When Father Worked by Charlton Lawrence Edholm

A Suburban Story

 

"H'everybody works but Fadher,
H'and 'e sets 'round h'all diy——"

Thus in chorus shrilled the infant Cadges like the morning stars singing together, but still more like the transplanted little cockneys they were.

The placid brow of Mr. Thomas Cadge was darkened with disapproval, he shifted his stubby brier pipe to the other corner of his mouth, edged a little from his seat on the sunny front stoop and, craning his neck around the corner of his house, revealed an unwashed area extending from collarbone to left ear.

"Shet up, you kids!" he barked. "Wot for? Becos I say so, that's why. I don't like that song, 'taint fit for Sunday."

With a soothing consciousness that he had upheld the sacred character of the Sabbath, Mr. Cadge settled back to the comfort of his sun-bath and smoke. But he had scarcely emitted three puffs before the piping voice of Arabella Cadge was again wafted to his ears. She sang solo this time, and the selection was of a semi-devotional nature, more in keeping with the day:

"Oh fadher, dear fadher, come 'ome wid me now,
De clock on de steeple strikes——"

"Shet up, drat you!" again commanded her parent. "If I has to get up and go arter you——"

The balance of this direful threat may never be known, for at that moment Mr. Job Snavely, garbed in the black broadcloth which he wore one day out of seven, paused in front of Mr. Cadge's door and bade him good morning.

"Mornin'," responded the ruffled father.

"Your little girl is quite a song bird," continued Mr. Snavely, with his usual facility in making well-meant small-talk more irritating than a hurled brick.

"She sings too much," commented Mr. Cadge, shortly, "I likes people wot knows when to 'old their tongues."

"Very true, very true!" amiably replied Mr. Snavely, "but for all that, there is nothing sweeter than the artless babble of babes; I declare it almost brought the tears to my eyes when I heard them prattling, 'Everybody works but father,' it is so very, very appro——"

Mr. Snavely checked himself abruptly, for the light in the small, green eyes of Thomas Cadge was baleful, and his square jaw protruded menacingly. The kindly critic of music had a vague feeling that the subject might be changed to advantage.

"Been to church this morning, I suppose?" he inquired briskly with the assurance of a man just returning from that duty.

"No I 'asn't," retorted Cadge, "and wot's more the old woman 'asn't, and the kids 'asn't neither. 'Cos why? 'Cos in this 'ere free country of yours, a laboring man can't make a living for 'is family, workin' 'ard as I does, Sundays, nights, and h'all the time. The missus and the kids stays from church 'cos their duds ain't fit, and I stays 'ome 'cos I've got to work like a slave to pay you for seven dollars' worth of spoiled vegetables and mouldy groceries. That's the reason I works on Sundays, if you've got to know."

"Work on Sundays!" gasped the grocer. "Work! work?" and he stared at the reclining figure of Mr. Cadge in unfeigned astonishment.

"Yes, work. This 'ere construction company wot's doing the job of grading this vacant block, employs me to sort of look after things, their shovels, scoops, and the like. A kind of private police officer, I am," he concluded, drawing himself up a little and puffing into the air.

"And when are you on duty?" asked Mr. Snavely.

"Nights," replied Cadge, "nights and Sundays, when the tools ain't in use."

"I hope they pay you well for it?"

"Ah, but they don't. 'Ow much do you think I get for stayin' awake nights and doin' without my church on Sunday? Three measly dollars a week and the rent of this 'ere 'ouse, if you can call it a 'ouse."

It would have been difficult to determine just what name to give the residence of Mr. Thomas Cadge. It would hardly be called a cottage, though not because it was more spacious than the name implied; nor was it a piano-box, in spite of the fact that a piano would have fitted snugly within its walls, for no manufacturer would have trusted a valuable instrument in so flimsy a shell. It was not a real-estate office, as the sign which decorated its entire front proclaimed it to be, for through a jagged hole in the window facing the street projected a rusty iron stovepipe, which was wired to the façade of the building, and emitted the sooty smoke that had almost totally obscured and canceled the legend, "Suburban Star Realty Syndicate."

Moreover, a litter of tin cans, impartially distributed at the front and back doors, indicated the domestic use to which this temporary office had been put. A smell of steaming suds that pervaded the place likewise indicated the manner in which Mrs. Cadge eked out her lord's stipend. This impression was confirmed by the chorus of irrepressible little Cadges proclaiming:

"Mother tikes in washin',
H'and so does sister h'Ann,
H'everybody works at our 'ouse,
But my old——"

—a burst of melody which was abruptly checked with a tomato can hurled like a hand-grenade by their unmusical father.

"Look here, Cadge," said Mr. Snavely, with the air of proprietorship one adopts to hopeless debtors, "three dollars a week is not going to keep your family, to say nothing of paying up that seven dollars. I can't carry you forever, you know. Why don't you get a daylight job?"

"Ah, that is easy enough said," protested that injured individual. "'Aven't I tramped the streets day after day, lookin' for work?"

"Them as 'as a good paying business don't know wot it means to look for a job," pursued Cadge bitterly.

"Yes they do," asserted the grocer cheerfully. "I was given work at sweeping floors in the very store I now own. The fact is, I am sorry for you, Cadge, and I have been looking around to get you a job."

Mr. Cadge seemed depressed.

"And I am glad to say," chirruped Mr. Snavely, "that I have found a small piece of work for you, which will be worth a dollar and a half a day."

Cadge's brow was still gloomy.

"Of course, it is real work," added his kind-hearted creditor, briskly, "no sitting in the sun and watching other people's shovels; but a customer of mine, a widow lady, that lives along Catnip Creek, wants a man to pile up a wall of loose stones to keep her land from washing away in high water."

Thomas Cadge shook his head with the air of Cæsar virtuously refusing the crown.

"No, no, Snavely, it wouldn't do," he said. "I can see that it would interfere with my present h'occupation, and I can't afford to risk losing this 'ere job. Supposin' my family was to be turned out of doors!"

"Nonsense! It will only take you about four days to build the wall, and at one-fifty per day, that will be six dollars, twice your week's wages right there, and almost enough to pay what you owe me."

"I am afraid it can't be done, Snavely; the company might not like it; you see, I would be competing with them, that's their line."

"They wouldn't handle so small a job. You know that, Cadge."

"Yes, but a man can't draw pay for two positions at once; 't ain't honest."

"Why, this is not a regular situation," protested the upright Snavely, who saw his bill still unpaid; "you could work on it at odd times if you like. She'll pay you by the piece, I am pretty sure, and you will get your six dollars cash when the wall is done."

The furtive eyes of the hunter of work avoided those of his benefactor. He was pondering a new excuse when he happened to notice Master Cadge, aged nine, Thomas Cadge, Jr., aged eight, and Arabella Cadge, whose years were six, busily constructing a fort of cobblestones, and an idea struck him.

"Very well," he said, loftily waving his pipe, "I'll drop in Monday and talk this over with you, Snavely. Then if the job suits me I may take it. I don't like to talk business on Sunday, you know."

Thus rebuked, Mr. Snavely resumed his homeward way.

The following Monday Cadge overslept; Tuesday found him with a headache as a result, which by Wednesday had settled in a tooth; Thursday he felt so much better that he feared to do anything which might check his convalescence; Friday was an unlucky day, but so desirous was he of work that he manfully conquered his superstitious qualms and strolled over to the little shop where Mr. Job Snavely dealt in groceries and vegetables.

The details regarding the work were furnished with cheerful alacrity, the tradesman going so far as to accompany his protegé to the home of their patron, Mrs. Pipkin, a withered little lady who lived with her cats on the bank of the creek.

The work to be performed demanded more brawn than brain and no vast amount of either. All that was required was to pile up the boulders and cobblestones which littered the bed of the stream, as a rough, unmortared wall, along the sloping bank of Mrs. Pipkin's property.

It was evident that Mrs. Pipkin herself had not the slightest notion of how much a wall should cost, as she was ignorant of the two factors which determined it, namely, the wages of day-laborers and the time required to build the wall; therefore she requested Mr. Snavely, as a man of affairs, to make the bargain for her.

It was well that she did so, for Mr. Cadge's ideas on the subject were as boundless as hers were limited. Day wages, he affirmed, ranged from two dollars up for common labor, and as building a wall was highly skilled labor he thought three and a half or four dollars per diem would be about right, going on the basis of at least six days of eight hours each.

Mr. Snavely, on the contrary, after looking over the ground declared that four days' steady work would build a wall running the entire length of the widow's lot. Furthermore, that a dollar and a quarter a day was fair wages for such employment, while laborers would scramble for the job at a dollar and a half. As a concession to Mr. Cadge, he was willing to allow him to take his own time and agreed to pay six dollars when the wall should be completed.

Mr. Cadge waxed indignant and very voluble, while Mr. Snavely was a mild man of few words; but the simple laborer was no match for a man who made his living by small chaffering. He was forced to give in, and Saturday morning, bright and early, he appeared on the banks of Catnip Creek accompanied by Master Cadge, Thomas Cadge, Jr., and Arabella Cadge.

"Daddy's going to give you kids a treat to-day," he announced. "My eye! wot larks we will 'ave. Nothing to do all day long but play building a stone fort right on the brook, and Daddy will show you 'ow to build it."

The little Cadges were perfectly charmed at this condescension on the part of their sire, who seldom acknowledged their presence except with a cuff in passing. They were eager to begin, and as they had no need to strip their legs, which were always bare, the work proceeded apace.

Cadge, Sr., ensconced himself in the sunniest nook of the bank, and directed his offspring what stones to select and where to place them, and above all, to make haste, since the enemy would soon appear to attack the fort.

Before their Saturday holiday was over, the children had discovered that their father was a strenuous playfellow. In vain they suggested fishing, hunting Injuns, or gathering wild flowers; they had set out to build a fort on Catnip Creek, and build it they must.

They entertained hopes of sneaking off alone when they should go home for lunch, but Mr. Cadge had provided for this contingency. His wife appeared at noon with slices of bread and butter for the Cadgelings, to which was added a cold beefsteak and a bucket of beer for the support of their house. Having already lunched at home, she was permitted to lay a tier of heavier stones along the wall while waiting for her family to finish the repast.

It was an arduous day for the tribe of Cadge, excepting, of course, its head. Not until the first star came out and the owls began to hoot along the Catnip did he declare himself satisfied with the day's work and proceed homeward to supper. Widow Pipkin's wall was half finished.

Not until Saturday was the patient father able to enlist once more the services of his offspring, for, "What if they are your own kids!" retorted Mrs. Cadge from her wash-board. "I've rubbed my 'ands raw to give 'em the eddication you and me lacks, and to school they go. You build that wall yourself, or wait until the week's end for your pay."

The former alternative was not to be thought of, and the Widow Pipkin wondered mildly whether the half finished wall was ever to be completed.

But Saturday at dawn Cadge once more appeared, driving before him three tear-stained and reluctant Cadgelets. They had inherited part of their father's disposition in regard to real work, likewise his unwillingness to be imposed upon. Constructing fortifications along the Catnip was well enough for one Saturday, but their backs still ached from their exertions, and they had only disdain for the restricted paternal imagination which suggested that this time they build stone castles.

Their sire waxed eloquent over the art of castle building and the sport of imprisoning ogres in them, but was finally compelled to assume the attitude of an ogre himself, and threatened to skin them alive if they did not do as they were bid.

It was a long, hard day for the whole Cadge family. The little Cadges worked like galley-slaves in fear of the lash; their mother, out of pity for them, laid two tiers of cobbles when she came at noon, and even Cadge himself was tempted on one or two occasions to descend from his nook and lend a hand, but restrained himself.

Again the owls hooted along the stream and bullfrogs croaked from the reedy places. Cadge knocked the dottle out of his pipe and arose, stretching his short, muscular limbs, which had become cramped from sitting still so long.

"Run along 'ome, kiddies," he said, "and tell the old woman not to wait supper for me. There's a man down town as wants to see me about a job. I'll 'ave a bite with 'im."

The little Cadges disappeared in the twilight and their father presented himself at the Widow Pipkin's door to receive his hard-earned wages.

"Oh, dear me! I can't pay you to-night," answered Mrs. Pipkin. "I never keep any money in the house."

Cadge grumbled something about, a check would do. He was pretty sure that the barkeeper at Spider Grogan's place would cash it.

"Oh, but mine is a savings account, and I will have to go down to the bank myself and get the money; but, never mind, you shall have it first thing Monday morning."

The thirsty man could find no solution to this problem and, although he urged the Widow Pipkin to think of a way, as his "missus needed the medicine something orful," that kind-hearted old lady could suggest nothing more to the point than going at once with a mustard poultice to the sufferer.

Old women are so set in their notions that the anxious husband was a full half hour dissuading her, and, when he reached home with both hands in his empty pockets, Mrs. Cadge was washing the dishes.

"Did the man give you a job?" inquired his wife brightly.

"Wot man? Wot job? Where's my supper?" snapped Cadge. Then, as the ingenious ruse occurred to him, a flood of language rose to his lips and would not be dammed, though everything else was.

"Gone and hogged all the supper, did you!" he growled. "H'it's a nice state of affairs, when a man comes 'ome from a 'ard day's work to a h'empty table."

"But it was such a little steak, Tom," urged his wife, "and the children were so hungry that I let them finish it."

There was no money in the house, and Snavely, the only credit grocer, had closed his shop, so Mr. Cadge's supper that night was bread and cheese without kisses.

Sunday was a long-remembered day of misery for Cadge's wife and children, who played the scapegoat for Mr. Snavely and whipping-boy for Mrs. Pipkin.

Monday morning the head of the house arose early and, before Mrs. Pipkin had finished her beauty sleep, that hard-working man was at the door demanding his pay. An hour was all the time she required for dressing. Mr. Cadge wished he had broken his fast before leaving home.

"Really, I don't know whether I ought to pay you," replied Widow Pipkin when she finally answered his last, desperate ring. "Mr. Snavely made the bargain, and I should like to have him see the work before settling with you."

She jingled some silver in her plump chain purse as she spoke.

Aha, the widow had deceived him! It was eight o'clock, the bank would not open for an hour, she had had the money in the house all the time. The deceitfulness of women!

Mr. Cadge's blood rose to his head. His little green eyes smouldered. Fortunately for the widow, Mr. Snavely drove up at that moment on his delivery wagon, and cheerfully agreed to appraise the work.

"Oh, come now, Cadge, my man, you don't call that a finished job, I hope? Why, it is three foot short at each end and lacks a tier at the top. You had better pitch in for an hour or two and make a fair job of it, and then you'll get your money."

"Wot do you call a fair job, I should like to know?" replied the heated Cadge; "look at them 'ere boulders, as I fished out of the h'icy water at peek o' day! Look at all them little stones, h'every one of them as cost me backache and sweat. H'if that job ain't worth six dollars it ain't worth six cents."

"Mebbe so, mebbe so, my good man," responded the grocer, genially, "but whatever it's worth, I don't pay for a job until it's finished."

At this point Cadge's torrent of eloquence swept away all punctuating pauses and he became slightly incoherent, but the drift of his harangue was that because he had worked like a slave and finished the wall in two days they wanted to rob him of his money. "I'll 'ave the six dollars for my work, or I'll 'ave the lor on you," he concluded.

The amiable but tactless Snavely saw a happy solution of the problem. "Never mind, Mrs. Pipkin," he said, "there shall be no lawsuit. You pay me the six dollars, and I will write Cadge a receipt for the seven dollars he owes me. I lose a dollar that way, to be sure, but then it is just the same as finding six."

"Ho! that's your game is it?" snarled Cadge, gasping with indignation. "That's 'ow you two plot against a poor 'ard-workin' man with a family, to beat him out of 'is pay. H'it's a put-up job, that's wot h'it is! But you don't get the best of Tom Cadge that way. I'll 'ave a h'orficer 'ere if I don't get my money, you bloomin' old plotters, you!"

"Yes, you had better call an officer," agreed Mr. Snavely. "I saw one around the corner as I passed; the same one your brats were pelting from behind a fence last week."

Mr. Cadge tacked adroitly. "No, I ain't going to spend my money with the loryers, as'd want twelve dollars to get you back six. I'll tear down the wall, that's wot I'll do. If I don't get my pay the loidy don't get her wall, and you can tike your measly job and give it to some poor man wot needs it."

Mr. Snavely had one foot on the wheel and swung lightly into his cart. "Have it your own way, Cadge," he responded cheerfully. "You can finish the wall and get your six dollars cash, or you can leave it as it stands and take my receipt for seven, or you can tear it down and have your labor for your pains; but mind, if the police catch you destroying property, you will get a month in the chain gang."

"I don't care if I get sixty days!" screamed the outraged laborer. "The city can look after my missus and the kids if their nateral provider is took from them. That wall is comin' down! I'm h'only a workin'-man, and I don't mind bein' spit on once in a while, but I won't stand for it bein' rubbed in."

It was a sultry June day, the first of the summer vacation, and toward noon Mrs. Cadge set out to take her husband a bite of lunch. The little Cadges accompanied her, eager to exhibit the noble castle which they had completed on Catnip Creek. When they came to that charming stream, their eyes flew open in amazement and their jaws dropped.

"Why, mamma, look at daddy!" they cried in unison. "Daddy's workin'!"

Incredible though it seemed, it was true indeed. Father worked. Mrs. Cadge wondered whether she, too, was to have a vacation, after her years of drudgery.

Cadge worked furiously, his rage uncooled by the waters of the Catnip which flowed through his shoes. He had discarded coat, vest, and hat, and was hurling rocks with the strength of a maddened giant, clear across the stream. What splendid muscles he had!

A tier or two of Mrs. Pipkin's wall was already down. The telephone within her cottage was ringing madly.

Even as the Cadgelings watched their parent sweating at his toil, a blue-coated figure ran swiftly down the bank, caught the hard-working man by the collar, and firmly led him away to where steady work awaited him.

Mrs. Cadge watched him go with mingled feelings. She had seen him depart thus before, and remembered how much easier it was that month to feed four mouths instead of five. Besides, the exercise on the rock pile would do him good, poor man. A night-watchman's position was so confining.

Mr. Snavely had driven up to the curb, and the Widow Pipkin ran out all of a flutter. They sympathetically related to Mrs. Cadge the events of the morning which had led to her husband's arrest.

"And there was only an hour's work to be done on the job," said Mr. Snavely judicially.

"I would gladly pay six dollars cash to have it just as it was this morning," added the tremulous Widow Pipkin, "and I'd make it ten if it were done as Mr. Snavely says."

"And I'd still be willing to write a receipt for the full seven dollars for six dollars cash," interposed that astute philanthropist.

Mrs. Cadge's shrewd, birdlike eyes were half closed in mental computation; ten dollars for the wall and one dollar discount on the grocery bill, that would make eleven dollars clear.

"Come along, kiddies," she said, "you and me will pitch in and finish that wall to the queen's taste in an hour or two!" And she did.

Eleven dollars clear, and the watchman's pay still going on, Cadge on the rock pile, hence the biggest mouth of the family fed by the city. Indeed, indeed, the little Cadges were not the only ones who enjoyed a vacation when father worked!