“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!”