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- Youth Challenges - 7/62 -
"A strike," said Hawthorne. "We're loaded with contract orders, Mr. Foote. A strike at this time--"
"Hangar," said Mr. Foote, sharply, "at the first sign of such a thing take immediate steps to counteract it. ... Better still, proceed now as if a strike were certain. These mills MUST continue uninterruptedly. ... If these malcontents force a strike, Mr. Hawthorne, we shall be able to deal with it. ... Good morning, gentlemen."
The men filed out silently. It seemed as if they were apprehensive, almost as if they ventured to disagree with the action of their employers. But none voiced his disapproval.
Bonbright stood without motion beside his father's desk, his eyes on the floor, his lips pressed together.
"There," said his father, with satisfaction, "I think that will set you right."
"Right?... The men will think I was among them last night as a spy!... They'll despise me. ... They'll think I wasn't honest with them."
Bonbright Foote VI shrugged his shoulders. "Loyalty to your family," he said, "and to your order is rather more important than retaining the good will of a mob of malcontents."
Bonbright turned, his shoulders dropping so that a more sympathetic eye than his father's might have found itself moistening, and walked slowly back to his room. He did not sit at his desk, but walked to the window, where he rested his brow against his hand and looked out upon as much of the world as he could see. ... It seemed large to him, filled with promise, filled with interests, filled with activities for HIM--if he could only be about them. But they were held tantalizingly out of reach.
He was safe in his groove; had not slipped there gradually and smoothly, but had been thrust roughly, by sudden attack, into it.
His young, healthy soul cried out in protest against the affront that had been put upon it. Not that the issue itself had mattered so much, but that it had been so handled, ruthlessly. Bonbright was no friend to labor. He had merely been a surprised observer of certain phenomena that had aroused him to thought. He did not feel that labor was right and that his father was wrong. It might be his father was very right. ... But labor was such a huge mass, and when a huge mass seethes it is impressive. Possibly this mass was wrong; possibly its seething must be stilled for the better interests of mankind. Bonbright did not know. He had wanted to know; had wanted the condition explained to him. Instead, he had been crushed into his groove humiliatingly.
Bonbright was young, to be readily impressed. If his father had received his uncertainty with kindliness and had answered his hunger's demand for enlightenment with arguments and reasoning, the crisis probably would have passed harmlessly. His father had seen fit not to use diplomacy, but to assert autocratically the power of Bonbright Foote, Incorporated. Bonbright's individuality had thought to lift its head; it had been stamped back into its appointed, circumscribed place.
He was not satisfied with himself. His time for protest had been when he answered his father's challenge. The force against him had been too great, or his own strength too weak. He had not measured up to the moment, and this chagrined him.
"All I wanted," he muttered, "was to KNOW!"
His father called him, and he responded apathetically.
"Here are some letters," said Mr. Foote. "I have made notes upon each one how it is to be answered. Be so good as to dictate the replies."
There it was again. He was not even to answer letters independently, but to dictate to his secretary words put into his mouth by Bonbright Foote, Incorporated.
"It will help you familiarize yourself with our routine," said his father, "and your signature will apprise the recipients that Bonbright Foote VII has entered the concern."
He returned to his desk and pressed the buzzer that would summon Ruth Frazer with book and pencil. She entered almost instantly, and as their eyes met she smiled her famous smile. It was a thing of light and brightness, compelling response. In his mood it acted as a stimulant to Bonbright.
"Thank you," he said, involuntarily.
"For what?" she asked, raising her brows.
"For--why, I'm sure I don't know," he said. "I don't know why I said that. ... Will you take some letters, please?"
He began dictating slowly, laboriously. It was a new work to him, and he went about it clumsily, stopping long between words to arrange his thoughts. His attention strayed. He leaned back in his chair, dictation forgotten for the moment, staring at Ruth Frazer without really being conscious of her presence. She waited patiently. Presently he leaned forward and addressed a question to her:
"Did you and Mr. Dulac mention me as you walked home?"
"Yes," she said.
"Would it be--impertinent," he asked, "to inquire what you said?"
She wrinkled her brows to aid recollection.
"Mr. Dulac," she replied, "wondered what you were up to. That was how he expressed it. He thought it was peculiar--your asking to know him."
"What did YOU think?"
"I didn't think it was peculiar at all. You"--she hesitated--"had been taken sort of by surprise. Yes, that was it. And you wanted to KNOW. I think you acted very naturally."
"Naturally!" he repeated after her. "Yes, I guess that must be where I went wrong. I was natural. It is not right to be natural. You should first find how you are expected to act--how it is planned for you to act. Yourself--why, yourself doesn't count."
"What do you mean, Mr. Foote?"
"This morning," he said, bitterly, "cards with my name signed to them have been placed, or will be placed, in every room of the works, notifying the men that if they join a labor union they will be discharged."
"I have made a statement that I am against labor unions."
She looked at him uncomprehendingly, but somehow compelled to sympathize with him. He had passed through a bitter crisis of some sort, she perceived.
"I am not interested in all those men--that army of men," he went on. "I don't want to understand them. I don't want to come into contact with them. I just want to sit here in my office and not be bothered by such things. ... We have managers and superintendents and officials to take care of labor matters. I don't want to talk to Dulac about what he means, or why our men feel resentment toward us. Please tell him I have no interest whatever in such things."
"Mr. Foote," she said, gently, "something has happened to you, hasn't it? Something that has made you feel bitter and discouraged?"
"Nothing unusual--in my family--Miss Frazer. I've just been cut to the Bonbright Foote pattern. I didn't fit my groove exactly--so I was trimmed until I slipped into it. I'm in now."
A sudden tumult of shouts and cheers arose in the street under his window; not the sound of a score of voices nor of a hundred, but a sound of great volume. Ruth looked up, startled, frightened. Bonbright stepped to the window. "It's only eleven o'clock," he said, "but the men are all coming out. ... The whistle didn't blow. They're cheering and capering and shaking hands with one another. What does that mean, do you suppose?"
"I'm afraid," said Miss Frazer, "it's your placard."
"The men had their choice between their unions and their jobs--and they've stood by their unions."
"They've struck," said Ruth.
There are family traditions among the poor just as there are among the rich. The families of working-men may cling as tenaciously to their traditions as the descendants of an earl. In certain families the sons are compelled by tradition to become bakers, in others machinists; still other lowly family histories urge their members to conduct of one sort or another. It is inherent in them to hold certain beliefs regarding themselves. Here is a family whose tradition is loyalty to another family which has employed the father, son, grandfather; across the street may live a group whose peculiar religion is to oppose all constituted authority and to uphold anarchism. Theories and beliefs are handed down from generation to generation until they assume the dignity of blood laws.
Bonbright was being wrenched to fit into the Foote tradition. Ruth Frazer, his secretary, needed no alterations to conform to the tradition of HER family. This was the leveling tradition; the elevating of labor and the pulling down of capital until there was a
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