I. JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE CANDIDATE
II. JIMMIE HIGGINS HEARS A SPEECH
III. JIMMIE HIGGINS DEBATES THE ISSUE
IV. JIMMIE HIGGINS STRIKES IT RICH
V. JIMMIE HIGGINS HELPS THE KAISER
VI. JIMMIE HIGGINS GOES TO JAIL
VII. JIMMIE HIGGINS DALLIES WITH CUPID
VIII. JIMMIE HIGGINS PUTS HIS FOOT IN IT
IX. JIMMIE HIGGINS RETURNS TO NATURE
X. JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE OWNER
XI. JIMMIE HIGGINS FACES THE WAR
XII. JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS A PATRIOT
XIII. JIMMIE HIGGINS DODGES TROUBLE
XIV. JIMMIE HIGGINS TAKES THE ROAD
XV. JIMMIE HIGGINS TURNS BOLSHEVIK
XVI. JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE TEMPTER
XVII. JIMMIE HIGGINS WRESTLES WITH THE TEMPTER
XVIII. JIMMIE HIGGINS TAKES THE PLUNGE
XIX. JIMMIE HIGGINS PUTS ON KHAKI
XX. JIMMIE HIGGINS TAKES A SWIM
XXI. JIMMIE HIGGINS ENTERS SOCIETY
XXII. JIMMIE HIGGINS WORKS FOR HIS UNCLE
XXIII. JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE HUN
XXIV. JIMMIE HIGGINS SEES THE OTHER SIDE
XXV. JIMMIE HIGGINS ENTERS INTO DANGER
XXVI. JIMMIE HIGGINS DISCOVERS HIS SOUL
XXVII. JIMMIE HIGGINS VOTES FOR DEMOCRACY
JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE CANDIDATE
"Jimmie," said Lizzie, "couldn't we go see the pictures?"
And Jimmie set down the saucer of hot coffee which he was in the act of adjusting to his mouth, and stared at his wife. He did not say anything; in three years and a half as a married man he had learned that one does not always say everything that comes into one's mind. But he meditated on the abysses that lie between the masculine and feminine intellects. That it should be possible for anyone to wish to see a movie idol leaping into second-story windows, or being pulled from beneath flying express trains, on this day of destiny, this greatest crisis in history!
"You know, Lizzie," he said, patiently, "I've got to help at the Opera-house."
"But you've got all morning!"
"I know; but it'll take all day."
And Lizzie fell silent; for she too had learned much in three years and a half of married life. She had learned that working men's wives seldom get all they would like in this world; also that to have a propagandist for a husband is not the worst fate that may befall. After all, he might have been giving his time and money to drink, or to other women; he might have been dying of a cough, like the man next door. If one could not have a bit of pleasure on a Sunday afternoon—well, one might sigh, but not too loud.
Jimmie began telling all the things that had to be done that Sunday morning and afternoon. They seemed to Lizzie exactly like the things that were done on other occasions before meetings. To be sure, this was bigger—it was in the Opera-house, and all the stores had cards in the windows, with a picture of the Candidate who was to be the orator of the occasion. But it was hard for Lizzie to understand the difference between this Candidate and other candidates—none of whom ever got elected! Lizzie would truly rather have stayed at home, for she did not understand English very well when it was shouted from a platform, and with a lot of long words; but she knew that Jimmie was trying to educate her, and being a woman, she was educated to this extent—she knew the way to hold on to her man.
Jimmie had just discovered a new solution of the problem of getting the babies to meetings; and Lizzie knew that he was tremendously proud of this discovery. So long as there had been only one baby, Jimmie had carried it. When there had come a second, Lizzie had helped. But now there were three, the total weight of them something over sixty pounds; and the street-car line was some distance away, and also it hurt Jimmie in his class-consciousness to pay twenty cents to a predatory corporation. They had tried the plan of paying something to a neighbour to stay with the babies; but the first they tried was a young girl who got tired and went away, leaving the little ones to howl their heads off; and the second was a Polish lady whom they found in a drunken stupor on their return.
But Jimmie was determined to go to meetings, and determined that Lizzie should go along. It was one of the curses of the system, he said, that it deprived working-class women of all chance for self-improvement. So he had paid a visit to the "Industrial Store", a junk-shop maintained by the Salvation Army, and for fifteen cents he had obtained a marvellous broad baby-carriage for twins, all finished in shiny black enamel. One side of it was busted, but Jimmie had fixed that with some wire, and by careful packing had shown that it was possible to stow the youngsters in it—Jimmie and Pete side by side, and the new baby at the foot.
The one trouble was that Jimmie Junior couldn't keep his feet still. He could never keep any part of him still, the little jack-in-the-box. Here he was now, tearing about the kitchen, pursuing the ever-receding tail of the newest addition to the family, a half-starved cur who had followed Jimmie in from the street, and had been fed into a semblance of reality. From this treasure a bare, round tail hung out behind in tantalizing fashion; Jimmie Junior, always imagining he could catch it, was toddling round and round and round the kitchen-table, clutching out in front of him, laughing so that after a while he sat down from sheer exhaustion.
And Jimmie Senior watched enraptured. Say, but he was a buster! Did you ever see a twenty-seven months' old kid that could get over the ground like that? Or make a louder noise? This last because Jimmie Junior had tried to take a short cut through the kitchen range and failed. Lizzie swooped down, clasping him to her broad bosom, and pouring out words of comfort in Bohemian. As Jimmie Senior did not understand any of these words, he took advantage of the confusion to get his coat and cap and hustle off to the Opera-house, full of fresh determination. For, you see, whenever a Socialist looks at his son, or even thinks of his son, he is hotter for his job of propagandist. Let the world be changed soon, so that the little fellows may be spared those sufferings and humiliations which have fallen to the lot of their parents!
"Comrade Higgins, have you got a hammer?" It was Comrade Schneider who spoke, and he did not take the trouble to come down from the ladder, where he was holding up a streamer of bunting, but waited comfortably for the hammer to be fetched to him. And scarcely had the fetcher started to climb before there came the voice of a woman from across the stage: "Comrade Higgins, has the Ypsel banner come?" And from the rear part of the hall came the rotund voice of fat Comrade Rapinsky: "Comrade Higgins, will you bring up an extra table for the literature?" And from the second tier box Comrade Mary Allen spoke: "While you're downstairs, Comrade Higgins, would you mind telephoning and making sure the Reception Committee knows about the change in the train-time?"
So it went; and Jimmie ran about the big hall with his face red and perspiring; for this was midsummer, and no breeze came through the windows of the Leesville Opera-house, and when you got high up on the walls to tie the streamers of red bunting, you felt as if you were being baked. But the streamers had to be tied, and likewise the big red flag over the stage, and the banner of the Karl Marx Verein, and the banner of the Ypsels, or Young People's Socialist League of Leesville, and the banner of the Machinists' Union, Local 4717, and of the Carpenters' Union, District 529, and of the Workers' Co-operative Society. And because Comrade Higgins never questioned anybody's right to give him orders, and always did everything with a cheerful grin, people had got into the habit of regarding him as the proper person for tedious and disagreeable tasks.
He had all the more on his hands at present, because the members of this usually efficient local were half-distracted, like a nest of ants that have been dug out with a shovel. The most faithful ones showed a tendency to forget what they were doing, and to gather in knots to talk about the news which had come over the cables and had been published in that morning's paper. Jimmie Higgins would have liked to hear what the rest had to say; but somebody had to keep at work, for the local was in the hole nearly three hundred dollars for to-night's affair, and it must succeed, even though half the civilized world had gone suddenly insane. So Jimmie continued to climb step-ladders and tie bunting.
When it came to lunch-time, and the members of the Decorations Committee were going out, it suddenly occurred to one of them that the drayman who was to bring the literature might arrive while there was nobody to receive it. So Comrade Higgins was allowed to wait during the lunch hour. There was a plausible excuse—he was on the Literature Committee; indeed, he was on every committee where hard work was involved—the committee to distribute leaflets announcing the meeting, the committee to interview the labour unions and urge them to sell tickets, the committee to take up a collection at the meeting. He was not on those committees which involved honour and edification, such as, for example, the committee to meet the Candidate at the depot and escort him to the Opera-house. But then it would never have occurred to Jimmie that he had any place on such a committee; for he was just an ignorant fellow, a machinist, undersized and undernourished, with bad teeth and roughened hands, and no gifts or graces of any sort to recommend him; while on the Reception Committee were a lawyer and a prosperous doctor and the secretary of the Carpet-weavers' Union, all people who wore good clothes and had education, and knew how to talk to a Candidate.
So Jimmie waited; and when the drayman came, he opened up the packages of books and pamphlets and laid them out in neat piles on the literature tables, and hung several of the more attractive ones on the walls behind the tables; so, of course, Comrade Mabel Smith, who was chairman of the Literature Committee, was greatly pleased when she came back from lunch. And then came the members of the German Liederkranz, to rehearse the programme they were to give; and Comrade Higgins would have liked first rate to sit and listen, but somebody discovered the need of glue, and he chased out to find a drug-store that was open on Sunday.
Later on there was a lull, and Jimmie realized that he was hungry. He examined the contents of his pockets and found that he had seventeen cents. It was a long way to his home, so he would step round the corner and have a cup of coffee and a couple of "sinkers" at "Tom's". He first conscientiously asked if anybody needed anything, and Comrade Mabel Smith told him to hurry back to help her put out the leaflets on the seats, and Comrade Meissner would need help in arranging the chairs on the stage.
When you went from the Leesville Opera-house and turned West in Main Street, you passed Heinz's Cafe, which was a "swell" eating-place, and not for Jimmie; and then the "Bijou Nickelodeon", with a mechanical piano in the entrance; and the "Bon Marche Shoe Store", which was always having a fire-sale or a removal sale or a bankruptcy clearing-out; and then Lipsky's "Picture Palace", with a brown and yellow cowboy galloping away with a red and yellow maiden in his arms; then Harrod's "Fancy Grocery" on the corner. And in each of these places there was a show-card in the window, with a picture of the Candidate, and the announcement that on Sunday evening, at eight o'clock, he would speak at the Leesville Opera-house on "War, the Reason and the Remedy". Jimmie Higgins looked at the cards, and a dignified yet joyful pride stirred in his bosom; for all of them were there because he, Jimmie, had interviewed the proprietors and obtained their more or less reluctant consent.
Jimmie knew that on this Sunday, in cities all over Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and England, the workers were gathering by millions and tens of millions, to protest against the red horror of war being let loose over their heads. And in America too—a call would go from the new world to the old, that the workers should rise and carry out their pledge to prevent this crime against mankind. He, Jimmie Higgins, had no voice that anybody would heed; but he had helped to bring the people of his city to hear a man who had a voice, and who would show the meaning of this world-crisis to the working-people.
It was the party's Candidate for President. At this time only congressional elections were pending, but this man had been Candidate for President so often that every one thought of him in that role. You might say that each of his campaigns lasted four years; he travelled from one end of the land to the other, and counted by the millions those who heard his burning, bitter message. It had chanced that the day which the War-lords and Money-lords of Europe had chosen to drive their slaves to slaughter was the day on which the Candidate had been scheduled to speak in the Leesville Opera-house. No wonder the Socialists of the little inland city were stirred!
Jimmie Higgins turned into "Tom's Buffeteria", and greeted the proprietor, and seated himself on a stool in front of the counter, and called for coffee, and helped himself to "sinkers"—which might have been called "life-preservers", they were blown so full of air. He filled his mouth, at the same time looking up to make sure that Tom had not removed the card announcing the meeting; for Tom was a Catholic, and one of the reasons that Jimmie went to his place was to involve him and his patrons in arguments over exploitation, unearned increment and surplus value.
But before a discussion could be started, it chanced that Jimmie glanced about. In the back part of the room were four little tables, covered with oil-cloth, where "short orders" were served; and at one of those tables a man was seated. Jimmie took a glance at him, and started so that he almost spilled his coffee. Impossible; and yet— surely—who could mistake that face? The face of a medieval churchman, lean, ascetic, but with a modern touch of kindliness, and a bald dome on top like a moon rising over the prairie. Jimmie started, then stared at the picture of the Candidate which crowned the shelf of pies. He turned to the man again; and the man glanced up, and his eyes met Jimmie's, with their expression of amazement and awe. The whole story was there, not to be misread—especially by a Candidate who travels about the country making speeches, and being recognized every hour or so from his pictures which have preceded him. A smile came to his face, and Jimmie set down the coffee-cup from one trembling hand and the "sinker" from the other, and rose from his stool.
Jimmie would not have had the courage to advance, save for the other man's smile—a smile that was weary, but candid and welcoming. "Howdy do, Comrade?" said the man. He held out his hand, and the moment of this clasp was the nearest to heaven that Jimmie Higgins had ever known.
When he was able to find his voice, it was only to exclaim, "You wasn't due till five-forty-two!"
As if the Candidate had not known that! He explained that he had missed his sleep the night before, and had come on ahead so as to snatch a bit during the day. "I see," said Jimmie; and then, "I knowed you by your picture."
"Yes?" said the other, patiently.
And Jimmie groped round in his addled head for something really worth while. "You'll want to see the Committee?"
"No," said the other, "I want to finish this first." And he took a sip from a glass of milk, and a bite out of a sandwich, and chewed.
So utterly rattled was Jimmie he sat there like a num-skull, unable to find a word, while the man finished his repast. When it was over, Jimmie said again—he could do no better—"You want to see the Committee?"
"No," was the reply, "I want to sit here—and perhaps talk to you, Comrade—Comrade—?"
"Higgins," said Jimmie.
"Comrade Higgins—that is, if you have time."
"Oh, sure!" exclaimed Jimmie. "I got all the time there is. But the Committee—"
"Never mind the Committee, Comrade. Do you know how many Committees I have met on this trip?"
Jimmie did not know; nor did he have the courage to ask.
"Probably you never thought how it is to be a Candidate," continued the other. "You go from place to place, and make the same speech every night, and it seems as if you slept in the same hotel every night, and almost as if you met the same Committee. But you have to remember that your speech is new to each audience, and you have to make it as if you had never made it before; also you have to remember that the Committee is made up of devoted comrades who are giving everything for the cause, so you don't tell them that they are just like every other committee, or that you are tired to death, or maybe have a headache—"
Jimmie sat, gazing in awe-stricken silence. Not being a man of reading, he had never heard of "the head that wears a crown". This was his first glimpse into the soul of greatness.
The Candidate went on: "And then, too, Comrade, there's the news from Europe. I want a little time. I can't bring myself to face it!"
His voice had grown sombre, and to Jimmie, gazing at him, it seemed that all the sorrows of the world were in his tired grey eyes. "Perhaps I'd better go," said Jimmie.
"No no," replied the other, with quick self-recovery. He looked and saw that Jimmie had forgotten his meal. "Bring your things over here," he said; and the other fetched his cup and saucer and plate, and gulped the rest of his "sinkers" under the Candidate's eyes.
"I oughtn't to talk," said the latter. "You see how hoarse I am. But you talk. Tell me about the local, and how things are going here."
So Jimmie summoned his courage. It was the one thing he could really talk about, the thing of which his mind and soul were full. Leesville was a typical small manufacturing city, with a glass bottle works, a brewery, a carpet-factory, and the big Empire Machine Shops, at which Jimmie himself spent sixty-three hours of his life each week. The workers were asleep, of course; but still you couldn't complain, the movement was growing. The local boasted of a hundred and twenty members, though of course, only about thirty of them could be counted on for real work. That was the case everywhere, the Candidate put in—it was always a few who made the sacrifice and kept things alive.
Then Jimmie went on to tell about to-night's meeting, the preparations they had made, the troubles they had had. The police had suddenly decided to enforce the law against delivering circulars from house to house; though they allowed Isaac's "Emporium" to use this method of announcement. The Leesville Herald and Evening Courier were enthusiastic for the police action; if you couldn't give out circulars, obviously you would have to advertise in these papers. The Candidate smiled—he knew about American police officials, and also about American journalism.
Jimmie had been laid off for a couple of days at the shop, and he told how he had put this time to good use, getting announcements of the meeting into the stores. There was an old Scotchman in a real estate office just across the way. "Git oot!" he said. "So I thought I'd better git oot!" said Jimmie. And then, taking his life into his hands, he had gone into the First National Bank. There was a gentleman walking across the floor, and Jimmie went up to him and held out one of the placards with the picture of the Candidate. "Would you be so good as to put this in your window?" he inquired; and the other looked at it coldly. Then he smiled—he was a good sort, apparently. "I don't think my customers would patronize your business," he said; but Jimmie went at him to take some tickets and learn about Socialism—and would you believe it, he had actually shelled out a dollar! "I found out afterwards that it was Ashton Charmers, the president of the bank!" said Jimmie. "I'd a' been scared, if I'd a' known."
He had not meant to talk about himself; he was just trying to entertain a tired Candidate, to keep him from brooding over a world going to war. But the Candidate, listening, found tears trying to steal into his eyes. He watched the figure before him—a bowed, undernourished little man, with one shoulder lower than the other, a straggly brown moustache stained with coffee, and stumpy black teeth, and gnarled hands into which the dirt and grease were ground so deeply that washing them would obviously be a waste of time. His clothes were worn and shapeless, his celluloid collar was cracked and his necktie was almost a rag. You would never have looked at such a man twice on the street—and yet the Candidate saw in him one of those obscure heroes who are making a movement which is to transform the world.
"Comrade Higgins," said the Candidate, after a bit, "let's you and me run away."
Jimmie looked startled. "How?"
"I mean from the Committee, and from the meeting, and from everything." And then, seeing the dismay in the other's face: "I mean, let's take a walk in the country."
"Oh!" said Jimmie.
"I see it through the windows of the railroad-cars, but I don't set foot on it for months at a time. And I was brought up in the country. Were you?"
"I was brought up everywhere," said the little machinist.
They got up, and paid each their ten cents to the proprietor of the "Buffeteria." Jimmie could not resist the temptation to introduce his hero, and show a pious Catholic that a Socialist Candidate had neither hoofs nor horns. The Candidate was used to being introduced for that purpose and had certain spontaneous and cordial words which he had said not less than ten thousand times before; with the result that the pious Catholic gave his promise to come to the meeting that night.
They went out; and because some member of the Committee might be passing on Main Street, Jimmie took his hero by an alley into a back street; and they walked past the glass-factory, which to the outsider was a long board fence, and across the Atlantic Western railroad tracks, and past the carpet-factory, a huge four-story box made of bricks; after which the rows of wooden shacks began to thin out, and there were vacant lots and ash-heaps, and at last the beginning of farms.
The Candidate's legs were long, and Jimmie's, alas, were short, so he had almost to run. The sun blazed down on them, and sweat, starting from the Candidate's bald head stole under the band of his straw hat and down to his wilting collar; so he took off his coat and hung it over his arm, and went on, faster than ever. Jimmie raced beside him, afraid to speak, for he divined that the Candidate was brooding over the world-calamity, the millions of young men marching out to slaughter. On the placards which Jimmie had been distributing in Leesville, there were two lines about the Candidate, written by America's favourite poet:
As warm heart as ever beat Betwixt here and judgement seat.
So they went on for perhaps an hour, by which time they were really in the country. They came to a bridge which crossed the river Lee, and there the Candidate suddenly stopped, and stood looking at the water sliding below him, and at the vista through which it wound, an avenue of green trees with stretches of pasture and cattle grazing. "That looks fine," he said. "Let's go down." So they climbed a fence, and made their way along the river for a distance, until a turn of the stream took them out of sight of the road.
There they sat on a shelving bank, and mopped the perspiration from their foreheads and necks, and gazed into the rippling current. You couldn't exactly say it was crystal clear, for when there is a town every ten miles or so along a stream, with factories pouring various kinds of chemicals into it, the job becomes too much for the restoring forces of Mother Nature. But it would take a dirty stream indeed not to look inviting in midsummer after a four-mile walk. So presently the Candidate turned to Jimmie, with a mischievous look upon his face. "Comrade Higgins, were you ever in a swimmin' hole?"
"Sure I was!" said Jimmie.
"Everywhere. I was on the road off an' on ten years—till I got married."
"Well," said the Candidate, still smiling, "what do you say?"
"I say sure!" replied Jimmie.
He was almost beside himself with awe, at this unbelieveable strange fortune, this real comradeship with the hero of his dreams. To Jimmie this man had been a disembodied intelligence, a dispenser of proletarian inspiration, a supernatural being who went about the country standing upon platforms and swaying the souls of multitudes. It had never occurred to Jimmie that he might have a bare body, and might enjoy splashing about in cool water like a boy playing "hookey" from school. The saying is that familiarity breeds contempt, but for Jimmie it bred rapture.
They walked home again, more slowly. The Candidate asked Jimmie about his life, and Jimmie told the story of a Socialist—not one of the leaders, the "intellectuals", but of the "rank and file". Jimmie's father was a working man out of a job, who had left his family before Jimmie had joined it; Jimmie's mother had died three years later, so he did not remember her, nor could he recall a word of the foreign language he had spoken at home, nor did he even know what the language was. He had been taken in charge by the city, and farmed out to a negro woman who had eight miserable starvelings under her care, feeding them on gruel and water, and not even giving them a blanket in winter. You might not think that possible—
"I know America," put in the Candidate.
Jimmie went on. At nine he had been boarded with a woodsaw man, who worked him sixteen hours a day and beat him in addition; so Jimmie had skipped out, and for ten years had lived the life of a street waif in the cities and a hobo on the road. He had learned a bit about machinery, helping in a garage, and then, in a rush-time, he had got a job in the Empire Machine Shops. He had stayed in Leesville, because he had got married; he had met his wife in a brothel, and she had wanted to quit the life, and they had taken a chance together.
"I don't tell that to everybody," said Jimmie. "You know—they mightn't understand. But I don't mind you knowin'."
"Thank you," replied the Candidate, and put his hand on Jimmie's shoulder. "Tell me how you became a Socialist."
There was nothing special about that, was the answer. There had been a fellow in the shop who was always "chewing the rag"; Jimmie had laughed at him—for his life had made him suspicious of everybody, and if there was any sort of politician, it was just another scheme of somebody to wear a white collar and live off the workers. But the fellow had kept pegging away; and once Jimmie had been laid off for a couple of months, and the family had near starved, and that had given him time to think, and also the inclination. The fellow had come along with some papers, and Jimmie had read them, and it dawned upon him that here was a movement of his fellow-workers to put an end to their torments.
"How long ago was that?" asked the Candidate, and Jimmie answered three years. "And you haven't lost your enthusiasm?" This with an intensity that surprised Jimmie. No, he answered, he was not that kind. Whatever happened, he would keep pegging away at the task of freeing labour. He would not see the New Day, perhaps, but his children would see it; and a fellow would work like the devil to save his children.
So they came to the city; and the Candidate pressed Jimmie's arm. "Comrade," he said, "I want to tell you how much good this little trip has done me. I owe you a debt of gratitude."
"Me?" exclaimed Jimmie.
"You have given me fresh hope and courage, and at a time when I felt beaten. I got into town this morning, and I'd had no sleep, and I tried to get some in the hotel and couldn't, because of the horror that's happening. I wrote a dozen telegrams and sent them off, and then I was afraid to go back to the hotel-room, because I knew I'd only lie awake all afternoon. But now—I remember that our movement is rooted in the hearts of the people!"
Jimmie was trembling. But all he could say was: "I wish I could do it every Sunday."
"So do I," said the Candidate.
They walked down Main Street, and some way ahead they saw a crowd gathered, filling the pavement beyond the kerb. "What is that?" asked the Candidate, and Jimmie answered that it was the office of the Herald. There must be some news.
The other hastened his steps; and Jimmie, striding alongside, fell silent again, knowing that the gigantic burden and woe of the world was falling upon his hero's shoulders once more. They came to the edge of the crowd, and saw a bulletin in front of the newspaper office. But it was too far away for them to read. "What is it?" they asked.
"It says the Germans are going to march into Belgium. And they've shot a lot of Socialists in Germany."
"WHAT?" And the Candidate's hand clutched Jimmie's arm.
"That's what it says."
"My God!" exclaimed the man. And he began pushing his way into the crowd, with Jimmie in his wake. They got to the bulletin, and stood reading the typewritten words—a bare announcement that more than a hundred leading German Socialists had been executed for efforts to prevent mobilization. They continued staring, until people pushing behind them caused them to draw back. Outside the throng they stood, the Candidate gazing into space, and Jimmie gazing at the Candidate, both of them dumb. It was a fact that they could not have been more shocked if the news had referred to the members of Local Leesville of the Socialist Party of America.
The pain in the Candidate's face was so evident that Jimmie groped about in his head for something comforting to say. "At least they done what they could," he whispered.
The other suddenly burst forth: "They are heroes! They have made the name Socialist sacred for ever!" He rushed on, as if he were making a speech-so strong becomes a life-time habit. "They have written their names at the very top of humanity's roll of honour! It doesn't make any difference what happens after this, Comrade—the movement had vindicated itself! All the future will be changed because of this event!"
He began to walk down the street, talking more to himself than to Jimmie. He was borne away on the wings of his vision; and his companion was so thrilled that he honestly did not know where he was. Afterwards, when he looked back upon this scene, it remained the most wonderful event of his life; he told the story, sooner or later, to every Socialist he met.
Presently the Candidate stopped. "Comrade," he said, "I must go to the hotel. I want to write some telegrams. You explain to the Committee—I'd rather not see anyone till time for the meeting. I'll find the way myself."
JIMMIE HIGGINS HEARS A SPEECH
In the Opera-house were gathered Comrade Mabel Smith and Comrade Meissner and Comrade Goldstein, the secretary of the Ypsels, and the three members of the Reception Committee—Comrade Norwood, the rising young lawyer, Comrade Dr. Service, and Comrade Schultze of the Carpet-weavers' Union. To them rushed the breathless Jimmie. "Have you heard the news?"
"What is it?".
"A hundred Socialist leaders shot in Germany!"
"Herr Gott!" cried Comrade Schultze, in horror; and everyone turned instinctively, for they knew how this came home to him—he had a brother who was a Socialist editor in Leipzig, and who was liable for the mobilization.
"Where did you see it?" cried Schultze; and Jimmie told what he knew. And then the clamour broke forth! Others were called from the back part of the hall, and came running, and there were questions and cries of dismay. Here, too, it was as if the crime had been committed against Local Leesville—so completely did they feel themselves one with the victims. In a town where there was a brewery, needless to say there were German workers a-plenty; but even had this not been so, the feeling would have been the same, for the Socialists of the world were one, the soul of the movement was its internationalism. The Candidate discovering that Jimmie was a Socialist had asked and received no further introduction, but had been instantly his friend; and so it would have been with a comrade from Germany, Japan, or the heart of Africa—he might not have known another word of English, the word "Socialist" would have sufficed.
It was a long time before they thought of any other matter; but finally someone referred to the trouble which had fallen upon the local—the Candidate had not showed up. And Jimmie exclaimed, "Why, he's here!" And instantly all turned upon him. Where? When? How?
"He came this morning."
"And why didn't you let us know?" It was Comrade Dr. Service of the Reception Committee who spoke, and with a decided sharpness in his tone.
"He didn't want anybody to know," said Jimmie.
"Did he want us to go to the train and think he had failed us?"
Sure enough, it was after train-time! Jimmie had entirely forgotten both the train and the committee, and now he had not the grace to hide his offence. All he could do was to tell his story—how he had spent the afternoon walking in the country with the Candidate, and how they had gone swimming, and how they had got the news from the bulletin board, and how the Candidate had acted and what he had said. Poor Jimmie never doubted but that his own thrill was shared by all the others; and at the next regular meeting of the local, when Comrade Dr. Service sat down on some proposition which Jimmie had ventured to make, the little machinist had not the faintest idea what he had done to deserve the snub. He was lacking in worldly sense, he did not understand that a prosperous physician, who comes into the movement out of pure humanitarianism, contributing his prestige and his wealth to the certain detriment of his social and business interests, is entitled to a certain deference from the Jimmie Higginses, and even from a Candidate.
You might have thought that Jimmie would be tired; but this was a day on which the flesh had no claims. First he helped Comrade Mabel in depositing upon every seat a leaflet containing a letter from the local candidate for Congress; then he rushed away to catch a street-car, and spent his last nickel to get to his home and keep his engagement with Lizzie. He would not make with her the mistake he had made with the Committee, you bet!
He found that Lizzie had faithfully carried out her part of the bargain. The three babies were done up in bright-coloured calico dresses; she had spent the morning in washing and ironing these garments—also her own dress, which was half-red and half-green, and of generous, almost crinoline proportions. Lizzie herself was built on that scale, with broad hips and bosom, big brown eyes and heavy dark hair. She was a fine strong woman when she had shed her bedraggled house gown, and Jimmie was proud of his capability as a chooser of wives. It was no small feat to find a good woman, and to recognize her, where Jimmie had found Lizzie. She was five years older than he, a Bohemian, having been brought to America when she was a baby. Her former name—you could hardly call it her "maiden" name, considering the circumstances—was Elizabeth Huszar, which she pronounced so that for a long time Jimmie had understood it to be Eleeza Betooser.
Jimmie snatched a bite of bread and drank a cup of metallic tasting tea, and packed the family into the baby-carriage, and trudged the mile and half to the centre of the city. When they arrived, Lizzie took the biggest child, and Jimmie the other two, and so they trudged into the Opera-house. On this hot night it was like holding three stoves in your arms, and if the babies woke up and began to cry, the parents would have the painful choice of missing something, or else facing the disgusted looks of everyone about them. In Belgium, at the "People's House", the Socialists maintained a creche, but the American movement had not yet discovered that useful institution.
Already the hall was half-full, and a stream of people pouring in. Jimmie got himself and family seated, and then turned his eager eyes proudly to survey the scene. The would-be-congressman's circulars which he had placed in the seats were now being read by the sitters; the banners he had so laboriously hung were resplendent on the walls; there was a pitcher of ice water on the speaker's table, and a bouquet of flowers and a gavel for the chairman; the seats in the rear of the platform for the Liederkranz were neatly ranged, most of them already occupied by solid German figures topped by rosy German faces: to each detail of which achievements Jimmie had lent a hand. He had a pride of possession in this great buzzing throng, and in the debt they owed to him. They had no idea of it, of course; the fools, they thought that a meeting like this just grew out of nothing! They paid their ten cents—twenty-five cents for reserved seats—and imagined that covered everything, with perhaps even a rake-off for somebody! They would grumble, wondering why the Socialists persisted in charging admission for their meetings—why they could not let people in free as the Democrats and Republicans did. They would go to Democratic and Republican meetings, and enjoy the brass band and the fireworks, pyrotechnical and oratorical—never dreaming it was all a snare paid for by their exploiters!
Well, they would learn about it to-night! Jimmie thought of the Candidate, and how he would impress this man and that. For Jimmie knew scores who had got tickets, and he peered about after this one and that, and gave them a happy nod from behind his barricade of babies. Then, craning his neck to look behind him, suddenly Jimmie gave a start. Coming down the aisle was Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville; and with him-could it be possible?—old man Granitch, owner of the huge Empire Machine Shops where Jimmie worked! The little machinist found himself shaking with excitement as these two tall forms strode past him down the aisle. He gave Lizzie a nudge with his elbow and whispered into her ear; and all around was a buzz of whispers—for, of course, everybody knew these two mighty men, the heads of the "invisible government" of Leesville. They had come to find out what their subjects were thinking! Well, they would get it straight!
The big hall was full, and the aisles began to jam, and then the police closed the doors—something which Jimmie took as part of the universal capitalist conspiracy. The audience began to chafe; until at last the chairman walked out upon the stage, followed by several important persons who took front seats. The singers stood up, and the leader waved his wand, and forth came the Marseillaise: a French revolutionary hymn, sung in English by a German organization—there was Internationalism for you! With full realization of the solemnity of this world-crisis, they sang as if they hoped to be heard in Europe.
And then rose the Chairman—Comrade Dr. Service. He was a fine, big figure of a man, with grey moustache and beard trimmed to a point; his swelling chest was covered by clean white linen and tight-fitting broad-cloth, and he made a most imposing chairman, reflecting credit on the movement. He cleared his throat, and told them that they had come that evening to listen to one of America's greatest orators, and that therefore he, the Chairman, would not make a speech; after which he proceeded to make a speech. He told them what a grave hour this was, and how the orator would tell them its meaning, after which he proceeded to tell most of the things which the orator would tell. This was a weakness of Comrade Dr. Service—but one hesitated to point it out to him, because of his black broad-cloth suit and his imposing appearance, and the money he had put up to pay for the hall.
At last, however, he called on the Liederkranz again, and a quartet sang a German song and then an encore. And then came Comrade Gerrity, the hustling young insurance-agent who was organizer for the local, and whose task it was to make a "collection speech." He had humorous ways of extracting money—"Here I am again!" he began, and everybody smiled, knowing his bag of tricks. While he was telling his newest funny story, Jimmie was unloading the littlest infant into Lizzie's spare arm, and laying the other on the seat with its head against her knee, and getting himself out into the aisle, hat in hand and ready for business; and as soon as the organizer ceased and the Liederkranz resumed, Jimmie set to work gathering the coin. His territory was the reserved-seat section up in front, where sat the two mighty magnates. Jimmie's knees went weak, but he did his duty, and was tickled to see each of the pair drop a coin into the hat, to be used in overthrowing their power in Leesville!
The hats were taken to the box-office and emptied, and the collection-takers and the Liederkranz singers resumed their seats. An expectant hush fell—and then at last there strode out on the stage the Candidate. What a storm broke out! Men cheered and clapped and shouted. He took his seat modestly; but as the noise continued, he was justified in assuming that it was meant for him, and he rose and bowed; as it still continued, he bowed again, and then again. It had been the expectation of Comrade Dr. Service to come forward and say that, of course, it was not necessary for anyone to introduce the speaker of the evening; but the audience, as if it had read the worthy doctor's intention, kept on applauding, until the Candidate himself advanced, and raised his hand, and began his speech.
He did not stop for any oratorical preliminaries. This, he said—and his voice trembled with emotion—was the solemnest hour that men had ever faced on earth. That day on the bulletin-board of their local newspaper he had read tidings which had moved him as he had never been moved in his life, which had almost deprived him of the power to walk upon a stage and address an audience. Perhaps they had not heard the news; he told it to them, and there sprang from the audience a cry of indignation.
Yes, they might well protest, said the speaker; nowhere on all the bloody pages of history could you find a crime more revolting than this! The masters of Europe had gone mad in their lust for power; they had called down the vengeance of mankind upon their crowned and coronetted heads. Here to-night he would tell them—and the speaker's hoarse and raucous voice mounted to a shout of rage—he would tell them that in signing the death-warrant of those heroic martyrs, they had sealed the doom of their own order, they had torn out the foundation-stones from the structure of capitalist society! The speaker's voice seemed to lift the audience from its seats, and the last words of the sentence were drowned in a tumult of applause.
Silence fell again, and the man went on. He had peculiar mannerisms on the platform. His lanky form was never still for an instant. He hurried from one end of the stage to the other; he would crouch and bend as if he were going to spring upon the audience, a long, skinny finger would be shaken before their faces, or pointed as if to drive his words into their hearts. His speech was a torrent of epigram, sarcasm, invective. He was bitter; if you knew nothing about the man or his cause, you would find this repellent and shocking. You had to know what his life had been—an unceasing conflict with oppression; he had got his Socialist education in jail, where he had been sent for trying to organize the wage-slaves of a gigantic corporation. His rage was the rage of a tender-hearted poet, a lover of children and of Nature, driven mad by the sight of torment wantonly inflicted. And if ever he had seemed to you an extremist, too angry to be excused, here to-night he had his vindication, here to-night you saw him as a prophet. For now the master-class had torn the mask from its face, and revealed to the whole world what were its moral standards! At last men saw their rulers face to face!
They have plunged mankind into a pit of lunacy. "They call it war," cried the speaker; "but I call it murder." And he went on to picture to them what was happening in Europe at that hour—he brought the awful nightmare before their eyes, he showed them homes blown to pieces, cities given to the flames, the bodies of men pierced by bullets or torn to fragments by shells. He pictured a bayonet plunged into the abdomen of a man; he made you see the ghastly deed, and feel its shuddering wickedness. Men and women and children sat spellbound; and for once no man could say aloud or feel in his heart that the pictures of a Socialist agitator were overdrawn—no, not even Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville, or old Abel Granitch, proprietor of the Empire Machine Shops!
And what was the cause of this blackest of calamities? The speaker went on to show that the determining motive was not racial jealousy, but commercial greed. The fountain-head of the war was world-capitalism, clamouring for markets, seeking to get rid of its surplus products, to keep busy its hordes of wage-slaves at home. He analysed the various factors; and now, with the shadow of the European storm over their heads—now at last men and women would listen, they would realize that the matter concerned them. He warned them—let them not think that they were safe from the hoofs of this war-monster, just because they were three thousand miles away! Capitalism was a world phenomenon, and all the forces of parasitism and exploitation which had swept Europe into this tragedy were active here in America. The money-masters, the profit-seekers, would leap to take advantage of the collapse over the seas; there would be jealousies, disputes—let the audience understand, once for all, that if world-capitalism did not make this a world-war, it would be only because the workers of America took warning, and made their preparations to frustrate the conspiracy.
This was what he had come for, this was the heart of his message. Many of those who listened were refugees from the old world, having fled its oppressions and enslavements. He pleaded with them now, as a man whose heart was torn by more suffering than he could bear—let there be one part of the fair garden of earth into which the demons of destruction might not break their way! Let them take warning in time, let them organize and establish their own machinery of information and propaganda—so that when the crisis came, when the money-masters of America sounded the war-drums, there might be—not the destruction and desolation which these masters willed, but the joy and freedom of the Co-operative Commonwealth!
"How many years we Socialists have warned you!" he cried. "But you have doubted us, you have believed what your exploiters have told you! And now, in this hour of crisis, you look at Europe and discover who are the real friends of humanity, of civilization. What voice comes over the seas, protesting against war? The Socialist voice, and the Socialist voice alone! And to-night, once more, you hear it in this hall! You men and women of America, and you exiles from all corners of the world, make this pledge with me—make it now, before it is too late, and stand by it when the hour of crisis comes! Swear it by the blood of our martyred heroes, those slaughtered German Socialists—swear that, come what will, and when and how it will, that no power on earth or in hell beneath the earth shall draw you into this fratricidal war! Make this resolution, send this message to all the nations of the earth—that the men of all nations and all races are your brothers, and that never will you consent to shed their blood. If the money-masters and the exploiters want war, let them have it, but let it be among themselves! Let them take the bombs and shells they have made and go out against one another! Let them blow their own class to pieces—but let them not seek to lure the working-people into their quarrels!"
Again and again, in answer to such exhortations, the audience broke out into shouts of applause. Men raised their hands in solemn pledge; and the Socialists among them went home from the meeting with a new gravity in their faces, a new consecration in their hearts. They had made a vow, and they would keep it—yes, even though it meant sharing the fate of their heroic German comrades!
—And then in the morning they opened their papers, looking eagerly for more details about the fate of the heroic German comrades, and they found none. Day after day, morning and afternoon, they looked for more details, and found none. On the contrary, to their unutterable bewilderment, they learned that the leaders of the German Social-Democracy had voted for the war-budgets, and that the rank and file of the movement were hammering out the goose-step on the roads of Belgium and France! They could not bring themselves to believe it; even yet they have not brought themselves to realize that the story which thrilled them so on that fatal Sunday afternoon was only a cunning lie sent out by the German war-lords, in the hope of causing the Socialists of Belgium and France and England to revolt, and so give the victory to Germany!
JIMMIE HIGGINS DEBATES THE ISSUE
The grey flood of frightfulness rolled over Belgium; and every morning, and again in the afternoon, the front page of the Leesville newspaper was like the explosion of a bomb. Twenty-five thousand Germans killed in one assault on Liege; a quarter of a million Russians massacred or drowned in the swamps of the Masurian Lakes; so it went, until the minds of men reeled. They saw empires and civilizations crumbling before their eyes, all those certainties upon which their lives had been built vanishing as a mist at sunrise.
Hitherto, Jimmie Higgins had always refused to take a daily paper. No capitalist lies for him; he would save his pennies for the Socialist weeklies! But now he had to have the news, and tired as he was after the day's work, he would sit on his front porch with his ragged feet against a post, spelling out the despatches. Then he would stroll down to the cigar-stand of Comrade Stankewitz, a wizened-up little Roumanian Jew who had lived in Europe, and had a map, and would show Jimmie which was Russia, and why Germany marched across Belgium, and why England had to interfere. It was good to have a friend who was a man of travel and a linguist—especially when the fighting became centred about places such as Przemysl and Przasnyaz!
Then every Friday night would be the meeting of the local. Jimmie would be the first to arrive, eager to hear every word the better informed comrades had to say, and thus to complete the education which Society had so cruelly neglected.
Before the war was many weeks old, Jimmie's head was in a state of utter bewilderment; never would he have thought it possible for men to hold so many conflicting opinions, and to hold them with such passionate intensity! It seemed as if the world-conflict were being fought out in miniature in Leesville.
At the third meeting after the war began, the prosperous Dr. Service arose, and in his impressive oratorical voice moved that the local should send a telegram to the National Executive Committee of the party, requesting it to protest against the invasion of Belgium; also a telegram to the President of the United States, requesting him to take the same action. And then what pandemonium broke loose! Comrade Schneider, the brewery-worker, demanded to know whether Local Leesville had ever requested the National Executive Committee to protest against the invasion of Ireland. Had the Socialist party ever requested the President of the United States to protect Egypt and India from oppression?
Comrade Dr. Service, who had remained on his feet, began a passionate denunciation of the outrages perpetrated by the German army in Belgium; at which Comrade Schneider's florid face turned purple. He demanded whether all men did not know that France had first invaded Belgium, and that the Belgians had welcomed the French? Weren't all the Belgian forts turned toward Germany? Of course! answered the doctor. But what of that? Was it a crime for a man to know who was going to attack him?
The purple-faced brewer, without heeding this question, demanded: Did not all the world know that the French had begun the war with an aeroplane bombardment of the German cities? The Comrade Doctor, his face also purpling, replied that all the world knew this for a tale sent out by the German propaganda machine. HOW did all the world know it? roared Schneider. By a cable-censorship controlled by British gold?
Jimmie was much exicted by this dispute. The only trouble was that he found himself in agreement with both sides, and with an impulse to applaud both sides. And also he applauded the next speaker, young Emil Forster, a pale, slender, and fair-haired youth, a designer in the carpet-factory. Emil was one who seldom raised his voice in the meetings, but when he did, he was heard with attention, for he was a student and a thinker; he played the flute, and his father, also a member of the local, played the clarinet, so the pair were invaluable on "social evenings". In his gentle, dispassionate voice he explained how it was not easy for people in America to understand the dilemma of the German Socialists in the present crisis. We must remember that the Germans were fighting, not merely England and France, but Russia; and Russia was a huge, half-civilized land, under perhaps the most cruel government in the world. How would Americans feel if up in Canada there were three hundred millions of people, ignorant, enslaved, and being drilled in huge armies?
All right, retorted Dr. Service. But then why did not the Germans fight Russia, and let France and Belgium alone?
Because, answered Emil, the French would not permit that. We in America thought of France as a republic, but we must remember that it was a capitalist republic, a nation ruled by bankers; and these bankers had formed an alliance with Russia, the sole possible aim of which was the destruction of Germany. France had loaned something like four billions of dollars to Russia.
And then Schneider leaped up. Yes, and it was that money which had provided the cannon and shells that were now being used in laying waste East Prussia, the land of Schneider's birth!
The temper of both sides was rising higher and higher, and the neutrals made efforts to calm the dispute. Comrade Stankewitz, Jimmie's cigar-store friend, cried out in his shrill eager voice: Vy did we vant to git mixed up vit them European fights? Didn't we know vat bankers and capitalists vere? Vat difference did it make to any vorking man vether he vas robbed from Paris or Berlin? "Sure, I know," said Stankewitz, "I vorked in both them cities, and I vas every bit so hungry under Rothschild as I vas under the Kaiser."
Then Comrade Gerrity, organizer of the local, took his turn. Whatever they did, said Gerrity, they must keep their neutrality in this war; the one hope of the world just now was in the Socialist movement—that it would preserve the international spirit, and point a war-torn world back to peace. Especially just now in Local Leesville they must keep their heads, for they were beginning the most important move in their history, the establishment of a weekly paper. Nothing must get in the way of that!
Yes, said Comrade Service, but they would have to determine the policy of the paper, would they not? Were they going to protest against injustice at home, and pay no attention to the most flagrant act of international injustice in the history of the world? Was a working man's paper to say nothing against the enslavement of the working men of Europe by the Kaiser and his militarist crew? He, Dr. Service, would wash his hands of such a paper.
And then the members of the local gazed at one another in dismay. Every man and woman of them knew that the prosperous doctor had headed the list of subscribers for the soon-to-be-born Leesville Worker with the sum of five hundred dollars. The thought of losing this munificent contribution brought consternation even to the Germans!
But there was one member of the local whom no menace ever daunted. He rose up now—lean, sallow almost to greenness, with black hair falling into his eyes, and a cough that racked him at every other sentence. Bill Murray was his name; "Wild Bill", the papers called him. The red card he carried had been initialled by the secretaires of some thirty locals all over the country. He had lost a couple of toes under a tractor-plough in Kansas, and half a hand in a tin-plate mill in Alleghany County; he had been clubbed insensible in a strike in Chicago, and tarred and feathered in a free speech fight in San Diego. And now he told the members of Local Leesville what he thought of those tea-party revolutionists who pandered to the respectability of a church-ridden community. "Wild Bill" had watched the discussions over "Section Six", the provision in the constitution of the party against sabotage and violence; the very same persons who had been enthusiastic for that bit of middle-class fakery were now trying to line up the local for the defence of the British sea-power! What the hell difference did it make to any working man whether or not the Kaiser got a railroad to Bagdad? Of course, if a man had been to school in Britain, and had a British wife, and felt himself a British gentleman—you could feel the shudder that went through the gathering, for everyone knew that this was Dr. Service—all right, let that man take the first ship across the ocean and enlist; but let him not try to turn an American Socialist local into a recruiting-agency for British landlords and aristocrats.
This brought to his feet Comrade Norwood, the young lawyer who had helped to put through "Section Six" in the National Convention of the party. If there were people so keen against this Section, why couldn't they get out of the party and form an organization of their own?
"Because," answered Murray, "we prefer sabotage to striking!"
"In other words," continued Norwood, "you stay in the local, and by a campaign of sneering and personalities you drive your opponents out!"
"This is the first meeting for some months that we have had the pleasure of seeing Comrade Norwood," said "Wild Bill", with venomous placidity. "Perhaps he knew that we were to be asked to raise a regiment for Kitchener!"
And then again Comrade Stankewitz was on his feet, with distress in his thin, eager face. "Comrades, all this vill not get us anyvere! There is but vun question ve have to answer, are ve internationalists, or are ve not?"
"It seems to me," continued Norwood, "the question is, are we anti-nationalists?"
"All right!" shrilled the little Jew. "I vill leave it so—I am an anti-nationalist! Such must all Socialists be!"
"But I don't understand it so," declared the young lawyer. "It is easy for some who belong to a race which has not had a country for two thousand years—"
"And who's dealing in personalities now?" sneered "Wild Bill".
So matters went in Local Leesville. The upshot of the debate was that Comrade Dr. Service declared that he washed his hands of the Socialist Party from that time on. And the Comrade Doctor buttoned his handsome black coat over his stately chest and stalked out of the room. The greater part of the remainder of that meeting was devoted to a discussion of him and his personality and his influence in the local. He was no Socialist at all, declared Schneider, he was an English aristocrat, or the next thing to it—his wife had two brothers in the British Expeditionary Force, and a nephew already enlisted in the Territorials, and a visiting cousin on the point of setting out for Canada, as the quickest way of getting into the mix-up. But in spite of all these damaging circumstances, the local was not disposed to give up its most generous supporter, and Comrade Gerrity, the organizer, and Comrade Goldstein of the Ypsels, were constituted a committee to go and plead with him and try to bring him back into the fold.
As for Jimmie Higgins, his problem was not so complicated. He had no relatives anywhere that he knew of; and if he had any "country", the country had failed to make him aware of the fact. The first thing the "country" had done for him was to put him into the hands of a negro woman who fed him gruel and water and gave him no blanket in winter. To Jimmie this country was an aggregation of owners and bosses, who made you sweat hard for your wages, and sent the police to club you if you made any kick. A soldier Jimmie thought of as a fellow who came to help the police when they got hard pushed. This soldier walked with his chest out and his nose in the air, and Jimmie referred to him as a "tin willie", and summed him up as a traitor to the working-class.
And so it was easy for our little machinist to agree with the Roumanian Jewish cigar-seller in calling himself an "anti- nationalist". It was easy for him to laugh and applaud when "Wild Bill" demanded what the hell difference it made to any working man whether or not the Kaiser got a railroad to Bagdad. He did not thrill in the least over the story of the British Army falling back step by step across France, and holding ten times their number of invaders. The papers called this "heroism"; but to Jimmie it was a lot of poor fools who had had a flag waved in their eyes, and had sold themselves for a shilling to the landlords of their country. In one of the Socialist papers that Jimmie read, there appeared every week a series of comic pictures in which the working man was figured as a guileless fool by the name of "Henry Dubb". Poor Henry always believed what he was told, and at the end of each adventure he got a thump on the top of his nut which caused stars to sprout over the page. And of the many adventures of Henry Dubb, the most absurd were when he got himself into a uniform. Jimmie would cut these pictures out and pass them round in the shop, and among his neighbours in the row of tenement-shacks where he lived.
Nor did it make much difference in Jimmie's feelings when he read of German atrocities. To begin with, he did not believe in them; they were just a part of the poison-gas of war. When men were willing to stab one another with bayonets, and to blow one another to pieces with bombs, they would be willing to lie about one another, you might be sure; the governments would lie deliberately, as one of the ways of making the soldiers fight harder. What? argued Jimmie: tell him that Germans were a lot of savages? When he lived in a city with hundreds of them, and met them all the time at the local?
Here, for instance, was the Forster family; where would you find a kinder lot of people? They were much above Jimmie in social standing—they owned their own house and had whole shelves full of books, and a pile of music as high as yourself; but recently Jimmie had stopped on a Socialist errand, and they had invited him in to supper, and there was a thin, worn, sweet-faced little woman, and four growing daughters—nice, gentle, quiet girls—and two sons younger than Emil; they had a pot-roast of beef, and a big dish of steaming potatoes, and another of sauerkraut, and some queer pudding that Jimmie had never heard of; and then they had music—they were fairly dippy on music, that family, they would play all night if you would listen, old Hermann Forster with his stout, black-bearded face turned up as if he were seeing Heaven. And you wanted Jimmie to believe that a man like that would carry a baby on a bayonet, or rape a girl and then cut off her hands!
Or there was Comrade Meissner, a neighbour of Jimmie's, a friendly little chatter-box of a man who was foreman-in-charge of a dozen women from as many different races of the earth, packing bottles in the glass-works. The tears would come into Meissner's pale blue eyes when he told how he was made to drive these women, sick, or in the family way, or whatever it might be. And remember, it was an American superintendent and an American owner who gave Meissner his orders—not a German! The little man could not quit his job, because he had a brood of children and a wife with something the matter with her—nobody could tell what it was, but she took all kinds of patent medicines, which kept the family poor. Sometimes Lizzie Higgins would go over to see her, and the two would sit and exchange ideas about ailments and the prices of food; and meantime Meissner would come over to where Jimmie was minding the Jimmie babies, and the two would puff their cobs and discuss the disputes between the "politicians" and the "direct actionists" in the local. And you wanted Jimmie to believe that men like Meissner were standing old Belgian women against the walls of churches and shooting them full of bullets!
But as the weeks passed, the evidence of atrocities began to pile in, and so Jimmie Higgins was driven to a second line of defence. Well, maybe so, but then all the armies were alike. Somebody told Jimmie the saying of a famous general, that war was hell; and Jimmie took to this—it was exactly what he wanted to believe! War was a return to savagery, and the worse it became, the better Jimmie's argument went. He was not interested in men's efforts to improve war, by agreeing that they would kill in this way but not in that way, they would kill this kind of people but not that kind.
These ideas Jimmie got from his fellow members in the local, and from the Socialist papers which came each week and from the many speakers he heard. These speakers were men and women of burning sincerity and with a definite and entirely logical point of view. Whether they talked about war, crime, prostitution, political corruption, or any other social evil, what they wanted was to tear down the old ramshackle structure, and to put in its place something new and intelligent. You might possibly bring them to admit slight differences between capitalist governments but when it came to a practical issue, to an action you found that to these people all governments were alike—and never so much alike as in war-time!
Nor was there ever such need for Socialist protest! Very quickly it became apparent that it was not going to be an easy matter for America to keep out of this world-vortex. Because American working men did not get a living wage, and could not buy what they produced, there was a surplus product which had to be sold abroad; so the business of American manufacturers depended upon foreign markets —and here suddenly were all the principal trading nations of the world plunging in to buy all the American products they could, and to keep their enemies from buying any at all.
A woman speaker came to Leesville a shrewd little body with a sharp tongue, who had these disputes figured out, and gave them in dialogue, as in a play. Kaiser Bill says, "I want cotton" John Bull says, "You shan't have it." Uncle Sam says, "But he has a right to have it. Get out of the way, John Bull." But John Bull says, "I will hold up your ships and take them into my ports." Uncle Sam says, "No, no! Don't do that!" But John Bull does it. And then the Kaiser says, "What sort of a fellow are you to let John Bull steal your ships? Are you a coward, or are you secretly a friend of this old villain? Uncle Sam says, "John Bull, give me my German mail and my German newspapers, at least. But John Bull answers, "You've got a lot of German spies in your country—that's why I can't let you have your mail. You can't have German papers because the Kaiser fills them full of lies about me." And the Kaiser says, "If John Bull won't let me have my cotton and my meat and all the rest of it, why don't you stop sending anything to him?" He waits a while, and then he says, "If you won't stop sending things to that old villain, I'll sink the ships, that's all." And Uncle Sam cries, "But that's against the law!" "Whose law?" says the Kaiser. "What sort of a law is it that works only one way?" "But there are Americans on those ships!" cries Uncle Sam. "Well, keep them off the ships!" answers the Kaiser. "Keep them off till John Bull obeys the law."
Put in this way the situation was easy for any Jimmie Higgins to understand; and month by month, as the debate continued, Jimmie's own point of view became clearer. He was not interested in sending cotton to England, and still less in sending meat. He thought he was lucky if he had a bit of meat twice a week himself, and it was plain enough to him that if the fellows who owned the meat were not allowed to ship it abroad, they might sell it in America at a price that a working man could pay. Nor was that just greediness on Jimmie's part; he was perfectly willing to go without meat where an ideal was involved—look at the time and money and energy he gave to Socialism! The point was that by sending goods to Europe, you helped to keep up the fighting; whereas, if you quit, the fools must come to their senses. So the Jimmie Higginses worked out their campaign-slogan: "Starve the War and Feed America!"
In the third month of the war, disturbing rumours began to run about Leesville. Old Abel Granitch had taken on a contract with the Belgian government, and the Empire Machine Shops were going to make shells. Nothing appeared about this in the local papers, but everybody claimed to have first-hand knowledge, and although no two people told the same story, there must be some basis of truth in them all. And then, one day, to Jimmie's consternation, he heard from Lizzie that the agent of the landlord had called and served notice that they had three days to vacate the premises. Old man Granitch had bought the land, and the Shops were to build out that way. Jimmie could hardly credit his ears, for he was six city blocks from the nearest part of the Shops; but it was true, so everyone declared; all that land had been bought up, and half a thousand families, children and old people, and sick people, men on their death-beds and women in child-birth—all had three days in which to move themselves to new quarters.
Let anyone imagine the confusion, the babel of tongues, the women on their porches calling to one another, asking and giving advice! The denunciations and the scoldings and the threats to resort to law! The raids upon landlords, and how the prices went up! Jimmie hurried off to Comrade Meissner, who had bought a house and was paying instalments on it; Meissner, being a Socialist, did not try to fleece him, but was glad to have help in making his payments. There were no partitions in the garret which Jimmie rented, but they would hang curtains and make do somehow, and Lizzie would use Mrs. Meissner's stove until they could get something fixed upstairs. And then to the corner grocery, to borrow a hand-cart and get started at moving the furniture; for to-morrow everybody would be moving, and you would not be able to get anything on wheels for love or money. Until after midnight Jimmie and Meissner worked at transporting babies and bedding and saucepans and chairs and chicken-coops piled on the hand-cart.
And next morning at the shop, more excitement! It was four years now that Jimmie had been in the employ of old man Granitch, and in all that time he had done but one thing; standing in a vast room amid a confusion of whirling belts and wheels, a roar and screech and grumble and whirl that completely annulled one of the five senses. There came in front of him, mechanically propelled, a tray full of small oblong blocks of steel, which he fed, one with each hand, into two places in a machine; the machine took these blocks, and rounded off one end, and ground the rest a little smaller, and put a thread on it, and it dropped into a tray on the other side, a bolt. Because Jimmie had to watch the machine, and keep the oil-cups full, his was classed as semi-skilled labour, and was paid nineteen and a half cents an hour. Some time ago an expert had studied the process, and figured that with labour at that price it was one-eighth of a cent per hour cheaper to have the work done by hand than to instal a machine to do it; and so for four years Jimmie had his job, standing on one spot from seven to twelve, and again from twelve-thirty to six, and carrying home every Saturday night the sum of twelve dollars and twenty-nine cents. You might have thought that the huge machine-works would have made it twelve-thirty for good measure; but if so, you do not understand large scale production.
And now, all of an instant and without warning, Jimmie's precisely ordered and habitual world came to an end. He was at his post when the whistle blew, but the machinery did not move. And presently came the Irish foreman with the curt announcement that the machinery would never move again, at least not on that spot; it was to be cleared out of the way, and new machinery set up, and they were to fall to forthwith with wrenches and hammers and crow-bars to make a new world!
So for a week they did; and meantime, every night as he went home, Jimmie saw people's homes being wrecked—roofs falling in clouds of dust, and gangs of men loading the debris into huge motor-trucks. Before long they had got acetylene torches, and were working all night-gangs of labourers who lived in tents on vacant lots outside the city and kept their canvas cots warm with double shifts of sleepers. Jimmie Higgins realized the dreadful truth, that in spite of all the agitation of Socialists, the war had actually come to Leesville!
JIMMIE HIGGINS STRIKES IT RICH
It was some time before Jimmie understood the nature of the new machinery he was helping to set up. It was nobody's business to explain, for he was only a pair of hands and a strong back; he was not supposed to be a brain—while as for a soul or a conscience, nobody was supposed to be that. Russian agents had come to Leesville with seventeen millions of the money which the Paris bankers had put up; and so overnight whole blocks of homes were swept out of existence, and a huge new steel structure was rising, and on the spot where for four years Jimmie had made certain motions of the hands, they were preparing to manufacture new machinery for the quantity production of shell-casings.
When Jimmie had definitely learned what was in process, he was brought face to face with a grave moral problem. Could he, as an international Socialist, spend his time making shells to kill his German comrades? Could he spend his time making the machinery to make the shells? Would he take the bribe of old man Granitch, a working man's share of the hideous loot—an increase of four cents an hour, with the prospect of another four when the works got started? Jimmie had to meet this issue, just when it happened that one of his babies was sick, and he was cudgelling his head to think how he could ever squeeze out of his scanty wage the money to pay the doctor!
The answer was easy to Comrade Schneider, the stout and sturdy brewer, who stood up in the local and spoke with bitter scorn of those Socialists who stayed on in the pay of that old hell-devil, Granitch. Schneider wanted a strike in the Empire Machine Shops, and he wanted it that very night! But then rose Comrade Mabel Smith, whose brother was a bookkeeper for the concern. It was all very well for Schneider to talk, but suppose someone were to demand that the brewery-workers should strike and refuse to make beer for munition-workers? That was a mere quibble, argued Schneider; but the other denied this, declaring that it was an illustration of what the worker was up against, with no control of his own destiny, no voice as to what use should be made of his product. A man might say that he would have nothing to do with munition-work, and go out into the fields as a farmer—to raise grain, to be shipped to the armies! The solidarity of capitalist society was such that nowhere could a man find work that would not in some way be helping to kill his fellow-workers in other lands.
Jimmie Higgins talked solemnly to Lizzie of moving to Hubbardtown—tempted thereto by the signs he saw in an agency which had been set up in a vacant store on Main Street. The Hubbard Engine Company was trying to steal old man Granitch's workers, and was offering thirty-two cents an hour for semi-skilled labour! Jimmie made inquiry and learned that the company was extending its plant for gas-engines; for what purpose was not told, but men suspected that the engines were to go into motor-boats and be used for the sinking of submarines. So Jimmie decided that Comrade Mabel Smith was right; he might as well stay where he was. He would take as much money as he could get and use his new-found prosperity to make trouble for the war-profiteers. It was the first time in his life that Jimmie had ever been free from money-fear. He could now get a job anywhere at good wages, and so he did not care a hang what the boss might say. He would talk to his fellow-workers, and explain the war to them; a war of the capitalists at present, but destined perhaps to turn into another kind of war, which the capitalists would not find to their taste!
It was wonderful, incredible, the thing which had befallen Leesville. Full of hatred for the system as Jimmie Higgins was, he could not but be thrilled by what he saw. Thousands of men pouring into the once commonplace little city—men of a score of races and creeds, men old and young, white and black—even a few yellow ones! It was a boom like San Francisco in '49; the money which the Paris bankers had paid to the Russian government, and which the Russian government had paid to old man Granitch, spread out in a golden flood over the city. The speculators raised the price of land, the house-owners raised rents, the hotels doubled their prices, and even so, had to put people to bed on pool tables! Even Tom Callahan of the "Buffeteria"' had to hire two assistants, and build an extension, and move his kitchen into the back yard.
At night the hordes of strangers roamed the streets, and Lipsky's "Picture Palace" was packed to the doors, and the "Bon Marche Shoe Stores" had a new bankruptcy sale every week, and the swinging doors of the saloons were never still for hours on end. Of course, where so many men were gathered, there came women—swarms of women—of as many races as the men. Leesville had some two score churches, and had kept hitherto a careful pretence of decency; but now all barriers went down, the police-force of the city was overwhelmed by the new population—or was it by the golden flood from Paris by way of Russia? Anyway, you saw sights on Main Street which confirmed your distrust of war.
Never had there been such an opportunity for Socialist propaganda! All these hordes of men, collected from the ends of the earth, torn loose from home ties, from religion, from old habits of every sort, thrown together promiscuously, living in any old way, ready for any old thing that might come along! In former days these men had taken what was handed out to them by their newspaper editors and preachers and politicians; they had engaged in commonplace and respectable activities, had lived tame and unadventurous lives. But now they were making munitions; and you might say what you pleased, but there was a certain psychological condition incidental to the making of munitions. An employer could look pious and talk about law and order, so long as he was setting his men to hoeing weeds or shingling roofs or grading track; but what could he say to his men when he was making shells to be used in blowing men to pieces?
So came the Socialist and the Anarchist and the Syndicalist and the Industrial Unionist. Look at these masters, look at this civilization they have produced! In the world's oldest centres of culture ten or twenty millions of wage-slaves have been hurled together—and then the Socialist or Anarchist or Syndicalist or Industrial Unionist would describe in detail the bloody and bestial operations which these ten or twenty millions of men were performing. And each day's papers would bring fresh details for them to cite—famine and pestilence, fire and slaughter, poison gas, incendiary bombs, torpedoed passenger-ships. Look at these pious hypocrites, the masters, with their refinement, their culture, their religion! These are the people you are asked to follow, it is for such as these that you have been chained to the machines all these weary, toil-crowded years!
On every street corner, in every meeting-room, in every spot where the workers gathered at the noon hour, you would hear such arguments; and you would find men listening to them—men who perhaps had never listened to such arguments before. They would nod, and their faces would become grim—yes, the people up on top must be a rotten lot! Here in America, supposed to be a land of liberty and all that—here they were just the same, they were crowding to the trough to drink the blood that was poured out in Europe. Of course, they covered their greed with a camouflage of sympathy for the Allies; but did anybody believe that old man Granitch loved the Russian government? Certainly nobody in Leesville did; they knew that he was "getting his", and their hearts hardened with a grim resolve to "get theirs".
At first they thought they were succeeding. Wages went up, almost for the asking; never did the unskilled man have so much money in his pocket, while the man who could pretend to any skill at all found himself in the plutocratic class. But quickly men discovered the worm in this luscious war-fruit; prices were going up almost as fast as wages—in some places even faster. The sums you had to pay to the landlord surpassed belief; a single working man would be asked two or three dollars a week for twelve hours' use of a mattress and blanket, which in the old days he might have got for fifty cents. Food was scarce and of poor quality; before long you found yourself being asked to pay six cents for a hunk of pie or a cup of coffee—and then seven cents, and then ten. If you kicked, the proprietor would tell you a long tale about what he had to pay for rent and labour and supplies; and you could not deny that he was probably right. About the only thing that did not go up was a postage-stamp; and the Socialist would point to this and explain that the Post Office was run by Uncle Sam, instead of by Abel Granitch!
Every rise in price was a fresh stick of fuel for the Socialist machine, and gave new power to their propaganda of "Starve the War and Feed America!" The Socialist saw millions of tons of goods being loaded into steamships and sent to Europe to be destroyed in war; he saw the workers of Europe becoming enslaved by a bonded debt to a class of parasites in America, he saw America being drawn closer and closer to the abyss of the strife. The Socialist loved no part of this process. He clamoured for an embargo—not merely on munitions, but on food and everything, until the war-lords of Europe came to their senses. He urged the workers to strike, and thus force the politicians to declare the embargo.
Especially, of course, he urged this if he were a German or an Austrian, a Hungarian or a Bohemian. The latter were subject races, but they could not in these early days see beyond the fact that their fathers and brothers and cousins were being killed by the shells that were made in the Empire Machine Shops. With them stood also the Jews, who hated the Russian government so bitterly that nothing else mattered; also the Irish, whose first idea in life was to pay back John Bull for his sins of several centuries, and whose second idea was to take part in any sort of shivaree that was going. It was quite bewildering to Jimmie Higgins; he had wrestled with Catholics of several nations and got nothing but hard words for his pains, but now all of a sudden Tom Callahan of the "Buffeteria" and Pat Grogan of the grocery on the corner made the discovery that maybe he was not such a fool after all!
As a result of this ferment among the workers, the local had doubled its membership, and was holding soap-box meetings on a corner off Main Street on two evenings every week. The plans for the weekly paper, however, still hung fire. Comrade Dr. Service had lost his two brothers-in-law, one in the battle of Mons, and the other in the first frightful gas-attack at Ypres, where whole regiments of men were caught unprepared and died in awful torments. Also two of his wife's cousins had paid the price—one was blind, and the other a prisoner at Ruhleben, the worst fate of all. So Dr. Service made one last indignant speech in the local, and took his five hundred dollars to start a chapter of the Red Cross!
But now the Germans and the war-haters in the local were asking themselves, was Socialism to languish in the city of the Empire Machine Shops, just because one rich man with an English wife had proved a renegade? Such a question answered itself! The work of collecting subscription lists was taken up more vigorously than ever; and already more than half the lost five hundred had been made up, when one evening John Meissner came home with a most amazing story.
It was his custom to stop at Sandkuh's for one glass of beer on his way home in the evening; and when anybody in the saloon got to arguing about the war, he would take his chance to put in a little propaganda. This time he had made a regular speech, declaring that the workers would soon put an end to the munition-business; and a fellow had got to talking with him, asking him all sorts of questions about himself, and about the local. How many members did it have? How many of them felt as Meissner did? What were they doing about it? Pretty soon the man had drawn Meissner to a table in the back part of the place, asking about the proposed paper, and what its policy was to be; also about the unions in the city, and their policy, and the personalities of the leaders.
The man had said he was a Socialist, but Meissner did not believe him. Meissner thought he must be some kind of union organizer. There had been talk of various unions making an effort to break into the domain of old man Granitch; and, of course, there was always the I. W. W. trying to break in everywhere with its programme of the "one big union".
Meissner went on to tell how this mysterious stranger had stated to him that it would be possible to get plenty of money to back the proposition of a strike in the Empire Shops. The new plant was just ready to start up, and fresh swarms of men were coming in; what was wanted was some live fellows to get in with them and agitate for an eight hour day and a minimum wage scale of sixty cents an hour. Men who were willing to do that could get good money, and plenty of it; if the Leesville Worker would advocate such a policy, there was no reason why it should not start up the very next week, and publish a big edition and flood the town. The one essential was that arrangements should be made secretly. Meissner must trust no one save dyed-in-the-wool "reds", who would be willing to hustle, and not say where the pay came from. As earnest of his intentions, the stranger pulled out a roll of bills, and casually drew off half a dozen and slipped them into Meissner's hands. They were for ten dollars each—more money than a petty boss at the glass-works had ever got into his hands at one time in all his life!
Meissner exhibited the roll, and Jimmie stared with wide-open eyes. Here indeed was a new development of the war—ten dollar bills for Socialist propaganda to be picked up in the back rooms of saloons! What was this fellow's name? And where did he hang out? Meissner offered to take Jimmie to meet him, and so the two bolted their suppers and set out at top speed.
Jerry Coleman had mentioned several saloons where he was known, and in one of these they found him, a smooth-faced, smooth-spoken young fellow whom Jimmie would have taken for a detective or "spotter"—having had dealings with such in his days "on the road". The man wore good clothes, and his finger-nails were cared for, something which, as we know, is seldom permitted to working-men. But he did not put on airs, and he bade them call him by his first name. He talked to Jimmie a while, enough to make sure of his man, and then he peeled off some more bills, and told Jimmie to find more fellows who could be trusted. It wouldn't do for any one person to have too much money, for that would excite suspicion; but if they would go to work and spend that much for dodgers to be distributed among the munition-workers, and for street-meetings, and for the proposed radical paper—well, there was plenty more money in the place where this had come from.
Where was that place? Jimmie asked; and Jerry Coleman looked wise and winked. Then, after further consideration, he decided it might be well to tell them, provided they would pledge themselves not to mention it to others without his permission. This pledge they gave, and Jerry stated that he was a national organizer for the American Federation of Labour, which had resolved to unionize these munition-plants, and to establish the eight hour day. But it was of the utmost importance that the bosses should not get wind of the matter; it must not be revealed to anyone save those whom Coleman saw fit to trust. He was trusting Jimmie and Meissner, and they might know that the great labour organization was behind them, and would see them through regardless of expense. Of course, it would be expected that they would use the money honestly.
"Gee!" exclaimed Jimmie. "What do you take us for? A bunch of crooks?"
No, said the other, he was not such a poor judge of character. And Jimmie remarked grimly that anybody who was looking for easy money did not go into the business of Socialist agitation. If there was anything a Socialist could boast of, it was that their workers and elected officials never touched any graft. Mr. Coleman—that is, Jerry—would be handed a receipt for every dollar they spent.
It chanced that that same night there was a meeting of the Propaganda Committee of the local, which consisted of half a dozen of the most active members. Jimmie and Meissner hurried to this place, with their new-found wealth burning a hole in their pockets. They informed the committee that they had been collecting money for the propaganda fund, and produced before the eyes of the astounded comrades the sum of one hundred dollars.
It happened that the chairman of the committee had just received from the National Office of the party in Chicago a sample of a new leaflet entitled "Feed America First"; this leaflet could be had in quantities for a very low price, a dollar or two per thousand; as a result of Jimmie's contribution, a telegram was sent for ten thousand of the leaflets to be shipped by express. And then there was a proposition from the state office for Comrade Seaman, author of a book against war, to speak every night for two weeks in Leesville. The local had voted to turn down his proposition for lack of funds; but now, with the new contributions, the propaganda committee felt equal to the fifty dollars involved. And then there was the idea of Comrade Gerrity, the organizer, who was conducting street meetings every Wednesday and Saturday nights; if he could have an assistant, at fifteen a week, the soap-boxing could go on every night. John Meissner here put in—he was sure that contributions could be got for that purpose, provided the decision was made without delay. So the decision was made.
The meeting was adjourned, and then Meissner and Jimmie went into conference with Gerrity, the organizer, and Schneider, the brewer, and Comrade Mary Allen, all three of whom happened to be on the committee entrusted with the affairs of the Worker. Jimmie explained that they had met a union organizer—they could not tell about him, but the committee would have a chance to meet him—who would put up the balance of the money needed, provided that the paper would be willing to call at once for a strike of the Empire employees. Could that promise be made? And Comrade Mary Allen laughed, indicating her scorn for anybody who could cherish a doubt on that question! Comrade Mary was a Quaker; she loved all mankind with religious fervour—and it is astonishing how bitter people can become in the cause of universal love. Her sharp, pale face flushed, and her thin lips set, as she answered that the Worker would most surely fight the war-profiteers, so long as she was on the managing committee!
It was finally decided that Comrade Mary should call on Jerry Coleman in the morning, and satisfy herself that he really meant business; if so, she would get the full committee together on the following evening. The committee had authority to go ahead, as soon as the necessary fund was made up, so if Coleman was all right, there was no reason why the first issue of the paper should not appear next week. Comrade Jack Smith, a reporter on the Herald, the capitalist paper of Leesville, was to resign and become editor of the Worker, and he already had his editorials written—had been showing them about in the local for the past month!
Jimmie and Meissner set out for home, happy in the feeling that they had accomplished more for Socialism on that one night than in all the rest of their lives. But then, as they walked, there came suddenly a clamour of bells on the night air; a fire! They knew the signals, and counted the strokes, and made the discovery that it was in the neighbourhood of their own home! An engine went by on the gallop, with sparks streaming out behind, and they broke into a run. Before they had gone a couple of blocks, they saw a glare in the sky, and their hearts were in their throats; poor Meissner panted that he had neglected to pay his last month's insurance!
But as they ran, in the ever-growing throng of people, they realized that the fire was too near for their own home; also, it was a bigger blaze than could have been made by any number of shacks. And presently there were shouts in the crowd, "It's the Empire! The Old Shops!" There came a hook and ladder truck, rushing by with shrieking siren, and then the fire-chief in his automobile with a fiercely clanging bell; they turned the corner, and far down the street before them was the building in which for four years Jimmie had tended the bolt-making machine. They saw that one whole end of it was a towering, leaping, sweeping pillar of flames!
JIMMIE HIGGINS HELPS THE KAISER
Jimmie Higgins regarded with the utmost resentment the determination of the war to come to Leesville, in spite of all his labours to keep it out. Take the most preposterous thing you could imagine—the most idiotic thing on the face of the earth—take German spies! When Jimmie heard people talking about German spies, he laughed in their faces, he told them they were a bunch of fools, they belonged in the nursery; for Jimmie classed German spies with goblins, witches and sea-serpents. And here suddenly the bewildered little man found himself in the midst of a German spy mania, the like of which he could never have dreamed!
Everybody seemed to take it for granted that the Empire Machine Shops had been burned by German agents; they just knew it, and by the time the fire was out they had a hundred various stories to support their conviction. The fire had leaped from place to place in a series of explosions; the watchman, who had passed through the building only two minutes before, had rushed back and seen blazing gasolene, and had almost lost his life in the sweep of the flames. And next morning the Leesville Herald was out with letters half a foot high, telling these tales and insisting that the plant had been full of German agents, disguised as working men.
Before the day was by the police had arrested a dozen perfectly harmless German and Austrian labourers; at least that was the way it seemed to Jimmie, because of the fact that two of the men were members of the Socialist local. Somebody told Mrs. Meissner that all the Germans in Leesville were to be arrested, and the poor woman was trembling with terror. She wanted her husband to run away, but Jimmie persuaded them that this would be the worst possible course; so Meissner stayed in the house, and Jimmie kept his mouth shut for three whole days—an extraordinary feat for him, and a trial more severe than being in gaol.
He had lost his job—for ever, he thought. But in this again he misjudged the forces which had taken his life in their grip—the power of the gold which had come to Leesville by way of Russia. The day after the fire he received word to report for work again; old man Granitch was so anxious to keep his workers out of the clutches of the Hubbard Engine Company that he put them all, skilled and unskilled, at the job of clearing away the debris of the fire! And five days later came the first carloads of new material, brought on motor-trucks, and the rebuilding of the Empire Shops began. Would you believe it—some of the machinery which had not been damaged too much in the fire was fixed up, and at the end of a couple of weeks was starting up again, covered by a temporary canvas shelter, and with the walls of the new building rising round it!
That was the kind of thing which made America the marvel of the world. It had made old man Granitch young again, people said; he worked twenty hours a day in his shirt-sleeves, and the increase in his profanity was appalling. Even Lacey Granitch, his dashing son, quitted the bright lights of Broadway and came home to help the old man keep his contracts. The enthusiasm for these contracts became as it were the religion of Leesville; it spread even to the ranks of labour, so that Jimmie found himself like a man in a surf, struggling to keep his feet against an undertow.
The plans for the Worker were delayed, for the reason that when Comrade Mary Allen, the Quaker, went to look for Jerry Coleman the day after the fire, that dispenser of ten dollar bills had mysteriously disappeared. It was a week before he showed up again; and meantime fresh events had taken place, both in the local and outside. To begin with the latter, as presumably the more important, an English passenger liner, the pride of the Atlantic fleet, loaded to the last cabin with American millionaires, was torpedoed without warning by a German submarine. More than a thousand men, women and children went down, and the deed sent a shudder of horror through the civilized world. At the meeting of Local Leesville, which happened to take place the evening afterward, it proved a difficult matter to get business started.