Pictures of the Socialistic Future
WE have just passed through terrible days. On Sunday morning Franz arrived here unexpectedly on his way to Stettin, to which town, as I take it, he has been transferred. My wife appeared not the least surprised at his coming, but she showed all the more emotion at his going away again. She sobbed aloud, hung upon his neck, and seemed utterly incapable of bearing the separation from her son. Franz parted from me, too, as though it were a matter of never seeing each other more. Agnes was not about at the time, but I heard that they intended to meet at the railway station.
On Wednesday I chanced to read to my wife some intelligence in the Onward, that once more a number of emigrants, in seeking to evade pursuit by the frontier guards, had been shot down by the latter. She became greatly excited at the news, and upon my saying, in response to her inquiry, that this had taken place in the roadstead of Sassnitz, she fainted. It took me some considerable time to bring her back to consciousness. Presently she narrated to me in broken sentences that Franz and Agnes had gone off together on Sunday, not, as I had supposed, to Stettin, but to Sassnitz, with the intention of leaving Germany altogether. From the account in the paper, it seems that, upon the arrival of the Danish mail-steamer from Stettin, the frontier guards at once boarded the vessel, and attempted to drag the fugitive emigrants back by sheer force. The emigrants offered resistance, and there was a sanguinary encounter.
They were anxious hours we spent before our fears were somewhat set at rest by the appearance of a new number of the Onward, with a list of the killed and arrested. Franz and Agnes were not in either of the lists, but what can have become of them?
My wife now related to me the story of the young people's resolve to get away from the country. It seems that Franz had some time previously confided to her his fixed determination to leave Germany as soon as possible, as he found the state of affairs unbearable. Fearing that my well-known respect for the law might lead me to oppose his intentions, he earnestly begged his mother not to breathe a syllable of his plans to me. All her efforts to induce him to give up the idea were futile. Seeing his determination was unalterable, the good mother could no longer find it in her heart to oppose it. In old days, and quite unknown to me, my wife had laid by sundry gold pieces, and these she gave to Franz to make use of as passage-money on a foreign ship.
At first, Agnes had opposed the plan. She was ready, she said, to follow Franz to the end of the world if needs be; but she could not see at present, she added, what necessity there was for their leaving all else that was dear to them. But in a short time her own circumstances became so unpleasant that she altered her opinion. All this I have only just learnt.
In old days, in the stillness and purity of the maternal home, the young maiden used to carry on her business as a milliner, selling her wares for the most part to a house in a large way. Now she saw herself obliged to work in a big sewing establishment, and to spend the whole day with a number of women and girls, many of whom had habits and principles not at all to her mind. Her chaste maidenliness was often shocked at a good deal of the talk, and at the familiarities between the girls and the male managers. Sundry complaints she made only tended to make her position still more unpleasant. Her personal attractions likewise soon drew upon her an amount of offensive attention from one of the head managers. An abrupt repulse on the part of Agnes only subjected her to those petty annoyances and harassments in her work by which a mean nature seeks its revenge.
I make no manner of doubt that there was plenty of this sort of thing under the old system. But at least there was then this advantage, that people could make a change if anything did not suit them. Nowadays, however, many of the managers seem to look upon their workgirls as little better than defenceless slaves, who are delivered over to them. Many of the higher placed officials see all this well enough, but as they themselves act not a whit differently as regards the abuse of power, they are very lenient in respect of all complaints made to them. Under such circumstances the near relations, or lovers of maidens whose honour is thus menaced, have often no other resource left than to take the law into their own hands. The result of this state of things is, that cases of personal chastisement, manslaughter, and even murder are frightfully on the increase.
Agnes, who only has her mother left, had no protector in Berlin. Her complaining letters to Franz in Leipsig drove him to desperation, and ripened his resolve to no longer delay the execution of his plans. Agnes coincided heartily with his views, and latterly she and my wife sat up half the night to get all ready for the journey.
At length the decisive Sunday had been reached, that Sunday which had given rise to so much anxiety and painful uncertainty to us. The suspense was terrible, but, at last, at the expiration of nearly a week, the arrival of a letter from the English coast put an end to our fears.
According to this letter the pair were fortunately not on board the Danish mail-steamer. The fisherman at Sassnitz, to whose house they had gone on their arrival there, is a distant relation of my wife's. The letter went on to say that the inhabitants of the coast about there are greatly incensed against the new order of things, because by it they have been largely deprived of the comfortable living they made out of visitors to the different bathing-places. Permission to go to watering-places and health resorts is now only accorded to such persons as are duly recommended by a properly constituted medical commission.
Our wary fisherman strongly opposed all idea of taking a passage by one of the mail-steamers, because a vigilant look-out had latterly been kept on these. Watching his opportunity, and availing himself of the attention of the authorities being engrossed by the affair of the Danish steamer, he put Franz and Agnes on board his fishing smack, and made for the open sea. He took them up as far as Stubbenkammer Point, where he fell in with an English goods steamer returning from Stettin, whose captain readily transferred the fugitives to his vessel. The English, whose trade has been very seriously affected by the new order of things, never lose an opportunity of having a slap at our socialistic Government by giving all the aid they can to persons desirous of leaving the country.
So in a short time Franz and Agnes duly reached England, and now they are already on their way to New York.
Poor children! what a deal they must have gone through! And my good wife, above all; my wife who kept all her cares and troubles so long locked up in her bosom, quite unknown to me! How shall I ever be able to recompense her for all the immense sacrifices she has made as a mother?
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