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Chapter VIII

The Republican Kiss

note “I'VE never felt so before,” said Ned. “For about ten minutes I wanted to go back and kill him.”

“Why?”

“Because he is like a wall of iron in front of one. If he were a fat hulking brute, as some of them are, I wouldn't have minded. I could have pitied him and felt that he wasn't a fair specimen of Humanity. But this man is a fair specimen in a way. He looks like a man and he talks like a man and you feel him a man, only he's absolutely unable to understand that the crowd are the same flesh and blood as he is and you know that he'd wipe us down like ninepins if he could see he'd gain by it. He's all brains and any heart he's got is only for his own friends. He is Capitalism personified. He made me feel sick at heart at the hopelessness of fighting such men in the old ways. I felt for a little while that the only thing to do was to clear them out of the way as they'd clear us if they were in our shoes.”

“You've got over it soon.”

“Of course,” admitted Ned, with a laugh. “He can live for ever, for me, now. It was a fool's thought. It's the system we're fighting, not the products of it, and he's only a product just like the fat beasts we abuse and the ignorant drunken bushmen he despises. I was worrying, as you call it, or I shouldn't have even thought of it.”

Ned was talking to Connie. After having had dinner at a restaurant with his Trades Hall friend, to whom he related part of his morning's interview, he had found himself with two or three hours on his hands. So he had turned his steps towards the Strattons, longing for sympathy and comfort, being strangely depressed and miserable without being able to think out just how he felt.

He found Mrs. Stratton writing in her snug parlour. The rooms had the same general appearance that they had two years before. The house, seen by daylight for the first time, was embowered in


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trees and fringed back and front with pretty flower beds and miniature lawns. Connie herself was fair and fresh as ever and wore a loose robe of daintily flowered stuff; the years had passed lightly over her, adding to rather than detracting from the charms of her presence. She welcomed him warmly and with her inimitable tact, seeing his trouble, told him how they all were, including that Josie had married and had a beautiful baby, adding with a flush that she herself had set Josie a bad example and bringing in the example for Ned to admire. The other children were boating with George and Josie, she explained, George not having yet escaped from that horrible night-work. Harry was well and would be home after a while. He was painting a series of scenes from city life, the sketches of which she showed him. Arty was married to a very nice girl, who knew all his poetry, every line, by heart. Ford was well, only more bitter than ever. When Ned asked after Geisner, she said he had not been back since and she had only heard once, indirectly, that he was well. Thus she led him to talk and he told her partly what took place between Strong and himself. Strong's offer he could not tell to anyone.

“You didn't get on with Nellie last night?” she asked, alluding to his “worrying.” Having taken the baby out she had sat down on the stool by the open piano.

Ned looked up. “How do you know? Has she been here?”

“No. She hasn't been here, but I can tell. You men always carry your hearts on your sleeve, when you think you aren't. You asked her to marry you, I suppose, and she said ‘No.’ Isn't that it?”

“I can't tell you all about it, Mrs. Stratton,” answered Ned, frankly. “That's about it. But she did quite right. She thought she shouldn't and when Nellie thinks anything she tries to do it. That's what should be.”

Mrs. Stratton strummed a few notes. “I'll show you something,” she said, finally, getting up. “It passes the time to show old curiosities.”

She left the room, returning in a few minutes with a quaint box of dark wood, bound with chased iron work and inlaid with some semi-transparent substance in the pattern of a coat-of-arms. She opened it with a little key that hung on her watch chain. Inside were a number of compartments, covered with little lids.


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She lifted them all, together, exposing under the tray a deeper recess. From this she took a miniature case.note

“Look at it!” she said, smiling. “I ought to charge you sixpence but I won't.”

Ned pressed the spring, the lid of the case flew up, and there, in water-colour, was the head and bust of a girl. The face was a delicate oval, the mouth soft and sweet, the eyes bright with youth and health, the whole appearance telling of winning grace and cultured beauty. The fullness of the brows betrayed the artist instinct. The hair was drawn to the top of the head in a strange foreign fashion. The softly curving lines of face and figure showed womanhood begun.

“She is very beautiful,” commented Ned. Then, looking at it more closely: “Do you know that somehow, although it's not like her, this reminds me of Nellie?”

“I knew you'd say that,” remarked Connie, swinging round on the music stool so as to reach the keys again and striking a note or two softly. “It has got Nellie's presentment, whatever you call it. I noticed it the first time I saw Nellie. That was how we happened to speak first. Harry noticed it, too, without my having said a word to him. They might be sisters, only Nellie's naturally more self-reliant and determined and has had a hard life of it, while she”—nodding at the miniature—“had been nursed in rose-leaves up to the time it was taken.”

“I don't see just where the likeness comes in,” said Ned, trying to analyse the portrait.

“It's about the eyes and the mouth particularly, as well as a general similitude,” explained Connie.

“As I tell Nellie, she's got a vicious way of setting her lips, so,” and Mrs. Stratton, mimicking, drew the corners of her mouth down in Nellie's style. “Then she draws her brows down till altogether she looks as though the burden of the whole world was on her. But underneath she has the same gentle mouth and open eyes and artist forehead as the picture and one feels it. It's very strange, don't you know, that Geisner never seemed to notice it and yet he generally notices everything. After all, I don't know that it is so strange. It's human nature.”

“Geisner?” said Ned, clumsily, having nothing particular to say. “Has he seen it?”

“Once or twice,” observed Connie. “It belongs to him. He leaves it with me. That's how Harry's seen it and you. It's the


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only thing he values so he takes care of it by never having it about him, you know,” she added, in the flippant way that hid her feelings.note

“I suppose it is—that it's—it's the girl he—” stumbled Ned, beginning to understand suddenly.

“That's her,” said Connie, strumming some louder notes. “She died. They had been married a few days. She was taken ill, very ill. He left her, when her life was despaired of. She would have him go, too. She got better a little but losing him killed her.”

Ned gazed at the portrait, speechless. What were his troubles, his grief, his sorrows, beside those of the man who had loved and lost so! Nellie at least lived. At least he had still the hope that in the years to come he and she might mate together. His thoughts flew back to Geisner's talk on Love on the garden terrace, in the bright afternoon sunshine. Truly Geisner's had been the Love that elevated not the Lust that pulled down. The example nerved him like fresh air. The pain that had dumbed his thoughts of Nellie passed from him.

“He is a man!” cried Ned.

“That wasn't all,” went on Connie, taking the case from his hands and officiously dusting it with her handkerchief. “When she was pining for him, dying of grief, because she had lost her strength in her illness, they offered him his liberty if he would deny the Cause, if he would recant, if he would say he had been fooled and misled and desired to redeem his position. They let him hear all about her and then they tempted him. They wanted to disgust the people with their leaders. But it wasn't right to do that. It was shameful. It makes me wild to think of it yet. The way it was done! To torture a man so through his love! Oh, the wretches! The miserable dogs! I'd —— ” Connie broke off suddenly to put the handkerchief to her indignant eyes. The thunderstorm of her anger burst in rain. She was a thorough woman. “I suppose they didn't know any better, as he always says of everybody that's mean. It's some consolation to think that they overshot the mark, though,” she concluded, tearfully.

“How?”

“How! Why if they had let Geisner go and everybody else, there'd be no martyrs to keep the Cause going. Even Geisner, if his wife had lived, poor girl, and if children had grown up, could hardly be quite the same, don't you know. As it is he only lives


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for the Cause. He has nothing else to live for. They crushed his weakness out of him and fitted him to turn round and crush them.”

“It's time he began,” remarked Ned, thoughtfully.

“He has begun.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere. In you, in me, in Nellie, in men like Ford and George and Harry, in places you never dream of, in ways nobody knows but himself. He is moulding the world as a potter moulds clay. It frightens me, sometimes. I open a new book and there are Geisner's very ideas. I see a picture, an illustrated paper, and there is Geisner's hand passed to another. I was at a new opera the other night and I could hardly believe my ears; it seemed as though Geisner was playing. From some out of the way corner of the earth comes news of a great strike; then, on top of it, from another corner, the bubbling of a gathering rising; and I can feel that Geisner is guiding countless millions to some unseen goal, safe in his work because none know him. He is a man! He seeks no reward, despises fame, instils no evil, claims no leadership. Only he burns his thoughts into men's hearts, the god-like thoughts that in his misery have come to him, and every true man who hears him from that moment has no way but Geisner's way. A word from him and the whole world would rock with Revolution. Only he does not say it. He thinks of the to-morrow. We all suffer, and he has passed through such suffering that he is branded with it, body and soul. But he has faced it and conquered it and he understands that we all must face it and conquer it before those who follow after us can be freed from it. ‘We must first show that Socialism is possible,’ he said to me two years ago. And I think he hoped, Ned, that some day you would show it.”

“You talk like Geisner,” said Ned, watching her animated face. He had come to her for comfort and upon his sad heart her words were like balm. Afterwards, they strengthened the life purpose that came to him.

“Of course. So do you when you think of him. So does everybody. His wonderful power all lies in his impressing his ideas on everybody he meets. Strong is a baby beside him when you consider the difference in their means.”

“I wish Strong was on our side, just the same.”




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“Why? The Strongs find the flint on which the Geisners strike the steel. Do you think for a single moment that the average rich man has courage enough or brains enough to drive the people to despair as this Strong will do?”

“Yes, monopoly will either kill or cure.”

“It will cure. This Strong is annihilating the squatters as fast as he's trying to annihilate the unions. I hear them talking sometimes, or their wives, which is the same thing. They fairly hate him. He's doing more than any man to kill the old employer and to turn the owners of capital into mere idle butterflies, or, if you like it better, into swine wallowing in luxury, living on dividends. Not that they hate that,” went on Connie, contemptuously. “They're an idle, vicious set, taken all round, at the best. But he's ruining a lot of the old landocrats and naturally they don't like it. Of course, very few of them like his style or his wife's.”

“Too quiet? Nellie was telling me something of him once.”

“Yes. He's very quiet at home. So is his wife. He reads considerably. She is musical. They have their own set, quite a pleasant one. And fashionable society can rave and splutter but is kept carefully outside their door. They don't razzle-dazzle, at any rate.”

“Don't what?” asked Ned, puzzled.

“Don't razzle-dazzle!” repeated Connie, laughing. “Don't dance on champagne, like many of the society gems?”

“The men, you mean.”

“The men! My dear Ned, you ought to know a little more about high life and then you'd appreciate the Strongs. I've seen a dozen fashionable women, young and old, perfectly intoxicated at a single fashionable ball. As for the men, most of them haven't any higher idea of happiness than a drunken debauch. While as for fashionable morality the less you say about it the better. And the worst of the lot are among the canting ones. The Strongs and their set at least are decent people. Wealth and poverty both seem to degrade most of us.”

“Ah, well, it can't last so very much longer,” remarked Ned.

“It could if it weren't for the way both sides are being driven,” answered Connie. “These fat wine-soaked capitalists would give in whenever the workmen showed a bold front if cast-iron capitalists like Strong didn't force them into the fight and keep them fighting. And you know yourself that while workmen get


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a little what they want they never dream of objecting to greater injustices. And if it weren't for the new ideas workmen would go on soaking themselves with drink and vice and become as unable to make a change as the depraved wealthy are to resist a change. Everything helps to make up the movement.”

“I know I'm inconsistent,” she went on. “I talk angrily myself often but it's not right to feel hard against anybody. These other people can't help it, any more than a thief can help it or a poor girl on the streets. They're not happy as they might be, either. And if they were, I think it's better to suffer for the Cause than to have an easy time by opposing it. I'd sooner be Geisner than Strong.”

“What a comparison!” cried Ned.

“Of one thing I'm sure,” continued Connie, “that it is noble to go to prison in resisting injustice, that suffering itself becomes a glory if one bears it bravely for others. For I have heard Geisner say, often, that when penalties cease to intimidate and when men generally rise superior to unjust laws those special injustices are as good as overthrown. We must all do our best to prevent anything being done which is unmanly in itself. If we try to do that prison is no disgrace and death itself isn't very terrible.”

“I know you mean this for me,” said Ned, smiling. “I didn't mind much, you know, before. I was ready for the medicine. But, somehow, since I've been here, I've got to feel quite eager to be locked up. I shall be disappointed if it doesn't come off.” He laughed cheerfully.

“Well, you might as well take it that way,” laughed Connie. “I can't bear people who take everything seriously.”

“There was one thing I wanted you to do,” said Ned, after a while. “Nellie promised me years ago to tell me if ever she was hard up. I've got a few pounds ahead and what my horses are worth. If anything happens can I have it sent down to you so that you can give it to her if she needs it?”

Connie thought for a moment, “You'd better not,” she answered. “We'll see that Nellie's all right. I think she'd starve rather than touch what you'll need afterwards.”

“Perhaps so,” said Ned. “You know best about that. I must go now,” rising.




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“Can't you wait for dinner?” asked Counie. “Harry will be here then and you'd have time to catch the train.”

“I've a little business to do before,” said Ned. “I promised one of our fellows to see his brother, who lives near the station.”

“Oh! You must have something to eat first,” insisted Connie. “You'll miss your dinner probably. That won't do.” So he waited.

They had finished the hurriedly prepared meal, which she ate with him so that he might feel at home, when Stratton came in.

“He's always just in time,” explained Connie, when the greetings were over. “He gives me the cold shivers whenever we're going to catch a train. Say ‘good-bye’ to Ned now, and don't delay him! I'll tell you all he said, all but the secrets. He's going to Queensland to-night and hasn't a minute to spare.”

“I'm sorry you can't stay overnight,” said Harry, heartily. “I'd like to have a long talk but I suppose my fine society lady here hasn't wasted time.”

“I've talked enough for two, you may depend upon it,” announced Connie, as they went to the front door together, chatting.

“Well, good-bye, if you must go,” said Harry, holding Ned by both hands. “And remember, whatever happens, you've got good friends here, not fair-weather friends either.”

“He must go, Harry,” cried Connie. “I've kept him just to see you. You'll make him miss the next boat. Come, Ned! Good-bye!”

Ned turned to her, holding out his hand.

“Bend down!” she said, suddenly, her lips smiling, her eyes filling. “You're so tall.”

He bent to her mechanically, not understanding. She took his head between her hands and kissed him on both cheeks.

“The republican kiss!” she cried, trying to laugh, offering her own cheek to him as he stood flushed and confused. Something choked him as he stooped to her again, touching the fair face with his lips, reverentially.

“Good-bye!” she exclaimed, her mouth working, grasping his hands. “Our hearts are with you all up there, but, oh, don't let your good heart destroy you for no use!” Then she burst into


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tears and, turning to her husband, flung herself into the loving arms that opened for her. “It's beginning again, Harry. It's beginning again. Will it never end, I wonder? And it's always the best it takes from us, Harry, the bravest and the best.” And she sobbed in his arms, quietly, resignedly, as she had sobbed, Ned recollected, when Geisner thundered forth that triumphant Marseillaise.

Her vivid imagination showed her friends and husband and sons going to prison and to death as friends and father and brother had gone to prison and to death in the days gone by. She knew the Cause so well—had it not suckled her and reared her?—with all the depth of the nature that her lightness of manner only veiled as the frothy spray of the flooded Barron veils the swell of the cataract beneath, with all the capacity for understanding that made her easily the equal of brilliant men. It was a Moloch, a Juggernaut, a Kronos that devoured its own children, a madness driving men to fill with their hopes and lives the chasm that lies between what is and what should be. It had lulled a little around her of late years, the fight that can only end one way because generation after generation carries it on, civilisation after civilisation, age after age. Now its bugle notes were swelling again and those she cared for would be called, sooner or later, one by one. Husband and children and friends, all must go as this bushman was going, going with his noble thoughts and pure instincts and generous manhood and eager brain. At least, it seemed to her that they must. And so she bewailed them, as women will even when their hearts are brave and when their devotion is untarnished and undimmed. She yearned for the dawning of the Day of Peace, of the Reign of Love, but her courage did not falter. Still amid her tears she clung to the idea that those whom the Cause calls must obey.

“Ned'll be late, Harry,” she whispered. “He must go.” So Ned went, having grasped Harry's hand again, silently, a great lump in his throat and a dimness in his eyes but, nevertheless, strangely comforted.

He was just stepping on board the ferry steamer when Harry raced down, a little roll of paper in his hand. “Connie forgot to give you this,” was all he had time to say. “It's the only one she has.”

Ned opened the little roll to find it a pot-shot photograph of Nellie, taken in profile as she stood, with her hands clasped,


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gazing intently before her, her face sad and stern and beautiful, her figure full of womanly strength and grace. He lovered it, overjoyed, until the boat reached the Circular Quay. He kept taking it out and stealing sly peeps at it as the bus rolled up George-street, Redfern way.

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