She slept all night, without stirring, without dreaming, and awoke naturally and, for the first time in weeks, refreshed. She felt her old self, as if some depressing weight had been lifted, or a shadow had been swept away from between her and the sun. Her head was clear. The seeming iron band that had pressed it so hard was gone. She was cheerful. She even caught herself humming aloud as she divided the fish into messes for Mrs. Olsen, Maggie Donahue, and herself. She enjoyed her gossip with each of them, and, returning home, plunged joyfully into the task of putting the neglected house in order. She sang as she worked, and ever as she sang the magic words of the boy danced and sparkled among the notes: OAKLAND IS JUST A PLACE TO START FROM.
Everything was clear as print. Her and Billy’s problem was as simple as an arithmetic problem at school: to carpet a room so many feet long, so many feet wide, to paper a room so many feet high, so many feet around. She had been sick in her head, she had had strange lapses, she had been irresponsible. Very well. All this had been because of her troubles—troubles in which she had had no hand in the making. Billy’s case was hers precisely. He had behaved strangely because he had been irresponsible. And all their troubles were the troubles of the trap. Oakland was the trap. Oakland was a good place to start from.
She reviewed the events of her married life. The strikes and the hard times had caused everything. If it had not been for the strike of the shopmen and the fight in her front yard, she would not have lost her baby. If Billy had not been made desperate by the idleness and the hopeless fight of the teamsters, he would not have taken to drinking. If they had not been hard up, they would not have taken a lodger, and Billy would not be in jail.
Her mind was made up. The city was no place for her and Billy, no place for love nor for babies. The way out was simple. They would leave Oakland. It was the stupid that remained and bowed their heads to fate. But she and Billy were not stupid. They would not bow their heads. They would go forth and face fate.—Where, she did not know. But that would come. The world was large. Beyond the encircling hills, out through the Golden Gate, somewhere they would find what they desired. The boy had been wrong in one thing. She was not tied to Oakland, even if she was married. The world was free to her and Billy as it had been free to the wandering generations before them. It was only the stupid who had been left behind everywhere in the race’s wandering. The strong had gone on. Well, she and Billy were strong. They would go on, over the brown Contra Costa hills or out through the Golden Gate.
The day before Billy’s release Saxon completed her meager preparations to receive him. She was without money, and, except for her resolve not to offend Billy in that way again, she would have borrowed ferry fare from Maggie Donahue and journeyed to San Francisco to sell some of her personal pretties. As it was, with bread and potatoes and salted sardines in the house, she went out at the afternoon low tide and dug clams for a chowder. Also, she gathered a load of driftwood, and it was nine in the evening when she emerged from the marsh, on her shoulder a bundle of wood and a short-handled spade, in her free hand the pail of clams. She sought the darker side of the street at the corner and hurried across the zone of electric light to avoid detection by the neighbors. But a woman came toward her, looked sharply and stopped in front of her. It was Mary.
“My God, Saxon!” she exclaimed. “Is it as bad as this?”
Saxon looked at her old friend curiously, with a swift glance that sketched all the tragedy. Mary was thinner, though there was more color in her cheeks—color of which Saxon had her doubts. Mary’s bright eyes were handsomer, larger—too large, too feverish bright, too restless. She was well dressed—too well dressed; and she was suffering from nerves. She turned her head apprehensively to glance into the darkness behind her.
“My God!” Saxon breathed. “And you...” She shut her lips, then began anew. “Come along to the house,” she said.
“If you’re ashamed to be seen with me—” Mary blurted, with one of her old quick angers.
“No, no,” Saxon disclaimed. “It’s the driftwood and the clams. I don’t want the neighbors to know. Come along.”
“No; I can’t, Saxon. I’d like to, but I can’t. I’ve got to catch the next train to F’risco. I’ve ben waitin’ around. I knocked at your back door. But the house was dark. Billy’s still in, ain’t he?”
“Yes, he gets out to-morrow.”
“I read about it in the papers,” Mary went on hurriedly, looking behind her. “I was in Stockton when it happened.” She turned upon Saxon almost savagely. “You don’t blame me, do you? I just couldn’t go back to work after bein’ married. I was sick of work. Played out, I guess, an’ no good anyway. But if you only knew how I hated the laundry even before I got married. It’s a dirty world. You don’t dream. Saxon, honest to God, you could never guess a hundredth part of its dirtiness. Oh, I wish I was dead, I wish I was dead an’ out of it all. Listen—no, I can’t now. There’s the down train puffin’ at Adeline. I’ll have to run for it. Can I come—”
“Aw, get a move on, can’t you?” a man’s voice interrupted.
Behind her the speaker had partly emerged from the darkness. No workingman, Saxon could see that—lower in the world scale, despite his good clothes, than any workingman.
“I’m comin’, if you’ll only wait a second,” Mary placated.
And by her answer and its accents Saxon knew that Mary was afraid of this man who prowled on the rim of light.
Mary turned to her.
“I got to beat it; good bye,” she said, fumbling in the palm of her glove.
She caught Saxon’s free hand, and Saxon felt a small hot coin pressed into it. She tried to resist, to force it back.
“No, no,” Mary pleaded. “For old times. You can do as much for me some day. I’ll see you again. Good bye.”
Suddenly, sobbing, she threw her arms around Saxon’s waist, crushing the feathers of her hat against the load of wood as she pressed her face against Saxon’s breast. Then she tore herself away to arm’s length, passionate, queering, and stood gazing at Saxon.
“Aw, get a hustle, get a hustle,” came from the darkness the peremptory voice of the man.
“Oh, Saxon!” Mary sobbed; and was gone.
In the house, the lamp lighted, Saxon looked at the coin. It was a five-dollar piece—to her, a fortune. Then she thought of Mary, and of the man of whom she was afraid. Saxon registered another black mark against Oakland. Mary was one more destroyed. They lived only five years, on the average, Saxon had heard somewhere. She looked at the coin and tossed it into the kitchen sink. When she cleaned the clams, she heard the coin tinkle down the vent pipe.
It was the thought of Billy, next morning, that led Saxon to go under the sink, unscrew the cap to the catchtrap, and rescue the five-dollar piece. Prisoners were not well fed, she had been told; and the thought of placing clams and dry bread before Billy, after thirty days of prison fare, was too appalling for her to contemplate. She knew how he liked to spread his butter on thick, how he liked thick, rare steak fried on a dry hot pan, and how he liked coffee that was coffee and plenty of it.
Not until after nine o’clock did Billy arrive, and she was dressed in her prettiest house gingham to meet him. She peeped on him as he came slowly up the front steps, and she would have run out to him except for a group of neighborhood children who were staring from across the street. The door opened before him as his hand reached for the knob, and, inside, he closed it by backing against it, for his arms were filled with Saxon. No, he had not had breakfast, nor did he want any now that he had her. He had only stopped for a shave. He had stood the barber off, and he had walked all the way from the City Hall because of lack of the nickel carfare. But he’d like a bath most mighty well, and a change of clothes. She mustn’t come near him until he was clean.
When all this was accomplished, he sat in the kitchen and watched her cook, noting the driftwood she put in the stove and asking about it. While she moved about, she told how she had gathered the wood, how she had managed to live and not be beholden to the union, and by the time they were seated at the table she was telling him about her meeting with Mary the night before. She did not mention the five dollars.
Billy stopped chewing the first mouthful of steak. His expression frightened her. He spat the meat out on his plate.
“You got the money to buy the meat from her,” he accused slowly. “You had no money, no more tick with the butcher, yet here’s meat. Am I right?”
Saxon could only bend her head.
The terrifying, ageless look had come into his face, the bleak and passionless glaze into his eyes, which she had first seen on the day at Weasel Park when he had fought with the three Irishmen.
“What else did you buy?” he demanded—not roughly, not angrily, but with the fearful coldness of a rage that words could not express.
To her surprise, she had grown calm. What did it matter? It was merely what one must expect, living in Oakland—something to be left behind when Oakland was a thing behind, a place started from.
“The coffee,” she answered. “And the butter.”
He emptied his plate of meat and her plate into the frying pan, likewise the roll of butter and the slice on the table, and on top he poured the contents of the coffee canister. All this he carried into the back yard and dumped in the garbage can. The coffee pot he emptied into the sink. “How much of the money you got left?” he next wanted to know.
Saxon had already gone to her purse and taken it out.
“Three dollars and eighty cents,” she counted, handing it to him. “I paid forty-five cents for the steak.”
He ran his eye over the money, counted it, and went to the front door. She heard the door open and close, and knew that the silver had been flung into the street. When he came back to the kitchen, Saxon was already serving him fried potatoes on a clean plate.
“Nothin’s too good for the Robertses,” he said; “but, by God, that sort of truck is too high for my stomach. It’s so high it stinks.”
He glanced at the fried potatoes, the fresh slice of dry bread, and the glass of water she was placing by his plate.
“It’s all right,” she smiled, as he hesitated. “There’s nothing left that’s tainted.”
He shot a swift glance at her face, as if for sarcasm, then sighed and sat down. Almost immediately he was up again and holding out his arms to her.
“I’m goin’ to eat in a minute, but I want to talk to you first,” he said, sitting down and holding her closely. “Besides, that water ain’t like coffee. Gettin’ cold won’t spoil it none. Now, listen. You’re the only one I got in this world. You wasn’t afraid of me an’ what I just done, an’ I’m glad of that. Now we’ll forget all about Mary. I got charity enough. I’m just as sorry for her as you. I’d do anything for her. I’d wash her feet for her like Christ did. I’d let her eat at my table, an’ sleep under my roof. But all that ain’t no reason I should touch anything she’s earned. Now forget her. It’s you an’ me, Saxon, only you an’ me an’ to hell with the rest of the world. Nothing else counts. You won’t never have to be afraid of me again. Whisky an’ I don’t mix very well, so I’m goin’ to cut whisky out. I’ve been clean off my nut, an’ I ain’t treated you altogether right. But that’s all past. It won’t never happen again. I’m goin’ to start out fresh.
“Now take this thing. I oughtn’t to acted so hasty. But I did. I oughta talked it over. But I didn’t. My damned temper got the best of me, an’ you know I got one. If a fellow can keep his temper in boxin’, why he can keep it in bein’ married, too. Only this got me too sudden-like. It’s something I can’t stomach, that I never could stomach. An’ you wouldn’t want me to any more’n I’d want you to stomach something you just couldn’t.”
She sat up straight on his knees and looked at him, afire with an idea.
“You mean that, Billy?”
“Sure I do.”
“Then I’ll tell you something I can’t stomach any more. I’ll die if I have to.”
“Well?” he questioned, after a searching pause.
“It’s up to you,” she said.
“Then fire away.”
“You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for,” she warned. “Maybe you’d better back out before it’s too late.”
He shook his head stubbornly.
“What you don’t want to stomach you ain’t goin’ to stomach. Let her go.”
“First,” she commenced, “no more slugging of scabs.”
His mouth opened, but he checked the involuntary protest.
“And, second, no more Oakland.”
“I don’t get that last.”
“No more Oakland. No more living in Oakland. I’ll die if I have to. It’s pull up stakes and get out.”
He digested this slowly.
“Where?” he asked finally.
“Anywhere. Everywhere. Smoke a cigarette and think it over.”
He shook his head and studied her.
“You mean that?” he asked at length.
“I do. I want to chuck Oakland just as hard as you wanted to chuck the beefsteak, the coffee, and the butter.”
She could see him brace himself. She could feel him brace his very body ere he answered.
“All right then, if that’s what you want. We’ll quit Oakland. We’ll quit it cold. God damn it, anyway, it never done nothin’ for me, an’ I guess I’m husky enough to scratch for us both anywheres. An’ now that’s settled, just tell me what you got it in for Oakland for.”
And she told him all she had thought out, marshaled all the facts in her indictment of Oakland, omitting nothing, not even her last visit to Doctor Hentley’s office nor Billy’s drinking. He but drew her closer and proclaimed his resolves anew. The time passed. The fried potatoes grew cold, and the stove went out.
When a pause came, Billy stood up, still holding her. He glanced at the fried potatoes.
“Stone cold,” he said, then turned to her. “Come on. Put on your prettiest. We’re goin’ up town for something to eat an’ to celebrate. I guess we got a celebration comin’, seein’ as we’re going to pull up stakes an’ pull our freight from the old burg. An’ we won’t have to walk. I can borrow a dime from the barber, an’ I got enough junk to hock for a blowout.”
His junk proved to be several gold medals won in his amateur days at boxing tournaments. Once up town and in the pawnshop, Uncle Sam seemed thoroughly versed in the value of the medals, and Billy jingled a handful of silver in his pocket as they walked out.
He was as hilarious as a boy, and she joined in his good spirits. When he stopped at a corner cigar store to buy a sack of Bull Durham, he changed his mind and bought Imperials.
“Oh, I’m a regular devil,” he laughed. “Nothing’s too good to-day—not even tailor-made smokes. An’ no chop houses nor Jap joints for you an’ me. It’s Barnum’s.”
They strolled to the restaurant at Seventh and Broadway where they had had their wedding supper.
“Let’s make believed we’re not married,” Saxon suggested.
“Sure,” he agreed, “—an’ take a private room so as the waiter’ll have to knock on the door each time he comes in.”
Saxon demurred at that.
“It will be too expensive, Billy. You’ll have to tip him for the knocking. We’ll take the regular dining room.”
“Order anything you want,” Billy said largely, when they were seated. “Here’s family porterhouse, a dollar an’ a half. What d’ye say?”
“And hash-browned,” she abetted, “and coffee extra special, and some oysters first—I want to compare them with the rock oysters.”
Billy nodded, and looked up from the bill of fare.
“Here’s mussels bordelay. Try an order of them, too, an’ see if they beat your Rock Wall ones.”
“Why not?” Saxon cried, her eyes dancing. “The world is ours. We’re just travelers through this town.”
“Yep, that’s the stuff,” Billy muttered absently. He was looking at the theater column. He lifted his eyes from the paper. “Matinee at Bell’s. We can get reserved seats for a quarter.—Doggone the luck anyway!”
His exclamation was so aggrieved and violent that it brought alarm into her eyes.
“If I’d only thought,” he regretted, “we could a-gone to the Forum for grub. That’s the swell joint where fellows like Roy Blanchard hangs out, blowin’ the money we sweat for them.”
They bought reserved tickets at Bell’s Theater; but it was too early for the performance, and they went down Broadway and into the Electric Theater to while away the time on a moving picture show. A cowboy film was run off, and a French comic; then came a rural drama situated somewhere in the Middle West. It began with a farm yard scene. The sun blazed down on a corner of a barn and on a rail fence where the ground lay in the mottled shade of large trees overhead. There were chickens, ducks, and turkeys, scratching, waddling, moving about. A big sow, followed by a roly-poly litter of seven little ones, marched majestically through the chickens, rooting them out of the way. The hens, in turn, took it out on the little porkers, pecking them when they strayed too far from their mother. And over the top rail a horse looked drowsily on, ever and anon, at mathematically precise intervals, switching a lazy tail that flashed high lights in the sunshine.
“It’s a warm day and there are flies—can’t you just feel it?” Saxon whispered.
“Sure. An’ that horse’s tail! It’s the most natural ever. Gee! I bet he knows the trick of clampin’ it down over the reins. I wouldn’t wonder if his name was Iron Tail.”
A dog ran upon the scene. The mother pig turned tail and with short ludicrous jumps, followed by her progeny and pursued by the dog, fled out of the film. A young girl came on, a sunbonnet hanging down her back, her apron caught up in front and filled with grain which she threw to the buttering fowls. Pigeons flew down from the top of the film and joined in the scrambling feast. The dog returned, wading scarcely noticed among the feathered creatures, to wag his tail and laugh up at the girl. And, behind, the horse nodded over the rail and switched on. A young man entered, his errand immediately known to an audience educated in moving pictures. But Saxon had no eyes for the love-making, the pleading forcefulness, the shy reluctance, of man and maid. Ever her gaze wandered back to the chickens, to the mottled shade under the trees, to the warm wall of the barn, to the sleepy horse with its ever recurrent whisk of tail.
She drew closer to Billy, and her hand, passed around his arm, sought his hand.
“Oh, Billy,” she sighed. “I’d just die of happiness in a place like that.” And, when the film was ended. “We got lots of time for Bell’s. Let’s stay and see that one over again.”
They sat through a repetition of the performance, and when the farm yard scene appeared, the longer Saxon looked at it the more it affected her. And this time she took in further details. She saw fields beyond, rolling hills in the background, and a cloud-flecked sky. She identified some of the chickens, especially an obstreperous old hen who resented the thrust of the sow’s muzzle, particularly pecked at the little pigs, and laid about her with a vengeance when the grain fell. Saxon looked back across the fields to the hills and sky, breathing the spaciousness of it, the freedom, the content. Tears welled into her eyes and she wept silently, happily.
“I know a trick that’d fix that old horse if he ever clamped his tail down on me,” Billy whispered.
“Now I know where we’re going when we leave Oakland,” she informed him.
He looked at her, and followed her gaze to the screen. “Oh,” he said, and cogitated. “An’ why shouldn’t we?” he added.
“Oh, Billy, will you?”
Her lips trembled in her eagerness, and her whisper broke and was almost inaudible “Sure,” he said. It was his day of royal largess.
“What you want is yourn, an’ I’ll scratch my fingers off for it. An’ I’ve always had a hankerin’ for the country myself. Say! I’ve known horses like that to sell for half the price, an’ I can sure cure ‘em of the habit.”
Saxon went about her housework greatly troubled. She no longer devoted herself to the making of pretties. The materials cost money, and she did not dare. Bert’s thrust had sunk home. It remained in her quivering consciousness like a shaft of steel that ever turned and rankled. She and Billy were responsible for this coming young life. Could they be sure, after all, that they could adequately feed and clothe it and prepare it for its way in the world? Where was the guaranty? She remembered, dimly, the blight of hard times in the past, and the plaints of fathers and mothers in those days returned to her with a new significance. Almost could she understand Sarah’s chronic complaining.
Hard times were already in the neighborhood, where lived the families of the shopmen who had gone out on strike. Among the small storekeepers, Saxon, in the course of the daily marketing, could sense the air of despondency. Light and geniality seemed to have vanished. Gloom pervaded everywhere. The mothers of the children that played in the streets showed the gloom plainly in their faces. When they gossiped in the evenings, over front gates and on door stoops, their voices were subdued and less of laughter rang out.
Mary Donahue, who had taken three pints from the milkman, now took one pint. There were no more family trips to the moving picture shows. Scrap-meat was harder to get from the butcher. Nora Delaney, in the third house, no longer bought fresh fish for Friday. Salted codfish, not of the best quality, was now on her table. The sturdy children that ran out upon the street between meals with huge slices of bread and butter and sugar now came out with no sugar and with thinner slices spread more thinly with butter. The very custom was dying out, and some children already had desisted from piecing between meals.
Everywhere was manifest a pinching and scraping, a tightning and shortening down of expenditure. And everywhere was more irritation. Women became angered with one another, and with the children, more quickly than of yore; and Saxon knew that Bert and Mary bickered incessantly.
“If she’d only realize I’ve got troubles of my own,” Bert complained to Saxon.
She looked at him closely, and felt fear for him in a vague, numb way. His black eyes seemed to burn with a continuous madness. The brown face was leaner, the skin drawn tightly across the cheekbones. A slight twist had come to the mouth, which seemed frozen into bitterness. The very carriage of his body and the way he wore his hat advertised a recklessness more intense than had been his in the past.
Sometimes, in the long afternoons, sitting by the window with idle hands, she caught herself reconstructing in her vision that folk-migration of her people across the plains and mountains and deserts to the sunset land by the Western sea. And often she found herself dreaming of the arcadian days of her people, when they had not lived in cities nor been vexed with labor unions and employers’ associations. She would remember the old people’s tales of self-sufficingness, when they shot or raised their own meat, grew their own vegetables, were their own blacksmiths and carpenters, made their own shoes—yes, and spun the cloth of the clothes they wore. And something of the wistfulness in Tom’s face she could see as she recollected it when he talked of his dream of taking up government land.
A farmer’s life must be fine, she thought. Why was it that people had to live in cities? Why had times changed? If there had been enough in the old days, why was there not enough now? Why was it necessary for men to quarrel and jangle, and strike and fight, all about the matter of getting work? Why wasn’t there work for all?—Only that morning, and she shuddered with the recollection, she had seen two scabs, on their way to work, beaten up by the strikers, by men she knew by sight, and some by name, who lived in the neighhorhood. It had happened directly across the street. It had been cruel, terrible—a dozen men on two. The children had begun it by throwing rocks at the scabs and cursing them in ways children should not know. Policemen had run upon the scene with drawn revolvers, and the strikers had retreated into the houses and through the narrow alleys between the houses. One of the scabs, unconscious, had been carried away in an ambulance; the other, assisted by special railroad police, had been taken away to the shops. At him, Mary Donahue, standing on her front stoop, her child in her arms, had hurled such vile abuse that it had brought the blush of shame to Saxon’s cheeks. On the stoop of the house on the other side, Saxon had noted Mercedes, in the height of the beating up, looking on with a queer smile. She had seemed very eager to witness, her nostrils dilated and swelling like the beat of pulses as she watched. It had struck Saxon at the time that the old woman was quite unalarmed and only curious to see.
To Mercedes, who was so wise in love, Saxon went for explanation of what was the matter with the world. But the old woman’s wisdom in affairs industrial and economic was cryptic and unpalatable.
“La la, my dear, it is so simple. Most men are born stupid. They are the slaves. A few are born clever. They are the masters. God made men so, I suppose.”
“Then how about God and that terrible beating across the street this morning?”
“I’m afraid he was not interested,” Mercedes smiled. “I doubt he even knows that it happened.”
“I was frightened to death,” Saxon declared. “I was made sick by it. And yet you—I saw you—you looked on as cool as you please, as if it was a show.”
“It was a show, my dear.”
“Oh, how could you?”
“La la, I have seen men killed. It is nothing strange. All men die. The stupid ones die like oxen, they know not why. It is quite funny to see. They strike each other with fists and clubs, and break each other’s heads. It is gross. They are like a lot of animals. They are like dogs wrangling over bones. Jobs are bones, you know. Now, if they fought for women, or ideas, or bars of gold, or fabulous diamonds, it would be splendid. But no; they are only hungry, and fight over scraps for their stomach.”
“Oh, if I could only understand!” Saxon murmured, her hands tightly clasped in anguish of incomprehension and vital need to know.
“There is nothing to understand. It is clear as print. There have always been the stupid and the clever, the slave and the master, the peasant and the prince. There always will be.”
“Why is a peasant a peasant, my dear? Because he is a peasant. Why is a flea a flea?”
Saxon tossed her head fretfully.
“Oh, but my dear, I have answered. The philosophies of the world can give no better answer. Why do you like your man for a husband rather than any other man? Because you like him that way, that is all. Why do you like? Because you like. Why does fire burn and frost bite? Why are there clever men and stupid men? masters and slaves? employers and workingmen? Why is black black? Answer that and you answer everything.”
“But it is not right That men should go hungry and without work when they want to work if only they can get a square deal,” Saxon protested.
“Oh, but it is right, just as it is right that stone won’t burn like wood, that sea sand isn’t sugar, that thorns prick, that water is wet, that smoke rises, that things fall down and not up.”
But such doctrine of reality made no impression on Saxon. Frankly, she could not comprehend. It seemed like so much nonsense.
“Then we have no liberty and independence,” she cried passionately. “One man is not as good as another. My child has not the right to live that a rich mother’s child has.”
“Certainly not,” Mercedes answered.
“Yet all my people fought for these things,” Saxon urged, remembering her school history and the sword of her father.
“Democracy—the dream of the stupid peoples. Oh, la la, my dear, democracy is a lie, an enchantment to keep the work brutes content, just as religion used to keep them content. When they groaned in their misery and toil, they were persuaded to keep on in their misery and toil by pretty tales of a land beyond the skies where they would live famously and fat while the clever ones roasted in everlasting fire. Ah, how the clever ones must have chuckled! And when that lie wore out, and democracy was dreamed, the clever ones saw to it that it should be in truth a dream, nothing but a dream. The world belongs to the great and clever.”
“But you are of the working people,” Saxon charged.
The old woman drew herself up, and almost was angry.
“I? Of the working people? My dear, because I had misfortune with moneys invested, because I am old and can no longer win the brave young men, because I have outlived the men of my youth and there is no one to go to, because I live here in the ghetto with Barry Higgins and prepare to die—why, my dear, I was born with the masters, and have trod all my days on the necks of the stupid. I have drunk rare wines and sat at feasts that would have supported this neighborhood for a lifetime. Dick Golden and I—it was Dickie’s money, but I could have had it Dick Golden and I dropped four hundred thousand francs in a week’s play at Monte Carlo. He was a Jew, but he was a spender. In India I have worn jewels that could have saved the lives of ten thousand families dying before my eyes.”
“You saw them die?... and did nothing?” Saxon asked aghast.
“I kept my jewels—la la, and was robbed of them by a brute of a Russian officer within the year.”
“And you let them die,” Saxon reiterated.
“They were cheap spawn. They fester and multiply like maggots. They meant nothing—nothing, my dear, nothing. No more than your work people mean here, whose crowning stupidity is their continuing to beget more stupid spawn for the slavery of the masters.”
So it was that while Saxon could get little glimmering of common sense from others, from the terrible old woman she got none at all. Nor could Saxon bring herself to believe much of what she considered Mercedes’ romancing. As the weeks passed, the strike in the railroad shops grew bitter and deadly. Billy shook his head and confessed his inability to make head or tail of the troubles that were looming on the labor horizon.
“I don’t get the hang of it,” he told Saxon. “It’s a mix-up. It’s like a roughhouse with the lights out. Look at us teamsters. Here we are, the talk just starting of going out on sympathetic strike for the mill-workers. They’ve ben out a week, most of their places is filled, an’ if us teamsters keep on haulin’ the mill-work the strike’s lost.”
“Yet you didn’t consider striking for yourselves when your wages were cut,” Saxon said with a frown.
“Oh, we wasn’t in position then. But now the Frisco teamsters and the whole Frisco Water Front Confederation is liable to back us up. Anyway, we’re just talkin’ about it, that’s all. But if we do go out, we’ll try to get back that ten per cent cut.”
“It’s rotten politics,” he said another time. “Everybody’s rotten. If we’d only wise up and agree to pick out honest men—”
“But if you, and Bert, and Tom can’t agree, how do you expect all the rest to agree?” Saxon asked.
“It gets me,” he admitted. “It’s enough to give a guy the willies thinkin’ about it. And yet it’s plain as the nose on your face. Get honest men for politics, an’ the whole thing’s straightened out. Honest men’d make honest laws, an’ then honest men’d get their dues. But Bert wants to smash things, an’ Tom smokes his pipe and dreams pipe dreams about by an’ by when everybody votes the way he thinks. But this by an’ by ain’t the point. We want things now. Tom says we can’t get them now, an’ Bert says we ain’t never goin’ to get them. What can a fellow do when everybody’s of different minds? Look at the socialists themselves. They’re always disagreeing, splittin’ up, an’ firin’ each other out of the party. The whole thing’s bughouse, that’s what, an’ I almost get dippy myself thinkin’ about it. The point I can’t get out of my mind is that we want things now.”
He broke off abruptly and stared at Saxon.
“What is it?” he asked, his voice husky with anxiety. “You ain’t sick... or... or anything?”
One hand she had pressed to her heart; but the startle and fright in her eyes was changing into a pleased intentness, while on her mouth was a little mysterious smile. She seemed oblivious to her husband, as if listening to some message from afar and not for his ears. Then wonder and joy transfused her face, and she looked at Billy, and her hand went out to his.
“It’s life,” she whispered. “I felt life. I am so glad, so glad.”
The next evening when Billy came home from work, Saxon caused him to know and undertake more of the responsibilities of fatherhood.
“I’ve been thinking it over, Billy,” she began, “and I’m such a healthy, strong woman that it won’t have to be very expensive. There’s Martha Skelton—she’s a good midwife.”
But Billy shook his head.
“Nothin’ doin’ in that line, Saxon. You’re goin’ to have Doc Hentley. He’s Bill Murphy’s doc, an’ Bill swears by him. He’s an old cuss, but he’s a wooz.”
“She confined Maggie Donahue,” Saxon argued; “and look at her and her baby.”
“Well, she won’t confine you—not so as you can notice it.”
“But the doctor will charge twenty dollars,” Saxon pursued, “and make me get a nurse because I haven’t any womenfolk to come in. But Martha Skelton would do everything, and it would be so much cheaper.”
But Billy gathered her tenderly in his arms and laid down the law.
“Listen to me, little wife. The Roberts family ain’t on the cheap. Never forget that. You’ve gotta have the baby. That’s your business, an’ it’s enough for you. My business is to get the money an’ take care of you. An’ the best ain’t none too good for you. Why, I wouldn’t run the chance of the teeniest accident happenin’ to you for a million dollars. It’s you that counts. An’ dollars is dirt. Maybe you think I like that kid some. I do. Why, I can’t get him outa my head. I’m thinkin’ about’m all day long. If I get fired, it’ll be his fault. I’m clean dotty over him. But just the same, Saxon, honest to God, before I’d have anything happen to you, break your little finger, even, I’d see him dead an’ buried first. That’ll give you something of an idea what you mean to me.
“Why, Saxon, I had the idea that when folks got married they just settled down, and after a while their business was to get along with each other. Maybe it’s the way it is with other people; but it ain’t that way with you an’ me. I love you more ‘n more every day. Right now I love you more’n when I began talkin’ to you five minutes ago. An’ you won’t have to get a nurse. Doc Hentley’ll come every day, an’ Mary’ll come in an’ do the housework, an’ take care of you an’ all that, just as you’ll do for her if she ever needs it.”
As the days and weeks pussed, Saxon was possessed by a conscious feeling of proud motherhood in her swelling breasts. So essentially a normal woman was she, that motherhood was a satisfying and passionate happiness. It was true that she had her moments of apprehension, but they were so momentary and faint that they tended, if anything, to give zest to her happiness.
Only one thing troubled her, and that was the puzzling and perilous situation of labor which no one seemed to understand, her self least of all.
“They’re always talking about how much more is made by machinery than by the old ways,” she told her brother Tom. “Then, with all the machinery we’ve got now, why don’t we get more?”
“Now you’re talkin’,” he answered. “It wouldn’t take you long to understand socialism.”
But Saxon had a mind to the immediate need of things.
“Tom, how long have you been a socialist?”
“And you haven’t got anything by it?”
“But we will... in time.”
“At that rate you’ll be dead first,” she challenged.
“I’m afraid so. Things move so slow.”
Again he sighed. She noted the weary, patient look in his face, the bent shoulders, the labor-gnarled hands, and it all seemed to symbolize the futility of his social creed.
It began quietly, as the fateful unexpected so often begins. Children, of all ages and sizes, were playing in the street, and Saxon, by the open front window, was watching them and dreaming day dreams of her child soon to be. The sunshine mellowed peacefully down, and a light wind from the bay cooled the air and gave to it a tang of salt. One of the children pointed up Pine Street toward Seventh. All the children ceased playing, and stared and pointed. They formed into groups, the larger boys, of from ten to twelve, by themselves, the older girls anxiously clutching the small children by the hands or gathering them into their arms.
Saxon could not see the cause of all this, but she could guess when she saw the larger boys rush to the gutter, pick up stones, and sneak into the alleys between the houses. Smaller boys tried to imitate them. The girls, dragging the tots by the arms, banged gates and clattered up the front steps of the small houses. The doors slammed behind them, and the street was deserted, though here and there front shades were drawn aside so that anxious-faced women might peer forth. Saxon heard the uptown train puffing and snorting as it pulled out from Center Street. Then, from the direction of Seventh, came a hoarse, throaty manroar. Still, she could see nothing, and she remembered Mercedes Higgins’ words “THEY ARE LIKE DOGS WRANGLING OVER BONES. JOBS ARE BONES, YOU KNOW”
The roar came closer, and Saxon, leaning out, saw a dozen scabs, conveyed by as many special police and Pinkertons, coming down the sidewalk on her side of the street. They came compactly, as if with discipline, while behind, disorderly, yelling confusedly, stooping to pick up rocks, were seventy-five or a hundred of the striking shopmen. Saxon discovered herself trembling with apprehension, knew that she must not, and controlled herself. She was helped in this by the conduct of Mercedes Higgins. The old woman came out of her front door, dragging a chair, on which she coolly seated herself on the tiny stoop at the top of the steps.
In the hands of the special police were clubs. The Pinkertons carried no visible weapons. The strikers, urging on from behind, seemed content with yelling their rage and threats, and it remained for the children to precipitate the conflict. From across the street, between the Olsen and the Isham houses, came a shower of stones. Most of these fell short, though one struck a scab on the head. The man was no more than twenty feet away from Saxon. He reeled toward her front picket fence, drawing a revolver. With one hand he brushed the blood from his eyes and with the other he discharged the revolver into the Isham house. A Pinkerton seized his arm to prevent a second shot, and dragged him along. At the same instant a wilder roar went up from the strikers, while a volley of stones came from between Saxon’s house and Maggie Donahue’s. The scabs and their protectors made a stand, drawing revolvers. From their hard, determined faces—fighting men by profession—Saxon could augur nothing but bloodshed and death. An elderly man, evidently the leader, lifted a soft felt hat and mopped the perspiration from the bald top of his head. He was a large man, very rotund of belly and helpless looking. His gray beard was stained with streaks of tobacco juice, and he was smoking a cigar. He was stoop-shouldered, and Saxon noted the dandruff on the collar of his coat.
One of the men pointed into the street, and several of his companions laughed. The cause of it was the little Olsen boy, barely four years old, escaped somehow from his mother and toddling toward his economic enemies. In his right he bore a rock so heavy that he could scarcely lift it. With this he feebly threatened them. His rosy little face was convulsed with rage, and he was screaming over and over “Dam scabs! Dam scabs! Dam scabs!” The laughter with which they greeted him only increased his fury. He toddled closer, and with a mighty exertion threw the rock. It fell a scant six feet beyond his hand.
This much Saxon saw, and also Mrs. Olsen rushing into the street for her child. A rattling of revolver-shots from the strikers drew Saxon’s attention to the men beneath her. One of them cursed sharply and examined the biceps of his left arm, which hung limply by his side. Down the hand she saw the blood beginning to drip. She knew she ought not remain and watch, but the memory of her fighting forefathers was with her, while she possessed no more than normal human fear—if anything, less. She forgot her child in the eruption of battle that had broken upon her quiet street. And she forgot the strikers, and everything else, in amazement at what had happened to the round-bellied, cigar-smoking leader. In some strange way, she knew not how, his head had become wedged at the neck between the tops of the pickets of her fence. His body hung down outside, the knees not quite touching the ground. His hat had fallen off, and the sun was making an astounding high light on his bald spot. The cigar, too, was gone. She saw he was looking at her. One hand, between the pickets, seemed waving at her, and almost he seemed to wink at her jocosely, though she knew it to be the contortion of deadly pain.
Possibly a second, or, at most, two seconds, she gazed at this, when she was aroused by Bert’s voice. He was running along the sidewalk, in front of her house, and behind him charged several more strikers, while he shouted: “Come on, you Mohegans! We got ‘em nailed to the cross!”
In his left hand he carried a pick-handle, in his right a revolver, already empty, for he clicked the cylinder vainly around as he ran. With an abrupt stop, dropping the pick-handle, he whirled half about, facing Saxon’s gate. He was sinking down, when he straightened himself to throw the revolver into the face of a scab who was jumping toward him. Then he began swaying, at the same time sagging at the knees and waist. Slowly, with infinite effort, he caught a gate picket in his right hand, and, still slowly, as if lowering himself, sank down, while past him leaped the crowd of strikers he had led.
It was battle without quarter—a massacre. The scabs and their protectors, surrounded, backed against Saxon’s fence, fought like cornered rats, but could not withstand the rush of a hundred men. Clubs and pick-handles were swinging, revolvers were exploding, and cobblestones were flung with crushing effect at arm’s distance. Saxon saw young Frank Davis, a friend of Bert’s and a father of several months’ standing, press the muzzle of his revolver against a scab’s stomach and fire. There were curses and snarls of rage, wild cries of terror and pain. Mercedes was right. These things were not men. They were beasts, fighting over bones, destroying one another for bones.
JOBS ARE BONES; JOBS ARE BONES. The phrase was an incessant iteration in Saxon’s brain. Much as she might have wished it, she was powerless now to withdraw from the window. It was as if she were paralyzed. Her brain no longer worked. She sat numb, staring, incapable of anything save seeing the rapid horror before her eyes that flashed along like a moving picture film gone mad. She saw Pinkertons, special police, and strikers go down. One scab, terribly wounded, on his knees and begging for mercy, was kicked in the face. As he sprawled backward another striker, standing over him, fired a revolver into his chest, quickly and deliberately, again and again, until the weapon was empty. Another scab, backed over the pickets by a hand clutching his throat, had his face pulped by a revolver butt. Again and again, continually, the revolver rose and fell, and Saxon knew the man who wielded it—Chester Johnson. She had met him at dances and danced with him in the days before she was married. He had always been kind and good natured. She remembered the Friday night, after a City Hall band concert, when he had taken her and two other girls to Tony’s Tamale Grotto on Thirteenth street. And after that they had all gone to Pabst’s Cafe and drunk a glass of beer before they went home. It was impossible that this could be the same Chester Johnson. And as she looked, she saw the round-bellied leader, still wedged by the neck between the pickets, draw a revolver with his free hand, and, squinting horribly sidewise, press the muzzle against Chester’s side. She tried to scream a warning. She did scream, and Chester looked up and saw her. At that moment the revolver went off, and he collapsed prone upon the body of the scab. And the bodies of three men hung on her picket fence.
Anything could happen now. Quite without surprise, she saw the strikers leaping the fence, trampling her few little geraniums and pansies into the earth as they fled between Mercedes’ house and hers. Up Pine street, from the railroad yards, was coming a rush of railroad police and Pinkertons, firing as they ran. While down Pine street, gongs clanging, horses at a gallop, came three patrol wagons packed with police. The strikers were in a trap. The only way out was between the houses and over the back yard fences. The jam in the narrow alley prevented them all from escaping. A dozen were cornered in the angle between the front of her house and the steps. And as they had done, so were they done by. No effort was made to arrest. They were clubbed down and shot down to the last man by the guardians of the peace who were infuriated by what had been wreaked on their brethren.
It was all over, and Saxon, moving as in a dream, clutching the banister tightly, came down the front steps. The round-bellied leader still leered at her and fluttered one hand, though two big policemen were just bending to extricate him. The gate was off its hinges, which seemed strange, for she had been watching all the time and had not seen it happen.
Bert’s eyes were closed. His lips were blood-flecked, and there was a gurgling in his throat as if he were trying to say something. As she stooped above him, with her handkerchief brushing the blood from his cheek where some one had stepped on him, his eyes opened. The old defiant light was in them. He did not know her. The lips moved, and faintly, almost reminiscently, he murmured, “The last of the Mohegans, the last of the Mohegans.” Then he groaned, and the eyelids drooped down again. He was not dead. She knew that, the chest still rose and fell, and the gurgling still continued in his throat.
She looked up. Mercedes stood beside her. The old woman’s eyes were very bright, her withered cheeks flushed.
“Will you help me carry him into the house?” Saxon asked.
Mercedes nodded, turned to a sergeant of police, and made the request to him. The sergeant gave a swift glance at Bert, and his eyes were bitter and ferocious as he refused.
“To hell with’m. We’ll care for our own.”
“Maybe you and I can do it,” Saxon said.
“Don’t be a fool.” Mercedes was beckoning to Mrs. Olsen across the street. “You go into the house, little mother that is to be. This is bad for you. We’ll carry him in. Mrs. Olsen is coming, and we’ll get Maggie Donahue.”
Saxon led the way into the back bedroom which Billy had insisted on furnishing. As she opened the door, the carpet seemed to fly up into her face as with the force of a blow, for she remembered Bert had laid that carpet. And as the women placed him on the bed she recalled that it was Bert and she, between them, who had set the bed up one Sunday morning.
And then she felt very queer, and was surprised to see Mercedes regarding her with questioning, searching eyes. After that her queerness came on very fast, and she descended into the hell of pain that is given to women alone to know. She was supported, half-carried, to the front bedroom. Many faces were about her—Mercedes, Mrs. Olsen, Maggie Donahue. It seemed she must ask Mrs. Olsen if she had saved little Emil from the street, but Mercedes cleared Mrs. Olsen out to look after Bert, and Maggie Donahue went to answer a knock at the front door. From the street came a loud hum of voices, punctuated by shouts and commands, and from time to time there was a clanging of the gongs of ambulances and patrol wagon’s. Then appeared the fat, comfortable face of Martha Shelton, and, later, Dr. Hentley came. Once, in a clear interval, through the thin wall Saxon heard the high opening notes of Mary’s hysteria. And, another time, she heard Mary repeating over and over. “I’ll never go back to the laundry. Never. Never.”
Billy could never get over the shock, during that period, of Saxon’s appearance. Morning after morning, and evening after evening when he came home from work, he would enter the room where she lay and fight a royal battle to hide his feelings and make a show of cheerfulness and geniality. She looked so small lying there so small and shrunken and weary, and yet so child-like in her smallness. Tenderly, as he sat beside her, he would take up her pale hand and stroke the slim, transparent arm, marveling at the smallness and delicacy of the bones.
One of her first questions, puzzling alike to Billy and Mary, was:
“Did they save little Emil Olsen?”
And when she told them how he had attacked, singlehanded, the whole twenty-four fighting men, Billy’s face glowed with appreciation.
“The little cuss!” he said. “That’s the kind of a kid to be proud of.”
He halted awkwardly, and his very evident fear that he had hurt her touched Saxon. She put her hand out to his.
“Billy,” she began; then waited till Mary left the room.
“I never asked before—not that it matters... now. But I waited for you to tell me. Was it...?”
He shook his head.
“No; it was a girl. A perfect little girl. Only... it was too soon.”
She pressed his hand, and almost it was she that sympathized with him in his affliction.
“I never told you, Billy—you were so set on a boy; but I planned, just the same, if it was a girl, to call her Daisy. You remember, that was my mother’s name.”
He nodded his approbation.
“Say, Saxon, you know I did want a boy like the very dickens... well, I don’t care now. I think I’m set just as hard on a girl, an’, well, here’s hopin’ the next will be called... you wouldn’t mind, would you?”
“If we called it the same name, Daisy?”
“Oh, Billy! I was thinking the very same thing.”
Then his face grew stern as he went on.
“Only there ain’t goin’ to be a next. I didn’t know what havin’ children was like before. You can’t run any more risks like that.”
“Hear the big, strong, afraid-man talk!” she jeered, with a wan smile. “You don’t know anything about it. How can a man? I am a healthy, natural woman. Everything would have been all right this time if... if all that fighting hadn’t happened. Where did they bury Bert?”
“All the time. And where is Mercedes? She hasn’t been in for two days.”
“Old Barry’s sick. She’s with him.”
He did not tell her that the old night watchman was dying, two thin walls and half a dozen feet away.
Saxon’s lips were trembling, and she began to cry weakly, clinging to Billy’s hand with both of hers.
“I—I can’t help it,” she sobbed. “I’ll be all right in a minute.... Our little girl, Billy. Think of it! And I never saw her!”
She was still lying on her bed, when, one evening, Mary saw fit to break out in bitter thanksgiving that she had escaped, and was destined to escape, what Saxon had gone through.
“Aw, what are you talkin’ about?” Billy demanded. “You’ll get married some time again as sure as beans is beans.”
“Not to the best man living,” she proclaimed. “And there ain’t no call for it. There’s too many people in the world now, else why are there two or three men for every job? And, besides, havin’ children is too terrible.”
Saxon, with a look of patient wisdom in her face that became glorified as she spoke, made answer:
“I ought to know what it means. I’ve been through it, and I’m still in the thick of it, and I want to say to you right now, out of all the pain and the ache and the sorrow, that it is the most beautiful, wonderful thing in the world.”
As Saxon’s strength came back to her (and when Doctor Hentley had privily assured Billy that she was sound as a dollar), she herself took up the matter of the industrial tragedy that had taken place before her door. The militia had been called out immediately, Billy informed her, and was encamped then at the foot of Pine street on the waste ground next to the railroad yards. As for the strikers, fifteen of them were in jail. A house to house search had been made in the neighborhood by the police, and in this way nearly the whole fifteen, all wounded, had been captured. It would go hard with them, Billy foreboded gloomily. The newspapers were demanding blood for blood, and all the ministers in Oakland had preached fierce sermons against the strikers. The railroad had filled every place, and it was well known that the striking shopmen not only would never get their old jobs back but were blacklisted in every railroad in the United States. Already they were beginning to scatter. A number had gone to Panama, and four were talking of going to Ecuador to work in the shops of the railroad that ran over the Andes to Quito.
With anxiety keenly concealed, she tried to feel out Billy’s opinion on what had happened.
“That shows what Bert’s violent methods come to,” she said.
He shook his head slowly and gravely.
“They’ll hang Chester Johnson, anyway,” he answered indirectly. “You know him. You told me you used to dance with him. He was caught red-handed, lyin’ on the body of a scab he beat to death. Old Jelly Belly’s got three bullet holes in him, but he ain’t goin’ to die, and he’s got Chester’s number. They’ll hang’m on Jelly Belly’s evidence. It was all in the papers. Jelly Belly shot him, too, a-hangin’ by the neck on our pickets.”
Saxon shuddered. Jelly Belly must be the man with the bald spot and the tobacco-stained whiskers.
“Yes,” she said. “I saw it all. It seemed he must have hung there for hours.”
“It was all over, from first to last, in five minutes.”
“It seemed ages and ages.”
“I guess that’s the way it seemed to Jelly Belly, stuck on the pickets,” Billy smiled grimly. “But he’s a hard one to kill. He’s been shot an’ cut up a dozen different times. But they say now he’ll be crippled for life—have to go around on crutches, or in a wheel-chair. That’ll stop him from doin’ any more dirty work for the railroad. He was one of their top gun-fighters—always up to his ears in the thick of any fightin’ that was goin’ on. He never was leery of anything on two feet, I’ll say that much for’m.”
“Where does he live?” Saxon inquired.
“Up on Adeline, near Tenth—fine neighborhood an’ fine two-storied house. He must pay thirty dollars a month rent. I guess the railroad paid him pretty well.”
“Then he must be married?”
“Yep. I never seen his wife, but he’s got one son, Jack, a passenger engineer. I used to know him. He was a nifty boxer, though he never went into the ring. An’ he’s got another son that’s teacher in the high school. His name’s Paul. We’re about the same age. He was great at baseball. I knew him when we was kids. He pitched me out three times hand-runnin’ once, when the Durant played the Cole School.”
Saxon sat back in the Morris chair, resting and thinking. The problem was growing more complicated than ever. This elderly, round-bellied, and bald-headed gunfighter, too, had a wife and family. And there was Frank Davis, married barely a year and with a baby boy. Perhaps the scab he shot in the stomach had a wife and children. All seemed to be acquainted, members of a very large family, and yet, because of their particular families, they battered and killed each other. She had seen Chester Johnson kill a scab, and now they were going to hang Chester Johnson, who had married Kittie Brady out of the cannery, and she and Kittie Brady had worked together years before in the paper box factory.
Vainly Saxon waked for Billy to say something that would show he did not countenance the killing of the scabs.
“It was wrong,” she ventured finally.
“They killed Bert,” he countered. “An’ a lot of others. An’ Frank Davis. Did you know he was dead? Had his whole lower jaw shot away—died in the ambulance before they could get him to the receiving hospital. There was never so much killin’ at one time in Oakland before.”
“But it was their fault,” she contended. “They began it. It was murder.”
Billy did not reply, but she heard him mutter hoarsely. She knew he said “God damn them"; but when she asked, “What?” he made no answer. His eyes were deep with troubled clouds, while the mouth had hardened, and all his face was bleak.
To her it was a heart-stab. Was he, too, like the rest? Would he kill other men who had families, like Bert, and Frank Davis, and Chester Johnson had killed? Was he, too, a wild beast, a dog that would snarl over a bone?
She sighed. Life was a strange puzzle. Perhaps Mercedes Higgins was right in her cruel statement of the terms of existence.
“What of it,” Billy laughed harshly, as if in answer to her unuttered questions. “It’s dog eat dog, I guess, and it’s always ben that way. Take that scrap outside there. They killed each other just like the North an’ South did in the Civil War.”
“But workingmen can’t win that way, Billy. You say yourself that it spoiled their chance of winning.”
“I suppose not,” he admitted reluctantly. “But what other chance they’ve got to win I don’t see. Look at ‘us. We’ll be up against it next.”
“Not the teamsters?” she cried.
He nodded gloomily.
“The bosses are cuttin’ loose all along the line for a high old time. Say they’re goin’ to beat us to our knees till we come crawlin’ back a-beggin’ for our jobs. They’ve bucked up real high an’ mighty what of all that killin’ the other day. Havin’ the troops out is half the fight, along with havin’ the preachers an’ the papers an’ the public behind ’em. They’re shootin’ off their mouths already about what they’re goin’ to do. They’re sure gunning for trouble. First, they’re goin’ to hang Chester Johnson an’ as many more of the fifteen as they can. They say that flat. The Tribune, an’ the Enquirer an’ the Times keep sayin’ it over an over every day. They’re all union-hustin’ to beat the band. No more closed shop. To hell with organized labor. Why, the dirty little Intelligencer come out this morning an’ said that every union official in Oakland ought to be run outa town or stretched up. Fine, eh? You bet it’s fine.
“Look at us. It ain’t a case any more of sympathetic strike for the mill-workers. We got our own troubles. They’ve fired our four best men—the ones that was always on the conference committees. Did it without cause. They’re lookin’ for trouble, as I told you, an’ they’ll get it, too, if they don’t watch out. We got our tip from the Frisco Water Front Confederation. With them backin’ us we’ll go some.”
“You mean you’ll... strike?” Saxon asked.
He bent his head.
“But isn’t that what they want you to do?—from the way they’re acting?”
“What’s the difference?” Billy shrugged his shoulders, then continued. “It’s better to strike than to get fired. We beat ‘em to it, that’s all, an’ we catch ‘em before they’re ready. Don’t we know what they’re doin’? They’re collectin’ gradin’-camp drivers an’ mule-skinners all up an’ down the state. They got forty of ‘em, feedin’ ‘em in a hotel in Stockton right now, an’ ready to rush ‘em in on us an’ hundreds more like ‘em. So this Saturday’s the last wages I’ll likely bring home for some time.”
Saxon closed her eyes and thought quietly for five minutes. It was not her way to take things excitedly. The coolness of poise that Billy so admired never deserted her in time of emergency. She realized that she herself was no more than a mote caught up in this tangled, nonunderstandable conflict of many motes.
“We’ll have to draw from our savings to pay for this month’s rent,” she said brightly.
Billy’s face fell.
“We ain’t got as much in the bank as you think,” he confessed. “Bert had to be buried, you know, an I coughed up what the others couldn’t raise.”
“How much was it?”
“Forty dollars. I was goin’ to stand off the butcher an’ the rest for a while. They knew I was good pay. But they put it to me straight. They’d been carryin’ the shopmen right along an was up against it themselves. An’ now with that strike smashed they’re pretty much smashed themselves. So I took it all out of the bank. I knew you wouldn’t mind. You don’t, do you?”
She smiled bravely, and bravely overcame the sinking feeling at her heart.
“It was the only right thing to do, Billy. I would have done it if you were lying sick, and Bert would have done it for you an’ me if it had been the other way around.”
His face was glowing.
“Gee, Saxon, a fellow can always count on you. You’re like my right hand. That’s why I say no more babies. If I lose you I’m crippled for life.”
“We’ve got to economize,” she mused, nodding her appreciation. “How much is in bank?”
“Just about thirty dollars. You see, I had to pay Martha Skelton an’ for the... a few other little things. An’ the union took time by the neck and levied a four dollar emergency assessment on every member just to be ready if the strike was pulled off. But Doc Hentley can wait. He said as much. He’s the goods, if anybody should ask you. How’d you like’m?”
“I liked him. But I don’t know about doctors. He’s the first I ever had—except when I was vaccinated once, and then the city did that.”
“Looks like the street car men are goin’ out, too. Dan Fallon’s come to town. Came all the way from New York. Tried to sneak in on the quiet, but the fellows knew when he left New York, an’ kept track of him all the way acrost. They have to. He’s Johnny-on-the-Spot whenever street car men are licked into shape. He’s won lots of street car strikes for the bosses. Keeps an army of strike breakers an’ ships them all over the country on special trains wherever they’re needed. Oakland’s never seen labor troubles like she’s got and is goin’ to get. All hell’s goin’ to break loose from the looks of it.”
“Watch out for yourself, then, Billy. I don’t want to lose you either.”
“Aw, that’s all right. I can take care of myself. An’ besides, it ain’t as though we was licked. We got a good chance.”
“But you’ll lose if there is any killing.”
“Yep; we gotta keep an eye out against that.”
“No gun-fighting or dynamite,” he assented. “But a heap of scabs’ll get their heads broke. That has to be.”
“But you won’t do any of that, Billy.”
“Not so as any slob can testify before a court to havin’ seen me.” Then, with a quick shift, he changed the subject. “Old Barry Higgins is dead. I didn’t want to tell you till you was outa bed. Buried’m a week ago. An’ the old woman’s movin’ to Frisco. She told me she’d be in to say good-bye. She stuck by you pretty well them first couple of days, an’ she showed Martha Shelton a few that made her hair curl. She got Martha’s goat from the jump.”
With Billy on strike and away doing picket duty, and with the departure of Mercedes and the death of Bert, Saxon was left much to herself in a loneliness that even in one as healthy-minded as she could not fail to produce morbidness. Mary, too, had left, having spoken vaguely of taking a job at housework in Piedmont.
Billy could help Saxon little in her trouble. He dimly sansed her suffering, without comprehending the scope and intensity of it. He was too man-practical, and, by his very sex, too remote from the intimate tragedy that was hers. He was an outsider at the best, a friendly onlooker who saw little. To her the baby had been quick and real. It was still quick and real. That was her trouble. By no deliberate effort of will could she fill the aching void of its absence. Its reality became, at times, an hallucination. Somewhere it still was, and she must find it. She would catch herself, on occasion, listening with strained ears for the cry she had never heard, yet which, in fancy, she had heard a thousand times in the happy months before the end. Twice she left her bed in her sleep and went searching—each time coming to herself beside her mother’s chest of drawers in which were the tiny garments. To herself, at such moments, she would say, “I had a baby once.” And she would say it, aloud, as she watched the children playing in the street.
One day, on the Eighth street cars, a young mother sat beside her, a crowing infant in her arms. And Saxon said to her:
“I had a baby once. It died.”
The mother looked at her, startled, half-drew the baby tighter in her arms, jealously, or as if in fear; then she softened as she said:
“You poor thing.”
“Yes,” Saxon nodded. “It died.”
Tear’s welled into her eyes, and the telling of her grief seemed to have brought relief. But all the day she suffered from an almost overwhelming desire to recite her sorrow to the world—to the paying teller at the bank, to the elderly floor-walker in Salinger’s, to the blind woman, guided by a little boy, who played on the concertina—to every one save the policeman. The police were new and terrible creatures to her now. She had seen them kill the strikers as mercilessly as the strikers had killed the scabs. And, unlike the strikers, the police were professional killers. They were not fighting for jobs. They did it as a business. They could have taken prisoners that day, in the angle of her front steps and the house. But they had not. Unconsciously, whenever approaching one, she edged across the sidewalk so as to get as far as possible away from him. She did not reason it out, but deeper than consciousness was the feeling that they were typical of something inimical to her and hers.
At Eighth and Broadway, waiting for her car to return home, the policeman on the corner recognized her and greeted her. She turned white to the lips, and her heart fluttered painfully. It was only Ned Hermanmann, fatter, bronder-faced, jollier looking than ever. He had sat across the aisle from her for three terms at school. He and she had been monitors together of the composition books for one term. The day the powder works blew up at Pinole, breaking every window in the school, he and she had not joined in the panic rush for out-of-doors. Both had remained in the room, and the irate principal had exhibited them, from room to room, to the cowardly classes, and then rewarded them with a month’s holiday from school. And after that Ned Hermanmann had become a policeman, and married Lena Highland, and Saxon had heard they had five children.
But, in spite of all that, he was now a policeman, and Billy was now a striker. Might not Ned Hermanmann some day club and shoot Billy just as those other policemen clubbed and shot the strikers by her front steps?
“What’s the matter, Saxon?” he asked. “Sick?”
She nodded and choked, unable to speak, and started to move toward her car which was coming to a stop.
“I’ll help you,” he offered.
She shrank away from his hand.
“No; I’m all right,” she gasped hurriedly. “I’m not going to take it. I’ve forgotten something.”
She turned away dizzily, up Broadway to Ninth. Two blocks along Ninth, she turned down Clay and back to Eighth street, where she waited for another car.
As the summer months dragged along, the industrial situation in Oakland grew steadily worse. Capital everywhere seemed to have selected this city for the battle with organized labor. So many men in Oakland were out on strike, or were locked out, or were unable to work because of the dependence of their trades on the other tied-up trade’s, that odd jobs at common labor were hard to obtain. Billy occasionally got a day’s work to do, but did not earn enough to make both ends meet, despite the small strike wages received at first, and despite the rigid economy he and Saxon practiced.
The table she set had scarcely anything in common with that of their first married year. Not alone was every item of cheaper quality, but many items had disappeared. Meat, and the poorest, was very seldom on the table. Cow’s milk had given place to condensed milk, and even the sparing use of the latter had ceased. A roll of butter, when they had it, lasted half a dozen times as long as formerly. Where Billy had been used to drinking three cups of coffee for breakfast, he now drank one. Saxon boiled this coffee an atrocious length of time, and she paid twenty cents a pound for it.
The blight of hard times was on all the neighborhood. The families not involved in one strike were touched by some other strike or by the cessation of work in some dependent trade. Many single young men who were lodgers had drifted away, thus increasing the house rent of the families which had sheltered them.
“Gott!” said the butcher to Saxon. “We working class all suffer together. My wife she cannot get her teeth fixed now. Pretty soon I go smash broke maybe.”
Once, when Billy was preparing to pawn his watch, Saxon suggested his borrowing the money from Billy Murphy.
“I was plannin’ that,” Billy answered, “only I can’t now. I didn’t tell you what happened Tuesday night at the Sporting Life Club. You remember that squarehead Champion of the United States Navy? Bill was matched with him, an’ it was sure easy money. Bill had ‘m goin’ south by the end of the sixth round, an’ at the seventh went in to finish ‘m. And then—just his luck, for his trade’s idle now—he snaps his right forearm. Of course the squarehead comes back at ‘m on the jump, an’ it’s good night for Bill. Gee! Us Mohegans are gettin’ our bad luck handed to us in chunks these days.”
“Don’t!” Saxon cried, shuddering involuntarily.
“What?” Billy asked with open mouth of surprise.
“Don’t say that word again. Bert was always saying it.”
“Oh, Mohegans. All right, I won’t. You ain’t superstitions, are you?”
“No; but just the same there’s too much truth in the word for me to like it. Sometimes it seems as though he was right. Times have changed. They’ve changed even since I was a little girl. We crossed the plains and opened up this country, and now we’re losing even the chance to work for a living in it. And it’s not my fault, it’s not your fault. We’ve got to live well or bad just by luck, it seems. There’s no other way to explain it.”
“It beats me,” Billy concurred. “Look at the way I worked last year. Never missed a day. I’d want to never miss a day this year, an’ here I haven’t done a tap for weeks an’ weeks an’ weeks. Say! Who runs this country anyway?”
Saxon had stopped the morning paper, but frequently Maggie Donahue’s boy, who served a Tribune route, tossed an “extra” on her steps. From its editorials Saxon gleaned that organized labor was trying to run the country and that it was making a mess of it. It was all the fault of domineering labor—so ran the editorials, column by column, day by day; and Saxon was convinced, yet remained unconvinced. The social puzzle of living was too intricate.
The teamsters’ strike, backed financially by the teamsters of San Francisco and by the allied unions of the San Francisco Water Front Confederation, promised to be long-drawn, whether or not it was successful. The Oakland harness-washers and stablemen, with few exceptions, had gone out with the teamsters. The teaming firm’s were not half-filling their contracts, but the employers’ association was helping them. In fact, half the employers’ associations of the Pacific Coast were helping the Oakland Employers’ Association.
Saxon was behind a month’s rent, which, when it is considered that rent was paid in advance, was equivalent to two months. Likewise, she was two months behind in the installments on the furniture. Yet she was not pressed very hard by Salinger’s, the furniture dealers.
“We’re givin’ you all the rope we can,” said their collector. “My orders is to make you dig up every cent I can and at the same time not to be too hard. Salinger’s are trying to do the right thing, but they’re up against it, too. You’ve no idea how many accounts like yours they’re carrying along. Sooner or later they’ll have to call a halt or get it in the neck themselves. And in the meantime just see if you can’t scrape up five dollars by next week—just to cheer them along, you know.”
One of the stablemen who had not gone out, Henderson by name, worked at Billy’s stables. Despite the urging of the bosses to eat and sleep in the stable like the other men, Henderson had persisted in coming home each morning to his little house around the corner from Saxon’s on Fifth street. Several times she had seen him swinging along defiantly, his dinner pail in his hand, while the neighborhood boys dogged his heels at a safe distance and informed him in yapping chorus that he was a scab and no good. But one evening, on his way to work, in a spirit of bravado he went into the Pile-Drivers’ Home, the saloon at Seventh and Pine. There it was his mortal mischance to encounter Otto Frank, a striker who drove from the same stable. Not many minutes later an ambulance was hurrying Henderson to the receiving hospital with a fractured skull, while a patrol wagon was no less swiftly carrying Otto Frank to the city prison.
Maggie Donahue it was, eyes shining with gladness, who told Saxon of the happening.
“Served him right, too, the dirty scab,” Maggie concluded.
“But his poor wife!” was Saxon’s cry. “She’s not strong. And then the children. She’ll never be able to take care of them if her husband dies.”
“An’ serve her right, the damned slut!”
Saxon was both shocked and hurt by the Irishwoman’s brutality. But Maggie was implacable.
“’Tis all she or any woman deserves that’ll put up an’ live with a scab. What about her children? Let’m starve, an’ her man a-takin’ the food out of other children’s mouths.”
Mrs. Olsen’s attitude was different. Beyond passive sentimental pity for Henderson’s wife and children, she gave them no thought, her chief concern being for Otto Frank and Otto Frank’s wife and children—herself and Mrs. Frank being full sisters.
“If he dies, they will hang Otto,” she said. “And then what will poor Hilda do? She has varicose veins in both legs, and she never can stand on her feet all day an’ work for wages. And me, I cannot help. Ain’t Carl out of work, too?”
Billy had still another point of view.
“It will give the strike a black eye, especially if Henderson croaks,” he worried, when he came home. “They’ll hang Frank on record time. Besides, we’ll have to put up a defense, an’ lawyers charge like Sam Hill. They’ll eat a hole in our treasury you could drive every team in Oakland through. An’ if Frank hadn’t ben screwed up with whisky he’d never a-done it. He’s the mildest, good-naturedest man sober you ever seen.”
Twice that evening Billy left the house to find out if Henderson was dead yet. In the morning the papers gave little hope, and the evening papers published his death. Otto Frank lay in jail without bail. The Tribune demanded a quick trial and summary execution, calling on the prospective jury manfully to do its duty and dwelling at length on the moral effect that would be so produced upon the lawless working class. It went further, emphasizing the salutary effect machine guns would have on the mob that had taken the fair city of Oakland by the throat.
And all such occurrences struck at Saxon personally. Practically alone in the world, save for Billy, it was her life, and his, and their mutual love-life, that was menaced. From the moment he left the house to the moment of his return she knew no peace of mind. Rough work was afoot, of which he told her nothing, and she knew he was playing his part in it. On more than one occasion she noticed fresh-broken skin on his knuckles. At such times he was remarkably taciturn, and would sit in brooding silence or go almost immediately to bed. She was afraid to have this habit of reticence grow on him, and bravely she bid for his confidence. She climbed into his lap and inside his arms, one of her arms around his neck, and with the free hand she caressed his hair back from the forehead and smoothed out the moody brows.
“Now listen to me, Billy Boy,” she began lightly. “You haven’t been playing fair, and I won’t have it. No!” She pressed his lips shut with her fingers. “I’m doing the talking now, and because you haven’t been doing your share of the talking for some time. You remember we agreed at the start to always talk things over. I was the first to break this, when I sold my fancy work to Mrs. Higgins without speaking to you about it. And I was very sorry. I am still sorry. And I’ve never done it since. Now it’s your turn. You’re not talking things over with me. You are doing things you don’t tell me about.
“Billy, you’re dearer to me than anything else in the world. You know that. We’re sharing each other’s lives, only, just now, there’s something you’re not sharing. Every time your knuckles are sore, there’s something you don’t share. If you can’t trust me, you can’t trust anybody. And, besides, I love you so that no matter what you do I’ll go on loving you just the same.”
Billy gazed at her with fond incredulity.
“Don’t be a pincher,” she teased. “Remember, I stand for whatever you do.”
“And you won’t buck against me?” he queried.
“How can I? I’m not your boss, Billy. I wouldn’t boss you for anything in the world. And if you’d let me boss you, I wouldn’t love you half as much.”
He digested this slowly, and finally nodded.
“An’ you won’t be mad?”
“With you? You’ve never seen me mad yet. Now come on and be generous and tell me how you hurt your knuckles. It’s fresh to-day. Anybody can see that.”
“All right. I’ll tell you how it happened.” He stopped and giggled with genuine boyish glee at some recollection. “It’s like this. You won’t be mad, now? We gotta do these sort of things to hold our own. Well, here’s the show, a regular movin’ picture except for file talkin’. Here’s a big rube comin’ along, hayseed stickin’ out all over, hands like hams an’ feet like Mississippi gunboats. He’d make half as much again as me in size an’ he’s young, too. Only he ain’t lookin’ for trouble, an’ he’s as innocent as... well, he’s the innocentest scab that ever come down the pike an’ bumped into a couple of pickets. Not a regular strike-breaker, you see, just a big rube that’s read the bosses’ ads an’ come a-humpin’ to town for the big wages.
“An’ here’s Bud Strothers an’ me comin’ along. We always go in pairs that way, an’ sometimes bigger bunches. I flag the rube. ‘Hello,’ says I, ‘lookin’ for a job?’ ‘You bet,’ says he. ‘Can you drive?’ ‘Yep.’ ’Four horses!’ ‘Show me to ‘em,’ says he. ‘No josh, now,’ says I; ’you’re sure wantin’ to drive?’ ‘That’s what I come to town for,’ he says. ‘You’re the man we’re lookin’ for,’ says I. ‘Come along, an’ we’ll have you busy in no time.’
“You see, Saxon, we can’t pull it off there, because there’s Tom Scanlon—you know, the red-headed cop only a couple of blocks away an’ pipin’ us off though not recognizin’ us. So away we go, the three of us, Bud an’ me leadin’ that boob to take our jobs away from us I guess nit. We turn into the alley back of Campwell’s grocery. Nobody in sight. Bud stops short, and the rube an’ me stop.
“’I don’t think he wants to drive,’ Bud says, considerin’. An’ the rube says quick, ‘You betcher life I do.’ ‘You’re dead sure you want that job?’ I says. Yes, he’s dead sure. Nothin’s goin’ to keep him away from that job. Why, that job’s what he come to town for, an’ we can’t lead him to it too quick.
“’Well, my friend,’ says I, ‘it’s my sad duty to inform you that you’ve made a mistake.’ ‘How’s that?’ he says. ‘Go on,’ I says; ‘you’re standin’ on your foot.’ And, honest to God, Saxon, that gink looks down at his feet to see. ‘I don’t understand,’ says he. ‘We’re goin’ to show you,’ says I.
“An’ then—Biff! Bang! Bingo! Swat! Zooie! Ker-slambango-blam! Fireworks, Fourth of July, Kingdom Come, blue lights, sky-rockets, an’ hell fire—just like that. It don’t take long when you’re scientific an’ trained to tandem work. Of course it’s hard on the knuckles. But say, Saxon, if you’d seen that rube before an’ after you’d thought he was a lightnin’ change artist. Laugh? You’d a-busted.”
Billy halted to give vent to his own mirth. Saxon forced herself to join with him, but down in her heart was horror. Mercedes was right. The stupid workers wrangled and snarled over jobs. The clever masters rode in automobiles and did not wrangle and snarl. They hired other stupid ones to do the wrangling and snarling for them. It was men like Bert and Frank Davis, like Chester Johnson and Otto Frank, like Jelly Belly and the Pinkertons, like Henderson and all the rest of the scabs, who were beaten up, shot, clubbed, or hanged. Ah, the clever ones were very clever. Nothing happened to them. They only rode in their automobiles.
“’You big stiffs,’ the rube snivels as he crawls to his feet at the end,” Billy was continuing. “’You think you still want that job?’ I ask. He shakes his head. Then I read’m the riot act ‘They’s only one thing for you to do, old hoss, an’ that’s beat it. D’ye get me? Beat it. Back to the farm for YOU. An’ if you come monkeyin’ around town again, we’ll be real mad at you. We was only foolin’ this time. But next time we catch you your own mother won’t know you when we get done with you.’
“An’—say!—you oughta seen’m beat it. I bet he’s goin’ yet. Ah’ when he gets back to Milpitas, or Sleepy Hollow, or wherever he hangs out, an’ tells how the boys does things in Oakland, it’s dollars to doughnuts they won’t be a rube in his district that’d come to town to drive if they offered ten dollars an hour.”
“It was awful,” Saxon said, then laughed well-simulated appreciation.
“But that was nothin’,” Billy went on. “A bunch of the boys caught another one this morning. They didn’t do a thing to him. My goodness gracious, no. In less’n two minutes he was the worst wreck they ever hauled to the receivin’ hospital. The evenin’ papers gave the score: nose broken, three bad scalp wounds, front teeth out, a broken collarbone, an’ two broken ribs. Gee! He certainly got all that was comin’ to him. But that’s nothin’. D’ye want to know what the Frisco teamsters did in the big strike before the Earthquake? They took every scab they caught an’ broke both his arms with a crowbar. That was so he couldn’t drive, you see. Say, the hospitals was filled with ‘em. An’ the teamsters won that strike, too.”
“But is it necessary, Billy, to be so terrible? I know they’re scabs, and that they’re taking the bread out of the strikers’ children’s mouths to put in their own children’s mouths, and that it isn’t fair and all that; but just the same is it necessary to be so... terrible?”
“Sure thing,” Billy answered confidently. “We just gotta throw the fear of God into them—when we can do it without bein’ caught.”
“And if you’re caught?”
“Then the union hires the lawyers to defend us, though that ain’t much good now, for the judges are pretty hostyle, an’ the papers keep hammerin’ away at them to give stiffer an’ stiffer sentences. Just the same, before this strike’s over there’ll be a whole lot of guys a-wishin’ they’d never gone scabbin’.”
Very cautiously, in the next half hour, Saxon tried to feel out her husband’s attitude, to find if he doubted the rightness of the violence he and his brother teamsters committed. But Billy’s ethical sanction was rock-bedded and profound. It never entered his head that he was not absolutely right. It was the game. Caught in its tangled meshes, he could see no other way to play it than the way all men played it. He did not stand for dynamite and murder, however. But then the unions did not stand for such. Quite naive was his explanation that dynamite and murder did not pay; that such actions always brought down the condemnation of the public and broke the strikes. But the healthy beating up of a scab, he contended—the “throwing of the fear of God into a scab,” as he expressed it—was the only right and proper thing to do.
“Our folks never had to do such things,” Saxon said finally. “They never had strikes nor scabs in those times.”
“You bet they didn’t,” Billy agreed “Them was the good old days. I’d liked to a-lived then.” He drew a long breath and sighed. “But them times will never come again.”
“Would you have liked living in the country?” Saxon asked.
“There’s lots of men living in the country now,” she suggested.
“Just the same I notice them a-hikin’ to town to get our jobs,” was his reply.
A gleam of light came, when Billy got a job driving a grading team for the contractors of the big bridge then building at Niles. Before he went he made certain that it was a union job. And a union job it was for two days, when the concrete workers threw down their tools. The contractors, evidently prepared for such happening, immediately filled the places of the concrete men with nonunion Italians. Whereupon the carpenters, structural ironworkers and teamsters walked out; and Billy, lacking train fare, spent the rest of the day in walking home.
“I couldn’t work as a scab,” he concluded his tale.
“No,” Saxon said; “you couldn’t work as a scab.”
But she wondered why it was that when men wanted to work, and there was work to do, yet they were unable to work because their unions said no. Why were there unions? And, if unions had to be, why were not all workingmen in them? Then there would be no scabs, and Billy could work every day. Also, she wondered where she was to get a sack of flour, for she had long since ceased the extravagance of baker’s bread. And so many other of the neighborhood women had done this, that the little Welsh baker had closed up shop and gone away, taking his wife and two little daughters with him. Look where she would, everybody was being hurt by the industrial strife.
One afternoon came a caller at her door, and that evening came Billy with dubious news. He had been approached that day. All he had to do, he told Saxon, was to say the word, and he could go into the stable as foreman at one hundred dollars a month.
The nearness of such a sum, the possibility of it, was almost stunning to Saxon, sitting at a supper which consisted of boiled potatoes, warmed-over beans, and a small dry onion which they were eating raw. There was neither bread, coffee, nor butter. The onion Billy had pulled from his pocket, having picked it up in the street. One hundred dollars a month! She moistened her lips and fought for control.
“What made them offer it to you?” she questioned.
“That’s easy,” was his answer. “They got a dozen reasons. The guy the boss has had exercisin’ Prince and King is a dub. King has gone lame in the shoulders. Then they’re guessin’ pretty strong that I’m the party that’s put a lot of their scabs outa commission. Macklin’s ben their foreman for years an’ years—why I was in knee pants when he was foreman. Well, he’s sick an’ all in. They gotta have somebody to take his place. Then, too, I’ve been with ‘em a long time. An’ on top of that, I’m the man for the job. They know I know horses from the ground up. Hell, it’s all I’m good for, except sluggin’.”
“Think of it, Billy!” she breathed. “A hundred dollars a month! A hundred dollars a month!”
“An’ throw the fellows down,” he said.
It was not a question. Nor was it a statement. It was anything Saxon chose to make of it. They looked at each other. She waited for him to speak; but he continued merely to look. It came to her that she was facing one of the decisive moments of her life, and she gripped herself to face it in all coolness. Nor would Billy proffer her the slightest help. Whatever his own judgment might be, he masked it with an expressionless face. His eyes betrayed nothing. He looked and waited.
“You... you can’t do that, Billy,” she said finally. “You can’t throw the fellows down.”
His hand shot out to hers, and his face was a sudden, radiant dawn.
“Put her there!” he cried, their hands meeting and clasping. “You’re the truest true blue wife a man ever had. If all the other fellows’ wives was like you, we could win any strike we tackled.”
“What would you have done if you weren’t married, Billy?”
“Seen ‘em in hell first.”
“Than it doesn’t make any difference being married. I’ve got to stand by you in everything you stand for. I’d be a nice wife if I didn’t.”
She remembered her caller of the afternoon, and knew the moment was too propitious to let pass.
“There was a man here this afternoon, Billy. He wanted a room. I told him I’d speak to you. He said he would pay six dollars a month for the back bedroom. That would pay half a month’s installment on the furniture and buy a sack of flour, and we’re all out of flour.”
Billy’s old hostility to the idea was instantly uppermost, and Saxon watched him anxiously.
“Some scab in the shops, I suppose?”
“No; he’s firing on the freight run to San Jose. Harmon, he said his name was, James Harmon. They’ve just transferred him from the Truckee division. He’ll sleep days mostly, he said; and that’s why he wanted a quiet house without children in it.”
In the end, with much misgiving, and only after Saxon had insistently pointed out how little work it entailed on her, Billy consented, though he continued to protest, as an afterthought:
“But I don’t want you makin’ beds for any man. It ain’t right, Saxon. I oughta take care of you.”
“And you would,” she flashed back at him, “if you’d take the foremanship. Only you can’t. It wouldn’t be right. And if I’m to stand by you it’s only fair to let me do what I can.”
James Harmon proved even less a bother than Saxon had anticipated. For a fireman he was scrupulously clean, always washing up in the roundhouse before he came home. He used the key to the kitchen door, coming and going by the back steps. To Saxon he barely said how-do-you-do or good day; and, sleeping in the day time and working at night, he was in the house a week before Billy laid eyes on him.
Billy had taken to coming home later and later, and to going out after supper by himself. He did not offer to tell Saxon where he went. Nor did she ask. For that matter it required little shrewdness on her part to guess. The fumes of whisky were on his lips at such times. His slow, deliberate ways were even slower, even more deliberate. Liquor did not affect his legs. He walked as soberly as any man. There was no hesitancy, no faltering, in his muscular movements. The whisky went to his brain, making his eyes heavy-lidded and the cloudiness of them more cloudy. Not that he was flighty, nor quick, nor irritable. On the contrary, the liquor imparted to his mental processes a deep gravity and brooding solemnity. He talked little, but that little was ominous and oracular. At such times there was no appeal from his judgment, no discussion. He knew, as God knew. And when he chose to speak a harsh thought, it was ten-fold harsher than ordinarily, because it seemed to proceed out of such profundity of cogitation, because it was as prodigiously deliberate in its incubation as it was in its enunciation.
It was not a nice side he was showing to Saxon. It was, almost, as if a stranger had come to live with her. Despite herself, she found herself beginning to shrink from him. And little could she comfort herself with the thought that it was not his real self, for she remembered his gentleness and considerateness, all his finenesses of the past. Then he had made a continual effort to avoid trouble and fighting. Now he enjoyed it, exulted in it, went looking for it. All this showed in his face. No longer was he the smiling, pleasant-faced boy. He smiled infrequently now. His face was a man’s face. The lips, the eyes, the lines were harsh as his thoughts were harsh.
He was rarely unkind to Saxon; but, on the other hand he was rarely kind. His attitude toward her was growing negative. He was disinterested. Despite the fight for the union she was enduring with him, putting up with him shoulder to shoulder, she occupied but little space in his mind. When he acted toward her gently, she could see that it was merely mechanical, just as she was well aware that the endearing terms he used, the endearing caresses he gave, were only habitual. The spontaneity and warmth had gone out. Often, when he was not in liquor, flashes of the old Billy came back, but even such flashes dwindled in frequency. He was growing preoccupied, moody. Hard times and the bitter stresses of industrial conflict strained him. Especially was this apparent in his sleep, when he suffered paroxysms of lawless dreams, groaning and muttering, clenching his fists, grinding his teeth, twisting with muscular tensions, his face writhing with passions and violences, his throat guttering with terrible curses that rasped and aborted on his lips. And Saxon, lying beside him, afraid of this visitor to her bed whom she did not know, remembered what Mary had told her of Bert. He, too, had cursed and clenched his fists, in his nights fought out the battles of his days.
One thing, however, Saxon saw clearly. By no deliberate act of Billy’s was he becoming this other and unlovely Billy. Were there no strike, no snarling and wrangling over jobs, there would be only the old Billy she had loved in all absoluteness. This sleeping terror in him would have lain asleep. It was something that was being awakened in him, an image incarnate of outward conditions, as cruel, as ugly, as maleficent as were those outward conditions. But if the strike continued, then, she feared, with reason, would this other and grisly self of Billy strengthen to fuller and more forbidding stature. And this, she knew, would mean the wreck of their love-life. Such a Billy she could not love; in its nature such a Billy was not lovable nor capable of love. And then, at the thought of offspring, she shuddered. It was too terrible. And at such moments of contemplation, from her soul the inevitable plaint of the human went up: WHY? WHY? WHY?
Billy, too, had his unanswerable queries.
“Why won’t the building trades come out?” he demanded wrathfuly of the obscurity that veiled the ways of living and the world. “But no; O’Brien won’t stand for a strike, and he has the Building Trades Council under his thumb. But why don’t they chuck him and come out anyway? We’d win hands down all along the line. But no, O’Brien’s got their goat, an’ him up to his dirty neck in politics an’ graft! An’ damn the Federation of Labor! If all the railroad boys had come out, wouldn’t the shop men have won instead of bein’ licked to a frazzle? Lord, I ain’t had a smoke of decent tobacco or a cup of decent coffee in a coon’s age. I’ve forgotten what a square meal tastes like. I weighed myself yesterday. Fifteen pounds lighter than when the strike begun. If it keeps on much more I can fight middleweight. An’ this is what I get after payin’ dues into the union for years and years. I can’t get a square meal, an’ my wife has to make other men’s beds. It makes my tired ache. Some day I’ll get real huffy an’ chuck that lodger out.”
“But it’s not his fault, Billy,” Saxon protested.
“Who said it was?” Billy snapped roughly. “Can’t I kick in general if I want to? Just the same it makes me sick. What’s the good of organized labor if it don’t stand together? For two cents I’d chuck the whole thing up an’ go over to the employers. Only I wouldn’t, God damn them! If they think they can beat us down to our knees, let ‘em go ahead an’ try it, that’s all. But it gets me just the same. The whole world’s clean dippy. They ain’t no sense in anything. What’s the good of supportin’ a union that can’t win a strike? What’s the good of knockin’ the blocks off of scabs when they keep a-comin’ thick as ever? The whole thing’s bughouse, an’ I guess I am, too.”
Such an outburst on Billy’s part was so unusual that it was the only time Saxon knew it to occur. Always he was sullen, and dogged, and unwhipped; while whisky only served to set the maggots of certitude crawling in his brain.
One night Billy did not get home till after twelve. Saxon’s anxiety was increased by the fact that police fighting and head breaking had been reported to have occurred. When Billy came, his appearance verified the report. His coatsleeves were half torn off. The Windsor tie had disappeared from under his soft turned-down collar, and every button had been ripped off the front of the shirt. When he took his hat off, Saxon was frightened by a lump on his head the size of an apple.
“D’ye know who did that? That Dutch slob Hermanmann, with a riot club. An’ I’ll get’m for it some day, good an’ plenty. An’ there’s another fellow I got staked out that’ll be my meat when this strike’s over an’ things is settled down. Blanchard’s his name, Roy Blanchard.”
“Not of Blanchard, Perkins and Company?” Saxon asked, busy washing Billy’s hurt and making her usual fight to keep him calm.
“Yep; except he’s the son of the old man. What’s he do, that ain’t done a tap of work in all his life except to blow the old man’s money? He goes strike-breakin’. Grandstand play, that’s what I call it. Gets his name in the papers an makes all the skirts he runs with fluster up an’ say: ‘My! Some bear, that Roy Blanchard, some bear.’ Some bear—the gazabo! He’ll be bear-meat for me some day. I never itched so hard to lick a man in my life.
“And—oh, I guess I’ll pass that Dutch cop up. He got his already. Somebody broke his head with a lump of coal the size of a water bucket. That was when the wagons was turnin’ into Franklin, just off Eighth, by the old Galindo Hotel. They was hard fightin’ there, an’ some guy in the hotel lams that coal down from the second story window.
“They was fightin’ every block of the way—bricks, cobblestones, an’ police-clubs to beat the band. They don’t dast call out the troops. An’ they was afraid to shoot. Why, we tore holes through the police force, an’ the ambulances and patrol wagons worked over-time. But say, we got the procession blocked at Fourteenth and Broadway, right under the nose of the City Hall, rushed the rear end, cut out the horses of five wagons, an’ handed them college guys a few love-pats in passin’. All that saved ‘em from hospital was the police reserves. Just the same we had ‘em jammed an hour there. You oughta seen the street cars blocked, too—Broadway, Fourteenth, San Pablo, as far as you could see.”
“But what did Blanchard do?” Saxon called him back.
“He led the procession, an’ he drove my team. All the teams was from my stable. He rounded up a lot of them college fellows—fraternity guys, they’re called—yaps that live off their fathers’ money. They come to the stable in big tourin’ cars an’ drove out the wagons with half the police of Oakland to help them. Say, it was sure some day. The sky rained cobblestones. An’ you oughta heard the clubs on our heads—rat-tat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat-tat! An’ say, the chief of police, in a police auto, sittin’ up like God Almighty—just before we got to Peralta street they was a block an’ the police chargin’, an’ an old woman, right from her front gate, lammed the chief of police full in the face with a dead cat. Phew! You could hear it. ‘Arrest that woman!’ he yells, with his handkerchief out. But the boys beat the cops to her an’ got her away. Some day? I guess yes. The receivin’ hospital went outa commission on the jump, an’ the overflow was spilled into St. Mary’s Hospital, an’ Fabiola, an’ I don’t know where else. Eight of our men was pulled, an’ a dozen of the Frisco teamsters that’s come over to help. They’re holy terrors, them Frisco teamsters. It seemed half the workingmen of Oakland was helpin’ us, an’ they must be an army of them in jail. Our lawyers’ll have to take their cases, too.
“But take it from me, it’s the last we’ll see of Roy Blanchard an’ yaps of his kidney buttin’ into our affairs. I guess we showed ‘em some football. You know that brick buildin’ they’re puttin’ up on Bay street? That’s where we loaded up first, an’, say, you couldn’t see the wagon-seats for bricks when they started from the stables. Blanchard drove the first wagon, an’ he was knocked clean off the seat once, but he stayed with it.”
“He must have been brave,” Saxon commented.
“Brave?” Billy flared. “With the police, an’ the army an’ navy behind him? I suppose you’ll be takin’ their part next. Brave? A-takin’ the food outa the mouths of our women an children. Didn’t Curley Jones’s little kid die last night? Mother’s milk not nourishin’, that’s what it was, because she didn’t have the right stuff to eat. An’ I know, an’ you know, a dozen old aunts, an’ sister-in-laws, an’ such, that’s had to hike to the poorhouse because their folks couldn’t take care of ‘em in these times.”
In the morning paper Saxon read the exciting account of the futile attempt to break the teamsters’ strike. Roy Blanchard was hailed a hero and held up as a model of wealthy citizenship. And to save herself she could not help glowing with appreciation of his courage. There was something fine in his going out to face the snarling pack. A brigadier general of the regular army was quoted as lamenting the fact that the troops had not been called out to take the mob by the throat and shake law and order into it. “This is the time for a little healthful bloodletting,” was the conclusion of his remarks, after deploring the pacific methods of the police. “For not until the mob has been thoroughly beaten and cowed will tranquil industrial conditions obtain.”
That evening Saxon and Billy went up town. Returning home and finding nothing to eat, he had taken her on one arm, his overcoat on the other. The overcoat he had pawned at Uncle Sam’s, and he and Saxon had eaten drearily at a Japanese restaurant which in some miraculous way managed to set a semi-satisfying meal for ten cents. After eating, they started on their way to spend an additional five cents each on a moving picture show.
At the Central Bank Building, two striking teamsters accosted Billy and took him away with them. Saxon waited on the corner, and when he returned, three quarters of an hour later, she knew he had been drinking.
Half a block on, passing the Forum Cafe, he stopped suddenly. A limousine stood at the curb, and into it a young man was helping several wonderfully gowned women. A chauffeur sat in the driver’s sent. Billy touched the young man on the arm. He was as broad-shouldered as Billy and slightly taller. Blue-eyed, strong-featured, in Saxon’s opinion he was undeniably handsome.
“Just a word, sport,” Billy said, in a low, slow voice.
The young man glanced quickly at Billy and Saxon, and asked impatiently:
“Well, what is it?”
“You’re Blanchard,” Billy began. “I seen you yesterday lead out that bunch of teams.”
“Didn’t I do it all right?” Blanchard asked gaily, with a flash of glance to Saxon and back again.
“Sure. But that ain’t what I want to talk about.”
“Who are you?” the other demanded with sudden suspicion.
“A striker. It just happens you drove my team, that’s all. No; don’t move for a gun.” (As Blanchard half reached toward his hip pocket.) “I ain’t startin’ anythin’ here. But I just want to tell you something.”
“Be quick, then.”
Blanchard lifted one foot to step into the machine.
“Sure,” Billy went on without any diminution of his exasperating slowness. “What I want to tell you is that I’m after you. Not now, when the strike’s on, but some time later I’m goin’ to get you an’ give you the beatin’ of your life.”
Blanchard looked Billy over with new interest and measuring eyes that sparkled with appreciation.
“You are a husky yourself,” he said. “But do you think you can do it?”
“Sure. You’re my meat.”
“All right, then, my friend. Look me up after the strike is settled, and I’ll give you a chance at me.”
“Remember,” Billy added, “I got you staked out.”
Blanchard nodded, smiled genially to both of them, raised his hat to Saxon, and stepped into the machine.