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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!"
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