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T h e S t o r y o f
a P a t r i o t
- C h a p t e r 1 1
- AGAIN Peter did not know how long he lay shivering in the black dungeon. He only knew that they brought him bread and water three times, before Guffey came again and summoned him forth. Peter now sat huddled into a chair, twisting his trembling hands together, while the chief detective of the Traction Trust explained to him his new program. Peter was permanently ruined as a witness in the case. The labor conspirators had raised huge sums for their defense; they had all the labor unions of the city, and in fact of the entire country behind them, and they were hiring spies and informers, and trying to find out all they could about the prosecution, the evidence it had collected and the moves it was preparing. Guffey did not say that he had been afraid to kick Peter out because of the possibility that Peter might go over to the Goober side and tell all he knew; but Peter guessed this while he sat listening to Guffey's explanation, and realized with a thrill of excitement that at last he had really got a hold upon the ladder of prosperity. Not in vain had his finger been almost broken and his wrist almost dislocated!
"Now," said Guffey, "here's my idea: As a witness you're on the bum, but as a spy, you're it. They know that you blabbed, and that I know it; they know I've had you in the hole. So now what I want to do is to make a martyr of you. D'you see?"
Peter nodded; yes, he saw. It was his specialty, seeing things like that.
"You're an honest witness, you understand? I tried to get you to lie, and you wouldn't, so now you go over to the other side, and they take you in, and you find out all you can, and from time to time you meet somebody as I'll arrange it, and send me word what you've learned. You get me?"
"I get you," said Peter, eagerly. No words could portray his relief. He had a real job now! He was going to be a sleuth, like Guffey himself.
"Now," said Guffey, "the first thing I want to know is, who's blabbing in this jail; we can't do anything but they get tipped off. I've got witnesses that I want kept hidden, and I don't dare put them here for fear of the Goober crowd. I want to know who are the traitors. I want to know a lot of things that I'll tell you from time to time. I want you to get next to these Reds, and learn about their ideas, so you can talk their lingo.
"Sure," said Peter. He could not help smiling a little. He was supposed to be a "Red" already, to have been one of their leading conspirators. But Guffey had abandoned that pretence - or perhaps had forgotten about it!
It was really an easy job that Peter had set before him. He did not have to pretend to be anything different from what he was. He would call himself a victim of circumstances, and would be honestly indignant against those who had sought to use him in a frame-up against Jim Goober. The rest would follow naturally. He would get the confidence of the labor people, and Guffey would tell him what to do next.
"We'll put you in one of the cells of this jail," said the chief detective, "and we'll pretend to give you a 'third degree.' You'll holler and make a fuss, and say you won't tell, and finally we'll give up and kick you out. And then all you have to do is just hang around. They'll come after you, or I miss my guess."
So the little comedy was arranged and played thru. Guffey took Peter by the collar and led him out into the main part of the jail, and locked him in one of a row of open cells. He grabbed Peter by the wrist and pretended to twist it, and Peter pretended to protest. He did not have to draw on his imagination; he knew how it felt, and how he was supposed to act, and he acted. He sobbed and screamed, and again and again he vowed that he had told the truth, that he knew nothing else than what he had told, and that nothing could make him tell any more. Guffey left him there until late the next afternoon, and then came again, and took him by the collar, and led him out to the steps of the jail, and gave him a parting kick.
Peter was free! What a wonderful sensation - freedom! God! Had there ever been anything like it? He wanted to shout and howl with joy. But instead he staggered along the street, and sank down upon a stone coping, sobbing, with his head clasped in his hands, waiting for something to happen. And sure enough, it happened. Perhaps an hour passed, when he was touched lightly on the shoulder. "Comrade," said a soft voice, and Peter, looking between his fingers, saw the skirts of a girl. A folded slip of paper was pressed into his hand and the soft voice said: "Come to this address." The girl walked on, and Peter's heart leaped with excitement. Peter was a sleuth at last!
C h a p t e r 1 2
- PETER waited until after dark, in order to indulge his sense of the romantic; also he flattered his self-importance by looking carefully about him as he walked down the street. He did not know just who would be shadowing him, but Peter wanted to be sleuthy.
Also he had a bit of genuine anxiety. He had told the truth when he said to Guffey that he didn't know what a "Red" was; but since then he had been making in quiries, and now he knew. A "Red" was a fellow who sympathized with labor unions and with strikes; who wanted to murder the rich and divide their property, and believed that the quickest way to do the dividing was by means of dynamite. All "Reds" made bombs, and carried concealed weapons, and perhaps secret poisons - who could tell? And now Peter was going among them, he was going to become one of them! It was almost too interesting, for a fellow who aimed above everything to be comfortable. Something in him whispered, "Why not skip; get out of town and be done with it?" But then he thought of the rewards and honors that Guffey had promised him., Also there was the spirit of curiosity; he might skip at any time, but first he would like to know a bit more about being a "dick."
He came to the number which had been given him, a tiny bungalow in a poor neighborhood, and rang the doorbell. It was answered by a girl, and at a glance Peter saw that it was the girl who had spoken to him. She did not wait for him to announce himself, but cried impulsively, "Mr. Gudge! Oh, I'm so glad you've come!" She added, "Comrade!" - just as if Peter were a well-known friend. And then, "But are you a comrade?"
"How do you mean?" asked Peter.
"You're not a Socialist? Well, we'll make one of you." She brought him in and showed him to a chair, saying, "I know what they did to you; and you stood out against them! Oh, you were wonderful! Wonderful!"
Peter was at a loss what to say. There was in this girl's voice a note of affection, as well as of admiration; and Peter in his hard life had had little experience with emotions of this sort. Peter had watched the gushings and excitements of girls who were seeking flirtations; but this girl's attitude he felt at once was not flirtatious. Her voice tho soft, was just a trifle too solemn for a young girl; her deep-set, wistful grey eyes rested on Peter with the solicitude of a mother whose child has just escaped a danger.
She called: "Sadie, here's Mr. Gudge." And there entered another girl, older, taller, but thin and pale like her sister. Jennie and Sadie Todd were their names, Peter learned; the older was a stenographer, and supported the family. The two girls were in a state of intense concern. They started to question Peter about his experiences, but he had only talked for a minute or two before the elder went to the telephone. There were various people who must see Peter at once, important people who were to be notified as soon as he turned up. She spent some time at the phone, and the people she talked with must have phoned to others, because for the next hour or two there was a constant stream of visitors coming in, and Peter had to tell his story over and over again.
The first to come was a giant of a man with tight-set mouth and so powerful a voice that it frightened Peter. He was not surprised to learn that this man was the leader of one of the most radical of the city's big labor unions, the seamen's. Yes, he was a "Red," all right; he corresponded to Peter's imaginings - a grim, dangerous man, to be pictured like Samson, seizing the pillars of society and pulling them down upon his head. "They've got you scared, my boy," he said, noting Peter's hesitating answers to his questions. "Well, they've had me scared for forty-five years, but I've never let them know it yet." Then, in order to cheer Peter up and strengthen his nerves, he told how he, a runaway seaman, had been hunted thru the Everglades of Florida with bloodhounds, and tied to a tree and beaten into insensibility.
Then came David Andrews, whom Peter had heard of as one of the lawyers in the Goober case, a tall, distinguished-looking man with keen, alert features. What was such a man doing among these outcasts? Peter decided that he must be one of the shrewd ones who made money out of inciting the discontented. Then came a young girl, frail and sensitive, slightly crippled. As she crossed the room to shake his hand tears rolled down her cheeks, and Peter stood embarrassed, wondering if she had just lost a near relative, and what was he to say about it. From her first words he gathered, to his great consternation, that she had been moved to tears by the story of what he himself had endured.
Ada Ruth was a poet, and this was a new type for Peter; after much groping in his mind he set her down for one of the dupes of the movement - a poor little sentimental child, with no idea of the wickedness by which she was surrounded. With her came a Quaker boy with pale, ascetic face and black locks which he had to shake back from his eyes every now and then; he wore a Windsor tie, and a black felt hat, and other marks of eccentricity and from his speeches Peter gathered that he was ready to blow up all the governments of the world in the interests of Pacificism. The same was true of McCormick, an I. W. W. leader who had just served sixty days in jail, a silent young Irishman with drawn lips and restless black eyes, who made Peter uneasy by watching him closely and saying scarcely a word.
C h a p t e r 1 3
- THEY continued to come, one at a time or in groups; old women and young women, old men and young men, fanatics and dreamers, agitators who could hardly open their mouths without some white-hot words escaping, revealing a blaze of passion smouldering in the deeps of them. Peter became more and more uneasy, realizing that he was actually in the midst of all the most dangerous "Reds" of American City. They it was whom our law-abiding citizens dreaded, who were the objects of more concern to the police than all the plain, everyday burglars and bandits. Peter now could see the reason - he had not dreamed that such angry and hate-tormented people existed in the world. Such people would be capable of anything! He sat, with his restless eyes wandering from one face to another. Which one of this crowd had helped to set off the bomb? And would they boast about it to him this evening?
Peter half expected this; but then again, he wondered. They were such strange criminals! They called him "Comrade"; and they spoke with that same affection that had so bewildered him in little Jennie. Was this just a ruse to get his confidence, or did these people really think that they loved him - Peter Gudge, a stranger and a secret enemy? Peter had been at great pains to fool them; but they seemed to him so easy to fool that his pains were wasted. He despised them for this, and all the while he listened to them he was saying to himself, "The poor nuts!"
They had come to hear his story, and they plied him with questions, and made him tell over and over again every detail. Peter, of course, had been carefully instructed; he was not to mention the elaborate confession he had been made to sign; that would be giving too dangerous a weapon to these enemies of law and order. He must tell as brief a story as possible; how he had happened to be near the scene of the explosion, and how the police had tried to force him to admit that he knew something about the case. Peter told this, according to orders; but he had not been prepared for the minute questioning to which he was subjected by Andrews, the lawyer, aided by old John Durand, the leader of the seamen. They wanted to know everything that had been done to him, and who had done it, and how and when and where and why. Peter had a sense of the dramatic, and enjoyed being the center of attention and admiration, even tho it was from a roomful of criminal "Reds." So he told all the picturesque details of how Guffey had twisted his wrist and shut him in a dungeon; the memory of the pain was still poignant, and came out of him now, with a realism that would have moved a colder group.
So pretty soon here were all these women sobbing and raging. Little Ada Ruth became inspired, and began reciting a poem - or was she composing it right here, before his eyes? She seemed entranced with indignation. It was something about the workers arising - the outcry of a mob -
"No further patience with a heedless foe - Get off our backs, or else to hell you go!"
Peter listened, and thought to himself, "The poor nut!" And then Donald Gordon, the Quaker boy, took the floor, and began shaking his long black locks, and composing a speech, it seemed. And Peter listened, and thought again, "The poor nut!" Then another man, the editor of a labor journal, revealed the fact that he was composing an editorial; he knew Guffey, and was going to publish Guffey's picture, and brand him as an "Inquisitionist." He asked for Peter's picture, and Peter agreed to have one taken, and to be headlined as "The Inquisitionist's Victim." Peter had no idea what the long word meant; but he assented, and thought again, "The poor nut!" All of them were "nuts" - taking other people's troubles with such excitement!
But Peter was frightened, too; he couldn't altogether enjoy being a hero, in this vivid and startling fashion; having his name and fame spread from one end of the country to the other, so that organized labor might know the methods which the great traction interests of American City were employing to send a well-known labor leader to the gallows! The thing seemed to grow and grow before Peter's frightened eyes. Peter, the ant, felt the earth shaking, and got a sudden sense of the mountain size of the mighty giants who were stamping in combat over his head. Peter wondered, had Guffey realized what a stir his story would make, what a powerful weapon he was giving to his enemies? What could Guffey expect to get from Peter, to compensate for this damage to his own case? Peter, as he listened to the stormy oratory in the crowded little room, found himself thinking again and again of running away. He had never seen anything like the rage into which these people worked themselves, the terrible things they said, the denunciations, not merely of the police of American City, but of the courts and the newspapers, the churches and the colleges, everything that seemed respectable and sacred to law-abiding citizens like Peter Gudge.
Peter's fright became apparent. But why shouldn't he be frightened? Andrews, the lawyer, offered to take him away and hide him, lest the opposition should try to make way with him. Peter would be a most important witness for the Goober defense, and they must take good care of him. But Peter recovered his self-possession, and took up his noble role. No, he would take his chances with the rest of them, he was not too much afraid.
Sadie Todd, the stenographer, rewarded him for his heroism. They had a spare bedroom in their little home, and if Peter cared to stay with them for a while, they would try to make him comfortable. Peter accepted this invitation, and at a late hour in the evening the gathering broke up. The various groups of "Reds" went their way, their hands clenched and their faces portraying a grim resolve to make out of Peter's story a means of lashing discontented labor to new frenzies of excitement. The men clasped Peter's hand cordially; the ladies gazed at him with soulful eyes, and whispered their admiration for his brave course, their hope, indeed their conviction, that he would stand by the truth to the end, and would study their ideas and join their "movement." All the while Peter watched them, and continued saying to himself: "The poor nuts!"
C h a p t e r 1 4
- THE respectable newspapers of American City of course did not waste their space upon fantastic accusations brought by radicals, charging the police authorities with using torture upon witnesses. But there was a Socialist paper published every week in American City, and this paper had a long account of Peter's experiences on the front page, together with his picture. Also there were three labor papers which carried the story, and the Goober Defense Committee prepared a circular about it and mailed out thousands of copies all over the country. This circular was written by Donald Gordon, the Quaker boy. He brought Peter a proof of it, to make sure that he had got all the details right, and Peter read it, and really could not help being thrilled to discover what a hero he was. Peter had not said anything about his early career, and whoever among the Goober Defense Committee had learned those details chose to be diplomatically silent. Peter smiled to himself as he thought about that. They were foxy, these people! They were playing their hand for all it was worth - and Peter admired them for that. In Donald Gordon's narrative Peter appeared as a poor workingman; and Peter grinned. He was used to the word "working," but when he talked about "working people," he meant something different from what these Socialists meant.
The story went out, and of course all sorts of people wanted to meet Peter, and came to the home of the Todd girls. So Peter settled down to his job of finding out all he could about these visitors, their names and occupations, their relations to the radical movement. Guffey had advised him not to make notes, for fear of detection, but Peter could not carry all this in his head, so he would retire to his room and make minute notes on slips of paper, and carefully sew these up in the lining of his coat, with a thrill of mystery.
Except for this note-taking, however, Peter's sleuthing was easy work, for these people all seemed eager to talk about what they were doing; sometimes it frightened Peter - they were so open and defiant! Not merely did they express their ideas to one another and to him, they were expressing them on public platforms, and in their publications, in pamphlets and in leaflets - what they called "literature." Peter had had no idea their "movement" was so widespread or so powerful. He had expected to unearth a secret conspiracy, and perhaps a dynamite-bomb or two; instead of which, apparently, he was unearthing a volcano!
However, Peter did the best he could. He got the names and details about some forty or fifty people of all classes; obscure workingmen and women, Jewish tailors, Russian and Italian cigar-workers, American-born machinists and printers; also some "parlor Reds" - large, immaculate and shining ladies who came rolling up to the little bungalow in large, immaculate and shining automobiles, and left their uniformed chauffeurs outside for hours at a time while they listened to Peter's story of his "third degree." One benevolent lady with a flowing gray veil, who wafted a sweet perfume about the room, suggested that Peter might be in need, and pressed a twenty dollar bill into his hand. Peter, thrilled, but also bewildered, got a new sense of the wonders of this thing called "the movement," and decided that when Guffey got thru with him he might turn into a "Red" in earnest for a while.
Meantime he settled down to make himself comfortable with the Todd sisters. Sadie went off to her work before eight o'clock every morning, and that was before Peter got up; but Jennie stayed at home, and fixed his breakfast, and opened the door for his visitors, and in general played the hostess for him. She was a confirmed invalid; twice a week she went off to a doctor to have something done to her spine, and the balance of the time she was supposed to be resting, but Peter very seldom saw her doing this. She was always addressing circulars, or writing letters for the "cause," or going off to sell literature and take up collections at meetings. When she was not so employed, she was arguing with somebody - frequently with Peter - trying to make him think as she did.
Poor kid, she was all wrought up over the notions she had got about the wrongs of the working classes. She gave herself no peace about it, day or night, and this, of course, was a bore to Peter, who wanted peace above all things. Over in Europe millions of men were organized in armies, engaged in slaughtering one another. That, of course, was, very terrible, but what was the good of thinking about it? There was no way to stop it, and it certainly wasn't Peter's fault. But this poor, deluded child was acting all the time as if she were to blame for this European conflict, and had the job of bringing it to a close. The tears would come into her deep-set grey eyes, and her soft chin would quiver with pain whenever she talked about it; and it seemed to Peter she was talking about it all the time. It was her idea that the war must be stopped by uprisings on the part of the working people in Europe. Apparently she thought this might be hastened if the working people of American City would rise up and set an example!
C h a p t e r 1 5
- JENNIE talked about this plan quite openly; she would put a red ribbon in her hair, and pin a red badge on her bosom, and go into meeting-places and sell little pamphlets with red covers. So, of course, it would be Peter's duty to report her to the head of the secret service of the Traction Trust. Peter regretted this, and was ashamed of having to do it; she was a nice little girl, and pretty, too, and a fellow might have had some fun with her if she had not been in such a hysterical state. He would sit and look at her, as she sat bent over her typewriter. She had soft, fluffy hair, the color of twilight, and even white teeth, and a faint flush that came and went in her cheeks - yes, she would not be bad looking at all, if only she would straighten up, and spend a little time on her looks, as other girls did.
But no, she was always in a tension, and the devil of it was, she was trying to get Peter into the same state. She was absolutely determined that Peter must get wrought up over the wrongs of the working classes. She took it for granted that he would, when he was instructed. She would tell him harrowing stories, and it was his duty to be duly harrowed; he must be continually acting an emotional part. She would give him some of her "literature" to read, and then she would pin him down and make sure that he had read it. He knew how to read - Pericles Priam had seen to that, because he wanted him to attend to the printing of his circulars and his advertisements in the country newspapers where he was traveling. So now Peter was penned in a corner and compelled to fix his attention upon "The A. B. C. of Socialism," or "Capital and Proletariat," or "The Path to Power."
Peter told himself that it was part of his job to acquire this information. He was going to be a "Red," and he must learn their lingo; but he found it awfully tiresome, full of long technical words which he had never heard before. Why couldn't these fellows at least talk American? He had known that there were Socialists, and also "Arnychists," as he called them, and he thought they were all alike. But now he learned, not merely about Socialists and "Arnychists," but about State Socialists and Communist Anarchists, and Communist Syndicalists and Syndicalist Anarchists and Socialist Syndicalists, and Reformist Socialists and Guild Socialists, to say nothing about Single Taxers and Liberals and Progressives and numerous other varieties, whom he had to meet and classify and listen to respectfully and sympathetically. Each particular group insisted upon the distinctions which made it different, and each insisted that it had the really, truly truth; and Peter became desperately bored with their everlasting talk - how much more simple to lump them all together, as did Guffey and McGivney, calling them all "Reds!"
Peter had got it clearly fixed in his mind that what these "Reds" wanted was to divide up the property of the rich. Everyone he had questioned about them had said this. But now he learned that this wasn't it exactly. What they wanted was to have the State take over the industries, or to have the labor unions do it, or to have the working people in general do it. They pointed to the post office and the army and the navy, as examples of how the State could run things. Wasn't that all right? demanded Jennie. And Peter said Yes, that was all right; but hidden back in Peter's soul all the time was a whisper that it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference. There was a sucker born every minute, and you might be sure that no matter how they fixed it up, there would always be some that would find it easy to live off the rest. This poor kid, for example, who was ready to throw herself away for any fool notion, or for anybody that came along and told her a hard-luck story - would there ever be a state of society in which she wouldn't be a juicy morsel to be gobbled up by some fellow with a normal appetite?
She was alone in the house all day with Peter, and she got to seem more and more pretty as he got to know her better. Also it was evident that she liked Peter more and more as Peter played his game. Peter revealed himself as deeply sympathetic, and a quick convert to the cause; he saw everything that Jennie explained to him, he was horrified at the horrible stories, he was ready to help her end the European war by starting a revolution among the working people of American City. Also, he told her about himself, and awakened her sympathy for his harsh life, his twenty years of privation and servitude; and when she wept over this, Peter liked it. It was fine, somehow, to have her so sorry for him; it helped to compensate him for the boredom of hearing her be sorry for the whole working class.
Peter didn't know whether Jennie had learned about his bad record, but he took no chances - he told her everything, and thus took the sting out of it. Yes, he had been trapped into evil ways, but it wasn't his fault, he hadn't known any better, he had been a pitiful victim of circumstances. He told how he had been starved and driven about and beaten by "Old Man" Drubb, and the tears glistened in Jennie's grey eyes and stole down her cheeks. He told about loneliness and heartsickness and misery in the orphan asylum. And how could he, poor lad, realize that it was wrong to help Pericles Priam sell his Peerless Pain Paralyzer? How could he know whether the medicine was any good or not - he didn't even know now, as a matter of fact. As for the Temple of Jimjambo, all that Peter had done was to wash dishes and work as a kitchen slave, as in any hotel or restaurant.
It was a story easy to fix up, and especially easy because the first article in the creed of Socialist Jennie was that economic circumstances were to blame for human frailties. That opened the door for all varieties of grafters, and made the child such an easy mark that Peter would have been ashamed to make a victim of her, had it not been that she happened to stand in the path of his higher purposes - and also that she happened to be young, only seventeen, with tender grey eyes, and tempting, sweet lips, alone there in the house all day.
C h a p t e r 1 6
- PETER'S adventures in love had so far been pretty much of a piece with the rest of his life experiences; there had been hopes, and wonderful dreams, but very few realizations. Peter knew a lot about such matters; in the orphan asylum there were few vicious practices which he did not witness, few obscene imaginings with which he was not made familiar. Also, Pericles Priam had been a man like the traditional sailor, with a girl in every port; and generally in these towns and villages there had been no place for Peter to go save where Pericles went, so Peter had been the witness of many of his master's amours and the recipient of his confidences. But none of these girls and women had paid any attention to Peter. Peter was only a "kid"; and when he grew up and was no longer a kid, but a youth tormented with sharp desires, they still paid no attention to him - why should they? Peter was nothing; he had no position, no money, no charms; he was frail and undersized, his teeth were crooked, and one shoulder higher than the other. What could he expect from women and girls but laughter and rebuffs?
Then Peter moved on to the Temple of Jimjambo, and there a devastating experience befell him - he tumbled head over heels and agonizingly in love. There was a chambermaid in the institution, a radiant creature from the Emerald Isles with hair like sunrise and cheeks like apples, and a laugh that shook the dish-pans on the kitchen walls. She laughed at Peter, she laughed at the major-domo, she laughed at all the men in the place who tried to catch her round the waist. Once or twice a month perhaps she would let them succeed, just to keep them interested, and to keep herself in practice.
The only one she really favored was the laundry deliveryman, and Peter soon realized why. This laundry fellow had the use of an automobile on Sundays, and Nell would dress herself up to kill, and roll away in state with him. He would spend all his week's earnings entertaining her at the beach; Peter knew, because she would tell the whole establishment on Monday morning. "Gee, but I had a swell time!" she would say; and would count the ice-creams and the merry-go-rounds and the whirly-gigs and all the whang-doodle things. She would tell about the tattooed men and the five-legged calf and the woman who was half man, and all the while she would make the dishpans rattle.
Yes, she was a marvelous creature, and Peter suddenly realized that his ultimate desire in life was to possess a "swell lady-friend" like Nell. He realized that there was one essential prerequisite, and that was money. None of them would look at you without money. Nell had gone out with him only once, and that was upon the savings of six months, and Peter had not been able to conceal the effort it cost him to spend it all. So he had been set down as a "tight-wad," and had made no headway.
Nell had disappeared, along with everybody else when the police raided the Temple. Peter never knew what had become of her, but the old longings still haunted him, and he would find himself imagining - suppose the police had got her; suppose she were in jail, and he with his new "pull" were able to get her out, and carry her away and keep her hid from the laundry man!
These were dreams; but meantime here was reality, here was a new world. Peter had settled down in the home of the Todd sisters; and what was their attitude toward these awful mysteries of love?
C h a p t e r 1 7
- IT had been arranged with Guffey that at the end of a week Peter was to have a secret meeting with one of the chief detective's men. So Peter told the girls that he was tired of being a prisoner in the house and must get some fresh air.
"Oh please, Mr. Gudge, don't take such a chance!" cried Sadie, her thin, anxious face suddenly growing more anxious and thin. "Don't you know this house is being watched? They are just hoping to catch you out alone. It would be the last of you."
"I'm not so important as that," said Peter; but she insisted that he was, and Peter was pleased, in spite of his boredom, he liked to hear her insist upon his importance.
"Oh!" she cried. "Don't you know yet how much depends on you as a witness for the Goober defense? This case is of concern to millions of people all over the world! It is a test case, Mr. Gudge - are they to be allowed to murder the leaders of the working class without a struggle? No, we must show them that there is a great movement, a world-wide awakening of the workers, a struggle for freedom for the wage slaves - "
But Peter could stand no more of this. "All right," he said, suddenly interrupting Sadie's eloquence. "I suppose it's my duty to stay, even if I die of consumption, being shut up without any fresh air." He would play the martyr; which was not so hard, for he was one, and looked like one, with his thin, one-sided little figure, and his shabby clothes. Both Sadie and Jennie gazed at him with admiration, and sighed with relief.
But later on, Peter thought of an idea. He could go out at night, he told Sadie, and slip out the back way, so that no one would see him; he would not go into crowds or brightly lighted streets, so there would be no chance of his being recognized. There was a fellow he absolutely had to see, who owed him some money; it was way over on the other side of the city - that was why he rejected Jennie's offer to accompany him.
So that evening Peter climbed a back fence and stole thru a neighbor's chicken-yard and got away. He had a fine time ducking and dodging in the crowds, making sure that no one was trailing him to his secret rendezvous - no "Red" who might chance to be suspicious of his "comradeship." It was in the "American House," an obscure hotel, and Peter was to take the elevator to the fourth floor, without speaking to any one, and to tap three times on the door of Room 427. Peter did so, and the door opened, and he slipped in, and there he met Jerry McGivney, with the face of a rat.
"Well, what have you got?" demanded McGivney; and Peter sat down and started to tell. With eager fingers he undid the amateur sewing in the lining of his coat, and pulled out his notes with the names and descriptions of people who had come to see him.
McGivney glanced over them quickly. "Jesus!" he said, "What's the good of all this?"
"Well, but they're Reds!" exclaimed Peter.
"I know," said the other, "but what of that? We can go hear them spout at meetings any night. We got membership lists of these different organizations. But what about the Goober case?"
"Well," said Peter, "they're agitating about it all the time; they've been printing stuff about me."
"Sure, we know that," said McGivney. "And the hell of a fine story you gave them; you must have enjoyed hearing yourself talk. But what good does that do us?"
"But what do you want to know?" cried Peter, in dismay.
"We want to know their secret plans," said the other. "We want to know what they're doing to get our witnesses; we want to know who it is that is selling us out, who's the spy in the jail. Didn't you find that out?"
"N-no," said Peter. "Nobody said anything about it."
"Good God!" said the detective. "D'you expect them to bring you things on a silver tray?" He began turning over Peter's notes again, and finally threw them on the bed in disgust. He began questioning Peter, and Peter's dismay turned to despair. He had not got a single thing that McGivney wanted. His whole week of "sleuthing" had been wasted!
The detective did not mince words. "It's plain that you're a boob," he said. "But such as you are, we've got to do the best we can with you. Now, put your mind on it and get it straight: we know who these Reds are, and we know what they're teaching; we can't send 'em to jail for that. What we want you to find out is the name of their spy, and who are their witnesses in the Goober case, and what they're going to say."
"But how can I find out things like that?" cried Peter.
"You've got to use your wits," said McGivney. "But I'll give you one tip; get yourself a girl."
"A girl?" cried Peter, in wonder.
"Sure thing," said the other. "That's the way we always work. Guffey says there's just three times when people tell their secrets: The first is when they're drunk, and the second is when they're in love - "
Then McGivney stopped. Peter, who wanted to complete his education, inquired, "And the third?"
"The third is when they're both drunk and in love," was the reply. And Peter was silent, smitten with admiration. This business of sleuthing was revealing itself as more complicated and more fascinating all the time.
"Ain't you seen any girl you fancy in that crowd?" demanded the other.
"Well - it might be - " said Peter, shyly.
"It ought to be easy," continued the detective. "Them Reds are all free lovers, you know."
"Free lovers!" exclaimed Peter. "How do you mean?"
"Didn't you know about that?" laughed the other.
Peter sat staring at him. All the women that Peter had ever known or heard of took money for their love. They either took it directly, or they took it in the form of automobile rides and flowers and candy and tickets to the whang-doodle things. Could it be that there were women who did not take money in either form, but whose love was entirely free?
The detective assured him that such was the case. "They boast about it," said he. "They think it's right." And to Peter that seemed the most shocking thing he had yet heard about the Reds.
To be sure, when he thought it over, he could see that it had some redeeming points; it was decidedly convenient from the point of view of the man; it was so much money in his pocket. If women chose to be that silly - and Peter found himself suddenly thinking about little Jennie Todd. Yes, she would be that silly, it was plain to see. She gave away everything she had; so of course she would be a "free lover!"
Peter went away from his rendezvous with McGivney, thrilling with a new and wonderful idea. You couldn't have got him to give up his job now. This sleuthing business was the real thing!
It was late when Peter got home, but the two girls were sitting up for him, and their relief at his safe return was evident. He noticed that Jennie's face expressed deeper concern than her sister's, and this gave him a sudden new emotion. Jennie's breath came and went more swiftly because he had entered the room; and this affected his own breath in the same way. He had a swift impulse towards her, an entirely unselfish desire to reassure her and relieve her anxiety; but with an instinctive understanding of the sex game which he had not before known he possessed, he checked this impulse and turned instead to the older sister, assuring her that nobody had followed him. He told an elaborate story, prepared on the way; he had worked for ten days for a fellow at sawing wood - hard work, you bet, and then the fellow had tried to get out of paying him! Peter had caught him at his home that evening, and had succeeded in getting five dollars out of him, and a promise of a few dollars more every week. That was to cover future visits to McGivney.
C h a p t e r 1 8
- PETER lay awake a good part of the night, thinking over this new job - that of getting himself a girl. He realized that for some time he had been falling in love with little Jennie; but be wanted to be sane and practical, he wanted to use his mind in choosing a girl. He was after information, first of all. And who had the most to give him? He thought of Miss Nebbins, who was secretary to Andrews, the lawyer; she would surely know more secrets than anyone else; but then, Miss Nebbins was an old maid, who wore spectacles and broad-toed shoes, and was evidently out of the question for love-making. Then he thought of Miss Standish, a tall, blond beauty who worked in an insurance office and belonged to the Socialist Party. She was a "swell dresser," and Peter would have been glad to have something like that to show off to McGivney and the rest of Guffey's men; but with the best efforts of his self-esteem, Peter could not imagine himself persuading Miss Standish to look at him. There was a Miss Yankovich, one of the real Reds, who trained with the I. W. W.; but she was a Jewess, with sharp, black eyes that clearly indicated a temper, and frightened Peter. Also, he had a suspicion that she was interested in McCormick - tho of course with these "free lovers" you could never tell.
But one girl Peter was quite sure about, and that was little Jennie; he didn't know if Jennie knew many secrets, but surely she could find some out for him. Once he got her for his own, he could use her to question others. And so Peter began to picture what love with Jennie would be like. She wasn't exactly what you would call "swell," but there was something about her that made him sure he needn't be ashamed of her. With some new clothes she would be pretty, and she had grand manners - she had not shown the least fear of the rich ladies who came to the house in their automobiles; also she knew an awful lot for a girl - even if most of what she knew wasn't so!
Peter lost no time in setting to work at his new job. In the papers next morning appeared the usual details from Flanders; thousands of men being shot to pieces almost every hour of the day and night, a million men on each side locked in a ferocious combat that had lasted for weeks, that might last for months. And sentimental little Jennie sat there with brimming eyes, talking about it while Peter ate his oatmeal and thin milk. And Peter talked about it too; how wicked it was, and how they must stop it, he and Jennie together. He agreed with her now; he was a Socialist, he called her "Comrade," and told her she had converted him. Her eyes lighted up with joy, as if she had really done something to end the war.
They were sitting on the sofa, looking at the paper, and they were alone in the house. Peter suddenly looked up from the reading and said, very much embarrassed, "But Comrade Jennie - "
"Yes," she said, and looked at him with her frank grey eyes. Peter was shy, truly a little frightened, this kind of detective business being new to him.
"Comrade Jennie," he said, "I - I - don't know just how to say it, but I'm afraid I'm falling a little in love."
Jennie drew back her hands, and Peter heard her breath come quickly. "Oh, Mr. Gudge!" she exclaimed.
"I - I don't know - " stammered Peter. "I hope you won't mind."
"Oh, don't let's do that!" she cried.
"Why not, Comrade Jennie?" And he added, "I don't know as I can help it."
"Oh, we were having such a happy time, Mr. Gudge! I thought we were going to work for the cause!"
"Well, but it won't interfere - "
"Oh, but it does, it does; it makes people unhappy!"
"Then - " and Peter's voice trembled - "then you don't care the least bit for me, Comrade Jennie?"
She hesitated a moment. "I don't know," she said. "I hadn't thought - "
And Peter's heart gave a leap inside him. It was the first time that any girl had ever had to hesitate in answering that question for Peter. Something prompted him - just as if he had been doing this kind of "sleuthing" all his life. He reached over, and very gently took her hand. "You do care just a little for me?" he whispered.
"Oh, Comrade Gudge," she answered, and Peter said, "Call me 'Peter.' Please, please do."
"Comrade Peter," she said, and there was a little catch in her throat, and Peter, looking at her, saw that her eyes were cast down.
"I know I'm not very much to love," he pleaded. "I'm poor and obscure - I'm not good looking - "
"Oh, it isn't that!" she cried, "Oh, no, no! Why should I think about such things? You are a comrade!"
Peter had known, of course, just how she would take this line of talk. "Nobody has ever loved me," he said, sadly. "Nobody cares anything about you, when you are poor, and have nothing to offer - "
"I tell you, that isn't it!" she insisted. "Please don't think that! You are a hero. You have sacrificed for the cause, and you are going on and become a leader."
"I hope so," said Peter, modestly. "But then, what is it, Comrade Jennie? Why don't you care for me?"
She looked up at him, and their eyes met, and with a little sob in her voice she answered, "I'm not well, Comrade Peter. I'm of no use; it would be wicked for me to marry."
Somewhere back in the depths of Peter, where his inner self was crouching, it was as if a sudden douche of ice-cold water were let down on him. "Marry!" Who had said anything about marrying? Peter's reaction fitted the stock-phrase of the comic papers: "This is so sudden!"
But Peter was too clever to reveal such dismay. He humored little Jennie, saying, "We don't have to marry right away. I could wait, if only I knew that you cared for me; and some day, when you get well - "
She shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid I'll never get really well. And besides, neither of us have any money, Comrade Peter."
Ah, there it was! Money, always money! This "free love" was nothing but a dream.
"I could get a job," said Peter - just like any other tame and conventional wooer.
"But you couldn't earn enough for two of us," protested the girl; and suddenly she sprang up. "Oh, Comrade Peter, let's not fall in love with each other! Let's not make ourselves unhappy, let's work for the cause! Promise me that you will!"
Peter promised; but of course he had no remotest intention of keeping the promise. He was not only a detective, he was a man - and in both capacities he wanted Comrade Jennie. He had all the rest of the day, and over the addressing of envelopes which he undertook with her, he would now and then steal love-glances; and Jennie knew now what these looks meant, and the faint flush would creep over her cheeks and down into her neck and throat. She was really very pretty when she was falling in love, and Peter found his new job the most delightful one of his lifetime. He watched carefully, and noted the signs, and was sure he was making no mistake; before Sadie came back at supper-time he had his arms about Comrade Jennie, and was pressing kisses upon the lovely white throat; and Comrade Jennie was sobbing softly, and her pleading with him to stop had grown faint and unconvincing.
C h a p t e r 1 9
- THERE was the question of Sadie to be settled. There was a certain severe look that sometimes came about Sadie's lips, and that caused Peter to feel absolutely certain that Comrade Sadie had no sympathy with "free love," and very little sympathy with any love save her own for Jennie. She had nursed her "little sister" and tended her like a mother for many years; she took the food out of her mouth to give to Jennie - and Jennie in turn gave it to any wandering agitator who came along and hung around until mealtime. Peter didn't want Sadie to know what had been going on in her absence, and yet he was afraid to suggest to Jennie that she should deceive her sister.
He managed it very tactfully. Jennie began pleading again: "We ought not to do this, Comrade Peter!" And so Peter agreed, perhaps they oughtn't, and they wouldn't any more. So Jennie put her hair in order, and straightened her blouse, and her lover could see that she wasn't going to tell Sadie.
And the next day they were kissing again and agreeing again that they mustn't do it; and so once more Jennie didn't tell Sadie. Before long Peter had managed to whisper the suggestion that their love was their own affair, and they ought not to tell anybody for the present; they would keep the delicious secret, and it would do no one any harm. Jennie had read somewhere about a woman poet by the name of Mrs. Browning, who had been an invalid all her life, and whose health had been completely restored by a great and wonderful love. Such a love had now come to her; only Sadie might not understand, Sadie might think they did not know each other well enough, and that they ought to wait. They knew, of course, that they really did know each other perfectly, so there was no reason for uncertainty or fear. Peter managed deftly to put these suggestions into Jennie's mind as if they were her own.
And all the time he was making ardent love to her; all day long, while he was helping her address envelopes and mail out circulars for the Goober Defense Committee. He really did work hard; he didn't mind working, when he had Jennie at the table beside him, and could reach over and hold her hand every now and then, or catch her in his arms and murmur passionate words. Delicious thrills and raptures possessed him; his hopes would rise like a flood-tide - but then, alas, only to ebb again! He would get so far, and every time it would be as if he had run into a stone wall. No farther!
Peter realized that McGivney's "free love" talk had been a cruel mistake. Little Jennie was like all the other women - her love wasn't going to be "free." Little Jennie wanted a husband, and every time you kissed her, she began right away to talk about marriage, and you dared not hint at anything else because you knew it would spoil everything. So Peter was thrown back upon devices older than the teachings of any "Reds." He went after little Jennie, not in the way of "free lovers," but in the way of a man alone in the house with a girl of seventeen, and wishing to seduce her. He vowed that he loved her with an overwhelming and eternal love. He vowed that he would get a job and take care of her. And then he let her discover that he was suffering torments; he could not live without her. He played upon her sympathy, he played upon her childish innocence, he played upon that pitiful, weak sentimentality which caused her to believe in pacifism and altruism and socialism and all the other "isms" that were jumbled up in her head.
And so in a couple of weeks Peter had succeeded in his purpose of carrying little Jennie by storm. And then, how enraptured he was! Peter, with his first girl, decided that being a detective was the job for him! Peter knew that he was a real detective now, using the real inside methods, and on the trail of the real secrets of the Goober case!
And sure enough, he began at once to get them. Jennie was in love; Jennie was, as you might say, "drunk with love," and so she fulfilled both the conditions which Guffey had laid down. So Jennie told the truth! Sitting on Peter's knee, with her arms clasped about him, and talking about her girlhood, the happy days before her mother and father had been killed in the factory where they worked, little Jennie mentioned the name of a young man, Ibbetts.
"Ibbetts?" said Peter. It was a peculiar name, and sounded familiar.
"A cousin of ours," said Jennie.
"Have I met him?" asked Peter, groping in his mind.
"No, he hasn't been here."
"Ibbetts?" he repeated, still groping; and suddenly he remembered. "Isn't his name Jack?"
Jennie did not answer for a moment. He looked at her, and their eyes met, and he saw that she was frightened. "Oh, Peter!" she whispered. "I wasn't to tell! I wasn't to tell a soul!"
Inside Peter, something was shouting with delight. To hide his emotion he had to bury his face in the soft white throat. "Sweetheart!" he whispered. "Darling!"
"Uh, Peter!" she cried. "You know - don't you?"
"Of course!" he laughed. "But I won't tell. You needn't mind trusting me."
"Oh, but Mr. Andrews was so insistent!" said Jennie, "He made Sadie and me swear that we wouldn't breathe it to a soul."
"Well, you didn't tell," said Peter. "I found it out by accident. Don't mention it, and nobody will be any the wiser. If they should find out that I know, they wouldn't blame you; they'd understand that I know Jack Ibbetts - me being in jail so long."
So Jennie forgot all about the matter, and Peter went on with the kisses, making her happy, as a means of concealing his own exultation. He had done the job for which Guffey had sent him! He had solved the first great mystery of the Goober case! The spy in the jail of American City, who was carrying out news to the Defense Committee, was Jack Ibbetts, one of the keepers in the jail, and a cousin of the Todd sisters!
C h a p t e r 2 0
- IT was fortunate that this was the day of Peter's meeting with McGivney. He could really not have kept this wonderful secret to himself over night. He made excuses to the girls, and dodged thru the chicken-yard as before, and made his way to the American House. As he walked, Peter's mind was working busily. He had really got his grip on the ladder of prosperity now; he must not fail to tighten it.
McGivney saw right away from Peter's face that something had happened. "Well?" he inquired.
"I've got it!" exclaimed Peter.
"The name of the spy in the jail."
"Christ! You don't mean it!" cried the other.
"No doubt about it," answered Peter.
"Who is he?"
Peter clenched his hands and summoned his resolution. "First," he said, "you and me got to have an understanding. Mr. Guffey said I was to be paid, but he didn't say how much, or when."
"Oh, hell!" said McGivney. "If you've got the name of that spy, you don't need to worry about your reward."
"Well, that's all right," said Peter, "but I'd like to know what I'm to get and how I'm to get it."
"How much do you want?" demanded the man with the face of a rat. Rat-like, he was retreating into a corner, his sharp black eyes watching his enemy. "How much?" he repeated.
Peter had tried his best to rise to this occasion. Was he not working for the greatest and richest concern in American City, the Traction Trust? Tens and hundreds of millions of dollars they were worth - he had no idea how much, but he knew they could afford to pay for his secret. "I think it ought to be worth two hundred dollars," he said.
"Sure," said McGivney, "that's all right. We'll pay you that."
And straightway Peter's heart sank. What a fool he had been! Why hadn't he had more courage, and asked for five hundred dollars? He might even have asked a thousand, and made himself independent for life!
"Well," said McGivney, "who's the spy?"
Peter made an agonizing, effort, and summoned yet more nerve. "First, I got to know, when do I get that money?"
"Oh, good God!" said McGivney. "You give us the information, and you'll get your money all right. What kind of cheap skates do you take us for?"
"Well, that's all right," said Peter. "But you know, Mr. Guffey didn't give me any reason to think he loved me. I still can hardly use this wrist like I used to."
"Well, he was trying to get some information out of you," said McGivney. "He thought you were one of them dynamiters - how could you blame him? You give me the name of that spy, and I'll see you get your money."
But still Peter wouldn't yield. He was afraid of the rat-faced McGivney, and his heart was thumping fast, but he stood his ground. "I think I ought to see that money," he said, doggedly.
"Say, what the hell do you take me for?" demanded the detective. "D'you suppose I'm going to give you two hundred dollars and then have you give me some fake name and skip?"
"Oh, I wouldn't do that!" cried Peter.
"How do I know you wouldn't?"
"Well, I want to go on working for you."
"Sure, and we want you to go on working for us. This ain't the last secret we'll get from you, and you'll find we play straight with our people - how'd we ever get anywheres otherwise? There's a million dollars been put up to hang that Goober crowd, and if you deliver the goods, you'll get your share, and get it right on time."
He spoke with conviction, and Peter was partly persuaded. But most of Peter's lifetime had been spent in watching people bargaining with one another - watching scoundrels trying to outwit one another - and when it was a question of some money to be got, Peter was like a bulldog that has got his teeth fixed tight in another dog's nose; he doesn't consider the other dog's feelings, nor does he consider whether the other dog admires him or not.
"On time?" said Peter. "What do you mean by 'on time'?"
"Oh, my God!" said McGivney, in disgust.
"Well, but I want to know," said Peter. "D'you mean when I give the name, or d'you mean after you've gone and found out whether he really is the spy or not?"
So they worried back and forth, these snarling bulldogs, growing more and more angry. But Peter was the one who had got his teeth in, and Peter hung on. Once McGivney hinted quite plainly that the great Traction Trust had had power enough to shut Peter in the "hole" on two occasions and keep him there, and it might have power enough to do it a third time. Peter's heart failed with terror, but all the same, he hung on to McGivney's nose.
"All right," said the rat-faced man, at last. He said it in a tone of wearied scorn; but that didn't worry Peter a particle. "All right, I'll take a chance with you." And he reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills - twenty dollar bills they were, and he counted out ten of them. Peter saw that there was still a lot left to the roll, and knew that he hadn't asked as much money as McGivney had been prepared to have him ask; so his heart was sick within him. At the same time his heart was leaping with exultation - such a strange thing is the human heart!