"Nonsense, man! Do you want to tell me you're as weak as that?"
"Every bit!" said Cavendish, attacking the steak again.
"Well, I don't believe it, that's all. In the morning you'll be a different man. I'll give you a bromide when you're ready for bed. You're shaky, as it is, but that's all a matter of nerves. Now we'll drop the subject, and talk of other things."
It was midnight when they separated. Barclay brought out sheets and blankets for the divan, produced pajamas for his guest, put the bath at his disposal, and mixed a strong dose of bromide for him to take upon retiring.
Half an hour later, when he reentered the drawing-room to see whether Cavendish was in need of anything further, he found him standing by the table in his pajamas, trembling, wide-eyed, and very pale.
"What is it?" he asked. "Are you ill?"
"No," answered Cavendish, striving in vain to control the trembling of his lips, "only damnably nervous. Could you—could you give me a drop of brandy, Barclay?"
"Certainly not!" said the Lieutenant-Governor. "Pull yourself together, man! There's your bromide. Take that. It's better than a thousand brandies."
Cavendish turned, lifted the glass, spilling a little as he did so, and swallowed the sedative at a gulp. Then he stretched himself upon the divan and drew the covers close up about his chin. Presently, from the bedroom, Barclay heard him breathing deeply and regularly, and turning on his side, fell into a heavy, dreamless sleep.
He awoke with a start, as the dawn was showing gray through the chinks of his window curtains, with a vague, uneasy sense of something wrong, and lay listening, every nerve strained taut. From the adjoining room came the sound of Cavendish's breathing, but now it was more raucous, more like groan following groan. The Lieutenant-Governor strove in vain to put off the foreboding which lay heavy upon him, until, finally, unable to resist the impulse, he rose, slid his feet into his slippers, and going noiselessly into the drawing-room, stepped to the windows and put the curtains softly aside. What first met his eye as he turned was the door of his little wine-closet in the wall. It was standing wide open, and about the lock the wood was hacked and hewed away in great splinters. On a chair near by lay a rough knife with the blade open and a sliver of wood yet sticking to the point. Then he looked toward the divan. Cavendish was lying face down upon it, outside the blankets, with his head lolling sharply over the edge. His left arm was extended full length toward the ground, where his fingers just touched a bottle of French absinthe, overturned upon its side, and uncorked, with the thick, gummy liquid spread from its mouth in a circular pool on the waxed floor.
The clock on the huge central tower of the Capitol marked nine, as the Lieutenant-Governor passed rapidly through the lofty entrance hall toward the corridor leading to his office and that of Governor Abbott. Already his promptness was proverbial, and there were those in the great, grim building who looked forward to the moment of his arrival, each morning, with a kind of eagerness. These were the simpler folk of the official world with which circumstance housed him for eight hours daily,—bootblacks, elevator-boys, porters, doormen. For to the big, clean, wholesome personality which appeals irresistibly to these humbler people, Barclay added an astonishing memory for faces, and for the names and circumstances connected with them. It was a gift which counted as an unspeakably important factor in the establishment and maintenance of unusually cordial relations with all those with whom he came in contact. No one brought within the radius of his personal magnetism long resisted it. It was only those who judged him from a distance, as did the press and the rank and file of his party, or those who deliberately misinterpreted him, as did his political enemies, who permitted themselves anything short of enthusiasm for John Barclay. And this faculty for attracting admiration and commanding respect, this infallible kindness and this inherent dignity, were never made manifest to so great advantage as in his attitude toward his inferiors. These adored him. He accumulated, bit by bit, a remarkable store of intimate information relating to them, and employed it in his intercourse with them, with a tact and a frank sincerity of interest which never failed of their effect. The response thus elicited was strongest of the minor pleasures in his life. He was aware—none better—of the shrewdness native to those who have no claim upon one's recognition, their appreciation of notice that is unfeignedly interested, their sensitiveness to open indifference, their resentment of the simulated consideration which is mere impertinence; and he was conscious of a little inward thrill of satisfaction at the difference of attitude in the employees at the Capitol as toward Governor Abbott and himself. Where the former's suavity elicited only formal respect, manifestly obligatory, his own whole-heartedness lined his way with smiles and kindly greetings. His official existence, beset with annoyance, mortification, and disappointment, was, as he often reflected, made tolerable only by this friendliness which he, almost unconsciously, inspired. Dogs, children, and his subordinates—the three most intuitively critical classes of beings—were all his friends. The pathway to and from the daily routine, which he was coming to regard as moral martyrdom, was a pathway illumined with sunlight and strewn with flowers!
As the Lieutenant-Governor passed through his ante-room, with a wink at the boy, a nod to the stenographer, and a word of greeting to his private secretary, and entered his office, he was surprised to find the communicating door open, and to hear the sound of a vaguely familiar voice in the Governor's room beyond. In an effort to place the speaker, he hesitated briefly before advancing to a point which would bring him within range of the Governor's eye. Almost immediately, the memory of the convention rushed over him, and he recognized the voice as that of Michael McGrath.
"And it won't be a strike like other strikes," he was saying, "not so long as I'm running it, that is. It's going to mean business from the word go! There's been too much shilly-shallying in the strikes I've known anything about, too much talk, and too much wasting of Union funds. You know what I mean. It isn't enough to tie up a mill, and then hang around on street-corners for two months, waiting for the other side to give in. The only place to hit a man like Rathbawne is in his pocket, and by that I don't mean simply cutting off his income, but chopping into his capital as well. He's got to understand"—
The Lieutenant-Governor walked over to his desk, laid his hat and stick on a chair, and, before removing his overcoat, began turning over the pile of letters which awaited his attention. As he did so, Governor Abbott's voice broke in suavely upon the other's.
"I deprecate any resort to violence," he said. "You must proceed with discretion if you expect the state to maintain an attitude of neutrality. Otherwise, the police or the militia"—
"Oh, to hell with the police and the militia!" broke in McGrath impatiently. "What's the use"—
"There is the Lieutenant-Governor now," interrupted the other. "Perhaps he has some news for us. Mr. Barclay, will you kindly step in here for a moment?"
McGrath was standing on the opposite side of the Governor's table as Barclay entered the room. He acknowledged the latter's curt nod with an ironical bow, slipped his hands into the pockets of his checked trousers, and stood waiting, with his square head thrust forward, for what was to follow.
"Mr. McGrath has called," continued the Governor, "to explain the attitude of the Union in the impending strike at the Rathbawne Mills. I've been telling him of our conversation of yesterday afternoon, and that, as you were to see Mr. Rathbawne last night, you would probably have something to tell us in regard to his position. Were you able to persuade him to a more reasonable view of the situation?"
"I have nothing to add, sir, to what I said yesterday," replied Barclay. "I told you then that I had no intention of endeavoring to influence Mr. Rathbawne's judgment."
"He spoke to you about it?"
"And asked your advice?"
"And you replied?"
The Lieutenant-Governor flushed.
"I beg to suggest, sir," he answered, "that this is hardly the time for me to commit myself as to that. I conceive it to be a matter of official privacy. Mr. McGrath"—
"You have my authority to speak, Mr. Barclay," said the Governor. "Indeed, I desire it. Since one side knows your views, there is no reason why the other should not be informed as well. Mr. McGrath is the president of the Union. It is best that he should know the attitude of the state authorities in this controversy."
"I am not in a position to question your wishes, sir. You should know best."
"One cannot pretend to be infallible, Mr. Barclay," answered the Governor, rubbing his hands. "One can only do what seems to be right and proper under the circumstances. By our conversation of yesterday, I in a measure put the negotiations with Mr. Rathbawne into your hands."
"It is a task I did not seek, sir. Pardon me if I say that it is also one which I should hardly have accepted, had I been aware that in speaking as you did you were actually asking me to assume it. Mr. Rathbawne is my friend, and, moreover, my personal convictions"—
The Governor held up his hand.
"There can be no question of friendship or of personal conviction, Mr. Barclay, in the case of a duty imposed upon a state official. I realize that what you—or I, for that matter—must do in the performance of our obligations, is oftentimes disagreeable, oftentimes at variance with our wishes. But that is unavoidable."
Barclay moved uneasily. The intrusion of this pedantry, so conspicuously insincere, with its implied rebuke, chafed him unspeakably, in view of the presence of McGrath. The Governor had adopted the tone, half authoritative, half reproachful, of a teacher reproving a refractory child.
"My time, as you must know, is inadequate to the demands made upon it. I am forced, on occasions, to turn more or less important matters over to others. To whom more naturally than to you, Mr. Barclay?"
"May I suggest, sir, that there can be no profit in prolonging this discussion? I appreciate the position perfectly, and I am quite prepared to state what I know of Mr. Rathbawne's attitude toward the demands of the Union."
"Ah," said the Governor, "that is as it should be, and as satisfactory as possible. Let me remind you, Mr. Barclay, that it was not I, but yourself, who introduced this digression."
He turned to the president of the Union.
"You will understand from what I have said, Mr. McGrath," he added, "both to the Lieutenant-Governor and to you, that in the matter of the proposed strike, he is, to all intents and purposes, acting in my stead. He was in a position to approach Mr. Rathbawne, and I was not. Now, Mr. Barclay, if you please"—
The Lieutenant-Governor straightened himself instinctively, as, for the first time, he addressed himself to the agitator.
"Mr. McGrath," he said, "my confidence in Mr. Rathbawne's fairness and integrity would have led me to approve any course which he might have seen fit to take. As you have already heard me say, I had absolutely no intention of endeavoring to influence his judgment. Greatly to my surprise, Mr. Rathbawne himself consulted me in the matter, without any suggestion on my part, and asked for my advice."
"That's fortunate," put in McGrath, "very fortunate. You've been able to sidetrack a lot of trouble."
Barclay's eyes hardened at the hypocrisy of the sneer.
"I have pleasure in informing you," he continued, "that, in reply, I advised him to fight the Union in the present dispute to the utmost of his means and ability. I should have counseled him further to hold out until he had spent his last cent and shed his last drop of blood, except that, knowing him as I do, I conceived such a recommendation to be wholly superfluous. Mr. Rathbawne has his character and his record behind him. There is about as much chance of his yielding you an inch of ground as if he were standing with his back against the Capitol!"
McGrath shrugged his shoulders.
"It's a damned funny way you have of not influencing people's judgment," he said.
"I mis-stated my attitude in saying that," retorted the Lieutenant-Governor coolly. "I should have said, what, after all, is self-evident, that I had no intention of trying to influence Mr. Rathbawne in favor of the Union, at least so long as it is acting under your dictation. Its present character is well known—almost as well known as yours, in fact—and I believe its position in this matter to be entirely untenable, unjustifiable, and iniquitous. I may add that if it is, indeed, Governor Abbott's resolve that I am to deal, in his stead, with the question of your proposed strike, you may confidently rely upon having to put the entire state force of Alleghenia out of business before you can even so much as begin to bully Peter Rathbawne into submission!"
"If that's your opinion of the Union," said McGrath sullenly, "it might be interesting to hear your opinion of me."
"You are perfectly welcome to it," replied the Lieutenant-Governor easily. "I consider you an unmitigated blackguard!"
Governor Abbott tipped back his chair and looked at McGrath.
"That's pretty plain talk," he said. "You see how it is, Mr. McGrath. You'll have to go ahead on your own responsibility, and you mustn't be surprised if the State steps in at the first evidence of disorder."
McGrath rose, flecked some specks of dust from his waistcoat, and walked toward the door without a word. On the threshold he turned, looked from the Governor to the Lieutenant-Governor, and back again, and laughed. Then he went out, closing the door softly behind him.
At the Rathbawne Mills it was usual for a huge whistle to give one long blast at noon as a signal for the lunch hour. On that day, however, following McGrath's instructions, the single blast was replaced by five short ones in rapid succession, and three minutes later the employees were pouring through half a dozen gates into the streets surrounding the mills, in laughing, chattering, excited streams.
A majority of the men went directly to a hall in the neighborhood where McGrath had called a mass-meeting for half-past twelve. A minority of them crowded into the saloons of the vicinity, where they pounded on the bars, and filled the close, smoke-grayed air with heated discussion. Several of the discharged hands were in evidence, each surrounded by an attentive group, and expounding more or less inflammatory views. The women gathered in gossiping throngs on the sidewalks, laughing, and pulling each other about by the arms. The boys played ball and leap-frog in the streets, shouting, and whistling through their fingers. In brief, the great strike was on, but, for the time being, it was masquerading in the guise of a public holiday.
At one o'clock the whistle blew again, and a thousand voices whooped a derisive accompaniment, but no one of the throng in the streets made a move toward the mills. Half an hour later, watchmen swung to and bolted the gates, and, issuing presently from a small side entrance, in company, were received with cheers, handshakes, and slaps upon the back. Then the crowd gradually thinned,—many going to the already well-filled hall where McGrath was delivering an address, and others to their homes,—and a silence descended upon the neighborhood, broken only by the voices of the men about the saloon doorways.
At two, Peter Rathbawne, attended by his private secretary, came out of the side entrance and walked slowly away in the direction of his home. He held his head high, and his eyes straight to the front, and paid no attention to the respectful greetings of those of the strikers who saluted him, touching their hats. There were many among them whose hearts sank at this attitude in a man who had made it his boast that he knew every hand in his mills by sight, and who, in the past, had had a nod or a friendly word for each and all of them. For the first time a premonition settled upon them of what this strike, which had been welcomed principally for novelty's sake, might mean. It was the first the Rathbawne Mills had ever known. Some of those who saw the face of Peter Rathbawne that afternoon were already hoping that it might be the last.
The Lieutenant-Governor returned to his apartment for lunch. Cavendish was still sleeping as he had left him, with a stalwart negro porter, summoned from the Capitol by telephone early that morning, watching in a chair. Under Barclay's orders, a carpenter had already removed the splintered door of the wine-closet, and an upholsterer had replaced it by a slender brass rod from which swung a velvet curtain. With his own hands the Lieutenant-Governor had taken away the fallen bottle, mopped up the pool of absinthe, and put the room to rights. Now he dismissed the negro, took from his pocket a little box of strychnine tablets, obtained from his physician on his way from the Capitol, and, after a brief survey of his surroundings to see that all was in order, went over to the divan and shook the sleeping man by the shoulders.
"Come, lazy-bones!" he said, with a laugh. "You've slept over twelve hours. That will do—even for a nervous wreck."
Cavendish opened his swollen eyes slowly, looked at him, and then closed them again with a murmured "Oh, God!" which was like a groan.
To this the Lieutenant-Governor paid no heed. Passing into the bathroom, he turned on the cold water in the tub, poured a half glass of vichy from a syphon, and then returned, carrying the tumbler in his hand. Cavendish had raised himself on one elbow, and was looking stupidly about the room.
"Here you are," said Barclay cheerfully. "Stow this pill, and here's vichy to wash it down. Your bath's running. By the time you've had it, there'll be some clothes ready for you."
Cavendish gulped down the tablet, and sat upright.
"Last night"—he faltered.
For the first time in his life, the Lieutenant-Governor called him by his first name.
"Last night, Spencer," he said, looking him fairly in the eye, "belongs to the past, and is taboo. I won't hear a word about it. This is to-day. Get up, and we'll set about putting wrong right. You're a man again. Don't forget that. And I'm your friend. Don't forget that, either."
His hand rested for an instant on the other's shoulder with a firm pressure, and then he passed into his bedroom and shut the door.
They had lunch together in the dining-room of the "Rockingham," and then went up again to Barclay's rooms. At the door, Cavendish came to a halt.
"I can't stand this," he said.
"You'll have to," replied the Lieutenant-Governor, "so shut up!"
"You've made a change," said Cavendish obstinately, pointing to the curtained cupboard.
Barclay's eyes did not follow the gesture.
"So have you!" he answered. "Now, look here. There are twenty dollars in the waistcoat of that suit, and a letter to Payson of the 'Kenton City Sentinel.' Go down and see him this afternoon, and I think he'll give you a job at reporting, which will fix you up for the present. In another pocket you'll find a box, with three tablets like the one you had before lunch. Take one of them every two hours. In still another pocket there's a key to these rooms. I'm going to be busy till about ten o'clock, so you'll have to shift for yourself. Make yourself at home, and if you're awake I'll see you when I come in."
Taking him suddenly by the shoulders, he twisted him about, facing the chimney piece, on which stood a photograph of Natalie Rathbawne, smiling out of a silver frame.
"I'll leave you to talk it out with her," he added simply.
In the hall, as he passed out, he caught a reflection of Cavendish in a mirror. His hands were resting on the mantel-edge, and he was leaning forward with his haggard face close to the photograph. Barclay looked at his watch.
"Two o'clock," he said to himself, "and all's well!"
THE MIRAGE OF POWER
Barclay was conscious of a feeling of exhilaration such as he had not known for many weeks, as he swung into Bradbury Avenue late that afternoon on his way to the Rathbawne residence. The duties of the day had been inordinately petty and vexatious, but he had dispatched them one and all with something approaching enthusiasm,—a touch of the old Quixotic energy with which he had taken office. The morning conversation in Governor Abbott's room had braced and toned him. He forgot its inauspicious opening, and even his distress at the attempt to force him into the position of mediator between Peter Rathbawne and the Union, in the solid satisfaction of having been able to speak his mind to McGrath, and call that worthy a blackguard to his face. He was a man who despised a quarrel, but, for its own sake, loved a square, hard fight.
Back, however, of this somewhat inadequate excuse for cheerfulness lay the Governor's assurance that in the matter of the strike his lieutenant was to have free rein. It was the first time since the beginning of their official association that Elijah Abbott had placed an actual responsibility in Barclay's hands. A corner-stone laying, a banquet here and there, the opening of a trolley line, or a library, or a sewer,—these were the major calls upon the Lieutenant-Governor's time. The main current of routine was a hopeless monotony of official correspondence, investigations, statistics, reading and reporting on the interminable and flatulent maunderings of the Legislature,—duties heart-breaking in their desperate tedium and maddening inutility.
But at last here was responsibility, actual and deeply significant, calling for the exercise of tact, courage, and immutable firmness. The particular task was not one which he would have coveted, and yet he welcomed it. Anything,—anything to assuage in him that sense of ineptitude, of being ignored, a titled nonentity!
With this vast lightening of spirit came, not only gratitude, but a sense of lenity toward Governor Abbott. He encouraged himself to believe that the note between them had been one of misunderstanding merely. It might not be too late, after all! Gradually, he began to form a mental picture of a growing sympathy and affiliation between them, large with possibilities of improvement for Alleghenia. As he turned into the Rathbawnes' gateway, he could have laughed aloud for very lightness of heart. His optimism was not even impaired by running, in the hall, full against Mrs. Rathbawne.
"Good gracious! Lieutenant-Governor, is that you?"
Repeated and earnest endeavor on Barclay's part had never dissuaded her from this form of address.
"What is the use of having such a title, if one can't call you by it?" she would say, when he remonstrated. "Do you suppose that, if Natalie were engaged to a prince, I should be going around, calling him Tom, Dick, or Harry, instead of 'Your Royal Highness'? You ought to be proud of your title. I am!"
"But, Mrs. Rathbawne"—
"Now, please not, Lieutenant-Governor, please not! I like it best that way."
The north wind was attentive and amenable to the voice of persuasion, in comparison with Josephine Rathbawne.
"Of course you know the strike is on!" she continued now, without waiting for an assurance from Barclay that he was indeed none other than himself. "Isn't it awful? I expect to hear the roar of the mob at any moment! Come into the drawing-room. Natalie was there, only half an hour ago."
And she swept through the doorway, Barclay following.
"Natalie," she began, "here's the Lieu—why, Dorothy! I took you for Natalie. And—er—oh! Why, Mr.—er—how de do? I didn't see you at first. Oh, do turn on the switch, my dear. The place is as black as pitch."
The electric light, flooding the room, revealed young Nisbet, one vast, consuming blush, and Dorothy, with a dangerous light in her eyes, and her lips tightly compressed. It was plain that Mrs. Rathbawne had fallen foul of Dan Cupid's machinery once more!
"Why, Mr. Nisbet! I thought you were in New York."
"I had a telegram this morning, calling the date off," said young Nisbet in pitiable confusion; "that is, I didn't have to go, you know. So I just fell in here to explain. I thought some of you might spot me on the street, and after I'd said"—
He began to flounder hopelessly, and cast a glance of mute appeal at Dorothy. That facile young lady marched directly into the breach.
"If you and John are looking for Natalie," she said, "you'll find her in the library with Dad. How do you do, John?"
"Pretty well, I thank you, Flibbertigibbet. It is really your husband whom I came to see, Mrs. Rathbawne. I've a little business with him, so, for the moment, I'll have to give Natalie the cold shoulder."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Rathbawne, lifting her fat hands. "Of course, Lieutenant-Governor! I understand perfectly. Business before pleasure, always. Go right in, won't you, and send Natalie here to me. I'll stay here. Aren't we going to have tea, Dorothy? Oh, do try to sit up straight, my dear!"
Natalie and her father were bending low over a great portfolio, their heads close together in the yellow glow of the table-lamp, which was the only light in the room. Rathbawne looked up with a grim smile, as the Lieutenant-Governor entered.
"Pottering over my autographs, again, you see," he remarked. "I've been neglecting them shamefully, of late—eh, Natalie? Didn't have the time. It looks just now as if I wouldn't have to complain again of lack of leisure for quite a while!"
"It was that I dropped in to see you about," said Barclay, striving, with only partial success, to keep the exultation out of his voice. "You may not be in for so much leisure as you imagine, Mr. Rathbawne. You may not get much of a holiday, after all."
Without for an instant losing the Lieutenant-Governor's eye, Rathbawne reached out and touched his daughter on the arm.
"Oh, Dad!" she said reproachfully.
"There's no need for her to go, sir," added Barclay, "unless you wish it. I bring only good news."
Acquiescing, Rathbawne drew Natalie close to him, passing one arm across her shoulders, so that his gnarled hand rested firmly on the delicate fabric of her sleeve. Between these two there had always lain a sympathy, an affection, a mutuality of comprehension, more like the relation of husband and wife than that of child and parent.
"Nothing but good news?" answered Rathbawne. "Go on. What is it?"
"News not so much of actual happenings as of potentialities," said the Lieutenant-Governor. "Last night I had to say to you that in the cause of right I was as powerless to aid you as a baby. To-night, I have come to tell you that I am in a position to see justice done, and that I will."
In detail, his voice ringing with enthusiasm and confidence, he described the interview of that morning, his statement of Rathbawne's position, his passage at arms with McGrath, finally, the Governor's announcement that the strike was to be supervised by his lieutenant in his stead.
"I had almost lost hope," he concluded. "I thought my opportunity would never come, and here it is, after all—the chance to act! And, somehow, I feel that it is only the beginning—that, as he gets to understand me better"—
Rathbawne suddenly left his daughter's side, and in three steps was directly before the Lieutenant-Governor. As he interrupted him, his fingers closed upon the lapels of the other's coat, and he punctuated his words with little tugs at these, his knuckles coming together with tiny muffled thuds. He spoke with a gravity that was vibrant with suppressed anger and slow with sincere regret.
"My boy," he said, "it's not a gracious thing to do to spoil an enthusiasm like yours, but don't deceive yourself. Elijah Abbott as a trickster is alone in his class. You were never more powerless to act for the right than you are at this moment."
"But I have his assurance"—
"Oh, his assurance! It isn't worth the ash off your cigar. What, give you a chance to interfere with the will of the Union which made him, and owns him, body and soul? Never in God's world! Listen to me. I spent an hour in his office this very afternoon, discussing the strike—and he never so much as mentioned your name!"
The Lieutenant-Governor winced as if the words had been the touch of a lancet. Then he closed his eyes.
"And I was in the next room," he said, almost as if to himself,—"planning—my—control—of the situation! Good God!"
"I went directly to him," continued Rathbawne, "because I knew that it would be purely and simply a waste of time to parley with the lesser officials who are either helpless or frankly his tools. I knew, too, that no satisfactory result would come of appealing to him, but I wanted to give him the chance. All I asked of him was an assurance that the mills would have proper police protection, and that, if necessary, the militia would be called out in support of order. The outcome was exactly what I expected. Governor Abbott rubbed his hands, and smiled, and said: 'All in good time, Mr. Rathbawne, all in good time. When the conditions seem to warrant it, we can discuss these measures.' That means that they are free to blow the mills to kingdom come, before a finger will be raised by the authorities to prevent them. And what's more, they'll do it! Do you think I don't know McGrath?"
As he had intended it should, this speech had given the other a chance to recover himself. The Lieutenant-Governor's habitual poise was already restored, and his voice, as he answered, was quite steady, but eloquent of his desperate discouragement and weariness.
"I hope it's not as bad as all that, Mr. Rathbawne. It's not necessary to tell you, that for me there can never again be such a thing as trusting the word of Governor Abbott; but, at the same time, I can hardly bring myself to believe that he would openly countenance the practical existence of anarchy in the capital city of Alleghenia."
"Well, I can, then!" declared Rathbawne. "I can believe anything of him! Mark my words, John, he's as sleek a scoundrel as you'll find outside of the State's Prison. He cares less for Alleghenia and her capital city than you do for one of the hairs on his rascally head. I tell you, the Union has bought him, body and soul, and unless a miracle comes down from heaven, I'm a beaten man!"
Barclay bit his lips without replying. In his heart of hearts, he knew that Peter Rathbawne's words were true.
"He'll be impeached, sooner or later," continued the old man, "if there's a speck of decency left in the Legislature—which I doubt. But long before that, John, long before that, I'll be down and out. I would to God you were Governor of Alleghenia, my boy. You're the only ray of hope I can see for her."
The Lieutenant-Governor fell back a step, and covered his face with his hands. For a full minute there was absolute silence. Rathbawne had returned to the table, and, with his fore-arms across the back of a chair, and one foot on the lower cross-bar, was staring vacantly at his autographs, his hands moulding and remoulding each other into an infinity of forms. Natalie was at the window, her face in the crevice between the curtains. The same impulse had prompted both father and daughter. There are some things which it is better not to watch.
They turned at the sound of his voice, to find him with his head flung back, his hands clenched at his sides, his right foot planted firmly in advance of his left, his whole bearing one of passionate earnestness. And, though he was seemingly addressing Rathbawne, there was that in his voice and in his words which was meant for every ear in the state!
"Governor of Alleghenia!" he said, "I would to God I were! Sometimes I almost—yes, sometimes I wholly despair. I love this state, Mr. Rathbawne, as I love nothing else on earth—not even my girl there, not even Natalie. You two are the only ones in the world who can understand what it means when I say that. It has always been so, ever since I was big enough to know what Alleghenia meant, and more than ever since I have come to understand her shame, and her vital peril, and her dire need. I've never tried to explain the feeling; I've never found any one who seemed to share it with me. I hear other men talk of national patriotism, and the flag, and all that, and I understand it, and honor them for it. But—while it may be only a fancy of mine—for me Kenton City comes even before Washington, and even before these United States of America the sovereign state of Alleghenia! I would have her courts incorruptibility itself, her government the perfect commingling of equity and mercy; her press the vehicle of verity, intelligence, and watchfulness; her public servants the faithful exponents of loyalty and diligence; her people, one and all, whatever is best in our interpretation of the word American—and then, something more!—Alleghenians!—citizens, not only of the Republic, but of the state which I would have shine brightest in the field of stars, and be quoted, from Maine to California, and from Florida to Washington, as the synonym for law and order, truth, integrity, and justice. You know how far the dream is from the reality. We are held up to ridicule and contempt as law-breakers, time-servers, and bribe-takers—and we deserve it! I can't see help on any hand. I don't believe our people, as a class, are actually vicious and corrupt—only callous and indifferent, accustomed so long to the spectacle of political chicanery and depravity that they have lost their ability to appreciate its significance. But, so far as results are concerned, it all amounts to the same thing. Once, I hoped I should be able to do something. But now—I'm a nonentity, Mr. Rathbawne, as you know, and not only that, but a man who has taken a false step, from which he can never recover. I'm dead, politically speaking—as dead as Benjamin Butler!"
He paused, drawing a deep breath.
"We were speaking of your interview," he added, more evenly. "What was the result?"
"Nothing, beyond what I've told you," answered Rathbawne, shaking his head. "All I can do is to keep my mouth shut, await developments, and trust in a Providence which it takes a good bit of obstinacy to believe hasn't deserted the state of Alleghenia for good and all. It isn't for my own sake alone, John, that I pray the Union will give in before my people begin to think of violence. You remember '94 in Chicago? Well, we don't want anything like that in Kenton City. It would be the last straw! Alleghenia has a big enough burden of disgrace to carry, as it is."
A servant entered, even as he was speaking, to summon him to the telephone, and with an exclamation of impatience he left the room. Immediately, Natalie stepped from her post at the window, and came toward Barclay with outstretched hands.
"Oh, Johnny boy," she said, "I'm so sorry. How you've been hurt, dear, and disappointed, and cruelly wronged!"
The Lieutenant-Governor's hands clenched again at the sound of sorrow in her voice, and he strove in vain to control the tremor of his lip. Tenderly he put his arms about her.
"I'm sorry, too, little girl—sorry you were here to see me make a fool of myself and then squeal when I got hurt as I deserved. I shouldn't have done that. But I was so proud—so grateful—I thought I was going to be able"—
They held to each other rigidly for an instant, her face against his sleeve, in an agony which no tears came to soothe.
"There!" said Barclay presently. "I'm better already. It does one good to blow off steam, now and again."
His tone lightened perceptibly.
"And look here," he added, "what's most important, after all, is that I have news for you, and ought to be delivering it."
As yet, they did not dare to meet each other's eyes, but Natalie took the cue.
"You can spare yourself the trouble, my lord," she retorted, sweeping him a curtsy. "I can guess what it is, without your aid. You've found him!"
"How did you know?"
"I didn't. But you will remember that I asked you to find him. The inference is as plain as a pikestaff."
"Arrogance! But you're right. I have. He has been at my rooms since last night. He was frightfully shaky, and utterly despondent, but he's taking something to settle his nerves, and I've no doubt a week or so of good food and straight living will bring him around into something like his old form."
"Boy dear! And you're taking care of him?"
"Oh, just directing the cure, that's all! I'll tell you more when I can report definite progress. Do you suppose there is a single secluded corner in all this mansion which has not already been preempted by Dorothy and Nisbet?"
He slipped his arm about her again, and together they went out, across the wide hall, toward the drawing-room. Rathbawne was standing at the telephone under the stairway, but, as they approached him, he replaced the receiver, and stepped forth under the light of the chandelier. They both halted, shocked into speechlessness by the look on his face. The past ten minutes seemed to have added a decade to his age. His cheeks were white and drawn, and with his hands he groped before him, as if he had been stricken blind. As he came close to them, he lifted his head, and peered first at his daughter, and then at Barclay, seeming barely to recognize them.
"Dad! What is it?" said the girl, in a voice just above a whisper.
Rathbawne raised his hand, and pushed back the hair from his forehead.
"A message—from Payson—of the 'Sentinel,'" he mumbled. "It seems there's a fire—a fire on Charles Street—near the mills—one of my buildings—a shop—a shop. Some one in the crowd—threw a torch in at the window—there is a great crowd—a throng of strikers—watching—cheering the flames—hissing the firemen. They've begun early—and this is only the beginning! My people—my people"——
He stumbled forward, and would have fallen, but that his daughter caught him. To his dying day Barclay remembered how, as he sprang to aid her, her hands gleamed, white and slender, against the black of Peter Rathbawne's coat.
The hush that followed was broken presently by the sound of the old man's choking sobs, and the low, soothing tones of Natalie, murmuring against his ear. From the drawing-room came indeterminate scraps of Mrs. Wynyard's gay chatter, as she regaled Mrs. Rathbawne with the gossip gleaned in a round of calls. She herself was partly visible, drawing off her gloves before the fire. From the music-room beyond issued the chords of Dorothy's none-too-sure accompaniment, and young Nisbet's superb, full tenor:—
"'Ah, love, could you and I with fate conspire To grasp the sorry scheme of things entire'"—
But, in the Lieutenant-Governor's imagination, another sound mingled with and dominated these,—the voice of Michael McGrath, as he had heard it that morning, through the open door of Governor Abbott's room:—
"It won't be a strike like other strikes, not so long as I'm running it, that is. It's going to mean business from the word go!"
THE GOVERNOR UNMASKS
One spotted peach will contaminate an entire basket, one drop of ink cloud a full glass of clear water. It was so in the case of the strikers at the Rathbawne Mills. Their unwonted idleness, the long succession of empty hours, already, among the more improvident, the preliminary pressure of privation's teeth,—all these made them easy prey for the sophistries of men like McGrath and his associates. At first they simply laughed at the arraignments of Peter Rathbawne as a plutocrat, a slave-master, and an oppressor of the poor, knowing better in their hearts. But the memory of past kindness is too apt to be the most fleeting of human impressions. On the one side the gates of the Rathbawne Mills remained obstinately closed, and, though Rathbawne himself manifested no intention of resorting to the intolerable importation of "scab" labor, he persisted in his refusal to treat with the Union so long as the discharge of the fifteen men remained a subject proposed for debate. On the other hand, the denunciations of McGrath and the other Union orators were constant, unavoidable, and sufficiently plausible to produce an impression, and linger in the mind. And, meanwhile, to and fro among the strikers, stalked, arm in arm, the spectres of idleness and starvation, the one smirking openly, the other, as yet, half-veiled. Altogether it was fertile ground.
After the burning of Mr. Rathbawne's shop, on the first night of the strike, ensued a week of comparative quiet. The outrage had been flagrant, the source, if not the very author, of it was known, and the police did—nothing. For three days the press of Kenton City blazed with indignation, excepting only the "Record," which openly favored the strikers, and then all the papers alike suddenly ceased to refer to the incident at all. For, while McGrath was not in favor of wasting the funds of the Union, he was as well aware as the next man that a dollar, as well as a stitch, in time, saves nine.
Herein lay the cardinal peril of Alleghenia. As John Barclay had said, it was not that her people, as a class, were corrupt or criminal, but merely that they viewed with easy tolerance evidences of laxity and lawlessness which would have set the citizens of another state by the ears, and filled the newspaper columns and the public forums with indignation and protest. In this respect, the papers of Kenton City were the most flagrant offenders. Even the most reputable, the "Sentinel," could be silenced at practically any moment by those cognizant of the method, and in a position to command the price, of manipulation. As a whited sepulchre it was a conspicuous success, being irreproachably scholarly, dignified, and didactic in tone, and wholly destitute of principle.
Michael McGrath, demagogue though he was, knew his public as the physician knows the pulse he feels. It was a feature of the strike at the Rathbawne Mills that no attempt was made to justify the cause of the strikers in the eye of the disinterested public of Kenton City. McGrath himself was fully alive to the slenderness of his pretext, and alive, as well, to the strength of Peter Rathbawne's case, if it should come to a discussion of the rights and wrongs involved, wherein his business probity and his justice to, and consideration for, his employees, would furnish arguments well-nigh unanswerable. He contented himself, therefore, with standing upon a simple declaration of the will of the Union, which was, in effect, his own; and, strong in his reliance, if not upon the support, at least upon the non-interference of the state authorities, devoted his attention to holding the press in check, by methods long since found effectual, and confidently left the public to think and act as it saw fit.
There could have been no more contemptuous comment upon the moral and intellectual status of the community than this insolent assumption of its indifference to the commonest principles of justice, but for a time his confidence had the appearance of being amply justified. The strike went its way, characterized by an infinity of petty outrages and a constant and consistent vilification of Peter Rathbawne, while—with the exception of that first and promptly quashed protest on the part of the press—no voice was raised in opposition.
Reduced to its lowest terms, the struggle was one between Rathbawne and McGrath, and that, not as representatives the one of a great industrial, the other of a great socialistic organization, but as individuals. The source of the stream which had thus reached its rapids, and was plunging on toward its annihilating cataract, lay far back in the early days of Rathbawne's commercial career. McGrath was a man who practiced neither the vice of forgetfulness nor the virtue of forgiveness. As plain as the event of a yesterday lay upon his memory his contemptuous dismissal from Rathbawne's employ, charged in particular with a petty peculation, and in general with the indisputable fact of being a bad influence in the mills. His case had been in many ways identical with that of the men whose cause he was now, for reasons of his own, espousing.
But Peter Rathbawne, then less shrewd in estimating men than now, had reckoned without due credit to the vindictiveness and pertinacity of the man before him. McGrath—brutally handsome in those days, idle, insolent, and independent—later had developed qualities of which at the time there was little evidence. He had smiled and shrugged his shoulders—a habit which had grown upon him—as Rathbawne gave his verdict, and had instinctively resisted the temptation to threaten revenge. For that inspiration he had been devoutly grateful ever since. It had enabled him to work in silence and unseen, like a mole, toward the goal at which he aimed. He was a poker player, was Michael McGrath, of the class which pulls victory out of defeat by the aid of its own personality and a low pair. The calm indifference with which he had received his dismissal from the employ of Peter Rathbawne seemed to him, on reflection, to have been the unconscious forerunner of the elaborate nonchalance with which he now viewed the unexpected filling of a broken straight. It was certain that the other player had not guessed the strength of his cards.
He had never forgiven, never forgotten. It had taken a quarter-century of unremitting effort, of indomitable perseverance, of calculated ingenuity, to secure to him the position which he now felt to be assured—that of being able to cope with the man who had been his adversary, and so overwhelmingly his superior. The fight was on at last,—a fight in which the odds were not only equal, but, if anything, in favor of the former mill-hand, thus become one of the most powerful men in Alleghenia; a fight to be fought to the bitter finish, with an almost certain triumph as his reward.
Added to these motives was another,—newer, it is true, but none the less potent,—his hatred for the Lieutenant-Governor. He had been able to laugh within a half-minute after the words "unmitigated blackguard" had smitten his ears; but they had rankled for all that. It was not so much the insult, as the knowledge that it was justified. He was remarkably candid with himself, was Michael McGrath.
Hence the unparalleled venom of the strike at the Rathbawne Mills. McGrath's dual sense of wounded vanity prescribed a course of surpassing vindictiveness. His personal resentment, reinforced by consummate appreciation of the adversaries with whom he had to deal, dictated a safe road to revenge, which enabled him to fling wide the floodgates of his long-stored animosity, secure in his knowledge of having the upper hand. Disorder, calumny, outrage, even open anarchy—he could venture upon them unafraid. A corrupt Governor, whom he had created, stood behind him, smiling tolerantly. An indifferent community would let him have his will. Only he must proceed by degrees, and be ready at any moment to take one backward step for the sake of being able presently thereafter to take two in advance.
Here precisely lay the weak point in his plan of campaign. With the fatuity incidental on occasions to even the shrewdest minds, he had not counted upon independence in the host which he believed slave to him, in thought and word and deed. He rated himself the dictator, the prompter without whose suggestion no one of all the players in this gigantic tragedy could speak his line. As a matter of fact, like all leaders of his class, he could drive his followers forward at will, while totally unable to hold them back. He was wholly master so long as he used the spur. The peril lay in the fancied efficacy of the curb. In short, he was discovering already that he had unwittingly created a monster beside which Frankenstein's was the veriest doll.
Thus, shortly, the strain began to tell upon the four thousand unemployed sets of nerves around the Rathbawne Mills. Meetings became more frequent and more turbulent; drinking and disorder were observably on the increase; and at the end of another four weeks one of the gates of the mills was beaten down, and several hundred men and boys paraded around shop after shop, breaking windows and singing ribald songs. It was not a very serious demonstration in itself. Its ominous feature lay in the fact that the police made no attempt to check it. There was something else about it, to the thinking of McGrath. It was not so much that events were moving too fast, but that they were moving without intelligent control.
Two nights later, another building belonging to Peter Rathbawne, and situated only a half-block from the mills, was burned in the same manner as the first, watched by an enormous crowd of strikers, who applauded each fresh burst of flame, as if the fire had been a circus or a play. Still there was no move on the part of the police.
Then it was that the business men of Kenton City sat up in their office chairs and began to think. This was an eventuality entirely outside the calculations of McGrath. But the pachydermatous inertia of the citizens of Alleghenia had yet its vulnerable spot, where the weapon might enter. Vaguely these men had known that the state was rotten, but the fact had never been brought to their attention in a manner so poignantly suggestive before. Unwittingly McGrath had aroused the suspicion that it was not the purse of Peter Rathbawne alone which was in danger. If it was possible for disorder to go to such extremes in the very streets of Kenton City without fear of interference or rebuke, then no man's property was safe. That thought was the Achilles' heel of the community. So it was that a Citizens' Committee, composed of presidents of two insurance companies, directors from five banks, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade, and, finally, Colonel Amos Broadcastle, was appointed to wait upon the Mayor. That gentleman, as was entirely to be expected, referred them to the Governor, and to the Governor they went.
Barclay was present at the interview. For his own reasons Governor Abbott had kept his immediate subordinate well to the fore in all matters pertaining to the strike since the latter's rebuke to McGrath,—in all matters, that is to say, not involving the exercise of actual authority. Of that, indeed, the Lieutenant-Governor had had no hope after the conversation in Peter Rathbawne's library. He met the representatives of the press, conducted the correspondence with mill-owners and other negatively interested parties, and at the Governor's request made what was palpably a farcical inspection of the entire state militia—to judge of their readiness for strike service!—a task which consumed a fortnight in constant travel, and visits to armories all alike in insufficient equipment and utter slovenliness. The Ninth Regiment alone remained, and this command was to parade for inspection by the Governor himself that very evening. The coincidence flashed through Barclay's mind as the Citizens' Committee entered, with Broadcastle, in his capacity as spokesman, at its head.
The dignity and air of command habitual to the Colonel of the Ninth were doubly apparent as he advanced toward the Governor's table. Both Barclay and Abbott rose to receive him, but the latter reseated himself, as soon as Broadcastle had introduced his fellow-members of the Committee. He listened to what followed with an air of thoughtfulness, tinged with a faint and exasperating suggestion of amusement. At a neighboring table, his official stenographer took down every word which fell.
Colonel Broadcastle was not accustomed to mince matters, when the occasion demanded brevity and conciseness. Now, he stepped to within a few feet of the Governor's table, and stood rigidly confronting him, with his hands clasped before him on the head of his stick, in the position of parade-rest.
"Governor Abbott," he said, in his curt, dry voice, "these gentlemen and myself form a Committee appointed by a meeting of the business men of Kenton City, to protest against the state of affairs now existing in connection with the strike at the Rathbawne Mills. It is only generous to presume that other matters have diverted your attention from an appreciation of these conditions. The situation is without parallel in the annals of Alleghenia. Disorder is rampant, and destruction of property is freely indulged in by the strikers without any apparent fear of molestation. Despite the fact that there is a large police-force, it makes no effort to check these operations. The sole reply of Chief Pendle to the protests of those interested in the promotion of law and order has been that he will not suffer any outside interference in the control of his department—the which, in view of his responsibility to the public, can only be regarded as sheer and intolerable insolence! An appeal to Mayor Goadby has elicited the response that the whole matter lies in the Governor's hands."
The Colonel paused. The Governor, leaning back in his chair, and fingering a pencil, smiled slightly and nodded his head.
"I suppose that is so," he said. "Continue, continue, Colonel Broadcastle."
"It is the sense of the law-abiding element of Kenton City," went on the Colonel, flushing at the condescension of his tone, "that the limit of endurance has been reached. If, willfully or otherwise, the police do not act, my regiment is prepared to act as substitute. I have already placed it at the service of the Adjutant-General. His reply, like the Mayor's, was to refer me to you for orders. I am here to receive them, sir."
"Your offer is appreciated," said the Governor suavely. "We of Kenton City have reason to be proud of the Ninth, Colonel Broadcastle. I congratulate myself upon my privilege of reviewing it, to-night. And we have reason to be proud, as well, of the intelligence which has made such an organization possible. Your disinterested devotion"—
Broadcastle flung up his chin.
"I am not here to receive compliments, sir!" he said abruptly.
"Nor I to bestow them," answered the Governor, unruffled. "As commander-in-chief of the state forces, I believe it is not outside my province to render deserved commendation to a subordinate."
"Oh, do not let us juggle with words, Governor Abbott! It is precisely as commander-in-chief of the state forces that the time has come for you to act; it is precisely as your subordinate that I am here to receive your orders. Assume the responsibility which confronts you, issue the commands proper to the emergency, and you will have no more tireless executor of them than I. My regiment can be on duty at the Rathbawne Mills inside of six hours"—
"But, my good Colonel Broadcastle," broke in the Governor, "the state has no need of your regiment for the moment! Calling upon the militia is no light matter, sir. You talk about my ordering out the Ninth as you would advise me to ring for a messenger-boy!"
"The welfare of the municipality, if not that of the commonwealth," replied Colonel Broadcastle firmly, "demands that an immediate stop be put to this lawlessness. We are dealing with extremities, sir!"
The Governor swung forward, and placed his elbows on the table.
"You will permit me to be the best judge of what the welfare of the commonwealth may be," he retorted. "Whatever lawlessness exists—and I think you have grossly exaggerated its extent, Colonel Broadcastle—is due to the selfish obstinacy of one man. In my opinion, Mr. Rathbawne is entirely in the wrong. He had fair warning, which he did not choose to heed. If his property suffers at the hands of the strikers, he has only himself to blame."
"It is not a question of Mr. Rathbawne, or of any other individual," said Broadcastle, "but of the integrity of the state of Alleghenia!"
"The integrity of the state of Alleghenia," answered the Governor dryly, "has been intrusted, by the vote of her citizens, to me, as chief executive."
"An action," exclaimed the Colonel, "which I venture to predict they will shortly have reason most bitterly to regret!"
Governor Abbott rose abruptly to his feet.
"This interview is at an end, Colonel Broadcastle," he said, bringing his fist down upon the table with a thud. "I take exception to your remarks, from first to last. I consider myself fully competent to deal with the situation, and you may depend, sir, I shall do so at my own time, and in my own way. If Mr. Peter Rathbawne supposes that he can defy reason and justice at will, and that the state authorities are prepared to support him, he is grossly and fatally mistaken. Gentlemen, I have the honor to bid you good-day!"
For a quarter-minute, the two men stood facing each other, without speaking. It was observable that the eyes of neither flinched. Then—
"It is my earnest hope, Elijah Abbott," said the Colonel slowly, "to see you impeached by a righteously indignant community, and committed for a term of years to the State's Prison at Mowberly, for rank malfeasance in office!"
The Governor shrugged his shoulders.
"Your record and your position protect you, Colonel Broadcastle," he said, with something of his usual suavity. "Will you have the goodness to retire?"
As the Citizens' Committee left the room the Lieutenant-Governor turned on his heel, passed into his office, and closed the door.
For a long time he sat motionless at his desk, with his temples in his hands, staring at a frame upon the opposite wall, which contained the emblazoned arms of Alleghenia. These were a hand holding even balances, upon a circular shield, supported by the nude figures of two young men, representing Art and Labor. Above, upon a scroll, were the words, "Justitia. Lex. Integritas."
It was not only bad heraldry, but indifferently appropriate symbolism.
THE NINTH PASSES IN REVIEW
The huge armory of the Ninth, transformed, by the same system which had metamorphosed the personnel of the regiment itself, from a gaunt, barn-like structure, ill-fitted to its purpose in all but size, to the most cheerful, as well as the most completely equipped, of Alleghenian arsenals, was blazing with light and echoing to the sound of many voices. A steady stream of people poured in at the heavy doors, now standing wide, but significant, with their great timbers, elaborate locks and bolts, and precautionary peep-holes, of the possibility of an attitude less hospitable. Threading their way at a rapid pace through the more sluggish main current of the crowd, the members of the regiment, in an infinite variety of civilian attire,—from tweeds and knickerbockers to top-hats and evening-dress,—sought their respective company-rooms, vanished therein, and, presently, reappeared in uniform. It was as if behind those ten doors which lined the upper corridor there were as many moulds, identical in form, where-into this perplexing diversity of raw material was plunged on entering, to be drawn forth again in a constant reduplication of militiamen.
As the hour for the review drew near, the proportion of these to the throng with which they mingled, perceptibly increasing, seemed, little by little, to leaven the whole lump. The dress-uniform of the Ninth was everywhere, the black shakos and epaulettes, white pompons, cross-belts and gloves, and multiplicity of brass buttons, lending the immense assemblage a singular spirit and vivacity.
On the floor of the drill-room the people spread in all directions, fan-like, from the main doorway, the multitudinous footfalls mounting murmurously into the spaces of the lofty roof, where forty arc-lights hung, dizzily suspended, pallid in the thin haze of dust swung upwards from the hurrying feet of the thousands below.
"Precisely like an army of ants—and every one of them with an uncle or two, and a round dozen of nephews and nieces!" said Mrs. Wynyard.
She and the Rathbawne girls were looking down upon the drill-floor from the balcony of the Colonel's room. Broadcastle and the Lieutenant-Governor were deep in conversation inside, having seized the delay in the arrival of Governor Abbott as an opportunity for a few words in private.
"How funny they are, scuttling along, all of them!" said Dorothy. "And how immensely pleased the favored ones are, who have a soldier to show them the way. I see a distinct difference in their walk from that of the others, don't you, Natalie? They seem to be saying 'We were invited—and by this splendiferous creature at our side!' See how they strut! And look at the soldierless ones, how timidly they go—just as if they had found their tickets in the street, or had crept in through the basement windows. 'Please, kind Mr. Soldier-man, let us stay and see the show. We'll be awf'ly good!'"
"How preposterous you are, Dorothy!" answered Mrs. Wynyard. "Look! The people are taking to the sides of the room already, and the companies are forming. What astonishing method and precision there is to it all! Do you suppose each man has a little circle marked on the floor, to show just where he is to stand?"
"I haven't the most remote doubt of it," said Natalie, with a smile,—"and his name neatly lettered inside it with gilt paint!"
The long, enclosed racks at the ends of the drill-room were open now, and the electric light winked upon the barrels of the Springfields, as busy, white-gloved hands plied the polishing cloths along them. The enormous drill-floor, cleared as if by magic from the disorderly weed-growth which had encumbered it, began to make manifest its proper crop—long lines of gray and white, like sprouting sage, at first but a dot here and there, to indicate the direction, then a scattering, then distinct clumps, finally a thick, serried row. In the distance, a bugle sounded, followed by a long ruffle of drums, and Colonel Broadcastle stepped quickly to the window of the balcony.
"There's the Governor," he said. "Will you come in? I'll send my orderly to show you to your seats."
At the same moment, the door from the corridor opened, and the orderly entered, his hand at his shako.
"Sir, the Governor has arrived."
Then, as the trio on the balcony stepped in through the window, he turned suddenly and superlatively scarlet. As has been said, young Nisbet was accustomed to getting what he wanted. In this instance what he had wanted happened to be that the Adjutant should choose him from the guard detail as Colonel's orderly. To be thus chosen was to be admittedly the most immaculate of thirty men, all more immaculate than a thousand immaculate others. The thing was not easy of achievement, but Dorothy Rathbawne was to be present at the review, and so—there was no second way about it—it simply had to be done. Young Nisbet's way of doing it was an absolutely new uniform and gold-plated buttons and accoutrements. Extravagance? Vanity? Perhaps! But at the present moment, he was wearing one cross-belt where his thousand and odd comrades were wearing two. There was no answer to such an argument as that.
Colonel Broadcastle had reserved seats for the party on the temporary reviewing stand, and, five minutes after they had taken their places, the bugles sang again, a curt order—"'shun! 'shun!"—ran in varying intonations from company to company, and the slack gray ranks before them stiffened into absolute rigidity. Then from the broad hallway beyond came a tremendous burst of sound, and, to the strains of the famous old march of the Ninth, the regimental band swung into view, followed by Governor Abbott and Colonel Broadcastle and the former's staff.
To the Lieutenant-Governor, but newly returned from his wearisome round of the state armories, much of what followed was so stale as to be no more than a constantly increasing strain upon nerves already overtaxed. He deliberately allowed his attention to wander, until he felt rather than actually perceived the steady tramp-tramp of the men, swinging, fours right, into column, the occasional "hep! hep!" of an officious file-closer, the endless succession of fours winking past him, like the palings of a gray fence seen from the window of a train, the intervals narrowed by short-step, widening again at the "Forward—march!" the blare of the band, lessening as it approached the further end of the building, then suddenly bursting into its former volume at the right-about. He endured it all listlessly. It was tediously familiar, stamped upon his brain by repetition after repetition.
Moreover, he was completely fagged, and unutterably oppressed by his burden of discouragement. The old wounds, in part healed by his recent absence from the immediate vicinity of his constant discomfiture, had been re-opened and set bleeding afresh by Governor Abbott's treatment of the Citizens' Committee. Whatever lingering hope had remained in his mind of peace with honor for the troubled capital of Alleghenia, seemed to have been effectually dispelled by that interview. The most enduring charity, the most fatuous credulity, the blindest partisanship—even these could not have preserved a last spark of confidence in Elijah Abbott. Still less was Barclay's indeterminate hope of the ultimate triumph of right able to stand against such crushing evidence of its instability. It was no longer a question of suspicions, of precedents, of deductions from the significance of a host of former misdoings. Out of his own mouth was the Governor convicted. "At my own time, and in my own way," he had said. It was a phrase, nothing more, and could be boiled down until its whole purport was contained in one word—Never!
"Fours left—March! Companee—halt!"
The entire regiment, as one man, swung from column of fours into battalion front, halted, and then—cr-r-rick! boooo-m-m-m!—came to order arms. The sides of the room were lined with a solid rampart of white and gray and gold. Barclay was aware of the First Sergeants, scurrying from their positions to report, of their voices, and those of the Majors and the Adjutant, and, finally the Colonel:—
"Take your post, sir!"
But his thoughts were anywhere and everywhere else. What a farce it all was, this life which he was leading, this mental and moral martyrdom to an impossible hope, this eternal and heart-sickening ordeal of hope deferred, this waiting, waiting, waiting, for something which never would and never could happen! Rotten, rotten to the core, this state for which he would have given his heart's blood, and not only rotten, but not caring a whit for her rottenness—glorying rather, in her own degradation. The chief executive had flung back into their very faces the appeal to his conscience of the most influential men in Kenton City; the police, even now seated about their station stoves, were sniggling at the predicament of the public which paid them for its protection against precisely the kind of thing which they openly tolerated and encouraged; yes, and even the militia, the guarantee of law and order, Broadcastle's own command, were decked out in tinsel and pipeclay, strutting to music in a palpable bid for applause and admiration. And yonder—the tide of anarchy was slowly but surely rising about the Rathbawne Mills, presaging riot, bloodshed, God alone knew what!—but one thing, inevitably,—the absolute downfall of dignity and rout of decency in Alleghenia!
Suddenly, his old intrepid spirit of resolution reasserted itself, but doubtfully, like the flame of a lamp flaring once out of dimness before it dies forever. Was it for this that he had devoted the best thought of his youth and his earlier manhood to plans for the betterment of his state? Should he now, at this, the hour of her supremest political and moral peril, desert her as irredeemable, and join the ranks of those who sneered at her, and pointed mocking fingers at her shame and nakedness?
"Your loquacity faintly suggests that of a mummy," said Natalie, at his side.
"I was alone with my thoughts," answered the Lieutenant-Governor, turning to her with an attempt at a smile, "and pretty black ones they were, at that!"
"Alleghenia again—and always. This business is becoming an obsession with me. I haven't had a chance to tell you, and I can't very well explain now. I'll have to leave it till I see you to-morrow. But something happened to-day which drove another nail—and one of the last!—into the coffin of my faith. There's not a gleam of hope anywhere."
"Don't you see hope in all this?" asked Natalie, with a little, indicative gesture toward the scene before them. "Somehow, it is impressing me tremendously to-night—more than ever before. I seem to understand better what it means, what it stands for."
"It's a stale enough story with me," said Barclay. "Remember, I've been doing just about nothing but watch this kind of thing for the past two weeks. After all, what does it amount to but a thousand possibilities parading like peacocks?"
"How unlike you, that speech! It amounts to a vast deal more than that, Johnny boy,—oh, infinitely more! I don't speak of the other regiments you have seen. This is different. Well, what does it amount to? Who and what are these thousand peacocks of yours? Aren't they the very flower of Kenton City, the youngest and best blood in our veins, gathered by one good man's will into an organization of sterling loyalty, with one great aim in view, and that the support and protection and preservation of all that is best in Alleghenia? The very fact that such a body of men exists among us is in the nature of a guarantee, it seems to me, that we shall come out all right in the end. Have you noticed their faces?—many of them so absurdly boyish, all of them so honest, and manly, and—and—American, John! They are the personifications of your ideal of that afternoon in the library—Americans, and something more—Alleghenians! And, to prove it, they are freely giving a portion of their time and their strength, in order that there may be at least one thing in Kenton City which is without fear and without reproach. I wonder—I wonder, John, whether it isn't the old story, after all: whether you haven't been wandering all over the world, like the prince in the fairy-book, looking for the magic talisman that is to save the state you love, while, all the time, it has been lying at your very door? Oh, this means something—I'm too stupid to interpret it as you could—but I know it's there, and that it would help you and encourage you. Let me try. Look there! A single purpose animates them all—the maintenance of the standard which Colonel Broadcastle set for them, and the record they have made for themselves."
Colonel Broadcastle's voice was sweeping the armory, as he put the regiment through the manual of arms.
"One has only to hear one of them—Mr. Nisbet, for example—say 'the Ninth' to find the hope of which you are in search. These men say it as others say 'God' or 'my mother'—as you yourself, Johnny boy, say 'Alleghenia.'"
With a single click, a thousand rifles fell into position, a thousand left feet smote the floor in unison, and the light rippled and twinkled along a solid line of flashing steel.
"There! A single voice,—a single, mighty response! Don't you see the wonderful suggestiveness of it? Don't you feel the presence of the enormous reserve force which lies behind all this? Oh, believe me, John, this is a weapon too mighty to lie unused, and too intelligent to be misused, if the worst come to the worst. After all, as no one knows better than yourself, it's not your own advancement you're looking for, it's that of the state. Well, there may be other agencies, perhaps entirely independent of you or of your influence, but none the less invaluable. For example, you are close upon despair—and yet, before your fears come true, the forces of wrong will have to fight their way, step by step, through this rampart of American manhood!"
Barclay touched her hand lightly, as she ceased speaking. In the midst of the thousands about them, they were alone as they had never been before.
"Thank you," he said simply. "Thank you, littlest and wisest in the world!"
The regiment was in motion again, skirting the room in column of fours, preparatory to the march-past: but now the Lieutenant-Governor surveyed it from a new, and a dual point-of-view,—as a thousand individuals, that is, each a potential factor for immeasurable good in the coming rehabilitation of the state; and, then, as a vast fighting-machine perfect in every detail, resistless and awe-inspiring in its very integrity. He noted the faces as they passed—stern, intelligent faces, young, for the most part, and curiously refined, intent upon correct performance of the present duty, and touched, almost without exception, with an enthusiasm born of the martial music and the rhythmic tramp of advancing feet. He saw the quick, reciprocal glance of the pivot and flank men, as the fours, in perfect alignment, swept round into company-front; the long, easy compression and give of the compact lines, acquiring correct adjustment; the rigid tenure of chests and shoulders; the firm fling of slender gray legs, as regularly intervaled as the teeth of a giant comb. Company by company, the regiment fell into the cadence of full-step. Midway, the standards of the Republic and Alleghenia rippled side by side. And so, with blare of brass and sharp staccato of snare-drums, with sheen of rifles and accoutrements, with flash of slender swords, raised in salute,—above all and always, with that magnificent unanimity, that mighty pulse of the thunderous advance, the Ninth swept past its Governor and its Colonel in review.
And then, in an instant, as it seemed, the vast square was formed again, a sharp command rang out, the rifles snapped to a present-arms, the standards dipped, and the strains of the "Star-Spangled Banner" mounted triumphantly to the great girders of the lofty roof. The multitude of spectators rose at the sound, and the Lieutenant-Governor rose with them, his heart aglow with new inspiration, new hope, and new resolve. The band was almost speaking the words of the anthem on the dust-grayed air:—
"Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?"
To the accompaniment of a myriad clapping hands, the Lieutenant-Governor resumed his seat, shaken by a novel, tremendous emotion. Yes! a thousand times yes! The star-spangled banner, symbol of loftiest ideals and purest purposes, mute memorial and reminder of devotion incalculable and sacrifice without bound, guarantee of liberty and brotherhood, mercy, equality, and justice—yet waved! And, part and indissoluble portion of its inspiring memories and illustrious destinies, the star of Alleghenia yet blazed upon its azure field! He had been living in a world of unrealities, in a valley of shadow, grayed by portents of failure and despair. His eyes had been narrowed to see the pitfalls which lined his path, to the stumbling-blocks, the briers, the indescribable sordidness of his personal position and his immediate surroundings. Now, he looked up and horizonward. The thunder-clouds of official depravity and duplicity which darkened the way of his endeavor—were they able, after all, to blot out the memory of the clear, high sky above?
As this thought came to him, it was almost as if, in actuality, a brooding heaven had been rent asunder, revealing the steel-blue of the infinite ether permeated with the supreme radiance of noon; and at the incursion of this illuminating element the host of his discouragements dwindled and disappeared, like noisome little prowlers of the night, scuttling to cover at the abrupt break of a tropical day. For a moment, he strove to realize whence the light had come, and in what consisted this sovereign ally, hitherto uncalculated, of his optimism. As he tracked his thought, it led him undeviatingly back to its direct inspiration, the words of Natalie Rathbawne.
"Before your fears come true"—she had said.
Before his fears came true—well, what? The revelation leaped at him full and fair now, and every nerve sang like a taut wire in answer to its touch. Before his fears came true, this wretched little world of petty chicanery and official corruption which surrounded and sickened him would be wiped out of existence. Abbott—McGrath—their machinations and their misdeeds—their lies and their ambitions—their power and their pride,—they were newts that fouled a pool, gnats in the sunshine, cinders on the snow. Towering above them, ready, at an instant's notice, to crush them out of being, was the rock of ages, the righteous spirit of Alleghenia, integral and indestructible, illumined by the ancient, undimmed, and eternal sense of rectitude inherent in the American people!
Not by his agency, perhaps—perhaps not even in his day,—nevertheless and infallibly, the right was bound to conquer in the end. The clear eyes and the firm mouths of the men of the Ninth spoke it, their rifles, their broad shoulders, and their precision confirmed and guaranteed it, and back of these stood the great, taciturn figure of the People, a smile upon its calm and silent lips. When those lips should speak, as speak they would, their words would be the annihilation of Elijah Abbott and of all his kind!
Meanwhile—the bitterness—the disappointments—the humiliations—ah, in a moment, how they had grown shrunken, and wizened, and old! For out of the radiance of revelation, as Christ of old spoke to His disciples, so now the spirit of Alleghenia spoke to her Lieutenant-Governor.
"What is that to thee? Follow thou Me!"
Like a woman, the spirit of her cried unto him, and, like a man, the spirit of John Barclay answered.
A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER
Much to Barclay's satisfaction, Cavendish had obtained his appointment as a city reporter on the staff of the "Sentinel." Even the first week of the new life thus entered upon had produced a vast change in his manner and appearance. Though the Lieutenant-Governor had seen him but once, when he came to repay the loan made him—in itself, of all signs of restoration to a normal attitude, the most significant—he found that his complexion had cleared and softened, and his eye perceptibly brightened. He was clean-shaven once more, and his dress, while of strict simplicity, was yet suggestive of the old days when he had been called the most fastidious man in Kenton City. He held himself straighter, too, with his shoulders thrown back and his head up; and Barclay had noted, with quiet gratification, that there was not a tremor about the hands which unfolded and smoothed the bills he had come to return. One evidence alone remained of the desperate ordeal through which he had passed. His voice, formerly firm and vibrant with a spirit that was half gayety, half arrogance, was now indescribably modulated, and touched with a melancholy which was not that of servility, still less of shame. Rather, it was an unspeakably appealing regret, a monotonous listlessness, a suggestion of hopeless surrender to something tragic and inevitable. Barclay was puzzled by it. It seemed illogical, and evaded him, like a melody with a dimly familiar motif which he was unable to place or even fully recall. It haunted him singularly, when Cavendish had left, and afterwards, in his leisure moments, came back to him, striving, as he fancied, to make itself understood. Intimately candid as their recent relation had been, here was something unexplained, which he could not come at, and which was yet eloquent of vitality, of the need of comprehension.
Since that time, three weeks before, the two men had not met. For this there were several reasons. Barclay knew from a brief note that Cavendish had taken a small room in a boarding-house, not far from the "Rockingham," and that the pressure of his work for the "Sentinel" set him afoot so early, and sent him home at night so brain and body weary, that he had neither the strength nor the inclination for other things. Added to this, had been the Lieutenant-Governor's absorption in his own duties, and, in particular, his absence from Kenton City, on his round of inspection of the state militia. But, just before the dinner hour, on the evening following that of the review, Cavendish called, as Barclay was in the act of dressing.
"I had a suspicion I'd catch you just about this time," he said, dragging a chair to the door of the bedroom, where he could watch the Lieutenant-Governor struggling with a refractory white tie. "I'm getting on famously, and I wanted you to know it."
"That's right!" said Barclay, scowling into the mirror. "But then, I knew you would. Your pessimism didn't produce much effect on me. I've heard men talk like that before. And, of course, when a chap gets into the condition you were in, back there, there's no such thing as making him believe he can ever pull out. You talked like an ass, that first night, Spencer."
"And acted like a blackguard! I suppose you will allow me to refer to that now?"
"Now less than ever, my good sir. As I've told you already, all that belongs to the past. You're yourself again. What's the use of dwelling on a time gone by, when you were in reality somebody else—or, rather, nobody at all? When are you going to call at the Rathbawnes'? The old man is pretty ill, I'm afraid, but I think the rest would like to see you again. They were speaking of you only the other day—that is, one of them was!"
"Not till this strike trouble is over, at all events; they have all they can attend to at present, without being bothered by reformed drunkards. And perhaps I sha'n't call at all. I haven't decided yet what would be best."
Then, before Barclay had time to speak, he added:—
"By the way, I'm to take up the strike to-morrow, for the 'Sentinel.'"
"Are you?" exclaimed the Lieutenant-Governor, in a tone of the liveliest interest. "That's good news. It must be about the most important assignment they could give you, just now. Well, I wonder if you are destined to be the only conscientious reporter in Kenton City, or whether you will simply be like all the rest. Are you going to have the courage of your convictions—which I think I can surmise, though you haven't as yet confided them to me—or are you going to wear the slave-chains of your fellows, and distort, and misrepresent, and truckle and kow-tow to the policy of the most venal press in America?"
"On fait ce qu'on peut," said Cavendish, with a shrug. "Orders are orders, John. If the orders of the editor don't go, the orders on the cashier don't come. That's about all there is to it. It would be rather futile to attempt the Don Quixote act, if only for the reason that one would never get into print. One can't do more than follow instructions. The reporter's best policy is his paper's best honesty."