Sid was quite vexed with Hope. A song she’d been singing on the way to work kept going through his mind.
I’ve found a friend, who is all to me,
His love is ever true;
It was easy to see that’s how Hope felt. Even on a dreary Monday morning she seemed happier than ever even though she was so sick and weak. She was hardly able to breath some of the time!
Life now is sweet and my joy is complete,
For I’m saved, saved, saved!
Bah! It was all nonsense. How could anyone be happy in this dirty, noisy place. As he moved nimbly about at the top of the machine, he could see through to the other room where the women and girls worked.
Mama must have sung this song around the house at some point. The words seemed to come from somewhere deep inside him, long before he started hearing it in Sunday School.
“Why are you scowling so, Sid?” asked the pleasant man who ran the machine.
Sid jumped at Ted’s voice.
“Are those threads tangled that bad?”
“No,” Sid looked down at him. “There’s this song going ‘round and ‘round in my head.”
“That happens to me.” Ted grinned. “Did you go to the movies Saturday night?”
“Nah.” Like he could afford to go see a picture show. “It’s from Sunday School.”
“Ah. You go to Sunday School. That’s good.”
“My sister…she got…saved.”
“That’s even better. That’s wonderful.” The man’s face lit up like his sister’s always did when she talked about God.
“Yes,” the man replied. “It’s the most important thing anyone can ever do.”
Sid worked on the tangle of thread for some time as he thought about this astonishing statement.
He wanted to ask “why” but instead finally said, “Do you go to that church—the one on the corner?”
“No,” said the man. “But I hear there’s a lot of nice people there. But my wife’s folks are over at Phenix so we make the trek over there. It’s a very good church, too. Our horse, Molly, is getting old and tired, though. We’d take the trolley, but five cents for each of us—coming and going….”
He shook his head. “I’ll sell the wagon when we lose Molly. That will help with the fare for a while, I suppose.”
Sid went on to another messy tangle. “The town library is on the first floor of that church. Hope loves books. One day they asked us to go to Sunday School and she wanted to. We met Charlotte and Nathan there. He’s the organist. He’s my friend, too. They said we can call them by their first names. They’ve been nice to us—giving us food sometimes. And a Christmas tree. We shouldn’t take it all, I suppose. But it makes Hope happy.”
The man nodded. “That woman, she’s from a rich family. They’ve always been very kind and good people.”
“There’s a lot of rich people that aren’t though!” Sid burst out. Then he whispered, “like the bosses here—except for Mr. Simmons.”
After a few minutes of working silently, Ted finally replied, “There’s all kinds of people in this world. But God will never let us down. Think about what I said, boy. It really is the best decision you can ever make—to get right with God.”
Sid scooted down to the floor, and looked into the man’s face.
“She’s dying,” he burst out.
Why he said that, he had no idea.
Ted stopped his work, and put a hand on Sid’s shoulder. “I know. That cough is bad. I know the signs….”
“Like Mama—” Sid couldn’t continue, and was ashamed of the tears that came to his eyes.
“I know, boy. That was a hard time for your family. I know you didn’t get much help from the company either—just like we didn’t after my little girl’s accident. But you’re right, Mr. Simmons is different. He’s always trying to get fair treatment and better working conditions.”
Sid turned away and after a while of working silently, said, “she shouldn’t be working, but she won’t stop!”
“Perhaps you should talk to Mr. Simmons. He’d put her on a short shift.”
“But he’s not back! He’s been gone so long!”
“I know, boy.”
They saw the supervisor coming around, and fell silent. Sid moved on to the next machine and climbed up, this time with his oil can. He stayed there a long time until he was in control of himself again.
I suppose it’s all right, he thought, that she’s saved and that Mama was, too. I guess she’s going to God and to Mama, and that’s good.
As he looked down at Ted, who was diligently working the threads, he had the feeling that the man really thought this saved business was for him, too. But he wasn’t so sure about that.
For the first time ever Sid didn’t walk Hope home. He stayed out very late—climbing the creek bank, walking the streets. He was freezing but he didn’t care!
Earlier that evening, he was beginning to suspect a plot against him. With all this talk about God, it seemed that everybody was conniving to get him into religion—he, who had really never even thought about God before.
Sid didn’t exactly blame Ted, or Nathan, or Charlotte-but he didn’t agree with them—not at all.
He and his sister had been at the library, picking out books as usual. Charlotte had dropped in. She and Hope were talking excitedly about her new “Christian life” when they suddenly looked over at him.
“This is for you, too, Sid,” the woman said, kindly.
His face must have shown what he was thinking, and he didn’t really mean to say it out loud. But he had.
“It’s not for the likes of us.” He glared at Hope, as if daring her to think that what had happened to her was really possible for poor mill workers. “We shouldn’t even be here—in this church full of rich people.”
But Charlotte shook her head and said earnestly. “But this church was built for you. This was a mill church meant for the people who worked there.”
Sid drew back, astonished. “I ain’t believing that.”
“It’s true. My grandfather worked in the mill all his life. And my father, when he was your age. They went to this church.”
“Really?” asked Hope.
“I still ain’t believing that. Your folks—millworkers? Why you’re….”
“Wealthy?” she smiled. “Perhaps. We certainly have plenty for our needs but—and this is no secret—it was my mother’s money. It gave my father the chance to make something of himself though, and we try to use it the way the Lord wants. My father works very hard at his business—just as you all do here at the mill—and God has blessed him.”
“God wouldn’t bless us,” he muttered.
“But He has, Sid!” exclaimed Hope. “He saved me! He brought us to this church. He gave me this beautiful coat, and we have more food lately—and that cheers Papa.”
“Charity!” He turned on her.
Charlotte reached out and laid her hand on his. “Let us do this, Sid. Those who have should help out those in need ‘til they can get on their feet. Then you can do it for someone else when you’re able.”
That made sense until he thought it through. “Nothing will ever change for us. The men will strike. There’s strikes going on everywhere but what good does it do? We’ll all lose our jobs, or the mill will close. Women don’t read the news. You don’t know what’s really happening. Papa does. Textiles are going out!”
“Then there’ll be something else. God will provide,” Hope said, staunchly.
“I couldn’t have said it better,” approved the woman. “And I’m afraid I disagree with you, Sid. I do know what’s going on. I know very well.”
Hope eagerly took his hand. “Sid, things really are going to be all right. God—”
“You are dying! And God is doing nothing!” Sid shot at his sister. He jumped up, knocking over his chair, and raced out the door as they looked on sadly.
Now, as he walked the streets, he knew they were all wrong—nothing would ever change—it would only get worse.
Trudging past the large old Victorian homes where the bosses lived, his depression deepened. Sure there was company housing, but they set the rents and they controlled things. There would never be a way to get ahead in this town. He’d go on just like his father, and his father before him. And how many more of their family would die or be hurt because of bad mill conditions. Oh, he knew he was parroting a lot of the talk he heard around the mill, but it was true.
He walked clear down to the Arkright Mill
and watched the water flow over the dam. It had rained a good deal that week and the water was flowing fast. Then the weather had turned freezing cold again.
He was watching the waterfall in the moonlight, mindlessly staring at the great chunks of ice that hovered on the rim and crashed over, when he suddenly saw a figure. He crept closer. The man was climbing down the rocks, holding a burlap bag. Sid watched as he slipped on an icy rock and almost fell, but righted himself.
Curious as ever, Sid couldn’t let this go. He slipped down the slushy, muddy bank, trying to keep the man in sight. The moon shifted, gleaming out through the clouds.
Nathan—the organist at the Hope Methodist Episcopal Church, beau to Miss Charlotte Newton, Sunday School teacher—was sneaking about at midnight!
Disillusionment so great that it seemed to hit him like a terrible weight only deepened his despair.
All he could think of was the conversation he’d overheard with Gibson. Nathan had succumbed after all. He was out here, hiding loot, too. And what would Charlotte think when she found out?
Sid crept closer. The glow of a lantern suddenly shone out and he watched the man. What could he be doing? He didn’t look like he was hiding something, after all. It seemed like he was searching for something.
Finally after a good half hour of looking between stones and under the brush, the man stood and gazed about. As he stretched, his silhouette was clear in the moonlight. He seemed perplexed, frustrated.
Sid hid until Nathan reached the road, then silently followed him, keeping to the shadows.
Devastated as he was that his new friend seemed to be up to something, he couldn’t quite believe it. He had to find out what it was all about! He just had to.
To be continued….
Saved, Saved-Jack Scholfield, 1911, Public Domain