The Lieutenant-Governor/Chapter XIII
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Chapter XIII. The Instrument of Fate
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Chapter XIII. 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 de parted 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 thunder-clap, 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.”