100%: The Story of a Patriot
By UPTON SINCLAIR
PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR
TO MY WIFE
Who is the creator of the most charming character in this story, "Mrs. Godd," and who positively refuses to permit the book to go to press until it has been explained that the character is a Grecian Godd and not a Hebrew Godd, so that no one may accuse the creator of sacrilege.
Now and then it occurs to one to reflect upon what slender threads of accident depend the most important circumstances of his life; to look back and shudder, realizing how close to the edge of nothingness his being has come. A young man is walking down the street, quite casually, with an empty mind and no set purpose; he comes to a crossing, and for no reason that he could tell he takes the right hand turn instead of the left; and so it happens that he encounters a blue-eyed girl, who sets his heart to beating. He meets the girl, marries her—and she became your mother. But now, suppose the young man had taken the left hand turn instead of the right, and had never met the blue-eyed girl; where would you be now, and what would have become of those qualities of mind which you consider of importance to the world, and those grave affairs of business to which your time is devoted?
Something like that it was which befell Peter Gudge; just such an accident, changing the whole current of his life, and making the series of events with which this story deals. Peter was walking down the street one afternoon, when a woman approached and held out to him a printed leaflet. "Read this, please," she said.
And Peter, who was hungry, and at odds with the world, answered gruffly: "I got no money." He thought it was an advertising dodger, and he said: "I can't buy nothin'."
"It isn't anything for sale," answered the woman. "It's a message."
"Religion?" said Peter. "I just got kicked out of a church."
"No, not a church," said the woman. "It's something different; put it in your pocket." She was an elderly woman with gray hair, and she followed along, smiling pleasantly at this frail, poor-looking stranger, but nagging at him. "Read it some time when you've nothing else to do." And so Peter, just to get rid of her, took the leaflet and thrust it into his pocket, and went on, and in a minute or two had forgotten all about it.
Peter was thinking—or rather Peter's stomach was thinking for him; for when you have had nothing to eat all day, and nothing on the day before but a cup of coffee and one sandwich, your thought-centers are transferred from the top to the middle of you. Peter was thinking that this was a hell of a life. Who could have foreseen that just because he had stolen one miserable fried doughnut, he would lose his easy job and his chance of rising in the world? Peter's whole being was concentrated on the effort to rise in the world; to get success, which means money, which means ease and pleasure—the magic names which lure all human creatures.
But who could have foreseen that Mrs. Smithers would have kept count of those fried doughnuts every time anybody passed thru her pantry? And it was only that one ridiculous circumstance which had brought Peter to his present misery. But for that he might have had his lunch of bread and dried herring and weak tea in the home of the shoe-maker's wife, and might have still been busy with his job of stirring up dissension in the First Apostolic Church, otherwise known as the Holy Rollers, and of getting the Rev. Gamaliel Lunk turned out, and Shoemaker Smithers established at the job of pastor, with Peter Gudge as his right hand man.
Always it had been like that, thru Peter's twenty years of life. Time after time he would get his feeble clutch fixed upon the ladder of prosperity, and then something would happen—some wretched thing like the stealing of a fried doughnut—to pry him loose and tumble him down again into the pit of misery.
So Peter walked along, with his belt drawn tight, and his restless blue eyes wandering here and there, looking for a place to get a meal. There were jobs to be had, but they were hard jobs, and Peter wanted an easy one. There are people in this world who live by their muscles, and others who live by their wits; Peter belonged to the latter class; and had missed many a meal rather than descend in the social scale.
Peter looked into the faces of everyone he passed, searching for a possible opening. Some returned his glance, but never for more than a second, for they saw an insignificant looking man, undersized, undernourished, and with one shoulder higher than the other, a weak chin and mouth, crooked teeth, and a brown moustache too feeble to hold itself up at the corners. Peters' straw hat had many straws missing, his second-hand brown suit was become third-hand, and his shoes were turning over at the sides. In a city where everybody was "hustling," everybody, as they phrased it, "on the make," why should anyone take a second glance at Peter Gudge? Why should anyone care about the restless soul hidden inside him, or dream that Peter was, in his own obscure way, a sort of genius? No one did care; no one did dream.
It was about two o'clock of an afternoon in July, and the sun beat down upon the streets of American City. There were crowds upon the streets, and Peter noticed that everywhere were flags and bunting. Once or twice he heard the strains of distant music, and wondered what was "up." Peter had not been reading the newspapers; all his attention bad been taken up by the quarrels of the Smithers faction and the Lunk faction in the First Apostolic Church, otherwise known as the Holy Rollers, and great events that had been happening in the world outside were of no concern to him. Peter knew vaguely that on the other side of the world half a dozen mighty nations were locked together in a grip of death; the whole earth was shaken with their struggles, and Peter had felt a bit of the trembling now and then. But Peter did not know that his own country had anything to do with this European quarrel, and did not know that certain great interests thruout the country had set themselves to rouse the public to action.
This movement had reached American City, and the streets had broken out in a blaze of patriotic display. In all the windows of the stores there were signs: "Wake up, America!" Across the broad Main Street there were banners: "America Prepare!" Down in the square at one end of the street a small army was gathering—old veterans of the Civil War, and middle-aged veterans of the Spanish War, and regiments of the state militia, and brigades of marines and sailors from the ships in the harbor, and members of fraternal lodges with their Lord High Chief Grand Marshals on horseback with gold sashes and waving white plumes, and all the notables of the city in carriages, and a score of bands to stir their feet and ten thousand flags waving above their heads. "Wake up America!" And here was Peter Gudge, with an empty stomach, coming suddenly upon the swarming crowds in Main Street, and having no remotest idea what it was all about.
A crowd suggested one thing to Peter. For seven years of his young life he had been assistant to Pericles Priam, and had traveled over America selling Priam's Peerless Pain Paralyzer; they had ridden in an automobile, and wherever there was a fair or a convention or an excursion or a picnic, they were on hand, and Pericles Priam would stop at a place where the crowds were thickest, and ring a dinner bell, and deliver his super-eloquent message to humanity—the elixir of life revealed, suffering banished from the earth, and all inconveniences of this mortal state brought to an end for one dollar per bottle of fifteen per cent opium. It had been Peter's job to handle the bottles and take in the coin; and so now, when he saw the crowd, he looked about him eagerly. Perhaps there might be here some vender of corn-plasters or ink-stain removers, or some three card monte man to whom Peter could attach himself for the price of a sandwich.
Peter wormed his way thru the crowd for two or three blocks, but saw nothing more promising than venders of American flags on little sticks, and of patriotic buttons with "Wake up America!" But then, on the other side of the street at one of the crossings Peter saw a man standing on a truck making a speech, and he dug his way thru the crowd, elbowing, sliding this way and that, begging everybody's pardon—until at last he was out of the crowd, and standing in the open way which had been cleared for the procession, a seemingly endless road lined with solid walls of human beings, with blue-uniformed policemen holding them back. Peter started to run across—and at that same instant came the end of the world.
One who seeks to tell about events in words comes occasionally upon a fundamental difficulty. An event of colossal and overwhelming significance may happen all at once, but the words which describe it have to come one by one in a long chain. The event may reveal itself without a moment's warning; but if one is to give a sense of it in words, one must prepare for it, build up to it, awaken anticipation, establish a climax. If the description of this event which fate sprung upon Peter Gudge as he was crossing the street were limited to the one word "BANG" in letters a couple of inches high across the page, the impression would hardly be adequate.
The end of the world, it seemed to Peter, when he was able to collect enough of his terrified wits to think about it. But at first there was no thinking; there was only sensation—a terrific roar, as if the whole universe had suddenly turned to sound; a blinding white glare, as of all the lightnings of the heavens; a blow that picked him up as if he had been a piece of thistledown, and flung him across the street and against the side of a building. Peter fell upon the sidewalk in a heap, deafened, blinded, stunned; and there he lay—he had no idea how long-until gradually his senses began to return to him, and from the confusion certain factors began to stand out: a faint gray smoke that seemed to lie upon the ground, a bitter odor that stung the nostrils and tongue, and screams of people, moaning and sobbing and general uproar. Something lay across Peter's chest, and he felt that he was suffocating, and struggled convulsively to push it away; the hands with which he pushed felt something hot and wet and slimy. and the horrified Peter realized that it was half the body of a mangled human being.
Yes, it was the end of the world. Only a couple of days previously Peter Gudge had been a devout member of the First Apostolic Church, otherwise known as the Holy Rollers, and had listened at prayer-meetings to soul-shaking imaginings out of the Book of Revelations. So Peter knew that this was it; and having many sins upon his conscience, and being in no way eager to confront his God, he looked out over the bodies of the dead and the writhing wounded, and saw a row of boxes standing against the building, having been placed there by people who wished to see over the heads of the crowd. Peter started to crawl, and found that he was able to do so, and wormed his way behind one of these packing-boxes, and got inside and lay hidden from his God.
There was blood on him, and he did not know whether it was his own or other peoples'. He was trembling with fright, his crooked teeth were hammering together like those of an angry woodchuck. But the effects of the shock continued to pass away, and his wits to come back to him, and at last Peter realized that he never had taken seriously the ideas of the First Apostolic Church of American City. He listened to the moans of the wounded, and to the shouts and uproar of the crowd, and began seriously figuring out what could have happened. There had once been an earthquake in American City; could this be another one? Or had a volcano opened up in the midst of Main Street? Or could it have been a gas-main? And was this the end, or would it explode some more? Would the volcano go on erupting, and blow Peter and his frail packing-box thru the walls of Guggenheim's Department-store?
So Peter waited, and listened to the horrible sounds of people in agony, and pleading with others to put them out of it. Peter heard voices of men giving orders, and realized that these must be policemen, and that no doubt there would be ambulances coming. Maybe there was something the matter with him, and he ought to crawl out and get himself taken care of. All of a sudden Peter remembered his stomach; and his wits, which had been sharpened by twenty years' struggle against a hostile world, realized in a flash the opportunity which fate had brought to him. He must pretend to be wounded, badly wounded; he must be unconscious, suffering from shock and shattered nerves; then they would take him to the hospital and put him in a soft bed and give him things to eat—maybe he might stay there for weeks, and they might give him money when he came out.
Or perhaps he might get a job in the hospital, something that was easy, and required only alert intelligence. Perhaps the head doctor in the hospital might want somebody to watch the other doctors, to see if they were neglecting the patients, or perhaps flirting with some of the nurses—there was sure to be something like that going on. It had been that way in the orphans' home where Peter had spent a part of his childhood till he ran away. It had been that way again in the great Temple of Jimjambo, conducted by Pashtian el Kalandra, Chief Magistrian of Eleutherinian Exoticism. Peter had worked as scullion in the kitchen in that mystic institution, and had worked his way upward until he possessed the confidence of Tushbar Akrogas, major-domo and right hand man of the Prophet himself.
Wherever there was a group of people, and a treasure to be administered, there Peter knew was backbiting and scandal and intriguing and spying, and a chance for somebody whose brains were "all there." It might seem strange that Peter should think about such things, just then when the earth had opened up in front of him and the air had turned to roaring noise and blinding white flame, and had hurled him against the side of a building and dropped the bleeding half of a woman's body across his chest; but Peter had lived from earliest childhood by his wits and by nothing else, and such a fellow has to learn to use his wits under any and all circumstances, no matter how bewildering. Peter's training covered almost every emergency one could think of; he had even at times occupied himself by imagining what he would do if the Holy Rollers should turn out to be right, and if suddenly Gabriel's trumpet were to blow, and be were to find himself confronting Jesus in a long white night-gown.
Peter's imaginings were brought to an end by the packing-box being pulled out from the wall. "Hello!" said a voice.
Peter groaned, but did not look up. The box was pulled out further, and a face peered in. "What you hidin' in there for?"
Peter stammered feebly: "Wh-wh-what?"
"You hurt?" demanded the voice.
"I dunno," moaned Peter.
The box was pulled out further, and its occupant slid out. Peter looked up, and saw three or four policemen bending over him; he moaned again.
"How did you get in there?" asked one.
"I crawled in."
"To g-g-get away from the—what was it?"
"Bomb," said one of the policemen; and Peter was astounded that for a moment he forgot to be a nervous wreck.
"Bomb!" he cried; and at the same moment one of the policemen lifted him to his feet.
"Can you stand up?" he demanded; and Peter tried, and found that he could, and forgot that he couldn't. He was covered with blood and dirt, and was an unpresentable object, but he was really relieved to discover that his limbs were intact.
"What's your name?" demanded one of the policemen, and when Peter answered, he asked, "Where do you work?"
"I got no job," replied Peter.
"Where'd you work last?" And then another broke in, "What did you crawl in there for?"
"My God!" cried Peter. "I wanted to get away!"
The policemen seemed to find it suspicious that he had stayed hidden so long. They were in a state of excitement themselves, it appeared; a terrible crime had been committed, and they were hunting for any trace of the criminal. Another man came up, not dressed in uniform, but evidently having authority, and he fell onto Peter, demanding to know who he was, and where he had come from, and what he had been doing in that crowd. And of course Peter had no very satisfactory answers to give to any of these questions. His occupations had been unusual, and not entirely credible, and his purposes were hard to explain to a suspicious questioner. The man was big and burly, at least a foot taller than Peter, and as he talked he stooped down and stared into Peter's eyes as if he were looking for dark secrets hidden back in the depths of Peter's skull. Peter remembered that he was supposed to be sick, and his eyelids drooped and he reeled slightly, so that the policemen had to hold him up.
"I want to talk to that fellow," said the questioner. "Take him inside." One of the officers took Peter under one arm, and the other under the other arm, and they half walked and half carried him across the street and into a building.
It was a big store which the police had opened up. Inside there were wounded people lying on the floor, with doctors and others attending them. Peter was marched down the corridor, and into a room where sat or stood several other men, more or less in a state of collapse like himself; people who had failed to satisfy the police, and were being held under guard.
Peter's two policemen backed him against the wall and proceeded to go thru his pockets, producing the shameful contents—a soiled rag, and two cigarette butts picked up on the street, and a broken pipe, and a watch which had once cost a dollar, but was now out of order, and too badly damaged to be pawned. That was all they had any right to find, so far as Peter knew. But there came forth one thing more—the printed circular which Peter had thrust into his pocket. The policeman who pulled it out took a glance at it, and then cried, "Good God!" He stared at Peter, then he stared at the other policeman and handed him the paper.
At that moment the man not in uniform entered the room. "Mr. Guffey!" cried the policeman. "See this!" The man took the paper, and glanced at it, and Peter, watching with bewildered and fascinated eyes, saw a most terrifying sight. It was as if the man went suddenly out of his mind. He glared at Peter, and under his black eyebrows the big staring eyes seemed ready to jump out of his head.
"Aha!" he exclaimed; and then, "So I've got you!" The hand that held the paper was trembling, and the other hand reached out like a great claw, and fastened itself in the neck of Peter's coat, and drew it together until Peter was squeezed tight. "You threw that bomb!" hissed the man.
"Wh-what?" gasped Peter, his voice almost fainting. "B-b-bomb?"
"Out with it!" cried the man, and his face came close to Peter's, his teeth gleaming as if he were going to bite off Peter's nose. "Out with it! Quick! Who helped you?"
"My G-God!" said Peter. "I d-dunno what you mean."
"You dare lie to me?" roared the man; and he shook Peter as if he meant to jar his teeth out. "No nonsense now! Who helped you make that bomb?"
Peter's voice rose to a scream of terror: "I never saw no bomb! I dunno what you're talkin' about!"
"You, come this way," said the man, and started suddenly toward the door. It might have been more convenient if he had turned Peter around, and got him by the back of his coat-collar; but he evidently held Peter's physical being as a thing too slight for consideration—he just kept his grip in the bosom of Peter's jacket, and half lifted him and half shoved him back out of the room, and down a long passage to the back part of the building. And all the time he was hissing into Peter's face: "I'll have it out of you! Don't think you can lie to me! Make up your mind to it, you're going to come thru!"
The man opened a door. It was some kind of storeroom, and he walked Peter inside and slammed the door behind him. "Now, out with it!" he said. The man thrust into his pocket the printed circular, or whatever it was—Peter never saw it again, and never found out what was printed on it. With his free hand the man grabbed one of Peter's hands, or rather one finger of Peter's hand, and bent it suddenly backward with terrible violence. "Oh!" screamed Peter. "Stop!" And then, with a wild shriek, "You'll break it."
"I mean to break it! mean to break every bone in your body! I'll tear your finger-nails out; I'll tear the eyes out of your head, if I have to! You tell me who helped you make that bomb!"
Peter broke out in a storm of agonized protest; he had never heard of any bomb, he didn't know what the man was talking about; he writhed and twisted and doubled himself over backward, trying to evade the frightful pain of that pressure on his finger.
"You're lying!" insisted Guffey. "I know you're lying. You're one of that crowd."
"What crowd? Ouch! I dunno what you mean!"
"You're one of them Reds, aint you?"
"Reds? What are Reds?"
"You want to tell me you don't know what a Red is? Aint you been giving out them circulars on the street?"
"I never seen the circular!" repeated Peter. "I never seen a word in it; I dunno what it is."
"You try to stuff me with that?"
"Some woman gimme that circular on the street! Ouch! Stop! Jesus! I tell you I never looked at the circular!"
"You dare go on lying?" shouted the man, with fresh access of rage. "And when I seen you with them Reds? I know about your plots, I'm going to get it out of you." He grabbed Peter's wrist and began to twist it, and Peter half turned over in the effort to save himself, and shrieked again, in more piercing tones, "I dunno! I dunno!"
"What's them fellows done for you that you protect them?" demanded the other. "What good'll it do you if we hang you and let them escape?"
But Peter only screamed and wept the louder.
"They'll have time to get out of town," persisted the other. "If you speak quick we can nab them all, and then I'll let you go. You understand, we won't do a thing to you, if you'll come thru and tell us who put you up to this. We know it wasn't you that planned it; it's the big fellows we want."
He began to wheedle and coax Peter; but then, when Peter answered again with his provoking "I dunno," he would give another twist to Peter's wrist, and Peter would yell, almost incoherent with terror and pain—but still declaring that he could tell nothing, he knew nothing about any bomb.
So at last Guffey wearied of this futile inquisition; or perhaps it occurred to him that this was too public a place for the prosecution of a "third degree"—there might be some one listening outside the door. He stopped twisting Peter's wrist, and tilted back Peter's head so that Peter's frightened eyes were staring into his.
"Now, young fellow," he said, "look here. I got no time for you just now, but you're going to jail, you're my prisoner, and make up your mind to it, sooner or later I'm going to get it out of you. It may take a day, or it may take a month, but you're going to tell me about this bomb plot, and who printed this here circular opposed to Preparedness, and all about these Reds you work with. I'm telling you now—so you think it over; and meantime, you hold your mouth, don't say a word to a living soul, or if you do I'll tear your tongue out of your throat."
Then, paying no attention to Peter's wailings, he took him by the back of the collar and marched him down the hall again, and turned him over to one of the policemen. "Take this man to the city jail," he said, "and put him in the hole, and keep him there until I come, and don't let him speak a word to anybody. If he tries it, mash his mouth for him." So the policeman took poor sobbing Peter by the arm and marched him out of the building.
The police had got the crowds driven back by now, and had ropes across the street to hold them, and inside the roped space were several ambulances and a couple of patrol-wagons. Peter was shoved into one of these latter, and a policeman sat by his side, and the bell clanged, and the patrol-wagon forced its way slowly thru the struggling crowd. Half an hour later they arrived at the huge stone jail, and Peter was marched inside. There were no formalities, they did not enter Peter on the books, or take his name or his finger prints; some higher power had spoken, and Peter's fate was already determined. He was taken into an elevator, and down into a basement, and then down a flight of stone steps into a deeper basement, and there was an iron door with a tiny slit an inch wide and six inches long near the top. This was the "hole," and the door was opened and Peter shoved inside into utter darkness. The door banged, and the bolts rattled; and then silence. Peter sank upon a cold stone floor, a bundle of abject and hideous misery.
These events had happened with such terrifying rapidity that Peter Gudge had hardly time to keep track of them. But now he had plenty of time, he had nothing but time. He could think the whole thing out, and realize the ghastly trick which fate had played upon him. He lay there, and time passed; he had no way of measuring it, no idea whether it was hours or days. It was cold and clammy in the stone cell; they called it the "cooler," and used it to reduce the temperature of the violent and intractable. It was a trouble-saving device; they just left the man there and forgot him, and his own tormented mind did the rest.
And surely no more tormented mind than the mind of Peter Gudge had ever been put in that black hole. It was the more terrible, because so utterly undeserved, so preposterous. For such a thing to happen to him, Peter Gudge, of all people—who took such pains to avoid discomfort in life, who was always ready to oblige anybody, to do anything he was told to do, so as to have'an easy time, a sufficiency of food, and a warm corner to crawl into! What could have persuaded fate to pick him for the victim of this cruel prank; to put him into this position, where he could not avoid suffering, no matter what he did? They wanted him to tell something, and Peter would have been perfectly willing to tell anything—but how could he tell it when he did not know it?
The more Peter thought about it, the more outraged he became. It was monstrous! He sat up and glared into the black darkness. He talked to himself, he talked to the world outside, to the universe which had forgotten his existence. He stormed, he wept. He got on his feet and flung himself about the cell, which was six feet square, and barely tall enough for him to stand erect. He pounded on the door with his one hand which Guffey had not lamed, he kicked, and he shouted. But there was no answer, and so far as he could tell, there was no one to hear.
When he had exhausted himself, he sank down, and fell into a haunted sleep; and then he wakened again, to a reality worse than any nightmare. That awful man was coming after him again! He was going to torture him, to make him tell what he did not know! All the ogres and all the demons that had ever been invented to frighten the imagination of children were as nothing compared to the image of the man called Guffey, as Peter thought of him.
Several ages after Peter had been locked up, he heard sounds outside, and the door was opened. Peter was cowering in the corner, thinking that Guffey had come. There was a scraping on the floor, and then the door was banged again, and silence fell. Peter investigated and discovered that they had put in a chunk of bread and a pan of water.
Then more ages passed, and Peter's impotent ragings were repeated; then once more they brought bread and water, and Peter wondered, was it twice a day they brought it, or was this a new day? And how long did they mean to keep him here? Did they mean to drive him mad? He asked these questions of the man who brought the bread and water, but the man made no answer, he never at any time spoke a word. Peter had no company in that "hole" but his God; and Peter was not well acquainted with his God, and did not enjoy a tete-a-tete with Him.
What troubled Peter most was the cold; it got into his bones, and his teeth were chattering all the time. Despite all his moving about, he could not keep warm. When the man opened the door, he cried out to him, begging for a blanket; each time the man came, Peter begged more frantically than ever. He was ill, he had been injured in the explosion, he needed a doctor, he was going to die! But there was never any answer. Peter would lie there and shiver and weep, and writhe, and babble, and lose consciousness for a while, and not know whether he was awake or asleep, whether he was living or dead. He was becoming delirious, and the things that were happening to him, the people who were tormenting him, became monsters and fiends who carried him away upon far journeys, and plunged him thru abysses of terror and torment.
And yet, many and strange as were the phantoms which Peter's sick imagination conjured up, there was no one of them as terrible as the reality which prevailed just then in the life of American City, and was determining the destiny of a poor little man by the name of Peter Gudge. There lived in American City a group of men who had taken possession of its industries and dominated the lives of its population. This group, intrenched in power in the city's business and also in its government, were facing the opposition of a new and rapidly rising power, that of organized labor, determined to break the oligarchy of business and take over its powers. The struggle of these two groups was coming to its culmination. They were like two mighty wrestlers, locked in a grip of death; two giants in combat, who tear up trees by the roots and break off fragments of cliffs from the mountains to smash in each other's skulls. And poor Peter—what was he? An ant which happened to come blundering across the ground where these combatants met. The earth was shaken with their trampling, the dirt was kicked this way and that, and the unhappy ant was knocked about, tumbled head over heels, buried in the debris; and suddenly—Smash!—a giant foot came down upon the place where he was struggling and gasping!
Peter had been in the "hole" perhaps three days, perhaps a week—he did not know, and no one ever told him. The door was opened again, and for the first time he heard a voice, "Come out here."
Peter had been longing to hear a voice; but now he shrunk terrified into a corner. The voice was the voice of Guffey, and Peter knew what it meant. His teeth began to rattle again, and he wailed, "I dunno anything! I can't tell anything!"
A hand reached in and took him by the collar, and he found himself walking down the corridor in front of Guffey. "Shut up!" said the man, in answer to all his wailings, and took him into a room and threw him into a chair as if he had been a bundle of bedding, and pulled up another chair and sat down in front of Peter.
"Now look here," he said. "I want to have an understanding with you. Do you want to go back into that hole again?"
"N-n-no," moaned Peter.
"Well, I want you to know that you'll spend the rest of your life in that hole, except when you're talking to me. And when you're talking to me you'll be having your arms twisted off you, and splinters driven into your finger nails, and your skin burned with matches—until you tell me what I want to know. Nobody's going to help you, nobody's going to know about it. You're going to stay here with me until you come across."
Peter could only sob and moan.
"Now," continued Guffey, "I been finding out all about you, I got your life story from the day you were born, and there's no use your trying to hide anything. I know your part in this here bomb plot, and I can send you to the gallows without any trouble whatever. But there's some things I can't prove on the other fellows. They're the big ones, the real devils, and they're the ones I want, so you've got a chance to save yourself, and you better be thankful for it."
Peter went on moaning and sobbing.
"Shut up!" cried the man. And then, fixing Peter's frightened gaze with his own, he continued, "Understand, you got a chance to save yourself. All you got to do is to tell what you know. Then you can come out and you won't have any more trouble. We'll take good care of you; everything'll be easy for you."
Peter continued to gaze like a fascinated rabbit. And such a longing as surged up in his soul—to be free, and out of trouble, and taken care of! If only he had known anything to tell; if only there was some way he could find out something to tell!
Suddenly the man reached out and grasped one of Peter's hands. He twisted the wrist again, the sore wrist which still ached from the torture. "Will you tell?"
"I'd tell if I could!" screamed Peter. "My God, how can I?"
"Don't lie to me," hissed the man. "I know about it now, you can't fool me. You know Jim Goober."
"I never heard of him!" wailed Peter.
"You lie!" declared the other, and he gave Peter's wrist a twist.
"Yes, yes, I know him!" shrieked Peter.
"Oh, that's more like it!" said the other. "Of course you know him. What sort of a looking man is he?"
"I—I dunno. He's a big man."
"You lie! You know he's a medium-sized man!"
"He's a medium-sized man."
"A dark man?"
"Yes, a dark man."
"And you know Mrs. Goober, the music teacher?"
"Yes, I know her."
"And you've been to her house?"
"Yes, I've been to her house."
"Where is their house?"
"I dunno—that is—"
"It's on Fourth Street?"
"Yes, it's on Fourth Street."
"And he hired you to carry that suit-case with the bombs in it, didn't he?"
"Yes, he hired me."
"And he told you what was in it, didn't he?"
"He—he—that is—I dunno."
"You don't know whether he told you?"
"Y-y-yes, he told me."
"You knew all about the plot, didn't you?"
"Y-y-yes, I knew."
"And you know Isaacs, the Jew?"
"Y-y-yes, I know him."
"He was the fellow that drove the jitney, wasn't he?"
"Y-y-yes, he drove the jitney."
"Where did he drive it?"
"H-h-he drove it everywhere."
"He drove it over here with the suit-case, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did."
"And you know Biddle, and you know what he did, don't you?"
"Yes, I know."
"And you're willing to tell all you know about it, are you?"
"Yes, I'll tell it all. I'll tell whatever you—"
"You'll tell whatever you know, will you?"
"And you'll stand by it? You'll not try to back out? You don't want to go back into the hole?"
And suddenly Guffey pulled from his pocket a paper folded up. It was several typewritten sheets. "Peter Gudge," he said, "I been looking up your record, and I've found out what you did in this case. You'll see when you read how perfectly I've got it. You won't find a single mistake in it." Guffey meant this for wit, but poor Peter was too far gone with terror to have any idea that there was such a thing as a smile in the world.
"This is your story, d'you see?" continued Guffey. "Now take it and read it."
So Peter took the paper in his trembling hand, the one which had not been twisted lame. He tried to read it, but his hand shook so that he had to put it on his knee, and then he discovered that his eyes had not yet got used to the light. He could not see the print. "I c-c-can't," he wailed.
And the other man took the paper from him. "I'll read it to you," he said. "Now you listen, and put your mind on it, and make sure I've got it all right."
And so Guffey started to read an elaborate legal document: "I, Peter Gudge, being duly sworn do depose and declare—" and so on. It was an elaborate and detailed story about a man named Jim Goober, and his wife and three other men, and how they had employed Peter to buy for them certain materials to make bombs, and how Peter had helped them to make the bombs in a certain room at a certain given address, and how they had put the bombs in a suit-case, with a time clock to set them off, and how Isaacs, the jitney driver, had driven them to a certain corner on Main Street, and how they had left the suit-case with the bombs on the street in front of the Preparedness Day parade.
It was very simple and clear, and Peter, as he listened, was almost ready to cry with delight, realizing that this was all he had to do to escape from his horrible predicament. He knew now what he was supposed to know; and he knew it. Why had not Guffey told him long ago, so that he might have known it without having his fingers bent out of place and his wrist twisted off?
"Now then," said Guffey, "that's your confession, is it?"
"Y-y-yes," said Peter.
"And you'll stand by it to the end?"
"We can count on you now? No more nonsense?"
"You swear it's all true?"
"And you won't let anybody persuade you to go back on it—no matter what they say to you?"
"N-n-no, sir," said Peter.
"All right," said Guffey; and his voice showed the relief of a business man who has closed an important deal. He became almost human as lie went on. "Now, Peter," he said, "you're our man, and we're going to count on you. You understand, of course, that we have to hold you as a witness, but you're not to be a prisoner, and we're going to treat you well. We'll put you in the hospital part of the jail, and you'll have good grub and nothing to do. In a week or so, we'll want you to appear before the grand jury. Meantime, you understand—not a word to a soul! People may try to worm something out of you, but don't you open your mouth about this case except to me. I'm your boss, and I'll tell you what to do, and I'll take care of you all the way. You got that all straight?"
"Y-y-yes, sir," said Peter.
There was once, so legend declares, a darky who said that he liked to stub his toe because it felt so good when it stopped hurting. On this same principle Peter had a happy time in the hospital of the American City jail. He had a comfortable bed, and plenty to eat, and absolutely nothing to do. His sore joints became gradually healed, and he gained half a pound a day in weight, and his busy mind set to work to study the circumstances about him, to find out how he could perpetuate these comfortable conditions, and add to them the little luxuries which make life really worth living.
In charge of this hospital was an old man by the name of Doobman. He had been appointed because he was the uncle of an alderman, and he had held the job for the last six years, and during that time had gained weight almost as rapidly as Peter was gaining. He had now come to a condition where he did not like to get out of his armchair if it could be avoided. Peter discovered this, and so found it possible to make himself useful in small ways. Also Mr. Doobman had a secret vice; he took snuff, and for the sake of discipline he did not want this dreadful fact to become known. Therefore he would wait until everybody's back was turned before he took a pinch of snuff; and Peter learned this, and would tactfully turn his back.
Everybody in this hospital had some secret vice, and it was Mr. Doobman's duty to repress the vices of the others. The inmates of the hospital included many of the prisoners who had money, and could pay to make themselves comfortable. They wanted tobacco, whiskey, cocaine and other drugs, and some of them wanted a chance to practice unnamable horrors. All the money they could smuggle in they were ready to spend for license to indulge themselves. As for the attendants in the hospital, they were all political appointees, derelicts who had been unable to hold a job in the commercial world, and had sought an easy berth, like Peter himself. They took bribes, and were prepared to bribe Peter to outwit Mr. Doobman; Mr. Doobman, on the other hand, was prepared to reward Peter with many favors, if Peter would consent to bring him secret information. In such a situation it was possible for a man with his wits about him to accumulate quite a little capital.
For the most part Peter stuck by Doobman; having learned by bitter experience that in the long run it pays to be honest. Doobman was referred to by the other attendants as the "Old Man"; and always in Peter's life, from the very dawn of childhood, there had been some such "Old Man," the fountain-head of authority, the dispenser of creature comforts. First had been "Old Man" Drubb, who from early morning until late at night wore green spectacles, and a sign across his chest, "I am blind," and made a weary little child lead him thru the streets by the hand. At night, when they got home to their garret-room, "Old Man" Drubb would take off his green goggles, and was perfectly able to see Peter, and if Peter had made the slightest mistake during the day he would beat him.
When Drubb was arrested, Peter was taken to the orphan asylum, and there was another "Old Man," and the same harsh lesson of subservience to be learned. Peter had run away from the asylum; and then had come Pericles Priam with his Pain Paralyzer, and Peter had studied his whims and served his interests. When Pericles had married a rich widow and she had kicked Peter out, there had come the Temple of Jimjambo, where the "Old Man" had been Tushbar Akrogas, the major-domo—terrible when he was thwarted, but a generous dispenser of favors when once you had learned to flatter him, to play upon his weaknesses, to smooth the path of his pleasures. All these years Peter had been forced to "crook the pregnant hinges of the knee"; it had become an instinct with him—an instinct that went back far behind the twenty years of his conscious life, that went back twenty thousand years, perhaps ten times twenty thousand years, to a time when Peter had chipped flint spear-heads at the mouth of some cave, and broiled marrow-bones for some "Old Man" of the borde, and seen rebellious young fellows cast out to fall prey to the sabre-tooth tiger.
Peter found that he was something of a personality in this hospital. He was the "star" witness in the sensational Goober case, about which the whole city, and in fact the whole country was talking. It was known that he had "turned State's"; but just what he knew and what he had told was a mighty secret, and Peter "held his mouth" and looked portentous, and enjoyed thrills of self-importance.
But meantime there was no reason why he should not listen to others talk; no reason why he should not inform himself fully about this case, so that in future he might be able to take care of himself. He listened to what "Old Man" Doobman had to say, and to what Jan Christian, his Swedish assistant had to say, and to what Gerald Leslie, the "coke" fiend, had to say. All these, and others, had friends on the outside, people who were "in the know." Some told one thing, and others told exactly the opposite; but Peter put this and that together, and used his own intrigue-sharpened wits upon it, and before long he was satisfied that he had got the facts.
Jim Goober was a prominent labor leader. He had organized the employees of the Traction Trust, and had called and led a tremendous strike. Also he had called building strikes, and some people said he had used dynamite upon uncompleted buildings, and made a joke of it. Anyhow, the business men of the city wanted to put him where he could no longer trouble them; and when some maniac unknown had flung a dynamite bomb into the path of the Preparedness parade, the big fellows of the city had decided that now was the opportunity they were seeking. Guffey, the man who had taken charge of Peter, was head of the secret service of the Traction Trust, and the big fellows had put him in complete charge. They wanted action, and would take no chances with the graft-ridden and incompetent police of the city. They had Goober in jail, with his wife and three of his gang, and thru the newspapers of the city they were carrying on a propaganda to prepare the public for the hanging of all five.
And that was all right, of course; Jim Goober was only a name to Peter, and of less importance than a single one of Peter's meals. Peter understood what Guffey had done, and his only grudge was because Guffey had not had the sense to tell him his story at the beginning, instead of first nearly twisting his arm off. However, Peter reflected, no doubt Guffey had meant to teach him a lesson, to make sure of him. Peter had learned the lesson, and his purpose now was to make this clear to Guffey and to Doobman.
"Hold your mouth," Guffey had said, and Peter never once said a word about the Goober case. But, of course, he talked about other matters. A fellow could not go around like a mummy all day long, and it was Peter's weakness that he liked to tell about his exploits, the clever devices by which he had outwitted his last "Old Man." So to Gerald Leslie, the "coke" fiend, he told the story of Pericles Priam, and how many thousands of dollars he had helped to wheedle out of the public, and how twice he and Pericles bad been arrested for swindling. Also he told about the Temple of Jimjambo, and all the strange and incredible things that had gone on there. Pashtian el Kalandra, who called himself the Chief Magistrian of Eleutherinian Exoticism, gave himself out to his followers to be eighty years of age, but as a matter of fact he was less than forty. He was supposed to be a Persian prince, but had been born in a small town in Indiana, and had begun life as a grocer-boy. He was supposed to live upon a handful of fruit, but every day it had been Peter's job to assist in the preparation of a large beef-steak or a roast chicken. These were "for sacrificial purposes," so the prophet explained to his attendants; and Peter would get the remains of the sacrificial beef-steaks and chickens, and would sacrificially devour them behind the pantry door. That had been one of his private grafts, which he got in return for keeping secret from the prophet some of the stealings of Tushbar Akrogas, the major-domo.
A wonderful place had been this Temple of Jimjambo. There were mystic altars with seven veils before them, and thru these the Chief Magistrian would appear, clad in a long cream-colored robe with gold and purple borders, and with pink embroidered slippers and symbolic head-dress. His lectures and religious rites had been attended by hundreds—many of them rich society women, who came rolling up to the temple in their limousines. Also there had been a school, where children had been initiated into the mystic rites of the cult. The prophet would take these children into his private apartments, and there were awful rumors—which had ended in the raiding of the temple by the police, and the flight of the prophet, and likewise of the majordomo, and of Peter Gudge, his scullion and confederate.
Also, Peter thought it was fun to tell Gerald Leslie about his adventures with the Holy Rollers, into whose church he had drifted during his search for a job. Peter had taken up with this sect, and learned the art of "talking in tongues," and how to fall over the back of your chair in convulsions of celestial glory. Peter had gained the confidence of the Rev. Gamaliel Lunk, and had been secretly employed by him to carry on a propaganda among the congregation to obtain a raise in salary for the underpaid convulsionist. But certain things which Peter had learned had caused him to go over to the faction of Shoemaker Smithers, who was trying to persuade the congregation that he could roll harder and faster than the Rev. Gamaliel. Peter had only held this latter job a few days before he had been fired for stealing the fried doughnut.
All these things and more Peter told; thinking that he was safe now, under the protection of authority. But after he had spent about two months in the hospital, he was summoned one day into the office, and there stood Guffey, glowering at him in a black fury. "You damned fool!" were Guffey's first words.
Peter's knees went weak and his teeth began to chatter again. "Wh-wh-what?" he cried.
"Didn't I tell you to hold your mouth?" And Guffey looked as if he were going to twist Peter's wrist again.
"Mr. Guffey, I ain't told a soul! I ain't said one word about the Goober case, not one word!"
Peter rushed on, pouring out protests. But Guffey cut him short. "Shut up, you nut! Maybe you didn't talk about the Goober case, but you talked about yourself. Didn't you tell somebody you'd worked with that fellow Kalandra?"
"And you knew the police were after him, and after you, too?"
"And you said you'd been arrested selling fake patent medicines?"
"Christ almighty!" cried Guffey. "And what kind of a witness do you think you'll make?"
"But," cried Peter in despair, "I didn't tell anybody that would matter. I only—"
"What do you know what would matter?" roared the detective, adding a stream of furious oaths. "The Goober people have got spies on us; they've got somebody right here in this jail. Anyhow, they've found out about you and your record. You've gone and ruined us with your blabbing mouth!"
"My Lord!" whispered Peter, his voice dying away.
"Look at yourself on a witness-stand! Look at what they'll do to you before a jury! Traveling over the country, swindling people with patent medicines—and getting in jail for it! Working for that hell-blasted scoundrel Kalandra—" and Guffey added some dreadful words, descriptive of the loathsome vices of which the Chief Magistrian had been accused. "And you mixed up in that kind of thing!"
"I never done anything like that!" cried Peter wildly. "I didn't even know for sure."
"Tell that to the jury!" sneered Guffey. "Why, they've even been to that Shoemaker Smithers, and they'll put his wife on the stand to prove you a sneak thief, and tell how she kicked you out. And all because you couldn't hold your mouth as I told you to!"
Peter burst into tears. He fell down on his knees, pleading that he hadn't meant any harm; he hadn't had any idea that he was not supposed to talk about his past life; he hadn't realized what a witness was, or what he was supposed to do. All he had been told was to keep quiet about the Goober case, and he had kept quiet. So Peter sobbed and pleaded—but in vain. Guffey ordered him back to the hole, declaring his intention to prove that Peter was the one who had thrown the bomb, and that Peter, instead of Jim Goober, had been the head and front of the conspiracy. Hadn't Peter signed a confession that he had helped to make the bomb?
Again Peter did not know how long he lay shivering in the black dungeon. He only knew that they brought him bread and water three times, before Guffey came again and summoned him forth. Peter now sat huddled into a chair, twisting his trembling hands together, while the chief detective of the Traction Trust explained to him his new program. Peter was permanently ruined as a witness in the case. The labor conspirators had raised huge sums for their defense; they had all the labor unions of the city, and in fact of the entire country behind them, and they were hiring spies and informers, and trying to find out all they could about the prosecution, the evidence it had collected and the moves it was preparing. Guffey did not say that he had been afraid to kick Peter out because of the possibility that Peter might go over to the Goober side and tell all he knew; but Peter guessed this while he sat listening to Guffey's explanation, and realized with a thrill of excitement that at last he had really got a hold upon the ladder of prosperity. Not in vain had his finger been almost broken and his wrist almost dislocated!
"Now," said Guffey, "here's my idea: As a witness you're on the bum, but as a spy, you're it. They know that you blabbed, and that I know it; they know I've had you in the hole. So now what I want to do is to make a martyr of you. D'you see?"
Peter nodded; yes, he saw. It was his specialty, seeing things like that.
"You're an honest witness, you understand? I tried to get you to lie, and you wouldn't, so now you go over to the other side, and they take you in, and you find out all you can, and from time to time you meet somebody as I'll arrange it, and send me word what you've learned. You get me?"
"I get you," said Peter, eagerly. No words could portray his relief. He had a real job now! He was going to be a sleuth, like Guffey himself.
"Now," said Guffey, "the first thing I want to know is, who's blabbing in this jail; we can't do anything but they get tipped off. I've got witnesses that I want kept hidden, and I don't dare put them here for fear of the Goober crowd. I want to know who are the traitors. I want to know a lot of things that I'll tell you from time to time. I want you to get next to these Reds, and learn about their ideas, so you can talk their lingo.
"Sure," said Peter. He could not help smiling a little. He was supposed to be a "Red" already, to have been one of their leading conspirators. But Guffey had abandoned that pretence—or perhaps had forgotten about it!
It was really an easy job that Peter had set before him. He did not have to pretend to be anything different from what he was. He would call himself a victim of circumstances, and would be honestly indignant against those who had sought to use him in a frame-up against Jim Goober. The rest would follow naturally. He would get the confidence of the labor people, and Guffey would tell him what to do next.
"We'll put you in one of the cells of this jail," said the chief detective, "and we'll pretend to give you a 'third degree.' You'll holler and make a fuss, and say you won't tell, and finally we'll give up and kick you out. And then all you have to do is just hang around. They'll come after you, or I miss my guess."
So the little comedy was arranged and played thru. Guffey took Peter by the collar and led him out into the main part of the jail, and locked him in one of a row of open cells. He grabbed Peter by the wrist and pretended to twist it, and Peter pretended to protest. He did not have to draw on his imagination; he knew how it felt, and how he was supposed to act, and he acted. He sobbed and screamed, and again and again he vowed that he had told the truth, that he knew nothing else than what he had told, and that nothing could make him tell any more. Guffey left him there until late the next afternoon, and then came again, and took him by the collar, and led him out to the steps of the jail, and gave him a parting kick.
Peter was free! What a wonderful sensation—freedom! God! Had there ever been anything like it? He wanted to shout and howl with joy. But instead he staggered along the street, and sank down upon a stone coping, sobbing, with his head clasped in his hands, waiting for something to happen. And sure enough, it happened. Perhaps an hour passed, when he was touched lightly on the shoulder. "Comrade," said a soft voice, and Peter, looking between his fingers, saw the skirts of a girl. A folded slip of paper was pressed into his hand and the soft voice said: "Come to this address." The girl walked on, and Peter's heart leaped with excitement. Peter was a sleuth at last!
Peter waited until after dark, in order to indulge his sense of the romantic; also he flattered his self-importance by looking carefully about him as he walked down the street. He did not know just who would be shadowing him, but Peter wanted to be sleuthy.
Also he had a bit of genuine anxiety. He had told the truth when he said to Guffey that he didn't know what a "Red" was; but since then he had been making in quiries, and now he knew. A "Red" was a fellow who sympathized with labor unions and with strikes; who wanted to murder the rich and divide their property, and believed that the quickest way to do the dividing was by means of dynamite. All "Reds" made bombs, and carried concealed weapons, and perhaps secret poisons—who could tell? And now Peter was going among them, he was going to become one of them! It was almost too interesting, for a fellow who aimed above everything to be comfortable. Something in him whispered, "Why not skip; get out of town and be done with it?" But then he thought of the rewards and honors that Guffey had promised him. Also there was the spirit of curiosity; he might skip at any time, but first he would like to know a bit more about being a "dick."
He came to the number which had been given him, a tiny bungalow in a poor neighborhood, and rang the doorbell. It was answered by a girl, and at a glance Peter saw that it was the girl who had spoken to him. She did not wait for him to announce himself, but cried impulsively, "Mr. Gudge! Oh, I'm so glad you've come!" She added, "Comrade!"—just as if Peter were a well-known friend. And then, "But are you a comrade?"
"How do you mean?" asked Peter.
"You're not a Socialist? Well, we'll make one of you." She brought him in and showed him to a chair, saying, "I know what they did to you; and you stood out against them! Oh, you were wonderful! Wonderful!"
Peter was at a loss what to say. There was in this girl's voice a note of affection, as well as of admiration; and Peter in his hard life had had little experience with emotions of this sort. Peter had watched the gushings and excitements of girls who were seeking flirtations; but this girl's attitude he felt at once was not flirtatious. Her voice tho soft, was just a trifle too solemn for a young girl; her deep-set, wistful grey eyes rested on Peter with the solicitude of a mother whose child has just escaped a danger.
She called: "Sadie, here's Mr. Gudge." And there entered another girl, older, taller, but thin and pale like her sister. Jennie and Sadie Todd were their names, Peter learned; the older was a stenographer, and supported the family. The two girls were in a state of intense concern. They started to question Peter about his experiences, but he had only talked for a minute or two before the elder went to the telephone. There were various people who must see Peter at once, important people who were to be notified as soon as he turned up. She spent some time at the phone, and the people she talked with must have phoned to others, because for the next hour or two there was a constant stream of visitors coming in, and Peter had to tell his story over and over again.
The first to come was a giant of a man with tight-set mouth and so powerful a voice that it frightened Peter. He was not surprised to learn that this man was the leader of one of the most radical of the city's big labor unions, the seamen's. Yes, he was a "Red," all right; he corresponded to Peter's imaginings—a grim, dangerous man, to be pictured like Samson, seizing the pillars of society and pulling them down upon his head. "They've got you scared, my boy," he said, noting Peter's hesitating answers to his questions. "Well, they've had me scared for forty-five years, but I've never let them know it yet." Then, in order to cheer Peter up and strengthen his nerves, he told how he, a runaway seaman, had been hunted thru the Everglades of Florida with bloodhounds, and tied to a tree and beaten into insensibility.
Then came David Andrews, whom Peter had heard of as one of the lawyers in the Goober case, a tall, distinguished-looking man with keen, alert features. What was such a man doing among these outcasts? Peter decided that he must be one of the shrewd ones who made money out of inciting the discontented. Then came a young girl, frail and sensitive, slightly crippled. As she crossed the room to shake his hand tears rolled down her cheeks, and Peter stood embarrassed, wondering if she had just lost a near relative, and what was he to say about it. From her first words he gathered, to his great consternation, that she had been moved to tears by the story of what he himself had endured.
Ada Ruth was a poet, and this was a new type for Peter; after much groping in his mind he set her down for one of the dupes of the movement—a poor little sentimental child, with no idea of the wickedness by which she was surrounded. With her came a Quaker boy with pale, ascetic face and black locks which he had to shake back from his eyes every now and then; he wore a Windsor tie, and a black felt hat, and other marks of eccentricity and from his speeches Peter gathered that he was ready to blow up all the governments of the world in the interests of Pacificism. The same was true of McCormick, an I. W. W. leader who had just served sixty days in jail, a silent young Irishman with drawn lips and restless black eyes, who made Peter uneasy by watching him closely and saying scarcely a word.
They continued to come, one at a time or in groups; old women and young women, old men and young men, fanatics and dreamers, agitators who could hardly open their mouths without some white-hot words escaping, revealing a blaze of passion smouldering in the deeps of them. Peter became more and more uneasy, realizing that he was actually in the midst of all the most dangerous "Reds" of American City. They it was whom our law-abiding citizens dreaded, who were the objects of more concern to the police than all the plain, everyday burglars and bandits. Peter now could see the reason—he had not dreamed that such angry and hate-tormented people existed in the world. Such people would be capable of anything! He sat, with his restless eyes wandering from one face to another. Which one of this crowd had helped to set off the bomb? And would they boast about it to him this evening?
Peter half expected this; but then again, he wondered. They were such strange criminals! They called him "Comrade"; and they spoke with that same affection that had so bewildered him in little Jennie. Was this just a ruse to get his confidence, or did these people really think that they loved him—Peter Gudge, a stranger and a secret enemy? Peter had been at great pains to fool them; but they seemed to him so easy to fool that his pains were wasted. He despised them for this, and all the while he listened to them he was saying to himself, "The poor nuts!"
They had come to hear his story, and they plied him with questions, and made him tell over and over again every detail. Peter, of course, had been carefully instructed; he was not to mention the elaborate confession he had been made to sign; that would be giving too dangerous a weapon to these enemies of law and order. He must tell as brief a story as possible; how he had happened to be near the scene of the explosion, and how the police had tried to force him to admit that he knew something about the case. Peter told this, according to orders; but he had not been prepared for the minute questioning to which he was subjected by Andrews, the lawyer, aided by old John Durand, the leader of the seamen. They wanted to know everything that had been done to him, and who had done it, and how and when and where and why. Peter had a sense of the dramatic, and enjoyed being the center of attention and admiration, even tho it was from a roomful of criminal "Reds." So he told all the picturesque details of how Guffey had twisted his wrist and shut him in a dungeon; the memory of the pain was still poignant, and came out of him now, with a realism that would have moved a colder group.
So pretty soon here were all these women sobbing and raging. Little Ada Ruth became inspired, and began reciting a poem—or was she composing it right here, before his eyes? She seemed entranced with indignation. It was something about the workers arising—the outcry of a mob—
"No further patience with a heedless foe— Get off our backs, or else to hell you go!"
Peter listened, and thought to himself, "The poor nut!" And then Donald Gordon, the Quaker boy, took the floor, and began shaking his long black locks, and composing a speech, it seemed. And Peter listened, and thought again, "The poor nut!" Then another man, the editor of a labor journal, revealed the fact that he was composing an editorial; he knew Guffey, and was going to publish Guffey's picture, and brand him as an "Inquisitionist." He asked for Peter's picture, and Peter agreed to have one taken, and to be headlined as "The Inquisitionist's Victim." Peter had no idea what the long word meant; but he assented, and thought again, "The poor nut!" All of them were "nuts"—taking other people's troubles with such excitement!
But Peter was frightened, too; he couldn't altogether enjoy being a hero, in this vivid and startling fashion; having his name and fame spread from one end of the country to the other, so that organized labor might know the methods which the great traction interests of American City were employing to send a well-known labor leader to the gallows! The thing seemed to grow and grow before Peter's frightened eyes. Peter, the ant, felt the earth shaking, and got a sudden sense of the mountain size of the mighty giants who were stamping in combat over his head. Peter wondered, had Guffey realized what a stir his story would make, what a powerful weapon he was giving to his enemies? What could Guffey expect to get from Peter, to compensate for this damage to his own case? Peter, as he listened to the stormy oratory in the crowded little room, found himself thinking again and again of running away. He had never seen anything like the rage into which these people worked themselves, the terrible things they said, the denunciations, not merely of the police of American City, but of the courts and the newspapers, the churches and the colleges, everything that seemed respectable and sacred to law-abiding citizens like Peter Gudge.
Peter's fright became apparent. But why shouldn't he be frightened? Andrews, the lawyer, offered to take him away and hide him, lest the opposition should try to make way with him. Peter would be a most important witness for the Goober defense, and they must take good care of him. But Peter recovered his self-possession, and took up his noble role. No, he would take his chances with the rest of them, he was not too much afraid.
Sadie Todd, the stenographer, rewarded him for his heroism. They had a spare bedroom in their little home, and if Peter cared to stay with them for a while, they would try to make him comfortable. Peter accepted this invitation, and at a late hour in the evening the gathering broke up. The various groups of "Reds" went their way, their hands clenched and their faces portraying a grim resolve to make out of Peter's story a means of lashing discontented labor to new frenzies of excitement. The men clasped Peter's hand cordially; the ladies gazed at him with soulful eyes, and whispered their admiration for his brave course, their hope, indeed their conviction, that he would stand by the truth to the end, and would study their ideas and join their "movement." All the while Peter watched them, and continued saying to himself: "The poor nuts!"
The respectable newspapers of American City of course did not waste their space upon fantastic accusations brought by radicals, charging the police authorities with using torture upon witnesses. But there was a Socialist paper published every week in American City, and this paper had a long account of Peter's experiences on the front page, together with his picture. Also there were three labor papers which carried the story, and the Goober Defense Committee prepared a circular about it and mailed out thousands of copies all over the country. This circular was written by Donald Gordon, the Quaker boy. He brought Peter a proof of it, to make sure that he had got all the details right, and Peter read it, and really could not help being thrilled to discover what a hero he was. Peter had not said anything about his early career, and whoever among the Goober Defense Committee had learned those details chose to be diplomatically silent. Peter smiled to himself as he thought about that. They were foxy, these people! They were playing their hand for all it was worth—and Peter admired them for that. In Donald Gordon's narrative Peter appeared as a poor workingman; and Peter grinned. He was used to the word "working," but when he talked about "working people," he meant something different from what these Socialists meant.
The story went out, and of course all sorts of people wanted to meet Peter, and came to the home of the Todd girls. So Peter settled down to his job of finding out all he could about these visitors, their names and occupations, their relations to the radical movement. Guffey had advised him not to make notes, for fear of detection, but Peter could not carry all this in his head, so he would retire to his room and make minute notes on slips of paper, and carefully sew these up in the lining of his coat, with a thrill of mystery.
Except for this note-taking, however, Peter's sleuthing was easy work, for these people all seemed eager to talk about what they were doing; sometimes it frightened Peter—they were so open and defiant! Not merely did they express their ideas to one another and to him, they were expressing them on public platforms, and in their publications, in pamphlets and in leaflets—what they called "literature." Peter had had no idea their "movement" was so widespread or so powerful. He had expected to unearth a secret conspiracy, and perhaps a dynamite-bomb or two; instead of which, apparently, he was unearthing a volcano!
However, Peter did the best he could. He got the names and details about some forty or fifty people of all classes; obscure workingmen and women, Jewish tailors, Russian and Italian cigar-workers, American-born machinists and printers; also some "parlor Reds"—large, immaculate and shining ladies who came rolling up to the little bungalow in large, immaculate and shining automobiles, and left their uniformed chauffeurs outside for hours at a time while they listened to Peter's story of his "third degree." One benevolent lady with a flowing gray veil, who wafted a sweet perfume about the room, suggested that Peter might be in need, and pressed a twenty dollar bill into his hand. Peter, thrilled, but also bewildered, got a new sense of the wonders of this thing called "the movement," and decided that when Guffey got thru with him he might turn into a "Red" in earnest for a while.
Meantime he settled down to make himself comfortable with the Todd sisters. Sadie went off to her work before eight o'clock every morning, and that was before Peter got up; but Jennie stayed at home, and fixed his breakfast, and opened the door for his visitors, and in general played the hostess for him. She was a confirmed invalid; twice a week she went off to a doctor to have something done to her spine, and the balance of the time she was supposed to be resting, but Peter very seldom saw her doing this. She was always addressing circulars, or writing letters for the "cause," or going off to sell literature and take up collections at meetings. When she was not so employed, she was arguing with somebody—frequently with Peter—trying to make him think as she did.
Poor kid, she was all wrought up over the notions she had got about the wrongs of the working classes. She gave herself no peace about it, day or night, and this, of course, was a bore to Peter, who wanted peace above all things. Over in Europe millions of men were organized in armies, engaged in slaughtering one another. That, of course, was, very terrible, but what was the good of thinking about it? There was no way to stop it, and it certainly wasn't Peter's fault. But this poor, deluded child was acting all the time as if she were to blame for this European conflict, and had the job of bringing it to a close. The tears would come into her deep-set grey eyes, and her soft chin would quiver with pain whenever she talked about it; and it seemed to Peter she was talking about it all the time. It was her idea that the war must be stopped by uprisings on the part of the working people in Europe. Apparently she thought this might be hastened if the working people of American City would rise up and set an example!
Jennie talked about this plan quite openly; she would put a red ribbon in her hair, and pin a red badge on her bosom, and go into meeting-places and sell little pamphlets with red covers. So, of course, it would be Peter's duty to report her to the head of the secret service of the Traction Trust. Peter regretted this, and was ashamed of having to do it; she was a nice little girl, and pretty, too, and a fellow might have had some fun with her if she had not been in such a hysterical state. He would sit and look at her, as she sat bent over her typewriter. She had soft, fluffy hair, the color of twilight, and even white teeth, and a faint flush that came and went in her cheeks—yes, she would not be bad looking at all, if only she would straighten up, and spend a little time on her looks, as other girls did.
But no, she was always in a tension, and the devil of it was, she was trying to get Peter into the same state. She was absolutely determined that Peter must get wrought up over the wrongs of the working classes. She took it for granted that he would, when he was instructed. She would tell him harrowing stories, and it was his duty to be duly harrowed; he must be continually acting an emotional part. She would give him some of her "literature" to read, and then she would pin him down and make sure that he had read it. He knew how to read—Pericles Priam had seen to that, because he wanted him to attend to the printing of his circulars and his advertisements in the country newspapers where he was traveling. So now Peter was penned in a corner and compelled to fix his attention upon "The A. B. C. of Socialism," or "Capital and Proletariat," or "The Path to Power."
Peter told himself that it was part of his job to acquire this information. He was going to be a "Red," and he must learn their lingo; but he found it awfully tiresome, full of long technical words which he had never heard before. Why couldn't these fellows at least talk American? He had known that there were Socialists, and also "Arnychists," as he called them, and he thought they were all alike. But now he learned, not merely about Socialists and "Arnychists," but about State Socialists and Communist Anarchists, and Communist Syndicalists and Syndicalist Anarchists and Socialist Syndicalists, and Reformist Socialists and Guild Socialists, to say nothing about Single Taxers and Liberals and Progressives and numerous other varieties, whom he had to meet and classify and listen to respectfully and sympathetically. Each particular group insisted upon the distinctions which made it different, and each insisted that it had the really, truly truth; and Peter became desperately bored with their everlasting talk—how much more simple to lump them all together, as did Guffey and McGivney, calling them all "Reds!"
Peter had got it clearly fixed in his mind that what these "Reds" wanted was to divide up the property of the rich. Everyone he had questioned about them had said this. But now he learned that this wasn't it exactly. What they wanted was to have the State take over the industries, or to have the labor unions do it, or to have the working people in general do it. They pointed to the post office and the army and the navy, as examples of how the State could run things. Wasn't that all right? demanded Jennie. And Peter said Yes, that was all right; but hidden back in Peter's soul all the time was a whisper that it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference. There was a sucker born every minute, and you might be sure that no matter how they fixed it up, there would always be some that would find it easy to live off the rest. This poor kid, for example, who was ready to throw herself away for any fool notion, or for anybody that came along and told her a hard-luck story—would there ever be a state of society in which she wouldn't be a juicy morsel to be gobbled up by some fellow with a normal appetite?
She was alone in the house all day with Peter, and she got to seem more and more pretty as he got to know her better. Also it was evident that she liked Peter more and more as Peter played his game. Peter revealed himself as deeply sympathetic, and a quick convert to the cause; he saw everything that Jennie explained to him, he was horrified at the horrible stories, he was ready to help her end the European war by starting a revolution among the working people of American City. Also, he told her about himself, and awakened her sympathy for his harsh life, his twenty years of privation and servitude; and when she wept over this, Peter liked it. It was fine, somehow, to have her so sorry for him; it helped to compensate him for the boredom of hearing her be sorry for the whole working class.
Peter didn't know whether Jennie had learned about his bad record, but he took no chances—he told her everything, and thus took the sting out of it. Yes, he had been trapped into evil ways, but it wasn't his fault, he hadn't known any better, he had been a pitiful victim of circumstances. He told how he had been starved and driven about and beaten by "Old Man" Drubb, and the tears glistened in Jennie's grey eyes and stole down her cheeks. He told about loneliness and heartsickness and misery in the orphan asylum. And how could he, poor lad, realize that it was wrong to help Pericles Priam sell his Peerless Pain Paralyzer? How could he know whether the medicine was any good or not—he didn't even know now, as a matter of fact. As for the Temple of Jimjambo, all that Peter had done was to wash dishes and work as a kitchen slave, as in any hotel or restaurant.
It was a story easy to fix up, and especially easy because the first article in the creed of Socialist Jennie was that economic circumstances were to blame for human frailties. That opened the door for all varieties of grafters, and made the child such an easy mark that Peter would have been ashamed to make a victim of her, had it not been that she happened to stand in the path of his higher purposes—and also that she happened to be young, only seventeen, with tender grey eyes, and tempting, sweet lips, alone there in the house all day.
Peter's adventures in love had so far been pretty much of a piece with the rest of his life experiences; there had been hopes, and wonderful dreams, but very few realizations. Peter knew a lot about such matters; in the orphan asylum there were few vicious practices which he did not witness, few obscene imaginings with which he was not made familiar. Also, Pericles Priam had been a man like the traditional sailor, with a girl in every port; and generally in these towns and villages there had been no place for Peter to go save where Pericles went, so Peter had been the witness of many of his master's amours and the recipient of his confidences. But none of these girls and women had paid any attention to Peter. Peter was only a "kid"; and when he grew up and was no longer a kid, but a youth tormented with sharp desires, they still paid no attention to him—why should they? Peter was nothing; he had no position, no money, no charms; he was frail and undersized, his teeth were crooked, and one shoulder higher than the other. What could he expect from women and girls but laughter and rebuffs?
Then Peter moved on to the Temple of Jimjambo, and there a devastating experience befell him—he tumbled head over heels and agonizingly in love. There was a chambermaid in the institution, a radiant creature from the Emerald Isles with hair like sunrise and cheeks like apples, and a laugh that shook the dish-pans on the kitchen walls. She laughed at Peter, she laughed at the major-domo, she laughed at all the men in the place who tried to catch her round the waist. Once or twice a month perhaps she would let them succeed, just to keep them interested, and to keep herself in practice.
The only one she really favored was the laundry deliveryman, and Peter soon realized why. This laundry fellow had the use of an automobile on Sundays, and Nell would dress herself up to kill, and roll away in state with him. He would spend all his week's earnings entertaining her at the beach; Peter knew, because she would tell the whole establishment on Monday morning. "Gee, but I had a swell time!" she would say; and would count the ice-creams and the merry-go-rounds and the whirly-gigs and all the whang-doodle things. She would tell about the tattooed men and the five-legged calf and the woman who was half man, and all the while she would make the dishpans rattle.
Yes, she was a marvelous creature, and Peter suddenly realized that his ultimate desire in life was to possess a "swell lady-friend" like Nell. He realized that there was one essential prerequisite, and that was money. None of them would look at you without money. Nell had gone out with him only once, and that was upon the savings of six months, and Peter had not been able to conceal the effort it cost him to spend it all. So he had been set down as a "tight-wad," and had made no headway.
Nell had disappeared, along with everybody else when the police raided the Temple. Peter never knew what had become of her, but the old longings still haunted him, and he would find himself imagining—suppose the police had got her; suppose she were in jail, and he with his new "pull" were able to get her out, and carry her away and keep her hid from the laundry man!
These were dreams; but meantime here was reality, here was a new world. Peter had settled down in the home of the Todd sisters; and what was their attitude toward these awful mysteries of love?
It had been arranged with Guffey that at the end of a week Peter was to have a secret meeting with one of the chief detective's men. So Peter told the girls that he was tired of being a prisoner in the house and must get some fresh air.
"Oh please, Mr. Gudge, don't take such a chance!" cried Sadie, her thin, anxious face suddenly growing more anxious and thin. "Don't you know this house is being watched? They are just hoping to catch you out alone. It would be the last of you."
"I'm not so important as that," said Peter; but she insisted that he was, and Peter was pleased, in spite of his boredom, he liked to hear her insist upon his importance.
"Oh!" she cried. "Don't you know yet how much depends on you as a witness for the Goober defense? This case is of concern to millions of people all over the world! It is a test case, Mr. Gudge—are they to be allowed to murder the leaders of the working class without a struggle? No, we must show them that there is a great movement, a world-wide awakening of the workers, a struggle for freedom for the wage slaves—"
But Peter could stand no more of this. "All right," he said, suddenly interrupting Sadie's eloquence. "I suppose it's my duty to stay, even if I die of consumption, being shut up without any fresh air." He would play the martyr; which was not so hard, for he was one, and looked like one, with his thin, one-sided little figure, and his shabby clothes. Both Sadie and Jennie gazed at him with admiration, and sighed with relief.
But later on, Peter thought of an idea. He could go out at night, he told Sadie, and slip out the back way, so that no one would see him; he would not go into crowds or brightly lighted streets, so there would be no chance of his being recognized. There was a fellow he absolutely had to see, who owed him some money; it was way over on the other side of the city—that was why he rejected Jennie's offer to accompany him.
So that evening Peter climbed a back fence and stole thru a neighbor's chicken-yard and got away. He had a fine time ducking and dodging in the crowds, making sure that no one was trailing him to his secret rendezvous—no "Red" who might chance to be suspicious of his "comradeship." It was in the "American House," an obscure hotel, and Peter was to take the elevator to the fourth floor, without speaking to any one, and to tap three times on the door of Room 427. Peter did so, and the door opened, and he slipped in, and there he met Jerry McGivney, with the face of a rat.
"Well, what have you got?" demanded McGivney; and Peter sat down and started to tell. With eager fingers he undid the amateur sewing in the lining of his coat, and pulled out his notes with the names and descriptions of people who had come to see him.
McGivney glanced over them quickly. "Jesus!" he said, "What's the good of all this?"
"Well, but they're Reds!" exclaimed Peter.
"I know," said the other, "but what of that? We can go hear them spout at meetings any night. We got membership lists of these different organizations. But what about the Goober case?"
"Well," said Peter, "they're agitating about it all the time; they've been printing stuff about me."
"Sure, we know that," said McGivney. "And the hell of a fine story you gave them; you must have enjoyed hearing yourself talk. But what good does that do us?"
"But what do you want to know?" cried Peter, in dismay.
"We want to know their secret plans," said the other. "We want to know what they're doing to get our witnesses; we want to know who it is that is selling us out, who's the spy in the jail. Didn't you find that out?"
"N-no," said Peter. "Nobody said anything about it."
"Good God!" said the detective. "D'you expect them to bring you things on a silver tray?" He began turning over Peter's notes again, and finally threw them on the bed in disgust. He began questioning Peter, and Peter's dismay turned to despair. He had not got a single thing that McGivney wanted. His whole week of "sleuthing" had been wasted!
The detective did not mince words. "It's plain that you're a boob," he said. "But such as you are, we've got to do the best we can with you. Now, put your mind on it and get it straight: we know who these Reds are, and we know what they're teaching; we can't send 'em to jail for that. What we want you to find out is the name of their spy, and who are their witnesses in the Goober case, and what they're going to say."
"But how can I find out things like that?" cried Peter.
"You've got to use your wits," said McGivney. "But I'll give you one tip; get yourself a girl."
"A girl?" cried Peter, in wonder.
"Sure thing," said the other. "That's the way we always work. Guffey says there's just three times when people tell their secrets: The first is when they're drunk, and the second is when they're in love—"
Then McGivney stopped. Peter, who wanted to complete his education, inquired, "And the third?"
"The third is when they're both drunk and in love," was the reply. And Peter was silent, smitten with admiration. This business of sleuthing was revealing itself as more complicated and more fascinating all the time.
"Ain't you seen any girl you fancy in that crowd?" demanded the other.
"Well—it might be—" said Peter, shyly.
"It ought to be easy," continued the detective. "Them Reds are all free lovers, you know."
"Free lovers!" exclaimed Peter. "How do you mean?"
"Didn't you know about that?" laughed the other.
Peter sat staring at him. All the women that Peter had ever known or heard of took money for their love. They either took it directly, or they took it in the form of automobile rides and flowers and candy and tickets to the whang-doodle things. Could it be that there were women who did not take money in either form, but whose love was entirely free?
The detective assured him that such was the case. "They boast about it," said he. "They think it's right." And to Peter that seemed the most shocking thing he had yet heard about the Reds.
To be sure, when he thought it over, he could see that it had some redeeming points; it was decidedly convenient from the point of view of the man; it was so much money in his pocket. If women chose to be that silly—and Peter found himself suddenly thinking about little Jennie Todd. Yes, she would be that silly, it was plain to see. She gave away everything she had; so of course she would be a "free lover!"
Peter went away from his rendezvous with McGivney, thrilling with a new and wonderful idea. You couldn't have got him to give up his job now. This sleuthing business was the real thing!
It was late when Peter got home, but the two girls were sitting up for him, and their relief at his safe return was evident. He noticed that Jennie's face expressed deeper concern than her sister's, and this gave him a sudden new emotion. Jennie's breath came and went more swiftly because he had entered the room; and this affected his own breath in the same way. He had a swift impulse towards her, an entirely unselfish desire to reassure her and relieve her anxiety; but with an instinctive understanding of the sex game which he had not before known he possessed, he checked this impulse and turned instead to the older sister, assuring her that nobody had followed him. He told an elaborate story, prepared on the way; he had worked for ten days for a fellow at sawing wood—hard work, you bet, and then the fellow had tried to get out of paying him! Peter had caught him at his home that evening, and had succeeded in getting five dollars out of him, and a promise of a few dollars more every week. That was to cover future visits to McGivney.
Peter lay awake a good part of the night, thinking over this new job—that of getting himself a girl. He realized that for some time he had been falling in love with little Jennie; but be wanted to be sane and practical, he wanted to use his mind in choosing a girl. He was after information, first of all. And who had the most to give him? He thought of Miss Nebbins, who was secretary to Andrews, the lawyer; she would surely know more secrets than anyone else; but then, Miss Nebbins was an old maid, who wore spectacles and broad-toed shoes, and was evidently out of the question for love-making. Then he thought of Miss Standish, a tall, blond beauty who worked in an insurance office and belonged to the Socialist Party. She was a "swell dresser," and Peter would have been glad to have something like that to show off to McGivney and the rest of Guffey's men; but with the best efforts of his self-esteem, Peter could not imagine himself persuading Miss Standish to look at him. There was a Miss Yankovich, one of the real Reds, who trained with the I. W. W.; but she was a Jewess, with sharp, black eyes that clearly indicated a temper, and frightened Peter. Also, he had a suspicion that she was interested in McCormick—tho of course with these "free lovers" you could never tell.
But one girl Peter was quite sure about, and that was little Jennie; he didn't know if Jennie knew many secrets, but surely she could find some out for him. Once he got her for his own, he could use her to question others. And so Peter began to picture what love with Jennie would be like. She wasn't exactly what you would call "swell," but there was something about her that made him sure he needn't be ashamed of her. With some new clothes she would be pretty, and she had grand manners—she had not shown the least fear of the rich ladies who came to the house in their automobiles; also she knew an awful lot for a girl—even if most of what she knew wasn't so!
Peter lost no time in setting to work at his new job. In the papers next morning appeared the usual details from Flanders; thousands of men being shot to pieces almost every hour of the day and night, a million men on each side locked in a ferocious combat that had lasted for weeks, that might last for months. And sentimental little Jennie sat there with brimming eyes, talking about it while Peter ate his oatmeal and thin milk. And Peter talked about it too; how wicked it was, and how they must stop it, he and Jennie together. He agreed with her now; he was a Socialist, he called her "Comrade," and told her she had converted him. Her eyes lighted up with joy, as if she had really done something to end the war.
They were sitting on the sofa, looking at the paper, and they were alone in the house. Peter suddenly looked up from the reading and said, very much embarrassed, "But Comrade Jennie—"
"Yes," she said, and looked at him with her frank grey eyes. Peter was shy, truly a little frightened, this kind of detective business being new to him.
"Comrade Jennie," he said, "I—I—don't know just how to say it, but I'm afraid I'm falling a little in love."
Jennie drew back her hands, and Peter heard her breath come quickly. "Oh, Mr. Gudge!" she exclaimed.
"I—I don't know—" stammered Peter. "I hope you won't mind."
"Oh, don't let's do that!" she cried.
"Why not, Comrade Jennie?" And he added, "I don't know as I can help it."
"Oh, we were having such a happy time, Mr. Gudge! I thought we were going to work for the cause!"
"Well, but it won't interfere—"
"Oh, but it does, it does; it makes people unhappy!"
"Then—" and Peter's voice trembled—"then you don't care the least bit for me, Comrade Jennie?"
She hesitated a moment. "I don't know," she said. "I hadn't thought—"
And Peter's heart gave a leap inside him. It was the first time that any girl had ever had to hesitate in answering that question for Peter. Something prompted him—just as if he had been doing this kind of "sleuthing" all his life. He reached over, and very gently took her hand. "You do care just a little for me?" he whispered.
"Oh, Comrade Gudge," she answered, and Peter said, "Call me 'Peter.' Please, please do."
"Comrade Peter," she said, and there was a little catch in her throat, and Peter, looking at her, saw that her eyes were cast down.
"I know I'm not very much to love," he pleaded. "I'm poor and obscure—I'm not good looking—"
"Oh, it isn't that!" she cried, "Oh, no, no! Why should I think about such things? You are a comrade!"
Peter had known, of course, just how she would take this line of talk. "Nobody has ever loved me," he said, sadly. "Nobody cares anything about you, when you are poor, and have nothing to offer—"
"I tell you, that isn't it!" she insisted. "Please don't think that! You are a hero. You have sacrificed for the cause, and you are going on and become a leader."
"I hope so," said Peter, modestly. "But then, what is it, Comrade Jennie? Why don't you care for me?"
She looked up at him, and their eyes met, and with a little sob in her voice she answered, "I'm not well, Comrade Peter. I'm of no use; it would be wicked for me to marry."
Somewhere back in the depths of Peter, where his inner self was crouching, it was as if a sudden douche of ice-cold water were let down on him. "Marry!" Who had said anything about marrying? Peter's reaction fitted the stock-phrase of the comic papers: "This is so sudden!"
But Peter was too clever to reveal such dismay. He humored little Jennie, saying, "We don't have to marry right away. I could wait, if only I knew that you cared for me; and some day, when you get well—"
She shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid I'll never get really well. And besides, neither of us have any money, Comrade Peter."
Ah, there it was! Money, always money! This "free love" was nothing but a dream.
"I could get a job," said Peter—just like any other tame and conventional wooer.
"But you couldn't earn enough for two of us," protested the girl; and suddenly she sprang up. "Oh, Comrade Peter, let's not fall in love with each other! Let's not make ourselves unhappy, let's work for the cause! Promise me that you will!"
Peter promised; but of course he had no remotest intention of keeping the promise. He was not only a detective, he was a man—and in both capacities he wanted Comrade Jennie. He had all the rest of the day, and over the addressing of envelopes which he undertook with her, he would now and then steal love-glances; and Jennie knew now what these looks meant, and the faint flush would creep over her cheeks and down into her neck and throat. She was really very pretty when she was falling in love, and Peter found his new job the most delightful one of his lifetime. He watched carefully, and noted the signs, and was sure he was making no mistake; before Sadie came back at supper-time he had his arms about Comrade Jennie, and was pressing kisses upon the lovely white throat; and Comrade Jennie was sobbing softly, and her pleading with him to stop had grown faint and unconvincing.
There was the question of Sadie to be settled. There was a certain severe look that sometimes came about Sadie's lips, and that caused Peter to feel absolutely certain that Comrade Sadie had no sympathy with "free love," and very little sympathy with any love save her own for Jennie. She had nursed her "little sister" and tended her like a mother for many years; she took the food out of her mouth to give to Jennie—and Jennie in turn gave it to any wandering agitator who came along and hung around until mealtime. Peter didn't want Sadie to know what had been going on in her absence, and yet he was afraid to suggest to Jennie that she should deceive her sister.
He managed it very tactfully. Jennie began pleading again: "We ought not to do this, Comrade Peter!" And so Peter agreed, perhaps they oughtn't, and they wouldn't any more. So Jennie put her hair in order, and straightened her blouse, and her lover could see that she wasn't going to tell Sadie.
And the next day they were kissing again and agreeing again that they mustn't do it; and so once more Jennie didn't tell Sadie. Before long Peter had managed to whisper the suggestion that their love was their own affair, and they ought not to tell anybody for the present; they would keep the delicious secret, and it would do no one any harm. Jennie had read somewhere about a woman poet by the name of Mrs. Browning, who had been an invalid all her life, and whose health had been completely restored by a great and wonderful love. Such a love had now come to her; only Sadie might not understand, Sadie might think they did not know each other well enough, and that they ought to wait. They knew, of course, that they really did know each other perfectly, so there was no reason for uncertainty or fear. Peter managed deftly to put these suggestions into Jennie's mind as if they were her own.