“You hear me, Saxon? Come on along. What if it is the Bricklayers? I’ll have gentlemen friends there, and so’ll you. The Al Vista band’ll be along, an’ you know it plays heavenly. An’ you just love dancin’ — ”
Twenty feet away, a stout, elderly woman interrupted the girl’s persuasions. The elderly woman’s back was turned, and the back — loose, bulging, and misshapen — began a convulsive heaving.
“Gawd!” she cried out. “O Gawd!”
She flung wild glances, like those of an entrapped animal, up and down the big whitewashed room that panted with heat and that was thickly humid with the steam that sizzled from the damp cloth under the irons of the many ironers. From the girls and women near her, all swinging irons steadily but at high pace, came quick glances, and labor efficiency suffered to the extent of a score of suspended or inadequate movements. The elderly woman’s cry had caused a tremor of money-loss to pass among the piece-work ironers of fancy starch.
She gripped herself and her iron with a visible effort, and dabbed futilely at the frail, frilled garment on the board under her hand.
“I thought she’d got’em again — didn’t you?” the girl said.
“It’s a shame, a woman of her age, and ... condition,” Saxon answered, as she frilled a lace ruffle with a hot fluting-iron. Her movements were delicate, safe, and swift, and though her face was wan with fatigue and exhausting heat, there was no slackening in her pace.
“An’ her with seven, an’ two of ‘em in reform school,” the girl at the next board sniffed sympathetic agreement. “But you just got to come to Weasel Park to-morrow, Saxon. The Bricklayers’ is always lively — tugs-of-war, fat-man races, real Irish jiggin’, an’ ... an’ everything. An’ the floor of the pavilion’s swell.”
But the elderly woman brought another interruption. She dropped her iron on the shirtwaist, clutched at the board, fumbled it, caved in at the knees and hips, and like a half-empty sack collapsed on the floor, her long shriek rising in the pent room to the acrid smell of scorching cloth. The women at the boards near to her scrambled, first, to the hot iron to save the cloth, and then to her, while the forewoman hurried belligerently down the aisle. The women farther away continued unsteadily at their work, losing movements to the extent of a minute’s set-back to the totality of the efficiency of the fancy-starch room.
“Enough to kill a dog,” the girl muttered, thumping her iron down on its rest with reckless determination. “Workin’ girls’ life ain’t what it’s cracked up. Me to quit — that’s what I’m comin’ to.”
“Mary!” Saxon uttered the other’s name with a reproach so profound that she was compelled to rest her own iron for emphasis and so lose a dozen movements.
Mary flashed a half-frightened look across.
“I didn’t mean it, Saxon,” she whimpered. “Honest, I didn’t. I wouldn’t never go that way. But I leave it to you, if a day like this don’t get on anybody’s nerves. Listen to that!”
The stricken woman, on her back, drumming her heels on the floor, was shrieking persistently and monotonously, like a mechanical siren. Two women, clutching her under the arms, were dragging her down the aisle. She drummed and shrieked the length of it. The door opened, and a vast, muffled roar of machinery burst in; and in the roar of it the drumming and the shrieking were drowned ere the door swung shut. Remained of the episode only the scorch of cloth drifting ominously through the air.