A Poor Wise Man
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
Home - Random Browse

She was not a brave woman. She had moral rather than physical courage. It was easier for her to face Doyle in a black mood than the gulf below the window-sill, but she knew now that she must get away, if she were to go at all. She got out of bed, and using her crutches carefully moved to the sill, trying to accustom herself to the thought of going over the edge. The plaster cast on her leg was a real handicap. She must get it over first. How heavy it was, and unwieldy!

She found her scissors, and, stripping the bed, sat down to cut and tear the bedding into strips. Prisoners escaped that way; she had read about such things. But the knots took up an amazing amount of length. It was four o'clock in the morning when she had a serviceable rope, and she knew it was too short. In the end she tore down the window curtains and added them, working desperately against time.

She began to suspect, too, that Olga was not sleeping. She smelled faintly the odor of the long Russian cigarettes the girl smoked. She put out her light and worked in the darkness, a strange figure of adventure, this middle-aged woman with her smooth hair and lined face, sitting in her cambric nightgown with her crutches on the floor beside her.

She secured the end of the rope to the foot of her metal bed, pushing the bed painfully and cautiously, inch by inch, to the window. And in so doing she knocked over the call-bell on the stand, and almost immediately she heard Olga moving about.

The girl was coming unsteadily toward the door. If she opened it—

"I don't want anything, Olga," she called, "I knocked the bell over accidentally."

Olga hesitated, muttered, moved away again. Elinor was covered with a cold sweat.

She began to think of the window as a refuge. Surely nothing outside could be so terrible as this house itself. The black aperture seemed friendly; it beckoned to her with friendly hands.

She dropped her crutches. They fell with two soft thuds on the earth below and it seemed to her that they were a long time in falling. She listened after that, but Olga made no sign. Then slowly and painfully she worked her injured leg over the sill, and sat there looking down and breathing with difficulty. Then she freed her dressing gown around her, and slid over the edge.


Election night found various groups in various places. In the back room of the Eagle Pharmacy was gathered once again the neighborhood forum, a wildly excited forum, which ever and anon pounded Mr. Hendricks on the back, and drank round after round of soda water and pop. Doctor Smalley, coming in rather late found them all there, calling Mr. Hendricks "Mr. Mayor" or "Your Honor," reciting election anecdotes, and prophesying the end of the Reds. Only Willy Cameron, sitting on a table near the window, was silent.

Mr. Hendricks, called upon for a speech, rose with his soda water glass in his hand.

"I've got a toast for you, boys," he said. "You've been talking all evening about my winning this election. Well, I've been elected, but I didn't win it. It was the plain people of this town who elected me, and they did it because my young friend on the table yonder told them to." He raised his glass. "Cameron!" he said.

"Cameron! Cameron!" shouted the crowd. "Speech! Cameron!"

But Willy shook his head.

"I haven't any voice left," he said, "and you've heard me say all I know a dozen times. The plain truth is that Mr. Hendricks got the election because he was the best man, and enough people knew it. That's all."

To Mr. Hendricks the night was one of splendid solemnity. He felt at once very strong and very weak, very proud and very humble. He would do his best, and if honesty meant anything, the people would have it, but he knew that honesty was not enough. The city needed a strong man; he hoped that the Good Man who made cities as He made men, both evil and good, would lend him a hand with things. As prayer in his mind was indissolubly connected with church, he made up his mind to go to church the next Sunday and get matters straightened out.

At the same time another group was meeting at the Benedict.

Louis Akers had gone home early. By five o'clock he knew that the chances were against him, but he felt a real lethargy as to the outcome. He had fought, and fought hard, but it was only the surface mind of him that struggled. Only the surface mind of him hated, and had ambitions, dreamed revenge. Underneath that surface mind was a sore that ate like a cancer, and that sore was his desertion by Lily Cardew. For once in his life he suffered, who had always inflicted pain.

At six o'clock Doyle had called him on the telephone and told him that Woslosky was dead, but the death of the Pole had been discounted in advance, and already his place had been filled by a Russian agent, who had taken the first syllable of his name and called himself Ross. Louis Akers heard the news apathetically, and went back to his chair again.

By eight o'clock he knew that he had lost the election, but that, too, seemed relatively unimportant. He was not thinking coherently, but certain vague ideas floated through his mind. There was a law of compensation in the universe: it was all rot to believe that one was paid or punished in the hereafter for what one did. Hell was real, but it was on earth and its place was in a man's mind. He couldn't get away from it, because each man carried his own hell around with him. It was all stored up there; nothing he had done was left out, and the more he put into it the more he got out, when the time came.

This was his time.

Ross and Doyle, with one or two others, found him there at nine o'clock, an untasted meal on the table, and the ends of innumerable cigarettes on the hearth. In the conference that followed he took but little part. The Russian urged immediate action, and Doyle by a saturnine silence tacitly agreed with him. But Louis only half heard them. His mind was busy with that matter of hell. Only once he looked up. Ross was making use of the phrase: "Militant minority."

"Militant minority!" he said scornfully, "you overwork that idea, Ross. What we've got here now is a militant majority, and that's what elected Hendricks. You're licked before you begin. And my advice is, don't begin."

But they laughed at him.

"You act like a whipped dog," Doyle said, "crawling under the doorstep for fear somebody else with a strap comes along."

"They're organized against us. We could have put it over six months ago. Not now."

"Then you'd better get out," Doyle said, shortly.

"I'm thinking of it."

But Doyle had no real fear of him. He was sulky. Well, let him sulk.

Akers relapsed into silence. His interest in the conspiracy had always been purely self-interest; he had never had Woslosky's passion, or Doyle's cold fanaticism. They had carried him off his feet with their promises, but how much were they worth? They had failed to elect him. Every bit of brains, cunning and resource in their organization had been behind him, and they had failed.

This matter of hell, now? Suppose one put by something on the other account? Suppose one turned square? Wouldn't that earn something? Suppose that one went to the Cardews and put all his cards on the table, asking nothing in return? Suppose one gave up the by-paths of life, and love in a hedgerow, and did the other thing? Wouldn't that earn something?

He roused himself and took a perfunctory part in the conversation, but his mind obstinately returned to itself. He knew every rendezvous of the Red element in the country; he knew where their literature was printed; he knew the storehouses of arms and ammunition, and the plans for carrying on the city government by the strikers after the reign of terrorization which was to subdue the citizens.

Suppose he turned informer? Could he set a price, and that price Lily? But he discarded that. He was not selling now, he was earning. He would set himself right first, and—provided the government got the leaders before those leaders got him, as they would surely try to do—he would have earned something, surely.

Lily had come to him once when he called. She might come again, when he had earned her.

Doyle sat back in his chair and watched him. He saw that he had gone to pieces under defeat, and men did strange things at those times. With uncanny shrewdness he gauged Akers' reaction; his loss of confidence and, he surmised, his loyalty. He would follow his own interest now, and if he thought that it lay in turning informer, he might try it. But it would take courage.

When the conference broke up Doyle was sure of where his man stood. He was not worried. They did not need Akers any longer. He had been a presentable tool, a lay figure to give the organization front, and they had over-rated him, at that. He had failed them. Doyle, watching him contemptuously, realized in him his own fallacious judgment, and hated Akers for proving him wrong.

Outside the building Doyle drew the Russian aside, and spoke to him. Ross started, then grinned.

"You're wrong," he said. "He won't try it. But of course he may, and we'll see that he doesn't get away with it."

From that time on Louis Akers was under espionage.


DOCTOR Smalley was by way of achieving a practice. During his morning and evening office hours he had less and less time to read the papers and the current magazines in his little back office, or to compare the month's earnings, visit by visit, with the same month of the previous year.

He took to making his hospital rounds early in the morning, rather to the outrage of various head nurses, who did not like the staff to come a-visiting until every counterpane was drawn stiff and smooth, every bed corner a geometrical angle, every patient washed and combed and temperatured, and in the exact center of the bed.

Interns were different. They were like husbands. They came and went, seeing things at their worst as well as at their best, but mostly at their worst. Like husbands, too, they developed a sort of philosophy as to the early morning, and would only make occasional remarks, such as:

"Cyclone struck you this morning, or anything?"

Doctor Smalley, being a bachelor, was entirely blind to the early morning deficiencies of his wards. Besides, he was young and had had a cold shower and two eggs and various other things, and he saw the world at eight A.M. as a good place. He would get into his little car, whistling, and driving through the market square he would sometimes stop and buy a bag of apples for the children's ward, or a bunch of fall flowers. Thus armed, it was impossible for the most austere of head nurses to hate him.

"We're not straightened up yet, doctor," they would say.

"Looks all right to me," he would reply cheerfully, and cast an eager eye over the ward. To him they were all his children, large and small, and if he did not exactly carry healing in his wings, having no wings, he brought them courage and a breath of fresh morning air, slightly tinged with bay rum, and the feeling that this was a new day. A new page, on which to write such wonderful things (in the order book) as: "Jennie may get up this afternoon." Or: "Lizzie Smith, small piece of beef steak."

On the morning after the election Doctor Smalley rose unusually early, and did five minutes of dumb bells, breathing very deep before his window, having started the cold water in the tub first. At the end of that time he padded in his bare feet to the top of the stairs and called in a huge, deep-breathing voice:

"Ten minutes."

These two cryptic words seeming to be perfectly understood below, followed the sound of a body plunging into water, a prolonged "Wow!" from the bathroom, and noisy hurried splashing. Dressing was a rapid process, due to a method learned during college days, which consists of wearing as little as possible, and arranging it at night so that two thrusts (trousers and under-drawers), one enveloping gesture (shirt and under-shirt), and a gymnastic effort of standing first on one leg and then on the other (socks and shoes), made a fairly completed toilet.

While putting on his collar and tie the doctor stood again by the window, and lustily called the garage across the narrow street.

"Jim!" he yelled. "Annabelle breakfasted yet?"

Annabelle was his shabby little car.

Annabelle had breakfasted, on gasoline, oil and water. The doctor finished tying his tie, singing lustily, and went to the door. At the door he stopped singing, put on a carefully professional air, restrained an impulse to slide down the stair-rail, and descended with the dignity of a man with a growing practice and a possible patient in the waiting-room.

At half-past seven he was on his way to the hospital. He stopped at the market and bought three dozen oranges out of a ten-dollar bill he had won on the election, and almost bought a live rabbit because it looked so dreary in its slatted box. He restrained himself, because his housekeeper had a weakness for stewed rabbit, and turned into Cardew Way. He passed the Doyle house slowly, inspecting it as he went, because he had a patient there, and because he had felt that there was something mysterious about the household, quite aside from the saturnine Doyle himself. He knew all about Doyle, of course; all, that is, that there was to know, but he was a newcomer to the city, and he did not know that Doyle's wife was a Cardew. Sometimes he had felt that he was under a sort of espionage all the time he was in the house. But that was ridiculous, wasn't it? Because they could not know that he was on the Vigilance Committee.

There was something curious about one of the windows. He slowed Annabelle and gazed at it. That was strange; there was a sort of white rope hanging from Mrs. Doyle's window.

He stopped Annabelle and stared. Then he drew up to the curb and got out of the car. He was rather uneasy when he opened the gate and started up the walk, but there was no movement of life in the house. At the foot of the steps he saw something, and almost stopped breathing. Behind a clump of winter-bare shrubbery was what looked like a dark huddle of clothing.

It was incredible.

He parted the branches and saw Elinor Doyle lying there, conscious and white with pain. Perhaps never in his life was Doctor Smalley to be so rewarded as with the look in her eyes when she saw him.

"Why, Mrs. Doyle!" was all he could think to say.

"I have broken my other leg, doctor," she said, "the rope gave way."

"You come down that rope?"

"I tried to. I was a prisoner. Don't take me back to the house, doctor. Don't take me back!"

"Of course I'll not take you back," he said, soothingly. "I'll carry you out to my car. It may hurt, but try to be quiet. Can you get your arms around my neck?"

She managed that, and he raised her slowly, but the pain must have been frightful, for a moment later he felt her arms relax and knew that she had fainted. He got to the car somehow, kicked the oranges into the gutter, and placed her, collapsed, on the seat. It was only then that he dared to look behind him, but the house, like the street, was without signs of life. As he turned the next corner, however, he saw Doyle getting off a streetcar, and probably never before had Annabelle made such speed as she did for the next six blocks.

Hours later Elinor Cardew wakened in a quiet room with gray walls, and with the sickening sweet odor of ether over everything. Instead of Olga a quiet nurse sat by her bed, and standing by a window, in low-voiced conversation, were two men. One she knew, the doctor. The other, a tall young man with a slight limp as he came toward her, she had never seen before. A friendly young man, thin, and grave of voice, who put a hand over hers and said:

"You are not to worry about anything, Mrs. Doyle. You understand me, don't you? Everything is all right. I am going now to get your people."

"My husband?"

"Your own people," he said. "I have already telephoned to your brother. And the leg's fixed. Everything's as right as rain."

Elinor closed her eyes. She felt no pain and no curiosity. Only there was something she had to do, and do quickly. What was it? But she could not remember, because she felt very sleepy and relaxed, and as though everything was indeed as right as rain.

It was evening when she looked up again, and the room was dark. The doctor had gone, and the grave young man was still in the room. There was another figure there, tall and straight, and at first she thought it was Jim Doyle.

"Jim!" she said. And then: "You must go away, Jim. I warn you. I am going to tell all I know."

But the figure turned, and it was Howard Cardew, a tense and strained Howard Cardew, who loomed amazingly tall and angry, but not with her.

"I'm sorry, Nellie dear," he said, bending over her. "If we'd only known—can you talk now?"

Her mind was suddenly very clear.

"I must. There is very little time."

"I want to tell you something first, Nellie. I think we have located the Russian woman, but we haven't got Doyle."

Howard was not very subtle, but Willy Cameron saw her face and understood. It was strange beyond belief, he felt, this loyalty of women to their men, even after love had gone; this feeling that, having once lain in a man's arms, they have taken a vow of protection over that man. It was not so much that they were his as that he was theirs. Jim Doyle had made her a prisoner, had treated her brutally, was a traitor to her and to his country, but—he had been hers. She was glad that he had got away.


It was dark when Howard Cardew and Willy Cameron left the hospital. Elinor's information had been detailed and exact. Under cover of the general strike the radical element intended to take over the city. On the evening of the first day of the strike, armed groups from the revolutionary party would proceed first to the municipal light plant, and, having driven out any employees who remained at their posts, or such volunteers as had replaced them, would plunge the city into darkness.

Elinor was convinced that following this would come various bomb outrages, perhaps a great number of them, but of this she had no detailed information. What she did know, however, was the dependence that Doyle and the other leaders were placing in the foreign element in the nearby mill towns and from one or two mining districts in the county.

Around the city, in the mill towns, there were more than forty thousand foreign laborers. Subtract from that the loyal aliens, but add a certain percentage of the native-born element, members of seditious societies and followers of the red flag, and the Reds had a potential army of dangerous size.

As an actual fighting force they were much less impressive. Only a small percentage, she knew and told them, were adequately armed. There were a few machine guns, and some long-range rifles, but by far the greater number had only revolvers. The remainder had extemporized weapons, bars of iron, pieces of pipe, farm implements, lances of wood tipped with iron and beaten out on home forges.

They were a rabble, not an army, without organization and with few leaders. Their fighting was certain to be as individualistic as their doctrines. They had two elements in their favor only, numbers and surprise.

To oppose them, if the worst came, there were perhaps five thousand armed men, including the city and county police, the state constabulary, and the citizens who had signed the cards of the Vigilance Committee. The local post of the American Legion stood ready for instant service, and a few national guard troops still remained in the vicinity. "What they expect," she said, looking up from her pillows with tragic eyes, "is that the police and the troops will join them. You don't think they will, do you?"

They reassured her, and after a time she slept again. When she wakened, at midnight, the room was empty save for a nurse reading under a night lamp behind a screen. Elinor was not in pain. She lay there, listening to the night sounds of the hospital, the watchman shuffling along the corridor in slippers, the closing of a window, the wail of a newborn infant far away.

There was a shuffling of feet in the street below, the sound of many men, not marching but grimly walking, bent on some unknown errand. The nurse opened the window and looked out.

"That's queer!" she said. "About thirty men, and not saying a word. They walk like soldiers, but they're not in uniform."

Elinor pondered that, but it was not for some days that she knew that Pink Denslow and a picked number of volunteers from the American Legion had that night, quite silently and unemotionally, broken into the printing office where Doyle and Akers had met Cusick, and had, not so silently but still unemotionally, destroyed the presses and about a ton of inflammatory pamphlets.


There was a little city, and few men within it; And there came a great king against it, and besieged it, And built great bulwarks against it; Now there was found in it a Poor Wise Man, And he by his wisdom delivered the city.—Ecclesiastes IX:14, 15.

The general strike occurred two days later, at mid-day. During the interval a joint committee representing the workers, the employers and the public had held a protracted sitting, but without result, and by one o'clock the city was in the throes of a complete tie-up. Laundry and delivery wagons were abandoned where they stood. Some of the street cars had been returned to the barns, but others stood in the street where the crews had deserted them.

There was no disorder, however, and the city took its difficulties with a quiet patience and a certain sense of humor. Bulletins similar to the ones used in Seattle began to appear.

"Strikers, the world is the workers' for the taking, and the workers are the vast majority in society. Your interests are paramount to those of a small, useless band of parasites who exploit you to their advantage. You have nothing to lose but your chains and you have a world to gain. The world for the workers."

There was one ray of light in the darkness, however. The municipal employees had refused to strike, and only by force would the city go dark that night. It was a blow to the conspirators. In the strange psychology of the mob, darkness was an essential to violence, and by three o'clock that afternoon the light plant and city water supply had been secured against attack by effectual policing. The power plant for the car lines was likewise protected, and at five o'clock a line of street cars, stalled on Amanda Street, began to show signs of life.

The first car was boarded by a half dozen youngish men, unobtrusively ready for trouble, and headed by a tall youth who limped slightly and wore an extremely anxious expression. He went forward and commenced a series of experiments with levers and brake, in which process incidentally he liberated a quantity of sand onto the rails. A moment later the car lurched forward, and then stopped with a jerk.

Willy Cameron looked behind him and grinned. The entire guard was piled in an ignoble mass on the floor.

By six o'clock volunteer crews were running a number of cars, and had been subjected to nothing worse than abuse. Strikers lined the streets and watched them, but the grim faces of the guards kept them back. They jeered from the curbs, but except for the flinging of an occasional stone they made no inimical move.

By eight o'clock it was clear that the tie-up would be only partial. Volunteers from all walks of life were in line at the temporary headquarters of the Vigilance Committee and were being detailed, for police duty, to bring in the trains with the morning milk, to move street cars and trucks. The water plant and the reservoirs were protected. Willy Cameron, abandoning his car after the homeward rush of the evening, found a line before the Committee Building which extended for blocks down the street.

Troops had been sent for, but it took time to mobilize and move them. It would be morning before they arrived. And the governor, over the long distance wire to the mayor, was inclined to be querulous.

"We'll send them, of course," he said. "But if the strikers are keeping quiet—I don't know what the country's coming to. We're holding a conference here now. There's rioting breaking out all over the state."

* * * * *

There was a conference held in the Mayor's office that night: Cameron and Cardew and one or two others of the Vigilance Committee, two agents of the government secret service, the captains of the companies of state troops and constabulary, the Chief of Police, the Mayor himself, and some representatives of the conservative element of organized labor. Quiet men, these last, uneasy and anxious, as ignorant as the others of which way the black cat, the symbol of sabotage and destruction, would jump. The majority of their men would stand for order, they declared, but there were some who would go over. They urged, to offset that reflection on their organization that the proletariat of the city might go over, too.

But, by midnight, it seemed as though the situation was solving itself. In the segregated district there had been a small riot, and another along the river front, disturbances quickly ended by the police and the volunteer deputies. The city had not gone dark. The bombs had not exploded. Word came in that by back roads and devious paths the most rabid of the agitators were leaving town. And before two o'clock Howard Cardew and some of the others went home to bed.

At three o'clock the Cardew doorbell rang, and Howard, not asleep, flung on his dressing gown and went out into the hall. Lily was in her doorway, intent and anxious.

"Don't answer it, father," she begged. "You don't know what it may be."

Howard smiled, but went back and got his revolver. The visitor was Willy Cameron.

"I don't like to waken you," he said, "but word has come in of suspicious movements at Baxter and Friendship, and one or two other places. It looks like concerted action of some sort."

"What sort of concerted action?"

"They still have one card to play. The foreign element outside hasn't been heard from. It looks as though the fellows who left town to-night have been getting busy up the river."

"They wouldn't be such fools as to come to the city."

"They've been made a lot of promises. They may be out of hand, you know."

While Howard was hastily dressing, Willy Cameron waited below. He caught a glimpse of himself in the big mirror and looked away. His face was drawn and haggard, his eyes hollow and his collar a wilted string. He was dusty and shabby, too, and to Lily, coming down the staircase, he looked almost ill.

Lily was in a soft negligee garment, her bare feet thrust into slippers, but she was too anxious to be self-conscious.

"Willy," she said, "there is trouble after all?"

"Not in the city. Things are not so quiet up the river."

She placed a hand on his arm.

"Are you and father going up the river?"

He explained, after a momentary hesitation. "It may crystallize into something, or it may not," he finished.

"You think it will, don't you?"

"It will be nothing more, at the worst, than rioting."

"But you may be hurt!"

"I may have one chance to fight for my country," he said, rather grimly. "Don't begrudge me that." But he added: "I'll not be hurt. The thing will blow up as soon as it starts."

"You don't really believe that, do you?"

"I know they'll never get into the city."

But as he moved away she called him back, more breathlessly than ever, and quite white.

"I don't want you to go without knowing—Willy, do you remember once that you said you cared for me?"

"I remember." He stared straight ahead.

"Are you—all over that?"

"You know better than that, don't you?"

"But I've done so many things," she said, wistfully. "You ought to hate me." And when he said nothing, for the simple reason that he could not speak: "I've ruined us both, haven't I?"

Suddenly he caught up her hand and, bending over it, held it to his lips.

"Always," he said, huskily, "I love you, Lily. I shall always love you."


Howard went back to the municipal building, driving furiously through the empty streets. The news was ominous. Small bodies of men, avoiding the highways, were focusing at different points in the open country. The state police had been fired at from ambush, and two of them had been killed. They had ridden into and dispersed various gatherings in the darkness, but only to have them re-form in other places. The enemy was still shadowy, elusive; it was apparently saving its ammunition. It did little shooting, but reports of the firing of farmhouses and of buildings in small, unprotected towns began to come in rapidly.

In a short time the messages began to be more significant, indicating that the groups were coalescing and that a revolutionary army, with the city its objective, was coming down the river, evidently making for the bridge at Chester Street.

"They've lighted a fire they can't put out," was Howard's comment. His mouth was very dry and his face twitching, for he saw, behind the frail barrier of the Chester Street bridge, the quiet houses of the city, the sleeping children. He saw Grace and Lily, and Elinor. He was among the first to reach the river front.

All through the dawn volunteers labored at the bridge head. Members of the Vigilance Committee, policemen and firemen, doctors, lawyers, clerks, shop-keepers, they looted the river wharves with willing, unskillful hands. They turned coal wagons on their sides, carried packing cases and boxes, and, under the direction of men who wore the Legion button, built skillfully and well. Willy Cameron toiled with the others. He lifted and pulled and struggled, and in the midst of his labor he had again that old dream of the city. The city was a vast number of units, and those units were homes. Behind each of those men there was, somewhere, in some quiet neighborhood, a home. It was for their homes they were fighting, for the right of children to play in peaceful streets, for the right to go back at night to the rest they had earned by honest labor, for the right of the hearth, of lamp-light and sunlight, of love, of happiness.

Then, in the flare of a gasoline torch, he came face to face with Louis Akers. The two men confronted each other, silently, with hostility. Neither moved aside, but it was Akers who spoke first.

"Always busy, Cameron," he said. "What'd the world do without you, anyhow?"

"Aren't you on the wrong side of this barricade?"

"Smart as ever," Akers observed, watching him intently. "As it happens, I'm here because I want to be, and because I can't get where I ought to be."

For a furious moment Willy Cameron thought he was referring to his wife, but there was something strange in Akers' tone.

"I could be useful to you fellows," he was saying, "but it seems you don't want help. I've been trying to see the Mayor all night."

"What do you want to see him about?"

"I'll tell him that."

Willy Cameron hesitated.

"I think it's a trick, Akers."

"All right. Then go to the devil!"

He turned away sullenly, leaving Willy Cameron still undecided. It would be like the man as he knew him, this turning informer when he saw the strength of the defense, and Cameron had a flash of intuition, too, that Akers might see, in this new role, some possible chance to win back with Lily Cardew. He saw how the man's cheap soul might dramatize itself.

"Akers!" he called.

Akers stopped, but he did not turn.

"I've got a car here. If you mean what you say, and it's straight, I'll take you."

"Where's the car?"

On their way to it, threading in and out among the toiling crowd, Willy Cameron had a chance to observe the change in the other man, his drooping shoulders and the almost lassitude of his walk. He went ahead, charging the mass and going through it by sheer bulk and weight, his hands in his coat pockets, his soft hat pulled low over his face. Neither of them noticed that one of the former clerks of the Myers Housecleaning Company followed close behind, or that, holding to a tire, he rode on the rear of the Cardew automobile as it made its way into the center of the city.

In the car Akers spoke only once.

"Where is Howard Cardew?" he asked.

"With the Mayor, probably. I left him there."

It seemed to him that Akers found the answer satisfactory. He sat back in the deep seat, and lighted a cigarette.

The Municipal Building was under guard. Willy Cameron went up the steps and spoke to the sentry there. It was while his back was turned that the sharp crack of a revolver rang out, and he whirled, in time to see Louis Akers fall forward on his face and lie still.

* * * * *

The shadowy groups through the countryside had commenced to coalesce. Groups of twenty became a rabble of five hundred. The five hundred grew, and joined other five hundreds. From Baxter alone over two thousand rioters, mostly foreigners, started out, and by daylight the main body of the enemy reached the outskirts of the city, a long, irregular line of laughing, jostling, shouting men, constantly renewed at the rear until the procession covered miles of roadway. They were of all races and all types; individually they were, many of them, like boys playing truant from school, not quite certain of themselves, smiling and yet uneasy, not entirely wicked in intent. But they were shepherded by men with cunning eyes, men who knew well that a mob is greater than the sum of its parts, more wicked than the individuals who compose it, more cruel, more courageous.

As it marched it laughed. It was like a lion at play, ready to leap at the first scratch that brought blood.

Where the street car line met the Friendship Road the advance was met by the Chief of Police, on horseback and followed by a guard of mounted men, and ordered back. The van hesitated, but it was urged ahead, pushed on by the irresistible force behind it, and it came on no longer singing, but slowly, inevitably, sullenly protesting and muttering. Its good nature was gone.

As the Chief turned his horse was shot under him. He took another horse from one of his guard, and they retired, moving slowly and with drawn revolvers. There was no further shooting at that time, nothing but the irresistible advance. The police could no more have held the armed rabble than they could have held the invading hordes in Belgium. At the end of the street the Chief stopped and looked back. They had passed over his dead horse as though it were not there.

In the mill district, which they had now reached, they received reenforcements, justifying the judgment of the conference that to have erected their barricades there would have been to expose the city's defenders to attack from the rear. And the mill district suffered comparatively little. It was the business portion of the city toward which they turned their covetous eyes, the great stores, the hotels and restaurants, the homes of the wealthy.

Pleased by the lack of opposition the mob grew more cheerful. The lion played. They pressed forward, wanton and jeering, firing now and then at random, breaking windows as they passed, looting small shops which they stripped like locusts. Their pockets bulging, and the taste of pillage forecasting what was to come, they moved onward more rapidly, shooting at upper windows or into the air, laughing, yelling, cursing, talking. From the barricades, long before the miles-long column came into view, could be heard the ominous far-off muttering of the mob.

It was when they found the bridge barricaded on the far side, however, that the lion bared its teeth and snarled. Temporarily checked by the play of machine guns which swept the bridge and kept it clear for a time, they commenced wild, wasteful firing, from the bridge-head and from along the Cardew wharves. Their leaders were prepared, and sent snipers into the bridge towers, but the machine guns continued to fire.

That the struggle would be on the bridge Doyle and his Council had anticipated from the reports of the night before. They were prepared to take a heavy loss on the bridges, but they had not prepared for the thing that defeated them; that as the mob is braver than the individual, so also it is more cowardly.

Pushed forward from the rear and unable to retreat through the dense mass behind that was every moment growing denser, a few hundreds found themselves facing the steady machine-gun fire from behind the barricades, and unable either to advance or to retire. Thus trapped, they turned on their own forces behind them, and tried to fight their way to safety, but the inexorable pressure kept on, and the defenders, watching and powerless, saw men fling themselves from the bridges and disappear in the water below, rather than advance into the machine-gun zone. The guns were not firing into the rioters, but before them, to hold them back, and into that leaden stream there were no brave spirits to hurl themselves.

The trapped men turned on their own and battled for escape. With the same violence which had been directed toward the city they now fought each other, and the bridge slowly cleared. But the mob did not disperse.

It spread out on the bank across, a howling, frustrated, futile mass, disorganized and demoralized, which fired its useless guns across the river, which seethed and tossed and struggled, and spent itself in its own wild fury. And all the time cool-eyed men, on the wharves across, watched and waited for the time to attack.

"They're sick at their stomachs now," said an old army sergeant, watching, to Willy Cameron. "The dirty devils! They'll be starting their filthy work over there soon, and that's the zero hour."

Willy Cameron nodded. He had seen one young Russian boy with a child-like face venture forward alone into the fire zone and drop. He still lay there, on the bridge. And all of Willy Cameron was in revolt. What had he been told, that boy, that had made him ready to pour out his young life like wine? There were others like him in that milling multitude on the river bank across, young men who had come to America with a dream in their hearts, and America had done this to them. Or had she? She had taken them in, but they were not her own, and now, since she would not take them, they would take her. Was that it? Was it that America had made them her servants, but not her children? He did not know.

* * * * *

Robbed of the city proper, the mob turned on the mill district it had invaded. Its dream of lust and greed was over, but it could still destroy.

Like a battle charge, as indeed it was, the mounted city and state police crossed the bridge. It was followed by the state troops on foot, by city policemen in orderly files, and then by the armed citizens. The bridge vibrated to the step of marching men, going out to fight for their homes. The real battle was fought there, around the Cardew mills, a battle where the loyalists were greatly outnumbered, and where the rioters fought, according to their teaching, with every trick they could devise. Posted in upper windows they fired down from comparative safety; ambulances crossed and re-crossed the bridges. The streets were filled with rioting men, striking out murderously with bars and spikes. Fires flamed up and burned themselves out. In one place, eight blocks of mill-workers' houses, with their furnishings, went in a quarter of an hour.

Willy Cameron was fighting like a demon. Long ago his reserve of ammunition had given out, and he was fighting with the butt end of his revolver. Around him had rallied some of the men he knew best, Pink and Mr. Hendricks, Doctor Smalley, Dan and Joe Wilkinson, and they stayed together as, street by street, the revolutionists were driven back. There were dead and wounded everywhere, injured men who had crawled into the shelter of doorways and sat or lay there, nursing their wounds.

Suddenly, to his amazement, Willy saw old Anthony Cardew. He had somehow achieved an upper window of the mill office building, and he was showing himself fearlessly, a rifle in his hands; in his face was a great anger, but there was more than that. Willy Cameron, thinking it over later, decided that it was perplexity. He could not understand.

He never did understand. For other eyes also had seen old Anthony Cardew. Willy Cameron, breasting the mob and fighting madly toward the door of the building, with Pink behind him, heard a cheer and an angry roar, and, looking up, saw that the old man had disappeared. They found him there later on, the rifle beside him, his small and valiant figure looking, with eyes no longer defiant, toward the Heaven which puts, for its own strange purpose, both evil and good into the same heart.

By eleven o'clock the revolution was over. Sodden groups of men, thoroughly cowed and frightened, were on their way by back roads to the places they had left a few hours before. They had no longer dreams of empire. Behind them they could see, on the horizon, the city itself, the smoke from its chimneys, the spires of its churches. Both, homes and churches, they had meant to destroy, but behind both there was the indestructible. They had failed.

They turned, looked back, and went on.

* * * * *

On the crest of a hill-top overlooking the city a man was standing, looking down to where the softened towers of the great steel bridges rose above the river mist like fairy towers. Below him lay the city, powerful, significant, important.

The man saw the city only as a vast crucible, into which he had flung his all, and out of which had come only defeat and failure. But the city was not a crucible. The melting pot of a nation is not a thing of cities, but of the human soul.

The city was not a melting pot. It was a sanctuary. The man stood silent and morose, his chin dropped on his chest, and stared down.

Beside and somewhat behind him stood a woman, a somber, passionate figure, waiting passively. His eyes traveled from the city to her, and rested on her, contemptuous, thwarted, cynical.

"You fool," he said, "I hate you, and you know it."

But she only smiled faintly. "We'd better get away now, Jim," she said.

He got into the car.


Late that afternoon Joe Wilkinson and Dan came slowly up the street, toward the Boyd house. The light of battle was still in Dan's eyes, his clothes were torn and his collar missing, and he walked with the fine swagger of the conqueror.

"Y'ask me," he said, "and I'll tell the world this thing's done for. It was just as well to let them give it a try, and find out it won't work."

Joe said nothing. He was white and very tired, and a little sick.

"If you don't mind I'll go in your place and wash up," he remarked, as they neared the house. "I'll scare the kids to death if they see me like this."

Edith was in the parlor. She had sat there almost all day, in an agony of fear. At four o'clock the smallest Wilkinson had hammered at the front door, and on being admitted had made a shameless demand.

"Bed and thugar," she had said, looking up with an ingratiating smile.

"You little beggar!"

"Bed and thugar."

Edith had got the bread and sugar, and, having lured the baby into the parlor, had held her while she ate, receiving now and then an exceedingly sticky kiss in payment. After a little the child's head began to droop, and Edith drew the small head down onto her breast. She sat there, rocking gently, while the chair slowly traveled, according to its wont, about the room.

The child brought her comfort. She began to understand those grave rocking figures in the hospital ward, women who sat, with eyes that seemed to look into distant places, with a child's head on their breasts.

After all, that was life for a woman. Love was only a part of the scheme of life, a means to an end. And that end was the child.

For the first time she wished that her child had lived.

She felt no bitterness now, and no anger. He was dead. It was hard to think of him as dead, who had been so vitally alive. She was sorry he had had to die, but death was like love and children, it was a part of some general scheme of things. Suppose this had been his child she was holding? Would she so easily have forgiven him? She did not know.

Then she thought of Willy Cameron. The bitterness had strangely gone out of that, too. Perhaps, vaguely, she began to realize that only young love gives itself passionately and desperately, when there is no hope of a return, and that the agonies of youth, although terrible enough, pass with youth itself.

She felt very old.

Joe found her there, the chair displaying its usual tendency to climb the chimney flue, and stood in the doorway, looking at her with haunted, hungry eyes. There was a sort of despair in Joe those days, and now he was tired and shaken from the battle.

"I'll take her home in a minute," he said, still with the strange eyes.

He came into the room, and suddenly he was kneeling beside the chair, his head buried against the baby's warm, round body. His bent shoulders shook, and Edith, still with the maternal impulse strong within her, put her hand on his bowed head.

"Don't, Joe!"

He looked up.

"I loved you so, Edith!"

"Don't you love me now?"

"God knows I do. I can't get over it. I can't. I've tried, Edith."

He sat back on the floor and looked at her.

"I can't," he repeated. "And when I saw you like that just now, with the kid in your arms—I used to think that maybe you and I—"

"I know, Joe. No decent man would want me now."

She was still strangely composed, peaceful, almost detached.

"That!" he said, astonished. "I don't mean that, Edith. I've had my fight about that, and got it over. That's done with. I mean—" he got up and straightened himself. "You don't care about me."

"But I do care for you. Perhaps not quite the way you care, Joe, but I've been through such a lot. I can't seem to feel anything terribly. I just want peace."

"I could give you that," he said eagerly.

Edith smiled. Peace, in that noisy house next door, with children and kittens and puppies everywhere! And yet it would be peace, after all, a peace of the soul, the peace of a good man's love. After a time, too, there might come another peace, the peace of those tired women in the ward, rocking.

"If you want me, I'll marry you," she said, very simply. "I'll be a good wife, Joe. And I want children. I want the right to have them."

He never noticed that the kiss she gave him, over the sleeping baby, was slightly tinged with granulated sugar.


OLD Anthony's body had been brought home, and lay in state in his great bed. There had been a bad hour; death seems so strangely to erase faults and leave virtues. Something strong and vital had gone from the house, and the servants moved about with cautious, noiseless steps. In Grace's boudoir, Howard was sitting, his arms around his wife, telling her the story of the day. At dawn he had notified her by telephone of Akers' murder.

"Shall I tell Lily?" she had asked, trembling.

"Do you want to wait until I get back?"

"I don't know how she will take it, Howard. I wish you could be here, anyhow."

But then had come the battle and his father's death, and in the end it was Willy Cameron who told her. He had brought back all that was mortal of Anthony Cardew, and, having seen the melancholy procession up the stairs, had stood in the hall, hating to intrude but hoping to be useful. Howard found him there, a strange, disheveled figure, bearing the scars of battle, and held out his hand.

"It's hard to thank you, Cameron," he said; "you seem to be always about when we need help. And"—he paused—"we seem to have needed it considerably lately."

Willy Cameron flushed.

"I feel rather like a meddler, sir."

"Better go up and wash," Howard said. "I'll go up with you."

It happened, therefore, that it was in Howard Cardew's opulent dressing-room that Howard first spoke to Willy Cameron of Akers' death, pacing the floor as he did so.

"I haven't told her, Cameron." He was anxious and puzzled. "She'll have to be told soon, of course. I don't know anything about women. I don't know how she'll take it."

"She has a great deal of courage. It will be a shock, but not a grief. But I have been thinking—" Willy Cameron hesitated. "She must not feel any remorse," he went on. "She must not feel that she contributed to it in any way. If you can make that clear to her—"

"Are you sure she did not?"

"It isn't facts that matter now. We can't help those. And no one can tell what actually led to his change of heart. It is what she is to think the rest of her life."

Howard nodded.

"I wish you would tell her," he said. "I'm a blundering fool when it comes to her. I suppose I care too much."

He caught rather an odd look in Willy Cameron's face at that, and pondered over it later.

"I will tell her, if you wish."

And Howard drew a deep breath of relief. It was shortly after that he broached another matter, rather diffidently.

"I don't know whether you realize it or not, Cameron," he said, "but this thing to-day might have been a different story if it had not been for you. And—don't think I'm putting this on a reward basis. It's nothing of the sort—but I would like to feel that you were working with me. I'd hate like thunder to have you working against me," he added.

"I am only trained for one thing."

"We use chemists in the mills."

But the discussion ended there. Both men knew that it would be taken up later, at some more opportune time, and in the meantime both had one thought, Lily.

So it happened that Lily heard the news of Louis Akers' death from Willy Cameron. She stood, straight and erect, and heard him through, watching him with eyes sunken by her night's vigil and by the strain of the day. But it seemed to her that he was speaking of some one she had known long ago, in some infinitely remote past.

"I am sorry," she said, when he finished. "I didn't want him to die. You know that, don't you? I never wished him—Willy, I say I am sorry, but I don't really feel anything. It's dreadful."

Before he could catch her she had fallen to the floor, fainting for the first time in her healthy young life.

* * * * *

An hour later Mademoiselle went down to the library door. She found Willy Cameron pacing the floor, a pipe clenched in his teeth, and a look of wild despair in his eyes.

Mademoiselle took a long breath. She had changed her view-point somewhat since the spring. After all, what mattered was happiness. Wealth and worldly ambition were well enough, but they brought one, in the end, to the thing which waited for all in some quiet upstairs room, with the shades drawn and the heavy odors of hot-house flowers over everything.

"She is all right, quite, Mr. Cameron," she said. "It was but a crisis of the nerves, and to be expected. And now she demands to see you."

Grayson, standing in the hall, had a swift vision of a tall figure, which issued with extreme rapidity from the library door, and went up the stairs, much like a horse taking a series of hurdles. But the figure lost momentum suddenly at the top, hesitated, and apparently moved forward on tiptoe. Grayson went into the library and sniffed at the unmistakable odor of a pipe. Then, having opened a window, he went and stood before a great portrait of old Anthony Cardew. Tears stood in the old man's eyes, but there was a faint smile on his lips. He saw the endless procession of life. First, love. Then, out of love, life. Then death. Grayson was old, but he had lived to see young love in the Cardew house. Out of love, life. He addressed a little speech to the picture.

"Wherever you are, sir," he said, "you needn't worry any more. The line will carry on, sir. The line will carry on."

Upstairs in the little boudoir Willy Cameron knelt beside the couch, and gathered Lily close in his arms.


Thanksgiving of the year of our Lord 1919 saw many changes. It saw, slowly emerging from the chaos of war, new nations, like children, taking their first feeble steps. It saw a socialism which, born at full term might have thrived, prematurely and forcibly delivered, and making a valiant but losing fight for life. It saw that war is never good, but always evil; that war takes everything and gives nothing, save that sometimes a man may lose the whole world and gain his own soul.

It saw old Anthony Cardew gone to his fathers, into the vast democracy of heaven, and Louis Akers passed through the Traitors' Gate of eternity to be judged and perhaps reprieved. For a man is many men, good and bad, and the Judge of the Tower of Heaven is a just Judge.

It saw Jim Doyle a fugitive, Woslosky dead, and the Russian, Ross, bland, cunning and eternally plotting, in New England under another name. And Mr. Hendricks ordering a new suit for the day of taking office. And Doctor Smalley tying a bunch of chrysanthemums on Annabelle, against a football game, and taking a pretty nurse to see it.

It saw Ellen roasting a turkey, and a strange young man in the Eagle Pharmacy, a young man who did not smoke a pipe, and allowed no visitors in the back room. And it saw Willy Cameron in the laboratory of the reopened Cardew Mills, dealing in tons instead of grains and drams, and learning to touch any piece of metal in the mill with a moistened fore-finger before he sat down upon it.

* * * * *

But it saw more than that.

On the evening of Thanksgiving Day there was an air of repressed excitement about the Cardew house. Mademoiselle, in a new silk dress, ran about the lower floor, followed by an agitated Grayson with a cloth, for Mademoiselle was shifting ceaselessly and with trembling hands vases of flowers, and spilling water at each shift. At six o'clock had arrived a large square white box, which the footman had carried to the rear and there exhibited, allowing a palpitating cook, scullery maid and divers other excitable and emotional women to peep within.

After which he tied it up again and carried it upstairs.

At seven o'clock Elinor Cardew, lovely in black satin, was carried down the stairs and placed in a position which commanded both the hall and the drawing-room. For some strange reason it was essential that she should see both.

At seven-thirty came in a rush:

(a)—Mr. Alston Denslow, in evening clothes and gardenia, and feeling in his right waist-coat pocket nervously every few minutes.

(b)—An excited woman of middle age, in a black silk dress still faintly bearing the creases of five days in a trunk, and accompanied by a mongrel dog, both being taken upstairs by Grayson, Mademoiselle, Pink, and Howard Cardew. ("He said Jinx was to come," she explained breathlessly to her bodyguard. "I never knew such a boy!")

(c)—Mr. Davis, in a frock coat and white lawn tie, and taken upstairs by Grayson, who mistook him for the bishop.

(d)—Aunt Caroline, in her diamond dog collar and purple velvet, and determined to make the best of things.

(e)—The real bishop this time, and his assistant, followed by a valet with a suitcase, containing the proper habiliments for a prince of the church while functioning. (A military term, since the Bishop had been in the army.)

(f)—A few unimportant important people, very curious, and the women uncertain about the proper garb for a festive occasion in a house of mourning.

(g)—Set of silver table vases, belated.

(h)—Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks, Mayor and Mayoress-elect. Extremely dignified.

(i)—An overfull taxicab, containing inside it Ellen, Edith, Dan and Joe. The overflow, consisting of a tall young man, displaying repressed excitement and new evening clothes, with gardenia, sat on the seat outside beside the chauffeur and repeated to himself a sort of chant accompanied by furious searchings of his pockets. "Money. Checkbook. Tickets. Trunk checks," was the burden of his song.

(j)—Doctor Smalley and Annabelle. He left Annabelle outside.

* * * * *

The city moved on about its business. In thousands of homes the lights shone down on little family groups, infinitely tender little groups. The workers of the city were there, the doors shut, the fires burning. To each man the thing he had earned, not the thing that he took. To all men the right to labor, to love, and to rest. To children, the right to play. To women, the hearth, and the peace of the hearth. To lovers, love, and marriage, and home.

The city moved on about its business, and its business was homes.

* * * * *

At the great organ behind the staircase the organist sat. In stiff rows near him were the Cardew servants, marshaled by Grayson and in their best.

Grayson stood, very rigid, and waited. And as he waited he kept his eyes on the portrait of old Anthony, in the drawing-room beyond. There was a fixed, rapt look in Grayson's eyes, and there was reassurance. It was as though he would say to the portrait: "It has all come out very well, you see, sir. It always works out somehow. We worry and fret, we old ones, but the young come along, and somehow or other they manage, sir."

What he actually said was to tell a house maid to stop sniveling.

Over the house was the strange hush of waiting. It had waited before this, for birth and for death, but never before—

The Bishop was waiting also, and he too had his eyes fixed on old Anthony's portrait, a straight, level-eyed gaze, as of man to man, as of prince of the church to prince of industry. The Bishop's eyes said: "All shall be done properly and in order, and as befits the Cardews, Anthony."

The Bishop was as successful in his line as Anthony Cardew had been in his. He cleared his throat.

The organist sat at the great organ behind the staircase, waiting. He was playing very softly, with his eyes turned up. He had played the same music many times before, and always he felt very solemn, as one who makes history. He sighed. Sometimes it seemed to him that he was only an accompaniment to life, to which others sang and prayed, were christened, confirmed and married. But what was the song without the music? He wished the scullery maid would stop crying.

Grayson touched him on the arm.

"All ready, sir," he said.


Willy Cameron stood at the foot of the staircase, looking up.


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
Home - Random Browse