Outside, a crowd gathered to jeer while the prisoners were loaded into the patrol-wagon; but the police drove them away, keeping everybody moving, and breaking up several attempts at street-oratory. Jimmie found himself with half a dozen other comrades, wandering aimlessly down Main Street, talking over and over what had happened, each explaining why and how he had not shared the crown of martyrdom. Some had shouted as loud as the rest, but had been missed by the police; some had thought it wiser to run away and live to shout another day; some wanted to start that very night to print a leaflet and call another mass-meeting. They adjourned to Tom’s “Buffeteria” to talk things over; they took possession of a couple of tables, and got their due quotas of coffee and sandwiches, or pie and milk, and had just got fairly started on the question of raising bail without the help of Comrade Dr. Service—when suddenly something happened which drove all thoughts of the meeting out of their minds.
It was like a gigantic blow, striking the whole world at once; a cosmic convulsion, quite indescribable. The air became suddenly a living thing, which leaped against your face; the windows of the little eating-place flew inward in a shower of glass, and the walls and tables shook as if with palsy. The sound of it all was a vast, all-pervasive sound, at once far off and near, tailing away in the clatter and crash of innumerable panes of glass falling from innumerable windows. Then came silence, a sinister, frightful silence, it seemed; men stared at one another, crying, “My God! What’s that?” The answer seemed to dawn upon everyone at once: “The powder-plant!”
Yes, that must be it, beyond doubt. For months they had been talking about it and thinking about it, speculating as to the probabilities and the consequences. And now it had happened. Suddenly one of the company gave a cry, and they turned and stared at his white face, and realized the terror that clutched his heart. Comrade Higgins, whose home was so near the place of peril!
“Gee, fellers, I gotta go!” he gasped; and several of the comrades jumped up and ran with him into the street. If there was a single pane of glass left intact in Leesville, you would not have thought it as you trod those pavements.
If Jimmie had been trained in efficiency, and accustomed to spending money more freely, he might perhaps have found out something by the telephone or by inquiry at the newspaper offices; but the one thing he thought of was to take the trolley and get to his home. The comrades ran with him, speculating with eager excitement, trying to reassure him—it could be nothing worse than some glass and some dishes smashed. Some had thought of going all the way with him, but they remembered they would be too late for the last trolley back, and they had their jobs in the morning. So they put him on the car and bade him good-bye.