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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 30/34 -
only child to my safety, and now, prematurely old, soured by misfortune and illness, I am abandoning her to fight for herself. She is my victim and yours, the victim of our ideas; it is your duty to look after her.' I promised him so to do, and she has been with me ever since."
I had walked on, absorbed in the interest of his tale, heedless of the distance we were covering, and now I noticed that we were already skirting Hyde Park, and reflected that our destination must still be far ahead.
"As your friend is so ill had we not better take the 'bus? You said we were going to Hammersmith, and there is still quite a long walk ahead of us," I suggested after a few minutes.
"Oh, are you tired?" he inquired; "I ought to have thought of it. I always walk." I noticed that his hand strayed into the obviously empty pocket of his inseparable blue overcoat, and a worried look came into his face. I at once realised that he had not a penny on him, and deeply regretted my remark. Not for worlds would I have suggested to him paying the fares myself, which I should have thought nothing of doing with most of the others.
"Oh, it was not for me," I hastened to rejoin, "I am not in the least tired; I only thought it would be quicker, but after all we must now be near," and I brisked up my pace, though I felt, I confess, more than a little fagged.
Again we trudged on, absorbed in our thoughts. At last, to break the silence I inquired of him if he had seen Armitage lately.
"It must be quite ten days now since I last saw him at a group-meeting of the Jewish Comrades. I fear he is developing a failing common to many of you English Anarchists; he is becoming something of a crank. He talked to me a lot about vegetarianism and such matters. It would be a thousand pities were he to lose himself on such a track, for he has both intellect and character. He is unswerving where principle is at stake; let's trust he will not lose sight of large aims to strive at minor details."
Again a silence fell on us. My companion was evidently reviewing his past; my brain was occupied in blindly searching the future; what would become of us all? Kosinski, Armitage, myself? Vassili's words, "This is the result of struggling for a higher life," haunted me. Should we after all only succeed in making our own unhappiness, in sacrificing the weak to our uncompromising theories, and all this without advancing the cause of humanity one jot? The vague doubts and hesitations of the past few weeks seemed crystallising. I was beginning to mount the Calvary of doubt.
After a quarter of an hour Kosinski exclaimed: "Here we are. You must not be taken aback, Isabel, if you get but scant thanks for your kindness. Eudoxia is not well disposed towards our ideas; she looks upon her life with me as the last and bitterest act in the tragedy of her existence. Poor thing, I have done what I could for her, but I understand her point of view."
Without further ado we proceeded along the passage and up the mean wooden staircase of a third-rate suburban house, pushing past a litter of nondescript infancy, till we stopped before a back room on the top floor. As Kosinski turned the door handle a woman stepped forward with her finger to her lips. "Oh, thank Gawd, you're here at last," she said in a whisper, "your sister's been awful bad, but she's just dozed off now. I'll go to my husband; he'll be in soon now."
"Thanks, Mrs. Day. I need not trouble you further. My friend has come to help me."
The landlady eyed me with scant favour and walked off, bidding us good-night.
The room was of a fair size for the style of dwelling and was divided in two by a long paper screen. The first half was evidently Kosinski's, and as far as I could see by the dim light, was one litter of papers, with a mattress on the floor in a corner. We walked past the screen; and the guttering candle, stuck in an old ginger-beer bottle, allowed me to see a bed in which lay the dying woman. There was also a table on which stood some medicine bottles, a jug of milk, and a glass; an armchair of frowsy aspect, and two cane chairs. The unwashed boards were bare, the room unattractive to a degree, still an awkward attempt at order was noticeable. I stepped over to the bed and gazed on its occupant. Eudoxia was a thin gaunt woman of some thirty-five years of age. Her clustering golden hair streaked with grey; small, plaintive mouth, and clear skin showed that she might have been pretty; but the drawn features and closed eyelids bore the stamp of unutterable weariness, and a querulous expression hovered round her mouth. The rigid folds of the scanty bedclothes told of her woeful thinness, and the frail transparent hands grasped convulsively at the coverlet. As I gazed at her, tears welled into my eyes. She looked so small, so transient, yet bore the traces of such mental and physical anguish. After a moment or two she slowly opened her eyes, gazed vacantly at me without apparently realising my presence, and in a feeble, plaintive voice made some remark in Russian. Kosinski was at her side immediately and answered her in soothing tones, evidently pointing out my presence. The woman fixed on me her large eyes, luminous with fever. I stepped nearer. "Is there anything I can do for you?" I inquired in French. "No one can do anything for me except God and the blessed Virgin," she replied peevishly, "and they are punishing me for my sins. Yes, for my sins," she went on, raising her voice and speaking in a rambling delirious way, "because I have consorted with infidels and blasphemers. Vassili was good to me; we were happy with our little Ivan, till that devil came along. He ruined Vassili, body and soul; he killed our child; he has lost me. I have sold myself to the devil, for have I not lived for the past two years on his charity? And you," she continued, turning her glittering eyes on me, "beware, he will ruin you too; he has no heart, no religion; he cares for nothing, for nobody, except his cruel principles. You love him, I see you do; it is in your every movement, but beware; he will trample on your heart, he will sacrifice you, throw you aside as worthless, as he did with Vassili, who looked upon him as his dearest friend. Beware!" and she sank back exhausted on the pillows, her eyes turned up under her eyelids, a slight froth tinged with blood trickling down the corners of her mouth.
I was transfixed with horror; I knew not what to say, what to do. I put my hand soothingly on her poor fevered brow, and held a little water to her lips. Then my eyes sought Kosinski. He was standing in the shadow, a look of intense pain in his eyes and on his brow, and I knew what he must be suffering at that moment. I walked up to him and grasped his hand in silent sympathy; he returned the pressure, and for a moment I felt almost happy in sharing his sorrow. We stood watching in silence; at regular intervals the church chimes told us that the hours were passing and the long night gradually drawing to its close. Half-past three, a quarter to four, four; still the heavy rattling breath told us that the struggle between life and death had not yet ceased. At last the dying woman heaved a deep sigh, she opened her wide, staring eyes and raised her hand as if to summon some one. Kosinski stepped forward, but she waved him off and looked at me. "I have not a friend in the world," she gasped; "you shall be my friend. Hold my hand and pray for me." I knelt by her side and did as I was bid. Never had I prayed since I could remember, but at that supreme moment a Latin prayer learned in my infancy at my mother's knee came back to me; Kosinski turned his face to the wall and stood with bowed shoulders. As the words fell from my lips the dying woman clutched my hand convulsively and murmured some words in Russian. Then her grasp loosened. I raised my eyes to her face, and saw that all was over. My strained nerves gave way, and I sobbed convulsively. Kosinski was at my side.
"Poor thing, poor thing!" I heard him murmur. He laid his hand caressingly on my shoulder. The candle was flaring itself out, and everything assumed a ghastly blue tint as the first chill light of dawn, previous to sunrise, stole into the room. I rose to my feet and went over to the window. How cold and unsympathetic everything looked! I felt chilly, and a cold shudder ran down my limbs. Absolute silence prevailed, in the street, in the house, in the room, where lay the dead woman staring fixedly before her. Kosinski had sunk into a chair, his head between his hands. I looked at him in silence and bit my lip. An unaccustomed feeling of revolt was springing up in me. I could not and did not attempt to analyse my feelings, only I felt a blind unreasoning anger with existence. How stupid, how objectless it all seemed! The church clock rung out the hour, five o'clock. Kosinski rose, he walked to the bedside, and closed poor Eudoxia's staring eyes, and drew the sheet over her face. Then he came over to me.
"I shall never forget your kindness, Isabel. There is yet one thing I will ask of you; I know that Eudoxia wanted a mass to be said for her and Vassili; will you see about carrying out this wish of hers? I cannot give you the money to pay for it; I have not got it."
I nodded in silent consent.
He paused a few minutes. He seemed anxious to speak, yet hesitated; at last he said, "I am leaving London, Isabel, I can do nothing here, and I have received letters from comrades in Austria telling me that there things are ripe for the Revolution."
I started violently: "You are leaving! Leaving London?" I stammered.
"Yes, I shall be able to do better work elsewhere."
I turned suddenly on him.
"And so you mean to say that we are to part? Thus? now? for ever?" A pained look came into his eyes. He seemed to shrink from personalities. "No," I continued rapidly, "I will, I must speak. Why should we ruin our lives? To what idol of our own creation are we sacrificing our happiness? We Anarchists are always talking of the rights of the individual, why are you deliberately sacrificing your personal happiness, and mine? The dead woman was right; I love you, and I know that you love me. Our future shall not be ruined by a misunderstanding. Now I have spoken, you must answer, and your answer must be final."
I looked at him whilst the words involuntarily rushed from my lips, and even before I had finished speaking, I knew what his answer would be.
"An Anarchist's life is not his own. Friendship, comradeship may be helpful, but family ties are fatal; you have seen what they did for my poor friend. Ever since I was fifteen I have lived solely for the Cause; you are mistaken in thinking that I love you in the way you imply. I thought of you as a comrade, and loved you as such."
I had quite regained my self-possession. "Enough," I said, interrupting him. "I do not regret my words; they have made everything clear to me. You are of the invincibles, Kosinski; you are strong with the strength of the fanatic; and I think you will be happy too. You will never turn to contemplate regretfully the ashes of your existence and say as did your friend, 'See the result of struggling for a higher life!' You do not, you cannot see that you are a slave to your conception of freedom, more prejudiced in your lack of prejudice than the veriest bourgeois; that is your strength, and it is well. Good-bye."
He grasped my proffered hand with warmth.
"Good-bye, Isabel. I knew you were not like other women; that _you_ could understand."
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