SAMUEL THE SEEKER
BY Upton Sinclair
"Samuel," said old Ephraim, "Seek, and ye shall find."
He had written these words upon the little picture of Samuel's mother, which hung in that corner of the old attic which served as the boy's bedroom; and so Samuel grew up with the knowledge that he, too, was one of the Seekers. Just what he was to seek, and just how he was to seek it, were matters of uncertainty—they were part of the search. Old Ephraim could not tell him very much about it, for the Seekers had moved away to the West before he had come to the farm; and Samuel's mother had died very young, before her husband had a chance to learn more than the rudiments of her faith. So all that Samuel knew was that the Seekers were men and women of fervor, who had broken with the churches because they would not believe what was taught—holding that it was every man's duty to read the Word of God for himself and to follow where it led him.
Thus the boy learned to think of life, not as something settled, but as a place for adventure. One must seek and seek; and in the end the way of truth would be revealed to him. He could see this zeal in his mother's face, beautiful and delicate, even in the crude picture; and Samuel did not know that the picture was crude, and wove his dreams about it. Sometimes at twilight old Ephraim would talk about her, and the tears would steal down his cheeks. The one year that he had known her had sufficed to change the course of his life; and he had been a man past middle life, too, a widower with two children. He had come into the country as the foreman of a lumber camp back on the mountain.
Samuel had always thought of his father as an old man; Ephraim had been hurt by a vicious horse, and had aged rapidly after that. He had given up lumbering; it had not taken long to clear out that part of the mountains. Now the hills were swept bare, and the population had found a new way of living.
Samuel's childhood life had been grim and stern. The winter fell early upon the mountain wilderness; the lake would freeze over, and the roads block up with snow, and after that they would live upon what they had raised in the summer, with what Dan and Adam—Samuel's half- brothers—might bring in from the chase. But now all this was changed and forgotten; for there was a hotel at the end of the lake, and money was free in the country. It was no longer worth while to reap the hay from the mountain meadows; it was better to move the family into the attic, and "take boarders." Some of the neighbors even turned their old corncribs into sleeping shacks, and advertised in the city papers, and were soon blossoming forth in white paint and new buildings, and were on the way to having "hotels" of their own.
Old Ephraim lacked the cunning for that kind of success. He was lame and slow, tending toward stoutness, and having a film over one eye; and Samuel knew that the boarders made fun of him, even while they devoured his food and took advantage of him. This was the first bitterness of Samuel's life; for he knew that within old Ephraim's bosom was the heart of a king. Once the boy had heard him in the room beneath his attic, talking with one of the boarders, a widow with a little daughter of whom the old man was fond. "I've had a feeling, ma'am," he was saying, "that somehow you might be in trouble. And I wanted to say that if you can't spare this money, I would rather you kept it; for I don't need it now, and you can send it to me when things are better with you." That was Ephraim Prescott's way with his boarders; and so he did not grow in riches as fast as he grew in soul.
Ephraim's wife had taught him to read the Bible. He read it every night, and on Sundays also; and if what he was reading was sublime poetry, and a part of the world's best literature, the old man did not know it. He took it all as having actual relationship to such matters as trading horses and feeding boarders. And he taught Samuel to take it that way also; and as the boy grew up there took root within him a great dismay and perplexity, that these moral truths which he read in the Book seemed to count for so little in the world about him.
Besides the Bible and his mother, Ephraim taught his son one other great thing; that was America. America was Samuel's country, the land where his fathers had died. It was a land set apart from all others, for the working out of a high and wonderful destiny. It was the land of Liberty. For this whole armies of heroic men had poured out their heart's blood; and their dream was embodied in institutions which were almost as sacred as the Book itself. Samuel learned hymns which dealt with these things, and he heard great speeches about them; every Fourth of July that he could remember he had driven out to the courthouse to hear one, and he was never in the least ashamed when the tears came into his eyes.
He had seen tears even in the summer boarders' eyes; once or twice when on a quiet evening it chanced that the old man unlocked the secret chambers of his soul. For Ephraim Prescott had been through the War. He had marched with the Seventeenth Pennsylvania from Bull Run to Cold Harbor, where he had been three times wounded; and his memory was a storehouse of mighty deeds and thrilling images. Heroic figures strode through it; there were marches and weary sieges, prison and sickness and despair; there were moments of horror and of glory, visions of blood and anguish, of flame and cannon smoke; there were battle flags, torn by shot and shell, and names of precious memory, which stirred the deep places of the soul. These men had given their lives for Freedom; they had lain down to make a pathway before her— they had filled up a bloody chasm so that she might pass upon her way. And that was the heritage they handed to their children, to guard and cherish. That was what it meant to be an American; that one must hold himself in readiness to go forth as they had done, and dare and suffer whatever the fates might send.
Such were the things out of which Samuel's life was made; besides these he had only the farm, with its daily tasks, and the pageant of Nature in the wilderness—of day and night, and of winter and summer upon the mountains. The books were few. There was one ragged volume which Samuel knew nearly by heart, which told the adventures of a castaway upon a desert island, and how, step by step, he solved his problem; Samuel learned from that to think of life as made by honest labor, and to find a thrill of romance in the making of useful things. And then there was the story of Christian, and of his pilgrimage; the very book for a Seeker—with visions of glory not too definite, leaving danger of premature success.
And then, much later, some one left at the place a volume of the "Farm Rhymes" of James Whitcomb Riley; and before Samuel's eyes there opened a new vision of life. He had been happy; but now suddenly he realized it. He had loved the blue sky above him, and the deep woods and the sparkling lake; but now he had words to tell about them—and the common tasks of his life were transfigured with the glory of song. So one might milk the cow with stirrings of wonder, and mow in the meadows to the rhythm of "Knee-deep in June."
From which you may divine that Samuel was what is called an Enthusiast. He was disposed to take rosy views of things, and to believe what he was told—especially if it was something beautiful and appealing. He was given to having ideals and to accepting theories. He would be stirred by some broad new principle; and he would set to work to apply it with fervor. But you are not to conclude from this that Samuel was a fool. On the contrary, when things went wrong he knew it; and according to his religion, he sought the reason, and he sought persistently, and with all his might. If all men would do as much, the world might soon be quite a different place.
Such was Samuel's life until he was seventeen, and then a sad experience came to the family.
It was because of the city people. They brought prosperity to the country, everyone said, but old Ephraim regretted their coming, none the less. They broke down the old standards, and put an end to the old ways of life. What was the use of grubbing up stumps in a pasture lot, when one could sell minnows for a penny apiece? So all the men became "guides" and camp servants, and the girls became waitresses. They wore more stylish clothes and were livelier of speech; but they were also more greedy and less independent. They had learned to take tips, for instance; and more than one of the girls went away to the city to nameless and terrible destinies.
These summer boarders all had money. Young and old, it flowed from them in a continuous stream. They did not have to plow and reap—they bought what they wanted; and they spent their time at play—with sailboats and fishing tackle, bicycles and automobiles, and what not. How all this money came to be was a thing difficult to imagine; but it came from the city—from the great Metropolis, to which one's thoughts turned with ever livelier interest.
Then, one August, came a man who opened the gates of knowledge a little. Manning was his name—Percival Manning, junior partner in the firm of Manning & Isaacson, Bankers and Brokers—with an address which had caused the Prescott family to start and stare with awe. It was Wall Street!
Mr. Percival Manning was round and stout, and wore striped shirts, and trousers which were like a knife blade in front; also, he fairly radiated prosperity. His talk was all of financial wizardry by which fortunes were made overnight. The firm of Manning & Isaacson was one of the oldest and most prosperous in the street, so he said; and its junior partner was in the confidence of some of the greatest powers in the financial affairs of the country. And, alas! for the Prescott family, which did not read the magazines and had never even heard of a "bucket-shop"!
Adam, the oldest brother, took Mr. Manning back to Indian Pond on a fishing trip; and Samuel went along to help with the carries. And all the way the talk was of the wonders of city life. Samuel learned that his home was a God-forsaken place in winter—something which had never been hinted at in any theological book which he had read. Manning wondered that Adam didn't get out to some place where a man had a chance. Then he threw away a half-smoked cigar and talked about the theaters and the music halls; and after that he came back to the inexhaustible topic of Wall Street.
He had had interesting news from the office that day; there was a big deal about to be consummated—the Glass Bottle Trust was ready for launching. For nearly a year old Harry Lockman—"You've heard of him, no doubt—he built up the great glass works at Lockmanville?" said Manning. No, Adam confessed that he had never heard of Lockman, that shrewd and crafty old multi-millionaire who had gone on a still hunt for glass-bottle factories, and now had the country in the grip of the fourteen-million-dollar "Glass Bottle Securities Company." No one knew it, as yet; but soon the enterprise would be under full sail—"And won't the old cormorant take in the shekels, though!" chuckled Manning.
"That might be a good sort of thing for a man to invest in," said Adam cautiously.
"Well, I just guess!" laughed the other. "If he's quick about it."
"Do you suppose you could find out how to get some of that stock?" was the next question.
"Sure," said Manning—"that's what we're in business for."
And then, as luck would have it, a city man bought the old Wyckman farm, and the trustees of the estate came to visit Ephraim in solemn state and paid down three crisp one-thousand-dollar bills and carried off the canceled mortgage. And the old man sat a-tremble holding in his hands the savings of his whole lifetime, and facing the eager onslaught of his two eldest sons.
"But, Adam!" he protested. "It's gambling!"
"It's nothing of the kind," cried the other. "It's no more gambling than if I was to buy a horse because I knowed that horses would be scarce next spring. It's just business."
"But those factories make beer bottles and whisky bottles!" exclaimed the old man. "Does it seem right to you to get our money that way?"
"They make all kinds of bottles," said Adam; "how can they help what they're used for?"
"And besides," put in Dan, with a master-stroke of diplomacy, "it will raise the prices on 'em, and make 'em harder to git."
"There's been fortunes lost in Wall Street," said the father. "How can we tell?"
"We've got a chance to get in on the inside," said Adam. "Such chances don't happen twice in a lifetime."
"Just read this here circular!" added Dan. "If we let a chance like this go we'll deserve to break our backs hoeing corn the rest of our days."
That was the argument. Old Ephraim had never thought of a broken back in connection with the hoeing of corn. There were four acres in the field, and every spring he had plowed and harrowed it and planted it and replanted what the crows had pulled up; and all summer long he had hoed and tended it, and in the fall he had cut it, stalk by stalk, and stacked it; and then through October, sitting on the bare bleak hillside, he had husked it, ear by ear, and gathered it in baskets—if the season was good, perhaps a hundred dollars' worth of grain. That was the way one worked to create a hundred dollars' worth of Value; and Manning had paid as much for the fancy-mounted shotgun which stood in the corner of his room! And here was the great fourteen-million- dollar Glass Bottle Trust, with properties said to be worth twenty- five million, and the control of one of the great industries of the country—and stock which might easily go to a hundred and fifty in a single week!
"Boys," said the old man, sadly, "it won't be me that will spend this money. And I don't want to stand in your way. If you're bent on doing it—"
"We are!" cried Adam.
"What do you say, Samuel?" asked the father.
"I don't know what to say," said Samuel. "It seems to me that three thousand dollars is a lot of money. And I don't see why we need any more."
"Do you want to stand in the way?" demanded Adam.
"No, I don't want to stand in the way," said Samuel.
And so the decision was made. When they came to give the order they found themselves confronted with a strange proposition; they did not have to buy the whole stock, it seemed—they might buy only the increase in its value. And the effect of this marvelous device would be that they would make ten times as much as they had expected to make! So, needless to say, they bought that way.
And they took a daily paper and watched breathlessly, while "Glass Bottle Securities" crept up from sixty-three and an eighth to sixty- four and a quarter. And then, late one evening, old Hiram Johns, the storekeeper, drove up with a telegram from Manning and Isaacson, telling them that they must put up more "margin"—"Glass Bottle Securities" was at fifty-six and five eighths. They sat up all night debating what this could mean and trying to lay the specters of horror. The next day Adam set out to go to the city and see about it; but he met the mail on the way and came home again with a letter from the brokers, regretfully informing them that it had been necessary to sell the stock, which was now below fifty. In the news columns of the paper they found the explanation of the calamity—old Henry Lockman had dropped dead of apoplexy at the climax of his career, and the bears had played havoc with "Glass Bottle Securities."
Their three thousand dollars was gone. It took them three days to realize it—it was so utterly beyond belief, that they had to write to the brokers and receive another letter in which it was stated in black and white and beyond all misunderstanding that there was not a dollar of their money left. Adam raged and swore like a madman, and Dan vowed savagely that he would go down to the city and kill Manning. As for the father, he wrote a letter of agonized reproach, to which Mr. Manning replied with patient courtesy, explaining that he had had nothing to do with the matter; that he was a broker and had bought as ordered, and that he had been powerless to foresee the death of Lockman. "You will remember," he said, "that I warned you of the uncertainties of the market, and of the chances that you took." Ephraim did not remember anything of the sort, but he realized that there was nothing to be gained by saying so.
Samuel did not care much about the loss of his share of the money; but he did care about the grief of his father, which was terrible to see. The blow really killed him; he looked ten years older after that week and he failed all through the winter. And then late in the spring he caught a cold, and took to his bed; and it turned to pneumonia, and almost before anyone had had time to realize it, he was gone.
He went to join Samuel's mother. He had whispered this as he clutched the boy's hand; and Samuel knew that it was true, and that therefore there was no occasion for grief. So he was ashamed for the awful waves of loneliness and terror which swept over him; and he gulped back his feelings and forced himself to wear a cheerful demeanor—much too cheerful for the taste of Adam and Dan, who were more concerned with what their neighbors would think than they were with the subtleties of Samuel's faith.
The boy had been doing a great deal of thinking that winter; and after the funeral he called a council of the family.
"Brothers," he said, "this farm is too small for three men. Dan wants to marry already; and we can't live here always. It's just as Manning said—"
"I don't want to hear what that skunk said!" growled Adam.
"Well, he was right that time. People stay on the land and they divide it up and get poorer and poorer. So I've made up my mind to break away. I'm going to the city and get a start."
"What can you do in the city?" asked Dan.
"I don't know," said Samuel. "I'll do my best. I don't expect to go to Wall Street and make my fortune."
"You needn't be smart!" growled Dan.
But the other was quite innocent of sarcasm. "What I mean is that I'll have to work," said he. "I'm young and strong, and I'm not afraid to try. I'll find somebody to give me a chance; and then I'll work hard and learn and I'll get promoted. I've read of boys that have done that."
"It's not a bad idea," commented Adam.
"Go ahead," said Dan.
"The only thing is," began Samuel, hesitatingly, "I shall have to have a little money for a start."
"Humph!" said Adam. "Money's a scarce thing here."
"How much'll ye want?" asked the other.
"Well," said the boy, "I want enough to feel safe. For if I go, I promise you I shall stay till I succeed. I shan't play the baby."
"How do you expect to raise it?" was the next question.
"I thought," replied Samuel, "that we might make some kind of a deal— let me sell out my share in the farm."
"You can't sell your share," said Adam, sharply. "You ain't of age."
"Maybe I'm not," was the answer; "but all the same you know me. And if I was to make a bargain I'd keep it. You may be sure I'll never come back and bother you."
"Yes, I suppose not," said Adam, doubtfully. "But you can't tell—"
"How much do you expect to git?" asked Dan warily.
"Well, I thought maybe I could get a hundred dollars," said the other and then he stopped, hesitating.
Adam and Dan exchanged a quick glance.
"Money's mighty scarce hereabouts," said Adam.
"Still," said Dan, "I don't know, I'll go to the village tomorrow and see what I can do."
So Dan drove away and came back in the evening and there was another council; he produced eight new ten-dollar bills.
"It was the best I could do," he said. "I'm sorry if it ain't enough"- -and then he stopped.
"I'll make that do," said Samuel.
And so his brother produced a long and imposing-looking document; Samuel was too polite to read it but signed at once, and so the bargain was closed. And that night Samuel packed his few belongings in a neat newspaper bundle and before sunrise the next morning he set out upon his search.
He had his bundle slung over his back and his eighty dollars pinned tightly in an inside pocket. Underneath it his heart beat fast and high; he was young and he was free—the open road stretched out before him, and perpetual adventure beckoned to him. Every pilgrimage that he had ever read of helped to make up the thrill that stirred him, as he stood on the ridge and gazed at the old farmhouse, and waved his hand, and turned and began his journey.
The horse was needed for the plowing, and so Samuel walked the six miles to the village, and from there the mail stage took him out to the solitary railroad station. He had three hours to wait here for the train, and so he decided that he would save fifteen cents by walking on to the next station. Distance was nothing to Samuel just then.
Halfway to his destination there was a fire in a little clearing by the track, and a young man sat toasting some bread on a stick.
"Hello!" he said. "You're hittin' her lively."
"Yes," said Samuel. The stranger was not much older than he, but his clothing was dirty and he had a dissipated, leering face.
"You're new at this game, aren't you?" said he.
"What game?" asked Samuel.
The other laughed. "Where ye goin'?"
"To New York."
"Goin' to hoof it all the way?"
"No!" gasped the boy. "I'm just walking to the next station."
"Oh, I see! What's the fare?"
"Six thirty-seven, I think."
"Humph! Got the price, hey!"
"Yes—I've got the price." Samuel said this without pride.
"Well, you won't have it long if you live at that rate," commented the stranger. "Why don't you beat your way?"
"How do you mean?" asked Samuel.
"Nobody but a duffer pays fare," said the other. "There'll be a freight along pretty soon, and she stops at the water tank just below here. Why don't you jump her?"
Samuel hesitated. "I wouldn't like to do that," he said.
"Come," said the other, "sit down."
And he held out a piece of his toast, which Samuel accepted for politeness' sake. This young fellow had run away from school at the age of thirteen; and he had traveled all over the United States, following the seasons, and living off the country. He was on his way now from a winter's holiday in Mexico. And as Samuel listened to the tale of his adventures, he could not keep the thought from troubling him, how large a part of eighty dollars was six thirty-seven. And all in a single day.
"Come," said the young fellow; and they started down the track. The freight was whistling for brakes, far up the grade. And Samuel's heart thumped with excitement.
They crouched in the bushes, not far beyond the tank. But the train did not stop for water; it only slowed down for a curve, and it thundered by at what seemed to Samuel an appalling rate of speed. "Jump!" shouted the other, and started to run by the track. He made a leap, and caught, and was whirled on, half visible in a cloud of dust.
Samuel's nerve failed him. He waited, while car after car went by. But then he caught hold of himself. If anyone could do it, so could he. For shame.
He started to run. There came a box-car, empty, with the door open, and he leaped and clutched the edge of the door. He was whirled from his feet, his arms were nearly jerked out of him. He was half blinded by the dust, but he hung on desperately, and pulled himself up. A minute more and he lay gasping and trembling upon the floor of the car. He was on his way to the city.
After a while, Samuel began to think; and then scruples troubled him. He was riding free; but was he not really stealing? And would his father have approved of his doing it? He had begun his career by yielding to temptation! And this at the suggestion of a young fellow who boasted of drinking and thieving! Simply to start such questions was enough, with Samuel; and he made up his mind that when he reached the city the first thing he would do would be to visit the office of the railroad, and explain what he had done, and pay his fare.
Perhaps an hour later the train came to a stop, and he heard some one walking by the track. He hid in a corner, ashamed of being there. Some one stopped before the car, and the door was rolled shut. Then the footsteps went on. There came clankings and jarrings, as of cars being shifted, and then these ceased and silence fell.
Samuel waited for perhaps an hour. Then, becoming restless, he got up and tried the door. It was fast.
The boy was startled and rather dazed. He sat down to think it out. "I suppose I'm locked in till we reach New York," he reflected. But then, why didn't they go?
"Perhaps we're on a siding, waiting for the passenger train to pass," was his next thought; and he realized regretfully that he would have been on that train. But then, as hour after hour passed, and they did not go on, a terrible possibility dawned upon him. He was left behind- -on a siding.
Two or three trains went by, and each time he waited anxiously. But they did not stop. Silence came again, and he sat in the darkness and waited and wondered and feared.
He had no means of telling the time; and doubtless an hour seemed an age in such a plight. He would get up and pace back and forth, like a caged animal; and then he would lie down by the door, straining his ears for a sound—thinking that some one might pass, unnoticed through the thick wall of the car.
By and by he became hungry and he ate the scanty meal he had in his bundle. Then he became thirsty—and he had no water.
The realization of this made his heart thump. It was no joking matter to be shut in, at one could not tell what lonely place, to suffer from thirst. He sprang up and began to pound and kick upon the door in a frenzy.
But he soon tired of that and crouched on the floor again listening and shivering, half with fear and half with cold. It was becoming chillier, so he judged it must be night; up here in the mountains there was still frost at night.
There came another train, a freight, he knew by the heavy pounding and the time it took to pass. He kicked on the door and shouted, but he soon realized that it was of no use to shout in that uproar.
The craving for water was becoming an obsession. He tried not to think about it, but that only made him think about it the more; he would think about not thinking about it and about not thinking about that— and all the time he was growing thirstier. He wondered how long one could live without water; and as the torment grew worse he began to wonder if he was dying. He was hungry, too, and he wondered which was worse, of which one would die the sooner. He had heard that dying men remembered all their past, and so he began to remember his—with extraordinary vividness, and with bursts of strange and entirely new emotions. He remembered particularly all the evil things that he had ever done; including the theft of a ride, for which he was paying the penalty. And meantime, with another part of his mind, he was plotting and seeking. He must not die here like a rat in a hole. There must be some way.
He tried every inch of the car—of the floor and ceiling and walls. But there was not a loose plank nor a crack—the car was new. And that suggested another idea—that he might suffocate before he starved. He was beginning to feel weak and dizzy.
If only he had a knife. He could have cut a hole for air and then perhaps enlarged it and broken out a board. He found a spike on the floor and began tapping round the walls for a place that sounded thin; but they all sounded thick—how thick he had no idea. He began picking splinters away at the juncture of two planks.
Meantime hunger and thirst continued to gnaw at him. At long intervals he would pause while a train roared by, or because he fancied he had heard a sound. Then he would pound and call until he was hoarse, and then go on picking at the splinters.
And so on, for an unknown number of hours, but certainly for days and nights. And Samuel was famished and wild and weak and gasping; when at last it dawned upon his senses that a passing train had begun to make less noise—that the thumping was growing slower. The train was stopping.
He leaped up and began to pound. Then he realized that he must control himself—he must save his strength until the train had stopped. But suppose it went on without delay? He began to pound again and to shout like a madman.
The train stopped and there was silence; then came sounds of cars being coupled—and meantime Samuel was kicking and beating upon the wall. He was almost exhausted and in despair—when suddenly from outside came a muffled call—"Hello!"
For a moment he could not speak. Then "Help! Help!" he shrieked.
"What's the matter?" asked the voice.
"I'm locked in," he called. .
"How'd you get in?"
"They locked me in by accident. I'm nearly dead."
"Who are you?"
"I was riding in the car."
"A tramp, hey? Serves ye right! Better stay there!"
"No! No!" screamed the boy, in terror. "I'm starving—I've been here for days. For heaven's sake let me out—I'll never do it again."
"If I let you out," said the voice, "it's my business to arrest you."
"All right," cried Samuel. "Anything—but don't leave me here."
There was a moment's silence. "Have you got any money?" asked the voice.
"Yes. Yes—I've got money."
"Don't yell so loud. How much?"
"I've got eighty dollars."
"All right. Give it to me and I'll let you out."
Frantic as he was, this staggered Samuel. "I can't give you all my money," he cried.
"All right then," said the other. "Stay there."
"No, no!" he protested. "Wait! Leave me just a little."
"I'll leave you five dollars," said the voice. "Speak up! Quick!"
"All right," said Samuel faintly. "I'll give it to you."
"Mind! No nonsense now!"
"No. Let me out!"
"I'll bat you over the head if you try it," growled the voice; and the boy stood trembling while the hasp was unfastened and the door was pushed back a little. The light of a lantern flashed in through the crack, blinding him.
"Now hand out the money," said the stranger, standing at one side for safety.
"Yes," said Samuel, fumbling with the pin in his waistcoat. "But I can't see to count it."
"Be quick! I'll count it!"
And so he shoved out the wad. Fingers seized it; and then the light vanished, and he heard the sound of footsteps running.
For a moment he did not understand. Then, "Give me my five dollars!" he yelled, and rolled back the door and leaped out. He was just in time to see the figure with the lantern vanish among the cars up the track.
He started to run up the track and tripped over a tie and fell headlong into a ditch. When he scrambled to his feet again the long train was beginning to move, and the light of the lantern was nowhere to be seen.
Samuel's money was gone, but he was suffering too keenly from hunger and thirst to worry about it for more than a minute. Then the thought came to him—he was here in a lonely place at night, and the train was going! If he were left he might still starve.
He ran over and caught the iron ladder of one of the freight cars and drew himself up and clung there. Later on he climbed on top of the car; but the wind was too cold—he could not stand it, and had to climb down again. And then he realized that he had left the bundle of his belongings in the empty car.
Fortunately for him the train began to slow up at the end of an hour or so, and peering out Samuel saw lights ahead. Also there were lights here and there in the landscape, and he realized that he had come to a large town. The east was just beginning to turn gray, and faint shadows of buildings were visible.
Samuel got off and walked up the track very carefully, for he was stiff as well as weak. There was a light in one of the offices at the depot, and he looked in at the window and saw a man seated at a desk writing busily. He knocked at the door.
"Come in," said a voice, and he entered.
"Please, may I have a drink of water?" he asked.
"Over there in the corner," said the man, scarcely looking up from his papers.
There was a bucket and dipper, and Samuel drank. The taste of the water was a kind of ecstasy to him—he drank until he could drink no more.
Then he stood waiting. "I beg pardon, sir," he began timidly.
"Hey?" said the man.
"I'm nearly starved, sir. I've had nothing to eat for I don't know how long."
"Oh!" exclaimed the other. "So that's it. Get out!"
"You don't understand," began Samuel, perplexed.
"Get out!" cried the man. "That don't go in here. No beggars allowed!"
Beggars! The word struck Samuel like a whip-lash.
"I'm no beggar!" he cried wildly. "I—" And then he stopped. He had been going to say, "I will pay for it."
He went out burning with shame, and on the spot he took his resolution—come what might, he would never beg. He would not put a morsel of food into his mouth until he had earned it.
Across from the depot was a public square, and a broad street with trolley tracks. Samuel walked down the street; and then, feeling weak and seeing a dark doorway, he went in and crouched in a corner. For a while he dozed; and then it was daylight. People were passing.
He got more water at a fountain and felt better. He went down one of the poorer streets where a man was opening a shop. There was food in the window—fruit and bread—and the sight made him ravenous. But he asked for work and the man shook his head.
Samuel went on. Shops were opened here and there; and everywhere he asked for a job—for any little thing to do—and always it was No. Now and then he caught a whiff of some one's breakfast—bacon frying, and coffee or hot bread in a bake shop. But each time he gripped his hands together and set his teeth. He would not beg. He would find work.
And so on through the morning. He went into stores, big and little. Sometimes they answered politely—sometimes gruffly; but no one hesitated a moment. He went past warehouses, where men were loading wagons—surely there would be work here.
He spoke to a busy foreman in his shirt sleeves.
"How often must I tell you no?" cried the man.
"But you never told me before," protested Samuel with great earnestness.
"Get out!" said the man. "There are so many of you—how the devil can I tell?"
There were so many! And suddenly Samuel realized that he had passed a good many poor-looking men upon the streets. And were they all hunting jobs and not finding them? Perhaps some were even begging and getting nothing by that.
He went on with a blank terror in his soul. He gazed at the people he passed on the street; some of them had kindly faces—surely they would have helped him had they known. But there was no way for him to let them know—no way but to be a beggar!
He came to the suburbs and asked at the houses. But no one wanted anything done. It was noon and people were at luncheon—he caught odors as doors were opened. He went back into the city, because he could not stand it. He was feeling weaker, and he was afraid with a ghastly fear. Pretty soon he might not be able to work!
It was a new idea to Samuel, that a man might starve in the midst of civilization. He could hardly believe it, and grew half-delirious as he thought about it. What would happen at the end? Would they let him lie down and die in the street? Or was there some place where starving men went to die?
So the day passed, and he found nothing. Several people advised him to get out of town—this was no place to look for work, they said. Apparently something was the matter with the place, but they did not stop to tell him what.
This was the first large town Samuel had ever seen, and under other circumstances he would have gazed at it with wonder. He passed great buildings of brick and stone, and trolley cars, and a fire-engine house, and many other strange sights. He came to a great high fence, inclosing many acres of buildings, dingy and black with smoke; there were tall chimneys, and rows of sheds, and railroad tracks running in. He passed other factories, huge brick buildings with innumerable windows; and many blocks of working-men's houses, small and dirty frame structures, with pale-faced children in the doorways. The roads and sidewalks here were all of black cinders, and it was hot even in May.
And then he came to a steel bridge and crossed a river and the road broadened out, and he climbed a hill and found himself walking upon a macadamized avenue lined with trees, and with beautiful residences overlooking the ridge. Rich people lived here, evidently; and Samuel stared, marveling at the splendor. He came to a great estate with a stone gateway and iron railings ten feet high, and an avenue of stately elm trees; there were bright green lawns with peacocks and lyre birds strutting about, and a great colonial mansion with white pillars in the distance. "Fairview," read the name upon the gates.
And then again Samuel remembered his appetite. Surely amid all this luxury there would be some chance for him! He started up the path!
He had got about halfway to the house when a man who was tending the flowers caught sight of him and came toward him. "What are you doing here?" he called, before he had come halfway.
"I'm looking for some work," began Samuel.
"Do you want to get your head punched?" shouted the man. "What do you mean by coming in here?"
"Why, what's the matter?" asked the boy perplexed.
"Get out, you loafer!" cried the other.
And Samuel turned and went quickly. A loafer!
So for the first time it occurred to him to look at his clothes, which were muddy from his tumble in the ditch. And no doubt his face and hands were dirty also, and his hair unkempt, and his aspect unprepossessing enough for an applicant for labor. At any rate it was clear that this was not the part of the town to seek it in; so he went back across the bridge.
Twilight had fallen and the stores were shutting up. Soon everything would be closed; and that night he felt that he would perish. And so at last desperation seized him.
He bolted into the first lighted place he saw.
It was a saloon—empty, save for a man in white behind the bar.
"I'm no beggar!" shouted Samuel.
"Hey?" said the man.
"I say I'm no beggar! I'll come back and pay you. I'm starving. I must have something to eat."
"Gee whiz!" said the man.
"I was never in a saloon in my life before," added Samuel, as he realized the character of the place. "But please—please give me something to eat."
"Hully gee, young feller!" exclaimed the bar-keeper. "You do it great. You ought to be an actor. Step up and feed your face."
"What?" stammered Samuel, perplexed.
"EAT!" said the other, and pointed. "Maybe you understand that."
And Samuel turned and saw a lot of food set out upon a counter. He rushed to it and began. At the first taste a kind of madness seized him, and he ate like a wild beast, gulping things.
For several minutes he did this, while the other watched curiously. Then he remarked, "Say, you'd better quit."
"What?" asked Samuel, seizing more food.
"I say quit," said the man. "Just for your own good. I see your story's true, an' a little rest won't hurt you."
Samuel gazed longingly at the food, desiring more handfuls. "Come over here," said the man. "What happened to you?"
"I was locked in an empty freight car."
"Humph! That's a new one! How long?"
"What day is this?"
"I was locked in Wednesday morning. It seemed longer."
"It's long enough," commented the barkeeper.
"I was robbed," Samuel went on. "A man took all my money." And then the old shame started up in him. "Don't think I'm a beggar. I'll work and pay for this."
"That's all right," said the barkeeper. "Be easy."
"Haven't you anything I can do? Some wood to split?" "We don't burn wood."
"Or some cleaning up?" Samuel looked round. The place did not seem very neat to him. "I'll scrub the floors for you," he said.
"We have 'em scrubbed in the early morning," replied the man.
"Well, let me come and do it," said Samuel.
"Go on!" said the other. "You'll be ready for more feed then."
"I'll come, just the same, sir."
"If you take my advice," the bartender observed, "you'll get out of this town. Lockmanville's a poor place to hunt jobs in."
Samuel started. "Lockmanville!" he gasped.
"Yes," said the other. "Don't you know where you are?"
"I didn't know," said the boy. "Lockmanville! The one where the big glass works are?"
"That's the one."
"And where old Henry Lockman lived!"
"What about it?" asked the other.
"Nothing," said Samuel, "only my father invested all his money in Lockman's company, and lost it."
"Gee!" said the bartender.
"Maybe if I told them," said the boy, "they'd give me some work here."
"Maybe," said the other—"only the works is shut down."
"Shut down!" cried Samuel; and then added, "On account of his death?"
"No—they always close in summer. But this year they closed in March. Times is bad."
"Oh," said Samuel.
"So there's plenty of men looking for jobs in Lockmanville,". the other continued, "an' some of the other factories is closed, too—the cotton mill is only runnin' half time."
"Old Lockman used to say there was too many glass works," the barkeeper added. "An' the fellers he bought out went an' built more. So there you are."
There was a pause. "I'm coming back in the morning," said Samuel doggedly.
"All right," said the other, with a smile—"if you don't forget it." Then a couple of customers entered. "Run along now," said he.
And Samuel went—the more readily because he realized that he had been all this time in a saloon, a place of mystery and wickedness to him.
He started down the street again. A fine cold rain had begun to fall. What was he to do?
He felt warm, having feasted. But there was no use in getting wet. He glanced into the doorways as he passed, and seeing a dark and empty one, crouched inside.
Lockmanville! What a curious coincidence! And there were hundreds in the town out of work. It seemed a strange and terrible thing. Could it be that they let people starve as he was starving—people they knew? Could it be that they went on about their business and paid no attention to such a thing?
He must get out, they told him. But how? Would the railroad take him, if he explained? Or would the people on the way give him work? He had got some food at last, but only by begging. And was he expected to beg?
There came footsteps outside. A man strode into the doorway and took hold of the door and tried it. Then he turned to go out. Samuel moved his foot out of the way.
"Hello!" said the man. "Who's that?"
"Only me," said Samuel.
"Get up there," commanded the other.
He got up and a hand seized him by the collar. "Who are you?"
He was jerked into the light before he had a chance to reply. "More bums!" growled the voice; and Samuel, terrified, saw that he was in the grasp of a policeman.
"Please, sir, I'm not doing any harm," he began.
"Come," said the policeman.
"Where to?" he cried.
But the other merely jerked him along. A sudden wild horror seized Samuel. "You're not going to arrest me!" he exclaimed.
"Sure," said the other. "Why not?"
"But," he exclaimed, "I've not done anything. I can't help it. I—"
He started to drag back, and the man twisted a huge hand, in his collar, choking him. "Do you want to be hit?" he growled.
So Samuel went on. But sobs shook him, convulsive sobs of terror and despair, and tears of shame rolled down his cheeks. He was going to jail!
"What's the matter with you?" said the policeman after a bit. "Why don't you be quiet?"
"You've no business to arrest me," wailed the boy. "I haven't done anything, and I couldn't help it. I've no place to go and no money. And it's not my fault."
"You can tell that to the judge," replied the other.
"But—but what have I done? Why—"
"Shut up!" said the officer, and gave another twist at his throat. And after that Samuel was quiet.
In the station-house a fat sergeant sat dozing upon his throne. "Another vagrant," said the policeman, as if to say there was no special need to rouse himself.
"What was he doing?" the sergeant asked.
"Sleeping in a doorway," was the reply.
By this time Samuel had come to realize the futility of protest. He accepted his fate with dumb despair. He gave the information the sergeant asked for—Samuel Prescott, aged seventeen, native born, from Euba Corners, occupation farmer, never arrested before.
"All right," said the man, and went back to his nap; and Samuel was led away, and after a pretense at a search was shoved into a cell and heard the iron door clang upon him.
He was alone now, and free to sob out his grief. It was the culmination of all the shame and horror that he could ever have imagined; first, to have to beg, and then to be locked up in jail. He knew now what they did with men who were out of work and starving.
He lay there weeping, and then suddenly he sat up transfixed. From the cell next to him had come a cry, a horrible blood-curdling screech, more like the scream of a wild cat than any human sound. Samuel listened, his heart pounding.
There came the voice of a man from across the corridor—"Shut up, you hag!" And after that bedlam broke loose. The woman—Samuel realized at last that the scream had come from a woman—broke forth into a torrent of yells and curses. Such hideous obscenities, such revolting blasphemies he had never heard in his life before—he had never dreamed that life contained within it the possibility of such depravity. It was like an explosion from some loathsome sewer; and its source was the lips of a woman.
For ten minutes or so the tirade continued until it seemed to the boy that every beautiful and sacred thing he had ever heard of in his life had been defiled forever. Then a jailer strolled down the corridor, and with a few vigorous and judicious oaths contrived to quell the uproar.
Samuel lay down again; and now he had a chance to make another discovery. He had felt sharp stinging sensations which caused him to scratch himself frantically. Then suddenly he realized that he was lying upon a mattress infested with vermin.
The discovery sent him bounding to the middle of the floor. It set him wild with rage. Such a thing had never happened to him in his life before, for his home was a decent and clean one. This was the crowning infamy—that they should have taken him, helpless as he was, and shut him up in a filthy hole to be devoured by bedbugs and lice.
In the morning they brought him bread and coffee; and after a couple of hours' more waiting he was taken to court.
It was a big bare room with whitewashed walls. There were a few scattered spectators, a couple of policemen and several men writing at tables. Seated within an inclosure were a number of prisoners, dull and listless looking. One by one they stepped up before the railing and faced the judge; there would be a few muttered words and they would move on. Everything went as a matter of routine, which had been going that way for ages. The judge, who was elderly and gray haired, looked like a prosperous business man in a masquerade costume.
Samuel's turn came and he stood before the bar. His name was read, and the charge—vagrancy.
"Well?" said the judge mechanically. "What have you to say for yourself?"
Samuel caught his breath. "It's not my fault, sir," he began.
"Your honor," prompted the policeman who stood at his elbow.
"Your honor," said Samuel, "I lost all my money. And I've been trying to find work, your honor."
"Have you any friends in town?"
"No, your honor."
"How long have you been here?"
"Only since yesterday, your honor."
"How did you get here?"
"I came in on a freight train, your honor."
"I see," said the judge. "Well, you came to the wrong place. We're going to put an end to vagrancy in Lockmanville. Thirty days. Next case."
Samuel caught his breath. "Your honor," he gasped.
"Next case," repeated the judge.
The policeman started to lead Samuel away. "Your honor," he cried frantically. "Don't send me to jail." And fighting against the policeman's grip, he rushed on, "It's not my fault—I'm an honest boy and I tried to find work. I haven't done anything. And you'll kill me if you send me to jail. Have mercy! Have mercy!"
The policeman shook him roughly. But there was something so genuine in Samuel's wail that the judge said, "Wait."
"How could I help it if I was robbed?" the boy rushed on, taking advantage of his chance. "And what could I do but ask for work? I was brought up honest, your honor. It would have killed my father if he'd thought I'd be sent to jail. He brought me up to earn my living."
"Who was your father?" asked the judge.
"His name was Ephraim Prescott, and he was a farmer. You can ask anyone at Euba Corners what sort of a man he was. He'd fought all through the war—he was wounded four times. And if he could be here he'd tell you that I don't deserve to go to jail."
There was a moment's pause. "What regiment was your father in?" asked the magistrate.
"He was in the Seventeenth Pennsylvania, your honor."
"Be careful, boy," said the other sternly. Don't try to deceive me."
"I don't want to deceive you, your honor," protested Samuel.
"What brigade was the Seventeenth Pennsylvania in?"
"In the Third Brigade, your honor."
"And who commanded it?"
"General Anderson—that is, until he was killed at the battle of Chancellorsville. My father was there."
"I was there, too," said the judge.
"My father used to tell me about it," exclaimed Samuel with sudden eagerness. "His brigade was in the right wing and they had a double line of trenches. And the rebels charged the line with cavalry. They charged a dozen times during the day, and there were big trees cut down by the bullets. My father said the rebels never fought harder than they did right there."
"Yes," said his honor, "I know. I was one of them."
Everyone within hearing laughed; and Samuel turned crimson.
"I beg pardon, your honor," he said.
"That's all right," said the judge. And then he added gravely, "Very well, Samuel, we'll give you another chance for your father's sake. But don't let me see you here again."
"No, your honor," said Samuel. Then he added quickly. "But what can I do?"
"Get out of Lockmanville," said the other.
"But how? When I've no money. If your honor could only help me to some work."
"No," said the judge. "I'm sorry, but I've found jobs for three men this week, and I don't know any more."
"But then—" began Samuel.
"I'll give you a dollar out of my own pocket," the other added.
"Your honor," cried Samuel startled, "I don't want to take money!"
"You can send it back to me when you get a job," said the judge, holding out a bill. "Take it. Prisoner discharged. Next case."
Samuel took the money and was turning away, when a man who had been sitting in a chair near the magistrate suddenly leaned forward.
"Judge," he said, "if I may interrupt—"
"Why, surely, professor," said the other pleasantly.
"I may possibly be able to find something for the boy to do."
"Ah, that will be fine!"
"He seems to be a capable young fellow and might be worth helping."
"The very thing, professor. Samuel, this is Professor Stewart, of Lockman College."
Samuel was very glad to meet the professor. He was a trim little gentleman, with a carefully cut black beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses.
"Here is my card," he said; "and if you'll come to see me to-morrow morning at my house, we'll see what we can do."
"Thank you very much," said the boy, and put the card in his pocket. Then, realizing suddenly that the policeman had let go of his arm, and that he was free, he turned and made his way through the gate.
"A diverting episode," said the professor.
"Yes," said the judge, with a smile. "We have them now and then, you see."
Samuel went out with a glow in his heart. At last he had got a start. He had got underneath the world's tough hide and found kindness and humanity after all. It had been a harrowing experience, but it would not happen again.
He had now one definite purpose in mind. He walked straight out of town and down the river road until he came to a sufficiently solitary place. Then he took off his clothes and sat down on the bank and performed a most elaborate toilet. For half an hour at least he scrubbed his head with sand and water, and combed his hair out with his fingers. And then he went over his clothing inch by inch. At least he would be through with one hideous reminder of his imprisonment.
After which he dressed again and went back to town and found the saloon where he had eaten.
"Hello!" said his friend Finnegan, the bar-keeper. "Back again!"
"I came to explain about this morning," said Samuel. "I couldn't come because they put me in jail."
"Gee!" said the other; but then he added, with a laugh, "Well, it was a wet night."
Samuel did not reply. "I'll come to-morrow morning," he said.
"You'd better get out of town, sonny," advised the other.
"I'm all right. The judge gave me a dollar."
"Humph! A dollar won't last forever."
"No. But I've got the promise of a job. There was a gentleman there— Professor Stewart, from the college."
"Hully gee!" said Finnegan. "I know that guy. A little runt with a black beard?"
"I guess so," said Samuel dubiously.
"I seen his pitcher in the paper," said the other. "He's one of them reformers—always messin' into things."
"Maybe that's why he was at the court," observed Samuel.
"Sure thing! He's a professor of sociology an' such things, an' he thinks he knows all about politics. But we handed him a few last election—just you bet!"
"Who's 'we'?" asked Samuel.
"The organization," said Finnegan; "the Democrats, o' course. Them reformers is always Republicans—the 'better element,' an' all that. That means the rich guys—that have their own little grafts to work. This perfessor was a great friend of old Henry Lockman—an' the old man used to run this town with his little finger. But they had a big strike here three years ago, and too many men got hit over the head. So it'll be a long day before there's any more 'reform' in Lockmanville."
"I see," said Samuel.
"They make a great howl about the saloons an' all the rest," added the barkeeper. "But when the Republicans ran things, my boss paid his little rake-off just the same, you can bet. But you needn't tell that to the perfessor."
"I won't," said the boy.
"What you goin' to do now?" asked the other.
"I don't know. I guess I'll have to get something to eat first."
"You'll find the cheapest way is to buy a glass of beer and then feed over there."
"No," said Samuel, startled. "I—I think I'd rather not do that."
"Well, so long," said Finriegan, with a laugh.
"You'll see me to-morrow morning," said Samuel, as he went out.
Samuel went to a bake shop and bought a loaf of bread and sat on the bench of the public square and devoured it bit by bit. It was the cheapest thing he could think of, and quantity was what counted just then.
Next he had to find a room to spend the night. He knew nothing about hotels and lodging-houses—he walked through the workingmen's quarter of the town, scanning the cottages hesitatingly. At last in the doorway of one he noticed a woman standing, an elderly woman, very thin and weary looking, but clean, and with a kindly face. So he stopped.
"Please," said he, "could you tell me any place where I could hire a room?"
The woman looked at him. "For how long?" she asked.
"I'm not quite sure," he said. "I want it for one night, and then if I get a job, I may want it longer."
"A job in Lockmanville?" said the woman.
"Well, I've the promise of one," he replied.
"There can't be very many," said she. "I've two rooms I've always rented," she added, "but when the glass works shut down the men went away. One of them owed me three dollars, too."
"I—I'm not able to pay very much," said Samuel.
"Come in," responded the woman; and he sat down and told her his story. And she told him hers.
Mrs. Stedman was her name, and her husband had been a glass blower. He earned good wages—five dollars a day in the busy season. But he worked in front of a huge tank of white-hot glass and that was hard on a man. And once on a hot day he had gone suddenly dizzy, and fallen upon a mass of hot slag, and been frightfully burned in the face. They had carried him to the hospital and taken out one eye. And then, because of his family and the end of the season being near, he had gone to work too soon, and his wound had gone bad, and in the end he had died of blood-poisoning.
"That was two years ago," said Mrs. Stedman. "And I got no damages. We've barely got along—this year's been worse than ever. It's the panic, they say. It seemed as if everything was shutting down."
"It must be very hard on people here," said Samuel.
"I've got three children—all girls," said Mrs. Stedman, "and only one old enough to work. That's Sophie—she's in the cotton mill, and that only started again last month. And they say it may run on half time all the year. I do sewing and whatever I can to help, but there's never enough."
Samuel forgot his own troubles in talking with this woman. His family had been poor on the farm, but they had never known such poverty as this. And here were whole streets full of people living the same sort of life; hanging over the abyss of destruction, and with no prospect save to struggle forever. Mrs. Stedman talked casually about her friends and neighbors, and new glimpses came to make the boy catch his breath. Next door was Mrs. Prosser, whose husband was dying of cancer; he had been two years dying, and they had five small children. And on the other side were the Rapinskys, a Polish family; they had been strong in the possession of three grown sons, and had even bought a phonograph. And now not one of them had done a stroke of work for three months.
To have been robbed and put in jail seemed a mere incident in comparison with such bitter and I lifelong suffering; and Samuel was ashamed of having made so much fuss. He had stated, with some trepidation, that he was just out of jail; but Mrs. Stedman had not seemed to mind that. Her husband had been in jail once, during the big glass strike, and for nothing more than begging another man not to take his job.
It was arranged that Samuel was to pay her thirty-five cents for his supper and bed and breakfast, and if he wished to stay longer she would board him for four dollars a week, or he might have the room alone for a dollar.
The two young children came in from school; they were frail and undersized little girls, with clothing that was neatly but pitifully patched. And shortly after them came Sophie.
Samuel gave a start of dismay when he saw her. He had been told that she worked in the cotton mill and was the mainstay of the family; and he had pictured a sturdy young woman, such as he had seen at home. Instead, here was a frail slip of a child scarcely larger than the others. Sophie was thirteen, as he learned afterwards; but she did not look to be ten by his standards. She was grave and deliberate in her movements, and she gazed at the stranger with a pair of very big brown eyes.
"This is Samuel Prescott," said her mother. "He is going to spend the night, and maybe board with us."
"How do you do?" said Sophie, and took off the shawl from her head and sat down in a corner. The boy thought that this was shyness upon her part, but later on he realized that it was lassitude. The child rested her head upon her hand every chance that she got, and she never did anything that she did not have to.
The next morning, bright and early, Samuel was on hand at the saloon, greatly to the amusement of his friend Finnegan. He got down on his hands and knees and gave the place such a scrubbing as it had never had before since it was built. And in return Finnegan invited him to some breakfast, which Samuel finally accepted, because it would enable him to take less from the Stedmans.
Professor Stewart had not specified any hour in his invitation. He lived in the aristocratic district across the bridge and Samuel presented himself at his door a little before eight.
"Professor Stewart told me to come and see him," he said to the maid.
"Professor Stewart is out of town," said she.
"Out of town!" he echoed.
"He's gone to New York," said she. "He was called away unexpectedly last night."
"When will he be back?"
"He said he'd try to be back the day after tomorrow; but he wasn't sure."
Samuel stared at her in consternation.
"What did you want?" she asked.
"He promised me a job."
"Oh!" said she. "Well, can't you come back later on?" And then, seeing that Samuel had nothing better to do than to stare at her dumbly, she closed the door and went about her business.
Samuel walked back in a daze. It gave him a new sense of the world's lack of interest in him. Probably the great man had forgotten him altogether.
There was nothing to do but to wait; and meantime he had only sixty cents. He could not stay with Mrs. Stedman, that was certain. But when he came to tell her, she recurred to a suggestion he had made. There were a few square yards of ground behind her house, given up mostly to tomato cans. If he would plant some garden seed for her she would board him meanwhile. And so Samuel went to work vigorously with a borrowed spade.
Two days passed, and another day, and still the professor had not returned. It was Saturday evening and Samuel was seated upon the steps of the house, resting after a hard day's work. Sophie was seated near him, leaning back against the house with her eyes closed. The evening was warm and beautiful, and gradually the peace of it stole over her. And so at last she revealed herself to Samuel.
"Do you like music?" she asked.
"Very much indeed," said he.
"Not everybody does," she remarked—"I mean real music, such as Friedrich plays."
"I don't know," said Samuel. "Who is Friedrich?"
"He's a friend of mine," Sophie answered. "He's a German boy. His father's the designer at the carpet works. And he plays the violin."
"I should like to hear him," said he.
"I'll take you," she volunteered. "I generally go to see them on Sunday afternoons. It's the only time I have."
So the next day Samuel met the Bremers. Their cottage was a little way out in the country, and they had a few trees about it and a flower bed. But the house was not large, and it was well filled with a family of nine children. Johann, the father, was big and florid, with bristling hair. He was marked in the town because he called himself a "Socialist," but Samuel did not know that. His wife was a little mite of a woman, completely swamped by child-bearing. Most interesting to Samuel was Friedrich, who played the violin; a pale ascetic-looking boy of fifteen, with wavy hair and beautiful eyes.
Music was a serious rite with the Bremers. The father played the piano, and the next oldest son to Friedrich was struggling with a 'cello; and when they played, the whole family sat in the parlor, even the tiny tots, round-eyed and silent.
Samuel knew some "patriotic songs," and a great number of hymns, and a few tunes that one heard at country dances. But such music as this was a new revelation of the possibilities of life. He listened in a transport of wonder and awe. Such wailing grief, such tumultuous longing, such ravishing and soul-tormenting beauty! Friedrich had only such technique as his father had been able to give him, together with what he had invented for himself; his bowings were not always correct, and he was weak on the high notes; but Samuel knew nothing of this—he was thinking of the music. And he needed no one to tell him about it— he needed no criticisms and no commentaries. Across the centuries the souls of Schubert and Beethoven spoke to him, telling their visions of the wonderful world of the spirit, toward which humanity is painfully groping.
It was impossible for him to keep from voicing his excitement, and this greatly delighted the Bremers, who craved for comprehension in a lonely place. His sympathy gave wings to their fervor, and they played the whole afternoon through, and then Johann invited them to stay to supper, so that they might play some more in the evening.
"You should haf been a musician," he said to Samuel. "You vas made for it."
They had a supper such as the boy had missed for some time; a great platter of cold boiled meat, and a bowl of hot gravy, and another bowl of mashed potatoes, with no end of bread and butter. Also there was some kind of a German pudding, and to the stranger's dismay, a pitcher of beer in front of Johann. After offering some to his guests, he drank it all, and also he ate a vast supper. Afterwards he dozed, while Friedrich played yet more wonderful music, and this gave Samuel a new insight into the life of the family, and into the wild and terrible longing that poured itself out in Friedrich's tones. The father was good-natured and sentimental, but sunk in grossness; and the mother was worn out with the care of her brood, and beneath all this burden the soul of the boy was crying frantically for life.
The exigencies of trade demanded endless variety of designs in carpets and rugs, and so all day Johann Bremer stood in front of a great sheet of cardboard, marked off in tiny numbered squares, on which he painted with many colors. For this he received thirty dollars a week, and his son received twelve dollars as his assistant—painting in the same colors upon all the squares of certain numbers, and so completing a symmetrical design. It was a very good job, and Johann prodded his son to devote his energies to the evolving of new designs. But the boy hated it all—thinking only of his music. And his music meant to him, not sentimental dreaming, but a passionate clutch into the infinite, a battle for deliverance from the bondage of the world. So Johann himself had been in his youth, when he had become a revolutionist, and before beer and gravy and domesticity had tamed him.
No one said a word about these things. It was all in the playing. And now and then Samuel stole a glance about the room and discovered yet another soul's tragedy. Sophie, too, was drinking in the music, and life had crept into her face, and her breath came quick and fast, and now and then she furtively brushed away a tear.
Afterwards, as they walked home, she said to Samuel, "I don't know if it's good for me to listen to music like that."
"Why not?" he asked—"if it makes you happy."
"But it makes me unhappy afterwards. It makes me want things. And I get restless—and when I go back to the factory it's so much harder."
"What do you do in the factory?" asked Samuel.
"I'm what they call a bobbin-girl—I tie the threads on the bobbins when they are empty."
"Is it very hard work?"
"No, you mightn't think so. But you have to stand up all day; and it's doing the same thing all the time—the same thing the whole day long. You get dull—you never think about anything. And then the air is full of dust and the machinery roars. You get used to it, but I'm sure its bad for you."
They walked for a while in silence. "Do you like to imagine things?" asked Sophie suddenly.
"Yes," said he.
"I used to," said she—"when I was younger." It was so strange to Samuel to notice that this slip of a child always spoke of herself as old.
"Why don't you do it now?" he asked.
"I'm too tired, I think. But I've a lot of pictures up in my room— that I cut out of magazines that people gave me. Pictures of beautiful things—birds and flowers, and old castles, and fine ladies and gentlemen. And I used to make up stories about them, and imagine that I was there, and that all sorts of nice things were happening to me. Would you like to see my pictures?"
"Very much," said Samuel.
"I think of things like that when I listen to Friedrich. I've a picture of Sir Galahad—he's very beautiful, and he stands at his horse's head with a sword in his hand. I used to dream that somebody like that might come and carry me off to a place where there aren't any mills. But I guess it's no use any more."
"Why not?" asked the other.
"It's too late. There is something the matter with me. I never say anything, because it would make mother unhappy; but I'm always tired now, and every day I have a headache. And I'm so very sleepy, and yet when I lie down I can't sleep—I keep hearing the mill." "Oh!" cried Samuel involuntarily.
"I don't mind it so much," said the child. "There's no help, so what's the use. It's only when I hear Friedrich play—then I get all stirred up."
They walked on for a while again.
"He's very unhappy," she said finally.
"I suppose so," replied Samuel. "Tell me," he asked suddenly. "Isn't there some other work that you could do?"
"What? I'm not strong enough for hard work. And where could I make three dollars a week?"
"Is that what they pay you?"
"Yes—that is—when we are on full time."
"Does it make all the girls sick?" he inquired. "There's that girl who came in this afternoon—she seems well and strong."
"Bessie, you mean? But it's just play for her, you see. She lives with her parents and stops whenever she feels like it. She just wants to buy dresses and go to the theater."
"But that girl we passed on the street to-day!"
"Helen Davis. Ah, yes—but she's different again. She's bad."
"Bad?" echoed Samuel perplexed.
There was a brief pause. It was not easy for him to adjust himself to a world in which the good were of necessity frail and ill, and the bad were rosy-cheeked and merry. "How do you mean?" he asked at last.
And Sophie answered quite simply, "She lives with a fellow."
The blood leaped into Samuel's face. Such a blunder for him to have made.
But then the flush passed, giving place to a feeling of horrified wonder. For Sophie was not in the least embarrassed—she spoke in the most matter-of-fact tone. And this from a child of thirteen, who did not look to be ten.
"I see," said he in a faint voice.
"A good many of the girls do it," she added. "You see, they move about so much—the mills close, and so a girl has no hope of marrying. But mothers says it's wrong, just the same."
And Samuel walked home the rest of the way in silence, and thinking no more about the joys of music.
On Monday morning Samuel found that Professor Stewart had returned, and he sat in the great man's study and waited until he had finished his breakfast.
It was a big room, completely walled with crowded bookshelves; in the center was a big work-table covered with books and papers. Samuel had never dreamed that there were so many books in the world, and he gazed about him with awe, feeling that he had come to the sources of knowledge.
That was Samuel's way. Both by nature and training, he had a profound respect for all authority. He believed in the majesty of the law—that was why it had shocked him so to be arrested. He thought of the church as a divine institution, whose ministers were appointed as shepherds of the people. And up here on the heights was this great College, a temple of learning; and this professor was one who had been selected by those in the seats of authority, and set apart as one of its priests. So Samuel was profoundly grateful for the attention which was given to him, and was prepared to pick up whatever crumbs of counsel might be dropped.
"Ah, yes," the professor said, wiping his glasses with a silk handkerchief. "Samuel—let me see—Samuel—"
"Yes—Samuel Prescott. And how have you been?"
"I've been very well, sir."
"I meant to leave a message for you, but I overlooked it. I had so many things to attend to in the rush of departure. I—er—I hope you didn't wait for me."
"I had nothing else to do, sir," said Samuel.
"The truth is," continued the other, "I'm afraid I shan't be able to do for you what I thought I could."
Samuel's heart went down into his boots.
"You see," said the professor a trifle embarrassed, "my sister wanted a man to look after her place, but I found she had already engaged some one."
There was a pause. Samuel simply stared.
"Of course, as the man is giving satisfaction—you see—it wouldn't do for her to send him away."
And Samuel continued to stare, dumb with terror and dismay.
"I'm very sorry," said the other—"no need to tell you that. But I don't know of any other place."
"But what am I to do?" burst out Samuel.
"It's really too bad," remarked the other.
And again there was a silence.
"Professor Stewart," said Samuel in a low voice, "what is a man to do who is out of work and starving?"
"God knows," said the professor.
And yet again there was silence. Samuel could have said that himself— he had the utmost faith in God.
And after a while the professor himself seemed to realize that the reply was inadequate. "You see," he went on, "there is a peculiar condition here in Lockmanville. There was an attempt to corner the glass industry, and that caused the building of too many factories, and so there is overproduction. And then, besides that, they've just invented a machine that blows as many bottles as a dozen men."
"But then what are the men to do?" asked Samuel.
"The condition readjusts itself," said the other. "The men have to go into some other trade."
"But then—the cotton mills are on half time, too!"
"Yes, there are too many cotton mills."
"But then—in the end there will be too many everything."
"That is the tendency," said the professor.
"There are foreign markets, of course. But the difficulty really goes deeper than that."
Professor Stewart paused and looked at Samuel wondering, perhaps, if he were not throwing away his instruction. But the boy looked very much interested, even excited.
"Most of our economists are disposed to blink the truth," said he. "But the fact is, there are too many men."
Samuel started. It was precisely that terrible suspicion which had been shaping itself in his own mind.
"There is a law," went on the other, "which was clearly set forth by Malthus, that population tends continually to outrun the food supply. And then the surplus people have to be removed."
"I see," said Samuel, awestricken. "But isn't it rather hard?"
"It seems so—to the individual. To the race it is really of the very greatest benefit. It is the process of life."
"Please tell me," Samuel's look seemed to say.
"If you will consider Nature," Professor Stewart continued, "you will observe that she always produces many times more individuals than can possibly reach maturity. The salmon lays millions of eggs, and thousands of young trees spring up in every thicket. And these individuals struggle for a chance to live, and those survive which are strongest and best fitted to meet the conditions. And precisely the same thing is true among men—there is no other way by which the race could be improved, or even kept at its present standard. Those who perish are sacrificed for the benefit of the race."
Now, strange as it may seem, Samuel had never before heard the phrase, "the survival of the fittest." And so now he was living over the experience of the thinking world of fifty or sixty years ago. What a marvelous generalization it was! What a range of life it covered! And how obvious it seemed—one could think of a hundred things, perfectly well known, which fitted into it. And yet he had never thought of it himself! The struggle for existence! The survival of the fittest!
A few days ago Samuel had discovered music. And now he was discovering science. What an extraordinary thing was the intellect of man, which could take all the infinitely varied facts of life and interpret them in the terms of one vast law.
Samuel was all aglow with excitement at the revelation. "I see," he said, again and again—"I see!"
"It is the law of life," said the professor. "No one can escape from it."
"And then," said Samuel, "when we try to change things—when we give out charity, for instance—we are working against Nature, and we really make things worse."
"That is it," replied the other.
And Samuel gave a great sigh. How very simple was the problem, when one had seen it in the light of science. Here he had been worrying and tormenting his brain about the matter; and all the time he was in the hands of Nature—and all he had to do was to lie back and let Nature solve it. "Nature never makes mistakes," said Professor Stewart.
Of course, in this new light Samuel's own case became plain. "Those who are out of work are those who have failed in the struggle," he said.
"Precisely," said the professor.
"And that is because they are unfit."
"Precisely," said the professor again. "As Herbert Spencer has phrased it, 'Inability to catch prey must be regarded as a falling short of conduct from its ideal.' And, of course, in an industrial community, the 'prey' is a job."
"Who is Herbert Spencer?" asked Samuel.
"He is recognized as the authority in such matters," said the other.
"And then," pondered Samuel, "those who have jobs must be the fit. And the very rich people—the ones who make the millions and millions— they are the fittest of all."
"Er—yes," said the professor.
"And, of course, that makes my problem clear—I'm out of a job, and so I must die."
The professor gazed at Samuel sharply. But it was impossible to mistake the boy's open-eyed sincerity. He had no thought about himself—he was discovering the laws of life.
"I'm so glad you explained it to me," he went on. "But all these thousands of men who are starving to death—they ought to be told it, too."
"What good would it do?" asked the other.
"Why, they ought to understand. They suffer, and it seems to them purposeless and stupid. But if you were to explain to them that they are being sacrificed for the benefit of the race—don't you see what a difference it would make?"
"I don't believe they would take the suggestion kindly," said the professor with a faint attempt to smile.
"But why not?" asked Samuel.
"Wouldn't it sound rather hypocritical, so to speak—coming from a man who had succeeded?"
"Not at all! You have a right to your success, haven't you?"
"I hope so."
"You have a job"—began Samuel and then hesitated. "I don't know how a professor comes to get his job," he said. "But I suppose that the men who make the great fortunes—the ones who are wisest and best of all— they give the money for the colleges, don't they?"
"Yes," said Professor Stewart.
"And then," said Samuel, "I suppose it is they who have chosen you?"
Again the professor darted a suspicious glance at his questioner. "Er- -one might put it that way," he said.
"Well, then, that is your right to teach; and you could explain it. Then you could say to these men: 'There are too many of you; you aren't needed; and you must be removed.'"
But the professor only shook his head. "It wouldn't do," he said. And Samuel, pondering and seeking as ever, came to a sudden comprehension.
"I see," he exclaimed. "What is needed is action!"
"Yes—it's for us who are beaten to teach it; and to teach it in our lives. It's a sort of revival that is needed, you see."
"But I don't see the need," laughed the other, interested in spite of himself.
"That's because you aren't one of us!" cried Samuel vehemently. "Nobody else can understand—nobody! It's easy to be one of the successes of life. You have a comfortable home and plenty to eat and all. But when you've failed—when you're down and out—then you have to bear hunger and cold and sickness. And there is grief and fear and despair—you can have no idea of it! Why, I've met a little girl in this town. She works in the cotton mill, and it's just killed her by inches, body and soul. And even so, she can only get half a day's work; and the mother is trying to support the little children by sewing—and they're all just dying of slow starvation. This very morning they asked me to stay to breakfast, and I refused, because I knew they had only some bread and a few potatoes, and it wasn't enough for one person. You see, it's so slow—it's such a terribly long process—this starving people off by inches. And keeping them always tormented by hope. Don't you see, Professor Stewart? And just because you don't come out honestly and teach them the truth. Because you won't say to them: 'The world is too full; and you've got to get out of the way, so as to give us a chance.' Why, look, sir—you defeat your own purposes! These people stay, and they keep on having more children, and everything gets worse instead of better; and they have diseases and vices—they ruin the whole world. What's the use of having a world if it's got to be like this town—crowded with hovels full of dirty people, and sick people, and starving and miserable people? I can't see how you who live up here on the heights can enjoy yourselves while such things continue."
"Um—no," said Professor Stewart; and he gazed at Samuel with knitted brows—unable, for the life of him, to feel certain whether he ought to feel amused, or to feel touched, or to feel outraged.
As for Samuel, he realized that he was through with the professor. The professor had taught him all that he had to teach. He did not really understand this matter at all—that was because he belonged to the other world, the world of successful and fit people. They had their own problems to solve, no doubt!
This non-comprehension was made quite clear by the professor's next remark. "I'm sorry to have disappointed you," he said. "If a little money will help you—"
"No," said the other quickly. "You mustn't offer me money. How can that be right? That would be charity."
"Ahem!" said the professor. "Yes. But then—you mentioned that you hadn't had any breakfast. Hadn't you better go into the kitchen. and let them give you something?"
"But what is the use of putting things off?" cried Samuel wildly. "If I'm going to preach this new idea, I've got to begin."
"But you can't preach very long on an empty stomach," objected the other.
To which Samuel answered, "The preaching has to be by deeds."
And so he took his departure; and Professor Stewart turned back to his work-table, upon which lay the bulky manuscript of his monumental work, which was entitled: "Methods of Relief; A Theory and a Programme." Some pages lay before him; the top one was headed: "Chapter LXIII—Unemployment and Social Responsibility." And Professor Stewart sat before this title, and stared, and stared.
Samuel meantime was walking down the broad macadam avenue debating his problem. The first glow of excitement was over, and he was finding difficulties. The theory still held; but in the carrying out of it there were complications.
For one thing, it would be so hard to spread this doctrine. For if one tried to teach it by words, he seemed a hypocrite, as the professor had said; and on the other hand, if one simply practiced it, who would ever know? Suppose, for instance, that he starved to death during the next few days? That would be only one person removed, and apparently there were millions of the superfluous.
The truth was that Samuel, in discussing the theory, had applied it only to himself. But now he pictured himself going home to tell Mrs. Stedman that she must give up her futile effort, and take herself and her three children out of the way of the progress of the race. And he realized that he could never do it—he was not equal to the task. Doubtless, it was because he was one of the unfit. It would need some one who did not know them, some one who could approach the matter from the purely scientific standpoint.
Then there was another difficulty graver yet. Did not this doctrine really point to suicide? Would it not be the simplest solution of his problem if he were to climb down to the river, and tie a stone about his neck, and jump in? Samuel wished that he had thought to ask the professor about this. For the idea frightened him; he had a distinct impression of having been taught that it was a dreadful sin to take one's own life.
The trouble seemed to lie in the dull and unromantic nature of the life about him. If only there had been some way to die nobly and heroically for the good of others. If only there was a war, for instance, and a call for men to perish on the ramparts! Or a terrible pestilence, so that one could be a nurse! But there was nothing at all but this low starving to death—and while other people lived in plenty. Samuel thought of the chance of finding some work which involved grave peril to life or limb; but apparently even the danger posts were filled. The world did not need him, either in life or death!
So there was nothing for it but the starving. Having eaten nothing that day, Samuel was ready to begin at once; he tightened his belt and set his teeth for the grapple with the gaunt wolf of hunger.
And so he strode on down the road, pining for a chance to sacrifice himself—and at the very hour that the greatest peril of his life was bearing down upon him.
He had passed "Fairview," the great mansion with the stately gates and the white pillars. He had passed beyond its vast grounds, and had got out into the open country. He was walking blindly—it made no great difference where he went. And then suddenly behind him there was a clatter of hoofs; and he turned, and up the road he saw a cloud of dust, and in the midst of it a horse galloping furiously. Samuel stared; there was some kind of a vehicle behind it, and there was a person in the vehicle. A single glance was enough for him to realize— it was a runaway!
To Samuel the thing came as a miracle—it was an answer to his prayer. And it found him ready. The chance was offered him, and he would not fail—not he! He did not falter for a second. He knew just what he had to do, and he was ready—resolute, and alert, and tense.
He moved into the center of the road. The horse came on, galloping at top speed; it was a blooded horse, swift and frantic with fear, and terrible to see. Samuel spread out his arms; and then in a flash the creature was upon him.
It swerved to pass him; and the boy wheeled, leaped swiftly, and flung himself at the bridle.
He caught it; his arms were wrenched, but he hung on, and jerked himself up. The horse flung him to one side; but with a swift clutch, Samuel caught him by the nostrils with one hand, and gripped fast. Then he drew himself up close and hung grimly, his eyes shut, with a grasp like death.
And he was still hanging there when the run-away stopped, and the occupant leaped from the vehicle and rushed to help him. "My God!" he cried, "but that was nerve!"
He was a young fellow, white as a sheet and trembling in every muscle. "How did you do it?" he panted.
"I just held on," said Samuel.
"God, but I'm thankful to you!" exclaimed the other. "You've saved my life!"
Samuel still clung to the horse, which was quivering with nervousness.
"He'd never have got away from me, but one rein broke. See here!"—And he held up the end.
"What started him?" asked Samuel.
"Nothing," said the other—"a piece of paper, likely. He's a fool— always was." And he shook his fist in the horse's face, exclaiming, "By God, I'll tame you before I finish with you!"
"Look out!" said Samuel. "You'll start him again! "And again he clutched the horse, which started to plunge.
"I've got him now," said the other. "He'll quiet down."
"Hold fast," Samuel continued; and then he put his hand to his forehead, and swayed slightly. "I—I'll have to sit down a moment, I'm afraid. I feel sort of dizzy."
"Are you hurt?" cried the stranger anxiously.
"No," he said—"no, but I haven't had anything to eat to-day, and I'm a little weak."
"Nothing to eat!" cried the other. "What's the matter?"
"Why, I've been out of a job."
"Out of a job? Good heavens, man, have you been starving?"
"Well," said Samuel with a wan smile, "I had begun to."
He sat down by the roadside, and the other stared at him. "Do you live in Lockmanville?" he asked.
"No, I just came here. I left my home in the country to go to New York, and I was robbed and lost all my money. And I haven't been able to find anything to do, and I'd just about given up and got ready to die."
"My God!" cried the other in dismay.
"Oh, it's all right," said Samuel. "I didn't mind."
The stranger gazed at him in perplexity. And Samuel returned the gaze, being curious to see who it was he had rescued. It was a youth not more than a year or two older than himself. The color had now come back into his face, and Samuel thought that he was the most beautiful human being he had ever seen. He had a frank, open face, and laughing eyes, and golden hair like a girl's. He wore outing costume, a silk shirt and light flannels—things which Samuel had learned to associate with the possession of wealth and ease. Also, his horse was a thoroughbred; and with a rubber-tired runabout and a silver-mounted harness, the expensiveness of the rig was evident. Samuel was glad of this, because it meant that he had rescued some one of consequence— some one of the successful and fit people.