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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER X. THE MASS MEETING.
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CHAPTER X. THE MASS MEETING.
The better day, the better deed. Acting on the advice of this proverb, those responsible for the pro-Boer meeting convened it on a Sunday, that all those engaged on other days in earning their bread might attend. And so far as numbers went, the crowded state of Trafalgar Square seemed to justify this course. Nelson\'s Column soared from a dense mass of people, which even overflowed into the streets approaching the great open space. On all sides the windows were filled with curious spectators, who, apprehensive all the while of trouble, gazed forth expectantly over the sea of heads below. But they need have had no fear. The mob was on its best behavior--good-natured and roughly jocular as an English crowd ever is--amenable to law and order, and ever ready to be controlled by the police.

Platforms for the convenience of the orators had been erected round the grand column--the symbol of an Empire which these well-meaning busybodies were so anxious to dismember and destroy. Below, crowded laborers, artisans, shopkeepers, traders of all kinds; and on the fringe of the mob, hard by the National Gallery, were lines of hansom cabs, surmounted by clubmen from Pall Mall and St. James\' Street who had come to see the fun. There were plenty of women, bringing with them their children, when they could not leave them at home, and a sprinkling of redcoats and bluejackets. These, as the visible symbol of England\'s fighting power, were idolized by the mob. For, alas for Mr. Scarse and his supporters, the voice of the people was dead against their philanthropic efforts. Instead of the Boer National Anthem, "God Save the Queen" and "Rule Britannia" were being sung. The Little Englanders were doing their best to laud Kruger and damn their own Government; but the temper of the mob was all the other way. In a word, the Imperialists were in the majority.

On the parapet, near the National Gallery, Brenda, very plainly dressed, was holding on to Wilfred\'s arm. He had been lunching at Mrs. St. Leger\'s, and afterward Brenda had persuaded him to escort her to the meeting. She feared for the safety of her father, and dreaded lest his speech should draw on him the anger of the mob. The colonel had declined to come, swearing in true military style that he would attend no meeting meant to belittle England.

"Is Mr. van Zwieten here?" asked Brenda, looking over the sea of heads.

"I don\'t think so," replied Wilfred, whose pale face was flushed with excitement. "He is too clever to sympathize openly with the cause he advocates. No! his task is to condemn the Boers in public and to support them in private."

"Have you found out anything about him, Wilfred?"

"Yes. He lives ostensibly in Duke Street, St. James; but he has other rooms in Westminster, where he passes under another name. There he receives all kinds of queer people--especially at night.

"Spies?" asked Brenda, so low as not to be heard by those near her.

"I believe so. He calls himself Jones, and a good many spies go up to see Mr. Jones. The scoundrel! To plot treason almost in the shadow of the Clock Tower! But I do not blame him so much as those who are betraying their country. After all, Van Zwieten is a foreigner, and naturally hates us; but there are Englishmen, Brenda--Englishmen born and bred--who are selling secrets for Transvaal gold. I\'d hang the lot if I could!"

"Hush, Wilfred, don\'t speak so loud. Can you prove that Van Zwieten is a spy?"

"Not yet; but I have a plan in my head to trap him."

"He will not be easily trapped."

"No; he is a cunning beast, but I\'ll get the better of him yet. When I tear his mask off he\'ll be forced to leave London. Hullo! there\'s your father!"

Brenda turned pale as that familiar lean figure appeared on the platform. He was saluted with a groan. Several union Jacks were waved defiantly in his face, and a few bars of "God Save the Queen" were sung with lusty strength. A small knot of people stood round him. Taking off his hat, he advanced to the edge of the platform. A few expressions, such as "God-fearing farmers," "greedy capitalists," "the Jingoism of Chamberlain," "the treachery of Rhodes," caught Brenda\'s ear, and then her father\'s voice was drowned in a roar of cheering and singing. In vain did Mr. Scarse hold up his hand for silence; in reply he was assailed with insults, and a lifeguardsman was shouldered and passed along the heads of the crowd, a red spot of color amid the neutral tints. union Jacks were waved, "Rule Britannia" was sung. Many a groan was there for Kruger; many a cheer for "Joe"; and the close-locked crowd, maddened by the sound of its own voice, rolled and swung like a stormy sea.

"Pore thing! pore thing!" said an old woman near Brenda, "I \'ope they won\'t chuck him into the fountings."

"Oh, Wilfred!" gasped the girl, terrified for her father\'s safety.

But the suggestion met with the approval of the crowd, and passed from mouth to mouth until it reached those immediately under the fountain. A roar went up to the sky, and several enthusiasts endeavored to clamber up the platform. The police beat them back, and order was restored for the moment. Then, as an appeal to the chivalry of the mob, a grim-looking female with a black bag came forward to speak. She commenced a highly abusive harangue, but it was drowned in laughter and a recommendation, in terms purely colloquial, that she should go home and tend any young offspring she might chance to have. The pro-Boers began to look disconsolate. Each effort they made to speak was abortive. A sailor jumped on the parapet opposite Morley\'s Hotel and waved a union Jack. The mob saw and cheered, and roared out the National Anthem. Some threw apples and oranges at the orators on the platform, who promptly dodged behind the Column and endeavored to obtain a hearing on the other side, but with even less success.

On losing sight of her father, Brenda wanted to try and follow him; and Wilfred, the patriot, although he hated Scarse, and would gladly have seen him ducked, could not but sympathize with the girl\'s anxiety. So, extricating themselves from the crowd, they struggled downward toward the lower part of the square. There a knot of talkers attracted their attention.

"Wot I say is, Why does Rhodes want to fight a lot of \'ard-working coves like them Boers?" said one begrimed ruffian. "They\'re the same as us, ain\'t they?"

"No, they ain\'t," grunted his neighbor. "They won\'t give Englishmen votes, an\' we made their bloomin\' country, we did."

"I \'old by Gladstone, I tell you----"

"Garn! you and your Gladstone; he\'d ha\' given away Windsor Castle if he cud."

"Ho! Wot price Majuba!"

"Ah! we must wipe out that disgrace," said a clearer and apparently more highly-educated speaker.

Then the fun began. Some abused Gladstone as the cause of all the trouble, others made extensive demands upon their vocabulary for a due definition of Mr. Chamberlain. It speedily became apparent that none of them knew what they were talking about. Wilfred laughed, and the begrimed one straightway resented his laughter.

"We don\'t want no tall \'ats \'ere," he yelped.

"No, you want sense," retorted Burton. But, unwilling to involve Brenda in a row, he pushed on. As they passed away they heard a scuffle, and looked back to see that the dirty man had at last his heart\'s desire, so far as to have found an antagonist. But even thus early in the game he was getting the worst of it. At length, having apparently had enough, he gave forth a lusty yell for "police," and was duly rescued in a battered condition, and still arguing. Brenda felt anxious. The mob all round was showing signs of restiveness.

In another part of the square some pro-Boer orators spoke with more chance of a hearing. They drew the usual picture of a small toiling community, of unscrupulous capitalists, the worship of gold, the rights of the Boers to arrange affairs in their own house, and the iniquity of a mighty Empire crushing a diminutive State, wholly unable to defend itself.

Furious at the falsehoods which he he............
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