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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 20/34 -
eleven, in another half-hour the public-houses will open, let us hope that our friends below may turn in to refresh themselves. In that minute Matthieu must escape; we must have everything ready; he had better change his clothes and disguise himself as much as possible. We will leave together; we are both armed, and if the worst comes to the worst we will sell our lives dearly."
"Oh, my poor house, my poor house!" moaned madame, "this business will be the death of us all."
Bonafede turned on her savagely. "This is no time for recriminations," he exclaimed. "Sharpen your wits and see if you cannot find some means of getting rid of those spies. You are clever enough when it is a question of serving your own interests."
Madame Combrisson seemed electrified by these words.
"I will try, Comrade, only give me time to think." Next minute, she exclaimed, "How would it do to send down two of the comrades to pick a quarrel in the street? They could start a fight, a crowd will assemble, the detectives will go to see what is up, and you and Matthieu can avail yourselves of the confusion to escape."
"Good!" replied Bonafede, "go and see about it at once. I will help Matthieu to get ready, and you, Isabel, be on the look-out, and let us know when the right moment has come."
I stationed myself behind the curtain at the front parlour window. In a few minutes I saw a young German who lodged in the house rush up the area steps into the street, followed by Combrisson. They were both shouting and gesticulating loudly, and Combrisson seemed to be demanding money which the other refused. A few passers-by stopped to listen to the two foreigners, who danced around, growing ever more noisy; but Limpet and O'Brien stood firm. They looked at the combatants, but seemed to consider the matter as a joke, and only crossed over to our side of the way when they saw a crowd begin to assemble. The quarrel between Combrisson and his lodger began to flag when they saw that their object had failed, and the German soon walked off in the direction of Tottenham Court Road. I watched the detectives cross over to their former post of observation, and was just going to inform the comrades of the negative result of this manoeuvre when I saw Inspector Deveril coming down the street. For a second I stood paralysed with apprehension: all was up with my friends! Next moment I had climbed the four flights, and given the dreaded news.
Matthieu rushed to the attic window. It gave on to a wide gutter which ran along several roofs. "This is my only means of escape. I will get into one of these other houses by the skylight, and escape at the front door whilst they are searching here."
"And if any one tries to stop you?" I exclaimed.
"So much the worse for them," he replied, clutching his revolver.
He was already outside the window when Bonafede spoke, advising him to wait a minute whilst we saw what was going on. As soon as the police knocked, he could carry out his plan. To be noticed by them on the roof would be fatal to its success.
At that moment Combrisson rushed in. "I cannot tell what has happened. Deveril spoke to those two spies and has walked off. The public-house has opened, Limpet has gone inside, and only O'Brien remains on guard."
We all three went downstairs to watch proceedings, leaving Matthieu by the window, ready at a moment's notice to put his desperate project into execution.
Sure enough, all was quiet in the street below; passers-by were hurrying home to their Sunday dinners, the smell of which pervaded the street and house, and O'Brien stood at the door of the opposite pub, leaning gracefully on his stick and gazing at the windows of our house. We stood watching for about a quarter of an hour, fully expecting to see the police appear; the room had gradually filled with the lodgers, all on the _qui vive_, and jabbering fluently in foreign tongues. As nobody came and all seemed quiet, Bonafede and I returned upstairs to reassure Matthieu.
In a few minutes we heard a ring at the door.
"It is they!" we exclaimed, and Matthieu leapt to the window, whilst Bonafede rushed to the door, which burst open, giving admittance to a strange-looking figure. The new-comer had the slight build and nervous carriage of a Frenchman, but was got up in the most aggressively British attire. Clean-shaven, with a short bulldog pipe in the corner of his mouth, a billycock hat set rather jauntily on his head, a short, drab-coloured overcoat of horsy cut, black and white check trousers, red-skin riding gloves, square-toed walking shoes, a light cane, and a rose in his buttonhole; you would have taken him at first sight for a sporting tipster. Matthieu, who had stopped short at this sudden apparition, and Bonafede, both stood staring in amazement. The new-comer looked at them with a wicked twinkle in his eye, and burst out into a hearty laugh.
"Why, it is you, Sylvestre," the Italian at last said, whilst Matthieu jumped down into the room. "But what on earth have you done to yourself? I should never have recognised you?"
"Ah! so I look in character, then? If you did not recognise me no wonder that I was able to take in those gaping clodhoppers, fresh from their turnip-fields, in the street below. I have news for you. Just listen," but here he broke off, for, looking round the room, he had caught sight of me (I had stood speechless in a corner whilst this scene was enacted). "First though, my dear fellow, I must beg you to introduce me to the lady. The emotions of the moment seem to have made you and Matthieu forget all manners."
Bonafede turned smilingly towards me, and introduced us: "Armand Sylvestre, a French comrade; Isabel Meredith, editor of the _Tocsin_"
The Frenchman made me an elegant and profound bow in strange contrast with his sporting appearance, removing his hat, which he had till then kept on.
"But what has happened to you, Sylvestre?" exclaimed Matthieu. "Your hair has turned purple."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake don't look at my hair. A most awful fate has befallen it. Yesterday I heard from Cotteaux that you intended leaving soon, so I settled to come down here this morning, and thought it would be as well to disguise myself; one never knows, one can sometimes get such a lot of fun out of those heavy-witted, pudding-eating police. So I asked Marie to go into a West End hairdresser's and procure some black hair-dye, as I know my gold locks are well known to our friends below. She asked for some, explaining that it was for theatricals, and last night I tried it. With what result you see!--and mind I only made up my mind to come out after washing it some dozen times. Now, with a hat on, it's not very noticeable, but if you could have seen it last night; it had turned the real imperial shade of purple! It was a sight for the gods!"
We all laughed heartily at his adventure, the humour of which was heightened by the mock pathos and tragedy with which he narrated it. But Matthieu, who was straining his ears to catch the slightest sound downstairs, asked him to proceed with his news.
"_Oh, mais vous saves, mademoiselle, votre pays est tout-Ó-fait Úpatant_," he began, turning to me. "As I came down the street I noticed Deveril speaking with those two satellites of his outside the 'Cat and Mouse.' I at once guessed something was up here, and thought I would try and pump them, so I walked into the bar and asked in my best English accent for a whisky and soda, throwing down a half-sovereign to pay for it, and began talking about racing bets with the barman. As I expected, after a few minutes, Limpet entered, asking for a glass of bitter; he soon got interested in our talk. I was giving tips with the air of a Newmarket jockey, and as he had finished his drink I offered to treat him. He hesitated, saying that he was in a hurry, and I then pumped the whole tale out of him, how he and his comrade were watching this house, where they had reason to know that a dangerous French Anarchist was concealed, and so forth and so on.
"'But,' I said, 'if this is so, why do you not get a warrant to search the house?' And he then explained to me that the inspector had wished so to do, but that the magistrate, spite of his entreaties, had refused to sign the warrant because it was Sunday!! Yes, this is an extraordinary country. Society must be saved, but before everything the Sabbath must not be broken. _C'est delicieux!_ Having gained this information, I politely wished him good day, and walked over to this house. You should have seen the faces of those two men. I expect their mouths are open still."
We all stared at each other at this information. This, then, was the secret of the situation. The English Sunday had saved our comrade! Bonafede went downstairs to summon the Combrissons and relieve their minds. We had now nearly twenty-four hours before us; it was certain that till nine o'clock on Monday morning the search-warrant would not be signed. In this interval Matthieu must leave the house, but how?
Sylvestre, who evidently looked upon the whole question as a good joke --_une bonne blague_--suggested that the dynamitard should dress up in his sporting attire; he urged that the detectives had seen him enter and could not be surprised at his leaving, and that this would be the best solution of the difficulty. The idea seemed feasible, and it was tried on. Matthieu got into the check trousers and horsy overcoat, but the effect was too ludicrous, and he was the first to laugh at the figure he cut in the looking-glass. Something else must be found. Madame Combrisson came to the rescue. She reminded us of a Jewish comrade, also a tailor by trade, who was not unlike Matthieu, being slightly hunchbacked. Her idea was to get him round, dress him in the fugitive's clothes, let Bonafede call a cab in an ostentatious style, into which the false Matthieu was to jump and drive off; the detectives would probably follow on their bicycles, and then was our opportunity. Only, how to get this man on to the scene without his advent being noticed by them? For if he were seen to enter, the game was up; his exit would not cause surprise. We were still face to face with the same difficulty, and Matthieu once more began to pace the room like a wild beast in a cage.
Sylvestre broke the silence. "The only way out of the difficulty is to disguise our man. Dress him up as a woman; he will then enter without causing observation."
In a few minutes all was settled. I was to leave with the hand-bag in which I had brought in the jewellery to be pawned; but this time it was to contain a dress belonging to Madame Combrisson. With this I was to proceed to the lodging of the Jewish comrade, Yoski, taking care to lose on the way any detective who might be following me. Yoski was to dress himself in the woman's clothes, and return with me to Grafton Street, care being taken that the detectives should notice his entry. He was then to exchange his female attire for Matthieu's clothes and drive off in a cab, as previously arranged, and then Matthieu, in his turn donning the skirt and blouse, was to leave the house on my arm, whilst the police would be rushing after a red-herring. Sylvestre turned a somersault to express his joy, and, slapping Matthieu on the shoulder, said, "Why, before long, _mon vieux_, you will again be treading the flags of Paris, and, let
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