Living My Life : Volume 1, Chapter 13
(1869 - 1940) ~ Russian-American Mother of Anarcho-Communism : She is an Anarchist, pure and simple. She represents the idea of Anarchism as framed by Josiah Warren, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy. Yet she also understands the psychologic causes which induce a Caserio, a Vaillant, a Bresci, a Berkman, or a Czolgosz to commit deeds of violence. (From : Hippolyte Havel Bio.)
• "The cause lies not in prostitution, but in society itself; in the system of inequality of private property and in the State and Church. In the system of legalized theft, murder and violation of the innocent women and helpless children." (From : "Anarchy and the Sex Question," by Emma Goldman, F....)
• "Each child responds differently to his environment. Some become rebels, refusing to be dazzled by social superstitions. They are outraged by every injustice perpetrated upon them or upon others. They grow ever more sensitive to the suffering round them and the restriction registering every convention and taboo imposed upon them." (From : "Was My Life Worth Living?" by Emma Goldman, secti....)
• "The individual educator imbued with honesty of purpose, the artist or writer of original ideas, the independent scientist or explorer, the non-compromising pioneers of social changes are daily pushed to the wall by men whose learning and creative ability have become decrepit with age." (From : "Minorities Versus Majorities," by Emma Goldman.)
Volume 1, Chapter 13
THE DAYS AND WEEKS THAT FOLLOWED MY RELEASE WERE LIKE A nightmare. I needed quiet, peace, and privacy after my prison experience, but I was surrounded by people, and there were meetings nearly every evening. I lived in a daze: everything around me seemed incongruous and unreal. My thoughts continued in captivity; my fellow convicts haunted my waking and sleeping hours, and the prison noises kept ringing in my ears. The command "Close!" followed by the crash of iron doors and the clank-clank of the chains, pursued me when I faced an audience.
The strangest experience I had was at the meeting arranged to welcome me on my release. It took place in the Thalia Theater and the house was crowded. Many well-known men and women of various social groups in New York had come to celebrate my liberation. I sat listless, in a stupor. I strove to keep contact with reality, to listen to what was going on, to concentrate on what I intended to say, but it was in vain. I kept drifting back to Blackwell's Island. The vast audience imperceptibly changed to the pale, frightened faces of the women prisoners, the voices of the speakers took on the harshness of the head matron. Presently I became conscious of the pressure of a hand on my shoulder. It was Maria Louise, who was presiding at the meeting. She had called me several times and had announced that I was the next to address the gathering. "You seem as if asleep," she said.
I got to my feet, walked to the footlights, saw the audience rise to greet me. Then I tried to speak. My lips moved, but there was no sound. Hideous figures in fantastic stripes emerged from every aisle, slowly moving towards me. I grew faint and helplessly turned to Maria Louise. In a whisper, as if fearing to be overheard, I begged her to explain to the audience that I felt dizzy and that I would speak later. Ed was near and he led me behind the stage into a dressing-room. I had never before lost control of myself or of my voice, and the occurrence frightened me. Ed talked reassuringly, telling me that every sensitive person carried the prison in his heart for a long time. He urged me to leave the city with him, find a quiet place and greater peace. Dear Ed, his soft voice and tender way always soothed me. Now, too, they had the same effect.
Presently the sound of a beautiful voice reached the dressing-room. Its speech was unfamiliar to me. "Who is speaking now?" I asked. "That is Maria Rodda, an Italian girl anarchist," Ed replied; "she is only sixteen years old and has just come to America." The voice electrified me and I was eager to see its owner. I stepped to the door leading to the platform. Maria Rodda was the most exquisite creature I had ever seen. She was of medium height, and her well-shaped head, covered with black curls, rested like a lily of the valley on her slender neck. Her face was pale, her lips coral-red. Particularly striking were her eyes: large, black coals fired by an inner light. Like myself, very few in the audience understood Italian, but Maria's strange beauty and the music of her speech roused the whole assembly to tensest enthusiasm. Maria proved a veritable ray of sunlight to me. My spooks vanished, the prison weights dropped off; I felt free and happy, among friends.
I spoke after Maria. The audience again rose, to a man, applauding. I sensed that the people were spontaneously responsive to my prison story, but I was not deceived; I knew intuitively that it was Maria Rodda's youth and charm that fascinated them and not my speech. Yet I, too, was still young-only twenty-five. I still had attraction, but compared with that lovely flower, I felt old. The sorrows of the world had matured me beyond my years; I felt old and sad. I wondered whether a high ideal, made more fervent by the test of fire, could stand out against youth and dazzling beauty.
After the meeting the closer comrades gathered at Justus's place. Maria Rodda was with us and I was anxious to know all about her. Pedro Esteve, a Spanish anarchist, acted as interpreter. I learned that Maria had been a schoolmate of Santa Caserio, their teacher having been Ada Negri, the ardent poetess of revolt. Through Caserio, Maria, then barely fourteen, had joined an anarchist group. When Caserio killed Carnot, President of France, their group had been raided and Maria, with all the other members, was sent to prison. On her release she came to America, together with her younger sister. What they learned about Sasha and me convinced them that America, like Italy, was persecuting idealists. Maria felt that she had work to do among her countrymen in the United States. Would I help her, would I be her teacher, she now begged me. I pressed her close to me as if to ward off the cruel thrusts I knew life would give her. I would be Maria's teacher, friend, comrade. The gnawing voice of envy of an hour ago was silent.
On the way to my room I spoke to Ed about Maria. To my surprise he did not share my enthusiasm. He admitted that she was ravishing, but he thought her beauty would not endure, much less her enthusiasm for our ideals. "Latin women mature young," he said; "they grow old with their first child, old in body and in spirit." "Well, then, Maria should guard against having children if she wants to devote herself to our movement," I remarked. "No woman should do that," Ed replied, emphatically. "Nature has made her for motherhood. All else is nonsense, artificial and unreal."
I had never before heard such sentiments expressed by Ed. His conservatism roused my anger. I demanded to know if he thought me also nonsensical because I preferred to work for an ideal instead of producing children. I expressed contempt for the reactionary attitude of our German comrades on these matters. I had believed that he was different, but I could see that he was like the rest. Perhaps he, too, loved only the woman in me, wanted me only as his wife and the bearer of his children. He was not the first to expect that of me, but he might as well know that I would never be that -- never! I had chosen my path; no man should ever take me from it.
I had stopped walking. Ed also stood still. I saw the pained expression on his face, but all he said was: "Please, dearest, come along or we shall soon have a large audience." He took me gently by the arm, but I freed myself and hastened off alone.
My life with Ed had been glorious and complete, without any rift. But now it came; my dream of love and true comradeship suffered a rude awakening. Ed had never stressed his longing, except when he had protested against my joining the movement of the unemployed. I thought then that it was only his concern for my health. How was I to know that it was something else, the interest of the male? Yes, that is what it was, the man's instinct of possession, which brooks no deity except himself. Well, it should not be, even if I had to give him up. All my senses cried out for him. Could I live without Ed, without the joy he gave me?
Weary and miserable, my thoughts dwelt on Ed, on Maria Rodda, and on recollections of Santa Caserio. The latter's image brought to my mind the revolutionary events in France of recent occurrence. A number of Attentats had taken place there. There had been also the protests of Émile Henri and Auguste Vaillant against the political corruption, the frenzied speculation with the Panama Canal funds, and the resultant failure of the banks, in which the masses lost their last savings, causing widespread misery and want. Both had been executed. Vaillant's act had had no fatal result; no one had lost his life or even been wounded. Yet he was also condemned to death. Many leading men, among them Franqois Coppée, Émile Zola, and others had pleaded with President Carnot to commute his sentence. He refused, ignoring even the pathetic letter of Vaillant's little child, a girl of nine, who had petitioned for the life of her father. Vaillant was guillotined. Some time later President Carnot, while driving in his carriage, was stabbed to death by a young Italian. On his dagger was found the inscription: "Revenge for Vaillant." The Italian's name was Santa Caserio, and he had tramped on foot from Italy to avenge his comrade, Vaillant.
I had read about his act and other similar occurrences in the anarchist papers Ed used to smuggle into prison. In the light of them my personal grief over my first serious quarrel with Ed now appeared like a mere speck on the social horizon of pain and blood. One by one the heroic names of those who had sacrificed their lives for their ideal or were still being martyred in prison came before me: my own Sasha and the others - all so finely attuned to the injustice of the world, so high-minded, driven by social forces to do the very thing they abhorred most, to destroy human life. Something deep in my consciousness rebelled against such tragic waste, yet I knew there was no escape. I had learned the fearful effects of organized violence: inevitably it begets more violence.
Sasha's spirit, fortunately, however, always hovered over me, helping me to forget everything personal. His letter of welcome on my release was the most beautiful I had so far received from him. It testified not only to his love and his faith in me, but also to his own valor and strength of character. Ed had kept the copies of the Gefängniss-Blüthen, the little underground magazine that Sasha, Nold, and Bauer were editing in prison. Sasha's will to life was apparent in every word, in his determination to fight on and not to permit the enemy to crush him. The spirit of the boy of twenty-three was extraordinary. It shamed me for my own faint heart. Yet I knew that the personal would always play a dominant part in my life. I was not hewn of one piece, like Sasha or other heroic figures. I had long realized that I was woven of many skeins, conflicting in shade and texture. To the end of my days I should be torn between the yearning for a personal life and the need of giving all to my ideal.
Ed came early the next day. He was his usual well-poised, outwardly calm self again. But I had looked into the turbulent waters of his soul too often to be misted by his reserve. He suggested that we take a trip. I had been out of prison about a fortnight and we had not yet had one complete day alone. We went to Manhattan Beach. The November air was sharp, the sea stormy; but the sun shone brightly. Ed was never much of a talker, but on this day he spoke a great deal about himself, his interest in the movement, his love for me. His ten years' incarceration had given him much time for reflection. He had come out believing as deeply in the truth and beauty of anarchism as when he had first entered prison. He continued to believe in the ultimate triumph of our ideas, but was now convinced that that time was far off. He no longer looked for great changes in his own lifetime. All he could do was to arrange his own life as nearly true to his vision as possible. In that life he wanted me; he wanted me with all the strength of his being. He admitted that he would be happier if I would give up the platform and devote my time to study, to writing or a profession. That would not keep him in constant anxiety about my life and freedom. You are so intense, so impetuous, he said, "I fear for your safety." He begged me not to be angry because he believed that woman was primarily a mother. He was sure that the strongest motive in my devotion to the movement was unsatisfied motherhood seeking an outlet. "You are a typical mother, my little Emma, by build, by feeling. Your tenderness is the greatest proof of it."
I was profoundly stirred. When I could find words, poor inadequate words, to convey what I felt, I could only tell him again of my love, of my need of him, of my longing to give him much of what he craved. My starved motherhood-was that the main reason for my idealism? He had roused the old yearning for a child. But I had silenced the voice of the child for the sake of the universal, the all-absorbing passion of my life. Men were consecrated to ideals and yet were fathers of children. But man's physical share in the child is only a moment's; woman's part is for years - years of absorption in one human being to the exclusion of the rest of humanity. I would never give up the one for the other. But I would give him my love and devotion. Surely it must be possible for a man and a woman to have a beautiful love-life and yet be devoted to a great cause. We must try. I proposed that we find a place where we could live together, no longer separated by silly conventions-a home of our own, even if poor. Our love would beautify it, our work would give it meaning. Ed became enthusiastic over the idea and took me in his arms. My strong, big lover, he had always hated the least demonstration of affection in public. Now in his joy he forgot that we were in a restaurant. I teased him on his having renounced his good manners, but he was like a child, gay and frolicsome as I had never seen him before.
Nearly four weeks passed before we could carry out our plans. The papers had turned me into a celebrity, and I soon learned the German truism: "Man kann nicht ungestraft unter Palmen wandeln." I knew of the American craze for celebrities, especially the American women's hunt for anyone in the limelight, be it prize-fighter, baseball-player, matinée idol, wife-killer, or decrepit European aristocrat. Thanks to my imprisonment and the space given to my name in the newspapers, I also became a celebrity. Every day brought stacks of invitations to luncheons and dinners. Everyone seemed eager to "take me up."
Of the many invitations showered on me I welcomed most one from the Swintons. They wrote asking me to come to dinner and to bring Ed and Justus. Their apartment was simply and beautifully furnished and full of curios and gifts. I saw a lovely samovar sent them by Russian exiles in recognition of Swinton's tireless work in behalf of Russian freedom, an exquisite set of Sèvres given him by French Communards who had escaped the fury of Thiers and Galliffet after the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, beautiful peasant embroidery from Hungary, and other gifts of appreciation of the splendid spirit and personality of the great American libertarian.
On our arrival John Swinton, tall and erect, with a silk cap on his white hair, proceeded to scold me for what I had said about the Negroes in prison. He had read in the New York World my disclosures of conditions in the penitentiary. He liked the article, but he was grieved to see that Emma Goldman had "the white man's prejudice against the colored race." I was dumbfounded. I could not understand how anyone, least of all a man like John Swinton, could read race prejudice into my story. I had pointed out the discrimination practiced between sick and starved white women and Negro favorites. I should have protested as much had colored women been robbed of their rations. "To be sure, to be sure," Swinton replied; "still, you should not have emphasized the partiality. We white people have committed so many crimes against the Negro that no amount of extra kindness can atone for them. The matron is no doubt a beast, but I forgive her much for her sympathy with the poor Negro prisoners." "But she was not moved by such considerations!" I protested; "she was kind because she could use them in every despicable way." Swinton was not convinced. He had been closely allied with the most active abolitionists, he had fought and been wounded in the Civil War; it was apparent that his feeling for the colored race had made him partial. There was no use arguing the matter further; moreover, Mrs. Swinton was calling us to the table.
They were charming hosts. John was especially gracious and full of warmth. He was a man of wide experience in people and affairs and he proved a veritable mint of information to me. I learned for the first time of his share in the campaign to save the Chicago anarchists from the gallows and of other public-spirited Americans who had valiantly defended my comrades. I became acquainted with Swinton's activities against the Russian-American Extradition Treaty, and the part he and his friends had played in the labor movement. The evening with the Swintons showed me a new angle of my adopted country. Until my imprisonment I had believed that except for Albert Parsons, Dyer D. Lum, Voltairine de Cleyre, and a few others America was barren of idealists. Her men and women cared only for material acquisitions, I had thought. Swinton's account of the liberty-loving people who had been and still were in every struggle against oppression changed my superficial judgment. John Swinton made me see that Americans, once aroused, were as capable of idealism and sacrifice as my Russian heroes and heroines. I left the Swintons with a new faith in the possibilities of America. On our way down town I talked with Ed and Justus, telling them that from now on I meant to devote myself to propaganda in English, among the American people. Propaganda in foreign circles was, of course, very necessary, but real social changes could be accomplished only by the natives. Their enlightenment was therefore much more vital, we all agreed.
At last Ed and I had a place of our own. With one hundred and fifty dollars I received from the New York World for my article on prisons we furnished a four-room flat on Eleventh Street. Most of our furniture was secondhand, but we had a new bed and couch. The latter, together with a desk and a few chairs, made up my sanctum. Ed was surprised when I stressed the need of a room for myself. It was hard enough to be separated during work hours, he said; in our free hours he wanted me near him. But I held out for my own corner. My childhood and youth had been poisoned by being compelled to share my room with someone else. Ever since I had become a free being, I had insisted on privacy for at least a part of the day and the night.
But for this little cloud our life in our own home started gloriously. Ed was earning only seven dollars a week as an insurance agent, but he seldom returned from work without a flower or some other gift, a lovely china cup or a vase. He knew my love for color and he never forgot to bring something that would help make our place cheerful and bright. We had many visitors, far too many for Ed's peace of mind. He wanted quiet and to be alone with me. But Fedya and Claus had shared my life in the past, had been part, of my struggle. I needed their companionship.
Claus had got along satisfactorily on Blackwell's Island. He had missed his precious beer, of course, but otherwise he had done well. After his release from the island Claus started an anarchist paper, Der Sturmvogel, of which he was the main contributor, besides setting up, printing, and even delivering the paper. But, busy as he was, he could not keep out of mischief. Ed had little patience with my friend, whom he nicknamed Pechvogel.
Fedya had secured a position or a New York publication soon after my imprisonment, he was doing pen-and-ink sketches and was already being recognized as one of the best in his field. He had begun at fifteen dollars a week, regularly contributing to my needs during my ten months in the penitentiary. Now that he was earning twenty-five, he insisted on my taking at least ten, so as to make any appeal to our comrades unnecessary, which he knew I could not bear. He had remained the same loyal soul, more matured, with growing confidence in himself and his art.
He felt that in order to keep his position he could no longer appear openly in our ranks. But his interest in the movement continued and his anxiety for Sasha did not abate. During my imprisonment he had helped to buy things for Sasha. It was little enough one was permitted in the Western Penitentiary: condensed milk, soap, underwear, and socks. Ed had looked after the matter. Now I was eager to attend to these things myself and I also decided to begin a new campaign for the commutation of Sasha's sentence.
I had been out two months, but I did not forget the unfortunates in prison. I wanted to do something for them. I needed money for this purpose and I also wanted to earn my own living.
Much against Ed's wishes, I began to work as a practical nurse. Dr. Julius Hoffmann sent me his private patients after treating them in St. Mark's Hospital. Dr. White had told me before I left the prison that he would give me work in his office. He could not recommend his patients to me, he had said. "They are mostly stupid, they would be afraid you'd poison them." The dear man kept his word: he employed me for several hours a day, and I also got work in the newly organized Beth-Israel Hospital on East Broadway. I loved my profession and I was able to earn more money than at any time previously. The joy of no longer having to grind at the machine, in or out of a shop, was great; greater still the satisfaction of having more time for reading and for public activity.
Ever since I had come into the anarchist movement I had longed for a friend of my own sex, a kindred spirit with whom I could share the inmost thoughts and feelings I could not express to men, not even to Ed. Instead of friendship from women I had met with much antagonism, petty envy and jealousy because men liked me. Of course, there were exceptions: Annie Netter, always big and generous, Natasha Notkin, Maria Louise, and one or two others. But my bond with these was the movement; there was no close personal, intimate point of contact. The coming into my life of Voltairine de Cleyre held out the hope of a fine friendship.
After her visit to me in prison she had kept on writing wonderful letters of comradeship and affection. In one of them she had suggested that on my release I come straight to her. She would make me rest before her fire-place, she would wait on me, read to me, and try to make me forget my ghastly experience. Shortly after that she wrote another letter saying that she and her friend A. Gordon were coming to New York and were anxious to visit me. I did not want to refuse her- she meant so much to me -but I could not bear to see Gordon. On my first visit to Philadelphia I had met the man at a group circle and he impressed me badly. He was a follower of Most and as such would hate me. At the gathering of the comrades he had denounced me as a disrupter of the movement, charging me with being in it only for sensational ends. He would not participate in any meeting where I was to speak. Not being naïve enough to believe that my imprisonment had added to my importance, I could see no cause for Gordon's change towards me. I wrote this frankly to Voltairine, explaining that I preferred not to see Gordon. I was permitted only two visits a month; I would not give up Ed's visit, the other being taken up by near friends. Since then I had not heard any more from Voltairine, but I ascribed her silence to illness.
On my release I had received many letters of congratulation from friends who shared my ideas as well as from persons unknown to me. But not one word did I get from Voltairine. When I expressed my surprise to Ed, he informed me that Voltairine had felt much hurt because I had refused to permit Gordon to visit me on the island. I was sorry to learn that such a splendid revolutionist could turn from me because I did not care to see a friend of hers. Noticing my disappointment, Ed remarked: "Gordon is not only her friend, he is more than that." But it made no difference; I did not see why a free woman should expect her friends to accept her lover. I felt that Voltairine had shown herself too narrow ever again to enable me to be free and at ease with her. My hope of a close friendship with her was destroyed.
I was somewhat consoled by another woman, young and beautiful, coming into my life. Her name was Emma Lee. During my imprisonment she had written Ed expressing interest in my case. Her letters were signed only with her initials; her handwriting being very masculine, Ed had thought her to be a man. "Imagine my surprise," Ed told me on one of his visits, when a young and charming woman walked into my bachelor quarters." But not only was Emma Lee charming; she also had brains and a fine sense of humor. I was drawn to her from the first moment when Ed brought her to see me in prison. After my release Emma Lee and I were much together. At first she was very reticent about herself, but in the course of time I learned her story. She had become interested in me because she had been in prison herself and knew its horrors. She had become a free-thinker and had emancipated herself from the belief that love is justified only when sanctioned by law. She had met a man who assured her that he shared her ideas. He was married and very unhappy. In her, he said, he had found more than a comrade; he had fallen in love with her. She loved him in return, but their relationship in the bigoted atmosphere of a small Southern town was soon made impossible. They went to Washington, but there, too, persecution followed. They planned to remove to New York, and Emma Lee returned to her native town to dispose of a piece of property she owned. She had not been there more than a week when her place was set on fire. The house was insured, and presently Emma was arrested on the charge of incendiarism. She was convicted and given five years in prison. During the entire time the man gave no sign of life; he left her to her doom and was keeping under cover in some Eastern city.
Her bitter disillusionment was harder to bear than the imprisonment. The descriptions Emma Lee gave of life in the Southern penitentiary made existence on Blackwell's Island seem like paradise. In that hell-hole Negro convicts, male and female, were flogged for the least infraction of the rules. White women had either to submit to the keepers or starve. The atmosphere was lurid with vile talk and viler acts by keepers and prisoners alike. Emma was forced to be on constant guard against the demands of the Warden and the prison doctor. On one occasion they nearly drove her to murder in self-defense. She would not have come out alive if she had not succeeded in getting a note to a friend in the town, a woman. This friend interested some people who began quietly petitioning the Governor, finally obtaining a pardon for Emma Lee after she had served two years.
Since then she had devoted herself entirely to bringing about fundamental changes in prison conditions. She had already succeeded in getting her former tormentors removed from office, and now she was co-operating with the Society for Prison Reform.
Emma Lee was a rare soul, educated, refined, and free-minded, although she had not read much libertarian literature. Through her own affairs she had also emancipated herself from the anti-Negro prejudice of the Southerner. Most admirable to me was her lack of bitterness towards men. Her own love tragedy had not narrowed her outlook on life. Men were egotistical and thoughtless towards women's needs, she would say; even the freest of them wanted only to possess women. But they were interesting and entertaining I did not agree with her about the egotism of men, and when I would cite Ed as an exception, she would reply: "There is no doubt he loves you, but-but!" However, they got on famously. They fought about everything, but it was all done in a friendly spirit. I was their common tie. No woman except my own sister Helena loved me as much as Emma did. As for Ed, he showed his affection in so many ways that I could not doubt him. Yet I knew that of the two it was Emma Lee who had looked deeper into my soul.
Emma Lee was employed in the Nurses' Settlement on Henry Street and I often visited her there, sometimes as the guest of the women at the head of the institution. Miss Lillian D. Wald, Lavinia Dock, and Miss MacDowell were among the first American women I met who felt an interest in the economic condition of the masses. They were genuinely concerned with the people of the East Side. My contact with them, as with John Swinton, brought me close to new American types, men and women of ideals, capable of fine, generous deeds. Like some of the Russian revolutionists they, too, had come from wealthy homes and had completely consecrated themselves to what they considered a great cause. Yet their work seemed palliative to me. "Teaching the poor to eat with a fork is all very well," I once said to Emma Lee; "but what good does it do if they have not the food? Let them first become the masters of life; they will then know how to eat and how to live." She agreed with my view that, sincere as the settlement workers were, they were doing more harm than good. They were creating snobbery among the very people they were trying to help. A young girl who had been active in a shirtwaist-makers' strike, for instance, was taken up by them and exhibited as the pet of the settlement. The girl put on airs and constantly talked of the "ignorance of the poor," who lacked understanding for culture and refinement. "The poor are so coarse and vulgar!" she once told Emma. Her wedding was soon to take place at the settlement, and Emma invited me to attend the affair.
It was gaudy, almost vulgar. The bride, dressed in cheap finery, looked utterly out of place in that background. Not that the settlement women were living in luxury; on the contrary, everything was of the simplest, though of the best quality. The very simplicity of the environment exaggerated the shamed poverty of the married couple and the embarrassment of their orthodox parents. It was very painful to behold, most of all the self-importance of the bride. When I congratulated her on choosing such a fine-looking fellow for her husband, she said: "Yes, he's quite nice, but of course he's not of my sphere. You see, I am really marrying below my station."
All winter Ed had been suffering from fallen arches; much walking and climbing of stairs was causing him unbearable pain. In the early spring his condition became so bad that he had to give up his job with the insurance agency. I was earning enough for both of us, but Ed would not accept "support from a woman." My proud sweetheart was compelled to join the ranks of the unemployed looking for work. There was nothing in the great city of New York for a man of his culture and knowledge of languages. "If I were a hod-carrier or a tailor," he would say, "I could get a job. But I'm only a useless intellectual." He worried, lost sleep, grew thin, and became very depressed. His worst misery was that he had to remain at home while I went to work. His male self-respect could not endure such a situation.
It occurred to me that we might try something like our ice-cream parlor in Worcester. It had been successful there; why not in New York? Ed approved of the project and suggested that we proceed at once.
I had saved a little money, and Fedya offered us more. Friends advised Brownsville: it was a growing center, and a store could be got not far from the race-tracks, where thousands of people were passing daily. So to Brownsville we went, and fixed up a beautiful place. Thousands did pass by there, but they kept on passing. They were in a hurry to get to the race-track, and on their way home they had already visited some ice-cream store nearer the track. Our daily receipts were not enough to cover our expenses. We could not even keep up the weekly payments on the furniture we had bought for the two rooms we had rented in Brownsville. One afternoon a wagon drove up and proceeded to collect beds, tables, chairs, and everything else we had. Ed tried to laugh away our plight, but he was evidently unhappy. We gave up the business and returned to New York. In three months we had lost five hundred dollars, besides the work Ed, Claus, and I had put into the wretched venture.
I had realized at the very beginning of my nursing work that I should have to take up a regular course in a training-school. Practical nurses were paid and treated like servants, and without a diploma I could not hope to get employment as a trained nurse. Dr. Hoffmann urged me to enter St. Mark's Hospital, where he could get me credits for one year because of my experience. It was a great opportunity, but there was also another and a more alluring one. It was Europe.
Ed had always talked with glee of Vienna, of its beauty, charm, and possibilities. He wanted me to go there to study in the Allgemeines Krankenhaus. I could take up midwifery and other branches of nursing, he advised me. It would give me greater material independence later on and also enable us to be more together. It would be hard to endure another year's separation when I had barely been given back to him; but he was willing to let me go, knowing it was for my good. It seemed a fantastic idea for people as poor as we, but gradually Ed's enthusiasm infected me. I agreed to go to Vienna, but I would combine my trip abroad with a lecture tour in England and Scotland. Our British comrades had often asked me to come over.
Ed had found a job in the wood work shop of a Hungarian acquaintance. The man offered to lend him money, but Fedya insisted on his priority as my old friend. He would pay my passage and send me twenty-five dollars a month during my entire stay in Vienna.
There was a dark shadow, however: the thought of Sasha in prison. Europe was so far away! Ed and Emma Lee promised to keep in correspondence with him and look after his needs. Sasha himself urged me to go. Nothing could be done for him now, he wrote, and Europe would give me the opportunity to meet our great people - Kropotkin, Malatesta, Louise Michel. I should be able to learn much from them and be better equipped for my activities in the American movement. It was just like my consecrated Sasha to think of me always in terms of the Cause.
On the 15th of August 1895, exactly six years since my new life in New York had begun, I sailed for England. My departure was quite different from my arrival in New York in 1889. I was very poor then, poor in more than merely material things. I was a child, inexperienced and alone in the whirlpool of the American metropolis. Now I had experience, a name; I had been through the crucible; I had friends. Above all, I had the love of a beautiful personality. I was rich, yet I was sad. The Western Penitentiary lay heavily on my heart, with the thought of Sasha there.
I again traveled steerage, my means not permitting more than sixteen dollars for the passage. But there were only a few passengers, some of whom had been no longer in the States than I. They considered themselves Americans and they were treated accordingly, with more decency than the poor emigrants who had pilgrimed over as I did to the Promised Land in 1886.
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