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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 6/34 -
calculated to increase one's democratic aspirations, but I walked resolutely on, and turning to my left, dexterously avoiding an unsavoury heap of horse manure, straw, and other offal, I clambered up a break-neck ladder, at the top of which loomed the office of the _Bomb_.
The door was furtively opened in response to my kick by a lean, hungry-looking little man of very circumspect appearance. He cast me a surly and suspicious glance, accompanied by a not very encouraging snarl, but on my mentioning Dr. Armitage he opened the door a few inches wider and I passed in.
It took me some seconds before I could accustom my eyes to the fetid atmosphere of this den, which was laden with the smoke of divers specimens of the worst shag and cheapest tobacco in the metropolis. But various objects, human and inanimate, became gradually more distinct, and I found myself in a long, ill-lighted wooden shed, where type and dust and unwashed human beings had left their mark, and where soap and sanitation were unknown. Past the type racks and cases, which occupied the first half of this apartment, were grouped benches, stools, packing-cases, and a few maimed and deformed chairs for the accommodation of the assembly. Then came a hand printing-press, on which were spread the remains of some comrade's repast: the vertebral column of a bloater and an empty condensed-milk can, among other relics. The floor, from one extremity to the other of the "office," was littered with heaps of unsold revolutionary literature, the approximate date of which could be gauged by the thickness of dust in which it was smothered. On the walls and from beams and rafters hung foils and boxing-gloves; artistic posters and cartoons, the relics of a great artist who had founded the _Bomb_, and the effigies of divers comrades to whom a pathway to a better world had been opened through the hangman's drop. But what most riveted my attention was an indistinct animate _something_ enveloped in a red flag, rolled up in a heap on the frouziest and most forbidding old sofa it had ever been my lot to behold. That this _something_ was animate could be gathered from the occasional twitchings of the red bundle, and from the dark mop of black greasy hair which emerged from one end. But to what section of the animal kingdom _it_ belonged I was quite at a loss to decide. Other stray objects which I noted about this apartment were an ostentatious-looking old revolver of obsolete make, and some chemical bottles, which, however, contained no substance more dangerous than Epsom salts.
The human occupants were not less noticeable than the inanimate, and some of them are deserving of our attention.
The man Myers, round whom the interest of the meeting was principally centred this evening, was to all appearances a mean enough type of the East End sartorial Jew. His physiognomy was not that of a fool, but indicated rather that low order of intelligence, cunning and intriguing, which goes to make a good swindler. The low forehead, wide awake, shifty little eyes, the nose of his forefathers, and insolent lock of black hair plastered low on his brow--all these characteristics may frequently be met with in the dock of the "Old Bailey" when some case of petty swindling is being tried.
Next Myers I noticed Dr. Armitage, who stood out in striking contrast from the rest of his companions. The smile with which he welcomed me was eloquent of the satisfaction with which he noted this my first entrance into an Anarchist circle.
The short bench on which he sat was shared by a man in corduroys of the navvy type, a large honest-looking fellow whose views of the Social question appeared to be limited to a not very definite idea of the injustice of third-class railway travelling and the payment of rent, and he expressed his opinions on these knotty problems with more freedom and warmth of language than was perhaps altogether warranted by the occasion.
Gracefully poised on one leg against an adjoining type-rack leaned a tall youth with fair curling hair, a weak tremulous mouth, and an almost girlish physiognomy. This youth had been drummed out of the army, the discipline of which he had found too severe, for feigning illness, since when he had passed his time between the bosom of his family, the workhouse, and the Anarchist party. He paid very little attention to the proceedings of the meeting, but discoursed eloquently, in a low voice, of the brutality of his parents who refused to keep him any longer unless he made some attempt to find employment. I remember wondering, _en passant_, why this fair-haired, weak-kneed youth had ever entered the Anarchist party; but the explanation, had I but known, was close at hand.
This explanation was a square-built, sturdy-looking man of some forty years. His appearance was the reverse of engaging, but by no means lacking in intelligence. He was ill-satisfied and annoyed with the universe, and habitually defied it from the stronghold of a double bed. Thither he had retired after the death of his father, an old market-porter, who had been crushed by the fall of a basket of potatoes. The son saw in this tragic circumstance the outcome and the reward of labour, swore a solemn oath never to do a stroke of work again, threw up his job, and from that day became a confirmed loafer in the Anarchist party. Some months previously, while propagandising in the workhouse, he found the youth there, and learned from his own lips how, being disinclined to become a burden on his poor old parents after his exit from the army, he had seen no other alternative but to become a pauper, and make the best he could of the opportunities afforded him by the poor-rates. From the workhouse he was dragged triumphantly forth by his new friend, and became an easy convert to anarchic and communistic principles.
The only feminine element in this assembly was a fair, earnest-looking Russian girl, whose slight knowledge of English did not allow her to follow the proceedings very accurately. She was an almost pathetic figure in her naïve enthusiasm, and evidently regarded her present companions as seriously as those she had left behind her in Russia, and seemed to imagine they played as dangerous a rôle, and ran the same risk as they did.
There were several others present among whom the loafer type was perhaps in the ascendant. But there were also many of the more intelligent artisan class, discontented with their lot; labourers and dockers who had tramped up after a hard day's work, a young artist who looked rather of the Social Democratic type, a cabman, a few stray gentlemen, a clever but never-sober tanner, a labour agitator, a professional stump-orator, and one or two fishy and nondescript characters of the Hebraic race. O'Flynn, the printer of the _Bomb_, was a cantankerous Irishman with a taste for discoursing on abstract questions, concerning which he grew frightfully muddled and confused. He had a rather mad look in his eye and a disputatious manner.
When at last inquiry was made whether all companions expected were present, the red flag began to quiver and writhe most noticeably and finally to unfurl, and there emerged from its depths the dirtiest and most slovenly man I had ever seen, and the frouziest and most repulsive of dogs. This man, if man I may call him, was bony and ill-built, and appeared to consist largely of hands and feet. His arms were abnormally long and his chest narrow and hollow, and altogether he seemed to hang together by a mere fluke. His ill-assorted limbs were surmounted by a sallow, yellowish face, large repulsive lips, and a shapeless nose, and to him belonged the long, black greasy hair which I had already noted amid the folds of the red banner. Large gristly ears emerged from his uncombed mop of hair, and the only redeeming feature about the abject creature was his large, brown, dog-like eyes. He crept forward, grinding his teeth and rubbing his bony hands, and subsided into a waste-paper basket which was the only available seat left unoccupied.
And now at last, after much talking and shifting about, and not before a young German hairdresser had been stationed with one eye glued to a hole in the outer wall of the shed, in order to make sure that no detective was listening outside, the proceedings commenced.
Banter, the little man who had opened the door to me, rose to his feet, cleared his throat, and said "_Com_rades" in a stentorian voice. Then followed a long and rambling statement which he read out, from amid the grammatical inaccuracies and continual digressions of which I was enabled to gather that he had noticed of late something very peculiar about the conduct of Jacob Myers, who had appeared to exercise undue influence and power over his brother Augustin; that, moreover, Jacob had been seen by a third party drinking a glass of rum in the "Nag and Beetle" in company with a well-known detective, and that, in final and conclusive proof of some very fishy transactions on his part, three undeniable half-crowns had been distinctly observed in his overcoat pocket the previous week. "And how should he come by these by honest means?" indignantly inquired Banter. "He says he's out of work, and he's not got the courage to steal!"
"'Ear, 'ear! Why pay rent to robber landlords?" the navvy, Armitage's neighbour, ejaculated at this juncture, after which irrelevant inquiry he spat defiance at Society.
Then followed the speeches for the prosecution, if the use of such a word may be permitted in connection with an Anarchist transaction. The chief accusations made against Myers were his violent blood-and-thunder speeches which he had in no wise carried out in action, but which he had delivered under the eyes and in the hearing of the police who had listened and seen it all with quite commendable Christian forbearance. Besides this several sensational articles had appeared in the daily press in connection with Augustin's death, exaggerating the importance of the affair and hinting at dark plots; of which articles he was suspected of being the author. Jacob was in fact accused of having egged on his unfortunate brother to his doom in order that he might turn a little money out of the transaction between newspaper reports and police fees. It apparently mattered little to this modern Shylock whence came his pound of flesh or what blood ran or congealed in its veins.
Through all these statements and questions Myers sat in stolid and insolent silence--occasionally whistling snatches of some music-hall air. At last when reference was made to some chemicals which he was alleged to have procured and handed on to his brother, he roused up from his affected indifference and appealed to Armitage for assistance. "Dr. Armitage knows," he exclaimed indignantly, "that I only procured the sulphuric acid from him for domestic purposes."
My eyes were riveted on the doctor's face, and only to one who knew him well could the expression be at all decipherable. To me it distinctly denoted disappointment--that humiliating sense of disappointment and disillusion which must invariably come upon a man of strong and fanatical convictions when brought into contact with the meanness and cowardice of his fellows.
Dr. Armitage was a fanatic and an idealist, and two convictions were paramount in his mind at this time: the necessity and the justice of the "propaganda by force" doctrine preached by the more advanced Anarchists, and the absolute good faith and devotion to principle of the men with whom he was associated. A man of the Myers type was quite incomprehensible to him. Not for a single instant had Armitage hesitated to throw open the doors of his Harley Street establishment to the Anarchists: to him the cause was everything, and interests, prudence, prospects, all had to give way before it. And here was this man who had professed the same principles as himself, with whom he had discoursed freely on the necessity of force, who had openly advocated dynamite in his presence--this man who had spoken of the revolution and the regeneration of Society with the same warmth as himself--talking of "domestic purposes," and ready to recant all that he had preached and said. And what lay behind this reticence and these denials? Treachery of the basest kind, and the most sordid, abominable calculations which it was possible to conceive.
These thoughts I read in the doctor's face, and turning my eyes from him
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