JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE TEMPTER
When Jimmie Higgins stepped off the train at Leesville, it was a blustery morning in early March, with snow still on the ground and flurries of it in the air. In front of the station was a public square, with a number of people gathered, and Jimmie strolled over to see what was going on. What he saw was a score of young men, some in khaki uniforms, some in ordinary trousers and sweaters, being drilled. Jimmie, being in the mood of a gentleman of leisure, stopped to watch the show.
It was the thing he had been talking and thinking about for nearly three years: this monstrous perversion of the human soul called Militarism, this force which seized hold of men and made them into automatons, moving machines which obeyed orders in a mass, and went out and did deeds of which none of them taken separately would have been capable, even in their dreams. Here was a bunch of average nice Leesville boys, employees of the shops near-by, "soda-jerkers" and "counter-jumpers", clerks who had deftly fitted shoes on to the feet of pretty ladies. Now they were submitting themselves to this deforming discipline, undergoing this devilish transmogrification.
Jimmie's eye ran down the line: there was a street-car conductor he knew, there was a machinist from the Empire, also there was a son of Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville. And suddenly Jimmie gave a start. Impossible! It could not be! But--it was! Young Emil Forster! Emil a Socialist, Emil a German, Emil a student and thinker, who had penetrated the hypocritical disguises of this capitalist war, and had fearlessly proclaimed the truth every Friday night at the local--here he was with a suit of khaki on his rather frail figure, a rifle in his hand and a look of grim resolve on his face, going through the evolutions of squad-drill: left, right, left, right, left, right--column left, march--one, two, three, four--left, right, left, right--squad right about, march--left, right, left, right--squad left oblique march--and so on. If you are to form any picture of the scene you must imagine the swift tramp of many feet in unison--thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump; you must imagine the marchers, with their solemnly set faces, and the orders thundered out by a red-faced young man of desperate aspect, the word MARCH coming each time with a punch that hit you over the heart. This red-faced young man was the very incarnation of the military despot as Jimmie had pictured him; watching with hawk-like eye, scolding, pounding, driving, with no slightest regard for the feelings of the slaves he commanded, or for any of the decencies of civilized intercourse.
"Hold those half-steps, Casey! Keep your eye on the end man--you'll have him splitting his legs if you don't wait for him. Column left, march--one, two, three, four--now you're all right--off with you--that's better! Put a little pep into your feet, Chalmers, for God's sake--if you go marching into Berlin like that they'll think it's the hospital squad! By the right flank, column fours, march-- watch your distance there, end man! How many times do you want me to tell you that?"--and so on and on--tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp--while a small boy standing beside Jimmie, evidently a truant from school, chanted over and over: "Left--left--the soldier got drunk and he packed up his trunk and he left--left! And do you not think he was right--right?"
Now if you have ever stood about and watched outdoor exercise or games, on a day in March with snow on the ground and a keen wind blowing, you know how it is--you have to stamp your feet to keep warm; and if in your neighbourhood there are twenty left feet smiting the ground in unison, and then twenty right feet smiting the ground in unison, it is absolutely inevitable that your stamping should keep time to the smiting; also the rhythm of your stamping will be communicated upwards into your body--your thoughts will keep time with the marching squad--tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp--left, right, left, right! The psychologists tell us that one who goes through the actions appropriate to an emotion will begin to feel that emotion; and so it was with Jimmie Higgins. By a process so subtle that he never suspected it Jimmie was being made into a militarist! Jimmie's hands were clenched, Jimmie's jaw was set, Jimmie's feet were tramping, tramping on the road to Berlin, to teach the Prussian war-lords what it meant to defy the free men of a great republic!
But then something would happen to blast these budding excitements in Jimmie's soul. The red-faced fellow would break into the rhythm of the march. "For the love of Mike, Pete Casey, can't you remember those half-steps? Squad, halt! Now look here, what's the matter with you? Step out and let me show you once more." And poor Casey, a meek-faced little man with sloping shoulders, who had been running the elevator in the Chalmers Building up to a week ago, would patiently practise marching without moving, so that the rest of the line could wheel round him as a pivot. The petty tyrant who scolded at him was determined to have his own way; and Jimmie, who had had to do with many such tyrants in his long years of industrial servitude, was glad when this particular one got mixed up in his orders, and ran his squad into the fountain in the middle of the drill-ground, and some of them marched over the parapet, sliding down into the ice-covered basin below. The spectators roared, and so did the marchers, and the red-faced man young had to join in, and to come down off his high horse.
The conflict of impulses went on in Jimmie's soul. These marching men were the "fools" at whom he had been mocking for something over two years. They did not look like "fools" he had to admit; on the contrary, they looked, quite capable of deciding what they wanted to do. And they had decided; they had quit their jobs several weeks in advance of the time when they would be called for the draft, and had set to work to learn the rudiments of the military art, in the hope of thus getting more quickly to France. Among them were bankers and merchants and real estate dealers, side by side with soda-jerkers and counter-jumpers and elevator-men--and all taking their orders from an ex-blacksmith's helper, who had run away to fight in the Philippines.
Jimmie got this last bit of information from a fellow who stood watching; so he realized that here was the thing he had been reading about in the papers--the new army of the people, that was going forth to make the world safe for democracy! Jimmy had read such words, and thought them just camouflage, a trap for the "fools". But here, a sight of wonder before his eyes, a son of Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville, being ordered about and hauled over the coals by an ex-blacksmith's helper, who happened to know how to shout with the accents of a pile-driver: "Shoulder HUMPS! Order HUMPS! Present HUMPS!"
The squad spread itself out for exercise--grasping their heavy rifles and swinging them this way and that with desperate violence. "Swing over head and return, ready, exercise--one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight--eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one." It was no joke making those swings in such quick time; the poor little elevator-man Casey was left hopelessly behind, he could only make half the swing, and then couldn't get back to place on the count; he would look about, grinning sheepishly, and then fall into time and try again. Everybody's face was set, everybody's breath was coming harder and harder, everybody's complexion was becoming apoplectic.
"Swing to the right!" shouted the blacksmith-tyrant. "Ready, exercise--one, two"--and so on. And then he would yell: "No, Chalmers, don't punch out with your arms--swing up your gun! Swing it up from the bottom! That's the way! Poke 'em! Poke 'em! Put the punch into 'em!" And over Jimmie stole a cold horror. There was nothing on the end of those guns but a little black hole, but Jimmie knew what was supposed to be there--what would some day be there; the exercise meant that these affable young Leesville store-clerks were getting ready to drive a sharp, gleaming blade into the bowels of human beings! "Poke 'em! Poke 'em!" shouted the ex-blacksmith, and with desperate force they swung the heavy rifles, throwing their bodies to one side and leaping out with one foot. Horrible! Horrible!
Man is a gregarious animal, and it is a fundamental law of his being that when a group of his fellows are doing a certain thing, and doing it with energy and fervour, anyone who does not do it, who does not share the mood of energy and fervour shall be the object of ridicule and anger, shall feel within his own heart confusion and distress. This is true, even if the group is doing nothing more worthwhile than making itself drunk. How much more shall it be when it is engaged in making the world safe for democracy!
The only way the man can save himself is by holding before his mind the belief that he is right, and that some day this will be recognized; in other words, by appealing to some other group of men, who in some future time will applaud him. If he is sure of this future applause, he can manage to stand the jeers for the moment. But how when he begins to doubt--when his mind is haunted by the possibility that the men of the future may agree with those of the present, who are learning to march in unison, and to poke bayonets into the bodies of Huns!
One of the things which brought this destructive doubt to Jimmie's soul was the sight of Emil Forster, learning to march and to poke. Emil had been one of his heroes, Emil knew a hundred times as much as he--and Emil was going to the war! The squad marched away to the City hall across the square, and deposited its rifles in a room in the basement, and then Emil came out, and Jimmie went up to him. The young carpet-designer of course was delighted to meet his old friend, and asked him to go to lunch. As they walked along the street together Jimmie asked what it meant, and Emil answered: "It means that I have made up my mind."
"You're going to fight the German people?"
"Strange as you'll think it, I'm going to fight them for their own good. Bebel wrote in his memoirs that the way to get democratic progress in autocratic countries is through military defeat; and it seems up to America to provide this defeat for Germany."
"But--you were preaching just the opposite!"
"I know; it makes me feel foolish sometimes. But things have changed, and there's no sense in shutting your eyes to facts."
"Russia, more especially," continued Emil, answering the unspoken question. "What's the use of getting Socialism, if you're just throwing yourself down for a military machine to run over you? You're playing the fool, that's all--and you have to see it. What hope is there for Russia now?"
"There's the German Socialists."
"Well, they just didn't have the power, that's all. What's more, we have to face the fact that a lot of them aren't really revolutionists--they're politicians, and haven't dared to stand out against the crowd. Anyhow, whatever the reason is, they didn't save their own country, and they didn't save Russia. They certainly can't expect us to give them a third chance--it costs too much."
"But then," argued Jimmie, "ain't we doin' just what we blame them for doin'--turnin' patriots, supportin' a capitalist government?"
"When you're supporting a government," replied Emil, "it make's a lot of difference what use its making of your support. We all know the faults of our government, but we know too that the people can change it when enough of them get ready, and that makes a real difference. I've come to realize that if we give the Kaiser a beating, the German people will kick him out, and then we can talk sense to them."
They walked along for a bit in silence, Jimmie trying to assimilate these ideas. They were new--not in the sense that he had not heard them before, but in the sense that he had not heard them from a German. "How does your father feel?" he asked at last.
"He hasn't changed," replied the other. "And that makes it pretty hard--it's all we can do to keep from quarrelling. He's old, and new ideas don't come to him easily. Yet you'd think he'd be the first to see it--his father was one of the old revolutionists, he was put in jail in Dresden. I don't suppose you know much about the history of Germany."
"No," said Jimmie.
"Well, in those days the German people tried to get free, and they were put down by the troops, and the real revolutionists were driven into exile. Some of them came over here--like my grandfather. But, you see, their children have forgotten about their wrongs--they look back on Germany now, and think of it sentimentally, as it's pictured in the stories and songs--a sort of Christmas-tree Germany. They don't know about the Germany that's grown up--the Germany of iron and coal kings, that combines all the cruelty of feudalism with modern efficiency and science--the Beast with the Brains of an Engineer!"
They walked on, Emil lost in thought. "You know," he broke out, suddenly, "this war has been a revelation to me--the most horrible you could imagine. It's as if you loved a woman, and saw her go insane before your eyes, or turn into some sort of degenerate. For I believed in the Christmas-tree Germany; I loved it, and I argued for it, I just couldn't bring myself to believe what I read in the papers. Now I look back, and it seems like a trap that the German war-lords had set for my mind--reaching way over here into America, and making me think what they wanted me to! Perhaps I've gone to the other extreme--I find I distrust everything that's German. Father accused me of it last night; he was singing an old German song that says that when you hear men singing you may lie down in peace, for bad men have no songs. And I reminded him that the nation which taught that idea had marched into Belgium singing!"
"Gee!" exclaimed Jimmie. He could imagine how old Hermann Forster had taken that remark!
The young carpet-designer smiled, rather sadly. "He says it's because I've put on khaki. But the truth is, I'd been full of these thoughts, and all at once they came to a head. I was drafted, and I had to make up my mind one way or the other. I decided I'd fight--and then, when I'd decided, I wanted to get into it right away." Emil paused, and looked at his friend and asked, "What about you?"
Jimmie, of course, was a draft-evader, one of the hated "slackers". Ordinarily, he would have told Emil, and the two of them would have grinned. But now Emil was in khaki, Emil was a patriot; perhaps it would not be wise to trust him entirely! "They haven't got me yet," said Jimmie; and then, "I ain't so sure as I used to be, but I ain't ready to be a soldier--I dunno's I could stand bein' bossed like that fellow does it."
Emil laughed. "Don't you suppose I want to learn?"
"But does he need to call you names?"
"That's part of the game--nobody minds that. He's putting the pep into us--and we want it in."
Jimmie found that such a new point of view that he didn't know what to reply.
"You see," the other went on, "if you really want to fight, you go in for it; it's quite remarkable how your feelings change. You imagine yourself in the presence of the enemy, and you know your success depends on discipline; if there's a leader, and especially if you feel that he knows his business, you're glad to have him to teach you, to make the whole machine do what you want it to. I know it sounds funny from me, but I've learnt to love discipline." And Emil laughed, a nervous laugh. "This army means business, let me tell you; and it's got right down to it. They've been fighting three and a half years over in Europe, and they send their best men over to show us, and we dig in and learn--I tell you, we work as if the devil was after us!"
It sounded so strange to hear things like this from the lips of Emil Forster! Jimmie could hardly make them real to himself--the world was slipping from under his feet. The Socialist movement was being seduced--won over by the militarists! He didn't quite dare to say this; but he hinted, cautiously, "Ain't you afraid maybe we'll get used to fightin'--to discipline and all that? Maybe they'll trick us--the plutes."
"I know," said the other. "I've thought of that, and I've no doubt they'll try it--they want universal training for that very purpose. We have to fight them, that's all; we have to fight right now--to make clear why we're going into this war. We have to hold it before the people--that this is a war to bring democracy to the whole world. If we can fix that in people's minds, the imperialists won't have a look in."
"If you could do it, of course--" began Jimmie, hesitatingly.
"But we ARE doing it!" cried Emil. "We're doing it day by day. Look at this strike here in Leesville."
"Didn't you know there'd been another walk-out in the Empire Shops?"
"No, I didn't."
"The men went out, and the government sent an arbitration commission, and forced both sides to accept an award. They broke old Granitch down--made him recognize the union and grant the basic eight-hour day."
"My God!" exclaimed Jimmie. It was the thing for which he had stood up in the Empire yards and been cursed by young Lacey Granitch; it was the thing for which he had been sent to jail and devoured by lice! And now the government had helped the men to win their demand! It was the first time--literally the first in Jimmie's whole life--that he had been led to think of the government as something else than an enemy and a slave-driver.
"How did Granitch take it?" he asked.
"Oh, awful! He threatened to quit, and let the government run his plant; but when he found the government was perfectly willing, he dropped his bluff. And look here--here's something else." Emil reached into an inside pocket of his overcoat and pulled out a newspaper clipping. "Ashton Chalmers went to a banquet at some bankers' convention the other day and made a speech to them. Read this."
Jimmie, walking along, read some words that Emil had underlined in pencil: "Whether we will or no, we have to recognize that the old order is dead. We face a new era, when labour is coming into its own. If we do not want to be left behind as derelicts, we shall have to get busy and do our part to bring in this new era, which otherwise will come with bloodshed and destruction."
"For the love of Mike!" said Jimmie.
"It's just about knocked Leesville out," said Emil. "You ought to have seen the papers that reported the speech! It was as if God in his Heaven had gone crazy, and the clergymen in the churches had to tell the news!"
To the little machinist there flashed a sudden idea. He caught his friend by the arm. "Emil!" he exclaimed. "Do you remember that time when Ashton Chalmers and old Granitch came to our meeting at the Opera-house?"
"Sure thing!" said Emil.
"Maybe that done it!"
"Nothing more likely."
"And it was me that sold him the tickets!"
Jimmie was thrilled to the bottom of his shoes. Such is the reward that comes now and then to the soul of a propagandist; he struggles on amid ridicule and despair--and then suddenly, like a gleam of light, comes evidence that somewhere, somehow, he has reached another mind, he has made a real impression. Ashton Chalmers had listened to the Socialist orator, and he had gone away and read and investigated; he had realized the force of this great world movement for economic justice, he had broken the bonds and barriers of his class, and told the truth about what he saw coming. When Jimmie read the wonderful words which the bank president had spoken, he was nearer to an impulse to fight Germany than at any previous moment of his life!