Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist : Part 4, Chapter 01 : The Resurrection
(1870 - 1936) ~ Globe-Trotting Anarchist, Journalist, and Exposer of Bolshevik Tyranny : He was a well-known anarchist leader in the United States and life-long friend of Emma Goldman, a young Russian immigrant whom he met on her first day in New York City. The two became lovers and moved in together, remaining close friends for the rest of Berkman's life. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "The state has no soul, no principles. It has but one aim -- to secure power and hold it, at any cost." (From : "The Kronstadt Rebellion," by Alexander Berkman, 1....)
• "Or will the workers at last learn the great lesson Of the Russian Revolution that every government, whatever its fine name and nice promises is by its inherent nature, as a government, destructive of the very purposes of the social revolution? It is the mission of government to govern, to subject, to strenghten and perpetuate itself. It is high time the workers learn that only their own organized, creative efforts, free from Political and State interference, can make their age-long struggle for emancipation a lasting success." (From : "The Russian Tragedy," by Alexander Berkman, The R....)
• "...partizanship of whatever camp is not an objective judge." (From : "The Russian Tragedy," by Alexander Berkman, The R....)
Part 4, Chapter 01
ALL NIGHT I toss sleeplessly on the cot, and pace the cell in nervous agitation, waiting for the dawn. With restless joy I watch the darkness melt, as the first rays herald the coming of the day. It is the 18th of May -- my last day, my very last! A few more hours, and I shall walk through the gates, and drink in the warm sunshine and the balmy air, and be free to go and come as I please, after the nightmare of thirteen years and ten months in jail, penitentiary, and workhouse.
My step quickens with the excitement of the outside, and I try to while away the heavy hours thinking of freedom and of friends. But my brain is in a turmoil; I cannot concentrate my thoughts. Visions of the near future, images of the past, flash before me, and crowd each other in bewildering confusion.
Again and again my mind reverts to the unnecessary cruelty that has kept me in prison three months over and above my time. It was sheer sophistry to consider me a "new" prisoner, entitled only to two months' commutation. As a matter of fact, I was serving the last year of a twenty-two-year sentence, and therefore I should have received five months time off. The Superintendent had repeatedly promised to inform me of the decision of the Board of Directors, and every day, for weeks and months, I anxiously waited for word from them. None ever came, and I had to serve the full ten months.
Ah, well, it is almost over now! I have passed my last night in the cell, and the morning is here, the precious, blessed morning!
How slowly the minutes creep! I listen intently, and catch the sound of bars being unlocked on the bottom range: it is the Night Captain turning the kitchen men out to prepare breakfast -- 5 A.M.! Two and a half hours yet before I shall be called; two endless hours, and then another thirty long minutes. Will they ever pass? And again I pace the cell.
The gong rings the rising hour. In great agitation I gather up my blankets, tincup and spoon, which must be delivered at the office before I am discharged. My heart beats turbulently, as I stand at the door, waiting to be called. But the guard unlocks the range and orders me to "fall in for breakfast."
The striped line winds down the stairs, past the lynx eyed Deputy standing in the middle of the hallway, and slowly circles through the center, where each man receives his portion of bread for the day and returns to his tier. The turnkey, on his rounds of the range, casts a glance into my cell "Not workin'," he says mechanically, shutting the door in my face.
"I'm going out," I protest.
"Not till you're called," he retorts, locking me in.
I stand at the door, tense with suspense. I strain my ear for the approach of a guard to call me to the office, but all remains quiet. A vague fear steals over me: perhaps they will not release me to-day; I may be losing time. .. A feeling of nausea overcomes me, but by a strong effort I throw off the dreadful fancy, and quicken my step. I must not think -- not think. . . .
At last! The lever is pulled, my cell unlocked, and with a dozen other men I am marched to the clothes-room, in single file and lockstep. I await my turn impatiently, as several men are undressed and their naked bodies scrutinized for contraband or hidden messages. The overseer flings a small bag at each man, containing the prisoner's civilian garb, shouting boisterously: "Hey, you! Take off them clothes, and put your rags on."
I dress hurriedly. A guard accompanies me to the office, where my belongings are returned to me: some money friends had sent, my watch, and the piece of ivory the penitentiary turnkey had stolen from me, and which I had insisted on getting back before I left Riverside. The officer in charge hands me a railroad ticket to Pittsburgh (the fare costing about thirty cents), and I am conducted to the prison gate.
The sun shines brightly in the yard, the sky is clear, the air fresh and bracing. Now the last gate will be thrown open, and I shall be out of sight of the guard, beyond the bars, -- alone! How I have hungered for this hour, how often in the past years have I dreamed of this rapturous moment -- to be alone, out in the open, away from the insolent eyes of my keepers! I'll rush away from these walls and kneel on the warm sod, and kiss the soil and embrace the trees, and with a song of joy give thanks to Nature for the blessings of sunshine and air. The outer door opens before me, and I am confronted by reporters with cameras. Several tall men approach me. One of them touches me on the shoulder, turns back the lapel of his coat, revealing a police officer's star, and says:
"Berkman, you are to leave the city before night, by order of the Chief."
The detectives and reporters trailing me to the nearby railway station attract a curious crowd. I hasten into a car to escape their insistent gaze, feeling glad that I have prevailed upon my friends not to meet me at the prison.
My mind is busy with plans to outwit the detectives, who have entered the same compartment. I have arranged to join the Girl in Detroit. I have no particular reason to mask my movements, but I resent the surveillance. I must get rid of the spies, somehow; I don't want their hateful eyes to desecrate my meeting with the Girl.
I feel dazed. The short ride to Pittsburgh is over before I can collect my thoughts. The din and noise rend my ears; the rushing cars, the clanging bells, bewilder me. I am afraid to cross the street; the flying monsters pursue me on every side. The crowds jostle me on the sidewalk, and I am constantly running into the passersby. The turmoil, the ceaseless movement, disconcerts me. A horseless carriage whizzes close by me; I turn to look at the first automobile I have ever seen, but the living current sweeps me helplessly along. A woman passes me, with a child in her arms. The baby looks strangely diminutive, a rosy dimple in the laughing face. I smile back at the little cherub, and my eyes meet the gaze of the detectives. A wild thought to escape; to get away from them, possesses me, and I turn quickly into a side street, and walk blindly, faster and faster. A sudden impulse seizes me at the sight of a passing car, and I dash after it.
"Fare, please!" the conductor sings out, and I almost laugh out aloud at the fleeting sense of the material reality of freedom. Conscious of the strangeness of my action, I produce a dollar bill, and a sense of exhilarating independence comes over me, as the man counts out the silver coins. I watch him closely for a sign of recognition. Does he realize that I am just out of prison? He turns away, and I feel thankful to the dear Chum for having so thoughtfully provided me with a new suit of clothes. It is peculiar, however, that the conductor has failed to notice my closely cropped hair. But the man in the seat opposite seems to be watching me. Perhaps he has recognized me by my picture in the newspapers; or may be it is my straw hat that has attracted his attention. I glance about me. No one wears summer headgear yet; it must be too early in the season. I ought to change it; the detectives could not follow me so easily then. Why, there they are on the back platform!
At the next stop I jump off the car. A hat sign arrests my eye, and I walk into the store, and then slip quietly through a side entrance, a dark derby on my head. I walk quickly, for a long, long time, board several cars, and then walk again, till I find myself on a deserted street. No one is following me now; the detectives must have lost track of me. I feel worn and tired. Where could I rest up, I wonder, when I suddenly recollect that I was to go directly from the prison to the drugstore of Comrade M. My friends must be worried, and M. is waiting to wire to the Girl about my release.
It is long past noon when I enter the drugstore. M. seems highly wrought up over something; he shakes my hand violently, and plies me with questions, as he leads me into his apartments in the rear of the store. It seems strange to be in a regular room: there is paper on the walls, and it feels so peculiar to the touch, so different from the whitewashed cell. I pass my hand over it caressingly, with a keen sense of pleasure. The chairs, too, look strange, and those quaint things on the table. The bric-a-brac absorbs my attention the people in the room look hazy, their voices sound distant and confused.
"Why don't you sit down, Aleck?" the tones are musical and tender; a woman's, no doubt.
"Yes," I reply, walking around the table, and picking up a bright toy. It represents Undine, rising from the water, the spray glistening in the sun. . . .
"Are you tired, Aleck?"
"N -- no."
"You have just come out?" "Yes."
It requires an effort to talk. The last year, in the workhouse, I have barely spoken a dozen words; there was always absolute silence. The voices disturb me. The presence of so many people -- there are three or four about me -- is oppressive. The room reminds me of the cell, and the desire seizes me to rush out into the open, to breathe the air and see the sky.
"I'm going," I say, snatching up my hat.
The train speeds me to Detroit, and I wonder vaguely how I reached the station. My brain is numb; I cannot think. Field and forest flit by in the gathering dusk, but the surroundings wake no interest in me. "I am rid of the detectives" -- the thought persists in my mind, and I feel something relax within me, and leave me cold, without emotion or desire.
With an effort I descend to the platform, and sway from side to side, as I cross the station at Detroit. A man and a girl hasten toward me, and grasp me by the hand. I recognize Carl. The dear boy, he was a most faithful and cheering correspondent all these years since he left the penitentiary. But who is the girl with him, I wonder, when my gaze falls on a woman leaning against a pillar. She looks intently at me. The wave of her hair, the familiar eyes -- why, it's the Girl! How little she has changed! I take a few steps forward, somewhat surprised that she did not rush up to me like the others. I feel pleased at her self-possession: the excited voices, the quick motions, disturb me. I walk slowly toward her, but she does not move. She seems rooted to the spot, her hand grasping the pillar, a look of awe and terror in her face. Suddenly she throws her arms around me. Her lips move, but no sound reaches my ear.
We walk in silence. The Girl presses a bouquet into my hand. My heart is full, but I cannot talk. I hold the flowers to my face, and mechanically bite the petals.
Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee pass before me like a troubled dream. I have a faint recollection of a sea of faces, restless and turbulent, and I in its midst. Confused voices beat like hammers on my head, and then all is very still. I stand in full view of the audience. Eyes are turned on me from every side, and I grow embarrassed. The crowd looks dim and hazy; I feel hot and cold, and a great longing to flee. The perspiration is running down my back; my knees tremble violently, the floor is slipping from under my feet -- there is a tumult of hand clapping, loud cheers and bravos.
We return to Carl's house, and men and women grasp my hand and look at me with eyes of curious awe. I fancy a touch of pity in their tones, and am impatient of their sympathy. A sense of suffocation possesses me within doors, and I dread the presence of people. It is torture to talk; the sound of voices agonizes me. I watch for an opportunity to steal out of the house. It soothes me to lose myself among the crowds, and a sense of quiet pervades me at the thought that I am a stranger to every one about me. I roam the city at night, and seek the outlying country, conscious only of a desire to be alone.
I am in the Waldheim, the Girl at my side. All is quiet in the cemetery, and I feel a great peace. No emotion stirs me at the sight of the monument, save a feeling of quiet sadness. It represents a woman, with one hand placing a wreath on the fallen, with the other grasping a sword. The marble features mirror unutterable grief and proud defiance.
I glance at the Girl. Her face is averted, but the droop of her head speaks of suffering. I hold out my hand to her, and we stand in mute sorrow at the graves of our martyred comrades. . . . I have a vision of Stenka Razin, as I had seen him pictured in my youth, and at his side hang the bodies of the men buried beneath my feet. Why are they dead? I wonder. Why should I live? And a great desire to lie down with them is upon me. I clutch the iron post, to keep from falling.
Steps sound behind me, and I turn to see a girl hastening toward us. She is radiant with young womanhood; her presence breathes life and the joy of it. Her bosom heaves with panting, her face struggles with a solemn look. "I ran all the way," her voice is soft and low; "I was afraid I might miss you."
The Girl smiles. "Let us go in somewhere to rest up, Alice." Turning to me, she adds, "She ran to see -- you."
How peculiar the Girl should conceive such an idea! It is absurd. Why should Alice be anxious to see me? I look old and worn; my step is languid, unsteady. . . . Bitter thoughts fill my mind, as we ride back on the train to Chicago.
"You are sad," the Girl remarks. "Alice is very much taken with you. Aren't you glad?"
"You are mistaken," I reply.
"I'm sure of it," the Girl persists.
"Shall I ask her?" She turns to Alice.
"Oh, I like you so much, Sasha," Alice whispers. I look up timidly at her. She is leaning toward me in the abandon of artless tenderness, and a great joy steals over me, as I read in her eyes frank affection.
New York looks unexpectedly familiar, though I miss many old landmarks. It is torture to be indoors, and I roam the streets, experiencing a thrill of kinship when I locate one of my old haunts.
I feel little interest in the large meeting arranged to greet me back into the world. Yet I am conscious of some curiosity about the comrades I may meet there. Few of the old guard have remained. Some dropped from the ranks; others died. John Most will not be there. I cherished the hope of meeting him again, but he died a few months before my release. He had been unjust to me; but who is free from moments of weakness? The passage of time has mellowed the bitterness of my resentment, and I think of him, my first teacher of Anarchy, with old-time admiration. His unique personality stands out in strong relief upon the flat background of his time. His life was the tragedy of the ever unpopular pioneer. A social Lear, his whitening years brought only increasing isolation and greater lack of understanding, even within his own circle. He had struggled and suffered much; be gave his whole life to advance the Cause, only to find at the last that he who crosses the threshold must leave all behind, even friendship, even comradeship.
My old friend, Justus Schwab, is also gone, and Brady, the big Austrian. Few of the comrades of my day have survived. The younger generation seems different, unsatisfactory. The Ghetto I had known has also disappeared. Primitive Orchard Street, the scene of our pioneer meetings, has conformed to business respectability; the historic lecture hall, that rang with the breaking chains of the awakening people, has been turned into a dancing-school; the little cafe "around the corner," the intellectual arena of former years, is now a counting-house. The fervid enthusiasm of the past, the Spontaneous comradeship in the common cause, the intoxication of world-liberating zeal all are gone with the days of my youth. I sense the spirit of cold deliberation in the new set, and a tone of disillusioned wisdom that chills and estranges me.
The Girl has also changed. The little Sailor, my companion of the days that thrilled with the approach of the Social Revolution, has become a woman of the world. Her mind has matured, but her wider interests antagonize my old revolutionary traditions that inspired every day and colored our every act with the direct perception of the momentarily expected great upheaval I feel an instinctive disapproval of many things, though particular instances are intangible and elude my analysis. I sense a foreign element in the circle she has gathered about her, and feel myself a stranger among them. Her friends and admirers crowd her home, and turn it into a sort of salon; they talk art and literature; discuss science and philosophize over the disharmony of life. But the groans of the dungeon find no gripping echo there. The Girl is the most revolutionary of them all; but even she has been infected by the air of intellectual aloofness, false tolerance and everlasting pessimism. I resent the situation, the more I become conscious of the chasm between the Girl and myself. It seems unbridgeable; we cannot recover the intimate note of our former comradeship. With pain I witness her evident misery. She is untiring in her care and affection; the whole circle lavishes on me sympathy and tenderness. But through it all I feel the commiserating tolerance toward a sick child. I shun the atmosphere of the house, and flee to seek the solitude of the crowded streets and the companionship of the plain, untutored underworld.
In a Bowery resort I come across Dan, my assistant on the range during my last year in the penitentiary.
"HelIo, Aleck," he says, taking me aside, "awful glad to see you out of hell. Doing all right?"
"So, so, Dan. And you!"
"Rotten, Aleck, rotten. You know it was my first bit, and I swore I'd never do a crooked job again. Well, they turned me out with a five-spot, after four years' steady work, mind you, and three of them working my head off on a 100m. Then they handed me a pair of Kentucky jeans, that any fly-cop could spot a mile off. My friends went back on me -- that five-spot was all I had in the world, and it didn't go a long way. Liberty ain't what it looks to a fellow through the bars, Aleck, but it's hell to go back. I don't know what to do."
"How do you happen here, Dan? Could you get no work at home, in Oil City?"
"Home, hell! I wish I had a home and friends, like you, Aleck. Christ, d'you think I'd ever turn another trick? butt I got no home and no friends. Mother died before I came out, and I found no home. I got a job In Oil City, but the buIls tipped me off for an ex-con, and I beat my way here. I tried to do the square thing, Aleck, but where's a fellow to turn? I haven't a cent and not a friend in the world."
Poor Dan! I feel powerless to help him, even with advice. Without friends or money, his "liberty" is a hollow mockery, even worse than mine. Five years ago he was a strong, healthy young man. He committed a burglary, and was sent to prison. Now he is out, his body weakened, his spirit broken; he is less capable than ever to survive in the struggle. What is he to do but commit another crime and be returned to prison? Even I, with so many advantages that Dan is lacking, with kind comrades and helpful friends, I can find no place in this world of the outside. I have been torn out, and I seem unable to take root again. Everything looks so different, changed. And yet I feel a great hunger for life. I could enjoy the sunshine, the open, and freedom of action. I could make my life and my prison experience useful to the world. But I am incapacitated for the struggle. I do not fit in any more, not even in the circle of my comrades. And this seething life, the turmoil and the noises of the city, agonize me. Perhaps it would be best for me to retire to the country, and there lead a simple life, close to nature.
The summer is fragrant with a thousand perfumes, and a great peace is in the woods. The Hudson River shimmers in the distance, a solitary sail on its broad bosom. The Palisades on the opposite side look immutable, eternal, their undulating tops melting in the grayish-blue horizon.
Puffs of smoke rise from the valley. Here, too, has penetrated the restless spirit. The muffled thunder of blasting breaks in upon the silence. The greedy hand of man is desecrating the Palisades, as it has desecrated the race. But the big river flows quietly, and the sailboat glides serenely on the waters. It skips over the foaming waves, near the spot I stand on, the great, busy city. Now it is floating past the high towers their forbidding aspect. It is Sing Sing prison. Men go suffer there, and are tortured in the dungeon. And I -- I am a useless cog, an idler, while others toil; and I keep mute others suffer.
My mind dwells in the prison. The silence rings with of pain; the woods echo the agony of the dungeon. I start at the murmur of the leaves; the trees with their outstretched arms bar my way, menacing me like the guards on the prison. Their monster shapes follow me in the valley.
At night I wake in cold terror. The agonized cry of Smithy is in my ears, and again I hear the sickening thud of the riot clubs on the prisoner's head. The solitude is harrowing with the memory of the prison; it haunts me with the horrors of the basket cell. Away, I must away, to seek relief the people!
Back in the city, I face the problem of support. The sense of dependence gnaws me. The hospitality of my friends is less, but I cannot continue as the beneficiary of their generosity. I had declined the money gift presented to me on my release by the comrades: I felt I could not accept even their well-meant offering. The question of earning my living is growing acute. I cannot remain idle. But what shall I turn to? I am too weak for factory work. I had hoped to secure employment as a compositor, but the linotype has made me superfluous. I might be engaged as a proof-reader. My former membership in the Typographical Union will enable me to join the ranks of labor.
My physical condition, however, precludes the in realization of my plans. Meanwhile some comrades suggest the advisability of a short lecture tour: it will bring closer contact with the world, and serve to awaken new interest in life. The idea appeals to me. I shall be doing work, useful work. I shall voice the cry of the depths, and perhaps the people will listen, and some may understand!
With a great effort I persevere on the tour. The strain is exhausting my strength, and I feel weary and discontented. My innate dread of public speaking is aggravated by the necessity of constant association with people. The comrades are sympathetic and attentive, but their very care is a source of annoyance. I long for solitude and quiet. In the midst of people, the old prison instinct of escape possesses me. Once or twice the wild idea of terminating the tour has crossed my mind. The thought is preposterous, impossible. Meetings have already been arranged in various cities, and my appearance widely announced. It would disgrace me, and injure the movement, were I to prove myself so irresponsible. I owe it to the Cause, and to my comrades, to keep my appointments. I must fight off this morbid notion.
My engagement in Pittsburgh aids my determination. Little did I dream in the penitentiary that I should live to see that city again, even to appear in public there! Looking back over the long years of imprisonment, of persecution and torture, I marvel that I have survived. Surely it was not alone physical capacity to suffer -- how often had I touched the threshold of death, and trembled on the brink of insanity and self-destruction! Whatever strength and perseverance I possessed, they alone could not have saved my reason in the night of the dungeon, or preserved me in the despair of the solitary. Poor Wingie, Ed Sloane, and "Fighting" Tom; Harry, Russell, Crazy Smithy how many of my friends have perished there! It was the vision of an ideal, the consciousness that I suffered for a great Cause that Sustained me. The very exaggeration of my self estimation was a source of strength: I looked upon myself as a representative of a world movement; it was my duty to exemplify the spirit and dignity of the ideas it embodied. I was not a prisoner, merely; I was an Anarchist in the hands of the enemy; as such, it devolved upon me to maintain the manhood and self-respect my ideals signified. The example of the political prisoners in Russia inspired me, and my stay in the penitentiary was a continuous struggle that was the breath of life.
Was it the extreme self-consciousness of the idealist, the power of revolutionary traditions, or simply the persistent will to be? Most likely, it was the fuzing of all three, that shaped my attitude in prison and kept me alive. And now, on my way to Pittsburgh, I feel the same spirit within me, at the threat of the local authorities to prevent my appearance in the city. Some friends seek to persuade me to cancel my lecture there, alarmed at the police preparations to arrest me. Something might happen, they warn me; legally I am still a prisoner out on parole. I am liable to be returned to the penitentiary, without trial, for the period of my commutation time-eight years and two months if convicted of a felony before the expiration of my full sentence of twenty-two years.
But the menace of the enemy stirs me from apathy, and all my old revolutionary defiance is roused within me. For the first time during the tour, I feel a vital interest in life, and am eager to ascend the platform.
An unfortunate delay on the road brings me into Pittsburgh two hours late for the lecture. Comrade M. is impatiently waiting for me, and we hasten to the meeting. On the way he informs me that the hall is filled with police and prison guards; the audience is in a state of great suspense; the rumor has gone about that the authorities are determined to prevent my appearance.
I sense an air of suppressed excitement, as I enter the hall, and elbow my way through the crowded aisle. Some one grips my arm, and I recognize "Southside" Johnny, the friendly prison runner. "Aleck, take care," he warns me, "the bulls are layin' for you."
The meeting is over, the danger past. I feel worn and tired with the effort of the evening.
My next lecture is to take place in Cleveland, Ohio. The all night ride in the stuffy smoker aggravates my fatigue, and sets my nerves on edge. I arrive in the city feeling feverish and sick. To engage a room in a hotel would require an extra expense from the proceeds of the tour, which are intended for the movement; moreover, it would be sybaritism, contrary to the traditional practice of Anarchist lectures. I decide to accept the hospitality of some friend during my stay in the city.
For hours I try to locate the comrade who has charge of arranging the meetings. At his home I am told that he is absent. His parents, pious Jews, look at me askance, and refuse to inform me of their son's whereabouts. The unfriendly attitude of the old folks drives me into the street again, and I seek out another comrade. His family gathers about me. Their curious gaze is embarrassing; their questions idle. My pulse is feverish, my head heavy. I should like to rest up before the lecture, but a constant stream of comrades flows in on me, and the house rings with their joy of meeting me. The talking wearies me; their ardent interest searches my soul with rude hands. These men and women -- they, too, are different from the comrades of my day; their very language echoes the spirit that has so depressed me in the new Ghetto. The abyss in our feeling and thought appalls me.
With failing heart I ascend the platform in the evening. It is chilly outdoors, and the large hall, sparsely filled and badly lit, breathes the cold of the grave upon mc. The audience is unresponsive. The lecture on Crime and Prisons that so thrilled my Pittsburgh meeting, wakes no vital chord. I feel dispirited. My voice is weak and expressionless; at times it drops to a hoarse whisper. I seem to stand at the mouth of a deep cavern, and everything is dark within. I speak into the blackness; my words strike metallically against the walls, and are thrown back at me with mocking emphasis. A sense of weariness and hopelessness possesses me, and I conclude the lecture abruptly.
The comrades surround me, grasp my hand, and ply me with questions about my prison life, the joy of liberty and of work. They are undisguisedly disappointed at my anxiety to retire, but presently it is decided that I should accept the proffered hospitality of a comrade who owns a large house in the suburbs.
The ride is interminable, the comrade apparently living several miles out in the country. On the way he talks incessantly, assuring me repeatedly that he considers it a great privilege to entertain me. I nod sleepily.
Finally we arrive. The place is large, but squalid. The low ceilings press down on my head, the rooms look cheerless and uninhabited. Exhausted by the day's exertion, I fall into heavy sleep.
Awakening in the morning, I am startled to find a stranger in my bed. His coat and hat are on the floor, and he is snoring at my side, with overshirt and trousers on. He must have fallen into bed very tired, without even detaching the large cuffs, torn and soiled, that rattle on his hands.
The sight fills me with inexpressible disgust. All through the years of my prison life, my nights had been passed in absolute solitude. The presence of another in my bed is unutterably horrifying. I dress hurriedly, and rush out of the house.
A heavy drizzle is falling; the air is close and damp. The country looks cheerless and dreary. But one thought possesses me: to get away from the stranger snoring in my bed, away from the suffocating atmosphere of the house with its low ceilings, out into the open, away from the presence of man. The sight of a human being repels me; the sound of a voice is torture to me. I want to be alone, always alone, to have peace and quiet, to lead a simple life in close communion with nature. Ah, nature! That, too, I have tried, and found more impossible even than the turmoil of the city. The silence of the woods threatened to drive me mad, as did the solitude of the dungeon. A curse upon the thing that has incapacitated me for life, made solitude as hateful as the face of man, made life itself impossible to me! And is it for this I have yearned and suffered, for this specter that haunts my steps, and turns day into a nightmare -- this distortion, Life? Oh, where is the joy of expectation, the tremulous rapture, as I stood at the door of my cell, hailing the blush of the dawn, the day of resurrection! Where the happy moments that lit up the night of misery with the ecstasy of freedom, which was to give me back to work and joy! Where, where is it all? Is liberty sweet only in the anticipation, and life a hitter awakening?
The rain has ceased. The sun peeps through the clouds, and glints its rays upon a shop window. My eye falls on the gleaming barrel of a revolver. I enter the place, and purchase the weapon.
I walk aimlessly, in a daze. It is beginning to rain again; my body is chilled to the bone, and I seek the shelter of a saloon on an obscure street.
In the corner of the dingy back room I notice a girl. She is very young, with an air of gentility about her, that is somewhat marred by her quick, restless look.
We sit in silence, watching the heavy downpour outdoors. The girl is toying with a glass of whiskey.
Angry voices reach us from the street. There is a heavy shuffling of feet, and a suppressed cry. A woman lurches through the swinging door, and falls against a table.
The girl rushes to the side of the woman, and assists her into a chair. "Are you hurt, Madge?" she asks sympathetically.
The woman looks up at her with bleary eyes. She raises her hand, passes it slowly across her mouth, and spits violently.
"He hit me, the dirty brute," she whimpers, "he hit me. But I sha'n't give him no money; I just won't, Frenchy." The girl is tenderly wiping her friend's bleeding face. "Shsh, Madge, sh-sh!" she warns her, with a glance at the approaching waiter. "Drunk again, you old bitch" the man growls. "You'd better vamoose now." "Oh, let her be, Charley, won't you?" the girl coaxes. "And, say, bring me a bitters."
"The dirty loafer! It's money, always gimme money," the woman mumbles; "and I've had such bad luck, Frenchy. You know it's true. Don't you, Frenchy?"
"Yes, yes, dear," the girl soothes her. "Don't talk now. Lean your head on my shoulder, so! You'll be all right in a minute." The girl sways to and fro, gently patting the woman on the head, and all is still in the room. The woman's breathing grows regular and louder. She snores, and the young girl slowly unwinds her arms and resumes her seat.
I motion to her. "Will you have a drink with me?"
"With pleasure," she smiles. "Poor thing," she nods toward the sleeper, "her fellow beats her and takes all she makes."
"You have a kind heart, Frenchy."
"We girls must be good to each other; no one else will. Some men are so mean, just too mean to live or let others live. But some are nice. Of course, some girls are bad, but we ain't all like that and-" she hesitates.
"Well, some have seen better days. I wasn't always like this," she adds, gulping down her drink.
Her face is pensive; her large black eyes look dreamy. She asks abruptly;
"You like poetry?"
"I write. Oh, you don't believe me, do you? Here's something of mine," and with a preliminary cough, she begins to recite with exaggerated feeling:
Mother dear, the days were young
When posies in our garden hung.
Upon your lap my golden head I laid,
With pure and happy heart I prayed.
"I remember those days," she adds wistfully. We sit in the dusk, without speaking. The lights are turned on, and my eye falls on a paper lying on the table. The large black print announces an excursion to Buffalo.
"Will you come with me?" I ask the girl, pointing to the advertisement.
"No. Will you come?"
Alone with me in the stateroom, "Frenchy" grows tender and playful. She notices my sadness, and tries to amuse me. But I am thinking of the lecture that is to take place in Cleveland this very hour: the anxiety of my comrades, the disappointment of the audience, my absence, all prey on my mind. But who am I, to presume to teach? I have lost my bearings; there is no place for me in life. My bridges are burned.
The girl is in high spirits, but her jollity angers me. I crave to speak to her, to share my misery and my grief. I hint at the impossibility of life, and my superfluity in the world, but she looks bored, not grasping the significance of my words.
"Don't talk so foolish, boy," she scoffs. "What do you care about work or a place? You've got money; what more do you want? You better go down now and fetch something to drink."
Returning to the stateroom, I find "Frenchy" missing. In a sheltered nook on the deck I recognize her in the lap of a stranger. Heart-sore and utterly disgusted, I retire to my berth. In the morning I slip quietly off the boat.
The streets are deserted; the city is asleep. In the fog and rain, the gray buildings resemble the prison walls, the tall factory chimneys standing guard like monster sentinels. I hasten away from the hated sight, and wander along the docks. The mist weaves phantom shapes, and I see a multitude of people and in their midst a boy, pale, with large, lustrous eyes. The crowd curses and yells in frenzied passion, and arms are raised, and blows rain down on the lad's head. The rain beats heavier, and every drop is a blow. The boy totters and falls to the ground. The wistful face, the dreamy eyes -- why, it is Czolgosz!
Accursed spot! I cannot die here. I must go to New York, to be near my friends in death!
Loud knocking wakes me.
"Say, Mister," a voice calls behind the door"
"Are you all right"
"Will you have a bite, or something?"
"Well, as you please. But you haven't left your room going on two days now. "
Two days, and still alive? The road to death is so short, why suffer? An instant, and I shall be no more, and only the memory of me will abide for a little while in this world. This world? Is there another? If there is anything in Spiritualism, Carl will learn of it. In the prison we had been interested in the subject, and we had made a compact that he who is the first to die, should appear in spirit to the other. Pretty fancy of foolish man, born of immortal vanity! Hereafter, life after death -- children of earth's misery. The disharmony of life bears dreams of peace and bliss, but there is no harmony save in death. Who knows but that even then the atoms of my lifeless clay will find no rest, tossed about in space to form new shapes and new thoughts for eons of human anguish.
And so Carl will not see me after death. Our compact will not be kept, for nothing will remain of my "soul" when I am dead, as nothing remains of the sum when its units are gone. Dear Carl, he will be distraught at my failure to come to Detroit. He had arranged a lecture there, following Cleveland. It is peculiar that I should not have thought of wiring him that I was unable to attend. He might have suspended preparations. But it did not occur to me, and now it is too late.
The Girl, too, will be in despair over my disappearance. I cannot notify her now -- I am virtually dead. Yet I crave to see her once more before I depart, even at a distance. But that also is too late. I am almost dead.
I dress mechanically, and step into the street. The brilliant sunshine, the people passing me by, the children playing about, strike on my consciousness with pleasing familiarity. The desire grips me to be one of them, to participate in their life. And yet it seems strange to think of myself as part of this moving, breathing humanity. Am I not dead?
I roam about all day. At dusk I am surprised to find myself near the Girl's home. The fear seizes me that I might be seen and recognized. A sense of guilt steals over me, and I shrink away, only to return again and again to the familiar spot.
I pass the night in the park. An old man, a sailor out of work, huddles close to me, seeking the warmth of my body. But I am cold and cheerless, and all next day I haunt again the neighborhood of the Girl. An irresistible force attracts me to the house. Repeatedly I return to my room and snatch up the weapon, and then rush out again. I am fearful of being seen near the "Den, If and I make long detours to the Battery and the Bronx, but again and again I find myself watching the entrance and speculating on the people passing in and out of the house. My mind pictures the Girl, with her friends about her. What are they discussing, I wonder. "Why, myself!" it flits through my mind. The thought appalls me. They must be distraught with anxiety over my disappearance. Perhaps they think me dead!
I hasten to a telegraph office, and quickly pen a message to the Girl: "Come. I am waiting here."
In a flurry of Suspense I wait for the return of the messenger. A little girl steps in, and I recognize Tess, and inwardly resent that the Girl did not come herself.
"Aleck," she falters, "Sonya wasn't home when your message came. I'll run to find her."
The old dread of people is upon me, and I rush out of the place, hoping to avoid meeting the Girl. I stumble through the streets, retrace my steps to the telegraph office, and suddenly come face to face with her.
Her appearance startles me. The fear of death is in her face, mute horror in her eyes.
"Sasha!" Her hand grips my arm, and she steadies my faltering step.
I open my eyes. The room is light and airy a soothing quiet pervades the place. The portieres part noiselessly, and the Girl looks in.
"Awake, Sasha?" She brightens with a happy smile.
"Yes. When did I come here?"
"Several days ago. You've been very sick, but you feel better now, don't you, dear?"
Several days? I try to recollect my trip to Buffalo, the room on the Bowery. Was it all a dream?
"Where was I before I came here?" I ask. "You -- you were -- absent," she stammers, and in her face is visioned the experience of my disappearance.
With tender care the Girl ministers to me. I feel like one recovering from a long illness: very weak, but with a touch of joy in life. No one is permitted to see me, save one or two of the Girl's nearest friends, who slip in quietly, pat my hand in mute sympathy, and discreetly retire. I sense their understanding, and am grateful that they make no allusion to the events of the past days.
The care of the Girl is unwavering. By degrees I gain strength. The room is bright and cheerful; the silence of the house soothes me. The warm sunshine is streaming through the open window; I can see the blue sky, and the silvery cloudlets. A little bird hops upon the sill, looks steadily at me, and chirps a greeting. It brings back the memory of Dick, my feathered pet, and of my friends in prison. I have done nothing for the agonized men in the dungeon darkness -- have I forgotten them? I have the opportunity; why am I idle?
The Girl calls cheerfully: "Sasha our friend Philo is here.
Would you like to see him?"
I welcome the comrade whose gentle manner and deep sympathy have endeared him to me in the days since my return. There is something unutterably tender about him. The circle had christened him "the philosopher," and his breadth of understanding and noninvasive personality have been great comfort to me.
His voice is low and caressing, like the soft crooning of a mother rocking her child to sleep. "Life is a problem," he is saying, "a problem whose solution consists in trying to solve it. Schopenhauer may have been right," he smiles, with an amorous twinkle in his eyes, "but his love of life was so strong his need for expression so compelling, he had to write a big book to prove how useless is all effort. But his very sincerity disproves him. Life is its own justification. The disharmony of life is more seeming than reality and what is real of it, is the folly and blindness of man. To struggle against that folly, is to create greater harmony, wider possibilities. Artificial barriers circumscribe and dwarf life, and stifle its manifestations. To break those barriers down, is to find a vent, to expand, to express oneself. And that is life, Aleck: a continuous struggle for expression. It mirrors itself in nature, as in all the phases of man's existence. Look at the little vine struggling against: fury of the storm, and clinging with all its might to preserve Its hold. Then see it stretch toward the sunshine, to absorb, light and the warmth, and then freely give back of itself multiple form and wealth of color. We call it beautiful then for it has found expression. That is life, Aleck, and thus it manifests itself through all the gradations we call evolution. The higher the scale, the more varied and complex the manifestations, and, in turn, the greater the need for expression. To supress or thwart it, means decay, death. And in this, Aleck, is be found the main source of suffering and misery. The hunger of life storms at the gates that exclude it from the joy of being and the individual soul multiplies its expressions by mirrored in the collective, as the little vine mirrors itself in its many flowers, or as the acorn individualizes itself a thousandfold in the many-leafed oak. But I am tiring you, Aleck."
"No, no, Philo. Continue I want to hear more."
"Well, Aleck, as with nature, so with man. Life is never at a standstill; everywhere and ever it seeks new manifestations, more expansion. In art, in literature, as in the affairs of men, the struggle is continual for higher and more intimate expression. That is progress -- the vine reaching for more sunshine and light. Translated into the language of social life, it means the individualization of the mass, the finding of a higher level, the climbing over the fences that shut out life. Everywhere you see this reaching out. The process is individual and social at the same time, for the species lives in the individual as much as the individual persists in the species. The individual comes first; his clarified vision is multiplied in his immediate environment, and gradually permeates through his generation and time, deepening the social consciousness and widening the scope of existence. But perhaps you have not found it so, Aleck, after your many years of absence?"
"No, dear Philo. What you have said appeals to me very deeply. But I have found things so different from what I had pictured them. Our comrades, the movement -- it is not what I thought it would be."
"It is quite natural, Aleck. A change has taken place, but its meaning is apt to he distorted through the dim vision of your long absence. I know well what you miss, dear friend: the old mode of existence, the living on the very threshold of the revolution, so to speak. And everything looks strange to you, and out of joint. But as you stay a little longer with us, you will see that it is merely a change of form; the essence is the same. We are the same as before, Aleck, only made deeper and broader by years and experience. Anarchism has cast off the swaddling bands of the small, intimate circles of former days; it has grown to greater maturity, and become a factor in the larger life of Society. You remember it only as a little mountain spring around which clustered a few thirsty travelers in the dreariness of the capitalist desert. It has since broadened and spread as a strong current that covers a wide area and forces its way even into the very ocean of life. You see, dear Aleck, the philosophy of Anarchism is beginning to pervade every phase of human endeavor. In science, in art, in literature, everywhere the influence of Anarchist thought is creating new values, its spirit is vitalizing social movements, and finding interpretation in life. Indeed, Aleck, we have not worked in vain. Throughout the world there is a great awakening. Even in this socially most backward country, the seeds sown are beginning to bear fruit. Times have changed, indeed but encouragingly so, Aleck. The leaven of discontent, ever more conscious and intelligent, is molding new social thought and new action. Today our industrial conditions, for instance, present a different aspect from those of twenty years ago. It was then possible for the masters of life to sacrifice to their interests the best friends of the people. But to-day the spontaneous solidarity and awakened consciousness of large strata of labor is a guarantee against the repetition of such judicial murders. It is a most significant sign, Aleck, and a great inspiration to renewed effort."
The Girl enters. "Are you crooning Sasha to sleep, Philo?" she laughs.
"Oh, no!" I protest, "I'm wide awake and much interested in Philo's conversation."
"It is getting late," he rejoins. "I must be off to the meeting." "What meeting?" I inquire.
"The Czolgosz anniversary commemoration."
"I think -- I'd like to come along."
"Better not, Sasha," my friend advises, "You need some light distraction."
"Perhaps you would like to go to the theater," the Girl suggests. "Stella has tickets. She'd be happy to have you come, Sasha."
Returning home in the evening, I find the "Den" in great excitement. The assembled comrades look worried, talk in whispers, and seem to avoid my glance. I miss several familiar faces.
"Where are the others?" I ask.
The comrades exchange troubled looks, and are silent.
"Has anything happened? Where are they?" I insist.
"I may as well tell you," Philo replies, "but be calm, Sasha. The police have broken up our meeting. They have clubbed the audience, and arrested a dozen comrades."
"Is it serious, Philo?" "I am afraid it is. They are going to make a test case. Under the new 'Criminal Anarchy Law' our comrades may get long terms in prison. They have taken our most active friends."
The news electrifies me. I feel myself transported into the past, the days of struggle and persecution. Philo was right! The enemy is challenging, the struggle is going on! I see the graves of Waldheim open, and hear the voices from the tomb.
A deep peace pervades me, and I feel a great joy in my heart. "Sasha, what is it?" Philo cries in alarm. "My resurrection, dear friend. I have found work to do."
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist
Current Work in Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist
Part 4, Chapter 01
Next Work in Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist >>
This is the last lesson.
All Nearby Works in Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist