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- Youth Challenges - 20/62 -
anarchists are apt to get the cart before the horse."
"I'm not an anarchist, Mr. Lightener."
"Huh! ... What are you, then?"
"I think--I'm sure I'm a Socialist."
"All of the same piece of cloth. ... Mind, if you feel a bomb coming on--see me about it." He walked away to stop by the desk of a mailing clerk and enter into some kind of conversation with the boy.
Ruth looked after him in a sort of daze. Then she heard the girls about her laughing.
"You've passed your examination, Miss Frazer," said the girl at the next desk. "Everybody has to. ... You never can tell what he's going to do, but he's a dear. Don't let him scare you. If he thought he had he'd be tickled to death--and then he'd find some way to show you you needn't be at all."
"Oh!" said Ruth.
More than once she saw laboring men, machinists, men in greasy overalls, with grimy hands and smeared faces, pass into Malcolm Lightener's office, and come out with the Big Boss walking beside them, talking in a familiar, gruff, interested way. She was startled sometimes to hear such men address him by his first name--and to see no lightning from heaven flash blastingly. She was positively startled once when a machinist flatly contradicted Lightener in her hearing on some matter pertaining to his work.
"That hain't the way at all," the man said, flatly. Ruth waited for the explosion.
"Landers planned it that way." Landers was chief engineer in the plant, drawing a princely salary.
"Landers is off his nut. He got it out of a book. I'm DOIN' it. I tell you it won't work."
"Why?" Always Lightener had a WHY. He was constantly shooting it at folks, and it behooved them to have a convincing answer. The machinist had, and he set it forth at length and technically. Lightener listened.
"You win," he said, when the man was done. That was all.
More than once Ruth saw Hilda Lightener in the office. Usually the girls in an office fancy they have a grudge against the fortunate daughter of their employer. They are sure she snubs them, or is a snob, or likes to show off her feathers before them. This was notably absent in Hilda's case. She knew many by name and stopped to chat with them. She was simple, pleasant, guiltless of pomp and circumstance in her comings and goings.
"They say she's going to marry young Foote. The Foote company makes axles for us," said Ruth's neighbor, and after that Ruth became more interested in Hilda.
She liked Bonbright Foote and was sorry for him. Admitting the unwisdom of his calls upon her, she had not the heart to forbid him, especially that he had shown no signs of sentiment, or of stepping beyond the boundary lines of simple friendship. ... She saw to it that he and Dulac did not meet.
As for Dulac--she had disciplined him for his outbreak as was the duty of a self-respecting young woman, and had made him eat his piece of humble pie. It had not affected her veneration for his work, nor her admiration for the man and his sincerity and his ability. ... She had answered his question, and the answer had been yes, for she had come to believe that she loved him. ...
She saw how tired he was looking. She perceived the discouragements that weighed on him, and saw, as he refused to see, that the strike was a failure in spite of his efforts. And she was sensible. The strike had failed; nothing was to be gained by sustaining the ebbing remnants of it, by making men and women and children suffer futilely. ... She would have ended it and begun straight-way preparing a strike that would not fail. But she did not say so to him. He HAD to fight. She saw that. She saw, too, that it was not in him to admit defeat or to surrender. It would be necessary to crush him first.
And then, at five o'clock, as she came out of the office she found Bonbright Foote waiting for her in his car. It had never happened before.
"I--I came for you," he said, awkwardly, yet with something of tenseness in his voice.
"You shouldn't," she said, not unkindly. He would understand the reasons.
"I had to," he said. "I--all day I've done nothing but wait to see you. I've got to talk to you. ... Please, now that I'm here, won't you get in?"
She saw that something was wrong, that something out of the ordinary had happened, and as she stepped into the car she shot a glance at his set face and felt a wave of sympathy for him.
"I want you to--to have something to eat with me--out in the country. I want to get away from town. Let me send a messenger to your mother. I know you don't want to, and--and all that, but you'll come, won't you?"
Ruth considered. There was much to consider, but she knew he was an honest, wholesome boy--and he was in trouble.
"This once," she said, and let him see her grin.
"Thank you," he said, simply.
It was but a short drive to an A. D. T. office, where Bonbright wrote a message to Mrs. Frazer:
I'm taking your daughter to Apple Lake to dinner. I hope you won't mind. And I promise to have her home safe and early.
A boy was dispatched with this, and Bonbright and Ruth drove out the Avenue with the evening sun in their faces, toward distant, beautiful Apple Lake. Bonbright drove in silence, his eyes on the road. Ruth was alone in her appreciation of the loveliness of the waning day.
The messenger left on his bicycle, but had not gone farther than around the first corner when a gentleman drew up beside him in an automobile.
"Hey, kid, I want to speak to you," said Mr. Rangar.
The boy stopped and the car stopped.
"You've got a message there that I'm interested in," said Rangar. "It isn't sealed. I want a look at it." He held out a five-dollar bill. The boy pocketed the bill and handed over the message, which Rangar read and returned to him. Then Rangar drove to the office from which the boy had come and dispatched a message of his own, one not covered by his instructions from Mr. Foote. It was a private matter with him, inspired by an incident of the morning having to do with a rumpled necktie and a ruffled dignity. The malice which had glittered in his eyes then was functioning now.
Rangar's message was to Dulac.
"Your girl's just gone to Apple Lake with young Foote in his car," it said. That was all, but it seemed ample to Rangar.
Bonbright was not a reckless driver, but he drove rapidly this evening, with a sort of driven eagerness. From, time to time Ruth turned and glanced at his face and wondered what could have happened, for she had never seen him like this before, even in his darkest moments. There was a new element in his bearing, an element never there before. Discouragement, apathy, she had seen, and bitterness. She had seen wistfulness, hopelessness, chagrin, humiliation, but never until now had she seen set determination, smoldering embers of rage. What, she wondered, could this boy's father have done to him now?
Soon they were beyond the rim of industry which banded the city, and, leaving behind them towering chimneys, smokeless for the night, clouds of released working-men waiting their turns to crowd into overloaded street cars, the grimy, busy belt line which extended in a great arc through the body of the manufacturing strip, they passed through sprouting, mushroomlike suburban villages--villages which had not been there the year before, which would be indistinguishable from the city itself the year after. Farther on they sped between huge- lettered boards announcing the location of real-estate developments which as yet consisted only of new cement sidewalks, immature trees promising future shade, and innumerable stakes marking lot boundaries. Mile after mile these extended, a testimonial to the faith of men in the growth of their city. ... And then came the country, guiltless of the odors of gregarious humanity, of gasses, of smokes, of mankind itself, and of the operations which were preparing its food. Authentic farms spread about them; barns and farmhouses were dropped down at intervals; everywhere was green quiet, softened, made to glow enticingly by the sun's red disk about to dip behind the little hills. ... All this Ruth saw and loved. It was an unaccustomed sight, for she was tied to the city. It altered her mood, softened her, made her more pliable. Bonbright could have planned no better than to have driven her along this road. ...
Presently they turned off at right angles, upon a country road shaded by century-old maples--a road that meandered leisurely along, now dipping into a valley created for agriculture, now climbing a hillside rich with fruit trees; and now and then, from hilltop, or through gap in the verdure, the gleam of quiet, rush-fringed lakes came to Ruth--and touched her, touched her so that her heart was soft and her lashes wet. ... The whole was so placid, so free from turmoil, from competition, from the tussling of business and the surging upward of down-weighted classes. She was grateful to it.
Yet when, as she did now and then, she glanced at Bonbright, she felt the contrast. All that was present in the landscape was absent from his soul. There was no peace there, no placidity, but unrest, bitterness, unhappiness--grimness. Yes, grimness. When the word came into her mind she knew it was the one she had been searching for. ... Why was he so grim?
Presently they entered upon a road which ran low beside Apple Lake itself, with tiny ripples lapping almost at the tire marks in the
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