Tom Grogan/Chapter 5

V
A WORD FROM THE TENEMENTS

ONE morning Patsy came up the garden path limping on his crutch; the little fellow's eyes were full of tears. He had been out with his goat when some children from the tenements surrounded his cart, pitched it into the ditch, and followed him half way home, calling “Scab! scab!” at the top of their voices.

Cully heard his cries, and ran through the yard to meet him, his anger rising at every step. To lay hands on Patsy was, to Cully, the unpardonable sin. Ever since the day, five years before, when Tom had taken him into her employ, a homeless waif of the streets,—his father had been drowned from a canal-boat she was unloading,—and had set him down beside Patsy's crib to watch while she was at her work, Jennie being at school, Cully had loved the little cripple with the devotion of a dog to its master. Lawless, rough, often cruel, and sometimes vindictive as Cully was to others, a word from Patsy humbled and softened him.

And Patsy loved Cully. His big, broad chest, stout, straight legs, strong arms and hands, were his admiration and constant pride. Cully was his champion and his ideal. The waif's recklessness and audacity were to him only evidences of so much brains and energy.

This love between the lads grew stronger after Tom had sent to Dublin for her old father, that she might have “a man about the house.” Then a new blessing came, not only into the lives of both the lads, but into the whole household as well. Mullins, in his later years, had been a dependent about Trinity College, and constant association with books and students had given him a taste for knowledge denied his daughter. Tom had left home when a girl. In the long winter nights during the slack season, after the stalls were bedded and the horses were fed and watered and locked up for the night, the old man would draw up his chair to the big kerosene lamp on the table, and tell the boys stories—they listening with wide-open eyes, Cully interrupting the narrative every now and then by such asides as “No flies on them fellers, wuz ther', Patsy? They wuz daisies, they wuz. Go on, Pop; it's better'n a circus;” while Patsy would cheer aloud at the downfall of the vanquished, with their “three thousand lance-bearers put to death by the sword,” waving his crutch over his head in his enthusiasm.

Jennie would come in too, and sit by her mother; and after Nilsson's encounter with Quigg—an incident which greatly advanced him in Tom's estimation—Cully would be sent to bring him in from his room over the stable and give him a chair with the others, that he might learn the language easier. At these times it was delightful to watch the expression of pride and happiness that would come over Tom's face as she listened to her father's talk.

“But ye have a great head, Gran'pop,” she would say. “Cully, ye blatherin' idiot, why don't ye brace up an' git some knowledge in yer head? Sure, Gran'pop, Father McCluskey ain't in it wid ye a minute. Ye could down the whole gang of 'em.” And the old man would smile faintly and say he had heard the young gentlemen at the college recite the stories so many times he could never forget them.

In this way the boys grew closer together, Patsy cramming himself from books during the day in order to tell Cully at night all about the Forty Thieves boiled in oil, or Ali Baba and his donkey, or poor man Friday to whom Robinson Crusoe was so kind; and Cully relating in return how Jimmie Finn smashed Pat Gilsey's face because he threw stones at his sister, ending with a full account of a dog-fight which a “snoozer of a cop” stopped with his club.

So when Patsy came limping up the garden path this morning, rubbing his eyes, his voice choking, and the tears streaming, and, burying his little face in Cully's jacket, poured out his tale of insult and suffering, that valiant defender of the right pulled his cap tight over his eyes and began a still-hunt through the tenements. There, as he afterwards expressed it, he “mopped up the floor” with one after another of the ringleaders, beginning with young Billy McGaw, Dan's eldest son and Cully's senior.

Tom was dumfounded at the attack on Patsy. This was a blow upon which she had not counted. To strike her Patsy, her cripple, her baby! The cowardice of it incensed her, She knew instantly that her affairs must have been common talk about the tenements to have produced so great an effect upon the children. She felt sure that their fathers and mothers had encouraged them in it.

In emergencies like this it was never to the old father that she turned. He was too feeble, too much a thing of the past. While to a certain extent he influenced her life, standing always for the right and always for the kindest thing she could do, yet when it came to times of action and danger she felt the need of a younger and more vigorous mind. It was on Jennie, really more her companion than her daughter, that she depended for counsel and sympathy at these times.

Tom did not underestimate the gravity of the situation. Up to that point in her career she had fought only the cold, the heat, the many weary hours of labor far into the night, and now and then some man like McGaw. But this stab from out the dark was a danger to which she was unused. She saw in this last move of McGaw's, aided as he was by the Union, not only a determination to ruin her, but a plan to divide her business among a set of men who hated her as much on account of her success as for anything else. A few more horses and carts and another barn or two, and she herself would become a hated capitalist. That she had stood out in the wet and cold herself, hours at a time, like any man among them; that she had, in her husband's early days, helped him feed and bed their one horse, often currying him herself; that when she and her Tom had moved to Rockville with their savings and there were three horses to care for and her husband needed more help than he could hire, she had brought her little baby Patsy to the stable while she worked there like a man; that during all this time she had cooked and washed and kept the house tidy for four people; that she had done all these things she felt would not count now with the Union, though each member of it was a bread-winner like herself.

She knew what power it wielded. There had been the Martin family, honest, hardworking people, who had come down from Haverstraw—the man and wife and their three children—and moved into the new tenement with all their nice furniture and new carpets. Tom had helped them unload these things from the brick-sloop that brought them. A few weeks after, poor Martin, still almost a stranger, had been brought home from the gas-house with his head laid open, because he had taken the place of a Union man discharged for drunkenness, and lingered for weeks until he died. Then the widow, with her children about her, had been put aboard another sloop that was going back to her old home. Tom remembered, as if it were yesterday, the heap of furniture and little pile of kitchen things sold under the red flag outside the store near the post-office.

She had seen, too, the suffering and misery of her neighbors during the long strike at the brewery two years before, and the moving in and out from house to tenement and tenement to shanty, with never a day's work afterward for any man who left his job. She had helped many of the men who, three years before, had been driven out of work by the majority vote of the Carpenters' Union, and who dared not go back and face the terrible excommunication, the social boycott, with all its insults and cruelties. She shuddered as she thought again of her suspicions years ago when the bucket had fallen that crushed in her husband's chest, and sent him to bed for months, only to leave it a wrecked man. The rope that held the bucket had been burned by acid, Dr. Mason said. Some grudge of the Union, she had always felt, was paid off then.

She knew what the present trouble meant, now that it was started, and she knew in what it might end. But her courage never wavered. She ran over in her mind the names of the several men who were fighting her—McGaw, for whom she had a contempt; Dempsey and Jimmie Brown, of the executive committee, both liquor-dealers; Paterson, foreman of the gas-house; and the rest—dangerous enemies, she knew.

That night she sent for Nilsson to come to the house; heard from him, word for word, of Quigg's effort to corrupt him; questioned Patsy closely, getting the names of the children who had abused him; then calling Jennie into her bedroom, she locked the door behind them.

When they reëntered the sitting-room, an hour later, Jennie's lips were quivering. Tom's mouth was firmly set. Her mind was made up.

She would fight it out to the bitter end.