While the big injunction was being concocted, there were little injunctions, too. Late one afternoon, worn out by a long day of teaching and strenuous news-chasing, I stopped at the Fitzgeralds’ residence and went to the studio over the big family garage where Harriett labored at her art for more hours than any union would have allowed.
She did not hear me come up the steps and I stood at the top of the stairs for several moments and watched her as she bent over her easel. She was a handsome girl whose intelligence was reflected in her slender face. “Very interesting-looking,” people were likely to say because they were at a loss to describe the unusual; and “lovely” or “cute” would never do for Harriett. She was calm, deliberate, and capable of supreme devotion to her work to a friend, to any object of her faith. I felt that her resourcefulness would not be lost even if time should prove that men like Maurice Sterne were mistaken in saying that she would go far with the art she loved so intensely and worked at so faithfully.
As she pushed back the locks of dark hair that fell over her brow, she looked up and saw me watching her.
“Oh, hello, I didn’t hear you come in. Come and see what you think of this.” Was the request perfunctory? What I thought of art did not matter much, I knew. I had been told, good-naturedly enough, that I looked at pictures with a literary and obvious point of view, trying always to see in a picture what was life-like and graphic. It was to be expected that I should have remembered Corot’s meadows and cows more than anything else in the Louvre, for I was reminded of some pasture by the Dan and of the Holsteins and Guernseys of my native county. So I had been told.
But I looked at the portrait of a quaint little Negro girl who was envied by all the colored children of Broad Street Bottom when she strutted up to Miss Fitzgerald’s to be paid just for sitting still.
“Really I like this ever so much. It looks like her, too—that observation was to be expected from me, wasn’t it? I hope it didn’t offend you. No joking, though, I do like it. It’s not too modern for me to understand it.”
“I’m glad you approve,” Harriet said, smiling with her honest good humor, since she was frank but never sarcastic. Her deep, quiet voice was as arresting as her natural poise. “How’s the public school system? And Soviet Russia?”
“The American public school system in the vicinity is the same. That goes without saying. Weary spinsters and sad-faced males trying to make future presidents out of every mother’s baby, tedious meetings to decide whether we shall impart our meager bit of knowledge by the John Doe System of Pedagogy or the Susie Brown Modern Method of Public School Instruction for Morons in Masses. Oh, well, you know. As for Soviet Russia—which means the strike, I trust—the latest news is that an injunction is being sworn out to keep pickets from preventing entrance to the mills.”
“So I’ve heard. But maybe I know more strike news today than you do. There’s another little injunction under way—an injunction to keep high school teachers from dealing in labor disputes.”
She put own her work to view a listener who was perceptibly perturbed by her news.
“What o you mean?” I said impatiently.
The story was laid before me. A member of the School Board had come to Mr. Fitzgerald in great alarm to report that I was in alliance with the foreign agitators and was plotting with them against the mills. It was his duty to report this and to take prompt action, not only as a School Board official but as a friend of the Company. It had been doubted before that I was fit to teach the young and now, in this hour of trial, I had shown that the doubters were right.
“What did your father say?” I stammered, trying to be amused instead of sick with the same kind of disgust I had felt when subjected to a diagnosis of my attitude toward Superintendent’s Deity. “What in the world did Mr. Fitzgerald say?”
“Really I think Papa was more entertained than anything else. Certainly he wasn’t worried at all. He asked for evidence to back the charges.”
“And what, may I ask, was the evidence?”
“You were seen talking to Mr. Gorman in the Hotel Bruton lobby in broad daylight, in public. You looked very serious and intent. In short, you looked just like a traitor.”
“God help me. I’m guilty, am I not?”
“I suppose you are. It’s too funny the way people get frightened. Papa is none too crazy about this Union crowd, as you pretty well know. But he didn’t hesitate in saying you were reporting the strike and that, as a reporter, you would have occasion to talk to the Union people as well as to spokesmen for the Company. He tried to smooth things over.”
“That was certainly decent of your father. Did he have any success?”
“A certain amount, I should say. But it was felt that Papa should have been more concerned and that he should not trust you so far.”
“Your father failed to appreciate a performance of Christian duty. Oh, hell, but I hate this kind of thing! And it’s always turning up. It gets to parents and then to children who can’t help themselves. Teachers would get along much better with pupils if adults showed any pretense of intelligence. Tell me, what shall I do? Ignore it? Or shall I confront the enemy, my attest and most energetic enemy?”
Harriett was composed. She was far more tolerant than I was and condoned things wich I harbored in a memory that was already, after not much more than twenty ears of use, entirely too full of what was more bitter than sweet.
“If you like, suppose we go to his house together and you might explain to him that a reporter is not always as dangerous as he thinks—”
So she put away her paints and turned off the light in the studio. We went downstairs, out of the garage, and up the alley along the privet hedge.
The dutiful citizen lived a short distance away in an apartment house which I had passed every day without noticing it, being unaware that its occupant cared where I lived or died, never thinking he had been there all the time doing his Christian duties.
He came to the door, greeted Harriet with appropriate effusion, and acknowledged me of necessity because I stood beside her.
“Won’t you come in and have a seat?” he invited, making a half-hearted gesture toward the comfortable living-room where a wood fire burned cheerfully, much to my surprise since I was looking for a cold, dark house to suit its master. What, I wondered, was life really like in the home of this Presbyterian school trustee, this solemn gentleman who wore upon his middle-aged and hawkish face a lean, ascetic look which was too easily associated with eyes that di not look so very straight ahead…
“We can’t stay,” Harriett said, turning toward me that was my cue and I took the stage. The scene was brief.
“I don’t think you could have understood my position as a reporter, sir. It’s my job to find out what both sides do in this strike and to pass on what I learn to the public. It’s the public’s place to decide who is right and who is wrong, that’ not my place. Naturally I must talk to Mr. Gorman as much as to Mr. Fitzgerald—”
“Well, I didn’t know what to think when I saw you talking to those people down there. You won’t see any other Danville folks associating with them. And you being a school teacher—”
“The Superintendent gave me permission to report the strike. And, really, I don’t see what it is to you—I mean I don’t see why you should worry. If the Superintendent and Mr. Fitzgerald understand—”
“He’s perfectly harmless,” Harriett laughed, designating me with a nod.
“I’m glad to get the matter straight,” said the school trustee. “I appreciate you coming to explain the situation. You see—uh—Mr. Fitzgerald spoke a good word for you but I’m glad you came to defend yourself.”
He was stiff and stern; he knew he could not have been wrong and he was safely aloof. Harriett’s tolerant affection for the human species seemed to bear him along with the rest of us and I suppose she could have talked to him quietly for a longer time. I could not relax. I could hardly breathe until the door of that house as closed behind me.
“Sometimes we have to swallow a hell of a lot to earn a salary here,” I said. Then, looking at my friend, I remembered that she had never needed to earn a salary. How could she know what I meant? Unless you had money to live on, I was trying to say, you might as well keep many opinions to yourself, tightly sealed in the inner mind which was essential for any kind of peace. It was all very well for a rich woman, who had heard of some of my troubles, to say, “At least they put you in distinguished company!” Company, distinguished or undistinguished, must have money to live. And what if the authorities should fire me?