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- Youth Challenges - 3/62 -
becoming an army--a labor army!... By organizing. ... That's why I'm here, sent by the National Federation--to organize you. To show you how to resist! ... To teach you how to make yourselves irresistible!..." There were shouts and cheers which blotted out the speaker's words. Then Bonbright heard him again:
"Bonbright Foote, Incorporated, is entitled to fair interest on the money it has invested in its plant. It is entitled to a fair profit on the raw materials it uses in manufacture. ... But how much of the final cost of its axles does raw material represent? A fraction! What gives the axles the rest of their value?... LABOR! You men are paid two, three, some of you even four dollars a day--for your labor. Bonbright Foote, Incorporated, adds a little pig iron to your labor, and gives you a place to work in, and takes his millions of dollars a year. ... Do you get your fair share?... You do NOT, and you will never get a respectable fraction of your fair share till you organize--and seize it."
There was more. Bonbright had never heard the like of it before and it fascinated him. Here was a point of view that was new to him. What did it mean? Vaguely he had heard of Socialism, of labor unions, of the existence of a spirit of suspicion and discord between capital and labor. Now he saw it, face uncovered starkly.
A moment before he had realized his power over these men; now he perceived that these men, some of them, realized it even better than he. ... Realized it and resented it; resented it and fought with all the strength of their souls to undermine it and make it topple in ruin.
His mind was a caldron into which cross currents of thought poured and tossed. He had no experience to draw on. Here was a thing he was being plunged into all unprepared. It had taken him unprepared, and shaken him as he had never been shaken before. He turned away.
Half a dozen feet away he saw the Girl with the Grin--not grinning now, but tense, pale, listening with her soul in her eyes, and with the light of enthusiasm glowing beside it.
He walked to her side, touched her shoulder. ... It was unpremeditated, something besides his own will had urged him to speak to her.
"I don't understand it," he said, unsteadily.
"Your class never does," she replied, not sharply, not as a retort, but merely as one states a fact to give enlightenment.
"My father," she said, "was killed leading the strikers at Homestead. ... The unions educated me."
"What is this man--this speaker--trying to do? Stir up a riot?"
She smiled. "No. He is an organizer sent by the National Federation. ... They're going to try to unionize our plant."
"Bonbright Foote, Incorporated," she said, "is a non-union shop."
"I didn't know," said he, after a brief pause. "I'm afraid I don't understand these things. ... I suppose one should know about them if he is to own a plant like ours." Again he paused while he fumbled for an idea that was taking shape. "I suppose one should understand about his employees just as much as he does about his machinery."
She looked at him with a touch of awakened interest. "Do you class men with machinery?" she asked, well knowing that was not his meaning. He did not reply. Presently he said:
"Rangar told you you were to be my secretary?"
"Yes, sir," she said, using that respectful form for the first time. The relation of employer and employee had been re-established by his words. "Thank you for the promotion."
"You understand what this is all about," he said. "I shall want to ask you about it. ... Perhaps you even know the man who is speaking?"
"He boards with my mother," said she. "That was natural," she added, "my father being who he was."
Bonbright turned and looked at the speaker with curiosity awakened as to the man's personality. The man was young--under thirty, and handsome in a black, curly, quasi-foreign manner.
Bonbright turned his eyes from the man to the girl at his side. "He looks--" said Bonbright.
"How?" she asked, when it was apparent he was not going to finish.
"As if," he said, musingly, "he wouldn't be the man to call on for a line smash in the last quarter of a tough game."
Suddenly the speech came to an end, and the crowd poured on.
"Good night," said the girl. "I must find Mr. Dulac. I promised I would walk home with him."
"Good night," said Bonbright. "His name is Dulac?"
Men like Dulac--the work they were engaged upon--had not fallen within the circle of Bonbright's experience. Bonbright's training and instincts had all been aristocratic. At Harvard he had belonged to the most exclusive clubs and had associated with youths of training similar to his. In his athletics there had been something democratic, but nothing to impress him with democracy. Where college broadens some men by its contacts it had not broadened Bonbright, for his contacts had been limited to individuals chipped from the same strata as himself. ... In his home life, before going to college, this had been even more marked. As some boys are taught arithmetic and table manners, Bonbright had been taught veneration for his family, appreciation for his position in the world, and to look upon himself and the few associates of his circumscribed world as selected stock, looked upon with especial favor and graciousness by the Creator of the universe.
Therefore this sudden dip into reality set him shivering more than it would another who entered the water by degrees. It upset him. ... The man Dulac stirred to life in him something that was deeper than mere curiosity.
"Miss--" said he, and paused. "I really don't know your name."
"Frazer," she supplied.
"Miss Frazer, I should like to meet this Dulac. Would you be willing?"
She considered. It was an unusual request in unusual circumstances, but why not? She looked up into his boyish face and smiled. "Why not?" she said, aloud.
They pressed forward through the crowd until they reached Dulac, standing beside his barrel, surrounded by a little knot of men. He saw the girl approaching, and lifted his hand in acknowledgment of her presence. Presently he came to her, casting a careless glance at Bonbright.
"Mr. Dulac," she said, "Mr. Foote has been listening to your speech. He wants to meet you."
"Foote!" said Dulac. "Not--"
"Mr. Bonbright Foote," said the girl.
Evidently the man was nonplussed. He stared at Bonbright, who extended his hand. Dulac looked at it, took it mechanically.
"I heard what you were saying, Mr. Dulac," said Bonbright. "I had never heard anything like it before--so I wanted to meet you."
Dulac recovered himself, perceived that here was an opportunity, and spoke loudly so that the staring, interested workingmen, who now surrounded them, could hear distinctly.
"I'm glad you were present," said he. "It is not often we workingmen catch the ear of you employers so readily. You sit apart from your men in comfortable offices or in luxurious homes, so they get little opportunity to talk straight from the shoulder to you. ... Even if they had the chance," he said, with a look about him, "they would not dare. To be respectful and to show no resentment mean their bread and butter."
"Resentment?" said Bonbright. "You see I am new to the business and to this. What is it they resent?"
"They resent being exploited for the profit of men like yourself. ... They resent your having the power of life and death over them. ..."
The girl stood looking from one man to the other; from Dulac, tall, picturesquely handsome, flamboyant, conscious of the effect of each word and gesture, to Bonbright, equally tall, something broader, boyish, natural in his unease, his curiosity. She saw how like he was to his slender, aristocratic father. She compared the courtesy of his manner toward Dulac with Dulac's studied brusqueness, conscious that the boy was natural, honest, really endeavoring to find out what this thing was all about; equally conscious that Dulac was exercising the tricks of the platform and utilizing the situation theatrically. Yet he was utilizing it for a purpose with which she was heart and soul in sympathy. It was right he should do so. ...
"I wish we might sit down and talk about it," said Bonbright. "There seem to be two sides in the works, mine and father's--and the men. I don't see why there should be, and I'd like to have you tell me. You see, this is my first day in the business, so I don't understand my own side of it, or why I should have a side--much less the side of the men. I hadn't imagined anything of the sort. ... I wish you would tell me all about it. Will you?"
The boy's tone was so genuine, his demeanor so simple and friendly, that Dulac's weapons were quite snatched from his hands. A crowd of the men he was sent to organize was looking on--a girl was looking on. He felt the situation demanded he should show he was quite as capable of courtesy as this young sprig of the aristocracy, for he knew comparisons were being made between them.
"Why," said he, "certainly. ... I shall be glad to."
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