Living My Life : Volume 1, Chapter 16
(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....)
• "...slavery of any kind, compulsion under any form, must break down, and from which freedom, full and unlimited freedom, for all and from all must come." (From : "Anarchy Defended By Anarchists," by Emma Goldman ....)
Volume 1, Chapter 16
MY FIRST STOP WAS PHILADELPHIA, I HAD VISITED THE CITY MANY times since my arrest in 1893, always addressing Jewish audiences. On this occasion I was invited to lecture in English before several American organizations. While in the City of Brotherly Love I stayed at the house of Miss Perle McLeod, the president of the Ladies' Liberal League. I should have preferred the warmer hospitality of my old friend Natasha Notkin, with whom I felt at home, in the congenial atmosphere of my Russian comrades, but it had been suggested that the apartment of Miss McLeod was more accessible to the Americans who would want to meet me.
The meetings were not badly attended, but, still aching from the distressing scene with Ed, I did not feel fully equal to the situation, and my lectures lacked inspiration. Yet my visit was not altogether useless. I gained a footing and made a number of friends, among them a most interesting woman, Susan Patten. I knew through Sasha that she was one of his constant American correspondents. I liked her on account of that and for her fine spirit.
In Washington I spoke before a German free-thought society. After the lecture I met a group of Reitzel Freunde, as the readers of the Armer Teufel called themselves. Most of them looked more like butchers than idealists. One man, who boasted of being an employee of the United States Government, talked much of beauty in art and letters --- not for the ignorant mob, of course, but for the choice few. He had no patience with anarchism, because "it wanted to make all alike." "How could a hod-carrier, for instance, claim the same rights as I, an educated man?" he asked me. He didn't think that I seriously believed in such equality, or that any other leading anarchist did. He was sure we were merely using it as a bait. He did not blame us at all; "the rabble should be made to pay."
"How long have you been reading the Armer Teufel?" I inquired. "Since its first issue," he proudly replied. "And that is all you got from it? Well, all I can say is that my friend Robert has been casting his pearls before a swine." The man jumped to his feet and angrily left the room amid the boisterous laughter of the rest of the company.
Another Reitzel "friend" introduced himself as a brewer from Cincinnati. He moved closer to me and began to talk of sex. He had heard that I was the "great champion of free love" in the United States. He was delighted to see that I was not only clever, as I had just proved, but also young and charming, not at all like the rigid blue-stocking he had imagined me to be. He, too, believed in free love, though he didn't think most men and women were ripe for it, especially women who always try to hold on to the man. But "Emma Goldman, that's another matter." His lewd and smirking manner nauseated me. I turned my back upon him and went to my room. Very tired, I fell asleep almost immediately. I was awakened by a persistent tap-tap on my door. "Who is it?" I called. "A friend," came in reply; "won't you open?" It was the voice of the brewer from Cincinnati. Jumping out of bed, I shouted as loud as I could: "If you don't leave instantly, I shall wake the whole house!" "Please, please!" he pleaded through the door, "don't make any scene. I'm a married man, with grown children. I thought you believed in free love." Then I heard him hurrying off.
Of what avail are lofty ideals, I wondered. The government clerk who dares put himself above the hod-carrier; the respectable pillar of society, to whom free love is only a means for clandestine affairs --- both readers of Reitzel, the brilliant rebel and idealist! Their heads and hearts have remained as sterile as the Sahara. The world must be full of such people, the world I have set out to awaken. A sense of futility came over me and of dismal isolation.
On the way from Washington to Pittsburgh it poured incessantly. I was chilled to the bone and oppressed by the memory of Homestead and of Sasha. Always on my visits to the Steel City a heavy weight would settle on my heart. The sight of the belching fires from the huge furnaces scorched my soul.
The presence at the station of Carl Nold and Henry Bauer somewhat cheered my dejection. My two comrades had been liberated from the Western Penitentiary in May of that year (1897). I had never met Bauer before, but Carl brought back the days of our first meeting, in November 1892. The friendship begun then had become strengthened through our correspondence while Carl was in prison. Our meeting now was to cement further the bond between us. It was good to see the dear, vivacious face again. Prison had made him more thoughtful, yet it had not dampened his joy in life. Bauer, large and jovial, towered over us like a giant. "The elephant and his family," he remarked, walking between us, while Carl and I vainly tried to keep pace with his huge steps.
On my former visits in Pittsburgh I had always stopped with my good friend Harry Gordon and his family. Harry was one of our best workers, a faithful and enthusiastic friend. Mrs. Gordon, a simple and tender-hearted woman, was very much attached to me. She always went out of her way to make my stay in her home as pleasant and comfortable as her husband's small wages would permit. I loved being with the Gordons, and I asked my companions to take me to them. They, however, were bent on celebrating my arrival first.
There were to be no lectures in Pittsburgh. Carl and Henry had begun a new move for Sasha's release, an appeal to the Board of Pardons to be backed exclusively by labor elements. I had no faith left in such steps, but I did not want to communicate my pessimism to my friends. Both of them were in a jovial mood. They had arranged a little dinner in a near-by restaurant, in a room all by ourselves where we would be undisturbed. We drank our first glass standing, in silence. It was to Sasha. His spirit hovered over us and brought us closer to each other in our common aims and work. Then Carl and Henry recounted to me their prison experience and the years they had spent under the same roof with Sasha. They had brought out a message for me which they feared to trust to the mails: Sasha was planning an escape.
His scheme was a masterly one; it fairly took my breath away. But even if he should succeed in getting out of prison, I reflected, where would he go? In America he would have to keep under cover for the rest of his life. He would be a haunted man, to be captured in the end. It would be different in Russia. Similar escapes had been repeatedly carried out there. But Russia had a revolutionary spirit and the political was a persecuted unfortunate in the eyes of the workers and the peasant; he could count on their sympathy and assistance. In the United States, on the other hand, nine-tenths of the workers themselves would immediately join in the hunt for Sasha. Nold and Bauer agreed with me, but they asked me not to communicate my fears to Sasha. He had reached the limit of endurance; his eyes were failing, his health was breaking down, and he had again been brooding on suicide. The hope of escape and the elaboration of his plan energized his fighting spirit. We must not discourage him, but perhaps we would induce him to wait until every legal means for his release had been tried.
So deeply engrossed had we become in our talk that we had lost all sense of time. In surprise we discovered that it was long after midnight. My companions thought it too late to go to the Gordons' and suggested taking me to a little hotel kept by a reader of the Armer Teufel. On the way I related to them my experience with the Washington Reitzel Freunde, but Bauer assured me that the Pittsburgh hotel man was of a different type. He really turned out to be very friendly. "Indeed, there is surely room for Emma Goldman in my place," he said genially. We were about to mount the stairs when the hysterical voice of a woman burst upon our ears. "A room for Emma Goldman!" she screamed. "This is a respectable family hotel, no place for that shameless creature, the free lover of a convict!" "Let's get out of this," I urged my friends. Before we had a chance to move, the hen-pecked husband banged his fist on the counter, demanding to know who was boss. "Tell me that, you Xantippe!" he yelled. "Am I, or am I not, master in this house?" With a devastating look in my direction the woman slunk out of the room. The master became calm and kindly again. He couldn't let me go out in the awful weather, he protested; I must stay at least for the night. But I had had enough, and we left.
"Why not come to my den?" Carl suggested. Together with his wife and little boy he occupied one room and a kitchen, and they would be glad to share them with me. Dear, generous Carl did not know the dread I had of going into people's houses uninvited. But I was very tired and weary and I did not wish to hurt Carl. "I will go anywhere you take me, Carolus, even to hell," I said; "only let's get there quickly."
At last we reached Nold's place, in Allegheny, Bauer having gone home. The door opened on a dimly lit room. A buxom young woman, somewhat disheveled, met us, and Carl introduced her to me. I had the impression that she resented my intrusion. The place was small, containing only one bed, in which the child lay sleeping. I looked questioningly at Carl. "It's all right, Emma," he said; "Nellie and I will sleep on the floor, and you will share the bed with the kid." I hesitated, inclined to leave, but the rain was coming down in torrents. I turned to the woman to apologize for the discomfort I was causing, but she would not listen; in silence she walked into the kitchen, closing the door. Half dressed, I lay down on the bed alongside of the little boy and immediately fell asleep. I was awakened by someone shouting: "He's killing me! Help! Police!" The room was pitch-dark. I jumped up in terror, not realizing at first what was happening. Groping, I found a table and matches. When I had struck a light, I saw two bodies rolling on the floor, fighting. The woman held Carl pressed down with her knees and was trying to get at his throat, at the same time yelling for the police. Carl was beating back her hands and making frantic efforts to extricate himself. I had never seen a more disgusting sight. I pulled the woman off Carl, snatched up my things, and was out on the street before either of them had come to his senses. My mind in a turmoil, I ran in the beating rain to Henry's place, rousing him out of bed and telling him what had happened. He accompanied me immediately on my search for a hotel. Carl had dashed out after me and the three of us walked in the downpour to Pittsburgh, the hotels in Allegheny being closed at that late hour. We canvased a number of hostelries, but were refused everywhere, no doubt because I looked so wet and disreputable, without any suitcase, for that had been left at Carl's. It was nearly morning when at last we found a little hotel that would receive me.
With shaking knees and chattering teeth I crawled into bed, drawing the blankets over my face to shut out the hideousness of life. But in vain I sought forgetfulness in sleep. Dark shadows seemed to envelop me on every side. The sinister walls of the penitentiary that held Sasha, his years of suffering, my own prison days, the ghastly experience of an hour ago, all blended into a grinning, fantastic mockery of darkness and despair. Yet somewhere in the distance there quivered a faint shimmer of light. I knew it; I recognized it; it emanated from Ed. The thought of our love, our home, pierced the gloom for an instant. I stretched out trembling hands, but they encountered only empty space, empty and cold as my own heart.
Three days later I arrived in Detroit. The lure of that city had always been to me Robert Reitzel. His wit and peerless pen had fascinated me from the time I began to read his paper. His courageous defense of the Chicago martyrs and his bold effort to save their lives had impressed him on my mind as an unflinching rebel and fighter. The vision I had of him had become strengthened by his revolutionary ardor, had calumniated him and disparaged his act, Reitzel had gloried in the man and his Attentat. His article "Im Hochsummer fiel ein Schuss" was an exalted and moving tribute to our brave boy. It brought Reitzel very close to me and made me long to know him personally.
Almost five years had passed since I had first met the editor of the Armer Teufel, while he was visiting New York. The recollection of that experience now stood out vividly before me. It was late one evening, while still at my sewing-machine, that I heard violent knocking on the shutters of my window. "Let in the errant knights!" boomed the bass of Justus. Beside him I saw a man almost as tall and broad-shouldered as himself, whom I at once recognized as Robert Reitzel. Before I could greet him, he began to upbraid me playfully. "A fine anarchist you are!" he thundered. "You preach the need of leisure, and work longer than a galley-slave. We have come to break your chains, and we are going to take you with us if we have to use force. March! Little girl, get ready! Come on out here, since you don't seem too anxious to invite us into your virgin chamber." My unexpected visitors were standing in full view of the street-lamp. Reitzel wore no hat. A shock of blond hair, already considerably grayed, fell in confusion over his high forehead. He looked big and strong, more youthful and vital than Justus. He was holding on to the windowsill with both hands, his eyes inquisitively scrutinizing my face. "What's the verdict?" he exclaimed; "am I acceptable?" "Am I?" I questioned in return. "You have passed long ago," he replied, "and I have come to give you the prize, to offer myself as your knight."
Soon I was walking between the two men in the direction of Justus's place. There we were met by hilarious hurrahs and "Hoch soll er leben," and calls for more wine. Justus, with his usual graciousness, rolled up his sleeves, got behind the counter, and insisted on playing host. Robert gallantly offered his arm to lead me to the head of the table. As we walked up the aisle Justus intoned the wedding-march from Lohengrin. The strains were taken up by the whole group of men, who had splendid voices.
Robert was the spirit of the gathering. His humor was more sparkling than the wine freely partaken of by all present. The amount he consumed transcended even Most's ability in that regard; and the more he imbibed, the more eloquent he grew. His stories, very colorful and amusing, came gushing like water from a brook. He was inexhaustible. Long after most of the others had caved in, my knight kept on singing and talking of life and love.
It was almost daybreak when, accompanied by Robert, I stepped into the street, clinging to his arm. A great longing possessed me to embrace the fascinating man at my side, so fine and beautiful in body and mind. I felt sure he was also strongly attracted to me; he had shown it all through the evening in his every glance and touch. As we walked along I could feel his agitation of passionate desire. Where could we go? The thought flitted through my mind, as in increasing excitement I walked close to him, waiting and madly hoping that he would make some suggestion.
"And Sasha?" he suddenly asked. "Do you hear often from our wonderful boy?" The spell was broken. I felt thrust back into the world of misery and strife. During the rest of the walk we talked of Sasha and his act, of Most's attitude and its dire effects. It was another Robert now; it was the rebel and fighter against injustice.
At my door he took me in his arms, with hot breath whispering: "I want you! Let's forget the ugliness of life." Gently I freed myself from his embrace. "Too late, my dear," I replied; "the mysterious voices of the night are silent, the dissonances of the day have begun." He understood. Gazing affectionately into my eyes, he said: "This is only the beginning of our friendship, my brave Emma. We will meet again soon in Detroit." I threw my window wide open and watched the rhythmic swing of his well-knit body until he disappeared round the corner. Then I went back to my life and to my machine.
A year later came the news of Reitzel's illness. He was suffering from spinal tuberculosis, which resulted in the paralyzes of his lower extremities. He was bedridden, like Heine, whom he so greatly admired and whom in a certain measure he resembled in spirit and feeling. But even in his mattress-grave Robert could not be daunted. Every line he wrote was a clarion call to freedom and battle. From his sick-bed he had prevailed on the Central Labor Union of his city to invite me as speaker to that year's eleventh of November commemoration. "Come a few days earlier," he had written me, "so that we can resume our friendship of the days when I was still young."
I arrived in Detroit late in the afternoon on the day of the scheduled meeting and was met by Martin Drescher, whose stirring poems had often appeared in the Armer Teufel. To my amusement and the astonishment of the crowd at the station, Drescher, tall and awkward, kneeled before me, holding out a bunch of red roses, and delivering himself of the following: "From your knight, my Queen, with his undying love." "And who may be the knight?" I queried. "Robert, of course! Who else would dare send his love to the Queen of the Anarchists?" The crowd laughed, but the man on his knees before me was not disturbed. To save him from catching a bad cold (there was snow on the ground) I held out my hand, saying: "Now, vassal, take me to my castle." Drescher got up, bowed low, gave me his arm, and solemnly led me to a cab. "To the Randolph Hotel," he commanded. On our arrival there, we found half a score of Robert's friends awaiting us. The owner himself was one of the Armer Teufel admirers. "My best room and wines are at your disposal," he announced. I knew it was Robert's thoughtfulness and friendship that had paved the way and secured for me the affection and hospitality of his circle.
Turner Hall was filled to the limit, the audience in tune with the spirit of the evening. The event was made more festive by the singing of a chorus of children and the masterly reading of a fine revolutionary poem by Martin Drescher. I was scheduled to speak in German. The impression on me of the Chicago tragedy had not paled with the passing years. That night it seemed more poignant, perhaps because of the nearness of Robert Reitzel, who had known, loved, and fought for our Chicago martyrs and who was himself now slowly dying. The memory of 1887 took living form, personifying their Calvary and inspiring me to heights of exaltation, of hope and life springing from heroic death.
At the conclusion of the meeting I was called back to the platform to receive from the hands of a golden-haired maiden of five a huge bouquet of red carnations, too large for her wee body. I pressed the child to my heart and carried her off, bouquet and all.
Later in the evening I met Joe Labadie, a prominent individualist anarchist of picturesque appearance, who introduced to me the Reverend Dr. H. S. McCowan. Both expressed regret that I had not spoken in English. "I came especially to hear you," Dr. McCowan informed me, whereupon Joe, as everyone affectionately called Labadie, remarked: "Well, why don't you offer Miss Goldman your pulpit? Then you could hear our 'Red Emma' in English." "That's an idea!" the minister replied; "but Miss Goldman is opposed to churches; would you speak in one?" "In hell if need be," I said, "provided the Devil won't pull at my skirts." "All right," he exclaimed, "you shall speak in my church, and no one shall pull at your skirts or curtail a word of what you want to say." We agreed that my lecture should be on anarchism, it being a subject most people knew almost nothing about.
With the flowers my "knight" had sent me came also a note asking me to visit him any time after the meeting, since he would be awake. It seemed strange for a sick person to keep such late hours, but Drescher assured me that Robert felt best after sundown. His house was the last on the street, overlooking a large open space. "Luginsland," Robert had named it; it was all his eye had looked upon for the past three and a half years. His inner vision, though, keen and penetrating, wandered to distant lands and climes, bringing to him all the cultural wealth they contained. The bright light streaming through his bay window could be seen from afar; it reminded me of a lighthouse, with Robert Reitzel its keeper. Song and laughter sounded from the house. On entering Reitzel's room I found it filled with people; the smoke was so thick that it obscured Robert from view and blurred the faces of those present. His voice called out jovially: "Welcome to our sanctum! Welcome to the den of your adoring knight!" Robert, in a white shirt open wide at the neck, sat in bed propped up against a mountain of pillows. Except for the ashy color of his face, the increased grayness of his hair, and his thin, transparent hands, there was no indication of his illness. His eyes alone spoke of the martyrdom he was suffering. Their care-free light was gone. With aching heart I put my arms around him, pressing his beautiful head to me. "So motherly?" he objected. "Aren't you going to kiss your knight?" "Of course," I stammered.
I had almost forgotten the others in the room, to whom Robert now began introducing me as the "Vestal of the Social Revolution." "Look at her!" he cried, "look at her; does she resemble the monster pictured by the press, the fury of a hetæra? Behold her black dress and white collar, prim and proper, almost like a nun." He was making me embarrassed and self-conscious. "You are praising me as if I were a horse you wanted to sell," I finally objected. It did not dismay him in the least. "Didn't I say you are prim and proper?" he declared triumphantly; "you don't live up to your reputation. Wein her," he called; "let's drink to our Vestal!" The men surrounded Robert's bed, glasses in hand. He emptied his to the dregs and then flung it against the wall. "Emma is now one of us. Our pact is sealed; we will be true to her to our last breath!"
An account of the meeting and of my speech had preceded me to Reitzel, the manager of his paper having brought back a glowing report. When I mentioned McCowan's invitation, Robert was delighted. He knew the Reverend Doctor, whom he considered a rare exception in the "outfit of soul-savers." I told Robert about my friend in Blackwell's Island, the young priest, relating how fine and understanding he was. "A pity you met him in prison," Robert teased me, "else you might have found in him an ardent lover." I was sure I could not love a priest. "That's nonsense, my dear --- love had no concern with ideas," he replied; "I have loved girls in every town and village and they were not remotely so interesting as your priest seems to be. Love has nothing to do with any ism, and you'll find it out when you grow older." In vain I insisted that I knew all about it. I was no child, being nearly twenty-nine. I was confident I should never fall in love with anyone who did not share my ideas.
The next morning I was awakened in my hotel by the announcement that a dozen reporters were waiting to interview me. They were eager for a story on my proposed speech in Dr. McCowan's church. They showed me the morning papers with the glaring headlines: "EMMA SHOWS MOTHER INSTINCT --- FREE LOVER IN A DETROIT PULPIT --- RED EMMA CAPTURES HEART OF McCOWAN --- CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH TO BE TURNED INTO HOTBED OF ANARCHY AND FREE LOVE."
For several succeeding days the front page of every paper in Detroit was filled with the impending desecration of the church and the portending ruin of the congregation by "Red Emma." Reports about members' threatening to leave and committees' besieging poor Dr. McCowan followed one another. "It will mean his neck," I said to Reitzel when I saw him the day before the meeting, "and I'd hate to be the cause of it." But Robert held that the man knew what he was doing; it was only right for him to stick to his guns, if only to test his independence in the church. "At any rate, I must offer to withdraw," I suggested, "to give McCowan a chance to recall his invitation if he feels like it." A friend was dispatched to the minister, but he sent word that he would go through with his plan no matter what happened. "A church that refuses the right of expression to the most unpopular person or creed is no place for me," he said. "You must not mind the consequences to me."
In the Tabernacle the Reverend Dr. McCowan presided. In a short speech, which he read from a prepared text, he set forth his own position. He was not an anarchist, he declared; he had never given much thought to it and he really knew very little about it. It was for that reason that he had visited Turner Hall on the night of November 11. Unfortunately Emma Goldman had spoken in German, and when it was suggested that he might hear her in English in his own pulpit, he had accepted the idea at once. He felt that the members of his church would be glad to hear the woman who had for years been persecuted as a "social menace"; as good Christians, he thought, they would be charitable to her. He then turned over the pulpit to me.
I had decided to stick strictly to the economic side of anarchism and to avoid as far as possible matters of religion and sexual problems. I felt I owed it to the man who was making such a courageous stand. At least his congregation should have no cause to say that I had used the Tabernacle to attack their God or to undermine the sacred institution of marriage. I succeeded better than I had expected. My lecture, lasting an hour, was listened to without any interruption and was much applauded at the end. "We won!" Dr. McCowan whispered to me when I sat down.
He rejoiced too soon. The applause had barely died away when an elderly woman rose belligerently. "Mr. Chairman," she demanded, "does Miss Goldman believe in God or does she not?" She was followed by another. "Does the speaker favor killing off all rulers?" Then a small, emaciated man jumped to his feet and in a thin voice cried: "Miss Goldman! You're a believer in free love, aren't you? Now, wouldn't your system result in houses of prostitution at every lamp-post?"
"I shall have to answer these people straight from the shoulder," I remarked to the minister, "So be it," he replied. "Ladies and gentlemen," I began, "I came here to avoid as much as possible treading on your corns. I had intended to deal only with the basic issue of economics that dictates our lives from the cradle to the grave, regardless of our religion or moral beliefs. I see now that it was a mistake. If one enters a battle, he cannot be squeamish about a few corns. Here, then, are my answers: I do not believe in God, because I believe in man. Whatever his mistakes, man has for thousands of years past been working to undo the botched job your God has made." The house went frantic. "Blasphemy! Heretic! Sinner!" the women screamed. "Stop her! Throw her out!"
When order was restored, I continued: "As to killing rulers, it depends entirely on the position of the ruler. If it is the Russian Czar, I most certainly believe in dispatching him to where he belongs. If the ruler is as ineffectual as an American president, it is hardly worth the effort. There are, however, some potentates I would kill by any and all means at my disposal. They are Ignorance, Superstition, and Bigotry --- the most sinister and tyrannical rulers on earth. As for the gentleman who asked if free love would not build more houses of prostitution, my answer is: they will all be empty if the men of the future look like him."
There was instant pandemonium. In vain the chairman pounded for order. People jumped up on benches, waved their hats, shouted, and would not leave the church until the lights were turned out.
The next morning most of the papers reported the Tabernacle meeting as a disgraceful spectacle. There was general condemnation of the action of Dr. McCowan in permitting me to speak in the Tabernacle. Even the famous agnostic Robert Ingersoll joined the chorus. "I think that all the anarchists are insane, Emma Goldman among the rest," he stated; "I also think that the Reverend Dr. McCowan is a generous man --- not afraid. However, it is not commendable for a crazy man or woman to be invited to talk before any public assemblage." Dr. McCowan resigned from the church. "I'm going to a mining town," he told me; "I am sure the miners will appreciate my work much better." I was sure they would.
My correspondence with Ed after I left New York was of a friendly nature, though constrained. When I reached Detroit, I found a long letter from him in the old loving spirit. He made no reference to our last scene. He was anxiously waiting for me to return, he wrote, and he hoped to have me back for the holidays. "When one's sweetheart is married to public life, one must learn to be genügsam [content with little]," his letter read. I could not imagine Ed being genügsam, but I understood that he was trying to meet my needs. I loved Ed and I wanted him, but I was determined to go on with my work. I greatly missed him, however, and his charm, which had not ceased to attract me. I wired him that I was on my way to visit sister Helena and that I should be home within a week.
Outside of a brief visit after my release from prison, I had not been in Rochester since 1894. It seemed ages, so much had happened in my life. Changes had also taken place in the fortunes of my beloved sister Helena. The Hochsteins now occupied more comfortable quarters in a little house with a touch of green in the back. Their steamship agency, though yielding small returns, had nevertheless improved their condition. Helena continued to shoulder the main burden; her children needed her even more than before, and so did the business. Most of their customers were Lithuanian and Lettish peasants, who performed the hardest labor in the United States. Their wages were small, yet they managed to send money to their families and bring them over to America. Poverty and drudgery had made them dull and suspicious, and this required tact and patience in dealing with them. My brother-in-law, Jacob, usually extremely reserved and quiet, would often lose his temper when confronted with such stupidity. But for Helena most of the customers would have turned to some better business man than Jacob Hochstein, the scholar. She knew how to smooth the troubled waters. Her sympathies were with these wage-slaves and she understood their psychology. She did more than merely sell them tickets and forward their money; she entered into their barren lives. She wrote their letters home for them and helped them over many difficulties. Nor were they the only ones to come to Helena to be comforted and aided. Almost the entire neighborhood brought their troubles to her. While my precious sister would lend an attentive ear to everybody's tale of woe, she herself never complained, never lamented her own unfulfilled hopes, the dreams and aspirations of her youth. I realized keenly what a force was lost in the rare creature; hers was a large nature compressed in too limited a space.
The day of my arrival offered no chance for communion with Helena. In the evening, when the children were asleep and the office closed, we could talk. She would not pry into my life; what I told her she accepted with understanding and affection. She herself spoke mostly about the children, hers and Lena's, and of the hard life of our parents. I knew well enough her reasons for constantly dwelling on the difficulties of our father. She strove to bring me closer to him and to help to a better understanding. She had suffered greatly because of our mutual antagonism, which in me had developed into hatred. She had been horrified at the message I had sent her three years previously when she had notified me that Father was near Death's door. He had undergone a dangerous operation on his throat, and Helena had called me to his bedside. "He should have died long ago," I had wired back. Since then she had tried repeatedly to change my attitude towards the man whose harshness had marred the childhood of all of us.
The memory of our sad past had made Helena more kind and generous. It was her beautiful spirit and my own development that gradually healed me of the bitterness I bore my father. I came to understand that it is ignorance rather than cruelty that makes parents do so many dreadful things to their helpless children. During my short stay in Rochester in 1894, I had seen my father for the first time in five years. I still felt estranged, but no longer so hostile. On that visit I found Father physically broken, a mere shadow of his former strong and energetic self. His condition was constantly growing worse. Ten hours' work in the shop on dry food were destructive to his weakened and nervous state of health, aggravated by the taunts and indignities he had to endure. He was the only Jew, a man of nearly fifty, a foreigner not familiar with the language of the country. Most of the youngsters who worked with him were of foreign parents, but they had acquired the worst American traits without any of the fine qualities. They were crude, coarse, and heartless. They throve on the pranks and tricks they played on the "sheeny." Repeatedly they had so molested and harassed him as to cause him to faint. He would be brought home, only to compel himself to go back the next day. He could not afford to lose the job that paid him ten dollars a week.
The sight of Father so ill and worn softened the last vestige of my animosity towards him. I began to regard him as one of the mass of the exploited and enslaved for whom I was living and working.
In our talks Helena had always argued that Father's violence in his youth had been due to his exceptional energy, which found no adequate outlet in such a small place as Popelan. He had been ambitious for himself and his family, dreaming of the large city and the big things he could do there. The peasants eked out a poor existence on their land; but most of the Jews, with practically every profession closed to them, lived upon the peasants. Father was too honest for such methods, and his pride smarted under daily indignities from the officials he had to deal with. The failure of his life, the lack of opportunity to put his abilities to good use, had embittered him and made him ill-natured and hard towards his own.
My years of contact with the lives of the masses, the social victims in and out of prison, and my wide reading had shown me the dehumanizing effect of misplaced energy. In numerous instances I had watched people who had started life with ambition and hope being thwarted by a hostile environment. Only too often they had grown vindictive and ruthless. The understanding I gained through my own struggle had come to my sister through her highly sensitive nature and her unusual intuitiveness. She was wise without having known much of life.
I saw a great deal of my sister Lena and her family on this visit. She already had four children, and a fifth was on the way. She was worn by too frequent child-bearing and the struggle to make ends meet. The only joy Lena had was her children. The most radiant of the four was little Stella, who had always been my sunbeam in gray Rochester. She was ten now, very intelligent, high-strung, and full of exaggerated fancies about her Tante Emma, as she called me. Since my previous visit Stella had begun to correspond with me, in quaint and extravagant outpourings of the yearnings of her young soul. The severity of her father and his preference for her younger sister were great and real tragedies to the sensitive child. Having to share the same bed with her caused Stella great misery. Her people had no patience with "such whims"; besides, they were too poor to afford extra space. But I understood Stella only too well: her tragedy was a repetition of what I myself had suffered at her age. I was happy in the thought that the little one had Helena near, to whom she could take her troubles, and that she felt the need of confiding in me. "I hate the people who are mean to my Tante Emma," Stella wrote when she was barely seven. "When I grow up, I will fight for her."
There was also my brother Yegor. Until the age of fourteen he was, like most American boys, crude and wild. He loved Helena because she had been so devoted to him. I had evidently not so impressed myself on his mind. I was just a sister, like Lena --- nothing to be excited about. But on my visit in 1894 I seemed to awaken a deeper feeling in him. Since then he had become, like Stella, closely attached to me, perhaps because I had prevailed upon Father not to compel the boy to continue at school. Yegor had shown himself clever at his studies, and this led the old man to hope that his youngest son would realize his own bankrupt ambitions to be a man of learning. His eldest boy, Herman, had proved a disappointment in this regard. He could do wonders with his hands, but he hated school, and Father finally lost hope of ever seeing his Herman become a "man of the professions." He sent him to a machine shop, where the boy soon proved that he was much more at home with the most intricate machine, than with the simplest book lesson. He became a new being, serious and concentrated. Father could not get over the disappointment; yet hope springs eternal. With Yegor doing well at school, Father again began to vision college diplomas. But again his plans were frustrated. My visit saved the situation. My arguments in behalf of "our baby" had a better effect than the pleas I had once urged in my own behalf. Yegor went to work in the same shop with Herman. Subsequently the boy underwent a radical change: he became enamored of study. The life of a working-man and the lunch-basket he had so greatly admired lost their glamour. The shop, with its noises and coarseness, revolted him. To read and learn was now his ambition. Contact with the misery of the workers' lot brought Yegor closer to me. "You have become my heroine," he wrote me; "you have been in prison, you are with the people and in touch with the aims of youth." I would understand his awakening, he added; his hopes were centered on me, for only I could induce our father to permit him to go to New York. He wanted to study. But, strange to say, instead of being glad, Father objected. He had lost faith in the fickle boy, he declared. Besides, the wages Yegor was earning were needed in the house now that his own health was failing and he could not continue much longer at work. It required days of pleading and my offer to take Yegor to my home in New York before Father yielded. Yegor had his wish and now saw his dream about to be fulfilled, and thus I won his lasting devotion.
My stay in Rochester this time proved to be my first unclouded visit with my family. It was a novel experience to be accepted with warmth and affection by those who had always been strangers to me. My dear sister Helena and the two young lives that needed me helped me to closer communion with my parents.
On my way to New York I thought much about my frequent talks with Ed in regard to my taking up a course of medicine. It had been my aspiration when I was still in Königsberg, and my studies in Vienna had again awakened that desire. Ed had seized upon the idea with enthusiasm, assuring me he would soon be able to pay my way through college. My arrangements to have Yegor in New York with us and to assist him would, however, postpone the realization of my hope of becoming a doctor. I also feared Ed might resent the new obstacle and dislike having my brother in the house. I would certainly not force him on Ed.
I found Ed in splendid condition and fine spirits. Our little apartment looked festive, as my sweetheart always made it on my homecomings. Far from objecting to my plans about Yegor, Ed immediately consented to have him: with my brother in the house, he said, he would not feel so lonely during my absences. Did Yegor talk much, he inquired anxiously. He himself could sit for hours without uttering a word, and he was greatly relieved when I told him that Yegor was a studious and reticent boy. As to my proposed study of medicine, Ed was confident that we should be able to carry out the idea before long. He was "on the way to riches," he assured me with a serious face; his partner had perfected an invention, a novelty in albums, which would certainly prove a great success. "We want you as our third partner," he announced jubilantly; "you might take the contraption on the road with you on your next tour." Again, as in the early stages of our life, he began to indulge in fancies of the things he would do for me when we became rich.
Yegor arrived after New Year's Day. Ed liked him from the first, and before long my brother was completely charmed by my beloved. I was soon to go on a new tour, and it was a great comfort to know that my two "children" would keep each other company in my absence.
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