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A VEGETARIAN arose from his pillow with the sweet thought that not for him on that bright day was innocent blood to be shed. He was a dainty and particular man.
He put on a cotton suit; laced his shoes, made of felt, that he might not be a party to the death of cattle; brushed his clothes with his usual care; and after his breakfast of coffee and toast, he buttoned his overcoat snugly about him, put on his silk hat and overshoes, and ordered a hack, to go to his office.
On the way he stopped to have a drop of oil put on the hinge of his watch, and, afterward, to buy, at a bankrupt sale, a quantity of preserved fruit. His mind was pure and quiet, and all went well with him that day; and when he bought some stock, it largely advanced in price.
But when he went home, he fell ill of a fever, and the fever brought the memories of m a n y lives into his brain. He heard a rising sound, like the fearful murmur of a mob of men. He saw a driving cloud like fine dust; and the murmur shaped itself into a Voice. "This is a show of humanity," it said, "and we are the millions of animalculæ, boiled that you might have coffee, roasted that you might have bread; and we, the silkworms, scalded that you might have a shiny hat, the fowls slaughtered to get eiderdown for your couch, the porpoises harpooned to furnish oil for you, the cattle whose bones made the handle of your brush, whose compressed blood forms the buttons on your coat, whose skins made the harness of your cab, whose ashes clarified your sugar, and fertilized the fields for your wheat." For a moment the Voice was more distinct—"I am the bankrupt driven by monopoly to the wall, whose fruit you bought so cheap—I, the broker, that ruined himself selling your stock. Yes, it was business competition; 1 died by my own hand. Will you have another slice of my corpse?—My shares will be sold out to-morrow."
And the cloud drove in with a perishing wail, and below the cloud a countless army spread, pallid, indefinite, and immeasurable as the waves of the sea, and their murmur was like the wind in the growing corn. They shook their fists, and waved maimed, limbs, and chattered with drooping jaws,—at him, the humane, the virtuous; and he could not choose but hear their cries:—
"We are the ghosts of the babes that died of burns and overwork, sixteen hours a day in the factories in Illinois that you might drink from polished glass; we, of the girls that sacrificed maidenhood that you might be served cheaply in the department store; we are the children, who died like flies in tenements of your town; the shares are we of coolies brought to an early grave by enforced and unrequited toil, that you might have your coffee; the men were we, strong and vigorous, whose jaws were rotted so that as ghosts we gibber how we made matches for you; we are troops of Africans that the Belgian drivers slew because we did not bring in enough rubber for you."
And the murmur grew until he caught only confused cries—"fell from your house scaffolding"—"unguarded railroad crossing"—"steel polishers dead of inhaling dust"—"suffocated in the mine"—"hall childish men killed for the honour of your flag"—"women choked with cotton dust in the mills," and when there were so many, so many that he could no longer hear, one stood out and said:
"All from avoidable causes—none by the necessity of nature—every one because of the brutal indifference of influential men, like you; we died—and such as we are dying, body and soul, by thousands every day; yes, and living lives more frightful than daily death, that you that do nothing, may live. And, by God, you don't eat meat!"
And the Vegetarian cried, "It is unjust—I was not a party to the deaths of these."
And the Voice replied, "Of which of these are you innocent, and what was the cause of their deaths?"
And the Vegetarian answered never a word.
- Bolton Hall, “Graveyard Fruit,” The New Freewoman 1, no. 10 (November 1, 1913): 195-196.