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Ernest was often at the house. Nor was it my father, merely, nor the
controversial dinners, that drew him there. Even at that time I flattered
myself that I played some part in causing his visits, and it was not long
before I learned the correctness of my surmise. For never was there such a
lover as Ernest Everhard. His gaze and his hand-clasp grew firmer and
steadier, if that were possible; and the question that had grown from the
first in his eyes, grew only the more imperative.
My impression of him, the first time I saw him, had been unfavorable. Then
I had found myself attracted toward him. Next came my repulsion, when he
so savagely attacked my class and me. After that, as I saw that he had not
maligned my class, and that the harsh and bitter things he said about it
were justified, I had drawn closer to him again. He became my oracle. For
me he tore the sham from the face of society and gave me glimpses of
reality that were as unpleasant as they were undeniably true.
As I have said, there was never such a lover as he. No girl could live in
a university town till she was twenty-four and not have love experiences.
I had been made love to by beardless sophomores and gray professors, and
by the athletes and the football giants. But not one of them made love to
me as Ernest did. His arms were around me before I knew. His lips were on
mine before I could protest or resist. Before his earnestness conventional
maiden dignity was ridiculous. He swept me off my feet by the splendid
invincible rush of him. He did not propose. He put his arms around me and
kissed me and took it for granted that we should be married. There was no
discussion about it. The only discussion—and that arose afterward—was
when we should be married.
It was unprecedented. It was unreal. Yet, in accordance with Ernest's test
of truth, it worked. I trusted my life to it. And fortunate was the trust.
Yet during those first days of our love, fear of the future came often to
me when I thought of the violence and impetuosity of his love-making. Yet
such fears were groundless. No woman was ever blessed with a gentler,
tenderer husband. This gentleness and violence on his part was a curious
blend similar to the one in his carriage of awkwardness and ease. That
slight awkwardness! He never got over it, and it was delicious. His
behavior in our drawing-room reminded me of a careful bull in a china
* In those days it was still the custom to fill the living
rooms with bric-a-brac. They had not discovered simplicity
of living. Such rooms were museums, entailing endless labor
to keep clean. The dust-demon was the lord of the household.
There were a myriad devices for catching dust, and only a
few devices for getting rid of it.
It was at this time that vanished my last doubt of the completeness of my
love for him (a subconscious doubt, at most). It was at the Philomath Club—a
wonderful night of battle, wherein Ernest bearded the masters in their
lair. Now the Philomath Club was the most select on the Pacific Coast. It
was the creation of Miss Brentwood, an enormously wealthy old maid; and it
was her husband, and family, and toy. Its members were the wealthiest in
the community, and the strongest-minded of the wealthy, with, of course, a
sprinkling of scholars to give it intellectual tone.
The Philomath had no club house. It was not that kind of a club. Once a
month its members gathered at some one of their private houses to listen
to a lecture. The lecturers were usually, though not always, hired. If a
chemist in New York made a new discovery in say radium, all his expenses
across the continent were paid, and as well he received a princely fee for
his time. The same with a returning explorer from the polar regions, or
the latest literary or artistic success. No visitors were allowed, while
it was the Philomath's policy to permit none of its discussions to get
into the papers. Thus great statesmen—and there had been such
occasions—were able fully to speak their minds.
I spread before me a wrinkled letter, written to me by Ernest twenty years
ago, and from it I copy the following:
"Your father is a member of the Philomath, so you are able to come.
Therefore come next Tuesday night. I promise you that you will have the
time of your life. In your recent encounters, you failed to shake the
masters. If you come, I'll shake them for you. I'll make them snarl like
wolves. You merely questioned their morality. When their morality is
questioned, they grow only the more complacent and superior. But I shall
menace their money-bags. That will shake them to the roots of their
primitive natures. If you can come, you will see the cave-man, in evening
dress, snarling and snapping over a bone. I promise you a great
caterwauling and an illuminating insight into the nature of the beast.
"They've invited me in order to tear me to pieces. This is the idea of
Miss Brentwood. She clumsily hinted as much when she invited me. She's
given them that kind of fun before. They delight in getting
trustful-souled gentle reformers before them. Miss Brentwood thinks I am
as mild as a kitten and as good-natured and stolid as the family cow. I'll
not deny that I helped to give her that impression. She was very tentative
at first, until she divined my harmlessness. I am to receive a handsome
fee—two hundred and fifty dollars—as befits the man who,
though a radical, once ran for governor. Also, I am to wear evening dress.
This is compulsory. I never was so apparelled in my life. I suppose I'll
have to hire one somewhere. But I'd do more than that to get a chance at
Of all places, the Club gathered that night at the Pertonwaithe house.
Extra chairs had been brought into the great drawing-room, and in all
there must have been two hundred Philomaths that sat down to hear Ernest.
They were truly lords of society. I amused myself with running over in my
mind the sum of the fortunes represented, and it ran well into the
hundreds of millions. And the possessors were not of the idle rich. They
were men of affairs who took most active parts in industrial and political
We were all seated when Miss Brentwood brought Ernest in. They moved at
once to the head of the room, from where he was to speak. He was in
evening dress, and, what of his broad shoulders and kingly head, he looked
magnificent. And then there was that faint and unmistakable touch of
awkwardness in his movements. I almost think I could have loved him for
that alone. And as I looked at him I was aware of a great joy. I felt
again the pulse of his palm on mine, the touch of his lips; and such pride
was mine that I felt I must rise up and cry out to the assembled company:
"He is mine! He has held me in his arms, and I, mere I, have filled that
mind of his to the exclusion of all his multitudinous and kingly
At the head of the room, Miss Brentwood introduced him to Colonel Van
Gilbert, and I knew that the latter was to preside. Colonel Van Gilbert
was a great corporation lawyer. In addition, he was immensely wealthy. The
smallest fee he would deign to notice was a hundred thousand dollars. He
was a master of law. The law was a puppet with which he played. He moulded
it like clay, twisted and distorted it like a Chinese puzzle into any
design he chose. In appearance and rhetoric he was old-fashioned, but in
imagination and knowledge and resource he was as young as the latest
statute. His first prominence had come when he broke the Shardwell will.*
His fee for this one act was five hundred thousand dollars. From then on
he had risen like a rocket. He was often called the greatest lawyer in the
country—corporation lawyer, of course; and no classification of the
three greatest lawyers in the United States could have excluded him.
* This breaking of wills was a peculiar feature of the
period. With the accumulation of vast fortunes, the problem
of disposing of these fortunes after death was a vexing one
to the accumulators. Will-making and will-breaking became
complementary trades, like armor-making and gun-making. The
shrewdest will-making lawyers were called in to make wills
that could not be broken. But these wills were always
broken, and very often by the very lawyers that had drawn
them up. Nevertheless the delusion persisted in the wealthy
class that an absolutely unbreakable will could be cast; and
so, through the generations, clients and lawyers pursued the
illusion. It was a pursuit like unto that of the Universal
Solvent of the mediaeval alchemists.
He arose and began, in a few well-chosen phrases that carried an undertone
of faint irony, to introduce Ernest. Colonel Van Gilbert was subtly
facetious in his introduction of the social reformer and member of the
working class, and the audience smiled. It made me angry, and I glanced at
Ernest. The sight of him made me doubly angry. He did not seem to resent
the delicate slurs. Worse than that, he did not seem to be aware of them.
There he sat, gentle, and stolid, and somnolent. He really looked stupid.
And for a moment the thought rose in my mind, What if he were overawed by
this imposing array of power and brains? Then I smiled. He couldn't fool
me. But he fooled the others, just as he had fooled Miss Brentwood. She
occupied a chair right up to the front, and several times she turned her
head toward one or another of her CONFRERES and smiled her appreciation of
Colonel Van Gilbert done, Ernest arose and began to speak. He began in a
low voice, haltingly and modestly, and with an air of evident
embarrassment. He spoke of his birth in the working class, and of the
sordidness and wretchedness of his environment, where flesh and spirit
were alike starved and tormented. He described his ambitions and ideals,
and his conception of the paradise wherein lived the people of the upper
classes. As he said:
"Up above me, I knew, were unselfishnesses of the spirit, clean and noble
thinking, keen intellectual living. I knew all this because I read
'Seaside Library'* novels, in which, with the exception of the villains
and adventuresses, all men and women thought beautiful thoughts, spoke a
beautiful tongue, and performed glorious deeds. In short, as I accepted
the rising of the sun, I accepted that up above me was all that was fine
and noble and gracious, all that gave decency and dignity to life, all
that made life worth living and that remunerated one for his travail and
* A curious and amazing literature that served to make the
working class utterly misapprehend the nature of the leisure
He went on and traced his life in the mills, the learning of the
horseshoeing trade, and his meeting with the socialists. Among them, he
said, he had found keen intellects and brilliant wits, ministers of the
Gospel who had been broken because their Christianity was too wide for any
congregation of mammon-worshippers, and professors who had been broken on
the wheel of university subservience to the ruling class. The socialists
were revolutionists, he said, struggling to overthrow the irrational
society of the present and out of the material to build the rational
society of the future. Much more he said that would take too long to
write, but I shall never forget how he described the life among the
revolutionists. All halting utterance vanished. His voice grew strong and
confident, and it glowed as he glowed, and as the thoughts glowed that
poured out from him. He said:
"Amongst the revolutionists I found, also, warm faith in the human, ardent
idealism, sweetnesses of unselfishness, renunciation, and martyrdom—all
the splendid, stinging things of the spirit. Here life was clean, noble,
and alive. I was in touch with great souls who exalted flesh and spirit
over dollars and cents, and to whom the thin wail of the starved slum
child meant more than all the pomp and circumstance of commercial
expansion and world empire. All about me were nobleness of purpose and
heroism of effort, and my days and nights were sunshine and starshine, all
fire and dew, with before my eyes, ever burning and blazing, the Holy
Grail, Christ's own Grail, the warm human, long-suffering and maltreated
but to be rescued and saved at the last."
As before I had seen him transfigured, so now he stood transfigured before
me. His brows were bright with the divine that was in him, and brighter
yet shone his eyes from the midst of the radiance that seemed to envelop
him as a mantle. But the others did not see this radiance, and I assumed
that it was due to the tears of joy and love that dimmed my vision. At any
rate, Mr. Wickson, who sat behind me, was unaffected, for I heard him
sneer aloud, "Utopian."*
* The people of that age were phrase slaves. The abjectness
of their servitude is incomprehensible to us. There was a
magic in words greater than the conjurer's art. So
befuddled and chaotic were their minds that the utterance of
a single word could negative the generalizations of a
lifetime of serious research and thought. Such a word was
the adjective UTOPIAN. The mere utterance of it could damn
any scheme, no matter how sanely conceived, of economic
amelioration or regeneration. Vast populations grew
frenzied over such phrases as "an honest dollar" and "a full
dinner pail." The coinage of such phrases was considered
strokes of genius.
Ernest went on to his rise in society, till at last he came in touch with
members of the upper classes, and rubbed shoulders with the men who sat in
the high places. Then came his disillusionment, and this disillusionment
he described in terms that did not flatter his audience. He was surprised
at the commonness of the clay. Life proved not to be fine and gracious. He
was appalled by the selfishness he encountered, and what had surprised him
even more than that was the absence of intellectual life. Fresh from his
revolutionists, he was shocked by the intellectual stupidity of the master
class. And then, in spite of their magnificent churches and well-paid
preachers, he had found the masters, men and women, grossly material. It
was true that they prattled sweet little ideals and dear little
moralities, but in spite of their prattle the dominant key of the life
they lived was materialistic. And they were without real morality—for
instance, that which Christ had preached but which was no longer preached.
"I met men," he said, "who invoked the name of the Prince of Peace in
their diatribes against war, and who put rifles in the hands of
Pinkertons* with which to shoot down strikers in their own factories. I
met men incoherent with indignation at the brutality of prize-fighting,
and who, at the same time, were parties to the adulteration of food that
killed each year more babes than even red-handed Herod had killed.
* Originally, they were private detectives; but they quickly
became hired fighting men of the capitalists, and ultimately
developed into the Mercenaries of the Oligarchy.
"This delicate, aristocratic-featured gentleman was a dummy director and a
tool of corporations that secretly robbed widows and orphans. This
gentleman, who collected fine editions and was a patron of literature,
paid blackmail to a heavy-jowled, black-browed boss of a municipal
machine. This editor, who published patent medicine advertisements, called
me a scoundrelly demagogue because I dared him to print in his paper the
truth about patent medicines.* This man, talking soberly and earnestly
about the beauties of idealism and the goodness of God, had just betrayed
his comrades in a business deal. This man, a pillar of the church and
heavy contributor to foreign missions, worked his shop girls ten hours a
day on a starvation wage and thereby directly encouraged prostitution.
This man, who endowed chairs in universities and erected magnificent
chapels, perjured himself in courts of law over dollars and cents. This
railroad magnate broke his word as a citizen, as a gentleman, and as a
Christian, when he granted a secret rebate, and he granted many secret
rebates. This senator was the tool and the slave, the little puppet, of a
brutal uneducated machine boss;** so was this governor and this supreme
court judge; and all three rode on railroad passes; and, also, this sleek
capitalist owned the machine, the machine boss, and the railroads that
issued the passes.
* PATENT MEDICINES were patent lies, but, like the charms
and indulgences of the Middle Ages, they deceived the
people. The only difference lay in that the patent
medicines were more harmful and more costly.
** Even as late as 1912, A.D., the great mass of the people
still persisted in the belief that they ruled the country by
virtue of their ballots. In reality, the country was ruled
by what were called POLITICAL MACHINES. At first the
machine bosses charged the master capitalists extortionate
tolls for legislation; but in a short time the master
capitalists found it cheaper to own the political machines
themselves and to hire the machine bosses.
"And so it was, instead of in paradise, that I found myself in the arid
desert of commercialism. I found nothing but stupidity, except for
business. I found none clean, noble, and alive, though I found many who
were alive—with rottenness. What I did find was monstrous
selfishness and heartlessness, and a gross, gluttonous, practised, and
Much more Ernest told them of themselves and of his disillusionment.
Intellectually they had bored him; morally and spiritually they had
sickened him; so that he was glad to go back to his revolutionists, who
were clean, noble, and alive, and all that the capitalists were not.
"And now," he said, "let me tell you about that revolution."
But first I must say that his terrible diatribe had not touched them. I
looked about me at their faces and saw that they remained complacently
superior to what he had charged. And I remembered what he had told me:
that no indictment of their morality could shake them. However, I could
see that the boldness of his language had affected Miss Brentwood. She was
looking worried and apprehensive.
Ernest began by describing the army of revolution, and as he gave the
figures of its strength (the votes cast in the various countries), the
assemblage began to grow restless. Concern showed in their faces, and I
noticed a tightening of lips. At last the gage of battle had been thrown
down. He described the international organization of the socialists that
united the million and a half in the United States with the twenty-three
millions and a half in the rest of the world.
"Such an army of revolution," he said, "twenty-five millions strong, is a
thing to make rulers and ruling classes pause and consider. The cry of
this army is: 'No quarter! We want all that you possess. We will be
content with nothing less than all that you possess. We want in our hands
the reins of power and the destiny of mankind. Here are our hands. They
are strong hands. We are going to take your governments, your palaces, and
all your purpled ease away from you, and in that day you shall work for
your bread even as the peasant in the field or the starved and runty clerk
in your metropolises. Here are our hands. They are strong hands!'"
And as he spoke he extended from his splendid shoulders his two great
arms, and the horseshoer's hands were clutching the air like eagle's
talons. He was the spirit of regnant labor as he stood there, his hands
outreaching to rend and crush his audience. I was aware of a faintly
perceptible shrinking on the part of the listeners before this figure of
revolution, concrete, potential, and menacing. That is, the women shrank,
and fear was in their faces. Not so with the men. They were of the active
rich, and not the idle, and they were fighters. A low, throaty rumble
arose, lingered on the air a moment, and ceased. It was the forerunner of
the snarl, and I was to hear it many times that night—the token of
the brute in man, the earnest of his primitive passions. And they were
unconscious that they had made this sound. It was the growl of the pack,
mouthed by the pack, and mouthed in all unconsciousness. And in that
moment, as I saw the harshness form in their faces and saw the fight-light
flashing in their eyes, I realized that not easily would they let their
lordship of the world be wrested from them.
Ernest proceeded with his attack. He accounted for the existence of the
million and a half of revolutionists in the United States by charging the
capitalist class with having mismanaged society. He sketched the economic
condition of the cave-man and of the savage peoples of to-day, pointing
out that they possessed neither tools nor machines, and possessed only a
natural efficiency of one in producing power. Then he traced the
development of machinery and social organization so that to-day the
producing power of civilized man was a thousand times greater than that of
"Five men," he said, "can produce bread for a thousand. One man can
produce cotton cloth for two hundred and fifty people, woollens for three
hundred, and boots and shoes for a thousand. One would conclude from this
that under a capable management of society modern civilized man would be a
great deal better off than the cave-man. But is he? Let us see. In the
United States to-day there are fifteen million* people living in poverty;
and by poverty is meant that condition in life in which, through lack of
food and adequate shelter, the mere standard of working efficiency cannot
be maintained. In the United States to-day, in spite of all your so-called
labor legislation, there are three millions of child laborers.** In twelve
years their numbers have been doubled. And in passing I will ask you
managers of society why you did not make public the census figures of
1910? And I will answer for you, that you were afraid. The figures of
misery would have precipitated the revolution that even now is gathering.
* Robert Hunter, in 1906, in a book entitled "Poverty,"
pointed out that at that time there were ten millions in the
United States living in poverty.
** In the United States Census of 1900 (the last census the
figures of which were made public), the number of child
laborers was placed at 1,752,187.
"But to return to my indictment. If modern man's producing power is a
thousand times greater than that of the cave-man, why then, in the United
States to-day, are there fifteen million people who are not properly
sheltered and properly fed? Why then, in the United States to-day, are
there three million child laborers? It is a true indictment. The
capitalist class has mismanaged. In face of the facts that modern man
lives more wretchedly than the cave-man, and that his producing power is a
thousand times greater than that of the cave-man, no other conclusion is
possible than that the capitalist class has mismanaged, that you have
mismanaged, my masters, that you have criminally and selfishly mismanaged.
And on this count you cannot answer me here to-night, face to face, any
more than can your whole class answer the million and a half of
revolutionists in the United States. You cannot answer. I challenge you to
answer. And furthermore, I dare to say to you now that when I have
finished you will not answer. On that point you will be tongue-tied,
though you will talk wordily enough about other things.
"You have failed in your management. You have made a shambles of
civilization. You have been blind and greedy. You have risen up (as you
to-day rise up), shamelessly, in our legislative halls, and declared that
profits were impossible without the toil of children and babes. Don't take
my word for it. It is all in the records against you. You have lulled your
conscience to sleep with prattle of sweet ideals and dear moralities. You
are fat with power and possession, drunken with success; and you have no
more hope against us than have the drones, clustered about the honey-vats,
when the worker-bees spring upon them to end their rotund existence. You
have failed in your management of society, and your management is to be
taken away from you. A million and a half of the men of the working class
say that they are going to get the rest of the working class to join with
them and take the management away from you. This is the revolution, my
masters. Stop it if you can."
For an appreciable lapse of time Ernest's voice continued to ring through
the great room. Then arose the throaty rumble I had heard before, and a
dozen men were on their feet clamoring for recognition from Colonel Van
Gilbert. I noticed Miss Brentwood's shoulders moving convulsively, and for
the moment I was angry, for I thought that she was laughing at Ernest. And
then I discovered that it was not laughter, but hysteria. She was appalled
by what she had done in bringing this firebrand before her blessed
Colonel Van Gilbert did not notice the dozen men, with passion-wrought
faces, who strove to get permission from him to speak. His own face was
passion-wrought. He sprang to his feet, waving his arms, and for a moment
could utter only incoherent sounds. Then speech poured from him. But it
was not the speech of a one-hundred-thousand-dollar lawyer, nor was the
"Fallacy upon fallacy!" he cried. "Never in all my life have I heard so
many fallacies uttered in one short hour. And besides, young man, I must
tell you that you have said nothing new. I learned all that at college
before you were born. Jean Jacques Rousseau enunciated your socialistic
theory nearly two centuries ago. A return to the soil, forsooth!
Reversion! Our biology teaches the absurdity of it. It has been truly said
that a little learning is a dangerous thing, and you have exemplified it
to-night with your madcap theories. Fallacy upon fallacy! I was never so
nauseated in my life with overplus of fallacy. That for your immature
generalizations and childish reasonings!"
He snapped his fingers contemptuously and proceeded to sit down. There
were lip-exclamations of approval on the part of the women, and hoarser
notes of confirmation came from the men. As for the dozen men who were
clamoring for the floor, half of them began speaking at once. The
confusion and babel was indescribable. Never had Mrs. Pertonwaithe's
spacious walls beheld such a spectacle. These, then, were the cool
captains of industry and lords of society, these snarling, growling
savages in evening clothes. Truly Ernest had shaken them when he stretched
out his hands for their moneybags, his hands that had appeared in their
eyes as the hands of the fifteen hundred thousand revolutionists.
But Ernest never lost his head in a situation. Before Colonel Van Gilbert
had succeeded in sitting down, Ernest was on his feet and had sprung
"One at a time!" he roared at them.
The sound arose from his great lungs and dominated the human tempest. By
sheer compulsion of personality he commanded silence.
"One at a time," he repeated softly. "Let me answer Colonel Van Gilbert.
After that the rest of you can come at me—but one at a time,
remember. No mass-plays here. This is not a football field.
"As for you," he went on, turning toward Colonel Van Gilbert, "you have
replied to nothing I have said. You have merely made a few excited and
dogmatic assertions about my mental caliber. That may serve you in your
business, but you can't talk to me like that. I am not a workingman, cap
in hand, asking you to increase my wages or to protect me from the machine
at which I work. You cannot be dogmatic with truth when you deal with me.
Save that for dealing with your wage-slaves. They will not dare reply to
you because you hold their bread and butter, their lives, in your hands.
"As for this return to nature that you say you learned at college before I
was born, permit me to point out that on the face of it you cannot have
learned anything since. Socialism has no more to do with the state of
nature than has differential calculus with a Bible class. I have called
your class stupid when outside the realm of business. You, sir, have
brilliantly exemplified my statement."
This terrible castigation of her hundred-thousand-dollar lawyer was too
much for Miss Brentwood's nerves. Her hysteria became violent, and she was
helped, weeping and laughing, out of the room. It was just as well, for
there was worse to follow.
"Don't take my word for it," Ernest continued, when the interruption had
been led away. "Your own authorities with one unanimous voice will prove
you stupid. Your own hired purveyors of knowledge will tell you that you
are wrong. Go to your meekest little assistant instructor of sociology and
ask him what is the difference between Rousseau's theory of the return to
nature and the theory of socialism; ask your greatest orthodox bourgeois
political economists and sociologists; question through the pages of every
text-book written on the subject and stored on the shelves of your
subsidized libraries; and from one and all the answer will be that there
is nothing congruous between the return to nature and socialism. On the
other hand, the unanimous affirmative answer will be that the return to
nature and socialism are diametrically opposed to each other. As I say,
don't take my word for it. The record of your stupidity is there in the
books, your own books that you never read. And so far as your stupidity is
concerned, you are but the exemplar of your class.
"You know law and business, Colonel Van Gilbert. You know how to serve
corporations and increase dividends by twisting the law. Very good. Stick
to it. You are quite a figure. You are a very good lawyer, but you are a
poor historian, you know nothing of sociology, and your biology is
contemporaneous with Pliny."
Here Colonel Van Gilbert writhed in his chair. There was perfect quiet in
the room. Everybody sat fascinated—paralyzed, I may say. Such
fearful treatment of the great Colonel Van Gilbert was unheard of,
undreamed of, impossible to believe—the great Colonel Van Gilbert
before whom judges trembled when he arose in court. But Ernest never gave
quarter to an enemy.
"This is, of course, no reflection on you," Ernest said. "Every man to his
trade. Only you stick to your trade, and I'll stick to mine. You have
specialized. When it comes to a knowledge of the law, of how best to evade
the law or make new law for the benefit of thieving corporations, I am
down in the dirt at your feet. But when it comes to sociology—my
trade—you are down in the dirt at my feet. Remember that. Remember,
also, that your law is the stuff of a day, and that you are not versatile
in the stuff of more than a day. Therefore your dogmatic assertions and
rash generalizations on things historical and sociological are not worth
the breath you waste on them."
Ernest paused for a moment and regarded him thoughtfully, noting his face
dark and twisted with anger, his panting chest, his writhing body, and his
slim white hands nervously clenching and unclenching.
"But it seems you have breath to use, and I'll give you a chance to use
it. I indicted your class. Show me that my indictment is wrong. I pointed
out to you the wretchedness of modern man—three million child slaves
in the United States, without whose labor profits would not be possible,
and fifteen million under-fed, ill-clothed, and worse-housed people. I
pointed out that modern man's producing power through social organization
and the use of machinery was a thousand times greater than that of the
cave-man. And I stated that from these two facts no other conclusion was
possible than that the capitalist class had mismanaged. This was my
indictment, and I specifically and at length challenged you to answer it.
Nay, I did more. I prophesied that you would not answer. It remains for
your breath to smash my prophecy. You called my speech fallacy. Show the
fallacy, Colonel Van Gilbert. Answer the indictment that I and my fifteen
hundred thousand comrades have brought against your class and you."
Colonel Van Gilbert quite forgot that he was presiding, and that in
courtesy he should permit the other clamorers to speak. He was on his
feet, flinging his arms, his rhetoric, and his control to the winds,
alternately abusing Ernest for his youth and demagoguery, and savagely
attacking the working class, elaborating its inefficiency and
"For a lawyer, you are the hardest man to keep to a point I ever saw,"
Ernest began his answer to the tirade. "My youth has nothing to do with
what I have enunciated. Nor has the worthlessness of the working class. I
charged the capitalist class with having mismanaged society. You have not
answered. You have made no attempt to answer. Why? Is it because you have
no answer? You are the champion of this whole audience. Every one here,
except me, is hanging on your lips for that answer. They are hanging on
your lips for that answer because they have no answer themselves. As for
me, as I said before, I know that you not only cannot answer, but that you
will not attempt an answer."
"This is intolerable!" Colonel Van Gilbert cried out. "This is insult!"
"That you should not answer is intolerable," Ernest replied gravely. "No
man can be intellectually insulted. Insult, in its very nature, is
emotional. Recover yourself. Give me an intellectual answer to my
intellectual charge that the capitalist class has mismanaged society."
Colonel Van Gilbert remained silent, a sullen, superior expression on his
face, such as will appear on the face of a man who will not bandy words
with a ruffian.
"Do not be downcast," Ernest said. "Take consolation in the fact that no
member of your class has ever yet answered that charge." He turned to the
other men who were anxious to speak. "And now it's your chance. Fire away,
and do not forget that I here challenge you to give the answer that
Colonel Van Gilbert has failed to give."
It would be impossible for me to write all that was said in the
discussion. I never realized before how many words could be spoken in
three short hours. At any rate, it was glorious. The more his opponents
grew excited, the more Ernest deliberately excited them. He had an
encyclopaedic command of the field of knowledge, and by a word or a
phrase, by delicate rapier thrusts, he punctured them. He named the points
of their illogic. This was a false syllogism, that conclusion had no
connection with the premise, while that next premise was an impostor
because it had cunningly hidden in it the conclusion that was being
attempted to be proved. This was an error, that was an assumption, and the
next was an assertion contrary to ascertained truth as printed in all the
And so it went. Sometimes he exchanged the rapier for the club and went
smashing amongst their thoughts right and left. And always he demanded
facts and refused to discuss theories. And his facts made for them a
Waterloo. When they attacked the working class, he always retorted, "The
pot calling the kettle black; that is no answer to the charge that your
own face is dirty." And to one and all he said: "Why have you not answered
the charge that your class has mismanaged? You have talked about other
things and things concerning other things, but you have not answered. Is
it because you have no answer?"
It was at the end of the discussion that Mr. Wickson spoke. He was the
only one that was cool, and Ernest treated him with a respect he had not
accorded the others.
"No answer is necessary," Mr. Wickson said with slow deliberation. "I have
followed the whole discussion with amazement and disgust. I am disgusted
with you gentlemen, members of my class. You have behaved like foolish
little schoolboys, what with intruding ethics and the thunder of the
common politician into such a discussion. You have been outgeneralled and
outclassed. You have been very wordy, and all you have done is buzz. You
have buzzed like gnats about a bear. Gentlemen, there stands the bear" (he
pointed at Ernest), "and your buzzing has only tickled his ears.
"Believe me, the situation is serious. That bear reached out his paws
tonight to crush us. He has said there are a million and a half of
revolutionists in the United States. That is a fact. He has said that it
is their intention to take away from us our governments, our palaces, and
all our purpled ease. That, also, is a fact. A change, a great change, is
coming in society; but, haply, it may not be the change the bear
anticipates. The bear has said that he will crush us. What if we crush the
The throat-rumble arose in the great room, and man nodded to man with
indorsement and certitude. Their faces were set hard. They were fighters,
that was certain.
"But not by buzzing will we crush the bear," Mr. Wickson went on coldly
and dispassionately. "We will hunt the bear. We will not reply to the bear
in words. Our reply shall be couched in terms of lead. We are in power.
Nobody will deny it. By virtue of that power we shall remain in power."
He turned suddenly upon Ernest. The moment was dramatic.
"This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you
reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we
will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine
of machine-guns will our answer be couched.* We will grind you
revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The
world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host
of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history
aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those
that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of
words—Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your
tongue till it tingles with it. Power."
* To show the tenor of thought, the following definition is
quoted from "The Cynic's Word Book" (1906 A.D.), written by
one Ambrose Bierce, an avowed and confirmed misanthrope of
the period: "Grapeshot, n. An argument which the future is
preparing in answer to the demands of American Socialism."
"I am answered," Ernest said quietly. "It is the only answer that could be
given. Power. It is what we of the working class preach. We know, and well
we know by bitter experience, that no appeal for the right, for justice,
for humanity, can ever touch you. Your hearts are hard as your heels with
which you tread upon the faces of the poor. So we have preached power. By
the power of our ballots on election day will we take your government away
"What if you do get a majority, a sweeping majority, on election day?" Mr.
Wickson broke in to demand. "Suppose we refuse to turn the government over
to you after you have captured it at the ballot-box?"
"That, also, have we considered," Ernest replied. "And we shall give you
an answer in terms of lead. Power you have proclaimed the king of words.
Very good. Power it shall be. And in the day that we sweep to victory at
the ballot-box, and you refuse to turn over to us the government we have
constitutionally and peacefully captured, and you demand what we are going
to do about it—in that day, I say, we shall answer you; and in roar
of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns shall our answer be
"You cannot escape us. It is true that you have read history aright. It is
true that labor has from the beginning of history been in the dirt. And it
is equally true that so long as you and yours and those that come after
you have power, that labor shall remain in the dirt. I agree with you. I
agree with all that you have said. Power will be the arbiter, as it always
has been the arbiter. It is a struggle of classes. Just as your class
dragged down the old feudal nobility, so shall it be dragged down by my
class, the working class. If you will read your biology and your sociology
as clearly as you do your history, you will see that this end I have
described is inevitable. It does not matter whether it is in one year,
ten, or a thousand—your class shall be dragged down. And it shall be
done by power. We of the labor hosts have conned that word over till our
minds are all a-tingle with it. Power. It is a kingly word."
And so ended the night with the Philomaths.