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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 5/34 -
people to put up with their circumstances, only strengthens the chains which hold mankind in slavery."
We had unconsciously raised our voices in the heat of discussion, and Kosinski, who had caught our last observations, broke in unexpectedly. It was the first time he had opened his mouth to any purpose, and he went straight to the point: "It is you bourgeois Socialists, with your talk of helping us, and your anxiety about using your property 'to the best advantage,' who are the ruin of every movement," he said, addressing me in an uncompromising spirit. "What is wanted to accomplish any great change is enthusiasm, whole-hearted labour, and where that is, no thought is taken as to whether everything is being used to the best advantage. If you are prepared to enter the movement in this spirit, without any backward notion that you are conferring a favour upon any one--for indeed the contrary is the case--well and good: your work will be willingly accepted for what it is worth, and your money, if you have any, will be made good use of; but if not, you had better side with your own class and enjoy your privileges so long as the workers put up with you."
These outspoken remarks were followed by a momentary silence. Mrs. Trevillian looked dismayed; Miss Cooper evidently concluded that Kosinski must have dined on steak; Dr. Armitage agreed, but seemed to consider that more amenity of language might be compatible with the situation. Nekrovitch laughed heartily, enjoying this psychological sidelight, and I, who ought to have felt crushed, was perhaps the only one who thoroughly endorsed the sentiment expressed, finding therein the solution of many moral difficulties which had beset me. Kosinksi was right. I felt one must go the whole length or altogether refrain from dabbling in such matters. And as to property I again knew that he was right; it was what I had all along instinctively felt. Private property was, after all, but the outcome of theft, and there can be no virtue in restoring what we have come by unrighteously.
Small things are often the turning-point in a career; and, looking back, I clearly see that that evening's discussion played no small part in determining my future conduct. I was already disposed towards Anarchist doctrines, and my disposition was more inclined towards action of any order than towards mere speculation. I was the first to speak. "Kosinski is quite right; I am the first to recognise it. Only I think it a little unfair to assume me to be a mere bourgeois, attempting to play the part of lady patroness to the revolution. I am sure none who know me can accuse me of such an attitude."
Kosinski grumbled out a reply: "Well, of course I may be mistaken; but I have seen so many movements ruined by women that I am rather distrustful; they are so rarely prepared to forgo what they consider the privileges of the sex--which is but another phrase for bossing every one and everything and expecting much in return for nothing; but of course there may be exceptions. Perhaps you are one."
Nekrovitch laughed aloud: "Bravo, bravo, you are always true to yourself, Kosinski. I have always known you as a confirmed misogynist, and I see you still resist all temptations to reform. You carry boorishness to the verge of heroism."
The hours had slipped by rapidly, and Mrs. Trevillian took the hint which her spouse had long tried to give by shuffling restlessly in his seat and casting side glances at the clock which pointed to half-past one. She rose to go. "We really must be leaving--it is quite late, and Humphry is never fit for anything unless he gets at least six hours' sleep. Good-bye; thanks for such a pleasant evening," and she bustled out, followed by her husband. I rose to follow her example and, turning a deaf ear to Nekrovitch, who remarked, "Oh, Isabel, do stay on; it is not yet late, and as you have lost your last train it is no use being in a hurry," I shook hands with my friends, including Kosinski, who had once more subsided into a corner, and left, accompanied by Dr. Armitage, who offered to walk home with me.
We walked rapidly on through the keen night air. I felt excited and resolute with the feeling that a new phase of existence was opening before me. Dr. Armitage at last spoke. "I hope, Isabel"--it was usual in this circle to eschew surnames, and most of my friends and acquaintances called me Isabel in preference to Miss Meredith--"I hope, Isabel, that you will come to our meetings. I should like you to know some of our comrades; there are many very interesting men, quite original thinkers, some of them. And I think human beings so often throw light on matters which one otherwise fails to grasp."
"I should much like to," I replied, "if you can tell me how and when; for I suppose one requires some sort of introduction even to Anarchist circles."
"Oh, that is easy enough," he replied. "I have often mentioned your name, and the comrades will be very glad to see you; we make no sort of mystery about our meetings. There will be a meeting at the office of our paper, the _Bomb_, next Saturday. Do come. The business on hand will perhaps not interest you much, but it will be an opportunity for meeting some of our men, and I shall be there."
"Oh, I shall be so glad to come!" I exclaimed. "What will you be discussing?"
"Well, to tell the truth, it is a somewhat unpleasant matter," replied the doctor with some hesitation in his voice. "There have been some strange reports circulating about the Myers case, and we are anxious to get at the truth of the business. It may strike you as a rather unsuitable introduction, but come nevertheless. The movement is always in need of new blood and fresh energies to keep it from narrowing its sphere of activity, and it is well that you should know us as we are."
"Very well, I will come if you will give me the direction."
"Let us say nine o'clock at the office of the _Bomb_ in Slater's Mews, ---- Street; you will find me there."
"Agreed," I replied, and conversation dropped as we walked rapidly along. I was much occupied with my own thoughts and Dr. Armitage was noted for his long periods of silence. At last we reached my doorstep. I fumbled for my latch-key, found it, and wished my friend good-night. We shook hands and parted.
AN ABORTIVE GROUP-MEETING
Before describing the strange committee or group-meeting about to be dealt with, it is necessary to say a few words concerning the mysterious affair which gave rise to it.
On the 17th of December 189- the posters of the evening papers had announced in striking characters:--
"DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST: ATTEMPTED OUTRAGE IN A LONDON PARK."
That same afternoon a loud explosion had aroused the inhabitants of a quiet suburban district, and on reaching the corner of ---- Park whence the report emanated, the police had found, amid a motley debris of trees, bushes, and railings, the charred and shattered remains of a man. These, at the inquest, proved to have belonged to Augustin Myers, an obscure little French Anarchist, but despite the usual lengthy and unsatisfactory routine of police inquiries, searches, and arrests, practically nothing could be ascertained concerning him or the circumstances attending his death. All that was certain was that the deceased man had in his possession an explosive machine, evidently destined for some deadly work, and that, while traversing the park, it had exploded, thus putting an end both to its owner and his projects.
Various conflicting theories were mooted as to the motive which prompted the conduct of the deceased Anarchist, but no confirmation could be obtained to any of these. Some held that Myers was traversing London on his way to some inconspicuous country railway station, whence to take train for the Continent where a wider and more propitious field for Anarchist outrage lay before him. Others opined that he had contemplated committing an outrage in the immediate vicinity of the spot which witnessed his own death; and others, again, that, having manufactured his infernal machine for some nefarious purpose either at home or abroad, he was suddenly seized either with fear or remorse, and had journeyed to this unobserved spot in order to bury it. The papers hinted at accomplices and talked about the usual "widespread conspiracy"; the police opened wide their eyes, but saw very little. The whole matter, in short, remained, and must always remain, a mystery to the public.
Behind the scenes, however, the Anarchists talked of a very different order of "conspiracy." The funeral rites of the poor little Augustin were performed with as much ceremony and sympathy as an indignant London mob would allow, and he was followed to his grave by a goodly _cortège_ of "comrades," red and black flags and revolutionary song. Among the chief mourners was the deceased man's brother Jacob, who wept copiously into the open grave and sung his "Carmagnole" with inimitable zeal. It was this brother whose conduct had given rise to suspicion among his companions, and "spies" and "police plots" were in every one's mouth. The office of the _Bomb_, as being the centre of English anarchy, had been selected as the scene for an inquiry _en group_ into the matter.
Thus on a wet and chilling January evening--one of those evenings when London, and more especially squalid London, is at the height of its unattractiveness--I set out towards my first Anarchist "group-meeting." And certainly the spirit which moved me from within must have been strong that the flesh quailed not at the foul scenery amid which my destination lay.
Half-way down one of the busiest, grimiest, and most depressing streets in the W.C. district stands a squalid public-house, the type of many hundreds and thousands of similar dens in the metropolis. The "Myrtle Grove Tavern," pastoral as the name sounds, was not precisely the abode of peace and goodwill. From four A.M., when the first of her _habitués_ began to muster round the yet unopened doors, till half-past twelve P.M., when the last of them was expelled by the sturdy "chucker-out," the atmosphere was dense with the foul breath and still fouler language of drunken and besotted men and women. Every phase of the lower order of British drinker and drunkard was represented here. The coarse oaths of the men, mingled with the shriller voices of their female companions, and the eternal "'e saids" and "she saids" of the latter's complaints and disputes were interrupted by the plaintive wailings of the puny, gin-nourished infants at their breasts. Here, too, sat the taciturn man, clay pipe in mouth, on his accustomed bench day after day, year in year out, gazing with stony and blear-eyed indifference on all that went on around him; deaf, dumb, and unseeing; only spitting deliberately at intervals, and with apparently no other vocation in life than the consumption of fermented liquor.
The side-door for "jugs and bottles" gave on to a dirty and odoriferous mews, down which my destination lay. The unbridled enthusiasm of eighteen years can do much to harden or deaden the nervous system, but certainly it required all my fortitude to withstand the sickening combination of beer and damp horsy hay which greeted my nostrils. Neither could the cabmen and stablemen, hanging round the public-house doors and the mews generally, be
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