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SLAVES OF THE MACHINE
The more I thought of Jackson's arm, the more shaken I was. I was
confronted by the concrete. For the first time I was seeing life. My
university life, and study and culture, had not been real. I had learned
nothing but theories of life and society that looked all very well on the
printed page, but now I had seen life itself. Jackson's arm was a fact of
life. "The fact, man, the irrefragable fact!" of Ernest's was ringing in
It seemed monstrous, impossible, that our whole society was based upon
blood. And yet there was Jackson. I could not get away from him.
Constantly my thought swung back to him as the compass to the Pole. He had
been monstrously treated. His blood had not been paid for in order that a
larger dividend might be paid. And I knew a score of happy complacent
families that had received those dividends and by that much had profited
by Jackson's blood. If one man could be so monstrously treated and society
move on its way unheeding, might not many men be so monstrously treated? I
remembered Ernest's women of Chicago who toiled for ninety cents a week,
and the child slaves of the Southern cotton mills he had described. And I
could see their wan white hands, from which the blood had been pressed, at
work upon the cloth out of which had been made my gown. And then I thought
of the Sierra Mills and the dividends that had been paid, and I saw the
blood of Jackson upon my gown as well. Jackson I could not escape. Always
my meditations led me back to him.
Down in the depths of me I had a feeling that I stood on the edge of a
precipice. It was as though I were about to see a new and awful revelation
of life. And not I alone. My whole world was turning over. There was my
father. I could see the effect Ernest was beginning to have on him. And
then there was the Bishop. When I had last seen him he had looked a sick
man. He was at high nervous tension, and in his eyes there was unspeakable
horror. From the little I learned I knew that Ernest had been keeping his
promise of taking him through hell. But what scenes of hell the Bishop's
eyes had seen, I knew not, for he seemed too stunned to speak about them.
Once, the feeling strong upon me that my little world and all the world
was turning over, I thought of Ernest as the cause of it; and also I
thought, "We were so happy and peaceful before he came!" And the next
moment I was aware that the thought was a treason against truth, and
Ernest rose before me transfigured, the apostle of truth, with shining
brows and the fearlessness of one of Gods own angels, battling for the
truth and the right, and battling for the succor of the poor and lonely
and oppressed. And then there arose before me another figure, the Christ!
He, too, had taken the part of the lowly and oppressed, and against all
the established power of priest and pharisee. And I remembered his end
upon the cross, and my heart contracted with a pang as I thought of
Ernest. Was he, too, destined for a cross?—he, with his clarion call
and war-noted voice, and all the fine man's vigor of him!
And in that moment I knew that I loved him, and that I was melting with
desire to comfort him. I thought of his life. A sordid, harsh, and meagre
life it must have been. And I thought of his father, who had lied and
stolen for him and been worked to death. And he himself had gone into the
mills when he was ten! All my heart seemed bursting with desire to fold my
arms around him, and to rest his head on my breast—his head that
must be weary with so many thoughts; and to give him rest—just rest—and
easement and forgetfulness for a tender space.
I met Colonel Ingram at a church reception. Him I knew well and had known
well for many years. I trapped him behind large palms and rubber plants,
though he did not know he was trapped. He met me with the conventional
gayety and gallantry. He was ever a graceful man, diplomatic, tactful, and
considerate. And as for appearance, he was the most distinguished-looking
man in our society. Beside him even the venerable head of the university
looked tawdry and small.
And yet I found Colonel Ingram situated the same as the unlettered
mechanics. He was not a free agent. He, too, was bound upon the wheel. I
shall never forget the change in him when I mentioned Jackson's case. His
smiling good nature vanished like a ghost. A sudden, frightful expression
distorted his well-bred face. I felt the same alarm that I had felt when
James Smith broke out. But Colonel Ingram did not curse. That was the
slight difference that was left between the workingman and him. He was
famed as a wit, but he had no wit now. And, unconsciously, this way and
that he glanced for avenues of escape. But he was trapped amid the palms
and rubber trees.
Oh, he was sick of the sound of Jackson's name. Why had I brought the
matter up? He did not relish my joke. It was poor taste on my part, and
very inconsiderate. Did I not know that in his profession personal
feelings did not count? He left his personal feelings at home when he went
down to the office. At the office he had only professional feelings.
"Should Jackson have received damages?" I asked.
"Certainly," he answered. "That is, personally, I have a feeling that he
should. But that has nothing to do with the legal aspects of the case."
He was getting his scattered wits slightly in hand.
"Tell me, has right anything to do with the law?" I asked.
"You have used the wrong initial consonant," he smiled in answer.
"Might?" I queried; and he nodded his head. "And yet we are supposed to
get justice by means of the law?"
"That is the paradox of it," he countered. "We do get justice."
"You are speaking professionally now, are you not?" I asked.
Colonel Ingram blushed, actually blushed, and again he looked anxiously
about him for a way of escape. But I blocked his path and did not offer to
"Tell me," I said, "when one surrenders his personal feelings to his
professional feelings, may not the action be defined as a sort of
I did not get an answer. Colonel Ingram had ingloriously bolted,
overturning a palm in his flight.
Next I tried the newspapers. I wrote a quiet, restrained, dispassionate
account of Jackson's case. I made no charges against the men with whom I
had talked, nor, for that matter, did I even mention them. I gave the
actual facts of the case, the long years Jackson had worked in the mills,
his effort to save the machinery from damage and the consequent accident,
and his own present wretched and starving condition. The three local
newspapers rejected my communication, likewise did the two weeklies.
I got hold of Percy Layton. He was a graduate of the university, had gone
in for journalism, and was then serving his apprenticeship as reporter on
the most influential of the three newspapers. He smiled when I asked him
the reason the newspapers suppressed all mention of Jackson or his case.
"Editorial policy," he said. "We have nothing to do with that. It's up to
"But why is it policy?" I asked.
"We're all solid with the corporations," he answered. "If you paid
advertising rates, you couldn't get any such matter into the papers. A man
who tried to smuggle it in would lose his job. You couldn't get it in if
you paid ten times the regular advertising rates."
"How about your own policy?" I questioned. "It would seem your function is
to twist truth at the command of your employers, who, in turn, obey the
behests of the corporations."
"I haven't anything to do with that." He looked uncomfortable for the
moment, then brightened as he saw his way out. "I, myself, do not write
untruthful things. I keep square all right with my own conscience. Of
course, there's lots that's repugnant in the course of the day's work. But
then, you see, that's all part of the day's work," he wound up boyishly.
"Yet you expect to sit at an editor's desk some day and conduct a policy."
"I'll be case-hardened by that time," was his reply.
"Since you are not yet case-hardened, tell me what you think right now
about the general editorial policy."
"I don't think," he answered quickly. "One can't kick over the ropes if
he's going to succeed in journalism. I've learned that much, at any rate."
And he nodded his young head sagely.
"But the right?" I persisted.
"You don't understand the game. Of course it's all right, because it comes
out all right, don't you see?"
"Delightfully vague," I murmured; but my heart was aching for the youth of
him, and I felt that I must either scream or burst into tears.
I was beginning to see through the appearances of the society in which I
had always lived, and to find the frightful realities that were beneath.
There seemed a tacit conspiracy against Jackson, and I was aware of a
thrill of sympathy for the whining lawyer who had ingloriously fought his
case. But this tacit conspiracy grew large. Not alone was it aimed against
Jackson. It was aimed against every workingman who was maimed in the
mills. And if against every man in the mills, why not against every man in
all the other mills and factories? In fact, was it not true of all the
And if this was so, then society was a lie. I shrank back from my own
conclusions. It was too terrible and awful to be true. But there was
Jackson, and Jackson's arm, and the blood that stained my gown and dripped
from my own roof-beams. And there were many Jacksons—hundreds of
them in the mills alone, as Jackson himself had said. Jackson I could not
I saw Mr. Wickson and Mr. Pertonwaithe, the two men who held most of the
stock in the Sierra Mills. But I could not shake them as I had shaken the
mechanics in their employ. I discovered that they had an ethic superior to
that of the rest of society. It was what I may call the aristocratic ethic
or the master ethic.* They talked in large ways of policy, and they
identified policy and right. And to me they talked in fatherly ways,
patronizing my youth and inexperience. They were the most hopeless of all
I had encountered in my quest. They believed absolutely that their conduct
was right. There was no question about it, no discussion. They were
convinced that they were the saviours of society, and that it was they who
made happiness for the many. And they drew pathetic pictures of what would
be the sufferings of the working class were it not for the employment that
they, and they alone, by their wisdom, provided for it.
* Before Avis Everhard was born, John Stuart Mill, in his
essay, ON LIBERTY, wrote: "Wherever there is an ascendant
class, a large portion of the morality emanates from its
class interests and its class feelings of superiority."
Fresh from these two masters, I met Ernest and related my experience. He
looked at me with a pleased expression, and said:
"Really, this is fine. You are beginning to dig truth for yourself. It is
your own empirical generalization, and it is correct. No man in the
industrial machine is a free-will agent, except the large capitalist, and
he isn't, if you'll pardon the Irishism.* You see, the masters are quite
sure that they are right in what they are doing. That is the crowning
absurdity of the whole situation. They are so tied by their human nature
that they can't do a thing unless they think it is right. They must have a
sanction for their acts.
* Verbal contradictions, called BULLS, were long an amiable
weakness of the ancient Irish.
"When they want to do a thing, in business of course, they must wait till
there arises in their brains, somehow, a religious, or ethical, or
scientific, or philosophic, concept that the thing is right. And then they
go ahead and do it, unwitting that one of the weaknesses of the human mind
is that the wish is parent to the thought. No matter what they want to do,
the sanction always comes. They are superficial casuists. They are
Jesuitical. They even see their way to doing wrong that right may come of
it. One of the pleasant and axiomatic fictions they have created is that
they are superior to the rest of mankind in wisdom and efficiency.
Therefrom comes their sanction to manage the bread and butter of the rest
of mankind. They have even resurrected the theory of the divine right of
kings—commercial kings in their case.*
* The newspapers, in 1902 of that era, credited the
president of the Anthracite Coal Trust, George F. Baer, with
the enunciation of the following principle: "The rights and
interests of the laboring man will be protected by the
Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given
the property interests of the country."
"The weakness in their position lies in that they are merely business men.
They are not philosophers. They are not biologists nor sociologists. If
they were, of course all would be well. A business man who was also a
biologist and a sociologist would know, approximately, the right thing to
do for humanity. But, outside the realm of business, these men are stupid.
They know only business. They do not know mankind nor society, and yet
they set themselves up as arbiters of the fates of the hungry millions and
all the other millions thrown in. History, some day, will have an
excruciating laugh at their expense."
I was not surprised when I had my talk out with Mrs. Wickson and Mrs.
Pertonwaithe. They were society women.* Their homes were palaces. They had
many homes scattered over the country, in the mountains, on lakes, and by
the sea. They were tended by armies of servants, and their social
activities were bewildering. They patronized the university and the
churches, and the pastors especially bowed at their knees in meek
subservience.** They were powers, these two women, what of the money that
was theirs. The power of subsidization of thought was theirs to a
remarkable degree, as I was soon to learn under Ernest's tuition.
* SOCIETY is here used in a restricted sense, a common usage
of the times to denote the gilded drones that did no labor,
but only glutted themselves at the honey-vats of the
workers. Neither the business men nor the laborers had time
or opportunity for SOCIETY. SOCIETY was the creation of the
idle rich who toiled not and who in this way played.
** "Bring on your tainted money," was the expressed
sentiment of the Church during this period.
They aped their husbands, and talked in the same large ways about policy,
and the duties and responsibilities of the rich. They were swayed by the
same ethic that dominated their husbands—the ethic of their class;
and they uttered glib phrases that their own ears did not understand.
Also, they grew irritated when I told them of the deplorable condition of
Jackson's family, and when I wondered that they had made no voluntary
provision for the man. I was told that they thanked no one for instructing
them in their social duties. When I asked them flatly to assist Jackson,
they as flatly refused. The astounding thing about it was that they
refused in almost identically the same language, and this in face of the
fact that I interviewed them separately and that one did not know that I
had seen or was going to see the other. Their common reply was that they
were glad of the opportunity to make it perfectly plain that no premium
would ever be put on carelessness by them; nor would they, by paying for
accident, tempt the poor to hurt themselves in the machinery.*
* In the files of the OUTLOOK, a critical weekly of the
period, in the number dated August 18, 1906, is related the
circumstance of a workingman losing his arm, the details of
which are quite similar to those of Jackson's case as
related by Avis Everhard.
And they were sincere, these two women. They were drunk with conviction of
the superiority of their class and of themselves. They had a sanction, in
their own class-ethic, for every act they performed. As I drove away from
Mrs. Pertonwaithe's great house, I looked back at it, and I remembered
Ernest's expression that they were bound to the machine, but that they
were so bound that they sat on top of it.