This story is part of "Project 1947", which is part of the Basilicus project.

Cooperative: This story is coordinated by Laveaux. It is open to any new writers with characters alive during the year 1947. The coordinator asks that any writers that do join the story, complete a character description in accordance with this article. Note that writers can only write for their characters, the coordinator will write for all other characters and events. Use the talk page if you have questions or suggestions.

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  • Author: Beatrice, Location: United Kingdom PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 12:19 am

What the Communist Party of Great Britain called headquarters was not very big and was located in some narrow street somewhere, squashed in-between the tailor�s and the bootmaker�s. Once it had been a bootmaker�s, and before that it had been someone�s house. Everything in London had been something else once.

Beatrice Mason sighed inwardly as she approached the building. Someone had put a damn brick through the window again.

She went inside, climbed up the narrow flight of stairs that led from the poky downstairs reception area up to the marginally more spacious area in which the CPGB conducted its affairs, and headed for what had, by a sort of unspoken mutual consensus, become her desk, finding occasion on the way to casually salute a couple of comrades who�d somehow managed to get there before her, or possibly just hadn�t gone home the previous night.

She sat down. She removed today�s Daily Worker from her bag and opened it, more for the look of the thing than anything else. There was going to be enough to be going on with today without trying to concentrate on what was happening halfway across the world as well, although just lately Beatrice seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of her time concentrating on what was happening halfway across the world, if Russia counted as halfway across the world.

They�d probably have to leave the window for now. They couldn�t really afford to have it repaired, especially when you took into consideration the fact that someone was bound to break it again in another week or two.

Downstairs, the front door was opened and then shut. Voices were heard, and, briefly, so was the noise of the street outside. Hats and coats were removed by those lucky enough to be able to afford them and were placed on the hat-stand by the door. Someone unlocked the door that led from the reception area into the overcrowded room that was used to house all the things there was no room for anywhere else, like leaflets and the printing press, and then assorted members of the Communist Party of Great Britain trooped up the stairs and went variously to wherever they were going, to their desks or someone else�s desk or the phones or just to a stack of documents on a chair somewhere. Amidst the general conversation, someone turned on the wireless.

Beatrice folded the Worker up and put it on the desk. The clink-clink of cups and saucers being moved around and the sound of the tap running alerted her to the fact that someone somewhere behind her was making a cup of tea, and she smiled in spite of herself. This was what the CPGB was, despite claims to the contrary by various and sundry groups. Just people, ordinary people, in this little building with its broken window in a little street not many people had heard of, doing what needed doing. A lot of the time it meant walking the line between what you could get away with and what was actually defined as illegal activity, and sometimes it meant crossing it, but you did it, because it needed doing.

She�d no idea what needed doing now. There�d been two Communist Members of Parliament elected to the Commons in the General Elections of 1945, and the Party was more or less as popular with the working class as it always had been, but under the surface there was definitely trouble brewing. People were talking about a war with Russia, which had started things up with the fascists again. Not the British Union of Fascists, at least not officially, because that had been dissolved a few years ago. Banning the organisation hadn�t made the thinking behind it go away, though, and it was essentially the same people causing trouble now as it had been before. Beatrice knew some of them, insofar as they�d fought on the street or in some bar somewhere a couple of years ago, and some had been at Cable Street �

But there were other, more important things to be concentrating on than that, like the fact that one of the other effects of the current goings-on with Russia had been that the relationship between the CPGB and the Government suddenly wasn�t as friendly as it used to be, which worried Beatrice more than she�d ever admit to anyone. The BUF had largely been a disorganised mob of non-thinkers, but the British Government was a different matter.

People turned up at headquarters sometimes, for various reasons. Sometimes they wanted to join the Party, or offer their support some other way. Sometimes they wanted you to help them. Sometimes, when things were as bad as they were now, they wanted a fight, but Beatrice was used to conflict, and, if the worst came to the absolute worst, there was a gun in her bag. She�d been presented with it a few years ago by her husband�s commanding officer in the RAF, a no-nonsense military man sympathetic to the Communist movement, who�d said that if she was going to get really involved with the CPGB she�d probably need it. He�d been right. The pistol went everywhere with her recently, which said a lot about the current political climate in the city.

There were some envelopes on her desk, which turned out, as they often did, to be letters from members of the public. She opened the first one, and read it.

  • Author: Laveaux, PostPosted: Fri Aug 26, 2005 8:32 pm

The letter read:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am 33 years old and an electrician working for a private firm. During the war years I was just old enough to avoid active duty, but I spent my years working on war technology including some airplanes and battleships. The United Kingdom has treated me fairly during most of the years.

Recently, I have found myself out of a job. The war has, indeed, done a great deal of damage to the economy, I suppose. My firm has deceased and now I am without a paycheck to fund my meager home in London and support my wife and two children.

Recently, I realized that most of this was due to a nationalistic attitude toward the war. Recently, I acquired some documentation from your party and looked further into its details. It appears as if I've been duped. My years of servitude for the kingdom has resulted in nothing more than poverty, when there are those in London living off three times what my salary once was.

I cannot be free and be in this society. It is clear there is a massive imbalance in how wealth is distributed in this country . . . and I haven't even begun to look at the archaic and ineffectual royalty system.

I beg that someone from the party come and visit me to discuss my situation and how I can better it through a more natural economic system. I believe, sincerely, that by eliminating arbitrary class structure and rewarding public work, situations like mine will cease to exist.

Best regards, William H. Freemont 331 Brixton Hill, London, SW2 1SD

  • Author: Beatrice, Location: United Kingdom PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 12:41 pm

Beatrice folded the letter neatly into thirds and put it back in its envelope. The envelope went into her bag, and she stood up at around the same time as a cup of tea was placed on the desk in front of her.

�No, thanks,� she said, glancing cursorily at the man who�d brought it. �I�m just off out.�

�I�m going out,� she announced to the room in general. �Brixton Hill.� Mild paranoia made her add, �And if I�m not back soonish, come looking for me, okay?�

She went downstairs. A moment later, the door was opened and then shut.

Brixton Hill wasn�t far, which was a blessing. It was cold and looked like it might rain, and not being able to afford a decent coat made the situation worse.

Beatrice knocked on the door of number 331, and then hugged herself tightly in an attempt to warm up.

She looked around. She recognised the area, which was not to say that she�d been there before but merely that she recognised the kind of area, which was the kind you saw a lot of in London. She�d grown up in one exactly like it, and still lived in one now: terraced houses of the one-up-one-down variety squashed up together on either side of cobbled streets so narrow that washing-lines could span the gap between two houses opposite each other, and did, because there was no room for them anywhere else.

People did the washing out here, too. A few doors down there was a wooden pail by the doorstep, which, Beatrice knew, would contain soapy water and a scrubbing-board, and probably some damp clothes. These, she could imagine, if she were to go over and have a look, would be recognisable in the same way the clothing hanging up on the washing-lines to dry was recognisable, the standard uniform of poor people the world over: for the children, there were old clothes, hand-me-downs from older brothers or sisters or cousins that had been patched up again and again and had been made out of an old pair of dad�s trousers in the first place, and for the adults, the kind of clothes she was wearing now, stuff she�d had for ages but couldn�t afford to replace often and so took very good care of.

It was really cold out here. Beatrice jumped up and down in an ongoing effort to keep warm, watching her breath crystallise into a haze of white in the freezing air, and then stopped when someone opened the door.

  • Author: Laveaux, PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 3:35 pm

A blonde man answered. Hair cropped in a military fashion and a tightly trimmed mustache engraved his face. Aged eyes looked at her from behind spectacles, but despite the age in his eyes, he was still fit and in his prime. Perhaps forty. Maybe younger.

His hands were thick with a blue collar life. He wore flannal and denim with suspenders. A cigarette hung loosely in his mouth, but when he saw the presence of a woman, he immediately extinguished it.

"Yes, can I help you, Miss? You must be cold, please come in."

He opened the door wider to reveal a stove-warmed humble living space. Books decorated most of the walls and family-passed-down paintings sat, skewed above the books. A mended sofa held a plain, white-faced woman with gray on her temples. She gripped an eight-year-old girl in one arm and a storybook in another.

Their son, probably 16, sat in front of the stove drawing. Looking up at the visitor, the woman stood and apologetically looked around at the disarray of their home.

"I wasn't expecting anyone," she said.

  • Author: Beatrice, Location: United Kingdom PostPosted: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:04 am

Beatrice went into the house, and felt immediately at home. The place looked more or less exactly like hers, give or take a few items of furniture and the paintings, which she didn�t have.

�No, it�s my fault,� she said. �I�m sorry to turn up unexpectedly like this, but I didn�t have much of a choice.�

She turned to address the man who�d answered the door. He reminded her of the men her father worked with at the factory: he had the same rough hands and looked tired and somehow old, in the same way they did.

�It�s Mr. Freemont, isn�t it?� she said. �I�m from the Communist Party. Thank you for your letter. We can discuss things now, if you like, or later, if that�s more convenient.�

She felt that possibly something more was required, so she added, �I�m Beatrice.�

  • Author: Laveaux, PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2005 10:00 am

Recognition splashed on Freemont's face and he smiled, a gesture not common for his face as it creaked into position.

"Yes, yes, yes of course. Please sit."

His wife cleared a spot on one of the chairs, laying aside several days worth of newspapers.

"Would you like some tea?" She asked, "Please, I insist."

"This is what I like about this organization, Martha, women can do a man's work. You must be very assertive. I hope your family is proud."

"Please try not to bring gender into it again," his wife sighed and she disappeared into the kitchen.

"Wholly remarkable what you are doing and in light of such resistance."

  • Author: Beatrice, Location: United Kingdom PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2005 8:19 am

Beatrice sat down, noting with some satisfaction that the newspapers that had occupied her chair up until recently were Daily Workers, and occupied herself with disentangling the leather satchel from her shoulders while she tried to work out a suitable response. She�d never really thought of herself as assertive as such, although it was true that she spent most of her day shouting and arguing and generally ordering people around; she�d always assumed this made her intimidating rather than �assertive�, which sounded like a euphemism. As for whether or not her family were proud of her, she�d never given that much thought either: she didn�t have much family left to be proud of her, only her mother and father, who�d probably expected her to end up involving herself with the CPGB in some way or other, and Charles, who probably had been proud of her, although he�d never actually said anything to that effect, possibly because he�d thought, correctly, that she�d think it condescending. She considered the CPGB members and trade unionists she dealt with on a regular basis and had known for years family of a sort, but knew that while they appreciated what she did they weren�t proud of her exactly, because to them there was nothing particularly extraordinary about it, nothing at all remarkable in the fact that she risked an awful lot on a daily basis in order to devote herself completely to a set of beliefs that had threatened on several occasions to get her into serious trouble and did so probably more than ever now. It was just what she did. It was what they all did, although it had to be said that Beatrice took it that bit further than most of them, perhaps because she had less to lose.

She put her satchel on the floor.

�Thank you,� she said. It was the best response she�d been able to come up with.

There was a pause, in which she very briefly weighed up the possible pros and cons of saying what she was about to say next. One possible disadvantage was that the suspicions some part of her had had about this situation ever since opening the letter earlier that morning would turn out to be true, and the letter and everything else would transpire to be some sort of Government attempt to infiltrate the CPGB. This idea was dismissed, however, because she was damned if she couldn�t at least tell when something was up after spending practically her entire life in politics, and anyway, things probably weren�t quite bad enough just yet for the Government to go to the trouble of staging something so complex. They�d try something less subtle first, and she knew how to deal with that sort of thing.

She knew how to deal with the more complicated stuff, come to that. Even if this was some kind of Government set-up, there were ways of getting round it.

�Okay,� she said. �I�m not really here to talk about ideology, because if you�ve been reading those �� she gestured to the Daily Workers on the floor next to her chair � �and the leaflets and things we�ve been putting out then you�ve probably got a fairly good grasp of all that already, but what I am going to talk to you about is� look, if basically what you need is enough money to live off right now then you can come to us, the door�s always open and if you don�t know where we�re located I�ll have to be going back there at some point, and we can get the trade unions to help you out as well. You might be in touch with them already. They�ll be able to try and get something done officially, put pressure on the Government, but it�s a slow process. Oh� and there�s a couple of MPs I can probably rope into this, if you think that�s necessary.�

There. She�d said it. She relaxed, but only very slightly.

�You�ve got it right about the distribution of wealth in this country, by the way,� she added. �It�s things like that we ought to be concentrating on, instead of all this damn stuff with Russia ��

She stopped. There was another brief pause. She imagined she looked mildly irritated. It had been a long couple of weeks.

�Sorry,� she said. �So is that going to be adequate, do you think? I�m just sorry I can�t do anything more.�

  • Author: Laveaux, PostPosted: Sun Dec 04, 2005 10:14 pm

Listening very carefully to her words, Freemont looked to his wife and nodded with his eyebrows before responding.

"Beatrice . . ." he hesitated with her name, perhaps wishing he had a surname to keep things formal, "thank you for the personal visit."

His wife carried tea over and sat down with an earnest expression.

"I wasn't . . . we have no money to donate."

He again looked to his wife for instruction, but knowing what he had to say, he simply turned back and spat it out.

"We were hoping there was some sort of fund, or charity perhaps. For people in our position. I would return any favor with my labor of course, or any other service I could offer. I have many contacts in the unions and I am very handy."

His wife said, "He knows French."

"Yes, my mother is French. If that helps."

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