The Helen of the Old House by Harold Bell Wright
Book III. The Strike
Chapter XIX. Adam Ward's Work
It was evening. The Interpreter was sitting in his wheel chair on the balcony porch with silent Billy not far away. Beyond the hills on the west the sky was faintly glowing in the last of the sun's light. The Flats were deep in gloomy shadows out of which the grim stacks of the Mill rose toward the smoky darkness of their overhanging cloud. Here and there among the poor homes of the workers a lighted window or a lonely street lamp shone in the murky dusk. But the lights of the business section of the city gleamed and sparkled like clusters and strings of jewels, while the residence districts on the hillside were marked by hundreds of twinkling, starlike points.
The quiet was rudely broken by a voice at the outer doorway of the hut. The tone was that of boisterous familiarity. "Hello! hello there! Anybody home?"
"Here," answered the Interpreter. "Come in. Or, I should say, come out," he added, as his visitor found his way through the darkness of the living room. "A night like this is altogether too fine to spend under a roof."
"Why in thunder don't you have a light?" said the visitor, with a loud freedom carefully calculated to give the effect of old and privileged comradeship. But the laugh of hearty good fellowship which followed his next remark was a trifle overdone "Ain't afraid of bombs, are you? Don't you know that the war is over yet?"
The Interpreter obligingly laughed at the merry witticism, as he answered, "There is light enough out here under the stars to think by. How are you, Adam Ward?"
From where he stood in the doorway, Adam could see the dim figure of the Interpreter's companion at the farther end of the porch. "Who is that with you?" demanded the Mill owner suspiciously.
"Only Billy Rand," replied the man in the wheel chair reassuringly. "Won't you sit down?"
Before accepting the invitation to be seated, Adam advanced upon the man in the wheel chair with outstretched hands, as if eagerly meeting a most intimate friend whose regard he prized above all other relationships of life. Seizing the Interpreter's hand, he clung to it in an excess of cordiality, all the while pouring out between short laughs of pretended gladness, a hurried volume of excuses for having so long delayed calling upon his dear old friend. To any one at all acquainted with the man, it would have been very clear that he wanted something.
"It seems ages since I saw you," he declared, as he seated himself at last. "It's a shame for a man to neglect an old friend as I have neglected you."
The Interpreter returned, calmly, "The last time you called was just before your son enlisted. You wanted me to help you keep him at home."
It was too dark to see Adam's face. "So it was, I remember now." There was a suggestion of nervousness in the laugh which followed his words.
"The time before that," said the Interpreter evenly, "was when Tom Blair was killed in the Mill. You wanted me to persuade Tom's widow that you were in no way liable for the accident."
The barometer of Adam's friendliness dropped another degree. "That affair was finally settled at five thousand," he said, and this time he did not laugh.
"The time before that," said the Interpreter, "was when your old friend Peter Martin's wife died. You wanted me to explain to the workmen who attended the funeral how necessary it was for you to take that hour out of their pay checks."
"You have a good memory," said the visitor, coldly, as he stirred uneasily in the dusk.
"I have," agreed the man in the wheel chair; "I find it a great blessing at times. It is the only thing that preserves my sense of humor. It is not always easy to preserve one's sense of humor, is it, Adam Ward?"
When the Mill owner answered, his voice, more than his words, told how determined he was to hold his ground of pleasant, friendly comradeship, at least until he had gained the object of his visit.
"Don't you ever get lonesome up here? Sort of gloomy, ain't it--especially at nights?"
"Oh, no," returned the Interpreter; "I have many interesting callers; there are always my work and my books and always, night and day, I have our Mill over there."
"Heh! What! Our Mill! Where? Oh, I see--yes--our Mill--that's good! Our Mill!"
"Surely you will admit that I have some small interest in the Mill where we once worked side by side, will you not, Adam?"
"Oh, yes," laughed Adam, helping on the jest. "But let me see--I don't exactly recall the amount of your investment--what was it you put in?"
"Two good legs, Adam Ward, two good legs," returned the old basket maker.
Again Adam Ward was at a loss for an answer. In the shadowy presence of that old man in the wheel chair the Mill owner was as a wayward child embarrassed before a kindly master.
When the Interpreter spoke again his deep voice was colored with gentle patience.
"Why have you come to me like this, Adam Ward? What is it that you want?"
Adam moved uneasily. "Why--nothing particular--I just thought I would call--happened to be going by and saw your light."
There had been no light in the hut that evening. The Interpreter waited. The surrounding darkness of the night seemed filled with warring spirits from the gloomy Flats, the mighty Mill, the glittering streets and stores and the cheerfully lighted homes.
Adam tried to make his voice sound casual, but he could not altogether cover the nervous intensity of his interest, as he asked the question that was so vital to the entire community. "Will the Mill workers' union go out on a sympathetic strike?"
The Mill owner drew a long breath of relief. "I judged you would know."
The Interpreter did not answer.
Adam spoke with more confidence. "I suppose you know this agitator Jake Vodell?"
"I know who he is," replied the Interpreter. "He is a well-known representative of a foreign society that is seeking, through the working people of this country, to extend its influence and strengthen its power."
"The unions are going too far," said Adam. "The people won't stand for their bringing in a man like Vodell to preach anarchy and stir up all kinds of trouble."
The Interpreter spoke strongly. "Jake Vodell no more represents the great body of American union men than you, Adam Ward, represent the great body of American employers."
"He works with the unions, doesn't he?"
"Yes, but that does not make him a representative of the union men as a whole, any more than the fact that your work with the great body of American business men makes you their representative."
"I should like to know why I am not a representative American business man." It was evident from the tone of his voice that the Mill owner controlled himself with an effort.
The Interpreter answered, without a trace of personal feeling, "You do not represent them, Adam Ward, because the spirit and purpose of your personal business career is not the spirit and purpose of our business men as a whole--just as the spirit and purpose of such men as Jake Vodell is not the spirit and purpose of our union men as a whole."
"But," asserted the Mill owner, "it is men like me who have built up this country. Look at our railroads, our great manufacturing plants, our industries of all kinds! Look what I have done for Millsburgh! You know what the town was when you first came here. Look at it now!"
"The new process has indeed wrought great changes in Millsburgh," suggested the Interpreter.
"The new process! You mean that I have wrought great changes in Millsburgh. What would the new process have amounted to if it had not been for me? Why, even the poor old fools who owned the Mill at that time couldn't have done anything with it. I had to force it on them. And then when I had managed to get it installed and had proved what it would do, I made them increase their capitalization and give me a half interest--told them if they didn't I would take my process to their competitors and put them out of business. Later I managed to gain the control and after that it was easy." His voice changed to a tone of arrogant, triumphant boasting. "I may not be a representative business man in your estimation, but my work stands just the same. No man who knows anything about business will deny that I built up the Mill to what it is to-day."
"And that," returned the Interpreter, "is exactly what Vodell says for the men who work with their hands in cooeperation with men like you who work with their brains. You say that you built the Mill because you thought and planned and directed its building. Jake Vodell says the men whose physical strength materialized your thoughts, the men who carried out your plans and toiled under your direction built the Mill. And you and Jake are both right to exactly the same degree. The truth is that you have all together built the Mill. You have no more right to think or to say that you did it than Pete Martin has to think or to say that he did it."
When Adam Ward found no answer to this the Interpreter continued. "Consider a great building: The idea of the structure has come down through the ages from the first habitation of primitive man. The mental strength represented in the structure in its every detail is the composite thought of every generation of man since the days when human beings dwelt in rocky caves and in huts of mud. But listen: The capitalist who furnished the money says he did it; the architect says he did it; the stone mason says he did it; the carpenter says he did it; the mountains that gave the stone say they did it; the forests that grew the timber say they did it; the hills that gave the metal say they did it.
"The truth is that all did it--that each individual worker, whether he toiled with his hands or with his brain, was dependent upon all the others as all were dependent upon those who lived and labored in the ages that have gone before, as all are dependent at the last upon the forces of nature that through the ages have labored for all. And this also is true, sir, whether you like to admit it or not; just as we--you and I and Pete Martin and the others--all together built the Mill, so we all together built it for all. You, Adam Ward, can no more keep for yourself alone the fruits of your labor than you alone and single-handed could have built the Mill."
The Interpreter paused as if for an answer.
Adam Ward did not speak.
A flare of light from, the stacks of the Mill, where the night shift was sweating at its work, drew their eyes. Through the darkness came the steady song of industry--a song that was charged with the life of millions. And they saw the lights of the business district, where Jake Vodell was preaching to a throng of idle workmen his doctrine of class hatred and destruction.
The Interpreter's manner was in no way aggressive when he broke the silence. There was, indeed, in his deep voice an undertone of sorrow, and yet he spoke as with authority. "You were driven here to-night by your fear, Adam Ward. You recognize the menace to this community and to our nation in the influence and teaching of men like Jake Vodell. Most of all, you fear for yourself and your material possessions. And you have reason to be afraid of this danger that you yourself have brought upon Millsburgh."
"What!" cried the Mill owner. "You say that I am responsible?--that I brought this anarchist agitator here?"
The Interpreter answered, solemnly, "I say that but for you and such men as you, Adam Ward, Jake Vodell could never gain a hearing in any American city."
Adam Ward laughed harshly.
But the old basket maker continued as if he had not heard. "Every act of your business career, sir, has been a refusal to recognize those who have worked with you. Your whole life has been an over assertion of your personal independence and a denial of the greatest of all laws--the law of dependence, which is the vital principle of life itself. And so you have, through these years, upheld and exemplified to the working people the very selfishness to which Jake Vodell appeals now with such sad effectiveness. It is the class pride and intolerance which you have fostered in yourself and family that have begotten the class hatred which makes Vodell's plans against our government a dangerous possibility. Your fathers fought in a great war for independence, Adam Ward. Your son must now fight for a recognition of that dependence without which the independence won by your father will surely perish from the earth."
At the mention of his son, the Mill owner moved impatiently and spoke with bitter resentment. "A fine mess you are making of things with your 'dependence.'"
"It is a fine mess that you have made of things, Adam Ward, with your 'independence,'" returned the Interpreter, sternly.
"I can tell you one thing," said Adam. "Your unions will never straighten anything out with the help of Jake Vodell and his gang of murdering anarchists."
"You are exactly right," agreed the Interpreter. "And I can tell you a thing to match the truth of your statement. Your combinations of employers will never straighten anything out with the help of such men as McIver and his hired gunmen and his talk about driving men to work at the point of the bayonet. But McIver and his principles are not endorsed by our American employers," continued the Interpreter, "any more than Jake Vodell and his methods are endorsed by our American union employees. The fact is that the great body of loyal American employers and employees, which is, indeed, the body of our nation itself, is fast coming to recognize the truth that our industries must somehow be saved from the destruction that is threatened by both the McIvers of capital and the Vodells of labor. Our Mill, Adam Ward, that you and Pete Martin and I built together and that, whether you admit it or not, we built for all mankind, our Mill must be protected against both employers and employees. It must be protected, not because the ownership, under our laws, happens to be vested in you as an individual citizen, but because of that larger ownership which, under the universal laws of humanity, is vested in the people whose lives are dependent upon that Mill as an essential industry. The Mill must be saved, indeed, for the very people who would destroy it."
"Very fine!" sneered Adam; "and perhaps you will tell me who is to save my Mill that is not my Mill for the very people who own it and who would destroy it?"
The voice of the Interpreter was colored with the fire of prophecy as he answered, "In the name of humanity, the sons of the men who built the Mill will save it for humanity. Your boy John, Adam Ward, and Pete Martin's boy Charlie represent the united armies of American employers and employees that stand in common loyalty against the forces that are, through the destruction of our industries, seeking to bring about the downfall of our nation."
Adam Ward laughed. "Tell that to your partner Billy Rand over there; he will hear it as quick as the American people will."
But the man in the wheel chair was not disturbed by Adam Ward's laughing.
"The great war taught the American people some mighty lessons, Adam Ward," he said. "It taught us that patriotism is not of one class or rank, but is common to every level of our national social life. It taught us that heroism is the birthright of both office and shop. Most of all did the war teach us the lesson of comradeship--that men of every rank and class and occupation could stand together, live together and die together, united in the bonds of a common, loyal citizenship for a common, human cause. And out of that war and its lessons our own national saviors are come. The loyal patriot employers and the loyal patriot employees, who on the fields of war were brother members of that great union of sacrifice and death, will together free the industries of their own country from the two equally menacing terrors--imperialistic capital and imperialistic labor.
"The comradeship of your son with the workman Charlie Martin, the stand that John has taken against McIver, and the refusal of the Mill workers' union to accept Vodell's leadership--is the answer to your question, 'Who is to save the Mill?'"
"Rot!" exclaimed Adam Ward. "You talk as though every man who went to that war was inspired by the highest motives. They were not all heroes by a good deal."
"True," returned the Interpreter, "they were not all heroes. But there was the leaven that leavened the lump, and so the army itself was heroic."
"What about the moral degeneracy and the crime wave that have followed the return of your heroic army?" demanded Adam.
"True, again," returned the Interpreter; "it is inevitable that men whose inherited instincts and tendencies are toward crime should acquire in the school of war a bolder spirit--a more reckless daring in their criminal living. But again there is the saving leaven that leavens the lump. If the war training makes criminals more bold, it as surely makes the leaven of nobility more powerful. One splendid example of noble heroism is ten thousand times more potent in the world than a thousand revolting deeds of crime. No--no, Adam Ward, the world will not forget the lessons it learned over there. The torch of Flanders fields has not fallen. The world will carry on."
There was such a quality of reverent conviction in the concluding words of the man in the wheel chair that Adam Ward was silenced.
For some time they sat, looking into the night where the huge bulk of the Mill with its towering stacks and overhanging clouds seemed to dominate not only the neighboring shops and factories and the immediate Flats, but in some mysterious way to extend itself over the business district and the homes of the city, and, like a ruling spirit, to pervade the entire valley, even unto the distant line of hills.
When the old basket maker spoke again, that note of strange and solemn authority was in his voice. "Listen, Adam Ward! In the ideals, the heroism, the suffering, the sacrifice of the war--in shell hole and trench and bloody No Man's Land, the sons of men have found again the God that you and men like you had banished from the Mill. Your boy and Pete Martin's boy, with more thousands of their comrades than men of your mind realize, have come back from the war fields of France to enthrone God once more in the industrial world. And it shall come that every forge and furnace and anvil and machine shall be an organ to His praise--that every suit of overalls shall be a priestly robe of ministering service. And this God that you banished from the Mill and that is to be by your son restored to His throne and served by a priesthood of united employers and employees, shall bear a new name, Adam Ward, and that name shall be WORK."
Awed by the strange majesty of the Interpreter's voice, Adam Ward could only whisper fearfully, "Work--the name of God shall be Work!" "Ay, Adam Ward, WORK--and why not? Does not the work of the world express the ideals, the purpose, the needs, the life, the oneness of the world's humanity, even as a flower expresses the plant that puts it forth? And is not God the ultimate flowering of the human plant?"
The Mill owner spoke with timid hesitation, "Could I--do you think--could I, perhaps, help to, as you say, put God back into the Mill?"
"Your part in the building of the Mill is finished, Adam Ward," came the solemn answer. "You have made many contracts with men, sir; you should now make a contract with your God."
The owner of the new process sprang to his feet with an exclamation of fear. As one who sees a thing of horror in the dark, he drew back, trembling.
That deep, inexorable voice of sorrowful authority went on, "Make a contract with your God, Adam Ward; make a contract with your God."
With a wild cry of terror Adam Ward fled into the night.
The Interpreter in his wheel chair looked up at the stars.
* * * * *
It seems scarcely possible that the old basket maker could have foreseen the tragic effect of his words--and yet--