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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 10/34 -
stay on here."
"The only thing I can think of," he rejoined after a pause, "is that I should go around and look up some of the comrades at their addresses whilst you remain here and get Short to help you put up the type, &c., as best you can, so that we may remove it all elsewhere. Here certainly nothing can be done and we must start our new paper amidst new surroundings."
"So you are thinking of starting a new paper?"
We looked round, surprised at this interruption, for Short had apparently returned to his slumbers, but we now saw that he had emerged from the banner and was standing behind us, fully dressed (I discovered later on that he had discarded dressing and undressing as frivolous waste of time), a queer uncouth figure with his long touzled black hair and sallow, unhealthy face. He had a short clay pipe firmly set between his teeth, and his large lips were parted in a smile. He held his head slightly on one side, and his whole attitude was somewhat deprecatory and cringing.
"Well," said the doctor, "Isabel and I think that would be the best plan. You see the _Bomb_ seems thoroughly disorganised, and we think it would be easier and better to start afresh. I was just saying that I would go round and hunt up some of the comrades and get their views on the subject."
"Oh," rejoined Short, "you can save yourself that trouble. One half of them will accuse you of being a police spy, the others will be ill or occupied--in short, will have some excuse for not seeing you. They are all frightened out of their lives. Since the arrest of Banter and O'Flynn I have not seen one of them near the place, though I have been here all the time."
This remark confirmed what we both half suspected; and as Short, who by right of possession seemed authorised to speak on behalf of the _Bomb_, seemed willingly to fall in with our idea of starting a new paper, taking it for granted--which I was not exactly prepared for--that he would install himself in the new premises as compositor, we decided to take practical steps towards the move. Short informed us that six weeks' rent was owing, and that the landlord threatened a distraint if his claims were not immediately satisfied; and in spite of the advice, "Don't pay rent to robber landlords," which stared us in the face, inscribed in bright red letters on the wall, I and Armitage between us sacrificed the requisite sum to the Cause.
Whilst we were discussing these matters the dog warned us by a prolonged bark that some one was approaching, and the new-comer soon appeared. He greeted Short, who introduced him to us as Comrade M'Dermott. He shot a scrutinising glance at us from his keen grey eyes and proceeded to shake hands with friendly warmth.
He was a very small man, certainly not more than five feet high, thin and wiry, with grey hair and moustache, but otherwise clean-shaven. His features were unusually expressive and mobile from his somewhat scornful mouth to his deep-set, observant eyes, and clearly denoted the absence of the stolid Saxon strain in his blood. His accent too, though not that of an educated man, was quite free from the hateful Cockney twang. His dress was spare as his figure, but though well worn there was something spruce and trim about his whole demeanour which indicated that he was not totally indifferent to the impression he created on others. He looked round the "office," took a comprehensive glance at Short, who was occupying the only available stool and smoking hard with a meditative air, and then walked over to me, and addressing me in an undertone, with the same ease as if he had known me all my life, he said, with a twinkle in his eye, jerking his head in the direction of Short, "There's a rotten product of a decaying society, eh?" This remark was so unexpected and yet so forcibly true, that I laughed assent.
"So you're the only ones up here," he continued. "I expected as much when I heard of the raid on the office. I was up in the North doing a little bit of peddling round the country, when I read the news, and I thought I'd come to London to see what was up. What do you think of doing with the paper anyway? It seems a pity the old _Bomb_ should die. It would mean the loss of the only revolutionary organ in England."
"Oh, it must not die," I replied, "or at least if it cannot be kept up, another paper must take its place. Comrade Armitage agrees with me in thinking that that would be the best plan. You see this place looks altogether hopeless."
Armitage, who had been engaged in looking over some papers, now joined us and the conversation became general.
"Well, how did you get on up North?" inquired Short, who seemed to wake up to a sense of actuality. "How did you hit it off with young Jackson? Did you find him of much use?"
"Use!" retorted M'Dermott with an infinite depth of scorn in his voice. "A fat lot of use he was. If it was a matter of putting away the grub, I can tell you he worked for two, but as to anything else, he made me carry his pack as well as my own, on the pretext that he had sprained his ankle, and his only contribution to the firm was a frousy old scrubbing-brush which he sneaked from a poor woman whilst I was selling her a ha'p'orth of pins. He seemed to think he'd done something mighty grand--'expropriation' he called it; pah, those are your English revolutionists!" and he snorted violently.
Short gave vent to an unpleasing laugh. He always seemed to take pleasure at any proof of meanness or cowardice given by his fellows. Armitage looked pained. "Such things make us long for the Revolution," he said. "This rotten society which breeds such people must be swept away. We must neglect no means to that end, and our press is one. So now let's set to work to move the plant and start a new paper, as we seem all agreed to that plan. Who'll go and look for a suitable workshop?"
Short volunteered, but M'Dermott scouted the idea, declaring that the mere sight of him would be enough to frighten any landlord, and this we all, including Short, felt inclined to agree with. At last we decided to fall in with M'Dermott's suggestion that he and I should sally forth together. "You see, my dear," he said with almost paternal benevolence, "you will be taken for my grand-daughter and we shall soften the heart of the most obdurate landlord."
The field of our researches was limited by a few vital considerations. The rent must not be high. For the present anyhow, the expenses of the paper would have to be defrayed by Armitage and myself. Short had proposed himself as printer and compositor, on the tacit understanding of free board and lodging, and the right to make use of the plant for his own purposes; I was willing to give my time to the material production of the paper, and to contribute to its maintenance to the best of my ability; and Armitage's time and means were being daily more and more absorbed by the propaganda, to the detriment of his practice; but he was not of those who can palter with their conscience. The individual initiative inculcated by Anarchist principles implied individual sacrifices. Another consideration which limited our choice was that the office must be fairly central, and not too far from my home, as, spite of my enthusiasm for Anarchy, I could not wholly neglect household duties. We talked over these points as we walked along, and M'Dermott suggested Lisson Grove, where a recent epidemic of smallpox had been raging, as likely to be a fairly cheap neighbourhood, but after tramping about and getting thoroughly weary, we had to acknowledge that there was nothing for us in that quarter. We were both hungry and tired, and M'Dermott suggested a retreat to a neighbouring Lockhart's. Seated before a more than doubtful cup of tea, in a grimy room, where texts stared at us from the walls, we discussed the situation, and decided to inquire about a workshop which we saw advertised, and which seemed promising. Our destination led us out of the slummy wilderness into which we had strayed, into cleaner and more wholesome quarters, and at last we stopped before some quite imposing-looking premises. "We seem destined to consort with the cabbing trade," I remarked; "the last office was over a mews, this place seems to belong to a carriage-builder." There was, however, no other connection between the unsavoury mews and the aristocratic carriage-yard, whose proprietor, resplendent in side-whiskers and a shiny chimney-pot hat, advanced to meet us, a condescending smile diffusing his smug countenance. I explained to him our object, and he showed us over the shop, which consisted in a large loft, well lighted and fairly suitable, at the back of the premises.
In answer to Mr. White's inquiries, I informed him that I needed it as a printing-office, for a small business I had, and he quite beamed on me, evidently considering me a deserving young person, and expressed the opinion that he had no doubt I should get on in that neighbourhood.
M'Dermott, who was greatly enjoying the fun of the situation, here broke in: "Yes, sir, my grand-daughter deserves success, sir; she's a hardworking girl, is my poor Emily," and here he feigned to wipe away a tear, whilst casting a most mischievous side-glance at me.
"Dear, dear, very affecting, I'm sure," muttered the prosperous carriage-builder.
Everything was soon satisfactorily settled. I gave him my name and address, and that of my brother's Socialist friend as a reference, and we agreed that I should move in on the following Monday morning.
Great was the amusement at Slater's Mews at the account of our adventures, given with a few enlargements by M'Dermott. He had an artist's soul, and would never consent to destroy the effect of a tale by slavish subservience to facts.
"Well, I fear he will find he has taken in wolves in sheep's clothing," Armitage remarked; "anyhow, I am thankful that matter is settled and that we can get to work without further delay. I met Kosinski, and he has promised to give us a hand with the move. I shall not be able to be here all the time as I have to attend an operation on Monday, but I will put in an hour or two's work in the morning. I suppose I can get in if I come here at five on Monday morning?" he said turning to Short who was "dissing pie," his inseparable clay pipe still firmly set between his yellow and decayed teeth.
"Oh, yes. I shan't be up, but you can get in," the latter surlily remarked. He was evidently no devotee of early hours.
On Monday a hard day's work awaited me. At Slater's Mews I found the poor doctor, who had already been there some two hours, packing up the literature, tying up forms, and occasionally turning to Short for instruction or advice.
The latter, seated on a packing-case, was regaling himself on a bloater and cheesecakes, having disposed of which he took up a flute and played some snatches of music-hall melodies. He seemed quite unconcerned at what took place around him, contenting himself with answering Armitage's questions. Soon after I arrived on the scene Kosinski appeared. It was the first time I had seen him since the memorable evening at Chiswick, and I felt a little nervous in his presence, overcome by a half-guilty fear lest he should think I was merely dallying, not working in true earnest. I was conscious of my own sincerity of purpose, yet feared his mental verdict on my actions, for I now realised that his uncompromising words and scathing denunciation of dilettanteism had had much to do with my recent conduct; more than all Armitage's enthusiastic propagandising, much as I liked, and, indeed, admired the latter. Kosinski shook hands with Armitage and
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