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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 3 1
- SO there was Peter, down and out once more. But fate was kind to him. That very day came a letter signed "Two forty-three," which meant McGivney. "Two forty-three" had some important work for Peter, so would he please call at once? Peter pawned his last bit of jewelry for his fare to American City, and met McGivney at the usual rendezvous.
The purpose of the meeting was quickly explained. America was now at war, and the time had come when the mouths of these Reds were to be stopped for good. You could do things in war-time that you couldn't do in peace-time, and one of the things you were going to do was to put an end to the agitation against property. Peter licked his lips, metaphorically speaking. It was something he had many times told McGivney ought to be done. Pat McCormick especially ought to be put away for good. These were a dangerous bunch, these Reds, and Mac was the worst of all. It was every man's duty to help, and what could Peter do?
McGivney answered that the authorities were making a complete list of all the radical organizations and their members, getting evidence preliminary to arrests. Guffey was in charge of the job; as in the Goober case, the big business interests of the city were going ahead while the government was still wiping the sleep out of its eyes. Would Peter take a job spying upon the Reds in American City?
"I can't!" exclaimed Peter. "They're all sore at me because I didn't testify in the Goober case."
"We can easily fix that up," answered the rat-faced man. "It may mean a little inconvenience for you. You may have to go to jail for a few days."
"To jail!" cried Peter, in dismay.
"Yes," said the other, "you'll have to get arrested, and made into a martyr. Then, you see, they'll all be sure you're straight, and they'll take you back again and welcome you."
Peter didn't like the idea of going to jail; his memories of the jail in American City were especially painful. But McGivney explained that this was a time when men couldn't consider their own feelings; the country was in danger, public safety must be protected, and it was up to everybody to make some patriotic sacrifice. The rich men were all subscribing to liberty bonds; the poor men were going to give their lives; and what was Peter Gudge going to give? "Maybe I'll be drafted into the army," Peter remarked.
"No, you won't - not if you take this job," said McGivney. "We can fix that. A man like you, who has special abilities, is too precious to be wasted." Peter decided forthwith that he would accept the proposition. It was much more sensible to spend a few days in jail than to spend a few years in the trenches, and maybe the balance of eternity under the sod of France.
Matters were quickly arranged. Peter took off his good clothes, and dressed himself as became a workingman, and went into the eating-room where Donald Gordon, the Quaker boy, always got his lunch. Peter was quite sure that Donald would be one of the leading agitators against the draft, and in this he was not mistaken.
Donald was decidedly uncordial in his welcoming of Peter; without saying a word the young Quaker made Peter aware that he was a renegade, a coward who had "thrown down" the Goober defense. But Peter was patient and tactful; he did not try to defend himself, nor did he ask any questions about Donald and Donald's activities. He simply announced that he had been studying the subject of militarism, and had come to a definite point of view. He was a Socialist and an Internationalist; he considered America's entry into the war a crime, and he was willing to do his part in agitating against it. He was going to take his stand as a conscientious objector; they might send him to jail if they pleased, or even stand him against a wall and shoot him, but they would never get him to put on a uniform.
It was impossible for Donald Gordon to hold out against a man who talked like that; a man who looked him in the eye and expressed his convictions so simply and honestly. And that evening Peter went to a meeting of Local American City of the Socialist Party, and renewed his acquaintance with all the comrades. He didn't make a speech or do anything conspicuous, but simply got into the spirit of things; and next day he managed to meet some of the members, and whenever and wherever he was asked, he expressed his convictions as a conscientious objector. So before a week had passed Peter found that he was being tolerated, that nobody was going to denounce him as a traitor, or kick him out of the room.
At the next weekly meeting of Local American City, Peter ventured to say a few words. It was a red-hot meeting, at which the war and the draft were the sole subjects of discussion. There were some Germans in the local, some Irishmen, and one or two Hindoos; they, naturally, were all ardent pacifists. Also there were agitators of what was coming to be called the "left wing"; the group within the party who considered it too conservative, and were always clamoring for more radical declarations, for "mass action" and general strikes and appeals to the proletariat to rise forthwith and break their chains. These were days of great events; the Russian revolution had electrified the world, and these comrades of the "left wing" felt themselves lifted upon pinions of hope.
Peter spoke as one who had been out on the road, meeting the rank and file; he could speak for the men on the job. What was the use of opposing the draft here in a hall, where nobody but party members were present? What was wanted was for them to lift up their voices on the street, to awaken the people before it was too late! Was there anybody in this gathering bold enough to organize a street meeting?
There were some who could not resist this challenge, and in a few minutes Peter had secured the pledges of half a dozen young hot-heads, Donald Gordon among them. Before the evening was past it had been arranged that these would-be-martyrs should hire a truck, and make their debut on Main Street the very next evening. Old hands in the movement warned them that they would only get their heads cracked by the police. But the answer to that was obvious - they might as well get their heads cracked by the police as get them blown to pieces by German artillery.
C h a p t e r 3 2
- PETER reported to McGivney what was planned, and McGivney promised that the police would be on hand. Peter warned him to be careful and have the police be gentle; at which McGivney grinned, and answered that he would see to that.
It was all very simple, and took less than ten minutes of time. The truck drew up on Main Street, and a young orator stepped forward and announced to his fellow citizens that the time had come for the workers to make known their true feelings about the draft. Never would free Americans permit themselves to be herded into armies and shipped over seas and be slaughtered for the benefit of international bankers. Thus far the orator had got, when a policeman stepped forward and ordered him to shut up. When he refused, the policeman tapped on the sidewalk with his stick, and a squad of eight or ten came round the corner, and the orator was informed that he was under arrest. Another orator stepped forward and took up the harangue, and when he also had been put under arrest, another, and another, until the whole six of them, including Peter, were in hand.
The crowd had had no time to work up any interest one way or the other, A patrol-wagon was waiting, and the orators were bundled in and driven to the station-house, and next morning they were haled before a magistrate and sentenced each to fifteen days. As they had been expecting to get six months, they were a happy bunch of "left wingers."
And they were still happier when they saw how they were to be treated in jail. Ordinarily it was the custom of the police to inflict all possible pain and humiliation upon the Reds. They would put them in the revolving tank, a huge steel structure of many cells which was turned round and round by a crank. In order to get into any cell, the whole tank had to be turned until that particular cell was opposite the entrance, which meant that everybody in the tank got a free ride, accompanied by endless groaning and scraping of rusty machinery; also it meant that nobody got any consecutive sleep. The tank was dark, too dark to read, even if they had had books or papers. There was nothing to do save to smoke cigarettes and shoot craps, and listen to the smutty stories of the criminals, and plot revenge against society when they got out again. But up in the new wing of the jail were some cells which were clean and bright and airy, being only three or four feet from a row of windows. In these cells they generally put the higher class of criminals - women who had cut the throats of their sweethearts, and burglars who had got I away with the swag, and bankers who had plundered whole communities. But now, to the great surprise of five out of the six anti-militarists, the entire party was put in one of these big cells, and allowed the privilege of having reading matter and of paying for their own food. Under these circumstances martyrdom became a joke, and the little party settled down to enjoy life. It never once occurred to them to think of Peter Gudge as the source of this bounty. They attributed it, as the French say, "to their beautiful eyes."
There was Donald Gordon, who was the son of a well-to-do business man, and had been to college, until he was expelled for taking the doctrines of Christianity too literally and expounding them too persistently on the college campus. There was a big, brawny lumber-jack from the North, Jim Henderson by name, who had been driven out of the camps for the same reason, and had appalling stories to tell of the cruelties and hardships of the life of a logger. There was a Swedish sailor by the name of Gus, who had visited every port in the world, and a young Jewish cigar-worker who had never been outside of American City, but had travelled even more widely in his mind.
The sixth man was the strangest character of all to Peter; a shy, dreamy fellow with eyes so full of pain and a face so altogether mournful that it hurt to look at him. Duggan was his name, and he was known in the movement as the "hobo poet." He wrote verses, endless verses about the lives of society's outcasts; he would get himself a pencil and paper and sit off in the corner of the cell by the hour, and the rest of the fellows, respecting his work, would talk in whispers so as not to disturb him. He wrote all the time while the others slept, it seemed to Peter. He wrote verses about the adventures of his fellow-prisoners, and presently he was writing verses about the jailers, and about other prisoners in this part of the jail. He would have moods of inspiration, and would make up topical verses as he went along; then again he would sink back into his despair, and say that life was hell, and making rhymes about it was childishness.
There was no part of America that Tom Duggan hadn't visited, no tragedy of the life of outcasts that he hadn't seen. He was so saturated with it that he couldn't think of anything else. He would tell about men who had perished of thirst in the desert, about miners sealed up for weeks in an exploded mine, about matchmakers poisoned until their teeth fell out, and their finger nails and even their eyes. Peter could see no excuse for such morbidness, such endless harping upon the horrible things of life. It spoiled all his happiness in the jail - it was worse than little Jennie's talking about the war!
C h a p t e r 3 3
- ONE of Duggan's poems had to do with a poor devil named Slim, who was a "snow-eater," that is to say, a cocaine victim. This Slim wandered about the streets of New York in the winter-time without any shelter, and would get into an office building late in the afternoon, and hide in one of the lavatories to spend the night. If he lay down, he would be seen and thrown out, so his only chance was to sit up; but when he fell asleep, he would fall off the seat - therefore he carried a rope in his pocket, and would tie himself in a sitting position.
Now what was the use of a story like that? Peter didn't want to hear about such people! He wanted to express his disgust; but he knew, of course, that he must hide it. He laughed as he exclaimed, "Christ Almighty, Duggan, can't you give us something with a smile? You don't think it's the job of Socialists to find a cure for the dope habit, do you? That's sure one thing that ain't caused by the profit system."
Duggan smiled his bitterest smile. "If there's any misery in the world today that ain't kept alive by the profit system, I'd like to see it! D'you think dope sells itself? If there wasn't a profit in it, would it be sold to any one but doctors? Where'd you get your Socialism, anyhow?"
So Peter beat a hasty retreat. "Oh, sure, I know all that. But here you're shut up in jail because you want to change things. Ain't you got a right to give yourself a rest while you're in?"
The poet looked at him, as solemn as an owl. He shook his head. "No," he said. "Just because we're fixed up nice and comfortable in jail, have we got the right to forget the misery of those outside?"
The others laughed; but Duggan did not mean to be funny at all. He rose slowly to his feet and with his arms outstretched, in the manner of one offering himself as a sacrifice, he proclaimed:
"While there is a lower class, I am in it.
"While there is a criminal element, I am of it.
"While there is a soul in jail, I am not free."
Then he sat down and buried his face in his hands. The group of rough fellows sat in solemn silence. Presently Gus, the Swedish sailor, feeling perhaps that the rebuke to Peter had been too severe, spoke timidly: "Comrade Gudge, he ban in jail twice already."
So the poet looked up again. He held out his hand to Peter. "Sure, I know that!" he said, clasping Peter in the grip of comradeship. And then he added: "I'll tell you a story with a smile!"
Once upon a time, it appeared, Duggan had been working in a moving picture studio, where they needed tramps and outcasts and all sorts of people for crowds. They had been making a "Preparedness" picture, and wanted to show the agitators and trouble-makers, mobbing the palace of a banker. They got two hundred bums and hoboes, and took them in trucks to the palace of a real banker, and on the front lawn the director made a speech to the crowd, explaining his ideas. "Now," said he, "remember, the guy that owns this house is the guy that's got all the wealth that you fellows have produced. You are down and out, and you know that he's robbed you, so you hate him. You gather on his lawn and you're going to mob his home; if you can get hold of him, you're going to tear him to bits for what he's done to you." So the director went on, until finally Duggan interrupted: "Say, boss, you don't have to teach us. This is a real palace, and we're real bums!"
Apparently the others saw the "smile" in this story, for they chuckled for some time over it. But it only added to Peter's hatred of these Reds; it made him realize more than ever that they were a bunch of "sore heads," they were green and yellow with jealousy. Everybody that had succeeded in the world they hated - just because they had succeeded! Well, they would never succeed; they could go on forever with their grouching, but the mass of the workers in America had a normal attitude toward the big man, who could do things. They did not want to wreck his palace; they admired him for having it, and they followed his leadership gladly.
It seemed as if Henderson, the lumber-jack, had read Peter's thought. "My God!" he said. "What a job it is to make the workers class-conscious!" He sat on the edge of his cot, with his broad shoulders bowed and his heavy brows knit in thought over the problem of how to increase the world's discontent. He told of one camp where he had worked - so hard and dangerous was the toil that seven men had given up their lives in the course of one winter. The man who owned this tract, and was exploiting it, had gotten the land by the rankest kind of public frauds; there were filthy bunk-houses, vermin, rotten food, poor wages and incessant abuse. And yet, in the spring-time, here came the young son of this owner, on a honeymoon trip with his bride. "And Jesus," said Henderson, "if you could have seen those stiffs turn out and cheer to split their throats! They really meant it, you know; they just loved that pair of idle, good-for-nothing kids!"
Gus, the sailor, spoke up, his broad, good-natured face wearing a grin which showed where three of his front teeth had been knocked out with a belaying pin. It was exactly the same with the seamen, he declared. They never saw the ship-owners, they didn't know even the names of the people who were getting the profit of their toil, but they had a crazy loyalty to their ship, Some old tanker would be sent out to sea on purpose to be sunk, so that the owners might get the insurance. But the poor A. Bs. would love that old tub so that they would go down to the bottom with her - or perhaps they would save her, to the owners great disgust!
Thus, for hours on end, Peter had to sit listening to this ding donging about the wrongs of the poor and the crimes of the rich. Here he had been sentenced for fifteen days and nights to listen to Socialist wrangles! Every one of these fellows had a different idea of how he wanted the world to be run, and every one had a different idea of how to bring about the change. Life was an endless struggle between the haves and the have-nots, and the question of how the have-nots were to turn out the haves was called "tactics." When you talked about "tactics" you used long technical terms which made your conversation unintelligible to a plain, ordinary mortal. It seemed to Peter that every time he fell asleep it was to the music of proletariat and surplus value and unearned increment, possibilism and impossibilism, political action, direct action, mass action, and the perpetual circle of Syndicalist-Anarchist, Anarchist-Communist, Communist-Socialist and Socialist-Syndicalist.
C h a p t e r 3 4
- IN company such as this Peter's education for the role of detective was completed by force, as it were. He listened to everything, and while he did not dare make any notes, he stored away treasures in his mind, and when he came out of the jail he was able to give McGivney a pretty complete picture of the various radical organizations in American City, and the attitude of each one toward the war.
Peter found that McGivney's device had worked perfectly. Peter was now a martyr and a hero; his position as one of the "left wingers" was definitely established, and anyone who ventured to say a word against him would be indignantly rebuked. As a matter of fact, no one desired to say much. Pat McCormick, Peter's enemy, was out on an organizing trip among the oil workers.
Duggan had apparently taken a fancy to Peter, and took him to meet some of his friends, who lived in an old, deserted warehouse, which happened to have skylights in the roof; this constituted each room a "studio," and various radicals rented the rooms, and lived here a sort of picnic existence which Peter learned was called "Bohemian." They were young people, most of them, with one or two old fellows, derelicts; they wore flannel shirts, and soft ties, or no ties at all, and their fingers were always smeared with paint. Their life requirements were simple; all they wanted was an unlimited quantity of canvas and paint, some cigarettes, and at long intervals a pickle or some sauer-kraut and a bottle of beer. They would sit all day in front of an easel, painting the most inconceivable pictures - pink skies and green-faced women and purple grass and fantastic splurges of color which they would call anything from "The Woman with a Mustard Pot" to "A Nude Coming Downstairs." And there would be others, like Duggan, writing verses all day; pounding away on a typewriter, if they could manage to rent or borrow one. There were several who sang, and one who played the flute and caused all the others to tear their hair. There was a boy fresh from the country, who declared that he had run away from home because the family sang hymns all day Sunday, and never sang in tune.
From people such as these you would hear the most revolutionary utterances; but Peter soon realized that it was mostly just talk with them. They would work off their frenzies with a few dashes of paint or some ferocious chords on the piano. The really dangerous ones were not here; they were hidden away in offices or dens of their own, where they were prompting strikes and labor agitations, and preparing incendiary literature to be circulated among the poor.
You met such people in the Socialist local, and in the I. W. W. headquarters, and in numerous clubs and propaganda societies which Peter investigated, and to which he was welcomed as a member. In the Socialist local there was a fierce struggle going on over the war. What should be the attitude of the party? There was a group, a comparatively small group, which believed that the interests of Socialism would best be served by helping the Allies to the overthrow of the Kaiser. There was another group, larger and still more determined, which believed that the war was a conspiracy of allied capitalism to rivet its power upon the world, and this group wanted the party to stake its existence upon a struggle against American participation. These two groups contested for the minds of the rank and file of the members, who seemed to be bewildered by the magnitude of the issue and the complexity of the arguments. Peter's orders were to go with the extreme anti-militarists; they were the ones whose confidence he wished to gain, also they were the trouble-makers of the movement, and McGivney's instructions were to make all the trouble possible.
Over at the I. W. W. headquarters was another group whose members were debating their attitude to the war. Should they call strikes and try to cripple the leading industries of the country? Or should they go quietly on with their organization work, certain that in the end the workers would sicken of the military adventure into which they were being snared? Some of these "wobblies" were Socialist party members also, and were active in both gatherings; two of them, Henderson, the lumber-jack, and Gus Lindstrom, the sailor, had been in jail with Peter, and had been among his intimates ever since.
Also Peter met the Pacifists; the "Peoples' Council," as they called themselves. Many of these were religious people, two or three clergymen, and Donald Gordon, the Quaker, and a varied assortment of women - sentimental young girls who shrunk from the thought of bloodshed, and mothers with tear-stained cheeks who did not want their darlings to be drafted. Peter saw right away that these mothers had no "conscientious objections." Each mother was thinking about her own son and about nothing else. Peter was irritated at this, and took it for his special job to see that those mother's darlings did their duty.
He attended a gathering of Pacifists in the home of a school-teacher. They made heart-breaking speeches, and finally little Ada Ruth, the poetess, got up and wanted to know, was it all to end in talk, or would they organize and prepare to take some action against the draft? Would they not at least go out on the street, get up a parade with banners of protest, and go to jail as Comrade Peter Gudge had so nobly done?
Comrade Peter was called on for "a few words." Comrade Peter explained that he was no speaker; after all, actions spoke louder than words, and he had tried to show what he believed. The others were made ashamed by this, and decided for a bold stand at once. Ada Ruth became president and Donald Gordon secretary of the "Anti-conscription League" - a list of whose charter members was turned over to McGivney the same evening.
C h a p t e r 3 5
- ALL this time the country had been going to war. The huge military machine was getting under way, the storm of public feeling was rising. Congress had voted a huge loan, a country-wide machine of propaganda was being organized, and the oratory of Four Minute Men was echoing from Maine to California. Peter read the American City "Times" every morning, and here were speeches of statesmen and sermons of clergymen, here were cartoons and editorials, all burning with the fervor's of patriotism. Peter absorbed these, and his soul became transfigured. Hitherto Peter had been living for himself; but there comes a time in the life of every man who can use his brain at all when he realizes that he is not the one thing of importance in the universe, the one end to be served. Peter very often suffered from qualms of conscience, waves of doubt as to his own righteousness. Peter, like every other soul that ever lived, needed a religion, an ideal.
The Reds had a religion, as you might call it; but this religion had failed to attract Peter. In the first place it was low; its devotees were wholly lacking in the graces of life, in prestige, and that ease which comes with assurance of power. They were noisy in their fervors, and repelled Peter as much as the Holy Rollers. Also, they were always harping upon the sordid and painful facts of life; who but a pervert would listen to "sob stories," when he might have all the things that are glorious and shining and splendid in the world?
But now here was the religion Peter wanted. These clergymen in their robes of snow white linen, preaching in churches with golden altars and stained-glass windows; these statesmen who wore the halo of fame, and went about with the cheering of thousands in their ears; these mighty captains of industry whose very names were magic - with power, when written on pieces of paper, to cause cities to rise in the desert, and then to fall again beneath a rain of shells and poison gas; these editors and cartoonists of the American City "Times," with all their wit and learning - these people all combined to construct for Peter a religion and an ideal, and to hand it out to him, ready-made and precisely fitted to his understanding. Peter would go right on doing the things he had been doing before; but he would no longer do them in the name of Peter Gudge, the ant, he would do them in the name of a mighty nation of a hundred and ten million people, with all its priceless memories of the past and its infinite hopes for the future; he would do them in the sacred name of patriotism, and the still more sacred name of democracy. And - most convenient of circumstances - the big business men of American City, who had established a secret service bureau with Guffey in charge of it, would go right on putting up their funds, and paying Peter fifty dollars a week and expenses while he served the holy cause!
It was the fashion these days for orators and public men to vie with one another in expressing the extremes of patriotism, and Peter would read these phrases, and cherish them; they came to seem a part of him, he felt as if he had invented them. He became greedy for more and yet more of this soul-food; and there was always more to be had - until Peter's soul was become swollen, puffed up as with a bellows. Peter became a patriot of patriots, a super-patriot; Peter was a red-blooded American and no mollycoddle; Peter was a "he-American," a 100% American - and if there could have been such a thing as a 101% American, Peter would have been that. Peter was so much of an American that the very sight of a foreigner filled him with a fighting impulse. As for the Reds - well, Peter groped for quite a time before he finally came upon a formula which expressed his feelings. It was a famous clergyman who achieved it for him - saying that if he could have his way he would take all the Reds, and put them in a ship of stone with sails of lead, and send them forth with hell for their destination.
So Peter chafed more and more at his inability to get action. How much more evidence did the secret service of the Traction Trust require? Peter would ask this question of McGivney again and again, and McGivney would answer: "Keep your shirt on. You're getting your pay every week. What's the matter with you?"
"The matter is, I'm tired of listening to these fellows ranting," Peter would say. "I want to stop their mouths."
Yes, Peter had come to take it as a personal affront that these radicals should go on denouncing the cause which Peter had espoused. They all thought of Peter as a comrade, they were most friendly to him; but Peter had the knowledge of how they would regard him when they knew the real truth, and this imagined contempt burned him like an acid. Sometimes there would be talk about spies and informers, and then these people would exhaust their vocabulary of abuse, and Peter, of course, would apply every word of it to himself and become wild with anger. He would long to answer back; he was waiting for the day when he might vindicate himself and his cause by smashing these Reds in the mouth.
C h a p t e r 3 6
- WELL," said McGivney one day, "I've got something interesting for you now. You're going into high society for a while!"
And the rat-faced man explained that there was a young man in a neighboring city, reputed to be a multi-millionaire, who had written a book against the war, and was the financial source of much pacificism and sedition. "These people are spending lots of money for printing," said McGivney, "and we hear this fellow Lackman is putting it up. We've learned that he is to be in town tomorrow, and we want you to find out all about his affairs."
So Peter was to meet a millionaire! Peter had never known one of these fortunate beings, but he was for them - he had always been for them. Ever since he had learned to read, he had liked to find stories about them in the newspapers, with pictures of them and their palaces. He had read these stories as a child reads fairy tales. They were his creatures of dreams, belonging to a world above reality, above pain and inconvenience.
And then in the days when Peter had been a servant in the Temple of Jimjambo, devoted to the cult of Eleutherinian Exoticism, he had found hanging in the main assembly room a picture labelled, "Mount Olympus," showing a dozen gods and goddesses reclining at ease on silken couches, sipping nectar from golden goblets and gazing down upon the far-off troubles of the world. Peter would peer from behind the curtains and see the Chief Magistrian emerging from behind the seven mystic veils, lifting his rolling voice and in a kind of chant expounding life to his flock of adoring society ladies. He would point to the picture and explain those golden, Olympian days when the Eleutherinian cult had originated. The world had changed much since then, and for the worse; those who had power must take it as their task to restore beauty and splendor to the world, and to develop the gracious possibilities of being.
Peter, of course, hadn't really believed in anything that went on in the Temple of Jimjambo; and yet he had been awed by its richness, and by the undoubtedly exclusive character of its worshippers; he had got the idea definitely fixed in his head that there really had been a Mount Olympus, and when he tried to imagine the millionaires and their ways, it was these gods and goddesses, reclining on silken couches and sipping nectar, that came to his mind!
Now since Peter had come to know the Reds, who wanted to blow up the palaces of the millionaires, he was more than ever on the side of his gods and goddesses. His fervors for them increased every time he heard them assailed; he wanted to meet some of them, and passionately, yet respectfully, pour out to them his allegiance. A glow of satisfaction came over him as he pictured himself in some palace, lounging upon a silken conch and explaining to a millionaire his understanding of the value of beauty and splendor in the world.
And now he was to meet one; it was to be a part of his job to cultivate one! True, there was something wrong with this particular millionaire - he was one of those freaks who for some reason beyond imagining gave their sympathy to the dynamiters and assassins. Peter had met "Parlor Reds" at the home of the Todd sisters; the large shining ladies who came in large shining cars to hear him tell of his jail experiences. But he hadn't been sure as to whether they were really millionaires or not, and Sadie, when he had inquired particularly, had answered vaguely that every one in the radical movement who could afford an automobile or a dress-suit was called a millionaire by the newspapers.
But young Lackman was a real millionaire, McGivney positively assured him; and so Peter was free to admire him in spite of all his freak ideas, which the rat-faced man explained with intense amusement. Young Lackman conducted a school for boys, and when one of the boys did wrong, the teacher would punish himself instead of the boy! Peter must pretend to be interested in this kind of "education," said McGivney, and he must learn at least the names of Lackman's books.
"But will he pay any attention to me?" demanded Peter.
"Sure, he will," said McGivney. "That's the point - you've been in jail, you've really done something as a pacifist. What you want to do is to try to interest him in your Anti-conscription League. Tell him you want to make it into a national organization, you want to get something done besides talking."
The address of young Lackman was the Hotel de Soto; and as he heard this, Peter's heart gave a leap. The Hotel de Soto was the Mount Olympus of American City! Peter had walked by the vast white structure, and seen the bronze doors swing outward, and the favored ones of the earth emerging to their magic chariots; but never had it occurred to him that he might pass thru those bronze doors, and gaze upon those hidden mysteries!
"Will they let me in?" he asked McGivney, and the other laughed. "Just walk in as if you owned the place," he said. "Hold up your head, and pretend you've lived there all your life."
That was easy for McGivney to say, but not so easy for Peter to imagine. However, he would try it; McGivney must be right, for it was the same thing Mrs. James had impressed upon him many times. You must watch what other people did, and practice by yourself, and then go in and do it as if you had never done anything else. All life was a gigantic bluff, and you encouraged yourself in your bluffing by the certainty that everybody else was bluffing just as hard.
At seven o'clock that evening Peter strolled up to the magic bronze doors, and touched them; and sure enough, the blue-uniformed guardians drew them back without a word, and the tiny brass-button imps never even glanced at Peter as he strode up to the desk and asked for Mr. Lackman.
The haughty clerk passed him on to a still more haughty telephone operator, who condescended to speak into her trumpet, and then informed him that Mr. Lackman was out; he had left word that he would return at eight. Peter was about to go out and wander about the streets for an hour, when he suddenly remembered that everybody else was bluffing; so he marched across the lobby and seated himself in one of the huge leather arm-chairs, big enough to hold three of him. There he sat, and continued to sit - and nobody said a word!
C h a p t e r 3 7
- YES, this was Mount Olympus, and here were the gods: the female ones in a state of divine semi-nudity, the male ones mostly clad in black coats with pleated shirt-fronts puffing out. Every time one of them moved up to the desk Peter would watch and wonder, was this Mr. Lackman? He might have been able to pick out a millionaire from an ordinary crowd; but here every male god was got up for the precise purpose of looking like a millionaire, so Peter's job was an impossible one.
In front of him across the lobby floor there arose a ten-foot pillar to a far-distant roof. This pillar was of pale, green-streaked marble, and Peter's eyes followed it to the top, where it exploded in a snow-white cloud-burst, full of fascination. There were four cornucopias, one at each corner, and out of each cornucopia came tangled ropes of roses, and out of these roses came other ropes, with what appeared to be apples and leaves, and still more roses, and still more emerging ropes, spreading in a tangle over the ceiling. Here and there, in the midst of all this splendor, was the large, placidly smiling face of a boy angel; four of these placidly smiling boy angels gazed from the four sides of the snow-white cloud-burst, and Peter's eye roamed from one to another, fascinated by the mathematics of this architectural marvel. There were fourteen columns in a row, and four such rows in the lobby. That made fifty-six columns in all, or two hundred and twenty-four boy angels' heads. How many cornucopias and how many roses and how many apples it meant, defied all calculation. The boy angels' heads were exactly alike, every head with the same size and quality of smile; and Peter marvelled - how many days would it take a sculptor to carve the details of two hundred and twenty-four boy angel smiles?
All over the Hotel de Soto was this same kind of sumptuous magnificence; and Peter experienced the mental effect which it was contrived to produce upon him - a sense of bedazzlement and awe, a realization that those who dwelt in the midst of this splendor were people to whom money was nothing, who could pour out treasures in a never-ceasing flood. And everything else about the place was of the same character, contrived for the same effect - even the gods and the goddesses! One would sweep by with a tiara of jewels in her hair; you might amuse yourself by figuring out the number of the jewels, as you had figured out the number of the boy angels' heads. Or you might take her gown of black lace, embroidered with golden butterflies, every one patiently done by hand; you might figure - so many yards of material, and so many golden butterflies to the yard! You might count the number of sparkling points upon her jet slippers, or trace the intricate designs upon her almost transparent stockings - only there was an inch or two of the stockings which you could not see.
Peter watched these gorgeous divinities emerge from the elevators, and sweep their way into the dining-room beyond. Some people might have been shocked by their costumes; but to Peter, who had the picture of Mount Olympus in mind, they seemed most proper. It all depended on the point of view: whether you thought of a goddess as fully clothed from chin to toes, and proceeded with a pair of shears to cut away so much of her costume, or whether you imagined the goddess in a state of nature, and proceeded to put veils of gauze about her, and a ribbon over each shoulder to hold the veils in place.
Twice Peter went to the desk, to inquire if Mr. Lackman had come in yet; but still he had not come; and Peter - growing bolder, like the fox who spoke to the lion - strolled about the lobby, gazing at the groups of gods at ease. He had noticed a great balcony around all four sides of this lobby, the "mezzanine floor," as it was called; he decided he would see what was up there, and climbed the white marble stairs, and beheld more rows of chairs and couches, done in dark grey velvet. Here, evidently, was where the female gods came to linger, and Peter seated himself as unobtrusively as possible, and watched.
Directly in front of him sat a divinity, lolling on a velvet couch with one bare white arm stretched out. It was a large stout arm, and the possessor was large and stout, with pale golden hair and many sparkling jewels. Her glance roamed lazily from place to place. It rested for an instant on Peter, and then moved on, and Peter felt the comment upon his own insignificance.
Nevertheless, he continued to steal glances now and then, and presently saw an interesting sight. In her lap this Juno had a gold-embroidered bag, and she opened it, disclosing a collection of mysterious apparatus of which she proceeded to make use: first a little gold hand-mirror, in which she studied her charms; then a little white powder-puff with which she deftly tapped her nose and cheeks; then some kind of red pencil with which she proceeded to rub her lips; then a golden pencil with which she lightly touched her eyebrows. Then it seemed as if she must have discovered a little hair which had grown since she left her dressing-room. Peter couldn't be sure, but she had a little pair of tweezers, and seemed to pull something out of her chin. She went on with quite an elaborate and complicated toilet, paying meantime not the slightest attention to the people passing by.
Peter looked farther, and saw that just as when one person sneezes or yawns everybody else in the room is irresistibly impelled to sneeze or yawn, so all these Dianas and Junos and Hebes on the "mezzanine floor" had suddenly remembered their little gold or silver hand-mirrors, their powder-puff s and red or golden or black pencils. One after another, the little vanity-bags came forth, and Peter, gazing in wonder, thought that Mount Olympus had turned into a beauty parlor.
Peter rose again and strolled and watched the goddesses, big and little, old and young, fat and thin, pretty and ugly - and it seemed to him the fatter and older and uglier they were, the more intently they gazed into the little hand-mirrors. He watched them with hungry eyes, for he knew that here he was in the midst of high life, the real thing, the utmost glory to which man could ever hope to attain, and he wanted to know all there was to know about it. He strolled on, innocent and unsuspecting, and the two hundred and twenty-four white boy angels in the ceiling smiled their bland and placid smiles at him, and Peter knew no more than they what complications fate had prepared for him on that mezzanine floor!
On one of the big lounges there sat a girl, a radiant creature from the Emerald Isles, with hair like sunrise and cheeks like apples. Peter took one glance at her, and his heart missed three successive beats, and then, to make up for lost time, began leaping like a runaway race-horse. He could hardly believe what his eyes told him; but his eyes insisted, his eyes knew; yes, his eyes had gazed for hours and hours on end upon that hair like sunrise and those cheeks like apples. The girl was Nell, the chambermaid of the Temple of Jimjambo!
She had not looked Peter's way, so there was time for him to start back and hide himself behind a pillar; there he stood, peering out and watching her profile, still arguing with his eyes. It couldn't be Nell; and yet it was! Nell transfigured, Nell translated to Olympus, turned into a goddess with a pale grey band about her middle, and a pale grey ribbon over each shoulder to hold it in place! Nell reclining at ease and chatting vivaciously to a young man with the face of a bulldog and the dinner-jacket of a magazine advertisement!
Peter gazed and waited, while his heart went on misbehaving. Peter learned in those few fearful minutes what real love is, a most devastating force. Little Jennie was forgotten, Mrs. James, the grass widow was forgotten, and Peter knew that he had never really admired but one woman in the world, and that was Nell, the Irish chambermaid of the Temple of Jimjambo. The poets have seen fit to represent young love as a mischievous little archer with a sharp and penetrating arrow, and now Peter understood what they had meant; that arrow had pierced him thru, and he had to hold on to the column to keep himself from falling.
C h a p t e r 3 8
- PRESENTLY the couple rose and strolled away to the elevator, and Peter followed. He did not dare get into the elevator with them, for he had suddenly become accutely aware of the costume he was wearing in his role of proletarian anti-militarist! But Peter was certain that Nell and her escort were not going out of the building, for they had no hats or wraps; so he went downstairs and hunted thru the lobby and the dining-room, and then thru the basement, from which he heard strains of music. Here was another vast room, got up in mystic oriental fashion, with electric lights hidden in bunches of imitation flowers on each table. This room was called the "grill," and part of it was bare for dancing, and on a little platform sat a band playing music.
The strangest music that ever assailed human ears! If Peter had heard it before seeing Nell, he would not have understood it, but now its weird rhythms fitted exactly to the moods which were tormenting him. This music would groan, it would rattle and squeak; it would make noises like swiftly torn canvas, or like a steam siren in a hurry. It would climb up to the heavens and come banging down to hell. And every thing with queer, tormenting motions, gliding and writhing, wriggling, jerking, jumping. Peter would never have known what to make of such music, if he had not had it here made visible before his eyes, in the behavior of the half-naked goddesses and the black-coated gods on this dancing floor. These celestial ones came sliding across the floor like skaters, they came writhing like serpents, they came strutting like turkeys, jumping like rabbits, stalking solemnly like giraffes. They came clamped in one another's arms like bears trying to hug each other to death; they came contorting themselves as if they were boa-constrictors trying to swallow each other. And Peter, watching them and listening to their music, made a curious discovery about himself. Deeply buried in Peter's soul were the ghosts of all sorts of animals; Peter had once been a boa-constrictor, Peter had once been a bear, Peter had once been a rabbit and a giraffe, a turkey and a fox; and now under the spell of this weird music these dead creatures came to life in his soul. So Peter discovered the meaning of "jazz," in all its weirdly named and incredible varieties.
Also Peter discovered that he had once been a caveman, and had hit his rival over the head with a stone axe and carried off his girl by the hair. All this he discovered while he stood in the doorway of the Hotel de Soto grill, and watched Nell, the ex-chambermaid of the Temple of Jimjambo, doing the turkey-trot and the fox-trot and the grizzly-bear and the bunny-hug in the arms of a young man with the face of a bulldog.
Peter stood for a long while in a daze. Nell and the young man sat down at one of the tables to have a meal, but still Peter stood watching and trying to figure out what to do. He knew that he must not speak to her in his present costume; there would be no way to make her understand that he was only playing a role - that he who looked like a "dead one" was really a prosperous man of important affairs, a 100% red-blooded patriot disguised as a proletarian pacifist. No, he must wait, he must get into his best before he spoke to her. But meantime, she might go away, and he might not be able to find her again in this huge city!
After an hour or two he succeeded in figuring out a way, and hurried upstairs to the writing-room and penned a note:
"Nell: This is your old friend Peter Gudge. I have struck it rich and have important news for you. Be sure to send word to me. Peter." To this he added his address, and sealed it in an envelope to "Miss Nell Doolin."
Then he went out into the lobby, and signalled to one of the brass-button imps who went about the place calling names in shrill sing-song; he got this youngster off in a corner and pressed a dollar bill into his hand. There was a young lady in the grill who was to have this note at once. It was very important. Would the brass-button imp do it?
The imp said sure, and Peter stood in the doorway and watched him walk back and forth thru the aisles of the grill, calling in his shrill sing-song, "Miss Nell Doolin! Miss Nell Doolin!" He walked right by the table where Nell sat eating; he sang right into her face, it seemed to Peter; but she never gave a sign.
Peter did not know what to make of it, but he was bound to get that note to Nell. So when the imp returned, he pointed her out, and the imp went again and handed the note to her. Peter saw her take it - then he darted away; and remembering suddenly that he was supposed to be on duty, be rushed back to the office and inquired for Mr. Lackman. To his horror he learned that Mr. Lackman had returned, paid his bill, and departed with his suitcase to a destination unknown!
C h a p t e r 3 9
- PETER had a midnight appointment with McGivney, and now had to go and admit this humiliating failure. He had done his best, he declared; he had inquired at the desk, and waited and waited, but the hotel people had failed to notify him of Lackman's arrival. All this was strictly true; but it did not pacify McGivney, who was in a black fury. "It might have been worth thousands of dollars to you!" he declared. "He's the biggest fish we'll ever get on our hook."
"Won't he come again?" asked grief-stricken Peter.
"No," declared the other. "They'll get him at his home city."
"But won't that do?" asked Peter, naively.
"You damned fool!" was McGivney's response. "We wanted to get him here, where we could pluck him ourselves."
The rat-faced man hadn't intended to tell Peter so much, but in his rage he let it out. He and a couple of his friends had planned to "get something" on this young millionaire, and scare the wits out of him, with the idea that he would put up a good many thousand dollars to be let off. Peter might have had his share of this - only he had been fool enough to let the bird get out of his net!
Peter offered to follow the young man to his home city, and find some way to lure him back into McGivney's power. After McGivney had stormed for a while, he decided that this might be possible. He would talk it over with the others, and let Peter know. But alas, when Peter picked up an afternoon newspaper next day, he read on the front page how young Lackman, stepping off the train in his home city that morning, had been placed under arrest; his school had been raided, and half a dozen of the teachers were in jail, and a ton of Red literature had been confiscated, and a swarm of dire conspiracies against the safety of the country had been laid bare!
Peter read this news, and knew that he was in for another stormy hour with his boss. But he hardly gave a thought to it, because of something which had happened a few minutes before, something of so much greater importance. A messenger had brought him a special delivery letter, and with thumping heart he had torn it open and read:
"All right. Meet me in the waiting-room of Guggenheim's Department Store at two o'clock this afternoon. But for God's sake forget Nell Doolin. Yours, Edythe Eustace."
So here was Peter dressed in his best clothes, as for his temporary honeymoon with the grass widow, and on the way to the rendezvous an hour ahead of time. And here came Nell, also dressed, every garment so contrived that a single glance would tell the beholder that their owner was moving in the highest circles, and regardless of expense. Nell glanced over her shoulder now and then as she talked, and explained that Ted Crothers, the man with the bulldog face, was a terror, and it was hard to get away from him, because he had nothing to do all day.
The waiting-room of a big department-store was not the place Peter would have selected for the pouring out of his heart; but he had to make the best of it, so he told Nell that he loved her, that he would never be able to love anybody else, and that he had made piles of money now, he was high up on the ladder of prosperity. Nell did not laugh at him, as she had laughed in the Temple of Jimjambo, for it was easily to be seen that Peter Gudge was no longer a scullion, but a man of the world with a fascinating air of mystery. Nell wanted to know forthwith what was he doing; he answered that he could not tell, it was a secret of the most desperate import; he was under oath. These were the days of German spies and bomb-plots, when kings and kaisers and emperors and tsars were pouring treasures into America for all kinds of melodramatic purposes; also the days of government contracts and secret deals, when in the lobbies and private meeting-places of hotels like the de Soto there were fortunes made and unmade every hour. So it was easy for Nell to believe in a real secret, and being a woman, she put all her faculties upon the job of guessing it.
She did not again ask Peter to tell her; but she let him talk, and tactfully guided the conversation, and before long she knew that Peter was intimate with a great many of the most desperate Reds, and likewise that he knew all about the insides of the Goober case, and about the great men of American City who had put up a million dollars for the purpose of hanging Goober, and about the various ways in which this money had been spent and wires had been pulled to secure a conviction. Nell put two and two together, and before long she figured out that the total was four; she suddenly confronted Peter with this total, and Peter was dumb with consternation, and broke down and confessed everything, and told Nell all about his schemes and his achievements and his adventures - omitting only little Jennie and the grass widow.
He told about the sums he had been making and was expecting to make; he told about Lackman, and showed Nell the newspaper with pictures of the young millionaire and his school. "What a handsome fellow!" said Nell. "It's a shame!"
"How do you mean?" asked Peter, a little puzzled. Could it be that Nell had any sympathy for these Reds?
"I mean," she answered, "that he'd have been worth more to you than all the rest put together."
Nell was a woman, and her mind ran to the, practical aspect of things. "Look here, Peter," she said, "you've been letting those 'dicks' work you. They're getting the swag, and just giving you tips. What you need is somebody to take care of you."
Peter's heart leaped. "Will you do it?" he cried.
"I've got Ted on my hands," said the girl. "He'd cut my throat, and yours too, if he knew I was here. But I'll try to get myself free, and then maybe - I won't promise, but I'll think over your problem, Peter, and I'll certainly try to help, so that McGivney and Guffey and those fellows can't play you for a sucker any longer."
She must have time to think it over, she said, and to make inquiries about the people involved - some of whom apparently she knew. She would meet Peter again the next day, and in a more private place than here. She named a spot in the city park which would be easy to find, and yet sufficiently remote for a quiet conference.
C h a p t e r 4 0
- PETER had been made so bold by Nell's flattery and what she had said about his importance, that he did not go back to McGivney to take his second scolding about the Lackman case. He was getting tired of McGivney's scoldings; if McGivney didn't like his work, let McGivney go and be a Red for a while himself. Peter walked the streets all day and a part of the night, thinking about Nell, and thrilling over the half promises she had made him.
They met next day in the park. No one was following them, and they found a solitary place, and Nell let him kiss her several times, and in between the kisses she unfolded to him a terrifying plan. Peter had thought that he was something of an intriguer, but his self-esteem shriveled to nothingness in the presence of the superb conception which had come to ripeness in the space of twenty-four hours in the brain of Nell Doolin, alias Edythe Eustace.
Peter had been doing the hard work, and these big fellows had been using him, handing him a tip now and then, and making fortunes out of the information he brought them. McGivney had let the cat out of the bag in this case of Lackman; you might be sure they had been making money, big money, out of all the other cases. What Peter must do was to work up something of his own, and get the real money, and make himself one of the big fellows. Peter had the facts, he knew the people; he had watched in the Goober case exactly how a "frame-up" was made, and now he must make one for himself, and one that would pay. It was a matter of duty to rid the country of all these Reds; but why should he not have the money as well?
Nell had spent the night figuring over it, trying to pick out the right person. She had hit on old "Nelse" Ackerman, the banker. Ackerman was enormously and incredibly wealthy; he was called the financial king of American City. Also he was old, and Nell happened to know he was a coward; he was sick in bed just now, and when a man is sick he is still more of a coward. What Peter must do was to discover some kind of a bomb-plot against old "Nelse" Ackerman. Peter might talk up the idea among some of his Reds and get them interested in it, or he might frame up some letters to be found upon them, and hide some dynamite in their rooms. When the plot was discovered, it would make a frightful uproar, needless to say; the king would hear of it, and of Peter's part as the discoverer of it, and he would unquestionably reward Peter. Perhaps Peter might arrange to be retained as a secret agent to protect the king from the Reds. Thus Peter would be in touch with real money, and might hire Guffey and McGivney, instead of their hiring him.
If Peter had stood alone, would he have dared so perilous a dream as this? Or was he a "piker"; a little fellow, the victim of his own fears and vanities? Anyhow, Peter was not alone; he had Nell, and it was necessary that he should pose before Nell as a bold and desperate blade. Just as in the old days in the Temple, it was necessary that Peter should get plenty of money, in order to take Nell away from another man. So he said all right, he would go in on that plan; and proceeded to discuss with Nell the various personalities he might use.
The most likely was Pat McCormick. "Mac," with his grim, set face and his silent, secretive habits, fitted perfectly to Peter's conception of a dynamiter. Also "Mac" was Peter's personal enemy; "Mac" had just returned from his organizing trip in the oil fields, and had been denouncing Peter and gossiping about him in the various radical groups. "Mac" was the most dangerous Red of them all! He must surely be one of the dynamiters!
Another likely one was Joe Angell, whom Peter had met at a recent gathering of Ada Ruth's "Anti-conscription League." People made jokes about this chap's name because he looked the part, with his bright blue eyes that seemed to have come out of heaven, and his bright golden hair, and even the memory of dimples in his cheeks. But when Joe opened his lips, you discovered that he was an angel from the nether regions. He was the boldest and most defiant of all the Reds that Peter had yet come upon. He had laughed at Ada Ruth and her sentimental literary attitude toward the subject of the draft. It wasn't writing poems and passing resolutions that was wanted; it wasn't even men who would refuse to put on the uniform, but men who would take the guns that were offered to them, and drill themselves, and at the proper time face about and use the guns in the other direction. Agitating and organizing were all right in their place, but now, when the government dared challenge the workers and force them into the army, it was men of action that were needed in the radical movement.
Joe Angell had been up in the lumber country, and could tell what was the mood of the real workers, the "huskies" of the timberlands. Those fellows weren't doing any more talking; they had their secret committees that were ready to take charge of things as soon as they had put the capitalists and their governments out of business. Meantime, if there was a sheriff or prosecuting attorney that got too gay, they would "bump him off." This was a favorite phrase of "Blue-eyed Angell." He would use it every half hour or so as he told about his adventures. "Yes," he would say; "he got gay, but we bumped him off all right."