American Boys' Life of Theodore Roosevelt/Chapter 24
Theodore Roosevelt's Tramp up Mount Marcy—A Message of Importance—Wild Midnight Ride through the Mountains—On the Special Trains from North Creek to Buffalo
With a somewhat lighter heart, Theodore Roosevelt returned to the Adirondacks and joined his family on Wednesday, three days previous to President McKinley's death. The last report he had received from Buffalo was the most encouraging of any, and he now felt almost certain that the President would survive the outrageous attack that had been made upon his person.
"He will get well," said several who lived close by. "You need not worry about his condition any longer."
On the following day it was planned to go up to Colton Lake, five miles from where the family was stopping. Some friends went along, and in the party were Mrs. Roosevelt and several of the children. Two guides accompanied them, and it was decided to spend the night at a camp on the lake, returning home the following day.
The next morning it rained, but in spite of this drawback Theodore Roosevelt, leaving the ladies and children to return to the cottage, started to climb Mount Marcy. Such an undertaking was exactly to his liking, and he went up the rough and uneven trail with the vigor of a trained woodsman, the guide leading the way and the other gentlemen of the party following.
At last, high up on the side of Mount Marcy, the party reached a small body of water known as Tear of the Clouds, and here they rested for lunch.
"You are certainly a great walker, Mr. Roosevelt," remarked one of the gentlemen during the progress of the lunch.
"Oh, I have to be," answered Theodore Roosevelt, jokingly. "A Vice-President needs exercise to keep him alive. You see, when he is in the Senate, all of his work is done sitting down."
The words had scarcely been uttered when one of the party pointed to a man climbing up the mountain side toward them. The newcomer held some yellow telegram-slips in his hand, and Theodore Roosevelt quickly arose to receive them.
He had soon mastered the contents of the messages. President McKinley was much worse; it was likely that he would not live. For fully a minute Mr. Roosevelt did not speak. He realized the great responsibility which rested upon his shoulders. Then, in a voice filled with emotion, he read the messages aloud.
"Gentlemen," he continued, "I must return to the club-house at once." And without waiting, he turned and started down the mountain side along the trail by which he had come.
It was a long, hard walk, but it is doubtful if Theodore Roosevelt took note of it. A thousand thoughts must have flashed through his mind. If William McKinley should indeed breathe his last, the nation would look to him as their Chief Magistrate. He could not make himself believe that his President was to die.
It was not long before Theodore Roosevelt reached the club-house at the lake. He asked for further news, but none was forthcoming.
"We will send to the lower club-house at once," said his friends. "You had better take a short rest, in case you have a sudden call to make the trip to Buffalo."
A misty rain was falling, and the atmosphere of the mountains was raw and penetrating. Messengers were quickly despatched to the lower club-house, and by eleven o'clock that evening news came back that left no doubt of the true condition of affairs. President McKinley was sinking rapidly, and his death was now only a question of a few hours.
"I must go, and at once," said Theodore Roosevelt. And soon a light wagon drove up to the club-house, and he leaped in. There was a short good-by to his family and his friends, the whip cracked, and the drive of thirty-five miles to the nearest railroad station was begun.
It was a never-to-be-forgotten journey. For ten miles or more the road was fearfully rough and ran around the edges of overhanging cliffs, where a false turn might mean death. Then at times the road went down into deep hollows and over rocky hills. All was pitch black, save for the tiny yellow light hanging over the dashboard of the turnout. Crouched on the seat, Mr. Roosevelt urged the driver to go on, and go on they did, making better time during that rain and darkness than had before been made in broad daylight.
At last a place called Hunter's was reached, and Theodore Roosevelt alighted.
"What news have you for me?" he asked of a waiting messenger, and the latest message was handed to him. There was no new hope,—President McKinley was sinking faster than ever. New horses were obtained, and the second part of the journey, from Hunter's to Aiden Lair, was begun.
And during that wild, swift ride of nine miles, when it seemed to Theodore Roosevelt as if he were racing against death, the angel of Life Everlasting claimed William McKinley, and the man crouched in the wagon, wet from the rain, hurrying to reach him, became the next President of the United States.
It was a little after three in the morning when Aiden Lair was reached. The sufferer at Buffalo had breathed his last, but Theodore Roosevelt did not know it, and he still hoped for the best. More fresh horses, and now the last sixteen miles of the rough journey were made on a buckboard. In spots the road was worse than it had previously been, and the driver was tempted to go slow.
"Go on!" cried Mr. Roosevelt, and held his watch in hand. "Go on!" And the driver obeyed, the buckboard dancing up and down over the rocks and swinging dangerously from side to side around the curves of ravines. But Theodore Roosevelt's mind was not on the road nor on the peril of that ride, but in that room in Buffalo where the great tragedy had just seen its completion.
At last, a little after five in the morning, the turnout came in sight of the railroad station at North Creek. A special train was in waiting for him. He gazed anxiously at the little knot of people assembled. Their very faces told him the sorrowful truth. President McKinley was dead.
With bowed head he entered a private car of the special train, and without delay the train started on its journey southward for Albany. No time was lost on this portion of the trip, and at seven o'clock Theodore Roosevelt reached the city in which but a short time before he had presided as Governor of the State.
At Albany he was met by Secretary of State Hay, who informed him officially that President McKinley was no more. He likewise informed the Vice-President that, considering the excitement, it might be best that Mr. Roosevelt be sworn in as President without delay.
Another special train was in waiting at Albany, and this was rushed westward with all possible speed, arriving in Buffalo at half-past one in the afternoon. In order to avoid the tremendous crowd at the Union railroad station, Mr. Roosevelt alighted at the Terrace station. Here he was met by several friends with a carriage and also a detachment of the Fourth Signal Corps and a squad of mounted police.
Without loss of time Theodore Roosevelt was driven to the Millburn house. Here he found a great many friends and relatives of the dead President assembled. All were too shocked over what had occurred to say much, and shook the hand of the coming President in silence.
Thousands of eyes were upon Theodore Roosevelt, but he noticed them not. Entering the Millburn house, he thought only of the one who had surrendered his life while doing his duty, and of that kind and patient woman now left to fight the battles of this world alone. He offered what consolation he could to Mrs. McKinley, heard the little that had not yet been told of that final struggle to fight off death, and then took his departure, to assume the high office thus suddenly and unexpectedly thrust upon him.