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Chapter 8

JIMMIE HIGGINS PUTS HIS FOOT IN IT

I

The world struggle continued with constantly increasing ferocity. All summer long the Germans hammered at the French and British lines; while the British hammered at the gates of Constantinople, and the Italians at the gates of Trieste. The Germans sent their giant airships to drop loads of bombs on London and their submarines to sink passenger-steamers and hospital-ships. Each fresh outrage against international law became the occasion of more letters of protest from the United States, and of more controversies in the newspapers, and in Congress, and in Kumme's bicycle-shop on Jefferson Street, Leesville.

In this last place, to be sure, the discussions were rather one-sided. Practically all who came there regarded the munitions industry as an accursed thing, and made no secret of their glee at the misfortunes which befell it; at shipyards which caught fire and burned up, at railroad bridges and ships at sea destroyed by mysterious explosions. Kumme, a wizened-up, grizzle-haired old fellow with a stubby nose and a bullet-head, would fall to cursing in a mingling of English and German when anyone so much as mentioned the fleets of ships that went across the water, loaded with shells to kill German soldiers; he would point a skinny finger at whoever would listen to him, declaring that the Germans in this country were not slaves, and would protect their Fatherland from the perfidious British and their Wall Street hirelings. Kumme took a newspaper printed in German, and a couple of weeklies published in English for the promotion of the German cause; he would mark passages in these papers and read them aloud--everything that the mind of man could recall or invent that was discreditable to Britain, to France and Italy, to Wall Street, and to the nation which allowed Wall Street to bamboozle and exploit it. There were many Americans who had "muck-raked" their own country in the interests of social reform, and had praised the social system of Germany. These arguments the German propagandists now found useful, and Jimmie would take them to the Socialist local and pass them about. From the meeting of the local he and Meissner would go to the saloon where they had rendezvous with Jerry Coleman, who would distribute more ten-dollar bills to be used in the printing of anti-war literature.

Old Kumme had a nephew by the name of Heinrich, who paid him a visit now and then. He was a tall, fine-looking fellow, who spoke much better English than his uncle, and wore better clothes. Finally he came to stay, and Kumme announced that he was to help in the shop. They didn't need any help that Jimmie could see, and certainly not from a fellow like Heinrich, who couldn't tell a spoke from a handle-bar; but it was none of Jimmie's business, so Heinrich put on working clothes, and spent a couple of weeks sitting behind the counter conversing in low tones with men who came to see him. After a while he took to going out again, and finally announced that he had secured a job in the Empire.

II

And then to the hangers-on in the shop there was another addition--an Irish working man named Reilly. The Irishman was a peculiar problem in the war--the thorn of the Allied conscience, the weak spot in their armour, the broken link in their chain of arguments; and so every German was happy when an Irishman entered the room. This fellow Reilly came to have a punctured tyre mended, and stopped to tell what he thought about the world-situation. Old man Kumme slapped him over the back, and shook him by the hand, and told him he was the right sort, and to come again. So Reilly took to hanging about; he would pull from his pocket a paper called Hibernia, and Kummc would produce from under the counter a paper called Germania, and the two would denounce "perfidious Albion" by the hour. Jimmie, bending over the straightening of a sprocket, would look up and grin, and exclaim, "You bet!"

It was winter-time, and darkness came early, and Jimmie was doing his work by electric light in the back of the shop, when Reilly came and mysteriously drew him into a corner. Did he really mean what he said about hatred of war, and willingness to fight against it? The Empire Shops were now turning out thousands of shell-casings every day, to be used in the murder of men. It was useless to try to start a strike, there were so many spies at work, and they fired every man who opened his mouth; if an outsider tried it they would send him to jail--for, of course, old Granitch had the city government in his vest-pocket.

All this was an old story to Jimmie; but now the Irishman went on to a new proposition. There was a way to stop the work of the Empire, a way that had been tried in other places, and had worked. Reilly knew where to get some T.N.T.--an explosive many times more powerful than dynamite. They could make bombs out of the steel tubing of bicycles, and Jimmie, knowing the Empire Shops as he did, could find a way to get in and arrange matters. There was big money in it--the fellows who did that job might live on Easy Street the rest of their lives.

Jimmie was stunned. He had been perfectly sincere in classifying German spies with sea-serpents; and here was a sea-serpent right before his eyes, raising his head through the floor of Kumme's bicycle-shop!

Jimmie answered that he had never had anything to do with that sort of thing. That wasn't the way to stop war; that was only making more war. The other began to argue with him, showing that it wouldn't hurt anybody; the explosion would take place at night, and all that would be damaged would be Abel Granitch's purse. But Jimmie was obdurate; fortunately one thing that had been incessantly pounded into his head at the local was that the movement could not use conspiracy, it must work by open propaganda, winning the minds and consciences of men.

First the Irishman became angry, and called him a coward and a molly-coddle. Then he became suspicious, and wanted to know if Jimmie would sell him out to the Empire. Jimmie laughed at this; he had no love for Abel Granitch--the damned old skunk might do his own spying. Jimmie would simply have nothing to do with the matter, one way or the other. And so the project was dropped; but the little machinist was moved to keep his eyes open after that, and he made note of how many Germans, all strangers, were making the shop a meeting-place; also the quick intimacy which had developed between the Irishman and Heinrich, Kumme's nephew, who held himself so straight and had no back to his head.

Matters came to a climax with startling suddenness--the explosion of a bomb, though not the kind which Jimmie was expecting. It was an evening in February, just as he was about to close up, when he saw the door of the shop open, and four men walk in. They came with a peculiar, business-like air, two of them to the puzzled Jimmie, and the other two to Kumme. One turned back the lapel of his coat, showing a large gold star, and announcing, "I am an agent of the government, and you are under arrest." And at the same time the other seized Jimmie's arms and slipped a pair of handcuffs over his wrists. He passed his hands over his prisoner, a ceremony known as "frisking"; and at the same time the other men had seized Kumme. Jimmie saw two more men enter at the rear door of the shop, but they had nothing to do, for both Jimmie and Kumme had been too much startled to make any move to escape.

They were led out to an automobile, shoved in and whirled away. No questions were answered, so after a bit they stopped asking questions and sat still, reflecting upon all the sins they had ever committed in their lives, and upon the chances of these sins being known to the police.

III

Jimmie thought he was going to jail, of course; but instead they took him to the Post Office building, to an upstairs room. Kumme was taken to another room, and Jimmie did not see him again; all that Jimmie had time to know or to think about was a stern-faced young man who sat at a desk and put him on a griddle. "It is my duty to inform you that everything you state may be used against you," said this young man; and then, without giving Jimmie a chance to grasp the meaning of these words he began firing questions at him. All through the ordeal the two detectives stood by his side, and in a corner of the room, at another desk, a stenographer was busily recording what he said. Jimmie knew there were such things as stenographers--for had he not come near falling in love with one only a short time before?

"Your name?" said the stern-faced young man; and then, "Where do you live?" And then, "Tell me all you know about this bomb-conspiracy."

"But I don't know nothin'!" cried Jimmie.

"You are in the hands of the Federal government," replied the young man, "and your only chance will be to make a clean breast. If you will help us, you may get off."

"But I don't know nothin'!" cried Jimmie, again.

"You have heard talk about dynamiting the Empire Shops?"

"Y--yes, sir."

"Who?"

"A man--" Jimmie got that far, and then he recollected the promise he had given. "I--I can't tell!" he said.

"Why not?"

"It wouldn't be right."

"Do you believe in dynamiting buildings?"

"No, sir!" Jimmie put into this reply a note of tense sincerity, and so the other began to argue with him. Atrocious crimes had been committed all over the country, and the government wished to put a stop to them; surely it was the duty of a decent citizen to give what help he could. Jimmie listened until a sweat of anxiety stood out on his forehead; but he could not bring himself to "peach" on fellow working men. No, not if he were sent to jail for ten or twenty years, as the stern-faced young man told him might happen.

"You told Reilly you wouldn't have anything to do with bombs?" asked the young man; and Jimmie answered "Sure, I did!" And his poor head was so addled that he didn't even realize that in his reply he had told what he had been vowing he would never tell!

The questioner seemed to know all about everything, so it was easy for him to lead Jimmie to tell how he had heard Kumme cursing the Empire Shops, and the country, and the President; how he had seen Kumme whispering to Reilly, and to Germans whose names he had not learned, and how he had seen Heinrich, Kumme's nephew, cutting up lengths of steel tubing. Then the questioner asked about Jerry Coleman. How much money had Jimmie got, and just what had he done with it? Jimmie refused to name other people; but when the young man made the insinuation that Jimmie might have kept some of the money for himself, the little machinist exclaimed with passionate intensity--not one dollar had he kept, nor his friend Meissner either; they had given statements to Jerry Coleman, and this though many a time they had been hard up for their rent. The police could ask Comrade Gerrity and Comrade Mary Allen, and the other members of the local.

So the questioner led Jimmie on to talk about the Germans in the movement. Schneider, the brewer, for example--he was one of those who cursed the Allies most vehemently, and he had been in this bomb-conspiracy. Jimmie was indignant; Comrade Schneider was as good a Socialist as you could find, and Socialists had nothing to do with bombs! But young Emil Forster--he had been making explosives in his spare hours, had he not? At which Jimmie became still more outraged. He knew young Emil well; the boy was a carpet-designer and musician, and if anybody had told such tales about him, they were lying, that was all. The questioner went on for an hour or so, tormenting poor Jimmie with such doubts and fears; until finally he dropped a little of his sternness of manner, and told Jimmie that he had merely been trying him out, to see what he knew about various men whose pro-German feelings had brought them under suspicion. No, the government had no evidence of crime against Schneider or Forster, or any of the bona-fide Socialists. They were just plain fools, letting themselves be used as tools of German plotters, who were spending money like water to make trouble in munition factories all over the country.

IV

The questioner, who explained himself as a "special agent" of the Department of Justice, went on to read Jimmie a lecture. A sincere man like himself ought to be ashamed to let himself be taken in by German conspirators, who were trying to break up American industry, to lead American labour by the nose.

"But they want to stop the making of munitions!" cried Jimmie.

"But's that's only so that Germany can make more munitions!"

"But I'm opposed to their being made in Germany, too!"

"What can you do to stop it in Germany?"

"I'm an international Socialist. When I oppose war in my own country, I help the Socialists to oppose it in other countries. I ain't a-going to stop--not so long as I've got any breath left in me!" And here was Comrade Jimmie, delivering a sermon on pacifism to the "special agent" of the government, who held his fate in his hands! But no one was going to defend war to Jimmie Higgins and not be answered--even though Jimmie might go to jail for the rest of his life!

The young man laughed--more genially than Jimmie would have thought possible at the start of this grilling. "Higgins," he said, "you're a good-natured idiot. You can thank your lucky stars that one of the men you trusted happened to be a government detective. If we didn't know the truth about you, you might have had a hard time clearing yourself."

Jimmie's jaw had fallen. "A government detective! Who is the government detective?"

"Reilly," said the young man.

"Reilly? But it was him that tempted me!"

"Well, congratulate yourself that you resisted temptation!"

"But maybe he tempted Heinrich, too!"

"No, Heinrich didn't have to be tempted. It was on account of Heinrich that we began the investigation. He has been making explosives and planting them all over the country. His name isn't Heinrich, and he isn't a nephew of Kumme; his name is von Holtz, and he's a Prussian officer, a personal friend of the Kaiser."

Jimmie was speechless. For the love of Mike! He had been sitting in the back part of old Kumme's bicycle-shop, filling his pipe from the tobacco-pouch of a personal friend of the Kaiser. He had called this personal friend of the Kaiser a fool and a jackass, informing him that a real mechanic could put a ball-bearing together while he, the personal friend of the Kaiser, was spitting on his hands. Could you beat it?

Mr. Harrod, the "special agent", informed Jimmie that he would have to testify as to what he knew; and Jimmie was so indignant at the way he had been taken in that he was willing to do so. He would have to give bond to appear, added the other; did he know anyone who would vouch for him? Jimmie racked his harassed brain. Comrade Dr. Service might consent, if he were quite sure that Jimmie had not really meant to help the Germans. Mr. Harrod kindly consented to give this assurance, and called up Dr. Service, whom he seemed to know, and told him the circumstances. Dr. Service finally said that he would put up a couple of thousand dollars to guarantee Jimmie's appearance before the grand jury and at the trial. Mr. Harrod added that if Dr. Service would promise to come in the morning and attend to the matter, the government would take his word and let the witness go for the night. The doctor promised, and Jimmie was told that he was free till ten o'clock next morning. He went out like a skylark escaping from a cage!

V

He had been warned not to talk to anyone, so he told Lizzie that he had been kept late to make repairs on a motor-cycle. And next morning he got up at the usual hour, to avoid exciting suspicion, and went and stared at the shop, which was locked up, with a policeman on guard. He bought a copy of the Leesville Herald, and read the thrilling story of the German plot which had been unearthed in Leesville. There were half a dozen conspirators under arrest, and more than a dozen bombs had been found, all destined to be set off in the Empire Shops. Franz Heinrich von Holtz, who had blown up a bridge in Canada and put an infernal machine on board a big Atlantic liner, had been nailed at last!

Half an hour before time, Jimmie was waiting at the Post Office building, and when Comrade Dr. Service arrived, they went in and signed the bond. Coming out again, the grim and forbidding doctor ordered Jimmie into his car, and oh, what a dressing-down he did give him! He had Jimmie where he wanted him--right over his knees--and before he let him up he surely did make him burn! The little machinist had been so cock-sure of himself; going ahead to end the war, by stopping the shipping of munitions, and paying no heed to warnings from men older and wiser than himself! And now see what he had got himself in for--arrested with a gang of fire-bugs and desperadoes, under the control and in the pay of a personal friend of the Kaiser!

Poor Jimmie couldn't put up much of a defence: he was cowed, for once. He could only say that he had had no evil intention--he had merely been agitating against the trade in munitions--a wicked thing--

"Wicked?" broke in the Comrade Doctor. "The thing upon which the freedom of mankind depends!"

"W--what?" exclaimed Jimmie; for these words sounded to him like sheer lunacy.

The other explained. "A nation that means to destroy its neighbours sets to work and puts all its energies into making guns and shells. The free peoples of the world won't follow suit--you can't persuade them to do it, because they don't believe in war, they can't realize that their neighbours intend to make war. So, when they are attacked their only chance for life is to go out into the open market and buy the means of defence. And you propose to deprive them of that right--to betray them, to throw them under the hoofs of the war-monster! You, who call yourself a believer in justice, make yourself a tool of such a conspiracy! You take German money--"

"I never took no German money!" cried Jimmie, wildly.

"Didn't Kumme pay you money?"

"But I worked in his shop--I done my ten hours a day right straight!"

"And this fellow Jerry Coleman? Hasn't he given you money?"

"But that was for propaganda--he was agent for Labour's National Peace Council--"

And the Comrade Doctor fairly snorted. "How could you be such an ass? Don't you read the news? But no--of course, you don't--you only read German dope!" And the Comrade Doctor drew out his pocket-book, which was bursting with clippings, and selected one from a New York paper, telling how the government was proceeding against the officials of an organization called "Labour's National Peace Council" for conspiring to cause strikes and violence. The founder of the organization was a person known as "the Wolf of Wall Street"; the funds had been furnished by a Prussian army officer, an attache of the German legation, who had used his official immunity to incite conspiracy and wholesale destruction of property in a friendly country. What had Jimmie to say to that?

And poor Jimmie for once had nothing to say. He sat, completely crushed. Not merely the money which he had got from Kumme on Saturday night, but also the ten-dollar bills which Jerry Coleman had been slipping into his hand--they, too, had come from the Kaiser! Was the whole radical movement to be taken over by the Kaiser, and Jimmie Higgins put out of his job?

Upton Sinclair

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