Connor came back with his pitchers of water and his funnel! They took Jimmie down—oh, the blessed relief to his thumbs!—and laid him on the ground, with his racked and swollen hands still handcuffed under him; and Grady sat on his feet, and Connor sat on his chest, and Perkins forced the funnel down his throat and poured in the water.
Jimmie had to swallow, of course; he had to gulp desperately, to keep from being choked; and pretty soon the water filled him up, and then began the most fearful agony he had yet endured. It was like the pain of the ether-gas, only infinitely worse. He was blown out like a balloon; his insides were about to burst; his whole body was one sore boil—and Connor, sitting on his stomach, sat a little harder now and then, to make sure the water got jostled into place. Jimmie could not scream, but his face turned purple and the cords stood out on his forehead and neck; he began to strangle, and this was worst of all; every convulsion of his body stabbed him with ten thousand knives.
Jimmie had talked with a number of the “wobblies” who had had this “water-cure”, a regular device of police-authorities in small towns and villages. It is simple and cheap and cleanly; it leaves no blood and no bruises to be exhibited in court; it muzzles the victim, so that his screams cannot be heard through jail-windows—therefore a simple denial covers it completely. “Wild Bill” had had this treatment, “Strawberry” Curran had had it several times. But oh, thought Jimmie, it could not be like this—no human being had ever endured anything like this! Poor Jimmie was not learned in history, and did not realize that men have endured everything that other men can inflict. They will continue to endure it, so long as privilege is written in the law, and allowed to use the law in its unholy cause.
So the battle of the ages went on in the soul of Jimmie Higgins. He was a little runt of a Socialist machinist, with bad teeth and gnarled hands, and he could do nothing sublime or inspiring, nothing even dignified; in fact, it would be hard for anyone to do anything dignified, when he lies on the floor with a gallon or two of water in him, and one man sitting on his legs and another on his stomach, and another jamming a funnel into his mouth. All Jimmie could do was to fight the fearful fight in the deeps of him, and not lose it. “Lift your knee if you are ready to tell,” Perkins would say; and Grady would rise up, so that Jimmie could lift his knee if he wanted to; but Jimmie’s knee did not lift.
Far down in the deeps of Jimmie Higgins’ tormented soul, something strange was happening. Lying there bound and helpless, despairing, writhing with agony, half-insane with the terror of it, Jimmie called for help—and help came to him; the help which penetrates all dungeon walls, and cheats all jailors and torturers; that power which breaks all bars of steel and bars of fear—