IV

“Wake up, young feller! Whatcher sighin’ for?” Bewildered I turn around to meet the coarse, yet not unkindly, face of a swarthy laborer in the seat back of me.

“Oh, nothing; just dreaming,” I reply. Not wishing to encourage conversation, I pretend to become absorbed in my book.

How strange is the sudden sound of English! Almost as suddenly had I been transplanted to American soil. Six months passed after my mother’s death. Threatened by the educational authorities with a “wolf’s passport” on account of my “dangerous tendencies” — which would close every professional avenue to me, in spite of my otherwise very satisfactory standing — the situation aggravated by a violent quarrel with my guardian, Uncle Nathan, I decided to go to America. There, beyond the ocean, was the land of noble achievement, a glorious free country, where men walked erect in the full stature of manhood, — the very realization of my youthful dreams.

And now I am in America, the blessed land. The disillusionment, the disappointments, the vain struggles! ... The kaleidoscope of my brain unfolds them all before my view. Now I see myself on a bench in Union Square Park, huddled close to Fedya and Mikhail, my roommates. The night wind sweeps across the cheerless park, chilling us to the bone. I feel hungry and tired, fagged out by the day’s fruitless search for work. My heart sinks within me as I glance at my friends. “Nothing,” each had morosely reported at our nightly meeting, after the day’s weary tramp. Fedya groans in uneasy sleep, his hand groping about his knees. I pick up the newspaper that had fallen under the seat, spread it over his legs, and tuck the ends underneath. But a sudden blast tears the paper away, and whirls it off into the darkness. As I press Fedya’s hat down on his head, I am struck by his ghastly look. How these few weeks have changed the plump, rosy-cheeked youth! Poor fellow, no one wants his labor. How his mother would suffer if she knew that her carefully reared boy passes the nights in the ... What is that pain I feel? Some one is bending over me, looming unnaturally large in the darkness. Half-dazed I see an arm swing to and fro, with short, semicircular backward strokes, and with every movement I feel a sharp sting, as of a lash. Oh, it’s in my soles! Bewildered I spring to my feet. A rough hand grabs me by the throat, and I face a policeman.

“Are you thieves?” he bellows.

Mikhail replies, sleepily: “We Russians. Want work.”

“Git out o’ here! Off with you!”

Quickly, silently, we walk away, Fedya and I in front, Mikhail limping behind us. The dimly lighted streets are deserted, save for a hurrying figure here and there, closely wrapped, flitting mysteriously around the corner. Columns of dust rise from the gray pavements, are caught up by the wind, rushed to some distance, then carried in a spiral upwards, to be followed by another wave of choking dust. From somewhere a tantalizing odor reaches my nostrils. “The bakery on Second Street,” Fedya remarks. Unconsciously our steps quicken. Shoulders raised, heads bent, and shivering, we keep on to the lower Bowery. Mikhail is steadily falling behind. “Dammit, I feel bad,” he says, catching up with us, as we step into an open hallway. A thorough inspection of our pockets reveals the possession of twelve cents, all around. Mikhail is to go to bed, we decide, handing him a dime. The cigarettes purchased for the remaining two cents are divided equally, each taking a few puffs of the “fourth” in the box. Fedya and I sleep on the steps of the city hall.

“Pitt-s-burgh! Pitt-s-burgh!”

The harsh cry of the conductor startles me with the violence of a shock. Impatient as I am of the long journey, the realization that I have reached my destination comes unexpectedly, overwhelming me with the dread of unpreparedness. In a flurry I gather up my things, but, noticing that the other passengers keep their places, I precipitately resume my seat, fearful lest my agitation be noticed. To hide my confusion, I turn to the open window. Thick clouds of smoke overcast the sky, shrouding the morning with somber gray. The air is heavy with soot and cinders; the smell is nauseating. In the distance, giant furnaces vomit pillars of fire, the lurid flashes accentuating a line of frame structures, dilapidated and miserable. They are the homes of the workers who have created the industrial glory of Pittsburgh, reared its millionaires, its Carnegies and Fricks.

The sight fills me with hatred of the perverse social justice that turns the needs of mankind into an Inferno of brutalizing toil. it robs man of his soul, drives the sunshine from his life, degrades him lower than the beasts, and between the millstones of divine bliss and hellish torture grinds flesh and blood into iron and steel, transmutes human lives into gold, gold, countless gold.

The great, noble People! But is it really great and noble to be slaves and remain content? No, no! They are awakening, awakening!