JIMMIE HIGGINS GOES TO JAIL
Every evening now the party held its "soap-box" meetings on a corner just off Main Street. Jimmie, having volunteered as one of the assistants, would bolt his supper in the evening and hurry off to the spot. He was not one of the speakers, of course--he would have been terrified at the idea of making a speech; but he was one of those whose labours made the speaking possible, and who reaped the harvest for the movement.
The apparatus of the meeting was kept in the shop of a friendly carpenter near-by. The carpenter had made a "soap-box" that was a wonder--a platform mounted upon four slender legs, detachable, so that one man could carry the whole business and set it up. Thus the speaker was lifted a couple of feet above the heads of the crowd, and provided with a hand-rail upon which he might lean, and even pound, if he did not pound too hard. A kerosene torch burned some distance from his head, illuminating his features, and it was Jimmie's business to see that this torch was properly cleaned and filled, and to hold it erect on a pole part of the time. The rest of the time he peddled literature among the crowd--copies of the Leesville Worker, and five and ten cent pamphlets supplied by the National Office.
He would come home at night, worn out from these labours after his daily toil; he would fall asleep at Lizzie's side, and have to be routed out by her when the alarm-clock went off next morning. She would get him a cup of hot coffee, and after he had drunk this, he would be himself again, and would chatter about the adventures of the night before. There was always something happening, a fellow starting a controversy, a drunken man, or perhaps a couple of thugs in the pay of old man Granitch, trying to break up the meeting.
Lizzie would do her best to show that sympathy with her husband's activities which is expected from a dutiful wife. But all the time there was a grief in her soul--the eternal grief of the feminine temperament, which is cautious and conservative, in conflict with the masculine, which is adventurous and destructive. Here was Jimmie, earning twice what he had ever earned before, having a chance to feed his children properly and to put by a little margin for the first time in his harassed life; but instead of making the most of the opportunity, he was going out on the streets every night, doing everything in his power to destroy the golden occasion which Fate had brought to him! Like the fellow who climbs a tree to saw off a limb, and sits on the limb and saws between himself and the tree!
In spite of her best efforts, Lizzie's broad, kindly face would sometimes become hard with disappointment, and a big tear would roll down each of her sturdy cheeks. Jimmie would be sorry for her, and would patiently try to explain his actions. Should a man think only of his own wife and children, and forget entirely all the other wives and children of the working-class? That was why the workers had been slaves all through the ages, because each thought of himself, and never of his fellows. No, you must think of your class! You must act as a class--on the alert to seize every advantage, to teach solidarity and stimulate class-consciousness! Jimmie would use these long words, which he had heard at meetings; but then, seeing that Lizzie did not understand them, he would go back and say it over again in words of one syllable. They had old man Granitch in a hole just now, and they must teach him a lesson, and at the same time teach the workers their power. Lizzie would sigh, and shake her head; for to her, old man Granitch was not a human being, but a natural phenomenon, like winter, or hunger. He, or some other like him, had been the master of her fathers for generations untold, and to try to break or even to limit his power was like commanding the tide or the sun.
Events moved quickly to their culmination, justifying the worst of Lizzie's fears. The shops were seething with discontent, and agitators seemed fairly to spring out of the ground; some of them paid by Jerry Coleman, no doubt, others taking their pay in the form of gratification of those grudges with which the profit-system had filled their hearts. Noon-meetings would start up, quite spontaneously, without any prearrangement; and presently Jimmie learned that men were going about taking the names of all who would agree to strike.
The matter was brought to a head by the Empire managers, who, of course, were kept informed by their spies. They discharged more than a score of the trouble-makers; and when this news spread at noon-time, the whole place burst into a flame of wrath. "Strike! strike!" was the cry. Jimmie was one of many who started a procession through the yards, shouting, singing, hurling menaces at the bosses, challenging all who proposed to return to work. Less than one-tenth of the working force made any attempt to do so, and for that afternoon the plant of the Empire Machine Shops, which was supposed to be turning out shell-casings for the Russian government, was turning out labour-union, Socialist, and I. W. W. oratory.
Jimmie Higgins was beside himself with excitement. He danced about and waved his cap, he shouted himself hoarse, he almost yielded to the impulse to jump upon a pile of lumber and make a speech himself. Presently came Comrades Gerrity and Mary Allen, who had got wind of the trouble, and had loaded a whole edition of the Worker into a Ford; so Jimmie turned newsboy, selling these papers, hundreds of them, until his pockets were bursting with the weight of pennies and nickels. And then he was pressed into service running errands for those who were arranging to organize the workers; he carried bundles of membership-cards and application-blanks, following a man with a bull voice and a megaphone, who shouted in several languages the location of union headquarters, and the halls where various foreign language meetings would be held that evening. Evidently someone had foreseen the breaking of this trouble, and had been at pains to plan ahead.
Late in the afternoon Jimmie was witness of an exciting incident. In one of the shops a number of the men had persisted in returning to work, and an immense throng of strikers had gathered to wait for them. They were afraid to come out, but stayed in the building after the quitting-whistle, while those outside jeered and hooted and the bosses telephoned frantically for aid. The greater part of the Leesville police-force was on hand, and in addition, the company had its own guards and private detectives. But they were needed all over the place. You saw them at the various entrances, menacing, but not quite so sure of themselves as usual; their hands had a tendency to slip back to the bulge on their right hips.
Jimmie and another fellow had got themselves an empty box and were standing on it, leaning against the wall of the building and shouting "Ya! Ya!" at every "scab" head that showed itself. They saw an automobile come in at the gate, its horn honking savagely, causing the crowd to leap to one side or the other. The automobile was packed with men, sitting on one another's knees, or hanging to the running-boards outside. There came a second car, loaded in the same fashion. They were guards, sent all the way from Hubbardtown; for of course the Hubbard Engine Company would help out its rivals in an emergency such as this. That was the solidarity of capitalism, concerning which the Socialists never wearied of preaching.
The men leaped from the cars, and spread themselves fanwise in front of the door. They had nightsticks in their hands, and grim resolution in their faces; they cried, "Stand back! Stand back!" The crowd hooted, but gave slightly, and a few minutes later the doors of the building opened, and the first of the timid workers emerged. There was a howl, and then from somewhere in the throng a stone was thrown. "Arrest that man!" shouted a voice, and Jimmie's attention was attracted to the owner of this voice--a young man who had arrived in the first automobile, and was now standing up in the seat, from which position he could dominate the throng. "Arrest that man!" he shouted again, pointing his finger; and three of the guards leaped into the crowd at the spot indicated. The man who had thrown the missile started to run, but he could not go fast in the crowd, and in a moment, as it seemed, the guards had him by the collar. He tried to jerk away, and they struck him over the head, and laid about them to keep the rest of the throng at bay. "Take him inside!" the young man in the car kept shouting. And one of the guards twisted his hand in the collar of the wretched stone-thrower, until he grew purple in the face, and so half-dragged and half-ran him into the building.
The young man in the car turned toward the crowd which was blocking the way to the exit. "Get those men out of the way!" he yelled to the guards. "Drive them along--God damn them, they've got no business in here." And so on, with a string of dynamic profanity, which stung both guards and policemen into action, and made them ply their clubs upon the crowd.
"Do you know who that is?" asked Jimmie's companion on the box. "That's Lacey Granitch."
Jimmie started, experiencing a thrill to the soles of his ragged shoes. Lacey Granitch! In the four years that the little machinist had worked for the Empire, he had never caught a glimpse of the young lord of Leesville--something which may easily be believed, for the young lord considered Leesville "a hole of a town", and honoured it with his presence only once or twice a year. But his spirit brooded over it; he was to Leesville a mythological figure, either of wonder and awe, or of horror, according to the temperament of the contemplator. One day "Wild Bill" had arisen in the local, and held aloft a page from the "magazine supplement" of one of the metropolitan "yellows". There was an account of how Lacey Granitch had broken the hearts of seven chorus-girls by running away with an eighth. He fairly "ate 'em alive", according to the account; in order to give an idea of the atmosphere in which the young hero abode, the whirl of delight which was his life, the artist of the Sunday supplement had woven round the border of the page a maze of feminine ankles and calves in a delirium of lingerie; while at the top was a supper-table with champagne-corks popping, and a lady clad in inadequate veils dancing amid the dishes.
This had happened while the local was in the midst of an acrimonious controversy over "Section Six". Should the Socialist party bar from its membership those who advocated sabotage, violence and crime? Young Norwood was pleading for orderly methods of social reconstruction; and here stood "Wild Bill", ripping to shreds the reputation of the young plutocrat of the Empire Shops. "That's what you geezers are sweating for! That's why you've got to be good, and not throw monkey-wrenches in the machinery--so the seven broken-hearted chorus-girls can drown their sorrows in champagne!"
And now here was the hero of all these romantic escapades, forsaking the white lights of Broadway, and coming home to help the old man keep his contracts. He stood in the seat of the automobile, glancing this way and that, swiftly, like a hunter on the alert for dangerous game. His dark eyes roamed here and there, his proud face was pale with anger, his tall, perfectly groomed figure was eloquent of mastership, of command. He was imperious as a young Caesar, terrible in his vengeance; and poor Jimmie, watching him, was torn between two contradictory emotions. He hated him--hated him with a deadly and abiding hatred. But also he admired him, marvelled at him, cringed before him. Lacey was a wanton, a cursing tyrant, a brutal snob; but also he was the master, the conqueror, the proud, free, rich young aristocrat, for whom all the rest of humanity existed. And Jimmie Higgins was a poor little worm of a proletarian, with nothing but his labour-power to sell, trying by sheer force of his will to lift himself out of his slave-psychology!
There is an old adage that "a cat may look at a king". But this can only have been meant to apply to house-cats, cats of the palace, accustomed to the etiquette of courts; it cannot have been meant for proletarian cats of the gutter, the Jimmie Higgins variety of red revolutionary yowlers. Jimmie and his companion stood on their perch, shouting "Ya! Ya!" and suddenly the crowd melted away in front of them, exposing them to the angry finger of the young master. "Get along now! Beat it! Quick!" And Jimmie, poor little ragged, stunted Jimmie, with bad teeth and toil-deformed hands, wilted before this blast of aristocratic wrath, and made haste to hide himself in the throng. But it was with blazing soul that he went; every instant he imagined himself turning back, defying the angry finger, shouting down the imperious voice, even smashing it back into the throat from which it came!
Jimmie did not even stop for supper. The greater part of the night he worked at helping to organize the strikers, and all next day he spent arranging Socialist meetings. He worked like a man possessed, lifted above the limitations of the flesh. For everywhere that day he carried with him the image of the proud, free, rich young aristocrat, with his dark eyes roaming swiftly, his tall, perfectly groomed figure eloquent of mastership, his voice ringing with challenge. Jimmie was for the time utterly possessed by hatred; and he saw about him thousands of others sharing the mood and shouting it aloud. Every speaker who could be found was turned loose to talk till he was hoarse, and in the evening there was to be half a dozen street meetings. That was always the way when there were strikes; then the working man had time to listen--and also the desire!
So came the final crisis, when the little machinist had to show the stuff he was made of. He was holding aloft the torch at the regular meeting-place on the corner of Main and Third Streets, and Comrade Gerrity was explaining the strike and the ballot as two edges of the sword of labour, when four policemen came suddenly round the corner and pushed their way through the crowd. "You'll have to stop this!" declared one.
"Stop?" cried Gerrity. "What do you mean?"
"There's to be no more street-speaking during the strike."
"Who says so?"
"Orders from the chief."
"But we've got a permit."
"All permits revoked. Cut it out."
"But this is an outrage!"
"We don't want any argument, young man--"
"But we're within our rights here."
"Forget it, young feller!"
Gerrity turned swiftly to the throng.
"Fellow-citizens," he cried, "we are here in the exercise of our rights as American citizens! We are conducting a peaceable and orderly political meeting, and we know our rights and propose to maintain them. We--"
"Come down off that box, young feller!" commanded the officer; and the crowd hooted and booed.
"Fellow-citizens!" began Gerrity again; but that was as far as he got, for the policeman seized him by the arm and pulled; and Gerrity knew the ways of American policemen too well to resist. He came down--but still talking. "Fellow-citizens--"
"Are you goin' to shut up?" demanded the other, and as Gerrity still went on orating, he announced: "You are under arrest."
There were half a dozen Socialists with the party, and this was a challenge to the self-respect of everyone of them. In an instant Comrade Mabel Smith had leaped on to the stand. "Fellow workers!" she cried. "Is this America, or is it Russia?"
"That'll do, lady," said the policeman, as considerately as he dared; for Comrade Mabel wore a big picture-hat and many other signs of youth and beauty.
"I have a right to speak here, and I mean to speak," she declared.
"We don't want to have to arrest you, lady--"
"You either have to arrest me, or else allow me to speak."
"I'm sorry, lady, but it's orders. You are arrested."
Then came the turn of Comrade Stankewitz. "Vorking men, it is for the rights of the vorkers ve are here." And so they jerked him off.
And then "Wild Bill". This hundred per cent, middle-of-the-road proletarian had been hanging on the outskirts of the meeting, having been forbidden by the local to take part in the speaking, because of the intemperate nature of his utterances; but now, of course, all rules went down, and Bill leaped on to the shaking platform. "Are we slaves?" he yelled. "Are we dogs?" And it would seem that the police thought so, for they yanked him off the platform, and one of them seized him by the wrist and twisted so that his oration ended in a shriek of pain.
Then came Johnny Edge, a shy youth with an armful of literature, which he hung on to in spite of police violence; and then--then there was one more!
Poor Jimmie! He did not in the least want to get arrested, and he was terrified at the idea of making even so short a speech as was here the order of the night. But, of course, his honour was at stake, there was no way out. He handed his torch to a bystander, and mounted the scaffold. "Is this a free country?" he cried. "Do we have free speech?" And Jimmie's first effort at oratory ended in a jerk at his coat-tail, which all but upset the frail platform upon which he stood.
There were four policemen, with six prisoners, and a throng about them howling with indignation, perhaps ready to become violent--who could say? The guardians of order had been prepared however. One of them stepped to the corner and blew his whistle, and a minute later came the shriek of a siren, and round the corner came swinging the city's big patrol-wagon, the "Black Maria". The crowd gave way, and one by one the prisoners were thrust in. One of them, "Wild Bill", feeling himself for a moment released from the grip of his captors, raised his voice, shouting through the wire grating of the wagon: "I denounce this outrage! I am a free American--" And suddenly Jimmie, who was next in the wagon, felt himself flung to one side, and a policeman leaped by him, and planted his fist with terrific violence full in the orator's mouth. "Wild Bill" went down like a bullock under the slaughter-man's axe, and the patrol-wagon started up, the cry of its siren drowning the protests of the crowd.
Poor Bill! He lay across the seat, and Jimmie, who had to sit next to him, caught him in his arms and held him. He was quivering, with awful motions like a spasm. He made no sound, and Jimmie was terrified, thinking that he was dying. Before long Jimmie felt a hot wetness stealing over his hands, first slimy, then turning sticky. He had to sit there, almost fainting with horror; he dared not say anything, for maybe the policeman would strike him also. He sat, clutching in his arms the shaking body, and whispering under his breath, "Poor Bill! Poor Bill!"
They came to the station-house, and Bill was carried out and laid on a bench, and the others were stood up before the desk and had their pedigrees taken. Gerrity demanded indignantly to be allowed to telephone, and this demand was granted. He routed Lawyer Norwood from a party, and set him to finding bail; and meantime the prisoners were led to cells.
They had been there only a couple of minutes when there came floating through the row of steel cages the voice of a woman singing. It was Comrade Mabel Smith in that clear sweet voice they had so often listened to on "social evenings" in the local. She was singing the Internationale:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation. Arise, ye wretched of the earth!
The sound thrilled them to the very bones, and they joined in the chorus with a shout. Then, of course, came the jailer: "Shut up." And then again: "Shut up!" And then a third time: "Will ye shut up?" And then came a bucket of water, hurled through the cell bars. It hit Jimmie squarely in the mouth, and in the words of the poet, "the subsequent proceedings interested him no more!"
About midnight came Lawyer Norwood and Dr. Service. Both of these men had protested against the street-speaking at this time; but of course, when it came to comrades in trouble, they could not resist the appeal to their sympathies. Such is the difficulty of entirely respectable and decorous "parlour" Socialists, in their dealings with the wayward children of the movement, the "impossibilists" and "direct actionists" and other sowers of proletarian wild oats. Dr. Service produced a wad of bills and bailed out all the prisoners, and delivered himself of impressive indignation to the police-sergeant, while waiting for an ambulance to carry "Wild Bill" to the hospital. Jimmie Higgins, who had always hitherto shouted with the "wild" ones, realized suddenly how pleasant it is to have a friend who wears black broadcloth, and carries himself like the drum-major of a band, and is reputed to be worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
Jimmie went home; and there was Lizzie, pacing the floor and wringing her hands in anxiety--for there had been no way to get word to her what had happened. She flung herself into his arms, and then recoiled in fright when, she discovered that he was wet. He told her the story; and would you believe it--Lizzie, being a woman, and only in the A-B-C stage of revolutionary education, actually did not know that it was a glorious and heroic adventure to be arrested! She thought it a disgrace, and tried to persuade him to keep the dreadful secret from the neighbourhood! And when she found that he was not through yet, but had to go to court in the morning and be tried, she wept copiously, and woke up Jimmie Junior, and started him to bawling. She was only to be pacified when Jimmie Senior agreed to take off his wet clothes at once, and drink a cup or two of boiling hot tea, and let himself be covered up with blankets, so that he might not die of pneumonia before he could get to court.
Next morning there was a crowded court-room and a stern and solemn judge frowning over his spectacles, and Lawyer Norwood making an impassioned defence of the fundamental American right of free speech. It was so very thrilling that Jimmie could hardly be kept from applauding his own lawyer! And then Comrade Dr. Service arose, and in his most impressive voice gave the professional information that "Wild Bill's" nose had been broken, and three of his front teeth knocked out, and that he was in the hospital and unable to come to court; and all the other prisoners were called upon to testify what "Wild Bill" had done to bring this fate upon him. The policeman who had struck the blow testified that the prisoner had resisted arrest; a second policeman testified, "I seen the prisoner hit him first, your Honour,"--which caused Comrade Mabel Smith to cry out, "Oh, the ungrammatical prevaricator!" The upshot of the trial was that each of the defendants was fined ten dollars. Comrade Gerrity led off with an indignant refusal to pay the fine; the rest of them followed suit--even Comrade Mabel! This caused evident distress of mind to the judge, for Comrade Mabel with her indignant pink cheeks and her big picture-hat looked more than ever the lady, and it is a fact known even to judges that American jails have not been constructed for ladies. The matter was settled by Lawyer Norwood paying her fine, in spite of her protests, and her demand to be sent to jail.
The five men were led away, over the "Bridge of Sighs", as it was called, to the city jail, where they had their pedigrees taken again, and their pictures and their finger-prints--which for the first time impressed upon their minds the fact that they were dangerous criminals. Their clothes were taken away, and shirts and trousers given them, whose faded blue colour seemed to have been impregnated with the misery of scores of previous wearers. They were led through steel-barred doors, and along dark, steel-barred passages to one of the "tanks". A "tank", you discovered, was one floor of this four-storied packing box; on each side of it were a row of a dozen barred cells, each with four bunks, so that the total maximum population which might be crowded into the central space of the "tank" was ninety-six; however, this only happened on Monday mornings, when the "drunks" had all been brought in, and before the courts had had time to sort them out.
After you had lain down on your bunk for a few minutes, or had leaned against the wall of the "tank", you felt an annoying stinging sensation somewhere on you. You began to rub and scratch; before long you would be rubbing and scratching in a dozen different places, and then you would observe your neighbour watching you with a grin. "Seam-squirrels?" he would say; and he would bid you take off your coat, and engage in the popular hunting game of the institution. Jimmie remembered having heard a speaker refer to the city jail as the "Leesville Louseranch"; he had thought that a good joke at the time, but now it seemed otherwise to him.
It was splendid to stand up in court and to take your stand as a martyr; but now Jimmie discovered, as many an unfortunate has discovered before him, that being a martyr is not the sport it is cracked up to be. There were no heroics now, no singing. If you even so much as hummed, they took you out and shut you up in a dark hole called the "cooler"! Nor could you read, for there was no light in your cell, and perpetual twilight in the central gathering place of the "tank". Apparently the only things the authorities of Leesville wished you to do were to hunt "seam-squirrels", to smoke cigarettes, to "shoot craps", and to make the acquaintance of a variety of interesting young criminals, so that when you were ready to resume your outside life you might decide whether you wanted to be a hold-up man, a safe-cracker, a forger, or a second-story operator.
Jimmie Higgins, of course, brought a different psychology from that of the average jail-inmate. Jimmie could do his kind of work just as well in jail as anywhere else; and barring the torment of vermin, the diet of bread and thin coffee and ill-smelling greasy soup, and the worry about his helpless family outside, he really had a happy time-making the acquaintance of tramps and pickpockets, and explaining to them the revolutionary philosophy. A man who went in to remedy social injustice all by himself could never get very far. It was only when he realized himself as a member of a class, and stood as a class and acted as a class, that he could accomplish a permanent result. Some of the workers had discovered this, and had set out to educate their fellows. They brought the wondrous message, even to those in jail; holding out to them the vision of a world made over in justice and kindness, the co-operative commonwealth of labour, in which every man should get what he produced, and no man could exploit his fellows.
Three days passed, and then one afternoon Jimmie was summoned to see a visitor. He could guess who the visitor was, and he went with his heart in his throat, and looked through the dark mesh of wire, and saw Lizzie standing--stout, motherly Lizzie, now very pale, and breathing hard, and with tears running in little streamlets down her cheeks. Poor Lizzie, with her three babies at home, and her plain, ordinary, non-revolutionary psychology, which made going to jail a humiliation instead of a test of manhood, a badge of distinction! Jimmie felt a clutch in his own throat, and an impulse to tear down the beastly wire mesh and clasp the dear motherly soul in his arms. But all he could do was to screw his face into a dubious smile. Sure, he was having the time of his life in this jail! He wouldn't have missed it for anything! He had made a Socialist out of "Dead-eye Mike", and had got Pete Curley, a fancy "con" man, to promise to read "War, What For?"
There was only one thing which had been troubling him, and that was, how his family was getting on. They had had practically nothing in the house, he knew, and poor Meissner could not feed four extra mouths. But Lizzie, also screwing her face into a smile, assured him that everything was all right at home, there was no need to worry. In the first place, Comrade Dr. Service had sent her a piece of paper with his name written on it; it appeared that this was called a cheque, and the groceryman had exchanged it for a five dollar bill. And in the next place there was a domestic secret which Lizzie had to confide--she had put by some money, without letting Jimmie know it.
"But how?" cried Jimmie, in wonder--for he had thought he knew all about his household and its expenses.
So Lizzie explained the trick she had played. Jimmie had committed an extravagance, treating her to a new dress out of his increased earnings: a gorgeous contrivance of several colours, looking like silk, even if it wasn't. Lizzie had stated that the cost was fifteen dollars, and he, the dupe, had believed it! The truth was she had bought the dress in a second-hand shop for three dollars, and had put twelve dollars away for the time of the strike!
And Jimmie went back to his "tank", shaking his head and philosophizing: "Gee! Can you beat these women?"