The Stillwater Tragedy
ON the third morning after Torrini’s expulsion from the yard, Mr. Slocum walked into the studio with a printed slip in his hand. A similar slip lay crumpled under a work-bench, where Richard had tossed it. Mr. Slocum’s kindly visage was full of trouble and perplexity as he raised his eyes from the paper, which he had been re-reading on the way up-stairs.
“ Look at that! ”
“ Yes,” remarked Richard, “ I have been honored with one of those documents.”
“ What does it mean ? ”
“ It means business.”
The paper in question contained a series of resolutions unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Marble Workers Association of Stillwater, held in Grimsey’s Hall the previous night. Dropping the preamble, these resolutions, which were neatly printed with a type-writing machine on a half letter sheet, ran as follows : —
Resolved, That on and after the First of June proximo, the pay of carvers in Slocum’s Marble Yard shall be $2.75 per day, instead of $2.50 as heretofore.
Resolved, That on and after the same date, the rubbers and polishers shall have $2.00 per day, instead of $1.75 as heretofore.
Resolved, That on and after the same date the millmen are to have $2.00 per day, instead of $1.75 as heretofore.
Resolved, That during the months of June, July, and August the shops shall knock off work on Saturdays at five P. M., instead of at six P. M.
Resolved, That a printed copy of these Resolutions be laid before the Proprietor of Slocum’s Marble Yard, and that his immediate attention to them he respectfully requested.
Per order of Committee M. W. A.
“ Torrini is at the bottom of that,” said Mr. Slocum.
“ I hardly think so. This arrangement, as I told you the other day before I had the trouble with him, has been in contemplation several weeks. Undoubtedly Torrini used his influence to hasten the movement already planned. The Association has too much shrewdness to espouse the quarrel of an individual.”
“ What are we to do ? ”
“ If you are in the same mind you were when we talked over the possibility of an unreasonable demand like this, there is only one thing to do.”
“ Fight it?”
“ Fight it.”
“ I have been resolute, and all that sort of thing, in times past,” observed Mr. Slocum, glancing out of the tail of his eye at Richard’s face to see if it denoted any incredulity, “ and have always come off second best. The Association has drawn up most of my rules for me, and had its own way generally.”
Copyright, 1880, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
“ Since my time you have never been in so strong a position to make a stand. We have got all the larger contracts out of the way. Foreseeing what was likely to come, I have lately fought shy of taking new ones. Here are heavy orders from Rafter & Son, the Builders Company and others. We must decline them by to-night’s mail.”
“ Is it really necessary ? ” asked Mr. Slocum, knitting his forehead into what would have been a scowl if his mild pinkish eyebrows had permitted it.
“ I think so.”
“ I hate to do that.”
“ Then we are at the mercy of the Association.”
“ If we do not come to their terms, you seriously believe they will strike?”
“ I do,” replied Richard, “ and we should be in a pretty fix.”
“ But these demands are ridiculous.”
“ The men are not aware of our situation ; they imagine we have a lot of important jobs on hand, as usual at this season. Formerly the foreman of a shop had access to the order-book, but for the last year or two I have kept it in the safe here. The other day Dexter came to me and wanted to see what work was set down ahead in the blotter ; but I had an inspiration and did n’t let him post himself.”
“ Is not some kind of compromise possible ? ” suggested Mr. Slocum, looking over the slip again. “ Now this fourth clause, about closing the yard an hour earlier on Saturdays, I don’t strongly object to that, though with eighty hands it means, every week, eighty hours’ work which the yard pays for and does n’t get.”
“ I should advise granting that request. Such concessions are never thrown away. With that one hour in prospect, the men would do more work on Saturday than on any other day in the week. You would likely enough lose nothing there. But, Mr. Slocum, this is not going to satisfy them. They have thrown in one reasonable demand merely to flavor the rest. I happen to know that they are determined to stand by their programme to the last letter.”
“ You know that ? ”
“ I have a friend at court. Of course this is not to be breathed, but Denyven, without being at all false to his comrades, talks freely with me. He says they are resolved not to give in an inch.”
“ Then we will close the works.”
“ That is what I wanted you to say, sir ! ” cried Richard.
“ There is no other course. The demands are preposterous. No city yard is paying carvers two dollars and seventy-five cents a day, or anything like it. With this new scale of prices and plenty of work, we might probably come out a little ahead the next six months ; but it would n’t pay for the trouble and the capital invested. Then when trade slackened, we should be running at a loss, and there’d be another wrangle over a reduction. No, I can better afford to shut up shop, Richard.”
“ Stick to that, sir, and may be it will not be necessary.”
“ But if they strike ” —
“ They won’t all strike. At least,” added Richard, " I hope not. I have indirectly sounded several of the older hands, and they have half promised to hold on ; only half promised, for every man of them at heart fears the tradesunion more than No-bread — until Nobread comes.”
“ Whom have you spoken with ? ”
“ Lumley, Giles, Peterson, and some others, — your pensioners, I call them.”
“ Yes, they were in the yard in my father’s time; they have not been worth their salt these ten years. When the business was turned over to me I didn’t discharge any old hand who had given his best days to the yard. Somehow I could n’t throw away the squeezed lemons. An employer owes a good workman something beyond the wages paid.”
“ And a workman owes a good employer something beyond the work done. You stood by these men after they outlived their usefulness, and if they do not stand by you now, they ’re a shabby set.”
“ I think they will, Richard.”
“ I think they had better, and I wish they would. We have enough odds and ends to keep them busy awhile, and I should n’t like to have the clinking of chisels die out altogether under the old sheds.”
“ Nor I,” returned Mr. Slocum, with a touch of sadness in his intonation. “ It has grown to be a kind of music to me,” and he paused to listen to the sounds of ringing steel that floated up from the workshops.
“ Whatever happens, that music shall not cease in the yard except on Sundays, if I have to take mallet and chisel and go at a slab all alone.”
“ Slocum’s Yard with a single workman in it would be a pleasing spectacle,” said Mr. Slocum, smiling ruefully.
“ It would n’t be a bad time for that workman to strike,” returned Richard with a laugh.
“ He could dictate his own terms,” returned Mr. Slocum, soberly. “ Well, I suppose you cannot help thinking about Margaret; but don’t think of her now. Tell me what answer you propose to give the Association,—how you mean to put it; for I leave the matter wholly to you. I shall have no hand in it, further than to indorse your action.”
“ To-morrow, then,” said Richard, “for it is no use to hurry up a crisis, I shall go to the workshops and inform them that their request for short hours on Saturdays is granted, but that the other changes they suggest are not to be considered. There will never be a better opportunity, Mr. Slocum, to settle another question which has been allowed to run too long.”
“ What’s that ?”
“ The apprentice question.”
“ Would it be wise to touch on that at present ? ”
“ While we are straightening out matters and putting things on a solid basis, it seems to me essential to settle that. There was never a greater imposition, or one more short-sighted, than this rule which prevents the training of sufficient workmen. The trades-union will discover their error some day when they have succeeded in forcing manufacturers to import skilled labor by the wholesale. I would like to tell the Marble Workers Association that preamblesand-resolutions is a game for two, and that Slocum’s Yard has resolved to employ as many apprentices each year as there is room for.”
“ I would n’t dare risk it! ”
“ It will have to be done, sooner or later. It would be a capital flank movement now. They have laid themselves open to an attack on that quarter.”
“ I might as well close the gates for good and all.”
“ So you will, if it comes to that. You can afford to close the gates, and they can't afford to have you. In a week they’d be back, asking you to open them. Then you could have your pick of the live hands, and drop the deadwood. If Giles or Peterson or Lumley or any of those desert us, they are not to be let on again. I hope you will promise me that, sir.”
“ If the occasion comes, you shall reorganize the shops in your own way. I have n’t the nerve for this kind of business, though I have seen a great deal of it in the village, first and last. Strikes are terrible mistakes. Even when they succeed, what pays for the lost time and the money squandered over the tavernbar ? What makes up for the days or weeks when the fire was out on the hearth and the children had no bread? That is what happens, you know.”
“ There is no remedy for such calamities,” Richard answered. “Yet I can imagine occasions when it would be better to let the fire go out and the children want for bread.”
“ You are not advocating strikes ! ” exclaimed Mr. Slocum.
“ Why not ? ”
“ I thought you were for fighting them.”
“ So I am, in this instance. I have read all the books I could come across on the subject, and I think I am able to look at the question from the inside as well as from the outside. Every man has the right to set a price on his own labor, and to refuse to work for less; the wisdom of it is another matter. He puts himself in the wrong only when he menaces the person or the property of the man who has an equal right not to employ him. That is the blunder strikers usually make in the end, and one by which they lose public sympathy even when they are fighting an injustice. Now, sometimes it is an injustice that is being fought, and then it is right to fight it with the only weapon a poor man has to wield against a power which possesses a hundred weapons, — and that’s a strike. For example, the smelters and casters in the Miantowona Iron Works are meanly underpaid.”
“ What, have they struck ? ”
“ There’s a general strike threatened in the village ; foundry-men, spinners, and all.”
“ So much the worse for everybody ! I did not suppose it was as had as that. What has become of Torrini ? ”
“ He landed on his feet, like a cat. The day after he left us he was taken on as forgeman at Dana’s.”
“ I’m glad Dana has got him ! ”
“ At the meeting, last night, Torrini gave in his resignation as secretary of the Association; being no longer a marble worker, he was not qualified to serve.”
“ We unhorsed him, then ? ”
“ Rather. I am half sorry, too.”
“ Richard,” said Mr. Slocum halting in one of his nervous walks up and down the room, “you are the oddest composition of hardness and softness I ever saw.”
“ Am I? ”
“ One moment you stand braced like a lion to fight the whole yard, and the next moment you are pitying a miscreant who would have laid your bead open without the slightest compunctions.”
“ Oh, I forgive him,” said Richard. “ I was a trifle hasty myself. Margaret thinks so too.”
“ Much Margaret knows about it!”
“ I was inconsiderate, to say the least. When a man picks up a tool by the wrong end he must expect to get cut.”
“ You didn’t have a choice.”
“ I shouldn’t have touched Torrini. After discharging him and finding him disposed to resist my order to leave the yard, I ought to have called in a constable. Usually it is very hard to auger me; but three or four times in my life I have been carried away by a devil of a temper which I could n’t control, it seized me so unawares. That was one of the times.”
The mallets and chisels were executing a blithe staccato movement in the yard below, and making the sparks dance. No one walking among the diligent gangs, and observing the placid faces of the men as they bent over their tasks, would have suspected that they were awaiting the word that meant bread and meat and home to them.
Richard Sliackford was in no eagerness to pronounce the word. Another day’s work would complete the last heavy contract on hand, and it was vital to have that finished. To-morrow he would pronounce it.
As he passed through the shops, dropping a word to a workman here and there, the man addressed looked up cheerfully and made a furtive dab at the brown paper cap, and Richard returned the salute smilingly; hut he was sad within. “ The foolish fellows,” he said to himself, “ they are throwing away a full loaf and are likely to get none at all.” Giles and two or three of the ancients were squaring a block of marble under a shelter by themselves. Richard made it a point to cross over and speak to them. In past days he had not been exacting with these old boys, and they always had a welcome for him.
Slocum’s Yard seldom presented a serener air of contented industry than it wore that morning; but in spite of all this smooth outside it was a foregone conclusion with most of the men that Slocum, with Shackford behind him, would never submit to the new scale of wages. There were a few who had protested against those resolutions and still disapproved of them, but were forced to go with the Association, which had really been dragged into the current by the other trades.
The Dana Mills and the Miantowona Iron Works were paying lighter wages than similar establishments nearer the great city. The managers contended that they were paying as high if not higher rates, taking into consideration the cheaper cost of living in Stillwater. “ But you get city prices for your wares,” retorted the union; “ you don’t pay city rents, and you shall pay city wages.” Meetings were held at Grimsey’s Hall and the subject was canvassed, at first calmly and then stormily. Among the molders, and possibly the sheet-iron workers, there was cause for dissatisfaction; but the dissatisfaction spread to where no grievance existed ; it seized upon the spinners, and finally upon the marble workers. Torrini fanned the flame there. Taking for his text the rentage question, he argued that Slocum was well able to give a trifle more for labor than his city competitors. “ The annual rent of a yard like Slocum’s would be four thousand or five thousand dollars in the city. It does n’t cost Slocum two hundred dollars. It is no more than just that the laborer should have a share — he only asks a beggarly share — of the prosperity which he has helped to build up.” This was specious and taking. Then there came down from the great city a glib person disguised as The Workingman’s Friend, — no workingman himself, mind you, but a ghoul that lives upon subscriptions and sucks the senses out of innocent human beings, — who managed to set the place by the ears. The result of all which was that one May morning every shop, mill, and factory in Stillwater was served with a notice from the trades-union, and a general strike threatened.
But our business at present is exclusively with Slocum’s yard.
“ Since we are in for it,” said Mr. Slocum the next morning, “ put the case to them squarely.”
Mr. Slocum’s vertebras had stiffened over night.
“ Leave that to me, sir,” Richard replied. " I have been shaping out in my mind a little speech which I flatter myself will cover the points. They have brought this thing upon themselves, and we are about to have the clearest of understandings. I never saw the men quieter.”
“ I don’t altogether admire that. It looks as if they had n’t any doubt as to the issue.”
“ The clearest-headed have no doubt; they know as well as you and I do the flimsiness of those resolutions. But the thick heads are in a fog. Every man naturally likes his pay increased; if a simple fellow is told five or six hundred times that his wages ought to be raised, the idea is so agreeable and insidious that by and by he begins to believe himself grossly underpaid, though he may be getting twice what he is worth. He does n’t reason about it; that’s the last thing he ’ll do for you. In this mood he lets himself be blown away by the breath of some loud-mouthed demagogue, who has no interest in the matter beyond hearing his own talk and passing round the hat after the meeting is over. That is what has happened to our folks below. But they are behaving handsomely.”
“ Yes, and I don’t like it.”
Since seven o’clock the most unimpeachable decorum had reigned in the workshops. It was now nine, and this brief dialogue had occurred between Mr. Slocum and Richard on the veranda, just as the latter was on the point of descending into the yard to have his talk with the men.
The workshops — or rather the shed in which the workshops were, for it was one low structure eighteen or twenty feet wide and open on the west side — ran the length of the yard, and with the short extension at the southerly end formed the letter L. There were no partitions, an imaginary line separating the different gangs of workers. A person standing at the head of the building could make himself heard more or less distinctly in the remotest part.
The grating lisp of the wet saws eating their way into the marble bowlder, and the irregular quick taps of the seventy or eighty mallets were not suspended as Richard took his stand beside a tall funereal urn at the head of the principal workshop. After a second’s faltering he rapped smartly on the lip of the urn with the key of his studio-door.
Instantly every arm appeared paralyzed, and the men stood motionless, with the tools in their hands.
Richard began in a clear but not loud voice, though it seemed to ring on the sudden silence : —
“ Mr. Slocum has asked me to say a few words to you, this morning, about those resolutions, and one or two other matters that have occurred to him in this connection. I am no speech-maker ; I never learned that trade ” —
“ Never learned any trade,” muttered Durgin, inaudibly.
— “but I think I can manage some plain, honest talk, for straight-forward men.”
Richard’s exordium was listened to with painful attention.
“ In the first place,” he continued, “ I want to remind you, especially the newer men, that Slocum’s Yard has always given steady work and prompt pay to Stillwater hands. No hand has ever been turned off without sufficient cause, or kept on through mere favoritism. Favors have been shown, but they have been shown to all alike. If anything has gone crooked, it has been straightened out as soon as Mr. Slocum knew of it. That has been the course of the yard in the past, and the Proprietor does n’t want you to run away with the idea that that course is going to be changed. One change, for the time being, is going to be made at your own suggestion. From now, until the 1st of September, this yard will close gates on Saturdays at five p. M. instead of at six P. M.”
Several voices cried, “ Good for Slocum ! ” “ Where ’s Slocum ? ” “ Why don’t Slocum speak for himself ? ” cried one voice.
“ It is Mr. Slocum’s habit,” answered Richard, “ to give his directions to me, I give them to the foremen, and the foremen to the shops. He follows that custom on this occasion. I wish to remind you of another fact. Two years ago trade fell off suddenly. The bad time caught us with a big stock of material. Mr. Slocum thought business would come up again in a few weeks; but it did n’t, nor in a few months either. Every other shop in the village was running on half time, or cutting down its force. Not a man was dropped from Slocum’s Yard. Slocum’s Yard was run at a loss for twelve months and ten days, as I can show you by the books ; but Slocum’s men had their greenbacks every Saturday afternoon at six by the clock. [Applause.] It’s a bad memory that forgets a thing like that. And it’s a precious good memory that can recall the time when Rowland Slocum did not pay the highest price paid anywhere to marble workers. He has always done so, and always expects to ; but he does n’t expect to do more. With regard to the new scale of wages which the Association has submitted to him, he refuses to accept it, or any modification of it.”
A low murmur ran through the workshops.
“ What’s a modificashun, sir ? ” asked Jemmy Willson, stepping forward, and scratching his left ear ditfidently.
“ A modification,” replied Richard, considerably embarrassed to give an instant definition, “ is a — a ” —
“ A splitting of the difference, by —! ” shouted somebody in the third shop.
“ Thank you,” said Richard, glancing in the direction of his impromptu Webster Unabridged. “ Mr. Slocum does not propose to split the difference. The wages in every department are to be just what they are, — neither more nor less. If anybody wishes to make a remark,” he added, observing a restlessness in several of the men, “I beg he will hold on until I get through. I shall not detain you much longer, as the parson says before he has reached the middle of his sermon.
“ What I say now, I was charged to make particularly clear to you. It is this : In future Mr. Slocum intends to run Slocum’s Yard himself. Neither you, nor I, nor the Association is to run it for him. [Sensation.] Until now the Association has tied him down to two apprentices a year. From this hour, out, Mr. Slocum will take on, not two, or twenty, but two hundred apprentices if the business warrants it.”
The words were not clearly off Richard’s lips when the foreman of the shop in which he was speaking picked up a couple of small drills, and knocked them together with a sharp click. In an instant the men laid aside their aprons, bundled up their tools, and marched out of the shed two by two, in dead silence. That same click was repeated almost simultaneously in the second shop, and the same evolution took place. Then click, click, click! went the drills, sounding fainter and fainter in the more distant departments ; and in less than three minutes there was not a soul left in Slocum’s Yard except the Orator of the Day.
Richard had anticipated some demonstration, either noisy or violent, perhaps both ; but this solemn, orderly desertion dashed him.
He stepped into the middle of the yard, and, glancing up, beheld Margaret and Mr. Slocum standing on the veranda. Even at that distance he could perceive the pallor on one face, and the consternation written all over the other.
Hanging his head with sadness, Richard crossed the yard, which gave out mournful echoes to his footfalls, and swung to the large gate, nearly catching old Giles by the heel as he did so. Looking through the slats, he saw Lumley and Peterson hobbling arm in arm down the street, — after more than twenty-five years of kindly treatment.
“ Move number one,” said Richard, lifting the heavy cross-piece into its place and fastening it with a wooden pin. “Now I must go and prop up Mr. Slocum.”
There is no solitude or silence which comes so near being tangible as that of a vast empty workshop, crowded a moment since. The busy, intense life that has gone from it mysteriously leaves behind enough of itself to make the stillness poignant. One might imagine the invisible ghost of doomed Toil wandering from bench to bench, and noiselessly fingering the dropped tools, still warm with the workman’s palm. Perhaps this impalpable presence is the artisan’s anxious thought, stolen back to brood over the uncompleted task.
Though Mr. Slocum had spoken lightly of Slocum’s Yard with only one workman in it, when he came to contemplate the actual fact he was struck by the pathos of it, and the resolution with which he awoke that morning began to desert him.
“ The worst is over,” exclaimed Richard, joining his two friends on the veranda, “ and everything went smoother than I expected.”
“ Everything went, sure enough,” said Mr. Slocum, gloomily ; “ they all went, — old Giles, and Lumley, and everybody.”
“ We somewhat expected that, you know.”
“ Yes, I expected it, and was n’t prepared for it.”
“ It was very bad,” said Richard, shaking his head.
The desertion of Giles and his superannuated mates especially touched Mr. Slocum.
“ Bad is no word ; it was damnable.”
“ Oh, papa! ”
“ Pardon me, dear; I couldn’t help it. When a man’s pensioners throw him over, he must be pretty far gone ! ”
“ The undertow was too strong for them, sir, and they were swept away with the rest. And they all but promised to stay. They will be the very first to come back.”
“ Of course we shall have to take the old fellow’s on again,” said Mr. Slocum, relenting characteristically.
“ Never ! ” cried Richard.
“ I wish I had some of your grit.”
“ I have none to spare, sir. To tell the truth, when I stood up there to speak, with every eye working on me, like a half-inch drill, I would have sold myself at a low figure.”
“ But you were a perfect what ’s-hisname, — Demosthenes,” said Mr. Slocum, with a thin, faint smile. “We could hear you.”
“ I don’t believe Demosthenes ever moved an audience as I did mine!” cried Richard gayly. “ If his orations produced a like effect, I am certain that the Grecian lecture-bureau never sent him twice to the same place.”
“ I don’t think, Richard, I would engage you over again.”
“ I am sure Richard spoke very well,” interrupted Margaret. “ His speech was short”—
“ Say shortened, Margaret, for I had n’t got through when they left.”
“ No, I will not jest about it. It is too serious for jesting. What is to become of the families of all these men suddenly thrown out of employment ? ”
“ They threw themselves out, Mag,” said her father.
“ That does not mend the matter, papa. There will be great destitution and suffering in the village with every mill closed ; and they are all going to close, Bridget says. Thank Heaven that this did not happen in the winter ! ”
“ They always pick their weather,” observed Mr. Slocum.
“ It will not be for long,” said Richard encouragingly. “ Our own hands and the spinners, who had no ground for complaint, will return to work shortly, and the managers of the iron mills will have to yield a point or two. In a week at the outside everything will be running smoothly, and on a sounder foundation than before. I believe the strike will be an actual benefit to everybody in the end.”
By dint of such arguments and his own sanguine temperament Richard succeeded in reassuring Mr. Slocum for the time being, though Richard did not hide from himself the gravity of the situation. There was a general strike in the village. Eight hundred men were without work. That meant, or would mean in a few days, two or three thousand women and children without bread. It does not take the wolf long to reach a poor man’s door when it is left ajar.
The trades-union had a fund for emergencies of this sort, and some outside aid might be looked for ; but such supplies are in their nature precarious and soon exhausted. It is a noticeable feature of strikes that the moment the workman’s pay stops his living expenses increase. Even the more economical becomes improvident. If he has money, the tobacco shop and the tavern are likely to get more of it than the butcher’s cart. The prolonged strain is too great to be endured without stimulant.
During the first and second days of the strike, Stillwater presented an animated and even a festive appearance. Throngs of operatives in their Sunday clothes strolled through the streets, or lounged at the corners chatting with other groups ; some wandered into the suburbs, and lay in the long grass under the elms. Others again, though these were few, took to the turnpike or the railroad track, and tramped across country.
It is needless to say that the bar-room of the tavern was crowded from early morning down to the hour when the law compelled Mr. Snelling to shut off his gas. After which, John Brown’s “ soul ” could be heard “ marching on ” in the darkness, through various crooked laues and alleys, until nearly daybreak.
Among the earliest to scent trouble in the air was Han-Lin, the Chinaman before mentioned. He kept a small laundry in Mud Lane, where his name was painted perpendicularly on a light of glass in the basement window of a tenement house. Han-Lin intended to be buried some day in a sky-blue coffin in his own land, and have a dozen packs of fire-crackers decorously exploded over his remains. In order to reserve himself for this and other ceremonies involving the burning of a great quantity of gilt paper, he quietly departed for Boston at the first sign of popular discontent. As Dexter described it, “ Han-Lin coiled up his pig-tail, put forty grains of rice in a yallar bag, — enough to last him a month ! — and toddled off in his twostory wooden shoes.” He could scarcely have done a wiser thing, for poor Han-Lin’s laundry was turned wrong side out within thirty-six hours afterwards.
The strike was popular. The spirit of it spread, as fire and fever and all elemental forces spread. The two apprentices in Brackett’s bakery had a dozen minds about striking that first morning. The younger lad, Joe Wiggin, plucked up courage to ask Brackett for a day off, and was lucky enough to dodge a piece of dough weighing nearly four pounds.
Brackett was making bread while the sun shone. He knew that before the week was over there would be no cash customers, and he purposed then to shut up shop.
On the third and fourth days there was no perceptible fall in the barometer. Trade was brisk with Snelling, and a brass band was playing national airs on a staging erected on the green in front of the post-office. Nightly meetings took place at Grimsey’s Hall, and the audiences were good-humored and orderly. Torrini advanced some Utopian theories touching a universal distribution of wealth, which were listened to attentively, but failed to produce deep impression.
“ That’s a healthy idea of Torrini’s about dervidin’ up property,” said Jemmy Willson. “ I’ve heerd it afore ; but it’s sing’ler I never knowd a feller with any property to have that idea.”
“ Ther’ ’s a great dale in it, I can tell ye,” replied Michael Hennessey, with a well-blackened Woodstock pipe between his teeth and his hands tucked under his coat-tails. “ Is n’t ther’, Misther Stavens ? ”
When Michael had on his bottle-green swallow-tailed coat with the brass buttons, he invariably assumed a certain lofty air of ceremony in addressing his companions.
“ It is sorter pleasant to look at,” returned Stevens, “ but it don’t seem to me an idea that would work. Suppose that, after all the property was divided, a fresh ship-load of your friends was to land at New York or Boston; would there be a new deal ? ”
“ No, sur ! by no manes ! ” exclaimed Michael excitedly. “ The furreners is counted out! ”
“ But you ’re a foreigner yourself, Mike.”
“Am I, then? Bedad, I’m not! I’m a rale American Know Nothing.”
“ Well, Mike,” said Stevens maliciously, “ when it comes to a reg’lar division of lands and greenbacks in the United States, I go in for the Chinese having their share.”
“ The Chinase ! ” shouted Michael. “ Oh. murther, Misther Stavens ! Ye would n’t be fur dividin’ with thim blatherskites ! ”
“ Yes, with them, — as well as the rest,” returned Stevens dryly.
Meanwhile the directors and stockholders of the various mills took counsel in a room at the rear of the National Bank. Mr. Slocum, following Richard’s advice, declined to attend the meeting in person, or to allow his name to figure on the list of vice-presidents.
“ Why should we hitch our good cause to their doubtful one ? ” argued Richard. “ We have no concessions or proposals to make. When our men are ready to come back to us, they will receive just wages and fair treatment. They know that. We do not want to fight the molders. Let the iron-mills do their own fighting ; ” and Richard stolidly employed himself in taking an account of stock, and forwarding by express to their destination the ten or twelve carved mantel-pieces that happily completed the last contract.
Then his responsibilities shrunk to winding up the office clock and keeping Mr. Slocum firmly on his legs. The latter was by far the more onerous duty, for Mr. Slocum ran down two or three times in the course of every twentyfour hours, while the clock once wound was fixed for the day.
“If I could only have a good set of Waltham works put into your father,” said Richard to Margaret, after one of Mr. Slocum’s relapses, “ he would go better.”
“ Poor papa! he is not a fighter, like you.”
“ Your father is what I call a belligerent non-combatant.”
Richard was seeing a great deal of Margaret these days. Mr. Slocum had invited him to sleep in the studio until the excitement was past. Margaret was afraid to have him take that long walk between the yard and his lodgings in Lime Street, and then her father was an old man to be without any protection in the house in such untoward times.
So Richard slept in the studio, and had his plate at table, like one of the family. This arrangement was favorable to many a stolen five minutes with Margaret, in the hall or on the staircase. In these fortuitous moments he breathed an atmosphere that sustained him in his task of dispelling Mr. Slocum’s recurrent fits of despondency. Margaret had her duties, too, at this period, and the forenoons were sacred to them.
One morning as she passed down the street with a small wicker basket on her arm, Richard said to Mr. Slocum, —
“ Margaret has joined the strikers.”
The time had already come to Stillwater when many a sharp-faced little urchin — as dear to the warm, deep bosom that had nursed it as though it were a crown prince — would not have had a crust to gnaw if Margaret Slocum had not joined the strikers. Sometimes her heart drooped on the way home from these errands, upon seeing how little of the misery she could ward off. On her rounds there was one cottage in a squalid lane where the children asked for bread in Italian. She never omitted to halt at that door.
“ Is it quite prudent for Margaret to be going about so ? ” queried Mr. Slocum.
“ She is perfectly safe,” said Richard, — “ as safe as a Sister of Charity, which she is.”
Indeed, Margaret might then have gone loaded with diamonds through the streets at midnight. There was not a rough man in Stillwater who would not have reached forth an arm to shield her.
“ It is costing me nearly as much as it would to run the yard,” said Mr. Slocum, “ but I never put out any stamps more willingly.”
“ You never took a better contract, sir, than when you agreed to keep Margaret’s basket filled. It is an investment in real estate — hereafter.”
“ I hope so,” answered Mr. Slocum, “ and I know it’s a good thing now.”
Of the morals of Stillwater at this time, or at any time, the less said the better. But out of the slime and ooze below sprang the white flower of charity.
The fifth day fell on a Sabbath, and the churches were crowded. The Rev. Arthur Langly selected his text from S. Matthew, chap. xxii. v. 21 : “Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s.” But as he did not make it quite plain which was Cæsar, — the trades-union or the Miantowona Iron Works, — the sermon went for nothing, unless it could be regarded as a hint to those persons who had stolen a large piece of belting from the Dana Mills. On the other hand, Father O'Meara that morning bravely told his children to conduct themselves in an orderly manner while they were out of work, or they would catch it in this world and in the next.
On the sixth day a keen observer might have detected a change in the atmosphere. The streets were thronged as usual, and the idlers still wore their Sunday clothes, but the holiday buoyancy of the earlier part of the week had evaporated. A turn-out on the part of one of the trades, though it was accompanied by music and a banner with a lively inscription, failed to arouse general enthusiasm. A serious and even a sullen face was not rare among the crowds that wandered aimlessly up and down the village.
On the seventh day it required no penetration to see the change. There was decidedly less good-natured chaffing and more drunkenness, though Snelling had invoked popular contumely and decimated his bar-room by refusing to trust for drinks. Brackett had let his ovens cool, and his shutters were up. The treasury of the trades - union was nearly drained, and there were growlings that too much had been fooled away on banners and a brass band for the iron men’s parade the previous forenoon. It was when Brackett’s eye sighted the banner with “ Bread or Blood,” on it that he had put up his shutters.
Torrini was now making violent harangues at Grimsey’s Hall to largely augmented listeners, whom his words irritated without convincing. Shut off from the tavern, the men flocked to hear him and the other speakers, for born orators were just then as thick as unripe whortleberries. There was nowhere else to go. At home were reproaches that maddened, and darkness, for the kerosene had given out.
Though all the trades had been swept into the movement, it is not to be understood that every workman was losing his head. There were men who owned their cottages and had small sums laid by in the savings-bank; who had always sent their children to the district school, and listened themselves to at least one of Mr. Langly’s sermons or one of Father O’Meara’s discourses every Sunday. These were anchored to good order; they neither frequented the bar-room nor attended the conclaves at Grimsey’s Hall, but deplored as deeply as any one the spirit that was manifesting itself. They would have returned to work now — if they had dared. To this class belonged Stevens.
“ Why don’t you come up to the hall, nights?” asked Durgin, accosting him on the street, one afternoon. “ You’d run a chance of hearing me hold forth some of these evenings.”
“ You’ve answered your own question, William. I should n’t like to see you making an idiot of yourself.”
“ This is a square fight between labor and capital,” returned Durgin with dignity, “ and every man ought to take a hand in it.”
“ William,” said Stevens meditatively, “ do you know about the Siamese twins ? ”
“ What about ’em, — they ’re dead, ain’t they ? ” replied Durgin, with surprise.
I believe so; but when they was alive, if you was to pinch one of those fellows, the other fellow would sing out. If you was to black the eye of the lefthand chap, the right-hand chap would n’t have been able to see for a week. When either of ’em fetched the other a clip, he knocked himself down. Labor and capital is jiued just as those two was. When you’ve got this fact well into your skull, William, I shall be pleased to listen to your ideas at Grimsey’s Hall or anywhere else.”
Such conservatism as Stevens’s, however, was necessarily swept out of sight for the moment. The wealthier citizens were in a state bordering on panic, — all but Mr. Lemuel Shackford. In his flapping linen duster, for the weather was very sultry now, Mr. Shackford was seen darting excitedly from street to street and hovering about the feverish crowds, like the stormy petrel wheeling on the edges of a gale. Usually as chary of his sympathies as of his gold, he astonished every one by evincing an abnormal interest in the strikers. The old man declined to put down anything on the subscription paper then circulating ; but he put down his sympathies to any amount. He held no stock in the concerns involved; he hated Slocum, and he hated the directors of the Miantowona Iron Works. The least he hoped was that Rowland Slocum would be laid out.
So far the strikers had committed no overt act of note, unless it was the demolition of Han-Lin’s laundry. Stubbs, the provision dealer, had been taught the rashness of exposing samples of potatoes in his door-way, and the “ Tonsorial Emporium” of Professor Brown, a colored citizen, had been invaded by two humorists, who, after having their hair curled, refused to pay for it, and the professor had been too agitated to insist. The story transpiring, tea or twelve of the boys had dropped in during the morning, and got shaved on the same terms. “ By golly, gen’l’men ! ” expostulated the professor, “ ef dis yah thing goes on, dis darkey will be cleaned cl'ar out fo de week ’s done.” No act of real violence had been perpetrated as yet; but with bands of lawless men roaming over the village at all hours of the day and night, the situation was critical.
The wheel of what small social life there was in Stillwater had ceased to revolve. With the single exception of Lemuel Shackford, the more respectable inhabitants kept in-doors as much as practicable. From the first neither Mr. Craggie nor Lawyer Perkins had gone to the hotel to consult the papers in the reading-room, and Mr. Pinkham did not dare to play on his flute of an evening. The Rev. Arthur Langly found it politic to do but little visiting in the parish. His was not the pinion to buffet with a wind like this, and indeed he was not explicitly called upon to do so. He sat sorrowfully in his study day by day, preparing the weekly sermon, — a gentle, pensive person, inclined in the best of weather to melancholia. If Mr. Langly had gone into arboriculture instead of into the ministry, he would have planted nothing but weeping-willows.
In the mean time the mill directors continued their deliberations in the bank building, and had made several abortive attempts to effect an arrangement with the leaders of the union. This seemed every hour less possible and more necessary.
On the afternoon of the seventh day of the strike a crowd gathered in front of the residence of Mr. Alexander, the superintendent of the Miantowona Iron Works, and began groaning and hooting. Mr. Alexander sought out Mr. Craggie, and urged him, as a man of local weight and one accustomed to addressing the populace, to speak a few words to the mob. That was setting Mr. Craggie on the horns of a cruel dilemma, He was afraid to disoblige the representative of so powerful a corporation as the Miantowona Iron Works, but he equally dreaded to risk his popularity with seven or eight hundred voters ; so, like the crafty chancellor in Tennyson’s poem, he dallied with his golden chain, and, smiling, put the question by.
“ Drat the man ! ” muttered Mr. Craggie, “ does he want to blast my whole political career ! I can’t pitch into our adopted countrymen.”
There was a blot on the escutcheon of Mr. Craggie which he was very anxious not to have uncovered by any chance in these latter days, — his ancient affiliation with the deceased native American party.
The mob dispersed without doing damage, but the fact that it had collected and had shown an ugly temper sent a thrill of aprehension through the village. Mr. Slocum came in a great flurry to Richard.
“ This thing ought to be stopped,” said Mr. Slocum.
“ I agree to that,” replied Richard, bracing himself not to agree to anything else.
“ If we were to drop that stipulation as to the increase of apprentices, no doubt many of the men would give over insisting on an advance.”
“ Our only salvation is to stick to our right to train as many workmen as we choose. The question of wages is of no account compared with that; the rate of wages will adjust itself.”
“ If we could manage it somehow with the marble workers,” suggested Mr. Slocum, “ that would demoralize the other trades, and they’d be obliged to fall in.”
“ I don’t see that they lack demoralization.”
“ If something is n’t done, they ’ll end by knocking in our front doors or burning us all up.”
“ Let them.”
“ It’s very well to say let them,” exclaimed Mr. Slocum, petulantly, “ when you have n’t any front door to be knocked in ! ”
“ But I have you and Margaret to consider, if there were actual danger. When anything like violence threatens, there’s an honest shoulder for every one of the hundred and fifty muskets in the armory.”
“ Those muskets might get on the wrong shoulders.”
“ That is n’t likely. You do not seem to know, sir, that there is a strong guard at the armory day and night.”
“ I was not aware of that.”
“ It is a fact all the same,” said Richard ; and Mr. Slocum went away easier in his mind, and remained so — two or three hours.
On the eighth, ninth, and tenth day the clouds lay very black along the borizon. The marble workers, who began to see their mistake, were reproaching the foundry men with enticing them into the coalition, and the spinners were hot in their denunciations of the molders. Ancient personal antagonisms that had been slumbering started to their feet. Torrini fell out of favor, and in the midst of one of his finest perorations uncomplimentary missiles, selected from the animal kingdom, had been thrown at him. The grand torchlight procession on the night of the ninth culminated in a disturbance, in which many men got injured, several badly, and the windows of Brackett’s bakery were stove in. A point of light had pierced the darkness, — the trades were quarreling among themselves!
The selectmen had sworn in special constables among the citizens, and some of the more retired streets were now patrolled after dark, for there had been threats of incendiarism.
Bishop’s stables burst into flames one midnight, — whether fired intentionally or accidentally was not known ; but the giant bellows at Dana’s Mills was slit and two belts were cut at the Miantowona Iron Works that same night.
At this juncture a report that out-oftown hands were coming to replace the strikers acted on the public mind like petroleum on fire. A large body of workmen assembled near the railway station,— to welcome them. There was another rumor which caused the marble workers to stare at each other aghast. It was to the effect that Mr. Slocum, having long meditated retiring from business, had now decided to do so, and was consulting with Wyndham, the keeper of the green-house, about removing the division wall and turning the marble yard into a peach garden. This was an unlooked-for solution of the difficulty. Stillwater without any Slocum’s Marble Yard was chaos come again.
“ Good Lord, boys ! ” cried Piggott, “ if Slocum should do that! ”
Meanwhile, Snelling’s bar had been suppressed by the authorities, and a posse of policemen, borrowed from South Millville, occupied the premises. Knots of beetle-browed men, no longer in holiday gear, but chiefly in their shirt-sleeves, collected from time to time at the head of the main street, and glowered threateningly at the single policeman pacing the porch of the tavern. The Stillwater Grays were under arms in the armory over Dundon’s drug-store. The thoroughfares had ceased to be safe for any one, and Margaret’s merciful errands were necessarily brought to an end. How the poor creatures who had depended on her bounty now continued to exist was a sorrowful problem.
Matters were at this point, when on the morning of the thirteenth day Richard noticed the cadaverous face of a man peering into the yard through the slats of the main gate. Richard sauntered down there, with his hands in his pockets. The man was old Giles, and with him stood Lumley and Peterson, gazing thoughtfully at the sign outside, —
NO ADMITTANCE EXCEPT ON BUSINESS.
The roughly lettered clapboard, which they had heedlessly passed a thousand times, seemed to have taken a novel significance to them.
Richard. What’s wanted there ?
Giles. [ Very affably.] We was lookin’ round for a job, Mr. Shackford.
Richard. We are not taking on any hands at present.
Giles. Did n’t know but you was. Somebody said you was.
Richard. Somebody is mistaken.
Giles. P’rhaps to-morrer, or nex’ day?
Richard. Rather doubtful, Giles.
Giles. [ Uneasily.] Mr. Slocum ain’t goin’ to give up business, is he ?
Richard. Why should n’t he, if it does n’t pay ? The business is carried on for his amusement and profit; when the profit stops it won’t be amusing any longer. Mr. Slocum is not going to run the yard for the sake of the Marble Workers Association. He would rather drive a junk-cart. He might be allowed to steer that himself.
Richard. Good-morning, Giles.
Giles. ’Mornin’, Mr. Shackford.
Richard rushed back to Mr. Slocum.
“ The strike is broken, sir ! ”
“ What do you mean? ”
“ The thing has collapsed! The tide is turning, and has washed in a lot of dead wood! ”
“ Thank God ! ” cried Mr. Slocum.
An hour or so later a deputation of four, consisting of Stevens, Denyven, Durgin, and Piggott, waited upon Mr. Slocum in his private office, and offered, on behalf of all the departments, to resume work at the old rates.
Mr. Slocum replied that he had not objected to the old rates, but the new, and that he accepted their offer — conditionally.
“You have overlooked one point, Mr. Stevens.”
“ What one, sir ? ”
“ The apprentices.”
“ We thought you might not insist there, sir.”
“ I insist on conducting my own business in my own way.”
The voice was the voice of Slocum, but the backbone was Richard’s.
“ Then, sir, the Association don’t object to a reasonable number of apprentices.”
“ How many is that ? ”
“ As many as you want, I expect, sir,” said Stevens, shuffling his feet.
“Very well, Stevens. Go round to the front gate and Mr. Shackford will let you in.”
There were two doors to the office, one leading into the yard, and the other, by which the deputation had entered and was now making its exit, opened upon the street.
Richard heaved a vast sigh of relief as he took down the beam securing the principal entrance.
“ Good-morning, boys,” he chirped, with a smile as bright as newly minted gold. " I hope you enjoyed yourselves.”
The quartet ducked their heads bashfully, and Stevens replied, “ ’Can’t speak for the others, Mr, Shackford, but I never enjoyed myself worse.”
Piggott lingered a moment behind the rest, and looking back over his shoulder said, “ That peach garden was what fetched us! ”
Richard gave a loud laugh, for the peach garden had been a horticultural invention of his own.
In the course of the forenoon the majority of the hands presented themselves at the office, dropping into the yard in gangs of five or six-, and nearly all were taken on. To dispose definitely of Lurnley, Giles, and Peterson, they were not taken on at Slocum’s Yard, though they continued to be, directly or indirectly, Slocum’s pensioners, even after they were retired to the town farm.
Once more the chisels sounded merrily under the long shed. That same morning the spinners went back to the mules, but the molders held out until night-fall, when it was signified to them that their demands would be complied with.
The next day the steam whistles of the Miantowona Iron Works and Dana’s Mills sent the echoes flying beyond that undulating line of pines and hemlocks which half encircles Stillwater, and falls away loosely on either side, like an unclasped girdle.
A calm, as if from out the cloudless blue sky that arched it day after day, seemed to drift down upon the village. Han-Lin, with no more facial expression than an orange, suddenly reappeared on the streets, and went about repairing his laundry, unmolested. The children were playing in the sunny lanes again, unafraid, and mothers sat on doorsteps in the summer twilights, singing softly to the baby in arm. There was meat on the table, and the tea-kettle bummed comfortably at the back of the stove. The very winds that rustled through the fragrant pines, and wandered fitfully across the vivid green of the salt marshes, breathed peace and repose.
Then, one morning, this blissful tranquillity was rudely shattered. Old Mr. Lemuel Shackford had been found murdered in his own house in Welch’s Court.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich.