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Chapter 27

JIMMIE HIGGINS VOTES FOR DEMOCRACY

I

Another day had come--though Jimmie did not know it in his dungeon. All he knew was that Sergeant Perkins returned, and stood looking at him, picking his teeth with a quill. This little Bolshevik had stood the water-cure longer than any man whom Perkins had ever known, and he wondered vaguely what sort of damned fool he was, what he thought he was accomplishing, anyhow.

But it was necessary to keep after him, for Perkins knew that his career was at stake. He was supposed to have found out something, and he hadn't! So he ordered Jimmie tied up by the thumbs, the poor thumbs that were swollen to three times their normal size, and nearly black in colour. But now Jimmie's good Mother Nature interfered to stop the proceedings; the pain was so exquisite that Jimmie fainted, and when the sergeant saw that he was being cheated, he cut his victim down and left him lying on the damp stones.

So for three days Jimmie's life consisted of alternating swoons and agony--the regular routine of the "third degree" in more obstinate cases; and always, in his conscious moments, Jimmie called upon the God in himself, and the God responded with his hosts, and trumpets of triumph echoed in Jimmie's soul and he did not "come through".

So on the fourth day the three torturers entered the cell, and lifted him to his feet, and carried him up the stone stairs, and wrapped him in a blanket and put him in an automobile.

"Listen now," said Perkins, who sat by his side, "they're going to try you by court-martial. Hear me?"

Jimmie made no response.

"And I'll explain this for your health--if you tell any lies about what we done to you, I'll take you back to that dungeon and tear you limb from limb. You get me?" Still Jimmie did not answer--the sullen little devil, thought Perkins. But in Jimmie's soul there was a faint flicker of hope. Might he not make appeal to the higher authorities, and be saved from further torture? Jimmie had believed in his country, and in his country's purpose to defend democracy; he had read the wonderful speeches of President Wilson, and could not bring himself to think that the President would permit any man to be tortured in prison. But alas, it was a long way from the White House to Archangel--and still longer if you measured it through the ramifications of the army machine, a route more thoroughly criss-crossed with red tape than any sector of the Hindenburg line with barbed wire.

Jimmie was taken into a room where seven officers sat at a big table, looking very stern and solemn. Perkins supported him under the arm-pits, thus making it look as if he were walking. He was placed in a chair, and took a glance about him--but without seeing much hope in the faces which confronted him.

The president of the court-martial was Major Gaddis, who had been a professor of economics in a great university before the war: that is to say, he had been selected by a syndicate of bankers as a man who believed in a ruling class, and could never by any possibility be brought to believe in anything else. He was a man of strict honour, a very gracious and cultivated gentleman if you happened to belong in his social circle; but he was convinced that the duty of the lower classes was to obey, and that the existence of civilized society depended upon their being made to obey.

Next to him sat Colonel Nye, as different a type as could be imagined. Nye had been a soldier of fortune in Mexico and Central America, and had found prosperity as a captain of one of those condottieri bands which were organized by the big corporations of America before the war, for the purpose of crushing strikes. He had commanded a private army of five thousand men, horse, foot and artillery, known to the public as the Smithers Detective Agency. During a great coal-strike he had been placed by a state government in virtual charge of the militia, and had occupied himself in turning loose machine-guns on tent-colonies filled with women and children. He had been tried by a militia court-martial for murder and acquitted--thus making it impossible for any civilian grand-jury ever to indict him and have him hanged. And now he had been automatically taken from the state militia into the national army, where he made a most efficient officer, with a reputation as a strict disciplinarian.

First-Lieutenant Olsen had been a dry goods clerk, who had gone into an officers' training-camp. As he hoped to rise in the world, he looked to his superiors always before he expressed an opinion. The same was true of Captain Gushing, who was a good-natured young bank-cashier with a pretty wife who spent his salary a couple of months before he got it. The fifth officer, Lieutenant Gannet, did most of the talking, because he was Jimmie's immediate superior, and had conducted the investigations into the case. He had discussed the matter with Major Prentice, the Judge-Advocate of the court, also with Captain Ardner, the young military lawyer who went through the form of defending Jimmie; the three had agreed that the case was a most serious one. The propaganda of Bolshevism in this Archangel expedition must certainly be nipped in the bud. The charge against Jimmie was insubordination and incitement to mutiny, and the penalty was death.

II

Jimmie sat in his chair, only partly aware of what was going on, because of the agony in his swollen thumbs and his twisted arms. His flicker of hope had died, and he had lost interest in the proceedings--all his energy was needed to endure his pain. He would not tell them where he had got the leaflets, and when they badgered him, he just grunted with pain. He would not talk with Captain Ardner, who tried in vain to persuade him that he was acting in his--the prisoner's--interest. Only twice did Jimmie flare up; the first time when Major Gaddis voiced his indignation that any citizen of the great American democracy should ally himself with these Bolshevik vermin, who were carrying on a reign of terror throughout Russia, burning, slaying, torturing--

"Who talks about torturing?" shrieked Jimmie, half-starting from his chair. "Ain't you been torturing me--regular tearin' me to pieces?"

The court was shocked. "Torturing?" said Captain Gushing.

"Torturin' me for days--a week, maybe, I dunno, in that there dungeon!"

Major Gaddis turned to Sergeant Perkins, who stood behind Jimmie's chair, barely able to withhold his hands from the prisoner. "How about that, Sergeant?"

"It is utterly false, sir."

"Look at these thumbs!" cried Jimmie. "They strung me up by them!"

"The prisoner was violent," said Perkins. "He nearly killed Private Connor, one of the guards, so we had to use severe measures."

"It's a lie!" shrieked Jimmie. But they shut him up, and the dignified military machine ground on. Anybody could see that discipline would go to pieces if the word of a jailer did not prevail over that of a prisoner, the word of a loyal and tried subordinate over that of a traitor and conspirator, an avowed sympathizer with the enemy.

Presently the presiding officer inquired if the prisoner was aware that he had incurred the death-penalty. Getting no reply, he went on to inform the prisoner that the court would be apt to inflict this extreme penalty, unless he would reconsider and name his accomplices among the Bolsheviki, so that the army could protect itself against the propaganda of these murderers. So Jimmie flared up again--but not so violently, rather with a touch of fierce irony. "Murderers, you say? Ain't you gettin' ready to murder me?"

"We are enforcing the law," said the court.

"You make what you call law, an' they make what they call law. You kill people that disobey, an' so do they. What's the difference?"

"They are killing all the educated and law-abiding people in Russia," declared Major Gaddis, severely.

"All the rich people, you mean," said Jimmie. "They make the rich obey their laws; they give them a chance, the same as everybody else, then if they don't obey they kill them--just as many as they have to kill to make them obey. An' don't you do the same with the poor people? Ain't I seen you do it, every time there was a strike? Ask Colonel Nye there! Didn't he say: 'To hell with habeas corpus--we'll give them post-mortems?'"

Colonel Nye flushed; he did not know that his fame had followed him all the way from Colorado to the Arctic Circle. The court made haste to protect him: "We are not conducting a Socialist debate here. It is evident that the prisoner is impenitent and defiant, and that there is no reason for leniency." So the court proceeded to find Jimmie Higgins guilty as charged, and to sentence him to twenty years' military confinement--really quite a mild sentence, considering the circumstances. In New York City at this very time they were trying five Russian Jews, all of them mere children, one a girl, for exactly the same offence as Jimmie had committed--distributing a plea that American troops should cease to kill Russian Socialists; these children received twenty years, and one of them died soon after his arrest--his fellows swore as a result of torture inflicted by Federal secret service agents.

III

So Jimmie was taken back to prison. Major Gaddis, who was really a just man, and made law and order his religion, gave the strictest orders that the prisoner should not again be hung up by the thumbs. It was, of course, desirable to find out who had printed the Bolshevik leaflets, but in the effort to make the prisoner tell he should receive only the punishments formally approved by the army authorities.

So Jimmie went back to the underground dungeon, and for eight hours every day a chain was fastened about his wrists, and the other end run up into the iron ring, so that his feet barely touched the floor; and there Jimmie hung, and tried out his conscience--this being the test then being undergone by many men at the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Jimmie's conscience really was nothing like as strong as it ought to have been. Jimmie had moods of shameless self-pity, moods of desperate and agonizing doubt. He did not mean to let his dungeon-keepers know this, but they listened behind the door through a slot which the Tsar had had contrived for this purpose; it could be closed while the prisoner was screaming under torture, and then opened by the jailer without the prisoner's knowledge.

So Perkins heard Jimmie sobbing and wailing, talking to himself and to other people--to someone called "Strawberry", and to someone else called "Wild Bill", asking them if they had ever suffered anything like this, and was it really worth while, would it help the revolution? Perkins thought he had got some important information here, and took it to Lieutenant Gannet, with the result that inquiry was made through all the American Forces for men known as "Strawberry" and "Wild Bill". But these men could not be found; as it happened, "Wild Bill" had taken refuge in a place to which not even the army intelligence service can penetrate, and "Strawberry" Curran was just then being tried with a bunch of other "wobblies" in California and subjected to much the same kind of treatment as Jimmie was receiving in Archangel.

It was a big advantage that Sergeant Perkins had in his struggle with Jimmie, that the pitiful weakness of Jimmy's soul was exposed to him, while the soul of Perkins was hidden from Jimmie. For the truth was that Perkins was suffering from rage, mingled with not a little fear. What the hell was this idea that could keep a little runt of a working-man stronger than all in authority? And how was this idea to be kept from spreading and wrecking the comfortable, well-ordered world in which Perkins expected soon to receive an army commission? The very day after the court-martial, which was supposed to be a profound military secret, the army authorities were astounded to discover, posted in several conspicuous places, a placard in English, reading:

"American soldiers, do you know that an army sergeant is being tortured and has been sentenced to twenty years in a dungeon for having tried to tell you how the Bolsheviki are making propaganda against the German Kaiser?

"Do you know the true reason your armies are here? Are you willing to die to compel the Russian people to accept your ideas of government? Are you willing to have your comrades tortured to keep the facts from you?"

And of course the doughboys who read this placard wanted to know if it told the truth. And quickly word spread that it did. Men who still had copies of the leaflet which Jimmie had distributed now found eager readers for it, and soon all the men knew its contents, and were debating the question of the use of American armies to put down social revolution in a foreign country. These same questions were being asked in the halls of Congress back home. Senators were questioning the right of sending troops into a country against which war had never been declared, and other Senators were demanding that they be immediately withdrawn. And this news also reached the men, and increased the danger. Archangel was not a pleasant place to stay, especially with winter coming on fast; men were disposed to grumble--and now they had a pretext!

IV

The authorities who were handling this army laboured under one grievous handicap, probably never before faced by any army in history. The Commander-in-Chief of the army, who determined its policies and tried to set its moral tone, kept coming now and then before Congress and making speeches full of incendiary and reckless utterances, calculated to set dangerous thoughts to buzzing in the heads of soldiers, to break down discipline and undermine morale. The President wrote a letter to a political convention in which he declared that the workers of America were living in "economic serfdom"; he declared again and again that every people had a right to determine their own destinies and form of government without outside interference. This while the army was trying to put down those Russians who were in revolt against "economic serfdom" in their own country!

An army, you see, is a machine built to fight; a man who goes into it and takes part in its work, very quickly acquires its tone, which is one of abysmal contempt for all politicians, particularly of the talking and letter-writing variety, the "idealists" and "dreamers" and "theorists", who do not understand that the business of men is to fight battles and win them. All the officers of the old army, the West-Pointers, had been bred in the tradition of class-rule, they had in their very bones the idea that they were a special breed, that obedience to them was a law of God; while of the new officers, the overwhelming majority came from the well-to-do, and were not favourable to speech-making and letter-writing about the rights of man. They were without enthusiasm for the idea of having a pacifist secretary of war set over them by the "idealist" commander-in-chief. They did not hesitate to vent their indignation; and when this pacifist secretary gave orders about conscientious objectors which were based upon sentimentalism and theory, the army machine took the liberty of interpreting these orders and trimming the nonsense out of them. And the farther away you got from the office of the pacifist secretary, the more thorough the trimming inevitably became; thus producing the phenomenon which poor Jimmie Higgins found so bewildering--that policies laid down by sincere humanitarians and liberals in Washington were carried out in Archangel by an ex-detective trained in a school of corruption and cruelty.

Jimmie Higgins couldn't understand that here in Archangel were Americans taking their orders from British and French officers, who wasted no breath on pacifism and sentiment, who had no fool ideas about wars for democracy. Was one obscure little runt of a Socialist machinist to be allowed to block their world-plans? Setting himself up as an authority, presuming to accept literally the passages of his President, in defiance of their authority in Archangel! Allying himself with traitorous and criminal scoundrels, trying to poison the minds of American soldiers and light the flame of mutiny among them! Just as once Jimmie Higgins had found himself in a strategic position where he had held up the whole Hun army and won the battle of Chateau-Thierry, so now he found himself in a position of equal strategic importance--on the line of communication of the Allied armies attacking Russia, and threatening to cut the line and force the armies into retreat!

V

It became more essential than ever to discover these Bolshevik sympathizers and stamp out their propaganda. As hanging Jimmie up by the wrists had not brought forth the desired information, Jimmie was put in solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water, this being another test of sincerity of conscience. For the conscience a diet of white flour and water may be all right, but Jimmie soon found that it is very bad indeed for the intestinal tract and the blood-stream--being, in truth, far worse than a diet of water alone. The man who lives on white flour and water for a few days suffers either from complete stopping of the bowels, or else from dysentery; his blood becomes clogged with starch poisons, his nerves degenerate, he falls a quick victim to tuberculosis, or pernicious anasmia, or some other disease which will prevent his ever being a sound man again.

Also, Jimmie received the water-treatment, as included in the Fort Leavenworth regiment. It was necessary that all prisoners should be bathed; which was interpreted by some guards to mean that they should have a stream of icy water turned on them, and be forced to stand under it. Because Jimmie's arms were too badly injured for him to scrub himself, Connor seized a rough brush and salt, and rubbed off strips of his skin. When Jimmy wriggled away, they followed him with the hose; when he screamed, they turned it into his mouth and nose; when he fell down, they let the cold water run over him for ten or fifteen minutes.

Jimmie had had a good deal of harsh treatment in the course of his outcast life, but never so closely concentrated in point of time. His spirit remained unbroken, but his body gave way, and then his mind began to give also. He fell a victim to delusions; the nightmares which haunted his sleep lay siege to his waking hours also, and he thought he was being tortured at times when he was just hanging by his chains. Until at last Perkins, listening through the door, heard strange cries and grunts, beast-like noises, barkings, and growlings. He called Connor and Grady, and the three of them stood listening.

"By God!" said Grady. "He's dippy."

"He's nutty," said Connor.

"He's batty," said Perkins.

But the idea occurred to all of them--perhaps he was shamming! What was easier than for one of those emissaries of Satan to pretend to have a devil inside him? So they waited a bit longer, until Connor, coming to chain Jimmie up, found him gnawing off the ends of his fingers. That was really serious, so they sent for the prison-surgeon, who had to make but a brief inspection to convince himself that Jimmie Higgins was a raving madman. Jimmie fancied himself some kind of fur-bearing animal, and he was in a trap, and was trying to gnaw off his foot so as to escape. He snapped his teeth at everyone who came near him; he had to be knocked senseless before a straight-jacket could be got on him.

VI

And so it was that Jimmie Higgins at last made his escape from his tormentors. Jimmie doesn't know anything about the Russian Jew, Kalenkin, any more; he could not tell the secret if he wanted to, so they have given up testing his conscience, and they treat him kindly, and have succeeded in persuading him that he is out of the trap. Therefore he is a good beast--he crawls about on all fours, and eats his food out of a tin platter without using his gnawed-off fingers. He still has torturing pains in the arm-joints, but he does not mind them so much, because, being a beast, he suffers only the pain of the moment; he does not know that he is going to suffer to-morrow, nor worry about it. He is no longer one of those who "look before and after and pine for what is not". He is a "good doggie", and when you pat him on the head he rubs against you and whines affectionately.

Poor, mad Jimmie Higgins will never again trouble his country; but Jimmie's friends and partisans, who know the story of his experiences, cannot be thus lightly dismissed by Society. In the industrial troubles which are threatening the great democracy of the West, there will appear men and women animated by a fierce and blazing bitterness; and the great democracy of the West will marvel at their state of mind, unable to conceive what can have caused it. These rebellious ones will be heard quoting to the great democracy the words of its greatest democrat, spoken in solemn warning during the slaughter and destruction of the Civil War: "If God will that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as it was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"


THE END.

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Upton Sinclair

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