never been! As if
Tenth Street had never been!
Then at once the spell was broken. A pressman spied Joe and loosed a
"_It's the old man_!"
His press stopped; his neighbors' presses stopped; as the yell went down
the room, "Joe! Joe! The old man!" press after press paused until only
the clatter and swing of the overhead belting was heard. And the men
came running up.
"Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Shake! For God's sake, give me a grip! This is great
for sore eyes! Where you been keeping yourself? Ain't he the limit? He's
the same old penny! Look at him--even his hat's the same!"
Joe shook hand after hand, until his own was numb. They crowded about
him, they flung their fondness at him, and he stood, his eyes blinded
with tears, his heart rent in his breast, and a new color climbing to
Then suddenly a loud voice cried:
"What's the matter? What does this mean?"
And Marty Briggs emerged from the office.
"Hello, Marty!" cried Joe.
Marty stood dumfounded; then he came with a rush.
"Joe! You son-of-a-gun! Beg pardon, Miss! I ain't seen him for a
"And how goes it, Marty? How goes it, Marty?"
"Tip-top; busy as beavers. But, say," he leaned over and whispered,
"I've found a secret."
"What is it, Marty?"
"You can't run a business with your hands or lungs or your manners--you
need gray stuff up here."
The reception was a great success, full of cross-questions, of bartered
news--as the arrival of new babies christened Joe or Josephine, the
passing of old babies in the last birth of all, the absence of old
faces, the presence of new ones. Glad talk and rapid, and only cut short
by the urgency of business.
They sang him out with a "He's a jolly good fellow," and he emerged on
the street with Myra, his eyes dripping.
Myra spoke softly.
"There's one more thing I want you to do for me."
"I want to walk with you in the Park."
He looked at her strangely, breathlessly.
"_In the Ramble, Myra_?"
She met his gaze.
"_In the Ramble, Joe_."
Silently, with strange, beating hearts and fore-glimmer of beauty and
wonder and loveliness, they walked west to the Park, and entered that
Crystal Palace. For every branch, every twig, every stone and rail had
its pendent ice and icicle, and the strong sun smote the world with
flakes of flame. The trees were showers of rainbow-flashing glory; now
and then an icicle dropped like a dart of fire, and the broad lawns were
sheets of dazzle. Earth was glittering, fresh, new, decked out in
unimaginable jewels under the vast and melting blue skies. The day was
tender and clear and vigorous, tingling with life.
They followed the curve of the walk, they crossed the roadway, they
climbed the hill, they walked the winding path of the Ramble.
"You remember that morning?" murmured Joe, a music waking in his heart,
his pulses thronged with a new beauty.
"Remember it?" Myra whispered. "Yes, Joe, I remember it."
"That is the very bench we sat on."
"That is the bench."
"And that is the little pond."
"That is the little pond."
"And this is the spot."
"This is the spot."
They sat down on that bench in the crystal wilderness, a man and woman
alone in the blue-skied spaces, among the tree-trunks, and the circle of
earth. And then to Myra came an inexpressible moment of agony and
longing and love. She had struggled months; she had stayed away; and
then she had come back, and merged her life in the life of this man. And
she could bear this no longer! Oh, Joe, will you never speak? Will you
never come to your senses?
More and more color was rising to his face, and his hands in his lap
were trembling. He tried to speak naturally--but his voice was odd and
"You must have thought me a brute."
"I thought--you were busy, overworked."
"So I was. I was swallowed up--swallowed up."
There was a silence, in which they heard little gray sparrows twittering
in the sunlight.
He hardly heard her "yes."
"There's been a miracle in my life this year."
"The way you came down and took hold and made good."
"Thank you," very faintly.
"It was the biggest thing that came my way."
"I was noticing it, Myra, out of the tail of my eye."
Myra tried to laugh. It sounded more like a dull sob.
"I haven't time to be polite."
"Don't want you to," Myra blurted.
"Strange," said Joe, "how things come about. Hello, Mr. Squirrel! Want a
peanut? None on the premises. Sorry. Good-day!"
He leaned over, picked a bit of ice, and flung it in the air.
"Myra," he muttered. "I need a rest."
"You do," almost inaudible.
"I need--Didn't I say, no peanuts? No means no! Good-day!"
He turned about laughing.
"What do you think of that for a pesky little animal?"
"Joe!" she cried in her agony.
Joe said nothing, but stared, and a great sob shook him and escaped his
He had her in his arms; he kissed her on the lips--that new kiss,
sealing those others. And the wonderful moment came and went; the moment
when two flames leap into one fire; when two lives dashing upon each
other blend into one wonderful torrent. They did not mind the publicity
of the place that afternoon; they were quite oblivious of the world.
They were in another realm, breathing another air, treading a different
earth. It was too sacred for words, too miraculous for aught but the
beating of their living hearts, the pulse of singing blood, the secret
in their brains. Their years fell away. They were youth itself, dabbling
with the miracles of the world; they were boy and girl, new-created man
and woman. The world was a garden, and they were alone in that garden,
and nothing but beauty was in that place. They had each other to behold
and hear and touch and commune with. That was enough....
"Joe," said Myra, when the first glory had faded and they were
conversing sweetly, "I made up my mind to save you, and I did!"
"Wonderful woman! And you're sure now you don't mind me--the way I'm
constructed in the cranium and all that?"
"I love you, Joe!" She was as happy as a woman could be.
"I'm a powerful idiot, Myra."
"So am I."
"Well," he mused, "you're taking your chances. Suppose I go off into
another strike or something?"
"I'll go with you."
"Myra," he said, "then let's go home and tell mother."
They were as happy as children. They were well satisfied with the world.
In fact, they found it an amazingly good place. Every face that passed
seemed touched with beauty and high moral purpose, and the slate of
wrong and injustice and bitterness had been sponged clean.
"Oh, Myra," cried Joe, "isn't it great to know that we have it in us to
go plumb loony once in a while? Isn't it great?"
And so they made their way home, and walked tiptoe to the kitchen, and
stood hand in hand before Joe's mother. She wheeled.
Joe gulped heavily.
"I've brought you a daughter, mother, the loveliest one I could find!"
Myra sobbed, and started forward--Joe's mother grasped her in a tight
hug, tears running fast.
"It's about time, Joe," she cried, "it's just about time."
Over the city the Spring cast its subtle spell. The skies had a more
fleeting blue and softer clouds and more golden sun. Here and there on a
window-sill a new red geranium plant was set out to touch the stone
walls with the green earth's glory. The salt breath of the sea,
wandering up the dusty avenues, called the children of men to new
adventures--hinted of far countries across the world, of men going down
to the sea in ships, of traffic and merchandise in fairer climes, of
dripping forest gloom and glittering peaks, of liquid-lisping brooks and
the green scenery of the open earth.
Restlessness seized the hearts of men and the works of men. From the
almshouses and the jails emerged the vagrants, stopped overnight to meet
their cronies in dives and saloons, and next day took the freight to the
blooming West, or tramped by foot the dust of the roads that leave the
city and go ribboning over the shoulder and horizon of the world.
Windows were flung open, and the fresh sweet air came in to make the
babies laugh and the women wistful and the men lazy. Factories droned
with machines that seemed to grate against their iron fate. And of a
night, now, the parks, the byways, and the waterside were the haunts of
young lovers--stealing out together, arms round each other's waists--the
future of the world in their trembling hands.
The air was full of the rumor of great things. Now, perchance, human
nature at last was going to reveal itself, the love and hope and
comradeliness and joy tucked away so deep in its interlinings. Now,
possibly, the streets were going to be full of singing, and the
housetops were going to rejoice with the mellower stars. Anything was
possible. Did not earth set an example, showing how out of a hard dead
crust and a forlorn and dry breast she could pour her new oceans of
million-glorious life? If the dead tree could blossom and put forth
green leaves, what dead soul need despair?
Swinging and swaying and gliding, the great white Sound liner came up on
the morning and swept her flag-flapped way down the shining river. Her
glad whistle released her buoyant joy to the city, and the little tugs
and the ferries answered with their barks and their toots. Up she came,
triple-decked, her screw swirling in the green salt water, her smoke
curling lustrous in the low-hung sun. She passed Blackwells Island, she
swung easily beneath the great span of the Fifty-ninth Street bridge,
and gave "good-morning" to the lower city.
On a side-deck, leaning over the rail, stood a man and a woman. The man
was strong, tan-faced, his eyes bright with fresh power. The woman was
rosy-cheeked and exquisite in her new beauty. For the miracle of Spring
which changed the earth had changed Myra and Joe. They too had put forth
power and life, blossom and new green leaves. They had gone to the earth
to be remade; they had given themselves over to the great physician,
Nature; they had surrendered to the soil and the sun and the air. Earth
had absorbed them, infolded them, and breathed anew in their spirits her
warmth, her joy, her powerful peace. They had run bare-headed in the
sun; they had climbed, panting, the jutting mountainside; they had taken
the winds of the world on the topmost peak; they had romped in the woods
and played in the meadow. And then, too, they had fed well, and rested
much, and been content with the generous world.
And in that health and peace of nature at last to Joe had come the great
awakening of his life. The mental stock-taking he had begun on the day
when Lissner had spoken to him, reached there its climax; the confusion
cleared; the chaos took wonderful new shape.
And he was amazed to see how he had changed and grown. He looked back on
the man who had gone down to West Tenth Street as on a callow and
ignorant youth, enthusiastic, but crude and untried. Back through those
past months he went with the search-light of introspection, and then at
last he knew. He had gone down to Greenwich Village crammed with
theories; he had set to work as if he were a sheltered scientist in a
quiet laboratory, where an experiment could be carried through, and
there suddenly he had been confronted with Facts! Facts! those queer
unbudgable things! Facts in a fierce stampede that engulfed and swept
him along and put all his dreams to a galloping test, a test wherein he
had even forgotten his dreams.
He had gone the way of all reformers, first the explosive arousal, then
the theory, then the test.
He went over the Greenwich Village experience with Myra:
"Why," he laughed, "I expected to do great things. Whereas, look, I have
done _nothing_. This strike ends in a little bettering, and a few people
read my paper. It's just a little stir, hardly a dent--a few atoms set
into motion. How slow! how slow! _Patience_! That's the word I've
learned! It will take worlds of time; it will take a multitude striving;
it will take unnumbered forces--education, health-work, eugenics,
town-planning, the rise of women, philanthropy, law--a thousand thousand
dawning powers. Oh, we are only at the faint beginnings of things!"
And he thought of the books he had read, and the theories of which he
had been so sure.
"But," he exclaimed, "was my diagnosis correct? Did I really know the
human muddle? Has any man really mapped out civilization? It's so huge,
complex, varied--so many disorganized forces--who can classify it--label
it? It's bigger than our thought about it. We lay hands on only a few
wisps of it! Life! Life itself--not our interpretation--is the great
And then again.
"We see certain tendencies and believe they will advance unhindered, but
there may be other tendencies to counteract, change, even defeat these.
No future can be predicted! And yet I was so sure of the future--so sure
of what we are to build--that future which we keep modifying so
persistently the moment it hits To-day."
In short, he had reached his _social manhood_--which meant to him, not
dogma, but the willingness to arise every morning ready to reshape his
course, prepared for any adventure, receptive, open-minded, and all
willing to render his very life for what seemed good to do. Scientific
reverence this, the willingness to experiment, to try, to test, and
then, if the test failed, to grope for a new line of outlet, the
readiness to reverse all he believed in in the face of a new and
contradictory fact. He was a new Joe Blaine.
And so the spirit that sprang from those dead girls became a creative
power, a patient, living strength.
And so in the blaze of new morning, in the beginnings of a new life,
Joe and Myra leaned over the rail of the boat, coming back, coming back
to the ramparts and heights of the great World City. They saw full in
the glory of the morning sun those tiers on tiers of towers rising to
their lonely pinnacle. Beneath them harbor craft scurried about in the
bright waters; above them rose the Big Brothers of the city looking out
toward the sea. It seemed some vision builded of no human hands. It
seemed winged and uplifted toward the skies, an immensity of power and
beauty. It seemed to float on measureless waters, a magic metropolis,
setting sail for the Arabian Nights.
Tears came into Joe's eyes. He held Myra's hand fast.
"Are you glad to get back?"
"Yes, glad, Joe."
"No more peace, no more green earth, Myra."
"I know it, Joe."
"Even our honeymoon--that can't be repeated, can it?"
"No," she said, sadly, "I guess it cannot."
"And this means work, hardship, danger, injustice--all the troubles of
She pressed his hand.
"Yet you're glad, Myra!"
"Tell me why."
"Because," she mused, "it's the beginning of our real life together."
"How so _real_?"
Myra's eyes were suffused with tears.
"The common life--the life of people--the daily toil--the pangs and the
struggles. I'm hungry for it all!"
He could have kissed her for the words.
"We'll do, Myra," he cried, "we'll do. Do you know what I see this
"A new city! My old city, but all new."
"It's you that is new, Joe."
"And that's why I see the new city--a vision I shall see until some
larger vision replaces it. Shall I tell you about it?"
"It is the city of five million comrades. They toil all day with one
another; they create all of beauty and use that men may need; they
exchange these things with each other; they go home at night to gardens
and simple houses, they find happy women there and sunburnt, laughing
children. Their evenings are given over to the best play--play with
others, play with masses, or play at home. They have time for study,
time for art, yet time for one another. Each loosens in himself and
gives to the world his sublime possibilities. A city of toiling
comrades, of sparkling homes, of wondrous art, and joyous festival. That
is the city I see before me!" He paused. "And to the coming of that city
I dedicate my life."
"It's too bright, too good for human nature."
"Not for human nature," he whispered. "If only we are patient. If only
we are content to add our one stone to its rising walls."
She pressed his hand again.
"Joe," she murmured, "what do you think you'll be doing a year from
"I don't know," he smiled. "Perhaps editing--perhaps working with a
strike--perhaps something else. But whatever it is, it will be some new
adventure--some new adventure!"
So they entered that city hand in hand, the future all before them. And
they found neither that City of the Future nor a City of Degradation,
but a very human city full of very human people.
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