The hot late-morning sunlight stung Emma's skin as she darted from under one tree to the next patch of shade along Michigan Boulevard, gaping at the gentry riding by in their phaetons and broughams. From six-thirty in the morning and on, carriages, phaetons, and broughams rolled in procession down this boulevard towards the Loop . . . The men on their way to the office and the women on their way to social calls, the club, or to the Mister Field's new, second-Empire marble heap over on State Street.
Emma stared curiously at the passing show. What were the people behind the polished glass carriage windows thinking, as they gazed out over Lake Michigan this bright August morning? They needn't fear the elements, Emma knew, although sometimes the road was just too slick with rain for horses. Then, the carriages had to stay at home and only a few people ventured out on foot, those whose jobs would be lost if they did not. Not these people.
Emma shuddered to recall how she had picked her way along on this very street, carefully placing one foot ahead of the other on the slick ice, and hugging close to the buildings for shelter. The wind had whipped the ends of her shawl which she had wrapped all around her face. Stinging, piercing bursts of wind had pushed her in one way then in another as she had tried to keep to an even course. On the bridge over the Chicago River, she could at least put hand over hand along the railing to drag herself forward against the wind. The worst was when there was nothing to hold on either side, she recalled. The whole length of her trips last winter, that demon wind had raged back and forth over Michigan Boulevard and blasted at the tiny people with its howls.
The wintry lake front itself had taken on hellish overtones, an ice-frosted Siberia, with dark, beetling figures scuttling along its fringes, and the occasional carriage slipping and sliding on the ruts of the previous carriage. The ashen gray sky above the lake stretched down from overhead to the horizon into the liver-colored water of the lake, giving not so much the appearance of distance as of a dully-painted backdrop for a play. Often an icy mist hung in the air. When Emma had dared to open her eyes beyond mere slits, she had been able to see that every twig, every pebble, had become encrusted with an ice cocoon. The few bundled figures who were visible to her then went picking their steps quickly and carefully, never looking up or around as the wind had whipped at their shawls and mufflers.
Emma's feet and the tips of her fingers and ears tingled even now in the August sun. So she gazed with relief at the Lombardy poplars, whose teeming leaves glittered in the breeze. She listened to the trees' languid swishing noises as they were stirred by a hot, dry gust of air. Did they suspect that the terrible times would come again? All the reds and oranges of the flowers, all the silvers and bluish greens of the trees shimmered as if this instant would go on forever. Forever . . . She wondered if that was what the life of a Yerkes was like. Always summer. Never fighting your way down an icy street without the two cents to ride the streetcar. Emma reserved the right to make her choice up to the very last moment when she would look Yerkes in the eye, right there in his office. But—she sighed—how secure it must feel never to have to struggle again, to hitch your cart to a wagon like the Yerkes corporations!
Emma awoke from the warm and glowing colors as laughter floated out to her from three women who were riding nearby in a pink brougham.
Beyond the brougham and the laughing voices, the street ahead was shaded by the looming dark hulk of the Pullman Building. Emma hastened her steps toward the cool darkness ahead. The Prussian blue-gray Pullman Building squatted before Emma on its masonry foundations, a proto-skyscraper that still had to have masonry for a spine, rather than an iron skeleton. The blocky structure showed an especially massive face to the world, buttressed by added widths of limestone slabs all around, which tapered in as the stories went up.
Emma craned her neck and watched the aerobatics as a few pigeons attempted to land far up on the tower, looming above the ninth floor of the Pullman Building. The top profile was crenelated after the fashion of a Central European Schloss. It had faux battlements running around the roof, mixing centuries and architectural styles with giddy abandon. Those battlements gave Mister Pullman peace of mind, he said. He could sally forth from his corporate offices each day and kill a few dragons . . . Yerkes' offices on the eighth floor were immediately below those of the Pullman sleeping car chief.
Emma walked in the cavernous front entrance. The stone and vaulted ceilings made the air seem at least ten degrees cooler. She noted with amazement the ultra-modern elevator. Emma stepped onto the device. The operator turned to her and Emma asked for the eighth floor. She gasped as the machine started up with a slight shudder. After a few seconds, the operator pulled a lever and the acanthus-leaved, grille work doors opened. Emma's heart continued to pound for a second as she stepped off. Light from inside the elevator glinted off the many gilded tiles which were set into the walls. Warm pink, rose, and lilac, tulip-shaped electric fixtures hung down from the ceiling in bouquets. Emma stepped onto the soundless rose carpet. She took only a few moments to walk to the wide, cherry doors with the brass panel across them. The words McNeill & Co. were embossed above the brass panel, and the number eight-fourteen. Yerkes preferred not to have his name on the company's masthead. That way, a few of his connections escaped the notice of the general public. McNeill was an old codger, and he was thrilled at all the capital that Yerkes had been able to pump into their partnership.
Emma opened the doors to McNeill & Co. and walked into a sunlit foyer. The afternoon sun streamed through an almost solid- glass wall, which was shaded at the top half by pale green, roller curtains. A long reception desk stood at the far end of the room from the entry door. She went up and stated her business to the thin, black-haired woman behind the desk. The anemic- looking young woman told Emma in a deep, almost masculine voice, to wait just a moment while she checked to see if Mister Yerkes were in. She disappeared behind a highly-polished cherry door to the right of her desk.
"Yes, you may go in for a short interview, Miss," said the receptionist, as she came back out the door with a breezy smile and a nod over her shoulder.
Emma had to adjust her eyes to the light in the office, as she closed the door behind herself. The room was actually rather dimly lit, since much of the light was being filtered out by the huge panels of colored glass on the wall directly ahead. Yerkes was seated with his back at a diagonal angle from the two ancient stained glass windows that he had brought back from a ruined cathedral in Southern France. Surrounding the windows were walls paneled in light cherry wood. Once the door—which had no windows—was closed, the room was sight-proofed from the outer office. Sound-proof, as well. The carpet was a thick, powder gray pile. Emma didn't want to step on the lovely shapes reflected on the carpet from the stained glass windows, but she didn't want to hop around them and look foolish, either. A ceiling fan high above kept the air circulating well enough for a summer afternoon. Emma sat down on a chair in front of the desk that Mister Yerkes indicated, while he finished barking some orders into a telephone box. He hung up the instrument and immediately the ticker tape machine in the corner began to clatter. Yerkes got up and told Emma that this would only take a second. He just needed to check a closing price on some street railway shares. Emma watched, fascinated, as he pulled out several feet of tape. She had heard of ticker tape machines, but had never seen one in action before.
Yerkes finally went back to his desk and sat down, stretching out the tape to read. Emma noticed that, as always, Yerkes was a fashion plate. He had on a thin, off-white linen jacket over a pale blue shirt and tie. His light, thick, always smoothly parted hair, his wide, clear, unreadable eyes and shapely, manicured hands, fascinated Emma.
Yerkes eyed Emma with evident satisfaction, sure of the decision that she had reached. His studied glance leveled on her, neither tender nor intimate. Emma felt as though when she had the croup, with fever and chills alternating up and down her body. Yerkes was simply noting the particulars. He had not been mistaken. She had a fine figure. Her head had some of the finer points of a bust of Athena that he had in miniature on his desk—or so he thought at the moment.
When Emma had come in, she had interrupted Yerkes' musings on what the astronomer had been telling him about some of the flaws in his refracting system. It offended Yerkes to have to depend upon such pale, ineffectual fellows as his staff astronomers, because Yerkes himself had no patience for the sense of curiosity uncoupled to control. As he looked Emma over there was much about her that he was unable to see.
Emma, on her part, was half-blinded by the atmosphere of Yerkes and his office. The room was clean, hard, and bright, just like the man himself. The ticker tape machine, keeping Yerkes in constant touch with his interests in the US and in Europe—and now Asia—burbled cheerily to itself in the corner, seeming to chuckle over world-shaking events. Once the machine stopped, the room had fallen into hushed, richly upholstered silence. What thoughts a person could have in such serene surroundings, Emma wondered. No clanging of street railway bells or disturbing cries from the vendors and children on the street, which was far below. This was the quiet of a great cathedral or of a tomb.
Yerkes smiled. "I would offer you a bit of sherry, but I assume that you are a temperance-supporter." Emma shook her head. "No?" He pulled out a drawer and poured Emma a small crystal goblet of sherry. She took the glass and tried not to dribble it on his beautiful, hunter green desk blotter. Sherry in the afternoon. Emma could not get over her change of pace from life in the tenement and it made her woolgather for a moment so that she only caught up with what Yerkes was saying in mid-sentence.
" . . . But none of that is of any account, you see." Yerkes smiled and one end of his mustache twisted up wryly. You must write absolutely what you see and hear at Hull House. There will be no censorship of content, but merely of style. "Well? How about it?" Yerkes beamed at her. He really did think himself quite generous with women. To put it mildly, they cost him an arm and a leg.
Emma swallowed loudly. "Yes," she said. "I will be willing to work as a reporter and thank you for your offer," she replied stiffly.
"Here's a contract. Look
it over, sign it, and give it back, so I can file it with the
editor," said Yerkes brusquely. He had often noticed that
the more brusque his tone, the quicker they came around, because
of his perceived importance in the world . . .
Emma hurriedly glanced at the
particulars: time to arrive to file her stories, day and time to
pick up paycheck, pen name . . .
"Pen name?" asked Emma. Yerkes hastily explained that all local color columnists had a pen name. Hers was to be "Windy." The feature would be called "Windy's Column." Emma repeated Windy in such a plaintive tone that Yerkes felt he had to explain.
"Don't you see, girlie? Windy! You're the embodiment of the World's Fair City. Why you're the breezy young thing that all the other breezy young things will be looking to for ideas . . . Yes, Windy it has got to be! This is the Windy City!" Emma smiled feebly, trying the name out in her mind and forcing herself to like it. "But no one will know it is my . . . column."
"But that's just the . . . No, my dear, they won't, but you really need something like this at first. After all, Emma Klimova doesn't mean much to anyone as far as a name goes. You're not Lilian Russell or Finley Peter Dunne, after all. Or even a pathetic, though well-known, quantity like Eugene Field. But after a year or so the public will be clamoring to know who writes Windy's Column. And then we'll spring it on them! We'll run your picture with . . . with . . . Finley Peter Dunne who writes Mister Dooley. Fancy that, now, girl!" Yerkes jumped up from his chair and came around to stand in front of the desk. He drew an imaginary banner across the air with his hand. "Chicago's two immortal wits, Dunne and Klimova! That's what it will read. If you're good, Emma, and that will depend upon you!"
Emma's eyes nearly went crossed as she watched Mister Yerkes waving his hands in the air and conjuring up her illustrious future for her.
Was she going for it? Yerkes wondered, as he walked nearer and stood behind Emma while she signed the contract. He put his hands on her shoulder and ran them lightly down her arms, giving a final pat—like an uncle. He warned her that who actually wrote the column would have to remain a deep secret or it was all off. It was absolutely essential that she tell no one at Hull House what she was doing or the word might spread. Did she understand? Emma nodded solemnly.
"Now, I had planned to take a light dinner before the opera. Would you care to accompany me?" Yerkes smiled down at the shoulders and the slim neck, waiting.
Emma knew that she would be missed at dinner, but the distance was quite sufficient for her to explain that she had grabbed a bite at a diner or something. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I would be happy to go to dinner, but I can't stay too late. They do take account of our whereabouts. . . . "
As they sat down in the cozy booth at the Congress Hotel, Yerkes decided that he really enjoyed the ambiguity of his relationship with this girl. He had felt this way on several occasions. No rush, really, to start anything up. He propped his head on his clasped hands and murmured to Emma. "Well, how do you like the Gold Room?"
"I've never seen anything like that. . .that. . . emerald glass fountain! It's shining from INSIDE!" Emma gasped, as she looked at the mysterious fountain.
"Oh, that's just some electric lamps that Tiffany designed under the layers of glass. . ." Yerkes laughed at Emma's expression of disbelief. "The layers of glass are the same irregular shape in graduated sizes, sort of cross-sections of a mountain or hill. That's all."
"That is very much!" said Emma. "That is like something from pohadka!"
"From what?" Yerkes asked.
"From story about elves," Emma explained seriously. Sometimes, when she had recently spoken or thought in Czech, Emma would begin to drop the articles in her speech. Yerkes noticed this and smiled. Otherwise, her English was quite good.
The waiters were ever-ready to spring into action. Yerkes raised an eyebrow and a waiter appeared. Emma ordered shrimp de Jonghe and wondered, somewhat belatedly, what Mister Yerkes might ask in return for this expensive dinner. Emma enjoyed every course that the attentive waiter brought, though she looked at Yerkes guiltily from under her eyelashes as she ate a last forkful.
"Well, girlie, if you've done tying on the old feedbag, I suppose that I should see you to your lodgings. It is Hull House, now, isn't it?"
Emma nodded. "Oh, yes. Our place with Vina was . . . temporary only!" Yerkes nodded matter-of-factly.
"I see," he said, with no irony in his voice.
Emma was impressed that Yerkes did not seem too forward on the trip home. She still couldn't sort out her feelings and she was glad that he didn't push her to the wall.
"Remember, you're due at the front desk at eight-thirty tomorrow!" Yerkes called out the window of his handsome brougham, as it sped off into the inky street. Emma started in the side entrance of Hull House, saw a light shining in the east parlor, and heard voices coming from inside.
"What did I tell you? I
knew they would stoop to anything to keep us out! You need
uniformed police on these tours!"
The angry voices continued as Emma quietly opened the side door, and darted down the hallway, hoping to evade any questions from Miss Jane. Emma paused briefly at the open door and saw the slight figure of a man with rough-cropped hair. He was leaning forward on his chair, facing the desk at which Jane always sat.
"All right. I'll have that factory checked by every state inspection agency. If just one nail is out of line, I'll have them shut up tighter than a drum!" The man said firmly. "What else can we do if they resort to violence this way?"
"No. . .I wouldn't venture to guess. That seems our only way to affect the conditions at that plant." It was Jane Addams' voice now.
Emma decided to stay and hear. she knocked once on the door.
"Come in! Oh, it's you Emma. How did your visit to your mother go, dear?" Emma mumbled a response. Jane invited her to sit down and hear what Governor Altgeld had to say about the day's near-fatal shooting incident.
"Emma, you know that Florence Kelley has been appointed by Governor Altgeld to tour and make reports on the conditions of some of the sweatshops. Today she was at McColly's poultry plant and somebody there took a shot at her! She's all right. They missed, but only by a few inches. Florence tells me that she could hear the bullet whizzing by her ear."
The governor broke in.
"Miss Kelley wouldn't be the first casualty in the line of
duty, Miss. Several of the mining inspectors have had attempts on
their lives and one has been crippled by what the owners are
calling a freak accident . . . You know, a coal truck that just
suddenly up and left its moorings and nearly crushed that poor
fellow!" Altgeld stopped and stroked his chin.
"Amazing, isn't it, how that truck left its moorings just at the entrance to the shaft where the air has been so bad?" He looked at Jane Addams. She shook her head.
"I had hoped it wouldn't be the same sort of behavior," Jane said in a low voice. "We're only investigating the conditions of women, little children! The horror of this industrial society . . . Sometimes I wish that I had never left the secluded life I used to lead as an invalid, under Papa's wing . . . in Cedarville."
Altgeld laughed. "You know you would hate that sort of life, Jane! No, you will be back on the job and so will your friend, Florence. I know you two and that won't be enough to stop you, will it?" He propped his hand under his chin. The old malaria tremors were coming on the governor. His hand steadied him.
"No, John, this attack won't stop Florence. You know us too well," Jane said and nervously patted the side of her hair. "Our feathers get ruffled, but we're a couple of tough old birds," she laughed.
"Who said you were old? Emma, blast it! Tell Jane that she's hardly old, after all." Emma nodded.
"Sometimes I feel old, that's all. Emma, I'm surprised that your visit kept you so late. No trouble with your family, was there?"
Emma made up an appropriate
tale and hoped that Miss Jane would not be checking on her too
soon. She did hope to see her mother within the next few days,
but she knew it took Anton a week or more to get over things . . .
"And I think you should go again with Alzina to help her with the languages of those workers over at the pants plant," Jane mused. "I hope we won't have any more incidents like this one. Just go see Alzina first thing in the morning and she'll fill you in. I think we all need to retire for the night."
Emma went off to bed while Jane and the governor wrapped up their discussion. It was not uncommon for the governor to visit Jane Addams. He was persona non grata to the social elite of Chicago, and he needed the reform element to support his legislations.
Emma sat at the little desk in the corner of the front hall and began to draft her first column before she went off to sleep.
Bullets flying. . .but the women of Hull House have no
intention of giving in to exploitation!
Yes, that is good, thought Emma. I must show it just this way: the root and the branches of exploitation. The one little gas lamp flickered as Emma wrote and crossed out, wrote and crossed out again, her column. She had no guarantee that Mister Yerkes would approve of her work, or the editor Martinson who worked under him.
How long must women be the last to benefit from
labor laws? The women and children of the South
Side are putting the sweatshops on notice that
these atrocious conditions and lack of job
security must cease.Be watching. Our inspectors will be out on the
streets as usual. It takes more than a few cowards
and stray bullets to stop people who REALLY BELIEVE
in what they are doing! Hide behind the lax laws if
you dare, but the public won't stand for shoddy goods
made by semi-slave labor any longer! Those who work in
our factories and shops are all Chicagoans as much as
a millionaire on North Lake Shore Drive. They are our
mothers and fathers, our little sisters and brothers.So, take notice. We want only what is fair treatment,
but fair treatment we WILL HAVE!
Emma looked at the text. It was hardly the light and breezy bit of froth that Mister Yerkes had requested. First things first. If he refused to print the truth about people working in Chicago, then it was best that she find that out soon. The salary Yerkes offered was good, but Emma saw now that she could never rest, never sleep, until she said something about the conditions that she had been observing all around Packingtown, ever since she moved to Chicago. Visions of all the people that Emma had known who had been injured or killed on the job rose up before her. Until she had tried to be "light and breezy," Emma had held no idea of being a spokesperson for the poor. Now she saw that she had little choice. The others had very little English, so someone who could speak had to be their voice, cost what it may.
Emma timidly opened the door at the city desk of The Chicago Inter-Ocean. She introduced herself and the city editor seemed happy to meet her. He was a paunchy old reprobate, with a jaundiced complexion and one glass eye. His breath reeked of whisky as Emma handed the text of her first column to him and he breathed a few over-ripe comments.
What followed puzzled Emma. She had been rehearsing how she would justify her defense of the rights of the poor, but Mister Martinson just beamed at her in the most jovial fashion.
"This is just fine, my dear. No, we see no problem in your style at all. Very timely piece, in fact. Mind those steps outside my door on the way out, won't you? That's the girl! See you next week." He waved.
Emma, never dreaming that she would have such an easy time of it, closed the glass door behind her.
Martinson opened a desk drawer and pulled out a nearly empty bottle of whisky. "Blast! Need a refill." Martinson mumbled a few choice words about having to babysit Yerkes' damned juvenile girlfriends. He chuckled. What would the boss make of these rabble-rousing sentiments? One way or another Yerkes women cost him. If Yerkes went ahead and printed this column, it could cost him his friends on the Board of Trade. But, a funny kind of bird, that Yerkes. Martinson leaned back in his chair and took a long swig of the whisky, tossed it into the wire waste basket with a thud. He wasn't sure which way he would bet on this one.
to the Top of this Page
Table of Contents
Waking the Dead
Copyright © 1997 Gloria McMillan and Fly Neleth Press. All rights reserved.