"What do we know about Cusick?" he asked, finally.
"One of the best men we've got. They've fired his place once, and he's keen to get them."
"You're anxious to go?"
"I'm going," said Pink, cheerfully.
"Then I'd better go along and look after you. But I tell you how I see it. After I've done that I'll go as far as you like. Either there is nothing to it and we're fools for our pains, or there's a lot to it, and in that case we are a pair of double-distilled lunatics to go there alone."
Pink laughed joyously.
Life had been very dull for him since his return from France. He had done considerable suffering and more thinking than was usual with him, but he had had no action. But behind his boyish zest there was something more, something he hid as he did the fact that he sometimes said his prayers; a deep and holy thing, that always gave him a lump in his throat at Retreat, when the flag came slowly down and the long lines of men stood at attention. Something he was half ashamed and half proud of, love of his country.
* * * * *
At the same time another conversation was going on in the rear room of a small printing shop in the heart of the city. It went on to the accompaniment of the rhythmic throb of the presses, and while two printers, in their shirt sleeves, kept guard both at the front and rear entrances.
Doyle sat with his back to the light, and seated across from him, smoking a cheap cigar, was the storekeeper from Friendship, Cusick. In a corner on the table, scowling, sat Louis Akers.
"I don't know why you're so damned suspicious, Jim," he was saying. "Cusick says the stall about the Federal agents went all right."
"Like a house a-fire," said Cusick, complacently.
"I think, Akers," Doyle observed, eyeing his subordinate, "that you are letting your desire to get this Cameron fellow run away with your judgment. If we get him and Denslow, there are a hundred ready to take their places."
"Cameron is the brains of the outfit," Akers said sulkily.
"How do you know Cameron will go?"
Akers rose lazily and stretched himself.
"I've got a hunch. That's all."
A girl came in from the composing room, a bundle of proofs in her hand. With one hand Akers took the sheets from her; with the other he settled his tie. He smiled down at her.
Ellen was greatly disturbed. At three o'clock that afternoon she found Edith and announced her intention of going out.
"I guess you can get the supper for once," she said ungraciously.
Edith looked up at her with wistful eyes.
"I wish you didn't hate me so, Ellen."
"I don't hate you." Ellen was slightly mollified. "But when I see you trying to put your burdens on other people—"
Edith got up then and rather timidly put her arms around Ellen's neck.
"I love him so, Ellen," she whispered, "and I'll try so hard to make him happy."
Unexpected tears came into Ellen's eyes. She stroked the girl's fair hair.
"Never mind," she said. "The Good Man's got a way of fixing things to suit Himself. And I guess He knows best. We do what it's foreordained we do, after all."
Mrs. Boyd was sleeping. Edith went back to her sewing. She had depended all her life on her mother's needle, and now that that had failed her she was hastily putting some clothing into repair. In the kitchen near the stove the suit she meant to be married in was hung to dry, after pressing. She was quietly happy.
Willy Cameron found her there. He told her of Mrs. Davis' death, and then placed the license on the table at her side.
"I think it would be better to-morrow, Edith," he said. He glanced down at the needle in her unaccustomed fingers; she seemed very appealing, with her new task and the new light in her eyes. After all, it was worth while, even if it cost a lifetime, to take a soul out of purgatory.
"I had to tell mother, Willy."
"That's all right Did it cheer her any?"
"Wonderfully. She's asleep now."
He went up to his room, and for some time she heard him moving about. Then she heard the scraping of his chair as he drew it to his desk, and vaguely wondered. When he came down he had a sealed envelope in his hand.
"I am going out, Edith," he said. "I shall be late getting back, and—I am going to ask you to do something for me."
She loved doing things for him. She flushed slightly.
"If I am not back here by two o'clock to-night," he said, "I want you to open that letter and read it. Then go to the nearest telephone, and call up the number I've written down. Ask for the man whose name is given, and read him the message."
"Willy!" she gasped. "You are doing something dangerous!"
"What I really expect," he said, smiling down at her, "is to be back, feeling more or less of a fool, by eleven o'clock. I'm providing against an emergency that will almost surely never happen, and I am depending on the most trustworthy person I know."
Very soon after that he went away. She sat for some time after he had gone, fingering the blank white envelope and wondering, a little frightened but very proud of his trust.
Dan came in and went up the stairs. That reminded her of the dinner, and she sat down in the kitchen with a pan of potatoes on her knee. As she pared them she sang. She was still singing when Ellen came back.
Something had happened to Ellen. She stood in the kitchen, her hat still on, drawing her cotton gloves through her fingers and staring at Edith without seeing her.
"You're not sick, are you, Ellen?"
Ellen put down her gloves and slowly took off her hat, still with the absorbed eyes of a sleep-walker.
"I'm not sick," she said at last. "I've had bad news."
"Sit down and I'll make you a cup of tea. Then maybe you'll feel like talking about it."
"I don't want any tea. Do you know that that man Akers has married Lily Cardew?"
"The devil out of hell that he is." Ellen's voice was terrible. "And all the time knowing that you—She's at home, the poor child, and Mademoiselle just sat and cried when she told me. It's a secret," she added, fiercely. "You keep your mouth shut about it. She never lived with him. She left him right off. I wouldn't know it now but the servants were talking about the house being forbidden to him, and I went straight to Mademoiselle. I said: 'You keep him away from Miss Lily, because I know something about him.' It was when I told her that she said they were married."
She went out and up the stairs, moving slowly and heavily. Edith sat still, the pan on her knee, and thought. Did Willy know? Was that why he was willing to marry her? She was swept with bitter jealousy, and added to that came suspicion. Something very near the truth flashed into her mind and stayed there. In her bitterness she saw Willy telling Lily of Akers and herself, and taking her away, or having her taken. It must have been something like that, or why had she left him?
But her anger slowly subsided; in the end she began to feel that the new situation rendered her own position more secure, even justified her own approaching marriage. Since Lily was gone, why should she not marry Willy Cameron? If what Ellen had said was true she knew him well enough to know that he would deliberately strangle his love for Lily. If it were true, and if he knew it.
She moved about the kitchen, making up the fire, working automatically in that methodless way that always set Ellen's teeth on edge, and thinking. But subconsciously she was listening, too. She had heard Dan go into his mother's room and close the door. She was bracing herself against his coming down.
Dan was difficult those days, irritable and exacting. Moody, too, and much away from home. He hated idleness at its best, and the strike was idleness at its worst. Behind the movement toward the general strike, too, he felt there was some hidden and sinister influence at work, an influence that was determined to turn what had commenced as a labor movement into a class uprising.
That very afternoon, for the first time, he had heard whispered the phrase: "when the town goes dark." There was a diabolical suggestion in it that sent him home with his fists clenched.
He did not go to his mother's room at once. Instead, he drew a chair to his window and sat there staring out on the little street. When the town went dark, what about all the little streets like this one?
After an hour or so of ominous quiet Edith heard him go into his mother's room. Her hands trembled as she closed her door.
She heard him coming down at last, and suddenly remembering the license, hid it in a drawer. She knew that he would destroy it if he saw it. And Dan's face justified the move. He came in and stood glowering at her, his hands in his pockets.
"What made you tell that lie to mother?" he demanded.
"She was worried, Dan. And it will be true to-morrow. You—Dan, you didn't tell her it was a lie, did you?"
"I should have, but I didn't. What do you mean, it will be true to-morrow?"
"We are going to be married to-morrow."
"I'll lock you up first," he said, angrily. "I've been expecting something like that. I've watched you, and I've seen you watching him. You'll not do it, do you hear? D'you think I'd let you get away with that? Isn't it enough that he's got to support us, without your coaxing him to marry you?"
She made no reply, but went on with a perfunctory laying of the table. Her mouth had gone very dry.
"The poor fish," Dan snarled. "I thought he had some sense. Letting himself in for a nice life, isn't he? We're not his kind, and you know it. He knows more in a minute than you'll know all your days. In about three months he'll hate the very sight of you, and then where'll you be?"
When she made no reply, he called to the dog and went out into the yard. She saw him there, brooding and sullen, and she knew that he had not finished. He would say no more to her, but he would wait and have it out with Willy himself.
Supper was silent. No one ate much, and Ellen, coming down with the tray, reported Mrs. Boyd as very tired, and wanting to settle down early.
"She looks bad to me," she said to Edith. "I think the doctor ought to see her."
"I'll go and send him."
Edith was glad to get out of the house. She had avoided the streets lately, but as it was the supper hour the pavements were empty. Only Joe Wilkinson, bare-headed, stood in the next doorway, and smiled and flushed slightly when he saw her.
"How's your mother?" he asked.
"She's not so well. I'm going to get the doctor."
"Do you mind if I get my hat and walk there with you?"
"I'm going somewhere else from there, Joe."
"Well, I'll walk a block or two, anyhow."
She waited impatiently. She liked Joe, but she did not want him then. She wanted to think and plan alone and in the open air, away from the little house with its odors and its querulous thumping cane upstairs; away from Ellen's grim face and Dan's angry one.
He came out almost immediately, followed by a string of little Wilkinsons, clamoring to go along.
"Do you mind?" he asked her. "They can trail along behind. The poor kids don't get out much."
"Bring them along, of course," she said, somewhat resignedly. And with a flash of her old spirit: "I might have brought Jinx, too. Then we'd have had a real procession."
They moved down the street, with five little Wilkinsons trailing along behind, and Edith was uncomfortably aware that Joe's eyes were upon her.
"You don't look well," he said at last. "You're wearing yourself out taking care of your mother, Edith."
"I don't do much for her."
"You'd say that, of course. You're very unselfish."
"Am I?" She laughed a little, but the words touched her. "Don't think I'm better than I am, Joe."
"You're the most wonderful girl in the world. I guess you know how I feel about that."
But at that moment a very little Wilkinson fell headlong and burst into loud, despairing wails. Joe set her on her feet, brushed her down with a fatherly hand, and on her refusal to walk further picked her up and carried her. The obvious impossibility of going on with what he had been saying made him smile sheepishly.
"Can you beat it?" he said helplessly, "these darn kids—!" But he held the child close.
At the next corner he turned toward home. Edith stopped and watched his valiant young back, his small train of followers. He was going to be very sad when he knew, poor Joe, with his vicarious fatherhood, his cluttered, noisy, anxious life.
Life was queer. Queer and cruel.
From the doctor's office, the waiting room lined with patient figures, she went on. She had a very definite plan in mind, but it took all her courage to carry it through. Outside the Benedict Apartments she hesitated, but she went in finally, upheld by sheer determination.
The chair at the telephone desk was empty, but Sam remembered her.
"He's out, miss," he said. "He's out most all the time now, with the election coming on."
"What time does he usually get in?"
"Sometimes early, sometimes late," said Sam, watching her. Everything pertaining to Louis Akers was of supreme interest those days to the Benedict employees. The beating he had received, the coming election, the mysterious young woman who had come but once, and the black days that had followed his return from the St. Elmo—out of such patchwork they were building a small drama of their own. Sam was trying to fit in Edith's visit with the rest.
The Benedict was neither more moral nor less than its kind. An unwritten law kept respectable women away, but the management showed no inclination to interfere where there was no noise or disorder. Employees were supposed to see that no feminine visitors remained after midnight, that was all.
"You might go up and wait for him," Sam suggested. "That is, if it's important."
"It's very important."
He threw open the gate of the elevator hospitably.
At half past ten that night Louis Akers went back to his rooms. The telephone girl watched him sharply as he entered.
"There's a lady waiting for you, Mr. Akers."
He swung toward her eagerly.
"A lady? Did she give any name?"
"No. Sam let her in and took her up. He said he thought you wouldn't mind. She'd been here before."
The thought of Edith never entered Akers' head. It was Lily, Lily miraculously come back to him. Lily, his wife.
Going up in the elevator he hastily formulated a plan of action. He would not be too ready to forgive; she had cost him too much. But in the end he would take her in his arms and hold her close. Lily! Lily!
It was the bitterness of his disappointment that made him brutal. Wicked and unscrupulous as he was with men, with women he was as gentle as he was cruel. He put them from him relentlessly and kissed them good-by. It was his boast that any one of them would come back to him if he wanted her.
Edith, listening for his step, was startled at the change in his face when he saw her.
"You!" he said thickly. "What are you doing here?"
"I've been waiting all evening. I want to ask you something."
He flung his hat into a chair and faced her.
"Is it true that you are married to Lily Cardew?"
"If I am, what are you going to do about it?" His eyes were wary, but his color was coming back. He was breathing more easily.
"I only heard it to-day. I must know, Lou. It's awfully important."
"What did you hear?" He was watching her closely.
"I heard you were married, but that she had left you."
It seemed to him incredible that she had come there to taunt him, she who was responsible for the shipwreck of his marriage. That she could come there and face him, and not expect him to kill her where she stood.
He pulled himself together.
"It's true enough." He swore under his breath. "She didn't leave me. She was taken away. And I'll get her back if I—You little fool, I ought to kill you. If you wanted a cheap revenge, you've got it."
"I don't want revenge, Lou."
He caught her by the arm.
"Then what brought you here?"
"I wanted to be sure Lily Cardew was married."
"Well, she is. What about it?"
"That's not all. What about it?"
She looked up at him gravely.
"Because, if she is, I am going to marry Mr. Cameron tomorrow." At the sight of his astounded face she went on hastily: "He knows, Lou, and he offered anyhow."
"And what," he said slowly, "has my wife to do with that?"
"I wanted to be fair to him. And I think he is—I think he used to be terribly in love with her."
Quite apart from his increasing fear of Willy Cameron and his Committee, there had been in Akers for some time a latent jealousy of him. In a flash he saw the room at the Saint Elmo, and a cold-eyed man inside the doorway. The humiliation of that scene had never left him, of his own maudlin inadequacy, of hearing from beyond a closed and locked door, the closing of another door behind Lily and the man who had taken her away from him. A mad anger and jealousy made him suddenly reckless.
"So," he said, "he is terribly in love with my wife, and he intends to marry you. That's—interesting. Because, my sweet child, he's got a damn poor chance of marrying you, or anybody."
"Listen," he said deliberately. "Men who stick their heads into the lion's jaws are apt to lose them. Our young friend Cameron has done that. I'll change the figure. When a man tries to stop a great machine by putting his impudent fingers into the cog wheels, the man's a fool. He may lose his hand, or he may lose his life."
Fortunately for Edith he moved on that speech to the side table, and mixed himself a highball. It gave her a moment to summon her scattered wits, to decide on a plan of action. Her early training on the streets, her recent months of deceit, helped her now. If he had expected any outburst from her it did not come.
"If you mean that he is in danger, I don't believe it."
"All right, old girl. I've told you."
But the whiskey restored his equilibrium again.
"That is," he added slowly, "I've warned you. You'd better warn him. He's doing his best to get into trouble."
She knew him well, saw the craftiness come back into his eyes, and met it with equal strategy.
"I'll tell him," she said, moving toward the door. "You haven't scared me for a minute and you won't scare him. You and your machine!"
She dared not seem to hurry.
"You're a boaster," she said, with the door open. "You always were. And you'll never lay a hand on him. You're like all bullies; you're a coward!"
She was through the doorway by that time, and in terror for fear, having told her so much, he would try to detain her. She saw the idea come into his face, too, just as she slipped outside. He made a move toward her.
"I think—" he began.
She slammed the door and ran down the hallway toward the stairs. She heard him open the door and come out into the hall, but she was well in advance and running like a deer.
"Edith!" he called.
She stumbled on the second flight of stairs and fell a half-dozen steps, but she picked herself up and ran on. At the bottom of the lower flight she stopped and listened, but he had gone back. She heard the slam of his door as he closed it.
But the insistent need of haste drove her on, headlong. She shot through the lobby, past the staring telephone girl, and into the street, and there settled down into steady running, her elbows close to her sides, trying to remember to breathe slowly and evenly. She must get home somehow, get the envelope and follow the directions inside. Her thoughts raced with her. It was almost eleven o'clock and Willy had been gone for hours. She tried to pray, but the words did not come.
At something after seven o'clock that night Willy Cameron and Pink Denslow reached that point on the Mayville Road which had been designated by the storekeeper, Cusick. They left the car there, hidden in a grove, and struck off across country to the west. Willy Cameron had been thoughtful for some time, and as they climbed a low hill, going with extreme caution, he said:
"I'm still skeptical about Cusick, Pink. Do you think he's straight?"
"One of the best men we've got," Pink replied, confidently. "He's put us on to several things."
"He's foreign born, isn't he?"
"That's his value. They don't suspect him for a minute."
"But—what does he get out of it?"
"Good citizen," said Pink, with promptness. "You've got to remember, Cameron, that a lot of these fellows are better Americans than we are. They're like religious converts, stronger than the ones born in the fold. They're Americans because they want to be. Anyhow, you ought to be strong for him, Cameron. He said to tell you, but no one else."
"I'll tell you how strong I am for him later," Willy Cameron said, grimly. "Just at this minute I'm waiting to be shown."
They advanced with infinite caution, for the evening was still light. Going slowly, it was well after eight and fairly dark before they came within sight of the farm buildings in the valley below. Long unpainted, they were barely discernable in the shadows of the hills. The land around had been carefully cleared, and both men were dismayed at the difficulty of access without being seen.
"Doesn't look very good, does it?" Pink observed. "I will say this, for seclusion and keeping away unwanted visitors, it has it all over any dug-out I ever saw in France."
"Listen!" Willy Cameron said, tensely.
They stood on the alert, but only the evening sounds of country and forest rewarded them.
"What was it?" Pink inquired, after perhaps two minutes of waiting.
"Plain scare on my part, probably. I don't so much mind this little excursion, Pink, as I hate the idea that a certain gentleman named Cusick may have a chance to come to our funerals and laugh himself to death."
When real darkness had fallen, they had reached the lower fringe of the woods. Pink had the fault of the city dweller, however, of being unable to step lightly in the dark, and their progress had been less silent than it should have been. In spite of his handicap, Willy Cameron made his way with the instinctive knowledge of the country bred boy, treading like a cat.
"Pretty poor," Pink said in a discouraged whisper, after a twig had burst under his foot with a report like the shot of a pistol. "You travel like a spook, while I—"
"Listen, Pink. I'm going in alone to look around. Stop muttering and listen to me. It's poor strategy not to have a reserve somewhere, isn't it?"
"I'm a poor prune at the best," Pink said stubbornly, "but I am not going to let you go into that place alone. You can rave all you want."
"Very well. Then we'll both stay here. You are about as quiet as a horse going through a corn patch."
After some moments Pink spoke again.
"If you insist on stealing the whole show," he said, sulkily, "what am I to do? Run to town for help, if you need it?"
"I'm not going to round up the outfit, if there is one. I haven't lost my mind. I'll see what is going on, or about to go on. Then I'll come back."
"Better meet at the machine," he decided, after a glance at the sky. "In half an hour you won't be able to see your hand in front of you. Wait here for a half-hour or so, and then start back, and for heaven's sake don't shoot at anything you see moving. As a matter of fact, I might as well have your revolver. I won't need it, but it may avoid any accidental shooting by a youth I both love and admire!"
"If I hear any shooting, I'll come in," Pink said, still sulky.
"Come in and welcome," said Willy Cameron, and Pink knew he was smiling.
He took the revolver and slipped away into the darkness, leaving Pink both melancholy and disturbed. Unaccustomed to night in the woods, he found his nerves twitching at every sound. In the war there had been a definite enemy, definitely placed. Even when he had gone into that vile strip between the trenches, there had been a general direction for the inimical. Here—
He moved carefully, and stood with his back against a tree.
Not a sound came from the farm buildings. Willy Cameron's progress, too, was noiseless. With no way to tell the lapse of time, and gauging it by his war experience, when an hour had apparently passed by, he knew that Cameron had been gone about ten minutes.
Time dragged on. A cow, unmilked, lowed plaintively once or twice. A September night breeze set the dying leaves on the trees to rustling, and stirred the dried ones about his feet. Pink's mind, gradually reassured, turned to other things. He thought of Lily Cardew, for one. Like Willy Cameron, he knew he would always love her, but unlike Willy, the first pain of her loss was gone. He was glad that time was over. He was glad that she was at home again, safe from those—Some one was moving near him, passing within twenty feet. Whoever it was was stepping cautiously but blunderingly. It was not Cameron, then. He was a footfall only, not even an outline. Before Pink could decide on a line of action, the sound was lost.
Every sense acute, he waited. He had decided that if the incident were repeated, he would make an effort to get the fellow from behind, but there was no return. The wind had died again, and there was no longer even the rustling of the leaves to break the utter stillness.
Suddenly he saw a red flash near the barn, and an instant later heard the report of a pistol. Came immediately after that a brief fusillade of shots, a pause, then two or three scattering ones.
With the first shot Pink started running. He was vaguely conscious of other steps near him, running also, but he could see nothing. His whole mind was set on finding Willy Cameron. Alone he had not a chance, but two of them together could put up a fight. He pelted along, stumbling, recovering, stumbling again.
Another shot was fired. They hadn't got him yet, or they wouldn't be shooting. He raised his voice in a great call.
"Cameron! Here! Cameron!"
He ran into a low fence then, and it threw him. He had hardly got to his knees before the other running figure had hurled itself on him, and struck him with the butt of a revolver. He dropped flat and lay still.
* * * * *
For weeks Woslosky had known of the growing strength of the Vigilance Committee, and that it was arming steadily.
It threatened absolutely the success of his plans. Even the election of Akers and the changes he would make in the city police; even the ruse of other strikes and machine-made riotings to call away the state troops,—none of these, or all of them, would be effectual against an organized body of citizens, duly called to the emergency.
And such an organization was already effected. Within a week, when the first card reached his hands, it had grown to respectable proportions. Woslosky went to Doyle, and they made their counter-moves quickly. No more violence. A seemingly real but deceptive orderliness. They were dealing with inflammatory material, however, and now and then it got out of hand. Unlike Doyle the calculating, who made each move slowly and watched its results with infinite zest, the Pole chafed under delay.
"We can't hold them much longer," he complained, bitterly. "This thing of holding them off until after the election—and until Akers takes office—it's got too many ifs in it."
"It was haste lost Seattle," said Doyle, as unmoved as Woslosky was excited.
Woslosky did not like Louis Akers. What was more important, he distrusted him. When he heard of his engagement to Lily Cardew he warned Doyle about him.
"He's in this thing for what he can get out of it," he said. "He'll go as far as he can, with safety, to be accepted by the Cardews."
"Exactly," was Doyle's dry comment, "with safety, you said. Well, he knows you and he knows me, and he'll he straight because he's afraid not to be."
"When there's a woman in it!" said the Pole, skeptically.
But Doyle only smiled. He had known many women and loved none of them, and he was temperamentally unable to understand the type of man who saw the world through a woman's eyes and in them.
So Woslosky was compelled to watch the growth of Willy Cameron's organization, and to hold in check the violent passions he had himself roused, and to wait, gnawing his nails with inaction and his heart with rage. But these certain things he discovered:
That the organization's growth was coincident with a new interest in local politics, as though some vital force had wakened the plain people to a sense of responsibility.
That a drug clerk named Cameron was the founder and moving spirit of the league, and that he was, using Hendricks' candidacy as a means, rousing the city to a burning patriotic activity that Mr. Woslosky regarded as extremely pernicious.
And that this same Willy Cameron had apparently a knowledge of certain plans, which was rather worse than pernicious. Mr. Woslosky's name for it was damnable.
For instance, there were the lists of the various city stores and their estimated contents, missing from Mr. Woslosky's own inconspicuous trunk in a storage house. On that had been based the plan for feeding the revolution, by the simple expedient of exchanging by organized pillage the contents of the city stores for food stuffs from the farmers in outlying districts.
Revolution, according to Mr. Woslosky, could only be starved out. He had no anxiety as to troops which would be sent against them, because he had a cynical belief that a man's country was less to him than various other things, including his stomach. He believed that all armies were riddled with sedition and fundamentally opposed to law.
Copies of other important matters, too, were missing. Lists of officials for the revolutionary city government and of deputies to take the places of the disbanded police, plans for manning, by the radicals, the city light, water and power plants; a schedule of public eating houses to take the place of the restaurants.
Woslosky began to find this drug clerk with the ridiculous given name getting on his nerves. He considered him a dangerous enemy to progress, that particular form of progress which Mr. Woslosky advocated, and he suspected him of a lack of ethics regarding trunks in storage. Mr. Woslosky had the old-world idea that the best government was a despotism tempered by assassination. He thought considerably about Willy Cameron.
But the plan concerning the farm house was, in the end, devised by Louis Akers. Woslosky was skeptical. It was true that Cameron might stick his head into the lion's jaws, but precautions had been known to be taken at such times to prevent their closing. However, the Pole was desperate.
He took six picked men with him that afternoon to the farm, and made a strategic survey of the situation. The house was closed and locked, but he was not concerned with the house. Cusick had told Denslow the meetings were held late at night in the barn, and to the barn Woslosky repaired, sawed-off shotgun under his coat and cigarette in mouth, and inspected it with his evil smile. Two men, young and reckless, might easily plan to conceal themselves under the hay in the loft, and—
Woslosky put down his gun and went down into the cow barn below, whistling softly to himself. He began to enjoy the prospect. He gathered some eggs from the feed boxes, carrying them in his hat, and breaking the lock of the kitchen door he and his outfit looted the closet there and had an early supper, being careful to extinguish the fire afterwards.
Not until dusk was falling did he post his men, three outside among the outbuildings, one as a sentry near the woods, and two in the barn itself. He himself took up his station inside the barn door, sitting on the floor with his gun across his knees. Looking out from there, he saw the sharp flash of a hastily extinguished match, and snarled with anger. He had forbidden smoking.
"I've got to go out," he said cautiously. "Don't you fools shoot me when I come back."
He slipped out into what was by that time complete blackness.
Some five minutes later he came back, still noiselessly, and treading like a cat. He could only locate the barn door by feeling for it, and above the light scraping of his fingers he could hear, inside, cautious footsteps over the board floor. He scowled again. Damn this country quiet, anyhow! But he had found the doorway, and was feeling his way through when he found himself caught and violently thrown. The fall and the surprise stunned him. He lay still for an infuriated helpless second, with a knee on his chest and both arms tightly held, to hear one of his own men above him saying:
"Got him, all right. Woslosky, you've got the rope, haven't you?"
"You fool!" snarled Woslosky from the floor, "let me up. You've half killed me. Didn't I tell you I was going out?"
He scrambled to his feet, and to an astounded silence.
"But you came in a couple of minutes ago. Somebody came in. You heard him, Cusick, didn't you?"
Woslosky whirled and closed and fastened the barn doors, and almost with the same movement drew a searchlight and flashed it over the place. It was apparently empty.
The Pole burst into blasphemous anger, punctuated with sharp questions. Both men had heard the cautious entrance they had taken for his own, both men had remained silent and unsuspicious, and both were positive whoever had come in had not gone out again.
He stationed one man at the door, and commenced a merciless search. The summer's hay filled one end, but it was closely packed below and offered no refuge. Armed with the shotgun, and with the flash in his pocket, Woslosky climbed the ladder to the loft, going softly. He listened at the top, and then searched it with the light, holding it far to the left for a possible bullet. The loft was empty. He climbed into it and walked over it, gun in one hand and flash in the other, searching for some buried figure. But there was nothing. The loft was fragrant with the newly dried hay, sweet and empty. Woslosky descended the ladder again, the flash extinguished, and stood again on the barn floor, considering. Cusick was a man without imagination, and he had sworn that some one had come in. Then—
Suddenly there was a whirr of wings outside and above, excited flutterings first, and then a general flight of the pigeons who roosted on the roof. Woslosky listened and slowly smiled.
"We've got him, boys," he said, without excitement. "Outside, and call the others. He's on the roof."
Cusick whistled shrilly, and as the Pole ran out he met the others coming pell-mell toward him. He flung a guard of all five of them around the barn, and himself walked off a hundred feet or so and gazed upward. The very outline of the ridge pole was indistinguishable, and he swore softly. In the hope of drawing an answering flash he fired, but without result. The explosion echoed and reechoed, died away.
He called to Cusick, and had him try the same experiment, following the line of the gutter as nearly as possible in the darkness, on that side, and emptying his revolver. Still silence.
Woslosky began to doubt. The pigeons might have seen his flashlight, might have heard his own stealthy movements. He was intensely irritated. The shooting, if the alarm had been false, had ruined everything. He saw, as in a vision, Doyle's sneering face when he told him. Beside him Cusick was reloading his revolver in the darkness.
Then, out of the night, came a call from the direction of the woods, and unintelligible at that distance.
"What's that?" Cusick said hoarsely.
Woslosky made no reply. He was listening. Some one was approaching, now running, now stopping as though confused. Woslosky held his gun ready, and waited. Then, from a distance, he heard his name called.
He stepped inside the door of the barn and showed the light for a moment. Soon after the sentry floundered in, breathless and excited.
"I got one of them," he gasped. "Hit him with my gun. He's lying back by the stone fence."
"Did you call out, or did he?"
"He did. That's how I knew it wasn't one of our fellows. He called Cameron, so he's the other one."
Woslosky drew a deep breath. Then it was Cameron on the roof. It was Cameron they wanted.
"He'll sleep for an hour or two, if he ever wakes up," Pink's assailant boasted. But Woslosky was taking no chances that night. He sent two men after Pink, and began to pace the floor thoughtfully. If he could have waited for daylight it would have been simple enough, but he did not know how much time he had. He did not underestimate young Cameron's intelligence, and it had occurred to him that that young Scot might cannily have provided against his failure to return. Then, too, the state constabulary had an uncomfortable habit of riding lonely back roads at night, and shots could be heard a long distance off.
He had never surveyed the barn roof closely, but he knew that it was steeply pitched. Cameron, then, was probably braced somewhere in the gutter. The departure of the two men had left him short-handed, and he waited impatiently for their return. With a ladder, provided it could be quietly placed, a man could shoot from a corner along two sides of the roof. With two ladders, at diagonal corners, they could get him. But a careful search discovered no ladders on the place.
He went out, and standing close against the wall for protection, called up.
"We know you're there, Cameron," he said. "If you come down we won't hurt you. If you don't, we'll get you, and you know it."
But he received no reply.
Soon after that the two men carried in Pink Denslow, and laid him on the floor of the barn. Then Woslosky tried again, more reckless this time with anger. He stood out somewhat from the wall and called:
"One more chance, Cameron, or we'll put a bullet through your friend here. Come down, or we'll—"
Something struck him heavily and he fell, with a bullet in the shoulder. He struggled to his feet and gained the shelter of the wall, his face twisted with pain.
"All right," he said, "if that's the way you feel about it!"
He regained the barn and had his arm supported in an extemporized sling. Then he ordered Pink to be tied, and fighting down his pain considered the situation. Cameron was on the roof, and armed. Even if he had no extra shells he still had five shots in reserve, and he would not waste any of them. Whoever tried to scale the walls would be done in at once; whoever attempted to follow him to the roof by way of the loft would be shot instantly. And his own condition demanded haste; the bullet, striking from above, had broken his arm. Every movement was torture.
He thought of setting fire to the barn. Then Cameron would have the choice of two things, to surrender or to be killed. He might get some of them first, however. Well, that was a part of the game.
He delivered a final ultimatum from the shelter of the doorway.
"I've just thought of something, Cameron," he called. "We're going to fire the barn. Your young friend is here, tied, and we'll leave him here. Do you get that? Either throw down that gun of yours, and come down, or I'm inclined to think you'll be up against it. I'll give you a minute or so to think it over."
At half-past eleven o'clock that night the first of four automobiles drove into Friendship. It was driven by a hatless young man in a raincoat over a suit of silk pajamas, and it contained four County detectives and the city Chief of Police. Behind it, but well outdistanced, came the other cars, some of them driven by leading citizens in a state of considerable deshabille.
At a cross street in Friendship the lead car drew up, and flashlights were turned on a road map in the rear of the car. There was some argument over the proper road, and a member of the state constabulary, riding up to investigate, showed a strong inclination to place them under arrest.
It took a moment to put him right.
"Wish I could go along," he said, wistfully. "The place you want is back there. I can't leave the town, but I'll steer you out. You'll probably run into some of our fellows back there."
He rode on ahead, his big black horse restive in the light from the lamps behind him. At the end of a lane he stopped.
"Straight ahead up there," he said. "You'll find—"
He broke off and stared ahead to where a dull red glare, reflected on the low hanging clouds, had appeared over the crest of the hill.
"Something doing up there," he called suddenly. "Let's go."
He jerked his revolver free, dug his heels into the flanks of his horse, and was off on a dead run. Half way up the hill the car passed him, the black going hard, and its rider's face, under the rim of his uniform hat, a stern profile. His reins lay loose on the animal's neck, and he was examining his gun.
The road mounted to a summit, and dipped again. They were in a long valley, and the burning barn was clearly outlined at the far end of it. One side was already flaming, and tongues of fire leaped out through the roof. The men in the car were standing now, doors open, ready to leap, while the car lurched and swayed over the uneven road. Behind them they heard the clatter of the oncoming horse.
As they drew nearer they could see three watching figures against the burning building, and as they turned into the lane which led to the barnyard a shot rang out and one of the figures dropped and lay still. There was a cry of warning from somewhere, and before the detectives could leap from the car, the group had scattered, running wildly. The state policeman threw his horse back on its hunches, and fired without apparently taking aim at one of the running shadows. The man threw up his arms and fell. The state policeman galloped toward him, dismounted and bent over him.
Firing as they ran, detectives leaped out of the car and gave chase, and so it was that the young gentleman in bedroom slippers and pajamas, standing in his car and shielding his eyes against the glare, saw a curious thing.
First of all, the roof blazed up brightly, and he perceived a human figure, hanging by its hands from the eaves and preparing to drop. The young gentleman in pajamas was feeling rather out of things by that time, so he made a hasty exit from his car toward the barn, losing a slipper as he did so, and yelling in a slightly hysterical manner. It thus happened that he and the dropping figure reached the same spot at almost the same moment, one result of which was that the young gentleman in pajamas found himself struck a violent blow with a doubled-up fist, and at the same moment his bare right foot was tramped on with extreme thoroughness.
The young gentleman in pajamas reeled back dizzily and gave tongue, while standing on one foot. The person he addressed was the state constable, and his instructions were to get the fugitive and kill him. But the fugitive here did a very strange thing. Through the handkerchief which it was now seen he wore tied over his mouth, he told the running policeman to go to perdition, and then with seeming suicidal intent rushed into the burning barn. From it he emerged a moment later, dragging a figure bound hand and foot, blackened with smoke, and with its clothing smoldering in a dozen places; a figure which alternately coughed and swore in a strangled whisper, but which found breath for a loud whoop almost immediately after, on its being immersed, as it promptly was, in a nearby horse-trough.
Very soon after that the other cars arrived. They drew up and men emerged from them, variously clothed and even more variously armed, but all they saw was the ruined embers of the barn, and in the glow five figures. Of the five one lay, face up to the sky, as though the prostrate body followed with its eyes the unkillable traitor soul of one Cusick, lately storekeeper at Friendship. Woslosky, wounded for the second time, lay on an automobile rug on the ground, conscious but sullenly silent. On the driving seat of an automobile sat a young gentleman with an overcoat over a pair of silk pajamas, carefully inspecting the toes of his right foot by the light of a match, while another young gentleman with a white handkerchief around his head was sitting on the running board of the same car, dripping water and rather dazedly staring at the ruins.
And beside him stood a gaunt figure, blackened of face, minus eyebrows and charred of hair, and considerably torn as to clothing. A figure which seemed disinclined to talk, and which gave its explanations in short, staccato sentences. Having done which, it relapsed into uncompromising silence again.
Some time later the detectives returned. They had made no further captures, for the refugees had known the country, and once outside the light from the burning barn search was useless. The Chief of Police approached Willy Cameron and stood before him, eyeing him severely.
"The next time you try to raid an anarchist meeting, Cameron," he said, "you'd better honor me with your confidence. You've probably learned a lesson from all this."
Willy Cameron glanced at him, and for the first time that night, smiled.
"I have," he said; "I'll never trust a pigeon again." The Chief thought him slightly unhinged by the night's experience.
Edith Boyd's child was prematurely born at the Memorial Hospital early the next morning. It lived only a few moments, but Edith's mother never knew either of its birth or of its death.
When Willy Cameron reached the house at two o'clock that night he found Dan in the lower hall, a new Dan, grave and composed but very pale.
"Mother's gone, Willy," he said quietly. "I don't think she knew anything about it. Ellen heard her breathing hard and went in, but she wasn't conscious." He sat down on the horse-hair covered chair by the stand. "I don't know anything about these things," he observed, still with that strange new composure. "What do you do now?"
"Don't worry about that, Dan, just now. There's nothing to do until morning."
He looked about him. The presence of death gave a new dignity to the little house. Through the open door he could see in the parlor Mrs. Boyd's rocking chair, in which she had traveled so many conversational miles. Even the chair had gained dignity; that which it had once enthroned had now penetrated the ultimate mystery.
He was shaken and very weary. His mind worked slowly and torpidly, so that even grief came with an effort. He was grieved; he knew that. Some one who had loved him and depended on him was gone; some one who loved life had lost it. He ran his hand over his singed hair.
"Where is Edith?"
Dan's voice hardened.
"She's out somewhere. It's like her, isn't it?"
Willy Cameron roused himself.
"Out?" he said incredulously. "Don't you know where she is?"
"No. And I don't care."
Willy Cameron was fully alert now, and staring down at Dan.
"I'll tell you something, Dan. She probably saved my life to-night. I'll tell you how later. And if she is still out there is something wrong."
"She used to stay out to all hours. She hasn't done it lately, but I thought—"
Dan got up and reached for his hat.
"Where'll I start to look for her?"
But Willy Cameron had no suggestion to make. He was trying to think straight, but it was not easy. He knew that for some reason Edith had not waited until midnight to open the envelope. She had telephoned her message clearly, he had learned, but with great excitement, saying that there was a plot against his life, and giving the farmhouse and the message he had left in full; and she had not rung off until she knew that a posse would start at once. And that had been before eleven o'clock.
Three hours. He looked at his watch. Either she had been hurt or was a prisoner, or—he came close to the truth then. He glanced at Dan, standing hat in hand.
"We'll try the hospitals first, Dan," he said. "And the best way to do that is by telephone. I don't like Ellen being left alone here, so you'd better let me do that."
Dan acquiesced unwillingly. He resumed his seat in the hail, and Willy Cameron went upstairs. Ellen was moving softly about, setting in order the little upper room. The windows were opened, and through them came the soft night wind, giving a semblance of life and movement under it to the sheet that covered the quiet figure on the bed.
Willy Cameron stood by it and looked down, with a great wave of thankfulness in his heart. She had been saved much, and if from some new angle she was seeing them now it would be with the vision of eternity, and its understanding. She would see how sometimes the soul must lose here to gain beyond. She would see the world filled with its Ediths, and she would know that they too were a part of the great plan, and that the breaking of the body sometimes freed the soul.
He was shy of the forms of religion, but he voiced a small inarticulate prayer, standing beside the bed while Ellen straightened the few toilet articles on the dresser, that she might have rest, and then a long and placid happiness. And love, he added. There would be no Heaven without love.
Ellen was looking at him in the mirror.
"Your hair looks queer, Willy," she said. "And I declare your clothes are a sight." She turned, sternly. "Where have you been?"
"It's a long story, Ellen. Don't bother about it now. I'm worried about Edith."
Ellen's lips closed in a grim line.
"The less said about her the better. She came back in a terrible state about something or other, ran in and up to your room, and out again. I tried to tell her her mother wasn't so well, but she looked as if she didn't hear me."
It was four o'clock in the morning when Willy Cameron located Edith. He had gone to the pharmacy and let himself in, intending to telephone, but the card on the door, edged with black, gave him a curious sense of being surrounded that night by death, and he stood for a moment, unwilling to begin for fear of some further tragedy. In that moment, what with reaction from excitement and weariness, he had a feeling of futility, of struggling to no end. One fought on, and in the last analysis it was useless.
"So soon passeth it away, and we are gone."
He saw Mr. Davis, sitting alone in his house; he saw Ellen moving about that quiet upper room; he saw Cusick lying on the ground beside the smoldering heap that had been the barn, and staring up with eyes that saw only the vast infinity that was the sky. All the struggling and the fighting, and it came to that.
He picked up the telephone book at last, and finding the hospital list in the directory began his monotonous calling of numbers, and still the revolt was in his mind. Even life lay through the gates of death; daily and hourly women everywhere laid down their lives that some new soul be born. But the revulsion came with that, a return to something nearer the normal. Daily and hourly women lived, having brought to pass the miracle of life.
At half-past four he located Edith at the Memorial, and learned that her child had been born dead, but that she was doing well. He was suddenly exhausted; he sat down on a stool before the counter, and with his arms across it and his head on them, fell almost instantly asleep. When he waked it was almost seven and the intermittent sounds of early morning came through the closed doors, as though the city stirred but had not wakened.
He went to the door and opened it, looking out. He had been wrong before. Death was a beginning and not an end; it was the morning of the spirit. Tired bodies lay down to sleep and their souls wakened to the morning, rested; the first fruits of them that slept.
From the chimneys of the houses nearby small spirals of smoke began to ascend, definite promise of food and morning cheer behind the closed doors, where the milk bottles stood like small white sentinels and the morning paper was bent over the knob. Morning in the city, with children searching for lost stockings and buttoning little battered shoes; with women hurrying about, from stove to closet, from table to stove; with all burdens a little lighter and all thoughts a little kinder. Morning.
In her bed in the maternity ward Edith at first lay through the days, watching the other women with their babies, and wondering over the strange instinct that made them hover, like queer mis-shaped ministering angels, over the tiny quivering bundles. Some of them were like herself, or herself as she might have been, bearing their children out of wedlock. Yet they faced their indefinite futures impassively, content in relief from pain, in the child in their arms, in present peace and security. She could not understand.
She herself felt no sense of loss. Having never held her child in her arms she did not feel them empty.
She had not been told of her mother's death; men were not admitted to the ward, but early on that first morning, when she lay there, hardly conscious but in an ecstasy of relief from pain, Ellen had come. A tired Ellen with circles around her eyes, and a bag of oranges in her arms.
"How do you feel?" she had asked, sitting down self-consciously beside the bed. The ward had its eyes on her.
"I'm weak, but I'm all right. Last night was awful, Ellen."
She had roused herself with an effort. Ellen reminded her of something, something that had to do with Willy Cameron. Then she remembered, and tried to raise herself in the bed.
"Willy!" she gasped. "Did he come home? Is he all right?"
"He's all right. It was him that found you were here. You lie back now; the nurse is looking."
Edith lay down and closed her eyes, and the ecstasy of relief and peace gave to her pale face an almost spiritual look. Ellen saw it, and patted her arm with a roughened hand.
"You poor thing!" she said. "I've been as mean to you as I knew how to be. I'm going to be different, Edith. I'm just a cross old maid, and I guess I didn't understand."
"You've been all right," Edith said.
Ellen kissed her when she went away.
So for three days Edith lay and rested. She felt that God had been very good to her, and she began to think of God as having given her another chance. This time He had let her off, but He had given her a warning. He had said, in effect, that if she lived straight and thought straight from now on He would forget this thing she had done. But if she did not—
Then what about Willy Cameron? Did He mean her to hold him to that now? Willy did not love her. Perhaps he would grow to love her, but she was seeing things more clearly than she had before, and one of the things she saw was that Willy Cameron was a one-woman man, and that she was not the woman.
"But I love him so," she would cry to herself.
The ward moved in its orderly routine around her. The babies were carried out, bathed and brought back, their nuzzling mouths open for the waiting mother-breast. The nurses moved about, efficient, kindly, whimsically maternal. Women went out when their hour came, swollen of feature and figure, and were wheeled back later on, etherealized, purified as by fire, and later on were given their babies. Their faces were queer then, frightened and proud at first, and later watchful and tenderly brooding.
For three days Edith's struggle went on. She had her strong hours and her weak ones. There were moments when, exhausted and yet exalted, she determined to give him up altogether, to live the fiction of the marriage until her mother's death, and then to give up the house and never see him again. If she gave him up she must never see him again. At those times she prayed not to love him any longer, and sometimes, for a little while after that, she would have peace. It was almost as though she did not love him.
But there were the other times, when she lay there and pictured them married, and dreamed a dream of bringing him to her feet. He had offered a marriage that was not a marriage, but he was a man, and human. He did not want her now, but in the end he would want her; young as she was she knew already the strength of a woman's physical hold on a man.
Late on the afternoon of the third day Ellen came again, a swollen-eyed Ellen, dressed in black with black cotton gloves, and a black veil around her hat. Ellen wore her mourning with the dogged sense of duty of her class, and would as soon have gone to the burying ground in her kitchen apron as without black. She stood in the doorway of the ward, hesitating, and Edith saw her and knew.
Her first thought was not of her mother at all. She saw only that the God who had saved her had made her decision for her, and that now she would never marry Willy Cameron. All this time He had let her dream and struggle. She felt very bitter.
Ellen came and sat down beside her.
"She's gone. Edith," she said; "we didn't tell you before, but you have to know sometime. We buried her this afternoon."
Suddenly Edith forgot Willy Cameron, and God, and Dan, and the years ahead. She was a little girl again, and her mother was saying:
"Brush your teeth and say your prayers, Edie. And tomorrow's Saturday. So you don't need to get up until you're good and ready."
She lay there. She saw her mother growing older and more frail, the house more untidy, and her mother's bright spirit fading to the drab of her surroundings. She saw herself, slipping in late at night, listening always for that uneasy querulous voice. And then she saw those recent months, when her mother had bloomed with happiness; she saw her struggling with her beloved desserts, cheerfully unconscious of any failure in them; she saw her, living like a lady, as she had said, with every anxiety kept from her. There had been times when her thin face had been almost illuminated with her new content and satisfaction.
Suddenly grief and remorse overwhelmed her.
"Mother!" she said, huskily. And lay there, crying quietly, with Ellen holding her hand. All that was hard and rebellious in Edith Boyd was swept away in that rush of grief, and in its place there came a new courage and resolution. She would meet the future alone, meet it and overcome it. But not alone, either; there was always—
It was a Sunday afternoon, and the nurse had picked up the worn ward Bible and was reading from it, aloud. In their rocking chairs in a semi-circle around her were the women, some with sleeping babies in their arms, others with tense, expectant faces.
"Let not your heart be troubled," read the nurse, in a grave young voice. "Ye believe in God. Believe also in Me. In my Father's house—"
There was always God.
Edith Boyd saw her mother in the Father's house, pottering about some small celestial duty, and eagerly seeking and receiving approval. She saw her, in some celestial rocking chair, her tired hands folded, slowly rocking and resting. And perhaps, as she sat there, she held Edith's child on her knee, like the mothers in the group around the nurse. Held it and understood at last.
It was at this time that Doyle showed his hand, with his customary fearlessness. He made a series of incendiary speeches, the general theme being that the hour was close at hand for putting the fear of God into the exploiting classes for all time to come. His impassioned oratory, coming at the psychological moment, when the long strike had brought its train of debt and evictions, made a profound impression. Had he asked for a general strike vote then, he would have secured it.
As it was, it was some time before all the unions had voted for it. And the day was not set. Doyle was holding off, and for a reason. Day by day he saw a growth of the theory of Bolshevism among the so-called intellectual groups of the country. Almost every university had its radicals, men who saw emerging from Russia the beginning of a new earth. Every class now had its Bolshevists. They found a ready market for their propaganda, intelligent and insidious as it was, among a certain liberal element of the nation, disgruntled with the autocracy imposed upon them by the war.
The reaction from that autocracy was a swinging to the other extreme, and, as if to work into the hands of the revolutionary party, living costs remained at the maximum. The cry of the revolutionists, to all enough and to none too much, found a response not only in the anxious minds of honest workmen, but among an underpaid intelligentsia. Neither political party offered any relief; the old lines no longer held, and new lines of cleavage had come. Progressive Republicans and Democrats had united against reactionary members of both parties. There were no great leaders, no men of the hour.
The old vicious cycle of empires threatened to repeat itself, the old story of the many led by the few. Always it had come, autocracy, the too great power of one man; then anarchy, the overthrow of that power by the angry mob. Out of that anarchy the gradual restoration of order by the people themselves, into democracy. And then in time again, by that steady gravitation of the strong up and the weak down, some one man who emerged from the mass and crowned himself, or was crowned. And there was autocracy again, and again the vicious circle.
But such movements had always been, in the last analysis, the work of the few. It had always been the militant minority which ruled. Always the great mass of the people had submitted. They had fought, one way or the other when the time came, but without any deep conviction behind them. They wanted peace, the right to labor. They warred, to find peace. Small concern was it, to the peasant plowing his field, whether one man ruled over him or a dozen. He wanted neither place nor power.
It came to this, then, Willy Cameron argued to himself. This new world conflict was a struggle between the contented and the discontented. In Europe, discontent might conquer, but in America, never. There were too many who owned a field or had the chance to labor. There were too many ways legitimately to aspire. Those who wanted something for nothing were but a handful to those who wanted to give that they might receive.
* * * * *
Three days before the election, Willy Cameron received a note from Lily, sent by hand.
"Father wants to see you to-night," she wrote, "and mother suggests that as you are busy, you try to come to dinner. We are dining alone. Do come, Willy. I think it is most important."
He took the letter home with him and placed it in a locked drawer of his desk, along with a hard and shrunken doughnut, tied with a bow of Christmas ribbon, which had once helped to adorn the Christmas tree they had trimmed together. There were other things in the drawer; a postcard photograph, rather blurred, of Lily in the doorway of her little hut, smiling; and the cigar box which had been her cash register at the camp.
He stood for some time looking down at the post card; it did not seem possible that in the few months since those wonderful days, life could have been so cruel to them both. Lily married, and he himself—
Ellen came up when he was tying his tie. She stood behind him, watching him in the mirror.
"I don't know what you've done to your hair, Willy," she said; "it certainly looks queer."
"It usually looks queer, so why worry, heart of my heart?" But he turned and put an arm around her shoulders. "What would the world be without women like you, Ellen?" he said gravely.
"I haven't done anything but my duty," Ellen said, in her prim voice. "Listen, Willy. I saw Edith again to-day, and she told me to do something."
"To go home and take a rest? That's what you need."
"No. She wants me to tear up that marriage license."
He said nothing for a moment. "I'll have to see her first."
"She said it wouldn't be any good, Willy. She's made up her mind." She watched him anxiously. "You're not going to be foolish, are you? She says there's no need now, and she's right."
"Somebody will have to look after her."
"Dan can do that. He's changed, since she went." Ellen glanced toward Mrs. Boyd's empty room. "You've done enough, Willy. You've seen them through, all of them. I—isn't it time you began to think about yourself?"
He was putting on his coat, and she picked a bit of thread from it, with nervous fingers.
"Where are you going to-night, Willy?"
"To the Cardews. Mr. Cardew has sent for me."
She looked up at him.
"Willy, I want to tell you something. The Cardews won't let that marriage stand, and you know it. I think she cares for you. Don't look at me like that. I do."
"That's because you are fond of me," he said, smiling down at her. "I'm not the sort of man girls care about, Ellen. Let's face that. The General Manager said when he planned me, 'Here's going to be a fellow who is to have everything in the world, health, intelligence, wit and the beauty of an Adonis, but he has to lack something, so we'll make it that'."
But Ellen, glancing up swiftly, saw that although his tone was light, there was pain in his eyes.
He reflected on Edith's decision as he walked through the park toward the Cardew house. It had not surprised him, and yet he knew it had cost her an effort. How great an effort, man-like, he would never understand, but something of what she had gone through he realized. He wondered vaguely whether, had there never been a Lily Cardew in his life, he could ever have cared for Edith. Perhaps. Not the Edith of the early days, that was certain. But this new Edith, with her gentleness and meekness, her clear, suffering eyes, her strange new humility.
She had sent him a message of warning about Akers, and from it he had reconstructed much of the events of the night she had taken sick.
"Tell him to watch Louis Akers," she had said. "I don't know how near Willy was to trouble the other night, Ellen, but they're going to try to get him."
Ellen had repeated the message, watching him narrowly, but he had only laughed.
"Who are they?" she had persisted.
"I'll tell you all about it some day," he had said. But he had told Dan the whole story, and, although he did not know it, Dan had from that time on been his self-constituted bodyguard. During his campaign speeches Dan was always near, his right hand on a revolver in his coat pocket, and for hours at a time he stood outside the pharmacy, favoring every seeker for drugs or soap or perfume with a scowling inspection. When he could not do it, he enlisted Joe Wilkinson in the evenings, and sometimes the two of them, armed, policed the meeting halls.
As a matter of fact, Joe Wilkinson was following him that night. On his way to the Cardews Willy Cameron, suddenly remembering the uncanny ability of Jinx to escape and trail him, remaining meanwhile at a safe distance in the rear, turned suddenly and saw Joe, walking sturdily along in rubber-soled shoes, and obsessed with his high calling of personal detective.
Joe, discovered, grinned sheepishly.
"Thought that looked like your back," he said. "Nice evening for a walk, isn't it?"
"Let me look at you, Joe," said Willy Cameron. "You look strange to me. Ah, now I have it. You look like a comet without a tail. Where's the family?"
"Making taffy. How—is Edith?"
"Doing nicely." He avoided the boy's eyes.
"I guess I'd better tell you. Dan's told me about her. I—" Joe hesitated. Then: "She never seemed like that sort of a girl," he finished, bitterly.
"She isn't that sort of girl, Joe."
"She did it. How could a fellow know she wouldn't do it again?"
"She has had a pretty sad sort of lesson."
Joe, his real business forgotten, walked on with eyes down and shoulders drooping.
"I might as well finish with it," he said, "now I've started. I've always been crazy about her. Of course now—I haven't slept for two nights."
"I think it's rather like this, Joe," Willy Cameron said, after a pause. "We are not one person, really. We are all two or three people, and all different. We are bad and good, depending on which of us is the strongest at the time, and now and then we pay so much for the bad we do that we bury that part. That's what has happened to Edith. Unless, of course," he added, "we go on convincing her that she is still the thing she doesn't want to be."
"I'd like to kill the man," Joe said. But after a little, as they neared the edge of the park, he looked up.
"You mean, go on as if nothing had happened?"
"Precisely," said Willy Cameron, "as though nothing had happened."
The atmosphere of the Cardew house was subtly changed and very friendly. Willy Cameron found himself received as an old friend, with no tendency to forget the service he had rendered, or that, in their darkest hour, he had been one of them.
To his surprise Pink Denslow was there, and he saw at once that Pink had been telling them of the night at the farm house. Pink was himself again, save for a small shaved place at the back of his head, covered with plaster.
"I've told them, Cameron," he said. "If I could only tell it generally I'd be the most popular man in the city, at dinners."
"Pair of young fools," old Anthony muttered, with his sardonic smile. But in his hand-clasp, as in Howard's, there was warmth and a sort of envy, envy of youth and the adventurous spirit of youth.
Lily was very quiet. The story had meant more to her than to the others. She had more nearly understood Pink's reference to the sealed envelope Willy Cameron had left, and the help sent by Edith Boyd. She connected that with Louis Akers, and from that to Akers' threat against Cameron was only a step. She was frightened and somewhat resentful, that this other girl should have saved him from a revenge that she knew was directed at herself. That she, who had brought this thing about, had sat quietly at home while another woman, a woman who loved him, had saved him.
She was puzzled at her own state of mind.
Dinner was almost gay. Perhaps the gayety was somewhat forced, with Pink keeping his eyes from Lily's face, and Howard Cardew relapsing now and then into abstracted silence. Because of the men who served, the conversation was carefully general. It was only in the library later, the men gathered together over their cigars, that the real reason for Willy Cameron's summons was disclosed.
Howard Cardew was about to withdraw from the contest. "I'm late in coming to this decision," he said. "Perhaps too late. But after a careful canvas of the situation, I find you are right, Cameron. Unless I withdraw, Akers"—he found a difficulty in speaking the name—"will be elected. At least it looks that way."
"And if he is," old Anthony put in, "he'll turn all the devils of hell loose on us."
It was late; very late. The Cardews stood ready to flood the papers with announcements of Howard's withdrawal, and urging his supporters to vote for Hendricks, but the time was short. Howard had asked his campaign managers to meet there that night, and also Hendricks and one or two of his men, but personally he felt doubtful.
And, as it happened, the meeting developed more enthusiasm than optimism. Cardew's withdrawal would be made the most of by the opposition. They would play it up as the end of the old regime, the beginning of new and better things.
Before midnight the conference broke up, to catch the morning editions. Willy Cameron, detained behind the others, saw Lily in the drawing-room alone as he passed the door, and hesitated.
"I have been waiting for you, Willy," she said.
But when he went in she seemed to have nothing to say. She sat in a low chair, in a soft dark dress which emphasized her paleness. To Willy Cameron she had never seemed more beautiful, or more remote.
"Do you remember how you used to whistle 'The Long, Long Trail,' Willy?" she said at last. "All evening I have been sitting here thinking what a long trail we have both traveled since then."
"A long, hard trail," he assented.
"Only you have gone up, Willy. And I have gone down, into the valley. I wish"—she smiled faintly—"I wish you would look down from your peak now and then. You never come to see me."
"I didn't know you wanted me," he said bluntly.
"Why shouldn't I want to see you?"
"I couldn't help reminding you of things."
"But I never forget them, anyhow. Sometimes I almost go mad, remembering. It isn't quite as selfish as it sounds. I've hurt them all so. Willy, do you mind telling me about the girl who opened that letter and sent you help?"
"About Edith Boyd? I'd like to tell you, Lily. Her mother is dead, and she lost her child. She is in the Memorial Hospital."
"Then she has no one but you?"
"She has a brother."
"Tell me about her sending help that night. She really saved your life, didn't she?"
While he was telling her she sat staring straight ahead, her fingers interlaced in her lap. She was telling herself that all this could not possibly matter to her, that she had cut herself off, finally and forever, from the man before her; that she did not even deserve his friendship.
Quite suddenly she knew that she did not want his friendship. She wanted to see again in his face the look that had been there the night he had told her, very simply, that he loved her. And it would never be there; it was not there now. She had killed his love. All the light in his face was for some one else, another girl, a girl more unfortunate but less wicked than herself.
When he stopped she was silent. Then:
"I wonder if you know how much you have told me that you did not intend to tell?"
"That I didn't intend to tell? I have made no reservations, Lily."
"Are you sure? Or don't you realize it yourself?"
"Realize what?" He was greatly puzzled.
"I think, Willy," she said, quietly, "that you care a great deal more for Edith Boyd than you think you do."
He looked at her in stupefaction. How could she say that? How could she fail to know better than that? And he did not see the hurt behind her careful smile.
"You are wrong about that. I—" He made a little gesture of despair. He could not tell her now that he loved her. That was all over.
"She is in love with you."
He felt absurd and helpless. He could not deny that, yet how could she sit there, cool and faintly smiling, and not know that as she sat there so she sat enshrined in his heart. She was his saint, to kneel and pray to; and she was his woman, the one woman of his life. More woman than saint, he knew, and even for that he loved her. But he did not know the barbarous cruelty of the loving woman.
"I don't know what to say to you, Lily," he said, at last. "She—it is possible that she thinks she cares, but under the circumstances—"
"Ellen told Mademoiselle you were going to marry her. That's true, isn't it?"
"You always said that marriage without love was wicked, Willy."
"Her child had a right to a name. And there were other things. I can't very well explain them to you. Her mother was ill. Can't you understand, Lily? I don't want to throw any heroics." In his excitement he had lapsed into boyish vernacular. "Here was a plain problem, and a simple way to solve it. But it is off now, anyhow; things cleared up without that."
She got up and held out her hand.
"It was like you to try to save her," she said.
"Does this mean I am to go?"
"I am very tired, Willy."
He had a mad impulse to take her in his arms, and holding her close to rest her there. She looked so tired. For fear he might do it he held his arms rigidly at his sides.
"You haven't asked me about him," she said unexpectedly.
"I thought you would not care to talk about him. That's over and done, Lily. I want to forget about it, myself."
She looked up at him, and had he had Louis Akers' intuitive knowledge of women he would have understood then.
"I am never going back to him, Willy. You know that, don't you?"
"I hoped it, of course."
"I know now that I never loved him."
But the hurt of her marriage was still too fresh in him for speech. He could not discuss Louis Akers with her.
"No," he said, after a moment, "I don't think you ever did. I'll come in some evening, if I may, Lily. I must not keep you up now."
How old he looked, for him! How far removed from those busy, cheerful days at the camp! And there were new lines of repression in his face; from the nostrils to the corners of his mouth. Above his ears his hair showed a faint cast of gray.
"You have been having rather a hard time, Willy, haven't you'?" she said, suddenly.
"I have been busy, of course."
"Sometimes. But things are clearing up now."
She was studying him with the newly opened eyes of love. What was it he showed that the other men she knew lacked? Sensitiveness? Kindness? But her father was both sensitive and kind. So was Pink, in less degree. In the end she answered her own question, and aloud.
"I think it is patience," she said. And to his unspoken question: "You are very patient, aren't you?"
"I never thought about it. For heaven's sake don't turn my mind in on myself, Lily. I'll be running around in circles like a pup chasing his tail."
He made a movement to leave, but she seemed oddly reluctant to let him go.
"Do you know that father says you have more influence than any other man in the city?"
"That's more kind than truthful."
"And—I think he and grandfather are planning to try to get you, when the mills reopen. Father suggested it, but grandfather says you'd have the presidency of the company in six months, and he'd be sharpening your lead pencils."
Suddenly Willy Cameron laughed, and the tension was broken.
"If he did it with his tongue they'd be pretty sharp," he said.
For just a moment, before he left, they were back to where they had been months ago, enjoying together their small jokes and their small mishaps. The present fell away, with its hovering tragedy, and they were boy and girl together. Exaltation and sacrifice were a part of their love, as of all real and lasting passion, but there was always between them also that soundest bond of all, liking and comradeship.
"I love her. I like her. I adore her," was the cry in Willy Cameron's heart when he started home that night.
Elinor Doyle was up and about her room. She walked slowly and with difficulty, using crutches, and she spent most of the time at her window, watching and waiting. From Lily there came, at frequent intervals, notes, flowers and small delicacies. The flowers and food Olga brought to her, but the notes she never saw. She knew they came. She could see the car stop at the curb, and the chauffeur, his shoulders squared and his face watchful, carrying a white envelope up the walk, but there it ended.
She felt more helpless than ever. The doctor came less often, but the vigilance was never relaxed, and she had, too, less and less hope of being able to give any warning. Doyle was seldom at home, and when he was he had ceased to give her his taunting information. She was quite sure now of his relations with the Russian girl, and her uncertainty as to her course was gone. She was no longer his wife. He held another woman in his rare embraces, a traitor like himself. It was sordid. He was sordid.
Woslosky had developed blood poisoning, and was at the point of death, with a stolid policeman on guard at his bedside. She knew that from the newspapers she occasionally saw. And she connected Doyle unerringly with the tragedy at the farm behind Friendship. She recognized, too, since that failure, a change in his manner to her. She saw that he now both hated her and feared her, and that she had become only a burden and a menace to him. He might decide to do away with her, to kill her. He would not do it himself; he never did his own dirty work, but the Russian girl—Olga was in love with Jim Doyle. Elinor knew that, as she knew many things, by a sort of intuition. She watched them in the room together, and she knew that to Doyle the girl was an incident, the vehicle of his occasional passion, a strumpet and a tool. He did not even like her; she saw him looking at her sometimes with a sort of amused contempt. But Olga's somber eyes followed him as he moved, lit with passion and sometimes with anger, but always they followed him.
She was afraid of Olga. She did not care particularly about death, but it must not come before she had learned enough to be able to send out a warning. She thought if it came it might be by poison in the food that was sent up, but she had to eat to live. She took to eating only one thing on her tray, and she thought she detected in the girl an understanding and a veiled derision.
By Doyle's increasing sullenness she knew things were not going well with him, and she found a certain courage in that, but she knew him too well to believe that he would give up easily. And she drew certain deductions from the newspapers she studied so tirelessly. She saw the announcement of the unusual number of hunting licenses issued, for one thing, and she knew the cover that such licenses furnished armed men patrolling the country. The state permitted the sale of fire-arms without restriction. Other states did the same, or demanded only the formality of a signature, never verified.
Would they never wake to the situation?
She watched the election closely. She knew that if Akers were elected the general strike and the chaos to follow would be held back until he had taken office and made the necessary changes in the city administration, but that if he went down to defeat the Council would turn loose its impatient hordes at once.
She waited for election day with burning anxiety. When it came it so happened that she was left alone all day in the house. Early in the morning Olga brought her a tray and told her she was going out. She was changed, the Russian; she had dropped the mask of sodden servility and stood before her, erect, cunningly intelligent and oddly powerful.
"I am going to be away all day, Mrs. Doyle," she said, in her excellent English. "I have work to do."
"Work?" said Elinor. "Isn't there work to do here?"
"I am not a house-worker. I came to help Mr. Doyle. To-day I shall make speeches."
Elinor was playing the game carefully. "But—can you make speeches?" she asked.
"Me? That is my work, here, in Russia, everywhere. In Russia it is the women who speak, the men who do what the women tell them to do. Here some day it will be the same."
Always afterwards Elinor remembered the five minutes that followed, for Olga, standing before her, suddenly burst into impassioned oratory. She cited the wrongs of the poor under the old regime. She painted in glowing colors the new. She was excited, hectic, powerful. Elinor in her chair, an aristocrat to the finger-tips, was frightened, interested, thrilled.
Long after Olga had gone she sat there, wondering at the real conviction, the intensity of passion, of hate and of revenge that actuated this newest tool of Doyle's. Doyle and his associates might be actuated by self-interest, but the real danger in the movement lay not with the Doyles of the world, but with these fanatic liberators. They preached to the poor a new religion, not of creed or of Church, but of freedom. Freedom without laws of God or of man, freedom of love, of lust, of time, of all responsibility. And the poor, weighted with laws and cares, longed to throw off their burdens.
Perhaps it was not the doctrine itself that was wrong. It was its imposition by force on a world not yet ready for it that was wrong; its imposition by violence. It might come, but not this way. Not, God preventing, this way.
There was a polling place across the street, in the basement of a school house. The vote was heavy and all day men lounged on the pavements, smoking and talking. Once she saw Olga in the crowd, and later on Louis Akers drove up in an open automobile, handsome, apparently confident, and greeted with cheers. But Elinor, knowing him well, gained nothing from his face.
Late that night she heard Doyle come in and move about the lower floor. She knew every emphasis of his walk, and when in the room underneath she heard him settle down to steady, deliberate pacing, she knew that he was facing some new situation, and, after his custom, thinking it out alone.
At midnight he came up the stairs and unlocked her door. He entered, closing the door behind him, and stood looking at her. His face was so strange that she wondered if he had decided to do away with her.
"To-morrow," he said, in an inflectionless voice, "you will be moved by automobile to a farm I have selected in the country. You will take only such small luggage as the car can carry."
"Is Olga going with me?"
"No. Olga is needed here."
"I suppose I am to understand from this that Louis has been defeated and there is no longer any reason for delay in your plans."
"You can understand what you like."
"Am I to know where I am going?"
"You will find that out when you get there. I will tell you this: It is a lonely place, without a telephone. You'll be cut off from your family, I am afraid."
She gazed at him. It seemed unbelievable to her that she had once lain in this man's arms.
"Why don't you kill me, Jim? I know you've thought about it."
"Yes, I've thought of it. But killing is a confession of fear, my dear. I am not afraid of you."
"I think you are. You are afraid now to tell me when you are going to try to put this wild plan into execution."
He smiled at her with mocking eyes.
"Yes," he agreed again. "I am afraid. You have a sort of diabolical ingenuity, not intelligence so much as cunning. But because I always do the thing I'm afraid to do, I'll tell you. Of course, if you succeed in passing it on—" He shrugged his shoulders. "Very well, then. With your usual logic of deduction, you have guessed correctly. Louis Akers has been defeated. Your family—and how strangely you are a Cardew!—lost its courage at the last moment, and a gentleman named Hendricks is now setting up imitation beer and cheap cigars to his friends."
Behind his mocking voice she knew the real fury of the man, kept carefully in control by his iron will.
"As you have also correctly surmised," he went on, "there is now nothing to be gained by any delay. A very few days, three or four, and—" His voice grew hard and terrible—"the first stone in the foundation of this capitalistic government will go. Inevitable law, inevitable retribution—" His voice trailed off. He turned like a man asleep and went toward the door. There he stopped and faced her.
"I've told you," he said darkly. "I am not afraid of you. You can no more stop this thing than you can stop living by ceasing to breathe. It has come."
She heard him in his room for some time after that, and she surmised from the way he moved, from closet to bed and back again, that he was packing a bag. At two o'clock she heard Olga coming in; the girl was singing in Russian, and Elinor had a sickening conviction that she had been drinking. She heard Doyle send her off to bed, his voice angry and disgusted, and resume his packing, and ten minutes later she heard a car draw up on the street, and knew that he was off, to begin the mobilization of his heterogeneous forces.
Ever since she had been able to leave her bed Elinor had been formulating a plan of escape. Once the door had been left unlocked, but her clothing had been removed from the room, and then, too, she had not learned the thing she was waiting for. Now she had clothing, a dark dressing gown and slippers, and she had the information. But the door was securely locked.
She had often thought of the window, In the day time it frightened her to look down, although it fascinated her, too. But at night it seemed much simpler. The void below was concealed in the darkness, a soft darkness that hid the hard, inhospitable earth. A darkness one could fall into and onto.