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Our Tenantry

By Theron G. Strong

With Photographs by Martha Prentice Strong

Welcome are ye from far-off wandering,
Winged heralds of the balmy summer hours,
And for your home accept this offering-
Possession of our trees, and leafy bowers,
And deep-sequestered nooks to build your nests.
There, undisturbed, your little ones shall grow,
Protected by the shelter of your breasts;
And forth on joyful pinions shall ye go
To bring them sustenance, until your flight
They follow, on unsteady wing, to know
The gardens' bloom, and fountain-waters bright,
And learn the love that human hearts bestow.

And our reward shall be your happy throng,
Your wingings to and fro, and cheering song.



By Al Priddy

With Drawings by Wladyslaw T. Benda


HORTLY after the raid we removed

to the south end of the city. Our new home stood on a corner at the junction of four streets. On the opposite corner, buried among billows of maple branches, stood an orphans' home. Uncle Stanwood, besides having skill with a flute, could also play the piano. In our new home he placed a fifteen-dollar, firstmodel piano, far from new. Three of the ivories were missing, one of the keys had a habit of sticking, and the whole keyboard was a deep, rich yellow.

"Wife," said Uncle Stanwood when the furniture was in, "we must have a house-warming. The spinners want to come." It was arranged for the following Saturday night. The preparations for the house-warming were easily made. The beer man called and left a half-barrel of beer, several cases of lager, and a few bottles of port wine. By eight o'clock the house-warming programme was in full operation. Tom Fellows, a tall man with a poetic face, sang an original composition entitled "Just to Come with Me to Town." The accompaniment to this was the work of a local bandmaster. Then followed drinks. Tom Fellows was followed by a deep-voiced spinner by the name of Marvin, whose contribution was "White Wings, They Never Grow Weary," etc. Then drinks were passed and gossip was indulged. Then drinks again, and after that-drinks. After that the programme was a grand disorder of oaths, drunken boastings, and calls for "More beer!" I went to bed in the next room and cried bitterly, for I had seen my Uncle Stanwood limp in a corner and my Aunt Millie, with face aflame, in a violent rage over some reproachful words Uncle had passed with her a few minutes before.

The Sunday's sun lighted up a sickening scene late the next morning. Glasses with odorous dregs of liquor in them were scattered on chairs and window-sills. Chairs were overturned, and the parlor lamp, still burning, sent out an oily, smoky

smell. Uncle was still sleeping where I had seen him the night before, and Aunt Millie lay abed with her clothes unremoved. In the kitchen stood the empty beer barrel and the lager bottles.

On Monday morning I began work in the mule spinning-room. In the mule room there are no women. A majority of the spinners are Englishmen. Their sons fill the subordinate positions, generally. My uncle proposed to teach me how to " back-boy"—that is, the art of renewing the bobbins which supply the spindles with cotton rope.

My uncle had many confidential talks with me relative to the home and to my future.


"Al," he said one day, "it's a shame that you have to stand what you do from aunt and me, and it's not proper that it should be so. Make a man of yourself, Don't waste your time. Get ahead, and let drink alone. I had the chance when I was younger. I saved up enough money to take me to Ireland, Paris, and the Isle of Man. I read good books and mixed with good company. It's the beer that brought me down." One day he proposed that I should begin to practice on the piano. He drilled me on the scales, and every night helped me with a lesson on the piano. regular lessons under him. son was very difficult. faithfully and laboriously for four evenings, but could not make out the tune. It was called "an exercise" in the lesson book. Finally, on the fifth night, Uncle called from the kitchen, "Al, hurry up the tune a little." I did, and to my amazement found that it resolved itself into the very simple melody known as "Home, Sweet Home."

I took three The last lesI practiced it

Besides this instruction in music, Uncle Stanwood took a great interest in my choice of reading. "Best plan to have," he advised, " is to get a book you like and read all of that author's books and get through with him." He brought me Stanley Weyman's romances, then Dumas's

and Alger's series. He had me read at least two books a week, for the accomplishment of which he taught me the art of skipping.


Our new home was too near the saloons, and during the day, while we were at work, Aunt Millie patronized the beer wagons, which made daily rounds. the evening she would persuade Uncle to share a few bottles with her. I cannot recollect three out of the innumerable nights they spent over their glasses when they failed to mix words and go to bed raging at one another.

Uncle and I always knew when Aunt had been drinking. Our dinners, brought by a neighbor's boy, indicated conditions faithfully. A cold meal meant a drunken aunt. These cold dinners generally consisted of jelly roll, soda-water, lamb's tongue, and store bread. With a sharp glance at the contents of the pail Uncle would look helplessly at me and murmur: "At it again, Al! What is the use of laboring if she goes on like this? She won't let me keep the pledge when I take it, and at the rate we are going we shall be fit subjects for the poor-farm."

One day no dinner came, and we had to work through the long afternoon without food. Aunt Millie was not at home at supper-time. Uncle went out and brought her home late that night; both were incoherent and helpless, and I put them to bed as best I could. The

next morning Uncle did not go to work. Aunt Millie gave him a tongue-lashing, and the matter ended by Uncle packing a hand-bag and leaving for parts unknown, to return after a few days.

"Well, let him go, the old drunkard, that's what he is!" she cried, in great indignation. "We'll be better off without him. His drunken ways only make us worse off. Now off to work, Al, and remember that your pay has to keep us in groceries, pay the rent, and buy clothes." She omitted "beer" from the list. At that time I was earning four dollars and forty cents a week.


For the protection of minors like myself, two notices were posted in the muleroom, and in every room in the mill. They are rules which, if obeyed, would

have reduced the seriousness of my mill work. The notices read:

"The cleaning of machinery while it is in motion is positively forbidden."

"All minors are hereby prohibited from working during the regular stopping hours."

If I had made any effort to obey the first law, I should not have retained my position more than two days. The mulespinners were working by the piece, and would stop their mules only under the most exceptional stress. The back-boy who demanded that the machinery be stopped while he oiled the spindles or cleaned the fallers or the front and back wheels of the carriage was deemed incapable, unfit. It was even expected of me that I should with a hand brush clean pulleys whirling hundreds of revolutions a minute, at the risk of having my hand drawn over the belt. I had to clean fallers, which, if taken at the wrong minute, on the change, was like putting one's hands between the closing teeth of some wild creature. In cleaning the front spindles or oiling them I was in constant danger of being crushed between the carriage and the iron posts, which, when they met, left hardly an inch of space. Alfred Skinner, a close friend of mine, did get caught one day, and his body was pinned close and was crushed badly, but not too seriously to keep him from his work-at his own expense-for more than four days.

The most dangerous cleaning I had to do as a back-boy was the cleaning of the back wheels of the mule-carriage. The mule-carriage runs forward for about three yards on tracks. It starts from the frame, and spins the cotton thread as it moves ahead at a slow pace. Then, when the thread is spun, the carriage darts back swiftly and gathers the thread up on the spindles. This back motion is a swift rebound, just like a rubber ball which we throw and draw back by an elastic cord. The wheels of the carriage are about ten inches in diameter, and the tracks on which they run are sharp, like knives. was dangerous enough to try to creep after these wheels while they were in motion, in an effort to clean them in record time, for the waste was always wrapping around the axles or being


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lumped under the wheels, and there was
the added danger of not crawling back
swiftly enough ahead of the rebounding
carriage. But when it is known that I
had to creep, almost at full length, under
the frame and a long steel shaft, and
crawl back out of the way of the returning
carriage, that I had to estimate just how
low to duck, and be careful not to back
into a post or a box which would block my
retreat, the danger at its full may be real-
ized. Yet that was the process, and no
spinner would stop his mule for me. If
I let the waste lump under the wheels, it

would lift the carriage out of gear and break over a thousand threads. When that occurred, there were oaths from the spinner, a lecture from the second-hand, and all sorts of disagreeable criticisms from the hands who were called upon to piece the broken threads. So it came about that if the waste did get tangled, as it did at almost every wheel, we always risked much to get it untangled, and, in doing so, got into trouble. One day I had my little finger dragged on the track and the end nipped. Almost every backboy of my acquaintance had had one of

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