Part 2 out of 4
first time I had seen him since the memorable evening at Chiswick, and I
felt a little nervous in his presence, overcome by a half-guilty fear lest
he should think I was merely dallying, not working in true earnest. I was
conscious of my own sincerity of purpose, yet feared his mental verdict on
my actions, for I now realised that his uncompromising words and scathing
denunciation of dilettanteism had had much to do with my recent conduct;
more than all Armitage's enthusiastic propagandising, much as I liked,
and, indeed, admired the latter. Kosinski shook hands with Armitage and
Short. The latter had stepped forward and assumed an air of unwonted
activity, having pulled off his coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves, and
there he stood hammering up a form and whistling "It ain't all Lavender"
--very appropriate verses, considering the surroundings. The Russian
merely recognised my presence with a slight bow, not discourteous, but
characterised by none of the doctor's encouraging benevolence; I, however,
felt more honoured than snubbed, and worked away with a will.
"Well, I must be going," said Armitage; "it is nearly ten, and at
half-past eleven I have an appointment at a patient's house. You will
stay, won't you, Kosinski, and help our comrades to move the plant?"
"I will do what I can," replied the Russian. "I do not understand
printing, but I will wheel the barrow, and do anything I may be told."
"That's right. Well, good luck to you, comrades. I will try and get round
about five. I suppose you will then be at the new place?"
"Oh, yes," I replied, "you will be in time to help us get things
"Well, good-bye, Isabel; good-bye, comrades," and he was off.
For some time we all worked with a will. Kosinski was set to stowing away
the literature in packing-cases. Short "locked up" forms and "dissed" pie,
and I busied myself over various jobs. M'Dermott had come round, and he
stood at my elbow discussing the propaganda and the situation generally.
He was much rejoiced at the turn matters were taking on the Continent, and
deplored the lukewarmness of English Anarchists. "You cannot have a
revolution without revolutionists," was a favourite phrase of his, and he
was at no trouble to conceal his opinion of most of the comrades. I was as
yet too new to the movement and too enthusiastic to endorse all his
expressions, but the little man was congenial to me; his Irish wit made
him good company, and there was an air of independent self-reliance about
him that appealed to me.
"That Kosinski's a good fellow," he continued. "He knows what Revolution
means. Not but what there is good material in England too, but it is
_raw_ material, ignorant and apathetic, hoodwinked and bamboozled by
the political humbugs."
"Have you known Kosinski long?" I inquired, interrupting him, for I saw
he was fairly started on a long tirade.
"Oh, some seven years," he replied. "He was over here in '87 at the time
of the unemployed riots; he and I were at the bottom of a lot of that
movement, and we should have had all London in revolt had it not been for
the palaver and soft-soap of the official labour-leaders. After that he
went to America, and has only been back in England some six months."
Our preparations were now well advanced, and M'Dermott and I set out to
procure a barrow whereon to transport our belongings.
I had expected on my return to find everything in readiness. Short had
spoken as if he would work wonders, and I had hoped that within an hour we
should be off. What was my surprise, then, to find that during the
half-hour of my absence a change had come o'er the scene. Instead of the
noise of the mallet locking up forms, the melodious notes of a flute
greeted my ear as I approached the office, and I must confess that my
heart sank, though I was not yet prepared for the truth. On entering I
found things just as I had left them, not a whit more advanced, but Short
was again seated, and opposite him lounged the weak-kneed youth whom I had
noted on the occasion of my first group-meeting, Simpkins by name, as I
had since found out; between them stood the small hand-press which Short
had promised to take to pieces for removal, on the "bed" of which now
stood three bottles of ginger-beer, a parcel of repulsive and
indigestible-looking pastry, and a packet of tobacco. My look of dismay
and surprise was answered by Short, who explained that his friend had come
up, bringing with him the wherewithal for this carouse; which statement
Simpkins supplemented by the information that he had been occupied that
week in "planting" an aunt and possessing himself of his share of the
good lady's property.
"My married sister got in first, but father waited his opportunity, and
whilst they went out to 'ave a 'alf-pint at the pub round the corner, he
got in. They thought themselves mighty clever, for they had locked the
door and taken the key, but father got in by the scullery window which
they had forgotten to latch, and when they came back they found themselves
sold. The guv'nor's a sharp one, 'e is, but I was fly too; 'e always keeps
me short, grumbles 'cause I won't let myself be exploited by the
capitalists; but I did 'im this time. I 'ad a good old-fashioned nose
round whilst the guv'nor left me in charge whilst 'e went for a drink, and
I found ten bob the old girl 'ad 'idden away in a broken teapot, so I just
pocketed 'em. We planted 'er the day before yesterday; she was insured for
twelve quid, an' everything was done 'ansome. Yesterday I felt awful bad,
but to-day I thought I'd come an' see 'ow the paiper was getting on."
"Well, you see we're moving," I said. "If you care to give us a hand
you'll be welcome. Come, Short, the barrow's here; let's get the things
"Oh, I'm going to have a half-day off," was his cool reply; "I'm tired.
Armitage woke me up at five this morning, and I couldn't get any sleep
after he came, he made such a damned noise."
"But surely you're going to help us get this move over; to-morrow you can
sleep all day if you like."
"You can do as you like; I'm not going to move," was his only reply, and
he calmly filled his pipe and puffed luxuriously. Simpkins giggled feebly;
he evidently was wavering as to his proper course, but Short's calm
insolence won the day.
I confess that at the moment I was blind to the humour of the situation.
I fancy people with a keen sense of humour are rarely enthusiasts;
certainly when I began to see the ludicrous side of much of what I had
taken to be the hard earnest of life, my revolutionary ardour cooled. My
indignation was ready to boil over; I could have wept or stamped with
annoyance. "Oh, but you _must_ help!" I exclaimed. "You promised. How
are we ever to do anything if you go on like this?"
Short merely puffed at his pipe complacently.
For the first time since his arrival Kosinski spoke. I had almost
forgotten his presence; he was working quietly, getting things ready, and
now he stepped forward.
"The comrade is right," he said; "he does not want to work; leave him
alone; we can do very well without him. Let us get off at once. There is
enough ready to make a first load, anyhow."
The calm indifference of Kosinski seemed to take some of the starch out
of Short, who looked more than foolish as he sat over his ginger-beer,
trying to feign interest in the flagging conversation with Simpkins. I was
relieved at the turn matters had taken, which threw the ridicule on the
other side, and before long we were ready, little M'Dermott having made
himself very useful, running actively up and down the ladder laden with
parcels. We must have looked a queer procession as we set off. The long
stooping figure of Kosinksi, wrapped in his inseparable dark-blue
overcoat, his fair hair showing from under his billycock hat, pushing the
barrow, heavily laden with type-cases and iron forms, packets of
literature and reams of printing paper; I in my shabby black dress and
sailor hat, bearing the furled-up banner, and M'Dermott following on
behind, carrying with gingerly care a locked-up form of type, the work of
poor Armitage, which was in imminent danger of falling to pieces in the
middle of the street. We found that quite a crowd of loafers of both
sexes, the habitués of the "Myrtle Grove Tavern," had assembled outside to
witness our departure, and, as I never missed an opportunity to spread the
light, I distributed among them some hand-bills entitled "What is
Anarchy?" regardless of their decidedly hostile attitude. The London
loafer has little wit or imagination, and their comments did not rise
above the stale inquiry as to where we kept our bombs, and the equally
original advice bestowed upon Kosinksi to get 'is 'air cut. A half-hour's
walk brought us to our destination, but our Odyssey was not so soon to
end. The man who accompanied the carriage-builder when he showed us over
the shop was waiting at the entrance to the yard, and, recognising me, he
asked me to step into the office. He had a rather scared appearance, but I
did not notice this particularly at the moment, and supposing that Mr.
White wanted to give me the keys I told my friends I should be back in a
minute. The carriage-builder was awaiting me in the little office where he
usually received his fashionable clients. He was still the self-same
consequential figure, resplendent in broadcloth and fine linen, but the
benevolent smile had vanished from his unctuous features, and he looked
nervous and ill at ease.
"I am sorry to say, Miss Meredith," he began, "that I find I am unable to
let you the shop. I much regret having caused you inconvenience, but it is
This was a staggerer for me. Everything had been settled. What could have
"What on earth does this mean?" I exclaimed. "Why, Saturday evening you
called at my house and told me you were satisfied with the references, and
that I could move in to-day."
The poor man looked quite scared at my indignation.
"I am very sorry, I assure you, but I cannot let you the shop," was all
"But surely you will give me some explanation of this extraordinary
behaviour. I am not to be trifled with in this way, and if you will not
answer me I will get some of my friends to speak to you."
This last threat seemed quite to overcome him. He looked despairingly at
me, and then determined to throw himself on my mercy.
"Well, you see, the fact is I did not quite understand the nature of your
business--that is to say, I thought it was a printing business just like
Light dawned upon me. The police had evidently been at work here. I was
too new to the revolutionary movement to have foreseen all the
difficulties which beset the path of the propagandist.
"And since Saturday night you have come to the conclusion that it is an
_un_usual printing office?" I inquired somewhat derisively. I could
still see in my mind's eye the benevolent smile and patronising
condescension with which he had beamed on M'Dermott and me on the occasion
of our first meeting.
"You are a sensible person, Miss Meredith," he said, with an almost
appealing accent, "and you will, I am sure, agree with me that it would be
impossible for me to have revolutionary papers printed on my premises. It
would not be fair to my clients; it would interfere with my business
success. Of course every one has a right to their opinions, but I had no
idea that you were connected with any such party. In fact I had gone out
of town, and intended staying away two or three days when yesterday
afternoon I received this telegram," and he handed me the document. It was
from Scotland Yard, and warned him to return at once as the police had
something of importance to communicate.
"Of course I came back," continued the tremulous White. "At first I
thought it must be all a mistake, but I was shown a copy of the
_Bomb_, and told that that was what you intended printing. Now you
must agree that this is not a suitable place for such an office."
"I cannot see," I replied with some warmth, "that it can make any
difference to you what I print. I pay you your rent, and we are quits. Of
course if you refuse to give me the keys of the shop I cannot force myself
in, but I have reason to think that you will regret your extraordinary
"Is that a threat?" inquired White, growing visibly paler, and glancing
nervously towards the door.
"No, it is only the expression of a personal opinion," I replied. At this
moment the door opened, and M'Dermott appeared.
"Well, are you coming with the keys? We are getting tired of waiting," he
"This man," said I, pointing with scorn at the abject carriage-builder,
"now refuses to let me the shop on the ground that he disapproves of
M'Dermott gave a low whistle, "Oh, that's how the wind blows, is it?" he
remarked; "I thought I saw some 'narks' hanging round. So this is the turn
your benevolent interest in my grand-daughter has taken? Well, come along,
Isabel, we have no time to waste, and I am sure this good gentleman will
not feel comfortable till we are off the premises. He is afraid we might
waste some dynamite on him, I do believe."
At the word dynamite White seized a bell-pull and rang it violently, and
we could not help laughing heartily, as we left the office, at his evident
terror. Whilst crossing the yard we saw two well-known detectives lurking
on the premises. White had evidently thought it necessary to take
precautions against possible outrage.
We found Kosinski patiently waiting. He did not seem much surprised at
our news, and in answer to my inquiry as to what on earth we were to do,
he suggested that we should take the barrow back to Slater's Mews, and
then resume our search for a shop. This advice was so obvious and tame
that it almost surprised me coming from him, still there was nothing for
it, and back we went, looking somewhat more bedraggled (it had now come on
to rain) and decidedly crestfallen. We found Short as we had left him, but
I was still too indignant at his conduct to deign to answer his inquiries.
I was tired and worried, and could almost have wept with annoyance.
Kosinski at last came to the rescue. When he had brought the last parcel
up the stairs and deposited it on the floor he came up to me.
"If you like we might go and look at a workshop I have heard of and which
might suit. Some German comrades rented it for some time; I believe they
used it as a club-room, but I dare say it would answer your purpose, and I
believe it is still unoccupied."
Of course I readily assented; it was indeed a relief to hear of some
definite proposal, and together we set off. Little M'Dermott, who
evidently did not much relish Short's company, armed himself with leaflets
and set off on a propagandising expedition, and Kosinski and I wended our
way in search of the office. At last we stopped in front of a little
green-grocer's shop in a side street off the Hampstead Road. "The place I
mean is behind here," explained Kosinski; "the woman in the shop lets it;
we will go in and speak with her."
Kosinski stepped inside and addressed a voluminous lady who emerged from
the back shop.
"Oh, good day, Mr. Cusins," she exclaimed, a broad smile overspreading
her face; "what can I do for you?"
Kosinksi explained our errand, and the good lady preceded us up a narrow
yard which led to the workshop in question. She turned out to be as
loquacious as she was bulky, a fair specimen of the good-natured cockney
gossip, evidently fond of the convivial glass, not over-choice in her
language, the creature of her surroundings, which were not of the
sweetest, but withal warm-hearted and sympathetic, with that inner hatred
of the police common to all who belong to the coster class, and able to
stand up for her rights, if necessary, both with her tongue and her fists.
She showed us over a damp, ill-lighted basement shop, in a corner of which
was a ladder leading to a large, light shop, which seemed well suited to
our purpose, meanwhile expatiating on its excellencies. I was satisfied
with it, and would have settled everything in a few minutes, but Mrs.
Wattles was not to be done out of her jaw.
"I'm sure you'll like this place, my dear, and I'm glad to let it to you,
for I've known your 'usband some time. I used to see 'im come when those
others Germans was 'ere, and----"
"Kosinski is not my husband," I interrupted. "I'm not married."
"Oh, I see, my dear; just keeping company, that's all. Well, I don't
blame yer; of course, 'e is a furriner; but I'm not one to say as
furriners ain't no class. I was in love with an I-talian organ-grinder
myself, when I was a girl, and I might 'ave married 'im for all I know, ef
'e 'adn't got run in for knifin' a slop what was always a aggravatin' 'im,
poor chap. And I don't say but what I shouldn't be as well off as what I
am now, for Wattles, 'e ain't much class."
I ventured some sympathetic interjection and tried to get away, but her
eye was fixed on me and I could not escape.
"It was a long time before I forgot 'im, and when my girl was born I
called 'er Ave Maria, which was a name I used to 'ear 'im say, and a very
pretty one too, though Wattles does say it's a 'eathen-sounding name for
the girl. I was just like you in those days, my dear," she said, surveying
my slim figure with a critical eye. "No one thought I should make old
bones, I was that thin and white, and nothin' seemed to do me no good; I
took physic enough to kill a 'orse, and as for heggs an' such like I eat
'undreds. But, lor', they just went through me like jollop. It was an old
neighbour of ours as cured me; she said, says she, 'What you want, Liza,
is stimilant; stout 'ud soon set you right.' An' sure enough it did. I
took 'er advice, an' I've never 'ad a day's illness since, though
Wattles's been mighty troublesome at times, and would 'av driven me to my
grave long ago if it 'adn't been for stout. You should take it, miss;
you'd soon be as like me, and as 'arty too. Two glasses at dinner and two
at supper is my allowance, and if I chance to miss it, why I jest seems to
fall all of a 'eap like, an' I 'ears my in'ards a gnawin' and a gnawin'
and a cryin' out for stout."
I felt quite overcome at this charming picture of my future self, if only
I followed Mrs. Wattles's advice. I expressed my intention of thinking the
matter over, and, after shaking hands, paying a deposit on the rent--which
she informed me she should expend in drinking my health--and settling to
move in on the morrow, I made good my escape.
Cheered and elated by our success, I returned with Kosinksi to the office
of the _Bomb_. He was naturally very nervous and reticent with women,
but the events of this long day had broken down some of the barriers
between us, and I found it less difficult to talk to him as we trudged on
"I hope you will help us with the new paper," I said. "I feel really very
unfit for the responsibility of such a task, but Armitage thinks I shall
manage all right, and I do not wish to be a mere amateur, and shirk the
hard work entailed by our propaganda. You see, I remember your words that
night at Chiswick. I hope you do not still think that I am merely playing."
He positively blushed at my words, and stammered out: "Oh no, I do not in
the least doubt your sincerity. I am sure you do your best, only I have
seen so much harm done by women that I am always on my guard when they
propose to share in our work. But you are not a woman: you are a Comrade,
and I shall take much interest in your paper."
We met Armitage coming up Red Lion Street. He greeted us with a look of
relief. "Where on earth have you been?" he exclaimed; "I went to the
address you gave me, but when I inquired for you the fellow looked as
scared as if he had seen a ghost, and said he knew nothing about you, that
I must have made a mistake; and when I insisted and showed him the address
you had written, seemed to lose his head, and rang a bell and called for
help as if I were going to murder him. I thought he must be mad or drunk,
and so turned on my heel and came away. In the yard I recognised some of
our friends the detectives, and I felt quite anxious about you. At
Slater's Mews the door is locked; there is no light, and nobody answered
when I knocked. I am quite relieved to see you. I was beginning to fear
you had all got run in."
"Well, you see we are still alive and in fighting form. As you say the
_Bomb_ has closed, I suppose Short has gone off to the music-hall
with Simpkins, as he hinted at doing. Anyhow, come home with me; you too,
Kosinksi, if you don't mind; there is a lot to say, and many things to
settle, and we can settle everything better there than here in the street."
My proposal was agreed to, and we all three repaired to Fitzroy Square,
where over a cup of tea we settled the last details of the move, including
the name of our new paper, which was to be known as the _Tocsin_.
A FOREIGN INVASION
Thus was the question of the new paper and its quarters settled. The
shop, as I had hoped, did well enough for our purposes. True, the district
in which it lay was neither salubrious nor beautiful, and the constant and
inevitable encounters with loquacious Mrs. Wattles and her satellites
something of a trial; but we were absorbed in our work, absorbed in our
enthusiasms, utterly engrossed in the thought of the coming revolution
which by our efforts we were speeding on.
During the first months, besides writing and editing the _Tocsin_, I
was very busily employed in learning how to set type, and print, and the
various arts connected with printing--and as I grew more proficient at the
work my share of it grew in proportion.
The original staff of the _Tocsin_ consisted of Armitage, Kosinksi,
and myself, with Short occupying the well-nigh honorary post of printer,
aided by occasional assistance or hindrance from his hangers-on. But our
staff gradually increased in number if not in efficiency; old M'Dermott
was a frequent and not unwelcome visitor, and as time went on he gradually
settled down into an inmate of the office, helping where he could with the
work, stirring up lagging enthusiasms, doing odd cobbling jobs whenever he
had the chance, and varying the proceedings with occasional outbursts of
Shakespearian recitation. These recitations were remarkable performances,
and made up in vigour for what they perhaps lacked in elegance and
_finesse_. Carter would at times put in an appearance, mostly with a
view to leaning up against a type-rack or other suitable article of
furniture, and there between one puff and another at his pipe would
grumble at the constitution of the universe and the impertinent exactions
of landlords. Another Englishman who in the earlier days frequented the
_Tocsin_ was a tall, thoughtful man named Wainwright, belonging to
the working-classes, who by the force of his own intelligence and will had
escaped from the brutishness of the lowest depths of society in which he
had been born.
Thus with little real outside assistance we worked through the spring and
early summer months. Besides bringing out our paper we printed various
booklets and pamphlets, organised Anarchist meetings, and during some six
weeks housed a French Anarchist paper and its staff, all of whom had fled
precipitately from Paris in consequence of a trial.
The lively French staff caused a considerable revolution in Lysander
Grove, which during several weeks rang with Parisian argot and Parisian
fun. Many of these Frenchmen were a queer lot. They seemed the very
reincarnation of Murger's Bohemians, and evidently took all the
discomforts and privations of their situation as a first-class joke.
Kosinksi detested them most cordially, though, spite of himself, he was a
tremendous favourite in their ranks, and the unwilling victim of the most
affectionate demonstrations on their part: and when, with a shrug of his
shoulders and uncompromising gait, he turned his back on his admirers,
they would turn round to me, exclaiming fondly--
_"Comme il est drole, le pauvre diable!"_
They could not understand his wrath, and were obstinately charmed at his
least charming traits. When he was singularly disagreeable towards them,
they summed him up cheerfully in two words, _Quel original!_ They
soon learned, however, not to take liberties with Kosinski, for when one
sprightly little man of their number, who affected pretty things in the
way of cravats and garters, presumed to dance him round the office, the
Russian, for once almost beside himself, seized his persecutor by the
shoulders and dropped him over the balustrade below, amid the cheers of
He appeared, however, to be their natural prey, and his quaint habit of
stumbling innocently into all manner of blunders was a perpetual fount of
amusement to the humour-loving Gauls. His timidity with women, too, was a
perennial joy, and innumerable adventures in which he figured as hero were
One little escapade of Kosinski's came somehow to the knowledge of the
French Comrades, and he suffered accordingly. Although careless and shaggy
enough in appearance in all conscience, Kosinski happened to be
fastidiously clean about his person. I doubt whether he was ever without a
certain small manicure set in his pocket, and an old joke among his
Russian friends was that he had failed to put in an appearance on some
important occasion--the rescue of a Nihilist from prison, I believe
--because he had forgotten his tooth-brush. This was of course a libel and
gross exaggeration, but his extreme personal cleanliness was none the less
a fact. Now when he first reached London he had scarcely left the station,
besooted and begrimed after his long journey, when his eye was arrested by
the appearance of a horse-trough. "Most opportune!" mused Kosinski, "how
public-spirited and hygienic this London County Council really is!" and
straightway divesting himself of his hat and collar and similar
encumbrances, and spreading out on the rim of the trough his faithful
manicure set and a few primitive toilette requisites secreted about his
person, he commenced his ablutions, sublimely unconscious of the attention
and surprise he was attracting. Before long, however, a riotously amused
crowd collected round, and the Russian had finally to be removed under
police escort, while attempting to explain to the indignant officer of the
law that he had merely taken the horse-trough as a convenient form of
public bath for encouraging cleanliness among the submerged tenth.
With the departure of the _Ça-Ira_ the office resumed once more,
during a brief interval, the even tenor of its ways. Kosinski who, in a
spirit of self-preservation, had practically effaced himself during its
sojourn, made himself once more apparent, bringing with him a peculiar
Swede--a man argumentative to the verge of cantankerousness--who for hours
and days together would argue on obscure questions of metaphysics. He had
argued himself out of employment, out of his country, almost out of the
society and the tolerance of his fellows. Life altogether was one long
argument to this man, no act or word, however insignificant, could he be
induced to pass over without discussing and dissecting, proving or
disproving it. Free-love was his particular hobby, though this, too, he
regarded from a metaphysical rather than a practical point of view. Like
everything else in his life it was a matter for reason and argument, not
for emotion; and he and Kosinski would frequently dispute the question
One day, not long before Christmas, and after I had been nearly a year in
the movement, when all London was lost in a heavy fog and the air seemed
solid as a brick wall, there landed at the _Tocsin_ a small batch of
three Italians fresh from their native country. It was the year of the
coercion laws in Italy, of the "domicilio coatto" (forced domicile), and
the Anarchists and Socialists were fleeing in large numbers from the
clutches of the law.
None of these Southerners had ever been in England before, and having
heard grim tales of the lack of sunshine and light in London, they took
this fog to be the normal condition of the atmosphere. Stumbling into the
lighted office from the blind stifling darkness outside, the leader of the
party, a remarkably tall handsome man well known to me by reputation and
correspondence, gave vent to a tremendous sigh of relief and exclaimed in
his native tongue:
"Thank Heaven, friends, we have overcome the greatest danger of all and
we are here at last, and still alive!"
They then advanced towards me and Avvocato Guglielmo Gnecco held out his
hand. "You are Isabel Meredith?" he said in a sonorous voice, and I gave
an affirmative nod. "I am very glad to meet you at last, Comrade," and we
all shook hands. "So this is London! I had heard grim enough tales of your
climate, but never had I conceived anything like this. It is truly
terrible! But how do you live here? How do you get through your work?...
How do you find your way about the streets? Why, we've been wandering
about the streets ever since eleven o'clock this morning, walking round
and round ourselves, stumbling over kerb-stones, appealing to policemen
and passers-by, getting half run over by carts and omnibuses and cabs.
Giannoli here sees badly enough at all times, but to-day he has only
escaped by the skin of his teeth from the most horrid series of deaths. Is
it not so, Giacomo?" Giannoli, who had been engaged in enthusiastic
greetings with Kosinski, who was evidently an old friend, looked up at
"Oh, I've had too much of London already," he exclaimed fervently. "We
must leave here for some other country to-night or to-morrow at the
latest. We should be better off in prison in Italy than at liberty here.
You see, Comrade," he said, turning to me with a smile, "we Anarchists all
belong to one nationality, so I have no fear of wounding your patriotic
"But London is not always like this, I assure you," I began.
"Oh, make no attempt to palliate it," Gnecco interrupted. "I have heard
English people before now defending your climate. But I see now only too
well that my compatriots were right in calling it impossible, and saying
that you never saw the sun here," and all attempts to argue them out of
this conviction proved futile.
The avvocato, as above mentioned, was an exceptionally good-looking man.
Fully six feet two inches in height, erect and slim without being in the
least weedy, he carried his head with an air of pride and self-confidence,
and was altogether a very fine figure of a man. His features were regular
and well cut, his abundant hair and complexion dark, and his eyes bright
with the vivacity of the perennial youth of the enthusiast. The delicacy
of his features, the easy grace of his walk, and the freedom and
confidence of his manners, all suggested his semi-aristocratic origin and
upbringing. He was evidently a man of romantic tastes and inclinations,
governed by sentiment rather than by reason; a lover of adventure, who had
found in Anarchism an outlet for his activities. His eloquence had made
him a considerable reputation all over Italy as an advocate, but the
comparative monotony of the life of a prosperous barrister was distasteful
to him, and he had willingly sacrificed his prospects in order to throw in
his lot with the revolutionary party.
Giannoli, in his way, was an equally interesting figure. Between Gnecco
and himself it was evident that there existed the warmest bonds of
fraternal affection--a sentiment whose fount, as I discovered later, lay
in a mutual attachment for a certain Milanese lady, who on her side fully
reciprocated their joint affection. Both these Italians were warm
exponents of the doctrine of free-love, and, unlike their more theoretic
Northern confréres, they carried their theories into practice with
considerable gusto. Many Anarchists of Teutonic and Scandinavian race
evidently regarded free-love as an unpleasant duty rather than as a
natural and agreeable condition of life--the chaff which had to be
swallowed along with the wheat of the Anarchist doctrines. I remember the
distress of one poor old Norwegian professor on the occasion of his
deserting his wife for a younger and, to him, far less attractive woman--a
young French studentess of medicine who practised her emancipated theories
in a very wholesale fashion.
"I felt that as an Anarchist it would have been almost wrong to repel her
advances," the distressed old gentleman confided to me. "Moreover, it was
ten years that I had lived with Rosalie, uninterruptedly.... _Cela
devenait tout-à-fait scandaleux, Mademoiselle_.... I no longer dared
show myself among my comrades."
I felt quite sorry for the poor old fellow, a humble slave to duty, which
he performed with evident disgust, but the most heroic determination.
Giannoli, when seen apart from Gnecco, was a tall man. But at the time of
his arrival in London he was already falling a victim to ill-health; there
was a bent, tired look about his figure, and his features were drawn and
thin. A glance at him sufficed to reveal a nervous, highly-strung
temperament; his movements were jerky, and altogether, about his entire
person, there was a noticeable lack of repose. He was about thirty-five
years of age, though he gave the impression of a rather older man. The
fact that he was very short-sighted gave a peculiar look to his face,
which was kindly enough in expression; his features were pronounced, with
a prominent nose and full, well-cut mouth hidden by a heavy moustache.
There was a look of considerable strength about the man, and fanatical
determination strangely blended with diffidence--a vigorous nature
battling against the inroads of some mortal disease.
The third member of the trio was a shortish, thickset man of
extraordinary vigour. He somehow put me in mind of a strongly-built,
one-storey, stone blockhouse, and looked impregnable in every direction;
evidently a man of firm character, buoyed up by vigorous physique. He was
a man rather of character than of intellect, of great moral strength
rather than of intellectual brilliancy--a fighter and an idealist, not a
theoriser. I knew him very well by renown, for he was of European fame in
the Anarchist party, and the _bête noire_ of the international
police. Enrico Bonafede was a man born out of his time--long after it and
long before--whose tremendous energy was wasted in the too strait limits
of modern civilised society. In a heroic age he would undoubtedly have
made a hero; in nineteenth-century Europe his life was wasted and his
sacrifices useless. These men, born out of their generation, are tragic
figures; they have in them the power and the will to scale the heights of
Mount Olympus and to stem the ocean, while they are forced to spend their
life climbing mole-hills and stumbling into puddles.
Such, briefly, were the three men who suddenly emerged from the fog into
the office of the _Tocsin_, and who formed the vanguard of our
foreign invasion. All three were at once sympathetic to me, and I viewed
their advent with pleasure. We celebrated it by an unusually lavish
banquet of fried fish and potatoes, for they were wretchedly cold and
hungry and exhausted after a long journey and almost equally long fast,
for of course they all arrived in a perfectly penniless condition.
Seated round a blazing fire in M'Dermott's _eleutheromania_ stove
(the old fellow had a passion for sonorous words which he did not always
apply quite appositely) the Italians related the adventures of their
journey and discussed future projects. As the fog grew denser with the
advance of evening, and it became evident that lodging-searching was quite
out of the question for the time being, it was agreed that we should all
spend the night in the office, where heaps of old papers and sacking made
up into not altogether despicable couches. Moreover, publication date was
approaching, and at such times we were in the habit of getting later and
later in the office, the necessity for Short's assistance rendering it
impossible to get the work done in an expeditious and business-like way.
We worked on far into the night, the Italians helping us as best they
could with the printing, one or other occasionally breaking off for a
brief respite of slumber. We talked much of the actual conditions in
Italy, and of the situation of the Anarchist party there; of how to keep
the revolutionary standard afloat and the Anarchist ideas circulating,
despite coercion laws and the imprisonment and banishment of its most
prominent advocates. Kosinksi joined enthusiastically in the discussion,
and the hours passed rapidly and very agreeably. I succeeded at length in
dissuading Giannoli and Gnecco from their original intention of
precipitate flight, partly by repeatedly assuring them that the state of
the atmosphere was not normal and would mend, partly by bringing their
minds to bear on the knotty question of finance.
The three Italians settled in London; Gnecco and Bonafede locating
themselves in the Italian quarter amid most squalid surroundings; while
for Giannoli I found a suitable lodging in the shape of a garret in the
Wattles's house which overlooked the courtyard of the _Tocsin_. They
were frequently in the office, much to the indignation of Short, who could
not see what good all "those ---- Foreigners did loafing about." Short, in
fact, viewed with the utmost suspicion any new-comers at the _Tocsin_.
"These foreigners are such a d----d lazy lot," he would say; "I hate
them!" and there was all the righteous indignation in his tones of the
hard-worked proletariat whose feelings are harrowed by the spectacle of
unrighteous ease. Short had a habit of making himself offensive to every
one, but for some mysterious reason no one ever took him to task over it.
It was impossible to take Short seriously, or to treat him as you would
any other human being. When he was insolent people shrugged their
shoulders and laughed, when he told lies they did not deign to investigate
the truth, and thus in a despised and unostentatious way--for he was not
ambitious of _réclame_--he was able to do as much mischief and set as
many falsehoods afloat as a viciously-inclined person with much time on
his hands well can. His physical and mental inferiority was his
stock-in-trade, and he relied on it as a safeguard against reprisals.
After a prolonged period of fog the real severity of the winter set in
towards the end of January. One February morning, after all manner of
mishaps and discomfort, and several falls along the slippery icy pavement,
I arrived at the office of the _Tocsin_. The first thing that struck
my eye on approaching was the unusual appearance of the Wattles's
greengrocery shop. The shutters were closed, the doors still unopened.
"What has happened?" I inquired of a crony standing outside the
neighbouring pub. "Surely no one is dead?"
"Lor' bless yer, no, lydy," answered the old lady, quite unperturbed,
"yesterday was the hanniversary of old Wattles's wedding-day, and they've
been keepin' it up as usual. That's all."
I was about to pass on without further comment when my attention was
again arrested by the sound of blows and scuffling inside the shop,
mingled with loud oaths in the familiar voice of my landlady, and hoarse
protests and entreaties in a masculine voice.
"But surely," I urged, turning once more to my previous informant, "there
is something wrong. What is all that noise?" as cries of "Murder! murder!"
greeted my ear.
"Why, I only just told you, my dear," she responded, still quite unmoved,
"they've been celebratin' their silver weddin' or somethin' of the sort.
It's the same every year. They both gets roarin' drunk, and then Mrs.
Wattles closes the shop next mornin' so as to give 'im a jolly good
'idin'. You see, these hanniversaries make 'er think of all she's 'ad to
put up with since she married, and that makes things a bit rough on poor
Perceiving my sympathy to be wasted I proceeded, and on entering the
office of the _Tocsin_ I found that here, too, something unusual was
A perfect Babel of voices from the room above greeted my ear, while the
printing-room was bedecked with a most unsightly litter of tattered
garments of nondescript shape and purpose laid out to dry. I was not
surprised at this, however, as I had long grown used to unannounced
invasions. Unexpected persons would arrive at the office, of whom nobody
perhaps knew anything; they would stroll in, seat themselves round the
fire, enter into discussion, and, if hungry, occasionally partake of the
_plat du jour_. The most rudimentary notions of Anarchist etiquette
forbade any of us from inquiring the name, address, or intentions of such
intruders. They were allowed to stay on or to disappear as inexplicitly as
they came. They were known, if by any name at all, as Jack or Jim,
Giovanni or Jacques, and this was allowed to suffice. Every Anarchist
learns in time to spot a detective at first sight, and we relied on this
instinct as a safeguard against spies.
But on reaching the composing-room on this particular morning an
extraordinary sight presented itself. Accustomed as I was to the
unaccustomed, I was scarcely prepared for the wild confusion of the scene.
What at first sight appeared to be a surging mass of unwashed and unkempt
humanity filled it with their persons, their voices, and their gestures.
No number of Englishmen, however considerable, could have created such a
din. All present were speaking simultaneously at the top of their voices;
greetings and embraces mingled with tales of adventure and woe. The first
object which I managed to distinguish was the figure of Giannoli
struggling feebly in the embrace of a tall brawny, one-eyed man with thick
curling black hair, who appeared to be in a state of demi-déshabille. By
degrees a few other familiar figures became one by one discernible to me
as I stood mute and unobserved at the head of the stairs. Bonafede and
Gnecco were there; they, too, surrounded by the invading mob, exchanging
greetings and experiences. Old M'Dermott, standing up against his stove,
was striking a most impressive attitude, for the old fellow had to live up
to the reputation he had established among foreigners of being the
greatest orator in the English revolutionary party. Two cloddish-looking
_contadini_ stood gazing at him, rapt in awe. Kosinksi stood little
apart from the rest, not a little bewildered by the enthusiastic reception
which had been accorded him by old friends. In one corner, too, I
recognised my old friend Short, fully dressed, as usual, in his frowsy
clothes, as though eternally awaiting the call-to-arms, the long-delayed
bugles of the social revolution; there he lay, much as when I first set
eyes on him, wrapped up in old banners and rugs, blinking his eyes and
muttering curses at the hubbub which had thus rudely interrupted his
The others were quite new to me. They were evidently all of them Italians
--some ten or twelve in number--though at the first glance, scattered as
they were pell-mell among the printing plant of the overcrowded work-room,
they gave an impression of much greater number. They appeared mostly to
belong to the working-classes. Their clothes, or what remained of them,
were woefully tattered--and they were few and rudimentary indeed, for most
of what had been spared by the hazards of travel were drying down below.
Their hair was uncut, and beards of several days' growth ornamented their
cheeks. Their hats were of incredible size and shape and all the colours
of the rainbow seemed to be reproduced in them. Littered around on divers
objects of furniture, they suggested to me a strange growth of fungi.
My advent, as soon as it was perceived amid the confusion and noise of
the scene, created something of a sensation, for by now my name had become
well known in the International Anarchist party. "Isabel Meredith" was
exclaimed in all manner of new and strange intonations, and a host of
hands were extended towards me from all directions.
At last Gnecco managed to make his voice heard above the din of his
compatriots. "All these comrades," he explained in Italian, "have escaped
like ourselves from the savage reaction which actually holds Italy in its
sway. They arrived this morning after a fearful journey which lack of
money compelled them to make mostly on foot."
Before he could get any further an outburst of song interrupted his words
as the whole band broke into an Anarchist war-whoop. This over, my
attention was arrested by the groans of a dark young man of
extraordinarily alert physiognomy who had shed his boots and was gazing
dolefully at his wounded feet. "What would I not give," he exclaimed, "to
be back in prison in Lugano! Oh for the rest and comfort of those good old
times!" He was utterly worn out, poor fellow, nipped up with the cold, and
seemed on the verge of tears.
"Well," exclaimed M'Dermott at last, "propaganda implies propagandists,
and propagandists entail bellies! All these fellows seem pretty well
starving. What would they say to a little grub?"
On my interpreting the old fellow's suggestion he and it were received
with universal acclaim. Bonafede produced from the innermost depths of his
pockets a huge quantity of macaroni which was put on to boil, and several
bottles of wine; one of the new arrivals, a sober-looking young fellow
with a remarkably long nose, contributed an enormous lobster which he had
acquired _en route_, while Kosinski volunteered to fetch bread and
other provender. A Homeric repast ensued, for all these Anarchists had
cultivated the digestions of camels; they prepared for inevitable fasts by
laying in tremendous stores when chance and good fortune permitted. While
they were eating a noticeable silence fell on the scene, and I had leisure
to observe the immigrants more in detail.
Beppe, the tall, one-eyed man, already referred to, seemed to be the life
and spirit of the band. He was a rollicking good-natured fellow, an
unpolished _homme du peuple_, but not inadmirable in his qualities of
courage and cheerfulness--the kind of man who would have cracked a joke on
his death-bed and sung lustily _en route_ to the gallows. He
possessed, too, a heroic appetite, and as he made away with enormous heaps
of macaroni his spirits rose higher and higher and his voice rose with
The long-nosed youth was something of an enigma. From the scraps of
conversation which, during the repast, fell principally on the subject of
food, or the lack of food, during the tramp, I gathered that they had
relied principally on his skill and daring in the matter of foraging to
keep themselves from actually dying of hunger on their journey. Yet there
was about him such a prudent and circumspect air that he might well have
hesitated to pick up a pin that "wasn't his'n." He was evidently of an
acquisitive turn, however, for over his shoulder was slung a bag which
appeared to contain a collection of the most heterogeneous and
unserviceable rubbish conceivable. "_Eh!... possono servire!_" ...
was all he would volunteer on the subject when I once chaffed him on the
subject of his findings. "They may serve yet!..."
Somehow this youth struck me at once as a man who had made a mistake. At
home as he appeared to be among his comrades, there was yet something
about him which suggested that he was out of his proper sphere in the
midst of the Anarchists, that he was _desorienté_. He was cut out for
an industrious working-man, one that would rise and thrive in his business
by hard work and thrift; he was destined by nature to rear a large family
and to shine in the ranks of excellent family men. He was moulded for the
threshold, poor boy, neither for the revolutionary camp nor for the
scaffold, and it was thwarted domestic instinct which led him to steal.
There was good nature in his face and weakness; it was the face of a youth
easily led, easily influenced for good or bad. As a revolutioniser of his
species he was predestined to failure, for years would certainly show him
the error of his ways. Old age seemed to be his proper state, and youth in
him was altogether a blunder and a mistake. I found myself vainly
speculating what on earth could have led him among the Anarchists.
The others comprised a silent young artisan who was evidently desperately
in earnest with his ideas, a red-haired, red-bearded Tuscan of clever and
astute aspect, a singularly alert and excitable-looking young man of
asymmetrical features, who looked half fanatic, half criminal, and others
of the labouring and peasant class. One other of their number arrested my
attention, a stupid, sleepy young man, who seemed quite unaffected by the
many vicissitudes of his journey. His features were undefined and his
complexion undefinable, very greasy and suggestive of an unwholesome
fungus. He was better dressed than his companions, and from this fact,
combined with his intonation, I gathered that he belonged to the leisured
classes. There was something highly repellent about his smooth yellow
face, his greasiness and limp, fat figure. M'Dermott christened him the
Dinner over, the one-eyed baker, Beppe, proceeded to give us their news,
and to recount the vicissitudes of their travels. Gnecco and Giannoli were
anxious for news of comrades left behind in Italy. So-and-so was in
prison, another had remained behind in Switzerland, a third had turned his
coat, and was enjoying ill-gotten ease and home, others were either dead
or lost to sight.
The present party, who were mostly Northern Italians, had left Italy
shortly after Giannoli and Gnecco, and had since spent several weeks in
Italian Switzerland, whence at last they had been expelled in consequence
of the circulation of an Anarchist manifesto. Beppe gave a glowing account
of their stay in Lugano, and consequent flight to London. "You know," he
said, "that I reached Lugano with two hundred francs in my pocket in
company with all these comrades who hadn't got five francs among them. It
is not every one who could have housed them all, but I did. I could not
hire a Palazzo or a barrack for them, but we managed very comfortably in
one large room. There were fourteen of us besides la Antonietta. There was
only one bed, but what a size! We managed well enough by sleeping in two
relays. However, even in two relays it took some organisation to get us
all in. It was a fine double bed, you know, evidently intended for three
or four ... even for five it was suitable enough, but when it came to
seven!... there was not much room for exercise, I can tell you.... But
with four at the top and three at the bottom, we managed, and Antonietta
slept on a rug in a cupboard. We did our best to make her comfortable by
sacrificing half our clothes to keep her warm, but we might have saved
ourselves the trouble, for she deserted us for the first bourgeois who
came along. She was not a true comrade, but I will tell you all about her
"We had some trouble with the landlord, a thick-headed bourgeois who got
some stupid idea into his head about overcrowding. I have no patience with
these bourgeois prejudices. One day he came round to complain about our
numbers, and at not receiving his rent. But we were prepared for him. We
assembled in full force, and sang the _Marseillaise_ and the _Inno
dei Lavoratori_, and danced the _Carmagnole_. I took out my eye
and looked very threatening--one glance at us was enough for the old
fellow. He made the sign of the cross and fled before we had time to tear
him to pieces.
"Well, my two hundred francs was a very large sum, and not paying the
rent was economical, but it dwindled, and I had to look round again for
ways and means to feed us all. The money came to an end at last and then
the real struggle began. Old Castellani, the landlord, kept a large stock
of sacks of potatoes in a cellar, and every day he used to go in and take
a few out for his own use, and then lock the cellar up again, mean old
brute! But once again I was one too many for him. I collected large
quantities of stones in the day-time, and then at night with a skeleton
key I had acquired--it came out of Meneghino's bag which we always jeered
at--I let myself in and from the farthest sacks I abstracted potatoes and
refilled them with stones. I calculated that at the slow rate he used them
he would not notice his loss till March. What a scene there will be then,
_Misericordia_! During the last fortnight of our stay we lived almost
entirely on my potatoes. I don't know how the devil they would all have
got on without me. It is true that a waitress at the Panetteria Viennese
fell in love with Meneghino, and used to pass him on stale bread; but then
you all know his appetite! He ate it nearly all himself on the way home.
One day I sent Bonatelli out to reconnoitre. He returned with _one
mushroom_!" It would be quite impossible to convey an idea of the
intense contempt contained in these last words. It was a most eloquent
denunciation of impotence and irresolution.
"All the same we had a grand time in Lugano. And the week I and Migliassi
spent in prison was a great treat. Why, they treated us like popes, I can
tell you--as much food as you like, and the best quality at that; no work,
a comfortable cell, and a bed all to yourself! And the bread! I never
tasted anything like it in my life: they sent to Como for it all. Lugano
bread was not good enough. Ah, Swiss prisons are a grand institution, and
I hope to spend a happy old age in such a place yet.
"Then came Bonafede's manifesto, and that scoundrel Costanzi betrayed us
all to the police. Then the real trouble began. We had not ten francs
among the lot of us, and we twelve had orders to clear out of the country
within forty-eight hours! Once again they were all at a loss but for me!"
and here he tapped his forehead in token of deference to his superior
wits. "I had noticed the fat letters Morì received from home the first day
of every month, and how jolly quiet he kept about them. I also noticed
that he used to disappear for a day or two after their receipt, and return
very sleepy and replete, with but scant appetite for dry bread and
At this point Morì, the greasy Neapolitan youth, blinked his eyes and
laughed foolishly. He seemed neither ashamed of himself nor indignant at
his companions, merely sluggishly amused.
"Well," continued Meneghino, "that letter was just due, and I intercepted
it. It contained one hundred and eighty francs; would you believe me? and
that went some way to get us over here. Altogether we managed to collect
sufficient money to carry us to the Belgian frontier, and for our passage
across from Ostend. But that tramp across Belgium, _dio boia_!"
Here a clamour of voices interrupted Beppe, as each one of the travellers
chimed in with a separate account of the horrors of that ghastly tramp
across country in mid-winter.
For many years Europe had not experienced such an inclement season.
Everywhere the cold counted innumerable victims. Along the country
highways and byways people dropped down frozen to death, and the paths
were strewn with the carcasses of dead birds and other animals who had
succumbed to the inclemency of the elements. All the great rivers were
frozen over, and traffic had to be suspended along them. Unwonted numbers
of starving sea-gulls and other sea-birds flocked to London in search of
human charity, for the very fishes could not withstand the cold, and the
inhospitable ocean afforded food no longer to its winged hosts. All Europe
was under snow; the railways were blocked in many places, and ordinary
work had to be suspended in the great cities; business was at a
Neither the temperaments nor the clothes of these Italians had been equal
to the exigencies of their march in the cruel Northern winter. As they
tramped, a dismal, silent band across Belgium, the snow was several feet
deep under foot, and on all sides it stretched hopelessly to the horizon,
falling mercilessly the while. Their light clothing was ill adapted to the
rigours of the season; boots gave out, food was scanty or non-existent,
and they had to rely entirely on the fickle chances of fortune to keep
body and soul together. By night, when chance allowed, they had crept
unobserved into barns and stables, and, lying close up against the dormant
cattle, they had striven to restore animation to their frozen limbs by
means of the beasts' warm breath. Once an old farm-woman had found them,
and, taking pity on their woebegone condition, had regaled the whole party
on hot milk and bread; and this was now looked back on as a gala day, for
not every day had afforded such fare. At times in the course of their
weary tramp the Anarchists had made an effort to keep up their flagging
spirits by means of song, revolutionary and erotic, but such attempts had
usually fallen flat, and the little band of exiles had relapsed into
gloomy silence as they tramped on noiselessly through the snow. One of
their number had quite broken down on the road and they had been compelled
to leave him behind. "Lucky fellow, that Morelli," exclaimed Meneghino,
"enjoying good broth in a hospital while we were still trudging on through
that infernal snow!"
"And Antonietta?" inquired Giannoli, when the relation of these
adventures had terminated. "You have not yet told us her end, nor how she
incurred your displeasure."
"Oh, Antonietta!" exclaimed Beppe. "I was forgetting. You who believed
her to be such a sincere comrade will scarcely credit her baseness. She
ran away with a horrible bourgeois; she was lured away from the Cause by a
bicycle! Yes, Antonietta weighed a bicycle in the scales against the
Social Revolution, and found the Social Revolution wanting! So much for
the idealism of women! Never speak to me of them again. The last we saw of
her she was cycling away in a pair of breeches with a disgusting banker.
She laughed and waved her hand to us mockingly, and before we had time to
utter a word she was gone. I never shall believe in a woman again!"
His indignation choked him at this point, and only the expression of his
mouth and eye told of the depth of scorn and disgust which he felt for the
young lady who had thus unblushingly cycled away from the Social
THE OFFICE OF THE _TOCSIN_
To the ordinary citizen whose walk in life lies along the beaten track
there is a suggestion of Bohemianism about the office of any literary or
propagandist organ; but I doubt whether the most imaginative among them in
their wildest moments have ever conceived any region so far removed from
the conventions of civilised society, so arbitrary in its hours and
customs, so cosmopolitan and so utterly irrational as the office of the
In other chapters I attempt to describe the most noticeable among the
genuine Anarchists who belonged to it, but I wish here to convey some
faint idea of the strange medley of outside cranks and _déclassés_
whose resort it in time became. There appeared to be a magnetic attraction
about the place to tramps, _désoeuvrés_ cranks, argumentative people
with time on their hands, and even downright lunatics. Foreigners of all
tongues assembled in the office--Russians, Italians, French, Spaniards,
Dutch, Swedes, and before very long they practically swamped the English
element. The Anarchist and revolutionary party has always been more
serious on the Continent than in England, and what genuine Anarchists
there are here are mostly foreigners.
Trades and industries of the most heterogeneous kinds were carried on at
the _Tocsin_ by unemployed persons who could find no other refuge for
their tools nor outlet for their energies. In one corner old M'Dermott
settled down with his lasts and leather, and there industriously hammered
away at his boots, alternating his work with occasional outbursts of
Shakespearian recitation. In winter the old fellow was positively snowed
up in the office, where he crouched shivering over the fire until the
advent of spring revived him. On the first warm sunny day he suddenly
flung down his tools, and rushing out into the courtyard amazed and
terrified Mrs. Wattles and her colleagues by shouting at the top of his
voice, "Let me shout, let me shout, Richard's himself again!" "'E gave me
such a turn, Miss, with 'is carryin's on that I got the spasims again, an'
I don't know what ever I shall do if I can't find the price of a
'alf-quartern o' gin." And I took the hint, for Mrs. Wattles's alliance
was no despicable possession among the savages of Lysander Grove.
A shed was erected in the corner of the composing-room, which served by
night as a dormitory for numbers of otherwise roofless waifs, and here
during the daytime a young Belgian and his wife set up a small factory of
monkeys up sticks, which when completed they proceeded to sell in the
streets. In another corner two Italians settled down to manufacture a
remarkable new kind of artificial flower with which they traded when
opportunity permitted. Small plaster-casts of Queen Victoria and Marat
were also manufactured here. When the influx of starving Italians
necessitated it, a kind of soup-kitchen was inaugurated over which Beppe
presided, and very busy he was kept too, manufacturing _minestras_
and _polenta_, a welcome innovation to me, I may mention, after a
long régime of small and nauseous tarts, bread and jam, and cheese. In
short, the headquarters of the _Tocsin_, besides being a printing and
publishing office, rapidly became a factory, a debating club, a school, a
hospital, a mad-house, a soup-kitchen and a sort of Rowton House, all in
When I look back on the scene now, and recall all the noise and hubbub,
the singing, the discussions and disputes, the readings, the hammerings on
this side, the hangings on that, the feeding, and M'Dermott's
Shakespearian recitations, I find it very difficult to realise the amount
of hard work which I and the other few serious and earnest comrades got
The chief impediment to the progress of the work, however, was Short, the
compositor. On close acquaintance with this creature, I found that he did
not belie my first impression of him as the laziest and most slovenly of
men; and I soon realised the two dominant characteristics which had made
of him a Socialist--envy and sloth. So deeply was he imbued with envy that
he was quite unable to rest so long as anyone else was better off than
himself; and although he did not care one jot for "humanity" of which he
prated so freely, and was incapable of regenerating a flea, he found in a
certain section of the Socialist and Anarchist party that degree of
dissatisfaction and covetousness which appealed to his degraded soul.
Besides which the movement afforded him grand opportunities for living in
sloth and sponging on other people.
Short was not without his humorous side, however, when only you were in
the right mood to appreciate it. His envy of the superiority which he
noted in others was only equalled by his intense contempt for himself.
I can still picture the poor brute lying with his dog in a corner of the
office amid a heap of rubbish, unwashed, unkempt (he never divested
himself of his clothes), and verminous in the extreme. There he would blow
discordant notes on a mouth-organ, or smoke his rank old pipe, eat jam
tarts, and scowl his wrath and envy on the world. If he could get hold of
some unoccupied person to whom he could retail all the latest bits of
Anarchist scandal, or from whom he could ferret out some little private
secrets, he was contented enough, or, leaning out of the office window he
would deliver a short autobiographical sketch to the interested denizens
of the surrounding courts. A small bill, posted outside the office door,
announced that Short was prepared to undertake extraneous jobs of printing
on his own account; and this was responsible for many of the queer
customers who found their way to the office of the _Tocsin_.
One of the queerest of all the queer oddities who haunted it was a small
man of hunted aspect, known to every one as the "Bleeding Lamb." He had
acquired this peculiar name from the title of a booklet which he had
written under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, a sort of
interpretation of the Apocalypse, wherein was foretold a rapid termination
of the universe. The printing of the "Bleeding Lamb" was undertaken by
Short, whose dilatoriness in executing his work doubtless prolonged by a
few years the existence of the terrestrial globe.
There was all the fervour of a prophet in the eye of the "Bleeding Lamb,"
but inspiration ceased here, and even what there was of inspired and
prophetic in his eye was overcast by a certain diffident and deprecating
look. He was the victim, poor man, of a twofold persecution in which
heaven and earth joined hands to torment him--the archangel Michael and
the Metropolitan police being the arch offenders.
One of the first things that struck you about the Bleeding Lamb was the
helpless look of his feet. They were for ever shuffling and stumbling,
getting in the way, and tripping up himself and others. His hands too had
a flabby and inefficient expression, and his knees were set at a wrong
angle. His stature was insignificant, his colouring vague; longish hair
and beard of a colourless grey matched the grey of his prophetic and
He would enter the office furtively, and cast a rapid glance round as
though he almost expected to find the archangel Michael or an inspector of
the Metropolitan police lurking in a corner, and it would take him some
few seconds before he could muster up sufficient courage to inquire, as
was his invariable custom, whether anyone had been round to ask after him.
On being assured that no one had called for that purpose he appeared
relieved, and gradually, as he became more and more reassured, he would
warm to his subject of the coming cataclysm, and launch out into prophecy.
"Ah," he exclaimed to me one day after a long discourse on the universal
destruction at hand, "won't Queen Victoria just shiver in her shoes when
she receives the revised edition of the 'Bleeding Lamb.' Little does she
dream at this moment of what is in store for her." I recollect also that
Nelson was in some way connected with his prophecies and his perplexities,
but in what particular connection is not quite clear to my mind. The
sympathy which he apparently felt for the Anarchists was, I suppose, due
to the fact that they too were engaged--on a somewhat smaller scale it is
true--on a policy of destruction, and also to their avowed antagonism to
the law and the police, whether metropolitan or otherwise.
The Bleeding Lamb had a formidable rival in the field of prophecy in the
person of another strange frequenter of our office--a demure-looking
gentleman named Atkinson who professed to be the reincarnation of Christ,
and who preached the millennium. He was a less depressed-looking person
than the Bleeding Lamb--whom he treated with undisguised contempt--and
affected a tall hat and Wellington boots. The Lamb, on his side, denounced
the Messiah as a fraud, and went so far as to suggest that he had only
taken to prophecy when the alteration in the fashion of ladies' pockets
compelled him to abandon his original profession. "That Lamb is not quite
right in the upper storey," whispered Atkinson to me one day; "he may even
become dangerous, poor creature!" Shortly afterwards I was taken aside by
the gentleman in question who warned me to keep my purse in safety as
"that Messiah is no better than a common thief."
The approach of either of these prophets was invariably the signal for a
stampede on Short's part, who, never having completed his work, dreaded
encountering the mournful scrutiny and reproachful bleating of the Lamb no
less than the sad, stern rebukes and potential Wellington boots of the
Messiah. Into no single item of the day's programme did he put so much
zest as into the grand dive he would make into any available hiding-place,
and he would lie for hours flat on his stomach under M'Dermott's bed
sooner than "face the music."
One day the perspiring Lamb entered the office red in the face and
considerably out of breath, rapidly followed by a lugubrious individual,
talking volubly in an argumentative monotone. This person seemed to be
very indignant about something.
"Marcus Aurelius was a just ruler and a philosopher," he was saying, "and
he saw the necessity for suppressing the Christian factions. He was among
the severest persecutors of the early Christians.--What does that argue,
"Nothing against my contention with regard to the seven-headed beast in
the Apocalypse," replied the Bleeding Lamb with a defiant snort.
"The seven-headed beast has nothing to do with the case," retorted his
interlocutor, putting all the warmth into his monotonous drawl of which he
appeared capable. "The seven-headed beast can't alter history, and my case
is conclusively proved in the course of this little work, to the
production of which I have devoted the best years of my life. The
seven-headed beast indeed! Pshaw for your seven-headed beast, you
Whilst I gazed on dumbfounded at this little scene, making futile efforts
to grasp the vexed point under discussion, the strange new-comer, whom the
Lamb addressed as Gresham, deposited on the floor a huge and shapeless
brown-paper parcel, under whose weight he was staggering, and sitting down
by its side he carefully untied the string, and dragged triumphantly forth
tome after tome of carefully-written MSS., which he proceeded to read out
without further preamble.
"'Atheism _v._ Christianity,'" he drawled, commencing at the title,
"'being a short treatise on the Persecutions of the Early Christians, the
object of which is to prove that they were persecuted by the just emperors
and protected by the unjust; that, consequently, they were wrong; that
Christianity is wrong, and the Deity a palpable fraud; by Tobias Jonathan
Gresham,'--and let the seven-headed beast in the Apocalypse put that in
his pipe and smoke it!" casting a defiant glance at the Bleeding Lamb.
As this concluding remark was made in the same monotone as the foregoing
sentence, I was at some loss to determine whether or not it formed part of
the title of that momentous work.
The Bleeding Lamb here cast me a knowing glance, which said as plainly as
words that his unfortunate acquaintance was mad, but that it was as well
to humour him, and so he magnanimously sat down on a stool facing his
rival, while the latter proceeded to read out his book, which was destined
soon to mount up the long list of Short's sins of typographical omissions.
This was but the herald of a long series of readings from the "short
treatise," which were carried on at intervals for some weeks. Minute after
minute and hour after hour Gresham drawled on from one tedious reiteration
to another, never raising his voice nor altering its key, till a sense of
dizziness overcame his audience, and his voice became as the singing in
one's ears which accompanies high fever or heralds a faint. Indeed I have
never suffered from fever or faintness since that date without my
sensations recalling Gresham's dreary, argumentative drawl; then gradually
his voice would grow fainter and somewhat spasmodic, until at length it
gave way to snores, as the weary Lamb and the atheist Lion, like the kid
and the leopard of Isaiah, sank down together in a confused heap on the
floor, and there slept out a miniature fulfilment of the word of the
Then there was a Polish count who found his way to the _Tocsin_--a
most deplorable aristocratic débris, who might have stepped straight out
of the pages of Dostoievsky. I never set eyes on a more depressed-looking
mortal than Count Voblinsky. He looked as though he bore on his bent
shoulders the weight of all the ill-spent lives in Christendom. He was a
damp, unwholesome-looking man, whose appearance suggested long confinement
in a cellar. He was pale and hollow-eyed, and almost mouldy; altogether a
most cadaverous-looking person. He was always attired, even at eleven
A.M., in an old dress suit, green and threadbare with age, and a furry
tall hat, into which garments he seemed to have grown and taken root. But
despite the decay of his person and his attire, there was a certain degree
of aristocratic refinement about Voblinsky's features, last ghastly traces
of his ancient nobility. He vaguely recalled to my mind a long-ago
Continental trip of my childhood, and an unfortunate elephant in the
Marseilles Jardin des Plantes who, from long inactivity in the corner of
his cage, had become overgrown with moss. There was the same incongruous
touch of erstwhile nobility, the same decay, the same earthy smell. By
what shady and circuitous paths had the unfortunate count reached this
unhappy pass? Perhaps his wife was responsible; for if ever woman was
calculated not to lead her mate on to higher and better things it was the
Countess Voblinska. The countess was worse than slovenly: she was
downright dirty. Her tumbled, frowsy hair, with patches of golden dye in
it, was surmounted by an appalling hat of incongruous dimensions and
shape, trimmed with what appeared to be archaeological relics, thick in
dust. To approach it brought on a perfect paroxysm of sneezing. Her
clothes, which were very greasy and never brushed, hung together by
strings, tatters, and safety-pins. Her hands and face were begrimed with
several coats of dirt, and a top coat of _poudre de riz_. No ordinary
imagination dared speculate on what lay hidden beneath those tattered rags
she wore. She gesticulated much, and discoursed on the subject of some
lecture she was to give, in the intervals of volleying forth abuse and
swearing in Parisian argot at her long-suffering husband, who received it
all with most ludicrous courtesy. Often a strong smell of gin mingled with
the eloquent flow of the countess's language.
On the whole, however, the Anarchists and their queer associates might be
regarded as a fairly temperate set. One of the most potent causes of drink
is the monotony of the existences led by most people, the hopeless
dreariness of their confined, narrow lives, the total lack of interest and
excitement. This is not the case in revolutionary circles, where not only
are there plenty of ideas afloat to occupy men's minds and distract them
from the narrow circle of their dreary domestic lives, but where also the
modern craving for excitement, factitious or otherwise, finds plenty of
The office of the _Tocsin_, however, did not lack the occasional
presence of the habitual drunkard. There was one queer fellow who
frequently put in a dissipated appearance for the purpose of complaining
of the ill-usage to which his wife's tongue subjected him. He looked
forward to the Social Revolution as the only escape from this thraldom,
and certainly no man ever made more strenuous, albeit ill-directed
efforts, on its behalf.
Then there was a bibulous Welshman who at times would startle the
unwashed denizens of the neighbouring slums by appearing in a tall hat and
irreproachable shirt front. He was a doctor by profession, who succeeded
in maintaining a certain reputation in polite circles, but an alcoholic
soaker by inclination, one of those men who somehow contrive to keep ahead
of ruin by sleeping out periods of financial distress in friends' houses.
Our proof-reader was a benevolent old gentleman of obsolete customs, who
in an age of open-air cures still wore a mouth and nose respirator. He was
such an eminently respectable person that I never could quite understand
why he associated himself with anything so disreputable as the
_Tocsin_. I always half suspected that he came there principally on
my account, chivalrously determined that I should not be surrounded
_solely_ by scum. But besides this motive he had some pretensions to
being a man of advanced views, and was a purchaser of "advanced"
literature. The introduction of this into the precincts of his home was a
great trial to his better half, who had no kind of sympathy with such
leanings. New-fangled ideas of any description were tabooed by her, and
all preachers and holders of such she unconditionally consigned to
hell-fires. Her husband she regarded as a brand to be snatched from the
burning, and she and a few select female relatives worked hard to snatch
him. But although new-fangled ideas on social organisation and political
economy were bad enough, one thing alone was beyond all human endurance to
the mind of Mrs. Crawley, and that one thing was free-love.
One day Mr. Crawley brought home "The Woman Who Did," and neglected to
conceal it. It was found by his wife lying on the dining-room sofa.
"My fingers itched to seize and burn the impudent huzzy, lying there as
unconcerned as though she had been the 'Private Meditations and Prayers of
the Rev. Bagge,'" Mrs. Crawley confided to her Aunt Elizabeth, "but it was
a six-shilling book, and I knew how Crawley valued it, and for the life of
me I did not dare touch it."
It was a sore trial indeed to Mrs. Crawley to live under the same roof
with such a person, but she dared not so far outrage the feelings of one
whom she had sworn to love, honour, and obey, as to execute the offending
lady. She long meditated some revenge, some outlet for her outraged
feelings; it was long in coming, but come it did at last. The "Man Who
Didn't" followed in the footsteps of his irregular mate, and in a
fourpenny-halfpenny edition. This was more than the worthy matron could
stand, and either he or she herself must leave the house. She summoned
Aunt Elizabeth, a lady of irreproachable moral standard, the whites of
whose eyes had a habit of turning up spasmodically, and the corners of
whose mouth down, and to her she unburdened her feelings.
"My dear Eliza," she said, "I have too long tolerated 'The Woman Who
Did,' but when it comes to the 'Man Who Didn't,' that--er--well, that
disgusting 'Man Who Didn't'--and how am I to know that he didn't, the
brazen creature!--it is time I asserted my authority. I cannot and I will
not stand him."
The offending and irresolute gentleman was then seized upon with a pair
of tongs, carried in solemn procession to the remotest room in the house,
and burnt. The sanctity of matrimony had reasserted its rights.
A young bank clerk who accompanied Crawley to the office was a type of
what I might call the conscientiously unprincipled man. It being wrong to
steal, he made a point of annexing small objects. Cleanliness is next to
godliness, and he devoted himself heroically to dirt; it was not at all
his natural tendency, and the more disagreeable he found it the more
strenuous was he in its pursuit. Being by nature punctual, he made it an
absolute point of honour never to keep an appointment; and, as a lover of
domestic peace, he was for ever working his way into scrapes and rows. He
was a comical object, with his limp yellow hair brushed ferociously on
end, and his mild yellow eyes scowling defiance at mankind.
When the Cuban revolution broke out a wave of sympathy for the oppressed
islanders passed over the whole civilised world, and nowhere did this find
a warmer echo than in the Anarchist party and the _Tocsin_ group.
Many Anarchists were in favour of going out to the assistance of the
insurgents. Opinion was divided on the question. Some said: "It is our
duty to remain in Europe to carry on the work of Anarchist propaganda
here. The Cuban revolution is a race struggle, and no concern of ours."
Others said: "We Anarchists are internationalists, and in whatsoever part
of the world there is revolt against oppression, and wherever the
revolutionary forces are at work, there is our opportunity to step in and
direct those forces into the proper course, towards Anarchism." These
Anarchists saw in the uprising of this small and comparatively
insignificant race against the Spanish throne the possible dawn of a
wider, vaster struggle, in which the whole world would join hands to lay
low thrones, altars, and judgment seats.
A small band of Italian comrades, led by an adventurous Sicilian, got up
a subscription for the purpose, and left the office of the _Tocsin_,
amid great revolutionary enthusiasm, to journey to the assistance of the
insurgent island. Only one of their number ever returned alive to Europe
to tell of the horrors and hardships of the fierce struggle there endured,
of the cruelty of the Spaniards, and the uselessness of the fight from the
Anarchist point of view.
The Cuban fever was very catching, and after the departure of this first
band there was a regular epidemic of departure at the _Tocsin_.
Carter and Simpkins turned up at the office one afternoon very much in
earnest about it all and persuaded that a little British grit was what was
needed in Cuba, "to keep things humming." Simpkins recalled his old army
days and the valour he had several times displayed when under the
influence of liquor. He waved an old belt appertaining to those times, and
would, I believe, have sung something about the Union Jack and the beer of
old England, had not his friend recalled him to a better sense of his duty
as an Anarchist and Internationalist. It appeared that Carter had come
into a small sum of money consequent on the death of an uncle, with which
he was bent on paying their passage out to Cuba. "What is an Anarchist to
do in this wretched country?" he asked. "I am tired of lying in bed
waiting for the revolution. It's too slow coming." "Yah!" muttered Short
under his breath to me, "the springs are out of order, and he finds it
hard. That's about how much he cares for the revolution."
After Carter and Simpkins had taken their leave of the staff of the
_Tocsin_ I watched a very moving scene from the window, when they
bade good Mrs. Wattles farewell. The good lady was very deeply affected,
and with tears in her eyes she begged them to think again before betaking
themselves to "them furrin' parts" where she had heard "the drink was
something awful and not fit for a Christian stomach." She was only half
reassured when told that rum came from somewhere in that direction.
But Carter and Simpkins never reached Cuba. Some few minutes' walk from
the office of the _Tocsin_, at the corner of Lysander Grove, stood an
inviting house of call, the "Merry Mariners," where the valiant warriors
dropped in on their way, to refresh themselves, perhaps in anticipation of
the dreary prospect which Mrs. Wattles's words had opened before them.
When several hours later Short returned from his accustomed evening stroll
round the neighbourhood, he described with great relish the pitiable
termination of their voyage. He had found Carter just sober enough to cart
his incapacitated disciple home on a wheelbarrow, after which he painfully
betook himself to his bed, there to bemoan the tardiness of the
revolution, and the broken condition of the spring mattress.
"And won't his guv'nor just give Simpkins a ragging when he gets home.
He'll give him Cuba," gloated the unsympathetic printer.
Another relief expedition from the _Tocsin_ met with scarcely more
brilliant success. Beppe and Meneghino set out under the guidance of old
M'Dermott, on tramp to Cardiff, whence they hoped to work their way out to
the insurgent island. They, too, set out full of brave hopes and generous
enthusiasm, but with too confident a trust in the beneficence of
Providence as caterer to their material needs on the journey. Before a
fortnight had elapsed, they also were back at the office, Beppe bearing
the poor old Irishman on his shoulders in a quite crippled and exhausted
condition. He had to be put to bed, and remained there several weeks,
before he was in a fit state to get about again. They all complained
bitterly of the inhospitality of the country-folk to whom they had
appealed for help, and of the uncourteous reception they had met with in
the Cardiff docks. Poor Meneghino reached London barefooted, his faithful
canvas bag hanging disconsolately over his shoulder--and all with woefully
vacant stomachs. They formed a comically dismal group as they collapsed
into the office in an exhausted heap.
* * * * *
Amid these many strange and dubious, ludicrous or pathetic characters,
some few heroic figures appeared. From time to time there came into our
midst Vera Marcel, the Red Virgin of the barricades, the heroine of the
Commune of Paris--a woman of blood and smoke and of infinite mercies
towards men and beasts. I can see her still, almost beautiful in her
rugged ugliness, her eyes full of the fire of faith and insane fanaticism,
her hair dishevelled, her clothes uncared for. I can hear the wonderful
ring of her tragic voice as she pleaded the misery of the poor and
suffering, of the oppressed, the outcast, the criminal, the rejected, and
as it rose higher and higher to invoke fire and sword and bloodshed in
expiation. Then I seem to hear its magic and inspired ring as her
wonderful faith conjured up visions of the future when the whole of
humanity shall live in peace and brotherhood, and the knife, which in time
of revolution had shed the blood of the oppressors, shall "cut nothing
deadlier than bread." A strange gaunt figure she was, a woman who had
never hesitated at shedding blood in the good Cause, nor feared to face
death for it; but with her friends, and especially with children and dumb
animals, she was as gentle as the gentlest of her sex; and no words can
describe the extreme sweetness of her voice.
As publication time approached, all-night sittings became necessary, when
all this heterogeneous assembly met together, and amidst Anarchist song
and Anarchist enthusiasm forwarded or hindered, each in his degree, the
publication of the _Tocsin_. I can see in my mind's eye the
much-littered, overcrowded office in all the confusion of those nights,
with its dark corners hidden in shadow, where slept tired fighters weary
of the fray, and its brightly-lighted patches, under the lamps, where the
work of the night was being carried on. Some dozen voices, more or less
musical, are chanting Anarchist war-songs, and the _Inno di Caserio_
and the _Marseillaise_ ring out through the open windows to the
dormant or drunken denizens of Lysander Grove. The Reincarnation is
patiently turning the wheel of the printing machine, and rolling out
fresh _Tocsins_, thinking, no doubt, of that tocsin which, at no
distant date, shall ring out from a loftier sphere to rouse the deluded
inhabitants of this globe to a different millennium from that dreamed of
by Anarchists. But, whatever his thoughts, he grinds away with much
Christian endurance and fortitude. Wainwright, who is tired after a long
turn at the wheel, subsequent to a hard day's work in the brick-yard, is
relating to a few interested listeners the strange story of his life, or
discussing points of Anarchist principle and propaganda.
Then, somehow, the Bleeding Lamb would find his way in, and looking over
at his reincarnated rival at the wheel with undisguised contempt, he
whispers: "I know what sort of a wheel his unhallowed hoof ought to be
Armitage and Kosinski at such times would be busy folding the papers,
both absorbed in their work, happy to think that they were thus advancing
the great Cause. And Short, shivering discontentedly at the cold, or
swearing amid much perspiration at the heat, would smoke his pipe and eat
his unattractive pastry, whilst crawling into his rugs and banners, until
Beppe, in an outburst of indignation, drags him out by the scruff of the
neck and compels him to lock up the forms.
One night there was a grand banquet, for Beppe had turned in, bearing
under his long cloak a prime conditioned tom-cat, whose disconcerted mews
were rapidly ended by a dexterous twist of the neck, and whose plump
person was before long stewing in wine and vinegar in the _Tocsin_
stockpot, after his liver had been previously fried for the private
consumption of the ever-hungry Beppe.
When this succulent repast had been disposed of towards 3 A.M. (all the
_Tocsin_ workers had admirable digestions) a brief respite from work
ensued, during which Beppe sang pieces of Italian opera, accompanied by
Gnecco on his mandolin, and M'Dermott treated us to brief recitations from
Shakespeare. Much stamping and gesticulation accompanied, I remember, the
soliloquy of Hamlet, and our flesh crept at the witches' incantations from
"Macbeth." The old cobbler delighted in Shakespeare and dictionaries,
between the perusal of which he spent most of his time. "Like Autolycus in
the 'Winter's Tale,'" he said to me one day, "I am a 'snapper-up of
unconsidered trifles,' and during the riots of 18--I snapped up a
sufficient number of these to enable me to set myself up with a small
library, and I did no work during eighteen months, devoting my entire time
to Shakespeare and Johnson's Dictionary."
Sometimes a phrenologist who had strayed into our midst would follow on
with a brief phrenological séance, and nothing afforded the comrades more
satisfaction than to be informed that their bumps showed undoubted
Then again the heavy roll of the machine would drown all lesser noises
with its monotonous grinding, as the most resolute and earnest among us
returned undaunted to the fray, whilst others, less energetic, curled up
on the floor in varying uncomfortable attitudes about the office--inside
the dormitory shed and out, propped against posts and type-racks, or
stretched on stacks of paper--and slumbered in blissful ignorance of the
future fortunes of the _Tocsin_.
THE DYNAMITARD'S ESCAPE
May-Day was at hand, and we had been working all night at the office of
the _Tocsin_ in order to have the paper ready in time to distribute
to the provincial groups. Since Friday morning I had hardly left the
office at all--merely going home for dinner and returning at once to the
fray--and by four o'clock Sunday morning we had rolled off the last of the
five thousand copies of the _Tocsin_, which, along with two thousand
leaflets drawn up by myself and Armitage, were ready for distribution. The
1st of May fell on the following Wednesday, and we had for once the
satisfaction of knowing that we had taken Time by the forelock.
Short had retired to his shake-down in the dormitory about midnight, and
the loud creaking of his boots against the boards was the only sign he
gave of life. Kosinski, Armitage, and Giannoli, after making up and
addressing the last parcel, had left for their respective abodes; Beppe
and Meneghino, having turned the wheel the whole evening, had fallen to
sleep exhausted, stretched on a bench in the machine-room; and I, after
having partaken of a cup of tea and some hot buttered toast which old
M'Dermott had provided for me, sat nodding and dozing on one side of the
fire. The old cobbler had fallen fast asleep on the other side while
poring over a dictionary, noting down sonorous and impressive-sounding
words with which to embellish the oration he intended to deliver on
May-day in Hyde Park.
About half-past five, just as the first cold rays of the chilly spring
dawn cast a ghastly blue light on the dormant figures around me, deadening
the yellow flame of the lamp which was burning itself out, I was roused
from my torpor by a light rap at the outside door. In the office all was
quiet, but for the heavy and rhythmic snores of the weary comrades, and
wondering who could claim admittance at such an unearthly hour, I rose
with a shiver and opened the door. To my surprise I found myself face to
face with Bonafede.
Since that bitter January day when Bonafede and his companions had
emerged from the London fog and made their unexpected entrance on the
scene of the _Tocsin_, I had not seen very much of him, though we had
never quite lost sight of one another, and I frequently heard his news
through mutual friends. As I have already stated, Gnecco and Bonafede had
retired to lodgings in the Italian quarter in the unsavoury neighbourhood
of Saffron Hill. They had a little money, but only enough to last for two
or three weeks. Gnecco had a few valuables in the shape of a gold watch
and chain, a pearl breast-pin, and a fur-lined coat, and he soon had
recourse to my friendly help to dispose of these articles to the best
advantage with a pawnbroker, and on the proceeds, eked out by some small
help which he received from his family, he managed to rub along, and he
and his mandolin were soon familiar features at the office. But with
Bonafede the case was different. He was a man of too active and
independent a character to be long idle. He was by profession an engineer,
and in Italy, before his career had been interrupted by his political
activity, he had held an important post on the Italian railways. But for
many years his life had been a stirring one, and he had learned to turn
his hand to whatever offered, and had in turn worked as a dock labourer, a
sailor before the mast, a gilder employed in church decorations, a
house-decorator in a lunatic asylum and a cutter-out of military trousers
at Marseilles, a warehouse porter and a navvy. Whatever job turned up he
accepted; if it was work at which he had no experience he would look up
some comrade in that line and get from him a few hints, and this,
supplemented by reading up particulars in some trade encyclopaedia at a
public library, enabled him to accomplish his task satisfactorily. He had
hardly been in London a fortnight when he looked about him for work, and,
nothing better offering, he engaged himself as washer-up at one of
Veglio's many restaurants. After six weeks he was rescued from the
uncongenial drudgery of scullion by a comrade, a fellow-Calabrian, who
earned a good living as decorator of West-end cafés, and who took on
Bonafede to assist him in frescoing a ceiling at the Trocadero, not,
however, before the latter had laid the foundations of a _lega di
resistenza_ between the Italians employed in restaurant kitchens. At
the end of a month the ceiling was painted, and Bonafede parted company
with his compatriot, pocketing £10, plus his keep whilst the job lasted.
One of his first steps was to visit me at the office of the _Tocsin_
and arrange for the printing of an Italian pamphlet and of a booklet of
revolutionary songs, the production of Gnecco, which were to be smuggled
into Italy for distribution. The cost of paper and carriage of these works
ran into the better part of £3. With the remaining cash in his pocket,
Bonafede went to look up old friends and comrades in the French and
Italian quarters. A's wife was expecting her confinement, B needed an
outfit in order to enter on a job as waiter which he had secured at a
club; C had been out of work for three months and had five small mites to
feed and clothe, and so forth. At the end of this expedition rather less
than 15s. remained in his pocket, and once more he sought employment.
This time he got taken on by a contractor who asphalted the London
streets, a work done entirely by Italians. Here he remained for nearly two
months, during which time he organised the men into a union and induced
them to strike for better conditions. The men won their point, and
returned to work on the condition that the agitator who had got up the
strike should be dismissed, and Bonafede left of his own accord, unwilling
to cause loss to the men by prolonging the struggle. After a few weeks'
enforced idleness, during which he was lost sight of by the comrades, he
reappeared one evening at a group meeting held at our office, and informed
us that he was taken on as electrician at the Monico.
Ten days had now passed since I last saw him, and my expression was
eloquent of my amazement at his unexpected appearance.
"You are surprised at my coming at such an unusual hour, Comrade," he
began with his strong Calabrian accent; "but you will understand when I
tell you that ever since yesterday evening I have been awaiting an
opportunity to get round here without being followed by my guardian angels
of Scotland Yard. Gnecco told me that you were passing the night in the
office, and so I seized on a favourable moment and came." He stopped,
glanced round the room, walked up to the bench on which the two Italians
were sleeping the sleep of the just, and having satisfied himself that no
one could overhear us he explained the motive of his visit to me.
"You doubtless know that Jean Matthieu, suspected of complicity in the
P.... bomb explosions, has been hiding in London for some time past." I
nodded assent: he had even been pointed out to me one evening by Giannoli
at a meeting in the East End.
"Well, since yesterday we have the certainty that the police are on his
track, that they are aware of his whereabouts. It has become absolutely
necessary for him to leave London without further delay--within the next
twenty-four hours. Everything is arranged. The police will be watching the
Continental trains, so he will go for the present to Leicester, and stay
with a comrade who has a French wife, and who will pass him off as his
wife's uncle. From there we hope, within a week or so to get him off to
America; but all this requires money: the least that we can give him is
twenty pounds. I had five by me, left with me to make use of for the
Cause, a few French comrades have handed me over another seven. But we are
still in need of eight pounds to make up the necessary sum. Could you let
us have it?"
The last days of the month always found me at the end of my resources. I
had but two pounds in my purse. "What a pity," I exclaimed, "that you
could not let me know yesterday! Today is Sunday; it will be impossible
for me to get at any money. Raymond is certain only to have a pound or two
on him, if he has as much; the Bank is closed. I have some jewellery by me
on which I could easily raise ten or twelve pounds, but the pawn-shops are
not open on Sundays. What am I to do? Can you not wait until tomorrow?"
Bonafede explained that every minute was of consequence: Matthieu must
leave at once or he would inevitably be arrested. We both remained silent,
hesitating, for a few minutes. At last he spoke: "Madame Combrisson has
the money by her, I am sure, but she will never give it. You say, however,
you have some jewellery that you would be willing to pledge: perhaps with
that as security she would advance us the money. Anyhow we can but try."
It was arranged that I should go home for my valuables and repair to the
house of the Combrissons, where, Bonafede informed me, Matthieu was at
that moment concealed.
"But do you think he is safe there?" I inquired.
"Oh yes, perfectly. Jules is a good comrade, and both he and his wife
have every reason to wish to remain on good terms with the Anarchists.
They know on which side their bread is buttered. I shall go now and you
will find me at the Combrissons'."
I knew the French couple well by reputation, though I had never yet
crossed their threshold. Combrisson had come over to England some twelve
years ago; he had been mixed up in the Anarchist propaganda, and had seen
fit to expatriate himself; it was rumoured that he had been actively mixed
up with a gang of coiners, amongst whom were several Anarchists who
thought it good warfare to make the hated bourgeois pay for the propaganda
by falsifying the currency. They had not been long in London when they
took a large house in Grafton Street, letting out rooms to comrades. They
also kept on the ground floor a small _depôt_ of foreign
revolutionary literature, and received for a consideration the
correspondence of the refugees. Combrisson, who worked as a carpenter and
joiner, had the reputation of being a good comrade, and always set down to
his wife's account all actions not strictly in accordance with the
principles of solidarity, such as turning out comrades who did not pay
their rent, refusing small loans and subscriptions, and such like.
By eight o'clock I was in Grafton Street. As I turned down the corner
which leads from the Tottenham Court Road, I became aware that I was being
followed. A young man with a sandy moustache, a celestial nose, and fishy
blue eyes, got up to look like a counter-jumper on a holiday, whom I had
long since learned to know as Detective Limpet, was walking a few steps
behind me on the other side of the road. I stopped at Number 9, my
destination, and I saw Limpet likewise stop outside a public-house which
stood opposite, and exchange a few words with a hulking brute leaning
against the wall, characterised by a heavy jaw, lowering brows, and a
strong Irish brogue, in whom I recognised Detective O'Brien. They both
turned their eyes on me as I stood on the door-step pulling the bell
handle, and I saw a stupid grin overspread the countenance of the Limpet.
The door was opened by a little maid-of-all-work who seemed doubtful as
to whether she should let me in or no, till a head adorned with
curl-papers appeared above the kitchen steps, calling out in a shrill
voice, "Jane, you fool, show the young lady in."
Next minute I was in the front kitchen, where Madame Combrisson, her
husband, and Bonafede awaited me.
The house was a good-sized, solidly-built one, originally intended for a
gentleman's residence, but fallen now on evil days. An odour of fried
onions and sawdust pervaded the establishment, for Madame Combrisson
boarded three or four of her lodgers, regaling them principally on
"_soupe à l'ognon_," and Combrisson carried on in the back kitchen
his carpentry business at which he kept these same lodgers employed,
paying them in kind with food and house-room, and doling out a few
shillings now and again as pocket-money. In this way he succeeded in
combining philanthropy and business, and though, after a few months, his
employees invariably left as soon as they had learned a little of the
English language and English prices, still there were always new-comers
willing, nay anxious, to replace them.
After a few preliminary words of introduction, I produced the jewellery
for Madame Combrisson's inspection. She was a small wiry woman, with hard,
covetous grey eyes, grizzled hair screwed up in a tight knot on the top of
her head, a nose like the beak of a bird of prey, and thin blue lips. Her
eyes lit up as her hands turned over the little diamond brooch and
finely-chased gold bracelet which I submitted to her inspection.
"Of course I am not a judge," she said, "but I should think we could
easily raise a little money on these. I wish I had it myself, I would
willingly give it for the Cause, but, _que voulez vous,
mademoiselle_? we are but poor folk; however, I know some one near here
who might perhaps be able to oblige us; I will go and see."
Bonafede winked at me and I could see that he considered the matter
settled. He and Combrisson left the kitchen and I remained alone with
madame, who proceeded to take her fringe out of the curl-papers, and to
exchange her petticoat and red flannel jacket for a somewhat rusty black
dress. Whilst performing her toilette she eyed me carefully. I noticed
that since she had inspected the jewellery she had involuntarily assumed a
more respectful tone in addressing me. "I hear from the comrades that you
are very active in the Cause, mademoiselle; have you been long in the
I replied that it was getting on for two years.
"And your family, are they Anarchists also?"
I explained that my parents were dead and that I was the only one of my
family who worked in the movement. She seemed surprised at this
information, "But you must be rich," she said: "that jewellery you have
brought is very beautiful; you are young, you could enjoy yourself, mix
with those of your own class; why do you work in a printing-office
"But I am an Anarchist. We must all do what we can to help the Cause, I
do my best; not more, however, than other comrades."
She seemed by now to have summed me up, though I was evidently still
somewhat of a mystery to her, and she merely said:--
"Oh, of course we are all Anarchists; we all do our best for the Cause."
As she was leaving, Bonafede came down and said that Matthieu would like
to see me if I saw fit, and together we mounted to the back attic where
the dynamitard was concealed.
Nobody could have guessed on sight that the puny little man before me
could be the dreaded Anarchist for whom the police of Europe had been
searching high and low during the past seven months. Matthieu was a tailor
by trade, and his physique bore traces of the sedentary work and of the
long hours passed in close unhealthy rooms. He was slightly hunchbacked,
his chest narrow and hollow, his legs bowed; his pale blue eyes with their
swollen red lids had the strained expression of one accustomed to make use
of the last rays of daylight before lighting the lamp. His massive jaw and
firm round chin, and high narrow forehead were the only features which
revealed in him the man of action and the fanatic. Yet this was the man
who, by a series of explosions culminating in the blowing up of a police
station, had spread terror in the ranks of the French bourgeoisie.
We shook hands, and I told them how I had been followed by Detective
Limpet and how he and O'Brien were stationed opposite the house.
"Yes," said Bonafede, "it is certain that they suspect Matthieu's
presence here; we must try to get rid of them in some way for a short
while; set them off on some false scent, so as to enable our comrade to
leave the house."
"If you would only let me do as I wish," broke in Matthieu, "I would soon
be out of this. I have a good revolver and I am not afraid to use it. I
would make a rush for it, and ten to one I should get off scot-free; and
anyhow better be taken fighting than caught like a rat in a hole."
We both tried to dissuade him, arguing that there was always time to take
such a step, and that with a little patience and ingenuity it was almost
certain that a means would be found for his safe escape.
In a few minutes Madame Combrisson entered the room. She handed me over
£10 and a receipt for the pledges, adding that her friend would not be
induced to lend more. I handed the sum over to Bonafede. He had now £22 in
hand, so that the financial side of the difficulty was solved. Madame
Combrisson, however, had news. A neighbour had informed her that Chief
Inspector Deveril had been seen in the street, and that, after giving
instructions to his two subordinates not to move from their post of
observation, he had left, it was supposed, in order to procure a
search-warrant. This news filled us with alarm. Almost any minute now the
police might claim entrance to the house, and then Matthieu would
inevitably be caught. What was to be done? I was told off to look out of a
front window from behind a curtain and report on the situation, but only
to return with the news that Limpet and O'Brien were both leaning airily
on their sticks studying the heavens with imperturbable calm. Matthieu was
growing restless. He walked up and down the small room like a caged beast,
nervously clutching at the revolver which he kept in his trouser pocket.
Madame Combrisson kept bemoaning her fate, saying that it would be the
ruin of her house if the police entered. Bonafede alone remained calm and
collected. At last he exclaimed, looking at his watch, "It is now past
eleven, in another half-hour the public-houses will open, let us hope that
our friends below may turn in to refresh themselves. In that minute
Matthieu must escape; we must have everything ready; he had better change
his clothes and disguise himself as much as possible. We will leave
together; we are both armed, and if the worst comes to the worst we will
sell our lives dearly."
"Oh, my poor house, my poor house!" moaned madame, "this business will be
the death of us all."
Bonafede turned on her savagely. "This is no time for recriminations," he
exclaimed. "Sharpen your wits and see if you cannot find some means of
getting rid of those spies. You are clever enough when it is a question of
serving your own interests."
Madame Combrisson seemed electrified by these words.
"I will try, Comrade, only give me time to think." Next minute, she
exclaimed, "How would it do to send down two of the comrades to pick a
quarrel in the street? They could start a fight, a crowd will assemble,
the detectives will go to see what is up, and you and Matthieu can avail
yourselves of the confusion to escape."
"Good!" replied Bonafede, "go and see about it at once. I will help
Matthieu to get ready, and you, Isabel, be on the look-out, and let us
know when the right moment has come."
I stationed myself behind the curtain at the front parlour window. In a
few minutes I saw a young German who lodged in the house rush up the area
steps into the street, followed by Combrisson. They were both shouting and
gesticulating loudly, and Combrisson seemed to be demanding money which
the other refused. A few passers-by stopped to listen to the two
foreigners, who danced around, growing ever more noisy; but Limpet and
O'Brien stood firm. They looked at the combatants, but seemed to consider
the matter as a joke, and only crossed over to our side of the way when
they saw a crowd begin to assemble. The quarrel between Combrisson and his
lodger began to flag when they saw that their object had failed, and the
German soon walked off in the direction of Tottenham Court Road. I watched
the detectives cross over to their former post of observation, and was
just going to inform the comrades of the negative result of this manoeuvre
when I saw Inspector Deveril coming down the street. For a second I stood
paralysed with apprehension: all was up with my friends! Next moment I had
climbed the four flights, and given the dreaded news.
Matthieu rushed to the attic window. It gave on to a wide gutter which
ran along several roofs. "This is my only means of escape. I will get into
one of these other houses by the skylight, and escape at the front door
whilst they are searching here."
"And if any one tries to stop you?" I exclaimed.
"So much the worse for them," he replied, clutching his revolver.
He was already outside the window when Bonafede spoke, advising him to
wait a minute whilst we saw what was going on. As soon as the police
knocked, he could carry out his plan. To be noticed by them on the roof
would be fatal to its success.
At that moment Combrisson rushed in. "I cannot tell what has happened.
Deveril spoke to those two spies and has walked off. The public-house has
opened, Limpet has gone inside, and only O'Brien remains on guard."
We all three went downstairs to watch proceedings, leaving Matthieu by
the window, ready at a moment's notice to put his desperate project into
Sure enough, all was quiet in the street below; passers-by were hurrying
home to their Sunday dinners, the smell of which pervaded the street and
house, and O'Brien stood at the door of the opposite pub, leaning
gracefully on his stick and gazing at the windows of our house. We stood
watching for about a quarter of an hour, fully expecting to see the police
appear; the room had gradually filled with the lodgers, all on the _qui
vive_, and jabbering fluently in foreign tongues. As nobody came and
all seemed quiet, Bonafede and I returned upstairs to reassure Matthieu.
In a few minutes we heard a ring at the door.
"It is they!" we exclaimed, and Matthieu leapt to the window, whilst
Bonafede rushed to the door, which burst open, giving admittance to a
strange-looking figure. The new-comer had the slight build and nervous
carriage of a Frenchman, but was got up in the most aggressively British
attire. Clean-shaven, with a short bulldog pipe in the corner of his
mouth, a billycock hat set rather jauntily on his head, a short,
drab-coloured overcoat of horsy cut, black and white check trousers,
red-skin riding gloves, square-toed walking shoes, a light cane, and a
rose in his buttonhole; you would have taken him at first sight for a
sporting tipster. Matthieu, who had stopped short at this sudden
apparition, and Bonafede, both stood staring in amazement. The new-comer
looked at them with a wicked twinkle in his eye, and burst out into a
"Why, it is you, Sylvestre," the Italian at last said, whilst Matthieu
jumped down into the room. "But what on earth have you done to yourself? I
should never have recognised you?"
"Ah! so I look in character, then? If you did not recognise me no wonder
that I was able to take in those gaping clodhoppers, fresh from their
turnip-fields, in the street below. I have news for you. Just listen," but
here he broke off, for, looking round the room, he had caught sight of me
(I had stood speechless in a corner whilst this scene was enacted). "First
though, my dear fellow, I must beg you to introduce me to the lady. The
emotions of the moment seem to have made you and Matthieu forget all
Bonafede turned smilingly towards me, and introduced us: "Armand
Sylvestre, a French comrade; Isabel Meredith, editor of the _Tocsin_"
The Frenchman made me an elegant and profound bow in strange contrast
with his sporting appearance, removing his hat, which he had till then
"But what has happened to you, Sylvestre?" exclaimed Matthieu. "Your hair
has turned purple."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake don't look at my hair. A most awful fate has
befallen it. Yesterday I heard from Cotteaux that you intended leaving
soon, so I settled to come down here this morning, and thought it would be
as well to disguise myself; one never knows, one can sometimes get such a
lot of fun out of those heavy-witted, pudding-eating police. So I asked
Marie to go into a West End hairdresser's and procure some black hair-dye,
as I know my gold locks are well known to our friends below. She asked for
some, explaining that it was for theatricals, and last night I tried it.
With what result you see!--and mind I only made up my mind to come out
after washing it some dozen times. Now, with a hat on, it's not very
noticeable, but if you could have seen it last night; it had turned the
real imperial shade of purple! It was a sight for the gods!"
We all laughed heartily at his adventure, the humour of which was
heightened by the mock pathos and tragedy with which he narrated it. But
Matthieu, who was straining his ears to catch the slightest sound
downstairs, asked him to proceed with his news.
"_Oh, mais vous saves, mademoiselle, votre pays est tout-à-fait
épatant_," he began, turning to me. "As I came down the street I
noticed Deveril speaking with those two satellites of his outside the 'Cat
and Mouse.' I at once guessed something was up here, and thought I would
try and pump them, so I walked into the bar and asked in my best English
accent for a whisky and soda, throwing down a half-sovereign to pay for
it, and began talking about racing bets with the barman. As I expected,
after a few minutes, Limpet entered, asking for a glass of bitter; he soon
got interested in our talk. I was giving tips with the air of a Newmarket
jockey, and as he had finished his drink I offered to treat him. He
hesitated, saying that he was in a hurry, and I then pumped the whole tale
out of him, how he and his comrade were watching this house, where they
had reason to know that a dangerous French Anarchist was concealed, and so
forth and so on.
"'But,' I said, 'if this is so, why do you not get a warrant to search
the house?' And he then explained to me that the inspector had wished so
to do, but that the magistrate, spite of his entreaties, had refused to
sign the warrant because it was Sunday!! Yes, this is an extraordinary
country. Society must be saved, but before everything the Sabbath must not
be broken. _C'est delicieux!_ Having gained this information, I
politely wished him good day, and walked over to this house. You should
have seen the faces of those two men. I expect their mouths are open
We all stared at each other at this information. This, then, was the
secret of the situation. The English Sunday had saved our comrade!
Bonafede went downstairs to summon the Combrissons and relieve their
minds. We had now nearly twenty-four hours before us; it was certain that
till nine o'clock on Monday morning the search-warrant would not be
signed. In this interval Matthieu must leave the house, but how?
Sylvestre, who evidently looked upon the whole question as a good joke
--_une bonne blague_--suggested that the dynamitard should dress up
in his sporting attire; he urged that the detectives had seen him enter
and could not be surprised at his leaving, and that this would be the best
solution of the difficulty. The idea seemed feasible, and it was tried on.
Matthieu got into the check trousers and horsy overcoat, but the effect
was too ludicrous, and he was the first to laugh at the figure he cut in
the looking-glass. Something else must be found. Madame Combrisson came to
the rescue. She reminded us of a Jewish comrade, also a tailor by trade,
who was not unlike Matthieu, being slightly hunchbacked. Her idea was to
get him round, dress him in the fugitive's clothes, let Bonafede call a
cab in an ostentatious style, into which the false Matthieu was to jump
and drive off; the detectives would probably follow on their bicycles, and
then was our opportunity. Only, how to get this man on to the scene
without his advent being noticed by them? For if he were seen to enter,
the game was up; his exit would not cause surprise. We were still face to
face with the same difficulty, and Matthieu once more began to pace the
room like a wild beast in a cage.
Sylvestre broke the silence. "The only way out of the difficulty is to
disguise our man. Dress him up as a woman; he will then enter without
In a few minutes all was settled. I was to leave with the hand-bag in
which I had brought in the jewellery to be pawned; but this time it was to
contain a dress belonging to Madame Combrisson. With this I was to proceed
to the lodging of the Jewish comrade, Yoski, taking care to lose on the
way any detective who might be following me. Yoski was to dress himself in