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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 2/34 -


feline race fully performed when they have fed them, and who pay no more attention to their morals and higher feelings than if they were stocks and stones, arouses her ire; sympathy is what she needs, sympathy to help her to face the world and continue her crusade against cruelty. She says all this in a scattered and disconnected style, jumping from one point to another, turning occasionally to her friend for support or confirmation. This friend is a meek, subdued-looking person of uncertain age, somewhat washed-out and bedraggled in appearance. Her attire is nondescript, and seems to consist of oddments bought solely because they were cheap and bearing no relation whatever one to the other. Mrs. Smuts, growing more and more absorbed in the course of her harangue on the great cat question, states that she believes in marrying cats young in life and looking strictly after their morals; and as she appeals to Miss Meggs whilst voicing this sentiment, the latter timidly interjects, "But do you think, my dear Maria, that cats can maintain themselves chaste on a meat diet? I never give mine anything more exciting than cold potatoes and rice pudding, and I find that they thrive on it, Mr. Meredith!"

At this point we children, stifling our laughter, rush headlong from the room, to vent our mirth in safety in the kitchen.

Another frequent visitor whom my imagination summoned from the grave in which he had lain now for several years past, was a tall, thin, delicate-looking man of some thirty years of age. He was by birth a Frenchman, but had lived mostly in England, his parents having come over as political exiles from the tyranny of Louis Napoleon, afterwards settling permanently in this country. He was an engineer by profession, but a poet at heart, and all his spare time and thought he devoted to tackling the problem of aerial navigation. His day was spent earning a scanty living in a shipbuilding yard, but his evenings and nights were passed in constructing a model of a flying-machine. He would bring his drawings round to our father for discussion and advice; and although he never attained success, he was always hopeful, trusting that some one of the ever fresh improvements and additions which his fertile brain was always busy conceiving would solve the difficulty which had hitherto beset him. His sallow face with its large dreamy eyes and his spare figure, clad in an old bluish suit, rusty with age and threadbare with brushing, stand out clear in my memory. There was also an old professor, a chemist like my father, who often assisted him in his experiments. He was somewhat formidable in appearance, wearing gold spectacles, and helping himself freely to the contents of a snuff-box, but he was one of the most kind-hearted of men. Children were great favourites with him, and his affection was returned with interest as soon as the shyness consequent on his somewhat gruff manner was overcome. He used to enjoy drawing us out, and would laugh heartily at our somewhat old-fashioned remarks and observations, at which we used to grow very indignant, for we were decidedly touchy when our dignity was at stake. He had nicknamed me Charlotte Corday, for, after a course of Greek and Roman history, studied in Plutarch and Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," I had plunged into the French Revolution, glorying in its heroisms and audacity, and it had become a favourite amusement with all three of us to enact scenes drawn from its history, and to recite aloud, with great emphasis if little art, revolutionary poetry. The old professor loved to tease me by abusing my favourite heroes; and when he had at last roused me to a vigorous assertion of revolutionary sentiments, he would turn to my father and say, "There's a little spitfire for you; you will have to keep a look-out or she will be making bombs soon and blowing us all up," at which my father would smile complacently.

Our father was very charitable. He did not like to be bothered or disturbed, but he would willingly give a little assistance when asked, and the result was that our door was always besieged by beggars of various nationalities, Spaniards and Italians forming the chief contingent. Generally they confined themselves to sending in notes, which used to be returned with a shilling or half-crown as the case might be, but sometimes one would insist on a personal interview. I remember one wild-looking Hungarian, whose flowing locks were crowned by a sort of horse's sun-bonnet, who used to rush round on one of those obsolete bicycles, consisting of an enormously high wheel on the top of which he was perched, and a tiny little back one. He was generally pursued by a crowd of hooting boys, advising him to "get 'is 'air cut," and inquiring, "Where did you get that 'at?" He used to insist on seeing my father; but the help he solicited was not for himself but for various political refugees in whom he was interested. One day the professor happened to meet this wild-looking creature at our door, and inquired of my father who that maniac might be. "Oh, he is a Hungarian refugee; a good fellow, I believe. I have noticed something rather odd in his appearance, but I do not consider him mad," replied his friend.

Amid such surroundings we grew up. My elder sister, Caroline, had a notable musical gift, and even as a small child had a fine voice, which developed into a rich contralto. Our father, always anxious to do his duty by us, gave her a first-rate musical education, sending her abroad to study under famous Continental teachers, and at eighteen she made her first appearance in public, exciting much attention by the powerful dramatic qualities of her voice. It was evident that her right course was to go in for operatic singing, and this she did. She continued on the most affectionate terms with her family, but naturally her pursuit took her into quite another path of life, and we saw less and less of her as time went on. This threw my brother and myself more together. There was only a year's difference between us, and we studied together, walked, talked, played, and read together--in fact, were inseparable. Raymond was no ordinary boy. In character and in manners he was very like my father. His favourite study was physical science in its various branches; mine, history and sociological subjects. He saw things from the scientific standpoint, I from the poetical and artistic; but we were both by nature enthusiastic and dreamers, and sympathised heartily with each other's views. His ambition was to become a famous explorer; mine, to die on a scaffold or a barricade, shouting Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Our father took a great pride in Raymond, and carefully supervised his studies. He passed various brilliant examinations, and at eighteen, having decided to go in for medicine, was already walking a hospital. Shortly after this our father died suddenly. He was at work as usual in his laboratory when he was seized by a paralytic stroke, and in three days he was dead.

This blow quite stunned us for a time. Our father was everything to us; and the possibility of his death we had never contemplated. Though, as I have explained, he had always left us free to follow our own devices, still he was the centre round which our family life circled; we were passionately attached to him, and now that he was gone we felt at a loss indeed. We had no relatives living of our father's; our mother's family we had never known, and they were too distant to be practically available. Our father's friends were not such as to be of much help to us. Cat enthusiasts and scientific dreamers are all very well in their way, but they almost always take far more than they give in the mart of friendship. The old professor had preceded my father to his grave.

Our father left us comfortably off. The house was our own, and property yielding a comfortable income was divided equally between us. Our home seemed desolate indeed without our father, and very gloomily did the first months of his absence pass; but in time hope and youth reasserted themselves and we gradually settled down to much our old way of life. Caroline obtained several engagements and was still studying enthusiastically. Raymond passed most of his time at the hospital, where he had rooms, though he frequently came home; I was the only one who had not a definite occupation. I read a great deal and wrote a little also, chiefly studies on historical subjects which interested me, but I had printed nothing. In fact I had never been in the way of the literary world, and did not know how to set about it. Time used often to hang rather heavily on my hands in the big house where I was generally alone. I was the housekeeper, but such cares did not take up much of my time. The result of so much solitude and lack of occupation was that I became restless and dissatisfied. Mere reading without any definite object did not and could not suffice me; to write when there seemed no prospect of ever being read, and keenly alive as I was to my own deficiencies, did not attract me; friends I might say I had none, for the few people my father knew were interested in him and not in us children, and ceased to frequent our house after his death. Caroline's musical friends did not appeal to me, so that the whole interest of my life was centred round my brother. When he came home we used always to be together, and conversation never flagged. Never having been to school he had none of the schoolboy's patronising contempt for a sister. We had always been chums and companions, and so we continued, but whereas, as children, it was I, with my more passionate and enterprising nature, who took the lead, now it was he who, mixing with the outer world, provided the stimulus of new ideas and fresh activities for which I craved. Brought suddenly face to face, after the studious seclusion of home, with the hard facts of life as seen in a London hospital, he had begun to take a deep interest in social questions. The frightful havoc of life and happiness necessitated by the economic conditions of nineteenth-century society, impressed him deeply, and he felt that any doctor who looked upon his profession as other than a mere means to make money must tackle such problems. Following up this line of thought he became interested in economics and labour questions. His views were the result of no mere surface impression, but the logical outcome of thought and study, and he arrived at socialism by mental processes of his own, uninfluenced by the ordinary channels of propaganda. I shared his interests and read on parallel lines. We had no friends in Socialist circles, no personal interest of any kind balanced our judgment. The whole trend of our education had been to make independent thinkers of us. What we saw in the whole problem was a question of justice, and for this we were ready and anxious to work. A new interest was thus brought into our lives, which, in my case, soon became all-absorbing. I was always begging my brother to bring me home fresh books. The driest volumes of political economy, the most indigestible of philosophical treatises, nothing came amiss. From these I passed on to more modern works. Raymond had made friends with a student who was a professed socialist and through him he came into possession of a number of pamphlets and papers, all of which I devoured eagerly, and some of which made a lasting impression on my mind. Krapotkin's "Appeal to the Young" was of this number. I remember in my enthusiasm reading it aloud to my sister Caroline, who, however, took scant interest in such matters, and who tried, but in vain, to put a damper on my enthusiasm.

I was always fond of scribbling, and the outcome of all this reading was that I, too, flew to pen and paper. I used to read my papers to Raymond on those rare occasions when I fancied I had not done so much amiss. They would provide the material for an evening's conversation, then I would toss them aside and think no more about them. One day, however, Raymond brought his Socialist friend home with him. It seems they had talked about me and my all-absorbing interest in social subjects. Hughes, my brother's friend, had been surprised to hear from Raymond that I knew no socialists in the flesh, and that all my hero-worship was laid before the altar of mental abstractions, of my own creation for the most part.

Great was my excitement when Raymond told me that I might expect him and his friend, of whom I had heard so much, to turn up together one Sunday evening. So great was my ignorance of the world, so wild my enthusiasm, that I imagined every socialist as a hero, willing to throw away his life at a moment's notice on behalf of the "Cause." I had had no experience of the petty internal strifes, of the jealousies and human frailties which a closer knowledge of all political parties reveals. I remember how ashamed I felt of the quite unostentatious comfort of our home, how anxious I was to dissemble the presence of servants, how necessary I thought it to dress myself in my oldest and least becoming clothes for the occasion, and how indignant I felt when Caroline, who was going off to sing at a concert that evening, said, on coming in to wish me good-bye, "Why, surely, Isabel, you're not going to receive that gentleman looking such a fright as this?" As if a Socialist could care for dress! How I felt he would


A Girl Among the Anarchists - 2/34

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