High and Dry
The entire Dill family go to the mat with the burning question of unemployment
BERNARD J. FARMER
IT SEEMS a pity that that excellent and once popular song: 'Bye, bye, blackbird' has gone the way of all the earth. So thought Ausonia Dill as metaphorically she took it from the shelf and dusted it, and gave it a vigorous rendering in a full, rich contralto.
She was in the kitchen, and as she sang, she bustled to and fro. playing a cheerful accompaniment with knives and forks. It was half past twelve on a Saturday afternoon, and soon the family, meaning her father and younger brothers and sisters, would be home and with no uncertain voice demand their dinner. As she reached a final and lingering 'Blackbird—bye. bye,’heavy footsteps paused outside, and a loud voice demanded instant admittance. The master of the house was home.
Ausonia rescued the steak and kidney pie from the too affectionate attentions of the oven and banged it on the table in the back parlor: then she untied the strings of her apron and went to the door.
Mr. Dill gave a muttered: “ ’ullo, gal,” and fumbled in his pockets. Ausonia stretched out her hand and waited. A dutiful daughter, she realized that this wras or.e of the moments when her father must unburden his proletariat soul. Rabid socialist that he was, he loved nothing better than to hear the sound of his own voice. It mattered little to him whether anyone listened or not. An audience of one was a luxury*.
But, to-day, the bloated capitalist would have to be content with someone else to decry his activities, for Mr. Dill never uttered a word. He placed his pay envelope in his daughter's hand, then glared sombrely down the street.
Ausonia stared in surprise. Something must be wrong. A painful silence followed. Mr. Dill shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, and, avoiding his daughter’s eye, 3eemed very interested in the antics of
wrong, father?” said Ausonia at last, reluctantly, removed his eyes from the dog. "I've lorst me job," he muttered.
Oh, father, how could you—and just when Alice has started 30 well!"
"I couldn't 'e'p it, gal,” he growled, goaded into defending himself. “I ’ad an argy-bargy with old Strom-
berg, the foreman, over some work.” He paused, and his red face deepened in hue at the memory of his wrongs. “The ’og!” he burst out suddenly, “ ’e worrited me all the morning, and then at twelve o’clock ’e comes up to me and ses: “Fat mans,” ’e ses, “I t’ink you no goot.”
“Ho, you does, does you,” I ses to ’im. “g’og!” I ses.
“You call me ’og,” he ses, fair dancing with rage. “I fire you!”
“Fire me, you howdacious ’ound,” I ses; “no you don’t: I quit!”
“Get out,” he screams, “dam’ Engleesman!”
“Ho,” I ses to ’im, and swipes ’im on the stutterin’ jaw.”
“Quite right, father,” said Ausonia unexpectedly.
Mr. Dill glowed at the praise and doubled up his huge fist, “get up, you ’ound,” I ses, “and fight like a man, an’ I’ll send yer ’ome to yer ol’ woman in a hambulance.” But ’e wouldn’t, not ’im; ’e lays on the ground and ’olds ’is ’and to ’is jaw.
“Pig-dog,” ’e yells, “I send for de berlice and haf you arrest.”
“Send for your purple police,” I ses,” “an’ I’ll twist their sanguinary necks!” Then I kicks up the works a bit and comes ’ome.”,
“That’s just where you’re wrong, father,” said Ausonia. “When will you learn that the police are not here for you to fight. You were in the right, and then you go and put yourself in the wrong.” She sighed hopelessly.
“Well, you don’t want me copped, do you? demanded Mr. Dill, not unreasonably; then his face fell as he remembered his position, and meditatively he scratched the back of his bullet-shaped head.
“P’raps I am a bit ’asty-like,” he admitted at last.
“You are,” said his daughter decidedly; “but it’s no use worrying now; the harm s done. I suppose you can get another job?”
Mr. Dill resumed his scratching operations and pondered.
“There’s Mennen and ’iggins,” he said doubtfully; “they’re doin’ the new job on Dundas street. But there, I dunno; old Stromberg is a pal of their foreman, and ^ e 11 fight like anything to stop me gettin’ in.
Ausonia began to take a decided dislike to Mr. Stromberg. “He can’t keep a good bricklayer out of a job for long,” she said emphatically; “I’ll see to that!
And with her chin at its most militant angle, she marched into the house.
Mr. Dill followed her more slowly, still scratching thoughtfully, “’og,” he rumbled to himself indignantly.
Ausonia saw his lowering face, and with daughterly love, allowed him to smoke his pipe before dinner.
“Never mind, dear,” she said soothingly, “you’ll soon get another job, and, anyway, you were quite right to hit that man when he said what he did: I should have done—hard!”
Mr. Dill expanded his chest again, and as the pungent fumes from his pipe permeated the room, his soul slowly rose from the black depths.
“I don’t mind a dam’ now and again,” he said seriously, “and I’m proud to be a Henglishman. It was the two together that did it.”
Ausonia’s mouth twitched. “Yes,” she agreed gravely, “it must have been the two together. Now get out of my way,” she added in a brisker tone, “or I’ll never get dinner ready.”
"\yf R. DILL subsided into a chair and smoked moodily. ±VlThe disadvantage of being hasty is that you have a lifetime to think it over. Though by no means a religious man, Ausonia pressed him into supporting the Rev. Aloysius Cholmondeley with great regularity every Sunday morning, and he could not help wondering what that apostle of goodness would have done in the circumstances. Probably recited the Litany, he thought
Just then, further events arrived in the form of Johnny, Henry and Joan, and dinner began. Alice was absent. She was working six days a week in a hat factory down town, and with the marvellous digestive properties, peculiar to her sex, she preferred to patronize a lunch counter and fare sumptuously off an ice cream soda and a banana split.
But even without the presence of Alice, the meal was a sufficiently embarrassing one for Mr. Dill. Joan sat beside him, and she repeatedly turned her head to fix him with a wide, unwinking stare.
“Father’s lost his job,” she remarked suddenly.
“Now look ’ere ...” began Mr. Dill.
“Lost his job—lost his job—lost his job,” chanted Henry in a high sing-song voice.
Mr. Dill swore distinctly.
“Father!” said Ausonia in a scandalized voice. How can you say such words before the kids!”
“I can’t ’elp it,” grumbled the aggrieved father; “when my own daughter sits and grins at me like a Cheshire cat.”
“I wasn’t grinning at you like a Cheshire cat,” explained Joan, “I was thinking. And I know you’ve lost your job. I can see it in your face!”
Mr. Dill breathed heavily. Defeated in repartee, he resorted to force. “I’ve a good mind to smack you,” he said fiercely.
Joan rose warily, but Ausonia motioned her back. If there was any smacking to be done in the house, she was the one to do it.
“Eat your dinner, father,” she said shortly. “And Joan, look at me, there’s a dear. Father’s worried.”
Joan turned her basilisk glare on Ausonia, and the meal was resumed in comparative peace.
After dinner, Mr. Dill retired to his favorite occupation—the reading of the Tribune; but even a particularly violent leading article failed to provoke much response from him; he merely growled under his breath, tore up the sheet and stamped on it. For a time the editor was safe.
To say Mr. Dill dreamed dreams would be untrue, for he had not the imagination necessary for such a feat; but in his more sanguine moments there lurked at the back of his head a faint idea of what would happen to the editor of the Tribune when the socialist reigned in the land and the blood of the capitalist flowed like water down the gutters.
He, comrade Dill, now one of the leaders of the Third International, would brush aside the small army of reporters, sub-editors, and other noxious beings who guarded the Tribune stronghold, like so many flies, and forcing his way into the holy of holies itself, confront the astonished editor with a large and dirty fist.
“Did you write this blackleg tripe, comrade?” he would roar, thumping the sheet with his fist till the windows rattled.
The editor would shake like a leaf in the wind.
“Have I offended you, comrade?” he would ask anxiously.
“Yus,” Mr. Dill would reply,” and if you does it again, I’ll smash up the ’ole works and you with it!”
Then would the editor relinquish his pen. “Write the leader yourself, comrade,” he would say, and Mr. Dill would comply, beginning with a furious tirade against the crowned heads of Europe, and ending with a fervent vote of thanks to Lenin and Trotsky.
That, simply, was his vision worked out to its conclusion in the far distant future, but now farther off than ever, for in the days which followed the losing of his job, he developed a dependence on the Tribune in a way he never dreamed of.
One attempt to get a job with Mennen and Higgins had convinced him that his previous doubts were more than justified. The interview with the foreman had been short and bitter. High words had ensued, and Mr.
Dill had left with a great rage smouldering in his heart and a barely suppressed desire to smash the foreman’s jaw.
Contractor after contractor had he tried, getting up early and coming home late; but all his efforts were fruitless. Work was scarce, and he could get none of it.
Thus it came about that he was forced to fall back on the golden rule of the immigrant, and the Tribune was his chief interest. If he could not get a job in his own trade, he would try for any job. Every morning after breakfast, he painstakingly read the advertisement columns, marking off with a pencil any job which seemed even remotely possible; and as time went on his ideas became more and more ambitious. The feelings of an employer who advertised for a shipping clerk and received an application from Mr. Dill were too intense to be related.
But such was his earnestness, that Ausonia could not find it in her heart to discourage what she knew to be useless; she could hardly help smiling when once, in all seriousness, he asked her advice as to whether he should apply for a job as counter-man in a restaurant.
Day followed day, and his pride received a severe jolt, though all that was best in his character came to the surface. He grew more silent; no longer did he shout anathema on the government, and the editor of the Tribune was ignored altogether. He simply stuck out
that ornament to nature he was pleased to call his stuttering jaw and carried on.
The mornings were the worst time; Alice was the sole support of the home now, and she would go off to work with a superior flirt of her short skirts and a tilt of her pert little nose, supremely conscious that her fifteen dollars a week was not only needed but badly necessary.
Mr. Dill used to watch her with savage humiliation; he felt it was dishonorable on his part for his younger daughter to work while he did nothing. Yet, what could he do? Night after night he returned home glum and silent after making his rounds—the employment exchange, the advertisements, then anything suggested by his former mates who were willing enough to help, but had little influence. Ausonia did her best to keep him cheerful.
“Don’t worry, dear, everything will come all right,” she maintained stoutly, when one night, more than three
weeks after black Saturday, Mr. Dill, in a fit of depression remarked that they would all end up in the poor house.
VET the day came when a momentous decision had to be made. A little fund had been set aside in the bank to bring Uncle George and his family out to Canada, and they had to decide whether or not it should be touched. Uncle George existed somehow in the slums of London, and his two younger children were consumptive. Canada would not only save their lives, but raise the family from grinding poverty to comparative affluence. Mr. Dill, in common with many other men of his class, held that it was his bounden duty to help relations poorer than himself, and dollar by dollar he had saved nearly enough to bring them out and start LTncle George in a little fried fish shop in Parliament street. The two consumptive children would be sent to farms out West. That was the arrangement, and to Ausonia and Mr. Dill, as they discussed it after the others had gone to bed, it seemed almost like sacrilege to touch the money so
painfully saved. Yet, it was either that or starve, themselves.
The next morning Ausonia announced her decision. “I’m going out to work,” she said cheerfully. “You’ll have to stop at home, to-day, father, and look after the kids when they come home from school.”
Mr. Dill opened his mouth wide with astonishment. “But you ’aven’t got a job,” he objected.
Ausonia pointed to the ‘female help wanted’ column of the Tribune.
“There’s a job there as a waitress,” she said. “It’s the Boston Cafe in Monk street. I’m going to get it.”
Mr. Dill never dreamed of questioning his daughter’s ability to get the job, if she wanted it.
Well, if you must, you must, he growled regretfully, “though I’d be sorry to see you a waitress, me gal I’m afraid I ’aven’t done all I might,” he added, somewhat weakly, in a burst of unwonted humility.
“Nonsense, dear,” said Ausonia. “No man could have done more. You can’t help circumstance.”
Be that as it may, even she had no idea of the blow to his pride as he watched her sally forth so full of youth and confidence; and u *,he mali&nant Stromberg had chanced in Panton street that day, there would have been murder done.
The ironical ladies who control the destinies must have turned a wheel, for Ausonia had no difficulty in getting the job. Her advent into the somewhat rough waters of the Cafe Boston is worthy of a little description. The cafe itself was owned by Ling Hong, a Chinaman, and the patronage was not of a high order. It did not even start where Child s left off: there was a considerable social gap between. And also—it was the first thing that Ausonia noticed the cleanliness was doubtful and there was a permanent population of flies.
The tables were arranged into two sets, and during the rush hours at twelve and five, one girl would take one side and one the other. Ausonia ’s colleague was a maiden of enormous dimensions and uncertain years, named Zo, and Zo’s sole topic of conversation seemed to be her feet, which walked the floor like great ungainly boats.
If you were fortunate— or unfortunate—enough to partake of dinner under the presiding genius of Zo, she would plump a thick bowl of soup down in front of you, then leaning over your chair, breathe heavily.
“Everything jake?” she would inquire.
“Quite, thanks,” you would say politely, if inaccurately.
Then, business permitting, Zo would lean still more heavily and compose herself to conversation.
“Nawful lot of trouble I has with me feet,” she would say.
“Yes?” you would murmur encouragingly.
“Yes, sir'.” She would lift one huge member from the floor, and balancing by means of your chair, raise a yellow shoe for your inspection. “These are lizard skin, and still me corns hurt me somefing crool.”
“Ah,” you would say tactfully, “have you ever tried the ‘Excelsior ’ shoe?”
Zo never had, and she would go away deep in thought.
From this it may be understood that Ausonia's first hour or so in the Boston Cafe was devoted to the discussion of Zo’s feet; and the practical suggestions she was able to offer made Zo her friend for life.
But apart from that, Ausonia found it hard to get acclimatized: her proud spirit repeatedly rebelled against the familiarities she was expected to put up with; it was all she could do to restrain herself from smacking at least a dozen heads, and when an anaemic looking gentleman condescended to call her a cute kid, she banged down his
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soup with a violence that drenched his shirt front.
That night she met Charlie Gunn, now her acknowledged fiance, and, in stormy accents, she gave him a brief resumé of the day.
Charlie’s face flushed angrily. “I hate you being at a place like that,” he said after Ausonia had given her opinion of the amorous gentleman.
“It must be done,” said Ausonia, with a sudden return to her practical manner.
“You’re going to marry me, aren’t you?”
“I’ve promised I will as soon as I can leave the family.”
“Well then,” said Charlie awkwardly, “I’m making forty a week now; I wish you would let me help.”
Ausonia shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t be right,” she said decidedly, “though it’s decent of you to offer. No, I must just stick it until father gets something, though I’m afraid something’s going to happen, if I stay there much longer.”
Her prophecy was fulfilled four days later, when rather white round the lips, she returned home at three o’clock in the afternoon. Mr. Dill looked at her in surprise.
“You’re ’ome early, me gal,” he ventured. “Anything wrong?”
“I’m not going back there any more,” she said shortly, “and I wish you wouldn’t ask me any questions.”
Mr. Dill glanced at her curiously, but said nothing more.
As a matter of fact, she had made the unforgivable mistake of forgetting that the customer is always in the right. By a stern effort of will she had schooled herself to be polite to men who leered at her continually; and with such success that one patron, finding his generalities were not actively resented, proceeded to such personalities that Ausonia had given him a smack across the face that made his head ring, then hotly demanded of Ling Hong why he allowed such beasts in his place.
But Ling Hong had declined to turn the man out, and Ausonia had demanded her wages and left.
THE day following Ausonia’s hurried return home, two things of importance happened: Henry, who had been acting mysteriously all the week, came home at dinner time with the air of a stage conspirator, and going behind Ausonia’s chair, put his hands before her eyes.
“Guess what I’ve got,” he said gleefully.
“Long finger-nails?” suggested Ausonia impolitely.
Henry slowly relaxed his grip and triumphantly flourished a new and crackling ten dollar bill.
“I’ve been selling magazines,” he said with the air of a grain king.
“Well!” was all Ausonia could say, but the impulsive hug she gave him was more than compensation.
The second event was connected with Mr. Dill; he had resumed his job hunting that morning, but with no more success than before. More than a mouth had gone by with no work, and he began to despair of ever finding it. The problem was solved in a way he little dreamed of.
He was returning in the evening sick at heart and footsore after a fruitless search, and was barely half a mile from home, when he noticed a fat red bundle lying in the road. In a moment it was in his hands, and he walked on glancing, self-consciously, left and right.
The first side street he came to, he turned down, and choosing a convenient doorway, inspected his find. It was a pocket wallet, and inside were some four hundred dollars, papers which he took to be bonds, and a visiting card.
For a moment fierce temptation assailed him; the money evidently be-
longed to some bloated capitalist, who could easily afford to lose it; why shouldn’t he tear up the card and pocket the rest? Then his better feelings triumphed, and he slowly turned the card over in his hand.
“John D. Arlington,” it said, and gave an address in Rosedale.
Mr. Dill caressed the card with a loving sense of power. “Ho!” he said to himself, sardonically, “Mister John D. Harlington, hesquire. Made yer dough robbing widows and horphans, I dessay, an’ you expects Bob Dill ter give it back to you, ho yus?”
With a hideous laugh, he replaced the widow-robber’s property back in the wallet, and returning to the corner, boarded a street car. Half an hour later he was standing before an imposing stone mansion, and with a nervousness sadly out of place in the proletariat, he rang the bell.
The door was opened by a pert looking maid, who glanced superciliously at his dusty clothes. “Tradesmen go to the side entrance,” she said loftily.
“You be civil, me gal,” said Mr. Dill sharply, “and tell Mister John D. Harlington that a gent wants to see ’im about a pocket book as has been lorst.”
The girl sniffed, and thoughtfully closing the door in his face, presently returned with the surprising news that not only would Mr. Arlington see him at once, but that he would be pleased to see him.
Mr. Dill followed her through the hall, and as his heavy feet sank into the luxurious rugs which covered the floor, he felt with a thrill that he was actually in the home of the bloated capitalist, at last. Subconsciously, his jaw stiffened, and he tred to formulate the correct way of dealing with the “aughty ’ound,’ as he termed it to himself.
But if he expected Mr. Arlington to be either haughty or a hound, he was sadly mistaken. He was received in the library, motioned to a chair, and orders were given for a large and satisfying drink.
Mr. Dill sat on the extreme edge of the chair and sipped his whiskey and soda daintily, as if not committing himself to anything.
“I understand you have come about a wallet you found,” said Mr. Arlington, pleasantly, “Mr.—ah—”
“Dill,” supplied the owner of that name.
“Ah, yes, Mr. Dill. Well, I think I can identify it: it has inside three hundred and eighty-six dollars, some mining stock and my visiting card.”
Mr. Dill fumbled in his pocket and passed the wallet over. “It’s yours all right,” he said gruffly.
Mr. Arlington placed it on the table.
“ ’adn’t you better hopen it and see I ain’t pinched anything,” said Mr. Dill, in a voice he usually reserved for the editor of the Tribune.
Mr. Arlington smiled. “I know an honest man when I see one,” he remarked casually.
Despite himself, Mr. Dill flushed. He hoped inwardly that for the sake of the socialist movement all capitalists were not so pleasant spoken as this one: it would be very hard to shoot them when the time came.
Mr. Arlington coughed. “To-night, I telephoned the Tribune to insert an advertisement offering fifty dollars reward for the recovery of the wallet. That reward, Mr. Dill, belongs rightfully to you.”
Mr. Dill flushed still more and rose to his feet. “I don’t want no reward,” he said, ungraciously. “You wouldn’t pay
a burglar not to rob yer ’ouse, would yer?”
Mr. Arlington changed the subject. “You were overseas during the war?” he asked.
“Yes, sir.” A second later he could have bitten his tongue out. He had actually ‘sirred’ the bloated capitalist. He hoped that Lenin and Trotsky would never come to hear of such a lapse. But apparently, Mr. Arlington noticed nothing wrong, for he went on evenly:
“Tenth Royal Canadians.”
“Ah, I was in the Twelfth. You and I, Dill, must have been in the Ypres salient together.”
Then Mr. Dill completely forgot the baleful shadow of Trotsky at his elbow. “Those were good times, sir,” he said regretfully.
Mr. Arlington agreed. “By the way,” he asked suddenly, “where are you working?”
Mr. Dill went hot with shame. “I ain’t exactly workin’ at present, sir,” he muttered thickly.
Mr. Arlington offered him a cigar, and listened sympathetically as he gave a rough and disjointed account of the last month.
“How would a janitor’s job suit you, Dill,” he said, when it came to an end.
“Janitor, sir, I don’t know. I ’aven’t ’ad no experience, like.”
“Well, you’d soon pick it up,” said Mr. Arlington encouragingly. “I’ve got a new block of flats that will be ready for occupation next month, and I shall want a good, reliable man. And there’ll be room for your family, of course. Think it over, and come to my office when you have decided.”
■A QUARTER of an hour later, Mr. ■*Dill was dancing fantastically down the street on his way home. Indeed, so great was his jubilation, that one or two policemen looked at him suspiciously and suggestively hitched their belts; but Mr. Dill went on his way with lofty indifference. When he was janitor of Carnegie Apartments, he would be far too respectable to fight the police.
Later that night,, when the rest of the family were reputed to be in bed—Joan was listening at the top of the stairs— Ausonia and Mr. Dill threshed the matter out in all its angles.
“Take it, father,” counseled Ausonia for the hundredth time; “even you have to admit Mr. Arlington is a nice man, and if you behave yourself, the job will be good for life. I want to see you settled: I’ve—been worried about you.”
Mr. Dill coughed loudly and slapped a huge expanse of thigh. “Come ’ere, me gal,” he said roughly.
Ausonia mentally put the clock back ten years and sat on his knee, while with clumsy fingers he stroked her dark hair.
“What do you think Henry did to-day?’ she asked softly.
Mr. Dill grunted, expressing infinite possibilities.
“Presented me with ten dollars he’d made selling magazines; and he never told us a word about it!”
Mr. Dill closed his fingers over his daughter’s slim hand. With sudden appreciation, he thought of his home and family, seeing points about them that he had never troubled to notice before; then his eyes fell on Ausonia’s profile as she sat with one arm round his neck, and he felt a queer sensation of pride. No man ever had a daughter like his Aussy.
It was left to Joan to shatter his dreams “Father’s getting mushy,” she said with terrible clearness.
Mr. Dill swore.