THE DWELLING - PLACE OF LIGHT
By WINSTON CHURCHILL
In this modern industrial civilization of which we are sometimes wont to boast, a certain glacier-like process may be observed. The bewildered, the helpless—and there are many—are torn from the parent rock, crushed, rolled smooth, and left stranded in strange places. Thus was Edward Bumpus severed and rolled from the ancestral ledge, from the firm granite of seemingly stable and lasting things, into shifting shale; surrounded by fragments of cliffs from distant lands he had never seen. Thus, at five and fifty, he found himself gate-keeper of the leviathan Chippering Mill in the city of Hampton.
That the polyglot, smoky settlement sprawling on both sides of an historic river should be a part of his native New England seemed at times to be a hideous dream; nor could he comprehend what had happened to him, and to the world of order and standards and religious sanctions into which he had been born. His had been a life of relinquishments. For a long time he had clung to the institution he had been taught to believe was the rock of ages, the Congregational Church, finally to abandon it; even that assuming a form fantastic and unreal, as embodied in the edifice three blocks distant from Fillmore Street which he had attended for a brief time, some ten years before, after his arrival in Hampton. The building, indeed, was symbolic of a decadent and bewildered Puritanism in its pathetic attempt to keep abreast with the age, to compromise with anarchy, merely achieving a nondescript medley of rounded, knob-like towers covered with mulberry-stained shingles. And the minister was sensational and dramatic. He looked like an actor, he aroused in Edward Bumpus an inherent prejudice that condemned the stage. Half a block from this tabernacle stood a Roman Catholic Church, prosperous, brazen, serene, flaunting an eternal permanence amidst the chaos which had succeeded permanence!
There were, to be sure, other Protestant churches where Edward Bumpus and his wife might have gone. One in particular, which he passed on his way to the mill, with its terraced steeple and classic facade, preserved all the outward semblance of the old Order that once had seemed so enduring and secure. He hesitated to join the decorous and dwindling congregation,—the remains of a social stratum from which he had been pried loose; and—more irony—this street, called Warren, of arching elms and white-gabled houses, was now the abiding place of those prosperous Irish who had moved thither from the tenements and ruled the city.
On just such a street in the once thriving New England village of Dolton had Edward been born. In Dolton Bumpus was once a name of names, rooted there since the seventeenth century, and if you had cared to listen he would have told you, in a dialect precise but colloquial, the history of a family that by right of priority and service should have been destined to inherit the land, but whose descendants were preserved to see it delivered to the alien. The God of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards had been tried in the balance and found wanting. Edward could never understand this; or why the Universe, so long static and immutable, had suddenly begun to move. He had always been prudent, but in spite of youthful "advantages," of an education, so called, from a sectarian college on a hill, he had never been taught that, while prudence may prosper in a static world, it is a futile virtue in a dynamic one. Experience even had been powerless to impress this upon him. For more than twenty years after leaving college he had clung to a clerkship in a Dolton mercantile establishment before he felt justified in marrying Hannah, the daughter of Elmer Wench, when the mercantile establishment amalgamated with a rival—and Edward's services were no longer required. During the succession of precarious places with decreasing salaries he had subsequently held a terrified sense of economic pressure had gradually crept over him, presently growing strong enough, after two girls had arrived, to compel the abridgment of the family ....It would be painful to record in detail the cracking-off process, the slipping into shale, the rolling, the ending up in Hampton, where Edward had now for some dozen years been keeper of one of the gates in the frowning brick wall bordering the canal,—a position obtained for him by a compassionate but not too prudent childhood friend who had risen in life and knew the agent of the Chippering Mill, Mr. Claude Ditmar. Thus had virtue failed to hold its own.
One might have thought in all these years he had sat within the gates staring at the brick row of the company's boarding houses on the opposite bank of the canal that reflection might have brought a certain degree of enlightenment. It was not so. The fog of Edward's bewilderment never cleared, and the unformed question was ever clamouring for an answer—how had it happened? Job's cry. How had it happened to an honest and virtuous man, the days of whose forebears had been long in the land which the Lord their God had given them? Inherently American, though lacking the saving quality of push that had been the making of men like Ditmar, he never ceased to regard with resentment and distrust the hordes of foreigners trooping between the pillars, though he refrained from expressing these sentiments in public; a bent, broad shouldered, silent man of that unmistakable physiognomy which, in the seventeenth century, almost wholly deserted the old England for the new. The ancestral features were there, the lips—covered by a grizzled moustache moulded for the precise formation that emphasizes such syllables as el, the hooked nose and sallow cheeks, the grizzled brows and grey eyes drawn down at the corners. But for all its ancestral strength of feature, it was a face from which will had been extracted, and lacked the fire and fanaticism, the indomitable hardness it should have proclaimed, and which have been so characteristically embodied in Mr. St. Gaudens's statue of the Puritan. His clothes were slightly shabby, but always neat.
Little as one might have guessed it, however, what may be called a certain transmuted enthusiasm was alive in him. He had a hobby almost amounting to an obsession, not uncommon amongst Americans who have slipped downward in the social scale. It was the Bumpus Family in America. He collected documents about his ancestors and relations, he wrote letters with a fine, painful penmanship on a ruled block he bought at Hartshorne's drug store to distant Bumpuses in Kansas and Illinois and Michigan, common descendants of Ebenezer, the original immigrant, of Dolton. Many of these western kinsmen answered: not so the magisterial Bumpus who lived in Boston on the water side of Beacon, whom likewise he had ventured to address,—to the indignation and disgust of his elder daughter, Janet.
"Why are you so proud of Ebenezer?" she demanded once, scornfully.
"Why? Aren't we descended from him?"
"How many generations?"
"Seven," said Edward, promptly, emphasizing the last syllable.
Janet was quick at figures. She made a mental calculation.
"Well, you've got one hundred and twenty-seven other ancestors of Ebenezer's time, haven't you?"
Edward was a little surprised. He had never thought of this, but his ardour for Ebenezer remained undampened. Genealogy—his own—had become his religion, and instead of going to church he spent his Sunday mornings poring over papers of various degrees of discolouration, making careful notes on the ruled block.
This consciousness of his descent from good American stock that had somehow been deprived of its heritage, while a grievance to him, was also a comfort. It had a compensating side, in spite of the lack of sympathy of his daughters and his wife. Hannah Bumpus took the situation more grimly: she was a logical projection in a new environment of the religious fatalism of ancestors whose God was a God of vengeance. She did not concern herself as to what all this vengeance was about; life was a trap into which all mortals walked sooner or later, and her particular trap had a treadmill,—a round of household duties she kept whirling with an energy that might have made their fortunes if she had been the head of the family. It is bad to be a fatalist unless one has an incontrovertible belief in one's destiny,—which Hannah had not. But she kept the little flat with its worn furniture,—which had known so many journeys—as clean as a merchant ship of old Salem, and when it was scoured and dusted to her satisfaction she would sally forth to Bonnaccossi's grocery and provision store on the corner to do her bargaining in competition with the Italian housewives of the neighborhood. She was wont, indeed, to pause outside for a moment, her quick eye encompassing the coloured prints of red and yellow jellies cast in rounded moulds, decked with slices of orange, the gaudy boxes of cereals and buckwheat flour, the "Brookfield" eggs in packages. Significant, this modern package system, of an era of flats with little storage space. She took in at a glance the blue lettered placard announcing the current price of butterine, and walked around to the other side of the store, on Holmes Street, where the beef and bacon hung, where the sidewalk stands were filled, in the autumn, with cranberries, apples, cabbages, and spinach.
With little outer complaint she had adapted herself to the constantly lowering levels to which her husband had dropped, and if she hoped that in Fillmore Street they had reached bottom, she did not say so. Her unbetrayed regret was for the loss of what she would have called "respectability"; and the giving up, long ago, in the little city which had been their home, of the servant girl had been the first wrench. Until they came to Hampton they had always lived in houses, and her adaptation to a flat had been hard—a flat without a parlour. Hannah Bumpus regarded a parlour as necessary to a respectable family as a wedding ring to a virtuous woman. Janet and Lise would be growing up, there would be young men, and no place to see them save the sidewalks. The fear that haunted her came true, and she never was reconciled. The two girls went to the public schools, and afterwards, inevitably, to work, and it seemed to be a part of her punishment for the sins of her forefathers that she had no more control over them than if they had been boarders; while she looked on helplessly, they did what they pleased; Janet, whom she never understood, was almost as much a source of apprehension as Lise, who became part and parcel of all Hannah deemed reprehensible in this new America which she refused to recognize and acknowledge as her own country.
To send them through the public schools had been a struggle. Hannah used to lie awake nights wondering what would happen if Edward became sick. It worried her that they never saved any money: try as she would to cut the expenses down, there was a limit of decency; New England thrift, hitherto justly celebrated, was put to shame by that which the foreigners displayed, and which would have delighted the souls of gentlemen of the Manchester school. Every once in a while there rose up before her fabulous instances of this thrift, of Italians and Jews who, ignorant emigrants, had entered the mills only a few years before they, the Bumpuses, had come to Hampton, and were now independent property owners. Still rankling in Hannah's memory was a day when Lise had returned from school, dark and mutinous, with a tale of such a family. One of the younger children was a classmate.
"They live on Jordan Street in a house, and Laura has roller skates. I don't see why I can't."
This was one of the occasions on which Hannah had given vent to her indignation. Lise was fourteen. Her open rebellion was less annoying than Janet's silent reproach, but at least she had something to take hold of.
"Well, Lise," she said, shifting the saucepan to another part of the stove, "I guess if your father and I had put both you girls in the mills and crowded into one room and cooked in a corner, and lived on onions and macaroni, and put four boarders each in the other rooms, I guess we could have had a house, too. We can start in right now, if you're willing."
But Lise had only looked darker.
"I don't see why father can't make money—other men do."
"Isn't he working as hard as he can to send you to school, and give you a chance?"
"I don't want that kind of a chance. There's Sadie Howard at school—she don't have to work. She liked me before she found out where I lived..."
There was an element of selfishness in Hannah's mania for keeping busy, for doing all their housework and cooking herself. She could not bear to have her daughters interfere; perhaps she did not want to give herself time to think. Her affection for Edward, such as it was, her loyalty to him, was the logical result of a conviction ingrained in early youth that marriage was an indissoluble bond; a point of views once having a religious sanction, no less powerful now that—all unconsciously—it had deteriorated into a superstition. Hannah, being a fatalist, was not religious. The beliefs of other days, when she had donned her best dress and gone to church on Sundays, had simply lapsed and left—habits. No new beliefs had taken their place....
Even after Janet and Lise had gone to work the household never seemed to gain that margin of safety for which Hannah yearned. Always, when they were on the verge of putting something by, some untoward need or accident seemed to arise on purpose to swallow it up: Edward, for instance, had been forced to buy a new overcoat, the linoleum on the dining-room floor must be renewed, and Lise had had a spell of sickness, losing her position in a flower shop. Afterwards, when she became a saleslady in the Bagatelle, that flamboyant department store in Faber Street, she earned four dollars and a half a week. Two of these were supposed to go into the common fund, but there were clothes to buy; Lise loved finery, and Hannah had not every week the heart to insist. Even when, on an occasional Saturday night the girl somewhat consciously and defiantly flung down the money on the dining-room table she pretended not to notice it. But Janet, who was earning six dollars as a stenographer in the office of the Chippering Mill, regularly gave half of hers.
The girls could have made more money as operatives, but strangely enough in the Bumpus family social hopes were not yet extinct.
Sharply, rudely, the cold stillness of the winter mornings was broken by agitating waves of sound, penetrating the souls of sleepers. Janet would stir, her mind still lingering on some dream, soon to fade into the inexpressible, in which she had been near to the fulfilment of a heart's desire. Each morning, as the clamour grew louder, there was an interval of bewilderment, of revulsion, until the realization came of mill bells swinging in high cupolas above the river,—one rousing another. She could even distinguish the bells: the deep-toned, penetrating one belonged to the Patuxent Mill, over on the west side, while the Arundel had a high, ominous reverberation like a fire bell. When at last the clangings had ceased she would lie listening to the overtones throbbing in the air, high and low, high and low; lie shrinking, awaiting the second summons that never failed to terrify, the siren of the Chippering Mill,—to her the cry of an insistent, hungry monster demanding its daily food, the symbol of a stern, ugly, and unrelenting necessity.
Beside her in the bed she could feel the soft body of her younger sister cuddling up to her in fright. In such rare moments as this her heart melted towards Lise, and she would fling a protecting arm about her. A sense of Lise's need of protection invaded her, a sharp conviction, like a pang, that Lise was destined to wander: Janet was never so conscious of the feeling as in this dark hour, though it came to her at other times, when they were not quarreling. Quarreling seemed to be the normal reaction between them.
It was Janet, presently, who would get up, shivering, close the window, and light the gas, revealing the room which the two girls shared together. Against the middle of one wall was the bed, opposite this a travel-dented walnut bureau with a marble top, with an oval mirror into which were stuck numerous magazine portraits of the masculine and feminine talent adorning the American stage, a preponderance of the music hall variety. There were pictures of other artists whom the recondite would have recognized as "movie" stars, amazing yet veridic stories of whose wealth Lise read in the daily press: all possessed limousines—an infallible proof, to Lise, of the measure of artistic greatness. Between one of these movie millionaires and an ex-legitimate lady who now found vaudeville profitable was wedged the likeness of a popular idol whose connection with the footlights would doubtless be contingent upon a triumphant acquittal at the hands of a jury of her countrymen, and whose trial for murder, in Chicago, was chronicled daily in thousands of newspapers and followed by Lise with breathless interest and sympathy. She was wont to stare at this lady while dressing and exclaim:—"Say, I hope they put it all over that district attorney!"
To such sentiments, though deeply felt by her sister, Janet remained cold, though she was, as will be seen, capable of enthusiasms. Lise was a truer daughter of her time and country in that she had the national contempt for law, was imbued with the American hero-worship of criminals that caused the bombardment of Cora Wellman's jail with candy, fruit and flowers and impassioned letters. Janet recalled there had been others before Mrs. Wellman, caught within the meshes of the law, who had incited in her sister a similar partisanship.
It was Lise who had given the note of ornamentation to the bedroom. Against the cheap faded lilac and gold wall-paper were tacked photo-engravings that had taken the younger sister's fancy: a young man and woman, clad in scanty bathing suits, seated side by side in a careening sail boat,—the work of a popular illustrator whose manly and womanly "types" had become national ideals.
There were other drawings, if not all by the same hand, at least by the same school; one, sketched in bold strokes, of a dinner party in a stately neo-classic dining-room, the table laden with flowers and silver, the bare-throated women with jewels. A more critical eye than Lise's, gazing upon this portrayal of the Valhalla of success, might have detected in the young men, immaculate in evening dress, a certain effort to feel at home, to converse naturally, which their square jaws and square shoulders belied. This was no doubt the fault of the artist's models, who had failed to live up to the part. At any rate, the sight of these young gods of leisure, the contemplation of the stolid butler and plush footmen in the background never failed to make Lise's heart beat faster.
On the marble of the bureau amidst a litter of toilet articles, and bought by Lise for a quarter at the Bagatelle bargain counter, was an oval photograph frame from which the silver wash had begun to rub off, and the band of purple velvet inside the metal had whitened. The frame always contained the current object of Lise's affections, though the exhibits—as Janet said—were subject to change without notice. The Adonis who now reigned had black hair cut in the prevailing Hampton fashion, very long in front and hanging down over his eyes like a Scottish terrier's; very long behind, too, but ending suddenly, shaved in a careful curve at the neck and around the ears. It had almost the appearance of a Japanese wig. The manly beauty of Mr. Max Wylie was of the lantern-jawed order, and in his photograph he conveyed the astonished and pained air of one who has been suddenly seized by an invisible officer of the law from behind. This effect, one presently perceived, was due to the high, stiff collar, the "Torture Brand," Janet called it, when she and her sister were engaged in one of their frequent controversies about life in general: the obvious retort to this remark, which Lise never failed to make, was that Janet could boast of no beaux at all.
It is only fair to add that the photograph scarcely did Mr. Wylie justice. In real life he did not wear the collar, he was free and easy in his manners, sure of his powers of conquest. As Lise observed, he had made a home-run with her at Slattery's Riverside Park. "Sadie Hartmann was sure sore when I tangoed off with him," she would observe reminiscently....
It was Lise's habit to slight her morning toilet, to linger until the last minute in bed, which she left in reluctant haste to stand before the bureau frantically combing out kinks of the brown hair falling over her shoulders before jamming it down across her forehead in the latest mode. Thus occupied, she revealed a certain petulant beauty. Like the majority of shop-girls, she was small, but her figure was good, her skin white; her discontented mouth gave her the touch of piquancy apt to play havoc with the work of the world. In winter breakfast was eaten by the light of a rococo metal lamp set in the centre of the table. This was to save gas. There was usually a rump steak and potatoes, bread and "creamery" butterine, and the inevitable New England doughnuts. At six thirty the whistles screeched again,—a warning note, the signal for Edward's departure; and presently, after a brief respite, the heavy bells once more began their clamour, not to die down until ten minutes of seven, when the last of the stragglers had hurried through the mill gates.
The Bumpus flat included the second floor of a small wooden house whose owner had once been evilly inspired to paint it a livid clay-yellow—as though insisting that ugliness were an essential attribute of domesticity. A bay ran up the two stories, and at the left were two narrow doorways, one for each flat. On the right the house was separated from its neighbour by a narrow interval, giving but a precarious light to the two middle rooms, the diningroom and kitchen. The very unattractiveness of such a home, however, had certain compensations for Janet, after the effort of early rising had been surmounted, felt a real relief in leaving it; a relief, too, in leaving Fillmore Street, every feature of which was indelibly fixed in her mind, opposite was the blind brick face of a warehouse, and next to that the converted dwelling house that held the shop of A. Bauer, with the familiar replica of a green ten-cent trading stamp painted above it and the somewhat ironical announcement—when boar frost whitened the pavement—that ice-cold soda was to be had within, as well as cigars and tobacco, fruit and candy. Then came a tenement, under which two enterprising Greeks by the name of Pappas—spelled Papas lower down—conducted a business called "The Gentleman," a tailoring, pressing, and dyeing establishment. Janet could see the brilliantined black heads of the two proprietors bending over their boards, and sometimes they would be lifted to smile at her as she passed. The Pappas Brothers were evidently as happy in this drab environment as they had ever been on the sunny mountain slopes of Hellas, and Janet sometimes wondered at this, for she had gathered from her education in the Charming public school that Greece was beautiful.
She was one of the unfortunate who love beauty, who are condemned to dwell in exile, unacquainted with what they love. Desire was incandescent within her breast. Desire for what? It would have been some relief to know. She could not, like Lise, find joy and forgetfulness at dance halls, at the "movies," at Slattery's Riverside Park in summer, in "joy rides" with the Max Wylies of Hampton. And beside, the Max Wylies were afraid of her. If at times she wished for wealth, it was because wealth held the magic of emancipation from surroundings against which her soul revolted. Vividly idealized but unconfided was the memory of a seaside village, the scene of one of the brief sojourns of her childhood, where the air was fragrant with the breath of salt marshes, where she recalled, through the vines of a porch, a shining glimpse of the sea at the end of a little street....
Next to Pappas Brothers was the grey wooden building of Mule Spinners' Hall, that elite organization of skilled labour, and underneath it the store of Johnny Tiernan, its windows piled up with stoves and stovepipes, sheet iron and cooking utensils. Mr. Tiernan, like the Greeks, was happy, too: unlike the Greeks, he never appeared to be busy, and yet he throve. He was very proud of the business in which he had invested his savings, but he seemed to have other affairs lying blithely on his mind, affairs of moment to the community, as the frequent presence of the huge policemen, aldermen, and other important looking persons bore witness. He hailed by name Italians, Greeks, Belgians, Syrians, and "French"; he hailed Janet, too, with respectful cheerfulness, taking off his hat. He possessed the rare, warm vitality that is irresistible. A native of Hampton, still in his thirties, his sharp little nose and twinkling blue eyes proclaimed the wisdom that is born and not made; his stiff hair had a twist like the bristles in the cleaning rod of a gun.
He gave Janet the odd impression that he understood her. And she did not understand herself!
By the time she reached the Common the winter sun, as though red from exertion, had begun to dispel the smoke and heavy morning mists. She disliked winter, the lumpy brown turf mildewed by the frost, but one day she was moved by a quality, hitherto unsuspected, in the delicate tracery against the sky made by the slender branches of the great elms and maples. She halted on the pavement, her eyes raised, heedless of passers-by, feeling within her a throb of the longing that could be so oddly and unexpectedly aroused.
Her way lay along Faber Street, the main artery of Hampton, a wide strip of asphalt threaded with car tracks, lined on both sides with incongruous edifices indicative of a rapid, undiscriminating, and artless prosperity. There were long stretches of "ten foot" buildings, so called on account of the single story, their height deceptively enhanced by the superimposition of huge and gaudy signs, one on top of another, announcing the merits of "Stewart's Amberine Ale," of "Cooley's Oats, the Digestible Breakfast Food," of graphophones and "spring heeled" shoes, tobacco, and naphtha soaps. "No, We don't give Trading Stamps, Our Products are Worth all You Pay." These "ten foot" stores were the repositories of pianos, automobiles, hardware, and millinery, and interspersed amongst them were buildings of various heights; The Bagatelle, where Lise worked, the Wilmot Hotel, office buildings, and an occasional relic of old Hampton, like that housing the Banner. Here, during those months when the sun made the asphalt soft, on a scaffolding spanning the window of the store, might be seen a perspiring young man in his shirt sleeves chalking up baseball scores for the benefit of a crowd below. Then came the funereal, liver-coloured, long-windowed Hinckley Block (1872), and on the corner a modern, glorified drugstore thrusting forth plate glass bays—two on Faber Street and three on Stanley—filled with cameras and candy, hot water bags, throat sprays, catarrh and kidney cures, calendars, fountain pens, stationery, and handy alcohol lamps. Flanking the sidewalks, symbolizing and completing the heterogeneous and bewildering effect of the street were long rows of heavy hemlock trunks, unpainted and stripped of bark, with crosstrees bearing webs of wires. Trolley cars rattled along, banging their gongs, trucks rumbled across the tracks, automobiles uttered frenzied screeches behind startled pedestrians. Janet was always galvanized into alertness here, Faber Street being no place to dream. By night an endless procession moved up one sidewalk and down another, staring hypnotically at the flash-in and flash-out electric, signs that kept the breakfast foods and ales, the safety razors, soaps, and soups incessantly in the minds of a fickle public.
Two blocks from Faber Street was the North Canal, with a granite-paved roadway between it and the monotonous row of company boarding houses. Even in bright weather Janet felt a sense of oppression here; on dark, misty mornings the stern, huge battlements of the mills lining the farther bank were menacing indeed, bristling with projections, towers, and chimneys, flanked by heavy walls. Had her experience included Europe, her imagination might have seized the medieval parallel,—the arched bridges flung at intervals across the water, lacking only chains to raise them in case of siege. The place was always ominously suggestive of impending strife. Janet's soul was a sensitive instrument, but she suffered from an inability to find parallels, and thus to translate her impressions intellectually. Her feeling about the mills was that they were at once fortress and prison, and she a slave driven thither day after day by an all-compelling power; as much a slave as those who trooped in through the gates in the winter dawn, and wore down, four times a day, the oak treads of the circular tower stairs.
The sound of the looms was like heavy rain hissing on the waters of the canal.
The administrative offices of a giant mill such as the Chippering in Hampton are labyrinthine. Janet did not enter by the great gates her father kept, but walked through an open courtyard into a vestibule where, day and night, a watchman stood; she climbed iron-shod stairs, passed the doorway leading to the paymaster's suite, to catch a glimpse, behind the grill, of numerous young men settling down at those mysterious and complicated machines that kept so unerring a record, in dollars and cents, of the human labour of the operatives. There were other suites for the superintendents, for the purchasing agent; and at the end of the corridor, on the south side of the mill, she entered the outer of the two rooms reserved for Mr. Claude Ditmar, the Agent and general-in-chief himself of this vast establishment. In this outer office, behind the rail that ran the length of it, Janet worked; from the window where her typewriter stood was a sheer drop of eighty feet or so to the river, which ran here swiftly through a wide canon whose sides were formed by miles and miles of mills, built on buttressed stone walls to retain the banks. The prison-like buildings on the farther shore were also of colossal size, casting their shadows far out into the waters; while in the distance, up and down the stream, could be seen the delicate web of the Stanley and Warren Street bridges, with trolley cars like toys gliding over them, with insect pedestrians creeping along the footpaths.
Mr. Ditmar's immediate staff consisted of Mr. Price, an elderly bachelor of tried efficiency whose peculiar genius lay in computation, of a young Mr. Caldwell who, during the four years since he had left Harvard, had been learning the textile industry, of Miss Ottway, and Janet. Miss Ottway was the agent's private stenographer, a strongly built, capable woman with immense reserves seemingly inexhaustible. She had a deep, masculine voice, not unmusical, the hint of a masculine moustache, a masculine manner of taking to any job that came to hand. Nerves were things unknown to her: she was granite, Janet tempered steel. Janet was the second stenographer, and performed, besides, any odd tasks that might be assigned.
There were, in the various offices of the superintendents, the paymaster and purchasing agent, other young women stenographers whose companionship Janet, had she been differently organized, might have found congenial, but something in her refused to dissolve to their proffered friendship. She had but one friend,—if Eda Rawle, who worked in a bank, and whom she had met at a lunch counter by accident, may be called so. As has been admirably said in another language, one kisses, the other offers a cheek: Janet offered the cheek. All unconsciously she sought a relationship rarely to be found in banks and business offices; would yield herself to none other. The young women stenographers in the Chippering Mill, respectable, industrious girls, were attracted by a certain indefinable quality, but finding they made no progress in their advances, presently desisted they were somewhat afraid of her; as one of them remarked, "You always knew she was there." Miss Lottie Meyers, who worked in the office of Mr. Orcutt, the superintendent across the hall, experienced a brief infatuation that turned to hate. She chewed gum incessantly, Janet found her cheap perfume insupportable; Miss Meyers, for her part, declared that Janet was "queer" and "stuck up," thought herself better than the rest of them. Lottie Meyers was the leader of a group of four or five which gathered in the hallway at the end of the noon hour to enter animatedly into a discussion of waists, hats, and lingerie, to ogle and exchange persiflages with the young men of the paymaster's corps, to giggle, to relate, sotto voce, certain stories that ended invariably in hysterical laughter. Janet detested these conversations. And the sex question, subtly suggested if not openly dealt with, to her was a mystery over which she did not dare to ponder, terrible, yet too sacred to be degraded. Her feelings, concealed under an exterior of self-possession, deceptive to the casual observer, sometimes became molten, and she was frightened by a passion that made her tremble—a passion by no means always consciously identified with men, embodying all the fierce unexpressed and unsatisfied desires of her life.
These emotions, often suggested by some hint of beauty, as of the sun glinting on the river on a bright blue day, had a sudden way of possessing her, and the longing they induced was pain. Longing for what? For some unimagined existence where beauty dwelt, and light, where the ecstasy induced by these was neither moiled nor degraded; where shame, as now, might not assail her. Why should she feel her body hot with shame, her cheeks afire? At such moments she would turn to the typewriter, her fingers striking the keys with amazing rapidity, with extraordinary accuracy and force,—force vaguely disturbing to Mr. Claude Ditmar as he entered the office one morning and involuntarily paused to watch her. She was unaware of his gaze, but her colour was like a crimson signal that flashed to him and was gone. Why had he never noticed her before? All these months, for more than a year, perhaps,—she had been in his office, and he had not so much as looked at her twice. The unguessed answer was that he had never surprised her in a vivid moment. He had a flair for women, though he had never encountered any possessing the higher values, and it was characteristic of the plane of his mental processes that this one should remind him now of a dark, lithe panther, tensely strung, capable of fierceness. The pain of having her scratch him would be delectable.
When he measured her it was to discover that she was not so little, and the shoulder-curve of her uplifted arms, as her fingers played over the keys, seemed to belie that apparent slimness. And had he not been unacquainted with the subtleties of the French mind and language, he might have classed her as a fausse maigre. Her head was small, her hair like a dark, blurred shadow clinging round it. He wanted to examine her hair, to see whether it would not betray, at closer range, an imperceptible wave,—but not daring to linger he went into his office, closed the door, and sat down with a sensation akin to weakness, somewhat appalled by his discovery, considerably amazed at his previous stupidity. He had thought of Janet—when she had entered his mind at all—as unobtrusive, demure; now he recognized this demureness as repression. Her qualities needed illumination, and he, Claude Ditmar, had seen them struck with fire. He wondered whether any other man had been as fortunate.
Later in the morning, quite casually, he made inquiries of Miss Ottway, who liked Janet and was willing to do her a good turn.
"Why, she's a clever girl, Mr. Ditmar, a good stenographer, and conscientious in her work. She's very quick, too.
"Yes, I've noticed that," Ditmar replied, who was quite willing to have it thought that his inquiry was concerned with Janet's aptitude for business.
"She keeps to herself and minds her own affairs. You can see she comes of good stock." Miss Ottway herself was proud of her New England blood. "Her father, you know, is the gatekeeper down there. He's been unfortunate."
"You don't say—I didn't connect her with him. Fine looking old man. A friend of mine who recommended him told me he'd seen better days ...."
In spite of the surprising discovery in his office of a young woman of such a disquieting, galvanic quality, it must not be supposed that Mr. Claude Ditmar intended to infringe upon a fixed principle. He had principles. For him, as for the patriarchs and householders of Israel, the seventh commandment was only relative, yet hitherto he had held rigidly to that relativity, laying down the sound doctrine that women and business would not mix: or, as he put it to his intimates, no sensible man would fool with a girl in his office. Hence it may be implied that Mr. Ditmar's experiences with the opposite sex had been on a property basis. He was one of those busy and successful persons who had never appreciated or acquired the art of quasi-platonic amenities, whose idea of a good time was limited to discreet excursions with cronies, likewise busy and successful persons who, by reason of having married early and unwisely, are strangers to the delights of that higher social intercourse chronicled in novels and the public prints. If one may conveniently overlook the joys of a companionship of the soul, it is quite as possible to have a taste in women as in champagne or cigars. Mr. Ditmar preferred blondes, and he liked them rather stout, a predilection that had led him into matrimony with a lady of this description: a somewhat sticky, candy-eating lady with a mania for card parties, who undoubtedly would have dyed her hair if she had lived. He was not inconsolable, but he had had enough of marriage to learn that it demands a somewhat exorbitant price for joys otherwise more reasonably to be obtained.
He was left a widower with two children, a girl of thirteen and a boy of twelve, both somewhat large for their ages. Amy attended the only private institution for the instruction of her sex of which Hampton could boast; George continued at a public school. The late Mrs. Ditmar for some years before her demise had begun to give evidence of certain restless aspirations to which American ladies of her type and situation seem peculiarly liable, and with a view to their ultimate realization she had inaugurated a Jericho-like campaign. Death had released Ditmar from its increasing pressure. For his wife had possessed that admirable substitute for character, persistence, had been expert in the use of importunity, often an efficient weapon in the hands of the female economically dependent. The daughter of a defunct cashier of the Hampton National Bank, when she had married Ditmar, then one of the superintendents of the Chippering and already a marked man, she had deemed herself fortunate among women, looking forward to a life of ease and idleness and candy in great abundance,—a dream temporarily shattered by the unforeseen discomfort of bringing two children into the world, with an interval of scarcely a year between them. Her parents from an excess of native modesty having failed to enlighten her on this subject, her feelings were those of outraged astonishment, and she was quite determined not to repeat the experience a third time. Knowledge thus belatedly acquired, for a while she abandoned herself to the satisfaction afforded by the ability to take a commanding position in Hampton society, gradually to become aware of the need of a more commodious residence. In a certain kind of intuition she was rich. Her husband had meanwhile become Agent of the Chippering Mill, and she strongly suspected that his prudent reticence on the state of his finances was the best indication of an increasing prosperity. He had indeed made money, been given many opportunities for profitable investments; but the argument for social pre-eminence did not appeal to him: tears and reproaches, recriminations, when frequently applied, succeeded better; like many married men, what he most desired was to be let alone; but in some unaccountable way she had come to suspect that his preference for blondes was of a more liberal nature than at first, in her innocence, she had realized. She was jealous, too, of his cronies, in spite of the fact that these gentlemen, when they met her, treated her with an elaborate politeness; and she accused him with entire justice of being more intimate with them than with her, with whom he was united in holy bonds. The inevitable result of these tactics was the modern mansion in the upper part of Warren Street, known as the "residential" district. Built on a wide lot, with a garage on one side to the rear, with a cement driveway divided into squares, and a wall of democratic height separating its lawn from the sidewalk, the house may for the present be better imagined than described.
A pious chronicler of a more orthodox age would doubtless have deemed it a judgment that Cora Ditmar survived but two years to enjoy the glories of the Warren Street house. For a while her husband indulged in a foolish optimism, only to learn that the habit of matrimonial blackmail, once acquired, is not easily shed. Scarcely had he settled down to the belief that by the gratification of her supreme desire he had achieved comparative peace, than he began to suspect her native self-confidence of cherishing visions of a career contemplating nothing less than the eventual abandonment of Hampton itself as a field too limited for her social talents and his business ability and bank account—at which she was pleased to hint. Hampton suited Ditmar, his passion was the Chippering Mill; and he was in process of steeling himself to resist, whatever the costs, this preposterous plan when he was mercifully released by death. Her intention of sending the children away to acquire a culture and finish Hampton did not afford,—George to Silliston Academy, Amy to a fashionable boarding school,—he had not opposed, yet he did not take the idea with sufficient seriousness to carry it out. The children remained at home, more or less—increasingly less—in the charge of an elderly woman who acted as housekeeper.
Ditmar had miraculously regained his freedom. And now, when he made trips to New York and Boston, combining business with pleasure, there were no questions asked, no troublesome fictions to be composed. More frequently he was in Boston, where he belonged to a large and comfortable club, not too exacting in regard to membership, and here he met his cronies and sometimes planned excursions with them, automobile trips in summer to the White Mountains or choice little resorts to spend Sundays and holidays, generally taking with them a case of champagne and several bags of golf sticks. He was fond of shooting, and belonged to a duck club on the Cape, where poker and bridge were not tabooed. To his intimates he was known as "Dit." Nor is it surprising that his attitude toward women had become in general one of resentment; matrimony he now regarded as unmitigated folly. At five and forty he was a vital, dominating, dust-coloured man six feet and half an inch in height, weighing a hundred and ninety pounds, and thus a trifle fleshy. When relaxed, and in congenial company, he looked rather boyish, an aspect characteristic of many American business men of to-day.
His head was large, he wore his hair short, his features also proclaimed him as belonging to a modern American type in that they were not clear-cut, but rather indefinable; a bristling, short-cropped moustache gave him a certain efficient, military look which, when introduced to strangers as "Colonel," was apt to deceive them into thinking him an army officer. The title he had once received as a member of the staff of the governor of the state, and was a tribute to a gregariousness and political influence rather than to a genius for the art of war. Ex officio, as the agent of the Chippering Mill and a man of substance to boot, he was "in" politics, hail fellow well met with and an individual to be taken into account by politicians from the governor and member of congress down. He was efficient, of course; he had efficient hands and shrewd, efficient eyes, and the military impression was deepened by his manner of dealing with people, his conversation being yea, yea and nay, nay,—save with his cronies and those of the other sex from whom he had something to gain. His clothes always looked new, of pronounced patterns and light colours set aside for him by an obsequious tailor in Boston.
If a human being in such an enviable position as that of agent of the Chippering Mill can be regarded as property, it might be said that Mr. Claude Ditmar belonged to the Chipperings of Boston, a family still owning a controlling interest in the company. His loyalty to them and to the mill he so ably conducted was the great loyalty of his life. For Ditmar, a Chippering could do no wrong. It had been the keen eye of Mr. Stephen Chippering that first had marked him, questioned him, recognized his ability, and from the moment of that encounter his advance had been rapid. When old Stephen had been called to his fathers, Ditmar's allegiance was automatically, as it were, transferred to the two sons, George and Worthington, already members of the board of directors. Sometimes Ditmar called on them at their homes, which stood overlooking the waters of the Charles River Basin. The attitude toward him of the Chipperings and their wives was one of an interesting adjustment of feudalism to democracy. They were fond of him, grateful to him, treating him with a frank camaraderie that had in it not the slightest touch of condescension, but Ditmar would have been the first to recognize that there were limits to the intimacy. They did not, for instance—no doubt out of consideration—invite him to their dinner parties or take him to their club, which was not the same as that to which he himself belonged. He felt no animus. Nor would he, surprising though it may seem, have changed places with the Chipperings. At an early age, and quite unconsciously, he had accepted property as the ruling power of the universe, and when family was added thereto the combination was nothing less than divine.
There were times, especially during the long winters, when life became almost unbearable for Janet, and she was seized by a desire to run away from Fillmore Street, from the mills, from Hampton itself. Only she did not know where to go, or how to get away. She was convinced of the existence in the world of delightful spots where might be found congenial people with whom it would be a joy to talk. Fillmore Street, certainly, did not contain any such. The office was not so bad. It is true that in the mornings, as she entered West Street, the sight of the dark facade of the fortress-like structure, emblematic of the captivity in which she passed her days, rarely failed to arouse in her sensations of oppression and revolt; but here, at least, she discovered an outlet for her energies; she was often too busy to reflect, and at odd moments she could find a certain solace and companionship in the river, so intent, so purposeful, so beautiful, so undisturbed by the inconcinnity, the clatter and confusion of Hampton as it flowed serenely under the bridges and between the mills toward the sea. Toward the sea!
It was when, at night, she went back to Fillmore Street—when she thought of the monotony, yes, and the sordidness of home, when she let herself in at the door and climbed the dark and narrow stairway, that her feet grew leaden. In spite of the fact that Hannah was a good housekeeper and prided herself on cleanliness, the tiny flat reeked with the smell of cooking, and Janet, from the upper hall, had a glimpse of a thin, angular woman with a scrawny neck, with scant grey hair tightly drawn into a knot, in a gingham apron covering an old dress bending over the kitchen stove. And occasionally, despite a resentment that fate should have dealt thus inconsiderately with the family, Janet felt pity welling within her. After supper, when Lise had departed with her best young man, Hannah would occasionally, though grudgingly, permit Janet to help her with the dishes.
"You work all day, you have a right to rest."
"But I don't want to rest," Janet would declare, and rub the dishes the harder. With the spirit underlying this protest, Hannah sympathized. Mother and daughter were alike in that both were inarticulate, but Janet had a secret contempt for Hannah's uncomplaining stoicism. She loved her mother, in a way, especially at certain times,—though she often wondered why she was unable to realize more fully the filial affection of tradition; but in moments of softening, such as these, she was filled with rage at the thought of any woman endowed with energy permitting herself to be overtaken and overwhelmed by such a fate as Hannah's: divorce, desertion, anything, she thought, would have been better—anything but to be cheated out of life. Feeling the fires of rebellion burning hotly within her,—rebellion against environment and driving necessity she would glance at her mother and ask herself whether it were possible that Hannah had ever known longings, had ever been wrung by inexpressible desires,—desires in which the undiscovered spiritual was so alarmingly compounded with the undiscovered physical. She would have died rather than speak to Hannah of these unfulfilled experiences, and the mere thought of confiding them to any person appalled her. Even if there existed some wonderful, understanding being to whom she might be able thus to empty her soul, the thought of the ecstasy of that kenosis was too troubling to be dwelt upon.
She had tried reading, with unfortunate results,—perhaps because no Virgil had as yet appeared to guide her through the mysteries of that realm. Her schooling had failed to instil into her a discriminating taste for literature; and when, on occasions, she had entered the Public Library opposite the Common it had been to stare hopelessly at rows of books whose authors and titles offered no clue to their contents. Her few choices had not been happy, they had failed to interest and thrill...
Of the Bumpus family Lise alone found refuge, distraction, and excitement in the vulgar modern world by which they were surrounded, and of whose heedlessness and remorselessness they were the victims. Lise went out into it, became a part of it, returning only to sleep and eat,—a tendency Hannah found unaccountable, and against which even her stoicism was not wholly proof. Scarce an evening went by without an expression of uneasiness from Hannah.
"She didn't happen to mention where she was going, did she, Janet?" Hannah would query, when she had finished her work and put on her spectacles to read the Banner.
"To the movies, I suppose," Janet would reply. Although well aware that her sister indulged in other distractions, she thought it useless to add to Hannah's disquietude. And if she had little patience with Lise, she had less with the helpless attitude of her parents.
"Well," Hannah would add, "I never can get used to her going out nights the way she does, and with young men and women I don't know anything about. I wasn't brought up that way. But as long as she's got to work for a living I guess there's no help for it."
And she would glance at Edward. It was obviously due to his inability adequately to cope with modern conditions that his daughters were forced to toil, but this was the nearest she ever came to reproaching him. If he heard, he acquiesced humbly, and in silence: more often than not he was oblivious, buried in the mazes of the Bumpus family history, his papers spread out on the red cloth of the dining-room table, under the lamp. Sometimes in his simplicity and with the enthusiasm that demands listeners he would read aloud to them a letter, recently received from a distant kinsman, an Alpheus Bumpus, let us say, who had migrated to California in search of wealth and fame, and who had found neither. In spite of age and misfortunes, the liberal attitude of these western members of the family was always a matter of perplexity to Edward.
"He tells me they're going to give women the ballot,—doesn't appear to be much concerned about his own womenfolks going to the polls."
"Why shouldn't they, if they want to?" Janet would exclaim, though she had given little thought to the question.
Edward would mildly ignore this challenge.
"He has a house on what they call Russian Hill, and he can watch the vessels as they come in from Japan," he would continue in his precise voice, emphasizing admirably the last syllables of the words "Russian," "vessels," and "Japan." "Wouldn't you like to see the letter?"
To do Hannah justice, although she was quite incapable of sharing his passion, she frequently feigned an interest, took the letter, presently handing it on to Janet who, in deciphering Alpheus's trembling calligraphy, pondered over his manifold woes. Alpheus's son, who had had a good position in a sporting goods establishment on Market Street, was sick and in danger of losing it, the son's wife expecting an addition to the family, the house on Russian Hill mortgaged. Alpheus, a veteran of the Civil War, had been for many years preparing his reminiscences, but the newspapers nowadays seemed to care nothing for matters of solid worth, and so far had refused to publish them.... Janet, as she read, reflected that these letters invariably had to relate tales of failures, of disappointed hopes; she wondered at her father's perennial interest in failures,—provided they were those of his family; and the next evening, as he wrote painfully on his ruled paper, she knew that he in turn was pouring out his soul to Alpheus, recounting, with an emotion by no means unpleasurable, to this sympathetic but remote relative the story of his own failure!
If the city of Hampton was emblematic of our modern world in which haphazardness has replaced order, Fillmore Street may be likened to a back eddy of the muddy and troubled waters, in which all sorts of flotsam and jetsam had collected. Or, to find perhaps an even more striking illustration of the process that made Hampton in general and Fillmore Street in particular, one had only to take the trolley to Glendale, the Italian settlement on the road leading to the old New England village of Shrewsbury. Janet sometimes walked there, alone or with her friend Eda Rawle. Disintegration itself—in a paradoxically pathetic attempt at reconstruction—had built Glendale. Human hands, Italian hands. Nor, surprising though it may seem, were these descendants of the people of the Renaissance in the least offended by their handiwork. When the southern European migration had begun and real estate became valuable, one by one the more decorous edifices of the old American order had been torn down and carried piecemeal by sons of Italy to the bare hills of Glendale, there to enter into new combinations representing, to an eye craving harmony, the last word of a chaos, of a mental indigestion, of a colour scheme crying aloud to heaven for retribution. Standing alone and bare amidst its truck gardens, hideous, extreme, though typical of the entire settlement, composed of fragments ripped from once-appropriate settings, is a house with a tiny body painted strawberry-red, with scroll-work shutters a tender green; surmounting the structure and almost equalling it in size is a sky-blue cupola, once the white crown of the Sutter mansion, the pride of old Hampton. The walls of this dwelling were wrested from the sides of Mackey's Tavern, while the shutters for many years adorned the parsonage of the old First Church. Similarly, in Hampton and in Fillmore Street, lived in enforced neighbourliness human fragments once having their places in crystallized communities where existence had been regarded as solved. Here there was but one order,—if such it may be called,—one relationship, direct, or indirect, one necessity claiming them all—the mills.
Like the boards forming the walls of the shacks at Glendale, these human planks torn from an earlier social structure were likewise warped, which is to say they were dominated by obsessions. Edward's was the Bumpus family; and Chris Auermann, who lived in the flat below, was convinced that the history of mankind is a deplorable record of havoc caused by women. Perhaps he was right, but the conviction was none the less an obsession. He came from a little village near Wittenburg that has scarcely changed since Luther's time. Like most residents of Hampton who did not work in the mills, he ministered to those who did, or to those who sold merchandise to the workers, cutting their hair in his barber shop on Faber Street.
The Bumpuses, save Lise, clinging to a native individualism and pride, preferred isolation to companionship with the other pieces of driftwood by which they were surrounded, and with which the summer season compelled a certain enforced contact. When the heat in the little dining-room grew unbearable, they were driven to take refuge on the front steps shared in common with the household of the barber. It is true that the barber's wife was a mild hausfrau who had little to say, and that their lodgers, two young Germans who worked in the mills, spent most of their evenings at a bowling club; but Auermann himself, exhaling a strong odour of bay rum, would arrive promptly at quarter past eight, take off his coat, and thus, as it were stripped for action, would turn upon the defenceless Edward.
"Vill you mention one great man—yoost one—who is not greater if the vimmen leave him alone?" he would demand. "Is it Anthony, the conqueror of Egypt and the East? I vill show you Cleopatra. Und Burns, and Napoleon, the greatest man what ever lived—vimmen again. I tell you there is no Elba, no St. Helena if it is not for the vimmen. Und vat vill you say of Goethe?"
Poor Edward could think of nothing to say of Goethe.
"He is great, I grant you," Chris would admit, "but vat is he if the vimmen leave him alone? Divine yoost that." And he would proceed to cite endless examples of generals and statesmen whose wives or mistresses had been their bane. Futile Edward's attempts to shift the conversation to the subject of his own obsession; the German was by far the more aggressive, he would have none of it. Perhaps if Edward had been willing to concede that the Bumpuses had been brought to their present lowly estate by the sinister agency of the fair sex Chris might conditionally have accepted the theme. Hannah, contemptuously waving a tattered palm leaf fan, was silent; but on one occasion Janet took away the barber's breath by suddenly observing:—"You never seem to think of the women whose lives are ruined by men, Mr. Auermann."
It was unheard-of, this invasion of a man's argument by a woman, and by a young woman at that. He glared at her through his spectacles, took them off, wiped them, replaced them, and glared at her again. He did not like Janet; she was capable of what may be called a speaking silence, and he had never been wholly unaware of her disapproval and ridicule. Perhaps he recognized in her, instinctively, the potential qualities of that emerging modern woman who to him was anathema.
"It is somethings I don't think about," he said.
He was a wizened little man with faience-blue eyes, and sat habitually hunched up with his hands folded across his shins.
"Nam fuit ante Helenam"—as Darwin quotes. Toward all the masculine residents of Fillmore Street, save one, the barber's attitude was one of unconcealed scorn for an inability to recognize female perfidy. With Johnny Tiernan alone he refused to enter the lists. When the popular proprietor of the tin shop came sauntering along the sidewalk with nose uptilted, waving genial greetings to the various groups on the steps, Chris Auermann's expression would suddenly change to one of fatuous playfulness.
"What's this I hear about giving the girls the vote, Chris?" Johnny would innocently inquire, winking at Janet, invariably running his hand through the wiry red hair that resumed its corkscrew twist as soon as he released it. And Chris would as invariably reply:—"You have the dandruffs—yes? You come to my shop, I give you somethings...."
Sometimes the barber, in search of a more aggressive adversary than Edward, would pay visits, when as likely as not another neighbour with profound convictions and a craving for proselytes would swoop down on the defenceless Bumpuses: Joe Shivers, for instance, who lived in one of the tenements above the cleaning and dyeing establishment kept by the Pappas Bros., and known as "The Gentleman." In the daytime Mr. Shivers was a model of acquiescence in a system he would have designated as one of industrial feudalism, his duty being to examine the rolls of cloth as they came from the looms of the Arundel Mill, in case of imperfections handing them over to the women menders: at night, to borrow a vivid expression from Lise, he was "batty in the belfry" on the subject of socialism. Unlike the barber, whom he could not abide, for him the cleavage of the world was between labour and capital instead of man and woman; his philosophy was stern and naturalistic; the universe—the origin of which he did not discuss—just an accidental assemblage of capricious forces over which human intelligence was one day to triumph. Squatting on the lowest step, his face upturned, by the light of the arc sputtering above the street he looked like a yellow frog, his eager eyes directed toward Janet, whom he suspected of intelligence.
"If there was a God, a nice, kind, all-powerful God, would he permit what happened in one of the loom-rooms last week? A Polak girl gets her hair caught in the belt pfff!" He had a marvellously realistic gift when it came to horrors: Janet felt her hair coming out by the roots. Although she never went to church, she did not like to think that no God existed. Of this Mr. Shivers was very positive. Edward, too, listened uneasily, hemmed and hawed, making ineffectual attempts to combat Mr. Shivers's socialism with a deeply-rooted native individualism that Shivers declared as defunct as Christianity.
"If it is possible for the workingman to rise under a capitalistic system, why do you not rise, then? Why do I not rise? I'm as good as Ditmar, I'm better educated, but we're all slaves. What right has a man to make you and me work for him just because he has capital?"
"Why, the right of capital," Edward would reply.
Mr. Shivers, with the manner of one dealing with an incurable romanticism and sentimentality, would lift his hands in despair. And in spite of the fact that Janet detested him, he sometimes exercised over her a paradoxical fascination, suggesting as he did unexplored intellectual realms. She despised her father for not being able to crush the little man. Edward would make pathetic attempts to capture the role Shivers had appropriated, to be the practical party himself, to convict Shivers of idealism. Socialism scandalized him, outraged, even more than atheism, something within him he held sacred, and he was greatly annoyed because he was unable adequately to express this feeling.
"You can't change human nature, Mr. Shivers," Edward would insist in his precise but ineffectual manner. "We all want property, you would accept a fortune if it was offered to you, and so should I. Americans will never become socialists."
"But look at me, wasn't I born in Meriden, Connecticut? Ain't that Yankee enough for you?" Thus Mr. Shivers sought blandly to confound him.
A Yankee Shades of the Pilgrim fathers, of seven, generations of Bumpuses! A Yankee who used his hands in that way, a Yankee with a nose like that, a Yankee with a bald swathe down the middle of his crown and bunches of black, moth-eaten hair on either side! But Edward, too polite to descend to personalities, was silent....
In brief, this very politeness of Edward's, which his ancestors would have scorned, this consideration and lack of self-assertion made him the favourite prey of the many "characters" in Fillmore Street whose sanity had been disturbed by pressure from above, in whose systems had lodged the germs of those exotic social doctrines floating so freely in the air of our modern industrial communities .... Chester Glenn remains for a passing mention. A Yankee of Yankees, this, born on a New Hampshire farm, and to the ordinary traveller on the Wigmore branch of the railroad just a good-natured, round-faced, tobacco-chewing brakeman who would take a seat beside ladies of his acquaintance aid make himself agreeable until it was time to rise and bawl out, in the approved manner of his profession, the name of the next station. Fillmore Street knew that the flat visored cap which his corporation compelled him to wear covered a brain into which had penetrated the maggot of the Single Tax. When he encountered Mr. Shivers or Auermann the talk became coruscating..
Eda Rawle, Janet's solitary friend of these days, must also be mentioned, though the friendship was merely an episode in Janet's life. Their first meeting was at Grady's quick-lunch counter in Faber Street, which they both frequented at one time, and the fact that each had ordered a ham sandwich, a cup of coffee, and a confection—new to Grady's—known as a Napoleon had led to conversation.
Eda, of course, was the aggressor; she was irresistibly drawn, she would not be repulsed. A stenographer in the Wessex National Bank, she boarded with a Welsh family in Spruce Street; matter-of-fact, plodding, commonplace, resembling—as Janet thought—a horse, possessing, indeed many of the noble qualities of that animal, she might have been thought the last person in the world to discern and appreciate in Janet the hidden elements of a mysterious fire. In appearance Miss Rawle was of a type not infrequent in Anglo-Saxon lands, strikingly blonde, with high malar bones, white eyelashes, and eyes of a metallic blue, cheeks of an amazing elasticity that worked rather painfully as she talked or smiled, drawing back inadequate lips, revealing long, white teeth and vivid gums. It was the craving in her for romance Janet assuaged; Eda's was the love content to pour out, that demands little. She was capable of immolation. Janet was by no means ungrateful for the warmth of such affection, though in moments conscious of a certain perplexity and sadness because she was able to give such a meagre return for the wealth of its offering.
In other moments, when the world seemed all disorder and chaos,—as Mr. Shivers described it,—or when she felt within her, like demons, those inexpressible longings and desires, leaping and straining, pulling her, almost irresistibly, she knew not whither, Eda shone forth like a light in the darkness, like the beacon of a refuge and a shelter. Eda had faith in her, even when Janet had lost faith in herself: she went to Eda in the same spirit that Marguerite went to church; though she, Janet, more resembled Faust, being—save in these hours of lowered vitality—of the forth-faring kind .... Unable to confess the need that drove her, she arrived in Eda's little bedroom to be taken into Eda's arms. Janet was immeasurably the stronger of the two, but Eda possessed the masculine trait of protectiveness, the universe never bothered her, she was one of those persons—called fortunate—to whom the orthodox Christian virtues come as naturally as sun or air. Passion, when sanctified by matrimony, was her ideal, and now it was always in terms of Janet she dreamed of it, having read about it in volumes her friend would not touch, and never having experienced deeply its discomforts. Sanctified or unsanctified, Janet regarded it with terror, and whenever Eda innocently broached the subject she recoiled. Once Eda exclaimed:—"When you do fall in love, Janet, you must tell me all about it, every word!"
Janet blushed hotly, and was silent. In Eda's mind such an affair was a kind of glorified fireworks ending in a cluster of stars, in Janet's a volcanic eruption to turn the world red. Such was the difference between them.
Their dissipations together consisted of "sundaes" at a drug-store, or sometimes of movie shows at the Star or the Alhambra. Stereotyped on Eda's face during the legitimately tender passages of these dramas was an expression of rapture, a smile made peculiarly infatuate by that vertical line in her cheeks, that inadequacy of lip and preponderance of white teeth and red gums. It irritated, almost infuriated Janet, to whom it appeared as the logical reflection of what was passing on the screen; she averted her glance from both, staring into her lap, filled with shame that the relation between the sexes should be thus exposed to public gaze, parodied, sentimentalized, degraded.... There were, however, marvels to stir her, strange landscapes, cities, seas, and ships,—once a fire in the forest of a western reserve with gigantic tongues of orange flame leaping from tree to tree. The movies brought the world to Hampton, the great world into which she longed to fare, brought the world to her! Remote mountain hamlets from Japan, minarets and muezzins from the Orient, pyramids from Egypt, domes from Moscow resembling gilded beets turned upside down; grey houses of parliament by the Thames, the Tower of London, the Palaces of Potsdam, the Tai Mahal. Strange lands indeed, and stranger peoples! booted Russians in blouses, naked Equatorial savages tattooed and amazingly adorned, soldiers and sailors, presidents, princes and emperors brought into such startling proximity one could easily imagine one's self exchanging the time of day! Incredible to Janet how the audiences, how even Eda accepted with American complacency what were to her never-ending miracles; the yearning to see more, to know more, became acute, like a pain, but even as she sought to devour these scenes, to drink in every detail, with tantalizing swiftness they were whisked away. They were peepholes in the walls of her prison; and at night she often charmed herself to sleep with remembered visions of wide, empty, treeshaded terraces reserved for kings.
But Eda, however complacent her interest in the scenes themselves, was thrilled to the marrow by their effect on Janet, who was her medium. Emerging from the vestibule of the theatre, Janet seemed not to see the slushy street, her eyes shone with a silver light like that of a mountain lake in a stormy sunset. And they walked in silence until Janet would exclaim:
"Oh Eda, wouldn't you love to travel!"
Thus Eda Rawle was brought in contact with values she herself was powerless to detect, and which did not become values until they had passed through Janet. One "educative" reel they had seen had begun with scenes in a lumber camp high in the mountains of Galicia, where grow forests of the priceless pine that becomes, after years of drying and seasoning, the sounding board of the Stradivarius and the harp. Even then it must respond to a Player. Eda, though failing to apply this poetic parallel, when alone in her little room in the Welsh boarding-house often indulged in an ecstasy of speculation as to that man, hidden in the mists of the future, whose destiny it would be to awaken her friend. Hampton did not contain him,—of this she was sure; and in her efforts to visualize him she had recourse to the movies, seeking him amongst that brilliant company of personages who stood so haughtily or walked so indifferently across the ephemeral brightness of the screen.
By virtue of these marvels of the movies: Hampton ugly and sordid Hampton!—actually began for Janet to take on a romantic tinge. Were not the strange peoples of the earth flocking to Hampton? She saw them arriving at the station, straight from Ellis Island, bewildered, ticketed like dumb animals, the women draped in the soft, exotic colours many of them were presently to exchange for the cheap and gaudy apparel of Faber Street. She sought to summon up in her mind the glimpses she had had of the wonderful lands from which they had come, to imagine their lives in that earlier environment. Sometimes she wandered, alone or with Eda, through the various quarters of the city. Each quarter had a flavour of its own, a synthetic flavour belonging neither to the old nor to the new, yet partaking of both: a difference in atmosphere to which Janet was keenly sensitive. In the German quarter, to the north, one felt a sort of ornamental bleakness—if the expression may be permitted: the tenements here were clean and not too crowded, the scroll-work on their superimposed porches, like that decorating the Turnverein and the stem Lutheran Church, was eloquent of a Teutonic inheritance: The Belgians were to the west, beyond the base-ball park and the car barns, their grey houses scattered among new streets beside the scarred and frowning face of Torrey's hill. Almost under the hill itself, which threatened to roll down on it, and facing a bottomless, muddy street, was the quaint little building giving the note of foreign thrift, of socialism and shrewdness, of joie de vivre to the settlement, the Franco-Belgian co-operative store, with its salle de reunion above and a stage for amateur theatricals. Standing in the mud outside, Janet would gaze through the tiny windows in the stucco wall at the baskets prepared for each household laid in neat rows beside the counter; at the old man with the watery blue eyes and lacing of red in his withered cheeks who spoke no English, whose duty it was to distribute the baskets to the women and children as they called.
Turning eastward again, one came to Dey Street, in the heart of Hampton, where Hibernian Hall stood alone and grim, sole testimony of the departed Hibernian glories of a district where the present Irish rulers of the city had once lived and gossiped and fought in the days when the mill bells had roused the boarding-house keepers at half past four of a winter morning. Beside the hall was a corner lot, heaped high with hills of ashes and rubbish like the vomitings of some filthy volcano; the unsightliness of which was half concealed by huge signs announcing the merits of chewing gums, tobaccos, and cereals. But why had the departure of the Irish, the coming of the Syrians made Dey Street dark, narrow, mysterious, oriental? changed the very aspect of its architecture? Was it the coffee-houses? One of these, in front of which Janet liked to linger, was set weirdly into an old New England cottage, and had, apparently, fathomless depths. In summer the whole front of it lay open to the street, and here all day long, beside the table where the charcoal squares were set to dry, could be seen saffron-coloured Armenians absorbed in a Turkish game played on a backgammon board, their gentleness and that of the loiterers looking on in strange contrast with their hawk-like profiles and burning eyes. Behind this group, in the half light of the middle interior, could be discerned an American soda-water fountain of a bygone fashion, on its marble counter oddly shaped bottles containing rose and violet syrups; there was a bottle-shaped stove, and on the walls, in gilt frames, pictures evidently dating from the period in American art that flourished when Franklin Pierce was President; and there was an array of marble topped tables extending far back into the shadows. Behind the fountain was a sort of cupboard—suggestive of the Arabian Nights, which Janet had never read—from which, occasionally, the fat proprietor emerged bearing Turkish coffee or long Turkish pipes.
When not thus occupied the proprietor carried a baby. The street swarmed with babies, and mothers nursed them on the door-steps. And in this teeming, prolific street one could scarcely move without stepping on a fat, almond eyed child, though some, indeed, were wheeled; wheeled in all sorts of queer contrivances by one another, by fathers with ragged black moustaches and eagle noses who, to the despair of mill superintendents, had decided in the morning that three days' wages would since to support their families for the week .... In the midst of the throng might be seen occasionally the stout and comfortable and not too immaculate figure of a shovel bearded Syrian priest, in a frock coat and square-topped "Derby" hat, sailing along serenely, heedless of the children who scattered out of his path.
Nearby was the quarter of the Canadian French, scarcely now to be called foreigners, though still somewhat reminiscent of the cramped little towns in the northern wilderness of water and forest. On one corner stood almost invariably a "Pharmacie Francaise"; the signs were in French, and the elders spoke the patois. These, despite the mill pallor, retained in their faces, in their eyes, a suggestion of the outdoor look of their ancestors, the coureurs des bois, but the children spoke English, and the young men, as they played baseball in the street or in the corner lots might be heard shouting out derisively the cry of the section hands so familiar in mill cities, "Doff, you beggars you, doff!"
Occasionally the two girls strayed into that wide thoroughfare not far from the canal, known by the classic name of Hawthorne, which the Italians had appropriated to themselves. This street, too, in spite of the telegraph poles flaunting crude arms in front of its windows, in spite of the trolley running down its middle, had acquired a character, a unity all its own, a warmth and picturesqueness that in the lingering light of summer evenings assumed an indefinable significance. It was not Italy, but it was something—something proclaimed in the ornate, leaning lines of the pillared balconies of the yellow tenement on the second block, in the stone-vaulted entrance of the low house next door, in fantastically coloured walls, in curtained windows out of which leaned swarthy, earringed women. Blocking the end of the street, in stern contrast, was the huge Clarendon Mill with its sinister brick pillars running up the six stories between the glass. Here likewise the sidewalks overflowed with children, large-headed, with great, lustrous eyes, mute, appealing, the eyes of cattle. Unlike American children, they never seemed to be playing. Among the groups of elders gathered for gossip were piratical Calabrians in sombre clothes, descended from Greek ancestors, once the terrors of the Adriatic Sea. The women, lingering in the doorways, hemmed in by more children, were for the most part squat and plump, but once in a while Janet's glance was caught and held by a strange, sharp beauty worthy of a cameo.
Opposite the Clarendon Mill on the corner of East Street was a provision store with stands of fruit and vegetables encroaching on the pavement. Janet's eye was attracted by a box of olives.
"Oh Eda," she cried, "do you remember, we saw them being picked—in the movies? All those old trees on the side of a hill?"
"Why, that's so," said Eda. "You never would have thought anything'd grow on those trees."
The young Italian who kept the store gave them a friendly grin.
"You lika the olives?" he asked, putting some of the shining black fruit into their hands. Eda bit one dubiously with her long, white teeth, and giggled.
"Don't they taste funny!" she exclaimed.
"Good—very good," he asserted gravely, and it was to Janet he turned, as though recognizing a discrimination not to be found in her companion. She nodded affirmatively. The strange taste of the fruit enhanced her sense of adventure, she tried to imagine herself among the gatherers in the grove; she glanced at the young man to perceive that he was tall and well formed, with remarkably expressive eyes almost the colour of the olives themselves. It surprised her that she liked him, though he was an Italian and a foreigner: a certain debonnair dignity in him appealed to her—a quality lacking in many of her own countrymen.
And she wanted to talk to him about Italy,—only she did not know how to begin,—when a customer appeared, an Italian woman who conversed with him in soft, liquid tones that moved her ....
Sometimes on these walks—especially if the day were grey and sombre—Janet's sense of romance and adventure deepened, became more poignant, charged with presage. These feelings, vague and unaccountable, she was utterly unable to confide to Eda, yet the very fear they inspired was fascinating; a fear and a hope that some day, in all this Babel of peoples, something would happen! It was as though the conflicting soul of the city and her own soul were one....
Lise was the only member of the Bumpus family who did not find uncongenial such distractions and companionships as were offered by the civilization that surrounded them. The Bagatelle she despised; that was slavery—but slavery out of which she might any day be snatched, like Leila Hawtrey, by a prince charming who had made a success in life. Success to Lise meant money. Although what some sentimental sociologists might call a victim of our civilization, Lise would not have changed it, since it produced not only Lise herself, but also those fabulous financiers with yachts and motors and town and country houses she read about in the supplements of the Sunday newspapers. It contained her purgatory, which she regarded in good conventional fashion as a mere temporary place of detention, and likewise the heaven toward which she strained, the dwelling-place of light. In short, her philosophy was that of the modern, orthodox American, tinged by a somewhat commercialized Sunday school tradition of an earlier day, and highly approved by the censors of the movies. The peculiar kind of abstinence once euphemistically known as "virtue," particularly if it were combined with beauty, never failed of its reward. Lise, in this sense, was indeed virtuous, and her mirror told her she was beautiful. Almost anything could happen to such a lady: any day she might be carried up into heaven by that modern chariot of fire, the motor car, driven by a celestial chauffeur.
One man's meat being another's poison, Lise absorbed from the movies an element by which her sister Janet was repelled. A popular production known as "Leila of Hawtrey's" contained her creed,—Hawtrey's being a glittering metropolitan restaurant where men of the world are wont to gather and discuss the stock market, and Leila a beautiful, blonde and orphaned waitress upon whom several of the fashionable frequenters had exercised seductive powers in vain. They lay in wait for her at the side entrance, followed her, while one dissipated and desperate person, married, and said to move in the most exclusive circles, sent her an offer of a yearly income in five figures, the note being reproduced on the screen, and Leila pictured reading it in her frigid hall-bedroom. There are complications; she is in debt, and the proprietor of Hawtrey's has threatened to discharge her and in order that the magnitude of the temptation may be most effectively realized the vision appears of Leila herself, wrapped in furs, stepping out of a limousine and into an elevator lifting her to an apartment containing silk curtains, a Canet bed, a French maid, and a Pomeranian. Virtue totters, but triumphs, being reinforced by two more visions the first of these portrays Leila, prematurely old, dragging herself along pavements under the metallic Broadway lights accosting gentlemen in evening dress; and the second reveals her in the country, kneeling beside a dying mother's bed, giving her promise to remain true to the Christian teachings of her childhood.
And virtue is rewarded, lavishly, as virtue should be, in dollars and cents, in stocks and bonds, in pearls and diamonds. Popular fancy takes kindly to rough but honest westerners who have begun life in flannel shirts, who have struck gold and come to New York with a fortune but despising effeteness; such a one, tanned by the mountain sun, embarrassed in raiment supplied by a Fifth Avenue tailor, takes a table one evening at Hawtrey's and of course falls desperately in love. He means marriage from the first, and his faith in Leila is great enough to survive what appears to be an almost total eclipse of her virtue. Through the machinations of the influential villain, and lured by the false pretence that one of her girl friends is ill, she is enticed into a mysterious house of a sinister elegance, and apparently irretrievably compromised. The westerner follows, forces his way through the portals, engages the villain, and vanquishes him. Leila becomes a Bride. We behold her, at the end, mistress of one of those magnificent stone mansions with grilled vestibules and negro butlers into whose sacred precincts we are occasionally, in the movies, somewhat breathlessly ushered—a long way from Hawtrey's restaurant and a hall-bedroom. A long way, too, from the Bagatelle and Fillmore Street—but to Lise a way not impossible, nor even improbable.
This work of art, conveying the moral that virtue is an economic asset, made a great impression on Lise. Good Old Testament doctrine, set forth in the Book of Job itself. And Leila, pictured as holding out for a higher price and getting it, encouraged Lise to hold out also. Mr. Wiley, in whose company she had seen this play, and whose likeness filled the plush and silver-plated frame on her bureau, remained ironically ignorant of the fact that he had paid out his money to make definite an ambition, an ideal hitherto nebulous in the mind of the lady whom he adored. Nor did Lise enlighten him, being gifted with a certain inscrutableness. As a matter of fact it had never been her intention to accept him, but now that she was able concretely to visualize her Lochinvar of the future, Mr. Whey's lack of qualifications became the more apparent. In the first place, he had been born in Lowell and had never been west of Worcester; in the second, his salary was sixteen dollars a week: it is true she had once fancied the Scottish terrier style of hair-cut abruptly ending in the rounded line of the shaven neck, but Lochinvar had been close-cropped. Mr. Wiley, close-cropped, would have resembled a convict.