Friday, January 11, 2013

Lizzie M. Holmes, "A Gift from His Employes" (1902)


The junior member of the firm of Seigel, Berkfield & Co., manufacturers of cloaks and suits, was about to be married. The employees all knew it for some weeks before the event, and that great preparations were going forward for the wedding, that the bride was an heiress, young, stylish and pretty. It was the sensation of the day among them as well as among the other circle who could see the bride and her dresses, and the presents which would be sent in. They could not hope to see so much as a white favor. Nevertheless an under forelady conceived the idea that it would be quite the proper thing for the hands in the shop to make up a subscription and buy a handsome present for the prospective groom. She talked to the head forelady about it and she said immediately, “Yes, indeed that is what we must do, and we must get about it directly.”
So at noon they got their heads together and drew up a paper which would pledge each one who signed it to give whatever sum of money they set opposite their names. The forelady herself did not sign it; she would make up whatever was wanting at the close, she said. She went first to the head cutter who made something near decent wages in his department, where she talked, flattered and cajoled until he put down his name for $5. She smiled triumphantly as she turned away with the paper, but the man scowled and he muttered between his teeth, “Blackmail! If I hadn’t signed it, I wouldn’t hold my job a week!”
The two women pushed the circulation of the paper with great energy. A few women signed it willingly and with pleased smiles as though they realized the honor of being a participant in presenting a gift to young Berkfield. But over the faces of many of the girls came dark shadows, startled, dismayed looks, and here and there a spasm of fear as at an impending catastrophe.
One young woman sat in the corner with three women of about her own age, by name, Martha West, who was more than usually thoughtful and observant, and who watched proceedings closely. Two or three seats away sat a young girl of sixteen and to her now came one of the solicitors with the paper. The girl read it with her head bowed over it, but presently looked up with a poor, little, pathetic smile on her wistful face and her sad blue eyes full of tears.
“I don’t see how I can give anything this week, Miss Jackson,” she said tremblingly.
“Oh, you wouldn’t wish to be left out when the employees are giving Mr. Berkfield a wedding present, I’m sure,” the other said with an ingratiating smile, still holding the paper under the girl’s eyes.
“But how can I? My grandmother—you know I live with her—is sick this week and has to have medicine and a little something she can eat. She generally earns a little selling medicinal and aromatic herbs that she raises in the little square of a back yard, herself. I have had everything to do myself since she is sick. I have scarcely enough to last over Sunday, and Monday is pay day.”
“To be sure it is, and you can borrow a little and pay it then.”
“Oh, I dare not go in debt. My pay is so small, that every cent is needed and laid out before it comes to me. If I give you anything I must go hungry until I get the next pay.”
“Oh, I guess it’s not as bad as that. Fifty cents won’t make or break you.”
“I would give it if I could afford it.”
“I wouldn’t be so stingy as to begrudge a miserly fifty cents, any way. Maybe you can’t afford not to give it.”
Nettie started and looked up quickly. A tear rolled over the heavy eyelid and down the thin cheek; but she took the paper and slowly wrote her name with fifty cents opposite it.
The solicitor passed on to the next worker, a silent, stolid German woman who plodded away at her work like a machine. She never stopped, never lost a motion; she did not move as quickly as some of the workers, but her slow, methodical, ceaseless movements produced results that compared very favorably to many of the swifter ones. She did not pause now as the solicitor approached her.
“I gif not one cent,” she said determinedly, as the girl explained her object. A few of the most important arguments were used.
“I gif not one cent,” she repeated still working. “I earn my money. I care not for Berkfield or his wedding. Let me do my work.” And she fed the beginning of a long seam into her machine, and took no more notice of the woman with the subscription.
The solicitor obtained the signature of the next worker for $1 quite easily, and considerably encouraged, she smilingly approached Martha West.
“What shall I put you down for, Miss West? You understand no doubt that we are getting up a subscription to buy a nice present for Mr. Berkfield on the occasion of his marriage.”
“Those of Mr. Berkfield’s friends who wish to make him a present should do so. I am not even an acquaintance of Mr. Berkfield and have no wish to make him a present.”
“Oh, but he is your employer—it is a matter of courtesy you know. He will appreciate a present from his employees, I am sure.”
“As an employee I owe him nothing. He hires me as cheaply as he can. I must ‘pay’ him or he would not keep me. We are not friends—he would not recognize me if we were to meet on the streets. I would not be admitted into his house if I were to call there. Send a present where I would not be received myself? Hardly. Then, on what grounds do you ask me to give him a present?”
“He has furnished you your bread and butter for the last two years or more.”
“I have furnished him with a great deal more than bread and butter. We all of us have furnished him with the means of getting rich, while we have received scarcely bread and butter, for butter is a luxury.”
“But he gives you a chance to work and earn what you have.”
“If he and people like him would get out of our way we would make our own chances. Come now, Miss Jackson, do you think it honorable business to go around here blackmailing these hard-worked, poorly paid girls out of their meagre wages, when already they have sacrificed their health and strength and time to help Berkfield get rich? Look at that poor Mrs. Black over there—three children and a mother to provide”
“‘Yes, and just think, she gave a dollar!”
“She has forced the food out of her children’s mouths to give it to that satiated young fop, who doesn’t even know her and wouldn’t lift a straw to help her in trouble. You are not the girl I thought you or you wouldn’t be in this dirty, blackmailing business for one minute!”
Miss Jackson suddenly picked up her paper and with a curl of her lip, indignantly hurried away to join the forelady and the other solicitors at the head of the room. The women about Miss Martha West had listened to their conversation; some had looked shocked, some frightened and a few smiled and seemed well pleased. One of them now said:
“I believe you’re right, Miss West. We work too hard and get too little for it—why should we pinch ourselves still more than we do just to give a present he won’t care for?”
“When presents are given it should be between friends who love each other; Berkfield does not even know us by name and would never bother himself to try to learn to know us. Under such circumstances a present is a mockery.”
The paper filled up, rather slowly to be sure; but the work did not cease until the full amount required, $100, was subscribed. As there was then no deficiency to make up the forelady did not trouble to sign her name at all for any sum. One hundred dollars from a little throng of women, girls and a few men and boys, not one of whom but must be deprived, out of an already deprived life, of necessities, in order to do this. The money was collected on Saturday afternoon, and the next Monday was pay day. Many a one emptied their little, lean, worn pocketbooks, and knew they must walk home and go very near dinnerless the next day; but they did not tell one another their straits and took what comfort they could in the consciousness of having helped to give a comparative stranger a gift he did not need and would probably care very little about.
When the money was all in, the forelady and two of her assistants prepared to go out and make the purchase. One of the hands said entreatingly, “Oh, please bring it here so we can all have a look at our present before you take it home.”
‘I think not,” said the forelady, haughtily; “do you imagine that we will carry a great load of silver about the streets merely to gratify you women’s idle curiosity? We will buy a solid silver water service very probably, and you can go around by the silver merchant’s store and look at those in the window to your heart’s content.”
“Will there be an inscription on it?”
“Oh, yes! You will get glory enough: ‘Herman Berkfield. April 26th, from his grateful employees.’ He shall know where it came from.”
“If we can’t even see it, I wish I had my money back!” cried out one of the girls. “So do I!” “So do I!” exclaimed several others.
“Well, you’ll not get it back,” the lady said and hastened away. Perhaps she thought it not wise to linger there with the hundred dollars she had extracted from the needy crowd.
The wedding was to occur on Wednesday of the next week. On Tuesday some of the girls thinking so much of the presents and of their own in particular, became wild to get a glimpse of them, of the one they had given, at least. Some of them knew where the bride lived and proposed that a party go there and boldly ask to enter and see the presents. Several agreed to go, but when the start was made but three remained firm. They brushed their dusty clothes as clean as they could, washed unusually well—for a four by five wash room—and four basins in the dark, are very poor accommodations for 125 women to make their toilets in, and many just gave their faces a good rub with a handkerchief and went home without washing. They were but poor, shabby sewing girls when they did the best they could.
They proceeded to the place, and with quaking limbs, rang the doorbell. A servant opened the door, who stared at them coolly and asked them who they wanted to see.
“We—we want to see Miss Farnsworth—no, we only want to see the presents; we gave one you know; the girls from the shop, you know—”
“Mrs. Farnsworth and her daughter are not at home, misses.”
“Well, can’t we come in and see the presents, any way?”
“I am not at liberty to admit strangers in their absence,” he said coldly, but bowing very politely.
The girls could but retreat as gracefully as circumstances would permit, and the man shut the door. But seeing they had gone this far they felt daring and would not go home without another attempt. The dwelling stood on a corner and they walked around on the other streets and looked into the windows. It was not yet dark and the curtains were up. They could see a glimmer of silver on a table not far from the window, and they became bolder. They found entrance at a side gate, went through and crept up close to the house. They saw the table plainly now with its burden of brilliant, beautiful things, jewelry, silken and lace articles, silverware and gold, and amidst them all a big shining pitcher swinging on its arch, two heavy goblets resting in their sockets, and the inscription, “To Herman Berkfield, a gift from his employees,” luckily turned toward the window. They forgot their sorrows, heaved great sighs of pride and delight, and felt that blissful proprietory sense in something grand which swells in the breasts of the poor so infrequently. Then a woman came toward the window and terrible screams issued forth from her throat. “Police! Police! Help! help!” someone cried from within, and for a wonder two policemen were round the corner within hearing. The girls were trying to get out of the gate when the policemen met and held them. The man and the maidservant came out of the house. “What’s the matter, here?” asked the officer with a tight grip on two young arms.
The man servant spoke:
“These women are prowling around here to find where the presents are kept. I suppose they has their pals waitin’ to hear their report.”
“I guess you’ll have to come along,” the police said pulling the girls along. But they were nearly paralyzed and could scarcely sustain their own weight, much less walk.
“Do ye want us to get the wagon?”
“The leading spirit finally recovered her voice sufficiently to make a plea. “Oh, sir!” she half-sobbed, “it isn’t true. We work for Mr. Berkfield, and we wanted to make him a wedding present, and it was bought and sent here; we only wanted to see what we had bought with our own money,” and then she broke down and began to cry.
Policemen must be hardened, coarse, and unfeeling or they wouldn’t be policemen, but after all they are human and have hearts beating away in some remote part of their corporeal systems, and something pathetic in these hard-working, shabby, but innocent young girls trying so hard to see the one fine article they had ever had a hand in purchasing, touched them. They could tell very easily the girls were really what they represented themselves. They led them into the street.
Now, go home, girls. We believe you are all right, but never try anything of this sort again. You can’t go creeping around rich people’s houses like this without being suspected.”
“Oh, will this get into the papers? Will you keep still about it? Oh, please, please! Don’t get us into more trouble—we’ve had enough!”
The officers laughed, then looked serious.
“No, ‘pon honor, we won’t say a word about it. We don’t want to hurt you workin’ girls; you have a hard enough life of it,” and they went away. The girls the next day did tell that they had seen the presents, but they did not tell the rest until long afterward when they could speak of it without trembling in their shoes with fear and shame.
Miss Martha experienced another sequel, not turning out so fortunately. She found the foreladies all very cool to her after her outspoken refusal to give anything toward the gift. One day she was given three cloaks in one package. They were brown but with a shade of difference in the color that she could not discern. While making them up she sometimes had her doubts that the cloth was all alike; but after staring at them awhile would again conclude they were all right. When she took them up for examination, the head examiner told her she had mixed the goods throughout the cloaks and they must all be ripped and made over again. Made with pockets, lapels and straps, all stitched three times around with silk, this was a momentous job. Martha knew that she would not have been forced to make good this mistake, if it was a mistake, on her own time, if she had stood well with the forelady; the difference in the cloaks could not have been distinguished by the naked eye, unless one were specially looking for something wrong. “I cannot do all that work over again. I will not try.”
“Then you can have no more work.”
She said nothing and went back to her seat. She thought long whether she could afford best to give up her place or spend three or four more days in remaking the cloaks. But she knew she would never be in favor there again and finally determined to go. She walked away, without a word from any of her employers or the companions of two years’ working time, to drift about among the jobless ones until another master could be found. 

Holmes, Lizzie M. “A Gift from His Employes.” The Tailor 12, no. 11 (June 1902): 4–6.

Holmes, Lizzie M. “The ‘Slummers’” (1902)


Three charming young ladies sat together chatting and eating bonbons and fruit in the pretty, cosy boudoir belonging to one of them, one afternoon in early spring. Some one had quoted the saying “One-half the world does not know how the other half lives,” and pretty Miss Daisy Erwin exclaimed:
“Why can’t we learn? I want to know if there are people who live in so opposite a manner from ourselves—let us go and see them.”
Beautiful Miss Kate Durham, the hostess, thought favorably of the idea. The third young lady, older somewhat than her companions, sat at a table viewing a few water colors by an amateur and looked thoughtful over the proposition. She was not like the others—her dress was rich but quiet, and her graceful head and neck indicated a queenly nature which her kind, intellectual face belied. She spoke presently and said:
“What excuse do you make for breaking in upon people who are very busy, and staring and asking impertinent questions?”
“Oh, it isn’t necessary to have an excuse!” flippantly answered Miss Erwin. “Everybody goes slumming, you know. The slummees like It.”
“How do you know? They are human beings and ought to possess common human right,” Miss Mabel Grey answered with considerable earnestness.
Miss Durham hastened to interpose.
“Oh, but you know, dear, we may be able to do them good. The more we learn of them the better chance we have. And they do not mind being looked at, any more than oxen would while plowing. We will get Cousin Austin to accompany us, and he can procure a policeman if necessary. Perhaps if Mabel objects to visiting the low working people, she would prefer to go and see the low, vicious people. Which shall it be, the dives or the sweatshops?”
“How is that people who really work should be so poor and low? I suppose they are paid for their work, aren’t they?”
“It is called ‘pay,’ and they manage to live upon it,” said Miss Mabel, “and naturally their surroundings are miserable, and they are half nourished; but if you expect to find them all ignorant and low in their taste you will find yourselves mistaken. Some of them are ladylike, and even accomplished, but they are poor and choose rather to be honest and be robbed than to rob. The shop is a good place to hide one’s sorrow in—and they can be free when the day’s work is over to shut themselves in their own poor little rooms and commune with themselves undisturbed. It is the reason so many prefer the drudgery and privation of sewing shops rather than ‘go out to service.’“
“Oh, you weave quite a romantic veil about their lives. I declare. You make me only the more anxious to see them,” cried Daisy.
The party was made up for the very next day, and “Cousin Austin,” a very elegant young man who possessed some strange, misunderstood traits, had been coaxed into going with them. They dressed quite plainly for them and set out on a common street car, riding a long way to where the houses were commonplace and bare of ornament. Then they took a street a little worse looking than the others and walked until the buildings were only great ugly boxes, set on end and full of narrow holes called windows. They were very old and looked like aged people, as they sheltered their swarms of inmates, still trying to be useful and strong as ever. The pavements were worn into great holes and hillocks, and unpleasant odors filled the air. The ladies put their handkerchiefs to their lips and looked about hesitatingly.
“Oh, this isn’t a beginning, ladies. Do you wish to go back?”
“No, no,” they exclaimed, “we want to go on.”
“I believe there are some typical sweatshops in this vicinity,” answered Austin. “I may have to make some inquiries.”
“Why did you not procure a policeman?” asked Kate.
“Well, to tell the truth, I do not like their company. And we might frighten the children, you know, with their great blue-coated presence.”
“I can’t understand you, Austin; but do you think we are safe?”
“Safe as if in your own street. People who are willing to work hard and live as these people do, will not steal of you. They would have gone the way of the thief long ago if they had not been determined to be honest at all hazards.”
They entered an open doorway presently and found they must climb the stairs, narrow, steep, stairways, with wonderful possibilities in the way of dirt in the shadows lurking about them. At the third flight the ladies began to complain. “Why you only have this to climb once, the inmates climb them many times a day.”
“They must be strong.”
“Far from it. Look! A baby carrying a baby brother,” and ahead of them they saw a little girl, thin and colorless, lugging a thin baby almost as big as herself, up the steep steps, slowly, painfully, but with great solicitude and faithfulness. They sat down on the stairs and stared at the visitors as they passed them, looking with wistful, wondering eyes that betrayed depths of loneliness and suffering.
But soon the cousin stopped before a dingy little door and knocked. After some moments the door was cautiously opened a little way and a dark, Jewish, man’s face looked out, and a voice asked what they wanted.
“What shall I say we want, young ladies?” Austin turned politely to his companions as lie asked the question.
“Oh, anything,” chirped Daisy. “That we want to see his shop and his hands.”
“Yes, you see, my man,” said Austin deprecatingly.
“We haf no time—no room for you, and we haf no business mid you,” and the door was unceremoniously closed. But they had had their glimpse and had discerned some women sitting as closely together as the machines would permit, that the air was full of dust and lint and odors and a sickening heat and that the floor could not be seen for the lint, scraps and litter which covered it, and they had heard that these women worked there for from twelve to sixteen hours a day.
“That was but a glimpse—we want more,” and Austin stopped again before a battered door and rapped respectfully. This time it was flung wide open—a pale, scrawny looking young man or boy holding it open with one hand while he held a hot iron in the other; an ironing table stood near, with a red hot little stove loaded with irons occupied that side of the small room. Three young men, thin-chested, blue-lipped boys sat at as many machines, with heavy cloth in their sickly looking hands.
“Yes. come in—come in,” said the boy at the door. “We have no chairs to offer you unless we give you ours, but we cannot spare the time to stand. You want to know all about us. Yes, we live, eat, sleep and work in this little room, and we work from fourteen to seventeen hours every day in it. We earn from three to five dollars a week apiece and in the dull seasons two dollars or less or nothing. We are not extravagant—we can’t be. We don’t drink, and we don’t eat—much, and we don’t take the medicine a kind doctor prescribed for us—’cause we can’t get it. We never go anywhere, never take a vacation, and we all have the consumption and will probably be dead by this time next year. Is there anything else you would like to know?”
“Pardon us,” said Austin softly, and backed away from the door. But Kate went forward and reached out a silver dollar. The boy stared at it but made no move toward touching it. She let it fall on the floor, and the young man ostentatiously got a broom and swept it out into the hall. Perhaps it did some poor wretch some good as the party walked away rather shamefacedly and left, it there.
They went down into the street now and turned to the south. The finally came to a row of old frame cottages which had once made decent homes for well-to-do people. Now, they leaned against each other, were propped up with old beams, and the weather beaten old walls looked as thought they might fall away any moment. Austin knocked at the outside door here and presently a little child came and laboriously opened it. “There are some women here who sew, I believe. Will you-show us their rooms, please?”
The child almost softened into a gray smile and murmured “Yes, sir,” as she ran away with a motion for them to follow. Up a flight of stairs down a long hall and she called out “Mis’ Wood, some visitors!” and would have run away, but Austin caught her and gave her a piece of silver. She blushed as she finished the smile began below stairs and said “Thank you, sir.” The door at hand quickly opened, and an elderly woman who might have been one’s aunt living in strict retirement, so neat, so respectable and quiet she appeared, stood in the doorway awaiting them.
“Will you walk in? Though we have but an humble place to receive you in,” she bowed as she stepped aside to let them enter, and immediately began to obtain some seats, motioning one girl to sit on an upturned box, another to sit on the foot of a bed and another to go to the pressing table and busy herself there. The room was very old and poor with the plastering falling off in places, but the worst spots were covered with clean, new papers and simple woodcuts, while the windows were draped with old curtains which had at some remote period been quite handsome. A shelf of books hung on the wall, and in a corner where it was now covered with half made garments they discerned a little old cabinet organ. When they were seated, the quiet little elderly woman spoke of the weather as though to tide over the little embarrassing pause which nearly always ensues when callers first come, with any proper remark that comes to hand. Even Daisy was somewhat abashed, and felt decidedly the “fool that had rushed in where angels,” etc., and wondered how they were to carry out their “slumming” before these ladylike personages, who would have graced their own parlors. There were four younger women working at light calico wrappers, and the place had no suggestion of the ordinary “sweatshop;” yet those pretty garments were brought from a big manufacturing establishment down town and neatly made up for an incredible price, considering human beings had to live on it: but these delicate women preferred to work thus than to expose themselves to the stare of the world and go to the large manufacturing houses; they wore out fewer clothes, too. The faces of these women told sad stories; of sensitiveness, unregarded refinement, silently borne poverty, sorrowful pasts—each was a “woman with a past”—a past that was still with them. While a difficult conversation was struggling along between the elderly lady and Austin and Kate, Mabel had fixed her gaze upon a sweet, melancholy face of a girl near the window with waving, coal black hair and deep, sad, violet eyes, and the low, white beautiful brow of a Madonna. She could not help herself—she must go to this girl and then she placed her hand upon hers and spoke low and softly to her. Daisy, watching her, wondered to herself: “There, she will go to one of these women as though she were one of them and gain their good will immediately. Is it because, or in spite of the fact that she is richer than any of us?”
Meanwhile Mabel was saying: “Your face attracts me. I have been thinking that I have known and loved you sometime in the past, perhaps in some other life, but—somewhere. Let me be your friend—let me know and love you again.”
The girl looked surprised and at first indignant.
“Is this a new way?” she asked. “You do not come out bluntly like the others and ask us how much we earn and what we do with it, and why we don’t go out to service, and pry into our private affairs generally. But that is what you came for, I presume. Though why any of you do it, I cannot understand; you do no one any good. It must be just to gratify a small, unworthy curiosity.”
“Believe me, I am in earnest. I want you to be my friend. I have no friend such as you would be to me. You—remind—you remind me of a dear little sister I lost when I was twelve years old. I have been poor and I have worked hard, scrubbed floors, sewed, picked berries, anything I could get to do to earn my bread. Don’t think I do not know how it all is—I understand all about it. I am rich now but a true friend is harder to find than work was in the old days.” The young woman was looking at her interestedly now, with a certain strange expectancy in her eyes, and Mabel was encouraged.
“I will tell you my story. My mother died when I was twelve, my father several years before. My dear mother was poor, her little income died with her. My dear sister was ten years old, and when we were left alone two different neighbors took us. Soon afterward the people who took my sister went away west to take up a farm; I have never heard of them since. My people were not kind to me, and I ran away from them. Then it was that I worked so hard. When about sixteen I was undermaid in a rich maiden lady’s house. She was taken very sick and they found that I could nurse and care for her better than anyone else. I nursed her through a long, severe illness and when she recovered partially she still needed me. She lived a number of years, but in a weak and nervous condition and could not bear to have me away from her. She had a favorite nephew who displeased her by refusing to marry the lady she had chosen for him and going away to Africa. At last she died and it was found that she had left all her large fortune to me, cutting off her nephew without a cent. I want to find him and give it back to him, or part of it, for I am sure my dear old friend would like me to keep some of it.”
The girl’s eyes were glowing now, and she said in a voice of suppressed excitement:
“Your name is Mabel Percy, your mother’s name was Margaret, and—and you are my sister—my name is Helen. I am your little Nellie.” Mabel’s heart told her in an instant that it was true and the two girls were soon wrapped in each other’s arms, weeping with joy, and murmuring broken words of fondness. The others scarcely realizing what had happened, looked on very much affected, for some minutes; at last the girls separated and took a long, good look at each other and each seemed satisfied. Nellie was a very pretty girl despite the pallid cheeks and the purple shadows about her temples, and Mabel, any one could be proud of her. She turned at last to her friends and said: “You must forgive me for such a display, but I have found my lost sister, whom I have not dared to hope ever to see again. I cannot express—I do not realize it yet,” and again she clasped the poor girl in her arms. Daisy in her impulsiveness hastened up to greet the newly-found sister, but Kate hesitated for she could not quite bring herself to clasp hands as an equal with a woman whom she had found working in a sweatshop. But she reflected that Nellie was very nice looking and that she would be Mabel’s protégé; that she would dress well and make a sensation in society perhaps, and she would best make her peace with her while she had a chance; so she yielded after a little hesitancy and came and cordially took her hand and kissed her on her brow.
Mabel insisted on carrying away her sister that moment; it was not necessary for her to go to her poor little room for anything. She had introduced Austin, who as deferentially and admiringly bowed and greeted her as though she were a princess. Helen was petted and rested until she regained all the strength and vigor that a young woman of her age ought to possess, and as she went out more and more became a great favorite. But neither she nor her sister ever forgot the sweatshop victims; though they never intruded upon them, never asked impertinent questions. They went to their meetings, or were properly introduced when an opportunity afforded. And when they called upon them, did so as one lady would upon another, only that their conversations were freer and more confidential. Whatever could be done to help them without making them feel they were objects of charity, the two young women accomplished; and they were both wellloved by the working girls of the city. Young Austin Durham, too, because deeply interested in the laborers and their problems, and his friends declare he is becoming as great a crank as the extremest of socialists. He is speaking, writing, giving money wherever these will do the most good; and it is said that he will be successful in winning the sister who is taking to her new life wonderfully well.
And I have recently heard that the long-absent nephew has returned and that he and Miss Mabel, who had taken her patron’s name of Grey, were much pleased with each other; and that Mabel, finding no other way of bestowing her fortune upon him, has concluded to marry him. And it is to be hoped that they will live happy ever afterward, as happy as people can be while so much injustice still prevails.

  • Holmes, Lizzie M. “The ‘Slummers’.” The Tailor 12, no. 12 (July 1902): 16–18.

Louise Michel, "Why We Are Anarchists" (1891)


Our Comrade Louise Michel has received the following letter from a stranger; we insert the letter and a translation of her answer.
Dear Miss: — You have been represented in various periodicals and newspapers, (which I have read at various times) as the leader of the school of Anarchists and of all those who wish to undermine the national Governments of civilized countries. I write to ask you whether you have not been misrepresented upon this matter, and if not, how and by what system of reasoning have you come to believe that we shall reach a perfect state of Society by destroying all Government, than by helping or forcing’ Governments to make laws which shall better the social condition of the people. I apologise very much for troubling you and remain,
Yours Sincerely, S. B.

I should have been satisfied with answering by post the question which Mr. S. B. has put in such an open handed manner, if this question was only asked by one man and if my views only were to be expressed.
We are Anarchists because it is absolutely impossible to obtain justice for all in any other way than by destroying institutions founded on force and privilege.
We cannot believe that improvement is possible, if we still keep up the same institutions, now more rotten than in the past, or if we merely replace those whose iniquities are known by new men.
These latter become in their turn what the others were, or else become barren.
After the gradual changes of past centuries the hour has come when evolution cannot be separated from revolution, as in all birth they must be accomplished together. You can no more retard the birth of a system than you can that of living being.
In what would you that we should help those who govern—their work being only exploitation and wholesale murder—it has never been otherwise: the reason for the existence of a state is nothing but the accomplishment of some crime or other in order to assure the domination of a privileged class.
An equal division of wealth would also be as mad as capitalism is criminal: to expect any amelioration of misery by modifying laws is a piece of stupidity of which we are not capable: we have seen the work of men whose illusions have only been able to perpetuate misery — millions of years being insufficient for the least amelioration of the lot of the workers. We can now see the fin-de-siècle cutthroats and assassins. That is better. We can see power on trial — we can judge it for what it is worth.
The land which belongs to all can no more be divided than the light which also belongs to all.
When free groups of men will use for the general welfare machines which reduce the hours of labour to a few, and in many forms of production the toil of rough work will be annihilated, there will remain for the intellect of the time, some time for the pursuit of art and science; and when men are delivered from the struggle for existence, they will also be delivered from crime and grief.
The ideal alone is the truth — it is the measure of our horizon. Time was when the ideal was to live without eating an other up. Is it not so still under another form which exists in the so-called civilized countries where the exploiter eats up the exploited? Do not the people in nocks fertilize the soil by their sweat and blood?
That is what we want to destroy — this annihilation — this eating of man by an other man.
The old bogie of “Society” is dead. It is time that she was buried with the worms burrowing in her vitals, in order that the air may be pure for young Anarchy, which will be order and peace under freedom instead of order kept by the murder of the multitudes.
How did I become an Anarchist? This is how. It was during a four months voyage for New Caledonia while looking at the infinity of the sea and of the sky — feeling how miserable living beings are when taken individually — how great is the ideal when it goes beyond time and beyond the hecatombs as far as the new aurora.
There I deeply felt how each drop of water of the waves was but microscopic, but how powerful it was when joined to the ocean.
So also ought each man to be in humanity. As for the third question I am not the least bit in the world “chief” of the “International school”; the word “directrix” which my comrades have joined to my name is worth nothing either, for each of us gives freely according to his conscience the courses of instruction with which he or she has charged him or her self.
What would you have? Our tongue is poor, the words are old and so they ill express new ideas.
And finally is it not time that our limited tongues should fall into the ocean of speech and of human thought? What will be the language of mankind delivered to the new Aurora — Anarchy!
Louise Michel.

[The Commonweal, 7, 282 (Sepatember 26, 1891) 119.]

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Exploits of Ravachol — II


The Man with the Dynamite
[continued from Chapter I]


Arms crossed, brows knit, eyes fixed, he seemed sunk in who-knows-what somber and sinister thoughts. Then Julie looked at him, taking him by the hand:
— What will you do over there?... Come on, tell me all, she whispered in his ear.
— There?
— Yes.
— Haven’t you caught on yet?
— I’m afraid to catch on!
He shrugged his shoulders.
— Come on!... didn’t you just hear that good innkeeper?... Didn’t he say, in telling you those stories: “Among us, messieurs the murderers can boast of being in luck?”
But Julie could not prevent herself from shivering.
— And if you had not! she said sharply. If you had been pinched!... And if one day or the other I had been condemned as your accomplice!
But Ravachol snickered. She was insistent.
— No, no, listen to me, she said, listen to me while there is still time... Let us go no further... Let’s return to Saint-Etienne...
— Without the loot! said the bandit. Not on your life! And in a strong voice, he cried:
— Coachman, faster!... You’re hardly moving!
The coachman lashed his horses, and Ravachol, drawing Julie closer to him, said:
— And you, he said, you listen to me as well, listen to me in turn, and try to be more calm, to keep your cool... If I pull this off, there is not only a bit of profit for me, but for you as well... Isn’t that true?
— So?
— Well! I rather think it is not you who will denounce me... And why would I be pinched? One more time, he added with a strange emphasis, have they pinched those from Varizelle?... those from Granay?... have they nabbed those from Côte-Bois?...
— But that was not the same thing! cried Julie.
— Not the same thing?
— Without doubt. There was no witness to their crime; no one saw them, no one could testify against them, while you would have to point you out to the police, you would have to ruin you first that innkeeper that you have questioned at such length about the hermit, then this young man here, this coachman who drives us.
“And then, how could you get away with it?... Tell me, do you understand?
But Ravachol had no time to respond.
The coach had slowed down and the driver turned towards them.
— We are at the foot of the mountain, he said. A few more minutes and we will be there.
Then, designating with the end of his whip a black spot which rose against the luminous heavens, he added:
— Hold on, look... There is the hermitage.
— Good! Good! said Ravachol. But there is no need to weary the horses... Wait for us here.
He had already stepped down from the coach and, followed by his mistress, he rapidly disappeared across the folds of the mountain.
Julie was very pale, shivering and trembling all over, but Ravachol already showed that extraordinary sang-froid that, later, would astonish those who knew him.
A few minutes later, they had indeed arrived before the abode of the hermit.
Julie trembled, shivered more and more.
— Let’s go!... Let’s go!... Listen to me! she still begged.
But Ravachol grabbed her brusquely by the wrist and spoke to her in a very low voice, as if, in that solitude, he still feared that someone could hear him.
And he added, very quickly:
— Do you understand?
— Yes, yes.
— That man could perhaps be overzealous. He could perhaps come to seek us here. In that case you must warn me. Is that clear?
— Yes, she said, her voice still more faint.
And before she had finished Ravachol was already gone.
The hermit’s grotto, tapestried with greenery, had for a door only a very thin partition which always remained ajar and through the cracks of which it was very easy, especially on a bright, starry night, to distinguish what was happening inside.
Ravachol put his eye to one of these cracks and looked.
Then, so close to committing a crime, so close to risking his hide, he laughed.
— Ah! The animal! he murmured. If the pilgrims could see him!..,
And always immobile, with his cocky smile always on his lips, he continued to look into the grotto.
His face flushed, his eyes shining brightly, the hermit remained seated before the remains of a meal which seemed to have been sufficiently hearty.
From time to time he poured himself another bumper, and drank it in one gulp; then, a gourmand’s smile, a smile full of beatitude on his lips, he crossed his hands on his belly and resumed the slightly sleepy pose in which Ravachol had found him.
And now the bandit seemed to measure his victim with his regard. And old man and half-asleep, half-drunk perhaps... Oh! The struggle would not be long and the job would be rapidly done!...
“And the pile for me!... For me, the savings of the holy man!” he said to himself.
Then, all at once, a very long, broad knife flashed in his hand.
He looked around.
Julie was at her post.
No noise in this deserted place.
“Let’s go!” he said.
And very softly, very slowly, he pushed open the door, poked his head in, and looked.
The hermit, now with eyes closed, and hands still crossed on his belly, had not flinched or stirred.
Standing now on the threshold, and even so a little pale, Ravachol took a surprised look around him.
The furnishings of the grotto, needless to say, were of the most rough and ready sort.
A little table table, a stool; in a corner, a sort of pallet; against the wall, some dried plants suspended, and some rosaries, some pious images hung up, and that was all.
So where then did the holy personage lock up his money? In what corner? In what hole? In what hiding place? That began to intrigue and also to worry Ravachol a bit, as he feared would could not do the deed swiftly enough.
“Is it perhaps on him?” he said to himself. “Pshaw! We shall see! And he spring, fast as lightning.
Throat slit, the hermit fell without a cry, without a gasp, without a moan. [Ravachol's own account was that he accidentally strangled the hermit.—Translator.]
Yet he still moved, fists clenched, face livid, a bloody foam on his lips.
Ravachol threw down his knife and crouched over him.
He felt around him, seeking the money, but nothing...
In the pockets of the dead man there was only an old prayer-book and a little snuff box.
Ravachol rose up furious, shocked, and again his gaze searched, rummaged around him.
Suddenly he ran to the pallet, believing that there would doubtless find the treasure. But no!
There again there was nothing! It was discouraging.
Ravachol took up the small iron lamp that burned on the table, then, bent over, on his knees, he inspected the ground, looking for a hole...
But there was none!
The anger of the bandit increased, becoming rage. Ah! Had he killed for nothing!
Would he be obliged to return to Saint-Etienne with empty pockets!
“And yet this joker should have money!” he said aloud. “But where the devil could it be?... Where the hell has he buried it?
And as he returned to the dead man, he shook him furiously, as if he could talk.
“Come on, then, answer me!” he cried out. “What have you done with your money?”
And as he now, his lamp raised, felt the walls, he suddenly made a surprised gesture, and a cry of joy.
He had just noticed a loose stone, a stone which concealed a hole.
To remove that stone, to push his arms into this large, deep hole, wa for Ravachol only the work of a second.
Finally, he held the loot!
Finally, he held the money from the offerings, the money of the half-wit pilgrims!
In the end, he had not burdened his conscience with the crime for nothing! But with his joy the bandit still felt some disappointment. Yes, there was a very fine, a very great sum, a small fortune, but except for a few louis and crowns, with which he began to stuff his pockets, all the rest were coins of billon, gros sous, and there were so many of them, so heavy in weight, so huge, that it was impossible that a man could carry it.
And Ravachol thought, reflecting.
What to do?
Which way to turn?
He could not, however, be so stupid, so foolish, as to leave that money, that money which others, who had gone to less trouble than him, would profit when the murder was discovered.
But Ravachol was not only an energetic man, full of resolution, he was also an ingenious and inventive spirit.
The only thing to do then, was to return immediately to Saint-Étienne...
There, he would hire a car in which he would come back to load the treasure, and he would also see his friend Fachard, the leader of a band of counterfeiters, who would certainly not refuse to give him a hand.
But the was no a minute, not a second to lose, if he wanted to return here bright and early, that is, before the crime could be discovered.
Already Ravachol had rushed out of the grotto and ran to rejoin his mistress.
It is done!” he said.
“Ah!” said Julie, stricken.
“Yes, he is done in... But there was a hitch!”
The bandit jingled his pockets:
“I have some beautiful, brand new crowns, some fine, shiny gold pieces, but it is impossible to take the pile...
“It is all small change!”
“Gros sous?”
“Yes, gros sous!... And there was... There was... I’ll just say this!... Oh! It is a good business!... But it is not finished and we’ll have to stretch a bit... we have to return quickly to Saint-Étienne and come back here pronto... I have my plan... Be bold, come on!”
And five minutes later, Ravachol and Julie had returned to the foot of the mountain.
Then the bandit had another idea.
Why not propose to the innkeeper’s boy to take them back to Saint-Etienne?
“And you know,” he said to him, “I do not skimp!... There will be a good tip for you... OK?...
“Yes, that’s fine,” responded the other, delighted by the windfall.
“But I’m in a hurry... it is a question of burning up the pavement...”
“Oh! Calm down. You will be satisfied.”
And the carriage did indeed sash towards Saint-Etienne at a breathtaking gallop.
Some hours later, a bit after sunrise, Ravachol returned to the hermit’s dwelling.
Plunging his arm into the hole, the bandit tumbled out the small change, which Fachard and another fellow, who was also part of the band of counterfeiters, piled up in sacks that they had carried.
As soon as a sack was full, one of the men loaded it on a cart which was parked by the door.
“Well! Is there no end to it?” said Fachard, suddenly. “There is still more?”
“Yes, yes!... Oh! You can slave away!” responded Ravachol, laughing. “Hold on! I would rather listen to this pretty little shower... Here now, catch!...
And plunging his arm back into the hole, he made it stream coins...
However, despite his cheek and all his sang-froid, there were moments when the murderer was not without apprehension and anxiety.
Then he interrupted his work and ran to plant himself at the door.
Sometimes he even took a few steps outside, watching out and listening for the slightest noise that he could hear, the least sound that could reach him.
Then, abruptly, he reentered and returned to his task.
And always the small change, always the sous tumbled and rained down, and while the two others, exhausted, backs aching, continued to fill the sacks swiftly, he, full of joy, let out a great burst of cynical laughter.
“Oh! The pig!... he had some savings!..."
But, finally, now it was finished.
Ravachol’s hand found nothing more in the hole.
Now, the three companions crawled on the floor, searching for coins that had got loose.
“My children, do not lose anything,” said the bandit, jeering. And first there were two coins, then two more, which makes four, then two more which makes six.
“Search well!... Money is so hard to gain!...”
And as they found nothing more, Ravachol himself loaded the last sack on his shoulder and went to throw it into the carriage.
They had laid out the corpse of the hermit on his pallet, and his assassin, always laughing, always snickering, went and took one of the rosaries hanging on the wall and wound it around his fingers.
“This way,” he said, “he will pray for the rest of his soul!”
But the sun rose, rose more and more, and if they did not want to risk being discovered, it was time to head back to Saint-Etienne.
So they hurried to throw a tarp over the cart, in a manner that concealed the sacks that contained the dead man’s money, the three men climbed onto the seat, and they left. 

[To be continued...] 
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]