“Everywhere. I was on the road off an’ on ten years—till I got married.”
“Well,” said the Candidate, still smiling, “what do you say?”
“I say sure!” replied Jimmie.
He was almost beside himself with awe, at this unbelieveable strange fortune, this real comradeship with the hero of his dreams. To Jimmie this man had been a disembodied intelligence, a dispenser of proletarian inspiration, a supernatural being who went about the country standing upon platforms and swaying the souls of multitudes. It had never occurred to Jimmie that he might have a bare body, and might enjoy splashing about in cool water like a boy playing “hookey” from school. The saying is that familiarity breeds contempt, but for Jimmie it bred rapture.
They walked home again, more slowly. The Candidate asked Jimmie about his life, and Jimmie told the story of a Socialist—not one of the leaders, the “intellectuals”, but of the “rank and file”. Jimmie’s father was a working man out of a job, who had left his family before Jimmie had joined it; Jimmie’s mother had died three years later, so he did not remember her, nor could he recall a word of the foreign language he had spoken at home, nor did he even know what the language was. He had been taken in charge by the city, and farmed out to a negro woman who had eight miserable starvelings under her care, feeding them on gruel and water, and not even giving them a blanket in winter. You might not think that possible—
“I know America,” put in the Candidate.
Jimmie went on. At nine he had been boarded with a woodsaw man, who worked him sixteen hours a day and beat him in addition; so Jimmie had skipped out, and for ten years had lived the life of a street waif in the cities and a hobo on the road. He had learned a bit about machinery, helping in a garage, and then, in a rush-time, he had got a job in the Empire Machine Shops. He had stayed in Leesville, because he had got married; he had met his wife in a brothel, and she had wanted to quit the life, and they had taken a chance together.
“I don’t tell that to everybody,” said Jimmie. “You know—they mightn’t understand. But I don’t mind you knowin’.”
“Thank you,” replied the Candidate, and put his hand on Jimmie’s shoulder. “Tell me how you became a Socialist.”
There was nothing special about that, was the answer. There had been a fellow in the shop who was always “chewing the rag”; Jimmie had laughed at him—for his life had made him suspicious of everybody, and if there was any sort of politician, it was just another scheme of somebody to wear a white collar and live off the workers. But the fellow had kept pegging away; and once Jimmie had been laid off for a couple of months, and the family had near starved, and that had given him time to think, and also the inclination. The fellow had come along with some papers, and Jimmie had read them, and it dawned upon him that here was a movement of his fellow-workers to put an end to their torments.