The Harbor


I had been little at home those days, for the house in Brooklyn disturbed me now. Poor old Dad. Since I had secured my contract he had tried so hard to help me, to be eager, interested, alive, to talk it all over with me at night. And this I did not like to do. A vague feeling of guilt and disloyalty would creep into my now boundless zest for the harbor that had crowded him out. And I think that he suspected this. One night, when with this feeling I stupidly tried to talk as though I still hated all its ugliness, its clamor, smoke and grime, I caught a twinkle of pain in his eyes.

"Boy," he broke in roughly, "I hope you'll always talk and write what you believe and nothing else! I wouldn't give a picayune for any chap who didn't!"

I could feel him watching anxiously my affair with Eleanore. In the days when she had come to the house he had grown very fond of her, and now by frequent questions, slipped in with a studied indifference, he showed an interest which in time became a deep suspense.

"Out again this evening, son?" he called in one night from the bathroom where he was washing his hands and face before going down to supper. In my room adjoining I was dressing to go out.

"Yes, Dad."

"What for?"

"Some work."

"Be out for dinner too?"


"Who with?"

"Oh, a pilot," I answered abstractedly. I was won[Pg 193]dering if she would wear her blue gown. She had asked quite a number of people that night. Then I saw Dad in the doorway. Briskly rubbing his gray head with a towel, he was eyeing my evening clothes.

"Devilish polished chaps these days—pilots," he commented. I heard a low snort of glee from his room.

My sister, on the other hand, had no more patience than before with this fast deepening love of mine, which had drawn me away from her radical friends up to the men of the tower who worked for the big companies. By the most vigorous ironies, the most industrious witty remarks, she made me feel how thoroughly she disapproved of anything so deadening as marriage, home and settling down, in this glorious age of new ideas.

One morning at breakfast, when I remarked as I commonly did that I would be out for dinner that night,

"Where are you going?" she asked abruptly.

"To Eleanore Dillon's," I replied. Our eyes met squarely for a moment.

"Do you know what it means to go there so often, almost every night?" she asked.

"I do," I answered bluntly. I would finish this meddling once and for all. But Sue did not look finished.

"You'd better stay home to-night, Billy," she said.


"Joe Kramer is coming."


"He telephoned me late last night. He's just come from Colorado and he sails to-morrow for England. He's awfully anxious to see you."

Of course he was, and I knew what about! I saw at once by the look on her face that Sue had told him all about me and had begged him to see what he could do. Why couldn't they leave a fellow alone, I said wrathfully to myself.

But my ire softened when I met Joe. In the year and a half since I had seen him the lines in his face had deep[Pg 194]ened, the stoop of his big shoulders had grown even more pronounced, and again I felt that wistful, frowning, searching quality in him. Beneath his gruffness and his jeers he was so honestly pushing on for what he could find most real in life. A wave of the old affection came over me suddenly without warning. Vaguely I wondered about it. Why did he always grip me so?

My father too appeared at first delighted to see him. He had shown a keen relish for J. K. from that first time in college when I had brought him home for Christmas. Since then, whenever Joe had come, he and Dad had always managed to retreat to the study together and smoke and have long dogged arguments. But to-night it was not the same. For in his growth as a radical, Joe had gone beyond all arguing now. Lines of deep displeasure slowly tightened on Dad's face. All through dinner he kept attempting to turn the talk from Joe's work to mine. But this I would have none of, I wanted to be let alone. So I nervously kept the conversation on what Joe was up to. And Sue seemed more than eager to learn.

J. K. was up to a good deal.

"This muckraking game is played out," he said. "We all know how rotten things are. All we want to know now is what's to be done." And he himself had become absorbed in what the working class was doing. As a reporter in the West he had been to strike after strike, ending with a long ugly struggle in the Colorado mines. He talked about it intensely, the greed of the mine owners, the brutality of the militia, the "bull pens" into which strikers were thrown. Vaguely I felt he was giving us a most distorted picture, and glancing now and then at my father I saw that he thought it a pack of lies. Joe made all the strikers the most heroic figures, and he spoke of their struggle as only a part of a great labor war that was soon to sweep the entire land.

Sue excitedly drew him out, and I felt it was all for my[Pg 195] benefit. Joe said that he was going abroad in order that he might write the truth about the labor world over there. The American papers and magazines would let you write the truth, he said, about labor over in Europe, because it was at a safe distance. But they wouldn't allow it here. And then Sue looked across at me as though to say, "It's only stuff like yours they allow."

"Why don't you two go out for a walk?" she suggested sweetly after dinner. And I consented gladly, for there are times when nothing on earth can be worse than your own sister.

We went down to the old East River docks and walked for some time with little said. Then Joe turned on me abruptly.

"Well, Bill," he said, "I've read your stuff. It's damn well written."

"Thanks," I replied.

"If I've got any knocking to do," he went on with a visible effort, "I know you'll give me credit for not knocking out of jealousy. I'm not jealous, I'm honestly tickled to death. I was wrong about you in Paris. You and me were different kinds. What you got over there was just what you needed, it has put you already way out of my class, and it's going to give you a lot of power as a spreader of ideas. That's why I hate so like the devil to see you starting out like this, with what I'm so sure are the wrong ideas."

"How are they wrong?"

"Think a minute. Why is your magazine pushing you so? The first story of your series is only just out and they've already boomed you all over the country. Why, Bill, I saw your picture in a trolley car in Denver—and you're only twenty-five years old! It's damn fine writing, I'll say it again, but that's not reason enough for this. You've got to go down deeper and look into[Pg 196] your magazine's policy—which is to strike a balance for all kinds of middle-class readers and for their advertisers too. They've run some radical stuff this year, and they're booming you now to balance off, to show how 'safe and sane' they can be in the way they look at life, at big business and at industry—as you do here in the harbor. You're making gods out of the men at the top, you've seen 'em as they see themselves, and you've only seen what they see here. You've missed all the millions of people here who depend on the place for their jobs and their lives. They don't count for you——"

"That's not true at all!" I interrupted hotly. "It's just for them and their children that fellows like Dillon are on the job—to make a better harbor!"

"For them, for the people!" said Joe. "That's what I'm kicking at in you, Bill—you treat us all like a mass of dubs that need gods above to do everything for us because we can't do it all by ourselves!"

"I don't believe the people can," I retorted. "From what I've seen I honestly don't believe they count. The fellows that count in a job like this are the fellows with punch and grit enough to fight their way up out of the ranks——"

"I know, and be lieutenants and captains in a regular army of peace, with your friend Dillon in command and Wall Street in command of him! Isn't that your view?"

"All right, it is! I don't see any harm in that. It's the only safe way that I can see out of this mess of a harbor we've got. These men are the efficient ones—they're the fellows that have the brains and that know how to work—to use science, money, everything—to get a decent world ahead. What's the matter with efficiency?"

"Your latest god," sneered J. K.

"Suppose it is! What's wrong with it? What's the matter with Dillon? Is he a crook?"

"No," said Joe, "that's just the worst of him. He's so damned honest, he's such a hard worker. I've met[Pg 197] men like him all over the country, and they're the most dangerous men we've got. Because they're the real strength of Wall Street—just as thousands of clean hard working priests are the strength of the Catholic church! They keep their church going and Dillon keeps his—he's a regular priest of big business! And he takes hold of kids like you and molds your views like his for life. Look at what he has done with you here. Does he say a word to you about Graft? Does he talk of the North Atlantic Pool or any one of the other pools and schemes by which they keep up rates? Does he make you think about low wages and long hours and all the fellows hurt or killed on the docks and in the stoke holes? Does he give you any feeling at all of this harbor as a city of four million people, most of 'em getting a raw deal and getting mad about it? That's more important to you and me than all the efficiency gods on earth. You've got to decide which side you're on. And that's what's got me talking now. I see so plain which way you're letting yourself be pulled. I've seen so many pulled the same way. It's so pleasant up there at the top, there's so much money and brains up there and refinement—such women to get married to, such homes to settle down in. Sometimes I wish every promising radical kid in the country could get himself into some scandal that would cut him off for life from any chance of being received by this damned respectable upper class!"

He stopped for a moment, and then with a gruff intensity:

"We need you, Bill," he ended. "We need you bad. We don't want you to marry a girl at the top. We don't want you anchored up there for life."

We were standing still now, and I was looking out on the river. Through the grip of his hand on my arm I could feel his body taut and quivering, his whole spirit hot with revolt. The same old Joe, but tenser now, strained almost to the breaking point. But I myself[Pg 198] was different. In college he had appealed to me because there I was groping and had found nothing. But now I had found something sure. And so, though to my own surprise a deep emotional part of me rose up in sudden response to Joe and made me feel guilty to hold back, it was only for a moment, and then my mind told me he was wrong. Poor old J. K. What a black distorted view he had—grown out of a distorted life of traveling continually from one center of trouble to another. How could he be any judge of life?

"Look here, Joe," I said. "I'm a kid, as you say, and some day I may see your side of this. But I don't now, I can't—for since I left Paris I've been through enough to make me feel what a job living is, I mean really living and growing. And I know what a difference Dillon has made. He has been to my life what he is to this harbor. And I'm not old enough nor strong enough to throw over a man as big as that and as honest and clean in his thinking, and throw myself in with your millions of people, who seem to me either mighty poor thinkers or fellows who don't think at all. They're not in my line. I believe in men who can think clean, who have trained their minds by years of hard work, who don't try to tear down and bring things to a smash, but are always building, building! You talk about this upper class. But they're my people, aren't they, that's where I was born. And I'm going on with them. I believe they're right and I know they're strong—I mean strong enough to handle all this—make it better."

"They'll make it worse," Joe answered. And then as he turned to me once more he added very bitterly, "You'll see strength enough in the people some day."

A few moments later he left me.

I looked at my watch and found it was not yet nine o'clock. I went to Eleanore Dillon. And within an hour Joe and his world of crowds and confusion were swept utterly out of my mind.[Pg 199]

Last | Next | Contents