“Why, do you know that your father has three times as many chances for safety of life and limb than has a working-man? He has. The insurance* companies know. They will charge him four dollars and twenty cents a year on a thousand-dollar accident policy, and for the same policy they will charge a laborer fifteen dollars.”
* In the terrible wolf-struggle of those centuries, no man was permanently safe, no matter how much wealth he amassed. Out of fear for the welfare of their families, men devised the scheme of insurance. To us, in this intelligent age, such a device is laughably absurd and primitive. But in that age insurance was a very serious matter. The amusing part of it is that the funds of the insurance companies were frequently plundered and wasted by the very officials who were intrusted with the management of them.
“And you?” I asked; and in the moment of asking I was aware of a solicitude that was something more than slight.
“Oh, as a revolutionist, I have about eight chances to the workingman’s one of being injured or killed,” he answered carelessly. “The insurance companies charge the highly trained chemists that handle explosives eight times what they charge the workingmen. I don’t think they’d insure me at all. Why did you ask?”
My eyes fluttered, and I could feel the blood warm in my face. It was not that he had caught me in my solicitude, but that I had caught myself, and in his presence.
Just then my father came in and began making preparations to depart with me. Ernest returned some books he had borrowed, and went away first. But just as he was going, he turned and said:
“Oh, by the way, while you are ruining your own peace of mind and I am ruining the Bishop’s, you’d better look up Mrs. Wickson and Mrs. Pertonwaithe. Their husbands, you know, are the two principal stockholders in the Mills. Like all the rest of humanity, those two women are tied to the machine, but they are so tied that they sit on top of it.”
SLAVES OF THE MACHINE
The more I thought of Jackson’s arm, the more shaken I was. I was confronted by the concrete. For the first time I was seeing life. My university life, and study and culture, had not been real. I had learned nothing but theories of life and society that looked all very well on the printed page, but now I had seen life itself. Jackson’s arm was a fact of life. “The fact, man, the irrefragable fact!” of Ernest’s was ringing in my consciousness.