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Fontenoy smiled rather gloomily, and the two walked on in silence.
«I say, Tressady, will you pair till eleven?» cried a man swinging bareheaded along the terrace with his hat in his hand. «I want an hour or two off badly, and there will be no big guns on till eleven or so.>>
George exchanged a word or two with Fontenoy, then stood still and thought a moment. A sudden animation flushed into his face. Why not?
«All right, he said; «till eleven.>>
Then he and Fontenoy went back to dine. As they mounted the dark staircase leading from the terrace another man caught Tressady by the arm.
«The strike notices are out,» he said. «I have just had a wire. Every one leaves work to-night.>>
George shrugged his shoulders. He had been expecting the news at any moment, and was glad that the long shilly-shallying on both sides was at last over.
«Good luck to them!» he said. «I'm glad. The fight had to come.»>
«Oh, we shall be in the middle of arbitration before a fortnight's up. The men won't stand.»>
George shook his head. He himself believed that the struggle would last on through the autumn.
« Well, to be sure, there 's Burrows,» said his informant, himself a large coal-owner in the Ferth district; «if Burrows keeps sober, and if somebody does n't buy him, Burrows will do his worst.»>
<<That we always knew,» said George, laughing, and passed on. He had only just time to catch his train.
He walked across to the underground station, and by the time he reached it he had clean forgotten his pits and the strike, though as he passed the post-office in the House a sheaf of letters and telegrams had been put into his hands. Rather, he was full of a boy's eagerness and exultation. He had never supposed he could be let off to-night till the offer of Dudley's pair tempted him. And now in half an hour he would be in that queer Mile End room, watching her-quarreling with her.
A little later, however, as he was sitting quietly in the train, quick composite thoughts of Letty, of his miners and his money difficulties, began to clutch at him again. Perhaps, now that the strike was a reality, it might even be a help to him and a bridle to his wife. Preposterous, what she was doing
and planning at Ferth! His face flushed and hardened as he thought of their many wrangles during the past fortnight, her constant drag upon his purse, his own weakness, the annoyance and contempt that made him yield rather than argue.
What was that fellow Harding Watton doing in the house at all hours, beguiling Letty, by his collector's airs, into a hundred foolish wants and whims? And that brute Cathedine! Was it decent, was it bearable, that a bride of three months should take no more notice of her husband's wishes and dislikes in such a matter than Letty had shown with regard to her growing friendship with that disreputable person? It seemed to George that he called most afternoons. Letty laughed, excused herself, or abused her visitor as soon as he had departed; but the rebuff which George's pride would not let him ask of her directly, while yet his whole manner demanded it, was never given.
He sat solitary in the brilliantly lighted carriage, staring at the advertisements opposite, his long chin thrust forward, his head, with its fair curls, thrown moodily back. And all the time his mind was working with an appalling clearness. This cold light in which he was beginning to see his wife and all she did-it was already a tragedy.
What was he flying to, what was he in search of, there in the East End? His whole being flung the answer. A little sympathy, a little heart, a little tenderness and delicacy of soul! Nothing else. He had once taken it for granted that every woman possessed them in some degree; or was it only since he had found them in this unexampled fullness and wealth that he had begun to thirst for them in this way? He made himself face the question. «One need n't lie to one's self!»
At Aldgate, as he was making his way out of the station, he stumbled upon Edward Watton.
«Hullo! You bound for No. 20, too?» «No; there is no function to-night. Lady Maxwell is at a meeting. It has grown rather suddenly from small beginnings, and two days ago they made her promise to speak. I came down because I am afraid of a row. Things are beginning to look ugly down here, and I don't think she has much idea of it. Will you come?»
« Of course.»
Watton looked at him with an amused and friendly eye.
It was another instance of her power-that she had been able to bind even this young enemy to her chariot-wheels. He hoped Letty
had the sense to approve. As a matter of fact, Watton had never, by his own choice, become well acquainted with his cousin Letty, and had always secretly marveled at Tressady's sudden marriage.
« BETTER get down here, I think," said Watton, signaling to the tram-conductor, «and find out whether they have really gone or not.»
They stopped, half-way down the Mile End Road, before a piece of wall with a door in it. A trim maiden of fifteen, in a spotless cotton frock and white apron, opened to them.
Inside was a small flagged courtyard and the old-fashioned house that Marcella Maxwell a year before-some time after their first lodging in Armingford's house had been given up-had rescued from demolition and the builder, to make an East End home out of it. Somewhere about 1750 some City tradesman had built it among fields, and taken his rest there; while, somewhat later, in a time of Evangelical revival, a pious widow had thrown out a low room to one side for class-meetings. In this room Marcella now held her gatherings, and both Tressady and Watton knew it well.
The little handmaid bubbled over with willing talk. Oh, yes; there was a meeting up Manx Road, and her ladyship had gone with Lord Naseby and Lady Madeleine and Mr. Everard the inspector, and, she thought, one or two besides. She expected the ladies back about ten, and they were to stay the night.
«And they do say, sir,» she said eagerly, looking up at Watton, whom she knew, «as there'll be a lot o' rough people at the meetin❜.>>
«Oh, I dare say,» said Watton. «Well, we 're going up, too, to look after her.»>
As they walked on they talked over the general situation in the district, and Watton explained what he knew of this particular meeting. In the first place, he repeated, he could not see that Lady Maxwell understood as yet the sort of opposition that the bill was rousing, especially in these East End districts. The middle-class and parliamentary resistance she had always appreciated; but the sort of rage that might be awakened among a degraded class of workers by proposals that seemed to threaten their immediate means of living he believed she had not yet realized in anything like its full measure and degree; and he feared that this meeting might be a disagreeable experience.
For it was the direct fruit of an agitation that, as Tressady knew, was in particular Fontenoy's agitation. The Free Workers' League, which had called upon the tradeunionists of Mile End to summon the meeting, and to hear therein what both sides had to say, was, in fact, Fontenoy's creation. It had succeeded especially in organizing the women home-workers of Mile End and Poplar. Two or three lady speakers employed by the league had been active to the point of frenzy in denouncing the bill, and shrieking «Liberty!» in the frightened ear of Mile End. Watton could not find a good word for any of them-was sure that what mostly attracted them was the notoriety of the position, involving, as it did, a sort of personal antagonism to Lady Maxwell, who had, so to speak, made Mile End her own. And to be Lady Maxwell's enemy was, Watton opined, the next best thing, from the point of view of advertisement, to being her friend.
« Excellent women, I dare say,» said Tressady, laughing, «talking excellent sense. But tell me, what is this about Naseby-why Naseby-on all these occasions? »
« Why not, indeed?» said Watton. « Ah, you don't know? It seems to be Naseby that 's going to get the egg out of the hat for us.»
And he plunged eagerly into the description of certain schemes wherewith Naseby had lately astonished the Maxwell circle. Tressady listened languidly at first, then with a kind of jealous annoyance that scandalized himself. How well he could understand the attraction of such things for her quick mind! Life was made too easy for these << golden lads.» People attributed too much importance to their fancies.
Naseby, in fact,—but so much George already knew, had been for some months now the comrade and helper of both the Maxwells. His friends still supposed him to be merely the agreeable and fashionable idler. In reality, Naseby for some years past had been spending all the varied leisure that his commission in the Life Guards allowed him upon the work of a social and economic student. He had joined the staff of a well-known sociologist who was at the time engaged in an inquiry into certain typical East London trades. The inquiry had made a noise, and the evidence collected under it had already been largely used in the debates on the Maxwell bill. Tressady, for instance, had much of it by heart, although he never knew, until he became a haunter of Lady Maxwell's circle, that Naseby had played any part in the gathering of it.
At the same time, as George had soon observed, Naseby was no blind follower of the Maxwells. In truth, under his young gaiety and coolness he had the temper of the student who is more in love with his problem itself than with any suggested solution of it. As he had told Lady Betty, he had «no opinions »would himself rather leave the sweated trades alone, and trust to much slower and less violent things than law-making. All this the Maxwells knew perfectly, and liked and trusted him none the less.
Now, however, it seemed there was a new development. If the bill passed, Naseby had a plan. He was already a rich man, independently of the marquisate to come. His grandmother had left him a large preliminary fortune, and through his friends and connections besides he seemed to command as much money as he desired. And of this money, supposing the bill passed, he proposed to make original and startling use. He had worked out the idea of a syndicate, furnished with, say, a quarter of a million of money, which should come down upon a given district of the East End, map it out, buy up all the existing businesses in its typical trade, and start a system of new workshops proportioned to the population, supplying it with work just as the board schools supply it with education. The new scheme was to have a profit-sharing element: the workers were to be represented in the syndicate, and every nerve was to be strained to secure the best business management. The existing middlemen would be either liberally bought out or absorbed into the new machine. It was by no means certain that they would show it any strong resistance.
Tressady made a number of unfriendly comments on the scheme as Watton detailed it. A bit of amateur economics, which would only help the bill to ruin a few more people than would otherwise have gone down.
« Ah, well,» said Watton, «if this thing passes there are bound to be experiments, and Naseby means to be in 'em. So do I, only I haven't got a quarter of a million. Here's our road. We're late, of course; the meeting 's begun. I say, just look at this!»
For Manx Road, as they turned into it, was already held by another big meeting of its own. The room in the board school which crossed the end of the street must be full, and this crowd represented, apparently, those who had been turned away.
As the two friends pushed their way through, Tressady's quick eye recognized in the throng a number of familiar types. Wellto-do "pressers and machinists, factory girls
of different sorts, hundreds of sallow women, representing the home-workers of Mile End, Bow, and Stepney,-poor souls, bowed by toil and maternity, whose marred fingers labor day and night to clothe the colonies and the army; their husbands and brothers too, English slop-tailors, for the most part, of the humbler sort, -the short side street was packed with them. It was an anxious, sensitive crowd, Tressady thought, as he elbowed his passage through it. A small thing might inflame it, and he saw a number of rough lads on the skirts of it.
Jews, too, there were in plenty. For the stress of this bill had brought Jew and Gentile together in a new comradeship that amazed the East End. Here were groups representing the thrifty, hard-working London Jew of the second generation, small masters for the most part, pale with the confinement and «drive of the workshop; men who are expelling and conquering the Gentile EastEnder, because their inherited passion for business is not neutralized by any of the common English passions for spendingabove all, by the passion for drink. Here, too, were men of a far lower type and grade-the waste and refuse of the vast industrial mill. Tressady knew a good many of them by sightsullen, quick-eyed folk, who buy their « greeners» at the docks, and work them day and night at any time of pressure; whose workshops are still flaring at two o'clock in the morning, and alive again by the winter dawn; who fight and flout the law by a hundred arts, and yet, brutal and shifty as many of them are, have a curious way of winning the Gentile inspector's sympathy, even while he fines and harasses them, so clearly are they and their hands » alike the victims of a huge world-struggle that does but toss them on its surge.
These gentry, however, were hard hit by more than one clause of the Maxwell bill, and they were here to-night to protest, as they had been already protesting at many meetings, large and small, all over the East End. And they had their slaves with them,―ragged, hollow-eyed creatures, newly arrived from Russian Poland, Austria, or Rumania, and ready to shout or howl in Yiddish as they were told,-men whose strange faces and eyes, under their matted shocks of black or reddish hair, suggested every here and there the typical history and tragic destiny of the race which, in other parts of the crowd, was seen under its softer and more cosmopolitan aspects.
As the two men neared the door of the
school, where the press was densest, they were recognized as probably belonging to the Maxwell party, and found themselves a good deal jeered and hustled, and could hardly make any way at all. However, a friendly policeman came to their aid. They were passed into a lobby, and at last, with much elbowing and pushing, found themselves inside the school-room.
So crowded was the place, and so steaming the atmosphere, that it was some minutes before Tressady could make out what was going on. Then he saw that Naseby was speaking -Naseby, looking remarkably handsome and well curled, and much at his ease, besides, in the production of a string of Laodicean comments on the bill, his own workshop scheme, and the general prospects of East End labor. He described the scheme, but in such a way as rather to damn it than praise it; and as for the bill itself, which he had undertaken to compare with former factory bills, when he sat down he left it, indeed, in a parlous case -a poor, limping, doubtful thing, quite as likely to ruin the East End as to do it a hand's turn of good.
Just as the speaker was coming to his peroration Tressady suddenly caught sight of a delicate upraised profile on the platform behind Naseby. The repressed smile on it set him smiling, too.
<<<What on earth do they make Naseby speak for?» said Watton, indignantly. «Idiocy! He spoils everything he touches. Let him give the money, and other people do the talking. You can see the people here don't know what to make of him in the least. Look at their faces. Who's he talking to?»
"Lady Madeleine, I think,» said Tressady. "What amazing red hair that girl has, and what queer, scared eyes! It is like an animalone wants to stroke her.>>
"Well, Naseby strokes her,» said Watton, laughing. «Look at her; she brightens up directly he comes near.»>
Tressady thought of the tale Fontenoy had just told him, and wondered. Consolation seemed to come easy to maidens of quality.
Meanwhile various trade-unionists, sturdy, capable men in black coats, were moving and seconding resolutions; flinging resentful comments, too, at Naseby whenever occasion of fered. Tressady heard very little of what they had to say. His eyes and thoughts were busy with the beautiful figure to the left of the chair. Its dignity and charm worked upon him like a spell-infused a kind of restless happiness.
When he woke from his trance of watch
ing, it was to turn upon Watton with impatience. How long was this thing going on? The British workman spoke with deplorable fluency. Could n't they push their way through to the platform?
Watton looked at the crowd, and shrugged his shoulders.
«Not yet. I say, who 's this they 've put up? Come, my dear fellow, that looks like the real thing.»
Tressady turned, and saw an old man, a Jew with a long grayish beard, coming slowly to the front of the platform. His eyes were black and deep sunk under white brows; he was decently but poorly dressed; and he began to speak with a slight German accent, in an even, melancholy voice, rather under-pitched, which soon provoked the meeting. He was vociferously invited to speak up or sit down, and at the first interruption he stopped timorously and looked toward the chair.
An elderly, gray-haired woman was presiding, no doubt to mark the immense importance of the bill for the women of the East End. She came forward at the man's appeal.
«My friends," she said quietly, "you let this man speak, and don't you be hard on him. He's got a sad story to tell you, and he won't be long about it. You give him his chance. Some of you shall have yours soon.>>
The speaker was the paid secretary of one of the women's unions; but she had been a tailoress for years, and had known a tragic life. Once, at a meeting where some flippant speaker had compared the reality and frequency of «starvation » in London to the reality and frequency of the sea-serpent, Tressady had seen her get up, and, with a sudden pas-, sion, describe the death of her own daughter from hardship and want, with the tears running down her cheeks.
Her appeal to the justice of the meeting succeeded, and the old man was allowed to go on. It soon appeared that he had been put up by one of the tailoring unions to denounce the long hours worked in some of the Whitechapel and Spitalfields workshops. His facts were appalling. But he put them badly, with a dull, stumbling voice, and he got no hold on the meeting at all till suddenly he stepped forward, paused, his miserable face working, his head turning from side to side, and finally said, with a sharp change of note:
«And now, if you please, I will tell you how it was about Isaac-my brother Isaac. It was Mr. Jacobs » -he looked round, and pointed to the trade-union secretary who had been speaking before him-«Mr. Jacobs it was that put it in my mind to come here and
tell you about Isaac. For the way Isaac died was like this. He and I were born in Spitalfields; he was n't one of your greeners; he was a reg'lar good worker, first-rate general coat-hand, same as me. But he got with a hard master, and last winter season but one there came a rush. And Isaac must be working six days a week, and he must be working fourteen hours a day; and more 'n that, he must be doing his bastes overtime, two hours one time, and an hour or so, perhaps, another; anyway, they made it up to half a day-eight hours and more-in the week. You know how they reckon it.»
He stopped, grinning feebly. The tradeunionists about the platform shouted or groaned in response. The masters round the door, with their «greeners,» stood silent.
«And about Wednesday in the third week,» he went on, «he come to the master, and he says,-Isaac was older than me, and his chest it would be beginning to trouble him pretty bad, so he says: I'm done, he says; I must go home. You can get another chap to do my bastes to-night; will you? And the master says to Isaac, If you don't do your bastes overtime, if you 're too high and mighty, he says, why, there's plenty as will, and you don't need to come to-morrow neither. And Isaac had his wife Judith at home, and four little uns; and he stopped and done his bastes, of course. And next night he could n't well see, and he 'd been dreadful sick all day, and he says to the master again, he says as he must go home. And the master he says the same to him; and Isaac stops. And on Friday afternoon he come home. And .the shop had been steamin' hot, but outside it was a wind to cut you through. And his wife Judith says to him, Isaac, you look starved, and she set him by the fire. And he sat by the fire, and he did n't say nothing. Then his hands fell down sudden like that-» The old man let his hands drop heavily by his side, with a simple dramatic gesture. By this time there was not a sound in the crowded room. Even the wildest and most wolfish of the greeners were staring silently, craning brown necks forward.
«And his wife ran to him, and he falls against her, and he says, Lay me down, Judith, and don't you let 'em wake me-not the young uns, he says, not for nothing and nobody. For if it was the trump of the Most High, he says, -and Isaac was a religious man, and careful in his speech, I must have my sleep. And she laid him down, and the children and she watched, and by midnight Isaac turned himself over. He just
opened his eyes once, and groaned. And he never spoke no more; he was gone before mornin'. And his master gave Judith five shillings toward the coffin, and the men in the shop they raised the rest.>>
The old man paused. He stood considering a moment, his face and ragged beard thrown out, a spot of grayish white against the figures behind, his eyes blinking painfully under the gas.
« Well, we 've tried many things,» he said at last. «We 've tried strikes and unions, and it is n't no good. There's always one treading on another, and if you don't do it. some one else will. It's the law as 'll have to do it. You may take that and smoke it! You won't get nothing else. Why,»—his hoarse voice trembled,—«why, they use us up cruel in the sort of shop I work for. Ten or twelve years, and a man 's all to pieces. It's the irons and the heat and the sittingyou know what it is. I've lasted fifteen year, but I'm breaking up now. If my master give me the sack for speaking here, I'll have nothing but the Jewish Board of Guardians to look to. All the same, I made up my mind as I'd come and say how they served Isaac.»
He stopped abruptly, and stood quite still a moment, fronting the meeting, as though appealing to them through the mere squalid physical weakness he could find no more words to express. Then, with a sort of shambling bow, he turned away, and the main body of the meeting clapped excitedly, while at the back some of the «sweaters » grinned and chatted sarcastic things in Yiddish with their neighbors. Tressady saw Lady Maxwell rise eagerly as the old man passed her, take his hand, and find him a seat.
«That, I suppose, was an emotion,» said Tressady, looking down upon his companion. «Or an argument,» said Watton, «as you like.»
ONE other « emotion » of the same kind-the human reality at its simplest and cruelestTressady afterward remembered.
A «working-woman » was put up to second an amendment condemning the workshops clause, which had been moved in an angry speech by one of « Fontenoy's ladies,» a shrillvoiced fashionable person, the secretary to the local branch of the Free Workers' League. Tressady had yawned impatiently through the speech, which had seemed to him a violent and impertinent performance; but as the speaker sat down he was roused by an exclamation from a man beside him.
<< That woman!» cried a tall curate, strain