"Honesty?" repeated the Lieutenant-Governor. "Where does the honesty come in? Of course I understand your position. In a way, it is identical with mine—subservience to a principle that you despise, acquiescence in methods that you know to be utterly false and wrong! How sick I am of it all! It's the old experience, all over again, which I used to have as a child with the Tom Smith paper crackers. You are fascinated by the tinsel, and the colored paper, and the gaudy label. You think that when you've dissected one, and pulled it all to pieces, you'll find a bugle and a gold crown inside—because that's what it says on the box. But, the first thing you know, you'll find yourself blowing on a tin whistle and wearing a fool's cap of green paper! Lord! how the press of Kenton City needs a man—a man with the courage and the power to show up the scoundrels who are responsible for all this—McGrath and his associates, I mean. I'm sick and tired of reporters whose rascality is self-evident, of editors who are bought and sold like chattels, of a state of affairs, in general, so infamous as to surpass expression! You have my sympathy, Spencer—the sympathy of a fellow-victim. To be a reporter on a newspaper which dictates dishonesty; to be the lieutenant of a Governor who enjoins duplicity—it's all just about one and the same thing!"
"It's curious," commented Cavendish, "that it wasn't until about a week after—after that night, that I knew you were Lieutenant-Governor. Then, your name happened to be mentioned in the office, and somebody asked me if I knew you."
"Whereupon," said Barclay, conquering the tie at last, and turning from the mirror, "you had the inexpressible privilege of saying that you knew me intimately."
"Whereupon," repeated Cavendish, in that so singular tone which had lain heavy upon the other's memory, "I had the inexpressible privilege of saying that I used to know you, but that we had quarreled, and were now—strangers."
"Why?" demanded the Lieutenant-Governor, wheeling abruptly upon him. "What possessed you to say such a silly thing as that?"
Cavendish leaned forward in his chair, with his elbows on his knees, and his forehead against his interlaced fingers, staring at the floor.
"I'm glad, in a way, to have you ask that question," he said slowly. "We are wary of mock heroics, or even real heroics, men like you and me. And yet there are things which must be explained, things not easy to explain, because they come so close at times to melodrama. I've always had a horror of emotional situations; and, from what I know of you, I'm sure you have, as well. I'd avoid this explanation, if I could—indeed, I've deliberately avoided it, thus far. Yet if I were a Romanist in the presence of my priest, I think I should feel more at liberty to evade confession than I do now. For both our sakes, I'll try to be as brief, as simple, as lucid, as I can. And I'll trust you to understand, as well as may be. Don't think there's any pose, any aim at effect, in what I'm going to say. You've asked me a question, and I'm going to answer it, that's all! I don't think, in my present frame of mind, I could bear to have you entertain the suspicion that the answer was affected or lacking in candor. Allons! Already I'm growing too verbose!"
He looked up with a wan smile.
"Let's get down to facts. You ask me why I told my questioner that we no longer knew each other. Well, then, let's have at it! It was because, John Barclay, there is likely—no, there is sure—to come a time when you won't care to acknowledge me as your friend. Oh, wait!" he added, as the Lieutenant-Governor held up his hand in protest. "Hear me out. You say I talked like an ass, that first night. Perhaps. But the fact remains that I've been a drunkard—and that I'm bound to be one again! I've been fighting against temptation for several weeks. It hasn't been very strong, for some reason, and so I've managed to ground it so far. But you remember the chap with whom old Hercules wrestled? Every time he touched earth his strength was multiplied. Well, that's the way with drink. I can throw the temptation for a while, but every time I do so it rises, stronger many-fold. Sooner or later, I'm forced to give in. I know it, as I know I'm sitting here. I'm doing my best now, because, in the future, when the wrong that for a time you've righted goes wrong again, I want you to remember that I made the effort—for you—and for her—for the Fairy Princess. The end is as plain as day! It was born in me, this. I think I've never told you that my father died of it, but that's the truth. And the next time I drop, it will be for good and all. I shall never make another effort to conquer the inevitable. If I can't do it now, with the hope of redemption thus made plain, with a new start, and a fresh chance, and—thanks to you, John—the past wiped off the slate and a new sum set to solve, with the incentive of your friendship and confidence, and the interest, so undeserved, of the Fairy Princess, into the bargain,—if I can't do it now, I say, why surely I can never do it. John, you can't know what I've been through. You, who've never had the temptation, can't conceive of what it means. It's a living actuality, this lust for drink. When your nerves go wrong, even at the end of a day, or a week, or a year, during which you've kept straight, when you're tired, discouraged, and, above all, alone!—then it comes at you like a live thing,—speaks—grips your arm—drags you wherever it wills! I've laughed at it, scoffed at it, in its absence, tried to make myself believe it a fragment of an otherwise forgotten dream, many and many and many a time. But it always came back! Oh, John Barclay, you others will never understand! A man has to have been through it, in order to know, and that not once, but, as I have, a hundred times."
"I can well believe it to be a tremendous temptation," said the Lieutenant-Governor gravely.
"Temptation? It's more than that! A temptation gives you some chance, doesn't it? You may yield to it, but, at least, you've had your fighting-chance. Well, in that sense, this is no temptation, though I've been using the word myself to describe it. Why, John, it's madness, sheer insanity. You probably remember that I never used to touch alcohol at all. I promised my poor mother to let it alone until I reached my majority. Of course, I didn't realize about the dear old man; he died when I was too young for that. But her one great fear, and naturally, was that the curse had descended to me—just as it had! Well, I stuck to my promise till I was twenty-one, and kept along in the same way for some time afterwards, just because there didn't seem to be any particularly good reason for taking up something which I had managed to get along very well without, all my life. Then came that time, you know—three years ago—and out of mere recklessness, bravado, God knows what, I began to drink. John, I was a doomed man from the first swallow! That demon had been hiding inside me, without sound or movement or other hint of his presence, for twenty-eight years—just waiting his chance! You know the rest. The fight has been going on ever since, and the thing has beaten every time. I've resisted. I've struggled. I've even prayed. It's all useless."
He pointed significantly to the curtain which hung where the door of the wine-closet had been.
"As I did that night," he continued, "I shall do again, and still again, until the end. It's insanity, nothing more or less. It lurks at the back of my brain—always—always—and then, suddenly, when I am least expecting it, it comes forward with a rush, and I might as well try to check the north wind or the incoming tide. I feel it tingling in my fingers, scorching my throat, tearing at my reason. I swear I won't give in, and, in the very act of so swearing, I get up and go out to meet it. I could break down iron doors to get at the drink when it calls to me. And, though I seem to be going straight enough now, the moment is coming when it will call and when I shall obey! Then you won't want to think you've ever known me, John Barclay, still less to remember that the name of the Fairy Princess has passed between us. And, in the midst of my damnation, it will be a drop of cold water on my tongue to know that I've left you a loophole through which to escape the acknowledgment of these last few weeks. So far, no one but the 'Rockingham' people, and Payson, and—and the Fairy Princess—know that we've been together recently. The 'Rockingham' people don't even know my name. Payson won't speak. And she certainly won't. So far, so good. Further, I've come to say good-by. Hereafter, we mustn't see each other"—
"Stop—stop!" broke in the Lieutenant-Governor. "What is all this rot you're talking? Chuck it, will you? Look here! If you go back on me—which is bad—and on your Fairy Princess—which is worse—and on yourself—which is the worst of all"—
"Yes, yes," answered Cavendish, "that's all true. But I'm not talking about if I go back, I'm talking about when I go back! As I said when I began, there's no use trying to explain this thing to a man who doesn't understand it, and no man can understand it except through his own experience. In this respect, if in no other, you and I talk different languages, belong on different planets. Could I expect you to comprehend with me that first give of self-control which lets the demon loose, and the meaning of the sight or smell of drink at that exact moment when the will is weakest—the first glass, hastily swallowed, as a brute, long thirsty, gulps down the water it has craved—the second and third, taken more slowly—and then, that slackening of every nerve, that jettisoning of all the moral cargo, that sudden love and appreciation of the sensuous side of life? Don't you see? It's another world, that, which you simply can't understand, unless you travel to it by the road by which I have come—which God forbid!"
"In all this," said Barclay, "I can see no reason why our present friendship should not continue, and should not be known."
"Simply this," answered Cavendish: "I'm—nothing! You're the Lieutenant-Governor,—who is spoken of, if you care to know it, in the office of the 'Sentinel' as the only honest official in the state of Alleghenia. You mustn't tie up to me, nor I to you. I've told you what my end is going to be. You don't believe it, perhaps, but it's none the less true. And yours—do you know that the law-abiding element looks up to you as a kind of Messiah? Do you know that you are the dawn of honor and integrity which lies behind the present black cloud of lawlessness? I tell you, John, the promise of your future is such as might nerve a beaten Napoleon to renewed endeavor. In your hands lies the salvation of the state."
"I wish I could think so," said the Lieutenant-Governor. "God knows I'd willingly cut one of them off, if I thought its loss could benefit the commonwealth. But, as I've had occasion to say to others, in the present emergency I'm as helpless as a babe unborn. You see how things are going—one might as well appeal, so far as any hope of success is concerned, to McGrath himself as to Governor Abbott. There's no getting around it, Spencer. It's a declaration of anarchy pure and simple, and with the official seal of Alleghenia at the bottom of the document. Iniquitous wrong is being done, not only to Mr. Rathbawne in refusing him the protection of the law to which he is entitled, but to the cause of the strikers themselves, if they can justly be said to have a cause. Nothing ever was or ever will be gained for the benefit of the many by the violence of the few. It can only end in one way: by the interposition of the federal troops. You know what happened at Chicago. It will be the same thing here; and before it is over we shall see people shot down like rats in the streets of Kenton City."
"I hope it won't come to that," said Cavendish; "but even so, all's well that ends well. Provided that order is finally restored"—
"But what credit is it," broke in Barclay, "to the state of Alleghenia to have her law-breakers suppressed by the national government? Don't you see that it would be only a final proof that she is too incompetent or too indifferent to do it herself? From the point of view of the state's good name, I doubt which is worst, her present attitude or the interference of federal force."
"Will it come to the latter in any event?"
"Undoubtedly. They've already tried to prevent the delivery of Mr. Rathbawne's mail, both at the mills and at his house. You know what that means, don't you? One carrier interfered with in the performance of his duty is sufficient excuse for mobilizing a brigade."
"But the Governor"—
Barclay came forward, laid his hand on Cavendish's shoulder, and looked down at him, slowly nodding his head.
"The Governor of Alleghenia is a dyed-in-the-wool scoundrel, my good sir," he said. "It is his manifest duty to enforce the law rigidly and at once, and if the police of Kenton City cannot or will not assist him, to summon the militia to his aid. In that way only can the honor of Alleghenia be saved. And that is what Elijah Abbott will never do. There is anarchy open and flagrant in the streets of Kenton City—there is anarchy silent and sneering in the Governor's chair. God save the state!"
YOUNG NISBET FINDS HIS TONGUE
"I have promised to marry Colonel Broadcastle," announced Mrs. Wynyard when the silence had lasted twenty minutes.
Dorothy flung round from the window against which she had been mercilessly pressing her pretty nose.
"Why, Aunt Helen!" she exclaimed. "You really are the most startlingly abrupt person I ever knew. Are you in earnest? What under the sun possessed you to do that?"
"I think it must have been Colonel Broadcastle," answered Mrs. Wynyard, with an air of reflection. "It was last night when he was showing us over the armory, after the review. He not only asked me, but appeared to have quite set his heart upon my giving him an affirmative answer. And he had been so extremely civil, Dorothy, about our seats and all that, that I thought it would seem rather ungracious to refuse the first favor he had ever asked of me. So I said yes."
"Aunt Helen, Aunt Helen! One of these fine days you will be the death of me. Did any one ever hear of such a reason for accepting a man?"
"I couldn't think of a better one for refusing him," said Mrs. Wynyard serenely. "So there you are!"
"Talk about logic!" said Dorothy. She came across the room, and seated herself beside her aunt. "I never heard anything so exciting in my life!" she added. "Do you really mean it? Are you really going to marry him?"
"That is the arrangement, as I understand it," replied Mrs. Wynyard. "Of course, I haven't his promise in writing, but I think I can trust him. I once looked him up in your father's business guide, and he had three A's after his name. I'm sure I don't know what they can stand for, if it's not Acquaintance, Appeal, and Acceptance. I don't really see what else I could have done. It seems to have all been arranged without consulting me at all. One can't very well set one's self up in opposition to a business guide, you know."
"But he's old enough to be your father, Aunt Helen!"
"That's precisely the reason why there wouldn't have been any sense in my promising to be a sister to him. You see, I was quite helpless in the matter from start to finish."
"And it was only last night that you called me preposterous!" laughed Dorothy. "Really, Aunt Helen, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I think you are the most absurd creature in the world. Do you love him?"
"I can even go so far as to say that I think I do," said Mrs. Wynyard, without a break in her gravity. "I have all the symptoms,—palpitation of the heart, a morbid craving for Shelley and chocolate caramels, a tendency to wake up singing, and a failing for flattening my nose against the window-pane for twenty minutes at a stretch without saying a word to my poor old aunt, on the mere chance that he may be coming down the avenue."
The blush which Dorothy paid as tribute to this subtle innuendo came near to rivaling one of young Nisbet's celebrated performances in the same line.
"You're making fun of me," she said reproachfully.
"I, my dear?—not the least in the world. It's all as true as the gospel according to St. Valentine. I've told you first because we're not only aunt and niece, but the very best friends possible besides, and I knew you would like to hear the news before any one else. Colonel Broadcastle is by all odds the finest man I know,—I won't even except John Barclay, much as I admire him. He has paid me a very great honor. I respect him tremendously; I trust him absolutely. These alone are good reasons; but there's a better one,—so much better that nothing else really has any bearing on the subject. Can you guess?"
"Yes," said Dorothy softly, "you just love him. Isn't that it?"
"Exactly. It's a curious thing, this love. There may be every reason why one should marry a man, his own wish included, and yet one doesn't. There may be no reason at all, so far as outsiders can see, and yet one does! I've known a woman to throw over one suitor who had everything in his favor—money, character, position—and accept another who had none of these advantages—because she liked the way he parted his hair! That's the way it goes. It's the most illogical thing in the world, if we except the stock market and other women's gowns. And then, when it's all arranged, his friends wonder what she could have seen in him, and her friends what he could have seen in her! But I'm wandering from the subject. Seriously, Dorothy dear, I love him very sincerely, and I have been more happy than I can say ever since I found out that it wasn't going to be one of those one-sided love-affairs which assure the incomes of the poets and the lawyers. And now,—confidence for confidence, Dorothy!"
"Aunt Helen! I don't know what you mean."
"Oh, Dorothy! 'I don't know what you mean' is one of those phrases like 'Not at home' and 'Yours very sincerely,' which are white lies on the face of them. I don't want to force your confidence. We all have what our friends recognize as our private affairs, with the accent—worse luck!—on the pry! But this is very different. I'm very fond of you, as you know, and my interest is far from being vulgar curiosity. Of a woman's five cardinal failings—inquisitiveness, extravagance, vanity, vacillation, and loquacity—I'm guiltless of all except the last and most innocent. But don't we all need to talk at times? Don't we all long for a trustworthy confidante? Aren't our little secrets often like precious liquors?—if we don't make use of them, share them with our friends, they either ferment and sour, or else lose all their sweetness and significance by slow evaporation."
"You would draw confidence from a stone," said Dorothy, with a little smile, "but what have I to tell you?"
"How should I know? Perhaps nothing—as yet; perhaps everything. Take your time about it, dear. I'm not trying to get you to commit yourself. I only want you to know that I'm ready to share your secret when it's ready to be shared, and to help and counsel you in any way I can. I know the main great fact already. Because, you see, Dorothy, one may conceal an infinite amount, even from one's nearest and dearest, when they don't understand—and they are so apt not to understand, one's nearest and dearest! And the financier may hide his schemes from his partners, or the general his plan of campaign from his fellow-officers, or the politician his ambitions from his most ardent supporters—but I doubt, my dear, if a woman in love was ever able to hide very much from another woman in the same lamentable condition!
"If it were not," she added, taking Dorothy's hand in hers, "for the great happiness which has come into my life, do you think that I should have been able to divine that other great happiness which seems to be hovering over yours? I am the physician afflicted with the disease which it becomes his duty to study and to cure. Only, it's not a disease, Dorothy, but a great, a beautiful revelation. I should have compared myself, instead, to the prophet who is enabled to interpret the dreams of others because they are identical with his own. There's my little speech. And when you are prepared to answer it, you'll find me ready."
As she was speaking the last words, the butler flung back the curtains at the doorway of the drawing-room.
"Mr. Nisbet," he announced imperturbably.
Dorothy looked at her aunt, and then, with her frank laugh:—
"If there is an answer," she said, "that's it!"
As young Nisbet entered, Mrs. Wynyard was the first to greet him.
"So," she observed, looking him over approvingly, "you've beaten your swords into walking-sticks, and your spears into top-hats, as my friend Isaiah so aptly observes! That's very commendable, but I almost think I like you better in your war-paint. Do you know, a Colonel's orderly is the spickest-and-spanest object upon which I've ever laid, or hope to lay, my eyes?"
"He just naturally has to be," said young Nisbet, with a grin. Somehow, he was always more at his ease with Mrs. Wynyard than with other women. "You see," he added, "if it wasn't that way, he wouldn't be it."
Which was as near as he had ever come to making an epigram.
"Well, I shall leave you to the tender mercies of Dorothy," said Mrs. Wynyard. "I've promised to take a walk with your—what is it you call him—instead of commanding officer, you know?"
"K. O.," said young Nisbet.
"Yes, that's it. How deplorably you militiamen spell! Well, at all events, I'm going to walk with your K. O., and it's time I was getting ready. Good-by."
"Good-by, Mrs. Wynyard."
"Day-day!" said Dorothy, from the divan.
"She's a crack-a-jack!" exclaimed young Nisbet, after she had gone.
"Mercy!" said Dorothy. "I never knew you to be so enthusiastic over any one before. If you have any intention of falling in love with Aunt Helen, I feel it to be my duty, as a friend and well-wisher, to warn you in advance that there isn't the most remote show in the world for you."
"Oh, it's not that!" protested young Nisbet with that stupendous earnestness which made people want to hug him. "Why, Mrs. Wynyard would have me talked to a standstill in two or seven minutes! Imagine me trying to make love to a dame like that! She'd lose me so quick you couldn't see me for the dust. Besides"—
"Besides what?" asked Dorothy with an elaborate air of unconcern, as he hesitated.
Young Nisbet was quite crimson now, and twitched at the creases in his trousers where they passed over his knees, and turned in his toes excessively.
"There's somebody else in the running!" he blurted out desperately.
There! It was out—a part of it, at least—not at all, to be sure, in anything even remotely resembling one of the thousand manners he had proposed to himself as effective, during long hours of wakefulness, when there was nothing in the world but his crowding thoughts and the ticking of his clock—but still, out! The ice was broken. It was impossible that she should not understand. The rest would be easier.
Alas for young Nisbet! He was, as he himself acknowledged, not "up on women!"
"Somebody else?" repeated Dorothy. "How ever did you find that out? She only told me about it twenty minutes ago."
Alas, alas, for young Nisbet! He had thought his feet upon the beach at last, whereas they had but touched a sand-bar in passing over. The under-tow of embarrassment was worse than ever now, and threatened to drag him down.
"Oh, I don't mean Mrs. Wynyard. I wasn't talking of her—that is, I was, at first—but afterwards—anyhow, I'm not talking of her now! When I say there's somebody else, I mean—I mean"—
"I am going out for a moment, Dorothy—just over to the doctor's. How de do, Mr. Nisbet? Wretched weather, isn't it? Natalie's with your father, my dear, and I'll be back almost immediately. Er—ahem!"
Mrs. Rathbawne went through a kind of rudimentary calisthenic exercise, which consisted of squaring her shoulders and drawing in her chin. It was accompanied by a meaning glance at her daughter, and was designed as an inconspicuous substitute for the frank injunction to "sit up straight, my dear," upon which Dorothy had finally placed a ban.
"And won't you feed the gold-fish, my dear?" she added. "I've been so occupied, and the poor things haven't had a crumb for three days. I've just told Thomas to take a plate of bread in at once. I'm sure Mr. Nisbet won't mind: get him to help you. Er—ahem! And I'll be back in about fifteen minutes, or so."
For a time there was silence in the big, warm conservatory. Young Nisbet had taken the dish from Dorothy's hands, and, after seating himself on the low marble parapet surrounding the pool, devoted his energies to feeding the gold-fish. He was thinking that it was all to be done over again, and that it was harder than ever, if such a thing were possible, to do. What was there about those few words which seemed to choke him? For the moment, he took refuge in a commonplace question.
"Is it one of your duties to feed these persons?"
Dorothy laughed shortly, like a little chord of music.
"No—it's the Mater's peculiar privilege," she answered. "She adores the stupid little beasts. Don't give them such large pieces, Mr. Nisbet. She feeds them regularly herself,—or did, until Dad began to require so much of her time. But lately, the house has been so upset, and she has been doing such a lot of going out, and coming in"—
"Yes," put in young Nisbet dryly, "I've noticed the coming in part."
"So Natalie has been doing it for her," went on Dorothy, more rapidly. "I suppose Natalie herself hasn't had the time, these last three days. They are hungry, aren't they? Don't give them such large pieces, Mr. Nisbet! Don't you see the poor things have only button-holes for mouths?"
There was another long pause, before either spoke again.
"What defeats me about your mother," said young Nisbet slowly, "is the way she manages to come in just at the wrong moment. At interruption, she's the most star performer I've ever run up against. You don't mind my saying that, do you? I'm not throwing any asparagus. I wouldn't be disrespectful about her for the world. But really, for chopping into a conversation, she's a dazzler!"
"She is a little inopportune at times," admitted Dorothy.
"Inopportune? Yes,—she's all of that. When she marches in, I feel exactly as if the boat had gybed, and the boom come over and knocked me into thirty fathoms of water. Lord!"
"Why, how ridiculous!" said Dorothy. "There's nothing about the Mater to be afraid of. She's the dearest, most innocent old thing in the world! She just blunders along like that, and nobody is less aware of her mistakes than she is. And, after all, why shouldn't she interrupt us, so long as we're not saying anything in particular? And if we were saying—anything in particular, we could always pick up the conversation where we dropped it."
"That's just what I find it so hard to do!" confessed young Nisbet. "I'm a stupid sort of lout, you know, Miss Rathbawne. I've never had half a chance to practice talking to dames, and where other lads fuss like experts, I just can't make good. I foozle every stroke. I'm an ass—that's all!"
"You're nothing of the sort!" said Dorothy indignantly. "You're an extremely attractive young man!"
"As good as the average in some ways, perhaps. But—how can I explain what I mean?—there always comes a day when a chap wants to be more, wants to be the best ever, in every way! That's the proposition I'm up against now. I seem to be just a bundle of misfits, and—and—oh, shucks! my line of talk is all crooked, and I can't tell you what the trouble is, but"—
"Your liver's out of kilter," interpolated Dorothy.
"No, sir!" protested young Nisbet. "Nothing is ever out of kilter inside me! If I'm nothing else, I'm blue-ribbon boy on the health question. No, it's something I want, and that I'm pretty sure I can't get."
"I know perfectly well what it is," said Dorothy, "and you haven't even asked for it!"
Young Nisbet looked up suddenly.
"Do you mean?"—he stammered, "do you mean?"—
Outside, the front door slammed, and Mrs. Rathbawne's voice became audible, inquiring Dorothy's whereabouts of the butler. The girl laughed.
"There's the Mater back again," she said. "Oh, Mr. Nisbet!"
For young Nisbet had dropped dish and bread-crumbs into the pool with a great splash, electrifying the gold-fish into unheard-of activity, and had risen, at the same moment, to his feet. He stood before her, his honest face blazing, his hands outstretched.
"I love you!" he said. "Will you marry me?"
And whether or not he received an audible reply to this question he never knew,—only she was in his arms, and gold-fish might feast or starve, for all he cared about them. The wide doors of perfect bliss swung open before him, and young Nisbet passed within.
He was gazing ruefully into the water, as Mrs. Rathbawne entered. For the first time in his experience, her presence did not embarrass him.
"I've dropped a dish into your pool, Mrs. Rathbawne," he said, "and scared the gold-fish into blue conniption fits. Look how they are scurrying around. I hope I haven't done them any harm."
"Oh, no," answered Mrs. Rathbawne placidly. "They are getting so fat that I should think a little exercise, now and again, would be good for them. We might drop a dish into the pool every week or so, Dorothy, just to stir them up."
"It might go for a while," said young Nisbet, "but any old football player like myself, Mrs. Rathbawne, will tell you that you can't work the same trick more than just a certain number of times."
"Interruption, for example!" added Dorothy, and laughed across at him, deliciously, with her eyes.
It was during the tenth week of the strike at the Rathbawne Mills that the "Kenton City Record" made its long-remembered attack upon Lieutenant-Governor Barclay. The arraignment was one unparalleled for venom, even in the columns of that most notoriously scurrilous journal in the state, and, withal, there was about it a devilish ingenuity, a distortion of facts so slight as to defy refutation, and so plausible as to carry conviction. It was the last blow in the long series of discouragements which Barclay had suffered since his inauguration, and for the moment he was completely unmanned. He was at no loss, however, to trace the source from which the ingeniously perverted facts had been obtained. Not even McGrath, with his intimate knowledge of all that went forward at the capitol, could have supplied information so detailed. The hand of Elijah Abbott was traceable in every line of the attack. Their conversation, on the afternoon when he had first spoken to Barclay of the impending strike, was reproduced almost word for word, as well as that on the occasion when McGrath had been present, and therefrom the "Record" went on to deduce that not even Peter Rathbawne, with all his obstinacy, all his blindness to the welfare of his employees, was responsible for their present destitution in the same sense as was the Lieutenant-Governor, who might have avoided the strike by a conciliatory word, and who, instead, had advised Mr. Rathbawne to fight the working-people until the last cent of their money should be exhausted and the last drop of their blood should be shed.
"Incompetency," said the article in part, "is what we long since learned to expect from John Hamilton Barclay. Gross neglect of public duty, flagrant callousness to responsibility, contemptuous indifference to the interests of the citizens whose votes placed him where he is,—all these have been part and parcel of his attitude since the unfortunate moment of his election. But even in him we had not looked for the incredible spectacle of a public official deliberately precipitating the incalculable distress which has followed in the wake of the strike at the Rathbawne Mills. Overburdened with the cares of office, in a single instance the Governor of Alleghenia turned over a question of vital significance to the lieutenant from whom he had every reason to expect compliance and support. Even so, he was careful to point out a line of action by which the impending calamity might readily have been avoided. And what was the result? Not only in total disregard of plain duty, but in direct disobedience of the orders of his superior, the Lieutenant-Governor of Alleghenia threw his influence into the scale to outweigh law and order, and brought about the deplorable destitution now facing the families of four thousand martyrs to principle. When men are driven to desperation, when women turn to shame in order to maintain life, when children are heard crying in our streets for bread, to whom shall we point as the author of it all? To Peter Rathbawne, a poor, doddering old man, barely responsible now, if rumor is to be believed, for what he does? No! To John Hamilton Barclay, Lieutenant-Governor of Alleghenia!"
This, and much more in the same strain, while passed over as sensational bombast by the better element, did not fail of its effect upon the strikers. A mass-meeting, held that morning, denounced Barclay in a set of resolutions, as a traitor to his office and as the avowed enemy of labor, and demanded his impeachment on the ground of neglect of duty. During the day, half a score of threatening letters came to his office. But what hurt him most, though he almost smiled at his own sensitiveness, was that the doormen and porters at the Capitol greeted his morning nod with a stare, and even the little office-boy, bending low over his table in the ante-room, did not look up for the customary wink. For his mother was a trimmer at the Rathbawne Mills.
Once in his office, the Lieutenant-Governor found it impossible to concentrate his mind upon the work before him. Sentence after sentence, the words of his arraignment marched through his mind, as he sat with his elbows on the desk and his chin in his doubled fists. A single reading seemed to have stamped them indelibly and forever upon his memory. Baffled by conflicting reflections he began, for the first time, to doubt whether his had been the course of conscience, or merely that of pride and perversity. Was not the "Record" right, perhaps, after all? If it was true that the strike was driving men to crime and women to the streets—and if it was not, as yet, true, it soon must be—who, indeed, was to blame if not he himself, who had said "Fight them!" when he might have kept peace by a word?
Suddenly, the Lieutenant-Governor rose, and, crossing the room to where the arms of Alleghenia hung upon the wall, took down the frame, laid it, face up, upon the table, and, bending down, studied it intently. The beautifully executed nude figures of Art and Labor stared steadfastly back at him, their muscular hands grasping the circular shield, strength and endurance in every line of their necks, shoulders, and thighs, purity and purpose in their blue eyes and square-cut jaws. He was as motionless as they for full five minutes. Presently his finger moved slowly across the frame, and he said, quite softly:
Then he looked up, straight before him, out of the open window, where an encircling wistaria was dotted with minute sprouts of green, and up at the clear, wide sky.
"I'm right!" he said aloud. "I'm right!"
* * * * *
At five that afternoon, Spencer Cavendish set out upon the most unpleasant assignment which had ever fallen to his lot. When Payson had told him that he was to procure an interview with Peter Rathbawne for the "Sentinel," with a special eye to the mill-owner's failing health, as reported in the morning's "Record," he had shrunk back instinctively from a task so distasteful, and was on the point of refusing. But two considerations checked this impulse. If the thing were to be done at all, he thought, surely it had better be the work of one friendly to the Rathbawnes and with their interests at heart than that of a bungling outsider, with it in his power to hurt them beyond expression. The argument was plausible, but behind its logic, at the back of Cavendish's brain, there lay another reason, without which the first had been insufficient to persuade him. He wanted to see Natalie again—to meet her under the shield of some compatible excuse, so that he should not seem to have sought her of his own will. He was thirsty for a word from her, thirsty with the pitiable thirst of the shipwrecked sailor who knows a swallow of salt water will but increase his torture, and who craves it, none the less. Long since, he had forfeited his right to her friendship—no sophistry could blind him to that. Moreover the ocean of degradation not only lay behind him; it lay in front as well. It was as he had told Barclay. He stood upon an island, not the mainland, of redemption, and another plunge was inevitable.
What he expected to gain by a word with Natalie Rathbawne, Cavendish himself could hardly have told. At most, he was conscious of a faint hope that in some turn or twist of the conversation he might have a chance of thanking her, of telling her that he rejoiced in her happiness, and of bidding her good-by. For paramount in his mind lay the thought of his approaching downfall, inevitable, utter, and final. He did not attempt to deceive himself. He knew what was coming. It had come before.
When Cavendish had sent in his card, a servant showed him through the library into the conservatory, where Peter Rathbawne was seated in a deep rattan chair watching his daughter, who stood at his side tossing bread-crumbs to the gold-fish in the circular central pool. They both turned at the sound of his footsteps, and Natalie held out her hand.
"So you've come at last!" she said. "I should think it was quite time. Dad, you remember Mr. Cavendish, don't you?"
"Yes," answered her father. "Oh, yes!"
Rathbawne's voice was without life, his face almost wholly void of expression. Though he glanced at Cavendish, it was with the blank stare of a delirious person whose attention is unconsciously caught by an unusual noise rather than with any evidence of direct interest, and he took no further part in the conversation, nor even seemed to realize that his companions were speaking. When he had answered his daughter's question and looked at Cavendish, he leaned back in his chair, and wearily closed his eyes.
"He is very much changed since you saw him," said the girl in a lower tone, turning again to the pool, "and it's all come about in the past six weeks. The strike has had a most curious, a most pathetic effect upon him. Even the doctor is at a loss to account for it. I think that I am, perhaps, the only one who really understands. He has always been so proud of his mills and of his people, so loyal to them, so like a father to them, one and all, that to have them turn against him like this, and, what is worse, get to drinking and rioting, has almost broken his heart. The doctor says only one thing can save him, and that is to see the mills going again and the people happy and prosperous, as they were before. And who knows when that will be? For, feeble and broken as he is, he will never give in to the Union. Of that I'm sure."
"I'm very sorry," said Cavendish softly. One look at Rathbawne had been enough to show him that the interview for which he had been sent was an impossibility. One look at Natalie sufficed to banish from his mind every thought save that of her pitiful pallor and the pathetic quiver of her lips.
"I had no idea it was as bad as this," he continued. "Can't anything be done? You are far from being in good shape yourself, Miss Rathbawne."
"Tired and dispirited, that's all," she answered, trying to smile. "And I fear nothing can be done as long as our fate lies in Governor Abbott's hands. There's no use in harping on that, though. You know as well as I what we have to expect from him. Did you see the attack on Mr. Barclay this morning?"
"An infamous libel!" exclaimed Cavendish hotly.
Miss Rathbawne crumbled the bread between her fingers, and resumed her feeding of the gold-fish.
"You must know that I am the last person in the world to need that assurance," she said slowly. "It is only another thread in all the hideous tissue of injustice and iniquity which has been wrapped about us like a pall. What a shame, is it not, that such a man as he should be powerless to do the work I think God intended for him? And what a shame that Alleghenia, needing his clear head and his strong arm and his loyal heart as she does in this hour of emergency, should only be sneering at him as a coward and a cad!"
"I cannot believe," answered Cavendish, "that the venom of the 'Record' is to be taken as the sentiment of the state. There must be many—there must be a majority of Alleghenians who know, as we know, that no better man breathes than John Barclay."
"Thank you," said the girl.
In the open spaces of water between the lily-pads the fat indolent gold-fish mouthed at the crumbs, stirring the silence with little sucking sounds, and sending tiny ripples widening on all sides. One alone, dingy yellow in color, moped apart from his fellows, and took no interest in the banquet.
"That one's a cynic," said Miss Rathbawne presently. "My subtlest cajoleries never win him from that attitude of sneering contempt. The others get all the tid-bits, and he doesn't seem to care. He isn't even ornamental—he's in a class by himself. I call him Diogenes, and I'm thinking of buying him a tub all for himself, where he can sulk in solitary grandeur to his heart's content."
"Perhaps not altogether in a class by himself," said Cavendish. "There are others, you know, who make no use of their opportunities, and who can never hope to be anything but ugly and useless, while their fellows are getting all the good things of life, and enjoying them, and giving pleasure of one kind or another into the bargain."
Something in his tone caused Natalie to look at him suddenly.
"I'm not enough of a pessimist," she answered firmly, "to believe that true in anything beyond appearances. We are all apt, no matter how conceited we may be, to underestimate at times the extent of our own usefulness—or, rather, we are unconscious of the direction in which it is most productive. If what you say is so, then all that is lacking is the opportunity, and that is sure to come. We may squander many opportunities, and, hardly less probably, actually turn to account in a way we do not perceive many which we seem to ourselves to squander. In any event, others will come. A woman once said to me that the good in her was not cultivated nor exercised with a view to individual immortality. That seemed to me to mean so much that I've built up quite a little creed on it. It's the principle, isn't it, upon which the whole scheme of the world hinges? A million leaves fall and decay to enrich the soil wherefrom two million more may spring. An infinity of little shell-fish die, and the ages grind their shells to powder to make the sands and the chalk cliffs. Countless raindrops sacrifice their identity to maintain that of one great river. And why should it not be so with us? If only we can contribute in the smallest degree to the uplifting of our kind, to the advancement of the race, to the maintenance of what we know to be right, what possible difference can it make whether, in the effort to be of such service, we live or succumb? We were put here, it seems to me, very much as separate notes are put into one great harmony. Each note is struck at the proper time, serves its purpose, and goes into nothingness. Each plays its part, however small. We can't all be included in the wonderful final chords. Our place may seem trivial to us, and yet in some sense we may be sure we are all contributors to the unity and perfection of the whole. That ought to be enough. No one note achieves individual immortality, but each does something to assure the immortality of the composition of which it forms a part. If we don't believe that, if we are not content to have it so, how is it possible to believe in any divine purpose, any scheme of justice at all? Look at the indescribable waste of life on all sides of us. If only in the case of humanity, people are dying by hundreds every minute, unheeded, unlamented, unrecorded. Human life is such a little thing!—as little as the life of the leaf or the raindrop. And yet in the death of these last we are able to perceive the working of a vast system which must be the outcome of a direct purpose, and whereby the best interest of each species is furthered. And so, the human race. Why should it be less than lesser things? One man dies in order that two may live. A confederacy—as in the case of our own Rebellion—perishes in order that a nation may endure. Everywhere, in short, the individual sacrifices his individual existence in order that it may contribute to and fertilize the growth of his species. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly content to have it so. I should ask nothing better, when my own time comes, than the assurance that, in one way or another, my death had a significance,—that it was for a person or a principle, and not merely a natural phenomenon. I may not be able to believe that; but there is one belief possible to all of us,—I mean that, if not in death, then assuredly in life, we have been of service to our race and time. We are often told that the indispensable thing does not exist. I think the same may be said of the useless one. I don't believe even the humblest of God's creatures goes out of life without having been at one time or another an influence for good. I even have hopes of Diogenes. Some day there will be a scrap of refuse or an ugly little bug which mars the symmetry of the pool, and Diogenes will eat it,—and perhaps die of indigestion as a martyr to principle!"
The silence which followed her words was broken by a hoarse sob from Mr. Rathbawne, and, turning, they saw that his head had fallen back against the chair, with his eyes, wide and staring, fixed upon the glass roof, and his breath coming in short, thick gasps from between his parted lips. In an instant Natalie was on her knees by his side, with her arms about him.
"Don't be frightened," she said, looking up at Cavendish with a brave little smile. "It's his heart. He has had these attacks frequently of late. Will you get me the whiskey decanter and a glass? You'll find them in the dining-room—on the sideboard—to the left."
Decanter in hand, Cavendish stood watching her, as she tenderly poured a little of the raw spirit between her father's lips. The effect was almost instantaneous. Rathbawne choked, swallowed the restorative, and presently raised his head and looked at her, patting her hand tremulously with his own. They were so absorbed in each other that neither noted a sudden, strange transformation in Cavendish's expression. From the wide-mouthed decanter in his hand, the faint acrid odor of Peter Rathbawne's fine old Scotch whiskey crept upward, stung his nostrils, and, of a sudden, set him all a-quiver, like a startled animal. The smell was almost that of pure alcohol, and set his mouth watering, and drove his breath out in a little shuddering gasp that was like a revulsion from some sickening medicine, just swallowed. But he knew it, none the less, for something which belonged to and was part of him. For weeks he had avoided it. Now it assailed him like that foe of Hercules, of whom he had spoken to Barclay, whose strength was multiplied a hundred-fold for every time his opponent trod him under foot.
As he told the Lieutenant-Governor, at the moment when least he expected it, the demon touched his arm. For a minute he fought desperately against the suggestion, with his eyes closed, and his teeth cutting into his inner lip. He clung madly to the thought of the presence in which he was, conscious that the girl's words had uplifted him immeasurably, given him a clearer insight into the essential significance of life than he had ever known. It was useless—useless—useless! There was nothing left in the world but the smell of the liquor that he loathed and that he loved!
"If you were to leave us alone"—
At the suggestion, Cavendish bowed and went slowly back toward the dining-room. Once out of sight of the others, he paused, glanced back over his shoulder, and then, abruptly, supporting himself with one hand against the side-post of the doorway, raised the decanter in the other to his lips, and drank.
THE INSTRUMENT OF FATE
The day had been deliciously warm and still, one of those eloquent heralds of spring that are touched with a peculiar beauty rivaling her own. As Cavendish came out of the Rathbawne residence, Bradbury Avenue was splashed with huge blotches of dazzling yellow, where the light of the westwardly sun poured between the houses and was spilled upon the smooth pavement. The man choked slightly at the after-taste of the raw whiskey he had just swallowed, but almost immediately he smiled.
"I knew it would come," he said to himself as he turned out into the avenue, "and here it is. I'm not surprised. I'm glad, God help me—I'm glad!"
His mouth was watering, and he felt, as it were, every inch of the stimulant's progress through his veins, warming him with its familiar glow. When he had left the conservatory, he had been trembling pitifully. Now he was calm, and as steady as if his nerves had been cords of steel. Responsibility, resolution, remorse—they had fallen from him like so many discarded garments. He was sharply alive to the pleasure of the moment, keenly appreciative of the sunlight, the soft air, the laughter of the children romping in the streets. Of a singular languor which had been wont to come over him toward the close of each busy day of the past six weeks there was now no hint. He walked rapidly, with his shoulders thrown back, and his chin well elevated, but his course was not in the direction of his home, nor yet in that of the "Sentinel" office. Instinctively, he had turned toward that part of the city where were the large restaurants, the playhouses, and the more pretentious saloons.
At a corner, he wheeled abruptly into one of these last, and, seating himself at a small table, called for an absinthe. The place was already lighted, and each glass in the pyramids behind the bar twinkled with a tiny brilliant reflection of the nearest incandescent globes. The air was faintly redolent of lemon and the mingled odors of many liquors. To Cavendish it was all very familiar, and all very pleasant. Again he told himself that he was glad, glad that the restraint he had been exercising was at an end. He was free, he thought, free to accomplish his own inevitable damnation. He had no patience for the tedious operation of dripping the water into his absinthe over a lump of sugar, but ordered gum, and stirring the two rapidly together, filled the glass to the brim from a little pitcher at his side. Then he drank, slowly but steadily, barely touching the glass to the table between his sips.
Presently, he was conscious of a slight numbness at his wrists, a barely perceptible tingling in his knees and knuckles. His heart was fluttering, and his temples pulsed pleasurably. He glanced toward the glittering pyramids of glasses, and for a fraction of time they seemed to shift in unison a foot to the right, returning immediately to their original position with a jerk. Then he rose, and went toward the door, catching sight of his face in a mirror as he passed. It was very pale, and he crinkled his nose at it derisively, and then smiled at the whimsical oddity of his reflected expression. On the threshold he paused, looking toward the west, blazing with the red and saffron of the departed sun.
"Oof!" he said, with a downward tug at his waistcoat. "It comes quickly. That's what it is to be out of practice."
He dined alone in a corner of an unfrequented restaurant, eating little, but drinking steadily, absinthe at first, then whiskey, four half-goblets of it, barely diluted with water. Then he found himself once more in the streets, now brilliantly lighted, going on and on without purpose, save when the blazing colored glass of a saloon swerved him from his path. He knew that he was walking steadily, avoiding obstacles as if by instinct, stepping from and on to kerbs without any actual perception of them. Faces swam past him, staring. Men, particularly those at the bars he leaned against, were talking loudly, but, as it seemed to him, brilliantly. He often smiled involuntarily, and sometimes spoke to one of them, drank with him, and presently was alone again, walking on and on. Occasionally a white-faced clock bulged at him out of the night; and then he noticed that time was galloping. It was close upon one when he found himself in a quarter which his recent employment had made familiar—the neighborhood of the Rathbawne Mills.
Here, suddenly, his mind emerged from a mist, and every detail of his surroundings stood out sharp and clear-cut. The street was insufficiently illuminated, but the light of a full moon cut across the buildings on one side, half way between roof and sidewalk. Cavendish perceived, with a kind of dull surprise, that the pavements were thronged, and that almost every window framed a figure or two. A hoarse murmur pulsed in the air, and his quickened ear was greeted on every side by foul jests and grumbled oaths, broken now and again by drunken imprecations, scuffles, or the shrill invective of women invisible in the throng. Once a girl touched his arm, and he found her face close to his, thin, haggard, and imploring. He shook her off, and turned unsteadily into the doorway of a saloon; stumbling, as he did so, over a little boy crying on the step.
Inside, the air was reeking with rank smoke and the fumes of stale beer. The floor was strewn with sawdust, streaked and circled by shuffling feet; the mirror backing the bar was covered with soiled gauze dotted with tawdry roses, and an indescribable dinginess seemed to have laid its sordid fingers on all the fittings.
The room was crowded, nevertheless—crowded not only with the men themselves, but, to the stifling point, with their voices and their gestures and the spirit of their unrest and discontent. Cavendish, leaning against the end of the bar, looked wearily down the line of flushed faces and backward at the disputing groups which rocked and swayed, as the men argued and swore, grasping the lapels of each others' coats, and spilling the liquor from their glasses as they gesticulated. He was wholly sober now. It was the stage of dissipation which experience had taught him to dread the most—the emergence from dulled sensibility into a nervous tension upon which stimulant had no apparent effect. He was trembling again, too, and his face, as he saw it in the mirror through the clouding gauze, was as that of a stranger, a stranger of whom he was afraid. He swallowed the whiskey he had ordered, and, supporting himself by the bar, swung back and gave his attention to what the men about him were saying. It did not need his sharpened perception to appreciate the fact that he was in the thick of the worst element of the Rathbawne strikers, or that the situation was a crisis. What little restraint had characterized the earlier stages of the strike was now, most evidently, at an end. Starvation was no longer a mere possibility, or violence a mere threat. The men raved like wild creatures against Rathbawne and John Barclay, recounting maudlinly the destitution of their families, and, anon, flaming forth into cries for vengeance. How long the babel lasted Cavendish could not have said. Long since, the doors had been closed, and the lights half lowered, in mock deference to a supposedly vigilant police, when suddenly a hush fell upon the assemblage. A side door had opened, and Michael McGrath stood in the midst of his followers, with his arms folded and a thin smile upon his lips. There was not a whisper as he began to speak. The men leaned toward him breathlessly, their mouths open, their eyes starting glassily out of their sodden faces.
"And how long is this going to go on?" demanded their leader, with a sneer. "Talk—talk—talk! That's always the way, and nothing done, after all. Well, there's been about enough of it, and that's flat. You've been living on the Union, and I suppose you think you can go on living on it till hell freezes over. Now listen to me. When the strike began we had plenty of funds, and more came to us from the Central Federation. The funds are gone, d' you hear, and the Federation is asking what we mean to do. There is six hundred and odd dollars in the treasury. No need to tell you how far that much will go, is there? Not one day! And with all your talk, you've everything your own way, if only you knew it—a police that doesn't dare lift a finger against you, and a Governor that won't budge an inch till I give the word! Well, to-morrow I give the word, understand me? To-morrow I throw you over, and you can get out of this the best way you can. I'm sick of your talk. I'm sick of your doing nothing. Your daughters are on the streets, your wives and your children are starving, and you—by God! you are boozing in a bar till daylight, and talking! So that's enough. To-morrow, the strike's at an end. To-morrow, the Governor comes down on you like ten thousand of brick! And I'm the man that gives the word! Unless"—
He paused and cast a keen glance at the faces which surrounded him. His last words had been greeted by a low growl.
"Unless," he continued, "you know your business, and make a move that's worth the name."
The hush of attention seemed to deepen into the leaden silence of expectancy.
"There are two men who must be put out of the way," said McGrath slowly, "and that before another midnight. I don't care how it's done, but done it must be, for the sake of example. It's easy enough to manage it, as things are. There'll be a howl, but we have the authorities fixed. And those two men must go!"
In the tense silence which followed, a man's voice whispered two words hoarsely:—
"Ay, Mr. Rathbawne!" echoed McGrath, flashing into that passionate manner of his which carried all before it. "Mr. Rathbawne, who's starving you! Mr. Rathbawne, who's making your sons drunkards! Mr. Rathbawne, who's debauching your daughters! Mr. Rathbawne, who's killing your wives by inches! Mr. Rathbawne, and Mr. John Hamilton Barclay, Lieutenant-Governor of Alleghenia!"
For a moment it seemed as if he would be swept off his feet by a torrent of enthusiasm. The men crowded about him, slapping him upon the shoulders, shouting their approval, reaching for his hand. One brandished a revolver under his nose, with a shrill cry of "This'll do it, Mac! This'll do it, by God!" The rest had turned to each other, embracing frantically, and repeating his words in a kind of frenzy.
Presently McGrath raised his hand, and, as silence was restored at the signal, turned to the bar-tender with his thin smile.
"Set 'em up, Dick," he said composedly. "It's on me, this time, and we'll drink to better days."
In the confusion Cavendish made his way to the side-door, and passing through it into the street, hesitated, dazzled by a brilliant light. It was broad day.
* * * * *
As the Lieutenant-Governor entered his ante-room that morning his eyes contracted suddenly, and he stopped, with his hand upon the knob of the door. There could be no mistaking the look in the face of the man who sat facing him, gripping desperately at the arms of his chair. Cavendish was as white as chalk, with the hunted look of despair which lay so vividly on Barclay's remembrance of the night when they had met on Bradbury Avenue. He rose as the Lieutenant-Governor appeared and drew himself up with an effort at steadiness, conscious that the others present were observing him narrowly. But Barclay's hesitation was as brief as it had been involuntary. With a bare glance at his subordinates, he came forward cordially to take Cavendish's hand, and then, opening the door of his private office, motioned him to enter first.
"Glad to see you," he said steadily, as their hands met.
Once inside, the manner of both men changed as abruptly as it had been assumed. The Lieutenant-Governor went slowly toward his desk, with his head bent, and Cavendish, throwing himself into the nearest chair, and, with no attempt at concealment, drew a flask from his pocket and drank a long draught. He looked up to find that the Lieutenant-Governor had wheeled at the desk, and was standing with his eyes fixed upon him.
"Wait a minute," said Cavendish, as Barclay seemed about to speak. "We won't discuss this, for the moment, if you please."
He held up the flask with a shrug.
"In fact we needn't discuss it at all," he continued. "I've simply gone to hell, that's all there is about it. I knew I would. I told you so long ago. I didn't come here to make excuses—or to receive rebukes, John Barclay. I've a means here of settling the problem which can give cards and spades to all your projects of reform." And he tapped his pocket, where the cloth bulged slightly, with a smile. The Lieutenant-Governor made no attempt to interrupt him.
"What I did come to say," went on Cavendish, more steadily, "is that your life and Mr. Rathbawne's are in danger. You're to be put out of the way, both of you, before twelve to-night. McGrath's determined on it, and there's no lack of men to carry out his orders. The strikers are desperate. I overheard their talk, while—well, while I was getting drunk! What's that?"
He stopped, with his hand to his ear. Some one was tapping at the communicating door.
"Put up that flask!" said Barclay under his breath, adding aloud, as Cavendish obeyed:
The door swung open softly, and Governor Abbott, smiling and rubbing his hands, appeared upon the threshold.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Barclay," he said. "I did not know you were engaged. We have the pleasure of another visit from the Citizens' Committee, and, by a singularly opportune coincidence, Mr. McGrath has called at the same time. Can you spare us a few moments of your time?"
With a bow, and a glance at Cavendish, Barclay followed his superior silently from the room.
In the Governor's office he found a dozen men, all standing. McGrath, with his back to the others, was examining with an elaborate air of interest a map of Alleghenia which hung upon the wall. Colonel Broadcastle and his fellow-members of the Citizens' Committee, stood close to, and facing, the Governor's desk. The air was electric with suggestion of a crisis about to come.
When the Governor began to speak, it was in his habitually suave voice, yet he was visibly nervous.
"Colonel Broadcastle has been good enough to observe," he said, "that if I do not call out the militia within three hours, to protect the interests of Mr. Peter Rathbawne, his committee will appeal for aid to the federal government. Now—er—now, in my place, and in such a situation, Mr. Barclay—er—what would you do?"
The Lieutenant-Governor's nerve, strained beyond endurance by the events of the past twenty-four hours, snapped like a dry twig at the contemptuous hypocrisy of the other's tone.
"Do!" he thundered—"do? Why, as God is my witness, Elijah Abbott, if I were in your place I would do what any honest man would do! I would do what my oath demanded of me! I would clap that man McGrath into jail for iniquitous inciting to riot, and place Colonel Broadcastle, at the head of his regiment, in charge of the city to restore order and the reign of law, and to redeem Alleghenia from the disgrace that is overwhelming her. Do? Before God, the Republic, and the state, Governor Abbott, I would do my duty as a man!"
"Then do it!"
The words, spoken from the threshold of Barclay's office, rent the silence like a thunderclap, and before those present had time to turn, there came the sound of a pistol-shot, and Governor Abbott, wheeling slowly on his heels, crashed headforemost through the plate-glass window behind him, and lay, limp and motionless, across the sill.
"Then do it, by God, Governor Barclay!" repeated Cavendish, and flung his revolver into the centre of the room.
The apartment was already filled with those attracted from the corridors and adjacent offices by the sound of the shot. Several seized Cavendish, who stood without movement, smiling. Barclay, Colonel Broadcastle, and the other members of the committee lifted the Governor's body from the position in which it had fallen, and laid it upon a couch. After a brief examination, the Colonel looked up into Barclay's eyes.
"He's dead, sir," he said. "The assassin was right. You are Governor of Alleghenia."
For an instant, Barclay returned his glance with one of earnest inquiry.
"Even in the face of this tragedy," added Colonel Broadcastle in a low voice, "I trust you will not forget the exigencies of the situation. It is for you to act, sir."
Barclay suddenly raised himself to his full height, and faced the silent gathering.
"Gentlemen," he said firmly, "the Governor is dead. For the moment, at least, I act in his stead. Kenton City is under martial law. Those who have the assassin in charge will see that he is immediately turned over to the chief of police. Mr. McGrath, you will consider yourself under arrest. Colonel Broadcastle, you will immediately assemble your regiment at its armory, issue three days' rations, and twenty rounds of ball cartridge, and hold yourself and your command in readiness for riot duty, subject to my orders."
Then he faced Cavendish.
"There's a message I'd like to have delivered, to the Fairy Princess," said the latter, still smiling. "It is that Diogenes has eaten the ugly little bug."
THE VOICE OF ALLEGHENIA
As Barclay had foreseen, the adoption of stringent measures was all that was needed to break the back-bone of the strike at the Rathbawne Mills. The presence of the Ninth Regiment, under command of that noted disciplinarian, Colonel Broadcastle, and terribly in earnest, as was evinced by the ball cartridges gleaming in their belts, was sufficient to discourage any further attempts at disorder; the sudden shift of base of the newspapers which had formerly supported the rioters, and now, taking their cue from the policy of the new Governor, counseled immediate surrender; above all, the trial, conviction, and sentence of their moving spirit, McGrath, to a term of years for inciting to riot—all were irresistible factors in the Union's capitulation. Two weeks after the death of Governor Abbott, the Rathbawne Mills were running once more, and Peter Rathbawne himself, though whiter of hair and but a shadow of his old self, was, nevertheless, on the high road to recovery.
The trial and conviction of Spencer Cavendish were accomplished with unexampled celerity. He would admit of no defense, although the lawyer appointed for him by the court was strenuous for a plea of insanity, based upon the singular remark which he had made upon the announcement of Elijah Abbott's death, and which was construed by those who heard it as ample proof of irresponsibility. Called upon in court to give his defense, Cavendish stated in a loud, clear voice that he was strictly accountable for his act, that he was in full possession of his senses at the time, and that he had killed the Governor in the firm conviction that he was a menace to the safety of the community, and that the latter's sole salvation lay in his removal, and the succession of the Lieutenant-Governor to the position of chief executive.
"I desire," he concluded, with the same odd smile that he had worn at the moment of the Governor's death, "nothing but the full penalty of the law."
The next day Spencer Cavendish was sentenced to be executed on the thirtieth of the following month at the State's Prison at Mowberly.
Then followed the most remarkable manifestation of popular sentiment ever known in Alleghenia. As Barclay had once said of them, the citizens of his long degraded state were less vicious than callous, and their callousness was effectively cured by the dramatic event which had removed a corrupt official from the head of the state government, and put in his place a man whose first acts were proofs positive of strength, integrity, and singleness of purpose. The revulsion of feeling was overwhelming. Even the press which had sneered at and cried down John Barclay was forced to the other extreme. Relieved from the burden of lawlessness which had lain on Kenton City for close upon three months, the citizens went over in a body to the support of their new Governor. He was cheered on his every appearance in public as assiduously as he had been ignored before, and, responding with the whole force of his sensitive nature to this longed-for and unexpected popularity, he devoted himself more and more earnestly, day by day, to the welfare of the state which was his idol.
But following in the wake of this revulsion of feeling in favor of Barclay came one, hardly less complete, in favor of Spencer Cavendish. While strictly speaking there could be no condoning his act, it was none the less evident to even the most rigid adherents of law that by it he had conferred an indisputable benefit upon the state of Alleghenia, and his open statement of his reasons at the time of his trial militated for rather than against him. So it was that a public petition was framed and circulated, asking, at the hands of Governor Barclay, the commutation of the death sentence to one of life imprisonment. Little by little the list of signatures grew, until, a week before the date fixed for Cavendish's execution, they were numbered by tens of thousands. Then the petition, rolled into a cylinder, was presented to the Governor by a committee, and left for his consideration.
To Barclay the intervening time had passed with almost incredible rapidity. His days, filled as they were to overflowing with numberless and complex duties, were yet the pleasantest he had ever known. At last, he was what he had dreamed of being—an active factor, the most active of all factors, in the advancement of his state. Redeemed, as if by a miracle, from the disgrace which had laid her low, Alleghenia arose, in his eyes, like a phoenix, throwing off the ashes of her reproach, and blazing, with new wings of burnished beauty, in the sunlight of hope and peace.
Barclay had retained his old office, not caring to make use of a room so permeated with associations of recent tragedy as was that which had formerly been Governor Abbott's. Now, with the windows open and the soft May air stirring the papers on his desk, he sat, looking vacantly across the room, with the huge petition spread out before him. His attention, long absorbed by the problem in hand, was diverted by a tap on the ante-room door, and, in answer to his call, Natalie Rathbawne stood before him, smiling out of the exquisite daintiness of a fresh spring frock.
"You've forgotten!" she said immediately, at sight of his knit brows.
"Forgotten what?" inquired the Governor inadvisedly.
The girl's little foot stamped almost noiselessly upon the thick carpet.
"Upon my word!" she exclaimed, "if there's one thing worse than being engaged to the Lieutenant-Governor, it's being engaged to the Governor himself! Forgotten, of course, that we are to lunch together, and look at wall-papers afterwards! Do you know, John Barclay, I don't believe you mean to marry me, after all? We'll be just approaching the altar, when"—
She was interrupted in characteristic fashion, and disengaged herself, with a great air of indignation, from Barclay's arms.
"If you want to take lunch in the company of a rag carpet," she said severely, "that's the very best way to go about it. Get your hat."
There was a little pause as Barclay filed some papers in his private safe, and then one startled word from the girl.
Wheeling abruptly, he saw her standing at the desk, with her hand on the petition, and her eyes, wide and wonderstruck, searching his face.
"Dearest!" he said impulsively, "I wish you hadn't."
But Natalie only laughed joyfully.
"But I'm glad, Johnny boy," she answered, "glad—glad—glad! What a wonderful thing it is to be Governor, boy dear! I don't think I ever really understood before. Think of it! To have the power of life and death—to be able to right the wrongs of justice with a single stroke of the pen. Oh, John! Sign it now—before we go. I shall be so much happier."
The Governor made no reply. He stood, with his head bent, smoothing his hat with the fingers of his right hand. Gradually the expression of eager expectation on her face changed to one of anxiety.
"John," she said in a half whisper, "you are going to sign it, aren't you, boy dear?"
"I'm not sure," faltered the Governor. "I'm not quite sure, dearest. It is the hardest problem I've ever had given me to solve. I can understand now the meaning of something your father said to me just before the strike,—that, for the first time in his life, he didn't know what to do, because right seemed to be hopelessly entangled with wrong, and wrong with right. When a man does evil in order that good may come, one tries to find an excuse for him, tries to palliate his offense in any reasonable way. That is human instinct. That is what accounts for the petition there, with the signatures of many of the most conscientious men in Alleghenia attached. They have managed to find the excuse, or they think they have, which, so far as their personal convictions are concerned, amounts to about the same thing. And I've been saying to myself that when public opinion points out a course as justifiable it can hardly be possible for a single individual to say that it is not. And yet the wrong is there, isn't it? No matter how confused a question may seem to us, there must absolutely, when we come to think of it, be some one great elemental principle upon which it not only can, but must, be decided—some boundary line between justice and injustice which we may be too blind to see, but which exists, and calls for observance, none the less. Right is right, wrong is wrong. No confusion between the two can possibly exist except in appearance. Strive to elude truth as we will, it remains eternal truth, and cannot be evaded in the end. And where it seems to be beyond us, all we can do is to strive to find the silken thread which will surely lead us out of the labyrinth into the searching light of day. It is that clue which I have been groping for. What is it? How am I to know it when I see it? What am I to do? At first I thought the case was clear—what he said, you know—about Diogenes—it seemed so odd—every one thought so—it might be construed as—as insanity"—
"Oh, no, John! Why, we know what that meant! No—no! The best part of it all was his sanity, his wonderful courage, his braving of almost certain death for what he believed—and knew, John—knew to be right and best. Think what he did for Alleghenia, Johnny boy. He has been almost as great an instrument in her salvation as you. Think what he has done for all of us—for you, in giving you this opportunity—for me—for Dad! John, how can you hesitate?"
The Governor shook his head.
"Dearest," he said, "you're on the wrong track, just as I have been, a dozen times since the petition came. Don't you suppose I've thought of all that? Its significance, not only to me, but, as you say, to the state, is so tremendous that, at the first glance, it seems to be an unanswerable argument. But—don't you see?—no sophistry, no contemplation of the results achieved, can ever make it justifiable for a man to arrogate to himself the power of taking human life, which is the prerogative of God and the law alone. The peculiar circumstances of Cavendish's crime plead eloquently, almost irresistibly, for his pardon. He has saved the state—yes! But the case is one in a million, and it is not an individual case alone which hangs upon my decision,—it is the establishment of a precedent, the maintenance of a principle."
"But, John," broke in Natalie eagerly, "what you've just said—isn't that the clue for which you have been groping? He saved the state! I've heard you talk of Alleghenia too often, of what you hoped for her, and what you despaired of ever bringing to pass, not to know what those four words must mean to you. Think of it! He saved the state! Without any possibility of selfish object he did this extraordinary thing—made it possible for Alleghenia to win back the honor and respect she had so nearly lost forever! He killed the man who had no thought of her purity and dignity, who used the power the people had given him for the furtherance of his own selfish and wicked ends, who made her justice a mockery, who played with her law as if"—
"Stop!" exclaimed the Governor. "Stop—I must think. Wait a moment. I must think—I must think!"
After a minute he began to speak again, this time in a lower tone, a tone which suggested self-communion rather than direct address to the girl before him.
"Yes, that's it. Wait now,—let me be sure! He killed the man who had no thought of Alleghenia's purity, who used his power to serve his own ends, who made her justice"—he was speaking very slowly, dwelling on each word as it left his lips—"her justice a mockery, who played with her law—her law—her Law"—
He paused once more, his brows knit, his firm hand slowly stroking his chin. Then, of a sudden, he drew a deep breath, flung back his shoulders, and looked at her. His eyes were blazing, his voice touched with a new meaning, an eloquence deep, firm, conclusive.
"Natalie," he said, "come here."
"You've struck the keynote," he added, when they stood face to face, a foot or two apart. "It isn't what you thought, or what you meant, but it is the keynote, just the same. The Law!"
He wheeled slowly, and stepped forward, until he was directly before the emblazoned arms of Alleghenia which hung upon his wall.
"Justitia—Lex—Integritas!" he said. "Many a time, when the way seemed darkest, I've read those words over to myself, and found hope in them. Events changed, crises came and went, portents loomed thick, despair seemed omnipotent, failure and disgrace inevitable—but the motto of Alleghenia remained the same. Steadfast, purposeful, and commanding, it has endured through the trivial changes of political significance which have been as impotent to sully the actuality of her fair fame as are sun-spots to dim the radiance of the sun. It is only natural, perhaps, that the discouragements which were but transient should have seemed to me to be vital, damning, irremediable. Just as the Israelites of old turned from the promises of God to worship Baal, so have I turned from the assurance given me by these arms of Alleghenia, to prostrate myself before false idols of doubt and despair. I should have remembered how they called me, in the first instance, from a life of idleness and ease, to fight my way through the desert of difficulty, toward the promised land of honor. I should have remembered how in my darkest hours they went before me as a pillar of fire, how in the famine of my soul these words were the manna of encouragement, how in my thirst they struck clear water from the rock of adverse circumstance. But the Israelites came back to their true God at last; so I, little girl, to my true ideal. The Law!—you said the word—the Law is the clue, the keynote, the boundary between right and wrong!"
She was at his side, and he slipped one arm around her, and held her close to him as with his finger he traced again the motto of Alleghenia.
"Do you know what this means?" he asked. "Justitia,—to be just to all men, without fear or favor, lenient to our enemies, rigid and unyielding, if need be, to our friends; putting aside personal considerations, striving so far as in us lies to be impartial, merciful in the face of prejudice, relentless in that of conviction—fair! Lex,—to abide by the law, in spirit only if our inmost conviction warrants that course, but in letter absolutely where there is the smallest hint of doubt; secure in the knowledge that, however fallible it be, it is the best that man has yet been able to do in imitation of the immutable decrees of God. Integritas,—to be true to the oaths we have sworn, faithful to the promises we have made, loyal to the office intrusted to us by the people, to whom and for whom we are responsible. Dearest, I am no mere man. Were I that, were I to consult my will alone, and it lay, as now it lies, in my power to accomplish, Spencer Cavendish should go free to-day. I know what he has done; I appreciate his sacrifice; I see that by a single act he has accomplished what the rest of us were powerless to cure; I admire his courage; I condone his crime; I could forget all his weaknesses for the sake of this one great evidence of his strength. And yet—listen to me, dearest!—in what he strove to do he has failed utterly, if in removing a corrupt official who made a mockery of Alleghenia's law he has not replaced him by one who with all the force of his conscience and all the power of his influence will see that law administered. And whatever we may say of his crime, whatever its causes, whatever its wonderful results, it was and is a crime. 'Thou shalt not kill!' God has said it; Alleghenia by the voice of her law has ratified it. And not even the fact that Cavendish has made possible all my fondest and worthiest hopes, the fact that he has rescued from suffering all I hold most dear"—
Barclay suddenly covered his face with his free hand, as he had covered it on that afternoon in Peter Rathbawne's library, weeks before; then he looked up again, his lips trembling.
"Dearest," he said, "I am Governor of Alleghenia, and as such owe an allegiance, an obedience, which personal prejudice cannot impugn. On the day when you spoke to me of meeting Cavendish you pointed out the course of a gentleman and a friend. On the night of the Ninth's review you taught me the creed of an American and an Alleghenian. To-day—unconsciously perhaps, but none the less surely—you have made clear the duty of a public servant. God bless you, my life, my heart, my conscience! May I be worthy of you and of the commonwealth I serve. Where I doubted before, now I am sure. It is hard—God only knows how hard—but listen to Alleghenia's bidding! Justitia, Lex, Integritas,—equity, the code, and good faith, in the sight of God and man, heaven and earth, the American people and the commonwealth of Alleghenia. God save the state!"
"John," whispered the girl brokenly,—"John, you're right. God save the state!"
Slowly, tenderly, the Governor of Alleghenia led her back to the table, and taking up a pen, with a firm hand wrote five words, heavily underscored, at the head of the Cavendish petition. And these were:—
"Disapproved. John Hamilton Barclay, Governor."
Then, turning to the girl who loved him, he took her in his arms.