Chapter Twelve

The notices had appeared overnight adorning polls and walls in front of every factory and store, saloon and El platform, their bright yellow color standing out against the drab browns and grays of the city.

Some proprietors, upon discovering their presence, had determinedly shredded the notices into tiny pieces, letting the remnants fly away in the brisk wind. Others just shook their heads as they read, clucking aloud, but many passers-by attended the posters with interest.

Rose stopped to read one hung directly in front of Mr. Souster's factory. She held her hat on her head with one hand to keep it from eloping with an insistent gust.



For the purpose of raising support for our cause:

  The right of all women in America to vote.








That's just two days from now, Rose thought, and this is the first I've heard of it. I really HAVE been out of touch! I recall reading about the parade last year…gosh, that seems like a lifetime ago.

She noticed that some of her co-workers pause to read the poster; others just ignored it. She debated her own inclination to attend as a show of support for the cause.

Marching in a suffrage parade….not exactly the best way to keep a low profile. Still, how much attention would perhaps a thousand women draw in a city as big as New York?

Her inner conflict was interrupted by a voice from behind her.

"What do you think of that?"

Rose turned her head.

"Gina! Where have you been all week?"

Gina hadn't shown up for work at all during the first three days of the week, and Rose had missed her friend.

"Oh, I guess I just came down with what all the other girls have had. Knocked me back pretty good but I feel okay now."

Gina gestured to the parade notification just as a loose flyer blew by them. Her eyes followed it as it floated skyward.

"So, is that important?"

"The suffrage parade? Yes. Don't you think so?"

Gina shrugged her shoulders.

"I suppose. I don't really see how being able to vote is going to help me any, though."

The women's vote had become a pet cause for Rose before her trip to Europe. The more educated she had become, the more second class she had felt in not having that right. She sensed a familiar fire now rising within her in response to Gina's indifference, and she was both surprised and pleasantly comforted by the reappearance of passions she thought had been lost to her. She had to suppress the urge to harangue her friend on the subject.

I've got to remember that Gina and I come from different backgrounds. She hasn't enjoyed all the benefits that I have. Besides, this isn't the time or place for this sort of talk.

Rose made up her mind about the coming Saturday.

"Let's do it! We can meet beforehand and march together."

Gina looked unsure.

"I don't know what Anthony has planned. I'll ask him and let you know tomorrow."

"Oh, just tell him to come along and walk with us," Rose kidded.

Gina's face tensed briefly, but when she turned to Rose her expression was placid.

"No, I don't think that would work out too well ...Hey, we'd better go in or we'll be late for work!"

They pushed open the doors, expecting to find the workers stationing themselves at their machines. Instead they found everyone gathered in a circle around Mr. Souster.

The owner was busy giving animated instructions to a part-time mechanic who he had hired the previous day. Rose glanced around the cluster of workers and noticed several unfamiliar faces. Obviously, many of the girls who had been out sick were returning, and Rose felt a twinge of despair at the increasing possibility that, despite her improvement, she might not be employed much longer.

His side conversation finally concluded, Mr. Souster turned to address the workers.

"Ladies, you all know, I think, that my wife has taken quite ill."

Gina looked at Rose, her eyebrows lifting questioningly.

Rose had not seen Mrs. Souster over the previous three days and Mr. Souster had been run ragged trying to cover for her absence.

The owner continued.

"She has been doing the bookkeeping for this factory and I don't have the time to do both her job and mine, nor to find a proper replacement for her until she is able to return.

"So I was hoping that someone among you might have some experience doing books or feel that you can do your sums well enough to help out in the office for the time being."

He looked expectantly around the circle, but his plea was met with silence. Several girls shuffled their feet, eyes downcast in embarrassment at their lack of education.

When it seemed as if no one would come forward, Gina thrust her hand up.

"Mr. Souster, sir!"

"Gina. You can help?" Mr. Souster asked, not quite able to hide the surprise in his voice. Rose was also startled to hear Gina volunteer.

"Um…no, sir, not me, but I know Rose can do her sums, though I think she's too shy to speak up."

All eyes around the circle focused on Rose and she felt uneasy being the center of attention. She shot a glance at Gina, who just nudged her arm.

"Well, Miss Dawson. Is she right?" Mr. Souster asked.

"Go on, Rose, it's a chance for you," Gina whispered.

Rose considered for a few seconds.

"Yes, sir. I might be able to help."


Rose spent the better part of the day hunched over the desk in the cramped office. She sat amidst ragged piles of paper, with Mr. Souster's garment count-sheets on her left, his supplier and customer invoices on her right, and a large, leather-bound ledger directly in front. The windowless room gradually turned into a steambath from the moist heat escaping the nearby irons, and Rose perspired despite her relative inactivity.

Mr. Souster had given her cursory instructions on his accounting methods and then, convinced by her replies and questions that Rose knew enough not to make a complete butcher job of the figures, he left to handle the supervision of the factory floor.

Rose found that in the scant few days of Mrs. Souster's absence the books had quickly fallen into disarray. She was able to decipher Mr. Souster's figures, though they were obviously entered in a hurry and were peppered with errors. The earlier entries by his wife were neat and accurate, and Rose found herself wondering about the woman's education.

She ate her lunch over her work, alone in the tiny room, and by late afternoon her daylong effort found her nearly caught up with current figures. Mr. Souster returned just as Rose was completing a set of entries. He plopped tiredly down in the seat across the desk from her and motioned towards the ledger.

"May I?"

Rose turned the book around and slid it across the desktop. Mr. Souster placed it in his lap and spent a few minutes studying the pages in quiet concentration, pausing several times to do some figuring in the margins.

Rose felt uncertainty gnawing at her stomach.

I'm quite sure it's all correct, she thought, but it's been a while since I've done factory ledgers.

Mr. Souster snapped the volume closed and looked across at Rose.

"Are you tired, Miss Dawson?"

"Just a bit warm, actually."

"How did you learn to do bookkeeping?"

Rose considered for a moment how best to answer. I suppose the truth can't hurt here, she decided.

"My father ran a factory and he taught me to do his ledger."

"Where was this?"

"I'd rather not talk about it, sir."

His eyes widened slightly but he didn't pursue his query.

"You have had some schooling, I see."

"Some, yes."

"But you wanted to work as a seamstress?"

Rose looked steadily into his eyes but didn't answer. She decided to let his thoughts write their own version of her past. He let his question linger for a moment, then moved on.

"Almost all of the sick girls have returned and they are more experienced sewers than you."

"Yes, sir, I know."

Rose felt her heart sink. I guess this is it.

Mr. Souster stood up and walked to the doorway. He looked out over the factory floor, lost in thought, and then strode back to stand over the desk.

"Miss Dawson, I don't really care what sort of trouble or problems you've had before. Hell, many of these girls have been in some terrible sort of a fix at one time or another. I often go with my gut feelings and my instincts tell me that I can trust you. I think it's time my wife spent more of her life away from this place; this work is aging her something wicked.

"I really don't think I can use you any longer as a seamstress, but if you would agree I'd like you to stay on as my bookkeeper. Same hours as before- you can't be expecting you'll get any special treatment- and I can't pay you much more, though I would pay $15 a week if you can do the job and do it well.

"What do you say, Miss Dawson?"

As he had been speaking Rose had felt her spirits lift. Here was a gift; an opportunity to use her skills, at least a little, without having to reveal anything about herself that she didn't wish to tell.

"Yes, Mr. Souster, that is quite agreeable to me."

"That's fine, then. That'll be all for today; I'll see you tomorrow."

Rose got up to leave.

"And….thank you, Miss Dawson."

It was just a few minutes before the quitting whistle as Rose left the office, and as she glanced out over the floor Gina looked up from her machine.

Rose pointed to the exit and Gina nodded in understanding. They met outside after Gina had had a chance to clean up. Rose had her hat off, finger-combing her hair and reveling in the welcome coolness of the evening breeze.

"How'd it go?" Gina asked.

"Fine…well, actually, very fine. He's offered me a job as bookkeeper."

"Anything to keep you away from the sewing machines, huh?"

Rose laughed, and she grabbed Gina's arm just above the elbow, wanting to thank her.

Gina grimaced and jerked away, her eyes narrowing and pain spreading over her features.

"Sorry, Rose. I bruised it hitting it against my tray earlier. Stupid, really. It's still a bit sore, I guess."

Rose peered more closely at her friend. Gina lowered her eyes, and then embarked on explaining her actions of the morning.

"I spoke up because I figured you could do the sums and I guessed you felt too new and were too shy to talk yourself up in front of the other girls."

It seems people read my avoidance of attention as shyness, Rose thought. That suits me fine.

"You were right. This looks as though it might turn out for the best. I guess I'll be giving up the blue makeup for red and black," Rose replied, displaying the smudges of ledger ink along the sides of her hands.

Gina held her blue-stained palms alongside Rose's, smiled a wide smile, and turned to head off towards home.

"Rose, sometimes things just end up how they were meant to end up, don't you think?"

Rose chuckled.

"I can't argue with that! Now I just hope Mrs. Souster sees it the same way!"

Gina walked backwards away from Rose, laughing as she went. Then she turned and waved back over her head.

Rose moved off in the opposite direction, with thoughts of numbers and ledgers and the suffrage parade swirling in her head.


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