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Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.



"AH, THERE, SPORTY!" my assistant greets me In the shop. "Stand treat on this festive occasion.
      "Yes, Red. Have a chew, " I reply with a smile, handing him my fresh plug of tobacco.
      His eyes twinkle with mischievous humor as he scrutinizes my changed suit of dark gray. The larger part of the plug swelling out his cheek, he flings to me the remnant across the table, remarking:
      "Don't care fort. Take back your choo, I'll keep me honor,your plug, I mean, sonny. A gentleman of my eminence, sir, a natural-born navigator on the high seas of social life,-are you on, me bye?-a gentleman, I repeat, sir, whose canoe the mutations of all that is human have chucked on this here dry, thrice damned dry latitude, sir, this nocuous plague-spot of civilization,-say, kid, what t' hell am I talkin' about? Damn if I ain't clean forgot."
      "I'm sure I don't know, Red."
      "Like hell you don't! It's your glad duds, kid. Offerin' me a ch-aw tob-b-bac-co! Christ, I'm dyin' for a drop of booze. This magnificent occasion deserves a wetting, sir. And, say, Aleck, it won't hurt your beauty to stretch them sleeves of yours a bit. You look like a scarecrow in them high-water pants. Ain't old Sandy the king of skinners, though!"
      "Whom do you mean, Red?"
      "Who I mean, you idjot! Who but that skunk of a Warden, the Honorable Captain Edward S. Wright, if you please, sir. Captain of rotten old punks, that's what he is. You ask th' screws. He's never smelt powder; why, he's been here most o' his life. But some o' th' screws been here longer, borned here, damn 'em; couldn't pull 'em out o' here with a steam engine, you couldn't. They can tell you all 'bout the Cap, though. Old Sandy didn' have a plugged nickel to his name when he come ,ere, an' now the damn stomach-robber is rich. Reg'lar gold mine this dump's for 'im. Only gets a lousy five thousan' per year. Got big fam'ly an' keeps carriages an' servants, see, an' can 'ford t' go to Europe every year, an' got a big pile in th' bank to boot, all on a scurvy five thousan' a year. Good manager, ain't he? A reg'lar church member, too, damn his rotten soul to hell!"
      "Is he as bad as all that, Red?"
      "Is he? A hypocrite dyed in th' wool, that's what he is. Plays the humanitarian racket. He had a great deal t' say t' the papers why he didn't believe in the brutal way lams was punished by that Homestead colonel-er-what's 'is name! "
      "Colonel Streator, of the Tenth Pennsylvania."
      "That's the cur. He hung up Private lams by the thumbs till th' poor boy was almost dead. For nothin', too. Suppose you remember, don't you? lams had called for 'three cheers for the man who shot Frick/ an' they pretty near killed 'im for 't, an' then drummed 'im out of th' regiment with 'is head half shaved. "
      "It was a most barbarous thing."
      "An' that damn Sandy swore in th' papers he didn't believe in such things, an' all th' while th' lyin' murderer is doin' it himself. Not a day but some poor con is cuffed up' in th' hole. That's th' kind of humanitarian he is! It makes me wild t' think on 't. Why, kid, I even get a bit excited, and forget that you, young sir, are attuned to the dulcet symphonies of classic English. But whenever that skunk of a Warden is the subject of conversation, sir, even my usually imperturbable serenity of spirit and tranquil stoicism are not equal to 'Patience on a monument smiling at grief.' Watch me, sonny, that's yours truly spielin'. Why, look at them dingy rags of yours. I liked you better in th' striped duds. They give you the hand- me-downs of that nigger that went out yesterday, an' charge you on th' books with a bran' new suit. See where Sandy gets his slice, eh? An! say, kid, Wow long ate, you here?"
      "About eight months, Red."
      "They beat you out o' two months all right. Suppose they obey their own rules? Nit, sir. You are aware, my precious lamb, that you are entitled to discard your polychromic vestments of zebra hue after a sojourn of six months in this benevolent dump. I bet you that fresh fish at the loopin' machine there, came -up 'ere some days ago, he won't be kept waitin' more'n six months for 'is black clothes."
      I glance in the direction of the recent arrival. He is a slender man, with swarthy complexion and quick, shifting eye. The expression of guilty cunning is repelling.
      "Who is that man?" I whisper to the assistant,
      "Like 'im, don't you? Permit me, sir, to introduce to you the handiwork of his Maker, a mealy-mouthed, oily-lipped, scurvy gaycat, a yellow cur, a sniveling, fawning stool, a filthy, oozy sneak, a snake in the grass whose very presence, sir, is a mortal insult to a self-respecting member of my clan,-Mr. Patrick Gallagher, of the honorable Pinkerton family, sir."
      "Gallagher?" I ask, in astonishment. "The informer, who denounced Dempsey and Beatty?"
      "The very same. The dirty snitch that got those fellows railroaded here for seven years. Dempsey was a fool to bunch up with such vermin as Gallagher and Davidson. He was Master Workman of some district of the Knights of Labor. Why in hell didn't he get his own men to do th' job? Goes to work an' hires a brace of gaycats; sent 'em to the scab mills, you savvy, to sling hash for the blacklegs and keep 'im posted on the goings on, see? S'pose you have oriented yourself, sir, concerning the developments in the culinary experiment?"
      "Yes. Croton oil is supposed to have been used to make the scabs sick with diarrhea."
      "Make 'em sick? Why, me bye, scores of 'em croaked. I am surprised, sir, at your use of such a vulgar term as diarrhea. You offend my aestheticism. The learned gentlemen who delve deeply into the bowels of earth and man, sir, ascribed the sudden and phenomenal increase of unmentionable human obligations to nature, the mysterious and extravagant popularity of the houses of ill odor, sir, and the automatic obedience to their call, as due entirely to the dumping of a lot o' lousy bums, sir, into filthy quarters, or to impurities of the liquid supply, or to-pardon my frankness, sir-to intestinal effeminacy, which, in flaccid excitability, persisted in ill-timed relaxation unseemly in well-mannered Christians. Some future day, sir, there may arise a poet to glorify with beauteous epic the heroic days of the modern Bull Run-an' I kin tell you, laddie, they run and kept runnin, top and bottom-or some lyric bard may put to Hudibrastic verse-watch me climbin' th' Parnassus, kid- the poetic feet, the numbers, the assonance, and strain of the inspiring days when Croton Oil was King. Yes, sirree; but for yours truly, me hand ain't in such pies; and moreover, sir, I make it an invariable rule of gentlemanly behavior t' keep me snout out o' other people's biz. "
      "Dempsey may be innocent, Red."
      "Well, th' joory didn't think so. But there's no tellin'. Honest t' God, Aleck, that rotten scab of a Gallagher has cast the pale hue of resolution, if I may borrow old Billy Shake's slang, sir, over me gener'ly settled convictions. You know, in the abundant plenitude of my heterogeneous experience with all sorts and conditions of rats and gaycats, sir, fortified by a natural genius of no mean order, of 1859 vintage, damme if I ever run across such an acute form of confessionitis as manifested by the lout on th' loopin' machine there. You know what he done yesterday?"
      "Sent for th' distric' attorney and made another confesh."
      "Really? How do you know?"
      "Night screw's a particular fren' o' mine, kid. I shtands in, see? The mick's a reg'lar Yahoo, can't hardly spell 'is own name. He daily requisitions upon my humble but abundant intelligence, sir, to make out his reports. Catch on, eh? I've never earned a handout with more dignified probity, sir. It's a cinch. Last night he gimme a great slice of corn dodger. It was A 1, 1 tell you, an' two hard boiled eggs and half a tomato, juicy and luscious, sir. Didn't I enjoy it, though! Makes your mouth water, eh, kid? Well, you be good t' me, an' you kin have what I got. I'll divvy up with you. We-ll! Don' stand there an' gape at me like a wooden Injun. Has the unexpected revelation of my magnanimous generosity deprived you of articulate utterance, sir? "
      The sly wink with which he emphasizes the offer, and his suddenly serious manner, affect me unpleasantly. With Pretended indifference, I decline to share his delicacies.
      "'You need those little extras for yourself, Red," I explain. "'You told me you suffer from indigestion. A change, of diet now and then will do you good. But you haven't finished telling me about the new confession of Gallagher."
      "Oh, you're a sly one, Aleck; no flies on you. But it's all right, me bye, mebbe I can do somethin' for you some day. I'm your friend, Aleck; count on me. But that mutt of a Gallagher, yes, sirree, made another confession; darnme if it ain't his third one, Ever hear such a thing? I got it straight from th' screw all right. I can't make the damn snitch out. Unreservedly I avow, sir, that the incomprehensible vacillations of the honorable gentleman puzzle me noodle, and are calculated to disturb the repose of a right-thinking yagg in the silken lap of Morpheus. What's 'is game, anyhow? Shall we diagnoze the peculiar mental menstruation as, er-er- what's your learned opinion, my illustrious colleague, eh? What you grinnin' for, Four Eyes? It's a serious matter, sir; a highly instructive phenomenon of intellectual vacuity, impregnated with the pernicious virus of Pinkertonism, sir, and transmuted in the alembic of Carnegie alchemy. A judicious injection of persuasive germs by the sagacious jurisconsults of the House of Dempsey, and lo! three brand-new confessions, mutually contradictory and exclusive. Does that strike you in th' right spot, sonny?"
      "In the second confession he retracted his accusations against Dempsey. What is the third about, Red?"
      "Retracts his retraction, me bye. Guess why, Aleck."
      "I suppose he was paid to reaffirm his original charges."
      "You're not far off. After that beauty of a Judas cleared the man, Sandy notified Reed and Knox. Them's smart guys, all right; the attorneys of the Carnegie Company to interpret Madame Justicia, sir, in a manner-"
      "I know, Red," I interrupt him, "they are the lawyers who prosecuted me. Even in court they were giving directions to the district attorney, and openly whispering to him questions to be asked the witnesses. He was just a figurehead and a tool for them, and it sounded so ridiculous when he told the jury that he was not in the service of any individual or corporation, but that he acted solely as an officer of the commonwealth, charged with the sacred duty of protecting its interests in my prosecution. And all the time he was the mouthpiece of Frick's lawyers. "
      "Hold on, kid. I don't get a chance to squeeze a word in edgewise when you start jawin'. Think you're on th' platform haranguing the long-haired crowd? You can't convert me, so save your breath, man."
      "I shouldn't want to convert you, Red. You are intelligent, but a hopeless case. You are not the kind that could be useful to the Cause."
      "'Glad you're next. Got me sized up all right, eh? Well, me saintly bye, I'm Johnny-on-the-spot to serve the cause, all right, all right, and the cause is Me, with a big M, see? A fellow's a fool not t' look out for number one. I give it t' you straight, Aleck. What's them high-flown notions of yoursoppressed humanity and suffering people-fiddlesticks! There you go and shove your damn neck into th' noose for the strikers, but what did them fellows ever done for you, eh? Tell me that! They won't do a darned thing fer you. Catch me swinging for the peo-pul! The cattle don't deserve any better than they get, that's what I say."
      "I don't want to discuss these questions with you, Red. You'll never understand, anyhow."
      "Git off, now. You voice a sentiment, sir, that my adequate appreciation of myself would prompt me to resent on the field of honor, sir. But the unworthy spirit of acerbity is totally foreign to my nature, sir, and I shall preserve the blessed meekness so becoming the true Christian, and shall follow the bidding of the Master by humbly offering the other cheek for that chaw of th' weed I gave you. Dig down into your poke, kid."
      I hand him the remnant of my tobacco, remarking:
      "You've lost the thread of our conversation, as usual, Red. You said the Warden sent for the Carnegie lawyers after Gallagher had recanted his original confession. Well, what did they do?"
      "Don't know what they done, but I tole you that the muttonhead sent for th' district attorney the same day, an' signed a third confesh. Why, Dempsey was tickled to death, 'cause-"
      He ceases abruptly. His quick, short coughs warn me of danger. Accompanied by the Deputy and the shop officer, the Warden is making the rounds of the machines, pausing here and there to examine the work, and listen to the request of a prisoner. The youthfully sparkling eyes present a striking contrast to the sedate manner and seamed features framed in grayish-white. Approaching the table, he greets us with a benign smile:
      "Good morning, boys."
      Casting a glance at my assistant, the Warden inquires: "Your time must be up soon, Red?"
      "Been out and back again, Cap'n," the officer laughs.
      "Yes, he is, hm, hm, back home." The thin feminine accents of the Deputy sound sarcastic.
      "Didn't like it outside, Red?" the Warden sneers.
      A flush darkens the face of the assistant. "There's more skunks out than in," he retorts.
      The Captain frowns. The Deputy lifts a warning finger, but the Warden laughs lightly, and continues on his rounds.
      We work in silence for a while. "Red" looks restive, his eyes stealthily following the departing officials. Presently he whispers:
      "See me hand it to 'im, Aleck? He knows I'm on to 'im, all right. Didn't he look mad, though? Thought he'd burst. Sobered 'im up a bit. Pipe 'is lamps, kid?"
      "Yes. Very bright eyes."
      "Bright eyes your grandmother! Dope, that's what's th'matter. Think I'd get off as easy if he wasn't chuck full of th' stuff? I knowed it the minute I laid me eyes on 'im. I kin tell by them shinin' glimmers and that sick smile of his, when he's feelin' good; know th' signals, all right. Always feelin' fine when he's hit th' pipe. That's th' time you kin get anythin' you wan' of 'im. Nex' time you see that smirk on 'im, hit 'im for some one t' give us a hand here; we's goin' t' be drowned in them socks, first thing you know."
      "Yes, we need more help. Why didn't you ask him?"
      "Me? Me ask a favor o' the damn swine? Not on your tintype! You don' catch me to vouchsafe the high and mighty, sir, the opportunity-"
      "All right, Red. I won't ask him, either."
      "I don't give a damn. For all I care, Aleck, and-well, confidentially speaking, sir, they may ensconce their precious hosiery in the infundibular dehiscence of his Nibs, which, if I may venture my humble opinion, young sir, is sufficiently generous in its expansiveness to disregard the rugosity of a stocking turned inside out, sir. Do you follow the argument, me bye?"
      "With difficulty, Red," I reply, with a smile. "What are you really talking about? I do wish you'd speak plainer."
      "You do, do you? An' mebbe you don't. Got to train you right; gradual, so to speak. It's me dooty to a prushun. But we'se got t' get help here. I ain't goin' t' kill meself workin' like a nigger. I'll quit first. D' you think-s-s-ss! "
      The shop officer is returning. "Damn your impudence, Red," he shouts at the assistant. "Why don't you keep that tongue of yours in check?"
      "Why, Mr. Cosson, what's th' trouble?"
      "You know damn well what's the trouble. You made the old man mad clean through. You ought t' know bettern that. He was nice as pie till you opened that big trap of yourn. Everythin' went wrong then. He gave me th' dickens about that pile you got lyin' aroun' here. Why don't you take it over to th' loopers, Burk?"
      "They have not been turned yet," I reply.
      "What d' you say? Not turned!" he bristles. "What in hell are you fellows doin, I'd like t' know."
      "We're doin' more'n we should," "Red" retorts, defiantly.
      "Shut up now, an' get a move on you."
      "On that rotten grub they feed us?" the assistant persists.
      "You better shut up, Red."
      "Then give us some help."
      "I will like hell!"
      The whistle sounds the dinner hour.

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