The Helen of the Old House by Harold Bell Wright
Book III. The Strike
Chapter XVIII. The Gathering Storm
"O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar; Then let your mighty chorus witness be To them, and Caesar, that we still make war."
In the weeks immediately following her visit to the Mill, Helen Ward met the demands of her world apparently as usual. If any one noticed that she failed to enter into the affairs of her associates with the same lively interest which had made her a leader among those who do nothing strenuously, they attributed it to her father's ill health. And in this they were partially right. Ever since the day when she half revealed her fears to the Interpreter, the young woman's feeling that her father's ill health and the unhappiness of her home were the result of some hidden thing, had gamed in strength. Since her meeting with Captain Charlie there had been in her heart a deepening conviction that, but for this same hidden thing, she would have known in all its fullness a happiness of which she could now only dream.
More frequently than ever before, she went now to sit with the Interpreter on the balcony porch of that little hut on the cliff. But Bobby and Maggie wished in vain for their princess lady to come and take them again into the land of trees and birds and flowers and sunshiny hills and clean blue sky. Often, now, she went to meet her brother when his day's work was done, and, sending Tom home with her big car, she would go with John in his roadster. And always while he told her of the Mill and led her deeper into the meaning of the industry and its relation to the life of the people, she listened with eager interest. But she did not go again to the Martin cottage or visit the old house.
Once at the foot of the Interpreter's zigzag stairway she met Captain Martin and greeted him in passing. Two or three times she caught a glimpse of him among the men coming from the Mill as she waited for John in front of the office. That was all. But always she was conscious of him. When from the Interpreter's hut she watched the twisting columns of smoke rising from the tall stacks, her thoughts were with the workman who somewhere under that cloud was doing his full share in the industrial army of his people. When John talked to her of the Mill and its meaning, her heart was glad for her brother's loyal comradeship with this man who had been his captain over there. The very sound of the deep-toned whistle that carried to Adam Ward the proud realization of his material possessions carried to his daughter thoughts of what, but for those same material possessions, might have been.
For relief she turned to McIver. There was a rocklike quality in the factory owner that had always appealed to her. His convictions were so unwavering--his judgments so final. McIver never doubted McIver. He never, in his own mind, questioned what he did by the standards of right and justice. The only question he ever asked himself was, Would McIver win or lose? Any suggestion of a difference of opinion on the part of another was taken as a personal insult that was not to be tolerated. Therefore, because the man was what he was, his class convictions were deeply grounded, fixed and certain. In the turmoil of her warring thoughts and disturbed emotions Helen felt her own balance so shaken that she instinctively reached out to steady herself by him. The man, feeling her turn to him, pressed his suit with all the ardor she would permit, for he saw in his success not only possession of the woman he wanted, but the overthrow of John's opposition to his business plans and the consequent triumph of his personal material interests and the interests of his class. But, in spite of the relief she gained from the strength of McIver's convictions, some strange influence within herself prevented her from yielding. She probably would yield at last, she told herself drearily--because there seemed to be nothing else for her to do.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, from his hut on the cliff, the Interpreter watched the approach of the industrial storm.
The cloud that had appeared on the Millsburgh horizon with the coming of Jake Vodell had steadily assumed more threatening proportions until now it hung dark with gloomy menace above the work and the homes of the people. To the man in the wheel chair, looking out upon the scene that lay with all its varied human interests before him, there was no bit of life anywhere that was not in the shadow of the gathering storm. The mills and factories along the river, the stores and banks and interests of the business section, the farms in the valley, the wretched Flats, the cottage homes of the workmen and the homes on the hillside, were all alike in the path of the swiftly approaching danger.
The people with anxious eyes watched for the storm to break and made such hurried preparations as they could. They heard the dull, muttering sound of its heavy voice and looked at one another in silent dread or talked, neighbor to neighbor, in low tones. A strange hush was over this community of American citizens. In their work, in their pleasures, in their home life, in their love and happiness, in their very sorrows, they felt the deadening presence of this dread thing that was sweeping upon them from somewhere beyond the borders of their native land. And against this death that filled the air they seemingly knew not how to defend themselves.
This, to the Interpreter, was the almost unbelievable tragedy--that the people should not know what to do; that they should not have given more thought to making the structure of their citizenship stormproof.
"The great trouble is that the people don't line up right," said Captain Charlie to John and the Interpreter one evening as the workman and the general manager were sitting with the old basket maker on the balcony porch.
"Just what do you mean by that, Charlie?" asked John. The man in the wheel chair was nodding his assent to the union man's remark.
"I mean," Charlie explained, "that the people consider only capital and labor, or workmen and business men. They put loyal American workmen and imperialist workmen all together on one side and loyal American business men and imperialist business men all together on the other. They line up all employees against all employers. For example, as the people see it, you and I are enemies and the Mill is our battle ground. The fact is that the imperialist manual workman is as much my enemy as he is yours. The imperialist business man is as much your enemy as he is mine."
"You are exactly right, Charlie," said the Interpreter. "And that is the first thing that the Big Idea applied to our industries will do--it will line up the great body of loyal American workmen that you represent with the great body of loyal American business men that John represents against the McIvers of capital and the Jake Vodells of labor. And that new line-up alone would practically insure victory. Nine tenths of our industrial troubles are due to the fact that employers and employees alike fail to recognize their real enemies and so fight their friends as often as they fight their foes.
"The people must learn to call an industrial slacker a slacker, whether he loafs on a park bench or loafs on the veranda of the country club house. They have to recognize that a traitor to the industries is a traitor to the nation and that he is a traitor whether he works at a bench or runs a bank. They have to say to the imperialist of business and to the imperialist of labor alike, 'The industries of this country are not for you or your class alone, they are for all because the very life of the nation is in them and is dependent upon them.' When the people of this country learn to draw the lines of class where they really belong there will be an end to our industrial wars and to all the suffering that they cause."
"If only the people could be lined up and made to declare themselves openly," said John, "Jake Vodell would have about as much chance to make trouble among us as the German Crown Prince would have had among the French Blue Devils."
"Which means, I suppose," said the Interpreter, "that there would be a riot to see who could lay hands on him first."
* * * * *
The storm broke at McIver's factory. It was as Jake Vodell had told the Interpreter it would be--"easy to find a grievance."
McIver declared that before he would yield to the demands of his workmen, his factory should stand idle until the buildings rotted to the ground.
The agitator answered that before his men would yield they would make Millsburgh as a city of the dead.
Two or three of the other smaller unions supported McIver's employees with sympathetic strikes. But the success or failure of Jake Vodell's campaign quickly turned on the action of the powerful Mill workers' union. The commander-in-chief of the striking forces must win John Ward's employees to his cause or suffer defeat. He bent every effort to that end.
Sam Whaley and a few like him walked out. But that was expected by everybody, for Sam Whaley had identified himself from the day of Vodell's arrival in Millsburgh as the agitator's devoted follower and right-hand man. But this unstable, whining weakling and his fellows from the Flats carried little influence with the majority of the sturdy, clearer-visioned workmen.
At a meeting of the Millsburgh Manufacturing Association, McIver endeavored to pledge the organization to a concerted effort against the various unions of their workmen.
John Ward refused to enter into any such alliance against the workmen, and branded McIver's plan as being in spirit and purpose identical with the schemes of Jake Vodell. John argued that while the heads of the various related mills and factories possessed the legal right to maintain their organization for the purpose of furthering such business interests as were common to them all, they could not, as loyal citizens, attempt to deprive their fellow workmen citizens of that same right. Any such effort to array class against class, he declared, was nothing less than sheer imperialism, and antagonistic to every principle of American citizenship.
When McIver characterized Vodell as an anarchist and stated that the unions were back of him and his schemes against the government, John retorted warmly that the statement was false and an insult to many of the most loyal citizens in Millsburgh. There were individual members of the unions who were followers of Jake Vodell, certainly. But comparatively few of the union men who were led by the agitator to strike realized the larger plans of their leader, while the unions as a whole no more endorsed anarchy than did the Manufacturing Association.
McIver then drew for his fellow manufacturers a very true picture of the industrial troubles throughout the country, and pointed out clearly and convincingly the national dangers that lay in the threatening conditions. Millsburgh was in no way different from thousands of other communities. If the employers could not defend themselves by an organized effort against their employees, he would like Mr. Ward to explain who would defend them.
To all of which John answered that it was not a question of employers defending themselves against their employees. The owners had no more at stake in the situation than did their workmen, for the lives of all were equally dependent upon the industries that were threatened with destruction. In the revolution that Jake Vodell's brotherhood was fomenting the American employers could lose no more than would the American employees. The question was, How could American industries be protected against both the imperialistic employer and the imperialistic employee? The answer was, By the united strength of the loyal American employers and employees, openly arrayed against the teachings and leadership of Jake Vodell, on the one hand, and equally against all such principles and actions as had been proposed by Mr. McIver, on the other.
When the meeting closed, McIver had failed to gain the support of the association.
Realizing that without the Mill he could never succeed in his plans, the factory owner appealed to Adam Ward himself.
The old Mill owner, in full accord with McIver, attempted to force John into line. But the younger man refused to enlist in any class war against his loyal fellow workmen.
Adam stormed and threatened and predicted utter ruin. John calmly offered to resign. The father refused to listen to this, on the ground that his ill health did not permit him to assume again the management of the business, and that he would never consent to the Mill's being operated by any one outside the family.
When Helen returned to her home in the early evening, she found her father in a state of mind bordering on insanity.
Striding here and there about the rooms with uncontrollable nervous energy, he roared, as he always did on such occasions, about his sole ownership of the Mill--the legality of the patents that gave him possession of the new process--how it was his genius and hard work alone that had built up the Mill--that no one should take his possessions from him--waving his arms and shaking his fists in violent, meaningless gestures. With his face twitching and working and his eyes blazing with excitement and rage, his voice rose almost to a scream: "Let them try to take anything away from me! I know what they are going to do, but they can't do it. I've had the best lawyers that I could hire and I've got it all tied up so tight that no one can touch it.
"I could have thrown Pete Martin out of the Mill any time I wanted. He has no claim on me that any court in the world would recognize. Let him try anything he dares. I'll starve him to death--I'll turn him into the streets--he hasn't a thing in the world that he didn't get by working for me. I made him--I will ruin him. You all think that I am sick--you think that I am crazy--that I don't know what I am talking about. I'll show you--you'll see what will happen if they start any thing--"
The piteous exhibition ended as usual. As if driven by some invisible fiend, the man rushed from the presence of those whom he most loved to the dreadful company of his own fearful and monstrous thoughts.
And the room where the wife and children of Adam Ward sat was filled with the presence of that hidden thing of which they dared not speak.
* * * * *
Everywhere throughout the city the people were discussing John Ward's opposition to McIver.
The community, tense with feeling, waited for an answer to the vital question, What would the Mill workers' union do? Upon the answer of John Ward's employees to the demands of the agitator for a sympathetic strike depended the success or failure of Jake Vodell's Millsburgh campaign.