A PEOPLE'S MAN
By E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
"Maraton has come! Maraton! Maraton is here!"
Across Soho, threading his way with devilish ingenuity through mazes of narrow streets, scattering with his hooter little groups of gibbering, swarthy foreigners, Aaron Thurnbrein, bent double over his ancient bicycle, sped on his way towards the Commercial Road and eastwards. With narrow cheeks smeared with dust, yellow teeth showing behind his parted lips, through which the muttered words came with uneven vehemence, ragged clothes, a ragged handkerchief around his neck, a greasy cap upon his head—this messenger, charged with great tidings, proclaimed himself, by his visible existence, one of the submerged clinging to his last spar, fighting still with hands which beat the air, yet carrying the undaunted light of battle in his blazing eyes, deep-sunken, almost cavernous, the last refuge, perhaps, of that ebbing life. Drops of perspiration were upon his forehead, his breath came hard and painfully. Before he had reached his destination, one could almost hear the rattle in his throat. He even staggered as at last he dropped from his bicycle and, wheeling it across a broad pavement, left it reclining against a box of apples exposed in front of a small greengrocer's shop.
The neighbourhood was ugly and dirty, the shop was ugly and dirty. The interior into which he passed was dark, odoriferous, bare of stock, poverty-smitten. A woman, lean, hard-featured, with thin grey hair disordered and unkempt, looked up quickly at his coming and as quickly down again. Her face was perhaps too lifeless to express any emotion whatsoever, but there might have been a shade of disappointment in the swift withdrawal of her gaze. A customer would have been next door to a miracle, but hope dies hard.
"You!" she muttered. "What are you bothering about?"
"I want David," Aaron Thurnbrein panted. "I have news! Is he behind?"
The woman moved away to let him pass.
"He is behind," she answered, in a dull, lifeless tone. "Since you took him with you to Bermondsey, he does no work. What does it matter? We starve a little sooner. Take him to another meeting, if you will. I'd rather you taught him how to steal. There's rest in the prisons, at least."
Aaron Thurnbrein brushed past her, inattentive, unlistening. She was not amongst those who counted. He pushed open an ill-fitting door, whose broken glass top was stuffed with brown paper. The room within was almost horrible in its meagreness. The floor was uncarpeted, the wall unpapered. In a three-legged chair drawn up to the table, with paper before him and a pencil in his hand, sat David Ross. He looked up at the panting intruder, only to glower.
"What do you want, boy?" he asked pettishly. "I am at work. I need these figures. I am to speak to-night at Poplar."
"Put them away!" Aaron Thurnbrein cried. "Soon you and I will be needed no more. A greater than we have known is here—here in London!"
The older man looked up, for a moment, as though puzzled. Then a light broke suddenly across his face, a light which seemed somehow to become reflected in the face of the starveling youth.
"Maraton!" he almost shrieked.
"Maraton!" the other echoed. "He is here in London!"
The face of the older man twitched with excitement.
"But they will arrest him!"
"If they dared," Aaron Thurnbrein declared harshly, "a million of us would tear him out of prison. But they will not. Maraton is too clever. America has not even asked for extradition. For our sakes he keeps within the law. He is here in London! He is stripped for the fight!"
David Ross rose heavily to his feet. One saw then that he was not really old. Starvation and ill-health had branded him with premature age. He was not thin but the flesh hung about him in folds. His cheeks were puffy; his long, hairy eyebrows drooped down from his massive forehead. There was the look about him of a strong man gone to seed.
"They will be all around him like flies over a carcass!" he muttered.
"Mr. Foley—Foley—the Prime Minister—sent for him directly he arrived," Aaron Thurnbrein announced. "He is to see him to-night at his own house in Downing Street. It makes no difference."
"Who can tell?" the other remarked despondently. "The pages of history are littered with the bodies of strong men who have opened their lips to the poisoned spoon."
Aaron Thurnbrein spat upon the floor.
"There is but one Maraton," he cried fervently. "There has been but one since the world was shaped. He is come, and the first step towards our deliverance is at hand."
The older man, whose trembling fingers still rested upon the sheets of paper, looked at his visitor curiously.
"You are a Jew," he muttered. "Why do you worship Maraton? He is not of your race."
The young man's gesture was almost sublime.
"Jew or Christian—what does it matter?" he demanded. "I am a Jew. What has my religion done for me? Nothing! I am a free man in my thoughts. I am one of the oppressed. Men or women, Jews or Christians, infidels or believers—what does it matter? We are those who have been broken upon the wheel. Deliverance for us will come too late. We fight for those who will follow. It is Maraton who points towards the light. It is Maraton whose hand shall press the levers which shall set the kingdoms rocking. I tell you that our own country, even, may bite the dust—a conqueror's hand lay heavy upon her throat; and yet, no matter. Through the valley of fire and blood and pestilence—one must pass through these to the great white land."
"Amen!" David Ross cried fervently. "The gift is upon you to-day, Aaron. Amen!"
The two stood together for a moment, speechless, carried away out of themselves. Then the door was suddenly opened. The woman stood there, sour and withered; behind her, a hard-featured man, official, malevolent.
"We are for the streets!" the woman exclaimed harshly. "He's got the order."
"Three pounds thirteen or out you go," the man announced, pushing his way forward. "Here's the paper."
David Ross looked at him as one awakened from a dream.
"And d—d well time, too!" the newcomer continued. "You've had all the chance in the world. How do you expect to make a living, fiddling about here all day with pencil and paper, and talking Socialist rot at night? Leave that chair alone and be off, both of you."
They glanced despairingly towards Aaron Thurnbrein. He thrust his hands into his pockets and exposed them with a little helpless gesture. The coins he produced were of copper. The official looked at them and around the place with a grin of Contempt.
"Cut it short," he ordered. "Clear out."
"There's my bicycle," Aaron Thurnbrein said slowly.
They all looked at him—the woman and the man with nervous anxiety, the official with a flicker of interest Aaron Thurnbrein drew a little sigh. The bicycle bad been earned by years of strenuous toil. It was almost a necessity of his existence.
"Aaron's bicycle," David Ross muttered. "No, no! That must not be. Let us go to the streets."
But the woman did not move. Already the young man had wheeled it into the shop.
"Take it," he insisted. "What does it matter? Maraton is here!"
Away again, this time on foot, along the sun-baked pavements, through courts and alleys into a narrow, busy street in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch. He stopped at last before a factory and looked tentatively up at the windows. Through the opened panes came the constant click of sewing machines, the smell of cloth, the vision of many heads bent over their work. He stood where he was for a time and watched. The place was like a hive of industry. Row after row of girls were there, seated side by side, round-shouldered, bending over their machines, looking neither to the right nor to the left, struggling to keep up to time to make sure of the wage which was life or death to them. It was nothing to them that above the halo of smoke the sky was blue; or that away beyond the murky horizon, the sun, which here in the narrow street seemed to have drawn all life from the air, was shining on yellow cornfields bending before the west wind. Here there was simply an intolerable heat, a smell of fish and a smell of cloth.
Aaron Thurnbrein crossed the street, entered the unimposing doorway and knocked at the door which led into the busy but unassuming offices. A small boy threw open a little glass window and looked at him doubtfully.
"I don't know that you can see Miss Thurnbrein even for a minute," he declared, in answer to Aaron's confident enquiry. "It's our busiest time. What do you want?"
"I am her brother," Aaron announced. "It is most important."
The boy slipped from a worn stool and disappeared. Presently the door of the little waiting-room was suddenly opened, and a girl entered.
"Aaron!" she exclaimed. "Has anything happened?"
Once more he raised his head, once more the light that flickered in his face transformed him into some semblance of a virile man.
"Maraton is here! Maraton has arrived!"
The light flashed, too, for a moment in her face, only she, even before it came, was beautiful.
"At last!" she cried. "At last! Have you seen him, Aaron? Tell me quickly, what is he like?"
"Not yet," Aaron replied. "To-night they say that he goes first to visit the Prime Minister. He will come to us afterwards."
"It is great news," she murmured. "If only one could see him!"
The office boy reappeared.
"Guvnor says why aren't you at your work, Miss Thurnbrein," he remarked, as he climbed on to his stool. "You won't get through before closing time, as it is."
She turned reluctantly away. There was something in her face from which even Aaron could scarcely remove his eyes.
"I must go," she declared. "We are busy here, and so many of the girls are away—down with the heat, I suppose. Thank you for coming, Aaron."
"I would like," he answered, "to walk the streets of London one by one, and stand at the corners and shout to the passers-by that Maraton has come. Only I wonder if they would understand. I wonder!"
He passed out into the street and the girl returned to her work. After a few yards he felt suddenly giddy. There was a little enclosure across the road, called by courtesy a playground—a few benches, a dusty space, and some swings. He threw himself into a corner of one of the benches and closed his eyes. He was worn out, physically exhausted. Yet all the time the sense of something wonderful kept him from collapse. Maraton had come!
Westward, the late June twilight deepened into a violet and moonless darkness. The lights in St. James's Park glittered like motionless fireflies; a faint wind rustled amongst the drooping leaves of the trees. Up here the atmosphere was different. It seemed a long way from Shoreditch.
Outside the principal of the official residences in Downing Street, there was a tented passage-way and a strip of drugget across the pavement. Within, the large reception rooms were crowded with men and women. There was music, and many forms of entertainment were in progress; the popping of champagne corks; the constant murmur of cheerful conversation. The Prime Minister was giving a great political reception, and men and women of every degree and almost every nationality were talking and mingling together. The gathering was necessarily not select, but it was composed of people who counted. The Countess of Grenside, who was the Prime Minister's sister and the head of his household, saw to that.
They stood together at the head of the staircase, a couple curiously unlike not only in appearance but in disposition and tastes. Lady Grenside was tall and fair, almost florid in complexion, remarkably well-preserved, with a splendid presence and figure. She had been one of the beauties of her day, and even now, in the sixth year of her widowhood, was accounted a remarkably handsome woman. Mr. Foley, her brother, was also tall, but gaunt and thin, with a pronounced stoop. His grey imperial gave him an almost foreign appearance. He had the forehead of a philosopher but the mouth of a humourist. His eyes, shrewd and penetrating—he wore no glasses although he was nearly sixty years of age—were perhaps his best feature.
"Tell me, my dear Stephen," she asked, as the tide of incoming guests finally ceased and they found themselves at liberty, "why are you looking so disturbed? It seems to me that every one has arrived who ought to come, and judging by the noise they are making, every one is thoroughly enjoying themselves. Why are people so noisy nowadays, I wonder?"
Mr. Foley smiled.
"What an observant person you are! To tell you the truth, there was just one guest whom I was particularly anxious to see here to-night. He promised to come, but so far I am afraid that he has not arrived."
"Not that awful man Maraton?"
"No use calling him names, Catharine," he continued grimly. "Maraton is one of the most important problems we have to face within the next few weeks. I suppose there is no chance of his having slipped in without our having noticed him?"
Lady Grenside shook her head.
"I should imagine not. I am quite sure that I haven't shaken hands to-night with any one who reminded me in the least of what this man must be. Very likely Elisabeth will discover him if he is here. She has just gone off on one of her tours of inspection."
Mr. Foley shrugged his shoulders. He was, after all, a philosopher.
"I am afraid Elisabeth won't get very far," he remarked. "Carton was in her train, and Ellison and Aubrey weren't far behind. She is really quite wonderful. I never in all my life saw any one look so beautiful as she does to-night."
Lady Grenside made a little grimace as she laid her fingers upon her brother's arm and pointed towards an empty settee close at hand.
"Beautiful, yes," she sighed, "but oh, so difficult!"
Almost at that moment, Elisabeth had paused on her way through the furthest of the three crowded rooms—and Maraton, happening simultaneously to glance in her direction, their eyes met. They were both above the average height, so they looked at one another over the heads of many people, and in both their faces was something of the same expression—the faint interest born of a relieved monotony. The girl deliberately turned towards him. He was an unknown guest and alone. There were times when her duties came quite easily.
"I am afraid that you are not amusing yourself," she remarked, with some faint yet kindly note of condescension in her tone.
"You are very kind," he answered, his eyebrows slightly lifted. "I certainly am not. But then I did not come here to amuse myself."
"Indeed? A sense of duty brought you, perhaps?"
"A sense of duty, beyond a doubt," the man assented politely.
She felt like passing on—but she also felt like staying, so she stayed.
"Cannot I help you towards the further accomplishment of your duty, then?" she enquired.
He looked at her and the grim severity of his face was lightened by a smile.
"You could help me more easily to forget it," he replied.
She opened her lips, hesitated and closed them again. Already she had recognised the fact that this was not a man to be snubbed. Neither had she, notwithstanding her momentary irritation, any real desire to do so.
"You do not know many people here?"
"I know no one," he confessed.
"I am Elisabeth Landon," she told him. "Mr. Foley is my uncle. My mother and I live with him and always help him to entertain."
"Hence your interest in a lonely stranger," he remarked. "Please have no qualms about me. I am always interested when I am permitted to watch my fellow creatures, especially when the types are novel to me."
She looked at him searchingly for a moment. As yet she had not succeeded in placing him. His features were large but well-shaped, his cheek-bones a little high, his forehead massive, his deep-set eyes bright and marvellously penetrating. He had a mouth long and firm, with a slightly humorous twist at the corners. His hair was black and plentiful. He might have been of any age between thirty-five and forty. His limbs and body were powerful; his head was set with the poise of an emperor. His clothes were correct and well worn, he was entirely at his ease. Yet Elisabeth, who was an observant person, looked at him and wondered. He would have been more at home, she thought, out in the storms of life than in her uncle's drawing-rooms. Yet what was he? He lacked the trimness of the soldier; of the debonair smartness of the modern fighting man there was no trace whatsoever in his speech or appearance. The politicians who were likely to be present she knew. What was there left? An explorer, perhaps, or a colonial. Her curiosity became imperious.
"You have not told me your name," she reminded him.
"My name is Maraton," he replied, a little grimly.
There was a brief silence—not without a certain dramatic significance to the girl who stood there with slightly parted lips. The smooth serenity of her forehead was broken by a frown; her beautiful blue eyes were troubled. She seemed somehow to have dilated, to have drawn herself up. Her air of politeness, half gracious, half condescending, had vanished. It was as though in spirit she were preparing for battle.
"You seem to have heard of me," he remarked drily.
"Who has not heard of you!" she answered in a low tone. "I am sorry. You have made me break my word."
She was recovering herself now. A certain icy aloofness seemed to have crept into her manner. Her head was held at a different angle. Even the words seemed to leave her lips differently. Her tone was one of measured indignation.
"Yes, you! When Mr. Foley told me that he had asked you to come here to-night, I vowed that I would not speak to you."
"A perfectly reasonable decision," he agreed, without the slightest change of expression, "but am I really to be blamed for this unfortunate incident? You cannot say that I thrust myself upon your notice."
His eyebrows were ever so slightly uplifted. She was not absolutely sure that there was not something very suggestive of amusement in his deep-set eyes. She bit her lip. Naturally he was not a gentleman!
"I thought that you were a neglected guest," she explained coldly. "I do not understand how it is that you have managed to remain undiscovered."
He shook his head doubtfully.
"I made my entrance with the others. I saw a very charming lady at the head of the stairs—your mother, I believe—who gave me her fingers and called me Mr. Martin. Your uncle shook hands with me, looking over my head to welcome some one behind. I passed on with the rest. The fault remains, beyond a doubt, with your majordomo and my uncommon name."
"Since I have discovered you, then," she declared, "you had better let me take you to my uncle. He has been looking everywhere for you for the last hour. We will go this way."
She laid the extreme tips of her fingers upon his coat sleeve. He glanced down at them for a moment. Her reluctance was evident.
"Perhaps," he suggested coolly, "we should make faster progress if I were to follow you."
She took no further notice of him for some time. Then very suddenly she drew him to one side out of the throng, into an almost empty anteroom—a dismal little apartment lined with shelves full of blue books and Parliamentary records.
"I am content to obey my guide," he remarked, "but why this abrupt flight?"
She hesitated. Then she raised her eyes and looked at him. Perhaps some instinct told her that the truth was best.
"Because Mr. Culvain was in that crowd," she told him. "Mr. Culvain has been looking for you everywhere. It is only to see you that he came here this evening. My uncle is anxious to talk with you first."
"I am flattered," he murmured, smiling.
"I think that you should be," she asserted. "Personally, I do not understand my uncle's attitude."
"With regard to me?"
"With regard to you."
"You think, perhaps, that I should not be permitted here at all as a guest?"
"I do think that," she replied, looking steadily into his eyes. "I think more than that. I think that your place is in Sing Sing prison."
The corners of his mouth twitched. His amusement maddened her; her eyes flashed. Underneath her white satin gown her bosom was rising and falling quickly.
He became suddenly grave.
"Do you take life seriously, Lady Elisabeth?" he asked.
"Certainly," she answered firmly. "I do not think that human life is a thing to be trifled with. I agree with the Times."
"In what it said about me?"
"And what was that? It is neglectful of me, I know, but I never see the Times."
"It held you entirely responsible for the death of those poor men in Chicago," she told him. "It named you as their murderer."
"A very sensible paper, the Times," he agreed. "The responsibility was entirely mine."
She looked at him for a moment in horror.
"You can dare to admit that here—to me?"
"Why not?" he answered calmly. "So long as it is my conviction, why not proclaim it? I love the truth. It is the one virtue which has never been denied me."
Her eyes flashed. She made no effort whatever to conceal her detestation.
"And they let you go—those Americans?" she cried. "I do not understand!"
"There are probably many other considerations in connection with the affair which you do not understand," he observed. "However—they had their opportunity. I walked the streets openly, I travelled to New York openly, I took my steamer ticket to England under my own name. The papers, I believe, chronicled every stage of my journey."
"It was disgraceful!" she declared. "The people in office over there are cowards."
"Not at all," he objected. "They were very well advised. They acted with shrewd common sense. America is no better prepared for a revolution than England is."
"Do you imagine," she demanded, her voice trembling, "that you will be permitted to repeat in this country your American exploits?"
Maraton smiled a little sadly.
"Need we discuss these things, Lady Elisabeth?"
"Yes, we need!" she replied promptly. "This is my one opportunity. You and I will probably never exchange another word so long as we live. I have read your book—every word of it. I have read it several times. In that book you have shown just as much of yourself as you chose, and no more. Although I have hated the idea that I might ever have to speak to you, now that you are here, now that it has come to pass, I am going to ask you a question."
"People ask me so many questions!"
"Tell me this," she continued, without heeding his interruption. "Do you, in your heart, believe that you are justified in going about the world preaching your hateful doctrines, seeking out the toilers only to fill them with discontent and to set them against their employers, preaching everywhere bloodshed and anarchy, inflaming the minds of people who in ordinary times are contented, even happy? You have made yourself feared and hated in every country of the world. You have brought America almost to the verge of revolution. And now, just when England needs peace most, when affairs on the Continent are so threatening and every one connected with the Government of the country is passing through a time of the gravest anxiety, you intend, they say, to start a campaign here. You say that you love the truth. Answer me this question truthfully, then. Do you believe that you are justified?"
He had listened to her at first with a slight, tolerant smile upon his lips, a smile which faded gradually away. He was sombre, almost stern, when she had finished. He seemed in some curious way to have assumed a larger shape, to have become more imposing. His attitude had a strange and indefinable influence upon her.
She was suddenly conscious of her youth and inexperience—bitterly and rebelliously conscious of them—before he had even opened his lips. Her own words sounded crude and unconvincing.
"I am not one of the flamboyant orators of the Socialist party, Lady Elisabeth," he said, "nor am I one of those who are able to see much joy or very much hopefulness in life under present conditions. For every word I have spoken and every line I have written, I accept the full and complete responsibility."
"Those men who were murdered in Chicago, murdered at your instigation because they tried to break the strike—what of them?"
He looked at her as one might have looked at a child.
"Their lives were a necessary sacrifice in a good cause," he declared. "Does one think now of the sea of blood through which France once purged herself? Believe me, young lady, there is nothing in the world more to be avoided than this sentimental and exaggerated reverence for life. It is born of a false ideal, artistically and actually. Life is a sacrifice to be offered in a just cause when necessary.
"I imagine that this is your uncle."
Mr. Foley was standing upon the threshold of the room, his hand outstretched, his thin, long face full of conviction.
"My niece has succeeded in discovering you, then, Mr. Maraton," he said. "I am glad."
Maraton smiled as he shook hands.
"I have certainly had the pleasure of making your niece's acquaintance," he admitted. "We have had quite an interesting discussion."
Elisabeth turned away without looking towards him.
"I will leave Mr. Maraton to you, uncle," she said. "He will tell you that I have been very candid indeed. We were coming face to face with Mr. Culvain, so I brought him in here."
She did not glance again in Maraton's direction, nor did she offer him any form of farewell salutation. Mr. Foley frowned slightly as he glanced after her. Maraton, too, watched her leave the room. She paused for a moment on the threshold to gather up her train, a graceful but at the same time imperious gesture. She left them without a backward look. Mr. Foley turned quickly towards his companion and was relieved at the expression which he found in his face.
"My niece is a little earnest in her views," he remarked, "too much so, I am afraid, for a practical politician. She is quite well-informed and a great help to me at times."
"I found her altogether charming," Maraton said quietly. "She has, too, the unusual gift of honesty."
Mr. Foley was once more a little uneasy. It was impossible for him to forget Elisabeth's outspoken verdict upon this man and all his works.
"The young are never tolerant," he murmured.
"And quite rightly," Maraton observed. "There is nothing more to be envied in youth than its magnificent certainty. It knows! . . . I am flattered, Mr. Foley, that you should have received me in your house to-night. Your niece's attitude towards me, even if a trifle crude, is, I am afraid, the general one amongst your class in this country."
"To be frank with you, I agree," Mr. Foley assented. "I, personally, Mr. Maraton, am trying to be a dissenter. It is for that reason that I begged you to come here to-night and discuss the matter with me before you committed yourself to any definite plan of action in this country."
"Your message was a surprise to me," Maraton admitted calmly. "At the same time, it was a summons which I could not disregard. As you see, I am here."
Mr. Foley drew a key from his pocket and led the way across the room towards a closed door.
"I want to make sure that we are not disturbed. I am going to take you through to my study, if I may."
They passed into a small inner room, plainly but comfortably furnished.
"My own den," Mr. Foley explained, closing the door behind him with an air of relief. "Will you smoke, Mr. Maraton, or drink anything?"
"Neither, thank you," Maraton answered. "I am here to listen. I am curious to hear what there is that you can have to say to me."
Mr. Foley pointed to an easy-chair. Maraton, however, did not at once respond to his gesture of invitation. He was standing, tense and silent, with head upraised, listening. From the street outside came a strange, rumbling sound.
"You permit?" he asked, stepping to the window and drawing the curtain a few inches on one side. "There is something familiar about that sound. I heard it last in Chicago."
Mr. Foley rose slowly from the easy-chair into which he had thrown himself, and stood by his visitor's side. Outside, the pavements were lined by policemen, standing like sentries about half-a-dozen yards apart. The tented entrance to the house was guarded by a solid phalanx of men in uniform. A mounted inspector was riding slowly up and down in the middle of the road. At the entrance to the street, barely fifty yards away, a moving mass of people, white-faced, almost spectral, were passing slowly beneath the pale gas-lamps.
"The people!" Maraton murmured, with a curious note in his tone, half of reverence, half of pity.
"The mob!" Mr. Foley echoed bitterly. "They brawl before the houses of those who do their best to serve them. They bark always at our heels. Perhaps to-night it is you whom they have come to honour. Your bodyguard, eh, Mr. Maraton?"
"If they have discovered that I am here, it is not unlikely," Maraton admitted calmly.
Mr. Foley dropped the curtain which he had taken from his companion's fingers. Moving back into the room, he turned on more light. Then he resumed his seat.
"Mr. Maraton," he began, "we met only once before, I think. That was four years ago this summer. Answer me honestly—do you see any change in me?"
Maraton leaned a little forward. His face showed some concern, as he answered:
"You are not in the best of health just now, I fear, Mr. Foley."
"I am as well as I shall ever be," was the quiet reply. "What you see in my face is just the record of these last four years, the outward evidence of four years of ceaseless trouble and anxiety. I will not call myself yet a broken man, but the time is not far off."
Maraton remained silent. His attitude was still sympathetic, but he seemed determined to carry out his role of listener.
"If the political history of these four years is ever truthfully written," Mr. Foley continued, "the world will be amazed at the calm indifference of the people threatened day by day with national disaster. We who have been behind the scenes have kept a stiff upper lip before the world, but I tell you frankly, Mr. Maraton, that no Cabinet who ever undertook the government of this country has gone through what we have gone through. Three times we have been on the brink of war—twice on our own account and once on account of those whom we are bound to consider our allies. The other national disaster we have had to face, you know of. Still, here we are safe up to to-night. There is nothing in the whole world we need now so much as rest—just a few months' freedom from anxiety. Until last week we had dared to hope for it. Now, breathless still from our last escape, we are face to face suddenly with all the possibilities of your coming."
"You fear the people," Maraton remarked quietly.
Mr. Foley's pale, worn face suddenly lit up.
"Fear the people!" he repeated, with a note of passion in his tone. "I fear the people for their own sake; I fear the ruin and destruction they may, by ill-advised action, bring upon themselves and their country. Mr. Maraton, grant, will you not, that I am a man of some experience? Believe, I pray you, that I am honest. Let me assure you of this. If the people be not wisely led now, the Empire which I and my Ministers have striven so hard to keep intact, must fall. There are troubles pressing upon us still from every side. If the people are wrongly advised to-day, the British Empire must fall, even as those other great dynasties of the past have fallen."
Maraton turned once more to the window, raised the curtain, and gazed out into the darkness. There was a little movement at the end of the street. The police had driven back the crowd to allow a carriage to pass through. A hoarse murmur of voices came floating into the room. The people gave way slowly and unwillingly—still, they gave way. Law and order, strenuous though the task of preserving them was becoming, prevailed.
"Mr. Foley," Maraton said, dropping the curtain and returning once more to his place, "I am honoured by your confidence. You force me, however, to remind you that you have spoken to me as a politician. I am not a politician. The cause of the people is above politics."
"I am for the people," Mr. Foley declared, with a sudden passion in his tone. "It is their own fault, the blind prejudice of their ignorant leaders, if they fail to recognise it."
"For the people," Maraton repeated softly.
"Haven't my Government done their best to prove it?" the Prime Minister demanded, almost fiercely. "We have passed at least six measures which a dozen years ago would have been reckoned rank Socialism. What we do need to-day is a people's man in our Government. I admit our weakness. I admit that with every desire to do the right thing, we may sometimes err through lack of knowledge. Our great trouble is this; there is not to-day a single man amongst the Labour Party, a single man who has come into Parliament on the mandate of the people, whose assistance would be of the slightest service to us. I make you an offer which you yourself must consider a wonderful one. You come to this country as an enemy, and I offer you my hand as a friend. I offer you not only a seat in Parliament but a share in the counsels of my party. I ask you to teach us how to legislate for the people of the future."
Maraton remained for a moment silent. His face betrayed no exultation. His tone, when at last he spoke, was almost sad.
"Mr. Foley," he said, "if you are not a great man, you have in you, at least, the elements of greatness. You have imagination. You know how to meet a crisis. I only wish that what you suggest were possible. Twenty years ago, perhaps, yes. To-day I fear that the time for any legislation in which you would concur, is past."
"What have you to hope for but legislation?" Mr. Foley asked. "What else is there but civil war?"
Maraton smiled a little grimly.
"There is what in your heart you are fearing all the time," he replied. "There is the slow paralysis of all your manufactures, the stoppage of your railways, the dislocation of every industry and undertaking built upon the slavery of the people. What about your British Empire then?"
Mr. Foley regarded his visitor with quiet dignity.
"I have understood that you were an Englishman, Mr. Maraton," he said. "Am I to look upon you as a traitor?"
"Not to the cause which is my one religion," Maraton retorted swiftly. "Empires may come and go, but the people remain. What changes may happen to this country before the great and final one, is a matter in which I am not deeply concerned."
The telephone bell upon the table between them rang. Mr. Foley frowned slightly, as he raised the receiver to his ear.
"You will forgive me?" he begged. "This is doubtless a matter of some importance. It is not often that my secretary allows me to be disturbed at this hour."
Maraton wandered back to the window, raised the curtain and once more looked out upon the scene which seemed to him that night so pregnant with meaning. His mind remained fixed upon the symbolism of the streets. He heard only the echoes of a somewhat prolonged exchange of questions and answers. Finally, Mr. Foley replaced the receiver and announced the conclusion of the conversation. When Maraton turned round, it seemed to him that his host's face was grey.
"You come like the stormy petrel," the latter remarked bitterly. "There is bad news to-night from the north. We are threatened with militant labour troubles all over the country."
"It is the inevitable," Maraton declared.
Mr. Foley struck the table with his fist.
"I deny it!" he cried. "These troubles can and shall be stopped. Legislation shall do it—amicable, if possible; brutal, if not. But the man who is content to see his country ruined, see it presented, a helpless prey, to our enemies for the mere trouble of landing upon our shores,—that man is a traitor and deserves to be treated as such. Tell me, on behalf of the people, Mr. Maraton, what is it that you want? Name your terms?"
Maraton shook his head doubtfully.
"You are a brave man, Mr. Foley," he said, "but remember that you do not stand alone. There are your fellow Ministers."
"They are my men," Mr. Foley insisted. "Besides, there is the thunder in the air. We cannot disregard it. We are not ostriches. Better to meet the trouble bravely than to be crushed by it."
There was a tap at the door, and Lady Elisabeth appeared upon the threshold. Maraton was conscious of realising for the first time that this was the most beautiful woman whom he had ever seen in his life. She avoided looking at him as she addressed her uncle.
"Uncle," she said deprecatingly, "I am so sorry, but every one is asking for you. You have been in here for nearly twenty minutes. There is a rumour that you are ill."
Mr. Foley rose to his feet reluctantly.
"I will come," he promised.
She closed the door and departed silently. At no time had she glanced towards or taken any notice of Maraton.
"We discuss the fate of an empire," Mr. Foley sighed, "and necessity demands that I must return to my guests! This conversation between us must be finished. You are a reasonable man; you cannot deny the right of an enemy to demand your terms before you declare war?"
Maraton, too, had risen to his feet. He had turned slightly and his eyes were fixed upon the door through which Elisabeth had passed. For a moment or two he seemed deep in thought. The immobility of his features was at last disturbed. His eyes were wonderfully bright, his lips were a little parted.
"On Saturday," Mr. Foley continued, "we leave for our country home. For two days we shall be alone. It is not far away—an hour by rail. Will you come, Mr. Maraton?"
Maraton withdrew his eyes from the door. "It seems a little useless," he said quietly. "Will you give me until to-morrow to think it over?"
Maraton made his way from Downing Street on foot, curiously enough altogether escaping recognition from the crowds who were still hanging about on the chance of catching a glimpse of him. He was somehow conscious, as he turned northwards, of a peculiar sense of exhilaration, a savour in life unexpected, not altogether analysable. As a rule, the streets themselves supplied him with illimitable food for thought; the passing multitudes, the ceaseless flow of the human stream, justification absolute and most complete for the new faith of which he was the prophet. For the cause of the people had only been recognised during recent days as something entirely distinct from the Socialism and Syndicalism which had been its precursors. It was Maraton himself who had raised it to the level of a religion.
To-night, however, there was a curious background to his thoughts. Some part of his earlier life seemed stirred up in the man. The one selfishness permitted to rank as a virtue in his sex was alive. His heart had ceased to throb with the loiterers, the flotsam and jetsam of the gutters. For the moment he was cast loose from the absorbed and serious side of his career. A curious wave of sentiment had enveloped him, a wave of sentiment unanalysable and as yet impersonal; he walked as a man in a dream. For the first time he had seen and recognised the imperishable thing in a woman's face.
He reached at last one of the large, somewhat gloomy squares in the district between St. Pancras and New Oxford street, and paused before one of the most remote houses situated at the extreme northeast corner. He opened the front door with a latch-key and passed across a large but simply furnished hall into his study. He entered a little abstractedly, and it was not until he had closed the door behind him that he realised the presence of another person in the room. At his entrance she had risen to her feet.
"At last!" she exclaimed. "At last you have come!"
There was a silence, prolonged, curious, in a sense thrilling. A girl of wonderful appearance had risen to her feet and was looking eagerly towards him. She was wearing the plain black dress of a working woman, whose clumsy folds inadequately concealed a figure of singular beauty and strength. Her cheeks were colourless; her eyes large and deep, and of a soft shade of grey, filled just now with the half wondering, half worshipping expression of a pilgrim who has reached the Mecca of her desires. Her hair—her shabby hat lay upon the table—was dark and glossy. Her arms were a little outstretched. Her lips, unusually scarlet against the pallor of her face, were parted. Her whole attitude was one of quivering eagerness. Maraton stood and looked at her in wonder. The little cloud of sentiment in which he had been moving, perhaps, made him more than ever receptive to the impressions which she seemed to create. Both the girl herself and her pose were splendidly allegorical. She stood there for the great things of life.
"I would not go away," she cried softly. "They forbade me to stay, but I came back. I am Julia Thurnbrein. I have waited so long."
Maraton stepped towards her and took her hands.
"I am glad," he said. "It is fitting that you should be one of the first to welcome me. You have done a great work, Julia Thurnbrein."
"And you," she murmured passionately, still clasping his hands, "you a far greater one! Ever since I understood, I have longed for this meeting. It is you who will become the world's deliverer."
Maraton led her gently back to the chair in which she had been sitting.
"Now we must talk," he declared. "Sit opposite to me there."
He struck a match and lit the lamp of a little coffee machine which stood upon the table. She sprang eagerly to her feet.
"Let me, please," she begged. "I understand those things. Please let me make the coffee."
He laughed and, going to the cabinet, brought another of the old blue china cups and saucers. With very deft fingers she manipulated the machine. Presently, when her task was finished, she sat back in her chair, her coffee cup in her hand, her great eyes fixed upon him. She had the air of a person entirely content.
"So you are Julia Thurnbrein."
"And you," she replied, still with that note of suppressed yet passionate reverence in her tone, "are Maraton."
"The women workers of the world owe you a great deal," he said.
"But it is so little that one can do," she answered, quivering with pleasure at his words. "One needs inspiration, direction. Now that you have come, it will be different; it will be wonderful!"
She leaned towards him, and once more Maraton was conscious of the splendid mobility of her trembling body. She was a revelation to him—a modern Joan of Arc.
"Remember that I am no magician," he warned her.
"Ah, but your very presence alters everything!" she cried. "It makes everything possible—everything. My brother, too, is mad with excitement. He hoped that you might have been at the Clarion Hall to-night, before you went to Downing Street. You have seen Mr. Foley and talked with him?"
"I have come straight from there," he told her. "Foley is a shrewd man. He sees the writing upon the wall. He is afraid."
She looked at him and laughed.
"They will try to buy you," she remarked scornfully. "They will try to deal with you as they did with Blake and others like him—you—Maraton! Oh, I wonder if England knows what it means, your coming!—if she really feels the breaking dawn!"
"Tell me about yourself?" Maraton asked, a little abruptly—"your work? I know you only by name, remember—your articles in the reviews and your evidence before the Woman Labour Commission.
"I am a tailoress," she replied. "It is horrible work, but I have the good fortune to be quick. I can make a living—there are many who cannot."
He was leaning back in his chair, his head supported by his hand, his eyes fixed curiously upon her. Her pallor was not wholly the pallor of ill-health. In her beautiful eyes shone the fire of life. She laughed at him softly and held out her hands for his inspection. They were shapely enough, but her finger-tips were scotched and pricked.
"Here are the hall-marks of my trade. Others who work by my side have fallen away. It is of their sufferings I have written. I myself am physically very strong. It is the average person who counts."
He looked at her thoughtfully.
"You have written and worked a great deal for your age. Are you still in employment?"
"Of course! I left off at seven this evening. I have nothing else in my life," she added simply, "but my work, our work, the breaking of these vile bonds. I need no pleasures. I have never thought of any."
Her eyes suddenly dropped before his. A confusion of thought seemed to have seized upon her. Maraton, too, conscious of the nature of his imaginings, although innocent of any personal application, was not wholly free from embarrassment.
"Perhaps you will think," he observed, "that I am asking too many personal questions for a new acquaintance, but, after all, I must know you, must I not? We are fellow workers in a great cause. The small things do not matter."
She looked at him once more frankly. The blush had passed from her cheeks, her eyes were untroubled.
"I don't know what came over me," she confessed. "I was suddenly afraid that you might misunderstand my coming to you like this, without invitation, so late. Somehow, with you, it didn't seem to count."
"It must not!"
More at her ease now she glanced around the room and back at him. He smiled.
"Confess," he said, "that there are some things about me and my surroundings which have surprised you?"
"Willingly. I was surprised at your house, at being received by a man servant—at everything," she added, with a glance at his attire. "Yet what does that matter? It is because I do not understand."
The little lines about his eyes deepened. He laughed softly.
"I only hope that the others will adopt your attitude. I hear that many of them have very decided views about evening dress and small luxuries of any description."
"Graveling and Peter Dale—especially Dale—are terrible," she declared. "Dale is very narrow, indeed. You must bear with them if they are foolish at first. They are uncultured and rough. They do not quite understand. Sometimes they do not see far enough. But to-morrow you will meet them. You will be at the Clarion to-morrow?"
"I am not sure," he answered thoughtfully. "I am thinking matters over. To-morrow I shall meet the men of whom you have spoken, and a few others whose names I have on my list, and consult with them. Personally, I am not sure as to the wisdom of opening my lips until after our meeting at Manchester."
"Oh, don't say that!" she begged. "What we all need so much is encouragement, inspiration. Our greatest danger is lethargy. There are millions who stare into the darkness, who long for a single word of hope. Their eyes are almost tired. Come and speak to us to-morrow as you spoke to the men and women of Chicago."
He smiled a little grimly.
"You forget that this is England. Until the time comes, one must choose one's words. It is just what would please our smug enemies best to have me break their laws before I have been here long enough to become dangerous."
"You broke the laws of America," she protested eagerly.
"I had a million men and women primed for battle at my back," he reminded her. "The warrant was signed for my arrest, but no one dared to serve it. All the same, I had to leave the country with some work half finished."
"It was a glorious commencement," she cried enthusiastically.
"One must not forget, though," he sighed, "that England is different. To attain the same ends here, one may have to use somewhat different methods."
For the moment, perhaps, she was stirred by some prophetic misgiving. The hard common sense of his words fell like a cold douche upon the furnace of her enthusiasms. She had imagined him a prophet, touched by the great and unmistakable fire, ready to drive his chariot through all the hosts of iniquity; irresistible, unassailable, cleaving his way through the bending masses of their oppressors to the goal of their desires. His words seemed to proclaim him a disciple of other methods. There were to be compromises. His attire, his dwelling, this luxuriously furnished room, so different from anything which she had expected, proclaimed it. She herself held it part of the creed of her life to be free from all ornaments, free from even the shadow of luxury. Her throat was bare, her hair simply arranged, her fingers and wrists innocent of even the simplest article of jewellery. He, on the other hand, the Elijah of her dreams, appeared in the guise of a man of fashion, wearing, as though he were used to them, the attire of the hated class, obviously qualified by breeding and use to hold his place amongst them. Was this indeed to be the disappointment of her life? Then she remembered and her courage rose. After all, he was the Master.
"I will go now," she said. "I am glad to have been the first to have welcomed you."
He held out his hands. Then for a moment they both listened and turned towards the door. There was the sound of an angry voice—a visitor, apparently trying to force his way in. Maraton strode towards the door and opened it. A young man was in the hall, expostulating angrily with a resolute man servant. His hat had rolled on to the floor, his face was flushed with anger. The servant, on recognising his master, stepped back at once.
"The gentleman insisted upon forcing his way in, sir," he explained softly. "I wished him to wait while I brought you his name."
Maraton smiled and made a little gesture of dismissal. The young man picked up his hat. He was still hot with anger. Maraton pointed to the room on the threshold of which the girl was still standing.
"If you wish to speak to me," he said, "I am quite at your service. Only it is a little late for a visit, isn't it? And yours seems to be a rather unceremonious way, of insisting upon it. Who are you?"
The young man stood and stared at his questioner. He was wearing a blue serge suit, obviously ready-made, thick boots, a doubtful collar, a machine-knitted silk tie of vivid colour. He had curly fair hair, a sharp face with narrow eyes, thick lips and an indifferent complexion.
"Are you Maraton?" he demanded.
"I am," Maraton admitted. "And you?"
"I am Richard Graveling, M.P.," the young man announced, with a certain emphasis on those last two letters,—"M.P. for Poplar East. We expected you at the Clarion to-night."
"I had other business," Maraton remarked calmly.
The young man appeared a trifle disconcerted.
"I don't see what business you can have here till we've talked things out and laid our plans," he declared. "I am secretary of the committee appointed to meet and confer with you. Peter Dale is chairman, of course. There are five of us. We expected you 'round to-night. You got our telegram at Liverpool?"
"Certainly," Maraton admitted. "It did not, however, suit my plans to accept your invitation. I had a message from Mr. Foley, begging me to see him to-night. I have been to his house."
The young man distinctly scowled.
"So Foley's been getting at you, has he?"
Maraton's face was inscrutable but there was, for a moment, a dangerous flash in his eyes.
"I had some conversation with him this evening.
"What did he want?" Graveling asked bluntly.
Maraton raised his eyebrows. He turned to the girl.
"Do you know Mr. Graveling?"
The young man scowled. Julia smiled but there was a shadow of trouble in her face.
"Naturally," she replied. "Mr. Graveling and I are fellow workers."
"Yes, we are that," the young man declared pointedly, "that and a little more, I hope. To tell you the truth, I followed Miss Thurnbrein here, and I think she'd have done better to have asked for my escort—the escort of the man she's going to marry—before she came here alone at this time of night." Mr. Graveling's ill-humour was explained. He was of the order of those to whom the ability to conceal their feelings is not given, and he was obviously in a temper. Maraton's face remained impassive. The girl, however, stood suddenly erect. There was a vivid spot of colour in her cheeks.
"You had better keep to the truth, Richard Graveling!" she cried fearlessly. "I have never promised to marry you, or if I have, it was under certain conditions. You had no right to follow me here."
The young man opened his lips and closed them again. He was scarcely capable of speech. The very intensity of his anger seemed to invest the little scene with a peculiar significance. The girl had the air of one who has proclaimed her freedom. The face of the man who glared at her was distorted with unchained passions. In the background, Maraton stood with tired but expressionless countenance, and the air of one who listens to a quarrel between children, a quarrel in which he has no concern.
"It is not fair," Julia continued, "to discuss a purely personal matter here. You can walk home with me if you care to, Richard Graveling, but all that I have to say to you, I prefer to say here. I never promised to marry you. You have always chosen to take it for granted, and I have let you speak of it because I was indifferent, because I have never chosen to think of such matters, because my thoughts have been wholly, wholly dedicated to the greatest cause in the world. To-night you have forced yourself upon me. You have done yourself harm, not good. You have surprised the truth in my heart. It is clear to me that I—cannot marry you; I never could. I shall not change. Now let us go back to our work hand in hand, if you will, but that other matter is closed between us forever."
She turned to say farewell to Maraton, but Graveling interposed himself between them. His voice shook and there were evil things in his distorted face.
"To-night, for the first time," he exclaimed hoarsely, "you speak in this fashion! Before, even if you were indifferent, marriage at least seemed possible to you. To-night you say that the truth has come to you. You look at me with different eyes. You draw back. You begin to feel, to understand. You are a woman to-night! Why? Answer me that! Why? Why to-night? Why not before? Why is it that to-night you have awakened? I will know! Look at me."
She was taken unawares, assailed suddenly, not only by his words but by those curious new sensations, her own, yet unfamiliar to her. It was civil war. A part of herself was in league with her accuser. She felt the blushes stain her cheeks. She looked imploringly at Maraton for help. He smiled at her reassuringly, delightfully.
"Children," he expostulated, "this is absurd! Off with you to your homes. These are small matters of which you speak."
His hands were courteously laid upon both of them. He led them to the door and pointed eastwards through the darkness.
"Think of the morning. Think of the human beings who wake in a few hours, only to bend their bodies once more to the yoke. The other things are but trifles."
She looked back at him from the corner of the Square, a straight, impassive figure in a little halo of soft light. There was a catch in her heart. Her companion's words were surely spoken in some foreign tongue.
"We have got to have this out, Julia," he was saying. "If anybody or anything has come between us, there's going to be trouble. If that's the great Maraton, with his swagger evening clothes and big house, well, he's not the man for our job, and I shan't mind being the first to tell him so."
She glanced at him, for a moment, almost in wonder. Was he indeed so small, so insignificant?
"There are many paths," she said softly, "which lead to the light. Ours may be best suited to ourselves but it may not be the only one. It is not for you or for me to judge."
Richard Graveling talked on, doing his cause harm with every word he uttered. Julia relapsed into silence; soon she did not even hear his words. They rode for some distance on an omnibus through the city, now shrouded and silent. At the corner of the street where she had her humble lodgings, he left her.
"Well, I have had my say," he declared. "Think it over. I'll meet you out of work to-morrow, if I can. We shall have had a talk with Mr. Maraton by that time!"
She left him with a smile upon her lips. His absence seemed like an immense, a wonderful relief. Once more her thoughts were free.
But were they free, after all, these thoughts of hers?
Julia rose at daybreak and, fully dressed, stood watching the red light eastwards staining the smoke-hung city. Her little room with its plain deal furniture, its uncarpeted floor, was the perfection of neatness, her bed already made, her little pots of flowers upon the window-sill, jealously watered. In the still smaller sitting-room, visible through the open door, she could hear the hissing of her kettle upon the little spirit lamp. Her hat and gloves were already out. Everything was in readiness for her early start.
She had slept very much as usual, and had got up only a little earlier than she was accustomed to. Yet there was a difference. Only so short a time ago, the incidents of her own daily life, even the possibilities connected with it, had seemed utterly insignificant, so little worthy of notice. Morning and night her heart had been full of the sufferings of those amongst whom she worked. The flagrant, hateful injustice of this ill-arranged world had throbbed in her pulses, absorbed her interests, had occupied the whole horizon of her life. To marry Richard Graveling might sometime be advisable, in the interests of their joint labours. And suddenly it had become impossible. It had become utterly impossible! Why?
The red light in the sky had faded, the sun was now fully risen. Julia looked out of her window and was dimly conscious of the change. The heart which had throbbed for the sorrows of others was to thrill now on its own account. It was something mysterious which had happened to her, something against which she was later on to fight passionately, which was creeping like poison through her veins. With her splendid womanhood, her intense consciousness of life, how was it possible for her to escape?
There was an impatient tap at the door and Aaron came in. She recognised him with a little cry of surprise. He was paler than ever and grim with his night's Vigil. The lines under his eyes were deeper, his skin seemed sallower. He had the dishevelled look of one who is still in his attire of the preceding day.
"You have heard?" he exclaimed. "We stayed at the Clarion till three. Maraton never even sent us a message. Yet they say that he is in London. They even declare that he was at Downing Street last night."
"I know that he was there," Julia said quietly.
"You know? You? But they were all sure of it."
He dashed his cap into a corner.
"Maraton is our man," he continued passionately. "No one shall rob us of him. He should have come to us. Downing Street—blast Downing Street!"
"There is no one in this world," she told him gently, "who will move Maraton from his will. I know. I have seen him."
He stared at her, hollow-eyed, amazed.
"You? You have seen him?"
"I heard by accident of the house he had taken the house where he means to live. I went there and I waited. Later, Richard Graveling came there, too."
The youth struck the table before him. His eyes were filled with tears.
"All night I waited!" he cried. "I could not sit still. I could scarcely breathe. Tell me what he is like, Julia? Tell me what he looks like? Is he strong? Does he look strong enough for the work?"
She smiled at him reassuringly.
"Yes, he looks strong and he looks kind. For the rest—"
"There is something! Tell me what it is—at once?"
"Foolish! Well, he is unlike Richard Graveling and the others, unlike us. Why not? He is cultivated, educated, well-dressed."
The youth, for a moment, was aghast.
"You don't mean—that he is a gentleman?"
"Not in the sense you fear," she assured him. "Remember that his work is more far-reaching than ours. It takes him everywhere; he must be fit for everything. Sit down now, dear Aaron. You are tired. See, my morning tea is ready, and there is bread and butter. You must eat and drink. Maraton you will surely see later in the day. I do not think that he will disappoint you."
Aaron sat down at the table. He ate and drank ravenously. He was, in fact, half starved but barely conscious of it.
"He spoke of the great things?"
Julia shook her head. She was busy cutting bread and butter.
"Scarcely at all. What chance was there? And then Richard Graveling came."
"They were friends? They took to one another?" the young man asked eagerly.
"I am not sure about that. Graveling was in one of his tempers. He was rude, and he said things to me which I felt obliged to contradict."
"They did not quarrel?"
She laughed softly.
"Imagine Maraton quarrelling! I think that he is above such pettiness, Aaron."
"Graveling is a good fellow and a hard worker," Aaron declared. "The one thing which he lacks is enthusiasm. He doesn't really feel. He does his work well because it is his work, not because of what it leads to."
"You are right," Julia admitted. "He has no enthusiasm. That is why he never moves people when he speaks. I must go soon, Aaron. Will you lie down and rest for a time here?"
"Rest!" He looked at her scornfully. "How can one rest! Tell me where this house of his is? I shall go and wait outside. I must see him."
She glanced at the clock, and paused for a moment to think.
"Aaron," she decided, "I will be late for once. Come with me and I will take you to him. He was kind to me last night. We will go together to his house and wait till he is down. Then I will tell him how you have longed for his coming, and perhaps—"
"Perhaps what?" Aaron interrupted. "You can't escape from it! You have promised. You shall take me! I am ready to go. Perhaps what?"
"I was only thinking," she went on, "you find it, I know, impossible to settle down to work anywhere. But with him, if he could find something—"
Aaron sprang to his feet.
"I would work my fingers to the bone!" he cried. "It is a glorious idea, Julia. I have to give up the collecting—my bicycle has gone. Let us start."
They went out together into the streets, thinly peopled, as yet, for it was barely six o'clock. Julia would have loitered, but her brother forced her always onward. She laughed as they arrived at the Square where Maraton lived. Every house they passed was shuttered and silent.
"How absurd we are!" she murmured. "He will not be up for hours. Very likely even the servants will not be astir."
Aaron repeated the word, frowning. She only smiled.
"You mustn't be foolish, dear. Don't have prejudices. Remember that we are walking along a very narrow way. We have climbed only a few steps of the hill. He is more than half-way to the top. Things are different with him. Don't judge; only wait."
She rang the bell of the house a little timidly. The door was opened without any delay by a man servant in sombre, every-day clothes.
"We wish to see Mr. Maraton," Julia announced. "He is not up yet, of course, but might we come in and wait?"
"Mr. Maraton is in his study, madam," the man answered.
He disappeared and beckoned them, a moment or so later, to follow him. They were shown into a much smaller apartment at the rear of the house. Maraton was sitting before a desk covered with papers, with a breakfast tray by his side. He looked up at their entrance, but his face was inexpressive. He did not even smile. The sunlight died out of Julia's face, and her heart sank.
"I am sorry," she began haltingly. "I ought not to have come again, I know. But it is my brother. Night and day he has thought of nothing else but your coming."
Aaron seemed to have forgotten his timidity. He crossed the room and stood before Maraton's desk. His face seemed to have caught some of the freshness of the early morning. He was no longer the sallow, pinched starveling. He was like a young prophet whose eyes are burning with enthusiasm.
"You have come to help us," he asserted. "You are Maraton!"
"I have come to help you," Maraton replied. "I have come to do what I can. It isn't an easy task in this country, you know, to do anything, but I think in the end we shall succeed. If you are Julia Thurnbrein's brother, you should know something of the work."
"I am only one of the multitude," Aaron sighed. "I haven't the brains to organise. I talk sometimes but I get too excited. There are others—many others—who speak more convincingly, but no one feels more than I feel, no one prays for the better times more fervently than I. It isn't for myself—it isn't for ourselves, even; it's for the children, it's for the next generation."
Maraton held out his hand suddenly.
"My young friend," he said, "you have spoken the words I like to hear. Some of my helpers I have found, at times, selfish. They are satisfied with the small things that lie close at hand, some material benefit which really is of no account at all. That isn't the work for us to engage in. Sit down. Sit down, Miss Julia. You have breakfasted?"
"Before we left," Julia assured him.
"Never mind, you shall breakfast again," Maraton declared. "It is a good augury that the first words I have heard from one of ourselves have been words such as your brother has spoken. To tell you the truth, I came over here in fear and trembling. Some of your leaders have frightened me a little."
"You mean—" Aaron began.
"That they don't hold their heads high enough. I am not for strikes that finish with a shilling a week more for the men; or for Acts of Parliament which dole out tardy charity. I am for the bigger things. Last night I lay awake, thinking—your friend Richard Graveling set me thinking. We must aim high. I am here for no man's individual good. I am here to plan not pinpricks but destruction."
The servant brought in more breakfast. They sat and talked, Maraton asking many questions concerning the men whom he would meet later in the day. Then he looked regretfully at the great pile of letters still before him.
"I shall need a secretary," he said slowly.
Aaron sprang to his feet.
"Take me," he begged. "I have been in a newspaper office. I am slow at shorthand but I can type like lightning. I will work morning and night. I want nothing but a little food if I may go about with you and hear you speak. Oh, take me!"
"You are engaged," he declared. "Go out and hire a typewriter and bring it here in a cab. You can start at once, I hope?"
"This minute," Aaron agreed, his voice breaking with excitement.
Maraton passed him money and took them both to the door.
"Tell me about to-night?" Julia asked. "Will you go to the Clarion? Shall you speak?"
Maraton shook his head.
"No. I have written to the men whom I am anxious to meet here, and asked them to come to me. I should prefer not to speak at all until I go to Manchester. I have plans, but I must not speak of them for the moment."
"I had hoped so to hear you speak to-night," she murmured, and her face fell.
They stood together at the door and looked out across the green tree-tops towards the city.
"The time has gone by for speeches," he said quietly. "Perhaps before very long you may hear greater things than words."
They hurried off—Julia to the factory, Aaron to a typewriting depot in New Oxford Street. At the corner of the Square they parted.
"Are you satisfied?" she asked.
His face was all aglow.
"Satisfied! Julia, you told me nothing! He is wonderful—splendid!"
She climbed on to a 'bus with a little smile upon her lips. The long day's work before her seemed like a holiday task. Then she laughed softly as she found herself repeating her brother's fervid words:
"Maraton has come!"
Maraton spent three hours and a half that morning in conclave with the committee appointed for his reception, and for that three hours and a half he was profoundly bored. Every one had a good deal to say except Richard Graveling, who sat at the end of the table with folded arms and a scowl upon his face. The only other man who scarcely opened his lips during the entire time, was Maraton himself. Peter Dale, Labour Member for Newcastle, was the first to make a direct appeal. He was a stalwart, grim-looking man, with heavy grey eyebrows and grey beard. He had been a Member of Parliament for some years and was looked upon as the practical leader of his party.
"We've heard a lot of you, Mr. Maraton," he declared, "of your fine fighting methods and of your gift of speech. We'll hear more of that, I hope, at Manchester. We are, so to speak, strangers as yet, but there's one thing I will say for you, and that is that you're a good listener. You've heard all that we've got to say and you've scarcely made a remark. You won't object to my saying that we're expecting something from you in the way of initiative, not to say leadership?"
Maraton glanced down the table. There were five men seated there, and, a little apart from all of them, David Ross, who had refused to be shaken off. Excepting him only, they were well-fed and substantial looking men. Maraton had studied them carefully through half-closed eyes during all the time of their meeting, and the more he had studied them, the more disappointed he had become. There was not one of them with the eyes of a dreamer. There was not one of them who appeared capable of dealing with any subject save from his own absolutely material and practical point of view.
Maraton from the first had felt a seal laid upon his lips. Now, when the time had come for him to speak, he did so with hesitation, almost with reluctance.
"As yet," he began, "there is very little for me to talk about. You are, I understand, you five, a committee appointed by the Labour Party to confer with me as to the best means of promulgating our beliefs. You have each told me your views. You would each, apparently, like me to devote myself to your particular district for the purpose of propagating a strike which shall result in a trifling increase of wages."
"And a coal strike, I say," Peter Dale interrupted, "is the logical first course. We've been threatening it for two years and it's time we brought it off. I can answer for the miners of the north country. We have two hundred and seventy thousand pounds laid by and the Unions are spoiling for a fight. Another eighteen-pence would make life a different thing for some of our pitmen. And the masters can afford it, too. Sixteen and a half per cent is the average dividend on the largest collieries around us."
A small man, with gimlet-like black eyes and a heavy moustache, at which he had been tugging nervously during Peter Dale's remarks, plunged into the discussion. His name was Abraham Weavel and he came from Sheffield.
"Coal's all very well," he declared, "but I speak for the ironfounders. There's orders enough in Leeds and Sheffield to keep the furnaces ablaze for two years, and the masters minting money at it. Our wages ain't to be compared with the miners. We've twenty thousand in Sheffield that aren't drawing twenty-five shillings a week and they're about fed up with it. We've our Unions, too, and money to spare, and I tell you they're beginning to ask what's the use of sending a Labour Member to Parliament and having nothing come of it."
A grey-whiskered man, who had the look of a preacher, struck the table before him with a sudden vigour.
"You remember who I am, Mr. Maraton? My name's Borden—Samuel Borden—and I am from the Potteries. It's all very well for Weavel and Dale there to talk, but there's no labour on God's earth so underpaid as the china and glass worker. We may not have the money saved—that's simply because it takes my people all they can do to keep from starvation. I've figures here that'll prove what I say. I'll go so far as this—there isn't a worse paid industry than mine in the United Kingdom."
There was a moment's silence. Abraham Weavel leaned back in his chair and yawned. Peter Dale made a grimace of dissent. Maraton turned to one of the little company who as yet had scarcely opened his lips—a thin, ascetic-looking, middle-aged man, who wore gold spectacles, and who had an air of refinement which was certainly not shared by any of the others.
"And you, Mr. Culvain," he enquired, "you represent no particular industry, I believe? You were a journalist, were you not, before you entered Parliament?"
"I was and am a journalist," Culvain assented. "Since you have asked my opinion, I must confess that I am all for more peaceful methods. These Labour troubles which inconvenience and bring loss upon the community, do harm to our cause. I am in favour of a vigorous course of platform education through all the country districts of England. I think that the principles of Socialism are not properly understood by the working classes."
"If one might make a comment upon all that you have said," Maraton remarked, "I might point out to you that there is a certain selfishness in your individual suggestions. Three of you are in favour of a gigantic strike, each in his own constituency. Mr. Culvain, who is a writer and an orator, prefers the methods which appeal most to him. Yet even these strikes which you propose are puny affairs. You want to wage war for the sake of a few shillings. We ought to fight, if at all, for a greater and more splendid principle. It isn't a shilling or two more a week that the people want. It's a share—a share to which they are, without the shadow of a doubt, entitled—in the direct product of their labour."
"That's sound enough," Peter Dale admitted. "How are you going to get it?"
"You ask for too much," Weavel observed, "and you get nothing."
"It is never wise," Culvain suggested quietly, "to have the public against one."
Maraton rose a little abruptly to his feet. He had the air of one eager to dismiss the subject.
"Gentlemen," he announced, "I've heard your views. In a few days' time you shall hear mine. Only let me tell you this. To me you all seem to be working and thinking on very narrow lines. Your object seems to be the securing of small individual benefits for your individual constituents. I think that if we get to work together in this country, there must be something more national in our aspirations. That is all I have to say for the present. As I think you know, I intend to make a pronouncement of my own views at Manchester."
They all took their leave a little later. Maraton himself saw them out and watched them across the Square. Somehow or other, his depression had visibly increased as he turned away. He had come into contact lately, on the other side of the world, with a different order of person—men and women, too, passionately, strenuously in earnest. They were well-fed, prosperous individuals, these whom he had just dismissed. Their politics were their business, their position as Members of Parliament a source of unmixed joy to all of them; hard-headed men, very likely, good each in his own department; beyond that, nothing.
He returned presently to his study, where Aaron was already at work, typing letters.
"So that is your committee of Labour Members," Maraton remarked, throwing himself into an easy chair.
Aaron looked up.
"They are all sound men," he declared. "Peter Dale, too, is a fine speaker."
"Yet it isn't from them," he said quietly, "that I can take a mandate. I must go to the people. I couldn't even talk to them to-day. I couldn't take them into my confidence. I couldn't show them the things I have seen perhaps only in my dreams. I don't suppose they would have listened. . . . How many more letters, Aaron?"
Maraton rose to his feet.
"I shall walk for an hour or so," he announced. "Get them ready for me to sign when I come in. Have you a home, young man?"
"None, sir," Aaron admitted.
"Excellent!" Maraton declared cheerfully. "These people with homes lose sight of the real thing. What do you think of your Labour Members, honestly, Aaron? Ah, I can see that they have been little gods to you! Little tin gods, I am afraid, Aaron. Do they know what it is to go hungry, I wonder? Not often! . . . Get on with your letters. I am going out."
Maraton walked to the Park and sat down underneath the trees. There were a fair number of people about, notwithstanding the hot weather, and very soon he recognised Lady Elisabeth. She was walking back and forth along one of the side-walks, with a little, fussy woman, golden-haired, and wearing a gown of the brightest blue. Maraton watched them, at first idly and then with interest. Lady Elisabeth, in her cool muslin gown and simple hat, seemed to be moving in a world of her own, into which her companion's chatter but rarely penetrated. She walked with a slow and delicate grace, not without a characteristic touch of languor. Once or twice she looked around her—one might almost have imagined that she was seeking escape from her companion—and on one of these occasions her eyes met Maraton's. She stopped short. They were within a few feet of one another, and Maraton rose to his feet. She lowered her parasol and held out her hand.
"Only a very short time ago," she told him, "I was wondering what you were doing. You know that my uncle is expecting to see or hear from you this afternoon?"
"I know," he admitted. "To tell you the truth, I came out here to think. I could not quite make up my mind what to say to him."
"It is strange that we should meet here," she continued, "when Mr. Foley was talking to me about you for so long this morning. He wished that he had laid more emphasis upon the fact that your coming to us at Lyndwood committed you to nothing. No one is the worse off for hearing every point of view, is he? My uncle will feel so much happier if he really has had the opportunity of having a long, uninterrupted talk with you."
Maraton smiled pleasantly. They were standing in a crowded part of the walk and almost unconsciously they commenced to move slowly along together. Lady Elisabeth turned to her companion.
"You must let me introduce Mr. Maraton to you," she said. "This is Mr. Maraton—Mrs. Bollington-Watts."
The little woman leaned forward and looked at Maraton with undisguised curiosity.
"Forgive my starting at your name, won't you, Mr. Maraton?" she began. "It is uncommon, isn't it, and I'm only just over from the States. I dare say you read about all those awful doings in Chicago."
Maraton, without direct reply, inclined his head. Mrs. Bollington-Watts continued volubly.
"My brother is a judge out in Chicago. It was he who signed the warrant for Maraton's arrest. I'm afraid our people are getting much too scared, nowadays, about that sort of thing. We don't seem to be able to enforce our laws like you do over here. They are all saying now that it ought to have been served and the man shot if there had been any resistance."
"In which case," Maraton remarked, "I should not have had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, Mrs. Bollington-Watts."
She stared at him for a moment, speechless through sheer lack of comprehension. Then she glanced at Lady Elisabeth and the truth dawned upon her. It was more than she could grapple with at first, however.
"You? But Lady Elisabeth—? But you, Mr. Maraton—are you really the man who mur—who was associated with all that trouble in Chicago?"
"I am, without a doubt, the man," Maraton assented cheerfully. "I am an enemy of your class, Mrs. Bollington-Watts. Your husband is the steel millionaire, isn't he? And I am also a Socialist of the most militant and modern type. Nevertheless, I can assure you, for these few moments you are perfectly safe."
Mrs. Bollington-Watts drew a little breath. The remarkable adaptability of her race came to her rescue; her point of view swung round.
"Why," she declared, "I have never been so interested in my life. This is perfectly thrilling. Mr. Maraton, I am having a few friends come in to-morrow evening. I should dearly love to give them a surprise. Couldn't you just drop in for an hour? Or, better still, if you could dine? I have taken Lenchester House for a year. My, it would be good to see their faces!"
Maraton shook his head.
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Bollington-Watts," he said, "but my visit to England is one of business only. To be frank with you, I have no social existence, nor any desire to cultivate one."
"But you know Lady Elisabeth," the little woman protested.
"I have the honour of knowing Lady Elisabeth incidentally," Maraton replied. "If you will excuse me now—"
Mrs. Bollington-Watts turned aside to talk vigorously to a passer-by. Lady Elisabeth laid her hand upon his arm.
"Mr. Maraton," she said softly, "do make up your mind. Please come to Lyndwood."
Her blue eyes were raised to his, fearlessly, appealingly. Maraton was more than ever conscious of the delicate perfection of her person, her clear skin, her silky brown hair. She was something new to him in her sex. He knew quite well that a request from her was an unusual thing.
"I will come, Lady Elisabeth," he promised gravely. "Beyond that, of course, I can say nothing. But I will come to Lyndwood."
The slight anxiety passed from her face like a cloud. Her smile was positively brilliant.
"It is charming of you," she whispered.
Mrs. Bollington-Watts was once more free and by their side. They moved on to the corner and Maraton was on the point of taking his leave. Just at that moment Mrs. Bollington-Watts gave a little cry of amazement. A coach was drawn up by the side of the path, and a young man who was driving it, was looking down at them. Mrs. Bollington-Watts stopped and waved her hand at him almost frantically.
"Why, it's Freddy Lawes!" she exclaimed.. "Why, Freddy, what on earth are you doing here? If this isn't a surprise! They told me you never moved from Paris, and I thought I'd have to come right over there to see you. . . . Well, I declare! Freddy!—why, Freddy, what's the matter?"
The words of Mrs. Bollington-Watts seemed as though they had been spoken into empty air. The young man was leaning forward in his place, the reins loosely held in his hand, and a groom was already upon the path, recovering the whip which had slipped from his fingers. His eyes were fixed not upon Mrs. Bollington-Watts nor upon Lady Elisabeth, but upon Maraton. He was a young man of harmless and commonplace appearance but his features were at that moment transformed. His mouth was strained and quivering, his eyes were lit with something very much like horror. Some words certainly left his lips, but they did not carry to the hearing of any one of those three people. He looked at Maraton with the fierce, terrified intentness of one who looks upon a spectre!
Mrs. Bollington-Watts' shrill voice once more broke the silence, which, although it was a matter of seconds only, was not without a certain peculiar dramatic quality.
"Say, what's wrong with you, Freddy? You don't think I'm a ghost, do you? Can't you come down and talk?"
The spell, whatever it may have been, had passed. The young man lifted his hat and leaned over the side of the coach.
"I won't get down just now, Amy," he said. "Tell me where you are and I'll come and see you. How's Richard?"
Maraton, obeying a gesture from Lady Elisabeth, moved away with her, leaving Mrs. Bollington-Watts absorbed in a flood of family questions and answers.
"Come back with me now, won't you?" she asked, a little abruptly. "My uncle is restless and unwell this afternoon, and it will perhaps relieve him to have your decision."
"What about Mrs. Bollington-Watts?"
Lady Elisabeth glanced at him for a moment. Her eyebrows were slightly lifted.
"If you can bear to lose her, I'm sure I can. She is really rather a dear person but she is very intense. She will meet a crowd of people she knows, directly, and quite forget that we have slipped away. Shall we go down Birdcage Walk, or if you are in a hurry, perhaps you would prefer a taxi?"
He shook his head.
"I prefer to walk."
He did not at first prove a very entertaining companion. They proceeded for some distance almost in silence.
"If I were a curious person," Lady Elisabeth remarked, "I should certainly be puzzling my brain as to what there could have been about that very frivolous young man to call such an expression into your face. And how terrified he was to see you!"
Maraton smiled grimly.
"You have observation, I perceive, Lady Elisabeth."
"Powers of observation but no curiosity, thank goodness," Lady Elisabeth declared. "Perhaps that is just as well, for I can see that you are going to turn out to be a very mysterious person."
"In some respects I believe that I am," he assented equably. "My peculiar beliefs are responsible for a good deal, you see—and certain circumstances. . . . But tell me—we have both agreed to be frank—why have you changed your attitude towards me so completely? I scarcely dared to hope even for your recognition this morning."
She was suddenly thoughtful.
"That was the very question I was asking myself when we crossed the street just now," she remarked, with a faint smile.
Maraton was conscious of a curious and undefined sense of pleasure in her words. In the act of crossing he had held her arm for a few moments, and though her assent to his physical guidance had been purely negative, there was yet something about it which had given him a vague pleasure. Instinctively he knew that she was of the order of women to whom the merest touch from a man whom they disliked would have been torture.
"I think," she went on, "that it is because I am trying to adopt my uncle's point of view towards you."
"And what is your uncle's point of view?"
"He believes you," she declared, "to be a very dangerous person, a rabid enthusiast with brains and also stability—the most difficult order of person in the world to deal with."
"He believes you," she continued, "to be harmless enough at a wholesome period of our country's history. Just now, he told me yesterday, that he considered it was within your power to bring something very much like ruin upon the country."
Maraton was silent. He felt singularly indisposed for argument. Every condition of life just then seemed too pleasant. They were walking in the shade, and a soft west wind was rustling in the trees above their heads.
"There are, after all," she said, "so many happy people in the world. Is it worth while to drag down the pillars, to bring so much misery into the world for the sake of a dream?"
"I am no dreamer," he insisted quietly. "It is possible to make absolute laws for the future with the same precision as one can extract examples from the history of the past."
"But human nature," she objected, "is always a shifting quality."
"Only in detail. The heart and lungs of it are the same in all ages."
They crossed the road and turned into St. James's Park. He paused for a moment to look at the front of Buckingham Palace.
"A hateful sight to you, of course," she murmured.
"Not in the least," he assured her. "On the contrary, I think that the actual government of this country is wonderful. I suppose my creed of life would command a halter from any one who heard it, but I raise my hat always to your King."
"It is going to take me ages," she sighed, "to understand you."
"I will supply you with the necessary signposts," he promised. "Perhaps you will find then that the task will become almost too easy. For me I am afraid it will prove too short."
She turned her head and looked at him curiously. There was something provocative in the curl of her lips and in her monosyllabic question.
"Because when you have arrived at a complete understanding," he declared, "I fear we shall have reached the parting of our ways."
She looked steadfastly ahead.
"Wouldn't that rather rest with you?" she asked.
They passed a flower-barrow wonderfully laden, and she half stopped with a little exclamation.
"Oh, I must have some of those white roses!" she begged. "They fit in at this moment with one of my only superstitions."
He bought her a great handful. She held them in both hands and gave him her parasol to carry.
"Mine is an inherited superstition, so I will not be ashamed of it," she told him. "We have always believed that white roses bring happiness, especially if they come accidentally at a critical moment."
He glanced behind at the retreating figure of the flower woman.
"If happiness is so easily purchased," he said, "what a pity it is that I did not buy the barrowful!"
"It isn't a matter of quantity at all," she assured him. "One blossom would have been enough and you were really frightfully extravagant."
She drifted into silence. They were walking eastwards now, and before them was the great yellow haze which hung over the sun-enveloped city, a haze which stretched across the whole arc of the heavens, and underneath which were toiling the millions to whom his life was consecrated. For a moment the grim inappropriateness of these hours struck him with a pang of remorse. He felt almost like a traitor to be walking with this slim, beautiful girl whose face was hidden from him now in the mass of white blossoms. And then his sense of proportion came to the rescue. He knew that he had but one desire—to work out his ends by the most effective means. It did not even disturb him to reflect that for the first time for many years he had found pleasure in what was merely an interlude.
"We turn here," she directed. "You see, we are close to home now. My uncle will be so glad to see you, Mr. Maraton, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am that you are coming to Lyndwood."
"I only hope," he said a little gravely, "that your uncle will not expect too much from my coming. It seems churlish to refuse, and even though our views are as far apart as the poles, I know that your uncle means well."