JIMMIE HIGGINS DISCOVERS HIS SOUL
Jimmie went to supper in the mess-hall; but the piles of steaming hot food choked him--he was thinking of the half-starved little Jew. The thirty pieces of silver in the pocket of his army jacket burned each a separate hole. Like the Judas of old, he wanted to hang himself, and he took a quick method of doing it.
Next to him at the table sat a motor-cyclist who had been a union plumber before the war, and had agreed with Jimmie that working-men were going to get their jobs back or would make the politicians sweat for it. On the way out from the meal, Jimmie edged this fellow off and remarked, "Say, I've got somethin' interestin'."
Now interesting things were rare here under the Arctic Circle. "What's that?" asked the plumber.
"I was walkin' on the street," said Jimmie, "an' I seen a printed paper in the gutter. It's a copy of the proclamation the Bolsheviki have made to the German soldiers, an' that they're givin' out in the German trenches."
"By heck!" said the plumber. "What's in it?"
"Why, it calls on them to rise against the Kaiser--to do what the Russians have done."
"Can you read German?" asked the other.
"Naw," said Jimmie. "This is in English."
"But what's it doin' in English?"
"I'm sure I dunno."
"What's it doin' in Archangel?"
"Dunno that either."
"Holy Christ!" cried the plumber. "I bet them fellers are trying their stunts on us!"
"I hadn't thought of that," said Jimmie, subtly. "Maybe it's so."
"They won't get very far with the Yanks, I bet," predicted the other.
"No, I suppose not. But, anyhow, it's interesting, what they say."
"Lemme see it," said the plumber.
"But say," said Jimmie, "don't you tell nobody. I don't want to get into trouble."
"Mum's the word, old man." And the plumber took the dirty scrap of paper and read. "By God!" said he. "That's kind o' funny."
"How do you mean?"
"Why, that don't sound like them fellers were backing the Kaiser, does it?" And the plumber scratched his head. "Say, that sounds all right to me!"
"Me too!" said Jimmie. "Didn't know they had that much sense."
"It's just what the German people ought to have, by God," said the plumber. "Seems to me we ought to hire fellows to give out things like that."
"I think so, too," said Jimmie, enraptured.
The plumber reflected again. "I suppose," said he, "the trouble is they wouldn't give it to the Germans only; they'd want to give it to both sides."
"Exactly!" said Jimmie, enraptured still more.
"And, of course, that wouldn't do," said the plumber; "that would interfere with discipline." So Jimmie's hopes were dashed.
But the upshot of the interview was that the plumber said he would like to keep the paper and show it to a couple of other fellows. He promised again that he wouldn't mention Jimmie, so Jimmie said all right, and went his way, feeling one seed was lodged in good soil.
The "Y" had come to Archangel along with the rest of the expedition, and had set up a hut, in which the men played checkers and read, and bought chocolate and cigarettes at prices which they considered too high. Jimmie strolled in, and there was a doughboy with whom he had had some chat on the transport. This doughboy had been a printer at home, and he had agreed with Jimmie that maybe a whole lot of politicians and newspaper editors didn't really understand President Wilson's radical thought, and so far as they did understand it, hated and feared it. This printer was reading one of the popular magazines, full of the intellectual pap which a syndicate of big bankers considered safe for the common people. He looked bored, so Jimmie strolled up and lured him away, and repeated his play-acting as with the plumber--and with the same result.
Then he strolled in to see one of the picture-shows which had been brought along to beguile the long Arctic nights for the expedition. The picture showed a million-dollar-a-year girl doll-baby in her habitual role, a poor little child-waif dressed in the newest fashion and with a row of ringlets just out of a band-box, sharing those terrible fates which the poor take as an everyday affair, and being rewarded at the end by the love of a rich and noble and devoted youth who solves the social problem by setting her up in a palace. This also had met with the approval of a syndicate of bankers before it reached the common people; and in the very midst of it, while the child-waif with the ringlets was being shown in a "close-up" with large drops of water running down her cheeks, the doughboy in the seat next to Jimmie remarked, "Aw, hell! Why do they keep on giving us this bunk?"
So Jimmie suggested that they "cut it", and they went out, and Jimmie played his little game a third time, and again was asked to leave the leaflet he had picked out of the gutter.
So on for two days until Jimmie had got rid of the last of the manifestoes which Kalenkin had entrusted to him. And on the evening of the last day, as the subtle propagandist was about to turn into his bunk for the night, there suddenly appeared a sergeant with a file of half a dozen men and announced, "Higgins, you are under arrest."
Jimmie stared at him. "What for?"
"Orders--that's all I know."
"Well, wait--" began Jimmie; but the other said there was no wait about it, and he took Jimmie by the arm, and one of the other men took him by the other arm, and marched him away. A third man slung Jimmie's kit-bag on to his shoulder, while the rest began to search the place, ripping open the mattress and looking for loose boards in the floor.
It didn't take Jimmie very long to figure out the situation. By that time he had come into the presence of Lieutenant Gannet, he had made up his mind what had happened, and what he would do about it.
The lieutenant sat at a table, erect and stiff, with a terrible frown behind his glasses. He had his sword on the table and also his automatic--as if he intended to execute Jimmie, and had only to decide which method to use.
"Higgins," he thundered, "where did you get that leaflet?"
"I found it in the gutter."
"You lie!" said the lieutenant.
"No, sir," said Jimmie.
"How many did you find."
Jimmie had imagined this emergency, and decided to play safe. "Three, sir," said he; and added, "I think."
"You lie!" thundered the lieutenant again.
"No, sir," said Jimmie, meekly.
"Whom did you give them to?"
Jimmie hadn't thought of that question. It stumped him. "I--I'd rather not say," said he.
"I command you to say," said the lieutenant.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I couldn't."
"You'll have to say before you get through," said the other. "You might as well understand that now. You say you found three?"
"It might have been four," said Jimmie, playing still safer. "I didn't pay any particular attention to them."
"You sympathize with these doctrines," said the lieutenant. "Do you deny it?"
"Why, no sir--not exactly. I sympathize with part of them."
"And you found these leaflets in the gutter, and you didn't take the trouble to count whether there were three or four?"
"There couldn't have been five?"
"I don't know, sir--I don't think so."
"Certainly not six?"
"No, sir," said Jimmie, feeling quite safe now. "I'm sure there weren't six."
So the lieutenant opened a drawer in the table before him, and took out a bunch of the leaflets, folded, wrinkled and dirt-stained, and spread them before Jimmie's eyes, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. "You lie!" said the lieutenant.
"I was mistaken, sir," said Jimmie.
"Have you searched this man?" the officer demanded of the other soldiers.
"Not yet, sir."
"Do it now."
They made certain that Jimmie had no weapons, and then they made him strip to the skin. They searched everything, even prying loose the soles of his boots; and, of course, one of the first things they found was the red card in the inside jacket-pocket. "Aha!" cried the lieutenant.
"That's a card of the Socialist party," said Jimmie.
"Don't you know that back home men who carry that card are being sent to jail for twenty years?"
"It ain't fer carryin' the card," said Jimmie, sturdily.
There was a pause, while Jimmie got his clothes on again. "Now, Higgins," said the lieutenant, "you have been caught red-handed in treason against your country and its flag. The penalty is death. There is just one way you can escape--by making a clean breast of everything. Do you understand?"
"Then tell me who gave you those leaflets?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I found them in the gutter."
"You intend to stick to that silly tale?"
"It's the truth, sir."
"You will protect your fellow-conspirators with your life?"
"I have told you all I know, sir."
"All right," said the lieutenant. He took a pair of handcuffs from the drawer and saw them put on Jimmie. He picked up his sword and his automatic--and Jimmie, who did not understand military procedure, stared with fright. But the lieutenant was merely intending to strap the weapons on to his belt; then he got into his overcoat and his big fur gloves and his fur hat that covered everything but his eyes and nose, and ordered Jimmie brought along. Outside an automobile was waiting, and the officer and the prisoner and two guards rode to the military jail.
There was terror in the soul of the prisoner, but he did not let anyone see it. And in the same way Lieutenant Gannet did not let anyone see the perplexity that was in his soul. He was a military officer, he had his stern military duty to do, and he was doing it; but he had never put anybody in handcuffs before, and had never taken anybody to jail before, and he was almost as much upset about it as the prisoner.
The lieutenant had seen the terrible spectacle of Russia collapsing, falling into ruin and humiliation, because of what seemed to him a propaganda of treason which had been carried on in her armies; he realized that these "mad dogs" of Bolsheviki were deliberately conspiring to poison the other armies, to bring the rest of the world into their condition. It seemed to him monstrous that such efforts should be under way in the American army. How far had the thing gone? The lieutenant did not know, and he was terrified, as men always are in the presence of the unknown. It was his plain duty, to which he had sworn himself, to stamp his heel upon the head of this snake; but still he was deeply troubled. This Sergeant Higgins had been promoted for valour in France, and had been, in spite of his reckless tongue, a pretty decent subordinate. And behold, here he was, an active conspirator, a propagandist of sedition, a defiant and insolent traitor!
They came to the jail, which had been constructed by the Tsar for the purpose of holding down the people of the region. It loomed, a gigantic stone bulk in the darkness; and Jimmie, who had preached in Local Leesville that America was worse than Russia, now learned that he had been mistaken--Russia was exactly the same.
They entered through a stone gateway, and a steel door opened before them and clanged behind them. At a desk sat a sergeant, and except that he was British, and that his uniform was brown instead of blue, it might have been Leesville, U.S.A. They took down Jimmie's name and address, and then Lieutenant Gannet asked: "Has Perkins come yet?"
"Not yet, sir," was the reply; but at that moment the front door was opened, and there entered a big man, bundled in an overcoat which made him even bigger. From the first moment, Jimmie watched this man as a fascinated rabbit watches a snake. The little Socialist had had so much to do with policemen and detectives in his hunted life that he knew in a flash what he was "up against".
This Perkins before the war had been an "operative" for a private detective agency--what the workers contemptuously referred to as a "sleuth". The government, having found itself in sudden need of much "sleuthing", had been forced to take what help it could get, without too close scrutiny. So now Perkins was a sergeant in the secret service; and just as the carpenters were hammering nails as at home, and the surgeons were cutting flesh as at home, so Perkins was "sleuthing" as at home.
"Well, sergeant?" said the lieutenant. "What have you got?"
"I think I've got the story, sir."
You could see the relief in Gannet's face; and Jimmie's heart went down into his boots.
"There's just one or two details I want to make sure about," continued Perkins. "I suppose you won't mind if I question this prisoner?"
"Oh, not at all," said the other. He was relieved to be able to turn this difficult matter over to a man of decision, a professional man, who was used to such cases and knew how to handle them.
"I'll report to you at once," said Perkins.
"I'll wait," said the lieutenant.
And Perkins took Jimmie's trembling arm in a grip like a vice, and marched him down a long stone corridor and down a flight of steps. On the way he picked up two other men, also in khaki, who followed him; the four passed through a series of underground passages, and entered a stone cell with a solid steel door, which they clanged behind them--a sound that was like the knell of doom to poor Jimmie's terrified soul. And instantly Sergeant Perkins seized him by the shoulder and whirled him about, and glared into his eyes. "Now, you little son-of-a-bitch!" said he.
Having been a detective in an American city, this man was familiar with the "third degree", whereby prisoners are led to tell what they know, and many things which they don't know, but which they know the police want them to tell. Of the other two men, one Private Connor, had had this inquisition applied to him on more than one occasion. He was a burglar with a prison-record; but his last arrest had been in a middle Western town for taking part in a bar-room fight, and the judge didn't happen to know his record, and accepted his tearful plea, agreeing to suspend sentence provided the prisoner would enlist to fight for his country.
The other man was named Grady, and had left a wife and three children in a tenement in "Hell's Kitchen", New York, to come to fight the Kaiser. He was a kind-hearted and decent Irishman, who had earned a hard living carrying bricks and mortar up a ladder ten hours a day; but he was absolutely convinced that there existed, somewhere under his feet, a hell of brimstone and sulphur in which he would roast for ever if he disobeyed the orders of those who were set in authority over him. Grady knew that there were certain wicked men, hating and slandering religion, and luring millions of souls into hell; they were called Socialists, or Anarchists, and must obviously be emissaries of Satan, so it was God's work to root them out and destroy them. Thus the Gradys have reasoned for a thousand years; and thus in black dungeons underground they have turned the thumb-screws and pulled the levers of the rack. They do it still in many of the large cities of America, where superstition runs the police-force, in combination with liquor interests and public service corporations.
"Now, you little son-of-a-bitch," said Perkins, "listen to me. I been lookin' into this business of yours, and I got the names of most of them Bolsheviks you been dealing with. But I want to know them all, and I'm going to know--see?"
In spite of all his terror, Jimmie's heart leaped with exultation. Perkins was lying! He hadn't found out a thing! He was just trying to bluff his prisoner, and to make his superior officer think he was a real "sleuth". He was doing what the police everywhere do--trying to obtain by brutality what they cannot obtain by skill and intelligence.
"Now, you're goin' to tell," continued the man. "You may think you can hold out, but you'll find it's no go. I'll tear you limb from limb if you make me--I'll do just whatever I have to do to make you come through. You get me?"
Jimmie nodded his head in a sort of spasm, but his effort to make a sound resulted only in a gulp in his throat.
"You'll only make yourself a lot of pain if you delay, so you'd better be sensible. Now--who are they?"
"They ain't anybody. They--"
"So that's it? Well, we'll see." And the sergeant swung Jimmie about, so as to be at his back. "Hold him," he said to the two men, and they grasped the prisoner's shoulders; the sergeant grasped his two wrists, which were handcuffed together, and began to force them up Jimmie's back.
"Ow!" cried Jimmie. "Stop! Stop!"
"Will you tell?" said the sergeant.
"Stop!" cried Jimmie, wildly; and as the other pushed harder, he began to scream. "You'll break my arm! The one that was wounded."
"Wounded?" said the sergeant.
"It was broken by a bullet!"
"The hell you say!" said the sergeant.
"It's true--ask anybody! The battle of Chatty Terry in France!"
For just a moment the pressure on Jimmie's arms weakened; but then the sergeant remembered that military men who have a career to make do not go to their superior officers with sentimentalities. "If you were wounded in battle," said the sergeant, "what you turnin' traitor for? Give me the names I want!" And he began to push again.
It was the most horrible agony that Jimmie had ever dreamed of. His voice rose to a shriek: "Wait! Wait! Listen!" The torturer would relax the pressure and say: "The names?" And when Jimmie did not give the names, he would press harder yet. Jimmie writhed convulsively, but the other two men held him as in a vice. He pleaded, he sobbed and moaned; but the walls of this dungeon had been made so that the owners of property outside would not be troubled by knowing what was being done in their interest.
We go into museums and look at devilish instruments which men once employed for the torment of their fellows, and we shudder and congratulate ourselves that we live in more humane days; quite overlooking the fact that it does not need elaborate instruments to inflict pain on the human body. Any man can do it to another, if he has him helpless. The thing that is needed is the motive--that is to say, some form of privilege established by law, and protecting itself against rebellion.
"Tell me the names!" said the sergeant. He had Jimmie's two hands forced up the back of his neck, and was lying over on Jimmie, pushing, pushing. Jimmie was blinded with the pain, his whole being convulsed. It was too horrible, it could not be! Anything, anything to stop it! A voice shrieked in his soul: "Tell! Tell!" But then he thought of the little Jew, pitiful, trusting--no, no, he would not tell! He would never tell! But then what was he to do'? Endure this horror? He could not endure it--it was monstrous!
He would writhe and scream, babble and plead and sob. Perhaps there have been men who have endured torture with dignity, but Jimmie was not one of these. Jimmie was abject, Jimmie was frantic; he did anything, everything he could think of--save one thing, the thing that Perkins kept telling him to do.
This went on until the sergeant was out of breath; that being one disadvantage of the primitive hand-processes of torture to which American police-officials have been reduced by political sentimentalism. The torturer lost his temper, and began to shake and twist at Jimmie's arms, so that Connor had to warn him--he didn't want to break anything, of course.
So Perkins said, "Put his head down." They bent Jimmie over till his head was on the ground, and Grady tied Jimmie's legs to keep them quiet, and Connor held his neck fast, and Perkins put his foot on the handcuffs and pressed down. By this means he could continue the torture while standing erect and breathing freely, a great relief to him. "Now, damn you!" said he. "I can stay here all night. Come through!"
Jimmie thought that each moment of pain was the worst. He had never had any idea that pain could endure so long, could burn with such a white and searing flame. He ground his teeth together, he chewed his tongue through, he gound his face upon the stones. Anything for a respite--even a new kind of pain, that he might forget the screaming ache in his shoulders and elbows and wrists. But there was no respite; his spirit was whirled and beaten about in bottomless abysses, and from their depths he heard the voice of Perkins, as from a far-off mountain-top: "Come through! Come through--or you'll stay like this all night!"
But Jimmie did not stay like that; for Perkins got tired of standing on one foot, and he knew that the Lieutenant was pacing about upstairs, wondering why it took so long to ask a few questions. Jimmie heard the voice from the far-off mountain-top: "This won't do; we'll have to string him up for a bit." And he took from his pocket a strong cord, and tied one end about Jimmie's two thumbs, and ran the other end over an iron ring in the wall of the dungeon--put there by some agent of the Tsar for use in the cause of democracy. The other two men lifted Jimmie till his feet were off the ground, and then made fast the cord, and Jimmie hung with his full weight from his thumbs, still handcuffed behind his back.
So now he was no trouble to the three jailers--except that he was an ugly-looking object, with his face purple and convulsed, and his bloody tongue being chewed up. They turned him about, with his face against the stones, and then they had nothing but the sounds of him, which had become feebler, but were none the less disagreeable, a babbling and gabbling, continuous and yet unrhythmic, as if made by a whole menagerie of tormented animals.
Still the minutes passed, and Perkins's irritation grew. He wouldn't have minded for himself, for his nerves were strong, he had handled a good many of the I.W.W. in the old days back home; but he had promised to get the information, and so his reputation was at stake. He would prod Jimmie and say: "Will you tell?" And when Jimmie still refused, finally he said: "We'll have to try the water-cure. Connor, get me a couple of pitchers of water and a good-sized funnel."
"Yes, sir," said the ex-burglar, and went out; and meantime Perkins addressed his victim again. "Listen, you little hell-pup," said he. "I'm going to do something new, something that'll break you sure. I been with the army in the Philippines, and seen it worked there many's the time, and I never yet seen anybody that could stand it. We're going to fill you up with water; and we'll leave you to soak for a couple of hours, and then we'll put in some more, and we'll keep that up day and night till you come through. Now, you better think it over and speak quick, before we get the water in, because it ain't so easy to get out."
Jimmie lay with his face against the wall, and the agony of his tortured thumbs was like knives twisted into him; he listened to these threats and heard again the cry in his soul for respite at any hazard.
Jimmie was fighting a battle, the sternest ever fought by man--the battle of conscience against the weakness of the flesh. To tell or not to tell? The poor tormented body shrieked, Tell! But conscience, in a feeble voice, gasped over and over and over, No! No! No! It had to keep on insisting, because the battle was never over, never won. Each moment was a new agony, and therefore a fresh temptation; each argument had to be repeated without end. Why should he not tell? Because Kalenkin had trusted him, and Kalenkin was a comrade. But maybe Kalenkin was gone now, maybe he had died of one of his coughing spells, maybe he had heard of Jimmie's arrest and made his escape. Maybe they would not torture Kalenkin as they had Jimmie, because he was not a soldier; they might just put him in jail and keep him there, and others would do the work. Maybe--
And so on. But the feeble voice whispered in the soul of Jimmie Higgins: You are the revolution. You are social justice, struggling for life in this world. You are humanity, setting its face to the light, striving to reach a new goal, to put behind it an old horror. You are Jesus on the Cross; and if you fail, the world goes back, perhaps for ever. You must hold out! You must bear this! And this! And this! You must bear everything--for ever--as long as needs be! You must not "come through!"
Connor came back with his pitchers of water and his funnel! They took Jimmie down--oh, the blessed relief to his thumbs!--and laid him on the ground, with his racked and swollen hands still handcuffed under him; and Grady sat on his feet, and Connor sat on his chest, and Perkins forced the funnel down his throat and poured in the water.
Jimmie had to swallow, of course; he had to gulp desperately, to keep from being choked; and pretty soon the water filled him up, and then began the most fearful agony he had yet endured. It was like the pain of the ether-gas, only infinitely worse. He was blown out like a balloon; his insides were about to burst; his whole body was one sore boil--and Connor, sitting on his stomach, sat a little harder now and then, to make sure the water got jostled into place. Jimmie could not scream, but his face turned purple and the cords stood out on his forehead and neck; he began to strangle, and this was worst of all; every convulsion of his body stabbed him with ten thousand knives.
Jimmie had talked with a number of the "wobblies" who had had this "water-cure", a regular device of police-authorities in small towns and villages. It is simple and cheap and cleanly; it leaves no blood and no bruises to be exhibited in court; it muzzles the victim, so that his screams cannot be heard through jail-windows--therefore a simple denial covers it completely. "Wild Bill" had had this treatment, "Strawberry" Curran had had it several times. But oh, thought Jimmie, it could not be like this--no human being had ever endured anything like this! Poor Jimmie was not learned in history, and did not realize that men have endured everything that other men can inflict. They will continue to endure it, so long as privilege is written in the law, and allowed to use the law in its unholy cause.
So the battle of the ages went on in the soul of Jimmie Higgins. He was a little runt of a Socialist machinist, with bad teeth and gnarled hands, and he could do nothing sublime or inspiring, nothing even dignified; in fact, it would be hard for anyone to do anything dignified, when he lies on the floor with a gallon or two of water in him, and one man sitting on his legs and another on his stomach, and another jamming a funnel into his mouth. All Jimmie could do was to fight the fearful fight in the deeps of him, and not lose it. "Lift your knee if you are ready to tell," Perkins would say; and Grady would rise up, so that Jimmie could lift his knee if he wanted to; but Jimmie's knee did not lift.
Far down in the deeps of Jimmie Higgins' tormented soul, something strange was happening. Lying there bound and helpless, despairing, writhing with agony, half-insane with the terror of it, Jimmie called for help--and help came to him; the help which penetrates all dungeon walls, and cheats all jailors and torturers; that power which breaks all bars of steel and bars of fear--
"Thou has great allies; Thy friends are exultations, agonies, And love, and man's unconquerable mind!"
In the soul of Jimmie Higgins was heard that voice which speaks above the menaces and commands of tyranny: which says: I am Man, and I prevail. I conquer the flesh, I trample upon the body and rise above it. I defy its imprisonments, its prudences and fears. I am Truth, and will be heard in the world. I am Justice, and will be done in the world. I am Freedom, and I break all laws, I defy all repressions, I exult, I proclaim deliverance!--and because, in every age and in every clime, this holy Power has dwelt in the soul of man, because this mystic Voice has spoken there, humanity has moved out of darkness and savagery into at least the dream of a decent and happy world.
So Jimmie lay, converting his pain into ecstasy, a dizzy and perilous rapture, close to the border-line of madness; and Sergeant Perkins arose and looked down on him and shook his head. "By God!" said he. "What's in that little hell-pup?" He gave Jimmie a kick in the ribs; and Jimmie's soul took a leap, and went whirling through eternities of anguish.
"By Jesus, I'll make you talk!" cried Perkins, and he began to kick with his heavy boots--until Connor stopped him, knowing that this was not ethical--it would leave marks.
So finally the sergeant said abruptly, "Wait here." And he went upstairs to where Gannet was pacing about.
"Lieutenant," he said, "that fellow's a stubborn case."
"What does he say?"
"I can't get a word out of him. He's a Socialist and a crank, you know, and you'd be surprised how ugly some of them fellows can be. As soon as I get the story complete I'll report to you, but meantime there's no use your waiting here."
So the officer went away, and Perkins went back to the dungeon and gave orders that every two hours someone should come and fill Jimmie up with water, and give him another chance to say "Yes". And Jimmie lay and moaned and wept, all by himself, quivering now and then with the perilous ecstasy, which does not last, but has to be renewed by continuous efforts of the will, as a tired horse has to be driven with spur and whip. Never, never could this battle be truly won! Never could the body be wholly forgotten, its clamorous demands wholly stilled! God comes, but doubt follows closely. What is the use of this fearful sacrifice? What good will it accomplish, who will know about it, who will care? Thus Satan in the soul, and thus the eternal duel between the new thing that man dreams, and the old thing that he has made into law.