The Alexanders - The First Decade.
This is the working title of my work-in-progress (WIP) and I'm having such fun in writing this historical account of Dominic Alexander (Drake Alexander's grandfather) who immigrates to Canada in 1915 and establishes himself in Moncton.
One of my main character's is a young lady that come to work for him and as nature would have it, they fall in love. Her name is Maria Desjardin, from Notre Dame, New Brunswick.
Maria is normally an easy going lady but there's a feisty side to her.
In 1917, during the First World War, there is a shortage of men for many factories and workplaces. The cotton mill in Moncton hires many women. They don't make the same wages, for the same work, as men do.
Maria Desjardin doesn't stand for that.
An excerpt from The Alexanders. (Copyright is held by the author)
The tower of the cotton mill looms menacingly, like a fist, above the small crowd gathered in the shadows of the office door. The last Friday of September has not started off peacefully in the east end of Moncton. Odors from the workings of raw cotton float in the light autumn breeze. The sun barely crests the horizon yet a cluster of shouting woman and several men are waving and demanding that the owner, Baylor Crosswaithe, treat his female employs fairly. They make a glut along the driveway so no one can exit or enter without running over them. It came to light that female weavers are making three dollars an hour less than men doing the same work. Young children also labor at the mill for very low wages. The crowd is angry.
It is unlikely that Crosswaithe will show his face, mainly because he doesn’t care. He has stated publicly that the mill is his business and he will run it as he sees fit. If the workers don’t like their wages, they are free to look elsewhere. The truth of the matter is that the mill is in financial difficulty and Crosswaithe is scrambling to keep the business operating. There is an abundance of cotton mills throughout the country driving the prices down.
Maria Desjardin decides that enough is enough and against Dominic’s wishes that she not be involved she makes phone calls and organizes rallies. It has a mild adverse effect on the business and it is the first heated conversations they have in their relationship. He agrees with her but wants her out of sight. Today she is at the forefront of the protestors. She is also the loudest.
“It’s not fair that your ladies work so hard for wages that are unequal”
The other women, Emma included, along with twelve of their friends and acquaintances and a handful of husbands are making a racket and waving hand drawn placards, demanding equal rights. Denise wanted to be there but had to work at the store, especially since Maria organized the rally and she hasn’t told Dominic. The suffragette movement has been slow to reach Moncton, but these are the same ladies that are most vocal for equality. Other woman are afraid of their husbands, or their employers or their disagreeable families to be involved publicly, some write letters of protest, others say and do nothing. The bunch gathered are just as verbal as their leader.
“Give woman the same money as the men!”
“Tell Crosswaithe that we demand an audience!”
“How can you sleep knowing women are treated so unfairly?”
“We want some answers!”
The commotion is being witnessed by people on the periphery, not involved but intrigued by the uncommon sight of woman creating such a disturbance. Most of the protestors are in everyday wear but one is with elegant jacket and skirts of the latest fashion, namely Mildred Van Geist. Van Geist is not as boisterous but her presence lends gravity to the cause. Much to her husband’s chagrin, she too has an effect on his banking business. Men in delivery carts, people walking to work or going to the hospital up the street, are watching. Not everyone is sympathetic, especially domineering males.
At the opposite end of the building, so too is a loose group of workers staring, lingering at the worker’s entrance, fronted by three burly men glaring at the woman with hateful glazes who are shaking their fists at them and yelling abuse. Maria shakes her fist back at them, as do others. The men take offence and advance on the crowd but are only a few steps away when the shift whistle blares calling them to work. More fist waves and the workers disappear in the side entrance while those ending their workday hustle away from the crowd, knowing what’s going on and have been warned by their supervisors to give no heed to the disruptive behaviour out front, to ignore the ideas they are spreading. The women especially are reminded of how fortunate they are to have a job. None hang around.
From the front doors comes a portly man, tie askew, trousers bagging at the knees. Angry eyes bulge from a hairless head except for a few wisps around small ears. The mouth is almost a snarl. Behind him is two ruffians that work in the warehouse. They’re known for their quick temper and heavy lifting has made them strong. The mill manager, Wade Flanagan, is a misogynist and finds aggressive females annoying, especially this troublesome Desjardin woman that has been disrupting their peace. Stepping closely to Maria he waves for attention. The crowd quiets except for their leader. Maria has arms akimbo, a folded umbrella hanging on one arm and an unhappy expression.
“Where’s Crosswaithe?” she demands.
Flanagan flips his hand as if the idea is absurd. His voice is raspy and pompous.
“Mr. Crosswaithe does not have time for you troublemakers. Nor do we. I’d advise you to leave the premises at once, you are on private property. We’ve called the police as well and they should be here soon, so it’s better you go peacefully.”
Pointing his finger at Maria, his voice lowers, more spiteful. She hears him quite clearly amidst the clamour of the crowd.
“I know who you are Miss Desjardin, I’d advise you to be more careful. One can only wonder what your fiancée must think. Perhaps he should remember who buy’s his jewellery and pays for his services, certainly not these peasants you care so much about. Mr. Crosswaithe is a very big part of the financial community her in Moncton and can be influential. Do you know that word, influential, as in advising his associates to buy elsewhere? Hmm?”
Maria is about to let loose with a barrage of unkind words when a deeper voice calls for calm.
“Quiet everyone, quiet. People stop your yelling. You two in the back, un-ball those fists. Stop waving that umbrella so threateningly young lady. Mr. Flanagan, perhaps you could step back a bit and tell me what’s going on here.”
The police officer is thick chested and tall, authority and a shiny badge makes people stop their fidgeting and they close in to hear what is being said. Officer Melanson steps between Maria and Flanagan who are staring darts at each other. Maria starts to complain when Melanson holds a hand out to wait her turn. Nodding at the manager, he prompts him once more.
“What’s all the fuss about her now, Flanagan?”
Chin in the air he points at Maria.
“She’s egging this bunch of rowdies on, Officer. It’s disrupting our business and they are on private property as well. We’d like them to disperse as soon as possible. They make such foolish demands, asking for Crosswaithe of all things, as if he has time to deal with these troublemakers. I’d like it if you and your fellow officer I see over there to get this crowd moving. In fact I demand it!”
Melanson doesn’t like the manager’s attitude and knows a few of the women here. He is also aware of the unfair labor practices in the factories but he must uphold the law. Turning to Maria, he tries a half smile begging her indulgence.
“So its troublemakers you are, ladies and gents? You know we can’t have that. You’ll need to go home now. You’re holding up traffic and there are delivery carts waiting to get in and you are on someone else’s property.”
The group lower their cards and their shoulders, some starting to move on wending through a crowd of gatherers, some of which are not friendly. Maria respects the law and doesn’t want any trouble, only to be listened to. She watches Flanagan beam a smug look at the thinning assembly and she sees all the rottenness in his manner.
“You’ll not get away with this much longer Mister. The indecent way you treat your women.”
Flanagan can see that the police are moving people away and feels he has won. Only she can hear him.
“It’s better than most deserve. Humph!”
Despising him so much, she doesn’t even think. Running forward with umbrella raised, she whacks him on the head. Before Officer Melanson can contain her she’s hit him several times. One of the blows from the long stem of her weapon hit him on the nose and made it bleed. Another to the side of the head makes it on the next day’s front page of the Transcript. The flash from the photographer’s camera apparatus catches another of Maria being escorted to the police car.
Flanagan rushes into the building with his blood stained handkerchief held tightly to his nose. The two bodyguards block the entrance. Putting Maria in the back seat, the other officer drives and Melanson sits beside her, his manner abrupt, asking her questions while taking notes. What’s her name? Where does she live? Etc. They take Maria home. Since Dominic has been back, she moved in with Emma where they were going to take her but she convinces Officer Melanson that she is needed at work and he will know where she is. She promises to go directly to her aunt’s place after work. Melanson can be a soft touch sometimes for a pretty girl. Trusting her to her word he does as she asks. When they arrive, before she is allowed out of the car, she is chastised severely by Melanson for her actions, it’s possible that Flanagan may lay charges against her for assault. There’s a tinge of sympathy in his voice when he reaches over to open the other car door so she can get out.
“You’ll not able to do any protesting if you’re sitting in jail. Stay off their property. Don’t go anywhere until we tell you to. You could still be in a lot of trouble. Otherwise the day is still long, I hope the rest is more peaceful Miss Desjardins.”
Maria knows enough to keep quiet, the realization of what she’s done sinks in. She begins to worry about Dominic’s reaction. She hopes he’s outback doing repairs. Lifting her skirts to slide out, she steps carefully onto the driveway, waving over her shoulder.
“Thank you Officer.”
Thank you faithful reader for joining us this week. I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. I would love to hear your comments.