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- Youth Challenges - 10/62 -
Incorporated, and labor--as represented by the striking employees--he did not understand. He had wanted to understand it; he had felt a human interest in the men, but this was forbidden to him. ... Whatever he felt, whatever he thought, whatever dread he might have of the future as it impended over himself--he must be loyal to his name. So when he spoke it was to say in a singularly unboyish voice:
"My father has spoken for me, Mr. Lightener."
For the first time Lightener smiled. He laid a heavy hand on Bonbright's shoulder. "That was well done, my boy," he said. Bonbright was grateful for his understanding.
A servant appeared. "Mr. Bonbright is wanted on the telephone," she said.
It was Rangar. "There's rioting at the plant," the man said, unemotionally. "I have notified the police and taken the necessary steps."
"Very well," said Bonbright. He walked to the library, and, standing in the door, stirred by excitement so that his knees quivered and a great emptiness was within him, he said to his father, "There's rioting at the plant, sir."
Then he turned, put on his coat and hat, and quietly left the house.
There was rioting at the mills! Bonbright was going to see what rioting was like, what it meant. It was no impulse, no boyish spirit of adventure or curiosity, that was taking him, but a command. No sooner had Rangar spoken the words over the telephone than Bonbright knew he must go.
"Whatever is happening," he said to himself, "I'm going to be blamed for it."
With some vague juvenile notion of making himself unrecognizable he turned up the collar of his coat and pulled down his cap. ...
When still some blocks from the mills a patrol wagon filled with officers careened past him, its gong emitting a staccato, exciting alarm. Here was reality. Bonbright quickened his step; began to run. Presently he entered the street that lay before the face of the factory--a street lighted by arc lamps so that the scene was adequately visible. As far as the main gates into the factory yards the street was in the possession of the police; beyond them surged and clamored the mob, not yet wrought to the pitch of attack. Bonbright thought of a gate around the corner. He would enter this and ascend to his office, whence he could watch the street from his window.
Before the gate a man sat on a soap box, a short club dangling by a thong from his wrist. As Bonbright approached he arose.
"What you want?" he demanded, taking a businesslike grip on his weapon.
"I want to go in," said Bonbright. "I'm Mr. Foote."
The man grinned. "To be sure, Mr. Foote. Howdy, Mr. Foote. You'll be glad to meet me. I'm Santa Claus."
"I tell you I'm Mr. Foote. I want to go inside."
"And I tell you," said the man, suddenly dropping his grin, "to beat it--while you're able."
Youthful rage sent its instant heat through Bonbright. For an instant he meditated jerking the man from that gate by the nape of the neck and teaching him a lesson with his athletic foot. ... It was not fear of the result that deterred him; it was the thought that this man was his own employee, placed there by him for this very purpose. If the guard made HIM bristle with rage, how would the sight of the man and his club affect the strikers? He was a challenge and an insult, an invitation to violence. Bonbright turned and walked away, followed by a derisive guffaw from the strike breaker.
Bonbright retraced his steps and approached the rear of the police. Here he was stopped by an officer.
"Where you goin'?"
"I'm Mr. Foote," said Bonbright. "I want to see what's happening."
"I can't help it if you're Mr. Roosevelt, you can't go any farther than this. ... Now GIT." He gave Bonbright a violent and unexpected shove, which almost sent the young man off his feet. He staggered, recovered himself, and stood glowering at the officer. "Move!" came the short command, and once more burning with indignation, he obeyed. Here was another man acting in his behalf, summoned to his help. It was thus the police behaved, roughly, intolerantly, neither asking nor accepting explanations. It did not seem to Bonbright this could be the right way to meet the emergency. It seemed to him calculated only to aggravate it. The application of brute force might conquer a mob or stifle a riot, but it would leave unquenched fires of animosity. A violent operation may be necessary to remove a malignant growth. It may be the only possible cure; but no physician would hope to cure typhoid fever by knocking the patient insensible with a club. True, the delirium would cease for a time, but the deep-seated ailment would remain and the patient only be the worse for the treatment. ... Here the disease was disagreement, misunderstanding, suspicion, bitterness of heart between employer and employees. Neither hired strike breaker nor policeman's baton could get to the root of it. ... Yet he, Bonbright Foote VII, was the man held out to all the world as favoring this treatment, as authorizing it, as ordering it!
He walked quite around the block, approaching again on a side street that brought him back again just ahead of the police. This street was blocked by excited, restless, crowding, jeering men, but Bonbright wormed his way through and climbed upon a porch from which he could see over the heads of the foremost to where a line of police and the front rank of strikers faced each other across a vacant space of pavement, the square at the intersection of the streets.
Behind him a hatless man in a high state of excitement was making an inflammatory speech from a doorstep. He was urging the mob to charge the police, to trample them under. ... Bonbright leaned far over the railing so he could look down the street where the main body of the mob was assembled. There was another speaker. Bonbright recognized Dulac--and Dulac, with all his eloquence, was urging the men to disperse to their homes in quiet. Bonbright listened. The man was talking sense! He was pointing out the folly of mob violence! He was showing them that it achieved nothing. ... But the mob was beyond the control of wise counsel. Possibly the feet of many had pressed brass rails while elbows crooked. Certainly there was present a leaven of toughs, idlers, in no way connected with the business, but sent by the devil to add to the horror of it.
One of these, discreetly distant from the front, hurled half a brick into the line of police. It was a vicious suggestion. Other bricks and missiles followed, while the crowd surged forward. Suddenly the line of patrolmen opened to let through a squad of mounted police, who charged the mob. ... It was a thing requiring courage, but a thing ordered by an imbecile.
Horses and men plunged into that dammed river of men. ... It was a scene Bonbright could never erase from his memory, yet never could have described. It was a nightmare, a sensation of dread rather than a scene of fierce, implacable action.
The police drew back. The strikers hesitated. ... Between them, on the square of pavement, lay quiet, or writhing in pain, half a dozen human forms. ... Bonbright, his face colorless as those who lay below, stared at the bodies. For this that he saw he would be held responsible by the world. ...
He ran down the steps and began struggling through the mob. "Let me through. ... Let me through," he panted.
He broke through to the front, not moved by reason, but quivering with the horror of the sight of men needlessly slain or maimed. ... He must do something. He must stop it!
Then he Was recognized. "It's young Foote," a man shouted, and snatched at his shoulder. He shook the man off, but the cry was taken up. "It's Foote--young Foote. ... Spying again."
Men sprang upon him, but he turned furiously and hurled them back. They must not stop him. He must not be interfered with, because he had to put an end to this thing. The mob surged about him, striking, threatening, so that he had to turn his face toward them, to strike out with his fists. More than one man went down under his blows before he could break away and run toward the police.
"See what you've done," he shouted in their faces. "This must stop." He advanced another step, as if to force the mounted officers to retreat.
"Grab him," ordered a sergeant.
Bonbright was promptly grabbed and hauled through the line of mounted police, to be thrown into the arms of waiting patrolmen. He fought as strength was given him to fight, but they carried him ungently and hurled him asprawl upon the floor of a patrol wagon, already well occupied by arrests from the mob.
"Git 'em to the station," the driver was ordered, and off lurched the patrol wagon.
That rapid ride brought cooling to Bonbright's head. He had made a fool of himself. He was ashamed, humiliated, and to be humiliated is no minor torture to a young man.
Instead of giving his name to the lieutenant on the desk he refused to give a name, and was entered as John Doe. It was his confused thought to save his family from publicity and disgrace. ... So he knew what it was to have barred doors shut upon him, to be alone in a square cell whose only furnishing was a sort of bench across one end. He sank upon this apathetically and waited for what morning should bring.
The world owes no small part of its advancement to the reflections of men in jails.
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