Read CHAPTER VII - The Meeting of An Anarchist Woman , free online book, by Hutchins Hapgood, on ReadCentral.com.

The mood of rebellious idealism sometimes expresses itself in actual anti-social conduct and life. So it was with Terry. He is the most consistent anarchist I have known, in the sense that he more nearly rejects, practically, all social institutions and forms of conduct and morality. He is very sweet, and very gentle, loves children and is tender to every felt relation. There is a wistful look always in his eyes. He is tall, thin, and gaunt, his hair is turning grey; but there is nothing of the let-down of middle age in his nature, always tense, intense; scrupulously, deeply rebellious.

Even before his meeting with Marie, his open acts of sympathy with what is rejected by society had put him more and more in the position of an outcast. Some of the members of his family had become fairly successful in the ways of the world. Terry might easily have taken his place in comfortable bourgeois society. But his temperament and his idealism led him to the disturbed life of the radical rejector. And he was rejected, in turn, by all, even by his family.

Between him and his mother there was perhaps an uncommon bond, but even she in the end cast him out. He wrote of her:

“She taught me that I did not belong in this world; she did not know how deeply she was right. When she crossed my arms over my childish breast at night and bade me be prepared, she gave me the motive of my life. She told me I would weep salt tears in this world, and they have run into my mouth. She loved me, as I never have been loved before or since, even up to the hour of my social crucifixion: then she basely deserted me. But I rallied, and the motive she implanted in me remains. Though a child without any childhood, I had my reason for existence, just the same. Everything is meaningless and transitory, except to be prepared. And I finally became prepared for anything and everything. My life was and is a preparation for what? For social crucifixion, I suppose, for I belong to those baffled beings who are compelled to unfold within because there is no place for them without. I am a remaining product of the slums, consciously desiring to be there. I know its few heights and many depths. There have I seen unsurpassed devotion and unbelievable atrocities, which I would not dare, even if I could, make known. The truth, how can we stand it, or stand for it? I think a sudden revelation has wofully unbalanced many a fine mind. Hamlet, revealing himself to Ophelia, drives distraught one of the sweetest of souls. Fortunately we never know the whole truth, which may account for man being gregarious. One cannot help noticing that they who have a hopeless passion for truth are left largely alone when nothing worse can be inflicted upon them.”

Terry’s experience in the slums was no other than many another’s, but the effect it made upon his great sensibility was far from ordinary. In another letter, speaking of what he calls his “crucifixion,” he wrote:

“Only great sorrow keeps us close, and that is why, the first night after one of my deepest quarrels with my mother, I picked out a five-cent lodging-house, overlooking my home, to pass the night of my damnation in sight of the lost paradise. I never had any reason, or I would have lost it. Let me hope that I am guided by something deeper than that. All my life I have felt the undertone of society; it has swept me to the depths, which I touched lovingly and fearfully with my lips.

“Whenever and wherever I have touched the depths, and it has been frequent and prolonged, and have seen the proletarian face to face, naked spiritually and physically, the appeal in his eyes is irresistible and irrefutable. I must do something for him or else I am lost to myself. If I should ever let an occasion go by I am sure I never could recover from the feeling that something irreparable had happened to me. I should not mind failure, but to fail here and in my own eyes is to be forever lost and eternally damned. This looks like the religion of my youth under another guise, but I must find imperishable harmony somewhere. The apathy of the mass oppresses me into a hopeless helplessness which may account for my stagnation, my ineffectiveness, my impotence, my stupidity, my crudeness, and my despair. I have always felt lop-sided, physically, especially in youth. My awkwardness became, too, a state of mind at the mercy of any spark of suggestion. My subjectively big head I tried to compress into a little hat, my objectively large hands concealed themselves in subjective pockets, my poor generous feet went the way of the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. The result is a lop-sided mind, developed monstrously in certain sensitive directions, otherwise not at all. A born stumbler in this world, I naturally lurched up against society but, as often happens I have lost the thread of my thought: my thoughts, at the critical moment, frequently desert me, as my family did; they seem to carry on an alluring flirtation, and when I think them near they suddenly wave me from the distance. But, like a lover, I will follow on follow on to platonic intercourse with my real mistress, the proletarian. And soul there is there. I have met as fathomless spirits among the workers as one will meet with anywhere. Art never has fathomed them, and may never be able to do so. Often have I stood dumbfounded before some simple day-labourer with whom I worked. Art does not affect me, as this kind of grand simplicity in life does. I keep muttering to myself: there must be a meaning to our lives somewhere, or else we must sunder this social fabrication and create a meaning; and so my incantations go on endlessly.

“The proletarian is that modern sphinx whose thundering interrogative society will be called upon to answer. You and I know too well that society hitherto has answered only with belching cannon and vain vapourings of law, religion, and duty. But the toiling sphinx, who has time only to ask terrible questions, will some day formulate an articulate reply to its own question, and then once more we shall see that our foundations are of sand sand that will be washed away, by blood, if need be. Some there are who will weep tears over the sand: the pleasures and the joy may die, for to me they are cold and false. My joy cannot find place within the four walls which shut out the misery and brutality of the world.

“How be a mouthpiece for the poor? How can art master the master-problem? They who have nothing much to say, often say it well and in a popular form; they are unhampered by weighty matters. It takes an eagle to soar with a heavy weight in its grasp. The human being, rocking to and fro with his little grief, must give way in depth of meaning to him who is rocked with the grief of generations past, present, and to come. It is then that love might rise, love so close to agony that agony cannot last: the love that will search ceaselessly, in the slums, in the dives, throughout all life, for the inevitable, and will accept no alternative and no compromise.”

This was the man who met Marie at a critical time of her life. He was about thirty-five years old, had experienced much, had become formed, had rejected society, but not the ideal. Rather, as he dropped the one, he embraced more fervently the other. He had consorted with thieves, prostitutes, with all low human types; and for their failures and their weaknesses, their ideas and their instincts, he felt deep sympathy and even an aesthetic appreciation.

Marie, as we have seen, was only seventeen, unformed and wild, full of youthful passion and social despair, on the verge of what we call prostitution; reckless, hopeless, with a deep touch of sullenness and hatred. She was working at the time in the house of one of Terry’s brothers. Katie, too, was employed there; although she lived with Nick, her husband, she still occupied herself at times with her old occupation; and, as ever, she watched Marie with a careful eye, rather vainly so just then, for this girl was as wild as a girl well could be.

One day Terry paid one of his infrequent visits to his brother’s home, and saw the plump and pretty Marie hanging clothes in the yard. He was at once attracted to her, and entered into conversation. He was deeply pleased; so was the girl; and they made an appointment. He soon saw what her character was, and this was to him an added attraction.

“I had been looking for a girl like Marie,” he said, “for several years. I had made one or two trials, and they always got me into trouble with my family. But the other girls did not make good. They were too weak and conventional and could not stand the pace of life with me. I had early formed a contempt for the matrimonial relation. Five years I had nursed my rebellion and waited for a chance to use it. As soon as I met Marie I felt I had met one of my own kind. It was partly the fierce charm of a social experiment, the love for the proletarian and the outcast; for I felt Marie was essentially that. This element of my interest in her Marie never understood this unconscious propaganda, as it were. She thought it was all sex and wanted it so.”

Katie saw that Terry was making up to her beloved Marie, and tried to prevent their meetings; but in vain; the attraction was too strong. Katie blackguarded Terry on every occasion, until she finally saw it was hopeless, and then invited him into her house to meet the girl. There he began to go frequently and the intimacy grew. Nick warned Terry against the girl on account of her loose character. “I have often found her,” he said, “misconducting herself with some fellow or other. Why, she does so with everybody. Only this evening I found her on the front door-step with young Bladen. She is not the kind for you to be serious about. Everybody knows how common she is.”

Nick did not understand that an argument of that kind tended only to confirm Terry in his interest in Marie. Terry answered him laconically: “That’s all right, Nick. When you don’t want her, just send her to me.”

Nick, as we have seen, was jealous of Marie, because of Katie’s love for her; so he fomented trouble between the two women. Katie, too, was at this time more exasperated with the girl’s conduct than she had ever been before; and they had frequent quarrels. As the result of one of them, Marie went off with Terry to his family flat, where he was living alone at the time to “have a fish dinner,” telling the relenting Katie that she would return in the evening. But she stayed there with Terry all that night, for the first time. In the morning Katie turned up bright and early, burst into the flat, and reproached Terry so bitterly that they almost came to blows. But when Marie took Terry’s side, Katie, terribly disappointed and hurt, yet made up her mind that it was inevitable; and Terry and Marie began to live together.

How did Marie feel about all this? What was her condition at the time, and her attitude toward this strange man, so different from every other she had met? In a long letter to me she has given an account of it all.

“I wrote you about my adventure with the club man. Well that was only a single instance of what finally became frequent with me. I had grown so fearfully tired of the life I was leading in domestic service that the only problem for me was how to get away from it all. For a time, I had thought I could get away only by marriage. I was ready to marry anybody who offered me food and shelter, and I had even thought of prostitution as a means of escape from domestic drudgery. I had not the slightest idea of what prostitution in its accepted sense meant. I knew in a vague way that women sold their bodies to men for money, that they lived luxurious lives, went to theatres and balls, wore beautiful gowns and seemed to be gay and happy. I was willing to marry any man who offered me a home, without the least suspicion that in that way, too, I should prostitute myself. But no one at that time offered me this means of escape, so I was quite ready to take the only other way, as I thought, left to me.

“About this time I met an old girl-friend whom I had not seen for several years; she was a domestic servant, too, but was in advance of me in her recklessness. When I met her again she was in the mood to lose all the little virtue left to her. She was quite willing to sell herself: she had done enough for love, she said, marriage was now an impossibility, and she might as well realise on her commercial value. To these ideas I agreed, and we arranged to meet in two weeks from that day and try an experiment. Meanwhile she was to go back to her home, get her belongings, and tell her parents she had secured a place as a servant-girl in Chicago.

“I left my position, and finding things too disagreeable at home where I continually quarrelled with my mother, I went to visit Kate, until my friend should return.

“How my ideas and ideals had changed! When I first began to dislike the work I was forced to do, I dreamed that some charming fairy would come and release me: I had been taught such a view of life from the novels of Bertha M. Clay and E. D. E. N. Southworth. Some rich man, young and charming, possibly the owner of the factory I was working in, would fall passionately in love with me, marry me and carry me away to his palace! Gradually, my ideas came down. I should have been glad to marry a foreman, then some good mechanic, and finally, some workman, however humble, whom I would love dearly. And now I was deliberately preparing for a life of prostitution!

“It was then, while living with my dear friend Kate, whom I sometimes helped in the work she did out, that I met my first, my last, my truest lover and friend, Terry. We met just at the right moment. I was filled with rebellion at the powers that were crushing me, breaking me, without realising why, or how, or what I might make of myself, when he came along and taught me in his own quiet and gentle convincing way how cruel and unjust is this scheme of things, and pointed out to me the cruelty and tyranny of my parents and of all society. He showed me that marriage such as I had contemplated was a bad form of prostitution, and he told me why. Of course, I did not grasp all the things he told me at once, but I listened and felt comforted; I began to feel that perhaps I might amount to something, might have some life of my own, and that my rebellion was perhaps justifiable. I began to understand why work was so objectionable to me and why I rebelled against the authority of my parents. My conceptions of freedom were crude, but I began to feel that my revolt was just, and was based upon the terrible injustice whereby the many must toil so that the few may live in splendour. I will not weary you with all the details of the things I learned at that time from Terry. To you it might seem very raw and crude, and you no doubt have read some of the pamphlets written by socialists and anarchists dealing with the labour question in all of its aspects. But to me these ideas were quite new and they seemed grand and noble.

“And Terry revealed to me, too, almost at once, the great inspiring fact that there is such a thing as beauty of thought that there is poetry and art and literature. This, too, of course, came little by little, but do you wonder I loved a man who showed me a new world and who taught me I was not bad? He put good books into my hands, and to my grateful joy I found I liked these books better than the trash I had hitherto read.

“I felt so much better, after seeing so much of Terry, that I decided to go to work again. Terry was against this. ‘Try it,’ he said, ’But I assure you you don’t need to work. I have tried doing without work for many years, it is much easier than it seems.’ Nevertheless I got a job in a bicycle factory, but I only stayed a few days. It seemed like a stale existence to me! And besides, I was in love and wanted to be with Terry all the time. ‘By God,’ I said to him that night, ’you are right! I’ll never work again.’

“My friend Gertrude, the girl with whom I had intended to go in the last reckless experiment, came to Terry’s flat to see me, and get me to go with her. I had thought, after I gave up work, that Terry might offer me marriage, but he told me quite frankly that it was against his principles to marry anybody. I was a little hurt and astonished at this, but as I was very much in love and was already beginning to imbibe his ideas, it did not matter so very much to me.

“So, when Gertrude came, I led her to Terry and asked him what he thought about her plan. He said to us: ’The kind of prostitution you contemplate is no worse than the kind often called marriage. Selling your body for a lifetime is perhaps worse than selling it for an hour or for a day. But the immediate result of this kind of prostitution which you plan is very terrible practically. It generally leads to frightful diseases which will waste your bodies and perhaps injure your minds. The girls you envy are not always as happy, gay, and careless as they seem. It is part of their business to seem so, but they are not, or only so for a very short time. Perhaps you will be better off so than in domestic drudgery. It is a choice of evils, but if you are very brave and courageous you may perhaps get along without either. But if forced to one or the other, I recommend prostitution. It may be worse for you but, as a protest, it is better for society, in the long run.’

“He pictured to us as truly as he could the life of the street-walker; he did not seem to think that morally it was worse than any other life under our social organisation, but he did not make it seem attractive; nor did he make the life of the domestic servant or factory-girl seem attractive. He seemed to feel that one might look on prostitution as, under the circumstances, a grim duty but it was certainly grim.

“We were rather incredulous at the picture Terry had drawn of the life we had resolved to lead. Gertrude turned up her pretty little nose and said it would not be like that with her. We talked about it all that day and night; and Gertrude decided to have a try at it, while I was undecided. I was somewhat piqued at Terry’s attitude. I had expected him to oppose my plan, to do all in his power to prevent it. But I did not understand him. He knew that if I were determined, nothing would prevent me, and all he could do was to give us a faithful picture of what such a life would be.

“Things were happening of which we were ignorant for a time, but which helped to settle our immediate problem. I had often been seen going into Terry’s flat, and this was food for gossip. It was said that Terry had started a bad house, and had done so in the flat belonging to his family, who were in the country at the time. These stories reached my mother’s ears, and also were told to Terry’s mother and sisters, and the mischief began. I was forbidden ever to cross my mother’s threshold again, and he was requested to leave the home of his virtuous sisters which he had polluted and contaminated by his debaucheries with that immoral person, myself.”

Marie omitted, in the above letter, the details of the split with the two families. It seems that Terry had, on hearing about the “rumours,” gone to his family, then near Chicago, and presented to them his philosophy of life; also his determination not to give up Marie, and not to marry her. It was then that the last rung was put in the ladder of his family crucifixion, as he would call it. It was then that his mother “basely deserted him;” and Terry left for good, rejecting the money offered him.

“I passed them up,” he said, scornfully, “and after spending the night in the lodging-house, I beat my way back to Chicago. I had been gone several days, and when I got back to the flat, where I went only to get Marie and clear out for God knows where, I found her gone, and no apparent way of finding her address. I went to see her mother, and had an awful scene with her. The violent woman was in hysterics and, after a long dispute, implored me to find her daughter. ‘I’ll find her,’ I replied, ‘for myself,’ and left.

“Marie afterwards told me that she and Gertrude had gone to see her mother, when I was in the country with my family, and that her mother had driven them away. Perhaps, the mother realised the change in the girl. Perhaps, too, she realised what must happen, if she drove her away. Yet she did drive her daughter away. From her own point of view, it was diabolical to do so. Her anger, her exasperation and her outraged desire to rule drove her to doing what she must have felt was the worst thing she could do. And she did it in the name of virtue! Perhaps it was for the best: I believe it was, but she did not and I cannot see where her spiritual salvation comes in.”

Terry finally found Marie found her in the midst of a short experiment, in company with Gertrude, “in one of the social extremes,” to be plain, leading the life of a prostitute.

I ask the reader to pause here and reflect. Pause, before you conclude that this book is an indecent and immoral book. Reflect before you conclude that this woman is an immoral woman. I am engaged in telling a plain tale in such a way that certain social conditions and certain social considerations and individual truths may be illustrated thereby. Consequently, I shall not pause, though I ask the reader to do so, in order to point a moral in any extended way. In return for the readers’ courtesy and tolerance, I will here reassuringly assert that there will be found in these pages no detailed description of Marie’s life during her few months of prostitution; and nothing whatever, from cover to cover, of anything that in my judgment is either immoral or indecent.

Well, Terry found her, and Terry did not try to “reform” her. But he stood by her, and was more interested, more in love with her than ever. In addition to his personal interest, he felt an even stronger social interest in her. To live with a girl like that was unconscious propaganda. This passion, as he calls it, was now more deeply stirred than when he first met her. This deeply aroused his imagination and his keen desire to see what the naked constitution of the soul is, after it is stripped of all social prestige.

If Marie had been simply a low, commercial grafter, Terry, the idealist, would not have been interested. But Terry knew that Marie cared nothing whatever for money. He regarded her as a social victim and in addition a vigorous and life-loving personality, an excellent companion for a life-long protest against things as they are. He saw she had the capacity for deep and excited interest in truth, an emotional love for ideated experience. These two human beings were wonderfully fitted to each other: no wonder they loved!

Terry, telling me about the girl’s experience during the two weeks or so before he found her, dwelt especially upon how well she was treated.

“She has a way of getting the interest, almost the deference, of many people. She and Gertrude were often reduced to the proverbial thirty cents, but they had little difficulty in getting along. For instance, one day, almost broke, they went to a restaurant and ordered two cups of coffee. The negro waiter knew what they were, and offered them a nice steak, at his expense. Nor did he try to ‘ring in,’ to make their acquaintance. He treated them with great respect. They went there several times afterward, and always found the negro waiter beaming with the desire to help them for quite disinterested reasons, and he never tried to meet them outside. Marie always appreciated a thing like that. She took a delight in thinking about the fine qualities in human nature.”

Marie is a frank woman, but it is natural that she could never bring herself to talk about this period of her life with entire openness. She has, however, written me a letter in which she tells the essential truth, although clothing it with a certain pathetic attempt to conceal the one episode in her life about which, to me, she was perhaps unreasonably reticent. She did not say that she and Gertrude were separated from Terry for a time, but she wanted to convey the impression that she and Terry, from the start, struggled along together, which was essentially, though not literally, true. Continuing her account, from the time the two families cast her and Terry out, she wrote:

“So there we were, thrown out into the harsh world, shelterless and almost moneyless. But we all three put our little capital together, amounting to about eleven dollars, went down town, and hired a furnished room. We managed to live a week on this capital, and then Terry pawned his watch, which gave us five dollars. Gertrude soon disappeared with an old roue and went out of our lives. Terry and I kept along as best we could. Kate helped us as much as we would allow her to, and sometimes paid for our room, and I would sometimes eat at her house.

“During this period I was in a curious state of mind and body. Living in the midst of so-called vice, I was at first both attracted and repelled. Yet my strongest feeling was a hatred of the life I had formerly led, and I was determined not to go back to it, happen what might. I should probably have gone much farther than I did, had it not been for my love for Terry, which made me feel that I did not want to throw myself entirely away. So I did not know whether to go into the game entirely or keep out of it. Terry did not try to influence me, but seemed to watch me, to make me feel that he would stand by me in any event.

“For a time we were both of us dazed and stunned by our sudden change in life. The change was much greater for Terry than for me. I don’t know what his thoughts and feelings at that time were. They must have been terrible. For years he had lived, for the most part with his family, a quiet, studious life, the life of contemplation; and now he was suddenly plunged into the roar and din, with an ignorant and disreputable girl on his hands whom he would not desert. We were certainly on the verge of destruction. The inevitable would have happened, for no other choice was left me, and I should have drifted with the current and Terry would do and could do nothing.

“Just at the crucial moment, Terry met an old friend who offered him a political job, organising republican workingmen’s clubs, and Terry accepted it. No one can understand how bitter this was to Terry. To work for a political organisation was to him great degradation. He did it for my sake, for the thirty-five dollars a week, so that I could be free to live as I wanted. I did not realise at the time how much his sensitive nature suffered, and I took poor advantage of the freedom his money and character gave me. What an intolerable burden I must have been to him, and yet he never even intimated a desire to leave me!

“I had an opportunity now to satisfy my desire for pleasure. Terry put no obstacles in my way. Yet the cup already tasted bitter. I tried to deny to myself that this life of pleasure was an illusion, and so I plunged into the most reckless debaucheries: I really would be ashamed to tell you of the things I did. I had affairs with all sorts of men, many of whom I did not know whether I liked or hated seeking always excitement, oblivion. I frequented cafes where the women and men of the town were to be found, and made many acquaintances. Two or three of them proposed marriage to me. They no doubt wanted to ‘save’ me, and thought I was a prostitute. I did not care to disabuse them on the subject: in fact I don’t know whether I was what they called me or not.

“This life lasted only two or three months, but it seems like so many years to me. At the end of that time Terry’s work was over, and we left down town and roomed with a respectable radical family. My health had broken down. I weighed only a hundred pounds, although three months earlier I had weighed one hundred and forty. My beautiful, healthy body had wasted away. Ah! how proud I used to be of this body of mine! how I used to glory in the vigorous, shapely limbs, the well-moulded breasts and throat. But all this passed away before my youth had passed away.”

Marie here pathetically omits to state the immediate cause of her ill health a long and terrible experience in the hospital, the result of her excesses, during which time Terry was the only one to care for her, from which place she came broken in health, thin and pale, with large, dark, sad eyes, looking as she did when I first met her.