Meet Me on the Barricades: Variant Ending

We may eventually post a full list of variants between the published editions of Meet Me on the Barricades and the manuscripts found in Charles Yale Harrison's archives, held at Columbia University. For now, we've transcribed a variant ending from Harrison's manuscripts. This ending picks up at the beginning of Chapter XII (page 154 of the University of Ottawa Press edition). It is from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, New York, MS 0560, box 6, Meet Me on the Barricades [1 of 3].

Nightride, long and uneventful, from New York to Mount Vernon: the empty local train to 133d Street, the deserted barnlike waiting room of the Boston, Westchester Station…

It had turned chilly and Simpson now walked the long platform waiting for the 3:29 to pull in. He paced back and forth recalling the events of the day: his walk up Fifth Avenue, the luncheon with Ascaso, the afternoon of rehearsal, the dinner at the Barbison-Plaza, the long night of drinking.

– What a day!

Thinking, he paced; pacing, he thought:

– But surely there is something besides biting humor at the expense of a long-suffering mankind, something else besides long, involved historical speeches. Intellectuals, that’s what they are, and while mankind bleeds from a thousand wounds, they go on talking, debating, being oh so devilishly clever…

He paused in admiration of his thoughts and continued, pacing, thinking.

– It’s a game to them. Chess, for example, with millions of lives as pawns and pieces. Slogan against slogan; collective security, peace is indivisible, democracy against fascism. Or on the other hand, neutrality, war is inevitable, socialism against capitalism. Deals, maneuvres, and propaganda. Then the move is made with living bodies…

Recalling a dispatch from the Far East in the morning’s paper:

– Nearly a quarter of a million Chinese died in the fighting around Shanghai. Bodies rotting in the streets, unburied. Somebody made a slight error, guessed wrong. Wrong analysis, wrong policy, wrong slogan, wrong move. So a dead coolie lies unburied in Bubbling Well Road, dead between the shafts of his rickshaw. Died in harness, good man. Didn’t even have time to take up a rifle in defense of his democratic right to act as a human draught animal. Or Japanese peasants taken form their farms. More slogans: the need for natural resources, inevitable expansion…A Japanese kid with a piece of shrapnel in his gate, grinning in death.

– No magic formula, Ascaso said. Then God help us all!

Now more than ever his thoughts ran to confusion and despair followed hard in its heels.

– The future of the world, he said, was in the hands of the workingclass. But where are the working classes of Germany, Italy, Japan and the other fascist countries? Maybe Darrell was right. He’s seen this sort of thing before, saw it with his very eyes in Petrograd, saw the founding of the Soviets. God, it is possible that it can go on forever? The blood and sweat of revolutions, the seizure of power and then the same stinking mess all over again. White mice scurrying on a revolving wire screen, never getting anywhere. Think of it! In Spain yesterday and today, in China or France tomorrow, man dying in darkness and not in the light of glory before firing squads made up of their comrades, but those who do the shooting not knowing it and hating them as enemies and pulling their triggers with righteous fervor…God! But it can’t go on forever, because…

The 3:29 backed into the station and few tired passengers climbed aboard. Simpson settled into a seat, took a magazine which Ascaso had given him and read for nearly five minutes, then he dazed off. By instinct he awoke just before the train stopped at the East Third Street Station in Mount Vernon.

Outside it was quite cold now. He turned the collar of his coat up and walked towards his home, all color drained from his face, his nostrils pinched, his eyes draw.

– I shouldn’t have done this, drinking, staying up late.

He stiffened, shivered.

– No wonder I feel so lousy.

When he arrived at his home, Mathilda was fast asleep. He undressed quietly without waking her and cautiously crept into bed. He stretched out luxuriously on his back to his full length and enjoyed the warmth and comfort of his bed. In a few minutes he was fast asleep. For more than two hours he slept soundly and then, just before dawn, he fell into a troubled dream.


In the beginning there was a strange feeling apprehension. All seemed without form an impenetrable darkness lay upon everything. Void was the word and the mood was fear.

Soon, however, he became aware of physical sensation. He knew that he was lying on his back, that he ached all over, that he was deathly cold and that he was wet to the skin. And at once he realized that he was no longer in his warm, comfortable bed in Mount Vernon, but that he was lying in the rain by the side of a concrete road in Spain.

It was all clear now – the weeks of fighting, the forced marches by night, hunger, cold, lice, and unutterable fatigue.

Surely this was no dream and yet this sort of thing had happened before and with such vividness that reality and dream seemed indistinguishable.

He opened his eyes fearfully. Yes, it was true. Here to his right was the concrete road, and here at his side lay his rifle and equipment and in the distance to the north he saw the flickering gun-flashes of an artillery bombardment…

Stiffly, he raised himself on his elbows and looked around in the dark. On all sides he saw the indistinct outlines of prostrate sleeping men. A whistle sounded and the sleeping troops stumbled heavily to their feet and fell into line. A command, and they marched, Simpson among them.

The road was choked with tractors, heavy artillery, lorries, cavalry and infantrymen. What havoc the enemy could wreak is he but knew!

Suddenly, the darkness was stabbed by bursts of red flame. Shrapnel! Hissing, wailing, snarling, the shells came one after another. There was confusion everywhere. The hoarse shouting of commands, the grinding of brakes, the screams of wounded man. The scene was lighted by the blinding flash of each detonation. In this fantastic, uneven light, terrifying pictures revealed themselves: a pair of rearing artillery horses, their eyes distended like those of helpless, frightened children, flakes of white foam dripping from their mouths; a wounded man clutching the ankles of a comrade, pleading not to be deserted.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, the bombardment subsided. Lines re-formed and the march towards the front continued…

For some time the soldiers trudged along in silence, then they began to speak quietly among themselves. It was dark and the faces of those who spoke could not be seen. Only voices:

“Did you know that they’re killed Berneri?”

“Yes, the bastards!”

“They found him with his clothes torn from his body, shot and stabbed.”

“I heard him lecture at the University of Camerino in Italy just before the fascist came into power. He was as gentle as a woman…”

“For the love of God, comrade, please don’t talk of women.”

“Then I heard that the squadristi beat him up and Mussolini threw him into jail. He comes to Spain and nearly burns himself out for the revolution and then the Stalinists bump him off…”

“Shut up, comrade, shut up!”

“They twisted his arms out of his sockets.”

“Yes, comrades, we’re in a pretty mess. Franco up ahead and a gang of betrayers. We’re caught in the trap of anti-fascism, that’s what we are.”

“Do you remember young Robles? They say he was executed behind the lines…”

“Yes, and by men who yesterday called themselves revolutionists…”

In his sleep Simpson smiled to himself and sighed with a sense of great relief.

– Of course, it’s a dream! Ascaso said that to me at lunch today. The letter from Barcelona. I shall wake from this one as I have from all others…

But though he had smiled a second before, he now awoke startled, his heart thumping, only to find himself once more lying, stiff and cold, at the side of the concrete road.

He got to his feet with some difficulty and, groping in the dark, tripped over something which have yielded when he trod on it. The road was now filled with retreating troops, heavy guns, tanks and an endless stream of silent refugees. He fell in at the side of one of the soldiers.

“What’s happened?” he asked.

The soldier looked at Simpson with frank contempt. “Are you another one of those foreign politicals who always arrive on the scene when all the fighting’s over?” He spat in disgust and turned his head away.

“No, I’ve been here for months, in the thick of it. Lost my unit on the way up.”

The Spaniard’s manner changed at once. “That’s different, comrade. The front up ahead collapsed. The fascists are right behind us. There’ll be bloody hell to pay in the morning when their planes spot us. You’d better turn back, my friend.”

Simpson stood for some time watching the disorganized retreat, then he turned and ran wildly toward the front guided by the insistent mutter of artillery. As he ran he tried desperately to think of some miraculous thing, a slogan or a heroic gesture, which would turn this retreating mass into a fighting, advancing army. But he could think of nothing.

The road was now impassable and took to the fields. Soon found himself floundering in a heavy quagmire, felt himself slowly sinking into it. Terrified, he shouted for help. Then an unseen hand fell on his shoulders and he was pulled roughly out of danger. He scrambled to his feet and turned to face his rescuer and found himself surrounded by a party of soldiers wearing Franco’s shoulder insignia. They said nothing and started to march him across the fields, shoving him along as they went.

“Who are you?” he asked his captors. (He knew!). “Where are you taking me?” But they said nothing.

At length they came to an iron gateway leading to a cemetery before which stood a group of silent, manacled prisoners. He was thrust among them.

“What outfit are you with?” one of the prisoners asked Simpson.

“The Second International Brigade,” he answered.

“And you?” his questioner asked another prisoner.

“The Durrutti Column.”

“Counter-revolutionist! You’re nothing but a mob of irresponsible, members of Franco’s Fifth Column, disrupters of the Popular Front, you sons of bitches.”

“You’re a fool,” the syndicalist replied quietly. “Even fascist victories can’t drive the lesson of unity into your thick skull, eh, my comrade?”

The arrival of an officer interrupted the conversation. An order was given and the prisoners, still shackled, were marched off to the cemetery wall. And now the knot of prisoners faced a low-slung machine-gun. Simpson looked into the muzzle of the gun without fear.

– And now I’m among those who aren’t afraid to die in despair and darkness.

He watched the machine-gunner thread the belt through the breech, watched with something resembling detachment.

– But that’s because you know you’ll soon awake up and find yourself in bed at Mathilda’s side. A fine hero you are. Safe at home in a dream.

He laughed in his sleep and that moment heard the roar of the gun as it fired.

– There you are. (Triumphantly.) If this were real I wouldn’t have heard the report of the gun. The bullets travel faster than the sound. You’re dead before you can hear it.

Nonetheless he found himself on the ground unable to move. Lying there he experienced a feeling of agony in his chest as though it were being crushed against his spine by a steel vise. Slowly the pain spread from the breast-bone to his left side, travelled down towards his groin. An unbearable, murderous pain. And gasping for breath, he uttered a desperate cry for help.

Drenched in perspiration, he shouted for help with his ebbing strength, but no sound came. Then his head sagged to his damp, crumpled pillow. Herbert Simpson was dead.