Again and again, in answer to such exhortations, the audience broke out into shouts of applause. Men raised their hands in solemn pledge; and the Socialists among them went home from the meeting with a new gravity in their faces, a new consecration in their hearts. They had made a vow, and they would keep it—yes, even though it meant sharing the fate of their heroic German comrades!
—And then in the morning they opened their papers, looking eagerly for more details about the fate of the heroic German comrades, and they found none. Day after day, morning and afternoon, they looked for more details, and found none. On the contrary, to their unutterable bewilderment, they learned that the leaders of the German Social-Democracy had voted for the war-budgets, and that the rank and file of the movement were hammering out the goose-step on the roads of Belgium and France! They could not bring themselves to believe it; even yet they have not brought themselves to realize that the story which thrilled them so on that fatal Sunday afternoon was only a cunning lie sent out by the German war-lords, in the hope of causing the Socialists of Belgium and France and England to revolt, and so give the victory to Germany!
JIMMIE HIGGINS DEBATES THE ISSUE
The grey flood of frightfulness rolled over Belgium; and every morning, and again in the afternoon, the front page of the Leesville newspaper was like the explosion of a bomb. Twenty-five thousand Germans killed in one assault on Liege; a quarter of a million Russians massacred or drowned in the swamps of the Masurian Lakes; so it went, until the minds of men reeled. They saw empires and civilizations crumbling before their eyes, all those certainties upon which their lives had been built vanishing as a mist at sunrise.
Hitherto, Jimmie Higgins had always refused to take a daily paper. No capitalist lies for him; he would save his pennies for the Socialist weeklies! But now he had to have the news, and tired as he was after the day’s work, he would sit on his front porch with his ragged feet against a post, spelling out the despatches. Then he would stroll down to the cigar-stand of Comrade Stankewitz, a wizened-up little Roumanian Jew who had lived in Europe, and had a map, and would show Jimmie which was Russia, and why Germany marched across Belgium, and why England had to interfere. It was good to have a friend who was a man of travel and a linguist—especially when the fighting became centred about places such as Przemysl and Przasnyaz!
Then every Friday night would be the meeting of the local. Jimmie would be the first to arrive, eager to hear every word the better informed comrades had to say, and thus to complete the education which Society had so cruelly neglected.
Before the war was many weeks old, Jimmie’s head was in a state of utter bewilderment; never would he have thought it possible for men to hold so many conflicting opinions, and to hold them with such passionate intensity! It seemed as if the world-conflict were being fought out in miniature in Leesville.