The New Hire

“Bill’s Story”

Chap. II                                                  The New Hire


                                                                       Al Murdach



     Bill left Springer High Schoolafter the last class and took the Harbor View streetcar across town to reach the Hadley Brothers Mill. The streetcar rattled and jerked as it moved slowly downPoplar Avenuetowards the harbor.  The street was crowded with pedestrians, delivery wagons, automobiles, and an occasional slowly moving horse cart, so the streetcar operator continually rang the bell to clear the way on the tracks.  Bill could see some shop owners already closing for the day, rolling up their awnings and sweeping the sidewalk in front of their stores.  As the streetcar neared the harbor and began to move along the waterfront, Bill glimpsed the Hadley Mill in the distance and noted the plumes of smoke and steam streaming from the mill’s tall smoke stacks. As he got closer he could see mill workers swarming around piles of lumber and banks of machinery in the large mill compound between the mill and the harbor.  He remembered that this mill, like all the other big mills in town, was a twenty-four hour, seven day a week operation.

     Bill got off at the last car stop and began the six block walk to the mill.  As he passed the bustling docks and railroad yards near the harbor, he could see the mill’s belching smoke stacks looming directly in front of him.  He stopped for a moment to take in the view.  In his imagination the mill with its walls, piles of logs and lumber and gigantic stacks looked like the ramparts a giant medieval castle, veiled in mist and mysterious clouds.  The late afternoon sun filtered through the smoke and steam, creating a  greenish-red glow.  He had been reading a history of the Crusades and was reminded of descriptions of the Crusader’s first views of the ramparts ofJerusalem, glistening in the dying sun.

     As he approached the muddy storage yard in front of main gate, the shrill blast of thefour o’clockwhistle jolted him back to reality.  Suddenly day workers poured out of the main gate and surged down the street, trudging silently past Bill and disappearing into the side streets near the downtown.  To Bill, they looked dirty, disheveled and exhausted and hardly looked like Crusaders.  He began to wonder if this would really be the adventure he was hoping for.

     Bill trudged up the stairs to the office and glanced up at the sign over the large oak door.  It read: “Hadley Brothers Mill.  Founded 1901.  Wood for the World.”  Below was a smaller sign: “Help Wanted.  Always openings.  Good wages paid. Learn on the job. No Experience Necessary. Apply inside.”  He pulled open the heavy door and went in.

     The office was lit by a single bare overhead light bulb and was deep in shadow.  After Bill called out to announce his presence, a young woman neatly dressed in black jacket  with a large white collar emerged from a back room and came towards him.

     Bill struggled to get his words out.  “I-I’m trying, I mean, I’m looking…yes, I mean I’m looking for work.  Do you have anything?”

     The woman quickly looked him over and pulled a large ledger out from a drawer in  the front desk   Picking up a pen, she glanced at Bill.

     “When do you want to start?” she asked.  When Bill stared at her and said nothing, she chuckled and asked, “How about tomorrow?”

     Bill’s jaw dropped.  He had not counted on all of this happening so soon. “S-sure, sure,” he stammered, “that’d be great!  It’s a deal.”  He managed to flash a convincing grin.

     The young woman noted his name and snapped the ledger closed.  She raised a blank, business-like face to give Bill instructions.

     “Wages are eighteen cents an hour for beginners,” she said.  “You get paid more the more years you work for us.  You can get Christmas and Easter off if you ask in advance but you don’t get paid for that.  If you have any complaints you take it to the manager.  Don’t go complaining to the other workers, the manager doesn’t like it and will fire you if he catches you doing that.”

     Bill gulped.  “OK,” he said, “where will I start?  I’ve never worked in a mill before.”

     The woman cleared her throat.  “The foreman decides that.  You go see him first thing tomorrow.  His name is Mr. Jorgenson.  And be sure to use the “Mister”.  He gets annoyed if you don’t.”  She turned and started back to the rear of the office.

     Bill grabbed the top of the front desk and called after her, “Oh say, I forgot to ask, what time do I start tomorrow, ma’am?”

     She called over her shoulder, “Be here byfour o’clock.  That’s the change of shift in the afternoon.  You get off at12:30in the morning.”  She entered her small back room and closed the door. Abruptly she opened it again and, smiling thinly, said to Bill, “Good luck, son.”  Bill raised his hand in a good-bye wave and turned to leave the office.

     He walked slowly back to the streetcar stop feeling elated, frightened and frustrated.  He had gotten his wish: a job at the mill.  Now he had to tell his father and mother, fix his bicycle so he could use it to get back home after the streetcar stopped running at 10 p. m., figure out a way to keep up with his homework and, along with all of this, try to get enough sleep so could stay alert in school during the day.  He also still had to meet with the foreman tomorrow to get his work assignment and then see if he could handle the job.  Weary with thinking about all these contingencies, he fell asleep on the streetcar and almost missed his stop.  Fortunately the conductor knew Bill and woke him up just in time.

     As soon as Bill reached home he went to the parlor and again found himself in front of his father trying to explain what he wanted to do and what had just happened at the mill.  His mother sat on the couch silently looking at the floor and wringing her hands.  After a few moments his father raised his hand to quiet him.

     “I must tell you, William,” his father said, “that I spoke to Mr. Hadley this morning and advised him not to allow you to be hired because I feel strongly that this new job of yours is a step backward for you.  He was most polite and understanding but said he leaves the final decision up to his foreman and so will consult with Mr. Jorgenson tomorrow morning.”

     His mother vigorously nodded her agreement with his father.  Bill felt a sudden surge of sullen anger at his father’s interference, but knew he had to be careful.  He had learned long ago not to contradict him.

    “What if Mr. Jorgenson decides to keep me on tomorrow?” Bill asked.

     His father stood up stiffly.  Bill had forgotten how tall his father seemed.  “Your mother and I will of course abide by that decision, provided you keep up your school assignments and you are physically able to do the work.”  His father’s tone of voice indicated to Bill that the interview was over.

     He went to the dining room to tell Gilson about his new plans.  Gilson put down his watercolor brushes, thought for a moment, then looked up at Bill.  “It’s not important,” he said, “whether or not you like the mill but it is important that you make a go of it there.  All father understands is success.  Remember that.”

     Bill suddenly realized that Gilson also wanted to be more independent and would now view him as a model to imitate.  He climbed the stairs to his room feeling alone and apprehensive.  The mill, which once seemed so exciting, began to look like it might be a trap.  As he lay in bed he tried to picture what his interview with Mr. Jorgenson would be like.  Bill decided that now he had to show everyone that he could not fail, especially since Gilson was counting on him more than ever.  It was several hours before he was finally able to sleep.

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