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The Quarry








From: Still Jim

"An Elephant of Rock, I have lain here in the desert for
countless ages, watching, waiting. I wonder for what!"

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


Little Jim sat at the quarry edge and dangled his legs over the derrick
pit. The derrick was out of commission because once more the lift cable
had parted. Big Jim Manning, Little Jim's father, was down in the pit
with Tomasso, his Italian helper, disentangling the cables, working
silently, efficiently, as was his custom.

Little Jim bit his fingers and watched and scowled in a worried way. He
and his mother hated to have Big Jim work in the quarry. It seemed to
them that Big Jim was too good for such work. Little Jim wanted to leave
school and be a water boy and his father's helper. Big Jim never seemed
to hear the boy's request and Little Jim kept on at school.

The noon whistle blew just as the cable was once more in running order.
Little Jim slid down into the pit with his father's dinner bucket and
sat by while his father ate.

Big Jim Manning was big only in height. He was six feet tall, but lean.
He was sallow and given to long silences that he broke with a slow,
sarcastic drawl that Little Jim had inherited. Big Jim was forty-five
years old. Little Jim was fourteen; tall and lean, like his father, his
face a composite of father and mother. His eyes were large and a clear
gray. Even at fourteen he had the half sweet, half gay, wholly wistful
smile that people watched for, when he grew up. His hair was a warm leaf
brown, peculiarly soft and thick. Little Jim's forehead was the forehead
of a dreamer. His mouth and chin were dogged, persistent, energetic.

When he was not in school, Jim never missed the noon hour at the quarry.
He had his father's love for mechanics. He had his father's love for law
and order making, the gift to both of their unmixed Anglo-Saxon
ancestry. When Big Jim did talk at the noon hour, it was usually to try
to educate his Italian and Polish fellow workmen to his New England
viewpoint. Little Jim never missed a word. He adored his father. He was
profoundly influenced by the dimly felt, not understood tragedy of his
father's life and of the old New England town in which he lived.

Big Jim spread a white napkin over his knee and poured a cup of steaming
soup from the thermos bottle. Tomasso broke off a chunk of bread and
took an onion from one pocket and a piece of cheese from another. Big
Jim and 'Masso, as he was called, working shoulder to shoulder, day by
day, had developed a sort of liking for each other in spite of the fact
that Big Jim held foreigners in utter contempt.

"Why did you come to America, anyhow, 'Masso?" drawled Big Jim, waiting
for his soup to cool.

'Masso gnawed his onion and bread thoughtfully. "Maka da mon' quick,
here; go backa da old countra rich."

"What else?" urged Big Jim.

'Masso looked blank. "I mean," said Big Jim, "did you like our laws
better'n yours? Did you like our ways better?"

'Masso shrugged his shoulders. "Don' care 'bout countra if maka da mon'.
Why you come desa countra?"

Big Jim's drawl seemed to bite like the slow gouge of a stone chisel.

"I was born here, you Wop! This very dirt made the food that made me,
understand? I'm a part of this country, same as the trees are. My
forefathers left comfort and friends behind them and came to this
country when it was full of Indians to be free. Free! Can you get that?
And what good did it do them? They larded the soil with their good sweat
to make a place for fellows like you. And what do you care?"

'Masso, who was quick and eager, shook his head. "I work all da time. I
maka da mon. I go home to old countra. That 'nough. Work alla da time."

Big Jim ate his beef sandwich slowly. Little Jim, chin in palm, sat
listening, turning the matter over in his mind. His father tried another
angle.

"What started you over here, 'Masso? How'd you happen to think of
coming?"

'Masso understood this. "Homa, mucha talk 'bout desa landa. How
ever'boda getta da mon over here. I heara da talk but it like a dream,
see? I lika da talk but I lika my own Italia, see? But in olda countra
many men work for steamship compana. Steamship compana, they needa da
mon', too, see? They talk to us mucha, fixa her easy, come here easy,
getta da job easy, see? Steamship men, they keepa right after me, so I
come, see?"

Big Jim lighted his pipe. "Tell Mama that was a good dinner, Jimmy," he
said. "I haven't got anything personal against you, 'Masso," he went on.
"You're a human being like me, trying to take care of your family. I
suppose you can't help it that Italians as a class are a lawless lot of
cut-throats. You certainly are willing workers. But I'd like to bet that
if we'd shut the doors after the Civil War and let those that was in
this country have their chance, this country would have a wholesomer
growth than it has now. I'll bet if they had fifty men in this quarry
like me instead of a hundred like you, it would turn out twice the work
it does now."

"But Dad, they say you can't get real Americans to do this kind of
work," said Little Jim.

"Deal with facts, Jimmy; deal with facts," drawled his father. "I'm
working here. Will Endicott, John Allen, Phil Chadwick are all day
laborers. Our forefathers founded this government and this town. What's
happened to it and to us? It's too late for us older men to do much. But
you kids have got to think about it. What's happened to us? What's
happened to this old town? I want you to think about it."

Little Jim took the dinner bucket and started for home. His father had
not been talking on a topic new to the Mannings or to the Mannings'
friends. Little Jim had been brought up to wonder what was the matter
with his breed, what had happened to Exham. Little Jim's forefathers had
once held in grant from an English king the land on which the quarry
lay. His grandfather had given it up. Farm labor was hard to get. The
mortgage had grown heavier and heavier. The land all about was being
bought up by Polish and Italian hucksters who lived on what they could
not sell and whose wives and children were their farm hands. Grandfather
Manning could not compete with this condition.

Big Jim had gone to New York City in his early twenties. He had had a
good high school education and was a first-class mechanic. But somehow,
he could not compete. He was slow and thoroughgoing and honest. He could
not compete with the new type of workman, the man bred to do part work.
When Little Jim was five, the Mannings had come back to Exham, with the
hope of somehow, sometime, buying back the old farm.

Little Jim passed the old farmhouse slowly. It was used for a storehouse
for quarry supplies now. Yet it still was beautiful. Two great elms
still shaded the wide portico. The great eaves still sheltered many
paned windows. The delicate balustrade still guarded the curving
staircase. The dream of Little Jim's life was to live in that great,
hospitable mansion.

He passed with a boy's deliberation down the long street that led toward
the cottage where the Mannings now lived. The street was heavily shaded
by gigantic elms. It was lined on either side by fine Colonial houses,
set in gardens, some of which still held dials and bricked walks; wide,
deep gardens some of which still were ghostly sweet. But the majority of
the mansions had been turned into Italian tenement houses. The gardens
were garbage heaps. The houses were filthy and disheveled. The look of
them clutched one's heart with horror and despair, as if one looked on a
once lovely mother turned to a street drabble.

Little Jim looked and thought with a sense of helpless melancholy that
should not have belonged to fourteen. When he reached the cottage, his
mother, taking the bucket from him, caught the look in the clear gray
eyes that were like her own. She had no words for the look. Nevertheless
she understood it immediately. Mrs. Manning was nervous and energetic,
with the half-worried, half-wistful face of so many New England women.

"Jimmy," she said, "Phil Chadwick just whistled for you. He went to the
swimming hole."

The words were magic. They swept that intangible look from Jim's face
and left it flushed and boyish.

"Gee!" he exclaimed, "he's early today. Can I have my dinner right off?"

"Yes," replied his mother, "but remember not to go in until three
o'clock. I'm sure I don't see what keeps all you boys from dying! And
how you can stand the blood suckers and turtles up there in that mud
hole! Goodness! Come, dear, I've cooled off your soup so you can hurry.
I knew you'd want to."

Will Endicott dropped in at the Mannings' that evening. Will was a
short, florid man, younger than Big Jim. Little Jim, his hair still damp
and his fingers wrinkled from water soak, laid down his Youth's
Companion. Usually when Will Endicott came there were some lively
discussions on the immigration question and the tariff. Even had Little
Jim wanted to talk, he would not have been allowed to do so. Among the
New Englanders in Exham the old maxim still obtained, "Children are to
be seen and not heard." But Little Jim always listened eagerly.

Endicott looked excited tonight. But he had no news about the tariff.

"There's a boy at my house!" he exclaimed. "He just came. Nine pounds!
Annie is doing fine."

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Manning, while Big Jim shook Will's hand solemnly. "Oh,
goodness! I didn't know--Why I thought tomorrow--Well, I guess I'll go
right over now. Goodness----" and still exclaiming, she hurried out into
the summer dusk.

"That's great, Will!" said Big Jim. "I wish I could afford to have a
dozen. But they cost money, these kids. I suppose you'll be like me,
never be able to afford but the one."

"He's awful strong," said Will, abstractedly. "To hear him yell, you'd
think he was twins. Looks like me, too. Red as a beet and fat."

"Must be a beauty," said Big Jim. "That Wop that works with me has seven
children about a year apart. Doesn't worry him at all. He just moves
into a cheaper place, cuts down on food and clothes and takes another
one out of school and sets him to work. They're growing up like Indians,
lawless little devils. A fine addition to the country! I was reading the
other day that by the law of averages a man has got to have four
children to be pretty sure of his line surviving. And it said that we
New Englanders have the smallest birth rate in the civilized world
except France, which is the same as ours. And we've got the biggest
proportion of foreigners of any part of America now, up here."

Will came out of the clouds for a moment. "I've been telling you that
for years. What's the matter with us, anyhow?"

Big Jim shrugged his shoulders. "All like you and me, I suppose. If we
can't give a child a decent chance, we won't have 'em. And these
foreigners have cut down wages so's we can hardly support one, let alone
two."

Endicott rose. "I just happened to think. I'm going to borrow Chadwick's
scales and weigh him again. They're better than mine."

Big Jim chuckled and filled his pipe. Then he sighed. "We've got to go,
Jimmy. The old New Englander is as dead as the Indian. We are
has-beens."

"But why?" urged Little Jim. "I don't feel like a has-been. What's made
us this way? Why don't you and the rest do something?"

"You'd have to change our skins," replied his father, "to make us fight
these foreigners on their own level. I'm going to bed. No use waiting
for Mama. There's a hard day ahead in the quarry tomorrow. That break
set us back on a rush order. The boss was crazy. I told him as I told
him forty times before that he'd have to get a new derrick, but he
won't. Not so long as he's got me to piece and contrive and make things
do.

"I tried to talk 'Masso and the rest into striking for it today, but
they don't care anything about the equipment. It's something bigger than
I can get at. It isn't only this quarry. It's everywhere I work. Always
these foreigners are willing to work in such conditions as we Americans
can't stand. Everywhere twenty of 'em waiting to undercut our pay. And
the big men bank on this very thing to make themselves rich. You'd
better go after your mother, Jimmy. This village ain't safe for a woman
after dark the way it was before the Italians came. I'm going to bed."

The next night at supper Big Jim was very silent. When he had eaten his
slice of cake he said in his slow way, "No more cake for a while, I
guess, Mama."

Mrs. Manning looked up in her nervous, startled manner.

"What's the matter, Jim?"

"Well, I went with my usual kick to the boss about the derrick and he
told me to take it or leave it. That work was slacking up so he'd
decided on a ten per cent. cut in wages. I don't know but what I'd
better quit and look for something else."

"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Mrs. Manning. She had been through many, many
periods of job hunting since her marriage. "Keep your job, Jim. Next
week is September and winter will be here before we know it. We'll
manage somehow."

"I'll not go to school," cried Little Jim. "I'll get a job. Please, Dad,
let me!"

"You'll stay in school," replied Big Jim in his best stone chisel drawl,
"as long as I have strength to work. And if I can send you through
college, you'll go. Don't you ever think of anything, Jimmy, but that
you are to have a thorough education? If anything happens to me you are
to get an education if you have to sweep the streets to do it. That's
the New England idea. Educate the children at whatever cost. I had a
high school education and you'll have a college course if I live. And if
I don't live, get it for yourself. I'll have another cup of tea, please,
Mama."

"Well, it makes me sick!" exclaimed Little Jim with one of his rare
outbursts of feeling, "to have you and mama working so hard and me do
nothing but feed the chickens and chop wood. I'll give up the Youth's
Companion, anyhow."

Mrs. Manning looked horrified. The Companion was as much a family
institution as the dictionary. "How do you think you are going to be
really educated, Jimmy, unless you read good things? Your father and I
were brought up on the Companion and you'll keep right on with it.
I'll get cheaper coffee, Papa, and we can give up cream. Ten per cent.
That will make a difference of twenty cents a day. I'll turn my winter
suit."

"I'll give up tobacco for a while," said Big Jim. "I was thinking about
it, anyhow. It's got so it bites my tongue. I don't need any new winter
things, but Jimmy's got to look decent. My father would turn over in his
grave if he thought I couldn't keep the last Manning dressed decent.
Maybe we ought to give up this cottage, Mama. The Higgins cottage is
pretty good but it hasn't got any bathroom."

"If you think I'm going to let Jimmy grow up without a bathroom, you're
mistaken," replied Mrs. Manning. "I've got a chance to send jelly and
preserves to Boston and I'm going to do it. Don't worry, Papa. We'll
make it."

When Little Jim took his father's dinner to him the next day, 'Masso's
boy Tony was sharing 'Masso's lunch. His face was dust smeared.

"I gotta job," announced Tony.

'Masso nodded. "He bigga kid now. Not go da school any more. Boss, he
giva da cut. I bringa da Tony, getta da job as tool boy. Boss, he fire
da Yankee boy. Tony, he work cheaper."

"He's too small to work," said Big Jim. "You'd ought to keep him in
school and give him a chance."

"Chance for what?" asked 'Masso.

"Chance to grow into a decent American citizen," snarled Big Jim with
the feeling he had had so often of late, the sense of having his back to
the wall while the pack worried him in front.

Tony looked up quickly. He was a brilliant faced little chap. "I am an
American!" he cried. "I'll be rich some day."

Big Jim looked from 'Masso's child to his own. Then he looked off over
the browning summer fields, beyond the quarry. There lay the land that
his fathers had held in grant from an English king. But the fields that
had built Big Jim's flesh and blood were dotted with Italian huts. The
lane in which Big Jim's mother had met his father, returning crippled
from Antietam, was blocked by a Polish road house.

Little Jim didn't like the look on his father's face. He spoke his first
thought to break the silence.

"Can't I stay for a while, Dad, and watch you load the big stones?"

"If your mother won't worry and you'll keep out of the way," answered
Big Jim, rising as the whistle blew.

To industry, the cheapest portion of its equipment is its inexhaustible
human labor supply. It was Big Jim who was sufficiently intelligent to
keep demanding a new derrick. It was Big Jim who was adept in managing
the decrepit machinery and so it was he who was sent to the danger
spots, he having the keenest wits and the best knowledge of the danger
spots.

Little Jim, sitting with his long legs dangling over the derrick pit,
watched his father and 'Masso tease the derrick into swinging the great
blocks to the flat car for the rush order.

The thing happened very quickly, so quickly that Little Jim could not
jump to his feet and start madly down into the pit before it was all
over. The great derrick broke clean from its moorings and dropped across
the flat car, throwing Big Jim and 'Masso and the swinging block
together in a ghastly heap.

It took some time to rig the other derrick to bear on the situation.
Little Jim dropped to the ground and managed to grip his father's hand,
protruding from under the debris. But the boy could not speak. He only
sobbed dryly and clung desperately to the inert hand.

At last Big Jim and 'Masso were laid side by side upon the brown grass
at the quarry edge. 'Masso's chest was broken. The priest got to him
before the doctor. Had 'Masso known enough, before he choked, he might
have said:

"It doesn't matter. I have done a real man's part. I have worked to the
limit of my strength and I shall survive for America through my
fertility. What I have done to America, no one knows."

But 'Masso was no thinker. Before he slipped away, he only said some
futile word to the priest who knelt beside him. 'Masso never had gotten
very far from the thought of his Maker.

Big Jim, lying on the border of the fields where his fathers had dreamed
and hoped and worked, looked hazily at Little Jim, and tried to say
something, but couldn't. Once more the sense of having his back to the
wall, the pack suffocating him, closed in on him, blinded him, and
merged with him into the darkness into which none of us has seen.

Had Big Jim been able to clarify the chaos of thoughts in his mind and
had he had a longer time for dying, he might have done the thing far
more dramatically. He merely rasped out his life, a bloody, voiceless,
broken thing on the golden August fields, with his chaos of thoughts
unspoken.

He might, had things been otherwise, have seen the long, sad glory of
humanity's migrations; might have caught for an unspeakable second a
vision of that never ceasing, never long deflected on-moving of human
life that must continue, regardless of race tragedy, as long as humans
crave food either for the body or the soul. He might have seen himself
as symbolizing one of those races that slip over the horizon into
oblivion, unprotesting, only vaguely knowing. And seeing this thing, Big
Jim might have paused and looking into the face of the horde that was
pressing him over the brim, he might have said:

"We who are about to die, salute thee!"

But Big Jim was not dramatic. Little Jim never knew what his father
might have said. Instinct told the boy when the end had come. His dry
sobs changed to the abandoned tears of childhood as he ran down the
street of elms and besotted mansions to tell his mother.





Next: The Old Swimming Hole

Previous: The Crucible



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