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I suppose I was predestined (and likewise foreordained) to reach the city sooner or later. My fate in that respect was settled for me when I placed my trust in the vagrant road. I thought for a time that I was more than a match for the Road, but I soon learned that the Road was more than a match for me. Sly? There’s no name for it. Alluring, lovable, mysterious—as the heart of a woman. Many a time I followed the Road where it led through innocent meadows or climbed leisurely hill slopes only to find that it had crept around slyly and led me before I knew it into the back door of some busy town.

Mostly in this country the towns squat low in the valleys, they lie in wait by the rivers, and often I scarcely know of their presence until I am so close upon them that I can smell the breath of their heated nostrils and hear their low growlings and grumblings.

My fear of these lesser towns has never been profound. I have even been bold enough, when I came across one of them, to hasten straight through as though assured that Cerberus was securely chained; but I found, after a time, what I might indeed have guessed, that the Road, also led irresistibly to the lair of the Old Monster himself, the He-one of the species, where he lies upon the plain, lolling under his soiled gray blanket of smoke.

It is wonderful to be safe at home again, to watch the tender, reddish brown shoots of the Virginia creeper reaching in at my study window, to see the green of my own quiet fields, to hear the peaceful clucking of the hens in the sunny dooryard—and Harriet humming at her work in the kitchen.

When I left the Ransomes that fine spring morning, I had not the slightest presentiment of what the world held in store for me. After being a prisoner of the weather for so long, I took to the Road with fresh joy. All the fields were of a misty greenness and there were pools still shining in the road, but the air was deliciously clear, clean, and soft. I came through the hill




country for three or four miles, even running down some of the steeper places for the very joy the motion gave me, the feel of the air on my face.

Thus I came finally to the Great Road, and stood for a moment looking first this way, then that.

“Where now?” I asked aloud.

With an amusing sense of the possibilities that lay open before me, I closed my eyes, turned slowly around several times and then stopped. When I opened my eyes I was facing nearly southward: and that way I set out, not knowing in the least what Fortune had presided at that turning. If I had gone the other way—

I walked vigorously for two or three hours, meeting or passing many people upon the busy road. Automobiles there were in plenty, and loaded wagons, and jolly families off for town, and a herdsman driving sheep, and small boys on their way to school with their dinner pails, and a gypsy wagon with lean, led horses following behind, and even a Jewish peddler with a crinkly black beard, whom I was on the very point of stopping.

“I should like sometime to know a Jew,” I said to myself.

As I travelled, feeling like one who possesses hidden riches, I came quite without warning upon the beginning of my great adventure. I had been looking for a certain thing all the morning, first on one side of the road, then the other, and finally I was rewarded. There it was, nailed high upon tree, the curious, familiar sign:

[ REST ]

I stopped instantly. It seemed like an old friend.

“Well,” said I. “I’m not at all tired, but I want to be agreeable.”

With that I sat down on a convenient stone, took off my hat, wiped my forehead, and looked about me with satisfaction, for it was a pleasant country.

I had not been sitting there above two minutes when my eyes fell upon one of the oddest specimens of humanity (I thought then) that ever I saw. He had been standing near the roadside, just under the tree upon which I had seen the sign, “Rest.” My heart dotted and carried one.

“The sign man himself!” I exclaimed.

I arose instantly and walked down the road toward him.

“A man has only to stop anywhere here,” I said exultantly, “and things happen.

The stranger’s appearance was indeed extraordinary. He seemed at first glimpse to be about twice as large around the hips as he was at the shoulders, but this I soon discovered to be due to no natural avoir-dupois but to the prodigious number of soiled newspapers and magazines with which the low-hanging pockets of his overcoat were stuffed. For he was still wearing an old shabby overcoat though the weather was warm and bright—and on his head was an odd and outlandish hat. It was of fur, flat at the top, flat as a pie tin, with the moth-eaten earlaps turned up at the sides and looking exactly like small furry ears. These, with the round steel spectacles which he wore—the only distinctive feature of his countenance—gave him an indescribably droll appearance.

“A fox!” I thought.

Then I looked at him more closely.

“No,” said I, “an owl, an owl!”

The stranger stepped out into the road and evidently awaited my approach. My first vivid impression of his face—I remember it afterward shining with a strange inward illumination—was not favourable. It was a deep-lined, scarred, worn-looking face, insignificant if not indeed ugly in its features, and yet, even at the first glance, revealing something inexplainable—incalculable—

“Good day, friend,” I said heartily.

Without replying to my greeting, he asked:

“Is this the road to Kilburn?”—with a faint flavour of foreignness in his words.

“I think it is,” I replied, and I noticed as he lifted his hand to thank me that one finger was missing and that the hand itself was cruelly twisted and scarred.

The stranger instantly set off up the Road without giving me much more attention than he would have given any other signpost. I stood a moment looking after him—the wings of his overcoat beating about his legs and the small furry ears on his cap wagging gently.

“There,” said I aloud, “is a man who is actually going somewhere.”

So many men in this world are going nowhere in particular that when one comes along— even though he be amusing and insignificant—who is really (and passionately) going somewhere, what a stir he communicates to a dull world! We catch sparks of electricity from the very friction of his passage.

It was so with this odd stranger. Though at one moment I could not help smiling at him, at the next I was following him.

“It may be,” said I to myself, “that this is really the sign man!”

I felt like Captain Kidd under full sail to capture a treasure

ship; and as I approached I was much agitated as to the best method of grappling and boarding. I finally decided, being a lover of bold methods, to let go my largest gun first—for moral effect.

“So,” said I, as I ran alongside, “you are the man who puts up the signs.”

He stopped and looked at me.

“What signs?”

“Why the sign ‘Rest’ along this road.”

He paused for some seconds with a perplexed expression on his face.

“Then you are not the sign man?” I said.

“No,” he replied, “I ain’t any sign man.”

I was not a little disappointed, but having made my attack, I determined to see if there was any treasure aboard—which, I suppose, should be the procedure of any well-regulated pirate.

“I’m going this way myself,” I said, “and if you have no objections—”

He stood looking at me curiously, indeed suspiciously, through his round spectacles.

“Have you got the passport?” he asked finally.

“The passport!” I exclaimed, mystified in my turn.

“Yes,” said he, “the passport. Let me see your hand.”

When I held out my hand he looked at it closely for a moment, and then took it with a quick warm pressure in one of his, and gave it a little shake, in a way not quite American.

“You are one of us,” said he, “you work.”

I thought at first that it was a bit of pleasantry, and I was about to return it in kind when I saw plainly in his face a look of solemn intent.

“So,” he said, “we shall travel like comrades.”

He thrust his scarred hand through my arm, and we walked up the road side by side, his bulging pockets beating first against his legs and then against mine, quite impartially.

“I think,” said the stranger, “that we shall be arrested at Kilburn.”

“We shall!” I exclaimed with something, I admit, of a shock.

“Yes,” he said, “but it is all in the day’s work.”

“How is that?”

He stopped in the road and faced me. Throwing back his overcoat he pointed to a small red button on his coat lapel.

“They don’t want me in Kilburn,” said he, “the mill men are strikin’ there, and the bosses have got armed men on every corner. Oh, the capitalists are watchin’ for me, all right.”

I cannot convey the strange excitement I felt. It seemed as though these words suddenly opened a whole new world around me—a world I had heard about for years, but never entered. And the tone in which he had used the word “capitalist!” I had almost to glance around to make sure that there were no ravening capitalists hiding behind the trees.

“So you are a Socialist,” I said.

“Yes,” he answered. “I’m one of those dangerous persons.”

First and last I have read much of Socialism, and thought about it, too, from the quiet angle of my farm among the hills, but this was the first time I had ever had a live Socialist on my arm. I could not have been more surprised if the stranger had said, “Yes, I am Theodore Roosevelt.”

One of the discoveries we keep making all our life long (provided we remain humble) is the humorous discovery of the ordinariness of the extraordinary. Here was this disrupter of society, this man of the red flag—here he was with his mild spectacled eyes and his furry ears wagging as he walked. It was unbelievable!—and the sun shining on him quite as impartially as it shone on me.

Coming at last to a pleasant bit of woodland, where a stream ran under the roadway, I said:

“Stranger, let’s sit down and have a bite of luncheon.”

He began to expostulate, said he was expected in Kilburn.

“Oh, I’ve plenty for two,” I said, “and I can say, at least, that I am a firm believer in cooperation.

Without more urging he followed me into the woods, where we sat down comfortably under a tree.

Now, when I take a fine thick sandwich out of my bag, I always feel like making it a polite bow, and before I bite into a big brown doughnut, I am tempted to say, “By your leave, madam,” and as for MINCE PIE——Beau Brummel himself could not outdo me in respectful consideration. But Bill Hahn neither saw, nor smelled, nor, I think, tasted Mrs. Ransome’s cookery. As soon as we sat down he began talking. From time to time he would reach out for another sandwich or doughnut or pickle (without knowing in the least which he was getting), and when that was gone some reflex impulse caused him to reach out for some more. When the last crumb of our lunch had disappeared Bill Hahn still reached out. His hand groped absently about, and coming in contact with no more doughnuts or pickles he withdrew it—and did not know, I think, that the meal was finished. (Confidentially, I have speculated on what might have happened if the supply had been unlimited!)

But that was Bill Hahn. Once started on his talk, he never thought of food or clothing or shelter; but his eyes glowed, his face lighted up with a strange effulgence, and he quite lost himself upon the tide of his own oratory. I saw him afterward by a flare-light at the centre of a great crowd of men and women—but that is getting ahead of my story.

His talk bristled with such words as “capitalism,” “proletariat,” “class-consciousness”—and he spoke with fluency of “economic determinism” and “syndicalism.” It was quite wonderful! And from time to time, he would bring in a smashing quotation from Aristotle, Napoleon, Karl Marx, or Eugene V. Debs, giving them all equal value, and he cited statistics!—oh, marvellous statistics, that never were on sea or land.

Once he was so swept away by his own eloquence that he sprang to his feet and, raising one hand high above his head (quite unconscious that he was holding up a dill pickle), he worked through one of his most thrilling periods.

Yes, I laughed, and yet there was so brave a simplicity about this odd, absurd little man that what I laughed at was only his outward appearance (and that he himself had no care for), and all the time I felt a growing respect and admiration for him. He was not only sincere, but he was genuinely simple—a much higher virtue, as Fenelon says. For while sincere people do not aim at appearing anything but what they are, they are always in fear of passing for something they are not. They are forever thinking about themselves, weighing all their words and thoughts and dwelling upon what they have done, in the fear of having done too much or too little, whereas simplicity, as Fenelon says, is an uprightness of soul which has ceased wholly to dwell upon itself or its actions. Thus there are plenty of sincere folk in the world but few who are simple.

Well, the longer he talked, the less interested I was in what he said and the more fascinated I became in what he was. I felt a wistful interest in him: and I wanted to know what way he took to purge himself of himself. I think if I had been in that group nineteen hundred years ago, which surrounded the beggar who was born blind, but whose anointed eyes now looked out upon glories of the world, I should have been among the questioners:

“What did he to thee? How opened he thine eyes?”

I tried ineffectually several times to break the swift current of his oratory and finally succeeded (when he paused a moment to finish off a bit of pie crust).

“You must have seen some hard experiences in your life,” I said.

“That I have,” responded Bill Hahn, “the capitalistic system—”

“Did you ever work in the mills yourself?” I interrupted hastily.

“Boy and man,” said Bill Hahn, “I worked in that hell for thirty-two years—The class-conscious proletariat have only to exert themselves—”

“And your wife, did she work too—and your sons and daughters?”

A spasm of pain crossed his face.

“My daughter?” he said. “They killed her in the mills.”

It was appalling—the dead level of the tone in which he uttered those words—the monotone of an emotion long ago burned out, and yet leaving frightful scars.

“My friend!” I exclaimed, and I could not help laying my hand on his arm.

I had the feeling I often have with troubled children—an indescribable pity that they have had to pass through the valley of the shadow, and I not there to take them by the hand.

“And was this—your daughter—what brought you to your present belief?”

“No,” said he, “oh, no. I was a Socialist, as you might say, from youth up. That is, I called myself a Socialist, but, comrade, I’ve learned this here truth: that it ain’t of so much importance that you possess a belief, as that the belief possess you. Do you understand?”

“I think,” said I, “that I understand.”

Well, he told me his story, mostly in a curious, dull, detached way—as though he were speaking of some third person in whom he felt only a brotherly interest, but from time to time some incident or observation would flame up out of the narrative, like the opening of the door of a molten pit—so that the glare hurt one!—and then the story would die back again into quiet narrative.

Like most working people he had never lived in the twentieth century at all. He was still in the feudal age, and his whole life had been a blind and ceaseless struggle for the bare necessaries of life, broken from time to time by fierce irregular wars called strikes. He had never known anything of a real self-governing commonwealth, and such progress as he and his kind had made was never the result of their citizenship, of their powers as voters, but grew out of the explosive and ragged upheavals, of their own half-organized societies and unions.

It was against the “black people” he said, that he was first on strike back in the early nineties. He told me all about it, how he had been working in the mills pretty comfortably—he was young and strong then; with a fine growing family and a small home of his own.

“It was as pretty a place as you would want to see,” he said; “we grew cabbages and onions and turnips—everything grew fine!—in the garden behind the house.”

And then the “black people” began to come in, little by little at first, and then by the carload. By the “black people” he meant the people from Southern Europe, he called them “hordes”—”hordes and hordes of ‘em”—Italians mostly, and they began getting into the mills and underbidding for the jobs, so that wages slowly went down and at the same time the machines were speeded up. It seems that many of these “black people” were single men or vigorous young married people with only themselves to support, while the old American workers were men with families and little homes to pay for, and plenty of old grandfathers and mothers, to say nothing of babies, depending upon them.

“There wasn’t a living for a decent family left,” he said.

So they struck—and he told me in his dull monotone of the long bitterness of that strike, the empty cupboards, the approach of winter with no coal for the stoves and no warm clothing for the children. He told me that many of the old workers began to leave the town (some bound for the larger cities, some for the Far West).

“But,” said he with a sudden outburst of emotion, “I couldn’t leave. I had the woman and the children!”

And presently the strike collapsed, and the workers rushed helter skelter back to the mills to get their old jobs. “Begging like whipped dogs,” he said bitterly.

Many of them found their places taken by the eager “black people,” and many had to go to work at lower wages in poorer places—punished for the fight they had made.

But he got along somehow, he said—”the woman was a good manager”— until one day he had the misfortune to get his hand caught in the machinery. It was a place which should have been protected with guards, but was not. He was laid up for several weeks, and the company, claiming that the accident was due to his own stupidity and carelessness, refused even to pay his wages while he was idle. Well, the family had to live somehow, and the woman and the daughter—”she was a little thing,” he said, “and frail”—the woman and the daughter went into the mill. But even with this new source of income they began to fall behind. Money which should have gone toward making the last payments on their home (already long delayed by the strike) had now to go to the doctor and the grocer.

“We had to live,” said Bill Hahn.

Again and again he used this same phrase, “We had to live!” as a sort of bedrock explanation for all the woes of life.

After a time, with one finger gone and a frightfully scarred hand—he held it up for me to see—he went back into the mill.

“But it kept getting worse and worse,” said he, “and finally I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

He and a group of friends got together secretly and tried to organize a union, tried to get the workmen together to improve their own condition; but in some way (“they had spies everywhere,” he said) the manager learned of the attempt and one morning when he reported at the mill he was handed a slip asking him to call for his wages, that his help was no longer required.

“I’d been with that one company for twenty years and four months,” he said bitterly, “I’d helped in my small way to build it up, make it a big concern payin’ 28 per cent. dividends every year; I’d given part of my right hand in doin’ it—and they threw me out like an old shoe.”

He said he would have pulled up and gone away, but he still had the little home and the garden, and his wife and daughter were still at work, so he hung on grimly, trying to get some other job. “But what good is a man for any other sort of work,” he said, “when he has been trained to the mills for thirty-two years!”

It was not very long after that when the “great strike” began—indeed, it grew out of the organization which he had tried to launched—and Bill Hahn threw himself into it with all his strength. He was one of the leaders. I shall not attempt to repeat here his description of the bitter struggle, the coming of the soldiery, the street riots, the long lists of arrests (“some,” said he, “got into jail on purpose, so that they could at least have enough to eat!”), the late meetings of strikers, the wild turmoil and excitement.

Of all this he told me, and then he stopped suddenly, and after a long pause he said in a low voice:

“Comrade, did ye ever see your wife and your sickly daughter and your kids sufferin’ for bread to eat?”

He paused again with a hard, dry sob in his voice.

“Did ye ever see that?”

“No,” said I, very humbly, “I have never seen anything like that.”

He turned on me suddenly, and I shall never forget the look on his face, nor the blaze in his eyes:

“Then what can you know about working-men?”

What could I answer?

A moment passed and then he said, as if a little remorseful at having turned thus on me:

“Comrade, I tell you, the iron entered my soul—them days.”

It seems that the leaders of the strike were mostly old employees like Bill Hahn, and the company had conceived the idea that if these men could be eliminated the organization would collapse, and the strikers be forced back to work. One day Bill Hahn found that proceedings had been started to turn him out of his home, upon which he had not been able to keep up his payments, and at the same time the merchant, of whom he had been a respected customer for years, refused to give him any further credit.

“But we lived somehow,” he said, “we lived and we fought.”

It was then that he began to see clearly what it all meant. He said he made a great discovery: that the “black people” against whom they had struck in 1894 were not to blame!

“I tell you,” said he, “we found when we got started that them black people—we used to call ‘em dagoes—were just workin’ people like us—and in hell with us. They were good soldiers, them Eyetalians and Poles and Syrians, they fought with us to the end.”

I shall not soon forget the intensely dramatic but perfectly simple way in which he told me how he came, as he said, “to see the true light.” Holding up his maimed right hand (that trembled a little), he pointed one finger upward.

“I seen the big hand in the sky,” he said, “I seen it as clear as daylight.”

He said he saw at last what Socialism meant. One day he went home from a strikers’ meeting—one of the last, for the men were worn out with their long struggle. It was a bitter cold day, and he was completely discouraged. When he reached his own street he saw a pile of household goods on the sidewalk in front of his home. He saw his wife there wringing her hands and crying. He said he could not take a step further, but sat down on a neighbour’s porch and looked and looked. “It was curious,” he said, “but the only thing I could see or think about was our old family clock which they had stuck on top of the pile, half tipped over. It looked odd and I wanted to set it up straight. It was the clock we bought when we were married, and we’d had it about twenty years on the mantel in the livin’-room. It was a good clock,” he said.

He paused and then smiled a little.

“I never have figured it out why I should have been able to think of nothing but that clock,” he said, “but so it was.”

When he got home, he found his frail daughter just coming out of the empty house, “coughing as though she was dyin’.” Something, he said, seemed to stop inside him. Those were his words: “Something seemed to stop inside ‘o me.”

He turned away without saying a word, walked back to strike headquarters, borrowed a revolver from a friend, and started out along the main road which led into the better part of the town.

“Did you ever hear o’ Robert Winter?” he asked.

“No,” said I.

“Well, Robert Winter was the biggest gun of ‘em all. He owned the mills there and the largest store and the newspaper— he pretty nearly owned the town.”

He told me much more about Robert Winter which betrayed still a curious sort of feudal admiration for him, and for his great place and power; but I need not dwell on it here. He told me how he climbed through a hemlock hedge (for the stone gateway was guarded) and walked through the snow toward the great house.

“An’ all the time I seemed to be seein’ my daughter Margy right there before my eyes coughing as though she was dyin’.”

It was just nightfall and all the windows were alight. He crept up to a clump of bushes under a window and waited there a moment while he drew out and cocked his revolver. Then he slowly reached upward until his head cleared the sill and he could look into the room. “A big, warm room,” he described it.

“Comrade,” said he, “I had murder in my heart that night.”

So he stood there looking in with the revolver ready cocked in his hand.

“And what do you think I seen there?” he asked.

“I cannot guess,” I said.

“Well,” said Bill Hahn, “I seen the great Robert Winter that we had been fighting for five long months—and he was down on his hands and knees on the carpet—he had his little daughter on his back—and he was creepin’ about with her—an’ she was laughin’.”

Bill Hahn paused.

“I had a bead on him,” he said, “but I couldn’t do it—I just couldn’t do it.”

He came away all weak and trembling and cold, and, “Comrade,” he said, “I was cryin’ like a baby, and didn’t know why.”

The next day the strike collapsed and there was the familiar stampede for work— but Bill Hahn did not go back. He knew it would be useless. A week later his frail daughter died and was buried in the paupers field.

“She was as truly killed,” he said, “as though some one had fired a bullet at her through a window.”

“And what did you do after that?” I asked, when he had paused for a long time with his chin on his breast.

“Well,” said he, “I did a lot of thinking them days, and I says to myself: ‘This thing is wrong, and I will go out and stop it—I will go out and stop it.’”

As he uttered these words, I looked at him curiously—his absurd flat fur hat with the moth-eaten ears, the old bulging overcoat, the round spectacles, the scarred, insignificant face—he seemed somehow transformed, a person elevated above himself, the tool of some vast incalculable force.

I shall never forget the phrase he used to describe his own feelings when he had reached this astonishing decision to go out and stop the wrongs of the World. He said he “began to feel all clean inside.”

“I see it didn’t matter what become o’ me, and I began to feel all clean inside.”

It seemed, he explained, as though something big and strong had got hold of him, and he began to be happy.

“Since then,” he said in a low voice, “I’ve been happier than I ever was before in all my life. I ain’t got any family, nor any home—rightly speakin’—nor any money, but, comrade, you see here in front of you, a happy man.”

When he had finished his story we sat quiet for some time.

“Well,” said he, finally, “I must be goin’. The committee will wonder what’s become o’ me.”

I followed him out to the road. There I put my hand on his shoulder, and said:

“Bill Hahn, you are a better man than I am.”

He smiled, a beautiful smile, and we walked off together down the road.

I wish I had gone on with him at that time into the city, but somehow I could not do it. I stopped near the top of the hill where one can see in the distance that smoky huddle of buildings which is known as Kilburn, and though he urged me, I turned aside and sat down in the edge of a meadow. There were many things I wanted to think about, to get clear in my mind.

As I sat looking out toward that great city, I saw three men walking in the white road. As I watched them, I could see them coming quickly, eagerly. Presently they threw up their hands and evidently began to shout, though I could not hear what they said. At that moment I saw my friend Bill Hahn running in the road, his coat skirts flapping heavily about his legs. When they met they almost fell into another’s arms.

I suppose it was so that the early Christians, those who hid in the Roman catacombs, were wont to greet one another.

So I sat thinking.

“A man,” I said to myself, “who can regard himself as a function, not an end of creation, has arrived.”

After a time I got up and walked down the hill—some strange force carrying me onward— and came thus to the city of Kilburn.


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