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- Youth Challenges - 5/62 -
potato barrel? ... Well, well, what did he say? How did HE affect you?"
"He seemed to think the men resented our power over them. Just how correctly he stated their feeling I don't know, of course. They cheered his speech, however. ... He said father had the power to buy mother a diamond necklace to-morrow, and cut their wages to pay for it--and they couldn't help themselves."
"I don't know. I didn't understand it all, but it didn't seem right that those men should feel that way toward us. I want to talk to father about it--have him explain it to me."
Lightener chuckled and turned to Mr. Foote. "I don't suppose you appreciate the humor of that, Foote, the way I do. He's coming to you for an unbiased explanation of why your employees--feel that way. ... Young fellow," he turned to Bonbright again--"I could come closer to doing it than your father--because I was one of them once. I used to come home with grease on my hands and a smudge on my nose, smelling of sweat." Mrs. Foote repressed a shudder and lowered her eyes. "But I couldn't be fair about it. Your father has no more chance of explaining the thing to you--than my wife has of explaining the theory of an internal-combustion engine. ... We employers can't do it. We're on the other side. We can't see anything but our own side of it."
"Come now, Lightener, I'm fair-minded. I've even given some study to the motives of men."
"And you're writing a book." He shrugged his shoulders. "The sort of philosophical reflections that go in books aren't the sort to answer when you're up against the real thing in social unrest. ... In your whole business life you've never really come into contact with your men. Now be honest, have you?"
"I've always delegated that sort of thing to subordinates," said Mr. Foote, stiffly.
"Which," retorted Mr. Lightener, "is one of the reasons for the unrest. ... That's it. We don't understand what they're up against, nor what we do to aggravate them."
"It's the inevitable warfare between capital and labor," said Mr. Foote. "Jealousy is at the root of it; unsound theories, like this of socialism, and too much freedom of speech make it all but unbearable."
"Dulac said they must organize to be in condition to fight us."
"Organize," said Mr. Foote, contemptuously. "I'll have no unions in my shop. There never have been unions and there never shall be. I'll put a sudden stop to that. ... Pretty idea, when the men I pay wages to, the men I feed and clothe, can dictate to me how I shall conduct my affairs."
"Yes," said Lightener, "we automobile fellows are non-union, but how long we can maintain it I don't know. They have their eyes on us and they're mighty hungry."
"To-morrow morning," said Mr. Foote, "notices will appear in every department stating that any man who affiliates with a labor union will be summarily dismissed."
"Maybe that will end the thing this time, Foote, but it'll be back. It 'll be back."
Hilda leaned forward again and whispered to Bonbright, "You're not getting much enlightenment, are you?" Her eyes twinkled; it was like her father's twinkle, but more charming.
"How," he asked, slowly, "are we ever to make anything of it if we, on the employers' side, can't understand their point of view, and they can't understand ours?"
Mrs. Foote arose. "Let's not take labor unions into the other room with us," she said.
Bonbright and Hilda walked in together and immediately engaged in comfortable conversation; not the sort of nonsense talk usually resorted to by a young man and a young woman on their first meeting. They had no awkwardness to overcome, nor was either striving to make an impression on the other. Bonbright had forgotten who this girl was, and why she was present, until he saw his mother and Mrs. Lightener approach each other, cast covert glances in their direction, and then observe something with evident pleasure.
"They seem attracted by each other," Mrs. Foote said.
"He's a nice boy," replied Mrs. Lightener. "I think you're right."
"An excellent beginning. Propinquity and opportunity ought to do the rest. ... We can see to that."
Bonbright understood what they were saying as if he had heard it; bit his lips and looked ruefully from the mothers to Hilda. Her eyes had just swung from the same point to HIS face, and there was a dancing, quizzical light in them. SHE understood, too. Bonbright blushed at this realization.
"Isn't it funny?" said Hilda, with a little chuckle. "Mothers are always doing it, though."
"What?" he asked, fatuously.
"Rubbish!" she said. "Don't pretend not to understand. I knew YOU knew what was up the moment you came into the room and looked at me. ... You--dodged."
"I'm sure I didn't," he replied, thrown from his equilibrium by her directness, her frankness, so like her father's landslide directness.
"Yes, you dodged. You had made up your mind never to be caught like this again, hadn't you? To make it your life work to keep out of my way?"
He dared to look at her directly, and was reassured.
"Something like that," he responded, with miraculous frankness for a Foote.
"Just because they want us to we don't have to do it," she said, reassuringly.
"I suppose not."
"I'm a Foote, you know, Bonbright Foote VII. I do things I'm told to do. The last six generations have planned it all out for me. ... We do things according to inherited schedules. ... Probably it sounds funny to you, but you haven't any idea what pressure six generations can bring to bear." He was talking jerkily, under stress of emotion. He had never opened his mouth on this subject to a human being before, had not believed it possible to be on such terms with anybody as to permit him to unbosom himself. Yet here he was, baring his woes to a girl he had known but an hour.
"Of course," she said, with her soft, throaty chuckle, "if you really feel you have to. ... But I haven't any six generations forcing ME. Or do you think yours will take me in hand?"
"It isn't a joke to me," he said. "How would you like it if the unexpected--chance--had been carefully weeded out of your future?... It makes things mighty flat and uninteresting. I'm all wrapped up in family traditions and precedents so I can't wriggle--like an Indian baby. ... Even THIS wouldn't be so rotten if it were myself they were thinking about. But they're not. I'm only an incident in the family, so far as this goes. ... It's Bonbright Foote VIII they're fussing about. ... It's my duty to see to it there's a Bonbright Foote VIII promptly."
She didn't sympathize with him, or call him "poor boy," as so many less natural, less comprehending girls would have done.
"I haven't the least idea in the world," she said, "whether I'll ever want to marry you or not--and you can't have a notion whether you'll want me. Suppose we just don't bother about it? We can't avoid each other--they'll see to that. We might as well be comfortably friendly, and not go shying off from each other. If it should happen we do want to marry each other--why, all right. But let's just forget it. I'm sure I sha'n't marry you just because a lot of your ancestors want me to. ... Folks don't fall in love to order--and you can put this away carefully in your mind--when I marry it will be because I've fallen in love."
"You're very like your father," he said.
"Rushing in where angels fear to tread, you mean? Yes, dad's more direct than diplomatic, and I inherit it. ... Is it a bargain?"
"To be friends, and not let our mammas worry us. ... I like you."
"Really?" he asked, diffidently.
"Really," she said.
"I like you, too," he said, boyishly.
"We'll take in our Keep Off the Grass signs, then," she said. "Mother and father seem to be going." She stood up and extended her hand. "Good night, chum," she said. To herself she was saying what she was too wise to say aloud: "Poor kid! A chum is what he needs."
Bonbright's first day in the plant had carried no suggestion from his father as to what his work was actually to be. He had merely walked about, listening to Hangar's expositions of processes and systems. After he was in bed that night he began to wonder what work would fall to him. What work had it been the custom for the heir apparent to perform? What work had his father and grandfather and great- grandfather performed when their positions were his position to-
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