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A GIRL AMONG THE ANARCHISTS
By Isabel Meredith
In spite of the fact that there are certain highly respectable
individualists of a rabid type who prefer to call themselves Anarchists,
it must be owned that it requires some courage to write about Anarchism
even with the sympathy befitting a clinical physician or the scientific
detachment of a pathologist. And yet it is certain that Anarchists are
curiously interesting, and not the less in need of observation from the
fact that apparently none of the social quacks who prescribe seriously in
leading articles has the faintest insight into them as a phenomenon, a
portent, or a disease. This book, if it is read with understanding, will,
I feel assured, do not a little to show how it comes about that Anarchism
is as truly endemic in Western Civilisations as cholera is in India.
Isabel Meredith, whom I had the pleasure of knowing when she was a more
humble member of the staff of the _Tocsin_ than the editor, occupies,
to my knowledge, a very curious and unique position in the history of
English Anarchism. There is nothing whatever in "A Girl among the
Anarchists" which is invented, the whole thing is an experience told very
simply, but I think convincingly. Nevertheless as such a human document
must seem incredible to the ordinary reader, I have no little pleasure in
saying that I know what she has written to be true. I was myself a
contributor to the paper which is here known as the _Tocsin_. I have
handled the press and have discussed details (which did not include bombs)
with the editor. I knew "Kosinski" and still have an admiration for
"Nekrovitch." And even now I do not mind avowing that I am philosophically
as much an Anarchist as the late Dr. H. G. Sutton, who would no doubt have
been astounded to learn that he belonged to the brotherhood.
Curiously enough I have found most Anarchists of the mildest
dispositions. I have met meek Germans (there are meek Germans still
extant) who even in their wildest Anarchic indignation seemed as little
capable of hurting a living soul as of setting the Elbe on fire. For it
must be understood that the "red wing" of the Anarchists is a very small
section of the body of philosophers known as Anarchists. There is no doubt
that those of the dynamite section are practically insane. They are
"impulsives"; they were outraged and they revolted before birth. Most of
the proletariat take their thrashing lying down. There are some who cannot
do that. It is out of these who are not meek and do not inherit even
standing-room on the earth that such as "Matthieu" comes. Perhaps it may
not be out of place to suggest that a little investigation might be better
than denunciation, which is always wide of the mark, and that, as
Anarchism is created by the social system of repression, more repression
will only create more Anarchism. However, I am perfectly aware that the
next time a wild-eyed philosopher, who ought to be under restraint in an
asylum, throws a bomb, all the newspapers in Europe will advocate measures
for turning all the meeker Anarchists into outrage-mongers. For of the
Anarchists it is certainly true that repression does not repress.
Anarchism is a creed and a philosophy, but neither as creed nor philosophy
does it advocate violence. It only justifies resistance to violence. So
much, I think, will be discovered in this book even by a leader-writer.
In conclusion I cannot do better than quote from Spinoza's _Tractatus
"In order that I might inquire better into the matter of this science
with the same freedom of mind with which we are wont to treat lines and
surfaces in mathematics, I determined not to laugh or weep over the
actions of men but simply to understand them, and to contemplate their
affections and passions such as love, hate, anger, envy, arrogance, pity,
and all other disturbances of soul not as vices of human nature, but as
properties pertaining to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder
pertain to the nature of the atmosphere. For these, though troublesome,
are yet necessary and have certain causes through which we may come to
understand them, and thus by contemplating them in their truth, gain for
our minds as much joy as by the knowledge of things which are pleasing to
I think that Isabel Meredith, so far as the outlook of her book extends,
is a disciple of Spinoza. But she can speak for herself.
I. A STRANGE CHILDHOOD
II. A GATHERING IN CHISWICK
III. AN ABORTIVE GROUP-MEETING.
IV. A POLICE SCARE
V. TO THE RESCUE
VI. A FOREIGN INVASION
VII. THE OFFICE OF THE _TOCSIN_
VIII. THE DYNAMITARD'S ESCAPE
IX. SOME ANARCHIST PERSONALITIES
X. A FLIGHT
XI. A CRISIS
XII. THE _TOCSIN'S_ LAST TOLL.
A STRANGE CHILDHOOD
In the small hours of a bitter January morning I sat in my room gazing
into the fire, and thinking over many things. I was alone in the house,
except for the servants, but this circumstance did not affect me. My
childhood and upbringing had been of no ordinary nature, and I was used to
looking after myself and depending on my own resources for amusement and
My mother had died when I was yet a small child and, with my elder sister
and brother, I had grown up under our father's eye. He was a chemist and a
man of advanced ideas on most things. He had never sent us to school,
preferring to watch in person over our education, procuring for us private
tuition in many subjects, and himself instructing us in physical science
and history, his two favourite studies. We rapidly gained knowledge under
his system and were decidedly precocious children, but we had none of the
ordinary school society and routine. Our childhood was by no means dull or
mopish, for there were three of us and we got on very well together, but
we mixed hardly at all with children of our own age, our interests were
not theirs, and their boisterous ways were somewhat repellent to us.
Our father was a great believer in liberty, and, strange to say, he put
his ideas into practice in his own household. He was a devoted and
enthusiastic student, and for days, nay, weeks together, we would see but
little of him. He had fitted himself up a small laboratory at the top of
our house on which he spent all his available money, and here he passed
nearly all the time he could dispose of over and beyond that necessary for
the preparation and delivery of his scientific lectures. As we grew out of
childhood he made no difference in his mode of life. He gave us full
liberty to follow our various bents, assisting us with his advice when
requested, ever ready to provide the money necessary for any special
studies or books; taking an interest in our readings and intellectual
pursuits. The idea of providing us with suitable society, of launching us
out into the world, of troubling to see that we conformed to the ordinary
conventions of society, never occurred to him. Occasionally some old
friend of his would drop in, or some young admirer who had followed his
scientific work in the press would write asking permission to call and
consult him on some point. They were always received with cordiality, and
my father would take much trouble to be of any assistance he could to
them. We children used generally to be present on such occasions, and
frequently would join in the conversation, and thus we got to know various
people, among whom foreigners and various types of cranks were fairly in
We lived in a large old-fashioned house in Fitzroy Square where our
father had settled down somewhere in the seventies soon after his marriage
to a South American Spaniard, whom he had met during a scientific research
expedition in Brazil. She was a girl of seventeen, his junior by some
twenty years. During his journeys into the interior of Brazil he had
fallen seriously ill with malarial fever, and had been most kindly taken
in and nursed by a coffee-planter and his family. Here he had met his
future wife who was acting as governess. She was of Spanish descent, and
combined the passionate enthusiasm of a Southerner with the independence
and self-reliance which life in a new and only partially civilised country
breeds. She was an orphan and penniless, but our father fell in love with
her, attracted doubtless by her beauty and vivaciousness in such striking
contrast with his bookish way of life, and he married her and brought her
home to London. He truly loved her and was a good husband in all essential
respects, but the uncongenial climate and monotonous life told on her
health, and she died three years after my birth, much mourned by her
husband, who plunged all the more deeply into scientific research, his
only other thought being a care for our education. He had lived on in the
same old house which grew somewhat dingier and shabbier each year, whilst
the neighbourhood fell from its pristine respectability to become the
resort of foreigners of somewhat doubtful character, of Bohemian artists
As I sat gazing into the fire many pictures of those old days rose before
me. I saw our large drawing-room with its old-fashioned furniture,
handsome, often beautiful, but ill-kept; its sombre hangings and fine
pictures. I recalled a typical scene there with a large fire burning
cheerily in the big grate, relieving the gloom of a late winter afternoon
with the bright flickering of its flames. Ensconced in a roomy arm-chair,
our father is seated by the fire in a skullcap and list slippers, with his
favourite cat perched on his knee. Opposite him sit two ladies, the elder
of whom--a quaint, nice-looking old lady, dressed neatly in black, but
whose innate eccentricity succeeded in imparting something odd to the
simplest and quietest of attires--is leaning eagerly forward, pouring
forth a long tale of woe into my father's sympathetic ear. She is
denouncing the London roughs, landlords, and police, who, apparently, are
all in league to ruin her and turn her cats astray upon an unkind world.
The brutality of the English poor, who consider their duty towards the
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
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
despise me for all the outward signs which proved that I was living on the
results of "unearned increment" (_vide_ Karl Marx) and that I was a
mere social parasite!
When at last the longed-for, yet dreaded moment came, I was surprised,
relieved, and I must add somewhat disappointed, at seeing a young man
looking much like any other gentleman, except that he wore a red tie, and
that his clothes were of a looser and easier fit than is usual. "What a
jolly place you have!" he exclaimed after my brother had introduced us and
he had given a look round. I felt considerably relieved, as I had quite
expected him to scowl disapproval, and my brother, after saying, "Yes, it
is a nice old house; we are very fond of it," suggested that we should
adjourn to supper.
During this repast I took an animated part in the conversation, which
turned on recent books and plays. At last reference was made to a book,
"The Ethics of Egoism," which had excited much attention. It was a work
advocating the most rabid individualism, denying the Socialist standpoint
of the right to live, and saying that the best safeguard for the
development and amelioration of the race lay in that relentless law of
nature which sent the mentally and morally weak to the wall. I had read
the book with interest, and had even written a rather long criticism of
it, of which I felt distinctly proud. In the course of the discussion to
which this book gave rise among us, my brother mentioned that I had
written something on it, and Hughes begged me to read my performance.
Though I felt somewhat diffident, I acceded, after some persuasion, to his
request, and was elated beyond measure at earning his good opinion of my
"By George, that's about the best criticism I've read of the work. Where
do you intend publishing it, Miss Meredith?"
"Oh, I had never thought of publishing it," I replied; "I have never
"But we cannot afford to lose such good stuff," he insisted. "Come,
Raymond, now, don't you think your sister ought to get that into print?"
"I think you should publish it, Isabel, if you could," he replied.
"Could! Why any of our papers would be only too delighted to have it. Let
me take it down to the _Democrat_," he said, mentioning the name of a
paper which Raymond often brought home with him.
"Oh, if you really think it worth while, I shall be only too pleased," I
Thus was effected my first introduction to the actual Socialist party. My
article was printed and I was asked for others. I made the acquaintance of
the editor, who, I must confess, spite of my enthusiasm, soon struck me as
a rather weak-kneed and altogether unadmirable character. He thought it
necessary to get himself up to look like an artist, though he had not the
soul of a counter-jumper, and the result was long hair, a velvet coat, a
red tie, bumptious bearing, and an altogether scatter-brained and fly-away
manner. In figure he was long and willowy, and reminded me irresistibly of
an unhealthy cellar-grown potato plant. My circle of acquaintances rapidly
enlarged, and soon, instead of having too much time on my hands for
reading and study, I had too little. At one of the Sunday evening lectures
of the Democratic Club, at which I had become a regular attendant, I made
the acquaintance of Nekrovitch, the famous Nihilist, and his wife. I took
to him instinctively, drawn by the utter absence of sham or "side" which
characterised the man. I had never understood why Socialism need imply the
arraying of oneself in a green curtain or a terra-cotta rug, or the
cultivation of flowing locks, blue shirts, and a peculiar cut of clothes:
and the complete absence of all such outward "trade marks" pleased me in
the Russian. He invited me to his house, and I soon became a constant
visitor. In the little Chiswick house I met a class of people who
stimulated me intellectually, and once more aroused my rather waning
enthusiasm for the "Cause." The habit of taking nothing for granted, of
boldly inquiring into the origin of all accepted precepts of morality, of
intellectual speculation unbiassed by prejudice and untrammelled by all
those petty personal and party questions and interests which I had seen
occupy so much time and thought at the Democratic Club, permeated the
intellectual atmosphere. Quite a new side of the problem--that of its
moral bearings and abstract rights as opposed to the merely material right
to daily bread which had first appealed to my sense of justice and
humanity--now opened before me. The right to complete liberty of action,
the conviction that morality is relative and personal and can never be
imposed from without, that men are not responsible, or only very partially
so, for their surroundings, by which their actions are determined, and
that consequently no man has a right to judge his fellow; such and similar
doctrines which I heard frequently upheld, impressed me deeply. I was
morally convinced of their truth, and consequently more than half an
Anarchist. The bold thought and lofty ideal which made of each man a law
unto himself, answerable for his own actions only to his own conscience,
acting righteously towards others as the result of his feeling of
solidarity and not because of any external compulsion, captivated my mind.
The Anarchists who frequented Nekrovitch's house were men of bold and
original thought, the intellectual part of the movement, and I was never
tired of listening to their arguments. Meantime the more I saw of the
Social Democrats the less I felt satisfied with them. A wider experience
would have told me that all political parties, irrespective of opinion,
are subject to much the same criticism, and that Socialist ideas are no
protection against human weaknesses; but extreme youth is not compromising
where its ideals are concerned, and I expected and insisted on a certain
approach to perfection in my heroes. True, Nekrovitch made me hesitate
some time before taking the final step. His attitude in such discussions
was one of sound common sense, and he never ceased reminding his Anarchist
friends, though all in vain, that we must live in our own times, and that
it is no use trying to forestall human evolution by some thousand years.
At home I had become more and more my own mistress. I was now full
eighteen years of age, and had always been accustomed to think and act for
myself. Caroline, with whom I was on most affectionate terms, despite our
frequent differences on politics, had accepted an engagement as _prima
donna_ with a travelling opera company which was to visit the United
States and the principal cities of South America; her engagement was to
last two years, and she had left just three weeks before the opening of my
Raymond slept at home, but as the date of his final examination drew near
he was more and more occupied, and frequently whole weeks passed in which
I only caught a glimpse of him. He knew and sympathised with my new line
of thought; he had accompanied me more than once to the Nekrovitchs', whom
he liked much, but he had no longer the time to devote much thought to
such matters. Of money I always had a considerable command; ever since our
father's death I had kept house, and now that Caroline was away I had full
control of the household purse.
Turning over all these thoughts in my mind as I sat toasting my feet
before the fire, I felt more and more inclined to throw in my lot with the
Anarchists. At the same time I felt that if I did take this step it must
be as a worker and in no half-hearted spirit. The small hours of the
morning were rapidly slipping by as I turned at last into bed to dream of
Anarchist meetings, melting into a confused jumble with the rights of cats
and the claims of the proletariat.
A GATHERING IN CHISWICK
As my first actual acquaintance with Anarchists was effected in
Nekrovitch's house, it will not be out of place for me to give a slight
sketch of the gatherings held there and of my host himself.
An interminably dreary journey by tram and rail, omnibus and foot, the
latter end of which lay along a monotonous suburban road, brought you to
the humble dwelling of the famous Nihilist. Here from time to time on
Sunday evenings it was my wont to put in an appearance towards ten or
eleven, for the journey was deceptively long from Fitzroy Square, and
Nekrovitch, like most Russians, was himself of so unpunctual and irregular
a nature, that he seemed to foster the like habits in all his friends. The
nominal hour for these social gatherings to commence was eight, but not
till past nine did the guests begin to assemble, and till midnight and
later they would come dribbling in. Only one conscientiously punctual
German was ever known to arrive at the appointed hour, but the only reward
of the Teuton's mistaken zeal was to wait for hours in solitary state in
an unwarmed, unlighted room till his host and fellow-guests saw fit to
The meeting-room, or parlour, or drawing-room in Nekrovitch's house was
by no means a palatial apartment. Small and even stuffy to the notions of
a hygienic Englishman, and very bare, scanty in furniture, and yet poorer
in decoration, this room bore evidence to its owners' contempt for such
impedimenta, and their entire freedom from slavery to household gods. It
was evidently the home of people used to pitching their tent often, and to
whom a feeling of settled security was unknown. But its occupants usually
made up for any deficiencies in their surroundings.
The company was always of a very mixed cosmopolitan character--Russian
Nihilists and exiles, English Liberals who sympathised with the Russian
constitutional movement, Socialists and Fabians, Anarchists of all
nationalities, journalists and literary men whose political views were
immaterial, the pseudo-Bohemian who professes interest in the "queer side
of life," all manner of faddists, rising and impecunious musicians and
artists--all were made welcome, and all were irresistibly attracted
towards the great Russian Nihilist.
The most notable figure in this assembly, and he certainly would have
been in most assemblies, was Nekrovitch himself. Nekrovitch was
essentially a great man; one of those men whom to know was to admire and
to love; a man of strong intellect, and of the strong personal magnetism
which is so frequently an adjunct of genius. Physically he was a huge
powerful man, so massive and striking in appearance that he suggested
comparison rather with some fact of nature--a rock, a vigorous forest tree
--than with another man. He was one of those rare men who, like mountains
in a landscape, suffice in themselves to relieve their environments,
whatever these may be, from all taint of meanness. He stood out from among
his guests the centre of conversation, of feeling, and of interest. He was
almost invariably engaged in eager conversation, pitched in a loud tone of
voice, broken at intervals when he listened to the other disputants, while
puffing the cigarettes which he was constantly rolling, and looking
intently out of his deep-set penetrating eyes.
Nekrovitch's wife, a Russian like himself, had been a student of medicine
at the Russian University until, along with her husband, she had been
compelled to take flight from the attentions of the Russian police. She
was a curly-headed brunette, with bright hazel eyes and a vivacious
manner; a very intelligent and highly "simpatica" woman, as the Italians
would put it.
Round Nekrovitch there always clustered an eager crowd of admirers and
intimates, discussing, disputing, listening, arguing. They were mostly
foreigners, of the shaggy though not unwashed persuasion, but two English
faces especially attracted notice. One belonged to a young woman, still on
the right side of thirty, dressed without exaggeration in the aesthetic
style, with a small but singularly intellectual head and an argumentative
manner, whom I knew as Miss Cooper. The other was a man of some
thirty-seven years, with auburn hair, which displayed a distinct tendency
to develop into a flowing mane; tall, slim, and lithe of limb, with a
splendid set of teeth, which showed under his bushy moustache whenever his
frank, benevolent smile parted his lips. He was somewhat taciturn, but
evidently tenacious; a glance at his spacious forehead and finely-shaped
head revealed a man of mind, and the friendly, fearless glance of his eyes
betokened a lovable nature, though, as he listened to his opponents or
answered in his low distinct voice, there was an intensity and fixedness
in their depth not incompatible with the fanatic.
This Dr. Armitage was one of the most noticeable figures in the English
Anarchist movement, and it was with him that I first discussed Anarchist
principles as opposed to those of legal Socialism. Nekrovitch and others
often joined in the discussion, and very animated we all grew in the
course of debate. Nekrovitch smiled sympathetically at my whole-hearted
and ingenuous enthusiasm. He never made any attempt to scoff at it or to
discourage me, though he vainly attempted to persuade me that Anarchism
was too distant and unpractical an ideal, and that my energies and
enthusiasm might be more advantageously expended in other directions.
"Anyway," he once said to me, "it is very agreeable to a Russian to see
young people interested in politics and political ideals. It reminds him
of his own country."
Among the other Anarchists who frequented Nekrovitch's house was the
Anarchist and scientist, Count Voratin, a man who had sacrificed wealth
and high position and family ties for his principles with less fuss than
another rich man would make in giving a donation to an hospital. He seemed
always absolutely oblivious of his own great qualities, as simple and
kindly in manners as a _moujik_ but with a certain innate dignity and
courtliness of demeanour which lifted him above most of those with whom he
came in contact. I nourished an almost passionate admiration for Voratin
as a thinker and a man, and his writings had gone far to influence me in
my Anarchist leanings. Never shall I forget the excitement I felt when
first I met him at Nekrovitch's house. I reverenced him as only a youthful
disciple can reverence a great leader.
From Armitage and Nekrovitch I heard much from time to time of another
Russian Anarchist, Ivan Kosinski, a man actively engaged in the Anarchist
propaganda all over Europe. He was much admired by them for his absolute
unswerving devotion to his ideas. A student and a man of means, he had
never hesitated between his interests and his convictions. He had come
into collision with the Russian authorities by refusing to perform
military service. In prison he would not recognise the right of judges and
jailers, and had consequently spent most of his time in a strait waistcoat
and a dark cell. His forte was silence and dogged unyielding obstinacy. On
escaping from Russian prisons he had gone to America: he had starved and
tramped, but he had never accepted any sort of help. How he lived was a
mystery to all. He was known to be an ascetic and a woman-hater, and had
been seen at one time selling fly-papers in the streets of New York. In
revolutionary circles he was looked up to as an original thinker, and it
was rumoured that he played a leading part in most of the revolutionary
movements of recent years. He was also engaged on a life of Bakounine
which was to be the standard work on the famous revolutionist, for which
purpose he was always reading and travelling in search of material.
And at last one evening Nekrovitch announced that Kosinski was expected.
I had heard so much about this man that I spent my whole evening in a
state of suppressed excitement at the news. For many months past I had
sympathised with the Anarchist principles, but I had taken no particular
steps towards joining the party or exerting myself on its behalf. I was
waiting for some special stimulus to action. Half unconsciously I found
myself wondering whether Kosinski would prove this.
I had passed a pleasant evening in the little Chiswick house between the
usual political and ethical discussions and the usual interesting or
entertaining company. I had assisted at a long discussion between Miss
Cooper and Dr. Armitage, which, commencing on the question of Socialism,
had gradually deviated into one on food and dress reform, a matter upon
which that lady held very strong views. I had felt a little irritated at
the conversation, for I entertained scant sympathy for what I regarded as
hygienic fads; and the emphasis with which the lady averred that she
touched neither flesh nor alcohol, and felt that by this abstinence she
was not "besotting her brain nor befouling her soul," amused me much. Dr.
Armitage, to my surprise, expressed some sympathy with her views, and
treated the question with what I considered undue importance. This
discussion was brought at last to a termination by Miss Cooper breaking
off for a meal (she always ate at regular intervals), and retiring into a
corner to consume monkey-nuts out of a hanging pocket or pouch which she
carried with her.
The evening advanced, and I began to despair of Kosinski's ever arriving.
Every time there was a knock at the door, I wondered whether it was the
much-expected Anarchist, but I was repeatedly disappointed. Once it was
the musical infant prodigy of the season whose talents had taken London by
storm, another time it was a Nihilist, yet another a wild-looking Czech
poet. One loud rat-tat made me feel certain that Kosinski had arrived, but
I was again disillusioned, as an aesthetic, fascinating little lady made
her entry, dragging triumphantly in tow a reluctant, unengaging and
green-haired husband. Nekrovitch gave me a significant glance. "So sorry
to be so late," the little lady began in a high-pitched voice, "but I had
to attend a meeting of our society for the distribution of sanitary
dust-bins; and Humphry got quite disagreeable waiting for me outside,
although he was well wrapped up in comforters and mits. My dear Anna (this
to Madame Nekrovitch), _do_ tell him that he is most absurd and
egoistic, and that it is his duty to think less of personal comfort and
more of humanity."
At this last word the injured Humphry, who had approached the fire, and
was attempting to thaw his nose and toes, gave utterance to a suppressed
groan; but a cup of steaming tea and some appetising buttered toast
diverted his spouse's thoughts, and she was soon deep in a confidential
chat with Anna.
At last, long after eleven, appeared the new-comer of whom I had heard so
much. I must confess that my preconceived notions (one always has a
preconceived notion of the appearance of a person one has heard much
spoken of) fell to the ground. I had imagined him dark and audacious, and
I saw before me a tall, big, well-built man, with a slight stoop in his
shoulders, fair of skin, with a blonde beard and moustache, lank long
hair, a finely-cut, firm-set mouth, and blue dreamy eyes, altogether a
somewhat Christ-like face. He was clad in a thick, heavy, old-fashioned
blue overcoat with a velvet collar, which he refused to remove, baggy
nondescript trousers, and uncouth-looking boots. He saluted his host and
hostess in an undemonstrative style, bowed awkwardly to the other guests,
and settled down to crouch over the fire, and look unostentatiously
From the first moment Kosinski interested me. His manners were not
engaging; towards women especially he was decidedly hostile. But the
marked indifference to opinion which his bearing indicated, his sincerity,
his unmistakable moral courage, perhaps his evident aversion to my sex,
all had for me a certain fascination.
I felt attracted towards the man, and was pleased that a discussion on
Anarchism with Armitage at last afforded me an opportunity of exchanging a
few words with him--even though on his side the conversation was not
altogether flattering to myself. It happened in this way.
Nekrovitch, Armitage, and myself had, according to our wont, been
discussing the great Anarchist question. For the hundredth time the
Russian had endeavoured to persuade us of the truth and the reason of his
point of view.
"So long as men are men," he maintained, "there must be some sort of
government, some fixed recognised law--organisation, if you will, to
"All governments are equally bad," answered the doctor. "All law is
coercion, and coercion is immoral. Immoral conditions breed immoral
people. In a free and enlightened society there would be no room for
coercive law. Crime will disappear when healthy and natural conditions
And Nekrovitch, perceiving for the hundredth time that his arguments were
vain, and that Armitage was not to be moved, had left us to ourselves and
gone across to his other guests. Doctor Armitage, always eager for
converts, turned his undivided attention to me.
"I hope yet to be able to claim you for a comrade," he said: "you are
intelligent and open-minded, and cannot fail to see the futility of
attempting to tinker up our worn-out society. You must see that our
Socialist friends have only seized on half-truths, and they stop short
where true reform should begin."
"I can quite see your point of view," I replied; "in fact I am more than
half a convert already. But I should like to know what I can do. I have
been interested now in these problems for a year or two, and must confess
that the electioneering and drawing-room politics of Fabians and Social
Democrats are not much to my taste; in fact I may say that I am sick of
them. A few men like our friend Nekrovitch, who ennoble any opinions they
may hold, are of course exceptions, but I cannot blind myself to the fact
that ambition, wire-pulling, and faddism play a prominent part in the
general proceedings. On the other hand you seem to me to sin in the
opposite direction. No organisation, no definite programme, no specific
object!--what practical good could any one like myself do in such a party?"
The doctor smiled a quiet smile of triumph as he proceeded to overthrow
my objections: "Why, the very strength of our party lies in the fact that
it has not what you are pleased to call an organisation. Organisations are
only a means for intriguers and rogues to climb to power on the shoulders
of their fellow-men; and at best only serve to trammel initiative and
enterprise. With us every individual enjoys complete liberty of action.
This of course does not mean to say that several individuals may not unite
to attain some common object, as is shown by our groups which are
scattered all over the globe. But each group is autonomous, and within the
group each individual is his own law. Such an arrangement, besides being
right in principle, offers great practical advantages in our war against
society, and renders it impossible for governments to stamp us out. Again,
as to our lack of programme, if a clear grasp of principle and of the
ultimate aim to be attained is meant, it is wrong to say we have no
programme, but, if you mean a set of rules and formulas, why, what are
they after all but a means of sterilising ideas? Men and their
surroundings are unceasingly undergoing modification and change, and one
of the chief defects of all governments and parties hitherto has been that
men have had to adapt themselves to their programmes, instead of their
programmes to themselves. We make no statement as to specific object: each
comrade has his own, and goes for it without considering it necessary to
proclaim the fact to the whole world. Now you ask me how you could help
this movement or what you could do, and I have no hesitation in saying,
much. Every revolution requires revolutionists, we need propagandists, we
need workers, we need brains and money, and you have both."
"So you think that one ought to place one's property at the service of
the Cause, and that thus one is doing more good than by helping in the
"Why, of course, the revolutionist aims at eradicating the causes of
poverty and vice, whereas benevolence, by making it just possible for
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
to the abject Jacob I could only wonder at the naïve sincerity of
Armitage, which could ever have laid him open to such illusions and
After some seconds' hesitation Armitage replied: "I do not desire or
intend to go into any details here concerning my past conversations or
relations with Jacob Myers, neither do I consider myself in any way bound
to discuss here the motives which prompted, or which I thought prompted
his actions, and the requests he made of me. As Anarchists we have not the
right to judge him, and all we can do is to refuse to associate ourselves
any further with him, which I, for one, shall henceforth do. The knowledge
of his own abominable meanness should be punishment enough for Myers."
The doctor's words were received with very general approval.
"Armitage is perfectly right," said Carter. "We Anarchists cannot pretend
to judge our fellows, but we can form our own opinions and act
accordingly. Myers' conduct proves him to be no better than a spy; we of
the _Bomb_ can have no further relations with him."
"Damn about judging and not judging," exclaimed a sturdy-looking docker.
"All I know is that if Myers does not quickly clear out of the _Bomb_
I'll kick him out. He ought to be shot. I don't pretend to understand none
of these nice distinctions. I call a spade a spade, and if...."
"'Ear,'ear! Down with ..." commenced Elliot again, and Jacob opened his
mouth to speak, but he was saved from any further need of self-defence or
explanation, for at this moment the door of the office was broken rudely
open and there entered like a hurricane a veritable fury in female form--a
whirlwind, a tornado, a ravening wolf into a fold of lambs. This
formidable apparition, which proved to be none other than the wife of the
suspected Myers, amid a volley of abuse and oaths delivered in the
choicest Billingsgate, pounced down on her ill-used husband, denounced
Anarchy and the Anarchists--their morals, their creeds, their hellish
machinations; she called on Jehovah to chastise, nay, utterly to destroy
them, and soundly rated her consort for ever having associated with such
scoundrels. And thus this formidable preacher of dynamite and disaster was
borne off in mingled triumph and disgrace by his indignant spouse.
A POLICE SCARE
I left the office of the _Bomb_ towards 1 A.M., undecided whether to
weep or to laugh at what I had witnessed there. This, my first
introduction into an English Anarchist circle had certainly not been very
encouraging, but I was too deeply persuaded of the truth and justice of
the Anarchist doctrines to be deterred by such a beginning, and I did not
for one instant waver from my resolve to enter and take part in the
"movement." That some insincere and dishonest men and some fools should
also play their part in it I from the first recognised as inevitable, but
I could not see that this affected the Anarchist principles or rendered it
less necessary for those believing in them to advocate and spread them.
Dr. Armitage accompanied me part of my way home and we talked the matter
over _en route_. "Why trouble ourselves," he exclaimed, "about a few
unprincipled men in such a wide, such a universal movement? Our objects
and ideals are too far above such considerations to allow us to be
influenced by them. Men like Myers are but the outcome of unnatural and
vitiated conditions; they are produced by the very society which it is our
object to abolish--as all manner of disease is produced by vitiated air.
With better conditions such men will disappear; nay, the very possibility
of their existence will be gone."
"But in the meantime," I rejoined, "they are surely damaging our Cause,
and scenes like the one we have just witnessed would, if known to the
public, bring our party into ridicule and discredit."
"The Cause is too great and too high to be influenced by such men or such
scenes," answered the doctor with conviction. "Moreover it is our duty to
bring fresh blood and life into the party, so that no place will be left
to renegades of the Myers type."
And in face of Armitage's unswerving faith and optimism my moment of
disgust and perplexity passed, and I felt more than ever determined to
bring my quota of time and strength to the propagation of the Anarchist
ideals. "I have only seen a very limited and narrow circle," I said to
myself; "the field is wide, and I only know one obscure and unclean corner
of it. I cannot judge from this night's experience."
As far as the squalor of the men and their surroundings was concerned,
although it was at first something of a shock to me, I did not allow
myself to be disconcerted on its account. I had no desire or ambition to
be a mere dilettante Socialist, and as dirt and squalor had to be faced,
well, I was ready to face them. A famous Russian writer has described a
strange phase through which the Russian youth passed not many years since,
the "V. Narod" ("To the People!") movement, when young men and girls by
the thousands, some belonging to the highest classes in society, fled from
their families, tore themselves free from all domestic and conventional
yokes, persuaded that it was their duty to serve the cause of the masses,
and that in no way could they better accomplish this object than by
settling in the people's midst, living their life, taking part in their
work. I was passing through a similar phase of mental evolution.
I felt a strong desire to free myself from all the ideas, customs, and
prejudices which usually influence my class, to throw myself into the life
and the work of the masses. Thus it was that I worked hard to learn how to
compose and print, that I might be of use to the Cause in the most
practical manner of all--the actual production of its literature. Thus it
was also that I resolutely hardened myself against any instinctive
sentiments of repulsion which the unclean and squalid surroundings of the
people might raise in me. I remember reading an article by Tolstoi which
appeared in the English press, dealing with the conditions of the Russian
_moujik_, in which he clearly and uncompromisingly stated that in
order to tackle the social problem, it is necessary to tackle dirt and
vermin with it. If you desire to reach your _moujik_ you must reach
him _à travers_ his dirt and his parasites: if you are disinclined to
face these, then leave your _moujik_ alone. It was in fact a case of
"take me, take my squalor." I determined to take both.
Dr. Armitage left me at the corner of Oxford Circus, but before I had
taken many steps farther, I heard him suddenly turn round, and in an
instant he had come up with me again.
"By the way, Isabel," he exclaimed, "I was quite forgetting to mention
something I had done, to which I trust you will not object. You know how
full up my place is just now with hard-up comrades. Well I took the
liberty to send on to you a young Scotchman, I forget his name, who has
just tramped up from the North; a most interesting fellow, rather
taciturn, but with doubtless a good deal in him. He had nowhere to pass
the night, poor chap, and no money, so I told him that if he waited on
your doorstep some time after midnight you would be certain to give him a
night's lodgings when you returned. Did I do right?" and the doctor's
kindly face beamed with the look of a man who expected approbation.
"Ye--es," I gasped out, somewhat taken aback, "quite right, of course;"
for I felt that any hesitation would be feeble, a mere relic of bourgeois
And, sure enough, on reaching my domicile, I found installed on the
doorstep a most uncouth and villainous-looking tramp. Taciturn he
certainly was, for he scarcely opened his mouth to say "Good-evening," and
indeed during the three days of his residence with me he hardly ever
articulated a sound. As I was getting out my latch-key the local policeman
chanced to pass: "That fellow has been hanging about for the last hours,
miss," he said to me. "Shall I remove him for you?"
"Certainly not," I replied firmly, and opening the door, I requested my
unknown comrade to enter. I can still see in my mind's eye that
constable's face. It looked unutterable things.
After conducting the tramp to the pantry, and letting him loose on a cold
pigeon-pie and other viands, and finally installing him on the study sofa,
I retired to my own apartment, well prepared to enjoy a good night's rest.
This was destined, however, to be of short duration. Towards 6.30 I was
roused from sleep by a loud rat-tat at the front door and, the servants
not being up at such an hour, and suspecting that this early visit was in
some way connected with the Anarchists, I hastily slipped on a wrapper and
On opening the door I found one of the members of the previous night's
meeting, the taciturn hero of the potato tragedy.
"It's rather early to disturb you," he began, "but I came to let you know
that last night, after you had all gone, Comrades Banter and O'Flynn were
"Arrested!" I exclaimed, as yet unused to such incidents; "why, what on
earth are they charged with?"
"Well," answered Carter, "the charge is not yet very clear, but so far as
we can understand, it is in some way connected with the Myers business.
They are charged with manufacturing explosives, or something of the sort.
The fact is, the police and Jacob Myers are at the bottom of the whole
matter, and Banter, O'Flynn, and Augustin have all played into their
"Come in here," I interrupted, leading the way to the dining-room. "Let
us sit down and talk the matter over together;" and we entered, Carter
casting a distinctly disapprobatory glance at the "bourgeois luxury" of
As soon as we were seated my companion returned to the question of the
moment. "I fear," he said, "that it is rather a serious affair for the
comrades. That Myers is a police emissary there can no longer be any
reasonable doubt, and the death of his brother is clear proof that he has
not been wasting his time lately. And it is only too likely that the same
hand which provided Augustin with explosives may have placed similar
material in the possession of Banter and O'Flynn."
"How abominable!" I exclaimed indignantly.
"Yes, but Anarchists should not be stupid enough to take any one into
their confidence in such matters," returned Carter. "It is merely
encouraging _mouchards_ and police plots. However, the question now
is--What can be done to help the comrades out of the mess?"
"I am willing to do my best," I answered; "only tell me how I can be of
"You can be of great use, if you care to be," answered Carter. "A
barrister must be procured to defend them, witnesses must be found, money
procured (and here he cast a side-glance at my plate), and some one ought
to interview the comrades in Holloway, and take some food to the poor
"I am quite willing to do my best in all these matters," I answered
Carter stayed some little while longer instructing me in the various
things I was to do, and then left me, retiring presumably to his double
bed again, for I saw no more of him till long after the trial was over. He
had handed the work over to me, and doubtless felt that so far as he was
personally concerned his responsibilities were at an end.
As soon as the morning papers arrived I scanned them eagerly and from
them learned further particulars of the arrest. A widespread conspiracy
was suspected, the object of which was to blow up the West End of London,
and leaders were devoted to the denunciation of the Anarchists and their
infamous teachings. Explosives, it was alleged, had been found in the
possession of the arrested men, "evidently destined to carry into effect
the deadly work which was only stopped by the hand of God in Queen's Park
three weeks ago."
Having disposed of a hasty breakfast, I left the house, and my morning
was spent in places which were new and strange to me--Holloway Jail, the
Old Jewry, and the Middle Temple. Holloway Prison was my first
destination, for before any other steps could be taken it was necessary to
ascertain what views the prisoners themselves held as to the course to be
adopted in their defence.
I awaited my turn in the prison waiting-room along with a motley crowd of
other visitors--burglars' and forgers' wives, pickpockets' mates, and the
mother of a notorious murderer among others. Their language was not very
choice when addressing the jailers, but sympathetic enough when talking
among themselves and inquiring of one another, "What's your man up for?"
or, "How did your mate get copped?" I felt painfully conscious of the
tameness of my reply: "It's a friend: incitement to murder." How far more
respectable murder itself would have sounded in the midst of such superior
One burglar's spouse confided to me that her husband had been "at it for
years, but this was the first time he'd been copped:" which latter
incident she seemed to consider an unpardonable infringement of the
privileges and rights of citizenship. She was a bright buxom little woman
and had evidently flourished on his plunder.
In striking contrast to the burglar's wife, I noticed the daughter of a
would-be suicide, a tall, beautiful girl, who formed a pathetic contrast
to her surroundings. Her unfortunate father--an unsuccessful musician--had
succumbed in the struggle for an honest life, and the cares of a large
family had driven him to desperation. As I gazed at the poor girl with her
tear-swollen eyes and noted her extreme thinness and the shabbiness of her
well-worn clothes, and as, from her, my eyes turned to the cheerful
burglar's wife, I meditated on the superiority of virtue over dishonesty
--especially in the reward accorded to it.
At last, having stated my name, the name of my prisoner, the relationship
or lack of relationship between us, and declared my non-connection with
the case, and having received a tin number in return for this information,
I was ushered through various passages and apartments into a kind of dark
cage, separated by a narrow passage from a still darker one, in the depths
of which I perceived my Anarchist, O'Flynn, as soon as my eyes had grown
accustomed to the darkness. I had several questions to ask him during the
few minutes at our disposal, and conversation was anything but easy; for
on all sides of me other prisoners and their relatives were talking,
weeping, arguing, disputing, and shouting one another down with all their
might and lungs.
Two things struck me in Holloway Prison on this my first visit to such a
place. Firstly, the outward cleanliness, and I might almost say
pleasantness, of the place; and secondly, the illogical nature of the law
which treats the unconvicted men, who in its eyes are consequently
innocent, like convicted criminals. Nothing could be more uncomfortable
and unattractive than the conditions under which the detained men are
allowed to see their relatives; no privacy of any sort is allowed them,
the time allotted is of the briefest, and only one visitor a day is
permitted to pass. The censorship over books allowed is very strict and
hopelessly stupid, and altogether everything is made as uncomfortable as
possible for those under detention.
Later in the course of my Anarchist career I had occasion to visit
Newgate on a similar errand, and was struck by the same incongruity in the
system. The external impression made by Newgate was very different,
There is no suggestion of pleasantness about Newgate. It strikes you
indeed as the threshold of the gallows, and is calculated to arouse qualms
in the most strenuous upholder of capital punishment. A constant sense of
gloom is settled like a pall over the whole building, blacker even than
the soot and grime which encrust it. Inside, the dreary atmosphere is
ominous of the constant vicinity of the hangman's drop, doors seem for
ever to be swinging heavily and locking, keys and chains clanking, and
over all the uncompromising flagstaff looms like an embodied threat.
After my many dreary wanderings round London, the clambering in and out
of omnibuses and other vehicles, and prison interviews, I found the
old-world tranquillity of the Temple quite a relief.
Here began a new order of search. I had to find a barrister, and that
without delay. But how, whom, and in what court or lane did the right man
dwell? During one brief moment indeed my thoughts turned towards our
family solicitor as a possible counsellor in this matter, but only to be
promptly diverted into other channels. That worthy gentleman's feelings
would certainly not have withstood so rude a shock. I could picture him,
in my mind's eye, slowly removing his gold pince-nez and looking at me in
blank but indulgent surprise, as at one who had suddenly taken leave of
her senses. No, this would never do. Barristers by the score must surely
reside in the labyrinths of the Temple, and I determined to seek one first
And thus it was that, after some little hesitation, I finally ascended
the stairs of a house in Fig Tree Court in the hope that J. B. Armstrong,
Esq., selected at random, might answer my purpose.
The clerk who opened the door looked politely surprised at my appearance
and inquired my business, into which I promptly plunged headfirst. His
eyebrows gradually ascended higher and higher into the regions of his
hair, and his face grew stern and sad as I proceeded. "Allow me to
inquire," he interrupted, "the name of the solicitor who is instructing
"I have not got a solicitor," I replied, somewhat taken aback.
Then he re-opened the door. "I feel confident, madam, that Mr. Armstrong
would not care to undertake such a case. Good morning."
I retired from this gentleman's presence neither bent nor broken, though
slightly disappointed. "So it is usual to engage a solicitor first," I
reflected, "and to communicate through him with the barrister, is it?
Well, a solicitor can't be afforded here and we must do without him." The
Anarchist in me revolted at such red-tapeism. "Well, here's for another
plunge," I said to myself; "let us try a B this time. C. Bardolph sounds
promising." And I ascended another staircase and knocked at another
Mr. Bardolph I saw in person, a very pompous gentleman with manners the
reverse of polite. He could scarcely contain his outraged feelings when it
came to the question of the solicitor. "I can have no connection with such
a case," he said firmly, and I again retired, feeling quite disreputable.
My next defeat occurred in the chambers of Mr. Anthony C. Frazer. No
sooner did my eyes fall on that gentleman than I regretted my entry, and
the utter hopelessness of my mission was borne in upon my mind, for I was
beginning to realise the difficulties of the situation and to scent
failure in the very air. Mr. Frazer requested me to be seated and eyed me
curiously, as though I were some queer zoological specimen recently
escaped from captivity, and listened with an incredulous smile to my
narrative. He did not even wait for the missing solicitor. "This is
scarcely in my line, madam," he said, rising. "You have certainly made
some mistake." And he left his clerk to accompany me to the door.
I descended the stairs from this gentleman's chambers feeling distinctly
crestfallen and tired, and at my wits' ends as to where next to go, when,
turning the corner into another court, I became aware of rapid footsteps
in my pursuit, and next moment I was overtaken by the youth who had
ushered me out from the scene of my last defeat.
"I think, miss," he began, "that I can direct you to a--er--barrister who
would just do for your business. On no account say that I recommended you
to him, or you will get me into trouble. But you try Mr. Curtis in Brick
Court. He undertakes the defence of burglars and swindlers and all sorts
of people, and you'll find him cheap and satisfactory."
I thanked the youth, and although this did not strike me as altogether
the most promising introduction, I thought it best to try my luck in this
new direction, and, having at length discovered the house, I ascended the
three rickety flights of stairs which led to Mr. Curtis's apartment and
This Curtis was a small, wizened old man, of obsolete cut, but with
remarkably up-to-date manners, and a pair of keen little eyes, penetrating
as Röntgen rays. His hair was weedy, and his clothes snuffy and
ill-fitting; but spite of this there was something uncommonly brisk and
wide awake about the little man, and a certain business-like directness in
his manner which impressed me favourably. I felt hopeful at once.
One of the first remarks he addressed to me--for we primarily discussed
the financial aspect of his services--struck me by reason of its
uncompromising common sense. "Five guineas down and another three next
Tuesday, miss, and I make no inquiry where the money comes from," he said,
"not so long as it is the current coin of the realm and paid punctually.
Without this, however, I cannot undertake or proceed with the case."
On my immediately producing the required sum he requested me to be
seated, and sitting down opposite me himself, he asked me for full
particulars of the case. These I gave him to the best of my ability and he
The question of witnesses he tackled with the same uncompromising lack of
veneer which had characterised his remarks on the money question.
"Witnesses to character and so forth must be found," he said, "the more
authentic and reputable the better, but at all costs they must be
procured. Whom can you suggest?"
I confessed that I could for the moment think of nobody.
"You will think of somebody," he replied persuasively, "you _must_
remember somebody," and there was that in his voice which did not brook or
encourage contradiction, "some one in a respectable position, of course,"
he continued, "a man pursuing one of the liberal professions, or a
business man of means. Plenty of doctors and professional men among your
people, are there not? The evidence of such a man would carry weight. The
court's belief in a witness's veracity is, generally speaking,
proportionate to his means. Doubtless you will be able to think of a
desirable man ... who knows the prisoners," he added, rapidly turning over
his notes, and speaking in such a manner as to convey to me the idea that
the exact extent of the witness's knowledge of the prisoners was not of
any very great consequence, so long as he was prepared to swear to their
respectability, and that his banking account and general appearance were
"I will look round and let you know the result to-morrow," I answered.
"Good," replied Curtis, "two witnesses at least, and men of position and
education at all costs. Good afternoon."
I had enough to do during the remainder of the day in finding those
witnesses, but found they were at last, though not without a tremendous
effort on my part and some considerable degree of ingenuity. When attired
in some of my brother Raymond's discarded clothes, and produced for
Curtis's inspection the following day, they really made a respectable
couple, and I felt proud of them--one a physician of superior
accomplishments and aristocratic appearance, the other a master-tailor, of
prosperous if not very _distingué_ presence. I likewise discovered a
cabman who had been present in Hyde Park at an allegedly incriminating
speech made by Banter; and on jogging his memory with a little whisky he
distinctly recalled several points valuable to the defence.
Up till the very day of the trial my time was kept well occupied with
such errands. Indeed, remarkable as the fact may appear, practically the
whole labour of preparing the defence devolved upon me.
It was neither an easy nor a very encouraging task. The greater number of
the English Anarchists mysteriously disappeared at this approach of
danger. Mindful of the truth of the axiom that discretion is the better
part of valour, A thought it well to suddenly recollect his duties towards
his family; B discovered that he had a capacious stomach, which required
feeding; C, that the Anarchist policy was in discord with his own true
principles. At such a moment, therefore, and surrounded, or rather
unsurrounded by such men, the task in front of me was not easy, and in the
actual state of public opinion it was not very hopeful either.
Public feeling was against the Anarchists. So long as violence and
outrage had been reserved entirely for the benefit of foreign climes, the
British public had regarded the Anarchists with tolerance and equanimity.
But the mysterious death of Myers had alarmed and disquieted it, and heavy
sentences were generally invoked against the prisoners.
That the whole conspiracy was a got-up affair between Jacob Myers and the
police was evident. Neither Banter nor O'Flynn was a dangerous man; a
little loud and exaggerated talk was the utmost extent of their
harmfulness. Neither of them was any better capable of making a bomb than
of constructing a flying-machine, and they were less capable of throwing
it than of flying. But political detectives would have a slow time of it
in this country unless they occasionally made a vigorous effort on their
own behalf, and an unscrupulous and impecunious man like Myers proved a
valuable tool to help such gentlemen along, and fools of the Banter type
And thus it was that these two men now found themselves in the dock with
twelve serious-minded tradesmen sitting in solemn conclave to consider
The trial itself was a ridiculous farce. Jacob Myers, who would have been
the one witness of any importance, was not subpoenaed; he had in fact
discreetly quitted the country under his wife's escort. The police, with
imperturbable gravity, brought ginger-beer bottles into court which had
been found in O'Flynn's apartment, and which, they averred, could be
converted into very formidable weapons of offence. Many gaseous speeches
made by the prisoners, or attributed to them, were solemnly brought up
against them, and a shudder ran through the court at the mention of such
phrases as "wholesale assassination" and "war to the death."
The evidence, however, sufficed to impress the jury with the extreme
gravity of the case and to alarm the public, and the prisoners were found
I well recollect the last day of the trial, which I attended throughout
in more or less remote regions of the Old Bailey, recruiting recalcitrant
witnesses, sending food in to the defendants, &c. Two other cases were
being tried at the same time, one of which was a particularly revolting
murder, for which three persons were on trial. The prisoners' relatives
were waiting below in a state of painful excitement. "Guilty or not
guilty," was on all their lips, "release or penal servitude, life or
death, which was it to be?" Friends were constantly running in and out of
the court giving the women news of the progress of the trials. "It is
looking black for the prisoners!" "There is more hope!" "There is no
hope!" and finally "guilty" in all the cases was reported. The wife of a
horrible German murderer who had strangled his employer's wife, while a
female accomplice played the piano to divert her children's attention from
her cries, swooned away at the news. O'Flynn's old mother went into
hysterics and became quite uncontrollable in her grief when, a few minutes
later the news, "Five years' penal servitude," was brought down.
TO THE RESCUE
The first weeks of my experience in the Anarchist camp had flown by with
astounding rapidity. The chapter of my experiences had opened with the
expulsion of an alleged spy and _agent provocateur_, and had closed
with a sentence of penal servitude passed on two of my new-found comrades.
Between these two terminal events I seemed to have lived ages, and so I
had, if, as I hold, experience counts for more than mere years. Holloway
and Newgate, Slater's Mews and the Middle Temple, barristers and
solicitors, judges and juries and detectives; appointments in queer places
to meet queer people--all this had passed before me with the rapidity of a
landscape viewed from the window of an express train; and now that the
chapter had closed, I found that it was but the preface to the real
business I had set my shoulder to.
The morning after the conclusion of the trial I met Armitage by
appointment, and together we wended our way towards Slater's Mews. The
doctor was preoccupied, and for some minutes we proceeded in silence; the
problem of what to do with the _Bomb_ was evidently weighing on his
mind. At last he spoke: "It is our duty," he said, "to see that the
movement be not unduly crippled by the loss of these two men. Poor
fellows, they are doing their duty by the Cause, and we must not shirk
ours. The _Bomb_ must be kept going at all costs; we can ill afford
to lose two workers just now, but the loss of the paper would be a yet
more severe blow to our movement. How thankful I am that you are with us!
It is always so. The governments think to crush us by imprisoning or
murdering our comrades, and for one whom they take from us ten come to the
fore. I am sure you must agree with me as to the paper."
"I quite agree with you in the main," I replied, "but I fear that the
_Bomb_ itself is past hope. It strikes me it had got into somewhat
bad hands, and I fear it would be useless to try to set it on its feet
again. It is hardly fair to a paper to give it a Jacob Myers for editor.
Really it seems to me to have died a natural death. The entire staff has
disappeared--Myers, the editor; Banter, the publisher; O'Flynn, the
printer--who remains? where are the others? It seems to me they have all
vanished and left no trace behind."
"Oh, that is hardly the case, I think," said the doctor in a tone of
deprecation. "I went up to the office last night and found Short sleeping
on the premises."
"Short? Is not he the man whom I first saw wrapped in the red flag of
"Yes, that is the man; perhaps his appearance is somewhat
disadvantageous, but he is constant to the Cause, anyhow."
"Well, I should not have thought him much of a staff to lean on; still,
appearances are often deceptive. But, anyhow, do you not think it would be
advisable to start a new paper, rather than to attempt to galvanise a
"The idea would not be a bad one; in fact I think you are right, quite
right," returned Armitage. "It is not wise to put new wine into old skins.
Anyhow, here we are, I dare say other comrades have mustered in the office
who will have something to say in the matter."
We had now reached our destination, and passing the curious scrutiny of
several cabmen and scavengers assembled at the entrance of the mews, we
prepared to ascend the break-neck ladder leading to the office. I had but
put my foot on the first step when I heard the loud yelping of a dog
followed by a string of oaths, and the office door opened, emitting a tall
brawny man in shirt-sleeves with a very red face and close-cropped hair,
who appeared holding out at arm's length a pair of tongs which gripped
some repulsive-looking fronts and collars. On seeing me, he exclaimed,
"Take care," and proceeded to drop the objects on a heap of rubbish below.
We were both somewhat surprised at this apparition, but realised without
difficulty that the office was still in the possession of the police. They
were, in fact, contrary to the doctor's expectation, the sole occupants of
the place. The comrades had not seen fit so far to muster round the paper.
To say there was none, however, is an injustice, for there on the sofa,
still huddled in the red flag, lay Short, apparently little affected by
what had taken place since I last saw him. He had been aroused from his
slumbers by the yelping of his dog, whose tail had been trodden on by one
of the detectives, and he had raised himself on his elbow, and was looking
round, uttering curses volubly. He nodded slightly on seeing us enter, but
did not change his position. There he lay, quite heroic in his immovable
sloth; of all the many fighters he alone remained staunch at his post; and
that because he was positively too lazy to move away from it.
Dr. Armitage on entering had gone up to one of the three detectives and
spoken to him, and the man now turned to me.
"We are just having a final look round before leaving, miss," he
remarked. "It is not at all pleasant work, I assure you, to be put in to
search such a filthy place. Look there," he exclaimed, pointing at the
recumbent Short with his outstretched tongs. "I shall have to burn every
rag I have on when it is over, and I'd advise you to be careful," and he
resumed his occupation, which consisted in raking out some old papers,
while his two companions, having contrived to resume an official
appearance, prepared to leave.
The police once gone Dr. Armitage and I found ourselves in sole
possession of the office and the lethargic Short. It was no sinecure, to
be sure. Heaps of "pie," some due to the police and some to Banter, who
previous to his arrest had put his foot through several "forms" which it
was inadvisable to let fall into the hands of the police, encumbered the
floor. Everything was intensely chaotic and intensely dirty, from the type
cases and the other scanty belongings to the dormant compositor. Armitage
understood nothing of printing and I very little, and there we stood in
the midst of a disorganised printing-office whence all had fled save only
the unsavoury youth on the couch. I looked at Armitage and Armitage looked
at me, and such was the helpless dismay depicted in our faces that we both
broke into a laugh.
"Well," I said at last, "what shall we do? Suggest something. We cannot
stay on here."
"The only thing I can think of," he rejoined after a pause, "is that I
should go around and look up some of the comrades at their addresses
whilst you remain here and get Short to help you put up the type, &c., as
best you can, so that we may remove it all elsewhere. Here certainly
nothing can be done and we must start our new paper amidst new
"So you are thinking of starting a new paper?"
We looked round, surprised at this interruption, for Short had apparently
returned to his slumbers, but we now saw that he had emerged from the
banner and was standing behind us, fully dressed (I discovered later on
that he had discarded dressing and undressing as frivolous waste of time),
a queer uncouth figure with his long touzled black hair and sallow,
unhealthy face. He had a short clay pipe firmly set between his teeth, and
his large lips were parted in a smile. He held his head slightly on one
side, and his whole attitude was somewhat deprecatory and cringing.
"Well," said the doctor, "Isabel and I think that would be the best plan.
You see the _Bomb_ seems thoroughly disorganised, and we think it
would be easier and better to start afresh. I was just saying that I would
go round and hunt up some of the comrades and get their views on the
"Oh," rejoined Short, "you can save yourself that trouble. One half of
them will accuse you of being a police spy, the others will be ill or
occupied--in short, will have some excuse for not seeing you. They are all
frightened out of their lives. Since the arrest of Banter and O'Flynn I
have not seen one of them near the place, though I have been here all the
This remark confirmed what we both half suspected; and as Short, who by
right of possession seemed authorised to speak on behalf of the
_Bomb_, seemed willingly to fall in with our idea of starting a new
paper, taking it for granted--which I was not exactly prepared for--that
he would install himself in the new premises as compositor, we decided to
take practical steps towards the move. Short informed us that six weeks'
rent was owing, and that the landlord threatened a distraint if his claims
were not immediately satisfied; and in spite of the advice, "Don't pay
rent to robber landlords," which stared us in the face, inscribed in
bright red letters on the wall, I and Armitage between us sacrificed the
requisite sum to the Cause.
Whilst we were discussing these matters the dog warned us by a prolonged
bark that some one was approaching, and the new-comer soon appeared. He
greeted Short, who introduced him to us as Comrade M'Dermott. He shot a
scrutinising glance at us from his keen grey eyes and proceeded to shake
hands with friendly warmth.
He was a very small man, certainly not more than five feet high, thin and
wiry, with grey hair and moustache, but otherwise clean-shaven. His
features were unusually expressive and mobile from his somewhat scornful
mouth to his deep-set, observant eyes, and clearly denoted the absence of
the stolid Saxon strain in his blood. His accent too, though not that of
an educated man, was quite free from the hateful Cockney twang. His dress
was spare as his figure, but though well worn there was something spruce
and trim about his whole demeanour which indicated that he was not totally
indifferent to the impression he created on others. He looked round the
"office," took a comprehensive glance at Short, who was occupying the only
available stool and smoking hard with a meditative air, and then walked
over to me, and addressing me in an undertone, with the same ease as if he
had known me all my life, he said, with a twinkle in his eye, jerking his
head in the direction of Short, "There's a rotten product of a decaying
society, eh?" This remark was so unexpected and yet so forcibly true, that
I laughed assent.
"So you're the only ones up here," he continued. "I expected as much when
I heard of the raid on the office. I was up in the North doing a little
bit of peddling round the country, when I read the news, and I thought I'd
come to London to see what was up. What do you think of doing with the
paper anyway? It seems a pity the old _Bomb_ should die. It would
mean the loss of the only revolutionary organ in England."
"Oh, it must not die," I replied, "or at least if it cannot be kept up,
another paper must take its place. Comrade Armitage agrees with me in
thinking that that would be the best plan. You see this place looks
Armitage, who had been engaged in looking over some papers, now joined us
and the conversation became general.
"Well, how did you get on up North?" inquired Short, who seemed to wake
up to a sense of actuality. "How did you hit it off with young Jackson?
Did you find him of much use?"
"Use!" retorted M'Dermott with an infinite depth of scorn in his voice.
"A fat lot of use he was. If it was a matter of putting away the grub, I
can tell you he worked for two, but as to anything else, he made me carry
his pack as well as my own, on the pretext that he had sprained his ankle,
and his only contribution to the firm was a frousy old scrubbing-brush
which he sneaked from a poor woman whilst I was selling her a ha'p'orth of
pins. He seemed to think he'd done something mighty grand--'expropriation'
he called it; pah, those are your English revolutionists!" and he snorted
Short gave vent to an unpleasing laugh. He always seemed to take pleasure
at any proof of meanness or cowardice given by his fellows. Armitage
looked pained. "Such things make us long for the Revolution," he said.
"This rotten society which breeds such people must be swept away. We must
neglect no means to that end, and our press is one. So now let's set to
work to move the plant and start a new paper, as we seem all agreed to
that plan. Who'll go and look for a suitable workshop?"
Short volunteered, but M'Dermott scouted the idea, declaring that the
mere sight of him would be enough to frighten any landlord, and this we
all, including Short, felt inclined to agree with. At last we decided to
fall in with M'Dermott's suggestion that he and I should sally forth
together. "You see, my dear," he said with almost paternal benevolence,
"you will be taken for my grand-daughter and we shall soften the heart of
the most obdurate landlord."
The field of our researches was limited by a few vital considerations.
The rent must not be high. For the present anyhow, the expenses of the
paper would have to be defrayed by Armitage and myself. Short had proposed
himself as printer and compositor, on the tacit understanding of free
board and lodging, and the right to make use of the plant for his own
purposes; I was willing to give my time to the material production of the
paper, and to contribute to its maintenance to the best of my ability; and
Armitage's time and means were being daily more and more absorbed by the
propaganda, to the detriment of his practice; but he was not of those who
can palter with their conscience. The individual initiative inculcated by
Anarchist principles implied individual sacrifices. Another consideration
which limited our choice was that the office must be fairly central, and
not too far from my home, as, spite of my enthusiasm for Anarchy, I could
not wholly neglect household duties. We talked over these points as we
walked along, and M'Dermott suggested Lisson Grove, where a recent
epidemic of smallpox had been raging, as likely to be a fairly cheap
neighbourhood, but after tramping about and getting thoroughly weary, we
had to acknowledge that there was nothing for us in that quarter. We were
both hungry and tired, and M'Dermott suggested a retreat to a neighbouring
Lockhart's. Seated before a more than doubtful cup of tea, in a grimy
room, where texts stared at us from the walls, we discussed the situation,
and decided to inquire about a workshop which we saw advertised, and which
seemed promising. Our destination led us out of the slummy wilderness into
which we had strayed, into cleaner and more wholesome quarters, and at
last we stopped before some quite imposing-looking premises. "We seem
destined to consort with the cabbing trade," I remarked; "the last office
was over a mews, this place seems to belong to a carriage-builder." There
was, however, no other connection between the unsavoury mews and the
aristocratic carriage-yard, whose proprietor, resplendent in side-whiskers
and a shiny chimney-pot hat, advanced to meet us, a condescending smile
diffusing his smug countenance. I explained to him our object, and he
showed us over the shop, which consisted in a large loft, well lighted and
fairly suitable, at the back of the premises.
In answer to Mr. White's inquiries, I informed him that I needed it as a
printing-office, for a small business I had, and he quite beamed on me,
evidently considering me a deserving young person, and expressed the
opinion that he had no doubt I should get on in that neighbourhood.
M'Dermott, who was greatly enjoying the fun of the situation, here broke
in: "Yes, sir, my grand-daughter deserves success, sir; she's a
hardworking girl, is my poor Emily," and here he feigned to wipe away a
tear, whilst casting a most mischievous side-glance at me.
"Dear, dear, very affecting, I'm sure," muttered the prosperous
Everything was soon satisfactorily settled. I gave him my name and
address, and that of my brother's Socialist friend as a reference, and we
agreed that I should move in on the following Monday morning.
Great was the amusement at Slater's Mews at the account of our
adventures, given with a few enlargements by M'Dermott. He had an artist's
soul, and would never consent to destroy the effect of a tale by slavish
subservience to facts.
"Well, I fear he will find he has taken in wolves in sheep's clothing,"
Armitage remarked; "anyhow, I am thankful that matter is settled and that
we can get to work without further delay. I met Kosinski, and he has
promised to give us a hand with the move. I shall not be able to be here
all the time as I have to attend an operation on Monday, but I will put in
an hour or two's work in the morning. I suppose I can get in if I come
here at five on Monday morning?" he said turning to Short who was "dissing
pie," his inseparable clay pipe still firmly set between his yellow and
"Oh, yes. I shan't be up, but you can get in," the latter surlily
remarked. He was evidently no devotee of early hours.
On Monday a hard day's work awaited me. At Slater's Mews I found the poor
doctor, who had already been there some two hours, packing up the
literature, tying up forms, and occasionally turning to Short for
instruction or advice.
The latter, seated on a packing-case, was regaling himself on a bloater
and cheesecakes, having disposed of which he took up a flute and played
some snatches of music-hall melodies. He seemed quite unconcerned at what
took place around him, contenting himself with answering Armitage's
questions. Soon after I arrived on the scene Kosinski appeared. It was the