The Lieutenant-Governor/Chapter VI
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Chapter VI. McGrath Laughs
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Chapter VI. McGrath Laughs
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 in formed 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!”
“I 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!”