Yes, they might well protest, said the speaker; nowhere on all the bloody pages of history could you find a crime more revolting than this! The masters of Europe had gone mad in their lust for power; they had called down the vengeance of mankind upon their crowned and coronetted heads. Here to-night he would tell them—and the speaker’s hoarse and raucous voice mounted to a shout of rage—he would tell them that in signing the death-warrant of those heroic martyrs, they had sealed the doom of their own order, they had torn out the foundation-stones from the structure of capitalist society! The speaker’s voice seemed to lift the audience from its seats, and the last words of the sentence were drowned in a tumult of applause.
Silence fell again, and the man went on. He had peculiar mannerisms on the platform. His lanky form was never still for an instant. He hurried from one end of the stage to the other; he would crouch and bend as if he were going to spring upon the audience, a long, skinny finger would be shaken before their faces, or pointed as if to drive his words into their hearts. His speech was a torrent of epigram, sarcasm, invective. He was bitter; if you knew nothing about the man or his cause, you would find this repellent and shocking. You had to know what his life had been—an unceasing conflict with oppression; he had got his Socialist education in jail, where he had been sent for trying to organize the wage-slaves of a gigantic corporation. His rage was the rage of a tender-hearted poet, a lover of children and of Nature, driven mad by the sight of torment wantonly inflicted. And if ever he had seemed to you an extremist, too angry to be excused, here to-night he had his vindication, here to-night you saw him as a prophet. For now the master-class had torn the mask from its face, and revealed to the whole world what were its moral standards! At last men saw their rulers face to face!
They have plunged mankind into a pit of lunacy. “They call it war,” cried the speaker; “but I call it murder.” And he went on to picture to them what was happening in Europe at that hour—he brought the awful nightmare before their eyes, he showed them homes blown to pieces, cities given to the flames, the bodies of men pierced by bullets or torn to fragments by shells. He pictured a bayonet plunged into the abdomen of a man; he made you see the ghastly deed, and feel its shuddering wickedness. Men and women and children sat spellbound; and for once no man could say aloud or feel in his heart that the pictures of a Socialist agitator were overdrawn—no, not even Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville, or old Abel Granitch, proprietor of the Empire Machine Shops!