Tom Grogan/Chapter 8
ALMOST every man and woman in the tenement district knew Oscar Schwartz, and had felt the power of his obstinate hand during the long strike of two years before, when, the Union having declared war, Schwartz had closed the brewery for several months rather than submit to its dictation. The news, therefore, that the Union had called a meeting and appointed a committee to wait on Mr. Schwartz, to protest against his giving work to a non-union woman filled them with alarm. The women remembered the privations and suffering of that winter, and the three dollars a week doled out to them by the Central Branch, while their husbands, who had been earning two and three dollars a day, were drinking at O'Leary's bar, playing cards, or listening to the encouraging talk of the delegates who came from New York to keep up their
spirits. The brewery employed a larger number of men than any other concern in Rockville, so trouble with its employees meant serious trouble for half the village if Schwartz defied the Union and selected a non-union woman to do the work.
POP MULLINS'S ADVICE
They knew, too, something of the indomitable pluck and endurance of Tom Grogan. If she were lowest on the bids, she would fight for the contract, they felt sure, if it took her last dollar. McGaw was a fool, they said, to bid so high; he might have known she would cut his throat, and bring them no end of trouble.
Having nursed their resentment, and needing a common object for their wrath, the women broke out against Tom. Many of them had disliked her ever since the day, years ago, when she had been seen carrying her injured husband away at night to the hospital, after months of nursing at home. And the most envious had always maintained that she meant at the time to put him away forever where no one could find him, so that she might play the man herself.
“Why should she be a-comin' in an' a-robbin' us of our pay?” muttered a coarse, red-faced virago, her hair in a frowse about her head, her slatternly dress open at the throat. “Oi'll be one to go an' pull her off the dock and jump on her. What's she a-doin', any-how, puttin' down prices! Ef her ole man had a leg to walk on, instid of his lyin' to-day a cripple in the hospital, he'd be back and be a-runnin' things.”
“She's doin' what she's a right to do,” broke out Mrs. Todd indignantly. Mrs. Todd was the wife of the foreman at the brewery, and an old friend of Tom's. Tom had sat up with her child only the week before. Indeed, there were few women in the tenements, for all their outcry, who did not know how quick had been her hand to help when illness came, or the landlord threatened the sidewalk, or the undertaker insisted on his money in advance.
“It's not Tom Grogan that's crooked,” Mrs. Todd continued, “an' ye all know it. It's that loafer, Dennis Quigg, and that old sneak, Crimmins. They never lifted their hands on a decent job in their lives, an' don't want to. When my man Jack was out of work for four months last winter, and there wasn't a pail of coal in the house, wasn't Quigg gittin' his four dollars a day for shootin' off his mouth every night at O'Leary's, an' fillin' the men's heads full of capital and rights? An' Dan McGaw's no better. If ye're out for jumpin' on people, Mrs. Moriarty, begin with Quigg an' some of the bummers as is runnin' the Union, an' as gits paid whether the men works or not.”
“Bedad, ye're roight,” said half a dozen women, the tide turning suddenly, while the excitement grew and spread, and other women came in from the several smaller tenements.
“Is the trouble at the brewery?” asked a shrunken-looking woman, opening a door on the corridor, a faded shawl over her head. She was a new-comer, and had been in the tenement only a week or so—not long enough to have the run of the house or to know her neighbors.
“Yes; at Schwartz's,” said Mrs. Todd, stopping opposite her door on the way to her own rooms. “Your man's got a job there, ain't he?”
“He has, mum; he's gateman—the fust job in six months. Ye don't think they'll make him throw it up, do ye, mum?”
“Yes; an' break his head if he don't. Thet's what they did to my man three years gone, till he had to come in with the gang and pay 'em two dollars a month,” replied Mrs. Todd.
“But my man's jined, mum, a month ago; they wouldn't let him work till he did. Won't ye come in an' set down? It's a poor place we have—we've been so long without work, an' my girl's laid off with a cough. She's been a-workin' at the box-factory. If the Union give notice again, I don't know what'll become of us. Can't we do somethin'? Maybe Mrs. Grogan might give up the work if she knew how it was wid us. She seems like a dacent woman; she was in to look at me girl last week, hearin' as how we were strangers an' she very bad.”
“Oh, ye don't know her. Ye can save yer wind and shoe-leather. She's on ter McGaw red hot; that's the worst of it. He better look out; she'll down him yet,” said Mrs. Todd.
As the two entered the stuffy, close room for further discussion, a young girl left her seat by the window, and moved into the adjoining apartment. She had that yellow, waxy skin, hollow, burning eyes, and hectic flush which tell the fatal story so clearly.
While the women of the tenements were cursing or wringing their hands, the men were devoting themselves to more vigorous measures. A meeting was called for nine o'clock at Lion Hall.
It was held behind closed doors. Two walking delegates from Brooklyn were present, having been summoned by telegram the night before, and who were expected to coax or bully the weak-kneed, were the ultimatum sent to Schwartz refused and an order for a sympathetic strike issued.
At the brewery all was quiet. Schwartz had read the notice left on his desk by the committee the night before, and had already begun his arrangements to supply the places of the men if a strike were ordered. When pressed by Quigg for a reply, he said quietly:—
“The price for hauling will be Grogan's bid. If she wants it, it is hers.”
Tom talked the matter over with Pop, and had determined to buy another horse and hire two extra carts. At her price there was a margin of at least ten cents a ton profit, and as the work lasted through the year, she could adjust the hauling of her other business without much extra expense. She discussed the situation with no one outside her house. If Schwartz wanted her to carry on the work, she would do it, Union or no Union. Mr. Crane was on her bond. That in itself was a bracing factor. Strong and self-reliant as she was, the helping hand which this man held out to her was like an anchor in a storm.
That Sunday night they were all gathered round the kerosene lamp,—Pop reading, Cully and Patsy on the floor, Jennie listening absent-mindedly, her thoughts far away,—when there came a knock at the kitchen door. Jennie flew to open it.
Outside stood two women. One was Mrs. Todd, the other the haggard, pinched, careworn woman who had spoken to her that morning at her room-door in the tenement.
“They want to see you, mother,” said Jennie, all the light gone out of her eyes. What could be the matter with Carl, she thought. It had been this way for a week.
“Well, bring 'em in. Hold on, I'll go meself.”
“She would come, Tom,” said Mrs. Todd, unwinding her shawl from her head and shoulders; “an' ye mustn't blame me, fer it's none of my doin's. Walk in, mum; ye can speak to her yerself. Why, where is she?”—looking out of the door into the darkness. “Oh, here ye are; I thought ye'd skipped.”
“Do ye remember me?” said the woman, stepping into the room, her gaunt face looking more wretched under the flickering light of the candle than it had done in the morning. “I'm the new-comer in the tenements. Ye were in to see my girl th'other night. We're in great trouble.”
“She's not dead?” said Tom, sinking into a chair.
“No, thank God; we've got her still wid us; but me man's come home to-night nigh crazy. He's a-walkin' the floor this minute, an' so I goes to Mrs. Todd, an' she come wid me. If he loses the job now, we're in the street. Only two weeks' work since las' fall, an' the girl gettin' worse every day, and every cint in the bank gone, an' hardly a chair lef' in the place. An' I says to him, 'I'll go meself. She come in to see Katie th' other night; she'll listen to me.' We lived in Newark, mum, an' had four rooms and a mahogany sofa and two carpets, till the strike come in the clock-factory, an' me man had to quit; an' then all winter—oh, we're not used to the likes of this!”—covering her face with her shawl and bursting into tears.
Tom had risen to her feet, her face expressing the deepest sympathy for the woman, though she was at a loss to understand the cause of her visitor's distress.
“Is yer man fired?” she asked.
“No, an' wouldn't be if they'd let him alone. He's sober an' steady, an' never tastes a drop, and brings his money home to me every Saturday night, and always done; an' now they”—
“Well, what's the matter, then?” Tom could not stand much beating about the bush.
“Why, don't ye know they've give notice?” she said in astonishment; then, as a misgiving entered her mind, “Maybe I'm wrong; but me man an' all of 'em tells me ye're a-buckin' ag'in' Mr. McGaw, an' that ye has the haulin' job at the brewery.”
“No,” said Tom, with emphasis, “ye're not wrong; ye're dead right. But who's give notice?”
“The committee's give notice, an' the boss at the brewery says he'll give ye the job if he has to shut up the brewery; an' the committee's decided to-day that if he does they'll call out the men. My man is a member, and so I come over”— And she rested her head wearily against the door, the tears streaming down her face.
Tom looked at her wonderingly, and then, putting her strong arms about her, half carried her across the kitchen to a chair by the stove. Mrs. Todd leaned against the table, watching the sobbing woman.
For a moment no one spoke. It was a new experience for Tom. Heretofore the fight had been her own and for her own. She had never supposed before that she filled so important a place in the neighborhood, and for a moment there flashed across her mind a certain justifiable pride in the situation. But this feeling was momentary. Here was a suffering woman. For the first time she realized that one weaker than herself might suffer in the struggle. What could she do to help her? This thought was uppermost in her mind.
“Don't ye worry,” she said tenderly. “Schwartz won't fire yer man.”
“No; but the sluggers will. There was five men 'p'inted to-day to do up the scabs an' the kickers who won't go out. They near killed him once in Newark for kickin'. It was that time, you know, when Katie was first took bad.”
“Do ye know their names?” said Tom, her eyes flashing.
“No, an' me man don't. He's new, an' they dar'sn't trust him. It was in the back room, he says, they picked 'em out.”
Tom stood for some moments in deep thought, gazing at the fire, her arms akimbo. Then, wheeling suddenly, she opened the door of the sitting-room, and said in a firm, resolute voice:—
“Gran'pop, come here; I want ye.”
The old man laid down his book, and stood in the kitchen doorway. He was in his shirt-sleeves, his spectacles on his forehead.“Come inside the kitchen, an' shut that door behind ye. Here's me friend Jane Todd an' a friend of hers from the tenement. That thief of a McGaw has stirred up the Union over the haulin' bid, and they've sent notice to Schwartz that I don't belong to the Union, an' if he don't throw me over an' give the job to McGaw they'll call out the men. If they do, there's a hundred women and three times that many children that'll go hungry. This woman here's got a girl herself that hasn't drawed a well breath for six months, an' her man's been idle all winter, an' only just now got a job at Schwartz's, tending gate. Now, what'll I do? Shall I chuck up the job or stick?”
The old man looked into the desolate, weary face of the woman and then at Tom. Then he said slowly:—
“Well, child, ye kin do widout it, an' maybe t' others can't.”
“Ye've got it straight,” said Tom; “that's just what I think meself.” Then, turning to the stranger:—
“Go home and tell yer man to go to bed. I'll touch nothin' that'll break the heart of any woman. The job's McGaw's. I'll throw up me bid.”