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the Radicals '11 have themselves to thank for it
when the mischief's done.'

' Sir, there was a high moral purpose in that
ball,' says the Quaker. * Our people want ideals.
We tried to give them an ideal by showing their
unity with the past. I never beheld anything
finer in my life than our " Ballroom at Old
Versailles." Some good judges thought it beat
the real thing.'

An Australian, costumed as a pastoralist of the
patriarchal age, chimes in : * You Americans have
done well enough in the world, God knows, since
you parted company with the old country. But
I 've sometimes thought you made a mistake in
not keeping hold of a corner of the apron-string
after all. The connection 's a wonderful help for
the decorative part of the business — handles to
your name, and what not. Believe me, the
opening of one of our sessions of the Legislature
is a pretty sight. What strikes me so in the


No. 5 John Street

States is that you seem at your wits' end to find
an excuse for a bit of gold lace. You give your-
selves such everlasting trouble to keep up the
artificial difference — equality. All civilised socie-
ties mean the same thing — a fair field to every
man to make his fortune and keep the losers in
their place. Why can't we all do it ? '

' Dash it,' cries Sir Marmaduke, still sore with
his grievance, ' that 's just what we want over
here. We can't get the fair field. Do you call
it a fair field when you 've a " Dangerous Trades
Committee " barking at a man's heels every time
he tries to carry on his own business in his own
way ? '

His mail gauntlet clangs disgust as he throws
it on the marble table by way of preparation for
a draught of whisky and soda. ' I 'm working
up a little affair of my own just now,' he con-
tinues, * but I 'm not sure I shall be able to pull it
off. The faddists are on the scent. They want
me to doctor my gals as if it was a blessed sana-
torium. It ain't a sanatorium ; it 's a concern for
makin' money. Patent ventilators for the rooms !
Six hundred cubic feet of air to each worker!
Who the devil are they to have their breath
measured out to 'em like their milk .'* Lids for
the naphtha cans ! Automatic machines, for this ;
no young person under sixteen, for that. Sir,
they're playin' up Old Harry with the enterprise
of the country. If I 'd thought of it, I 'd ha'
come to this show as an awful warning — the Last
of the Millionaires.'


No. 5 John Street

' When do you expect to get out of town this
year ? ' asks Baldwin, Count of Flanders, as
though to change the subject of a sorrow that
Hes too deep for tears. ' And what 's your pitch ?'

* Engadine as usual, and as soon as I 've got
the Union launched. The House of Commons
begins to choke me after June.'

The conversation is interrupted by the re-
appearance of Seton, this time as a sort of under-
study of the part of a messenger of the gods.

' There 's no time for dancing the separate sets,
sir, and you're wanted for an "All Ages and
Nations Quadrille." '

We hurry to the ballroom, just in time to see
a William the Conqueror joining hands with
Lady Ridler, a St. Louis with the American
heiress. The musicians nerve themselves for a
crowning effort; the dance begins. It is at its
height when, suddenly, to my appalled gaze, but
to no other, there appears, right in the midst of
the figure, a vision of Nance stretched on her
dying bed, with a light in her eyes which is not
of this world. It is no vision of fancy, but a
sheer objective presence. I see her exactly as I
see them. She is there as plainly as the other
shapes, only they are not aware, for there is no
break in the order of their movement, no inter-
mission of laugh or jest. At length, in the mad
galop of the finale, they all stand clear of their
dread co-partner ; and Egypt, Athens, Rome,
feudal England, and free America foot it in the
veritable dance of Death of the Ages, round the


No. 5 John Street

body of a labour slave. It is my last glimpse of
the Jubilee.

Then, after glancing at my watch, I walk out
in the dawn, to change at chambers on my way
to John Street, knowing perfectly well what news
I am going to hear.



Mv first footfall on the landing, as I reach my
floor, brings Covey to the door of his room.

* Bad news, mate.'

* I know it. Nance died this morning just
before break of day. '

' You knowed it ! 'Ow ? '

* Never mind.'

* Why, Tilda sent me up fust train to bring you
word ! '

His story, in so far as he is able to tell it, is
soon told. On the very night of my leaving John
Street they had a message to say that Nance's
cold had taken a sudden turn. Tilda and Covey
set off together ; and there they stayed till the
end, not knowing how to communicate with me.

I hurry back with Covey to find Tilda ; and
between her and the doctor I soon learn the rest.

Nance's cold was nothing in itself, everything
in the patient's state. There was no power of
resistance in the enfeebled frame. The organic
trouble of old standing in the lungs might have
been kept at bay for years, if the system had had
any recuperative power.

' The vitality was gone,' says the doctor ; 'gone
through persistent slow poisoning. She has been


No. 5 John Street

as surely poisoned as if she had taken a dose.
I know the place where she worked. We had
hundreds of cases from there at Guy's in my
student days. It's a murder trap, warranted to
kill if you give it half a chance. I had my doubts
about her when she came down, but I never knew
where she made her living till this morning. She
came here, or rather she got away from there,
weeks too late. There was nothing to work on
for recovery. It's pneumonia now, if I had to
give it a name for a certificate. But it would be
sheer poisoning in small doses if I had to lecture
on it as a hospital case.'

' Why not give it its right name everywhere ? '
* Because the law won't stand any nonsense
about first causes. Half the certificates we write
are mere anodynes for the public conscience.
Most of the factory work for girls is simply mur-
derous. They 're not built for it. See them at
the bookfolding, the body swaying to and fro in
one mechanical action repeated thousands of times
in the day, with a regularity of friction that would
wear out a cast-iron shape. The whole conditions
are false. It 's the pace that kills ; and without
the pace, how are they to compete with the
machinery ? The other element of success in the
competition is wretched pay. The too much
work and the too little pay are both logical
consequences. If they worked gently, they
couldn't do enough. If they were paid well, the
labour would be too dear. The poor pay means
poor grub. You 've no idea of the muck they


No. 5 John Street

eat. Nothing in it to repair the waste and keep
body and soul together. When, on the top of all
this, you get the poison thrown in, what are you
to do ? If there 's no actual poison, it 's called a
healthy trade. The factory air, the factory dirt,
the factory stenches, found in all the trades, don't
come into the reckoning.'

It was a tragic death, for it was the death of a
dot, a speck of humanity, an item of no account.
Nance's Maker owed Nance nothing, and kept
up the stern refusal to recognise any semblance
of a claim to the last. Both girls had to fight it
out on their faint remembrance of the teaching of
the Sunday school ; and, for the rest, on the natural
religion of the slums — the hard gospel of the reign
of supreme irresponsible powers in this world and
in the next, and the weakest to the wall. Thou-
sands of Nance's class have no other, in spite of
the liberal provision offered to them by missionary
effort. Both these girls were orphaned at an
early age ; and for years they had no relatives
within reach, and hardly any within knowledge.
From the first they had to rough-hew their scheme
of a Divine government of the world as they went
on. The difference between them, in the supreme
hour, was that Nance's intuitions were those of
her character and her physical prostration ; Tilda's,
those of her greater strength of body and mind.
In each case it was but paganism pure and simple,
crossed by vague traditions of the Christian

With the dying girl, as the awful clouds


No. 5 John Street

gathered about her, it was the abjectness of sheer
physical misery — the sense that the house of the
body was a house falHng in on all sides.

With this there was the terror of the unknown,
unexperienced anguish that might yet be to come,
inspired by fragmentary recollections of old teach-
ings of God as Judge, of eternities of torment,
still physical in their nature.

This was rendered only more exquisite by
attempted propitiations of confession, as though
a midge sought to make a clean breast of it in
regard to the infirmities of midge life. These
poor consolations soon yielded to the sense that
tremendous powers, pitiless, unmoral, working-
out a law of their own, have us in their grip, and
will deal with us according to that law. So the
engine-room of an ocean liner would deal with
one who had toppled over into its pulverising
order of wheel and piston working at their full

And ever yet, in contrast with the sense of
that little, vague, and half unknown ' naughtiness '
of wrong done, the sense of that mighty, yet still
vague and unknown, wrath of retribution — the
fear that death was going ' to hurt,' now and
hereafter ; the wonder why the irresponsible and
unresponsive powers could not let ' poor little me'

Oh if only she might really die, really cease to
be, for good and all, and have done with the
miseries of an uncertain event !

Then the fierce and desperate grasp of the


No. 5 John Street

certainties ' in hand ' — love for Tilda, trust in
Tilda — Tilda good enough for her, the nearest
thing to protecting power within her ken.

The wonder whether she would meet mates
and friends who had gone before — Sally, and
Tom, and the sister that died as a little child.
How could she hope for any encounter of love,
friendship, or kinship in that immeasurable void ?

The sense of the world spinning, spinning away
from her, as the final hour drew nigh. Not she
was leaving the world ; the world was leaving her
for its appointed tracks in space ; while the wind
of its mighty rush sang in her ears * down the
ringing grooves of change, ' and all its warmth of
life and light faded off into the infinite, while she
shivered alone in the cold and dark.

Then, at the last, the peace of sheer quiescence
without trust. The game was up. Struggle how
futile ! Fear how futile ! Be still and yield. It
is the rapids, with the Fall in sight through a
break in the black sky.

The grip on Tilda's palm, as she balanced on
the edge of the green water, and saw the boiling
foam beyond.

Blood trickling from Tilda's palm, where the
nail had entered the flesh, when all was done.



Nance's fate seems to rouse John Street from its
apathy of indifference to its own lot ; but, to its
credit, it is still more sorry for her than for itself.
Now that she is gone, we find that everybody liked
her or loved her, in his own way. Every room
finds its moral in the event. The very thieves
in the cellar argue that, since this is honest indus-
try, it is better to go on picking pockets. The
prevalent feeling is by no means Tilda's awe-
struck submission to forces of evil beyond her
ken. It is rather a helpless rage.

Azrael would like to rouse it to a cry for
vengeance. His white wrath seems to glare
through the whole building. He is at us night
after night in the preaching shed. Nought will
serve him but the dissolution of a society in
which such things can come to pass.

All else has been tried, even the passionate
revolt of the barricade, and it has been found
wanting. There is nothing for his seeking in
the thin critical methods of the philosophers of
Socialism — nothing in the smug literature of the
Humanities. The poets and the book-making
crew at large bring no help. They pretend to
take the place of the priests as teachers, inter-


No. 5 John Street

preters, oracles, and they are even as the old
gang. Nance is but a touch for their new season's
patterns in rhetoric brought out every spring and
fall — the shading for their Pindaric odes on the
shows of life. Art has nothing to say for Nance,
but in the same way. She is a mere studio
property, and her complement is a Duchess
giving doles. Philosophy itself has ratted, with
the German madman who offers a text for the
doctrine of the abasement of the weak. All dis-
dain her, the one crying evil of the world. They
have become hierarchies of place and power ; they
have made their peace with the spoiler ; and they
will simper with the best pluralist of the earlier
dispensation, as they wait in file for their chance
of a call to the feast. Helpers these!

And the stone of the Mission systems offered
for bread — he will have none of that. Talk of
giving the Pentateuch to a Zulu, or the Trinity
to a Chinese ! What is this to the mockery of
ministrations of piety to Nance, paid for with Sir
Marmaduke's alms? Salvation by blood and
fire.'* — such fire as burns on the altars of the
Head Quarters Staff! Warfare against Satan-
pat-a-tra ! Satan is but Sir Marmaduke's whip-
ping boy ; and much either of them minds it
while these pigmies lay on !

I listen to him, in spite of Tilda's ever-increas-
ing horror of the hiss of his voice, of his mask of
hate. His speech stops at nothing, not even at
an arraignment of the Highest of the accepted
creeds. No Omnipotence or Omniscience this


No. 5 John Street

one, but only another sort of human being, made
in our own image, and doing a doubtful best.

It is the gospel of the wretch in a hurry. The
pace of the coral insect in slow-moving organic
change, how utterly hopeless ! What agony in
the thought of the centuries quietly working your
life-contribution in grains of lime into the pave-
ment of the new Paradise! Now! Now!

He is a doctrine passing through the medium
of a temperament, and the temperament a furnace
of elemental passions. His own sufferings as a
revolutionist have searched out the weakest parts >
of his nature — hate and envy, the craving for
revenge. He is sincere in his faith of democracy ;
but that faith, like others, touches only some
through pity, through love, through the grace of
self-sacrifice. To others it appeals through their
yearning to see their fellows smart where they
have smarted, to ' pay back ' and to cry quits with
the answering pang. He is consumed with the
sense of social injustice, and he waits his great
revenge. To be fair to him, he thinks it is no
revenge for his own scar, but only for the wounds
of the mass. He is capable of sublimities of
self-denial for the comrades of his sect. He
hates by categories ; he retaliates by categories ;
yet he is never so much himself as when he
glories in the thought that self has been left out
of the reckoning. His law of life is the law of
the eye for an eye, but he has lost his conscious-
ness of its true nature by giving it an altruistic
end. He is a well of science ; he knows every-


No. 5 John Street

thing but the human heart ; and, for want of that
knowledge, all his thinking processes fade off into
the logic of Cloud Cuckoo Land. His simple
plan is to frighten society into a capitulation by
steadily blowing it into the air. In one word,
his sense of the inhumanity of man to man has
made him a greater monster than the worst.

He attends the funeral uninvited, leads his
ragged regiment past the grave in the country
churchyard, harangues under his red flag, writhes
in and out of our peaceful umbrage like another
serpent of Eden.

When all is over, he calls a mighty meeting in
John Street, to Tilda's unspeakable disgust. If
anything could revive the Amazon in her just
now, it would be the desire to suppress him with
the arm of flesh. But Nance's death has done
for her what nothing else could have done. She
stands passive and uncomplaining — paralysed for
all violence by the wind of the blow that has
struck her mate.

For all that, she implores us to take her to his
infernal assembly. It is the Council of Pande-
monium without the decorum of the rules of the
House. It reveals the hate of the sections
against one another as well as their hate of
society. The Blacks of Anarchy scream their
rage against the Reds of Social Democracy as
sneaking poltroons who have gone the mile or
twain, but shrink from the journey's end.

The resolutions are carried as by tooth and
claw. They fight over points of procedure, not


No. 5 John Street

for the sake of the points, but for the sake of the
fight. They maim and mutilate each other's
speeches with discordant yells. Finally, they do
the same of¥ice on each other's persons as they
battle for the possession of the platform. The
Social Democrats are hurled from the empyrean
of their trestled elevation to the abyss of the
floor, and the seats of the mighty are in the
keeping of Azrael and his crew. One's heart
sickens at the whole business. It is the delirium
of plague-stricken wretches tearing each other on
their beds of pain. Azrael fulminates with foam-
ing mouth against the Maker that made him, and
the society that nursed. Tilda listens, her eyes
glazed with horror, her hands clasped in Covey's
and mine.

In another moment she is suddenly wrenched
from us by a rush of surging maniacs. The
lights are turned out; and when one feeble jet
is re-lit, the girl is no longer to be seen. The
meeting has broken to pieces in hideous riot.
Azrael is gone.

She is not in her room; she is not in the
house. Something has happened — is happening
while the moments run to waste. Impossible to
doubt the nature of it after what has passed.
Azrael has some desperate venture pfoot, and
Tilda, divining it, has gone to step between him
and his prey.

To find Azrael, then, is to find Tilda. I rush
to his room, where '48 holds watch and ward.
The miserable creature repeats a tale evidently


No. 5 John Street

learned by rote. Azrael's movements are none
of his business. I waste precious time in urging
him to amend it by every kind of appeal to his
pity and his greed. At length I seize him by
the windpipe, and choke and beat the truth out
of his lying throat. Azrael has gone to Sir
Marmaduke's, who this very night holds high
revel with the choicest spirits of his band. I
ask for no more. I know perfectly well what he
carries. The laboratory table is enough, with
its litter of fulminates and acids and miscellaneous
gear of the arsenal of Anarchy. His luggage is
a bomb.

I jump into a cab, telling the man to drive for
his life — jump out of it again to mend the pace,
and run, run, till I near the house. But before
I reach it, a loud report rends the air, and I stop
at last, only to see this — Tilda stretched dead and
warm, and with the martyr's smile on her white
face turned to the sky.

Beside her, about her, lie the fragments of the
murderer, with a rent in his side big enough to
sink a ship. There is another rent in the low
wall that separates the garden from the street.
A conservatory beyond, which almost touches
the wall, is a smoking ruin ; and glimpsed through
the smoke is a dining-room in hideous confusion,
as host and guests stand petrified in the attitudes
in which they have risen to their feet.

The scene tells its own tale. The wretch
tried to scale the wall so as to plant his charge
against the house. The girl closed with him,
X 321

No. 5 John Street

and dragged him back. But in the struggle the
bomb exploded and did its work, alike on the
guilty and the innocent. It was the bad hus-
bandry of her heroic nature. A thousand Sir
Marmadukes, with all their spawn and all their
following, were as dust in the balance against this
one life.

This, then, was the dark decree. Tilda was
to die with Nance — both victims, the one to the
curse of the disease, the other to the curse of the



A MONTH has passed. It is still summer, but
the summer's pride is not what it was when
I began.

Where so good a place to think out the mean-
ing of it all, for that final report to the Governor,
as by this brookside where poor Tilda knelt
knee-deep in flowers on a never-to-be-forgotten
day ?

As restful this for meditation on ' all the wealth
of this world, and all the woe both,' as any summit
of the Malvern Hills.

The Malvern Hills !

As I lie musing, I know not how, I am gradu-
ally aware of the presence of one who dreamed
on those hills the moral of a whole life spent as
in awestruck wonder, terror, pity, and rage at the
madness of the life about him. He saw the poor
becoming ever poorer, the rich ever richer, a
priesthood without the faith of deeds, a religion
that was no longer a lamp to the feet. He died
as he had lived, still wondering, still bearing his
testimony of poet and seer against a regimen of
lies. This was his work. He was Chaucer's
teacher, and a greater than Chaucer, though he
sang less sweet, by reason that passion marred


No. 5 John Street

the evenness of his note. Though a learned
clerk, he was content to earn his crust by odd
jobs in the Westminster Courts. That done, he
returned to his true business, the exposure of the
folly of the world's wisdom, and the squalor of its
pomp. Yet he lived in an age of glory and of
conquest, which took stock of itself in a year of
Jubilee as complacently as we do now. Rapt in
this way, the gaunt somnambulist strode through
the London streets * woe-weary and wet-shod,' and
sometimes in search of pot-luck. Ever busy with
his haunting vision of the better and the worse,
he saluted no man on his path, least of all the rich
and proud, nor deigned to say * God save you '
to the haughty sergeants of the law who might
have put many a meal's victuals in his way. His
sole refreshment of spirit, and that, perhaps, a
purely imaginative one, was to lay himself down,
from time to time, on the cool grass of his native
hills, and dream at his ease. Here he seemed to
receive precious visitation of a simple lad from
the plough, who might finally set things straight
by bringing men back to honesty, nature, and
sheer beauty of human relations. The thoughts
from which he never could escape were, in the
material domain — the fruits of the earth to all the
sons of the earth ; in the spiritual — reason and
conscience as the guides of the self-directed soul.
The books in which he set them down had the
perilous fascination of light. The clerks read
him, the people learned him by heart. John Ball
could not forbear to quote in public, and got


No. 5 John Street

himself drawn, hung, and quartered for his

The majestic figure says not a word, but simply,
looks down at me ; and, under the compulsion
of its gaze, I begin to write my Report. It
is not what I want to say. It was only what 1
have to say. But the shape is inexorable :

'Time, Sir, seems to count for nothing in human
experience. Five hundred years, or thereabouts, have
passed since our last great warning, and we are still
busy with a profitless struggle to live without a valid
religion. For want of such religion in both the
murderers, two women have just died of murder under
my very eyes. The Ridlers (for whom and others,
please see Appendix) are but Azrael living from greed
as a first principle, as the Azraels are but Ridlers living
from hate and revenge.

' It is as though we had all been wafted to the most
tragi-comic of new planets. We have seen planets of
this sort in fancy, wherein the inhabitants have to live
from a single organ, say a stomach, with the most
grotesque effect.

* The single organ on which we attempt the experi-
ment is the idea of each for himself. With all the
glorious freedom of choice in ideals in this glorious
world, we have given our preference to one called the
pursuit of wealth. Under this scheme, as man of
worship, we have Beast Ridler, a dragon beside which
the monster of Wagnerian opera is but a toy. We are
all in the same boat ; for the irony of it is that, although
you begin your testimony as an indictment, it is sure to
end as a confession. For myself, I plead invincible
ignorance, as, I have no doubt, the rest may do. I
never began to suspect my share of the iniquity till I
went to No. 5.


No. 5 John Street

* A Ridler in his claim upon life is as pitiless of those

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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 18 of 21)