Vanguard October 1915

The Mystery

Source: Douglas Deuchar, Vanguard, October 1915, p. 3;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

In the thick of the Sunday crowd at the Nelson monument I noticed an aged woman wearing a black shawl over her head. Her hair was almost the colour of this paper; her face was like what the paper might be if pale coffee or beer had been spilt over it. Her mouth was very straight, her chin sharp, her eyes gleaming. She moved here and there between the masses of the audience, restless and surprisingly agile. The thing she could not bear was to see a man “of military age” among the Socialist speakers. (For men nowadays are “of military age” in just the same sense as chickens are “of an age to be killed” and apples be gathered). She taunted this speaker in her high, screaming voice, bidding him “Be a man! Be a soldier! Awa’ and ‘list!”

Now, nobody would select a woman like this one from the Gallowgate, and satirize her persistent scream and her wild demeanour. Nobody would even urge her to go home, without his being conscious of some shame and pity. But I call attention to her just for this reason she is a mystery. Perhaps it is a mystery which we can explain to a certain extent; but it is a problem which is terribly difficult to deal with.

A woman is old; she, has been bereft of her son, perhaps her husband; perhaps another son; she has no real employment, she has no house no table, no carpet, no cushions, no food worth that name, no good light in the evenings, no trinkets such as she ought to have; no pictures; not many newspapers; very little drink – or perhaps none at all; no nationality, in any reasonable sense.

As I said, she had (I think) a son: he has been induced to leave her, just as he was beginning to be moderately strong and useful. This woman is a patriot. She dreads, or – stranger still – she hates, the Germans. What a marvellous imagination, that can paint the Germans to her as so much more dreadful than anything within her experience! Ah, the Germans took her boy away, destroyed him. The remedy for that is to send out other lads to destroy (or be destroyed by) the Germans. Perhaps among our million Germans the man might be found and killed who killed her son. Am I blaming this woman? deriding her? I hope not. But I blame, deride, and denounce the system and all who wantonly support the system which puts a worse poison than drink into this woman’s brain. She is a mystery, a ,paradox; but there is a ghastlier mystery and paradox sitting up in large offices, ,behind shining pillars of marble and granite, distilling odious drugs out of ink bottles and poisonous gases out of dispatch boxes. This other mystery, which is not confined (not at all!) to government departments, is the mystery which I may call by the old-fashioned name of original sin. For the men who knowingly keep this woman, and ten million other women and men, in ignorance and delusions, full of hate, are – unfortunately – sinning. Let us take care that we do not assist them and become accomplices in their crime.