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"You fresh mouth, you! Who are you to learn me my business?"
"Were n't you yourself once a machine slave, your life in the hands of your boss?"
"You loafer! Money for nothing you want! The minute they begin to talk English they get flies in their nose. A black year on you, trouble-maker! I'll have no smart heads in my shop! Such freshness! Out you get! Out from my shop!"
Stunned and hopeless, the wings of my courage broken, I groped my way back to them-back to the eager, waiting faces, back to the crushed hearts aching with mine.
As I opened the door, they read our defeat in my face.
"Girls,”—I held out my hands,— "he 's fired me." My voice died in the silence. Not a girl stirred. Their heads only bent closer over their machines.
"Here, you, get yourself out of here!" the boss thundered at me. "Bessie Sopolsky and you, Balah Rifkin, take out her machine into the hall. I want no big-mouthed Americanerins in my shop."
Bessie Sopolsky and Balah Rifkin, their eyes black with tragedy, carried out my machine. Not a hand was held out to me, not a face met mine. I felt them shrink from me as I passed them on my way out.
In the street I found I was crying. The new hope that had flowed in me so strongly bled out of my veins. A moment before, our unity had made me believe us so strong, and now I saw each alone, crushed, broken. What were they all but crawling worms, servile grubbers for bread?
And then in the very bitterness of my resentment the hardness broke in me. I saw the girls through their own eyes, as if I were inside of them. What else could they have done? Was not an immediate crust of bread for Balah Rifkin's children more urgent than truth, more vital than honor? Could it be that they ever had dreamed of America as I had dreamed? Had their faith in America wholly died in them? Could my faith be killed as theirs had been?
Gasping from running, Yetta Solomon flung her arms around me.
"You golden heart! I sneaked myself out from the shop only to tell you I'll come to see you to-night. I'd give the blood from under my nails for you, only I got to run back. I got to hold my job. My mother-"
I hardly saw or heard her. My senses were stunned with my defeat. I walked on in a blind daze, feeling that any moment I would drop in the middle of the street from sheer exhaustion. Every hope I had clung to, every human stay, every reality, was torn from under me. Was it then only a dream, a mirage of the hungry-hearted people in the desert lands of oppression, this age-old faith in America?
Again I saw the mob of dusty villagers crowding about my father as he read the letter from America, their eager faces thrust out, their eyes blazing with the same hope, the same faith, that had driven me on. Had the starved villagers of Sukovoly lifted above their sorrows a mere rainbow vision that led them -where? Where? To the stifling submission of the sweat-shop or the desperation of the streets!
"God! God!" My eyes sought the sky, praying, "where where is America?"
TIMES changed. The sweat-shop conditions that I had lived through had become a relic of the past. Wages had doubled, tripled, and went up higher and higher, and the working-day became shorter and shorter. I began to earn enough to move my family uptown into a sunny, airy flat with electricity and telephone service. I even saved up enough to buy a phonograph and a piano.
My knotted nerves relaxed. At last I had become free from the worry for bread and rent, but I was not happy. A more restless discontent than ever before ate out my heart. Freedom from stomach needs only intensified the needs of my soul.
I ached and clamored for America. Higher wages and shorter hours of work, mere physical comfort, were not yet America. I had dreamed that America was a place where the heart could grow big with giving. Though outwardly I had become prosperous, life still forced
me into an existence of mere getting and Papers.' Us four girls are four fools. getting. We could learn more in the streets. It 's dirty and wrong, but it's life. What are "The De Coverley Papers?' Dry dust fit for the ash-can.'
"Perhaps you had better tell the principal your ideas of the standard classics," she scoffed, white with rage.
Ach! how I longed for a friend, a real American friend, some one to whom I could express the thoughts and feelings that choked me! In the Bronx, the uptown Ghetto, I felt myself farther away from the spirit of America than ever before. In the East Side the people had yet alive in their eyes the old, old dreams of America, the America that would release the age-old hunger to give; but in the prosperous Bronx good eating and good sleeping replaced the spiritual need for giving. The chase for dollars and diamonds deadened the dreams that had once brought them to America.
More and more the all-consuming need for a friend possessed me. In the street, in the cars, in the subways, I was always seeking, ceaselessly seeking for eyes, a face, the flash of a smile that would be light in my darkness.
I felt sometimes that I was only burning out my heart for a shadow, an echo, a wild dream, but I could n't help it. Nothing was real to me but my hope of finding a friend. America was not America to me unless I could find an American that would make America real.
The hunger of my heart drove me to the night-school. Again my dream flamed. Again America beckoned. In the school there would be education, air, life for my cramped-in spirit. I would learn to think, to form the thoughts that surged formless in me. I would find the teacher that would make me articulate.
I joined the literature class. They were reading "The De Coverley Papers." Filled with insatiate thirst, I drank in every line with the feeling that any moment I would get to the fountainheart of revelation. Night after night I read with tireless devotion. But of what? The manners and customs of the eighteenth century, of people two hundred years dead.
One evening, after a month's attendance, when the class had dwindled from fifty to four, and the teacher began scolding us who were present for those who were absent, my bitterness broke.
"Do you know why all the girls are dropping away from the class? It's because they have too much sense than to waste themselves on "The De Coverley
"All right," I snapped, and hurried down to the principal's office. I swung open the door.
"I just want to tell you why I'm leaving. I-”
"Won't you come in?" The principal rose and placed a chair for me near her desk. "Now tell me all." She leaned forward with an inviting interest.
I looked up, and met the steady gaze of eyes shining with light. In a moment all my anger fled. "The De Coverley Papers" were forgotten. The warm friendliness of her face held me like a familiar dream. I could n't speak. It was as if the sky suddenly opened in my heart.
"Do go on," she said, and gave me a quick nod. "I want to hear."
The repression of centuries rushed out of my heart. I told her everything-of the mud hut in Sukovoly where I was born, of the czar's pogroms, of the constant fear of the Cossack, of Gedalyah Mindel's letter, of our hopes in coming to America, and my search for an American who would make America real.
"I am so glad you came to me," she said. And after a pause, "You can help me."
"Help you?" I cried. It was the first time that an American suggested that I could help her.
"Yes, indeed. I have always wanted to know more of that mysterious, vibrant life the immigrant. You can help me know my girls. You have so much to give"
"Give that 's what I was hungering and thirsting all these years to give out what's in me. I was dying in the unused riches of my soul."
"I know; I know just what you mean," she said, putting her hand on mine.
My whole being seemed to change in the warmth of her comprehension. "I have a friend," it sang itself in me. "I have a friend!"
"And you are a born American?" I
Curved headlong downward, towered up the sunny steep,
And we, so small on the swift, immense hillside,
On those far-sweeping, wide,
Strong curves-lo! flight, swayed up and hugely drifted,
And still those buzzards wheeled, while light withdrew
OU will be sorry to hear," wrote Aunt Susan, "that Abigail Baxter's house was burned to the ground night before last. It was struck by lightning in one of the worst storms we ever had at this time of year. Abigail's tenants got their furniture out, but she refused to believe the house would really go and would n't have a thing touched. She lost everything except a few clothes and personal possessions."
The letter dropped to my lap. I felt stunned, as if some one had dealt me a heavy blow; for Cousin Abigail's house was no ordinary house, and its loss no ordinary calamity. It had been built by her great-grandfather in the early days of the little New England settlement, and she had been born in it, and had lived in it for nearly seventy years. Closing my eyes, I could see it distinctly. It stood very nobly on a swelling rise of ground facing a great gap in the hills. A rich foreground of meadow-land, flanked by woods of dark pine and hemlock, sloped in long, easy gradations to the recesses of the valley, where the river flowed. From the upper windows the silver ribbon was just discernible.
The house was three stories high, of the familiar colonial type, many-windowed, with huge, hospitable chimneys. In front was a walled-in yard, with stone steps leading up to its gate, a brick walk, and a second flight of steps before the wide white door, with its fan-lights and delicate, restrained carvings. Just within the walls of the yard grew lilac-bushes, in masses so high that in springtime the lower windows were completely hidden by their luxuriance of purple and gray
By LOUISE FORSYTH
green. A steep driveway led up from the road at one side of the yard, and on the other, to the west, was Cousin Abigail's garden. There in the brief Northern summers glowed her poppies and larkspurs, and her swaying hollyhocks bent before the winds that swept down from the hill behind the house. A long-unused road, once the thoroughfare to the neighboring village, lay along the side of this hill. I fancied that some unsuspected esthetic sense in that remote great-grandfather had led him to build his home to face the valley and the sunset rather than what was then the highway to the settlement. In Cousin Abigail's time it had only one reason for being: it led to the cemetery. Once I had walked there with her. It was the most beautiful graveyard I ever saw. It lay along the slope of the hill under a scattered growth of primeval pines; the graves were hushed and brown with their needles. There was no formal arrangement; here and there a silvery-gray stone, leaning at a reposeful angle, marked the resting-place of one of the founders of the settlement. There was no crowding; each pioneer had ample room to stretch his six feet of sturdy physique for his final sleep.
We wandered about, deciphering the names of our common ancestors and trying to visualize the personalities of all the Daniels and Davids and Hannahs who lay there. A queer little look flickered over Cousin Abigail's shrewd face as we turned back down the velvet road.
"It 's handy to have 'em so near," she said; "but sometimes I 'd like livelier neighbors."
That had been ten years ago. She took me all over the house that day,
through one unoccupied chamber after another, brave in its unused mahogany and high-piled goose-feather beds. In the northwest corner an apartment of several rooms had been cut off from the rest of the house for the tenants, of whom Aunt Susan wrote. Included in this group was the original kitchen, with its vast fireplace-the very hearthstone of Cousin Abigail's family.
And now all this was gone; all this tangible evidence of a century and more of plain, thrifty, dignified living had been swept away in an hour. I had grown used, in the last four years, to tales of wreck and ruin, but not even the tragedy of Rheims had moved me so deeply as the destruction of this old New England house, for in a sense it had for me the poignancy of personal loss. Cousin Abigail's forebears had been close kin to mine. The shadowy shapes of my own people had moved for me in that house, helped to create the atmosphere that enveloped it. Furthermore, I realized what it must mean to Cousin Abigail to lose the background which had furnished her uneventful life with its most vivid significance. I was fond of her. I contrasted her with the people I knew best in my own environment, and set her shrewdness, her thrift, her keen, unconscious humor, her slightly stern moral sense against their suavity and sophisticated smoothness. I glimpsed their characters through a mask of gracious manner not always the index to their hearts; she who wore no mask at all did not have to be glimpsed or guessed at. You could look at her and see.
I did not write to Cousin Abigail about the loss of her house; somehow I could not. Finally I sent a message to her in a letter to Aunt Susan. It was several weeks before I received an answer; but at last, one day in early June, it came.
Abigail Baxter is much obliged to you and says she should like to see you. And it seems to me you had better shut up your house and come up here for the summer. Down there all alone, you probably dwell too much on that boy of yours overseas. I have plenty of room, and I should like to have you with
I knew that this apparently unemotional invitation was in reality not only
sincere, but ardent in its warmth; that is, for Aunt Susan. There was no reason why I should not accept it, and the reasons why I should appealed to me more and more, until one day toward the end of the month I packed a trunk, telegraphed to my aunt, and started for New Hampshire. The station nearest Aunt Susan's home was nearly a day's journey from New York, so that it was almost dusk when I arrived. My aunt met me with her young chauffeur, who turned out to be the minister's son, home from college. She welcomed me with a handclasp warmer than her kiss, and in a few minutes we were skimming smoothly up and down hill through the crystal coolness of the June twilight. Suddenly she seized my arm.
"Look quick! That's where it wasAbbie Baxter's house."
The car was making a whirling descent round a curve; instantly I recognized the spot. There were the brick wall and the stone steps and the lilacs. There was no hint of ruin from the road; all wreckage was decorously concealed with true New England reserve. We passed so quickly that I had only a glimpse, but it was enough. The house was gone. I had not realized it before.
That evening, before the fire in Aunt Susan's living-room, I asked her about Cousin Abigail. There was not much to tell. After the disaster she had spent a few days with some cousins on a hill farm in the neighborhood, and had then gone to live in the village with an old friend of hers, a childless widow.
"Everybody thought she would be crushed," commented Aunt Susan, “but she is n't. It would take more than that to down Abigail Baxter."
"I want to see her."
"You shall. I'll ask Paul to take you round there to-morrow afternoon, and you can have a nice long visit."
So the next day the minister's son left me at a little cream-colored cottage on one of the side streets, separated from the sidewalk by a few feet of bright garden. As I went up the path, a woman working there looked up, and I saw that it was Cousin Abigail. For an instant she did not recognize me; then, as I put out both hands, a light sprang into her eyes, and she came impulsively toward