The International (magazine)/Volume 3/Number 3/The Lamp

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THE LAMP

FROM THE BOHEMIAN OF FERDINAND SCHULZ[1]

I

THE clock in the tower near by struck seven. The steam whistle blew shrill and loud, the sound reverberating through the whole of the upper New Town; a gong sounded, and before one could count twenty a long file of some fifty stalwart, broad shouldered men emerged from the low oaken gate of the factory, closely watched and scrutinized by the gateman. Most of them had on linen overalls and blouses that had once been blue; the faces and hands of all were grimy with dirt and dust.

The crowd, breaking up into groups, scattered in all directions, so that in a few moments the space before the factory was entirely empty. The gate keeper, however, still remained at his post, casting, from time to time, a questioning look toward the door of the engine room in the basement. He shook his head, and was on the point of starting in that direction, when out rushed a tall, powerful man of about thirty years of age, who shouted roughly:

"Wait, there! I want to get out. You'd keep us here in this dungeon till midnight! I wish a thunderbolt would fall on it!"

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Pushing the gate keeper aside, an d lustily cursing, he continued: "Get out of my way! I'm no longer your slave. Thistime I have to myself."

"Well, well, Hloucek," said the gate keeper soothingly, as he stepped aside from the wide open gate, "haven't I been waiting for you? no one is hindering you; you stayed behind of your own accord."

"Such a factory ought to be sunk to h—," and a new and more emphatic oath shook the broad chest of the laborer. "I couldn't find my cap, such order as there is here. It's long after seven, and here I am still."

"Well, go on, go on," urged the gate keeper, pointing to the open gate.

"The very first second after seven belongs to me," still growled the laborer, casting an angry look upon the gate keeper. "To-morrow I shall call on you to testify that I was here after working hours; I'll expect something for it. No one has any right to deprive me of a single moment of my time. You plague us all the time, in every way you can; you drive us into the traps of the police and the courts; we have to fight for our rights, and we'll fight hard, too!"

The gate keeper, with a troubled look, watched the departing figure of the irate workman until he disappeared around the corner.

Hloucek did not go far. A few yards from the corner he passed through the gateway of a large building, and entered the dark court encircled by dwelling apartments, as one might judge from the numerous doors and windows. On the threshold of one of them sat a young man, dressed much as was Hloucek. As the latter approached he rose and they entered the house together.

"Didn't I have a siege of it?" he began as soon as both were inside. "He kept me there from half past two till now, cross-questioning me without mercy. I was put to my wit's end to keep out of the traps he set for me. They know a good deal, still they don't know the main points. He tried his best to catch me, but I kept a sharp lookout on what I said. As for those books, I said they didn't belong to us, that we found 'em in the house when we moved here; and about that conversation over our beer that time, I said that I couldn't recollect it at all, that whoever reported it must have been mistaken in the parties, that we didn't even understand such things.

"I said as little as possible, and when I had to answer, I was as stupid as I could be. Since he let me off I don't believe he'll send for you at all. But we've got to be careful; that man is deuced sharp: sometimes he rattles a fellow so that he doesn't leave him a leg to stand on!"

"Well, you are home again, anyhow," said Hloucek as he gave his comrade a vigorous slap upon the shoulder. "We'll take an extra glass on the strength of it," and opening the door of the entry in which the stood, he called:

"Fana, here's some change, make haste and fetch us a pitcher of beer, and some ham—drudgery's over for to-day."

He handed his wife a florin, and she went out, carrying a large earthen pitcher. The men entered the room that she had left. It was Hloucek's home. The opposite door opened into the room occupied by Vojta Sykora, Hloucek's associate in the factory. They rented the rooms together. Sykora was unmarried and boarded with the Hlouceks.

The entry between the apartments was utilized as a sort of lodging for strangers. They usually came in the evening after nine, and left in the early morning; they slept on the bare floor and paid five kreutzers apiece for the accommodation.

From November till May this little hall was filled to overflowing with lodgers, mostly laboring men, so that the income from this was sufficient to cover the rent for all the rooms for the whole year. In the summer they had the entry for their own use, which was fortunate just now, as on account of the socialistic agitation among the factory laborers they were closely watched by the police, who had several times searched the rooms for prohibited papers and books. The keeping of strange lodgers would have increased the suspicion of them. On this occasion they congratulated themselves that they were alone.

"A person can't even trust all laboring men," remarked Hloucek, when they had sat down to the table upon which his wife had set the pitcher of foaming beer, and was laying out several slices of savory pink ham. "There is no question that we have among the laborers some good, faithful comrades, who believe with us that a laborer, whether in a trade shop, or in a factory, is a downright slave. With no human nor social rights, he is chained to his work like a beast, while profits all go to the capitalist.

"But there are some men among us that are content to be slaves, who don't know anything about their rights as men and citizens, and who don't care either, as long as they have a crust of bread to chew, a den with a bundle of straw to sleep on, and a few rags to cover the nakedness of their wives and children. They have sunk so low that they even bow down to the tyrants, hurrah for them, and take their part against us!"

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Pouring out the foaming liquid, he clinked his glass against Sykora's and cried:

"Long life and health to those that work for labor; long life to those that strive for the just distribution of the profits of labor, and destruction to all that are satisfied with their present wretched condition!"

Both friends emptied their glasses at a single draught.

"Fana," said Hloucek to his wife as he wiped the foam from his mouth with his sleeve, "fill up our glasses, and take a drink with us. When the pitcher is empty have it filled again, and—see here, what are you doing? Just leave that meat as it is, don't try to cheat us by cutting it into smaller pieces! I guess the meat market hasn't sold out yet: for all our slavery, we're not going to bed on empty stomachs. Day after to-morrow is pay day."

Placing two of the thickest pieces of the ham upon a slice of bread he laid it before Sykora saying:

"Eat, Vojta, I foot the bills to-day. You deserve a better supper after all you had to suffer from the adjutant. But, never mind, Sunday we'll make up for it! We'll go to Liska's and celebrate your trial from morning till night, and we'll send an invitation to the adjutant to come and join us."

Again he raised his glass to his lips, urging Sykora to drink, exclaiming as he did so:

"Death to all slave holders! and death to all those that uphold them!"

"I rather think that the adjutant would be glad to accept your invitation," remarked Fana, as she wiped her greasy hands on her apron. "I met their maid at the meat market; she bought two pairs of smoked sausages for their supper, and had her pitcher filled with water."

"Two pairs of sausages for four persons!" laughed Sykora, as he helped himself to a large piece of ham, "and the adjutant talked to me for four long hours without stopping; his stomach must be empty. Now he gets one little sausage for supper!"

"Oh, but he makes up for it by bossing us round," said Hloucek, reaching out for more ham, "he has the right to boss us, he joins hands with our persecutors, he can arrest us and send us to the lock-up whenever he wants to! That's worth something. He wanted to belong to the upper class: he got his wish, so I don't pity him. As for me, I never wanted to be a laborer, but I've got to be one if I don't want to rob and murder. That makes a great difference."

"When he's hard up I suppose it makes him feel better to worry us, but if he only knew it, he'd be better off if he joined our side."

"Right, you are!" replied Hloucek, "we'd get what we're after if those from the so called upper classes that ought to be with us would only join us. Now-a-days a person can't pick up a newspaper, but he finds something about our 'educated lower classes.' Then we must be the 'ignorant lower classes'; still it takes both kinds to make the 'lower classes'. If we could come to an understanding, the learned and unlearned sufferers, and become united, it wouldn't be long before the labor question would be satisfactorily settled." Hloucek took another deep draught, and emptied the pitcher into Sykora's glass.

"Fana, the pitcher's empty," he said, fumbling in his pocket for some change. "Get us something more to eat; if you haven't any money of your own, have it charged; I guess they'll trust you," he added complacently.

"Much sooner than they would some richer folks!" proudly replied Fana.

"A laborer never cheats anybody," said Sykora, after her departure. "It's only those that belong to the upper classes that make debts which they never mean to pay. A laboring man would work like a cart horse to pay his debts to the last farthing. That's one of the differences between the educated and the uneducated lower classes, too. I've always wondered why it is that education pays so poorly in the world."

"Because there's no use for it," replied Hloucek gazing into the empty glass.

"Why do so many people take so much trouble to get it, then?"

"You simpleton! Because they don't want to work with their hands as we do; they look for something easier."

"But they don't find it. They have their troubles like us."

"Very true. Still, lots of them do find the work they want."

"And who gives it to them?" asked Sykora.

"We, Sykora, we give it to them."

"We? How?" replied the younger man, much perplexed.

"Why, to-day didn't you give the adjutant half a day's work? And haven't we furnished the police officers plenty of work? And don't our comrades in Prague and elsewhere furnish the police and judges with work all the time?"

"I never looked at it in that light before," replied Sykora, not a little surprised at the profundity of Hloucek's wisdom. "Still, that's not enough to keep all of them employed. How is it in towns where there are no socialists?"

"Oh, we give them plenty to do. They say we are coarse and ignorant, we must be refined and instructed; we are quarrelsome and discontented, we must be watched; we are wicked and godless, they must try to save our souls. They must teach us, watch us, try us, punish us—plenty of work do we furnish to the so called 'upper classes.'"

"So that's why we have a right to demand steady employment from the classes that rule—work for work!"

At this moment Fana returned, and told how she had seen the adjutant at that late hour just coming home from his office, followed by the office boy with a large roll of papers. The laborers laughed heartily, and immediately attacked the new viands with as much zest as if they had not yet eaten a mouthful.

II

In the house opposite, in the humble rooms on the first floor facing the street, the family of the court adjutant, Jeromir Sadovsky, was sitting down to the supper table, upon which stood a lighted lamp with a green shade. The family consisted of the parents, a sixteen year old girl, and a boy about twelve years of age.

The parents seemed much older than they really were. Disease, anxiety and want do not give youth, strength, nor beauty; both husband and wife were faded and worn. His tall, thin, lank form was bent, and his skin was yellow and dry like parchment; his head was bald, his eyes weak and sunken, his breathing short and often interrupted by a dry, hacking cough.

Madam Sadovsky's slight form would have made her appear almost girlish, were it not that her face was already one mass of wrinkles; her thin hair, well streaked with gray, was combed smooth; and her eyes showed a calm resignation. The children, like the parents, looked pinched and careworn. The garments of all showed no small effort to keep within the limits of respectability.

Upon the table, covered with a clean but much darned tablecloth, were four small sausages and four slices of bread; a glass of water stood at each plate.

"You are late again," said Madam Sadovsky reproachfully, as she placed a pair of sausages upon her husband's plate, and cut the other pair in two to divide between the children. "We have been waiting so long for you. When will you learn to work according to office hours?"

"Never, I am afraid," replied Sadovsky as he cut the sausage in two and passed the plate to his wife to take her share of the supper.

"I have had my supper already," she replied as she declined the proffered food. "We had quite a little left over from dinner; you didn't eat much."

Both children raised their eyes to their mother in surprise. They knew that nothing whatever had been left from dinner, and that she had not tasted food since noon.

"It is almost impossible to work only during office hours," continued Sadovsky, as he quietly placed half his supper upon his wife's plate. "The work gets heavier every day. I have been assigned the task of investigating the socialistic disturbances in Prague. The responsibility is very great, the work must be thoroughly done, hence one cannot be a stickler in office hours."

"It seems to me that any particularly hard work is shoved off on you."

"The others don't fare much better; we all have our hands full."

"And you have brought work home again," she sighed, as she glanced at the roll of documents on the side table.

"I must get ready for the examination of Sykora to-morrow. Would you mind going to bed early this evening, so that I may have the room to myself? It is a great responsibility; I must be well prepared for the task."

"All day we see nothing of you, and when you do get home and we could enjoy your society a little while, we must go to bed, so that you may work. And it is so every day in the week, and year in and year out."

"Such is the life of a government officer," gravely replied Sadovsky.

Supper was soon eaten, and the mother and children bade the father good-night and withdrew.

The Lamp by Ferdinand Schultz illustration3.jpg

Jeromir Sadovsky walked the floor for a few minutes, then sat down to the table to begin his evening's work. Spreading before himself a pile of law papers, he began to peruse them with deep attention, while the shaded oil lamp lighted the wan face of the worker.

It was long after midnight, when in the house opposite, the one into whose court opened the doors of Hloucek's dwelling, a young mother, who had been wakened by her baby's crying, glanced across the street the green lamp shade was still visible. Beneath it could be seen a bald head. Adjutant Sadovsky was still at work. The windows in all the other dwellings were dark.

"When does the poor man sleep?" the woman wondered in deep sympathy, as she gazed at the lighted window. "My darling, you shall never be a government official," she whispered to her little son, who was sleeping quietly once more.

The adjutant's lamp, burning thus night after night, served as a sort of clock to the people across the street.

The Sadovskys were regarded as objects of pity by all their neighbors, but especially by their fellow tenants, who, although poor like themselves, were still much happier in their lot. For one thing, not one of the other heads of the families had death stamped in his face like Sadovsky, and there were many older men among them. Of the women in that quarter Madam Sadovsky was the most faded and worn, and the other children, even those that lived in the basement, were healthier looking and happier than were Ruzena and Karel Sadovsky. Ruzena had a small room opening into the court, where she sewed from morning till night. Karel never joined the other boys in any of their games; alone he went to school and alone he returned. No one in the house ever heard him laugh.

In the Sadovskys' apartments it was usually as quiet as in a churchyard. From one year's end to another no company ever crossed the threshold; and the family never went out on pleasure trips together. Indeed Sadovsky was not off duty entirely even on Sundays and holidays, being obliged to spend the forenoon at least in his office, while in the afternoon he tried to make up for some of the sleep he lost during the week.

The only luxury that they indulged in was a maid. Madam Sadovsky would gladly have dispensed with her services, but it would have detracted from the dignity of her husband's position. As a government officer he might not have a household without a servant. The five florins a month that constituted the girl's wages Madam Sadovsky saved by denying herself the very necessities of life. And thus, at the age when most women are at their prime, she was broken in health and prematurely old.

Her life had been a hard one from the start. Before she was fifteen years old she became the wife of Jeromir Sadovsky, who then held the humble position of clerk of the court in a small country town. He married her out of gratitude to her parents, who when they were living had befriended him when he was a poor student in the gymnasium. He knew well enough that Hedwiga was too young to assume the duties and responsibilities of married life, and that his small salary did not justify him in taking the step, but he saw no other way out of the difficulty. She was too young and helpless to be cast upon the world alone; and if he had befriended her, contributed something to her support, he feared that evil minded people might talk. He hoped, too, that, with his ability and his devotion to his work, he would soon be promoted and his salary increased.

In this he was disappointed. Heaven only knows why it is that married officials are promoted much more slowly than single men. For eight long years after his son was born he remained clerk of the court. Only three years back he had became an adjutant, and was sent to Prague.

Hedwiga, although very young, had been a good wife. It was only her economy and good management that enabled them to get along at all.

Although the transfer to Prague did not bring any material improvement in their affairs, the increase in salary being counteracted by the increased cost of living, nevertheless, the family rejoiced at the prospect of living in the capital. The children could now receive a better education than in the schools of a small town. In this case Sadovsky was guilty of the same sin that had been committed against him. In spite of his son's delicate health he planned for him a student's life. Karel therefore attended the gymnasium, while Ruzena learned to sew. In less than a year she was able to do dress making; and as she sewed well and cheaply, she always had plenty to do. Her earnings were deposited in the savings bank, her parents insisting that she should not spend the least part of them on the general expenses.

Thus quietly and concealed from the world the Sadovsky family had lived in Prague for three years.

In his office Sadovsky enjoyed the favor and confidence of his superior officers and the sincere friendship of his colleagues. Being well versed in law, and having a reputation for great conscientiousness in the performance of every duty, he was entrusted with some of the most important investigations. He always did his work with the utmost faithfulness, and when there was more than he could do in regular hours he made it up by robbing himself of much needed rest, unmindful of the fact that his health suffered thereby.

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In this hard, cheerless life one star still remained for him above the horizon—the hope of promotion. With an increase of salary all would be changed for the better. Many a time he saw this hope almost realized. Vacancies occurred; his colleagues that had started on their official career with him were already provided for; now surely it was his turn; but again and again he was doomed to bitter disappointment. At forty-two he was still merely an adjutant. It never occurred to him that his haggard face, his weakened constitution could have anything to do with the fact that men younger than himself were promoted over him. In spite of disappointment he never showed the least ill will toward the more fortunate ones, nor did he neglect his duties.

Not even his family ever heard a word of complaint from him; he would not make Hedwiga any unhappier, though she herself at times touched the sore spot in his heart.

"When I entered upon my official career," he often said, I made no agreement with my superiors that in so many years I should become a circuit judge, or a member of the state judiciary. I have no right to demand anything, or to complain, I can only be patient and wait."

He was patient, and he continued to wait. He waited and worked beneath his green lamp shade, until one night he fell asleep there. Nature, so long defrauded, finally demanded her rights. The next day the people across the street told each other in great wonder that the adjutant had not gone to bed at all, but that the lamp had burned to the very dawn. He was found thus asleep by his wife, who blew out the lamp, and gently raising his head, pushed a pillow under it, and left him to sleep on. When he woke up he scarcely had time to eat his breakfast and rush to his office, not little vexed with his wife for allowing him to sleep so long.

That day he was to carry on the examination of Vojta Sykora. Some new developments had been brought to light by the police, all pointing to him as one of the leaders in the dangerous socialistic agitation in Prague. He was suspected of inciting the laboring men to strike.

In a few moments now the trial was to begin and the adjutant was not prepared. He had not even read all the papers delivered to him by the police. He was in a state of feverish excitement. His cheeks were flushed; his heart beat with such force that the veins in his temples seemed ready to burst; as he hurried along he gasped for breath.

As he entered the city hall, he realized that his mind was a blank. He had forgotten the questions he was to ask the accused—everything! What should he do? Would it be safe to confide in some one and seek help?

Mustering all his strength he made his way to his own office on the second floor. But he had hardly entered the room when he grew faint and staggered; letting fall the papers he carried he dropped into the chair that stood at his desk. He was seized with a violent fit of coughing, and a stream of blood issued from his mouth.

Just then Sykora entered the office. At sight of the adjutant he rushed back into the hall and gave the alarm. In a few moments the room was full of officers, attendants and policemen, who tried to revive the poor sufferer. A physician, who was in the building, examined the patient, gave some necessary remedies, and ordered him to be taken home.

Sykora's trial was postponed of course. Standing at the entrance to the city hall and gazing at the departing adjutant, who, deathly pale, was supported in the carriage by the physician, and accompanied by one of the officers, the laborer nodded his head and muttered:

"See, you were laying a trap for me and you fell into it yourself! You will never cross the threshold of this building again. For a while I was alone with you; I could have helped myself to those papers and planned my answers accordingly. I didn't do it, because I fear neither you nor your successor. Some of our own party would have to carry on the examination to know what to ask. You don't know how to do it!"

* * *

That night the green shaded lamp occupied its wonted place upon the table; its light was still seen from the windows opposite, but the bald head beneath it was missing. It had sunk deep into the pillows, whence it was not raised until the sixth day, when it was lifted up gently, and laid into the coffin. That night the lamp was not even lighted. With a trembling hand, Madam Sadovsky took it and set it upon the window sill. Its task was finished, like that of its master, behind whose poor head the weeping woman placed a tiny lamp of red glass.

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On the day of the funeral, when the procession was passing the factory at lunch time, both Sykora and Hloucek were standing at the open door. Glancing at the plain yellow coffin followed by the widow and orphans, they gave each other a significant look, while Sykora asked:

"When the end comes what difference is there between the educated and the uneducated 'lower classes'?"

"None," replied Hloucek gravely.

"Why then do we persecute each other?"

"Go, ask that dead man yonder; he can tell you now."

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  1. Englished by Frances Gregor.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.