JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS A PATRIOT
The country, it seemed, was hell-bent for war; and Jimmie Higgins was hell-bent for martyrdom. If the great madness were to take possession of America, it would not be without his having done what he could to prevent it. He would stand in the path of the war chariot, he would throw himself beneath the hoofs of the cavalry; and block the road with his dead body. To which vivid programme there was only one obstacle--or, to be precise, four obstacles, one large and three small, the large one being Eleeza Betooser.
Poor Lizzie of course had no real comprehension of the world-forces against which her husband was contending; to Lizzie, life consisted of three babies, whom it was her duty to feed and protect, and a husband, who was her instrument for carrying out this duty. The world outside of these was to her a vague and shadowy place, full of vague and shadowy terrors. Somewhere up in the sky was a Holy Virgin who would help when properly appealed to, but Lizzie was handicapped in appealing to this Virgin by the fact that her husband despised the Holy One, and would cast insulting doubts upon her virtue.
Now the shadowy terrors of this vast outside world were moving to ends of their own, and her poor, puny husband persisted in putting himself in their way. He had got turned out of his job, for the fourth or fifth time since Lizzie had known him, and he was in imminent danger of getting into jail, or into a coat of tar and feathers. As the controversy grew hotter and the peril greater, Lizzie came to a condition which might have been diagnosed as chronic impending hysteria. Her eyes were red from secret weeping, and at the slightest provocation she would burst into floods of tears and throw herself into her husband's arms. This would start off Jimmie Junior and the little ones, who always took their cue from him. And Jimmie Senior would stand perplexed and helpless. Here was a new aspect of the heroic life, not dealt with in the books. He wondered--had there ever in history been such a thing as a married martyr? If so, what had this martyr done with his family?
Jimmie would try to explain this to his distressed spouse. It was a question of saving a hundred million people from the horrors of war; what did one man matter, in comparison with that? But alas, the argument did not carry at all, the simple truth being that the one man mattered more to Lizzie than all the other ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine. And besides, what could the one man do? One poor, obscure, helpless working-man out of a job--
"But it's the organization!" he cried. "It's all of us together--it's the party! We promised to stand together, so we got to do it! If I drop out, I'm a coward, a traitor! We must make the workers understand--"
"But you can't!" cried Lizzie.
"But we're doin' it! Come see!"
"And what can they do?"
Which of course started Jimmy off on a propaganda speech. What could the workers do? Say rather, what could they not do! How could any war be fought without the workers? If only they would stand together, if they would rise against their capitalist oppressors--
"But they won't!" sobbed the woman. "They got no use for you at all! You go an' get fired--or you get your face beat in, like poor Bill Murray--"
"But is that any worse than goin' to war?"
"You ain't got to go to war!"
"Who says I ain't? I got to go, if the country goes. They'll drag me off and make me! If I refuse they'll shoot me! Ain't they doin' that in England and France an' Roosia an' all them countries?"
"But will they do it here?" cried Lizzie, aghast.
"Sure they will! That's exactly what they're gettin' ready for--what we're fightin' to stop them from! You don't know what's goin' on in this country--listen here!"
And Jimmie hauled out the last issue of the Worker, which quoted speeches made in Congress, calling for conscription, declaring that such a measure was an essential war-step. "Don't you see what they're up to? An' if we're goin' to stop them, we gotta act now, before it's too late. Hadn't I just as good go to jail here in Leesville as be shipped over to Europe to be shot--or maybe drowned by a submarine on the way?"
And thus a new terror was introduced into Lizzie's life--robbing her of sleep for many a night thereafter, planting in her mother-heart for the first time the idea that she might be concerned in the world-war. "What'd become of the babies?" she wailed; and Jimmie answered: Whose business was it to bother about working-class babies, under the hellish capitalist system?
So Jimmie had his way for a bit--he went into Leesville and helped distribute literature, and held the torch at street-meetings, where some people hooted at them and others defended them, and the police had to interfere to prevent a riot. It was at this time that a militant majority was trying to drive through the Senate a declaration of war against Germany, and a handful of pacifists blocked the way in the closing hours of the session, thus causing a delay of several weeks. How you regarded this action depended upon your point of view. The President denounced them as "wilful men", and the Wall Street newspapers apparently wanted them lynched; whereas Jimmie and his fellows in the local hailed them as heroes and friends of mankind. The Socialists argued that the President had been re-elected, only four months before, by pacifist votes, and upon a pacifist platform; and now he was sweeping the country into war, and denouncing those who stood upon his former convictions!
On top of this came another event which set Jimmie almost beside himself with excitement. For three days all news from Petrograd was cut off; and then came a report, electrifying the world--the Tsar had been overthrown, the Russian people were free! Jimmie could hardly believe his eyes; he went in to the meeting of the local three nights later, to find his comrades celebrating as if the world was theirs. Here was the thing they had been preaching, day in and day out, all these weary years, amid ridicule, hatred and persecution; here was the Social Revolution, knocking at the gates of the world! It would spread to Austria and Germany, to Italy, France, England--and so to Leesville! Everywhere the people would come into their own, and war and tyranny would vanish like a hateful nightmare!
Speaker after speaker got up to proclaim this glorious future; they sang the Marseillaise and the Internationale, and the Russians who were present clasped one another in their arms, with tears running down their cheeks. It was voted that they must hold a mass-meeting immediately, to explain this epoch-making event to the people of the city; also they must stand more firmly than ever by their programme of opposition to war. Now, with Social Revolution knocking at the gates of the world, what was the use of America's going in for militarism?
So Jimmie set to work with redoubled fervour, giving all his time to agitation. He had apparently no chance of getting a job, and for the moment he gave up trying. The keeper of the cross-roads store, being down on him because of his ideas, refused him any more credit; and so poor Lizzie was driven to do what she had vowed never to do--take off the stocking from her right leg, and unsew the bandage from her ankle, and extract one of the ten precious twenty-dollar bills. Their bright yellow was considerably faded now, their beautiful crispness gone entirely; but the store-keeper made no kick on that account--he returned the change, and incidentally took occasion to give her a friendly warning concerning her husband's reckless talk. There was trouble coming to him, and his wife had better shut him up before it was too late. So poor Lizzie ceased being a pacifist, and went home to have more hysterics on her husband's bosom.
Being unable to hold him back, she sent word by the mail-carrier to old Peter Drew to come up and help; the old farmer hitched up his bony mare and drove to see them, and for a couple of hours talked America while Jimmie talked Russia. Was America to lie down before the Kaiser? Jimmie would answer that they were going to bring down the Kaiser in the same way they had brought down the Tsar. The workers of Russia having shown the way, never more would the workers of any nation bow to the yoke of slavery. Yes, even in the so-called republics, such as France, which was ruled by bankers, and America, which was ruled by Wall Street--even here, the workers would read the lesson of revolt!
"But in America the people can get anything they want!" cried the bewildered old man. "They only have to vote--"
"VOTE?" snarled Jimmie. "An' have their votes thrown out by some rotten political gang, like they got here in Leesville? Don't talk to me about votin'--they told me I'd moved into a new district an' lost my vote--lost it because I lost my job! So it's old man Granitch has the say whether I can vote or not! You'll find the same thing true of two-thirds of the men in the Empire Shops--half the unskilled men in the country got no votes, because they got no home, no nothin'."
"But," argued the old soldier, "how will you run your new working-class government, if not by votes?"
"Sure, we'll run it by votes," Jimmie answered--"but first we'll turn out the capitalists; they won't have the money to buy political machines; they won't own the newspapers an' print lies about us. Look at this Leesville Herald right now--just plain downright lies they print--we can't get any truth at all to the people."
And so it went. It was of no use for the old man to plead for the "country"; to Jimmie the "country" had let itself be lost, suppressed, taken over by the capitalists, the "plutes". Jimmie's sense of loyalty was not to his country, but to his class, which had been exploited, hounded, driven from pillar to post. In past times the government had allowed itself to be used by corporations; so now it was in vain that the President made appeals for justice and democracy, using the beautiful language of idealism. Jimmie did not believe that he meant it; or anyhow, Wall Street would see that nothing came of his promises. The "plutes" would take his words and twist them into whatever sense they wished; and meantime they went on pouring abuse on Jimmie Higgins--throwing the same old mud into his eyes, blinding him with the same old hatred. So there was no way for an old soldier and patriot to break through the armour of Jimmie's prejudice.
Next day was to be the great mass-meeting in celebration of the Russian revolution; and would you believe it, Lizzie was hoping to persuade Jimmie to stay away; she had brought Mr. Drew to help persuade him! Poor Lizzie had visions of everybody in the hall being carted off to jail, of Jimmie getting up and shouting something, causing the police to fall on him and beat in his skull with their clubs. It was in vain he declared that he was going to do nothing more romantic than sell literature and act as usher. She clasped him in her arms, weeping copiously, and when he was still obdurate, she declared that she would go with him. She would try to persuade Mrs. Drew to take care of the babies for one night.
Old Peter Drew answered that he would be interested to attend the meeting himself. How would it do for him to come for Lizzie and the little ones, and leave the latter at his home, and then drive with Lizzie to the meeting? They could meet Jimmie at the Opera-house, where he would be spending the day decorating. Then after the meeting they could all drive back together. "Fine!" said Jimmie, who had visions of the old soldier becoming infected with revolutionary fever.
But alas, it did not work out that way. To Jimmie's consternation the old man turned up at the Opera-house in a faded blue uniform with brass buttons all over it! Everybody stared, of course; and they stared all the harder because they saw this military personage in company with Comrade Higgins. The old boy gazed about at the swarms of people, many of them with red buttons, the women with red ribbons or sashes; he gazed at the decorations--the huge flag and the long red streamers, the banner of the Karl Marx Verein, and the banner of the Ypsels, or Young Peoples' 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. He turned to Jimmie and said, "Where's the American flag?"
The Liederkranz sang the Marseillaise, and after the audience had cheered and waved red handkerchiefs and shouted itself hoarse, Comrade Gerrity, the chairman, made a little speech. For many years all Socialists had been accustomed to employ a metaphor by which to describe conditions in their country, and now they would no longer be able to use it, for Russia was free, and America would follow her example when she had the sense. He introduced Comrade Pavel Michaelovitch, who had come all the way from New York to tell them the meaning of the greatest event of history. Comrade Pavel, a slender, frail, scholarly-looking man with a black beard and black-rimmed spectacles, said a few words in Russian, and then he talked for an hour in broken English, explaining how the Russians had won their way to freedom, and now would use it to set free the rest of the proletariat. And then came Comrade Schultze, of the Carpet Weavers' Union, assuring them that there was no need to go to war with Germany, because the German workers had been shown the way to freedom, and would follow very soon; Schultze knew, because his brother was editor of a Socialist paper in Leipzig, and he had inside information as to what was going on in the Fatherland.
Then Comrade Smith, the editor of the Worker, was introduced, and the trouble began. The young editor wasted no time in preliminaries; he was an international revolutionist, and no capitalist government was going to draft him for its bloody knaveries. Never would he be led out to murder his fellow-workers, whether in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria or Turkey; the masters of Wall Street would find that when they set out to drive American free men to the slaughter-pen, they had made the mistake of their greedy lives. "Understand me," declared Comrade Smith--though there seemed so far to have been nothing in which anyone could possibly have misunderstood him--"understand me, I am no pacifist, I am not opposed to war--it is merely that I purpose to choose the war in which I fight. If they try to put a gun into my hands, I shall not refuse to take it--not much, for I and my fellow wage-slaves have long wished for guns! But I shall use my own judgement as to where I aim that gun--whether at enemies in front of me, or at enemies behind me--whether at my brothers, the working-men of Germany, or at my oppressors, the exploiters of Wall Street, their newspaper lackeys and military martinets!"
The sentences of this speech came like the blows of a hammer, and they struck forth a clamour of applause from the audience. But suddenly the cheering crowd became aware that something out of the ordinary was happening. An aged, white-whiskered man clad in a faded blue uniform had risen from his seat in the middle of the hall and was shouting and waving his arms. People near him were trying to pull him down into his seat, but he would not be squelched, he went on shouting; and the audience in part fell silent out of curiosity. "Shame! Shame!" they heard him cry. "Shame upon you!" And he pointed a trembling finger at the orator, declaring, "You are talking treason, young man!"
"Sit down!" shrieked the crowd. "Shut up!"
But the old man turned upon them. "Are there no Americans at all in this audience? Will you listen to this shameless traitor without one word?"
People caught him by the coat-tails, men shook their fists at him; at the other side of the hall "Wild Bill" leaped upon a chair, shrieking: "Cut his throat, the old geezer!"
Two policemen came running down the aisle, and the "old geezer" appealed to them: "What are you here for, if not to protect the flag and the honour of America?" But the policemen insisted that he stop interrupting the meeting, and so the old man turned and stalked out from the hall. But he did not go until he had turned once more and shaken his fist at the crowd, yelling in his cracked voice, "Traitors! Traitors!"
Poor Jimmie remained in his seat, overwhelmed. That he, the most devoted of workers for Socialism, should have been the cause of such a disgraceful scene--bringing to this revolutionary meeting a man in the uniform of a killer of the working-class! He could not stay and face the comrades; before the speaking had finished, he gave Lizzie a nudge, and the two got up and stole out, dodging everyone they knew.
Outside they stood in perplexity. They thought, of course, that the old man would have driven away without them; they pictured the long walk from the trolley-line in the darkness and mud--and with Lizzie dressed in her only Sunday-go-to-meeting! But when they went to the place where Mr. Drew had left his buggy, to their surprise they found him patiently waiting for them. Seeing them hesitate, he said, "Come! Get in!" They were much embarrassed, but obeyed, and the old mare started her amble towards home.
They rode for a long time in silence. Finally Jimmie could not stand it, and began, "I'm so sorry, Mr. Drew. You don't understand--" But the old man cut him off. "There's no use you and me tryin' to talk, young man." So they rode the rest of the way without a sound--except that once Jimmie imagined he heard Lizzie sobbing to herself.
Jimmie really felt terribly about it, for he had for this old soldier a deep respect, even an affection. Mr. Drew had made his impression not so much by his arguments, which Jimmie considered sixty years out of date, as by his personality. Here was one patriot who was straight! What a pity that he could not understand the revolutionary point of view! What a pity that he had to be made angry! It was one more of the horrors of war, which tore friends apart, and set them to disputing and hating one another.
At least, that was the way it seemed to Jimmie that night, while he was still full of the speeches he had heard. But at other times doubts assailed him--for, of course, a man cannot defy and combat a whole community without sometimes being led to wonder whether the community may not have some right on its side. Jimmie would hear of things the Germans had done in the war; they were such dirty fighters, they went out of their way to do such utterly revolting and useless, almost insane things! They made it so needlessly hard for anyone who tried to defend them to think of them even as human beings. Jimmie would argue that he did not mean to help the Germans; he would resent bitterly the charges of the Leesville newspapers that he was a German agent and a traitor; but he could not get away from the uncomfortable fact that the things he was doing DID have a tendency to further German interests, at least for a time.
When that was pointed out to him by some patriot in a controversy, his answer would be that he was appealing to the German Socialists to revolt against their military leaders; but then the patriot would begin to find fault with the German Socialists, declaring that they were much better Germans than Socialists, and citing utterances and actions to prove it. One German Socialist had stood up in the Reichstag and declared that the Germans had two ways of fighting--their armies overcame their enemies in the field, while their Socialists undermined the morale of the workers in enemy countries. When that passage was read to Jimmie, he answered that it was a lie; no such speech had ever been made by a Socialist. He had no way of proving it was a lie, of course; he just knew it! But then, when he went away and thought it over, he began to wonder; suppose it were true! Suppose the German workers had been so drilled and schooled in childhood that even those who called themselves revolutionists were patriots at heart! Jimmie would begin to piece this and that together--things he had heard or read. Certainly these German Socialists were not displaying any great boldness in fighting their government!
The answer was that they could not oppose their government, because they would be put in jail. But that was a pretty poor answer; it was their business to go to jail--if not, what right had they to expect Jimmie Higgins to go here in America? Jimmie presented this problem to Comrade Meissner, who answered that if Jimmie would go first, then doubtless the German comrades would follow. But Jimmie could not see why he should be first; and when they tried to clear up the reason, it developed that down in his heart Jimmie had begun to believe that Germany was more to blame for the war than America. And not merely would Comrade Meissner not admit that, but he became excited and vehement, trying to convince Jimmie that the other capitalist governments of the world were the cause of the war--Germany was only defending herself against them! So there they were, involved in a controversy, just like any two non-revolutionary people! Repeating over the same arguments which had gone on in the local between Norwood, the lawyer, and Schneider, the brewer; only this time Jimmie was taking the side of Norwood! Jimmie found himself face to face with the disconcerting fact that his devoted friend Meissner was a German--and therefore in some subtle way different from him, unable to see things as he did!