My father was a boilermaster. We lived hard by
the factory and our windows gave on the factory yard. I saw a
good many things there. There was a workingman, for instance,
who had worked in the factory for five years. He began to have
a violent cough and to lose flesh . . . I recall how my father
told us about the man at table. His name was Burmeister and he
was threatened with pulmonary consumption if he worked much longer
in the soap factory. The doctor had told him so. But the man
had eight children and, weak and emaciated as he was, he couldn't
find other work anywhere. And so he had to stay in the
soap factory and his employer was quite self-righteous because
he kept him. He seemed to himself an extraordinarily humane person.---
One August afternoon -- the heat was frightful -- Burmeister
dragged himself across the yard with a wheelbarrow full of lime.
I was just looking out of the window when I noticed him stop,
stop again, and finally pitch over headlong on the cobblestones.
I ran up to him -- my father came, other workingmen came up,
but he could barely gasp and his mouth was filled with blood.
I helped carry him into the house. He was a mass of limy rags,
reeking with all kinds of chemicals. Before we had gotten him
into the house, he was dead.--- Scarcely a week later we pulled
his wife out of the river into which the waste lye of our factory
was drained. And, when one knows things of that kind as I know
them now -- believe me -- one can find no rest. A simple little
piece of soap, which makes no one else in the world think of
any harm, even a pair of clean, well-cared for hands are enough
to embitter one thoroughly.
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