The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 27
NEW ROME AND AVALON
Upstairs, Mrs. Bell and the children were still asleep; in the dining-room, Hugh Farrell and Letty were breakfasting by lamp-light. It was half-past five o'clock; a thick November fog was smothering the dawn.
"It's as well it's a dark morning," Letty said; she tried to speak cheerfully. "You won't be likely to be seen."
Hugh made no answer; he was eating with leisurely enjoyment. But after a moment he glanced up and saw his wife leaning back in her chair and watching him sadly.
"Let! You're not worrying!"
"No, of course not," she answered, with a sudden show of indignation, that he should suspect her of such weakness. "What would I be worrying about?"
"I thought you could n't be. You're too red-headed. Red heads don't worry; they get mad."
He dodged below the table in affected alarm, and after a moment looked above the edge of it timidly.
"You're the silly," she said; and he reappeared and resumed his breakfast, satisfied at having driven the sadness from her face. After a moment she went to a window to straighten a shade; she stood there, looking out into the weltering fog.
"If you see anything interesting, you might let me know," her husband said; but she did not respond to his teasing; she stood looking out into the blankness. Suddenly she turned and said earnestly,—
"Hugh, you will be careful, won't you?—not to get into any fight."
"Oh," he answered, "you never can tell what I may do when I get my Irish up."
"It's mean to tease me now, Hugh," she said. "You'll promise, won't you?"
"Well," he answered, and he laughed at her affectionately, "I've promised Mr. Halket, and I guess I can do as much for you as for him."
She came over to him quickly and kissed him.
"But," he said, holding her round the waist and looking up at her, "I would n't dare to promise if I was red-headed."
"Ah now, Hugh—I don't often get mad—with you. Now, do I?" She spoke quite pleadingly.
"I'd hate to have you get mad any oftener." He rose from the table. "Well, I suppose I'd better be starting out to look for a white horse—"
"What's that?" She interrupted his well-worn joke with the startled exclamation. Not far away a bell bad begun to toll, and now as it gathered momentum its peals rang out, hurried and clamorous, tumbling together in crazy, clanging excitement. Hugh listened and stared at his wife.
"It's to warn them you're coming—to start the works!" she cried.
"You're right! You're right!" He ran out into the hall and caught up his overcoat and hat. "I'd better be getting down there."
He was about to open the door when his wife caught his arm. "Hugh!" He looked down at her and saw what she wanted; he kissed her. "You've promised," she cried; and with that reminder to speed him he was gone.
The school-house bell was still clanging,—a danger signal in the dense fog. Hugh, hurrying along the hilltop, was moving in the direction of the sound. He came to the first of the outlying streets and crossed it; he began to see dimly ahead of him the forms of men running as he was running. He overtook one of them, hoping to find a friend, but the man was Caskey.
"What's the row?" Hugh asked.
"It ain't begun yet," Caskey answered with a grin, and he followed close behind Hugh, down the street leading to the mill entrance. There was assembled a great crowd, indistinct in the fog, motionless and quiet except for an occasional shout. Scattered along the street above were groups of men, hesitating and uncertain, and Hugh began to recognize faces of his allies. Passing in among them, he succeeded in leaving Caskey behind; he caught two men by the arms and said to them so that others might hear,—
"Just work your way through quietly; they won't stop you; it's just a bluff."
He spoke with a commanding reassurance that had its effect; as he walked on, some of the men followed,—but not all; and of those who started, some dropped out after they had gone a little way. Indeed, to pass through the mob that swarmed across the street from the company's offices on one side to the hotel on the other and was packed solidly against the gates of the mill inclosure, seemed impossible.
"The gates ain't open anyhow," murmured one of the men to Hugh.
"They will be at six; I've got Mr. Halket's word for it.—There; there's the gate-keeper on the bridge."
He pointed; the fog had lifted a little, and looking over the crowd they could see a man walking to and fro on the bridge behind the gate.
"Just mix in and work your way through easy," Hugh warned them.
They came straggling along, on both sides of him and behind. They drew near the outer fringe of the crowd, and then suddenly Caskey ran past them, shouting,—
"Look out for them! Here they come!"
There was a moment of silence. "Never mind," Hugh said, turning to his comrades. "Come along." Then there broke from the crowd a confused outcry; the words, "Back! Get back!" were distinguishable, and at the menace in the shout Hugh, without looking round, was conscious that his followers wavered and fell away. But he walked on proudly himself, determined to vindicate the leadership he had assumed; he walked into the hostile mob. Those on the outside let him enter, jostling him roughly; he tried to worm his way through, but the crowd closed up and imprisoned him; the men round about him wedged tight and laughed. Hugh struggled for more room and turned his head back in the direction from which he had come. None of his friends had followed him. He cried out at the top of his voice,—
"Stand aside, please! We're going to work to-day!"
A burst of laughter rose from the crowd, followed by derisive shouts. "Stop his mouth!" cried some one. Another repeated the appeal, strengthening the colorless possessive. Those around Hugh pressed him more roughly. He was driven against a gigantic, red-bearded man, who towered above every one else; and this man got one arm up and with a silent grin jammed his elbow hard against Hugh's nose and mouth. "I'll stop his mouth," he said, thrusting hard again with his arm. Maddened by the sudden pain, Hugh used all his strength, made the others give back a little, and launched a furious short-arm blow into the giant's stomach. The man cried out in pain. "Fight!" screamed some one. "Kill the scab!" shouted another, and the men nearest Hugh surged in upon him, and those who could get their arms up began beating his head and face. Those farther away jammed together, trying to come close; each man in the crowd was inspired with the wish to deal his blow at the traitor's head. Hugh's arms were pinioned against his sides; defenseless he shut his eyes and lowering his head thrust with it savagely, blindly. The excitement was communicated to the outermost edges of the crowd, where it was the opinion that not one man but a gang were fighting their way through, and at the thought those on the outside began to heave and push and make the pressure in the centre more intense. In this desperate jam cries of fear and distress arose. Hugh at the very centre had succumbed, battered and squeezed into insensibility; but because of his drooping head and closed eyes no one near him realized it, and whoever could get a fist free pounded him with hearty hatred.
From the steps of the company's building where he overlooked the mob, Gregg was shouting that the mills were not to be started, that no one was going to work; but his protests were unheard and unheeded. He came down from the steps and got into the crowd, shouting and appealing, but quite without avail. Only when the pressure had grown violent beyond endurance and agonized cries rose from all quarters was there a gradual yielding; in this slow loosening of the crowd Gregg was unaware that three men had sunk lifeless to the ground. Two of them were small and weak old men who had fainted under the crushing; their friends carried them away to their homes while the superintendent was haranguing the crowd on its folly.
During this time a group stood close round Farrell, concealing him from Gregg's view. He was not dead, and they were uncertain what to do with him; they were none of them disposed to take him home and face his wife. But when the superintendent had finished, they lifted Farrell and under cover of the dispersing crowd bore him down the street a little way; a milk-wagon had stopped by the curb, and they laid him in this and told the driver, a boy, that he had been hurt in the jam, that they did not know who he was, and that he ought to be taken to the hospital. The boy, eager to be of use, drove off at once and delivered the patient. By the time he had done this, the mob at the mill gates—all except the usual force of pickets—had dispersed.
The officials of the company received their first intimation of the serious result of the riot when a message was brought from the hospital, asking some one to come and identify the wounded man who had been left there. The two subordinates whom Gregg sent returned with the news that the man was Farrell, that he had not recovered consciousness, and that it was thought his brain had been injured. The superintendent dispatched a message to Farrell's wife and later in the morning telephoned to Floyd, who replied that he would come out to New Rome immediately.
As it happened, he came in the same car with Stewart Lee, who likewise was responding to a telephone summons. Floyd had entered and taken his seat without noticing who was opposite; then he glanced up and saw Stewart looking at him. Stewart nodded, without cordiality; Floyd did not reply, but gazed impassively out of the window. Stewart stared at him for a while and then shook out a newspaper with a contemptuous crackle.
Floyd was the first to leave the car; and after stopping to get the report of the morning's occurrences from Gregg, he hurried up the hill to the hospital. Hugh's condition was more favorable; he had regained consciousness, and it was thought now that, in spite of the fearful beating, he would recover. The doctor described the wounds in a way that made Floyd mutter savagely: "If I can find the brutes who did it!—" He asked if Farrell's wife had been informed; the doctor replied that she had just gone; they had sent her away greatly relieved in mind, but with no assurance as to when she might be able to see her husband.
Floyd returned to the company's offices to consult with Gregg. The superintendent was not sanguine of ever getting information that would lead to the punishment of Farrell's assailants.
"Nobody, did anything," he said. "It was just a mob. I saw it pretty much all—and yet I saw nothing."
"Have you got that list—Farrell's list of the men who were with him?"
"Have each one of them examined; maybe you can get something out of them. Hunt up the driver of that milk-wagon and get his description of the fellows that turned Farrell over to him. There's evidence enough somewhere. I foresee, Mr. Gregg, that we shall have to take independent steps to protect our men from violence; there's no police protection for them here."
"None," said Gregg.
"They shall be given protection," Floyd declared emphatically. "Within a week I shall open the mills, and any man that wants to shall walk in to work without fear of being mobbed at the gate."
"Maybe you can manage that. But then they're liable to get mobbed when they go home."
"I'll fix all that if it's necessary. I'll find them places where they can sleep and eat inside the works—under the company's protection. I'll fit up a lot of barges and moor them along the bank; from now on, if a man's willing to work, I mean to take care of him."
"I believe you do—I believe you will," said the superintendent, stirred by the young man's determined speech. "How do you propose to go about it?"
"I'll be able to give you details to-morrow. This afternoon when I get back to Avalon I'll see what arrangements can be made. It was a blunder—thinking we could start things up in this casual, easy-going, good-natured way; and it won't be repeated."
"You're right," cried Gregg, with one of the sudden outbursts of vigor which he showed sometimes and which Floyd loved. "After this you can't sit down and wait any longer. You've got to drive 'em—drive 'em—drive 'em right into the river."
Meanwhile, hardly two blocks away, in their bleak headquarters over the shoe-store, the executive committee of the Affiliated were in session with their literary adviser. Tustin had himself been one of those who had placed Farrell in the milk-wagon, and he was anxious that a fair account of the trouble should be given to the newspapers.
"We had a little fracas here this morning, Mr. Lee," he had begun when Stewart arrived, "and I made bold to telephone and ask if you would n't come out and maybe help us. It's the first violence that's occurred during the lock-out—in spite of all the provocation the men have had. Now we've got to expect that the management will hold this up against us—though it was all of their own making. I thought if you would come out and look into the matter and get at the truth of it, you could write it up in an article that would offset the kind of statements the management will send out. Of course we'll give our side of it to the reporters anyway; but it would help a good bit to have something additional—a kind of independent investigation made by some one on the outside—like yourself."
"What are the facts of the case?" asked Stewart.
"Well, I can only give them to you as I know them and saw them, and I'd rather you would n't go too much by my word, I'd rather you'd ask a lot of others about it—though I guess the stories won't differ very much. I told you we'd been keeping tabs on Farrell, and we knew what to expect. We knew that he'd been treacherous enough to agree with Mr. Halket that he'd try to get a gang of men—soreheads and traitors like himself—to sneak in and start up some of the mills; then they expected the rest of us would weaken and come in. That was the underhanded, tricky game, Mr. Lee, that an employer of labor condescended to conspire with one of his employees—and him the one whose wife—But I mentioned that to you before. Well, we got wind of the plot; you were not the only one that helped to put us next to it—"
"I suspected something of the sort," Stewart interrupted. "Go on."
"We passed the word round among a few we could trust to be on hand at half-past five this morning. Then at twenty minutes to six, we set a fellow to ringing the school-house bell—and that brought out the rest. I told the crowd what to expect; I let 'em know there was to be no violence; I said to 'em, 'You're not to be the aggressors; you're just to mass yourselves thick in front of the gate and not budge for anything or anybody.' No violence in that, was there? I was counting that when the scum came thinking to sneak into the works and saw that crowd waiting for 'em, they'd just slink off instead. And so some of 'em did. But there was quite a gang, headed by Farrell, that rushed blustering in, hitting out at everybody, and in self-defense pretty soon we had to close in on 'em and handle 'em. Farrell was the only one of these fellows that got the least hurt in the row—and anybody will tell you he was from the start the hardest fighter; he came into the crowd with blood in his eye. Two of our men at least had to be carried away unconscious, and there's no means of knowing how many others were badly hurt. But that's the episode that will figure in the papers as riot, violence, and outrage by the Affiliated, and all that kind of thing; you see if it don't—and we'd be all the more glad if you could give your time to making an impartial investigation and writing up the truth—getting it all in for this evening's papers."
"Yes, I'll investigate," Stewart answered. He laughed. "I might as well begin right here. What's your account of the matter, Mr. Caskey?"
"It's all as Mr. Tustin's been giving it. I was just behind Farrell when he came rushing down the hill, drawing a gang of his roughs with him; and they went into the crowd like they was going to cut a swath clean through to the gate. I was right behind and I saw it all."
The other members of the executive committee gave corroborative testimony; Tustin took Stewart out to introduce him to other men who might tell their unbiased stories. Most of them were vague as to just what had happened, but there was no doubt that they all considered Farrell and his "gang" the aggressors. Stewart felt that with the evidence so unanimous and so truthful it was unnecessary to prolong the investigation. The more that he learned, the more indignant did he begin to feel at Floyd's unworthy attempt to make use of a band of lawless, treacherous villains. It occurred to him that this conspiracy was characteristic of the scheming, devious mind which had pursued so crooked a course in the management of the hospital competition.
Wishing, however, to be absolutely impartial, Stewart called at the company's offices; there he was refused all information. The superintendents, acting under instructions from Floyd, were not talking for newspapers. The company was not prepared to rush into print about the affair. This unwillingness on the part of the officials to put in any defense established the conviction which Stewart had already formed; and he made effective use of it in the article which he composed on his return at noon to Avalon. His imagination helped him; he gave a graphic description of the embarrassment, the evasiveness, the evident consciousness of guilt with which the officials received his questions, and contrasted it with the candor of the workingmen. The proportion of two to one in injured, which the Affiliated had sustained as compared with the "strike-breakers," indicated clearly, as he pointed out, that the strike-breakers were the assailants. He made an eloquent plea, asking the public not to jump hastily to the conclusion that men who were sacrificing themselves for a principle and who had conducted themselves throughout with an extraordinary and heroic forbearance had at last resorted to violence;—though if this had been true, it would in the circumstances have been easily understandable. But to the everlasting glory of the men of New Rome and especially of their leaders, they needed no extenuation; they had stayed their hands; and not until two of their harmless number had been felled unconscious and others were threatened did they in self-defense lay low the leader of this murderous assault. Even then they were magnanimous; not one of the ruffians who had joined in the attack had been injured; all of them had been allowed to depart in peace. For the leader, who had not been dangerously hurt, it was difficult to feel any sympathy; he was a mercenary, hired by the president of the company to collect a ruffianly band and betray those who had been his fellow workmen.
For a document professing to embody the impartial conclusions of a judicially minded investigator, Stewart's article was rather militant in tone. He signed his name to it; the Telegram published it; and Lydia had read it by the time he reached home that evening. She did not comment on it until after they had finished dinner and had gone into the library. Stewart had lighted his cigar and was turning over the pages of a magazine when she said,—
"Stewart, I want to have a talk with you."
"That means you are going to be disagreeable," he answered, with a certain sincerity underlying the lightness of his tone.
"I am afraid you will think so. I want to talk with you about the way you are attacking Floyd—and allying yourself with the men who are attacking him."
"Very well." He paused a moment and then said ungraciously, "What do you find to object to in it?"
"The—the spirit of it, Stewart." He tossed his magazine on the table with an air of irritation. "You might champion the workingmen—when you believe in their cause—but—surely it is n't necessary to do it with such a—such an animus against Floyd. The Telegram this evening—it isn't fair, Stewart; it isn't fair. I don't see how you can have such animus."
"Why should I not have it?" he asked her bitterly. "Day before yesterday he ordered me out of his office—held the door for me, while I walked out! To-day he cut me as I sat opposite him in a street-car. Who talks of animus!"
She looked dazed. "But why—what had you done, Stewart?"
"Yes, that's the way." He took his cigar from his mouth and indulged in an unpleasant laugh. "'What had I done?' I'd given provocation, of course; it was all my fault, of course; Floyd could never do anything unjust or wrong, of course,—without being driven to it. Well, if you want to know—I'd dropped into his office to pass some entirely proper comments on the hospital award."
"Stewart! You had no more dignity than that!"
"How quick you are to think the worst! Allow me to reassure you, my dear; I behaved with the utmost dignity. Floyd, to be sure, lost both his head and his temper—with the unseemly result which I have stated. And apparently, judging by his performance to-day in the street-car, he has not yet recovered them."
"Even if that is so—"
"You could express more incredulity, my dear, by saying 'Even if that were so,'" he observed sarcastically.
Tears came into Lydia's eyes, and she was silent a few moments; at last she said in a subdued voice,—
"I was only going to ask you, Stewart, if you could not forgive something to Floyd."
"I have been trying to forgive him all my life."
"For saving your life?"
"For making me forever conscious of that obligation. I have made a greater effort to conquer a great natural disinclination toward him than I ever made for any man. I did everything in my power for him when we were in college together; I have tried to do everything that a friend could do since. But it does n't work out; it does n't work out. And now, so far as I am concerned, he has put himself beyond the pale."
"By choosing to manage his own business in his own way!" She felt goaded into an argument sustaining Floyd's cause against that which Stewart had so passionately adopted. But she stopped at once, repressed by the almost superstitious warning; if he was honestly struggling, groping, she must not interfere, she must not thrust him down. "Of course," she continued mildly, "I'm not criticising you, Stewart, for supporting the side that you think is in the right—and when it means a sacrifice to give such support, I think it's a fine thing for a man to stand by his belief. But it seems to me you could do that and not assail Floyd personally; that is all I mean."
"There you show that you do not understand the situation," Stewart replied. "Floyd is himself the source of all the trouble. He precipitated it, and since the first fell, he has plotted other troubles to follow. You cannot carry on a fight against evil without assailing the evil-doer. And when he is prompted to his work by the basest motives—motives lower than those of mere avarice and greed—"
"Stewart!" cried Lydia. "What do you mean?"
"I have said enough—more than I meant," he answered darkly.
"Floyd never had a base motive in his life!"
"Have you so intimate a knowledge of him?"
"Is it so much more intimate than mine?"
"If you suspect him—yes."
"I do not suspect him. I know. You think, my dear, that you know Floyd intimately. I thought a month ago that I did. But no one ever knows intimately another man. Something is always hidden—something that one may stumble upon some time by chance—or that may perhaps never be revealed. I have learned a thing about Floyd recently which, well as I knew him, I should never have suspected; a thing which explains his treatment of his men as it could not otherwise be explained and which makes it all the more abominable. Now I have said to you on this subject all that I propose to say. If you can retain your old belief in Floyd, do it, by all means. Only do not insist upon my sharing it; for that, in view of what I know, is impossible." He reached out and took up his magazine.
Lydia sat looking at her husband with startled eyes.
"Stewart!" she said at last, "Stewart!"
He lowered his magazine reluctantly.
"You say you know—you cast a blight on Floyd's good name. You make it all a mystery, you do not say what you know or how you know it—and I, being a woman, will not ask what this dreadful thing is." She spoke with a swift earnestness in her low voice. "But one thing I have a right to demand—and that is how you know. Who gave you your knowledge? What is your proof?"
"The matter has been common talk among the people of New Rome for years," he replied indifferently.
"And you accept the vile slander of men with a grievance—men who hate him—you let them poison your mind! 'Common talk of the people of New Rome!' You listen to some vile gossip—I don't know what—and then come to me and say you know! Oh, Stewart, Stewart!What has made you so cruel, so vindictive! What has warped your mind!"
"It is n't only common talk that makes me know," he answered, so stung by her rebuke that he was hardly conscious of uttering a lie. "I can't go into details—I can't tell yon anything about the affair. I will admit that I should n't have spoken of it to you; the words slipped out unintentionally. After all, to condemn Floyd, one need n't go back further than the occurrence of this morning."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that the whole affair was deliberately planned to provoke violence. Floyd hired this gang of turbulent, lawless dare-devils,—the very fellows that all along had been in disrepute among the men; he hired them to make a bluff at going in and starting to work—knowing perfectly well that they would do it in such a way as to mean violence. And violence was what he wanted, the one thing he desired to precipitate; for it's always the case, with the first exhibition of violence the public sympathy swings away from the union, turns to the employer. It was a perfectly obvious play on Floyd's part; in other words, to attain his own personal ends he is willing to stir up riot and strife, willing to provoke men to bloodshed, perhaps even to murder."
Lydia rose from her chair.
"I cannot sit any longer with you to-night, Stewart," she said, speaking slowly, while she looked down at him with steady eyes. "You are imputing to Floyd motives and thoughts that he never had,—motives and thoughts that stain your own soul."
"If you mean that I am animated by such motives—" he began hotly, flinging the magazine upon the table.
"I mean that when you impute them to Floyd, it is a reproach to yourself," she answered in an inexorable voice.
She turned and moved away from him with the soft rustle of her trailing skirt—the pleasant sound that he had many times heard joyously when he had been sitting long alone, the pleasant sound that intimated to him from afar his Lydia's gentle grace. He listened to it now as it grew faint and fainter on the stairs; he listened to it with a wild wish that it were coming toward him instead of going away. But he was too proud to follow it, and too angry; he was only regretful because he had said so much; he was not penitent. He picked up again the magazine which he had twice put down.
"Ah, well," he thought, with an indulgence which was as much for himself as for Lydia, "by to-morrow morning she will be all right."
But Lydia had gone into the room where her baby lay asleep. She had crept toward the little bed in the darkness and now knelt beside it, straining with tear-filled eyes to see the small face on its pillow, listening with eager ears to the soft, the all but noiseless breathing.
"Little Floyd," she murmured after a while, "you are all that is left to me out of my marriage. God keep you! God help me to guide you right!"