The Helen of the Old House by Harold Bell Wright
Book IV. The Old House
Chapter XXX. "Jest Like the Interpreter Said"
"Tell them, O Guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn, and will not turn aside, That we will onward till we win or fall,
That we will keep the faith for which they died."
It is doubtful if in all Millsburgh there was a soul who felt a personal loss in the passing of their "esteemed citizen" Adam Ward. During the years that followed his betrayal of Peter Martin's friendship the man had never made a friend who loved him for himself--who believed in him or trusted him. In business circles his reputation for deals that were always carefully legal but often obviously dishonest had caused the men he met to accept him only so far as their affairs made the contact necessary. Because of the power he had through his possession of the patented process he was known. His place in the community had been fixed by what he took from the community. His habit of boasting of his possessions, of his power, and of his business triumphs, and his way of considering the people as his personal debtors had been a never-failing subject of laughing comment. Men spoke of his death in a jocular vein--made jests about it--wondering what he was really worth. But one and all invariably concluded their comments with some word of sincere sympathy for his family.
Because of the people's estimation of the Mill owner's character, the publication of his will created a sensation the like of which was never before known in the community.
One half of his estate, including the Mill, Adam Ward gave to his family. The other half he gave to his old workman friend, Peter Martin.
Millsburgh was stunned, stupefied with amazement and wonder. But no one outside the two families, save the Interpreter, ever knew the real reason for the bequest. The old basket maker alone understood that this was Adam Ward's deal with God--it was the contract by which he was to escape the hell of his religious fears--the horrors of which he had so often suffered in his dreams and the dread of which had so preyed upon his diseased mind.
When the necessary time for the legal processes in the settlement of Adam Ward's estate had passed, John called the Mill workers together. In his notice of the meeting, the manager stated simply that it was to consider the mutual interests of the employers and employees by safeguarding the future of the industry. When the workmen had assembled, they wondered to see on the platform with their general manager, Helen and her mother, Mary and Peter Martin, the city mayor, with representative men from the labor unions and from the business circles of the community, and, sitting in his wheel chair, the Interpreter.
To the employees in the Mill and to the representatives of the people the announcement of the final disposition of Adam Ward's estate was made.
The house on the hill with the beautiful grounds surrounding it became in effect the property of the people--with an endowment fixed for its maintenance. It was to be converted into a center of community interest, one feature of which was to be an institute for the study of patriotism.
"We have foundations for the promotion of the sciences, of art and of business," said the legal gentleman who made the announcements. "Why not an institution for the study and promotion of patriotism--research in the fields of social and industrial life that are peculiarly American--lectures, classes, and literature on the true Americanization of those who come to us from foreign countries--the promotion of true American principles and standards of citizenship in our public schools and educational institutions and among our people--the collection and study of authentic data from the many industrial and social experiments that are being carried on--these are some of the proposed activities."
This Institute of American Patriotism would be under the leadership of the Interpreter and would stand as a memorial to the memory of Captain Charlie Martin.
When the mayor, in behalf of the people, had made a fitting response to this presentation, John told the Mill men that their employer, Pete Martin, would make an announcement.
The old workman was greeted with cheers. Some one in the crowd called, good-naturedly, "How does it feel to be an owner, Uncle Pete?" Everybody laughed and the veteran himself grinned.
"I guess I'm too old to change my feelings much, Bill Sewold," he answered. "And that's about what I was going to tell you. The lawyers say that I own half of our Mill here and that I can do what I please with it. But I can't some way make it seem any more mine than it always was. Mary and I are agreed that we'd like to do what we know Charlie would be in for if he was here, and we've talked it over with John and his folks and they feel just like we do about it.
"The lawyers can explain the workin's of the plan to you better than I can; but this is the main idea: The whole thing has been made over into a company with John and his mother and sister owning one half and me the other. What John wants me to tell you is that he and his folks are turning one half of their interest and Mary and me are turning one half of our interest back to you workmen. So that from now on all the employees of the Mill will be employers--and all the employers will be employees. With John and me and our folks owning one half, you can see that we're figuring on keeping the management in the proper hands, John will be in the office where he belongs and the rest of us will be where we belong. Considering our recent demonstration, I guess you'll all agree that a lot of us need to be protected by the rest of us from all of us. And now all we have to do is to work. And I'd like to see Jake Vodell or any other foreign agitator try to start another industrial war in Millsburgh."
It was the Interpreter who asked the assembled workmen to endorse a petition to the governor asking clemency for Sam Whaley. The ground upon which the petition was based was that the guilty principal in the crime was still at liberty--that others, still unknown, were involved with him--that Sam Whaley by his confession had saved the Mill and the community from the full horrors planned by the agitator, and that under the new standard of industrial citizenship the former follower of the anarchist might in time become a useful member of society.
A solemn hush fell over the company when Peter Martin, Mary, John and Helen were the first to sign the petition.
The old house is no longer empty, deserted and forlorn. Repaired and repainted from the front gate to the back-yard fence--with well-kept lawn, flowers and garden--it impresses the passer-by with its air of modest home happiness. To Helen and her mother who live there, to John and his wife, Mary, and to the old workman who live in the cottage next door, the spirit of the old days has returned.
The neighbors in passing always stop for a word with the gray-haired woman who works among her flowers just as she used to do before the discovery of the new process, or with her sweet-faced daughter. The workmen going to or from the Mill always have a smile or a word of greeting for the mother and the sister of their comrade manager.
Nor is there a man or woman in all the city or in the country round about who does not know and love this Helen of the old house, who is giving herself so without reserve to the people's need, who has, as the Interpreter says, "found herself in service."
But when the deep tones of the Mill whistle sound over the city, the valley and the hillsides, there is a look in Helen's eyes that only those who know her best understand.
And often in these days the neighborhood of the old house rings with the merry voices of Bobby and Maggie and their playmates. From the Flats--from the tenement houses--from the homes of the laborers, they come, these children, to this beautiful woman who loves them all and who calls them, somewhat fancifully, her "jewels of happiness."
"Yer see," explained little Maggie, "the princess lady, she jest couldn't help findin' them there happiness jewels--'cause her heart was so kind--jest like the Interpreter said."