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I can scarcely convey in written words the whirling emotions I felt when I entered the city of Kilburn. Every sight, every sound, recalled vividly and painfully the unhappy years I had once spent in another and greater city. Every mingled odour of the streets—and there is nothing that will so surely re-create (for me) the inner emotion of a time or place as a remembered odour—brought back to me the incidents of that immemorial existence.

For a time, I confess it frankly here, I felt afraid. More than once I stopped short in the street where I was walking, and considered turning about and making again for the open country. Some there may be who will feel that I am exaggerating my sensations and impressions, but they do not know of my memories of a former life, nor of how, many years ago, I left the city quite defeated, glad indeed that I was escaping, and thinking (as I have related elsewhere) that I should never again set foot upon a paved street. These things went deep with me. Only the other day, when a friend asked me how old I was, I responded instantly—our unpremeditated words are usually truest—with the date of my arrival at this farm.

“Then you are only ten years old!” he exclaimed with a laugh, thinking I was joking.

“Well,” I said, “I am counting only the years worth living.”

No; I existed, but I never really lived until I was reborn, that wonderful summer here among these hills.

I said I felt afraid in the streets of Kilburn, but it was no physical fear. Who could be safer in a city than the man who has not a penny in his pockets? It was rather a strange, deep, spiritual shrinking. There seemed something so irresistible about this life of the city, so utterly overpowering. I had a sense of being smaller than I had previously felt myself, that in some way my personality, all that was strong or interesting or original about me, was being smudged over, rubbed out. In the country I had in some measure come to command life, but here, it seemed to me, life was commanding me and crushing me down. It is a difficult thing to describe: I never felt just that way before.

I stopped at last on the main street of Kilburn in the very heart of the town. I stopped because it seemed necessary to me, like a man in a flood, to touch bottom, to get hold upon something immovable and stable. It was just at that hour of evening when the stores and shops are pouring forth their rivulets of humanity to join the vast flood of the streets. I stepped quickly aside into a niche near the corner of an immense building of brick and steel and glass, and there I stood with my back to the wall, and I watched the restless, whirling, torrential tide of the streets. I felt again, as I had not felt it before in years, the mysterious urge of the city—the sense of unending, overpowering movement.

There was another strange, indeed uncanny, sensation that began to creep over me as I stood there. Though hundreds upon hundreds of men and women were passing me every minute, not one of them seemed to see me. Most of them did not even look in my direction, and those who did turn their eyes toward me see me to glance through me to the building behind. I wonder if this is at all a common experience, or whether I was unduly sensitive that day, unduly wrought up? I began to feel like one clad in garments of invisibility. I could see, but was not seen. I could feel, but was not felt. In the country there are few who would not stop to speak to me, or at least appraise me with their eyes; but here I was a wraith, a ghost—not a palpable human being at all. For a moment I felt unutterably lonely.

It is this way with me. When I have reached the very depths of any serious situation or tragic emotion, something within me seems at last to stop—how shall I describe it?—and I rebound suddenly and see the world, as it were, double—see that my condition instead of being serious or tragic is in reality amusing—and I usually came out of it with an utterly absurd or whimsical idea. It was so upon this occasion. I think it was the image of my robust self as a wraith that did it.

“After all,” I said aloud taking a firm hold on the good hard flesh of one of my legs, “this is positively David Grayson.”

I looked out again into that tide of faces—interesting, tired, passive, smiling, sad, but above all, preoccupied faces.

“No one,” I thought, “seems to know that David Grayson has come to town.”

I had the sudden, almost irresistible notion of climbing up a step near me, holding up one hand, and crying out:

“Here I am, my friends. I am David Grayson. I am real and solid and opaque; I have plenty of red blood running in my veins. I assure you that I am a person well worth knowing.”

I should really have enjoyed some such outlandish enterprise, and I am not at all sure yet that it would not have brought me adventures and made me friends worth while. We fail far more often by under-daring than by over-daring.

But this imaginary object had the result, at least, of giving me a new grip on things. I began to look out upon the amazing spectacle before me in a different mood. It was exactly like some enormous anthill into which an idle traveller had thrust his cane. Everywhere the ants were running out of their tunnels and burrows, many carrying burdens and giving one strangely the impression that while they were intensely alive and active, not more than half of them had any clear idea of where they were going. And serious, deadly serious, in their haste! I felt a strong inclination to stop a few of them and say:

“Friends, cheer up. It isn’t half as bad as you think it is. Cheer up!”

After a time the severity of the human flood began to abate, and here and there at the bottom of that gulch of a street, which had begun to fill with soft, bluish-gray shadows, the evening lights a appeared. The air had grown cooler; in the distance around a corner I heard a street organ break suddenly and joyously into the lively strains of “The Wearin’ o’ the Green.”

I stepped out into the street with quite a new feeling of adventure. And as if to testify that I was now a visible person a sharp-eyed newsboy discovered me—the first human being in Kilburn who had actually seen me —and came up with a paper in his hand.

“Herald, boss?”

I was interested in the shrewd, world-wise, humorous look in the urchin’s eyes.

“No,” I began, with the full intent of bantering him into some sort of acquaintance; but he evidently measured my purchasing capacity quite accurately, for he turned like a flash to another customer. “Herald, boss?”

“You’ll have to step lively, David Grayson,” I said to myself, “if you get aboard in this city.”

A slouchy negro with a cigarette in his fingers glanced at me in passing and then, hesitating, turned quickly toward me.

“Got a match, boss?”

I gave him a match.

“Thank you, boss,” and he passed on down the street.

“I seem to be ‘boss’ around here,” I said.

This contact, slight as it was, gave me a feeling of warmth, removed a little the sensation of aloofness I had felt, and I strolled slowly down the street, looking in at the gay windows, now ablaze with lights, and watching the really wonderful procession of vehicles of all shapes and sizes that rattled by on the pavement. Even at that hour of the day I think there were more of them in one minute than I see in a whole month at my farm.

It’s a great thing to wear shabby clothes and an old hat. Some of the best things I have ever known, like these experiences of the streets, have resulted from coming up to life from underneath; of being taken for less than I am rather than for more than I am.

I did not always believe in this doctrine. For many years—the years before I was rightly born into this alluring world—I tried quite the opposite course. I was constantly attempting to come down to life from above. Instead of being content to carry through life a sufficiently wonderful being named David Grayson I tried desperately to set up and support a sort of dummy creature which, so clad, so housed, so fed, should appear to be what I thought David Grayson ought to appear in the eyes of the world. Oh, I spent quite a lifetime trying to satisfy other people!

Once I remember staying at home, in bed, reading “Huckleberry Finn,” while I sent my trousers out to be mended.

Well, that dummy Grayson perished in a cornfield. His empty coat served well for a scarecrow. A wisp of straw stuck out through a hole in his finest hat.

And I—the man within—I escaped, and have been out freely upon the great adventure of life.

If a shabby coat (and I speak here also symbolically, not forgetful of spiritual significances) lets you into the adventurous world of those who are poor it does not on the other hand rob you of any true friendship among those who are rich or mighty. I say true friendship, for unless a man who is rich and mighty is able to see through my shabby coat (as I see through his fine one), I shall gain nothing by knowing him.

I’ve permitted myself all this digression—left myself walking alone there in the streets of Kilburn while I philosophized upon the ways and means of life—not without design, for I could have had no such experiences as I did have in Kilburn if I had worn a better coat or carried upon me the evidences of security in life.

I think I have already remarked upon the extraordinary enlivenment of wits which comes to the man who has been without a meal or so and does not know when or where he is again to break his fast. Try it, friend and see! It was already getting along in the evening, and I knew or supposed I knew no one in Kilburn save only Bill Hahn, Socialist who was little better off than I was.

In this emergency my mind began to work swiftly. A score of fascinating plans for getting my supper and a bed to sleep in flashed through my mind.

“Why,” said I, “when I come to think of it, I’m comparatively rich. I’ll warrant there are plenty of places in Kilburn, and good ones, too, where I could barter a chapter of Montaigne and a little good conversation for a first-rate supper, and I’ve no doubt that I could whistle up a bed almost anywhere!”

I thought of a little motto I often repeat to myself:


There were several people on the streets of Kilburn that night who don’t know yet how very near they were to being boarded by a somewhat shabby looking farmer who would have offered them, let us say, a notable musical production called “Old Dan Tucker,” exquisitely performed on a tin whistle, in exchange for a good honest supper.

There was one man in particular—a fine, pompous citizen who came down the street swinging his cane and looking as though the universe was a sort of Christmas turkey, lying all brown and sizzling before him ready to be carved—a fine pompous citizen who never realized how nearly Fate with a battered volume of Montaigne in one hand and a tin whistle in the other—came to pouncing upon him that evening! And I am firmly convinced that if I had attacked him with the Great Particular Word he would have carved me off a juicy slice of the white breast meat.

“I’m getting hungry,” I said; “I must find Bill Hahn!”

I had turned down a side street, and seeing there in front of a building a number of lounging men with two or three cabs or carriages standing nearby in the street I walked up to them. It was a livery barn.

Now I like all sorts of out-of-door people: I seem to be related to them through horses and cattle and cold winds and sunshine. I like them and understand them, and they seem to like me and understand me. So I walked up to the group of jolly drivers and stablemen intending to ask my directions. The talking died out and they all turned to look at me. I suppose I was not altogether a familiar type there in the city streets. My bag, especially, seemed to set me apart as a curious person.

“Friends,” I said, “I am a farmer—”

They all broke out laughing; they seemed to know it already! I was just a little taken aback, but I laughed, too, knowing that there was a way of getting at them if only I could find it.

“It may surprise you,” I said, but this is the first time in some dozen years that I’ve been in a big city like this.”

“You hadn’t ‘ave told us, partner!” said one of them, evidently the wit of the group, in a rich Irish brogue.

“Well,” I responded, laughing with the best of them, “you’ve been living right here all the time, and don’t realize how amusing and curious the city looks to me. Why, I feel as though I had been away sleeping for twenty years, like Rip Van Winkle. When I left the city there was scarcely an automobile to be seen anywhere—and now look at them snorting through the streets. I counted twenty-two passing that corner up there in five minutes by the clock.”

This was a fortunate remark, for I found instantly that the invasion of the automobile was a matter of tremendous import to such Knights of Bucephalus as these.

At first the wit interrupted me with amusing remarks, as wits will, but I soon had him as quiet as the others. For I have found the things that chiefly interest people are the things they already know about—provided you show them that these common things are still mysterious, still miraculous, as indeed they are.
After a time some one pushed me a stable stool and I sat down among them, and we had quite a conversation, which finally developed into an amusing comparison (I wish I had room to repeat it here) between the city and the country. I told them something about my farm, how much I enjoyed it, and what a wonderful free life one had in the country. In this I was really taking an unfair advantage of them, for I was trading on the fact that every man, down deep in his heart, has more or less of an instinct to get back to the soil—at least all outdoor men have. And when I described the simplest things about my barn, and the cattle and pigs, and the bees—and the good things we have to eat—I had every one of them leaning forward and hanging on my words.

Harriet sometimes laughs at me for the way I celebrate farm life. She says all my apples are the size of Hubbard squashes, my eggs all double-yolked, and my cornfields tropical jungles. Practical Harriet! My apples may not ALL be the size of Hubbard squashes, but they are good, sizable apples, and as for flavour—all the spices of Arcady—! And I believe, I KNOW, from my own experience that these fields and hills are capable of healing men’s souls. And when I see people wandering around a lonesome city like Kilburn, with never a soft bit of soil to put their heels into, nor a green thing to cultivate, nor any corn or apples or honey to harvest, I feel—well, that they are wasting their time.

(It’s a fact, Harriet!)

Indeed I had the most curious experience with my friend the wit—his name I soon learned was Healy—a jolly, round, red-nosed, outdoor chap with fists that looked like small-sized hams, and a rich, warm Irish voice. At first he was inclined to use me as the ready butt of his lively mind, but presently he became so much interested in what I was saying that he sat squarely in front of me with both his jolly eyes and his smiling mouth wide open.

“If ever you pass my way,” I said to him, “just drop in and I’ll give you a dinner of baked beans”—and I smacked—”and home made bread” and I smacked again—”and pumpkin pie”—and I smacked a third time—”that will make your mouth water.”

All this smacking and the description of baked beans and pumpkin pie had an odd counter effect upon ME; for I suddenly recalled my own tragic state. So I jumped up quickly and asked directions for getting down to the mill neighbourhood, where I hoped to find Bill Hahn. My friend Healy instantly volunteered the information.

“And now,” I said, “I want to ask a small favour of you. I’m looking for a friend, and I’d like to leave my bag here for the night.”

“Sure, sure,” said the Irishman heartily. “Put it there in the office—on top o’ the desk. It’ll be all right.”

So I put it in the office and was about to say good-bye, when my friend said to me:

“Come in, partner, and have a drink before you go”—and he pointed to a nearby saloon.

“Thank you,” I answered heartily, for I knew it was as fine a bit of hospitality as he could offer me, “thank you, but I must find my friend before it gets too late.”

“Aw, come on now,” he cried, taking my arm. “Sure you’ll be better off for a bit o’ warmth inside.”

I had hard work to get away from them, and I am as sure as can be that they would have found supper and a bed for me if they had known I needed either.

“Come agin,” Healy shouted after me, “we’re glad to see a farmer any toime.”

My way led me quickly out of the well-groomed and glittering main streets of the town. I passed first through several blocks of quiet residences, and then came to a street near the river which was garishly lighted, and crowded with small, poor shops and stores, with a saloon on nearly every corner. I passed a huge, dark, silent box of a mill, and I saw what I never saw before in a city, armed men guarding the streets.

Although it was growing late—it was after nine o’clock—crowds of people were still parading the streets, and there was something intangibly restless, something tense, in the very atmosphere of the neighbourhood. It was very plain that I had reached the strike district. I was about to make some further inquiries for the headquarters of the mill men or for Bill Hahn personally, when I saw, not far ahead of me, a black crowd of people reaching out into the street. Drawing nearer I saw that an open space or block between two rows of houses was literally black with human beings, and in the centre on a raised platform, under a gasolene flare, I beheld my friend of the road, Bill Hahn. The overcoat and the hat with the furry ears had disappeared, and the little man stood there bare-headed, before that great audience.

My experience in the world is limited, but I have never heard anything like that speech for sheer power. It was as unruly and powerful and resistless as life itself. It was not like any other speech I ever heard, for it was no mere giving out by the orator of ideas and thoughts and feelings of his own. It seemed rather—how shall I describe it?—as though the speaker was looking into the very hearts of that vast gathering of poor men and poor women and merely telling them what they themselves felt, but could not tell. And I shall never forget the breathless hush of the people or the quality of their responses to the orator’s words. It was as though they said, “Yes, yes” with a feeling of vast relief—”Yes, yes—at last our own hopes and fears and desires are being uttered—yes, yes.”

As for the orator himself, he held up one maimed hand and leaned over the edge of the platform, and his undistinguished face glowed with the white light of a great passion within. The man had utterly forgotten himself.

I confess, among those eager working people, clad in their poor garments, I confess I was profoundly moved. Faith is not so bounteous a commodity in this world that we can afford to treat even its unfamiliar manifestations with contempt. And when a movement is hot with life, when it stirs common men to their depths, look out! look out!

Up to that time I had never known much of the practical workings of Socialism; and the main contention of its philosophy has never accorded wholly with my experience in life.

But the Socialism of to-day is no mere abstraction—as it was, perhaps, in the days of Brook Farm. It is a mode of action. Men whose view of life is perfectly balanced rarely soil themselves with the dust of battle. The heat necessary to produce social conflict (and social progress—who knows?) is generated by a supreme faith that certain principles are universal in their application when in reality they are only local or temporary.

Thus while one may not accept the philosophy of Socialism as a final explanation of human life, he may yet look upon Socialism in action as a powerful method of stimulating human progress. The world has been lagging behind in its sense of brotherhood, and we now have the Socialists knit together in a fighting friendship as fierce and narrow in its motives as Calvinism, pricking us to reform, asking the cogent question:

“Are we not all brothers?”

Oh, we are going a long way with these Socialists, we are going to discover a new world of social relationships—and then, and then, like a mighty wave; will flow in upon us a renewed and more wonderful sense of the worth of the individual human soul. A new individualism, bringing with it, perhaps, some faint realization of our dreams of a race of Supermen, lies just beyond! Its prophets, girded with rude garments and feeding upon the wild honey of poverty, are already crying in the wilderness.

I think I could have remained there at the Socialist meeting all night long: there was something about it that brought a hard, dry twist to my throat. But after a time my friend Bill Hahn, evidently quite worn out, yielded his place to another and far less clairvoyant speaker, and the crowd, among whom I now discovered quite a number of policemen, began to thin out.

I made my way forward and saw Bill Hahn and several other men just leaving the platform. I stepped up to him, but it was not until I called him by name (I knew how absent minded he was!) that he recognized me.

“Well, well,” he said; “you came after all!”

He seized me by both arms and introduced me to several of his companions as “Brother Grayson.” They all shook hands with me warmly.

Although he was perspiring, Bill put on his overcoat and the old fur hat with the ears, and as he now took my arm I could feel one of his bulging pockets beating against my leg. I had not the slightest idea where they were going, but Bill held me by the arm and presently we came, a block or so distant, to a dark, narrow stairway leading up from the street. I recall the stumbling sound of steps on the wooden boards, a laugh or two, the high voice of a woman asserting and denying. Feeling our way along the wall, we came to the top and went into a long, low, rather dimly lighted room set about with tables and chairs—a sort of restaurant. A number of men and a few women had already gathered there. Among them my eyes instantly singled out a huge, rough-looking man who stood at the centre of an animated group. He had thick, shaggy hair, and one side of his face over the cheekbone was of a dull blue-black and raked and scarred, where it had been burned in a Powder blast. He had been a miner. His gray eyes, which had a surprisingly youthful and even humorous expression, looked out from under coarse, thick, gray brows. A very remarkable face and figure he presented. I soon learned that he was R—- D—-, the leader of whom I had often heard, and heard no good thing. He was quite a different type from Bill Hahn: he was the man of authority, the organizer, the diplomat—as Bill was the prophet, preaching a holy war.

How wonderful human nature is! Only a short time before I had been thrilled by the intensity of the passion of the throng, but here the mood suddenly changed to one of friendly gayety. Fully a third of those present were women, some of them plainly from the mills and some of them curiously different—women from other walks in life who had thrown themselves heart and soul into the strike. Without ceremony but with much laughing and joking, they found their places around the tables. A cook, who appeared in a dim doorway was greeted with a shout, to which he responded with a wide smile, waving the long spoon which he held in his hand.

I shall not attempt to give any complete description of the gathering or of what they said or did. I think I could devote a dozen pages to the single man who was placed next to me. I was interested in him from the outset. The first thing that struck me about him was an air of neatness, even fastidiousness, about his person—though he wore no stiff collar, only a soft woollen shirt without a necktie. He had the long sensitive, beautiful hands of an artist, but his face was thin and marked with the pallor peculiar to the indoor worker. I soon learned that he was a weaver in the mills, an Englishman by birth, and we had not talked two minutes before I found that, while he had never had any education in the schools, he had been a gluttonous reader of books— all kind of books—and, what is more, had thought about them and was ready with vigorous (and narrow) opinions about this author or that. And he knew more about economics and sociology, I firmly believe, than half the college professors. A truly remarkable man.

It was an Italian restaurant, and I remember how, in my hunger, I assailed the generous dishes of boiled meat and spaghetti. A red wine was served in large bottles which circulated rapidly around the table, and almost immediately the room began to fill with tobacco smoke. Every one seemed to be talking and laughing at once, in the liveliest spirit of good fellowship. They joked from table to table, and sometimes the whole room would quiet down while some one told a joke, which invariably wound up with a roar of laughter.

“Why,” I said, “these people have a whole life, a whole society, of their own!”

In the midst of this jollity the clear voice of a girl rang out with the first lines of a song. Instantly the room was hushed:

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation, Arise, ye wretched of the earth, For justice thunders condemnation A better world’s in birth.

These were the words she sang, and when the clear, sweet voice died down the whole company, as though by a common impulse, arose from their chairs, and joined in a great swelling chorus:

It is the final conflict, Let each stand in his place, The Brotherhood of Man Shall be the human race.

It was beyond belief, to me, the spirit with which these words were sung. In no sense with jollity—all that seemed to have been dropped when they came to their feet—but with an unmistakable fervour of faith. Some of the things I had thought and dreamed about secretly among the hills of my farm all these years, dreamed about as being something far off and as unrealizable as the millennium, were here being sung abroad with jaunty faith by these weavers of Kilburn, these weavers and workers whom I had schooled myself to regard with a sort of distant pity.

Hardly had the company sat down again, with a renewal of the flow of jolly conversation When I heard a rapping on one of the tables. I saw the great form of R—- D—- slowly rising.

“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “a word of caution. The authorities will lose no chance of putting us in the wrong. Above all we must comport ourselves here and in the strike with great care. We are fighting a great battle, bigger than we are—”

At this instant the door from the dark hallway suddenly opened and a man in a policeman’s uniform stepped in. There fell an instant’s dead silence—an explosive silence. Every person there seemed to be petrified in the position in which his attention was attracted. Every eye was fixed on the figure at the door. For an instant no one said a word; then I heard a woman’s shrill voice, like a rifle-shot:


I cannot imagine what might have happened next, for the feeling in the room, as in the city itself, was at the tensest, had not the leader suddenly brought the goblet which he held in his hand down with a bang upon the table.

“As I was saying,” he continued in a steady, clear voice, “we are fighting to-day the greatest of battles, and we cannot permit trivial incidents, or personal bitterness, or small persecutions, to turn us from the great work we have in hand. However our opponents may comport themselves, we must be calm, steady, sure, patient, for we know that our cause is just and will prevail.”

“You’re right,” shouted a voice back in the room.

Instantly the tension relaxed, conversation started again and every one turned away from the policeman at the door. In a few minutes, he disappeared without having said a word.

There was no regular speaking, and about midnight the party began to break up. I leaned over and said to my friend Bill Hahn:

“Can you find me a place to sleep tonight?”

“Certainly I can,” he said heartily.

There was to be a brief conference of the leaders after the supper, and those present soon departed. I went down the long, dark stairway and out into the almost deserted street. Looking up between the buildings I could see the clear blue sky and the stars. And I walked slowly up and down awaiting my friend and trying, vainly to calm my whirling emotions.

He came at last and I went with him. That night I slept scarcely at all, but lay looking up into the darkness. And it seemed as though, as I lay there, listening, that I could hear the city moving in its restless sleep and sighing as with heavy pain. All night long I lay there thinking.


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