I slept little that night, and my work the next morning went badly. So,
after wasting an hour or two, I decided to stop. I would go and see Joe
and be done with it.
What was he doing with my harbor? The address Sue had given me was down
on the North River, my old hunting ground. The weather had turned cold
over-night, and when I came to the waterfront I felt the big raw breath
of the sea. I had hardly been near the harbor in years. It had become
for me a deep invisible corner-stone upon which my vigorous world was
built. I had climbed up into the airy heights, I had been writing of
millionaires. And coming so abruptly now from my story of life in rich
hotels, the place I had once glorified looked bleak and naked,
elemental. Down to the roots of things again.
I came to a bare wooden building, climbed some stairs and entered a
large, low-ceilinged room which was evidently a meeting hall. Chairs
were stacked along the walls and there was a low platform at one end. As
I lingered there a moment, by habit my eyes took in the details. The
local color was lurid enough. On the walls were foreign pictures, one of
the anarchist Ferrer being executed in Spain, and another of an Italian
mob shaking their fists and yelling like demons at a bloated hideous
priest. There were posters in which flaming torches, blood-red flags and
barricades and cannon belching clouds of smoke stood out in heavy blacks
and reds. And all this foreign violence was made grimly real in its
purpose here by the way these pictures centered around the largest
poster, which was of an ocean liner with all its[Pg 239] different kinds of
workers gathered together in one mass and staring fixedly up at the
Through a door in a board partition I went into a narrow room from which
two dirty windows looked out upon the docks below. This room was cramped
and crowded. Newspapers and pamphlets lay heaped on the floor, and in
the corners were four desks, at one of which three men, whom I learned
later to be an Italian, an Englishman and a Spaniard, were talking
together intensely. They took no notice of my entrance, for many other
visitors, burly, sooty creatures, were constantly straggling in and out.
I saw Joe at a desk in one corner. Looking doubly tall and lean and
stooped, and with a tired frown on his face, he sat there with his
sleeves rolled up slowly pounding out a letter on the typewriter before
him. On top of his desk were huge ledgers, and over them upon hooks on
the wall hung bunches of letters from other ports. It all gave me a
heavy impression of dull daily drudgery. And in this Joe was so absorbed
that he took no notice of my presence, although I now stood close behind
him. When at last he did look up and I got a full view of his face, with
its large, familiar features, tight-set jaw and deep-set eyes, I was
startled at its gauntness.
"Hello." A dullish red came into his face and then a slight frown. He
half rose from his seat. "Hello, Bill," he repeated. "What's brought you
He appeared a little dazed at first, then anything but glad to see me.
The thought of our old college days flashed for a moment into my mind.
How far away they seemed just now. Through our first few awkward remarks
he lapsed back into such a tired, worn indifference that I was soon on
the point of leaving. But that bony gauntness in his face, and all it
showed me he had been through, gave him some right to his rudeness, I
thought. So I changed my mind and stuck to my purpose of hav[Pg 240]ing it all
out with Joe and learning what he was about. Persisting in my
friendliness my questions slowly drew him out.
Since I had seen him five years ago he had continued his writing, but as
he had grown steadily more set on writing only what he called "the truth
about things," the newspapers had closed their doors. While I had gone
up he had gone down, until finally throwing up in disgust "this whole
fool game of putting words on paper," he had made up his mind to throw
in his life with the lives of the men at the bottom. So for two years he
had shoveled coal in the stokeholes of ships by day and by night, he had
mixed with stokers of every race, from English, French and Germans to
Russians and Italians, Spaniards, Hindus, Coolies, Greeks. He had worked
and eaten and slept in their holes, he had ranged the slums of all the
seas. And of all this he spoke in short, commonplace phrases, still in
that indifferent tone, as though personal stories were a bore.
"But look here, Joe," I asked at the end, "what's the good of living
like this? What the devil can you do?"
I still remember the look he gave me, the weary remoteness of it. But
all he said was,
"No, of all industries."
"For higher pay, eh, and shorter hours."
Another brief look.
"No, for revolution," he said.
Briefly, in reply to my questions, he explained how he and his friends
had already induced some twelve thousand stokers and dockers to leave
their old trade unions and enroll themselves as members of this new
international body, which was to embrace not only one trade but all the
labor connected with ships—ships of all na[Pg 241]tions. He was here doing the
advance work. As soon as the ground was made ready, he said, some of the
bigger leaders would come. Then there would be mass meetings here and
presently a general strike. And as the years went on there would be
similar strikes in all trades and in all countries, until at some time
not many years off there would be such labor rebellions as would
paralyze the industrial world. And out of this catastrophe the workers
would emerge into power to build up a strange new world of their own.
This was what Joe saw ahead. He seemed to be seeing it while he spoke,
with a hard, clear intensity that struck me rather cold. Here was no
mere parlor talk, here was a man who lived what he said.
"You comfortable people," he said, "are so damn comfortable you're
blind. You see nothing ahead but peace on earth and a nice smooth
evolution—with a lot of steady little reforms. You've got so you
honestly can't believe there's any violence left in the world. You're as
blind as most folks were five years before the Civil War. But what's the
use talking?" he ended. "You can't understand all this." Again my
"No, I can't say I do," I replied. "To stir up millions of men of that
kind and then let 'em loose upon the world strikes me as absolutely
"I knew it would."
"Look here, Joe, how are you so sure about all this? Hasn't it ever
struck you that you're getting damnably narrow?" He smiled.
"I don't care much if I'm narrow," he said.
"You think it's good for you, being like this?"
"I don't care if it's good for me."
"Don't you want to see anything else?"
"Not in your successful world."
"Well, J. K., I'm sorry," I retorted hotly. "Because I'd like to see
your world, I honestly would! I'm not like you, I'm always ready to be
"All right, come and see it. Why don't you write up Jim Marsh?" He
smiled as he named the notorious leader of the whole organization.
"He'll be here soon, and in his line he has been a mighty successful
man. All up and down the U. S. A. Jim's name has been in headlines and
Jim himself has been in jail. A successful revolutionist. So why not add
him to your list? Write up the America he knows." There was a
challenge in Joe's voice.
"All right, perhaps I will," I said. At least I had him talking now.
"Come out to lunch and tell me some more."
"I don't want any lunch."
Something in the way he said that made me look at him quickly. He
appeared to me now not only thin but tense and rather feverish. His
nerves were plainly all on edge. He had smoked one cigarette after
"I've got a lot of work to-day," he added restlessly. "Not only these
damn letters to write—I've got to make up our paper besides—it goes to
the printer to-morrow. Here, take a copy with you."
And he handed me the last week's issue. It was a crude and flimsy
affair, with its name, in scarehead letters, "WAR SURE." I glanced it
over in silence a moment. What a drop for Joe, from what he had been, to
this wretched violent little sheet, this muckraker of the ocean world.
"Not like the harbor you painted," he said.
"No," I answered shortly.
"Do you want another look at your harbor?"
I eyed him for a moment:
"All right—I'll look——"
"Fine business." He had risen now, and a gleam of the old likable Joe
came for a moment into his eyes.
"Meet me to-morrow at seven a. m. And let's look at some of its
failures," he said.[Pg 243]