The King's Men: A Tale of To-morrow/Chapter 2

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The palace of a thousand wings, that nearly two thousand years had gone to build, had been tumbled into ruins in a day, and out of the monstrous confusion no fair structure had yet arisen.

Rich as a crimson sunset, with traditions splendid as sunlit clouds, English Royalty had sunk into the night, and the whole sky was lightless, except where the glory had descended.

The government which had lifted itself like a tower in the eyes and minds of Englishmen for a hundred generations had disappeared, and the ideal government of the people had not yet filled its place.

The British Republic was seventeen years old. For seventeen years King George the Fifth had been an exile in the United States, and the fifty millions of British people had been on trial as self-governors.

Providence had smiled on the young Republic. Its first guardians had been true to their trust; and like the fathers who laid the deep foundations of American freedom, their souls expanded with the magnitude of duty and responsibility.

The world looked on, sympathized, but for weeks and months almost feared to speak. But half a year passed, and the dreadful crest of Anarchy had not once been raised. The French Republic, over seventy years old, strong, unenvious and equitable, was the first to applaud.

The Commonwealths of Germany, thirty-three years old, one after another spoke their congratulation.

The aristocratic Republic of Russia was officially silent. The noble Nihilists, who had murdered four Czars to obtain power, were now constitutionally terrorizing the masses; but the Russian people had learned from their rulers, and the popular press thundered encouragement to the English Commons.

America smiled like an elder sister, and held out her hand in loving friendship.

From the day of the revolution, the three names which forever belong to the history of British Republicanism were in the front—O'Donovan Rourke, the first President, and his two famous Ministers, Jonathan Simms and Richard Lincoln.

But the story of that first great Administration is read now in the school-books. The sudden death of the President was the first serious loss of the Republic. Had he lived another decade how different would have been the later history of England!

Matthew Gower, the Vice-President, entered on the unexpired term of the Presidency. He was a weak, well-meaning man, and he was jealous of the extraordinary popularity and personal influence of Richard Lincoln, the Secretary of State. When his cabinet was announced, Richard Lincoln, released from his long service in harness, with a deep feeling of relief, went back to his home in Nottingham. At this time he was forty-six years of age. He had been a widower for over twenty years. At twenty-five he had married the beautiful girl he loved, and within the year his wife died, leaving the lonely man a little daughter whose eyes renewed his grief and love.

This was the tall girl who flung her arms round the neck of the dismissed minister when he entered his home at Nottingham.

"No one else, papa!" she cried, as she buried her face against his heart, sobbing with joy. "Do not speak to any one else till I am done with you."

The rest, the love, the peace of home were very sweet Richard Lincoln renewed, or tried to renew, his interest in the work of his younger days. His daughter loved to go with him through the town, proud of the famous man who was hers, heedful of any curious or respectful glance of the people on the street.

He gave himself up to the new life. He began to wonder at and enjoy the beauty, accomplishments and unceasing amiability of his daughter.

Mary Lincoln was a rare type of womanhood. She had inherited her mother's grace and lithe beauty of form, and from her father she took a strong and self-sustained nature. But there was added a quality that was hers alone—a strange, silent power of enthusiasm—a fervor that did not cry out for ideals, but filled all her blood with a deep music of devotion. A man with such a nature had been a poet or the founder of a creed. But the ideal of a man is an idea, while the ideal of a woman is a man. Time alone can bring the touchstone to such a heart.

It was not strange that under such home influences public affairs should sink into a secondary place in

Richard Lincoln's mind. He hardly looked at the newspapers, and he never expressed political opinions or predictions. When he did speak of the government, it was with confidence and respect. If he doubted or distrusted, no one knew.

For two years he had lived this quiet life; but, though he turned his eyes from many signs, the astute and silent man saw danger growing like a malarial weed beneath the waters of the social and political life of his country.

One morning Patterson, his business partner, who was an excitable politician, threw down his Times, and turned to Lincoln with an impatient manner.

"We are going to smash, sir, with our eyes open. We are going to the devil on two roads."

"Who is going to smash?" asked Lincoln.

"The country. See here; there are two rocks ahead, the aristocrats and the demagogues, and which is worse no one can say. They are getting ready for something or other, and the good sense and patriotism of England stand by and do nothing."

"Has anything particular happened?"

"Yes; at West Derby yesterday, the Duke of Bayswater was elected to Parliament, getting a large majority over Tyler, a sound Republican."

"Pooh! You don't take that as a specimen of all our elections? The Derby voters are mainly farmers, and the farmers retain their old respect for the lords of the manor."

"And that means something," rejoined Patterson; "it is not as if those aristocrats had accepted the Republic, which they don't even pretend to do. There are now over forty of them in the lower house."

"Well," answered the ex-Minister, "They have been elected by the people."

"Yes; by the uninstructed people," said Patterson, warmly. "The people are talked to by these fellows with empty titles on one hand and by the demagogues on the other, and they think the only choice lies between the two."

"Surely, papa," said Mary, who was interested in the conversation, "the people will not be so easily deceived?"

"Deceived!" interrupted Mr. Patterson. "Why, Mary, here was an election in which the people were led to vote against one of the best Republicans in England, and for a lord who is nearly seventy, who has never done any good for himself or the country—an old pauper, who goes to Parliament for the salary and the chance to plot against the people."

Mary looked at her father as if she wished him to speak. "These men," he said, "do not regain power as lords, but as commoners. That is good, instead of bad—their withdrawal would be more dangerous. We must remember that those who have lost by the revolution are still as much a part of the English people as those who have gained."

"I don't know about that," said Patterson, stubbornly. "I believe those aristocrats are actually plotting treason; and a traitor separates himself from his people."

Richard Lincoln's silence only stirred up the old Radical. He shot home next time.

"I believe we shall have a lord returned for Nottingham next election."

A slow flush rose in Lincoln's face, and he unconsciously raised his head.

"For the last two years," continued Patterson, seeing the effect of his words, "only two Englishmen have been heard of to any extent—the demagogue leader, Bagshaw, and Sir John Dacre, the insolent young leader of the aristocrats."

This time it was the daughter that flushed at Mr. Patterson's words.

"Mr. Dacre is not insolent," said Mary, warmly. "I have met him several times. He is a most remarkable man."

"He couldn't well be insolent to you, Mary," the wily Patterson answered, with a smile for his favorite, who usually agreed with his radicalism," but his tone to the public is a different thing."

"You extremists are at least responsible for one of these—for the demagogue—" said Richard Lincoln.

"Yes; I admit it. The election of Bagshaw for Liverpool was a terrible mistake. But, if we had had our way, the other evil should have lost its head—O, I beg your pardon, Mary; I did not mean your friend, Mr. Dacre, but the principle he represents."

Mary Lincoln had exclaimed as if shocked, which brought out the concluding words from Mr. Patterson.

"If one were gone, would not the danger be greater.?" asked Richard Lincoln." They keep each other in check. They are useful enemies."

"Take care they don't some day turn round and be useful friends," retorted Patterson. "I believe they did so in Derby yesterday. If they were to do it in Nottingham they would sweep the city."

Mr. Patterson had scored his mark. The ex-Minister was silent and thoughtful.

"The Republic is like an iceberg," he said presently, "a dozen years above water, but a century below. We shall be able to handle our difficulties—Don't you think so, Mary?" he added lightly, as they went out,

"Papa," said Mary, as they walked across the main street, "I met Sir John Dacre at Arundel House when I was visiting Lucy Arundel last year, and I can assure you he is not an evil-minded man."

"Indeed!" answered the father, rather amused at the relation; "you like him, then?"

"Very much, indeed. He is a perfect old-fashioned cavalier, and the most distinguished-looking man I ever saw, except you."

Her father laughed at the unconscious flattery.

"And the very oldest men are constantly consulting him," continued Mary; who was on a subject which evidently interested her.

There was something in Mary's voice that made her father glance down at her face. But he did not pursue the subject.

The months rolled on in this unrestful peace, and day by day it grew clear that the internal troubles of the Republic were forming a dangerous congestion. Richard Lincoln again became an attentive reader of the newspapers. No man in England studied more carefully the signs of the times. Daily, too, he listened to the denunciation of the aristocrats by his radical old friend.

"They ought to be banished!" exclaimed Mr. Patterson, one morning. "I said it would come to this."

He pointed to an announcement of a meeting of "gentlemen who still retained respect for their Sacred Cause," to be held at Arundel House the following week, the wording of which was rather vague, as if intended to convey more than the verbal meaning. The notice was signed: "John Dacre, Bart."

"Why, that is Mary's friend," thought Richard Lincoln. And when he met Mary, an hour later, he said, half-jestingly:

"Is your friend, Mr. Dacre, a conspirator?"

"He is only an acquaintance, papa; and I hardly know what a conspirator is. But Mr. Dacre is certainly nothing wrong. You should see his face, papa."

"Oh, yes; those dreamers—"

"Papa!" said Mary, almost angrily, "Mr. Dacre is not a dreamer. He is a leader of men—a natural leader—like you!"

The eloquence of voice and gesture surprised Richard Lincoln; but he was too puzzled by Mary's manner to reply. Looking at her as if from a distance, he only remembered, sadly, how little of her life he had seen—how much there was from which he had been left out in the heart of his motherless girl.

Mary read something in his eyes that made her run to him and fold her arms around his neck.

"You were thinking of mamma then," she whispered, with brimming eyes.

"Your face was like hers, Mary," he said, and kissed her tenderly.

In the growing excitement of the times, father and daughter were growing daily into closer union. The Parliamentary elections were coming on, and Richard Lincoln took a deep interest in the preparations. He had been asked to stand for several places, but he had firmly declined; nevertheless he had become almost a public character during the campaign. From all sides men looked to him for counsel. His correspondence became burdensome, and Mary, having urged him long to let her help, at last had her way.

In this way it was that she became familiar with the troubled issues of the time, and learned to think with her father in all his moods. Their house in Nottingham, with comings and goings, committees and councils, was soon like the office of a great Minister.

"This can't last," said Mr. Patterson to Mary Lincoln, one day; "he is needed in London again, and he will go. I believe they mean to nominate him for President."

Two days later, Patterson, with all the rest of England, was allowed to see the secret that had moved the political, sea for years.

The National Convention was held to nominate the President. The Radical wing (they were proud to call themselves anarchists) had developed unlooked-for strength, chiefly from the cities and great towns, and had put forward as their candidate the blatant demagogue, Lemuel Bagshaw, whose name has left so deep a stain on his country's record.

On the first day of the National Convention the news of Bagshaw's strength caused only a pained surprise throughout England. Men awaited with some irritation the proper work of the Convention. But on the second day, when the two strongest opposing candidates did not together count as many votes as the demagogue, there was downright consternation.

Then the Aristocrats showed their hand: they abandoned their sham candidate and voted solidly for the demagogue—and Lemuel Bagshaw, the atheist and anarchist, received the nomination for the Presidency of the British Republic!

The ship was fairly among the shoals and the horizon was ridged with ominous clouds. The petrels of disorder were everywhere on the wing. The Republic was driving straight into the breakers.

A few days later a great meeting was held in Nottingham, at which a workingman proposed the name of Richard Lincoln as their representative in Parliament A great shout of acclamation greeted the name and spoke for all Nottingham. Then the meeting broke up, the crowd hurrying and pressing toward Richard Lincoln's house.

Mary Lincoln heard the growing tumult, and looked up at her father alarmed. She had been playing softly on an organ in the dimly-lighted room, while her father sat thinking and half listening to the low music, as he gazed into the fire.

He had heard the crowd gathering in the square below, but he had not heeded, till he started at last as a voice outside addressed the multitude, calling for three cheers for the Member of Parliament for Nottingham. The response, ringing from thousands of hearts, made Mary Lincoln leap to her feet Her father sat still, looking toward the open window beneath which was the tumult.

"Father," said Mary, calling him so for the first time in her life; "they have nominated you. You will not refuse?"

"No," he said, almost mournfully. "I shall accept—and leave you again."

"Never again," she cried, "my own dear father. I shall go with you to London. Oh, I am so proud of you!"

And Richard Lincoln accepted the nomination, and was elected. His name rallied throughout the whole country the men who had its good at heart.

But the demagogue was raised to the highest place in the Republic, and his party would have grown drunken with exultation had they not been deterred by the solid front and the stern character of the opposition, the leader of which from the first meeting of the new Parliament was Richard Lincoln.