From the Diary of a Laborer

IT is some years since I read John Halifax, Gentleman, but I think that it is Miss Mulock who speaks of the ‘always foolish and sometimes harmful habit of keeping a diary.’ Nevertheless, I am not sorry that I did keep a diary somewhat conscientiously during the years that I was an unskilled laborer in Colorado. Cut off by the impish trick of some brain-cell from the memory of a time when I had been anything else, forced to earn my living by the sweat of my brow, and unable to count with any certainty on ever raising my status except by my own efforts, I felt that my daily chronicle of obscure doings made for sanity and helped toward constructive planning for the future.

There are gaps, indeed, and many of the entries are exceedingly brief. But now and then, in intervals of leisure, I would amuse myself by describing my little world with considerable detail, and would set down such a description of my work and environment as might preserve a first-hand reaction to the situation. Occasionally I even put into writing my reflections, trying to make my problem clearer to myself by reducing it to pitiless words as I searched for some solution.

And I am glad now that I did so. For already the atmosphere and conventions of the academic world are making curiously unreal, not the facts, but the thoughts and mental attitude of those two years. It is my diary that awakens again the dormant recollections of the ease and naturalness with which I wore mountain boots and pig-skin gloves; of the willingness with which I shoveled ice for three hours overtime after a tenhour day, in order to earn an extra fifty-three cents; of the curious scorn that I felt for the frills and fixings of ‘well-dressed’ people, after I had associated for a time with flannel shirts, corduroys, bronzed faces, and hardened muscles; of the repulsion that I came to feel for the complacency that I saw in faces which showed to others only prosperity and benignant optimism of the ’God’s in his Heaven, all’s well with the world’ type. Not that I had anything against Pippa’s song and its message; but it seemed to me unnecessary and irritating that men and women should be so blinded by externals as they seemed to be, or so willing to believe that all was well because their own little worlds were at peace. Faith, with many of them, I saw as an evil compound of materialism, selfishness, placid conventionalism, and moral laziness.

Perhaps the most difficult, thing in my experience to convey to others is this feeling of rebellion. It was never heated, indeed; it never inspired me to soapbox oratory; but it was very real, nevertheless, and it was very far removed from envy or covetousness. I am not sure that my attitude toward the wellto-do was not a kind of superciliousness. So when I tell clerical friends that I rarely attended church in Colorado because I rarely had presentable clothes or a contribution for the collectionplate, I tell only half the truth. The other half is that the conventional round of life and thought which the average minister and congregation stood for was artificial and repellent to me, and that I preferred to stay away. It was not a matter of hostility to Christianity at all: only repugnance to the social, economic, and spiritual world that the conventional church seemed to represent.

Not all laborers feel as I did about this and kindred things; but many do, and they are apt, to become reckless cynics, anarchists, or — the best of them — revolutionary Socialists. Personally I do not wonder in the least. There are those, I know, who gaze upon the present domination of the Social Democracy in Germany and of the wilder Bolshevik Socialism in Russia with the detached attitude of the psychopathologist. And Americans at large seem to look upon Bolshevism as mere madness, a madness that is dangerous even in Petrograd, a three-thousandmile leap being an uncomfortably easy matter for the spiritual microbe. When we hear of agitations in Chicago regarding the display of the red flag, we have somewhat the same horror that we might feel if we should hear of an epidemic of leprosy on Commonwealth Avenue; not merely the millionaires, but the many who belong to the ‘ comfortable’ classes, who own their shops and their homes, who are sure of three meals a day, who have a settled and stable existence, and whose worries have little to do with the daily necessaries of life, tend to regard with dread anything that looks like a disturbance of the existing order. So, I admit, do I. But there are many, who are by no means mad, to whom disturbance of the existing order is the one thing that can redeem society.

My Socialist friends may be wrong in thinking that they have read rightly the riddle of social life. But they are not nearly so wrong as those who deny that the riddle exists; and to me the surprising thing is, not the existence of radicalism, but its restraint. I was constantly amazed at the moderation of my fellows, the intelligence and patience with which some of them would discuss economic and social problems. And if it be true that most accepted life as they found it, with little resentment, I am not at all sure that their good-natured apathy was to be commended. It was inertia, not rational contentment. Those whose minds were really alive were for the most part rebels, yet rebels of singular temperance and breadth of view. It was the wilder spirits who were the exceptions.

As a matter of fact, those who feel irritated at the rebellious radicalism that is so frequent among workingmen, and who regard it simply as a base envy or a dangerous madness, quite fail to understand the situation. Rather is it a sign of life, a promise for the future. I did not become a Socialist myself, because — among other things — I could not subscribe to the Marxian theory of capital; I did not become an anarchist, because I believe that, bad as the present condition of society might be, anarchism would be infinitely worse; but I saw no reason to scoff at either Socialism or anarchism. To me, standing face to face with the crude facts of life, even the most radical reformer seemed safer and saner than the satisfied believer in things as they are.

My diary shows, it is true, a regretful realization of the levity and irresponsibility of most of my laborer friends. But I liked them; in a measure I saw life through their eyes; and the vision shook my confidence in much that is deemed stable and respectable. Now, alas, I grow less sure of my radicalism. Surrounded by an apparently unshaken world, I am perplexed by the disappearance of rents and cracks, by the solidity of pillars once seen as undermined and tottering. I am fain to believe that the victories of classrevolutions abroad, the red light in the skies over Petrograd and Berlin, are due solely to the reaction against Kaiserism and Tsarism, and that here in America we are happy in our democracy. Perhaps I shall find myself in time cultivating the shocked frown and the pitying smile. For I am no longer one of the sons of manual toil. The gates of the world I roamed in have closed behind me. Nor do I even wish to reënter them. Yet as I walk the street in the garb of my ‘class,’or sedately make my way from study to lecture-room, I seem to see, in the eyes of an occasional horny-handed one, a twinkle of derision.

COLORADO SPRINGS,January 27, 1914. — To-morrow I start in on a new job, — loading ice at Lake George, — and it comes none too soon. I am down to my last dime. At the same time I wish I had shared that dime with Stanley this morning. He is a man I have seen several times in Hull’s Employment Agency — a pleasant chap, alert, good-natured, apparently intelligent, always keen on landing a job and taking what he could get without grumbling. But lately there has been nothing to be had for any of us. One gets selfish, I am afraid, when it is a case of looking anxiously at every nickel that has to be spent, and when a job is very literally a lifeline. I have been so preoccupied with my own problem that I have forgotten to be sorry for others in the same fix, — Stanley for one, — though his dilemma turns out to be many times worse than mine.

This morning I happened to meet him as we were both heading for the employment office. In reply to the usual question as to how things were going, he told me that his wife went to the hospital yesterday morning with appendicitis, and they operated in the afternoon, and that he simply had got to get a job.

I had exactly a dime left, and no job. But I should have split it, I know. I could have got along on the nickel well enough, for I had some food in my room and my rent is paid up to to-morrow noon. Yet I presume the charity experts would say that my nickel would have pauperized him, just as it would pauperize a man, doubtless, to help him out of an actual hole instead of a metaphorical one. Just so! It sounds like a combination of Nietzsche and foolishness. Perhaps if said experts could go hungry for a day, hungry and broke, they might see a light.

This is the end of my fifth day at Lake George. I have been too tired the other evenings to make an entry, but now it is not so bad. I see that I can stand the grind all right.

I came up on the Colorado Midland, right up the Ute Pass and over the Divide, forty miles from Colorado Springs. I got off the train at a little station from which neither lake nor any sign of civilization was visible except the railway; nothing but pink and gray cliffs and snowy mountain-slopes dotted and patched with fir and scrub-pine. I shouldered my pack and tramped along a track that presumably led somewhere. In a moment, as I rounded a giant elbow of granite, I had my first view of Lake George—a small sheet of white, girdled by pine-clad mountains, with a group of unpainted ice-houses scarring the east shore and men and horses dotting one end of the frozen plain. There was a primitive-looking little village not far away at the north end of the lake; but village and ice-plant looked insignificant in that first view — mere specks in a world of rugged, majestic desolation.

Another chap got off the train with me, also bound for the ice-house. He joined me and we found our way over together. He seemed badly in need of a job — at any rate he had no overcoat, no blankets, no overshoes, and not a cent in his pocket. But he knew he was safe once he reached the lake, and his poverty seemed to rest easily on him as if it were an accustomed burden. We found our way to the office, were received most courteously by a young German time-keeper, and immediately put to work, the other man at ‘floating’ and I at shoveling refuse ice, to my disgust. Shoveling ice is work for which I have a profound dislike. As one of my co-laborers remarked, ‘All it takes is a strong back and a weak mind.'

It did not take long to get an idea of the general character of the work. The ice is ploughed and sawed out on the deepest part of the lake. Sections are broken off as they are ready — sections cons isting of from twenty-eight to thirty-two blocks, already cut by the ice-plough in sixor eight-inch furrows, checker board fashion, so that they would break easily and evenly. These sections are shoved by the floaters along the narrow channel connecting the field with the ice-house, and broken there into even blocks by rapid and skillful strokes with a heavy pointed bar, a ‘ spud-bar’ as they call it. Then an everrunning chain seizes them and pulls them up to the gallery, where they are distributed as they are needed.

During my first and second days I was one of a crew engaged in keeping the tracks clear of the chips of ice that were scraped and broken from the blocks in their passage from water to car; for we are not filling the ice-houses just now, but loading cars, five at a time for the Santa Fé Railroad.

The men are an interesting lot, good workers and good companions. I have a real sense of pride in working with them and in trying to reach their standard of efficiency. No one could say that the work itself is particularly agreeable, but mine is not so bad just now, and we all take it as it comes. This morning, after two days of ‘floating,’ — a welcome change from the shoveling, — I was made a ‘snagger,’ that is, I stood at the entrance of a car with a short pike, and as the blocks of ice rumbled by, carried by a chain along the runway, I had to ‘snag’ them with my pike and pull them with a swift jerk to the chute that sent them crashing into the car. Four men — mere boys they were—received them at imminent hazard to life and limb. I could hear the leap and rush of the car-men as they seized the great blocks with tongs and pikes, seized them often even as they sped down the chute, and swung them to their place, barely dodging the next block that came thundering down. And they keep this up all day, resting only when the machinery stops for occasional repairs, or when the whistle blows. The day means ten hours and usually one or two more overtime. Yet the men emerge, tired, indeed, but with spirits undampened, undiscouraged, perfectly ready to eat, play, sleep, and work again when the morning whistle blows.

Likable and even admirable as I have found them, they are irresponsible to a degree that often amazes me. As I see them taking their ease in the bunkhouse, sitting by the fire, playing cards at our one table, it seems to me that the curling wreaths of heavy smoke, the care-free talk, the lazy unconcern of glance, of laugh, of attitude, carry with their satisfying effect of rest and comfort just a little suggestion of a willingness to face no effort greater than the day’s work. Willingly and efficiently as they do their work, too, they are tied to it by a singularly loose bond. They drop out on the least occasion, or on no occasion at all. Of course, some of these fellows may have been born with a restless streak in them. Some of them seem to have been nomads for years. But I am not sure that either irresponsibility or restlessness is wholly, or even largely, their own fault.

I wonder whether I shall ever really understand them. Here is Dummy, asleep now in his bunk. He lost his hearing in a mine explosion a few years ago, the men tell me, and while he can talk, he rarely tries — perhaps because he cannot hear his own voice. Yet he is one of the most cheerful souls in camp, and we all like him. He troubles himself as little as his mates about the future. I, in my ignorance, look before and after, think of the tears in mortal things, and try to pierce the darkness ahead; Dummy and his mates think of the present and worry not at all. Well, for the present I must do likewise. At any rate, another day’s work is done, and I am in the mood to thank Heaven for the gift of sleep. The whistle will blow at 6 A.M., and we shall have to roll out by starlight.

The Lake George episode is over. Yesterday we were told that we were nearing the end of the last order, and that we could either work overtime until we were through, or stop as usual at six o’clock and finish up this morning. We chose to go ahead, and the last piece of ice was stacked in its car a few minutes after midnight. This morning a Kansas boy and I decided to walk to Colorado Springs instead of going down by rail, and we are here at Woodland Park for the night. A twenty-mile walk following a fifteen-hour day is something that I should have hardly dared to attempt a month ago.

We knew on Thursday that the works were soon to be closed down, and I wish I could transcribe the talk of that evening in our bunk-house. The time had come when the future had to be faced, willy-nilly. The theories as to where work would be most likely to be had were many and various. Some were for Cripple Creek, some for Denver, some for Pueblo, a few for Colorado Springs — this last a tourist city, nearby and pleasant, but dead in the winter from the workingman’s point of view. All had a few dollars coming to them and felt no pressure from immediate poverty. To their cheerful souls the certainty of food and shelter for three or four days forbade anything like gloom. That they could find some kind of work within that time they took for granted.

The whole discussion confirmed the impression I set down here a couple of weeks ago. With these chaps the present is the real thing. As to the future, it is a matter for speculation, for rosy dreams, for castle-building, not for fears or for solid planning. They would buy a tin of tobacco or a glass of beer if it left in their pockets a solitary two bits, or, for that matter, a solitary nickel. If they have from one to five dollars in hand, care is non-existent. If there is a larger amount, Rockefeller and Carnegie combined could not have more of the feeling of wealth. If one job comes to an end, the problem of getting another presents itself perforce, and is debated with seriousness but without worry. Again and again at the Lake a little tiff with the boss, a little discomfort from a cold snowstorm across the lake, a little attack of wanderlust, made a sufficient reason for quitting on the impulse of the moment, and hiking for the city with just enough money to keep things going for two days or a week. I have found discontent now and then among the men, but pessimism never.

It is easy enough to see the trouble. But to be quite candid with my own soul, I am not at all sure that I might not develop the same irresponsible optimism myself, if I were not intent on being something other than an unskilled laborer. It is, perhaps, less optimism than reckless resignation, refusal to worry over what cannot be helped. For we are all in a sort of trap, — not the device of any malevolent brain, but the result of a social system, — a trap from which not one in thousands can escape. Within limits we have freedom, and the temptation is to enjoy such liberty as we have and forego the struggle for anything more. I feel the temptation so keenly that I cannot greatly blame those who yield to it. A low wage, the eternal living within a few dollars of starvation, is bound to develop in a few a dogged, unwavering ambition, in a greater number restlessness and rebellion, in the vast majority carelessness and improvidence.

The laborers I have seen are probably typical ones, handy at a dozen things, but not highly skilled in anything, and without the opportunity ever to become highly skilled. Exceptional ability, exceptional determination, does sometimes overcome the handicap, no doubt. But here at Lake George were men and boys, naturally neither stupid nor bad, who had to go to work in early life from simple necessity, who had taken whatever job offered itself, had gone from one job to another, never learning anything that required a high grade of skill, until a life-habit was acquired. A dollar and a half a day was better than nothing; two dollars was a competence; two dollars and a half, affluence; three dollars, a cinch; permanence in any job was not to be looked for, often not to be desired; for change becomes a habit, like anything else.

There have been times, as they talked and played in the bunk-house, when these mates of mine seemed the actors in something like a tragedy. To me they were wasting the flower of their youth, and I saw ahead for them the bitterness of a desolate old age — as I see it for myself unless I can find what they are not even seeking, a way out.

Yet ‘no soul,’says the philosopher, ‘willfully misses truth.’

Certainly it seems futile to blame the men. Perhaps I am too close to the problem just now to see the solution. Only I cannot help wondering how many of our wise men see even the problem.

It is about six months now since I left Toledo. The future is not much clearer now than it was then, and I have made little headway toward anything like economic safety, but still I have much to be thankful for. I am in a little cabin almost under the shadow of the mountains. My rent is paid in terms of labor—mowing lawns, spading gardens, pruning trees, and otherwise making myself useful. My fuel I gather from a near-by bit of woods. My small housekeeping expenses are paid by odds and ends of work for the neighbors. It takes some close calculating to make ends meet, for these two months represent Colorado’s rainy season, and there are many days when I can earn nothing. Certainly, while experiments in economy doubtless have their value, and while my daily entries may give me some interesting reading at some future time, just now the figures would look much more joysome if they could be multiplied a little.

My income seems to average rather less than thirty-five cents a day, and naturally that also represents my expenditure. But both vary. Sometimes I have to tighten my belt; at other times I am extravagant even to the extent of a pie or some fruit. For one lean period of ten days last month I had exactly one cent in my pocket, and my entries of that time indicate a simplicity of life that a hermit might approve. Fortunately I had some food in the cabin, milk coming every morning, a friendly grocer who permitted me to run a bill of ninety cents, and a neighbor who keeps chickens and who, while she frugally postpones paying me for work as long as possible, yet allows me eggs on a contra account. Finally, my good landlady, discovering my poverty, lent me a large round dollar, and a windfall in the shape of a day’s work at two dollars put me on my feet again. Lately I have been more fortunate, but there are times when I yearn for a regular pay-day, much as I like my cabin and the cheery little creek that runs beside it. I fear that I am not a very efficient disciple of Thoreau.

I notice one feeling growing on me which must be watched and held in check. As I changed my books in the library yesterday, I stood near a clergyman, and I found myself looking at his face, his manner, and his attire, with a comprehensive sweep of irritated repulsion. His every glance and movement spoke of inner peace, the peace which comes from excellent dinners, the praise of the multitude, sure possession of the truth, and a deceptively pleasant gift of tongues. He was returning a volume of Maeterlinck, and he made a remark so hopelessly complacent and so entirely superficial (concerning the symbolism of The Blind), that I yearned to open up and confound him utterly. But what was the use? It is entirely likely that I was just as blind, just as pleased with myself, just as encased in academic and ‘genteel’ superiority as any of them, two years ago.

I had a lesson to-day in the true inwardness of the word ‘unskilled’ as applied to labor. The neighbor who grows my eggs and dislikes parting with real money called me in to assist a carpenter who was mending her washing-machine.

I was repairing a fence, but I put aside my hammer and went in. I found the carpenter disconsolately pawing over a heap of wreckage and muttering objurgations. He looked up at me with a gleam of hope, as if there might be an off chance that I knew something about tubs which had fallen apart, but I quickly undeceived him. For ten minutes or so we struggled against Fate, but finally he left, advising the good lady with some vigor to buy a new machine, As a last resort, however, she appealed to a man who often does odd jobs in this neighborhood at two bits an hour — a pleasant, capable chap, with whom I have worked more than once and who taught me the other day how to dig a post-hole and plant a post therein. I was not there when he came to the rescue; I had returned to my fence; but when I saw him an hour later, he had the job almost done. By the time he had finished with it, the machine seemed as good as new; and when I expressed amazed admiration, he scoffed. Yet he would be classed as an unskilled laborer!

Two weeks ago I was in my little cabin by Cheyenne Creek. Now I am gorgeously housed in the Castle at Glen Eyrie, — five miles or so from Colorado Springs, — with Persian rugs for my honorable feet and a private bath at my lordly disposal. Such are the twists of fate.

Looking back over the last two months, I am compelled to believe, either that I was never intended to be a gardener, or that long disuse has atrophied that part of my inheritance. Not that I disliked it, but I was slow and lacking in the proper instincts. Also, the question of income was troublesome.

Well, that is done with now. When I heard that Romaine Fielding was in Colorado Springs to take pictures for the Lubin Moving-Picture Company, I decided to try my luck with him. One evening I had an interview with Fielding, and he announced that he would send me out to Glen Eyrie at a dollar a day with room and board — wealth undreamed of. Next morning one of his men drove me out in a most excellent car by the Mesa Road; and as we passed the lodge and sped up the Glen and halted at the door of the castle, the conviction seized my awed mind that my guardian angel was giving me a taste of Fairyland. I had not believed that a place so wonderful existed. A white-haired old lady met me at the door and summoned ‘Jake’ to show me to my room, a noble apartment with a tiled bathroom attached. Through the window I saw a wide prospect of glen and mountain, with a great cliff of upended sandstone such as one sees in the Garden of the Gods.

My good fortune was incredible, but happily real, nevertheless. I am here, apparently, more to keep ‘Mother’ as they all call the housekeeper — from being alone than because there is much work to be done. Usually my time is practically my own after nine or ten o’clock. Except when Fielding himself is out here, ‘Mother,’ Jake, Annie,— our little German maid, — and I have the great house to ourselves. Sometimes Annie and I are alone from early morning until evening, when the others are working in a picture; and then there is little to do but read and roam in the garden, while at intervals I practise my German on Annie and she her English on me. We are neither of us experts and conversation is difficult, but she is an agreeable youngster and we get along together very well.

Altogether this is an interlude. I am sitting now on a rustic seat in the rose-garden. Near by rises the great gateway of Queen’s Canon, red granite topped by giant masonry of Silurian strata, and around the top of a cliff five eagles are circling. The mountains surround us. Except for the screams of the eagles far aloft, the silence is absolute, and at night we hear nothing but the distant howls of the coyotes. How long this is to last I do not know, but the utter peace of this lovely place is blessedness beyond words.

For five days I have been learning how to plant trees, in the United States Forest Service. From eight o’clock to half-past four we are climbing up and down the mountain slopes in companies, every man eight feet from his neighbor. We dig a hole with our mattock, call for a tree, place it carefully so that the roots hang straight down, fill in the hole, stamp it down, and go on eight feet to repeat the process. The tree-passer, with a bundle of trees under his arm, stands ready to throw us a tree as we call for it. The boss ranges up and down the line, to see that we judge our distances accurately, and now and then he pulls inquiringly at a tree to see that it is firmly planted. The trees are little things, about eight inches long on an average, and it requires some faith to believe that they will take root and grow. Yet the superintendent tells me that eighty per cent or more do grow, and fifty or a hundred years from now these hillsides should be clothed with a magnificent forest of Douglas fir instead of a light growth of aspen.

We sleep four in a tent, on straw, and the tent is heated by a queer but effective little cone-shaped stove, whose smoke-pipe curves down, passes underground, and comes up outside the tent. We supply our own blankets and cut our own wood, but the rest of the equipment belongs to Uncle Sam. On Sundays and on snowy days we do as we like, and get our meals, but no pay. Other days we climb and plant for eight hours at about the rate of a tree a minute, breathing the purest of air, and now and then feasting our eyes on a landscape which impresses even the old-timers.

It is strange how working at this altitude affects the men. Some who are much stronger than I, men who have been laborers for years, have had to give it up after a day or two, and others have dropped out with the first climb. These latter could not believe us when we told them that this first climb — right after a heavy breakfast of meat and flapjacks, when we had to go straight up the mountain for perhaps a thousand feet, to the place where we had stopped the day before — was the hardest of the day. None of us find it easy. But after the first half hour we settle down to business, and while I should never be as speedy and tireless as many of the others, it is encouraging to find that, it is only my muscles that feel the strain, not lungs or heart, and that I can even join some of my mates in an occasional pipe — a thing which is by no means recommended in mountain work.

The men are a mixed lot, of about the same type as those with whom I have worked before. My bunkie is a University of Missouri man; he gives as the reason for his present employment an interest in forestry and a desire to make it his life-work; but whether that is his real reason is his own affair. In the next tent to ours are a Canadian, an Englishman, a German, and an Arkansas man, good fellows all of them. Notwithstanding the war, they get along together famously. When an occasional paper comes along, the three who are pro-Ally and the one who is on the other side read the news and comment on it without heat and without argument, the Canadian and the Englishman keeping their feelings to themselves until the German is absent, and the German showing no bias at all.

The man here who interests me most is Bill Ronayne, one of my tent-mates. His job is to take the trees as they arrive from the nursery at Monument, hill them in, keep them watered, and make them up into bundles for the tree-passers. Unlike most of the men, he does consider the future, and he is trying to decide whether to go in for forestry as a permanent thing or revert to a former ambition, the saving-up of enough capital to start a dairy-lunch business. He is without education, has had no better start in life than any of the rest; but he has steady eyes and a clear head, and I have little doubt that he will succeed in raising himself above the precarious position of an unskilled laborer before many years.

Most of the men, like those at Lake George, have neither ambition nor initiative, but they are a cheerful, goodhearted lot and good workers. Only one of them is an exception on the score of good-nature, a foreman or ‘straw-boss’ (in the dialect of the camp). He has earned the distinctive title of ‘Grouchy,’ but I half suspect that his disposition is due to the fact that he is over fifty, and sees the years coming with the inexorable terror of old age.

All of us are Americans or Northern Europeans, and there is a curious pride of race that makes the boys resent the intrusion of Mexicans or ‘dagoes.’ Some Greeks came up last night, and the boss sent them back this morning in deference to the feelings of the camp. It struck me as an odd, somewhat unintelligent prejudice. Personally, I should no more mind working beside a Sicilian or a Greek than with a Norwegian or a Californian. Indeed, these despised ‘dagoes’ interest me as an important element in the American melting-pot. But apparently the feeling of class is as potent among the laborers as among their social superiors, and I suppose it is just about as reasonable.

I have just come back from my first venture in prospecting. It was a failure, as might have been expected, but it has given me a new idea and a new hope. Two weeks ago I was one of a mixed bunch who were posing as miners and cowboys in a Pike’s Peak Film Company play. Between scenes we were talking ores and minerals, and in feeling for a match in my pocket I came upon a piece of ore that I had picked up in the hills. To me it was only a pretty fragment of stone with gleams of iridescence, and I had meant to have it identified out of mere curiosity. It was duly submitted to the group and pronounced by a miner good copper ore, bornite. He advised me to go back to the spot where I had found it and investigate. Deeply interested, I took the specimen to an assayer to make sure, and found that at the present price of copper my sample was worth about thirty-five dollars to the ton. If I could find a reasonably good vein, there would obviously be money in it.

I was almost sure that I had picked up that piece of ore the last time I had been at Lake George. A neighbor of Jake’s — to whom I told the story — offered to grub-stake me for the trip up and to finance the undertaking if I should find the vein. But the only outcome was a pleasant walk to Lake George and back—an eighty-mile hike; for the hill that I went to explore turned out to be a mass of giant boulders quite evidently deposited by a glacier, and my specimen was only a ‘ float ’ — a piece of ore separated from its parent vein, and quite valueless except as indicating that, somewhere in the region there is hidden a possible fortune in copper.

But the whole experience has given me an idea. For these two years I have screwed the lid down on certain kinds of emotion. I have had to. But it is still true that for terrible fleeting instants my heart seems sometimes to stop its beat, as I realize in what deep waters I am struggling, how hard it is to reach the surface or to attain solid ground. It has been increasingly hard to see how I could get far enough ahead to find a way of escape from my present way of living. ’Not that I have any absolute quarrel with it, if there were no such things as sickness and old age: I am earning my daily bread and learning much that I value. But I am a soul in Limbo nevertheless, and certainly I have no desire to remain an unskilled laborer indefinitely. Just as certainly, no way out of the difficulty has yet been visible. I have remained optimistic because despair is the one unpardonable thing.

Now, at last, I think I see a very real possibility, the gleam of light for which I have been searching. I must save every cent that I can spare, learn all that I can pick up about minerals, and then plunge into prospecting and mining. After all, this is a mining state. Gold, silver, zinc, lead, and copper are in these mountains, waiting to be found, and even the search itself is worth while. Hereafter, until the wall that separates me from my old life is broken down, — if that should ever happen, — I shall follow the one road that I can now see toward higher ground. I shall never make a good laborer with my hands alone. But here is a field in which head and muscles may work together, and we shall see.

Whether my plan would have worked out or not, I shall never know; for it was decreed that I had wandered in my selva oscura long enough, and one morning, after I had written for a while in our little kitchen, and had settled down to a game of chess with my chum, a friend of mine who had worked with me in the ‘movies’ and hobnobbed with me many a time in Jake’s little workroom, came to the door and, with a message of a dozen words, pushed down the invisible barrier of over two years. That game of chess was never finished. My exile was over.

I have been turning over, in meditative mood, the pages of the two little books of diary notes which I carried with me wherever I went. Two impressions are clear. One is that of rebellion, none the less intense because it was without emotional heat and without any dogmatic adoption of a remedy — the rebellion of one thrown suddenly into a prison, in which I joined millions of others in enforced labor, while we looked through bars at a callous, satisfied, cheerful world; a rebellion which made me sympathize with the Socialist diatribes against the bourgeoisie, even while my reason rejected them as unjust.

One must be fair to the Pharisee: by his standards — and ours — he was very probably a better man than the publican; yet his attitude was irritating none the less. And if our comfortable citizens should ever fall before the wrath of the proletariat, if the menace now facing their brethren in Central and Eastern Europe should ever become formidable in America, it will be less on account of capitalistic misdeeds than on account of economic and social Pharisaism. Even now, when many of my friends are ‘bourgeois,’ and when I have less hostility than ever to capitalism, I retain something of my old resentment. I might find it possible to forget how heavy was the bondage that crushed us, but not how hard it, was to look amiably on those who talked with lofty benevolence of the ‘poor,’ and who regarded our unwalled prison with smug arrogance as part of a well-ordered society.

But the other impression is quite different — the progressive discovery that the prison itself was full of unsuspected virtues. I intended to effect an escape, but even as I bent thought and energy to that end and slowly achieved a working adjustment to my environment, in order to conquer it, I realized that I was looking at it with more and more appreciation and interest. My initial admiration for the laborer lost its element, of surprise and externality, and became at once more sympathetic and more rational, as I slowly realized that the class of which I was a working member had a real contribution to life, a valid if unconscious message.

So that I am tempted to make a suggestion to the younger, more adventurous spirits among our students of social conditions. The life of the laborers cannot be studied from the outside. He who would learn the truth about the lower levels of our social structure and at the same time learn something of life in its simplest elements, must put aside luxury and prejudice, steel his pampered mind against monotony, and earn his daily bread by the work of his hands. And one who has tried it, albeit without intention, may add a word of encouragement.

The student of this little-explored country will find that it is not so bad as it looks. To balance the hardships of the laborer’s life, there are real compensations. There is at least a suggestion of Antæus’s contact with Mother Earth. A thousand conventions, harmless in themselves, but distorting to the mental vision when unconsciously regarded as vital, drop away. A thousand preoccupations that worry the soul of the well-to-do are as meaningless to the workingman as heraldic terms to the Hottentot. And there are moments when he who has exchanged the pen for the mattock, the book of reference for the talk of the tent or bunk-house, the quarterly check for the weekly pay-envelope, will feel a curious mental and physical exhilaration, a purgation of soul, as if he had stepped from the enervating atmosphere of a ballroom to the windy crags of Pike’s Peak.