Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 17

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 lanes 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 firecrackers 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 two-story 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. "Isn'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 shipload of your friends was to land at New York or Boston; would there be a new deal?"

"No, sir! by no means!" 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 Chinese!" shouted Michael. "Oh, murther, Misther Stevens! Ye wouldn'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?" reflected 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 twenty-four 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 carry on 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 St. Matthew, chap. xxii, v. 21: "Render therefore unto Csar the things which are Csar's." But as he did not make it quite plain which was Csar,--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. Bracket 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 shouldn'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 left-hand chap, the right-hand chap wouldn'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 jined 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, ten 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, but 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 apprehension 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 isn't done, they'll end up 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 haven'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 isn'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 days the clouds lay very black along the horizon. The marble workers, who began to see their mistake, were reproaching the foundry men with enticing them into to 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-of-town 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 drugstore. The thoroughfare 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,--


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. Didn't know but you was. Somebody said you was.

Richard. Somebody is mistaken.

Giles. P'rhaps to-morrow, or nex' day?

Richard. Rather doubtful, Giles.

Giles. [Uneasily.] Mr. Slocum ain't goin' to give up business, is he?

Richard. Why shouldn't he, if it doesn'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.

Giles. Oh!

Richard. Good-morning, Giles.

Gikles. '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."

"Which 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 Lumley, 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 nightfall, when it was signified to them that they 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 hummed 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 tranquility was rudely shattered. Old Mr. Lemuel Shackford had been found murdered in his own house in Welch's Court.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Sorry, no summary available yet.