Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part Three. Service
These were serene and sweet days for them all, and if sometimes the old sorrow returned for awhile, and there were still bitter longing and grieving for Josephine, there were days, too, when even the mother admitted to herself that some new tender element had crept into their love for each other since the little sister's going, the invisible presence was the closest and strongest of the ties that bound them all. Happiness came back, planning and dreaming began again. Susan teased Anna and Betsey into wearing white again, when the hot weather came, Billy urged the first of the walks to the beach without Jo, and Anna herself it was who began to extend the old informal invitations to the nearest friends and neighbors for the tea-hour on Saturday. Susan was to have her vacation in August; Billy was to have at least a week; Anna had been promised the fortnight of Susan's freedom, and Jimmy and Betsey could hardly wait for the camping trip they planned to take all together to the little shooting box in the mountains.
One August afternoon Susan, arriving home from the office at one o'clock, found Mrs. Carroll waiting to ask her a favor.
"Sue, dear, I'm right in the middle of my baking," Mrs. Carroll said, when Susan was eating a late lunch from the end of the kitchen table, "and here's a special delivery letter for Billy, and Billy's not coming over here to-night! Phil's taking Jimmy and Betts to the circus--they hadn't been gone five minutes when this thing came!"
"Why a special delivery--and why here--and what is it?" asked Susan, wiping buttery fingers carefully before she took the big envelope in her hands. "It's from Edward Dean," she said, examining it with unaffected interest. "Oh, I know what this is--it's about that blue- print business!" Susan finished, enlightened. "Probably Mr. Dean didn't have Billy's new address, but wanted him to have these to work on, on Sunday."
"It feels as if something bulky was in there," Mrs. Carroll said. "I wish we could get him by telephone! As bad luck would have it, he's a good deal worried about the situation at the works, and told me he couldn't possibly leave the men this week. What are the blue- prints?"
"Why, it's some little patent of Billy's,--a deep-petticoat, double- groove porcelain insulator, if that means anyone to anyone!" laughed Susan. "He's been raving about it for weeks! And he and Mr. Dean have to rush the patent, because they've been using these things for some time, and they have to patent them before they've been used a year, it seems!"
"I was just thinking, Sue, that, if you didn't mind crossing to the city with them, you could put on a special-delivery stamp and then Billy would have them to-night. Otherwise, they won't leave here until tomorrow morning."
"Why, of course, that'll do!" Susan said willingly. "I can catch the two-ten. Or better yet, Aunt Jo, I'll take them right out there and deliver them myself."
"Oh, dearie, no! Not if there's any ugliness among the men, not if they are talking of a strike!" the older woman protested.
"Oh, they're always striking," Susan said easily. "And if I can't get him to bring me back," she added, "don't worry, for I may go stay with Georgie overnight, and come back with Bill in the morning!"
She was not sorry to have an errand on this exquisite afternoon. The water of the bay was as smooth as blue glass, gulls were flashing and dipping in the steamer's wake. Sailboats, waiting for the breeze, drifted idly toward the Golden Gate; there was not a cloud in the blue arch of the sky. The little McDowell whistled for her dock at Alcatraz. On the prison island men were breaking stone with a metallic clink--clink--clink.
Susan found the ferry-place in San Francisco hot and deserted; the tar pavements were softened under-foot; gongs and bells of cars made a raucous clamor. She was glad to establish herself on the front seat of a Mission Street car and leave the crowded water-front behind her.
They moved along through congested traffic, past the big docks, and turned in between the great ware-houses that line Mission Street. The hot streets were odorous of leather and machine-oils, ropes and coffee. Over the door of what had been Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's hung a new bright sign, "Hunter, Hunter & Brauer." Susan caught a glimpse, through the plaster ornamentation of the facade, of old Front Office, which seemed to be full of brightly nickeled samples now, and gave back a blinking flash of light to the afternoon sun.
"Bathroom fixtures," thought Susan. "He always wanted to carry them!" What a long two years since she had known or cared what pleased or displeased Mr. Brauer!
The car clanged out of the warehouse district, past cheap flats and cheap shops, and saloons, and second-hand stores, boiling over, at their dark doorways, with stoves and rocking-chairs, lamps and china ware. This neighborhood was sordid enough, but crowded, happy and full of life. Now the road ran through less populous streets; houses stood at curious angles, and were unpainted, or painted in unusual colors. Great ware-houses and factories shadowed little clusters of workingmen's homes; here and there were country-like strips of brown palings with dusty mallow bushes spraying about them, or a lean cow grazing near a bare little wooden farmhouse. Dumps, diffusing a dry and dreadful odor, blighted the prospect with their pyramids of cans and broken umbrellas; little grocery stores, each with its wide unrailed porch, country fashion, and its bar accessible through the shop, or by a side entrance, often marked the corners on otherwise vacant blocks.
Susan got off the car in the very shadow of the "works," and stood for a moment looking at the great foundries, the dark and dirty yards, with their interlacing tracks and loaded cars, the enormous brick buildings set with rows and rows of blank and dusty windows, the brick chimneys and the black pipes of the blast-furnaces, the heaps of twisted old iron and of ashes, the blowing dust and glare of the hot summer day. She had been here with Billy before, had peeped into the furnace rooms, all a glare of white heat and silhouetted forms, had breathed the ashy and choking air.
Now she turned and walked toward the rows of workingmen's cottages that had been built, solidly massed, nearby. Presenting an unbroken, two-story facade, the long buildings were divided into tiny houses that had each two flat-faced windows upstairs, and a door and one window downstairs. The seven or eight long buildings might have been as many gigantic German toys, dotted with apertures by some accurate brush, and finished with several hundred flights of wooden steps and several hundred brick chimneys. Ugly when they first were built, they were even uglier now, for the exterior was of some shallow plaster that chipped and cracked and stained and in nearly every dooryard dirt and disorder added a last touch to the unlovely whole.
Children swarmed everywhere this afternoon; heavy, dirty-faced babies sat in the doorways, women talked and laughed over the low dividing fences. Gates hung awry, and baby carriages and garbage tins obstructed the bare, trampled spaces that might have been little gardens.
Up and down the straight narrow streets, and loitering everywhere, were idle, restless men. A few were amusing babies, or joining in the idle chatter of the women, but for the most part they were silent, or talking in low tones among themselves.
"Strikers!" Susan said to herself, with a thrill.
Over the whole curious, exotic scene the late summer sunshine streamed generously; the street was hot, the talking women fanned themselves with their aprons.
Susan, walking slowly alone, found herself attracting a good deal of attention, and was amazed to find that it frightened her a little. She was conspicuously a newcomer, and could not but overhear the comments that some of the watching young men made as she went by.
"Say, what's that song about 'I'd leave my happy home for you,' Bert?" she heard them say. "Don't ask me! I'm expecting my gurl any minute!" and "Pretty good year for peaches, I hear!"
Susan had to pretend that she did not hear, but she heartily wished herself back on the car. However, there was nothing to do but walk senselessly on, or stop and ask her way. She began to look furtively about for a friendly face, and finally stopped beside a dooryard where a slim pretty young woman was sitting with a young baby in her arms.
"Excuse me," said Susan, "but do you know where Mr. William Oliver lives, now?"
The girl studied her quietly for a minute, with a closed, composed mouth. Then she said evenly:
"Huh?" said a tall young man, lathered for shaving, who came at once to the door.
"I'm trying to find Mr. Oliver--William Oliver," Susan said smiling. "I'm a sort of cousin of his, and I have a special delivery letter for him."
Joe, who had been rapidly removing the lather from his face with a towel, took the letter and, looking at it, gravely conceded:
"Well, maybe that's right, too! Sure you can see him. We're haying a conference up at the office tonight," he explained, "and I have to clean up or I'd take you to him myself! Maybe you'd do it, Lizzie?" he suggested to his wife, who was all friendliness to Susan now, and showed even a hint of respect in her friendliness.
"Well, I could nurse him later, Joe," she agreed willingly, in reference to the baby, "or maybe Mama--Mama!" she interrupted herself to call.
An immense, gray-haired old woman, who had been an interested auditor of this little conversation, got up from the steps of the next house, and came to the fence. Susan liked Ellan Cudahy at first sight, and smiled at her as she explained her quest.
"And you're Mr. Oliver's sister, I c'n see that," said Mrs. Cudahy shrewdly.
"No, I'm not!" Susan smiled. "My name is Brown. But Mr. Oliver was a sort of ward of my aunt's, and so we call ourselves cousins."
"Well, of course ye wud," agreed Mrs. Cudahy. "Wait till I pin on me hat wanst, and I'll take you up to the Hall. He's at the Hall, Joe, I dunno?" she asked.
Joseph assenting, they set out for the Hall, under a fire of curious eyes.
"Joe's cleaning up for the conference," said Mrs. Cudahy. "There's a committee going to meet tonight. The old man-that's Carpenter, the boss of the works, will be there, and some of the others."
Susan nodded intelligently, but Saturday evening seemed to her a curious time to select for a conference. They walked along in silence, Mrs. Cudahy giving a brief yet kindly greeting to almost every man they met.
"Hello, Dan, hello, Gene; how are ye, Jim?" said she, and one young giant, shouldering his scowling way home, she stopped with a fat imperative hand. "How's it going, Jarge?"
"It's going rotten," said George, sullenly evading her eyes.
"Well,--don't run by me that way--stand still!" said the old woman. "What d'ye mean by rotten?"
"Aw, I mean rotten!" said George ungraciously. "D'ye know what the old man is going to do now? He says that he'll give Billy just two or three days more to settle this damn thing, and then he'll wire east and get a carload of men right straight through from Philadelphia. He said so to young Newman, and Frank Harris was in the room, and heard him. He says they're picked out, and all ready to come!"
"And what does Mr. Oliver say?" asked Mrs. Cudahy, whose face had grown dark.
"I don't know! I went up to the Hall, but at the first word he says, 'For God's sake, George--None of that here! They'll mob the old man if they hear it!' They was all crowding about him, so I quit."
"Well," said Mrs. Cudahy, considering, "there's to be a conference at six-thirty, but befoor that, Mr. Oliver and Clem and Rassette and Weidermeyer are going to meet t'gether in Mr. Oliver's room at Rassette's house. Ye c'n see them there."
"Well, maybe I will," said George, softening, as he left them.
"What's the conference about?" asked Susan pleasantly.
"What's the--don't tell me ye don't know that!" Mrs. Cudahy said, eying her shrewdly.
"I knew there was a strike---" Susan began ashamedly.
"Sure, there's a strike," Mrs. Cudahy agreed, with quiet grimness, and under her breath she added heavily, "Sure there is!"
"And are Mr. Oliver's--are the men out?" Susan asked.
"There's nine hundred men out," Mrs. Cudahy told her, coldly.
"Nine hundred!" Susan stopped short. "But Billy's not responsible for all that!" she added, presently.
"I don't know who is, then," Mrs. Cudahy admitted grimly.
"But--but he never had more than thirty or forty men under him in his life!" Susan said eagerly.
"Oh? Well, maybe he doesn't know anything about it, thin!" Mrs. Cudahy agreed with magnificent contempt.
But her scorn was wasted upon another Irishwoman. Susan stared at her for a moment, then the dimples came into view, and she burst into her infectious laughter.
"Aren't you ashamed to be so mean!" laughed Susan. "Won't you tell me about it?"
Mrs. Cudahy laughed too, a little out of countenance.
"I misdoubt me you're a very bad lot!" said she, in high good humor, "but 'tis no joke for the boys," she went on, sobering quickly. "They wint on strike a week ago. Mr. Oliver presided at a meeting two weeks come Friday night, and the next day the boys went out!"
"What for?" asked Susan.
"For pay, and for hours," the older woman said. "They want regular pay for overtime, wanst-and-a-half regular rates. And they want the Chinymen to go,--sure, they come in on every steamer," said Mrs. Cudahy indignantly, "and they'll work twelve hours for two bits! Bether hours," she went on, checking off the requirements on fat, square fingers, "overtime pay, no Chinymen, and--and--oh, yes, a risin' scale of wages, if you know what that is? And last, they want the union recognized!"
"Well, that's not much!" Susan said generously. "Will they get it?"
"The old man is taking his time," Mrs. Cudahy's lips shut in a worried line. "There's no reason they shouldn't," she resumed presently, "We're the only open shop in this part of the world, now. The big works has acknowledged the union, and there's no reason why this wan shouldn't!"
"And Billy, is he the one they talk to, the Carpenters I mean--the authorities?" asked Susan.
"They wouldn't touch Mr. William Oliver wid a ten-foot pole," said Mrs. Cudahy proudly. "Not they! Half this fuss is because they want to get rid of him--they want him out of the way, d'ye see? No, he talks to the committee, and thin they meet with the committee. My husband's on it, and Lizzie's Joe goes along to report what they do."
"But Billy has a little preliminary conference in his room first?" Susan asked.
"He does," the other assented, with a chuckle. "He'll tell thim what to say! He's as smart as old Carpenter himself!" said Mrs. Cudahy, "he's prisidint of the local; Clem says he'd ought to be King!" And Susan was amazed to notice that the strong old mouth was trembling with emotion, and the fine old eyes dimmed with tears. "The crowd av thim wud lay down their lives for him, so they would!" said Mrs. Cudahy.
"And--and is there much suffering yet?" Susan asked a little timidly. This cheery, sun-bathed scene was not quite her idea of a labor strike.
"Well, some's always in debt and trouble annyway," Mrs. Cudahy said, temperately, "and of course 'tis the worse for thim now!"
She led Susan across an unpaved, deeply rutted street, and opened a stairway door, next to a saloon entrance.
Susan was glad to have company on the bare and gloomy stairs they mounted. Mrs. Cudahy opened a double-door at the top, and they looked into the large smoke-filled room that was the "Hall."
It was a desolate and uninviting room, with spirals of dirty, colored tissue-paper wound about the gas-fixtures, sunshine streaming through the dirty, specked windows, chairs piled on chairs against the long walls, and cuspidors set at regular intervals along the floor. There was a shabby table set at a platform at one end.
About this table was a group of men, talking eagerly and noisily to Billy Oliver, who stood at the table looking abstractedly at various letters and papers.
At the entrance of the women, the talk died away. Mrs. Cudahy was greeted with somewhat sheepish warmth; the vision of an extremely pretty girl in Mrs. Cudahy's care seemed to affect these vociferous laborers profoundly. They began confused farewells, and melted away.
"All right, old man, so long!" "I'll see you later, Oliver," "That was about all, Billy, I must be getting along," "Good-night, Billy, you know where I am if you want me!" "I'll see you later,--good- night, sir!"
"Hello, Mrs. Cudahy--hello, Susan!" said Billy, discovering them with the obvious pleasure a man feels when unexpectedly confronted by his womenkind. "I think you were a peach to do that, Sue!" he said gratefully, when the special delivery letter had been read. "Now I can get right at it, to-morrow!--Say, wait a minute, Clem---"
He caught by the arm an old man,--larger, more grizzled, even more blue of eye than was Susan's new friend, his wife,--and presented her to Mr. Cudahy.
"---My adopted sister, Clem! Sue, he's about as good as they come!"
"Sister, is it?" asked Mrs. Cudahy, "Whin I last heard it was cousin! What do you know about that, Clem?"
"Well, that gives you a choice!" said Susan, laughing.
"Then I'll take the Irishman's choice, and have something different entirely!" the old woman said, in great good spirits, as they all went down the stairs.
"I'll take me own gir'rl home, and give you two a chanst," said Clem, in the street. "That'll suit you, Wil'lum, I dunno?"
"You didn't ask if it would suit me," sparkled Susan Brown.
"Well, that's so!" he said delightedly, stopping short to scratch his head, and giving her a rueful smile. "Sure, I'm that popular that there never was a divvle like me at all!"
"You get out, and leave my girl alone!" said William, with a shove. And his tired face brightened wonderfully, as he slipped his hand under Susan's arm.
"Now, Sue," he said contentedly, "we'll go straight to Rassette's-- but wait a minute--I've got to telephone!"
Susan stood alone on the corner, quite as a matter of course, while he dashed into a saloon. In a moment he was back, introducing her to a weak-looking, handsome young man, who, after a few wistful glances back toward the swinging door, walked away with them, and was presently left in the care of a busily cooking little wife and a fat baby. Billy was stopped and addressed on all sides. Susan found it pleasantly exciting to be in his company, and his pleasure in showing her this familiar environment was unmistakable.
"Everything's rotten and upset now," said Billy, delighted with her friendly interest and sympathy. "You ought to see these people when they aren't on strike! Now, let's see, it's five thirty. I'll tell you, Sue, if you'll miss the seven-five boat, I'll just wait here until we get the news from the conference, then I'll blow you to Zink's best dinner, and take you home on the ten-seventeen."
"Oh, Bill, forget me!" she said, concerned for his obvious fatigue, for his face was grimed with perspiration and very pale. "I feel like a fool to have come in on you when you're so busy and so distressed! Anything will be all right---"
"Sue, I wouldn't have had you miss this for a million, if you can only get along, somehow!" he said eagerly. "Some other time---"
"Oh, Billy, don't bother about me!" Susan dismissed herself with an impatient little jerk of her head. "Does this new thing worry you?" she asked.
"What new thing?" he asked sharply.
"Why, this--this plan of Mr. Carpenter's to bring a train-load of men on from Philadelphia," said Susan, half-proud and half- frightened.
"Who said so?" he demanded abruptly.
"Why, I don't know his name, Billy--yes I do, too! Mrs. Cudahy called him Jarge---"
"George Weston, that was!" Billy's eyes gleamed. "What else did he say?"
"He said a man named Edward Harris---" "Sure it wasn't Frank Harris?" "Frank Harris--that was it! He said Harris overheard him-- or heard him say so!"
"Harris didn't hear anything that the old man didn't mean to have him hear," said Billy grimly. "But that only makes it the more probably true! Lord, Lord, I wonder where I can get hold of Weston!"
"He's going to be at that conference, at half-past five," Susan assured him. He gave her an amused look.
"Aren't you the little Foxy-Quiller!" he said. "Gosh, I do love to have you out here, Sue!" he added, grinning like a happy small boy. "This is Rassette's, where I'm staying," he said, stopping before the very prettiest and gayest of little gardens. "Come in and meet Mrs. Rassette."
Susan went in to meet the blonde, pretty, neatly aproned little lady of the house.
"The boys already are upstairs, Mr. Oliver," said Mrs. Rassette, and as Billy went up the little stairway with flying leaps, she led Susan into her clean little parlor. Susan noticed a rug whose design was an immense brown dog, a lamp with a green, rose-wreathed shade, a carved wooden clock, a little mahogany table beautifully inlaid with white holly, an enormous pair of mounted antlers, and a large concertina, ornamented with a mosaic design in mother-of-pearl. The wooden floor here, and in the hall, was unpainted, but immaculately clean and the effect of the whole was clean and gay and attractive.
"You speak very wonderful English for a foreigner, Mrs. Rassette."
"I?" The little matron showed her white teeth. "But I was born in New Jersey," she explained, "only when I am seven my Mama sends me home to my Grandma, so that I shall know our country. It is a better country for the working people," she added, with a smile, and added apologetically, "I must look into my kitchen; I am afraid my boy shall fall out of his chair."
"Oh, let's go out!" Susan followed her into a kitchen as spotless as the rest of the house, and far more attractive. The floor was cream- white, the woodwork and the tables white, and immaculate blue saucepans hung above an immaculate sink.
Three babies, the oldest five years old, were eating their supper in the evening sunshine, and now fixed their solemn blue eyes upon the guest. Susan thought they were the cleanest babies she had ever seen; through their flaxen mops she could see their clean little heads, their play-dresses were protected by checked gingham aprons worked in cross-stitch designs. Marie and Mina and Ernie were kissed in turn, after their mother had wiped their rosy little faces with a damp cloth.
"I am baby-mad!" said Susan, sitting down with the baby in her lap. "A strike is pretty hard, when you have these to think of, isn't it?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yes, we don't wish that we should move," Mrs. Rassette agreed placidly, "We have been here now four years, and next year it is our hope that we go to our ranch."
"Oh, have you a ranch?" asked Susan.
"We are buying a little ranch, in the Santa Clara valley," the other woman said, drawing three bubbling Saucepans forward on her shining little range. "We have an orchard there, and there is a town nearby where Joe shall have a shop of his own. And there is a good school! But until my Marie is seven, we think we shall stay here. So I hope the strike will stop. My husband can always get work in Los Angeles, but it is so far to move, if we must come back next year!"
Susan watched her, serenely beginning to prepare the smallest girl for bed; the helpful Marie trotting to and fro with nightgowns and slippers. All the while the sound of men's voices had been rising and falling steadily in an upstairs room. Presently they heard the scraping of chairs on a bare floor, and a door slammed.
Billy Oliver put his head into the kitchen. He looked tired, but smiled when he saw Susan with the sleepy baby in her lap.
"Hello, Sue, that your oldest? Come on, woman, the Cudahys expect us to dinner, and we've not got much time!"
Susan kissed the baby, and walked with him to the end of the block, and straight through the open door of the Cudahy cottage, and into the kitchen. Here they found Mrs. Cudahy, dashing through preparations for a meal whose lavishness startled Susan. Bottles of milk and bottles of cream stood on the table, Susan fell to stripping ears of corn; there were pop-overs in the oven; Mrs. Cudahy was frying chickens at the stove. Enough to feed the Carroll family, under their mother's exquisite management, for a week!
There was no management here. A small, freckled and grinning boy known as "Maggie's Tim" came breathless from the grocery with a great bottle of fancy pickles; Billy brought up beer from the cellar; Clem Cudahy cut a thick slice of butter from a two-pound square, and helped it into the serving-dish with a pudgy thumb. A large fruit pie and soda crackers were put on the table with the main course, when they sat down, hungry and talkative.
"Well, what do you think of the Ironworks Row?" asked Billy, at about seven o'clock, when the other men had gone off to the conference, and Susan was helping Mrs. Cudahy in the kitchen.
"Oh, I like it!" Susan assured him, enthusiastically. "Only," she added in a lowered tone, with a glance toward Mrs. Cudahy, who was out in the yard talking to Lizzie, "only I prefer the Rassette establishment to any I've seen!"
"The Rassettes," he told her, significantly, "are trained for their work; she just as much as he is! Do you wonder I think it's worth while to educate people like that?"
"But Billy--everyone seems so comfortable. The Cudahys, now,--why, this dinner was fit for a king--if it had been served a little differently!"
"Oh, Clem's a rich man, as these men go," Billy said. "He's got two flats he rents, and he's got stock! And they've three married sons, all prosperous."
"Well, then, why do they live here?"
"Why wouldn't they? You think that it's far from clubs and shops and theaters and libraries, but they don't care for these things. They've never had time for them, they've never had time to garden, or go to clubs, and consequently they don't miss them. But some day, Sue," said Billy, with a darkening face, "some day, when these people have the assurance that their old age is to be protected and when they have easier hours, and can get home in daylight, then you'll see a change in laborers' houses!"
"And just what has a strike like this to do with that, Billy?" said Susan, resting her cheek on her broom handle.
"Oh, it's organization; it's recognition of rights; it's the beginning!" he said. "We have to stand before we can walk!"
"Here, don't do that!" said Mrs. Cudahy, coming in to take away the broom. "Take her for a walk, Billy," said she, "and show her the neighborhood." She laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Now, don't ye worry about the men coming back," said she kindly, "they'll be back fast enough, and wid good news, too!"
"I'm going to stay overnight with Mrs. Cudahy," said Susan, as they walked away.
"You are!" he stopped short, in amazement.
"Yes, I am I" Susan returned his smile with another. "I could no more go home now than after the first act of a play!" she confessed.
"Isn't it damned interesting?" he said, walking on.
"Why, yes," she said. "It's real at last--it's the realest thing I ever saw in my life! Everything's right on the surface, and all kept within certain boundaries. In other places, people come and go in your lives. Here, everybody's your neighbor. I like it! It could be perfect; just fancy if the Carrolls had one house, and you another, and I a third, and Phil and his wife a fourth--wouldn't it be like children playing house! And there's another thing about it, Billy," Susan went on enthusiastically, "it's honest! These people are really worried about shoes and rent and jobs--there's no money here to keep them from feeling everything! Think what a farce a strike would be if every man in it had lots of money! People with money can't get the taste of really living!"
"Ah, well, there's a lot of sin and wretchedness here now!" he said sadly. "Women drinking--men acting like brutes! But some day, when the liquor traffic is regulated, and we have pension laws, and perhaps the single tax---"
"And the Right-Reverend William Lord Oliver, R. I., in the Presidential Chair, hooray and Glory be to God---!" Susan began.
"Oh, you dry up, Susan," Billy said laughing. "I don't care," he added contentedly. "I like to be at the bottom of things, shoving up. And my Lord, if we only pull this thing off---!"
"It's not my preconceived idea of a strike," Susan said, after a moment's silence. "I thought one had to throw coal, and run around the streets with a shawl over one's head---"
"In the east, where the labor is foreign, that's about it," he said, "but here we have American-born laborers, asking for their rights. And I believe it's all coming!"
"But with ignorance and inefficiency on one hand, and graft and cruelty on the other, and drink and human nature and poverty adding their complications, it seems rather a big job!" Susan said. "Now, look at these small kids out of bed at this hour of night, Bill! And what are they eating?--Boiled crabs! And notice the white stockings- -I never had a pair in my life, yet every kidlet on the block is wearing them. And look upstairs there, with a bed still airing!"
"The wonder is that it's airing at all," Billy said absently. "Is that the boys coming back?" he asked sharply.
"Now, Bill, why do you worry---?" But Susan knew it was useless to scold him. They went quietly back, and sat on Mrs. Cudahy's steps, and waited for news. All Ironworks Row waited. Down the street Susan could see silent groups on nearly every door-step. It grew very dark; there was no moon, but the sky was thickly strewn with stars.
It was after ten o'clock when the committee came back. Susan knew, the moment that she saw the three, moving all close together, silently and slowly, that they brought no good news.
As a matter of fact, they brought almost no news at all. They went into Clem Cudahy's dining-room, and as many men and women as could crowded in after them. Billy sat at the head of the table.
Carpenter, the "old man" himself, had stuck to his guns, Clem Cudahy said. He was the obstinate one; the younger men would have conceded something, if not everything, long ago. But the old man had said that he would not be dictated to by any man alive, and if the men wanted to listen to an ignorant young enthusiast---
"Three cheers for Mr. Oliver!" said a strong young voice, at this point, and the cheers were given and echoed in the street, although Billy frowned, and said gruffly, "Oh, cut it out!"
It was a long evening. Susan began to think that they would talk forever. But, at about eleven o'clock, the men who had been streaming in and out of the house began to disperse, and she and Mrs. Cudahy went into the kitchen, and made a pot of coffee.
Susan, sitting at the foot of the table, poured it, and seasoned it carefully.
"You are going to be well cared for, Mr. Oliver," said Ernest Rassette, in his careful English.
"No such luck!" Billy said, smiling at Susan, as he emptied his cup at a draught. "Well! I don't know that we do any good sitting here. Things seem to be at a deadlock."
"What do they concede, Bill?" Susan asked.
"Oh, practically everything but the recognition of the union. At least, Carpenter keeps saying that if this local agitation was once wiped out,--which is me!--then he'd talk. He doesn't love me, Sue."
"Damn him!" said one of his listeners, a young man who sat with his head in his hands.
"It's after twelve," Billy said, yawning. "Me to the hay! Goodnight, everyone; goodnight, Sue!"
"And annywan that cud get a man like that, and doesn't," said Mrs. Cudahy when he was gone, "must be lookin' for a saint right out av the lit'ny!"
"I never heard of any girl refusing Mr. Oliver," Susan said demurely.
She awoke puzzled, vaguely elated. Sunshine was streaming in at the window, an odor of coffee, of bacon, of toast, drifted up from below. Susan had slept well. She performed the limited toilet necessitated by a basin and pitcher, a comb somewhat beyond its prime, and a mirror too full of sunlight to be flattering.
But it was evidently satisfactory, for Clem Cudahy told her, as she went smiling into the kitchen, that she looked like a streak of sunlight herself. Sunlight was needed; it was a worried and anxious day for them all.
Susan went with Lizzie to see the new Conover baby, and stopped on the way back to be introduced to Mrs. Jerry Nelson, who had been stretched on her bed for eight long years. Mrs. Nelson's bright little room was easily accessible from the street; the alert little suffering woman was never long alone.
"I have to throw good soup out, the way it spoils on me," said Mrs. Nelson's daughter to Susan, "and there's nobody round makes cake or custard but what Mama gets some!"
"I'm a great one for making friends," the invalid assured her happily. "I don't miss nothing!"
"And after all I don't see why such a woman isn't better off than Mary Lord," said Susan later to Billy, "so much nearer the center of things! Of course," she told him that afternoon, "I ought to go home today. But I'm too interested. I simply can't! What happens next?"
"Oh, waiting," he said wearily. "We have a mass meeting this afternoon. But there's nothing to do but wait!"
Waiting was indeed the order of the day. The whole colony waited. It grew hotter and hotter; flies buzzed in and out of the open doorways, children fretted and shouted in the shade. Susan had seen no drinking the night before; but now she saw more than one tragedy. The meeting at three o'clock ended in a more grim determination than ever; the men began to seem ugly. Sunset brought a hundred odors of food, and unbearable heat.
"I've got to walk some of this off," said Billy, restlessly, just before dark. "Come on up and see the cabbage gardens!"
Susan pinned on her wide hat, joined him in silence, and still in silence they threaded the path that led through various dooryards and across vacant lots, and took a rising road toward the hills.
The stillness and soft dusk were very pleasant to Susan; she could find a beauty in carrot-tops and beet greens, and grew quite rapturous over a cow.
"Doesn't the darling look comfortable and countryish, Bill?"
Billy interrupted his musing to give her an absent smile. They sat down on a pile of lumber, and watched the summer moon rise gloriously over the hills.
"Doesn't it seem funny to you that we're right in the middle of a strike, Bill?" Susan asked childishly.
"Funny--! Oh, Lord!"
"Well---" Susan laughed at herself, "I didn't mean funny! But I'll tell you what I'd do in your place," she added thoughtfully.
Billy glanced at her quickly.
"What you'd do?" he asked curiously.
"Certainly! I've been thinking it over, as a dispassionate outsider," Susan explained calmly.
"Well, go on," he said, grinning indulgently.
"Well, I will," Susan said, firing, "if you'll treat me seriously, and not think that I say this merely because the Carrolls want you to go camping with us! I was just thinking---" Susan smiled bashfully, "I was wondering why you don't go to Carpenter---"
"He won't see me!"
"Well, you know what I mean!" she said impatiently. "Send your committee to him, and make him this proposition. Say that if he'll recognize the union--that's the most important thing, isn't it?"
"That's by far the most important! All the rest will follow if we get that. But he's practically willing to grant all the rest, except the union. That's the whole point, Sue!"
"I know it is, but listen. Tell him that if he'll consent to all the other conditions--why," Susan spread open her hands with a shrug, "you'll get out! Bill, you know and I know that what he hates more than anything or anybody is Mr. William Oliver, and he'd agree to almost any terms for the sake of having you eliminated from his future consideration!"
"I--get out?" Billy repeated dazedly. "Why, I am the union!"
"Oh, no you're not, Bill. Surely the principles involved are larger than any one man!" Susan said pleasantly.
"Well, well--yes--that's true!" he agreed, after a second's silence. "To a certain extent--I see what you mean!--that is true. But, Sue, this is an unusual case. I organized these boys, I talked to them, and for them. They couldn't hold together without me--they'll tell you so themselves!"
"But, Billy, that's not logic. Suppose you died?"
"Well, well, but by the Lord Harry I'm not going to die!" he said heatedly. "I propose to stick right here on my job, and if they get a bunch of scabs in here they can take the consequences! The hour of organized labor has come, and we'll fight the thing out along these lines---"
"Through your hat--that's the way you're talking now!" Susan said scornfully. "Don't use those worn-out phrases, Bill; don't do it! I'm sick of people who live by a bunch of expressions, without ever stopping to think whether they mean anything or not! You're too big and too smart for that, Bill! Now, here you've given the cause a splendid push up, you've helped these particular men! Now go somewhere else, and stir up more trouble. They'll find someone to carry it on, don't you worry, and meanwhile you'll be a sort of idol--all the more influential for being a martyr to the cause!"
Billy did not answer. He got up and walked away from her, turned, and came slowly back.
"I've been here ten years," he said then, and at the sound of pain in his voice the girl's heart began to ache for him. "I don't believe they'd stand for it," he added presently, with more hope. And finally, "And I don't know what I'd do!"
"Well, that oughtn't to influence you," Susan said bracingly.
"No, you're quite right. That's not the point," he agreed quickly.
Presently she saw him lean forward in the darkness, and put his head in his hands. Susan longed to put her arm about him, and draw the rough head to her shoulder and comfort him.
At breakfast time the next morning, Billy walked into Mrs. Cudahy's dining-room, very white, very serious, determined lines drawn about his firm young mouth. Susan looked at him, half-fearful, half- pitying.
"How late did you walk, Bill?" she asked, for he had gone out again after bringing her back to the house the night before.
"I didn't go to bed," he said briefly. He sat down by the table. "Well, I guess Miss Brown put her finger on the very heart of the matter, Clem," said he.
"And how's that?" asked Clem Cudahy. His wife, in the very act of pouring the newcomer a cup of coffee, stopped with arrested arm. Susan experienced a sensation of panic.
"Oh, but I didn't mean anything!" she said eagerly. "Don't mind what I said, Bill!"
But the matter had been taken out of her hands now, and in less than an hour the news spread over the entire settlement. Mr. Oliver was going to resign!
The rest of the morning and the early afternoon went by in a confused rush. At three o'clock Billy, surrounded by vociferous allies, walked to the hall, for a stormy and exhausting meeting.
"The boys wouldn't listen to him at all at first," said Clem, in giving the women an account of it, later. "But eventually they listened, and eventually he carried the day. It was all too logical to be ignored and turned aside, he told them. They had not been fighting for any personal interest, or any one person. They had asked for this change, and that, and the other,--and these things they might still win. He, after all, had nothing to do with the issue; as a recognized labor union they might stand on their own feet."
After that the two committees met, in old Mr. Carpenter's office, and Billy came home to Susan and Mrs. Cudahy, and sat for a tense hour playing moodily with Lizzie's baby.
Then the committee came back, almost as silently as it had come last night. But this time it brought news. The strike was over.
Very quietly, very gravely, they made it known that terms had been reached at last. Practically everything had been granted, on the single condition that William Oliver resign from his position in the Iron Works, and his presidency of the union.
Billy congratulated them. Susan knew that he was so emotionally shaken, and so tired, as to be scarcely aware of what he was doing and saying. Men and women began to come in and discuss the great news. There were some tears; there was real grief on more than one of the hard young faces.
"I'll see all you boys again in a day or two," Billy said. "I'm going over to Sausalito to-night,--I'm all in! We've won, and that's the main thing, but I want you to let me off quietly to-night,--we can go over the whole thing later.
"Gosh, about one cheer, and I would have broken down like a kid!" he said to Susan, on the car. Rassette and Clem had escorted them thither; Mrs. Cudahy and Lizzie walking soberly behind them, with Susan. Both women kissed Susan good-bye, and Susan smiled through her tears as she saw the last of them.
"I'll take good care of him," she promised the old woman. "He's been overdoing it too long!"
"Lord, it will be good to get away into the big woods," said Billy. "You're quite right, I've taken the whole thing too hard!"
"At the same time," said Susan, "you'll want to get back to work, sooner or later, and, personally, I can't imagine anything else in life half as fascinating as work right there, among those people, or people like them!"
"Then you can see how it would cut a fellow all up to leave them?" he asked wistfully.
"See!" Susan echoed. "Why, I'm just about half-sick with homesickness myself!"