The following is a Gaslight etext....

A message to you about copyright and permissions



by Jack London

WADE ATSHELER is dead--dead by his own hand. To say that this was entirely unexpected by the small coterie which knew him, would be to say an untruth; and yet never once had we, his intimates, ever canvassed the idea. Rather had we been prepared for it in some incomprehensible subconscious way. Before the perpetration of the deed, its possibility was remotest from our thoughts; but when we did know that he was dead, it seemed, somehow, that we had understood and looked forward to it all the time. This, by retrospective analysis, we could easily explain by the fact of his great trouble. I use "great trouble" advisedly. Young, handsome, with an assured position as the right-hand man of Eben Hale, the great street-railway magnate, there could be no reason for him to complain of fortune's favors. Yet we had watched his smooth brow furrow and corrugate as under some carking care or devouring sorrow. We had watched his thick, black hair thin and silver as green grain under brazen skies and parching drought. Who can forget, in the midst of the hilarious scenes he toward the last sought with greater and greater avidity--who can forget, I say, the deep abstractions and black moods into which he fell? At such times, when the fun rippled and soared from height to height, suddenly, without rhyme or reason, his eyes would turn lacklustre, his brows knit, as with clenched hands and face overshot with spasms of mental pain he wrestled on the edge of the abyss with some unknown danger.

   He never spoke of his trouble, nor were we indiscreet enough to ask. But it was just as well; for had we, and had he spoken, our help and strength could have availed nothing. When Eben Hale died, whose confidential secretary he was--nay, well-nigh adopted son and full business partner--he no longer came among us. Not, as I now know, that our company was distasteful to him, but because his trouble had so grown that he could not respond to our happiness nor find surcease with us. Why this should be so we could not at the time understand, for when Eben Hale's will was probated, the world learned that he was sole heir to his employer's many millions, and it was expressly stipulated that this great inheritance was given to him without qualification, hitch, or hindrance in the exercise thereof. Not a share of stock, not a penny of cash, was bequeathed to the dead man's relatives. As for his direct family, one astounding clause expressly stated that Wade Atsheler was to dispense to Eben Hale's wife and sons and daughters whatever moneys his judgment dictated, at whatever times he deemed advisable. Had there been any scandal in the dead man's family, or had his sons been wild or undutiful, then there might have been a glimmering of reason in this most unusual action; but Eben Hale's domestic happiness had been proverbial in the community, and one would have to travel far and wide to discover a cleaner, saner, wholesomer progeny of sons and daughters. While his wife--well, by those who knew her best she was endearingly termed "The Mother of the Gracchi." Needless to state, this inexplicable will was a nine days' wonder; but the expectant public was disappointed in that no contest was made.

   It was only the other day that Eben Hale was laid away in his stately marble mausoleum. And now Wade Atsheler is dead. The news was printed in this morning's paper. I have just received through the mail a letter from him, posted, evidently, but a short hour before he hurled himself into eternity. This letter, which lies before me, is a narrative in his own handwriting, linking together numerous newspaper clippings and facsimiles of letters. The original correspondence, he has told me, is in the hands of the police. He has begged me, also, as a warning to society against a most frightful and diabolical danger which threatens its very existence, to make public the terrible series of tragedies in which he has been innocently concerned. I herewith append the text in full:


   It was in August, 1899, just after my return from my summer vacation, that the blow fell. We did not know it at the time; we had not yet learned to school our minds to such awful possibilities. Mr. Hale opened the letter, read it, and tossed it upon my desk with a laugh. When I had looked it over, I also laughed, saying, "Some ghastly joke, Mr. Hale, and one in very poor taste." Find here, my dear John, an exact duplicate of the letter in question

                                     OFFICE OF THE M. OF M., 
                                           August 17,1899. 
     Mr. EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--We desire you to realize upon whatever
     portion of your vast holdings is necessary to obtain,
     in cash, twenty millions of dollars.  This sum we
     require you to pay over to us, or to our agents.  You
     will note we do not specify any given time, for it is
     not our wish to hurry you in this matter.  You may
     even, if it be easier for you, pay us in ten, fifteen,
     or twenty instalments; but we will accept no single
     instalment of less than a million.

       Believe us, dear Mr. Hale, when we say that we embark
     upon this course of action utterly devoid of animus. 
     We are members of that intellectual proletariat, the
     increasing numbers of which mark in red lettering the
     last days of the nineteenth century.  We have, from a
     thorough study of economics, decided to enter upon this
     business.  It has many merits, chief among which may be
     noted that we can indulge in large and lucrative
     operations without capital.  So far, we have been
     fairly successful, and we hope our dealings with you
     may be pleasant and satisfactory.

       Pray attend while we explain our views more fully. 
     At the base of the present system of society is to be
     found the property right.  And this right of the
     individual to hold property is demonstrated, in the
     last analysis, to rest solely and wholly upon might. 
     The mailed gentlemen of William the Conqueror divided
     and apportioned England amongst themselves with the
     naked sword.  This, we are sure you will grant, is true
     of all feudal possessions.  With the invention of steam
     and the Industrial Revolution there came into existence
     the Capitalist Class, in the modern sense of the word. 
     These capitalists quickly towered above the ancient
     nobility.  The captains of industry have virtually
     dispossessed the descendants of the captains of war. 
     Mind, and not muscle, wins in to-day's struggle for
     existence.  But this state of affairs is none the less
     based upon might.  The change has been qualitative. 
     The old-time Feudal Baronage ravaged the world with
     fire and sword; the modem Money Baronage exploits the
     world by mastering and applying the world's economic
     forces.  Brain, and not brawn, endures; and those best
     fitted to survive are the intellectually and
     commercially powerful.

       We, the M. of M., are not content to become wage
     slaves.  The great trusts and business combinations
     (with which you have your rating) prevent us from
     rising to the place among you which our intellects
     qualify us to occupy.  Why?  Because we are without
     capital.  We are of the unwashed, but with this
     difference: our brains are of the best, and we have no
     foolish ethical nor social scruples.  As wage slaves,
     toiling early and late, and living abstemiously, we
     could not save in threescore years--nor in twenty times
     threescore years--a sum of money sufficient
     successfully to cope with the great aggregations of
     massed capital which now exist.  Nevertheless, we have
     entered the arena.  We now throw down the gage to the
     capital of the world.  Whether it wishes to fight or
     not, it shall have to fight.

       Mr. Hale, our interests dictate us to demand of you
     twenty millions of dollars.  While we are considerate
     enough to give you reasonable time in which to carry
     out your share of the transaction, please do not delay
     too long.  When you have agreed to our terms, insert a
     suitable notice in the agony column of the "Morning
     Blazer."  We shall then acquaint you with our plan for
     transferring the sum mentioned.  You had better do this
     some time prior to October 1st.  If you do not, in
     order to show that we are in earnest we shall on that
     date kill a man on East Thirty-ninth Street.  He will
     be a workingman.  This man you do not know; nor do we. 
     You represent a force in modem society; we also
     represent a force--a new force.  Without anger or
     malice, we have closed in battle.  As you will readily
     discern, we are simply a business proposition.  You are
     the upper, and we the nether, millstone; this man's
     life shall be ground out between.  You may save him if
     you agree to our conditions and act in time.

       There was once a king cursed with a golden touch. 
     His name we have taken to do duty as our official seal. 
     Some day, to protect ourselves against competitors, we
     shall copyright it.  
                       We beg to remain,
                       THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   I leave it to you, dear John, why should we not have laughed over such a preposterous communication? The idea, we could not but grant, was well conceived, but it was too grotesque to be taken seriously. Mr. Hale said he would preserve it as a literary curiosity, and shoved it away in a pigeonhole. Then we promptly forgot its existence. And as promptly, on the 1st of October, going over the morning mail, we read the following:

                                     OFFICE OF THE M. OF M.,
                                        October 1, 1899.

     Mr. EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--Your victim has met his fate.  An hour
     ago, on East Thirty-ninth Street, a workingman was
     thrust through the heart with a knife.  Ere you read
     this his body will be lying at the Morgue.  Go and look
     upon your handiwork.

       On October 14th, in token of our earnestness in this
     matter, and in case you do not relent, we shall kill a
     policeman on or near the corner of Polk Street and
     Clermont Avenue.
                          Very cordially,
                          THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   Again Mr. Hale laughed. His mind was full of a prospective deal with a Chicago syndicate for the sale of all his street railways in that city, and so he went on dictating to the stenographer, never giving it a second thought. But somehow, I know not why, a heavy depression fell upon me. What if it were not a joke, I asked myself, and turned involuntarily to the morning paper. There it was, as befitted an obscure person of the lower classes, a paltry half-dozen lines tucked away in a corner, next a patent medicine advertisement:

Shortly after five o'clock this morning, on East Thirty-ninth Street, a laborer named Pete Lascalle, while on his way to work, was stabbed to the heart by an unknown assailant, who escaped by running. The police have been unable to discover any motive for the murder.

   "Impossible!" was Mr. Hale's rejoinder, when I had read the item aloud; but the incident evidently weighed upon his mind, for late in the afternoon, with many epithets denunciatory of his foolishness, he asked me to acquaint the police with the affair. I had the pleasure of being laughed at in the Inspector's private office, although I went away with the assurance that they would look into it and that the vicinity of Polk and Clermont would be doubly patrolled on the night mentioned. There it dropped, till the two weeks had sped by, when the following note came to us through the mail:

                                   OFFICE OF THE M. OF M.,
                                      October 15, 1899.  Mr.
     EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--Your second victim has fallen on schedule
     time.  We are in no hurry; but to increase the pressure
     we shall henceforth kill weekly.  To protect ourselves
     against police interference we shall hereafter inform
     you of the event but a little prior to or
     simultaneously with the deed.  Trusting this finds you
     in good health, 
                               We are,
                               THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   This time Mr. Hale took up the paper, and after a brief search, read to me this account:


  Joseph Donahue, assigned only last night to special patrol duty in the Eleventh Ward, at midnight was shot through the brain and instantly killed. The tragedy was enacted in the full glare of the street lights on the corner of Polk Street and Clermont Avenue. Our society is indeed unstable when the custodians of its peace are thus openly and wantonly shot down. The police have so far been unable to obtain the slightest clue.

   Barely had he finished this when the police arrived--the Inspector himself and two of his keenest sleuths. Alarm sat upon their faces, and it was plain that they were seriously perturbed. Though the facts were so few and simple, we talked long, going over the affair again and again. When the Inspector went away, he confidently assured us that everything would soon be straightened out and the assassins run to earth. In the meantime he thought it well to detail guards for the protection of Mr. Hale and myself, and several more to be constantly on the vigil about the house and grounds. After the lapse of a week, at one o'clock in the afternoon, this telegram was received:

                                   OFFICE OF THE M. OF M.,   
                                      October 21, 1899. 
     Mr. EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--We are sorry to note how completely you
     have misunderstood us.  You have seen fit to surround
     yourself and household with armed guards, as though,
     forsooth, we were common criminals, apt to break in
     upon you and wrest away by force your twenty millions. 
     Believe us, this is farthest from our intention.  You
     will readily comprehend, after a little sober thought,
     that your life is dear to us.  Do not be afraid.  We
     would not hurt you for the world.  It is our policy to
     cherish you tenderly and protect you from all harm.
     Your death means nothing to us.  If it did, rest
     assured that we would not hesitate a moment in
     destroying you.  Think this over, Mr. Hale.  When you
     have paid us our price, there will be need of
     retrenchment.  Dismiss your guards now, and cut down
     your expenses.

        Within ten minutes of the time you receive this a
     nurse-girl will have been choked to death in Brentwood
     Park.  The body may be found in the shrubbery lining
     the path which leads off to the left from the
                              Cordially yours,
                              THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   The next instant Mr. Hale was at the telephone, warning the Inspector of the impending murder. The Inspector excused himself in order to call up Police Sub-station F and despatch men to the scene. Fifteen minutes later he rang us up and informed us that the body had been discovered, yet warm, in the place indicated. That evening the papers teemed with glaring Jack-the-Strangler headlines, denouncing the brutality of the deed and complaining about the laxity of the police. We were also closeted with the Inspector, who begged us by all means to keep the affair secret. Success, he said, depended upon silence.

   As you know, John, Mr. Hale was a man of iron. He refused to surrender. But, oh, John, it was terrible, nay, horrible--this awful something, this blind force in the dark. We could not fight, could not plan, could do nothing save hold our hands and wait. And week by week, as certain as the rising of the sun, came the notification and death of some person, man or woman, innocent of evil, but just as much killed by us as though we had done it with our own hands. A word from Mr. Hale and the slaughter would have ceased. But he hardened his heart and waited, the lines deepening, the mouth and eyes growing sterner and firmer, and the face aging with the hours. It is needless for me to speak of my own suffering during that frightful period. Find here the letters and telegrams of the M. of M., and the newspaper accounts, etc., of the various murders.

   You will notice also the letters warning Mr. Hale of certain machinations of commercial enemies and secret manipulations of stock The M. of M. seemed to have its hand on the inner pulse of the business and financial world. They possessed themselves of and forwarded to us information which our agents could not obtain. One timely note from them, at a critical moment in a certain deal, saved all of five millions to Mr. Hale. At another time they sent us a telegram which probably was the means of preventing an anarchist crank from taking my employer's life. We captured the man on his arrival and turned him over to the police, who found upon him enough of a new and powerful explosive to sink a battleship.

   We persisted. Mr. Hale was grit clear through. He disbursed at the rate of one hundred thousand per week for secret service. The aid of the Pinkertons and of countless private detective agencies was called in, and in addition to this thousands were upon our payroll. Our agents swarmed everywhere, in all guises, penetrating all classes of society. They grasped at a myriad clues; hundreds of suspects were jailed, and at various times thousands of suspicious persons were under surveillance, but nothing tangible came to light. With its communications the M. of M. continually changed its method of delivery. And every messenger they sent us was arrested forthwith. But these inevitably proved to be innocent individuals, while their descriptions of the persons who had employed them for the errand never tallied. On the last day of December we received this notification:

                                  OFFICE OF THE M. OF M.,
                                     December 31, 1899.

     Mr. EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--Pursuant of our policy, with which we
     flatter ourselves you are already well versed, we beg
     to state that we shall give a passport from this Vale
     of Tears to Inspector Bying, with whom, because of our
     attentions, you have become so well acquainted.  It is
     his custom to be in his private office at this hour. 
     Even as you read this he breathes his last.  
                                Cordially yours,
                                THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   I dropped the letter and sprang to the telephone. Great was my relief when I heard the Inspector's hearty voice. But, even as he spoke, his voice died away in the receiver to a gurgling sob, and I heard faintly the crash of a falling body. Then a strange voice hello'd me, sent me the regards of the M. of M., and broke the switch. Like a flash I called up the public office of the Central Police, telling them to go at once to the Inspector's aid in his private office. I then held the line, and a few minutes later received the intelligence that he had been found bathed in his own blood and breathing his last. There were no eyewitnesses, and no trace was discoverable of the murderer.

   Whereupon Mr. Hale immediately increased his secret service till a quarter of a million flowed weekly from his coffers. He was determined to win out. His graduated rewards aggregated over ten millions. You have a fair idea of his resources and you can see in what manner he drew upon them. It was the principle, he affirmed, that he was fighting for, not the gold. And it must be admitted that his course proved the nobility of his motive. The police departments of all the great cities *co”perated, and even the United States Government stepped in, and the affair became one of the highest questions of state. Certain contingent funds of the nation were devoted to the unearthing of the M. of M., and every government agent was on the alert. But all in vain. The Minions of Midas carried on their damnable work unhampered. They had their way and struck unerringly.

   But while he fought to the last, Mr. Hale could not wash his hands of the blood with which they were dyed. Though not technically a murderer, though no jury of his peers would ever have convicted him, none the less the death of every individual was due to him. As I said before, a word from him and the slaughter would have ceased. But he refused to give that word. He insisted that the integrity of society was assailed; that he was not sufficiently a coward to desert his post; and that it was manifestly just that a few should be martyred for the ultimate welfare of the many. Nevertheless this blood was upon his head, and he sank into deeper and deeper gloom. I was likewise whelmed with the guilt of an accomplice. Babies were ruthlessly killed, children, aged men; and not only were these murders local, but they were distributed over the country. In the middle of February, one evening, as we sat in the library, there came a sharp knock at the door. On responding to it I found, lying on the carpet of the corridor, the following missive:

                                    OFFICE OF THE M. OF M.,
                                      February 15, 1900. 
     Mr. EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--Does not your soul cry out upon the red
     harvest it is reaping?  Perhaps we have been too
     abstract in conducting our business.  Let us now be
     concrete.  Miss Adelaide Laidlaw is a talented young
     woman, as good, we understand, as she is beautiful. 
     She is the daughter of your old friend, Judge Laidlaw,
     and we happen to know that you carried her in your arms
     when she was an infant.  She is your daughter's closest
     friend, and at present is visiting her.  When your eyes
     have read thus far her visit will have terminated.

                             Very cordially,
                             THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   My God! did we not instantly realize the terrible import! We rushed through the day-rooms--she was not there--and on to her own apartments. The door was locked, but we crashed it down by hurling ourselves against it. There she lay, just as she had finished dressing for the opera, smothered with pillows torn from the couch, the flush of life yet on her flesh, the body still flexible and warm. Let me pass over the rest of this horror. You will surely remember, John, the newspaper accounts. Late that night Mr. Hale summoned me to him, and before God did pledge me most solemnly to stand by him and not to compromise, even if all kith and kin were destroyed. The next day I was surprised at his cheerfulness. I had thought he would be deeply shocked by this last tragedy--how deep I was soon to learn. All day he was light-hearted and high-spirited, as though at last he had found a way out of the frightful difficulty. The next morning we found him dead in his bed, a peaceful smile upon his careworn face--asphyxiation. Through the connivance of the police and the authorities, it was given out to the world as heart disease. We deemed it wise to withhold the truth; but little good has it done us, little good has anything done us. Barely had we left that chamber of death, when--but too late--the following extraordinary letter was received:

                                   OFFICE OF THE M. OF M.,
                                      February 17, 1900.
     Mr. EBEN HALE, Money Baron:

       Dear Sir,--You will pardon our intrusion, we hope, so
     closely upon the sad event of day before yesterday; but
     what we wish to say may be of the utmost importance to
     you.  It is in our mind that you may attempt to escape
     us.  There is but one way, apparently, as you have ere
     this doubtless discovered.  But we wish to inform you
     that even this one way is barred.  You may die, but you
     die failing and acknowledging your failure.  Note this:
     We are part and parcel of your possessions.  With your
     millions we pass down to your heirs and assigns

       We are the inevitable.  We are the culmination of
     industrial and social wrong.  We turn upon the society
     that has created us.  We are the successful failures of
     the age, the scourges of a degraded civilization.

       We are the creatures of a perverse social selection. 
     We meet force with force.  Only the strong shall
     endure.  We believe in the survival of the fittest. 
     You have crushed your wage slaves into the dirt and you
     have survived.  The captains of war, at your command,
     have shot down like dogs your employees in a score of
     bloody strikes.  By such means you have endured.  We do
     not grumble at the result, for we acknowledge and have
     our being in the same natural law.  And now the
     question has arisen: Under the present social
     environment, which of us shall survive?  We believe we
     are the fittest.  You believe you are the fittest.  We
     leave the eventuality to time and law.
                             Cordially yours,
                             THE MINIONS OF MIDAS.

   John, do you wonder now that I shunned pleasure and avoided friends? But why explain? Surely this narrative will make everything clear. Three weeks ago Adelaide Laidlaw died. Since then I have waited in hope and fear. Yesterday the will was probated and made public. To-day I was notified that a woman of the middle class would be killed in Golden Gate Park, in far-away San Francisco. The despatches in to-night's papers give the details of the brutal happening--details which correspond with those furnished me in advance.

   It is useless. I cannot struggle against the inevitable. I have been faithful to Mr. Hale and have worked hard. Why my faithfulness should have been thus rewarded I cannot understand. Yet I cannot be false to my trust, nor break my word by compromising. Still, I have resolved that no more deaths shall be upon my head. I have willed the many millions I lately received to their rightful owners. Let the stalwart sons of Eben Hale work out their own salvation. Ere you read this I shall have passed on. The Minions of Midas are all-powerful. The police are impotent. I have learned from them that other millionnaires have been likewise mulcted or persecuted--how many is not known, for when one yields to the M. of M., his mouth is thenceforth sealed. Those who have not yielded are even now reaping their scarlet harvest. The grim game is being played out. The Federal Government can do nothing. I also understand that similar branch organizations have made their appearance in Europe. Society is shaken to its foundations. Principalities and powers are as brands ripe for the burning. Instead of the masses against the classes, it is a class against the classes. We, the guardians of human progress, are being singled out and struck down. Law and order have failed.

   The officials have begged me to keep this secret. I have done so, but can do so no longer. It has become a question of public import, fraught with the direst consequences, and I shall do my duty before I leave this world by informing it of its peril. Do you, John, as my last request, make this public. Do not be frightened. The fate of humanity rests in your hand. Let the press strike off millions of copies; let the electric currents sweep it round the world; wherever men meet and speak, let them speak of it in fear and trembling. And then, when thoroughly aroused, let society arise in its might and cast out this abomination.

                       Yours, in long farewell, 
                       WADE ATSHELER.