Part 3 out of 5
"We've been discharged," said one with a red face. "Of course I know that
we shouldn't have come to bother you about it, Miss Spencer, but it was
you who hired us, and I told him, said I, 'Miss Spencer's going to hear
about this. She won't stand for any dirty work.'"
Mary had seated herself on the veranda steps and, obeying her gesture,
the four women sat on the step below her, two on one side and two on the
"Who discharged you?" she asked.
"Which Mr. Woodward?"
"The young one--Burdon."
"What did he discharge you for?"
"That's it. That's the very thing I asked him."
"Perhaps they need your places for some of the men who are coming back."
"No, ma'm. We wouldn't mind if that was it, but there's nobody expected
back this week."
"Then why is it?"
There was a moment's hesitation, and then the one who had been crying
said, "It's because we're women."
A shadow of unconscious indignation swept over Mary's face and, seeing
it, the four began speaking at once.
"Things have never been the same, Miss Spencer, since you were sick--"
"First they shut down the nursery--"
"Then the rest room--said it was a bad example for the men--"
"A bad example for the men, mind you--us!"
"And then the canteen was closed--"
"And behind our backs, they called us 'Molls.'"
"Not that I care, but 'Molls,' mind you--"
"Then they began hanging signs in our locker room--"
"'A woman's place is in the home' and things like that--"
"And then they began putting us next to strange men--"
"And, oh, their language, Miss Spencer--"
"Don't tell her--"
As the chorus continued, Mary began to feel hot and uncomfortable. "I had
no right to leave them in the lurch like that," she thought, and her
cheeks stung as she recalled her old plans, her old visions.
"And now they've got to go back to their kitchens for the rest of their
lives--and told they are not wanted anywhere else--because they are
The more she thought about it, the warmer she grew; and the higher her
indignation arose, the more remote were her thoughts of Wally--Wally with
his greatest adventure that was ever lived--Wally with his sweetest story
ever told. She looked at the hands of the two women below her and saw
three wedding rings.
"The roses and lilies didn't last long with them," thought Mary grimly.
"Oh, I'm sure it's all wrong, somehow.... I'm sure there's some way that
things could be made happier for women...."
She interrupted the quartette, in her voice a note which Wally had never
heard before and which made him exchange a glance with Helen.
"Now first of all," she said, "just how badly do you four women need your
pay envelopes every week?"
They told her, especially the one who had been crying, and who now
started crying again.
"Wait here a minute, please," said Mary, that note in her voice more
marked than before. She arose and went in the house, and Wally guessed
that she had gone to telephone the factory. For a while they couldn't
hear her, except when she said "I want to speak to Mr. Burdon
Woodward--yes--Mr. Burdon Woodward--"
They could faintly hear her talking then, but toward the end her voice
came full and clear.
"I want you to set them to work again! They are coming right back! Yes,
the four of them! I shall be at the office in the morning. That's all.
She came out, then, like a young Aurora riding the storm.
"You're to go right back to your work," she said, and in a gentler voice,
"Wally, can I speak to you, please?"
He followed her into the house and when he came out alone ten minutes
later, he drew a deep sigh and sat down again by Helen, a picture of
"Never mind, Wally," she said, and patted his arm.
"I can't make her out at times," he sighed.
"No, and nobody else," she whispered.
"What do you think, Helen?" he asked. "Don't you think that love is the
greatest thing in life?"
"Why, of course it is," she whispered, and patted his arm again.
In spite of her brave words the day before, when Mary left the house for
the office in the morning, a feeling of uncertainty and regret weighed
upon her, and made her pensive. More than once she cast a backward look
at the things she was leaving behind--love, the joys of youth, the
pleasure places of the world to see, romance, heart's ease, and "skies
for ever blue."
At the memory of Wally's phrase she grew more thoughtful than before.
"But would they be for ever blue?" she asked herself. "I guess every
woman in the world expects them to be, when she marries. Yes, and they
ought to be, too, an awful lot more than they are. Oh, I'm sure there's
something wrong somewhere.... I'm, sure here's something wrong...."
She thought of the four women standing in the driveway by the side of the
house, looking lost and bewildered, and the old sigh of pity arose in her
"The poor women," she thought. "They didn't look as though the sweetest
story ever told had lasted long with them--"
She had reached the crest of the hill and the factory came to her view. A
breeze was rising from the river and as she looked down at the scene
below, as her forbears had looked so many times before her, she felt as a
sailor from the north might feel when after drifting around in drowsy
tropic seas, he comes at last to his own home port and feels the clean
wind whip his face and blow away his languor.
The old familiar office seemed to be waiting for her, the pictures
regarding her as though they were saying "Where have you been, young
lady? We began to think you had gone." Through the window sounded the old
symphony, the roar of the falls above the hum of the shops, the choruses
and variations of well-nigh countless tools, each having its own
particular note or song.
Mary's eyes shone bright.
Gone, she found, were her feeling of uncertainty, her sighs of regret.
Here at last was something real, something definite, something noble and
great in the work of the world.
"And all mine," she thought with an almost passionate feeling of
possession. "All mine--mine--mine--"
Archey was the first to come in, and it only needed a glance to see that
Archey was unhappy.
"I'm afraid the men in the automatic room are shaping for trouble," he
said, as soon as their greetings were over.
"What's the matter with them?"
"It's about those four women--the four who came back."
Mary's eyes opened wide.
"There has been quite a lot of feeling," he continued, "and when the four
women turned up this morning again and started work, the men went out and
held a meeting in the locker room. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the
automatic hands went on strike."
"You mean to say they will go on strike before they will work with their
own wives and sisters?"
"That's the funny part of it. As far as I can find out, the trouble
wasn't started by our own men--but by strangers--men from New York and
Boston--professional agitators, they look like to me--plenty of money and
plenty of talk and clever workmen, too. I don't know just how far they've
The office boy appeared in the doorway and he, too, looked worried.
"There's a committee to see you, Miss Spencer," he said, "a bunch from
the lathe shops."
"Have they seen Mr. Woodward?"
"No'm. He referred them to you."
"All right, Joe. Send them in, please."
The committee filed in and Archey noted that they were still wearing
their street clothes. "Looks bad," he told himself.
There were three men, two of them strangers to Mary, but the third she
recognized as one of the teachers in her old "school"--a thoughtful
looking man well past middle age, with a long grey moustache and
reflective eyes. "Mr. Edsol, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes'm," he solemnly replied. "That's me."
She looked at the other two. The first had the alert glance and actions
which generally mark the orator, the second was a dark, heavy man who
never once stopped frowning.
"Miss Spencer," immediately began the spokesman--he who looked like the
orator--"we have been appointed a committee by the automatic shop to tell
you that we do not believe in the dilution of labour by women. Unless the
four women who are working in our department are laid off at once, the
men in our shop will quit."
"Just a moment, please," said Mary, ringing. "Joe, will you please tell
Mr. Woodward, Sr., that I would like to see him?"
"He's just gone out," said Joe.
"Mr. Burdon, then."
"Mr. Burdon sent word he wouldn't be down today. He's gone to New York."
Mary thought that over.
"Joe," she said. "There are four women working in the automatic shop. I
wish you'd go and bring them here." And turning to the committee she
said, "I think there must be some way of settling this to everybody's
satisfaction, if we all get together and try."
It wasn't long before the four women came in, and again it struck Mary
how nervous and bewildered three of them looked. The fourth, however,
held her back straight and seemed to walk more than upright.
"Now," smiled Mary to the spokesman of the committee, "won't you tell me,
please, what fault you find with these four women?"
"As I understand it," he replied, "we are not here to argue the point.
Same time, I don't see the harm of telling you what we think about it.
First place, it isn't natural for a woman to be working in a factory."
"Well, for one thing, if you don't mind me speaking out, because she has
"But the war has proved a baby is lucky to have its mother working in a
modern factory," replied Mary. "The work is easier than housework, the
surroundings are better, the matter is given more attention. As a result,
the death rate of factory babies has been lower than the death rate of
home babies. Don't you think that's a good thing? Wouldn't you like to
see it go on?"
"Who says factory work is easier than housework?"
"The women who have tried both. These four, for instance."
"Well, another thing," he said, "a woman can't be looking after her
children when she's working in a factory."
"That's true. But she can't be looking after them, either, when she's
washing, or cooking, or doing things like that. They lie and cry--or
crawl around and fall downstairs--or sit on the doorstep--or play in the
"Now, here, during the war," she continued, "we had a day nursery. You
never saw such happy children in your life. Why, almost the only time
they cried was when they had to go home at night!" Mary's eyes brightened
at the memory of it. "Didn't your son's wife have a baby in the nursery,
"Two," he solemnly nodded.
"For another thing," said the chairman, "a woman is naturally weaker than
a man. You couldn't imagine a woman standing up under overtime, for
"Oh, you shouldn't say that," said Mary earnestly, "because everybody
knows that in the human family, woman is the only one who has always
Here the third member of the committee muttered a gruff aside. "No use
talking to a woman," said he.
"You be quiet, I'm doing this," said the chairman. "Another thing that
everybody knows," he continued to Mary, "a woman hasn't the natural knack
for mechanics that a man has."
"During the war," Mary told him, "she mastered nearly two thousand
different kinds of skilled work--work involving the utmost precision. And
the women who did this weren't specially selected, either. They came from
every walk of life--domestic servants, cooks, laundresses, girls who had
never left home before, wives of small business men, daughters of dock
labourers, titled ladies--all kinds, all conditions."
She told him, then, some of the things women had made--read him
reports--showed him pictures.
"In fact," she concluded, "we don't have to go outside this factory to
prove that a woman has the same knack for mechanics that a man has.
During the war we had as many women working here as men, and every one
will tell you that they did as well as the men."
"Well, let's look at it another way," said the chairman, and he nodded to
his colleagues as though he knew there could be no answer to this one.
"There are only so many jobs to go around. What are the men going to do
if the women take their jobs?"
"That's it!" nodded the other two. All three looked at Mary.
"I used to wonder that myself," she said, "but one day I saw that I was
asking the wrong question. There is just so much work that has to be done
in the world every day, so we can all be fed and clothed, and have those
things which we need to make us happy. Now everybody in this room knows
that 'many hands make light work.' So, don't you see? The more who work,
the easier it will be for everybody."
But the spokesman only smiled at this--that smile which always meant to
Mary, "No use talking to a woman"--and aloud he said, "Well, as I told
you before, we weren't sent to argue. We only came to tell you what the
automatic hands were going to do if these four women weren't laid off."
"I understand," said Mary; and turning to the four she asked, "How do you
feel about it?"
"I suppose we'll have to go," said Mrs. Ridge, her face red but her back
straighter then ever. "I guess it was our misfortune, Miss Spencer, that
we were born women. It seems to me we always get the worst end of it,
though I'm sure I don't know why. I did think once, when the war was on,
that things were going to be different for us women after this. But it
seems not.... You've been good to us, and we don't want to get you mixed
up in any strike, Miss Spencer.... I guess we'd better go...."
Judge Cutler's expression returned to Mary's mind: "Another year like
this and, barring strikes and accidents, Spencer & Son will be on its
feet again--" Barring strikes! Mary was under no misapprehension as to
what a strike might mean....
"I want to get this exactly right," she said, turning to the chairman
again. "The only reason you wish these women discharged is because they
are women, is that it?"
"Yes; I guess that's it, when you come right down to it."
"Do you think it's fair?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Spencer, but it's not a bit of use arguing any longer.
If these four women stay, the men in our department quit: that's all."
Mary looked up at the pictures of her forbears who seemed to be listening
attentively for her answer.
"Please tell the men that I shall be sorry--very sorry--to see them go,"
she said at last, "but these four women are certainly going to stay."
From one of the windows of Mary's office, she could see the factory gate.
"If they do go on strike," she thought, "I shall see them walk out."
She didn't have to watch long.
First in groups of twos and threes, and then thick and fast, the men
appeared, their lunch boxes under their arms, all making for the gate.
Some were arguing, some were joking, others looked serious. It struck
Mary that perhaps these latter were wondering what they would tell their
"I don't envy them the explanation," she half smiled to herself.
But her smile was short-lived. In the hallway she heard a step and,
turning, she saw Uncle Stanley looking at her.
"What's the matter with those men who are going out?" he asked.
"As if he didn't know!" she thought, but aloud she answered, "They're
going on strike."
"What are they striking for?"
"Because I wouldn't discharge those four women."
He gave her a look that seemed to say, "You see what you've done--think
you could run things. A nice hornet's nest you've stirred up!" At first
he turned away as though to go back to his office, but he seemed to think
better of it.
"You might as well shut down the whole plant," he said. "We can't do
anything without the automatics. You know that as well as I do."
He waited for a time, but she made no answer.
"Shall I tell the rest of the men?" he asked.
"Tell them what, Uncle Stanley?"
"That we're going to shut down till further notice?"
Mary shook her head.
"It would be a pity to do that," she said, "because--don't you
see?--there wouldn't be anything then for the four women to do."
At this new evidence of woman's utter inability to deal with large
affairs, Uncle Stanley snorted. "We've got to do something," said he.
"All right, Uncle," said Mary, pressing the button on the side of her
desk, "I'll do the best I can."
For in the last few minutes a plan had entered her mind--a plan which has
probably already presented itself to you.
"When the war was on," she thought, "nearly all the work in that room was
done by women. I wonder if I couldn't get them back there now--just to
show the men what we can do--"
In answer to her ring, Joe knocked and entered, respectful admiration in
his eye. You may remember Joe, "the brightest boy in the office." In the
three years that Mary had known him, he had grown and was now in the
transient stage between office boy and clerk--wore garters around his
shirt sleeves to keep his cuffs up, feathered his hair in the front, and
wore a large black enamel ring with the initial "J" worked out in
"Joe," she said, "I want you to bring me the employment cards of all the
women who worked here during the war. And send Miss Haskins in, please; I
want to write a circular letter."
She hurried him away with a nod and a quick smile.
"Gee, I wish there was a lion or something out here," he thought as he
hurried through the hall to the outer office, and after he had taken Mary
the cards and sent Miss Haskins in, he proudly remarked to the other
clerks, "Maybe they thought she'd faint away and call for the doctor when
they went on strike, but, say, she hasn't turned a hair. I'll bet she's
up to something, too."
It wasn't a long letter that Mary sent to the list of names which she
gave Miss Haskins, but it had that quiet pull and power which messages
have when they come from the heart.
"Oh, I know a lot will come," said Mrs. Ridge when Mary showed her a copy
of it. "They would come anyhow, Miss Spencer. Most of them never made
money like they made it here. They've been away long enough now to miss
it and--Ha-ha-a!--Excuse me." She suddenly checked herself and looked
very red and solemn.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Mary.
"I was thinking of my next door neighbour, Mrs. Strauss. She's never
through saying that the year she was here was the happiest year of her
life; and how she'd like to come back again. She'll be one of the first
to come--I know she will. And her husband is one of the strikers--that's
the funny part of it!"
Mary smiled herself at that, and she smiled again the next morning when
she saw the women coming through the gate.
"Report in your old locker room," her letter had read, "and bring your
By nine o'clock more than half the automatic machines were busy, and
women were still arriving.
"The canteen's going again," ran the report up and down the aisles.
At half past ten the old gong sounded in the lathe room, and the old tea
wagon began its old-time trundling. In addition to refreshments each
woman received a rose-bud--"From Miss Spencer. With thanks and best
"Do you know if the piano's here yet?" asked a brisk looking matron in
sky blue overalls.
"Yep," nodded the tea girl. "When I came through, they were taking the
cover off it, and fixing up the rest room."
"Isn't it good to be back again!" said the brisk young matron to her
neighbour. "Believe me or not, I haven't seen a dancing floor since I
quit work here."
Mrs. Ridge had been appointed forewoman. Just before noon she reported to
"There'll be a lot more tomorrow," she said. "When these get home,
they'll do nothing but talk about it; and I keep hearing of women who
are fixing things up at home so they can come in the morning. So don't
you worry, Miss Spencer, this strike isn't going to hurt you none,
but--Ha-ha-ha!--Excuse me," she said, suddenly checking her mirth again
and looking very red and solemn.
"I like to hear you laugh," said Mary, "but what's it about this time!"
"Mrs. Strauss is here. I told you she would be. She left her husband home
to do the housework and today is washday--that's the funny part of it!"
Whatever Mrs. Ridge's ability as a critic of humour might be, at least
she was a good prophet. Nearly all the machines were busy the next
morning, and new arrivals kept dropping in throughout the day.
Mary began to breathe easy, but not for long.
"I don't want to be a gloom," reported Archey, "but the lathe hands are
trying to get the grinders to walk out. They say the men must stick
together, or they'll all lose their jobs."
She looked thoughtful at that.
"I think we had better get the nursery ready," she said. "Let's go and
find the painters."
It was a pleasant place--that nursery--with its windows overlooking the
river and the lawn. In less than half an hour the painters had spread
their sheets and the teamster had gone for a load of white sand. The cots
and mattresses were put in the sun to air. The toys had been stored in
the nurse's room. These were now brought out and inspected.
"I think I'll have the other end of the room finished off as a
kindergarten," said Mary. "Then we'll be able to take care of any
children up to school age, and their mothers won't have to worry a bit."
She showed him where she wished the partition built, and as he ran his
rule across the distance, she noticed a scar across the knuckles of his
"That's where I dressed it, that time," she thought. "Isn't life queer!
He was in France for more than a year, but the only scar that I can see
is the one he got--that morning--"
Something of this may have shown in her eyes for when Archey straightened
and looked at her, he blushed ("He'll never get over that!" thought
Mary)--and hurried off to find the carpenters.
These preparations were completed only just in time.
On Thursday she went to New York to select her kindergarten equipment. On
Friday a truck arrived at the factory, filled with diminutive chairs,
tables, blackboards, charts, modelling clay, building blocks, and more
miscellaneous items than I can tell you. And on Saturday morning the
grinders sent a committee to the office that they could no longer labour
on bearings which had passed through the hands of women workers.
Mary tried to argue with them.
"When women start to take men's jobs away--" began one of the committee.
"But they didn't," she said. "The men quit."
"When women start to take men's jobs away from them," he repeated, "it's
time for the men to assert themselves."
"We know that you mean well, Miss Spencer," said another, "but you are
starting something here that's bad. You're starting something that will
take men's work away from them--something that will make more workers
than there are jobs."
"It was the war that started it," she pleaded, "not I. Now let me ask you
something. There is so much work that has to be done in the world every
day; isn't there?"
"Yes, I guess that's right."
"Well, don't you see? The more people there are to do that work, the
easier it will be for everybody."
But no, they couldn't see that. So Mary had to ring for Joe to bring in
the old employment cards again, and that night and all day Sunday, Mrs.
Ridge's company spread the news that four hundred more women were wanted
at Spencer & Son's--"and you ought to see the place they've got for
looking after children," was invariably added to the mothers of tots,
"free milk, free nurses, free doctoring, free toys, rompers, little
chairs and tables, animals, sand piles, swings, little pails and
shovels--you never saw anything like it in your life--!"
If the tots in question heard this, and were old enough to understand,
their eyes stood out like little painted saucers, and mutely then or
loudly they pleaded Mary's cause.
It sometimes seems to me that the old saying, "History repeats itself,"
is one of the truest ever written. At least history repeated itself in
the case of the grinders.
Before the week was over, the places left vacant by the men had been
filled by women, and the nursery and kindergarten had proved to be
Many of the details I will reserve till later, including the growth of
the canteen, the vanishing mirror, an improvement in overalls, to say
nothing of daffodils and daisies and Mrs. Kelly's drum. And though some
of these things may sound peculiar at first, you will soon see that they
were all repetitions of history. They followed closely after things that
had already been done by other women in other places, and were only
adopted by Mary first because they added human touches to a rather
serious business, and second because they had proved their worth
Before going into these affairs, however, I must tell you about the
The day the grinders went on strike, a local correspondent sent a story
to his New York paper. It wasn't a long story, but the editor saw
possibilities in it. He gave it a heading, "Good-bye, Man, Says She.
Woman Owner of Big Machine Shop Replaces Men With Women." He also sent a
special writer and an artist to New Bethel to get a story for the Sunday
Other editors saw the value of that "Good-bye, Man" idea and they also
sent reporters to the scene. They came; they saw; they interviewed; and
almost before Mary knew what was happening, New Bethel and Spencer & Son
were on their way to fame.
Some of the stories were written from a serious point of view, others in
a lighter vein, but all of them seemed to reflect the opinion that a
rather tremendous question was threatening--a question that was bound to
come up for settlement sooner or later, but which hadn't been expected so
"Is Woman Really Man's Equal?" That was the gist of the problem. Was her
equality theoretical--or real? Now that she had the ballot and could no
longer be legislated against, could she hold her own industrially on
equal terms with man? Or, putting it as briefly as possible, "Could she
Some of these articles worried Mary at first, and some made her smile,
and after reading others she wanted to run away and hide. Judge Cutler
made a collection of them, and whenever he came to a good one, he showed
it to Mary.
"I wish they would leave us alone," she said one day.
"I don't," said the judge seriously. "I'm glad they have turned the
"Because with so much publicity, there's very little chance of rough
work. Of course the men here at home wouldn't do anything against their
own women folks, but quite a few outsiders are coming in, and if they
could work in the dark, they might start a whisper, 'Anything to win!'"
Mary thought that over, and somehow the sun didn't shine so brightly for
the next few minutes. Ma'm Maynard's old saying arose to her mind:
"I tell you, Miss Mary, it has halways been so and it halways will:
Everything that lives has its own natural enemy--and a woman's natural
enemy: eet is man!"
"No, sir, I don't believe it!" Mary told herself. "And I never shall
believe it, either!"
The next afternoon Judge Cutler brought her an editorial entitled, "We
"The women of New Bethel (it read) are trying an experiment which,
carried to its logical conclusion, may change industrial history.
"Perhaps industrial history needs a change. It has many dark pages where
none but man has written.
"If woman is the equal of man, industrially speaking, she is bound to
find her natural level. If she is not the equal of man, the New Bethel
experiment will help to mark her limitations.
"Whatever the outcome, the question needs an answer and those who claim
that she is unfitted for this new field should be the most willing to let
her prove it.
"By granting them the suffrage, we have given our women equal rights.
Unless for demonstrated incapacity, upon what grounds shall we now deny
them equal opportunities?
"The New Bethel experiment should be worked out without hard feeling or
rancour on either side.
"Can a woman do a man's work?
"Let us watch and we shall see."
Mary read it twice.
"I like that," she said. "I wish everybody in town could see that."
"Just what I thought," said the judge. "What do you say if we have it
printed in big type, and pasted on the bill-boards?"
They had it done.
The day after the bills were posted, Archey went around to see how they
were being received.
"It was a good idea," he told Mary the next morning, but she noticed that
he looked troubled and absent-minded, as though his thoughts weren't in
"What's the matter, Archey?" she quietly asked.
"Oh, I don't know," he said, and with the least possible touch of
irritation he added, "Sometimes I think it's because I don't like him.
Everything that counts against him sticks--and I may have been mistaken
"It's something about Burdon," thought Mary, and in the same quiet voice
as before she said,
"What is it, Archey?"
"Well," he said, hesitating, "I went out after dinner last night--to see
if they were reading the bill-boards. I thought I'd walk down Jay
Street--that's where the strikers have their headquarters. I was walking
along when all at once I thought I saw Burdon's old car turning a corner
ahead of me.
"It stopped in front of Repetti's pool-room. Two men came out and got in.
"A little while later I was speaking to one of our men and he said some
rough actors were drifting in town and he didn't like the way they were
talking. I asked him where these men were making their headquarters and
he said, 'Repetti's Pool Room.'"
Mary thought that over.
"Mind you, I wouldn't swear it was Burdon's old car," said Archey, more
troubled than before. "I can only tell you I'm sure of it--and I might be
mistaken at that. And even if it was Burdon, he'd only say that he had
gone there to try to keep the strike from spreading--yes, and he might be
right at that," he added, desperately trying to be fair, "but--well, he
worries me--that's all."
He was worrying Mary, too, although for a different reason.
With increasing frequency, Helen was coming home from the Country Club
unconsciously scented with that combination of cigarette smoke and
raspberry jam. Burdon had a new car, a swift, piratical craft which had
been built to his order, and sometimes when he called at the house on the
hill for Helen, Mary amused herself by thinking that he only needed a
little flag-pole and a Jolly Roger--a skirted coat and a feathered
hat--and he would be the typical younger son of romance, scouring the
main in search of Spanish gold.
Occasionally when he rolled to the door, Wally's car was already there,
for Wally--after an absence--was again coming around, pale and in need of
sympathy, singing his tenor songs to Helen's accompaniment and with
greater power of pathos than ever, especially when he sang the sad ones
at Mary's head--
"There in the churchyard, crying, a grave I se-ee-ee
Nina, that sweet dove flying was thee-ee-ee, was thee--"
"Ah, I have sighed for rest--"
"--And if she willeth to destroy me
I can die.... I can die...."
After Wally had moved them all to a feeling of imminent tears, he would
hover around Helen with a vague ambition of making her cousin jealous--a
proceeding which didn't bother Mary at all.
But she did worry about the growing intimacy between Helen and Burdon
and, one evening when Helen was driving her up to the house from the
factory, Mary tried to talk to her.
"If I were you, Helen," she said, "I don't think I'd go around with
Burdon Woodward quite so much--or come to the office to see him quite so
Helen blew the horn, once, twice and again.
"No, really, dear, I wouldn't," continued Mary. "Of course you know he's
a terrible flirt. Why he can't even leave the girls at the office alone."
Quite unconsciously Helen adopted the immemorial formula.
"Burdon Woodward has always acted to me like a perfect gentleman," said
"Of course he has, dear. If he hadn't, I know you wouldn't have gone out
with him last night, for instance. But he has such a reckless, headstrong
way with him. Suppose last night, instead of coming home, he had turned
the car toward Boston or New York, what would you have done then?"
"Don't worry. I could have stopped him."
"Stopped him? How could you, if he were driving very fast?"
"Oh, it's easy enough to stop a car," said Helen. "One of the girls at
school showed me." Leaning over, she ran her free hand under the
"Feel these wires back of the switch," she said. "All you have to do is
to reach under quick and pull one loose--just a little tug like this--and
you can stop the wildest man, and the wildest car on earth.... See?"
In the excitement of her demonstration she tugged the wire too hard. It
came loose in her hand and the engine stopped as though by magic.
"It's a good thing we are up to the house," she laughed. "You needn't
look worried. Robert can fix it in a minute."
It wasn't that, though, which troubled Mary.
"Think of her knowing such a thing!" she was saying to herself. "How her
mind must run at times!"
But of course she couldn't voice a thought like that.
"All the same, Helen," she said aloud, "I wouldn't go out with him so
much, if I were you. People will begin to notice it, and you know the way
Helen tossed her head, but in her heart she knew that her cousin was
right--a knowledge which only made her the more defiant. Yes ...people
were beginning to notice it....
The Saturday afternoon before, when Burdon was taking her to the club in
his gallant new car, they had stopped at the station to let a train pass.
A girl on the sidewalk had smiled at Burdon and stared at Helen with
equal intensity and equal significance.
"Who was that?" asked Helen, when the train had passed.
"Oh, one of the girls at the office. She's in my department--sort of a
bookkeeper." Noticing Helen's silence he added more carelessly than
before, "You know how some girls act if you are any way pleasant to
It was one of those trifling incidents which occasionally seem to have
the deepest effect upon life. That very afternoon, when Mary had tried to
warn her cousin, Helen had gone to the factory apparently to bring Mary
home, but in reality to see Burdon. She had been in his private office,
perched on the edge of his desk and swinging her foot, when the same girl
came in--the girl who had smiled and stared near the station.
"All right, Fanny," said Burdon without looking around. "Leave the
checks. I'll attend to them."
It seemed to Helen that the girl went out slowly, a sudden spot of colour
on each of her cheeks.
"You call her Fanny!" Helen asked, when, the door shut again.
"Yes," he said, busy with the checks. "They do more for you, when you are
decent with them."
"You think so?"
He caught the meaning in her voice and sighed a little as he sprawled his
signature on the next check. "I often wish I was a sour, old crab," he
said, half to Helen and half to himself. "I'd get through life a whole
lot better than I do."
Mary had come to the door then, ready to start for home. When Helen
passed through the outer office she saw the girl again, her cheek on her
palm, her head bent over her desk, dipping her pen in the red ink and
then pushing the point through her blotter pad. None of this was lost on
Helen, nor the girl's frown, nor the row of crimson blotches that
stretched across the blotter.
"She'll go in now to get those checks," thought Helen, as the car started
up the hill, and it was just then that Mary started to warn her about
going out so much with Burdon.
Once in the night Helen awoke and lay for a long time looking at the
silhouette of the windows. "...I wonder what they said to each other...."
The next morning Mary was going through her mail at the office when she
came to an envelope with a newspaper clipping in it. This had been cut
from the society notes of the New Bethel _Herald_.
"Burdon Woodward has a specially designed new car which is attracting
The clipping had been pasted upon a sheet of paper, and underneath it,
the following two questions were typewritten:
"How can a man buy $8,000 cars on a $10,000 salary?
"Why don't you audit his books and see who paid for that car?"
Mary's cheeks stung with the brutality of it.
"What a horrible thing to do!" she thought. "If any one paid attention to
things like this--why, no one would be safe!"
She was on the point of tearing it to shreds when another thought struck
"Perhaps I ought to show it to him," she uneasily thought. "If a thing
like this is being whispered around, I think he ought to get to the
bottom of it, and stop it.... I know I don't like him for some things,"
she continued, more undecided than ever, "but that's all the more reason
why I should be fair to him--in things like this, for instance."
She compromised by tucking the letter in her pocket, and when Judge
Cutler dropped in that afternoon, she first made him promise secrecy, and
then she showed it to him.
"I feel like you," he said at last. "An anonymous attack like this is
usually beneath contempt. And I feel all the more like ignoring it
because it raises a question which I have been asking myself lately: How
_can_ a man on a ten thousand dollar salary afford to buy an eight
thousand dollar car?"
Mary couldn't follow that line of reasoning at all.
"Why do you feel like ignoring it, if it's such a natural question?" she
"Because it's a question that might have occurred to anybody."
That puzzled Mary, too.
"Perhaps Burdon has money beside his salary," she suggested.
"He hasn't. I know he hasn't. He's in debt right now."
They thought it over in silence.
"I think if I were you, I'd tear it up," he said at last.
She promptly tore it into shreds.
"Now we'll forget that," he said. "I must confess, however, that it has
raised another question to my mind. How long is it since your bookkeeping
system was overhauled here?"
She couldn't remember.
"Just what I thought. It must need expert attention. Modern conditions
call for modern methods, even in bookkeeping. I think I'll get a good
firm of accountants to go over our present system, and make such changes
as will keep you in closer touch with everything that is going on."
Mary hardly knew what to think.
"You're sure it has nothing to do with this?" she asked, indicating the
fragments in the waste-basket.
"Not the least connection! Besides," he argued, "you and I know very
well--don't we?--that with all his faults, Burdon would never do anything
"Of course he wouldn't!"
"Very well. I think we ought to forget that part of it, and never refer
to it again--or it might be said that we were fearing for him."
This masculine logic took Mary's breath away, but though she thought it
over many a time that day, she couldn't find the flaw in it.
"Men are queer," she finally concluded. "But then I suppose they think
women are queer, too. To me," she thought, "it almost seems insulting to
Burdon to call accountants in now; but according to the judge it would be
insulting to Burdon not to call them in--"
She was still puzzling over it when Archey, that stormy petrel of bad
news, came in and very soon took her mind from anonymous letters.
"The finishers are getting ready to quit," he announced. "They had a vote
this noon. It was close, but the strikers won."
They both knew what a blow this would be. With each successive wave of
the strike movement, it grew harder to fill the men's places with women.
"If this keeps on, I don't know what we shall do," she thought. "By the
time we have filled these empty places, we shall have as many women
working here as we had during the war."
Outwardly, however, she gave no signs of misgivings, but calmly set in
motion the machinery which had filled the gaps before.
"If you're going to put that advertisement in again," said Archey, "I
think I'd add 'Nursery, Restaurant, Rest-room, Music'"
She included the words in her copy, and after a moment's reflection she
"But we have no laundry," objected Archey, half laughing. "Are you
forgetting a little detail like that?"
"No, I'm not," said Mary, her eyes dancing. "You must do the same with
the laundry as I did with the kindergarten. Go to Boston this
afternoon.... Take a laundryman with you if you like.... And bring the
things back in the morning by motor truck. We have steam and hot water
and plenty of buildings, and I'm sure it won't take long to get the
machines set up when you once get them here--"
At such moments there was something great in Mary. To conceive a plan and
put it through to an irresistible conclusion: there was nothing in which
she took a deeper delight.
That night, at home, she told them of her new plan.
"Just think," she said, "if a woman lives seventy years, and the washing
is done once a week, you might say she spent one-seventh of her life--or
ten whole years--at the meanest hardest work that was ever invented--"
"They don't do the washing when they're children," said Helen.
"No, but they hate it just as much. I used to see them on wash days when
Aunt Patty took me around, and I always felt sorry for the children."
Wally came in later and listened sadly to the news of the day.
"You're only using yourself up," he said, "for a lot of people who don't
care a snap of the finger for you. It seems to me," he added, "that you'd
be doing better to make one man happy who loves you, than try to please a
thousand women who never, never will."
She thought that over, for this was an angle which hadn't occurred to her
"No," she said, "I'm not doing it to gain anything for myself, but to
lift the poor women up--to give them something to hope for, something to
live for, something to make them happier than they are now. Yes, and from
everybody's point of view, I think I'm doing something good. Because when
the woman is miserable, she can generally make her man miserable. But
when the woman is happy, she can nearly always make the man happy, too."
"I wish you'd make me happy," sighed poor Wally.
"Here comes Helen," said Mary with just the least trace of wickedness in
her voice. "She'll do her best, I'm sure."
Helen was dressed for the evening, her arms and shoulders gleaming, her
coiffure like a golden turban.
"Mary hardly ever dresses any more," she said as she came down the
stairs, "so I feel I have to do double duty."
On the bottom landing she stopped and with extravagant motions of her
body sang the opening lines of the Bedouin's Love Song, Wally joining in
at last with his plaintive, passionate tenor.
"If you ever lose your money, Wally," she said, coming down the remaining
stairs, "we'll take up comic opera." Curtseying low she simpered, "My
lord!" and gave him her hand to kiss.
"She knows how to handle men," thought Mary watching, "just as the women
at the factory know how to handle metal. I wonder if it comes natural to
her, or if she studies it by herself, or if she learned any of it at Miss
She was interrupted by a message from Hutchins, the butler. The spread of
the strike had been flashed out by the news association early in the
afternoon, and the eight-ten train had brought a company of reporters.
"There are half a dozen of them," said Hutchins, noble in voice and
deportment. "Knowing your kindness to them before, I took the liberty of
showing them into the library. Do you care to see them, or shall I tell
them you are out?"
Mary saw them and they greeted her like old friends. It didn't take long
to confirm the news of the strike's extension.
"How many men are out now?" one of them asked.
"About fifteen hundred."
"What are you going to do when you have used up all your local women?"
"What would you do?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied. "I guess I'd advertise for women in other
cities-cities where they did this sort of thing during the war."
"Bridgeport, for instance," suggested another.
"Pittsburgh--there were a lot of women doing machine work there--"
"St. Louis," said a fourth. "Some of the shops in St. Louis were half
full of women--" With the help they gave her, Mary made up a list.
"Even if you could fill the places locally," said the first, "I think
I'd get a few women from as many places as possible. It spreads the
idea--makes a bigger story--rounds out the whole scheme."
After they had gone Mary sat thoughtful for a few minutes and then
returned to the drawing room. When she entered, Helen and Wally were
seated on the music bench, and it seemed to Mary that they suddenly drew
apart--or if I may express a distinction, that Wally suddenly drew apart
while Helen played a chord upon the piano.
"Poor Wally," thought Mary a little later. "I wish he wouldn't look like
that when he sings.... Perhaps he feels like I felt this spring.... I
wonder if Ma'm was right.... I wonder if people do fall in love with
Her reflections took a strange turn, half serious, half humorous.
"It's like a trap, almost, when you think of it that way," she thought.
"When a man falls in love, he can climb out again and go on with his
work, and live his life, and do wonderful things if he has a chance. But
when a woman falls in the trap, she can never climb out and live her own
life again. I wonder if the world wouldn't be better off if the women had
been allowed to go right on and develop themselves, and do big things
like the men do....
"I'm sure they couldn't do worse....
"Look at the war--the awfullest thing that ever happened: that's a sample
of what men do, when they try to do everything themselves.... But they'll
have to let the women out of their traps, if they want them to help....
"I wonder if they ever will let them out....
"I wonder if they ought to come out....
To look at Mary as she sat there, tranquil of brow and dreamy-eyed, you
would never have guessed that thoughts like these were passing through
her mind, and later when Helen took Wally into the next room to show him
something, and returned with a smile that was close to ownership, you
would never have guessed that Mary's heart went heavy for a moment.
"Helen," she said, when their visitor had gone, "do you really love
Wally--or are you just amusing yourself?"
"I only wish that Burdon had half his money."
"Oh, it's easy for you to say 'Helen'! You don't know what it is to be
poor.... Well, good-night, beloved--
My love, my own--"
she sang. "I've a busy day ahead of me tomorrow."
Mary had a busy day, too.
Nearly two hundred women responded to her new advertisement in the
morning, and as many more at noon. Fortunately some of these were
familiar with the work, and the most skilful were added to the corps of
teachers. In addition to this, new nurses were telephoned for to take
care of the rapidly growing nursery, temporary tables were improvised in
the canteen, another battery of ranges was ordered from the gas company,
and preparations were made for Archey's arrival with the laundry
Yes, it was a busy day and a busy week for Mary; but somehow she felt a
glory in every minute of it--even, I think, as Molly Pitcher gloried in
her self-appointed task so many years ago. And when at the close of each
day, she locked her desk, she grew into the habit of glancing up and
nodding at the portraits on the walls--a glance and a nod that seemed to
say, "That's us!"
For myself, I like to think of that long line of Josiah Spencers, holding
ghostly consultations at night; and if the spirits of the dead can ever
return to the scenes of life which they loved the best, they must have
spent many an hour together over the things they saw and heard.
Steadily and surely the places left vacant by the men were filled with
women, naturally deft of hand and quick of eye; but the more apparent it
became that the third phase of the strike was being lost by the men, the
more worried Archey looked--the oftener he peeped into the future and
frowned at what he saw there.
"The next thing we know," he said to Mary one day, "every man on the
place will walk out, and what are we going to do then?"
She told him of the reporter's suggestion.
"A good idea, too," he said. "If I were you, I'd start advertising in
those other cities right away, and get as many applications on file as
you can. Don't just ask for women workers. Mention the kind you want:
machine tool hands, fixers, tool makers, temperers, finishers,
inspectors, packers--I'll make you up a list. And if you don't mind I'll
enlarge the canteen, and change the loft above it into a big dining room,
and have everything ready this time--"
A few days later Spencer & Son's advertisement appeared for the first
time outside of New Bethel, and soon a steady stream of applications
began to come in.
Although Mary didn't know it, her appeal had a stirring note like the
peal of a silver trumpet. It gripped attention and warmed imagination all
the way from its first line "A CALL TO WOMEN" to its signature, "Josiah
Spencer & Son, Inc. Mary Spencer, President."
"That's the best yet," said Archey, looking at the pile of applications
on the third day. "I sha'n't worry about the future half as much now."
"I don't worry at all any more," said Mary, serene in her faith. "Or at
least I don't worry about this," she added to herself.
She was thinking of Helen again.
The night before Helen had come in late, and Mary soon knew that she had
been with Burdon. Helen was quiet--for her--and rather pale as well.
"Did you have a quarrel?" Mary had hopefully asked.
"Quarrel with Burdon Woodward?" asked Helen, and in a low voice she
answered herself, "I couldn't if I tried."
"... Do you love him, Helen?"
To which after a pause, Helen had answered, much as she had spoken
before, "I only wish he had half of Wally's money...." And would say no
"I have warned her so often," said Mary. "What more can I say?" She
uneasily wondered whether she ought to speak to her aunts, but soon shook
her head at that. "It would only bother them," she told herself, "and
what good could it do?"
Next day at the factory she seemed to feel a shadow around her and a
weight upon her mind.
"What is it?" she thought more than once, pulling herself up short. The
answer was never far away. "Oh, yes--Helen and Burdon Woodward. Well, I'm
glad she's going out with Wally today. She's safe enough with him."
It had been arranged that Wally should drive Helen to Hartford to do some
shopping, and they were expected back about nine o'clock in the evening.
But nine o'clock, ten o'clock, eleven o'clock and midnight came--and
still no sign of Wally's car.
"They must have had an accident," thought Mary, and at first she pictured
this as a slight affair which simply called for a few hours' delay at a
local garage--perhaps the engine had overheated, or the battery had
But when one o'clock struck, and still no word from the absent pair,
Mary's fancies grew more tragic.
By two o'clock she imagined the car overturned at the bottom of some
embankment, and both of them badly hurt. At three o'clock she began to
have such dire forebodings that she went and woke up Aunt Cordelia, and
was on the point of telephoning Wally's mother when the welcome rumbling
of a car was heard under the porte cochere. It was Wally and Helen, and
though Helen looked pale she had that air of ownership over her
apologetic escort which every woman understands.
Mary already divined the end of the story.
"We were coming along all right," said Wally, "and would have been home
before ten. But when we were about nine miles from nowhere and going over
a bad road, I had a puncture.
"Of course that delayed me a little--to change the wheels--but when I
tried to start the car again, she wouldn't go.
"I fussed and fixed for a couple of hours, it seems to me, and then I
thought I'd better go to the nearest telephone and have a garage send a
car out for us. But Helen, poor girl, was tired and of course I couldn't
leave her there alone. So I tackled the engine again and just when I was
giving up hope, a car came along.
"They couldn't take us in--they were filled--but they promised to wake up
a garage man in the next town and send him to the rescue. It was half
past two when he turned up, but it didn't take him long to find the
trouble, and here we are at last."
He drew a full breath and turned to Helen.
"Of course I wouldn't have cared a snap," he said, "if it hadn't been for
poor Helen here."
"Oh, I don't mind--now," she said.
"I knew it!" thought Mary. "They're engaged..." And though she tried to
smile at them both, for some reason which I can never hope to explain, it
took an effort. Wally and Helen were still looking at each other.
"Tired, dear?" he asked.
Helen nodded and glanced at Mary with a look that said, "Did you hear him
call me 'Dear'?"
"I think if I were you, I'd go to bed," continued Wally, all gentle
solicitude. She took an impulsive step toward him. He kissed her.
"We're engaged," he said to Mary.
What Mary said in answer, she couldn't remember herself when she tried to
recall it later, for a strange thought had leaped into her mind, driving
out everything else.
"I almost hate to ask," she thought. "It would be too dreadful to know."
But curiosity has always been one of mankind's fateful gifts, and at the
breakfast table next morning, Mary had Wally to herself.
"Oh, Wally," she said. "What did the garage man find was the trouble with
"The simplest thing imaginable," he said. "One of the wires leading to
the switch on the instrument board had worked loose--that awful road, you
"I knew it," Mary quietly told herself, and in her mind she again saw
Helen demonstrating how to quell the wildest car on earth. Mary ought to
have stopped there, but a wicked imp seemed to have taken possession of
"Did Helen cry, when she saw how late it was getting?"
"She did at first," he said, looking very solemn, "but when I told her--"
His confessions were interrupted by Hutchins, who whispered to Mary that
she was wanted on the telephone.
"It's Mr. Forbes," he said.
Archey's voice was ringing with excitement when he greeted Mary over the
"Can you come down to the office early this morning?" he asked.
"What's the matter?"
"I just found out that the rest of the men had a meeting last night--and
they voted to strike. There won't be a man on the place this morning ...
and I think there may be trouble...."
Afterwards, when Mary looked back at the leading incidents of the big
strike it wasn't the epic note which interested her the most, although
the contest had for her its moments of exaltation.
Nor did her thoughts revert the oftenest to those strange things which
might have engrossed the chance observer--work and happiness walking hand
in hand, for instance, to the accompaniment of Mrs. Kelly's drum--or
woman showing that she can acquire the same dexterity on a drilling
machine as on a sewing machine, the same skill at a tempering oven as at
a cook stove, the same competence and neatness in a factory as in a
Indeed, when all is said and done, the sound of the work which women were
presently doing at New Bethel was only an echo of the tasks which women
had done during four years of war, and being a repetition of history, it
didn't surprise Mary when she stopped to think it over. But looking back
at the whole experience later, these were the two reflections which
interested her the most.
"They have always called woman a riddle," she thought. "I wonder if that
is because she could never be natural. If woman has been a riddle in the
past, I wonder if this is the answer now...."
That was her first reflection.
Her second was this, and in it she unconsciously worded one of the great
lessons of life. "The things I worried about seldom happened. It was
something which nobody ever dreamed of--that nearly ended everything."
And when she thought of that, her breath would come a little quicker and
soon she would shake her head, and try to put her mind on something else;
although if you had been there I think you would have seen a suspicious
moisture in her eye, and if she were in her room at home, she would go to
a photograph on the wall-the picture of a gravely smiling girl on a
convent portico--signed "With all my love, Rosa."
Still, as you can see, I am running ahead of my story, and so that you
may better understand Mary's two reflections and the events which led to
them, I will now return to the morning when she received Archey's message
that every man in the factory had gone on strike as a protest against the
employment of women.
As soon as she reached the office she sent a facsimile letter to the
skilled women workers who had applied from out of town.
"If we only get a third of them," she thought, "we'll pull through
But Mary was reckoning without her book. For one thing, she was unaware
of the publicity which her experiment was receiving, and for another
thing perhaps it didn't occur to her that the same yearnings, the same
longings, the same stirrings which moved her own heart and mind so
often--the same vague feeling of imprisonment, the same vague groping for
a way out--might also be moving the hearts and minds of countless other
women, and especially those who had for the first time in their lives
achieved economic independence by means of their labour in the war.
Whatever the reason, so many skilled women journeyed to New Bethel that
week, coming with the glow of crusaders, eager to write their names on
this momentous page of woman's history, that Mary's worry turned into a
source of embarrassment. However, by straining every effort,
accommodations were found for the visitors and the work of
re-organization was at once begun.
The next six weeks were the busiest, I had almost said the most feverish,
in Mary's life.
The day after the big strike was declared, not a single bearing was made
at Spencer & Son's great plant. For a factory is like a road of many
bridges, and when half of these bridges are suddenly swept away, traffic
is out of the question.
So the first problem was to bridge the gaps.
From the new arrivals, fixers, case-hardeners and temperers were set to
work--women who had learned their trades during the war.
Also a call was issued for local workers and the "school" was opened,
larger than ever. For the first few weeks it might be said that half the
factory was a school of intensive instruction; and then, one day which
Mary will never forget, a few lonely looking bearings made laborious
progress through the plant--only a few, but each one embodying a secret
which I will tell you about later.
The missing bridges weren't completed yet, you understand--not by any
manner of means--but at least the foundations had been laid, and every
day the roadway became a little wider and a little firmer--and the
progress of the bearings became a little thicker and a little quicker.
And, oh, the enthusiasm of the women--their shining eyes, their
breathless attention--as they felt the roadway growing solid beneath
their feet and knew it was all their work!
"If we keep on at this rate," said Archey, looking at the reports in
Mary's office one morning, "it won't be long before we're doing something
There was just the least touch of astonishment in his voice--masculine,
unconscious--which raised an equally unconscious touch of exultation in
"Perhaps sooner than you think," she said.
For no one knew better than she that the new organization was rapidly
finding itself now that the roadway of production had been rebuilt. Every
day weak spots had been mended, curves straightened out, narrow places
"Let's speed up today," she finally said, "and see what we can do."
At the end of that day the reports showed that all the departments had
made an improvement until the bearings reached the final assembling room
and there the traffic had become congested. For the rest of the week the
assembly room was kept under scrutiny, new methods were tried, more women
were set to work.
"Let's speed up again today," said Mary one morning, "and see if we can
make it this time--"
And finally came the day when they _did_ make it! For four consecutive
days their output equalled the best ever done by the factory, and then
just as every woman was beginning to thrill with that jubilation which
only comes of a hard task well done, a weak spot developed in the
Oh, how everybody frowned and clicked their tongues! You might have
thought that all the cakes in the world had suddenly burned in the
ovens--that every clothes line in America had broken on a muddy washday!
"Never mind," said Mary. "We're nearly there. One more good try, and over
the top we'll go...."
One more good try, and they _did_ go over the top. For two days, three
days, four days, five days, a whole week, they equalled the best man-made
records. For one week, two weeks, three weeks, the famous Spencer
bearings rolled out of the final inspection room and into their wooden
cases as fast as man had ever rolled them. And when Mary saw that at last
the first part of her vision had come true, she did a feminine thing,
that is to say a human thing. She simultaneously said, "I told you so,"
and sprung her secret by sending the following message to the newspapers:
"The three thousand women at this factory are daily turning out the same
number of bearings that three thousand men once turned out.
"The new bearings are identical with the old ones in every detail but
one, namely: they are one thousandth of an inch more accurate than
Spencer bearings were ever made before.
"Our customers appreciate this improvement and know what it means.
"Our unfriendly critics, I think, will also appreciate it and know what
Upon consideration, Mary had that last paragraph taken out.
"I'll leave that to their imaginations," she said, and after she had
signed each letter, she did another feminine thing.
She had a gentle little cry all by herself, and then through her tears
she smiled at her silent forbears who seemed to be watching her more
attentively than ever from their frames of tarnished gilt upon the walls.
"It hasn't been all roses and lilies," she told them, "but--that's us!"
Meanwhile, as you will guess, it hadn't been "all roses and lilies"
either, for the men who had gone on strike.
"Didn't you say you expected trouble?" Mary asked Archey one morning just
after the big strike was declared.
"Yes," he told her. "They were talking that way. But they are so sure now
that we'll have to give in, that they are quite good natured about it."
Mary said nothing, but her back grew stiff, something like Mrs. Ridge's;
and when she saw Uncle Stanley in the outer office a few minutes later
and he smiled without looking at her--smiled and shook his head to
himself as though he were thinking of something droll--Mary went back to
her room in a hurry, and stayed there until she felt tranquil again.
"What are the men saying now?" she asked Archey the following week.
"They are still taking it as a sort of a joke," he told her, "but here
and there you catch a few who are looking thoughtful--especially those
who have wives or daughters working here."
That pleased her.
The next time the subject was mentioned, Archey brought it up himself.
"There was quite a fight on Jay Street yesterday," he said.
As Mary knew, Jay Street was the headquarters of the strikers, and
suddenly she became all attention.
"Those out-of-town agitators are beginning to feel anxious, I guess. Two
of them went around yesterday whispering that the women at the factory
needed a few good scares, so they'd stay home where they belonged. They
tackled Jimmy Kelly, not knowing his wife works here. 'What do you mean:
good scares?' he asked. 'Rough stuff,' they told him, on the quiet.
'What do you mean, rough stuff?' he asked them. They whispered
something--nobody knows what it was--but they say Jimmy fell on them both
like a ton of bricks on two bad eggs. 'Try a little rough stuff,
yourself,' he said, 'and maybe you'll stay home where you belong.'"
Mary's eyes shone. It may be that blood called to blood, for if you
remember one of those Josiah Spencers on the walls had married a Mary
"It's things like that," she said, "that sometimes make me wish I was a
man," and straightway went and interviewed Mrs. James Kelly, and gave her
a message of thanks to be conveyed to her double-fisted husband.
The next week Mary didn't have to ask Archey what the men were doing,
because one of the Sunday papers had made a special story of the subject.
Some of the men were getting work elsewhere, she read.
Others were on holidays, or visiting friends out of town.
Some were grumpy, some were merry, one had been caught red-handed--or at
least blue-aproned--cooking his own dinner. All who could be reached had
been asked how they thought the strike would end, and the reply which I
am quoting is typical of many.
"They may bungle through with a few bearings for a while," said Mr.
Reisinger, "but they won't last long. It stands to reason that a woman
can't do man's work and get away with it."
Mary was walking through the factory the next day when she heard two
women discussing that article.
"I told Sam Reisinger what I thought about him last night," said the
younger. "He was over to our house for supper.
"'So it stands to reason, does it?' I said to him, 'that a woman can't do
a man's work and get away with it? Well, I like your nerve! What do you
understand by a man's work?' I said to him.
"'Do you think she ought to have all the meanest, hardest work in the
world, and get paid nothing for it, working from the time she gets up in
the morning till she goes to bed at night? Is that your idea of woman's
work?' I said to him. 'But any nice, easy job that only has to be worked
at four hours in the morning, and four hours in the afternoon, and has a
pay envelope attached to it: I suppose you think that's a man's work!' I
said to him.
"'Listen to me, Sam Reisinger, there's no such thing as man's work, and
there's no such thing as woman's work,' I said to him. 'Work's work, and
it makes no difference who does it, as long as it gets done!
"'Take dressmaking,' I said to him. 'I suppose you call that woman's
work. Then how about Worth, and those other big men dressmakers?
"'Maybe you think cooking is woman's work. Then how about the chefs at
the big hotels?' I said to him.
"'Maybe you think washing is woman's work. Then how about the steam
laundries where nearly all the shirt ironers are men?' I said to him.
"'Maybe you think that working in somebody else's house is woman's work.
Then how about that butler up at Miss Spencer's?' I said to him.
"'And maybe we can bungle through with a few bearings for a while, can
we?' I said to him, very polite. 'Well, let me tell you one thing, Sam
Reisinger, if that's the way you think of women, you can bungle over to
the movies with yourself tomorrow night. I'm not going with you!'"
For a long time after that when things went wrong, Mary only had to
recall some of the remarks which had been made to a certain Mr. Sam
Reisinger on a certain Sunday afternoon, and she always felt better for
"What are the men saying now?" she asked Archey at the end of their first
"They're not saying much, but I think they're up to something. They've
called a special meeting for tonight."
The next morning was Sunday. Mary was hardly downstairs when Archey
"I've found out about their meeting last night," he said. "They have
appointed a committee to try to have a boycott declared on our bearings."
It didn't take Mary long to see that this might be a mortal thrust unless
it were parried.
"But how can they?" she asked.
"They are going to try labour headquarters first. 'Unfair to
labour'--that's what they are going to claim it is--to allow women to do
what they're doing here. They're going to try to have a boycott declared,
so that no union man will handle Spencer bearings, the teamsters won't
truck them, the railways won't ship them, the metal workers and mechanics
won't install them, and no union man will use a tool or a machine that
has a Spencer bearing in it. That's their program. That's what they are
going to try to do."
From over the distance came the memory of Ma'm Maynard's words:
"I tell you, Miss Mary, it has halways been so and it halways will:
Everything that lives has its own natural enemy--and a woman's natural
enemy--eet is man!"
"No, sir!" said Mary to herself, as resolutely as ever, "I don't believe
it. They're trying to gain their point--that's all--the same as I'm
trying to gain mine.... But aren't they fighting hard when they do a
thing like that...!"
It came to her then with a sharp sense of relief that no organization--no
union--could well afford to boycott products simply because they were
made by women. "Because then," she thought, "women could boycott things
that were made by unions, and I'm sure the unions wouldn't want that."
She mentioned this to Archey and it was decided that Judge Cutler should
follow the strikers' committee to Washington and present the women's side
of the case.
Archey went, but the atmosphere of worry which he had brought with him
stayed behind. Mary seemed to breathe it all day and to feel its
oppression every time she awoke in the night.
"What a thing it would be," she thought, "if they did declare a boycott!
All the work we've done would go for nothing--all our hopes and
plans--everything wiped right out--and every woman pushed right back in
her trap--and a man sitting on the lid--with a boycott in his hand...!"
The next day after a bad night, she was listlessly turning over the pages
of a production report, when Mrs. Kelly came in glowing with enthusiasm,
holding in her hand a book from the rest room library.
"Miss Spencer," she said, "it's in this book that over on the other side
the women in the factories had orchestras. I wonder if we couldn't have
an orchestra now!"
Mary's listlessness vanished.
"I've talked it over with a lot of the women," continued Mrs. Kelly, "and
they think it's great. I've come to quite a few that play different
instruments. I only wish I knew my notes, so I could play something,
Mary thought that over. It didn't seem right to her that the originator
of the idea couldn't take part in it.
"Couldn't you play the drum?" she suddenly asked.
"Why, so I could!" beamed Mrs. Kelly in rare delight. "Do you mind then
if I start a subscription for the instruments?"
"No; I'll do that, if you'll promise to play the drum."
"It's a promise," agreed Mrs. Kelly, and when she reached the hall
outside and saw the size of Mary's subscription she joyfully smote an
imaginary sheepskin, "Boom.... Boom.... Boom-boom-boom...!"
That is the week that Wally was married--with a ceremony that Helen had
determined should be the social event of the year.
She was busy with her plans for weeks, making frequent trips to New York
and Boston in the building up of her trousseau, arranging the details of
the breakfast, making preparations for the decorations at the church and
at the house on the hill, preparing and revising her list of those to be
invited, ordering the cake and the boxes, attending to the engraving,
choosing the music, keeping in touch with the bridesmaids and their
"Why, she's as busy as I am," thought Mary one day, in growing surprise
at Helen's knowledge and ability; and dimly she began to see that in
herself and Helen were embodied two opposite ideas of feminine activity.
"Of course she believes her way is the best," continued Mary
thoughtfully, "just the same as I believe mine is. But I can't help
thinking that it's best to be doing something useful, something that
really makes a difference in the world--so that at the end of every week
we can say to ourselves, 'Well, I did this' or 'I did that'--'I haven't
lived this week for nothing....'"
Mary started dreaming then, and the next day when she accompanied Helen
up the aisle of St. Thomas's as maid of honour, her eyes went dreamier
still. And yet if you had been there I think you might have seen the
least trace of a shadow in their depths--just the least suspicion of a
wavering, unguessed doubt.
But when Wally, with his wife at his side, started his car an hour later
and rolled smoothly on his wedding tour in search of the great adventure,
in search of the sweetest story--Mary changed her dress and hurried back
to the factory where she made a tour of her own. And as she walked
through the workshops with their long lines of contented women, passing
up one aisle and down another--nearly every face turning for a moment and
flashing her a smile--the shadows vanished from her eyes and her doubts
went with them.
"This is the best," she told herself, "I'm sure I did right, choosing
this instead of Wally. It's best for me, and best for these three
thousand women--" Her imagination caught fire. She saw her three thousand
pioneers growing into three hundred thousand, into three million. A
moment of greatness fell upon her and in fancy she thus addressed her
"You are doing something useful--something that you can be proud of. Your
daily labour isn't wasted. There isn't a country in the world that won't
profit by it.
"Because of these bearings which you are making, automobiles and trucks
will carry their loads more easily, tractors will plough better, engines
will run longer, water will be pumped more quickly, electric light will
be sold for less money.
"You are helping transportation--agriculture--commerce. And if that isn't
better, nobler work than washing, ironing, getting your own meals,
washing your own dishes, and doing the same old round of profitless
chores day after day, and year after year, from the hour you are old
enough to work, till the hour you are old enough to die--well, then, I'm
wrong and Helen's right; and I ought to have married Wally--and not one
of you women ought to be here today!"
A whisper arose in her mind. "....Somebody's got to do the housework...."
"Yes, but it needn't take up a woman's whole life," she shortly told
herself, "any more than it does a man's. I'm sure there must be some
She stopped, a sudden flush striking along her cheek as she caught the
first glimpse of her golden vision--that vision which may some day change
the history of the human race. "Oh, if I only could!" she breathed to
herself. "If I only could!"
She slowly returned to the office. Judge Cutler was waiting to see her,
just back from his visit to Washington.
"Well?" she asked eagerly, shutting the door. "Are they going to boycott
"I don't think so," he answered. "I told them how it started. As far as I
can find out, the strike here is a local affair. The men I saw disclaimed
any knowledge or responsibility for it.
"Of course, I pointed out that women had the vote now, and that boycotts
were catching.... But I don't think you need worry.
"They're splendid men--all of them. I'm sure you'd like them, Mary. They
are all interested in what you are doing, but I think they are marking
time a little--waiting to see how things turn out before they commit
themselves one way or the other."
Mary thrilled at that.
"More than ever now it depends on me," she thought, and another surge of
greatness seemed to lift her like a flood.
The judge's voice recalled her.
"On my way back," he was saying, "I stopped in New York and engaged a
firm of accountants to come and look over the books. They are busy now,
but I told them there was no hurry--that we only wanted their
"I had forgotten about that," said Mary.
"So had I. What do you suppose reminded me of it?"
She shook her head.
"One of the first men I saw in Washington was Burdon Woodward."
"I think it just happened that way," said Mary uneasily. "He told me he
was going away for a few days, but I'm sure he only did it to get out of
going to Helen's wedding."
"Well, anyhow, no harm done. It was the sight of him down there that
reminded me: that's all.... How has everything been running here?
Smoothly, I hope?"
Smoothly, yes. That was the week when Mary sent her letters to the
papers, announcing that the women at Spencer & Son's had not only
equalled past outputs, but were working within a closer degree of
And all that month, and the next month, and the next, the work at Spencer
& Son's kept rolling out as smoothly as though it were moving on its own
bearings--not only the mechanical, but the welfare work as well.
The dining room was re-modelled, as you will presently see. The band
progressed, as you will presently hear. The women were proud and happy in
the work they were doing, and Mary was proud because they were proud,
happy because they were happy, and all the time she was nursing another
secret, no one dreaming what was in her mind.
Along in the third month, Wally and Helen came back from their wedding
tour. Mary looked once, and she saw there was something wrong with Wally.
A shadow of depression hung over him--a shadow which he tried to hide
with bursts of cheerfulness. But his old air of eagerness was gone--that
air with which he had once looked at the future as a child might stare
with delighted eyes at a conjurer drawing rabbits and roses out of old
hats and empty vases.
In a word, he looked disenchanted, as though he had seen how the illusion
was produced, how the trick was done, and was simultaneously abating his
applause for the performer and his interest in the show.
"He's found her out," thought Mary, and with that terrible frankness
which sometimes comes unbidden to our minds she added with a sigh, "I was
always afraid he would."
Wally had taken a house near the country club--one of those brick
mansions surrounded by trees and lawns which are somehow reminiscent of
titled society and fox hunters in buckskin and scarlet. There Helen was
soon working her way to the leadership of the younger set.
She seldom called at the house on the hill.
"I'm generally dated up for the evening, and you're never there in the
daytime. So I have to drop in and see you here," she said one afternoon,
giving Mary a surprise visit at the office. "Do you, know you're getting
to be fashionable?" she continued.
"Yes. You. Nearly everywhere we went, they began quizzing us as soon as
they found Miss Spencer was a cousin of mine."
Mary noted Helen's self-promotion to the head of the cousinship, but she
kept her usual tranquil expression.
"It's because she's Mrs. Cabot now," she thought. "Perhaps she wouldn't
have called at all if these people hadn't mentioned me!"
But when Helen arose to go, Mary revised her opinion of the reason for
her cousin's call.
"Well, I must be going," said Helen, rising. "I'll drop in and see Burdon
for a few minutes on my way out."
"That's it," thought Mary, and her reflections again taking upon
themselves that terrible frankness which can seldom be put in words, she
added to herself, "Poor Wally.... I was always afraid of it...."
She was still looking out of the window in troubled meditation when the
arrival of the afternoon mail turned her thoughts into another track. As
Helen had said, the New Bethel experiment had become fashionable. Taking
it as their text, the women's clubs throughout the country were giving
much of their time to a discussion of the changed industrial relations
due to the war. Increasingly often, visitors appeared at the factory,
asking if they could see for themselves--well-known, even famous figures
among them. But on the afternoon when Helen Cabot made her first call,
Mary received a letter which took her breath away, so distinguished, so
illustrious were the names of those who were asking if they could pay a
visit on the following day.
Mary sent a telegram and then, her cheeks coloured with pride, she made a
tour through the factory to make sure that everything would be in order,
whispering the news here and there, and knowing that every woman would
hear it as unmistakably as though it had been pealed from the heavens in
tones of thunder.
The visitors arrived at ten o'clock the next morning.
There were four in the party--two men and two women. Mary recognized
three of them at the first glance and felt a glow of pride warm her as
they seated themselves in her office.
"Not even you," she thought with a glance at the attentive figures on the
walls, "not even you ever had visitors like these." And in some subtle
manner which I simply cannot describe to you, she felt that the portrayed
figures were proud of the visitors, too--and prouder yet of the
dreamy-eyed girl who had brought it about, flesh of their flesh, blood of
their blood, who was looking so queenly and chatting so quietly to the
elect of the earth.
The fourth caller was introduced as Professor Marsh, and Mary soon
perceived that he was a hostile critic.
"I shall have to be careful of him," she thought, "or I shall be giving
him some good, hard bouncers before I know it--and that would never do
today." So putting the temptation behind her she presently said, "We'll
start at the nursery, if you like--any time you're ready."
You have already seen something of that nursery, its long row of windows
facing the south, its awnings, toys, sand-piles and white-robed nurses.
Since then Mary had had time to elaborate the original theme with a
kitchen for preparing their majesties' food, linen closets and a
rest-room for the nurses.
The chief glory of the nursery, however, was its noble line of
play-rooms, each in charge of two nurses.
"Let's look in here," said Mary, opening a door.
They came upon an interesting scene. In this room were twelve children,
about two years old. The nurses were feeding them. Each nurse sat on the
inside of a kidney shaped table, large enough to accommodate six
children, but low enough to avoid the necessity for high chairs with the
consequent dangling between earth and heaven.
In front of each child was a plate set in a recess in the table--this to
guard against overturning in the excitement of the moment--and in each
plate was a generous portion of chicken broth poured over broken bread.
It was evidently good. Approval shone on each pink face. A brisk play of
spoons and the smacking of lips seemed to be the order of the day.
"Each play room has its own wash room--" said Mary.
She opened another door belonging to this particular suite and disclosed
a bathroom with special fixtures for babies. Large bowls, with hot and
cold water, were set in porcelain tables.
"What's the use of having so many bath-bowls in this table," asked
Professor Marsh, "when you only have two nurses to do the bathing?"
"Every woman with a baby has half an hour off in the morning, and another
half hour in the afternoon," he was told. "In the morning, she bathes her
baby. In the afternoon she loves it."
In the next play-room which they visited, the babies were of the bottle
age, and were proving this to the satisfaction of every one concerned.
In the next, refreshments were over; and some of the youngsters slept
while others were starting large engineering projects upon the sand pile.
"I never saw such nurseries," said the most distinguished visitor. He
looked at the artistic miniature furniture, the decorations, the low
padded seat which ran around the walls--at once a seat and a cupboard for
toys. He looked at the sunlight, the screened verandah, the awning, the
flowers, the birds hopping over the lawn, the river gleaming through the
"Miss Spencer," he said, "I congratulate you. If they could understand
me, I would congratulate these happy youngsters, too."
"But don't you think it's altogether wrong," said Professor Marsh, "to
deprive a child of the advantages of home life?"
"I read and hear that so often," said Mary, "that I have adopted my own
method of replying to it."
She led her visitors into a small room with a low ceiling. It was
furnished with a cookstove, a table, a small side-board, an old conch and
a few chairs. The floor was splintery and only partly covered by frayed
rugs and worn oil cloth. The paper on the walls was a dark mottled green.
The ceiling was discoloured by smoke.
"This is the kitchen of an average wage-earner," said Mary. "Some are
better. Some are worse. I bought the furniture out of a room, just as it
stood, and had the whole place copied in detail."