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- The Lion and the Mouse - 40/50 -
thoughts and fathom the reason for her very evident hostility towards him.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean, what can you show as your life work? Most men whose lives are big enough to call for biographies have done something useful- -they have been famous statesmen, eminent scientists, celebrated authors, great inventors. What have you done?"
The question appeared to stagger him. The audacity of any one putting such a question to a man in his own house was incredible. He squared his jaws and his clenched fist descended heavily on the table.
"What have I done?" he cried. "I have built up the greatest fortune ever accumulated by one man. My fabulous wealth has caused my name to spread to the four corners of the earth. Is that not an achievement to relate to future generations?"
Shirley gave a little shrug of her shoulders.
"Future generations will take no interest in you or your millions," she said calmly. "Our civilization will have made such progress by that time that people will merely wonder why we, in our day, tolerated men of your class so long. Now it is different. The world is money-mad. You are a person of importance in the eyes of the unthinking multitude, but it only envies you your fortune; it does not admire you personally. When you die people will count your millions, not your good deeds."
He laughed cynically and drew up a chair near her desk. As a general thing, John Ryder never wasted words on women. He had but a poor opinion of their mentality, and considered it beneath the dignity of any man to enter into serious argument with a woman. In fact, it was seldom he condescended to argue with anyone. He gave orders and talked to people; he had no patience to be talked to. Yet he found himself listening with interest to this young woman who expressed herself so frankly. It was a decided novelty for him to hear the truth.
"What do I care what the world says when I'm dead?" he asked with a forced laugh.
"You do care," replied Shirley gravely. "You may school yourself to believe that you are indifferent to the good opinion of your fellow man, but right down in your heart you do care--every man does, whether he be multi-millionaire or a sneak thief."
"You class the two together, I notice," he said bitterly.
"It is often a distinction without a difference," she rejoined promptly.
He remained silent for a moment or two toying nervously with a paper knife. Then, arrogantly, and as if anxious to impress her with his importance, he said:
"Most men would be satisfied if they had accomplished what I have. Do you realize that my wealth is so vast that I scarcely know myself what I am worth? What my fortune will be in another fifty years staggers the imagination. Yet I started with nothing. I made it all myself. Surely I should get credit for that."
"How did you make it?" retorted Shirley.
"In America we don't ask how a man makes his money; we ask if he has got any."
"You are mistaken," replied Shirley earnestly. "America is waking up. The conscience of the nation is being aroused. We are coming to realize that the scandals of the last few years were only the fruit of public indifference to sharp business practice. The people will soon ask the dishonest rich man where he got it, and there will have to be an accounting. What account will you be able to give?"
He bit his lip and looked at her for a moment without replying. Then, with a faint suspicion of a sneer, he said:
"You are a socialist--perhaps an anarchist!"
"Only the ignorant commit the blunder of confounding the two," she retorted. "Anarchy is a disease; socialism is a science."
"Indeed!" he exclaimed mockingly, "I thought the terms were synonymous. The world regards them both as insane."
Herself an enthusiastic convert to the new political faith that was rising like a flood tide all over the world, the contemptuous tone in which this plutocrat spoke of the coming reorganization of society which was destined to destroy him and his kind spurred her on to renewed argument.
"I imagine," she said sarcastically, "that you would hardly approve any social reform which threatened to interfere with your own business methods. But no matter how you disapprove of socialism on general principles, as a leader of the capitalist class you should understand what socialism is, and not confuse one of the most important movements in modern world-history with the crazy theories of irresponsible cranks. The anarchists are the natural enemies of the entire human family, and would destroy it were their dangerous doctrines permitted to prevail; the socialists, on the contrary, are seeking to save mankind from the degradation, the crime and the folly into which such men as you have driven it."
She spoke impetuously, with the inspired exaltation of a prophet delivering a message to the people. Ryder listened, concealing his impatience with uneasy little coughs.
"Yes," she went on, "I am a socialist and I am proud of it. The whole world is slowly drifting toward socialism as the only remedy for the actual intolerable conditions. It may not come in our time, but it will come as surely as the sun will rise and set tomorrow. Has not the flag of socialism waved recently from the White House? Has not a President of the United States declared that the State must eventually curb the great fortunes? What is that but socialism?"
"True," retorted Ryder grimly, "and that little speech intended for the benefit of the gallery will cost him the nomination at the next Presidential election. We don't want in the White House a President who stirs up class hatred. Our rich men have a right to what is their own; that is guaranteed them by the Constitution."
"Is it their own?" interrupted Shirley.
Ryder ignored the insinuation and proceeded:
"What of our boasted free institutions if a man is to be restricted in what he may and may not do? If I am clever enough to accumulate millions who can stop me?"
"The people will stop you," said Shirley calmly. "It is only a question of time. Their patience is about exhausted. Put your ear to the ground and listen to the distant rumbling of the tempest which, sooner or later, will be unchained in this land, provoked by the iniquitous practices of organized capital. The people have had enough of the extortions of the Trusts. One day they will rise in their wrath and seize by the throat this knavish plutocracy which, confident in the power of its wealth to procure legal immunity and reckless of its danger, persists in robbing the public daily. But retribution is at hand. The growing discontent of the proletariat, the ever-increasing strikes and labour disputes of all kinds, the clamour against the Railroads and the Trusts, the evidence of collusion between both--all this is the writing on the wall. The capitalistic system is doomed; socialism will succeed it."
"What is socialism?" he demanded scornfully. "What will it give the public that it has not got already?"
Shirley, who never neglected an opportunity to make a convert, no matter how hardened he might be, picked up a little pamphlet printed for propaganda purposes which she had that morning received by mail.
"Here," she said, "is one of the best and clearest definitions of socialism I have ever read:
"Socialism is common ownership of natural resources and public utilities, and the common operation of all industries for the general good. Socialism is opposed to monopoly, that is, to private ownership of land and the instruments of labor, which is indirect ownership of men; to the wages system, by which labor is legally robbed of a large part of the product of labor; to competition with its enormous waste of effort and its opportunities for the spoliation of the weak by the strong. Socialism is industrial democracy. It is the government of the people by the people and for the people, not in the present restricted sense, but as regards all the common interests of men. Socialism is opposed to oligarchy and monarchy, and therefore to the tyrannies of business cliques and money kings. Socialism is for freedom, not only from the fear of force, but from the fear of want. Socialism proposes real liberty, not merely the right to vote, but the liberty to live for something more than meat and drink.
"Socialism is righteousness in the relations of men. It is based on the fundamentals of religion, the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of men. It seeks through association and equality to realize fraternity. Socialism will destroy the motives which make for cheap manufacturers, poor workmanship and adulterations; it will secure the real utility of things. Use, not exchange, will be the object of labour. Things will be made to serve, not to sell. Socialism will banish war, for private ownership is back of strife between men. Socialism will purify politics, for private capitalism is the great source of political corruption. Socialism will make for education, invention and discovery; it will stimulate the moral development of men. Crime will have lost most of its motive and pauperism will have no excuse. That," said Shirley, as she concluded, "is socialism!"
Ryder shrugged his shoulders and rose to go.
"Delightful," he said ironically, "but in my judgment wholly Utopian and impracticable. It's nothing but a gigantic pipe dream. It won't come in this generation nor in ten generations if, indeed, it is ever taken seriously by a majority big enough to put
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