Authors: Katherine Paterson
Tags: #Ages 9 and up
Jake joined in the cries of approval, but his eyes were not on Big Bill; they were on the woman at Big Bill's side. He couldn't keep his eyes off her. Just looking at her made a flame start at his frozen toes and shoot through his body all the way to the hairs on his head. Then and there he determined to join the strike activity, just so he could follow her around.
The next day, Jake found out that she would be speaking to the women strikers in the Franco-Belgian Hall. He didn't care that it was a women's meeting where only women and children would be welcome. He forgot that a few days earlier he had been proud when that silly schoolboy Joe O'Brien had taken him for a man. If he had to turn into a kid to get into a meeting where his goddess was speaking, he'd be a kid.
She saw him staring up at her as she was being introduced, or he guessed that it was an introduction. It was all in French. She looked him in the face and smiled...
right at him, Jake Beale. He felt faint and was too befuddled to smile back. At last, she began to speak. To his delight, she spoke in English and then waited patiently while one of the women strikers turned it into French. She would have to leave Lawrence right away, she said. The women protested. "I don't want to leave you," she explained, "but I have to go and collect money from other chapters of our union. This may be a long strike, and your brother and sister members of the Industrial Workers of the World will want to support you. You must have food for yourselves and your children. You must have money to buy fuel for your stoves in this cold weather. Your job is to stand together, to oppose all who would weaken your resolve—to march, to picket. My job is to gather the funds to support your cause." She smiled at them all. "But I will be back, I promise."
There was no point in going to meetings if she wasn't going to be there. Without her presence, all the light was gone from those gloomy halls. For the rest of the week, Jake went back to spending nights in garbage piles and stealing food, and he went to the various halls only when he knew there would be soup. While there, he always kept his mouth shut so no one would guess he was native-born and not one of the immigrant strikers. The one time he dared go to the Italian hall, he thought he saw the shoe girl ahead of him in line. He left quickly, before she could see him, though why should he avoid her? Hadn't he left good money—a whole penny—behind the last time he slept in her kitchen? Sometimes he didn't understand himself.
By Friday it seemed to him that Mrs. Gurley Flynn, as he now knew she was called, had forgotten her promise, that she would never return. He was tired and bored and wretched. Why not go back to work and earn some money? The bosses were paying the scabs good wages. So he started for work that morning, only to be stopped two blocks above Canal Street by a huge woman who screamed threats in his face in Italian, ending with a large hand soundly slapping his bottom and a command in English: "No scab! Go home!"
Somehow he was more afraid of these big women than he was of the police on their horses or the little tin-soldier militia with their guns and bayonets.
All that day, as he walked wearily around the town, he heard the rumor that Joe Ettor had gone to Boston to meet Billy Wood and demand a fifteen percent pay raise for all the workers. Hah! Not that Jake could figure what fifteen percent of five dollars and twenty-five cents would amount to—but why should it matter? He might not be able to do much figuring, but he could figure well enough to know that Billy Wood was not going to add a penny to his wages.
By Sunday he was so cold and tired that he went to every Mass in Holy Rosary Church just so he could get some sleep. He was too tired to trot up to the altar with the hope of getting one of those little paper crackers, but he could doze through the Latin gibberish. He would have stayed longer, except that one of those Italian papists must have spotted him. At any rate, the priest came down the aisle after the church had emptied following the noon Mass and asked him what he was doing sleeping through three Masses in a row. Jake hurried out, giving a backward glance at the poor box. The lock looked flimsy enough to warrant a return visit.
The scant dozen children left in Rosa's class sat at their desks, puzzled into silence. The bell had rung some time ago, and still no Miss Finch. There was an almost sepulchral solemnity about her absence. Teachers, in the students' experience, were always in the classroom. They had no life outside that room. Therefore, they were never tardy, much less absent. Tardiness, to hear Miss Finch expound on the subject, was one of the seven deadly sins.
Then how to account for the missing Miss Finch? What should they do?
At length, Rosa opened her single textbook, her history book, and tried to reread the dense description of the Constitutional Convention. out of the corner of her eye she could see that the Khoury boys had put their heads down on their desks to get a head start on their morning naps. Celina Cosa had unbraided both of her pigtails and was carefully rebraiding one.
Celina caught Rosa looking. "She's dead," Celina said. Someone several rows back let out a snort. Celina whipped about. "It ain't funny. She'll go straight to hell, being a Protestant and all."
Rosa was shocked. of course, she knew the church taught that if you weren't Catholic you were lost, but she'd never actually applied it to people she knew. Certainly not to Miss Finch, who was so proper—who was always here, never tardy, and was, in her prim, oldmaidish way, trying desperately to turn them into good, clean, educated American citizens.
She was even more shocked when, a few minutes later, Miss Finch came bursting through the door, her hat askew, her hair flying loose from her always perfect bun, her coat half buttoned.
She was panting like a stray dog. "They attacked my trolley car!" she cried. "They threw rocks at us. I was only trying to get to school!" She paused to catch her breath. "oh, children, didn't I warn you there would be terrible violence? These Marxist agitators are turning your people into animals...
I barely escaped with my life, and then I had to run—I had to run all the way to get here to you." She plopped down on her chair, exhausted.
The children sat riveted, staring at her as she sought to pull herself together. "It began with snowballs and ice. Now..." She looked down at her coat and began, with shaking fingers, to undo the remaining buttons. Then she stood, slipped off her coat, and laid it on her desk. They watched her, as entranced as though they were attending a performance. She reached up and took the pins out of her hat, removed it, returned the pins to the crown of the hat, and set it on top of the overcoat. Then she felt her hair. Abruptly, she picked up the hat and coat and started for the cloakroom at the rear of the classroom. The class sat in stunned silence and waited for her to re-emerge, her hair now pinned into its usual tight bun, her face looking remarkably calmer.
"Celina," she said, "this is not your boudoir, my dear. Kindly go to the cloakroom to finish dressing your hair." Celina rose to her feet, still clutching her half-braided hank of hair. She kept her head turned to watch the teacher and tripped over her shoes as she made her way to the back of the room.
"Now, children, don't be afraid. I'm sure you're as upset as I am that this strike has turned so ugly. I've tried so hard to warn you what might happen. Your parents are being led astray by these anarchists and Marxists. I'm not sure we've discussed Marxism yet. Suffice it to say, all Marxists are atheists. That means, they do not believe in God. We have talked, I know, about anarchism." She looked down into Rosa's face. "Can you tell the class what an anarchist is, Rosa?"
"It's—they're people who don't trust the government."
"Yes, but it's more than that, isn't it?" The teacher's voice was kind. She wanted so much for them to understand. "Anarchists not only mistrust government, they want to be rid of the government. They're lawless, and they're proud of being lawless. And what," she stopped to look at each of the children in turn, "what would life be like if there were no laws? No policemen to protect us from those who would harm us?"
"A policeman beat up my mama."
Rosa did not have the nerve to turn and see whose quiet voice had dared challenge the teacher.
"I'm sure the policeman was only trying to help keep order," Miss Finch said. "It's very hard for them, you know, when thousands of people are threatening them every day. Preparing to dynamite the mills, throwing rocks—"
"The workers didn't set no dynamite, Miss Finch. That was a trick."
Now Rosa did turn to see who had the gall to take up Joe O'Brien's role as teacher's challenger, which had disappeared when he was arrested. She was startled to realize that it was tiny Olga Kronsky, who had hardly ever spoken out in class in her life, which was why Rosa hadn't recognized her voice. "My mama said the owners'd do anything to make the strikers look bad. Maybe those Pinkerton men they hired was the very ones who threw them rocks at your trolley car. Joe Ettor said if anything bad happened, they'd always try to make it look like the workers done it."
"Did it. The workers did it, Olga."
"No, ma'am, they ain't done nothing."
haven't done anything,
they ain't done nothing."
"But that's what I mean, Miss Finch, my mama ain't done nothing. Joe Ettor said, 'No violence,' and that's what we done. We ain't done no violence."
Rosa could tell from the look on Olga's face that she had no idea it was her grammar and not her protest that Miss Finch was trying to amend. Miss Finch apparently realized that her cause was hopeless. She sighed deeply and sat down at her desk. "Very well, Olga. I'm afraid you'll be disillusioned soon enough. Ah, welcome back, Celina, you look very nice now."
Jake was sick of it all—the grubbing for food, the nasty places where he had to sleep or the churches where he tried to sleep but which didn't welcome strays like him, who came only for shelter from the winter wind and a chance to pilfer pennies. There had been those few moments with Angelo, and then again when he saw Mrs. Gurley Flynn, when he had almost thought the strike was a good thing, but the feeling hadn't lasted. He had no national hall to march proudly into for warmth and food and companionship during these dark days. There was nothing in the strike for the likes of him but cold and hunger.
So on that Monday, more than two weeks after the infernal business had begun, he determined once again to return to work. He would earn the money to buy his pa enough whiskey to keep him from beating him, and go back and live in the shack by the river that he had called home since he could remember. He remembered quite well how much he had hated that old life, but this new one was worse. He never knew what to expect from day to day. And he was so cold. He would save out from his pay envelope at least enough money to buy coal for the shack's little stove. Yes, he'd make a fire at night and sleep close to it.
The crowds on Canal Street were almost as thick as they had been at the station the week before. But they were angry, booing and yelling at workers who were trying to elbow their way through to get to the mill gates or over the canal bridge and on to the Wood or Ayer mills. "Scab! Scab!" they screamed, along with what he guessed were obscenities in their native tongues. He persisted and was nearly at the bridge when a rough hand grabbed his arm.
"You ain't scabbing, is you, boy?" It was Giuliano.
Jake decided on the spot that he'd have to give up trying to get to work that day. "No, no," he said. "I come to help picket."
"I better not catch you crossing that bridge!"
"I wouldn't!" Jake answered, wriggling out of Giuliano's grasp. "Scab! Scab!" he yelled as he moved away from the angry man ... and right into the legs of a giant horse. The policeman astride it reached down and whacked him on the shoulder with a club. Jake cried out in surprise and then cursed the officer in the one language he was sure to understand.
"Why, you foul-mouthed little devil!" The policeman pulled his horse back and used its great flank to push Jake toward the canal.
Hell's bells! He means to drive me right into the water!
The canal water was so filthy that if you didn't freeze to death, the poison would kill you for sure. Jake dodged away, edging toward a man with a huge American flag, who was yelling at the crowd to follow him up Union Street. People were coming from picket lines farther east on Canal and joining the crowd. Somebody started to sing. Not having gone to many meetings, Jake didn't know any of the songs, but he liked the sound of them and it calmed his anger a little to listen.
The whole mood of the strikers seemed to lighten on the walk up the hill. It felt more like the crowd that had greeted Big Bill and Mrs. Gurley Flynn. Maybe she'd come back after all. Hadn't she promised she would, bringing money and help for the strikers? His own heart warmed as he remembered her, standing in front of the foreign women as if she wasn't any better than they were—as though they were sisters or something. The marchers were just passing the Everett Mill when, above the singing, he heard a shot. Everyone heard it, for the music stopped abruptly and the crowd froze.
Some looked toward the mill to see where the shot might have come from; others looked toward the police and militia lining the route. Jake didn't bother to investigate. If there was shooting, he just wanted to get away. As he began to wriggle his way through the stunned marchers, he could hear the murmurs passing from mouth to mouth.
"They killed her!"
"Annie Lopizzo ... You know the girl. She work at the Everett."
"No, no, she work at Pacific."
But what did it matter where she had worked if she was dead?
He made his way to the Polish bakery—the place where the clerk had given him coffee and a bun after that terrible night when Pa had beat him bloody. He didn't care if they remembered him or not. He wanted to be safe and warm and to have something in his stomach. Then maybe he could decide what to do next.