The average English citizen and his wife have a certain method of
spending Sunday which admits of no variation, and is as essential to
their religion as any doctrine which that religion inculcates. Indeed,
it is very often the only tribute which they pay to those supernatural
powers who are supposed to smile upon virtue and to frown upon vice.
When church and chapel–St Waltheof’s and Little Bethel–unite in
teaching that ceremonial observance is at least as important as moral
practice, is it to be wondered at that their congregations, feeling
that it would be more than human to combine the two, choose to move
along the line of least resistance? It is comparatively easy, though
perhaps somewhat tiresome, especially in hot weather, to get up only
a _little_ late on Sunday mornings, instead of a good deal late, as
the ‘natural man’ would prefer to do; to assume a more or less solemn
aspect at the breakfast-table; to wear garments of unusual splendour,
which do not see daylight during the week, and in assuming them to feel
tremors of uneasiness lest they should be outshone by Mr Jones’ wife,
Mr Smith’s daughter, Mr Brown’s sister, or Mr Robinson’s maiden aunt.
It is not quite so easy, but still possible, to sit for two hours on a
narrow seat, evidently made by someone who knew he would never have to
sit on it, and to keep awake (in the old pews this was not imperative),
while a preacher, whom one does not care for, talks, in language one
does not understand, on subjects in which one takes not the slightest
interest. And then, as a compensation, one has the heavy early dinner
and the afternoon sleep, in itself almost a religious exercise. Perhaps
one’s ungodly neighbours curse the day they were born as they hear one,
after tea, playing long-drawn hymn tunes on a harmonium, till the bells
begin to go for evening ‘worship’; then one’s wife goes to put on her
bonnet (which has been lying in state all day on the best bed, covered
with a white handkerchief), and one goes to one’s ‘sitting’ again with
a delicious sense that the worse of it is over. All this is not so
difficult, and an eternity of bliss is cheap at the price–distinctly.
But to refrain from sanding the sugar or watering the milk–especially
for a ‘family man,’ who has ‘others to think of besides himself’–to
keep one’s hand from this, and one’s tongue from evil-speaking, lying
and slandering, to keep one’s body in temperance and soberness, to be
true and just in all one’s dealings–this would be not only difficult
but absurd, nowadays.
There are a good many who try to carry out the moral teachings and
let the ceremonial observances alone, and there are far more who
disregard the one and the other; and for both these classes there are
ways of spending Sunday evening of which the strict Sabbatarian has no
conception. Among others are the entertainments provided by working
men’s clubs. These are not the wildest form of dissipation; but, as a
rule, they have some practical bearing on this world and its affairs
and, though rather solid pudding, are appreciated by the audiences,
mostly working men, who have a strong and increasing taste for solids,
and no small discernment in the matter of flavours.
To-night the dish provided for the Agora Club was a Russian one, and
was likely to be highly spiced.
‘Do you expect a large audience?’ Richard Ferrier asked Litvinoff, as
they walked along.
‘I hope so,’ he said. ‘I can always speak better to a full room.
Perhaps the physical heat does something to grease one’s tongue; and
then, again, in a large audience, you’re sure to have some people who
agree with you, and you and they reflect enthusiasm backwards and
forwards between you. We’re close there now,’ he added, as they turned
down a narrow street of high, unhappy-looking houses.
‘How in the world do you come to be lecturing at a place like this? How
do you know anything about it?’ asked Roland.
‘There is a freemasonry among the soldiers of Liberty which holds good
all over the world, and we who serve her are pledged to carry her light
into the darkest corners.’
If this seemed somewhat rhetorical to the young Englishmen, they were
ready enough to excuse it in a foreigner, and especially in a foreigner
who was about to make a speech. It did occur to Dick that the locality
in which they were at the moment was a dark corner which stood as much
in need of the services of the Metropolitan Gas Company as of those of
the torch-bearers of Freedom; but there was light enough in the room
into which Count Litvinoff soon led them.
It was long and rather low, not unlike a certain type of dissenting
meeting-room. At one end was a platform, on which stood two wooden
chairs, and a deal table which had upon it a tumbler, a bottle of
water, and a small wooden hammer, similar to those used by auctioneers.
The room was well filled–so well filled that all the wooden forms and
chairs were occupied, and even the standing room was so much taken up
that the three young men found a little difficulty in working their way
to the upper end of the room. Roland noticed, with some surprise, that
among the audience were several women, who seemed quite as much at home
there as the husbands and brothers with whom they had come.
The two Ferriers were placed on a seat facing the platform, which
Litvinoff at once ascended, in company with the chairman. The two were
received with cheers and applause, which redoubled when the chairman in
his opening remarks referred to the count as ‘one who had suffered and
worked for years for the cause he was about to advocate.’
Much as the Ferriers had already wondered at Litvinoff’s mastery of
English, they wondered still more after the first ten minutes on his
speech. It is one thing to carry on a social conversation in a tongue
not one’s own; it is another and a widely different thing to be able
to hold a foreign audience, and to sway and move it, to rouse its
enthusiasm and to thrill it with horror, at one’s will and pleasure.
Yet such was the power of this young Russian rebel. He spoke without
notes, and without the slightest hesitation. His voice in the opening
sentences was very low, but so clear as to be heard distinctly all over
the room.
The first part of his address was simply a narrative. In a calm,
unimpassioned way he told his hearers the story, from its beginning,
of a struggle for freedom; he told them how a movement which had begun
in a spirit of love, enthusiasm, and self-sacrifice, had been turned
by blind tyranny and brutal oppression into one of wild vengeance and
bitter relentless hatred. He told them how, for a chance expression
of sympathy with the down-trodden peasants; for the possession of a
suppressed book; sometimes even for less than these offences, for
having incurred the personal spite of some members of the police, aged
men and tender girls had been, and were, at that moment while he spoke
to them, being delivered over to the torture chambers of the Russian
monarch, to be scourged and starved, to be devoured by disease and
riven by madness. He told them how tyranny always had treated–how
while it exists, tyranny always will treat the sons of men.

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Then, when many among his audience had broken out into groans of
indignation and cries of ‘Shame!’ the usual note of an indignant
English audience, the speaker dropped the narrative tone and became
argumentative. Here, when he justified the Nihilists’ ‘deeds of death’
as the lawful punishment of criminals–punishment inflicted by the
only power that has the right to execute vengeance, the outraged
spirit of man–he seemed to lose for a moment the sympathy of some of
his hearers, and certainly of the Ferriers, who like most Englishmen,
believed in the efficacy of Parliamentary reforms, and also forgot,
like most Englishmen, that these patent remedies for all the ills of
life are hardly applicable to nations that have no parliament.
With the ready apprehension of a true orator, Litvinoff saw the slight
shade of coldness as it passed over some of the upturned faces before
him, and, with a consummate skill that was the result either of long
practice or oratorical genius, he changed, without seeming to change,
the argumentative and defensive attitude for one of stern and glowing
denunciation. His voice rang through the room now like a trumpet-call.
A very little of this sort of thing was sufficient to rouse the men
before him to stormy approbation, and Richard whispered to his brother
that if any Russian dignitary were to come in just then, while the
speaker was in the full tide of his invective, he would have very much
the sort of reception that was given to the Austrian woman-flogging
general some years ago by the stalwart draymen of Messrs Barclay &
Apparently satisfied with the applause of his audience, in which he
seemed to delight and revel, Litvinoff turned from the present and
the past, and invited his hearers to look with him into the future,
‘not only of Russia, but of mankind,’ he said; ‘what the world might
be–what it would be.’ Then were done into rhetorical English the
concluding pages of that famous Russian pamphlet, ‘A Prophetic
Vision’–the pamphlet for whose sake Russian peasants had braved the
spydom of the police, and to hear which read aloud by some of their
fellows who _could_ read, they had crowded together at nights in
outhouses and sheds, by the dim light of tallow candles–the pamphlet
for whose possession St Petersburg and Moscow students had quarrelled
and almost fought, knowing all the time that the mere fact of its
being found upon their persons or among their belongings meant certain
imprisonment, and possible death–the pamphlet, in short, the discovery
of whose authorship three years back had sent Count Litvinoff and his
luckless secretary flying for the Austrian frontier.
It was certainly a pleasant vision this of the Russian noble, whether
it was prophetic or no, a dream of a time when men would no longer
sow for other men to reap, when the fruits of the earth would be the
inheritance of all the earth’s children, and not only of her priests
and her rulers; when, in fact, rulers would be no more, for all would
rule and each would obey; when every man would do as he liked, and
every man would like to do well.
All this seemed very high-flown and remote to the young university
critics on the front seats, though even they were moved for a moment
or two, by the vibrating tones of the speaker, out of the attitude
of English stolidity which they had carefully kept up during the
evening. But those behind them were less reserved, and perhaps more
credulous–more given to believing in visions; and when Litvinoff sat
down, the walls of the Agora rang again and again with the cheers of a
sympathetic and delighted audience.
When the chairman had announced that ‘Mr’ Litvinoff would be happy to
answer any questions that might be suggested by the lecture, there was
a moment or two of that awkward silence which always occurs on these
occasions, when everyone feels that there are at least half-a-dozen
questions he would like to ask, but experiences the greatest possible
difficulty in putting even one into an intelligible shape.
At length a man in one of the far corners of the room rose to put a
question. His accent showed him to be a foreigner, but that was not
a very remarkable thing in Soho. He had a scrubby chin and dirty
linen, two other characteristics not uncommon in that region. After a
preliminary cough he explained that his question was rather personal
than general, and he quite allowed that the lecturer was not bound
to answer it; but he said that, having been in Russia, he could bear
testimony to the truth of all that had been said that evening, and
that while in the south of Russia he had come across a small pamphlet,
called ‘A Prophetic Vision,’ which he had been told had been written
by a Count Michael Litvinoff. Some parts of the address to-night had
reminded him of that excellent pamphlet, and he thought it would be
interesting to the audience to know whether the author of that pamphlet
was the speaker of the evening.
Litvinoff rose at once.
‘I had no idea,’ he said, ‘that the little _brochure_ would ever be
heard of outside the country for whose children it was written; but
since the question is asked me so frankly to-night, I will answer as
frankly–Yes, I wrote it.’
An approving murmur ran through the room, and the foreigner rose again.
He was sorry again to trouble Citizen Litvinoff, but was he right in
supposing (it had been so reported) that the discovery of this pamphlet
by the Russian Government had occasioned Count Litvinoff’s exile?
Litvinoff was very pale as he answered,–
‘Yes; it was that unhappy pamphlet which deprived me of the chance of
serving my country on the scene of action, and which lost me a life I
valued above my own–that of a fellow-countryman of the audience which
I have the pleasure of addressing to-night–my secretary and friend,
whom I loved more than a brother.’ His voice trembled as he ended.
There was another round of applause, and, no more questions being
forthcoming, the meeting broke up, and people stood talking together
in little groups. Richard was discussing a knotty economic point
with a sturdy carpenter and trades unionist, and Roland, close by,
was earnestly questioning a French Communist to whom Litvinoff had
introduced him, and was receiving an account of the so-called murder of
the hostages very different from any which had appeared in the daily
papers of the period, when the Count came up to them.
‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘I am _désolé_; but I shall be unable to stay
longer. You will be able, doubtless, to pilot yourselves back to
civilisation, and will pardon my abrupt departure. I have just seen
someone going out of the door whom I’ve been trying to catch for the
last three months, and I’m off in pursuit.’
And he was off. As he passed a small knot of youths outside the door
they looked after him, and one of them said with a laugh, ‘Blest if I
don’t believe he’s after that handsome gal. What chaps these foreigners
are for the ladies.’
The discerning youth was right. He was after that girl–but though he
followed her and watched her into the house where she lived, he did not
speak to her.
‘Think twice before you speak once is a good rule,’ he said to
himself, as he turned westwards, ‘and I know where she lives, at any
Even discussions on political economy, and historical revelations by
those who helped to make the history, must come to an end at last, and
the Ferriers came away, after Dick had received a pressing invitation
from the chairman to address the club, and to choose his own subject,
and Roland, who had suddenly conceived a passion for foreigners of a
revolutionary character, had made an appointment with his Communist
acquaintance for an evening in the week.
As they passed down the street, two men standing under a lamp looked at
them with interest. One was the man who had put the questions regarding
the pamphlet. The other was a foreigner too, though he was clean in
his attire and had not a scrubby chin, but a long, light silky beard.
He wore the slouch hat so much affected by the High Church Clergy,
and which is popularly supposed to mark any non-clerical wearer as a
man of revolutionary views. He was tall, and pale, and thin, and had
very deeply-set hollow eyes, which he kept fixed on the retreating
millowners till they turned the corner and went out of sight. Then he
said, in a Hungarian dialect,–
‘Our pamphlet-writing friend doesn’t seem to choose his friends solely
among the poor and needy; and that is politic to say the least of it.’
‘Money seeks money,’ growled the other, ‘and he has plenty.’
‘Not so much as you’d suppose. The greater part of the Litvinoff
property is quite out of his reach. Our “little father” takes good care
of that.’
‘That which he has he takes care to keep,’ said the other.
‘I’m not so sure; at anyrate, he uses his tongue, which is a good
one, in our cause. Speeches like that are good. A man who can speak so
is not to be sneered at, and I’m certain he could not speak like that
unless he felt some of it at least. He has done us good service before,
and he will again. The Mantle of the Prophet fits him uncommonly well.’