Dousing A Fire

October 17, 1896
Charles Birchwood

The phone buzzed. The phone continued to buzz. The phone buzzed again.

I would have paced but the wire connecting to the wall was far to short for the steps to give any meaningful release of energy. Instead I practiced deep breathing in an effort to calm my nerves. It did not work, but it was at least distracting.

“I am sorry sir. There does not appear to be anyone available.” The operator said.

I sighed frustration.

“I am sorry sir. I can try again if you want?”

“No, never mind. I should have known better than to think this would have saved time.” I said and hung the receiver back on its cradle.

Worthless piece of junk. It is not the telephone’s fault per se but such reckless devices will never be dependable. I should think I would have known that by now. I suppose it is simply in my nature to hope to be proven wrong all the while knowing I am right.

I headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Caroline asked.

“Carrington Manor.” I replied.

“Do you think it wise?”

“This conversation is pointless, Caroline. Stay here and I will return when it is safe.” I said.

Caroline frowned.

I closed the door and locked it with my key.

I could hear the shouting from more than a block away. As I approached from down the street I could see they had one of the girls. Beyond tangled brown hair I was unable to recognize the poor girl, but unlike what I would expect, she did not seem frightened at all. I think angry would better describe her.

Her hands were bound together with rope. Her dress was torn and as I mention, her hair was nothing short of a mess. She spat at the man nearest her and she must have had pretty good aim because he immediately started wiping his face and spitting on the ground. When he finished, he swung his open palm at her face with a resulting smack that would have floored most men not to mention women. The girl’s head turned to the side and after a moment she spat blood to the ground. My mind raced to find a way to help her.

She turned her head slowly back to the man who had struck her. I am loathe to describe a woman as dangerous but the look on her face was nothing short of it. The man was oblivious to it or simply so stupid as to not understand. She clucked at him.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” She taunted.

The man responded by raising his arm back to strike her again. I shouted to attract attention away from her but I could not even hear my own voice above the mob chanting, “Hit her.”

She kicked the man in the groin and he went down doubled over in any case. Ordinarily I’ would have been sympathetic to the man but not in this case. The girl did not stop with the kick either. She used her bound hands to whack him in the head and send him all the way to the ground. All in all, pretty impressive for a woman.

She was not dumb either. As soon as her attacked was on the ground she started running. The mob had her nearly surrounded but she managed to break through to the street and was heading toward me. I waved at her to indicate I would help. I think she noticed, but then we were both distracted by a roaring sound.

Before I could even wonder what the noise was a dust cloud erupted on the street. The mob stopped chasing the girl in its tracks. As the dust began to settle I recognized an automobile and hitched to it was a fire hose cart. A young man was starting to pump and a young woman I recognized as Miss Bassett had hold of the hose and was pointing it at the crowd. In the driver’s seat of the automobile was the beautiful Penelope Sumter.

I smiled just for seeing her.

“Now Will!” Penelope shouted.

A stream of water poured from the hose into the crowd dousing them and causing a renewed fit of shouting. I quickly saw that the man needed help at the pump or the water pressure would be insufficient to keep the mob at bay. I jumped up on the cart and started pumping.

Miss Sumter joined Miss Bassett at the hose and they continued to wave it across the mob, knocking several of the men down to the ground. The mob began to settle down after a few moments and was trying to simply escape the water. The girl, I then recognized as Miss Waters, joined us on the cart. The young man produced a knife from his boot and cut the rope binding her hands together.

Miss Waters looked out over the crowd with a slight smile on her bruised face.

“You’ve been deceived!” She shouted. “I know times are tough. I know you feel like the more you try the farther you sink. Factories are closing and those that remain are trimming their workforce. Those of you that have jobs are working twice as long as your used to and getting paid half as much and those of you who have lost your jobs are barely hanging on to survive. You look at your families and you feel like you’ve failed them only you can’t figure what it was you did wrong. You want someone to blame. I understand.

Someone comes along, says he’s going to help you. He says he knows who is to blame and so he points to something new, something not everyone understands. A woman’s college. He says, why do women need college? He says, educated women are a threat. He says college women are taking your jobs and depressing your pay. He seems like a smart man so he’s easy to believe. But, he’s a liar.”

“That man,” She pointed to the one she had knocked to the ground who is standing near the front door of Carrington Manor, “he came to my hometown too. He pretends to be your friend. He manipulates you to believe he is on your side but in reality he works for the men that own your factories. His job is to keep you afraid and keep you working on his employer’s terms and not yours. He’s your enemy, not a bunch of young girls interested in books.”

As I looked over the mob, what truly surprised me is they were listening to this girl. She was even making sense to them now that they were listening because they went from staring angrily at us to staring angrily at the man she singled out.

The mob began closing in on the man. He drew his gun and the crowd stopped but they did not back down. He looked desperate and for a moment I thought he was going to just start shooting people. Instead, he turned to the door of Carrington Manor, shot the lock and latch and kicked the door open.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Malanie, just brilliant.
Warm hugs,