Chapter XLI - The Strike
The barn at which Hurstwood applied was exceedingly short-handed, and was being operated practically by three men as directors. There were a lot of green hands around--queer, hungry-looking men, who looked as if want had driven them to desperate means. They tried to be lively and willing, but there was an air of hang-dog diffidence about the place.
Hurstwood went back through the barns and out into a large, enclosed lot, where were a series of tracks and loops. A half dozen cars were there, manned by instructors, each with a pupil at the lever. More pupils were waiting at one of the rear doors of the barn.
In silence Hurstwood viewed this scene, and waited. His companions took his eye for a while, though they did not interest him much more than the cars. They were an uncomfortable-looking gang, however. One or two were very thin and lean. Several were quite stout. Several others were rawboned and sallow, as if they had been beaten upon by all sorts of rough weather.
"Did you see by the paper they are going to call out the militia?" Hurstwood heard one of them remark.
"Oh, they'll do that," returned the other. "They always do."
"Think we're liable to have much trouble?" said another, whom Hurstwood did not see.
"That Scotchman that went out on the last car," put in a voice, "told me that they hit him in the ear with a cinder."
A small, nervous laugh accompanied this.
"One of those fellows on the Fifth Avenue line must have had a hell of a time, according to the papers," drawled another. "They broke his car windows and pulled him off into the street 'fore the police could stop 'em."
"Yes; but there are more police around to-day," was added by another.
Hurstwood hearkened without much mental comment. These talkers seemed scared to him. Their gabbling was feverish--things said to quiet their own minds. He looked out into the yard and waited.
Two of the men got around quite near him, but behind his back. They were rather social, and he listened to what they said.
"Are you a railroad man?" said one.
"Me? No. I've always worked in a paper factory."
"I had a job in Newark until last October," returned the other, with reciprocal feeling.
There were some words which passed too low to hear. Then the conversation became strong again.
"I don't blame these fellers for striking," said one. "They've got the right of it, all right, but I had to get something to do."
"Same here," said the other. "If I had any job in Newark I wouldn't be over here takin' chances like these."
"It's hell these days, ain't it?" said the man. "A poor man ain't nowhere. You could starve, by God, right in the streets, and there ain't most no one would help you."
"Right you are," said the other. "The job I had I lost 'cause they shut down. They run all summer and lay up a big stock, and then shut down."
Hurstwood paid some little attention to this. Somehow, he felt a little superior to these two--a little better off. To him these were ignorant and commonplace, poor sheep in a driver's hand.
"Poor devils," he thought, speaking out of the thoughts and feelings of a bygone period of success. "Next," said one of the instructors.
"You're next," said a neighbor, touching him.
He went out and climbed on the platform. The instructor took it for granted that no preliminaries were needed.
"You see this handle," he said, reaching up to an electric cutoff, which was fastened to the roof. "This throws the current off or on. If you want to reverse the car you turn it over here. If you want to send it forward, you put it over here. If you want to cut off the power, you keep it in the middle."
Hurstwood smiled at the simple information.
"Now, this handle here regulates your speed. To here," he said, pointing with his finger, "gives you about four miles an hour. This is eight. When it's full on, you make about fourteen miles an hour."
Hurstwood watched him calmly. He had seen motormen work before. He knew just about how they did it, and was sure he could do as well, with a very little practice.
The instructor explained a few more details, and then said:
"Now, we'll back her up."
Hurstwood stood placidly by, while the car rolled back into the yard.
"One thing you want to be careful about, and that is to start easy. Give one degree time to act before you start another. The one fault of most men is that they always want to throw her wide open. That's bad. It's dangerous, too. Wears out the motor. You don't want to do that."
"I see," said Hurstwood.
He waited and waited, while the man talked on.
"Now you take it," he said, finally.
The ex-manager laid hand to the lever and pushed it gently, as he thought. It worked much easier than he imagined, however, with the result that the car jerked quickly forward, throwing him back against the door. He straightened up sheepishly, while the instructor stopped the car with the brake.
"You want to be careful about that," was all he said.
Hurstwood found, however, that handling a brake and regulating speed were not so instantly mastered as he had imagined. Once or twice he would have ploughed through the rear fence if it had not been for the hand and word of his companion. The latter was rather patient with him, but he never smiled.
"You've got to get the knack of working both arms at once," he said. "It takes a little practice."
One o'clock came while he was still on the car practicing, and he began to feel hungry. The day set in snowing, and he was cold. He grew weary of running to and fro on the short track.
They ran the car to the end and both got off. Hurstwood went into the barn and sought a car step, pulling out his paper wrapped lunch from his pocket. There was no water and the bread was dry, but he enjoyed it. There was no ceremony about dining. He swallowed and looked about, contemplating the dull, homely labor of the thing. It was disagreeable--miserably disagreeable--in all its phases. Not because it was bitter, but because it was hard. It would be hard to any one, he thought.
After eating, he stood about as before, waiting until his turn came.
The intention was to give him an afternoon of practice, but the greater part of the time was spent in waiting about.
At last evening came, and with it hunger and a debate with himself as to how he should spend the night. It was half-past five. He must soon eat. If he tried to go home, it would take him two hours and a half of cold walking and riding. Besides he had orders to report at seven the next morning, and going home would necessitate his rising at an unholy and disagreeable hour. He had only something like a dollar and fifteen cents of Carrie's money, with which he had intended to pay the two weeks' coal bill before the present idea struck him.
"They must have some place around here," he thought. "Where does that fellow from Newark stay?"
Finally he decided to ask. There was a young fellow standing near one of the doors in the cold, waiting a last turn. He was a mere boy in years--twenty-one about--but with a body lank and long, because of privation. A little good living would have made this youth plump and swaggering.
"How do they arrange this, if a man hasn't any money?" inquired Hurstwood, discreetly.
The fellow turned a keen, watchful face on the inquirer.
"You mean eat?" he replied.
"Yes, and sleep. I can't go back to New York to-night."
"The foreman'll fix that if you ask him, I guess. He did me."
"Yes. I just told him I didn't have anything. Gee, I couldn't go home. I live way over in Hoboken."
Hurstwood only cleared his throat by way of acknowledgment.
"They've got a place upstairs here, I understand. I don't know what sort of a thing it is. Purty tough, I guess. He gave me a meal ticket this noon. I know that wasn't much."
Hurstwood smiled grimly, and the boy laughed.
"It ain't no fun, is it?" he inquired, wishing vainly for a cheery reply.
"Not much," answered Hurstwood.
"I'd tackle him now," volunteered the youth. "He may go 'way."
Hurstwood did so.
"Isn't there some place I can stay around here to-night?" he inquired. "If I have to go back to New York, I'm afraid I won't"
"There're some cots upstairs," interrupted the man, "if you want one of them."
"That'll do," he assented.
He meant to ask for a meal ticket, but the seemingly proper moment never came, and he decided to pay himself that night.
"I'll ask him in the morning."
He ate in a cheap restaurant in the vicinity, and, being cold and lonely, went straight off to seek the loft in question. The company was not attempting to run cars after nightfall. It was so advised by the police.
The room seemed to have been a lounging place for night workers. There were some nine cots in the place, two or three wooden chairs, a soap box, and a small, round-bellied stove, in which a fire was blazing. Early as he was, another man was there before him. The latter was sitting beside the stove warming his hands.
Hurstwood approached and held out his own toward the fire. He was sick of the bareness and privation of all things connected with his venture, but was steeling himself to hold out. He fancied he could for a while.
"Cold, isn't it?" said the early guest.
A long silence.
"Not much of a place to sleep in, is it?" said the man.
"Better than nothing," replied Hurstwood.
"I believe I'll turn in," said the man.
Rising, he went to one of the cots and stretched himself, removing only his shoes, and pulling the one blanket and dirty old comforter over him in a sort of bundle. The sight disgusted Hurstwood, but he did not dwell on it, choosing to gaze into the stove and think of something else. Presently he decided to retire, and picked a cot, also removing his shoes.
While he was doing so, the youth who had advised him to come here entered, and, seeing Hurstwood, tried to be genial.
"Better'n nothin'," he observed, looking around.
Hurstwood did not take this to himself. He thought it to be an expression of individual satisfaction, and so did not answer. The youth imagined he was out of sorts, and set to whistling softly. Seeing another man asleep, he quit that and lapsed into silence.
Hurstwood made the best of a bad lot by keeping on his clothes and pushing away the dirty covering from his head, but at last he dozed in sheer weariness. The covering became more and more comfortable, its character was forgotten, and he pulled it about his neck and slept. In the morning he was aroused out of a pleasant dream by several men stirring about in the cold, cheerless room. He had been back in Chicago in fancy, in his own comfortable home. Jessica had been arranging to go somewhere, and he had been talking with her about it. This was so clear in his mind, that he was startled now by the contrast of this room. He raised his head, and the cold, bitter reality jarred him into wakefulness.
"Guess I'd better get up," he said.
There was no water on this floor. He put on his shoes in the cold and stood up, shaking himself in his stiffness. His clothes felt disagreeable, his hair bad.
"Hell!" he muttered, as he put on his hat.
Downstairs things were stirring again.
He found a hydrant, with a trough which had once been used for horses, but there was no towel here, and his handkerchief was soiled from yesterday. He contented himself with wetting his eyes with the ice- cold water. Then he sought the foreman, who was already on the ground.
"Had your breakfast yet?" inquired that worthy.
"No," said Hurstwood.
"Better get it, then; your car won't be ready for a little while."
"Could you let me have a meal ticket?" he asked with an effort.
"Here you are," said the man, handing him one.
He breakfasted as poorly as the night before on some fried steak and bad coffee. Then he went back.
"Here," said the foreman, motioning him, when he came in. "You take this car out in a few minutes."
Hurstwood climbed up on the platform in the gloomy barn and waited for a signal. He was nervous, and yet the thing was a relief. Anything was better than the barn.
On this the fourth day of the strike, the situation had taken a turn for the worse. The strikers, following the counsel of their leaders and the newspapers, had struggled peaceably enough. There had been no great violence done. Cars had been stopped, it is true, and the men argued with. Some crews had been won over and led away, some windows broken, some jeering and yelling done; but in no more than five or six instances had men been seriously injured. These by crowds whose acts the leaders disclaimed.
Idleness, however, and the sight of the company, backed by the police, triumphing, angered the men. They saw that each day more cars were going on, each day more declarations were being made by the company officials that the effective opposition of the strikers was broken. This put desperate thoughts in the minds of the men. Peaceful methods meant, they saw, that the companies would soon run all their cars and those who had complained would be forgotten. There was nothing so helpful to the companies as peaceful methods. All at once they blazed forth, and for a week there was storm and stress. Cars were assailed, men attacked, policemen struggled with, tracks torn up, and shots fired, until at last street fights and mob movements became frequent, and the city was invested with militia.
Hurstwood knew nothing of the change of temper.
"Run your car out," called the foreman, waving a vigorous hand at him. A green conductor jumped up behind and rang the bell twice as a signal to start. Hurstwood turned the lever and ran the car out through the door into the street in front of the barn. Here two brawny policemen got up beside him on the platform--one on either hand.
At the sound of a gong near the barn door, two bells were given by the conductor and Hurstwood opened his lever.
The two policemen looked about them calmly.
"'Tis cold, all right, this morning," said the one on the left, who possessed a rich brogue.
"I had enough of it yesterday," said the other. "I wouldn't want a steady job of this."
Neither paid the slightest attention to Hurstwood, who stood facing the cold wind, which was chilling him completely, and thinking of his orders.
"Keep a steady gait," the foreman had said. "Don't stop for any one who doesn't look like a real passenger. Whatever you do, don't stop for a crowd."
The two officers kept silent for a few moments.
"The last man must have gone through all right," said the officer on the left. "I don't see his car anywhere."
"Who's on there?" asked the second officer, referring, of course, to its complement of policemen.
"Schaeffer and Ryan."
There was another silence, in which the car ran smoothly along. There were not so many houses along this part of the way. Hurstwood did not see many people either. The situation was not wholly disagreeable to him. If he were not so cold, he thought he would do well enough.
He was brought out of this feeling by the sudden appearance of a curve ahead, which he had not expected. He shut off the current and did an energetic turn at the brake, but not in time to avoid an unnaturally quick turn. It shook him up and made him feel like making some apologetic remarks, but he refrained.
"You want to look out for them things," said the officer on the left, condescendingly.
"That's right," agreed Hurstwood, shamefacedly.
"There's lots of them on this line," said the officer on the right. Around the corner a more populated way appeared. One or two pedestrians were in view ahead. A boy coming out of a gate with a tin milk bucket gave Hurstwood his first objectionable greeting.
"Scab!" he yelled. "Scab!"
Hurstwood heard it, but tried to make no comment, even to himself. He knew he would get that, and much more of the same sort, probably.
At a corner farther up a man stood by the track and signaled the car to stop.
"Never mind him," said one of the officers. "He's up to some game."
Hurstwood obeyed. At the corner he saw the wisdom of it. No sooner did the man perceive the intention to ignore him, than he shook his fist.
"Ah, you bloody coward!" he yelled.
Some half dozen men, standing on the corner, flung taunts and jeers after the speeding car.
Hurstwood winced the least bit. The real thing was slightly worse than the thoughts of it had been.
Now came in sight, three or four blocks farther on, a heap of something on the track.
"They've been at work, here, all right," said one of the policemen.
"We'll have an argument, maybe," said the other.
Hurstwood ran the car close and stopped. He had not done so wholly, however, before a crowd gathered about. It was composed of ex-motormen and conductors in part, with a sprinkling of friends and sympathizers.
"Come off the car, pardner," said one of the men in a voice meant to be conciliatory. "You don't want to take the bread out of another man's mouth, do you?"
Hurstwood held to his brake and lever, pale and very uncertain what to do.
"Stand back," yelled one of the officers, leaning over the platform railing. "Clear out of this, now. Give the man a chance to do his work."
"Listen, pardner," said the leader, ignoring the policeman and addressing Hurstwood. "We're all working men, like yourself. If you were a regular motorman, and had been treated as we've been, you wouldn't want any one to come in and take your place, would you? You wouldn't want any one to do you out of your chance to get your rights, would you?"
"Shut her off! shut her off!" urged the other of the policemen, roughly. "Get out of this, now," and he jumped the railing and landed before the crowd and began shoving. Instantly the other officer was down beside him.
"Stand back, now," they yelled. "Get out of this. What the hell do you mean? Out, now."
It was like a small swarm of bees.
"Don't shove me," said one of the strikers, determinedly. "I'm not doing anything."
"Get out of this!" cried the officer, swinging his club. "I'll give ye a bat on the sconce. Back, now."
"What the hell!" cried another of the strikers, pushing the other way, adding at the same time some lusty oaths.
Crack came an officer's club on his forehead. He blinked his eyes blindly a few times, wobbled on his legs, threw up his hands, and staggered back. In return, a swift fist landed on the officer's neck.
Infuriated by this, the latter plunged left and right, laying about madly with his club. He was ably assisted by his brother of the blue, who poured ponderous oaths upon the troubled waters. No severe damage was done, owing to the agility of the strikers in keeping out of reach. They stood about the sidewalk now and jeered.
"Where is the conductor?" yelled one of the officers, getting his eye on that individual, who had come nervously forward to stand by Hurstwood. The latter had stood gazing upon the scene with more astonishment than fear.
"Why don't you come down here and get these stones off the track?" inquired the officer. "What you standing there for? Do you want to stay here all day? Get down."
Hurstwood breathed heavily in excitement and jumped down with the nervous conductor as if he had been called.
"Hurry up, now," said the other policeman.
Cold as it was, these officers were hot and mad. Hurstwood worked with the conductor, lifting stone after stone and warming himself by the work.
"Ah, you scab, you!" yelled the crowd. "You coward! Steal a man's job, will you? Rob the poor, will you, you thief? We'll get you yet, now. Wait."
Not all of this was delivered by one man. It came from here and there, incorporated with much more of the same sort and curses.
"Work, you blackguards," yelled a voice. "Do the dirty work. You're the suckers that keep the poor people down!"
"May God starve ye yet," yelled an old Irish woman, who now threw open a nearby window and stuck out her head.
"Yes, and you," she added, catching the eye of one of the policemen. "You bloody, murtherin' thafe! Crack my son over the head, will you, you hardhearted, murtherin' divil? Ah, ye----"
But the officer turned a deaf ear.
"Go to the devil, you old hag," he half muttered as he stared round upon the scattered company.
Now the stones were off, and Hurstwood took his place again amid a continued chorus of epithets. Both officers got up beside him and the conductor rang the bell, when, bang! bang! through window and door came rocks and stones. One narrowly grazed Hurstwood's head. Another shattered the window behind.
"Throw open your lever," yelled one of the officers, grabbing at the handle himself.
Hurstwood complied and the car shot away, followed by a rattle of stones and a rain of curses.
"That ---------hit me in the neck," said one of the officers. "I gave him a good crack for it, though."
"I think I must have left spots on some of them," said the other.
"I know that big guy that called us a ----------" said the first. "I'll get him yet for that."
"I thought we were in for it sure, once there," said the second.
Hurstwood, warmed and excited, gazed steadily ahead. It was an astonishing experience for him. He had read of these things, but the reality seemed something altogether new. He was no coward in spirit. The fact that he had suffered this much now rather operated to arouse a stolid determination to stick it out. He did not recur in thought to New York or the flat. This one trip seemed a consuming thing.
They now ran into the business heart of Brooklyn uninterrupted. People gazed at the broken windows of the car and at Hurstwood in his plain clothes. Voices called "scab" now and then, as well as other epithets, but no crowd attacked the car. At the downtown end of the line, one of the officers went to call up his station and report the trouble.
"There's a gang out there," he said, "laying for us yet. Better send some one over there and clean them out."
The car ran back more quietly--hooted, watched, flung at, but not attacked. Hurstwood breathed freely when he saw the barns.
"Well," he observed to himself, "I came out of that all right."
The car was turned in and he was allowed to loaf a while, but later he was again called. This time a new team of officers was aboard. Slightly more confident, he sped the car along the commonplace streets and felt somewhat less fearful. On one side, however, he suffered intensely. The day was raw, with a sprinkling of snow and a gusty wind, made all the more intolerable by the speed of the car. His clothing was not intended for this sort of work. He shivered, stamped his feet, and beat his arms as he had seen other motormen do in the past, but said nothing. The novelty and danger of the situation modified in a way his disgust and distress at being compelled to be here, but not enough to prevent him from feeling grim and sour. This was a dog's life, he thought. It was a tough thing to have to come to.
The one thought that strengthened him was the insult offered by Carrie. He was not down so low as to take all that, he thought. He could do something--this, even--for a while. It would get better. He would save a little.
A boy threw a clod of mud while he was thus reflecting and hit him upon the arm. It hurt sharply and angered him more than he had been any time since morning.
"The little cur!" he muttered.
"Hurt you?" asked one of the policemen.
"No," he answered.
At one of the corners, where the car slowed up because of a turn, an ex-motorman, standing on the sidewalk, called to him:
"Won't you come out, pardner, and be a man? Remember we're fighting for decent day's wages, that's all. We've got families to support." The man seemed most peaceably inclined.
Hurstwood pretended not to see him. He kept his eyes straight on before and opened the lever wide. The voice had something appealing in it.
All morning this went on and long into the afternoon. He made three such trips. The dinner he had was no stay for such work and the cold was telling on him. At each end of the line he stopped to thaw out, but he could have groaned at the anguish of it. One of the barn men, out of pity, loaned him a heavy cap and a pair of sheepskin gloves, and for once he was extremely thankful.
On the second trip of the afternoon he ran into a crowd about half way along the line, that had blocked the car's progress with an old telegraph pole.
"Get that thing off the track," shouted the two policemen.
"Yah, yah, yah!" yelled the crowd. "Get it off yourself."
The two policemen got down and Hurstwood started to follow.
"You stay there," one called. "Some one will run away with your car."
Amid the babble of voices, Hurstwood heard one close beside him.
"Come down, pardner, and be a man. Don't fight the poor. Leave that to the corporations."
He saw the same fellow who had called to him from the corner. Now, as before, he pretended not to hear him.
"Come down," the man repeated gently. "You don't want to fight poor men. Don't fight at all." It was a most philosophic and Jesuitical motorman.
A third policeman joined the other two from somewhere and some one ran to telephone for more officers. Hurstwood gazed about, determined but fearful.
A man grabbed him by the coat.
"Come off of that," he exclaimed, jerking at him and trying to pull him over the railing.
"Let go," said Hurstwood, savagely.
"I'll show you--you scab!" cried a young Irishman, jumping up on the car and aiming a blow at Hurstwood. The latter ducked and caught it on the shoulder instead of the jaw.
"Away from here," shouted an officer, hastening to the rescue, and adding, of course, the usual oaths.
Hurstwood recovered himself, pale and trembling. It was becoming serious with him now. People were looking up and jeering at him. One girl was making faces.
He began to waver in his resolution, when a patrol wagon rolled up and more officers dismounted. Now the track was quickly cleared and the release effected.
"Let her go now, quick," said the officer, and again he was off.
The end came with a real mob, which met the car on its return trip a mile or two from the barns. It was an exceedingly poor looking neighborhood. He wanted to run fast through it, but again the track was blocked. He saw men carrying something out to it when he was yet a half-dozen blocks away.
"There they are again!" exclaimed one policeman.
"I'll give them something this time," said the second officer, whose patience was becoming worn. Hurstwood suffered a qualm of body as the car rolled up. As before, the crowd began hooting, but now, rather than come near, they threw things. One or two windows were smashed and Hurstwood dodged a stone.
Both policemen ran out toward the crowd, but the latter replied by running toward the car. A woman--a mere girl in appearance-was among these, bearing a rough stick. She was exceedingly wrathful and struck at Hurstwood, who dodged. Thereupon, her companions, duly encouraged, jumped on the car and pulled Hurstwood over. He had hardly time to speak or shout before he fell.
"Let go of me," he said, falling on his side.
"Ah, you sucker," he heard some one say. Kicks and blows rained on him. He seemed to be suffocating. Then two men seemed to be dragging him off and he wrestled for freedom.
"Let up," said a voice, "you're all right. Stand up."
He was let loose and recovered himself. Now he recognized two officers. He felt as if he would faint from exhaustion. Something was wet on his chin. He put up his hand and felt, then looked. It was red.
"They cut me," he said, foolishly, fishing for his handkerchief.
"Now, now," said one of the officers. "It's only a scratch."
His senses became cleared now and he looked around. He was standing in a little store, where they left him for the moment. Outside, he could see, as he stood wiping his chin, the car and the excited crowd. A patrol wagon was there, and another.
He walked over and looked out. It was an ambulance, backing in.
He saw some energetic charging by the police and arrests being made.
"Come on, now, if you want to take your car," said an officer, opening the door and looking in. He walked out, feeling rather uncertain of himself. He was very cold and frightened.
"Where's the conductor?" he asked.
"Oh, he's not here now," said the policeman.
Hurstwood went toward the car and stepped nervously on. As he did so there was a pistol shot. Something stung his shoulder.
"Who fired that?" he heard an officer exclaim. "By God! who did that?" Both left him, running toward a certain building. He paused a moment and then got down.
"George!" exclaimed Hurstwood, weakly, "this is too much for me."
He walked nervously to the corner and hurried down a side street.
"Whew!" he said, drawing in his breath.
A half block away, a small girl gazed at him.
"You'd better sneak," she called.
He walked homeward in a blinding snowstorm, reaching the ferry by dusk. The cabins were filled with comfortable souls, who studied him curiously. His head was still in such a whirl that he felt confused. All the wonder of the twinkling lights of the river in a white storm passed for nothing. He trudged doggedly on until he reached the flat. There he entered and found the room warm. Carrie was gone. A couple of evening papers were lying on the table where she left them. He lit the gas and sat down. Then he got up and stripped to examine his shoulder. It was a mere scratch. He washed his hands and face, still in a brown study, apparently, and combed his hair. Then he looked for something to eat, and finally, his hunger gone, sat down in his comfortable rocking-chair. It was a wonderful relief.
He put his hand to his chin, forgetting, for the moment, the papers.
"Well," he said, after a time, his nature recovering itself, "that's a pretty tough game over there."
Then he turned and saw the papers. With half a sigh he picked up the "World."
"Strike Spreading in Brooklyn," he read. "Rioting Breaks Out in all Parts of the City."
He adjusted his paper very comfortably and continued. It was the one thing he read with absorbing interest.